Related: The Resurrection of Christ
The resurrection. There is a progression of understanding through scripture with regard to the resurrection. Old Testament saints knew of a resurrection from the dead in a general way, that is all (John 11:24). The resurrection was spoken of in the Old Testament, but not in great detail (see 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 14:7,14; 19:25-27;1 Psalm 16:9,10; Psalm 17:15; and Daniel 12:22). When Christ came He presented something new, that there would be a "resurrection from among the dead" (Matt. 17:9); i.e. that not all would be raised together. Christ Himself was the one who first taught this distinction; having "brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10). He taught that the resurrection would have two parts; that those of faith would rise first, and then later those without faith would be raised for judgment (John 5:29). The "two resurrections" have several names:
Paul adds even more detail which he got by revelation: Christ would rise first, and then those that are Christ’s at His coming would rise (1 Cor. 15:23). Paul explained that some will rise at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), but he did not explain that another phase will occur at the Appearing. We learn, by joining Rev. 20:4 and Rev. 14:13, that the tribulation martyrs will form the last phase of the first resurrection. In Rev. 20:5, a detail is added as to the space of time between the end of the first resurrection and that of the wicked dead; the space would be 1000 years, or a “millennium”. While details are successively added throughout scripture, the later details do not contradict the earlier statements. Such is the perfection of scripture!
The resurrection of the body vs. immortality of the soul. The Greek philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, etc.) believed, after a fashion in the immortality of the soul; but never in the resurrection of the body. There is something about the immortality of the soul in which man may exalt himself. He may think so highly of himself - his personality, his intellect, etc. - as to rule out any possibility that his soul could cease to exist. There were some who believed in trans-migration of the soul to other bodies (metempsychosis), where the consciousness lives on in another body, but the resurrection of the dead is distinct. To think of dust raised again into a living person goes beyond his thoughts. Rather than compliment his pride, it strikes fear in his heart. Resurrection is a glory which belongs only to God (John 5:21). It means – terrifying thought to man – that nothing is hid from His power. W. Kelly put it this way, "the resurrection... displays the power of God in the scene of man's total nothingness and corruption." Even the wicked will be raised at the last day so they can be judged at the great white throne. Not only does the natural man fail to conceive of it, but his will immediately rejects the idea when proposed; "and when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked" (Acts 17:32). The denial of bodily resurrection is really Sadducean error, for the Sadducees were highly influenced by the Greeks. This is why it is important to see that one's raised body is not a different body, though it will be in a glorified condition; hence "it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruptibility" (1 Cor. 15:42). If it was a truly different body, then it wouldn't be bodily resurrection. How will God bring all the atoms back together? We don't know. We must accept it by faith.
A proper view of the body. Paul gives us a proper view of the human body when he desires to warn against the abuse of the body for sexual pleasure (1 Cor. 6:13b-20). These bodies may return to dust, but one day they will be raised again. And meanwhile, they are joined to Christ, and are the temples of the Holy Spirit. These truths give the human body a wonderful place, and give the believer motivation to avoid fornication. The idea that the body is to be condemned is unscriptural. Yes, there is a connection between the physical body and indwelling sin, but the body has been purchased by the blood of Christ, and will one day be redeemed (Rom. 8:11, 23; Phil. 3:21). Not understanding this has resulted in the practice of corporal mortification, etc. which scripture condemns (Col. 2:23).
Biblical Accounts of Resurrection. There are ten Biblical accounts of people returning to life in the past (although many more are promised in the future); three are in the Old Testament, and seven are in the New Testament.
- Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-22).
- Elisha raised the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:32-35).
- The man whose body touched Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:20-21).
- Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-15).
- Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:41-55).
- Jesus raised Lazarus (John 11:1-44).
- Jesus was raised (Matt. 28:5-8; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:5-6).
- Many saints at the resurrection of Jesus arose (Matt. 27:50-53).
- Peter raised Dorcas (Acts 9:36-41).
- Paul raised Eutychus (Acts 20:9-10).
In every case except one, those raised died again. Rather than use the word ‘resurrection’ for those who were raised to life, the word ‘revivification’ might be a better term. Resurrection involves glorification (Phil. 3:21), and only Jesus was raised in a glorious condition. He has “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Cor. 15:20). The Lord Jesus stands alone in the first resurrection, but He will be joined by millions at the rapture! Those whom Jesus raised as a man on the earth were raised but not glorified. Those whom Jesus will raise as a glorified man will be raised and glorified!3
The First Resurrection (Rev. 20:4). It is of utmost importance to understand the first resurrection. The first resurrection is a resurrection "from among the dead". All of the dead will be raised, but the first resurrection is a special resurrection that will take place before the general resurrection. It is "from among the dead" because some will be raised and others left in the grave. Only believers will be raised in the first resurrection. The first resurrection is like a seal of God's approval on the souls of those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ; therefore He separates them from the rest of mankind. It the case of Christ, it was God's full satisfaction and pleasure in His Son. In the case of believers, it is on account of our acceptance through the Son.4 This is why our Lord spoke of those "who are counted worthy to have part in that world, and the resurrection from among the dead" (Luke 20:35). The first resurrection, or the resurrection from among the dead, is a matter of worthiness. For Christ, it was His own personal worthiness; and for us, it is on account of our standing in Christ's place before God. Christ was "declared to be the Son of God with power" by the "resurrection from among the dead" (Rom. 1:4), and so we too will be declared to be sons of God by adoption in the same character of resurrection!5 As we know, the first resurrection is separated from the resurrection of the wicked dead by 1000 years; "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection" (Rev. 20:5). However, the first resurrection has three parts, or installments. All three installments are seen together in Rev. 20:4.
- Christ the first fruits (1 Cor. 15:23). When Jesus rose from the dead, the first resurrection began. His body was raised and changed into a "body of glory" (Phil. 3:21). Lazarus and others who were raised were not part of the first resurrection, because Christ is "the firstfruits". Just as the firstfruits of a certain crop promise a much greater harvest of the same fruit, so Christ's resurrection was the promise of many to follow in the first resurrection. As of today, Christ is still the only man with a glorified body; but that will change very soon!
- The sleeping saints at the rapture (1 Cor. 15:23; 52). All those who "are Christ's" that have died will be raised at the rapture; "afterward, they that are Christ's at His coming". The question might be raised, which part of His coming? The rapture or the appearing? This is answered for us in 1 Thess. 4:16, that the dead will be raised when the Lord descends from heaven at the rapture. This will include all saints, from Adam on down to the last one in the grave. We know this because while all saints are not "in Christ" (1 Thess. 4), yet they all "are Christ's" (1 Cor. 15). Hebrews 11:40 would also indicate that the Old Testament saints are waiting for us to be "made perfect"; i.e. glorified. These raised and raptured saints will go up to heaven to be "with the Lord". They are seen in Revelation under the figure of "the twenty-four elders".
- The martyred remnant in the tribulation (Rev. 20:4; 14:13). After the rapture, the seventieth week of Daniel will unfold, and many saints will be martyred. Some will be killed in the first 3 1/2 years by the false Church for preaching the gospel of the Kingdom (see Rev. 6:9-11, 17:6, 18:24, and 19:2). Others will be killed in the last 3 1/2 years by the beast for not worshiping him (Rev. 13:15-17). Some will be Jewish (Rev. 11:3-12, 14:2-3) and some will be Gentile (Rev. 15:2). They will not miss out on sharing the Millennial reign of Christ with the other saints! By connecting Rev.11:11 with Rev. 14:13, it seems that the moment of the third installment in which all martyred saints are raised and bodily ascend, is just before the Son of Man appears. This is necessary so Christ can come with ALL His saints (1 Thess. 3:13) at His appearing, and then all reign together in the Millennium (Rev. 20:4).
- Note that Job even predated Moses! It is remarkable that he knew of resurrection.
- This is the principle of resurrection, although the scripture applies to the national resurrection of Israel.
- Resurrection follows the condition of Christ. Lazarus was raised while Christ was living here in the flesh, and Lazarus is raised to life in the flesh. When Christ in glory raises us, He will raise us in glory. And even now that Christ is hid in God, our life is hid with Him there. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. John 12.
- In Mark 9:9, 10 we read of "the rising from the dead," about which the disciples questioned; every Pharisee, every orthodox Jew, believed in the resurrection of the dead. What did the resurrection of Christ mean? It was God's seal on everything He was, and everything He had done during His life here. He took Him out from among all the other dead. If He takes people out from among the rest of the dead because He delights in them, that is the seal of their acceptance. Paul says, No matter what it costs me, I will attain to that. What condition is the saint raised in? "Sown in weakness, raised in power; sown in dishonour, raised in glory." "Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." As God put His perfect seal on Christ and Christ's work, and raised Him, so, when He raises us up, He puts His seal on us: only it is because of His righteousness, not our own. - Darby, J.N. Brief Thoughts on Philippians.
- It is indeed the capital truth of the New Testament, that as Christ, by resurrection from the dead was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, so we through grace are (not like Christ in Person but by adoption) also declared to be the sons of God, by attaining, when the time comes, the resurrection of the body. - Darby, J.N. Lectures on the Second Coming of Christ. Lecture 3.