Easter is near. Just go to your local store and you’ll see the evidence: marshmallow chicks, chocolate bunnies, baskets, and bright pastel colors that make us think of Spring. But the main point of Easter is usually missing: the resurrection of Jesus. As we approach Holy Week, we also look ahead to the resurrection—and not just Jesus’ resurrection, but our own as well.
When we hear the word “resurrection,” the first thing we usually think of is Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead. But the teaching goes all the way back to the beginning of time, to the beginning of the Christian faith. The teaching of the resurrection from the dead was held by the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, before Jesus died and rose. And hundreds of years before that, Isaiah, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote these words: Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. (Isaiah 26:19 ESV)
Isaiah writes of the last day of the earth, when all bodies will come out of their graves to meet God face to face. God tells us clearly, before Christ was born, what will happen with our bodies on that day, how we should respond to this, and what will happen next.
There shouldn’t be any doubt what Isaiah is writing about with these words. All people (unless they are living when Jesus returns) will end up in some sort of a grave. We usually think of only human beings being under this punishment, but we’re told that all of creation fell under this punishment from the first sin- everything from plants to animals: For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:20-22 ESV) Not only was all creation subjected to death, but all creation also awaits the freedom that will come on the Last Day.
What is the promise of God in this passage from Isaiah? The first part of God’s promise is that all people who have died will rise, bodily, from their graves. When we hear that we may think of a Hollywood movie, where mummies or rotting corpses start walking around. But that’s not how it will be.
Our human minds can’t quite grasp how it will be. We simply trust that it’s true. And God leaves no doubt that it is. Jesus Himself said, Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out… (John 5:28-29 ESV) How will we know when this happens? For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16 ESV)
It’s interesting in this passage that Paul tells us, by inspiration, that the believers will rise first. I heard an older man say once- and he wasn’t joking- “I hope that whole nonsense isn’t true- I don’t want to be stuck with this body for eternity.” Many of us may feel the same way. We look at ourselves and see all the problems, the injuries that have left us to walk in pain or have taken a part of our body away, the diseases that have left us tired and weak- all the terrible things that have happened to our bodies in our lifetimes. But God wants us to know that while these are the bodies that will rise from the grave, they will not be the same.
Paul writes to the Philippians by inspiration, But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21 ESV) Our bodies will be the ones we have now, but they won’t be. They will transformed- they will be made perfect- like Christ’s body. No more pain or shame- but absolutely perfect.
What should be our response to this great action? Think back today to a certain part of your life. Think of a time in your childhood when one of your parents was gone or think of a time your spouse or best friend was away- either for a day or longer. Think of the longing you had for that person to come home. Do you remember the excitement you felt as the time drew nearer- waiting in anticipation? Do you remember the moment you first saw that person coming up the path or getting off the train or airplane- how you wanted to shout- and maybe you did?
That’s what it will be like for a believer on the Last Day. Isaiah tells us in our text: You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! When a believer rises, it won’t be to scare others. It won’t be like a horror movie. It will be a joyous occasion. You will come out of your grave watching for Christ. And when you see Him, it will be like the time that special person in your life came home- you will shout for joy.
We see the great joy that we will all experience on that day, but what about the unbelievers? What will happen to them? They will also rise from the dead after the believers in Christ. But their bodies will not be glorified, they will not be perfect. They will not rise eagerly waiting to see their Lord, but will rise in great fear because only a terrible judgment awaits them. As Christians, we live in the hope of this great day. But we also feel sadness for so many who live in fear. This hope that we have should be reason enough to tell others what they will miss—to tell them that Jesus wants them to have the same hope!
Isaiah tells us more about what will happen after we rise: For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead. We will be washed clean by God from the stains of sin and death. Our newly perfected bodies will be exactly that- perfect, spotless, absolutely clean. The earth will not only give up the dead, but Isaiah says, the earth will give birth to the dead. The dead in Christ will not rise to their old lives, but their bodies will be reborn in absolute perfection, never to grow old, never to be injured in any way and never to die again—reborn to eternal life in Heaven with God.
Why is this teaching so important to a Christian? So many don’t believe it anymore. So many will say that only our spirits, our souls, are somehow resurrected, but that our bodies remain in the grave.
It should be important to us because God has told us that it’s true. Christ Himself told us. And this is not a new teaching. It’s one that has been taught since the Fall into Sin. Why should we believe it? The answer is very simple. The Apostle Paul supplies it for us in his first letter to the Corinthian congregation: Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-18 ESV) If the physical resurrection from the dead is not true, you and I have no hope.
But Paul also tells the Corinthians: But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)
This is the hope to which all Christians cling and should continue to hold onto: that Jesus Christ not only lived and died to save us, but was raised to life as proof that God accepted His sacrifice in our place—proof that God has forgiven us and will also raise our bodies from the grave to live with Him in perfection for all eternity. What a glorious hope and promise that God has given to all of us!