A Thematic Study Of The Final Resurrection

A Thematic Study Of The Final Resurrection


     The doctrine of resurrection is the hinge upon which the Christian faith hangs. The Apostle Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15 that “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen…and your faith is empty.” It is noteworthy that Paul argues from the doctrine of resurrection in general, to the specific resurrection of Christ, and not the other way around. This suggests that the Old Testament contains passages that prophesy a future bodily resurrection, something that Paul states explicitly when he says that Christ “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Even prior to the resurrection of Jesus, Martha knew that her dead brother would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24), and the Pharisees maintained this doctrine of resurrection over against the heretical Sadducees (Acts 23).

     In this paper I will survey the primary proof texts for a future resurrection of the body. Since there are innumerable passages that contain types and shadows of resurrection (sleeping and waking, animal sacrifices, the festival calendar, baptism, exile-return stories, barren women giving birth, Elijah and Elisha raising the dead, Jonah being spit out of a fish, etc.) I am going to limit myself to only the most explicit prooftexts that contains words like “resurrection,” “raised,” etc. I will also be ignoring texts that speak exclusively of Christ’s resurrection, although we must confess that we have no resurrection apart from Christ rising as the Last Adam. With these qualifications, let us turn to our texts.

Old Testament

Exodus 3:6

(Cited in Matthew 22:23-33, Mark 12:18-27, and Luke 20:27-40)

Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.

     We begin our study with what we might call Jesus’ favorite proof text for the resurrection of the dead. In his argument with the Sadducees about marriage in the afterlife, Jesus says, “But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him” (Luke 20:37-38). The underlying logic of Jesus’ argument is that:

  1. If God calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
  2. And God promised to give them the land of Canaan (Ex. 6:2-4),
  3. Then God (who cannot lie) must raise them from the dead one day in order to keep those promises.

Of course the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive in Sheol, but it was God’s covenant promises to them while in the body that required a future resurrection for the fulfillment of those promises. A resurrection thus became necessary to vindicate the very name of God. The entire exodus from Egypt and conquest of Canaan under Joshua was grounded on this resurrection hope: one day Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will inherit the earth.

     A further implication of Jesus’ argument is that life is not truly life unless it involves the body’s union with the soul. Our future bodily resurrection is an essential element of our salvation and to deny that resurrection is to call God a liar. Furthermore, Jesus’ description of life in the age to come when men “neither marry, nor are given in marriage, nor can they die anymore,” is a confirmation that a future age still awaits us, and that age involves a bodily existence wherein death is no more.

Job 19:25-27

For I know that my Redeemer lives,

And He shall stand at last on the earth;

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,

That in my flesh I shall see God,

Whom I shall see for myself,

And my eyes shall behold, and not another.

How my heart yearns within me!

     In the midst of Job’s suffering, he makes two profound prophecies: 1) That God will take on human flesh and stand upon the earth, and 2) That after Job dies, he will be resurrected and see God in the flesh. Job clings to the incarnation and the resurrection as he suffers the reproaches and disgrace of his “friends” (Job. 19:2-3). As with Exodus 3:6, Job marks a connection between God as his living Redeemer/Avenger (Hb. goel), and the necessity of being raised to life after death. For Job, the vindication of his righteousness includes the beatific vision, a reality only possible by a future resurrection of the body. Judgment and resurrection are two connected events in Job’s mind, a pattern that will repeat itself throughout the history of Israel and come to culmination in the judgment on death itself and the resurrection of dead.

Psalm 16:9-10

(Cited in Acts 2:31, and Acts 13:35)

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;

My flesh also will rest in hope.

For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

You will show me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

     Psalm 16 is a prayer for preservation, and a confession of faith in God’s goodness. David declares that his “flesh will rest in hope” because God will not leave his soul in Sheol. The implication is that David’s flesh will be reunited with his soul when The Holy One who cannot see corruption raises the dead. The Apostle Paul confirms this reading when he says in Acts 13:36 that David died and saw corruption, but Jesus did not. The death and resurrection of the The Holy One becomes the basis for which Paul can say, “through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 14:38). The Apostle Peter likewise references Psalm 16 as the basis for which repentance and the remission of sins can be granted (Acts 2:38). The logic of Peter’s argument is that Christ’s resurrection is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the patriarchs. The resurrection of The Holy One and the gift of the Holy Spirit makes sinners into a Holy People than can rightfully inherit the Holy Land. The Holy Spirit is the down-payment on the full inheritance promised to Abraham (Eph. 1:14, 2 Cor. 1:22), and the promise of a future resurrection is “to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

Psalm 71:20

You, who have shown me great and severe troubles,

Shall revive me again,

And bring me up again from the depths of the earth.

     Psalm 71 is a plea for God’s deliverance. The psalmist recalls God’s watchfulness over him from his “mother’s womb” (vs. 6) and asks that God would not forsake him “now also when I am old and gray-headed” (vs. 18). The purpose of this deliverance is so that he can “sing with the harp” to the “Holy One of Israel” (vs. 21). Since “there is no remembrance of God in the grave” (Psalm 6:5), the psalmist declares that God “shall revive me again and bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” Although some interpreters take this is as a merely poetic or metaphorical statement, a literal understanding fits best with the psalmist’s own prayer at the end of his life. Though the psalmist is “in the time of old age,” death is not the end of his fellowship with the living God, and he, along with the rest of the saints who sing this psalm, look forward to the day when God will raise their bodies from the depths of the earth.

Isaiah 25:8

(Cited in 1 Corinthians 15:54)

He will swallow up death forever,

And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces;

The rebuke of His people

He will take away from all the earth;

For the Lord has spoken.

     In its original context, this prophecy of Isaiah is scattered amongst many other promises foretelling the salvation of God. The impending threat of Assyria would mean the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the beginning of exile from the land. For all of Israel’s wickedness, God holds out a future hope for the righteous, a day in which death itself will be swallowed up forever. The Apostle Paul cites this prophecy of Isaiah as a prooftext for the future resurrection of the body. He says in 1 Cor. 15:54, “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” Paul marks the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy as the day in which believers put off their corruptible bodies and put on incorruptible flesh, “for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” For Paul, the coming of God’s kingdom to earth necessitates a transformation from our present condition that is subject to sickness and decay, to a glorified reality where every tear is wiped away and pain is no more. The kingdom can only be inherited by the resurrection believer.

Isaiah 26:19

Your dead shall live;

Together with my dead body they shall arise.

Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust;

For your dew is like the dew of herbs,

And the earth shall cast out the dead.

     This prophecy from Isaiah is one of the most explicit Old Testament declarations of a future resurrection. Isaiah 26 is a song of salvation that contrasts the enemies of God who “are dead, they will not live; they are deceased, they will not arise” (vs. 14), with the saints who are also dead, but shall live again. Calvin argues that this resurrection is not limited to the final resurrection, but also includes the whole reign of Christ and our present resurrection life that is “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). As with some of the Psalms, it is debated whether the person singing “together with my dead body they shall arise” is Isaiah, Jesus, or the dead saints in general. If it is Isaiah or the saints, then this is a song of solidarity with the dead as they await their future resurrection. If however this comes from the mouth of Jesus, this could refer to the saints who were literally raised with Christ at his resurrection (Matt. 27:53), or to all the OT saints who ascended to heaven with Christ (Eph. 4:8), or to the mystical union that all believers have with Christ as they are baptized into his death and raised to newness of life (Rom. 6:5). We might argue that these varying interpretations need not be in conflict, but rather harmonize as they foretell resurrection in all its forms: first Christ, then the OT saints, then believers inwardly, and finally believers outwardly.

Hosea 13:14

(Cited in 1 Corinthians 15:55)

I will ransom them from the power of the grave;

I will redeem them from death:

O death, I will be thy plagues;

O grave, I will be thy destruction:

Repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.

     Hosea was a prophet contemporary with Isaiah who also foretells a future where death is no more. The omnipotent God of the covenant is the one “kills and makes alive” (Deut. 32:39). The Apostle Paul cites this prophecy in conjunction with Isaiah 25:8 as a prooftext for the resurrection of the body. He adds this gloss in 1 Cor. 15:56-57: “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The future Hosea prophesies, and the future Paul anticipates, is one where the strength of sin has been abolished along with its wages (rf. Rom. 6:23). Israel lived according to the flesh, broke covenant with YHWH, and was thus sent into exile. In Romans 7, Paul applies this national apostasy to the individual Jew arguing that “the law is holy and the commandment good,” but it is our sinful flesh that produces “death in me through what is good.” The only hope for Israel’s salvation is the same hope for every individual: the victory of God over death and the resurrection of the body.

New Testament

John 5:28-29

Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

     The context of Jesus’ words here in John 5 are the aftermath of Him raising a paralytic on the Sabbath and “making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). In verse 21, Jesus prophesies of greater works that he will do which includes raising the dead, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.” Jesus then speaks of a future hour when both the righteous and the wicked will be resurrected. There are echoes here of Daniel 12:2 wherein resurrection is not limited to believers but includes the unrighteous as they are raised unto judgment. The resurrection hour that Jesus foretells includes “all who are in the graves,” and thus must apply to a universal resurrection at the end of history.

John 6:39-40

This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

     After the feeding of the five-thousand, Jesus declares the He is the bread of life that has come down from heaven. Those who come to Jesus will never hunger or thirst again because Jesus is life itself. What is necessary to have this life? Jesus says, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:54). There is a sacramental connection here to the Lord’s Supper which “proclaims the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26), but here in John 6, the emphasis is on resurrection. Those who partake of Christ by faith, those who “see the Son and believe in Him,” will be resurrected on the last day. According to Jesus, the very idea of everlasting life (or punishment) necessitates a future bodily resurrection. Eternal life begins in the present age as the believer receives Christ by faith, but one day “we shall see Him as He is, and then we will be like Him” (1 John 3:2).

John 11:25-26

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

     Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, He told Martha that those who believe in Him will never die. This is a profound declaration that Jesus is not only the Messiah, but He is also the God “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Jesus is the God who “formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). Jesus is the one who gives us our first breath, our last breath, and our first breath again in the age to come. If Jesus is God, then Jesus is life, and Life has now turned death into a doorway to glory. This inversion of death is the resurrection to come, when He who is Resurrection comes to judge the living and the dead.

Romans 8:11

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

     The Apostle Paul argues here that those who are possessed by the Spirit of Christ, will rise again just as Jesus was raised from the dead. This is not merely a figurative or “spiritual” resurrection in this present life, but a future raising of our “mortal bodies.” Paul uses this phrase “mortal bodies” earlier in Romans 6:12 to refer to the present physical body that struggles against sin. In 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, Paul says that our mortal bodies must put on immortality, and in 2 Corinthians 5:4, that one day “mortality will be swallowed up by life.” The transformation of our mortal bodies into immortal bodies is promised to those who have the Spirit of Christ living in them now. The resurrection intrudes into this age as our inward man is renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16), but one day our outer self will be renewed as well.

1 Corinthians 6:14

And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.

     The context of 1 Corinthians 6:14 is the prohibition of sexual immorality. In verses 9-10, Paul lists the kinds of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, etc.” It is possible that the Corinthians were being influenced by a Greek dualism where deeds done in the body did not impact one’s spiritual wellbeing. This is evidenced by verse 13, which some commentators take as a quotation from Corinth, “Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them.” Paul then clarifies the biblical doctrine of the body by stating that just as God raised up the Lord, so also will He raise up our bodies as well. The resurrection is the ultimate vindication of the goodness of creation. Our bodies were created good but were corrupted by sin. The Greeks mistakenly identified matter itself as corrupt, whereas the biblical testimony distinguishes the two, attributing creation to God and corruption to sin. Sin is the parasite that must be extracted from the body, but the body (soma) is good. Christians then are to be sexually pure because our bodies, even now, belong to the Lord. And one day those same bodies will be raised up by His power.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

     First Corinthians 15 is the most extensive treatment of resurrection in the Bible. We have already dealt with some of these verses under the OT passages of Hosea 13 and Isaiah 25, so here we will just focus on two verses that describe the final resurrection. The primary question Paul is answering is whether a believer must die in order to enter the kingdom of God. If as he says in verse 50 that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” where does that leave those who are still alive at Christ’s coming? Paul assures the Corinthians that everyone will be “changed” (αλλαγησομεθα), even those who do not sleep (die). The dead will be raised incorruptible, and those yet living will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye into the same immortal body. This will happen at the last trumpet when Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

Philippians 3:20-21

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

     As in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, here Paul describes the believer’s change from mortality to immortality with the language of “transformation” (μετασχηματισει) and “conforming” (συμμορφον), rather than resurrection. This helps us better define what resurrection actually is. Here in Philippians, resurrection is the movement from a lower form to a higher form. One body is lowly, the other is glorious. One is from dust, the other is from heaven (1 Cor. 15:48-49). One is not in conformity to Christ’s body, the other is in complete conformity to it. Paul then uses this doctrine of future transformation to exhort the Philippians to not “set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:19), but rather to look upward and forward. Upward is where our heavenly citizenship is, and forward is the future resurrection and transformation of our bodies. This future hope is what allows Paul to say earlier in the book, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

     In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul offers comfort to the church since some of their members “have fallen asleep” (vs. 13). To prevent them from sorrowing “as others who have no hope” (vs. 13), Paul reminds them that belief in Christ’s resurrection necessitates belief in a future resurrection for “those who sleep in Jesus” (vs. 14). He then elaborates on the timing and order of this final resurrection which parallels 1 Corinthians 15:52. The order of events is as such:

  1. The Lord descends from heaven with a shout.
  2. The dead rise first and ascend to meet Christ in the air.
  3. The living are transformed and ascend to meet Christ and the resurrected dead in the air.

For Paul, the whole point of resurrection (and ascension) is to be in the body with Christ forever (vs. 17). This is the hope that prevents believers from mourning like the world in the face of death.

Hebrews 11:35

Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance,

that they might obtain a better resurrection.

     Hebrews 11 is an exposition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (vs. 1). The author begins with the creation of the world and concludes with the suffering, martyrdom, and resurrection of the faithful (vs. 35-40). In verse 35, there is a contrast between two resurrections. One is an earthly resurrection such as Elijah and Elisha performed for the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and the Shunammite (2 Kings 4). The other is “a better resurrection,” obtained by those who “were tortured, not accepting deliverance.” This is likely a reference to 2 Maccabees 7 wherein seven brothers are brutally tortured and executed in front of their mother. As one of the brothers is dying, he says to Antiochus, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!” Hebrews appears to confirm this account from the intertestamental period and says in verse 39 that although they “obtained a good testimony through faith, did not yet receive the promise.” The promise of a better resurrection than what Lazarus experienced was still future for the saints in Paul’s day, “that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (vs. 40).

Revelation 20:4-6

Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.

This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.

Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

     Revelation 20 speaks of a first resurrection (vs. 5) and a second death (vs. 6). Between these two events is the millennium. Without getting into the diversity of opinions on the nature and timing of the millennium and the first resurrection, it is enough for our purposes here to note that the first resurrection comes before the millennium and the second death comes after the millennium. If the second death is when death is finally defeated and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), then harmonizing with 1 Corinthians 15:54 (“Death is swallowed up in victory.”), we must conclude that there is a second resurrection after the millennium, and it is the same resurrection as described in 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4. Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 25:8 in 1 Corinthians 15:54 makes this link explicit. The “swallowing up of death forever” (the second death) is then followed by “the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces” (Is. 25:8). In Revelation 21:4 we are told, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” God is making all things new and that includes making our bodies new. This renewal, transformation, and totally conformity to the image of Christ still awaits us, and when the millennium ends, then we shall enjoy the second resurrection. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.