|And the dead in Christ shall rise first.| This is the second blessed event which shall occur at the Redeemer's return -- the sleeping saints will be awakened and raised. This brings us to a branch of our subject upon which there is much ignorance and confusion in Christendom generally. The idea which popularly obtains is that of a general resurrection at the end of time. So deeply rooted is this belief and so widely is it held that to declare there will be two resurrections -- one of saints and another of sinners, the two being separated by a thousand years -- is to be regarded as a setter forth of strange ideas and extravagant fancies. Nevertheless, the teaching of Scripture upon this point is exceedingly plain and explicit. Probably many of those who will read these pages are already clear upon this distinction, but the sake of those who are not we must briefly outline the teaching of God's Word upon this subject, first quoting, however, from one whose writings have been justly esteemed by Christians of every shade of thought.
John Bunyan who was certainly a close student of the Divine Oracles wrote, |Now when the saints that sleep shall be raised thus incorruptible, powerful, glorious and spiritual; and also those that then shall be found alive, made like them; then forthwith, before the unjust are raised, the saints shall appear before the judgment-seat of the Lord Jesus Christ, there to give an account to their Lord the Judge of all things they have done; and to receive a reward for their good according to their labor. They shall rise, I say, before the wicked, they being themselves the proper |children of the resurrection,| that is, those that must have all the glory of it, both as to preeminency, and sweetness; and, therefore, they are said, when they rise, to rise from the dead; that is, in their rising, they leave the reprobate world behind them. And it must be so, because also the saints will have done their account, and be set upon the throne with Christ as kings and priests with Him to judge the world, when the wicked world are raised.|
But without citing human testimony any further, let us turn to the teaching of Christ and the inspired writings of His apostles. On one occasion the Lord said, |But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind; And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed if there is to be but one resurrection -- a general resurrection of all the dead -- then why did our Lord make the above distinction and qualification of |the resurrection of the just|? Again, in Luke 20:34, 35 we read, |The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage. But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage.| What can be the meaning of such words as |they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead| if All the dead alike are sure of participating in an indiscriminate resurrection. Worthiness to obtain the resurrection from the dead certainly implies there will be some who are not esteemed worthy, and hence will not be partakers of the resurrection here mentioned; therefore, the conclusion is irresistible that there must be two distinct resurrections. That there will be is further seen from the language of John 5:28, 29 -- |Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which, all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.| Here the two resurrections are sharply distinguished both as to name and participants, and as we shall see, there is to be a long interval of time between them.
The testimony of the apostolic Epistles is in strict harmony with the teaching of our Lord recorded in the four Gospels. In 1 Cor.15:21-23 we read, |For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits: afterward they that are Christ's at His coming.| It is important to notice that the resurrection of the wicked is not contemplated in this chapter at all, but is strictly limited to the resurrection of Christ and His saints. The words |all be made alive| are qualified by the clause which immediately precedes them. It has reference solely to those who are |in Christ.| Christ Himself is the |firstfruits| (the reference is to the type of Lev.23:10) and the harvest that is garnered at His return are |they that are Christ's.| Again, we are told that the people of God in Old Testament times who refused to accept deliverance from death at the hands of their persecutors, did so |that they might obtain a better resurrection| (Heb.11:35) which expression is quite meaningless if there is but one general resurrection in which saints and sinners shall alike participate.
One other Scripture yet remains to be considered, namely Rev.20:4-6 |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.| Here we learn not only that the resurrection of the saints is quite distinct from that of the wicked, but we are also expressly told that an interval of a thousand years lies between the two. It were meaningless to speak of the resurrection of the |blessed and holy| as the first resurrection| if there is no second resurrection of the wicked to follow. The righteous shall all be raised before the Millennium begins, but the lost shall not be raised until its close. Thus we see that the uniform teaching of the New Testament respecting the resurrection of sleeping believers is in perfect accord with our Thessalonian Scripture -- |The dead in Christ shall rise first.| None but the |dead in Christ| will come forth from their graves in response to the assembling shout of our descending Lord at the time of His second advent. But now consider,