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Theological Necessity of a Physical Resurrection

I’ve underscored that: it would be inconsistent to believe the Gospel and not believe in a physical resurrection; there are dire consequences of holding to a non-physical resurrection; and that there is no biological and cosmological grounds to outright deny a future physical resurrection. (I even shared some thoughts on how important the resurrection is to me in my experience.) Now, although I touched on some of this with the consequences of holding to a non-Physical resurrection, I wanted to delineate a theological necessity for a physical resurrection.

Death is often stated (from the Pulpit) as an individual punishment (Heb 9:27) due to Adam’s sin (Romans 5). Sometimes this point is defined by Adam being a federal head of the human race which sinned in him (cf Hebrew 7). Another way this point is defined is that Adam’s sin brought a fatal weakness by which all then sin (not all have sinned). Either way, it was the day that Adam ate of the tree that he “died” in some sense but was ultimately to die (Gen 3) and was repulsed from the Garden (for fear of the expectation that he might be able to live). Now the important death listed here is the separation from God—not so much the physical death.

Some Full Preterists further the argument by stating that we need saving from Adam’s Death—not Abel’s Death. Here, they raise the point that Abel died before Adam and if it was a physical resurrection to save from physical death then we are only addressing Abelian Death, not Adamic death. Now, ignoring the logical problem of the argument (specifically that Abel was the Son of Adam and therefore his death would be an evidential marker of what was already happening in Adam, even if it had not culminated in physical death yet[1]) I think that Full Preterists, and some Pulpit speakers, have made a mistake in ignoring how fatal (ahem)Death—including Physical Death actually is.

A Nazarite (Num 6) would take a vow where he would commit his service to the Lord for a specific amount of time. During that time he would ensure that his hair remained unshorn—unless he touched a corpse. In that case, the Nazarite would have to cut his hair and start over again. The same restriction (about touching corpses) was laid at the feet of the Levites (Lev 22). An individual who touched a corpse was considered defiled (Num 19:11). The overnight hanging of a corpse would not only condemn the punished but would defile the land (Deut 21:23)

Now, all this sounds horrendously pagan until one notes how God does in fact purify when He punishes on his own. The violence that ran rampant within humanity (Gen 6) was enough to grieve the heart of God, but even in the midst of all that God finds it necessary to purge the land by wiping out people (Gen 7-9). Now, ignoring any debate if the flood with local or universal, the point is that God’s method of cleaning the slate was not only by ending the lives of the people—but by outright removing the corpses with water. The flood purified, as it were, the place where God would deal with people.

Likewise, the Law stipulates that the corpses are not offered to God on their own; they are cut up and laid on the altar and consumed by fire (Lev 1). Here you have individuals dealing with corpses all the time yet not falling under the same sort of restrictions regarding corpses (Lev 22) because of what they’re doing with them. The national individuals who were defiled by touching a corpse, had several days to become purified lest they get cut off from the covenantal community (Num 19:13).

It seems, then that Death is not only a defiler—it is Antithetical to the Living God (who was, and is, and is to be) known also as The God of the Living (Matt 22:32) [2]. Death is the epitomizing of a realm that stands over and against God—not in the dualistic sense of Two Spheres of God’s operation, but in the sense of an enemy that had no natural existence when everything was naturally attached to God. So Death is not merely Spiritual with Repercussions; it is a system that is completely antithetical with a sphere of separation at every level, epitomized in the Physical expression. God hates death at every level—it always defiles.

Therefore, even though Abel died before Adam, the fact that Abel died (and Adam was in the process of dying), was only part (a major part) of the pollution that Adam had embraced[3]. By no longer being under the purview and operation of God, he cut himself, and his progeny off from Life and finds himself embracing death[4] at every level. The Death that God is worried about is not only Spiritual; it is Relational, Operational and it is Physical[5]. Man, not only dies, but he is judged on the eternal scale in comparison to God (Rom 3:23). Man not only sins unto death apart from God[6] , he does good apart from God and that is all him screaming the his enmity (Isaiah 64:6; Col 1:21; Eph 2:5) [7].

In light of this, we can only then properly understand what was happening on the cross. It was not only that Christ was atoning (with whatever meaning people want to insert into that theological term) but that Christ, the Lord’s Anointed, physically died. Even though Jesus Christ was likely reminding himself of the victory in God by citing that portion of Psalm 22, there was a very real sense where God, of necessity, had to push Him away as He died.

I don’t think we’ll ever understand the scope of what occurred there.

But I think we can safely say some things about why a physical resurrection, is of the first order, necessary. For Christ to die willingly and according to the plan of God, makes God taking death into the picture to rob it of its destructive power. The Living God died; waited under Death’s grip, and then got up.

Theologically speaking, a submission to a physical death and separation must of necessity result in a physical resurrection and vindication to be a real victory. A victory that only answers the second portion (via vindication) without addressing the public and physical is only a hollow victory. Theologically speaking, Death must be addressed at every single level to be finally declared conquered (1 Cor 15:57).

This is why believers can properly rejoice even in death (or falling asleep); we know that our ultimate end is not to become Spirit, but to await a physically resurrected body (2 Cor 5:1-5). Christians can properly rejoice knowing that Christ’s victory has been secured[8] and ours is definitely insured…not that we don’t get sick, but that ultimate death has no holds[9].

At this point, I think that John including the story of the resurrection of Lazarus is significant to his Gospel account and to the point of John 11’s discussion with Martha specifically. Both bodies lain within a tomb. Both draped in funeral cloth. Both the cause of much sorrow. Both tomb stones rolled away; one by people, the other by unknown hands. Both clothes removed; one by people, one by unseen hands. Both stepping out of the tomb; one of his own volition, the other predicated on the voice of Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). Both physical resurrections; one with a body that can be plotted against (John 12:10); one with a body that would never die again (John 20:27). And then, Paul states that it is this resurrection of Christ that is the first-fruits (1 Cor 15:20).

Therefore, Christians should understand that there is absolutely no theological reason to expect a resurrection different in operation from Christ’s own resurrection; that is, our resurrection must also address the relational, operational, spiritual and physical. Christians have a real theological expectation to be rescued from Adam’s death en-toto[10]. Christ will tell us to Get Up, just as He told Lazarus (1 Thes 4:13-18). Death, at every level, becomes the last enemy by which Christ has already conquered[11], allowing us presently to conquer in our spiritual lives[12] and will most definitely be ultimately conquered physically and permanently (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

[1]Wenham, G. J. (2002). Vol. 1: Word Biblical Commentary : Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary (90). “Apparently then, man did not die on the day he ate of the tree. But in the closing verses of the chapter, sanctuary symbolism and language reappear (3:21–24). God clothes the human couple and then expels them through the east-facing entrance to the garden where cherubim are stationed to guard the tree of life. These features anticipate the design of the tabernacle and the regulations associated with it. Like the garden of Eden, the tabernacle was a place where God walked with his people. To be expelled from the camp of Israel or to be rejected by God was to experience a living death; in both situations gestures of mourning were appropriate (Lev 13:45–46; Num 5:2–4; 1 Sam 15:35). The psalmists, too, held that in the house of God men could “drink from the river of the delights [עדן], for with thee is the fountain of life” (Ps 36:9–10 [8–9]). Only in the presence of God did man enjoy fullness of life. To choose anything else is to choose death (Prov 8:36). The expulsion from the garden of delight where God himself lived would therefore have been regarded by the godly men of ancient Israel as yet more catastrophic than physical death. The latter was the ultimate sign and seal of the spiritual death the human couple experienced on the day they ate from the forbidden tree.”

[2]Dallas Theological Seminary. (1988; 2002). Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 145 (145:408). Dallas Theological Seminary.

[3]Dunn, J. D. G. (2002). Vol. 38A: Word Biblical Commentary : Romans 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary (273). “As in the broader sweep of Jewish thought also, there is no suggestion of a distinction between “spiritual” and “physical” death: human weakness (5:6), the corruptibility of the flesh (see on 1:3 and 7:5), and death are all of a piece in that they characterize the whole sweep of creaturely alienation from the Creator (cf. Kuss; against Schmidt). “Sin” and “death,” appearing here for the first time as interdependent categories, will largely dominate the discussion for the next three chapters (“sin” 42 times between 5:12 and 8:10; “death” 19 times between 5:12 and 8:6; together—5:12, 21; 6:16, 23; 7:5, 13; 8:2; see further chaps. 6–8 Introductio).”

[4]Dunn, J. D. G. (2002). Vol. 38A: Word Biblical Commentary : Romans 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary (397).” It is equally obvious that “this death” refers back to the death brought about by the machinations of sin (Rom 7:10–13); see on 5:12 and 8:10. That physical death is included within the phrase is obvious, even if the idea of a corporate belonging to the age of Adam (Rom 5:12–21) is also very much in view. It is the final outworking and end of death’s rule over this age, and so defeat of the last enemy (1 Cor 15:26), for which Paul longs here.”

[5]Wuest, K. S. (1997, c1984). Wuest’s word studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English reader (Ro 6:2). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.” Death means separation. Physical death is the separation of a person from his body, spiritual death, the separation of the person from God. There is a preposition prefixed to the verb (apo (ἀπο)) which means “off, away from,” and is used with the ablative case whose root meaning is separation. This teaches us that there was a cleavage consummated between the individual and his evil nature. God used His surgical knife to cut the believing sinner loose from his evil nature. This occurred potentially in the mind and purpose of God when that believing sinner, elected to salvation before the universe was created, was identified with the Lord Jesus in His death on the Cross (vv. 3–7), and actually, the moment he placed his faith in Him as Saviour. Now, while God separated the believing sinner from the evil nature, yet He did not take it out of him, but left it in his inner being. John in his first letter (1:8) is most careful to tell us that this evil nature remains in the Christian throughout his earthly life and is not eradicated until that Christian dies or is glorified. This is what he says in his Greek; “If we say that sin we are not constantly having, ourselves we are deceiving (nobody else), and the truth is not in us.” Sin here is the nature, not the act, and for two reasons; the word is without the article, and such a construction in Greek emphasizes nature, quality, and because the word is singular. The word “ourselves” is in the emphatic position, John’s thought being that any person who holds the theory that the sinful nature is eradicated at a certain point in the Christian’s experience is only deceiving himself. Others are not deceived, for they can see sin sticking out all over his life. Let us therefore hold to this, that while there is a definite cleavage between the believer and the sinful nature, yet that nature remains in him until he dies or is glorified.”

[6]Harris III, W. H. (2003; 2003). 1, 2, 3 John – Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis (230). “The meaning of the sin resulting in death (μαρτία πρς θάνατον, hamartia pros thanaton) in 5:16. This concept is a notorious crux interpretum. The concept of sin resulting in death occurs occasionally in the Old Testament (Num 18:22; Deut 22:26; Isa 22:14) and the Jewish intertestamental literature (Jub. 21:22; 26:34; 33:13, 18; T. Iss. 7:1). In all these instances the concept involves physical death as a consequence of sin. Sin resulting in sickness or death is also mentioned a number of times in the New Testament (Acts 5:1–11; 1 Cor 5:5; 11:29–30; cf. also 1 Tim 1:20; Jas 5:15; Rev 2:23) although here too the reference appears to be primarily to physical sickness or death.”

[7]Thiselton, A. C. (2000). The First Epistle to the Corinthians : A commentary on the Greek text (1228). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. “For, as 2 Cor 5:20–21 makes explicit, Christ’s becoming one with human sin in the sense of identification entailed his death being “not … merely physical death,” but also a participation in the emptiness of the “eschatological death” which reigns from Adam onward. Moltmann wrote in his classic study Theology of Hope, “Because God and his promise are life, the real bitterness of death lies not merely in the loss of life, but also in the loss of God, as in god-forsakenness….” The proper context for hope (we might add, in contrast to notions of “spirituality” at Corinth) is the “undisguised harshness [of] the deadlines of death as compared with the promised life, received from the promise of God … a wholehearted, unrestricted … assent to life … the victory of praise and therewith of life over death … as a conquest of the deadlines of death.” This is “a new totality which annihilates the total nihil. The two experiences stand in a radical contradiction to each other … death and life, nothing and everything, godlessness and the divinity of God.”

[8]Jewett, R., Kotansky, R. D., & Epp, E. J. (2006). Romans : A commentary. Hermeneia–a critical and historical commentary on the Bible (406). “Knowing with certainty that Christ had been raised from the dead, it follows that Christ “dies no longer” (οκέτιποθνσκει). The same adverb occurs in the next clause, “death no longer (οκέτι) has lordship over him,” which lends emphasis to the uni-directionality of resurrection life that pertains both for Christ and for his people. Since the parallel between believers and Christ is not complete, inasmuch as they must still face their own physical deaths, the wording of this verse remains concentrated on Christ’s closure with death. The power of death referred to in 5:14* and 17* has been broken by Christ, which implies that those who are “with him” are also no longer subject to that power. The implication is that the “life eternal” mentioned in 5:21* is shared by Christ and his followers, which provides a firm foundation for the inference of v. 8b* concerning faith that all believers share in continuing to “co-dwell” with him.”

[9]Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. (1988; 2002). Trinity Journal Volume 9 (9:204). Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. “This being the case, and the effects of Christ’s death being applied to people through a process of time, it is specious to claim that the believer must have deliverance from sickness in the same way and to the same extent that he or she has deliverance from sin. The atoning death of Christ provides for the healing of all our diseases — but nothing in Matthew or in the NT implies that this healing will take place in this life. Indeed, as we have seen, the NT gives reason to think that triumph over physical disease, like triumph over physical death, will not come for most believers until the future “redemption of the body.”

[10]Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (Ge 3:21). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.” 3:21–24 Judgment. Expulsion from the garden proved the hollowness of the serpent’s promise that they would not die (4). For though Adam and Eve continued some sort of life outside the garden, it was a shadow of the fulness of life inside Eden, where they had enjoyed intimate fellowship with God. Now the full cost of sin is apparent. It is not just an unquiet conscience (7–8), squabbles with one’s dearest spouse (12), pain (16) or the drudgery of daily toil (17–19) but separation from the presence of God and ultimately physical death (Rom. 6:23).”

[11]Hughes, R. B., & Laney, J. C. (2001). Tyndale concise Bible commentary. Rev. ed. of: New Bible companion. 1990.; Includes index. The Tyndale reference library (691). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.”In 3:18 Peter reminded the believers of the suffering of Christ and what it accomplished. Christ’s death for sins constituted a substitutionary judgment on behalf of sinners. His death prepared the way for the reconciliation of sinners with God (“bring us safely home to God,” cf. 2 Cor. 5:18). But Christ’s death was not a defeat. Having “suffered physical death,” he was “raised to life in the Spirit.” The two participles (“suffered physical death” and “raised to life”) define the main verb “died.” There is a balance and correlation between the two terms “physical” and “Spirit.” Both terms emphasize quality and denote two contrasting modes of Christ’s existence—his earthly sphere of existence as a man (“physical”) and his heavenly sphere of existence as divine Spirit (“Spirit”). The point of 3:18 is that Christ’s death was not a defeat but a triumph. While Christ died to his earthly sphere of existence, by resurrection (“raised to life”) he entered into a fuller life and was liberated for greater ministry (Matt. 28:20; John 14:12).”

[12]Schreiner, T. R. (1998). Vol. 6: Romans. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (272). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. “Some scholars have restricted death here to physical death (Sanday and Headlam 1902: 132–33; Murray 1959: 181–82; Ziesler 1989: 145). This is a mistake, for the context clarifies that death is both spiritual and physical (cf. Beker 1980: 224).The death introduced by Adam is conjoined with “condemnation” (vv. 16, 18), and it is also contrasted with “eternal life” (v. 21). Thus it can hardly be restricted to physical death. Indeed, Paul is likely reflecting on the threat of Gen. 2:17, where Adam is warned that he will die on the very day he transgresses God’s command. When Adam sins, however, physical death does not immediately follow. We should not conclude from this that Adam continued to live after his sin. The account in Gen. 3 reveals that Adam died when he sinned, for upon sinning he was immediately separated from God. Adam’s hiding from God and his expulsion from the garden signal his spiritual separation from God. I am not suggesting that physical death and spiritual death can ultimately be separated, for the former is the culmination and outworking of the latter. Nonetheless, the account in Genesis indicates that death is fundamentally separation from God, and this alienation from God entered the world through Adam’s sin. It is also vital to understand that sin and death are twin powers that entered the world when Adam transgressed. That sin and death are powers is borne out in the subsequent context, where Paul speaks of sin and death as reigning, of unbelievers as being slaves to sin, and of the wages sin exacts from its subjects: “death reigned” (Rom. 5:14, 17); “sinned reigned in death” (Rom 5:21); believers “have died to sin” (Rom 6:2), implying that it is a power ruling over them; believers “are no longer slaves of sin” (Rom 6:6); “death no longer rules over” Christ (Rom 6:9); believers “should not let sin reign” (Rom 6:12); “sin shall not rule over you” (Rom 6:14); presenting oneself to sin as a slave results in death (Rom 6:16); “you were slaves of sin” (Rom 6:17); “you were set free from sin” (Rom 6:18); “when you were slaves to sin” (Rom 6:20); “having been set free from sin” (Rom 6:22); “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).”

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7 replies on “Theological Necessity of a Physical Resurrection”

“Therefore, Christians should understand that there is absolutely no theological reason to expect a resurrection different in operation from Christ’s own resurrection; that is, our resurrection must also address the relational, operational, spiritual and physical. Christians have a real theological expectation to be rescued from Adam’s death en-toto]. Christ will tell us to Get Up, just as He told Lazarus…”

Jesus’ resurrection was clearly different from Lazarus’ in that he could assume different forms and appear/disappear through locked doors. It seems likely also that his body actually passed through his burial cloth at the point of his resurrection rather than him walking out like a mummy as did Lazarus and having to be “loosed.” Along this very line of thought, aren’t you somewhat ignoring “sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body”? (1 Cor 15:44) I agree that Scripture indicates a physical resurrection, but that physical resurrection seems to entail a transformation of our present bodies into a spiritual body rather than the mere raising of them again to what they are now. It is not a discarding of this body (as in the JW view), but a transformation of it.

The resurrection of Jesus was clearly different; He wouldn’t die again. But the parallel is overwhelming staggering to underscore that although both are physical, there is something operationally different about His glorified body. Remember, I also noted that whereas they could plot to kill Lazarus, no one can do any such thing to the Risen Christ.

As for the second note regarding raised a spiritual body, I don’t think that negates what I said. It’s not like this Glorified Body is made out of Spirit Substance whereas the original Body was made out of Physical Substance. If anything, my connection with the Living Adam Dying and the Living God Dying Then Living should underscore what it means to be raised a Spiritual Body. The empowerment for persistent life is different.

As for the transformation of the body, I dealt with that in the previous post where I stated that the body needed a change to be able to function in the Eternal state.

Thanks for commenting.

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