John’s Gospel: Reflections on Chapter 20

We know that the resurrection of Jesus is good news. After all, death is bad news. Resurrection is kind of the opposite of death. Hence: good news!

But Jesus had already raised Lazarus. He’d proven that God could bring the dead back to life. Why did Jesus need to die and be resurrected to defeat death? He’d already beaten death!

Well, Lazarus was resuscitated — restored to life — but would die again. Death was merely postponed, not defeated.

Jesus was not merely resuscitated. He was resurrected — that is, he was raised with a miraculously different body, a body that would never die.

The Gospel writers are clear that Jesus’ body was somehow different after his resurrection, but they don’t go into much detail. Rather, they just relate what the disciples saw, with no effort to defend or explain the puzzle.

For example, in John, we twice see Jesus entering a locked room without forcing the door. He could apparently either go through the door or else just appear in the midst of the disciples. The text doesn’t bother to say.

Just so, we see the disciples at times unable to recognize him, and then suddenly they can tell who he is. This is plainly intended to convey something changed and miraculous about his new body.

And yet Jesus’ resurrected body carried the scars of the crucifixion. And he could be clung to, touched, and felt. In chapter 21, he cooks for the apostles. Later, he ascends bodily into heaven.

His eternal body is both physical and not physical. It’s different in a way that the Gospel writers could not explain.

And, we’re told, when we are resurrected, our bodies will be like his. This is a bit surprising to most Christians, because we imagine ourselves going to heaven as disembodied spirits. We think our bodies stay in the ground while our “souls” go to heaven — and yet the Bible doesn’t really say this.

Paul says,

(Rom 8:11 ESV)  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Our mortal bodies will be given eternal life. Not our souls.

(Rom 8:23 ESV)  23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Our bodies — not our souls — will be redeemed.

(Phi 3:20-1 ESV)  20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

And our bodies will be transformed to be like Jesus’ body!

John says,

(1Jo 3:2 ESV)  2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

Plainly, the resurrection will be — in some sense — a bodily resurrection. We won’t be disembodied spirits.

But also, just as plainly, we won’t be stuck with the broken bodies of this existence. Our bodies will be changed — redeemed, even. And that’s good, because my body is wearing out. I’m due for a trade up.

(Dan 12:2-3 ESV)  2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

The resurrection produces bodies that “shine like the brightness of the sky” and “like stars forever and ever.” This is not our old bodies!

The most detailed description of our new bodies is found in 1 Corinthians 15 —

(1Co 15:35, 41-44 ESV)  35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” … 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.  42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Although Paul repeatedly says that we’ll have a body, many take “spiritual body” (v. 44) to mean a body made out of spirit. This is not quite right.

“Natural” translates psychikos, and “spiritual” translates pneumatakos. NT Wright explains

On the contrary: every time psychikos is used, it denotes something that is ‘merely human’ as opposed to pneumatikos, ‘animated by spirit’, normally referring to the Holy Spirit. In 2.14 it is emphatic: the psychikos person doesn’t receive the things of God’s spirit; they are foolishness to such a person, and cannot be known, because they are spiritually (pneumatikos) discerned. …

For Paul, as for all Jews, Christians and indeed pagans until the rise of the Gnostics in the second century, the word ‘resurrection’ was about bodies. When pagans rejected ‘resurrection’, that’s what they were rejecting. Paul’s language here, using Greek adjectives ending in –ikos, is not about the substance of which the body is composed, but about the driving force that animates it. It’s the difference between, on the one hand, a ship made of steel or timber, and a ship powered by sail or steam. For Paul, the psyche is the breath of life, the vital spark, the thing that animates the body in the present life. The pneuma is the thing that animates the resurrection body. This is where the link is made: the pneuma is already given to the believer as the arrabon, the down payment, of what is to come, since the Spirit who raised the Messiah from the dead will give life to the mortal bodies of those who belong to the Messiah (Romans 8:9-11). In Paul’s discussion, the psyche is simply the life-force of ordinary mortals in the present world, emphatically not a substance which, as a second and non-material element of the person, will then carry that person’s existence forward through the intermediate state and on to resurrection itself. On the contrary: the psychikos body is mortal and corruptible. The new, immortal self will be the resurrection body animated by God’s pneuma, the true Temple of the living God (or rather, one particular outpost, or as it were franchise, of that Temple).

In short, “spiritual” or pneumatikos means animated by or coming from the Spirit, rather than made out of spirit; just as psychikos does not mean “made out of psyche [soul]” but animated by or coming from the natural life, called “soul.”

Ironic, isn’t it, that Paul uses an adjective form of “soul” to refer to the body that doesn’t go to heaven!

It was the Greeks who believed that a soul went to heaven. They taught that the soul is inherently immortal, surviving death in a thin, wispy, barely existing state, whereas the body dies and cannot be recovered. Two or three centuries after the apostles, the Greek or Platonic view of death and the afterlife overtook the Jewish perspective among Christians.

You see, Jews referred to living beings in this life as “souls,” borrowing the Greek word psyche as the closest Greek approximation, but using the word in the Old Testament sense, rather than the Platonic sense —

(Gen 2:7 LXE) And God formed the man of dust of the earth, and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.

(Psa 35:13 LXE) But I, when they troubled me, put on sackcloth, and humbled my soul with fasting: and my prayer shall return to my own bosom.

(1Co 15:45 KJV)  And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

Why does this matter? Well, it matters because it means the resurrection of Jesus indicates the nature of our resurrection. And that’s one reason the resurrection matters so much.

We have confidence that God will resurrect us because he resurrected Jesus. “Resurrect” is a technical term meaning “bodily raise from the dead.” We’ll be like Jesus.

Now, that helps but only so much, because we don’t exactly know what Jesus was like. Paul makes it clear that our “glory” will be dramatically different from our pre-death glory. Something about us will dramatically change, but the details are vague.

This is not surprise since we live in a world in which everything dies or decays. We can’t imagine what eternal things might be like. Not really.

So we don’t really know what we’ll be like — except we know that we won’t be disembodied “souls.” Rather, we’ll be redeemed, transformed, and made new — and better.

The physics of the afterlife won’t be like the physics of this fallen world. And so we can’t imagine it. Indeed, we couldn’t even see it with our fleshly eyes except for a miracle.

And this opens up a whole, different way of looking at death, and heaven, and hell, and salvation, and redemption.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to John’s Gospel: Reflections on Chapter 20

  1. Jeff says:

    This post should be painted on the foyer of every church building across the land! How have we gotten so far removed from the doctrine of the apostles in our theology of resurrection?

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks. Wow. I’d about forgotten about that post. If you’ve not already read it, you should read N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.

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