We teach that God will resurrect everyone who has ever lived according to a set plan. The saints will be resurrected to eternal life at Christ’s return and reign with Him for a thousand years. The rest of the dead will be raised to physical life after the Millennium.
The Bible reveals that God has the power to raise the dead. The first time this occurred, Elijah resurrected the son of a widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24), and then his successor, Elisha, raised the son of the Shunammite woman back to life (2 Kings 4:18-37). Jesus raised several people from the dead during His ministry including Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (John 11:38-44), and Peter resurrected Tabitha in the city of Joppa (Acts 9:36-41).
The Bible also reveals that God will eventually raise everyone from the dead. God gave Daniel detailed predictions about the end of this age and the coming of the kingdom of God. Daniel 12:2-3 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
Jesus also spoke of a future, general resurrection of all humanity. In John 5:28-29, He told the crowds, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
According to Paul, God will resurrect everyone who has died, but He will do so in a particular order. In 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, Paul explained, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
The first general resurrection will occur when Christ returns. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul wrote, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
The first resurrection will only include those who belong to Christ. According to the Bible, this includes the Patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament as well as Christians who have received God’s Holy Spirit (Luke 13:28, Rom. 8:9, 11).
The first resurrection will be a resurrection to eternal life. In 1 Corinthians 15:50-52, Paul said, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”
The first general resurrection will occur at the start of the Millennium. In Revelation 20:4, John described what will happen shortly after the Second Coming, saying, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
The second general resurrection will occur after the Millennium. In Revelation 20:5, John wrote, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended…” The first resurrection will only include the saints, those who belong to Christ; that is a very small faction of humanity. The second resurrection will include everyone else, those who don’t yet belong to Christ; that will be most of humanity.
The second general resurrection will be a resurrection to physical life. In Ezekiel 37, God gave Ezekiel a vision of the second general resurrection. He saw a valley filled with human bones. God reassembled these bones, put flesh on them and brought them back to life. He told Ezekiel that these bones represented the whole house of Israel.
The second general resurrection will be an opportunity for salvation. In Ezekiel 37:13-14, God promised Israel, “And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.” During the second resurrection, people will live in their own country and will come to know the Lord.
Many people have wondered about the fate of those who died without hearing the gospel. They wonder about children who died and never reached the age of accountability. They wonder about people who were mentally ill and couldn’t make an informed, rational choice about personal salvation. Would God cast all these people into hell?
The Bible indicates that God is going to give everyone a chance to hear the gospel and make a choice about salvation. In John 12:32, Jesus promised, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (NLT). He was talking about drawing everyone to Himself in the context of giving them a chance for salvation. Based on these and other passages, it appears that God will fulfill this promise during the second resurrection (cf. Matt. 12:41-42).
So, the Bible teaches that God will resurrect everyone according to a set plan. The saints will be resurrected to eternal life at Christ’s return and reign with Him for a thousand years. The rest of the dead will be raised to physical life after the Millennium.
Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.