By Rev. James Petigru Boyce
CHRIST'S SECOND COMING, AND THE RESURRECTION.
THE incarnation of the Son of God is not his last manifestation in the flesh to men on earth. The Scriptures speak of another appearing, in connection with which is taught the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgement. Each of these subjects demands special discussion. In some works on theology, the doctrine of the Resurrection is first treated because of its intimate connection with death and immortality; and because it terminates the intermediate state. But, inasmuch as the coming of Christ will precede the resurrection of the dead, it seems best that it be first considered.
1. The fact is distinctly revealed.
Whatever doubts any may have about the passages sometimes quoted as teaching it in the Old Testament, there can be none that it is clearly made known in the New.
(1) It was taught by our Lord. Matt. 16:28; 24:36-40; 26:64; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27.
(2) It is the teaching of the Apostles and other inspired writers. 1 Cor. 1:7; 15:23; 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:1, 8; Heb. 9:28; James 5:7, 8; 2 Pet. 3:4; 1 John 2:28.
2. The manner of it is distinctly set forth.
(1) It will be a personal appearance. It is not questioned that Christ may be said to come in other ways than personally. The hour of death is admitted to be the way in which he comes at present to his saints, at what is to them the end of time. But the Scriptures teach such an especial personal final coming as can only be fulfilled in the bodily appearance of Christ to men. Mark 8:38; Acts 1:11; Heb. 9:26-28; 1 Thess. 4:16.
(2) His coming will be "apart from sin, to them that wait for him, unto salvation," as contrasted with that time in which "he hath been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself," and was "offered to bear the sins of many." Heb. 9:26-28.
(3) It will be an appearance with power and glory; "for the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God," (1 Thess. 4:16); "in the glory of his Father," (Matt. 16:27); and "in his glory, and all the angels with him," (Matt. 25:31); fulfilling to believers their expectation of "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ." Tit. 2:13.
(4) It will be instantaneous and unexpected. It is indeed to be preceded by signs both spiritual and physical. But, as with those in the days of Noah and Lot, few will recognize these signs. Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:28. Even to these the coming will be instantaneous; as a flash of lightning, Matt. 24:27; as a thief in the night, 1 Thess. 5:2; Rev. 16:15.
3. The time of Christ's coming. This is represented as peculiarly unknown. Christ declared that even the Son knew not when it would be. It is hidden from all men. Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32. Our Lord rebuked the disciples, just before his ascension, for questioning him again upon this subject. Acts 1:7. The apostle Paul indeed wrote to the Philippians, "The Lord is at hand," (Phil. 4:5), and Jesus Christ announced, "The time is at hand," (Rev. 1:3), and to the church at Philadelphia sent the message: "I come quickly," Rev. 3:11. This is again repeated unto his servants in Rev. 22:7, 12, 20. But that these expressions, if they refer, as they apparently do, to his second coming, were not intended to teach what man would call an early coming, is evident from the fact that this second coming has been delayed over eighteen hundred years. The apostle Peter gave those in his day who were troubled about this delay the true solution, writing them: "But forget not this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." 2 Pet. 3:8.
4. The aspects in which he will come.
(1) Christ always spake of his coming as that of the Son of Man. By this he himself taught the same truth with which afterward the angel at the ascension reassured the disciples who stood "gazing up into heaven," namely, that he that shall come then shall be the "same Jesus" which was taken up. It will then be in human form that he will appear, and with the same sympathizing human as well as divine love towards his own which he so wonderfully displayed while on earth.
(2) But the apostle Peter, at Pentecost, said, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Acts 2:36. Hence the apostles, almost exclusively, speak of Christ as Lord in connection with his second coming. This was their common name for Christ, and thus they recognized the glorious reward bestowed upon him for the salvation wrought for them, and the "all power" given unto him in heaven and earth.
(3) It is as Judge of the whole earth that he shall appear, both as Son of Man and as Lord; thus giving confidence to those who know him and have believed in him, and striking with terror those who have rejected his love.
(4) He also comes as King to take final possession of his kingdom, to share its blessings and glory with all his willing subjects, and to inflict punishment upon all who have refused to have him reign over them.
5. The signal events which that coming will introduce.
These are the resurrection of the bodies of the dead, and the change of those of the saints who are still alive; the judgement of all men; and the bestowment, according to the highest equity, of his due reward or punishment upon every one of mankind.
The first in point of time of the events which accompany the second coming is the resurrection of the bodies of the dead.
1. This fact is the teaching both of the Old and the New Testaments.
It is admitted that some places in which resurrection is mentioned may speak only of a reappearance upon the stage of being of those who have died, and do not necessarily assert the final resurrection of the body. Thus our Lord's reply to the Saduccees, Luke 20:37, only involves the idea of continued life. So also his language in Luke 14:14; John 6:39; and that to Martha, and her reply, John 11:23, 24.
It may also be acknowledged that, sometimes, the life and death, in connection with which resurrection is taught, is only spiritual, and that of the soul only. This seems to be the case in John 5:24-26, although the resurrection of the body is not unnaturally spoken of in the verses immediately succeeding.
There are also places in which the resurrection of the body is spoken of, but not the general, or final resurrection. These may be quoted only as showing that such a resurrection is not impossible. Thus, the writer to the Hebrews refers to the faith of Abraham in the power of God "to raise" Isaac "up even from the dead." Heb. 11:19. We are also told that, after the death of Christ, "the tombs were opened; many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many." Matt. 27:52, 53. The resurrection of Christ himself is taught to be a fulfillment of prophecy, Acts 2:24-31; 13:34-37, and a proof, not only of the possibility of a resurrection from the dead, 1 Cor. 15:12-18, but even an assurance, and earnest of the resurrection of the bodies of his people. 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 35-45, 48-54.
But there are enough passages, of no doubtful import, both in the Old and New Testaments, which establish a general resurrection of the bodies of all men, as Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2-13; Hos. 13:14; and John 5:28, 29; Rom. 8:11-22, 23; 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 42-45, 48-54; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 4:13-17. the last two passages refer, indeed, to the change in the body only; the last one also to the change in those who shall not die, but remain at the coming of Christ; their appositeness is readily recognized.
2. The resurrection will not be confined to the righteous only; but will include the wicked also.
The New Testament treats sometimes exclusively of the resurrection of the righteous. This is not unnatural; for all hope connected with it is confined to them. So blessed is that hope, that it was fit that it should be frequently held out for their encouragement and comfort. Especially the connection between their resurrection and that of Christ, as the first fruits of them that sleep, tended to lead them into the joys produced by the consciousness of union with him, and their triumph with, and through him. This was not to be confined to their spiritual resurrection with him in newness of spiritual life; and this fact needed to be enforced, lest that of the body should be forgotten in their experience of that of the soul. The objections to it also arose in connection with Christian hope. It is not strange that some should have denied it, even among the people of God, as the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians was true of some of them. 1 Cor. 15:12. The doctrine was too wonderful to believe. Perhaps they had specific objections to it in that day, as there have been in other ages of Christianity, even down to our own times. We are not to be surprised, that others also should have declared that it was passed already, and should have thus overthrown the faith of some. 2 Tim. 2:18. It became necessary, therefore, that it should be especially emphasized to the Christian believers of that day. With the single exception of "those that remain," who were to be "changed," it is expressly announced as the joyful destiny of all believers. Thus, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." 1 Cor. 15:22. That this assertion related only to believers is evident, not only from the natural construction of the original Greek, but from the fact that his language is limited in the context to them "that are Christ's at his coming." 1 Cor. 15:23. In like manner, also, comforting the Thessalonians as to the Christian dead, he assigns as a reason why they should "sorrow not, even as the rest which have no hope," (1 Thess. 4:13), that "if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him;" asserting the change in those that shall remain on earth, and stating that "the dead in Christ shall rise first." 1 Thess. 4:14-18.
But, that this teaching about the righteous, was not intended to exclude the resurrection of the wicked, is plain enough from other places. Thus, our Lord said "all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done ill, unto the resurrection of judgement." John 5:28, 29. What is also especially significant, in view of his teachings exclusively elsewhere as to the resurrection of the just, is that Paul, in his address before Felix, confessed that he had "hope toward God, . . . that there shall be a resurrection both of the just and the unjust." Acts 24:15. In the vision of John of the day of judgement he saw that "the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them, . . . and if any one was not found written in the book of life, he cast them into the lake of fire." Rev. 20:13-15. These passages show distinctly a resurrection of the wicked also from the grave, and, therefore, a resurrection of their bodies.
3. The nature of the resurrection body.
We are told nothing as to the nature of the resurrection bodies of the wicked. But enough is said as to those of the saints to show that their change will be most blessed.
The all embracing fact is distinctly declared that they shall be like unto that of their Lord. If we knew the precise nature of his body we should know the nature of those of all his saints. But it is enough to know that he will "fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory." Phil. 3:21. We are taught many things, however, about the resurrection body; the chief source of information being the fifteenth chapter of 1st Corinthians, where Paul states,
(a.) That it will be incorruptible,
(b.) That it will be immortal,
(c.) That it will be a glorified body,
(d.) That it will be raised in power,
(e.) That it will be identical with the present body. That which is raised is the "it" which is sown. It is "this corruptible" that "puts on incorruption," this "mortal" that "puts on immortality."
(f.) Yet is the identity one which exists not without a great change, v. 51.
(g.) Yet with no greater change than occurred in the body of Christ. It is his image which is to be borne instead of that of Adam, v. 49.
(h.) When Paul asserts that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," v. 50, he means only to deny that a corrupt and mortal body can thus inherit, and not to assert that such inheritance is not true of a glorified body of material substance, from which all corruption and mortal elements have been removed.
(i.) We consequently see what he means by the spiritual body in vv. 44-46, where he contrasts it with the "natural," and declares the resurrection body to be "spiritual." It is not spiritual in the sense that it is not material; for it is composed of matter. But, it is spiritual, as being fitted for the spiritual life hereafter, as it had previously been natural, as fitted for the animal life of this world. This is the pneumatic body as opposed to the physical. As the first body had been suited to the present life, and could not be used in the life to come without change; so the resurrection body is suited to the life to come, and not to the present stage of being. Hence it is that the change, with or without death, does not take place until the time of reunion in which the pneumatic life is to begin.
4. There shall be a general resurrection of the bodies of the righteous, and of the wicked at the coming of Christ to judgement.
(1.) The rewards of the righteous are especially associated with Christ's coming in the great day. Matt. 16:27; Luke 12:37; 1 Cor. 1:7, 8; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:7, 10; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 John 2:28; 4:17.
(2.) The suffering and punishment of the wicked are also intimately connected with the day of Christ's coming to judgement. John 12:48; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:7.
(3.) There are passages also in which both the reward of the righteous, and the punishment of the wicked are set forth unitedly in connection with the second coming of Christ. Matt. 16:24-27; 24:36-51; Mark 13:24-27; Rom. 2:1-16; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Pet. 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:7-9.
(4.) The righteous and the wicked are judged together. Ecc. 3:17; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 16:27; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:1-16; 2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27.
(5.) The resurrection of the dead occurs at the same time with the judgement. Dan. 12:2; Rev. 20:12, 13.
(6.) The resurrection and the change that occurs in it are also associated with the coming of Christ. 1 Cor. 15:52; Phil. 3:21; 1 Thess. 4:16.
(7.) The judgement and the coming of Christ, take place in immediate conjunction. Matt 16:27; 25:31-46; 2 Pet. 3:7-10.
(8.) The resurrection of both just, and unjust, shall occur at the same time. Dan. 12:2; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15.
(9.) The unrighteous are kept unto the day of judgement. 2 Pet. 2:9.
(10.) At the time of Christ's coming, the world is to be destroyed, and the promise fulfilled of "new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness." 2 Pet. 3:8-13. But, that day is also the day of "judgement and destruction of ungodly men;" for which "the heavens that now are and the earth by the same word have been stored up for fire," v.7.
These statements show that the general teaching of the Word of God is that the Lord will come; that at his coming there shall be a general resurrection of the just and unjust, who shall be judged according to the deeds done in the body. Not only is it not taught that there are two resurrections of the body, the one of the righteous at the second coming of the Lord, and the other of the wicked at the general judgement after an interval of one thousand years; but the judgement and the coming of the Lord are recognized as contemporaneous. The day of both events is called by various names, some of which are repeated more than once: as "the day," (1 Cor. 3:13); "that day," (Matt 7:22); "the day of judgement," (2 Pet. 2:9); "the day of God," (2 Pet. 3:12); "the day of the Lord," (1 Thess. 5:2); "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ," (1 Cor. 1:8); "the day of Jesus Christ," (Phil. 1:6); "the day of Christ," (Phil. 2:16); "the day of the Lord Jesus," (1 Cor. 5:5); "the last day," (John 6:39); "the great day," (Jude 6); "the great day of their wrath," (Rev. 6:17); "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God," (Rom. 2:5); "that great and notable day of the Lord," (Acts 2:20); "the day when God shall judge the secrets of men . . . by Jesus Christ," (Rom 2:16); "the day that the Son of Man is revealed," (Luke 17:30); "the coming of our Lord Jesus," (1 Thess. 3:13); "the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ," (1 Tim. 6:14); "the revelation of Jesus Christ," (1 Pet. 1:13); the "appearing of glory of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ," (Tit. 2:13), etc.
There is, however, one passage of Scripture which some claim teaches one resurrection of the bodies of the just, and another of those of the unjust; and places them at a wide interval apart, with numerous intervening parts. Those who maintain this view hold that the thousand years of the Millenium succeed the second coming of Christ, and the resurrection of the righteous. This passage constitutes the twentieth chapter of the book of Revelation. It is the record of that vision, in which John saw the angel bind Satan, in the bottomless pit, for a thousand years; during which the souls of the saints lived, and reigned with Christ. "This," says John, "is the first resurrection." v.5. On those having part in it, "the second death hath no power." v.6. When the thousand years have expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and go out to deceive the nations. When the number of the forces which he gathers, which are like the sands of the sea, surround the camp of the saints, these forces will be devoured by fire from Heaven, and the devil cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. Then appears the great white throne, and the judgement of the dead, both small and great, and the judgement of the dead out of the books. And then death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire. "This," says John, "is the second death." v. 14.
It is readily admitted as to this passage that whatever is truly taught in it must be accepted as the word of God. But,
(1.) We must be careful how we receive any interpretation which does not accord with the rest of Scripture. Before doing so, we should examine thoroughly both the interpretation we wish to accept, and the views attained from other parts of the Word of God. We know that Scripture cannot contradict itself, when rightly interpreted. All its parts must, therefore, be carefully compared to see in what interpretation they agree.
(2.) If, after the best efforts to harmonize this with the other portions of God's Word, it should seem to be irreconcilable with them, the apparent interpretation of this passage should yield to that of others; Not so much because it is one only, as compared with a great number; but because it is found in a book of highly figurative prophecy, in which the literal interpretation is not so justly to be pressed, as in others, which are not of this character, and in which the literal meaning is more apt to be the mind of the Spirit.
(3.) The language of this passage, however, is, at least, in some respects, opposed to the idea of two resurrections of the body; the first, that of the saints to reign with Christ for a thousand years, and the second, that of the wicked to judgement.
(a.) Because those who are represented as belonging to the first resurrection, are not spoken of as clothed in resurrection bodies; but, on the contrary, John declares simply that he saw "the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, etc." v. 4.
(b.) It is not only not said that those who partake of the first resurrection are not among the dead, who are subsequently delivered up by death and Hades to be judged, v. 13, but it is implied that they are among these by the universal terms used when John says that he "saw the dead, the great and small, stand before God," v. 12. But, if this be true, then there must be either two resurrections of the bodies of the saints, or one of the resurrections at least cannot be of the body.
(c.) Especially is it not taught that the resurrection to judgement is confined to the wicked, nor that the first resurrection is of the bodies of all the saints; because along with the books "which were opened," "another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works," v.12; "and if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire," v.15. This language implies that, among those then raised and judged, there were some whose names were written in the book of life. Consequently, reference must here be made to the general resurrection and judgement, taught elsewhere as contemporaneous, and the first resurrection cannot be that of the body; or only some of the saints partake of the first resurrection; or there must be two resurrections of the bodies of the saints. The first of these is the only interpretation that accords with what is elsewhere taught.
(4.) The interpretation of this passage which makes it harmonious with all other Scripture is,
(a.) That the resurrection is a spiritual resurrection of the soul from the death of sin, of which Scriptures elsewhere speak so plainly as being a passage from death unto life. See John 5:24-26; Rom. 6:2-7; Eph. 2:1, 5; 5:14; Phil. 3:10, 11; Col. 2:12, 13; 1 John 3:14; 5:11, 12.
(b.) That the second death, which has no power over those which have part in the first resurrection, constitutes the punishment of those condemned at the judgement day, which consists in their being cast, both body and soul, into a lake of fire.
(c.) The thousand years of the binding of Satan is a period of time, of unknown, perhaps of indefinite length, possibly from the time of Christ's conquest of Satan, in his death, resurrection, and ascension, or possibly from some other period, even perhaps of a later epoch in the history of Christianity, during which Satan is restrained from the exercise of the power he might otherwise put forth against man; the thousand years terminating at some time prior to the day of Christ's second coming; at which time Satan shall be loosed to consummate his evil deeds by such assaults upon the saints as shall bring down the final vengeance of God at the appearing of Christ in glory.
(d.) The judgement and the resurrection, in Rev. 20:12, 13, are general, and are those of the last day which immediately follow the coming of Christ.