Will There Be One or Two Resurrections of the Dead?

This question came to us through the “Have a Bible Question” program in which I participate on Tuesday evenings. It is a rather intriguing question because of verses like Revelation 20:5-6, “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years,” [emphasis added]. Do these verses imply that there will be more than one resurrection? The quick answer is, there are two: one at conversion and one at judgment.

Unfortunately, many have misunderstood and misapplied these verses, which has led to several false doctrines. Worse, the result of such error has been the loss of countless souls who have gone to their graves believing such sophistry. My heart grieves at such loss, especially since it was unnecessary, considering that it is not that difficult to discern the truth.

Look first at what Jesus said in John 5, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. … the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation,” (John 5:25-29). This verse certainly presents two resurrections, but they both occur at the same time – the Day of Judgment. The difference has more to do with the destination of the resurrected, than the timing of it. Paul echoes this same concept in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and also in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10. It means that there will be one, singular resurrection on the Day of Judgment for both the saved and the lost, but they will be divided into their final destinations.

Taking all that into consideration, and returning to Revelation 20:5-6, more clarification is found in the words, “but the rest of the dead did not live again until …” The “rest of the dead” are all those who continued living in sin, but did not obey the Gospel. Paul elaborates on this in his letter to the Ephesians, “even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),” (2:5). This also harmonizes with Jesus stating that He had come so that we “may have life, and … have it more abundantly,” (John 10:10). From these words and verses, we can now deduce that “living” and being “dead,” while still being alive must be figurative speech, it is not literal. These are references to what happens to us spiritually when we obey the Gospel, “we have passed from death to life,” (1 John 3:14). Those who do not obey the Gospel do not inherit eternal life, thus the do not live “again.” Those of us who have obeyed experience being resurrected into newness of life at our conversion (Romans 6:4).

So, according to the Bible, there will be two resurrections for the Christian. The first one takes place at the point of being saved, at obeying the Gospel call, when one rises up out of the watery grave of baptism. The second one will take place at the end of time, on the final Day of Judgment, when both saint and sinner will be raised at the same time to be ushered into their final destination of heaven and hell, respectively.