I've had someone ask me about where the soul goes after death and how that correlates with the resurrection. I looked up articles on your site and was able to answer most of her questions, but one still remains. In Luke 16:19-31†we, of course, read the account of the rich man and Lazarus, gleaning the spiritual holding place of the Hadean realm. However, she felt confused regarding this because in verses such as John 5:28-29; I Corinthians 15:50-54; and I Thessalonians 4:13-18†we read of the saints being called forth from the grave. She felt confused as to how the soul can be in this holding place and yet still be called from the grave.
I thought it over and reasoned that "the grave" may not necessarily mean the physical grave itself, but rather from death. The wording "dead will be raised" seems to call up the images of actually coming forth from the grave itself, but†upon closer inspection the verses can just as easily be taken to mean from death than a burial spot. This would also correlate with her other question about cremation, for if one considers of course those whose bodies are incinerated in explosions, etc, etc., than their soul wouldn't have an actual spot to rise from. Therefore, the phrases regarding "the dead" or "the grave" can't mean an actual physical spot, because there could easily be many who don't have one!
What do you think?
In order to understand this better, you should realize that in the Hebrew language there is only one word for grave and the realm of the dead -- the word sheol.
"And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, "For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning." Thus his father wept for him" (Genesis 37:35).
"So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly" (Numbers 16:33).
The use of the word "down" makes one think of a physical grave, which is probably what is intended. However, there are verses where sheol is referred to as a single place which contains all the dead.
"Hell from beneath is excited about you, To meet you at your coming; It stirs up the dead for you, All the chief ones of the earth; It has raised up from their thrones All the kings of the nations" (Isaiah 14:9).
"I said, "In the prime of my life I shall go to the gates of Sheol; I am deprived of the remainder of my years"" (Isaiah 38:10).
That flexibility is carried over into the New Testament even though in Greek there is a separate word for a burial place (mnemeion) and the realm of the dead (hades). In John 5:28 it does refer to physical graves since it is used in the plural, but since we know that at death the spirit returns to God, "Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7), we understand that the graves here is a stand in to represent the place of the dead. In language it is called a "synecdoche," a figure of speech where one idea is exchanged for another.
To give you another example of a synecdoche, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food" (James 2:15), the word "naked" is used to represent someone who is poorly clothed and not literally lacking all clothing.
I Corinthians 15:54-55 talks of death in another figure of speech where a inanimate concept (death) is treated as a living being. Notice it is also used in the singular and paralleled to hades, so this doesn't prove a physical resurrection from earthly graves.
II Thessalonians 4:13-18 refers to those who are asleep, which is another synecdoche for being dead. Again, it doesn't indicate how people will come back from death.
Actually, Paul said, "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed -- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:51-53). Since the dead will be raised incorruptible and Paul already argued that the physical body cannot inherit the spiritual kingdom, this indicates the dead will not be physically raise, but raised in the spirit having new, spiritual bodies.