Why I Am A Christian (#7): The Resurrection Proclaimed in the Old Testament

Icon depicting the resurrection of Christ. Courtesy of dimitrisvetsikas1969 on Pixabay
Icon depicting the resurrection of Christ. Image by dimitrisvetsikas1969 on Pixabay

[Contents] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11]

The Christian faith is not infrequently derided as irrational, delusional, fairyland. Though such arguments are sometimes made in an intellectually vigorous manner, I would argue that at least as often such arguments are made facilely, and without any proper understanding of what Christianity claims or teaches.

In spite of such attacks on the Christian faith (intellectually vigorous or otherwise), I remain a believing Christian, convinced of the truth of God’s revealed word, the Bible. In this series of eleven posts, I outline some of the reasons why I still find the Christian faith compelling and convincing.

“As a recently converted Christian twenty years ago, one of the things that really helped to confirm my faith was when I began to see the resurrection of the dead as an idea present in the Old Testament writings.”

As a recently converted Christian twenty years ago, one of the things that really helped to confirm my faith was when I began to see the resurrection of the dead as an idea present in the Old Testament writings.

The principle of the resurrection from the dead is ubiquitous in the New Testament. It is to be found, either stated or assumed, everywhere.

It is, however, less prevalent idea in the Old Testament, where it takes a bit of scratching around to find. And this fact, I don’t doubt, has led many people over the years to take the (mistaken) view that the resurrection is an entirely New Testament concept.

“If the resurrection is an Old Testament concept, then we have (yet again) a way that Jesus fulfils the pattern, or ‘job description,’ of promised Messiah that is laid out for him in the Old Testament.”

If this view were correct, one might conceive of ‘resurrection’ as an idea cleverly served up by early Christians in New Testament times as a way of justifying Jesus’ position as promised Messiah and Son of God.

Whereas if it really is an Old Testament concept, then we have (yet again) a way that Jesus fulfils the pattern, or ‘job description,’ of promised Messiah that is laid out for him in the Old Testament writings.

Thus, for me, seeing that the resurrection of the dead really was an Old Testament idea, was another compelling reason to believe in the truth of the Christian gospel, the truth of Jesus as the Son of God who died for our sins, and who will one day return in glory as Judge of the living and the dead.

Contents

But firstly, what is the resurrection?

The English word ‘resurrection’ simply means ‘rising up again.’ It comes from the Latin verb resurgō (= ‘I rise up again’), the past tense of which is resurrexī (= ‘I rose up again’).

“In the New Testament, ‘resurrection’ almost always refers to rising up again from the dead.”

In the New Testament this ‘rising up again’ almost always refers to rising up again from the dead:

“but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage…”
Luke 20:35[1]

However, in the New Testament, ‘resurrection’ is used in (at least) two distinct senses: of something that happened in the past, and of something that will happen in the future.

1. Past — The resurrection of Christ

“[… Who] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”
Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1:4[2]

The New Testament insists upon the resurrection of Jesus as an observed, historical event.

“For Paul, the observed historical resurrection of Jesus is God’s demonstration that Jesus wasn’t just an ordinary, crucified man; but that he was the Son of God, who died as a sacrificial offering for the sins of the world.”

So for example, the passage quoted above is from the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome (written c. A.D. 57[3]), and is probably earlier even than any of the four Gospels. In it, Paul assumes that his readers in Rome already accept the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event.

More than that, though: for Paul, the observed historical resurrection of Jesus is God’s demonstration that Jesus wasn’t just an ordinary, crucified man; but that he was the Son of God, who died as a sacrificial offering for the sins of the world.[4]

Another important thing to note, is that the New Testament never describes Jesus’ resurrection as merely a ‘spirit’ resurrection — that is, a ‘resurrection’ to some floaty, ethereal spirit world (i.e., the way we often conceive of heaven). Rather, it was a resurrection of the body.

“If Jesus’ resurrection was in the body, then it was observable — and therefore historically validatable. Whereas if it were a mere ‘spirit’ resurrection, how would anyone know?!”

Thus the Gospels and the other New Testament writings are insistent that the risen Jesus was seen,[5] spoke,[6] was handled,[7] and ate with his disciples.[8]

The importance of this is obvious. If Jesus’ resurrection was in the body, then it was observable — and therefore historically validatable. Whereas if he had merely undergone a ‘spirit’ resurrection, how would anybody know?!

2. Future — The resurrection of every human being who has ever lived

“The future resurrection is not restricted to those who believe in Jesus. The New Testament writings have no place for the idea that only the ‘righteous’ will participate in the resurrection, whilst the unrighteous will experience no form of afterlife whatsoever.”

The New Testament also speaks of a future resurrection. This is the resurrection in which all people who have ever lived will participate, on the day that Jesus returns in glory as Judge:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians 15:21-23[9]

This is often referred to as the ‘general resurrection’ — as opposed to the particular resurrection of Christ himself.

It is important to note that this future resurrection is not restricted to those who believe in Jesus. The New Testament writings have no place for the idea that only the ‘righteous’ will participate in the resurrection, whilst the unrighteous will experience no form of afterlife whatsoever.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [i.e., of the Son of Man, Jesus] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgement.”

John 5:28-29

On the contrary, the New Testament is abundantly clear that this resurrection is for all people. Those who are righteous (note: objectively righteous; not ‘self-righteous’) will be raised up to everlasting bliss; those who are unrighteous will be raised up to everlasting torment.[10]

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” [emphasis mine].
Luke 14:13-14[11]

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [i.e., of the Son of Man, Jesus] and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgement.”
John 5:28-29[12]

“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”
Mark 9:47-48[13]

Thus, in the New Testament, the resurrection is both a past event (that of Christ) and a future event (that of everybody). And it is a resurrection which takes place in the body — so that the body may experience the rewards or punishments due to it based on one’s acceptance or rejection of Christ in this life.

But is this resurrection simply a New Testament idea — or is it actually present in the Old Testament?

Is the resurrection found in the Old Testament?

“The resurrection of the dead is an idea found or assumed everywhere in the New Testament. But it takes a bit more scratching around to find it in the Old Testament. And I don’t doubt that this has led some to believe that the idea of ‘resurrection’ was one cleverly served up by early Christians in New Testament times as a way of justifying Jesus’ position as promised Messiah and Son of God.”

As we said earlier, the resurrection of the dead (of Christ, or of everybody) is an idea found or assumed everywhere in the New Testament.

But it takes a bit more scratching around to find it in the Old Testament.

And I don’t doubt that this has led some to believe that the idea of ‘resurrection’ was one cleverly served up by early Christians in New Testament times as a way of justifying Jesus’ position as promised Messiah and Son of God.

Jordan Peterson even goes so far as to say that the doctrine of bodily resurrection is one which Christianity incorporated from the earlier belief system of Zoroastrianism.[14]

However, the fact that the resurrection is harder to find in the Old Testament than in the New, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there in the Old Testament writings.

Below I present four Old Testament passages — at least the first three of which are too early for their writers to have imbibed Zoroastrian ideas, which would only have begun to feed into Jewish thinking in the decades following the Babylonian exile[15] — that clearly speak of bodily resurrection.

Exhibit A: Psalm 16

I have set the LORD[16] always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
Psalm 16:8-11[17]

If we take the heading of this psalm at face value, that it was a composition of King David, then it must have been written around the first half of the 10th century B.C.[18] This is far too early for the psalm to have borrowed Zoroastrian ideas of resurrection.

“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy…”

Psalm 16:10-11

In it, David says that God “will not abandon my soul to Sheol [= the grave], or let your holy one see corruption [i.e., the corruption of the grave].”

Moreover, “you [God] make known to me the path of life” — that is, life after the grave. And “at your [i.e., God’s] right hand are pleasures for evermore.”

In other words, David is speaking in this psalm about liberation from grave, and “pleasures for evermore” in the presence of God.

The remarkable thing about this psalm is that it was never fulfilled by David himself; he died and was buried, and decayed in the earth.[19] But the psalm was fulfilled about 1,000 years later by Jesus of Nazareth, whose body did not decay in the earth. And according to the New Testament, Jesus is even now at the right hand of God, enjoying pleasures for evermore.

Exhibit B: Psalm 22

“If Psalm 22 is indeed a composition of King David, then once again it must date from around the first half of the 10th century B.C. — far too early for Zoroastrian influence.”

Psalm 22 is a remarkable psalm. If anybody reading this thinks that the crucifixion of Jesus was just a tragic accident, having no real theological significance for the world, I would urge you to read through this psalm and see how clearly it was fulfilled by Jesus. (I wrote a more detailed analysis of this psalm in Part #5 of this series, here.)

Like Psalm 16, this psalm is headed as being a composition of King David. Once again, that means it must date from around the first half of the 10th century B.C. — far too early for Zoroastrian influence.

After speaking at length of his own suffering, agony, and mockery by the people (verses 1-18), the psalmist then suddenly speaks of renewed life:

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him…”

Psalm 22:22-23

You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live for ever!
Psalm 22:21b-26[20]

And again, a little farther along:

All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Psalm 22:29[21]

Within the context and sweep of the whole psalm, these verses towards the end are clearly speaking about new life after the psalmist’s suffering and agony.

“The psalm certainly does seem to be speaking of something beyond mere rescue; it seems to be speaking of renewed, everlasting life beyond the grave.”

It is not quite clear in the psalm whether the psalmist actually died as a result of his suffering in the earlier part of the psalm (and remember, this is prophetic: the psalmist therefore doesn’t have to have died to be writing about these things in the past tense!). It is certainly arguable from the text of the psalm, that what is envisaged here is a divine rescue of the psalmist from his agony and suffering — and his placing the psalmist in a position of security from which he can again praise God “in the midst of the congregation.”

However, that something beyond mere deliverance in this life is envisaged, is clear when we consider,

May your hearts live for ever! [emphasis mine]

and,

before him shall bow all who go down to the dust [i.e., of death],
even the one who could not keep himself alive.

This certainly does seem to be speaking of something beyond mere rescue; it seems to be speaking of renewed, everlasting life beyond the grave.[22]

Exhibit C: Isaiah 53

“Although written probably during the Babylonian exile, Isaiah 53 is still too early for its writer to have imbibed Zoroastrian ideas of bodily resurrection. Such borrowings from Zoroastrianism, if they occurred, would have taken at least several decades to feed into the consciousness of the Jewish people even in exile in Babylon. Whereas when we read this portion of the book of Isaiah, we are reading something that is firmly rooted in Jewish thought — Jewish thought in a highly developed form, yes; but nonetheless, Jewish thought.”

Chapter 53 of the book of the prophet Isaiah is another remarkable Old Testament passage.

It is centuries later than the previous two passages, being written probably during the Babylonian exile of the 6th century B.C. (approx. 586 to 537 B.C.[23]). However, this is still too early for its writer to have imbibed Zoroastrian ideas of bodily resurrection. Such borrowings from Zoroastrianism, if they occurred, would have taken at least several decades to feed into the consciousness of the Jewish people even in exile in Babylon. Whereas when we read this portion of the book of Isaiah,[24] we are reading something that is firmly rooted in Jewish thought — Jewish thought in a highly developed form, yes; but nonetheless, Jewish thought.

In chapter 53, we read of the suffering[25] and death[26] of the ‘Servant of the Lord’ — or ‘my servant’ as 52:13 says. It really is a remarkable passage, and again I would urge anybody reading this who doubts that Jesus’ crucifixion and death were of a real theological significance to read this passage.

However, after the account of the Servant’s suffering, death and burial, a remarkable turnaround occurs:

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53:10-12[27]

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

Isaiah 53:10

According to this passage, after the Servant’s anguish and death (which the writer calls “an offering for guilt”),

he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days…

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied…

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors…

Once again this is clearly speaking of the Servant’s participating in renewed, resurrection life — everlasting resurrection life (“he shall prolong his days”) — after his sacrificial death. As the risen Jesus himself said to two disciples on the road to Emmaus,

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” [emphasis mine]
Luke 24:25-26[28]

Exhibit D: Daniel 12

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”

Daniel 12:2-3

The preceding three passages all spoke of the bodily resurrection of a ‘holy one’ who was to come. From New Testament times onward, Christians have always viewed these passages as having been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (and with good reason, as I hope I have gone some way to showing).

Chapter 12 of the book of the prophet Daniel is different in that it speaks of the general resurrection — the resurrection of all people who have ever lived, to final judgement and either to everlasting reward or punishment.

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”
Daniel 12:2-3[29]

Of our four passages this evening, Daniel 12 is certainly the latest. Taken at face value it was written right at the end of the Babylonian exile — that is, around 539 B.C.[30] Some scholars regard it, however, as much later, perhaps as late as the second century B.C.

“The book of Daniel is a fully-fledged Old Testament book and was regarded as divinely inspired Scripture by Jesus himself, and by the apostles. And so when we read in the New Testament about the general resurrection to everlasting life, or to everlasting punishment, we are reading an Old Testament idea. The general resurrection of the dead is not something that was sprouted by the New Testament writers.”

Of all the Old Testament passages before us, therefore, this is the one that could have imbibed Zoroastrian ideas from a chronological perspective.

Be this the case or no, the book of Daniel is a fully-fledged Old Testament book and was regarded as divinely inspired Scripture by Jesus himself (see Matthew 24:15-16; Mark 13:14), and by the apostles (see, e.g., 2 Thessalonians 2:3-5 which seems to be alluding to Daniel 9:24-27).

And so when we read in the New Testament about the (general) resurrection to everlasting life, or to everlasting punishment, we are reading an Old Testament idea. The (general) resurrection of the dead is not something that was sprouted by the New Testament writers.

And therefore I come back to the point I made at the beginning of this post. When Jesus rose up from the dead, he was fulfilling part of the Old Testament’s ‘job description’ of what it means to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God.

And when the apostles went out and proclaimed repentance and forgiveness of sins to those who would believe in Jesus and accept him as Lord, they were not preaching something unheard-of. They were preaching an idea which is right there in the Old Testament:

“[… B]ut God raised him on the third day and caused him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Acts 10:40-43[31]

*        *        *

In the next instalment in this series, we will consider why the Old Testament’s self-admission of incompleteness is a further reason to believe in the truth of Christianity.

[Contents] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11]

 

 

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+20%3A35&version=ESVUK

[2] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A4&version=ESVUK

[3] Holy Bible: English Standard Version : Anglicized Edition. (London: Collins, 2007), p.1011.

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 2:2

[5] e.g., Matthew 28:8-9; John 20:19-20

[6] Ibid.

[7] e.g., Matthew 28:8-9; Luke 24:39-40; John 20:24-27

[8] e.g., Luke 24:41-43; Acts 10:39-41

[9] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+15%3A21-23&version=ESVUK

[10] The criterion by which ‘righteous’/’unrighteous’ is determined is acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ as God’s Messiah, the sacrificial offering for one’s sins, and as Lord of one’s own life. There is no room in this determination for self-righteousness; nor is there any room for righteousness by being a ‘good enough’ member of society. The New Testament is abundantly clear on this: ‘righteous’ is not a designation by which Christians can boast about themselves; it is a designation based purely on God’s gracious acceptance of us, by our trust in, and acceptance of, Jesus.

[11] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+14%3A13-14&version=ESVUK

[12] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+5%3A28-29&version=ESVUK

[13] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+9%3A47-48&version=ESVUK

[14] Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (New York: Routledge, 1999), p.318.

[15] The Babylonian exile lasted from 586 B.C. until 537 B.C., according to https://biblehub.com/timeline/old.htm.

[16] The capitalization of certain occurrences of ‘Lord’ in most English translations of the Old Testament is a device used to distinguish between two different Hebrew words both translated ‘Lord.’

[17] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+16%3A8-11&version=ESVUK

[18] King David reigned approximately from 1000 to 961 B.C. according to the chronology of W.F. Albright. See The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version ; Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Anglicized ed (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995), sec. Chronological Tables of Rulers (New Testament section, p.262).

[19] Cf. Acts 2:22-33, which is a New Testament commentary on this psalm.

[20] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+22%3A21-26&version=ESVUK

[21] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+22%3A29&version=ESVUK

[22] I have written a more detailed analysis of this psalm in Part #5 of this series, here.

[23] See note 15, supra.

[24] ‘This portion’ of Isaiah’s book is often regarded as Isaiah 40—55, by those who regard this section as written by a ‘second Isaiah’ (i.e., not the writer Isaiah who wrote the first 39 chapters), and also the final eleven chapters of the book as written by a later and still third ‘Isaiah.’

[25] 53:2-6

[26] 53:7-9

[27] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+53%3A10-12&version=ESVUK

[28] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+24%3A25-26&version=ESVUK

[29] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+12%3A2-3&version=ESVUK

[30] So Daniel 10:1, “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia.” https://biblehub.com/timeline/old.htm gives the date of Daniel 10—12 as 539 B.C., although Wikipedia gives the dates of his reign as king of Babylon as 539—530 B.C., which would make this prophecy from about 537.

[31] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+10%3A40-43&version=ESVUK

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