A Better Resurrection

In the fourth chapter of Philippians, Paul makes a statement that caused me to have some confusion as a young student of the Word:

I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phil. 3:8-11)

Now I felt that I had an understanding of all these verses except the last one. Why was the Apostle, who had spent decades instructing the Gentile churches about the truth of the free gift of salvation, now seeming to indicate that he was earning a place among the resurrection of the dead? My study of the scriptures had taught me that nothing associated with salvation was earned! In other places Paul seemed to teach that resurrection from the dead was automatically given as part of our salvation, and was in fact the very consummation of that salvation. How could Paul “attain” to something that was part of the free gift of salvation? For years I had no answer to this dilemma.

I have had a fascination with studying the end times in general and the book of Revelation specifically, since my youngest days in the Lord. In fact, I was drawn to bible prophecy by reading the well-known book, The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey before I became a believer. As I matured in the Lord I began to spend a lot of time in the seven letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. It struck me how little attention was paid to these letters by the American Church, despite the powerful reality that they were dictated by the resurrected Christ Himself. I decided that I was going to go with Jesus’ opinions about the Church rather than the templates of men which seemed to emphasize things like growth, facilities, competition for leadership positions, and not losing members. (Interestingly, Jesus does not mention one of these issues in any of His letters.)

In the letters, the Lord gives descriptions of Himself to each church that will empower them to overcome in their specific area of lack. Likewise, He also offers a related reward to them if they will overcome that area of sin. One of the most powerful and intimate rewards is offered to what may be argued to be the worst of the group: the Church at Laodicea. This church was rebuked by Jesus for being lukewarm, rich and self-sufficient in their own eyes, and materialistic. The picture is given of Jesus actually knocking on the door of the church, asking to be allowed entry! To this miserable, naked, poor, blind church Jesus offers a staggering promise if they will overcome: He will grant them to sit with Him in His throne. A similar promise is offered to the overcomers among the members of the church of Thyatira: They will be given power over the nations and will rule them with a rod of iron. The implications of these rewards are staggering, but for our purpose please note that they are only made to those who overcome. In fact, all the rewards offered to all seven churches are only made to overcomers, not to all believers!

As I studied these letters I began to ask, “What about those who do not overcome? Are they saved? What happens to them?” Other than the church at Sardis (which was dead), these rewards do not seem to be related to salvation but rather to positions and participation in the Lord’s glorious Millennial rule of one thousand years that begins at the end of this age. But to “him who has an ear what the Spirit says to the Churches” the conclusion is both alarming and absolute: Fail to overcome and the rewards offered in Revelation 2 and 3 will be withheld. We see this same principle in the parable of the Ten Virgins: Five of them were refused entrance into the wedding, which speaks of Christ’s thousand year rule with His Bride.

I must be blunt here- the Western Church is frightfully ignorant regarding events at the end of this age, and about the true identity of the glorified God-Man who is returning to overthrow the wicked governments of the Earth. The irony is that the first century Jews were looking for such a ruler and consequently did not know their Messiah when he came as a suffering savior. Now at the end of the age, the Western Church is looking for a gentle savior to take them to Heaven and many will be offended when He returns as a conquering King to establish a political kingdom on Earth. This is the clear teaching of Revelation as well as the OT prophets, but most of us are ignorant of this powerful message because we have been taught a watered down version of Christianity with a gentle savior, nice angels, mansions in Heaven, and an easy salvation that teaches all believers will go to the same place at the same time and experience the same things. We subconsciously apply this template when we read the Bible, filtering Truth by what we think we know, and we fail to see what the Bible actually says about the Church at the end of the age.

If we carry the theme of overcoming to Revelation Chapter 20, we can begin to see a very different picture of things. Revelation 19 and 20 provide significant details about how and when many of the New Testament promises are fulfilled.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (Rev. 20:4-5)

Notice verse 5; this statement shook me to the core when I began to realize the implication. The rest of the dead did not experience resurrection until the thousand years were ended. Most of the Church filters that verse through their template and reads it like this: “And all the unbelievers did not come to life until after the thousand years were ended.” Beloved, this verse does not say that! A careful reading of verse 4 reveals two groups who will participate in this resurrection: Those given authority to sit on thrones and judge; and those who lost their lives for their witness for Jesus and for not receiving the mark of the beast. Scripture (spoken by our Lord Himself) identifies those who are found worthy to sit with Him, ruling the nations during the Millennium: those who overcome. Read it again: Overcomers and martyrs are resurrected at this time; the rest of the dead are not. No mention is made about who the rest of the dead are, except that they (for whatever reason) don’t qualify to rule with Jesus during His thousand year kingdom. No verse in the Bible identifies “the rest of the dead” as only the lost; that idea comes mostly from a fundamentalist doctrinal template which is overly simplistic in its eschatology (end time paradigm.)

Rev. 20: 5 further states that this Millennial, wedding feast resurrection is the First Resurrection. Beloved, it doesn’t take a theologian to understand that if there is a first of anything, then their must necessarily be a second! We see the Second Resurrection later in Chapter 20:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20: 11-12, 15)

Why even look into the Book of Life if this is strictly a resurrection of the unsaved wicked? I suggest a staggering conclusion based on what these verses actually say: That a large portion of the Body of Christ will not be resurrected until after the thousand years are finished, but will remain in Heaven until the New Heaven and the New Earth are made and the Father makes His permanent abode with men. (Rev. 21:3-4)

Returning to Paul’s statement in Philippians 3 about attaining to the resurrection of the dead, a study of the Greek reveals that the word for resurrection in verse 11 literally means “out-resurrection” or “first fruits resurrection.” Wow! Now Paul’s statement comes into sobering clarity. Paul tells us that he is striving to know Christ intimately so that if by any means he might qualify for a first-fruits resurrection. That is just jarring to our 21st century, “everybody included” theology. Witness also this verse from the book of Hebrews:

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. (Heb. 11:35)

This verse specifically deals with persecution and martyrdom, the same qualification for inclusion mentioned in Revelation 20. The issue here is the timing of the resurrection. It is much better to experience the Millennial rule of Jesus as He defeats the kings of the Earth and establishes His Kingdom of peace and righteousness! The promise is offered to do just that. Beloved, this is the fulfillment of hundreds of OT prophecies regarding the Son of Man and His centuries-long awaited rule in glory. Most of the focus of scripture is related to this coming Kingdom. We should be living every minute of every day with this awesome reality guiding our lives and fueling our dedication to Him as we strive for 100-fold obedience.

The Father is calling us to give ourselves over to prayer, fasting, and deep study of God’s Word that results in radical love and devotion to Jesus regardless of circumstance. (Rev. 12:11) Is it any wonder that after the second resurrection, we see the Father wiping away tears? (Rev. 21:4) What a grievous loss that many who thought they were qualified by birthright will end up missing the most wonderful “day” in the history of humanity because they did not press in and overcome societal pressure, the dictates of human nature, and the Devil’s lure to live a comfortable life. The Bridegroom will have a spotless pure bride when He returns; one who “has made herself ready!” The comfortable, shallow, non-praying, non-fasting, American Church is not ready for what is about to take place on the Earth.

The Bible presents a wonderful challenge and invitation to be included in the First Resurrection, the “out-resurrection” Paul wrote of. Let us, with the Apostle, strive to know Christ in the fellowship of His suffering, being made conformable to His death, that we might also “if by any means attain” to the out-resurrection of the dead. Beloved, if Paul considered himself to have not yet attained, then how much more should we in this Laodicean age stir ourselves to comprehend what he comprehended, and to strive for what he strove for? Let us press on toward the mark for the prize of this high calling of God in Christ Jesus. We can make it by God’s grace working within us! The greatest reward a Christian can look to awaits those who give Him all in this ageā€¦ it will be more than worth it.

Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:6)