When does the resurrection happen? We will consider whether the first and second resurrection occur together or at separate times. Pertaining to the timing of the first resurrection, in answering this, we can put to rest debate for and against soul sleep or for and against going to heaven right away when we die. We will also compare the first resurrection to the rapture doctrine.
The above question and statement come from the prologue article to this series. If you go there, you will find links to all the articles within this series.
First a quick re-cap before starting a new Part. In Part 1 we looked at scriptures that describe the nature of the resurrection and what that means for us in terms of the gospel. In Part 2 we looked at scriptures that make a case for a first and second resurrection. We then considered what these events can teach us about the judgment of God.
In Part 2 we began considering the timing of the first and second resurrection, but for good measure I want to have an article that focuses solely on this topic. You’re going to see scriptures we have already looked at, but when side-by-side I hope we will get a clear picture.
It is Appointed to Men Once to Die, and Next the Judgment
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28).
When we take verse 27 on its own, we can get the impression that judgment comes right after death. However, this chapter in Hebrews is painting an overall picture that shows how the sacrifice of Jesus replaced the sacrifices of the old covenant.
We have all sinned, so therefore we must die. Yet, death does not keep us from facing judgment. After we die, we will be raised and judged. However, through faith in Jesus Christ who bore our sins, we have hope of a pleasant resurrection in which we will appear without sin before God.
These ideas are being addressed in the above scripture. Here we see the sin of man, the judgment of God, and the promise given to those who believe in Jesus. There is no need to read something extra into this scripture by using one verse as a support for immediate resurrection after death when the context is something different.
Timing of the First Resurrection
As mentioned in previous articles, the first resurrection is the hope of the Christian. This is the resurrection of life. Those who believe in Jesus will face God as one who is sinless because the blood of the Lamb has washed our robes clean. Does this happen immediately after we die?
If we look at the scriptures concerning the first resurrection, we see this event taking place at the coming of Jesus during the 7th trumpet in the book of Revelation. This event is detailed in Revelation 11. Here we see the two witnesses are slain and raised from the dead three and a half days later when Jesus returns at the sound of the 7th angel.
11 And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
13 And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
14 The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.
15 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 (Revelation 11:1-15).
This is the same event that Paul the apostle wrote of in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 2 Corinthians 15:
13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16 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:
17 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 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised:
17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:16-24).
What we see in Revelation along with the understanding given by Paul the apostle goes something like the following.
- All of man has sinned therefore all men die.
- All of man will be raised from the dead and face judgment.
- Jesus sacrificed himself to atone for our sins as a fulfillment of old covenant blood sacrifice and as atonement for the sins of those who believe in him.
- Jesus was the first to raise from the dead.
- The next to raise from the dead are the “first fruits” which are those who are dead (or as some like to call asleep) in Christ. This occurs at the 7th trumpet and the return of Jesus to establish His Kingdom.
- Believers who are alive at the coming of Jesus rise next in transfigured bodies.
This is the First Resurrection!
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto 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 worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years (Revelation 20:4-6).
Timing of the Second Resurrection
A first resurrection cannot occur without a second. Although a second resurrection is never explicitly named, the existence of a “first” implies the other. As mentioned in Part 2 of this series, what differentiates the first and second resurrection is the judgment of God.
Marvel not at this: for 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).
The second resurrection includes both obvious unbelievers as well as those who profess Christianity but do not take the gospel to heart (the parable of the wedding guests, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the parable of the talents, the parable of the sheep and the goats, the parable of the sower). In each parable, you see two: one who is faithful and appointed to salvation and one who is wicked and appointed to wrath. See Matthew 24-25.
Does the second resurrection take place at the same time as the first? There are scriptures in Revelation that indicate a thousand-year separation between the first and second resurrection—along with there being a “first” resurrection in the first place.
5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand 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 those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
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.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:5-15).
Where Does Popular Doctrine Fit?
There are reasons Christians have different views, and so we should be compassionate in regards to teachings that are not strictly necessary for salvation. However, we should pursue sound doctrine. It is our duty, as much as we are able, to consider the full context of the word of God. In so-doing, we create a clearer picture that can greatly help the faith of others.
False teachings give enemies of the gospel a foothold, and many use false teachings to erode the faith of others. That’s why I do my best to support sound doctrine. Not to sew conflict among the brethren, but to encourage and build up those within the household of the faith.
In learning about the first and second resurrection, where can we find place for these popular Christian doctrines:
- When a person dies, those who believe in Jesus immediately go to heaven. Those that do not believe in Jesus immediately go to hell.
There are only two resurrections, and the hope of the Christian is within the first. This occurs at the coming of the Lord Jesus at the 7th trumpet. This occurs after the six preceding trumpets, the coming of antichrist, and the killing of all those who are faithful to the testimony of Jesus (the two witnesses). Until that time, all who are dead in Christ are in the grave awaiting the resurrection.
For more read: What Happens When a Christian Dies?
- God will rapture His church away before the great tribulation?
There is no rapture, but there is a resurrection. When Jesus returns, those who died for His namesake during the tribulation will have been dead for 3 ½ days. During this time, they wait in the grave along with all who have died as a Christian over the centuries. When Jesus returns, all the dead in Christ will rise together and those who are alive and remain are caught up together in the clouds with the resurrected dead.
Most scripture that is used to support the rapture is a reference to the first resurrection. There are other scriptures used to support the rapture that are either misunderstood or otherwise taken out of context, like those that refer to being “taken.”
A full work that debunks the rapture will be written soon entitled, “You Don’t Want to Be Taken.” You want to be those who die for Jesus sake or those who are alive and remain.
This article is part of a series entitled Considering the Resurrection. Visit the link to see other articles within this series. The final article of this series will deal with Jesus who is the resurrection. Here we will tie up all things discussed within this 4-part series.
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