More on the continuing humanity of Jesus
The Bible does not discuss in comprehensive, systematic detail the specifics of Jesus dual nature when he was on earth, nor now as he is in heaven. What the Bible does is to make many statements that cause us to think deeply about the nature of Jesus, and thus come to an understanding that is faithful to Scripture and to the nature of Jesus as he is revealed to be.
The early church had many years of discussion (and even division) concerning Jesus nature, and concluded that Jesus was (and still is), fully God and fully human: one person with two inseparable (but not co-mingled or confused) natures (click here to read the first creed that addressed Jesus dual nature, and here to read an additional creed that added to that understanding).
Part of our struggle concerning this truth is that through experience and erroneous (or at least incomplete teaching), we have come to assume that Jesus is now a “spirit being” – a being with something other than material - bodily existence. We tend to think that Jesus left behind his body when he ascended and will get it back when he returns.
But there is no biblical warrant for the idea that Jesus body disappeared or "morphed" into some non-material condition - which would mean the shedding of his humanity. To the contrary, Paul declares in 1 Tim. 2:5 that Jesus, our "mediator" in heaven, is “the man [anthropos] Christ Jesus” (not "formerly" the man).
Moreover, John says concerning our own bodily resurrection, that “when he [Jesus] appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1John 3:2) - not as he "was" or will be. Of course, John also says in verse 2 that “what we will be [in the resurrection] has not yet been made known” in the sense that we don’t understand exactly what it is like to be a glorified human like Jesus now is. This was said by John who touched and saw Jesus in his glorified human body. So if John doesn't know the exact nature of the resurrected Jesus, we must be careful about saying more than we know!
Paul describes the resurrection body in 1Cor 15, where he says that “since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man” (v 21) - note that he refers to Jesus as a "man." Then in verses 35ff, Paul describes the nature of the resurrection body. One of the reasons he could do so is that the glorified human Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.
Paul says in verse 42 that the resurrection body is “imperishable” - and then in verse 44 calls it a “spiritual body.” I think it is from this verse that some get the erroneous idea that glorified humans are "spirit beings” - something non-material (non-physical). But that is NOT what Paul is saying. “Spirit body” in Greek is “pneumatikos” which speaks not of a non-body, but of a body that is animated by God’s spirit. Whereas our bodies in this life are animated by the normal human soul given to us all by God; in the resurrection, our bodies will be animated by God’s spirit. And so in the resurrection, we will still be fully human - the union of body and spirit - but our human bodies will be imperishable and our spirit will be that of God’s spirit itself.
Jesus, in his continuing humanity, is now “pneumatikos” - not a "spirit being" if one means by that a non-material being. Rather, he is the “the firstborn among many brethren” (Ro 8:29). “Firstborn” means, chiefly, “preeminent” - but here Paul seems also to indicate that Jesus is the first of many glorified humans (see v.30b).
When Jesus was raised from the dead - glorified - he became “pneumatikos” in his humanity and walked out of the tomb in an imperishable human body animated by God’s spirit - a human body fit for the life of eternity with God and with other glorified humans (in a glorified cosmos).
There is no indication in Scripture that Jesus ever shed this human body - he never ceased being human. And, we are told, Jesus will return (and the Greek word is "parousia" which means “appear”) at the end of the age in that same human (now glorified) body, which will be seen by all then in its great, shining glory.
Note Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20-21,
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.
Note that we’re going to have a body like his “glorious body” - a glorified human body like the one he now has (not one he’ll jump back into just before returning). Click here to read a WCG article by Dr. Joseph Tkach concerning the resurrection body.
I think a reason some wrestle with the idea of Jesus remaining human (now glorified) is they have a hard time conceiving of Jesus continuing to be material. If that is the case, then where is Jesus material body now? they wonder.
Scripture tells us that when Jesus ascended, he went to the Father in heaven. I believe that what Scripture shows us is that Jesus ascended to the Father in his glorified human body - he did not shed it somewhere along the way. The “place” that Jesus went to, in his humanity, is in Scripture called “heaven” - spoken of metaphorically as the “place” at his Father’s side. Of course, the Father, being God, is omnipresent - not limited to any location in space/time. But heaven should not be thought of as non-spatial. Rather it is to be understood as a time/space of God's creation, where he meets with created beings - where they are given to share with God some of his great glory.
The Jews traditionally referred to this place called heaven as “paradise” - the “place” where Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that he would be with him that day in spirit. Then on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave in his glorified human body, and then 40 days later he ascended to heaven (still in his glorified body), where he now resides awaiting his return -the time of his bodily, visible revelation to all humanity.
So heaven is a "place" where humans who depart this life in the body are with God, in spirit, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies which will be made “fit” through glorification for life with God forever in a new heaven and earth.
For more about these issues, I recommend N.T. Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope, Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.” Wright carefully examines the Scriptural evidence and concludes that we should think of heaven not as a place “up there” - far away - but an unseen dimension of God’s created order within which the human Jesus now resides bodily, awaiting his "return."
Having said all this about the “location” of the glorified - human Jesus, we should hasten to note that Jesus in his divinity (as God) is non-spatial. He is a non-material, eternal, life-giving spirit - one with God in the trinity of Father-Son-Spirit.
Jesus, since his conception in the womb of Mary, remains fully God and also fully human. But we might ask, what's the big deal about his continuing humanity? For the full answer I’d urge you to read the book by Dawson I referenced in my last post. But the short answer is this: In Jesus, who is the permanent union of God and man, we have our mediator and our merciful and faithful high priest. He is uniquely “fit” for these roles, precisely because he is uniquely both God and human - the God-man; the permanent union of divinity with humanity.
Thus, as Paul so often says, our salvation is “in Christ” - he, in his own divine - human nature, is the salvation of humanity. He has drawn (permanently) our fallen humanity up into his perfect and perfecting divinity and there transformed it - recreated it - glorified it. And now, through his permanent - continuing incarnation, we remain forever in him and with him.
I’ll conclude this post with Paul’s amazing and comforting words in Romans 8:29-39,
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?