“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”[John 6:40]
Over the past few weeks, I have been examining the primary signs and events associated with the eschatological Day of the LORD. In this post, I will make the connection between the resurrection of the righteous — or the first resurrection — and the Day of the LORD.
Regardless of the variety of eschatological views that have emerged over time, traditionally there has been agreement concerning the final resurrection in both Jewish and Christian communities. The expectation of the Messianic age is one of glorious resurrection, final reckoning, ultimate redemption, and total restoration.
The Biblical connection to the Day of the LORD and the resurrection of the dead is undeniable. From beginning to end, the Biblical authors associate the resurrection of the dead with the end of days and the Messianic age to come.
The Testimony of Job
Job, being perhaps the oldest book in the Bible, provides one of the most foundational accounts of the final resurrection of the dead and even makes a connection with the final judgment [see Job 19:29].
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,[Job 19:25-27]
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
Job’s faith is fascinating. He knows that his future resurrection is only obtainable through the life of his Redeemer. Jesus affirms Himself as this Redeemer when He says, “Because I live, you will live also” [John 14:19].
Job also provides an element of timing, saying that his Redeemer will stand upon the earth “at the last,” which is a reference to the Day of the LORD. Job’s words most certainly were in view when the prophet Zechariah declared, “On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem” [Zechariah 14:4].
The Testimony of Isaiah
The prophet Isaiah also knew of this future resurrection and its connection to the Day of the LORD. Notice how Isaiah places the resurrection at the same time as the Day of Judgment, when the LORD returns from heaven to punish the nations.
“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead.
Come, my people, enter your chambers,[Isaiah 26:19-21]
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the fury has passed by.
For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place
to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
and will no more cover its slain.”
The Testimony of Daniel
Daniel echoes both Job and Isaiah in his description of the final resurrection. Interestingly, his vision was to be “sealed” until the time of the end.
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”[Daniel 12:1-4]
Daniel refers to the time of “great trouble” in the last days that precedes the return of Jesus and the Day of the LORD. Jesus quotes directly from Daniel in His Olivet Discourse when he refers to the unparalleled death and destruction during the “great tribulation.” Then Jesus describes His glorious return to earth, which includes the resurrection of the dead. [see also 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.“[Mark 13:24-27]
The Testimony of Jesus
As the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus for “making Himself equal with God,” He affirmed His divine nature all the more by identifying Himself as the eschatological “Son of Man” and final Judge of resurrection. Again, the resurrection is always connected to the final judgment at the end of the age.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”[John 5:25-29]
In the 6th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus emphasizes three times that the resurrection of the righteous takes place on “the last day.” [see John 6:39-40, 44] Every Jew in the audience would have unmistakably understood that Jesus was referring to the Day of the LORD and the end of the present age.
Upon hearing of the death of His friend Lazarus, Jesus and Martha have a powerful exchange that affirms the eschatological connection with the future resurrection.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”[John 11:23-27]
By Martha affirming her faith in Jesus as the Son of God who is coming into the world, she was identifying Him as the Redeemer who would triumph over all God’s enemies and establish His kingdom on earth, ushering in the Messianic Age.
The Testimony of Paul
The Apostle Paul perhaps gives us the most comprehensive teaching on the resurrection and the Day of the LORD. Paul affirms that the righteous dead are raised when Jesus returns to earth at the end of the age as Judge and King. Paul affirms that our mortal bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God, therefore we must receive incorruptible, resurrected bodies to inherit God’s kingdom when Christ comes again. Paul also provides some details to Jesus’ own teaching about the resurrection connected to His return to earth.
I will begin with Paul’s famous chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Notice the elements timing he uses, such as the “end,” the “judgment,” the “last enemy,” and the “last trumpet.”
“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also 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, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”[1 Corinthians 15:21-26]
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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.”[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”[1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”[2 Thessalonians 2:1-4]
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”[Romans 8:22-23]
The Testimony of John
Finally we turn to the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, given to the Apostle John to put a bow tie on the resurrection as taking place in conjunction with the day of the LORD.
The way I interpret the book of Revelation is by making obvious connections throughout the book that describe the same event and then recast certain portions of the prophecy from those points of alignment. I believe that the book of Revelation is incomprehensible when read strictly in chronological order.
With that in mind, I believe the return of Jesus is described by at least 5 different passages [Revelation 6:12-17, 11:15-19, 14:14-20, 16:17-21, 19:11-21]. These are all parallel passages that describe the same event — Jesus return to earth to judge the nations at Armageddon. Obviously every detail of this event is not found in each passage. For example, Revelation 14 describes the great harvest of the earth, which uses the same language of God gathering His people during the resurrection, yet Revelation 19, which clearly depicts the coming of Jesus doesn’t explicitly mention the resurrection.
We must use the greater context of all of these passages to help us understand that this is the triumphant return of Jesus to earth on the clouds in power and glory at the end of the age to judge the nations and usher in His millennial kingdom.
Then in Revelation chapter 20, we are given clarity about the righteous who were raised at the return of Christ are the saints who will reign with Christ in His kingdom.
“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. 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 ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”[Revelation 20:4-6]
John’s vision then places the 1,000 year reign of Christ in between the first resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked unto judgment. “And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done” [Revelation 20:13]
All in all, once the whole counsel of Scripture is taken into consideration, it is evident that the resurrection of the righteous will take place on the last day when Christ returns from heaven to judge the nations and establish His kingdom on earth.