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“Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question by you this day” (Acts 24:21).
The resurrection is one of the central themes of the Bible. It is identified as a doctrine by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 6:2. There is a hope throughout the Bible that a better day is coming when the dead will live again.
Why is a resurrection necessary? In 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 we read: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Not some, but all will be made alive. The resurrection is the mechanism for the restoration of the entire human race.
The Bible’s word for resurrection is the Greek word anastasis. It means “a raising up” or “to cause to stand up.” That’s the concept. The word “resurrection” appears exclusively in the New Testament. But does the Old Testament teach the resurrection?
Resurrection in the Old Testament
The concept of a resurrection is illustrated in many places in the Old Testament. Psalms 90:3 says: “You turn men back to dust, saying, Return to dust, O sons of men” (NIV). God is saying, you will die and return to the elements. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, death is referred to as “sleeping in the dust.” 1 Samuel 2:6-8 says, “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up. The LORD maketh poor and maketh rich; he bringeth low and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust.”
Man is trapped in a life and death cycle. But God has promised that He will lift them up. Isaiah 35:10 says: “the ransomed of the LORD shall return.” These scriptures point forward to a wonderful time, when men are going to return from the dust. Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” God promises that He will restore man and bring them back to life.
Job confirms this expectation of a reawakening. In Job 14:13-15 we read, “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave [Hebrew: sheol], that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? … Thou shalt call and I will answer thee.” When the LORD calls, men will answer and they will come out of the grave. Job believed this so much that he asked God to hide him in the grave until his troubles were past.
There is another picture of the resurrection painted in the Old Testament—a release from the prison house of death. In Psalm 146:7 we read, “The LORD looseneth the prisoners.” The purpose of prison is to keep prisoners in, and until the door is unlocked, there is no way out. In Isaiah 61:1 we read, “The LORD hath anointed me to … to proclaim … the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” So we have a Biblical hope that the prisoners in death will be released.
Hosea 13:14 says, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.” In 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 Paul quotes from Hosea, writing: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Paul goes on to answer his question when he says: “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory” How? “Through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Restoring Man’s Mind in the Resurrection
What is the difference between being born and being resurrected? In the resurrection, God will provide a body of His choosing, the breath of life and the mind of the person being resurrected. Why restore the mind in the resurrection? Otherwise, those being resurrected would be a blank slate, like a baby. There is a tremendous value in having the past experiences put back into the mind of the resurrected body. Only then can an individual have a personal knowledge of the effects of sin and compare it to the blessings of righteousness that they will experience in Christ’s earthly kingdom. Only God can accomplish this miraculous feat of restoring the mind for all of the billions who have ever lived.
The resurrection is an integral part of God’s meticulously crafted plans. In Ecclesiastes 11:3 we read: “If the tree fall toward the south or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.” It is saying that when a tree falls over, that is where it stays. The direction in which it fell is the direction in which it remains. This illustration provides an object lesson that the mind that goes into the grave is the mind that is restored in the resurrected body. Those who live righteously will have righteousness in their minds when they are resurrected. Those who die with corrupt minds will harbor corrupt thoughts when they are resurrected. This is the reason why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah rather than letting them slide further into sin and degradation. He stopped the degradation of their minds before they would be irrecoverable in Christ’s earthly kingdom.
Can God restore the mind? Job 33:29-30 says, “Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit [Hebrew: sheol], to be enlightened with the light of the living.” What is the light of the living? It is the intellect. Job is telling us that man will be resurrected with a restored mind.
The principle of sowing and reaping is used in the Scriptures to illustrate the restoration of the mind in the resurrection. In Job 4:8 we read: “They that plow iniquity and sow wickedness, reap the same.” The lesson is that what we sow, we will reap. In this present evil world, the wicked seem to prosper. But those who go into the grave with evil minds will have a lot more work to do to transform their characters into the likeness of God in Christ’s Kingdom.
The Hope and Assurance of the Resurrection
What is the basis of our hope of a resurrection? In 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 we read, “But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” After Jesus, his followers, who are members of the Christ, become the firstfruits of them that have slept in death. They are raised at Jesus’ return (presence). Afterward, those that are Christ’s at his presence, the world of mankind, will follow in the resurrection. Eventually, all who have ever lived will be made alive. This is the wonderful message about the resurrection of the dead. All will be resurrected.
There were some in Paul’s day who were saying that there was no resurrection of the dead and Paul challenged that assertion in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19. “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen. And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ.” If there is no resurrection, then our faith is worthless. “For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised. And if Christ be not raised your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” Paul is saying that the resurrection is critical to our faith. Christ’s resurrection was God’s seal that his sacrifice for sin was acceptable and the resurrection of all will occur.
There were several miracles of the temporary re-awakenings of the dead in the Bible. These miracles illustrated that something much greater would be accomplished by the resurrection. They demonstrated God’s ability of restoring life to those who had died. Acts 26:8 says, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (NIV). Jesus’ resurrection also demonstrated God’s ability and power to resurrect the dead to the higher, spiritual nature and even the divine nature. “Wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2:9,10).
There are two classes to be resurrected. Paul identifies them in Acts 24:15: “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” The “just” are the justified members of the bride of Christ and the “unjust” are the world of mankind. In John 5:28-29 we have this explanation: “Do not marvel at this for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life; those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (NASB). This further illustrates the heavenly and earthly resurrections. The following chart illustrates both the heavenly and earthly resurrections mentioned in the Scriptures.
Why is there a heavenly resurrection? In Colossians 1:27, we read: “This mystery …which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” He is describing the glory of the bride or the faithful followers of Christ. In Matthew 25:31 we read: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” “All the holy angels” is talking about the glorified Church. They are raised to heaven in the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6). The following chart lists Scriptures that describe this heavenly resurrection.
In Hebrews 11:40 we read: “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” This shows that the church must be resurrected first so that they can assist in opening the prison house of death for the rest of mankind.
The ancient worthies such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Noah will receive an earthly, “better resurrection.” Hebrews 11:39,35 says: “These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise. … That they might obtain a better resurrection.” They will be resurrected after the church and before the world of mankind. They will be made perfect because they have already been justified by their faith and have a standing with God. These all died in faith, so they have proven faithful to God and will be the earthly leaders in Christ’s Kingdom. They will be made “princes in all the earth,” the earthly representatives of Christ’s kingdom (Psalm 45:16).
Next comes the earthly resurrection of mankind, described in John 5:28-29: “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice, and will come forth … those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (NASB).The word “judgment” is improperly translated “condemnation” in the King James Bible. A better translation is the word “crisis.” What is a crisis? It is a point of decision, the decision of choosing between self-will and God’s will. The resurrected masses of mankind will have to put aside self-will under the perfect conditions of the Kingdom and embrace doing God’s will. Self-will leads to second death or oblivion. Submission to God’s will leads to everlasting life. This is what Joshua meant when he made the statement, “choose you this day whom ye shall serve” (Joshua 24:15). The following chart lists Scriptures that describe this earthly resurrection.
We cannot state with certainty how long the earthly resurrection process will go on. But we are assured that everyone in Christ’s Kingdom will have at least 100 years to learn righteousness. So during Christ’s thousand year Kingdom, the earthly resurrection could go on for up to 900 years.
In the fullest sense, the resurrection work will be complete when all reach the point of perfection in which there is no more death. Then, all mankind will live on a perfect earth and receive everlasting life. There will be no more death, sorrow nor crying (Revelation 21:4).
The resurrection is one of the most important truths of the Bible. Its significance has been lost sight of by most Christians but it is a critical part of understanding the gospel of the kingdom. It is our responsibility, privilege, and joy to proclaim the message of the resurrection to the world. Christ laid down his life to provide this. How important is it to you?