I’ve received a few questions regarding the resurrections, and one thing become apparent immediately: there’s a lot of confusion over what the word “resurrection” means. I could get into the language here, but rather than to do that, I’m just going to explain the model of the TET, in which the meaning of the various words becomes fairly obvious.
Jesus died and his dead body went into a tomb. His spirit, meanwhile, went to Sheol/Hades. On the third day, his spirit came out of Sheol/Hades, and entered back into his original human body. This was a miracle, as dead human bodies do not generally come back to life again, especially after such a long time.
I see no reason to believe that Jesus’ human body was somehow modified or glorified in connection to his resurrection, although there is reason to believe that some manner of miraculous action was required to keep it from rotting in the tomb:
Psalm 16:10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
I do not see this verse as an instance of Hebrew parallelism, by the way, but as containing two separate clauses aimed at giving two separate pieces of information. In other words, the second half is not a restatement of the first half, but is talking about something else entirely. Namely, the first half speaks of Jesus’ spirit going to Sheol, and the second half speaks of his body lying in the grave without rotting.
Jesus’ resurrection, of course, served as a sign to all humans that something special was happening.
What was the result of Jesus’ resurrection? His living spirit and his dead body were reunited, and the body came to life again. Thus, the man who was dead and had left this world, was now alive in it all over again. His death was reversed. Jesus did not go to heaven as a result of what happened that day. He would remain on the Earth another 40 days or so, appearing to many. Heaven had nothing to do with it; his spirit broke out of Sheol/Hades and his body was brought back to life.
The First Resurrection
In the First Resurrection, here’s what we are told:
Matthew 27:52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
This story is quite like that of Jesus’ own resurrection. The story is told from the point of view of one standing on the Earth. It doesn’t even mention their spirits, which we know from other places had been in Sheol/Hades, and were freed by Jesus.
Like Jesus’, these people got their original human bodies back from their tombs (not from Sheol/Hades, mind you), and reunited with their spirits, which had been in Sheol/Hades. Unlike Jesus, these people’s bodies had seen corruption; they had rotted down to the bones, and even the bones were dried up. This reconstitution of their bodies was another miracle, and one of greater proportions than Jesus’ own rise from the dead. These people were reassembled as per Ezekiel’s “Dry Bones” prophecy:
Ezekiel 37 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
Many have “spiritualized” this prophecy into relative meaningless–taking it as a metaphor for some revival of the nation of Israel, or perhaps as a metaphor for the raising of human spirits out of Sheol. What it purports to be in its plain meaning, however, is the story of human bodies being brought back to life and reunited with their original identities/spirits.
Except that their bodies were reconstituted from the bones up, their return to life was quite like that of Jesus’.
What was the result of their resurrection? They had been dead, and now they weren’t dead anymore. They were living just like you and me. Their deaths had been reversed–undone. Did this resurrection put them in heaven? No. It put them back on the face of the Earth, just like you and me. Obviously, these people are not still here today, and I strongly suspect that they ascended to heaven when Jesus left about 40 days later, for this is the order of things that had been prophesied:
Ephesians 4:8 When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.
He led this host of captives “when” (and not after) he ascended on high. This ascension should not be confused with him ascending from Sheol, for we are told its destination: “on high”, which is a reference to Heaven. Further, we know that just a short time later, he would be pouring out gifts on the believers (Acts 2). The leading of the captives had to come first.
This event was perhaps the most stunning miracle ever worked—to our knowledge. If I’ve interpreted the facts correctly, these Jews would have been raised wherever their bodies were. Their people had been spread all over the section of the planet that they called the “world”, and from there they would be raised alive again—to the great amazement and terror of many. They were brought back to Jerusalem and left the Planet with Jesus in Acts 1:8. (Read more about this resurrection here.)
PREDICTION: If I am right about this, then one should not expect that any human remains would ever be found from those faithful humans who died between the Garden of Eden and the death of Jesus. All those remains would have been reconstituted at their resurrection, and would no longer be where they had been before. So, good luck finding the bones of David, or of Abraham, or of Moses, or any of the others, as I believe they were removed from the tombs (or wherever else they had been placed).
The Second Resurrection
So far, all the resurrections (that of Jesus, and of all the faithful Jews in Sheol/Hades) have been fairly simple because they pertained only to dead people becoming living people again. The second resurrection is more confusing for some because it happened at the same time that the living believers would be caught up to heaven. What happened to the living, however, was not a resurrection. Only the dead are resurrected.
At that time (which I believe to have been in 70AD), all the dead were to be removed from Sheol/Hades, for its time was done, and no human spirit would ever go there again. The unfaithful spirits from among them would go to the Lake of Fire, where they would be destroyed. The faithful spirits, meanwhile, including those Christians who had died between the resurrection of Jesus’ body and the end of the age, would be raised, too.
And how would they be raised? Paul invests quite some effort in explaining that they would be given a new body when they were raised from Sheol/Hades. They would not be reunited with their old bodies, but would receive new ones. What had been “sown” in their tombs was their “earthly body”, Paul wrote, and what they would receive would be “heavenly bodies”:
1 Corinthians 15:37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel,
So far, this all makes sense, but here’s where a lot of folks cut loose from the moorings of reality and drift off into the morass of equivocation. When Paul talks about a “heavenly body”, we can learn two things from it. First of all, it’s a body, and secondly, it’s one suited for Heaven. For many readers, however, this is quickly lost as Paul proceeds to use the term “spiritual body”. And for some reason, many believers suddenly become detached from reality when they hear that term. Once they see the word “spiritual”, they conjure up some notion of “body” by which a body is not longer a body at all. But Paul is still using the same word “body” (soma), and it still has the same meaning as before. In other words, when one of these was brought forth out of Sheol/Hades (not out of the tombs, mind you), he had a body that he did not have when he went into Sheol/Hades. And it was a body that could be touched and felt—a very real body. It was of a different sort, yet it was still a body.
Now, what sort of body was this? It was a “heavenly body”—one fit for living in Heaven. It was the same sort, generally speaking, as had been the bodies of the angel-types. Yes, I know that’s a big surprise to most, but angels could be touched, too. In fact, God had pronounced judgment on many of them, and had told them they would “die like men” (Psalm 82:7). How can this be if they did not have bodies? Indeed, when men die, their bodies die, yet their spirits live on to meet God. So if angels had no bodies, how could they die like men? Indeed, they could not. What was in view here was just what Jesus had promised:
Luke 20:34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
Many people would attain to that age, which was then yet to come, but few would attain to that age and to the resurrection of the dead that Jesus had in mind. Once they had been resurrected, “they cannot die anymore”, says Jesus. And they would be like the angels. Is it not abundantly clear, therefore, that this “heavenly body” they would receive is unlike the earthly body, which can most certainly die?
So when these faithful dead were raised to life, this time in their heavenly bodies, unlike those whose earthly bodies had been raised previously in the First Resurrection, they were in a glorified state, like angels.
What was the result of their resurrection? They had been dead, but now they were alive. Further, when they died, they had human, earthly bodies, but now their spirits had been removed from Sheol and they had been given new bodies—separate from the old. They, therefore, were already fit for their new angelic lives. Were they in Heaven? No, they were still on the earth after being raised, although it appears they would shortly be gathered today with the living Christians, and from there, taken to Heaven:
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
And that brings us to Jesus’ unusual words to Martha, which are rarely understood as he meant them:
John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.
In other words, those people who do not die before I return–and who are believers in me–will not die at all. They will be taken straight to heaven.
What About the Living Faithful?
Now, many of you are probably thinking of a well-known rule about dying and facing judgment, yet not realizing that the the catching up of the living faithful was an exception to the rule. Here’s the famous passage:
Hebrews 9:26 But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Many will read this and decide that it would be impossible for the living believers in 70AD to have been taken up without having first suffered physical death, for they view this as a hard-and-fast rule that cannot be broken. They forget that Jesus and his disciples picked grain on the Sabbath under his exception that, “I am the lord of the Sabbath”. And as a result, they miss that this very passage shows that an exception to the rule was in view. The writer goes on:
Hebrews 9:28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
To “save” them from what? From physical death. Was this a promise for every believing human who would ever live? Of course not. It was a special promise for a special time at that transition between the two ages. Their reward for their faithfulness in all the turmoil was that they got to leave the planet without dying. Christ was going to return once, and they could leave with him when he left. He was not going to return again to gather up other believers. No, they would each die in their own time, and would then face judgment to be rewarded accordingly.
Now, regarding this special exit from the planet for those living believers in 70AD, Paul speaks here:
1 Corinthians 15:50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Why was this a “mystery”? It was because it was an exception to the rule. They would not all die–though some of them would. Others, however, should remain alive to see the return of Christ in their own lifetimes. And then they’d have a really big problem–some would think. Those among them who knew, just as well as you and I do that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”, would not see any way to go off with Christ and to be in his kingdom, unless they, too had died. But Paul’s “mystery” here is the exception to the Hebrews 9:27 rule:
THE RULE: Hebrews 9:27a And just as it is appointed for man to die once
THE EXCEPTION: 1 Corinthians 15:51b …We shall not all sleep…
Paul is writing about an event that would be in direct contradiction to the normal rules! This is why he calls it a “mystery”.
Now, these people knew that you can’t get into the heavenly kingdom with an earthly body. Indeed, Paul had just said so himself when he wrote:
1 Corinthians 15:50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
But lest any of them should worry, he told them the rest of the story about what they—as those who would be still living when Christ returned—should expect:
1 Corinthians 15:51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
Was this a resurrection? Not at all! This was the transformation of their earthly, human bodies into physical bodies that were fit for living in Heaven. Once this had happened, they were already told that the dead in Christ would have been raised with heavenly bodies of the same sort, and that they’d all be convened together to be with Christ forever.
Now let me say this. The language of 1 Corinthians 15 can be very overwhelming, and it’s easy to miss details. One detail that I have already pointed out is this: “…what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel…” (vs. 37). Many will miss this detail in all the rest of the language, such as this verse, which erroneously makes it sound like what is in view is the “sowing” of the human body into the grave:
1 Corinthians 15:42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead.
What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
What is the “it” here? As it turns out, there is no Greek word for “it” here at all! Once we realize this and re-translate the passage accordingly, we get the idea that it is the person that is in view here, and not the person’s body:
1 Corinthians 15:42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead:
Sown in corruption, raised in incorruption;
43 sown in dishonor, raised in glory;
sown in weakness, raised in power;
44sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body.
(Holman Christian Standard Bible)
In both translations, the subject matter is “the resurrection of the dead (vs. 42). The second translation (HCSB) allows that subject to be maintained, while the first (the ESV) immediately changes the subject by adding in a “What is…” that does not appear in the Greek. Adding the “what is” conjures up the idea of the dead human body, which is “sown”, but that is not the subject of the passage. Rather, the subject is “the resurrection of the dead”, and the next two and a half verses paint a picture of the glory of that resurrection, by showing us the before picture and the after picture. Sadly, most of the translations ruin this lovely piece of writing by making it seem that the body that was buried in the ground is expected to pop up in a new form at the resurrection. Futurist mortuaries should love such a translation, for it seems to inspire millions of Christians each year to have their bodies preserved, in anticipation of some future resurrection of those bodies. Those who prefer the truth, however, will leave out the “it” and the “what is” where they have been inserted.
Wrapping It Up
The dead who were raised in the Second Resurrection were given new “heavenly bodies”, where they had previously been in Sheol/Hades as disembodied spirits. The dead who were raised in the Fist Resurrection were reunited with their original human bodies, and they walked around appearing to people for quite some time.
How, then, did those of the First Resurrection, being still “flesh and blood”, ever make it into the kingdom of God? This question goes for Jesus, too. In neither case are we told that they–now living again–would “all be changed”, as Paul told those who would still be living at Christ’s return. Indeed, having put them all back into glorified heavenly bodies, as opposed to their original earthly bodies takes the wind out of the sails of these massive miracles. Even so, they must have been glorified before they could enter the kingdom, for flesh and blood have no place there. So when did it happen?
We are not told, just as we are not told about many things. It may be reasonable to speculate, however, that the model would have been similar to that of those who had never died—to those that Paul said would be “changed” in an instant when the time came for them to be taken to Heaven. Though I cannot prove it at this time, my working assumption is that Jesus and those great many “captives” whom he had freed from Sheol/Hades were all “changed” from earthly bodies to heavenly bodies just before the ascension in Acts 1:8.