Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST010/7 The Resurrection of the Dead.


The Resurrection of the Dead.

When speaking of the resurrection of the dead it must be made clear that we are referring to the resurrection of the body and not merely the immortality of the soul. The immortality of the soul is one thing and it is a belief to which the Christian firmly holds; the resurrection of the body, however, is something quite different. 

It is a belief not just in the continuation of our spirits or souls, but that the body is resurrected in a recognizable form. This is almost a distinctly Christian doctrine and its exact meaning will be dealt with later. In discussing the subject we will think first of the Scriptural teaching, then of the nature of the resurrection body and finally of the time of the resurrection.

(a) The Scriptural Teaching concerning the Resurrection.

It is not surprising to find that the Old Testament is not so clear on the subject as the New. This is to be expected in view of the fact that, as we have seen, the whole subject of life after death is less distinct in the Old Testament than it is in the New. There is, however, a considerable amount of suggestive teaching in the Old Testament. 

For instance in Ps.49:15 the Psalmist speaks of God redeeming his soul from the power of Sheol and Isa.26:19 reads "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." Daniel 12:2 and Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones also speak clearly of a resurrection.

The New Testament, however, is full of the truth. Our Lord teaches it very clearly in John 5:28,29 - "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." 

We have the same again from the lips of Jesus in John 6:39,40,44,54, and further confirmation is found in His words at the death of Lazarus, "I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." (John 11:25,26).

The great passage on the resurrection is, of course, that from the pen of Paul in 1 Cor.15.  He argues strongly and exhaustively for the fact of the resurrection and also says something about its nature, which will be considered in the next section. Other passages are 1 Thess.4:13-16; 2 Cor.5:1-10; Rev.20; and Rom.8:11 could also be included. 

The Scripture also makes it clear that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust; this is shown in the passage from John's Gospel quoted above and also in Acts 24:15 where Paul speaks of a "resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust."

(b) The Nature of the Resurrection Body.

This is a difficult subject and we can only gather as much information on it as is given to us in the New Testament. The main passages are 1 Cor.15; Phil.3:21; and Luke 20:34-36. From these passages three facts appear:-

  1. The resurrection body is like our Lord's resurrection body. This, however, must not be taken too far. It seems clear that the resurrection body in which our Lord appeared to his disciples was only a temporary one and not His final glorified body. Even that body was greatly changed and afterwards was changed a great deal more, and our resurrection bodies will be changed in this greater measure.
  2. The word resurrection implies identity and that the resurrection body will be in some fundamental way, which we are not fully able to understand, identical with the present body. This presents difficulties, but not insuperable ones. It is not necessary for every particle of the present body to be recovered for there to be identity. Our bodies are continually changing; but there is still identity. As Berkhof remarks, "Change is not inconsistent with the retention of identity. We are told that even now every particle in our bodies changes every seven years, but through it all the body retains its identity. There will be a certain physical connection between the old body and the new, but the nature of this connection is not revealed." (Syst. Theol. p.723). Paul's own argument supports this. The seed is sown but the body which results is by no means like the seed, but there is undoubtedly identity between them.
  3. The resurrection body is a spiritual one and a glorious one. "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." The word for "natural" is the word from which we get our word "psychic". In other words it is a soulish body, i.e. a body made to live in the environment which surrounds us now; it does not mean it is made of "soul'. The spiritual body is one made to live in the environment of "spirit". How it is actually constituted we are not told. Luke 20:34-36 makes it clear that it will not have the physical function normal to life now. It is likewise just as clear from 1 Cor.15 that the resurrection body will be glorious, perfect and incorruptible. 

Paul uses a series of contrasts and Purkiser enlarges on these -

  1. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruptibility, free from everything that tends towards dissolution and death, disease, pain and suffering. 
  2. It is sown in dishonour, as having been an instrument of sin; it is raised in glory, as in the overwhelming brightness of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8). 
  3. It is sown in weakness, the result of its mortal limitations; it is raised in power beyond our capacity to imagine. 
  4. It is sown a creature subject to or dependent upon nature a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body, perfectly adapted to the conditions of the future state." (Exploring Our Christian Faith p.566).

(c) The Time of the Resurrection.

The belief of the church as a whole has always been in a general resurrection of the dead, but there have always been some and, in the last hundred years many more, who have believed in two resurrections. The belief is based in the first place on the statements in Rev.20 which clearly infer that there are two resurrections, one of the righteous at the commencement of the millenium, and one of the wicked at the end of the millenium. 

The view held concerning the millenium will obviously affect the view of the resurrection. There are, however, other reasons and Scriptures for believing in two resurrections. There are a number of passages where instead of speaking of the resurrection of the dead", the Scriptures speak of "the resurrection out from the dead"or sometimes It appears, likewise, that this expression is never used when the reference is either to the resurrection of the wicked or the resurrection of the righteous and wicked together. The following is an analysis of the use of the term "out from the dead",

  1. (i) Thirty-three times of Christ's resurrection (Matt.17:9; Mark 9:9,10; Luke 24:46; John 2:22; 20:9; 21:14; Acts 3:15; 4:10; 10:41; 13:30934; 17:3; 26:23; Rom.4:24; 6:4-9; 7:4; 8:11; 10:7; 1 Cor.15:12,20; Gal.1:1; Eph.1:20; Col.1:18; 2:12; 1 Thess.1:10; 2 Tin.2:8; Heb.13:20;1 Pet.1:3,21.). There is only one occasion apparently where the simple expression "resurrection of the dead" is used of Christ's resurrection and that is in Rom.1:4. Obviously Christ's resurrection was out from the dead.
  2. It is used of John the Baptist (Matt.14:2; Mark 6:14; Luke 9:7). Herod thought he had been raised from the dead before time, and thus "out from the dead".
  3. It is used of Lazarus who was raised "out from the dead" (John 12:1,9,17).
  4. It is used in a figurative sense of a resurrection into spiritual life out of the death of sin (Rom.6:13; 11:15: Eph.5:14).
  5. It is used in the story of Dives and Lazarus of someone going back from the dead to speak to Dives' family (Luke 16:31).
  6. It is used of Abraham's faith in God's ability to raise Isaac from the dead (Heb.11:19).
  7. Four other passages have special significance and need separate treatment. Mark 12:25 and Luke 20:35,36 both refer to a future resurrection of the righteous and in each case Jesus promises to them a resurrection out from the dead. This seems clearly to link up with and refer to the first resurrection mentioned in Rev.20. 

Secondly in Acts 4:1,2 the Sadducees are grieved because the disciples preached through Jesus the resurrection that was out from the dead. The disciples were perplexed when Jesus spoke of rising out from the dead, but now they are preaching this very thing. The Sadducees, of course, did not believe in a resurrection at all, but probably by this time the apostles had realised the fact of an order in the resurrection as Paul implies in 1 Cor.15:23, "Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming". 

Thirdly, there is the passage in Philippians (ch.3:11). Here Paul is declaring that his one aim is to be worthy to attain that which is literally "the out-resurrection which is out from the dead".
From all this evidence, plus the statement in Rev.20, it does seem that the early church did believe in two resurrections. A resurrection of the saints which was prior to the resurrection of the rest of the dead. Whether there is any necessity to insert a thousand years between the two, or whether the thousand years should be taken figuratively is another matter. The student must come to his own conclusion about this.

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