The first resurrection will be to eternal life. The second resurrection will be for the purpose of giving those who died in spiritual blindness their first chance for salvation. Why must there be a third resurrection? Who will take part in it? HOW many professing Christians really know what the Bible says about the resurrections?
Most Christians who profess to believe in the resurrection think the "just" and the "unjust" will all be raised to life at the same time — either to be rewarded or punished.
Some, however, believe the Bible teaches there will be two resurrections.
But how many Christians know that according to God's master plan there will actually be three resurrections — not just one or two?
In previous articles in this series, we have seen that the first resurrection will take place at the second coming of Jesus Christ and will include only the "just," who will be raised to life and clothed with immortality at that time (I Thess. 4:13-18; I Cor. 15:53).
We also saw clear biblical proof that after Christ's one-thousand-year rule God will resurrect those who in past ages died in sin and ignorance, but who (through no fault of their own) never had a chance for salvation — in many cases never heard of Jesus Christ or saw a Bible in their entire lives. Or if they did hear or see, they were spiritually blinded (see Rom. 11:7).
These deceived billions did not ask to be born into a world of ignorance and superstition; and since "God is not willing that any should perish," it is His responsibility to see that they are raised up and given a knowledge of the truth (II Pet. 3:9; I Tim. 2:4-6).
The twentieth chapter of Revelation clearly speaks of three resurrections.
After mentioning the second coming of Christ (Rev. 19:11-12), the Apostle John writes that a mighty angel will bind the devil and cast him into an abyss, where he will be unable to deceive the nations for one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3).
But what happens immediately after this? The saints who have been caught up to meet Christ at His return (I Thess. 4:13-17) will then be given charge of this earth — ruling with Christ for one thousand years. "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 [again] and reigned with Christ a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4).
Those who take part in this resurrection are greatly blessed by being privileged to take part in the "first resurrection" (verse 5).
"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" (verse 6).
When do the remainder of the dead rise? "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (verse 5).
This verse plainly shows that others are to be resurrected one thousand years later.
In last month's installment describing the "second" resurrection, we saw that verses 11-12 (of Revelation 20) describe a coming resurrection and judgment of that portion of the "rest of the dead" who never had their chance for salvation. Verse 12 reads: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books [Greek: biblos, books of the Bible] were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life...."
When these billions are resurrected, God will open up the Bible to their understanding. They will be given their first real chance to repent, accept Christ as their Saviour and receive His precious Holy Spirit. Their names will then be written in the book of life.
Now consider verse 13: "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [Greek: hades, grave] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works."
Here is pictured another resurrection period. Who are these dead? What resurrection is this?
Notice that there is no statement that the "book of life" is opened up to them. Why is the "book of life" not "opened" in connection with those who rise up in this final resurrection? Simply because they must have already had their chance for salvation — and have rejected it!
God is not willing that any perish, yet it is not His will to force the truth on anyone. He will not force salvation down anyone's throat.
God offers salvation freely to all those who will receive it (Acts 2:21). And He has made every man a free moral agent — with the power of volition, the power to choose. Those who do not voluntarily accept God's offer and follow that way of life necessary to receive life eternal will not receive it.
Those who will come up in this third resurrection are the incorrigibly wicked. They are the last human beings to be resurrected from their graves — from "the sea" (where they may have perished in their first life), from death (without burial in their first life), or from "hell" (a hole or grave in the ground).
These miserable beings will be sentenced by God — and executed: "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (verses 14, 15). Lamentably, none who will be resurrected in this resurrection will have their names in the Lamb's book of life. Therefore they will all perish!
This resurrection (which will result in the second death) is vividly described in Luke's Gospel. A certain heartless "rich man" is resurrected to a horrible fate. "And in hell [Greek: hades, grave] he lift up his eyes, being in torments.... [And he said,] I am tormented in this flame" (Luke 16:23-24).
The wicked will all be cremated when God burns up the earth, turning it into the final Gehenna (see II Peter 3:10).
But what is the truth of this parable? The rich man is raised up out of his grave at the very end of the plan of God for humanity on earth. He has had no knowledge of the passing of time — "the dead know not anything" (Eccl. 9:5). The "rich man" thought that his brothers were still alive (Luke 16:27, 28 — but other scriptures reveal they, too, had died).
He now realized that he had missed the boat; he had missed out on receiving salvation. There is now "a great gulf fixed" (verse 26) between him and those who are with Abraham in the Kingdom of God. It is now impossible for anyone to pass either way through this great gulf: impossible for those who are immortal to become mortal; impossible for the mortal ones to receive immortality.
Jesus said: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in [the Kingdom of God], and shall not be able" (Luke 13:24). Continuing with the context, Jesus then goes on to picture Himself as One who refuses to answer the knock of incorrigible sinners who have previously rejected salvation (as shown by other scriptures). In verse 28 He says: "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves [incorrigible sinners] thrust out [not able to enter the Kingdom]."
When the time for the third resurrection arrives, everyone will have had his chance. Everyone's ultimate destiny will have then been "fixed" eternally. It will be forever too late for anyone who — after receiving his chance for salvation — sinned willfully, thereby rejecting eternal life. Those who rejected God and His way must then reap the consequences of that decision — the second death, from which there will be no resurrection. How awful! How tragic!
God is NOT in any sense a sadist. He is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9; cf., I Tim. 2:4). But to those who refuse His mercy, He is a God of justice and judgment (Heb. 10:29-31). He wants those who leave Him with no alternative but to put them to death for eternity to know what He earnestly desired and wished them to achieve.
So God is going to compel the incorrigibly wicked to see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God before they are eternally put to death (see Luke 13:28; 16:23).
Since God made man a free moral agent with the power of volition, man must choose. God will insist that each human choose either His way or the devil's way, either life or death (Deut. 30:19). But God will not force any man to receive eternal life, nor will he arbitrarily consign anyone to death. All must choose, and reap the consequences of that choice.
What will happen if a person chooses the way of sin and suffering? "For the wages [reward] of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
But the Bible speaks of two deaths: first and second. "... It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27).
From the time of righteous Abel till this very day, even righteous humans have had to suffer the first death. But it is the second death that is final — not the first (Rev. 20:14, 15).
Notice how the Apostle Peter wrote that the wicked will perish in the lake of fire — which will occur at the time when the earth is burned up and then made into a new earth, where the righteous will dwell forevermore:
"But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men" (II Pet. 3:7).
God has decreed that He will not let this earth be destroyed until His great master plan for mankind on this earth is finished.
This time of the destruction of the wicked is explained more fully by Peter: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (verse 10).
Furthermore, "all these things shall be dissolved" (verse 11) at the time of the perdition (annihilation) of the ungodly — during the time of "the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat" (verse 12).
What then? After the perdition (second death) of the wicked, God will make "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth [only] righteousness" (verse 13).
The Apostle John, after describing the destruction of the wicked (Rev. 20:13-15), immediately mentions "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev. 21:1). He then gives a glowing account of the peace, happiness, beauty and glory that will characterize this new earth.
John was taken in vision to a "great and high mountain," where he was able to view "that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God..." (verse 10).
Notice that this indescribably beautiful city is not up in heaven, but is to be located right here on this earth. Again, the Apostle John speaks of the "new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God..." (Rev. 3:12).
Nowhere in the Bible is there a promise that man will, at death, waft off to heaven. Rather, the Scriptures plainly teach that the new Jerusalem will come down from heaven to this earth. Man will not go up to heaven to dwell with God; but God will come to this earth to dwell with men: "... 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).
The Bible is consistent. Jesus Christ plainly taught that man would eternally dwell here on this
"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and, murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Rev. 21:7, 8earth when He said: "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).
And David wrote: "But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace" (Ps. 37:9, 11).
But will man only inherit this earth during the millennium, and then go to heaven? "The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever" (verse 29).
What will happen to the wicked? Will they, as some say, spend a while in hell (or in some other place) suffering for their sins, and then be taken to heaven to live forever?
Long ago, the Prophet Daniel spoke of the wicked who would "awake" in a resurrection "to shame and everlasting contempt [or abhorrence]" (Dan. 12:2).
Malachi also spoke of the end of these wretched beings who spurned eternal life: "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch" (Mal. 4:1).
What about the righteous? Where will they be?
Daniel said the righteous would "awake... to everlasting life" (Dan. 12:2). They will then become glorified sons of God — living, serving their Creator eternally: "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (verse 3).
The righteous will then be made immortal. But in the third and final resurrection, the wicked will be made to see that they have scoffed at God's priceless offer for salvation. As a punishment, and as an eternal example, they will be annihilated in the "second death."
The Prophet Malachi wrote of this triumph of the righteous over the wicked: "And ye [the righteous] shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet..." (Mal. 4:3).
Man's destiny is so great and glorious that few Christians have ever really grasped it. God, through His Word, repeatedly speaks of humans becoming sons in the very family of God.
Even God's angels are servants of these heirs of divine sonship: "Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14.)
Realizing the "high calling" which God has given us, the Apostle Paul wrote that Christians should "give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip" (Heb. 2:1).
He then asked: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation...?" (Verse 3.)
The book of Hebrews is filled with warnings to the believer not to get careless and lose out on eternal salvation.
Paul warns Christians not to let a "root of bitterness" trouble and/or defile them (Heb. 12:15).
But the sternest warning in the entire Bible is in the tenth chapter of Hebrews: "For if we sin wilfully [with deliberate intent] after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26, 27).
The Apostle Paul then speaks of the severe ("sorer") punishment which will befall that wicked person "who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace" (verse 29).
Truly, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (verse 31).
[Editor's note: Willful sin is NOT to be equated with sin by force of habit or under heavy temptation. "Slipping," making mistakes, or occasionally falling down spiritually do not constitute willful sin. A thorough exposition of this principle may be obtained by reading our free booklets What Do You Mean - The Unpardonable Sin? and Just What Do You Mean...Conversion?]
But can a true believer draw back and be eternally destroyed? "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition [destruction]; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul" (verses 38, 39).
We have seen that God is "not willing that any should perish." Furthermore, God has ordained that there will be three resurrections: the first, to immortality at the second coming of Jesus — immediately before the millennium begins.
The second is to take place shortly after the thousand-year rule of Christ. Those who rise in the second resurrection comprise all the deceived multitudes who died without a saving knowledge of the truth.
The third resurrection occurs at the very end of God's plan for mortal man on this earth. Those who rise up in the third and final resurrection are those who had their chance for salvation and deliberately turned it down. God will be forced to extinguish the lives of those who have obstinately chosen the way of death! Remember, God will not force eternal life down anyone's throat.
Now you should be better able to understand what the Apostle Paul meant by an "order" of resurrections (I Cor. 15:23). He simply meant that there would be a succession of resurrections, various ones rising at different times for different judgments.
Let us remember that our Creator is a benevolent, loving God who wants to do everything possible for mankind. "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.... Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him" (Ps. 103:8, 13).
Those who know the truth should strive with all their might to be in the first resurrection, the resurrection to eternal life, the "better resurrection" (Heb. 11:35).
But those who are not predestined by God to receive the saving knowledge of the truth now, will rise up in the second resurrection. They will then be given their first real chance to be saved.
But those who reject that knowledge and that way to eternal life — regardless of the age in which they were given the knowledge of the truth — will rise in the third and final resurrection, which will culminate in the "second death" in the lake of fire.
But the believer has a wonderful, eternal future ahead of him. "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. 21:7, 8).
Your eternal destiny — your future — is up to you! You can choose the way of God and eternal life, or you can choose Satan's way of lust, greed, strife and sin — which will lead to total perdition — to the "second death" in a lake of fire.
Let each one of us make sure that we make the right choice