In the past weeks, we’ve studied four of the six foundational doctrines listed in the opening verses of Hebrews 6.
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)
The resurrection of the dead is an event still in the future for everyone but Jesus, but it’s essential to our present hope. Believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is a core doctrine of Christianity, and it leads into the core doctrine that believers will also rise from the dead.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus … For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thes. 4:14, 16)
Dead people aren’t going to stay dead. It’s a fact of Christianity; one we have to understand before going “on to perfection.”
A Reason for Faith
This may be the most misunderstood foundational doctrine in Christianity as a whole. It’s largely been replaced with a “we all go to heaven or hell when we die” belief that just doesn’t line up with scripture. The Bible talks about people who’ve died as being asleep, waiting for the resurrection.
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. (1 Cor. 15:12-19)
Paul tells us that if we don’t believe in the resurrection of all the dead, then we can’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Without the resurrection of the dead, there’s no hope for believers and those who die in faith have perished.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Cor. 15:20-23)
This part clarifies when the dead are raised; it’s not until after Christ’s coming at the end of the age. Then the faithful are raised in the first resurrection and “they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4-6). The “the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (v.5) and then there’ll be a second resurrection (Rev. 20:11-15).
The Resurrection and the Life
What makes “resurrection of the dead” a foundational principle is that it’s the promised end result of the previous foundations. Our repentance, turning to God in faith, coming to walk with Him, and having His power working in us all leads to eternal life with Him. For most of us, that will follow a resurrection after our physical deaths (those still alive at Christ’s return will be transformed to Spirit; see 1 Cor. 15:51-52 and 1 Thes. 4:15-17).
For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:26-29)
Resurrection is also foundational because it’s completely connected with the Foundation, Jesus Christ. Christ’s resurrection from the dead shows us that we will also be resurrected, and He is the one God has entrusted with raising His people “up again at the last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54).
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
This is what Jesus tells Martha before He resurrects Lazarus. In this case, He gave Lazurus back a physical life, but He used the opportunity to teach about eternal life. People do die, which God likens to a “sleep” (John 11:11-15), but death isn’t permanent.
How Does It Work?
Resurrection of the dead was a doctrine of Judaism before Christ’s coming, but a hotly debated one. The Pharisees acknowledge it, but the Sadducees did not (Acts 23:8). When confronted by the Sadducees, Jesus’ answer gives us insight into how the resurrection will work.
Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. (Matt. 22:29-30)
nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels [ or “angel-like”] and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” (Luke 20:36-38)
We learn a few key things about the resurrection here. First, those who deny it don’t understand the scriptures or God’s power. Next, those who are resurrected don’t get married, which makes sense since human marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and His church — there will be no need of the physical/figurative when we the church become the bride of Christ.
It also tells us about God’s perspective on people who’ve died. He views them as alive, for “all live unto Him” and He knows that He’ll soon wake them out of sleep. We’re also told this is a resurrection to eternal life, not a physical resurrection like Lazurus’ was. Paul compares it to sowing seed, where the seed itself disappears as it springs up into a more glorious plant.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 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. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. (1 Cor. 15:42-44)
Our resurrected bodies are going to be so much more incredible than what we are now. It will be like the difference between one kernel of seed corn and a tall, green cornstalk full of plump, fruitful ears of fresh sweetcorn. We can’t really comprehend all this change will involve, “but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). What a glorious promise to hold on to and build on as part of our foundation!
More posts in this series: