4 Misconceptions About Resurrection … and the Truth

Not long ago, I was invited onto a radio show to discuss the evidence for the resurrection with a Christian and a skeptic. The skeptical host pushed back on my argument for the uniqueness of the resurrection of Jesus. “Your claim is so obviously false,” he said, “Just look at all the resurrections of the dead in the Bible alone, including people like Lazarus.”

The host was certainly right that many other people have been raised from the dead in the Bible, but he was confused about the difference between rising from the dead and resurrection. This is a common misunderstanding. We are going to briefly consider four misconceptions about the meaning of resurrection, and then clarify the biblical idea.

1. Resurrection Is Not Immortality of the Soul. Greek philosophers saw the body as the prison house of the soul. The material world was considered corrupt, fallen, and evil. Thus, the goal of salvation was to escape the physical realm and to be freed from its shackles. But in Hebrew thought, the material world is considered good. The soul without the body is incomplete. A human being is a body and soul in unity.

2. Resurrection Is Not Reincarnation. Eastern religions teach reincarnation, the rebirth of the self (consciousness, soul, mind, etc.) after the death of the body. Reincarnation is considered a curse, not a blessing. Depending on the specific tradition, the goal is to escape the cycle of reincarnation and experience nirvana or personal annihilation. In contrast, the biblical view is that human beings live one life, and then are raised to be judged by God (Hebrews 9:27).

3. Resurrection Is Not Resuscitation. As mentioned by the skeptic in the opening story, the Bible records many instances of people coming back to life. Elijah raised the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:43-44). Peter raised Tabitha (Acts 9:36-42). And Paul raised Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12). But here is the difference between these people and Jesus: They would each die again, but Jesus was raised to immortality and glory.

4. Resurrection Is Not Translation. The Bible records at least two instances where people were taken directly to God without dying. Enoch lived 365 years and then was taken up directly to be with God (Genesis 5:21-24). The prophet Elijah was taken to heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1). These are not examples of resurrection because there is no evidence either experienced death.

So, what is resurrection? As my father and I state in the updated Evidence that Demands A Verdict, resurrection is a return to physical life. But it is not a return to the present physical existence with all its limitations. Resurrected bodies are transformed, incorruptible, and eternal (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

Jesus was not resuscitated, reincarnated, or translated. And his soul did not escape to an immaterial realm. Jesus was resurrected—never to die again. And since Jesus is the firstfruits of those who are yet to come, if we trust in Christ, we too will one day have transformed, resurrected bodies and be able to experience eternity with Christ and the Church in the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21-22).

Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a biblical worldview. Sean is an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. He is the Resident Scholar for Summit California. Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps him have exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors and parents alike. In 2008, he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot School of Theology with a master’s degree in theology and another in philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies in 2014 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Traveling throughout the U.S. and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times. Sean is the author, co-author or editor of over 18 books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015); A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016); The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour, 2016); Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014); Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow; and Understanding Intelligent Design, with William A. Dembski. Sean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the general editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker Journal, Decision Magazine and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org. In April 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano. Sean played college basketball at Biola and was captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

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