State of the Dead

Apr 21, 2023 11:49 PM
AfterlifeDoctrineJehovah's WitnessSeventh Day AdventistCatholic

What happens when you die?

If you ask most Christians, they will quote 2 Corinthians 5:8—to be absent from the body is to be present with the LORD—and suggest you go straight to heaven. Technically, a person could be condemned to hell, but growing up in the South I have never heard anyone suggest someone who died was now in hell (unless its someone they don’t know and don’t like). Any person that is family, friend, or neighbor, is said to “be in a better place.”

However if you ask a Jehovah’s Witness or Seventh Day Adventist, among many other individuals, you will get a very different answer. They might quote Ecclesiastes 9:5—the dead know nothing—and suggest the person is asleep until judgment day. If you ask a Catholic you may get tales of purgatory in combination with the view that the dead have gone on to heaven.

Who has the right doctrine? What does the Bible actually say about life after death?

Do Humans Have An Immortal Soul?

A question that inevitably comes up when trying to study the state of the dead, is the state of the soul in general. How you answer the question of an immortal soul deeply changes your perception of the Bible, as well as life and death. For instance, those who believe in an immortal soul will say people burn in hell forever, while those who reject the idea of an immortal soul will say those sentenced to the lake of fire simply burn until they are no more and that state of death is forever. The former must answer the question of why Messiah’s death and belief in it (John 3:16) is necessary if everyone has everlasting life. The latter has to explain the verses that say the fire (of hell) will never be quenched.

I’m not going to dive into this topic specifically in this post, but because life is intrinsically related to death, you will see fragments of this question entangled in the discussion below. Please keep in mind that your interpretation of the immortal soul will effect your interpretation of the state of the dead, and a thorough study of both topics is best.

Verse By Verse

Initially I wanted to split this into arguments for vs arguments against, but I decided it’s better to just go verse by verse and witness how difference interpretations of a verse (and how the verses are linked) causes confusion on this topic.

Deuteronomy 18:10-12

10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

📚Deuteronomy 18:10-14 KJV

The practice of speaking to the dead, otherwise known as necromancy, is forbidden in Deuteronomy 18:10-14. While it doesn’t tell us the state of the dead, it does confirm that whether the dead go straight to heaven/hell, end up in purgatory, roam the Earth as “ghosts,” or sit in a prison-like place called Sheol, we aren’t suppose to communicate with them.

An important thing to note is multiple prophets and disciples of the Most High successfully brought people back from the dead. Food for thought it is both possible and acceptable to bring people back but not acceptable to speak to them without bringing them back to life; why?

Genesis 25:8

Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.

📚Genesis 25:8 KJV

What Does it Mean to be “Gathered”?

Many of the patriarchs are described as being “gathered to his people.” This would seem to mean he was reunited with his ancestors somewhere other than in the world of the living. This description of death is granted to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and more, but let’s focus on Abraham for now.

In Joshua 24:2, we are told that the forefathers of Israel—namely Terah, the father of Abraham, served other gods. Abraham’s direct ancestors were not followers of The Most High God; they were not saved by faith. Yet, Genesis 25:8 does not qualify a subset of people that he is gathered to; it reads as though he is gathered to all his people. If so, that would include the ones who did not serve god according to Joshua 24:2. Therefore, this place that Abraham is in where he is reunited with his fathers is unlikely to be Heaven as it would imply that even those who worshiped other gods are in Heaven.

From just this information, my assumption is that this place is either “Sheol”—often translated as the pit—or the Catholics are right and there is actually such a thing as purgatory. The terms Sheol, Hades, and hell are often used interchangeably, though the ideologies behind each differ slightly. Sheol was said to be a dark, gloomy place where the dead reside and cannot escape.[2][3]

Purgatory on the other hand is only for those who are saved and is said to be the final step in purification.[4][8] To my knowledge, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are the only denominations that support the doctrine of purgatory. The most obvious problem with purgatory being the solution for this verse is that it’s still only for people who worship God. We will save the discussion of how purgatory stands up to Biblical scrutiny for it’s own post.

So as I was studying this, I thought about the movie Stardust. Note, I’m not saying this is actually how life after death works, but the surface reading of the verse reminded me of this example.

In the movie there are 7 brothers vying for their father’s throne, often resorting to killing each other to make it easier and lessen the competition. Each time one dies, he joins the other dead brothers in what can only be described as Limbo or Purgatory or even possibly Sheol. They are in the same state they were in when they died, and follow the remaining brothers around, often commenting on the antics of the brothers who are left and grumbling about how they died.

🚨 SPOILER ALERT!! In the end they actually die and you see 6 of the brothers’ spirits rise toward heaven and the particularly evil brother’s spirit drops toward hell. I can’t remember if any of the other brothers committed murder but there’s not mention of God or Jesus or religion at all in the movie for us to believe these brothers are saved. So, although it is questionable at best, the imagery is fitting for the discussion of this verse.

What is “the Ghost”?

Another interesting point in this verse is in the first phrase. The KJV along with a few other translations say Abraham gave up the ghost, while most other translations read “breathed his last breath.”[5] I want to discuss this term considering some believe the dead roam the earth as ghosts… The Hebrew word is gava (גָּוַע) which means to breathe out, expire, or die.[6] It is also translated as dead, die, or perish in other places of the text. This is not the word for Spirit.

Ecclesiastes 9:5

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 📚 Ecclesiastes 9:5 KJV

If you’re talking about the state of the dead with a Seventh Day Adventist, Ecclesiastes 9:5 will definitely come up. This verse tells us that the dead know nothing. According to Seventh Day Adventist doctrine, this is evidence of the fact that those who are dead are in an unconscious sleep state. They teach that when you die, you’re essentially in a dreamless sleep-like state and the next conscious though you will have is the Judgement (either in the first or second resurrection of Revelation).

There are actually a few ways to look at this verse, and a couple important things to note.

  1. The dead know nothing is juxtaposed with the living knowing they will die
  2. The dead have no more reward
  3. The memory of them is forgotten

The Dead Know Nothing

The revelation that the dead don’t know anything is a game changer in how we look at the afterlife. For starters, it means that if someone claims to be communicating with the dead they are lying because the dead haven’t nothing to say. It contradicts Catholic beliefs that you are judged right at death because that would mean the dead at least know their fate. It also contradicts the idea that the dead go straight to Heaven or hell because they would know something about those places. If I am dead and my soul goes back to the Father, I should know Him; I should know more, not less. The idea that the dead know nothing really only makes sense if they are in some sort of unconscious sleep or in darkness (Sheol).

The Dead Have No Reward

Our reward in death is supposed to be eternal life if we follow the Most High and His Son. However, Ecclesiastes says the dead have no more reward. Early Jews believed Sheol was the final destination for humans; when you died you went there, regardless of whether you were righteous or wicked. Under that belief, it makes sense that there is no reward left for the dead.

This also makes sense from a worldly perspective. When you die, even if society awards you with something posthumously, you can no longer own anything. In the kingdom, the Father may grant us a house or land or whatever our heart desires, but we will be aware that it belongs to God. In the kingdom, peace and prosperity are not reward, they are a way of life. Also, we are resurrected in to the kingdom, so we are not dead anymore. Rewards are only for the living.

The Memory of the Dead is Forgotten

The way this is written in the KJV it reads as though it is saying the living don’t remember the dead, but I wonder if this is where the idea that the dead lose their memory. Growing up I was taught that in death we wouldn’t have memory of life on Earth. This conveniently handles the issue of the sadness we would experience in being separated from loved ones, whether because they are alive or because they didn’t make it. It would also handle the issue of people who repented after harming the saints—imagine Stephen’s reaction to Paul, the man who had a hand in his stoning, waltzing in to the Kingdom!

I checked other translations and I believe the accepted interpretation is that it means the living forget the dead. On the surface this seems false; my grandmothers died in 2008 and 2004, but I remember them! However, in 100 years, everyone who ever knew them will be dead. For most people, the memory of their existence will fade. All that exists of the dead are records. Now there are the famous—leaders, artists, pioneers, activists—their history is recorded and taught in school. The memory of Moses is still here, right? Well, the knowledge of Moses is still here but no one alive actually has memory of Moses. All of the people we still discuss after death are discussed based on written accounts (perhaps recorded video and audio for more modern people), but no one remembers what it was like to sit in a room with those people. Moreover, we don’t think about them everyday, so the memory of them is also forgotten.

Imagine you’ve died and are now in Heaven. How could you be happy knowing that people alive on Earth are still suffering?
  1. The easiest scenario is someone who dies naturally of old age, in a country experiencing peace and stability. Their family may mourn for a little while but likely would go on to live happy lives
  2. However, what if you are a child shot in a school shooting? Your parents are grief would be exponential, and how do you feel each time a new school shooting victim arrives through the pearly gates? Your parents likely relive your death every time a tragedy occurs…
  3. What if you are a parent who leaves your child behind at a young age? What if you see the struggles they face as a young woman without a mother, or a little boy without a dad? What if you are seeing their other parent struggle to provide?
  4. What if you died in a war torn country and your family is still there in the midst of the war? What if you died in a peaceful country but now your friends and family are being sent to war torn countries?

Ecclesiastes 12:7

Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it 📚 Ecclesiastes 12:7

This verse builds on something we were told in Genesis 2, specifically in Genesis 2:7. During creation, we are told that when God formed man he did so by combining the dust of the earth and the breath of life. It is worth noting, however, that the word “spirit” is translated from “רוּחַ” (ruach) in Ecclesiastes but from “נְשָׁמָה” (neshama) in Genesis. According to Strong’s Concordance, both mean breath or spirit which is why both are translated as such in our English text. I am unsure if there is a significant difference in Hebrew.

Those who argue that we ascend to Heaven at death argue that the use of spirit in Ecclesiastes 12:7 is akin to saying our soul returns to God. In this view, the body returns to dust and the soul returns to paradise. I have a few questions for that interpretation:

  1. If the soul is returning to paradise, does that mean we were in Heaven before coming to earth? In that case do not all of our stories mirror that of Christ in the sense that we would have been in paradise, been sent to a fallen world to experience heartbreak, pain, and temptation, only to return to paradise at death?
  2. The verse in Ecclesiastes doesn’t specify whether we are talking about righteous people or wicked people or both. Based on the fact that it is followed by “all is vanity” in Ecclesiastes 12:8, I would wager it speaks of all people. If so, are we saying the wicked also go to paradise upon death?
  3. Based on Ecclesiastes 9:5, the dead know nothing, so why doesn’t our Spirit know all the attributes of God when it returns to God?
  4. According to Genesis 2, man is seems to be body (dust) + soul (breath of life). Can the spirit live outside of a body? Note: in 2 Corinthians 5 we are told that we will get a new body in Heaven. This new body + the breath of life is what will make us alive again. When we take on this body and become alive we are no longer dead.
1 Job again took up his discourse and said,

2 “As God lives, who has taken away my right, And the Almighty, who has embittered my soul, 3 For as long as life is in me, And the breath of God is in my nostrils, 4 My lips certainly will not speak unjustly, Nor will my tongue mutter deceit. 5 Far be it from me that I should declare you right; Until I die, I will not give up my integrity. 📚 Job 27:3 NASB

Daniel 12:13

But as for you, go your way to the end; then you will rest and rise for your allotted portion at the end of the age. 📚Daniel 12:13 NASB

In Daniel 12, an angel tells Daniel that he will “rest” and then rise for his reward at the end of the age. Rest is assumed to me die—note that this falls in line with Jesus referring to Lazarus being asleep in John 11. His reward is saved for him until the “end of the age,” which is assumed to be the end of the world. Using those assumptions this verse says Daniel is not granted his reward of eternal life in paradise until the end.

One might argue that there is another interpretation. The Hebrew word translated “rest” does not mean death, it literally means rest. Considering this is also the last chapter in Daniel (unless you’re reading the Apocrypha), it could be an indication that his work was done. Daniel could now rest or retire from having visions, interpreting visions, and serving as a prophet. This would make sense if it didn’t say go to the end and then you will rest. “The end” of what? I would naturally assume the end of life. It seems that Daniel will find rest in death and receive his reward at the end.

We could go off into a discussion about the end of the age, however I do not think that is necessary to make this point. Regardless of whether the end of the age is the absolute end or the end of an era, it wasn’t immediately at Daniel’s death. We are being explicitly told that he would die and then be resurrected at some point later than his death. It is in that resurrection that he receives his reward (life). This aligns with what we are told in Revelation about resurrection and Judgement Day.

Matthew 22:31-32

31 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. 📚Matthew 22:31-32 KJV

Matthew 22 is another place people go to discuss where we are in death. Some refer to Abraham’s bosom or Abraham’s side as described in Luke 16:22. A dead man is said to be carried there. Now based on what we know, Abraham was gathered to his people which we already discussed. In order to make the leap that Abraham is in Heaven and the man carried to Abraham’s side was in fact carried to Heaven, you need Matthew 22:31-32. The argument given here is that by asserting God is not the God of the dead but of the living juxtaposed with being the God of Abraham, it is a declaration that Abraham is in heaven.[9]

This may seem like a natural conclusion if it fits your belief but there are a few hurdles people are jumping to make this logic work. For starters, it talking about resurrection of the dead; if you are resurrected you are not dead. I talk more about resurrection of the dead in the section below for Revelation 20. Another issue is that we’re assuming what happened to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the same thing that will happen to us.

Enoch and Elijah were carried to Heaven because of their righteousness. Moses died, but we know he is in Heaven because he was at the transfiguration of Jesus. As much as we would like to pretend that God loves every individual exactly the same, God had favorites. Just because Enoch went straight to heaven without dying, it doesn’t mean I am going to heaven without dying. Similarly, even if Abraham is in heaven, it doesn’t mean every person who dies goes straight to Heaven. We will discuss the first and second resurrection of Revelation 20, but it shows us some people are not resurrected until the very end. Who are they? Why do they have to wait? Why don’t they get carried to Heaven immediately?

Seventh Day Adventists will say that the reason God (and Jesus) point out the fact that He is the God of the living in juxtaposition with the patriarchs is to remind people that there is life after death. Their claim is that this rebuke of the Sadducees is about anticipating a future resurrection.[10] There are also assumptions made here. There isn’t anything to suggest this is definitely about a future resurrection. However, we can lean on the fact that early Jewish writings do show the belief in Sheol as a place where everyone went. Only those of extraordinary character like Enoch and Elijah were believed to ascend to an afterlife.

If we read the whole passage in context, the question posed is meant to mock the idea of being resurrected. The Sadducees are quoting the known scripture of Moses to establish the correctness of a man marrying his brother’s wife if the brother dies without an heir. This is then twisted to point out a problem of adultery in resurrection. The underlying point the Sadducees are trying to make is that once you are dead you are dead (the dead know nothing). They are trying to catch Messiah in a contradiction to invalidate His teaching on the resurrection. Jesus’ response that God is the God of Abraham but not the God of the dead takes the Sadducees back to a verse written by Moses—whom they trust. He is asking them if God is said to be the God of Abraham at the time of Moses when Abraham is dead, but He is the God of the living, does that not prove that a resurrection must occur?

His statement doesn’t necessitate the resurrection to have occurred at the time of Moses because even in death Abraham had the promise of life. Remember God is and was and will be. Each of believer has the same journey: we are, and then we are not, and then we will be again. He is our God because we have eternal life. Once we die, whether we are granted that life immediately or centuries or millennia after death, we will have life again. He is the God of those who are guaranteed to conquer death.

In short, this passage confirms that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in Heaven, but you still have to assume to interpret it to mean they are already in heaven and you must assume further to conclude that because they are in Heaven, the person who died yesterday is also in Heaven.

John 6:39-44

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. 📚 John 6:40 NASB

This passage speaks of Messiah granting those who believe in Him eternal life. Within the passage, Messiah says three times that someone—identified as “him”—will be raised up on the last day. The questions to be asked (and answered) are:

  1. Who is “him”?
  2. What does it mean to be “raised up”?
  3. When is “the last day”?

If we keep reading, most of our questions are answered in the next few verses. A good summary is given in verses 53-54:

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 📚John 6:53-54

Who is “him”?

The him spoken of in verse 40 is “the one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood,” as told in verse 54. This of course speaks to the communion ceremony (which is another doctrine of division within the church; we’ll have to talk about that later…). We are told point blank that this person has eternal life, and it is followed with the promise of being raised up on the last day. So “him” refers to followers of Messiah; those who believe and surrender to Him per John 3:16.

What Does it Mean to be “Raised Up”?

The term “raised up” could mean anything when spoken in a vacuum. One could be raised up politically, economically, or in popularity. However, in the context of the passage, it seems obvious that “raised up” references brought to back to life. The beginning of this exchange between Jesus and a crowd starts in verse 26. Here, he begins telling the people that they should seek eternal life and the Bread of Life. The entirety of the passage is discussing how to live for eternity and not die. It seems that just as we understand today, this promise does not grant us immortality on Earth. Believers still die like everyone else; the difference is that believers have the promise of being resurrected or raised up into eternal life. In this passage Jesus is saying this resurrection will occur on “the last day.”

The Greek word used for “raise” in John 6 is ἀνίστημι. It occurs numerous times in the New Testament, and while not all are in reference to resurrection, many are. For example Matthew 17:9 and 20:19 both use the word to reference the resurrection of Messiah. Matthew 22:24 uses the word to reference creation of a new life. Mark 5:42 uses the word to reference the resurrection of a young girl.[1]

When is “the Last Day”?

At this point it’s spelled out that believers will be raised to their eternal life on “the last day.” It would be easy to just make the assume the last day references Judgment Day and end our discussion of this verse right here, but I want to address at one other possibility. What if last day means the person’s last day? That is, in fact, the only way we could say people ascend to Heaven the day they die. To prove that “the last day” here is in reference to judgement day and not the person’s last day, I point you to John 11, which we will discuss next.

John 11

John 11 tells us about the resurrection of Lazarus, which is a great place to go looking for answers about life and death!

Before we dive into what this passage tells us on it’s own, let’s look at how it tells us what is meant by “the last day.” When Jesus speaks with Mary and Martha about their belief in eternal life, Martha answers that she knows Lazarus will be resurrected “on the last day.”

Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” 📚 John 11:24 NASB

We learn from Martha’s response is that “the last day” was not Lazarus’ last day—if so Martha would think he was already alive somewhere else, because Lazarus’ last day was four days ago at this point.

Mary & Martha’s Response

Mary and Martha’s response to Lazarus’ death actually tells us a lot by itself. Like anyone after the death of a loved one, they are distraught and grieved. However, like believers today, they are aware of the promise of eternal life and a resurrection. Yet, they don’t say things like “we know He is in a better place” or “we know He is in heaven now.” In fact, would it not have been cruel of Jesus to snatch Lazarus out of Heaven and place him back on Earth?

Lazarus is Asleep

What’s more is that Jesus himself describes Lazarus’ state as being sleep. Note that Jesus doesn’t use any of the common phrases of our day such as “gone on to glory,” “in a better place”, or “on the other side.” The closest thing that resembles these phrases occurs in Genesis. When each of the patriarchs die they are said to be “gathered to his people.”

Exclusive Interview of a Lifetime

Image the resurrection of Lazarus happened today. What is the first thing people would have asked Lazarus? Lazarus was dead for four days—a whole day longer than our Messiah. Wouldn’t people want to know what death was like? If he was immediately judged and sent to paradise or torment, would he not have stories of that whole process? Surely someone would have captured the ramblings of a man who had died and come back. Go to YouTube today and there are plenty of videos claiming to tell what was seen in near death experiences. Yet, we have no record from any of the people resurrected about what life is like after death. Perhaps it is because the dead know nothing. Perhaps, all Lazarus remembered was being ill and falling asleep, then waking up in a tomb.

Luke 23:39-43

And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. 📚 Luke 23:43 KJV

During the crucifixion of Christ, there were two criminals crucified with Him. One, known as the Thief on the Cross, repented and was promised paradise right before they all died. This is one of the passages used as a proof text for the ideology that we go straight to heaven upon death. In the KJV it is clear that Jesus is telling the man that he will be in paradise with Him that day.

There are two problems with this, as straightforward as it might seem.

  1. There are no commas in the original text, and the exact order of the words in Greek is different.[7] Jesus’ statement is much closer to “Verily I say unto thee today with me shalt thou be in paradise.” This could have been translated (I’m going to use modern English): “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.”
  2. Jesus didn’t go to Heaven that day; He died. If anything, Messiah was in Sheol during the three days He was dead. We know that He didn’t go to Heaven because He tells Mary Magdalene in John 20:17 that He hasn’t ascended to His Father yet. How could the thief be in paradise with Jesus that day if three days later, Jesus is saying He didn’t ascend yet?

James 2:26

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. 📚 James 2:26 KJV

James 2:26 tells us that the body is dead without a spirit. This goes back to Genesis 2 and Ecclesiastes 12. When the spirit and and body are separated there is death. In the Kingdom, we are promised new bodies; we need the new body to be united with our spirit to be alive. The question is, when do we receive these new bodies? If we receive them right at death then we are no longer dead, but alive and resurrected in our new body. If we are resurrected immediately at death, who is resurrected in the resurrections discussed in Revelation 20?

2 Corinthians 5:8

We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. 📚2 Corinthians 5:8 KJV

The most oft quoted verse in this discussion is 2 Corinthians 5:8. The argument is that when the spirit departs the body at death and returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12), it means the soul is in heaven. Not only that goes back to the question of if your spirt can live or be “alive” without a body, but we should also ask if Paul is discussing death here.

Throughout Paul’s writing he discusses the warring of the flesh and spirit—Romans 8 is a great example. Paul is also the one who tells us we must “die to the flesh daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31 and Romans 8:13). 2 Corinthians 5:6 talks about being “at home” in the body. To be at home is to be comfortable or content. Verse 6 is saying that as long as you are comfortable in your flesh you will be separated from God. So, in verse 8, couldn’t Paul be saying that to be absent from the body is to reject fleshly desires to be in the Spirit, which is to be close to the Lord?

Also, I’d like to point out that the verse does not say to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. In the verse Paul says he would rather be absent from his body and present with the Lord. Even if you interpret “absent from the body” to mean death, Paul is not saying that death is equivalent to being present with God. He would be saying that they would rather die and be present with God (whenever that may be) than to be alive and cut off from God. It could also be read as saying I am willing to die to be with God. Almost all of the early members of the Church chose death to maintain their faith so that they could reap everlasting life.

Revelation 14:13

And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. 📚 Revelation 14:13 KJV

I’m including this verse, not be cause it settles the debate of the state of the dead but because it brings up more questions. This verse separate God’s people into two groups, those who died before the voice spoke and those who died after the voice spoke. Those who die after these words are spoke are given rest and their works follow them. Considering Daniel was also given rest back in Daniel 12, this seems odd.

If you read the verse in context, you’ll see the proclamation follows the condemnation of the wicked. It almost reads like those who die in the Lord after the Mark of the Beast is issued… If that is the case then it must be talking about the martyrs during the end time who have a special place in Heaven (like the 144,000).

Revelation 20

Finally, I want to talk about Revelation 20. This chapter discusses the fate of all people, specifically outlining two resurrections. The first is discussed in Revelation 20:4-6 and the second is discussed in 20:11-15.

The First Resurrection

The first resurrections includes “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 upon their foreheads, or in their hands.” These are the people who reign with Messiah for a 1000 years before the final battle. Revelation 20:6 says these are the people that death has no power over; they will not experience the second death. Thus, we can conclude they receive everlasting life.

The Second Resurrection

Revelation 20:11-15 discusses a second resurrection after the 1000 years of peace. Most teach that everyone from this resurrection is cast in to the lake of fire and dies permanently. This would indicate for a fact that all believers are resurrected before this resurrection. However, to me, verse 15 implies that some of the people resurrected have their name in the book of life and are not throw in the lake of fire. If that is the case, I would be inclined to believe the first resurrection is for martyrs (think of them as “super saints”) and the second resurrection is for regular believers who did not experience the same (or any) level of persecution.

Are People Resurrected Before the First Resurrection?

The question is, are there believers who weren’t martyred that are resurrected before the first resurrection? We have the verse in Revelation 14 that tells us there’s a difference between those who die before and after a certain point, but it seems odd that my grandmother who died in her sleep would be taken to Heaven immediately and people like Peter and Paul or the people tortured in the last days would have to wait.

Also, there’s the fact that it’s referred to as the first resurrection. This means this is the first time a resurrection like this occurs. Certainly, Enoch and Elijah were carried up to heaven without dying at all, but that is not a resurrection because they didn’t die. People like Lazarus and those who were raised at the crucifixion (Matthew 27:50-53) went back to their “normal” lives and died eventually. Lazarus is not walking around today proving that Jesus grants immortality because his resurrection was temporary. The first resurrection spoken of in Revelation is the first resurrection like Messiah’s, where those who are resurrected are brought to life for eternity.

2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 📚Revelation 21:2-4 NASB

References and Footnotes

  1. Strong’s G450. ἀνίστημι”. BlueLetterBible.com; visited April 2023
  2. Hell: Judaism”. Encyclopedia Britannica; visited April 2023
  3. Death: Judaism”. Encyclopedia Britannica; visited April 2023
  4. Carol Zaleski. “Purgatory”. Encyclopedia Britannica. April 2, 2023; visited April 2023
  5. Genesis 25:8”. BibleHub; visited April 2023
  6. Strong’s H1478. גָּוַע“. Blue Letter Bible; visited April 2023
  7. Interlinear text for Luke 23”. Blue Letter Bible; visited April 2023
  8. What is Purgatory”. Catholic Answers; visited April 2023
  9. Abraham’s bosom - what is it?Compelling Truth. visited April 2023
  10. Matthew 22:31-32”. Seventh Day Adventist Bible Commentary; visited April 2023
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