“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (Jn. 11:25).
One of the most powerful proofs that Jesus is the Son of God was his ability to raise people from the dead: to “resurrect” them. Not only was he raised from the dead by divine power, Jesus was able to do that for others. His friend Lazarus discovered firsthand what it’s like to die but, more importantly, what it’s like to be brought back to life: “. . . Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face” (Jn. 11:43-44).
Long before the time of Jesus and the apostles, the prophet Daniel clearly stated the truth about the final judgment and the resurrection: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (12:2). Even before Daniel, the prophets Elijah and Elisha raised people from the dead, and someone was raised merely by touching Elisha’s bones (2 Ki. 13:21)!
The Bible is both clear and consistent in its teachings about our ultimate hope. To be “resurrected”—that is, to be brought back to life in bodily form—is the goal of our faith.
(Strangely, this magnificent expectation is not at all what many within the church focus on when discussing the afterlife, but I will get to this problem in Part II)
The resurrection of the dead is not simply an historical issue, either. Rather, it is one of the most pivotal aspects of the end times and Christ’s return. What Jesus did for Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son, he will one day do for each of us. At Christ’s coming, believers will corporately be raised from the dead and given new bodies. It is just as Jesus once told the Jewish leaders: “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:25).
In two of the most robust teaching sections of the New Testament, the apostle Paul discussed the resurrection in great detail. In 1 Thessalonians 4, he described the order of events that will occur at the climax of human history: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (4:16). He goes on to specify that living believers will then be “caught up” (“Raptured,” as some call it) to meet him in the air.
It is this event—the resurrection—that should be the chief source of hope and encouragement for believers. As Paul said, this belief is what makes us different than “the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (4:13).
Praise be to God that we can live in hopeful expectation of Jesus’ return and our own victory over death!
The second section to mention is 1 Corinthians 15, which is easily the most exhaustive discussion of the resurrection in the Bible. In 15:42-49, Paul points out that all believers will receive a resurrection body and that those bodies—those “spiritual bodies”—will be like Jesus’ (not Adam’s); they will be “imperishable,” “glorious” and “powerful.”
Just as Jesus was raised with a transformed body, so shall we be. For more on Jesus’ resurrection body and what ours will be like, see my blog here.
Thus far, I have explained what the resurrection of the dead is about. To be sure, this alone is more than worth focusing solely upon and stands alone as its own topic. There are, however, many important considerations that stem from it. I will now look at some of these issues and return to the “problem” I promised to address at the beginning of the blog.
To get us started, ask yourself this basic question: Is there any purpose to the resurrection? On it’s face, this might seem like an absurd thing to ponder; of course there is a purpose to it! I just discussed the purpose of the resurrection, right? On closer reflection, however, it is an incredibly reasonable—and even necessary—question to ask.
The reason is that many within the church believe in a view of the afterlife that stands in direct opposition to the resurrection.
I have covered this issue extensively, both in blog and book form. Broadly speaking, the most common belief about the afterlife is that, when we die, our “inner soul/spirit” survives the death of the body and proceeds to live elsewhere. The “elsewhere” part is not overly important at present, but those interested in the possibilities can look at this blog.
Besides the fact that this is not the scriptural perspective on things, this view is especially problematic when it comes to the issue of the resurrection. Consider this: If it is true that we each possess an immaterial soul that will consciously persist at death, what is the point of the resurrection? Why is it necessary?
The very purpose of the resurrection is to be brought back to life, and in bodily form. If you recall Jesus’ earlier words in John 5:25, the dead will “hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” If the dead in Christ are already functioning as disembodied beings (i.e., are alive), it is literally impossible for them to be brought back to life. It is literally impossible for them to hear Christ’s voice and to live again. This would be like waking someone up who wasn’t asleep, taking a bath with no water, or combing your hair after shaving your head.
It can’t be done.
More than that, believing that deceased people are living in heaven, hell, or anywhere else, is to make Jesus into either a liar or a very confused person. Neither can be true of the God-man.
As more time has passed since I first truly evaluated the subject of the afterlife, I find myself even more perplexed about the state of things. You would think this is a simple concept to grasp: there are living people, and there are dead people. The dead are not living; they are dead. To be dead most specifically means to not be alive. Nevertheless, a huge percentage of believers don’t see this connection and, furthermore, are not taught to see it.
But there is one more brief point worth making. Since resurrection is, in the biblical sense, a concept that deals exclusively with bodily existence, its entire purpose is lost if you don’t need a body to live in the first place. If we can live as disembodied beings, then the addition of the resurrection body at a later time is completely unnecessary. In short, why add the body?
How can you bring people “back to life” if they are already alive, and why give them bodies if they were doing just fine—perhaps living in heaven, even—without them?
There is simply no reasonable answer to these questions. That being the case, what we are left with are irrational explanations. For example, scholars have suggested that death itself does not concern the soul or human consciousness. Instead, when the Bible says “death,” it is only referring to the death of the body. We don’t die, as in “cease to consciously exist.” Only the body does that, but the soul continues right on without it.
There’s scarcely a stitch of biblical or rational support for this belief, but it’s the type of thing one must assert if they are going to hold to the typical view of the afterlife. When dealing with those who believed that the human soul survives the death of the body and lives on its own, the esteemed Reformer and scholar, William Tyndale, had this to say:
“And ye, in putting them [the departed souls] in heaven, hell, and purgatory, destroy the arguments wherewith Christ and Paul prove the resurrection . . . And again, if the souls be in heaven, tell me why they be not in as good case as the angels be? And then what cause is there of the resurrection?”
He was right: what cause would there be of the resurrection, if the dead are already living? Tyndale’s rhetorical question accurately shows that there would not be any “cause” or point to it. The central purpose of resurrection is to raise people back from the dead, not to give more life to the living.
In the end, the resurrection is the great aspiration of the Christian faith (Phi. 3:10-11). Jesus’ return—along with our being raised from the dead and given transformed, “spiritual bodies”—is the corporate hope that the Bible describes throughout its pages.
Most emphatically, it is the hope of the resurrection—and not the hope of living in heaven without a body—that should have us eagerly awaiting our Lord. Any teaching to the contrary may be called many things, but “biblical” would not be one of them.
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 For two examples, see J.P. Moreland and Gary Habermas’ book Beyond Death (228) and N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope (171).
 William Tyndale, An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s dialogue. Parker’s 1850 reprint (book four, chapter four, 180-81.)