Bible prophecy teaches about, not just one, but three future mass resurrections. If you think everyone goes to heaven or hell when they die, then it’s time to understand what the Bible says about God’s genius plan to use multiple resurrections to "raise" up children like himself—with nearly all coming to understand that only his way of love works and to choose to live for eternity with him on earth in harmony.
When the Bible Sounds "Wrong"
Have you ever read the Bible and noticed how what you're taught by Christianity or at church makes the Bible sound "wrong" at times? You can literally be reading the Bible and thinking, "that can't be right, because every Christian knows this instead..."
Want an example? Read this passage about events at Jesus' return to reign:
Revelation 20:1-4 (HCSB) —1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. 4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the people who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years.
"What's that? They are just coming back to life when Christ returns? That can't be right because everyone knows the righteous all go to live in Heaven when they die..."
Isn't it bizarre to find ourselves arguing with the Bible? Yet when you have always been taught something to the point you "know it," statements to the contrary are just going to sound wrong at first, even if those statements come from the Bible!
Who Needs the Resurrection, Anyway?
Indeed, the resurrection seems pointless or superfluous in the context of Christian teaching. Christians generally believe that people go to either heaven or hell immediately upon death. In either case, they spend eternity there and that's that. If that's the case, what does God need to have a resurrection for?
In the New Testament you will find 40 references to the "resurrection" of the dead. The Book of Hebrews and Paul call the resurrection a foundational teaching (Heb 6:1-2; 1Co 15:14). Peter called the fact of the resurrection the reason for our faith (1Pe 1:3).
Obviously, somebody is wrong; either the Bible or the popular Christian teaching. Whichever it is, neither alternative is going to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Because of the cognitive dissonance, or mental stress that holding these two opposing teachings creates, most perplexed readers try not to think about it. They move on to another part of the Bible, one with hopefully less difficulties. That's understandable as this dilemma seems impossible to resolve for most. The reality is that few Christians are tenacious truth seekers like many who seek out and return to my studies. They would rather be comfortable and "fit in" than be awkward and hold a minority truth that gets them funny looks or rejection. They are not equipped to succeed spiritually in this present world deceived by Satan (Rev 12:9) when falsehood is widespread and truth is hidden and must be dug for. (God knows this, loves them as they are and has a plan to include them in salvation as we'll see below.)
Before you decide which teaching to accept on this question, let's cover the key verses on the resurrection. You will see that the resurrection is bigger and more exciting than you ever imagined. It even reveals the incredible compassion and wisdom of God in how he will deal with "the lost."
Three Future Resurrections
There is not just the one resurrection taught in Bible prophecy that most Christians have heard of. There are a total of three future "mass" resurrections. I say mass resurrection to differentiate from individual resurrections like when Paul raised Eutychus from the dead after he fell asleep during his teaching (Acts 20:7-12). While individual resurrections can happen whenever someone has the faith to pull it off, the three mass resurrections have a predetermined, fixed schedule and purpose in God's plan to raise up humanity in his image.
- "The First Resurrection" (Rev 20:4; 1Co 15:23) — This is the resurrection we read about above in Revelation 20:4 where the saints "come back to life" to reign with Christ at his coming. It's the simplest one to understand: only "the dead in Christ," or the righteous, are in this resurrection (1Th 4:16). They rise up on the day of the Rapture (Tishrei 1/Day of Trumpets) at Christ's Second Coming. They continue on up to heaven for the marriage supper of the Lamb. They return ten days later on Tishrei 10/Yom Kippur/Armageddon to reign for 1000 years with Christ. (Tishrei 1 - Tishrei 10 = ten days). This is a time of peace because God's Word fills the earth (Hab 2:14) and Satan, his demons, and their associated deception are removed (Rev 12:9; 20:2-3). God's loving way of peace will be taught and practiced by nearly all.
- The Resurrection of the Lost (Eze 37:1-14=Rev 20:5a) — After the Millennium is over and after Satan's release, rebellion and destruction soon after, the "rest of the dead" come back to life (Rev 20:5). Since all the righteous came up in the first resurrection, "the rest" could only be the lost. This is all those who lived and died since Adam but did not hear or become convinced by God's Word/will and adopt it (Lk 8:21). Rather than being summarily damned to hell for all eternity for their ignorance, skepticism or deception regarding salvation (as Christianity teaches), they come up in physical bodies again as Ezekiel's famous "Valley of Dry Bones" vision literally portrays for all humanity through the example of the nation of Israel (Act 10:34-35). This resurrection is the secret to God's plan to save everyone. It gives a second chance to all those who died before the age of accountability (like aborted babies), the mentally handicapped, and to the many individuals who lived and died without ever hearing or adopting God's word. Satan's deception today makes it very hard to find the truth and live it through persecution and trials. God does not penalize us for not making it in this evil world; instead, he rewards us greatly if we do make it now, against the odds. We get to rule for 1000 years with Christ (something those in the second resurrection do not get to do). Most won't be radical enough to pull this off and will need a world without Satan's deception to see the superiority of God's way to gain salvation. "How many billions of people will live on the earth after the resurrections and how will they be accommodated and fed?", some ask. The Bible does not specify, but just from the information already covered in this article, it's easy to answer.
- There are 1000 years of great peace and prosperity to prepare for their arrival with housing and training centers.
- There will be millions of glorified saints and the angels to do the work with great divine capacity.
- By the end of the Millennium, there will be billions of people also on earth to help prepare and to receive them.
Given all that and a big earth to spread them over, I don't see a problem with a literal second resurrection to flesh of all the wicked just as Revelation 20:5 and Ezekiel 37 describe.
- The Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-13=1Co 15:24) — This resurrection comes sometime after the second resurrection; exactly how long after is not revealed. It would make sense if it came after everyone in the previous resurrection finishes their second life of learning God's ways, perhaps within 1000 years. Regardless, Revelation says all the dead come up to stand before Christ on his great white throne and are judged according to the books and their works (Rev 20:13). This is for everyone else who lived and died since Adam and missed the first resurrection. (Those who were already glorified in the first resurrection do not stand in this judgment.) At this point, everyone who became righteous after the first resurrection is given eternal life. Those few who still remain "wicked" or in rebellion to God after their two lives receive death in the lake of fire for eternity (Rev 20:15). This is the end of the phase of mortal flesh and blood humans (Rev 20:14-15) and the end of death, too. Only glorified humans remain and they all live in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:8; 22:15).
Heaven or Hell Upon Death?
You may have noticed in the passages above that when someone dies, it does not say they go on living in either heaven (or even in hell). They wait until one of the first two resurrections (which one of course depends on their status as righteous or wicked, respectively). That means they are not alive and waiting until then.
Where do they wait? The Bible indicates that the souls of the dead do go to heaven, returning to God "who gave the spirit" (Ecc 12:7). However, it also indicates that while we are "present with the LORD" we are not conscious but "resting:"
Revelation 6:9 — When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Notice that even exalted martyrs are revealed to be "resting" under the altar in heaven, not walking around and playing harps or talking with Jesus. They seem to be revived in order to speak for a brief moment at the 5th seal, and then are told to "go back to resting."
This is what the consensus of the verses on the afterlife tells us. Our reward at death is not to go immediately to stay in heaven consciously, but to wait in suspension (Rev 6:11) for the first resurrection and then to rise (Rev 20:4) and rule on the earth (Mt 5:5) after a short ten-day visit to heaven (Rev 15:2).
That may be disappointing news for most, but before you get upset, consider the silver lining. This also means that unsaved people do not go to hell upon death, either. The wicked await a resurrection, as well. The difference is they get a second chance in the flesh without Satan's deception rather than getting glorified. They can upgrade to a glorified, spirit body at the Great White Throne Judgment if they learn God's way and adopt it before they die in their second life.
"Depart From Me, I Never Knew you!" - Jesus
Jesus predicted that he will tell many sincere believers to basically "get lost" instead of welcoming them into the Kingdom. So...who are they and what did they miss or do wrong? In this study, get those answers and the one requirement for salvation Jesus taught (that Christianity misses) so that you can make sure you don't hear these dreaded words yourself!
If not, then they get the Bible's merciful version of hell: a short swim in the Lake of Fire. The key difference being that there is not eternal torment there. They are burnt up instantly and spared from suffering a wicked life that only brings misery. God is not a sadist but is merciful even to the wicked (Luke 6:35).
What about "Lazarus and the Rich Man?" (Luke 16:19-31) It is accepted as a parable drawing upon the pagan Egyptian concept of the afterlife to teach about the reversal of fortunes that happens in the next life. (Christianity did not introduce the concept of hell, but absorbed it from paganism into its traditions just as Judaism did.) Then why did Jesus use it? Why do pastors today tell stories about "Peter at the Pearly Gates" or other tales about people doing things that we know are not literal but are familiar and accessible for us? Because they work well to hold attention and teach an important lesson. Jesus used many "objectionable" tales like this, without regard to them having inaccuracy, dishonesty or unfairness. For example, the parable of the unjust steward or the day workers who were unfairly paid the same no matter how many hours they worked.
"Born Again" = Glorified = Spirit-Bodied (Not Saved in the Flesh)
While we're talking about the resurrection to a glorified body, we might as well correct a common misconception in Christianity about the term born again. Christians think they are already "born again" when they accept Jesus and are still in the flesh. However, when Jesus spoke of born again/from above he gave two clues about it. That you cannot see the Kingdom of God until it happens to you (John 3:3) and secondly, that being born again allows you to move invisibly like the wind (John 3:8).
Thus, if you as a Christian think you are born again already you need to ask yourself if you are seeing the Kingdom of God right now and if you are able to move invisibly like the wind? Obviously the answer is, no, and your definition of born again is incorrect.
Born again does not happen until the first resurrection/rapture when we get that glorified spirit body to replace our physical bodies. We literally are "born again, from above" (John 3:3) at that time. Those who are born again have eternal bodies for eternal existence. If you are still in a mortal body you are not born again.
Objection #1: "Absent from the body is to be present with the LORD" (2Co 5:8)
Even though the "soul sleep" while people wait for the resurrection is the literal teaching of the Bible, there are a few verses that people think contradict this teaching. One of the main proof texts Christians use to defend the idea of going to heaven to be with Jesus consciously upon death is this verse:
2 Corinthians 5:8 — We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
One way to answer this passage was already touched on above. The teaching of waiting for the resurrection does not contradict that we go to heaven when we die. It just denies that we are alive and conscious immediately then.
The other way to answer is more what I think Paul had in mind, what one actually perceives going from life to death to resurrection. When you sleep, you are faintly conscious of the passage of time. When you wake, you have a general idea if you slept minutes, hours or all night. But when you're dead, you "know nothing" (Ecc 9:5) including awareness of time. That means the very next moment of consciousness after you lose consciousness at death will be you in the resurrection! For the righteous like Paul, to say you'd rather leave your body and be present with the LORD sounds immediate because it will seem immediate in perception. That perception does not deny the fact that you wait completely unconscious for potentially thousands of years in between your last consciousness and your next consciousness. You just will have no awareness of any gap. You die and wake up (to your mind) immediately in the resurrection with Jesus.
Therefore, there does not have to be any contradiction in what Paul said and what the Bible teaches on the dead waiting unconscious for the resurrection.
Objection #2: "Man is appointed to die once" (Heb 9:27)
The other objection I hear all the time against the teaching of the second resurrection and second chance and therefore second death for some (most) people comes from what Hebrews says:
Hebrews 9:27-28 — Just as man is appointed to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.
This verse seems to say "we all can only die once." In isolation that would be a reasonable conclusion. However, in context, that's not what it's saying as I'll show below.
Some Die Zero Times
But first without any study of the context we can disprove that interpretation very quickly by considering what Paul says about what happens to the living at the 7th trumpet when Jesus returns:
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (HCSB) —16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord.
Do you see the problem with saying Hebrews teaches "everyone dies exactly once?" Paul contradicts this idea by revealing that some of the saints will never die. If we happen to be alive when Jesus returns, we will never taste death as we are "quickened" from flesh to spirit (1Co 15:51-52) and are caught up to heaven with Jesus.
In other words, Hebrews is only speaking of an "appointment" to die. Not everyone makes that appointment, and some die two or even three times (in the case of those very few who reject God after two lives and then die again after being raised to face judgment). "One death appointment" is a true statement for the sake of the argument he is making. We are mortal, will be judged and must have someone pay for our sins if we are to go on.
Then what does "once" mean? It's clear if you read the rest of the thought in verse 28. Paul is teaching the relationship between two steps in fallen human life and two steps in Messiah's perfect life. Just as we are to die once and then come to judgment, so too does the Messiah die once as an offering then comes back at the Second Coming bringing salvation. His point is not to declare the absolute number of times all humans die.
Objection #3: "Most interpret Ezekiel 37:1-14 'dry bones' as a figurative picture of Israel's regathering, not a literal resurrection"
Yes, the Jewish interpretation of the dry bones prophecy is that it is figurative. This probably influenced Christianity's predominant view. Indeed, there is a natural attraction to read Ezekiel 37:1-14 as a parallel to the rest of the chapter's "two sticks" prophecy which speaks plainly about the regathering of Israel to become one stick in the hand of God (Eze 37:15-28).
However, this overlooks that after the dry bones vision is concluded, God gives his own interpretation of it! Notice this:
Ezekiel 37:11-12 — 11 Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off.' 12 Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord GOD says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel. 14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.
If the dry bones prophecy was only about "settling Israel in your own land" like most Jews and Christians assume, then that's all God had to say as his interpretation of the bones (Eze 37:14). Instead, God specifies that this prophecy involves "graves" being "opened," bodies being "brought up" (exhumed) (Eze 37:12), caused to "live" again, and then finally "settle you in your own land" (Eze 37:14). This means the prophecy is a depiction of a literal resurrection to physical bodies, which is quite fantastic and therefore, again, "seems wrong" to the person reading it and coming to this conclusion.
Where does such a mass physical resurrection fit in God's plan? The reader would have to get over the common fear of the Book of Revelation and read all the way to the end to catch a parenthetical passage in one verse for that answer. (A few translations like NIV actually add parenthesis in the right place to help the reader.):
Revelation 20:5 (NIV) — 4 ... And they [the righteous] came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead [the wicked] did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection [the righteous].
Now, some interpret this passage in isolation as only referring to how the wicked come alive later to stand for the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-12). But if that's the verse's purpose, it's completely unnecessary; the judgment passage comes only six verses later telling us plainly "everyone" comes out of their graves to be judged.
No, Revelation 20:5 must be referring to another lifetime for the wicked. It finally tells us where to fit Ezekiel's dry bones resurrection passage. That this resurrection comes right before the judgment when all are "judged according to the books and their works" (Rev 20:12) is also significant. For them to be judged by their works against God's books, they must first be taught (finally, clearly) what these books say and require of them. Plus, they must be given the chance to comply with this once informed. I think this period and lifetime lasts 1000 years, just like those who are still alive or born in the Millennium seem to live a 1000 year life span again (Isa 65:20=Gn 5:27).
Questions and Answers (Added April, 2019)
Since writing the article above, I have received great interest in the topic as reflected by many questions. A common theme among those contacting me is how they admit they struggle seeing teaching in the Bible for themselves because there are only two passages on the subject (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Rev 20:5) and no large Christian denominations teach it, only a few fringe, Sabbath-keeping ones that some label cults. To help others, here's an actual Q&A conversation I had with some readers (from the comments section below) that is typical of many I have had over the years on this topic:
Taylor asks: Hi Tim! I have read the support articles and still don’t full understand the second resurrection. Like you said, the Bible does not really expand upon the idea and you had to do some work to really find it and synthesize it. Does anyone else you know hold this idea as truth? If it was the truth, why is it not talked about and why does no one know about it? I really hope it’s true, I hope everyone gets to walk with Jesus without Satan in their ear, its just a radical idea!
Tim answers: That’s a very fair question which I’ll let Jesus answer since you’re asking about one of the “mysteries of the kingdom” as Paul categorized “the resurrection” (1Co 15:51-52). Jesus said the mysteries of the kingdom he shared (and by implication, all those inspired by the HS in the Bible) were hidden on purpose from the masses and revealed only to the “inner circle” few, like his 12 apostles. The 2 billion Christians today are not privy to these secrets by default without hearing Jesus' private explanations that the apostles did (Mark 4:33-34; Mt 13:10-11). Out of nearly four dozen parables, we only have two of those private explanations recorded! So the Bible remains hard on purpose and we have to live with scant evidence for mysteries like this which keep them hidden. We can be glad we know them even if we cannot get others to see them, OK? And you have to diligently seek, on the internet, etc. and not just from your pastor like you do, to find them.
Taylor asks: I read the resurrection article [above]. In Rev 20 it talks about the 1000 years being over and the books being opened, and everyone not in the first resurrection being judged (the rest of the dead). It immediately says anyone whose name is not in the book is thrown into the lake of fire, so I don’t understand where there is any period of time for living. It seems like you’re either risen at the first resurrection or at the second where they open the book and if you’re not in it—bam you’re done. That’s just based on the scripture I’ve been focusing on. I also don’t know how you can connect Ezekiel to Revelation or know they they’re related. Obviously Ezekiel is about Israel regrouping but how can we know it’s a dual prophecy? Also, I think the only sect that teaches this idea is the Church of God, which is interesting and a denomination I haven’t looked into because of stigmas about being a cult (at least in my neck of the woods) but I’m nondenominational so I’ll definitely look into it. Like Harold, I’ve been seeking the word more and seeking to love more and focusing less on attending an institution! Thanks always Tim!
Tim answers: These are good questions. Read Rev 20:5 carefully and note that it says the rest of the dead “LIVE again.” Since this group can only be the remaining unrighteous who were deceived by Satan (Rev 12:9) and all will be judged at the end by God’s law which these never were taught clearly, then a fair God must let them “live” for long enough to learn and practice what they are going to be judged by, yes? Also, you’re right Ezekiel 37 is a vision of the lost of Israel getting another chance/life in the flesh. However, again, it would be unfair of God to make that exclusive for Israel and the Bible tells us he is not a "respecter of persons" (Rom 2:11=Joel 2:32=Rom 10:13). The best understanding of that vision therefore is that it’s showing through Israel what God is going to do for all humanity. Several prophecies use this approach. For example Revelation 12’s “the woman”, representing all saints being protected in the Great Tribulation, not just Israeli saints, yes? Again, God never promised the Bible would be easy or clear and these curve balls are how he throws most off the trail of the mysteries of the kingdom. They require good critical thinking skills which most do not have.
Yes, I learned this teaching from a so-called “cult” but A) if the dominant religious leaders calling you a cult are themselves deceived and teaching lies (Mt 24:4-5), what value does their opinion have? and B) Jesus’ group was called a cult as well by the dominant religion at least by Paul’s time (Acts 24:5). C) Truth stands on its own merit and there is no place you can learn truth that does not also have lies and errors, too.
Taylor asks: Good answer Tim! Thank you! I’ll think about it more. Having trouble really believing it and wrapping my head around it since it is so not obvious in scripture so I’ll pray about it. If people get one chance at salvation though, wouldn’t only the second resurrection folks be those who died young, babies, mentally disabled, and those who lived prior to Jesus or rejected him initially? What makes you think it could include people living today who just never fully grasp what they need for salvation or are taught incorrectly but never seek truth, or are confused?
Tim answers: I would call this an area to pray for God to help you confirm. It’s a game changer.
Yes, I’m sure normal, healthy people qualify for the second chance as it’s not fair to condemn a person to eternal death when God lets Satan deceive the whole world (Rev 12:9; for example, Evolution is a very plausible and popular faith/religion, the religion of Science) and God’s truth is hidden (like Jesus said plainly) and requires great diligence to find since Christianity is not teaching it and the Bible is hard to understand. The purpose of this epoch is not to condemn most "basically lazy" people to hell but to show what happens when humanity lacks God’s spirit and government: genocide…and yet a few still succeed to demonstrate that God’s truth was available and his way doable if someone was able to diligently seek it out. God is innocent of shoving his religion down our throat and of leaving us without any chance or help. His plan is fair and simply brilliant.
Christina asks: I know Satan is cast into the lake of fire after the 1000 year Millennial reign. So if he was loosed for a season at the end of the Millennial reign to tempt the people living then, then how can the people of the third resurrection be tested / tempted if he’s gone/ thrown into the lake of fire? Hope my question makes sense!
Tim answers: Christina, as long as people are in the flesh, even without the help of the Devil and demons, they can be tempted, tested, feel pain, suffer and otherwise stimulated to build character. It just takes longer in such a utopia, which is another argument for why mankind had a near 1000-year life span before the Flood and why this same long life span returns in the Millennium and into the 2nd resurrection period (Isa 65:10).
Did you notice while looking at Hebrew 9:28 that it proves the point that the righteous (whether dead or alive) are waiting for Jesus' Second Coming to bring them their "salvation?"
Hebrews 9:28 — so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.
Hebrews' statement here matches the idea that we don't get salvation in heaven upon death (as Christianity teaches); we all wait for Jesus to "bring" it to us at his Second Coming (Rev 20:5).
I hope you enjoyed the thrilling insights from the three resurrections in Bible prophecy. For more of that and to also finally have both understanding and peace about end-time events coming soon upon us, please consider supporting me and yourself by getting my book Know the Future.
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