Lecture 4

 •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The First Resurrection
or,
Resurrection of the Just
The subject which I propose for this evening’s lecture is the resurrection, and particularly the resurrection of the Church apart; that is, the resurrection of the just as altogether distinct from that of the unjust.
We have already spoken of Christ, the Heir of all things, of the Church as co-heir with Him, and of the coming of Christ to reign before the thousand years — an event which we must not confound with the day of the resurrection of the unjust, and of the judgment before the great white throne, which will not take place until after the millennium. We have now to see that the Church will participate in this coming of Christ; it does so as the subject of the first resurrection.
The First Resurrection Is From Among the Dead
There is no need to speak to you of the resurrection of Jesus as being the seal of His mission; it is an admitted truth; it is enough to quote Romans 1:44And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:4), where the Apostle tells us that Jesus Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power ... by the resurrection from the dead.” This resurrection was the great fact which demonstrated that Jesus is the Son of God; but it was likewise, for other reasons, the great theme of the preaching of the apostles, the basis of their epistles, and of all the New Testament.
Let us commence by saying that the difficulty people find in the subjects of which we are treating do not arise from the Word of God not being simple, clear and convincing, but from this — that preconceived ideas often rob us of its natural sense. We have habits of thinking apart from the Scripture, before we know it; then it is we find inconsistencies —incompatibility — in that which presents itself to us, not suspecting that this incompatibility belongs alone to human preconceived opinions.
The doctrine of the resurrection is important under more views than one. It links our hopes to Christ and to the whole Church, in short, to the counsels of God in Christ; it makes us understand that we are entirely set free in Him, by our participation in a life in which, united by the Holy Spirit to Him, He is also the source of all strength for glorifying Him, even from the present time; it sustains our hopes in the most solid manner; finally, it expresses all our salvation, inasmuch as it introduces us into a new creation, by which the power of God places us, in the second Adam, beyond the sphere of sin, of Satan, and of death. The soul in departing goes to Jesus, but is not glorified. The Word of God speaks of men glorified, of glorified bodies, but never of glorified souls. But, as before observed, prejudices and human teachings have taken the place of the Word of God, and the power and expectation of the resurrection has ceased to be the habitual state of the Church.
The resurrection was the foundation of the preaching of the apostles. One must be “a witness with us of His resurrection” Acts 1:2222Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:22). This was the constant subject of their testimony. Let us now see in what terms they testified.
Acts 2:2424Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. (Acts 2:24). “Whom God hath raised up.” So verse 32: “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.”
Acts 3:1515And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. (Acts 3:15). “And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.”
Acts 4:22Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. (Acts 4:2). This doctrine of the resurrection was acknowledged as the doctrine publicly preached by the apostles; it was not that the soul in dying went to heaven, but that the dead shall live again. As the Pharisees were the greatest enemies of the Lord while He was on earth — that is to say, the falsely righteous ones, as opposed to the truly Righteous One — so in like manner, Satan, after His death, raised up the Sadducees, who were enemies to the doctrine of the resurrection (Acts 4:1; 5:171And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, (Acts 4:1)
17Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, (Acts 5:17)
).
The Resurrection of the Body
Acts 17:18-3018Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. 19And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? 20For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. 21(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) 22Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. 24God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 25Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; 26And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 28For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. 29Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. 30And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: (Acts 17:18‑30). He announces, in the midst of the learned Gentiles, this doctrine, which was the stumbling-stone of their carnal wisdom. Socrates and other philosophers believed, after a fashion, in the immortality of the soul; but when these men, curious in science, heard of the resurrection of the dead, they mocked. An unbeliever is able to discourse about immortality; but if he hears about the resurrection of the dead, he turns the subject into derision. And why? Because in virtue of the immortality of the soul he may exalt himself, he can elevate his own importance. There is something in the idea which can ally itself to man such as he is; but to think of dust raised again — of a living and glorious being made out of it —this is a glory which belongs only to God, a work of which God alone is capable. For if a body reduced to dust can be reconstituted by God into a living and glorified man, nothing is hid from His power. With the immortality of the soul man can still connect the idea of self — of power in the body, but when the leading truth is the resurrection of the body, and not the immortality of the soul, man’s impotency becomes glaring.
See again (whether the Apostle was right or not in appealing to the prejudices of the Pharisees), Acts 23:66But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question. (Acts 23:6), where Paul directly affirms that it was for the preaching of this doctrine he was called in question. In chapter 24:15 he tells the same truth. In chapter 26 he gives it to king Agrippa as the reason of his detention; so also verse 23. From these passages it is easily seen that the resurrection was the basis of the preaching of the Apostle and of the hope of the faithful.
The Special Resurrection of the Just
We now come to the second part of our subject, the resurrection of the Church apart, or the special resurrection of the just.
“There shall be,” says the Apostle, “a resurrection ... both of the just and unjust,” but the resurrection of the just, or of the Church, is a thing altogether apart — which has no relation with that of the wicked, which does not take place at the same time with this last, nor after the same principle. For, although both the one and the other are to be accomplished by the same power, there is in the resurrection of the just a particular principle, namely the habitation of the Holy Spirit in them, which is foreign to the resurrection of the wicked (Rom. 8:1111But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:11)).
The virtue of the resurrection embraces the life, the justification, the confidence, the glory, of the Church. God Himself is made known unto us by the name of “God which raiseth the dead” (2 Cor. 1:99But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: (2 Corinthians 1:9)), who introduces His power into the last depths of the effects of our sin — into the domain of death — to bring men out of it by a life from which that moment puts them outside the reach of all the dreadful consequences of sin — a life close to God.
Romans 4:23-2523Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:23‑25). It is in God “who quickeneth the dead” that we are called upon to believe; it is the resurrection of Jesus which is the power — the efficacy —of our justification. This is the truth presented in the passage before us. Our union with Jesus raised gives us acceptance with God. We ought to see ourselves already as beyond the tomb.
On this account the faith of Abraham was a justifying faith. “He considered not his own body now [already] dead,” but he believed in a God “who quickeneth the dead,” for this reason his faith “was imputed to him for righteousness.” The resurrection of Jesus was the great proof, and as to all its moral effects, the establishment of this truth, that the object of our faith is that God raises the dead. This truth is pointedly expressed in the first epistle of Peter (ch. 1:21). The application is made to us by our union with the Lord.
Colossians 2:1212Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12). “Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead.” The Church is raised now, because Christ is raised as its Head. The resurrection of the Church is not a resurrection whose object is judgment, but simply the consequence of its union with Christ, who has been judged in its stead.
We may observe in this passage how these truths hang together. The resurrection of the Church is a thing of itself, because the Church participates in the resurrection of Christ; we are raised, not only because Jesus Christ will call us from the grave, but because we are one with Him. It is by reason of this unity, that, in partaking of faith, we are already raised with Christ, raised as to the soul, but not as to the body. The justification of the Church is that it is risen with Christ.
The same fact is expressed in Ephesians 1:1818The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians 1:18) and 2:4-6. Paul never said, “If I am saved, I am content.” He knew that it is hope that makes the soul active, which excites the affections, which animates and directs the whole man, and he desired that the Church should have the heart full of this hope. Nor is it enough for one of us to say, “I am saved”; it is not enough for the love of God, which is not satisfied unless we are participators of all the glory of His Son, and we ought not to be indifferent to His will.
Ephesians 2:66And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 2:6) shows forth the same truth. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is that which characterizes our position before God. As the Spirit of Christ is our consoler, and helps us in our infirmities, testifying withal that we are children of God, and making us able to serve God, so it is on account of the Holy Spirit who is in us that we shall be raised; and it is on account of the Holy Spirit also that the principle of the resurrection of the Church is quite other than that of the resurrection of the wicked. Our resurrection, we say, is the consequence of the abiding of the Holy Spirit in us (Rom. 8:1111But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Romans 8:11)) — a very essential difference. The world does not receive the Holy Spirit, “because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him” John 14:1717Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:17). Now, our “body is the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 6:1919What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)); our soul in consequence is filled, or at least it ought to be, with the glory of Christ. Our body, also, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit, will be raised according to the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, a thing which can never be said of the wicked.
It is the resurrection which, having introduced us into the world of the last Adam (even now as partaking of this spiritual life), will introduce us in fact into a new world, of which He will be the Head and the glory, since He has acquired it and will reign there as the risen Man.
The Resurrection of the Just and of the Unjust Will Not Take Place at the Same Time
Observe, in the passages concerning the resurrection, not one speaks of a simultaneous rising of just and unjust, and those which refer to the resurrection of the just speak of it always as of a thing distinct. All will rise. There will be a resurrection of the just, and a resurrection of the unjust, but they will not take place together. I will cite the passages successively which refer to it. It is at the coming of Christ that the Church will rise: Phil. 3:20, 2120For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Philippians 3:20‑21); 1 Cor. 15:2323But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:23).
The idea of a resurrection of the just was familiar to the disciples of Christ, and such is represented as to happen in Luke 14:1414And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:14), “Thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”
But before coming to direct proofs, I would express the conviction that the idea of the immortality of the soul, although recognized in Luke 12:55But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. (Luke 12:5) and 20:38, is not in general a gospel topic, that it comes, on the contrary, from the Platonists, and that it was just when the coming of Christ was denied in the Church or at least began to be lost sight of that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came in to displace that of the resurrection. This was about the time of Origen. It is hardly needful to say that I do not doubt the immortality of the soul; I only assert that this view has taken the place of the doctrine of the resurrection of the Church, as the epoch of its joy and glory.
Luke 20:3535But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: (Luke 20:35), 36. “They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead.” The resurrection, then, mentioned here, belongs only to those who shall be made worthy of it. “They who are counted worthy to have part in that age” (Luke 20:3535But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: (Luke 20:35) JND), that is to say, this world of joy, of the reign with Christ. That resurrection of the dead, then, belongs to the period spoken of, and not only to eternity. “Neither,” adds the Saviour, “can they die any more ... for they are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” The wicked shall be raised to be judged, but those others shall be raised because they have been accounted worthy to obtain the resurrection which Jesus has obtained. We see, in the passage quoted, the proof of a resurrection which concerns the children of God alone; they are the sons of God, being the sons of the resurrection. To be a son of God, and to have part in this resurrection, is the title and inheritance of the same persons.
John 5:25-2925Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. 26For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; 27And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. 28Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29And 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 5:25‑29). “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself; and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for 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.” It is customary to oppose the latter part of this passage to a view of the resurrection of the just apart, but we shall see that the whole passage enunciates, and even explains and strengthens, the truth which is occupying us.
Two acts of Christ are presented as the attributes of His glory: one, to make alive; the other, to judge. He gives life to those whom He will, and all judgment is entrusted to Him, in order that all, even the wicked, should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. Jesus has been shamefully entreated here below; God the Father takes care that His claim of glory shall be recognized; He (Christ) gives life to whom He will — to their souls first, and then to their bodies. These glorify Him of good will. As to the wicked, the way of obliging them to recognize the rights of Jesus is to judge them, and this judgment is in the hands of Jesus. In the work of vivification, the Father and Son act together, because those to whom life is given are put into communion with the Father and Son. But as to judgment, the Father judges no man, because it is not the Father that has been wronged, but the Son. The wicked will own Jesus Christ in spite of themselves when they are judged. At what epoch will these things be accomplished? For the wicked, at the time of the judgment — the judgment both of the living, and of the dead before the great white throne, for the just, the children of God, when their bodies shall participate in the life already communicated to their souls (the life Christ Himself) at the resurrection of the just. The resurrection for these is not a resurrection of judgment, but simply, to repeat it again, the exercise, towards the bodies of God’s children, of that quickening power of Jesus, in which He has already worked upon their souls, and which, in God’s good time, shall work upon their bodies. “They that have done good,” says our text, “unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [judgment].
But the objection is made, Jesus has said (v. 28), “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice.” The wicked and the just will then evidently rise together. But three verses before (v. 25) it is said, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” Hour comprehends here all the space of time which has elapsed since the coming of the Saviour, and under this word is contained two states of things quite different, seeing that the dead heard the voice of the Son of God during the time He was living on earth, and that they have been hearing it for eighteen centuries since. This, then, is the interpretation. The hour for giving life to the soul is an hour which has lasted eighteen centuries already. And the hour is also coming for the judgment. The word hour has the same sense in the two passages. That is to say, there is a time of quickening and a time of judgment; there is a period during which souls are quickened, and a period when bodies shall be raised. For us, the resurrection is only the application of the quickening power of Jesus Christ to our bodies. We shall be raised, because we are already quickened in our souls. The resurrection is the crowning of the whole work, because we are children of God, because the Spirit dwells in us, because (as far as our souls are concerned) we are already risen with Christ.
There will be a resurrection of life for those who have been already quickened in their souls, and a resurrection of judgment for those who have rejected Jesus.
The Relationship Between the Coming of Christ and the Resurrection of the Dead
1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, 2420But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
23But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. 24Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:23‑24)
sets forth very clearly the connection which exists between the coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. The order of the resurrection is explicitly shown. Christ is “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (v. 20): “of them that slept,” and not of the wicked. They that are Christ’s shall rise at His coming; then comes the end, the time when He shall deliver up the kingdom to God the Father. When He comes, He will take the kingdom, but at the end He will deliver it up. The appearing of Christ will therefore take place before the end; it will be for the destruction of the wicked. He will come to purify His kingdom. “Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s, at His coming. Then cometh the end.”
The righteous dead shall rise first; then the living righteous shall be changed, and “shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord.” All this is a matter which belongs exclusively to the saints — to those who, sleeping or living, are Christ’s, and who will be, from that moment, for ever with the Lord.
Philippians 3:10, 1110That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Philippians 3:10‑11). “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means, I might attain unto the resurrection of [from among] the dead.”
Why speak thus, if it be true that good and bad must rise together, and in the same manner? This resurrection from among the dead is just this first resurrection which Paul had before his eyes. I am willing, he says, as it were, to lose all, to suffer all, if, cost what it may, I arrive at the resurrection of the just; such is my desire. Evidently the resurrection from among the dead was a thing that concerned the Church exclusively. I might say, like the Apostle, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
The Interval Between the Resurrection of the Faithful and the Resurrection of the Wicked
As to the period or interval which elapses between the resurrection of the faithful and the wicked, it is a circumstance altogether independent of the principle itself, that is, of the distinction of the two resurrections. Our faith on this point depends on a revelation, which has only importance, because God has so chosen to order it for His own glory. The period is only mentioned in the book of Revelation under the expression “a thousand years”. Between the two resurrections a thousand years elapse. The only point then on which I cite the book is on the length comprised in the reign of the Son of man on the earth. The passage is found in Revelation 20:44And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4).
The world will then know that we are the objects of grace, that we have been loved as Jesus Himself has been loved by the Father.
If the first resurrection — that of the just — is not to be taken literally, why should the second — that of the unjust — be so taken? As the object of our hope, and source of our consolation and of our joy, it is but a small thing to know that the unjust shall be raised; but the precious thing — the essential — is to know that the resurrection of the just will be the consummation of their happiness, that in it God will accomplish His love towards us, that, after having given life to our souls, He will give life to our bodies, and will make of the dust of the earth a form suitable to the life which has been given to us on the part of God. We never read in the Word of God of glorified spirits, but always of glorified bodies. There is the glory of God, and the glory of those who will be raised.
I desire, dear friends, that the knowledge of this truth, by the power of Christ, on which depends its entire accomplishment, may strengthen us in our hearts unto all perfection. For this knowledge in all its extent is that to which the Scripture applies the word “perfection”. Christ was thus made perfect as to His state and position before God; we, also, ourselves are now perfect by faith, in acknowledging that we are raised with Him, as we shall be later as to our bodies. May your bodies, souls and spirits be preserved blameless until the coming of our Well-beloved! May this truth of the resurrection of the Church become bound up, in our minds, with all the precious truths of our salvation consummated in Christ, and may it be accomplished in the plenitude of our salvation in our bodies also!