Doctrine of Christ

The Resurrection of the Dead

The Fifth Principle of The Doctrine of Christ
By: Eldon McNabb

"As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness." (Psa. 17:15) "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." (1 Thess. 4:13-18)

The resurrection is the great hope of the followers of Jesus Christ. There is, however, a necessary condition which must precede such hope. Before there is a resurrection there must first be death. The glory of the resurrection is comprehended only to the extent that we understand what death is and where the dead are.

The rhetoric which we commonly hear, in mention of a "dear departed," refers to their being in heaven with Jesus, or with some other relative who has also died. We may also hear, in the same discussion, that the person is going to get up in the resurrection when Jesus returns. That is to insist that the person is not really dead, but has simply gone to another dimension, and will eventually come back to yet another dimension. If that is the case there will not be a resurrection, because there cannot be a resurrection of the living.

Death: One if the first things we need to understand about death is that people do not go to heaven when they die. Long after the ascension of Jesus, the Apostle John declared that Jesus' experience of ascending into heaven was unique in the history of mankind. He said in John 3:13, "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven." (Your red letter edition may have this statement in red, but you can see, by the statement itself, that Jesus could not have said it.)

Peter agreed with John, in Acts 2:34. "David is not ascended into the heavens." It is written, therefore we must believe, that Jesus alone has risen from the dead immortal. Yes, He alone has ascended. You may we ask, "What about 2 Cor. 12:1-5? Paulís vision, which he related there, was concerning the experience John Zebadee was to have later during his period of exile. John related that experience for us in Rev. 4:1,2. It was an exceptional, personal experience of a living believer who was thereby given a marvelous revelation concerning the life and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was not about an experience of death.

Where, then, are all the others who have died? Job said, "O that Thou wouldest hide me in the grave, until Thy wrath be past. All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come." (Job 14:13,14) He knew that only the resurrection would bring him forth from the grave, and places the time of his expected resurrection after the wrath of God has been poured out upon the children of disobedience. (Isa. 30:30) Isaiah 26:20, shows that the righteous who are living at that time must wait for that same prophetic event. He said, "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." If the resurrection is to be already past during the time of Godís indignation, God would simply hide us in immortality. But we must hide ourselves, and wait for our change until God has vented His indignation upon His disobedient children.

Jonah also speaking, as it were from the grave, said, "Out of the belly of hell cried I. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me." (Jonah 2:2,6) He makes the point here that the dead, even the righteous dead, are in prison: captives. Later, when Jesus died, He went and preached to them, and moved the captives to a more accommodating place of confinement, to await the resurrection. In Zech. 9:11, He said, "As for Thee also, by the blood of Thy covenant I have sent forth Thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water." In Paulís words, "He led captivity captive." He did not lead them into "the glorious liberty of the sons of God." (Eph. 4:8,9; Rom. 8:21) Peter, also testified saying, "Jesus, was (brought back to life) by the Spirit: By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah." (1 Pet. 3:18,19)

To reveal this mystery, God used the figure of the brazen altar which Moses made for the burnt offerings. The altar itself being a type of the earth upon which the blood of many martyrs has been sacrificed. In Rev. 6:9, God told us where those martyrs are. John reported, "I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." In that prophetic, Old Testament shadow, "(Moses) made the altar of burnt offering, . . . And he made for the altar a brazen grate of network under the compass thereof beneath unto the midst of it." (Ex. 38:1-4) This brazen grate is another figure of the bars of the earth of which Jonah spoke.

Job agrees that the dead are behind bars. He said, "Where is now my hope? As for my hope, who shall see it? They shall go down to the bars of the pit, when our rest together is in the dust." (Job 17:15,16) But he found his hope, saying, "I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." (Job 19:25,26) Now that we know this truth we are able to understand why God would look "under the earth" to try to find someone to open the book which was sealed with seven seals. (Rev. 5:1-3) He searched among the living and the dead.

When Jesus shall stand in the latter day upon the earth, then shall He execute the proclamation of "liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound." (Isa. 61:1) He provided for the opening of the prison when He was here the first time, and spake of the hour to come, "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." (John 5:28,29) That glorious day is swiftly approaching.

The Psalmist David Prophesied of Jesus on this wise saying, "He hath broken the gates of brass." (Psa. 107:16) Jesus likewise said, "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." (Rev. 1:18) "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 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." (1 Cor. 15: 20-23)

All of mankind who have ever lived shall stand before their creator, and "shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead." (1 Pet. 4:5) "That every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (2 Cor. 5:10) God will accomplish this over an extended period of time of more than a thousand years. He will begin by raising only the righteous, for "the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." (Rev. 20:4-8) Although there is one statement in Daniel 12:1-3, which seems to indicate that there will be some special exceptions to this rule. There are actually two resurrections: one when Jesus first returns, the other when He has ruled the world for a thousand years or more.

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." (Rev. 20:6)

The Apostle Paul so eloquently anticipated our glorious change. He said, "The creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Rom. 8:16-25) Paul continued his exultation in 1 Cor. 15:43,44, saying, "It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body!" Those spiritual bodies are now in heaven waiting for God to bring them to us, to clothe the righteous dead in them, when they are raised from the dead. (1 Thess. 4:14) In 2 Cor. 5:1,2, Paul explained it even more clearly. He said, "We know that" if we die, we have a new, immortal body "in the heavens." We are "earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house (body) which is from heaven."

In 1 Cor. 15:51-55, Paul mentioned a very important promise to those who are yet alive at the advent of the second coming of Jesus. He said, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." He made the point so well in Rom. 8:11. "If the spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you." Of course the resurrection will occur before those of us who are yet living shall be changed. (2 Cor. 4:14 and 1 Thess. 4:15-17)

The question arose in Paul's day, "With what body do they come" out of the grave? And Paul used four different metaphors to explain it: celestial and terrestrial bodies; the Sun, the Moon and the stars; flesh of four different creatures; and different kinds of grain. (1 Cor. 15:35-42)

In 1 Cor. 15:37,50,38, Paul stated an obvious, yet revealing, fact. He said, "Thou sowest not that body that shall be, "but God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body." Once this body has undergone corruption it will not ever be brought forth unto incorruption. In Paulís words, "Neither does corruption inherit incorruption." Those who have known corruption will have to be given new bodies. That is why it was necessary for Jesus to arise in fewer than four days. When Jesus died, if corruption had set in, He would have had to obtain another body, thus making it impossible for him to fulfill the promise to David. "God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell, neither His flesh did see corruption." (Acts 2:30,31)

Though the resurrection of all the righteous shall be glorious, the glory of some shall be greater than that of others. Part of that glory will be seen in the bodies which it pleases God to give them. Various scriptures point this out. Isaiah prophesied of Christ as casting into the earth different grains. (Isa. 28:23-26) Jesus himself referred to the children of the kingdom as wheat in one of His parables. (Matt. 13:24-30,37-43) Likewise, Daniel compared the resurrected saints to the Sun and stars. (Dan. 12:2,3)

In these passages, Isaiah, Daniel and Paul, all assert that there will be different glories given to different saints in the resurrection. That these different glories will be given, according to merit, is shown in Heb. 11:35. "Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection." John also said, in 1 John 3:1-3, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." It would be erroneous to expect God and Jesus to give equal rewards to all of His children, for some make an effort to purify themselves while others do not.

Paul used the Sun and the Moon to represent The Church: The Moon to represent The Church of the New Testament, and the Sun to represent The Gentile Church at this end of the Age of Grace. He used the stars to represent all of the other saints: showing that the bodies of risen believers will vary in glory, just as there are differences in the magnitude of the stars. (See Songs of Solomon 6:10) As Paul also said, "There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. "So also is the resurrection of the dead." (1 Ki. 6:23-27; Isa. 6:2,3; Jud.. 13:12-31; Heb. 13:2 and 1 Cor. 15:40-42)

The Last Resurrection: "The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." (Rev. 20:5)

When Jesus has had His "day," and Satan has been judged (Rev. 20:4-11), the hour will come "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." (John 5:28,29) The sea shall give up the dead which are in it, and death and Hell shall relinquish the dead which are in them. The books being open, all of these shall be judged, and whosoever is not found in The Book of Life shall be cast into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:11-13) So aught men to "fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

I remain as John. I still do not know exactly what it is that we shall be. But I do know, by these wonderful words which God has written for our comfort, if we are to be as He is, we must live a holy and pure life, by the grace for which He suffered and died.3And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

Therefore, let us purpose in our hearts to be among those who are "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." (Tit. 2:13)


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