Jesus Christ rose from the dead physically and bodily. I have been concerned recently by the number of people in Christian circles saying that it doesn’t really matter whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, or if he did, that it was a physical resurrection. To me it matters enormously, and I think I am in good company. The disciples clearly believed that his was a physical resurrection. Thomas experienced this when Jesus invited him to touch his wounds, and when he did, he bowed down and worshiped him.
He was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, which the gospel writers make clear as day. The recent claim that Jesus’ bones may have been found highlights again the different arguments that are going around. While the claim that these are in fact the bones of Jesus have been debunked (see Ben Witherington), the Christian Century, which is along the historical-critical line of thinking, seems to imply that we need not be concerned if these really are the bones of Jesus. They ask could something have been left behind even if Jesus was physically raised.
N.T. Wright leaves us in no doubt that the early Christians were convinced that Jesus’ resurrection was physical. Wright shows what the beliefs of the time were about resurrection and the life beyond, from the point of view of the Greeks, other groups, the Essenes, the Qumran community, and Paul, and of course the first Christians. Paul says that if Jesus wasn’t raised then our hope is in vain and we are to be pitied more than anyone. True, and it could be said that this does not say that Paul says anything of a physical resurrection. However when taken in the context of the time and in the context of Paul’s other writings, there is no other conclusion that we can come to other than that Paul meant that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was physical. That is the basis on which our faith is built. It is built on the fact that Jesus defeated the scourge of death and he had a new body after he rose and that is what we can have as well. We will be raised and have new bodies, never to die again. That is the hope of the Christian faith and it is why the fact of Jesus’ physical resurrection from death is central to it. No other type of resurrection suffices.