TEN SERMONS ON THE SECOND ADVENT
IX. THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST AND UNJUST.
"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be
made alive. But every man in his own order; Christ the firstfruits; afterward
they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have
delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father." - I Cor. xv. 22-24.
In this chapter we have the answer to the question which the Apostle says some man will ask, How are the dead raised up? (verse 35). And we are taught (verse 38) that the answer to all such enquiries is "the gift of God," and "the Power of God."
When the Sadducees put their question concerning the Resurrection, Jesus said "ye do err, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God" (Matt. xxii. 29). This is indeed the answer to all our questions, and the solution of all our doubts. When Nicodemus asked "How can these things be?" The answer was "God so loved the world that he GAVE," &c. (John iii. 9, 16). When the woman of Samaria asked "How canst Thou, being a Jew, ask drink of me, &c."? The answer was "if thou knewest the GIFT of God... thou wouldst have asked of Him and He would have GIVEN thee living water" (John iv. 9, 10). And so here, when one asks "how are the dead raised up?" The answer is, "God GIVETH it a body as it hath pleased Him" (I Cor. xv. 35, 38). So that all our enquiries are met, and all our difficulties are removed by "the word of God" and by "the power of God." Faith in this Word and in this power can alone deal with this and all other mysteries whether they be Incarnation, Advent, or Resurrection. When the Apostles used their reason, instead of faith in God's Revelation, they failed to understand the plainest of Christ's prophetic statements. When St. Paul stood on Mars' Hill and spake of "the resurrection of the dead," we read that some reasoned and "mocked," while others "believed" and "clave unto him."
We stop not now, however, to speak of Resurrection as a fact; for all christian creeds confess it and assert it. But, rather, we desire to learn what the Scriptures reveal concerning the Eras of Resurrection, and the order in which that wondrous event shall take place.
In our text, first the assertion is made that as all in Adam dies, so all in Christ shall be made alive (verse 22). This is qualified by the statement in the next verse, that it shall be all in due order, "Christ the firstfruits, afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Then the end, when He shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God, even the Father." The word translated "order" is a military expression, and means a band, rank, brigade or division of an army. Then we are told that the head of this army is "Christ the firstfruits." For He is "the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence" (Col. i. 18). Christ therefore is the head, and leads the van of this mighty army. Then we have the next division:- "afterward they that are Christ's at His coming." These are "the dead in Christ" (I Thess. iv. 16). Then "the end" - the last great division of this army. Not at Christ's coming, but when "he shall have delivered up the Kingdom" to the Father. Grace has marked off these grand divisions here, and the separation thus made will continue for ever.
Now to see the force of the words "afterward" and "then" we must refer to the beginning of this very chapter, where we have a similar construction:-"After that He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once... after that He was seen of James, then of all the Apostles" (verses 6, 7). Here these words convey the fact of a distinct interval between the appearances of the Risen Saviour. We have the same words again in Mark iv. 17, "afterward when the affliction or persecution ariseth;" and verse 28 "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." In all these cases there is necessarily a definite interval. In our text there are more than 1850 years between "Christ the firstfruits" and "they that are Christ's at His coming." Why then should any difficulty be raised when Rev. xx. distinctly states that 1000 years will elapse between the Resurrection of the first of these two great divisions and the second.
Let us read Rev. xx. 4-6 together:- "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them and judgment was given unto them.*
* These already enthroned appear to be the Church (I Cor. vi. 2) which, like Christ Himself, is "a kind of firstfruits of His creatures" (Jas. i. 18), and is hence called the "church of the first-born," i.e.- the first-born from the dead. The term first-born cannot be used in opposition to the unsaved, but to others were are born, though not "first-born."
"And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God.*
* These are the souls seen slain in Rev. vi. 9, but are now seen resurrected, for it says xx. 4 "they lived."
"And (I saw those) which had not worshipped the beast nor His image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands.*
* These are their fellow-servants and brethren who in Rev. vi. 11 were alive but were yet to be killed as they had been; and were killed in Rev. xiii. 7, 15, xiv. 12, 13, and seen raised in vision xv. 2.
Thus they appear to be three sub-divisions of this great "first" division; and though the definite acts of such Resurrections from among the dead, and ascensions of living ones are not mentioned, they are more than implied, if not necessitated, by the various visions of the apocalypse. Those raised in Matt. xxvii. 52, 53, must also be included in this "First Resurrection."
"And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
"But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first Resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first Resurrection; on such the second death had no power, but they shall be priests of God, and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years."
Some persons interpret this "first" resurrection as a spiritual quickening of those who are dead in sins, and the second as a real and literal resurrection. But surely this cannot be done, for in one and the same context we have two resurrections mentioned, and they are so blended and so spoken of in exactly the same terms, that the meaning of the one must fix and settle the meaning of the other. It would be far easier to take them both as being spiritual, than to take one spiritually and the other literally. For you first have the spiritual resurrection, then the literal, and then the spiritual again. Yet the language used, and words employed are the same in each case, and the Holy Spirit has not given us the slightest hint that there is any such transition in the use of the same words; and not the slightest indication, or ground for supposing that identical expressions are used in the same passage in opposite senses. And if the Holy Spirit has not done this, surely we may ask "by what authority" are we told that we may do so?
Rather let us see how the Spirit Himself interprets to us this solemn and important Scripture.
I. "I saw the souls of them which were beheaded," (verse 4) surely the word "beheaded" cannot be spiritualized! It must mean men who had literally had their heads cut off! So that men literally dead are the subjects of this resurrection; and their death having been fearfully literal, their resurrection shall also be gloriously literal.
2. "They lived" (verse 4). This must be in reunion with their bodies. For the word so translated is never used in any other connection. "God is not the God of the dead but of the living" are words which were spoken by the Lord "as touching the dead that they rise" (Mark xii. 26, 27). And the cognate verb runs all through I Cor. xv. in this same sense.
3. "This is the first Resurrection" (verse 5). Here the Holy Spirit interprets His own words and states distinctly what He means. The word here translated "Resurrection" occurs forty-two times and is used without exception of a literal standing upright of those who have lien dead.* In any case it is never used to denote a spiritual quickening.
* Unless Lu. ii. 34 be an exception "This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel."
4. There are those who are called "the rest of the dead" (verse 5), who live not again till the thousand years are finished; and there are the raised dead who live and reign with Christ during that time. These latter are the dead who are distinctly declared to rise with immortal bodies on whom "the second death hath no power" (verse 6), while the former are "the rest of the dead" who shall be "cast into the lake of fire" (verse 14). There can be no doubt therefore that these two great classes are the same as the two mentioned in our text, and that a thousand years puts them apart.
Taking the expression in I Cor. xv. 24 "Then cometh the end" by itself, there is nothing to tell us what "end" it is; whether the end of the army divisions, i.e. the last or final body; or the end of this present age; or the end of the millenial age. But is added "when He shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God even the Father." Now in Rev. xx. 4 we are expressly told of the first great army division that "they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years," and as they cannot reign with Christ after He has "delivered up the Kingdom" it is clear that the second great division cannot refer to the saints unless this reign has already begun.
If we put the two passages together they stand thus. According to I Cor. xv. 23, the saints rise at Christ's coming; then, according to Rev. xx. 5, 15, they live and reign with Christ a thousand years, and the rest of the dead live not again till the thousand years are finished, when death and hell give up the dead that are in them, "Then (according to I Cor. xv. 24-28) cometh the end when Christ shall deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father... and God shall be all in all."
Now let us turn to other Scriptures, and see how that whenever the Resurrection is mentioned it fits into this divine order. It does so, because the character of those who are raised is clearly defined. Whenever we read of the Resurrection of the Saints, it is spoken of as a hope, and as a glory. All who have part in it are "blessed and holy." They have a Resurrection like Christ's "from" i.e. from among, or out of the dead. It is not their right as it was Christ's, but it is conferred upon them through infinite grace. Christ rose in virtue of what He was in Himself; they rise in virtue of what grace has made them: Resurrection was due to Christ because of what He had done; Resurrection is due to them because of what has been done for them.
They rise therefore in glory; they are sown in corruption and shall be raised in incorruption; they are sown in dishonour but raised in glory; they are sown in weakness but are raised in power (I Cor. xv. 42-44). They rise like Christ Himself. Their bodies shall be "fashioned like unto His own glorious body" (Phil. iii. 21). The same Spirit which raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken their mortal bodies (Rom. viii. 11). When they awake it will be with His likeness, and they shall be satisfied (Ps. xvii. 15). They "are Christ's" now and here, born not of the will of man but of God. Conduct does not make them His, for they are His by birth. Their standing is in grace and not of works. They are His also by purchase (Acts xx. 28; I Pet. i. 19); and seven times in John xvii does the Saviour declare that they are His by gift. Hence when they fall asleep they are still called "the dead in Christ" (I Thess. iv. 16), and when they rise again they are still spoken of as "they that are Christ's at His coming."*
* Those who hold that any of the members of Christ's body the Church will be left behind to pass through the great tribulation or any part of it (1) fail to see how completely the members of His body are His by birth and covenant relation, and not by conduct; and (2) are not clear as to the sense in which they use the word Church. It is by no means necessary to include those who will pass through and be saved out of the great Tribulation in "the Church." The Church will not include all the saved.
No wonder then that the Resurrection from the dead becomes the one all-powerful Hope of the Church, and is bound up inseparably with the Lord's second advent. It was this that Paul longed for in Phil. iii. 11, when he said "if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead." If the wicked dead be raised at the same time we can hardly understand this earnest desire. If all rise at one and the same time, of course he would rise, and there was no cause of such a desire. But if the Saints are to rise "first," then there is every reason why he should so earnestly long to be amongst those who on this account are pronounced "blessed and holy." The words which he uses here are important and peculiar, for he takes the ordinary word "Resurrection" and prefixed a preposition which means "out of" and repeats the same preposition by itself after it, so that the verse really reads "If by any means I might attain unto the out-resurrection, that one from among the dead"! But why all this desire, and why this force of language, if all the dead rise together? Why not say "from death" or "from the grave"? instead of, "out from among the dead" unless it be to show (as in Rev. xx. 5), that "the rest of the dead lived not again until the 1,000 years were finished."
Surely our Lord referred to the same truth when He said "The children of this world* marry and are given in marriage; but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world,* and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the Resurrection" (Luke xx. 34-36). It is clear that some are not accounted worthy. But the article before and after the word "Resurrection," and the preposition "from" or from among or out of, gives the same emphasis on which Paul's hope was based.
* R.V. Margin "Age."
We can understand also why the Disciples should question "one with another what the rising FROM the dead should mean" (Mk ix 10), because here Jesus uses the same preposition before the words "the dead," and thus occasions their perplexity. They would have felt no such difficulty about the fact of a resurrection, or a resurrection OF dead ones. This truth they were familiar with. Jesus said to Mary "Thy brother shall rise again," and she replied, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John xi. 23, 24). But a Resurrection "out of" the dead, leaving other dead ones behind, was a new revelation to them and caused the disciples to question among themselves what "from" the dead should mean.
We ought to observe here, as final and conclusive, that when ever this "first" resurrection of the Saints is spoken of, this preposition "out of" or "from among" is always used in the Greek, though not always preserved in the A.V. And further that whenever the resurrection of "the rest of the dead" is mentioned, or the Resurrection itself, as a fact, this proposition is not used, and it reads simply "the Resurrection of dead ones."
Even in the Old Testament we find the same separation, the same elect resurrection more than hinted at. Dan. xii. 2 reads "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Here it is more than implied that there are two separate events. "Some," those who "hear the voice of the Son of God shall live"; while some, the rest of the dead, who live not again until the thousand years are finished, sleep on in terrible silence! "The children of the resurrection" hear that voice and awake, as it is written "Thou shalt call and I will answer."
This is beautifully set forth in another Old Testament Scripture, Ps. xlix. 14, 15, "Like sheep are they laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their (i.e. "the rest of the dead") beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling" (margin "the grave being an habitation for every one of them"); "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; for He shall receive me."
Another passage where these two Resurrections are sometimes taken as though they occurred at one and the same time is John v. 28, 29. "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." The word "hour" in verse 28, is the same as in verse 25. But in verse 25 it refers to the time of spiritual quickening of those who are dead in sins. It "now is" says Christ. It is, and has been for at least 1850 years and will end at Christ's coming. The second hour has not yet begun, and hence it does not say "and now is," but merely, "the hour is coming." This second hour, it might be therefore inferred, would be prolonged, but Rev. xx. 4, 5, plainly tells us that it will be 1,000 years. At the moment of its striking, "the Resurrection of life" will take place; and at the moment of its ending will take place the "resurrection of damnation" (R.V. "judgment").*
* You have the same joining together of events which are widely separate in their occurrence, in Isa. lxi. 1. And you have the divine exegesis of Christ in Luke iv. 19.
Then note how the two terms "Resurrection of life" and "Resurrection of judgment" agree with Rev. xx. 4-6. Indeed Rev. xx. is the great formal and categorical statement, and it is remarkable how the multitude of fragmentary references all fit into it. We have seen how I Cor. xv. so fits in; now look at this scripture (John v. 28, 29). In John v. 28, "they that have done good, unto the Resurrection of Life;" and Rev. xx. 4, "They LIVED and reigned with Christ a thousand years." In John v. 28, "they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment;" and Rev. xx. 13, "they were JUDGED every man according to their works." So with Lu. xx. 34-36: In Lu. xx. 34 "neither can they die any more," and Rev. xx. 6 "on such the second death hath no power." In Lu. xx. 35 "they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain... the resurrection from the dead," and Rev. xx. 6 "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection."
What can the Saviour mean by all this, if all are compelled to rise again at one and the same moment? "Worthiness" to obtain it clearly implies that there are those who are not worthy, and will not obtain it. Look again at Lu. xiv. 13, 14, Jesus said "When thou makest a feast call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the Resurrection of the just." Why not say, simply, "at the resurrection" without distinguishing it? It is clear that those who heard Him did so distinguish it, for one of them immediately cried out "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God." This man, evidently connected "the resurrection of the just," with the entering into and the establishment of the Kingdom.
But there is another passage which is sometimes not thus clearly distinguished: 2 Tim. iv. 1, "I charge thee therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead (not "at" but as R.V.) and by His appearing and His Kingdom." This correction, made not by me for the support of our subject, but quite independently by the Revisers, not only relieves this passage from any apparent contradiction, but causes it to add its important testimony. I Thess. iv. 16 is another scripture. It is fragmentary. It speaks only of "the dead in Christ" but it is in complete agreement with that part of Rev. xx. to which it refers.
In Acts xxiv. 15 Paul again expresses his faith in, and hope of "the Resurrection of the just," which he distinctly separates from "the resurrection of the unjust" when he declares "there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
It was this hope which sustained those worthies of faith, Heb. xi. 35, "others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection."
Dear friends, I have thus gone through most, if not all, of the Scriptures which bear on this solemn and important doctrine. You all profess to believe in the Resurrection, every time you repeat one or other of our Creeds. But do you reflect on the bearing which this great doctrine has on yourselves? You have heard of the blessedness of those "who have part in the first resurrection" and of the doom of "the rest of the dead." Oh what an affecting thought that all of us must have our part in one or the other of these: either in the glories of the "first Resurrection" or in the terrors of the "second death"! You cannot have part in both.
Surely you have not listened to these solemn Scriptures unmoved! Our Lord speaks, in Luke xx. 35, of those who "shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age, and the resurrection from the dead." Oh! to be thus "accounted worthy"! What does it mean? Who are they that are thus "worthy"? When all our lives we have been unprofitable servants"! When we write ourselves down as guilty sinners, vile, and undone; Where is our merit? Where is our worthiness? Ah! blessed be God, all who take this ground, the ground of sinners, guilty before God, and cry with the Publican, "God be merciful to me, a sinner" go down to their house "justified" and "worthy." With them all merit is for ever shut out, and all boasting for ever excluded. All the worthiness of Jesus at once becomes theirs! All the worthiness of His Life; all the worthiness of His death; all the worthiness of His person and His work! They are worthy in Him and in Him alone.
Worthy the Lamb is Heaven's cry, Worthy the Lamb our hearts reply! Oh the wondrous worthiness of Jesus! And what a fact for us to remember, that all whom God thus accounts "worthy," he makes worthy! Jesus was "made sin" for them, and they are "made the righteousness of God in Him;" and though in their own estimation they are still worthless, and feel themselves to be increasingly so day by day, yet their desire is to live for God, to walk with God, to "look for the Saviour," to "love His appearing," and to rejoice in the hope of the first resurrection.
Dear brethren, these are not mere sentiments, or opinions. May God give us to see the importance and solemnity of them as great facts. May you be led to see that he who talks about these things, and repeats them in a creed, and yet knows not the power of them, does but deceive himself, and goes into eternity with a lie in his right hand. May God lay this great subject on all our hearts that we may increasingly desire with St. Paul, that "if by any means we might attain to the out-resurrection from among the dead;" and for this to count all else but dross. The Lord grant it, for Christ's sake.
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