The first event that follows the appearance of Christ is the resurrection of the dead. This event is not the result of an evolution of bodies in general or of the resurrection body implanted in believers by regeneration and sacrament in particular but the effect of an omnipotent, creative act of God (Matt. 22:29; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:38; 2 Cor. 1:9). The Father specifically carries out this work by the Son, whom he has “granted … to have life in himself” (John 5:26; 6:27, 39, 44; 1 Cor. 6:14; 2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Thess. 4:14). He is the resurrection and the life, the firstborn of the dead (John 11:25; Acts 26:23; 1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), and must of necessity, therefore, bring about the resurrection of his own (John 6:39–40; 1 Cor. 15:20–23, 47–49). Undoubtedly Scripture teaches a general resurrection, a resurrection not only of believers but also of unbelievers and of all human beings (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 5:29–30; 10:28; John 5:29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:12–13), and attributes this resurrection to Christ as well (John 5:29). But it very rarely speaks of this general resurrection, the reason being that it is very differently related to Christ than the resurrection of believers. The resurrection of the dead in general is only obliquely a fruit of the work of Christ. It has become a necessity only because a temporal death has occurred; and this temporal death is separated from eternal death by God’s gracious intervention. Originally the punishment of sin was death in its full scope and severity. But because, out of the fallen human race, God chose for himself a community for eternal life, he immediately delayed temporal death already in the case of Adam and Eve, allowed them to reproduce themselves from generation to generation, and only at the end of the ages consigns those who have disobeyed his law and his gospel to eternal perdition. The general resurrection, therefore, serves only to restore in all human beings the temporary rupture of the bond between soul and body—a rupture that occurred only with a view toward grace in Christ—to place them all before the judgment seat of God as human beings, in soul and body, and to let them hear the verdict from his mouth. The Father also brings about this general resurrection through Christ, because he gave not only life to the Son but also the authority to execute judgment, and this judgment must strike the whole person, in both soul and body (John 5:27–29).
The resurrection of the dead in general, therefore, is primarily a judicial act of God. But for believers this act is filled with abundant consolation. In Scripture, the resurrection of the believing community is everywhere in the foreground, so much so that sometimes the resurrection of all human beings is even left out of consideration or deliberately omitted (Job 19:25–27; Ps. 73:23–26; Isa. 26:19–20; Ezek. 37; Hos. 6:2; 13:14; Mark 12:25; 2 Cor. 5; Phil. 3:11; 1 Thess. 4:16). This is the real, the true resurrection won directly by Christ, for it is not just a reunion of soul and body, but also an act of vivification, a renewal. It is an event in which believers, united in soul and body, enter into communion with Christ and are being re-created after God’s image (Rom. 8:11, 29; Phil. 3:21). For that reason Paul has the resurrection of believers coincide with the transformation of those who are left alive. The latter will have no advantage over the former, for the resurrection will take place prior to the transformation, and together they will go forth to meet the Lord in the air (1 Cor. 15:51–52; 2 Cor. 5:2, 4; 1 Thess. 4:15–17).
In this resurrection the identity of the resurrection body with the body that has died will be preserved. In the case of the resurrections that occur in the Old and New Testaments, the dead body is reanimated. Jesus arose with the same body in which he suffered on the cross and which was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. At the time of Jesus’s death many bodies of the saints were raised and came forth from their tombs (Matt. 27:52). In the resurrection of the last day, all who are in the tombs will hear Jesus’s voice and come forth (John 5:28–29). According to Rev. 20:13, the dead will return to earth from the tombs, from the sea, from the realm of the dead and hades. And Paul teaches that the resurrection body proceeds from the body that has died, just as from the grain that has been sown God raises up new grain (1 Cor. 15:36ff.).