Biblical testimony of an earthly resurrection dates back to Abraham (Heb. 11:18-19) and Job (Job 19:26-27). During His earthly ministry, Jesus’ was confronted by some Sadducees about the actuality of resurrection. The Sadducees likely believed Moses’ words exclusively. So, Jesus quoted Moses to prove to them that resurrection is indeed a reality (cf. Matt. 22:31-32). The reality of resurrection may have given rise to the phrase ‘eternal life’ (cf. Dan. 12:2, 13 for the resurrection, and Mark 19:17 for eternal life).
The New Testament writers (Paul, Matthew, and John) mentioned three different resurrections following Jesus’ resurrection:
- church saints (1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess. 4:13-14);
- Old Testament saints from Adam to Jesus, and tribulation saints (Dan. 12:2, 13 plus cf. Matt. 16:28; 17:3 for Old Testament saints, and Rev. 20:4 for tribulation saints); and
- the unbelievers of all ages (Rev. 20:12).
Unless otherwise noted, the resurrection discussed in this essay refers only to the resurrection of church saints.
Shortly before His own resurrection, Jesus had resurrected His friend Lazarus (John 11:1-44). But Lazarus would eventually succumb again to physical death.
Jesus Christ’s own resurrection was significantly different from Lazarus’ resurrection. Since Christ’s resurrection is so vital for Christians, it might be helpful to understand the mechanics and theology leading to the resurrection, beginning with Jesus’ birth.
Sin is inherited biologically from one’s father (Rom. 5:12). So Jesus’ birth had to circumvent a human father—hence His birth by a virgin. Some evidence has been offered to show how a woman’s seed can remain uncontaminated by sin (Custance, 228-232).
The Holy Spirit accomplished the conception of Mary by joining her seed—thus partially fulfilling Gen. 3:15—with the God-created male chromosomes which contained no sin (Matt. 1:18-20). The result was a human body without sin—the only one since Adam’s creation. So Jesus lived His life free from sin’s control. And He never sinned.
However, sin being absent from Jesus’ body created a subsequent problem. Since sin is the identifying mark that brings human death, Jesus could not die physically (cf. 1 Cor. 15:55-56 for the relationship between death and sin). So just prior to the cross, God made Jesus’ body into a vessel containing sin (2 Cor. 5:21), probably during that night in the garden of Gethsemane just prior to His arrest (cf. Luke 22:15, 39-46; Heb. 12:4).
Jesus did not commit any sin between His ordeal in the garden and His death on the cross (1 Peter 2:22). However, on the cross His fellowship with the Father was ruptured because all the sins of all those called of God were imputed to Him (Matt. 27:46).
And because Jesus then had sin resident in His body, He could voluntarily relinquish Himself sacrificially to death on the cross (Luke 23:46). Notice: the cross itself did not kill Him (John 19:31-36).
Jesus’ voluntary death on the cross created yet another problem: sin and death had become masters over Him (Rom. 6:9-10). Not to worry!
The Holy Spirit solved the problem by resurrecting Jesus, making Him permanently and irreversibly free from sin and death. This is why Christ’s resurrection is the cornerstone of God’s eternal covenant (cf. Gen. 3:15 for God’s eternal covenant; Heb. 13:20 for Jesus’ resurrection). His resurrection provided solutions to the spiritual problems of sin and sins that have plagued humankind since Adam and Eve’s disobediences in the Garden of Eden.