Resurrection

In this article, I want to explore the doctrine that at least believers will be subject to resurrection. This is obviously a central and profound belief held by virtually all Christians. The fact is that it is impossible to separate resurrection from judgement. I will return to judgement as a subject in a later article.

As an edit to this, I am going to add a little disclaimer at the start of the article because, I suspect some will struggle with what I have to say here.

Disclaimer

Without a doubt, dealing with resurrection and the sequence of events after death is a complex question. Quite simply, the scriptures dealing with the afterlife are either relatively obscure or simply limited. We are dealing principally with 1 Cor 15 or 1 Thess 4.

The concept of “Soul Sleep” is a pretty seductive one. Wikipedia is as good a place to start as any in getting to grips with the doctrine.

The issue is the logical one of determining what happens to us between the moment of death and resurrection and judgement. We can’t all be waiting in some kind of limbo whilst we await judgement. There are many attempts to explain it. Add in the complexity of annihilation doctrine and it gets even more complex. How does one stay in, say heaven only to be later judged unworthy and be annihilated.

Judgement must follow resurrection, not precede it, so how do we deal with this? For now, I propose a possible solution. It involves a fair amount of philosophy around the nature of Heaven and time!

You have been warned!

Physical Resurrection

The traditional Christian belief holds that, at the end of time, there will be a physical resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. This means that the bodies of those who have died will be raised from the dead and transformed into imperishable, glorified bodies.

There are a number of key scriptures used to support this belief. For example Paul writes in 1 Cor 15:42-44 where the perishable body is raised imperishable and in glory and power with spiritual attributes. Jesus Christ is referred to as the first fruits of the resurrection in 1 Cor 15:20 implying that His resurrection precedes the resurrection of the believers. Paul further covers the mechanism by which the resurrection occurs, where the return of Jesus to the earth and His word of command will raise those who are dead in Christ in 1 Thess 4:16.

The Hope of the Resurrection

The hope of resurrection though central to our faith as Christians is not actually covered in great detail in Scripture. The primary chapters that focus on this faith are in 1 Thess 4 and 1 Cor 15. Jesus addresses it in John 11:25-26 referring to himself as “the Resurrection and the Life”. He also explains how we as believers access life by believing in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

In John 5, Jesus is speaking of resurrection and judgement to the Jewish leaders. He says, “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation.” (vv28-29).

This is a vital passage, because Jesus speaks very clearly about a future resurrection and the dual outcomes of that resurrection. For some, this resurrection will be to Life and for some this resurrection will be to condemnation.

Judgement

The theme of Judgement is a pretty significant undertaking to address here. Bear in mind that in this article, we have addressed the concept of annihilation being the only outcome that makes sense for the wicked, but John 5, on its surface seems to contradict this.

I believe one can reasonably argue that the idea of the wicked facing condemnation after resurrection in John 5 doesn’t actually contradict our prior discussion. The wicked can face condemnation leading to annihilation.

There is clearly a logical issue with aligning annihilationalism with the soul’s immediate transition to heaven. How can one be in heaven without judgement? Plainly, not everyone can transition into heaven. The wicked can’t dwell there whilst awaiting judgement and eventual condemnation. That would be a nonsense.

The Soul

What is the state of the soul whilst we await resurrection and judgement? (I know I haven’t dealt with the issue of souls as opposed to bodies – that will be a subject for a later article) Can it be conscious, awaiting say, resurrection and annihilation? If it is conscious, awaiting annihilation, is that not a form of conscious torment that we argue against in our previous article?

Are then our souls kept in a form of stasis or sleep against the day of judgement?

One of the principal points against the concept of Soul Sleep is the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man and other scriptures that seem to depict conscious existence and awareness after death. In 2 Cor 5:8, Paul affirms a state where one is absent from the body and at home with the Lord. This implies that the soul is instantly transported into Jesus’ presence when the physical body dies.

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus stands out from all of the parables of Jesus (with the possible exception of the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matt 25:1-13) in that it provides a direct description of conscious life after death. All of the other parables describe everyday life, by and large.

Revelation 7:9-17 depicts a great multitude standing before the throne of God in Heaven which seems to indicate the presence of redeemed souls in Heaven. Eph 2:6 seems to reference that we are united with Jesus in the heavenly realms after death.

Reconciling Annihilationalism and Souls in Heaven

For the concept of Annihilationalism to work with the concept of an immortal soul, I think that there are three possible solutions.

One

That both Soul and Body are destroyed at death and await the resurrection of the dead. This is the view held roughly by the Christadelphians and is a variation on the “soul sleep” doctrine. The Christadelphians do not differentiate between the Soul and the Body as such and so, when the body dies, the soul does too and awaits the resurrection. I will be dealing with the immortality of the soul in my next article and this should put this belief to bed.

Two

That the Soul sleeps in the arms of God awaiting its reuniting with the body at the end of time. Soul sleep is a very popular belief in many denominations. It is not strongly supported in scripture. Whilst the bible refers to the dead as “asleep”, the belief framework upon which this rests is about the body lying in the grave rather than what happens to the soul. The transition of the soul into heaven (or hell) appears immediate rather than awaiting the lengthy passage of time.

Three

Something much more complex takes place.

I believe Heaven is beyond time. So, it’s possible that Judgment, happening after resurrection at the end of time, may include souls from different eras. They could be brought for judgment at that final moment. This is a very tricky concept. I deal with it in some detail in this article and also in this one.

Here is a possible sequence of events. We die as a believer. Our souls are taken to heaven and therefore outside of time. We are subject to immediate judgement either to reuniting with our bodies in resurrection or to annihilation. Believers are resurrected. Their souls and bodies reunite. They join the marriage supper of the lamb. This is followed by the joining of Heaven and Earth. It leads to the perfection of Creation.

The remnant who survive the dire period of Armageddon will need to attain perfection in preparation for the second resurrection and the final perfection of the earth. This culminates in the time when God is all and in all.

In this perfected state we dwell with God in Heaven outside of time and therefore immediately and at all times in Heaven.

Summary

This has been an enormously complex and difficult consideration. I have forced myself to stick to bare bones rather than digging deep into the weeds. I think that the issue here is that the bible itself is not totally clear on any of these elements. The Bible is of course, the revealed word of God but does not reveal all.

The third possiblity seems to me to be the only explanation of the conundrum of annihilationalism. Given that none of us yet have experienced timelessness and all of its complexity, I am not even sure I understand all of the permutations of this framework.

Here’s my best shot at a summary:

  1. When we die, our souls enter a realm devoid of time. We undergo an immediate transition to experience resurrection and judgment.
  2. Judgement for the righteous results in immediate perfecting of our bodies
  3. The wicked (as a class – and I need to tidy up my understanding of this) are annihilated upon judgement
  4. Upon resurrection and judgement, we participate in the marriage supper of the lamb. We join Jesus in the work of perfecting creation (implied by 1 Cor 15:28) ready to fulfil God’s Purpose. This presupposes a belief in pre-millennium doctrine. I will be breaking all the doctrines around the millenium down shortly.

I am certainly not going to be dogmatic on this. Bigger minds than mine struggle to articulate all of this.

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