On what the Bible says about the matter of resurrection

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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 concerning that matter.

Many people have been caused to think that humans have an “immortal soul”, and that they after death go either to Heaven or to “hell”. Some others have been caused to think that humans are after their death taken to a “purgatory” where they are “cleaned” by a long-lasting torture in fire. There are even dogmas regarding “soul sleep”. Those things are not biblical, but to a certain degree they are based on misunderstandings caused by confusing wordings in bible-translations.

The reason why we humans need resurrection, is that we are mortal. When we die, that’s the end of us – unless God steps in and recreates, resurrects us.

Again: We humans are mortal. That is why the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth, 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 contains a study on what the Bible says about the matter of resurrection. It considers such question as these: How many different resurrections do the Scriptures mention? Also: Do the saints 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?

(“Saints”: In this article, that word refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century or earlier.)

On New Testament passages where death is called ‘falling asleep’.

Many English translations of the New Testament contain passages where death is referred to as “sleep”. It could be that the concept “soul sleep” is for some part based on such translations.

This has to do with the ancient Greek custom of using words of “good omen” (euphêmia), instead of saying how things really are. An example of this is that when people died, it was said that they had “fallen asleep”. 1 Corinthians 15:18 and 20 contain examples of this. There, the Greek text has hoi koimêthentes respectively tôn kekoimêmenôn which literally mean “those having fallen asleep”, but the actual meaning is “those who have died”, just as the below-quoted NRSV has it.

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, highlighting added)

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.

That has nothing to do with the “soul sleep” concept or dogma which some writers have created.

(A note: Verses 23–26 and their meaning are discussed later in this article.)

1 Corinthians 15:51–55 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14.

Let us read more in the apostle 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, [a] 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)

a 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”, but 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.

Please note that the words “you” and “we” in verses 51 and 52 refer to the people whom Paul wrote that letter to, the saints in Corinth, along with Paul and the other saints in the first century. Later in this article, there are some notes on what applies to people of other times.

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. [b] (NRSV, note sign added)

(Later in this article, there is a bit more on 1 Thessalonians 4.)

b Verse 14, “bring” – it appears that the apostle meant that just as God had raised up his son Jesus, he would also raise (bring forth) 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)

Please note that even here, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and 5:10, the words “you” and “we” refer to the saints, people of the first century. Concerning what applies to other people, read on:

1 Corinthians 15 mentions different resurrections.

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)

In verses 23–26, the makers of the NRSV added words and changed things, just as most translators have done. Those added and changed things have made the whole passage and matter harder to understand. Read on, for more on this.

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 first fruits of those who have died” – that is, 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, here in a different translation.

1 Corinthians 15

23 But, everyone in his own order:

The first-fruit: The Messiah. [c]

After this, those who belong to the Messiah, [d] at his coming.

24 Then, [e] the remaining ones, [f] when he has restored the Reign to God the Father, after he has put down all “principalities” and “authorities” and “powers”. [g] 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:

c 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.

d Another 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 rga042.htm which considers what happened to the saints when they suddenly vanished from the scene, some time after the middle of the first century.

e Verse 24, first part, the translation “then”: The Greek text has eita which does not really mean “afterward” as some bible-versions 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.)

f Verse 24, “the remaining ones”: A third resurrection category, which Paul called to telos. Clarification: It appears that he used that Greek phrase 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 times.

g 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 an earthly life, at least to begin with. The article rta061.htm has some notes on that coming time. In contrast to that, Jesus and the saints were taken to Heaven. The articles rba043.htm and rxa102.htm have more on this. (There is also the great, innumerable multitude. The book of Revelation shows that they will be by God’s throne in Heaven, and so, it is clear that even they will be taken to Heaven. The article rta032.htm has some notes on the great multitude and the 144000, and the difference between those groups.)

Acts 2:29 and the matter of resurrection.

Some anti-Heaven writers have used Acts 2:29 in connection with dogmas which claim that the saints were not to go to Heaven and that they have not been resurrected yet. The article rba043.htm, which is about Heaven, sorts out that passage and matter.

John 6 and the verses which talk about a ‘last’ day, in connection with the matter of resurrection.

Those verses are considered in an appendix at the end of this present article.

The resurrection of Matthew 27:52.

The group which was resurrected as is recorded in Matthew 27:52, probably consisted of people who had received the Holy Spirit in earlier times, before the outpouring which is mentioned in Acts 2. 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 [h] were raised. 53 After his resurrection [i] they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. (NRSV, note sign added)

h Verse 52, “the saints who had fallen sleep” – even here, the Greek text contains an euphemism where death is called “sleep”, but the actual meaning is “the saints who had died”. A note: At the time of that resurrection, the first century outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2, 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.

i Verse 53 – please note the words “after his resurrection”. It was only after Jesus had been raised up, that the saints 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 the in verses 52 and 53 mentioned saints were raised to lasting life, just as Jesus was.

A note: Here, it is taken that the phrase “the holy city” in verse 53 refers to the earthly Jerusalem.

More on 1 Thessalonians 4.

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, [j] 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 [j] through Jesus he will bring with him, 15 for this to you [k] we say in the word of the Lord, that we [k] who are living—who do remain over to the presence of the Lord [l]—may not precede those asleep, [j] 16 because the Lord himself, in a shout, in the voice of a chief-messenger, [m] and in the trump of God, [n] shall come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ shall rise first, 17 then we [k] 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)

j Verses 13, 14 and 15, “asleep” – the Greek text contains an euphemism where death is referred to as “falling asleep”, but the actual meaning is “those who have died”.

k Verses 15 and 17, “you” and “we” – that is, the saints, including Paul himself. Paul wrote that letter to the saints in Thessalonica, in the first century.

l Verse 15, “the presence of the Lord” – the Greek text has 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 articles rga042.htm and rga052.htm have more on this.

m 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 many misunderstandings. But, just as the above-quoted YLT has it, archangelos simply means “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 was and is a messenger sent by God.) The article rda071.htm has more on the old Greek words angelos, “messenger”, and archangelos, “chief messenger”.

n Verse 16, “the trump of God”: Various dogmas have caused many people to confuse this trump of God with the trumpets of the seven angels of the book of Revelation. Here, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 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. (Keep in mind that there are trumps of God and trumpets of angels, and that they are not the same. The article rta051.htm has some notes on this.)

More, regarding the trump 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. Last – in what way? Consider this: For instance on the occasion when the ancient Israelites entered the earthly Promised Land and took the stronghold 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.

A note: Some writers have claimed that the apostle Paul “had the timings wrong” when he said that Jesus would come for those people while they were still alive. But, Paul had been taught by the Lord and was only echoing what Jesus had said. He wrote those things “in the word of the Lord”, verse 50. He did not write nonsense in his letters. When he said that Jesus was soon to come for the saints (during their lifetime, in the first century), he knew what he was talking about. So, 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 rga042.htm has more on this matter.

See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendix below.

Appendix – Regarding John 6, resurrection, and the phrase ‘last day’.

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)

Really what does the phrase “last day” in those verses 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” (see the context), 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 rga021.htm has some notes on this with “last days”.

We do know the exact date for the “last day” which John 6:39, 40, 44 and 54 refer to. But, multiple New Testament passages make it clear that the saints were to be changed or resurrected, some time in the first century. Probably, that happened around year 70.

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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. → rsa092.htm

On the King James version. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa032.htm

On the word “saint” and what it means and refers to, in the Bible. → rga032.htm

What happened to the saints of the New Testament? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → rga042.htm

Are parousia and rapture biblical concepts? → rga052.htm

The “great white throne judgment” – when will it take place? → rta061.htm

Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? Also, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1–4? → rta032.htm

What does the Bible say about Heaven? Were the saints to go there? What about others? What does it look like, in Heaven? → rba043.htm

Hebrews 4:9, the sabbatismos or rest which the saints were to enter – a clarification of its actual nature. → rxa102.htm

What does the Bible say about angels? → rda071.htm

On the different kinds of prophetic trumpets that 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? → rta051.htm

Easy keys to deeper understanding of the Scriptures. → rga021.htm

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