The General Resurrection

May 29, 2016 / No. 3830

Dear Radio Friends,
As Christians in this world, we live in hope. Here, we are pilgrims and strangers. Heaven is our home, and we do not seek our ultimate fulfillment in the present earthly life. One aspect of our hope, and what makes the Christian hope altogether unique, is the future, bodily resurrection. The Christian does not only believe in an after-life in which, after our death, our souls will continue to exist in heaven. But we believe, based on the Scriptures, that our earthly bodies in which we live today will be raised from the decay and dust of the grave and that, in our flesh, we will see God. Death and the grave are not the end for our bodies. The grave will not have the victory. To die as a believer, to die in the Lord, and to die in hope, means that our bodies will be raised and be made like unto the glorious body of Jesus Christ. That is our hope. At the moment when Jesus returns on the clouds of heaven, His first work will be to raise our bodies from the grave and to fashion them like to His glorious body in order to bring us to eternal glory with Himself.
That is our subject today. In this series of messages on the end times, we have been looking at the signs of the coming of Jesus Christ. Last time, in this series, we looked at the sign of the Son of man—the visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ on the clouds of heaven. In this message, and in subsequent messages, we will look at what happens beyond the return of Jesus Christ. The first thing that takes place at the return of Christ is the general resurrection of the dead.
We consider this today from the gospel of John 5:28 and 29. Jesus says there: “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.” I have titled this message, “The General Resurrection.” When we speak of a general resurrection, we mean these three things. First, that our bodies will literally be raised from the grave. Jesus says here, “they that are in the graves…shall come forth.” He does not mean to limit this resurrection to those who are buried in graves, but this is a way of speaking of all who have died. He refers to the earthly remains of all. To be in the grave is to die. This is what we do when someone dies. At the moment of death there is a vicious rending of soul from body. The soul departs and returns to God who made it. Here on the earth we are left with a body, a corpse, a lifeless empty shell. Usually we bury it, lovingly putting it in the grave. When we stand at the grave, the reality of death hits us. But now, the point that Jesus is making here is that the grave is not the end. In I Corinthians 15 the apostle shouts triumphantly, “O death, where is thy sting; O grave, where is thy victory?” The grave, in the end, does not have the victory because Jesus Himself entered into the grave and overcame the power of death. So the body that is buried in the grave, your body and my body, will be raised. Paul speaks of this identity between the present body and the resurrection body. He says, this body is sown. But this body is also raised. The substance is the same. It is sown and it is raised. Now, just as Jesus was raised from the grave in the same body in which He was buried, so we will retain a personal identity in the future resurrection. Job says, “Though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” So first we recognize here a literal, bodily resurrection.
Secondly, when we speak of a general resurrection, we mean that everyone who ever lived will be raised from the dead. The resurrection will be universal. We see that very clearly in these verses. Verse 28 refers to all: “the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.” Verse 29 describes who these all are: “they that have done good…and they that have done evil.” In other words, this will be a resurrection not just of God’s people, not just of the elect, but also of unbelievers—the reprobate.
Third, the general resurrection will happen at a specific moment in history. Jesus says in verse 28: “for the hour is coming.” He points thus to a specific moment in future history. God has appointed, God has designated, an hour when this will happen.
When will that hour be? It will be at the moment when Jesus returns on the clouds of heaven. That is also designated in Scripture as an hour. That is not mentioned specifically here in Jesus’ discussion in John 5 because here He is not talking about the end times so much as His authority. But, if we turn to John 6:40, Jesus says, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” “The last day,” Jesus will raise all believers. I Corinthians 15:52 speaks this way: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” That trumpet is the sound of the return of Jesus Christ. I Thessalonians 4:16: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” So, this general resurrection will take place at a specific moment in the future—an hour—and all the dead will rise.
I emphasize here that this will include all the dead. “All who are in their graves will come forth,” Jesus says. Everyone who has ever died, from the first man—the righteous Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain—through Adam and Eve and Abraham and Joseph and David and every Bible character. Everyone who has died throughout all of history, all the great names of history, all the unknown and forgotten people, billions of men and women, young and old, boys and girls, infants; those buried thousands of years ago whose bodies have long returned to dust; those who have been burned up in the fire; those who have become fish-food, drowned at sea; those who have become worm food buried in the earth; those dismembered and blown apart in war; those from unknown, ancient civilizations; those from far-flung corners of the earth; those gassed by the millions by Hitler’s regime; and those millions of aborted babies of our modern society. All shall come forth. That means that you will be there and I will be there, whether we live till the last day comes or whether our bodies return to the dust and our souls to God who gave it; whether death comes to us through the process of pain or suffering or comes quite suddenly; whether we die young or old and full of years; whether you are a believer or an unbeliever; all of us will stand in that day in that great “getting-up morning.”
I emphasize “all” because some teach that there are multiple resurrections in the future, that there is first the resurrection and rapture of all believers. Then, one thousand or so years later there is another resurrection of the wicked for judgment. Here it is very clear that this will take place at one moment, that this is one event. Jesus said, “The hour cometh.” Then He speaks of the resurrection of both the just and the unjust happening simultaneously. That is supported elsewhere in Scripture. In Acts 24:15, “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” That day, the day of the resurrection of God’s people, will be the last day. Jesus says in John 6:40 concerning the resurrection of believers: “I will raise him up at the last day.” This resurrection does not take place some thousand years before the last day but it takes place at the last day. The resurrection is of all at the moment of Christ’s return, which is the last day.
So, the general resurrection is a future resurrection at a specific day and moment, the day and moment when Jesus returns with the sound of the trumpet and the voice of the archangel of God. That is the last day of the history of this world.
But the main point that Jesus is making here in the passage is how this resurrection will take place. Jesus is not talking here so much about the end times but He is having a discussion with the Jewish leaders, especially the Pharisees, about His authority and power. Earlier in the chapter Jesus had healed a man at the pool of Bethesda. The miracles that Jesus performed caused the multitudes to follow Him. The leaders were unable to withstand or deny the power of Jesus. So they tried to discredit what Jesus was doing by turning it into a dispute about something different. Here they turn it into a dispute about the Sabbath because Jesus had healed this man on the Sabbath. Just as He does so often, Jesus brings this back to the real issue. The real issue is not Sabbath observance but His authority. The miracles demonstrate who He is. So, in verse 17, Jesus says, ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” He is saying that the power by which He did His miracles was a divine power and that He was sent of God into this world. This brings the Jewish leaders back to the real issue. That makes them upset. In verse 18 we read that they are upset not only because He had done this on the Sabbath, but because He had called God His Father, making claim that He Himself was God.
So, Jesus says to them, “Well, what you’ve seen me do so far is really nothing in comparison to what I will do and what I am able to do.” In the intervening verses, He speaks of His power, which will be displayed in the judgment of this world, and that is shown in His ability to raise people from the dead. Here Jesus is saying to the Jewish leaders, “What you see me do here in the healing of this man at the pool of Bethesda pales in comparison to what you will see me do in the future.”
The question is: How will Jesus raise the dead? By what power does this general resurrection take place? Sometimes we wonder about that question. We think of how the body decays in the grave. We think, perhaps, of bodies that have disintegrated in death or have been burned and we wonder, how can this general resurrection, how can this literal, bodily resurrection take place? We see how in the words of the text. Jesus says, “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice.” It is by the voice, simply by the voice of Jesus Christ. That is the power of the voice of Jesus.
Now, just think of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. He said, after the tombstone had been rolled back, “Lazarus, come forth,” and Lazarus arose and came forth. It has been said that Jesus, when He raised Lazarus from the dead, spoke his name (Lazarus) first because otherwise all who were in their graves would have come forth on that day. On the day when Jesus comes again, He will say the word, “Come forth, arise from the dead,” and all will come forth from their graves. This voice is called elsewhere (I Cor. 15:52) the “trump of God.” “The trump of God will sound, and the dead will be raised.” Now, Jesus’ point is, if He can do that, if He can raise the dead by His voice at the last day, marvel not at this, do not be surprised at this, that a lame man is able to walk at His command.
So Jesus will return on that last day and He will speak a word that will bring life to all who are in their graves. That is a beautiful thought, and it is a wonderful analogy to what He does in the work of our salvation. On the final day, your dead body and mine, which lie in their graves, which have lost all of their function and ability to hear or to do anything, which have decomposed—on that final day, Christ will speak, and His voice will wake these dead bodies from the grave. Martin Luther pictured it this way. He says, “Just as Jesus said, ‘Lazarus, come forth,’ so He would come and He would say on the great resurrection morning, ‘Dr. Luther, wake up.’” I say that is a wonderful analogy of the power of the gospel. Jesus makes that point also in the context in verses 24 and 25. He uses similar language. He says, “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.” That is the same kind of language. But Jesus adds: “Now is.” “The hour is coming, and now is.” He means that the voice that He speaks as He proclaims the gospel is heard and believed; and as people believe, they are given, not just physical life, but eternal life in their souls.
So He speaks here of the work of regeneration. Naturally, we have no ability to hear the gospel. Spiritually, we are deaf and blind to the things of God. But God comes, and He gives us ears and He gives us eternal life through our hearing of the Word of God. So, Jesus says, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming when the dead shall hear My voice and shall come forth.” That is simply an analogy of what takes place in the great work of salvation. So, what we see in these verses is this, that at the voice of Jesus Christ, on the last day, all the dead will rise and come forth from their graves.
In verse 29, we see what the purpose of this resurrection will be. Not here that there are two types of resurrection. They are simultaneous, but there are so very different from each other. How will they come forth from their grave, those who hear His voice? One group of them will come forth unto the resurrection of life (v. 29) and the other unto the resurrection of damnation. What that means is this: that every human will be raised with a body that is suited to his or her eternal destiny. The body of the believer will be suited for heaven. It will be perfect and sinless, it will be spiritual and eternal, what Paul calls in I Corinthians 15 incorruptible, immortal, spiritual, and heavenly. Our bodies will be raised to be like the body of Jesus Christ. When we see Him in that day, then we will be like Him.
But there is also a resurrection of damnation. For the wicked and unbelieving, their bodies will be raised to suffer eternally in hell. That means that their resurrected bodies will be given a different power than they possess in the present. If a person, in the body that he has now in his present, earthly existence were to go to hell, he would soon be annihilated. The human body could not endure the sufferings and the torments of hell. But there is an eternity in the soul of man, and when Jesus comes again, He will put that eternity into the bodies of those who have done evil. They will be raised, those bodies will, to be suited to eternal torment in hell. Hell has been described as the place where you want to die, but death never comes. Jesus says, “There will be a resurrection of damnation.”
What we see here again is the absolute power and authority of Jesus Christ in His exalted state. He not only has the power to raise bodies and to give life to them, but He has power even over the bodies of those who do not obey the gospel. What a dreadful power belongs to our Savior.
One of the main questions that people ask about this verse (v. 29) is this: Does Jesus teach here a salvation by works? He speaks here of the Judgment Day and He speaks of a resurrection of those who have done good unto life, and a resurrection of those who have done evil unto damnation. What we have to do is look more closely at this verse and see that it teaches quite the opposite. The question is: When does this resurrection take place in the order of the events of the last day? The answer is: It takes place at the moment that Jesus returns, but before the final judgment. In Matthew 24 we read that when Jesus returns, He will send His angels to gather all from the four corners of the earth. Then, in Matthew 25, all these appear before the great white throne of judgment. The point is this, that this resurrection unto life and unto damnation takes place already prior to the judgment; already in their resurrection those who have done good and those who have done evil receive a body that is suited to their eternal destination.
So, there is a kind of a pre-judgment here. There is already a judgment that takes place at the moment of death. The souls of believers are taken immediately into glory and the souls of unbelievers depart into everlasting suffering. What this teaches, very clearly, is that even though our works are exposed in the judgment, and we are rewarded accordingly, this is not the determining factor on the Judgment Day. The Judgment Day is not a day for God to figure out what each person deserves. God knows that. Rather, the Judgment Day is a vindication of the justice and the mercy of God. God will be seen as just in giving to unbelieving, reprobate men and women what they deserve eternally in hell. And God will be seen as merciful and gracious in pardoning His own for whom Jesus has given His blood.
So, Jesus is not talking in these verses about the cause of salvation, but is simply distinguishing for us the elect from the reprobate and telling us what marks them out from each other—the one group do good, the other do evil. Jesus says, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” This ought to encourage us as believers and to exhort us to a life of holiness and godliness. It ought to increase in us an earnest desire to live in a way that is pleasing to God, to live in a life of love and good works; not so we can rest in our works, for we rest alone in the grace of God, but as an expression of the life that we have, we who have heard the voice of Jesus Christ and have life.
So, the purpose of the general resurrection is the final judgment. About that we will say more in the next message.