To understand what it means when the Bible says that the dead will rise, we must first understand why people die. Death is a direct result of sin (Romans 6:23). Put simply, death is the absence of life. When God breathed the “breath of life” into Adam (Genesis 2:7) he “became a living soul” and passed the breath of life along to his children. When someone dies as a result of sin, God essentially takes back the breath of life which powers the soul. Thus, when the dead rise, God has again breathed into them the breath of life.
Death can be described as a sleep. In fact, Jesus, when referring to Lazarus who had died, first told his disciples that he had “fallen asleep.”(John 11:11-14) He then clarified what he meant to the confused disciples and said that Lazarus was dead. When one is raised from the dead, it is similar to being raised from a deep sleep – the person being unaware of the passage of time and events that have unfolded.
Jesus died to make us, sinful human beings, right with God. This is called “atonement.” The penalty for sin is death, and in order to pay that debt which humanity owed to God as a result of sin, God sent the perfect man, Jesus, who died on our behalf. This guaranteed a resurrection to Adam and all of his children (Psalm 51:5, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
Just as Lazarus was raised when Jesus called him, which showed that it was possible, humanity will also be raised when Jesus calls them in God’s coming kingdom on earth.(Ephesians 5:14) We believe that the dead will rise, just as the Bible says, literally. For further reading in the Scriptures, see: Isaiah 26:14&19, John 11:23-25, and Romans 5:12.