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Resurrection of the Dead

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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1. Jewish beliefs current in the time of our Lord.—The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, symbolically applied to the nation (Hosea 6:2; Hosea 13:14, Ezekiel 37:1-14), implicit as regards the individual in prophecy and psalm (Job 14:13-15; Job 19:23-27, Isaiah 65, 66, Psalms 49, 73), has its first explicit expression in Isaiah 26:14-19 as the hope of the righteous, based on conviction of God’s power and faithfulness and on their persistent relation to Him. It appears in the Canon as formal prediction and definitely in Daniel 12:2, and became part of that ‘consolation’ which the devouter part of Judaism, in the absence of official prophecy, but upon the basis of past prophetic utterance and on the lines of prophetic indication, developed. ‘The Pharisaic movement offered salvation to the Jewish race … partly by opening wider hopes to those who obeyed’ (Swete, Apocalypse, Apocalyptic of St. John, p. xxiii)—proximately the Messianic hope, and eschatologically the hope of the resurrection. The literature of the period preceding and following our Lord’s appearance shows three views as to the future of the dead, viz. (1) the traditional doctrine of Sheol; (2) a doctrine, variously held, of resurrection; (3) a Platonic doctrine of immortality.

(1) Of these Sirach (Sirach 17:27-30) knows only the first unmodified, repeating the thought of Psalms 6:5 and of Hezekiah’s psalm (Isaiah 38:8-9)—the days of man are to the eternity of God as a drop to the sea,—wherefore the Divine pity (Sirach 18:8-11); the dead have lost the light and are at rest (Sirach 22:11); even of the righteous only the name and deed survive (Sirach 44:9-15). Samuel’s death is ‘his long sleep.’ In Tobit death is dissolution (ὄπως ἀπολυθῶ) and permanent (τὸν αἰώνιον τόπον, Tobit 3:6). As to the doctrine of 1 Mac. the evidence is negative; no future life is referred to. ‘We fight for our lives and our laws’ (1 Maccabees 3:21). In Judith the enemies of God in the Day of Judgment shall meet His vengeance in putting fire and worms εἰς σάρκας αὐτῶν (Judges 16:17), and shall feel the pain of it for ever; but in the absence of more, this scarcely implies a doctrine of physical immortality. This traditional eschatology had still its adherents in the Judaea of our Lord’s lifetime (Matthew 22:23, Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27, Acts 23:8).

(2) In 2 Mac. there is a clear statement of a developed doctrine of bodily resurrection for the righteous. God shall raise up those who have died for His laws; the very members which have been stricken from the martyr being restored to him, and ‘breath and life as at the first’ ‘unto an everlasting life’ (2 Maccabees 7:8; 2 Maccabees 7:11; 2 Maccabees 7:23; 2 Maccabees 14:46). The faith of such a restoration is felt as an ethical necessity. It is not so much a theory of human destinies as a conviction of the Divine justice and truth. The problem of martyrdom has compelled it—the problem whether supreme fidelity can issue in loss. That it should seem even for the present so to issue is realized as a difficulty, and is explained as a chastising, a temporal penalty (βραχὺνπόνον) for personal and national sins; the martyr’s rôle being one of self-offering and expiation for these (2 Maccabees 7:18; 2 Maccabees 7:37-38) Resurrection is God’s reconciliation with His servants, and is implied in their persistent relation to Him—they are ‘dead under God’s covenant of everlasting life’ (2 Maccabees 7:33; 2 Maccabees 7:36). But for the enemies of God there is no resurrection (2 Maccabees 7:14; 2 Maccabees 7:36).

As to the extent of the resurrection, the case in 2 Mac. is that of the martyrs only; but the confidence expressed with regard to them is probably based on a wider hope, including Israel, or at least the faithful in Israel (σὑν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς σου, 2 Maccabees 7:29, hardly implies this, the ἀδελφοί are literal; but the tone of the whole passage [see 2 Maccabees 7:14] implies a faith for others than the actual speakers). In the apocalyptic literature, which did much to extend the doctrine of resurrection in Judaism, it is generally presented as limited to Israel. For the question with which the Apocalypses deal is one of fulfilment of promises to Israel, and the deeper question whether ‘the righteous shall be as the wicked’—at what point and in what form the faithful in Israel are to be vindicated and the apostates meet Divine justice. The earlier section of Ethiopic Enoch seems to expect a resurrection universal to Israel, with the exception only of the absolutely evil: ‘complete in their crimes’ (22:13). The second section excludes none—all Israel is raised, but the righteous and holy are chosen from the rest for reward (51, 61:4, 5). In the third section ‘the judgment appears to be followed by the resurrection of righteous Israelites only’ (Charles, Bk. of Enoch, p. 27). The conception of a resurrection general to mankind does not occur in this literature until the close of the period under discussion, when the Apocalypse, Apocalyptic of Baruch (1st cent. a.d.) expressly proposes the question of the number of those who shall rise (28:7, 41:1, cf. Luke 13:23), and teaches a first resurrection at the Advent of the Messiah, of ‘all who have fallen asleep in hope of Him’; but also apparently a resurrection of good and evil, Gentiles and Israelites, for the purpose of judgment (50:3, 4, 51:1–6). 2 Esdras teaches one general resurrection of the same character (2 Esdras 7:32-35).

With regard to this development, there seems no adequate reason for regarding it as introducing a mechanical and unspiritual conception of resurrection (Charles, Eschatology) as distinguished from a ‘high and spiritual’ conception of resurrection limited to the just. This also rises from an ethical root. It is based in apprehension of the necessity of Divine justice, conceived as requiring not only the vindication of righteousness, but the condemnation on equal terms of unrighteousness; a justice from which death itself affords no hiding. The doctrine of a general resurrection of good and evil alike follows from the apprehension of God as Judge of the whole earth, dealing with man and not with Israel only, and marks a widening of eschatological outlook from being an interest in the fulfilment of promise to Israel to become an interest in the assertion of God as fulfilling righteousness for the world.

As to the nature of the resurrection body, in 2 Mac. only the facts of restoration and identity are insisted on. In Enoch, while the resurrection body is one in which the righteous shall ‘eat and lie down and rise up,’ it is changed to be imperishable and glorious—‘garments of glory … garments of life’ (61:14–16); they are ‘clad in shining light,’ and share the nature and rank of the angels (51:4, 104:6). In Apocalypse, Apocalyptic of Baruch the dead are raised as they have died, in order that the living may know the verity of their resurrection (49:2–4); but thereafter a judicial change passes upon both them and those who have been alive at the time (51:1), the wicked ‘becoming worse’ than those who presently occupy Gehenna (52:2, 15, 16), while the righteous are transfigured and are fitted for immortality and the eternal world (57:3, 4, 9–14). We have here much more than a doctrine of physical resuscitation; resurrection is apprehended as advance to a new and higher plane of life.

(3) The doctrine of immortality without resurrection appears in two forms—Palestinian and Alexandrian, (a) In the Palestinian form the consummation of the soul’s destiny is postponed to the end. There is an intermediate state, in which the righteous and wicked are already separated; and there is Final Judgment, after which the righteous pass to the heavenly world of glory and felicity, and the wicked to eternal woe. Thus the Book of Jubilees speaks of the ‘Day of the Great Judgment,’ and goes on to say of the righteous: ‘Their bones will rest in the earth and their spirits will have much joy’ (23:11, 13); and this is probably the view of the Assumption of Moses as well (10:3–10), and perhaps of the Slavonic Enoch. In the latter the translated Enoch does indeed receive a raiment of Divine glory instead of his ‘earthly robe’ (equivalent to the changed body, ‘garments of glory,’ of the Simil. of Enoch); but his case is exceptional, and he is destined for ‘the highest heaven’ (67:2). Nothing is said of any reclothing for those who have died. There is a place prepared for every soul of them (49:2), ‘Many mansions … good for the good, evil for the evil’ (61:2), ‘their eternal habitation’ (65:10). With regard, however, to these two last-named writers, there is silence as to the resurrection rather than denial of it; and it is difficult to say, especially of the Assump. of Moses, that they were conscious of divergence from current beliefs.

(b) Alexandrian Judaism, adopting a Hellenic philosophy, taught a doctrine of personal immortality of the individual soul, which it endeavoured more or less successfully to disentangle from the questions of the corporate destiny of the nation and of cosmic judgment. Accepting from Platonism the ideas of the eternity and evil of matter, it necessarily ignored that of resurrection; and accepting from the same source the ideas of the soul’s pre-existence and of salvation by wisdom, it was compelled to regard each soul as working out its own fate in this life, and as reaching that fate at the point of severance from the flesh; immortality in its final form beginning from the moment of death. Thus in Wisdom the body is essentially ‘subject to sin’ (Wisdom of Solomon 1:4); the soul is pre-existent and essentially good (Wisdom of Solomon 8:20), but is entangled in matter which weighs it down (Wisdom of Solomon 9:15); man is destined for immortality (Wisdom of Solomon 2:23), which the wise attain (Wisdom of Solomon 8:13; Wisdom of Solomon 8:17), and find it in all blessedness as they depart from our sphere of knowledge (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-5, Wisdom of Solomon 4:7-14, Wisdom of Solomon 5:15). The despisers of wisdom, on the other hand, have neither hope nor comfort in death; it is for them an immediate passage to judgment and retribution (Wisdom of Solomon 3:16-19, Wisdom of Solomon 4:18-20, Wisdom of Solomon 5:14). The Hebrew idea of death as unnatural and punitive is nevertheless, however inconsistently, also present to the mind of the writer. God made not death, but the impious called it in (Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-16); death entered by envy of the devil, and is the portion of his servants (Wisdom of Solomon 2:24). The idea of a future Judgment, a ‘day of decision,’ also keeps its place in the writer’s thought (Wisdom of Solomon 3:18, Wisdom of Solomon 4:20). Nor is his conception that of an immortality wholly immaterial; the righteous shall receive a palace and royal crown; they shall judge the nation and have dominion over the people, sharing their Lord’s kingdom (Wisdom of Solomon 3:8). He has not successfully assimilated his Hellenism, but requires the Hebraic eschatology to supplement it. The teaching of Wisdom on this subject is substantially that of Philo as well: ‘Apparently he did not look forward to a general and final judgment. All enter after death into their final abode’ (Charles, Eschatol. p. 260). The philosophy of 4 Mac. is Stoical, not Platonic; but it agrees with Wisdom and Philo in ignoring the ideas of an intermediate state and of resurrection, and in teaching an immortality of the spirit only, commencing when this life ends.

2. The teaching of Jesus.—Our Lord found Himself in an atmosphere of thought in which ideas representative of these various forms of doctrine were more or less current. The Rabbinic teaching on the whole held the field as a popular orthodoxy, identified in the common mind with devoutness and earnest religion: and it asserted the resurrection of the dead. This was generally conceived of as twofold—a resurrection of the just, and a general resurrection preparatory to universal judgment (Muirhead, Eschatol. of Jesus, p. 91); the anticipation of resurrection was a commonplace of piety (John 11:24). At the same time, the Sadducaic party adhered to an unmodified Sheol doctrine and contended aggressively for it. No allusion to the Alexandrian doctrine of an immortality without resurrection appears in the NT; but the Palestinian schools cannot have been unaware of its existence. Throughout His teaching Christ puts aside the second and third of these doctrines, and sets His seal to the first. He teaches a resurrection of the dead.

The teaching of Christ as to resurrection is widely scattered through the Gospels. The capital passages are Matthew 22:23; Matthew 22:33 (Mark 12:18-27, Luke 20:27-38) and John 5:19-31; John 6:32-56. The term used is commonly ἀναστασις; once (Matthew 27:53) it is ἔγερσις. Verbal forms of ἀνιστάναι and ἐγερειν seem used interchangeably, occurring consecutively in the same passages (as in Mark 12:25-26, Luke 11:31; Luke 11:22), or in parallel passages (cf. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:23 with Matthew 17:9), without apparent distinction of sense. ἀναυτασεως τῶν νεκρῶν occurs in Matthew 22:31, but in the parallel Mark 12:25 ἀν, ἑκ νεκρῶν, and in Luke 20:35 τῆς ἀν τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν (cf. Acts 2:31). ἐκ γεκρῶν is the phrase used of Christ’s resurrection predicted (Matthew 17:9, Mark 9:7; Mark 9:10); of the supposed resurrection of the Baptist (Matthew 14:2), and of the case of one rising from the dead (Luke 16:31). In the Epp. ἐκ is used of Christ’s resurrection, ἀν. τῶν νεκρῶν of resurrection generally. A distinction of usage seems to exist, ἐκ implying an individual or a non-universal resurrection. ζωοτοιεῖν occurs in John 5:21; John 6:63 (cf. Romans 4:17; Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:36; 1 Corinthians 15:45), but is more than a synonym for ἀνιστάναι or ἐγείρειν.

‘To Jesus the OT Scriptures as a whole conveyed the pledge of the will and power of God to raise the dead who had lived unto Him’ (Muirhead). In His reply to the Sadducees He does not instance the more precise predictions of the prophets, but argues from the broad relation of God to His servants, not as a covenant but as a vital relation. Their resurrection is so involved in the nature of the case that it requires no other demonstration than that God lives and that God is their God. He appeals to the common usage which called God ‘the God of their fathers,’ ‘of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’ (men who were dead), and to its authority in the oracle of the Bush; and needs no more than the admission that such language conveyed a truth. As touching the dead that they rise, has not God confessed that He is theirs? recognized that in this life they had already entered into possession of Him? Such possession, once established, cannot be lost. God is theirs—how can their life (for surely they live to Him) remain permanently mutilated? Surely it shall again be for them life in fulness of their nature. They have fallen; death is death: Christ does not minimize the penal and privative character of what was to Himself a great horror; but they shall rise again—for God is theirs: they have a hold and right in God, who has life in Himself and is essentially the Giver of Life.

The argument appears excessive in simplicity, but involves more than it expresses. If man is capable of possessing God, then man is potentially akin to God; if man has known and loved God (as man must, if God has in any sense become his), then God must have laid hold on him and must have given Himself to man. God is their God: they have then even in this life attained an interior contact with the Divine, and have so far entered the sphere of the imperishable; they have gained an inheritance which is essentially eternal. In possessing God they have secured a place in God’s future, and in whatever God will reveal or accomplish. Our Lord thus moves the question to a higher ground than that of promise or covenant or even of ethical necessity, and grounds upon a concrete relation which is recognized as vital and dynamic. The argument involves whatever is involved in the nature of human personality; its reflexion of the Divine unity, its indestructibility and capacity to resist and survive the shock or physical dissolution, and its necessity of full self-realization in God. It is impossible to limit the destiny of that which possesses God. It is impossible to deny to it completeness of development along the lines of initial character. Death interrupts but cannot ultimately bar that development. As touching the dead, that they rise again—that life shall be for them reconstituted and perfected—have we not read that God calls Himself their God?

The discussion in this case was with those who ‘deny that there is any resurrection of the dead’ (Luke 20:27), and it was enough for its purpose to consider the case of those who in life have possessed God. On the face of it the argument might seem to apply to these only. On the other hand, it seems to identify (at least for man) immortality with resurrection. What it proves is that the dead are living (οὐκ ἔστι θεὸς νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων; what it assumes is that, if they live, they will rise again. Christ does not contemplate that they may be immortal apart from that destiny, or discuss the alternative conception (which cannot have been unfamiliar to his interlocutors) that the patriarchs might live in God for a merely ghostly eternity. The alternatives which He seems to oppose are that either they no longer live (in any effective sense) or that they shall live completely—there shall be an ἀνάστασις, a reconstitution of that duplex life of spirit and organism which is characteristically human. The question whether the finitely spiritual can be conceived of as self-conscious, apprehensive or active apart from organism, or whether the fact of its limitations local and temporal and of relations to other finite existence does, not imply organism, is involved, but is not the whole question. The question is of man, who is distinctively the meeting-point of two worlds, the spiritual and the material, at which the Creator has ‘breathed into the dust,’ and at which the creation becomes conscious of God. The differentia of humanity is this incarnation, making possible the ultimate Incarnation in which the Word became flesh. In virtue of this duplex nature man is essentially the priest of the material creation, interpreting its testimony to God, and capable of furnishing the medium in which Creator and creature reach an absolute unity in Him who is Head over all things and in whom all things consist. By death this dual constitution is broken—resurrection is its recovery; reconstitution in the totality of the elements of our nature which condition fulfilment of man’s distinctive vocation in the cosmos. The redemption which is to redeem man must reach his being in its completeness—the organism of the spirit as well as the spirit itself. It must reach even the body which has been ‘the entrenchment of sin’ (Gore). Not as resuscitation, but as ‘change’; so that on a new plane of life, unexplored by us and therefore meantime indescribable to us, it may be the adequate organism of a spirit perfectly correspondent with the Divine Spirit, and death be swallowed up ‘not in life, but in victory.’ The norm of Christ’s personal resurrection may seem to imply this: His work in redemption is not completed by a sacrificial death, but must go on in a triumphant rescue of the body from death. It is not left as an ‘outworn tool,’ but is brought again, quickened and transformed, to be the instrument of a universal mediation; its reassumption is for Him entrance upon an eternal priesthood. Incarnation is not a passing phase of Deity; it is the realization of the Divine purpose in humanity. Death is privative; disembodiment is incompleteness. Our salvation implies our reconstitution, not only in the spiritual which places us in correspondence with God, but in the organic which places us in correspondence with God’s creation. God will not leave us ‘hopelessly stunted and imperfect’ (Milligan, Res. of the Dead, p. 161), but will ‘give a body.’ With regard to the scope of the resurrection, the question is not touched in the discussion with the Sadducees, unless in so far as the argument used may seem to identify immortality with resurrection. (St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 has the same alternatives: ‘if the dead are not raised … then they also which sleep in Christ have perished.’ He recognizes no third possibility, of a merely spiritual immortality). Elsewhere, however, Christ teaches a general resurrection (John 5:28-29) of ‘all that are in the graves’; not only an elect of them, but they who have ‘done evil’ as well as they who have ‘wrought good’—and distinguishes ‘the resurrection of life’ from ‘the resurrection of condemnation.’ The rejection of these verses as an interpolation, on the ground that their teaching is not found elsewhere in the Synoptics or in Jn. itself, is not justified. A general resurrection of just and unjust forms at least the background of the thought in Matthew 5:29-30 (μὴ ὅλον τὸ σῶμά σου βληθῇ εἰς γέενναν) Matthew 10:28 (καὶ ψυχὴν καὶ σῶμα ἀπολέσαι ἔν γεέννῃ) Matthew 12:41-42, Luke 11:32 (ἄνδρες Νινευῖται ἀναστήσονται κ.τ.λ.), and in Matthew 25:31-46. It is implied in the sequence to the statement that God is not the God of the dead but of the living, reported by Lk. (Luke 20:38), ‘for all live unto him’—the thought of which would seem to be that not such only as the patriarchs were have a link to God, but that men as men ‘live to Him,’ and that this must have its inference for all. The absence of bias on St. Luke’s part towards a doctrine of general resurrection, peculiar to himself among the Evangelists, is evident from the extended form in his account (Luke 20:35) of the saying more briefly reported in Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25. As reported by St. Luke (‘they which shall be accounted worthy,’ etc.), the saying would seem to contemplate a particular resurrection only. Nor can bias on St. Luke’s part be argued from the fact that (Acts 24:15) he reports St. Paul as preaching to Felix a resurrection of the just and of the unjust, while St. Paul himself in his Epp. deals only with the believer’s hope in Christ; the one concerned Felix, the other did not. A doctrine of general resurrection does appear in the reports of the Synoptists. And in John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54 the emphasis laid upon a resurrection which is by Christ Himself (ἐγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν) seems to imply that there is also resurrection of another character, and to be consecutive with the teaching of John 5:28-29.

The salvation constituted and offered in Christ is a positive salvation, to be realized and possessed in Himself. With that salvation the gospel is occupied. Our concern is with that—with the hope which is declared to us and with the Kingdom which He has opened to believers. We know the end, for we know the way. There is an alternative—a way that is not to life and an end that is not with Christ. It is named only, for our fear. It is the background of outer darkness against which the glory in Christ is thrown up into splendour. But it is in no sense the subject-matter of revelation. That which is revealed is life and incorruption (2 Timothy 1:10). This is the general principle of Christian teaching. Two aspects of resurrection are accordingly discoverable in that teaching, and first in the teaching of our Lord. Of these the one belongs to the essence of positive gospel; the resurrection of Christ Himself is already its beginning and pattern, and the root for us of its power; it is matter of assurance and exposition; our present life in Christ is full of experiences referable to it, and is explicable only in its terms; it is dynamically identified with whatever we are in Christ now or hope to be in Him hereafter. The other, resurrection of condemnation, is only indicated as in some sense an element of final adjustment of the issues of life. It remains in the sphere of apocalyptic, out of which the resurrection of life has been brought into the historic present by the resurrection of Christ which already demonstrates and illustrates it. This resurrection, in which He is our forerunner, of which His victory over death is the operative force, which shall result in us as the effect of our vital union with Him, and is the extension to us of the life from death to which He has attained, is the subject of our faith and the topic of Christian doctrine. See preceding art. § 10 (6) (7).

Literature.—Charles, Eschatology, Hebrew, Jewish, and Christian; Apocalypse, Apocalyptic of Baruch, ed. Charles; Book of Secrets of Enoch, do.; Book of Enoch, do.; Muirhead, Eschatology of Jesus; Milligan, Resurrection of the Dead; Swete, Apocalypse of St. John; Westcott, Gosp. of St. John; Gore, Ep. to Romans; Schwartzkopff, Prophecies of Jesus Christ; J. M. Whiton, Beyond the Shadow; Church, Cath. and Univ. Sermons, p. 131; R. C. Moberly, Christ our Life, p. 98.

H. J. Wotherspoon.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Resurrection of the Dead'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​r/resurrection-of-the-dead.html. 1906-1918.
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