4. The Two Resurrections
The resurrection of the human body from the grave is clearly taught in God’s Word. Job, the oldest of the patriarchs, said: “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). It is evident that Job was firm in his belief in the resurrection of his body and a future life beyond the grave.
Abraham, the founder and father of his race, lived to be one hundred seventy-five years old, and “died in a good old age” (Genesis 25:7-8), but “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). He never saw that city in his earthly pilgrimage, for earth to him was a “strange country.” The godly old patriarch shared with others who “desire a better country, that is, an heavenly; wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). But Abraham believed that the heavenly city would be inhabited by a fleshly body, “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead . . .” (Hebrews 11:19).
David was confident of a future life. He said: “My flesh also shall rest in hope” (Psalm 16:9), and “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15). These words of the man of God refute the erroneous teaching that the resurrection refers to the spirit of man, and not to his body. Neither the soul nor the spirit of man dies, but it is his body which dies and is buried. Therefore it must be the body that is raised from the dead, and not the soul or spirit.
When our Lord Jesus was here upon earth, He taught that all men who die will be raised again at some future date. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, And shall come forth . . .” (John 5:28, 29). We affirm and avow our belief in the resurrection of the human body from death and the grave. Without this hope our Christian faith is vain, our brightest hopes are merely bursting bubbles, the Bible is not a true and reliable record, the men who wrote it were poor deluded victims of falsehood, and Jesus Christ is the world’s biggest impostor. But so clear is the Bible on the subject of the resurrection that we admit no confusion or doubt.
A Wrong Conception
Many people, among them some Christians, have been taught to believe that there is only one “general” resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world. This is a serious error which has robbed many believers of joy and victory in this life. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we taught that the bodies of all men will be raised at the same time. It is true that all the dead will be raised and brought into judgment, but neither the time, the place, nor the judgments are the same. The Bible clearly distinguishes between a first and a second resurrection.
. . . All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth: they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:28-29).
When men are raised, not all will be raised at the same time nor in the same condition. There will be two resurrections for two classes of men. One will be raised to eternal life and immortality, while the other will be raised to condemnation and banishment from the presence of the Lord. There is a “resurrection of life” and a “resurrection of damnation.”
And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14).
There is, then, a “resurrection of the just,” and since “all shall come forth,” there must of necessity be a resurrection of the unjust. Since the dead in Christ shall rise first, the implication is that the dead out of Christ (or without Christ) will be raised afterwards. Luke makes no mention in the above passage about a resurrection of the unsaved. Indeed the unsaved shall be raised, but not for a considerable length of time after the saved have been raised. When Paul testified before Felix, he said, “that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). The Apostle John makes a clear distinction between the two. He speaks of the redeemed who “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-5).
Every believer has passed out of death into life (John 5:24). His life “is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), and the exceeding greatness of God’s power in resurrection toward us who believe is the same “mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19-20). And by that same power will all the unbelieving dead be brought out of their graves to stand before the judgment of the Great White Throne.
The First Resurrection
“For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Surely language could be no clearer than this--“The dead in Christ shall rise first.” We see first that the time of the First Resurrection is the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of Heaven to rapture all of the saints to Himself. Here we must distinguish between Christ’s coming for His own before the millennium and His coming again to raise the rest of the dead (unbelievers) who remained in their graves during the thousand years. Let there be no misunderstanding that it is a settled fact that there is at least a one thousand year interval between the First and the Second Resurrection. The Apostle John, by Divine inspiration, confirms this,
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:4-5).
At the consummation of the First Resurrection there are three companies of believers who will have been raised at different times. Let us say, for clarity, there are three stages of the resurrection of believers:
(1) When our Lord was crucified on the Cross, we read: “And, behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose” (Matthew 27:51-52).
(2) There is the second stage of the First Resurrection to which we already have made mention (1 Thessalonians 4:16), when all true believers are raised at the first appearance of Christ. To this we add the Apostle Paul’s word in First Corinthians: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
(3) The third and final stage of the First Resurrection occurs about seven years after the resurrection of saints at Christ’s coming at the rapture. “Those resurrected near the close of the seven years’ period of the tribulation are the multitude of believers who were led to the truth through the witness of the 144,000.” Because they would not receive the mark of the beast in their hands and foreheads, they were martyred. These are brought forth from the dead at the end of the Tribulation just before Christ comes to earth to reign for one thousand years.
Christ the Firstfruits
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
The word “Firstfruits” is a significant one. In the ceremony of the Israelites there were certain national feasts kept annually. The third order of these was the Feast of Firstfruits, an annual occasion of consecration that was solemnized at the beginning of harvest time.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye be come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest. (Leviticus 23:9-10).
Dr. Martin DeHaun points out that the harvest was divided into three parts. It was one harvest, the fruit of one season, presented on three different occasions. First, there was the sheaf of firstfruits, the earnest or pledge of the greater harvest that would follow. This beautifully typifies the Resurrection of Christ who, by coming forth from the tomb, accomplished the work of the redemption and guaranteed for all who believe in Him a greater resurrection when He returns. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept”(1Corinthians15:20). Just as the firstfruits were a pledge of the coming harvest that would be presented to Jehovah, so our Lord’s Resurrection is a promise that all who are in their graves who have died trusting Him will be raised and brought into the presence of the Father. Speaking to believers, the Apostle Paul, by the Holy Spirit says: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
After the firstfruits followed the harvesting of the larger part of the crops. We read: “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23). Our risen Lord is now in Heaven. Even so “Our conversation is in Heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:20, 21). Our physical bodies have in them sickness, weakness and death, but our all-powerful, all-victorious Saviour has said: “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:18). He will come again even as He said. Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming.
But the harvest is not ended as yet. It is not completed until the gleanings are added. Always there are loose ears that fall by the way, and these must be gathered up. This is called the gleaning. We recall how Ruth “came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers” (Ruth 2:3). The gleanings are those tribulation saints who had not heard and believed the Gospel before the rapture of the Church. So we have Christ the firstfruits, then we have the harvest or the resurrection of the saved at the rapture, and finally the gleanings or the saved of the seven years’ tribulation period. Then follows the millennial age during which all the saints of every age will reign with Christ a thousand years. What bright prospect for those who put their trust in the Son of God! But tell me, are you prepared for the coming of the Lord and the first Resurrection?
The Second Resurrection
When the thousand years are expired, Satan will be loosed for a season and will carry on his rebellion where he left off before the millennium when he was cast into the bottomless pit. Then God will have done with Satan forever, for “the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). We shudder at this unceasing torment without intermission, this never-ending existence in painful agony.
But the devil’s doom is not the blackest page in the Biblical records of God’s dealings. There is yet an account to be settled with all those who died in rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. A Great White Throne has been erected. We are about to view the greatest assize ever conducted. The Judge is our Lord Jesus Himself, for “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). Here the hated and despised Nazarene will sit in righteous judgment of all who refused to acknowledge His Messiahship and Saviourhood. It is the gloomiest hour for that part of the human race that spurned the love of God and denied His only begotten Son. This is the resurrection of the unbelieving dead. There are those who remained “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Though they are spiritually dead having not eternal life, they are standing before God physically alive in their resurrection bodies. From every part of the earth the bodies of the wicked dead are raised to receive the final sentence, banishment from the presence of God and eternal punishment in the lake of fire.
The final resurrection occurs, John says: “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; . . . The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works” (Revelation 20:12, 14). Who will be judged here? The answer is that there will not be one single believer in Christ that will appear before the judgment of the Great White Throne. Only the unsaved will be there, appearing in a physical body to be condemned to Hell. All will be there by their own personal choice. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). You had your opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, but you turned from Him, and by so doing you have chosen eternal torment in the lake of fire. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17-18).
Many unbelievers seek to stifle their conscience by uttering their unbelief in a physical resurrection. They count it a thing incredible that God could raise a physical body that had been trampled under the dust for more than one thousand years. Certainly God knows where the dust is, and since He fashioned the body of Adam out of particles of dust, it is only reasonable to believe that He can fashion it again. The world is His, and the fullness thereof. He fixed the stars in their courses and named them all; the wind and waves obey His will; the innumerable grains of sand by the seashores are under His divine control; He numbers every hair on our heads. The logical reasoning of any thinking mind and the inner convictions of the honest man tell us plainly how foolish one is to deny the existence of life after death.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the confirmation of the resurrection of the human body and future judgment. When the mighty Apostle Paul preached his sermon to the Athenians on Mars’ hill, he said that God commands all men everywhere to repent, “because He hath appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). It is true that man died here, but since both his Judge and his day of judgment already have been appointed, he must be raised after death if the purposes of God are to be fulfilled. Certainly they are not dead men whom God will arraign before his solemn tribunal. They will be alive and conscious of that great hour. So in order that man might be assured of a future judgment, Christ arose as the criterion of the law of resurrection. The living Christ is a positive attestation of the fact that there is a day of judgment. We are not intimating nor are we presuming a day of judgment, but we are merely standing with the Apostle Paul in affirming a positive assurance God gave to the world when He raised Jesus Christ from the dead. We read in “The Apostles’ Creed” how Christ “. . . was crucified, dead and buried; the third day He arose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead . . .”
The last judgment in the Bible will be that of the unsaved dead who will stand before the Great White Throne in living, resurrected bodies to receive their final sentence of doom and be cast into the lake of fire. This will not be a judgment to see if sinners are lost, for they are lost already because “he that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18). Christians will be present, but only as witnesses. The judged will be those of the Second Resurrection whose bodies have been brought out of the grave and whose spirits brought back from Hell.
All of the unsaved, “small and great, stand before God” (Revelation 20:12). In our human courts of law it is often the case that the defendant does not appear. Sometimes a witness, a juror, or a judge can be bribed, and the guilty one escapes trial and the passing of sentence. Sometimes false witnesses can turn court’s evidence and the guilty one goes free. But in that day, the books are opened, including the Book of Life, “and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). While it is true that millions have lived and died of whom the world knows nothing, their thoughts and deeds are divinely written where the memory of them can never perish. An accurately guided hand has recorded the biography of all, and all evil will be accounted for in that dreadfully solemn hour. If you have despised Jesus here, it will mean judgment there. If you have belittled the invitation to Heaven while here, you will be cast into Hell then.
A Literal, Physical Body
God has said by the prophet Isaiah: “Unto Me every knee shall bow every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23). The Apostle Paul quoting Isaiah, said: “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, ever knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11). Then the Apostle adds: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him (Jesus), and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Only a part of the human race has agreed with the testimony of God the Father which He has given concerning His Son. But at the final judgment, every unbeliever of every age will bow the knee that once he refused to bend, and confess with the tongue that once he refused to confess Christ with. Yes, literal knees and tongues of every Christ-rejecting sinner will bow and confess in utter humility the Christ they spurned and scoffed at here on earth.
Again we repeat that God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He would rather save than have them die in unbelief, but whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire. They shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death (Revelation 20:15; 21:8). If you die in your sins, the judgment is sure and certain. You will not escape! No, you cannot escape. If, while you read this message, you realize your need of Christ as your personal Saviour from sin, confess that you are a sinner and trust Christ to save you. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:6).