Resurrection

RESURRECTION (ἀνάστασις, G414, a rising; ἔγερσις, G1587, a raising). There is no exact term for it in the Old Testament, but verbs like chayah, "live," kum "rise," and kic "awake" convey aspects of it.

Resurrection in the Biblical sense denotes the Divine Miracle of restoring a deceased person to life in body and soul, either to temporal life, as was the case with Lazarus (John 11:38ff.), or to Eternal, glorified Life, to which Christ was raised and those who are His will be raised at His return. Scripture also teaches a resurrection to eternal punishment in Body and Soul of those who lived and died without Christ (Matt 10:28; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15).

Overview of the theology of resurrection

Biblical resurrection encompasses much more than is commonly thought of as "Immortality." “The Bible... knows nothing of an abstract immortality of the Soul, as the schools speak of it,” observes James Orr, “nor is its Redemption a Redemption of the soul only, but of the body as well. It is a Redemption of man in his whole complex personality—body and soul together” (p. 196). This distinctive fact has been noted by many other competent exegetes and commentators. To deny the Resurrection is, in biblical thought, to deny any immortality worthy of the character of our Faith in God (Matt.22.31-Matt.22.32; Mark.12.26-Mark.12.27; Luke.20.37-Luke.20.38). It is not that the soul does not exist in a disembodied state between death and resurrection, but in the biblical view, man in the intermediate state is incomplete and awaits “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom.8.23; cf. 2Cor.5.3ff.; Rev.6.9-Rev.6.11).

In the nodetitle the most explicit passage on the resurrection is Dan.12.2, which clearly predicts the resurrection and eternal Judgment of those who have died. Almost equally explicit is Isa.26.19. In its context, this verse is parallel to Isa.26.11-Isa.26.15. In them the voice of God’s people is heard, repeating his promises and looking forward to their fulfillment; in Isa.26.19 the voice of the Lord responds, affirming the hope that lies before his distressed people, confirming the conviction that they will rise again. The reference to “dew” is added by way of explanation: dew had a wide metaphorical use, picturing the heavenly contribution to earthly well-being. The dead wait in the dust until God’s life-giving, reviving dew falls on them and brings them to life. Again, Isa.25.8 is explicit in its affirmation that in the Lord’s Day, even death itself will disappear to be seen no more. The meaning of Job.19.23-Job.19.27 is much disputed and the Hebrew text is not at all easy to translate, yet a case can undoubtedly be made out for an interpretative translation along the following lines: “Though, after my skin (i.e., my present life, wasting away with disease), they destroy this (body), yet from (the vantage point of) my flesh I shall see God.”

In the providence of God, revelation is a matter of progress rather than full clarity all at once. The Lord educated his people from truth to truth, as any careful teacher does. Each age was given sufficient light for its own needs so as to enjoy spiritual life and fellowship with God. The full revelation of immortality awaited the advent of our Lord and Savior who “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2Tim.1.10).

In the New Testament the word anastasis, “resurrection,” signifies the arising to life of dead bodies, or a dead body. There is one possible exception, Luke.2.34, though probably “resurrection” is the meaning here, too. In secular Greek the word may refer to any act of rising up or sitting up; but the theological interpretation of the word in the New Testament does not depend only on its literal meaning but on the contexts in which it is found.

The doctrine of resurrection is stated clearly in its simplest form in Paul’s words before the RomeRoman law court presided over by Felix: “There will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts.24.15). The most detailed statement of the doctrine of twofold resurrection is found in Rev.20.4-Rev.20.15.


Some see in 1Thess.4.16-1Thess.4.17 an implication that the dead who are not “in Christ” will not be raised at the same time as the redeemed. This is possibly also the implication of 1Cor.15.20-1Cor.15.28. John.5.28-John.5.29 bases the resurrection of the dead firmly on the power of Christ as exhibited in his own resurrection (see Resurrection of Jesus Christ), and state the substance of the later pronouncement before Felix (Acts.24.15). By the power of Christ all the dead will be raised.

With 1Cor.15.23 Paul begins an enumeration of three “orders” of resurrection, one of which, the resurrection of Christ, is past:

  • Christ the firstfruits
  • “Those who belong to him.” This second “order” of resurrection is said to take place “when he comes.”
  • “Then the end.” The “end” in this context follows the resurrection of those who are Christ’s. It includes the time when Christ “reigns” and subdues all his enemies. The last enemy, death itself, is to be subdued. This must be regarded as taking place when all the rest of the dead without exception stand before the Great White Throne (Rev.20.12ff.). This final subduing of death is Paul’s third “order” of resurrection.
  • Since Paul’s first “order” is the resurrection of Christ, it is obvious that Paul’s second and third “orders” of resurrection coincide with John’s future “first resurrection” and his resurrection of “the rest of the dead” (Rev.20.4-Rev.20.15).

    Qualifications and other uses


    The Early Church, evidenced by the early Fathers and the Creeds, introduced the phrase “resurrection of the Flesh,” which is still found in various Creeds. The Church adopted this expression because many heretics, denying an eternal future for the body, understood the word “dead” as meaning “dead souls.” By confessing that the flesh will be raised, the Church emphasized the Biblical truth that the dead will be raised in their bodies of flesh. Though the expression is not found in Scripture itself, there is good reason to retain it, for many explain the word “body” in the phrase “resurrection of the body” as denoting the “self” or “person,” with the exclusion of the physical body.

    Known from the infallible Scriptures


    The work of God and Christ


    Resurrection and resurrection hope in the Old Testament

    Concepts of resurrection in Israelite society

    Nationalism

    A doctrine of life after death as an essential part of religion was of very late development in Israel, although this doctrine, often highly elaborated, was commonly held among the surrounding nations. The chief cause of this was that Israel’s religion centered predominantly in the ideal of a holy nation. Consequently the individual was a secondary object of consideration, and the future of the man who died before the national promises were fulfilled either was merged in the future of his descendants or else was disregarded altogether.

    Speculation

    Much speculation about life after death evidently existed, but it was not in direct connection with the nation’s religion. What Old Testament data there is points to non-homogeneous concepts. Still, certain ideas are clear. The living individual was composed of "flesh" and nephesh, or ruach (a trichotomy appears to be post-Biblical, despite 1Th 5:23; see Psychology). In the individual nephesh and ruach seem to be fairly synonymous words, meaning primarily "breath," as the animating principle of the flesh (so for the lower animals in Ps 104:29,30).


    Religious danger

    Excessive interest in shades or the state of the deceased was likely to be considered anti-religious, connected with Necromancy and Sorcery, or connected with foreign religions (De 14:1; 26:14; Isa 8:19; Ps 106:28. The very fact that the surrounding nations taught immortality was a strong reason for Israel’s refusing to consider it. That Egypt held an elaborate doctrine of individual judgment at death, or that Persia taught the resurrection of the body, would actually tend to render these doctrines suspicious, and it was not until the danger of Syncretism seemed past that such beliefs could be considered on their own merits. Hence, it is not surprising that the prophets virtually disregard the idea or that Ecclesiastes denies any immortality doctrine categorically.

    Belief in immortality

    Despite this, with a fuller knowledge of God, wider experience, and deeper reflection, the doctrine was bound to come. But it came slowly. Individualism reaches explicit statement in Eze 14; 18; 33 (compare De 24:16; Jer 31:29,30), but the national point of view still made the rewards and punishments of the individual matters of this world only (Eze 14:14; Ps 37, etc.), a doctrine that had surprising vitality and that is found as late as Sirach (1:13; 11:26). But as this does not square with the facts of life (Job), a doctrine of immortality, already hinted at, was inevitable. It appears in full force in the post-Maccabean period, but why just then is hard to say; perhaps because it was then that there had been witnessed the spectacle of martyrdoms on a large scale (1 Macc 1:60-64).

    Resurrection

    Resurrection of the body was the form immortality took, in accord with the religious premises. As the saint was to find his happiness in the nation, he must be restored to the nation; and the older views did not point toward pure soul-immortality. The "shades" led a wretched existence at the best; and Paul himself shudders at the thought of "nakedness" (2Co 5:3). The nephesh and ruach were uncertain quantities, and even the New Testament has no consistent terminology for the immortal part of man ("soul," Re 6:9; 20:4; "spirit," Heb 12:23; 1Pe 3:19; Paul avoids any term in 1Co 15, and in 2Co 5 says: "I"). In the Talmud a common view is that the old bodies will receive new souls (Ber. R. 2 7; 6 7; Vayy. R. 12 2; 15 1, etc.; compare Sib Or 4:187).

    In the Old Testament

    The historical record

    In the Old Testament account three persons were raised from the dead: the Widow’s son at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17ff.), the son of the Shunammite (2 Kings 4:32ff.), and the man whose dead body was cast into Elisha’s Grave (2 Kings 13:21). The claim that the widow’s son had not died cannot be sufficiently substantiated. Although these resurrections meant only a temporal restoration to earthly life, they undoubtedly strengthened Israel’s faith in the almighty power of Yahweh, as the God who was able even to raise the dead.

    Lack of early and frequent evidences of the resurrection hope

    The Old Testament contains only a few and rather late statements which give clear evidence of an eschatological resurrection hope. This by no means implies that such a hope was unknown in Israel. To God’s people the emphasis was upon a long life on earth (Exod 20:12) with but a dim view of an eternal future for the whole man. This is because God’s redemptive work in Christ was only gradually revealed. The full resurrection hope could therefore not be known nor enjoyed until Christ had conquered death. The true believers in Israel must have known that their mighty God of whom Moses sang, “I kill and I make alive” (Deut 32:39), had more in store for them than this life and not only for their souls but also for their bodies, for the two are inseparable according to Old Testament teachings. Of Abraham, the writer of Hebrews (11:19) says that “he considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead,” whereas 11:8-16 states that the patriarchs were looking forward to “the city which has foundations,” desiring “a better country” than Canaan, and that “These all died in faith.” To these passages full justice is done only if one regards them as implying the resurrection hope however vague in that early stage. This hope must have grown when in later days God’s resurrection power was clearly shown (see III A). The “translations” of Enoch (Gen 5:22-24; Heb 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11, 12) who obtained eternal life as men of flesh, must also have strengthened the hope of an eternal future for man in his completeness, i.e. body and soul. It is, therefore, unwarranted and unnecessary to look for the source of Israel’s resurrection hope in some ancient “world folk tales,” or to Iranian and other teachings concerning “a common eschatological event” (IDB, I, p. 41).

    The resurrection hope expressed

    The main Old Testament passages that call for consideration are the following: Hannah sings (1 Sam 2:6), “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” Though some scholars claim that Hannah referred to a real resurrection, the context seems to exclude this interpretation. The Psalm refers to what the Lord regularly is doing on earth. Verse 6 therefore is to be understood as stating that the Lord is able to take away human life as well as to preserve it, even before the gates of death. (For elaborate interpretations of this and other Scripture passages briefly dealt with in this article, the author may refer to his book, The Nature of the Resurrection Body [1964]).

    Job (19:25-27) wrote, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me.” Though most modern commentators deny that Job is speaking of an eschatological resurrection and judgment, the logical line of thought seems to favor the so-called post-mortem interpretation: Job was sure that after his death God would stand up as his gōēl and vindicate him. In accordance with the RSV, the Hebrew expression mibbesari is best rendered, “from my flesh.” With his own eyes, out of his restored flesh, having been raised from the dead, Job will see his divine Judge vindicating him. Claiming that such a resurrection hope is unthinkable at such an early stage is begging the question (cf. III, B.). Psalm 16:9-11ff: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure. For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit. Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” The parallelism membrorum in v. 9 makes it necessary to understand v. 9b as speaking of safety for the body (or, flesh—the person) in this life. Consequently v. 10, starting with “For,” cannot be understood as referring to a future resurrection.


    According to some, this vision, which is a prophecy of Israel’s restoration as a nation (vv. 11-14), presupposes the common belief in a bodily, future resurrection of the dead. This may be so, but it cannot be conclusively substantiated. Daniel also predicted a resurrection (12:2, 3): “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt....” The Prophet comforted the faithful Israelites for whom an unprecedented tribulation was looming in the near future (v. 1). Many of them would have to lay down their lives for Yahweh’s sake. These martyrs were comforted by the assurance of a bodily resurrection in glory whereas those who denied the Lord would be raised to “shame and everlasting contempt.” A general resurrection of the dead is obviously not intended here, i.e. not because Daniel did not believe in it, but only because he wanted to comfort his brethren who would have to endure suffering and death for righteousness’ sake. Even so, his prophecy gives unmistakable evidence of faith in an eschatological, bodily resurrection. Hosea 13:14: “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction? Compassion is hid from my eyes.” nodetitle speaks of the complete victory over death and the grave in words reminiscent of the above (1 Cor 15:55). This does not imply that Hosea 13:14 predicted the resurrection of the dead. The whole context speaks of judgment on God’s unfaithful people and the natural interpretation of v. 14 is that no one will be able to save Ephraim from destruction so that Death and Sheol could be defied. On the contrary, the Lord will have no mercy. Conclusion from the above references: The Old Testament teaches with varying degrees of explicitness the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine which is divinely inspired and not derived from pagan sources.

    Resurrection in noncanonical scriptures

    In the noncanonical literature of the ancient Judeo-Christian period (DSS, Targums, nodetitle, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha) many references to the resurrection may be found. Conceptions and interpretations of the various passages differ widely. For a full treatment, see T.H. Gaster, IDB, IV, pp. 41-43.

    Resurrection in the New Testament

    Nouns and verbs


    The historical record

    1. Raisings from the dead, other than Jesus’ resurrection. Some of these raisings were performed by Jesus Himself: Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35ff. and parallel passages), the widow’s son (Luke 7:11ff.) and Lazarus (John 11:11ff.).



    The resurrection of the dead


    2. When will the dead be raised? According to the general teachings of the New Testament and particularly according to those of Paul (1 Cor 15:51, 52 and 1 Thess 4:16), the resurrection of the deceased believers will take place at the Second Coming of the Lord when also those in Christ who at that moment are alive will be changed. All believers of all the ages constitute one company of glorified saints, who are privileged to meet their Redeemer in the air. After having first been acquitted before Christ’s glorious Throne and welcomed into His Father’s kingdom (Matt 25:31-40), they will participate in pronouncing judgment on the unbelievers and fallen angels (Matt 25:41ff.; 1 Cor 6:2, 3). Whether the unbelievers will be raised at the same time as the believers, or as some suggest, somewhat later, cannot be determined with certainty.

    A controversial subject among evangelicals is the question whether there will be only one physical, general resurrection, or at first a partial one and after that a final general resurrection. Those favoring the latter opinion appeal to Revelation 20:4ff., which states that those who were faithful during the reign of Antichrist “came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection....” Others, who are of the opinion that there will be only one bodily resurrection, point to the fact that apart from the controversial text in Revelation 20, nowhere in Scripture is a first resurrection to be distinguished from a second. They therefore understand the “first resurrection” (Rev 20:5) to be the promotion of the faithful saints to glorious life with Christ immediately after death in the intermediate state (cf. Phil 1:23; Heb 12:22).

    The resurrection body

    A body of flesh


    Scripture passages seemingly denying a physical resurrection


    Identity and change


    Bibliography and Further Reading

  • R. S. Candlish, Life in the Risen Saviour (1858)
  • W. Milligan, The Resurrection of the Dead (1894)
  • B. F. Westcott, The Gospel of the Resurrection (1906)
  • J. F. Darragh, The Resurrection of the Flesh (1921)
  • A. Oepke, “Anistemi,” TWNT I (1933)
  • E. Käsemann, Leib and Leib Christi (1933)
  • A. Oepke, “Egeiro,” TWNT II (1935)
  • K. Barth, Die Auferstehung der Toten (1935)
  • W. Bieder, “Auferstehung des Fleisches oder des Leibes,” in Theologische Zeitschrift (August, 1945)
  • H. Birkeland, “The Belief in the Resurrection of the Dead in the Old Testament,” ST III (1950-1951)
  • J. A. T. Robinson, The Body (1952)
  • J. A. Jeremias, “Flesh and Blood Cannot Inherit the Kingdom of God,” NTS (February, 1956)
  • O. Cullmann, “Proleptic Deliverance of the Body,” in The Early Church (1956); Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead (1958)
  • L. E. Boliek, The Resurrection of the Flesh (1962)
  • M. E. Dahl, The Resurrection of the Body (1962)
  • M. C. Tenney, The Reality of the Resurrection (1963)
  • J. A. Schep, The Nature of the Resurrection Body (1964).