When it comes to the Christian faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus. As we know, Jesus made an astounding claim in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” The God of Israel is the living God (Ps 18:46; Jer 23:36; Hos 1:10). This is what sets him apart from mortal men and idols. God is life; all else merely has life. God is called “immortal” (1 Tim 1:17). Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” An important aspect of possessing eternal life is the ability to raise the dead. The Jewish people knew the God of Israel as the only one who could raise the dead. Therefore, by claiming the authority to raise the dead, Jesus was exemplifying both the same actions and attributes of the God Israel.
Of all the messianic figures in Judaism, Jesus is the only one who is alive today. Jesus believed himself to be able to forgive sins against God (Matt. 9:2; Mark 2: 1-12). Forgiving sins was a prerogative of God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9; Jonah 4). Given Jesus’ ability to do the same things that the God of Israel could do, He is the perfect candidate to be raised from the dead! In Romans 1:4, Paul understood the importance of the resurrection when he said Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In the Tanakh, belief in a resurrection of persons from the dead are seen in eight passages: (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2;12:13). Isaiah spoke of the resurrection of the dead body when he wrote, “Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.” (Isa 26:19). That bodies would arise from the dust makes evident the identification with physical resurrection. Daniel foretold that “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). The resurrection terminology is seen in two places (Ezek. 37:1-14; Hos. 6:2) to show a national and spiritual restoration brought about by the return from the exile. As far as the nature of the future bodily resurrection, it may involve a corpse or the receipt of a material body comparable to the present physical body (Job 19:26; Is. 26:19), or it may be a matter of transformation (Dn 12:2-3 and perhaps 12:13); or glorification after reanimation, in the case of the righteous. As far as the function of the resurrection, it may be personal vindication (Is. 26:16; 53:10-12). Resurrection may also have a function in relation to an assumption to heaven and enriched fellowship with God (Ps. 49:15; 73:24,26), or preface to the beatific vision of God (Ps. 17:15 and possibly Job 19:26). (1)
The Greek word for resurrection is “anatasis” which means “a raising up” or “rising.” There are resuscitations in the Tanakh such as the example of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). While these figures may have been raised in a resurrection sense, they were not raised immortal in the same way Jesus was. There are also extra-biblical passages that speak about the resurrection (Enoch 92:2; 4 Ezra 7:32; Enoch 91:10; 2 Maccabees 7:9; 14; 28-29). Even the The Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions resurrection: “He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (2)
In the Rabbinical literature there are explicit teachings on the resurrection. It says in the Mishnah 10.1, it says, “All Israelites have a share in the world to come; … and these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law.” Moses Maimonides, a Jewish rabbi and a medieval Jewish philosopher who has forever influenced the Jewish and non-Jewish world said:
The resurrection of the dead is one of the cardinal principles established by Moses our teacher. A person who does not believe this principle has no real religion, certainly not Judaism. However, resurrection is for the righteous. This is the earning of the statement in Breshit Rabbah, which declares: “the creative power of rain is both for the righteous and the wicked, but the resurrection of the dead is only for the righteous.” “Our sages taught the wicked are called dead even when they are still alive; the righteous are alive even when they are dead (Bab. Talmud Brakhot 18 b). 3 points are made: 1. Resurrection is a cardinal principle taught in the Torah which all Jews must believe 2. It is for the righteous alone 3. All men must die and their bodies decompose. (3)
As we approach the New Testament, Joachim Jeremias comments:
Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event in history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the late Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to doxa [glory] as an event in history.(4)
N.T Wright says:
In Greek thought, the living could establish contact with the dead through various forms of necromancy; they might even receive ghostly visitations. But neither experience amounts to what the pagan writers themselves referee to as “resurrection,” or the return to life, which they all denied. Thus, Christianity was born into a world where one of its central tenants, resurrection, was universally recognized as false. (5)
The main reasons that were behind the Greek’s general denial of the resurrection were:(1) the low value they placed on the human body, and (2) their firm belief in man’s inherent immortality, i.e., that his soul was naturally imperishable. We one day lose the “bad body,” but we retain the inherently imperishable soul.
Biblical view of body:The body is good because God made it. When Adam led the human race into sin, this sin affected his body, just as it affected every aspect of his being (Genesis 3:16-19). Man’s body succumbs to illness and death because of sin, but this is not what God originally intended.
Other Issues of Defining Resurrection
1. Resurrection is completely different from reincarnation which is a many-times event. Reincarnation is also categorized as a rebirth of a soul into a new and different but still physical and mortal body. Resurrection is a one-time event where the believer receives not a second body but a transformed body. In resurrection, there is continuity between our present bodies and the transformed body to come.
2. There are three resuscitations in the Gospels: Lk. 8:49-56; Jn. 11:38-44; Lk. 7:11-15. Lazarus was resuscitated. He went on to live on in his old mode of but still had to face a second death. Lazarus and these other resuscitations are similar to the raising of the dead as already mentioned in the examples of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). Jesus was not only but resurrected, he was changed. His body was transformed into what Paul calls a glorified body. He never died again. Therefore,it is important to remember that Jesus is not the only one in human history that has been raised immortal.
3. Resurrection is not translation. Within the Tanakh, people such as Elijah and Enoch did not die but were simply translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:11; Gen. 5:24). Also, within the extra-canonical Jewish writing called Testament of Job 40, an account of translation was given as a category to describe recently deceased people as well as to the living.(6) Translation is defined as the bodily assumption of someone out of this world into heaven while resurrection is defined as raising up of a dead man in the space-time universe.(7)
4. Resurrection is not the same as the so- called dying and rising fertility gods in the ancient world. The myths of dying and rising gods in pagan religions are merely seasonal symbols for the processes of nature and have no relation to historical individuals. (8)
5. Resurrection involves transformation, since “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). Accordingly, Paul indicates that believers will be “raised immortal” (1 Cor. 15:52), which suggests the transformation or change that results in immortality is coincident with resurrection- and, in fact, is part of the resurrection event itself.
6. Another aspect of resurrection is the issue of exaltation. The raising up of believers is from the dead (resuscitation), in newness of life (transformation) into the presence of Messiah (exaltation). We as believers now live in a resurrection state. For after noting that God “made us alive together with” Messiah (this is a past event), Eph. 2:5 says: “by grace you are now in a state of salvation” (indicating a present resurrection state).(9)
8. What are the differences between our resurrection and the Messiah’s resurrection? Jesus was raised on the “third day” whereas we will be raised on the last day. And only of Jesus was he installed as Son of God (Rom. 1:4), as universal Lord (Rom. 14:9; Eph.1:20-21; Phi.2:9-11), and judge of the living and the dead (Acts 17:31). (10)
9. The believer’s final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. In the final state, heaven including the New Jerusalem portrayed as a bride breaks into history and comes to the renewed, physical, earthly, existence (see Rev 21). This shows that God is interested in the renewal of creation- God cares about the physical realm.
1. Adapted from Harris, M.J. From Grave to Glory: Resurrection In The New Testament. Grand Rapids: MI: Academie Books. 1990, 66-67.
2. See Yamauchi, E.M. Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History? Available at http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html.
3. Gillman, N. The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought. Woodstock, VT. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997.
4. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith.Third Edition. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books, 1984.
5. P. Andrew Sandlin. New Flesh, New Earth: The Life Changing Power of the Resurrection. Lincoln, CA: Oakdown Books, 2003.
6. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith, 394.
9. Longenecker, R.N. Life After Death: The Resurrection Message in the New Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1988.