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The General Resurrection of the Dead.


“The 1st and 2nd Resurrections of the Dead”

Text. John 5:24-30

We are going to look at the subject of The Resurrection of the Dead.  The problem is that as soon as we speak of the resurrection, Christians will disagree.  Is there one resurrection? Or two, or three, or even four?  And when we sort all that out, how on earth will we be able to be resurrected from the dead if we have been cremated, or eaten by lions (as many first century Christians were) or lost at sea and eaten by fish…  all that is the huge task that lies ahead of us in this Bible Study.

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1. How MANY Resurrections?

So, what is the issue?  

  • The Two Resurrections. In Revelation we learn that there’s going to be two (or more?) resurrections.  Revelation 20:5-6 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over 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. The question then that we need to ask, is ‘What is the difference between the first resurrection and the second resurrection? And is there a time space between them?’  The modern view (of the dispensationalist) is that there will be a ‘Rapture’ – when Jesus will return for his saints, and the dead in Christ only will be raised from the dead.  Then later, after the seven year period of tribulation, in which they think, the antichrist will run amok in the world, Jesus will return again, this time WITH his saints, as a mighty army, there will be a great battle, at Armageddon.  Christ will be victorious and will set up his millennial kingdom on earth, where he will reign for a thousand years.  Is that what the Bible teaches?  Let’s see…
  • Jesus Teaches About Resurrection.We need to go back to John 5:24-30.  Let’s recap the events of that chapter:-
    • A man who has been suffering from paralysis lies at a pool in Jerusalem.  He’s hoping that the next time the waters move, it will be an angel, stirring the water and offering healing to the first person to enter the water.  But he can’t move, and he has no-one to help, so he is helpless and paralysed and hopeless.  Then he meets Jesus, who commands him to rise, take up his bed and walk.  He is healed and obeys, but it’s the Sabbath, and carrying a bed on the Sabbath is work according to the traditions, and the Jews are not at all impressed.  They find out who it was that healed the man, and plot against him and resolve to kill him.
    • Jesus makes a defence against his accusers.  In John 5:17, Jesus begins his defence, which includes some teaching  on the resurrection.  24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.  Passing from death to life.  That’s a resurrection.  Now look at v25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.  That’s a resurrection too, but note really carefully this phrase, he hour is coming, and now is.  Now how could a resurrection hour be NOW, and at the same time be NOT YET?  Present, and yet in the future?  How can the DEAD hear the voice of Jesus and live?  Right now?  
      • The NOW. At conversion!  When we are brought from death to life.  As sinners we are dead, in our trespasses and sins.  In Christ we have new life. Look up Ephesians 2:1   And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.  In Christ we are RAISED TO NEW LIFE.  Now be careful to note that THE UNGODLY HAVE NO PART IN THIS.  They have not been raised to new life in Christ.
      • The NOT YET.  1 Corinthians 15:51-52 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  In 1 Corinthians 15, we learn that a day will come when the Lord Jesus will return to this earth, and Paul tells us what that day will be like.  We shall be dead, in the grave, and at an unannounced time, when the living least expect it. The Lord Jesus will return to this earth.  A trumpet will sound, and the dead will be called forth from their graves, – never to die again – their new bodies will be ‘incorruptible.’  We shall be changed!  A paraphrase parses the passage from the bible: We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal.  So now we have two resurrections.  One happening at conversion, and one happening on the last day.  
      • What about the ungodly at the future resurrection?  [The dispensationalist believes that at his proposed first future resurrection, only Christians will be raised, with the ungodly following seven years later at a second future resurrection.] What does Jesus say about this?   28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.  Again pay close attention to the text.  There is no difficulty at all.  When Christ returns ALL WHO ARE IN THE GRAVES shall hear his voice and come forth.  ALL.  In fact in the next line he explains even further, that those who have dome good with be raised to eternal life, while those who have done evil will be raised only to be condemned.  There’s ONE resurrection. The righteous dead and the ungodly dead rise at exactly the same time – simultaneously.  Now there are some caveats.  Look at 
        • The descriptions of the dead.  They are described as those who have done good and those who have done evil.  Now we know that there is no-one who does good!  I officiated at a funeral, where a nephew of the woman who had died insisted in doing a bible reading.  He read this passage, from John 5 stressing the words ‘those who have done good to the resurrection of life.’  He stopped, looked at the congregation in the funeral director’s chapel, and said – “My aunt was a good woman!’  I think he genuinely believed that his aunt was good enough to get to heaven without Christ. Paul is adamant that it is not possible for someone to be in heaven without Jesus, without his salvation.  Romans 3:10-15 As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; 11  There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. 12  They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”  Basically, if only those who are good will be raised to eternal life, no-one will qualify!  Jesus himself said that only God is good!  Matthew 19:17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.   We ned to be MADE GOOD in Christ, to have HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS bestowed upon us, so that our sins, our lack of goodness, is forgiven.  
        • The differences in the destinations. It could be said that there are two separate resurrections going on here.  There are differences in the purpose and ends of the resurrection of the lost and the saved.  The saved, the saints, are being raised to eternal life, to be changed into Christ’s image, whereas the lost are raised to be judged, and to eternal condemnation.  These two resurrections are of different character, but they are not chronologically separated – they will occur simultaneously, as one event.
  • Comparing John 5 and Revelation 20.  So let’s set John 5 and Rev 20 side by side and see if there is any disagreement.  Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over 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.  Remember that when Jesus spoke of the conversion of the saints as ‘passing from death unto life?’  We agreed that ‘passing from death to life’ constitutes a resurrection, and look at Rev 20:6, Those  who have taken part in the ‘first resurrection’ passing from death to new life, is BLESSED, is HOLY, will not be affected by THE SECOND DEATH (eternal death, Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.)  for they shall live forever.  Are PRIESTS and KINGS (compare with 1st Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Revelation 1:6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen, Revelation 5:10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” ).  The people who have taken part in the first resurrection THEN (in Rev) are the same people who have been given new life NOW in Christ.

So, the reformed position on this is that when we are saved a radical event has occurred in the life of the believer.  They have passed from death unto life!  The Christian is a NEW CREATION.  2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  The first resurrection has occurred!  But a day is coming, when Christ will surely return and the dead will be raised.  All the dead, the ‘made righteous’ in Christ and the lost, – but their destinations will be different.  We call this, “The general resurrection of the dead.”   

2. How Will the Second Resurrection WORK?

Another questions now arises.  ‘Sometime I get asked to officiate at a graveside, where the deceased person has been cremated and the family now wish to inter – bury – the cremated remains, the ashes.  There’s no provision for this in the old Reformed Book of Common Order, so what do we say as words of committal at a service like that/. I’ve decided that it’s exactly the same wording as a burial. – We commit his/her cremated remains to the ground, ashes to ashes, to await the general resurrection of the dead…’ 

Before we explore why, read Revelation 20:12-14 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; … 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  Now, it’s easy to comprehend how the grave might give up its dead, we think of physical bodies, lying at east in the earth.  But how can the sea give up it’s dead, when bodies lost or buried at sea will be eaten by fish and dissolved in the salt water?  What about bodies that have been cremated?  To understand this we must read 1st Corinthians 15:35-44 35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies…  42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…. Paul is talking about sowing a seed!  We never understood this until recently, but the Bible is lightyears ahead of science – remember that it was God who designed us and who knows us best.  Paul calls it a seed.  Science calls it DNA.  Even if we are cremated, and our ashes scattered to the winds, that seed remains!  When the resurrection of the dead occurs, our bodies are not just restored to what they were before, they are resurrected, to a new, immortal, incorruptible body, like Christ’s resurrection body.  

Image by Tellu from Pixabay

Hard to believe?  Not if you believe God’s Word, that the Biblical doctrine of creation is true, that God created this world out of nothing at all, that he created the heavens and the earth and everything within them, that he made Adam out of dust, and breathed life into him, made Eve out of Adam’s rib, then it is far from impossible to see how God, so powerful, can raise to life mortal remains that have been buried, burned, scattered, eaten by lions, cast into the depth of the sea!  

In our next study, we shall look at the difference in character between the resurrections of the just and the unjust, and if there is time, we’ll take a brief look at the Battle of Armageddon.

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