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The Resurrection

God's Promise of Life after Death

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If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14 Job 14:14If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
American King James Version×
). This question has intrigued the minds of men from ancient times to our day.

In the Bible God inspired the patriarch Job not only to pose this important question but to give us the answer. Responding to God, Job says: “All the days of [or from] my hard service I will wait, till my change comes. You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands” (Job 14:14-15 Job 14:14-15 14 If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. 15 You shall call, and I will answer you: you will have a desire to the work of your hands.
American King James Version×
). Job affirmed that the dead will live again through a resurrection.

Other passages in the Old Testament also affirm the resurrection. Daniel 12:2 Daniel 12:2And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
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, for example, prophesies of a time yet future when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake …”

But the way to eternal life was not fully understood in those days. It remained for Christ to come and fully reveal the truth. Jesus states: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25 John 11:25Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
American King James Version×
). It is through Christ that we can experience our own resurrection from the dead. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22 1 Corinthians 15:22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
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).

Let’s delve further into this matter of the resurrection. What is the impact of this teaching? And what lies ahead in terms of who will be resurrected and when?

More than a glimmer of hope

The teaching of the good news of the resurrection—that man can escape the power of the grave—set Christianity apart from other first-century religions and philosophies. Among Jewish sects the concept of a resurrection was a subject of controversy. Some dogmatically denied the dead would rise, and others said they would (Acts 23:8 Acts 23:8For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
American King James Version×
).

The world in which Jesus lived, besides being Jewish, was heavily influenced by the culture of the two empires—Greek and Roman—that had successively dominated the region for several centuries. The Greek and Roman religions held little hope for the dead.

“The old Greek belief, and its Roman counterpart, held that once the body was dead the disembodied soul lived in a miserable twilight existence…Sadness, silence and hopelessness seemed to brood over the life after death…Death was to men of those days the ultimate disaster” (J.B. Phillips, Ring of Truth: A Translator’s Testimony, 1967, pp. 40-41).

The New Bible Dictionary affirms the dreary outlook of the day and tells us that the resurrection of Christ gave men more than a glimmer of hope. “The most startling characteristic of the first Christian preaching is its emphasis on the resurrection. The first preachers were sure that Christ had risen, and sure, in consequence, that believers would in due course rise also. This set them off from all the other teachers of the ancient world…Nothing is more characteristic of even the best thought of the day than its hopelessness in the face of death. Clearly the resurrection is of the very first importance for the Christian faith” (1996, p. 1010, “Resurrection”).

A truth that launched the Church

The riveting truth of the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah launched the New Testament Church. Preaching on the day of the Church’s founding, as recorded in Acts 2, the apostle Peter thundered the good news:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24 Acts 2:22-24 22 You men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the middle of you, as you yourselves also know: 23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 Whom God has raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be held of it.
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).

The news of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth spread like a shock wave through the land. Jesus’ disciples were galvanized into action and began to preach with zeal. What had been regarded as a band of renegade Jews soon grew into the thriving Church.

In its early days the Church grew by thousands (Acts 2:41 Acts 2:41Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.
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; Acts 4:4 Acts 4:4However, many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
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). The young Church spread hope—hope of eternal life through the resurrection. The disciples taught under God’s inspiration that all who accept Jesus as their personal Savior, repent, are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit will be resurrected (compare Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
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; Romans 8:11 Romans 8:11But 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 dwells in you.
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).

The resurrection the disciples expected was not some sort of substandard half-life, such as the Greeks and Romans believed lay beyond the grave. The disciples were called to “take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19 1 Timothy 6:19Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
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, NIV).

Jesus had told them before He was crucified, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19 John 14:19Yet a little while, and the world sees me no more; but you see me: because I live, you shall live also.
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). Jesus had also shared with His disciples His intention for all of mankind: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 John 10:10The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
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). Though we may enter into the abundant life of which Christ spoke in this life, it reaches its full realization in the resurrection from the dead.

The resurrection gives meaning to life

The first-century world held many conflicting ideas about life after death. Pagan philosophies had clouded the understanding of most people.

Our situation is similar. In the Western world a significant number of people believe nothing lies beyond the grave. Atheism and agnosticism have left their marks. The world needs to hear and understand the original resurrection message of Christ and the apostles.

Many people, like those of the ancient world, are anxious about the matter of death. The truth of the resurrection proclaimed by God’s Word can counter the anxiety and hopelessness inherent in any approach that excludes God.

Speaking of the return of Christ and the accompanying resurrection of the faithful, Paul encourages believers to “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 1 Thessalonians 4:18Why comfort one another with these words.
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). The truth of the resurrection provides comfort for our natural anxiety about death.

The resurrection: historical fact

Why should we believe in a resurrection from the dead? We should take heart because the resurrection of Christ, in whose steps we follow, is a biblically and historically confirmed  fact.

After being executed and entombed, Jesus’ body disappeared, and even His enemies who wanted to refute His resurrection could not explain away the empty tomb. Jesus’ resurrection was confirmed by many witnesses—including on one occasion 500 people (1 Corinthians 15:6 1 Corinthians 15:6After that, he was seen of above five hundred brothers at once; of whom the greater part remain to this present, but some are fallen asleep.
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). Peter, speaking on behalf of all the apostles, triumphantly proclaimed, “We are His witnesses to these things”—to the fact that “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus” (Acts 5:30-32 Acts 5:30-32 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew and hanged on a tree. 31 Him has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.
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).

Years later Paul similarly said of Jesus that “God raised Him from the dead [and] He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people” (Acts 13:30-31 Acts 13:30-31 30 But God raised him from the dead: 31 And he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses to the people.
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). The apostles and other members of the early Church gave their lives as willing martyrs for this truth—for they knew for certain that it was indeed the truth.

Every person in his own order

The fact that Jesus was resurrected as a forerunner of the future resurrection of His followers is understood by many Bible readers. What is not so clear to many is that the Bible describes more than one future resurrection.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes: “But now, Christ is risen from the dead, the first-fruit of those who have fallen asleep … For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order; Christ the first-fruits, then those who belong to Christ at his appearing. And then the end, when he shall hand over his kingdom to God his Father” (1 Corinthians 15:20-24 1 Corinthians 15:20-24 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then comes 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.
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, Montgomery New Testament).

The reference to firstfruits indicates that other fruits are to follow—Jesus here followed by those who are His at His return. Paul specifies that God has set an order in His plan by which He will bring up everyone—”all,” as it says—in a resurrection. And in this order, not everyone will be resurrected at the same time.

Notice that Jesus is here called the firstfruits. Yet His followers are elsewhere called firstfruits themselves—and firstborn (James 1:18 James 1:18Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
American King James Version×
; Revelation 14:4 Revelation 14:4These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits to God and to the Lamb.
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; Hebrews 12:23 Hebrews 12:23To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
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). Thus Christ is the first of the firstfruits. The implication is that yet others will follow as later fruits—at “the end,” as we saw in 1 Corinthians 15:24 1 Corinthians 15:24Then comes 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.
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. And other scriptures confirm that, as we will see.

Those who believe that people go to heaven or hell at death have been troubled at the indications they see in Scripture that comparatively few will be saved. They frequently base this assumption on such passages as Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
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: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

In these verses Jesus explains what happens in “this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4 Galatians 1:4Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
American King James Version×
), in which God is not calling everyone to be converted now. We read in Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
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that Satan “deceives the whole world.” John writes, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19 1 John 5:19And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.
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).

Mankind as a whole is deceived— for the time being. Jesus states, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
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). Jesus plainly indicates here that only certain ones will be in the resurrection to which He refers—those who are specifically called by God. The Bible teaches that in this particular age—the age preceding the return of Christ—God is calling only a small portion of mankind to enter and partake of His Kingdom.

“This is the first resurrection”

The coming resurrection of those who are called now in this age is further described in the 20th chapter of Revelation.

Let’s notice how John describes that resurrection: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ 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 are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4-6 Revelation 20:4-6 4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to 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 on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on 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.
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, NIV). Notice that some are resurrected at the beginning of the 1,000-year reign of Christ—at “the first resurrection.” Those in this resurrection of the faithful will be raised immortal and incorruptible to reign with Him, never to die from then on.

But notice that the use of the term first resurrection shows that at least one more must follow!

Another resurrection follows

Indeed, as we can see, the same passage explains in a parenthetical note, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” Clearly there is another resurrection 1,000 years after the first, and in this resurrection others will have the opportunity to receive salvation. They will be called to understand God’s truth and His plan during a period sometimes referred to as the “great white throne” judgment (Revelation 20:11 Revelation 20:11And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
American King James Version×
).

This time of judgment is further described in Revelation 20:12 Revelation 20:12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
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: “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.”

Those resurrected in this group have never completely understood the truth of God. Consider that the majority of all people who have ever lived have never heard God’s truth. Rather than condemn such people to eternal suffering in a fiery hell, the God of the Bible is much more comforting and encouraging. He will extend the opportunity for eternal life to everyone —to relatively few in this age, but to billions of people in the coming second or general resurrection.

Judgment is much more than a final decision to reward or condemn. Judgment is a process that takes place over time before a final decision is rendered. Those brought to a temporary, physical life again in this resurrection (see Ezekiel 37:1-14 Ezekiel 37:1-14 1 The hand of the LORD was on me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the middle of the valley which was full of bones, 2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, see, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, you know. 4 Again he said to me, Prophesy on these bones, and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus said the Lord GOD to these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live: 6 And I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD. 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. 8 And when I beheld, see, the sinews and the flesh came up on them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. 9 Then said he to me, Prophesy to the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus said the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live. 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet, an exceeding great army. 11 Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, 14 And shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall you know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, said the LORD.
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) will, for the first time, have their minds opened to the truth of God’s plan. They will have the opportunity to decide whether they will accept and follow God’s instruction or not.

After coming to see the truth, they will be judged according to their response to their new understanding. Many will accept that truth, repent and receive God’s gift of eternal life—joining those made immortal in the first resurrection.

Past generations will be resurrected together

Jesus Himself spoke of this second resurrection period when He said that even the sinners of the long-destroyed city of Sodom would have the opportunity to repent in a future judgment. As He sent His disciples out on a mission to preach the gospel (Matthew 10:9-14 Matthew 10:9-14 9 Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, 10 Nor money for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat. 11 And into whatever city or town you shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till you go there. 12 And when you come into an house, salute it. 13 And if the house be worthy, let your peace come on it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
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), He told them that some they would encounter would reject their message. Of these Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” (Matthew 10:15 Matthew 10:15Truly I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
American King James Version×
).

That there is room for tolerance in that day toward Sodom and Gomorrah shows they will have opportunity to repent and enter God’s Kingdom. This is because, when they formerly lived, they either never had opportunity to know God or His way or never fully understood what they heard. The time for their calling and judgment is yet future. This is not a second chance for salvation, as some might view it. Rather, this will be their first chance—their first opportunity to act on a clear understanding of God’s truth.

In a similar example, Jesus said the long-dead people of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh and the biblical “queen of the South” from Solomon’s time “will rise up in the judgment” alongside those from Christ’s generation (Matthew 12:41-42 Matthew 12:41-42 41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. 42 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.
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). The people from those generations had lived and died many centuries earlier, never having understood the true God or His plan to offer eternal life through His Son Jesus the Messiah.

Having great mercy toward all people, God will offer salvation to all who lived and died in all ages without ever really knowing Him. The Bible tells us that God does not play favorites (Acts 10:34 Acts 10:34Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
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; Romans 2:11 Romans 2:11For there is no respect of persons with God.
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). He calls all at the time that is appropriate for them, and eventually all will be given the same wonderful opportunity to receive His gift of salvation.

Evidence of a third resurrection

Other scriptures indicate that a third group, the wicked who refuse to accept God and His way of life, will be resurrected just before final destruction in the lake of fire.

Jesus explained that some would deliberately and knowingly despise God’s truth and spiritual understanding. These individuals, He said, will not be forgiven “either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32 Matthew 12:31-32 31 Why I say to you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven to men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven to men. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whoever speaks against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
American King James Version×
).

Yet “all who are in the graves will hear [Christ’s] voice and come forth” (John 5:28-29 John 5:28-29 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation.
American King James Version×
). Even those who will not be forgiven are to be resurrected from the dead.

This group will consist of those who have deliberately rejected God’s way of life even after they have been “once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 6:4-6 Hebrews 6:4-6 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
American King James Version×
). These few are people who were once forgiven and converted but later chose to reject the Holy Spirit and priceless knowledge God gave to them.

Because they “trampled the Son of God under foot,…treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and…insulted the Spirit of grace,” for them “no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-29 Hebrews 10:26-29 26 For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace?
American King James Version×
, NIV).

As we saw earlier, God has revealed that the ultimate fate of the incorrigibly wicked is to be burned up: “ ‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘That will leave them neither root nor branch’ ” (Malachi 4:1 Malachi 4:1For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, said the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
American King James Version×
).

This will be the end for those few who stubbornly have or will have refused to repent of their own self-willed rebellion in spite of all the opportunities made available to them by God. They will be destroyed in the lake of fire, dying in “the second death,” from which there will be no resurrection (Revelation 20:13-14 Revelation 20:13-14 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
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; Revelation 21:8 Revelation 21:8But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
American King James Version×
).

We are even told that death itself and hades (the grave) will be destroyed in this fire (Revelation 20:14 Revelation 20:14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
American King James Version×
). That is because the judgment of God will then be complete. Those who are saved will never again have to fear death. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:26 1 Corinthians 15:26The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
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will have then come to pass: “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”

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