Online courses and discussions, plus live Bible studies!

Join the Common Sense Bible Study community!

Resurrection and Eternal Life in the Bible

What does the Bible say about the resurrection and eternal life?

As you read, you might want to refer back to these two articles:

Resurrection in the Bible is a very big deal. Yeshua (aka Jesus) is our savior and the only way to be reconciled to our Heavenly Creator and Father, but resurrection is central to the very meaning of salvation. When Yeshua saves us, he saves us from the eternal consequences of our sins and allows us to be resurrected into eternal life in God’s presence. The Bible talks about resurrection from beginning to end. It is described or discussed in many passages, and hidden by metaphor and allegory in many more.

On one hand, what we believe about our own resurrection and what happens afterward has very little bearing on our eternal salvation. We will be resurrected whether we understand that it will happen or not, and we will receive eternal life if we have lived believing in Yeshua and the promises of God whether we completely understand all of those promises or not.

On the other hand, our understanding of the resurrection will effect our understanding of much of the rest of Scripture, including what it means to believe in Yeshua. A person can be saved from his sins and resurrected to eternal life without ever hearing that there will be a resurrection, but his spiritual life will suffer because he doesn’t have a full understanding of his relationship with God and his place in God’s eternal plan.

Remember that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, and that led them into many other errors. Yeshua and the Apostles thought that teaching about the resurrection was important enough that they repeatedly came into conflict with the Sadducees over it, risking imprisonment, beatings, and even death!

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
Acts 4:1-2

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”
Acts 23:6

In my previous article on the afterlife, I established from Scripture a rough idea of what happens to a person after he dies: his spirit goes to one of the regions or chambers of Sheol to await resurrection. In this article, I’m going to pick up where that one left off and examine what Scripture says about the resurrection itself and what happens after that.

Many Temporary Resurrections

There are many resurrections recorded in the Bible, but most of them were temporary. A person died, was brought back to life, and then presumably died again sometime later.

  • Elijah and Elisha both brought children back to life in the Old Testament.
  • Yeshua raised at least three people from the grave before his own crucifixion.
  • Many people buried in Jerusalem came back to life about the same time Yeshua was resurrected.
  • The Apostles raised some from the dead after Yeshua returned to Heaven.

There is no indication in Scripture that any of those people are still alive today or that their resurrected bodies were incorruptible as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15. If they had been made immortal or if they had ascended into Heaven like Yeshua, I’m certain that some mention would have been made of that. It’s much more likely that their spirits were returned to their former bodies, which were healed of any injuries and corruption and then grew old and died again as do the bodies of all other people.

Yeshua’s resurrection was different. He was raised from the dead in a glorified body and then rose through the clouds to heaven in his physical form. Unlike the rest of us, his body didn’t return to the dust of the earth.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
Psalms 16:10

He left the grave with the same body that was crucified, but it was transformed. As I will show, this allowed him to prefigure two groups of believers at the end.

Appointed unto Men Once to Die

If those who were resurrected in years past were destined to die again, how should we understand this verse in the Letter to the Hebrews?

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…
Hebrews 9:27

This is a statement of general principle, not an absolute law. It’s similar to saying that “what goes up must come down”, but we all know that some things go up and never come back down. Numerous spacecraft have left the earth and never come back. Those few exceptions don’t negate the principle that anything thrown into the air will be pulled back to the ground by gravity. Without some continuous force keeping it from falling, it will fall.

In the same way, all those resurrected before Yeshua’s return have been thrown up from the grave, but the inevitable effects of entropy and the continual pull of Sheol eventually bring them back down again. They returned to life and their families, but continued to age until they died and were buried once more.

Scripture itself describes a “second death” in Revelation 21:

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
Revelation 21:8

We can’t read both Hebrews 9:27 and Revelation 21:8 in a strictly literal sense or else they contradict each other. The one describes the usual–though not universal–end of our mortal flesh–while the second is a description of the end of the resurrected, incorruptible flesh of the wicked after the final judgment.

The writer of Hebrews meant that there is no reincarnation. Everybody gets one life, not two or a hundred. Nobody will live, die, and then be born again as a baby to do it all over. This life is not a dress rehearsal. With very few exceptions, men are given one mortal body that lives once, dies, and returns to the earth.

Wait… Backup. “The incorruptible flesh of the wicked”!?

Yes, but more on that later. I’m sorry if this is getting confusing, but I will try to pull it all together at the end.

The First Resurrection

I am not going to speculate on when, but sometime in the future, Yeshua will return to earth in glory and power with a noise something like a great trumpet or the shout of a multitude.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
Revelation 19:11

As Revelation 19 indicates, this will happen after the Beast and the False Prophet have spent some years persecuting and murdering God’s faithful during a period known as The Great Tribulation. When Yeshua returns, “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). These aren’t all those who died prior to Yeshua’s return, but only those killed by the Beast and his minions.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years….This is the first resurrection.
Revelation 20:4-5

These martyrs of the Beast are the first wave of the Final Resurrection, long before the second wave. I don’t believe that their former bodies will be brought back to life, because they will have been killed over the course of several years and their bodies will have decomposed. Instead, these martyrs will gain newly created bodies that will never decompose.

And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
1 Corinthians 15:37-38

These new bodies will be immortal. Although they have a beginning, they will have no end, reigning at Yeshua’s side for a period of one thousand years (commonly known by some variation of the word “Millennium”) and living beyond that.

The Great Resurrection

At the end of the Millennium, Yeshua will put down a rebellion of the nations, destroy all of the physical universe, and raise all the dead who remain in Sheol. Everyone–great and small, righteous and wicked–will be resurrected and given brand new bodies. Yes, even the wicked will be resurrected at the end.

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended…
Revelation 20:5

Sheol will be completely emptied of all who have died between Adam’s Fall and the destruction of the Earth. Those countless souls will be given new bodies and made to stand before the Throne of God to learn whether their names are written in the Book of Life. If their names are found in the Book, they will keep their new bodies and remain alive forever in the presence of God. If their names are not found, they will be condemned.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.
Revelation 20:11-12

Sheol itself will be cast into Hell and the wicked who have just been resurrected and judged will follow.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:14-15

The Transformation of the Survivors

All those who were still alive at the time of the Final Judgment will be transformed. They won’t die, but their bodies will be glorified like Yeshua’s. He died and was resurrected, but he didn’t receive a new body. Rather the body he inhabited when he walked the earth was refined and glorified, made immune to death. In this, Yeshua’s resurrection prophesied both the resurrection of the dead and the glorification of the living before the Final Judgment.

Those who are alive at the end will stand judgment alongside the newly resurrected. The faithful among them will go on to eternal life, while the unfaithful will go down to Hell and the Second Death, having passed by the First Death altogether.

The End and the Beginning

Death and resurrection have been with us since Adam first sinned and they are central to God’s plan to refine mankind and restore us to full relationship with him as we once had in the Garden. A few have died and been resurrected temporarily, but everyone who has ever died will be resurrected and everyone who has ever lived will stand together before the throne of God to be judged for eternity.

Those whose names are found in the Book of Life will see a new heaven and earth. What happens after that has not been revealed and has barely even been hinted at so far as I know. I suspect that the time we spent on the first earth is merely trial, a proving ground for our Great Continuation. Life is a furnace and we are all silver ore being refined into something beautiful and useful. The dross will be discarded and the silver retained. What use the Creator will put us to is a mystery that I can’t wait to discover!

Note: You might also appreciate Tony Robinson’s teaching series on Resurrection in the Old Testament.

Parsha Ha’azinu – Apostolic Readings, Links, and Videos

New Testament passages to study with Torah portion Ha'azinu (Deuteronomy 32), plus links to commentary and videos.

Readings

  • Deuteronomy 32
    • Luke 3:7-9
    • Luke 6:46-49
    • John 18:1-18
    • Romans 11:7-24
    • Jude 1:9
    • Revelation 11
    • Revelation 15

Additional Reading

Videos Related to Parsha Ha’azinu

  • Did Jesus Blaspheme in Matthew 9:1-8? – Matthew 9:1-8 is puzzling. What was blasphemous about telling a man his sins are forgiven? Were the scribes just mad because Yeshua was claiming to be God? It’s not that simple. To really understand what’s going on in this passage, you need to understand how the Jews believed sin and sickness were related.

Shadows of Jesus in Joshua

There are shadows of the multiple roles of Messiah revealed in the anointing of Joshua to succeed Moses.

The role of the Messiah is a complex subject, and like most complex subjects, you can often convey more information with a story than with a simple list of facts. And for this topic, just one story won’t do the trick. Fortunately, the Scriptures are full of them–Isaac, Joseph, David, etc.–like multiple shadows cast by the same man struck by light sources at different angles. Each character shows a different facet or role of who Messiah is supposed to be. Sometimes the same character plays several roles.

Moses and Joshua are two such types of the Messiah.

Moses set the people free from slavery, led them through the Red Sea after a three day journey, taught them from a mountain top, and guided them to the border of the Promised Land. He even told of another “prophet like me” to come.

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’
Deuteronomy 18:15-18

After Moses died, Joshua took the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He led them in war and destroyed their enemies. He fulfilled the promises that God made to Abraham to give that land to his descendants. He even had the name of the Messiah: Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) literally means “salvation”, but it was a common diminutive form of the longer Yehoshua (Joshua’s Hebrew name), which means “YHWH saves”.

There is an interesting set of phrases in the anointing of Joshua as Moses’ successor in Deuteronomy 31. (There are a number of interesting things going on in the structure of that chapter. See here: A Chiasm in Deuteronomy 31.) Take a look at these two verses:

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it.”
Deuteronomy 31:7

And the LORD commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”
Deuteronomy 31:23

Notice that when Moses commissioned Joshua in verse 7, he said “You will go with this people,” but when God commissioned him in verse 23, He said, “You will bring the people of Israel.” It is a subtle difference that is easy to miss and even easier to dismiss as inconsequential, but there is a difference, so we know that there must be a reason for it.

Consider the idea of the two Messiahs as illustrated in the stories of Judah and Joseph (mentioned here May It Please Our Lord, We Will Be Servants of God and here The Betrayal of Mashiach ben Yosef).

Messiah ben Yosef comes to serve, to teach, and to suffer for his people, while Messiah ben David comes to throw off the yoke of foreign oppression and to lead his people to victory.

Moses’ told Joshua to “go with this people”. This implies that he must be one of them. He must not elevate himself above his fellow Israelites, but lead by example. Yeshua did exactly that. He lived among the people as a man, he experienced our pain and our temptation, spoke with us, ate and drank with us, he taught us how to live according to Moses’ instructions, and lived those instructions perfectly. Finally he died the most humble of deaths for us. As Messiah ben Yosef, the suffering servant, he truly “went with” his people.

God, on the other hand, told Joshua to “bring the people of Israel”. To bring a people anywhere requires authority and power. A commoner doesn’t bring his people anywhere unless he first earns or captures a place of influence over them. Yeshua didn’t need to take control, because the Father caused him to be lifted up (John 3:14). He was resurrected and elevated to the right hand of the Father, preceding his people into eternal life. He was made to be King, not only of Judah, but of the whole re-united Kingdom of Israel, wherever her people might be. He was the first across the River of Death and Resurrection into the ultimate Promised Land and will one day take the rest of us with him.

When Yeshua returns, Paul wrote that those who died believing in him will be resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Yeshua does not need to return to the grave to bring them out. He will command it, and they will rise because they are his subjects. He will also send fishermen to draw out those of Israel who are ready to receive him and hunters to flush out those who are hidden (Jeremiah 16:16). These too might have no choice in the matter, and it will not be a pleasant experience for all involved–there are sins to be recompensed and character flaws to be rectified–but they belong to the King, and he will not lose a single one of those whom God has given him.

Like Moses, Yeshua will lead his people out of bondage again, and, like Joshua, he will bring them back to the Promised Land as the Father promised through Moses and the Prophets. But he will not come again as the suffering servant. Our debt has been paid in full; his blood is fully sufficient to remove the stains of all our sins, and his resurrection has opened the way for us to follow.

Instead of him humbling himself to become like us, we will be exalted to become like him. Yeshua will always be our King, but by God’s grace, we will finally be made subjects worthy of him.

Who Can You Trust?

When faced with a choice between Assyria & Egypt, which one should you trust? Neither!
When faced with a choice between Assyria & Egypt, which one should you trust? Neither!

You can’t get on the Internet or turn on television without hearing the names Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. “Clinton is a liar and a traitor!” “Trump is a racist and misogynist!” Both candidates appear to be seriously flawed. Maybe all the accusations are true and maybe they aren’t, but we can be certain of one thing: This is the most important election ever!

Just like all the elections that came before it.

Don’t misunderstand me. I fully realize that the United States is in a precarious position due to multiple and prolonged errors, and the two major party candidates are saying (and might even do) very different things concerning some of those issues. There is a lot at stake.

And just like every other election, it still doesn’t matter. Here’s what I mean by that…

More than 2500 years ago, little Judah was caught between two powerful empires, Assyria to the north and Egypt to the south. They were bound to fight each other sooner or later, but the only road between them led right through Judah, and they weren’t simply going to pass through. They were going to conquer and pillage on the way. Israel had a long history with Egypt, so rather than try to fight two superpowers, the king tried to make an alliance with Pharaoh.

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses and chariots, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD! The Egyptians are mere men, and not gods, and their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and you will fall with him. You will all perish together. Return to Him from whom the people have rebelled! (Isaiah 31:1-6 Paraphrased)

That was written to Israel and not to America, but the principle still applies. If we are trusting in men, guns, or votes instead of in God, then our trust is misplaced. It didn’t matter if Israel made an alliance with Assyria or Egypt because they had abandoned their alliance with God. And it doesn’t matter today if we vote for Clinton or Trump if we aren’t trusting in God for the outcome.

By all means, vote your conscience. Support the candidate that you believe most represents the best interests of America. But if America’s interests don’t align with God’s, then America is doomed and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. Clinton won’t protect women because she can’t. Trump won’t save America because he can’t. God will decide our fate, not politicians, and as long as we fear men rather than God and hold our own law above God’s, we will never amount to anything more than Assyria and Egypt.

Where are Sennacherib of Assyria and Shebitku of Egypt today? Exactly where Trump and Clinton will be 2500 years from today.

Heaven and Earth Hear and Speak

Deu 32:1-3 [Moses sang,] “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain; my speech shall drop down as the dew, as the small rain on the tender plant, and as the showers on the grass; because I will proclaim the name of Yahweh, ascribe greatness to our God.”

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the expanse proclaims His handiwork.

Luk 19:37-40 And when He had come near, even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives, all the multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works which they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King coming in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” And He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should be silent, the stones would cry out.”

(MKJV, more or less.)

God speaks first to the leaders. If they don’t listen, he speaks directly to the people. If the people don’t listen, God speaks to the whole creation, and it always responds. God wants to have a relationship with his creation through us, but he does not need to work through us. To God we are a luxury, something he goes out of his way to enjoy. He relates to us only because he so chooses.

God will have a relationship with his creation with or without us. His Word will always be proclaimed by someone or something and will always be heard. No objection, no legislation, no denial can ever change that. The question is, will we hear? Will we speak?