What the Bible says about
Resurrection from the Dead
(From Forerunner Commentary)
"You will not surely die."
This little, five-word sentence was Satan the Devil's opening salvo to convince Adam and Eve that they could disregard the commands of God without consequence. It is evident from Eve's reply to his initial question that she understood both God's decree and His reasons for not wanting them to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was the reason, "lest you die," that Satan pounced on with his famous lying contradiction.
What most people do not realize is that Satan has been repeating this mantra ever since, and the vast majority of humanity has bought into it just as readily as our first parents in the Garden. The essence of Satan's lie is, "Go ahead and live as you like. There are no fatal consequences to your actions because you are already immortal." Theologically, this belief is called the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and most Christian churches, both in America and abroad, teach it.
The Bible, however, does not support it.
Even as early as Genesis 2, God tells us that humans can die, and the underlying suggestion is that death can be permanent: "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (verse 17; emphasis ours). An even clearer set of scriptures is found in Ezekiel 18. God says, "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die" (verse 4). Just in case we fail to understand, He repeats Himself in verse 20.
We need to understand this. God says that the wages of sin - that is, what we earn as a result of our ungodly choices in life - is death (Romans 6:23). Yes, this means that we will lose our physical lives. But what about that spiritual component in us, the one Job called the "spirit in man" (Job 32:8)? When we die, says Solomon, it "return[s] to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). But what then?
Jesus says, "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:54). But what if a person refuses to sign on to His New Covenant? What happens to the unbeliever and the rebel? He says, "'Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. . . . Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.' . . . And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (verses Matthew 25:30, 41, 46).
Notice the difference in His two judgments: The "unprofitable servant," the "cursed," the unrepentant sinner, is thrown into "outer darkness," "everlasting fire," and "everlasting punishment," while the righteous enjoy eternal life. The reward of the saved and the fate of the wicked cannot both be eternal life, meaning that the "everlasting punishment" of the wicked must be eternal death, not eternal life in torment. Otherwise, God cannot be said to be just.
Jude makes an interesting comment in verse 7 of his epistle: "Sodom and Gomorrah . . . are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." The eternal fire that consumed those cities and their people is no longer burning, but its results are eternally valid: Those of Sodom and Gomorrah are still dead! Thus, eternal fire or "everlasting fire" does not mean a fire that never dies or one in which a person is eternally tormented but a fire of which the consequences are eternal. One who dies in the everlasting fire of God's punishment of sinners will be eternally dead! This is what is called the "Lake of Fire" in Revelation 20:15: "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (see also Matthew 13:40-43, 49-50). Similarly, nothingness, the state of death, is aptly described as "outer darkness."
Of this fate, Paul writes in Hebrews 10:26-27, 31: "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. . . . It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." As Jesus Himself says, "Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
The human soul can die. We know it will die once physically (Hebrews 9:27), returning to God for safekeeping until the resurrection from the dead and the judgment (see Revelation 20:12-13). God, however, in His justice and mercy, will permanently destroy the souls of those who reject Him. "This is the second death" (Revelation 20:14), the final, eternal death for the - hopefully - few who choose it over eternal life in God's Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
We must acknowledge a foundational truth: Contrary to conventional wisdom, the human soul is not immortal. This is a false teaching that was implanted into human religion when Satan convinced Eve of it in the Garden of Eden. Essentially, the Devil tells her that God is a liar, she will not die, and in fact, eating of the Tree of Knowledge would make her like God, a goddess with the same abilities as the Creator Himself. Satan's deceptive assurance that she would not die—taking the sting out of God's command—was central to her decision to eat of the fruit.
Elsewhere, the Bible flatly asserts that humans are physical, mortal beings. First, of course, is God's own warning in Genesis 2:17 that, upon eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, "you shall surely die"—in other words, sin ultimately ends in death, both the physical death of the human body and in due course the destruction of man's spiritual component in the judgment (see Revelation 20:14-15; John 5:29). The apostle writes in Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment." Twice in Ezekiel 18, God declares that souls die: "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4, 20), which the apostle Paul echoes in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." Finally, Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28 that God can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
In fact, the Bible says only God has true immortality (I Timothy 6:15-16). Human beings can have immortality only through Christ and only through the resurrection from the dead, according to the pattern set by Jesus in His resurrection to eternal life (I Corinthians 15:22, 45-52). So, while true Christians have eternal life in them through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it is only an earnest, down payment, or guarantee of the fullness of eternal life that will be given at the resurrection (see II Corinthians 5:1-5; Ephesians 1:13-14).
As Job 32:8 says, man has a spirit that provides him with understanding, and Paul explains in I Corinthians 2:11 that it endows humanity with intellect. This spirit in man comes from God (Zechariah 12:1) and returns to Him when we die (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Acts 7:59). It records the events of our lives, our characters, and our personalities, which God somehow stores until the resurrection, when it will be returned, restoring each person's full memory and characteristics. However, the Bible never describes this human spirit as immortal or eternal; in fact, John 6:63 and Romans 8:10-11 explains that man needs that other spirit, God's Holy Spirit, to achieve eternal life.
So, what happens when a person dies? Again, the early chapters of Genesis provide a fundamental answer: "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). Humans, then, die and their bodies naturally decompose, breaking down into the elemental components of which they are made. The biblical usage of the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek Hades—which some, following pagan thought, contend is a place where the spirits of the dead live on after death—actually means "the grave" or "the pit," describing the place of burial.
Every human that has died, with the exception of Jesus Christ, remains in his grave, whether it is in the earth or in the sea. Even David, righteous and beloved of God, awaits the resurrection in his grave. In Acts 2:29, Peter says to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . ."
Scripture also explains that in death, life and consciousness are absent. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 9:5, "The dead know nothing," and he later adds, "There is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (verse 10). The psalmist writes in Psalm 146:4 about a person's death, "His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish." Thus, while God retrieves our human spirit for safekeeping, it has no inherent life, self-awareness, or any kind of functionality. It requires a living body to work, so once the body dies, it is inanimate, a mere record of a life but without life in itself.
In addition, while it is a record of a person's life, it is not the person himself. The Bible declares that people do not go to heaven (or to hell, for that matter) after death. In the same Pentecost sermon in Acts 2, Peter asserts, "For David did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts 2:34). Jesus Himself confirms this in John 3:13: "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." These direct statements confirm that all the dead, rather than going to heaven or hell or some sort of purgatory, await the resurrection in the sleep of death. They all await this call, which Paul bases on Isaiah 26:19: "Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light" (Ephesians 5:14).
It is encouraging to see what Isaiah 26:19 says: "Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; . . . and the earth shall cast out the dead." In that great resurrection, just as in the first resurrection, God will give "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality" (Romans 2:7). Thus, not only a Christian's hope of life after death rests in the resurrection of the dead, but even though they do not realize it, it is also the hope of all those who have never had the opportunity for salvation.
When that occurs, it will be clear that, indeed, "Death is swallowed up in victory" (I Corinthians 15:54)!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Death Is Not the End (Part Seven)
This is a direct promise of not only Abraham's children's owning of the land, but also of Abraham's personal ownership of it. Yet the only land he ever truly owned was Sarah's burial plot—certainly not all the land he could see! For him to receive this promise, and for him to receive it “forever,” means that he and his descendants will live forever.
Now eternal life has entered the picture. Eternal life includes a spirit body that will not decay and a nature that is appropriate or fitting for endless life, one that is sinless and not continually incurring the death penalty. Only in the resurrection of the dead at Christ's return will the called of God—including Abraham—be raised incorruptible and given immortality, such that death is swallowed up in victory (see I Corinthians 15:42-54). Then, Abraham and his spiritual descendants will inherit the Promised Land, retaining it forever.
Romans 4:13 expounds on the promise of the land: “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” God's promise to Abraham was not based on perfect obedience to the law, but on the imputed righteousness that comes by faith, which happened when Abraham “believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This took place well before the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17:1-14). Abraham's faith produced good works, as true faith always will; in Genesis 26:5, God says, “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” But his righteousness in God's eyes was shown in his belief in God's faithfulness, not in anything he did or did not do.
Clearly, God's promise of the land to Abraham goes far beyond physical inheritance—it is, rather, an eternal inheritance, bestowed on those who have become his spiritual descendants through receiving the faith of Abraham. The patriarch, though, was among those who “died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them” (Hebrews 11:13). So significant are these promises that God confirmed them with a covenant that condemned Him to destruction if He failed to fulfill the terms. Not only that, the timing of Christ's sacrifice coincided with the preparations for God's covenant with Abraham, for it is His sacrifice that allows us—Abraham's spiritual seed, his “great nation”—to begin to receive these promises.
David C. Grabbe
Why Was Jesus Not Crucified as Passover Began? (Part Two)
If the thief on the cross lived again the day that he was crucified, ascending to heaven, not only would he have gone there without Jesus Christ, but he also would have been a jarring exception to the Bible's clear statements about when the resurrection takes place. For example, John 3:13 clearly reads, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man" (our emphasis throughout). What about all of the Old Testament saints? What about all of the "heroes of faith" of Hebrews 11? Most people assume they are in heaven in the presence of God, yet if we are willing to believe Jesus' plain statement, we know that cannot be the case.
Where is King David, a "man after God's heart"? The Bible tells us where he is not: "For David did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts 2:34)! Where is he? The answer is found a few verses before: "Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (verse 29). King David is not in heaven but dead and buried, sleeping until the resurrection from the dead.
Is it logical that the thief on the cross would go to heaven, when Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and all the rest in Hebrews 11 were not accorded that honor? No, the end of the chapter even addresses that:
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
These heroes of faith did not receive the promises because God planned that both they and the audience of the book of Hebrews would "be made perfect" together—at the same time. "Going to heaven" was never an Old Testament promise, nor is it a New Testament promise. What God promises is our being "made perfect," and the Old Testament saints will be made perfect at the same time as the New Testament saints. Philippians 3:10-12 explains that this "perfection" happens only at the resurrection of the dead, while John 3:13 and Acts 2:34 both show that this does not occur when each individual dies. Instead, in I Corinthians 15:50-54, Paul writes that it is not until the last trumpet that the saints will be resurrected and made perfect:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
"The dead will be raised" only when the last trumpet sounds, and those saints still living will be changed into spirit beings immediately thereafter. That last trumpet is shown to take place when Christ returns (see I Thessalonians 4:15-17). What this means is that the resurrection to immortal life—the perfecting of the saints—does not take place until Christ comes back to establish His Kingdom on this earth. The only exception to this has been Jesus Christ Himself. As Hebrews 11:40 shows, the thief on the cross could not have been "made perfect"—resurrected with an incorruptible spirit body—ahead of all of the saints of God. He most certainly could not have been made perfect before Christ!
Much of the misunderstanding of this verse stems from the placement of the comma. Modern translations predominately place a comma after the word "you," giving the impression that the remaining phrase—"today you will be with Me in Paradise"—means that the criminal to whom Jesus was speaking would be with Him in Paradise later that day. However, it must be remembered that none of the ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament contain any punctuation—various translators added it centuries later. Thus, without punctuation, Luke 23:43 reads, "And Jesus said to him assuredly I say to you today you will be with Me in Paradise."
On the surface, putting a comma after the word "you" seems harmless enough. However, if He indeed had meant that the criminal would be in Paradise with Him that very day, He would have contradicted Himself and the Bible on numerous accounts! Jesus Himself was not in Paradise that day but was dead and buried, awaiting His resurrection three days and three nights later. However, this apparent dilemma is easily resolved if the comma is placed after the word "today." Properly punctuated, Luke 23:43 reads, "And Jesus said to him, 'Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.'"
David C. Grabbe
What Happened to the Thief on the Cross? (Part Three)
This verse ostensibly describes the Lake of Fire as a place where God torments people forever. This assumption raises three questions:
1. If the Beast and False Prophet are mortal men, why are they still alive after the Millennium when Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire?
2. If they are mortals, how can they “be tormented day and night forever and ever” in an inferno that would soon consume them?
3. What kind of God would devise such a “cruel and unusual” punishment?
Before answering these questions, we must briefly consider whether human beings have an immortal soul. For several biblical reasons, our understanding of the Scriptures compels us to maintain that they do not:
1. Job recognizes that man has a spirit (Job 32:8), which the apostle Paul shows in I Corinthians 2:11 endows humanity with intellect. This spirit in man comes from God (Zechariah 12:1) and returns to Him upon death (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Acts 7:59). It records an individual's life, character, and personality, which God stores until the resurrection of the dead. However, the Bible never describes this spirit as immortal or eternal; in fact, I Corinthians 2:6-16 explains that man needs yet another Spirit, God's, to be complete and to discern godly things. According to Ecclesiastes 3:21, animals also have a spirit, “which goes down to the earth,” suggesting that it ceases to exist at the animal's death.
2. The Bible flatly asserts that all people die: “[I]t is appointed for men to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). Ezekiel says distinctly that souls die: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; see Romans 6:23). Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28 that God can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna, a type of the Lake of Fire.
3. In death, life and consciousness are gone. “The dead know nothing,” says Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:5, and he later adds, “[T]here is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (verse 10). In Psalm 146:4, the psalmist writes about men's death, “His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish” (see Genesis 3:19).
4. Scripture also confutes the idea that people go to heaven or hell after death. Peter says to the crowd on the day of Pentecost, “Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:29, 34). Our Savior confirms this in John 3:13: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” The biblical usage of Sheol and Hades simply means “the pit” or “the grave.”
5. Men cannot have immortality unless God gives it to them. Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23; emphasis ours throughout). In I Corinthians 15:53 he tells the saints, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”; that is, immortality is not inherent in us. At the first resurrection, God will give “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (Romans 2:7). If we already had immortality, why should we seek it?
6. Only God has immortality. He is, Paul writes to Timothy, “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality” (I Timothy 6:15-16). John says of the Word, “In Him was life” (John 1:4), meaning as Creator of all things (verse 3), He had life inherent. Jesus affirms this in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” In other words, humans must go through Him to receive eternal life.
With such overwhelming proof, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, believed by so many, proves false. Man is not immortal, nor does he possess any “spark of God” unless God has given it to him through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). A Christian's hope of life after death rests in the resurrection of the dead (I Corinthians 15:12-23). Conversely, the wicked only await eternal death as recompense for their evil lives.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The New Testament consistently teaches the doctrine of life after death through the resurrection from the dead (see I Corinthians 15 for the Bible's most concentrated teaching on it). While many understand that those whom God converts in this life will rise from their graves at the return of Christ to enjoy their eternal rewards (I Corinthians 15:51-52; I Thessalonians 4:14-17), the Bible reveals that all humanity will live again!
The apostle John calls the people standing before God's throne "the dead, small and great." His description is very general. Note that he does not say "some" of the dead but simply "the dead." God does not discriminate between good or bad, rich or poor, free or slave, those who lived before Christ or after Him, or any other distinction. It appears plain that He raises to life every human who has ever lived who has not already been changed to spirit!
As laid out neatly in this chapter's chronological sequence, this second resurrection occurs immediately after the glorious Millennium of Christ's reign on the earth (Revelation 20:5) and Satan's final rebellion (Revelation 20:7-10). Unlike those rising to glory in the resurrection at Christ's return, called the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5-6), this vast sea of humanity returns to life for the purposes of judgment. This Great White Throne period is a time of evaluation of each person's individual works, that is, his day-to-day manner of life.
For some reason, some commentators believe that this is only the impenitent dead—those who will be cast into the Lake of Fire, mentioned in Revelation 20:14-15. However, verse 15 clearly states that only those "not found written in the Book of Life" will suffer the second death. This is a general resurrection, as it has often been called, of unsaved mankind. It is not God's desire to condemn them to eternal death, for He wants everyone to come to repentance (II Peter 3:9). They will be judged—as His church is being judged now (I Peter 4:17)—for the purposes of granting them salvation, if they accept His calling and submit to His way of life. While it is the church's "day of salvation" right now (II Corinthians 6:1-2), for these people, it will be their first opportunity to accept God's invitation to eternal life.
Consider the enormous number of people who will rise in this resurrection! A conservative estimate of all who have ever lived on the earth is upwards of 50 billion people and growing all the time. These billions will awake to a paradise on earth, which will have been made beautiful, prosperous, and productive under the care of the sons of God. The newly resurrected may suppose they have gone to heaven, but they will soon learn that the blessed meek inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
What a massive effort it will take to feed, clothe, house, and teach such an incredible population! Making matters even more difficult is the fact that they will come from every age, ethnic group, religion, language, and culture that has existed since the time of Adam! They will range from jungle dwellers of Borneo to the most sophisticated and intellectual cosmopolitans of modern times, from barbarous Mongols under Genghis Khan to vegetarian peaceniks heralding the Age of Aquarius, from animist tribesmen to Buddhist monks. We can hardly fathom the massive cost, infrastructure, organization, and leadership it will take to give care and instruction to so many people as will happen in this great period of judgment.
The Old Testament also contains a snapshot of this general resurrection, though it concentrates on the resurrection of the manifold millions of Israelites who have lived down the centuries. This is the famous prophecy of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:
The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" So I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know." (Ezekiel 37:1-3)
The people whose bones these were had been dead a long time. The bones were dry, as if no juice of life could ever enliven them again. The prophet's reply is essentially, "Only God could make them live again. To me, they look hopelessly dead." But we know, as Jesus instructs, "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).
Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, and cover you with skin and put breath in you: and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD."'" . . . So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezekiel 37:4-6, 10)
Notice what God says will happen in this resurrection: He will give them breath—the breath of life—to fill their lungs, and He will return to them their flesh: their sinews and skin. Clearly, God will raise them up to physical life again on the earth, not to some kind of ethereal existence in a celestial Xanadu. They will soon realize that their ideas of life after death were greatly mistaken and that the God of Israel, the One who raised them from the dead, is the one true God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Death Is Not the End (Part Five)
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 150,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.
We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.