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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Monday, 13 October 2008

Not "Where is Jesus?" but "When is Jesus?" (the problem of the location of the post-ascension body of Jesus)

OK - I am going to throw out a crazy idea to see what you think of it. It is very 'raw' and unrefined (in fact the only reflection I have done on it is what is happening as I type! Reckless, eh?). It is quite likely stupid. Still - I'd value your thoughts.

Christians affirm that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. As part of being fully human Jesus had and retains a human body. Jesus was raised bodily from the grave and remains forever incarnate; forever man-for-God on our behalf. After the resurrection Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father where he now resides. OK, so far so orthodox.

Here is the problem (and it is a well known one): If Jesus retains a human body that (presumably) occupies physical space then Jesus must still be occupying physical space. So where is he? Would we discover Jesus in heaven if we flew up far enough in a space rocket in the right direction for?

Most of us feel that it is very misguided to seek to hunt out where in our universe Jesus's body is currently located. We think that it is not currently anywhere in our physical universe. But if Jesus has a physical body, as Christians claim, then one suspects (though I am open to correction) that it must occupy space. So where is it?

Here is my crazy idea:
What if, instead of asking where Jesus went to after the ascension, we ask when Jesus went to.

What if God the Father relocated Jesus to the eschatological future. The body of Jesus would then be located in the past and in the future but not in the present. Thus Jesus' body would occupy space but not, from our perspective, currently. For now let us suppose that moving Jesus to the future is metaphysically do-able.

Well that solves one problem but it creates some others

(1) The NT speaks of the current reign of Christ from heaven 'until' the end of the age which implies that Jesus' reign in heaven is happening in the present and not in the future .

1. This is a major problem for my suggestion and is probably enough to kill it. But perhaps not ...

2. One may - with a bit of imagination - construe the 'present' work of Christ in heaven as work that (from our perspective) he will do in the future renewed creation on behalf of what is, from his perspective, the past. So his intercessions to the Father for us are, from our perspective, yet to happen. Nevertheless - the prayers that Christ will pray for us are the prayers that inspire the Father to answer those prayers in our present. So God answers Christ's prayers before he prays them but only because Christ will pray them. I think that an intelligible account of this suggestion can be given. However, I must confess that finding it a little cumbersome.

3. Perhaps the future reign of Christ is a present reality for us through the mediation of the eschatological Spirit. So we can still speak of Christ as ruling now and being exalted now. The basis of that rule and exaltation (the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) is indeed past and its final fulfilment is guaranteed. The Spirit makes that rule break into our present experience.

(2) Does my suggestion commit us to the view that Jesus does not currently exist and, if so, what are the implications of that?

1. Classical Christian theology maintains an a-temporal view of divine existence and so God can be thought to exist without having to exist in the past, present or future. God, on the classical view, is not 'in' time at all. He exists timelessly. Now the divine Logos (God the Son), in classical theology, also exists timelessly and relates to past, present and future in the same way. The Son is as 'present' right now as he is at any other point in time. Of course, the Logos is incarnate in time and so on this suggestion he does not in a literal sense currently exist in that form. However, we must qualify this bold statement as follows: there is no discontinuity in the incarnate life of Jesus. It is not that Jesus - the Logos incarnate - existed, then ceased to exist, but will some day exist again. No. From Jesus' perspective there is no discontinuity at all. He was incarnate in our past and was transported instantaneously to our future but his existence was not disrupted in the process. The Logos-incarnate was not dis-incarnate for a time.

2. Christians are used to the idea that Jesus is not currently on earth and yet can still be present on earth through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. The same could apply with my suggestion. Jesus' eschatological presence can be mediated to the church in the present through the work of the Spirit. The Spirit enables us to taste the coming reign of Christ right now.

Do I think I am right? No, but the idea is worth thinking about. Cor - doing theology on the hoof is flipping risky so please don't burn me! Just kindly correct me.


Jason Clark said...

Jesus must be displaced into the space time nexus of the eschaton. Makes a lot of sense!

Robin Parry said...


I can hear the voice of Doctor Who in your comment there! Perhaps theology should be the domain of sf fans.


Daniel said...

I am not sure if the NT authors had such ideas as they were not writing with the same view of space-time as we do. But from a philosophical-theological standpoint I like this idea a lot. Paul presents the future eschaton as an semi-ontological reality with the resurrection event, sending of the Spirit and the Church. Future time as invaded present time and both exist in some way together. How this works out philosophically and theologically is easier to describe that in the realm of temporal or spatial mechanics.

Here is what I might add: Is it possible that in the new creation that the laws of space-time will be different? And since Jesus body was the beginning and part of new creation that the law on entropy does not apply? Could we then say that when the witnesses saw Jesus' resurrected body they were actually seeing a future space-time reality that had invaded their current one? So that Jesus went to the future not in His ascension, but in His resurrection. He was resurrected into the eschaton and His 50 existence with the disciples was a invasion of the eschatological space-time reality into the current space-time reality.

Does that make sense?
Here is what I might add: Is it possible that in the new creation that the laws of space-time will be different? And since Jesus body was the beginning and part of new creation that the law on entropy does not apply? Could we then say that when the witnesses saw Jesus' resurrected body they were actually seeing a future space-time reality that had invaded their current one? So that Jesus went to the future not in His ascension, but in His resurrection. He was resurrected into the eschaton and His 50 existence with the disciples was a invasion of the eschatological space-time reality into the current space-time reality.

Does that make sense?

brett jordan said...

Some nice thoughts Robin.

While I tend to be happy with an agnostic stance on subjects like this, it seems to me that as humans inhabit 4 dimensions (that we know of), and God is almost certainly pan- or supra-dimensional, there would seem to be quite a few options for time/location of a fully-human resurrected Jesus, especially as we know that his post-resurrection body transcended some of our non-resurrected bodys' limitations.

Terry said...

I'm sure I heard someone say once that T.F. Torrance held a view similar to this. I've not read enough of Torrance's stuff to confirm this, though, but you could dig around.

Liam Byrnes said...

Wow, this was some good theological mind aerobics for me as I come back from holiday!

My concluding thoughts are that a form of supra-existence allows Jesus' present reign to be from an eschatological future, though as you, I am willing to corrected.

N. Dan Smith said...

Along the same lines, one of my problems with transubstantiation has been that it trivializes the physical reality of Jesus' body. At any rate, may I propose a wormhole as the means of Jesus' move through time?

Robin Parry said...

Oh my life! I have opened a real can of science fiction worms here! On first read a lot of it went over my head so I will revisit it in a day or two and offer some thoughts (for what they are worth!).

I am amused by the idea of Jesus traveling through a wormhole to the future! It sounds both cool and yet somehow inappropriate at the same time.

Terry - if T.F. Torrance is on my side I'd feel a WHOLE lot better. Do let me know because I'd love to read what he wrote about it.

Ken Smith said...

I was in college when I first heard the idea that Jesus' body might still currently exist somewhere in our space-time continuum. A friend, known more for his creativity than systematic genius, promptly labeled this "the doctrine of the freeze-dried Jesus on a stick".

Terry said...

If what I heard was correct, Robin, I'm guessing that it would be in Space, Time and Resurrection - one of the many books I own, but haven't read!

Robin Parry said...

I thought that you might be interested in some emails I received on this post.

Randall Rauser (a very sharp philosophical chap) wrote:

Interesting proposal Robin. But alas I can't buy into it since it entails a static theory of time which is deeply counterintuitive and in my view tends to collapse the God/world relation into some sort of neoplatonic emanationism.

I think you are right as well in worrying that on your view Jesus does not exist now though he did exist up to circa AD 30, and he will exist in the future (presumably at his second coming). Of course, even if Jesus does not exist now you can say that the Son *timelessly* exists, but I fear that doing so would put you into the grip of nestorianism.

One more thing: your view seems to be falsified by the New Testament since Paul* describes Jesus as a man who exists now interceding for us (1 Tim. 2:5).

*Or whoever wrote I Tim.

Oliver Crisp (another very bright philosophical chap wrote) wrote:

I've read the post. Unlike Randal, I subscribe to the atemporal account of the divine nature, so this much seems plausible to me. Randal's comment about your view entailing the present non-existence of Jesus is ambiguous.
If God is atemporal then the Word is eternal. He is 'present' throughout history in the way that any atemporalist account can claim. The issue is whether one needs the human nature of Christ to be present (presumably, spatiotemporally present) now. Unless we opt for some Lutheran doctrine of the omnipresence of Christ's body, we are stuck with the view that Christ is, quite obviously, NOT physically present in this world now. So your solution provides an intriguing way of making sense of where Christ's body (or human nature, perhaps) is located by querying when it is located. I don't see why your view is Nestorian ... perhaps Randal has some notion up his sleeve I'm not clear about as yet. Jesus could still be interceding for us now. The question is whether he has to exist in the present somewhere in order to carry this out, surely? Can't an eschatologically-located human nature of Christ be interceding for all the saints if God is atemporal?

Anyway, these are some initial thoughts. I think you have hit on something quite fascinating, Robin. I'd not thought about this before, but I am really rather struck by what you've said. Perhaps you should think about it some more ...

Randall Rauser then offered some further clarification:

I suppose in one sense the static theory of time is problematic in the same way that I find mushroom pie problematic, i.e. not suiting my taste. But I do think that it has a serious strike against it in that it is deeply counter-intuitive. I am a big advocate of common sense views of the world whenever possible. (For instance, it is true that the thesis that the world was created 5 minutes ago with apparent age accords with all the data but it goes strongly against our common sense)

Of course, my objections are deeper than a matter of taste and a penchant for common sense. This leads me to the concern about the God/world relation. The problem is that so far as I can see a static view of time collapses time into eternity since "now" is merely the perspective from the many different points in the timelessly existent spatio-temporal block which exists timelessly with God. God may be the creator but he is so in virtue of timelessly existing with his creation. This doesn't look to me very much like "In the beginning God created...."

As for Nestorianism, you just have to be careful that there are not two subjects of predication in the incarnation, the timelessly existent Son and Jesus, the temporal man. Of course this is not a balancing act specific to your views.

This brings me finally to one novel observation. What is the difference between these two states of affairs?

(a) Robin's Jesus went to the Future View: At the ascension Jesus moved from existing at CE 30 to CE 2009 (or whenever...).

(b) The Jesus Ceased to Exist Temporally View: At the asecnsion Jesus ceased to exist temporally (at CE 30) and will begin to exist temporally again at CE 2009.

If your view leaves these two indistinguishable, then I would think that is a serious problem given the church's confession in the continued humanity of Christ.

Robin Parry said...


I am not sure what to say. I am no physicist so I would hate to make declarations on what the laws of space-time reality are now let alone in the new age. Jesus's body was certainly unusual so perhaps this was the result of it actually being from a future with different laws of physics. It is an interesting suggestion and I am simply not best placed to offer an assessment.



Robin Parry said...


Indeed. Jesus' resurrection body was certainly unique and it may simply be in our inability to understand the properties of such a body that we get in a tangle. I can live with that. But it is still worth speculating on the question even if the answer eludes us. Not least because it may enable us to give a plausible account of our faith.

Robin Parry said...


Static views of time have plenty of philosophical defenders (theists and atheists) so, whilst it has problems, I'd be happy to bite the bullet and go that way if I thought it was right. After all, non-static views of time are also problmatic.

Nestorianism is a problem to avoid. I think we could probably avoid it but thanks for the heads up.

I think that there is an important difference between the two positions you outline. Essentially there is no break in Jesus' personal timeline. It is like Dr Who getting in the Tardis at T1, traveling to T10 and then back to T5. The Doctor did not cease to exist as his timeline was not interrupted. So even though from our perspective he is present in the universe at T1, absent from the universe from T2 to T4 and then present again at T5 it would be misleading to speak without qualification of him ceasing to exist for a time.

I am sure that there are all sorts of problems with this view (not least to do with physics) but intuitively I think that there is a distinction between your views (a) and (b). On (b) there is a break in Jesus' own timeline between T1 and T5. On view (a) there is not.

Randal Rauser said...

Maybe I'm dense but it seems to me there is no difference between (a) and (b). To put it another way, let's say that there is no interim state for human persons such that we are extinguished at death and recreated at the eschaton. In that case, if I am hit by a truck in 2009 and thereby cease to exist only to be recreated in 2350 at the general resurrection, one could say either that I ceased to exist or that my personal timeline leaps from 2009 to 2350. And that is all you are saying to explain Jesus' present whereabouts. As such, your view actually is an extinction/recreation view of Jesus under a different description. I also suspect that you are trying to avoid this consequence through tacit dependence upon a notion of dynamic time which actually has Jesus moving through his own personal timeline where he objectively leaps from AD 30 to the future. But once you abandon that, all you have is Jesus' timeless existence in the spatio-temporal block until AD 30 and then again in the future: in other words, extinction/recreation.

Jim Deardorff said...


Doesn't much the same problem, for Christians, exist with Elijah, and Enoch? Where did Elijah go --bodily into "heaven"? When will he return? Or did he return reincarnated as John the Baptist or even Jesus (Mt 16:14)?

Perhaps UFO abductees could shed some light on this problem. Although the ones we know of were returned within a few hours, certain others may not have been returned, but are among the thousands of missing persons.