A gentleman once contacted our offices at Apologetics Press, questioning whether Jesus had the same body after His resurrection as He did before being raised from the grave. According to this man, Jesus “appeared to people he knew but nobody recognized him…. It’s as though He had a different body”—and possibly one that was not physical.
At the outset, it is incorrect to assert that “nobody recognized Him,” because Matthew 28:9,17 clearly implies that at least some of Jesus’ disciples knew Who He was and worshipped Him. Moreover, that Jesus had essentially the same physical body after His resurrection that He had when He died on the cross, is evident from at least three different passages. In Luke 24:39 Jesus stated: “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” Jesus expected His disciples to observe His physical body. Later in the same chapter, we read that Jesus ate a meal with His disciples (24:42-43; cf. Acts 10:41). And then in John 20:25-29, which is the most often-used passage in defense of Christ’s having His same physical body, Thomas was asked to touch Jesus’ nail-scared hands and reach into His side that had been pierced with the Roman spear.
But what about those occasions when some of His disciples did not recognize Him? Do such verses as Luke 24:31,37 and John 20:10-16 represent a contradictory element in the resurrection story? First, just because the text says that the disciples thought they had seen a spirit when they actually saw Jesus (Luke 24:37), does not indicate that He looked different. Since they knew He had been killed, seeing His resurrected body caused them to think that He was in spirit form rather than physical. A similar thing happened to Peter when some thought his unexpected presence must be an indication that “it is his angel” (Acts 12:15).
Second, the reason the two disciples who were traveling on the road to Emmaus failed to recognize Jesus initially was not because Jesus had a different body, but because God had miraculously prevented them from recognizing Him. Luke 24:16 indicates that at the beginning of their conversation with Jesus “their eyes were restrained,” but then just before Jesus vanished from their sight, “their eyes were opened and they knew Him” (24:31). Thus, the disciples’ recognition ability failed, not because Jesus possessed a different body, but because their eyes were miraculously restrained.
A final person often mentioned as not having recognized the Savior (allegedly because Jesus had a different body) is Mary Magdalene. John 20:11-18 certainly testifies of her initial inability to identify Jesus. The question is: Was Mary’s failure to recognize Jesus, her fault or the result of Jesus having a different body? As with the above cases, there is no indication in John 20:11-18 that Jesus had anything other than His risen crucified body (cf. 20:25-29). There are at least four possibilities, however, as to why Mary failed to recognize Jesus right at first.
- The sun may not have risen all the way yet, thus making it difficult to see (cf. 20:1).
- Mary was engaged in deep weeping that likely obscured her vision (20:11,13). In fact, the first words Jesus said to Mary were, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (vs. 15).
- Considering Jesus’ clothes were taken from Him when He was crucified (John 19:23-24), and that the linen cloths which were used in His burial were lying in the tomb (John 20:6-7), Jesus likely was wearing clothes that made His exact identity less conspicuous at first glance. Perhaps His post-resurrection attire was similar to what a gardener or watchman would wear (cf. John 20:15).
- It also is possible that Mary’s eyes were restrained miraculously, as were the disciples with whom Jesus conversed on the road to Emmaus.
Once all of the Scriptures are taken in to account, one can see clearly that Jesus physically rose from the grave in essentially the same body that was crucified on the cross. The fact that some of Jesus’ disciples did not immediately recognize Him, in no way contradicts His physical resurrection.
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