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Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 2 – Judgment of the Nations
by Gerald R. Thompson
FIRST RESURRECTION OF THE SAINTS
A Resurrection Of The Body
Mat. 24:30-31 (summary) – “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Mat. 24:36, 42, 44 (summary) – “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. … Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. … Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
1Cor. 15:12-28, 35-58 (summary) – Resurrection from the dead an essential part of Christian faith. The nature of the resurrected body as a spiritual (immortal) body.
vv. 23-24 – But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
vv. 35-44 – But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel…. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. … So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
vv. 51-52 – 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 imperishable, and we shall be changed.
1Th. 4:13-18, 5:1-11 (summary) – But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. At the coming of the Lord, Jesus will descend from heaven with a shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds.
2Th. 2:1-4 – Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, … that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
Rev. 20:4-6 (summary) – Following the Tribulation, the dead in Christ are resurrected and reign with Him for a thousand years. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
When Jesus returns, He will gather His elect from around the world, both dead and alive, and meet them in the air. Mat. 24:31; 1 Th. 4:17. A core Christian doctrine is the belief in a resurrection of the body. As Paul said in 1 Cor 15:12-19, if there is no resurrection from the dead for Christians, then even Christ has not been raised, and then he makes these statements:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (vv. 17-19).
Thus, the resurrection from the dead is a central doctrine of Christianity. There is no life everlasting, no heaven and no hell, unless there is a resurrection of the dead (i.e., an afterlife). But it goes even deeper that this. In Mat. 22:31-32, Jesus said, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
In other words, it is the very character of God that He is a God of the living, not the dead. In order for this to be true, from God’s perspective, all the past saints must be alive – there are no saints who are dead to God. Which is to say, it is the very nature of man that every individual is immortal. Not having an immortal body, but an immortal spirit (which needs a body).
How Many Resurrections?
But once you get past this central truth, people disagree about almost everything else. Most Christians agree there will be at least two resurrections, but only premillennialists believe both of these will be physical. Historic premillennialists believe in two physical resurrections, the first at the Second Coming, the second after the Millennium. Dispensationalists believe in a secret Rapture before or during the Tribulation, a final resurrection after the Millennium, and in many cases a separate resurrection of Tribulation saints and/or Old Testament saints coincident with the Second Coming.
According to Rev. 20:4-6, the resurrection which occurs at the time of the Second Coming (Rev. 19) and immediately precedes the Millennium is the first resurrection. This, by definition, would seem to eliminate the possibility of two resurrections before the Millennium (i.e., the secret Rapture of the Church followed by a resurrection of Tribulation and/or O.T. saints). The First Resurrection involves only the righteous, not any of the wicked. Following the Millennium, after Satan is again defeated and history wraps up, there is a second resurrection when all of the dead are raised, both righteous and wicked, and judgment rendered to each one accordingly. Rev. 20:11-15.
One of the dirty little secrets of dispensationalism is the belief in multiple resurrections, but being unwilling to acknowledge this is what they believe. Often the last part of Dan. 12:13 is used as a justification for this belief: “And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” The key term – supposedly – is allotted place. By this, many dispensationalists understand that different component parts of God’s elect, or saved people, will be resurrected and/or stand before God separately, each in their own lot.
In other words, that O.T. saints will be raised separately from Church Age believers, and the Tribulation saints will be separately raised from the Church, as well. All of these, according to some dispensationalists, will be raised separately from Millennial saints and/or the wicked at the end of time. Some even go so far as to say the 500 believers brought back to life after Jesus rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:6) constituted a separate resurrection event. Some hyper-dispensationalists even carry this idea to the extreme, by suggesting God will keep Jews and Christians separate in eternity – one on the new earth, and the other in the new heaven.
Then the word games start up. The resurrection of the 500 in 30 A.D. and the resurrection of the Church in the future Rapture are really the same resurrection in two parts, we are told. The resurrection of the Church and other saints (O.T., Tribulation, Millennial) are really part of the same resurrection in multiple parts, etc. Analogies are made to gleanings, firstfruits and all other kinds of unrelated biblical ideas that have no actual relationship to the concept of resurrection. My advice: stay away from this crap. There are only two resurrection events mentioned in the Bible.
As for the believers brought back to life in 30 A.D., well, they were not resurrected at all. They were merely brought back to life like Lazarus, and then died again like Lazarus. They did not at that time receive their new incorruptible, immortal bodies. They are not now wandering the earth as immortals, nor were they specially taken up into heaven in immortal form before everyone else. Nothing in scripture could possibly give validity to either of those possibilities.
Resurrections Are Physical, Not Spiritual
On the other hand, postmillennialists and amillennialists both believe that the First Resurrection is spiritual only (at the time of each person’s salvation). In their way of thinking, only the second resurrection is physical, taking place at the end of history (when both the Second Coming and the Great White Throne Judgment will occur). Under both of these views, there is no physical resurrection, of either the righteous or the wicked, prior to the end of history. There is only one common physical resurrection for all people. This view is based, in part, on Dan. 12:1-2 and Acts 24:14-15, which simply refer to the resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
According to postmills and amills, the First Resurrection does not involve acquiring a new body of any kind, but simply an awakened spirit. True, the Bible speaks of being made alive when one was spiritually dead (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13), but this eschatological view equates resurrection with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Resurrection is the process by which our present mortal and corruptible bodies are exchanged for immortal and incorruptible bodies. Yet, personal salvation makes no changes to any part of the body.
The whole point of a resurrection is to change the nature of the body. 1 Cor. 15:35-49 (excerpt):
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. … What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. … It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. … But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
I admit that the phrase spiritual body, taken in isolation, may suggest a body which is ghostly, i.e., invisible. However, there are several reasons why such a reading is not warranted by the text. First, this approach completely ignores the context of what the apostle Paul is explaining. He uses the example of a seed, which when planted in the ground, morphs into a plant that looks nothing like the original seed. But both the seed and the plant are physical. The plant is not invisible. Plus, an awakened spirit cannot exist by itself. Even an awakened spirit needs a physical body to house it.
It does violence to the meaning of words to interpret spiritual body as an awakened spirit apart from any kind of body. The whole discussion in 1 Cor. 15 begins with the question of what kind of body people receive in the resurrection. The context makes it clear that spiritual means incorruptible and imperishable. But not any less physical, for that reason.
Second, the end of this particular text likens our resurrection bodies with the image of the man of heaven, i.e., the resurrection body of Jesus. Note that following His own resurrection, Jesus was not a free floating spirit, or a ghost, but He had a new physical body. Thus, Mary and Mary Magdalene took hold of Jesus’ feet. Mt. 28:9. When Jesus appeared to the disciples, He said, ” See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Lk. 24:39. Thus, the image of the man of heaven was physical, not spiritual only. Indeed, one can hardly regard flesh and bones as anything other than physical matter.
Third, the immediately following verses (1 Co. 15:50-58) continue the discussion of the resurrection in the context of the sound of the last trumpet. So we have four choices: 1) if the First Resurrection is the same as personal salvation, then a trumpet sounds each time (and each time is the last trumpet); 2) the text switches from discussing the First Resurrection in v. 49 to the second resurrection in v. 50 without giving any indication that two resurrections are in view in this text; 3) the purported trumpet sound is merely allegorical and not real; or 4) the First Resurrection cannot be spiritual only. Which choice makes the most sense?
Fourth, whenever the Bible talks about a resurrection, it is referring to a common event for all saved or unsaved people, not a series of one-by-one experiences, i.e., individual conversions. As 1 Co. 15:51 says, “we shall all be changed.” If the First Resurrection is merely spiritual and does not involve the body, then it really doesn’t qualify as a resurrection event at all. “Hey, we had an altar call at church yesterday where people could come to Jesus.” “Really? How many were resurrected?” Plus, need I remind you, the scripture says there are only two resurrections – not one for every Christian.
Fifth, keep in mind that Jesus is the “only begotten son of God.” Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18. How does this relate to the First Resurrection? It has to do with what the scripture means by the term, begotten son. It does not mean that Jesus was created by God, or even that He was procreated. In other words, it is not a reference to Jesus’ birth. Rather, Acts 13:33 tells us, after quoting Ps. 2:7 (which was looking ahead prophetically), that Jesus was begotten when He was raised from the dead. Heb. 5:5 links the term to when Jesus became a high priest, also quoting Ps. 2:7. And of course, Jesus only became our high priest when He was raised from the dead. So the word begotten, when applied to Christ, means resurrected.
Yet Jesus was also – when the Gospel of John was written – the only begotten son of God. What does that mean, except that no one else was resurrected before Christ, and no one else yet has been resurrected after Him? He is the only one (so far). And the resurrection of Christ was physical – the old physical body disappeared, and a new physical body took its place. One thing I know for darn sure is that Jesus was not resurrected when He got saved.
The scripture also refers to Jesus as the firstborn of the dead. Col 1:18; Rev. 1:5. This too, is a reference the resurrection of Jesus. But firstborn means Jesus was the first one to ever be raised from the dead with an immortal body of bone and flesh. And for the time being, until the Second Coming/First Resurrection occurs, Jesus will be the only person this has happened to.
Timing and Sequence
The single biggest question regarding the First Resurrection among premillennialists is whether it is part of the Second Coming (end of the Tribulation and not secret), or a separate and secret earlier event (commonly referred to as the Rapture). There are so many confusing and conflicting interpretations of the matter that it is hard to get a handle on it. Whose interpretation can you trust? To resolve this question, I propose to go to the scriptures, exclude all interpretations of men, and put aside (to the greatest extent possible) any predispositions or presuppositions I might have about the matter.
But, how can I (or anyone) do this? I suggest the following methodology (see if you can come up with a better one): 1) pull out all the scriptures regarding the Rapture and/or First Resurrection; 2) list them in the order in which they are found in the Bible (to be as unbiased as possible); 3) note all references indicating either timing or sequence in connection with the same; 4) look for patterns and/or inconsistencies in timing or sequence references; 5) group consistent texts with each other and separate inconsistent texts to determine, first and foremost, whether the scriptures as a whole are describing one event, or more than one event; and 6) determine from those groupings how many events are described and what the characteristics are of each.
Here is the complete list of relevant scriptures, most of which I have reproduced or summarized at the beginning of this chapter: Mat. 24:29-31, 36-44; 1Cor. 15:12-28, 35-58; 1Th. 4:13-18, 5:1-11; 2Th. 2:1-12; Rev. 20:4-6. Ancillary (possibly related) scriptures include: Dan. 12:1-12. Commentators have used many other texts to make arguments bolstering their point of view, but these are, to the best of my knowledge, the only texts expressly and directly on point. So before we consider tangents and sidetracks, let’s first deal with the obvious texts which, I assume, will be the most relevant – and the most important.
Here are all references to timing and sequence contained in the above scriptures:
Dan. 12:1-12 – The Tribulation is described as lasting 3½ times, and “at that time” “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Mat. 24:29-31, 36-44 – After the Tribulation the sun and moon will be darkened, and then Jesus will return on the clouds of heaven. There will be a loud trumpet call, and at that time His angels will “gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
1Cor. 15:12-28, 50-58 – “In Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” “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 imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
1Th. 4:13-18 – “We who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
2Th. 2:1-12 – “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, … that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”
Rev. 20:4-6 – “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.”
As we examine these scriptures, it is not clear (by any method I can determine) whether Dan. 12:2 refers to the beginning or end of the Tribulation, or even whether it merely refers to the end times in a general way. Thus, I regard this text as generally unhelpful in determining a precise sequence of events. Actually, this should be no surprise. The farther away something is in time, the fuzzier it looks through the lens of prophecy. Clarity comes from being nearer. And Daniel was written well over 500 years before any of the N.T. writers.
The sequence of Mat. 24 is pretty clear: Tribulation, then trumpet, then gathering the elect. Some have suggested that because the elect are gathered “from one end of heaven to the other” it means the elect have already been raptured and are waiting in heaven. But you have to read this text together with Mk. 13:27, which is another account of the exact same teaching of Jesus, that “he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” In other words, the saints have not already been taken off the earth.
Others, mainly hyper-dispensationalists (or extreme dispensationalists), take Mat. 24 as referring to believing Jews or Tribulation saints only, and then declare that this scripture is wholly inapplicable to the Church. In this view, only the writings of Paul pertain to the Church – all other N.T. writings don’t really apply. That’s a convenient way to avoid having to come to grips with the truth of when Christians will be translated and given their immortal bodies. Plus, we’ve already considered the problems inherent with multiple resurrection events. And also textually, when Jesus says He will gather His elect, it is the same Greek word Paul uses in Rom. 8:33 to refer to the Church (“God’s elect”). So then gathering the elect comes after the Tribulation.
The sequence of 1 Cor. 15, except for Christ who has already been raised (as firstborn of the dead), is that the resurrection of the saints will occur at the Second Coming. Again the resurrection is associated with a trumpet sound, but not just any trumpet – it is specifically the last trumpet. By this I assume the text is an implicit reference to the seven trumpets of Rev. 8:6-11:19, the last of which will sound at the end of the Tribulation, not its beginning or middle. However, I will comment on the trumpet question in more detail in the next section. True, the 1 Cor. 15 text refers only to the resurrection of dead saints, however (see next paragraph) …
1 Thess. 4 makes it clear the translation of saints who are alive will follow, not precede, the resurrection of dead saints. Although, I see no reason why both events cannot occur on the same day, perhaps only moments apart. This text also links the First Resurrection/Rapture with the Second Coming (“we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord“) and a trumpet sound – specifically, the trumpet of God (again, more on this later). The necessary logical consequence of which is that the translation of living saints cannot precede the Second Coming.
This text, written by Paul, is one of the chief scriptures relied upon to support a secret Rapture event. But note that if this is what 1 Thess. 4 refers to, then Christ must come twice in the future (i.e., a Second Coming = Rapture, followed by a Third Coming = what everyone else calls the Second Coming). Because what v. 15 refers to as the coming of the Lord is interpreted by dispensationalists to mean the Rapture. That is, Jesus only comes part way down to earth, meeting us in the air. Then He immediately takes us all back into heaven so He can come all the way down to earth seven years later and stand on the Mt. of Olives. By what interpretive method is the coming of the Lord not understood to be the Second Coming? By a darn sloppy interpretive method, that’s what.
2 Thess. 2 links both the Second Coming and the gathering of the elect to a single day which comes after the revealing of the Antichrist. Again, we have the same interpretive issues as with 1 Thess. 4 (When is the next coming of the Lord not the Second Coming?). However, if you take the text at face value, its meaning is clear. The First Resurrection follows the revealing of the Antichrist, thus, comes after the Tribulation.
I’m sure somebody will read this text as meaning Jesus will come immediately after the very moment the Antichrist is revealed (i.e., at the beginning of the last 3½ years). But I take it as indicating Christ’s return after the time of the Antichrist (i.e., the end of the last 3½ years). Because we already know it is the mere appearance of Christ’s coming that destroys the Antichrist. And the Antichrist will not be destroyed immediately after the very moment he is revealed. We always have to read every scripture in the light of all other scriptures.
Rev. 20 indicates that the Tribulation saints will come back to life at the beginning of the Millennium, which as we already know from many other texts will follow the Tribulation. It also precludes the possibility these saints will be resurrected separately from the saints of the Church who died prior to the Tribulation (who many claim will have been raised previously), since the Tribulation saints will be raised in the first resurrection. If their resurrection is first, and it follows the Tribulation, then how can the resurrection of Church saints precede it?
I see no inconsistencies between the above texts whatsoever. They are each perfectly consistent with a single chronology: First the Antichrist is revealed and he reigns for 3½ years, then Jesus will return on the clouds of heaven with a loud trumpet sound. Then His angels will gather the elect from everywhere they may be (alive or dead, whether Church or Tribulation saints), raising the dead in Christ first, then translating those saints who are alive. Then, all of these will meet Jesus in the air, and then rule with Him for 1,000 years.
Inasmuch as all scriptures are consistent with a single chronology, what they are describing is not two or more events, but a single event coincident with the Second Coming. May I suggest at this point if you read the above texts and conclude they are describing more than one event, you are reading something into the texts that isn’t there. Remember, sometimes the scripture looks at the same event from multiple perspectives. Just because some scriptures focus on Jesus’ defeat of the Antichrist and his armies, some focus on what is happening in heaven (specifically, the 7th Trumpet), and the scriptures we have just reviewed focus on what happens to believers, does not mean these things cannot all happen simultaneously. God can handle it, folks.
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Next: The Rapture Question; Arguments For and Against
* Ver. 8.0. Copyright © 2013-2020 Gerald R. Thompson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version.