The Blessing of the Body
The writings of John put a great emphasis on the fact that God has lived among us in bodily form. Three things are important. First, John wants us to know that Jesus was born into the world with a human body. We read, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). This one who became flesh was “heard…seen…looked upon and…touched” (1 John 1:1).
Second, John wants his readers to know that Jesus died with a human body. 1 John 5:6 says, “This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood.” The reference here is to the water of Jesus’ baptism and the blood of Jesus’ death.
Third, John wants us to know that Jesus was raised in some sort of bodily form. When Jesus is raised, Thomas wants proof. He wants to see the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands as well the gash in Jesus’ side. Jesus, in His resurrected body, offers Thomas what he’s looking for. “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing’” (John 20:27).
So, why does John say so much about bodies? There were those in the early centuries of the church who believed that all created matter is evil. Thus, the goal of life, they thought, was to escape the world through attaining a higher level of gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. Some people who ascribed to this way of thinking even created maps of the “escape plan.”
Notice that Jesus’ movement is in the opposite direction. He does not try to escape the world, but rather He is sent into the world (John 3:16). He does not dwell in the world in some sort of ghostly spirit form, but rather He dwelt among people in the flesh. Jesus comes into the world in a body. He dies a painful, bodily death. And He is then raised in a bodily form which had enough resemblance that Thomas could touch the proof he wanted. The idea that God would put on flesh to live and die in the created world was too much for some to believe, especially those who thought that the goal of life was to get out of the body and out of the world.
This negative view toward created matter was called Gnosticism. Gnosticism was about the pursuit of knowledge. But why did they pursue higher knowledge? They pursued higher knowledge so that they could find the escape plan. A warning needs to be issued here: Christianity is not an escape plan. It is true that there are temptations associated with the pleasures of the body. And it is true that the writings of Paul contrast the flesh vs. the Spirit. But the contrast in Paul’s writings is between living in relationship with the Holy Spirit who helps us be more like Jesus, or living on our own and becoming more like sinful Adam.
God has blessed us with having a body with which we can honor and praise Him. The goal of this life is to “glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). If we glorify God with the body that we have in this world, we can have the hope that one day our “lowly body…may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21) and that we will be “raised in glory” (1 Corinthians 15:43) to have a “spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:44) in a place “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).