What the Bible Says About The Resurrection And Immortality

There is a lot of confusion concerning what the Bible says about the eschatological resurrection and immortality.  In this article we want to resolve these issues simply and concisely.

Types of Life

Before we can arrive at a correct understanding of death, resurrection, and immortality, we must first gain an understanding of the kinds of life represented in the Bible.  There are no fewer than five kinds or qualities of life may be identified.  These are 1) Physical/sentient life; 2) Moral/spiritual life; 3) Juridical life; 4) Hadean life; and 5) Eternal life.

Physical and Sentient Life:  Physical life is bare life; it may be of a cell, or a plant, mushroom, or lichen.  It is life without the ability to perceive itself or its surroundings.  Sentient life is life defined by the ability to perceive one’s self or surroundings. A worm or shell fish has physical life, but also possesses physical sense and the ability to perceive and react to threat or danger and, therefore, possesses sentient life.  

Moral and Spiritual Life:  God elevated man above his other creatures, which possess mere physical and sentient life, adding moral and spiritual dimension to man’s existence by breathing into him the breath of life.  (Gen. 1:26; 2:7)  The Hebrew word translated “breath of life” is “neshamah” and is also rendered “inspiration.”  Thus, Job states, “But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration (“neshamah”) of the Almighty giveth them understanding.”  (Job 32:8)  The inspiration God breathed into our first ancestor made him a partaker of the divine image and likeness, permitting him to possess the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. (Gal. 5:22, 23)

Juridical Life:  In order for actions to have moral quality, the actor must possess reason, understanding, and the power of choice, which may be briefly comprehended in the faculty of faith – the ability to believe and choose the good.  God concluded man under law and covenant when he gave him the commandment not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  (Gen. 2:17)  As long as man exercised his faculty of faith, choosing to believe and obey, he was just and acceptable before God and possessed what may be called “juridical life.”

Hadean life:  Hadean life is set over against earthly life.  Unable to go to be with God in heaven until the blood of Christ purchased his redemption, at physical death man lived in the realm of Sheol or Hades.  The lost were confined to Tartarus (II Pet. 2:4), the saved to Paradise or Abraham’s bosom. (Lk. 16:22; 23:43; cf. II Cor. 12:4)  

Eternal life:  Eternal life is the life of the spirit or soul of man in heaven.[1]  Eternal life is either actual or legal.  Man possesses eternal life in fact (“actually”) when he enters heaven personally and spatially; he possesses eternal life in law (“legally”) when he is declared just before the throne of God.  This is the same as juridical life.  When John says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (Jno. 3:36), he speaks of juridical life.  Because juridical life is merely legal it is also conditional, and depends upon man’s continued obedience to the gospel of Christ.  Adam had juridical life, but lost it through disobedience, as may also we.[2]

Types of Death

 For every type of life or being there is a corresponding type of death or “nonbeing.”  

Physical and sentient death:   Physical and sentient death entails the cessation of physical and sentient life by the death of the body.  Physical death entered when access to the tree of life was taken away.  (Gen. 3:22-24)  The tree of life sustained man’s mortal existence indefinitely.  But, with the withdrawal of access to this tree, physical decay and death set in.  

Moral and spiritual death:  Moral and spiritual death entail the cessation of moral and spiritual life by the entrance of sin.  When sin entered, the image of God in man was lost and defaced; man irrevocably forfeited the inspiration (“neshamah”) that made him a partaker of the divine image and likeness; he became carnal, sold under sin.  Adam’s sons and daughters were made in his image and likeness, not God’s, and, hence, were heirs of his “falleness.” (Gen. 5:3; Rom. 5:19; 7:14)[3]

Juridical death:  Moral and spiritual death brings juridical death.  Juridical death is the judgment of God, giving sentence against the sin of man. All men that attain to moral accountability ultimately come under the power of juridical death.  When St. Paul states, that “death reigned from Adam to Moses” (Rom. 5:14; cf. 17, 21) he speaks of juridical death.  Juridical “death passed upon all men,” because all men violate the law of sin and death.  (Rom. 5;12)[4]  The wages of sin is eternal death.  (Rom. 6:23)  When God told Adam “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17), he spoke of eternal death.  The fact man did not die eternally the day he transgressed should not trouble us; “in the day” speaks to the day of transgression, not execution of sentence.  Several examples occur in the Old Testament where the identical phrase is used, even though the subject did not die the day he offended.  (Cf. I Kings 2:37, 42; Ezek. 32:12-16)  The moment man sins he comes under judgment and sentence of eternal death albeit sentence is not executed until he dies physically.  Man must first die physically before he can die eternally.  If he repents before he suffers physical death, the sentence of eternal death can be vacated and set aside.  (Ezek. 18:20-23; 32:12-16)  

Hadean Death:  Hades is the realm of the physically dead.  Hadean death is interposed between physical death and eternal death or eternal life.  Without Hades, man would have passed from physical death to eternal death, because the blood of Christ was not available to save them. Hence, God confined the soul of man in Hades until the judgment of the last day. 

Eternal Death: Eternal death is the second death or lake of fire (Gehenna). (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Matt. 10:28)  All that do not inherit eternal life suffer eternal death and destruction in the lake of fire. 

Types of Resurrection

Given the different types of life and death that exist in scripture, it should come as no surprise that there are varied types and forms of resurrection. Let us survey these briefly.

Physical Resurrection: There are numerous examples of the resurrection of physical bodies in the scriptures.  Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son.  (II Kings 4:8-37)  In another instance, when a man was being buried and his body touched the bones of Elisha, he revived.  (II Kings 13:20, 21)  Jesus thrice restored to physical life those that were dead.  (Lk. 7:11-18; 8:49-56; Jno. 11:1-46)  And Jesus himself was raised anew to physical life.  (Jno.20)  Peter and Paul also both raised the dead to physical life.  (Acts 9:36-43; 20:9, 10) In all these cases, however, excepting Jesus, those that were raised had to experience physical death a second time.  Jesus, because he was translated (ascended) to heaven similar to Enoch and Elijah, did not die a second time.  The eschatological resurrection of the last day did not involve physical bodies.  Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.  (I Cor. 15:50)  “That which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body tha
t shall be.”  (I Cor. 15:37)  It is sown a natural, material, corporeal body, but is raised an intangible, immaterial, spiritual body.  (I Cor. 15:42-44)  

National, Political Resurrection: The image of resurrection is used metaphorically of Israel during its captivity in Babylon and Assyria.  Ezekiel saw a vision of dead bones come together and stand upon their feet, a great army.  The vision was interpreted for Ezekiel as prophesying the nation’s political resurrection and restoration to its native land.  (Ezek. 37)  Some attempt to make an analogy and apply this vision to the church, saying there is a collective and corporate resurrection of the national to the spiritual and the political to the ecclesiastical.   However tempting this analogy may seem, it is certain no New Testament writer ever speaks of the eschatological resurrection in such terms.  It exists only by the invention of certain modern writers and therefore should not be received as the teaching of the scriptures on the subject.

Moral and Spiritual Resurrection: Repentance and conversion are sometimes described in terms of a resurrection.  Thus, Paul says, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”  (Eph. 5:14; cf. Rom. 13:11; I Cor. 15:34)  The image here is a man in a state of moral death and estrangement from God by sin, coming to repentance and life in Christ.  However, obviously, this is merely a literary use of simile and metaphor, and not the eschatological resurrection of the dead.  When the scriptures speak of the resurrection of the last day they are not speaking of repentance and conversion.

Juridical Resurrection: In Ephesians, Paul writes “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins…Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”  (Eph. 2:1, 5, 6) This is juridical resurrection;  the image is that of those under judgment of death receiving pardon and figuratively being “raised up” from juridical death and made to sit in heavenly places through the agency and representative office of Christ, who stands before God on our behalf and in whom we stand also.  (Cf. Col. 3:3, 4)  As before, this is merely symbolic language adopted to describe a spiritual truth, and not an actual resurrection.  The like image is used again by Paul in the context of baptism:  “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.”  (Rom. 6:3-5; cf. Col. 2:11, 12) 

In baptism, the repentant believer is made a partaker of the saving effects of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, and receives remission of sins.  (Acts 2:38; 22:16; cf. Mk. 1:4)  Hence, Paul speaks of baptism as a type of juridical resurrection by which the sentence of death pronounced against the sinner is vacated and set aside and he is raised anew to life.  Tertullian put it this way:  "Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life."[5]  

It is juridical resurrection that Jesus had in view when he said “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”  (Jno. 5:24, 25)  Other similes and metaphors used to describe the relationship created by man’s response to the gospel include marriage, adoption, and rebirth.  (Jno. 3:3-5; Gal. 4:1-7; Eph. 22-32)  However, in all of these examples the language is purely symbolical and not actual; it is adapted to describe one that was under sentence of death, receiving pardon unto life by responding to the gospel call.  In no event should they be construed as the eschatological resurrection   

Hadean Resurrection:  Here we begin to approach the actual, eschatological resurrection of the dead.  The spirit of man does not cease to exist at physical death.  Prior to the resurrection of the last day, the spirit of man was preserved alive and conscious by God in Hades.  The wicked were kept under “chains of darkness” in Tartarus, “reserved unto judgment.”  (II Pet. 2:4; cf. Lk. 16:19-31)  The righteous were kept in Paradise unto the resurrection of life. (Jno. 5:29; cf. Dan. 12:2)  Those in Hades Paradise were described as participants of the “first resurrection.”  (Rev. 20:3-6; cf. Mk. 12:26, 27)  This “resurrection” consisted of the saved beginning with Abel and those forward until the eschatological resurrection of the last day.

Eschatological Resurrection:  The promise of the resurrection was first made in the garden to Adam.  “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”  (Gen. 3:15)  The promise of resurrection here is couched in poetic terms in which the serpent is put for death, Eve is put for God’s people (the church), and the woman’s Seed is put for Christ.  Death would strike at Christ, bruising his heel on Calvary, but Christ would crush death’s head by the power of his resurrection.  The righteous were gathered by God into Hades Paradise at physical death to await the eschatological resurrection.  In the last day of the former eon, Christ raised the dead out of Hades.  The wicked were cast into Gehenna, the lake of fire, or second death; the righteous were taken to heaven.  Hades Paradise has now been destroyed[6] and the righteous now go directly to heaven upon the death of the body.  (II Cor. 5:1-10)  Revelation 20:11-15 is the only picture provided by scripture of the eschatological resurrection and it makes clear that it consisted of individual souls raised from Hades. 

The Eschatological Change

If the eschatological resurrection consisted in individuals raised from Hades, the eschatological “change” was corporate and covenantal.  Hear Paul:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (I Cor. 15:51-57)

Paul indicates at the outset that what he is about to describe is a mystery requiring spiritual discernment to understand; thus we must expect our comprehension to be stretched by what he is about to impart.  Two groups are treated of: the living and the dead.  Paul states that not all the living would experience physical death (“sleep&rdqu
o;) before the eschaton.  Some would be alive at the Lord’s return.  (Cf. Matt. 16:27, 28; Jno. 21:20-23)  The dead would be raised incorruptible, but “we” (the living) would be “changed.”  (v. 52)  What was this change? Paul provides the answer in the next verse:  “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (v. 53)  

The dead were raised incorruptible, the living were changed by the receipt of immortality.  This is often mistaken to mean that the living would be “translated” to ethereal realms like Enoch or Elijah (cf. Jno. 21:20-23), but that is not Paul’s meaning.  The mortal (living) putting on immortality (eternal life) spoke to the covenantal change by which the church received the adoption of sonship and redemption from the dominion of sin and death.

Juridical death reigned from Adam to Moses; the law of sin and death could not be satisfied by the blood of bulls and goats.   (Heb. 10:4)  Prior to the eschaton, the whole creation (Jews and Gentiles) was under bondage of corruption and groaned in travail, waiting for the redemption of their collective body.  (Rom. 8:19-23; cf. Mk. 16:15; Col. 1:23; Jam. 1:18 on use of the term “creature/creation.”)  In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul spoke of this as the “redemption of the purchased possession.”  (Eph. 1:14)  At the cross, Christ purchased man’s salvation.  But the purchased possession (the church) remained to be redeemed; Christ had to return to receive his bride unto himself.  (Cf. Eph. 5:27; cf. Rev. 19:7-9; 21:9)  Thus, from the cross to the eschaton, the church continued under the dominion of sin and death, looking for the redemption, the time when the benefit of Christ’s blood would come into full force and effect and they would receive the immortality of divine sonship.  

Of course, this immortality is merely juridical and, therefore, conditional.  As long as man is in the physical body, he is subject to temptation to sin and the possibility of apostasy.  As John states “there is a sin unto death.”  (I Jno. 5:16, 17)  However, for those who do not sin unto death, “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us of all sin” and we remain heirs of eternal life.  

Heaven Now?

A strange teaching is afoot in recent times that men are in heaven even while on earth.  This error comes from a misunderstanding of Revelation twenty-one and twenty-two, which describe the new Jerusalem (the church).  The thinking is that this is a picture of “heaven on earth.”  Let it not be mistaken: heaven on earth is not the same as being in heaven above!  Indeed, John states at the very outset that he saw a new "heavens and earth."  (Rev. 21:1, 2)   Thus, it is not heaven he describes, but earth in the regeneration.  Furthermore, John states that he saw the new Jerusalem descending "out of heaven” from God.  (Rev. 21:10)  Since it descended out of heaven, the new Jerusalem plainly is not an image of heaven itself.  Instead, Revelation twenty-one and twenty-two portray God coming down from heaven to tabernacle with man, not man ascending to heaven to dwell with God.  They are a portrait of man in a restored relationship to God through Christ; a picture of the church in the regeneration where the barrier of sin is blotted out and man is admitted anew into God’s presence.    The picture described is juridical, not actual.  There is no new earth in any physical sense; no actual city descended from heaven.  But soteriologically all things have been made new.  Man has obtained salvation in Jesus Christ and been brought anew into God’s juridical presence by the blood of the Lamb! 


By identifying the different types of life, death, and resurrection present in scripture, we quickly see that the eschatological resurrection consisted in raising individual souls from Hades. The eschatological change, on the other hand, was corporate and covenantal; it consisted in the church receiving immortal life.  This change is portrayed in Revelation twenty-one and twenty-two in terms of a new heavens and earth where God’s presence tabernacles with believers in the new Jerusalem, the church.  The picture is legal and juridical, not actual; the believer has been restored to the presence of God in contemplation of law, but he cannot enter God’s actual presence in heaven until the body’s death.




[1]  The notion that man will live forever on a new earth is erroneous.  The home of the saved is heaven.  (Matt. 6:20; Heb. 11:16: I Pet. 1:4)

[2]   This does not mean man can earn eternal life by merit; he cannot.  It is the gift of God through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  However, the gift is not unconditional; man must receive it in faith, by repenting of his sins and obeying the gospel.

[3]   Jesus, because he had no earthly father, but was born of the virgin, did not inherit Adam’s “falleness” and thus, was the second Adam, restoring the image of God to mankind.  (I Cor. 15:45; Col. 1:15; II Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3)

[4] The law of sin and death must be distinguished from the Mosaic law.  The Mosaic law subsumed the law of sin and death, but the latter exists independently of the former.  The law of Moses is now done away, but the law of sin and death remains in force.

[5] Tertullian, On Baptism, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III. pp. 669, 674, 676.

[6]  Whether Tartarus was destroyed may be questioned.  There is room to argue that Tartarus still exists as a place of punishment before the lost suffer eternal death in Gehenna.  (See Lk. 12:47, 48)  According to this view, when John states that “death and Hades” were destroyed, it is understood he spoke only of Paradise; the “sea,” being symbolic of Tartarus (Rev. 20:13), was not destroyed.



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