Were Samuel, Moses & Elijah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Alive Before the Resurrection?

Were Samuel, Moses & Elijah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – Alive Before the Resurrection?

Three passages of Scripture are sometimes advanced in support of the view that the dead are alive before the resurrection.

1. The episode related in 1 Samuel 28 concerns a so-called appearance of Samuel after his death. There are good reasons for belief that the medium, with the help of a demon spirit, was able to effect an impersonation of Samuel. It makes no sense at all to suppose that, having refused to communicate with Saul by any legitimate means (1 Samuel 28:6), the Lord would speak to him through Samuel, using practices which he had forbidden as an “abomination.” In any case Saul saw nothing. It was the medium alone who saw “gods ascending from the earth” and “an old man…covered with a mantle.” The whole story looks like a case of fraud, and the comment in 1 Chronicles 10:13, read in the original, suggests that what Saul consulted was the familiar spirit itself, rather than, as he thought, the ghost of Samuel. And Samuel was not a disembodied soul.

2. At the transfiguration Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. The event is described as a vision (Matthew 17:9), and like John’s vision of unfulfilled events in the book of Revelation, cannot be taken as a statement of the actual survival of Moses and Elijah. It can hardly be that they had been resurrected to immortality in advance of Jesus, the firstfruits, and the writer to the Hebrews thinks of all the Old Testament heroes of faith, including Moses and the prophets, as having died, without receiving the promised reward (Hebrews 11:13, 39). The transfiguration is understood by Peter to be a vision of the Parousia (2 Peter 1:17-18.)

3. It is sometimes alleged that the discussion between Jesus and the Sadducees about resurrection shows that Jesus thought of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as alive before the resurrection! However, this is to miss the point of the Lord’s teaching. His aim was to point to the absolute necessity of resurrection. Since the patriarchs were (and are still) dead, there must be a future resurrection, for God is not the God of the dead but of the living! (Matthew 22:29-33).

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