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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus

Don Stewart :: Did Jesus Actually Appear, but Only in a Vision?

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Did Jesus Actually Appear, but Only in a Vision?

Objections to the Resurrection of Jesus – Question 16

The vision theory denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ but does say that Jesus did appear after His death. However, He did not appear in an actual body. Rather Jesus’ spirit appeared and told them of life in the next world. Consequently, the disciples did not lie when they said Jesus appeared to them—He appeared to them as a spirit or a temporary materialization. Therefore, the disciples were not deceived at all. Jesus appeared but not in bodily form.

However, this does not work for a number of reasons. We can make the following observations about the vision theory.

1. Jesus Denied That He Was a Disembodied Spirit

Jesus Himself denied that He was some sort of spirit without a body. Luke records what happened when Jesus appeared:

“Look at my hands and my feet and see who I am! Touch me and find out for yourselves. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as you see I have.” (Luke 24:39 CEV)

The New Testament emphasizes Jesus was both seen and touched. This is hardly consistent with the idea that He merely appeared to them in a vision. Jesus testified that He had an actual physical existence. He was engaged in activities that are consistent with having some type of genuine form. He walked and talked with His disciples, prepared food and ate with them. He never remained silent or motionless during any of His recorded appearances. In other words, He did everything that a person with an actual body would be able to do.

2. One Miracle Would Be Substituted for Another

This theory does hold to the miraculous appearing of Jesus, that of materializing to His disciples. However, nothing is gained by substituting this miracle for another.

Why, it may be asked, would the miracle of Jesus’ appearing bodily be more difficult to believe than Jesus’ actually appearing in Spirit-form? If Jesus is able to come back from the dead, having been raised by the power of God, then why substitute a spiritual resurrection for a bodily resurrection? It does not make sense.

The big problem with this view, even if one wants to argue for a supernatural appearing of Jesus, is that it has Jesus deceiving His disciples. He gave them the impression that He appeared in bodily form after His death. If He did not, then Jesus would have lied to the people.

3. The Body Would Have Still Been in the Tomb

There is also the additional issue of the empty tomb. If it were merely a vision of Jesus, even if divinely inspired, the body would still be in the tomb in which Jesus was placed. Yet, the body of Jesus was never produced. Indeed, the enemies of Christ all admitted that the tomb was empty.

Thus, there still is the problem of how the body came to be absent from the tomb. If it was not there, and Jesus had not risen from the dead, then somebody had to take it. If not the disciples, then who stole the body? Again, we have another theory of Jesus’ resurrection that solves nothing. The evidence makes it clear that the tomb was empty because Jesus came back from the dead with the same body that was placed into the tomb.

Summary – Question 16
Did Jesus Actually Appear but Only in a Vision?

One popular theory of Jesus’ resurrection contends that His appearances were only spiritual in nature. In other words, there was not a bodily resurrection. While still arguing for a miracle the miracle is not that of a bodily resurrection but actually a spirit-resurrection.

However, there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus appeared only in a vision. A number of things need to be said.

When Jesus first appeared to His disciples in the upper room He specifically said that He was not a ghost or a spirit. Thus, Jesus Himself testified it was not a mere vision of Him they were seeing.

The fact that Jesus ate food in front of His disciples further indicates that it was not a vision which His disciples saw. Indeed, it was clearly the same Jesus that died who appeared to them.

We also find that on the day of His resurrection Jesus walked and talked with two disciples for a lengthy time on the road to Emmaus. This is certainly inconsistent with a mere vision.

In addition, the body of Jesus was never produced. If the disciples had only seen an actual vision of the risen Jesus, there is no way to explain why the body was not produced. Indeed the body would have still been in the tomb. That fact that everyone agreed that the tomb was empty demonstrates that the resurrection of Christ was bodily, not some mere vision.

In sum, this theory causes more problems than it solves.

Did the Disciples Merely Have Hallucinations about Seeing the Risen Jesus? ← Prior Section
Did Jesus Only Appear to Believers Who Were Expecting a Resurrection? Next Section →
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