One of the earliest spiritual movements against Christianity was Gnosticism. In its simplest and reduced form, various Gnostic leaders and schools claimed to know more about Christ than the early Christians. They taught they had hidden knowledge (gnosis) about who Jesus was, what the universe was about, and how to be saved from the evil world/physical matter.
In response to Gnosticism, early Christians wrote the first creed in Christian history. From Gnosticism and other subsequent movements, Christian thinkers have noted a common theme - dark movements present a different Christ who is supposedly more real than the Christ of Christianity.
The apostles warned about erroneous ideas concerning Jesus. John wrote that any spirit that denied Jesus coming in the flesh was a spirit of the antichrist (I Jn. 4:2,3), which is what many of the early Gnostic leaders denied. Paul warned about philosophies that did not accept God´s fullness in Jesus' physical body (Col. 2:8,9). He said that no Christian worker could ¨lay any other foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ¨ (I Cor. 3:11). Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
One Christian researcher stated that the same Gnostic pattern is observed today in end-time movements. Revelations to prophets from alleged angels, Jesus, or God teach a Jesus who is different in some aspect (and supposedly more accurate than the one in Christian circles).
What is one of the most common errors about Jesus Christ?
It is common for Christian cults to reveal a spirit-Christ who is resurrected as a spirit or becomes a spirit after he ascends into heaven. Since Jesus is a spirit being, he then returns invisibly to earth to indwell the leader of an end-time group or invisibly chooses and guides their movement.
Manhee Lee states that Jesus returns invisibly and unites with the flesh/body of the SCJ pastor (Manhee Lee). ¨Jesus promised that when the gospel of heaven is spread to the ends of the earth, he will return in spirit to unite with his promised pastor¨ (Creation of Heaven and Earth, p. 143). One Shinchonji instructor said that Jesus was transfigured after his death and became a spirit (citing the vision of Jesus in Rev. 1).
Interestingly enough, Christian leaders and thinkers realize this is not the complete picture.
First, the information in the Scriptures is that the post-resurrection Jesus is not just a spirit. Something happened to his human side. He was the first human to be glorified (Col. 1:19, I Cor. 15:20). Christ is the first man of a new, human existence. When confronted by the religious leaders, Jesus predicted something would happen to his physical body (Jn. 2:19-21). His body, not the temple in Jerusalem, would be rebuilt.
When Christ rose from the dead, he proved he was not just a spirit (Lk. 24:39). He challenged his disciples to touch his hands and feet. His body was the same in some aspects, but totally different in another sense (i.e. glorified). The body that suffered death was raised to life and never saw decay or destruction again (Ac. 2:31, 13:34). Acts 13:34 says, ¨As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption.¨
It was a new human body in glory. In Philippians 3:21, while mentioning God´s plan to glorify mortal bodies, Paul refers to Christ´s present body in glory. ¨And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (or body of his glory in some translations)¨ (Phil. 3:21).
The disciples also believed that Jesus never lost his human side. Years after his ascension, they continued to refer to Christ as a man. ¨For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus¨ (I Tim. 2:5). ¨He has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed¨ (Ac. 17:30). In Hebrews 2, the Bible states that Jesus became humanity's high priest forever, a unique mediator who shares our human nature.
Secondly, if Jesus became a spirit after his ascension, then his human resurrection was not real. It would be a contradiction of terms. According to the definition of the resurrection, God powerfully infuses into a human body a new and higher glorified form with an indestructible nature (See I Cor. 15:42-44). In other words, a resurrected human body is designed to exist forever. This is what Jesus experienced when he rose from the dead. His body was glorified, not disintegrated or transfigured into a spirit.
When the Corinthians asked about the future resurrection body, Paul explains that it's a higher body, imperishable, greater in power and glory (I Corinthians 15:42-44). It is a body that is indestructible, which means nothing can destroy it. It´s a body that puts on ¨immortality¨ (I Cor. 15:53). Further, the word ¨body¨ in I Cor. 15 in the original language is used of a physical, material body, not an immaterial spirit-body.
End-time groups mistake ¨spiritual body¨ in 1 Cor. 15:44 for ¨spirit body,¨ which denies the physical side of the resurrection body. ¨Spiritual body¨ refers to a human body infused with new, supernatural life.
How do final leaders justify their teachings of Jesus being a spirit?
First, leaders condition members by claiming that Christianity is in spiritual darkness. They are the chosen prophets to reveal the real meaning of biblical definitions and passages. Thus, even when the written words appear to communicate something different, only the leader's revealed meaning is the correct one.
Second, instead of harmonizing all the texts about Jesus, leaders use selected verses that speak of the Spirit of Jesus. Yet, God´s voice in the Scriptures reveals two concepts regarding Jesus - his God-like nature and his glorified human side. Both are true, not just one. This is what Christian churches everywhere see - Christ is the first human of a new kind of existence, the first to rise from the dead in glory (Col. 1:19, Rev. 1:5).
These points are relevant when a leader talks about Jesus returning to earth as a spirit in a secretive way. In contrast, Jesus says he will return as a king ¨in power and great glory¨ and all the nations will see him and mourn (Mt. 24:30). According to the angels in Acts 1:11, the same Jesus who left (in a glorified body) is the same one coming back, not a different Jesus. Jesus, the Messiah, is not just a spirit. He is much more.
What about Shinchonji´s teaching that Jesus is a spirit based on the vision of Jesus in Revelation 1? Could not Jesus have been transfigured like in Matthew 17 (i.e. transfigured into a spirit)?
First, the image in Revelation 1 is an image of a glorified Jesus, but it is not a literal description. It reflects Old Testament images of God in glory (Dan. 7:9). Second, when Jesus was transfigured in Mt. 17, he did not become a spirit. He did not lose his physical humanity. Rather, his glory was shown through his humanity. Even Manhee Lee mentions that Jesus was still flesh. ¨On the mountain of transfiguration Jesus and his disciples were still flesh, but Moses Elijah, and God were spirits¨ (p. 425, Creation of Heaven and Earth). Third, the Bible teaches that even after the ascension, Jesus still possesses his human (and new glorified) body. The Apostle Paul makes this point at the end of Phil. 3:21.
From these points, we see that the Bible shows that God did not destroy Jesus' humanity. On the contrary, he glorified it. I Peter 1:21 reads, ¨Through him (Christ) you believe in God, who raised him from the dead, and glorified him.¨ God gave him an imperishable resurrection body in glory, unlike our frail, sin-infested, and mortal bodies. Christ Jesus is the first human to put on incorruption (I Cor. 15:20).
How could a normal physical body (¨flesh and blood¨) enter heaven, a spiritual place?
Regarding the phrase ¨flesh and bones¨ in I Cor. 15:50, it is a synonym for a corruptible, sin-tarnished body. This is a phrase for mortal bodies, but not immortal, resurrection bodies. The Apostle Paul is saying that a weak, dying body (i.e. flesh and blood) cannot enter heaven because it needs to put on ¨immortality¨ first (i.e. be glorified). Since Jesus´s body put on immortality, it wasn't a problem.
His new body was no longer mortal. It was a supernatural body made for glory (i.e. a place of glory). As mentioned above, it was both the same and different as his physical body before. It was now superior in that it could defy normal limitations. This is why it is not a mortal human body. The Scriptures reveal that the Messiah´s humanity was glorified and physically taken up to heaven (Acts 1:9-11, Heb. 1:3).
How do you explain that Paul says that there is a spiritual body in I Cor. 15:44?
As mentioned above, the meaning of the ¨resurrection¨ involves a new human body (See Is. 26:19). So, keep this in mind when thinking about a resurrected ¨spiritual body¨. It is not people becoming resurrected spirits. The phrase ¨spiritual body¨ in I Cor. 15:44 refers to a higher human body in contrast to mortal bodies, which are frail, corruptible, and sinful. Further, the word ¨body¨ in Greek refers to a physical body, not an immaterial body. When Jesus was raised, his body was not a spirit (Lk. 24:39).
A resurrection body with no human body would be like a wedding without a bride. By spiritual body, Paul is affirming that the resurrection body is not natural or normal. It is superior to the sinful body. The verses before and after v. 44 indicate that he is talking about a different kind of human body. It is ¨spiritual¨ in the sense that it is a higher make up than the natural body. In Romans 8:11,23, the Bible says our mortal bodies will experience a change like Jesus' did.
(1) See Shinchonji's first article on the Trinity on their website where they say that Jesus is a spirit after his ascension.