INTRODUCTION TO THE RESURRECTIONS
THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD
The reality of death is one of the most terrifying thoughts that can come to the human mind; consequently, there are few subjects in the Bible that command more interest than the resurrection of the dead.
Most rational people want to live forever, yet the reality of the human existence dictates that death is inevitable for everyone. There are very few people who have not given some thought to what happens to people after death. Some wonder whether or not there is life after death. Others firmly believe in some sort of existence beyond the grave and they wonder whether it will be one of happiness or one of sorrow. However, few people have found a satisfactory answer to the question: “Where or how will I spend eternity?”
Is physical death the end of human existence? According to the Bible, the answer is No! This physical life is not the end of human existence. There is an event that will determine the eternal destiny of each individual and this event is a resurrection from the dead.
THE HOPE OF A RESURRECTION
The resurrection from physical death to eternal life is one of the central themes and promises of the Bible. It is this resurrection to eternal life that Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the prophets spoke about throughout the Bible.
Thousands of years ago, a man named Job asked the same questions that many people ask today. The only difference between Job and most people of today is that Job knew the answers. Job knew that there would be a resurrection of the dead and he understood God’s plan to give life to those who served him:
“But man dies, and wastes away: yes, man gives up the spirit, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decays and dries up: So man lies down, and rises not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. O that you would hide me in the grave, that you would keep me secret, until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come [Job knew he would be resurrected.]. You shall call, and I will answer you: you will have a desire to the work of your hands” (Job 14:10-15 KJV). See also Job 19:25-26.
A Common Belief
In the conversation between Jesus and Martha prior to Lazarus being brought back to life, Jesus says, “Your brother will rise again. Martha said to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life: the one believing in me, though he die, he shall live” (Jn.11:23-25 KJV). See also Rom.5:8-11; 6:5-11,23.
In the account of the resurrection of Martha’s brother Lazarus, two things become apparent. First, during Jesus’ lifetime, some believed there would be a resurrection of the dead at some point in the future. Second, the way to obtain the resurrection to eternal life is through belief in Jesus. See Matt.19:16-21; Jn.5:21-29; 6:40; 10:27-28.
“Yes doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them as dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil.3:8-11 KJV). See also Heb.11:17-19; Isa.26:17-21.
Paul Speaks With Felix
“But this I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:14-15 KJV).
Paul Writes to the Corinthians
Notice what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the hope of a resurrection.
1.Corinthians 15:12-22 NIV
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (vs.12-13).
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised” (vs.14-15).
“For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (vs.16-19).
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (vs.20-22).
AFTER DEATH THE JUDGMENT
There are two texts that contain the words ‘judged’ and ‘judgment’, which are quoted to support the false teaching that today is the only day of salvation. Many people also assume that John and Paul spoke of a single event at the return of Christ, when all of mankind will be judged according to how they have lived in this present life.
“And I saw a great white throne, and the One sitting on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled; and a place was not found for them. And I saw the dead, the small and the great, standing before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of the things written in the books according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead. And death and Hades gave up the dead in them. And they were each judged according to their works” (Rev.20:11-13 Para.).
“And as it is reserved to men once to die, and after this the Judgment” (Heb.9:27 Para.).
The English word ‘judged’ in Revelation 20 is translated from the Greek word ‘krino’, which means ‘to judge’. It can also mean ‘to sunder’, ‘to select’, ‘to decide’, ‘to assess’, ‘to go to law’, ‘to seek justice’, ‘to expound’, ‘to believe’, or ‘to resolve’. In Hebrews 9, the word ‘judgment’ is translated from the Greek word ‘krisis’, which has the senses of ‘estrangement’, ‘conflict’, ‘selection’, ‘decision’, ‘judgment’, ‘verdict’, and ‘even accusation’.
The assumption that the words ‘krino’ and ‘krisis’ always indicate the delivering of a sentence or punishment for a crime when used in scriptures concerning the salvation of humanity is a much too narrow meaning. Many assign this narrow meaning to all of the scriptures that concern the salvation of humanity, so that this meaning will fit these people’s own belief about life after death. Both ‘krino’ and ‘krisis’ can be used to convey the sense of something yet to be decided or resolved. The use of these words in this sense is the intent in many scriptures that pertain to the overall plan of God for the salvation of mankind.
The Prophet Daniel
Daniel foretells the climactic end of this age, when Christ will return and establish his government upon the earth. Notice that Daniel only mentions two categories of people who will be resurrected:
Daniel 12:1-4 KJV
“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (v1).
In verse one, there is a reference to the elect of God who are written in the Book of Life. See Ex.32:23-33; Psa.69:28; Lk.10:19-20; Rev.3:5.
“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” (v2).
In verse two, Daniel was inspired to use the word ‘MANY’ not ‘ALL’ when he referred to those who are to be resurrected from the dead. The word ‘many’ is translated from the common Hebrew word ‘rab’, which can mean ‘much’, ‘many’, or ‘great’. The Hebrew word for ‘all’ is either ‘kole’ or ‘micpar’, depending on contextual requirements. This is important, because if everyone will not be resurrected to either a reward or a punishment, there must be another category of the dead who will also be dealt with at some time before a final judgment.
This prophecy is sealed until the time of the end: “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. But you, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (vs.3-4).
Jesus Says, “Do not marvel at this: for an hour is coming, in which all those in the tombs will hear his voice. And they will come out, the ones having done good into a resurrection of life; and the ones having practiced evil into a resurrection of judgment” (Jn.5:28-29 Para.).
After reading this verse, many people assume that there is only one specific hour when all of humanity will be resurrected to judgment; however, this is not what Jesus says. He says that there will be an appointed time when all those in the grave will be judged for the way they have lived.
Because Jesus clearly divides these people into two distinct categories—good and evil—, many people assume that there are only two categories of people who will be resurrected. Although the English word ‘judgment’ is translated from the Greek word ‘krisis’, which does refer to the condemnation of those who habitually practice evil, in this context, we must consider to whom Jesus was speaking here?
We must remember that Jesus was speaking to the Jews who were a people who are well versed in the law of God, which clearly defines the difference between good and evil. But what about those who have never known or understood the law of God? God has made an allowance for a special resurrection for those who have never had an opportunity to understand his laws during their lifetime.
TODAY IS NOT THE ONLY DAY OF SALVATION!
Many believe that the period of time between Adam and the return of Christ is the only time when salvation is offered to humanity. It is true that there are a few scriptures which seem to substantiate this view. However, a review of all the scriptures that speak of the resurrection of the dead will clearly show that, past this present age, salvation will be offered to physical humans.
FEW UNDERSTAND THE GOSPEL IN THIS AGE
Although the mystery of salvation has been and is being preached, only a very few are allowed to understand its secrets for very good reasons. God the Father and Jesus Christ love their human creation much more than most can begin to comprehend. And it is this love and concern for each individual that prevents God the Father from offering salvation to all of humanity before the establishment of his kingdom on earth.
God the Father and Jesus Christ do not want anyone to miss or fail in their opportunity to become a part of the God family; they want everyone to obtain salvation:
“Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1.Tim.2:4 KJV).
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2.Pet.3:9 KJV).
This earnest desire for the salvation of humanity is the reason that God the Father and Jesus Christ have formulated a plan that will afford each individual the optimum opportunity for success. In order for each individual to have the best possible conditions to enhance their possibility for success, they must be allowed to live in a time and environment in which they may succeed, if they want to. This is also why so few in this age are being given the understanding of the mysteries of the Gospel. God knows the potential and character of each individual, and he knows in which phase of his plan to offer each individual the opportunity for salvation.
A DAY OF SALVATION
The scriptures pertaining to the requirements for salvation cannot be reconciled with the facts of history or the rest of the Bible, if God the Father and Jesus Christ have been trying to save all of humanity from the time of Adam to this present age. However, the understanding that God is not trying to do this before the establishment of his kingdom on earth clarifies the meaning of these scriptures.
If God were trying to save mankind now, he would do it! There is no competition or contest for the lives of humans between God and Satan. God alone is in authority over all that exists in heaven and earth. Satan can do nothing against God’s will or without God’s permission. God allows Satan to rule the earth within set parameters that do not adversely influence his overall plan for the salvation of humanity. God’s plan for humanity is right on schedule, and no human or evil spirit can stop God from fulfilling his purpose for mankind.
Today is not the only day of salvation; it is ‘a’ day of salvation. Calling all of humanity to salvation at one time has never been a part of God’s plan. However, at the proper time and after the proper sequence of events, he will present this opportunity to all of humanity. Surprising as it may be, this is not the only day of salvation for humanity; it is only the day of salvation for those called and chosen for salvation in this age for a special purpose. See our study paper for a full explanation of the day of salvation.
GOSPEL PREACHED FOR A WITNESS
Jesus says the Gospel was to be preached only as a witness; he says nothing about trying to convert all of humanity during this present age:
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt.24:14).
The end that is spoken of here is the end of human rule on this earth. A new age will begin after the end of human rule, and the Kingdom of God will reign on earth with Jesus Christ as its king.
During this present age, many people are called and exposed to the opportunity for salvation, yet those who are called are very few in comparison to the earth’s population. And among those who are called, few are chosen to participate in the first resurrection: “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matt.20:16; 22:14 KJV).
Many people believe that there is only one general resurrection for all of humanity after Christ’s return, and that at this resurrection, all who have ever lived and died will either be given eternal life and go to heaven or be sent to eternal torment in a lake of fire.
However, this popular belief concerning the resurrection of the good and the wicked cannot be verified in the scriptures. The plan of God for the resurrection of the dead is far more complex and fair than commonly believed.
God is fair, loving, merciful, and true to his promises. He is not the cruel and merciless monster that so many preachers depict. Because he is a God of love (1.Jn.4:8), he has designed a number of different resurrections in order to give the opportunity for eternal life to those who have not known him or had an opportunity to qualify for eternal life.
There is no doubt that each person will have an opportunity to obey God’s code of righteous conduct. The only question is when each individual will have this opportunity?:
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1.Cor.15:22-23).
After the return of Christ and the first resurrection, all the dead will be raised to life to have their first opportunity for salvation or to be punished for their failure to obey God. All will eventually give account to God for what they have done with the opportunity God gives them.
FOUR GENERAL RESURRECTIONS
In the Book of Revelation, we find the statement: “This is the first resurrection.” Logic should tell us that if there is a first resurrection, there must be a second. As we will see, there is not only a first, but a second, a third, and a fourth resurrection of the dead.
The Bible reveals that, at this present time in the plan of God for the salvation of humanity, all people fall into one of three categories: the saved, the lost, and those who have not had an opportunity for salvation. And all people represented by these categories will take part in one or more of the four general resurrections mentioned in the Bible.
1. The first resurrection at the return of Christ is for the righteous dead of all ages. They are the ones who were given an opportunity for salvation prior to the return of Christ, and because they lived a life of obedience to God and his ways, they will receive eternal and immortal life in the Kingdom of God. See Rev.20:4-6;12.
2. The second resurrection is for the dead of national Israel who have never had their first opportunity for salvation. See Ezekiel chp.37.
3. The third resurrection is for all those who have lived and died, either being deceived by Satan’s religions or never having heard of God’s way of life. Therefore, they have never had an opportunity for salvation. They are the rest of the dead mentioned in Revelation 20:5;13.
4. The fourth resurrection is to the second death for the incorrigible wicked who intentionally disobey and reject God and refuse to obey his way of life. See Rev.20:14-15; 21:8; Dan.12:2.
The Bible reveals the great love and fairness of God toward humanity through each of these four general resurrections of the dead.
In his infinite wisdom, the Eternal God has carefully designed his plan for humanity in order that every person will be given an opportunity to have eternal life (read the entire 18th chapter of Ezekiel). The vast majority of people who have lived throughout history have died without ever hearing or understanding God’s plan.
The comforting truth is that the majority of humanity, past and present, are neither saved nor lost. They simply have not yet been given an opportunity for salvation.