Chapter Eight - Death, Hell and Resurrection



Eschatology is usually divided into two major categories:

  1. personal eschatology (the topic of this chapter); and

  2. general eschatology (the topic of the next two chapters).

Personal eschatology relates to the individual from the time of physical death until he receives his resurrection body. General eschatology covers the sweep of future events from the return of Jesus Christ on to the creation of the new heavens and new earth.

Among evangelical believers there is little disagreement on personal eschatology, because the Scriptures are quite clear on the subject. Various opinions and viewpoints enter in when we discuss the broader end-time events, because a major question arises as to how these biblical passages are to be interpreted - literally or figuratively. My approach in this study is to assume a literal interpretation.



2.1 The Origin of Death (Genesis 1:17; 3:19; Romans 5:12)

Adam's violation of the prohibition to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil incurred physical death ("return to dust"). Apparently spiritual death also occurred, because Adam and Eve lost their former relationship to God (shame, Genesis 3:8-10, 21; separation, Genesis 3:22-24). The curse placed upon the "ground" implies that death entered the natural realm also at this time (Genesis 3:17-18).

2.2 The Uses of the Word "Death"

Basically "death" is a separation of one kind or another. The Bible speaks of it in three ways:

  1. physical death;

  2. present spiritual death; and

  3. ultimate spiritual death (eternal death).

2.2.1 Physical death

Physical death is a separation of the soul / spirit from the body (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Acts 7:59; James 2:26). This, perhaps, is the most common use of the word. There is a severance of the natural relationship between soul and body. The body decays in the grave and returns to dust (Genesis 3:19), and the soul continues on.

Physical death bears a relationship to sin because Adam was not subject to physical death until after the fall. Physical death is a result of man's spiritual death (Romans 5:21; 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:56). It is a judgment (Romans 1:32; 5:16) and a curse. Christ has delivered the believer from the power of death. Scripture records that Christ partook of flesh and blood "that through death He might render powerless him who has the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14f).

Though death is a common enemy, through Christ the believer needs no longer to fear it. Death for the believer is entrance into the presence of Christ. He is absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Death to the believer is "to depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23). The sting of death has been removed (1 Corinthians 15:55-57) and the Christian falls asleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14). In stark contrast to the believer, the unbeliever has no such comforting hope. He faces condemnation and eternal judgment away from the presence of the Lord (John 3:36; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 20:10).

2.2.2 Present spiritual death

Present spiritual death is the separation of unregenerate man from God. This condition is "by nature" (Ephesians 2:3) from birth (Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 2:1). Physical birth gives biological life, but only regeneration brings spiritual life: the ability to know and fellowship with God. Spiritual death is finally conquered, by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ, at the believer's resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:54f; Revelation 20:14).

2.2.3 Ultimate spiritual death

Ultimate spiritual death (also known as eternal death) is the final separation from God of those who die in an unregenerated state. This death is imposed as the "second death" following the judgment at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). But the destiny of the unregenerated man is fixed at the time of his physical death when he enters a place called "hades," there to stay until the second resurrection (Revelation 20:13).



Physical death relates to the physical body; the soul is immortal and as such does not die. The soul is immortal, even after physical death, is confirmed by Scripture. In answer to the Sadducees' question concerning the resurrection, Jesus responded by quoting what God had said to Moses in Exodus 3:6, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Matthew 22:32). He further commented, "God is not the God of the dead but of the living" (v. 32), the point being that if God was the God of Abraham in Moses' day, then Moses was yet alive. The story of Lazarus and the rich man also indicates the immortality of the soul (Luke 16:19-31), as does the mention of souls under the altar (Revelation 6:9f).

But what happens to the soul after death, but before the resurrection? The false views must be evaluated, then the true position presented:

  1. Purgatory;

  2. Soul-sleep;

  3. Annihilationism; and

  4. Conditional immortality.

3.1 Purgatory

In Roman Catholic theology, souls which are completely pure at death are allowed to enter heaven, to enter into presence of God, the beatific vision. Those souls which are not perfectly pure and are in need of cleansing go to a place for purging. This place, called "purgatory," is for the purging away of the guilt of venial sins. It is not a place of probation, but a place of purging or cleansing. Believers there suffer in that they are for a time losing out on the joys of heaven and their souls are being afflicted. Several Scriptures are used in support of this doctrine (Zechariah 9:11; Matthew 12:32; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15).

Against this position are the facts that there is no solid Scriptural support for it and that Christ fully paid our penalty. We cannot add anything to the merits of Christ (Hebrews 1:3). Granted, there are temporal punishments for sin in this life, but Scripture nowhere teaches explicitly or implicitly that these sufferings continue after death. The primary support for purgatory is found in the non-canonical book of 2 Maccabees 12:42-45.

3.2 Soul-sleep

Those who hold this view maintain that after death the soul lapses into a state of sleep or unconscious repose. This is argued in several ways. Scriptural often represents death as sleep (Matthew 9:24; John 11:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:13). Further, some references seem to teach that the dead are unconscious (Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5f, 10; Isaiah 38:18).

But in answer to these objections, first, sleep is used of a believer. It is a euphemistic expression taken from the similarity in appearance between a dead body and a sleeping person (cf. James 2:26). Further, the Scriptural evidence is that believers who die enjoy a conscious communion with Christ. The verses which suggest the unconscious condition of the soul are viewed from the perspective of the living. From the point of view of the living, the dead have gone to sleep.

3.3 Annihilationism

This teaching relates primarily to the unsaved. According to this doctrine, there is no conscious existence at all for the wicked after dead. Most who hold this position teach that at death the unsaved individual simply ceases to exist. Biblical terms such as death, destruction, and perish are interpreted to mean "deprived of existence" or "reduced to non-existence" (John 3:16; 8:51; Romans 9:22). But, in answer to this view, we say that God does not annihilate what He has created. Life is the opposite of death; if death is merely cessation of being, then life is just prolonged existence. But eternal life is a quality of life, not merely quantity. Further, death and destruction is punishment; it is hard to see how annihilation could be termed punishment. Scripture is clear that the unsaved will continue to exist forever (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Matthew 25:46; Romans 2:5-10; Revelation 14:11). Again, there are degrees of punishment, and annihilationism does not allow for this (Luke 12:47f; Romans 2:12; Revelation 20:12).

3.4 Conditional Immortality

According to this doctrine, the soul is not created or born with immortality, but receives it upon confession of faith in Christ. It comes as a gift of God. The one who dies without Christ simply ceases to exist because he has not received the gift of immortality. Those who hold this position argue that God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16), and he gives it to those who respond to his call. They further teach that Scripture nowhere speaks of the immortality of the soul. But we answer that this doctrine confuses immortality with eternal life. The eternal life received at Salvation is more than eternal existence; it is rather a quality of life, a richness of life in the presence of Christ. It is true that God alone has inherent immortality; nevertheless, man did receive derived immortality at creation. He is born as an immortal being.

We conclude that at death the believer enters into the presence of Christ. He remains with the Lord in a state of conscious blessedness until the time of the resurrection, at which time he will receive his body of glory. The unbeliever enters into a state of conscious torment until the resurrection, at which time he will be cast into the Lake of Fire. The doctrines of purgatory, soul-sleep, annihilationism and conditional immortality cannot be considered biblical doctrines.



The concept of death, both for believers and unbelievers, is much less clear in the Old Testament. When any attempt is made to describe the post-death condition, the word "sheol" is most often used. In places this word seems to mean "the grave," and a few Old Testament experts are convinced that "grave" is always the best translation. Some Old Testament texts, however, could give the expanded meaning of a place one's spirit goes at death, a place beyond the grave itself. The Jews, up to the time of Christ, thought of it as a place divided into two parts (see Luke 16:19-31):

  1. one part for the just; and

  2. another part, a place of torment, for the unjust.

4.1 Both Just and Unjust Go to "Sheol" (Genesis 37:35)

The Old Testament teaches that there is a life after death. There is no Old Testament distinction between the place believers and unbelievers go. The common destiny seems to be "sheol." The wicked go there (Psalm 9:17; 31:17; 49:14; Isaiah 5:14). Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are said to have gone down alive into sheol (Numbers 16:33). But the righteous also go there (1 Samuel 25:1; 28:3, 11, 13-15; Job 14:13; 17:16; Psalm 6:5; 16:10; 88:3). Jacob looked forward to going to his son Joseph in sheol (Genesis 37:35; cf. 42:38; 44:29). Hezekiah looked upon death as an entering "the gates of sheol" (Isaiah 38:10).

4.2 The Just Will Not Remain Forever in "Sheol" (Psalm 16:10)

David writes, "Thou wilt not abandon my soul to sheol." The wicked, however, are "appointed for sheol," while "the upright shall rule over them in the morning" ("morning" is probably figurative for resurrection).

4.3 Conscious Existence After Death

Isaiah 14:9-11, 15-17 definitely teaches that it is a conscious existence after death. And that which is hinted at in the Old Testament is clearly taught in the New Testament. Jesus taught it in Matthew 22:31f and in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

4.4 The Place Where Believers Are Sent After Death Is Described As "Abraham's Bosom" Or "Paradise" (Luke 16:19-31)

In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom, comforted; the rich man was in agony (Luke 16:19-31). From this we gather that the unsaved individual is also in a temporary state undergoing conscious torment, while awaiting the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). Jesus' story of Lazarus and the rich man in this chapter of Luke has been called a parable, but this author at least is inclined to think of it as a true story. If so, it represents an advance over Old Testament teaching on "sheol" and reveals the details of death before Christ Himself was resurrected.

Two views prevail as to how to relate this picture to the New Testament, which teaches that paradise is in heaven and hades elsewhere. Paradise is a word of Persian origin signifying "a royal park or garden." Crucial to the interpretation is the meaning of the words, "a great chasm fixed" (Luke 16:26). The two views are as follows:

  1. One view sees the two as "compartments" of sheol, both located in the same general place. When Jesus ascended to heaven, paradise was moved to heaven. I prefer this view.

  2. The other view is that the "great chasm fixed" is simply a description of the distance that always existed between hades and paradise (which has always been in heaven), a fact not revealed in the Old Testament.

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Both views recognize the fact that the Hebrew term "sheol" is translated into "hades" in the Greek Old Testament.

In the case of the Old Testament saint, the debated question is where did his soul (spirit or immaterial nature) go at the time of death? Was he taken immediately into the presence of the Lord, or did he go to the saved compartment of sheol/hades from where he was taken into heaven when Christ descended into hades between His death and resurrection?

4.4.1 After the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paradise was moved to Heaven

According to Harry Buis, the two-compartment theory was a development of the inter-testamental period. "The main development of the doctrine of eternal punishment in this period comes from the fact that sheol is now divided into two compartments (Harry Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1957, p.18):

  1. one for the good, called paradise; and

  2. the other for the evil, called gehenna.

Before the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, both the wicked and the righteous are represented as going down to hades. The rich man, we are told, went to hades, and he and Lazarus were within speaking distance of each other in that region "a great chasm fixed" (Luke 16:19-31). Jesus Himself went down to hades (Acts 2:27, 31). Christ now has the keys of death and hades (Revelation 1:18), and some day both of these will deliver up the dead in them (Revelation 20:13f).

After the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ there seems to have come a change. From that time on, believers are represented as going into the presence of Christ at death. It is possible that when Christ arose, He took with Him not only a first-fruit of men whom He raised bodily (Matthew 27:52f), but also the souls of all the righteous in hades (Ephesians 4:8-9; Psalm 68:18; 1 Peter 3:18-19). Now all believers go into Christ's presence at death, while unbelievers continue to go to hades, as in Old Testament times (Herman A. Hoyt, The End Times, Moody, 1969, p.45).

Several passages are cited in favor of this viewpoint:

  1. Paul wrote that Christ descended in to the lower parts of the earth. Some understand this to mean that our Lord descended into hades between His death and resurrection to take those in the "saved compartment" of hades into heaven (Ephesians 4:8-9).

  2. In the account of the rich man and Lazarus which supposedly shows that both men went to hades, the rich man to punishment in one compartment of hades and Lazarus to bliss in the other compartment which is labeled "Abraham's bosom" in the story (Luke 16:19-31).

  3. Peter wrote that Christ descended into sheol/hades. While there between His death and resurrection He announced His victory over sin and removed those in the paradise compartment to heaven (1 Peter 3:18-19).

  4. The view helps to explain why "the spirit of a divine being (i.e. Samuel) coming up out of the earth instead of descending down from the heaven (1 Samuel 28:13). Hoping to obtain divine direction in a battle against the Philistines, Saul inquires of the Lord but receives no message. He then makes a trip to Endor, disguised and under the cover of darkness, to seek direction from a woman with a "familiar spirit." Saul asks the woman to call up Samuel from the dead. Samuel immediately appears, which creates a problem concerning the power of the spirit medium. Several facts must be noted. It is obvious that the situation was not in the hands of the spirit medium. She was terrified when she saw Samuel (1 Samuel 28:12), so it is evident that it was not her power that called him from the dead. This leaves two possibilities. (a) It was either a demon spirit impersonating Samuel, or (b) God actually allowed Samuel to appear at this point. The latter suggestion is the better of the two. The text actually states it was Samuel who was speaking (1 Samuel 28:14-15). The fact that Samuel's message of judgment came true would further substantiate this. Thus, as soon as Samuel is called up he speaks directly with Saul. Saul is overcome with exhaustion and falls prostrate on the ground.  

4.4.2 Old Testament saint at death went immediately to heaven and into the presence of the Lord (Alternative view)

Some Bible scholars believe that the Old Testament saint at death went immediately to heaven and into the presence of the Lord. Several passages are cited in favor of this viewpoint:

  1. The repentant thief was promised he would be in paradise the day of his death (Luke 23:43), and paradise was the presence of the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:4). However, it is possible that the repentant thief may go together with the Lord Jesus down to the paradise portion of the hades (i.e. immediately into the presence of the Lord) and then ascend to the heaven later.

  2. At Christ's transfiguration Moses and Elijah appeared in His presence talking with Him (Matthew 17:1-3). Are we to understand that this conversation between Christ, Moses, and Elijah took place in the upper compartment of hades where Moses at least would have been until after the death of Christ? Are we to understand then that the transfiguration of Christ took place in paradise-hades? Are we to understand that Elijah was taken at his translation to sheol/hades and not heaven? However, it is possible that God actually allowed Moses to appear at this point (i.e. the situation is similar to call up Samuel from the dead). In case of Elijah, we understand that he went up by a whirlwind to heaven (2 King 2:11), that is to say, he was not a dead man, therefore it should be considered as an exceptional case.

  3. Alternative interpretation of Ephesians 4:8-9. The phrase "of the earth" may be an appositional phrase, meaning that Christ descended (at His Incarnation) into the lower parts (of the universe), namely the earth.

  4. Alternative interpretation of Luke 16:19-31. Does it teach two compartments in hades? Not really, for Abraham's bosom is not said to be in hades but rather "far away" from it (see Luke 16:23). Abraham's bosom is a figurative phrase for paradise, or the presence of God. It was paradise promised to the repentant thief by the Lord Jesus (Luke 23:43), not a blissful compartment of hades.

  5. Alternative interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-19. The verses mean that the preincarnate Christ preached through Noah to those who, because they rejected that preaching, are now spirits in prison.

I would like to draw the attention of my readers to think carefully in this matter and make their own judgment.   



The word hades occurs ten times in the New Testament (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13f). The hope of the believer is vastly different than the prospect of the unbeliever who is sent to hades (not hell), a place of torment according to Luke 16:19-31. The believer is immediately united with Christ (2 Corinthians 5) in a place known as paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4) and the "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).

From 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, we learn the following significant facts about this "intermediate" condition that the believer experiences following physical death and preceding the resurrection of the body:

  1. It is a state preferable to our present life;

  2. It is a state without a body; and

  3. It is a state of conscious joy with the Lord.

5.1 It is A State Preferable to Our Present Life (2 Corinthians 5:2-5)

Paul says that we now "groan, being burdened," due undoubtedly to life's stresses and physical maladies and limitations. To be with Christ, he says in Philippians 1:23, "is very much better," and that he "prefer[s] rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).

5.2 It is A State Without A Body (2 Corinthians 5:3-8)

An "eternal" body will be given to believers at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:52), but during the interim (after death but before the time of the resurrection of the body) believers who have died will be in a disembodied state.

5.3 It is A State of Conscious Joy with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8-9)

The believer is with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; Luke 23:43). Not only is the believer with the Lord and in heaven, but he is in fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 12:23). Believers are alive, conscious and happy (Luke 16:19-31; Revelation 14:13). A careful study of 2 Corinthians 5:1-9 suggests that the believer prefers to be raptured and translated rather than to die and enter into the intermediate state. He would rather be clothed with the resurrection body than to be unclothed. But the unclothed state is to be preferred over the present physical state, for even if unclothed, the believer is present with the Lord.

To be "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8) is "pleasing" to Him (2 Corinthians 5:9). It is difficult to think of an unconscious "sleep" as being preferable to life on earth, so it would seem that in our disembodied, incomplete condition, we will be aware of being "with the Lord" and enjoying the experience. This belief is contrary to the concepts of "soul-sleep" and "purgatory."



The death of the unbeliever leaves his spirit / soul in hades. Luke 16:23-24 seems to teach that those in hades have some kind of body ("eyes," "tongue"), but these may actually be anthropomorphic expressions (like the "eyes" or "hands" of God) to convey impressions. "Hell" (Greek gehenna) is the final and eternal place of suffering, not to be confused with the location of the intermediate state of the lost (Mark 9:47).



The idea of eternal, conscious punishment is not a pleasant thought, but it is nevertheless taught by the Bible, especially Jesus. I suppose that anyone's difficulty in accepting such a concept stems from an incomplete concept of God.

Not only is God loving and good, but He is wrathful toward men who persist in sin and reject the provision He has lovingly made in Jesus Christ. What we often fail to realize is that the justice of God must be satisfied. God's love does not negate His other attributes, such as his justice and wrath toward sin. The Scriptures clearly told us that the lost will be punished in the "hell." What is the meaning of "hell"?

7.1 The Name "Gehenna" (Hell)

Jesus Himself uses the word "gehenna" to refer to eternal punishment (Mark 9:47), and associates eternal punishment with "fire" (Matthew 25:41). The name itself was connected with the city dump in the valley of Hinnom outside the city of Jerusalem (see Jeremiah 7:31-34). It was a place always burning with fire, rubbish and dead bodies.

7.2 The Name "Lake of Fire"

"Lake of fire" is the term which the apostle John uses in Revelation 19, 20 and 21 for the final destiny of the lost. It is a place where all the dead from hades are resurrected for judgment and finally cast following the judgment of the Great White Throne.

7.3 Conclusion

It seems safe to infer that "gehenna" (hell) and the lake of fire are one and the same place. It is a place of eternal, conscious suffering, an idea clearly stated in the words of Mark 9:48, "where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (cf. Isaiah 66:24). It is also implied by a comparison of Revelation 19:20 (where the Beast and False Prophet are consigned at the Lord's return before the Millennium) and Revelation 20:10 (where the same two are mentioned as still existing following the Millennium when Satan is also consigned to the lake of fire).



From the earliest dawn of history men have been asking the question, "If a man dies, will he live again?" (Job 14:14). There have always been those who have denied the resurrection (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8; 1 Corinthians 15:12). It is, therefore, important that we search the Scriptures in order to ascertain just what they do teach on the subject.

8.1 The Certainty of the Resurrection

Whether as a matter of hope or of fear and dread, man has generally felt that there is a life after death:

  1. the early Egyptians reveal this belief in their care of the dead;

  2. the Babylonians in their dread of it as a sad and doleful existence;

  3. Socrates held that life continued after death;

  4. the American Indians looked for a future hunting ground;

  5. Brahmanism, Hinduism, Buddism, Confucianism, and Mohammedanism

all hold that man continues to exist after death. Whence this universal belief? Is this fundamental premonition of human nature a lie? We would like to know whether that existence is conscious and whether there will be a resurrection of the body as well.

8.2 Existence After Death

Science, with its belief in the indestructibility of matter and the conservation of energy, cannot say that the Christian belief is unreasonable; and and philosophy, with its recognition of the inequities of life, cannot well avoid postulating a life after death, when the wrongs of this life will be righted. This possibility and necessity is converted into certainty in Scriptures. According to the Scriptures, both the saved and the lost will be resurrected (John 5:29; Daniel 12:2). Several key passages contribute to the overall biblical doctrine of resurrection.

8.3 The Old Testament Teaching As to the Bodily Resurrection

The Old Testament records the bodily raising of at least three persons:

  1. the widow's son (1 Kings 17:21f);

  2. the Shunammite's son (2 Kings 4:32-36); and

  3. the man who revived when he touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21).

From this time on, Israel had proof of the possibility of a bodily resurrection. But the belief in such a resurrection goes back further than that. Abraham expected that God would raise Isaac from the dead on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22:5; Hebrews 11:19). Other Old Testament Scriptures:

  1. The Psalmist was confident that he would not be left in ":sheol" (Psalm 16:10; cf. 17:15).

  2. Further, we note Isaiah's expectation of a bodily resurrection (Isaiah 26:19).

  3. The Lord's promise in Hosea (13:14), and his promise in Daniel (12:1-3, 13).

This teaching begins at the time of Abraham and continues to the time of the return from Babylon. It is clear that the doctrine was taught and believed during that period.

8.4 The New Testament Teaching As to the Bodily Resurrection

The New Testament records the raising of five persons:

  1. Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9:24f);

  2. the young man of Nain (Luke 7:14f);

  3. Lazarus (John 11:43f);

  4. Dorcas (Acts 9:40f); and

  5. Eutychus (Acts 20:9-12).

In addition, we read of the raising of many saints after the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 27:52f). As to the teaching of a future resurrection, Christ taught it (John 5:28f; 6:39f, 44, 54; Luke 14:14; 20:35f) and the apostles taught it (Acts 24:15; 1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 3:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16; Revelation 20:4-6, 12f). And finally, the resurrection of Christ is the guarantee of our own bodily resurrection (Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22; 2 Corinthians 4:14). He "abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). There is, therefore, abundant evidence that the New Testament teaches a bodily resurrection.

8.5 The Fact of the Bodily Resurrection

In at least four ways the Scriptures indicate that the body is to be raised:

  1. In clear statements to that effect (Psalm 16:9f; Daniel 12:2; John 5:28f). Paul writes of the burial and resurrection of the body, "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:44). A natural body is that body which consists of flesh and blood; needs food, air, and rest; and is subject to decay and pain. It is the body which is adapted to existence on this planet. The spiritual body is the body which is adapted to heavenly existence, a powerful, glorious body. It is a body like the resurrected body of our Lord. Paul states, further, that Christ will transform "the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory" (Philippians 3:21).

  2. In the declaration that the body is included in our redemption (Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 19f). When Christ died for us, he died for the whole man. The full benefits of his atonement are not realized until the body has been made immortal, an event which will take place at the resurrection.

  3. In the kind of body with which Christ was raised. He was raised in a physical body (Luke 24:39; John 20:27). To deny the physical resurrection is to deny the physical resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:13).

  4. In the literalness of the Lord's return and the judgments. The Lord Jesus Christ will return to judge not disembodied spirits, but embodied men (1 Thessalonians 4:16f; Revelation 20:11-13).

8.6 The Nature of the Resurrection Body

In general the resurrection body will sustain a similar relation to the present body as the wheat in the stalk sustains to the wheat in the ground out of which it grew (1 Corinthians 15:37f). An adult has the same body with which he was born, though it has undergone continual change and does not contain the same cells with which it was born. So the resurrection body will be the same body, though its make-up will be changed.

8.6.1 The bodies of believers

For the saved (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). The resurrection body is an entirely different, eternal body adapted to the heavenly sphere. Yet this body has a relationship to the present body, at least in terms of identification. Several Scriptures state that the resurrection body of believers will be like Christ's glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:49; Philippians 3:21; 1 John 3:2). Some details may be mentioned from 1 Corinthians 15:

  1. It will be a real body, for it could be touched (John 20:27) and is capable of speaking (Luke 24:17-32).

  2. It will not need food for sustenance, though being capable of eating on occasion (Luke 24:30; John 21:12-15).

  3. It will not be composed of flesh and blood (1 Corinthians 15:50f). Christ took on him flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14), but after His resurrection He speaks of His body as composed of flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Thus, He was not pure spirit, and neither shall we be pure spirit at the resurrection.

  4. It will neither marry nor is given in marriage (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35).

  5. It will be incorruptible, or imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42, 53f). It is not subject to sickness, death or decay.

  6. It will be a heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). In 2 Corinthians 5:1f, Paul speaks of a "building from God" and "our dwelling from heaven." It will be heavenly as contrasted with the present, which is earthly.

  7. It will be a glorious body (1 Corinthians 15:43). We may get some idea of what that means by thinking of the transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:2), and of the description of the glorified Christ in heaven (Revelation 1:13-16).

  8. It will not be limited by either ordinary physical matter or natural laws. In that body, Christ could enter a room when the door was shut (John 20:19, 26); vanish from sight while talking with others (Luke 24:30, 31); remain unknown to others until special perception was granted (Luke 24:15, 16, 31; John 20:15, 16); appear at will and to defy gravity for upward movement from the earth to the heaven (Acts 1:9).

  9. It will be powerful (1 Corinthians 15:43). It will not become weary, but will be able to perform mighty feats in the service of Christ (Revelation 22:3-5).

  10. It will be a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44). It is meant that its life is that of the spirit.

8.6.2 The bodies of unbelievers

For the unsaved (Revelation 20:5-15). Though coming back to life after death for the unsaved is called a "resurrection" (John 5:29), it is described as the "second death" (Revelation 20:6). The Scriptures have less to say about the resurrection of the unsaved than about the saved. Scriptures states that:

  1. Jesus declared that the hour is coming when all that are in the tombs shall come forth, some unto the resurrection of life and some to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28f).

  2. Paul declared that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and wicked (Acts 24:15). Daniel 12:2 indicated that many who sleep in the dust will awake "to disgrace and everlasting contempt."

  3. Unbelievers are given some sort of body in order to "stand" before the Great White Throne and then be "cast" into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:5-15).

Curiosity would indeed pry into the nature of this resurrection body, but the silence of Scripture on this point indicates that we should be content with such things as have been revealed, and leave the question where Scripture leaves it - unanswered.

8.7 The Resurrection / Translation of the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52-54)

A translation of living believers of this age (called "rapture") takes places at the time of the resurrection of the church, although the raising of the dead in Christ just precedes the translation followed by a meeting in the air. In any case, new, eternal bodies are given to both classes of believers ("all shall be changed," 1 Corinthians 15:51). The Old Testament saints and those tribulation saints killed during the tribulation period will be raised at the moment of Christ's coming to earth (Daniel 12:1f; Revelation 20:4). Thus, the first resurrection will be completed.

8.8 The Time-Span Between the Two Resurrections (Revelation 20:4-6)

Revelation 20:4-6, if interpreted literally as a span of time following the return of Christ to earth, uniquely informs us of the fact that a millennium intervenes between the resurrection of the just and that of the unjust. In other words, the second resurrection will take place a thousand years later (Revelation 20:5, 11-13). It seems as if God is as longsuffering as possible with the unsaved dead. They are in torments in the intermediate state (hades), but they are not in the final place of punishment as yet. Thus, the goodness of God puts off the day of final reckoning until after the millennium. But though it tarry, it will surely come. The unsaved might well wish to remain disembodied, but their wishes will have nothing to do with the facts. They too will come forth in their bodies and will suffer the eternal punishment of God in their bodies.

The location of hades, hell and paradise and the time-span between the two resurrections are illustrated in the following picture (Clarence Larkin, The Second Coming of Christ, Rev. Clarence Larkin Estate, 1918):

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The early church was keenly interested in the doctrine of the return of Christ. The apostles had held out the possibility of his returning in their day, and the next generations kept alive the blessed hope as something that was imminent. Not until the third century was there any great exception to this rule, but from the time of Constantine onward, this truth began to be rejected. It is only during the last 100 years or so that this doctrine has been revived in the church. Nowadays, there is a growing and healthy interest in this biblical truth. While devout Christians say, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20), unbelievers and scoffers continue to say, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation" (2 Peter 3:4). The unbelief of the scoffer does not reduce the importance of this doctrine; rather, many things indicate its importance.

9.1 Its Prominence in the Scriptures

Throughout the Scriptures there is a prominent place given to the second coming of Christ. Though the first and second advents are often so closely merged in the Old Testament prophecies as to make it difficult to bring forward a specific promise that deals with the second coming alone, there are some references that clearly do so (Job 19:25f; Daniel 7:13f; Zechariah 14:4; Malachi 3:1f). The New Testament mentions this doctrine more than three hundred times. Whole chapters are devoted to the subject (Matthew 24, 25; Mark 13; Luke 21; cf. 1 Corinthians 15). Some books are practically given over to this subject (1 and 2 Thessalonians; Revelation). It ranks with other major doctrines in emphasis.

9.2 It is a Key to the Scriptures

The recognition of the fundamental character of the doctrine of the Lord's return is a key to the Scriptures. Many biblical doctrines, ordinances, promises, and types cannot be fully understood except in the light of the doctrine of the Lord's return. Consider the following biblical doctrines:

  1. Christ is prophet, priest, and king, but no one can properly understand his kingly office apart from the recognition of the truth of his second coming.

  2. Salvation is represented as past, present and future, but no adequate view of the future aspect can be held apart from a belief in the Lord's return.

  3. John's teaching concerning two resurrections (Revelation 20:4-15) presents a conundrum apart from this doctrine.

  4. The Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89:3f) remains inexplicable to one who rejects the truth of Christ's return.

  5. The prophecy concerning the restoration of nature and the animal world (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25; Romans 8:20-22) becomes absurd if interpreted apart from a reference to the second advent.

  6. The prediction of the bruising of Satan's head (Genesis 3:15) loses its real point if it is not associated with the return of Christ.

Many types of Scripture lose their most attractive features if they are not viewed in the light of Christ's return:

  1. Enoch's ministry and translation is one of these (Genesis 5:22-24; Hebrews 11:5; Jude 14).

  2. The story of Noah drops down to the level of mere historical fact if it has no typical meaning, as does the high priest's blessing of the people on the day of atonement (Hebrews 9:28).

The same thing is true of many of the promises of Scripture:

  1. The Lord's coming is a key to many of the Psalms (Psalm 2; 22; 45; 72; 89; 110).

  2. Peter declares that all the holy prophets speak of the times of restoration and the coming of Christ (Acts 3:19-24).

  3. There are many definite promises of his return in the New Testament (Matthew 16:27; John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Hebrews 10:37; James 5:8; Revelation 1:7; 22:12, 20).

In these, the Christian is challenged to be ready for His return, comforted by the fact of His return, admonished to console the bereaved by the truth of His return, asked to bear oppression in the light of His return, exhorted to retain confidence because shortly He will return, and assured that His return will bring blessings and rewards to all who look for him. Surely, some of the most precious incentives to godliness are lost by rejecting the truth of the Lord's return.

The same thing is true of the ordinances; they lose their full meaning for the one who rejects the truth of the Lord's return:

  1. Baptism implies resurrection with Christ to newness of life, and this new life in Christ Jesus will be made manifest when He who is our life shall appear in glory (Colossians 3:1-4).

  2. So also the Lord's Supper has a bearing upon the second advent. Paul say, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). And Jesus said, "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:29).

9.3 It is the Hope of the Church

The Lord's coming is set before us as the great hope of the church. Neither death nor the conversion of the world is the hope of the believer, but according to the Scriptures, the Lord's return is. Paul said, "I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" (Acts 23:6; cf. 26:6-8; Romans 8:23-25; 1 Corinthians15:19; Galatians 5:5) and "Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13). Peter wrote, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3; cf. 2 Peter 3:9-13). And John said, "Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2f).

9.4 It is the Incentive to Biblical Christianity

The coming of Christ is the great incentive to biblical Christianity. A sincere belief in this doctrine has had much to do with orthodoxy, for those who have entertained this hope most heartily and intelligently have never denied the deity of Christ, nor questioned the authority of the Bible, nor declined from the faith that was once delivered to the saints. But this is not all. The acceptance of this truth also induces self-purification (Matthew 25:6f; 2 Peter 3:11; 1 John 3:3); it inspires watchfulness and perseverance (Matthew 24:44; Mark 13:35f; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 John 2:28); it challenges the backslider to return (Romans 13:11f); it constitutes a warning to the ungodly (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10); and it is a stay in adversity and bereavement (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 5:11; 2 Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 10:35-39; James 5:7). It is clear that the blessed hope was the incentive to apostolic Christianity. The men who had heard Jesus say that he would come again, could not be again seduced by the allurements of this world. They longed for His coming, lived for it, sought to lead others to Him and to the hope of His return.

9.5 It Has a Marked Effect on Christian Service

The Scriptures furnish in the promises and prospects of His return the greatest stimulus to service (Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 19:13; 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10f). In them is disclosed to us the divine purpose and program of service (Acts 1:8; 15:13-18; Romans 11:22-32). And then, this truth itself constitutes the basis of the most effective appeals for the acceptance of Christ and for the consecration of life to God. Paul certainly so used it (Romans 13:11f; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). Thus, we conclude that the second coming of Christ is a most important doctrine.



  1. Lectures in Systematic Theology, Chapters XXXIX and XLIV, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1992 Edition, by Henry C. Thiessen.

  2. Systematic Theology, pp. 668-694, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1941 Edition, by Louis Berkhof.


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