The Bible teaches that every person who is apart from Christ is spiritually dead as a result of their own sin. If and when any person places their faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they are brought to life spiritually by the saving power of God. In this way, every conversion experience is in essence a spiritual resurrection - a death to the old sinful, carnal self followed by a resuscitation to new life through the grace of almighty God. This unseen resurrection is what Christians symbolize through the practice of baptism.
While this spiritual reality is important for believers to recognize and understand, the theme of this current sermon series has been on physical resurrections. Does the Bible have anything to say regarding this? Will there be a literal, bodily resurrection of Christians someday? What about non-Christians? If there will be, when will these future resurrections take place? What will be the end result of these resurrections?
This morning, in the final sermon of our series “Risen from the Dead”, we will examine the future resurrections of the righteous and the unrighteous. While there are only 10 definitive examples of physical resurrections that took place during historical period covered by the Bible, Scripture states that someday every person who has ever lived will physically rise from the dead. Can you imagine? There will be literally billions of resurrections!
I. TWO FUTURE RESURRECTIONS - John 5:28-29
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. - John 5:28-29
The Bible repeatedly teaches that there will be two great future resurrections. The first of these is called the resurrection of the righteous and the second is called the resurrection of the unrighteous. These two events will occur during the end times. Every person will be physically raised from the dead - either in the first or the second resurrection… but not both.
The resurrection of the righteous will include all people who have placed their faith in God for salvation. This will include those who lived before Jesus yet trusted in the saving power of the coming Messiah (the Old Testament saints), and those who have lived after Jesus that have accepted Him as the Lord and Savior (the Church). The righteous will be raised physically and given glorified, imperishable bodies. Following this resurrection, the righteous will dwell - in both body and spirit - with the LORD in Heaven for all of eternity.
The resurrection of the unrighteous will include all people who have rejected salvation. This will include everyone who has not placed his or her dependent faith in God - either in the hope of a coming Messiah (Old Testament) or in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ (New Testament). All unredeemed, unrighteous people will also be physically raised and given imperishable bodies. Following their resurrection, these will be cast bodily into the lake of fire - aka, Hell - where they will suffer under judgment forever.
II. THE RESURRECTION OF THE RIGHTEOUS
The resurrection of the righteous will take place in various phases. It began with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is called the “firstfruits” of those who have been risen. It was previewed on a small scale by the resurrection of certain Old Testament saints, an event which immediately followed Jesus’ resurrection. We’ve already discussed both of these spectacular miracles in an earlier sermon during this series. These make up the first and second phases of this resurrection.
A. AT THE RAPTURE - 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
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. 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. - 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
The third phase of the resurrection of the righteous will take place at an event called the rapture. Jesus will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the with the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise from their graves to meet the Lord in the air. Immediately thereafter, those Christians who are still alive at the time of His coming will be caught up also to meet the Lord in the air. Together, they will all return physically in their glorified bodies with Jesus to the present Heaven.
Those resurrected and taken during the rapture will include only the Church - ie, those who have accepted Jesus as their Savior during the Church Age. As a reward for their faithful obedience, Christians will not have to endure the 7-year tribulation that will follow the rapture. The terrible atrocities that will take place during the Tribulation are intended as a punishment upon the world for rejecting Jesus. As such, the Church will be spared from this misery. Following the Tribulation, the Church-Age Christians will return physically with Christ at His second coming.
B. AT THE SECOND COMING - Revelation 20:4, Daniel 12:1-2
Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. - Revelation 20:4
During the Tribulation, many people will place their faith in Christ. Despite the absence of God’s church and its influence, there will be people who realize the error of their ways and who turn to the LORD in repentance. They will resist the pressures of the anti-Christ. Most of these Tribulation Saints will be killed for accepting Jesus. These martyrs will be bodily resurrected when Jesus returns at the end of the Tribulation period.
“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” - Daniel 12:1-2
Following the Tribulation, at the Lord’s second coming, all of the Old Testament Saints (excluding the certain ones who already rose in conjunction with Christ’s resurrection) will be physically raised as well. These people, collectively known as Israel, will then experience the fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises which He made to them. The LORD keeps His promises, and He will honor the pledges that He made to Israel during the thousand year period called the Millennium. Following His second coming, Jesus will set-up His earthly kingdom and reign over the earth from Jerusalem.
The resurrection of the Tribulation Saints and the Old Testaments Saints might occur together or separately - who knows? We will call this phase four of the resurrection of the righteous. By this point the Church, the Tribulation Saints, and the Old Testament Saints will all have been physically resurrected and given glorified bodies. Together, the will abide with the LORD eternally.
C. AT THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM
It is possible, perhaps even probable, that people will be born and die during the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth. Some suggest that there will be survivors of the Tribulation who live on into the Millennium. Scholars are divided on this this issue. If any believers actually die during this period, it might necessitate another resurrection following the millennium. The Bible does not speak explicitly about this event, but the implication is there. If there is such a resurrection, it would be the fifth and final phase of the resurrection of the righteous and would occur just prior to the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. It would occur around the same time as resurrection of the unrighteous.
III. THE RESURRECTION OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS - Mark 9:43-48, Revelation 20:13-15
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. - Revelation 20:13-15
The resurrection of the unrighteous will be a single event. It will take place following the Millennial reign of Christ on earth, right before the advent of the New Heavens and New Earth. At the conclusion of Jesus’ thousand year reign, all unsaved people will be resurrected and stand before Jesus at the Great White Throne judgment. There they will be judged based upon the quality of their own works. These works will be completely insufficient to rescue them from condemnation, as they are but filthy rags before the holy LORD.
After receiving their sentence, the unrighteous will be cast alive into Hell. There they will physically suffer under the unrelenting wrath of God forever because they rejected the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. Only those whose names are found written in the Book of Life will avoid this horrific fate.
In the end, every person will be physically resurrected and will dwell bodily in either Heaven or Hell for all of eternity. Thus, the topic of resurrection is central to the Christian faith. This is why we have spent the last month discussing this issue. We as Christians believe in a literal, physical resurrection of the dead to everlasting life which began with the historical and factual resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God has proven His power to raise the dead through the prophets, through the apostles, and ultimately through His own beloved Son. Someday He will raise us all… including you and me. When your personal resurrection day comes, will you be among the righteous or the unrighteous?