Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot as he now is, the passersby jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Saviour on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O grave, where is thy sting?”
–St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation 
THE CONSUMMATION OF THE KINGDOM
We can now begin to draw some very significant overall conclusions from our study so far. As we saw in the previous chapter, the Last Day is a synonym for the Last Judgment, at the end of the world. Moreover, Jesus declared that those who believe in Him will be resurrected at the Last Day (John 6:39-40, 44, 54). This means that Judgment Day is also Resurrection Day; both occur together, at the close of history.
We can add to this what the Apostle Paul tells us about the Resurrection: it will coincide with the Second Coming of Christ and the Rapture of living believers (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Some have tried to evade the force of this text by suggesting a series of Resurrections – one at the Rapture, another at the Second Coming (perhaps some years later), and at least one more at the consummation of the Kingdom, the end of history (where it belongs). This does not by any means solve the problem, however. For Jesus specifically said that whoever believes in Him will be raised “at the Last Day.” That means that all Christians will be resurrected at the Last Day. Again, 1 Thessalonians 4 says that all believers will be raised at the Rapture. Obviously, in terms of these texts, there can be only one Resurrection of believers. And this Resurrection, which coincides with the Rapture, will take place on the Last Day.
Before we can consider these points in greater detail, we need to be clear on one issue which was stated, but somewhat underplayed, in the preceding chapter. One of my most crucial assumptions is that there is one Resurrection, of both the righteous and the wicked. To many, of course, that will seem obvious. But it needs to be stated explicitly because there is much confusion on this point in some circles, led by teachers who assert not only multiple Resurrections, but that the Resurrection(s) of believers and unbelievers will take place on completely different occasions! There is no Biblical basis for such a position. The Scriptures plainly teach one Resurrection, at the Last Day; and the orthodox Christian Church, as reflected in her historic creeds, has always and everywhere affirmed this truth. The Bible says:
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.
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 shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
There shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose face earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life; and the dead were judged from those things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, everyone of them, according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the Lake of Fire. This is the Second Death, the Lake of Fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire.
The Bible is abundantly clear: the Resurrection of all men, the just and the unjust, takes place on the same Day, to be followed immediately by the Judgment. Why, then, has there been so much confusion on this point? Part of the answer is that the emphasis in Scripture is on the Resurrection of the righteous, which is radically different in nature and outcome from that of the wicked. The Resurrection of the people of God is intimately connected to their present indwelling by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11); thus the very foundation of the raising of the just, its essential principle, is of an altogether Spiritual quality. Christians will be raised to Life by the Spirit, whereas the wicked will be resurrected to Death. In absolute contrast to the revived corpses of the damned, the renewed bodies of the saints will be like Christ’s own glorious body (1 Cor. 15:42-55; Phil. 3:21). Our Resurrection is the fruit of Christ’s Resurrection, and is really an extension of His (1 Cor. 6:13-20; 15:20).
To the Christian, therefore, the Resurrection is something to look forward to with hope and excited anticipation (2 Cor. 5:1-10; Phil. 3:10-11): Scripture sees it as the final “redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:18-23). For this reason the destiny of the righteous is always in the foreground when the Bible speaks of the Resurrection. The problem is that a superficial approach to Scripture has left people with the impression that there are two separate Resurrections, one of the righteous and the other of the wicked. In a qualitative sense, of course, you could say that there are two Resurrections; but they happen on the same Day!
The Kingdom and the Resurrection
The most detailed Biblical teaching on the Resurrection is found toward the close of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The heart of that chapter reads:
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; after that, those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the End, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
–1 Cor. 15:20-26
This text gives us a great deal of information about the Resurrection. In the first place, we are assured of the inseparable connection between Christ’s Resurrection and ours. The Resurrection takes place in two stages: first Christ is raised, and then we are resurrected – firstfruits, then harvest. (Note well: no other stages are mentioned.)
Second, we are told when the Resurrection takes place: “at His coming.” Since we already knew that the Resurrection coincides with the Last Judgment, we now know that Christ’s Second Coming will be on the Last Day, at the Judgment.
Third, the text also informs us that these events occur at “the End.” The end of what? Much needless debate has focused on this phrase. Paul goes on to tell us that the End comes “when He shall have delivered the kingdom to the God and Father, when He shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power.” The End here is, simply, the End – the end of time, of history, and of the world. This follows, of course, from the fact that this is the last Day; moreover, this is the end of Christ’s conquest of the earth, when He shall have established His total rule over all things, destroying all His enemies. It is the end of the “Millennium,” the consummation of the Kingdom – the precise moment when the Book of Revelation, in complete harmony with 1 Corinthians, places the Resurrection and the Last Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15).
Fourth, Christ’s present reign, which began at His Resurrection and ascension, continues “until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” This statement comes from Psalm 110:1, where God the Father says to the Son: “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” We know that at Christ’s ascension He did sit at the Father’s right hand (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22). According to Scripture, therefore, Jesus Christ is now ruling from His heavenly throne, while all His enemies are being made into a footstool for His feet. The implications of these texts are inescapable: Christ has ascended to the throne, and He will not return until the last enemy has been defeated, at the Resurrection on the Last Day. “For He must reign, until He has put all His enemies under His feet.”
We must remember that the Bible speaks of salvation in terms of the definitive-progressive-final pattern which we noted before. Definitively, all things were placed under Christ’s feet at His ascension to His heavenly throne; in principle, He rules the world now as the Second Adam. Progressively, He is now engaged in conquering the nations by the gospel, extending His rule to the farthest corners of the earth. Finally, the Day will come when Christ’s actual conquest of the world is complete, when all enemies have been abolished. This will be the End, when “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow… and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).
Fifth, underscoring the fact that the Resurrection occurs at the end of the Millennium, Paul says that “the last enemy that will be abolished is death.” Christ’s present reign will witness the gradual abolition of all enemies, the progressive defeat of every remnant of Adam’s rebellion, until only one thing remains to be destroyed: Death. At that moment Christ will return in glory to raise the dead and to transform the bodies of His people into the perfection of the completed new Creation. Later in this passage, Paul elaborates on this fact:
Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
–1 Cor. 15:51-54
This is paralleled by Paul’s other great statement on the Resurrection:
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive, who remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.
–1 Thess. 4:14-17
As Paul’s words so clearly state, the events of the Last Day include the Second Coming, the Resurrection, and the “Rapture” (the “catching up” of the living saints “to meet the Lord in the air”). The Bible does not teach any separation between the Second Coming and the Rapture; they are simply different aspects of the Last Day. And the fact is that throughout the entire history of the Church no one ever heard of the (so-called) “pretribulation Rapture” until the nineteenth century; it did not become widespread until a few decades ago. Recently, as younger generations have begun to recognize the lack of Scriptural foundation for this novel view, a move toward a more Biblically grounded eschatology has started to take place. The eschatology of dominion, the historic Hope of the Church, is again on the rise. Because of the renewed interest in developing a Biblical worldview and applying Biblical standards to every area of life, dominion eschatology is increasingly being discussed and accepted. And, because it is the truth, its establishment as the dominant eschatology is inevitable.
The Biblical doctrine of the Second Coming is relatively uncomplicated and straightforward. We can summarize our findings from the last several chapters as follows:
- The reign of Jesus Christ began at His Resurrection and Ascension, as the prophets had promised. His Kingdom (”the Millennium”) is now in force and will continue until He is universally acknowledged as Lord. By means of the gospel, His people are extending His rule over the face of the earth, until all nations are discipled and Paradise comes to its most complete earthly fulfillment.
- On the Last Day, at the end of the world, Jesus Christ will return to resurrect all men for the Judgment, both the righteous and the wicked. Those Christians who are still living at the Second Coming will be raptured to join the Lord and the resurrected saints in the Glory-Cloud, where they will be transformed, fully restored into the image of God.
- The doctrine that Christ’s Kingdom will begin only after His Second Coming is utterly contradicted by Holy Scripture. The Bible teaches that the Second Coming of Christ, coinciding with the Rapture and the Resurrection, will take place at the end of the Millennium, when history is sealed at the Judgment. Until then, Christ and His people are marching forth from strength to strength, from victory to victory. We shall overcome.