The Resurrection of the Rest of the Dead
Before proceeding with the actual details of how and when the resurrection of the rest of the dead takes place, we should pause and consider something. That something is that the main point of this book has now largely been accomplished. We have demonstrated through the testimony of the Bible, including Jesus Christ Himself, that everyone is going to heaven. All that follows in this book are details about, and reinforcement of, that truth. Let me explain.
We accepted the Bible’s hope that the dead would one day be raised. Jesus came along and revealed an amazing fact about that resurrection – that it would lead to heaven. He thendemonstrated this by dying and, after a brief stop below, going there Himself. Thus Jesus has established – by word and deed – the main point of this book: that the dead are raised, and that resurrection leads to heaven.
We already knew that everyone dies. Jesus said that when the dead are raised, they are like “angels in heaven.” He mentioned no other possible destination. Nor does He mention the possibility that only some of the dead will be raised. “The dead” would have to mean “all those who have died.” If the dead are raised to heaven then all those who have died are raised to heaven. That’s everyone!
Let’s review it. The Bible showed that all who died had one and the same destination: Sheol/Hades. Likewise, the Bible has shown that all who are raised have one and the same destination: heaven. If we believed the Bible when it told us of a place to which all fell at death, shouldn’t we believe it when it tells us of a place to which all rise at resurrection?
It is true that we do not have a way to verify that all who die will end up in heaven, but neither did we have a way to verify that all who died went down to Sheol/Hades. When the Bible explains about unseen things, we trust. Just as we trusted that death led to Sheol/Hades, we can trust that resurrection leads to heaven. Keep in mind that the Bible’s explanation of these things concerns the death of people – not just the death of certain people. Likewise the Bible’s explanation of resurrection was about the resurrection of people – not of certain people. Just as the problem of death concerns all of us, so the Bible’s explanation comforts all of us.
You could say at this point that you do not want to believe the Bible, but where else are you going to turn for a reasonable and credible explanation of unseen things? Surely you would not prefer to be ignorant or ill-informed about these things! For me, there is no more trusted source of truth in the earth today than the Holy Scriptures of ancient Israel. As Jesus said, Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35 NASB).
Let’s cover the basic facts one more time. Everyone who lives, dies. Check. Everyone who dies is dead. Check. The dead are raised to heaven. Check. Therefore, everyone is going to heaven. Check!
The only way you could not go to heaven is to never die, but we have already agreed that this just doesn’t happen. Therefore, you may as well get ready for heaven, because that is where you are going. When you get there, you will enjoy life forever with those you were afraid you might have lost. And you will never again be threatened by death, for you and your loved ones will be living above it.
My prayer for you is that you never lose sight of this truth that everyone is going to heaven. I ask God that it will be with you every day you live on this earth. For it will make you happy and it will inspire you to love people in ways you never thought possible. It will cause you to worship and honor our Creator in your heart and to think very appreciatively of Him. We already knew that we should think highly of God, and have always wanted to, but it’s dwelling on a fact like this that makes such devotion effortless.
We will now proceed to the how and when of the resurrection of the rest of the dead. But in all the discussion that follows, and in all the rest of your life, do not lose sight of the main point: everyone is going to heaven.
The Resurrection Two-Step
When you read the New Testament, it becomes obvious that the apostles saw the resurrection occurring in two steps: first Jesus, then the rest of the dead. Let us pick up Paul in mid-sentence and illustrate this:
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:10-11 NASB
When Paul wrote this, the resurrection of Jesus was past and the resurrection of the rest of the dead was future.
A new how-to book: “How to Raise the Dead in Two Easy Steps” by God. Step one: raise Jesus Christ. Step two: raise the rest. In between the two steps, tell the whole world about what you’re doing. That’s just what the apostles did: they pursued their mission of proclaiming the good news to the whole world, commencing with the first resurrection. The word “gospel” means “good news.” “Everyone is going to heaven” would certainly qualify as good news, wouldn’t it? That’s what they preached. With God, even the dead can dance. Let’s call it the resurrection two-step!
The apostles preached the resurrection of Jesus Christ as accomplished fact and the resurrection of the dead as coming soon. Here are some lines from the book of Acts that describe the apostles’ work and message. These first two refer to events in Jerusalem:
As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. Acts 4:1-2 NASB
And then in Athens, Greece, where resurrection to heaven seemed an even stranger idea (“him” refers to the apostle Paul):
And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”–because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. Acts 17:18 NASB
Later, after Paul had spoken the message to others in the city, this was the response:
And then, there was the time Paul was being tried before both Jewish and Gentile authorities for the practice of his ministry. Part of his defense went like this:
“But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” Acts 24:14-15 NASB
You can see that the message you and I are believing is nothing other than the message that the apostles preached.
Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop
If someone is “waiting for the other shoe to drop” they are, of course, waiting for the completion of an event that is already underway. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the first and necessary step for getting all the dead out of Sheol/Hades. The verses that follow in this section all portray Christ’s resurrection as the first part of something bigger.
Speaking of heaven, this book of the New Testament says,
If there is a forerunner, there must be other runners.
In a similar way Paul speaks of God’s working through Jesus in this way:
If there is a first-born, there must be subsequent born. And there must be many of them.
Along the same lines, Paul speaks of Jesus’ resurrection as the first fruits of a harvest:
If there is a first fruits, there must be a full harvest.
When would the grand resurrection take place? We just read it – at the coming of Christ.
The Coming of Christ Brings the Resurrection of the Dead
As the apostles went about spreading this good news about the resurrection of the dead to come, they found that non-Jews sometimes needed a little extra coaching on the subject. The Greeks, as we have seen, were sometimes mystified by it. A little of this coaching is seen in a letter Paul wrote to some disciples in Thessalonica, a city situated in northern Greece.
In this passage, taken from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NASB, we get to see how the apostles foresaw the resurrection of the dead taking place and how life would go on from that point. I will now quote the passage piece by piece, commenting as we go.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
Notice that Paul is using “those who are asleep” as an expression for those who have died. Obviously, no one would be grieving over someone who was taking a nap. Pagan cultures often did not have the hope of ever seeing their loved ones again. Paul wants this Greek population to have the same hope of a resurrection of the dead that he grew up with. He even uses the idiom of hope common to his culture, “those who are asleep.” Only now, the hope is more immediate because resurrection is no longer vague and distant. Jesus has crystalized the hope and its timing is soon.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
The whole point of Jesus dying and rising was to assist all those who had died. Jesus had been in heaven long before this whole problem of death ever started. He did not have to be bothered with it. He came to this earth in order to solve the problem for others. Therefore, Paul says, if God brought up Jesus it was certainly with the intention of bringing up those who had fallen asleep. And just as God brought Jesus back with Him, so He would bring with Him all those who had fallen asleep. To “bring with Him” reminds us of heaven. That’s God’s home and if He brings you with Him, He’s bringing you to heaven.
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 not precede those who have fallen asleep.
Paul says that he and his contemporaries will not precede those who have fallen asleep. That is, they shall not make it to heaven before those who have already died.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
When the Lord comes, Paul says, the dead will rise. This is the same thing we read earlier.
Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Once the dead have all been raised to heaven, Paul says, the rest of us shall go there without having to go to “sleep” in Sheol/Hades first. The “clouds” and the “air,” of course, refer to heaven. Once there, we will always be with the Lord – because that’s where He is! Paul then says,
Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Talk about comfort – these words give it! No wonder they are often read at funerals. Of course, there is still a measure of grief at funerals because they mark the beginning of a separation. But parting should be “sweet sorrow” and the good news of Jesus Christ makes it so. Any such separation is guaranteed to be temporary.
To review, the apostles taught that at the Lord’s return, the resurrection of the dead would occur. From that instant on, people would no longer descend at death, but would ascend. Thereafter, all those who died would no longer “sleep” but would go directly to be with the Lord (and all those who had died previously).
Has the Other Shoe Dropped?
As you have seen from the preceding passage, none of us gets to heaven before the dead. The dead don’t get there until Christ comes. Therefore, if you think that Christ hasn’t come yet, you are faced with the prospect of going down at death to Sheol/Hades and remaining there until He does come. You still know you are going to heaven but there is a delay involved.
On the other hand, it is not necessary to believe that Christ’s coming is still future. It is obvious that the apostles expected that event to occur in the first century. It was considered a future event as the apostles penned the writings that came to be collected and called the New Testament, but not a far distant event. If they considered it near future in the 1st Century A.D., it seems wise that – almost two thousand years later – we should consider it distant past. That is, if we consider them trustworthy. For what it’s worth, I would stake my life on anything they said (For more, see the post Why the Bible Can Be Trusted ).
The Second Coming of Jesus Christ was a spiritual event. He had come the first time as man and He came the second time as God. We didn’t see Him because you don’t see God with your physical eyes. He is spirit. Invisible. No one saw the dead raised to heaven, but then no one saw them descend to Sheol/Hades either. We just took the Bible’s word for it. There were no “witnesses” to the Second Coming for it was entirely a spiritual event. How could you have eyewitnesses to something that is invisible?
Almost two thousand years later, though, we can look back and say that it must have happened just as Jesus and His apostles said. Probably the most noticeable evidence we have today that the Lord did come when He said He would is the displacement of polytheism and the predominance of monotheism in the world since then.
In antiquity, each nation had its own god or gods. Animals were sacrificed to these gods, and temples and idols were commonplace throughout the world. Even the Greeks and Romans, who are admired for their smarts in so many other areas, held to these beliefs and practices. Today these ideas are considered myths and most people get nervous if someone wants to sacrifice animals. And even atheists (and agnostics) say that what they don’t believe in (or aren’t sure about) is God – not gods. If the Second Coming of Christ doesn’t explain such a radical and universal change, what does? The Greeks weren’t stupid. They were trying to put names and faces on spiritual realities above with which we no longer have to contend. This will become more clear to you in the next chapter where we discuss the new heavens and new earth which came with the Second Coming. (You can also read the posts Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again , The Kingdom of God Is Here and Now , and All Bible Prophecy Has Been Fulfilled .)
Even if you cannot bring yourself to believe that Christ’s coming has already occurred, it only delays the timing of these events in your mind. It wouldn’t change them for you in any other way. You can still take comfort in your ultimate destination. You simply believe that you and everyone else who has died and will die goes to Sheol/Hades below awaiting the resurrection of the dead. But if you believe that the first shoe dropped (the resurrection of Christ) and you didn’t “see” it, what’s so hard about believing that the other shoe has dropped (the resurrection of the dead at the coming of Christ) just because you didn’t “see” it? Of course, some people have a problem believing in shoes at all. Since God is such a shoe, however, I am sure you are not one of those people. Otherwise you would have had no interest in this book, which is based on the Bible.
Therefore, I am going to proceed on the basis that you agree with me in accepting the Bible’s perspective that Christ’s coming was imminent in the first century. For this reason, in the 20th Century it is no longer a matter of prophecy, but rather a matter of history. That being the case, you and I and everyone else can count on going straight to heaven when we die. No passing go, no collecting two hundred dollars. All those who’ve died before us will be there waiting. I would say that God is kind…but even the British don’t understate things that much.
One More Time, From the Top
In writing his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Greece the apostle Paul had need to review the resurrection of the dead with them. The disciples there had clung to the idea that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but some of them had lost hope in the resurrection of the rest of the dead. It is a lengthy chapter and I hope you won’t think it too tedious to attempt. The advantage this extended passage offers is that it is focused on the very subject on which we are focused. We won’t understand everything in it (not everyone will understand my expression “not passing go and not collecting two hundred dollars”). Yet, enough material will be clear that we can confirm our understanding of the resurrection of the dead and that is our purpose. This will be the entire chapter of1 Corinthians 15:1-58 NASB. As with the passage from 1 Thessalonians, I’ll break it up and comment as we go.
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
This chapter comes near the end of Paul’s letter. He has already dealt with a number of other problems and questions. He has saved the most important issue for near the end, which accounts for his emphatic speech. You can almost hear him draw his breath in deep as he writes the words.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
One of the problems in Corinth had been their dividing themselves up according to which apostle was favored. This is why you see Paul explaining his place among the apostles. His point is that the Corinthians had been letting the messengers divide them instead of letting the message unite them.
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
Now you see what I meant: some of them had gone soft on the idea of the dead being raised. He proceeds to straighten them out.
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.
If you give up on the resurrection of the dead, he says, you lose your basis for saying Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised then all of Paul’s preaching and that of the other apostles has been in vain. If you give up on the second shoe, guys, you may as well give up on the first. And if you give that up, we’re all still barefooted. Paul doesn’t give up this line of reasoning either.
Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
If you give up on the idea of the resurrection, everyone who’s died is a goner, and all of us are just a sad joke. The resurrection of the dead must be a pretty important idea – huh, Paul?
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
Feeling he has made his point sufficiently, our apostle puts things back on a firmer footing. And, as we said earlier, if there is a first fruits, there must be a full harvest. The Jews among the church in Corinth would have found this reference particularly interesting. In the Law of Moses, several national feasts had been established. One was the Feast of First Fruits and another was – how’d you know? – the Feast of Harvest. God was foreshadowing His resurrection work in Christ with these annual festivals. What a memory device! The first fruits was to be presented to God as that which was without blemish or flaw. If it was acceptable, the idea was that the full harvest would be bountiful. There could be no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth as a first fruits of humanity would be acceptable to God in His temple in heaven. Is that son of a Jewish carpenter not the finest specimen of humanity ever produced? There could also therefore be no doubt that the harvest of the full resurrection would be fully maximized. Paul’s use of the “first fruits” metaphor would not be lost on his Jewish readers. He did not intend it to be. He was hammering home his point.
For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
Through Adam everyone dies; through Christ everyone will live again. Pause to note that Adam is not stronger than Christ. That is, it is not as though sin and death extended to all human beings through Adam but resurrection to heaven extends only to some. No. As all human beings were affected by sin and death through Adam so shall all human beings be affected by resurrection to heaven through Christ. But it takes place according to an order, for God does everything in order.
But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.
This section has to do with those things that happened when Christ came again. Again, that was when the dead were raised.
Otherwise, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them? Why are we also in danger every hour? I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
It would not serve our purpose to try to unravel all Paul is saying here. Do, however, note the obvious point that he is chastising them for giving up on the idea that the dead are going to be raised.
But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?” You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own. All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.
Apparently, there were some in Corinth who thought like the Sadducees who challenged Jesus. They could conceive of bodies in no form other than that which they already knew. For this reason, Jesus said that they did not understand “the power of God.” The power of God does not raise seeds in the same form that they fell into the earth. How much does an apple tree resemble an apple seed? How much does a tulip resemble a tulip bulb? When God raises something to new life He gives it a new body – just as He desires. No one has to tell Him how to make it. We have seen from the Gospels how the resurrected body of Jesus was different and more suited to its new environment – heaven. Paul is telling the Corinthians that they shouldn’t have been surprised at the idea that the resurrection body was different. It’s just the way God does things.
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
As you read Paul jogging back and forth between Jesus and Adam you can lose your balance. The fundamental idea, however, that you cannot miss is that there is a correspondence between the two. Specifically, just as Adam began a race that lived on earth in natural bodies so Jesus begins a race that lives in heaven in spiritual bodies. As we saw above, the consequences of Christ are as extensive as the consequences of Adam. Life on earth came to us through Adam; life in heaven comes to us through Christ.
Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will 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 imperishable, and we will be changed.
Did you notice that this is the same idea we saw in the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage quoted earlier? Paul describes what happens in the instant of the Lord’s coming: the dead rise and the rest of us are changed. We are no longer “mortal” but are now “imperishable.” Death has become a doorway that leads straight to the next life. There is no waiting period in Sheol/Hades for those of us who live on this side of the coming of the Lord. Death has been re-wired and re-routed. God turned the curse of death into a blessing. It is not the first time He has turned a curse into a blessing, but it is the most profound example we could imagine! Death used to take people farther from God; now it just brings them closer.
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
Obviously, if everyone is going to heaven then whatever you do for God is “not in vain.” And our reception in heaven will be in due proportion to how well God thinks we have done here. Therefore, everything matters! Nothing is in vain. If you have given even a cup of cold water in Christ’s name to one who is thirsty, it will not escape notice or reward.
We have now completely covered chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. Difficult, perhaps – but certainly profitable. And you can always go back and spend more time with it – as you can any of the passages quoted in this book. The profit will only increase.
By the way, did you notice Paul quoting a verse that we ourselves have already seen? Paul wrote, “O Death, where is your sting?” Here is the original passage he was quoting:
In Hosea’s time God revealed the “what.” In Paul’s time God revealed the “how.” Sheol/Hades was a solution, but it was also a problem. How would God solve that problem? The resurrection of the dead to heaven. Since Paul chastised those folks in Corinth for letting go of the idea, let’s you and I be sure we never even relax our grip on it!
Tah – Dah!!!
That was my approximation of a trumpet fanfare. We need to give fanfare to our Creator’s mighty triumph over death – even if it sounds as rinky-dink as mine. Through thousands of years of patience and forbearance, God has worked to bring about this great result for us. He deserves credit for what He has done.
The stage had to be set for Jesus and that’s what all those centuries of ancient Israel were leading up to. Not that each century didn’t have a special significance of its own. But it all paled in comparison to the culmination of God’s work: the resurrection of the dead, the destruction of the source of polytheism, and the establishment of the kingdom of God. Jesus went into the heart of the earth that He might open it as a womb. He became
And because He was the firstborn who opened this womb, as well as because of who He was and is, He is called holy:
And this led, of course, to the resurrection of the rest of the dead, in fulfillment of God’s promise made through Isaiah:
Your dead will live;
Their corpses will rise.
You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy,
For your dew is as the dew of the dawn,
And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. Isaiah 26:19 NASB
Indeed, God turned the tomb into a womb, the graveyard into a garden, the curse into a blessing. God made death into a birthing mechanism. Because of His love for us, God married death (through the crucifixion of Jesus) and made it a mother. Death now births new creatures to live in heaven. And just as we once left our mother’s wombs to find new life outside of it, we will one day leave this world to find new life outside of it.
God is love. The first resurrection was not for His own sake, but for ours. The first resurrection – that is, the resurrection of the one – took place that there might be a resurrection for everyone. Those who died before Christ’s coming rose in a mass exodus from below. Those of us who die since then, go one by one. As one man brought death into the world, so one Man brought life into death. As we had nothing to do with Adam’s bringing the curse of death, so we had nothing to do with Christ’s turning it into a blessing.
It is impossible to overestimate the love and patience of our Creator. Let us give our lives to Him in grateful and reverent response. Let us seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Let us live the remainder of our lives not for the lusts to which we are accustomed, but for the will of God which is that we should love others as He has loved us.
Nevertheless, there are more important details to add to this grand story. We turn to them in the next chapter.
End of Chapter Eight