With this article in our series on the Bible’s teaching regarding the future, we take up a new and final subject. As I noted in my introduction to this series, the Bible’s teaching about the future may be divided into two broad areas, individual and general eschatology. Individual eschatology, as the language suggests, addresses the Bible’s teaching about what happens to individuals, particularly believers, in the state between death and resurrection at the end of the age. In our consideration of this subject, we dealt with the Bible’s teaching regarding such matters as death, the intermediate state and purgatory. General eschatology addresses the Bible’s teaching on the future in general or in terms of the unfolding of the Triune God’s purposes in history, leading up to the return of Christ at the end of the age.
In recent months, we have been busy with that part of general eschatology that focuses upon the so-called “signs of the times” and the millennial reign of Christ. These issues relate to the Bible’s characterization of the present age, this time between the times of Christ’s first and second advents. They identify the Bible’s understanding of how God’s redemptive purposes in Christ will unfold and all things will be brought forward and made ready for the great event on the horizon of all history — the coming again of Christ at the end of the age. Though we have undoubtedly left a number of loose threads in our consideration of these issues, the time has now come to take up the last part of general eschatology, namely, the things that will accompany the return of Christ at the end of the age.
Since I have already given a summary of the Bible’s teaching regarding the return of Christ in a number of previous articles, this article and those that follow will take up immediately those events that will accompany the return of Christ. In my study of these events, I am using the phrase chosen by Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology to describe them — the concomitants of the second advent.! Though this language is not the kind we might use over the counter at the coffee shop, it nicely captures the idea: we are looking at those events that, according to the Scriptures, will occur in the company of Christ’s return at the end of the age. When Christ returns, the Bible teaches that His reign as King will be consummated by means of a series of great acts of redemption and judgment. These events will draw this present age to a close and introduce the consummation of God’s purposes in the new heavens and earth. They will precede the final and enduring state of God’s kingdom.
The events or concomitants of Christ’s return that we will consider in the following months are these: the resurrection of the dead, the just and the unjust; the final judgment by Christ of all men; the punishment of the unbelieving and wicked in hell; and the creation of a new heavens and earth. As we do so, we shall have to be especially careful to remember a point that was made at the outset of our study of the Bible’s teaching about the future: our hope for the future is one that is born out of and nurtured by the Word of God. When we stray from the sure path laid out for us in the Word, we are bound to go off in directions that are speculative and uncertain. If this is true for the study of the future in general, it is most particularly true when it comes to the kinds of events that we will now be considering.
THE BIBLICAL FOCUS UPON THE RESURRECTION
The first great event or concomitant of Christ’s return at the end of the age will be the resurrection of the dead, including the just and the unjust. Since we have touched upon this event before, especially in connection with our treatment of the intermediate state, it may be helpful to recall what we have already noted about it. In doing so, we will revisit a question that was raised in the context of our consideration of the two forms of pre-millennialist teaching.
In my articles on the intermediate state, I noted that the biblical expectation for the future of believers is not exclusively or even primarily focused upon what is often called the intermediate state. Though the Bible teaches that the believer’s fellowship with Christ cannot be broken, even by death itself, and that at death the believer will begin to enjoy a more intimate and direct fellowship with Christ (compare 2 Cor. 5:1–9), its teaching regarding the believer’s future focuses primarily upon the resurrection of the body at the last day. In the biblical view of the believer’s future, the emphasis falls not upon the “immortality of the soul,” but upon the restoration and renewal of the whole person, body and soul, in a renewed state of integrity within the context of a new heavens and earth. The biblical promise for the future directs the believer to the resurrection, when both body and soul will be granted immortality.
This is, in fact, one of the distinctive features of the biblical view of the future and of the salvation that is obtained for us in Christ.2 The biblical view of the world begins with the conviction that the Triune God created man as a “living soul,” taken from the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7). Man’s creatureliness in its wholeness and integrity, therefore, always includes the body which was created originally good. Redemption from the curse of God against sin likewise addresses the whole of man’s need, body and sou!. This is the reason the Heidelberg Catechism speaks, for example, of the believer’s comfort in terms of belonging to Christ “with body and soul.” Redemption does not deny the integrity and goodness of creation; it rather brings the healing and renewal of creation. The same Lord who forgives all our sins is the One who “heals all our diseases,” including that sickness of body and soul that leads to death (Ps. 103:3). For this reason, no biblical picture of the believer’S future may fail to include as a central part of it the promise of the resurrection of the body.
THE TIMING OF THE RESURRECTION
Though this expectation is commonly acknowledged by Christian believers whose doctrine is normed by the teaching of Scripture, there is another question that is often disputed — the question of the timing of the resurrection. As we have seen in previous articles, pre-millennialism teaches that the resurrection of the just will occur at the time of Christ’s coming before the millennium and that the resurrection of the unjust will not occur until after the millennium, at least one thousand years later. In this understanding, there will be at least two distinct resurrections, one of the just and the other of the unjust, separated in time by the period of the millennium.3
The most decisive objection against this separation in time between these two resurrections is its incompatibility with the common association in the Scriptures of the resurrection of hoth the just and the unjust In one of the few direct references to the resurrection in the Old Testament, Daniel 12:2, we read that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” In this passage, the resurrection of believer and unbeliever are closely linked. A similar linking of the resurrection of the just and the unjust is reflected in Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 5:28–29:
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
These words speak of an hour in which all who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son, the righteous as well as the unrighteous. The simplest reading of this passage would indicate that Jesus is speaking here of one great event in which all of the dead will be raised for the purpose of judgment. Though some premillennialists suggest that this reference to an hour might include a long period of time — appealing to the use of “hour” in verse 25 of the same chapter where it refers to the period in which the spiritually dead shall be brought to life — its meaning in these verses is paralIel to its common meaning in the Gospel of John (compare e.g.: 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 16:21; 17:1). It refers to a distinct period in which God’s purposes will be fulfilled. As in other Scripture passages (compare Acts 24:14–15; Matt. 16:27; 25:31–33; 2 Cor. 5:10), the teaching of this passage clearly confirms that the resurrection of all the dead, believers and unbelievers alike, will occur at a single point of time in the future at the close of the age.
It is also interesting to note that, in the passage most often cited by pre-millennialists in support of their view of the millennium and two distinct resurrections, one before and one after the millennium, there is evidence that the resurrection and judgment will include all people, the believer and unbeliever alike. In Revelation 20:1–15, the vision of the final “great white throne judgment” that will occur after the millennium portrays “the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne” (v. 12). These dead not only include the great and small, but also all those whom the vision goes on to say were “given up” by the sea, death and Hades. All of these dead are then judged, “everyone of them according to their deeds” (v. 13). As a consequence of this judgment, death and Hades, and “anyone’s name [that] was not found written in the book of life,” are thrown into the lake of fire, the second death. The description of the resurrection and judgment given in this vision clearly implies that all people are embraced and only those among them whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life are saved from the lake of fire. Were the vision only describing the resurrection and judgment of those whose names were not written in the book of life, the language describing this vision would be confusing at best, misleading at worst.
In addition to these passages that clearly associate the resurrection of the just and the unjust, there are also passages which teach that the resurrection of believers will occur on the last day, when Christ will be revealed from heaven and the sound of the trumpet will be heard. The obvious implication of this language is that this event will conclude the present age. With the resurrection of the believer, the last great event which brings to a close Christ’s work of redemption in His children will be accomplished. In John 6:40, Jesus assures His disciples that He came in fulfillment of His Father’s will and purpose, and that it was His Father’s will “that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (emphasis mine). In the passage which speaks of the rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, the coming of Christ and the resurrection of believers are associated with the call of the Archangel and the sound of the trumpet (v 16: compare Matt. 24:31; 1 Cor. 15:52). The implication of these and other passages seems to be that, when Christ comes and the dead in Christ are raised, this will mark the close of the present age and introduce the glory of the age to come (compare phil 3:20–21; 1 Cor. 15:23).
Oftentimes, pre-millennialists who insist upon two resurrections separated in time will appeal to the language of 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:23–24 in support of their position. These passages describe a certain precedence and order among the events of Christ’s coming, the resurrection of believers, and the coming of the end of the age This precedence and order. according to the pre-millennialist, confirms the distinction between two resurrections. However, neither of these passages affords a convincing case for this position. When the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 speaks of the dead in Christ rising first, a contrast is not being drawn between the resurrection of believers and of unbelievers. Rather, a contrast is being drawn between the resurrection of the dead. those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. and the rapture of believers who are still living at the time of Christ’s coming. Far from being excluded from the benefit of Christ’s coming, those who have fallen asleep in Him will have a kind of pre-eminence — they will rise first. Furthermore, as we have previously argued, the order described in 1 Corinthians 15:23–24 — “Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end” — is not an order that allows for an intervening period of one thousand years between Christ’s coming and the end. The events described, though they occur in a definite order, are events that comprise one great complex of events at the end of the age.
There is, accordingly, no Scriptural basis for the teaching that the resurrection of the just and the unjust will be separated in time.
THE AUTHOR OF THE RESURRECTION
The more important and difficult questions relating to the Bible’s teaching regarding the resurrection have to do with its author and nature. Who will be responsible for raising the dead at the end of the age? And, when we read that the dead will be raised prior to the judgment, how are we to understand this event? In what sense will even the unjust be raised from the dead? What will be the nature of the resurrection body?
It needs to be admitted that the Bible does not provide a complete description and answer to all of these and other questions.4 Some things are clearly taught for the encouragement and comfort of believers. Other things remain to an extent shrouded in mystery. Here the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9 (from Isa. 64:4 and 65:17) need to be borne in mind: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” Though the Old Testament includes explicit references to the resurrection of believers (Isa.26:19; Dan. 12:2). and though the expectation of the resurrection follows from all that the Lord promises His covenant people in the way of life and blessing,5 it is only in the New Testament that the full light of the gospel promise of the resurrection shines. This should not surprise us, since the biblical teaching and hope for the resurrection is securely founded upon the great redemptive accomplishments of Christ in His death, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand. As believers are united with Christ, they come to enjoy Him and all His blessings, most notably victory over death and the sure confidence of the resurrection of the body.
In spite of this clear focus upon Christ’s resurrection and the believer’s share in it, the New Testament makes it clear that the Author of this resurrection is the Triune God, Father. Son and Holy Spirit. Each Person of the Trinity plays an integral part in the granting of resurrection life to those who belong to Christ. When Jesus responds to the Sadducean denial of the resurrection, He ascribes the power to grant resurrection life to God: “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:29–30). The apostle Paul likewise in 2 Corinthians 1:9 describes believers as those who should not trust in themselves but “in God who raises the dead.”
In other passages, the resurrection of the dead is ascribed especially to the power and work of Christ. In John 5, a passage we considered in the previous section, it is the Son of God who together with the Father calls the dead from their tombs and grants them life (w. 21, 25, 28–29). This authority to raise the dead is, according to the teaching of Christ, a prerogative granted to Him by the Father and a fruit of His saving work (John 6:38–40, 44–45; 11:25–26). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit. who applies and communicates the benefits of Christ’s saving work, gives believers a foretaste and share in the power of Christ’s resurrection. The same Spirit “who raised Jesus from the dead” dwells in believers and grants life to their “mortal bodies” also (Rom. 8:11).
Thus, as believers share in the benefits which are theirs in fellowship with Christ, they are promised the gift of resurrection from the dead, a gift which the Father is pleased to grant through the Son and in the power of the life-giving Spirit.
This, of course, leaves us with the crucial question yet to be answered: what is it to be raised from the dead? What is the nature of the resurrection body, so far as this is disclosed to us in the Scriptures? If the return of Christ will be accompanied by the resurrection of the dead, the just and the unjust alike, and if the resurrection of believers in fellowship with Christ is a gracious work of the Triune God, it remains to be seen what the Scriptures teach about the character of this event. Thus, this question and its biblical answer will be the focus of attention next time.
1. Vol. III (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1952). “Concomitants of the Second Advent.” pp. 837–880.
2. In many dualistic worldviews which sharply distinguish the spiritual and the material (Manichaeism. some forms of ancient Greek philosophy). and in many monistic worldviews that deny the ultimate reality of the material world (Gnosticism, Hinduism, Buddhism). the teaching of a resurrection of the body has no legitimate or proper place. The biblical teaching of the resurrection of the body has an appropriate home within the framework of the biblical understanding of creation, and redemption as a restoration and renewal, and not a denial, of creation.
3. This is to state the matter perhaps too simply. Dispensational pre-millennialists commonly speak of at least two additional resurrections: the resurrection of those saints who experience tribulation in the seven-year period between Christ’s coming “for” and His coming “with” His saints; and the resurrection of the millennial saints at the conclusion of the millennium.
4. For example. the Bible says very little about the resurrection of unbelievers other than to affirm that it will occur. That unbelievers will be raised has already been shown from the passages cited above (e.g. John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15). This resurrection is not an act of Christ as Redeemer. but an act of Christ as Judge. Unbelievers are raised in order that they might be judged and consigned to punishment Believers are raised in order that they might fully share in all the blessings of salvation that are theirs through fellowship with Christ. the Mediator.
5. See e.g.: Ex. 3:6 (ef. Matt. 22:29–32); Ps. 16:10; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24, 25; Provo 23:14; Hos. 6:1–2; Ezek. 37:1–13. Without denying the progressive disclosure of the truth regarding the resurrection. or the radical significance of Christ’s victory over death in His resurrection, it may be said that the great comfort of the covenant of grace, salvation and life in fellowship with the living Lord, could never be diminished or ultimately vanquished in death, which is the wages of sin. However dim and sketchy may have been their view of it, Old Testament saints are typified in the faith of Abraham who “was looking for the city, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10; d. vv.13–16, 19).