The Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the idea of bodily resurrection evolves from a vague concept into a developed expectation. Beginning with the judgment of death in Genesis 3:6, the divine plan of God unfolds in history. The patriarchal period is more concerned with the first stages of the design. Community function is central because of the "promise" concerning the "seed." The extension of existence is passed through progeny (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-6) and individual resurrection is not the central concern.
Nonetheless, in the Old Testament concern is expressed for the individual soul. Job's despairing vacillation over death and decay is answered by the radiant expectation of preservation: "For I know my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God" (Job 19:25-26; NRSV cf also Psalm 16:10; Isa 26:19).
One of the principal factors in the development of a fixed notion of an individual resurrection is in response to the problem of theodicy. Because it could easily be seen that corrupt people sometimes were not punished for every wrong and that God's people were at times unjustly treated, individual resurrection was a natural philosophical resolution to this quandary. The resurrection of the just to reward and the unjust to punishment resolved the otherwise meaningless existence for those who followed Yahweh during times of persecution. There must be incentive to faithfulness toward God when there is no prosperity and no immediate compensation for belief. A further affront was the prosperous nonbeliever who endured no immediate, perceivable effects of sin and selfishness. Therefore, reward for one's earthly actions is integral to individual resurrection and is its initial catalyst.
Psalm 49 points out that all die, the "wise" and the "fool" alike. Fools are appointed to Sheol (which is used as a synonym for death or the grave) and "their forms will decay in the grave" (v. 14). Fools cannot continue in their resplendence of material possessions; therefore, the psalmist says, "Do not be overawed when a man grows rich … for he will take nothing with him when he dies" (vv. 16-17). Even though theodicy is not directly in view, at the core of the psalm is a proclamation of God's justice, which is dispensed to the fool and the wise person after death. The wise follower of Yahweh is triumphant: "But God will redeem my life from the grave, for he will surely take me to himself" (v. 15).
In Psalm 88 the psalmist's existence is about to cease. This is evidenced by the words used to denote death: "the pit" (vv. 4, 6); "the dead" (vv. 5, 10); "the grave" (vv. 5, 11); "the darkest depths" (v. 6); "the lowest pit" (v. 6); "Abaddon" (v. 11); "the place of darkness" (v. 12); "the land of oblivion" (v. 12); and "darkness" (v. 18). The psalmist says, "my life draws near to Sheol" (v. 3), the penumbral expanse of the netherworld. The psalmist then asks the rhetorical questions: "Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grace, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?" (vv. 10-12 NRSV). As with Psalm 6:4-6 the point is that one must be alive in order to praise God. The reference reveals a cognizance of the concept of an individual's resurrection even though the questions are unanswered (cf. Psalm 7:15; 49:15).
Psalm 6:5 says, "For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give your praise?" (NRSV). The psalm reveals God's justice being demonstrated in theodicy: "Deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love." Psalm 73 is enlightening in regards to the development of the concept of individual resurrection. The psalm begins, "Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart" (NRSV). The problem is stated clearly: "I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (v. 3 NRSV). These wicked people mock, do violence, oppress, are prideful, and speak evil (vv. 6-9). Yet they are at ease and their wealth has increased (v. 12). The psalmist then makes the rhetorical statement, "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure" (v. 13). Seeking to understand this seeming incongruity was troublesome to the psalmist (v. 16) until he perceived the end of the unfaithful (v. 17). They will be destroyed in a moment (vv. 19, 27), but the righteous Yahwist will receive a different recompense. Even though his flesh and heart may fail, God is his "portion forever" and "afterward … will take [him] into glory" (v. 24b).
Isaiah 26:10 says, "If favor is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; in the land of uprightness they deal perversely" (NRSV). Yet God's justice is revealed in the afterlife, as indicated in verse 19: "Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy!" But the wicked have a different end: "The Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins; the earth will disclose the blood shed upon her; she will conceal her slain no longer" (v. 21).
Just prior to the exile, an eschatological emphasis instilled by prophetic preaching imparted a growing concern for individuals. The result was a heightened awareness of the afterlife. For example, Jeremiah 31:30 says, "But everyone will die for his own iniquity" (NASB). The concern was no longer just for the nation of Israel or for Abraham's descendants, as it tended to be in the pre-Mosaic period, but for individuals as well.
The most conspicuous references to a resurrection are to be found in later apocalyptic literature, as the salvation leitmotif moves closer to the comprehensive perception that is later spelled out in Christ's resurrection. A resurrection of the just and the unjust is affirmed in Daniel 12:2-3: "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." Unlike the "resurrections" of 1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:31-37, and 2 Kings 13:20-21, which are resuscitations to the conditions of earthly life, Daniel 12:2-3 apportions a future allotment by the use of the future tense (both in the Hebrew text and LXX).
Second Temple Judaism. With the prophetic voice being silent in the second temple period, and a feeling of the remoteness of God, harmonization with the justice of God took the form of requital after death. The question of why bad things happen to righteous people continued to fuel the concept of the resurrection, especially in light of the failure to establish Israel as the powerful nation it had once been. Apocalyptic literature was more commonplace, and the afterlife and the concern for individual salvation were prominent. It is in the context of persecuted saints in the second temple period that resurrection from the dead was developed into the form that is found in the New Testament. It is during this period that the concept of bodily resurrection takes shape.
The Maccabean revolt in 167 b.c. incited the earlier belief in the resurrection of the just and polarized it to new heights. The second of seven tortured brothers responds to his persecutors "in his last breath of consciousness" by saying, "You like a frenzy take us out of this present existence but the King of the universe shall raise us up to eternal life, because we have died on behalf of his laws" (2 Macc 7:9, translation mine ). The third brother, after putting forth his hands to the fire, says, "I received these [hands] from heaven … and from him I hope to receive them again" (2 Macc 7:11). After the seven brothers are slain, their mother says, "The Creator of the universe … will give you breath and life again" (2 Macc 7:23).
Other Jewish sources reveal a belief in a resurrection. The early second-century SyriActs (translated from Greek) text 2 Baruch is an example. Baruch ask God the questions, "In which shape will the living live in your day? Or how will remain their splendor which will be after that? Will they, perhaps, take again this present form, and will they put on the chained members which are in evil and by which evils are accomplished?" (2 Bar 49:2-3). The answer that is given in 2 Baruch 50-51 is that initially the "earth will surely give back the dead … not changing anything in their form" (2 Bar 50:2). After this event, "the shape of those who are found to be guilty as also the glory of those who have proved to be righteous will be changed" (2 Bar 51:1-2). The evil will take a more evil "shape" and the righteous will take a more righteous "shape."
By the time of Christ, the Pharisees (the most influential Jewish sect just prior to the Christian period who dated back to at least the second century b.c.) believed in a resurrection (Acts 23:8) whereas, the Sadducees did not (Matt 22:23; Acts 23:8).
The New Testament. The resurrection of Jesus is the principal tenet of the New Testament. Baptism is centered in Jesus' resurrection. Even though Jewish illustrations were present for at least a hundred years before Christ, Paul applies the act symbolically to death, burial, and resurrection. He says, "When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col 2:12; NRSV see also Rom 6:3-5; 1 Peter 3:21-22).
The Lord's Supper is less connected in its symbolism than baptism, but the early correlation that it was celebrated on the Lord's day, that is, on the day that Jesus raised from the dead, reveals an early association.
The retelling of the empty tomb of Jesus is found in all four Gospels (Mark 16:1-8; Matt 28:11-15; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:11-18). The empty tomb of Christ stands in sharp contrast to other world religions whose prophets and their adherents never make such a claim.
The appearances of Jesus after his resurrection to chosen individuals play an important role in the proclamation of the gospel message (e.g., Matt 28:9-10, 16-17; Luke 24:34; John 20:11-17; 21:1-2; Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:20; 10:40-41; 13:30-31; 1 Cor 15:5-7).
The resurrection of Jesus is a testimony to the general resurrection of all humans, which will be followed by the dispensing of God's justice; to the righteous there will be a "resurrection of life" and to the unrighteous a "resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:28-29; cf. Rev 20:4-6). Regardless of the complex time sequence involved in the various resurrections recorded in the New Testament, Jesus' bodily resurrection is the basis for the future resurrection of humans (1 Cor 15:42-50). The Spirit, which was given after his resurrection, is the "guarantee" (or "first installment") that God will raise the righteous from the dead, and that they will not be found "naked, " that is, incorporeal (2 Cor 5:1-5; cf. Eph 1:13-14), but will have a corporeal existence with God. Even though believers "groan" while in their bodies (2 Cor 5:2), they will be "further clothed" after their resurrection (v. 4). There will be recompense for what was done in the body; therefore, one must seek to please God (vv. 6-10).
First Corinthians 15. The earliest teaching in the New Testament concerning the resurrection is undoubtedly 1 Corinthians 15. Paul "passes on" that which he has received (presumably by oral tradition), which is of "first importance." Paul says that the resurrection was in accordance with the Scripturesa perception that was an important one considering the magnitude of the teaching. The seemingly insignificant detail of the time sequence ("the third day") is not an inconsequential component; rather, it reveals the historical nature of the event, which was not a private, subjective experience but one that occurred in actual time and was attested by Cephas, the Twelve, and five hundred people.
Paul, using simple logic, concludes several things "if the dead are not raised." The specific problem that he is addressing is that some of the Corinthians were saying that there was no resurrection of the dead. If there is no general resurrection, then the conspicuous conclusion that "Christ has not been raised" can be deduced. If "Christ has not been raised, " then several philosophical conclusions can be outlined.
First, the missionary proclamation concerning Christ "is useless" (v. 14). This perception was undoubtedly an important one for Paul considering that his commission to the Gentiles was rooted in the idea that Jesus was "first to rise from the dead" (Acts 26:23). Therefore, Paul's mission to the Gentiles unfolds in light of the resurrection of Christ and the corollary futility of his own life ensues if there is no resurrection. Paul corresponds with the Corinthians with much passion in these verses. The collapse of the resurrection was commensurate to Christianity being fallacious for Paul.
Second, if there is no resurrection the faith of the believer is "vain" and "futile" (vv. 14, 17). The eschatological aspect of faith is rooted in the notion of resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees the resurrection of the believer. Future salvation is based on the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, faith in God's justice in resolving the problem of theodicy is "vain" (cf. 1 Peter 3:21; Rom 4:25) if there is no resurrection.
Jesus' resurrection is a prototypical event. As "the firstfruits" (1 Cor 15:23) he gives the Spirit as the firstfruits to the believer (Rom 8:23). This Spirit indwelling is the "first installment" (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14) and the basis for the hope of the "redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23).
Third, the early missionaries were "misrepresenting God" if there is no resurrection (1 Cor 15:15). Paul's logic allows no room for a "spiritual" approach that discounts the resurrection. The belief in bodily resurrection is commensurate with belief in God. If God exists and if he created the universe and has power over it, he has power to raise the dead. Attempts to explain the resurrection as a mere sociological phenomenon without the supernatural element minimizes the magnitude of the event and the role that it played in the formation of Christianity.
For example, the fourth of Paul's conclusions—"you are still in your sins" (v. 17)—shows the magnitude for Paul of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus showed that Christ's oblation as the sacrificial lamb was accepted by God, which is the basis for the giving of the Spirit to believers and the forgiveness of their sins.
Fifth, if there is no resurrection "those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost" (v. 18). In other words, they have returned to dust with no future cognizance of any existence. This statement gets at the core of the basis for hoping and not fearing death. It also affects morality. God's future judgment modifies earthly behavior. Paul's conclusion that "If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'" (v. 32) reveals the tenable resolution of materialistic hedonism, when the resurrection of Christ as the firstfruit and the ensuing general resurrection are dismissed. As in the Old Testament, theodicy, especially in times of persecution, was perceived as futile if there was no future vindication.
Finally, the result of such logic led Paul to declare that "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (v. 19 NRSV). Paul articulates the persecution he received at Ephesus in verse 32, which only has meaning if the dead are raised. The persecution and even death of many of the early Christians led to Paul's conclusion that theodicy is resolved by bodily resurrection.
The rhetorical question is asked in verse 35, "With what kind of body will they come?" Paul's answer is to stress continuity of identity. Even though individuals will be "changed, " they will remain in essence who they are. He illustrates this by using a grain of wheat that will, after it is planted, be changed, but will remain wheat. In the Gospels, the appearances of Jesus stress the continuity of his identity even though he changed. His pierced hands and side attest to the continuity of his identity.
Paul's discussion on the "first Adam" who is born of "dust" and the "second Adam" who is Christ and is a "life-giving spirit" has as its goal the statement "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." In other words, spiritual rebirth is necessary to enter the eternal kingdom of God.
Not only does the resurrection of Jesus have implications for the individual, according to Paul, but Christ's passage through the cosmos unharmed by evil spirits has placed the universe itself in his subjection (vv. 24-28). This early perception, the so-called classic view of the atonement, is common in the New Testament (cf. Acts 2:32-35; Eph 1:20-23; Heb 1:13). In second temple Judaism, ascension into the cosmos by a saint who confronted evil spirits (e.g., Eth Enoch) was commonplace, but none were permitted passage to "the right hand of God." Jesus' resurrection and subsequent ascension (which are often treated together as one event) is unique in that sense.
Eric W. Adams
See also Second Coming of Christ
Bibliography. J. E. M. Dewart, Message of the Fathers of the Church; R. B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul's Soteriology; G. R. Habermas, The Resurrection of Jesus: An Apologetic; M. J. Harris, Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament; G. E. Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection.