Does the Bible teach that there will be an actual physical resurrection? Is death like sleep? Is there more than one resurrection? What did early Christians teach after the last book of the Bible was written?
This article will look to the Bible and to the writings of early Christian leaders to answer these important questions.
The Book of Daniel mentions the following prophetic event:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:2-4, NKJV throughout).
The above passage shows that death is like sleep. It also refers to a resurrection to everlasting life and resurrection to shame and to everlasting contempt. Notice that those who are wise will shine and still, after they shall awake, turn many to righteousness. Since they cannot turn those who are raised to everlasting contempt to life, who are they turning to life?
God showed Ezekiel that the dead would physically rise and then have life. And the group that God raised felt that they had no hope, hence they were not true believers (the truly righteous). But God says that they still have an opportunity, hence these are not the ones who rise for everlasting contempt. These may be the ones who are shamed as they simply did not follow God's way of life.
Notice what God said and had done:
A nd He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" So I answered, "O Lord GOD, You know." Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: "Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD." ' "
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." ' " So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' "Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it," says the LORD.' " (Ezekiel 37:3-14).
Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs, And the earth shall cast out the dead (Isaiah 26:19).
Although this seems clear that there is a physical resurrection, not all Jewish leaders believed this at the time (Isaiah 26:14). And those in the dust would seem to include those that died, including those that may have been cremated. Cremation does not seem to have been biblically prohibited (cf. 1 Samuel 31:12; 1 Chronicles 34:2,5), though burial seemed to be preferable (1 Samuel 31:12-13).
Even in Jesus' day, there were religious leaders who did not believe that the Bible truly taught a physical resurrection:
The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection (Matthew 22:23).
But look at what Jesus said to them:
Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:29-32).
Hence, Jesus confirmed the idea that Jewish leaders, just from the Old Testament, should have understood that there would be a physical resurrection.
Jesus Himself also taught about multiple resurrections:
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29).
Jesus specifically taught that there would be a resurrection time that did not involve the saints and that it would be different for those were not incorrigibly wicked when He taught:
And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you (Matthew 11:23-24).
It is biblically clear that those in Sodom were sinners:
But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD (Genesis 13:13).
But notice that Jesus said that there would be a time of judgment, more tolerable for them, than for those who in Capernaum rejected Him. Those in Sodom will undoubtedly be ashamed of their actions when they are resurrected, and they obvious must not be permanently condemned, or Jesus' statement about it being more tolerable for them would be meaningless. Thus, Jesus taught about three different resurrections.
Jesus also made it clear that physical death was like sleep:
"Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well." However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead" (John 11:11-14).
Paul also taught the same message that Jesus taught about death being like sleep as well as the resurrections:
15 I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15).
Paul also wrote:
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
14 Therefore He says:
"Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light." (Ephesians 5:14)
Paul also apparently ran into those that professed that they believed in Christ, but who, in spite of his and Jesus' preaching, did not seem to accept the truth about the resurrection:
Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished (1 Corinthians 15:12-18).
Paul taught that all would be resurrected, but that there would be a specific order of resurrection, as all would not be resurrected at the same time:
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
Yet, when Christians are resurrected, unlike others to be resurrected (as shown in Ezekiel), they are resurrected immortal (which means that they are NOT now immortal):
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
Notice that Paul taught that being a Christian like him was not enough in this life, as even Paul had not attained the resurrection:
I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended (Philipians3:8-13).
Thus, the immortality attained at the resurrection is not something that Christians have today.
But Paul also understood that God has a plan to save more than he was able to reach :
What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: "God has given them a spirit of stupor, Eyes that they should not see And ears that they should not hear, To this very day." And David says: "Let their table become a snare and a trap, A stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, And bow down their back always." I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, If by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, Do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in." Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins" (Romans 11:7-27).
Notice that many were blinded. God did not allow them to see in this age. And these include those that have long been dead. Are they doomed to eternal torment by a loving God because He allowed them to be blinded now?
Jesus explained, "If you were blind, you would have no sin" (John 9:41). (See also Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasis.)
It should be noted that when Paul uses the term "all Israel," he seems to be referring to "spiritual Israel" (as opposed to physical Israel). For earlier in Romans he wrote, "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God" (Romans 2:28-29). Also, related proof exists in the Old Testament as God promises to "pour out My Spirit on all flesh" (Joel 2:28) and Isaiah 2:2-3 specifically shows that all nations and many people will come to learn God's ways.
According to Hegesippus c. 170:
James, the Lord's brother, succeeds to the government of the Church, in conjunction with the apostles. He has been universally called the Just, from the days of the Lord down to the present time...Now some persons belonging to the seven sects existing among the people, which have been before described by me in the Notes, asked him: "What is the door of Jesus? " And he replied that He was the Saviour. In Consequence of this answer, some believed that Jesus is the Christ. But the sects before mentioned did not believe, either in a resurrection or in the coming of One to requite every man according to his works; but those who did believe, believed because of James (Hegesippus. Translated by Roberts and Donaldson. Concerning the martyrdom of James, the brother of the Lord, from Book V).
And what were the seven sects? Notice:
Thebulis it was who, displeased because he was not made bishop, first began to corrupt her by stealth. He too was connected with the seven sects which existed among the people, like Simon, from whom come the Simoniani; and Cleobius, from whom come the Cleobiani; and Doritheus, from whom come the Dorithiani; and Gorthaeus, from whom come the Gortheani; Masbothaeus, from whom come the Masbothaei. From these men also come the Menandrianists, and the Marcionists, and the Carpocratians, and the Valentinians, and the Basilidians, and the Saturnilians. Each of these leaders in his own private and distinct capacity brought in his own private opinion. From these have come false Christs, false prophets, false apostles-men who have split up the one Church into parts through their corrupting doctrines, uttered in disparagement of God and of His Christ...(Hegesippus. Translated by Roberts and Donaldson. Concerning his journey to Rome, and the Jewish sects).
In other words, while James taught the resurrection, it was those associated with early heretics who did not. Apparently, according to Hegesippus, any today who do not properly accept the resurrection are following the lead of those heretics.
Perhaps the most detailed account of the resurrections in the New Testament were written by the Apostle John. In the Book of Revelation, he was told to write about the first resurrection:
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6).
The Book of Hebrews (11:35) calls this the "better resurrection."
But John was also told to write about two others. The second, that he does actually call a resurrection (similar to how Jesus specifically only referred to the first and third as resurrections, though He mentioned the time of the second), and a third which involves those unjust resurrected to destruction (everlasting contempt):
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death (Revelation 20:12-14).
So from John's writings, we see that there was to be a first resurrection, followed by a time when "the rest of the dead" physically lived again (the second resurrection), and then followed by a time where "Death and Haydes" (those part of the third resurrection) are to be judged and to die a second time in the lake of fire.
Perhaps it should be mentioned that according to Catholic scholars, the Christians that kept closest to the Apostle John's practices (sometimes called Nazarenes or Judaeo-Christians) did understand that there were three resurrections. Here is what the Catholic scholar Bagatti wrote:
St. Gregory of Nyssa…he himself was not considered a true Christian by some who held the three resurrections, the millenarianism, the restoration of the Temple with bloody sacrifices; these are all doctrines of the Judaeo-Christians (Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi, 13 Maii 1970. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari, 14 Junii 1970. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, 1971, p.11).
So, near the end of the 4th century there were people that did not consider that the Constantinian Greco-Romans were Christians and they held to the doctrine of three resurrections. Like the Judea-Christians mentioned above, we in the genuine Church of God do believe in the three resurrections, millenarianism, the restoration of bloody sacrifices (but we do not believe that a Temple has to be rebuilt in this age for that to occur--nor is it clear that was a required position by the Judaeo-Christians of the late 4th century—but we do accept that will occur in the millennium as per Zecharian 14:21).
Ignatius of Antioch, in the early second century, wrote:
Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and ate and drank. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life. (Ignatius. Letter to the Trallians, Chapter 9. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0106.htm>)
Polycarp of Smyrna was a disciple of the Apostle John, the last of the original apostles to die. He also knew Ignatius.
Here is some of what Polycarp wrote:
But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, falsewitness; "not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing," or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter II. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).
Polycarp taught that the body and soul were to be resurrected, hence he taught against the immortality of the soul doctrine:
I bless you for because you have considered me worthy of this day and hour, that I might receive a place among the number of martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 14:2. In Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers, Greek Texts and English Translations. Baker Books, Grand Rapids (MI), 2004, p.239).
Theophilus of Antioch in the mid-late second century wrote:
But you do not believe that the dead are raised. When the resurrection shall take place, then you will believe, whether you will or no; and your faith shall be reckoned for unbelief, unless you believe now...Moreover, you believe that the images made by men are gods, and do great things; and can you not believe that the God who made you is able also to make you afterwards? (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter VII. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
But the moon wanes monthly, and in a manner dies, being a type of man; then it is born again, and is crescent, for a pattern of the future resurrection (Theophilus of Antioch. To Autolycus, Book II, Chapter XV. Translated by Marcus Dods, A.M. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Notice that Theophilus is teaching that there will be those born again at the resurrection. And that he taught that unbelievers would be raised whether they believed him or not--which is a different resurrection.
Polycrates of Ephesus in the late second century wrote and told the Roman Bishop Victor that death is like sleep, and those sleeping Christians would be raised up:
For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the last day, at the coming of the Lord, when he shall come with glory from heaven and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis, and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and moreover John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and being a priest wore the sacerdotal plate. He also sleeps at Ephesus (Eusebius. Church History, Book III, Chapter 31. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapter 24).
Hence, second century Christian writers understood that death is like sleep and that there would be actual resurrections.
There were other religious leaders, outside the true Church of God, who understood (though not perfectly) about the resurrections and God's basic plan.
One leader of influence was the heretic Justin. Notice that he wrote:
For I choose to follow not men or men's doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians...But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead " (Justin. Dialogue with Trypho. Chapter 80).
Another such leader was Irenaeus, who claimed to have met Polycarp. Irenaeus in the following passage, shows that in the second century, the idea that God would resurrect people and provide an opportunity for salvation was clearly known:
Then, too, Isaiah himself has plainly declared that there shall be joy of this nature at the resurrection of the just, when he says: "The dead shall rise again; those, too, who are in the tombs shall arise, and those who are in the earth shall rejoice. For the dew from Thee is health to them." And this again Ezekiel also says: "Behold, I will open your tombs, and will bring you forth out of your graves; when I will draw my people from the sepulchres, and I will put breath in you, and ye shall live; and I will place you on your own land, and ye shall know that I am the LORD." And again the same speaks thus: "These things saith the LORD, I will gather Israel from all nations whither they have been driven, and I shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the sons of the nations: and they shall dwell in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell in it in peace; and they shall build houses, and plant vineyards, and dwell in hope, when I shall cause judgment to fall among all who have dishonoured them, among those who encircle them round about; and they shall know that I am the LORD their God, and the God of their fathers." Now I have shown a short time ago that the church is the seed of Abraham; and for this reason, that we may know that He who in the New Testament "raises up from the stones children unto Abraham," is He who will gather, according to the Old Testament, those that shall be saved from all the nations, Jeremiah says: "Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, who led the children of Israel from the north, and from every region whither they had been driven; He will restore them to their own land which He gave to their fathers" (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 34, Verse 1. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Irenaeus also seemed to understand the Church of God concept that the hundred year period in Isaiah had to do with one of the resurrections (the second) and calling those not now in the church:
Daniel also says this very thing: "And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of those under the heaven, is given to the saints of the Most High God, whose kingdom is everlasting, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him." And lest the promise named should be understood as referring to this time, it was declared to the prophet: "And come thou, and stand in thy lot at the consummation of the days."
Now, that the promises were not announced to the prophets and the fathers alone, but to the Churches united to these from the nations, whom also the Spirit terms "the islands" (both because they are established in the midst of turbulence, suffer the storm of blasphemies, exist as a harbour of safety to those in peril, and are the refuge of those who love the height [of heaven], and strive to avoid Bythus, that is, the depth of error), Jeremiah thus declares: "Hear the word of the LORD, ye nations, and declare it to the isles afar off; say ye, that the LORD will scatter Israel, He will gather him, and keep him, as one feeding his flock of sheep...
And yet again does he say the same thing: "Behold, I make Jerusalem a rejoicing, and my people [a joy]; for the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. Also there shall not be there any immature [one], nor an old man who does not fulfil his time: for the youth shall be of a hundred years; and the sinner shall die a hundred years old, yet shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and inhabit them themselves; and shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them themselves, and shall drink wine. And they shall not build, and others inhabit; neither shall they prepare the vineyard, and others eat. For as the days of the tree of life shall be the days of the people in thee; for the works of their hands shall endure" (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 34, Verses 2-3,4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
Irenaeus also wrote that the soul has to be resurrected:
For such is the state of those who have believed, since in them continually abides the Holy Spirit, who was given by Him in baptism, and is retained by the receiver, if he walks in truth and holiness and righteousness and patient endurance. For this soul has a resurrection in them that believe, the body receiving the soul again, and along with it, by the power of the Holy Spirit, being raised up and entering into the kingdom of God (Irenaeus, St., Bishop of Lyon. Translated from the Armenian by Armitage Robinson. The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, Chapter 42. Wells, Somerset, Oct. 1879. As published in SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE. NEW YORK: THE MACMILLAN CO, 1920).
Hence he also was aware that after the resurrection, there would be the kingdom of God.
Irenaeus also wrote:
For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth...For after the times of the kingdom, he says, "I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat upon it, from whose face the earth fled away, and the heavens; and there was no more place for them." And he sets forth, too, the things connected with the general resurrection and the judgment, mentioning "the dead, great and small." "The sea," he says, "gave up the dead which it had in it (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 35, Verses 1,2. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
John, therefore, did distinctly foresee the first "resurrection of the just," and the inheritance in the kingdom of the earth; and what the prophets have prophesied concerning it harmonize...And in all these things, and by them all, the same God the Father is manifested, who fashioned man, and gave promise of the inheritance of the earth to the fathers, who brought it (the creature) forth [from bondage] at the resurrection of the just, and fulfils the promises for the kingdom of His Son (Irenaeus. Adversus haereses, Book V, Chapter 36, Verse 3. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
The above passages clearly show that Irenaeus believed that there would be physical resurrections. And he even correctly knew when the first two resurrections would be.
Tertullian, the so-called "father of Latin theology", around the end of the 2nd century wrote:
We say that this city has been provided by God for receiving the saints on their resurrection, and refreshing them with the abundance of all really spiritual blessings, as a recompense for those which in the world we have either despised or lost; since it is both just and God-worthy that His servants should have their joy in the place where they have also suffered affliction for His name's sake. Of the heavenly kingdom this is the process. After its thousand years are over, within which period is completed the resurrection of the saints, who rise sooner or later according to their deserts there will ensue the destruction of the world and the conflagration of all things at the judgment: we shall then be changed in a moment into the substance of angels, even by the investiture of an incorruptible nature, and so be removed to that kingdom in heaven of which we have now been treating, just as if it had not been predicted by the Creator, and as if it were proving Christ to belong to the other god and as if he were the first and sole revealer of it (Tertullian. Against Marcion, Book III, Chapter 25. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Tertullian also noted that it was Marcion (a major heretic from the 2nd century) who did not except a physical resurrection:
For Marcion does not in any wise admit the resurrection of the flesh, and it is only the salvation of the soul which he promises (Tertullian. Against Marcion, Book V, Chapter 10. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Hippolytus was one of the greatest early theologians according to Roman Catholic scholars. Notice what he wrote in the early third century:
For concerning the general resurrection and the kingdom of the saints, Daniel says: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." And Isaiah says: "The dead shall rise, and those in the tombs shall awake, and those in the earth shall rejoice." And our Lord says: "Many in that day shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live" (Hippolytus. On the End of the World, Chapter XXXVI. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).
Notice that Hippolytus is showing that death is like sleep and the dead must be raised--and that many that are resurrected shall hear Christ and live.
Another early leader who seemed to have a partial grasp of God's plan was Origen in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries.
The noted historian K.S. Latourette wrote that Origen "was, indeed, one of the greatest Christian minds". And while I cannot agree with that, it is of interest to note that Latourette observed:
Origen taught that ultimately all the spirits who have fallen away from God will be restored to full harmony with Him. This can come about only with their cooperation, for they have freedom to accept or reject the redemption wrought in Christ. Before full restoration they will suffer punishment, but that punishment is intended to be educative, to purge them from the imperfections brought by their sin. After the end of the present age and its world another age will come, so Origen believed, in which have been born again will continue to grow and the unrepentant will be given further opportunity for repentance (Latourette K.S. A History of Christianity, Volume 1, Beginnings to 1500. Harper Collins, San Francisco, 1975, p.151).
Origen was close, in that not all will repent, there will be those raised to "everlasting contempt", meaning that they will not receive salvation--but we in the Church of God consider them to be a small minority (this is documented in more detail in the article Hope of Salvation: How the COGs differ from most Protestants).
Here is one quote directly by Origen:
...the good Father has not entirely deserted those who have fallen away from Him (Origen. Commentary on the Gospel of John (Book I). Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 9. Edited by Allan Menzies, D.D. American Edition, 1896 and 1897. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
While we in the genuine Church of God would not word it quite that way, these quotes do show that the idea that God has a plan that will give the unrepentant an opportunity after this present age is not a new concept.
The fourth century Bishop Ambrose of Milan taught:
But belief in the resurrection is inferred most clearly on three grounds, in which all are included. These are reason, analogy from universal example, and the evidence of what has happened, since many have risen. Reason is clear. For since the whole course of our life consists in the union of body and soul, and the resurrection brings with it either the reward of good works, or the punishment of wicked ones, it is necessary that the body, whose actions are weighed, rise again. For how shall the soul be summoned to judgment without the body, when account has to be rendered of the companionship of itself and the body? Rising again is the lot of all...But it appears incredible to you that the dead rise again? (Ambrose of Milan. Book II. On the Belief in the Resurrection, verses 52-53,57).
He also taught that although some deny the resurrection, death is like sleep:
It is a cause for wonder that though they do not believe in the resurrection, yet in their kindly care they make provision that the human race should not perish, The immortality of the soul may be believed by those who deny the resurrection of the body, and was taught by many philosophers amongst the heathen. The resurrection of the body is a matter of divine revelation, and the very highest and best amongst the heathen seem not to have admitted it even as a speculation. and so say that souls pass and migrate into other bodies that the world may not pass away. But let them say which is the most difficult, for souls to migrate, or to return; come back to that which is their own, or seek for fresh dwelling places. But let those who have not been taught doubt. For us who have read the Law, the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Gospel it is not lawful to doubt. For who can doubt when he reads: “And in that time shall all thy people be saved which is written in the book; and many of them that sleep in the graves of the earth shall arise with one opening, these to everlasting life, and those to shame and everlasting confusion. And they that have understanding shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and of the just many shall be as the stars for ever.”Well, then, did he speak of the rest of those that sleep, that one may understand that death lasts not for ever, which like sleep is undergone for a time, and is put off at its time; and he shows that the progress of that life which shall be after death is better than that which is passed in sorrow and pain before death, inasmuch as the former is compared to the stars, the latter is assigned to trouble...We have seen, then, how grave an offence it is not to believe the resurrection; for if we rise not again, then Christ died in vain, then Christ rose not again (Ambrose of Milan. Book II. On the Belief in the Resurrection, verses 65-66,102).
Scholars recognize that even Martin Luther understood that death is like sleep for souls:
The immediate cause of Luther's stand on the sleep of the soul was the issue of purgatory, with its postulate of the conscious torment of anguished souls. While Luther is not always consistent, the predominant note running all through his writings is that souls sleep in peace, without consciousness or pain. The Christian dead are not aware of anything—see not, feel not, understand not, and are not conscious of passing events. Luther held and periodically stated that in the sleep of death, as in normal physical sleep, there is complete unconsciousness and unawareness of the condition of death or the passage of time.† Death is a deep, sound, sweet sleep.‡ And the dead will remain asleep until the day of resurrection (Martin Luther and William Tyndale on the State of the Dead pp. 571-572).
Notice that even in the 21st century, non-COG scholars acknowlege that the early church taught the resurrection and that the Bible supports the idea that death is like sleep:
Malcolm Jeeves, an honorary professor of psychology at the University of St. Andrews, is one of many believing scientists...Jeeves says. "Furthermore, the original Christian view was not the immortality of the soul but the resurrection of the body." (Tolson J. Is There Room for the Soul? New challenges to our most cherished beliefs about self and the human spirit. US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT, October 23, 2006).
The following is from an interview with N.T. Wright, a high-ranking bishop in the Church of England:
Wright: …St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.
TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?
Wright: … Paul writes that …it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,” and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well (Van Biema D. Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop (N.T. Wright). Time, February 7, 2008. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html viewed 02/08/08).
It is nice when prominent theologians sometimes come and speak out in favor of biblical, Church of God, doctrines.
Perhaps it should be mentioned that some have suggested that perhaps Revelation 5 shows that saints are already alive in heaven and hence there is no need for a resurrection, for a detailed explanation, please see the article Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality?
The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, clearly teaches that death is like sleep and that there will be actual resurrections. Resurrections which has not yet happened.
There will be three future resurrections.
There will a resurrection of the just--the "better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35).
There will be a resurrection of judgment, where those who believe they were cut off (or did not realize it as they were blinded) will have an opportunity for salvation.
There will be a resurrection to everlasting contempt, where the wicked are destroyed.
Jesus taught multiple resurrections.
Jesus' disciples taught multiple resurrections
The second century church taught theses doctrines. But Greco-Roman heretics taught against it.
Yet, these are doctrines that still should be taught today. And are so by various Church of God groups.
Three articles of related interest may be Hope of Salvation: How the Genuine Church of God differs from most Protestants, Universal Offer of Salvation: There Are Hundreds of Verses in the Bible Supporting the Doctrine of True Apocatastasisand Did Early Christians Believe that Humans Possessed Immortality?
Thiel B., Ph.D. What Did Early Christians Understand About the Resurrection? www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006 2007/2008/2010/2012 1102
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