Last time we gathered together, we defined the term “resurrection” and we identified the three resurrections mentioned in the New Testament. We discussed the past resurrection of Jesus and the present resurrection of believers in detail. This week will be exploring what Scripture says about the future resurrection of all that are in the graves. The future resurrection according to the Bible will actually be two separate resurrections, one of the just and one of the unjust. We will also look at how the death and resurrection of Jesus affected the destiny of the human soul.
Since we are talking about future events, we will be dealing with prophecy about the end of time and eternity. As anyone who has tried to read the book of Revelations can attest, prophecy can get a little difficult to understand. This I believe is on purpose. We will only fully understand God’s prophecy when He means us to, and not a moment before. This being said, some of God’s prophecy regarding the future resurrection of believers is apparent and we will be looking at that today.
The Bible reveals two things about all human beings. One is that all will experience the resurrection of the dead, and two that all will experience eternal judgment.
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:28-29)
Now, though there is much about the period between physical death and the resurrection that is not revealed in the Bible, three things are clear:
1. At the time of death there is a separation between the body and the spirit and soul. The physical body is put in the grave, but the soul and spirit live on in eternity.
2. The spirits and souls of those who were righteous go to a different place than those who were wicked.
3. The destiny of the righteous was different before and after the death of Jesus.
Jesus revealed what happens after death through the story of a beggar named Lazarus who lay at a rich man's gate. Though I don’t believe this is the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus used this particular name for a reason.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:22-26)
At death, the physical body returns to the earth, the soul and spirit of man however enters a new existence in eternity. There is still a personality, recognition of one person by another, and awareness of present conditions. The destiny of spirits of the righteous is different from that of spirits of the wicked.
Both Lazarus and the rich man went to a place of departed spirits called in the Hebrew language "Sheol" and in the Greek language "Hades.” (Most of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. The New Testament was written in Greek). But the destinies of the two men were different. The rich man was in a place of torment called Hell; Lazarus was in a place of rest. Between these two places there was a gulf that could not be crossed from either side. If the gulf could not be crossed, then it means there is no hope to change the eternal destiny of the soul after death.
The decision to accept or reject Jesus as Saviour must be made during this life. It is this decision that determines the destiny of your soul. The place of rest for departed spirits of the righteous was called "Abraham's bosom.” This meant it was a place for those who followed the same faith of Abraham by serving the one true and living God.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man reveals what happened to departed souls before the death and resurrection of Jesus. After His resurrection the destiny of the souls of the wicked remained the same, but the destiny of righteous souls changed. When Jesus died He said "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” His body was laid in a tomb but the destiny of His spirit was decided by God. The Bible reveals what happened to the spirit of Christ after death.
Before His death, Jesus told the dying thief who repented, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43). First He went to the place of the spirits of the righteous. This was called "paradise" or "Abraham's bosom.” From paradise, Jesus went further into the area of Sheol reserved for the wicked spirits. This was necessary in order for Him to complete the work of atonement for man's sin. He had to endure both the physical and spiritual penalties of sin. The physical penalty was physical death. The spiritual penalty was separation from God which is called spiritual death.
Jesus experienced that in Sheol.
Then the spirit of Jesus ascended from Sheol back to the world. At that time, His body which had been lying lifeless in the tomb was raised up from death. His soul, spirit, and body were reunited to form a complete personality. As we discussed last time, Jesus appeared in visible form to many on earth before He returned to Heaven.
This is some pretty heavy teachings. The events between the death and resurrection of Jesus set a new pattern for the destiny of righteous souls. Prior to Christ's resurrection, departed spirits of the righteous went to paradise, a holding pattern for those who believed. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the spirits of the righteous could ascend immediately into the presence of God. This is confirmed in the record of the death of Stephen.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)
And while they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)
Moments before death, Stephen saw a vision of Jesus in Heaven at the right hand of God. His words, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit,” indicate he knew that immediately upon death his soul and spirit would go directly to Heaven. The Apostle Paul also confirmed this in II Corinthians. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:6-8) Paul compared the value of death to that of remaining alive in order to fulfill his earthly ministry. He said that to be absent from the body is to be with Christ.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:21-24)
Because we know we are going to join Christ when we die, we do not need to fear death, because death to us as Christians is going home to God. To be in His Holy presence! Paul goes on to describe the physical resurrection of believers or, "they that are Christ's.” in I Thessalonians. He describes believers as those who have repented from dead works and through faith accepted Jesus as Saviour. Paul said that this resurrection of believers will happen at the time of Christ's coming.
The main New Testament passage describing this resurrection of life is found in I Thessalonians.
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 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. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)
The purpose of Paul's teaching is to comfort believers concerning other Christians who have died ["them which are asleep"]. His message provides assurance that all true believers will be resurrected. Those who have previously died will be resurrected, given new bodies, and reunited with their own soul and spirit. And all believers alive on earth at that moment will experience a quick change in their physical bodies.
Both those resurrected and those alive at the time of Christ's coming will be raised by God's power from the earth into the air. They will be reunited with the Lord and each other, and from that time on, they will forever be with the Lord.
Jesus arose from the dead first. His resurrection is compared to the first sheaf of a great harvest that will follow.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:20)
This harvest is the raising of believers in the resurrection. Our resurrected bodies will be like the Lord's: 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. (I John 3:2)
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 3:21)
The last of these resurrections is described by Paul in I Corinthians 15:24.
Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
He calls it "the end.” This is the resurrection of the unjust. When Jesus completes His earthly Millennial reign of 1000 years, God will defeat all His enemies, and the last of these enemies to be conquered will be death. This will complete God's plan for the world.
Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. (Ephesians 1:9-10)
The Apostle John describes the final resurrection of all the remaining dead in Revelations:
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)
All true believers who have died will be raised from the grave to eternal life. The majority of those resurrected at the close of the Millennium will be the unrighteous dead. This is the resurrection of the unjust to damnation. The Bible tells of another great event which will happen after these resurrections, and that is eternal judgment and is the subject of our last sermon in this series.
The doctrine of the resurrection is a foundational truth of the Christian faith. The message of the Gospel not only includes the life and death of Jesus Christ, but also the message of His resurrection. The apostles preached both the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead.
Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:18)
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” (Acts 17:32)
These verses illustrate two different responses of people to the message of the resurrection. Some will not believe it and others will listen to the message. Our responsibility as believers is to share the resurrection message as part of the Gospel as Paul did.
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (I Corinthians 15:1-8)
The preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is incomplete without the doctrine of the resurrection which is why it is a foundation of our Christian faith.
And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. (I Corinthians 15:14)