The Scriptural Doctrine of the Resurrection

By the Late Rev. H. M. Parsons, D. D.,

One Time Pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto, Ont.

Taken from Moody Monthly Magazine 1921-03 Volume 21, Issue 7


The fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave, is as well attested historically as any other event of the past, and the importance of this doctrine on the destinies of men is also verified in the history of civilization. Apart from revelation, the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, based upon the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has been the source of hope and comfort to the human race beyond any other distinctive truth of religion.

But the doctrine in its spiritual power and influence, is entirely one of revelation by the Spirit of God.

In the Old Testament it was predicted of the Messiah that was to come, as we learn from Acts 2:30 31, when David “knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he, seeing this before, spake of resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.”

The apostles add their own testimony, verse 32. “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.”

As the keystone of the arch of Christian doctrines, constituting the foundation of the Christian religion, this truth is the basal rock upon which the temple of God is built. “He arose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.” “If there be no resurrection of the dead then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching in vain and your faith is also vain" (1 Cor. 15:4, 13, 14). Accordingly the doctrine of the resurrection is purely one of revelation, and utterly beyond the power of the natural man to conceive or comprehend.

What is Meant by the Resurrection of the Body?

1. This truth seemed incredible to the Athenians, when Paul declared it in his sermon on Mars Hill and before the Roman governor, Felix, and equally is it denied by the unbeliever of our own day. Though many who profess the name of Christ accept His resurrection as an historical fact, yet in their hearts they deny it, and no sensible influence from it is felt or seen in their lives.

Our bodies now have a life adapted to our environment and subject to the requirements and conditions of this present state. When our life here closes the body returns to dust, and the persona! identity of each body is preserved for the resurrection life and imparted when the dead arise, just as in the body now identity is recognized through the various stages of growth from birth to old age. There is no greater mystery in the resurrection body, than in the present fact that the infant, when an old man, is the same person.

That this body will be a material one, is evident from the example of our Lord, and the assertion of the Holy Spirit that “we shall be like him.”

The description given of our Lord's body of glory, reveals the fact of the real corporeal form and adaptation to the environment of the spiritual body. When our Lord arose from the dead, He invited the disciple who doubted to verify His real presence by actual touch. It is also clearly taught by the apostle Paul in the parable of the grain. “Thou sowest. not that body that shall be, but a bare grain.” “But God giveth it a body, even as it pleased him, and to each seed a body of its own” (1 Cor. chap. 15, R. V.).

Thus, the body of glory, will be adapted to the celestial environment, its eternal abode, and the body of shame also will be adapted to its chosen residence forever.

The Resurrection of the Dead Universal

2. Our Lord teaches in John 5:28, that “all that are in the tomb shall hear his voice and shall come forth,” and the argument of the apostle before Felix affirms his own faith, as also that of the Jews who opposed Him, in the “hope that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.”

This has been the general faith of all the children of God in the present dispensation. When our Lord made a new revelation at the death of Lazarus, Martha confessed the belief of the resurrection of the body at the last day as then prevalent among the Jews, which meant at the end of all the ages when. judgment would be given, and the dissolution of all things would occur.

In that view resurrection was universal, instantaneous and simultaneous; but Jesus then and there declared advanced truth for the acceptance of His followers, and affirmed a specific resurrection of a certain class, saying, “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live,” and, “Whosoever liveth and believeth on me, shall teenth never die.”

An element of time is introduced here by the connection of the dead and living believers, revelation concerning which is more explicit in 1 Corinthians fifteenth chapter.

In that chapter we have resurrection of the dead in its universal completeness and in its definite order. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (v. 22). “But every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming. Then 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” (v. 23, 24).

In the same chapter the close connection of the resurrection and translation of believers at the same time, makes the second coming of Christ the moment for the mighty transformation. Thus in verses 51, 52, ‘Behold, I shew 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 trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

And even with stronger emphasis this mystery is repeated in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him. For this we say unto you, by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself, shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and all we be forever with the Lord.”

This resurrection of the righteous dead is thus connected with the translation of the living saints, and definitely described in the process of ascent from the earth and the descent of the Lord from heaven above, to the meeting place in the air. None but those in Christ are included in this resurrection. It is predicted in Daniel 12:2, as awaking from the dust of earth, to everlasting life, and in Luke 14:14, it is named “the resurrection of the just,” while in John 5:29, it is called “the resurrection of life.”

Resurrection Unto Shame and Everlasting Contempt

Daniel 12:2 represents two companies arising from the sleepers in the dust “some” to “the resurrection of life,” and after them the other “some” to ‘shame and everlasting contempt.”

We need to notice the distinction of Scripture in regard to the term life as applied to resurrection-being. A clear statement of this is given by B. W. Newton in his work on the Prospects of the Ten Kingdoms (pp. 170, 171):

“We know from other parts of Scripture that all the righteous dead will then awake to life (“life” and not “awake” being the word which implies the possession and exercise of the power of resurrection-being). The souls of the departed saints, whilst in a disembodied state, although in Paradise, and perfectly conscious of their blessing, are not in the exercise of the functions of life, those functions requiring the presence of the body. Hence our Lord, in His reply to the Sadducees who denied the resurrection of the body, proves it, by saying, that if there were no resurrection, God would not be called the God of Abraham, for that He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. The soul of Abraham is now consciously receiving blessing from God, but Abraham will not be able to live unto God until he again receives his body.

“So also, the departed wicked are not represented in Scripture as living, although their souls exist in torment. ‘The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished,” (“live” being here used, not in the sense of “exist,” but as denoting the exercise o! the functions of life).

“Man therefore, is not said to ‘live,” i.e., in the sense of exercising the functions of life, either when he is dispossessed of his body, or when having his body, le is placed in the second death.”

Thus, the reality of the ‘resurrection ‘o shame and everlasting contempt,” is as surely taught in Scripture, as the “resurrection of the just,” or, as it is termed in Revelation 20:5, “Resurrection the first.”

The Two Resurrections Diverse in Character and Destiny

4. We have noticed the distinction made in the prophecy of Daniel. One is unto “life,” including all that the word implies of worth and esteem in character; the other to exactly the opposite—“shame and everlasting contempt,” a state of death, or eternal separation from God, in character and destiny.

The same facts are contained in the words of our Saviour in John 5:29, where the preceding life and character are defined, and assigned to each resurrection. “They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.”

Still more clearly we find the difference of the two marked in the twentieth of Revelation. The apostle saw the souls of martyred saints live again, necessarily in their bodies, because the souls had never died, and their actions in their former bodies are described. They were “beheaded for the testimony 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.” These lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. After this resurrection there is another for those not raised at this time. Books had been kept of their conduct. These books were opened. In order to have absolute justice, the book of life was opened. This judgment of those now raised from the dead and standing before God was of things recorded in the book, and according to their works whether done for the glory of God or for the glory of man. All the dead remaining after the first resurrection in their graves, on the sea or the land, were judged according to their works, as designating character, and if not found written in the book of life, were cast into the lake of fire, and this for them is called the “second death.” There is no intimation in Scripture that this first issue of their case is ever changed. If the results of the first resurrection are everlasting, the results of this must endure forever. If those, who have refused and resisted the grace of God, enforced by the pleading of the Holy Ghost, before their first death was experienced, have voluntarily taken the risk, and chosen the ways of sin, there is no reasonable ground for supposing that they will choose to change their character and state, when all the needed inducements for such choice and change have been withdrawn. This resurrection of souls remaining through the thousand years “in their own place” will certainly be the assumption of bodies adapted to the requirement of their spiritual state, under the final sentence. And so far as Revelation pronounces upon the duration of the sentence, it is for the ages upon ages of eternity.

Two Resurrections Separate As to Place and Time

5. The first is from the earth to the judgment seat in the air—above the earth, and for the purpose of rewards, and appointments in the kingdom of God. The works of each one are scrutinized to determine the place of honor and glory in the firmament above the throne. “One star differeth from another in glory.”

The second resurrection is unto judgment, before the great white throne, upon which the Judge is seated, ‘from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.” All the remaining dead of the earth will stand before this throne, to be judged as to their character by their works.

As to time, the two resurrections are separated by a thousand years. The day of the Lord is a peculiar expression of the Scripture in regard to the coming again of Jesus Christ and the assumption of political sway over the nations. A clear statement of this peculiar period is found in 2 Peter 3:10, in which the morning and evening of the day are tersely described. “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” The beginning or dawn will be almost imperceptible, as the first rays of the morning dawn, its advance rapid, sudden, and stealthy, and as the tread of the midnight thief. The advance and close will be notable ‘in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up.”

The pen of inspiration with a single sweep, often sketches a whole dispensation of the earth—fulfilling that other statement of this epistle, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (3:8). The opening of this day synchronizes with the first resurrection.

Definitely, the Word of God places it at this point of time. “They that are Christ's at his coming.” And of all such it is written in 2 Corinthians 5:10, that “They must be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things in his body, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad.” These deeds, according as done in the energy of the spirit or of the flesh, shall receive the due meed of praise and reward, or shall be cast away as refuse, because not enduring the test applied to each one.

The resurrection of the righteous is followed by an interval. A careful examination of the words used in the revelation of this doctrine will show in every case, this distinction of time. Thus in John 5:29, the two companies are defined in regard to character and destiny. “They that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.” Nothing is here said of the time but nothing which prevents an interval of time between the two events. If we turn to the context of this passage we find a reference to time that is suggestive as to duration of the period. Our Lord speaking of man's spiritual death which was and is universal, says (v. 25), “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.” That “hour” has lasted nearly nineteen hundred years, and surely there is room for one thousand years between the two resurrections.

We have, however, definite testimony that when the righteous dead arise the rest of the dead will be left in their graves.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (3:11), expresses strong desire, to be with Christ, and to be like him, saying, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from the dead.” The literal meaning of the Greek makes the bearing of this passage on the point before us most emphatic. He desired “to attain,” to reach, to come upon, “the out-resurrection,” the one ‘from among the dead.” Indicating plainly that many of those are in the dust are left behind in this resurrection.

The Greek word here, exanastasin, is found nowhere else, and is most clearly used to signify this out-resurrection, a “resurrection out from” which, joined with the definite article tēn and eknekrōn requires that a portion are left in the graves. The force of these repeated statements of diverse companies, with diverse characters and destinies, prepares us for the direct declaration found in Revelation 20:5 in connection with the thousand years.

After the binding of Satan, the seer of Patmos saw the souls of martyr witnesses, alive in bodies, reigning with Christ for one thousand years. And he adds in verse 5, “This, the resurrection first.” He further adds, “But the rest of the dead lived not again till the one thousand years were finished.”

If this interpretation be received, then the resurrection of the wicked “according to the Scriptures,” takes place in the evening of the Day of the Lord at the close of the millennial age.

Dean Alford on this text says: “No legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion. If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, when certain souls lived at the first, and the rest of the dead lived only at the end of a specified period after that first, if, in such a passage, the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual, rising with Christ, while the second means literal, rising from the grave, then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out, as a definite testimony to any thing.

“If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardy enough to maintain; but if the second is literal, so is the first, which, in common with the whole primitive church, and many of the best modern expositors, I do maintain, and receive as an article of faith and hope.” (Alford's Greek Testament, Rev. 20:6.)

Importance of the Doctrine

6. This doctrine will be found to have large influence on the present life when held in its relation to the future life

Just as the resurrection of Jesus Christ is realized by faith, so will the resurrection of the bodies of saints and of sinners affect the present responsibilities of both believers and unbelievers. If risen with Christ by faith, we shall long to be formed anew in that body of glory which He has promised. And so the fact of the terrible future before ‘he unsaved must quicken all our sensibilities to the pressing obligation upon us of seeking to save the lost by the living presentation of the gospel to every creature.

And for self-judgment in the daily life nothing will more stimulate the obedience of faith than the momentous thought, “For which resurrection am I preparing today? In one or the other I must appear. Shall it be in the morning or in the evening of the Day of the Lord?”

“Blessed and holy is he, that hath part in the first resurrection, on such the second death hath no power” (Rev. 20:6).

“Whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).