Jehovah's Witnesses and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Jehovah’s Witnesses and their official organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, have historically denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and have maintained that His was a “spirit” or “spiritual” resurrection. To quote the Watchtower:
“The King, Christ Jesus, was put to death in the flesh and was resurrected an invisible spirit creature.” 1
Further developing their teaching, the Witnesses proclaim: “In His resurrection He was no more human. He was raised as a spirit creature.” 2
In addition to this, the Watchtower has even suggested that Christ’s body was “dissolved into gases” or “preserved somewhere as the grand memorial of God’s love.” 3
In order to understand the true teaching of the resurrection, it is necessary to review briefly the Biblical position, which is at considerable odds with the Watchtower.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is quite literally the historical bedrock upon which the Christian faith rests. The Apostle Paul indeed tells us that “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” I Corinthians 15:14 He also declares, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” v. 17
From these statements in the Word of God, we can see that the resurrection of our Lord determines the validity of our faith and even our salvation; for without His resurrection our faith is “vain” and we are “yet in our sins.”
In this connection, it must also be remembered that every verse in the Bible which deals with the resurrection of the dead, and of our Lord particularly, refers exclusively to the human body; i.e., a bodily resuscitation; never a spirit or spiritual resurrection. In fact the word “resurrection” is never applied to the soul or spirit of man. This fact is born out in the original Hebrew and Greek. Beyond this, our Lord specifically prophesied that His resurrection would be bodily; that is, in a glorified form of the body He then possessed. When speaking to the unbelieving Jews, as recorded in the second chapter of John’s Gospel, Christ stated:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” v. 19
The Jews, however, thought he was referring to the temple in Jerusalem, but the Apostle John clearly declares our Lord’s meaning:
“But He spake of the temple of His body.” v. 21
The Greek word soma is translated “body” throughout the New Testament, so it is an inescapable fact that Christ was referring to His own physical form – hence a bodily resurrection.
Two classic New Testament references which corroborate our Lord’s prophecy of His bodily resurrection are in the 20th chapter of John and the 24th chapter of Luke. In John 20 when our Lord appeared to the doubting Thomas, the same body in which He died upon the cross is evidenced by His own words:
“Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side: and be not faithless, but believing.” v. 27
In Luke 24, we again see how the words of Christ refute the spirit resurrection idea of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And He said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? 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. And when He had thus spoken, He shewed them His hands and His feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, He said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And He took it, and did eat before them.” v. 36-43
Not only, then, did our Lord have “flesh and bones,” but He showed them the same hands and feet which bore the wounds of Calvary (v. 39, 40). The fact that He also ate broiled fish and a honeycomb (v. 42 and 43) proves that He was not a “spirit creature” as Jehovah’s Witnesses contend. Moreover our Lord’s words, “It is I Myself… a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have” v. 39 was uttered according to verses 37 and 38 because the disciples thought He was a spirit. Jesus, however, absolutely disproved that by offering His body as tangible evidence. (v. 39, 40)
Sometimes Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to explain away these appearances of Christ by asserting that He had a “spiritual body” I Corinthians 15:44, or that He merely assumed different bodies to encourage His disciples, which the Witnesses say accounts for the fact that those who knew Him the best in life did not recognize Him after His resurrection (John 20:11-16; Luke 24:15-30).
The Witnesses also argue that I Peter 3:18, which refers to Christ’s resurrection and states that He was “made alive in the spirit” (Literal Greek), establishes their theory, but they are in error.
While it is true that Paul speaks of “a spiritual body” he nevertheless calls it a “body” (Greek “soma”) and we have already seen how Christ possessed “flesh and bones.” Luke 24:39. A spiritual body then is not a “spirit” as the Witnesses make out, but a glorified, immortal, physical form possessing certain spiritual characteristics or attributes (i.e., the ability to pass through locked doors or to vanish at will. John 20:19, 26; Luke 24:31)
Again, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ idea that because Mary Magdalene and the disciples could not recognize Christ on three occasions “proves” that He had assumed “different bodies” other than the one in which He died upon the cross, is disposed of by Luke 24:16. Luke there tells us that when the disciples encountered Jesus their eyes were kept from recognizing Him as a direct act of Christ’s will. When He finished His conversation, He allowed their sense of vision to perceive who He really was; thus “their eyes were opened, and they knew Him; and He vanished out of their sight” v. 31
Finally, I Peter 3:18, far from “proving” that Jesus was raised a spirit as the Witnesses insist, only proves that He was raised in or by the Spirit of God as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:11. The main objections, then, that Jehovah’s Witnesses raise against the bodily resurrection of our Lord are all thoroughly answered by the Scriptures and represent no real threat to the historic Christian doctrine of the resurrection.
The Bible, therefore, does have much to say about the resurrection of Christ as we have seen, and nowhere supports the spirit-resurrection theory of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In fact, all of it contradicts their teaching.
To the sincere, zealous, yet misled members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian church must repeat the statement of our Lord Himself: “Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? 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 24:38, 39
The true teaching concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ does indeed determine a person’s eternal destiny (I Corinthians 15:14,17). For “If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from among the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9. (Literal Greek).
1. Let God Be True, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p.122, Ed.1946.
2. The Kingdom is at Hand, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p. 258.
3. Studies in the Scripture, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p. 129, Vol. 2.
Courtesy: American Tract Society, Oradell, NJ