Watchtower Crime Scene---Where Did the Body Go? Part 1
The Watchtower Society has to get rid of the body, the body of Jesus, that is. If they can’t convince Jehovah’s Witnesses that Jehovah disposed of Jesus’ body at his resurrection, then their entire two-class system (144,000 chosen ones going to heaven and the rest of faithful humans living forever on a paradise earth) is in big trouble. It’s doubtful that anyone would knowingly choose an eternity of “either/or”---either life in heaven or life on earth—if, by the resurrection of Jesus’ body, the Bible is promising all of us a body like his after we die, one that can live both in a new heaven and on a new earth! So how does the Watchtower Society get Jehovah’s Witnesses to believe that Jesus was raised as a spirit? One way is by conveniently leaving out the context.
When I was a Witness, it seemed a no-brainer to me that Jehovah disposed of Jesus’ physical body and raised him as a spirit. At least, that’s what I thought when I read the Bible with my Watchtower preconceptions firmly in place. After all, on three different occasions, Mary Magdalene and some of the other disciples didn’t recognize Jesus when he appeared to them after he was raised from the dead. Therefore, he must have materialized a different body, as the Society teaches. Now, though, I can see that in all three instances where Jesus’ followers didn’t recognize him after he was raised, the Bible writers went out of their way to explain why---and it had nothing to do with a materialized body.
On the road to Emmaus when Jesus met two disciples, Luke specifically says, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16 NWT). In this case, Jesus’ physical appearance didn’t change; instead, the change occurred in the visual perceptions of the two disciples. At the end of their journey, “their eyes were fully opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:31 NWT). Jesus must have been fully recognizable as the person the disciples knew and loved. If he were materializing different bodies, why change their vision?
When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, she didn’t know who he was at first because she arrived in the predawn hours, and Jesus was the last person she expected to see there, up and about. John makes a point of saying that she came to the tomb “early, while there was still darkness” (John 20:1 NWT). First, she noticed the stone was taken away, so she ran to get Peter. Peter and another disciple ran back to the tomb and left soon after. Next, Mary peered into the tomb, saw two angels, and, at that point, “she turned back and viewed Jesus standing [possibly by this time with the faint light of dawn at his back, leaving his face in darkness], but she did not discern it was Jesus” (John 20:14 NWT). No wonder she figured he was the gardener until she heard him speak! She couldn’t see his face, so who else would she expect to meet walking around the tombs before the sun was even up?
The only other time the disciples didn’t recognize the risen Christ was when they were in a boat. The light was poor again (“just as it was getting to be morning” John 21:4 NWT), and Jesus was standing over 300 feet away from them on the beach. Did they fail to recognize him because he had materialized a different body---or because the visibility was at a minimum, and they weren’t expecting to see him there?
On various other occasions, Jesus appeared to a group of women and to his disciples. When the light was good, there was no question as to who he was. They all immediately fell at his feet and worshiped him (Matt. 28:9, 17).
Why, then, has the Watchtower Society gone to so much trouble to leave out the context in their explanation of these scriptures? In a nutshell, here is the answer:
One of the reasons Jesus appeared to his followers after he was raised from the dead was to show them what kind of body they would have when they were resurrected. He was not a spirit, as he assured them at Luke 24:39: “See my hands and my feet that it is I myself; feel me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones just as you behold that I have.”
Jesus did not have his old physical body of flesh and blood (1 Cor. 15:50), which was dependent upon earthly sources of energy in order to live. Instead, his physical body (Gr. soma) had been changed or made into a spiritual body (Gr. soma 1 Cor. 15:44) that had much the same form (flesh and bones), but was obviously very different. A spiritual body is not a spirit. In his spiritual body, Jesus walked, talked, ate, and drank. In other words, he enjoyed earthly things. However, he also had a body that could appear and disappear in an instant, pass through walls, and travel to another dimension, into heaven itself. That is why he could promise us that someday we would be eating and drinking with him at his table in his kingdom (Luke 22:29, 30 NWT), because we’d have bodies like his. (Philippians 3:20, 21)
No wonder the resurrection hope has been so thrilling to Christians throughout the centuries! Paul wrote, “And just as we have borne the image of the one made of dust, we shall bear also the image of the heavenly one” (1 Cor. 15:49 NWT). This resurrection of our bodies takes place at the end of this system of things “during the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52) when Christ returns. The bodies of all the dead will be raised, while those alive on earth will be changed instantly, so that all will receive their new spiritual bodies at the same time (Heb. 11:39, 40).
In the meantime, after we die now and before the last trumpet, we will be with Christ, awaiting our bodies at the resurrection (absent from the body, present with the Lord---2 Cor. 5:8). The apostle Paul spoke of this intermediate state at 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, where he described putting off our present bodies (like a temporary “tent”) and looking forward to receiving our spiritual bodies (like a “permanent building from God”---2 Cor. 5:1).
So if Jehovah’s Witnesses were given a choice, how many of them would choose to be confined to this tiny physical earth for eternity when we could inherit both the new heaven and the new earth in our resurrected spiritual bodies? The biblical hope is not “either/or.” We will all enjoy the same exciting future (Eph. 4:4) where heaven and earth will somehow be merged. We will be reunited with our loved ones, and we will have a new and wonderful relationship with our bridegroom Christ. (To read an excellent article by Anthony Hoekema in Christianity Today describing this hope, click here. http://www.nils4.info/a/hct.htm )
But what about the scriptures Jehovah’s Witnesses always quote to prove that Jesus was raised as a spirit? First Corinthians 15:45, speaking of Jesus, says he “became a life-giving spirit.” At 1 Peter 3:18, Peter says that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” Read my next blog entry entitled, Watchtower Crime Scene---Where Did the Body Go? Part 2 to discover more missing context and deception in translation.