The Resurrection of the Dead
The first to experience resurrection to eternal life will be the Church, that assembly of dedicated Christians to the formation of which this Age has been devoted. These are to be the associates of Christ in the evangelical work of the next Age and on this account they must be with Him in the celestial world when that Age commences. Hence the first work of the Lord at the Second Advent, before the Messianic Age is inaugurated, is the raising to conscious life all Christian believers who have been laid aside in death in the past. "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout" says the Apostle "and the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1 Thess.4:16). Lest there should be any misunderstanding as to the nature of this momentous event the same Apostle explains in 1 Cor.15 and in 2 Cor.5 that we must not expect this resurrection to be to human nature upon the earth. The hope of those who aspire to membership of the Church is that they shall be with their Lord in the celestial realm and this implies resurrection in celestial bodies adapted to that realm. John stresses this when he says "It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is". (1 John 3:2). The resurrection of the "dead in Christ", therefore, takes place in heaven and not upon earth: the first conscious perception of those risen ones is of celestial surroundings and not earthly ones and the bodies through which they find expression are celestial and not terrestrial.
The resurrection of the Church thus accomplished, and the work of the Second Advent having progressed to the point where the "kingdoms of this world" have become the kingdom of Christ (Rev.11:15), the Lord Christ having asserted His power and taken control of earth’s affairs, and the Messianic Age initiated, nothing hinders the commencement of the general resurrection of mankind. In the more metaphorical of the Scriptural passages describing the resurrection this is pictured as the raising of the dead to stand before the "great white Throne" and be judged worthy either of everlasting life or irremediable condemnation; what must be realised is that this judgment is a process. Before the final decision is made, the irrevocable judicial decree enunciated, there must first be the bringing of each individual to a clear perception of the issues involved, and an opportunity to choose, untrammelled by the ignorance and misunderstanding which is the lot of virtually all in this present life. That there is definitely such a resurrection is abundantly clear from several sayings of Jesus. "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago...I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you...it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (Matt.11:21‑24). The Day of Judgment is consistently allied with the time that the Son of Man takes his seat upon the throne of His glory and gathers all nations before Him (Matt.25; Rev.20) but Jesus calls this same era the regeneration ("in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory" Matt.19:28 RV) and this word regeneration means the giving of new life. Thus the resurrection is the giving of new life to men with the opportunity to have it merge into everlasting life and this is why Jesus said that of all those who will hear His voice and come forth from the grave in that day, some will rise to a resurrection to life and some to a resurrection to judgment. There are those who make use of this day of judgment to become sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ and those who never do depart from their sin; this is shown in the respective destinies of the "sheep" and "goats" in the picture of the Last Judgment outlined in Matt.25. Similarly in the vision of the Throne in Rev.20 the dead, small and great, stand before God and are judged from the things written in the books; only those found worthy are permitted eventually to enter the Holy City.
Extract from ‘The Resurrection of the Dead’ available free and on request from B.F.U.