What the Bible says about
Resurrection to Immortal Life
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Satan's heresy that "You shall not surely die," when expanded, claims that we are already immortal, so death has no real hold over us. This idea, proposed at the very beginning, has thrived throughout history. Mainstream Christianity calls it the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, while various Eastern religions contain it in beliefs such as reincarnation. Whatever its moniker, the belief that human beings possess a spiritual, eternally conscious, imperishable component is a major tenet of nearly every religion throughout man's history. In our modern culture, books and movies abound with examples of the spirits of the dead hovering around the living characters, giving them comfort, aid, and encouragement. It is taken as given that death is not the end; somehow, one's conscious spirit will live on when the physical body perishes.
The Gnostic belief in the dualism of flesh and spirit—with the flesh being evil and something to be freed from, while the eternal spirit was good—also originated in the lie Satan told Eve. Gnostics, in general, believed that the purpose of human existence was to return to the spiritual realm from whence all originated. Death, then, was seen as liberation of the spirit.
First, consider how this belief affects a person's attitude and way of life. When Satan undermined the death penalty for disobedience, in addition to sowing further distrust in what God says, he also blunted one of the keenest elements of human motivation, continued self-preservation. If life beyond the grave is assured, how this life is lived makes little difference. It is like guaranteeing a college freshman that he will receive a doctorate degree, regardless of whether anything is learned, any work is done, any classes are attended, or any tuition is paid. While the student may indeed expend some effort, the motivation to apply himself wholeheartedly to his education will be substantially weakened. It would be so easy to slack off and postpone catching up to some time next week. After all, if the goal is certain, why worry about the details in the meantime?
Spiritually, the result is the same. If one already has immortality, and is eternally saved, there is no pressing reason to resist the pulls of carnality. Resisting Satan matters little. Devoting one's life to growing and overcoming has no urgency. Sin is no big deal. Why should one study to come to know God and His truth? Believing that one already possesses eternal life removes the urgency to live according to the desires and requirements of the Creator. At best, all that remains is the vague guidance of "just be a good person."
The Bible teaches that there can be life after death through the resurrection from the dead. Eternal life is ours only if God supplies it, and not because we possess an immortal soul:
» God tells us, "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die." (Ezekiel 18:4; emphasis ours throughout). God repeats this in Ezekiel 18:20. Clearly, it is possible for a "soul" to die.
» Paul instructs in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death," not eternal life—not even eternal life in ever-burning hell. As with Ezekiel 18, sin incurs the death penalty. Satan, though, would have us believe that since death is not a real threat, sin is no big deal. It is only because of God's grace that we are not struck down immediately—not because of any inherent immortality within us—as the rest of Romans 6:23 explains: "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eternal life is a gift, not an inborn quality.
» I Timothy 6:16 says that God "alone has immortality"—not any member of the human race, Christians included!
» Romans 2:7 promises "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality," again proving that eternal life is a gift, not a right, and that immortality must be sought (by "doing good") rather than assumed to have it already.
» Finally, in the "Resurrection Chapter," I Corinthians 15, Paul explains when Christians receive immortality:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (I Corinthians 15:50-54)
It is not until "the last trumpet," when Jesus Christ returns, that the dead will be resurrected and given immortality (I Thessalonians 4:16). At this time, the saints will be changed and given new spiritual bodies (I Corinthians 15:49; I John 3:2). Clearly, immortality is not given until the resurrection from the dead, which does not take place until Jesus Christ returns.
That God must resurrect a person for him to continue living means that He retains sovereignty. He is not obliged to grant eternal life to anyone who demonstrates, once he has the opportunity to know God, that he is not willing to be subject to His way of life. However, by belittling the truth about the resurrection from the dead, and telling people that they already have immortality, Satan can distract them from a basic reason why they need to listen to God—so that they may be resurrected and continue living!
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
God has endowed us with the sense of the future and with a curiosity about what goes on beyond the grave: Is there life beyond the grave? Do we have immortality? Is this life all there is? He has made man with the capacity to think about these matters. Unfortunately, as Solomon says, nobody can figure out what He is doing. Without vision, people perish (Proverbs 29:18); without revelation, people cast off restraint—they go off the path.
"They do not know what He is doing from the beginning" does not refer to what He is doing in His creative acts but the purpose of life. His purpose has been revealed to us that we might have the same hope that God has for us: to share all eternity with Him and live as He does. If we have caught the vision and understand what the resurrection is—the doorway through which we step to continue in all of its fulness the kind of life that God has already introduced to us and we have begun to put into practice—we realize that we will be able to continue as His companions, His children for all eternity. This is what the resurrection represents!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Resurrection From the Dead
In Luke 16:19-31 appears the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which Jesus spoke to those who would not repent. Jesus uses it to help them understand His earlier words: "Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:27-28). In the parable, the rich man—representing all workers of iniquity, all sinners—illustrates what is to befall the unrepentant.
The wicked will be raised to physical life in their resurrection, and then, immediately knowing that they are doomed, they will be cast into the Lake of Fire designed by God to consume them. The Lake of Fire will burn them up completely and finally. Jesus pictures the rich man crying out for help because of his mental and physical anguish at this time, but he is not burning eternally in hell fire. He is soon consumed while Lazarus the beggar dwells safely in immortality.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Part One)
Perhaps no other doctrine more clearly exposes the effectiveness and thoroughness of Satan's deception of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). Jesus plainly states in John 3:13, "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of man who is in heaven." Yet, most of the Christian world believes that immediately upon death a person's soul wafts off to heaven to be with others of the dearly departed.
This verse does not stand alone; many scriptures confirm Jesus' testimony. Peter says regarding the highly respected, man-after-God's-own-heart David, ". . . he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. . . . For David did not ascend into the heavens . . ." (Acts 2:29, 34).
Other scriptures remind us that, when a person dies, he is without consciousness:
For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. . . . Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10)
Psalm 146:3-4 adds, "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans [thoughts, KJV] perish."
Jesus identifies Himself in Revelation 1:18 as, "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen." He says something similar as He begins His message to the church at Smyrna: "These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life" (Revelation 2:8). Who are we to believe, a God who never lies or the tales of false prophets? Was Jesus telling the truth when He said He was dead - that He was not off in heaven during those three days and three nights, conversing with the Father, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses? If we believe the Bible, the answer is beyond question.
The gospel Jesus Christ brought reveals the Kingdom of God as the Christian hope. The Bible teaches that a person must remain in his grave, unaware of events in the conscious world, until a resurrection occurs, when his life is renewed (just as Jesus' was), his body is changed to spirit, and he enters God's Kingdom.
In I Corinthians 15:50-54, the apostle Paul teaches that the resurrection does not occur until Christ returns. Then, those who "died in Christ" will be resurrected from their graves with spiritual bodies, and the living saints will also be changed, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. . . . [T]he dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (verse 52).
Galatians 3:29 speaks about our reward: "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise," confirming that those who are true Christians - "in Christ" - will receive the same inheritance Abraham was promised. Romans 4:13 establishes beyond doubt what Abraham will inherit when he is resurrected: "For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith."
Furthermore, regarding those who will be resurrected with Abraham, Revelation 5:10 adds, "[You] have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth." Later, Revelation 11:15 says, "Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'"
Many centuries of pagan tradition have convinced people that heaven is their "home" and their reward when they die. Nevertheless, the biblical record is unassailable: God's Kingdom will be established on the earth He created for mankind, and it will be an everlasting Kingdom with Christ as its King.
In awe of what he saw, John declares in Revelation 21:1-4:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven [to the earth] from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
The Bible contains much more on this facet of the gospel. Yet, with just this small sampling of verses, there should be no doubt remaining that the gospel teaches that the inheritance of Christians is this earth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Five)
Jesus Christ's declaration is interesting because the subject directly involves a resurrection, and it is also tied to a vital process that sets the elect apart. The key words in this verse are "hear" and "dead."
We need to add a thought from Ephesians 2:1: "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins." Before God's calling, even though we were physically alive, we were spiritually dead because of sin. However, John 5:25 says that the dead "hear" His voice. Similarly, those who are spiritually dead cannot "hear" God's Word until they are called, made part of the elect, and enabled by God to hear and thus understand His Word clearly.
Another important factor appears in Hebrews 10:38: "The just shall live by faith." Also, Ephesians 2:8 says that we are "saved by grace through faith." Romans 10:17 adds, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Finally, in John 6:63, Jesus clinches the point: "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life."
This linkage of truths makes vitally clear the importance of the calling and election by God. His enabling of us to "hear" is what begins to sweep away the spiritual blindness that has kept us ignorant of the purpose He is working out here below. This miracle of hearing gives rise to truly effective faith. It makes God's Word truly logical and believable, making commitment in obedience to His purpose possible.
Yet, what if a person cannot "hear" what God is saying? None of these saving elements comes to pass in life because no faith is produced!
Jesus utters another awesome, humbling truth in John 10:3-4, 6, 16:
"To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." . . . Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. . . . "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd."
He describes our calling and relationship with our Shepherd—Himself—in intimate and personal terms. "He calls them by name." He personally leads them out of their pen, a symbol of the world in which we are held captive, enslaved, and spiritually dead. Conversely, verse 6 plainly depicts the spiritual condition of the uncalled: They did not understand. God had not enabled them because He was not calling them to be a part of His purpose at that time. Thus, the miracle that opens our minds so we could "hear" was not performed on them.
Romans 8:30 adds another startling truth: "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and who He justified, these He also glorified." Only the called are justified! Justification through repentance and the atoning blood of Jesus Christ is what permits us into the presence of God, enabling further growth to glorification in God's Kingdom!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
1 Thessalonians 4:15-16
Paul mentions the exact timing of this event twice! In verse 15, he says that this occurs at "the coming of the Lord," and in verse 16, Christ "descend[s] from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God." To combat these clear time markers, Protestants have to say that Christ returns twice and that there are two different blowings of the trumpet!
Paul himself quashes this argument in I Corinthians 15:50-52:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Caught Up in the Rapture
Those who live their lives in union with God in this age will take part in the resurrection to eternal life. However, those who have tasted what God offers and rejected it—"those who have done evil" (John 5:29)—will be resurrected to face their Judge, and then they will be cast into the Lake of Fire and die the second death (see Revelation 20:12-15; 21:8).
Verse 8 then relates that the fate of such people is to be burned. They will have died once already, yet that first death will not satisfy the penalty for sin. Death by old age, disease, accident, or violence (including suicide) does not pay the death penalty for sin. Only a life taken in judgment for sin satisfies the debt.
Christ's sacrifice is one such payment. However, if an individual will not allow Christ's blood to pay that debt, the only recourse is for his life to be taken in payment for his sin. If he is determined to live in opposition to God, unconcerned about obeying God's commands, that person would be miserable living forever anyway. He will not be given the gift of eternal life in a state of mental or physical torment.
Instead, John 5:29 speaks of a “resurrection of condemnation.” Paul says there will be “a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15). Similarly, Daniel 12:2 mentions those who “shall awake . . . to shame and everlasting contempt.” Anyone remaining in such opposition to God will be resurrected to physical life, judgment will be passed, his body will be burned in payment of his debt, and he will cease to exist. If he is even remembered, the memory will be contemptible.
This is why the second death continues as a theme throughout Scripture, always in the background but rarely mentioned. It is the final event for those who choose to remain in opposition to God after being given the opportunity to know Him. Paul describes this in Hebrews 10:26-27: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”
We who are in Christ have eternal life. We will still undergo a physical death, but eternal life is ours—and ours to lose. When we survey the warnings given in the New Testament, they are largely not about a sudden, dramatic turn away from God. Rather, they are about smaller things—little decisions of death that require time to bear evil fruit.
So there are warnings about false teachers, who will, over time, damage the faith on which we stand. The writers warn about deception, the cares of this life, and the enticements of this world. They caution us about growing weary and apathetic and neglecting this great salvation. They admonish us against letting the wrong attitudes take root. The dangers are subtle and incremental, but each one has the potential to lead us slowly away from God.
While any one thing may not seem critical today, the problem is what is produced tomorrow—which we often cannot foresee. Carelessness takes us to where our hearts no longer care about overcoming, and we become hostile toward God and the things of God. It opens us to the same lie that Eve fell for: that we can do as we please and continue living. The fact is, though, the spiritually dead do not know they are dead—they believe they are alive.
It is unlikely that anyone sets out to choose the second death. Instead, it is chosen incrementally, with all the little choices over time creating a character that is set and unchangeable. That character will either be intent on overcoming, on hearing Christ's voice, and on trusting in God, or set in opposition to God and His law (Romans 8:7) and thus rejecting life. The choice is ours.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Second Death?
Hebrews 9:27 says that all men are appointed to die once. Considering this, some have asked: How can one die a second death? How many times can one die?
First, baptism is symbolic of death (Romans 6:2-11) and so is "dying daily," as Paul describes the sacrifices of the Christian life (ICorinthians 15:31). Paul mentions this latter death in the context of the resurrection chapter to emphasize our need to crucify the old self daily and renew or resurrect the inner man as symbols of actual death and resurrection (see II Corinthians 4:16-17). In this sense, we die every day of our lives.
When speaking of great embarrassments, many have used the phrase, "I died a thousand deaths." That is just what God expects of us if we are to reach maturity of thought and conduct! Each of these deaths is just as difficult and excruciating as the one before, and thus Paul describes them as crucifixions (Galatians 5:24). These play a major role in overcoming, and it is never easy.
Apart from symbolism, the general rule is that we each die physically at least once and then await the resurrection to eternal life. But some few humans have already died twice! Lazarus, Dorcas, Eutychus, those who came out of their graves when Christ died and others were physically resurrected and physically died again.
It is conceivable that some few might even die three times! If those who were resurrected physically were converted and accepted for the Kingdom, they will be resurrected when Christ returns - changed "in the twinkling of an eye" into immortal spirit beings (I Corinthians 15:52). If they were not called and converted - not yet having had an opportunity for salvation - they will come up in the second resurrection to be alive a third time. At the end of that life they will then be either changed to spirit or die in the Lake of Fire, a third death.
Why, then, does Revelation 20:14 call the Lake of Fire "the second death"? The emphasis is on the fact that it is a permanent death. Once a person experiences the second death, no hope remains for another resurrection. However, for a few it could represent a third physical death.
The point is that all of us are appointed to die at least once! Even those "blessed and holy" individuals who are alive and changed at Christ's return will go through a kind of death. As Paul writes, "For this corruptible [body] must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:53).
The Third Resurrection: What Is Its Value?
1 Peter 1:3-13
These verses link the unveiling of Jesus Christ with our future and all that the Father is working out. Verse 3 recalls to us our status as children of God, reminding us that our hope lies in the resurrection from the dead, when we will be composed of spirit, able to inherit the Kingdom (see I Corinthians 15:50). God Himself safeguards this perfect inheritance, which can never be diminished, for all those who are regenerated and endure to the end.
Verse 5 reminds us that our salvation will be revealed "in the last time." This gives us reason for great rejoicing, even though various trials may grieve us. Those trials are necessary, Peter tells us in verse 7, so that the genuineness of our faith—the tried and proven character of our faith—may be found when Jesus Christ is unveiled to the entire world (cf. Luke 18:8).
Verse 8 points out the contrast that, at this time, we do not see Him with our eyes because He is still veiled, hidden from the world. His revelation has not yet occurred. Even though we cannot see Him now, we still love Him and can still rejoice because we know that the Father will soon send Him back to this earth. Then, every eye will see Him (Revelation 1:7).
Verse 13 summarizes what we should be doing as a result of this understanding. We need to brace ourselves mentally, and think, plan, and act seriously and circumspectly, setting our hope wholly on the divine favor that the revelation of Jesus Christ will bring to us. For concurrent with the apocalypsis of Christ is the salvation of the saints, both living and dead.
David C. Grabbe
What Is the Book of Revelation?
2 Peter 3:1-2
What did the apostles write? They wrote about the life and death of Christ, about prophecy, about the second coming of Christ, about the resurrection of the dead. They wrote about the establishment of the government of God on earth, about a whole nation being born in one day, about the world being filled with beauty, love, peace, and prosperity.
Peter reminds them of this because this is where their hope needed to be. We too need to be looking forward to this to be able to relate what we are going through now with what is going to happen in the future. What is happening now is intended by God to prepare us for the future so that when His Kingdom comes, we are ready for it. Christ is not only preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be able to fill that place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic
Revelation 7:1-8 describes the 144,000, then verse 9 begins with "after these things." This is simply a time marker in John's vision, not in prophetic time. It means afterward, later, John saw an innumerable multitude. The Greek does not say that the events of Revelation 7:9-17 immediately follow or that they are part ofthe preceding information—only that John received this information after the previous information. Perhaps it could follow right after, but the Greek does not require it.
John says "no one could number" this multitude (verse 9). Why? Notice that this multitude is comprised "of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues."That would seem to be a great many people! The context indicates a large number, not just an indeterminate one.
John sees these people "standing before the throne and before the Lamb"—not with Him on the throne ruling, but before the throne in judgment. Remember, judgment occurs over a period of time. The firstfruits have already been judged and have risen at Christ's return, so this multitude has to be people in a different group who are judged later.
Revelation 3:21, written directly to Laodicea, says God grants overcomers the reward of sitting with Him on His throne! Thus, they have qualified to be in the first resurrection, having been judged to be worthy now (I Peter 4:17). We have already seen that whether we die in Christ or are still alive, we are "changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (I Corinthians 15:51-52) as firstfruits. None of those in the first resurrection will stand "before the throne" for judgment when He returns, for we are currently under judgment, which God will complete and reward us at His Son's return (Revelation 11:18).
This multitude, then, cannot be in the first resurrection! In the process of judgment, they have donned white robes, a growth in spirituality that takes considerable time.
The Innumerable Multitude
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