Resurrection

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Resurrection, Part 1

After telling the Jewish converts in chapter five of Hebrews that they ought to move on from drinking the milk of the Word and ought to be eating the meat of it, chapter six opens with three short verses which, continuing the thought from chapter 5 says,

Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

And this will we do, if God permit.

Note that the writer says:

“leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection . . .”

I look forward to writing about what Christians “moving on to perfection” looks like but it seems that before we do that we need to really discuss and explore (and therefore understand) what these fundamental milky positions that believers are supposed to leave behind actually mean.  The writer begins to summarize these basics for us saying, “leaving therefore, the principles of the doctrines of Christ,” and then gives us three categories consisting of two each:

Category one:

“Repentance from dead works and of faith towards God”

Category two:

“of doctrines of baptisms and the laying on of hands,” and 

Category three:

“Of resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment.”

In these next eleven blogs I would like to talk about the “resurrection of the dead.”  Why?  Because here we are, 2024.  We have had billions of Christian people, tens of thousands of scholars, hundreds of thousands of churches and countless of denominations come and go since Christ ascended and very, very few of us (myself included) really seem to have a handle on “the doctrine of resurrection of the dead.”  Interestingly, however, we have the writer of Hebrews telling his readers to leave the very doctrine behind (referring to it as milk in the previous chapter) presumably because the doctrine is so elemental it ought to have been understood by any believer in that day.  So let’s ask ourselves a few questions about resurrection, shall we?  Like, 

  • According to scripture, how many resurrections are there?
  • Have any of them occurred yet?  When, if so?
  • According to the Bible what has to happen before resurrection of the dead can occur?
  • What has happened to all the people who have died as believers since the Day of Pentecost?
  • Have any been resurrected?
  • Are we all waiting to be resurrected?
  • Does resurrection mean our literal bodies are going to rise out of our graves or is the resurrection a spiritual body?
  • Will we look like we look now, with flesh and bones and hair?  Or will we get another type of Body?
  • What does scripture mean when it speaks of a “better resurrection?”

Having asked these questions, I would be willing to bet that in the face of the eight of them we would have a couple hundred different views!  Why is there so much confusion or better yet, misunderstanding about a topic so elemental to the Christian faith?  There have been debates on the idea of resurrection which existed well before Yeshua walked the earth.  

In fact, the doctrine was a hotly debated topic among the two major components that formed the Sanhedrim – the Sadducees and the Pharisees. This may be why the writer of Hebrews tells his Hebrew audience to leave it all behind and to move on.  We can see how heated the topic can be when we read about an event that took place in the book of Acts because at one point (chapter 23) Paul finds himself in the midst of some real trouble.  After being questioned he happened to insult a member of the Sanhedrim by calling him “a whited wall.” Then listen to what he does (before they can take and stone or kill him)  

“But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: (Listen)of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.  And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.”

Even among these two men of high religious repute, Paul was able to divide the group by and through the topic of . . . that’s right, resurrection . . . which took their hateful focus off him and turned it on themselves.  Smart man, old Paul.

So, let’s cover the resurrection to ensure we have a sound grasp on the whole matter. 

It’s pretty simple, right?

Yeshua was resurrected first.

Some were resurrected after Him.

More will be resurrected later.

And once everyone has received either their heavenly body or a body of damnation, the resurrection will be over.

Good enough?  I really wish it was this simple.  Truly.  But few things the Bible plainly lays out are simply understood.  Resurrection is no exception.  In fact, there is so much surrounding the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead that it requires eleven parts to rightly cover it.  The subject is sort of fascinating because it is one of the single most definitive issues about Christianity – the Resurrection – but I have yet to meet anyone who can explain it relative to the scripture. This leaves us all sort of secretly wondering about things like:

  • How we’re going to crawl through six feet of dirt when we’re resurrected?
  • Is it okay to be cremated?
  • Will I look the same?
  • Will my fleshly body be retrofitted and repaired?

I find the subject sort of intriguing because since believers think that we will all go on to another dimension (at death), and its one where we will presumably know each other, and have rest, and that we will actually live in a heavenly realm with the bodies we inhabited here!  Think about it.  In this life we can’t wait to distance ourselves from the confines of our mortal, fleshly bodies, with all of its limitations, restrictions and confines, and yet for some reason, even though we all believe that we will go on living after this flesh dies, we all long to pop back into our earthen homes and we imagine doing this by coming up and out of our respective earthen tombs? Really?

Now, if this is the reality, I am all for it.  Truly.  But, the Bible confronts us with some information that goes contrary to the standard view most Christians maintain about the resurrection and confronted with these biblical facts we must re-evaluate the entire concept and then move on from there, as the writer of Hebrew’s suggests, toward perfection.

So, let’s hit on some of the obvious elements to the topic.   First, Yeshua Himself taught the resurrection.  Remember in John 5:28-29 when He said:

“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.”

From this, and right out the gate, we know that resurrection is going to happen to all men and women, good and bad, believer and not.  And we learn that these respective resurrections are called, “resurrection of life” and “a resurrection of damnation.”  As we continue to move along through a general examination of the topic of resurrection I am going to “slip in” some ideas that may be novel to your thinking.   We will explore these novelties in full within this series, so hang tight, but I think it is very important to get a reasonable understanding from scripture about the basics  of resurrection before we get into the more complicated issues surrounding it.

The resurrection of the human person from the grave is clearly taught in God’s Word. Job, the oldest of the patriarchs, said: 

“For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25-26). 

Because Job wrote “yet in my flesh I shall see God,” many Christians use this ancient passage to prove that resurrection is absolutely defined as our literal physical bodies, like Yeshua’s body, coming out of the graves and into the future heavenly life beyond.

This stance is typically supported by the fact that since Yeshua was resurrected in such a manner, and since He is the first-fruits of all who will be resurrected after Him, we naturally assume that our resurrections will follow the same pattern and that all of us, in our (resurrected flesh) “will see God.”    It’s a reasonable assumption.

According to Genesis 25:7-8 Abraham, the founder and father of his race, lived to be one hundred seventy-five years old, and “died in a good old age.”  Speaking of Abraham Hebrews 11 tells us that he believed that there was a heavenly city that would become his eternal home and that it would be inhabited his very person, (or, as verse 19 of Hebrews 11 says . . .) 

accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead . . . .”

Many people read this verse and believe, once again, that if Abraham testified that God was able “to raise him up, even from the dead,” that it means Abraham’s flesh would be reconstituted (I guess in the grave) prior to or while it is being raised to new life, and the Christian idea of a physical resurrection from the literal grave is once again reiterated.  Also, David was confident of a literal future life as well. He said in Psalm 16:9

 “My flesh also shall rest in hope” and then in Psalm 17:15, he added, “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.”

That is pretty big, “to be satisfied with His likeness.”  Of course, and again, because Christ was raised with His body (remember He said to His disciples when He appeared in the upper room and they were terrified, thinking He was a ghostly spirit, that He said),

Luke 24:39 “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” 

With all of this in mind, and a number of other factors not mentioned, the vast majority of Christians today believe that they are going to come forth from the grave  – bearing a new (physical body) that is equipped for heaven and that this is the picture of the resurrection.  We will get to whether resurrection literally means “physically out of the grave” or “spiritually out of the grave” later.  But one thing I think we can all agree upon at this point is, 

  1. All will be resurrected.
  2. This means all will rise from the grave, and
  3. all will receive a body.

These items are standard biblical fare.   Moving out to the teachings of our Lord He clearly taught (when He walked the earth) that all men who die will be raised again at some future date.  Again, in John 5:28-29 Yeshua said (and note that this was one thousand nine hundred and eighty years ago):

“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, And shall come forth . . .”

Most people have long believed that there is going to be one giant resurrection party (so to speak) that is heading toward us.  Similarly, many people believe that at this general “resurrection party” all the graves and tombs, and all the people evaporated in wars, and fires, and crashes, and all who have drowned and became fish food, are going to come crawling out from wherever they were deposited originally in bodies that are prepared for a heavenly existence.  I think it is really important for us to consider all of this – imagining it as far as it is possible – so we can attempt to get a reasonable view of what scripture is truly saying about it in the end.

We cannot forget what Yeshua said to a lawyer looking to trip him up about the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37,

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

And so, with all of our minds let’s proceed forth and assess the biblical position. 

First of all, and from what I can tell, there is not a single general resurrection we are all awaiting on to occur.   Nowhere in the Scripture are we taught that the bodies of all people will be raised at the same time.  It is true that all will be raised, and some to a place of judgment, but neither the time or the place are stated as the same.   The Bible clearly distinguishes between a first and a second resurrection and I think we can reasonably conclude that there are two resurrections for two classes of humanity. 

One class – the first class – will be raised to eternal life and immortality, while the other class will be raised to condemnation and/or banishment from the presence of the Lord.

Essentially, we can title these two resurrections like Yeshua titled them, as 

  1. “resurrection of life” and 
  2. a “resurrection of damnation.”

Again, and as a means to reassert the point, Luke 14:14 mentions, “the resurrection of the just,” and because we know that all people will be resurrected, we can admit that there must be “a resurrection of the unjust” too.  Again, the implication, biblically speaking, is that since the dead in Christ shall rise first, the natural idea is that those who were or are not dead in Christ will be raised after-wards

In Acts 24:15 Paul, when testifying before Felix, said, “that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” 

The Apostle John also makes a clear distinction between the two classes in that day.  He speaks (Revelation 20:4-5) of the “redeemed” who “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”  But then he speaks of the “rest of the dead” not being raised until “the thousand years” were finished.  Remember the thousand years comment because it is going to play an important role in our comprehending the biblical presentation of resurrection of the dead down the road.

So, again – two resurrections – one for believers, and later, one for all who have not or did not believe.  Now, there is plenty of evidence n scripture about what actually occurs for believers in Christ.  When we have talked in the past about the possibility that God will ultimately win and redeem all people, even those who have died without faith, many people have asked me,

“Well then what is the point of being a believer?”

One of the benefits is, as  Yeshua said in John 5:24

Every believer has passed out of death into life.”

Paul said in Colossians 3:3 that the life of believers “is hid with Christ in God,” and he adds in Ephesians 1:19-20 that by the same exceeding greatness of God’s power that Yeshua was raised from the dead, all who died in Him would be raised too.  We also learn later that by this same power all the “unbelieving dead” will be brought out of their graves to stand before the judgment of the Great White Throne.

Then speaking more specifically about the “first resurrection,” we know that it would not begin or occur until Yeshua returns.  Paul says in 1st Thessalonians 4:16

“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first”

Then he writes in 1st Corinthians 15:20-23

“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. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

So, we can add, with biblical certainty, that the time of the First Resurrection is when the Lord Yeshua Christ returns in the clouds of Heaven to resurrect believers.  Got all of that? That is what the scripture says.  So again, the first resurrection is when the Lord returns in the clouds and resurrects all believers in Him at that time.  The second resurrection is when those in sheol (hell) are brought out and judged before the great white throne.   Typically, between these two resurrections we are told there must be 1000 years or what the scripture describes as a millennium.

There’s that 1000 number again – that word again – millennium – and it is literally interpreted a dozen different ways to Sunday – depending on a person’s eschatological view of things (eschatology is a big word that describes a person’s view of the end of things, or end times, especially the end of the world or age).

We typically think of eschatology in terms of if we believe Yeshua is going to return before or after “the tribulation,” but in reality, eschatology includes a whole bunch of sub-categories to what we call “end times,” and includes views on 

death 

the afterlife

heaven and hell

the Second Coming of Yeshua

the resurrection of the dead 

the (so called) rapture

the tribulation 

the Millennium

the end of the world

the Last Judgment

the New Heaven 

the New Earth

the New Jerusalem

the end of the Nation of Israel

Now listen – I just listed fourteen major issues relative to Christianity and each of them are thought of in a dozen different ways by believers today! And get this – all of them play some sort of role in the topic of the resurrection.  So, the idea of the Christian resurrection is not just submitting to an idea of people being raised from the grave – believers to life and unbelievers to damnation.  Genuine biblical understanding of the resurrection must include a sound understanding of all of those topics I just listed, in proper chronology, and in order to have a biblical grip on the topic.  Because most people are just not interested enough to put in that work, the resurrection is usually misunderstood.

As a means to get a biblically clear explanation of these two resurrections (that we’ve already discussed) we have to choose what we will focus on in scripture relative to the topic and what we will set aside (because in setting some things aside for the time- being, we can clear the way to see the rest of the field more plainly.)  Again, there are a few things that we know with a great deal of biblical certainty relative to the resurrection of the dead.  They are,

  1. That there will be a resurrection of the dead in Christ and there will be a resurrection of those who have died as unbelievers.
  2. That the first resurrection (of believers) will occur at his coming or return to the earth after ascending.
  3. And that the resurrection of the damned will occur later or at another time in the future.

When it comes to the first resurrection, there are a few more things to consider which we can certainly call biblical facts.  At the commencement of the First Resurrection there are three groups of believers who will be raised up at different times.  The first was when Yeshua rose from the grave.  We read (Matthew 27:51-52) that when the Lord was crucified on the cross, 

“And, behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” 

This is not a chronological statement because we know that Yeshua is the first-fruits of the grace so Matthew is stating in one verse everything that occurred once Yeshua died just not chronologically.  We know that He is the first-fruits of all who slept and the first group in the first resurrection rose right after He rose and not before. 

First-fruits are important when it comes to understanding the resurrection and frankly when it comes to understanding most topics relative to eschatology.  We will talk about first-fruits in part two of this blogpost.

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