The Resurrection of the Dead is the ultimate hope for the believer. It is the consummation to not only eschatology, but more importantly soteriology. This doctrine is fundamental to the Christian faith, patterning itself from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, there is no hope, in which the apostle Paul emphatically states, “we are of all men most miserable, (1 Corinthians 15:19b, KJV). The resurrection of dead is the basis in which all believers can hinge their present and future hope.
Philosophical Foundations and Presuppositions
The resurrection of the dead is at the heart of Christian identity. It has been the basis for many discussions and provides a framework which believers can rightly defend the Gospel. Without it, the church could have easily slipped into Gnosticism, skewing principle aspects indebted to the Gospel. Christians believe Jesus rose bodily from the dead. His resurrection is the most central aspect to Christianity, relying on claims to His divinity, salvation and eschatology. Christians also believe Jesus’ resurrection provides a basis for their own resurrection from the dead. There have been various philosophical assumptions surrounding the nature of the resurrection of the dead. Some believe it implies a person will receive a separate, spiritual body, or that the body which has died, is refashioned into a new, glorified body. There are also some within the church, albeit largely heretical, believe the resurrection is metaphysical in nature, benign to the body, but rather a spirit-based substance, able to exist in the ethereal environment of Heaven.
Likewise, the resurrection is believed to be two fold, one for believers, and one for unbelievers, or that it is simultaneous amidst the throne room of God where judgment is adjudicated on all. In Revelation 20, John of Patmos, the beloved apostle, detailed the final event, and “following the resurrection of the righteous, the [spiritually] “dead” will be raised for judgment, along with death and hades.”There is also the belief that the result is purgatory, eternal torment, annihilation, or universalism. In addition, there are several views within eschatology about the timing of the resurrection of the dead. Because this is an important doctrine within the Christianity, some premises may inevitably affect overall soteriology, which would behoove a careful analysis of the Biblical teaching.
Objections to it primarily hinge on the possibility of miracles and its incompatibility with materialism. For the event to occur, one must presume miracles are true and performed by God. David Hume defines a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by some particular volition of the Deity or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” Hume argues that all miracles need to be disbanded because the likelihood in reliability to those who have witnessed a miracle is a transgression of the law of nature. However, Immanuel Kant observed that miracles are “events in the world the operating laws of whose causes are, and must remain, absolutely unknown to us.” For philosophers, the prevailing view is materialism, and Christian dualism is incompatible with the nature of man. Henry Vaughn “rejected any body/soul dualism; for him the body was the person and the person was the body. For the person to have any post-mortem life the body would have to be reassembled.”
Although many have argued that this is silent in Old Testament literature, and this was an avowed, central teaching in the Sadducee doctrine, it is nonetheless a major deviation in the cultural mindset and hope for a renewal of the present order. Patterns for the resurrection of the dead are detailed in Scripture as a focal point to the One who would consummate Christian soteriology and eschatology. For the Jewish culture, often this is pointing to national restoration and “the hope for resurrection of the dead were actually ‘united.’” Although this is integral in the Jewish faith, the “classical doctrine expresses the faith that the God who created will also re-create, and the miraculous potentials he activated at the beginning will again be seen at the end, when he restores the flesh and blood people of Israel to their land and station, renders justice to Jew and Gentile alike, reverses the very real tragedy of death, and ushers in a better world without it.” The eschatological expectation is evident in the New Testament, where many of Jesus’ disciples “were influenced by apocalyptic thinking and looked forward to the restoration of Israel.” But Jesus claimed there “would be a resurrection of the dead at the end, one followed by a judgment of the good and the evil.” Old Testament passages detailing this isn’t coincidental, but rather “a form that recalls the formation of the people Israel in the beginning—a miraculous birth by an infertile mother, the wondrous return of the lost children, joy replacing grief, all of them brought about by the intervention of the indomitable God who rescues and restores the people with whom he has mysteriously fallen in love.”
The Old Testament
Isaiah said, “But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead, (Isaiah 26:19, NIV). Isaiah offers a new hope that “might seem a statement about individual resurrection, but in context it more parallels Hosea 6:2 and Ezekiel 37:1-11 as a conviction about Yahweh’s bringing resurrection to the nation. Yahweh’s dew has a miraculously life-giving effect when it falls.” In addition to this, Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones is another example of this. “Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD,” (Ezekiel 37: 5-6, NIV; cf. Job 19:26)). The most profound verse concerning the resurrection of the dead is in the book of Daniel. Daniel envisions, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt,” (Daniel 12:2, NASB). The general hope for the Israelite was national restoration and vindication, yet it is obvious this “prepared the way for the fuller revelation of a resurrection of the individual.”
The New Testament
The apostle Paul says, “he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His spirit who dwells in you,” (Romans 8:11b, ESV). In the previous verse (Romans 8:10), Paul expounds his anthropology on the present state of the believer as “although the body is dead because of sin,” to be raised with Jesus, is being spiritually raised from the dead. In this exposition of spiritual redemption and restoration, Paul is also teaching a future hope in which not only believers will be raised, renewed and recreated, but creation itself (Romans 8:19-23) will be free from its present state. The dual aspect of resurrection is often taught as an already/not yet paradigm prevalent in eschatology, and like soteriology, they are inexplicably intrinsic of each other. One who believes in Jesus Christ, “will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die,” (John 11:25b-26a, NASB).
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he explained what the resurrection of the dead is analogous to. Paul knew the doctrine well and utilized analogies we observe in nature. In the Talmud, Rabbi Meier used the metaphor of a grain of wheat sown into the ground but raised a blossoming flower: “If a kernel of wheat is buried naked and will sprout forth in many robes, how much more so the righteous.” Paul says, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain,” (1 Corinthians 15:36b-37, ESV). George Berkeley writes, “And may we not hope the good and gracious God will do as much for man whom he hath made after his own image as we see him do every year to the meanest vegetables of the field.”
The Ancient Church
Clement supported continuity and God’s miraculous ability to restore the body from dust or decay where “the seed” is “rotting away” and “dissolving.” “Menander, an early Christian teacher from Samaria, seems to have been one of those who understood resurrection as something to be experienced in this life.” In defense, “writers, such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Eusebius, mention him, all vehemently opposing his teaching.” However, “Tertullian cannot deny that the “apostle” [Paul] also writes to the Colossians that we were buried and raised up together with Christ at baptism.” The dual-nature nature of the resurrection was a clear teaching (although contested) in the early church, but it also provided a basis for a future resurrection of the dead. “Thus, resurrection for Tertullian entails both a present and a future aspect, but he lays the emphasis on the latter.” For Augustine, he declares that “both those who have been born and those who shall be born, both those who have died and those who shall die – shall be raised again.”
The Medieval Church
Thomas Aquinas, medieval theologian and philosopher, stated, “But in the final state, after the resurrection, the soul will, to a certain extent, communicate to the body what properly belongs to itself as a spirit; immortality to everyone; impassibility, glory, and power to the good, whose bodies will be called spiritual.” Anselm, while discussing the nature of the resurrected body, says, “How man will rise with the same body which he has in this world,” arguing that “if a man is to be perfectly restored, the restoration should make him such as he would have been had he never sinned….Therefore, as man, had he not sinned, was to have been transformed with the same body to an immortal state, so when he shall be restored, it must properly be with his own body as he lived in this world.”
The Reformation and Post Reformation
Most within the Reformation and Post Reformation like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Thomas Cranmer et.al., continued the orthodox teaching of the resurrection of the body. Although their language differed some, they were essentially united on the resurrection of the body. From the Westminster Confession of Faith to the Synod of Dort, these confessions and works all testified in summary that “all the dead shall be raised out of the earth, and their soul joined and united with their proper bodies in which they formerly lived.” Dutch Anabaptists, believed that resurrection wasn’t concerned too much with death, but rather “occurred at one’s baptism into the community, through which one died to the earthly life of sin and rose in the image of Christ.” Reformed concepts varied to some degree, and their “practices and circumstances differed, yet all wrestled, in the end, with the reconstitution of body and family, and ultimately, of communities taking shape in a world of differences.”
The Modern Church
For Karl Barth, “in the final state, human lives will resolve in God.” His detachment from the resurrection of the body is controversial because he believed that “one is raised instantly at death. The dead do not look forward to any further glorification.” The apostle Paul asked, “how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12, NIV), and R.C. Sproul affirms, “Without a real historical resurrection we are left with a dead savior and a powerless gospel.” John Piper resolves the overarching nature of the resurrection of the dead by saying, “the demand of the law is met by Jesus’ life and death. Therefore, sins are forgiven. Therefore, the sting of sin is removed. Therefore, those who believe in Christ will not be sentenced to everlasting death, but will “be raised imperishable . . . then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory,’” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 54).”
Throughout the course of history, the church has undoubtedly wrestled with the resurrection of the body and the various facets regarding it. They have countered heresies and cemented their teaching of it for the sake of preserving the Gospel’s intention to provide the believer with a framework they can hope for. By remaining focused on the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead has survived the theological method over the course of history. Since the moment Jesus walked out of the tomb to the present day, the resurrection of the dead has undergone a multitude of attacks while being verbally refined to ensure the proper definition could withstand the test of time. What has predominantly been held as the orthodox positon, whereby the final state of human anthropology is in its glorified state, and that it encompasses the physical body’s death being refashioned into a new, spiritual body, appears to be the most consistent with the Biblical text. “Similarly the resurrection begins in baptism but comes to completion only with the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.” It is an ongoing, sanctification process, beginning with salvation, and is consummated in the glorification of the believer’s body in the resurrection of the dead. “Faith is professed in Christ and the objective realities of Christ’s death, the gift of the Spirit, and the final resurrection, all of which are depicted in baptism.”
The importance of the resurrection of the dead is founded on the principle doctrine surrounding the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without this, there is no Gospel. As believers in the Christian community, there is reassurance that they will be glorified in His likeness, and “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2b, ESV). Israel’s theocratic nationalism looked forward to Christ’s resurrection as their cultural restoration, and in this, the renewal of the person, made in the image of God, is finally realized in the believer, whether Jew or Gentile. This fundamental premise for all believers in the resurrection necessitates action on our part, so that the Gospel is effectively ministered, focusing on the two bookends of Christ’s resurrection for those who are raised with Him in baptism, and into a glorified state at the consummation of all things.
We have discussed some philosophies the historical church has believed regarding the resurrection of the dead. Likewise, we have paralleled them with the Biblical text, and rightly divided what the various author’s intentions were on this topic. The consensus is that the believer can be hopeful that one day they will rise again, and enjoy the benefits of what was originally intended for mankind to have. Complete, absolute presence with God and Jesus Christ forever. May the Holy Spirit guide us into Him.
- Akin, Daniel, L., ed., A Theology For The Church, (Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2014).
- Anselm of Cantebury, Curus Deus Homo, Book 2, ch. 3, in St. Anselm: Basic Writings, 2d ed., trans. S. N. Deane (La Salle: Open Court, 1962).
- Augustine of Hippo, The Enchiridion On Faith, Hope and Love, trans. J.F. Shaw, 2004, Catholic Encyclopedia Online. October 25, 2005. http://www.new advent.org/fathers/ 1302.htm, From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers , Series One, Vol. 3. Ed. Philip Schaff. N.p. 1887
- Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin 90b
- Bromiley, Geoffrey, W., Historical Theology: An Introduction, (London, A&C Black, 2000).
- Gil, Daniel Juan. “The Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the Flesh in Henry Vaughn’s Religious Verse.” ELH 82, no. 1 (Spring, 2015): 59-86, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1664923469?accountid=12085
- Goldingay, John. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Isaiah. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Books, 1995. Accessed May 11, 2016. ProQuest ebrary.
- Hight, Mark, A., “Berkeley and Bodily Resurrection.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 45, no. 3 (2007): 443-458. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed May 12, 2016).
- Hitchcock, Nathan, Karl Barth and the Resurrection of the Flesh: The Loss of the Body in Participatory Eschatology, (Philadelphia, Casemate Publishers, 2013).
- Hume, David., An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Vol. XXXVII, Part 3. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14.
- Lambert, Erin M. “Resurrection and Devotional Identity in Sixteenth-Century Europe.” Order No. 3506423, The University of Wisconsin – Madison, 2012. In PROQUESTMS ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1014403117?accountid=12085.
- Lehtipuu, Outi. Debates Over the Resurrection of the Dead: Constructing Early Christian Identity, (Oxford, OUP, 2015).
- Levenson, Jon Douglas, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006).
- Madigan, Kevin, and Jon Douglas Levenson, Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2008), 20.
- Piper, John, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, (Wheaton, Crossway, 2006).
- Skinner, John, The book of Ezekiel, (New York, A.C. Armstrong, 1905).
- Sproul, R.C., Knowing Scripture (Revised Edition). Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 2009. Accessed May 12, 2016. ProQuest ebrary.
- Thomas Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part I QQ LXXV.CII. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Second and revised edition (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1922). Vol. 4. [Online] available from http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1982; accessed May 12, 2016; Internet.
 There a many differing views on the timing of the second coming and resurrection of the dead and where they fall during the last days. To name a few there is Premillennial, Amillennial, Postmillennial; and among premillennial there are subcategories which are Pre-tribulation, Mid-tribulation, Post-tribulation, Pre-wrath, Post-wrath and so on. Among some of the heretical views is namely hyper-Preterism and all the subcategories within it. Partial preterism is still considered to be borderline orthodox.
 Akin, Daniel, L., ed., A Theology For The Church, (Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2014), 381.
 Hume, Daivd, “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,” Vol. 37, Part 1, The Harvard Classics, ed. Charles W. Elliot, (New York, P.F. Collier & Son, 1909-14), note 3.
 Allen Wood & George Di Giovanni, trans. Kant: Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason: And Other Writings, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999), 81.
 Gil, Daniel Juan. “The Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the Flesh in Henry Vaughn’s Religious Verse.” ELH 82, no. 1 (Spring, 2015): 59, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1664923469?accountid=12085.
 Levenson, Jon Douglas, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006), 22.
  Levenson, Jon Douglas, Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006), 22.
 Madigan, Kevin, and Jon Douglas Levenson, Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews, (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2008), 20.
 Ibid., 20.
 Ibid., 146.
 Goldingay, John, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Isaiah, (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 1995). 146. Accessed May 11, 2016. ProQuest ebrary.
 Skinner, John, The book of Ezekiel, (New York, A.C. Armstrong, 1905), 349.
 Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin 90b
 1 Clement 24; Apology 48
 Lehtipuu, Outi. Debates Over the Resurrection of the Dead: Constructing Early Christian Identity, (Oxford, OUP, 2015), 162.
 Ibid., 162.
 Ibid., 164. Parenthesis added to clarify the apostle’s name.
 Ibid., 164.
 Augustine of Hippo, The Enchiridion On Faith, Hope and Love, trans. J.F. Shaw, 2004, Catholic Encyclopedia Online. October 25, 2005. http://www.new advent.org/fathers/ 1302.htm. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series One, Vol. 3. Ed. Philip Schaff. N.p. 1887
 St. Thomas Aquinas, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas. Part I QQ LXXV.CII. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Second and revised edition (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1922). Vol. 4, 3rd Article, obj. 4. [Online] available from http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1982; accessed May 12, 2016; Internet.
 Anselm of Cantebury, Curus Deus Homo, Book 2, ch. 3, in St. Anselm: Basic Writings, 2d ed., trans. S. N. Deane (La Salle: Open Court, 1962), 241
 Schaff, Philip, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, 6th ed., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 434.
 Lambert, Erin M. “Resurrection and Devotional Identity in Sixteenth-Century Europe.” Order No. 3506423, pg., 3, The University of Wisconsin – Madison, 2012. In PROQUESTMS ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1014403117?accountid=12085.
 Ibid., 4.
 Hitchcock, Nathan, Karl Barth and the Resurrection of the Flesh: The Loss of the Body in Participatory Eschatology, (Philadelphia, Casemate Publishers, 2013), 190.
 Ibid., 192.
 Sproul, R.C., Knowing Scripture (Revised Edition), (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2009), 72. Accessed May 12, 2016. ProQuest ebrary.
 Piper, John, Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came To Die, (Wheaton, Crossway, 2006), 101.
 Bromiley, Geoffrey, W., Historical Theology: An Introduction, (London, A&C Black, 2000), 270.
 Akin, Daniel, L., ed., A Theology For The Church, (Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2014), 618.