How Many and When?
by Dr. David
My boyhood church always taught
that there would be one resurrection and one judgment. Everyone
who had ever lived would be resurrected at one time, and all of
us the just and the unjust would be judged at the
same time. The sheep would be separated from the goats at the
Great White Throne Judgment pictured in Revelation 20:11-15.
But this concept is all wrong.
The Bible reveals that there will be more than one resurrection
and more than one judgment.
Concerning resurrection, Jesus
clearly taught that there would be more than one resurrection.
In John 5:29 He refers to a "resurrection of life" and
a "resurrection of judgment." The apostle Paul confirmed
this concept in his defense before Felix when he stated that he
believed the teaching of the prophets "that there shall certainly
be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts
Of course, it could be argued
that the two resurrections referred to in these scriptures will
occur at the same time. Thus, because they will happen simultaneously,
there is, in effect, only one resurrection. However, the Scriptures
establish the fact that the resurrection of the righteous will
occur in stages.
In other words, the Bible does
not teach one resurrection or even two resurrections in number.
Rather, it teaches that there will be two resurrections in
type which will be conducted in stages, resulting in several
resurrections at least four, to be specific.
The Resurrection of the Just
That the resurrection of the
righteous will occur in stages is clearly taught in 1 Corinthians
15:20-24. In fact, the first stage of the resurrection of the
righteous has already happened, for verse 20 says that "Christ
has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are
Verses 22 and 23 go on to explain
that all who have died in Christ shall be made alive, "but
each in his own order: Christ, the first fruits, after that those
who are Christ's at His coming."
The imagery of the harvest
that is used in these verses is a key to understanding the first
resurrection the resurrection of the righteous.
The Harvest Imagery
In Bible times the harvest
was conducted in three stages. It began with the gathering of
the first fruits which were offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving
It proceeded with the general
harvest. But not all was taken in this harvest. Some of the crop
was left in the field to be gathered by the poor and the needy.
This was called the gleanings (Leviticus 19:9-10).
Using this imagery, the Bible
presents the resurrection of Jesus as the "first fruits"
of the resurrection of the righteous. The gathering of the Church
Age saints, living and dead, at the appearing of the Lord (the
Rapture) is thus the general harvest stage of the resurrection
of the righteous (John 14:1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
But there is a third and final
stage to this resurrection of the righteous. It is the gleanings,
and it occurs at the end of the Tribulation when the Lord's Second
Coming takes place. At that time two final groups of the righteous
will be resurrected: 1) the Tribulation martyrs (Revelation 20:4),
and 2) the Old Testament saints (Dan 12:2).
Some people are startled by
the thought that the Old Testament saints will not be resurrected
until the end of the Tribulation. But keep in mind that the Rapture
is a promise to the Church, and the Church only. Also, the book
of Daniel makes it clear that the Old Testament saints will be
resurrected at the end of the "time of distress" (Daniel
So the first resurrection,
the resurrection of the righteous, occurs in three stages, beginning
with Christ, continuing with the Church at the Rapture, and culminating
with the Tribulation martyrs and the Old Testament saints at the
return of Jesus.
The Resurrection of the Unjust
The second type of resurrection,
"the resurrection of the wicked" (Acts 24:15), will
take place all at one time at the end of the millennial reign
of Jesus. This is at the time of the Great White Throne Judgment,
the judgment of the damned (Revelation 20:11-15).
Every person who ever failed
to relate to God in faith will be resurrected at this time, regardless
of when he or she may have lived and died whether before
or after the Cross. This resurrection will also include the unjust
who died during the Tribulation and the Millennium.
There will be no need for an
additional resurrection of the righteous at the end of the Millennium,
because all those born during that time who accept Jesus as their
Savior will live to the end of the Lord's reign (Isaiah 65:19-20).
"'As the lifetime of a tree, so shall be the days of My people,'.
. . says the Lord" (Isaiah 65:22,25). In other words, life
spans during the Millennium will be returned to what they were
at the beginning of time, before the flood.
The Certainty of Judgment
Resurrection will be followed
by judgment. Solomon wrote, "Fear God and keep His commandments
. . . For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which
is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
The apostle Paul emphasized
the certainty of judgment. In Romans 2:16 he wrote, "God
will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." And
in Romans 14:10,12 he stated, "We shall all stand before
the judgment seat of God . . . So then each one of us shall give
account of himself to God." The writer to the Hebrews summed
it up succinctly: "It is appointed for men to die once and
after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
The Completed Judgment
But not all people are going
to be judged at the same time. Just as there are going to be several
resurrections, there are also going to be several judgments.
One judgment has already taken
place. It is the judgment of believers for their sins.
This comes as a surprise to
most Christians. Some find it hard to believe. I'll never forget
when I realized it from my study of Scripture. I became filled
with so much joy that I felt like jumping pews all day!
Let me put it to you in another
way. If you are truly born again, then you will never stand before
the Lord and be judged of your sins. That's because the judgment
for your sins took place at the Cross.
You see, all your sins, and
mine, were placed upon Jesus as He hung upon the Cross, and the
wrath we deserve was poured out upon Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
He became our substitute. He took our judgment for sin (Romans
8:3 and Galatians 3:13).
If you have appropriated the
blood of Jesus to your life by accepting Him as your Lord and
Savior, then your sins have been forgiven. They have also been
forgotten in the sense that God will never remember them against
you again (Isaiah 43:25 and Hebrews 8:12).
Think of it forgiven
and forgotten! That is grace!
The Judgment of the Just
If the Redeemed will never
be judged of their sins, then what will they be judged of, and
when will the judgment take place?
The Bible teaches that the
Redeemed will be judged of their works, not to determine their
eternal destiny, but to determine their degrees of reward.
Christians do not work to be
saved; they work because they are saved. In fact, the Bible says
they are saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:10 and Titus 2:14).
Such good works, if properly done, will be done in the power of
the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 4:11) and for the glory of God (1 Corinthians
The Significance of Spiritual Gifts
Paul says in 1 Corinthians
12 that every person who is born again receives at least one supernatural
spiritual gift from the Holy Spirit. A person may receive more
than one gift. And, if you are a good steward of the gifts you
receive, then you may receive additional gifts as you develop
spiritually (Luke 19:26).
God expects us to use our spiritual
gifts to advance His kingdom. This is what the judgment of works
will be all about. Each of us who are redeemed will stand before
the Lord Jesus and give an accounting of how we used our gifts
to advance the kingdom of God on earth.
We will be judged as to the
quantity of our works (Luke 19:11-27; Romans 2:6-7). We will
be judged as to the quality of our works (1 Corinthians
3:10-14). Finally, we will be judged as to the motivation
of our works ( 1 Corinthians 4:5).
I can imagine some famous evangelist
being brought before the Lord for judgment.
"How did you use your
spiritual gifts to advance my kingdom?" asks the Lord.
"I used my gifts as a
teacher and evangelist to preach the gospel to millions,"
replies the preacher.
"Yes," says the Lord,
"you certainly did that. But, I know your heart, and thus
I know your motivation. You preached not because you loved Me
but because you wanted to become famous. You wanted to have your
picture published on the cover of Time magazine. You accomplished
that in February of 1953. Here's your picture. That's all the
reward I have for you!"
And then I can imagine the
Lord calling up a little old lady that no one has ever heard of.
"Dear, on the day you
accepted Me as your Lord and Savior, I gave you one gift
the gift of mercy. And every time someone was ill, you were the
first to offer comfort and encouragement. You were the one who
organized the prayer chain. Every time someone went to the hospital,
you were the first to visit them. Every time someone died, you
were the one who organized the meals. And you did all of these
things simply because you loved me."
The Lord will give her a crown
full of so many jewels that she will have a neck ache for eternity!
Seriously, there will be degrees
of rewards. They will be manifested in the crowns we receive (2
Timothy 4:7-8), the robes we wear (Revelation 19:8), and the degrees
of ruling authority which we exercise with the Lord (Luke 19:11-27).
The Timing of the Judgments
When and where will the judgment
of the Redeemed take place? The Bible indicates the judgment of
believers who have lived and died during the Church Age will occur
in Heaven before the judgment seat of Jesus, immediately following
the Rapture of the Church (2 Corinthians 5:10 and Revelation 19:6-9).
Those who are saved and martyred
during the Tribulation will be judged at the end of that period
when they are resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ (Revelation
20:4). The Tribulation saints who live to the end of that terrible
period are another group that will be judged at the Second Coming
of Jesus in "the sheep and goat judgment" portrayed
in Matthew 25:31-46. The Old Testament saints will also be judged
at the time of the Second Coming (Ezekiel 20:34-38).
All the unrighteous who have
ever lived will be resurrected and judged at the end of the millennial
reign of Jesus.
The Judgment of the Unjust
The terrible judgment of the
unrighteous is pictured in Revelation 20:11-15. It is called the
"Great White Throne" judgment.
We are told that the wicked
also will be judged of their works. But their judgment will be
radically different from the judgment of the Redeemed. Whereas
the Redeemed are judged of their works to determine their degrees
of reward, the lost are judged of their works to determine their
And since no one can be justified
before God by their works (Isaiah 64:6 and Ephesians 2:8-10),
all will be condemned to Hell. That's why I call this judgment
"the judgment of the damned."
The unjust are also judged
for another reason. There are going to be degrees of punishment
(Luke 12:35-48; 20:45-47).
There is a popular myth in
Christendom that says, "All sin is equal in the eyes of God."
That is not true. The only way in which all sin is equal is that
any sin, whether a white lie or murder, condemns us before
God and necessitates a Savior.
But all sin is not equal in
the eyes of God. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven sins
that the Lord particularly hates, including "hands that shed
innocent blood." And the Bible makes it very clear that idolatry
is a sin that is especially heinous in the eyes of God (Exodus
Because God considers some
sins worse than others, there will be degrees of punishment (Revelation
22:12), and these degrees will be specified at the Great White
A Call to Repentance
Where do you stand with respect
to the inevitable judgment which you will face before the Lord?
If you are a Christian, do
you know what spiritual gifts you have been given? Are you using
them to advance the Lord's kingdom? Is your motivation a love
of the Lord?
If you have never confessed
Jesus as your Lord and Savior, do you really want to participate
in the judgment of the damned? Do you realize that the Bible says,
"Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus
is Lord"? That means Hitler and every vile person like him
who has ever lived will one day make the confession of Jesus'
lordship. You will too.
I urge you to make that confession
now so that you can participate in the resurrection and
judgment of the righteous. As you consider your decision, weigh
carefully the following words from the book of Hebrews:
"Christ also, having
been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second
time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly
await Him" Hebrews 9:28
Notice carefully that this
verse promises that for those who are ready for Him, Jesus will
come "without reference to sin." That is a wonderful