Easter Expectations (Part 2)

Fresco depicting the Resurrection in Notre Dame de Bayeux cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy, France, Europe

           This is a 4 Part series exploring the question of resurrection expectations held by ancient Jews and the historical Jesus. The primary question of this study is, “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” In other words, did the historical Jesus expect his resurrection to be a unique event in history detached from the future general resurrection or did he expect it to be at the general resurrection? Before we can answer this question, we must first answer another: “What did ancient Jews expect of the resurrection of the dead and was there any connection with it to the Messiah?”


Last time in Part 1, we explored the ancient Jewish expectations of the resurrection before the time of Jesus and Paul within Intertestamental Judaism, also known as Second Temple Judaism – the time period between the Old and New Testaments.

Here in Part 2, we will continue exploring the ancient Jewish expectations of resurrection, only this time we will look at expectations during and after the time of Jesus and Paul. At the end of Part 2, I will provide a summary and conclusions about resurrection expectations in ancient Jewish thought before, during, and after the time of Jesus and Paul.

All of this is laying the groundwork for our main question at hand – “What did the historical Jesus expect of his resurrection in relation to the general resurrection?” – which I will take up in Part 3 and Part 4.

Overall, I will argue that the historical Jesus expected his resurrection to be a unique and individual resurrection with no relationship to the general resurrection.



The question that we will seek to answer here in Part 2 is “What did the ancient Jews during and after the time of Jesus and Paul expect about the resurrection of the dead and was there a connection between the Messiah and resurrection?”

Resurrection in Intertestamental Judaism

2. Contemporary with Jesus and Paul

To reiterate from Part 1, we will proceed by examining a number of texts from Intertestamental Judaism on resurrection in chronological order. Furthermore, we will address how each text understands the nature (bodily, spiritually, immortality), scope (the righteous and the wicked, only the righteous), number (corporate or individual), and agent (God, wisdom, or unidentified) of resurrection. In addition, we will note whether there is a connection with the Messiah.

            Fourth Maccabees is dated around A.D. 20-54 and thus is the only text we will assess that is contemporaneous with Jesus and Paul.[1] In 4 Macc 10:15, the nature of resurrection is described as “everlasting life.” This is in contrast to “everlasting destruction.” This “life” however is somewhat vague and may not be referring to resurrection, rather to a competing view of afterlife. Nevertheless, everlasting life is for the pious and everlasting destruction for “the tyrant,” namely, Antiochus Epiphanes.[2] Thus, this displays corporate – the pious – and individual – the tyrant – aspects to this view of the afterlife. Lastly, no agent is specified and no Messiah is mentioned.

In 4 Macc 9:22, 16:13, and 18:23, the idea of afterlife is that of immortality.[3] Also, in all three texts, there are no messianic allusions. In addition, all three emphasize the exclusive scope of the righteous for immortality.[4] However, in 9:22, immortality is individual, whereas the other two texts have corporate and individual elements. What is more, the author does not specify an agent of immortality in 9:22 and 16:13, but in 18:23 he says that “the sons of Abraham…have received pure and immortal souls from God.” Thus, God is the agent in 18:23.

3. After Jesus and Paul

            Next, 4 Ezra was composed around A.D. 100 and is the first text we have assessed which postdates Jesus and Paul.[5] In 4 Ezra 4:41-43, the nature of resurrection is difficult to decipher. It mentions the hastening and longing of Hades to “give back those things that were committed to them from the beginning.”[6] Since there are no traces of immortality language nearby and given the context – 4 Ezra 7 – perhaps this is implicitly describing bodily resurrection. Furthermore, the scope and agent is not otherwise specified. However, given the use of plurals here, one can conclude that the number of resurrection is corporate. Lastly, there is no hint of messianic reference here.

In 4 Ezra 7:26-44, the nature of the resurrection is bodily.[7] Also, the scope includes both the righteous and sinners: “righteous deeds shall awake, and unrighteous deeds shall not sleep. Then the pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of Hell shall be disclosed, and opposite it the Paradise of delight.”[8] Furthermore, there is no allusion to individual resurrection, only corporate, and there is no agent identified. Last but not least, 4 Ezra 7:28-29 mentions the Messiah and draws a connection between him and resurrection. It says, “For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.”[9] Then it talks about how seven days after the Messiah’s and humanity’s death, “the world…shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it; and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them.”[10] This then is the first text thus far that has drawn a link between the Messiah and resurrection. However, even though this connection exists, the connection is between the death of the Messiah and the resurrection of the world. While the Messiah may be encompassed within “the world” and its resurrection, there is nevertheless no explicit statement regarding the Messiah’s resurrection, only death. What is more, since 4 Ezra postdates Jesus and Paul, it is possible that there is some Christian influence on or tampering with this text. Thus, although a connection is made, this text is not early enough to ensure pre-Christian, solely Jewish anticipations of the resurrection.

Finally, 2 Baruch is dated to the early second century A.D.[11] In 2 Bar. 49:1-52:12, the author clearly has bodily resurrection in mind which is both for the righteous and the wicked. The author says that “both…will be changed,” the righteous “into the splendor of angels” and the wicked “into startling visions and horrible shapes; and they will waste away even more.”[12] Furthermore, this is corporate and no agent is specified. Lastly, there is no mention of Messiah.

In 2 Bar. 85:15, the nature of resurrection is somewhat diluted; all it says is “then he will make alive those whom he has found.” This is rather vague, although given what 2 Bar. 49:1-51:12 says about resurrection, we may tentatively conclude that bodily resurrection is intended here. Additionally, this is corporate for the righteous only, for the author goes on to describe the fate of the wicked as such: “at the same time he will destroy those who are polluted with sins.”[13] The third singular verbs here also indicate that the agent of resurrection is God. Finally, there is no mention of the Messiah in 2 Bar. 85:15.

Conclusions from Intertestamental Judaism

            In summary, it is clear that the ancient Jewish view of resurrection in intertestamental Judaism was not monolithic.[14] With regard to the nature of resurrection, few believed in no resurrection; some embraced the immortality of the soul; others held to spiritual resurrection; still others believed in everlasting life; but most believed in bodily resurrection. Furthermore, concerning the scope of resurrection, most hold to a restrictivist view that only the righteous will be raised, and some believe that both the righteous and wicked experience resurrection. It is important to note that there is no exclusive reference to only the wicked being raised; they are either excluded or added with the righteous, but never mentioned on their own. Moreover, in regard to number, most believed in a corporate resurrection, though others emphasized both individuals and groups, and only in 1 En. 92:-35 do we find a resurrection reference that is strictly individual. As regards the agent of resurrection, more often than not, an agent is unidentified. However, God is still identified quite often as the one who raises the dead. Lastly, with reference to the Messiah, there is almost no connection between resurrection in intertestamental Judaism and the Messiah. Possible exceptions may be found in 1 En. where the author mentions “the Son of Man” in 46:4, “the Elect One” in 51:1-5, and “the Righteous One” in 92:3-5. However, it is difficult to interpret these titles and texts and decipher whether they are references to a messianic figure. If they do in fact refer to Messiah, then they are the only early texts in Judaism that link resurrection to Messiah. What is more, 4 Ezra 7:26-44 is the most explicit text linking Christ and resurrection. However, as already discussed above, this text postdates Jesus and Paul and thus could possibly have been influenced by Christian teaching on resurrection which clearly connects the Messiah and resurrection.[15] Thus, it cannot be considered a pertinent or authentic text for this study. The vast majority of intertestamental Judaism prior to Jesus and Paul, therefore, do not connect the Messiah with resurrection. Perhaps the best explanation for this is that ancient Judaism did not expect the Messiah to die, rather expected a conquering, victorious, and kingly Messiah.

Below is a chart summarizing our study in chronological order with three divisions: (1) pre Jesus and Paul; (2) contemporary with Jesus and Paul; and (3) post Jesus and Paul.







Before Jesus and Paul

Sib. Or. 4:179-192 Bodily Righteous & Wicked Corporate & Individual God No
T. Benj. 10:6-11 Bodily Righteous & Wicked Corporate & Individual God No
Sir 37:26; 39:9; 44:8-15; 46:19 None Righteous & Wicked Corporate & Individual N/A No
1 En. 22:13 Bodily Righteous Corporate Unidentified No
1 En. 46:6 Bodily Righteous Corporate Unidentified Son of Man?
1 En. 51:1-5 Bodily Righteous Corporate God The Elect One?
1 En. 92:3-5 Bodily Righteous Individual God The Righteous One?
1 En. 103:4 Spiritual Righteous Corporate Unidentified No
Pss. Sol. 3:11-12 Bodily Righteous Corporate & Individual Unidentified No
Pss. Sol. 13:11 Everlasting Life Righteous Corporate Unidentified No
Pss. Sol. 14:6-10 Everlasting Life Righteous Corporate Unidentified No
Pss. Sol. 15:10-13 Everlasting Life Righteous Corporate God No
Wis 2:23-3:4 Immortality Righteous Corporate God No
Wis 5:15-16 Undefined Righteous Corporate God No
Wis 6:17-20 Immortality Wise Individual Wisdom No
2 Macc 7:9, 14, 23, 29 Bodily Righteous & ?????? Corporate & Individual God No
2 Macc 14:37-46 Bodily Righteous Individual God No

Contemporary with Jesus and Paul

4 Macc 10:15 Everlasting Life Righteous & Wicked Corporate & Individual Unidentified No
4 Macc 9:22 Immortality Righteous Individual Unidentified No
4 Macc 16:13 Immortality Righteous Corporate & Individual Unidentified No
4 Macc 18:23 Immortality Righteous Corporate & Individual God No

Post Jesus and Paul

4 Ezra 4:41-43 Bodily NOS Corporate Unidentified No
4 Ezra 7:26-44 Bodily Righteous & Wicked Corporate Unidentified Yes
2 Bar. 49:1-52:12 Bodily Righteous & Wicked Corporate Unidentified No
2 Bar. 85:15 Bodily? Righteous Corporate God No

We can therefore conclude that the ancient Jews in the time immediately prior to, during, and after the time of Jesus and Paul had a variety of expectations concerning the resurrection of the dead and that they made almost no connection whatsoever between the Messiah and resurrection.

Next time in Part 3 and Part 4, we will explore what the historical Jesus expected of his resurrection and the general resurrection.

                [1] Oxford Apocrypha, 309.

                [2] 4 Macc 10:15.

                [3] Fourth Maccabees 9:22 says, “Although the ligaments joining his bones were already severed, the courageous youth, worthy of Abraham, did not groan, but as though transformed by fire into immortality he nobly endured the rackings.” Also, 4 Macc 16:13 states, “but, as though having a mind like adamant and giving rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion.” Lastly, 4 Macc 18:23 says, “the sons of Abraham with their victorious mother are gathered together into the chorus of the fathers, and have received pure and immortal souls from God.” This clearly has Hellenistic flavors of the immortality of the soul.

                [4] This is made clear in all three sayings by the fact that those being tormented and put to death by Antiochus are said to be noble for obeying God’s law rather than the tyrant’s.

                [5] Charlesworth, 520.

                [6] 4 Ezra 4:42.

                [7] 4 Ezra 7:31-32, 37.

                [8] 4 Ezra 7:35-36.

                [9] 4 Ezra 7:28-29.

                [10] 4 Ezra 7:31-32.

                [11] Charlesworth, 615. Vol 1.

                [12] 2 Bar. 51:5.

                [13] 2 Bar. 85:15.

                [14] Elledge further notes that, “Our earliest evidence for the resurrection hope is often fragmentary, incomplete, and occasionally inconsistent.” Elledge, “Resurrection of the Dead: Exploring Our Earliest Evidence Today,” 24.

                [15] E.g. see 1 Cor 15.

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