Comparatively few will be privileged to take part in the first resurrection to immortality. But untold billions will be surprised to find themselves rising up in a resurrection to mortality. Why would God resurrect countless billions back to a mortal life?
FORMER Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said before the American Congress: "He must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below...." What is that purpose which the Creator is working out on this earth among mere mortals? We have seen in previous articles in this series that man's only hope is the resurrection. Also, we saw biblical proof that man is mortal — not immortal — and that he can only receive immortality as a gift from God by a resurrection from the dead. Furthermore, we saw that the Bible clearly reveals there is to be more than one resurrection. There is an orderly plan whereby different ones are to be resurrected at different times. "But every man [will be resurrected] in his own order..." (I Cor. 15:23). There will be a proper "order" or succession of resurrections. The true, faithful Christians will be the first raised to life, and they will be resurrected to immortality at the second coming of Christ (see I Cor. 15:49-53; I Thes. 4:14-17).
Resurrection of the Unjust
But what about all those who are not resurrected at the second coming of Jesus? Will they remain forever dead, or will God also resurrect them at a later date? And will they be raised back to life merely to be flung into the lake of fire? What about all the unsaved multitudes reared under Communistic atheism, who have no Bibles, and have never heard the name of Christ or understood the gospel? Some say these multitudes will have a second chance. But have they really ever had a first chance to know Jesus Christ as Saviour? Revelation 20:5 begins to give the answer. "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." The expression "this is the first resurrection" is parenthetical and refers back to those in verse four who are raised to immortality at Christ's coming to become rulers with Him as kings and priests on the earth during the millennium. Many have made the mistake of thinking there will be only one resurrection — when both wicked and righteous will rise in judgment to be either rewarded or punished. But Revelation 20:5 plainly brands this an error. As a matter of fact, nowhere does the Bible say that God will resurrect all the dead in the same resurrection. True, the Apostle Paul affirmed "that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15). And Jesus Christ said: "... For the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life [eternal]; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [or, better translated, judgment]" (John 5:28, 29). Therefore, not thinking deeply, "Most Christians believe that on the last day of the world all the dead will come to life. They call the day Judgment Day, because God will judge everyone" (World Book Encyclopedia, 1972 edition). But let us not fall into the common error of assuming that Paul and Christ meant the "just" and the "unjust" would be resurrected at the same time. We have seen that the Apostle John wrote of a "first resurrection" and a "second resurrection." So where does that leave us? Since all the "just" or righteous dead are resurrected at the second coming of Christ, leaving the "unjust" dead in their graves, are all these unjust dead eternally lost — without any hope of ever having an opportunity to live again and obtain immortality?
A Resurrection of Mortals
Are the unjust ones merely to be resurrected so God can fling them into the lake of fire to be burned up? What did Christ mean when He said that "they that have done evil [will be resurrected], unto the resurrection of judgment"? (John 5:29.) Who are the "unjust" ones mentioned by Paul in Acts 24:15? Are those who died in sin really fully accountable for their actions in their "first life"? Have they ever had a chance for eternal salvation? Astounding as it may seem to people who do not really know the scriptural teaching regarding the resurrections, countless billions are yet to be brought back to a mortal life to have their "first chance" to receive salvation. Think for a moment. Could the untold billions who have lived and died possibly have received salvation? Have the vast majority ever had a chance to understand the Bible? Have they, then, really rejected salvation? No! Many individuals have lived their entire lifetimes without ever seeing a Bible or even hearing the name of Jesus Christ. Are they forever doomed simply because they did not have the Word of God, and did not know that Christ is the Saviour of all mankind? What nonsense!
What Constitutes a "Chance"?
Could countless billions of Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists, Taoists, animists and others who have not known about Christ and salvation be held guilty or accountable to God for not having received that vital knowledge? Or is it possible that they could receive salvation through some other person, or by a different way? The Apostle Peter emphatically answers: "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Human beings can only be saved if and when they learn of Jesus Christ as their Saviour who died for them, and then accept that supreme sacrifice in payment for their personal sins. Christ said: "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (John 10:9). He made it abundantly clear that anyone who "entereth not by the door [Christ] into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (verse I). There is no other "door" by which we can enter the Kingdom of God.
Can You Have a Second Chance?
Someone will ask: "Do you mean to say that God will resurrect men back to a mortal life, and give them a second chance?" No, this is not what the Bible teaches at all. But the scriptures plainly reveal that the time is coming when God will raise the "unjust" dead — those who through no fault of their own were deceived and never understood the way of salvation — and will at that time reveal His plan of salvation to them. Don't forget this basic truth: It is "impossible for God to lie" (Heb. 6:18). And "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35); therefore, whatever God promises in His Word, He will do. God's Word plainly says: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9). It is not God's will that heathen animists, pagan idolators or other sincere people who may practice a false religion, should perish. A loving Creator wills that "all should come to repentance" — in His own time and way. The Apostle Paul was also inspired to write that God our Saviour "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:4). He then went on to show that "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (verses 5, 6). It is God's responsibility to grant people the knowledge of the truth. The vast majority who have ever lived and died were, through no fault of their own, deprived of this knowledge which could have made salvation possible in their first lifetime. It therefore becomes imperative that God give them their first real chance to hear, understand and follow God's way of salvation. But how? By raising them from the dead to renewed physical life in a second resurrection. But millions of Christians erroneously believe that when one dies in sin he is lost forever. Many feel under a burden to see that Christ is preached to the heathen in Africa, Asia and other parts of the earth — because they think that if these pagans die in sin, they will miss out on salvation forever. One scripture oft quoted to prove that a person who dies in sin is forever doomed is Ecclesiastes 11:3. "... If the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be." This scripture, referring in context to certain instructions Solomon was giving with regard to the importance of making the most out of an uncertain and relatively short human lifetime, has nothing to do with any resurrection. Solomon does not say that if one, through no fault of his own, dies in sin, he will never have a chance to repent and receive salvation.
What Is Judgment?
In John 5:29, Jesus Christ spoke of "the resurrection of damnation." Nearly all modern translations correctly render this last word as "judgment" rather than "damnation." But what does it mean to be resurrected to judgment? Most Christians woefully misunderstand. They think of "judgment" as only a time when a sentence is passed — rewarding the righteous or condemning the guilty. But that is a false concept. Notice what the Apostle Peter wrote: "For the time [beginning nearly 2,000 years ago] is come that judgment must begin at the house of God..." (I Pet. 4:17). What did he mean? He did not mean just condemnation had begun at God's house, the Church. Rather he referred to the fact that God is now judging Christians. We are now having our chance, and we will never have another. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation...?" (Heb. 2:3.) See also Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29. God holds every Christian strictly accountable for his actions. He is now judging every believer according to His Word. But the vast majority of mankind, to this very day, do not understand or believe the truth of God. They have been deceived by the devil (Rev. 12:9). And it is God's responsibility to someday see that these deceived billions become undeceived and are given their chance for salvation — for He is not willing that any perish! When Christ said some would come forth in a resurrection to "judgment," he meant they would be raised up from their graves to a time when they would learn the truth and have their opportunity to walk in it. Then God will render a decision — a verdict — for each, on the basis of how they do.
Judgment of Unjust Sodom
Some are amazed to learn that Jesus made a number of statements in which he said that the peoples of Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, Sidon, Nineveh and those living in Christ's day will all rise up in the judgment together. Mercy will be shown to all, but the Gentile cities will find their judgment period more bearable than those who personally heard the teachings of Jesus Christ and yet rejected Him and His gospel. Christ solemnly affirmed: "Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city [which rejected His teachings]" (Matt. 10:15). To those cities who saw His miracles, Christ said: "But I say unto you [people of Bethsaida and Chorazin], It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you" (Matt. 1l:21, 22). Then Jesus warned Capernaum that if the mighty works done by Him in that city had been done in Sodom, Sodom would have existed to that very day. "But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, in the day of judgment, than for thee" (verse 24). Furthermore, Christ made a similar pronouncement regarding Nineveh: "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here" (Matt. 12:41). Jesus then explained that "The queen of the south [Queen of Sheba] shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here" (verse 42). What did Jesus mean? Just this. The Queen of Sheba, the peoples of Nineveh, Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah will find repentance easier in their "day of judgment" than will those who rejected Christ and His gospel message.
Resurrected Israel's Judgment
Jesus Christ was not preaching a "new doctrine" when He spoke of the resurrection of the peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was clearly indicated, if the people only had eyes to see, in the 16th chapter of the book of Ezekiel. Much of the chapter relates to the people of Jerusalem (verse 2). It details their abominations, calling Samaria the "elder sister" of Jerusalem, and Sodom her "younger sister" (verse 46). Then God points out that the sins the people of Jerusalem had committed were more abominable than those of her sisters — Sodom and Samaria. Finally, Ezekiel prophesies of the time when the Sodomites, Samaritans and the people of Jerusalem will all be brought up out of their captivity in death and will finally receive salvation. "When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them" (verse 53). The peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah have been held captive in the grave for nearly four thousand years. But through Christ's death and resurrection all of those held captive in the grave will be released. "... When he [Christ] ascended up on high [at His resurrection], he led captivity [death] captive..." (Eph. 4:8). Christ was held captive in the grave for three days and nights, but at His resurrection He "led captivity captive." He will do the same for all mankind in due time by resurrecting "all that are in the graves." When God resurrects the peoples of ancient Sodom, Samaria and Jerusalem, they will "return to their former estate" — meaning that God will place them in the land where they once lived (Ezek. 16:55). Ezekiel also prophesied elsewhere of a coming resurrection of all the dead Israelites of past centuries. The prophet first sees them as long dead in a "valley of dry bones" (Ezek. 37:1-10). "Then he [God] said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.... Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves" (verses 11-13). Then God promises He will put His Spirit in them (giving them the prerequisite for salvation) and will place them in their "own land" (verse 14).
Mercy Upon All
Even the Apostle Paul prophesied of a coming resurrection for carnal Israel. Paul wrote: "God hath not cast away his people [Israel] which he foreknew" (Rom. 11:2). Paul explains that the majority of Israel are spiritually blinded (verse 7). And who is responsible? "... God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear..." (verse 8). Why? "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world" — it makes possible the salvation of the Gentiles! — "what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (Verse 15.) Yes, they are to be raised from the dead and given life by the God who loves them and all humanity. Paul calls this a "mystery" — "that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved..." (verses 25, 26). What Paul is saying is simply this: God has determined to call and choose only a limited number from Israel in this age. He is not trying to save all Israel now! He therefore calls those Israelites whom He wills, but allows the rest to remain blinded so that He can call a number of Gentiles to fulfill His purpose. "For as ye [Gentiles] in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their [Israel's] unbelief: Even so have these [unbelieving Israelites] also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all" (verses 30-32). When the Apostle Paul understood the mystery of God's great master plan, he was filled with praise: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Verse 33.) God is not trying to save the whole world now! Rather, He has allowed Satan to deceive the world with his false teaching (Rev. 12:9). He must prove to Satan and to man that Satan's way produces bad results!
Great White Throne Judgment
Just what is the Great White Throne Judgment? "The resurrection of the righteous will take place at the coming of Christ (I Thes. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:53), [the resurrection] of the unsaved at the Great White Throne Judgment after the Kingdom Age (Rev. 20:11-15)." (Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1966 ed., article, "Resurrection.") God is great, merciful, loving, not willing that any should perish. He wills that all come to the knowledge of the truth and to true repentance. But He knows it is better that most people come to this knowledge of the truth in a better world than ours. That is why these people will be raised up in the second resurrection — a resurrection to a mortal, fleshly, earthly existence. Here is how it is depicted in the 20th chapter of Revelation. "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it.... And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God... " (Rev. 20:11, 12). "The books [Greek, biblos — books or Bible] were opened" (verse 12). This means that those raised up at that time will have the books of the Bible opened to their knowledge and understanding. And also the "book of life" will be open so their names can be written in it when each repents of his sins, accepts Christ as personal Saviour, and receives God's Holy Spirit. Then they will be judged "according to their works" (verse 12). Thus we see the "rest of the dead" raised to life, standing before God to be judged — but not to be condemned, as so many falsely assume. God will then judge those "unjust" dead, who are at that time raised to life, just as He now judges His own house — His Church (I Pet. 4:17). The book of life will be opened so they can all receive eternal life, if they will! How thrilling to understand God's master plan which He is working out here below among mortal men.