Where the world comes to study the Bible

Contemporary Interpretative Problems: — The Resurrection of Israel

Article contributed by

Few interpretive problems in eschatology test an interpreter’s skill like the doctrine of the resurrection of Israel. The subject has been ignored by liberals and neo-orthodox theologians who have been more concerned with the question of whether resurrection is literal or not. Within such a context particular attention to Israel could hardly be expected.

Orthodox theology has often assumed that saints of the Old Testament, including Israelites, will be resurrected at the second coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. This is the view of all conservative postmillenarians and amillenarians, and is also held by many premillenarians.

The only major challenge to this conclusion comes from the ranks of some dispensationalists who believe the rapture and translation of the church will be before the tribulation and that Israel will be raised from the dead at the same time, that is, before the tribulation. This view was held by Plymouth Brethren writers and was popularized in the Scofield Reference Bible.1 A minor variation from this teaching has been the suggestion that the Old Testament saints arose in the resurrection mentioned in Matthew 27:52 which occurred immediately after the resurrection of Christ, but this has no support whatever in Scripture and has attracted practically no followers.

The question of whether Israel will be raised at the rapture of the church before the tribulation would not have attracted much interest if it had not been for its vital connection with the pretribulational point of view. Posttribulationists like Alexander Reese have seized upon this interpretation as a major evidence of the untenable character of the pretribulation rapture.2 This has led in turn to a re-examination of the whole question.

The interpretive problem of the time and character of Israel’s resurrection finds its solution in a careful examination of the two major passages on the resurrection of Israel in the Old Testament, namely, Daniel 12:1-3 and Isaiah 26:13-19, and a major New Testament passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Collateral studies which cast light upon the subject are Ezekiel 37; 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, Galatians 3:23-29; Revelation 4:1-4; 19:7-12 ; 20:4-6 .

In approaching this study, inasmuch as it concerns primarily the pretribulation rapture point of view, it will be assumed that the rapture of the church will occur before the tribulation and, therefore, be separated in time from the second coming of Christ to the earth after the tribulation. The question to be determined is whether in this doctrinal framework the Scriptures teach that the resurrection of Israel will occur at the rapture or that it will occur later, namely, at the second coming after the tribulation. In attempting such a fresh study it is important that the basic hermeneutics of this theological position be borne in mind, namely, that prophecy should be interpreted literally unless there is good evidence to the contrary and that the Scripture passages should be allowed to speak for themselves contextually.

The Resurrection of Israel in Daniel

One of the two major passages on the resurrection of Israel in the Old Testament is found in Daniel 12:1-3, which reads as follows: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince who standeth for the children of thy people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”

The context of this passage, beginning specifically with Daniel 11:36, deals with “the time of the end” (Dan 11:35) and concerns the warfare which will precede the second coming of Christ. This period can be identified as the time of unprecedented trouble for Israel in the world and is known as the great tribulation. Daniel summarizes the climax of this period in Daniel 12:1 and declares that Michael the archangel (Jude 9) will arise to defend the people of Israel, and at the conclusion of their unprecedented time of trouble will deliver everyone found written in the book. The chronology of Daniel 12:1 is quite clear, namely, the time of trouble first, then Michael the archangel will arise, then the people of Israel shall be delivered who are spiritually worthy. The expression “everyone that shall be found written in the book” seems to be a reference to the book of life (Rev 20:15) which is the record of those who are saved and have eternal life.

In this context, it would seem clear that verse 2 is subsequent action, namely, that there will be at that time a resurrection and that this resurrection is of two orders, namely, “some to everlasting life” and “some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Further, in Daniel 12:3 the reward of those who are the saved is described in terms of their glorious transformation so that they will shine as the stars. implication that the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked occur at the same time, and they also want to support the concept that Israel is raised at the time of the rapture which would be plainly contradicted by this passage if a literal resurrection be admitted.

At first glance their suggestion that this is the restoration of Israel rather than Israel’s resurrection has some support in other Scripture. It is clear that Israel’s restoration will occur after the tribulation and not before. All pretribulationists agree that Israel is not fully restored until after their time of great tribulation. This would account for verse 2 following verse 1 of Daniel 12 where the order is tribulation, deliverance, restoration. It is also true that Ezekiel 37 gives support to the concept of Israel’s restoration under the figure of resurrection. The vision of the valley of dry bones pictured so graphically in Ezekiel 37, whether or not it includes the resurection of Israel, clearly teaches the main theme of Israel’s national restoration. There is then a parallel between restoration and resurrection as provided in Ezekiel 37.

The concept that restoration of Israel is intended in Daniel 12:2 has, however, some real problems in that the same verse mentions not only the resurrection or restoration of some to everlasting life, but also of some to shame and everlasting contempt. It is quite clear that the unsaved are not restored at the time of the second coming, while it is also evident that they are literally resurrected at the end of the millennium, according to Revelation 20:11-15, as a preparation for their being cast into the lake of fire. The last part of verse 2 , referring to the wicked, must be literal resurrection. Under these circumstances, it is rather hazardous to bifurcate the verse into two drastically different ideas depending on the same verb, “shall awake,” and in one case make it national restoration and in the next case make it actual resurrection. It would seem that both must stand and fall together, and that if the wicked are raised from the dead, then the righteous are also.

A careful examination of the passage further reveals that the embarrassment of premillenarians over the apparent grouping of the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked is quite unnecessary. Verse 2 states the fact of resurrection in summary form. A similar statement is found in John 5:28-29 where Christ said: “Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.” No orthodox student of prophecy would interpret this passage in John as national restoration even though both the righteous and the wicked are spoken of in the same breath. The point here is that an affirmation of the fact of the resurrection is not necessarily an indication of the time of the resurrection. The separation of the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked must depend upon passages which discuss this subject. It is always an unfair stricture on a Scripture to expect it to restate all the details when stating a fact in general. Accordingly, if John 5:28-29 can be taken as a literal resurrection without embarrassment to the premillenarian so also can Daniel 12:2. The premillenarian is, therefore, delivered from the necessity of spiritualizing a plain, literal, statement of resurrection.

Competent Hebrew scholars have pointed out that the Hebrew of Daniel 12:2 makes a much sharper contrast between the two classes than the English connotes. A literal translation accordingly supports the concept that this is not one resurrection with two classes, but rather two resurrections which could, according to other Scripture, be separated in time. Such writers as S. P. Tregelles,7 Nathaniel West,8 and S. R. Driver9 all make this point. Premillenarians do not need to panic when the millennium is not taught in every verse of the Bible, but may follow the principle that all Scripture should be brought to bear upon a given theological point.

If this reasoning is correct, it also follows that the resurrection of Israel chronologically is clearly placed in this passage after the great tribulation and not before. Although there are spaces of time between the various events described, the order of them is clearly as follows: (1) the time of trouble for Israel; (2) their deliverance; (3) their resurrection, and (4) the resurrection of the wicked. This is precisely the order that is indicated in other Scriptures and leads to the conclusion that a literal resurrection is intended in Daniel 12:2.

As far as this passage is concerned, therefore, there is no evidence whatever that the resurrection of Israel occurs before the tribulation. In fact, it is safe to say that there is not a single verse anywhere in the Old Testament which intimates this. The uniform presentation seems to be that the resurrection of the dead in Israel coincides with the restoration of the nation at the time of the second coming of Christ at the beginning of the millennial kingdom.

Hermeneutical consistency requires Daniel 12:2 to be interpreted literally, that is, if the wicked are raised literally so are the righteous. The fact that both are raised literally does not mean that they are raised at the same time, but each in their order according to other Scriptures. The main point of this passage, therefore, is a reassurance to Israel that, though they may expect this future time of great trouble, God will deliver the righteous in Israel from their tormentors, that those who have died will be raised. God in His own time will also deal with the wicked in raising them for their final judgment. As far as this passage is concerned, therefore, there is nothing contradictory to premillennialism here, nor is there any teaching that seems to indicate that the resurrection of Israel will occur before the tribulation.

Resurrection of Israel in Isaiah

If Daniel 12:1-3 is the principal passage in the Old Testament on the resurrection of Israel, the prophecy of Isaiah found in Isaiah 26:13-19 is next in importance. Many expositors take the Isaiah and Daniel passages as complementary to each other. The context of the passage deals with the final victory of Israel and the triumph of God over the wicked. Chapter 24 of Isaiah deals with the great tribulation, and the judgment of the wicked at the second coming of Christ is seen in verse 21 while the blessings of Christ’s kingdom on earth are set forth in Isaiah 25—26 .

In this context of Israel’s restoration, Isaiah predicts that the dead shall arise. The central statement is found in Isaiah 26:19, “Thy dead shall live; my dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast forth the dead.” If the premise be followed that words should have their normal and natural meaning, unless there is good reason for other considerations, this verse plainly predicts a resurrection. It declares that the dead shall live, that their dead bodies shall arise and that the earth shall cast forth her dead. If such a plain statement concerning resurrection can be explained away as not meaning actual resurrection, it would seem that any other passage in the Bible dealing with resurrection would have a similar explanation. In spite of these considerations, however, some have objected to literal resurrection in this passage based upon the context.

In Isaiah 26:13-14 a declaration is made concerning those who have lorded over Israel and the following statement is made: “O Jehovah our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion. over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all rememberance of them to perish.”

On the basis of this passage, objection has been raised to literal resurrection on the grounds that verse 14 would then declare that these wicked men would never be raised from the dead, which is contradicted by Revelation 20:11-15. William Kelly for instance holds that the Gentiles who lorded over Israel shall not be thought of as being denied a literal resurrection, but rather denied a restoration to power;10 in other words, that the passage teaches restoration, not resurrection. Hence, he concludes that Isaiah 26:19 also is talking about restoration in relation to Israel rather than to bodily resurrection.

A better approach, however, seems to be that what Isaiah is teaching is that the lords who are oppressing Israel are not able to raise themselves and that they are not able to rise from the dead to be victorious over Israel. By contrast, Israel will rise from the dead (Isa 26:19) and be victorious over their enemies. This does not deny that the wicked will be raised, but it does deny that they will be raised to have triumph over Israel in relation to the close of the tribulation and the beginning of the millennial kingdom. held that the resurrection of Israel and the resurrection of the church is one event.

The answer seems to be that the conclusion of Darby and his associates, although not without grounds, is nevertheless, upon careful investigation, found to be a hasty conclusion. Actually the fact that Christ comes for His church, that is, the saints of this present age, before the tribulation does not have any real connection with the resurrection of the Old Testament saints including the resurrection of Israel, but is instead a special event pertaining to the saints of this age alone.

This is borne out in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 where it is declared that at the rapture “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” The technical expression of “the dead in Christ” refers to those who are in Christ by the baptism of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13).

Dispensationalists usually agree that the baptism of the Spirit, freely predicted throughout the gospel period and prophesied by the Lord Himself on the day of His ascension, took place on the Day of Pentecost and describes the peculiar relationship of the saints of the present age to Christ in that they are declared to be positionally in Christ. A careful search of the New Testament in many cases where the expressions in Christ or in Him are used will demonstrate that never in any context are these expressions used for saints other than those in the present age. The introduction of this restrictive clause in Christ to describe the dead who are raised therefore limits the resurrection to the saints of the present age.

The concept that saints in the present age have the technical description of being in Christ in contrast to saints of other ages does not deny that Christ represented the whole world when He died and that as the last Adam He represented humanity. It is rather that saints in this present age have a peculiar privilege of a special inness which is related to the baptism of the Spirit which occurred for the first time on the Day of Pentecost.

Although it is true that the expression “the dead” is found without restriction in 1 Corinthians 15:52, it clearly does not mean all the dead, for all premillenarians agree that the wicked dead are not included. It is also quite clear that the resurrection which occurs at the rapture is the resurrection out from among the dead (cp. Phil 3:11). Accordingly, as far as the New Testament is concerned, there is no clear evidence that the resurrection of Israel occurs in connection with the rapture and the evidence on the contrary is that the rapture restricts its resurrection to those who belong to the church, the body of Christ, formed by the baptism of the Spirit beginning on the Day of Pentecost.

Other New Testament Passages

In support of the idea that the resurrection at the rapture includes Israel, other passages are sometimes cited. For instance, 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 states: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming.” This passage, however, if carefully examined, does not say that all shall be made alive at the same time, and the expression “they that are Christ’s, at his coming” could conceivably apply only to the church or could be taken as a general reference to all the resurrections of the righteous regardless of when they occur. The expression “in Christ” does not occur here. A similar argument is raised concerning Galations 3:23-29 where believers in the present age are said to be baptized into Christ and on this basis are declared to be Abraham’s seed. Here again a careful examination will support the concept that every believer in the present age is spiritually Abraham’s seed as is also stated in Galations 3:7, but it does not follow that all of Abraham’s seed spiritually are in Christ. In other words, this does not contradict the concept of the special character of believers in this present age.

Still another argument is offered from Revelation 4:1-2 where John hears a voice saying: “Come up hither, and I will show thee the things which must come to pass hereafter.” This is often taken to represent the rapture of the church. In fairness to the passage, however, all the passage actually states is that John is caught up to heaven, and at best it is an illustration, not a ground for doctrine concerning the rapture. The fact that John sees the four and twenty elders in heaven in the verses which follow has also been taken as proof that Israel is resurrected on the grounds that the twenty-four elders represent Israel and the church both.

The subject of the identity and significance of the twenty-four elders is a debated point even within dispensational circles. The usual view is that all twenty-four elders represent the church and not Old Testament saints, and the leading alternative view is that the twenty-four elders represent angels based on the revised text of Revelation 5:9-10 which makes their identity with angels a possibility. To argue from this debated point that Israel must be resurrected at the rapture because they are represented in the twenty-four elders is too tenuous to provide any solid support.

The description of the wedding feast in Revelation 19 has also been taken as a proof that Israel is in heaven and, therefore, resurrected at the rapture. The announcement is made in Revelation 19 that the marriage (that is, the marriage feast) of the lamb is come (Rev 19:6). The fact that this announcement is made, however, as an impending event in connection with the second coming of Jesus Christ to the earth, instead of supporting the concept that Israel is in heaven at the wedding feast and, therefore, raptured before the tribulation, is subject to serious question. If the wedding feast has not yet been held just prior to the second advent of Christ, it suggests that probably the symbolism of the wedding feast will not be fulfilled in heaven between the rapture and Christ’s second coming to the earth, but rather in connection with His millennial kingdom which may be viewed as a continuous spiritual feast. Actually the Bible does not offer any solid proof that there is a wedding feast in heaven, as such passages as Matthew 22:1-14 and Matthew 25:1-13, where the marriage ceremony is used to represent spiritual truth in both cases, represent the marriage feast on earth rather than in heaven. Accordingly, Revelation 19 is no evidence that Israel is resurrected at the rapture.

A final proof is sometimes offered in Revelation 20 in connection with the resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4. Here John in his vision saw thrones with some seated on them. This has usually been taken to represent the church. In addition, he saw “the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worship not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand,” and of these he states “they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” This obviously refers to saints who did live in the tribulation period and who died as martyrs. Their resurrection is in connection with the second coming of Christ to the earth. It is quite clear that the resurrection mentioned here is not the resurrection of the church, the body of Christ. Inasmuch as the term the first resurrection must necessarily include not only the church, but the resurrected righteous of the Old Testament including Israel, and the martyred dead of the tribulation, it would seem reasonable to conclude that a natural time for Israel to be raised from the dead would be at the time of their national restoration and in preparation for their reign with Christ on earth. This would seem preferable to the view that Israel is raised at the conclusion of the church age whose program concerns a different line of Biblical truth.


As far as the New Testament evidence is concerned, there is no solid proof that Israel is raised at the time of the rapture. The Old Testament doctrine of the resurrection of Israel is clearly related to a posttribulational situation. By separating the resurrection of Israel from the resurrection of the church as the body of Christ, pretribulationists are delivered from an unnecessary burden of spiritualizing the two main passages in the Old Testament on the resurrection of Israel in order to sustain their pretribulation position, and at the same time can provide a natural and normal explanation of passages both in the Old and New Testament relating to the resurrection of the dead without complicating the other evidences for the pretribulational rapture.

This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.

1 Scofield Reference Bible (1917 edition) p. 1269, note 1.

2 Alexander Reese, The Approaching Advent of Christ, pp. 34-5l.

7 S. P. Tregelles, Remarks on the Prophetic Visions in the Book of Daniel, pp. 165-70.

8 Nathaniel West, The Thousand Years in Both Testaments, pp. 266-69.

9 S. R. Driver, Daniel, p. 200.

10 William Kelly, An Exposition of the Book of Isaiah, pp. 267-68.

Report Inappropriate Ad