My question concerns the body of Jesus after his resurrection. What was it like, and what will our bodies be like in the resurrection of the dead?
This was asked by many of the earliest disciples. The answer begins with the experience of the earliest disciples. Because there were several people who encountered Jesus after the Resurrection, there several accounts provided in the New Testament. Let us look a few of them.
Saint Paul summarized them when he wrote, “I transmitted to you what I received…that Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve; and then he appeared to more than 500 brethren at one time…and then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles…” (I Cor. 15:3-8).
That was Saint Paul’s straightforward account with few details. One also finds, however, a different theme running through other accounts in the New Testament. In speaking of Mary Magdalene, John’s Gospel recounts, “…she turned around and caught sight of Jesus standing there. But she did not know him” (John 20:14). Likewise, we find in the Gospel of Mark, “…he was revealed to them completely changed in appearance” (Mark 16:12).
This same difficulty in recognition is reflected in other Gospels. For example, “Jesus approached and began to walk along with them. However, they were restrained from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). “Just after daybreak Jesus was standing on the shore, though none of the disciples knew it was Jesus” (John 21:4).
Even more significant is the account of the appearance of Jesus to the eleven as recorded in Luke’s Gospel: Jesus walks through walls, so much so that the disciples “thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:37). To which Jesus replies, “Why do such ideas cross your mind? Look at me and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do” (Luke 24: 38-39). They then gave him a piece of cooked fish, which he ate.
The New Testament, then, proclaims that Jesus walks through walls (differing from what humans do) and ate fish (differing from what ghosts do). Therefore, the New Testament says that Jesus was much like he was before his resurrection, but also quite different.
This evidence forms the foundation for what our Catholic faith holds about the resurrected body of Jesus, namely that it was glorified — similar but different. This means that the resurrection of Jesus was not simply a resuscitation, like that of Lazarus, where life was breathed back into the dead body.
The resurrection of Jesus is the pattern of our own resurrection. We look to the resurrection of Jesus not only as a past event but also as the pattern of our own future. Our faith teaches us that as we die with Jesus in baptism, we will rise with Jesus to new life. That new life, in its final form, will follow the pattern of the Lord’s resurrection—similar but different.
Photo by Dena Koenig Photography