The Resurrection from the Dead

Grateful Acknowledgments to David B. Curtis

Paul said in Philippians 3 that he had forsaken his own righteousness and trusted only and completely in Christ "in order that" he might attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11). What exactly did Paul mean by this? What is the resurrection? We will attempt to answer these questions in this article.

Philippians 3:4-11

Let's begin by reviewing the context of this verse. The theme of Philippians 3:4-11 is justification by faith. The key verse in this section is Philippians 3:9. Here, Paul sees only two kinds of righteousness: 1) Self-righteousness which leads to damnation, and 2) God's righteousness given through faith which equals salvation. This is the righteousness that Paul wanted to have, that which comes by faith in Christ. This is speaking of justification by faith.

In verse 8, Paul tells us he is no longer trusting in his own righteousness in order that he may gain Christ. Then in verses 9-11, he tells us what it means to gain Christ. In verse 9, he tells us that to gain Christ means to receive His righteousness. Then he goes on in verses 10-11 to explain further what it means to gain Christ.

I see all of the things he mentions in verse 10 to be results of justification. Paul "suffered the loss of all things", and counted them as "dung" in order that he may "win Christ." And winning Christ means receiving his righteousness, knowing him, knowing the power of his resurrection, knowing the fellowship of his suffering, and being made like him in our death to sin" (verse 10), in order that "I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead" (Philippians 3:11).

Paul "suffered the loss of all things and counted them as dung" in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead. The Greek word that Paul uses here for "resurrection" is exanastasi. This Greek word is only used here in all the New Testament. It is the word anastasis, which means: "resurrection," with the preposition ek in front of it, which is the equivalent of "out". This is literally, "the out resurrection out from the corpses." This verse is speaking of the resurrection of the righteous. The resurrection of the righteous will take them out of the total number of those dead.

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament says, "Apparently Paul is thinking here only of the resurrection of believers out from the dead, and so double ex (ten exanastasin ten ek nekron). Paul is not denying a general resurrection by this language, but emphasizing that of believers."

What exactly did Paul mean by "the resurrection"? The traditional view that is held by most of the Church is this: When a believer dies, their body goes into the grave and their spirit goes to heaven to be with the Lord. They are in a disembodied state awaiting the resurrection at the end of time. Then at the end of time the Lord returns, resurrects all the decayed bodies of the dead saints, puts them back together, then changes the physically resurrected bodies into spiritual immortal bodies like Christ's. Does that sound like what you have been taught?

Have you ever thought about how the Lord will put all those decayed bodies back together. Will He re-gather and reassemble all the scattered atoms and molecules which composed individual bodies at the time of death? After death, various body particles return to dust, reenter the food chain, get assimilated into plants, are eaten by animals, and digested into countless other human bodies. At the resurrection, who gets which atoms and molecules back? As you can see, it can get quite complicated. Another thing that bothered me was why does God raise our dead decayed bodies, put them all back together just to change them into immortal spiritual bodies?

That is basically what the church teaches abut the resurrection, but is it what the Bible teaches? Paul clearly taught that the resurrection was the hope of Israel (Acts 23:6; Acts 24:15; 28:20; 26:6-8). It is clear from this last verse that Paul sees the resurrection of the dead as that which fulfills "the hope of the promise made by God unto our fathers" (Acts 26:6). The word "resurrection" does not appear in the Old Testament, but the concept does (Daniel 12:2,13).

The Biblical View of Resurrection

It is interesting to note that the Bible never uses the terms "resurrected body," "resurrection of the body," or "physical resurrection." Does that surprise you? The Church uses those term quite often, but the Bible never does. The phrases that the Bible does use are "the resurrection of the dead" and "the resurrection from the dead." So, in order to understand "resurrection" we must understand death. Resurrection is "resurrection from the dead." To understand death we need to go back to the book of beginnings, Genesis. In the book of Genesis we see God creating man:

After creating man (Genesis 2:7-8), God placed him in the garden of Eden and gave him a command and warned Adam, regarding the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, "thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:15-17). But Adam disobeyed God and ate of the tree (Genesis 3:6).

Did Adam die that day? Not physically! Adam lived at least 900 years beyond the day he ate the fruit. But, God said he would die the day he ate and we know that God cannot lie. Adam did not die physically that day, but he did die spiritually. He died spiritually the moment he disobeyed. Spiritual death is separation from God (Isaiah 59:1-2, Ephesians 2:1-5).

Because of his sin, man was separated from God. He was dead in trespasses and sins. The focus of God's plan of redemption is to restore through Jesus Christ what man had lost in Adam (Romans 5:18-19, 1 Corinthians 15:21).

Because of Adam's sin, we are all born dead, separated from God. But through Jesus Christ came the resurrection from the dead. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). What were the works of the devil? They were to separate man from God. Jesus Christ came to redeem man from death, to resurrect man back into the presence of God. The Bible is God's book, about His plan to restore the spiritual union of His creation. Resurrection is not about bringing physical bodies out of the graves, it is about restoring man into the presence of God.

Sheol and Hades

Prior to Jesus' messianic work, no one went to Heaven (John 3:13). If, prior to Jesus' messianic work, no one went to Heaven-- where did people go when they died? They went to a holding place of the dead and waited for the atoning work of Christ and the resurrection from the dead.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for where they were prior to the resurrection is Sheol. In the New Testament the Greek word is Hades. What this place amounted to was a waiting area for disembodied spirits. The Old Testament uses the word "Sheol" to refer to a place in the depths of the earth. It is translated as "grave", "pit", and "hell". All people were believed to go to Sheol when they die (Psalms 89:48, Daniel 12:2,13).

The Time of the Resurrection

According to the Bible, when was the resurrection to take place? The Scriptures testify that the time of the resurrection was to be at the end of the Old Covenant age. We know this to have happened in AD 70 with the destruction of the Jewish Temple. The disciples knew that the fall of the temple and the destruction of the city meant the end of the Old Covenant age and the inauguration of a new age.

Daniel says that this resurrection will come after a time of great trouble for the Jewish nation (Daniel 12:1-2). This verse sounds just like Matthew 24:21, where Jesus is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem. Now compare Daniel 12:3 with Matthew 13:40-43. Both Daniel 12 and Matthew 13 are speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The resurrection is an event that happened in AD 70.

Daniel 12:4, 8 identify this time as "the time of the end." In response to Daniel's question at the end of verse 6, "How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?" the angel speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Daniel 12:7). In Daniel 12:11, Daniel connects the resurrection to the abomination that makes desolate. Jesus referred to this in Matthew 24:15, in discussing the fall of Jerusalem. Daniel 12:13 records a promise given to Daniel about his own personal resurrection. The statements of verses 1, 7, 11, and 12 tie the resurrection to the time immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

What Daniel had written was well ingrained into the thinking of the Jews. We see from Jesus' discussion with Martha that Martha had no doubt as to when the resurrection would be: "at the last day" (John 11:23-24). Jesus taught that the resurrection would happen on the last day (John 6:39-40,44,54).

The Last Day

When is the last day? To the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age and the Messianic Age. The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as "the world to come." All through the New Testament we see two ages in contrast: "This age" and the "age to come."

Jesus came during the last days of the age that was the Old Covenant age, the Jewish age (1 Peter 1:20). That age came to an end with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Jesus was speaking in the last days (Hebrews 1:1-2). What last days? The last days of the Bible's "this age" -- the Old Covenant age.

When was it that Jesus appeared? He was born, not at the beginning, but at the end of the ages (Hebrews 9:26). To suppose that he meant that Jesus' incarnation came near the end of the world, would be to make his statement false. The world has already lasted longer since the incarnation than the whole duration of the Mosaic economy, from the exodus to the destruction of the temple. Jesus was manifest at the end of the Jewish age .

In Jesus' answer to the Sadducees about the woman who had seven husbands, he indicates that the resurrection was to occur at the changing of the ages (Luke 20:34-35). The resurrection was not something that was available to them in "this world" (the Old Covenant age) but would be available to them in "that world" (the New Covenant age), implying that the resurrection would occur at the beginning of the New Covenant age.

So, the resurrection was to happen at the end of the Jewish age, the Old Covenant age. We know that this happened in AD 70. Paul spoke of the nearness of the resurrection in his day (Acts 24:15):

If the time of the resurrection is seen as AD 70, then we know that the nature of the resurrection was spiritual, rather than physical. It is a fundamental fact of eschatology that time defines nature. Since we know that the resurrection is past, we know that it was spiritual and not physical. The resurrection of the dead that took place at the end of the Old Covenant in AD 70 was not a biological resurrection of dead decayed bodies, but a release from Sheol of all who had been waiting through the centuries to be reunited with God in the heavenly kingdom.

Hymenaeus and Philetus

We can see from the teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus several things about the resurrection beliefs of the early Christians (2 Timothy 2:17-18). They must have believed that the resurrection would be spiritual in nature, and, therefore, not subject to confirmation by any physical evidence. If the early Christians had believed that the resurrection would involve the physical bodies coming out of the graves, as is taught today, Hymenaius and Philitus could never have convinced anyone that the resurrection had already happened.

They also must have believed that life on earth would go on with no material change after the resurrection. They didn't believe that they would be on a renovated planet earth as a consequence of the resurrection. Otherwise, the teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus would have been impossible. No one would have paid any attention to them.

The reason that their teaching that the resurrection has already happened was overthrowing the faith of some was that it postulated a consummation of the spiritual kingdom, while the earthly temple in Jerusalem still stood. This was a mixture of law and grace. This destroyed the faith of some by making the works of the law a part of the New Covenant.

Was Christ Physically Resurrected?

Yes! Absolutely, without a doubt. Since Christ's resurrection was physical, won't ours be? No! Christ's actual resurrection was His going to Hades and coming back out. When he was resurrected from Hades, He was raised into his original body, which was transformed into His heavenly form. This was done as a SIGN to the apostles that he had done what He had promised. The resurrection of Jesus' body verified for His disciples, the resurrection of His soul that David had prophesied (Psalms 16:10). Peter preached that David looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:31). These verses speak of both spiritual death (the soul in Hades) and physical death (decay of the flesh). Jesus was resurrected from both.

The reason there are differences in the way we are raised and the way in which Christ was raised is because of those Biblically defined differences between Christ's body and ours. Differences such as:

  1. Christ is the only one who is both fully God and fully Man -- God incarnate (John 1:1-18).
  2. Christ is the only one who was virgin born (Matthew 1:23, Luke 1:27).
  3. Christ is the only one who ever lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15).
  4. Christ is the only one promised that his flesh would not suffer decay (Acts 2:27,31).
  5. Jesus never committed sin and never became corrupted (Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22-24).
Because of this, He could keep His selfsame body, whereas, we cannot.

Unless Jesus' body had been resurrected, His disciples would have had no assurance that His soul had been to Hades and had been resurrected. The physical resurrection of Christ was essential to verify the spiritual, to which it was tied. While the physical resurrection of our bodies would have no point, since we will not continue living on this planet, breathing earth's oxygen, and eating earth's food after we die physically.

What Happens To Us At Death?

Since the resurrection is past, what happens to believers when they die? Their physical body goes back to dust from which it came (Ecclesiastes 3:20), and their spirit is united to their spiritual body and goes to be with the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:35-38).

We get the same kind of body Christ has, but we do not get it the same way He got His, nor do we get our same physical body back like Christ did. We get a new spiritual body which arises out of the inner man. God gives us a spiritual body! (1 Corinthians 15:44-46). This affirms two different kinds of bodies. Our natural body dies, and we receive a spiritual body. Paul says, "It is raised a spiritual body."

Those of us who have trusted Christ in the New Covenant age, have life and do not need to be resurrected. In John 11:25-26, Jesus is saying, "He who believes in me shall live (spiritually), even if he dies (physically), and everyone who lives (physically), and believes in Me, shall never die (spiritually)." Two categories of believers are discussed: those who would die before the resurrection and those who would not. For those who died under the Old Covenant, He was the Resurrection, but for those who lived into the days of the New Covenant, He is the Life.

Under the New Covenant, there is no death, spiritually speaking (1 Corinthians 15:54-57, Revelation 21:4). Where there is no death, there is no need of a resurrection. We have eternal life and can never die spiritually. Therefore, we don't need a resurrection. At death, our spirit returns to God who gave it.

The resurrection was a one time event in which the Old Testament saints were brought out of Hades and finally overcame death to be with the Lord. We have put on immortality and will put on our immortal body when we die physically. As believers we live in the presence of God, and in physical death, we simply drop the flesh and dwell only in the spiritual realm.

Your Questions Answered

  1. Question: "But what about all the scriptures that speak of God delivering us from death?"

    Answer: It usually is not speaking about a future physical death, but a present spiritual separation from God (spiritual death).

    Psalms 56:13, "For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?"

    Notice this speaks in past tense: "hast delivered my soul from death," not future tense, "shall deliver my soul from death." He is no longer spiritually dead. As further evidence, notice this passage asks God to keep his feel from falling so he could walk before Him, which is the same as asking God to keep him from sinning. There would be no need to ask God this if he was on the brink of death.

    Psalms 86:13, "For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell."

    Notice this speaks, also, in past tense: "hast delivered," not future tense, "shall deliver." In other words, he is no longer spiritually dead.

    Psalms 31:5, "Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth."

    Most people, when speaking of committing one's spirit, is speaking of someone who'e either dead or dying. However, this passage is not spoken while on the brink of death. The psalmist commits his whole body, soul, and spirit, and mind to the Lord, so he can live a godly life while in the flesh.

    What the psalmist saw as God's providential care in present danger, some interpret as being resurrected from physical death. What the psalmist knew was God's ultimate caring and power to bring spiritual life from spiritual death, some interpret to mean physical life from physical death.

  2. Question: "But what when scripture speaks about resurrecting us out of our graves?"

    Answer: Again, it is referring to spiritual death. Ezekiel 37 is an example of this: This does appear, at first glance to teach a physcal resurrection. Let's read this chaper in context. Even the language of Ezekiel 37:1-10 seems to denote a physical resurretion, by saying, "...can these bones live?...Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live...and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live...and the bones came together, bone to his bone...and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above...and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet."

    However, verse 11 explains that this is only symbolic language, and not to be taken literally:

    Ezekiel 37:11, "Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts."

    Now, the following passage does seem to teach a physical resurrection, let's examine it:

    Ezekiel 37:12-14, "Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, saith the LORD."

    Ezekiel 37:12-13 mentions the nation of Israel coming up out of their "graves" (captivity) and being restored to the land of Israel. This resurrection was Israel's return from Babylonian captivity under Ezra and Nehemiah in 536 BC and following. Was it a literal physical resurrection of physically dead Jews out of physical graves? No, of course not. Verse 14 explains this resurrection as referring to the "spiritually dead", when God says, "And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live."

    Because many Christians interpret this chapter literally, it causes them to think that the time of the Second Coming is spoken of. But they must be reminded that nowhere does the chapter explicitly or implicitly state that the time of a Messiah is spoken of, and in fact many verses, such as verse 14 itself, say that at the time of the resurrection the people will return to their own land, which is associated with the end of the Babylonian captivity. Since they can't understand how the prophecies are symbolic, and could have already been fulfilled, they somehow manage to find justification for them referring to the time of the Second Coming. The chapter says that this resurrection concerns only the house of Israel, which would exclude Christians, so this suggestion could not be true.

  3. Question: "So when God speaks of ransoming us fom the grave, it does not mean we will be physically ressurected? But it speaks about a spiritual resurrection while in this physical body?"

    Answer: Yes.

    Hosea 13:14, "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."

    In their captivity, they are represented as dead and buried, which is a similar view to that taken of the Jews in the Babylonish captivity by Ezekiel in his vision of the valley of dry bones. They are now lost as to the purpose for which they were made, for which God had wrought so many miracles for them and for their ancestors; but the gracious purpose of God shall not be utterly defeated. He will bring them out of that grave, and ransom them from that death; for as they have deserved that death and disgraceful burial, they must be redeemed and ransomed from it, or still lie under it. And who can do this but God himself? And he will do it. In the prospect of this the prophet exclaims, in the person of the universal Redeemer, "O death, I will be thy plagues;" I will bring into thy reign the principle of its destruction. The Prince of life shall lie for a time under thy power, that he may destroy that power.

    Applying primarily to God's restoration of Israel from Assyria partially, and, in times yet future, fully from all the lands of their present long-continued dispersion, and political death (compare Ho 6:2; Isa 25:8; 26:19; Eze 37:12). God's power and grace are magnified in quickening what to the eye of flesh seems dead and hopeless (Ro 4:17,19). As Israel's history, past and future, has a representative character in relation to the Church, this verse is expressed in language alluding to Messiah's (who is the ideal Israel) grand victory over the grave and death, the first-fruits of His own resurrection, the full harvest to come at the general resurrection; hence the similarity between this verse and Paul's language as to the latter (1Co 15:55). That similarity becomes more obvious by translating as the Septuagint, from which Paul plainly quotes; and as the same Hebrew word is translated in Ho 13:10, "O death, where are thy plagues (paraphrased by the Septuagint, 'thy victory')? O grave, where is thy destruction (rendered by the Septuagint, 'thy sting')?" The question is that of one triumphing over a foe, once a cruel tyrant, but now robbed of all power to hurt

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