Is God condemning billions to hell-fire? ...

The Resurrections of the Dead

Gary Petty: Early in life we begin to realize that all living things die. The first realization may come at the death of a family pet. As we continue on this journey of life, people we know and love die. When a loved one dies, all of us struggle with grief, with the need for meaning in life and with the need to know what will happen to us after our own death. Thousands of years ago Job asked the age-old question, "If a man dies, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14).

What does God, the Creator and Giver of life, say in His Word about the dead? What is their current state? Are they in heaven, hell, purgatory or some other place? What about those who have lived and died never hearing the name of Jesus Christ, the only name by which we can be saved? (Acts 4:12). What of the multiple billions who never heard God's truth before they died? Are they cut off from God for all eternity?

The Bible speaks often of the resurrection of the dead. But what is the purpose of the dead being raised if people go to heaven or hell at death, as many believe? Read on to discover the fascinating truth about the resurrections of the dead!

Discussion: What is the life of man? What gives our lives meaning and value?

Discussion: What happens to us at death?

Note: Death is not what God originally intended for mankind. Death is the result of sin. God designed life and had a plan for how it is to work for humans. All of us, under the influence of Satan, choose to live our own way and reject God's plan and purpose for our lives. The result is unhappiness, anxiety, strife and eventual death. God isn't the cause of our illness, accidents, grief and suffering. God is the only solution to save us from death (Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 3:23; 6:23).

Note: Writers in both the Old and New Testaments refer to death as "sleep." This indicates that it is a temporary condition, from which the Bible reveals the dead will be awakened!

Discussion: Does the Bible teach that those who are dead will come back to life?

Note: The Old Testament writers proclaimed a Redeemer who would "ransom" them from the power of the grave. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is that Redeemer!

Note: The Bible doesn't teach that the dead are now living in an eternal state of bliss in heaven or torment in hell. The resurrections of the dead are future events. The apostles understood that even the righteous king David (Acts 13:22) did not "ascend into the heavens," but was "both dead and buried" (Acts 2:29, 34). The doctrine of the resurrections is one of the foundational doctrines of the New Testament Church (Hebrews 6:1-2).

Note: If He is "the firstborn from the dead," then there must be others to follow-which is exactly what the Bible reveals!

Discussion: Are there different resurrections?

Note: The "last trump" and "seventh trumpet" refer to the same event, which is the great trumpet blast that precedes the second coming of Jesus Christ (Revelation 11:15).

Note: Those in the first resurrection will be raised to a glorified immortal spirit body. They will be like the resurrected, glorified Jesus Christ! (1 John 3:1-2).

Note: This resurrection is called the "Great White Throne Judgment." The first resurrection will have taken place at Christ's return (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Those given eternal life in the first resurrection will live and reign with Christ for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4). At the end of this 1,000 years, "the rest of the dead" are brought back to life.

Note: All people who ever lived without an opportunity for a relationship with God will be resurrected at this time. Theirs will be a resurrection to physical life into a world that has been ruled by Christ for 1,000 years. They will no longer have Satan to contend with, influence and deceive them (Revelation 20:7-10). Those resurrected at this time will be taught and judged by the "books" (Revelation 20:11-12) and for the first time have access to the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit. Even ancient Israel will be resurrected and given an opportunity for salvation (Romans 11:25-32).

Note: This "lake of fire," or "second death," is not a state of eternal conscious torment. It is the total destruction of the person's body and consciousness. Matthew 10:28-31 describes this fire as one of complete annihilation. In Malachi 4:1, 3, God states that "The day is coming, burning like an oven, and . . . all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up . . . They shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this . . ." The unrepentant wicked are simply burned up, never to exist again.

All who have ever lived will have an opportunity through the resurrections to learn God's way of life, repent, receive God's Spirit and inherit eternal life. Those who refuse will be burned up and cease to exist.

These resurrections are not to be confused with various individual physical resurrections that have taken place. The Bible records several resurrections to physical life. Once these people lived out their lives they died and are waiting to be brought back to life in one of the other resurrections.

Examples of physical resurrections in the Bible are given in 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37; 13:20-21; Matthew 27:50-53; Luke 7:11-15; 8:41-42, 50-56; John 11:1-4, 11-14, 17-44; and Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-12.

The death of someone close to you can be emotionally overwhelming. The realization of the possibility of our own death can cause fear and anxiety. But, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, we no longer have to see death as a permanent state. We have assurance that we will see our loved ones again. We have the promise of God that, when we die, the next moment of consciousness will be the resurrection.

Grief caused by the loss of a loved one is a normal reaction of sadness and mourning. Grief is not a sign of a lack of faith. But, at the same time, we can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is going to return and the graves will open and the dead shall live again!

Gary Petty

© 1996 United Church of God, an International Association

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