In the Incarnation, when Jesus came to earth as a humble, helpless peasant child, He took on flesh. He took our human form. He showed our physical beings mattered, our humanity meant something. He didn’t come as some vapory being or as a flash of divine insight. He came as a simple man.
After his death, after all the suffering He endured, after paying the price of redemption, He returned…in flesh. He was skin and blood and bones. He ate food. He could be touched, as hesitant fingers reached out to trace His scars. If there was any point for Him to reject the material realm and return as an apparition or an angelic being, I would think it would be then—but He rose again, as a man, in a redeemed, resurrection body—a physical body, restored.
Jews were unique, in the first century, in their belief in a bodily resurrection. The surrounding religions and Greek philosophies scoffed at them. The "soul"—the spiritual realm—was what truly mattered. The body—and all things material—was a hindrance to be thrown off. Death was a freeing release of the soul from the body, they claimed, why would you want to take on flesh again?
What of today? When we portray heaven as an ethereal land in which our souls will float in remote, unattached bliss? When we scoff at our bodies or their needs, claiming all that matters is the health of the soul? When we degrade the earth and violate its beauty because "it's not our home"? When we neglect or downplay the simple, physical needs of others to get on to "getting them saved"?
Aren't these more in line with ancient Greek Gnosticism than with the Judeo-Christian perspective? Don't they subtly and not-so-subtly prize the spirit over the body? Don't they make the physical world something lesser-than, something to eventually escape?
Judaism, and now Christianity, affirm the goodness of creation. They proclaim the Creation of God is not something to escape—it is the work He declared good. The resurrection, I think, affirms this: Jesus didn’t escape from his body, he re-entered it, resurrected, redeemed, the first of the New Creation.
Why? Because our physical, material, visceral existence matters. Jesus didn't come merely to offer escape from the created order—He came to redeem it from the bondage of death and decay and disorder brought about by sin. And so He rose, in touchable, feedable flesh.
His resurrection is the first fruit—the promise, the downpayment—of what is to come, in the complete and final restoration of not only our souls but all of Creation itself. We see now our world in broken beauty. It's a world in which joy and sorrow mingle the same breath, a world where our made-in-God's-image bodies become twisted and diseased with sickness. It's a world where death severs precious relationships, where justice is mottled, infrequent, incomplete. But Jesus' resurrection is the guarantee that this world, and that we , will one day be invited into a New Heaven and a New Earth. We won't have escaped—we will have entered into a fully redeemed, fully restored, fully alive Creation as it was always intended to be.