The Study of Last Things
Bringing Truths from Different Books of the Bible into Focus, Perspective, and Understanding.
"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground wil awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt." Daniel 12:2
Introduction: Clearly, the Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection, that this life is not all that there is. Many assume or believe that death ends this life. It certainly does, but it does not end human existence. Many erroneously believe that there is one general resurrection at the end of the age. If one examines the evidence in Scripture, that belief cannot be correct. This brief essay will present the Biblical evidence for a series of resurrections. It will not cover individual resurrections such as that of the son of Elisha’s benefactor (2 Kings 4:18-37); of the synagogue ruler’s daughter (Matt. 9:18-25); of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-16); or of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (John 11:1-46). These were more likely resuscitations, meaning that, having been brought back to life, they would still have mortal bodies and be forced to die once again. Nor will it cover the unusual resurrection of the two witnesses (Rev. 11:1-14). These two evidently experienced a resurrection, not a resuscitation, for they were called up to heaven. Rather we will here discuss more general resurrections. Yet we must begin with the resurrection of the One whose resurrection was necessary to ensure that of all other humans!
1. The first great resurrection was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is documented in each of the four Gospels (Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20), cited several times in Acts (e.g. 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33; 26:23), and mentioned repeatedly in the letters to the churches (e.g. Rom. 1:4; Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:3). Much is made of the importance of Christ’s resurrection in 1 Cor. 15, which records that over five hundred people saw Him at one time (1 Cor. 15:4-6). Christ’s resurrection is the “first fruits” or guarantee to every Christian that he will also be raised at Christ’s coming (parousia) (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). Christ’s resurrection is also the basis of the Christian’s certainty that all people who have died will one day be resurrected to face fair and even-handed judgment by Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31). For some this will be a resurrection of eternal life; for others one of eternal separation from God (Dan. 12:2; John 5:28-29). The resurrection to eternal life is described as “the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6); the resurrection to judgment and torment is described as “the second death” (Rev. 20:6, 13-15).
2. There were multiple resurrections in connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection. This resurrection is mentioned in Matt. 27:52-53. Probably the best explanation of this event is that these peoples’ tombs were opened when Jesus died, but that they were resurrected when Jesus was resurrected, and that they subsequently appeared in Jerusalem. See the explanation given by Thomas Constable in his Bible Study Notes on Matthew, pp. 375-76.
3. A great resurrection will occur at the time of the Rapture. All those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ during the Church Age and have died before Jesus returns will be resurrected at the Rapture. The Church Age began on the Day of Pentecost and will end when Christ returns to take believers back to heaven with Him (John 14:1-3). The Apostle Paul explained that not all Christians will die, but all will be changed – i.e. given resurrection type bodies (1 Cor. 15:50-58). Some will be given resurrection type bodies without having to die! Christians alive and those having already died will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and be with Him always (1 Thess. 4:13-18)! This has long been a comfort for Christians whose believing loved ones have died. Paul makes an extended and logical argument for the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
4. Another great resurrection will occur when Christ returns to earth (His Second Coming) at the end of the Tribulation period. The Tribulation is the next event after the Church Age in God’s chronology. This will be a time of terrible judgment upon the world, described in great detail in Rev. chapters 6-18. Though all Church Age believers will be gone, millions of people left behind on earth will come to their senses during this time and will trust in Jesus as their Savior. Tragically, most of them will pay for their faith in Jesus by losing their lives (Rev. 6:9-11; 7:9-17; 13:7, 15-17; 17:6; 19:1-2). These believers in Jesus who die during the Tribulation will be resurrected at Christ’s return and will reign with Him during His thousand-year reign known as the Millennium (Rev. 20:4, 6). We believe that Old Testament believers such as Job, Noah, Abraham, David and even John the Baptist (who was assassinated before the Church began) will be resurrected at this time also. Several passages in the Old Testament mention this event (Job 19:25-27; Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37:1-14; Dan. 12:1-2; Hos. 13:14). (Ezek. 37:1-14 describes primarily the regathering of the Nation of Israel under the figure of dead corpses coming back to life. But from the language used, a physical resurrection of previously dead Israelis cannot be excluded from the passage.) Again, all believers in God (in the Old Testament era) and all believers in Jesus (in the New Testament era) participate in the first resurrection, a resurrection to life (Rev. 20:4, 6).
5. There may be a fifth resurrection at the end of the Millennium, one which is implied, but never explicitly stated in Scripture. It is possible, if not likely, that some believers will die a physical death during the Millennium. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, "No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed” (Isa. 65:20). On the other hand, it is also possible that death in the Millennium will only come to the disobedient. In either event, some kind of transformation will be required to fit believers in their natural bodies in the Millennium for pristine existence throughout eternity. Each believer will need to have a “resurrected” type of body. Let us first examine the sequence of events at the end of the age:
a. A relatively small number of believers in Jesus will survive the entire Tribulation period and greet Christ at His return to rule the earth (Matt. 24). (This return is to be distinguished from His return to earth’s atmosphere to collect Church Age believers and take them back with Him to heaven (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18.) Preserved alive, these believers who have survived the Tribulation will enter Christ’s Millennial Kingdom in their natural, mortal bodies (Matt. 25:31-46). A great number, if not all of them, will survive the entire one thousand years (Isa. 65:20; Rev. 20:4-6). At the same time, these believers in their natural bodies will reproduce and have children. Many, but not all of these children will become believers in Jesus. Sadly, a significant number will not. At the end of the Millennium, Satan will be released from the abyss, his temporary prison (Rev. 20:1-3, 7). God will permit him to return to the earth. He will succeed in deceiving all those who have been born during the Millennium but who never placed their trust in King Jesus. They were outwardly cooperative but inwardly rebellious. These rebels, inspired by Satan, will surround the city of Jerusalem to destroy the King, His capital city, His government, and His citizenry in one last great revolt. But fire will come down from heaven and destroy them. Only the Godly will survive (Rev. 20:7-10).
b. It is clear from Scripture that God will destroy the entire universe, including the earth, with fire (2 Pet. 3:7-12). This will be necessary to purge God’s creation of its endemic evil and decay, brought upon it by man’s sin. In its place God will create New Heaven and New Earth (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4). But what will happen to those believers who survived the Tribulation and entered the Millennium in their natural bodies? And what will happen to those who were born during the Millennium, trusted in Jesus, and continued to live in their natural bodies? Paul has made it clear that flesh and blood, that which is mortal and able to decay, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That Eternal Kingdom is inhabitable only by those with resurrection type bodies that are no longer mortal and are not able to decay (1 Cor. 15:35-49). Presumably, these believers in their natural bodies will be given resurrection bodies without having to die. Precisely when this happens is not explained, but theologically, it must happen somewhere in the transition from the old earth and universe to New Earth and New Heaven (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-4).
6. There is a final resurrection, a resurrection, apparently, of all the unbelieving dead of all ages. Jesus Christ will raise them from the dead (John 5:25-29) after the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:5) and after the destruction of the present earth and universe (2 Pet. 3:7-12; Rev. 20:11).
a. This is the resurrection described by Daniel as an awakening “from the dust of the ground” ... “to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). It is described by Jesus as a “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).
b. The Apostle John saw something that would happen in the future. He saw a “great white throne” (Rev. 20:11). Heaven and earth “fled away” from the One sitting on it. This is evidently a description of the dissolution by fire of all matter, including the entire universe and earth itself (2 Pet. 3:7-12). All the (godless) dead will stand before the throne. This means they have been resurrected after the thousand years (Rev. 20:5). They will possess bodies that can feel pain but will never cease to exist (Mark 9:43-48). They will be judged by their works. Their punishment will be commensurate with their works. But there is another book opened, the book of life. Those whose names are not written in the book of life are cast into the “lake of fire,” which amounts to “the second death” (Rev. 20:11-15).
c. No indication is given of any who appear at this judgment that their names are found in the book of life. Rather, those whose names appear in the book of life were among those who are blessed, for they partook of the first resurrection, the resurrection to life (Rev. 20:6).
iii. You must understand that God’s eternal Son came to this earth to become a man. He lived a perfect life and was able to die a perfect death to pay for all your sins in your place. Jesus did so because God loves you and because He loves you (Rom. 5:8).
iv. Since you cannot work your way out of your death penalty, God has graciously offered to give you the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life (Eph. 2:8-10). But you must do one thing – you must stop trusting in yourself and your own goodness and trust in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-18). Those who hear Jesus’ words and trust in God, who sent Jesus, pass from the realm of death to the realm of life (John 5:24). May you trust in Jesus and be forgiven! Then you will experience a resurrection to life and a oneness with God and all His people of all ages!
7. Finally, the answer to the question, “When will the resurrection take place?”, is “We do not know for certain.” We know that Christ could come at any time to claim for Himself those who have trusted in Him. That means the resurrection of Church Age believers could occur at any time!
Prepared by James T. Bartsch
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Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
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WordExplain by James T. Bartsch
Scriptures Taken from the New American Standard Bible
Updated March 22, 2014