What is Resurrection?:
The concept of resurrection refers to the idea of dead people who have found special favor with their deity such that they rise from the dead, restored to bodily form. Through most of the Old Testament, the concept of resurrection was applied to the whole of Israel in its renewal after returning from exile and not at all to individuals after their death. Only in later apocalyptic literature (like Daniel) do we read about the physical resurrection of individuals for a new existence with God.
Jesus Preaches the Resurrection:
Jesus ministry included teachings about the Kingdom of God in which believers would be resurrected and live a new, transcendent existence as the elect people of God. The earliest gospel texts do not appear to depict Jesus predicting his own resurrection, today a central facet of Christian teaching, and some scholars believe that stories of Jesus resurrection were added by later Christian communities.
First Story of Jesus Resurrection:
The earliest textual reference to Jesus resurrection appears in Pauls letter 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 and describes a teaching Paul received after his calling. Paul describes the resurrection as an act of God Jesus was raised from the dead, denoting passiveness on Jesus part. An empty tomb is not mentioned; faith in the resurrection is based upon appearances by Jesus. Later traditions gave Jesus an active role in his own resurrection and emphasized an empty tomb.
Resurrection & Appearance Narratives:
As the gospels developed, the authors increased their emphasis on Jesus appearances to his disciples and others. The original ending of Mark contained no appearances; Luke and Matthew contain detailed appearances before Jesus ascension; by the time of John, Jesus appearance and activity are extensive without any mention of an ascension. It may be that stories of witnesses of a resurrected Jesus were designed to counter questions from doubters.
Physical vs. Spiritual Resurrection:
One debate in the Christian community has been whether resurrection includes a persons physical body or merely refers to a new spiritual state. Scriptures and therefore most traditions have conceived of resurrection as physical: believers actually appear again in physical form (thus prohibitions against cremation). The idea of spiritual resurrection is more popular today, but since spirits are already in heaven, what is there to be resurrected?