The new year is here, and it’s been long anticipated! As the pandemic wanes, a new year brings hope that we are ever nearing a season of healing, peace, and renewal. This idea stirs something in us that’s firmly rooted in Judaism: the ancient hope of resurrection and rebirth. It’s not a topic often discussed, but it has the power to influence our everyday lives. Here are four Jewish perspectives that may inspire your own.
Many don’t realize that a core and foundational belief of Judaism is the expectation of the t’chiyat hameitim (resurrection of the dead).1 In the days of early sectarian Judaism, Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, while Sadducees didn’t.2 After our exile, the Pharisaic sect became the dominant branch of Judaism and resurrection became an integral piece of Orthodox Jewish theology.
But the Pharisees didn’t invent the idea—the prophet Daniel foretold a future resurrection: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Traditional Jewish prayers like the Amidah have long since held this expectation: “O King, You are a helper, a savior and a shield, Blessed are You, L-rd, Shield of Abraham. You are mighty forever, my L-rd; You resurrect the dead; You are powerful to save” [emphasis added].3 Maimonides includes the resurrection of the dead as the final of his “Thirteen Principles of Faith”: “I believe with complete faith that there will be resurrection of the dead at the time when it will be the will of the Creator, blessed be His name and exalted be His remembrance forever and ever.”4 The hope of resurrection is firmly grounded in Judaism—from the beginning to today.
Life after death can feel intangible and unrealistic to many, but Rabbi Maurice Lamm urges us to reflect on the magnitude of God instead of the limitations of our earthly experience.
The belief in a bodily resurrection appears, at first sight, to be incredible to the contemporary mind. But when approached from the God’s-eye view, why is rebirth more miraculous than birth? … Perhaps it is because we can be active in creating life, but cannot participate with God in the recreation of life. Perhaps it is because, scientifically, recreation flies against any biological theory, while we are slowly coming to know how life is developed, and our researchers are about to create life in the laboratory test tube. But, who has created the researching biologist? And, can we not postulate an omnipotent Divine Biologist who created all men? Surely resurrection is not beyond the capacity of an omnipotent God.5
When you consider the miraculous thread woven throughout the Jewish experience, the concept of resurrection doesn’t require more faith—it naturally weaves right in. Miracles are integrated into our Jewish DNA; each holiday that we observe celebrates God performing miracles on our behalf. As the first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, says, “A Jew who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”6 Why would resurrection be the stone that God cannot lift?
At the turn of the century, a stone tablet was discovered which claims to be dictated from the angel Gabriel. The tablet dates from the late first century BC, and claims that the expected Jewish Messiah will rise from the dead after three days. Ethan Bronner of the New York Times wrote, “If such a messianic description really is there, it will contribute to a developing re-evaluation of both popular and scholarly views of Jesus, since it suggests that the story of his death and resurrection was not unique but part of a recognized Jewish tradition at the time.”7
The stone draws evidence from the Jewish prophets to support its theory. From this, we see that even before the birth of Christianity, the idea of resurrection was not foreign or unheard of among Jewish people. Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of California at Berkeley, commented on the implication of the discovery: “Some Christians will find it shocking, a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology, while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism.”8
Yeshua was a young rabbi from the town of Nazareth who claimed to be the Messiah. He spent three years teaching Torah, healing the sick, raising the dead, and leading his people to repentance. Eventually, he was tried by the Sanhedrin for heresy and executed by the Romans. But on the dawn after the following Shabbat ended, his tomb was found empty, and over five hundred people encountered him alive again (1 Corinthians 15:6). This event has sustained the faith of countless people for more than two thousand years. Damian Eisner, Messianic Jewish rabbi from Macon, Georgia, says that while Yeshua’s atoning death is a vital part of our faith, we miss the point if we don’t recognize that his resurrection was even more important.
Through the resurrection of the Messiah, God confirmed to an incredibly diverse and divided Jewish community in Jerusalem that the kingdom of God was indeed among them. There would be a real, visible, tangible, corporeal resurrection of our bodies after we die, just as the prophets promised. Yeshua’s resurrection was an unequivocal sign from God. It was his resurrection that truly inaugurated the kingdom that Yeshua proclaimed.9
Yeshua taught that the kingdom, the promised restoration of the Davidic monarchy, was near. When he rose from the dead, it became clear that we could fully embrace an eternal Jewish hope—both of the coming Messianic Age and assurance of our new life in it.
Whatever your own views on the idea of the resurrection, this is certainly a powerful Jewish concept. It’s innate to crave renewal for our lives, wherever we may feel that need: perhaps by experiencing rebirth in our life’s purpose, by seeing restoration in a broken relationship, or by feeling the power of resurrection in our health—both physically and spiritually.
If we explore this ancient Jewish hope for ourselves, the implications of its reality can inspire and transform us even here and now. If resurrection is real, what should we be preoccupied with on this side of eternity? How does it shape our view of the Messiah? What does it look like for God to renew us? The concept of resurrection can give us hope—both for personal renewal here and now, and for the promised restoration to come.
1 “Jewish Resurrection of the Dead,” My Jewish Learning, accessed December 27, 2021.
2 Alan F. Segal, Rebecca’s Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 53.
3 “Translation of the Weekday Amidah,” Chabad, accessed December 30, 2021.
4 Nissen Mangel, “Ani Maamin – I Believe,” Chabad, accessed December 30, 2021.
5 Maurice Lamm, “Jewish Resurrection of the Dead,” Chabad, accessed December 27, 2021.
6 “19 Great Jewish Sayings,” Aish, accessed January 5, 2022.
7 Ethan Bronner, “Ancient Tablet Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection,” The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
9 Rabbi Damian Eisner, interview by Stephanie Hamman, December 30, 2021.