The Resurrection of the Dead

This is the fifth of the six topics listed in Hebrews 6 as the elementary teachings of Christ and the foundation of the Christian faith.

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Abraham was not only promised a blessing – you will become a great nation and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed – but also a place where that blessing could be enjoyed. God called him to the Land of Canaan and told him after he arrived there: Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your seed forever … Arise, walk through the land in the length and breadth of it; for I am giving it to you (Genesis 13:14-17). 

The promised blessing was that Abraham and his heirs would be restored into the rule of God, to live in His perfect order as it was before Adam’s fall. This required a place that was removed and protected from the corruption that sin had brought upon the world. 


The Land was promised to Abraham himself as the principal heir. God promised him:  The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you (singular) and your descendants after you (Genesis 17:8). But we learn from Genesis 23:16 that Abraham had to buy a small piece of land from the Hittites as a burial ground for his wife. And in Exodus 6:4, God speaks of Canaan as the Land in which Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had lived ‘as aliens’. About 2000 years later, the apostle Stephen testified before the Sanhedrin: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’  So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living. He gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground(Acts 7: 2-5).

By the evidence of Scripture, Abraham has not received his promised inheritance. We may conclude from this that God’s promise has either failed and we have no basis for our faith, or that the inheritance is yet to be received in the future.

Hebrews 11:39 says of the patriarchs, that they were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. If we look more carefully at the promise, we see that the Land was promised to Abraham forever: I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land in which you are a stranger …  for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God (Genesis 17:8). 

Since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:50), Abraham needs to be raised up immortal in order to inherit an everlasting possession.  

All these scriptures point to the time of the resurrection, when the faithful from all generations will receive the promised inheritance together. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:51-55). This is what Christians are looking forward to. 

The patriarchs Jacob and Joseph, before they died in Egypt, gave instructions for their bodies to be taken back to the Promised Land (Genesis 49:29-32, 50:24-25). Scripture does not reveal why it was important for them to be buried there, but we assume they wanted to be in the place of their inheritance on the day of the resurrection.

In later history, Daniel was among the Jews who were taken into exile in Babylon. He was never restored to his homeland, but died and was buried in Susa in the territory today know as Iran. Yet, before his death, God assured him: As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance (Daniel 12:23). 

Daniel died on foreign soil confident that he would one day receive his portion in the Promised Land. 


Although Abraham was shown the land of Canaan and told to walk the length and breadth of it (Genesis 13:17), we are later told that he would become the heir to the whole earth (Romans 4:13). Abraham is heir to the new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13). 

The Land of Canaan in its present condition is not the fulfilment of the promise, but rather the place of waiting where Paradise will be restored when time is fulfilled. Abraham’s own expectation was for something beyond the present age. He was looking forward to the city from heaven – whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11: 10,16). 

We will not see the ultimate fulfilment of God’s promise in a world which He has condemned, and in which we are mortal and are destined to die. The inheritance that God has promised to those who love Him is the full restoration of His perfect order in a world that is free from all the pains and disappointments of our present condition. The apostle John saw in a vision the fulfilment of this hope: 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’ (Revelations 21:1-5). 

Since Adam’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden, mankind has been divided into two camps. The first of these has the earnest desire to return to the place of communion with God which was forfeited by Adam, while the other is content to find its home and inheritance in the fallen state, and to work for its progress and renewal – without reconciliation to God. 

When Adam left the Garden, the way back to Paradise was concealed and guarded – to be opened again at a future time. At that time, the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24). 

The call of Abraham was the starting point of the plan by which the faithful would be brought back to Adam’s original home – where the tree of life is planted – so that all who enter may eat and gain immortality and live in the presence of God. The plan culminates in Jesus Messiah, who is not only the way (John 14:6), but also the gate (John 10:9) and the bread of life (John 6:48). I.e. the entry into Paradise as well as the source of eternal life. 

The story of Jacob and Esau illustrates the difference between those who seek gratification in their mortal lives and those who covet the eternal inheritance promised to Abraham. Jacob coveted the birthright, while Esau sold his inheritance right as the eldest son for a plate of food (Genesis 25:29-34).

The apostle Paul alludes to Esau when he speaks of those who live as enemies of the cross of ChristTheir destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there – the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Philippians 3:18-21). 

David shared the faith of Abraham and prayed about such people: O LORD, by your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life …  But I, in righteousness I will see your face. When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness (Psalm 17:14-15). 


Abraham’s hope was secured by Jesus’ completed work on the cross.  

The destruction of sin is a critical prerequisite to the resurrection. Man’s rebellion against God cannot endure in the immortal state, neither can the perfect peace and glorious bounty of that condition be jeopardised once again by the wilfulness of man. The resurrection hope of the patriarchs depended on the solution to sin being put into effect. Only after Jesus condemned sin in redeemed sinners (Romans 8:4), and became for us the first fruits from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20), was the resurrection hope secured.  He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people (Hebrew 9:26-28). 

Because Jesus had no sin, he was worthy to bear the sin of the world and the grave had no power over him. We are transformed by his love into a new creation, as we continue our mortal lives in submission to him. Having our consciences cleared by his blood, we look forward to the resurrection with absolute confidence. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-4). 

Jesus’ resurrection is itself the absolute proof that sin is conquered, and the guarantee of our inheritance in the world to come. The consequence if Jesus were not raised is that, our faith is futile; we are still in our sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). 

From the victory over sin and death stems the good news that Paul proclaimed so insistently to the Jews: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus (Acts 13:32-33).

This same good news was also proclaimed to the Gentiles, and passed on through subsequent generations. The apostle Paul summarised ‘the gospel’ in a letter to the Corinthian church: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born(1 Corinthians 15: 1-8).

Believers through the ages have been confident that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in His presence (2 Corinthians 4:14). What Jesus achieved at the turning point of human history forms the basis of the Christian hope.


We considered under the topic ‘Repentance from dead works’, that separation from God is the true death suffered by all men on account of sin. We need to be born again of the Spirit and reconciled to God to gain life. 

The Holy Spirit gives life by regenerating the soul through the renewing of the mind. This happens as we learn to employ the faculties of intellect and emotion to give effect to God’s will, and no longer our own. Believers are told: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will(Romans 12:2). In this way we are restored to Adam’s original state in which man conforms to God’s perfect good and exists as an extension of His will. 

In a vision of the prophet Ezekiel, God spoke the word of life into dry bones and they assembled together and grew flesh and sinews and rose up out of the dust (Ezekiel 37). Jesus announced the fulfilment of that prophesy when he said, I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live … Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:24-25).

The time that ‘is coming and has now come’ starts with the first advent of Messiah through the proclamation of the gospel. From that time onward many who were dead in their sins and transgressions have been made alive in him, as the apostle Paul explains to the Ephesian church: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-6). 

This spiritual ‘raising up with Christ’ is called ‘the first resurrection’ (Revelation 20:5) – our crossing over from death into eternal life. But Jesus then speaks of a time that is coming – but has not yet come – when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out. 

Since all flesh is stained by sin and will perish, we will be given new and immortal bodies to live eternally in the presence of God. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, 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 (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).


The redeemed in Christ are already immortal. Jesus assured Martha before he raised Lazarus from the dead: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25-26). The ‘death’ of a believer is consequently spoken of as ‘falling asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:6, etc.). 

Yet we continue, for now, in our mortal flesh and are subject to the same pains and disappointments, frailties and diseases as the rest of humanity.We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Romans 8:22-25). 

The believer must follow Abraham’s example by taking hold of the promise by faith and then waiting in the place to which God has called him, living the rest of his mortal life in anticipation of eternity. We are told: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4). 

We have the Spirit of God as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come (2 Corinthians 5:5). The many trials we experience in the meantime are necessary to prove the genuineness of our faith. The apostle Peter writes of these in connection with the resurrection hope: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:3-7). 

A Christian will make it his primary aim to attain to the resurrection, sacrificing all things, if necessary, for this invaluable treasure. Jesus taught, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field (Matthew 13:44). 

If we have anything other than the resurrection as the primary aim of our faith, we do not have the faith of the Bible.

Questions related to this topic 

1. What is the purpose of this life if we only receive God’s promise in the resurrection? 

In the Hebrew tradition there was a long interval between engagement and marriage. The reason for this was to prove the faithfulness of the parties before they were finally joined together. Our first purpose in life is to recognise our fallen condition and seek reconciliation with our Creator. After that, we prove our faithfulness as we continue to wait for Him who is our heavenly hope. As we forsake worldly riches and ambitions, we become a testimony of this hope to others – as ambassadors of Christ and of his kingdom. We thus ‘build up treasures in heaven’ by the way we live our lives now – to the praise and glory of God. 

2. Who does the Land of Canaan belong to today? 

There is no biblical basis for a divine right of the Jews to a racially exclusive state in the present time. God warned the Israelites as they first entered the Land: The Land must not be sold permanently, because the Land is Mine and you are but aliens and My tenants(Leviticus 25:23). When they returned from Babylon, God further instructed them:  You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD (Ezekiel 47:21-23). We must nonetheless respect that God Himself determined the times set for [all the nations of men] and the exact places where they should live (Acts 17:26). This means that the modern state of Israel exists by the providential will of God and we must respect its sovereignty and the rights of all who live there. This does not mean that Christians are free to support the cause of political Zionism. All who share the faith of Abraham have an eternal hope and find their inheritance in the resurrection. These live as aliens and strangers in this world – not striving for rewards in this transient state where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). Abraham’s attitude was to let his nephew Lot have the best of the Land while he trusted and waited to receive the promise from God (Genesis 13:8-12). Those who sell out the heavenly hope for an inheritance in the mortal realm are guilty of the sin of Esau. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:19). 

3. How will we be in the resurrection? 

Many who believe in a life to come imagine themselves as disembodied spirits roving through the universe in a sublime and euphoric state. Jesus was raised in the flesh, could be seen and touched (see John 20:27) and entered the presence of God as a son of man(Daniel 7:13). The Bible teaches a physical resurrection – meaning that we will be raised with substance, and having a tangible form. The resurrection body will not have carnal desires. At the resurrection, Jesus taught, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven (Matthew 22:30). Man will be perfectly whole in the presence of God – complete and fully satisfied in Him. 

4. Are unbelievers also resurrected? 

Daniel was told that multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2). Jesus affirmed that those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:29). The physical resurrection is not only for the heirs of the kingdom, but also for all those who have scorned God’s offer of mercy and relinquished the opportunity for restoration. These do not share in the spiritual resurrection and regeneration of the soul (the first resurrection), but will be raised in a physical body for eternal judgment.