Why are there Two Resurrections taught in the Bible?
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 5:28-30; 1st John 2:2; 1st Corinthians 3:10-15;
Last week, we touched on the fact that there are two resurrections, and that the resurrection of the believers is prior to that of the unbelievers.
8 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. 30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
So, while most of us may simply accept the Divine Order as just being “how it will all work out,” perhaps the question might arise as to why there are two resurrections as opposed to just a general resurrection wherein all the “sorting” can happen at once. Perhaps the best way to begin would be to address the various “judgments” in the scriptures. In Hebrews 9:27, it says that “It is appointed unto Man once to die, but after this the judgment.” So, we need to think that through, and ask, “What judgment is in view?”
How many Judgments?
- The Judgment of Sin (the sin of the whole Human Race) was carried out at the Cross.
- The Judgment seat of Christ, where the works of believers are in view, will be carried out after the rapture, but before the physical return of Jesus.
- The Judgment of the Living Nations (the survivors of the tribulation) will be carried out at the physical return of Christ, at the beginning of the Kingdom age.
- The Final Judgment (of all the unrighteous dead of all time) will be carried out at the Great White Throne, after the Kingdom age, after the destruction of this earth, and immediately before the revealing of the new Heaven and new Earth.
Judgment of Sin
As we have learned in the past, all the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament from Genesis 3:21 onward, were all “looking forward to” the one all-sufficient sacrifice Jesus made at the Cross. Since He became sin for us, dying as a substitute for every human who would ever live, His blood literally satisfied God’s judgment upon the sin of the whole human race. (1st John 2:2)
In John 3:18, Jesus said that those who believed in His Name (placing their trust in His finished work) would not be condemned, but that those who did not trust Him as the substitute for their own life, and their own sins, were not “going to be condemned,” but are already condemned. So, as a rebellious young atheist, I was already condemned, and effectively “on death row:” I was headed for Hell, and without hope, until I became convinced that I was lost, and that I needed a Savior. Finally, I placed my trust in Him, and was permanently placed under His blood. I have no other offering…there is nothing to be added to His Grace.
Judgment of our Works: The Judgment Seat of Christ
(Only Believers are at this Judgment.)
Works have zero effect on salvation, but they have great effect on our ongoing relationship with God in this life, and our reward in the next. 1st Corinthians 3:10–15 tells us how God will “grade” our works: our works will be judged “by fire.”
Anything showing “eternal value” by surviving that “Refiner’s Fire” will result in reward. All the works that “looked good,” during our lifetimes, but turned out to just be something we did on our own initiative, and which did not originate with the Spirit of God, will be consumed in that flame, but the believers will not be harmed. They will simply be “as one escaping through the flames.” They will have lost what they thought they had gained, but they themselves are safe.
What are the Rewards?
I really don’t know. There are five different “crowns” (Greek, “stephanos”…victor’s wreaths) which are named, but not clearly described. There are also places where a reward is described as “ruling over a city.” So, that would evidently be a reward of authority and responsibility. But the conclusion I would have to call the “bottom line,” is what Paul said: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what the Father hath in store for them that love Him.” (That’s it! He says we don’t know! So, I’m going to drop it right there.)
Judgment of the Living Nations:
(Living Believers and unbelievers: “What did you do with Jesus and His Family?”)
This Judgment is described in Matthew 25:31, ff. This is the one where, immediately after the Tribulation, and Jesus’s physical return, His throne is set up on earth, and all the living nations (Gentile nations) are brought before him for judgment. The Judgment seems to be based upon how they treated the Jews and the Gentile believers during the tribulation.
One could make the mistake of thinking that this describes a works-based salvation: But what we are seeing, here, is proof that “works are the result of faith.” They all acted upon their beliefs:
- Those who denied Jesus’s authority and who despised His Grace, and sought to destroy His people are revealed by their works as being unbelievers.
- Those who took the risk of either siding with, or at least helping those persecuted people of God, are also revealed by their works, as being believers.
The result of this judgment is peculiar, in that, since the people being judged are not dead, the passage in Hebrews 9:27 is not directly applicable. Those who were judged to have been believers, as revealed by their works, are admitted into the Kingdom age (along with the remnant of the Jews, and the believing Gentiles who survived the purges of the tribulation.)
Those who were judged to have rejected the Savior, as revealed by their works, are sent into the place of the dead, (called “Sheol” in the Old Testament: “Hades” in the New Testament, (mostly translated “hell,” in both Testaments.) All it says in Matthew is “everlasting punishment.” (The reason we know that it is not the Lake of Fire, is that Revelation 20:11-15 tells us about that specific judgment, and hell will be cast into the Lake of Fire.)
The Final Judgment: The Great White Throne
(Only unbelievers are at this Judgment.)
This judgment occurs at the very end of the Kingdom age, after a final rebellion has been put down by God the Father. The old “heaven and earth” have just been destroyed, as seen in 2nd Peter 3:10, 11. A Great White Throne appears in space…it says, “heaven and earth flee away from the Face of Him who sits on the throne.”
The old Heaven and Earth are evidently destroyed in this moment. All the remaining dead stand before the Judge. (The righteous dead are already eternally with the Lord.) Who is the Judge? In John 5:22 we see that it is Jesus! We have a hard time with this: We have been taught to think of Jesus as such a tender, forgiving person that it is difficult to imagine Him in this role. But He is the only Judge, and always has been!
All the dead are seen as being checked in God’s Records (the “books are opened”…) and they are judged accordingly…and all of them end up in the lake of fire. Are there “degrees of punishment?” Evidently there are: Jesus said so! How does that work? I really don’t know. Different writers have hypothesized at different times, sometimes quite famously (e.g. Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, in 1320.) But God does not explain this at all, except to say that it is so.
Why Different Resurrections?
Given the huge difference in destination, it seems pretty sensible to me to arrange the resurrection in two waves. In 1st Thessalonians 4:11-18 (along with 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52) we see that the resurrection of believers (their dead bodies being restored to life) will come at the same time as the Rapture. The dead believers will receive their bodies back, immortal, and in the next instant, we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds, as it says in 1st Thessalonians.
All of them, together, receive their “resurrected” or “transformed” bodies at that time. The “Awards ceremonies” as we might consider the “Judgment Seat of Christ” to be, will happen after that point, but before His physical return to Earth. However, there is another group, in Revelation 20:4, who were beheaded during the Tribulation for the sake of Christ. They will be resurrected at the end of the Tribulation or beginning of the Kingdom age, and will reign with Christ for the duration of the Kingdom: 1,000 years. Together, this group with the ones resurrected at the rapture, seem to comprise the “first Resurrection.” (Revelation 20:5, 6)
After the First Resurrection:
The Judgment of the living nations, at the end of the Tribulation, doesn’t involve a resurrection at all: they are all living people, who either will live on the restored earth for the next 1,000 years, or will be summarily dropped into Hades, to await the resurrection of the lost.
Finally, after the Kingdom age, and the crushing defeat of Satan and his army, the only people left to be resurrected and judged are the unbelieving dead. We may feel that “They weren’t all bad,” but Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart is “desperately wicked.” God’s view of their hearts is the standard by which they will be judged, not our opinions.
What follows is the Final Judgment of the unrighteous dead. Some had just recently died by fire in the rebellion which had just been crushed. Some had died in the wars during the tribulation. Others had been dead for thousands of years, just awaiting final judgment. In either case, we need to remember that Our Savior, Jesus, the Messiah…is the One seated on that Great White Throne. Jesus has never misjudged anyone. And He never will.
Time Lapse Between the Resurrections
According to Revelation 20:5 there is a 1,000-year span between the end of the first resurrection and the beginning of the second. Also, (apparently) time ends right then. The eternal state has begun and there is no further need to measure time. (We saw in Genesis 1:14 that the reason for the Sun, Moon and stars was partly to give light, but primarily to tell time. And the sun and moon will be gone, in the new heaven and earth!)
So, how long do the judgements take? I don’t know. God is sovereign, and omniscient (all-knowing) so, He could complete it all in an instant, and it will have been done perfectly. Or, He could carry on individual conversations simultaneously with every single person who ever lived! (No waiting!) But, since He doesn’t tell us any details, we must choose to be satisfied with His Word, and trust His perfect character, wisdom, and justice. No one will be misjudged.
No Confusion Needed
It would be easy to be confused by the account in Matthew, revealing the Judgment of the Living Nations: we have not had much teaching along those lines, so we tend to think of this as being the final judgment. But it’s not! This is the judgment of living people: Some (the righteous) will enter the Kingdom (not heaven) in their natural bodies, in whatever shape they are in after surviving the Tribulation. They will live in that glorious world in peace, for 1,000 years, where Jesus is ruling, in person.
The rest, who are condemned in that judgment, will join those already in the place of the unrighteous dead (not the lake of fire), and wait for the second resurrection. In Revelation 20:14, at the culmination of the Great White Throne Judgment, we see death and hell (Hades) will be cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the final Judgment—the Second Death.
God has moved to keep His people separate from the lost, throughout the ages. During our lifetimes, we are only separated spiritually: he sends us among them as ambassadors, as lights in the darkness of this world. But, once we are released from this world, we are separated permanently.
So, the only Judgment in which the saved and lost are together and being separated, is the Judgment of the Living Nations in Matthew 25. All those who have died are kept entirely separate. There is no more mingling after that point. So, the final reason for two separate resurrections is the completion of our eternal separation from sin. The resurrection of the believers is past: all the righteous dead of all ages are finally home with God, and in their eternal, glorified bodies.
There is no further outreach to those who have rejected God’s offer of Grace. That door is closed. If we remember the Ark, in the Genesis Flood, we recall that the building of the Ark evidently took 120 years. During that time, God says Noah was a preacher of righteousness. But the day came when God closed the door to the Ark. The Flood came and all outside the Ark were swept away.
The Deadline is Coming:
Jesus reminded his hearers of that account, in Matthew 24:37-39. He was using it to warn of a different “deadline,” but the principle is the same: the day is coming when God will close the door. After that time, no further decisions will be offered or accepted. Those in the second resurrection, the resurrection of damnation, will be eternally separated from God and from us. That is the bad news: The Good News is that there is still time for us to offer God’s Grace to anyone who will hear.
Jesus is still in the business of reaching out to the Lost, and offering them eternal life. And He only does so through His people: It always requires that we take the time (and risk) of sharing His Grace with others. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by Hearing, and Hearing by the Word of God.” You may be the only source of light in someone else’s darkness: Don’t deny them that light! Open your heart to care enough to open your mouth and offer them the Grace of God and eternal life, through the Gospel.
Lord Jesus, open our hearts to allow Your compassion to flow through us to the people around in our lives. Give us the compassion to care and the courage and conviction to speak. Fill us with Your Spirit and allow us to serve.