The resurrection of the dead is the linchpin of Christianity. Jesus’ resurrection is the evidence that Christians of all generations can trust in their own eternal life.
As Paul put it, “... if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith … And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:14, 17 NIV)
Welcome to the 45th post in my series of rethinking Christian eschatology.
If you’ve read this entire series (and if you haven’t please stop reading here and start from the beginning so everything makes sense), then you have seen the mountain of evidence I have presented from the Scriptures (alone) that:
- All prophecy has been fulfilled. (This explains the huge question of why we do not have new undeniable revelation and Scripture from GOD since the first century.)
- “The last days” referred, not to the end of the universe, but to the end of the old covenant with Israel and the system of angelic rule over the nations that GOD set up at the Tower of Babel. The phrase “the last days” is never defined in the New Testament and all NT writers assume the reader is familiar with the concept, thus obviously pointing to Old Testament Scripture. There is not one Old Testament Scripture that prophesies of the end of the universe.
- The second coming of Jesus occurred in 70 A.D. in accordance with Jesus’ own plain prophecy:
22 You [Tim: the apostles, per v.5] will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
(Matt. 10:22-23 NIV)
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
(Matt. 16:27-28 NIV)
- The resurrection of the dead occurred at Jesus’ second coming:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
(Matt. 25:31-32 NIV)
These two beliefs—the resurrection of the dead and the fulfillment of all Scripture—present some challenging questions:
- How can the resurrection of the dead have already occurred?
- Is there anything in Scripture that precludes the possibility of the resurrection having occurred?
- What do the Scriptures tell us about the nature of the resurrected body?
You ready? Let’s do it!
Part #1: What Scripture Says about Jesus’ Resurrected Body
We need to start by looking at the details that Scripture gives us about the nature of Jesus' resurrected body.
Observation #1: Jesus’ tomb was empty (no physical remains leftover)
In each Gospel account, the tomb is described as empty. No body was present.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
(Matt. 28:5-6 NIV)
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
(Mark 16:5-7 NIV)
1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8 Then they remembered his words.
(Luke 24:1-8 NIV)
1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
(John 20:1-17 NIV)
Observation #2: Jesus may have left the tomb before the stone was removed
Piecing together the synoptic accounts, it seems that Jesus exited the tomb prior to the ladies’ arrival.
Matthew (28:1-2) indicates one angel descended, an earthquake occurred and the stone was rolled away after stating that the ladies were on the way to the tomb.
Mark (16:4) simply says that, as the ladies approached the tomb, the stone was rolled away and, as they entered the tomb, a “young man” greeted them, informing them that Jesus was already gone.
Luke (24:3) tells us two “men” were present and that Jesus was gone.
John reports that Mary Magdalene ran and got Peter and John. They came to the tomb and saw the linen burial cloths where Jesus once lay. The 2 apostles left and Jesus appeared to Mary (20:11-14).
Based on the evidence, it seems that Jesus either:
- slipped out of the tomb after the earthquake and before the ladies arrived, or ...
- left the tomb supernaturally before the stone was rolled away.
Interestingly, Matthew alone mentions the two Roman guards who passed out from the angel’s appearance.
Observation #3: Jesus was repeatedly unrecognized by disciples
In Matthew’s account (28:8-10), Jesus met the women on their way home from the tomb and there is no indication that they didn’t recognize Him.
However, in Luke 24:13-16, Jesus appeared to 2 disciples on the Emmaus road and they didn’t recognize Him. As soon as Jesus was recognized by them as He broke bread over dinner, Jesus disappeared from their midst (24:30-31).
Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize Jesus and thought Him the gardner (John 20:11-16).
Later (John 21), after having already appeared to the apostles previously, a half-dozen of the apostles were fishing at Galilee when Jesus appeared to them on the shore. They did not recognize Him, even after He called to them from the shore. It was only when He repeated the past words to cast the nets on the other side that they recognized Him.
What was it about Jesus that prevented his disciples from recognizing Him?
Was His appearance so different after His suffering? Was His voice changed? Did He use supernatural means of preventing them from recognizing Him?
Unfortunately, Scripture does not tell us.
Observation #4: Jesus repeatedly appeared and disappeared
Prior to His death, Jesus typically traveled by walking about.
But after the resurrection, His travel changes.
Numerous times, Jesus simply appeared and disappeared from His disciples’ site. We have no record of Him appearing to unbelievers (aside from Thomas who doubted) or His enemies.
- Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20:14).
- Jesus suddenly met the women leaving the tomb (Matt. 28:9).
- Jesus appeared to the disciples at the mountain in Galilee (Matt. 28:16-17).
- In the disputed section of Mark 16(:14), Jesus appeared to the eleven during a meal.
- Jesus appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:15; possibly Mark 16:12).
- He appeared to the eleven behind locked doors in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36; John 20:19-27).
- He appeared to the apostles by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1).
- And, later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:5-8) that Jesus appeared to Peter, then to the twelve, then to more than five hundred Christians at the same time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and lastly to Paul himself.
To be fair, this behavior of Jesus may not have been entirely unique to after His resurrection. (For example, He appeared to the disciples walking on the Sea of Galilee at night.)
However, what is unique to after the resurrection is how consistently He is described as having used this method of travel.
We know, throughout the Scriptures, that heavenly beings—angels, GOD and Satan—demonstrated this ability to suddenly reveal themselves before humans and instantly disappear from sight as well. In this way, the resurrected Jesus behaves consistent with other heavenly-bodied beings. This is a key observation.
Throughout Scripture, heavenly beings—angels, GOD, Satan—demonstrated an ability to suddenly reveal themselves to humans & instantly disappear. In this way, the resurrected Jesus behaved consistent with other heavenly-bodied beings. Click to Tweet
Observation #5: Jesus’ resurrected body had physical attributes
Jesus' circumstances were unique in that His body was prophesied to not undergo decay (see Acts 2:25-28 quoting Psalm 16:10).
All other dead bodies decay (because they stay dead).
When Jesus arose, His physical body did not remain in the tomb.
His resurrected body retained its flesh and bones (see Luke 24:39). It kept His scars, for showed the apostles His hands and side, which Thomas touched.
And Jesus ate food (Luke 24:41-43; John 21:10-14).
This information, while interesting, only directly informs us about the nature of Jesus’ resurrected body. But what, if any, connection does His body have to others' resurrected bodies?
Part #2: Others’ Resurrected Bodies
The First Resurrection
According to Rev. 20, there are two resurrections of the dead. The first resurrection was of certain martyrs:
4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
(Rev. 20:4-6 NIV)
These souls were previously introduced in Revelation:
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
(Rev. 6:9-11 NIV)
Until recently, I envisioned these souls seen under the altar as bodiless spirits awaiting resurrection. But let’s look a little closer.
First, note that these souls here were given white robes. What good is a robe to a spirit lacking a body? A robe is only meaningful if there is a body to wear it.
This, I think, tells us that these souls were already resurrected at the moment they cry out to GOD for justice.
Note: This raises an interesting observation about the Revelation vision. I have said this before, but it bears repeating here: I think it is clear that what John records in the letter are a series of visions that overlap in chronology.
For instance, in Rev. 4-5 Jesus is seen as the slain lamb (thus having been resurrected already), but in Rev. 12:5, Jesus is seen being born (which obviously transpired before His death). This pattern is repeated throughout the letter.
Second, note that the justice they asked for is the punishment of the wicked, especially and particularly the wicked Israelites who stoned the prophets and killed those sent to her from GOD.
But who are these individuals, these martyrs?
I believe Matthew gives us the answer.
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ resurrection, he mentions some unique details:
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
(Matt. 27:50-53 NIV)
According to these verses:
- When Jesus died, there was an earthquake and certain tombs opened up.
- After Jesus’ resurrection, certain dead saints were resurrected.
- These resurrected saints appeared to many people in Jerusalem.
According to the apostle Paul, Jesus was the “firstfruits” of the resurrected ones:
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
(1 Cor. 15:20-23 NIV)
Note that these saints were raised after, not before, Jesus.
The timing proves that it was Jesus’ blood payment that bought their freedom from the grave. But they did not precede the Lord in resurrection.
I conclude that these saints of Matthew 27 are the same martyrs mentioned in Revelation (6 and 20). In order for Matthew’s testimony regarding these resurrected saints to be true, they had to be the first to arise from the dead (after Jesus, that is). In order for Revelation’s claim of the first resurrection to be true, it must refer to these individuals.
Now, check this out…
In Rev. 4, we are introduced to 24 elders who are seen sitting on thrones encircling GOD:
2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.
(Rev. 4:2-4 NIV)
What are the elders wearing? White garments.
Every indication is that these elders are humans. They are not described as angels or other creatures. They spoke in language John understood and one of them spoke directly to John (see 7:13-17).
- The souls under the altar in Rev. 6 are those of the first resurrection in Rev. 20, and …
- The first resurrection of Rev. 20 refers to those holy people of Matt. 27:51-53, and …
- Jesus was the first human to be resurrected, then …
The 24 elders introduced in Rev. 4 must be a subset of the participants resurrected in Matt. 27! (In Rev. 4-5, they are seen on thrones wearing white, reigning with Jesus. This is precisely how the participants of the first resurrection are described in Rev. 20:4-6!)
The Bodies of the First Resurrection
Matthew gives us the only glimpse into the bodies of the participants of the first resurrection.
- The tombs were opened.
- The bodies of the dead were raised up.
- They went into Jerusalem.
- They appeared to many people.
- Though not explicitly stated, the indication is that the tomb was emptied.
- These attributes are consistent with Jesus’ resurrected body.
If these individuals were the same martyred souls of Revelation, then they must have ascended to heaven after appearing to people in Jerusalem following Jesus' resurrection. There, they are able to perform human actions like sitting, standing, bowing, talking and wearing things (garments and crowns).
The Bodies of the Second Resurrection
Of all Scripture, Paul dealt with the question of the nature of the resurrected body most directly in 1 Cor. 15:35-55.
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”
(1 Cor. 15:35 NIV)
Some observations from 1 Cor. 15:35-55:
- In this context, “sow” refers to death. Thus, the resurrection is limited to dead people. (While this may seem “Duh!” at first, it's important because it limits the scope of who would be transformed at the last trumpet, per vv.51-54.)
- The natural body comes before the spiritual body, is perishable (it dies), is dishonorable, is weak.
- The spiritual body comes after the natural body, has greater splendor, is raised imperishable (can’t die), is raised in glory and power.
Now let’s look at what's less clear from this passage.
Raised-and-then-Changed or Raised-already-Changed?
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
(1 Cor. 15:51-54 NIV)
Was Paul teaching that GOD would raise the corrupted body and then transform it into the imperishable?
Or was he saying that GOD would raise up the new incorruptible body, with the person having been transformed?
I think it’s the latter.
In v51, Paul contrasts being “changed” with “sleep[ing in death].” In v52, Paul said “the dead will be raised imperishable.”
Flesh and blood
What does Paul mean in v50?
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
(1 Cor. 15:50 NIV)
On the surface, it sounds like Paul is saying that the resurrected body will not have flesh and blood.
And I would be perfectly okay accepting that. Except that Jesus referenced his flesh and bone as evidence that He was in body and not some form of ghost, as I noted previously (see Luke 24:36-39).
So either others’ resurrected bodies differ from Jesus’, or Paul does not mean that the resurrected body is absent of flesh and blood.
The second part of v50 may help us understand.
Recall that Paul is contrasting the natural body with the spiritual body in this context. The perishable (body) cannot inherit the imperishable (blessings—the kingdom of GOD). The kingdom of GOD is spiritual, not natural. “Flesh and blood” is another descritor of the natural body—the perishable.
Paul clearly stated in v49 that we bear the image of Jesus, the heavenly man. Another passage I found helpful in clarifying Paul’s meaning here is Philippians 3:21:
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.
(Phil. 3:20-21 NIV)
For the dead person prior to the resurrection, their lowly body had decayed into dust. The transformation of the resurrection is from that dusty state into the glorious state of Jesus’ resurrected body, which, as we have seen from Luke 24, included flesh and bone.
Other Scriptural details regarding the resurrected body
Muscle, flesh, skin and Spirit
In Ezekiel 37 (the valley of dry bones prophecy), GOD prophesied through Ezekiel that He would put muscles, flesh and skin on the resurrected of Israel and that He would put His Spirit into them:
1 Again the hand of the Lord came upon me, and brought me by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me in the midst of the plain, which was full of human bones. 2 So He led me round about them, and behold, there was a great multitude of bones on the face of the plain. They were very dry. 3 Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O Lord, You know this.” 4 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord to these bones: “Behold, I will bring the Spirit of life upon you. 6 I will put muscles on you and bring flesh upon you. I will cover you with skin and put my Spirit into you. Then you shall live and know that I am the Lord.” ’ ”
7 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and it came to pass while I prophesied that, behold, there was a shaking, and the bones came together, each one to its joint. 8 So I looked, and behold, muscle and flesh grew upon them, and skin covered them over; but no breath was in them. 9 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Come from the four winds and breathe upon these dead men; and let them live.” ’ ” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the Spirit entered into them; and they lived and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great assembly.
11 Again the Lord spoke to me, saying, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope has perished, and we are lost.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will open your tombs, bring you up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your tombs to lead you, My people, up from their graves. 14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live; and I will place you in your own land. Then you will know that I am the Lord. I have spoken, and I will do it,” says the Lord.’ ”
(Eze. 37:1-14 OSB)
Those who sleep in the dust shall wake up
Daniel 12 gives us a helpful description of the resurrection, referring to the decayed body as “sleep[ing] in the dust of the earth.” This prophecy also gives us the timeframe of the resurrection (see vv.1, 9-13) which coincides with the first century:
1 “At that time [Tim: see Dan. 11:40 for timeframe] Michael the great prince, who stands watch over the sons of your people, shall stand up; and there shall be a time of tribulation, such as never happened until that time, since there was a nation upon the earth. But at that time your people shall be saved, all found written in the book. 2 Then many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to disgrace and everlasting shame. 3 Those who understand shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and some who are righteous, like the stars of heaven forever and ever. 4 As for you, Daniel, close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end, until many are taught and knowledge is increased.”
8 Although I heard, I did not understand. So I said, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things?” 9 He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. 10 Many shall choose to be made white and refined through fire; but the lawless shall act lawlessly. None of the lawless shall understand, but the wise shall understand. 11 From the time the daily sacrifice is taken away and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. 12 Blessed is he who waits and comes to one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. 13 But now, go your way and rest, for there are yet days to the fulfillment of the end; and you shall arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.”
(Dan. 12:1-4, 8-13 OSB)
Note that the language of Dan. 12:2 coincides perfectly with both Matt. 25:31-46 and Rev. 20:11-15, providing further evidence that these three passages refer to the same timeframe and events.
Like the angels in heaven
The Sadducees, who disbelieved in the resurrection, tried to trick Jesus. He set them straight and revealed important details about post-resurrection life:
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
From this passage and its parallel accounts, we learn:
- Resurrected won’t marry.
- Will be like angels (angels disappear and appear physically, travel at super speed).
- Will live in heaven.
- Per Luke’s parallel passage of this conversation, the resurrected also can no longer die (Luke 20:36).
Resurrection to occur at “the last day”; no longer to die
Jesus repeated similar teaching in His conversation with Martha just before raising Lazarus from the dead:
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
(John 11:23-26 NIV)
From this text, we learn that:
- Resurrection to occur at the last day. (We must ask: the last day of what or whom?)
- Resurrected will never die again.
Sadducees also disbelieved in angels and spirits
When Paul was put on trial by the Sanhedrin, he wisely aligned himself with the Pharisees and pitted them against the Sadducees in the group so as to get himself out of the focus. Note Acts 23:8 which says that the Sadducees didn’t believe in spirits or angels:
6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)
(Acts 23:6-8 NIV)
Old Testament Scriptures testify of the resurrection
As Paul was on trial before Governor Felix, he made a comment that reminds us that the Old Testament Scriptures plainly taught the resurrection of the dead, so much that first century Jews shared in the hope of the resurrection. It was not just a Christian (aka “New Testament”) doctrine:
10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.
(Acts 24:10-16 NIV)
The Hebrew writer says similarly that the resurrection is an elementary principle:
1 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.
(Heb. 6:1-3 NIV)
Jesus was confirmed as the Son of GOD by the resurrection
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,
(Rom. 1:1-4 NASB)
The mass resurrection to be like Jesus’ resurrection
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
(Rom. 6:5 NIV)
What about us today?
If the mass resurrection has already occurred, as I understand the Scriptures to teach, what happens to those who die after that resurrection? Do they experience a resurrection or something different?
Unfortunately, so far, I’ve found little in terms of specific detail in the Scriptures regarding what transpires after the resurrection and return of the LORD Jesus. But we do have some information.
The law of sin and death
Prior to Jesus’ second coming, the law of sin and death ruled. That law was, in short: if you sin, you die. And death, according to the law of sin and death, didn’t simply mean that you die physically, but that your soul (your life essence + body) went to the realm of the dead and your body turned back into dust. In the realm of the living, your soul ceased to exist. Meanwhile, the spirit returned to GOD.
Note: Modern westerners tend to think of the soul as a person’s spirit. In Scripture, however, the soul means a living being which includes a body.
In the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures, the word for “soul” is transliterated “nephesh” and it is used to refer to animals (see Gen. 1:20) as well as people (see Gen. 2:7).
This explains why David, prophesying of the Messiah in Psalm 16:10, said, “You will not leave my nephesh in Sheol [the realm of the dead, Hades in Greek]...”
David’s / Jesus’ spirit returned to GOD (“Into your hands I commit my spirit…”), but the pre-resurrected soul ceased to exist (outside of Hades). This is … different … challenging to think about, I know.
Jesus had to become human in order to gain power over death:
14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
(Heb. 2:14-15 NIV)
When Jesus arose, death no longer had power over Him:
9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.
(Rom. 6:9 NIV)
It was death, though, that was the final enemy Jesus had to defeat:
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
(1 Cor. 15:20-28 NIV)
Revelation tells the story of Jesus’ defeat of death:
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
(Rev. 20:11-14 NIV)
These verses tell of the mass resurrection—the second resurrection. Once the dead (at the time) were raised, death and Hades were cast into hell. That means they were defeated. They no longer existed in the roles they had before. Subsequent verses affirm this truth.
1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Rev. 21:1-5 NIV)
If my understanding is correct, this means that Jesus has already destroyed death in hell.
But people still physically die!
Since people still die physically, how could this passage mean that death no longer exists today?
Also, when a person dies physically today, their physical body and bones are left behind and decay. Does that prove that the mass resurrection is yet to occur? If not, how can this be?
I admit, these are challenging facts.
Let's start by looking further at the context of these verses.
The passage is speaking metaphorically of spiritual blessings under the new order of life.
- GOD does not physically live with us. He is Spirit so that’s impossible!
- And people still cry and experience pain, as well as physical death.
It would be inconsistent to treat death as different from the other details in the immediate context.
Second, consider Paul’s insight to the Thessalonians regarding the second coming. They were afraid of what would happen to those who had died in Jesus prior to Jesus’ return:
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
(1 Thess. 4:13-18 NIV)
Paul taught that after Jesus’ return and the resurrection, the Christians who hadn’t died prior to Jesus’ second coming (“we who are still alive”) would be caught up together with them (i.e., the resurrected) in the clouds.
I believe it is for this reason that Revelation says:
13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
(Rev. 14:13 NIV)
Remembering why a resurrection was necessary
Remember: The resurrection was necessary because death was in place and ruled over those who sinned. Satan held the power of death.
In the chronology of Revelation 20, Satan was cast into hell in v10. The second resurrection immediately followed in vv11-13. Then death and Hades were cast into hell in v14.
With death defeated and no longer ruling, the rules of human life were changed. The soul no longer had to be confined to the realm of the dead (Hades) because Jesus had taken it out of the way.
Truly the old order of things was done away with!
Putting all of this together, it seems clear to me that Scripture is teaching that:
- for those who die after Jesus’ second coming and the mass resurrection, ...
- they are instantaneously transformed into their new, invisible-to-physical-eyesight body (recall, just like Jesus and the angels … the heavenly body), and ...
- they are taken up to heaven to be with Jesus and GOD without delay.
For Christians today, there is no need for resurrection because death no longer exists to confine souls.
I know this sounds crazy and counter to what we have been taught our whole lives, but all the Scriptural evidence—everything I’ve shared in this long series and so much more—points towards this being the case.
And I believe this is what Jesus meant when He told Martha:
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
(John 11:23-26 NIV)
The first part (the one who believes in Jesus will live, though they die) refers to the dead prior to the resurrection. They would live because of the resurrection. The second part (the one who lives by believing in Jesus) refers to those who die (physically) after the resurrection. They never truly die (in the way people did prior to the resurrection, because death has been destroyed). Instead, when they die physically, they immediately receive their new body and inheritance in heaven. So, rather than death (as per before the resurrection), we experience a transformation when we put off this earthly tent.
That's life eternal, today. And that's awesome!
The new heavens and the new earth have arrived: the kingdom of heaven, with its capital city, the church (the gathered) of Jesus. Eternal life inside the kingdom begins on earth and continues forever in heaven.
Revelation 21:1-5 alludes back to Isaiah 65:
17 “For there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, and they shall not remember the former things, nor shall these things come into their heart. 18 But they shall find gladness and exceeding joy in her, for behold, I will make Jerusalem an exceeding joy, and My people gladness. 19 I will rejoice exceedingly in Jerusalem, and I will be glad in My people. There shall no longer be heard in her a voice of weeping, nor a voice of crying. 20 There shall not be the untimely death of a child there, nor shall there be an old man who does not fulfill his time. For a young man shall be a hundred years old, but a sinner who dies at a hundred years old shall be cursed. 21 They shall build houses and dwell in them; and they shall plant vineyards and eat their produce. 22 But they shall not build, and others inhabit; and they shall not plant, and others eat. For according to the days of the tree of life, so shall be the days of My people, and the works of their labors shall not grow old.
(Isa. 65:17-22 OSB)
And that is amazing! Hallelujah! Praise GOD for His great plan, mercy, grace and power!