THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEADBack to Alphabetical Index | Back to Chapter Index
One of the most misunderstood topics of the Bible is the resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ. Most people do not even begin to comprehend the magnitude of the events that surround this climactic event or its importance in the overall plan of God for the future of humanity. The first resurrection will undoubtedly be one of the most awesome and glorious events to ever take place, and a number of cataclysmic, earthshaking events will happen the day that Jesus returns to the earth. The following are three of these major events that directly concern the elect of God:
Jesus Appears in The Sky
One of the first events on this day is the gathering of the elect of God to meet Jesus in the atmosphere above the earth. As Jesus enters the earth's atmosphere and lights up the sky with his glory, the angels will begin to collect the righteous of all ages:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt.24:29-31 KJV). See also Isa.43:5-7; Mk.13:24-27; 14:62; Rev.1:7.
The Dead Rise First
In this great day, everyone who has obtained salvation will rise to meet Jesus as he enters the atmosphere, but all of the righteous who have died over the centuries will be resurrected first and will join him even before the righteous people who are still alive at his coming:
"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [dead], that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep" (1.Thes.4:13-15 KJV). See also 1.Cor.15:51-54.
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1.Thes.4:16-17 KJV). See also 2.Thes.2:1-8.
The Participants in the First Resurrection
Those whom the Father has called to salvation from the time of Adam to the return of Christ are the ones who will be in the first resurrection. They are the righteous of all ages who have qualified during their lifetime to become the leaders of the world:
"And at that time Michael shall stand up, the great ruler stands for the sons of your people: and there shall be a time of distress, such as has not been from the existence of a nation until that time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name is found written in the book" (Dan.12:1 Para.).
The Righteous Dead of All Ages
In the book of Hebrews chapter 11, there is a long list of righteous individuals who died without receiving God's promises:
"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb.11:39-40 KJV). See also v13.
These righteous individuals have not yet received their reward. They neither received their reward then nor have they received it to this day. They are dead; they are not alive in heaven or any other place. However, the prophets and the righteous of all ages including Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, and David will receive their reward at the same time as those who died after the advent of Jesus and those who remain alive at his return. See 1.Thes.4:13-15.
The Change to Immortality
Those who participate in the first resurrection will escape the punishment reserved for the wicked and will live forever as immortal beings in the Family and Kingdom of God: "Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power" (Rev.20:6 KJV). This escape from the second death was also told to the church at Smyrna:
"He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; He that overcomes will not be hurt of the second death" (Rev.2:11 Para.).
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom.6:23 KJV). See also 1.Tim.6:12; Lk.20:34-35.
"And this is the promise that he has promised us, even eternal life" (1.Jn.2:25 KJV; Tit.3:7).
The quality of life that the righteous are promised is comparable to that which God himself has. God the Father and Jesus Christ are spirit-beings who inherently possess the highest form of life, which is immortality on the divine plane of existence. This kind of life springs forth from itself, it never dies or decays and it is not dependent on any other source to sustain it. See 1.Tim.1:17; 6:12-16.
Christ the Conquering King
When Jesus returns, he will come as a conquering king to establish the headquarters of his Father's earthly government in Jerusalem. This is an event which he and his prophets foretold:
"And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev.11:15 KJV). See also Dan.2:44; Mic.4:1-3; 1.Cor.6:2-3; 15:24; Rev.12:5; 19:15; 20:4-6.
"And I saw thrones, and they [the elect of God] sat upon them, and judgment was given to 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 worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their right 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. Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Rev.20:4-6 KJV).
In these scriptures we see individuals who proclaimed the truth about Jesus and were obedient to God's word and those who will live at the end of the age and not worship the beast system. Because of their performance under extremely difficult circumstances, both groups of individuals will receive a great reward.
Many wrongly assume that the elect will be in heaven forever; however, those in the first resurrection will rule the earth with Jesus for at least a thousand years in which the earth will become a place of peace and prosperity. One of the first major responsibilities for those in the first resurrection is to assist in the conversion of humanity to the ways of God, because the Father and Jesus Christ want everyone to obtain salvation (1.Tim.2:4; 2. Pet.3:9). For this task, the elect of God are being trained through various trials and tests in order to grow in grace and knowledge. As a result of this training, the elect will be able to fulfill an office of king and priest; thereby, they will be able to rule and teach God's truth to those who have never heard or understood the way to salvation.
Inherit the Kingdom
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King [Jesus] say to them on his right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father [God the Father], inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt.25:31-34 KJV). See also Jms.2:5.
Those in the first resurrection will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven as a part of their reward:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt.5:3 KJV, see also v.5).
Inherit all Things
Not only will the righteous inherit the Kingdom but also all things. What a tremendous reward to inherit the Kingdom and to be joint-heirs with Jesus of all that will ever exist:
"He that overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Rev.21:7 KJV). See also Heb.1:1-2, 5-8.
After the first resurrection, the saints (elect) of all ages will be taken to the heaven of heavens where they will be given their rewards.
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized to Jesus Christ was baptized to his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism to death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life [eternal life, immortality]. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:" (Rom.6:1-5 KJV).
AFTER THE FIRST RESURRECTION
After the first resurrection, there will not be a single person left alive on earth with the spirit of God. The earth will have been almost completely destroyed by the events at the end of the age. The people of the earth will be in a state of confusion, terror, and shock; they will be wondering what has happened and how they are going to survive. Into such a world, Christ and the elect of God will return and bring peace, joy, happiness, and harmony.
Many feel 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 God the Father is a God of Love (1.Jn.4:8), he has designed a number of different resurrections so that those who have not known him may know him and have their 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 will each individual 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 firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming" (1.Cor.15:22-23 Para.).
After the return of Christ and the first resurrection, all the dead will be raised to life, either 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 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. 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 who were given an opportunity for salvation before 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 those of national Israel who have never even had an opportunity for salvation. See Ezk.ch.37.
3. The third resurrection is for all those who have lived and died, either having been deceived by Satan's religions or never having heard of God's way of life. These two groups of people 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 so that every person will be given an opportunity to have eternal life. (See 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.
God the Father has provided a way for each individual to be forgiven of their sins through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ. However, in order to reap the rewards of obedience, people must avail themselves of this sacrifice by repenting of their evil and live according to the Law of God. If there is no repentance and no sustained effort to live according to God's ways, God will not grant eternal life, instead, he will destroy the wicked person with fire: "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom.6:23).
"Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land:" (Isa.1:18-19 KJV).
The Father's call to salvation is very clear. He will reward obedience and forgive sin. He is patient and merciful and he will not cause the irrevocable termination of a human life unless there is no hope of redemption, because God the Father will not allow the incorrigibly wicked to have eternal life and become a disruptive force to happiness and joy in the Family of God.
God is righteous and will not live with evil, which is repulsive to him. In order for there to be harmony, unity, and eternal happiness in the Kingdom of God, only righteousness can be allowed to exist. The choices for each individual are clear: either one conforms to that which produces happiness and joy or one will cease to exist.
For a more complete and detailed study of the four general resurrections, see our study papers concerning the resurrections of the dead.