ONCE TO DIE
Copyright © 1999 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The Apostle Paul was pressing toward the resurrection from the dead. We think this is the “first resurrection” set forth in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Revelation. We believe also that the first resurrection is very much to be preferred over the general resurrection of the dead and that there is a key to its attainment.
Table of Contents
The Two Resurrections
The First Resurrection Is Preferable
The Key to the First Resurrection
ONCE TO DIE
The Two Resurrections
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, (Hebrews 9:27—NIV)
We have spoken much in other writings concerning the two resurrections from the dead, the resurrection that occurs at the beginning of the thousand-year Kingdom Age and the resurrection at the end of the Kingdom Age, at the time earth and sky flee from the face of God.
At the beginning of the Kingdom Age:
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. (Revelation 20:4—NIV)
At the conclusion of the Kingdom Age:
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. (Revelation 20:12—NIV)
The common interpretation of the two resurrections is that every saved person takes part in the first resurrection and every individual raised in the second resurrection is cast into the Lake of Fire. In our opinion this interpretation raises insurmountable difficulties when the entire Bible is considered.
Our point of view is that the first resurrection is the resurrection of the royal priesthood only and that it must be attained. We think this is the out-resurrection toward which the Apostle Paul was pressing. (Philippians 3:11).
We believe further that the second resurrection is the general resurrection of the dead and that most people raised at this time will be brought into the Kingdom. For example, the ushering into the Kingdom of the sheep nations, as described in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew.
Although some hold that the division between the sheep and goat nations takes place at the coming of the Lord, the time of the first resurrection (and it is possible this is true), our own opinion is that the sheep and goat nations are divided at the time of the second resurrection, at the general resurrection of the dead.
The sheep nations have assisted and blessed the Lord’s brothers, His witnesses. The goat nations are those people who have neglected or persecuted the Lord’s brothers throughout world history.
If the sheep and goat nations are divided at the time of the first resurrection we would have people being led away into the fiery Gehenna prior to the judgment of the White Throne.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41—NIV)
To us this does not appear likely.
It must be remembered that the thousand-year period dividing the two resurrections was not mentioned by the Apostles prior to the writing of the Book of Revelation, except for the implication contained in the Apostle Paul’s mention of the out-resurrection from the dead.
If you will notice the following passage from Second Peter.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. (II Peter 3:10-14—NIV)
Now if you will think carefully about the above you will see that Peter was exhorting the saints to live holy, godly lives because of the coming of the day of God. But the day of God Peter describes comes at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age. It is possible Peter had no idea there would be a resurrection of the royal priesthood a thousand years before the day of God he is pointing toward.
It is obvious from the Scriptures that the first resurrection is that of the royal priesthood, and unless we are ready to send everyone except the members of the royal priesthood to the Lake of Fire, we must accept the fact that most of the people who have lived on the earth will be raised in the second resurrection. We are confident God will judge each person fairly. The righteous will enter the Kingdom (as in the case of the sheep nations) and the wicked will go into the Lake of Fire.
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46—NIV)
In fact, the wording of the text that describes the White Throne judgment implies it is the minority whose names are not found in the Book of Life, and this is what we would expect, unless we imagine that God created billions of people for the purpose of having them suffer endless torment in the Lake of Fire.
If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15—NIV)
“If anyone’s name was not found written.” This to our way of thinking implies it will be the exception whose name is not found written. What do you think about this?
As described in the third chapter of the Book of Philippians we discover the Apostle Paul, toward the end of his life, was laying aside all else that he might attain to the out-resurrection (Greek noun), the resurrection from the dead as compared with the resurrection of the dead.
The contemporary teaching is that every believer automatically will participate in the first resurrection, the resurrection that will take place when Jesus returns. When we read the third chapter of Philippians and observe the extraordinary statement of consecration the aged Apostle was making, and compare this with the relatively casual stance of today’s believers, we are led to believe Paul was seeking something more than we are aware of.
I would suggest the first resurrection must be attained to by total consecration, that a minority of believers are pressing to this level, that those who attain to the first resurrection are a firstfruits to God and the Lamb and will rule with Jesus during the thousand-year Kingdom Age.
I cannot see from the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation, the description of the seven churches of Asia, that any except the victorious saints will rise from the dead and be caught up to meet the Lord when He appears.
I think those who reach Paul’s mark consist of a holy remnant, the true saints of history. I do not observe in the Scriptures that the great majority of God’s elect will participate in the first resurrection.
Jewish Israel and Christian Israel include multitudes of people who have lived or are living lives that come short of the glory of God, as we know from the Scriptures and from our experience. They do not appear to be prepared to govern the nations. Nor do I believe they will be cast into the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is the home of the wicked whether they are Christians or non-Christians, not the future home of all but an elect few of mankind.
The division between the wheat and the tares is not between the Christians and the non-Christians, you may notice (in Matthew, 13), but between the righteous and the wicked.
Since the above seems scriptural and reasonable, perhaps we need to think about the differences between the two resurrections and discover why the Apostle Paul was so intent on attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
The First Resurrection Is Preferable
If you will study the two resurrections mentioned in the twentieth chapter of Revelation you will notice some remarkable differences. One of the more remarkable differences is that no judgment of the individual takes place at the first resurrection (we will have more to say about this later). In fact those who rise in the first resurrection are the judges. Yet the opening of the books of record are the conspicuous aspect of the second resurrection, the resurrection of the dead, the general resurrection of mankind.
Now, what will this mean to you and me?
Picture this. You have died and your body has been interred somewhere. Suddenly you hear the voice of the Lord Jesus.
“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 good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28,29—NIV)
You hear the voice and stand upright on the ground. You look around.
If all you see is saints robed in glorious light you know you have attained to the first resurrection. Soon you are having fellowship with others who are equally astonished at their sudden awakening on the earth.
It comes into your mind there will be no more judgment for you. You had been judged previously during your discipleship on the earth and now you have been sentenced to eternal life and immortality in the Presence of God.
You have no more fear of the dangers to be found on the earth because you are in an incorruptible body. The sky overhead is flaming with light and glory. There comes a militant shout of visible and invisible warriors in the sky. Then you hear what seems to be a voice like thunder, a voice of command. Immediately there is a blaring of trumpets increasing in volume until it seems the earth is shaking.
Then you notice you are not standing on the earth. You are being drawn upward surrounded by multitudes as far as your eye can see. Dimly at first and then with increasing clarity you can observe the armies of Heaven on white horses, all in their places, ready to invade the earth.
You are experiencing wild, exultant joy mixed with astonishment, wonder, and an exciting kind of fear. You sense you are being guided to your place in the army although you cannot tell what is directing you.
There on the leading horse is the One for whom you have been waiting, the mighty Champion on His huge white stallion, His robe dipped in blood. Even though you are one of millions you realize He is looking directly at you and knows all about you.
Events are moving so quickly you hardly have time to meditate on the fact you are beginning a new life of incorruptible immortality in the very Presence of God. You have pleased the Lord. You have entered His joy.
This is what will happen to you in the near future if you have attained to the resurrection from the dead.
But let us say you hear the voice of Jesus and awaken. You stand upright on the ground. As you look about you can see people of all kinds being gathered into groups. Then you notice the ground has disappeared and there is no more sky over you. Instead there is a gigantic white throne as though carved from ivory.
You are with a group of people who seem to be somewhat like yourself. Then you notice someone you recognize, one of your friends from church.
The two of you talk and wonder why you are not being caught up to Jesus to return with Him to your mansion in Heaven. Instead there is only this huge throne that seems to overshadow everything.
As you discuss this you begin to think, “Where did I read about a white throne? Didn’t the white throne have something to do with the unsaved? About people being cast into the Lake of Fire?”
Slowly you come to realize the thousand years have already passed and you are going to be judged for your works. You know also that the maximum penalty that can be imposed by the Court is eternal confinement in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.
Now you are beyond all terror, only numb as you wait for your name to be called and the books opened that contain all you have thought, said, and done during your lifetime.
There is no earth to stand on, no way to faint or die. You are being held in the hand of God Almighty. Now you must wait to know the verdict of the Court.
Please do not regard the above as idle words. They are what the Scriptures teach. The Christian formula of how to be saved is terribly lacking in substance and truth. The prime error of today’s Christian teaching is that once we “accept Christ” it is not critically important how we behave.
We are teaching and believing error!
Notice the words that the Lord Jesus spoke to some church people:
I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:23—NIV)
“I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
We are so abysmally deceived that when we read the Lord’s warnings in the unchangeable book of Revelation we think “I am saved by grace” and are blinded to what we are reading. We do not stop and realize, “the people being addressed by the Lord and warned were also Christians who were ‘saved by grace.’” We have been terribly, horribly deceived!
The Key to the First Resurrection
The issue of the two resurrections is that of judgment, of when we are judged and delivered from sin.
As we mentioned previously, in order to attain to the first resurrection you must have been judged by the Lord, and found worthy to be with Him forever, in advance of the resurrection. The first resurrection is the sentence of the Court handed down, that you are to be raised, filled with eternal life and immortality, and assigned a place in the army of the Lord that will descend from the air and install the Kingdom of God on the earth.
Obviously it is not possible to be raised from the dead, filled with eternal life and immortality, and after that be judged.
If we are not judged before the time of the first resurrection we will have to wait until the thousand-year Kingdom Age has transpired. Then we shall be raised from the dead and stand before Christ and His saints at the great White Throne. We shall be judged fairly according to our behavior on the earth, exactly as described by the Apostle Paul.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:10—NIV)
If Christ finds us worthy we will be admitted to His new heaven and earth reign. We will be given eternal life at that time, just as in the case of the sheep nations of Matthew, Chapter Twenty-five.
We must remember also there are fates other than the Lake of Fire that are reserved for the Lord’s servants, such as outer darkness and lashes. How and when these will be administered we are not certain. However, it seems reasonable that outer darkness, the loss of our talent, salvation by fire, and lashes are not the same as that ultimate punishment—eternal incarceration in the Lake of Fire.
The Scriptures do not speak only of Hell and Heaven but of a diversity of possible destinies ranging from a position in the Throne of Christ all the way down to the Lake of Fire. According to the Scriptures, it is our behavior that determines our destiny, how we use our talents, whether we did the Lord’s will, and so forth.
We can see from this that our contemporary teaching has removed grace from its proper role in the Divine redemption and is using it as a blanket amnesty, a huge screen that prevents God from seeing our conduct. The way we are using grace is making Jesus Christ the minister of sin, the destroyer of God’s intention to make man in His image.
“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!” (Galatians 2:17—NIV)
No, the New Testament in numerous passages reveals that we determine our destiny in the Kingdom of God by our behavior today. To teach otherwise is to take a few verses, deduce “another gospel” from them, and ignore the bulk of God’s Words to us.
The Lord is going to reward Christians, as well as all other human beings, precisely according to their works. Those who patiently practice righteousness will attain glory and immortality. Those who persist in wicked behavior will reap indignation and wrath. The Scriptures cannot be changed.
God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Romans 2:6-8—NIV)
We may read the above passage and immediately reject it because our perceptive processes have been violated by the current teaching of grace. We think it does not apply to us.
But the above stands true whether or not we have received Christ. The believers attain to eternal life by persistence in doing good. If this is not addressed to believers then we are saying the unbelievers can attain to eternal life by persistence in doing good. The truth is, God will reveal His Christ to those who persist in doing good, just as He did to Cornelius and his household.
We have said the resurrection in which we participate depends on the time when we are judged. If we are judged and accepted by the Lord Jesus prior to the first resurrection, then we are eligible to be raised and caught up to meet Christ in the air. If we have not been judged by that time we must wait for the resurrection that will take place before the White Throne. Sooner or later we will be judged!
You can claim “grace” all you want to. It is your future I am concerned about. If I should prove to be correct, and you do not make the effort to attain to the first resurrection from the dead, and wake up to find yourself before the White Throne, I won’t even say “I told you so.”
“But where will I be before I am awakened?” I don’t know, probably in a place that accepts your kind of behavior would be my guess. We have a lot of mythology about what happens to us when we die but very little of it has clear scriptural support.
The issue is the point at which you are judged. The Bible says, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment.” Therefore we know you will be judged after you die.
I would submit to you that the proper orientation to the Christian salvation, an orientation not always presented in our day, is our death and resurrection with Jesus Christ.
We have to count ourselves as dead with Him and risen with Him. Until we do this we are not a true Christian but merely a religious person.
I would submit further that God regards your profession of death as a real death, not a figure of speech—a death more real than physical death, which the Scriptures sometimes refer to as “sleep.”
Most believers, it appears, are bent on saving their life. When we preach against worldliness, lust, and selfish-ambition they may appear to agree but they do not intend to go to such lengths in serving the Lord. They know they are going to continue in their worldly ways. They know there are lusts and passions in their flesh they are not going to renounce. They know they are going to follow their own path through life and not give all to Jesus.
They are not going to deny themselves, take up their personal cross, and follow the Lord wherever He leads them.
They are not going to lose their life in Him, they are going to save their life.
If you don’t believe me, look around you. How many believers do you know who truly are denying themselves and carrying their cross behind Jesus? These are the only true Christians, the remainder are churchgoers.
The point is this: as soon as we die after this fashion, God is free to judge us, for it is appointed to people once to die and after this the judgment.
The fires of Divine judgment fall on our love of the world. We have to confess our love of the world, judge it as sin, and ask God to remove it from us. It is an eternal judgment of our love of the world.
The fires of Divine judgment fall on the lusts and passions of our flesh and soul. We have to confess these lusts and passions as the Spirit directs us, judge them as sin, and ask God to remove them all from us. It is an eternal judgment of the lusts of the flesh and soul.
The fires of Divine judgment fall on our personal ambition, our desire for achievement and importance, our lust for preeminence, our self-will, self-centeredness, self-love. We have to confess our self-seeking, rebellion against God’s will, and stubbornness as sin. We have to ask God to burn them out of us. It is an eternal judgment of the core of our adamic nature.
We must through the Spirit of God put to death the deeds of our body. We do this a step at a time. Each day the Lord God presents us with a challenge concerning some area of our personality. Each day the Lord God gives us grace to overcome the evil. All the promises of power and authority in the Kingdom of God are made to the overcomers, the conquering saints.
If you will follow the Lord diligently and carefully through the program of eternal judgment you will then be ready for the first resurrection from the dead, the resurrection the Apostle Paul was pursuing.
To be among the Lord’s firstfruits, to be raised from the dead in the day of His appearing, to be caught up to be forever with Him, are prizes well worth your seeking.
Notice the following verse:
Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” (Revelation 14:13—NIV)
“From now on” refers to the time begins when Antichrist and his image are worshiped. From that time those who “die in the Lord” will be blessed, for their deeds will follow them.
Our opinion of the meaning of this extraordinary verse is that when the pressures of the world order become too great for Christians (or anyone else) to resist, the only people who will be able to show forth deeds of righteousness will be those who have counted themselves dead with Christ and risen with Christ—I mean who really have done this. Many churchgoers will say they are dead with Christ and risen with Christ but they merely are making an assertion of belief, they are not truly living in such a manner.
Also please note:
… And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God… (Revelation 20:4—NIV)
Now, think about this. How many Christians have actually died by having their heads cut off? Numerous Christians have been tortured and then shot to death, or hung, or burned at the stake.
Why single out those who have been “beheaded”?
Many statements of the Book of Revelation, unlike the Epistles, are definitely allegorical. Notice below:
The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. (Revelation 9:1—NIV)
Stars do not carry keys and they are many, many times larger than our planet. So we know Revelation 9:1 is allegorical. There are several such examples of allegory in the Book of Revelation.
From our point of view, the reference to “beheaded” is allegorical and refers to the kind of death to which we have been referring. The greatest battle we have, when we decide to “die in the Lord,” is with our mind. It is the mind Satan attacks when he sets out to deceive us.
The true servants of the Lord are blind and deaf to the world. They see what God is doing and hear what God is saying. They have died to the impulse to judge other people. Like their Lord, they judge as they hear from God. If you imagine waiting to hear God’s judgment before you start evaluating people is not a real “beheading” you haven’t tried it.
It is appointed to people to die once and after this be judged. If we are willing to reckon we have died with Christ and been raised with Christ, God will then begin to judge us. We refuse to live according to our adamic nature. We pray and keep on pressing ever closer to Jesus so our adamic nature might be rendered powerless and our new born-again Divine nature might prevail.
We continue on in this path, dying and living; being judged and having our sins forgiven and rendered powerless, the life being removed from them by God’s very Presence. We never cease but are found at the time of our physical death walking in continual turning away from sin and embracing Jesus.
The Lord will accept absolutely nothing less than this from the candidates for the first resurrection, the resurrection out from among the dead.
The choice is yours. The ball is in your court. You are not going to be raised at the time of the Lord’s appearing just because you took the “four steps of salvation.” You have to present your body a living sacrifice. You have to take up your cross and follow Jesus. You have to count every achievement of your life as garbage that you may gain Christ. You have to learn to live by the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.
Having done all, stand in faith. When the Lord comes He will remove every vestige of sin and self-will from you, fill you with Divine Life, and give you an immortal body.
The first resurrection was the mark toward which the Apostle Paul was pressing with all that was in him. He invites you to join him in reaching for the prize, the heavenly calling of God in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:15,16—NIV)
(“Once to Die”, 3364-1)