Does Jesus have a human body now?

On William Lane Craig’s website, he regularly answers a question which has been submitted to him. I often find his answers very helpful, particularly because he brings to theological questions greater philosophical expertise than many systematic theologians have.

On January 11, 2021, in Q & A number 714,  “Zygotic Jesus,” Craig responded to two questions from “Rodrigo,” in Brazil.

First, Rodrigo asked:

In what sense was Jesus omniscient while in the form of a zygote or fetus? It makes sense to use concepts of the subliminal and subconscious or preconscious for when He was an adult, already having a brain, but how can a zygote have a subconsciousness?

In response, Craig appealed to the Nicene Creed (AD 381), in which the global church laid out very precisely that, “as a divine person, Jesus had all the essential properties of God, including omniscience. Obviously, as a zygote, and even later, he was not consciously aware of all that he knew. We needn’t say that the zygote had a subconscious but that it was simply unconscious, and that needn’t affect the divine nature or person.”

I am well satisfied with Craig’s answer to this question, and it comports very well with my own understanding of the incarnation of Jesus, which made him truly divine and truly human. Three mornings a week, I recite the church’s “Definition of Chalcedon” in 451, because I think it is very well stated and biblically sound, and it addresses an extremely important theological doctrine.  

The second question which Rodrigo put to Craig was this:

If presently, after His ascension to Heaven, Christ is not in his physical resurrected body, and if Christ’s human nature is formed only by the union of His divine soul and human body, does that mean he does not presently have a human nature? Also, if he will reassume his glorified body only at his second coming, would that be a second incarnation?

Craig replied:

We want to affirm that Jesus has a human nature even in his ascended state. The incarnation is not a temporary state of Jesus’ thirty-odd years on earth. Rather his resurrection shows that he has permanently assumed a human nature, the strongest possible affirmation of the worth of human corporeality. One could say that in his ascended state Jesus is spatially located somewhere, perhaps in another space-time different than our own. But like you, I’m inclined to say that between his ascension and bodily return, Jesus, while having a human nature, does not have a body. The reason is because he has exited our space-time manifold. By way of analogy, imagine a tuning fork placed inside a vacuum jar. If you were to pluck the fork, it would vibrate, but there would be no sound because there is no medium to conduct sound waves. Were you to introduce air into the jar, then the vibrations would be manifested as sound. The vibrating fork remains intrinsically the same in both scenarios, but its manifestations are different depending on the medium. Similarly, Jesus’ human nature is not now manifested as a physical body because, since he is not in space-time, there is no medium for the expression of his human nature in a three-dimensional form. When Christ re-enters our space-time manifold, then—voilà! —his physical body will again become manifest. This will be in a literal sense a re-incarnation, but not a second assumption of a human nature, since that remains constant throughout.

My thoughts about this are not as well settled as they are concerning the first item. Initially, I had a tentatively negative response to Craig’s proposal, because I wondered if it diminished the nature of Jesus’ resurrection. On further consideration, however, I am tentatively inclined to affirm Craig’s suggestion.

Paul identifies the bodily resurrection of Jesus as the first fruits of his glorious triumph over sin and death, in which we who believe will participate when Jesus returns and all believers are raised bodily “with Jesus” (1 Cor 15:20-23). In our case, the raising of our bodies to new life, indeed to eternal life and immortality, entails robust embodiment. There will be some form of continuity between the bodies we have now and the bodies we receive then. Those resurrected bodies will be ours, but they will not be exactly like the bodies we have in this life, though Paul was not given an understanding of just how these new bodies would be alike and yet different from our original bodies (1 Cor 15:35-41).

Frequently, when we think and talk about Christ’s rule over all things, which he decisively accomplished in his death and resurrection, we speak of the “now and not yet” aspects of Christ’s victory. The battle against Satan, sin and death was won at the cross, but it will not be fully consummated and revealed until Christ’s return, when the final enemy, death is completely vanquished (1 Cor 15:24-26). Given this “now and not yet” situation, the peculiarity of Jesus’ own embodiment in this interim period seems quite appropriate.

The nature of Jesus’ embodiment, between his resurrection and the consummation of his reign, is not something I had thought about before, so my response is tentative, and I welcome the thoughts of others who read this post and ponder Craig’s answer to Rodrigo’s question.

Changing my mind

Conversation with commenters (see thread below) has been helpful. I am no longer inclined to affirm Craig’s proposal, and Marc Vandersluys has expressed well the basic difficulty which Craig’s view must confront: “If Christ is indeed the first-fruits of the resurrection that we should expect for ourselves, wouldn’t that mean Jesus did go into that embodiment immediately? Otherwise, it seems to me, Paul’s words viz. ‘first-fruits’ would be empty of meaning.”


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

6 replies on “Does Jesus have a human body now?”

I’m surprised to see WLC say that Jesus has left our “space-time manifold”, since he’s argued for the controversial claim that God is entirely in time. I don’t understand how he can claim for Jesus what he rejects for God. Perhaps he intends some completely non-conventional definition of “space-time manifold”, since his own definition of time is not compatible with Einstein’s use of that phrase — but if he merely meant that Jesus left our _space_ and went into a disconnected space that shares the same time we have, why would he assume that Jesus would not have a body there?

I also think we have to affirm that Jesus has a body as a consequence of having a complete human nature, partially because Paul uses the word “body” to affirm our future existence. I wonder whether WLC was intending to question whether Jesus has a body composed of flesh and bones as Thomas observed Him to have, or whether it’s possible for the resurrected body to be composed of other substances.

Thanks for your helpful comments, William. You put your finger on my major area of doubt in regard to Craig’s proposal. When we are raised from the dead with Christ, we will be embodied. Granted, our resurrected bodies will be, glorified, and they will be suited to life in the new earth. It strikes me as strange that Jesus has not gone into that form of embodiment immediately, even though he will not raise us until he returns. Right now, I am in tension between the “now and not yet” construct which I laid out, and my concern to view Jesus’ own resurrection in a fully robust manner.

If Christ is indeed the first-fruits of the resurrection that we should expect for ourselves, wouldn’t that mean Jesus *did* go into that embodiment immediately? Otherwise, it seems to me, Paul’s words viz. “first-fruits” would be empty of meaning.

That is my primary reason for doubting that Craig is correct. Given your response and that of William Tanksley, I’m best to concur with you unless or until Craig or someone else provides convincing reasons for his own present proposal. Thank you. It is nice to have people to talk with about things like this.

My thoughts are as follows, which I would like to share here for conversation:
(1) We should not try to answer biblical-theological questions philosophically. Here, too, the commitment to Scripture is a prerequisite for answering such questions, at least in their tendency.
(2) Basically, God is not a human being. This is also true for Christ, who had no “human nature” before his incarnation.
(3) The incarnation (that is, “becoming flesh”) was a temporal reality (cf. Heb 5:7). The incarnation is always spoken of in the past tense. Christ took on again that which He put away in Phil 2:5ff. According to 1 Cor 15:50, “flesh and blood” cannot be combined with the heavenly reality. Christ is again a heavenly divine spirit being according to 1 Cor 15:45. Therefore, Paul speaks of Christ as man only in terms of the incarnation and the work of salvation (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5-6), but not in terms of his “present existence” in heaven (cf. Gal. 1:1, 11-12).
(4) In my opinion, one should formulate exegetically-theologically more cleanly here: Just as Christ during his incarnation (where the immortal emptied himself in order to be able to die for us) nevertheless did not give up his “divine identity”, he also did not give up his “human identity” with his ascension, even if he now reigns again as a heavenly-divine spirit being in heaven.

Your point 3 contains some interesting claims that I think need to be more adequately supported.

“Christ took on again that which He put away in Phil 2:5ff.”

I don’t see a need to interpreting the “emptying” as a putting away of the divine nature, as though Christ only had a human nature while on Earth. Neither Chalcedon nor the modern kenotic views work like that. If Christ didn’t remove the divine nature to become incarnate, He didn’t have to remove the human nature to ascend.

“According to 1 Cor 15:50, flesh and blood cannot be combined with the heavenly reality.”

This is an interesting passage, but is its intent to claim that bodies are incompatible with the Kingdom, or is its intent to claim that people cannot make themselves worthy of the Kingdom? Both interpretations have problems, but the former has a particular problem that in the gospel accounts Christ did keep His body (albeit transformed) and witnessed to Thomas by proposing that he feel flesh and bone (the lack of mention of “blood” seems irrelevant given the medium of touch), and even 1 Cor 15 suggests by saying “it is sown … it is raised” that the numerically identical thing that’s buried is what’s raised.

“Christ is again a heavenly divine spirit being according to 1 Cor 15:45.”

This, however, is not possible. 1 Cor 15:46 expands on v45 to say His new spiritual state was not possible without there first being a natural state, and that the spiritual was “not first, but the natural”. This cannot be about Christ returning to His preexistent state.

“Therefore, Paul speaks of Christ as man only in terms of the incarnation and the work of salvation (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5-6), but not in terms of his present existence in heaven (cf. Gal. 1:1, 11-12).”

Even if this is true, and I think 1 Tim 2:5 clearly says “the man Christ Jesus” is our mediator (rather than someone who was a man), Hebrews 2:17 does speak of Christ as being made like us in every way in order to be our high priest. His high priestly role is not merely due to a past transformation (which was necessary), but then also makes Him an eligible priest. As I see it, anyhow.

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