Editor's note: This article is part three of a five-part series on the resurrections. (The first two articles appeared in the December and January numbers of The Good News.) However, this particular article happened to fit so well in our concurrent series about the fundamental doctrines, of Hebrews 6:1-2, we include it here as an integral part of the explanation of these basic doctrines.
What is the real hope of the true Christian? Will he spend eternity lounging in idleness and ease? Or will the resurrected, newborn Christian spend eternity in happy, but productive, activity faithfully serving his Creator?
Most professing Christians have a rather foggy idea of what future life in the Kingdom of God will be like. They know very little about biblical teaching concerning the "resurrection of the dead" — yet this is one of the basic doctrines of the Bible (Heb. 6:2). But do you realize you can know what it will be like in the next life? The Prophet Isaiah wrote: "Since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen O, God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him" (Isa. 64:4). But the Apostle Paul explained that a Christian can comprehend what God has prepared for those that love Him. "But God hath revealed them unto us [true believers] by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:9, 10). Many scriptures speak of this" mystery" (Rom. 1 6:25; Eph. 3:3, 5, 9; Rev. 10:7). Satan has deceived the whole world on this all-important subject of the resurrection of the dead (Rev. 12:9). Many scriptures reveal that the whole world is in darkness, ignorance and superstition. The plain Bible teaching on the subject of the resurrection(s) has been submerged in darkness for many centuries. There are no Bible commentaries or dictionaries to which you can go to get the truth on this subject. Invariably, you are given a noxious mixture of truth and error-light and darkness. But it is high time for professing Christians to go directly to the Word of God to learn the real, unadulterated truth.
How deceived has the world become on this vital subject of the resurrections? A common belief is expressed in the 1972 edition of The World Book Encyclopedia": 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" ("Resurrection," XVI, p. 245). Some believe that at death their "souls" go immediately to heaven, purgatory, limbo or hell. "The Westminster Shorter Catechism (question xxxvii.) states the doctrine that the bodies of the dead rest in their graves till the resurrection, but that their souls do immediately pass into glory [heaven]. This was the view of the Reformers" ("Death," The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1911, p. 382). According to this teaching the "body" must rest in the grave till the "soul" can be reunited with it at the resurrection. If the righteous are already in heavenly bliss, is it logical to think that they would be made to return to this earth to be reunited with their "bodies"? Editor's note: For an in-depth look into the false concepts of heaven, hell and the immortal soul, read these three free booklets: What Is The Reward Of The Saved?, Is There A Real Hell Fire? and Do You Have an Immortal Soul?)
It is time to strip off the scales of paganism from our eyes and look at the plain truth revealed in the Bible. There are numerous references in the Old Testament to the resurrection, but only the Prophet Daniel begins to hint that there might be more than one resurrection. Daniel wrote: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt [or abhorrence]" (Dan. 12:2). This verse does not say that those resurrected to "everlasting life" and those resurrected to "shame" will both come up at the same time — in the same resurrection. That is what many have mistakenly assumed. Jesus Christ said: "...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 [judgment)" (John 5:28, 29). But note that Christ did not say that those who had done "good" would be resurrected at the same time with those who had done "evil." The Apostle Paul, when he was speaking before Felix, the governor of Judea, said that he had "hope toward God" of a resurrection, in which, affirmed Paul, the Jews also believed. He plainly told Felix "that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15). As Paul "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," the unjust Felix trembled (verse 25). Paul did not say the just and the unjust would rise up at the same time. This same apostle wrote at length regarding the resurrection(s) in I Corinthians 15. "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 [second] coming. Then cometh the end..." (verses 22-24). Now if one turns to the twentieth chapter of Revelation, he can see what is meant by "the end." Paul was referring to the end of the one-thousand-year reign of Christ and the saints on this earth. It will not be until sometime after the thousand years are over that the second resurrection occurs (see Rev. 20:7-12). Jesus Christ is depicted in Revelation 19:11-21 as coming on "a white horse" and then "he shall [in the future] rule them [the nations] with a rod of iron" (verse15). The resurrected saints (joined by the living saints) will be caught up to meet Christ in the air at His second coming, and they as kings and priests will "reign on the earth" (Rev. 5:10). To these saints Christ promises: "He that overcometh...to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them [under Christ] with a rod of iron..." (Rev. 2:26,27).
But when and how will these glorified, then-made-immortal saints rule with Christ. And for how long? The Apostle John was inspired to give the answer:" 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, and they lived and reigned [ruled] with Christ a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4). John, in vision, saw those who had been beheaded now resurrected (at Christ's triumphal second coming) and given governing positions or "judgment". Paul gives more details of this glorious resurrection of saints." For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that sleep in Jesus will God bring with him…For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ will rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up with Christ together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall they ever be with the Lord" (I Thes. 4:14-17). Note that it does not say the saints will go to "heaven" to meet Christ, but that He will come from "heaven" to the atmosphere of this earth, and the saints will rise to meet him "in the air." Now notice a prophecy back in Zechariah which shows where Christ and the saints will go — after this rendezvous in the air: "And his feet [the Lord's-verse 1] shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives..." (Zech.14:4). At this time will Christ be alone? "... And the Lord my God [wrote Zechariah] shall come, and all the saints with thee" (verse 5). But where will Christ go? Back to heaven with the saints? "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one" (verse 9). It should not amaze us to find that Christ will return to stand on the Mount of Olives. Nearly two thousand years ago, His angels told the disciples that Christ would return to this earth just as He left it — and He had been standing talking with His disciples atop Mount Olivet just before this promise was given (Acts 1:4-12). The Apostle Paul also spoke of Christ's coming at the "last trump" — the time when He will gather His saints unto Himself. "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound and, the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Cor. 15:50-53).
These and other scriptures show that it is only the righteous who are resurrected at Christ's second coming. John shows that those who had been martyred will be raised to life and to a position of rulership during the thousand-year rule of Christ. But the unjust will not be resurrected until the end of this period: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This [referring to those martyred verse 4] is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:5,6). Then, after the thousand years are expired, Satan goes out to stir up more trouble on this earth. And it is still some time later before the Great White Throne Judgment takes place — at which time the others who are still dead (years after the millennium has ended) are made to "stand before God" in the second resurrection — when they have their first chance.
What is your guarantee that you will be resurrected when Christ returns to this earth? How can you make sure you will be in the first resurrection to immortality? It is "they that are Christ's at his coming" who will be in the first resurrection (I Cor. 15:23). But who are "Christ's"? Paul said. "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9). It is only those who are filled and led by the Spirit of God who will be in the first resurrection. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the [begotten] sons of God' (verse 14). God's Spirit in us is like a seed that is developing in to godly character. Paul continues: "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken [make alive] your mortal bodies by [the power of] his Spirit that dwelleth in you" (verse 11). There it is! If we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in us when we die, then we will be resurrected through the power of that same Spirit — at the second coming of Jesus Christ. Paul then explains that we are earnestly waiting for that time when we shall be born as spiritual beings into the family of God. Remember, Christ said: "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7). Paul explained this soon-coming new birth: "For the earnest expectation of the creature [man] waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:19). That is what the true Christian waits for — earnestly' longing for the time when he will be born into the family of God — as a divine, glorified son of God. He continues:"... Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption [sonship], to wit [in other words], the redemption of our body" (verse 23). What did he mean by "the redemption of our body"? Paul begins to explain in the book of Philippians. By way of background he mentions that he gave up everything in order to serve Christ and became willing to suffer "the loss of all things" (Phil. 3:7, 8). Why? "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection... If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead" (verses 10, 11 ). He then went on to explain that "our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven..." (verse 20). And it is from there — from heaven — that we "look for the Saviour." "Who [meaning Christ] 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" (verses 20, 21). This redemption of the body — this change from mortal flesh to a spiritual body — is the only hope held out to the Christian.
What kind of bodies will we have in the resurrection? We will be divested of our "natural" bodies and will put on "spiritual" bodies. "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:44). But what will "a spiritual body" be like? If we can know what kind of body Christ had after His resurrection, then we can also know what kind of a spiritual body we will have in the resurrection. The Apostle John tells us: "Beloved, now are we the [begotten] sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (I John 3:2). What kind of body did Jesus have after His resurrection? He appeared repeatedly after He was risen. "... He shewed himself alive after his passion [suffering] by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days..." (Acts 1:3). He was seen by Peter, by the twelve, and by "above five hundred brethren at once.... After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles." He was seen by numerous women, and lastly by the Apostle Paul (I Cor. 15:5-8). After His resurrection, Christ was, generally speaking, easily recognized. Christ met with the two Marys, "And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him" (Matt. 28:9). Doubting Thomas even felt Christ's side and the nail prints in His hands to prove to himself that Jesus was real — and not an apparition (John 20:24-29). On another occasion He appeared suddenly in the midst of the disciples: "But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them.... Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (Luke 24:37-39). Christ had a glorified, spiritual body, but He was not "a spirit." Then the disciples gave Christ "a piece of broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them" (verses 42, 43). Notice also that Christ spoke of drinking in the soon-coming Kingdom of God: "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come" (Luke 22:18).
So Jesus Christ manifested himself in a physical form after His resurrection. He could suddenly appear to the disciples when they were assembled behind closed doors (John 20:19). He could also just "vanish" out of their sight (Luke 24:31). Furthermore, Christ could travel astronomical distances at lightning speeds — probably at the speed of thought. It was on the first day of the week that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, but she was commanded: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father..." (John 20:17). Later that same day, the two Marys did touch Him ("held him by the feet" — Matt. 28:9), thereby proving that He had travelled to heaven and back that same day. If human beings were able to travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), it would take them more than four years and three months to travel to the nearest star. (And the Bible implies that heaven is infinitely further away.) Yet Christ could flash to heaven and back — undoubtedly at the speed of thought — annihilating time and space! How can spiritual beings travel through space at such fantastic speeds? We simply do not know. But they can, nonetheless. The redeemed will still eat — even in the new earth and in the New Jerusalem. The "tree of life" will "bare twelve manner of fruits" to be used as food (Rev. 22:2). Once the saints have been glorified by a resurrection from the dead, they will not have to eat for sustenance; but just as Christ ate after His resurrection, so will the saints. Why will they eat? Probably solely for pleasure.
Let us notice further what we will be like in the resurrection. The Sadducees "which deny that there is any resurrection" asked Christ a trick question: "Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven [brothers 1 had her to wife" (Luke 20:33). Christ answered: "... They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage" (verse 35). He didn't say that there would not be sex differences in the appearance of "men" and "women." But there will be no sexual function of reproduction in the resurrection. Can those who are resurrected be killed? "Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection" (verse 36). Where did the Sadducees go wrong in their reasoning? Christ told them: "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matt. 22:29). If people really understood the Word of God better, and if they understood how powerful God is, then they would realize that it is very easy for Him to resurrect "all that are in the graves." In the resurrection we shall be "as the angels of God in heaven" (verse 30). Christ did not say we would be angels, but we will be like angels in that we will be immortal and will possess powers and glory now only shared by God and the holy angels. No, we will not be angels, but we will be the literal "children of God." Angels are servants of God and men (see Heb. 1:14). God has never called them His "begotten" sons (Heb. 1:5). The Bible shows that angels are sons of God by creative fiat but they are not and can never become the actual begotten and finally born sons of God. But we are to be born of God — born into His family. In this God family we will be given power and glory, wisdom and understanding far surpassing anything we could ever dream of now. Finally, God the Father will dwell with men, and they with him: "... Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev. 21:3).
Then the resurrected, glorified, immortalized saints will live in eternal happiness for ever and ever: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain... " (verse 4). These sons of God, then born into the very God family, will "inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (verse 7). Will they ever have to suffer any more evil trials? "And there shall be no more curse... and his servants shall serve him" (Rev. 22:3). What will they do throughout eternity? Just sit back and bask in idleness, ease and luxury, and lapping up never-ending rivers of pleasures? No, they will be busy. "... And they shall reign [rule or govern] for ever and ever" (verse 5). And remember, "his servants shall serve him" — throughout all eternity (verse 3). Then will come to pass the inspired words of Hebrews 2:8: "Thou hast put all things under his [man's] feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him." We should strive to be in the "first resurrection" (Rev. 20:6). It is spoken of as "a better resurrection" (Heb. 11:35). Those who rise in that resurrection will be wonderfully blessed of God!