"Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them. And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre. And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus. And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments: And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen" (Luke 24:1-6).

At Easter time we celebrate and commemorate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the most common symbol of the Christian faith is the empty cross, signifying that Christ is not dead, but has risen from the grave and is alive. It is this one event that differentiates the Christian beliefs from all other religious faiths. It is the cornerstone of our convictions. It is the basis of our hope in eternal life.

But what exactly is the resurrection and what is its significance to us? The answer to that question all depends on who you ask and the context of how it is asked.

For example, it is generally accepted among most Christians that God is a spirit. Since Jesus Christ is God, then the resurrected Jesus must be a spirit. Yet that assumption poses a problem. If we say that His physical, tangible body rose from the grave and that He ascended to heaven where He now sits on the right hand of God the Father, how can He be a spirit? By our very belief in Christ's bodily resurrection from the grave we are forced to accept the supposition that He still possess that same resurrected body, which is not a spirit body (Luke 24:29).

The way people explain this apparent contradiction is quite varied, and usually involves a redefining of what is meant by the term "resurrection." Some try to explain it by spiritualizing it. As one commentator put it, the resurrection means "the death of sin to a life of righteousness."(see Ephesians 2:1). Others say that the resurrection means that Christ is someone who is alive in the life of a Christian. The words of the last refrain of a hymn from a large Christian denomination states, "You ask me how I know he lives: He lives within my heart."

Another Christian faith teaches that during the resurrection, Christ's body merely disappeared rather than came back to life. They point to the scriptures which show that Jesus was able to materialize and vanish at will when He showed Himself to His disciples after His resurrection. Since this is something the human body is not capable of doing, they therefore conclude that Jesus could not have had an actual physical body, but was really a spirit.

However, the common explanation given by most Christian denominations can be summed up by these two quotes: "Remember that resurrection is not merely life after death; it is the continuation of life after death in glorified bodies, glorified from our present bodies" (David Guzik's Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15). "Christ's resurrection is a pledge and earnest of ours, if we are true believers in him; because he has risen, we shall rise" (Matthew Henry's Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15). However, all of that still doesn't explain the above mentioned dilemma. It merely complicates it.

If Christ's body rose, never more to die, then is He a spirit or does He have a physical, tangible body to this day? If we say He is a resurrected being who possess a glorified body, then Jesus must still look the same as He did immediately after His resurrection. That is, He has a physical, tangible human body. On the other hand, if we insist that He is a Spirit now, then what was the purpose of His body being resurrected? Furthermore, there is no evidence in the scriptures to support the idea that Jesus shed His resurrected physical body and switched back to being a Spirit once He returned to heaven.

And what about us? If we are to be resurrected some day the same way Christ was, then what happens to us when we die? It is widely believed that when our mortal bodies are placed in the grave, our spirits go directly either to heaven or to hell, based on our acceptance of Christ. The reason for this belief is based on three scriptures. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 we read, "Then shall the dust [our physical body] return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." The interpretation of this scripture is that when we die, our bodies rot in the earth from whence they came, but our spirit returns back to God. In other words, those who die as Christians go to heaven, where God lives.

Then there is the parable of Jesus concerning the rich man and Lazarus. "And it came to pass, that the beggar [Lazarus] died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom" (Luke 16:22-23). The interpretation is that when each of these men died, the rich man went directly to hell and the righteous beggar went to live with Abraham in heaven.

The third reason for this belief is because of Christ's comment to one of the thieves on the cross next to Him, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Almost all Christians interpret the word "paradise" to mean the heavenly abode of God. Obviously, since Christ died that day (and presumably so did the thief), that means they both went to heaven that very same day.

However, if that is so, then what is the purpose of the resurrection of our bodies and why is that so important? More than that, why is there a judgment day which will happen after the millennium has ended? If the wicked go immediately to hell upon dying and the righteous immediately go to heaven, then why will the dead, both small and great, stand before God on judgment day and be judged according to their works (Revelation 20:12-13)?

Most Christians don't have an answer for these puzzling questions. Instead, they tend to dwell only on the fact of Christ's resurrection from the grave and overlook the troubling implications that these pose for them. However, these are profound and valid questions. As such, they deserve to be solved, especially if the answer is found in the scriptures.

To unravel this mystery, the first thing that needs to be established is a clear definition of what is meant by the term "resurrection." Is this something to be taken literally, figuratively, or is it meant to be understood as spiritual symbolism? In order to make that determination, we also have to define what it means to be "dead". What complicates this is that the word "dead" can have different meanings, such as being dead to sin, dead to righteousness, dead to feelings, and dead to the law. So when we talk about the resurrection of "the dead" it's important to know the context in which the term is being used.

Paul argued, "Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching [in] vain, and your faith is also [in] vain. Yea, and we are found [to be] false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if [it] so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is [in] vain; [and] ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept." (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

There is no doubt Paul is being very literal here. Christ was not dead spiritually, neither is there any figurative meaning about Christ rising from the dead. Paul is talking about the literal event of Christ's body coming forth alive from the grave. Paul's argument is that if this did not actually happen then why is he and the other apostles preaching about the resurrection of the dead if the dead will not come back to life? He refers to those who have "fallen asleep in Christ," meaning those believers whose bodies has been put in the grave. He further states that if Christ has not risen from the grave then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have truly perished.

In Matthew 9:24 we read where a certain ruler came to Jesus crying that his daughter was dead. "He [Jesus] said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn". When Paul refers to Jesus as "the firstfruits of them that slept," he is saying that Jesus was the first person whose physical, mortal body came back to life and rose from the grave as a resurrected being.

But Christ Himself brought people back from the dead before His resurrection. How can He therefore be the firstfruits of those who slept? Concerning Christ's resurrection, we read in Acts 13:34 "And as concerning that he [God] raised him [Christ] up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption." Other versions of the Bible use the word "perishable" in place of the word "corruption." What these words imply is that our mortal body is subject to disease, deterioration, decay, and, ultimately, death. Thus it is our bodies that are corruptible or perishable. To put on "incorruption" means that the mortal body becomes imperishable and impervious to disease, deterioration and decay. Thus it lives forever because it cannot die. When Jesus was resurrected, His physical body came back to life, never again to lay in the grave.

The gospels relate how, on three separate occasions, Jesus raised someone from the dead, however, these people were not resurrected. They were merely brought back to life but still possessed a corruptible body. As such, they were able to live upon the earth for a few more years, but, eventually, each of them died again. On the other hand, when someone is resurrected, their body becomes incapable of dying. Hence they become incorruptible and immortal.

But if Jesus was the "firstfruits of them that slept," or to be resurrected, then the obvious implication from this scripture is that others would likewise rise from their grave as resurrected beings. But what about these people? Does the resurrection also refer to their bodies rising from the grave, or is this a figurative or spiritual resurrection?

After Christ's resurrection, the scriptures tell us, "And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." (Matthew 27:52-53). Again, we see the word "bodies" "graves," "slept," and "resurrection" being associated with one another, further showing that "the dead" refers to the physical, mortal body which lays in the grave.

In Revelation 14:13 we read, "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." If we interpret "the dead" as meaning something figurative or of a spiritual nature, this scripture doesn't make sense. How can "the dead" refer to a spiritual condition and still be attributed to those "which died in the Lord"? Furthermore, these "dead" will "rest from their labours." The only way all of these points can be in harmony with one another is if the term "the dead" has reference to the physical body.

When speaking about Abraham, Paul further explained, "And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old" (Romans 4:19). "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Romans 8:11) In both of these verses, Paul uses the word "dead" in reference to our mortal bodies.

The apostles James also taught, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so is faith without works dead." (James 2:26). In other words, there is a spirit in man's body, and it is when that spirit leaves the body that the body then dies, or ceases to function, again showing that "the dead" refers to the mortal body.

But if that is so, then what happens to the spirit when it leaves the body? Does it also die and cease to function, or is it still alive?

If we remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, both men had "died" yet they were still very much aware of their surroundings. They could communicate with one another. They could see, feel, touch, hear, and taste, which are the five senses we associate with being alive. It was Jesus who said, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:28-29). Peter also wrote, "For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit" (1 Peter 4:6).

From what the scriptures tells us, the dead are capable of hearing, of being preached to, and have the ability to "live according to God in the spirit." To do this, they must be very much alive. Thus, we see again that it is only our physical body which dies and is incapable of experiencing any form of consciousness. Our spirits, on the other hand, do not die but are very much alive and are living in a different environment that is not visible on earth. But where is this place?

It is widely believed that when Jesus told the thief, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise," that He meant the thief was going to heaven with Him. This would seem to be a logical conclusion, since heaven certainly would qualify as being a paradisiacal state. But is paradise and heaven the same place, or are they in two distinctly different locations?

Before we see what the scriptures have to say, let's ask ourselves a question. If paradise and heaven are the same place, and people were able to go to heaven before Jesus was resurrected, (as apparently Lazarus and Abraham did), then why did Jesus have to be crucified? For that matter, what is the significance of Jesus being resurrected if it has nothing to do with whether we get to heaven or not? In other words, if, when we place our bodies in the grave, our spirit goes directly to heaven, what's the purpose of having our bodies resurrected at some later date? And why does Paul say that if Christ hadn't been resurrected then all of his preaching was in vain and we would still be in our sins? Obviously, the resurrection of Christ has to have some bearing on us getting into heaven, otherwise, it becomes a useless act or a meaningless event.

After Jesus "died" we know His body was in the grave for three days, but where was His spirit during that time? He told the thief that they would both end up in paradise. Does that mean they both went to heaven? Jesus said that the time was soon coming when "all that are in the graves shall hear his voice." If that is so, and if Jesus went only to heaven, then that implies that everyone else who had died before Him also had to be in heaven. Otherwise how could "all that are in the graves" hear His voice?

Yet, after being in the grave for three days, when Mary Magdalene recognized the risen Lord and ran to embrace Him, "Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father which is in heaven" (John 20:17). The most obvious question that no one seems to ask is: How could Jesus not yet have ascended to His Father in heaven if that's where He was during the three days his body lay in the tomb? Furthermore, He instructed Mary Magdalene to go tell his disciples that He was going to ascend to His God and their God. That very evening, the resurrected Lord appeared unto His eleven disciples and said unto them "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:39).

Jesus was not a spirit when this visitation took place. He had a body of flesh and bones, once more showing that it was His body that had been dead but was now alive. Furthermore, He invited His disciples to handle him, to touch Him, and feel that He was as real and as tangible as they were. Why did He allow them to touch Him at that time yet forbade Mary to do the same earlier that same day? The only conclusion we can come to is that when Mary saw Him He had not yet ascended to His Father, as He had explained to her, but by evening time He had already been to heaven and returned to earth to visit His disciples. Thus, it's very clear from the scriptures that during the three days He was "dead" Jesus was not in heaven.

If that is not so, then consider this: If paradise and heaven are the same place, that must mean that those in hell can see into heaven and be envious of what they can't have. It also must mean that those who live in heaven reside in close proximity to those who dwell in hell. Why do I say that? Because that is what the parable of the rich man and Lazarus tells us, if we interpret that Lazarus was in heaven. But what kind of happiness can there be for a righteous person to look eternally upon the never ending suffering of those who reside in a hell that's only a stone's throw away? What kind of a heaven or paradise can there really be for someone who has devoted their life to caring about people the way that Jesus did while spending the rest of eternity watching others endure horrific agony?

Since we know that during the time His body lay in the tomb, Jesus was in paradise, we are forced to conclude that heaven and paradise cannot be the same place. Which means, when Jesus "died" His spirit went to the place where the spirits of all men go when they die -- either paradise or hell, but not heaven.

But there's a more profound question we need to ask ourselves. Why didn't Jesus go directly to heaven when He died? After all, He was sinless! Isn't that enough to qualify someone for heaven? But, perhaps a more important question is, Why did Jesus wait until He was resurrected before ascending to His Father?

Before answering that question, let's first ask ourselves another question. If the spirits of all people go directly to either paradise or hell, and not to heaven when they "die", then when do the righteous finally make it into heaven?

Paul taught the Thessalonians, "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Paul is talking about the second coming of Christ in this passage. He then explains that when Christ comes again "from heaven" then "the dead in Christ shall rise first." That is, those Christian believers who's bodies are in the graves, shall be resurrected and will rise to join Christ in the clouds. But what about the righteous Christians who are still alive when this event comes to pass? They "shall be caught up together [along with] them [the resurrected beings] in the clouds." But notice there is something very significant that Paul says next. He states, "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." That means, these people who have just been resurrected will, at that time, finally get to be with the Lord forever.

But how can that be if they've already been with Christ in heaven since the time they died? This scripture clearly shows that it is only when the righteous have been resurrected that they get to be with Christ forever. Thus, it becomes apparent that to be with Christ in heaven, a person has to be resurrected! That's why even Christ Himself couldn't ascend to heaven after living in mortality until He was first resurrected! Notice what Paul taught the Ephesians when he said, "Which he [God] wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and [then] set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 1:20). God the Father had to raised Christ from the dead first before He could place Him by His right hand side in heaven.

It was Jesus who counseled us to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:20). At another time He said, "for, behold, your reward is great in heaven" (Luke 6:23). Notice, He didn't say, lay up treasures in paradise, or that your reward would be in paradise. In fact, nowhere in the scriptures are the words paradise and heaven used interchangeably, and that's because they are two different places.

Paul talked about "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35). What good is obtaining a better resurrection if we get our reward as soon as we die? The reward comes after the resurrection, not before. And it is for this reason that Christ rose from the grave and became "the firstfruits of them that slept." He made it possible for the rest of mankind to be resurrected from the dead, thereby giving us the means to inherit the kingdom of heaven. It is at the time of the resurrection that we will then be judged and receive our reward according to our works (Matthew16:27, Revelation22:11).

However, there are at least two distinct resurrections, known either as the first and second resurrection or the resurrection "of the just and unjust." (Acts 24:14-15) or the resurrection of life and damnation (John 5:28-29). The first resurrection, or the resurrection of the just, will be those who have been justified and belong to Christ. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6 ). Notice that the reward of the righteous, which is to become "priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with him," comes after they have been resurrected.

During this millennial period of time, "the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." (Revelation 20:5 ). Shortly after this thousand years has ended, a second resurrection will take place. Speaking of this resurrection, the scriptures tell us, "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." (Revelation 20:12-13). Again, notice that the reward comes after the resurrection.

There are two other interesting points that should be noted. This scripture specifically states that, "death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them." First, this verse seems to make a distinction made between "death" and "hell" as though these are two separate and distinct locations. It should be remembered that those in paradise have already been resurrected by this time, therefore, "death" has to be a different place than "paradise." What that seems to suggest is that there is another place besides hell and paradise where the dead go. But what's most interesting is that those who are resurrected out of hell will receive their just reward at that time. This raises an intriguing question. What was their suffering in hell all about, if hell isn't their final reward? Furthermore, why is it necessary for these tormented souls to be resurrected?

Paul verifies that all mankind will be resurrected and not just the righteous. He wrote: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). It is a fact that everyone dies. Paul declares that likewise everyone will be resurrected. The idea of a universal resurrection is one of the main themes of the Christian faith.

However, even though everyone will be resurrected, not all resurrected bodies will be the same. Speaking of the different kinds of bodies that will come forth in the resurrection Paul wrote, "But some man will say, How are the dead raise up? and with what body to they come? Thou fool. that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die" (I Corinthians 15:35-36). Paul clearly is talking about the physical body and states that it cannot be resurrected "except it die." There is nothing figurative or symbolic in this statement. Paul further illustrated this by comparing our bodies to a seed that must be buried in the earth in order for it to germinate to it's full potential (vs 37).

Continuing, he explains, "God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed [person] his own body. [On earth] all flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. [In astronomy] There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one [kind], and the glory of the terrestrial is another [kind]. [Furthermore] There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for [just as] one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead" (I Corinthians 15:38-42).

To paraphrase what Paul said, in the resurrection, not all bodies will be the same, just like in this life not all flesh is the same, or in astronomy, not all planets are the same. Likewise, in the resurrection God will give each person the kind of body as pleases Him, and that these bodies will be different in texture and glory just as "one star differeth from another star in glory." Therefore, it is reasonable to suppose that those who come forth in the first resurrection will have a more glorious body than will those who come forth in the second resurrection. And if, as we saw earlier, "death" and "hell" are two different places where the dead wait until the resurrection, it would likewise seem reasonable that there would be different glories assigned to each of these categories of the dead.

In verse 44 of this same chapter it reads, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." There are some who cite this passage to argue that after the resurrection our bodies will be spirit and not physical. However, that is not what Paul has said. He used the term "spiritual" rather than "spirit. " Vine's Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words, defines the word spiritual thusly: "things that have their origin with God, and which, therefore, are in harmony with His character, as His laws are 'spiritual,' Rom. 7:14;... men in Christ who walk so as to please God are 'spiritual,' Gal. 6:1; 1 Cor. 2:13... the whole company of those who believe in Christ is a 'spiritual house,' 1 Pet. 2:5; ... the resurrection body of the dead in Christ is 'spiritual,' i.e., such as is suited to the heavenly environment, 1 Cor. 15:44;... Such as are led by the Spirit are spiritual."

The resurrection of Christ is of paramount importance to our salvation, because without a resurrected body we could rise no more, and would therefore live eternally in the realm of the dead, never having the chance to inherit the kingdom of God. But because Christ rose from the dead and ascended to heaven with a gloried, resurrected body, He has made it possible for us to do likewise. The scriptures declare, "We shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:52-55).

POSTSCRIPT: Paradise and Heaven - a note of explanation on Luke 23:43

The Greek word for paradise is paradeisos {par-ad'-i-sos} According to Strong's Concordance, this word is interpreted in the scriptures as:
1) among the Persians a grand enclosure or preserve, hunting ground, park, shady and well watered, in which wild animals, were kept for the hunt; it was enclosed by walls and furnished with towers for the hunters
2) a garden, pleasure ground
2a) grove, park
3) the part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of pious men until the resurrection: but some understand this to be a heavenly paradise br> 4) the upper regions of the heavens. According to the early church Fathers, the paradise in which our first parents dwelt before the fall still exists, neither on the earth or in the heavens, but above and beyond the world.

The Greek word for heaven is ouranos {oo-ran-os'} and means:
1) the vaulted expanse of the sky with all things visible in it
1a) the universe, the world
1b) the aerial heavens or sky, the region where the clouds and the tempests gather, and where thunder and lightning are produced
1c) the sidereal or starry heavens
2) the region above the sidereal heavens, the seat of order of things eternal and consummately perfect where God dwells and other heavenly beings.

Since Jesus was in the grave for three days and was the first person to be resurrected, the word paradise as used in Luke 23:43 can only mean "the abode of the souls of pious men until the resurrection." Surely Christ was a pious man and that's where He would have dwelled for three days until He was resurrected.

Return to main menu

If you like this article, tell a friend, or Click here to email a friend!