The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem wins hands down for atmosphere. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a lot going for it historically, but is a rather gloomy mausoleum. And, so they say, the tomb has been slowly demolished by centuries of pilgrims chipping off souvenirs. It hardly leaves a spectacular relic!
It doesn’t matter where the tomb really was. The key fact is: it was empty on the third day. “The more I am involved in this, the less likely I think that anything that might be called ‘physical reconstruction or resurrection’ took place,” waffled a previous Bishop of Durham. For my part, like millions of others, the more I’m involved in this, the more convinced I am that it did.
The formation of human beings was, at that time, the high point of God’s creation. And yet there was a higher point – when the eternal Son of God became incarnate in the womb of Mary. And Jesus was born – both God and man from the first moment of conception.
In the same interview, the Bishop said significantly that he is ‘coming very close to an adoptionist position’. Adoptionism is an old heresy which says that at some stage after the conception or the birth or the baptism of Jesus (who until that time was merely human), the divine Spirit ‘adopted’ him. The teaching was condemned by the Church on the grounds that it denied the true doctrine of the incarnation.
By contrast, the received teaching of the church is that Jesus was, from his conception, both God and man, ‘For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity dwells in bodily form. ‘(Colossians 2:9). He became incarnate to be tempted and tested but to obey God to the bitter end. He was the high point of humanity, conquering life in general and temptation in particular.
The wages of sin is death, and that applies to all mankind, for all have sinned. So human beings cannot save themselves – only God can do that. But divine justice requires the fulfilment of the law’s condemnation: death.
God can’t die, so God took humanity to himself in order to die. So the only man who never sinned, died -and he was also God. What a death! God has reconciled us ‘by Christ’s physical body’ (Colossians 1:22). ‘He bore our sins in his body’ (1 Peter 2:24).
This wasn’t the end of the significance of Jesus’ body. He bore our sins in his body (the purpose of the incarnation) so it is important that his body was raised gloriously. The very means of the bearing of our sin – his body – was raised from death and transformed.
A mere ‘spiritual’ resurrection (leaving the body behind) would have been seriously incomplete, both in terms of conquering sin and conquering death. His once sin-bearing body was raised. And the whole person of Christ (including his body) was raised – a total victory.
Far from his body being allowed to see corruption, it was transformed and is a glorious pointer to the ultimate redemption of our bodies – the ultimate reversal of the Fall. God ‘will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body’ (Philippians 3:21).
The final vindication of God’s act of redemption was the ascension of the risen Christ to the throne of God. Our humanity was raised to the throne of heaven.
Jesus took our humanity to the depths in the grave then to the heights. There is a man on the throne of the universe. His incarnate presence in heaven is proof of his victory in redemption (especially with his wounds still visible). And it also means we have a sympathetic high priest. He is human (and divine).
All this is why I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and not only because the historical arguments for the empty tomb are overwhelming. It had to be this way.
What a poor alternative is the belief in a ‘spiritual’ resurrection of a disembodied ghost – denied in Luke 24:39. If the idea of ‘spiritual’ resurrection were true, the story of our redemption would be incomplete.
But as it is: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction