What Is the True Meaning of the Resurrection of the Dead in the Bible?
Editor’s note: Many believers in the Lord think that when the Lord returns, the dead will be resurrected and that the saints through the ages will arise from their tombs. But will the biblical prophecies really come about as we imagine? Who really are “the dead” anyways? And how should we understand “resurrection of the dead”?
At 3:00 p.m., in a boat in the middle of a river, Jiang Xun was chatting with his aunt who had returned to China to preach.
During their conversation, Jiang Xun discovered that his aunt now saw more clearly the things regarding faith and had very unique insight into them. So, Jiang Xun said enviously, “Auntie, after you came back from America this time, much of what you have talked about is what I’ve never heard. You must have gained a lot in America. I’d like to ask you a question. The Bible says, ‘Thus said the Lord Jehovah to these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live: And I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am Jehovah’ (Ezekiel 37:5–6). ‘In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised’ (1 Corinthians 15:52). ‘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 inshall rise first’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16). These verses say clearly that when the Lord comes back, He will show great miracles so that the dead will be resurrected instantly, emerging from their tombs like Lazarus did. At that time, we’ll see the martyrs to the Lord. However, not long ago, my old classmate told me that the resurrection of the dead is not, as I imagine, the dead being brought back to life and coming out from their tombs. Instead, it refers to those whose spirits are dead after Satan’s corruption coming alive. I don’t quite understand what he told me. Could it be that my view is wrong? Auntie, can you discuss your opinion?”
His aunt replied with a smile, “My understanding used to be the same as yours. I thought that the resurrection of the dead referred to the dead coming back to life. Until one day, a sister’s fellowship made me realize that what I had understood was the literal meaning of the verses, not their true meaning. As is known to all, God’s wisdom is higher than the heavens and what God does exceeds our thoughts and imaginations. Furthermore, prophecies refer to something that will happen in the future, and before they are fulfilled, none of us knows their true meaning. Besides, it says in the Bible, ‘For the letter kills, but the spirit gives life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6). These words admonish us that we shouldn’t understand the verses according to their literal meaning but instead we should seek their true meaning. If we just interpret the text literally, we are very liable to misinterpret the prophecies. For example, the Book of Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come to power and manage God’s kingdom. At that time, people interpreted the prophecies from a literal perspective and believed that since the Messiah would come to power, He would certainly be born in a palace and lead them to overturn the Roman regime. In fact, however, thewasn’t born in a palace nor did He lead them in the overthrow of Roman regime. We can see from this that, there are mysteries hidden within the prophecies and their fulfillment is very different from their literal meaning. So, we should draw a lesson from those people’s failure—we can’t interpret the prophecies literally and we must leave our own notions and imaginings behind.”
Jiang Xun then said, “Well, it’s indeed so. Our ability of understanding is limited and we can’t perceive God’s work at all. So, when it comes to prophecies, we must maintain reverence even more and can’t rely on our own personal meaning to lightly explain them. Auntie, could you please fellowship to me what ‘the dead’ in ‘resurrection of the dead’ refers to?”
As to this question, Jiang Xun’s aunt patiently fellowshiped, “What does ‘the dead’ in the prophecies refer to? Actually, ‘the dead’ spoken of by God is different from those we speak of. In God’s eyes, all those with no spirits are the dead even though their flesh still lives. Take our ancestors Adam and Eve for example. Before they committed sins, God called them as living human beings with spirits. But after they ate the fruit of the tree of good and evil that God had ordered them not to eat from, they became the spiritless dead in God’s eyes. Just as it says in Genesis, ‘But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die’ (Genesis 2:17). From the outside, Adam and Eve not only didn’t die but still lived on earth for several hundred years. But they became the dead in God’s eyes since the day they ate the forbidden fruit.
“Let’s read two passages and then we’ll understand better. God says, ‘From My perspective, the death of the flesh is not a real death. When My Spirit is reclaimed from a person, that person dies. Therefore, I call all those demons corrupted by Satan (those who have no faith, all unbelievers) the dead’ (‘Chapter 98’ of Utterances of Christ in the Beginning). ‘“The dead” are those who oppose and rebel against God; they are those who are numb in spirit and do not understand God’s words; they are those who do not put the truth into practice and have not the slightest loyalty to God, and they are those who live under the domain of Satan and are exploited by Satan’ (“Are You Someone Who Has Come to Life?”).These two passages clearly explain ‘the dead.’ On the one hand, ‘the dead’ refer to those who don’tor worship God. On the other hand, ‘the dead’ refer to those who believe in God but fail to practice God’s words. For instance, although we believe in the Lord, we just observe religious ceremonies, singing hymns in accordance with our prescribed routine, reading the Bible, and praising the Lord, and have some good external behaviors. But once our interests are infringed upon, we are simply unable to put the Lord’s words into practice and often live in resentment of others. We believers keep saying that we love the Lord and have loyalty to Him, but when encountering setbacks and hardships, we often complain and blame the Lord. We know very well that God likes honest people, but when our reputation and status are involved, we are still able to play tricks to deceive people and God relying on Satan’s poisons, ‘A man leaves his name behind wherever he stays, just as a goose utters its cry wherever it flies,’ ‘Keeping silent on the faults of good friends makes for a long and good friendship,’ ‘Think before you speak and then only with caution’ and so on. … We can see from all this that we are full of selfishness, despicableness, crookedness, deceit, arrogance, self-righteousness, and other satanic dispositions. This means that we are still living under Satan’s influence. This kind of people is the spiritless dead spoken of by God.”
Hearing this fellowship, Jiang Xun kept nodding his head and said, “Your fellowship makes me suddenly see the light. It turns out that, ‘the dead’ refer to those who believe in God but don’t practice God’s words, don’t abide by God’s way, have no obedience to God, don’t have dispositional change, and still oppose God. What I understand really falls far short of this true meaning. So what do we mean when we speak of ‘the resurrected dead’?”
Jiang Xun’s Aunt said, “Let me read you another passage of God’s words and you’ll know. God says, ‘So, after you have changed, you will no longer be like these “dead men.” It is the words of God that set people’s spirits alight and cause them to be reborn, and when people’s spirits are reborn, then they will have come to life. When I speak of “dead men,” I am referring to corpses that have no spirit, to people whose spirits have died within them. When the spark of life is lit in people’s spirits, then people come to life. The saints that were spoken of before refer to people who have come to life, those who were under Satan’s influence but defeated Satan’ (“Are You Someone Who Has Come to Life?”). From God’s words, we can see that, the resurrected dead means that under the watering of God’s words, we believers are able to accept God’s words as our guide in all things, can stand on the side of the truth when Satan causes disruptions, and can see through Satan’s temptations and bring glory to God when encountering Satan’s temptations. That is, no matter where or when, we believers can carry outas our vocation. Just like Peter and Job, although they had weakness and pain in trials, they could still forsake Satan and carry out God’s will as their vocation, and finally put Satan to shame. Only this kind of people has come alive.”
With an air of understanding, Jiang Xun nodded again and said, smiling, “Oh, I see. It turns out that the resurrected dead means that we believers in God who are under Satan’s domain don’t give in to its dark influence, and can seek God’s will and practice according to God’s requirements when things crop up. But there is still something I am not clear on. I want to put the Lord’s words into action but sometimes I fail to do so in spite of myself. So, what can I do to turn into a living person?”
Jiang Xun’s aunt went on, saying, “Actually, we can’t make it by relying on ourselves, and we still have to enter in accordance with the words expressed by God. Here, why don’t you read this passage?” As she said this, she passed her tablet to Jiang Xun.
Jiang Xun then read, “If people wish to become living beings and to bear testimony to God, and to be approved of by God, then they must accept God’s salvation; they must gladly submit to His judgment and chastisement and must gladly accept the pruning of God and being dealt with by Him. Only then will they be able to put all of the truths required by God into practice, and only then will they gain God’s salvation and truly become living beings. The living are saved by God; they have been judged and chastised by God, they are willing to devote themselves and are happy to lay down their lives for God, and they would gladly dedicate their whole lives to God. Only when the living bear testimony to God can Satan be shamed; only the living can spread thework of God, only the living are after God’s heart, and only the living are real people” (“Are You Someone Who Has Come to Life?”). After reading, Jiang Xun said, “Here it says that the way to become the living is to accept God’s judgment, chastisement, pruning, and dealing. We really can’t turn into the living by relying on ourselves.”
Jiang Xun’s aunt said with concern, “Yeah. If we want to become the living, the only way is to accept the judgment, chastisement, pruning, and dealing of God’s words. Without God’s judgment and chastisement, we are unable to know our corrupt disposition, and we’ll still follow Satan, live under its domain, and be its servants forever. As a result, we’ll forever live in a state of sinning and confessing without release. In Psalm 96:13 it says: ‘For He comes, for He comes to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth.’ And it’s written in John 9:39, ‘For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see.’ In these verses it mentions ‘for He comes to judge the earth’ and ‘For judgment I am come into this world.’ From this we can see that in the last days, God must come in person to the world of human beings, and He will come to do the work of judging all peoples and all nations. So, if we want to become the living and be gained by God, when the Lord returns we must accept His judgment. Only then will we have the chance to become the truly living man.”
Jiang Xun said seriously, “Mm. Through your fellowship today, I’ve come to know that the resurrection of the dead is not, as I imagine, the dead arising from their tombs. Instead, it refers to us changing our satanic nature and casting off our corrupt dispositions. If we want to make it, we must accept God’s work of judgment and chastisement in the last days. This is the only way for us to become the living.”
His aunt said, “Thank God! It’s getting dark. Let’s go home and then continue our conversation.”