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Question #155

What about the final resurrection?

I am in a bible study with folks from all sorts of church backgrounds. When studying what is going to take place at the time of resurrection seems there are several different beliefs within our class because of previous teaching where they have gone to church. Could you please send me an outline of all the references to our final resurrection.

The Answer:

The Bible uses the concept of “resurrection” to apply to separate distinct acts. Thus, one must differentiate how the concept or term is used in a specific context. In John 5:24-29 it is used in close proximity in two different senses. In verses 24-27 it is used of spiritual resurrection. This is clear because Jesus speaks of an “hour that cometh, “and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.” This cannot refer to the final resurrection because that to which Jesus referred was occurring at the time the words were spoken. Thus, the life to which reference is made is the resurrection from spiritual death to spiritual death. Verse 24 refers to hearing the word and it is they that hear who are “raised.” In connection with Christ’s coming and the proclamation of the gospel, God gave Christ the authority to execute judgment. V. 27. In connection with the execution of judgment there shall come another day in which all that are in the tombs shall come forth unto the resurrection of life or the resurrection of judgment. There is no reference here to “hearing”; the time for hearing has passed. There is no one left behind – all came forth from the tombs. (Make a note of this fact because it helps to clarify what happens at the final resurrection of all people.) All are raised at the same time; all are judged at the same time; all go into either life or death at the same time.

In Romans 6 Paul uses the concept of being raised in relationship to the Christian’s new life in Christ. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? 3 Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; 7 for he that hath died is justified from sin.” Romans 6:1-7. Paul applies death to two conditions – “dead in sin” (Paul does not use this exact expression here, but clearly implies it because only the dead need to be made alive. In Ephesians 2:1 Paul expressly states the concept.) and “dead unto sin” (v. 11). One who is dead in sin needs to be made spiritually alive. God accomplishes this through the power that raised Christ from the dead (v. 4). God the time at which this spiritual resurrection is accomplished through that power is at the time of baptism (vv. 3-7). Just as the dead Christ was raised from the grave of Josephus of Arimathaea, “so we also” (penitent believers who were “buried…with him through baptism unto death”) are raised from the watery grave of baptism “to walk in newness of life” (v.4). Verse 5 calls this process of conversion a “resurrection.”

Keeping these different uses of the concept of resurrection in mind, rather than listing passages that mention the resurrection of the dead, let’s address the real problem. Is there more than one final resurrection of the dead? Those who contend that there are two final resurrections of the dead believe that they find support for that doctrine in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 and Revelation 20:5. What do these passages say?

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 “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 that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

Revelation 20:5 “5 The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection.”

Premillennialists asset that this passage supports their theory that there are two literal bodily resurrections – one for the righteous and one a thousand years later for the unrighteous. The passage does state that “the dead in Christ shall rise first.” This, they argue, teaches that the dead out of Christ shall rise second. However, this argument can be made only if the context establishes that this passage speaks of the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. It does not. Paul is not discussion the order in which the righteous and the wicked will be raised, but the order in which the Christian dead will be raised in relationship to those who are alive when Christ returns. Thessalonians was written to correct a misunderstanding that the church in Thessalonica had about the coming of Christ. They believed that only those alive when Christ returned would have the blessings of that return. Paul advised them that the dead in Christ would actually be raised before those alive at His return would be “caught up.” One who wants to know what happens at the final resurrection in relationship to all persons – righteous and wicked – needs to turn to John 5:28-29, discussed above. All that are in the tombs shall come forth at that time. Jesus makes no distinction between the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked except in respect to their final destination.

For a discussion of Revelation 20:5 and context, please see the Commentary on Revelation, Chapter 20, on

Finally, note that Thessalonians 5 fails to support premillennialsim in another respect. They teach that Jesus will return to the earth to establish an earthly kingdom. Paul teaches that at Christ’s return those Christians who “are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Christ is not coming to reign on the earth; He is coming to take us home to be with Him forever.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)