Future Literal Resurrection of the Dead

The topic of a literal resurrection of the dead divided even the Jews in the 1st century. The Pharisees believed in it and Sadducees did not. Was it literal or figurative? Did it happen in the 1st century or is this something for the future?

In Matthew 22:22-33, Mark 12:18-27, and Luke 20:27-40, the Sadducees tried to test Jesus, by challenging the concept of the literal resurrection of the dead. Jesus told them that he believed just as the Pharisees did, that there would be a literal future resurrection of the dead for all people. He proved it to them when he referenced God calling himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (present tense) to Moses at the burning bush, even though they were long dead at that time. In John 11:24-29, Martha shows a belief in the final resurrection when confronting Jesus about Lazarus, and Jesus confirms to her that he is the reason that there even is a resurrection and that believing in him leads to a post-resurrection eternal life. Also in Luke 14:14, Jesus mentions the first resurrection as a reward for dinner host who invites the poor, lame, and blind to their parties instead of just their rich friends. Jesus confirms that there are two resurrections, one for the righteous and one for the wicked in John 5:28-29.

The resurrection was prophesied in the old testament, but it was something that Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t agree on. The Pharisees believed in it since it is written in the Tanakh (Ezekiel 37:12-14 and Daniel 12:1-2). That’s why Paul appealed to his former fellow Pharisees on trial (Acts 23:6-10) because like him the other Pharisees believed in the resurrection. This is why the Pharisees like Nicodemus and Jairus were more likely than Sadducees, to accept Jesus. In 2 Cor 4:14, Paul says God who raised Jesus from the dead, will also raise us from the dead. He said WILL, not “did”. Meaning Paul was not speaking in allegories about spiritual renewal. He said “will” which is future tense. We will experience a literal resurrection just like Jesus did. Also, Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus is the head of the body of Christ and the firstborn of over those who rise from the dead.

Furthermore, Paul refers to Jesus’ resurrection as the first fruit of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20–23) and the first of many brothers (Romans 8:29). 1st Corinthians chapter 15 was written in response to some people in the 1st Century that claimed the resurrection wasn’t literally going to happen (Sadducee teachings). Paul said to believe such a thing was a denial of Jesus’ resurrection, and therefore a denial of our salvation through it (1 Cor 15:12-34). Then he goes on the talk about the new heavenly bodies that covenant believers will inherit at that moment. These bodies will be free from sin and therefore free from death (aka immortal). Sin and death are still here, which means that hasn’t happened yet. Paul’s teachings on the new bodies and the first resurrection can be found in 2 Rom 8:23, 1 Cor 15:35-58, 2 Cor 5:1-10, and Phil 3:20-21 as well. He says in 2 Cor 5:3 that are no bodiless spirits in heaven and that everyone that goes to heaven needs a new heavenly body. Since the new bodies are not distributed until the resurrection of the righteous, no saved person goes straight to the eternal Kingdom when they die but goes to paradise until the resurrections. As for the unsaved, wait in Sheol/Hell and then are condemned to the lake of fire on judgment day, after being resurrected according to Revelation 20:11-15. Paul also said there would be a resurrection of the believers when Jesus appears for the “catching up” of the saints in 1 Thess 4:13-18. That’s why in the parable of the bridesmaids/virgins in Matt 25:1-13, the virgins are all standing outside the door waiting for the groom, they can’t go inside until the groom gets there to escort them in, likewise, we can’t go to the Kingdom until our groom escorts us in. Furthermore, Paul warned against false teachers, like Hymenaeus and Philetus, who claimed the resurrection had already taken place in 2 Timothy 2. The idea of the resurrection already happening contradicts the hope of the resurrection to eternal life for everyone who receives Jesus after the first century.

To say that the resurrection of the dead is impossible is expected from an unbeliever but not someone claiming to be a believer since the whole faith is based on the resurrection of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Jesus was literally raised from the dead (Matthew 28:1-20; Mark 16:1-20; Luke 24:1-49; John 20:1-21:25). Jesus raised others like Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43, Luke 8:40-56), a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Also, in the old testament, Elijah literally raised a child from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24) as did Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-27). A dead man was raised after coming in contact with Elisha’s dead body in his tomb. (2 Kings13:20-21) Even after Jesus, Peter raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-42), Paul did the same with Eutychus (Acts 20:7–12).

Anyone who believes the bible, really can’t claim that resurrection itself is impossible since the bible is filled with it, and the promise of eternity with God itself comes after we receive the new bodies in the resurrection, not before it. This means eternal life doesn’t start when we die, it starts after the resurrection (1 Cor 15: 42-56, 2 Cor 5:5). Jesus’s point with the Sadducees was that God told Moses in Exodus 3 that he is the God of the Genesis patriarchs, even though he is only the God of the living. Since the Genesis patriarchs were dead before Moses’ birth, God must be speaking of the future when they are resurrected. Since we are not alive while dead, we can’t have eternal life while dead, thus eternal life starts with the resurrection. This is something to look forward to for those who are expecting eternal life.