What Happened to Jesus’ Earthly Body?

Since Jesus was the first to rise from the dead’ (Acts 26), and he will ‘transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ (Phil. 3) – it only makes sense to investigate what happened to Jesus’ earthly body? Was it left behind in the tomb to rot and decay? Was Jesus given immortality at his resurrection, or did he already possess an undying spirit before he was crucified? Does it matter? And is the promise of resurrection crucial to the hope of living forever?

Did Jesus’ Body Rot and Decay?

When Mary came to wrap Jesus’ body with spices – the tomb was empty! The body was gone! (John 20) The linen cloths that had bound his body were lying by themselves – Jesus’ body had been unwrapped. While the disciples were perplexed that they could not find his body, the angels explained, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. (Luke 24:5-6 ESV)

Later, the guards were bribed to say that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body away as they slept. (Matthew 28:11-15) However, Peter clearly lays out the truth of the matter in Acts 2.

Referring to an Old Testament prophecy given to David, Peter says, “… this Jesus… God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, ‘my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption...’ Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:22-32 – Quote from Psalm 16:9-10)

“My Flesh Also will Dwell in Hope”

Psalm 16:9-10, the passage quoted above, is a ‘Messianic’ prophecy. After his resurrection, Jesus explained to his disciples that everything about him was clearly prophesied “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46) God had clearly foretold in the Old Testament what would happen to Jesus’ body. As Peter points out, the Psalm says, “my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption...”

The only part of us that can decay is our mortal body – our ‘flesh’. Jesus’ ‘flesh’ was going to rest in hope – hope of what? Hope of being made alive again! He would not see ‘corruption’. This word ‘corruption’ in Strong’s Concordance has the meaning to ‘decay’. Strong’s personal definition is ‘to rot thoroughly’! Only a mortal body can rot. Jesus’ mortal body did not! If you want to investigate this topic more thoroughly – click here for our Discovery Lesson on Resurrection

“Did not see Corruption”

The Apostle Paul made a similar argument in Acts 13, saying, “And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm,“‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he says also in another Psalm, “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.”

The Apostle Paul clearly points out that this Psalm couldn’t be talking about David; they all knew that David ‘fell asleep’ and ‘saw corruption’. But Jesus, did ‘not see corruption’. His mortal body was brought back to life! He is the ‘firstborn from the dead.’ (Colossians 1:18)

The Lineage of Jesus Christ

Why is it important that Jesus’ mortal body be raised? It is very important in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus. Truly Jesus was conceived miraculously by God’s Holy Spirit power causing an egg in Mary’s womb to become a child without a man’s involvement, (Luke 1:34-35) and was therefore God’s Son. Yet Jesus’ human lineage was also the subject of several Old Testament prophecies and New Testament commentary. For example, the promise to David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Samuel 7:12-14)

Gabriel’s Message

The promise made to David was reiterated in Gabriel’s message to Mary, “And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

The New Testament genealogy of Jesus Christ goes through David, Abraham and Adam and Eve – significant individuals who were promised a son that would redeem mankind and bring God’s blessings to the earth. (Luke 3; Genesis 3:15; 12:1-2; 22:15-18; 2 Samuel 7:12-14)

“Descended From David”

After Jesus Christ has gone to heaven, Paul still makes mention of Jesus’ earthly lineage:

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,” (2 Timothy 2:8) and, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:1-3) The earthly lineage of Jesus Christ is very important as it fulfilled personal promises God made to the forefathers.

“This Mortal Body Must Put on Immortality”

From the passages in Acts we see very clearly that Jesus’ mortal body was raised from the dead before corruption set in (as it would on the 4th day) and that he was GIVEN immortality.  We find no promises in the Bible that our mortal bodies will avoid corruption! However, we are told by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:53, that “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” Our bodies will be raised and then we are given immortality – if God is pleased to give us this incredible gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Perished??

In our investigation of the original Gospel hope, we found that resurrection was the consistent hope of Old and New Testament believers. So much so, that the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, that if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, then “Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” 

PERISHED? A true statement, if all the Old Testament believers are in their graves, ‘fast asleep’ awaiting the hope of resurrection. A very confusing statement if those Old Testament believers never really died and are happily enjoying paradise now.

A Greek Fable

Our next blog will consider a Greek fable that crept into early Christianity after Jesus ascended to heaven and is now such an established and cherished belief that few realize it can be easily shown to be false. Some would say, “A false hope is better than no hope at all” – but is it? And if we hold onto a false hope, what other aspects of the true Gospel message will become distorted? God Willing, we will look into this matter primarily from Scripture but also with reference to the historical development of this teaching.

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