The Final Sequence:
The Two Resurrections: Life and Judgment
In a previous chapter I presented the biblical evidence for the Lord’s future judgment of all mankind. Notice how, based on the principle of the justice of the Lord, the Apostle Paul clearly teaches both the certainty and necessity of divine wrath being poured out upon the wicked:
But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?
The Apostle’s point is that the Lord surely will inflict wrath on the wicked because He is righteous. Unless the wicked is judged, God can’t—and shouldn’t—be considered just. (And, the same point may be made regarding the righteous: it is equally true that the Lord’s justice must ensure that He reward His faithful people, those who love Him and obey His word.)
There is, however, the indisputable observation that much of the evil committed by mankind in the present appears to go unpunished. How can this be reconciled, since the Bible declares unequivocally that the Lord is just? If wrath does not fall upon the wicked during their lives, how then can the Almighty be considered just?
Asaph, one of the OT Psalmists, pondered this moral conundrum in the beautiful Psalm 73:
Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart!
But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling, my steps had almost slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pains in their death, and their body is fat.
They say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth.
Asaph recorded what he commonly observed: at least some wicked appear to sin with impunity—and grow rich—and it troubled him greatly.
The remainder of the Psalm, however, is the record of Asaph’s realization that our present life is not the “be-all-end-all” that mankind typically assumes it to be. Rather, the Lord has assured us that there is much more to consider when pondering mankind’s evil and the Lord’s justice:
If I had said, “I will speak thus,” behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight
Until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end.
Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction.
How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.
How did this dramatic change of heart take place? Had the Lord suddenly poured out divine wrath on those Asaph observed?
Asaph finally “perceived their end”: he realized that whatever happens to the wicked in this present life, either good or ill, cannot and must not be considered their end. He understood that death is not the terminus of life, that inevitable event after which nothing else can be applied or changed.
Rather, Asaph realized that it is, instead, the initiation, the first necessary step resulting in the final judgment of the wicked.
For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.
The Lord made the same type of declaration centuries before, just before Joshua was to take young national Israel into the Promised Land:
Is it not laid up in store with Me,
sealed up in My treasuries?
Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
in due time their foot will slip;
for the day of their calamity is near,
and the impending things are hastening upon them.
Those of ancient Israel, who persisted in their unrelenting disobedience against the Lord who took them from the “iron furnace” of Egypt, must ultimately face judgment. It could not be otherwise.
The justice and subsequent judgment of God are certain, in spite of all that we may observe in the relatively insignificant duration of time we call “this present life”.
The span of a human life is measured in years, but the span of the life of the person under divine judgment has no temporal boundary. It is forever!
Once a person’s existence under the justice of God begins, it literally never ends (since man cannot ever pay for his sin against an infinite God from his own merit, works or suffering). The guilty person can never erase his/her guilt before God by means of any merely human effort or endured punishment.
All of this implies that the dead must live again. But, as powerful as that inference may be, a mere inference is nevertheless inadequate to ensure justice. Rather, the Scripture teaches the fact of life after death.
This teaching is revealed in the details of two mutually exclusive resurrections. Here are a few references:
Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.
Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and 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 completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
These texts reveal the fact that exactly one of two resurrections will be applied to each person that has ever lived. Those two resurrections are identical in the fact that all people, both good and evil, will live forever given that each unconditionally experiences exactly one of the two resurrections. And, those two resurrections are as different as is possible concerning the environment in which each will find himself/herself for all eternity.
In Rev 20, the stated result of the resurrection of judgment is called the second death, a state which is not the cessation of sentient existence but one of the unending, conscious experience of torment because of the just punishment of a holy God against a person’s life of sin. As the Lord Christ taught in Joh 5, one resurrection is to life while the other is to judgment.
He taught the same thing in Mat 25:
These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Contrary to the doctrinal error of the Watchtower cult, death is not the cessation of life (“annihilation” is the term they use). As the Lord shows us in the passage above, the resultant state of both resurrections is permanent and unchanging—it is eternal. The righteous will experience unending life while the wicked experience unending punishment. The same adjective (αἰώνιον, eternal) is used in both expressions and must be applied equally both to life and punishment in the same way (otherwise, words cease to have meaning).
The resurrection is the means by which the Lord implements and ensures His justice: He rewards His true people and punishes those who are His enemies:
But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.
Both results, rewards for the good and judgment for the wicked—that is, the applied justice of God—are possible only because of the truth of the resurrections of life and judgment.
We frequently observe that “real” justice is missing from human, temporal experiences. As Asaph observed in Psa 73, the mere fact of physical/temporal life is not the totality of that person’s existence; it literally is only the beginning, basically a “Phase 1”.
“Phase 2” begins with that person’s physical, temporal death, is initiated by a resurrection and thereafter never ends.
The are many other references to the resurrection in the NT, but for the purposes of this series I sought to show only that exactly two types of resurrections take place: the resurrection of life and the resurrection of judgment, and that both of these are the necessary implementation of the Lord’s justice.
For further study, here is a list of references: