This article is part of the What Did Jesus Teach? series.
Teaching on Resurrection Hope
The four Gospels present to us the serpent crusher and curse bearer.1 He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, and baptized in the Jordan River. He taught and ministered throughout the land of Israel, died outside Jerusalem on a cross, and rose from the dead on the third day as the firstfruits of resurrection glory. “This death and the following resurrection victory serve as a shockwave that moves out from Jerusalem and slowly awakens the world to a new beginning.”2 We need to look at the truths he taught, the wonders he performed, and the victory he accomplished.
The One in Whom Is Life
The incarnation was when the Word became flesh, and with that the wisdom, love, mercy, and life of God became flesh as well. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Because of who he is, his words are the words of life (John 6:68), and his way is the way of life (Matt. 7:14).
The ministry of Jesus invaded this world like light piercing the darkness. As he traveled throughout the promised land, his light dawned on the needy and the outcast. The helpless and the destitute were objects of his blessing. He pronounced beatitudes for the meek, the mourning, and the merciful. For people with eyes to truly see, his deeds demonstrated who he was and is.
But his claims reveal his identity as well. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). He gives life without being depleted. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (8:12). His way is life and light because he is life and light. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (11:25–26). Jesus came to be the giver of life. This life would be sin-defeating and death-conquering.
The age of the resurrection has dawned in him. Do you believe this?
When All in the Tombs Will Hear Him
The deliverance of people from death during the ministry of Jesus was a foreshadowing of that final day when all the dead will be raised. Just as the widow’s son and Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus obeyed the voice of Jesus and revived, so also the tombs will open at the voice of Jesus. Disease and demons must submit to him, and his dominion will subdue death as well. Jesus said,
Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25–29)
These five verses may be the most significant statements Jesus ever made about the general resurrection. At the beginning of these verses, Jesus is teaching that there is true life here and now for sinners—the spiritual life which he alone gives.3 He is bread and light, salvation and resurrection. In union with him, sinners live now, though outwardly they are still wasting away.
The end of these verses is about the coming bodily resurrection of all people. His words include believers and unbelievers because he speaks of “those who have done good” and “those who have done evil.” That duality is the division of mankind based on what people have done with Jesus. If Jesus is their Savior, they will be raised “to the resurrection of life.” If Jesus is not their Savior, then he is their Judge, and they will be raised “to the resurrection of judgment.”
The language in John 5:29 alludes to Daniel 12:2, for that Old Testament verse is the clearest expression of the future resurrection—for both the righteous and the wicked—that will establish everlasting states. The power that God’s Son has displayed in the promised land is certainly impressive and mindboggling, but it will be surpassed in scope when he gives life to all the dead that have ever lived. Do you believe this?
Rising Up at the Judgment
Jesus taught that the future judgment occurs after the resurrection of the dead. The dead will be gathered for judgment. Jesus rebuked his contemporary generation for such widespread rejection and skepticism of his ministry and identity. And he warned them that they would face judgment:
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matt. 12:41–42)
Looking carefully at the language, we notice that the “men of Nineveh” and the “queen of the South” represent those who know the Lord, and “this generation” represents those who do not know the Lord. These groups, however, will “rise up” together at the judgment. Jesus, who is greater than Jonah and greater than Solomon, will hold the nations to account. This promise of rising and judgment is parallel in meaning to John 5:28–29 and reflects the influence of Daniel 12:2. Jesus warns that the wicked will rise for judgment because he believes what the Old Testament teaches.
Gathering All the Nations
The coming judgment and resurrection are associated with glory and authority:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. (Matt. 25:31–33)
Jesus will gather the nations by resurrection. Raising the nations will lead to judging the nations. The placements of people on the “right” and “left” signify their differing eternal states. The righteous will be raised for everlasting life, and the wicked will be raised for everlasting punishment (25:46).4 The wicked will depart from the Lord into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (25:41). The saints will “inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world” (25:34).
One purpose of resurrection for God’s people, therefore, is that they might inherit, as embodied image bearers, all that God has prepared for them. God’s children will not remain disembodied heirs. The glory before us is too great; the kingdom too glorious. Such coming glory can only be received by people who are themselves glorified.
Shining like the Sun in the Kingdom
The future glorious state of God’s people is depicted in a parable. In Jesus’s parable of the weeds, he taught that seeds and weeds grow together in the field of this world until the time of reaping, known as the harvest at the end of the age. On that day, the weeds will be separated from the harvest and cast into the fire (Matt. 13:40–42). This casting represents the eternal judgment of the wicked.
Jesus said, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43). He thus described the righteous in language alluding to Daniel 12:3: “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”5 For the righteous, rising leads to shining because of the power of God endowing his embodied image-bearers with glory and honor
The God of the Living
The Sadducees should have learned from the Torah that God is “not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32). The patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—had been gathered to their people at death, but death was not the end of their life. The covenant God whom they served would raise them. His blessings would overcome all aspects of fallenness and the curse—including death. Would the God of the covenant reverse the corruption of this world and leave death undone?
God’s children will not remain disembodied heirs. The glory before us is too great; the kingdom too glorious.
Jesus pointed the Sadducees to the book of Exodus. “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” (Matt. 22:31–32, citing Ex. 3:6). Resurrection hope is reasonable in light of the covenant God who is life and gives life.6 After all, God had enabled Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to have offspring through wives who had been barren. These patriarchs had experienced the power of God in their families as he resurrected their family lines and advanced their progeny.
If the Sadducees had the spiritual discernment to read the Torah with understanding, they would have seen the God of life continually at work against the forces of death.
Prophesying a Third-Day Resurrection
The disciples of Jesus heard him teach on at least a few occasions that he was going to be rejected, suffer at the hands of others, be killed, and rise from the dead. In Matthew 17, he put it this way: “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matt. 17:22–23).
In the four Gospels, Jesus not only taught a future resurrection of the dead for all people at his return, he taught that he himself would be raised from the dead in the middle of human history. He would be the pioneer of resurrection life and glory. He would be the first to shine in the way Daniel 12:2–3 describes. He would inaugurate the new creation work of God in his victory over death.
Notice that he specified the “third day.” Given the multiple instances of third-day deliverances in the Old Testament (like Isaac, Hezekiah, Jonah, or Esther), Jesus’s prophecy connects to that pattern and will fulfill it. Though his disciples, like other faithful readers of the Old Testament, would have expected a general resurrection of the dead at an appointed time, they were not expecting one man to inaugurate the resurrection by his own vindication in history.
The narratives in the four Gospels introduce us to the one who would bear our sins on the cross and rise from the dead on the third day. His teachings affirmed a future resurrection for the righteous and the wicked, but he himself was raised in the middle of history as the firstfruits of the life that will be ours. At his return he will call to the tombs, and all will come forth. The wicked will experience an unending embodied judgment, but we, as the saints of God, will enter the joy and glory that is ours in Christ. Union with Christ means that because he lives, we will live. The lifegiving power of the Son of God will transform our perishable and vulnerable state. We will shine like the sun—and like the Son.
- See Andrew David Naselli, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer, Short Studies in Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020).
- Kelly M. Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017), 80.
- G. K. Beale writes, “John 5:24–29 sees the resurrection of the saints predicted in Dan. 12:2 as being inaugurated in Jesus’ ministry” (The Book of Revelation, New International Greek Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998], 434).
- According to Murray Harris, “Of course the details of the picture cannot be pressed, but the phrases . . . more easily comport with the idea of judgment on resurrected persons than with judgment on disembodied spirits” (Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985], 174–75).
- Schreiner, The King in His Beauty, 444.
- According to Brandon Crowe, “Though Exodus 3 does not include the terminology of resurrection, Jesus’s argument assumes that God’s covenantal promises to the patriarchs remain in force, even though the patriarchs died (cf. Luke 20:28). If the latter is true, then it must mean that God will fulfill his promises to the patriarchs; this time of fulfillment must refer to the resurrection age” The Hope of Israel: The Resurrection of Christ in the Acts of the Apostles [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020], 155).
This article is adapted from Resurrection Hope and the Death of Death.
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