Saturday, August 13, 2016

How Many Resurrections Will There Be?

As the reader probably knows, premillennialism teaches that there will be two literal resurrections, that of believers at the beginning of the millennium, that of the wicked at the end of the millennium. They base this on a literal interpretation of Resurrection 20:4-5: "I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection." Note two things: first, this is the only chapter in all of Scripture which describes this millennium; and second, this would mean that resurrected saints will be sharing the earth with aging, dying, and sinning unbelievers. I find that a detestable thought!

The problem with that is that it turns the principles of hermeneutics (i. e., the interpretation of Scripture) on their head. One fundamental hermeneutical principle is that clearer, simpler passages of Scripture are to be used to explain the more-difficult passages, traditionally called "the analogy of faith." Yet, this one chapter, full of symbolism, in a book also full of symbolism, is imposed on other passages which were perfectly clear before that imposition. In fact, as I will now proceed to show, that literal interpretation is contrary to the explicit statements of other portions of Scripture.

Look first at John 5:28-29 (see also Ephesians 2:5-6): "An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His [i. e., the Son of God, v. 25] voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment." Will the resurrections be separated by a thousand years? Or any period of time, for that matter? No, the Lord explicitly states that the two resurrections will occur in the same hour. Jesus is paraphrasing the prophecy of Daniel 12:2: "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." The essence of the two passages is the same, but Jesus adds the explicit time reference in John.

Also in that Gospel, consider John 6:39: "This is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the last day." When will He raise us up? On one day, then a thousand years will transpire? No, but on the last day! In the biblical course of events, must that not be at the end of history? The end of the millennium, if you will?

Oops, did that disturb you? If Revelation describes a resurrection at the beginning of the millennium, and another one at the end, but other passages, by the same Apostle, describe only one resurrection, then what about the "first resurrection"? I believe that is a reference to conversion, which is often described in resurrectional terminology in the New Testament. Look, for example, at John 5:24, just before the verses above: "Whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." This is the key: the millennium is the time of the reign of Christ between our respective conversions and the general resurrection at the end of history. Without denying that He reigns over all things, Jesus especially reigns in the hearts of His people. The millennium is now, and each new Christian enters it upon his conversion, his spiritual resurrection.


Unknown said...

Good post, and you correctly point out a conflict between the common interpretation of Re 20 and the rest of the return passages. I've considered that option as well, but not the way you stated it. I understand the literal term to mean a very long time, so this could be referring to the period of time between the Advent and when He returns, when saints will be raised to new life in Christ. I guess that fits, as Ephesians states, we are currently ruling and reigning with Christ. That would also be an encouragement to get to the business of ministry, because this is our season.

Chris Cole said...

Yes, I consider the millennium to be a reference to the time between the first and second advents. For each Christian, however, I would say that the experience of the millennium is from his conversion to the second coming.

Unknown said...

After looking at this again, I have this conflict. This happens to those who were beheaded for not receiving the mark of the beast. So, this must mean a literal resurrection rather than a spiritual one, and must also happen after the beast is revealed. I think there is a good argument that the beast was the Roman Church, but still leaves a conflict.