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For believers, the rising up of the dead and life after death are very important subjects. But, there are many different dogmas and claims, in regard to exactly when and how people are resurrected, after their death. Different churches and denominations are not in agreement about that matter.
Many people have been caused to think that humans have an “immortal soul”, and that after death they go either to Heaven or to “hell”. Some have even been caused to think that there is a “purgatory”. But, those concepts are not biblical. We humans are mortal. And so, when we die, that’s the end of us – unless God steps in and recreates, resurrects us. Again: We are mortal. That is why we need resurrection. That is why the apostle Paul wrote, in connection with the matter of resurrection and change to immortality, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, MKJV)
And yes, salvation is simply the same as being saved from death – being given lasting life.
This article takes a closer look at such question as these: What does the Bible really say about the matter of resurrection? How many different resurrections do the Scriptures mention? Also: Do the saints [a] still remain in the state of death as some claim, or have they been raised up, and if so, when? What about others, people who did not or do not have the Holy Spirit at the moment of their death?
a Saints: In this article, that word refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier.
Certain passages in the Greek text of the New Testament contain euphemisms where death his called “sleep”, but the actual meaning is “death”.
Death is not “sleep”. There are dogmas about “soul sleep” and “immortal soul”, but those things are not biblical. When a human dies, she ceases to exist. That is why we need resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:18 is one of the passages in question. The Greek text has the euphemism hoi koimêthentes which literally means “those who have fallen asleep”, but the actual meaning is “those who have died”. Here is a translation of that verse, with some of the context:
1 Corinthians 15:16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. (NRSV)
Here, the apostle Paul was simply making the note that were it so that those saints who had died, were not raised up, then they had perished for all time. And, his point was that that was not the case, because they were to be resurrected.
(A note: Verses 23–26 and their meaning are discussed later in this article.)
Let us read more in Paul’s letter to the saints in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 15:51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, [b] 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (NRSV, note sign added)
(Please note that in verses 51 and 52, the words “you” and “we” refer to the saints, people of the first century.)
b Verse 51, “we will not all die, but we will all be changed” – even here, the Greek text contains a euphemism where death is called “sleep”, but the NRSV translates that correctly as “we will not all die”. What Paul was saying, was that some of those whom he was writing to, would be changed, without dying, directly to the state of immortality.
(Some few translations which are based on certain Greek manuscripts with a different wording, have instead “we shall all indeed be raised, but we shall not all be changed”. That appears to be incorrect.)
Verse 52: Paul mentioned a “last” trump or blast. Later in this article, it will be considered what he meant and referred to.
Then we have 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. [c] (NRSV, note sign added)
(Later in this article, there is a bit more on 1 Thessalonians 4.)
c Verse 14 – it appears that the apostle meant that just as God had raised up his son Jesus, he would raise up even those who had “died in Jesus”.
1 Thessalonians 5:10 Christ died for us, so that we could live with him, whether we are alive or dead when he comes. (CEV)
A note: The words “you” and “we” in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and 5:10 refer to the saints, people of the first century. Later in this article, it will be considered what applies to other people.
Here is how the NRSV translates 1 Corinthians 15:20–24:
1 Corinthians 15:20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (NRSV)
Just as most translators have done, even the makers of the NRSV have added words to those verses and changed things in them. Those things have made the whole matter harder to understand. – Read on.
Verse 20 records how the apostle Paul noted that Jesus had been raised from the dead.
1 Corinthians 15:20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. (NRSV)
The actual meaning is that Jesus is the first human who was resurrected to lasting life. (He was a son of God, but also a human, through his mother. When he became a human, he gave up his immortality. And, when he on the cross gave his life in place of others, he indeed died and would have remained dead, had not God the Father resurrected him.)
The apostle continued:
1 Corinthians 15:21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. (NRSV)
Verse 21, first part: “Since death came through a human being” – a reference to Adam. Verse 21, last part: “The resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being” – a reference to Jesus. Verse 22: Paul noted that “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ”.
Then we have 1 Corinthians 15:23–26.
1 Corinthians 15
23 But, everyone in his own order:
The first-fruit: The Messiah. [d]
After this, those who belong to the Messiah, [e] at his coming.
24 Then, [f] the remaining ones, [g] when he has restored the Reign to God the Father, after he has put down all “principalities” and “authorities” and “powers”. [h] 25 For he is to rule, and to utterly put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is Death.
Please note that that passage, verses 23–26, mentions three different groups:
d The first “category” of resurrection consisted of one single person, Jesus. He was the very “first-fruit”, the first human who was raised up from the dead to lasting life.
e The second category (verse 23, last part): “Those who belong to the Messiah” (those who belong to Jesus) – which is to say, those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier. Regarding the phrase “at his coming” in the above-quoted 1 Corinthians 15:23 – those words, and 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16, refer to an event in the first century. That matter and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 are discussed later in this article. See also the article nga040.htm which considers what happened to the saints when they suddenly vanished from the scene, some time after the middle of the first century.
f Verse 24, first part, the translation “then”: The Greek text has eita which did not really mean “afterward” as some have it but more like “and then”, “then, next”, or “next after that”. (See the entry ειτα in ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott.)
g Verse 24, “the remaining ones”: The third category, which Paul called to telos. Clarification: It appears that he used that Greek phrase simply in the meaning “the rest” – “the others”, “the remaining ones”. (See the entry τελος in ‘Greek-English Lexicon’ by Liddell and Scott.)
It appears that that third group will indeed consist of “the rest”, “the others” – all who are not a part of the first two groups. And yes, that third group will contain people of past, present and future – those who had not received the Holy Spirit when they died.
h Verse 24, the words “after he has put down all ‘principalities’ and ‘authorities’ and ‘powers’” – the meaning appears to be that this third category of humans (“the rest”) will be resurrected only after Jesus has made the planet Earth a part of the Reign of God. That is, only after Satan and other wicked spirits have been captured and put to nothing.
A note: Several things in the Scriptures indicate that verse 24 refers to a resurrection to a life here on Earth, at least to begin with. (The article nta060.htm has some notes on that coming time.) In contrast to that, Jesus and the saints who had died, were after their resurrection taken to Heaven.
The resurrected group which is mentioned in Matthew 27:52, probably consisted of people who had received the Holy Spirit in Old Testament times. See the scripture-quote below, and the notes after it.
Matthew 27:50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. (NRSV)
At the time when those things happened, the first century outpouring of the Holy Spirit had not begun yet. So, the word “saints” in verse 52 probably refers to those few who had received the Holy Spirit at an earlier time.
A note: Here, it is taken that the phrase “the holy city” in verse 53 refers to the earthly Jerusalem.
Please note the words “after his resurrection”, verse 53. It was only after Jesus had been raised up, that those people of earlier times were resurrected. The last part of that verse shows that they were raised up in a form that even humans here on Earth could see. But, this does not have to mean that they were resurrected to an earthly, mortal life. (Even Jesus could show himself to humans, after his resurrection.) It is reasonable to assume that those people of Matthew 27:52–53 were raised to lasting life, just as Jesus was.
Some anti-heaven writers have used Acts 2:29 in connection with dogmas which claim that the saints would not go to Heaven and that they have not been resurrected yet. The article nba040.htm, which is about Heaven, sorts out that passage and matter.
Those verses are considered in an appendix at the end of this present article.
Many people have been subjected to various kinds of dogmas regarding 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. The following contains some notes on that passage.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 And I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, [i] that ye may not sorrow, as also the rest who have not hope, 14 for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also God those asleep [i] through Jesus he will bring with him, 15 for this to you we say in the word of the Lord, that we [j] who are living—who do remain over to the presence of the Lord [k]—may not precede those asleep, [i] 16 because the Lord himself, in a shout, in the voice of a chief-messenger, [l] and in the trump of God, [m] shall come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ shall rise first, 17 then we [j] who are living, who are remaining over, together with them shall be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in air, and so always with the Lord we shall be; 18 so, then, comfort ye one another in these words. (YLT, note signs added)
i Verses 13, 14 and 15, “sleep” – the Greek text contains euphemisms where death is called “sleep”, but the actual meaning is “those who have died”.
j Verses 15 and 17, “we” – that is, the saints, those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century. Paul wrote that letter to and regarding those people.
k Verse 15, “the presence of the Lord” – in the Greek text of that verse, the word in question is parousia which could refer to such things as “presence”, “arrival” (“coming”), “visit”, “occasion”. In this case, it is clear that Paul was talking about the first century event when Jesus came for his own. The article nga040.htm has more on this.
l Verse 16, “chief-messenger”: Here, many bible-versions do not translate the Greek noun archangelos into English but use instead that Greek word, in the transcribed form “archangel”. This has led to misunderstandings. But, just as the above-quoted YLT and some other translations have it, archangelos simply meant “chief messenger”. And, who is the chief messenger sent by God? His son Jesus, of course. (And no, that does not make an “angel” of Jesus. But he certainly acted as a messenger of God.) The article nda070.htm has more on the old Greek words angelos, “messenger”, and archangelos, “chief messenger”.
m Verse 16, “the trump of God”: Many people have been caused to confuse this trump of God with the trumpets of the seven angels of the book of Revelation. But, the apostle Paul referred to a trump which was to be sounded during the lifetime of the saints whom he was writing to, in the first century. (Here, one must keep in mind that there are trumps of God and trumpets of angels, and that they are not the same. The article nta050.htm has some notes on this.)
More, regarding the trumpet of God which is mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 – even 1 Corinthians 15:52 mentions that trump or blast. There, the apostle Paul wrote about a “last” trump or blast. What did he mean? Consider this: For instance on the occasion when the Israelites entered the Promised Land and took Jericho, trumpets were sounded several times. The last blast, a longer one (Joshua 6:5), had a special significance. So, it could be that there were several trumpet blasts even on the occasion when Jesus came to take his own (the saints) to the heavenly Promised Land, and that the last blast, perhaps a longer one, told the saints that it was the time.
1 Corinthians 15:52 At the last trumpet-call; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will rise immortal, and we, also, shall be transformed. (20CNT)
Again: The word “we” in that verse refers to the saints, including Paul.
Some have claimed that when Paul wrote those letters, “he had the timings wrong” since he said that Jesus would come for his own, during those people’s lifetime. But, Paul had been taught by the Lord and he was filled with and led by the Holy Spirit. He did not write nonsense in his letters. When he said that Jesus was soon to come for the saints (during their own life-time), he knew what he was talking about. In other words: We can expect that that event indeed took place, in the first century, just as Jesus and Paul said it would, even though it is not mentioned in such records of secular history that are accessible to us. The article nga040.htm has more on that matter.
See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendix below.
John 6:39 And this is the Father’s will which has sent me, that of all which he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. 40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day. (AKJV)
John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. (AKJV)
John 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (AKJV)
What and when was or is the “last” day which those verses mention? Really what does that phrase refer to? The last day of this planet’s existence? Or, does it refer to a common day of rising up and change, all of the saints at the same time? Or, could it be that that phrase refers to the last day of each individual saint’s earthly life?
Here, it is good to keep in mind that the New Testament passages which talk about “last days” or “last time”, often refer to things which then took place in the first century. And so, from our viewpoint those passages refer to past days. Some examples:
Hebrews 1:2, “has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” – as you can see, when those words were written, that speaking had already been done. It is the same with James 5:3, “you have heaped treasure together for the last days”, 1 Peter 1:20, “was manifest in these last times for you” and 1 John 2:18, “whereby we know that it is the last time”. All those passages refer to things and events and persons in the first century. (Point 4 in the article nga020.htm has some notes on this with “last days”.)
The meaning of the mention of a “last” day in John 6:39, 40, 44 and 54 is not as clear as it might seem at first glance. – The Scriptures contain many passages which are hard to interpret. It is best to accept that that is how things are, instead of trying to read things into the Bible.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. You can also link to these pages. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/articles.htm
Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
What happened to the saints? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → nga040.htm
The “great white throne judgment” – when will it take place? → nta060.htm
What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → nba040.htm
What does the Bible say about angels? → nda070.htm
On the different kinds of prophetic trumpets which are mentioned in the Bible – trumps of God, and those of the seven angels. Also: What did the apostle Paul mean and refer to when he wrote about a “last” trump or blast? → nta050.htm
Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → nga020.htm
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