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Did Jesus Really Resurrect From the Dead?

I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Bahá’í).

What Is Meant by Jesus Did Not Die?

This article was inspired by a comment from a Christian believer in my interfaith circle. It came after some extracts from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh on life after death were shared in the group. In reaction, he observed rather succinctly: “Baha was die.” [sic]

What he seemed to be saying, in effect, was that Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, had succumbed to death as happens to mere mortals. It is not uncommon to hear comments of this nature from Christians when engaged in religious discussions with members of other faiths. Behind such words is an attempt to assert the superiority of Jesus above all other Founders of religions, the argument being that he, unlike the others, did not die.

But what is really meant by Jesus did not die, and how does that relate to the life and death of other Manifestations and Messengers of God?

A representation of the risen Christ

A representation of the risen Christ

Religion and Science

To begin with, Bahá’u’lláh did indeed die a physical death. That said, let it be also acknowledged that there is no scientific record or independent historical account anywhere of anyone who did not die a physical death. The emphasis here is on the words “scientific” and “independent”.

When scripture is read in a literal manner—focusing almost exclusively on the letter and rarely on the spirit—one is often forced to believe things that are scientifically and practically problematic or even impossible. 21st-century worshippers should learn to evaluate 1st-century religious narrative with 21st-century methods, insights, mindset, and scientific knowledge in order to come to a fuller and more accurate understanding of scripture.

Religion and science, faith and reason are not diametrically opposed to each other.

Religion and science, faith and reason are not diametrically opposed to each other.

The Virgin Birth of Jesus

One of the greatest of mysteries in the life of Jesus is perhaps his virgin birth. According to scientists, while virgin births (known in science as parthenogenesis) do occur in nature, particularly amongst lizards, snakes, and sharks, the odds for such a phenomenon in humans is next to zero. Yet, there is hardly any dispute over the claim that Jesus had a virgin birth—not in the Gospel accounts, not in the Qur’an, nor in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. On the contrary, both Islam and the Bahá’í Faith categorically affirm that Jesus did have a virgin birth as enunciated in the Gospel.

Christmas Nativity scene

Christmas Nativity scene

Divergent Perspectives of the Resurrection

When it comes to the resurrection narrative, however, there you begin to encounter disclaimers and inconsistencies. And that in itself is a sign of the problematic nature of this doctrine as it stands.

Muslims do not believe the biblical narrative that says Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected days later. In fact, the Qur’an goes further than a mere repudiation of this narrative to suggest that Jesus did not even die on the cross, in the first place, but was rather raised up to heaven by God before his death (Qur’an 4:157-158). Bahá’ís will interpret this Quranic assertion as a reference, not to Jesus’ material body but to his reality as the Word of God—that even if he died on the cross, his message, the Word, did not die with him, nor did any aspect of his God-given mission remain unfulfilled. And furthermore, the body that died on the cross was not the reality of Jesus. His reality was his spirit, which ascended to heaven. That would be the Bahá’í interpretation.

But as for Bahá’ís, their firm position is that Jesus did die on the cross, was buried, and a physical resurrection of his body did not occur at any time. Whatever else one reads in the Bible will have a different interpretation for Bahá’ís from the version that is popularly upheld by Christians.

Stained glass in the Holy Sacrament Church of Itajai, Brazil, depicting the Crucifixion

Stained glass in the Holy Sacrament Church of Itajai, Brazil, depicting the Crucifixion

Contradictions in the Resurrection Narrative

But it is not only Muslims and Bahá’ís (not to mention Jews) who have issues with this narrative of a bodily resurrection. Even the Gospel itself has difficulty clearly and coherently articulating what really happened. Try reading the account of the Resurrection across the four Gospels. You will be amazed at the inconsistencies. (In the discussions that follow, biblical references are drawn exclusively from the Authorized King James Version).

For example, did Jesus ask his Apostles to meet up with him in Galilee (Matthew 28:10)? If so, what was he doing meeting them instead in Jerusalem and asking them to stay put in that holy city (Luke 24:33-36, 49)? Did he forbid Mary Magdalene from touching him (in John 20:17) because he had not yet ascended to the Father? If so, what changed ten verses later (John 20:27) for him to ask Thomas to touch him to confirm his identity? And why does Matthew 28:9 report that he was “held” “by the feet, and worshipped” by the same Mary Magdalene who was forbidden to touch him in John's Gospel? And again, if he had bodily resurrected to his former state, how come some of his own Apostles “doubted” it when he purportedly appeared before them on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:17)? And so on and so forth.

Other Issues With the Resurrection Story

Beyond that, answers are needed for a few other questions. Does the Gospel narrative say that the Apostles were gathered in a room with the doors shut when Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst (ostensibly from nowhere) (John 20:19) whilst also vanishing into thin air elsewhere (Luke 24:31)? How could that have been possible if he was in the flesh? Such occurrences will not meet the modern-day scientific definition of life in the flesh.

And let’s not forget that although the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus seem profound, the basic story of a dead person appearing to the living and subsequently disappearing is not a unique one. In practically no culture or society on earth can one not come across people with belief in and, in some cases, personal experiences of such phenomena, usually referred to as the appearances of ghosts or apparitions.

What Happened at the Transfiguration?

And how would one describe Moses, who had long been dead and buried (Deuteronomy 34:5-6) but who “appeared” with Elias (Elijah) “in glory” (Luke 9:30-31) and was seen by three of the Apostles conversing with Jesus? This occurred at the Transfiguration when Jesus became “transfigured” before his three earthly companions (Matthew 17:2; cf. Luke 9:29).

What can the episode tell us about the state Moses was in? Was he dead? Alive? Resurrected? And how different was his appearance (at the Transfiguration) from that of Jesus' purported appearances to his disciples after the Crucifixion?

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The Reality of the Resurrection

And did Jesus ascend afterwards to heaven in the flesh? How could he have lived in the rarefied spiritual realm of heaven, which has no room for flesh and matter?

The fact is, any serious-minded believer who analyses the resurrection story dispassionately will have to conclude that Jesus did not appear to his disciples in a normal human body but more likely in a transformed state, in a spiritual form.

Such a proposition can also be deduced from Paul’s assertion (in I Corinthians 15:42, 44) that: “So also is the resurrection of the dead… It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.”

If one can go along with Paul’s viewpoint and conclude that Jesus could not have arisen from the grave with his natural or material body but only with his spiritual self, then there is broad concurrence with the Bahá’í position.

From that standpoint, it can be confidently concluded that when Moses was seen at the Transfiguration, he was also in his spiritual body. And that, like Moses, all other Manifestations and Messengers of God, including Bahá’u’lláh, must also have resurrected into their spiritual forms—just like ordinary humans resurrect into their spiritual realities upon leaving their mortal frames at death.

Significance of the Resurrection

The fact is, in every facet of Jesus’ life, the keen-sighted can discern profound spiritual truths. Take his virgin birth, for instance. The fact that he was born of the Holy Spirit (so to speak) must surely exemplify for the faithful the need to be also “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8)—or in simple terms, to be “born again” (John 3:3-7).

Similarly, his appearances to his disciples in the aftermath of the Crucifixion must have been a way of demonstrating to them that life exists beyond the grave, that there is a life after death. From those appearances, it becomes amply clear that man resurrects in a new form after physical death.

Consequently, it does not matter that the death of Jesus is disputed and his burial place is unknown to his followers (in much the same way that the burial place of Moses is unknown to the Jews). The idea that he appeared in his spiritual form to some of his followers, following his crucifixion, implies that he had discarded his elemental body in one way or the other. That act of discarding the mortal frame to exist in the spiritual state is what is generally referred to as physical death.

And so, in other words, Jesus did die physically. Only no one knows what happened to his body, just as the Jews have no idea what happened to Moses’ body.

Another symbol of the Crucifixion

Another symbol of the Crucifixion

No Known Tombs for the Jewish Revelators

This then brings us to other questions: Moses’ mission was to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land in Canaan. He reached the edge of that land, but God did not permit him to at least die and be buried there, nor for his grave to be even known to his followers, the Jews. Why?

Over a millennium later, Jesus arrived in the same Holy Land to carry out his own divinely-assigned mission. No one knows what happened to his body after that mission was cut short with his crucifixion, and so the privilege of having a known burial place in such a holy place was denied him as well. Why?

Could the tombs have been deliberately hidden by God to protect them from desecration, in a land that has witnessed so many upheavals and experienced such tumultuous history since the 8th century BCE when outside powers began to take control of the territory?

The Revelators Now Buried in Israel

And here is the mystery: Despite it being holy to all the Abrahamic faiths, it had not been in God’s plan, apparently, for any Manifestation of God, any Founder of any of the world religions, to have a known burial place in the land of Israel.

Until now, in these end times.

Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the world’s newest religious movement, is buried near the northern Israeli city of Akká in western Galilee (since he passed away there in 1892). His forerunner, the Báb, who was martyred in Persia (Iran) in 1850, is buried on the slopes of Mount Carmel in the nearby Israeli city of Haifa. Both Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb were of Persian birth.

You have to see how glorious the burial places (or shrines) of both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh are: enchanting, beautiful, places of pilgrimage for Bahá’ís the world over, and a top destination for tourists who come to Israel. So special are these two sacred places that they are even on the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, meaning they are of “outstanding universal value” to all peoples the world over.

Garden surrounding the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh in western Galilee

Garden surrounding the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh in western Galilee

Contrasting Christian and Bahá’í Perspectives

So, while Christians do feel pride in the acclaimed resurrection of Jesus, Bahá’ís, on the other hand, feel immense satisfaction that both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh—Twin Manifestations of God—died and are buried in the Holy Land (Israel). This is a privilege that was accorded no other Manifestations of God in the past.

Remembering Jesus' warning in Matthew 24:24—about “false Christs, and false prophets” who would “shew great signs and wonders” to possibly “deceive the very elect”—Bahá’ís are also reassured that Bahá’u’lláh has at least not burdened or distracted anyone with the “great signs and wonders” of a supposed resurrection but has offered instead the far-more-important signs and wonders of the over one hundred volumes of his matchless revelation.

Terraces leading to the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel

Terraces leading to the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel

© 2021 Kobina Amissah-Fynn

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