About a year ago we moved from the city to the middle of nowhere. We like it better here, but it was a pretty drastic move. Obviously we're not remembering the Lord with the same small group in the city. It's not that we were trying to get away from them or anything, just that we're now too far away to make regular visits. And then Coronavirus hit and changed a whole lot of things quickly.
Around the same time we moved, I'd begun to see that I'd allowed a lot of my views on Scripture to lead me into some problems. I wrote about that in "Best Wine" and "Losing Sight". So I've been doing a lot of thinking and reading, re-examining my ideas, questioning my beliefs, trying to throw away what isn't Scripture, embracing what Scripture actually says.
I've been meditating on 1 Corinthians 15:1–8, which naturally led me to contemplate the Resurrection of Christ, and resurrection more generally. The core belief of Christians is that Christ has risen from the dead. All through Acts, this is the central message of the Apostles. A great deal (if not all) of the teaching of the Epistles stems from this one fact. The Resurrection proves who Christ is, what He has done, and what He will do. It is proof that He is the Son of God (Romans 1:4), that He has been appointed Judge of all men and women (Acts 17:31), and that He will raise us too (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Scripture doesn't speak about "resurrection life", but it does talk about the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10) as something we can personally know. Sadly, we seem to try and turn that into some statement about the power of God in the sense of what God can do. But that's not really what the Epistles are teaching. It's not merely that the Resurrection is a demonstration of what God can do – it is that, but it's much more – it's that we are participators in Christ's Resurrection because God sees us "in Christ." We have died with Him, we have been buried with Him, we are raised with Him, we shall be seen with Him (Colossians 3:1–4).
The Lord spoke about two distinct resurrections: the resurrection to life, and the resurrection to judgment (John 5:29). Revelation 20 talks about the "first resurrection" (Revelation 20:1–5) and the "second death" (Revelation 20:12–15). Those line up very clearly with what the Lord said of two resurrections.
Interestingly, Revelation 20:5 places the two resurrections 1,000 years apart, which might give us some hints about eschatology in Scripture. In one passage they're mentioned closely together (John 5:29), in another we're given more concrete information about their spacing in time. This is worth noting as we read through the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:51–57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 both describe a resurrection when the Lord comes. I don't think this is the same event described in Revelation 20:5, but clearly they're related. The statement in Revelation 20, "this is the first resurrection," appears to me to be clarifying that the resurrection of the martyrs is part of the first resurrection. I don't think it's saying that the first resurrection is solely comprised of those martyrs, but that those martyrs are also included in the first resurrection that began earlier. 1 Corinthians 15:20 leads me to believe that the first resurrection began with the Lord's Resurrection, continues on through the event in 1 Corinthians 15:51–57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, and comes to a close when the martyrs are raised in Revelation 20:1–5. These three are each part of one single resurrection. Those who are part of that resurrection are not to be hurt of the second death.
Scripture teaches that we are raised with Christ already (Colossians 3:1). But we are waiting for the resurrection of the body, described in Romans 8:23 and Philippians 3:20–21. But the epistles put us on the ground of that resurrection as far as our conduct, behavior, and testimony in this world are concerned. We are to live in un-resurrected bodies as though we had already been raised. Because in Christ, our resurrection is an accomplished fact.
But we notice that our destiny is not to be disembodied spirits. We aren't looking forward to going to heaven to live there as spirits forever (2 Corinthians 5:1–4). We are looking forward to our bodies being raised, being changed to be like His. My eternal destiny is to see the Lord with these eyes (Job 19:25–27), to see Him standing on the earth. It's easy to lose sight of this.
This idea anchors our thoughts to reality. We're not to be content with this world as it is. We're not to be content with ourselves as we are. We expect the Son of God to come from Heaven to claim us (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18), to redeem our bodies (Romans 8:23), to change us (1 Corinthians 15:51–57), and to make us like Him (Philippians 3:20–21). And we expect the Son of God to come from Heaven to rule personally, bodily on the earth (Revelation 20:4). And we expect Him to judge all the living and the dead in the last day (Acts 17:31; Revelation 20:11–15).
We expect these things in the real, physical world. We're not talking about some "other", some sort of spiritual reality. We expect the feet of the Son of God to touch the ground in some actual, physical location on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4).
To be clear, I believe these things will happen in three distinct events, separated in time by the others. I don't believe the Son of God will come to claim us and to rule and to judge all at the same time. There are too many distinctions in Scripture between those events for me to think they all happen at once. Certainly the second and third are separated by 1,000 years in Revelation 20, but I'm convinced the first is distinct from the second as well.
But at the end of the day, Resurrection anchors our hopes to this physical reality. That is a profound thought.