6. Will There Be Two Resurrections from the Dead?
churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
Most millenarians believe there will be a resurrection of the martyrs (and the saints) a thousand years before Judgment Day and a resurrection of the wicked (or the general resurrection) on that Great Day. However, in the Bible God speaks of only one resurrection from the dead that will occur when the Lord visibly returns to judge the quick and the dead. A few passages that have been abused and misinterpreted by millenarians will now be explained.
The Bible distinguishes between two resurrections, but not both of them are bodily resurrections. The first resurrection is the resurrection of the soul from spiritual death, and the second resurrection is the restoration of the body to life on the Last Day. By nature all accountable people are spiritually dead as Paul says: "We all (all the regenerated) had our conversation in times past in the lust of our flesh . . . and were by nature (our natural birth) the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up," etc. (Eph. 2:3‑6). Everybody who reads this must acknowledge that here conversion is represented as the resurrection from spiritual death. Death is separation from, and absence of, life; and the spiritually dead are separated from Christ, our Life (John 14:6; Col. 3:4). From this death we were raised (saved) by the grace of God through faith in the Savior (cf. Eph. 2:8; Col. 2:12-13; 3:1‑4).
Both resurrections are sharply distinguished when the Lord says: "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25). Here He speaks of the spiritual resurrection. Then He proceeds: "The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, 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" (John 5:28‑29; cf. Dan. 12:2).
This same distinction is found in Revelation 20. There it is said of the souls of the dead martyrs that "they lived and reigned with Christ" during the 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 hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death (cf. vs. 14) hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4‑6). Here the blessedness of those departed souls in heaven (who had been made alive from spiritual death) is described. They were united with Christ. After their departure from this world "they live and reign with Christ," are priests and kings before God (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9), already during the "thousand years," i.e. in the era of the New Testament before the end of the world. They had part in the first resurrection and therefore they are blessed (Rev. 14:13). On them the "second death" has no power. This "second death" is described as "the lake of fire," i.e., eternal separation from God and Heaven, usually called hell and damnation, "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).
Here we dare not overlook two or three features (or circumstances) of the Bible text.
First: God is speaking here of the souls of the departed confessors, but not of their bodies. According to John ; -29, etc., the bodily resurrection of all departed believers will take place on the Last Day. Here in our text not the earthly but the Heavenly bliss of the departed confessors is presented.
in Revelation 20 is it said that the departed souls shall live and
Christ a thousand years here on earth. The
Thirdly: In this chapter (Revelation 20) the two resurrections, the first and the second, are distinguished. In verses 4‑6 we are told of the resurrection from spiritual death (the being united with Christ our Life) which is affected by regeneration on earth and which the departed soul fully enjoys in Heaven, being with Christ. But the second resurrection, the resurrection of the body, is described in verses 11‑15 where it is said that "the dead, small and great," i.e., all the dead, were standing before the Great White Throne; that the Book of Life and other books were opened; that "every man" was judged; that "whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into "the lake of fire." This is in full accord with 2 Corinthians 5:10 where Paul, who certainly also was a martyr, says that "we all must appear before the judgment‑seat of Christ," and with the promise of the Lord: "Every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him shall have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last Day" (John 6:40); but nowhere does He say that He will raise such a one up a thousand years before the Last Day.
In the face of such plain statements of God we cannot but say that millennialism perverts the Word of God by teaching two different bodily resurrections and two future glorious appearances of Christ on earth.
But, it is objected, does not Paul say in 1 Thessalonians 4 that "the dead in Christ shall rise first"? Here we have to examine the context, that is, the connection in which Paul makes this statement, and to compare other passages in which he treats of the same matter in order to get at the real meaning of his words. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13‑18 he points out the comfort the Christians have when their loved ones have died in the Lord. He says: "We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 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." If on Judgment Day the dead in Christ will rise first and then we who are still alive shall be caught up together with them, then they certainly will not rise a thousand years earlier than we who will still be alive at the coming of the Lord, but we shall be caught up together with them, that is, at the same time.
Of this same event Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: "Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." No millenarian can deny that Paul here speaks of those things that will happen at the advent of the Lord on the Last Day, "at the last trump." Then the dead shall be raised and we who are still alive will be changed and then be taken up together with them. Remember, in John 5:28-29 and the Lord says that on the Last Day all the dead, believers and infidels, will be raised, but not the believers a thousand years before the Last Day.
The other passage abused by millenarians is 1 Corinthians 15:23-24: "Every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father." In the entire fifteenth chapter the apostle does not mention the resurrection of the unbelievers, but similarly as in 1 Thessalonians 4:13‑18, speaks exclusively of the resurrection of Christ, and of those "that are Christ's." He says that Christ, as the firstfruits, had to be raised first. Afterwards, at Christ's coming, they that are Christ's will be raised from the dead. Mark well: "at His coming,” namely, on the Last Day; for the apostle says immediately after this: "Then cometh the end.”
This becomes evident too if we compare all similar passages, and particularly if we take note of the language Paul employs when speaking of the coming of Christ (cf. 1 Thess. ; 1 Cor. .) At the Lord’s coming "death, the last enemy, shall be destroyed" (1 Cor. ) "at the last trump... the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed...Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory" (vv. 51‑54). Then all those who are Christ's will be delivered from every kind of death; they will be given life eternal. And "then cometh the end," the judgment (Rev. 20:11‑15), and the destruction of the world (2 Pet. 3:10ff). This is the clear teaching of the Holy Spirit, and it leaves no room for a double visible coming of Christ or for an interval of a thousand years between the resurrection of the believers and that of the wicked.