For believers, the resurrection from the dead is perhaps the greatest promise the Bible offers. The idea of eternal life in a state of perpetual bliss goes well beyond amazing for those who read the Scriptures literally.
Most of what we know about the resurrection comes from the New Testament. But from reading about it there we can tell it isn’t exclusively a New Testament idea. As an example, the Sadducees knew about a resurrection, even though they didn’t believe in one (Matt. 22:23).
That’s because first clear mention of a resurrection appears in the Old Testament book of Job.
“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).
Job knew he was a sinner who would die. But he also knew that God would send a redeemer to pay the price for his sins, enabling him to live again, not as some undefined spiritual entity, but as a physical being, a new version of himself. And with his own eyes he would see his redeemer standing on Earth.
Isaiah also spoke of a bodily resurrection in which he would participate.
“Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of the morning, and the earth will give birth to the dead”(Isaiah 26:19).
Daniel was the first to reveal that there would actually be two types of resurrections, one for believers and one for everyone else.
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:1-2)
From our understanding of Matt. 24:21 we know the angel was telling Daniel this would happen after the great tribulation, but he did not tell him the two resurrections would be separated by 1,000 years. We learn that from Revelation 20:4-5. Daniel also disclosed that the resurrection of unbelievers would be a far different experience from the one believers will enjoy.
In John 5:28 Jesus confirmed this, saying:
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”
These verses gave birth to the notion of a first and second resurrection, which has been misunderstood by many. There are more than two resurrection events, but there are only two types of resurrections, one type for believers (commonly called the first resurrection) and the other type for unbelievers (commonly called the second resurrection).
People who haven’t been taught this correctly sometimes have trouble understanding that the first resurrection began with Jesus and the holy people who came out of their tombs at the same time (Matt. 27:52-53), continues with the resurrection/rapture of the Church (1 Thess. 4:16-17), and concludes at the time of the Second Coming when Old Testament believers (Daniel 12:2) and Tribulation martyrs will be raised up (Rev. 20:4). The second resurrection, the one for unbelievers, will take place at the end of the Millennium (Rev. 20:5).
Of course, the Bible’s early references to a resurrection only tell us it was known to the Jewish people. To the Gentiles this was a brand new idea that needed further explanation. Because of that, most of the detail we have about the resurrection comes from Paul who devoted a chapter to answering questions about it. So let’s go there and review what he had to say about it.
1 Corinthians 15
Paul began by reminding his readers how important the Lord’s resurrection is to believers. In fact it’s so important that our salvation depends on believing in it.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
And in Romans 10:9 he said if we confess with our mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead we will be saved. This verse made it official. Belief in the Lord’s resurrection is a requirement for salvation.
In 1 Cor. 15:17 he said if Christ is not raised then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. That’s because when He went to the cross, Jesus took all our sins upon himself and paid for them there. His resurrection is our proof that all our sins are forgiven because if any of them remained on Him, He could not have been raised to sit at the right hand of the Father. He would still be in the grave and we would still be accountable for our unpaid sins.
Having established the necessity of believing in the Lord’s resurrection, Paul turned to ours. He said since we’re all descended from Adam we’ve all inherited a sin nature that makes us subject to death. But just as death comes to us through Adam, so also the resurrection of the dead comes to us through Christ (1 Cor. 15:20-22). Therefore His resurrection is not only proof that our sins have been forgiven, it’s also proof that we who believe will be resurrected to eternal life.
A few verses later. Paul posed a hypothetical question about the kind of body resurrected believers will have. Answering his own question, Paul likened the death and resurrection of a believer to the planting and growth of a seed. The seed we put into the ground does not bear any likeness to the plant that will grow from it. God gives it a body as He has determined and to each kind of seed he gives its own body (1 Cor. 15:35-38). An apple seed becomes an apple tree. A kernel of wheat becomes a stalk of wheat. Each specie has its own kind of body.
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44).
These verses tell us that like the seed and the plant from which it grows are different, so the earthly body and the resurrection body are different. Notice Paul didn’t say, “If there is a physical body there is also a spiritual body” because that would imply that the resurrection body is not tangible, but is an intangible spirit.
Paul was speaking about believers here. In saying there is a natural body he was referring to a body designed for Earth. Therefore, a spiritual body is a body designed for Heaven.
But in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus said all the parties in the afterlife could see each other even though a wide chasm separated them. Lazarus, a believer, was comforted there. But the rich man, an unbeliever, felt agony, experienced thirst, and asked if Lazarus could dip a finger in water and cool his tongue.
This meant both had to have a tangible body, but their natural bodies had been buried in the ground. They must have received these bodies after they died. Whether they were their resurrection bodies or whether they were “transitional” in nature remains a mystery, but the passage does show that the dead receive some kind of physical body to replace the earthly one they’ve discarded, whether they die as believers or not.
When Jesus came out of the tomb he had a physical body, but with supernatural abilities. Mary could cling to Him (John 20:17), the disciples could see Him and watch Him eat (Luke 24:36-43). Yet He had suddenly appeared to them within the walls of a locked room (John 20:19). When He ascended to heaven they watched Him go up into the clouds. Later when John saw Him at the Throne of God, He looked to John just like He did after His resurrection (Rev. 5:6). His resurrection body was tangible and physical, yet it had supernatural abilities and was suitable for heaven.
“Speaking of our resurrection bodies, John said, “ Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
No one in their natural state can inherit the kingdom of God, we all have to be transformed. Just as we’ve all born the likeness of Adam, we will all bear the likeness of Christ (1 Cor. 15:49-50). So, if you want an idea of what your resurrection body will be like, read what the Bible says about His.
For Church Age believers who have died, this transformation will take place at the resurrection of the Church. But suddenly, without any kind of introduction or explanation, Paul revealed there will also be a transformation of living believers, and it will take place at the same time as the resurrection.
“Listen,” he said, “I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
By saying “I tell you a mystery” Paul indicated he was revealing a secret to them, something that had never been clearly taught before. In connection with the resurrection of Church Age believers who have died, living believers will be instantaneously transformed from mortal to immortal without passing through death, and together with our resurrected brothers and sisters in the Lord we will rise to meet Him in the air for our journey to His Father’s house.
This combination of resurrection and rapture will take the Church off the earth forever, ending the Age of Grace and clearing the way for the remaining seven years of the Age of Law to be concluded. These seven years will see the final fulfillment of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27), followed by the return of the Lord to Earth and the final event in the first resurrection, the resurrection of Old Testament believers (Daniel 12:1-2) and Tribulation martyrs (Rev. 20:4).
1,000 years later, the unbelieving dead from all time will be raised to face their final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).
What About Them?
Some have asked about people who die during the Millennium. This will include those who survive the end times judgments and go into the Millennium in their natural bodies, as well as their descendants who will be born during that final 1,000 years. Matt. 25:34 tells us all of the former will be believers, and its safe to assume some of the latter will be as well.
With the exception of one obscure phrase, the Bible does not mention the destiny of these people. That exception is Rev. 20:15 which says, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” John said this in the context of the resurrection at the end of the Millennium.
If only unbelievers will be brought to judgment at this time, then their names will obviously not appear in the book of life. As we’ve seen, all Church age believers will be resurrected/raptured before Daniel’s 70th Week begins. Old Testament believers, whose names are written in the book of life, will be resurrected at the second coming, along with tribulation martyrs (Daniel 12:1, Rev. 20:4).
That seems to cover every believer from the Creation to the Second Coming. If that’s the case and there aren’t any unbelievers in the book of life, why did John feel it was necessary to mention the book at all? Perhaps it’s a hint that believers who die during the Millennium will also be part of the second resurrection. Only time will tell.
What we know for certain is that the Bible says everyone who has lived will live again, and there are only two types of resurrection, one for believers and one for unbelievers. The only variable in all this is the type of resurrection we will participate in. Jesus said we will either rise to live, or rise to be condemned, and it will all come down to what we believe about Him.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18).