FIRST AND SECOND RESURRECTIONS
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
The first resurrection is not the general 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 Lord’s victorious saints. The first resurrection will take place when the Lord Jesus returns, at the beginning of the thousand-year Kingdom Age. Its mission is to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. The judgment of most people and their entrance into eternal life or eternal death will take place at the second resurrection.
THE FIRST AND SECOND RESURRECTIONS
The first resurrection, that which will take place when the Lord Jesus returns from Heaven, is described as follows:
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)
This is the first resurrection of the elect of all ages. There is no resurrection or ascension of the saints prior to this one, as we understand the Scriptures.
The next verse informs us that no person will be resurrected after the first resurrection until the thousand-year Kingdom Age has been concluded.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:5)
The expressions in the above passages “and they lived” and “lived not again” refer to the dead individual receiving back his body.
There are two resurrections from the dead, two periods during which those who have lost their bodies through physical death are reunited with their bodies.
The first resurrection of the dead takes place at the beginning of the thousand-year Kingdom Age, at the appearing of Christ (I Thessalonians 4:16). The second resurrection occurs after the thousand years have been concluded, after the present earth and heaven have been banished by the Lord (Revelation 20:11).
It is taught commonly among Christians that every person who is saved will participate in the first resurrection, the resurrection described in Revelation 20:4-6; I Thessalonians 4:13-5:3; the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew; and the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians. The remainder of mankind, those who regain their bodies when “the thousand years were finished,” will be assigned to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.
This doctrine is in error, we believe.
There are two reasons why we think 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,” the Christian churches on the earth, the golden lampstands of the Divine testimony.
It is clear from these two chapters that each of the churches had problems of behavior. Many of the members were not up to the Lord’s standard of discipleship. Jesus promised rewards to each believer who overcame the problems of conduct in the churches.
In this present booklet we intend to stress the role righteous conduct plays in determining the eternal destinies of both Christians and non-Christians alike. Therefore it is important to note in the second and third chapters of Revelation that the Lord Jesus did not speak as though the Christian faith of the believers would cause God to overlook their sins and shortcomings. Christ was judging their works and warning the believers of the consequences of failure to live righteous, holy, and obedient lives before Himself.
It seems evident that only a minority of each of these Christian assemblings qualified as victorious saints, becoming eligible for the rewards promised to the overcomer. As we shall see, this fact strikes a heavy blow to the doctrine that all the saved are in the first resurrection.
The church in Sardis is an example. Here was a Christian church with a reputation for being alive (Revelation 3:1). This suggests it was a growing, vital congregation or group of congregations. No doubt the church in Sardis, as well as the six other churches in Asia, represented many Christian believers.
What did Christ state concerning the church in Sardis? Did He say (as sometimes is stated or implied in the Christian churches of our day) that the works of the members did not matter because they were saved by grace, being filled with imputed (ascribed) righteousness? This is the assumption undergirding the concept that every person who is saved will participate in the first resurrection.
Christ spoke different things to each of the seven churches in Asia. But one statement was made to all (King James Version): “I know thy works.”
The Christian churches of today stress the profession of faith. Christ stresses the works of the Christians. This difference in emphasis has the most profound implications imaginable for the Christian people of our day.
Christ said to the Christians in Sardis: “I have not found thy works perfect before God.”
Again: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4).
“Thou hast a few names.”
Can we infer from this that the majority of the Christians in Sardis were not worthy to walk with Christ in white? Can we assume also that in the churches in Asia a clear distinction was made between those who overcame unrighteousness and those who did not?
Are we to understand that the rewards are based on righteous conduct, on holy behavior, on an attitude and practice of obedience to God?
Every chapter of the Book of Revelation means exactly what it says. The Book of Revelation is bound with a curse because the Lord knew the severity of the Christian discipleship would be challenged in the last days, as indeed is happening, and that deception would abound (Revelation 22:18,19).
We have taught thus far that only the victorious saints in Sardis are worthy, because of their conduct as Christians, to walk with Christ in white. We have stated also that no promise of Revelation, Chapters Two and Three is given on the basis of a profession of faith in Christ. All are given on the basis of Christ-filled righteous works on the part of the believer in Christ.
Now we return to Revelation, Chapter 20, to the passage that describes the rewards and status assigned to those who participate in the first resurrection from the dead. Let us look at it carefully.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)
Those who participate in the first resurrection sit on thrones. Judgment is given to them. They live and reign with Christ. They are blessed. They are holy. The second death has no authority over them. They are priests (robed in white) of God and of Christ.
We recognize this group. These are the believers who have left all, who have taken up their cross and followed Christ. These are part of the family of saints described in Hebrews, Chapter 11 of whom the world is not worthy.
The martyrs and those who have rejected Antichrist through the ages are in this holy band. These are the victorious saints, the conquerors, the victorious saints of all ages, the rulers of the world to come.
This is the true Christian Church, the Wife of the Lamb, the Body of Christ, the Israel of God. This is the “firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.”
By comparing Revelation, Chapters Two and Three, and Revelation 20:4-6 we understand that it is the victorious saints, and only the victorious saints, who will participate in the first resurrection from the dead.
It is obvious from the text that these are strong, consecrated saints. They include those who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God. They refused to have anything to do with Antichrist, who has been with us at least from the first century (I John 2:18). They loved not their lives to the death—again, the mark of the victorious saints (Revelation 12:11).
There is nothing in Revelation 20:4-6 suggesting this is the general resurrection of salvation and that all who have made a profession of belief in Christ will participate in it. The standards of conduct set forth are very high.
The majority of the Christian believers in Sardis do not qualify for the first resurrection from the dead, according to what is written in the Book of Revelation.
The profession of belief in Christ does not, according to the Scriptures, qualify the convert for participation in the first resurrection from the dead. The first resurrection, which is associated with the rewards assigned to the overcomer, must be attained to by running the Christian race with diligence. The first resurrection is the crown given to the winners of the race.
It appears that the Apostle Paul toward the end of his life still was striving to attain to the resurrection from among the dead, and that the first resurrection is a mark, a prize is given to those who are “perfect.”
If by any means I might attain unto [arrive at] the resurrection [out-resurrection] of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: (Philippians 3:11,12)
The term resurrection (used above) has, in the Greek text, a preposition prefixed to it that suggests Paul was referring to a special resurrection. The idea is that of the out-resurrection.
To our knowledge, the noun with the prefix is found only in this passage of Scripture.
Philippians 3:11-14 implies strongly that the resurrection (out-resurrection) of the dead is a mark toward which each Christian is to be pressing with diligence.
It follows, then, that the nonvictorious saints of Sardis and of the other six churches in Sardis are not candidates for the first resurrection from among the dead.
There is a commonly-taught doctrine, which we mentioned previously, that insists only those who participate in the first resurrection will be saved. All other persons who have ever lived on the earth are doomed to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.
Yet it appears from Revelation 20:4-6 that participation in the first resurrection from among the dead is limited to God’s saints of all ages—the firstfruits of His royal priesthood. We know from the Old Testament and New Testament writings, and from the evidence today, that the true saints always are but a remnant of “Israel”—and sometimes a small minority of God’s people.
If it is true, as the current doctrine suggests, that only those who participate in the first resurrection will be saved, we must assume that only the true saints of God, a small remnant, will be saved and that all other persons, including most of spiritual Israel, most of the Christian believers, and all of the remainder of mankind, will be assigned to the Lake of Fire for eternity.
The Scriptures, as we understand them, do not teach this. This is what we meant by saying the current teaching that all who are saved will participate in the first resurrection gives rise to a serious problem with respect to the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation.
The rewards that will be given to those who attain to the first resurrection from the dead are fabulous beyond the dreams of any emperor who has ever lived. He who overcomes will inherit the “all things” of God. No relationship, circumstance, or thing of true value will be withheld from the person who walks uprightly before God.
There is no cost, no suffering, no delayed gratification, no prolonged painful service any saint ever has endured that can compare with the stupendous inheritance that has been assigned to God’s victorious sons. Whoever does not lay down his present life and follow Christ with every molecule of his being is making a choice of unequaled shortsightedness and loss. Even Esau fared better.
The rewards to the victorious saint are marvelous beyond all dreams of glory and joy. But to state that every other human being who has ever lived (all of those who are raised in the second resurrection) is doomed irrevocably to the Lake of Fire is to run counter to what is written in the Scriptures.
We will be examining some of these conflicts in a moment, but first let us introduce another concept. Historically our understanding as Christians has been that being a member of the Church, the Body of Christ, is synonymous with salvation. No doubt it is this understanding that lies at the root of the belief that all those whom God will save will rise in the first resurrection and all other persons are doomed.
The Kingdom of God consists not only of the Church, which is the center of government of the Kingdom, but also of the subjects of the Kingdom. Being fully “saved” with all the term implies, in the present hour, means attaining to the fullness of union with God through Christ. Being “saved” after the first resurrection has taken place involves being willing to submit to the Lord’s saints (Isaiah 60:12).
The basic meaning of salvation is preservation. To be saved is to be brought forward to the new heaven and earth reign of the Lord Jesus, to the true life of which the present life in the mortal body is only a forerunner.
However, the fullest meaning of salvation of the elect is transformation into the image of Christ and union with God through Christ. For the elect to be fully saved is to become man, in the scriptural sense, and to inherit all things.
God’s royal priesthood will be brought forward to the fullness of the Divine salvation.
The nations of the saved will enjoy life on the new earth under the government of the saints of the new Jerusalem but will not be in the image of God and in union with God to the same extent as the royal priesthood. This is our understanding.
The reason Christians have viewed salvation and membership in the Body of Christ as synonymous is that the writers of the New Testament speak of the two experiences as though they are equivalent (Acts 2:47; Romans 9:22-24,27). The emphasis during the Church Age has been on the creation of the Church. But the prophecies of the Old Testament state clearly there will be people whom God has not destroyed but who still are not members of God’s priesthood (Isaiah 61:6; Zechariah 14:16).
In establishing the Kingdom of God, God first revealed His King, the Lord Jesus Christ. After that will come the Body of Christ, the Church, the “called-out” from the nations of the earth. The Christian Church is a “firstfruits” of God’s creatures (James 1:18). It does not include all who are to be saved any more than the sheaf of barley waved before the Priest on the day of Firstfruits included all the barley in the field.
Israel (the elect of God) is God’s firstborn, the oldest son (Hebrews 12:23). All members of Christ are God’s firstborn. They are holy to the Lord. They will be God’s priests, serving the rest of saved mankind forever.
To view the Lord’s elect as the only persons who are to be saved would be to misunderstand God’s purpose in calling out a “firstborn” from among mankind (Exodus 13:12).
The Christian Church, the royal priesthood, is not the only group of people whom God intends to save from eternal torment. Israel was called out from among the other nations of the earth to be a Kingdom of priests, not so all the peoples of the other nations should perish.
The concept of the “elect” is that of people who are chosen from among the nations of the earth, not only to be saved from torment but to serve as lights for the remainder of mankind. This is an eternal role (Revelation 21:24).
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: (Exodus 19:5)
“A peculiar treasure unto me above all people,” not the only people who are to be saved!
As soon as the Body of Christ has been brought to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, Christ will appear (Psalms 102:16; Ephesians 4:13). Then Christ and His Body will bring judgment (justice) to the nations of saved peoples of the earth (Isaiah, Chapter 42).
The members of the Body of Christ were known to God before the creation of the world. God predestined them, not only to be saved from wrath (although they are saved, of course) but to be changed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28,29).
After they have been raised in the first resurrection the sons of God will go forth, not to doom the creation to the Lake of Fire but to release it into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:19).
A multitude of earth’s peoples will be saved by believing in Christ as soon as the sons of God are revealed (John 17:21).
If the first resurrection of God’s royal priesthood will result in the salvation of many of earth’s peoples, how can we say that only those who participate in the first resurrection will be saved?
To understand the difference between God’s true Israel, His Zion, and the nations of the saved, we can study many passages of Scripture, including the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah.
There is Israel, God’s called-out people, and then there are the nations of the saved.
Therefore thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night; that men may bring unto thee the forces of the Gentiles [nations], and that their kings may be brought. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. (Isaiah 60:11,12)
Here we observe the clear distinction between God’s people and the nations of saved peoples of the earth. This picture is identical to that presented in Revelation, Chapters 21 and 22. The last two chapters of the Book of Revelation declare that the Jerusalem portrayed in them is the Wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9). The Wife of the Lamb is the Christian Church.
The current teaching, which seems to be a maze of contradictions, has the “Gentile Church” (itself an unscriptural concept) in Heaven; while the Jews (not saved because they were not part of the first resurrection of the saints) are ruling over nations of people (not saved because they were not part of the first resurrection of the saints).
Can you imagine? The new Jerusalem, the Wife of the Lamb, consisting of Jews who are not saved because they were not part of the first resurrection (according to our traditions), is on the new earth in splendor beyond the mind of men to imagine. God and the Lamb are dwelling in unconcealed glory within the marvelous walls of the new Jerusalem. We “saved Gentiles” are residing in Heaven in golden mansions—although the Lord has promised us we would be with Him forever. This is what we mean by stating the current teachings are a maze of contradictions and fables.
The concept that only those who participate in the first resurrection will be saved is founded on the belief that only those who are members of the Body of Christ will be saved. This is the result of preaching Heaven as the goal of redemption and belief in Christ as an escape from Hell; instead of preaching the subject of the Gospels and the Epistles, which is the soon coming of the Kingdom of God to the earth.
Whenever we leave the Scriptures we enter doctrinal confusion and spiritual trouble. Let us preach and teach what the Scriptures state, not the traditions of men.
In the day in which we are living, membership in the Church and salvation from wrath are synonymous.
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:47)
This is because the purpose of the present age is the creation of the Church, the Body of Christ, the Wife of the Lamb. The royal priesthood itself is divided into various levels of calling, anointing, and fervency. It is obvious to an observant person that among the saved there are widely differing callings and stations.
To assume that all saved people after their death, or in the Day of the Lord, will be one undifferentiated group of glorified beings is without foundation in the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not teach or imply this.
The opposite is taught. Notice how levels of glory and holiness are expressed:
- David’s mighty men.
- The three on the Mount of Transfiguration with the Lord.
- Gideon’s three hundred.
- The thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and one hundredfold of the parable of the sower.
- The division of Israel, the royal priesthood, into the High Priest, the priests, the Levites, and the remainder of Israel.
- The few of Sardis who will walk in white with the Lord.
- The Lord’s own statement concerning greatest and least in the Kingdom.
The scriptural concept clearly is that of differing ranks among the elect.
As we have mentioned, the Old Testament teaches that the nations of the saved will bring their wealth and minister to God’s priesthood. This represents another division among saved people—the nations of the saved and the royal priesthood.
Having your conversation [behavior] honest among the Gentiles [nations]: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. (I Peter 2:12)
To maintain there are only two groups, those who sit on the highest throne with Jesus (governing whom we have no idea), and those who are in torment forever in the Lake of Fire, is to embrace the current fables and to ignore the Old and New Testaments.
The model of salvation that gives rise to such doctrinal confusion is the concept of salvation as an invisible, abstract, legal state of amnesty that qualifies the individual for Paradise after physical death. When we “make a decision for Christ” we have a ticket to Paradise whether or not we live righteously. Those who never have heard the Gospel do not have a ticket and therefore they are assigned to the Lake of Fire for eternity.
It also is true that no person can come to Christ except the Father draw him. This would mean God gives the ticket to some people and not to others, a grossly unjust state of affairs. If you are not given your ticket you will be tormented forever. This Christian concept is so unrighteous, unscriptural, and outrageous (in terms of the Nature of our righteous God) it should never be preached again. It is an abomination!
The truth is, salvation is a transformation of the believer, a new creation. Such salvation comes to us as we are called by the Spirit and then respond diligently. The Divine salvation produces tangible changes in moral behavior and an ever-increasing knowledge of God and His holiness.
Rank in the Kingdom can be observed among the elect in the present hour.
As soon as the Church has been brought to the maturity and unity of Christ, the Head will appear from Heaven. This is the time of the first resurrection from among the dead. At this point the Body will be joined to the Head.
Then the Head and Body of Christ will go forth to bring salvation to whoever will believe of the nations of the earth. This is the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is good news for the meek of the earth. It is bad news for the wicked.
And the Gentiles [nations] shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. (Isaiah 60:3,4)
It is obvious that the nations that come to the elect in the day of the glorification of the saints will be saved, not lost. Yet, they do not become part of the Israel of God.
From the standpoint of many of the people of the earth, the opportunity for salvation will not end with the first resurrection from the dead, with the resurrection of God’s royal priesthood. Rather, it will begin at that time. The greatest revival of all time will take place at the coming of the Lord.
As soon as we understand that God has created the Church for the purpose of judging, ruling, and blessing the nations of the earth, and that it is through the Church the nations will learn of God, then the Kingdom of God and the plan of salvation will become clear to us. Many passages of the Old Testament that formerly did not seem to apply to us will become understandable and relevant (Isaiah 2:2-4).
We have stated that membership in the Church, and salvation, are synonymous now, but that after the Church has been formed, God will turn His attention to the salvation and rulership of the remaining peoples of the earth.
First will come Christ and those who belong to Christ. After that will appear the Kingdom of God—the putting down of all opposing rule.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. (I Corinthians 15:23-25)
The “end” will not come, it appears, until the conclusion of the thousand-year reign of Christ and His saints.
We are not implying by our reasoning that every individual ultimately will be saved. This is not true. Some will reject salvation when it is presented to them and thus be lost to God and His anointed servants forever.
Let us return now to the conflicts with the Scripture that are occasioned when we state that only the royal priesthood of Revelation 20:4-6 is saved, and that every individual who is raised in the second resurrection is doomed to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.
It is scriptural that weak believers can be saved; but it is not in accordance with the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation that they will be kings over the earth and judges of nations, as is true of those who rise in the first resurrection.
If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (I Corinthians 3:15)
Here is a Christian who has built wood, hay, and straw on the foundation of Christ. Have his works been found perfect before God? Is he an overcomer? Most certainly he is not an overcomer.
But he will be saved by fire! Is the first resurrection from among the dead, the resurrection toward which Paul was pressing with total consecration, the resurrection of the blessed and holy, a salvation by fire?
This fruitless believer will be saved, according to the Scripture. Yet, it must be that he is saved at the second resurrection for it appears he is not eligible for the first resurrection.
To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (I Corinthians 5:5)
The Day of the Lord Jesus includes the entire thousand-year Kingdom Age.
Was this man (in the above verse) a victorious saint, a resister of Antichrist?
It can be seen that the issue is not his going to Heaven. The issue of going to Heaven is not raised, as far as we know, when the Apostles are speaking of salvation. The issue is that of salvation in the Day of the Lord Jesus.
It must be kept in mind that the Day of the Lord includes the thousand-year period and that both resurrections are part of the Day of the Lord, the Day of Christ, the Day of God. It appears that the bulk of the work of the Judgment Seat of Christ will take place at the second resurrection.
Peter explains this clearly. He discusses the need for godly living on the part of the believers. Then he speaks of the coming of the Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment. While doing so he bypasses the Millennial reign of Christ, proceeding immediately to the time of the second resurrection. It is as though the first resurrection does not exist.
Looking for and hasting unto [hastening] the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (II Peter 3:12)
Note the following verse:
And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. (Jude 1:23)
Does the above category of believers, of whom there may be many, sound like a group of kings and priests?—like conquerors who will walk in the white of the royal priesthood because of the excellence of their works?
There are numerous weak believers. They are not capable of ruling over the nations of the earth but we do not think the Scriptures condemn them all to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.
A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. (Isaiah 42:3)
Does God care for flax and reeds? Or is the Spirit of Christ in Isaiah teaching us that Christ at His coming will nourish the weak believers?
We are not suggesting that Christ at His coming will not punish lazy Christians severely. The Scripture declares He will. But there are believers who are weak and stunted for reasons beyond their control. Christ—Head and Body—will minister to these.
Because of the description of the participants given in Revelation 20:4-6, and because that description fits the victorious saints who, to this day, appear to be in the minority in the churches, and because the Scriptures state that nonvictorious saints can be saved, we are brought to the conclusion that the majority of those who are saved will stand before God in their bodies, not in the first resurrection from the dead but in the second resurrection from the dead.
Think about the words of Revelation 20:4-6. Try to sense the spirit of it, the flavor of it. Here are God’s kings and priests, His conquerors—those who will assist in the establishing of the Kingdom of God on the earth.
There is no judgment at this time because the royal priests were judged previously. The books are not opened. Nothing is said about being saved. Nothing is said about weak Christians being lifted up into Heaven so they can escape the threat of Antichrist.
The first resurrection is not the general 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 Lord’s victorious saints. There is nothing in the passage that even suggests this is the resurrection of salvation or that it is the time when the eternal destinies of the members of mankind are decided.
The first resurrection will take place at the beginning of the thousand-year Kingdom Age, at the coming of Christ from Heaven. Its mission is to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. The judgment of people and their entrance into life or into the second death will take place at the second resurrection.
The first resurrection, toward which the Apostle Paul was pressing to the end of his days on 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 on the earth.
To attain to the first resurrection from the dead requires an effort on our part. The sufferings we endure, as all we have and all we are pass through the process of death and resurrection in Christ, are not to be compared with the unimaginable glory that will be revealed to and through the sons of God.
This is what the Scripture teaches concerning the first resurrection from the dead. It is the gathering to Jesus of His “mighty men” (II Samuel 23:8-39) so they may be with Him and reign with Him forever. They are free from all the authority of the second death, which is the Lake of Fire.
Before we examine what the twentieth chapter of Revelation actually states concerning the second resurrection from the dead, let us think a bit more about the consequences of the belief that no person can be saved who is not in the first resurrection, that all who are raised after the thousand-year period are doomed to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire.
Let us keep in mind there are only two resurrections, the first and the second. The Scriptures do not speak of a third resurrection, with the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ and those who arose from their graves in Jerusalem just after Christ was resurrected (Matthew 27:52,53).
Enoch and Elijah were not resurrected prior to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus because Jesus is the Firstborn from the dead (Colossians 1:18).
If it is true that the opportunity for salvation ceases with the first resurrection:
- Every person who is alive on the earth when Jesus comes, except those who are qualified to meet Him at His appearing, will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
- Every person whom the Lord and His saints rule throughout the thousand-year Kingdom Age will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
- Every nonovercoming Christian will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
- Every person ever born on the earth who is not a member of the true Church, the Body of Christ, will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
- Every person who has never heard the Gospel will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
It appears that many Christians believe the self-seeking members of the churches will ascend to live in glory with Christ, while those to whom they neglected to teach the Gospel will descend into a punishment beyond our powers of comprehension. The Christians will be playing games in Paradise with their friends while the overwhelming majority of earth’s peoples will be hurled into eternal torment in the blue, acrid flames of burning sulfur.
The Christians who believe this are incorrect. Most of the New Testament warnings concerning punishment have to do with church members who are not serving God as they should.
There are no gradations of punishment. The Lord’s statement about many lashes and few lashes is to be ignored.
If one is cast into the Lake of Fire with the devil and his angels, there to be tormented forever, the amount of lashes applied is meaningless. The Lake of Fire always is the maximum punishment.
The concept of many and few lashes implies salvation. Why apply lashes to someone whom you are not attempting to correct? Why bother to whip a man before sending him into eternal torment?
When Jesus spoke of a servant being beaten with lashes He was referring to His own servants (Luke 12:47,48). The Lord’s servants who are to be punished are not the kings, priests, and judges of the first resurrection, the blessed and holy; for their sentence is to be raised in glory and to be with the Lord Jesus forever. These are not the servants who are to be whipped.
When and how will the servants of Christ be punished? Revelation 20:15 does not inform us concerning those who were found written in the Book of Life at the time of the second resurrection, except they were not cast into the Lake of Fire. It does not state they became kings and priests of God. There certainly is room here for punishment less severe than the Lake of Fire.
After speaking about the lashes to be applied to His disobedient servants, Jesus said: “Unto whomsoever much is given [obviously referring to someone who has been taught the Word of Christ], of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).
The Scripture teaches that the servant who knew the Lord’s will and did not do it will be beaten with many lashes. The individual who did not know the Lord’s will and did commit things worthy of punishment will be beaten with few lashes.
The Lord promises rulership to the faithful servant.
Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. (Luke 12:44)
Here is the first resurrection from the dead.
The unfaithful servant will be punished severely.
Let us examine what the Scripture states concerning the second resurrection from the dead. Does it say all who participate will be cast into the Lake of Fire, or does it state only some will be cast into the Lake of Fire? Exactly what does the Scripture state?
Let us not add to or subtract from what is declared in the written Word. Let us not be more severe with people than God is.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)
This is what will take place. Each human being (except the victorious saints—God’s kings and priests of the first resurrection) will be judged according to his works. This is what the Scriptures state. It cannot be changed.
The concept that every human being will be judged according to his or her works appears throughout the New Testament writings. In our day far too much emphasis is placed on a profession of belief in “correct” doctrine and not nearly enough emphasis (not nearly enough in terms of the balance between belief and righteous conduct expressed in the Scriptures) is placed on the growth in righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God of the believers.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:10)
The reason for this misunderstanding is twofold. First, the Apostle Paul taught we are saved by grace apart from the works of the Law. Gentile believers, not having a background of the Law of Moses, have interpreted Paul to mean we are saved by grace apart from righteous conduct. Since Divine grace always produces righteous conduct, this interpretation is illogical.
Second, the Protestant reformers, in their determination to get away from the domination of Rome, stressed we are justified by faith alone. By this they meant we are not to add to salvation the traditions of the Catholic Church. But, as has been done in the case of Paul and his exhortations to the Judaizers, modern-day expositors are declaring that faith alone means we are justified apart from moral transformation. Again, this is an inappropriate argument because salvation is moral transformation. Salvation is the new creation.
It is taught commonly that the Judgment Seat of Christ is for all who have made a correct statement of faith in Christ and that the Judgment Seat will take place after the believers have been raised from the dead and have ascended to be with the Lord forever.
Added to this is the concept that there is no real punishment associated with the Judgment Seat of Christ; rather, the Judgment Seat of Christ is limited to the assigning of greater or lesser rewards (although the Greek term, beema, refers to a court where criminals were judged). Since these unscriptural ideas are being presented continually to the believers, the lukewarm behavior of most Christians is not surprising.
The doctrine of the “pre-tribulation rapture” and the doctrine of the “rewards-only” view of the Judgment Seat of Christ are directly responsible for the frivolous attitude of many Christians and for the false sense of security that produces lukewarmness.
The righteous will be saved only with difficulty. God’s people do not understand this. They are not working out their salvation with fear and trembling. In fact, they have rejected the fear of God.
Do you think the Christians would live differently if they truly believed their participation in the first resurrection depends on their conduct?—that if they do not serve Jesus with intense dedication they actually may have to wait until the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age before they receive back their bodies from the grave?
We are convinced that multitudes of Christians would live differently if they knew the truth. The believers in Jesus must come to understand that the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation, as well as the writings of the Epistles of the Apostles, imply that many of the believers of today stand in real danger of having to wait until the second resurrection before they are given back their bodies, and that they will receive the consequences of their behavior at time.
A correct understanding of the events of the Day of the Lord has a direct effect on the choices we make and on the way we work out our salvation. God’s sheep respond to what they are taught. The Book of Revelation is bound with a curse. We who teach the Scriptures bear a dreadful responsibility.
Do the words of Paul support the rewards-only concept of the Judgment Seat of Christ?
… that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:10)
… that each one may receive the things [done] through the body, in reference to the things that he did, whether good or evil; (II Corinthians 5:10—Young’s Literal Translation)
… so that each one may receive the things [done] through the body, according to what he did, whether good or bad. (II Corinthians 5:10—Literal Translation of the Holy Bible)
For the [one] sowing to his flesh will reap corruption of the flesh. But the [one] sowing to the Spirit will reap everlasting life from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:8—Literal Translation of the Holy Bible)
“That each one may receive the things done through the body.”
Many Christians practice the works of the flesh, such as adultery, fornication, wrath, jealousy, profanity, violence, lying, cheating, haughtiness, criticism, fear, unbelief, cowardice, sorcery, drunkenness, and stealing.
According to the Scripture the person (Christian or not) who practices adultery will receive the consequences of adultery. The individual who gossips will receive the consequences of gossip. The person who is drunken will receive the consequences of drunkenness.
Is this what II Corinthians 5:10 actually states?
But what if it is true that the person who practices adultery receives a spirit of adultery? The individual who gossips will receive a spirit of gossip? The drunken person receives a spirit of drunkenness or a craving for drunkenness? The believer who practices obedience, truth, and mercy will receive a body in which these virtues are inherent? This seems to be what the literal translations are proclaiming.
Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy. (Revelation 12:11)
He who is unrighteous—let him be unrighteous still, and he who is filthy—let him be filthy still, and he who is righteous—let him be declared righteous still, and he who is sanctified—let him be sanctified still: (Revelation 22:11—Young’s Literal Translation)
The one acting unjustly, let him still act unjustly; and the filthy, let him still be filthy; and the righteous, let him still do righteousness; and the holy, let him still be holy. (Revelation 22:11—Literal Translation of the Holy Bible)
What if it is true that at the Judgment Seat of Christ we are bound in the sins we have practiced? This would be a reaping of what we have sown. In other words, we are not rewarded or punished according to what we have done. Rather, we are given back what we have done so that we are compelled to continue in our lying, our adultery, our rage, our deceit, our gossiping and slandering, our criticizing and judging of others, our selfishness, our rebellion against God and our hatred of God, our covetousness, our rejection of the lordship of Jesus Christ. This would be a righteous, equitable judgment. We have sown to our sinful nature, and we reap that same sinful nature. Nothing could be more fair than this.
Sometimes we may be concerned that wicked people prosper and never will be held accountable for their actions. We need not worry. The God of Heaven has perfect recall. The behaviors we have chosen will be returned to us along with their consequences.
If the above is true, the idea that we will receive at the Judgment Seat only the good we have done is terribly misleading and destructive. The truth appears to be that believers who have practiced righteousness will receive a righteous nature and the consequent eternal life, while believers who have practiced wickedness will receive a wicked nature and the consequent disfigurement and torment.
Are we then to assume a blithe attitude toward the Judgment Seat of Christ, now that we have become a Christian?
The aged apostle concludes, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (II Corinthians 5:11).
When we preach repentance to the Lord’s flock today the response may be repentance, or it may be unbelief or anger. The concepts of the pre-tribulation rapture and rewards-only judgment have leavened the whole lump of Christian thinking.
Yet, these doctrines are unscriptural.
Revelation 20:11-15 certainly is part of the Judgment Seat of Christ, because it is a judgment seat and only Christ possesses the authority of judgment.
For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: (John 5:22)
The Father judges no one. Only Christ judges. All are standing in the Presence of almighty God but only Christ (and His saints) performs the work of judging.
In the second resurrection from the dead, the dead are judged “according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). We noticed the same idea in II Corinthians 5:10: “according to that he hath done.” Belief in Christ is not emphasized in either instance.
It is clear in the four Gospel accounts and also in the Epistles that each human being will be judged and rewarded according to his or her conduct. We shall reap what we sow. This fact is established beyond doubt in the New Testament.
Who will render to every man according to his deeds: (Romans 2:6)
… according to that he hath done, … (II Corinthians 5:10)
… according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)
Is Romans 2:6 speaking of Christians, of non-Christians, or of both? Let us examine the text that follows.
To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: (Romans 2:7)
Is Paul referring to Christians, to Jews, to persons who never have heard of Christ, or to all human beings?
With the exception of those who have been confronted with Christ and have rejected Him, who already are condemned, who have judged themselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we believe Romans 2:7 is referring to all human beings.
In his epistles, Paul taught that men cannot be saved by works. When speaking of works Paul was not referring to godly behavior, he was reacting to the pressure being brought by those who were putting the works of the Law of Moses on a level with the cross. Paul showed that Christ is the fulfillment of the Law to everyone who believes.
We Gentiles, not being under the same pressure, interpret the term works to mean godly behavior. We have come to the conclusion that the New Testament has little or nothing to do with godly behavior. One does not have to read much of the New Testament to discover that such is not the case.
It is true that we cannot choose to practice righteousness in place of receiving Christ; for God saves every man by His mercy alone. But to infer from this that receiving Christ is an alternative to righteous conduct is a truly destructive conclusion. It has borne a universe of evil fruit.
Also, by holding to the eternal truth that there is salvation in no name other than that of Christ, some have assumed that all persons who have never heard of Christ are doomed to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. In so concluding, two scriptural facts are neglected: (1) it is a principle of Kingdom law that each individual is judged according to the light he has been given (John 15:22-24; Romans 2:14-16; Romans 4:15; Romans 7:7-9; Luke 12:47,48); and (2) in at least one instance the Gospel was preached to people already deceased (I Peter 4:6).
It is true that God saves every person on the basis of mercy alone, and also that there is no name other than Christ whereby we can be saved. However, to judge from these two foundational truths that people will not receive the due rewards of their conduct on earth, and that every individual who has never heard of Christ will be assigned to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire, including infants, appears to contradict the testimony of the Scriptures as well as being contrary to our sense of righteousness and justice.
Since Revelation 20:12 specifies that people are judged “according to their works,” and we know that no man can be saved “by works,” some scholars believe that all who are raised in the second resurrection must therefore be lost. This conclusion is a syllogism. It is not drawn from a clear statement of the Scriptures.
The true doctrine of grace, the correct explanation of how Divine grace leads to salvation, must take into account all that has been stated by the Apostles of the Lamb. Those who are being saved are at many levels of transformation. The lost are those who are without the touch of God upon them.
Paul states that God will judge “every” man according to his deeds. Paul then goes on to say (Romans 2:7) that those who persevere in “well doing” are seeking for glory and honor and immortality and they will receive eternal life from the Lord.
The important question here is, who will receive eternal life by perseverance in doing good?
The answer is, “every man” (Romans 2:6—compare Romans 6:22).
Does this mean that an individual can live without sinning and thereby earn salvation apart from God’s mercy? Not at all! “For all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Does this mean that any person, such as a Jew, can hear the Gospel of Christ and then choose to attempt to live according to his personal beliefs in the hope of pleasing God apart from the cross? Not at all! “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
Well then, what does Romans 2:6-10 mean? It means what it says: God will reward every man according to his deeds. This is what it states; this is what it means.
If we apply Romans 2:7 to Christians we are claiming Christians obtain eternal life on the basis of “patient continuance in well doing.” We are stating that eternal life has been rendered to them on the basis of their deeds. This is scriptural (Galatians 6:8, for example).
If we apply Romans 2:7 to those who never have heard the Gospel we are stating they can obtain eternal life on the basis of “patient continuance in well doing.” This seems to be verified in Matthew 25:46, where the “sheep nations,” solely on the basis of how they treated Christ’s “brothers,” are ushered into “life eternal.”
But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:35)
It remains true that if Christ is presented to any human being, Jew or Gentile, and that individual rejects Christ after hearing Him, he has brought down the wrath of God upon himself (John 3:18; John 3:36; Mark 16:16).
It makes a difference how Jesus is presented. If some zealous believer goes forth in his own wisdom and strength and attempts to force the Gospel on an unbeliever, and the unbeliever does not respond in faith and obedience, this does not necessarily mean the unbeliever has resisted or rejected Christ.
No person can come to Christ unless the Father draws him. To “hear” the Gospel is not only to hear it with the ears but to have the Spirit of God present Jesus to the individual in such a manner that he or she actually “hears” the Good News. He must “hear” and understand the Lord by the Spirit before it can be said he has rejected the Lord.
In our day, believers have sometimes “witnessed” in a spirit of proselyting, not in the Spirit of God. They have attempted to force people, especially the Jews, to “make a decision for Christ,” itself an unscriptural phrase. God has not been in some of these attempts. In addition, the Christians have not been witnessing by their conduct that they are of God. Therefore many of the Jews have rejected them and their message. This does not mean the Jews, in this instance, have rejected their Christ.
As we have stated, every human being who has ever lived will be rewarded according to his or her deeds. This is true of all Jews and all Gentiles including those who have received Christ. The Scriptures cannot be changed.
Let us go on to the next three verses:
But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: (Romans 2:8-10)
If we apply Romans 2:8-10 to Christians, we are claiming that Christians will suffer great tribulation and anguish if they do evil, but glory, honor, and peace if they do good.
If we apply Romans 2:8-10 to non-Christians, we are stating that non-Christians will suffer great tribulation and anguish if they do evil but glory, honor, and peace if they do good.
If we apply Romans 2:6-10 to Christians we run counter to current teaching. It is not believed that Christians obtain eternal life as a reward for patient continuance in well-doing; neither is it held that Christians will suffer great tribulation and anguish if they do evil. It is not taught commonly that glory, honor, and peace accrue to Christian people on the basis of their good works.
If we apply Romans 2:6-10 to non-Christians we run counter to current teaching. It is not believed that non-Christians can obtain eternal life as a reward for patient continuance in well doing; neither is it held that non-Christians will gain glory, honor, and peace if they persevere in well doing.
Therefore, current Christian teaching renders Romans 2:6-10 of none effect and our doctrine of salvation is seen to be incomplete in the area of the relationship of behavior to the destiny of people.
The truth is, God will visit great tribulation and anguish on every soul who practices wickedness, whether or not the individual professes belief in Christ. Also, glory, honor, and peace will accrue to every soul who works good, whether or not the individual professes belief in Christ (in terms of the provisions noted previously). The Scriptures stand eternally as written.
We cannot readily understand how men can be saved by God’s mercy alone and salvation can come only through the name of the Lord Jesus, while at the same time all men will be recompensed for their deeds. It is difficult for us to reconcile these apparently conflicting concepts. But our lack of understanding is not sufficient reason to embrace the parts of the Scriptures that support our viewpoint and reject the parts that appear to conflict with it. We must receive the whole counsel of God.
It is customary for Christian teachers and preachers to enthusiastically support the set of verses they endorse and to neglect those that appear to contradict their beliefs. Some of Paul’s statements are adopted and some of James’ statements are ignored. This practice is unsound and leads to today’s perversion of grace. The true man of God embraces the Scriptures in their entirety and thereby cuts a straight course in the Word of Truth.
Do the Epistles indeed teach that Christian believers will be visited with great tribulation and anguish” in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Christ” (Romans 2:16)?
The following verses were written to the saints:
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5)
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)
And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:23)
But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:8)
The context of Romans 2:6-10 is the works of sin mentioned in Chapter One, and also the argument that the Jews are not justified (made righteous) on the basis of hearing the Law but on the basis of performing the works of the Law (Romans 2:13). Paul is resisting the Judaizers who were attempting to persuade the saints in Rome that Christians were not to discard the Law of Moses.
Paul’s point is that the Jews, although they revered the Law, were not behaving righteously. The Gentiles, who did not possess the Law of Moses, were behaving righteously in terms of their conscience. God is seeking righteous behavior, not the worshiping of the scrolls containing the Law.
We think there is a parallel situation today. The Christian churches talk about and profess to believe the Words of Christ and His Apostles while condemning all non-Christians to the Lake of Fire. Yet their doctrine of “grace” permits them to ignore the critical necessity of keeping the words of the Lord. Christ is concerned that we keep His commandments, not that we call Him Lord, Lord, and then not do what He says.
As was the case of the Judaizers in Rome, we Christians place too much emphasis on fundamentals of belief and not nearly enough stress on righteous, holy, and obedient conduct. We are leaving the congregations with the impression that if they are part of our group they somehow will be swept up to Heaven in a “rapture.”
If we do not inform the lukewarm they are in real danger of lashes and the loss of their inheritance we are prophesying falsely to them. We are not bearing a true witness of Christ. Their blood will be on our hands.
One day we all shall receive the consequences of the kind of witness we have borne.
In Chapters Three through Five of Romans, Paul shows that all men sin and must be saved by God’s mercy alone. Paul then presents the blood of the cross as the provision the mercy of God has made for all men—Jews and Gentiles alike.
By so teaching, Paul does not do away with Romans 2:6. Is Paul fighting against himself? Romans 2:6 remains inviolate. In the last chapter of the Scriptures, Christ Himself proclaims that every man will be rewarded “according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12).
In view of the above we think it is clear that all persons will be judged according to their deeds in this life. They will be judged as stated in Revelation 20:12,13: “according to their works.”
This concept is reinforced by Revelation 22:12:
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. (Revelation 22:12)
Four doctrines that have rendered meaningless such passages as the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation, and the second chapter of the Book of Romans, are as follows: the concept of Divine grace as an overlooking of the sins of the believers whether or not they are serving the Lord; the overemphasis on the love of God while the wrath of God is minimized; the rewards-only concept of the terrible Judgment Seat of Christ; and the assumption that all who term themselves “Christian” will rise from the dead and ascend to meet the Lord at His coming.
Each of these four has played its role in the present overconfident, blithe, insincere spirit that pervades the Lord’s assemblies.
The Scriptures do not support this overconfidence. They teach us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. They warn us that even the godly are saved with difficulty (I Peter 4:18; Philippians 2:12).
“According to his deeds” (Romans 2:6); “according to that he hath done” (II Corinthians 5:10); “according to their works” (Revelation 20:12,13); “according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12); “according to your works” (Revelation 2:23); “I have not found thy works perfect before God” (Revelation 3:2).
The tenor of the writings of Paul, John, James, Peter, Jude, and the writer of the Book of Hebrews is that all persons on the earth, including Christians, will be rewarded according to their works. This emphasis is in harmony with the declarations made by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Prophets of Israel.
The final judgment of every person, except those who attain to 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?
The writings of the New Testament, beginning with the four Gospels, do not present faith in Christ as an escape from Hell, they present faith in Christ as the means of obtaining eternal life in the Presence of God.
The traditional definition of salvation is escape from Hell and eternal residence in Paradise. The New Testament definition of salvation appears to have more to do with being accepted or rejected by Christ at His appearing in His Kingdom. It seems the New Testament has little to say about what happens to us when we die physically; the emphasis is on whether we are tormented or blessed in the Day of Christ.
It is eternal life that is stressed, for the most part, meaning Life that is from God and that enables us to live in our bodies in the Kingdom of God—on the earth.
As far as we know, the New Testament usually speaks of Hell, tormenting fire, outer darkness, and lashes, in connection with unrighteous behavior, often on the part of the Lord’s servants! These punishments are not presented in the Gospels or the Book of Revelation as the consequence of not having received Christ.
As recorded in the Book of Acts, the Apostles did not preach about Hell. They preached the Kingdom of God, faith in the name of Christ in order to obtain forgiveness of sin, and repentance. They did not preach about going either to Hell or to Paradise.
The eternal life that comes to us from the Lord Jesus Christ always produces righteous behavior. Apart from righteous behavior there is no direct evidence of eternal life, there is no redemption, there is no Kingdom of God. The individual who is walking in the filthiness of the flesh is not walking in eternal life (I John 3:14).
We know from the Scripture that no condemnation abides on those who are “in Christ” (Romans 8:1). As long as we are trusting in Christ and doing His will, immature though we may be, we are free from condemnation. We shall rise from the dead and ascend to meet the Lord at His coming.
This righteousness comes from faith in Christ.
The righteousness that is of God by faith is founded on the blood of the cross and it cannot be improved on.
Nevertheless, we still shall reap what we sow. We still shall be rewarded according to our works. Perhaps we do not understand how these concepts are reconciled, but the Scriptures teach both and therefore we must accept both as equally true and valid.
There is a difference between being accepted before God on the basis of our belief in Christ and being perfect in works before God (Revelation 3:2).
Our redemption must be dynamic rather than static. When we receive Christ and are pressing forward in Him we are covered with His righteousness. Meanwhile we are being transformed. Our thinking, speech, and actions begin to change. The new creation makes its appearance.
No matter how young we may be in Christ, no matter how immature and inexperienced, if we genuinely have received Christ, have taken up our cross and are following Him in absolute sincerity, we are an overcomer. We have Christ’s righteousness. We are living by His Life. We will be raised and will ascend to meet Him when He appears. He will remove from us the last vestiges of sin and self-seeking at that time (Hebrews 9:28).
Christ is the Judge. If He decides that any individual has repented of his sins, has left the world, and has placed his whole love on Jesus, He will reward that person accordingly. He shall be counted as an overcomer. The good he has done by following Jesus is of such merit in the Kingdom of God that he will inherit all things.
If he continues to live on the earth he may suffer for a season as the Lord purifies him. When the Lord comes, this individual’s sins will not be mentioned (Ezekiel 18:22). He has been judged according to his behavior. He has been found to have overcome the world by placing all his love on Christ. His reward is to inherit all things (Revelation 21:7).
It is important to distinguish between immaturity, and walking with defiled garments.
If any person, young or old in the Christian faith, forsakes the world and centers all his heart on Christ, he is an overcomer immediately. He has overcome the world. He has worked the works that are the true sign of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.
He may suffer much throughout the days of his discipleship on the earth. Such suffering is a judgment on him so he may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God (II Thessalonians 1:4,5; I Peter 4:16-19).
All true disciples, whether their discipleship on earth lasts for one day or sixty years, will rise in the first resurrection. Whoever is found worthy to be called forth by Christ at His appearing, whoever is feeding on and living by His body and blood, whoever is filled with the “oil” of the Holy Spirit, will be delivered by the Lord at that moment.
The vestiges of sin and self-seeking, the imperfections of spirit, soul, and body—all will flee from the personalities of the members of the Body of Christ at the command of the righteous Judge. This is an eternal judgment.
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:28)
This is the Day of Redemption to which all true saints have been sealed.
Which is the earnest [pledge] of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:14)
And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30)
If any person believes in the name of Christ, is baptized in water, and then does not forsake the world, does not center all his love, hope, and trust in Christ, does not forsake the flesh, he is living in death. He will not be raised from the dead and ascend to meet the Lord when He appears. He has not worked the righteous works that always proceed from true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul, as described in Philippians 3:11, was pressing forward to full redemption (except, of course, for his physical body, which will be raised at the last trumpet), and was inviting us to do the same. He was seeking to accomplish as much as possible of judgment and spiritual deliverance now—in this present life. Perhaps it is true for most of us that some spiritual redemption will have to take place at the coming of the Lord.
It is possible to be “blameless” in spirit and soul and body (I Thessalonians 5:23). This is the final result of sanctification. One wonders what it would be like to arrive at the first resurrection now, to be living wholly in the resurrection power of Christ, to have our adamic nature nailed completely to the cross.
We can be eligible for the first resurrection even though we have not as yet attained to the mark of perfection. But we must be found “worthy.” It is our works in Christ that determine our worthiness; for every person will be rewarded according to his or her works.
What are the works in Christ that are the basis for the first resurrection from the dead? First, we are to be seeking righteousness, to know Christ, to be found in Him. We are not to be creating a righteousness of our own but the righteousness that comes as we enter the Person and will of Christ.
Christian works consist of: righteousness, which is upright and merciful dealing with people; holiness, which is oneness with God in our person and our behavior; and obedience to God, which is sternly and joyously obeying the Lord every day of our life.
All such works take place as we pursue Christ with all the concentration of our personality.
It is impossible to grow in righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God until we lay down our life, our own ambitions, our own plans, and take up our cross of self-denial. We then are to follow Christ wherever He goes. We do not strive to persuade Christ to do what we desire, as so many are advocating today.
If any person on the earth, including the Christian, walks in righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God, he or she will be rewarded accordingly.
If any person on the earth, including the Christian, walks in unrighteousness, moral filthiness, and disobedience to God, he or she will be rewarded accordingly. Such a person is in jeopardy of the Lake of Fire and cannot enter through the gates into the holy city of God.
The victorious saints have the guarantee in writing that they “shall not be hurt of [be harmed by] the second death” (Revelation 2:11), that the “second death hath no power” over them (Revelation 20:6).
Through faith in Christ, the victorious saints have conquered the lust of the world, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. They are walking in righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God. Therefore the Lake of Fire cannot injure them. Because they, through God’s grace, no longer are practicing the works that have been assigned to the Lake of Fire (Revelation 21:8), they no longer come under the authority of the Lake of Fire.
The believer who is overcome by the lust of the world, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, possesses no such assurance.
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. (II Peter 2:20)
Is it faith that enables us to escape the second death?
Yes, for no human being can please God apart from faith. Only faith in Christ is the “victory that overcometh the world” (I John 5:4). John goes on to state, “he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not” (5:18).
Is it righteous works that enable us to escape the second death?
Yes, for we “see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).
What is our conclusion? True faith always expresses itself through righteous works and by works faith is made living and effective.
Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? (James 2:22)
Did not Paul seek the righteousness that is of God by faith (Philippians 3:9)?
Yes, he did.
But the majority of Paul’s writings prevent the conclusion that if we profess belief in Christ our conduct no longer becomes critically important in attaining to the first resurrection or any other desirable aspect of our eternal destiny. True faith lives in works. The Scriptures do not teach an abstract faith that exists apart from the behavior of the individual.
As we follow the Lord in the Christian warfare we learn how to lean on the Lord. We cannot gain victory by our own efforts to overcome sin. We soon will give up in despair if we do. It is “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.” We have to do the fighting but it is always the Lord Jesus who gives the necessary strength and wisdom.
We learn to move with the Lord and rest with the Lord. He is the Overcomer with a capital “O.” We are an overcomer with a small “o.” We cannot fight the good fight of faith by ourselves and the Lord Jesus will not fight it for us.
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Revelation 3:21)
“Him that overcometh… even as I also overcame.”
The path to victory includes knowing how to rest in Jesus while we are gaining victory over Satan, over the spirit of the world, over our fleshly lusts, and over our own self-will and self-seeking. We gain total victory over these adversaries by the Spirit’s guidance and strength, as we pray, read, hope in, and trust in the Scriptures, as we confess our sins, as we resist the devil, as we gather together with fervent saints, as we minister to and are ministered to by the other members of the Body of Christ, and by all the other means God has provided.
To employ trusting in Jesus as the only aspect of the victorious Christian life, not following the Spirit’s guidance in using the means God has provided for gaining release from the world, for conquering our fleshly lusts, for overcoming our self-centeredness, will lead to confusion, passivity, despair, and finally, spiritual destruction—a complete loss of inheritance.
The current teaching that Jesus did all the overcoming for us is an error. This delusion was designed to destroy the moral character of the Church. Satan knows that God cannot use an unrighteous Church to bring the Kingdom of God to the earth.
Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament Scriptures advocates a trust in God apart from the daily, active, diligent, intense, single-minded seeking of God’s will in every area of personality and behavior.
Ordinarily God does not move us to read the Scriptures. He helps us, and then speaks to us when we make the effort on a consistent basis.
Ordinarily God does not move us to pray. He helps us and speaks to us when we make the effort on a consistent basis.
Ordinarily God does not move us to present our body a living sacrifice. He helps us when we make the effort day by day.
Ordinarily God does not move us to give an offering. God blesses us when we give of our means on a consistent basis.
Ordinarily God does not move us to resist the devil. We resist the devil, according to the commandment in the Word, and then God strengthens us.
Ordinarily God does not move us so that we choose Him in times of trial. We make the choice and then God blesses us. God provides a way of escape for us so we may emerge unharmed.
Ordinarily God does not move us to put to death the deeds of the flesh. We make the effort and then the Holy Spirit does the work.
Ordinarily God does not move in us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow the Lord. But God will bless us if we do so.
We say “ordinarily” because there often are times in our discipleship when the Lord prompts us or reminds us to do something. Also, there are seasons when God “bears us on eagles’ wings,” helping us through a difficult period. The times when the Lord “bears us on eagles’ wings, lifting us out of ourselves for a season, are extraordinary interventions, not the normal Christian experience. We do not grow during such times. We grow when we are using our spiritual “muscles.”
The above are a few of the commandments found in the New Testament writings. If we strive to obey them God will deliver us from sin and rebellion and we will enter eternal life.
But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. (Romans 6:17,18)
“Obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” The key is obedience.
But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end [the result is] everlasting life. (Romans 6:22)
Everlasting life is the result of holiness. We become holy as we obey the teaching of the Apostles.
It is of God that we address Jesus as Lord. It also is of God that we do what Jesus says. It is vain to call Jesus, Lord and then not do what He says.
Jesus will not obey the commandments for us, although He certainly stands ready to assist us as we come to Him for help. We must obey God in all that the Apostles have stated. When we obey the Word, God sets us free from sin. When we do not obey the Word we are not set free from sin. The result of slavery to sin is spiritual death.
Perhaps the reader is weighing the two alternatives. Should I rest in Jesus and wait for Him to live the Christian life in me, or should I obey the numerous commandments in the Gospels and the Epistles, praying always to God to help me overcome the love of the world, the love of sin, and the love of my self-will?
Must I overcome or did Jesus do all the overcoming for me?
If you are making this choice now we suggest you reread the New Testament and discover for yourself whether it teaches that Jesus will do it all for you and in you or whether you must make the effort to meditate continually in the written Word, being careful to do all that it commands.
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. (Joshua 1:8)
His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. (Matthew 25:26,27)
Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: (II Peter 1:10)
“If ye do these things.”
The majority of the passages of Paul’s epistles speaks of the absolute necessity of righteous, holy, and obedient conduct if one is to inherit the Kingdom of God. Pick one of Paul’s epistles at random. See for yourself how much of it is devoted to righteous, holy, and obedient behavior. Observe if Paul presents such works as desirable only but not essential to our entrance into the Kingdom of God.
The context of the third chapter of Philippians has to do with the true works of the saint. Paul disowns the “dead works” of Judaism as “loss for Christ.” Paul refers to all other “things” that were gain to him as “dung.” However, Paul associates certain works with “the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Let us examine those “works,” for they are the true works that bring us to the first resurrection from the dead.
- Gaining the excellency of the knowledge of Christ his Lord.
- Suffering the loss of all things.
- Counting all things but dung.
- Winning Christ (and this toward the end of his life—perhaps six years before his martyrdom!).
- Being found in Christ.
- Gaining the knowledge of the power of Christ’s resurrection.
- Gaining the knowledge of the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.
- Being conformed to the death of Christ.
- Forgetting the things that are behind.
- Reaching forth to the things that are before.
- Pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ.
These works constitute the true Christian walk. Paul was a giant of righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God because he always was pressing toward the mark of the upward calling of God—the calling to the first resurrection.
That these attitudes and actions are works can be seen in the following verses:
Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brothers, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (Philippians 3:17)
The “righteousness which is of God by faith” includes a walk, a pursuit of Christ.
It has been supposed that Paul was contrasting theological beliefs, and the living of a righteous, holy, and obedient life, when he was contrasting works and faith. Such is not the case.
Paul was contrasting the attempt to gain righteousness by our self-directed works—particularly, in Paul’s case, the works of the Law of Moses, with the single-minded pursuit of Christ.
There is an enormous chasm between interpreting Paul’s teaching to mean we should pursue Christ rather than our own program of good deeds, and interpreting his doctrine to mean God is saving us on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and we are quite free to live our life as we see fit while we are waiting to go to Heaven.
The only true Christian life is the life of single-minded consecration. The present level of Christian experience is far below the standard of the Scriptures.
The four destructive doctrines we mentioned previously, the concept of Divine grace as an overlooking of the sins of the believers whether or not they are serving the Lord; the overemphasis on the love and mercy of God while the consuming fire of His wrath is minimized; the rewards-only Judgment Seat of Christ; and the evacuation of all who term themselves Christian so they cannot be harmed by Antichrist or the great tribulation; all reflect the influence of humanism on Christian thinking. The common denominator seems to be the defining of Paul’s use of the term “faith” to mean assent to correct theology concerning Christ, and his use of the term “works” to mean godly behavior.
Paul never said or implied that it does not really matter how the saints behave, that they will not be rewarded according to their behavior. Our conscience, Paul’s exhortations and personal behavior, and the entire Scriptures, tells us this cannot be true.
Paul taught that we must give our life to gain the knowledge of God. Now that Christ, God’s Son, has been sent down from Heaven and has died on the cross for our sins, and has been raised for our justification, we are not to develop our own program of good deeds and attempt to please God by performing them.
We are to abandon our schemes for attaining God’s approval and turn our attention to the single-minded, intense, fervent, desperately earnest seeking of union with our Lord Jesus. This is what it means to be saved by faith rather than by works.
When we are pursuing Christ with zeal, in all fervency of spirit, we are regarded as righteous in the sight of God. Christ is covering us with His atoning blood.
Christ is God’s beloved Son. God desires that we hear Him, not that we develop some plan of redemption of our own or that we go back to the Law of Moses.
Christ is our Righteousness when we are abiding in Him, when we are living by His body and blood, when we are seeking Him night and day. We are not anxious concerning our past sins. They have been cast behind God’s back. Our seeking of Christ is the righteousness God desires and we shall be rewarded accordingly.
It appears the majority of Christian believers of today are not seeking Christ with all their heart. They are living with one foot in the world. They bear the image of the world in their hand and mind. They do the works of the world.
All such will be rewarded according to their works.
As the Scripture declares, every person will be rewarded according to his deeds (Romans 2:6).
We have stated previously that the eternal Life that comes to us from Christ always reveals itself in righteous, holy, and obedient behavior. Where there is unrighteous, filthy, and disobedient behavior there is no eternal Life of God. It is as simple and as straightforward as that.
Eternal life has more to do with quality of life than it does with duration of life. It has little or nothing to do with “going to Heaven”—an expression not found in the New Testament.
The equating of eternal life with duration of life and with “going to Heaven” has caused a misunderstanding of John 3:16 and John 5:24. These two verses have been interpreted to mean if we “accept” Christ we will go to Heaven to live forever.
This is not what they state and it is not what they mean.
The meaning of John 3:16 and John 5:24 is that if we believe in Christ in the sense of placing all our love and trust in Him, “hearing” His Word in our spirit and soul, we pass from spiritual death into spiritual life. We will not come under condemnation, because we have chosen to enter Christ.
Every day from that point forward we must press into union with Christ, continually nourishing the eternal life that has been given to us. This is the true Christian discipleship.
John 3:16 and John 5:24 do not mean that if we give assent to the words of the Gospel we will rise in the first resurrection; we will go to live in Heaven forever; that God will not take notice of how we behave after we have given assent to the facts of the atonement.
The devils believe and tremble. They have no eternal life. They know about God the Father and His holy Christ and they exist in terror of the coming judgment.
We must be laying hold on eternal life, on our union with Christ, at every moment throughout our lifetime. To not do so is to invite the forces of sin, corruption, and death to enter our personality. Seven unclean spirits more wicked than before will enter the house that had been cleansed.
Salvation is not a ticket to Heaven. Salvation is the transformation of the individual so he no longer has anything to do with Satan or Satan’s works but instead has entered the eternal Life that is in Christ and the Father. He who is undergoing this transformation is not under Divine condemnation but is passing from the death of Satan into the fullness of the life that is in the Lord Jesus.
The transaction begins the moment we truly receive Christ. But we must walk diligently in grace each day so we have enough “oil” (Matthew 25:4); so the Word in us is not choked out by the things of the world (Luke 8:14); so no man steals our crown—our place of rulership in the first resurrection (Revelation 3:11); so our name is not blotted out of the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5).
Our names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, not when we heard and believed the Gospel but from the creation of the world (Revelation 17:8). Now the task is to keep our name there. This we do, according to Revelation 3:5, by living the victorious life in Christ; by pursuing the Christian walk according to the directions given us by the Apostle Paul.
The righteous and holy attitude and conduct that the eternal Life of Christ works in us demonstrates our deliverance from the second death, from the Lake of Fire. Even with this the tongue of some believers is “set on fire of hell [Gehenna]” (James 3:6).
If we march forward in the Holy Spirit, gaining the victory over the world, Satan, and our lusts and self-will, we will win the Kingdom. We will rise to greet the Lord at His appearing. But if after having believed in Christ we continue in the ways of the world we will reap corruption in the Day of Christ. All the Apostles taught this.
There is no eternal life apart from righteous and holy conduct. The amount of eternal life we possess is revealed in our behavior. It is impossible for eternal life and sin to dwell together (I John 3:15). The fruit of freedom from sin, and slavery to God, is holiness of personality and behavior. The final result of holiness of personality and behavior is eternal life (Romans 6:22).
Without holiness no person ever shall see the Lord or be received by Him (Hebrews 12:14; II Corinthians 6:17).
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:13)
When a person dies physically a decision must be made concerning where he is to reside until the first resurrection or the second resurrection.
There are several areas of “waiting” set forth in the New Testament writings:
- Outer darkness—Matthew 25:30.
- Hell (Hades)—Luke 16:23. Gehenna—Matthew 5:30.
- The deepest abyss—II Peter 2:4.
- The eternal habitations—Luke 16:9.
- The sea—Revelation 20:13.
- Death—Revelation 20:13.
- Paradise—Luke 23:43.
- To be present with the Lord—II Corinthians 5:8.
- Under the altar—Revelation 6:9.
- Before the Throne of God—Revelation 7:15.
- On Mount Zion—Revelation 14:1.
The Old Testament adds:
- Sheol—Isaiah 14:9.
- Gathered to his people—Genesis 25:8.
Where does each individual go when he or she dies physically? As we have stated previously, the Old Testament and New Testament writings are not as clear as we may wish or as our tradition suggests. However, it certainly is true that the Scriptures do not portray eternal residence in the spirit Paradise as the goal of redemption.
For the Apostle Paul, to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8). Our opinion is that every overcomer, every individual whose life is hidden with Christ in God, whose life Christ is, will immediately be brought to the Throne of God upon his physical death; because the victorious saint already has become a part of Christ’s Life.
The best known passage of the Scriptures concerning Hell may be that of the rich man and Lazarus. This incident has nothing to do with receiving or rejecting Christ. The story concerns the rich man’s misuse of wealth.
Lazarus died and went to an area of the greatest blessing—“Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). Here is another place where souls are waiting for the Day of the Lord.
Why did Lazarus go to Abraham’s bosom? Not because he worked righteousness; not because he accepted Christ. Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom because he had suffered in the world.
We can see from this that our simplistic concept of salvation does not represent the complete witness of the Scriptures.
Lazarus was gathered to his people. Whether or not Lazarus will rise in the first resurrection as one of God’s kings we do not know. We think Lazarus will have a place in the Kingdom of God when it descends from Heaven into the earth.
The rich man did not reject Christ. This was not his sin. His sin was one of omission. He failed to share his wealth with a poor man who was laid at his gate.
Because of the sin of selfishness the rich man descended into the flame of Hell when he died physically. Hell is his place of waiting until the time of the second resurrection from the dead. Then he will be given back his body and will be judged according to his works.
If at that time his name is not found written in the Book of Life he will be cast into the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. He will enter the Lake of Fire in his body, there to be an eternal witness of the result of sinning against the Lord God (Isaiah 66:24).
Was any good found in the rich man? Yes. After having been denied a little water to cool his tongue he did not curse God, Abraham, or Lazarus. Rather, he sought the salvation of his five unrepentant brothers.
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, we will go to be present with the Lord when we die. Let us never assume we will go to be present with Him if we are not living in Him today, if we are leading a nominal, casual, lukewarm Christian life. Even the righteous Christians 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 that will be denied the light and glory of the Kingdom, just as Egypt was in darkness while there was light in Goshen. 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 fiery Gehenna, to which Jesus referred several times (Matthew 5:22; 10:28; 23:15; Mark 9:43; Luke 12:5), may be the same as the Lake of Fire—the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
The Beast and the False Prophet will be cast alive (in their bodies) into the Lake of Fire at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age (Revelation 19:20). The fact that they will be hurled in while they are in their bodies suggests that the Lake of Fire is a spiritual-material lake of burning sulfur.
Jesus spoke of the “goat nations” being assigned to the “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). It seems that the False Prophet, the beast, and the goat nations will enter the Lake of Fire before the second resurrection. They will be thrown in while in their bodies. This may be why Jesus spoke about “having two hands to go into hell [Gehenna]” (Mark 9:43). It is possible that we enter Gehenna in our body.
The rich man asked that Lazarus might place some water on his tongue (Luke 16:24) The rich man was in Hell, or Hades. We assume his body was in the grave so it is interesting that he spoke of his tongue.
The “sea” (Revelation 20:13) may refer to the multitude of people throughout history who never have heard of God, of Israel, of Moses, or of Christ. They cannot be judged by the Ten Commandments or by the Gospel of the Kingdom because they have heard of neither.
In the Kingdom of God an individual is judged on the basis of the light he has received, whether the Law of Moses, the Gospel of Christ, or his or her conscience (John 15:22-24; Romans 2:14-16; Romans 7:7-9).
“Death” (Revelation 20:13) may be related to the “outer darkness.” This area of lack of eternal life may be for those who knew the Lord but who chose to walk in sin, particularly in material comforts. Paul claims that if we (Christians) live in the appetites of the flesh we will die.
Paul does not state that the sinning Christian will be cast into the fires of Hell (as happened to the rich man). In fact, Paul does not mention the term Hell in any of his epistles. It appears that Hell is for the wicked, while it is the members of the churches who are killed “with death” (Revelation 2:23).
Death and Hell ride together (Revelation 6:8) and they 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. This is the original curse. Hell, an area of spiritual torment, often is associated with death.
In several passages of the New Testament it is the believers, as we have said, who are threatened with spiritual death (Romans 6:23; 8:13; Revelation 2:23; II Peter 2:1). If a believer walks in the flesh he will die spiritually. It is possible that his spirit will be saved in the Day of the Lord Jesus, but where will he be in the meantime?
The rich man was cast into the flame of Hell because he had not been willing to share his material blessings with Lazarus, the beggar. Lazarus was saved from the tormenting flame of Hell because he had suffered on the earth.
We think many Christians will descend into the flames of Hell when they die because they have lived in pleasure on the earth while the needy (both spiritually and physically) have perished on every side. The needy will go to Paradise but the selfish, wealthy Christians will go to Hell.
God is not nearly as interested in our doctrinal correctness as He is in our relationships with people, and our willingness to follow Christ in the work of the Kingdom of God.
It appears that the majority of the participants in the second resurrection will be saved. Notice the wording carefully: “whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
The wording here 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.
If the minority of participants were to be saved it would read: whoever was found written in the Book of Life was not cast into the lake of fire. In this instance, the exception would be the person who was spared.
If no person were to be spared the maximum sentence, the sentence that is worse than all other eternal destinies, the passage would read: no person was found written in the Book of Life. Every individual was cast alive into the lake that burns with fire and sulfur.
If this is what God meant, this is what God would have said.
Evidently death and Hell are spirits, for they go through the land like two people (Revelation 6:8) and then are cast into the Lake of Fire.
Many have been called to the first resurrection but few have been chosen. When we begin as a Christian our name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It has been there from the creation of the world. We have been raised with Christ. Our life is hidden with Christ in God. All this has been given us freely by God’s grace working through Christ. We already have been raised above Satan and are eternally alive.
Now the race begins. The world, Satan, people, our lusts, our unbelief, our self-love—all combine to move us from our position. Every day of our Christian pilgrimage, eternal death and eternal life struggle for dominion over our personality.
Our task is to stand, to allow no man to steal our crown, to labor to make our calling and election certain.
If, through the Lord’s grace and our diligence in laying hold on that grace, we overcome the world, Satan, people, our lusts, our unbelief, our self-love, we will inherit all things.
If we are overcome by the world, or Satan, or people, or our lusts, or our unbelief, or our self-love, we are in danger of having our name blotted out of the Book of Life. This is scriptural (Revelation 3:5).
We have been called to the Throne of God. It is an upward calling. The climax of our attainment, our victory, is participation in the first resurrection, the resurrection that is out from among the dead. Truly, he who overcomes inherits all things, and God is his God and he is God’s son—forever.
We must, as Paul, always be seeking to grasp that for which we have been grasped, that is, the fullness of the inheritance in Christ. Christ will divide the spoil with the strong (Isaiah 53:12).
Those who prove by their fervent pursuit of Christ to be the members of the one Body, the one true Church, the Wife of the Lamb, the new Jerusalem, God’s kings and priests, will be raised from among the dead at the time of the first resurrection—the point in history when the Lord Jesus returns to establish His righteous Kingdom on this earth.
Every other human being will be judged fairly and thoroughly. Christ will make the decision as to the eternal destiny of each, according to his works, after reviewing the record in the Book of Life.
The Lake of Fire is the maximum penalty. It is eternal separation from our Creator without hope of reprieve. Those who continue to sin and rebel against the Lord God will be cast into the Lake of Fire in their bodies, there to serve eternally as witnesses of God’s righteous judgment.
For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. (Isaiah 66:22-24)
(“The First and Second Resurrections”, 4059-1)