The Spirit World: Ch. 18 (Resurrection of Believers)

This entry is part 20 of 23 in the series The Spirit World

The Resurrection of Believers

(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

The First Resurrection

The resurrection of the dead is to be a future universal reality, for believers and non-believers alike.  All who ever lived will one day rise physically, each in their proper order.  The resurrections are categorized generally in scripture as a “first” resurrection and a second resurrection.  The first resurrection, categorically, includes the raising of all believers from the whole of history.  It is not, however a resurrection which happens simultaneously for all of the righteous dead, but rather is a process extending over a significant period of history.   

The conclusion of the first resurrection is noted in Revelation 20 with the simple declaration, “this is the first resurrection.”  However, it should be noted that a systematic study of scripture reveals that Revelation 20 is declaring the completion of the first resurrection rather than the entirety of it.  As such, the designation of “first” refers not to the first in a series, but rather the first of a type.  One type is the resurrection of believers, which results in a glorified spirit-body.  The other type is the resurrection of unbelievers which yields a very different result, as will be demonstrated in chapter twenty.  The totality of this resurrection actually occurs over the process of thousands of years, beginning with Christ, himself, the “firstfruits” of this group.  Paul notes a categorized and orderly procession of this resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (NIV)
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

Christ, The Firstfruits

Paul’s letter is written to the church in Corinth.  Being written to the church, it should be understood that Paul’s teaching is concerned with the state of believers within the church, alone.  Other texts relay the resurrection processions of other groups, while Paul is uniquely interested in this text with the raising of the church.  Specifically, he notes that “each in his own turn” will experience his orderly resurrection event.  The first of the righteous resurrection is, of course, Christ himself.  Paul notes that Christ is the very substance of the resurrection from the dead, as “in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  It certainly stands to reason, then, that Christ would be the first to rise, as indeed he was. 

It should be noted that bodily resurrections are noted in scripture to have occurred among other men at earlier times, such as Lazarus,[1] the son of the Shunammite woman,[2] Jairus’s daughter[3] and others.  However, these resurrections resulted in the recipients’ subsequent deaths at a later date.  As such, while these were legitimate bodily resurrections, they were not what Paul speaks of in this text.  Paul speaks of the permanent resurrection to a glorified body which will never die.  As was noted in chapter seventeen, the resurrected body is one which lives eternally, and can never die.  This eternal attribute is a reality for both the righteous and the wicked, as will be demonstrated later in this work.  Therefore the resurrections of men who later died again are not of the same essence as the permanent resurrection to an eternal body of which Paul speaks.

He recognizes two classes of the resurrected dead in this text.  Christ, the firstfruits, and then “those who belong to him” at the time of his coming, the church.

The Church

Theologically, the “church” is a term used to refer to those who were born again into Christ prior to the time of the rapture event.  As Paul noted in 1 Corinthians 15, “those who belong to him” are all removed when Christ comes to remove the church, leaving no believers on earth at that moment.  Others, however, who have knowledge of the gospel will be redeemed after that time and continue the work of the gospel into the Great Tribulation period.  All of those who are redeemed into Christ after the rapture event fall into the general theological category of “tribulation saints,” which will be examined momentarily.  The church’s removal from the earth prior to the Great Tribulation ends the time of the church on earth and begins the time of the tribulation saints.  Thus, “when he comes” for the rapture, the church is granted its resurrection in full, while saints who are redeemed at a later time must wait for the final grouping of the righteous resurrection, as will be examined shortly in Revelation 20. 

It should also be noted that the “church” does not refer to the Old Testament saints, but only those who are “in Christ” at the time of the rapture.  “In Christ” is a uniquely New Testament designation for those with the indwelling Holy Spirit.  The Old Testament saints and the tribulation saints each have their own order in this process which is different from those who are “in Christ” at the time of the rapture, or “the church.”

Concerning this event, Paul notes,

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NIV)
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Just as there is an order between differing groups within the righteous “first” resurrection, so the resurrection of the church at the rapture event will have its own ordered arrangement of transformation.  Paul notes, “the dead in Christ will rise first.”  The dead in Christ refers to those who have physically died prior to the rapture event.  Their souls will return with Christ from Heaven and be reunited with their bodies, as Paul had noted a few verses earlier.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NIV)
14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

Thus, all of the church who have preceded in death those who are living at the time of the rapture will be resurrected first.

Following the dead in Christ, those who are living are raised.  One may be suspicious of the term “resurrection” for those who have never died in bodily form.  Yet, as was noted earlier, the nature of the resurrection is the passing from a body of death and decay to a body of life and eternality.  Thus the resurrection of the church includes those of the rapture who technically continue to live in the fleshly body of death up until that moment.  Paul notes, “(a)fter that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”  With the dead in Christ raised, “we who are still alive and are left” refers to those who remain living on earth.  They will rise next to inherit their transformed body of eternality, being simultaneously changed from the body of death to the new glorified body of life.  Paul demonstrates these truths as he notes,

1 Corinthians 15:50-52 (NIV)
50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Explaining the same process, Paul notes, “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”  This “changing” of the living in Christ exemplifies the conversion of “we who are still alive” to their glorified body as the second group is raised.

The Old Testament Saints

Following the church, the Old Testament saints are the next to experience resurrection.  The book of Daniel indicates the timing of this event.  In Daniel 12, Daniel writes concerning the end of the age; that time prior to Christ’s millennial reign on earth.  The author’s book, The Return of The King, details specifically the timing concerning the seven year tribulation period.

Daniel had earlier noted, in chapter nine, “seventy sevens” of history which were to unfold at a later time.  “Sevens” can be likened to the term “dozen.”  It denotes a “seven” of something, just as a dozen notes a “twelve” of something.  In Daniel 9, the context demands that the sevens be reckoned in years, as Daniel had been discussing years in the context of the passage.  Thus, the sevens are sevens of years.  In that text, Daniel establishes,

Daniel 9:27 (NIV)
27 He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him”.

“In the middle of the seven,” Daniel notes that the sacrifices in the temple are abolished.  Then, in Daniel 12 he notes,

Daniel 12:11-13 (NIV)
11 “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days. 13 “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.”

From these two texts, the timing of the resurrection of the Old Testament saints can be determined within the context of the Great Tribulation, which is the theological name given to that particular “seven” of Daniel’s prophecy.  Specifically, the time which “an abomination” is set up is “in the middle of the ‘seven,’” or three and one-half years into the seven year period.  Next, Daniel notes two time periods which are reckoned into days.  He notes 1,290 days from the time the sacrifice is abolished and a special blessing is promised to he who “reaches the end of the 1,335 days.”

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar rather than a solar calendar such as the Western Gregorian calendar.  As such, the number of days in a year varies from one year to the next.  Each month lasts the full duration of the moon cycle, and will vary from month to month.  For that reason it should be understood that there is no static number of days by which a Jewish historian can account for a year.  Because of this limitation a Jewish calendar year, when rendered into days, has historically been noted to be 360 days rather than the 365 1/4 days of a Gregorian calendar.  As such, three and one half years is exactly 1,260 days.  Daniel notes that 1,290 days will pass before the “abomination of desolation” is removed, which is a full 30 days after the tribulation ends.

Daniel goes on, however, to note a second interval, 45 days later.  Of this date Daniel notes, “blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days.”  This date would be 75 days into the millennial reign of Christ, which begins at the end of the tribulation.  Daniel’s vision further reveals the nature of the special blessing which is to be observed at that time as he states, “you will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” 

Therefore, Daniel is informed that he “will rise” exactly 75 days past the end of the “seven,” or on the 75th day of the millennial kingdom of Christ.

The Tribulation Saints

Finally comes the last grouping of the first resurrection, the tribulation saints.  This designation refers to those who received their salvation in Christ after the rapture of the church.  This resurrection is depicted in Revelation 20, the very text which demonstrates the conclusion of the first resurrection.

Revelation 20:4-5 (NIV)
4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

The contextual timing of this passage is shortly after the completion of the great tribulation judgments which are described earlier in the book of Revelation.  Or, it can also be understood to be during the beginning days of the millennial reign of Christ.  The events of this text are centered around the tribulation saints, or those who are saved after the rapture of the church.  This group is relegated to endure a great persecution waged against believers during the tribulation period.  Specifically the text notes that they were beheaded because of their testimony for the Lord during this time.  These dead “came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” 

Several important things must be examined concerning this text.  First, the clear assertion of the resurrection of the tribulation saints is referenced.  They “come to life” and reign with Christ during the millennial kingdom.  Secondly, it can be deduced that this is the final group of the righteous resurrection as the assertion of completion is noted, “this is the first resurrection.”  As has been stated, this designation does not encompass the whole process of the first resurrection, but rather the completion of it.  Christ, the church, the Old Testament saints and the tribulation saints are all now resurrected into new and glorified bodies.  No persons remain at this point in time of the righteous dead.  All are accounted for.  This truth requires that the resurrection of the tribulation saints be on or after the 75th day of the millennial kingdom, for they are the last of the resurrection group.  It is generally presumed to be the very same day as the resurrection of the Old Testament saints, though this accounting is not conclusive in the text.  Thirdly, it can be noted that the resurrection of the unrighteous will be at the end of the millennial kingdom of Christ.  Verse 5 notes, “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.”  The “rest of the dead” at this point in history refers only to the unrighteous dead, as all righteous dead are accounted for and raised.

Dating Issues and Solutions

Finally, though not a necessary contribution to the scope of this study, some issues with dating should be cleared up concerning the time period of the millennial kingdom of Christ.  The author dislikes such loose ends which may prove to be disconcerting to some. 

By its theological terminology, the “millennial” reign of Christ is understood to be precisely a one thousand year period.  However, the author contends that the reign of Christ begins immediately at the end of the last “seven” of Daniel 9, the tribulation period.  Yet, Daniel 12 references a further 75 day interval at which time the Old Testament saints are raised, which is 75 days into the time frame of the millennial kingdom.  At this point a dating question emerges.

Because the tribulation saints are the completion of the first resurrection, they must be understood to be raised no earlier than the 75th day of the millennial reign.  For the sake of argument, the presumption will be that they are raised on the 75th day, after the Old Testament saints.  Yet, Revelation 20 notes that when they are raised, they will, “reign with Christ a thousand years.”  Their one thousand year reign with Christ, plus their 75 day post-tribulation delay adds up to one thousand years and seventy five days which Christ will have reigned upon the earth as King.  This seeming mathematical “problem” is commonly eluded to as “the 75 day interval.” 

Most premillennialists understand the millennial reign of Christ to actually begin after the seventy five day interval.  Certainly, this assertion clears up any issues concerning the stringent one thousand year reign with Christ which is promised to the tribulation saints.  In this position, Christ’s actual reign begins on the 75th day after the completion of the tribulation.  The tribulation saints are raised on the 75th day and reign with Christ for exactly one thousand years.

This author’s position, however, is that the reign of Christ begins when Christ sets his foot down on the earth and destroys the armies of Antichrist.  This would put the beginning of Christ’s millennial reign on precisely the last day of the Great Tribulation.  This position is maintained because of the ideology of the term “reign.”  One reigns when one establishes authority.  Christ will establish himself as the one in charge the moment he defeats Antichrist.  At that moment, he will reign.  At that moment he will be the undisputed victor and will subdue the earth.  He will be King the instant he asserts himself as such.  To that end, Christ’s “millennial” reign will begin 75 days before the resurrection of the tribulation saints, who will reign with him for one thousand years.  And, in this case, his reign will actually be one thousand years and seventy five days.

While some see this as problematic to scripture, it is not.  It is completely consistent with each text in Revelation which refers to the literal one thousand years.  The designation of “one thousand” should be understood to be literal time.  Yet, while the designation of “one thousand years” appear six times in Revelation 20, not one of them refer to the time constraints of Christ’s reign itself, but to other designations which are in conjunction with part of Christ’s reign. 

It is the author’s conclusion that the events of Revelation 20:1-6 all occur on a singular day.  Again, for the sake of argument, that day will be presumed to be the 75th day of Christ’s reign.  Furthermore, it is clear that each reference to “one thousand years” refers to the exact same one thousand year time period.  Verse 7 notes singularly, “when the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison….”  Thus, “the” thousand years refers to each previous use of the term as a unified time period.  However, it should be noted that none of the one thousand year designations refers to the time period of Christ’s reign in its entirety.

The first designation of the one thousand year time period is in verse 2.

Revelation 20:2 (NIV)
2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.

In this designation, the one thousand years refers to the length of time which Satan will be bound.  This one thousand years concurs with each other one thousand year period.  From the 75th day, then, Satan will be bound one thousand years.

The second use of the phrase is found in verse 3.

Revelation 20:3 (NIV)
3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

Once again, the period clearly references the time frame which Satan is to be bound, after which time he is set free for a short while.

The third one thousand year span is noted in verse 4.

Revelation 20:4 (NIV)
4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

In this verse the one thousand years refers to the time which the tribulation saints will reign with Christ.  It should be noted that this text does not limit the terms of Christ’s reign to one thousand years, but rather it limits the term which the tribulation saints reigned with Christ to one thousand years.  The text could just as easily say “they reigned with Christ for one week.”  The designation is oriented toward how long they reigned with Christ rather than how long Christ reigned overall, himself.

The fourth one thousand year span is noted in verse 5.

Revelation 20:5 (NIV)
5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

This time reference concerns the amount of time which will transpire before the second resurrection ensues.  It also is unconcerned with the totality of time in which Christ reigns, but with the amount of time from this series of events which must pass before the second resurrection.

The fifth usage of the one thousand year terminology is found in verse 6.

Revelation 20:6 (NIV)
6 Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

Once again, the time reference is attributed to the tribulation saints, along with the remainder of the first resurrection.  They all are designated at this time to being elevated to positions of authority from which they will reign with Christ for one thousand years.

The last one thousand year time designation in Revelation 20 is noted in verse 7.

Revelation 20:7 (NIV)
7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison….

Once again, the time period of one thousand years refers to Satan’s imprisonment rather than a limit of Christ’s term in reign.

In conclusion, it is clear that a singular one thousand year time table is referenced in Revelation 20.  For one thousand years Satan will be bound, the first resurrection will be elevated to positions of authority to reign with Christ and the unrighteous will remain waiting in Hades for their resurrection.  At no point is Christ’s reign limited to that exact one thousand year time period.  The reign of the first resurrection with Christ is limited to the final one thousand years of Christ’s reign, but the former 75 days are in no way disassociated with Christ’s actual term of reign.  As such, Christ’s reign on earth can be understood to be actually slightly longer than the one thousand years which the theological term “millennial” designates it. 



[1] John 11:43-44

[2] 2 Kings 4:32-35

[3] Matthew 9:24

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