Do people really see Jesus today?

Sightings of jesus are in the news. Evangelist Oral Roberts saw him. “I felt an overwhelming holy presence all around me,” he related. “When I opened my eyes, there he stood—some 900 feet tall, looking at me.… He stood a full 300 feet taller than the 600-foot-tall City of Faith. There 1 was face to face with Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God” (St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Feb. 19–20, 1983).

A Texas man saw Jesus in an Oklahoma motel room. “He looked like his picture,” said George Wood, “but when you’re talking to the man for three hours, you forget the details” (St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Feb. 2, 1983).

These “close encounters” with Jesus Christ raise issues about the present nature and appearance of his body, its location, and the meaning of his second coming.

Jesus is the sinless God-man (Phil. 2:5–8). A church father remarked, “He remained what he was. He became what we are.” Truly human, Jesus suffered and died in the body of his humility.

But Jesus the Son of God lives! His bodily resurrection is the sine qua non of the faith (1 Cor. 15:12–23). The resurrection body of Jesus was both different from, and similar to, the body of his humiliation. It could pass through walls, yet bore the scars of crucifixion (John 20:25–27). No scriptural evidence exists that his appearance was drastically altered, as a “900-foot-tall” apparition suggests. If Jesus veiled his glory, there is no reason to believe that an appearance of Christ today would differ from those recorded after his resurrection. If Jesus did not veil his glory, it is doubtful his body could be seen (Acts 9:7–8; 22:11).

Scripture records two apostolic encounters with Jesus after his ascension. Paul met him on the road to Damascus, heard him speak in both a vision and a moment of ecstasy, and was encouraged by him after a heated debate with the Sanhedrin (Acts 9:5; 18:9–10; 22:17–18; 23:11). John saw Jesus (Rev. 1:12–20).

After Jesus’ ascension, there is no evidence that the Lord’s feet ever touched terrestrial earth again. John saw and heard him in heaven. Paul saw and heard him from heaven. Acts 23:11 appears to record an exception when it says “the Lord stood by” Paul, but uses a Greek participle referring to appearance in a dream.

The Bible teaches that the risen and glorified Christ has a corporeal presence—not on earth, but in heaven. According to the apostle Peter, Jesus Christ “has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Peter 3:22, NIV), and the author of Hebrews agrees (Heb. 4:14; 8:1). Jesus said he was going to that place (John 14:2–3).

The Bible promises Jesus’ spiritual presence (Matt. 28:20) but precludes his earthly physical presence until his second advent, which will be personal, visible, and public (Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7). This contrasts starkly with a reported private visit with Jesus in an Oklahoma motel room and a personal, but unverifiable, vision of his “standing presence” over the City of Faith.

We live in an increasingly irrational and experiential age, fascinated with UFOs, “ancient astronauts,” and E.T. Media reports of alleged sightings of Jesus condescend his person to the spirit of our day.

But I conclude that, if the New Testament’s language is authoritative and meaningful, news reports of physical experiences with Jesus are strange encounters of the incredible kind.

LAWRENCE A. DEBRUYNLarry DeBruyn is pastor of Hope Bible Church in O’Fallon, Missouri. He is also a one-time high school football coach and an avid sports fan.

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