The subject of this lesson is a fundamental truth of the Bible, but the sad fact is that most people haven’t heard of it—greatly affecting their conception of the nature and character of God.
What is this great truth?It is the fact that everyone who has ever lived since the creation of Adam and Eve will eventually understand the Bible and have the opportunity to repent, change and accept God’s gift of eternal life! That includes people who have died without this badly needed understanding.
How can knowing this truth transform our view of God and His plan for mankind? A minister tells this story:
“I grew up attending a Protestant church so, as a young adult, I assumed I had heard every major Bible subject at least mentioned. I understood about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of God’s grace. I knew the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. I had heard of the second coming of Christ, the Great Tribulation, the Day of the Lord and ‘the’ resurrection.
“But at age 21, I learned that some things I had been taught about the Bible were not true. Yet even more to my amazement, I heard about ‘the second resurrection’! At first, I thought it couldn’t be true or I would’ve heard of it. But I soon saw the clear proof in the Scriptures. And then I realized that not only is a plan that includes the second resurrection logical, but that any conceivable plan without it is extremely illogical!
“When I think of all my family members and friends who have died without really understanding the Bible, my greatest comfort comes from understanding the reality of the second resurrection!
“For decades now I’ve been in the ministry, regularly teaching the Bible. But the one Bible subject that is still the most exciting to me is the subject of the second resurrection!”
God is all-loving and all-powerful
The Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16). He has “perfect love” (1 John 4:18). “By this we know love, because He [Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became human] laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).
God is also “Almighty God” (Genesis 17:1; Revelation 19:15). He is “the Lord God Omnipotent” (Revelation 19:6). For the Creator of the universe “there is nothing too hard” (Jeremiah 32:17), as “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
These scriptures are clear. But consider an apparent dilemma. Most people die without ever learning about the true God and the way to eternal life. If God loves everyone and is trying to save everyone now, does He lack power since certainly not everyone is being reached with the gospel—His revelation to man? If God has the power to do anything He chooses to do, why does He allow some people to die without giving them lifesaving understanding?
Once you understand the second resurrection, you’ll see how God is both all-loving and all-powerful—and that He has an amazing plan to offer salvation to all!
Does God want everyone who has ever lived to learn, repent and receive eternal life?
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
God fully desires all people to come to the knowledge of the truth, to come to repentance and to be saved! And His desire is realistic—He has a plan to accomplish this. (See also John 3:16-17; Matthew 18:14; Ezekiel 18:30-32.)
What Bible passage speaks of both a first and second resurrection?
“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
“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” (Revelation 20:4-6, emphasis added throughout).
“The first resurrection” is specifically mentioned in verses 5 and 6. In previous lessons in this “Bible Prophecy and You” series, we learned that the first resurrection is the resurrection of the saints (the true followers of Christ) that will take place at Christ’s second coming. The fact that “the second death has no power” over them means there is no possibility of them dying again—they are then made immortal. They will live for the 1,000 years and beyond into eternity.
The word “second” is not used in these verses, but the word “first” implies there will be at least one more resurrection—at least a second one. As The Expositor’s Bible Commentary brings out: “Why does John call this the ‘first’ resurrection? The term prote clearly implies the first in a series of two or more” (Alan Johnson, 1981, notes on Revelation 20:6).
Verse 5 speaks of “the rest of the dead.” That means everyone else who has lived and died since Adam and Eve! This tells us they will “live again,” and it tells us when—after “the thousand years were finished.”
The “rest of the dead” will be resurrected to physical human life so they can learn God’s truth and have the opportunity to live by it, as will be explained later.
The two sentences in verse 5 seem at first to be out of order. But notice that the main subject of verses 4 through 6 is the “first resurrection.” The first sentence in verse 5 is inserted as a parenthetical clarification about those not in the first resurrection. It becomes clear if you put parentheses around that first sentence, as some Bible versions do. For example, the New English Translation says, “(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This [what came before the parentheses and what follows this sentence] is the first resurrection.”
How does the Bible describe the time of judgment when most people who have ever lived will be judged?
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
“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” (Revelation 20:11-12).
The purpose of resurrecting “the rest of the dead” (verse 5) is so they can experience their time of judgment. Many are aware of a second resurrection, sometimes called the general resurrection, but they typically view it as an immediate sentencing of all non-Christians to final condemnation.
In the Bible, however, judgment does not just mean a final sentencing, and it does not always mean condemnation. It can include an evaluation period—a time to demonstrate whether, on learning God’s truth, a person is willing to act on that truth, turn to God and persist in God’s ways. This takes a period of time.
Consider how Peter said, “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God [the Church]” (1 Peter 4:17). Members of God’s Church are being evaluated—judged—now in this lifetime. And in the second resurrection, people who have not yet had such an opportunity will have theirs—their time to learn spiritual knowledge and then be judged over a period of time for how they apply and obey that knowledge.
Because of the wording of verse 11, the time of judgment for those who are raised in the second resurrection is sometimes referred to as the Great White Throne Judgment.
How will God judge those who rise in the second resurrection?
Reread Revelation 20:11-12—quoted in response to the previous question.
God will judge people in the second resurrection by the same standards He has judged people at any other time. Those who are raised in the second resurrection will be “judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books [the books of the Bible that will then be open]” (verse 12; see also Daniel 7:10; Romans 2:12-13). If people at that time believe, repent, obey and receive God’s forgiveness and grace, their names will be written in “the Book of Life”—which means God will give them His gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23; Philippians 4:3).
Is the second resurrection a second chance to be saved?
“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
“And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.’
“Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, ‘Are we blind also?’
“Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, “We see.” Therefore your sin remains’” (John 9:39-41).
In “times of ignorance,” people’s sins still earn them the death penalty. But Paul said that in some sense God overlooks those sins—He knows these people haven’t yet had an opportunity to know the truth and repent and change. But when a person “knows to do good and does not do it,” God considers him or her fully accountable for the sin (James 4:17).
Some prophecies of the healing of blindness are dual—they include not only healing physical blindness, but also healing spiritual blindness. Therefore, a person’s opportunity for salvation comes when God calls and chooses someone, at which time He opens his or her mind to spiritual understanding. (See also Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7.)
It seems most people, including most who have been a part of mainstream Christian churches, have not truly had God’s calling and therefore do not understand enough to be held fully accountable. The second resurrection period will thus be their first opportunity to be saved. It is not a second chance.
(In another way of looking at opportunities for salvation, God gives us many opportunities by forgiving us of our sins every time we repent—though this is all part of one lifetime opportunity. Of course, we must not take lightly or abuse God’s mercy. A person who continues sinning has a harder and harder time being able to sincerely and deeply repent. If he ever gets to the point where he cannot repent, he has no more opportunity for salvation.)
Where is biblical proof of a future opportunity for those who have died?
“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).
“Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.
“‘And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades [the grave]; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you’” (Matthew 11:20-24).
“The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:41-42).
Jesus spoke of a future “day of judgment” for humanity. His main point was that ancient Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh and Tyre (pagan cities that God caused to be destroyed) were not as guilty as the people who heard Jesus and saw His miracles but still rejected Him. It will be “more tolerable” for the people of Sodom, etc., because they will not have rejected the mighty works and preaching of Jesus Christ Himself.
But consider some secondary lessons from what Jesus said. Those who have died will need to be raised to life so they can be judged in the “day of judgment.” The day of judgment is not synonymous with a time of immediate condemnation for everyone, as that would not be “tolerable” at all for anyone.
Where does the Bible give us a description of the second resurrection?
“The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones . . . [‘“]Thus says the Lord God to these bones: ‘Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.’”’
“So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.
“Also He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.’”’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:1, Ezekiel 37:5-10).
This vision of the valley of dry bones shows people resurrected through their physical bodies being reformed and given new life. Ezekiel 37:11 says “these bones are the whole house of Israel,” but as we saw in Matthew, the second resurrection will include all nations. Ezekiel 37 has dual meaning. It partly is describing the restoration of the nation of Israel under God and the reuniting of the divided kingdom into a single nation of Israel (Ezekiel 37:16-22). But it also shows that someday there will be a literal resurrection of people—to once again be living, breathing human beings.
Will people in this second resurrection have the opportunity to be converted and receive God’s Holy Spirit?
“‘I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the Lord” (Ezekiel 37:14).
The Holy Spirit is only given to those who repent, are baptized and obey God (Acts 2:38; 5:32).
Again, God is both all-loving and all-powerful
After completing this lesson, we hope you can clearly see how God is both all-loving and all-powerful. God loves all people and longs to see everyone choose to live His way so He can give them eternal life. And He has the unlimited power to make sure every person who has ever lived will be taught the truth and have the opportunity for eternal life. Death does not defeat God. God can raise the dead. Everyone who has not had an opportunity for salvation will receive that opportunity when they rise to physical life in the second resurrection.
Christians who celebrate God’s biblically commanded festivals gain a deeper and fuller understanding of His great plan of salvation. Those who observe the Eighth Day festival just after the Feast of Tabernacles are thrilled to rehearse the wonderful significance of the second resurrection each year (Leviticus 23:36). And God’s anticipation of the enormous expansion of His family surely must be what pleases Him more than anything else!
Think about a loved one or friend who has died without having full knowledge of God’s truth. What would you most like to say to him or her? If you were given the opportunity to teach him or her in the second resurrection, what would be the first scriptures and biblical truths you would explain? Write down three.
For further explanation, read “The Eighth Day: Eternal Life Offered to All” in our free study guide God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.