Introduction: Scars on the Resurrected Jesus?
(24) Thomas, one of the twelve (the one called Didymus), was not with them when Jesus came. (25) Therefore, the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said, “Unless I see the marks of the nails in his hands, and unless I feel with my finger the marks of the nails and I feel with my hand his side, I will not believe it.” (26) After eight days, again the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. While the doors were closed Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be to you.” (27) Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and put your hand here and feel my side. Do not be unbelieving but believing.” (28) Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God.”
In this story from near the end of the Gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples and presents the evidence that his disciple Thomas said he would need in order to believe that Jesus truly had been raised from the dead. That evidence consists of the marks from where Jesus was nailed to the cross and where his side was pierced by a spear. This is the story from which we get our term “doubting Thomas”. But what I want to talk about isn’t “doubting Thomas”. Rather, I want to draw your attention to a sneaky little detail in the text that is actually enormously important. And the detail isn’t really that sneaky, but it is usually overshadowed by our tendency to focus on Thomas and his doubts when we read this story.
This is the detail: have you ever stopped to reflect on the fact that the resurrected Jesus has scars?
Jesus, after being raised from the dead, possessing a new kind of physicality, something Paul calls a “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44, has physical scars in that new spiritual body that he inherited from his pre-resurrection existence.
Without too much reflection, it is clear that this fact creates problems for our typical way of understanding the resurrection and its effect on our human bodies. With biblical justification, we believe that our resurrected selves will be completely healed. If we have lived life as a paraplegic, our resurrected body will be able to walk. If we have lived with an incurable genetic disease, like cystic fibrosis, all traces of that disease will be gone. Our resurrected bodies will be perfected bodies, completely free of disease and disability. While the Bible doesn’t say this in so many words, this expectation is well founded on numerous biblical texts. For example, the same passage in 1 Corinthians 15 that talks about us possessing a spiritual body in the resurrection also talks about the resurrection in this way, imagining the human body as a seed:
It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
So we are right to expect that all those things that presently afflict and weaken our natural bodies will no longer afflict us in the resurrection.
Yet it is an undeniable fact that the resurrected Jesus, who had been cured of death itself, nevertheless had scars on his hands and on his side. Now, we have no reason to think that Jesus’ resurrected physicality is somehow fundamentally different from what we ourselves will have in the resurrection, or that he appeared to his disciples in some kind of intermediate form. Rather, the Bible says … in fact, John himself says, “Beloved, we are even now children of God, and what we will be is not yet apparent. We know that when he shall appear we will be like him, for we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2). Even though the first generation of Christians did not fully understand what the resurrected experience would be like, they believed that they had encountered it personally in the resurrected Jesus. The way he was in his post-resurrection appearances was the way they too would be when everyone was resurrected at the end of the age.