Resurrection & Resuscitation: What is the difference?
The answer to this should be simple to see, but because people have raised questions about it and because we have some examples of both discussed in the Bible, we’ll address this.
Here’s the passage that seems to be the one that has raised the most questions about all this.
50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. [Emphasis added]
People want to know if this was a resurrection for these saints like our Lord’s or was it just a temporal resuscitation? What happened to these people? Did they get their resurrection body then and eventually go on to Heaven? These things are often asked when this story is read.
If you haven’t already, you may want to also look at my other articles that address resurrection. Here you’ll find the links to three.
Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead? https://4us2usministries.com/questions/did-jesus-christ-rise-from-the-dead/
Is there proof Jesus Christ arose? https://4us2usministries.com/questions-answered/resurrection-is-there-proof-that-jesus-christ-arose/
What will your resurrection body be like? https://4us2usministries.com/questions/resurrection-what-will-your-resurrection-body-be-like/
Can you imagine what a stir it must have caused when these graves opened and the people who had been in those graves started walking around and showing up at what had been their homes? What a shock this must have been to everyone and especially their loved ones! Then we wonder what happened to these people later. Did they at some point die again?
The first thing we need to note about this incident is that they didn’t come out of their graves at the same time as our Lord’s death on the cross. Their graves popped up at the time of Christ’s death, but they didn’t come out of those graves until after Christ’s resurrection. Let’s note again the verse that tells us this.
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. [Emphasis added]
We find in Bible history long before this occasion that there have been a few people who died and came back to life.
1 Kings 17:17-23 – Elisha raising the widow’s son who died
II Kings 13:21 – A man’s corpse revived after he had been thrown on top of Elisha’s bones
Luke 7:11-18 – Jesus raising the son of the widow in the city of Nain
Luke 8:52-55 – Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter
John 11:1-46 – Jesus raising Lazarus
Acts 9:40-41 – The apostle Peter raising Tabitha/Dorcas
Acts 20:9-11 – The apostle Paul raising Eutychus
All these people died but were resuscitated sometime later.
I remember a discussion I got into about all this many years ago with a group of fellow seminary students. There was quite a debate about all this. Most seemed to believe these were all simply other cases of resurrection like our Lord’s. Were they correct? Answer: No, they were not! How do I know that? Answer: None of these other people who were resuscitated are alive today as our Lord is. They were all what we speak of as cases of resuscitation because they all subsequently died again. It was Jesus Christ who was the first man in all history to ever be resurrected and never die again. Furthermore, up to now there’s still no one else who has been resurrected.
The heart of the gospel, the good news we have to present to people today is that this same offer of resurrection life is available to all through the salvation that comes by placing one’s faith in what Jesus Christ accomplished in His death, burial, and resurrection.
II Corinthians 5:21
21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]
Salvation and eventual resurrection is provided for anyone through faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. It is faith in that and that alone that provides immediate and everlasting salvation. It also guarantees one’s resurrection.
I Corinthians 15:1-4
1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel [EUANGELION = good news] which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2 By which also ye are saved [SOZO = saved or delivered from danger], if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: . [Emphasis added]
This whole chapter in I Corinthians 15 is speaking about resurrection. Here the apostle Paul tells us about the meaningfulness of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We find that Christ is spoken of as the firstfruits.
I Corinthians 15:20-23
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept [a reference to believers who had passed away in death].
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ [speaking of people who have believed in Christ for salvation] shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. [Emphasis added]
While Jesus Christ was the first to be resurrected, there will be others. When he says, “in his own order” the apostle Paul is telling us there are different groups of believers who are resurrected at different times. As members of what is called the Body of Christ, we will be next. Then at Jesus Christ’s return to Earth there will be the believers of Israel. Still later after the thousand-year reign of Christ on a restored Earth there will be others.
In an agricultural society, the “firstfruits” is that small part of the crop that ripens first, before most of the crop matures. With regards to resurrection, Jesus Christ is the first person ever to be resurrected. There will be many more, the majority of which includes us as believers and as members of what is called the Body of Christ church. But this will happen later at some unknown time in the future. But Christ’s resurrection serves as a guarantee of our resurrection. As sure as it happened for Him, it will happen for us. We, too, will get to share in this wonderful resurrection blessing. This means that as believers we will someday gain a body that has all the wonderful attributes His resurrection body has.
20 For our conversation [POLITEUMA = citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. [Emphasis added]
You’ll find a whole article on this subject at this link.
We are told that we, as members of this which is called the Body of Christ, will be next to get our resurrection body. This occurs at what is often referred to as the Rapture. Like the word trinity, the word Rapture isn’t in the Bible but the occasion it serves to represent certainly is.
I Thessalonians 4:14-18
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again [a reference to our gospel message for today], even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord [meaning this information was given to Paul through special revelation from Jesus Christ], that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord [the time of the Rapture] shall not prevent them which are asleep [a reference to other believers who are members of the Body of Christ who died sometime earlier].
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first [members of the Body of Christ who have died]:
17 Then we which are alive and remain [a reference to members of the Body of Christ who are still alive at the time of the Rapture] shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words. [Emphasis added]
What comfort these truths provide! It seems the older I get the more I appreciate this. But none of us know when we’ll be stepping into eternity. That could occur for any of us at any moment. Therefore, it is SO important to be prepared.
But in answer to our question, only Jesus Christ has ascended into Heaven in a resurrection body. Here’s the written record of two men who witnessed it.
19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. [Emphasis added]
51 And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. [Emphasis added]
Then we have another account of this by Luke in his writing of Acts.
Acts 1:99 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. [Emphasis added]
All this adds up to the fact that only Jesus Christ now has immortality.
I Timothy 6:16
16 Who [speaking of Christ] only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. [Emphasis added]
It is this verse that settles our question once and for all. These other people were only resuscitated for a time. Some may have lived for many years, but they eventually died, and their body was put back into a grave. However, our Lord Jesus Christ is now in His resurrection body and seated in the highest place of honor.
33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.
34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool. [Emphasis added]
People often assume believers like David died and went to Heaven. But this verse is telling us otherwise. He certainly didn’t go into the torments of hell, but he didn’t go to Heaven either. That’s a big subject for another time and another article. But in our time today, when believers die their soul and spirit go to Heaven, but they don’t get a resurrection body until the time of the Rapture. At this point now Jesus Christ is the only One who has “immortality.”
Sometimes people then ask about a statement made in another passage.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: [Emphasis added]
What must be understood here is that this is a statement about what generally happens. What we have in these other resuscitation situations are exceptions. Then we have some other situations that also prove to be exceptions.
24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. [Emphasis added]
5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. [Emphasis added]
Therefore, the “one death” didn’t apply to Enoch. Then we have still another example of this with the prophet Elijah.
2 Kings 2:11
11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. [Emphasis added]
Then we find that Moses died but God Himself buried him.
5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.
6 And he [the Lord] buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. [Emphasis added]
So, we do have some exceptions. Then finally there’s also an interesting situation in Revelation we need to address. This, of course, is yet future. It will happen in the time of the seven years of the Tribulation after the Rapture and before the Second Coming of Christ.
3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days [meaning this occurs in the first three and half years of the Tribulation], clothed in sackcloth.
4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
8 And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
9 And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
10 And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
11 And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet [Meaning God resuscitated them]; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. [Emphasis added]
Therefore, Moses will have died twice and Elijah once. They are both resuscitated.
It is interesting to note that the believers who live in the generation in which the Rapture occurs will be ones who will never experience death. The one death of Hebrews 9:27 would not apply to these people. Instead, the body of each believer alive at that time will suddenly be transformed into their resurrection body to be transported up to Heaven and meet the Lord in the air.
I Thessalonians 4:17
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. [Emphasis added]
Resuscitation does not provide a resurrection body. The body eventually dies again. In death we as believers are not assured of a coming resuscitation, but we are assured of resurrection. This is why a believer should never fear death. All the people in Scripture who were resuscitated eventually died again. However, in cases of resurrection, those people will never die. They will live forever in a new body with the features of our Lord’s resurrection body. At this point in history Jesus Christ is the only one with a resurrection body. That could change at any moment because of the imminency of this event that is called the Rapture. Our main objective in life should be to be completely prepared for this occasion. That means to have salvation, but it also means to be prepared for the time of the Judgment Seat of Christ where we’ll be rewarded in accordance with our faithfulness to learn and apply God’s Word in the daily events of life. Are you ready?