Traditionally, today is called Easter. I don't call it that, that is a pagan name for a pagan holiday. Biblically, today is the Feast of Firstfruits. This day is not about bunnies and candy and colored eggs, it is about resurrection. We are all familiar with the term resurrection, but not so familiar with it's biblical meaning.
The traditional view that is held by most of the church is this: When a believer dies, their body goes into the grave, and their spirit goes to heaven to be with the Lord. They are in a disembodied state awaiting the resurrection at the end of time. Then at the end of time, the Lord returns, resurrects all the decayed bodies of the dead saints, puts them back together, then changes the physically resurrected bodies into spiritual immortal bodies like Christ's. Does that sound like what you have been taught?
Have you ever thought about how the Lord will put all those decayed bodies back together? Will He re-gather and reassemble all the scattered atoms and molecules that composed individual bodies at the time of death? This problem is addressed by M.C. Tenney in his book, The Reality of the Resurrection:
When the body of Roger Williams, founder of the Rhode Island colony, was exhumed for reburial, it was found that the root of an apple tree had penetrated the head of the coffin and had followed down Williams' spine, dividing into a fork at the legs. The tree had absorbed the chemicals of the decaying body and had transmuted them into its wood and fruit. The apples, in turn, had been eaten by people, quite unconscious of the fact that they were indirectly taking into their systems part of the long-dead Williams. The objection may therefore be raised: How, out of the complex sequence of decay, absorption, and new formation, will it be possible to resurrect believers of past ages, and to reconstitute them as separate entities?
This problem of joint ownership of atoms and molecules is a big problem. After death, various body particles returned to dust, reentered the food chain, got assimilated into plants, eaten by animals, and digested into countless other human bodies. At the resurrection, who gets which atoms and molecules back? As you can see, it can get quite complicated. I think we have to ask: Why would God raise our dead decayed bodies, put them all back together just to change them into spiritual bodies?
So the predominant view of the resurrection is that at the end of time God is going to gather the dead bodies out of the graves, change them to spiritual bodies and take them to Heaven. That is basically what the church teaches about the resurrection, but is it what the Bible teaches? I don't think so:
Paul clearly taught that the resurrection was the hope of Israel:
But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" Acts 23:6 NASB
having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Acts 24:15 NASB
"And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; 7 the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. 8 "Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead? Acts 26:6-8 NASB
"For this reason therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel." Acts 28:20 NASB
It is clear from these verses that Paul sees the resurrection of the dead as that which fulfills "the hope of the promise made by God unto our fathers."
The word "resurrection" does not appear in the Tanakh, but the concept does:
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2 NASB
Daniel looked for the day when those who slept would awake.
THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF THE RESURRECTION: It is interesting to note that the Bible never uses the terms "resurrected body," "resurrection of the body," or "physical resurrection." Does that surprise you? The church uses those terms quite often, but the Bible never does. The phrases that the Bible does use are "the resurrection of the dead" and "the resurrection from the dead."
So, in order to understand "resurrection," we must understand death. Resurrection is "resurrection from the dead." To understand death, we need to go back to the book of beginnings, Genesis. In the book of Genesis we see God creating man:
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Genesis 2:7-8 NASB
After creating man, God placed him in the Garden of Eden and gave him a command:
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die." Genesis 2:15-17 NASB
God warned Adam regarding the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: "The day that you eat from it you shall surely die." Adam disobeyed God and ate of the tree:
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6 NASB
Did Adam die that day? Not physically! Adam lived at least 800 years beyond the day he ate the fruit. But, God said he would die the day he ate, and we know that God cannot lie. Adam did not die physically that day, but he did die spiritually. Paul speaks of this in:
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "YOU SHALL NOT COVET." 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; Romans 7:7-9 NASB
Paul must be referring to Adam in this text, because he was the only man who was ever "alive apart from the Law." Every man since Adam was born dead in trespasses and sin. When God gave Adam the command: "From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat," sin became alive, and Adam died. He died spiritually the moment he disobeyed. Spiritual death is separation from God:
Behold, the LORD'S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2 NASB
Paul puts it this way in Ephesians:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), Ephesians 2:1-5 NASB
Because of his sin, man was separated from God. He was dead in trespasses and sins. The focus of God's plan of redemption is to restore through Yeshua the Christ what man had lost in Adam:
So then as through one transgression [Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [Jesus] there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One [Jesus] the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18-19 NASB
For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 1 Corinthians 15:21 NASB
Because of Adam's sin, we are all born dead, separated from God. But through Yeshua the Christ came the resurrection from the dead. Yeshua came to destroy the works of the devil:
the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8 NASB
What were the works of the devil? They were to separate man from God. Yeshua came to redeem man from death, to resurrect man back into the presence of God. The Bible is God's Book, about His plan to restore the spiritual union of His creation. Resurrection is not about bringing physical bodies out of the graves, it is about restoring man into the presence of God.
Prior to Yeshua's messianic work, no one went to Heaven:
"And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man. John 3:13 NASB
If prior to Yeshua's messianic work, no one went to Heaven--where did people go when they died? They went to a holding place of the dead and waited for the atoning work of Christ and the resurrection from the dead.
In the Tanakh, the Hebrew word for where they were prior to the resurrection is Sheol. In the New Testament the Greek word is Hades. What this place amounted to was a waiting area for disembodied spirits. Their bodies went to dust and their souls/spirits went to Sheol.
The Tanakh uses the word "Sheol" to refer to a place in the depths of the earth. The expressions "go down" or "brought down" are used twenty times in connection with Sheol. The "depths of Sheol" are mentioned six times (Deut. 32:22; Ps. 86:13; Prov. 9:18; 15:24; Isa. 7:11; 14:15). Four times Sheol is described as the farthest point from Heaven (Job 11:8; Ps. 139:8; Isa. 7:11; Amos 9:2). Often Sheol is parallel with the "pit" (Job 17:13-14; 33:18; Ps. 30:3; 88:3-4; Prov. 1:12; Isa. 14:15; 38:18; Ezek. 31:14-17). Nine times it is parallel with death (2 Sam. 22:6; Ps. 18:4-5; 49:14; 89:48; 116:3; Prov. 5:5; Isa. 28:15,18; Hos. 13:14; Hab. 2:5). Sheol is described in terms of overwhelming floods, water, or waves (Jonah 2:2-6). Sometimes, Sheol is pictured as a hunter setting snares for its victim, binding them with cords, snatching them from the land of the living (2 Sam 22:6; Job 24:19; Ps. 116:3). Sheol is a prison with bars, a place of no return (Job 7:9; 10:21; 16:22; 21:13; Ps. 49:14; Isa. 38:10). People could go to Sheol alive (Num. 16:30,33; Ps. 55:15; Prov. 1:12).
In Jewish tradition, it was also known as "Abraham's bosom" since at death, the faithful Israelite was said to be "gathered unto his fathers." Whatever it was called, it was not Heaven.
"Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Acts 2:29 NASB
"For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, Acts 2:34 NASB
David was dead, but he did not go to Heaven. But he had a promise that he someday would. God had promised to redeem His people from Sheol:
Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight. Hosea 13:14 NASB
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; For He will receive me. Selah. Psalms 49:15 NASB
This verse expresses hope that God will provide salvation beyond the grave, one of the few Tanakh references to life after death. This verse anticipates the clear New Testament teaching of life after death, and eternal life, and salvation from God.
The earliest Christians saw this as a reference to Christ's Resurrection. What the Psalmist saw as God's providential care in present danger, Yeshua knew was God's ultimate caring and power to bring life from death.
All people were believed to go to Sheol when they die:
What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah. Psalms 89:48 NASB
To be taken out of Sheol and brought into the presence of the Lord is what the Bible calls "resurrection." The word "resurrection" is from the Greek word anastasis (a-nos-ta-sis), which means: "a standing up." Resurrection is: "to be taken out of Sheol and to be standing in God's presence." Daniel spoke of this in:
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2 NASB
According to the Bible, when was the resurrection to take place? The Scriptures testify that the time of the resurrection was to be at the end of the Old Covenant age. We know this to have happened in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Jewish Temple. The disciples knew that the fall of the Temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the Old Covenant age and the inauguration of a new age:
"Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:1-2 NASB
Daniel says that this resurrection will come after a time of great trouble for the Jewish nation. That sounds just like:
for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. Matthew 24:21 NASB
Here, Yeshua is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem. Notice also:
"And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:3 NASB
Now compare that with:
"Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 "Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. Matthew 13:40-43 NASB
Both Daniel 12 and Matthew 13 are speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The resurrection is an event that was to happen in A.D. 70.
Verse 4 of Daniel 12 identifies this time as "the time of the end."
"But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase." Daniel 12:4 NASB
The NASB really messes up here, this is a really bad translation. This should read "the time of the end" as it is translated in the KJV, NKJV, YLT, NIV, and NLT. Every translation that I looked in had "time of the end" except NASB. The Bible never speaks of "the end of time."
In response to Daniel's question at the end of verse 6, "How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?" the angel answers in:
And I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time; and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed. Daniel 12:7 NASB
This again speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70. In verse 12, Daniel connects the resurrection to the abomination that makes desolate:
"And from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Daniel 12:11 NASB
Yeshua referred to this in Matthew 24:15, in discussing the fall of Jerusalem. The last verse in Daniel 12 records a promise given to Daniel about his own personal resurrection:
"But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age." Daniel 12:13 NASB
The statements of verses 1, 7, 11, and 12 tie the resurrection to the time immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. What Daniel had written was well ingrained into the thinking of the Jews. We see from Yeshua's discussion with Martha that she had no doubt as to when the resurrection would be:
Yeshua said to her, "Your brother shall rise again." 24 Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." John 11:23-24 NASB
Yeshua taught that the resurrection would happen on the last day:
"And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." John 6:39-40 NASB
"No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 NASB
When is the last day? To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. During the Second Temple period they distinguish between two types of olam: olam hazeh (this world) and Olam Haba ("the world to come"). The "olam hazeh" or "this world" is characterized by darkness, wickedness, sin, and death. It is called "night." The "Olam Haba," or "the world to come," as it was called by the rabbis, was known as a time of joy, peace, light, eternity; it is known as "day." The rabbis connected the olam haba and the resurrection.
So to the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age (olam hazeh) and the Messianic Age (olam haba). The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as "olam haba" or "the world to come." All through the New Testament, we see two ages in contrast: "This age" and the "age to come":
For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 1 Peter 1:20 NASB
Yeshua came during the last days of the age that was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age. That age came to an end with the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.
Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Hebrews 9:26 NASB
When was it that Yeshua appeared? He was born, not at the beginning, but at the end of the ages. To suppose that he meant that Yeshua's incarnation came near the end of the world, would be to make his statement false. The world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the Exodus to the destruction of the Temple. Yeshua was manifest at the end of the Jewish age.
Yeshua's answer to the Sadducees about the woman who had seven husbands, indicates that the resurrection was to occur at the changing of the ages:
And Yeshua said to them, "The sons of this age (the Old Covenant age) marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age (the New Covenant age) and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; Luke 20:34-35 NASB
The resurrection was not something that was available to them in "this age" (the Old Covenant age), but would be available to them in "that age" (the New Covenant age), implying that the resurrection would occur at the beginning of the New Covenant age.
So, the resurrection was to happen at the end of the Jewish age, the Old Covenant age. We know that this happened in AD 70.
Paul spoke of the nearness of the resurrection in his day:
having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall [mello--about to be] certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Acts 24:15 NASB
If the TIME of the resurrection is seen as A.D. 70, then we know that the NATURE of the resurrection was spiritual, rather than physical. It is a fundamental fact of eschatology that TIME DEFINES NATURE. Since we know that the resurrection is past, we know that it was spiritual and not physical. The resurrection of the dead that took place at the end of the Old Covenant in A.D. 70 was not a biological resurrection of dead decayed bodies, but a release from Sheol of all who had been waiting through the centuries to be reunited with God in the Heavenly Kingdom.
We can see from the teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus several things about the resurrection beliefs of the early Christians:
and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some. 2 Timothy 2:17-18 NASB
They must have believed that the resurrection would be spiritual in nature, and, therefore, not subject to confirmation by any physical evidence. If the early Christians had believed that the resurrection would involve the physical bodies coming out of the graves, as is taught today, Hymenaius and Philitus could never have convinced anyone that the resurrection had already happened.
They also must have believed that life on earth would go on with no material change after the resurrection. They didn't believe that they would be on a renovated planet earth as a consequence of the resurrection. Otherwise, the teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus would have been impossible. No one would have paid any attention to them.
The reason that their teaching that the resurrection has already happened was overthrowing the faith of some was that it postulated a consummation of the spiritual kingdom, while the earthly Temple in Jerusalem still stood. This was a mixture of Law and grace. This destroyed the faith of some by making the works of the Law a part of the New Covenant.
So the resurrection of the dead took place in A.D. 70 when our Lord took the righteous dead out of Sheol and moved them into the presence of God. They were no longer separated from God (dead); they were now in His presence (alive).
What about us? Will we be resurrected? Since the resurrection is past, what happens to believers when they die? Their physical body goes back to dust from which it came:
All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Ecclesiastes 3:20 NASB
And their spirit goes to the realm of Heaven. Believers are already alive in Christ:
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin. Romans 6:4-7 NASB
Believers have already been raised from the dead. Coming into the New Covenant by faith is resurrection from the dead. You can't get into the kingdom of God or the New Covenant if you have not been resurrected from the dead. This is what 1 Corinthians 15 teaches.
The word "Likeness" in verse 5 is the Greek word homoioma, which suggests: "similarity but difference." I was not nailed on a cross, neither was Paul. The likeness of His Resurrection doesn't mean that my body is going to come out of the grave in exact likeness of Yeshua any more than the death on the cross means that I have been crucified. The Resurrection is the spiritual application of Yeshua's death and Resurrection on my behalf. I don't have to die to get eternal life, and neither does my physical body have to be raised. Yeshua's Resurrection life is applied to you, so that we are now raised from the dead. This is the resurrection of the dead.
Yeshua said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26 NASB
Two categories of believers are discussed: those who would die before the resurrection and those who would not. For those who died under the Old Covenant, He was the Resurrection, but for those who lived into the days of the New Covenant, He is the Life.
Under the New Covenant, there is no spiritual death:
and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." Revelation 21:4 NASB
Where there is no death, there is no need of a resurrection. We have eternal life and can never die spiritually. Therefore, we don't need a resurrection. At death, we go immediately to Heaven.
The resurrection was a one time event in which the First Testament saints were brought out of Hades and finally overcame death to be with the Lord. We have put on immortality and will go to Heaven when we die physically. As believers, we live in the presence of God, and in physical death, we simply drop the flesh and dwell only in the spiritual realm.