There are few bible subjects that provoke disagreement like matters of the end time, the resurrection being one of them. A comment we hear many times is “if the resurrection took place in the first century, then we have no hope and nothing to look forward to.” People who make this statement have a misconception regarding the NATURE and TIME of the resurrection. The nature was spiritual and the time was 70 A.D., otherwise called in scripture the “last days”, the “end of the age”, etc: of the first covenant.
We need to be reminded occasionally that our bible is a collection of first century letters written by first century authors to a first century audience. Therefore, if the author of a letter refers to the “end of the age”, “the last day”, or ”the last hour”, the statements have to be understood in a first century context. If we move a first century application to the twenty first century, we are bound to misapply the context of the scripture. The basis, or foundation, of our understanding must be sound if the end result is to be accurate.
John 5: 24: “---he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Jesus was declaring the good news of the gospel to a first century Jewish audience. (John 5: 18&19). We know from 1Cor. 15 :21&22 that the “resurrection of the dead” is a synonymous term with “in Christ all shall be made alive”. The point is that passing from death to life has a first century resurrection application that loses its meaning if brought to our present day. The term describes perfectly the process and purpose of resurrection. (Even though Christ was specifically addressing a Jewish audience, we must keep in mind that the Gentiles would share in Israel’s spiritual blessings as well, Rom. 15:27, and that Gentile salvation depended on God’s fulfilled promises to Israel for “salvation is from the Jews”, John 14:22, Rom. chapter 11.
Just a word on verb tenses. Often the writers of the New Testament will interchange verb tenses which relate to the same event. The John 5:24 scripture describes resurrection and eternal life in the past tense, while John 11: 25&26 and 1 Cor15: 21&22 describe the same events in the future tense. These are not contradictions but idiosyncrasies, and can be a source of confusion. The end point of all bible prophecy was the destruction of
1Cor. 15:51: “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” This verse presents a tremendous problem for a future as well as a physical body resurrection. Our definition of resurrection is passing from “death to life” (John 5:24) and this is the point of the “change“ in verse 51. “---and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (verse 52). Who is the “we” the apostle is addressing? Is he addressing a specific first century audience in
1Cor. 15: 55-57: :O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Let it be noted that death has no sting without sin, and sin has no strength apart from the Law. Death, sin and the Law resided in the same house, and all were defeated by the power of the cross. Thanks be to God indeed!