We believe that the only hope of eternal life for mortal humans lies in the resurrection through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We believe that at the return of Jesus Christ a resurrection to spirit life will take place for all who have been God's faithful servants. We believe that, after Jesus Christ has ruled on earth for 1,000 years, there will be a resurrection to physical life of the vast majority of all people who have ever lived. We believe that, after these people have had an opportunity to live a physical life, if they become converted they, too, will receive eternal life. We also believe that those who reject God's offer of salvation will reap eternal death (1 Corinthians 15:19, 42-52; Acts 23:6; John 5:21-29; Romans 6:23; 8:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Revelation 20:4-5, 11-15; John 3:16; Matthew 25:46).
The resurrection of the dead is one of the fundamental doctrines leading to perfection and eternal life (Hebrews 6:1-2). Without the resurrection of the dead, Christ would not be risen and our faith would be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Humans are mortal, with no inherent immortality. Furthermore, man is incapable of giving himself eternal life; thus the need for a resurrection.
We find in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection is the hope of all mankind. Resurrection means a raising up or rising. Biblically, it refers to the raising of the dead to life again. The Scriptures teach the resurrection of "all who are in the graves" (John 5:28), but there is an order in which all the dead will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:23). The Bible reveals that some will be resurrected to everlasting life and others are to be sentenced to eternal death (Daniel 12:2-3; Revelation 20:13-15).
Resurrections are possible because God has the ability to give life. God, through the Word, who became Jesus Christ, gave life to the first man, Adam. He has the same power to give life to a human being a second time. Both the Father and the Son have life within themselves (John 5:26). This inherent power of God can produce both physical and spirit life. God has power to resurrect one from the grave in physical or spirit form (1 Corinthians 15:35-38). God has proven He has the power to resurrect to physical life (John 11:43-44; Matthew 27:52-53) and to spiritual life (Matthew 28:6-7). Resurrections are also possible because Christ has been raised (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). His resurrection as a living Savior made possible the salvation of all people; hence, their resurrections. Mankind would die and perish forever were it not for Christ's resurrection (Romans 5:10; 1 Corinthians 15:26, 55).
God's plan for mankind's salvation requires the resurrection of all who die (John 5:28). The apostle John describes three resurrections—one to eternal life (Revelation 20:4-6); one to physical life (verses 11-12); and one to death in the lake of fire (verses 13-15 [although these verses do not mention a resurrection specifically, the incorrigibly wicked, who have rejected God's offer for salvation, will need to be resurrected to be cast into the lake of fire]). John 5:29 is another important verse in understanding God's plan. There are two resurrections mentioned in this verse, but the Bible actually refers to three resurrections.
The first resurrection is called by that name: ". . . They lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years . . . Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4-6). This resurrection will take place at the second coming of Christ when the righteous dead will be resurrected to immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). This is called a "better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35) because it is to immortality and rulership with Christ during the Millennium.
The second resurrection will take place at the end of the 1,000-year reign of Christ and the saints. "But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20:5). This resurrection is further described in verse 12: "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books."
This is a resurrection back to physical life (Ezekiel 37:1-14). It will include the vast majority of all people who have ever lived—people who never knew God and His great purpose for them. It will be an exciting time when virtually all of history comes back to life (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:41-42). These people will have a second chance for physical life but their first opportunity for salvation and glorious immortality in God's family. They will be given ample time for learning and growing in God's way of life. Truly, God's plan includes everyone. He is not willing for any to perish but that all should come to repentance and salvation (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4).
The third resurrection will take place at the conclusion of God's plan for mankind. This will be a resurrection to physical life for all those who have rejected God's offer of eternal life in past ages—a resurrection to death in the lake of fire. "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14-15; Hebrews 10:26-29; 2 Peter 3:10-12). Our loving God gives everyone an opportunity to have eternal life and wishes no one to perish. But if they refuse, the punishment is the second death, which ends their lives quickly and forever (Malachi 4:1, 3; Matthew 25:46).
The three resurrections reveal the order of God's marvelous plan and purpose for all of humanity. It is appointed to man once to die (Hebrews 9:27), but afterward there will be a resurrection for everyone who has ever lived.
(For more details, request What Happens After Death?, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind)
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