This is the last in a series of excerpts from the new MBC resource, “What Every Christian Should Know About Salvation,” available at mobaptist.org/apologetics.
As we learned in the last column, glorification is the means by which God fully reverses the effects of the Fall, purging sin and its stain from the created order. It involves the return of Jesus, the future resurrection and judgment of all people, and the creation of new heavens and a new earth.
The glory we experience now as Christ lives in us, and the glory we experience in death as our souls / spirits ascend into heaven, are partial works of glorification. But full glorification for followers of Jesus takes place when He calls our bodies from the grave and gives us incorruptible bodies similar to the body He bore when He rose from the dead.
Physical resurrection is the apogee of personal glorification, for in it we shrug off the last vestiges of sin that have clung to our mortal bodies. In glorification, the effects of the Fall are fully and finally reversed.
At the return of Christ, all who have died in the Lord are resurrected. Their souls / spirits, which are in heaven with Jesus, are reunited with their bodies, resulting in complete personal glorification; the body, soul, and spirit are fully conformed to the image of Christ and thus free of any effects of the Fall. Christians alive on the earth at the return of Christ are instantly transformed as they are given glorified bodies; at the same time, their souls / spirits are perfected as well.
Previously: The saints reign – Revelation 20:4
Rev. 20:4b – They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (HCSB)
The first resurrection
John writes, “They [the martyred saints] came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection” (vv. 4b-5). What does John mean by the “first resurrection?” Certainly, if there is a first resurrection, a second resurrection is implied.
Some interpreters take the first resurrection to be spiritual only, as in being “born again” (John 3:3). This allows for a second, physical resurrection of all people, resulting in final judgment. Others suggest that the first resurrection is influential in nature. In other words, the faithfulness of the martyrs encourages believers who come after them to be faithful. But these views stretch the way in which the term “resurrection” is used consistently throughout scripture.
It seems better to see both the first and second resurrections as bodily in nature. John Gill writes, “It does not mean that they lived spiritually, for so they did before, and whilst they bore their testimony to Christ and against Antichrist previous to their death; nor in their successors, for it would not be just and reasonable that they should be beheaded for their witness of Christ and his word, and others should live and reign with Christ in their room and stead. Nor is this to be understood of their living in their souls, for so they live in their separate state; the soul never dies; God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. But the sense is, that they lived again, as in verse 5; they live corporeally; their souls lived in their bodies, their bodies being raised again, and reunited to their souls; their whole persons lived, or the souls of them that were beheaded lived; that is, their bodies lived again, the soul being sometimes put for their body; and this is called the first resurrection in the next verse” (quoted in The Apocalypse, p. 460).
Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times. The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.
Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.
Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.
Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.
There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.
With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.
Today at sundown, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This celebration is more than a secular event, however. It is rooted deeply in Jewish life and worship. One of the seven major Jewish feasts, Rosh Hashanah also is called the Feast of Trumpets, and the ram’s horn, or shofar, plays a prominent role.
Many Jewish Christians, and their Gentile brothers and sisters, see the significance of this feast as pointing to the rapture of the church — the physical removal of Christians from this world to meet the Messiah in the air. Just as the four spring feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost) signified the work of the Messiah in His first coming and priestly ministry, the three autumn feasts (Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles) depict the Messiah’s second coming and kingly reign.
The sounding of the shofar and the resurrection of the dead are connected in the New Testament. Consider these passages:
- 1 Cor. 15:51-52 – “Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will 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 incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
- 1 Thess. 4:16-17 – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive 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.”
In Old Testament times, the reasons for trumpet blasts were well established. It appears their purposes continue in events to come, if indeed Rosh Hashanah foreshadows our resurrection. The reasons for sounding the shofar are:
- To gather an assembly before the Lord (the rapture of the church).
- To sound a battle alarm (God will defeat Satan and his rebellious followers).
- To announce the coronation of a new king (Jesus the Messiah will sit on the throne of David as King of kings and Lord of lords).
Download a free study: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel.
In Revelation 4:1, the apostle John writes, “After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.'”
So, whose voice is like a trumpet?
John hears this voice and recognizes it instantly. It is “[t]he first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet” (v. 1). This is, of course, the voice of Jesus, who spoke to John many times during His earthly ministry. But now, with the sonic fullness of heaven’s atmosphere, John hears the Messiah’s magnified tones and remembers the sound from Rev. 1:10 as Jesus instructs him to write what he sees to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Some time later the Savior tells John, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (v. 1).
Those who hold to a futurist view of Revelation argue that John’s call into heaven is a foreshadowing of the Rapture, which Paul describes as being accompanied by “a shout” from the Lord and “the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16).
There is some connection between the shouts of Jesus and the opening of the graves;
- In John 11, Jesus stands outside the tomb of Lazarus and shouts loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” His friend soon emerges from the grave after being dead nearly four days.
- In Matt. 27:50, just before dying, Jesus shouts with a loud voice and then gives up His spirit. The very next verses record, “Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had gone to their rest were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many” (vv. 51-53).
- And, of course, Paul’s teaching about the future resurrection of the saints in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 features Jesus descending from heaven with a shout, resulting in the resurrection of believers whose bodies rest in the graves.
The sound of the trumpet also is significant. Not only are trumpets used to herald kings, alert armies to prepare for battle, and forewarn God’s people of judgment, but Paul tells us a trumpet will sound when it’s time for the church to be called into heaven: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52b). Some argue that Rosh Hashanah, the feast of the Jewish New Year, prefigures the Rapture of the church – a feast in which shofars, or rams’ horns, play a prominent role.
Whether John’s vision in Revelation 4 is indeed a preview of the Rapture, as futurists contend, or simply a unique invitation from Jesus for the apostle to see inside heaven’s throne room, it is clear that that future resurrection awaits all people, and that Jesus is the one who calls the dead from their graves and into judgment. He said in John 5:28-29: “… a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His (Jesus’) voice and come out — those who have done good things to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.”
One final note: Lest you think Jesus’ words support the false notion of works-based salvation, Jesus is clear on the requirements for eternal life just a few verses earlier: “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). The “good things” and “wicked things” of verse 29 are merely the fruits of a person’s belief, or lack thereof, in Christ.