Let me first say that, to the 1st century Jewish mind, the resurrection of the dead was not a new concept. The first place, probably, that one would have thought of, when referencing the resurrection of the dead ( and this is the Jewish mindset ), is Ezekiel's prophecy of 'the dry bones' in Ezekiel 37. In verse 11 of this passage; it is recorded that the house of Israel complained that 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' This was not a situation speaking of physical death, as is the notion of many when thinking of the term 'resurrection', but, as the house of Israel complained; 'we............are cut off', in essence, looking back at the historical context of Ezekiel's vision, they felt that they had been cut off from the Presence of God, and the blessings of His Covenant. By being sent out of the land, and away from His Temple, much as Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden, they had symbolically been cut off, as had been promised before, for covenant unfaithfulness ( Genesis 17:14, Exodus 12:15, 31:14, Leviticus 7:27, 20:5, 22:3, Numbers 9:13, 15:31, etc. )
The Greek word transliterated 'anastasis' simply means, 'a raising up, removal.', or, 'to stand up', from my understanding. In the passage above; we read that, after God had covered these bones with flesh and sinew again, in essence, recreating, or re-forming them, and symbolically breathed into them 'the breath of life' ( Genesis 2:7 ); 'they lived, and stood upon their feet'.
Many Christians, and this, I believe, is the accepted orthodox position, believe that because Christ's biological Body was physically brought back to life, this necessarily means that ours, as individual believers, will too. Besides the fact that this 'individualism' is one of the problems that plagues the modern Church, this idea of physical, individual bodies being raised from the dead was almost unknown to the Jewish mind. Sure; as the corporate Body of Israel, or Christ, is made up of individual human beings, a resurrection of the body ( individual ) was expected, hoped for, but the main hope of Israel in the first century was a hope of, a looking forward to, the corporate resurrection of Israel, from the dead body of Moses ( old covenant ), into the living Body of Christ ( the New Covenant ).
I believe that Christ's physical, bodily resurrection was, first of all, a sign for those who sought after a sign, the unbelieving Jews, that He had actually defeated death, that the grave itself could not hold, or keep Him. Secondly, but even more importantly, His was a physical, bodily rising again, to show that we, as His Body, have been raised to New Life. As I have been saying; while this includes individual Christians, even in the 21st century, and beyond; it is primarily the corporate Body of Christ that has experienced a resurrection 'from dead works to serve the living God' ( Hebrews 9:14 ), and, as Ezekiel saw, the whole house of Israel, the covenant people of God, who were given a new hope, and symbolically brought back into the Land of covenant blessing, and the Presence of God!
Ezekiel's is not the only passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where the promise of a resurrection of the dead is given. There are several pictures given of this 'anastasis', rising again. There is the example of the widow's son, in I Kings 17, where this child was brought back to life, through the ministrations of Elijah. An example in the Greek Scriptures, of course, and one which is probably most familiar to us, is the resurrection of Lazarus, as recorded in John 11. These examples all came about before the bodily resurrection of Jesus, yet Jesus is referred to by Paul as 'the firstborn from the dead' ( Colossians 1:18 ( Revelation 1:5 ): why do you suppose this could be? Could it be that the resurrection of Jesus was not merely a physical return from biological death, as most have viewed it? That Jesus' resurrection was truly the first, a restoring of covenant Life ( John 11:26 ), of enjoying the Presence of God ( John 14:23 )? Remember that, as the Body of Christ; we do enjoy the blessings of the Presence of God, because of the renewed Covenant!
The prophet Amos, lamenting over the coming desolation of the Northern Kingdom, spoke these words, 'The virgin of Israel has fallen; she will rise no more. She lies forsaken on her land; [ there is ] no one to raise her up'. Note that this is prior to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, indeed, at the height of their physical prowess, and financial prosperity, but, as Homer Hailey once wrote, their 'religious decay and apostasy', as well. This was how they had fallen, to rise no more. There would be no resurrection for them! This was served as as a picture, as well, of the continuing apostasy and subsequent destruction of the typical old covenant people of God, in AD70!
Although it can be easily argued, and has been proven; that much of the language, and even the events that we have witnessed in Scripture do indeed seem to point to the physicality of the resurrection of biologically dead bodies; an honest and in-depth study ( which this is not; in-depth, I tried to be as honest as I could:) will show that this resurrection of the dead was not a rising of individual bodies, merely to biological life, but a return of the corporate body of Israel, God's people, to the blessings of Covenant Life, to communion with our Creator!
In Scriptural usage, as we have seen, the Greek 'anastasis' means resurrection, or rising again ( from the dead ). As we have also seen; it need not ( necessarily ) refer to biological bodies returning to physical life, but most often referred, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, but in the Greek as well, to a return to covenant faithfulness, and a return to the blessings of the Covenant, including the Presence of God!
As those who now benefit from the resurrection of the dead, and indeed we do partake of it in a limited sense; we have the advantage, through covenant faithfulness, of having been born into that Life, never having experienced the death of Adam, never having lived under the old covenant ( 'ministration of death' ), so in that sense, the resurrection that Scripture prophesied of is in the past, though, in a limited sense, it continues today, as God's people are freed from bondage ( I'll let my readers ruminate on what form that bondage might take, or by whom it may be administered )!
Short, though it may be; I pray that this study will be a blessing to those who read it, and may it cause its readers to be Bereans, to see for themselves if these things are so!
Charles Haddon Shank