THE SECOND RESURRECTION (EXCERPT OF THE FIRST AND SECOND RESURRECTIONS)
From: The First and Second Resurrections
Copyright © 1998 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
There are two resurrections from the dead. The first will take place at the beginning of the thousand-year period. The second will occur at the end of the thousand-year period.
It is taught commonly that every person who is saved will participate in the first resurrection, and all other people—those who are reunited with their bodies at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age—will be assigned to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire. It is our opinion that this doctrine is in error.
The first resurrection from the dead, that which will take place when the Lord Jesus returns from Heaven, is described as follows:
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
This is the first resurrection of the saints. There is no resurrection or ascension of the Christian saints prior to this one, as we understand the Scriptures.
The next verse assures us no person will be resurrected after the first resurrection until the end of the thousand-year period:
But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This [living again] is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:5)
There are two resurrections from the dead. The first one takes place at the beginning of the thousand-year period. The second one takes place at the end of the thousand-year period.
It is taught commonly that every person who is saved will participate in the first resurrection, and all other people—those who are reunited with their bodies at the end of the thousand-year period—will be assigned to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire. It is our opinion that this doctrine is in error.
There are two reasons why we believe this commonly taught doctrine is incorrect. First, it gives rise to a serious problem with respect to the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation. Second, the twentieth chapter of the Book of Revelation, the chapter that describes the two resurrections, does not state or imply that the first resurrection is the general resurrection of salvation or that all who participate in the second resurrection will be cast into the Lake of Fire.
Let us discuss first the serious problem of consistency of doctrine produced by the belief that every person who is to be saved will rise to meet the Lord in the first resurrection. After this we will examine the statements found in Chapter 20 of Revelation that, to our way of thinking, do not support the belief that all the saved are in the first resurrection or that all who are in the second resurrection will be assigned to the Lake of Fire.
The second and third chapters of Revelation describe the seven churches in Asia. Many Christian scholars believe these seven golden lampstands refer to the Christian churches on the earth. In some instances it appears that only a minority of the members of the churches have met the standards Christ has set for the victorious saints.
The church in Sardis is an example. Here was a Christian church that had a reputation among believers for being alive. Therefore it was a growing, vital congregation or group of congregations. It is likely the church in Sardis was made up of many believers in Christ, as undoubtedly was true of the other six churches of Asia.
But what did Christ state concerning the church in Sardis? “You have a few names even in Sardis who are worthy to walk with me in white” (from Revelation 3:4).
The inference is clear that the majority of Christians in Sardis were not worthy to walk with Christ in white, as was true also of some of the members of the other churches in Asia.
Yet those who attain the first resurrection from the dead (Revelation 20:4-6), the blessed and holy royal priesthood of God, most assuredly have been found worthy to walk with Christ in the white robes of the priesthood.
It appears that the majority of the Christians in Sardis do not qualify for the first resurrection from the dead, according to what is written in Revelation 20:4-6 or according to what is implied by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:11,12. The commonly taught doctrine we mentioned previously as being in error insists that only those who participate in the first resurrection are saved, and all other persons who have lived on the earth are doomed to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.
Therefore the second and third chapters of Revelation added to verses four through six of the twentieth chapter indicate (if we are to hold to the current belief) that only the victorious saints are saved from the Lake of Fire. It follows, then, that all other persons, including all weak Christians, and all who have never heard the Gospel, are doomed to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.
The following two verses speak of the salvation of Christians who are not victorious saints:
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (I Corinthians 3:15)
deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (I Corinthians 5:5)
We see from the above that it cannot be true that only the victorious saints are saved. Since those who attain the first resurrection obviously are the victorious saints, according to Revelation 20:4-6, we are brought to the conclusion that the majority of those who are saved are brought to life, not in the first resurrection from the dead but in the second resurrection from the dead.
But we have ground even more solid than the above argument. We have the very words of the twentieth chapter of Revelation to demonstrate that many—perhaps most—of the people who are saved will be raised in the second resurrection, not in the first.
In beginning the study of Chapter Twenty, let us examine the text of verses four through six.
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This [living again] is the first resurrection.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power [authority], but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)
Is not this passage speaking only of the victorious saints, of God’s priests and kings—those who will assist in establishing the Kingdom of God on the earth? Nothing is said here about the salvation of mankind!
The first resurrection from the dead is not the resurrection of salvation. It is a special advance resurrection for the purpose of changing the occupants of the spiritual thrones that govern the earth from fallen angels to the saints of the Lord, the Lord’s conquerors. There is nothing in Revelation 20:4-6 suggesting that this is the resurrection of salvation or that it is the time when the eternal destinies of most people are decided.
An individual who has had no previous theological training would view Revelation 20:4-6 as referring to especially stalwart and dedicated saints, particularly the victorious saints of the tribulation period. He would not see in this passage a reference to the multitude of weak, ignorant believers of Church history.
As we understand it, the first resurrection takes place at the beginning of the thousand-year period and is for the purpose of establishing the Kingdom of God on the earth. It is the second resurrection that has as its purpose the judgment of people and their entrance into life or into the second death.
It is the second resurrection that is the resurrection of salvation.
The first resurrection has to do with the rulership of the earth. The second resurrection has to do with being saved or being lost.
Peter understood this to be the case. He discusses the need for repentance. Then he speaks of the coming of the Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment.
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)
It may be noted (above) that Peter overlooks the thousand-year period, proceeding immediately to the time of the second resurrection. It is as though the first resurrection does not exist.
The first resurrection, toward which Paul was pressing to the end of his days on the earth, is the resurrection of the victorious saints. It is the gathering of God’s kings and priests to Himself so they may descend with Jesus and work with Him in setting up the Kingdom of God.
Whoever attains the first resurrection need have no fear of the Day of Judgment at the end of the Millennium. The second death, the Lake of Fire, no longer can harm him. It no longer has authority over him.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death [lake of fire].”’ (Revelation 2:11)
He will have boldness in the Day of Judgment. Blessed and holy indeed is he who has part in the first resurrection.
if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection [Greek: out-resurrection] from the dead. (Philippians 3:11)
To attain the first resurrection from the dead requires the total dedication of all we are and all we possess. But the sufferings we endure, as all we are and all we possess pass through the process of death and resurrection in Christ, are not to be compared with the incomprehensible glory that will be revealed in the sons of God (Romans 8:18).
The first resurrection from the dead is the gathering to Jesus of His “mighty men” so they may be with Him and reign with Him forever. They are free from all the authority of the second death, the Lake of Fire.
Let us examine what the Scripture states concerning the second resurrection from the dead. Does it state that all who participate are doomed to the Lake of Fire, as is commonly taught, or does it state that only some will be cast into the Lake of Fire?
The current Christian position is that everyone who is to be saved will be raised at the beginning of the thousand-year period, while all who are raised in the second resurrection will be cast into the second death, which is the Lake of Fire. The writer’s position is that at the last judgment only a few will be assigned to this most dreadful of fates while the majority will enter life in the new age.
What does the Scripture state? The Holy Spirit certainly would be clear in describing anything as important as the eternal destiny of a human being. Let us not add to or subtract from what is declared in the written Word.
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. (Revelation 20:12)
This precisely is what will take place. In the second resurrection, each human being (except the victorious saints, God’s kings and priests of the first resurrection, who already have been judged) will be judged according to his works. This is what the Scriptures state. It cannot be changed.
Perhaps the principal argument of those who hold that all who appear at the second resurrection will be cast into the Lake of Fire is that the dead, at the second resurrection, are judged according to their works. Much present-day doctrine claims that God does not judge the works of the believer. Therefore no believer is present at the second resurrection.
This may be a “logical” conclusion but it is not supported by Scripture. The Scripture teaches that all persons, believers and nonbelievers alike, will be judged and will receive the consequences of their behavior.
For we [Christians and everyone else] must all appear [be revealed, manifest] before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:10)
Many Christians hold that the white throne judgment that comes at the end of the thousand-year period is not the Judgment Seat of Christ. The truth is, Revelation 20:11-15 is describing the Judgment Seat of Christ, because it is a judgment seat and it is the Lord Jesus Christ who judges men. It also is true that the members of the royal priesthood that were raised at the beginning of the thousand-year Kingdom Age will be seated with Christ in the Judgment Seat and participate with Him in the judgment of the world and of angels.
“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, (John 5:22)
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? (I Corinthians 6:2,3)
The Father judges no one. Only Christ judges. All are standing in the Presence of Almighty God but only Christ and His saints (who have been judged previously) perform the work of judging (Acts 17:31).
Christ’s work of judging has commenced already and it has begun with the household of God (I Peter 4:17). The work of judging will continue until the end of the thousand-year period. All human beings, saved and unsaved alike, will appear at one time or another before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The dead are judged “according to their works” (Revelation 20:12); “according to that he has done” (II Corinthians 5:10).
Speaking to the members of His churches, Christ warns: “I will give to every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23).
Can we claim that no Christian will appear at the last judgment and be judged according to his works, when Christ says to the members of the “lampstand” of Thyatira, “I will give to every one of you according to your works”?
who “will render to each one according to his deeds”:
eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;
but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, (Romans 2:6-8)
“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. (Revelation 22:12)
“According to your works” (Revelation 2:23).
“According to their works” (Revelation 20:12).
“According to what he has done” (II Corinthians 5:10).
“To every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:6).
“give to every one according to his work” (Revelation 22:12).
“Will give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).
Since Revelation 2:23, Romans 14:10-12, and II Corinthians 5:10 are spoken directly to Christians, and Romans 2:6 and Revelation 22:12 were written to God’s people and no doubt are meant to apply to God’s people (as well as to all other people), the claim of Christian teachers that Revelation 20:12 cannot possibly apply to believers in Christ because it is a judgment of works appears to be on shaky ground indeed.
Not only the above, but the tenor of the writings of Paul, John, the writer of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude is that all persons who have lived on the earth, including Christians, will be rewarded according to their works. The same is true of the teachings of John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and all the teachers and prophets of Israel.
Current Christian teaching concerning the consequences of the behavior of the believers in Christ is incorrect and dangerously misleading. It has destroyed the moral character of the members of the Christian churches The Scriptures cannot be changed without dreadful consequences.
The final judgment of every person, except those who attain (arrive at) the first resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:11), will take place at the second resurrection from the dead.
Where does salvation by faith in Christ fit into this picture? First of all, let us realize the early apostles did not preach faith in Christ as a means of escape from Hell when we die. Escape from Hell is not emphasized in their writings as the briefest of surveys will reveal. The wages of sin is not Hell but death.
The writings of the New Testament do not stress faith in Christ as an escape from Hell when we die. Rather, they present faith in Christ as the means of obtaining “eternal life”. Eternal life always produces righteous behavior, and righteous behavior in Christ brings eternal life. It is the righteous behavior that Christ works in us that demonstrates our deliverance from the life and power of Hell. Even with this the tongue of some believers is “set on fire of hell” (Gehenna—James 3:6).
What kind of salvation did the early apostles preach? They preached salvation in the Day of the Lord, in the Day of Wrath, in the Day of God. They spoke very little of what happens to us when we die physically. The emphasis was on what will happen to us when Christ returns to earth.
When the apostles and teachers of the early Church preached salvation in the Day of Christ they were referring to being preserved and blessed during two principal events:
- During the work of judgment that will accompany the setting up of the Kingdom (which the apostles apparently thought would take place in their own day).
- During the work of judgment that will take place at the end of the thousand-year period, at which time Christ will decide who will enter eternal life on the new earth and who will be banished from the Presence of the Creator and cast into the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, there to be tormented forever.
But doesn’t Paul, In I Thessalonians, Chapter Four and I Corinthians, Chapter Fifteen appear to teach that all those who are part of Christ will be changed at His appearing and His Kingdom and then will be caught up to meet Him in the clouds?
Yes, that indeed is the teaching of Paul and that is what will occur. The resurrection and ascension of First Thessalonians, Chapter Four and First Corinthians, Chapter Fifteen is the first resurrection from the dead. There can be no ascension before the resurrection, and there can be no resurrection from the dead before the “first” resurrection (of Revelation 20:4-6) because that would be a contradiction in terms.
Also, according to the Scripture, there can be no resurrection after the first resurrection until the thousand-year period has been concluded. Therefore, I Thessalonians 4:16, I Corinthians 15:52, and Revelation 20:4-6 are all referring to the same event.
If one interprets Paul as meaning all who make a profession of Christ will take part in I Thessalonians 4:16 and I Corinthians 15:52, then all the believers in Christ already have, by virtue of their profession of faith, attained the first resurrection from the dead.
If such were the case, the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation would have little meaning. They would be idle words.
The error in understanding arises from the difference between what Paul meant by the “dead in Christ” and what we mean today by the dead in Christ. Because of the current misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching concerning the grace of God in Christ, particularly his teaching in Chapters Three through Five of the Book of Romans, we have come to believe to be “in Christ” means to make a profession of belief in the facts concerning Christ’s atoning death and bodily resurrection.
The truth is, Paul taught vigorously that Christians who practice sin cannot enter the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21; and many other such admonitions).
The writings of the Apostles reveal that their concept of what it means to be “in Christ” was substantially different from what we mean today by being “saved.” The normal expectation (of the Apostles), which is our reasonable, proper Divine service, is that we present our body a living sacrifice to the Lord.
Total consecration is required of the Christian disciple. The demand of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel accounts, is that the disciple lay down his life, take up his cross, and follow Him. This is what it means to be a Christian.
It appears that there are not many scriptural Christians in the Christian churches!
It indeed is a fact that every true saint, every true member of the Body of Christ, will be raised at the coming of the Lord. But do you remember what the Lord Jesus said to the Christians in Sardis? “You have a few names even in Sardis.” A “few names,” a few members of the Christian church of Sardis whom the Lord found worthy to walk with Him in the white robes of righteousness.
Would we be interpreting Christ correctly if we understood His warning to mean of all those who were professing faith in Him in Sardis, only a few were worthy to meet Him at His appearing? “Worthy” on what basis? Were they worthy because they had made a profession of belief in His atoning death and bodily resurrection? This is a nonsensical, mischievous interpretation proceeding from the current frivolous Christian assumptions. It is calculated to tickle the ears of today’s lukewarm church attenders. It makes the Word of God have no effect.
If only a few of the believers in Sardis were worthy (because of their behavior) to walk with Christ in white, are we then ready to cast the remainder, the “foolish virgins,” into the Lake of fire and sulfur, there to be tormented for eternity without hope of reprieve?
What will be the destiny of the majority of the believers of Sardis? Do the Scriptures assign them to the incomprehensible terrors of the Lake of Fire?
Are we prepared to state that only the overcomers, the victorious saints, will be delivered from the second death? If that is our position (and it is not scriptural, according to our understanding), then we have concluded that only a small minority of Christian people will escape the Lake of Fire; because it is obvious in the present hour the majority of professing Christians are not patiently carrying their cross after the Lord.
The understanding of the writer is that most of Christendom is not of Christ but is Babylon (man-directed Christianity)—the whore riding on the scarlet-colored beast. Jesus Himself stated that in the last days the love of the majority would grow cold (Matthew 24:12). It appears that today there is but a handful of true saints in each Christian church, and sometimes none at all.
Even though we believe in any given assembly only a few are Christians in the scriptural meaning of the term, we still are not ready to assign the remainder of the congregation to eternity in the Lake of Fire.
The lukewarm remainder will receive punishment because they did not do what was commanded them. They may be spiritually naked in the Day of the Lord; they may be led away into outer darkness; they may weep and gnash their teeth as they see the saints in the light and glory of the Kingdom; their inheritance may be taken from them and given to another.
Those who worship the Antichrist will be tormented forever.
“And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:11)
But to assign the multitude of weak, ignorant believers, and all those who never have heard the Gospel message, to eternity in the Lake of Fire is, from our point of view, to go beyond the Scriptures. We do not conceive of God as the kind of person who would create billions of human beings with the knowledge that the majority of them are destined to spend eternity as raving maniacs in the Lake of Fire, breathing acrid smoke, faced continually with the unbelievably horrible, merciless, unloving hordes of Satan’s angels.
It seems to us that Christian preachers who are willing to assign most human beings to an eternity of incomprehensible suffering have not spent much time meditating on what they believe and teach.
Let us interject at this point our unswerving conviction that there is a Lake of Fire, a place designed for the devil and his angels, and that some human beings will spend eternity there.
Our objection is to the part of Christian teaching that cannot be defended from the Scriptures, that is a mixture of Scripture and tradition. The concept that the first resurrection is for the saved and the second resurrection is for the lost is inconsistent with passages that bear on the destiny of human beings. The idea is an easy conclusion to come to but it is not scriptural. It destroys the attempt to construct a logical, consistent model of the destiny of man—logical and consistent in terms of all that the Scriptures have to say on the subject.
It is unscriptural to condemn to the Lake of Fire those who never have heard the Gospel on the basis that they never have “accepted Christ.” Yet there are Christian teachers who condemn the ignorant to the eternal flames. In some instances such teachers assign babies to the Lake of Fire if they have not been baptized in water.
Several passages teach that those who have but little understanding from God are not judged on the same basis as those who have greater understanding.
“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
“He who hates Me hates My Father also.
“If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. (John 15:22-24)
Those who are ready to condemn to incomprehensible, eternal suffering all but their own group are revealing the hardness of heart of the Pharisee.
We go beyond the Scriptures when we condemn to the Lake of Fire all except those who have adhered to our formula for salvation. We stress the “four steps of salvation” and overlook the fact that the Lord, when accepting or rejecting people, always proceeds on the basis of their deeds rather than their profession of doctrinal belief.
“But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him. (Acts 10:35)
When the Lord Jesus described His second coming, and the danger at that time to people who are not pleasing Him, He never once mentioned our belief in doctrine. His warning always had to do with how we have managed our talents, how we treated our fellow servants, whether or not we gave a cup of water to His brothers. Never did the Lord make belief in doctrine an issue.
The Lord Jesus did state we must believe in Him. But His point was that because of our belief in Him we would do what He taught. It never was and never will be the teaching of the Lord Jesus that our belief in Him is to be an abstract “faith,” an alternative to faithful obedience to His commands; that such an abstract theological profession is to serve as a magic formula that guarantees our entrance to eternal Paradise. Yet this is the concept conveyed by those who stress the “four steps of salvation” apart from a disciplined following of the Lord.
“Accepting Christ” in this abstract theological sense has taken the place of receiving the resurrected Rabbi of Nazareth and following Him in stern obedience every day of our life. It is this substitution of a doctrinal stance for an actual cleaving in love to the risen Lord that has made current Christianity the enemy of Christ. We are not accepting Jesus, we are accepting doctrine. There is a difference between these two definitions of “faith.”
The standard of discipleship set forth by Jesus, by Paul, by the writer of Hebrews, by James, by Peter, by John, and by Jude are not being met by most believers, it appears. But a few believers are meeting this rigorous standard. These are the saints, the true members of the Body of Christ. They are the people who are being addressed in I Thessalonians 4:16, I Corinthians 15:52, and Revelation 20:4-6. As we understand the Scriptures, the remainder of those who call themselves Christians will be judged according to their works, in the second resurrection from the dead.
What kind of works will be judged at the second resurrection?
It is not the number of our sinful deeds that will determine whether we are assigned to eternal life or to the Lake of Fire.
All liars, all adulterers, all murderers will have their part in the Lake of Fire, unless the Lord Jesus decides to deliver them from Satan. Every human being was born in sin, in lawlessness. Therefore the issue at the last judgment is not whether or not we have sinned. All of us have sinned, and all sinners are condemned to death.
The following concept is important to understand. It is hoped the reader will give careful thought to it. It is this: we are not saved to eternal life because we do not practice the sins of the flesh. Rather, salvation and eternal life are the deliverance from the sins of the flesh. God does not save us because we do not sin. Rather, it is God’s salvation that delivers us from the bondage of sin.
If the Lord Jesus Christ decides to admit us to eternal life (and He alone is the Judge), He will deliver us from the bondages of sin and self-will. Deliverance from sin is a sentence of the court rather than the basis on which we are judged.
Judgment on the sins of the flesh is a judgment against Satan rather than against people—until such time as we choose to adopt as our own the satanic behavior. Once we decide that we do not desire deliverance, choosing instead to justify our sins, hardening our heart against Jesus and embracing Satan—at that time we become the enemy of God and stand directly in danger of becoming a coheir with Satan of eternal punishment.
If the judgment of the last day is not based on the fact that we are bound by sin (since we are born that way and in a sense are a victim rather than a culprit), on what basis will the dead be judged? If the dead are judged according to their works, and the works under review are not the natural fruit of the sin in which we were born, what, then, are the works God will judge?
The basis for the last judgment is how we lived our lives. Did we obey our conscience? Were we a person of integrity? More especially, did we put God and people first or were we bent on serving our own good at whatever cost to others?
If we were given the chance to hear the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, how did we respond? Did we waste the talents given to us? Did we take up our cross and follow the Lord? Were we diligent? Did we waste our life on what is unprofitable? Did we neglect our salvation?
Can you see that God does not condemn us because we are bound in sin? In fact, it is the chains of sin that themselves are the judgment of God on us. God does not judge us because of the sin that causes us to do things of which we do not approve and from which we wish we could be delivered. Rather, God judges us on the basis of what we are able to do.
If we do the good we are able to do (with Christ’s help if we are a disciple, and by conscience if we have not heard the Gospel), then our sentence is to enter the Kingdom, into eternal life: that is, to be released from the bondages of sin and to be permitted to live in the redeeming Presence of God’s Christ.
By doing good we are not speaking of hearing the Gospel and then attempting to live a moral life instead of receiving God’s Redeemer. Neither are we referring to attempting to impress God by some great achievement in church work. Rather we are indicating good moral works that spring from an upright conscience. These are acceptable to God.
And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. (Acts 10:4)
“Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God”!
The good works of Cornelius were accepted apart from receiving Christ. Of course, Cornelius could not receive eternal life until he came to the Author of Life, Christ. But his good works, his righteousness, were a “memorial before God” and moved God to bring him to Jesus for salvation.
If Christ decides to receive us because he has found our faith and character to be worthy of salvation, either in the first or the second resurrection, we will be released from all bondages of sin and death and brought into eternal life.
God does not ask that we accomplish things for Him. Rather, He commands us to walk before Him and be perfect (Genesis 17:1). The emphasis is on our responding to Him perfectly. It is the Spirit of God who accomplishes the eternal works of the Kingdom (Zechariah 4:6).
In some instances, prominent leaders of the churches are proud, self-centered people. They think that because they have been active in the “work of God” their personal selfishness and self-seeking, their treachery toward their fellow believers, will be overlooked. But when they stand before God they will be condemned. Their works will be burned and they themselves may be cast into outer darkness.
On the other hand, an individual who lived and died on a remote island or in a jungle somewhere, who never heard of Jesus but who behaved according to his conscience and was regarded as an honorable person by his peers, may very well be welcomed by Christ into the Kingdom of God—as was the thief on the cross.
Which kind of person would you prefer to have living next to you in the new world: a self-willed, proud church leader who is doctrinally correct, who has “accepted Jesus”; or a kindhearted, honest soul who has never heard the Gospel?
Which one would the Lord Jesus prefer to be with?
It is those with an “honest and good heart” who are able to enter the Kingdom (Luke 8:15).
We Christians place far too much emphasis on religion and not nearly enough on what kind of person we are. But God virtually ignores the religion in favor of what kind of person we are (as measured by our behavior). It is the purpose of religion to make us better people, not more fervent, more accurate religionists. Christ welcomes people, not religion. He is a Savior and King, not a theologian or the leader of a religion.
Please note that in our argument concerning the importance of true faith and good character in the plan of redemption we are not stating that an individual is free to reject Jesus in favor of pleasing God by his own righteousness. Rather, we are setting forth the vital concept that God is not impressed by our profession of belief in Jesus unless that profession includes thorough repentance and a willingness to follow the living Jesus every day.
We are saying also God judges those who have heard the Gospel on a different basis than is true of those who have not heard. It is a Kingdom principle that men are judged on the basis of the light they have received. God would be unrighteous if He condemned people on the basis of light they have not received.
For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law
(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified [declared righteous];
for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,
who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)
in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Romans 2:12-16)
We see in the above passage the importance of conscience. We see also the heartless Christian formula that emphasizes that all who have not received Jesus during their lifetime on the earth, whether or not they have heard the Gospel, are doomed to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire, runs counter to the Kingdom principle that God judges by the Law only those who have been given the Law. The remainder are judged in terms of how they responded to their conscience.
(For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed [ascribed] when there is no law. (Romans 5:13)
“Sin is not imputed [ascribed] when there is no law.”
God does not judge people on the basis of what they do not know but what they do know.
The eternal moral law of God is a light that reveals our sins. Until that light shines, sin is dead and we are alive. But when God’s light appears, sin comes to life and we die.
But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead.
I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. (Romans 7:8,9)
God is strict but never unreasonable. He holds no man guilty of rejecting Christ until Christ has been presented to him. To teach otherwise is to go beyond the Scripture and to accuse God of manifest unrighteousness.
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)
“How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?”
Those who choose not to believe in Jesus are under condemnation. But they cannot choose to believe or disbelieve until they hear!
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
When the light of the Lord Jesus comes, people must choose that Light. But they cannot choose the light until they behold it.
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (John 3:19)
All except the victorious saints will be raised and judged at the end of the thousand-year period. Those whom the Lord regards as worthy will be redeemed from the moral lusts and chains of the enemy and will be brought forward to eternal life in the new world. Those whom the Lord regards as unworthy, regardless of their profession of belief in Himself, will not be redeemed but will be cast into the fire. Remember, even the demons realize there is a God and that Jesus is Christ! (Mark 1:24).
Some religionists, even Christian religionists, are heading for the Lake of Fire if they do not permit Jesus to change their deeds. But no person who has an honest and good heart ever will end up in the Lake of Fire unless, of course, he chooses not to receive Jesus when Jesus comes to him. If he rejects Jesus he has prevented his own redemption, for the Lord Jesus is the only redeemer God will accept.
There are people who are not prepared to become a citizen of the new world. They hate their brothers and sisters. They always take care of their own needs and desires and ignore the needs and desires of others. They are wealthy in material goods but do not share with the poor. They are treacherous—betrayers of those who trust in them. By their self-seeking they bring everyone around them to grief, and they will continue to do so wherever God places them.
Some Christians fit this description. How would you like to spend eternity with such an individual—Christian or not?
Again, nothing we have said in the foregoing paragraphs is intended to diminish in any manner the necessity for repenting, believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, and being baptized in water. Neither is it intended to suggest we can substitute good works for obedience to the Gospel once the Gospel has been presented to us, or that we can reject Christ in the world and then have a second chance in the spirit realm.
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. (Revelation 20:13)
When a person dies physically a decision must be made concerning his place of residence until the first resurrection (if he has attained the first resurrection—Philippians 3:11) or the second resurrection. There are several areas of waiting mentioned in the New Testament writings. Some of these may be the same place:
- Outer darkness—Matthew 25:30.
- Hell (Hades)—Luke 16:23.
- Gehenna—Matthew 5:30.
- The deepest abyss—II Peter 2:4.
- The sea—Revelation 20:13.
- Death—Revelation 20:13.
- Paradise—Luke 23:43.
- To be present with the Lord—II Corinthians 5:8.
Where does a particular individual go when he or she dies physically? The New Testament writings are not as clear as we might wish or as our tradition suggests. The Apostles preached against the backdrop of the Day of Christ but spoke little of what takes place when we die.
It appears that the Gospel of Christ is directed toward the consequences of the coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth. It does not address itself primarily to the spirit Paradise or the spirit Hell. The Book of Acts does not present the apostles and evangelists as preaching about the advantages of Heaven over Hell. The Gospel as the escape from Hell and the route to Heaven is a concept the Christian ministry has added.
Paul does not use the term “Hell” in any of his epistles, which certainly would not be the case if escape from Hell were a major topic of his preaching.
How can we know if we will go to be present with the Lord when we die? If we are living in Christ now, serving Him, always saying yes to His will, as was true of Paul, then we will go to be present with the Lord Jesus when we die.
But let us never presume we will go to be present with Him if we are not living in Him today; if we are leading a careless, disobedient Christian life; if we are following Christ afar off. Even the righteous are saved with difficulty (I Peter 4:18).
When the Lord appears, His servants who did not perform His will shall be sent into outer darkness. This may be an area of the earth denied the light and glory of the Kingdom of God. Or it may be an area under the earth’s surface or possibly somewhere else. The believers who are sent into outer darkness will be filled with remorse and will wail and scream in terror and anguish of heart.
The “sea” may refer to the multitude of people of all ages who never have heard of the God of Israel or of Christ. They cannot be judged by the Ten Commandments or by the Gospel of Christ because they have heard of neither. As we have stated previously, in the Kingdom of God an individual is judged on the basis of the light he has received, whether it be the Law of Moses, the Gospel, or his or her own conscience.
Death and Hell ride together (Revelation 6:8) and will be cast into the Lake of Fire together. Spiritual death is the cause of physical death. Our bodies die because of the sin that dwells in them. Hell, an area of spiritual torment, often is associated with death.
In several passages of the New Testament it is the believers who are threatened with spiritual death (Romans 8:13; Revelation 2:11; II Peter 2:1; and so forth).
But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives. (I Timothy 5:6)
If a believer walks in the flesh he will die spiritually. It is possible that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord Jesus. But where will he be in the meantime?
The rich man was cast into Hell, not because he had rejected Christ but because he had not been willing to share his material blessings with Lazarus. Lazarus was saved from Hell, not because he had received Christ but because he had suffered on the earth.
The Christian model of redemption is far too superficial, too narrow. It does not embrace the fullness of God’s working with men. It conceives of belief in Christ as a perpetual amnesty, ruling out the significance of righteous, God-fearing conduct on the earth.
It is the writer’s opinion that many Christians who are correct in their theology will be cast into Hell when they die because they have lived in pleasure on the earth while the needy (both physically and spiritually) have perished on every side. The needy, we believe, will go to Paradise, in many instances, while the selfish, self-centered Christians will be dismissed to Hell, the abode of all selfish, self-centered people. Those who mourn now will be comforted while the rich are howling in pain.
It is our point of view that the majority of participants in the second resurrection will be saved. Notice the wording carefully: “and whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). The wording implies that only the exception, only the person whose name cannot be found in the Book of Life, will be assigned to the fate that passes comprehension in its dreadfulness.
To teach, as do many Christians, that Revelation 20:15 states that all who appear at the second resurrection will be cast into the Lake of Fire, certainly is to go beyond the text and to add to the teaching of the Book of Revelation (see Revelation 22:18).
The true Body of Christ will be raised in the first resurrection. The concept that God will raise the current Christian Babylon into Paradise at the first resurrection is not scriptural.
Every human being, Christian and non-Christian, will be judged righteously and thoroughly. Christ will make the decision as to the eternal destiny of each, according to his works and according to the record in the Book of Life.
The wording of Revelation 20:15 suggests that the majority, perhaps after having suffered lashes in a place of punishment either here or in the spirit realm, finally will be permitted to enter life on the new earth. While we do not embrace the doctrine of purgatory, it is scriptural that some are saved “so as by fire.” Also, the concept of “many” and “few” lashes cannot be referring to eternity in the Lake of Fire. How can there be different grades of lashes when one is confined for eternity in a lake that burns with fire and sulfur?
“And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
“But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47-48)
Some individuals will be cast into the Lake of Fire—the area of eternal torment prepared for the devil and his angels.
The Lake of Fire is the maximum penalty for rebellion against God. It is eternal separation from our Creator without hope of relief, of redemption. Those who are cast into the Lake of Fire will enter the area of torment in their bodies, there to serve for eternity as witnesses of the consequence of disobeying God.
“And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24)
To sum up, then, the second resurrection is the general resurrection from the dead. It is at the second resurrection that the ranks of the dead will hear the voice of the Lord Jesus and come forth, some to the resurrection of life and some to the resurrection of judgment. The verdict of the white throne will be based on what we have done during our life on the earth:
“and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:29)
Doing good qualifies us to eat of the tree of life in the day of resurrection, whereas the consequence of doing evil is to experience the wrath of God in the day of resurrection.
Men are judged according to their works, and those who practice good works (according to the qualifications mentioned previously) will be admitted to the process of redemption to life. But the wicked will experience torment at the hands of God.
The first resurrection is a special resurrection. It is for the royal priesthood only—for those who, through Christ, have overcome the world, Satan, and their own lusts and self-will. It is a resurrection “out from the dead,” which fits the Greek term employed by the Apostle Paul.
if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection [Greek: out-resurrection] from the dead. (Philippians 3:11)
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power [authority], but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)
It is our point of view that few believers of our day are ready to meet the Lord. We think the great tribulation is for the purpose of purging a remnant of believers so they may be ready to rise and be caught up to be forever with the Lord when He appears.
But the majority of so-called Christians, unless they repent, take up their cross, and follow Jesus in sincerity, are facing severe chastisement at the hands of God… or worse!
(“The Second Resurrection”, 3654-1)