20.5.1. Order of Resurrection

The use of first to describe a resurrection which follows after Christ’s resurrection, gives us an initial clue that first cannot denote absolute chronological order—as that of a single event which occurs before all others. By this time, Christ has been resurrected for almost two thousand years, yet Scripture calls this subsequent event “the first resurrection.” It is first from the perspective of its priority : those who participate in the resurrection of life rather than the resurrection of condemnation (John John 5:28-29). It is also first relative to the Millennial Kingdom since the subsequent resurrection will not be until one thousand years later. Christ was the first man to rise in the category which is the first resurrection:

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:20-23) [emphasis added]

In this passage, Paul describes two, or possibly three resurrection events: (1) Christ, (2) the Church at His coming in the Rapture, and possibly, (3) all other believers at His physical Second Coming in judgment. An examination of Scripture reveals a number of individual resurrection events separated in time, all of which fall into one of two categories: the resurrection of life (the first resurrection) and the resurrection of condemnation (the second resurrection).1 The first resurrection consists of several sequential resurrection events which are treated as a single category—the raising of all who are redeemed:

A man on Thanksgiving day may say, with great satisfaction, “All of the harvest is gathered in.” That harvest may have included a few handfuls gathered on the first day, then after a long interruption due to a rainstorm, for example, the major part of the harvest may have been gathered, and then, after another momentary interruption, the final sheaves are garnered.2

These references [Luke Luke 14:1-14; Php. Php. 3:10-14; John John 5:28-29; Rev. Rev. 20:6+] show that there is a part of the resurrection program that is called “the resurrection of the just,” the “out-resurrection from the dead,” “a better resurrection,” “the resurrection of life,” and “the first resurrection.” These phrases suggest a separation; a resurrection of a portion of those who are dead, which resurrection leaves some dead unchanged while these resurrected undergo a complete transformation.3

There are several different resurrection “events” which transpire in history, each of which falls into one of two categories. All but the last resurrection event make up the first resurrection.4

The Resurrections5
OrderWhichTimingWhoDescriptionScriptures
1FirstThe Third DayJesus ChristThe resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”Mtt. Mat. 28:1-7; Mark Mark 16:1-11; Luke Luke 24:1-12; John John 20:1-18; 1Cor. 1Cor. 15:20
2FirstShortly after Christ’s Resurrection.A Few OT SaintsAt the earthquake attending the crucifixion, graves were opened. Shortly after the resurrection of Christ, these saints were raised.6 Mtt. Mat. 27:50-53
3FirstBefore the Tribulation.ChurchThe resurrection of Church-age believers at the Rapture. John John 14:3; 1Th. 1Th. 4:13-18; 1Cor. 1Cor. 15:50-53
4FirstMiddle of the Tribulation.7 Two Witnesses God’s two witnesses will be raised after being killed by The Beast. Rev. Rev. 11:11-12+
5FirstAfter Jacob’s TroubleOT SaintsOld Testament saints will be resurrected to enter the Millennial Kingdom.8 Dan. Dan. 12:1-2; Isa. Isa. 26:19; Eze. Eze. 37:13-149
6FirstBeginning of Millennial Kingdom.Tribulation MartyrsThe Tribulation martyrs will be resurrected so that they can rule and reign with Christ. Rev. Rev. 20:4-6+
7SecondEnd of Millennial KingdomUnbelieving Dead10 At the end of the millennial reign of Christ, the final resurrection will consist of all of the unbelieving, wicked dead. They will be found guilty at the Great White Throne Judgment and cast into the Lake of Fire. Rev. Rev. 20:11-15+

Although Scripture makes no mention of it, some believe there may be a resurrection of saints from among those who entered the Millennial Kingdom in their natural bodies and their offspring (Mtt. Mat. 25:34). If the righteous die at an advanced age (Isa. Isa. 65:20), then their resurrection is not recorded in Scripture:

The question has been raised concerning the judgment of those who die in the millennium. It is clear that the unsaved who die in the millennium are included in [the Great White Throne] judgment. The Scriptures are silent, however, concerning any rapture or translation of saints who survive the millennium and concerning the resurrection of saints who may die in the millennium. Both events may be safely assumed, but are not the subject of divine revelation, probably on the principle that this truth is of no practical application to saints now living. Further light may be cast upon this in the millennium itself as the truth of God is made known.11

Others suggest that only unbelievers die during the Millennial Kingdom resulting in no believing dead to be resurrected:

The resurrection of the Tribulation saints completes the first resurrection. There will be no such thing as a resurrection of millennial saints.12

According to Fruchtenbaum, in the Millennial Kingdom, believers never die but sinners die at age 100. This could account for the lack of mention of a post-millennium resurrection of the righteous dead.

Death in the millennium will be for unbelievers only. This is why the Bible does not speak of a resurrection of millennial saints, and why the resurrection of the tribulation saints is said to complete the first resurrection (Revelation Rev. 20:4-6+).13

A key passage which describes longevity in the Millennial Kingdom is found in Isaiah:

No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. (Isa. Isa. 65:20)

This passage does not unambiguously teach that only unbelievers die in the Millennium. It merely describes the great longevity which will be the blessing of those who are still in their natural bodies during this period. For example, what could it mean for an old man to fulfill his days if all sinners die at a relatively early age and the faithful never die? Furthermore, there is no indication whatsoever that death has been abolished until after the Millennium (Rev. Rev. 21:4+). The argument that only unbelievers die during the Millennium is an argument from silence—the silence of an explicit mention of a post-millennial resurrection of the righteous dead. Although it is possible, arguments from silence are generally to be avoided.

Others suggest that the second resurrection includes believers who die during the Millennial Kingdom and who stand in judgment with the unbelieving dead at the Great White Throne Judgment.14 This view has its own complications:

  1. Scripture consistently recognizes two categories of resurrection in such a way as to infer that believers are not to be found in both.
  2. The names given to the second resurrection, the resurrection “unto shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. Dan. 12:2) and “the resurrection of condemnation” (John John 5:28-29), seem to exclude the possibility of the inclusion of believers.
  3. Believers do not face the possibility of standing in a judgment which decides their eternal destiny: (John John 5:24).
  4. The passage (below) which describes the second resurrection and subsequent judgment makes no mention of the presence of any faithful. Although the Book of Life is mentioned, nothing is said of the destiny of those who might be found written therein. Everything seems to indicate the book is used merely to testify to the absence of the names of the unsaved. “Only one group will be seen at this judgment, the dead—the spiritually dead.”15

See Births, Deaths, and Resurrections.


Notes

1 “John does not directly refer to a second resurrection; a second resurrection is, however, correctly inferred both from the use of prōtē and also from the expression ‘the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended’ (Rev. Rev. 20:5+).”—Alan F. Johnson, Revelation: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 188.

2 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 381.

3 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 396.

4 See Steve Lewis, The Resurrection of Church-Age Believers, www.spiritandtruth.org/teaching/Book_of_1st_Thessalonians/08_1Thess_4_13-18/webshow.htm#5.

5 John F. Walvoord, Every Prophecy of the Bible (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1990, 1999), 464, 275.

6 “Matthew alone mentions this miracle. Nothing more is said about these people, which would be unlikely if they remained on earth for long. Evidently, these people were given glorified bodies; they appeared ‘to many’ (Mtt. Mat. 27:53), enough to establish the reality of the miracle; and then they no doubt ascended to glory—a kind of foretaste of 1Th. 1Th. 4:16.”—John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1997), Mtt. 27:52.

7 See Events of the 70th Week of Daniel.

8 “The chief problem relative to the resurrections at the second coming of Christ among premillenarians is the question of whether righteous Israel and Old Testament saints in general are raised at this time. A popular interpretation originating in Darby and his associates is that resurrection of Old Testament saints takes place at the same time as the rapture of the church, that is, before the tribulation. This interpretation has been followed by such worthy expositors as William Kelly, A. C. Gaebelein, C. I. Scofield, and a host of others. Support for this interpretation is provided by three general arguments: (1) Christ died for Old Testament saints as well as for the church and therefore they are entitled to resurrection at the same time as the church , (2) According to 1 Thessalonians 1Th. 4:16, the voice of the archangel is heard at the time of the rapture. Inasmuch as Michael, the archangel, is the special protector of Israel, his presence at the rapture would indicate Israel’s resurrection. (3) The twenty-four elders of Revelation Rev. 4:1+ are composed of both Old and New Testament saints and, inasmuch as these are pictured in heaven crowned and therefore rewarded in Revelation Rev. 4:1+ before the tribulation, it would indicate that Old Testament saints as well as the church have already been raised from the dead. . . . [But], there are good reasons for reconsideration. The reference to ‘the dead in Christ’ (1Th. 1Th. 4:16) by no means clearly includes all saints. The expression ‘in Christ’ is uniformly used in the New Testament, wherever it has theological meaning, as a reference to those who have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ, and is never used in reference to saints before the Day of Pentecost. It is significant that the word saints , a more general designation of the righteous, is not used but a technical expression, ‘the dead in Christ,’ is used instead. It would seem to indicate a limitation of the prediction to those [having been baptized by the Holy Spirit] who die in the present dispensation. . . . Over against the obscurity in the New Testament, however, is the fact that the Old Testament seems to place the resurrection of Israel after the tribulation [Dan. Dan. 12:1-2].”—John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), 279-281.

9 Opinions differ as to whether this passage includes any reference to a literal, physical resurrection. The context of the passage argues against it: (1) The bones are seen laying on the surface of the ground; (2) The bones are said to be “the whole house of Israel” (Eze. Eze. 37:11); (3) The manner in which the resurrection occurs—stage by stage and in response to Ezekiel’s command—is unlike any other physical resurrection recorded in Scripture.

10 There is a difference of opinion as to whether any believers are part of this resurrection. See commentary on Revelation 20:12.

11 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), 307.

12 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 376.

13 LaHaye, “A Literal Millennium as Taught in Scripture, Part 4,” in Thomas Ice, ed., Pre-Trib Perspectives, vol. 8 no. 10 (Dallas, TX: Pre-Trib Research Center, February 2004), 2.

14 “The resurrection of the dead, [including] the wicked as well as the rest of the righteous who not being of the number of the martyrs had not already been raised to a share in the Millennial Kingdom.”—Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 161. “The wicked who had died from the time of Adam to Christ’s second advent, and all the righteous and wicked who had died during and after the millennium, shall then have their eternal portion assigned to them.”—A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 20:11.

15 Barnhouse, Revelation, 390.