There are several resurrections in the Bible. We Christians tend to focus on the Resurrection of Jesus and the promise of our future resurrection.
In the Old Testament the prophet Elijah stayed with a widow in the town of Zarephath in Sidon. The widow was not an Israelite, but a Gentile. In time the son of the widow became ill and died. Elijah cried to the Lord and the boy’s life returned to him. (I Kings 17:17-24)
Later Elisha, the successor of Elijah, brought life back to the dead son of a Shunnamite woman. (II Kings 4:18-37) At the beginning of his ministry Elisha asked for, and received, a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. Elijah, you will recall, did not die but was taken to Heaven in “chariots of fire.” However, Elisha did die but he was so filled with the Spirit of God that when the body of a dead man was thrown into Elisha’s tomb and touched his bones, the dead man came back to life! (II Kings 13:21)
We know that the Jews (except for the Sadducees) were looking forward to a Resurrection Day. Jesus told Martha that her brother, Lazarus, would rise again. Her response was that she expected this “at the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24) This was on the occasion of the raising (or resurrection) of Martha’s brother, Lazarus. It is said that Jesus called Lazarus by name and told him to “come forth” because if He had simply said “come forth”, all the dead would have followed the instruction of Jesus, God in the form of man, and would have risen from their graves.
This Jewish belief in the resurrection must be based in part on Ezekiel 37, known as the prophecy of the Dry Bones. In this prophecy the Lord shows Ezekiel a valley of scattered skeletons. In the vision the bones come together, are covered with muscle, sinew and skin; and they came to life. This is usually thought to be a prophecy of the restoration of National Israel. But it is more! If you continue reading in Ezekiel 37 the Lord plainly states, “I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them” (verse 12). For emphasis the Lord repeats this statement in verse 13.
This is not just a prophecy of the restoration of the Nation of Israel, but is a plain statement of the Lord’s intent to resurrect the people of Israel. Even Job knew of this plan. The Book of Job is considered to be the oldest book in the Bible, written even before the five books of Moses. In chapter 19:25 Job declares,
"I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
What a statement! And it was made 3500 years ago.
We look forward to the promised end-time resurrection, but there was another resurrection of souls two-thousand years ago. Matthew 27:52 and 53 describes graves being opened and the bodies of “holy people” being raised to life. This passage implies that they were raised at the time of the death of Jesus, and states that they waited until His Resurrection before entering Jerusalem and “appearing to many people.” By the placement of this passage it is inferred that this occurred upon the death of Jesus. It is also possible that they were resurrected at the same time as Jesus and then entered Jerusalem.
These were Jews. Who knows how long they had been dead? They were not part of the Christian covenant. They had not received the direct promise of Jesus; “I am going to my Father’s house to prepare a place for you; and I will come back and take you to be with me.” (John 14:2-3) But scripture tells us of their resurrection.
Most of the people resurrected in the Bible were restored to their lives. The son of the widow of Zarephath, Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus were all restored and they later died. But what happened to the “holy people” after they were resurrected? Did they die again? I doubt it very much. Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed for man once to die.” The “holy people” that were resurrected with Jesus must have been taken up to be with the Lord. After all, the Lord makes the rules, and He can amend them if He wishes.
In the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, at the end of the Great Tribulation, we are told of the resurrection of those who were beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus. This is described as the “First Resurrection.” We are told that the remainder of the dead will not be resurrected until the end of the Millennium. (Revelation 20:4-5)
How many resurrections are there? When will the resurrection occur for which the Jews were looking toward? No matter how many Resurrections, or the timing of the one promised to the Church, I look forward to it. To that end I will praise His name always.
P.S. - I mentioned that the Sadducees were not looking forward to a Resurrection. The Sadducees were the religious leaders at the time of Jesus. The High Priest was usually a Sadducee. They had lots of credentials, but did not know the Word. Just as they missed the Coming of the Messiah, they also did not believe in any resurrection. (Acts 23:8) An old trick to remembering which of the Jewish sects did not believe in the resurrection is to remember that the Sadducees did not have the hope held by the other Jews (like Martha). So, they were . . . sad, you see.