Lecture 4 of 11 on "The Hopes of the Church of God"

Luke 20:17.

First Resurrection; or, Resurrection of the Just.

J. N. Darby.

<02014E> 301

The subject which I propose for this evening's lecture, is the resurrection, and particularly the resurrection of the church apart; that is, the resurrection of the just as altogether distinct from that of the unjust.

We have already spoken of Christ, the Heir of all things; of the church as co-heir with Him; and of the coming of Christ to reign before the thousand years - an event which we must not confound with the day of the resurrection of the unjust, and of the judgment before the great white throne, which will not take place until after the millennium. We have now to see that the church will participate in this coming of Christ; it does so as the subject of the first resurrection.

There is no need to speak to you of the resurrection of Jesus as being the seal of His mission; it is an admitted truth; it is enough to quote Romans 1:4, where the apostle tells us that "Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power … by the resurrection of the dead."* This resurrection was the great fact which demonstrated that Jesus is the Son of God; but it was likewise, for other reasons, the great theme of the preaching of the apostles, the basis of their epistles, and of all the New Testament.
{*It is not exclusively by His own resurrection, though there was the first and most important proof. The reader will do well to pay attention to the expression, "from among the dead," employed elsewhere. It is an expression distinct from the present, and indicates the introduction of a divine power into the realm of death - a power which withdraws some from it in such a sort as to distinguish them completely from others. This it was that astonished the disciples (Mark 9:10). Resurrection was the faith of every orthodox Jew; but what they did not understand was a resurrection from among the dead.}

Let us commence by saying, that the difficulty people find in the subjects of which we are treating do not arise from the word of God not being simple, clear, and convincing; but from this - that preconceived ideas often rob us of its natural sense. We have habits of thinking apart from the Scripture, before we know it; then it is we find inconsistencies - incompatibility - in that which presents itself to us, not suspecting that this incompatibility belongs alone to human preconceived opinions.

302 The doctrine of the resurrection is important under more views than one. It links our hopes to Christ and to the whole church, in one word, to the counsels of God in Christ; it makes us understand that we are entirely set free in Him, by our participation in a life in which, united by the Holy Ghost to Him, He is also the source of all strength for glorifying Him, even from the present time; it sustains our hopes in the most solid manner; finally, it expresses all our salvation, inasmuch as it introduces us into a new creation, by which the power of God places us, in the second Adam, beyond the sphere of sin, of Satan, and of death. The soul in departing goes to Jesus, but is not glorified. The word of God speaks of men glorified, of glorified bodies; but never of glorified souls. But, as before observed, prejudices and human teachings have taken the place of the word of God, and the power and expectation of the resurrection has ceased to be the habitual state of the church.

The resurrection was the foundation of the preaching of the apostles, Acts 1:22. "One must be with us a witness of his resurrection." This was the constant subject of their testimony. Let us now see in what terms they testified.

Acts 2:24. "Whom God has raised up." So verse 32: "This Jesus has God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses."

Acts 3:15. "And killed the Prince of Life, whom God has raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses."

Acts 4:2. This doctrine of the resurrection was acknowledged as the doctrine publicly preached by the apostles; it was not that the soul in dying went to heaven, but that the dead shall live again. As the Pharisees were the greatest enemies of the Lord whilst He was upon earth - that is to say, the falsely righteous ones, as opposed to the truly Righteous One - so in like manner, Satan, after His death, raised up the Sadducees, who were enemies to the doctrine of the resurrection; Acts 4:1; 5:17.

Acts 10:38, 40-41. Peter testifies to this same fundamental truth before Cornelius the centurion and his friends. Paul preached it to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia, saying (Acts 13:34), "And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead … he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David."

Acts 17:18-30. He announces, in the midst of the learned Gentiles, this doctrine, which was the stumbling-stone of their carnal wisdom. Socrates and other philosophers believed, after a fashion,* in the immortality of the soul; but when these men, curious in science, heard of the resurrection of the dead, they mocked. An unbeliever is able to discourse about immortality; but if he hears about the resurrection of the dead, he turns the subject into derision. And why? Because in virtue of the immortality of the soul he may exalt himself, he can elevate his own importance. There is something in the idea which can ally itself to man such as he is; but to think of dust raised again - of a living and glorious being made out of it - this is a glory which belongs only to God, a work of which God alone is capable. For if a body reduced to dust can be reconstituted by God into a living and glorified man, nothing is hid from His power. With the immortality of the soul man can still connect the idea of self - of power in the body; but when the leading truth is the resurrection of the body, and not the immortality of the soul, man's impotency becomes glaring.
{*It was in metempsychosis, or transmigration to other bodies, after all.}

303 See again (whether the apostle was right or not in appealing to the prejudices of the Pharisees), Acts 23:6 where Paul directly affirms, that it was for the preaching of this doctrine he was called in question. In Acts 24:15, he tells the same truth. In Acts 26 he gives it to king Agrippa as the reason of his detention; so also verse 23. From these passages it is easily seen, that the resurrection was the basis of the preaching of the apostle and of the hope of the faithful.

We now come to the second part of our subject, the resurrection of the church apart, or the special resurrection of the just.

"There will be," says the apostle, "a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust"; but the resurrection of the just, or of the church, is a thing altogether apart - which has no relation with that of the wicked, which does not take place at the same time with this last, nor after the same principle. For, although both the one and the other are to be accomplished by the same power, there is in the resurrection of the just, a particular principle, namely the habitation of the Holy Ghost in them, which is foreign to the resurrection of the wicked; Rom. 8:11.

The virtue of the resurrection embraces the life, the justification, the confidence, the glory, of the church. God Himself is made known unto us by the name of "God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:9), who introduces His power into the last depths of the effects of our sin - into the domain of death - to bring men out of it by a life from which that moment puts them outside the reach of all the dreadful consequences of sin - a life close to God.

304 Romans 4:23-25. It is in "God who quickens the dead" that we are called upon to believe; it is the resurrection of Jesus which is the power - the efficacy - of our justification. This is the truth presented in the passage before us. Our union with Jesus raised gives us acceptance with God. We ought to see ourselves already as beyond the tomb.

On this account the faith of Abraham was a justifying faith. "He considered not his own body now (already) dead", but he believed in a God "who quickens the dead"; for this reason his faith "was counted to him for righteousness."* The resurrection of Jesus was the great proof, and as to all its moral effects, the establishment of this truth, that the object of our faith is that God raises the dead. This truth is pointedly expressed in the first epistle of Peter (1 Peter 1:21). The application is made to us by our union with the Lord.
{*Remark the difference: he believed God was able to perform it, we, that He has done so. Through it we believe on Him.}

Colossians 2:12. "Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who has raised him from the dead." The church is raised now, because Christ is raised as its Head. The resurrection of the church is not a resurrection whose object is judgment, but simply the consequence of its union with Christ, who has been judged in its stead.

We may observe in this passage how these truths hang together. The resurrection of the church is a thing of itself, because the church participates in the resurrection of Christ we are raised, not only because Jesus Christ will call us from the grave, but because we are one with Him. It is by reason of this unity, that, in partaking of faith, we are already raised with Christ, raised as to the soul, but not as to the body. The justification of the church is, that it is risen with Christ.

The same fact is expressed in Ephesians 1:18, etc., and Ephesians 2:4-6. Paul never said, "If I am saved, I am content." He knew that it is hope that makes the soul active, which excites the affections, which animates and directs the whole man; and he desired that the church should have the heart full of this hope. Nor is it enough for one of us to say, "I am saved"; it is not enough for the love of God, which is not satisfied unless we are participators of all the glory of His Son; and we ought not to be indifferent to His will.

305 Ephesians 2:6 shows forth the same truth. The presence of the Holy Ghost in the church is that which characterises our position before God. As the Spirit of Christ is our consoler, and helps us in our infirmities, testifying withal that we are children of God, and making us able to serve God, so it is on account of the Holy Spirit who is in us that we shall be raised; and it is on account of the Holy Spirit also that the principle of the resurrection of the church is quite other than that of the resurrection of the wicked. Our resurrection, we say, is the consequence of the abiding of the Holy Ghost in us (Rom. 8:11) - a very essential difference. The world does not receive the Holy Ghost, "because it sees him not, neither knows him," John 14:27. Now, "our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. 6:19); our soul in consequence is filled, or at least it ought to be, with the glory of Christ. Our body, also, which is the temple of the Holy Ghost, will be raised according to the power of the Holy Ghost who dwells in us; a thing which can never be said of the wicked.

It is the resurrection which, having introduced us into the world of the last Adam (even now as partaking of this spiritual life), will introduce us in fact into a new world, of which He will be the Head and the glory, since He has acquired it and will reign there as the risen Man.

Observe, in the passages concerning the resurrection, not one speaks of a simultaneous rising of just and unjust; and those which refer to the resurrection of the just speak of it always as of a thing distinct. All will rise. There will be a resurrection of the just, and a resurrection of the unjust, but they will not take place together. I will cite the passages successively, which refer to it. It is at the coming of Christ that the church will rise; Phil. 3:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:23.

The idea of a resurrection of the just was familiar to the disciples of Christ; and such is represented as to happen in Luke 14:14, "Thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just."

But before coming to direct proofs, I would express the conviction that the idea of the immortality of the soul,* although recognised in Luke 12:5 and 20:38, is not in general a gospel topic; that it comes,** on the contrary, from the Platonists; and that it was just when the coming of Christ was denied in the church or at least began to be lost sight of, that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came into displace that of the resurrection. This was about the time of Origen. It is hardly needful to say that I do not doubt the immortality of the soul; I only assert that this view has taken the place of the doctrine of the resurrection of the church, as the epoch of its joy and glory.
{*In the expression (2 Tim. 1:10): "Brought life and immortality to light," - "immortality" signifies the incorruptibility of the body, and not the immortality of the soul.
**i.e., the propagation of this as a special doctrine comes from them.}

306 Luke 20:35-36. "They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead." The resurrection, then, mentioned here, belongs only to those who shall be made worthy of it. "They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age," that is to say, this world of joy, of the reign with Christ. That resurrection of the dead, then, belongs to the period spoken of, and not only to eternity. "Neither," adds the Saviour, "can they die any more … for they are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection." The wicked shall be raised to be judged, but those others shall be raised because they have been accounted worthy to obtain the resurrection which Jesus has obtained. We see, in the passage quoted, the proof of a resurrection which concerns the children of God alone; they are the sons of God, being the sons of the resurrection. To be a son of God, and to have part in this resurrection, is the title and inheritance of the same persons.

John 5:25-29. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father has life in himself; so has he given to the Son to have life in himself; and has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. 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." It is customary to oppose the latter part of this passage to a view of the resurrection of the just apart; but we shall see that the whole passage enunciates, and even explains and strengthens, the truth which is occupying us.

307 Two acts of Christ are presented as the attributes of His glory; one, to make alive; the other, to judge. He gives life to those whom He will, and all judgment is entrusted to Him; in order that all, even the wicked, should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. Jesus has been shamefully entreated here below; God the Father takes care that His claim of glory shall be recognised: He (Christ) gives life to whom He will - to their souls first, and then to their bodies. These glorify Him of good will. As to the wicked, the way of obliging them to recognise the rights of Jesus, is to judge them; and this judgment is in the hands of Jesus. In the work of vivification, the Father and Son act together, because those to whom life is given are put into communion with the Father and Son. But as to judgment, the Father judges no man, because it is not the Father that has been wronged, but the Son. The wicked will own Jesus Christ in spite of themselves when they are judged. At what epoch will these things be accomplished? For the wicked, at the time of the judgment - the judgment both of the living, and of the dead before the great white throne; for the just, the children of God, when their bodies shall participate in the life already communicated to their souls (the life of Christ Himself) at the resurrection of the just. The resurrection for these is not a resurrection of judgment, but simply, to repeat it again, the exercise, towards the bodies of God's children, of that quickening power of Jesus, in which He has already worked upon their souls, and which, in God's good time, shall work upon their bodies. "They that have done good," says our text, "unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment."*
{*Really, judgment (see Greek); which is said before to be committed to Christ.}

But the objection is made, Jesus has said (v. 28), "The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice." The wicked and the just will then evidently rise together. But three verses before (v. 25) it is said, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." Hour comprehends here all the space of time which has elapsed since the coming of the Saviour; and under this word is contained two states of things quite different, seeing that the dead heard the voice of the Son of God during the time He was living on earth, and that they have been hearing it for eighteen centuries since. Thus, then, is the interpretation. The hour* for giving life to the soul is an hour which has lasted eighteen centuries already. And the hour is also coming for the judgment. The word hour has the same sense in the two passages. That is to say, there is a time of quickening and a time of judgment; there is a period during which souls are quickened, and a period when bodies shall be raised. For us, the resurrection is only the application of the quickening power of Jesus Christ to our bodies. We shall be raised, because we are already quickened in our souls. The resurrection is the crowning of the whole work, because we are children of God, because the Spirit dwells in us, because (as far as our souls are concerned) we are already risen with Christ.
{*For the use of this word, see (in the Greek) John 5:35; John 16:4, 25-26; Luke 22:53; 1 John 2:18; 2 Corinthians 7:8; Philemon 15.}

308 There will be a resurrection of life for those who have been already quickened in their souls; and a resurrection of judgment for those who have rejected Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, sets forth very clearly the connection which exists between the coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. The order of the resurrection is explicitly shown. "Christ is become the firstfruits of them that slept" (v. 20); "of those which slept," and not of the wicked. They that are Christ's shall rise at His coming; then comes the end, the time when He shall deliver up the kingdom to God the Father. When He comes, He will take the kingdom, but at the end He will deliver it up. The appearing of Christ will therefore take place before the end; it will be for the destruction of the wicked. He will come to purify His kingdom. "Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ's, at his coming. Then comes the end."

1 Thessalonians 4:14-16. "Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him"; "and the dead in Christ shall rise first." It is the complement - the filling up - of our hopes; it is the fruit of our justification, the consequence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

The righteous dead shall rise first; then the living righteous shall be changed, and "shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord." All this is a matter which belongs exclusively to the saints - to those who, sleeping or living, are Christ's, and who will be, from that moment, for ever with the Lord.

309 Philippians 3:10-11. "To know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means, I might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead."

Why speak thus, if it be true that good and bad must rise together, and in the same manner? This resurrection from among the dead is just this first resurrection which Paul had before his eyes. I am willing, he says, as it were, to lose all, to suffer all, if, cost what it may, I arrive at the resurrection of the just: such is my desire. Evidently the resurrection from among the dead was a thing that concerned the church exclusively. I might say, like the apostle, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

As to the period or interval which elapses between the resurrection of the faithful and the wicked, it is a circumstance altogether independent of the principle itself, that is, of the distinction of the two resurrections. Our faith on this point depends upon a revelation, which has only importance, because God has so chosen to order it for His own glory. The period is only mentioned in the book of Revelation under the expression, "a thousand years." Between the two resurrections a thousand years elapse. The only point then on which I cite the book is upon the length comprised in the reign of the Son of man on the earth. The passage is found in Revelation 20:4, "And I saw thrones … ."

The world will then know that we are the objects of grace, that we have been loved as Jesus Himself has been loved by the Father.

If the first resurrection - that of the just - is not to be taken literally, why should the second - that of the unjust - be so taken? As the object of our hope, and source of our consolation and of our joy, it is but a small thing to know that the unjust shall be raised; but the precious thing - the essential - is to know that the resurrection of the just will be the consummation of their happiness; that in it God will accomplish His love towards us; that, after having given life to our souls, He will give life to our bodies, and will make of the dust of the earth a form suitable to the life which has been given to us on the part of God. We never read in the word of God of glorified spirits, but always of glorified bodies. There is the glory of God, and the glory of those who will be raised.

310 I desire, dear friends, that the knowledge of this truth, by the power of Christ, on which depends its entire accomplishment, may strengthen us in our hearts unto all perfection. For this knowledge in all its extent is that to which the scripture applies the word "perfection." Christ was thus made perfect as to His state and position before God; we, also, ourselves are now perfect by faith, in acknowledging that we are raised with Him, as we shall be later as to our bodies. May your bodies, souls, and spirits, be preserved blameless until the coming of our Well-beloved! May this truth of the resurrection of the church become bound up, in our minds, with all the precious truths of our salvation consummated in Christ, and may it be accomplished in the plenitude of our salvation in our bodies also!