Daniel on Resurrection
The references to resurrection in the Old Testament are not many. In fact, they are few enough that in Jesus’s day the topic was hotly debated between Jewish factions. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, while the Sadducees denied it (Acts 23:8), which is why they were sad, you see.
The issue should have been settled by the prophet Daniel, for he plainly says that both the righteous and the wicked will be resurrected. “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). A similar belief is expressed by the angelic messenger who gave him the vision recorded in Daniel 11-12. At the very end of the book, he told Daniel, “But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Dan 12:13). Such a statement is incomprehensible if there is no resurrection from the dead.
A tantalizing aspect of the first statement given above is the use of the word “many.” Why did he not say “all” who sleep in the ground will awake? Perhaps the best answer is that some will have already been resurrected prior to this general resurrection of the dead. In fact, at least four different resurrections are mentioned in the New Testament:
- The resurrection of Jesus; this resurrection is often referred to as the “first-fruits” (1 Cor 15:20), indicating that it is the initial resurrection and will be followed by a much fuller crop.
- The resurrection of church-age believers, including the “catching up” of some who do not even have to experience death (1 Thess 4:14-18; 1 Cor 15:23).
- The resurrection of saints who have perished during the tribulation, the time when God’s wrath is poured out on the earth (Rev 20:4-5).
- The resurrection of those who have died during the millennium, and of the rest of humanity, including all the unrighteous (Rev 20:11-15).
Daniel 12:2 refers to resurrection generally, including both righteous people who enter everlasting life, and unrighteous people who enter everlasting disgrace and contempt. This certainly includes the general resurrection that occurs after the millennium, since that is the only place in Scripture where the resurrection of the unrighteous is mentioned. What is not so clear is whether Daniel also refers to earlier resurrections. It is commonly held among dispensationalists that the saints of the Old Testament will be resurrected at the start of the millennium in order to enjoy the fulfillment of the promises that will take place in that kingdom, leaving the final resurrection at the Great White Throne for the unrighteous. However, the Great White Throne judgment likely also includes saints who die during the millennium. The following chart shows the three resurrections mentioned above that come after the first-fruits of the first Easter.