“You didn’t want sacrifices and offerings;
instead, you’ve given me a body.” Heb 10:5

The writer of Hebrews takes this quotation (apparently from the Old Testament, though no one seems quite sure), and applies it to Jesus.  The one described as The Word, the very source of creation, took on a physical body in order to reclaim this physical creation.

Yet it seems to me that the words could also be applied to the astonishing climax of this incarnation; the resurrection of Jesus.  In the place where Joseph of Arimathea had placed the corpse of the executed Jesus, the Father emphatically reversed the verdict, and the tomb was left categorically empty.

And “…instead, you’ve given me a body”.

It was recognisably the same body and yet somehow more.  Indisputably physical and yet beyond ‘natural’ constraints. He was no ghost (Lk 24:38).

In his resurrected body Jesus enjoyed the companionship of his friends, walking and talking with them, touching and being touched by them, cooking & eating with them.

And then, after some six weeks during which he appeared to these friends, there comes a moment of separation.  So where is this body now?

“In heaven” I hear you say, and you’d not be wrong.  Except that our concept of heaven typically imagines this as a non-physical realm; an ethereal, ‘spiritual’ dimension, in supposed contrast to this ‘material’ one.

So has Jesus simply set aside his resurrected, physical body for the present time?

Unequivocally not, though we may need to rethink our assumptions about heaven, and what Scripture means when it speaks of a ‘spiritual’ body in contrast to a ‘natural’ body (1 Cor 15:35ff).  For the distinction here has to do with what animates the body, rather than whether it is a body at all.

(Analogy: my car may be powered by an electric motor or a petrol one, but both are still cars.)

The body which Jesus now inhabits, like that which we also are promised, is distinguished by being no longer subject to weakness, decay, shame and death, but rather animated by the Spirit and infused with glory.

And the heavenly realm is, in ways we struggle to imagine, more truly physical, not less;more substantial.  The primary distinction is simply between the visible as opposed to the invisible; what is ‘seen’ in contrast to what is presently ‘unseen’.  Which is why the gospels often speak of the resurrected Jesus ‘appearing’ to his friends.  He did not periodically adopt his resurrected body merely when he met them, while doing without it at other times.  Jesus was present, but just not always visible to them, until the day when “…a cloud …covered him from their sight.” (Acts 1:9)

There will be a day when the reverse takes place, and he will ‘come with the clouds’.  We often refer to this as the ‘second coming’ or ‘return’ of Jesus, but the New Testament more often speaks of this as ‘his appearing’ or ‘his presence’; ushering in the day when the seen and the unseen realms reunite.

In the meantime, the physical Jesus is the model, the foretaste and the guarantee of this, inhabiting heaven now in his resurrected body.

So why does this matter (except to pedantic theology nerds)?

Because I need to grow far more acutely aware of the reality and the nearness of heaven.  Not as a domain that is distant, unknowable and far removed from my everyday, physical reality.  But one that coexists alongside this realm, despite the fact that – most of the time – I don’t see it.

But Jesus did.  And at moments so did Stephen, and Paul, and John.

And I hunger to see more.  I long for breaks in the cloud, such that I catch a glimpse of that unseen dimension.  To inspire, to reassure, to encourage, and to sustain. To curate hope.  And to anticipate this ‘inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade… kept safe for in heaven for me’ (1 Pet 1:4).  A body like his.

‘For I know that when he appears, I shall be like him, for I shall see him as he is.’ (1 John 3:2)

And “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18)