The Jewish View of Resurrection During Jesus’ Life

Establishing if the disciples would have expected Jesus to rise from the dead is an important side point for the overall argument for the resurrection of Jesus. If they were caught off guard by the appearances then we have even less reason to believe that some sort of mass hallucinations happened throughout Jerusalem in those days. One part of that argument involves establishing what the Jewish expectation was in regards to resurrection. In the first few chapters of his book The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God N.T. Wright gives an overview of what the historic evidence says about Jewish belief in the resurrection in Jesus’ day. His final conclusions in this section are that there was widespread belief in an overall resurrection in the last days, although contested by some sects. Further although there was some disagreement over if a resurrection would take place there was no debate over the resurrection being an overall event. Given that this belief it would have been shocking for his disciples to have experiences of the resurrection of Jesus both disconnected from a widespread resurrection and disconnected from the last days.


Below I’ll list some passages from Biblical Writings, The Apocrypha (Jewish writings after those accepted scriptural writings but still accepted as highly important to the Jewish faith), Other Jewish Writings prior to Jesus, The historians Josephus (Probably the most important Jewish historian around the time Jesus lived) and Hippolytus, and finally one from a hymn from the time. I have left out passages that give information on some kind of an intermediate state or of being in the bosom of Abraham and the like because they don’t inform the Jewish view of resurrection but of what happens prior to resurrection. This is a quick view using some of the quotes Wright uses and are not a comprehensive overview of all relevant passages, that being said the passages below are some of the primary and most important ones on the subject.


Relevant Quotes:

Biblical References

Daniel 12:1-2

“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but others to disgrace and contempt.”

Ezekiel 37:12-14

“Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life and I will place you on your own land..”


Apocryphal writings

1 Enoch 25.4-7 (Isaac).


“’As for this fragrant tree, not a single human being has the authority to touch it until the great judgment, when he shall take vengeance on all and conclude everything forever. This is for the righteous and the pious. And the elect will be presented with its fruit for life. He will plant it in the direction of the northeast, upon the holy place, in the direction of the house of the Lord, the Eternal King. Then they shall be glad and rejoice in gladness, and they shall enter into the holy place; its fragrance shall penetrate their bones, long life will they live on earth, such as your fathers lived in their days.’ At that moment [Enoch now comments], I blessed the God of Glory, the Eternal King, for he has prepared such things for the righteous people, as he had created them and given it to them.”


1 Enoch 51.If., 4f. (Knibb; alternative tr., Isaac).

“In those days the earth will return that which has been entrusted to it, and Sheol will return that which has been entrusted to it, that which it has received, and destruction will return what it owes. And he will choose the righteous and holy from among them, for the day has come near that they must be saved . . . And in those days the mountains will leap like rams, and the hills will skip like lambs satisfied with milk, and all will become angels in heaven. Their faces will shine with joy [or: like kids satiated with milk. And the faces of all the angels in heaven shall glow with joy], for in those days the Chosen One will have risen; and the earth will rejoice, and the righteous will dwell upon it, and the chosen will go and walk upon it”


2 Maccabees 7.28f.


“[The mother spoke secretly to the youngest son:] ‘I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers”


2 Maccabees 12:44f

“For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”



Other Jewish Writings


mSanhedrin 90b.


“The Sadducees asked Rabban Gamaliel whence it could be proved that the Holy One, blessed be He, makes the dead alive again. He said to them: From the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. But they would not accept this.”


mSanhedrin 10.1.


“All Israelites have a share in the world to come .. . And these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law; and he that says that the Law is not from Heaven; and an Epicurean.”


Psalm of Solomon

Psalms of Solomon, 3.1 If  (1st Century B.C)

“and he will not be remembered when God visits the righteous. This is the share of sinners forever, but those who fear the Lord shall rise up to eternal life, and their life shall be in the Lord’s light, and it shall never end.“






War 3.374f.


“that people who depart from this life in accordance with nature’s law, thus repaying what god had lent them, when the giver wants to claim it back again, win everlasting fame. Their houses and families are secure. Their souls remain without blemish, and obedient, and receive the most holy place in heaven. From there, when the ages come round again [ek peritropes aionon], they come back again to live instead in holy bodies. But when people lay hands upon themselves in a fit of madness, the darker regions of Hades receive their souls; and god, their father, pays back their descendants for the arrogant acts of their parents.”


War 2.163


“[the Pharisees] hold that every soul is immortal, but that only the souls of the virtuous pass on into another body, while those of the wicked are punished with an everlasting vengeance.”



Hippololytus Ref. 9.27.1-3. (On the Essenes)


“Now the doctrine of the resurrection has also derived support among them; for they acknowledge both that the flesh will rise again, and that it will be immortal, in the same manner as the soul is already imperishable. And they maintain that the soul, when separated in the present life, [departs] into one place, which is well ventilated and lightsome, where, they say, it rests until judgment. And this locality the Greeks were acquainted with by hearsay, and called it ‘Isles of the Blessed.’ And there are other tenets of these which many of the Greeks have appropriated, and thus have from time to time formed their own opinions . .. Now they affirm that there will be both a judgment and a conflagration of the universe, and that the wicked will be eternally punished.”


Ceremonial Rites and Hymns

1QH 14.29f. (From an Essene Hymn)


Then at the time of judgment

the sword of God shall hasten,

and all the sons of his truth shall awake

to overthrow wickedness;

all the sons of iniquity shall be no more ..



The above texts show that there is a consistent theme through scripture and the Jewish writings of the time for a belief in resurrection as an overall event, taking place in the last days. There is a specific time or day when people will rise from the dead. This day is connected with God’s judgement and the end of the current age. So since this view found throughout different Jewish communities and writings was likely the belief of the Jewish followers of Jesus then it is probable that a specific resurrection of one man, Jesus, would have been foreign from their thinking. It would require something significant to cause them to change their mind of what they had long accepted as the nature of resurrection. This doesn’t prove that the disciples really interacted with the resurrected Jesus. Rather, it limits what that experience could have been. At the very least we know that the disciple’s experience of the resurrected Jesus was significant enough to have changed their minds to what the resurrection of the dead could possibly mean.



Amazon Link for N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God:

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