It has only recently occurred to me just how strange and fantastic it was that Jesus retained the scars of his crucifixion even after his resurrection. Certainly my view of the resurrection body is significantly tainted by the writings of theologians throughout history as much or more than by Scripture itself, but even in Scripture it is obvious that the resurrected Jesus is something different than the pre-resurrection Jesus. Mary Magdalene cannot recognize him (John 20:11-18), the men going to Emmaus cannot recognize him (Luke 24:13-34), he passes through locked doors (John 20:19), and mysteriously disappears from sight (Luke 24:31). All this is consistent with what Paul says about our own resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body…The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Historically, there developed a more precise view of the resurrection body as ‘supracorporeal.’ Consider Nicholas Cabasilas regarding Jesus: “He discards the other features that belong to the body and possesses a spiritual body without weight or dimensions or any other physical conditions.” Gregory of Sinai has a similar picture of the resurrection body of Christians: “The body in its incorruptible state will be earthly, but it will be without humours or material density, indescribably transmuted from an unspiritual body into a spiritual body, so that it will be in its godlike refinement both earthly and heavenly.” While I certainly ascribe, at least loosely, to those historical conceptions of the resurrected body as somehow supracorporeal, it is hardly debatable that that Jesus, at his resurrection, possessed a refined and somehow different body than he had prior to his crucifixion.
And yet he preserves his scars. I had never thought about it before, and–without a little prompting from Cabasilas–I might never have thought it significant even if it had occurred to me. After all, it may merely be an indication that our resurrected bodies bear resemblance to our earthly bodies, even in their imperfections. They may serve a totally utilitarian function, since it is by seeing the scars–and in the case of Thomas, feeling the scars–that the disciples come to believe. There are certainly a variety of possible explanations, but Cabasilas takes it to mean much more than accident or utility. I am swayed by his interpretation. Referring to the scars, he writes:
He saw fit to cherish them because of His affection for man, because by means of them He found him who was lost, and by being wounded He laid hold on him whom He loved. How else would it have been fitting for an immortal body to retain traces of wounds which art and nature have sometimes eliminated even in mortal and corruptible bodies?…So He determined to preserve in His body the signs of His death and always to have with Him the marks of the wounds which were once inflicted on Him when He was crucified. Thus it might be evident in the distant future that he had been crucified and pierced in His side for the sake of His servants, and together with His ineffable splendour He might regard these too as an ornament for a King.
Cabasilas, in making his first point, eliminates any perception of accident or chance or pragmatism from the presence of the scars. That the scars have endured is a willful act of love on the part of Jesus. They are a testimonial not only for all time but for that eternity which is beyond time: Jesus loved us enough to die for us. They are a freely embraced article of his royal garb which rightly testifies that we have a king who is worthy of our love and honor and praise but who nevertheless deigned to love us first (Rom 5:8).
Yet Cabasilas continues, adding to his argument that the scars are an eternal testimony of Jesus’ love that they are also an ongoing act of love toward humanity. That he should continue to wear them in spite of his exalted place is a perpetual reliving of his loving act toward humanity.
As it appears, He had the desire to suffer pain for us many times over. Yet that was not possible, seeing that His [resurrected] body had once for all escaped from corruption, and that He spared the men who would have inflicted wounds on Him…What could be equal to that affection? What has a man ever loved so greatly? What mother ever loved so tenderly, what father so loved his children? Who has ever been seized by such a mania of love for anything beautiful whatever, so that because of it he not only willingly allows himself to be wounded by the object of his love without serving from his affection towards the ungrateful one, but even prizes the very wounds above everything? He greatly honours us, yet it belongs to the greatest honour that He is not ashamed even of the infirmities of our nature, but is seated on His royal throne with the scars which he has acquired from human weakness.
These concluding remarks add a fantastic Christological aspect to the continuance of the scars into the resurrected body. They are an eternal reminder that Jesus has not only dignified humanity by stooping to unite with it but that he has carried that humanity with its infirmities into the heavenly realms. It is a physical witness to the principle that God became man in order that men might become God. All that we are was assumed by Christ, and all that we are has been redeemed by him, exalted to the heavenly realms.
In view of all this, I think to an extent I agree with Cabasilas when he declares that “this is the most astounding thing of all: not only did He endure the most terrible pains and die from His wounds, but also, after He came to life and raised up His body from corruption, He still…bears the scars upon His body and with them appears to the eyes of the angels. He regards them as an ornament and rejoice to show how He suffered terrible things.”