Resurrections of the Bible
The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, used exclusively in the New Testament some forty-three times. Yet the doctrine of resurrection is also clearly taught in the Old Testament (Job 14:13-15; 19:23-27; Psalms 16:9-11; 49:14; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). Man is a tripartite (three-part) creature, consisting of body, soul and spirit as is seen in 1 Thessalonians 5:23; although, many theologians hold that the “soul” and “spirit” are one and therefore interpret man as a bipartite (two-part) creature. In either case, there is a physical and spiritual division within each human being. For the Christian, upon physical death, the spirit/soul goes immediately to be with Christ in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). And the Bible teaches that the body, at the resurrection will be reconstituted to be joined with the person’s spirit/soul to evermore be with God; therefore, the resurrection is concerned only with the body and not the spirit/soul of man.
The Christian’s resurrected body will be like that of Jesus Christ’s resurrected body.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
(Philippians 3:20, 21)
Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
The resurrected body of Christ was both tangible and identifiable (recognizable) by those who knew Him in His prior physical body. This does not necessarily mean that it was reconstituted from the same atoms. Even in this life the materials of the body change constantly. They are entirely replaced in a progressive manner within the span of a few years. But apparently Christ’s and the believer’s resurrected body will be a “glorious body” prepared from the DNA formula that is unique to every individual and certainly known by God.
The Apostle Paul reveals an order or series in the resurrection, which agrees with what Christ personally said regarding the matter in John 5:28.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-24)
The Bible speaks of two resurrections (the bringing back to life (reconstitution) of the person’s body to never more experience physical death to be joined with the person’s spirit/soul), one of the just to eternal life with God and one of the wicked to judgment by God and eternal death. The “just” are those who by faith alone in Christ alone are children of God. Prior to the coming and full revelation of Jesus Christ this was demonstrated by the offering of blood sacrifices on an annual basis in which Old Testament saints believed God’s Word that their sins would be covered until the day that they would be paid for by the coming Messiah. The “wicked” are those who from the beginning of time have turned away from God’s message of grace through faith and have chosen to either ignore God or to acquire His approbation (approval) by means of their own merit—good deeds, self-effort, religious activities and conduct—all exercises of disbelief in God’s grace-message and plan.
These resurrections are spoken of in the following passages of Scripture:
In Daniel’s vision in Daniel 12:2
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.
By Jesus Christ in John 5:24-29
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. 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. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth--those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
By the Apostle Paul in Acts 24:15
I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.
By the Apostle John in Revelation 20:4-15
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 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. Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
But even though the Bible speaks of two resurrections, it depicts a series of them, as follows:
That the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:23)
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. (Colossians 1:18)
And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood. (Revelation 1:5)
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:50-53)
Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
(1 Corinthians 15:51-54)
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air [the only exception to being resurrected]. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)
When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and -a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. . . . Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. (Revelation 11:7-12)
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 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. (Revelation 20:4-6)
In Greek the meaning of the term “paradise” is “garden” or “park,” and so it can be used of Eden in the LXX (cf. Gen. 13:10; Isa. 51:3; Ezek. 28:13; 31:8-9). The word is found three times in the New Testament (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7).
The Jewish teaching made paradise that part of hades which was reserved for the blessed. An illustration of this belief is given by Christ in the account of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
Paradise is now, since the resurrection of Christ (Eph. 4:8-10), removed from hades and located where Christ sits enthroned (2 Cor. 12:4), the third heaven. Revelation 2:7 promises, as opposed to the theory that would deny consciousness to the departed at present: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” The wrestling of Scripture by the advocates of soul sleeping is well illustrated in their treatment of the doctrine of paradise (e.g., a verse like Luke 23:43).
For the present abode of the spirits of departed believers, see 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23. For the present abode of the bodies of departed believers, see Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:35-57; Philippians 3:20-21. Sheol as declared in the Old Testament speech and hades as in New Testament [now] represents the abode of the departed spirits of unregenerate mankind.
When stoned to death at Lystra, though the time element cannot be finally established, Paul was caught up to paradise—the third heaven [Acts 14:19, 20; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4], but afterwards was not permitted to recount what he saw or heard. Nevertheless he wrote this much about it: “To depart and to be with Christ . . . is far better” (Phil. 1:23).
(Systematic Theology, Vols. 7, Lewis Sperry Chafer, D.D., Litt.D., Th.D., Kregel Publications, 1993)
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
So how can the fact of two resurrections be reconciled with several resurrections as described in the Bible? The answer lies first in the etymological meaning of the Greek word protos, and second in the concept of phasing, as seen in the Jewish harvest—a process that is specifically used in the Bible to be analogous to the first resurrection.
To use the term “first resurrection” to refer to the new birth, as amillenarians do in evading the teaching of this passage on the millennial kingdom, or to refer to it as the Rapture, as posttribulationists do, based on the idea that there could not be a resurrection before this, are both inadequate explanations of the expression. The doctrine of resurrection falls into place when one recognizes that there is a series of resurrections in Scripture, beginning with the resurrection of Christ and ending with the resurrection of the wicked. In this series the resurrection of the martyred dead of the Great Tribulation is resurrection number five and is probably followed by the resurrection of the Old Testament saints. The resurrection of the wicked is the last resurrection.
Just as the harvest meant life to the Jew and was conducted in stages, so does the first resurrection mean eternal life in a glorified body to the Christian; and this resurrection also comes in stages, starting with Christ and ending with the last of those who by faith alone in Christ alone become children of God. Dr. David R. Reagan, author of Revelation Revealed, and who is the senior evangelist for “Lamb and Lion Ministries,” puts it this way:
The resurrection of the just will occur in stages, and the stages will correspond with the three stages of a Jewish harvest: the first fruits, followed by the general harvest, and concluded with the gleanings. Jesus was the "first fruits" (1 Corinthians 15:23). The general harvest will occur at the Rapture when the Church Age saints will be resurrected and the living saints will be translated. The gleanings will occur at the end of the Tribulation at the Second Coming of Jesus. That is when the Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs will be resurrected.
The first resurrection is still in process at the time of this writing. The day will come when it will be complete. After it will come the resurrection of the wicked. To be a part of either one will depend on the choice one makes during physical life regarding the person of Jesus Christ. To be a part of the first resurrection, a person must come to the genuine understanding that he is a sinner without hope and without any personal ability to save himself from an eternity separated from God. He must then by faith alone turn solely to Christ Jesus and away from all other confidences (religious activity, good works, etc.) to freely receive God’s grace-gift of eternal life. Why is this action efficacious (effective and sufficient) for salvation? It is because Jesus Christ, as God in the flesh, paid the complete price for sin while on the cross of Calvary—a price that only Deity could pay. To turn by faith alone in Christ alone (a willful decision) for one’s salvation is biblical repentance and is non-meritorious. It is also a transaction between the person and God that never more can be undone. It assures a person a place in the first resurrection.
But if during this life a person chooses to reject God’s grace-gift of salvation by refusing to believe in Jesus Christ, he will most certainly secure a place in the next resurrection—the resurrection of the wicked—which leads to the Lake of Fire for eternity.
This writer prays that all who read this study will have made the wise choice of receiving by faith the Lord Jesus Christ as his/her personal Savior and will thereby join him in the first resurrection.