Resurrection | Introduction and the Old Testament

The following belongs to a series entitled “An Introductory Biblical Theology of Resurrection.” Read other posts belonging to this series here.

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Introduction

The resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith. Therefore, a Biblical and redemptive-historical understanding of the resurrection is invaluable. This series seeks to present a concise and introductory Biblical theology of resurrection by systematically tracing its theme throughout the canon, beginning with the Old Testament, moving to the Synoptics, continuing with John’s Gospel, looking at Acts, examining Paul’s theology, and concluding with a brief look at resurrection in Hebrews, 1 Peter, and Revelation.

The Old Testament

The Old Testament’s teaching on the resurrection is certainly not as prominent as the New Testament’s,[1] but the seedbed for a more developed theology, and the already existent belief in a resurrection, is certainly present. Israel’s hope in a resurrection is no doubt rooted in her covenant God, who is God of the living, not the dead (Ex 3:6; cf. Mt 22:29-32; Mk 12:26-27; Lk 20:37-38). The author of Hebrews states that Abraham considered God able to raise his son Isaac back to life after what would have been his death (Heb 11:19). And that belief was accurate, for God uses both Elijah and Elisha to raise individuals from the dead.[2] While Job sees no evidence for a reversal of death within this present world order (Job 14:10-12),[3] Job 19:25-26 may contain a possible reference to hope beyond the grave.[4] Likewise, the blessings obtained by the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:10 seems to allude to His subsequent resurrection.[5]

More explicitly, Isaiah states that under the Lord’s future reign, “He will swallow up death forever” (Isa 25:8).[6] In that day, the people of Judah will sing, “Your [YHWH’s] dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.” Isaiah paints a picture of the dead awakening and the earth giving birth (a picture of life) to the dead. Daniel 12:2 states that after a time of unparalleled trouble (12:1) many will be resurrected, some to everlasting life and others to eternal torment (“contempt,” cf. Isa 66:24).

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet Ezekiel experiences a vision in which he sees a valley of bones (corpses) revived to life once again (1-10). The Lord provides the interpretation: the bones are Israel and the revivification is Israel’s resurrection. As verse 12, 14, and the overall context of 36:22-37 show, this future corporate resurrection is tied up with restoration to the land, the reign of a Davidic king, the cleansing of Israel’s uncleannesses and idolatry, the establishment of a new covenant, and the pouring out of the Spirit to cause obedience. One could rightly call it, “the hope of Israel” (cf. Acts 28:20).

Notes

[1] By in large, the OT’s hope concerning death consists of a hope of being delivered from it, that is, to avoid experiencing it prematurely.

[2] 1 Kg 17:17-24; 2 Kg 4:18-37; cf. 2 Kg 5:7. At one point God even uses Elisa’s dead bones to raise another man back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21)!

[3] John E. Hartley, The Book of Job (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 234.

[4] This text is notoriously difficult to interpret. “Redeemer” in verse 25 most assuredly refers to YHWH (Robert Alden, Job [ed. E. Ray Clendenen; The New American Commentary; Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993], 168; Francis I. Andersen, Job: An Introduction and Commentary [Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1976], 194.) Job may be referring to a hope of vindication in this life (Tremper Longman III, Job [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012], 261; Hartley, Job, 234) or in a post-death disembodied state (see the alternative translation listed in New Revised Standard Version’s footnote). Or possibly, Job may be alluding to an undeveloped hope beyond death (Anderson, Job, 194).

[5] Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 40 Through 66 (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 355–356.

[6] All scriptural citations are from the English Standard Version.

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