There are many views held on Jesus' ressurection. Atheists, skeptics, Jews and Muslims will say that it is a fairytale or that his body was stolen by his disciples or that his appearances were mass hallicunations. For Christians though, the fact that Jesus was ressurected is the cornerstone of our faith. The Apostle Paul said it best:
If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:14, English Standard Version)
Therefore a Christian by definition must believe in the resurrection of Jesus. That being said, in what form was Jesus resurrected? If you ask most Protestants they will answer "in the body, flesh and blood" If you ask one of Jehovah's Witnesses they will say "as a spirit being." Which view does the Bible support? We will examine both views to see which one is consistent with the entire Bible.
Scriptures that could support a "fleshly" ressurection
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, "Peace to you!" But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:26-43, English Standard Version)
In this Scripture, Jesus has a fleshly body and encourages his disciples to touch him to prove it.
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:26-29, English Standard Version)
Here again, Jesus directs Thomas to touch his body and feel that it is real.
After looking at these Scriptures a person may say, "Of course Jesus was resurrected in the flesh, his disciples actually felt his body with their own hands!" But what of the other Scriptures in the Bible that talk specifically about how Jesus was raised?
Scriptures that could support a "spiritual" ressurection
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18,19, English Standard Version)
Notice Peter here contrasts Jesus being made alive in the spirit with being put to death in the flesh (the form he came to earth in).1
Well by now some may be confused. "What about those Scriptures we read where Jesus encouraged his disciples to touch his body!? How do they harmonise with Peter's words?"
Jesus' post-resurrection appearances
The simple answer to this dilemna is that Jesus WAS a spirit being but manifested a human body when appearing to his followers. What evidence supports this? First of all, no human body can walk through walls, and there is no record of Jesus or any other human doing so in the Bible. Yet the resurrected Jesus was able to do just that:
"On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them" (John 20:19 English Standard Version)
Also, after appearing to the disciples on the road, he "vanished from their sight" (Luke 24:31 English Standard Version).
There are other examples in the Bible where angels (also spirit beings) manifested themselves.2.
Even the Apostle Peter mentions Jesus "becoming visible":
God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible. (Acts 10:40, New American Standard Bible)
The term here translated "visible" literally means "visibility to the human eye"3.
Why then did Jesus say "Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have"?
The Greek world for "spirit" is πνευμα and its meaning can be translated differently depending on context. It is used 35 times in the book of Luke4. Out of those 35 times, it is used once to refer to a person's life force, 4 times to a person's mindset, 15 times to the Holy Spirit and 15 times to Demons. It never refers to a good spirit (which is usually termed 'angel'). We can rule out that the word used by Luke is meant to confer a life force, a person's mindset or 'a' Holy Spirt, which leaves Luke as meaning that the disciples thought they had seen a demon.
Since after the flood of Noah's day, there is no record in the Bible of evil spirits being able to manifest human bodies, most likely part of their punishment for rebelling5. Good spirits, or angels, on the other hand could still materialise human bodies, and there are other examples of this in the Bible6. Look at what angels called do in the past compared with what Jesus did post-ressurection:
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, "My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way." They said, "No; we will spend the night in the town square." But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. (Genesis 19:1-3, English Standard Version)
The message Luke was trying to confer at Luke 24:36-43 then, was that Jesus was resurrected and that the body he materialized was a witness to that resurrection, something that would not be possible for an evil spirit.
Other scriptures supporting a spiritual resurrection
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah. (1 Peter 3:18-20, English Standard Version)
Peter here shows that after Jesus was put to death in the flesh, he was resurrected by God in the spirit and in this spiritual form he preached to the evil spirit creatures that forsook their dwelling place in the heavens and came to earth in Noah's day7. It is obvious that Jesus had to be a spirit to preach to these spirits. After preaching to the spirits, he begun to manifest himself to his disciples.
What happened to Jesus' body?
Many people ask what happened to Jesus body, since it was not found in the tomb? There are two possibilities:
1. God disintegrated it
Reasons God would of done this may be that he would not want people to use Jesus remains for the purpose of worship; it would not be appropriate for the Son of God's body to "see corruption"8; and also since Jesus body was sacrificed for our sins, it would not be legally permissible to keep his body on earth.
2. It was turned into a spiritual body - This possibility is supported by Paul's writings:
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:42-53, English Standard Version)
Paul shows that not only is it impossible for "flesh and blood" to inherit the kingdom of God in the heavens, but also that those inheriting the kingdom who have died will die as "a natural body" but be "raised a spiritual body". Those who are living during the "last trumpted" will be instantaneously changed into a spiritual body.
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. (2 Corinthians 5:1 English Standard Version)
Paul's words show that he expected those who die to have their "earthly home" (i.e. fleshly body) dissolved and to have a "heavenly dwelling" (i.e. spiritual body) "put on". He did not expect the fleshly body itself to be immortalised.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20,21 New International Version)
Another scripture showing how earthly bodies need to be, not immortalised, but actually "transformed" into glorious spiritual bodies. It is possible that Jesus' body was transformed in a similar manner.
Why did Jesus appear to Thomas with flesh wounds?
After other disciples had seen Jesus appear, Thomas doubted the resurrection and stated that he would only believe if he actually seen Jesus' wounds and put his hands in them he would not believe. Jesus appearing with these wounds to Thomas was to convince Thomas that he had been resurrected. (John 20:24-27) It is important to note that none of Jesus' other resurrection appearances mention that he had visible flesh wounds.
A fleshly resurrection nulls the effects of Jesus death
For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. (Hebrews 10:10, New Living Translation)
As the scripture above highlights, Jesus offered his body once for all time. He can no longer have a flesh and bones body, as he has sacrificed it for all time.
Was Jesus a spirit or human?
Many persons who believe that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh also believe that while on earth he was "100% man and 100% God". They also agree that "God is a spirt"9. Therefore Catholics and most Protestants believe that Jesus was both a spirit and a man when he walked on earth.10 This leads to a contradiction. They believe that while Jesus was on earth he was a "spirit clothed in flesh", but then deny that he was a spirit at his resurrection. Either they must give up the belief that Jesus was God while on earth, or the belief that he was a resurrected in the flesh.
So even though a brief reading of the Gospel accounts of the resurrection may suggest that Jesus was resurrected in the flesh, the harmony of the scriptures testify that he was put to death in the flesh, resurrected in the spirit, preached to the spirits in prison, appeared to his disciples in a manifested human body, and then ascended to the heavens sat down at his Father's right hand.
'Body' in Insight on the Scriptures - Volume 1, Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, New York, p.348-350.
Flemings, Hal 1990, 'Was Jesus a Spirit or Wasn't He? An Appeal to Trinitarians' <http://jehovah.to/exe/general/spirit.htm>
Scriptural Truths 2007, 'The Nature of Jesus' Glorified Body' <http://www.scripturaltruths.com/resurrection/jesus/>