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§ 1. The General Resurrection.
That there is to be a general resurrection of the just and of the unjust, is not, among Christians, a matter of doubt. Already in the book of Daniel xii. 2, it is said, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as stars for ever and ever.” This prediction our Lord repeats without any limitation. “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are it 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.” (John v. 28, 29.) Again: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations.” (Matt. xxv. 31, 32.) Paul, in his speech before Felix (Acts xxiv. 15), avowed it as his own faith and that of his fathers that “there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.” John (Rev. xx. 12, 13) says: “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell gave up the dead which were in them.”838
The Time of this General Resurrection.
The uniform representation of Scripture on this subject is that this general resurrection is to take place “at the last day,” or, at the second coming of Christ. The same form of expression is used to designate the time when the people of Christ are to rise, and the time when the general resurrection is to occur. The Bible, if the doubtful passage Revelation x. 4-6 be excepted, never speaks of any other than one resurrection. The dead, according to the Scriptures, are to rise together, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. When Christ comes, all who are in their graves shall come forth, some to the resurrection of life, and others to the resurrection of damnation. When in 1 Thessalonians iv. 16, it is said, “The dead in Christ shall rise first,” it does not mean that there are to be two resurrections, one of those who are in Christ, and the other of those who are not in Him. The Apostle is speaking of a different subject. He comforts the Thessalonians with the assurance, that their friends who sleep in Jesus shall not miss their part in the glories of the second advent. Those then alive should not prevent, i.e., precede, those who were asleep; but, the dead in Christ should rise before those then living should be changed; and then both should be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The parallel passage is in 1 Corinthians xv. 51, 52, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
In 1 Corinthians xv. 23, 24, the Apostle, when speaking of the resurrection, says: “Every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end.” This passage is often understood to teach that the resurrection takes place in the following order: (1.) That of Christ. (2.) That of his people. (3.) Then that of the rest of mankind. And as the resurrection of Christ and that of his people are separated by a long interval; so the resurrection of the people of God and the general resurrection may also be separated by an interval of greater or less duration. This interpretation supposes that the word “end,” as here used, means the end of the resurrection. To this, however, it maybe objected, (1.) That it is opposed to the constant “usus loquendi” of the New Testament. The “end,” when thus used, always elsewhere means the end of the world. In 1 Peter iv. 7, it is said: “The end of all 839things is at hand.” Matthew xxiv. 6, “The end is not yet;” verse 14, “Then shall the end come.” So in Mark xiii. 7, Luke xxi. 9. In all these passages the “end” means the end of the world. (2.) The equivalent expressions serve to explain the meaning of the term. The disciples asked our Lord, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the world?” In answer to that question Christ said that certain things were to happen, but, “the end is not yet;” and afterwards, “then cometh the end.” (Matt. xxiv. 3, 6, 14.) The same expression occurs in the same sense, Matthew xiii. 39, xxviii. 20, and elsewhere. (3.) What immediately follows in verse 24, seems decisive in favour of this interpretation. The end spoken of is when Christ shall have delivered up his kingdom; that is, when the whole work of redemption shall have been consummated. (4.) It is further to be remarked that in 1 Corinthians xv. Paul does not make the slightest reference to the resurrection of the wicked, from the beginning to the end of the chapter. The whole concerns the resurrection of believers. That was what the errorists in Corinth denied; and that was what the Apostle undertook to prove to be certain and desirable. Christ certainly rose from the dead; so all his people shall rise; but each in his order; first, Christ, then they who are Christ’s; then comes the end; the end of all things. To make this refer to another and general resurrection, would be to introduce a subject entirely foreign to the matter in hand.
Meyer, although he makes τέλος in the 24th verse refer to the resurrection, nevertheless says860860Commentar über das Neue Testament, 2d edit., Göttingen, 1849, vol. v. p. 323. “That it is the constant doctrine of the New Testament (leaving the Apocalypse out of view), that with the coming of Christ the ‘finis hujus sæculi’ is connected, so that the Second Advent is the termination of the ante-messianic, and the commencement of the future world-period.”
Luthardt says,861861Lehre von den letzten Dingen, Leipzig, 1861, p. 127. “Then, not before the resurrection, . . . comes the end; the end, not of the resurrection, that is the resurrection of others than believers, but the absolute end; the end of history.” Whether the end of all things is to follow the resurrection of believers immediately, or long afterwards, is, in his view, a different question. He admits that the common view is that the coming of Christ, the general resurrection of the dead, the general judgment, the end of the world, and the new heavens and new earth, are to occur contemporaneously. His own view is different.
That the New Testament does teach that the general resurrection is to occur at the time of the Second Advent appears: —840
1. From such passages as the following; In the passage in Daniel, quoted above, it is said, that the righteous and the wicked are to rise together; the one to life, the other to shame and everlasting contempt. This passage our Lord reiterates, saying that “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.” (John v. 28, 29.) In Matthew xxv. 31, 32, it is said, that when the Son of Man shall appear in his glory all nations shall stand before him. The same is said in Revelation xx. 12, 13. In 2 Thessalonians i. 7-10, it is taught that when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, it will be to take vengeance on those who obey not the Gospel, and to be glorified in all them that believe. In all these passages the resurrection of the righteous is declared to be contemporaneous with that of the wicked.
2. There is another class of passages which teach that the resurrection of the righteous is to take place at “the last day,” and, therefore, not a thousand years before that event. Thus Martha, speaking of her brother Lazarus, said, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John xi. 24.) Our Lord, in John vi. 39, says that it is the Father’s will “that of all which He hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” This declaration is repeated in verses 40, 44, 54, comp. xii. 48: “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” It is true that the expressions “the last time,” “the last day,” “the end of days,” “the end of the world,” are often used very indefinitely in Scripture. They often mean nothing more than “hereafter.” But this is not true with the phrase ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ as used in these passages. “In the last day,” is a known and definite period. It is to be remembered also that what is predicted to happen on “the last day,” is elsewhere said to take place when Christ shall appear in his glory.
3. A third class of passages teach that the resurrection of the saints is to take place at the day of judgment and in connection with that event. According to the common representations of Scripture, when Christ shall come the second time, the dead are to rise, all nations are to be judged, and the present order of things is to cease. The heavens are to retain Christ, “until the time of restitution of all things.” (Acts iii. 21.) This ἀποκατάστασις “die Wiederherstellung aller Dinge in ihren frühern vollkommnern 841Zustand,”862862De Wette, Exegetisches Handbuch zum Neuen Testament, Leipzig, 1845, vol. i. part 4, p. 48. the restoration of all things to their original perfect condition. “This consummation may be called a ‘restitution,’ in allusion to a circle which returns into itself, or more probably because it really involves the healing of all curable disorder and the restoration to communion with the Deity of all that He has chosen to be so restored. Till this great cycle has achieved its revolution, and this great remedial process has accomplished its design, the glorified body of the risen and ascended Christ not only may, but must, as an appointed means of that accomplishment, be resident in heaven, and not on earth.”863863The Acts of the Apostles Explained. By Joseph Addison Alexander. New York. 1857, vol. i. p. 118.
The general resurrection is represented as connected with the final judgment, in Matthew xxiv. 30, 31, and xxv. 31-46, 2 Thessalonians i. 7-10, and elsewhere. On this point Dr. Julius Müller says: “It is the plain doctrine of Scripture that the general resurrection of the dead contemporaneous with the transfiguration of believers then living on earth is to occur at the end of the world (or of history), at the reappearance of Christ for judgment and for the glorification of his kingdom. . . . . With this consummation of Christ’s kingdom, and the therewith connected ἀπολύτρωσις τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν ἀπὸ τῆς δουλείας τῆς φθορᾶς, the Apostle, in the profound passage, Romans viii. 19-23, sets forth, as also connected with these events, the renovation of the nature of the earth and its exaltation to a participation in the glory of the children of God. As the body of man stands in intimate relation with nature, . . . . it is scarcely possible to form any idea of the resurrection of the body . . . . without assuming a corresponding exaltation of the external world as the theatre of his new life. This renovation of nature, the new heavens and the new earth, takes for granted, according to the Apostle, the destruction of the world as it now is.”864864Studien und Kritiken, 1835, pp. 783-785. With these views, which accord with the common doctrine of the Church, Lange avows his entire agreement.865865Lehre von den letzten Dingen, Meurs, 1841, pp. 246, 247.
The only passage which seems to teach that there is to be a first and second resurrection of the body, the former being confined to martyrs and more or fewer of the saints, and the latter including “the rest of the dead,” is Revelation xx. 4-6. It must be admitted that that passage, taken by itself, does seem to teach the doctrine founded upon it. But —642
1. it is a sound rule in the interpretation of Scripture that obscure passages should be so explained as to make them agree with those that are plain. It is unreasonable to make the symbolic and figurative language of prophecy and poetry the rule by which to explain the simple didactic prose language of the Bible. It is no less unreasonable that a multitude of passages should be taken out of their natural sense to make them accord with a single passage of doubtful import.
2. It is conceded that the Apocalypse is an obscure book. This almost every reader knows from his own experience; and it is proved to be true, the few who imagine it to be plain to the contrary notwithstanding, by the endless diversity of interpretations to which it has been subjected. This diversity exists not only between commentators of different classes, as rationalistic and orthodox, but between those of the same class, and even of the same school. This remark, which applies to the whole book, applies with special force to the passage under consideration.
3. The Bible speaks of a spiritual, or figurative, as well as of a literal resurrection. This figure is used both in reference to individuals and in reference to communities. The sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, is said to be quickened and raised again in Christ Jesus. (Rom. vi. and Eph. ii.) Whole communities when elevated from a state of depression and misery, are in prophetic language said to be raised from the dead. (Rom. xi. 15; Is. xxvi. 19.) “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” (Ez. xxxvii. 12.) “I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.” More than this, Elias is said to have lived again in John the Baptist; and, according to a common interpretation, the two witnesses spoken of in the Apocalypse are Moses and Elias, who are to rise not in person, but as represented by men filled with the same spirit, endued with similar gifts, and called to exercise the same offices. It would, therefore, not be inconsistent with the analogy of prophecy if we should understand the Apostle as here predicting that a new race of men were to arise filled with the spirit of the martyrs, and were to live and reign with Christ a thousand years. According to Hengstenberg, the Apostle saw the souls of the martyrs in heaven. There they were enthroned. This was their first resurrection. “There can be no doubt,” he 843says, “that by the first resurrection we are here primarily to understand that first stage of blessedness.”866866The Revelation of St. John Expounded, edit. Edinburgh, 1852, vol. ii. p. 281.
4. John does not say that the bodies of the martyrs are to be raised from the dead. He says: “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus.” The resurrection of the dead is never thus spoken of in Scripture. There is a sense in which the martyrs are said to live again, but nothing is said of their rising again from their graves. The first resurrection may be spiritual, and the second literal. There may be a time of great prosperity in the Church, in which it will be a great blessing to participate. It is said that there is no force in this argument, as the Apostle does not speak of a resurrection of souls. He simply says he saw the souls of the martyrs; as in chapter vi. 9, it is said: “I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God.” The prophet, according to xx. 4, first saw the martyrs in the state of the dead, and then he saw them alive. The argument, however, is not founded merely on the use of the word “souls,” but on the fact that the resurrection of the dead is never spoken of in the Scriptures in the way in which the living again of the martyrs is here described.
5. The common millenarian doctrine is, that there is to be a literal resurrection when Christ shall come to reign in person upon the earth, a thousand years before the end of the world, and that the risen saints are to dwell here and share with Christ in the glories of his reign. But this seems to be inconsistent with what is taught in 1 Corinthians xv. 50. Paul there says: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” It is here expressly asserted that our bodies as now constituted are not adapted to the state of things which shall exist when the kingdom of God is inaugurated. We must all be changed. From this it follows that the spiritual body is not adapted to our present mode of existence; that is, it is not suited or designed for an earthly kingdom. Luthardt admits this. He admits that the renovated, or transfigured, body of necessity supposes a renovated earth. He admits also that when the bodies of believers are thus changed they are to be caught up from the earth, and are to dwell with Christ in heaven. When Christ appears, his people are to appear with Him in glory. Bengel, and after him others, endeavour to reconcile these admissions with the theory of 844an earthly kingdom of glory, by assuming that risen saints are, to rule this kingdom, not from the literal Jerusalem, but from heaven. This, however, is to introduce an extra-scriptural and conjectural idea.
6. It has already been said, when speaking of the restoration of the Jews to their own land, that this whole theory of a splendid earthly kingdom is a relic of Judaism, and out of keeping with the spirituality of the Gospel.867867The interpretation of this whole passage (Rev. xx. 1-6) is thoroughly discussed in the very able work of the Rev. David Brown, of St. James’ Free Church, Glasgow, entitled Christ’s Second Coming: Will it be Pre-Millenial? chapter x. edit. New York, 1851, p. 218 ff.
All this is said with diffidence and submission. The interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy experience teaches is exceedingly precarious. There is every reason to believe that the predictions concerning the second advent of Christ, and the events which are to attend and follow it, will disappoint the expectations of commentators, as the expectations of the Jews were disappointed in the manner in which the prophecies concerning the first advent were accomplished.
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