Jehovah's Witnesses and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

By Walter R. Martin


Jehovah's Witnesses and their official organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, have historically denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and have maintained that His was a "spirit" or "spiritual" resurrection to quote the Watchtower.

"The King, Christ Jesus, was put to death in the flesh and was resurrected an invisible spirit creature." [1]

Further developing their teaching, the Witnesses proclaim: "In His resurrection He was no more human. He was raised as a spirit creature." [2]

In addition to this, the Watchtower has even suggested that Christ's body was "dissolved into gases" or "preserved somewhere as the grand memorial of God's love." [3]

In order to understand the true teaching of the resurrection, it is necessary to review briefly the Biblical position, which is at considerable odds with the Watchtower.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is quite literally the historical bedrock upon which the Christian faith rests. The Apostle Paul indeed tells us that "if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14). He also declares, "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins" (verse 17).

From these two statements in the Word of God, we can see the resurrection of our Lord determines the validity of our faith and even our salvation, for without His resurrection our faith is "vain" and we are "yet in our sins."

In this connection, it must also be remembered that every verse in the Bible which deals with the resurrection of the dead, and the Lord particularly, refers exclusively to the human body; i.e., a bodily resuscitation; never a spirit or spiritual resurrection. In fact, the word "resurrection" is never applied to the soul or spirit of man. This fact is born out in the original Hebrew and Greek. Beyond this, our Lord specifically prophesied that His resurrection would be bodily; that is, in a glorified form of the body that He then possessed. When speaking to the unbelieving Jews, as recorded in the second chapter of John's Gospel, Christ stated "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (verse 19).

The Jews, however, thought he was referring to the temple in Jerusalem, but the Apostle John clearly declares our Lord's meaning: "But he spake of the temple of his body" (verse 21).

The Greek word "soma" is translated "body" throughout the New Testament, so it is an inescapable fact that Christ was referring to his own physical form -- hence a bodily resurrection.

Two classic New Testament references which corroborate our Lord's prophecy of His bodily resurrection are in the 20th chapter of John and 24th chapter of Luke. In John 20 when our Lord appeared to the doubting Thomas, the same body in which He died upon the cross is evidenced by His own words:

"Reach hither thy finger, and behold by hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing" (verse 27).

In Luke 24, we again see how the words of Christ refute the spirit resurrection idea of Jehovah's Witnesses.

"And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrightened, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your heart? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them" (verses 36-43).

Not only, then, did our Lord have "flesh and bones," but he showed them the same hands and feet which bore the wounds of Calvary (verses 39, 40). The fact that He also ate broiled fish and a honeycomb (verse 42 and 43) proves that He was not a "spirit creature" as Jehovah's Witnesses contend. Moreover our Lord's words, "It is I myself ... a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (verse 39) was uttered according to verse 37 and 38 because the disciples thought He was a spirit. Jesus, however absolutely disproved that by offering His body as tangible evidence (verse 39, 40).

Sometimes, Jehovah's Witnesses attempt to explain away these appearances of Christ by asserting that He had a "spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:44), or that He merely assumed different bodies to encourage His disciples, which the Jehovah's Witnesses say accounts for the fact that those who knew Him the best in life did not recognize Him after His resurrection (John 20:11-16; Luke 24:15-30).

The Jehovah's Witnesses also argue that 1 Peter 3:18, which refers to Christ's resurrection and states that He was "made alive in spirit" (literal Greek), establishes their theory, but they are in error.

While it is true that Paul speaks of "a spiritual body" he nevertheless calls it a "body" (Greek "soma") and we have already seen how Christ possessed "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39). A spiritual body then is not "a spirit" as the Jehovah's Witnesses make out, but a glorified, immortal, physical form possessing certain spiritual characteristics or attributes (i.e., the ability to pass through locked doors or vanish at will. John 20:19, 26; Luke 24:31)

Again, the Jehovah's Witnesses' idea that because Mary Magdalene and the disciples could not recognize Christ on three occasions "proves" that He had assumed "different bodies" other than the one in which He died upon the cross, is disposed of by Luke 24:16. Luke there tells us that when the disciples encountered Jesus, their eyes were kept from recognizing Him as a direct act of Christ's will. When He finished His conversation, He allowed their sense of vision to perceive who He really was; thus "their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight" (verse 31).

Finally, 1 Peter 3:18, far from "proving" that Jesus was raised a spirit as the Witnesses insist, only proves that He was raised in or by the Spirit of God as the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8:11. The main objections, then, that Jehovah's Witnesses raise against the bodily resurrection of our Lord are all thoroughly answered by the Scriptures themselves and represent no real threat to historic Christian doctrine of the resurrection.

The Bible, therefore, does have much to say about the resurrection of Christ as we have seen, and nowhere supports the spirit-resurrection theory of Jehovah's Witnesses. In fact, all of it contradicts their teaching.

To the sincere, zealous, yet misled members of Jehovah's Witnesses, the Christian church must repeat the statement of our Lord Himself: "Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:38, 39).

The true teaching concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ does indeed determine a person's eternal destiny (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). For "If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from among the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9, Literal Greek).


1. Let God Be True, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p. 122, Edition 1946. 

2. The Kingdom is at Hand, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p. 258. 

3. Studies in the Scripture, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, p. 129, Vol 2.

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The Resuurection of Jesus

"Jesus answered and said unto them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' ... But he spake of the temple of his BODY." -- John 2:19,21.

"Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not FLESH and BONES, as ye see me have." -- Luke 24:39.

"Then saith him to Thomas, 'reach hither thy finger, and behold my HANDS; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into MY SIDE'" -- John 20:27.

As Bible-based Christians, we maintain that the body of Jesus was RESURRECTED (i.e., raised back to life). The Bible teaches that "the body without spirit is dead." (James 2:26). Conversely, the body WITH spirit is alive. The Bible's statements about the resurrection of Jesus simply mean that the body of Jesus was reanimated. In other words, Jesus' BODY came back to life (only with supernatural power and glory, such that it can never decay or die again).

That's the whole point of the empty tomb. The corpse, the cadaver, is gone because Jesus got up and walked out of the tomb!

The Watchtower Society teaches that at his resurrection, Jesus' body was destroyed (dissolved/disintegrated/etc.) -- not raised intact. Any appearances of Jesus in the New Testament are when Jesus ASSUMED (i.e., took on) a body, but the body in which Jesus appeared bore no real connection with the body which was slain. For the average JW, the reason Jesus assumed a body was to accommodate the weak faith and unbelief of the disciples.

We believe that IF God the Father had dissolved the fleshly body of Jesus, and transformed him into a spirit being, Jesus COULD have assumed fleshly bodies, just as angels do. This is possible. But instead, the Bible teaches that God the Father raised the fleshly body back alive -- the same body, only this time imbued with immortality. That's the point of John 2:19-21. "Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. ... But he was talking about the temple of his body."

Take some time to read Acts 2:24-32, 13:30-37, and 26:8. The emphasis is on the fact that Jesus did not remain dead, his corpse did not decay, "nor did his flesh see corruption."

What about going through walls (John 20:26)? Why couldn't they recognize Jesus normally (Luke 24:15-31, John 20:14)? Are those characteristics of a fleshly body, asks the Watchtower Society?

(a) The resurrection body of Christ and the resurrection body which God's faithful people will receive on the Last Day is a "spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). It is with a BODY, not as a SPIRIT. There is the glory of God and the power of the Spirit of God infused in the resurrection body, and this is one reason why the resurrected Jesus could do supernatural things which mortal, unpowerful bodies cannot.

(b) Mortal bodies which are subject to pain and death are capable of doing a lot more than you would think. The mortal body of Jesus could walk on water (Matt. 14:25), and could walk straight "through the midst" of an angry crowd without being seen (Luke 4:30, John 10:31). All these miracles are done through the power of God's Holy Spirit, working with mortal humans. If the Spirit of God could enable a mortal Jesus to enter a room with the doors shut (and to do other miracles), there is no reason to say that the Lord Jesus, with a glorified, immortal, tangible body could not also be transported into a closed room.

(c) The objection about not recognizing Jesus is answered by simply reading the text. Luke 24:16 says "their eyes were kept [or held] from recognizing him." It doesn't say Jesus' face was altered, or the body he "assumed" looked different. It simply says their eyes were KEPT from recognizing him.

The passage in John 20:11-16 also does not attribute Mary's inability to recognize Jesus to any changes in his face. Since nothing indicates a physical alteration in Jesus' features, we may assume that the reason indicated in Luke 24:16 (the power of God) was behind Mary's temporary lack of perception in this instance, also.

At John 20:24, we find Thomas' statement, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and stick my finger into the print of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will certainly not believe." When Jesus showed himself to Thomas, alive instead of dead, he told him, "Put your finger here, and see my hands, and take your hand and stick it into my side, and stop being unbelieving but become believing (John 20:27).

If "Pastor" Russell's teaching is correct, then Jesus' body really dissolved, and those holes in his hands and side which he exhibited to Thomas were not ACTUALLY created by the nails and spear. However, Jesus was leading Thomas to THINK they were. In essence, Jesus is deceiving Thomas about the origin of those wounds. This conclusion is inescapable if the Watchtower is right.

However, if Jesus was not deceiving Thomas about the origin of the wounds, then those wounds in his body were created by the spear and nails. As biblically-based Christians, we acknowledge that the body of Jesus was transformed as it was raised back to life, and infused with spiritual power and glory, and that his resurrected body had genuine continuity with the body which suffered death on the cross.