Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead … (Hebrews 6:1–2)
The fifth component of the “elementary doctrine of Christ” as found in Hebrews 6:1–2 is “the resurrection of the dead.” When most Believers think of the resurrection, we conjure up images associated with the popular Left Behind book series. We think of the sky cracking open, Jesus appearing in the clouds and people being whisked away from wherever they are into the air to meet him. Cars, motorcycles and airplanes begin to cause worldwide collisions and panic as their drivers are snatched away into the Sweet By and By. This is not the Resurrection. The Resurrection is for the dead, not the living. The living have no need of resurrection; it is only the dead.
Although the Resurrection is one of the foundational tenets of our faith upon which both the hope of Judaism and Christianity rests, it is a concept long since forgotten in the theological annals of our faith. It is a concept which sets Judaism and Christianity apart from all other world religions. It was this very hope of the Apostles which was confirmed through the physical resurrection of our Master. But yet we have really lost all connection to this basic belief held in high regard by the Apostles.
Unfortunately, many Believers, being uneducated and unfamiliar with the biblical concept of resurrection, have subtly fallen prey to the concepts of Gnosticism and have all but abandoned the concept of a literal resurrection. As a reminder, Gnosticism is the Jewish Christian heresy which emerged around the second century and taught that all matter is evil and that the body is a prison from which to be escaped. And although its basic premise was adamantly rejected by the church early on, many of its tenets continue to pervade the Christian faith to this day.
This Gnostic influence has ultimately lead to our belief that the eternal abode of the faithfully deceased is heaven. Rather than our hope being in a physical resurrection, we have traded in our hope for a non-biblical substitute of heaven. It seems that the bulk of Christians within the last century or so have begun to place their eternal hope in heaven rather than a physical resurrection in which there will also be a new heaven and new earth. In regard to this infatuation with heaven, D. T. Lancaster appropriately terms this as “eternal death” rather than eternal life. Why? Because if we are taken to heaven after death to spend eternity there, we have foregone the resurrection and are content to be in a state of eternal, perpetual death, living our lives detached from the physical world, rather than returning to our physical (albeit glorified) bodies in a regenerated corporeal existence.
In contrast, for the Apostles and the early believers, the thought of a physical resurrection was the ultimate hope. Paul expresses this plainly in his first letter to the Corinthians and criticizes a small number within their community who had begun to deny this foundational doctrine.
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.
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. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:12–26)
Paul argues that Yeshua’s own resurrection was evidence of the final resurrection, and was indeed the firstfruits of that future hope. He goes so far as to say, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised” (v.16). He even hung his jury when he appeared before the Sanhedrin by citing his belief in the resurrection (as evidenced by the resurrection of Yeshua) as the reason he was on trial.
Iranaeus, in his extensive exposé on the various heretical sects of his day, rebuked the various heresies which rejected a physical resurrection. He sets out to correct the error of these teachings by reminding us of the message the Apostles proclaimed:
Peter, together with John, preached to them this plain message of glad tidings, that the promise which God made to the fathers had been fulfilled by Jesus; not certainly proclaiming another god, but the Son of God, who also was made man, and suffered; thus leading Israel into knowledge, and through Jesus preaching the resurrection of the dead, and showing, that whatever the prophets had proclaimed as to the suffering of Christ, these had God fulfilled.
Polycarp, the last disciple of the Apostles, declared:
We expect to receive again our own bodies, though they be dead and cast into the earth, for we maintain that with God nothing is impossible.
Where did the Christianity get this foundational concept of a future, physical resurrection and the critical centrality of it? We got it from the same place we got over ninety percent of our doctrinal beliefs… from Judaism, our mother faith and the faith of both Yeshua and the Apostles. The concept of the resurrection is so core to Judaism, the sages teach that those who deny it will be sentenced to eternal torment in Gehinnom.
As for the minim and the informers and the scoffers, who rejected the Torah and denied the resurrection of the dead… these will go down to Gehinnom and be punished there for all generations, as it says, And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against me etc. Gehinnom will be consumed but they will not be consumed, as it says, and their form shall wear away the nether world.
As a matter of fact, the sages of the Talmud claim that even if one does not believe that the resurrection is a doctrine which originates in the Tanach (the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. “Old Testament”) they will not inherit the World to Come. Their reasoning was as follows:
Since he denied the resurrection of the dead, therefore he shall not share in that resurrection, for in all the measures [of punishment or reward] taken by the Holy One, blessed be He, the Divine act befits the [human] deed.
They particularly had in mind the Sadducees and the Samaritans, who reject such notions. Our Master, agreed with the Pharisaic doctrine of the resurrection and rose again on the third day to prove the validity of such.