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Resurrection – An Old Testament Viewpoint, Part 2

July 25, 2012

As Christians, we view the Old Testament from the perspective of the New. We know Salvation was accomplished. The Messiah in the Person of Jesus Christ arrived some 2000 ago, fulfilling all Messianic prophecies to the letter.

What, however, was the understanding of an afterlife, in the Old Testament?

Resurrection – Release from Death’s Snare

There are certainly despairing statements contained in the Old Testament.

I am counted with them that go down to the pit; I am as a man who has no strength, adrift among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and who are cut off from Your hand” (Ps. 88: 4-5).

Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Eccl. 9: 10).

Such statements tend to be a response to circumstance, rather than a reasoned analysis of the evidence for or against an afterlife.

The statements are often despairing of life, itself, more so than of the existence of an afterlife. The approach by King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes is particularly world weary.

In some instances, the negative statements may well be comparing the fate of a righteous man, i.e.  the author (who can expect to be resurrected), with that of an unrighteous – who will be condemned and forgotten, cut off from God by reason of his misdeeds.

The Book of Job is in sharp contrast with this. Writing around 2000 BC at the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Job – a “blameless and upright” man – makes a powerful statement in favor of life after death, despite his own physical and emotional torment:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19: 25-27).

At the opposite end of the spectrum of human emotion, the prophet, Isaiah (who writes eloquently about the Suffering Servant), about 1300 years after Job, makes this joyful prediction:

“Your dead shall live; together with my dead bodythey shall arise.  Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Is. 26: 19).

Resurrection – Preservation of Identity

The possibility of resurrection and an afterlife begs the question:  a resurrection of what exactly? Is the individual resurrected, along with the “nation”? Is individual identity preserved? There is actually Scriptural support for this in the Old Testament, if one looks closely.


Enoch was among the patriarchs living before the Flood.  Scripture implies that he was taken bodily into heaven, i.e. that he continued to exist, albeit in another realm. This privilege, it appears, was a result of Enoch’s fellowship with God.

So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5: 23-24).


Three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all lay claim to Abraham. The story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22: 1-14) – the son who had long been promised to him by God – at God’s own direction is frequently used to illustrate both Abraham’s faith and his belief in individual resurrection.

The story is undoubtedly a prime example of faithfulness. If Abraham had reservations, they were not voiced. Whether Abraham conceived of God resurrecting Isaac after the sacrifice is less clear.  Abraham proceeded because He trusted God. God would keep His promise to Abraham…whether Abraham could fathom the method or not.

Jesus’ later parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19) comes, also, to mind. A beggar is denied the crumbs from a rich man’s table.

“ ‘So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

 “ ‘Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” ’ ” (Luke 16: 22-26).

The “bosom of Abraham” (a place in Sheol where the just peacefully await Judgment Day) is clearly distinguishable from Hades (in some writings separate from Sheol, in others that unhappy part of Sheol where the unrighteous await their fate).


The prophet, Elijah, is described as having been taken alive into heaven by a whirlwind.

Then it happened, as they [Elijah and Elisha] continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kin. 2: 11).

The prophet, Malachi, relays this message from God regarding Elijah, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ ” (Mal. 4: 5).  Jewish tradition holds that Elijah will return on Passover to announce the coming of the Messiah. A chair is still reserved for the prophet in Jewish homes at the Passover seder.

Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17: 1-3) which would place them outside time. Many Christians believe Elijah will be one of the two witnesses referred to in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 11: 3-4).


The mere bones of the prophet, Elisha (Elijah’s successor) are said by Scripture to have raised a man from the dead. This strongly suggests the belief in an afterlife for the individual.

Then Elisha died, and they buried him… So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet” (2 Kin. 13: 20-21).

Saul, Samuel, and the Witch of Endor

After the death of Samuel, King Saul had a medium sought out, in order to make contact with Samuel in Sheol because of impending war with the Philistines. This was contrary to the religious law against witchcraft which likewise argues for the belief in an afterlife.

“And the woman said to Saul, ‘I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth…An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.’ And Saul perceived that it was Samuel…Now Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’ ” (1 Sam. 28: 13-15).

Although the English version of the text refers to Samuel as a “spirit” what is meant here is the psyche/soul (nephesh, one of the four components making up a human being, in Israelite thinking).

The Scales of Justice Perfectly Balanced

The righteous have longed for justice since before history began. But history, itself, illustrates the fact that justice is not always to be had in this life.

“ ‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever...’ ” (Dan. 12: 2-3).

Against the backdrop of eternity, the possibility for justice is vastly increased.

Intimacy with God Now and Forever

Although God as described in the Old Testament is frequently a God of Judgment, there are numerous references (particularly in Psalms and the Book of Isaiah) to the protective and caring relationship between God and His people, and the close, personal relationship between the authors and the Lord.

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16: 11).

You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Ps. 73: 24).

If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there”(Ps. 139: 8).

 These are only a handful of the hundreds of biblical references to eternity. Those references are not window dressing. God’s promises would be illusory, if there were no afterlife and resurrection. That runs counter to all we know of His character and trustworthiness.

 As Christians, we have the added advantage of Jesus’ Resurrection to strengthen our faith.



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