Did Isaiah Know About the Resurrection?

Yesterday morning Kathleen and I read Isaiah 26 together. This is a ritual we have practised for many years; we read through the Bible one chapter at a time as a way of starting our day together.

Isaiah 26 is a great Song of Praise. Apparently the exiles are home in Israel after the long stay in a foreign land. The Song is bright and confident. What particularly caught our eye, however, was a surprising reference to life after death, something one doesn’t run into much in the Old Testament. Verse 29 says,

But your dead will live;/ their bodies will rise.

You who dwell in the dust,/ wake up and shout for joy.

Your dew is like the dew of the morning;/ the earth will give birth to her dead.

At some earlier time I had written into the margin of my Bible this question: “Does a prophet sometimes say more than he himself understands?” I think that is the way with many of the Old Testament prophets. It took the coming of Christ to illuminate fully their words.

The great early 20th century Old Testament scholar, George Adam Smith, adds a word of explanation for the confidence this chapter contains about life after death. He writes, “Thus, in its foundation the Old Testament doctrine of the resurrection is but the conviction of the sufficiency of God Himself, a conviction which Christ turned upon himself when he said, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. Because I live, you also shall live.’”

The doctrine of the resurrection of the body is everywhere in the New Testament – at the close of the four gospels, in the preaching of the Acts, foundational to the apostolic letters, and richly symbolic in the Revelation. But we need not overlook its ground in the Old Testament. That ground is the sufficiency of God Himself! He is Jehovah, the Almighty, and if he can be trusted in life, he can be trusted in death.

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One thought on “Did Isaiah Know About the Resurrection?

  1. Bishop Bastian–
    We just had a brief discussion in my Christian Doctrine class about the Resurrection. I have taken to using N. T. Wright’s work on this. For whatever reason, this particular doctrine seems to have received short shrift in much of evangelical theology (perhaps because of the subculture’s fascination with all things dispensational) and yet it is key to our entire worldview.
    You might want to see Tom Long’s new book that was just released by Westminster/John Knox Press on a Christian approach to funerals. I think that you would resonate with many of his concerns with regard to the importance of the resurrection in our pastoral care and worship practice.

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