“…the hour is coming, in the which, all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto resurrection of life; they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
John 5: 28,29
When John wrote these words, he prophesied a future resurrection; but was he predicting an event in the near future, during his lifetime? Or was he predicting an event that would take place thousands of years in the future? Perhaps his prophecy refers to the people who had lived under Mosaic law…
The Old Covenant Saints… have they been Resurrected?
As we contemplate this issue, please remember what we learn from the story of the rich man and Lazarus. (Luke 16: 19-31) Jesus tells us that the souls of people, who died while the Old Covenant was in effect, went to one of two compartments of Hades; either a place of comfort called “Abraham’s Bosom” or to a place of torment. Also we know that the souls of the dead waited for a resurrection because Daniel, in a passage similar to the one in John 5, predicts a resurrection:
“… And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Daniel 12: 1,2
Many people believe that Old Covenant saints like David, Samuel and Daniel are still waiting to be resurrected; but this seems to be incorrect because Daniel chapter 12 gives very strong indications that the resurrection happened in AD 70. Daniel tells us that the resurrection would happen:
I will elaborate on each of these points below:
Many more scriptures point to an AD 70 resurrection of Old Covenant saints:
Here is another passage that shows an AD 70 resurrection. In his Olivet Discourse, Jesus predicting the destruction of the temple, says:
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter into it, for these are the days of vengeance to fulfill all that is written.”
Luke 21: 20-22
If “all that is written” was fulfilled when Jerusalem was destroyed, then Daniel’s resurrection prophecy must have been fulfilled by that time. Some may argue that “all” doesn’t mean “all” and maybe some Old Testament prophecies remain unfulfilled. But in this case we know that the resurrection prophecy is included in those that are fulfilled because the “armies”, mentioned in the first sentence quoted above, are the “abomination of desolation” of Daniel chapter 12. We know this from a comparison of the Luke 21 passage above and the following passage: (Seeing the armies is the same as seeing the abomination of desolation.)
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains…”
Matt. 24: 15,16
What could be more abominable, to a first century Jew than pagan armies that were about to destroy the holy city?
The view expressed above contradicts our traditional, orthodox doctrine of the resurrection. But it does not contradict Scripture. In fact, it is supported by many other Scriptures.
What about believers who live after 70 AD?
To this point, we have discussed only the resurrection of people who died under the Old Covenant. Those people’s souls had to go to a holding tank (Sheol/Hades) to await their redeemer and judge. Now, it is time to discuss the state of people who die on this side of the cross. Why would people who die under the New Covenant need to go to a holding tank? What would you call this holding tank? Abraham’s bosom, Hades, Purgatory… No! No! No! The New Testament teaches no such thing.
In 2 Cor. 5: 8 Paul says that to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Paul expects to be resurrected and taken to heaven when he dies. He has been redeemed, Christ has made atonement for his sin. Why would he have to spend thousands of years in a disembodied state, in a holding tank? (I am sorry to keep using the phrase “holding tank”, I mean no disrespect, but I don’t know what else to call this hypothetical non-existent place.)
As the Old Covenant was being abolished a voice from heaven said: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev. 14; 13).
Obviously, the condition of the dead is different now than it was under the Old Covenant.
I’ve run out of verses that I can use to easily comment on what happens to the souls of people who die during the New Covenant era. There are more passages that are relevant, but in order to use them, I would first have to make the case that Matt 24 (Jesus’ Olivet Discourse) deals with the events of AD 70. That topic deserves thorough analysis so if you would like to learn more, I heartily recommend our “Meat Not Milk” Bible study. There we will discuss the “separation of the sheep and the goats.”
You can sample the first five weeks of our study here.