Nobody can really understand the Bible and its promises unless they understand the resurrection, because it appears to be the only hope of life after death that God offered to humans. So we can say that the resurrection is a principal doctrine of the Bible. And if a person believes in the resurrection, it is impossible to believe in the ancient pagan doctrine of the immortality of the human soul, because the two terms have opposite meanings… immortal means undying and resurrect implies being brought back to life. For it you can't die, you can't be resurrected. Notice that the words resurrect and resurrection are found dozens of times in the Bible. However, the term immortal soul can't be found there at all.
The English word resurrect means to re-erect or, to make something stand upright again. So when it is used to speak of a dead person, it means that he or she will come back to life and stand erect as a human once again; for the meaning is almost the same as the Greek word that resurrect(ion) is translated from, anastasia, or, stand again.
Of course, there are several accounts of resurrections in the Bible. For example; the Prophets EliJah and EliSha performed resurrections. Jesus was recorded to have performed at least three resurrections (the son of a widow at Nain, JaIrus' daughter, and Lazarus). Paul resurrected a young boy who fell from a high window during an all-night speech, and Peter resurrected a faithful Christian woman named Dorcas. Of course, Jesus himself was resurrected, which Paul points out, is the basis of our hope in a resurrection. Yet, recognize that all these resurrections (except the resurrection of Jesus) were temporary, since the bodies that were brought back to life were still corruptible (aging and dying).
That Jesus taught the resurrection as the primary hope for mankind, can be found in his words recorded in John 11:24, 25, where he said, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live. And all those who are alive and believe in me won't die through the ages. Do you believe this?'
So the question is: Do we believe this? The Bible shows us that there actually was no hope of an afterlife for anyone until Jesus came and offered his life as a ransom on behalf of all mankind… both those who came before him and those who were yet to be born. However, despite the fact that there were no written agreements from God that anyone would be resurrected prior to the coming of Jesus, the ancient faithful believed in such a thing, because they trusted in God's love and justice.
Paul verified that faithful AbraHam believed in a resurrection. For, when discussing what AbraHam must have been thinking when he was about to offer his son IsaAc as a sacrifice, Paul wrote (at Hebrews 11:19): 'However, [AbraHam] figured that God was able to raise him from the dead' (gr. ek nekron egeirein, or, from dead/ones raising/up).
And it appears as though all the faithful people of the pre-Christian era must have hoped in a resurrection, even though there is no record that they were promised such a thing. For we read that Job (who was the first to raise a question about the resurrection) asked (at Job 14:14, 15 LXX):
'Can a man live again after he dies,
Once the days of his life have all past?
As for me; I will wait 'til I live again,
When You'll call out to me and I'll listen.
O don't undo the work of Your hands!'
Also, notice what Job's faithful friend EliHu believed; for he said (as recorded at Job 36:5-7):
'I know that Jehovah won't harm a good man…
One who's mighty and has strength of heart.
But, to the irreverent, He won't return life.
'He gives justice to those who are poor,
And He doesn't turn His eyes from the righteous.
For they'll sit as kings upon thrones…
They'll be seated in victory and exalted.'
Now, if you'll think about these words, you'll clearly see what ancient Bible writers believed about their hope of a hereafter. For they believed that when they died, they just went to sleep with their ancestors (Genesis 47:30), where they waited in the place of the dead (heb. Sheol, gr. Hades), during which time they would be unaware of what was going on around them (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). Then it was their hope that they would be remembered and be allowed to stand up again (be resurrected) on this earth (not become angels and fly away into heaven).
Paul (the Apostle), when speaking in his own defense before the Jewish religious court (Sanhedrin), said in reference to the Pharisees (at Acts 24:15): 'And I have this hope in God, which they (the Pharisees) also share; that there's going to be a resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous.'
So he believed that not just the righteous, but also those who are unrighteous will be resurrected.
It was Jesus who first spoke of the unrighteous being resurrected when he said (at Matthew 11:21-24):
'Woe to you O ChoraZin,
And woe to you, O BethSaida;
For if the powerful deeds that had happened in you,
Had happened in Tyre and Sidon,
They'd have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
That's why I say that the Day of the Judgment,
Will be easier for Tyre and for Sidon,
Than [it will be] for you.
'And you, O CapharNaum;
Will you be lifted to heaven?
No, you will go to the place of the dead!
For, if the powerful deeds that happened in you,
Had also happened in Sodom,
It would still be here today.
'But I say that it will be better,
For the land of Sodom in the Judgment,
Than it will be for you.'
So, since Jesus spoke of the people of such famous ancient cities as Tyre, Sidon, Sodom, Chorazin, BethSaida, and CaperNaum standing in the Judgment Day, we must assume that those who lived in those cities, although truly unrighteous, will be brought back in a resurrection. And if you think about it, this only seems just, because there are millions or even billions who have never heard of Jesus or the promises of the Bible. So, doesn't it seem right that they would be given a chance to live again and to prove what they would do if they were given the opportunity under more righteous circumstances?
However, not all of the unrighteous will be resurrected. For more information about this, see the linked document, 'What is Righteousness?'
As to the time when the resurrections are to begin; notice what Jesus said (as recorded at John 6:40): 'Yes, it is the Will of my Father that everyone who pays close attention to the Son and believes in him should have age-long life. For I will resurrect him… [yes] me, on the Last Day!'
So according to Jesus himself, the resurrections don't begin until 'the last day (gr. te hemera eschate).' And this is verified in the Revelation, which (as it says) was a vision of 'the Lord's Day.' For at Revelation 20:5, we find what is described as 'the first resurrection' happening. And although the words about the resurrection of 'the rest of the dead' not coming to life until 'after the thousand years have ended' are probably spurious (see below), we must assume that others are resurrected later; because, when something is mentioned as being first, we assume that something else will follow.
Where will people be resurrected to in the Lord's Day? Well, since the word resurrect refers specifically to standing erect as a human once again; we must understand the meaning of the term the same way that the faithful ancients understood it… that they will be resurrected and stand again on the earth, land, or ground. For, notice that this was the promise they were given, as recorded at Psalm 37:29:
'The righteous will inherit [the] land,
And through ages of ages, they'll camp there.'
This is also what Jesus implied when he said to John at Revelation 2:7: 'Let those who have ears hear what [God's] Breath says to the congregations: I will allow the one who conquers to eat from the Tree of Life that's in the Paradise of God'.
And where is the paradise where the tree of life was located? It was here on the earth.
Then later (at Revelation 20:7-10), we read of two different groups of humans who are clearly to be resurrected on the earth. For, many in one group will join with Gog and Magog (apparently the Slanderer or Devil) in an attack against the second group, who are described as 'the Holy Ones' that live in 'the loved city.'
So from the context, we can see that this is to be an earthly (not a heavenly) war.
Now, so far we have only discussed the hope of a resurrection to this earth as a human, not a resurrection into heaven. For as we pointed out, the word resurrection doesn't imply anything other than standing on the earth as a human once again. However, wasn't Jesus resurrected to heaven?
No, he really wasn't! Though the Gospel accounts show that he was resurrected as a spirit; they also show that he was resurrected on this earth, where he stood erect once again and appeared in a human form before his followers. It was forty days later that he ascended into the presence of God in heaven. So we can't really say that Jesus was resurrected to heaven.
But isn't a heavenly resurrection implied by the words of Paul at Philippians 3:11, where he wrote (as translated in some Bibles), '… so I can somehow be found worthy of an upward resurrection from the dead?'
In Greek, this verse reads, 'ei pos katanteso eis ten ech/anastasin ten ek nekron,' or, 'if somehow I/might/attain/down into the
ou/resurrection the from dead.'
Note: the ech (pronounced ek) in echanastasin could also be translated as from (as in from resurrection), or out-of (as in out-of resurrection).
Notice that this verse is very hard to translate with any surety, because it's the only place in the Bible where this exact word (ech/anastasin or out/resurrection) is found, so we can't look at the context to see what Paul meant. However, it is clear that Paul was writing about something other than a normal resurrection, and he used an unusual word to describe it. So if he was discussing being called out of death into the heavens, he did this by using a word that differed from the normal meaning of resurrection. By adding the Greek prefix ech (out of) ahead of resurrection (anastasin), it could possibly (but not surely) imply some sort of 'springing to life' as a spirit, rather than coming to life as a human on the earth. However, as common and as popular as this thought is, it is just speculation, because Paul wrote no more to clarify what he meant.
But, notice from his words that Paul wasn't discussing whether he would be resurrected. Rather, he was talking about how he might obtain a better resurrection. Nor does it appear as though the better resurrection he was striving to attain was simply better than the resurrection of 'the unrighteous.' For notice what he felt was required of him to receive this type of resurrection, as he is quoted as saying (at Philippians 3:9, 1), that he would have to share in the sufferings of Jesus and resign himself to a death like his. However, dying as a martyr like Jesus (which really happened to Paul) doesn't seem to be required of all the faithful who are counted among 'the living' by God and who will receive an honorable resurrection on this earth.
Also, notice that Paul wasn't telling fellow Christians that they should also be reaching out for that type of resurrection… he was simply talking about that for which he personally was striving for which he was willing to pay the heavy price. However, history tells us that many other Christians did pay the same price to achieve this better 'out' resurrection.
So, was Paul talking about going to heaven? Well, the fact that he likened this type of resurrection to what happened to Jesus is a clue. Although we can't state it firmly; since Jesus was resurrected as a spirit and later taken to heaven, perhaps this was also Paul's hope. We don't know for sure, because Paul didn't tell us what he was thinking.
At Revelation 20:4-6 we read: 'And I saw thrones… and those who sat down on them were the ones who had been executed with axes for testifying about Jesus and for telling about God and who hadn't worshiped the wild animal or its image, nor had they received the mark on their foreheads and on their hands. Then they were appointed judges and they came to life and ruled as kings with the Anointed One for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. Those who have a part in the first resurrection are blest and holy, because the second death doesn't have any power over them. For they will be Priests of The God and of the Anointed One, and they will rule along with him for the thousands of years.'
So, because such ones are said to have died a martyr's death, it sounds as though these are the same ones that (like Paul) will be raised in the 'out resurrection.' And here it is referred to as 'the first resurrection.' Yet, notice that this resurrection could be (but isn't necessarily) the same as what is mentioned as happening at 'the marriage of the Lamb' at Revelation 19:6-9, where we read: 'Then I heard what sounded like the voices of a huge crowd, along with the noise of a lot of water and heavy thunder. They were shouting, Praise Jah! Because, Jehovah our God the Almighty has started ruling as king! Let's rejoice, shout in joy, and glorify Him! Because, it's time for the Lamb's wedding! His bride has prepared herself, and she was found worthy to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the Holy Ones). Then he said to me, Write this: Those who are invited to the Lamb's wedding banquet are blest! And he added, God really said this.'
So if those who are taken to heaven are the Lamb's bride (notice that the clothes the bride wears are spoken of as 'the righteous acts of the Holy Ones'), why are they shown a few verses later as being resurrected after the marriage of the Lamb? Could this series of descriptions be out of sequence; could the bride be someone other than the faithful 'chosen' who are taken to heaven; or is it possible that the first resurrection happens after 'the bride' is taken to heaven?
Notice that two groups are mentioned here, the 'bride,' and 'those who are invited to the Lamb's wedding banquet.' Clearly, the invited guests cannot be the bride, since the consummation of the marriage (which happens before the banquet) makes the bride 'one flesh' with the groom; so the bride wouldn't be invited as a guest.
As you can see, there just aren't any easy or clear-cut answers here, since each possible answer raises more questions. However, the lack of understanding of scriptures and details never seems to keep people and their religions from jumping to illogical conclusions. For example:
Š Most religions ignore the resurrection altogether, teaching (as do pagans) that people have immortal souls (or 'spirits,' – they're unsure of which) that go to heaven, hell, purgatory, or just stay around to haunt people after they die.
Š Some religions teach that these Holy Ones or 'Saints' are people their religion has elected to that position after such ones have died.
Š Some religions teach that these are people whom God chose or 'anointed,' which is known only to themselves, and that they don't have to die a martyr's death.
Since Paul wrote that he believed that he would have to share in the sufferings (of Jesus) and he resign himelf to a death like his to receive the 'out resurrection;' we suspect that for such a one to qualify for heavenly life, he or she must either die a martyr's death or have suffered greatly for courageous acts of faith. So, we doubt that any religious group could elect a person to this position after their death. Since Jesus said (at Matthew 20:23), '… it belongs to those for whom my Father has prepared it.'
The same is true of those who have made the claim of having received the 'anointing' to such a position before their deaths. Notice that Paul wrote at Philippians 3:13, 14: 'Brothers, I don’t think of myself as having achieved it yet, but I am doing this one thing: [I’m] forgetting the things in the past and stretching out to reach for the things that are ahead… I’m running toward the goal, the prize of the higher calling from God, through the Anointed Jesus.'
So if Paul (who was personally chosen by Jesus in a miraculous vision and sent as an Apostle by him) didn't think that he had already achieved such a prize; then surely, such lesser ones are just being boastful. For more information, see the linked document, 'False Anointed and False Prophets.'
You will see that we have deleted some words at Revelation 20:5, because they are likely spurious (words that were wrongly added to the Bible). It is those that read, 'The rest of the dead don't come to life until the end of the thousand years.'
This familiar description of the resurrection has been quoted for years and used as a basis for many religious doctrines. Yet those words are in question, because they aren't found in the Bible's oldest manuscript of the Revelation, the Codex Sinaiticus. And while many attribute this deletion to an early scribal error; this verse is by its nature, suspect, because it fits in so awkwardly that translators often put it in parenthesis. However, these words don't appear to be a deliberate fabrication. For the structure of the sentence looks like a viewpoint note that some copyist added, which was later mistaken for text.
What difference does it make if it was added text, since 'the dead' (and their resurrection and judging) are mentioned again just a few verses later? And since this verse mentions a 'first resurrection,' wouldn't we just assume that another resurrection follows?
Well, these extra words give us the impression that there are just two resurrections, which we don't necessarily know to be true.
Yet, Jesus does appear to have spoken of two different types of earthly resurrections at John 5:28, 29, when he said, 'Don't be surprised at this, because the hour is coming when everyone in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life and those who practiced what is foul to a resurrection of judgment.'
So it may be just as simple as that… two types of earthly resurrections. However, this leaves us with another dilemma about the resurrection. What is that?
It seems unlikely that all the righteous who don't die a martyr's death would then simply be lumped in the resurrection of those who are considered to be among the dead or the unrighteous by God. Yet, this is what some religions teach. For if there are only two resurrections and the first is into heaven; then the only other hope for the righteous is the general resurrection of those who practiced what is foul. So, ask yourself: Will unrighteous people receive the same resurrection as Noah, AbraHam, Moses, and David (who weren't offered a resurrection to heaven)? That just doesn't make good sense, nor is it just, since these men received the promises that are the foundation for all other promises of God to mankind!
Recognize that God's righteous servants have never been referred to as 'the dead.' Notice, for example, what Jesus said to the Sadducees at Mark 12:26, 27: 'As for the dead who are raised; didn't you read in the book of Moses – in the story about the thorn bush – how God said to him, I am the God of AbraHam, IsaAc, and Jacob? He isn't a God of the dead, but of the living!'
So, notice that such faithful ones have never been considered the dead, but the living! Then notice what Peter concerning Jesus (at Acts 10:42): 'He ordered us to preach to the people and to testify to them that he's the one that God selected to judge the living and the dead.'
Therefore, it appears as though Peter wasn't saying that those who are physically alive and those who are physically dead would be judged by Jesus; rather, he was speaking of those who are considered to be the living in God's eyes, and those who are the dead in His eyes (those who are awaiting a resurrection of judgment).
So, while not being dogmatic, we would like to suggest some answers to the questions about the resurrection that we raised above:
Š The Bible says that (in the Lord's Day) there will be a resurrection for those who have given their all for their faith. This will likely be an 'out resurrection' as spirits of those who will be taken into the heavens to rule with Jesus. These may also be referred to as 'the Bride of the Lamb.' Such ones may have been pictured in ancient Israel by the Priestly sons of Aaron and Moses.
Š There may also be a resurrection of other faithful servants of God who are not counted by Him as being among 'the dead,' but 'the living.' Though theirs may not be a resurrection as spirits, it will definitely be a resurrection of spirituality, and they could well live and rule 'on the land.' Such ones may have been pictured in ancient Israel by the Levites.
Š There will likely be a resurrection of millions of people who have yet to prove themselves righteous, so they are not yet counted among 'the living.' However, not all will be found righteous. Those that don't prove to be righteous are referred to in the Revelation as the Nations who will join Gog of Magog in a final attack against God's faithful servants on the earth at the end of the thousand years of Jesus' reign.
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