While early Christians are seen in Scripture, and historically, as meeting upon the first day of the week to remember Christ in the partaking of the Lord’s Supper—referred to as “breaking bread” (Acts 2:42 ; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23 f.f.), –there is no indication of an annual celebration of His resurrection 0n a day we now call “Easter.” However, we do know that Jesus rose from the dead in the spring, during the Jewish Passover. It was in this time of the year that He who was crucified for our sins arose victorious over death. How fitting it is that in this season we begin to see evidence of the renewing of life in nature.
The bodily resurrection of Christ was a reality. I would stress the fact that He arose bodily. Some hold to a kind of spiritual encounter that the disciples had with the Lord, while denying that the body that died on the cross and was buried actually came to life again. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, teach that the physical body of Jesus was dissolved in gases, and that Jesus was raised and appeared to the disciples in an immortal spirit-body, entirely distinct from His former body. Liberal denominations often take a similar view. Those who witnessed the resurrected Christ, however, were persuaded by the Lord otherwise, as He said, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39). It was no apparition. It was not a body that just looked like His former body. It was the “flesh and bones” body—minus the blood, since it had been shed—now raised and glorified. It was a body in which Jesus could not only prepare a fish-breakfast for the disciples, and also eat with them (John 21:9-14 ; Luke 24:41-43 ), but in which He could suddenly appear in their midst as they were in a locked room (John 20:19 , 26).
There are implications in this as to how a Christian should view his body. Like our Lord, at the return of Christ our bodies—whether dead and buried or still alive—will be “changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sounds, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15: 51b-52). This body is more than a husk to be lightly regarded. It is a holy vessel, sanctified by God, a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19 ), and should therefore be a sanctuary in which we “glorify God” (v. 20). In the resurrection, our bodies will be changed—not replaced—“fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21 ). John declared that while we cannot understand all things about this change, yet, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 ). While it is true that when our spirits depart our bodies in death, they go to be “with Christ” (Philippians 1:23 ; 2 Corinthians 5:8 ), the consummation of our hope is not in “going to heaven when we die,”, but rather the “blessed hope” realized finally at “the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13 ). We look forward to His coming, and the “redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23 ).
Early Christians spoke little of “going to heaven,” but much of the glorious resurrection at Jesus’ coming. God’s purpose for His Creation will then be fully realized. Historians have said that the Romans often regarded Christians as a “burial society” due to their care for their dead. The catacombs were not a place of refuge from persecution, but tunnels in which to deposit their dead to await the resurrection. Two things impressed the pagans about Christians: their sexual restraint and their respect for the dead. For the Christian, death is a defeated enemy, unable to hold the body of Jesus in its cold grip, nor the bodies of those who truly put their trust in Him who is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25 ).
-Ron Bartanen lives in Sullivan, IL and preaches for the Arthur Church of Christ