“Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise–awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust–for Thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades.” Isaiah 26:19 (The Israel Bible™)
Although Jews don’t share the Christian idea of rapture at the End of Days, there is a Jewish eschatological doctrine of the resurrection of the dead during the Messianic period. In Hebrew, resurrection of the dead is called Techiyat HaMeitim.
End of Days expert and prolific author Rabbi Pinchas Winston spoke to Breaking Israel News about the concept of rapture – which has been popularized in recent years by the Christian fiction series Left Behind – explaining that it is actually based on a Jewish idea which has been adapted to suit Christian views.
“There are often similarities between Jewish concepts and those of other those of religions,” said Rabbi Winston. “Historically this has been because the other religions adopted and adapted some idea from Judaism, concepts they picked up through interaction with local Jewish populations or from Jewish literature over the ages.”
He gave an example. “At one point, Catholic priests learned Zohar (Judaism’s fundamental mystical text). Either to bury the origin of the idea they took or just to be different, they changed it to suit their religious aims, and over time it became so distorted from the original that it became very unJewish.
“The Christian idea of rapture is another such idea, which has little or nothing to do with Jewish tradition, which has always believed in the notion of the resurrection of the dead.”
Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is so fundamental to Jewish thought that it is one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith. These 13 basic Jewish beliefs were compiled in the 12th century by the one of the greatest codifiers of Jewish law, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (also known as Maimonides or Rambam).
I believe with perfect faith that there will be a resurrection of the dead at the time when it shall please the Creator, Blessed be His name, and His mention shall be exalted for ever and ever.
Rabbi Winston writes in his book Geulah b’Rachamim (Merciful Redemption), “Just like a Jew must believe in the coming of Moshiach (Messiah) and the Final Redemption, he must likewise believe that there will be a resurrection of the dead. That is, when God will create each person anew from the ground, as He did the first man.” Rabbi Winston further quotes rabbinic opinion that the process of the resurrection of the dead will take either 210 or 214 years to complete.
Although there are multiple opinions about the exact order in which events during Messianic days will occur, in Judaism, resurrection of the dead is generally thought to begin at a late stage in the Messianic process. Prior to the widespread resurrection of the dead, the Jewish Messiah must arrive on the scene, the Third and final Holy Temple must be built in Jerusalem and the Jewish exiles that remain in the diaspora must return to the Land of Israel.
Resurrection of those who have died and been buried is seen in the the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 37. In this chapter, the prophet Ezekiel describes a valley full of dry bones which knit themselves together into skeletons. Flesh and skin are added to these skeletons and, eventually, breath is restored.
Although there is disagreement among Jewish sages about whether the bones actually came to life in the time of Ezekiel, all agree that this image is both a metaphor for the revival of the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel and for the belief that the dead will be restored to life in Messianic times.
There is an interesting rabbinic opinion that, at a future point in the Messianic process, Jews who are buried outside the Land of Israel will have their bodies resurrected outside of Israel but will not be be invested with a new soul until they get to Israel.
Not to be confused with resurrection of the dead at the End of Days, the Book of Kings includes two stories that refer to revival or resuscitation of the dead before burial. Both stories are about a young child who died and is brought back to life shortly thereafter by a great prophet.
In chapter 17 of 1 Kings, a widowed woman in the city of Zarephath has been feeding Eliyahu haNavi (Elijah the prophet). When her son falls grievously ill and dies, Eliyahu brings him back to life.
And the LORD hearkened unto the voice of Eliyahu; and the soul of the child came back into him, and he revived. I Kings 17:22
A strikingly similar story of the revival of a dead son recurs in II Kings, this time with Elisha, the student of Eliyahu and the son of the Shunammite woman.
And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and he stretched himself upon him; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. II Kings 4:33-34
While the Bible does feature concepts of resurrection and revival, it is clear that the idea of rapture, as understood by Christianity, does not align with Jewish tradition.