James: Is there a ‘general resurrection’ at the end of time?
Ben: The short answer is “No”. The Lord Jesus spoke about resurrection in a general way, but that is a different thing to saying that there is a single resurrection of the righteous and the wicked.
James: What about Matthew 25:31-33? Isn’t it implied, because there is a judgment and the righteous and the wicked are separated from one another?
Ben: There is no reference to resurrection there, nor is it implied. It is judgment of the nations. ‘Nations’ have no meaning after resurrection. It is the judgment of the living - those living on earth when Christ comes to take up His kingdom and reign. He is a judge “of the living and the dead”, and there He judges the living.
In that chapter we find the following persons: the King (Christ), his brethren, and the nations divided into the sheep and the goats. His ‘brethren’ are the faithful Jewish remnant who will have passed through the tribulation as described in Matthew 24. Persons will be judged on the basis of their treatment of these. Their actions will be the proof of their faith, or their absence of it. The righteous will go into “life eternal”. Note that it does not say they go to heaven, see verse 46.
James: That sounds a bit like those who protected Jews from Hitler’s purges?
Ben: Yes, that is an analogy. It is not a perfect one, because a person may have sheltered Jews out of human decency and not be saved by the blood of Christ. Such a person, although having done good deeds, would not merit life eternal on that basis, in our times. But it gives the idea. In fact the Jews called such persons “The Righteous among the Gentiles”.
James: But some say that the people who make up the church are in this scene.
Ben: There are a number of reasons why this is not so. Think carefully.
Firstly, we who are members of the church were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world”, (Ephesians 1:4). Here in Matthew 25:34, the righteous “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the world’s foundation”. [The italics are mine.]
Secondly, the King is a title relating to Israel. Christ is King of the Jews. He is referred to as King of nations also in the Old Testament, but never king to the church. He is head to the church. He is our Saviour and our Lord, but is never said to be king to the church.
Thirdly, the context is a Jewish one. The Lord was addressing Israel – and more especially so in Matthew’s Gospel. The King’s brethren are the faithful Jewish remnant.
Fourthly, it is not Christians that are spoken of, because our eternal blessing is determined now by our reception of the gospel of grace - our faith in the finished work of Christ alone.
Fifthly, the church is with Christ at this time. This action follows His appearing or manifestation or epiphany in Matthew 24:27. We are told in Colossians 3:4 that “then shall ye also be manifested with Him in glory”. There are other references that show that we shall reign with Him.
We have spent some time on this, but it is important to understand that the scene in Matthew 25 is not one that follows some kind of ‘general resurrection”.
James: So Matthew 25 is the judgment of the living when the Lord comes to reign over the earth, and not a judgment following a single, general resurrection at “the last day”. Are there special ones?
Ben: The Lord speaks of “resurrection from among the dead” in Luke 20:35. He shows that there is a class of persons who are worthy to have their part in that special one. All will be raised eventually, in due time, but not all “from among the dead”. Luke 20:35-36,- “but they who are counted worthy to have part in that world [or age], and the resurrection from among the dead, neither marry … for they are equal to angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection”.
James: Any others?
Ben: In John 5:29, Jesus states that all who are in the tombs will hear His voice “and shall go forth: those that have practised good, to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, to resurrection of judgment”. Again in Luke 14:14, persons are rewarded “in the resurrection of the just”. Then in Revelation 20:4-6 we read that those who died in faith during the tribulation were raised. “This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection”. If there is a first, there must be at least two. In this section we are told that the rest of the dead were not raised until the thousand years had been completed. So there are at least two resurrections.
I refer to two other important references – 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, “thus also in the Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own rank: the first-fruits, Christ; then those that are Christ’s at His coming”. This word for His ‘coming’ is the same as that used in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, “and we, the living who remain to the coming of the Lord …and the dead in Christ shall rise first”. This is called the Rapture because it involves not only the resurrection of those who have died in faith, but also the taking up of the living out of this scene. In both Scriptures it is the ‘coming’ [parousia] of Christ, not His appearing [epiphaneia or epihany ] to the world as in Matthew 24 and 25.
James: Many do not see the difference between the Rapture there and His appearing.
Ben: We talk about it elsewhere [apostlesteaching.net]. Briefly, the former is marked by sound (1 Thess. 4:16, “an assembling shout, with archangel’s voice and with trumpet of God”) and the righteous taken out and up for glory, and the unbelievers left for judgment. The appearing is a matter of sight – every eye shall see Him, and His glory. As stated in the Gospels, it is the wicked that are gathered out for judgment, and the righteous that go into the blessing of the millennial kingdom on earth - “the kingdom of the heavens”. Other differences we will leave for now.
James: I follow the pattern now. I will restate it and then describe a difficulty I still have.
From what you have said, the next event on the divine calendar is that Christ comes for believers - all those who have died in faith from Abel onwards, and we, the living, will be raised with them. Then comes the tribulation, and those who die for His sake during that time will be raised and reign with Him, along with us, for a thousand years, as it says in Rev. 20:4. We come with Him to reign at His appearing, Colossians 3:4. In Rev. 20 we are told that Satan is bound for a thousand years, and at the end of that time he is loosed for a short time, there is war, and finally God destroys those who are unbelieving on earth at that time. Then comes the resurrection of the wicked since Cain (“the rest of the dead did not live till the thousand years had been completed”, Revelation 20:5).
My question is this – if the resurrection “of those beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and on account of the word of God” during the tribulation is called ‘the first resurrection’, how do you explain the fact that believers have been raised previously at the Rapture?
Ben: The Lord spoke of the “resurrection of the just”. I believe that the Rapture, and that referred to as the ‘first’ in Rev. 20:5, are morally one and the same. “Blessed and holy he that has part in the first resurrection …” Rev.20:6. Both fit that category. Let me give another example of how God uses such methods. There were to be twelve tribes in Israel. But there are thirteen! Due to his faithfulness under intense provocation and rejection, Joseph was given a double portion. So the tribes derived from his sons Ephraim and Manasseh are called ‘half tribes’ by God. He therefore fitted two tribes into one! So I say that Scripture is morally accurate, even if not mathematically so, according to human thinking. Another example can be given from everyday life. Consider lunch in a company cafeteria, where there is a first and second sitting. One is served earlier than the other, but it is still lunch. I may add that Christ has been raised, never to die again. Speaking reverently, was that not part of the first resurrection?
James: A final lingering question. Jesus said: I will raise him up in the last day?
Ben: Remember that the Lord was speaking with Israel. He gave more detail to Paul and later to John in the Revelation. The expression “the last day” is flexible – it can mean the last day of the Christian era (the Rapture), the last day of the tribulation or the last day of the millennial reign.
MM September 2008