Church,  New Testament,  Theology

How Many Resurrections are there in Scripture?

Easter weekend is upon us, and so we celebrate the most important part of Christianity–the fact that Jesus is alive! This is the essence of our hope as believers. Because of Christ’s resurrection we have hope of our own resurrection.

Empty Cross signifying the hope of resurrectionsI saw an online discussion recently about how many resurrections there are in Scripture, and a question was asked about when OT believers are resurrected. I think it is a worthwhile discussion to have, and I think we can accurately observe four resurrections in Scripture. (This is of course assuming that the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 and the saints in Matthew 27 are temporary and they die again). But, if you are interested, I have tried to compile a complete list of all the resurrections in the Bible.

The Foundation for ALL Resurrection: Christ

In 1 Corinthians 15:20 Paul calls Christ the “first fruits” of those who have fallen asleep. The concept of first fruits goes back to the Old Testament (cf. Lev 23:9-21). The first fruits were not intended to be viewed as something separate but as part of the whole (just chronologically first). It was a symbol of the fact that the entirety belonged to God.

This concept is applied to the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul views the resurrection holistically. In other words, the resurrection of Christ and believers are viewed theologically together as one. They are theologically united through Christ. Christ is the first part of what is to come in future resurrection.

The Resurrection of the Church in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24

1 Corinthians 15:20-24 gives support for a pre-tribulation rapture/resurrection of the Church. Notice that Paul lays out the chronology of the resurrection of Christ and believers:

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power (1 Cor 15:20-24).

Paul orders this chronology into stages:

1. Christ is raised (v. 20, 23)

then…

2. Believers are raised (v. 23)

then…

3. The end comes (v. 24)

It is important to note that the end is differentiated from the believer’s resurrection. Paul uses very specific chronological words giving a sequence: Christ, then believers, then the end comes.

Paul is writing to the church and is speaking of the resurrection of the church which happens before the end. This same event is described in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (although there the chronology is not given), written by Paul only 4-5 years earlier. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul emphasizes the comfort which faces the church before the end—they will be with Jesus while the unbelievers face judgment (cf. 1 Thess 5:1-11).

Sometimes people claim that Jesus only says there will be one resurrection: some to death, some to life (John 5:28-29). However, we want to be faithful with the intent of Jesus’ words. His purpose in John 5:28-29 is not to provide a chronology for the resurrection. The purpose is to emphasize that the Son has been given authority over all people (cf. John 5:22), which will include their final judgment post-resurrection.

Now, it is true that there are two resurrection events mentioned in John 5, some to life and some to death. But that does not mean that they happen at the same time. Remember, the theology of resurrection indicates that resurrection is a holistic concept which can be chronologically divided (as explained in 1 Cor 15).

Brief Outline of Resurrections in Scripture

If we examine the complete testimony of Scripture, we can outline a rough chronology and sequence of biblical resurrection.

1. Resurrection of Christ (First fruits, 1 Cor 15:20, 23)
2. Resurrection of Believers in the Church (Rapture, 1 Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15:23)
[7 Year Tribulation] (Daniel 9:27; Revelation 6-19)
3. Resurrection of OT Saints and Martyrs (Revelation 20:4)
[1,000 Year Reign of Christ] (Revelation 20:4)
4. Resurrection of the Wicked (Revelation 20:5)

Tracing the biblical chronology it seems there are four resurrection events.

Why Doesn’t Paul Mention the Other Resurrections in 1 Cor 15?

Why would Paul only include the first two resurrections (Christ and the church) if there were others as well? The answer to that is in the reason he is writing 1 Corinthians 15 to begin with (1 Cor 15:12). Some of the Corinthians denied the resurrection of the dead, and Paul’s entire argument in 1 Corinthians 15 is laid out to show the Corinthians that their future is dependent upon Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, his concern is to demonstrate the church links with Christ. He is not attempting to provide a full chronology of resurrection theology. Rather, he is specifically addressing the relationship of Christ’s resurrection to the Corinthians’ own resurrection.

As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection this Sunday, remember that without His resurrection you have no hope of resurrection. Praise the Lord that death is not the end!

photo credit: Art4TheGlryOfGod via photopin cc

Note: This post originally appeared as “Christ as the First Fruits of Our Resurrection” on April 21, 2014. It has been significantly edited and reposted.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

11 Comments

  • Martin Jackson

    The Dipensational author can only base his claim that there are 2 First resurrections on the assumption that the Rapture/Rez of 1 Thess 4:16,17, is Pre-Tribulational. Other than this he has no evidence that there is a resurrection at the beginning of the 70th week and another one after.

    • ASOWATA Frederick

      You are right on point on what you wrote Martin Jackson. It’s baseless to think that there are two first resurrections. In addition, to think that there will be a pretribulation rapture is to count Apostle Paul as one of those who will miss the pretribulation rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 because he wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10 that he is participating in this rapture that is taking place at the end of the age/great tribulation :

      1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

      2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

      3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

      Apostle Paul in verse 1 of the above scripture listed himself among the group of Christians that will be gathered together to meet the Lord Jesus Christ (in the air – rapture) when He returns to the earth to destroy the Antichrist and his army at the end of the age/ great tribulation.

      Since it’s not possible for Apostle Paul to miss the rapture described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16, it means both raptures described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 and the one in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 (which Paul specifically states he will be a part of if Christ should return) are referring to one and the same event.

    • Peter Goeman

      Well, it is a bit simplistic to think that it is only presuppositional understandings of 1 Thess 4 that leads to an understanding of multiple resurrections. As I allude to in the blog article, Rev 20:4-5 indicates a difference in resurrections. Although, the main point of the article is tracing the contribution of 1 Cor 15 to this issue.

  • Errol Abeyratne

    Please clarify. My understanding is that at rapture there is a resurrection of all believers ( this include all those who have died up to the time of rapture including the Old Testament heroes who are currently in paradise / heaven awaiting resurrection of their bodies). Then at the end of millennium the non believers will be resurrected for judgement. During the tribulation, those who die believing Christ will directly come to heaven.

    Thank you

    • Peter Goeman

      As I explain in the blog post, I see the Rapture coinciding with the resurrection of the Church. Not everyone agrees with me, and they would see the first resurrection in Revelation 20 as being ONLY those Saints who have died during the tribulation. If so, then the OT saints would have been resurrected at the Rapture too. But if the Resurrection in Rev 20 is relating to the kingdom of Israel, I think that could fit with the OT saints being resurrected at that time.

  • ASOWATA FREDERICK

    The reason you are presenting four (4) resurrections instead of three (3) which is (1) Jesus’ resurrection. (2) the resurrection of old and new testament saints, and (3) the resurrection of the wicked is to enable you squeeze in the doctrine of the rapture (catching up of the saints), thereby splitting the resurrection of the saints into two: before and at the end of the tribulation.

    Please notice that those whom John saw in the resurrection which occurred in Revelation 20:4-6 are the saints which were killed for their refusal to take the mark of the beast. John said that this is the FIRST RESURRECTION. And went on to say that “Blessed and holy” is he that hath part in this first resurrection for they shall reign with Christ for a 1,000 years

    If not for your belief in the pretribulation rapture, there is no way you could say the resurrection of the “dead in Christ” mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and the FIRST resurrection mentioned in Rev. 20:4-6 aren’t the same event.
    Apostle John is simply speaking of the resurrection of those saints who were killed during the tribulation, while Apostle Paul speaks about the resurrection of those saints who died up to the start of the Great Tribulation. The saints which both these apostles speak of are raised together in this compulsory FIRST RESURRECTION.

    Since the rapture occurs in the same event in which the “dead in Christ” are raised, it then means, the rapture must also occur during the FIRST RESURRECTION, which is post-tribulation.

    The key word that solves this rapture puzzle is the word FIRST RESURRECTION. No resurrection can take place before the FIRST. And after the FIRST, the one that follows is the resurrection of the dead.

    Please read Revelation 6:9-11. No resurrection before the first.
    What we can see in scripture is therefore:

    1. The resurrection of Christ.
    2. First resurrection.
    3. The resurrection of the wicked.

    In the scripture you quoted below, after the resurrection of Christ, only one single resurrection of the “dead in Christ” are mentioned, not two, which is the resurrection of “those who are Christ’s at His coming.” This cannot but be the FIRST RESURRECTION.

    3 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power (1 Cor 15:20-24).

    I will like to read your comments.

    • Peter Goeman

      Asowata,

      Thanks for reading. My thought process is multi-layered.

      (1) 1 Cor 15:21-23 seems to be describing the same event as 1 Thess 4:13-18
      (2) 1 Thess 4:13-18 is very clearly talking about Christ coming back for the church
      (3) 1 Cor 15:24 uses a chronological sequence marker which differentiates the “end” from Christ raising His church (btw, these same chronological markers are found in 1 Cor 15:4-7 which clearly indicate chronological succession)
      (4) Therefore, the “end” takes place after the resurrection (however, according to Jesus and Paul, the end includes Christ coming back, achieving victory over his enemies, reigning over a kingdom, AND a ressurection).

      So, either Paul is misusing chronological sequences in 1 Cor 15, or else he is redefining what “the end” refers to–both of which are not really likely in my mind. It is much more natural to see multiple resurrections (since Rev 20:4ff refer to multiple resurrections anyway). No one passage speaks exhaustively about any eschatological phenomenon. So this synthesis is the easiest without changing what Paul is saying. But, obviously not everyone agrees with me ;)

  • Larry Beauchamp

    I would like permission to use your posting “How Many Resurrections are there in Scripture?” posted on April 19, 2019 in my study notes on the Gospel of John. I will not use it word for word, but the theological content will not be changed for I agree with what you say. Also, if I ever attempt to publish a book on the Gospel of John, I would like the same permission (with appropriate reference given to your website).

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