Risen from the Dust
In the bible, the concept of resurrection is used in several different ways. The three basic "types" of biblical resurrection are physical, spiritual, and the Resurrection of the Dead. Identifying these different types or usages is helpful, particularly in avoiding confusion about the Resurrection of the Dead.
The first, and most recognizable type, is physical resurrection. This is when someone is brought back to life in the flesh. An example of this type of resurrection is when Christ resurrects Lazarus, and calls him forth from the tomb, "And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes..." (John 11.43-44 KJV bible).
Next, there are spiritual resurrections. This is when a person (or group of people) are awakened, restored, and reborn in the Lord. Externally they look the same, but internally they have new hearts and minds in him. This type of resurrection comes through penitence, and faith in the workings of God, "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2.12 KJV bible).
Lastly, there will be the great Resurrection of the Dead. The Resurrection of the Dead is best described as a transformation of individuals into spiritual bodies. It will be an eternal resurrection that is distinct from the other types, and without human precedent in scripture.
Examples of the first two types of resurrections can be easily misinterpreted as being the Resurrection of the Dead, when in fact they are not. One event that could be easily misconstrued as such, is the opening of the tombs after Christ's crucifixion, "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 KJV bible). On the surface, this may seem like it is the resurrection of the righteous, because some of the saints are brought back to life. However, unlike the great Resurrection of the Dead, these individuals are resurrected into flesh, not spiritual bodies.
The real purpose of this miraculous physical resurrection, was to demonstrate to the world that Messiah had been crucified. It was through the shedding of Christ's blood that a spiritual renewal of Israel would take place, and this renewal is symbolized by the opening of the graves after the crucifixion. So while significant, this event is fundamentally different from the great Resurrection of the Dead, and should not be substituted for it.
Spiritual resurrections are an important type of resurrection, and often times in scripture the physical resurrections foreshadow the spiritual ones. The greatest spiritual resurrection occurred during the time of Christ, among those of his own people who received him. Jesus resurrected Israel as a nation by ushering in a new priesthood (Hebrews 7), making a new covenant (Hebrews 8.8), and taking his rightful place upon David's throne, "He [Jesus] shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David" (Luke 1.32 KJV bible).
This great spiritual renewal through Christ was the fulfillment of Ezekiel 37, which is another passage that is often misinterpreted in relation to the Resurrection of the Dead, "Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live...So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army...Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel" (Ezekiel 37.5,10,12 KJV bible). This prophecy uses the imagery of a literal flesh and blood resurrection to depict the restoration of Israel under the second covenant, and is therefore a Messianic prophecy. It was only after Israel's rebirth, that the way was opened the for the gentiles to join with them, as brethren under the new covenant (Acts 10). While this prophecy and its fulfillment are vital parts of God's overall plan of salvation, they should not be misunderstood as the great Resurrection of the Dead.
The so-called salvation experience is itself a type of resurrection, in which one is spiritually renewed and awakened in Christ. Multitudes of people have been experiencing this reality since Christ walked the Earth. While spiritual rebirth is certainly important, it should not be misinterpreted as being the Resurrection of the Dead. The challenge is to rightly divide between the two, because the language and imagery can be similar.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live" (John 5.24-25 KJV bible). In this passage, Jesus proclaims that the time has arrived when the dead shall hear his voice and live. However, he is not talking about the raising up of those who are dead and in Hades, but rather those who are alive in the flesh, and yet abiding in spiritual darkness. Upon receiving Christ they go through a type of resurrection, wherein they pass from darkness to light, and from death unto life, "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11.25 KJV bible), "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1st John 3.14 KJV bible). Those who believe in Christ have already passed from the bondage of sin and death, in order to follow him (see also ch.6 Spiritual Life and Death).
This same spiritual resurrection is being spoken of when it says, "Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5.14 KJV bible). Baptism is a ritual that symbolizes this rebirth, where one is buried into Christ's death, to be raised into his life, "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6.4 KJV bible). These verses are referring to the resurrection of the individual from death to life in Christ, and not the Resurrection of the Dead. So a distinction should be made between the various types of resurrections in the bible.
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