God’s promise to give Abraham and his descendants all the land of Canaan forever (Genesis 13:14-15) was the first indicator that a resurrection would take place sometime in the future. We know that Abraham believed in life after death because Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense” (NKJV). God reiterated his unconditional divine promise to Jacob who told his son Joseph shortly before his death, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession’” (Genesis 48:3-4, NKJV). When Jacob called his sons together to give them his final blessing, he spoke of a time period that he referred to as “the last days” (Genesis 49:1) and he told his son Judah:
“Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s children shall bow down before you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes;
And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Genesis 49:8-10, NKJV)
The Hebrew word that is translated Shiloh in Genesis 49:10, shiyloh (shee-loˊ) is an epithet of Israel’s Messiah (H7886). The scepter that Jacob mentioned is a symbol of authority in the hands of a ruler (H7626) and in connection with the last days was likely meant as a reference to Christ’s second coming when he will reign on earth for a thousand years. Revelation 20:4-6 states regarding this time period:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
The scepter of Israel’s Messiah is also mentioned in Balaam’s final oracle. After the Israelites defeated the king of Sihon and Og the king of Bashan (Numbers 21:21-35), Balak the king of Moab wanted to stop the Israelites from taking over his territory. Balak hired Balaam, who was a false prophet, to curse the Israelites so that he could drive them from the land (Numbers 22:6). When Balak promised to give Balaam a position of honor in his kingdom in exchange for his cooperation, Balaam responded, “Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38) and before he pronounced his final oracle, Balaam referred to the time period known as “the latter days” (Numbers 24:14). Balaam said:
I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
and destroy the survivors of cities!” (Numbers 24:17-19)
Matthew’s gospel contains a record of the visit of wise men who came to King Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth asking the question, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2). Herod immediately went to work to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:16) and his family likely remained in hiding until Jesus’ public ministry was launched (Matthew 2:19-23). Jesus’ role of Savior of the world was not talked about openly, but those who came to know him were aware of the fact that he was Israel’s Messiah (John 4:42).
One of the key factors of Jesus’ revelation of his kingdom was that everyone would be resurrected, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus said in his Olivet Discourse:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Jesus identified two possible outcomes of being resurrected, eternal punishment or eternal life. The Greek word that is translated punishment, kolasis (kolˊ-as-is) means “penal infliction” and is “spoken of the temporary torment produced by fear in the soul of one conscious of sin before the love of God brings peace at salvation (1 John 4:18)” (G2851). Therefore, it might be said that eternal punishment is the never ending torment that results from an awareness of one’s unforgiven sins. On the other hand, eternal life is characterized by the uninterrupted peace that comes from a knowledge of God’s forgiveness and the removal of all guilt.
The Greek word that is translated life in Matthew 25:46, zoe (dzo-ayˊ) speaks “of life or existence after rising from the dead” and “in the sense of existence, life, in an absolute sense and without end” (G2222). Zoe means “life as God has it, which the Father has in Himself, and which he gave to the Incarnate Son to have in Himself (John 5:26), and which the Son manifested in the world (1 John 1:2). From this life man has become alienated in consequence of the Fall, and of this life men become partakers through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:15), who becomes its Author to all such as trust in Him (Acts 3:15), and who is therefore said to be ‘the life’ of the believer (Colossians 3:4), because the life that He gives He maintains (John 6:35, 63). Eternal life is the present actual possession of the believer because of his relationship with Christ (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14), and that it will one day extend its domain to the sphere of the body is assured by the resurrection of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Timothy 1:10).” Zoe is derived from the Greek word zao (dzahˊ-o) which simply means “to live” and refers to “the recovery of physical life from the power of death” (G2198).
Jesus used the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people with a five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:5-13) to demonstrate the principles of eternal life. An important thing to note about this miracle is that Jesus started with food that already existed. Later on, when Jesus referred to himself as “the bread of life” (John 6:35) and compared what he had to offer people to the manna that Moses gave the Israelites (John 6:32-33), the focus of Jesus’ attention was zoe, life in the absolute sense. John recorded the event this way:
Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:4-14)
John’s account of Jesus’ feeding the five thousand focused in on Philip’s conclusion that the disciples didn’t have the material resources that they needed to feed the people. Even though they started with just five loaves of bread and the 5000 men ate as much as they wanted, afterward Jesus instructed the disciples to “gather up the leftover fragments” (John 6:12). The twelve baskets full of broken pieces that were gathered indicated that there were actually more material resources than were necessary to meet the people’s physical needs. The abundance of resources resulted in Jesus being recognized as Israel’s Messiah (John 6:14).
Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In this statement, the Greek word zoe, which is translated life, associates the kind of life that we receive when we are born again with abundance. The Greek word perissos (per-is-sosˊ) denotes “what is superior and advantageous” (G4053). Jesus was therefore implying that eternal life is better in both quantity and quality than the temporal, physical existence that ends when we die. Jesus explained:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:47-51)
Jesus referred to himself as “the living bread” (John 6:51). By that, Jesus meant that the manifestation of divine power was already at work in his physical body and it could not be destroyed by death as evidenced by his resurrection three days after he was crucified. Jesus said, “If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). The process of chewing and digesting food in order to sustain our physical lives is something that everyone does without giving much if any thought to what is happening. In order to gain any nourishment from our food, there has to first of all be substances that can be absorbed into the body and then chemicals in our bodies that can break the food down and convert it into energy. The substances that we are able to absorb that come from Jesus are his words and what is necessary for them to be converted into spiritual energy is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus went on to say:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
Jesus used the terms flesh and blood to represent the basic elements of physical life. These elements were associated with the sacrifices that were required for the atonement of sins (Exodus 30:10). Jesus incorporated these elements into his institution of the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:26-29) and made it clear that the purpose of this practice was to identify oneself with his death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Therefore, it can be assumed that the Eucharist was intended to be a means of activating and sustaining zoe, eternal life.
Jesus told his disciples, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:63-64) indicating that faith is necessary for our spiritual existence. John recorded, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-69). The Greek word that is translated Holy One, christos (khris-tosˊ) means “anointed, i.e. the Messiah, an epithet of Jesus” (G5547). Peter indicated that Jesus’ twelve disciples had believed and also come to know that he was Israel’s Messiah. The Greek word ginosko (ghin-oceˊ-ko) is simply translated sure in the King James Version of the Bible. Peter seemed to be saying that it wasn’t just faith that led Jesus’ twelve disciples to the conclusion that he was their Messiah, but that they were sure of it because of a complete and absolute understanding of his teaching.
The Greek word ginosko “is also used to convey the thought of connection or union, as between a man and woman” and as a verb, ginosko means “to know by observation and experience” (G1097). Part of the reason why Jesus became known as Israel’s Messiah was because he acted like the person he claimed to be, God’s only begotten Son. Peter told Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Another way of saying this might be, “You sound like you know what eternal life is all about.” Jesus knew what eternal life was all about, even before he died on the cross, because according to John’s gospel, Jesus existed before the creation of the world and “without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3). In the note on John 1:1-17, it says, “John’s gospel is the only one that begins with a discussion of the eternal existence of Jesus Christ rather than the time he appeared on earth. He is called the logos (G3056), ‘word,’ the term used by the Greeks in reference to the governing power behind all things. The Jews used the term to refer to God. Jesus created everything that is (v. 3) and later came to dwell among his creation (v. 14). There are two main verbs that contrast what Jesus had always been and what he became at his incarnation. There is ēn, the imperfect of eimi (G1510), ‘to be,’ which could be translated as ‘had been.’ This verb is found in every instance in this passage where Jesus is referred to in his eternal state of being (vv. 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, 15). The divine nature of Christ is clearly seen in the statement theos (G2316, ‘God’) ēn ho logos, literally, ‘the Word was God’ (v. 1). The second verb is egeneto (the aorist form of ginomai [G1096], ‘to become’). It refers to becoming something that one was not before. The Lord Jesus became that which he was not before, a physical being (v. 14).”
The resurrection of the dead signifies an important transition in the activities that take place on earth. After the great white throne judgment, John tells us in the book of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
The former things that John was referring to were most likely the government systems that preceded the Messiah’s reign. After the devil and his followers are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10, 15), God’s eternal kingdom will be established.