It is a mistake to suppose that the great truth of the first resurrection, or the resurrection from among the dead, rests on the interpretation of some difficult passage in the Book of Revelation. So far from this being the case, we shall find it to be the uniform teaching of the New Testament. Neither is it possible to find a single text to uphold the grave error of a general resurrection and judgment. And whilst the first resurrection is the full accomplishment of our salvation: a general judgment practically denies our redemption. The scriptures declare there is none righteous, no, not one; all have sinned: it therefore follows that if we have to come into judgment for our sins we must all be condemned. As it is written, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no flesh living be justified.” Is it not evident if we have to look forward to judgment, there must be everlasting wrath before us? thus salvation is impossible. This is a very solemn question for our souls, If you, and all the world, will rise together, and it is appointed unto you after death the judgment, tell me, how can you be saved? Is there a single promise of pardon at the judgment? Not one. Our subject then affects the very foundation truth of the gospel: yes, if the common error of a general resurrection, and judgment be true, there is no gospel: for none can be saved, all are guilty, and if judged, must be cast into the lake of fire. Is it not then a fearful thing to spend a whole life teaching such dreadful errors? How many do so, and refuse to hear the word of God! If you profess to bow to scripture, we ask your solemn attention to the following.
The Sadducees, or Rationalists of that day, brought a supposed difficulty to the Lord. A woman had had seven husbands whose wife then would she be in the resurrection? Jesus answered, “But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:35, 36.) Is not this a resurrection of great privilege? Will all be raised together equal to the angels, the children of God? How can there be a general resurrection, when Jesus speaks of those who shall be accounted worthy of the resurrection from the dead, or from among the dead? Rest not until you are assured that this is your privilege.
We will now notice how the Lord Jesus teaches there will be two distinct resurrections. The one of life, the other of judgment; and the blessed certainty that those who have eternal life shall not come into the judgment. He says that all judgment is committed to Him. That all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father: and further, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life.” Do you notice that if you hear the words of Jesus, and believe God that sent Him, then even now, you have everlasting life. Surely you have not to wait until the judgment, to know if you shall have it. You both have everlasting life, and Jesus says you shall not come into judgment. The thing is settled now: you have passed from death unto life. Jesus, the very One who shall execute judgment, says these three things to every believer: you have everlasting life, you shall not come into judgment: you are passed from death unto life. Then He says, “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” (or judgment). (John 5:21-29.) The word hour is used by John to denote a period, as, “The hour cometh and now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit,” &c. (John 4:23, and 5:25.) Plainly “hour” here means the whole of this gospel period of more than eighteen hundred years. So there is a period coming in which there shall be two very distinct resurrections, of those who have everlasting life, the resurrection of life; those who have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment. Assuredly one of these must be yours and mine.
Now read John 6:37-40. Here a great privilege is made known for all whom the Father giveth to Christ. “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” And to show the value of this special resurrection the Father’s will, that Christ should raise them up, is repeated twice. Is it not evident that if there were a general resurrection there would be no meaning in these words? We shall further find that this first resurrection is at the coming of the Lord, to fetch His saints: and this accounts for the fact, that the resurrection of all given to Christ is so much on His, and on the Father’s heart. What tenderness of infinite love in those words as He went to the cross to bear our sins: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1, 2.) Oh the heart of Jesus! oh the Father’s will! what rest! what joy this gives.
As the Jews held the doctrine of a general resurrection, at least of themselves, this blessed truth we are examining was very offensive to them, as preached by the apostles. “Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead [or which is from among the dead], And they laid hands on them,” &c. (Acts 4:1-3.) Do you not see here, the truth of a resurrection from among the dead is the very opposite of the Jewish doctrine of a general resurrection?
Not only is it the joy of Christ to do the Father’s will in thus raising us from among the dead, but also this must take place because of the Spirit that dwelleth in us. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” “But 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 [or because of] his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Rom. 8:11.) What a fact is this, we are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son. Was He raised from among the dead? then we must be also, we must be like Him in all things. We are waiting for this the full effect of redemption. “Waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” If the Spirit of Christ dwells in you, then you must be raised from the dead that He may dwell in you for ever. If a Christian, this must he your destiny.
The resurrection of all that are in Christ, at His coming, is as certain as that all in Adam have died. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” But our question is when will those in Christ be raised? “Everyman in his own order; Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end,” &c. (1 Cor. 15:22-24.) Nothing could be more certain then, than that the resurrection of those that are Christ’s will be at His coming. Then cometh the end: we shall see in another scripture when the rest of the dead are judged at the end. But carefully note, that is not the resurrection spoken of here, to the end of this chapter. It is the first resurrection; those that are Christ’s. Will the resurrection of the wicked be in power — a spiritual body — in glory. Is it true of them, “And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly”? Is not this the exclusive resurrection of those who are Christ’s? The resurrection unto life from among the dead, the redemption of their bodies? When they see Christ they are like Him, they for ever bear the image of the heavenly. What a blessed event is their resurrection from among the dead! Equally blessed for “we who are alive and remain.” “Behold I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” &c. The apostle could not have had a thought of a general resurrection at the end of the world: when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption: for he says then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory,” &c. If we turn to the prophet Isaiah 25:8, we find the Spirit is there describing not the end of the world, but the beginning of the millennium or kingdom of Christ on earth. Do not forget this; that 1 Corinthians 15 will not take place at the end of the world: but at the coming of Christ to take His saints, more than a thousand years before the judgment of the rest of the dead. For further proof of this further on.
This was no mere doctrine with the apostle Paul. It was the prize at the end of his journey. For this he longed; he says, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of [or from among] the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect.” (Phil. 3:11.) Yes, when this body shall be raised in glory, when we bear the image of the heavenly, then, not until then, shall we be perfected. For this we wait, “we look for the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour; who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,” &c. If there were a general resurrection, why should the apostle so earnestly long to arrive at the resurrection from the dead? Does not this imply that the saints will be raised first? Nay, had not this very fact been revealed by the Lord to His servant: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:16, 17.) Thus the error of a general resurrection is in direct opposition to all scripture. There is not a thought of any being raised when the Lord comes, except the dead in Christ: or, as we have seen, they that are Christ’s at His coming. And this coming is clearly for His saints: for when He comes in judgment they come with Him.
We will now look at what God has been pleased to give us, as His final revelation, on this subject. We shall here see what will take place at the beginning of the thousand years reign of Christ. Evidently this cannot possibly be a spiritual millennium as is so erroneously taught — a time when the great mass of the world will be converted by the gospel, and form the church. The church, as the bride of Christ, has been completed before this; in Revelation 19 the multitudes of heaven had said, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him, for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” And more, the marriage of the Lamb having taken place, the saints come with the Lord under the symbol of the armies which were in heaven. The then imperial head of the Roman empire, is judged, with the confederate kings of the earth. The terrible reign of terror, under the dragon, has been brought to a close. Yea Satan, the dragon, the old serpent, the devil, is cast into the bottomless pit for a thousand years. The saints who have come with Christ, are now no longer in conflict, but “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, nor his image, &c . . . 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.” Thus we see after the church is completed, and comes with Christ and sits on thrones joint-heirs with Christ, to judge the nations, and to inherit all things: then the remnant also who have been faithful to Christ, during the great tribulation and slain: all these also are raised to partake of the blessedness of the first resurrection. “Blessed, and holy, is he that hath part in the first resurrection.” This completes the first resurrection. Now as to the rest of the dead, the wicked, we are distinctly told, they lived not again until the thousand years were finished. Then after the thousand years, “the dead small and great stand before God” to be judged. The dead were judged. “And they were judged every man according to their works.” And as is evident, every man that shall be judged must be for ever condemned.
Thus a thousand years separate the resurrection unto life, and the resurrection unto judgment.
We have thus gone over the teaching of scripture as to the first resurrection. And we ask where is there a thought of either a general resurrection, or that the Christian should he brought into judgment for his sins?
There are two scriptures carelessly relied on. Some one may ask, does not the gathering the sheep and the goats, imply a general resurrection? (Matt. 25.) But if we read that scripture carefully, we cannot find a word, or a thought, of any resurrection there. It is the judgment of the living nations, and they are dealt with according as they have treated the Jews, now owned as His brethren. At this judgment the Son of man is seen coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory: and all the tribes of the earth mourn. (Matt. 24:31.) “When the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory and before him shall he gathered all nations,” &c. (Chap. 25.) Read from verse 31 to end. You observe this is the judgment of the quick at His coming: but not a word about the resurrection, of the judgment of the dead. Now let us compare this with the description of the last judgment after the thousand years, millennial rest, and blessing. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead small and great stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (Rev. 20:11, 12.) Thus at the morning of this millennial day, two things take place. The first resurrection is complete: and the judgment of the living nations takes place. The rest of the dead live not again until the evening of that thousand years: and then they are judged according to their works. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” At the one Judgment the Son of man is seen coming with the clouds of heaven: at the other judgment, He does not come at all, but the heavens and the earth fled away. Thus we have both the judgment of the quick and the dead: the one at His appearing, the other at His kingdom. “Who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, and his kingdom.”
The other scripture, so often misquoted to uphold the great traditional error of a general resurrection and judgment, is this. You often hear these words as though they were scripture. It is appointed unto all men once to die, but after death the judgment. If this were so, who then could be saved? No living man could have peace with God, if the question had yet to be settled at the future judgment after death. Do you not see that this error strikes at the very foundation of the gospel? How can there be present enjoyed peace with God, if we and all men have to be judged for our sins? How can we possibly be now made meet for the inheritance of the saints: if the question has to be settled yet, after death? How can we be said to be justified from all things, if we have yet to be judged? This serious error of a general resurrection and judgment, has thrown all Christendom into confusion. Both things cannot be true: the gospel of the grace of God, and the future judgment of all. Take a case: a criminal proved guilty, receives the glad tidings of her Majesty’s free pardon, and that the crime shall never be laid to his charge again. Another official declares that he must go to judgment before the judge for his crime. Can both be true? The one is in flat contradiction to the other. So is the doctrine and all who preach it, of a general judgment, in flat contradiction of the gospel. Strange as this may appear to those who follow tradition, and pay little regard to scripture, yet it is true that no one who holds the error of a general judgment, either knows, or ever preaches, the gospel of God in its simplicity and fulness. Let us be candid, and come to close quarters. Do you hold that error, and thus you expect to die, and after death the judgment? “Error?” you say, “It is strange to me if that is not the truth: I shall be greatly mistaken if there is not such a scripture as that it is appointed unto all men once to die, and after death the judgment.”
We will see as to that shortly. But first, what is the effect of the doctrine on your own soul? Is it not that you hope it will be all right at last? You are not quite sure you are good enough yet to die, and go to judgment? Sometimes, as you forget this fatal error, you feel a little brighter, and then dreadful doubts, and uncertainty; if a preacher, you may be trying to keep up a fair appearance before others. But the blessedness of sins forgiven to be remembered no more: perfected for ever by the one offering of Christ: justified from all things: peace with God. All these you cannot enjoy if you have yet to be judged: for this very simple reason, that all have sinned, all are guilty, and therefore if all have to be judged, then all in righteousness must be condemned.
Now let us read that scripture, “And as it is appointed unto men [not all men] once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin unto salvation.” (Heb. 9:27, 28.) Does not this prove the very opposite of a general judgment? Just as it is the common lot of men to die, and after death the judgment: so Christ has borne the sins of many: therefore there can be no question of sin to them when He appears. Read the whole context, the very subject is the perfect and eternal redemption believers have through the one sacrifice of Christ. All of which falls to the ground if we have yet to be judged for our sins. It will not do to say it is the doctrine of our creeds, prayer books, and hymn books; is it found in scripture? That is the question, unless we are prepared to give up the word of God and trust in tradition, however false. As another has said, think of the childish absurdity of this tradition. Paul and thousands more have been with the Lord eighteen hundred years: have they still to be judged for their sins? The Lord Jesus assures the believer that he shall not come into judgment. (John 5:24.) And there is not and cannot be a single text to show that he will be judged in the proper sense of judgment for sins. That he will stand before, or he manifested before the beemah, or judgment-seat of Christ, and there be recompensed or rewarded according to his works, is a most blessed truth. And also that this will take place at the first resurrection is also plain. “And thou shalt be blessed . . . for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:14.) Sins are put away by His precious blood. Salvation is wholly of God. We shall be rewarded according to our works. What grace to find anything to reward!
This is the clear doctrine of scripture. Two Christians may both build on Christ, the only foundation — one is rewarded for his works; all the works of the other be burned up, yet he himself saved so as by fire. Read 1 Corinthians 3: “If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward: if any man’s work shall he burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”
It is blessed to know also that we shall not be rewarded according to man’s judgment, but the Lord’s. “Therefore judge nothing before the time until the Lord come.” On this very account we are not to judge or despise one another. “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the [beemah] judgment-seat of Christ.” (Rom. 14:10.) There is another striking scripture on this subject, and mark, it is in connection with the believer’s certainty as to his being with the Lord. “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God,” &c. “We have the earnest of the Spirit. We are always confident . . . it is God who hath wrought us for this selfsame thing,” &c., no portion breathes more divine certainty. Yet he says, “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear [or be manifested] before the [beemah] judgment-seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10.)
Thus whilst we have the utmost certainty that if we die, it is to be absent from the body, present with the Lord; and also that this is not all, but we shall be clothed upon with our glorified body of power, incorruptible, in the image of the heavenly, like Christ: yet this should not make us careless, but diligent that we may be accepted of Him. That is, our works approved, not burnt up, and thus be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. To confound this with being judged before the great white throne, is like not seeing the difference between giving rewards at the break up of school, and the boys having to be brought up as criminals at the Town Hall.
The apostle says, “But we are made manifest unto God.” Yes we are made manifest unto God. Already we have taken our places as guilty, without a hope in ourselves. We are pardoned, justified, sanctified. Our sins have been judged and borne by our holy Substitute. Now pass on, first, our manifestation before that blessed One who has loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood. Surely angels may wonder at the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Now if all from our birth, to that moment when we are manifested in His glory, be brought out before the assembled myriads, yet will it not show the grace to “Such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified.” Yes, every saint will be to the praise of His glory. All this is unspeakably glorious to us, and think of being rewarded, recompensed, in that scene of glory, at the resurrection of the just!
How terrible the contrast in that scene, when the dead are judged! Every thought, motive, and act, all written in the books: every secret sin unconfessed, unforgiven — all, all, brought out into light. Vain the hope of pardon then. The day of mercy is past. The future, God has said it, is the lake of fire.
If a single believer could come into that judgment, then Christ would have died in vain. Oh rest my soul on the words of Jesus. “Shall not come into judgment.” (John 5:24.) The sad error of a general resurrection, then, has taken away all the untold joy, and brightness of the first resurrection; yea, has robbed the Christian of the blessed hope altogether. So that many do not even know that there is a first resurrection. Is it possible that that for which the apostle so longed, and for which the church waited in the patience of Christ, has been lost and forgotten? It is too true.
Had we space we should find, that the promise of God to Abraham could not be fulfilled, if there were no first resurrection. “And I will give unto thee the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.” (See Gen. 13:14, 15; 17:8.) Stephen tells us Abraham was a stranger, had no inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on. It is plain if Abraham were not raised from among the dead until the heavens and the earth flee away, and he had to stand before the great white throne, then God would have broken His word to Abraham, which is impossible. By faith, they sojourned, and looked “that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 9.) No; they shall be raised from among the dead, whether it be Israel for earthly, or the church for the heavenly glory. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, and they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” This must be the reader’s portion, or the lake of fire. May the Lord deliver you from the fatal delusion of putting off your salvation to the judgment of the dead. C. S.