BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 62
Copyright 1994, Biblical Horizons
This verse is often cited as proof that there was a belief in the resurrection of the body in the Old Testament times. In fact, though, this verse does not teach that. From a Christian standpoint, the resurrection of the body from the grave is clear throughout the Old Testament, and so no such "proof text" as this is necessary. In other words, we do not need to cling to this text in such a way as to fear exploring other alternatives.
There are five possibilities that present themselves here. The first is that this refers to the physical resurrection and judgment of all persons at the end of history. The problem is that this event takes place at the end of the period being described, when Michael delivers Israel and brings the gospel. Thus, the last judgment does not fit the context.
The second is that this refers to the spiritual resurrection of believers. This won’t work because wicked people are also being raised.
A third possibility is to refer this verse to the "life from the dead" resurrection of Romans 11, when a large number of Jews repent and turn to Christ. I believe this event took place before the destruction of Jerusalem and is also portrayed in Revelation 7. (See my essay, "The Future of Israel Reexamined," available from Biblical Horizons .) Here again, however, the resurrection spoken of is spiritual and applies only to the saved.
A fourth possibility is that this refers to the emptying of sheol into heaven when Christ ascended there. This is a concept less familiar to us today, and will be explained below.
And a fifth possibility is that the resurrection here is a national resurrection like the one portrayed in Ezekiel 37. This is the only credible possibility.
The Argument for Ascension
Until Jesus went into heaven, nobody went into heaven. Those who died from Adam to Christ went to sheol, which the New Testament calls hades. The righteous went to Abraham’s Bosom, also called in theology Limbus Patrum, while the wicked went to an uncomfortable place. After Jesus’ death He descended to sheol and sorted the dead. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He emptied Abraham’s bosom and brought all the righteous dead to heaven with Him. The wicked in sheol, however, are not brought up to heaven until the end of time, when they are cast into the lake of fire that is before the throne of God (Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10-15).
It is possible that the first resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 refers to the ascension of the Old Covenant saints to heaven, to be seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father, and to reign with Him as kings and priests for a thousand years. Meanwhile, the Christ and the Church on earth are binding Satan from deceiving the nations for the same thousand years (Rev. 20:1-2; Matt. 16:18-19). On the basis of Revelation 6:9-11, and the fact that Revelation 20 comes after Revelation 19, my guess is that the ascension of the Old Covenant saints to reign with Christ happened in ad 70, not ad 30.
It is likely that Daniel 12:13 refers to this event. Daniel is told that he will enter into rest and then rise for his alloted portion at the end of the days. In context, the end of the latter days refers to the coming of Christ, for throughout Daniel the prophetic period is the Restoration Era, and that is what "latter days" and "time of the end" refer to.
Thus, possibly the resurrection of Daniel 12:2 refers to this same event. We have to discard this possibility, however, since Revelation 20 says that the wicked in sheol do not rise for their judgment until after the millennium, at the last judgment.
The Argument for National Resurrection
In context, those who sleep in the dust of the earth seem to be parallel to Daniel, who fell into deep sleep with his face to the earth when God appeared to him at the beginning of this vision. Daniel’s resurrection is a type and foreshadowing of the resurrection spoken of here.
The resurrection of verse 2 seems to connect to the evangelistic and teaching ministry spoken of in verse 3; thus, it is some kind of historical resurrection that is spoken of, a resurrectional event in this world, in our history.
The solution to our difficulty is found in Ezekiel 37. There the prophet is told to prophesy to the dead bones of the idolaters scattered all over the mountains of Israel (see Ezekiel 6:5). Ezekiel prophesies and the bones come to life again. This is explained in Ezekiel 37:11 as the national resurrection of Israel after the captivity. The language used by God is very "literal sounding," to wit: "I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves" (vv. 12 & 13). Yet, this graphic language refers to the spiritual resurrection of the nation.
Now clearly, the resurrection of the whole nation does not mean the salvation of each individual. Thus, Daniel 12:2 tells us that in the days of Jesus the nation will undergo a last spiritual resurrection, but some will not be personally regenerated and their resurrection will only be unto destruction.
During His ministry, Jesus raised the nation back to life. He healed the sick, cleansed the unclean, brought dead people back to life, restored the Law, entered the Temple as King, etc. Then, as always, the restored people fell into sin and crucified Him.
This, then, is the most likely interpretation of Daniel 12:2.