“If Christians have already died and are in heaven with the Saviour, why would their bodies rise from the grave?”
This question came to me from a Bible study group looking at the following passage:
“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)
Studied against the broader teaching of scripture we come to see that this passage is referring to two separate instances of resurrection: first the resurrection of the believers, and later the resurrection of the lost. More on this later, but for now let’s consideration the resurrection of believers…
In 1 Corinthians 15:50-54 Paul writes,
I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 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. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
When a believer dies his soul goes immediately into the presence of the Lord, as Jesus promised the repentant thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). We understand from Revelation 6:9-11 (and other passages) that these souls are conscious entities.
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
These souls are presently bodiless. Judgment against their murderers has not yet occurred and they are asking how long it will be until this happens – i.e. until the end of the age and the Judgment of mankind. They are told to wait. More souls would yet join them after which would come the judgement — the end of the Age, “the last trumpet,” spoken of above in the Corinthian passage.
Many Christians tend to think that this spiritual only existence of our souls will be our state for all eternity. But Paul clearly talks about this mortal being transformed… putting on immortality… the redemption of God is ultimately a complete redemption. He transforms this mortal body into an immortal body, this perishable body into an glorified and imperishable one. This all happens at the end of the age, at the return of Christ.
Paul comforts The Thessalonians with these words,
…we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:15-18)
Jesus returns… there is a shout… there is the trumpet call of God, and the bodies of all believers emerge from their burial places, or scattered atoms, or far corners of space, and in an instant are transformed from mortal, perishable bodies to immortal, imperishable bodies. (The souls under the altar along with the rest are now clothed in their imperishable forms.) Then believers who are still alive are caught up and transformed instantly as well so that those who died and those who never tasted death are all transformed and together as similar immortal, imperishable and glorified beings “and so we will be with the Lord forever.”
This is “the first resurrection” spoken of in Revelation 20, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:6) Another resurrection comes later: the resurrection of the lost, followed by their final and eternal judgment.
Here are some further passages that address the two resurrections and the fate of the lost…
Daniel 12:2 – Daniels vision of the end times…
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Acts 24:14,15 Paul’s trial before Felix…
“…I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
Rev.. 20:11-15 – The Judgment of the Dead…
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Which resurrection will you take part in?
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