Was the resurrection spiritual?I don’t think the resurrection was an illusion or a fabrication, but what if we have simply misunderstood – what if the apostles never meant a physical resurrection?
This doesn’t hold water for a number of reasons.
1. The earliest creed (from at least the early 50s, possibly the late 30s) clearly contrasts the burial of Christ with the resurrection: “…he was buried, he was raised on the third day” (1 Cor 15:4). An empty tomb – i.e., a physical resurrection – may not be explicitly stated, but it is clearly implied.
2. Christianity arose out of Judaism with its chief theologian a former Pharisee. If they didn’t share their notion of a physical resurrection (c.f., Acts 23), we should expect it to be explicitly stated.
3. The earliest recorded polemic against the resurrection (Matt 28:11-15) assumes an empty tomb.
4. The gospels record the resurrected Christ as touching people and things and eating food.
5. The earliest recorded sermon appeals to the empty tomb:
“David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day... [but Christ] was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay” (Acts 2:29-31).This certainly doesn’t constitute proof that Jesus rose from the dead, but it should show that the apostles were not claiming any kind of spiritual or metaphorical resurrection took place. They were clearly teaching that He was physically present after He rose from the dead.