Christ states the following, recorded in John's Gospel:

  • John 5:28-29: “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (emphasis added).

In contrast, Christ also states the following in the Gospel of Luke:

  • Luke 20:38: "Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him" (emphasis added).

How do we reconcile these verses? Is residing in a grave not "death"? In case we are tempted to believe that the dead now reside in heaven, Jesus was clear:

  • John 3:13: "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man" (emphasis added).

And this:

  • Acts 2:29: "Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day" (emphasis added).

Finally, another passage that seems perfectly in alignment with Luke 20:38 is this:

  • Luke 23:43: "And [Jesus] said to [the thief on the cross], 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise'" (emphasis added).

Can someone be in paradise, yet be oblivious to the fact? Surely, there is some means by which we may harmonize all the texts above?

  • 1
    No one has ascended into heaven - Before Christ (Luke 23:43); otherwise, what practical purpose would His coming have possibly served ? Also, it's not like the NT denies the literal reality of one's physical death (John 11:11-14). There is a very literal sense in which we do indeed lose our earthly lives (Matthew 10:39, 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24, 17:33; John 12:25).
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 5:29
  • @Lucian I would argue that we can go further than your suggestion. God exists outside of time: He not only knows all that has ever transpired, but all that ever will take place. Christ's atonement was a certainty, a fact in the eyes of God - even during Abel's lifetime. His sacrifice was just as efficacious to him for salvation as our spiritual sacrifices in Christ are today. The expectation for every child of God is to ascend to "Abraham's Bosom" (Lk. 16:19ff.) -- paradise. To do this, Abraham had to ascend somewhere himself. We are told "God is the god of the [spiritually] living."
    – Xeno
    Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 19:45

3 Answers 3


The odd verse out of this batch is Luke 20:38 the final pronoun is simply dative: αὐτῷ = for him, to him, by him, etc.

The context of Luke 20:38 is what happens at the (future) resurrection of the saints as Jesus' return. The BSB provides a better translation here:

He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”

Thus, the context of Jesus statement is not whether the righteous dead are alive at present or not but whether there is a resurrection or not. Jesus emphatically declares that God will resurrect the saints and they will live again because He summons the witness of Moses in the previous verse (V37):

Even Moses demonstrates that the dead are raised, in the passage about the burning bush. For he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

Thus, the point of Jesus argument is that there will be a resurrection of the righteous dead. This is perfectly consistent with all the other texts quoted by the OP, namely, Acts 2:29, John 3:13, 5:28, 29.

For some comments about the controversial passage in Luke 23:43, see If the thief on the cross would join Christ in paradise, would Stephen experience the same in Acts 7:59?

  • I absolutely agree there will be a resurrection of the righteous dead (I'm not as convinced about the lost). Where I have difficulty, which perhaps I should add to the OP, is Luke 23:43: "[Truly] I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” That sounds like the thief would be alive, and perfectly aware of the Paradise that awaited him on that day. This is probably one of the reasons why I argue finite time vs. timelessness (don't worry, I won't go any further with it). :-)
    – Xeno
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 4:48
  • @Xeno - there are grammatical reasons to address this if you ask another question - Where should the comma be - before or after "today". Another way to ask the same question is, Does "today" modify the verb "I say", or the verb, "to be"?
    – Dottard
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 6:12

John 5:25 is Jesus' assurance that there is no such thing as 'soul annihilation', because all those who have died will hear the command of the risen Christ at the start of the Day of Resurrection and Judgment, and come forth, alive. They will be given resurrection bodies, made fit for ascending into Heaven for judgment, and fit for uniting with their departed spirits, and fit for whatever eternal state they are judged to go into.

Luke 20:38 is Jesus' riposte to those religious people who say there is no resurrection of the dead. After exposing their intended trap by giving him a conundrum about marriage in the resurrection, he added this:

"Now that the dead are raised, even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, for he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him." Luke 20:37-38 A.V.

Their physical bodies may be dead and buried, but their spirits have returned to God, who gave them. (Ecclesiastes 12:7 & Job 19:25-27)

Christ, however, had to first be uniquely resurrected as "the firstfruits" to God. No believer who died before Jesus died would get into heaven before Jesus did, for he was the "firstfruits".

"But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept... But every man in his own order; Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming." 1 Corinthians 15:20 & 23 A.V. That is what Jesus meant when he said, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man..." John 3:13

That enables us to make sense of Peter's words on the day of Pentecost, that king David's dead body remained buried to that day, whereas Jesus' body had been resurrected and was now enthroned in heaven (Acts 2:29-36). As far as corpses go, they all await the Day of Resurrection and Judgment, but as far as the spirit of believers go, they return to God who gave them.

The two texts you ask about both deal with the certainly of all who have ever died being resurrected by Christ - a still future event. But one is addressed to those who disbelieve in any resurrection, while the other is addressed to those who tried to kill Jesus for performing a miracle on the Sabbath, most of whom did believe in a future resurrection. His point to them was:

"That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." John 5:23-24 A.V.

Then comes the verse you ask about. This shows that the dead who believe Jesus and God (who sent him) have passed over from death and are alive to God, even when they die physically. That applies just as much to Moses, Abraham and others as it does to all Christians who have that same saving faith. It matters not that their physical bodies have rotted; they are alive to God, simply awaiting in bliss for a resurrection body to be made to unite with their spirit part that can never be annihilated.


Figurative language

[NHEB Luke 20:27-40] 27Some of the Sadducees came to him, those who deny that there is a resurrection. 28They asked him, "Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man's brother dies having a wife, and he is childless, his brother should take the wife, and raise up children for his brother. 29There were therefore seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died childless. 30The second and 31the third took her, and likewise the seven all left no children, and died. 32Afterward the woman also died. 33Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them will she be? For the seven had her as a wife." 34Jesus said to them, "The people of this age marry and are given to someone to marry. 35But those who are regarded as worthy of a place in that age and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given to someone to marry. 36For they cannot die any more, for they are like the angels, and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he called the Lord 'The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' 38Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all are alive to him." 39Some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you speak well." 40They did not dare to ask him any more questions.

See commentaries:

No resurrection - The word "resurrection" usually means the raising up the "body" to life after it is dead, John 11:24; John 5:29; 1 Corinthians 15:22. But the Sadducees not only denied this, but also a future state, and the separate existence of the soul after death altogether, as well as the existence of angels and spirits, Acts 23:8. Both these doctrines have commonly stood or fallen together, and the answer of our Saviour respects both, though it more distinctly refers "to the separate existence of the soul, and to a future state of rewards and punishments," than to the resurrection of the body. (Barnes Notes on the Bible)

The Sadducees rejected the afterlife (just as the reformed Christians reject the commandments); the answer of Jesus demonstrated that the believers are alive with God, despite their deaths. They are merely physically dead. They believed, the physical life is all there is, and there is no afterlife, no hope. It is an idiomatic saying that God doesn't represent death, but life. He is the resurrection, which is the opposite of permanent death or cessation of the soul. The sense is not the physical death, which is certain for everyone. Pay attention to the figurative language. All the dead will be resurrected to receive judgment, whether unto life, or unto judgment/death.

In case we are tempted to believe that the dead now reside in heaven, Jesus was clear: John 3:13: "No one has ascended into heaven

JFB commentary:

no man hath ascended, &c.—There is something paradoxical in this language—"No one has gone up but He that came down, even He who is at once both up and down." Doubtless it was intended to startle and constrain His auditor to think that there must be mysterious elements in His Person. The old Socinians, to subvert the doctrine of the pre-existence of Christ, seized upon this passage as teaching that the man Jesus was secretly caught up to heaven to receive His instructions, and then "came down from heaven" to deliver them. But the sense manifestly is this: "The perfect knowledge of God is not obtained by any man's going up from earth to heaven to receive it—no man hath so ascended—but He whose proper habitation, in His essential and eternal nature, is heaven, hath, by taking human flesh, descended as the Son of man to disclose the Father, whom He knows by immediate gaze alike in the flesh as before He assumed it, being essentially and unchangeably 'in the bosom of the Father'" (Joh 1:18).

Nicodemus was surprised and perplexed, he could not believe the words of Jesus to be plausible. The phrase means, nobody has/can ascend into heaven (something seemingly impossible or the hardest thing to do), Jesus alone who descended from heaven has made it possible by revealing everything, the seemingly impossible wisdom in so simple words. It is a figure of speech. Maybe Nicodemus thought it is too hard for man to be born from above. How can we live righteously and obey God? It is impossible; as the so-called Christians believe, like the rich young man.

[NHEB Deut 30:11-14] 11For this commandment which I command you this day is not too difficult for you, nor is it far off. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up into heaven for us, and get it for us, and proclaim it to us, that we may obey it?" 13And it is not in the deep of the sea, that you should say, "Who will go down into the deep of the sea for us, and get it for us, and proclaim it to us, so that we may obey it?" 14But the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart and in your hand, so that you can do it.

  • Matt 8:21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Living people are figuratively called "dead", to do the dead works and rituals like funeral or burial (comparatively to works discipleship of God). The dead are indeed alive to God, who belong to God that they are not even called dead but asleep: Vine's dictionary.

He is "the firstfruits of them that have fallen asleep," 1Cr 15:20; of saints who departed before Christ came, Mat 27:52; Act 13:36; of Lazarus, while Christ was yet upon the earth, Jhn 11:11; of believers since the Ascension, 1Th 4:13-15; Act 7:60; >1Cr 7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 18, 51; 2Pe 3:4.

Note: "This metaphorical use of the word sleep is appropriate, because of the similarity in appearance between a sleeping body and a dead body; restfulness and peace normally characterize both. The object of the metaphor is to suggest that, as the sleeper does not cease to exist while his body sleeps, so the dead person continues to exist despite his absence from the region in which those who remain can communicate with him, and that, as sleep is known to be temporary, so the death of the body will be found to be....

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