Resurrections: Firstfruits, Harvest & Gleanings
- 1 The Resurrections of the Righteous and the Unrighteous
- 2 The Resurrection of the Righteous
- 3 Why is it Called the “First Resurrection”?
- 4 ‘Isn’t this too Complicated?’
- 5 The Second Coming: Jesus’ Return for his Church and his Return to the Earth
- 6 “For it will not be, unless the Departure comes First”
- 7 Distinguishing the Millennium from the New Earth
- 8 God’s Purpose for the Millennium
- 9 The Resurrection of Old Testament Saints from Sheol
To tie everything up and see the bigger picture, we’ll focus on the resurrection of the dead in this chapter. Whether believers know it or not, the resurrection of the dead is one of the six basic doctrines of Christianity, as shown in Hebrews 6:1-2. Unfortunately, it’s rarely taught and so the body of Christ is largely ignorant on the topic. This chapter will help rectify the problem.
As noted in the previous chapter, the Bible speaks of two types of resurrections…
The Resurrections of the Righteous and the Unrighteous
Jesus and Paul plainly declared two basic resurrections:
“for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice (29) and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”
having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, that there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous;
Acts 24:15 (YLT)
As you can see, there will be resurrections of both the righteous and unrighteous. This doesn’t mean, however, that there will only be two resurrections in number, just that there are two types of resurrections: 1. The resurrection of the righteous and 2. the resurrection of the unrighteous. The former is called “first resurrection” in Scripture (Revelation 20:5-6), which makes the latter the second resurrection.
The second resurrection takes place at the time of the Great White Throne Judgment, detailed here:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. (12) 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. (13) The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (14) Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (15) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
This massive judgment concerns every dead soul contained in Hades (Sheol) after the thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth, which means it involves every unredeemed person throughout history. It does not include Old Testament holy people because they had a covenant with the LORD and will be resurrected after the 7-year Tribulation and before the Millennium, which we’ll examine later in this chapter.
The second resurrection is covered thoroughly in Hell Know, so I encourage you to pick up a copy, if you haven’t already. Not only do we examine the nature of the “second death”—i.e. being thrown into the lake of fire (verses 14-15)—we also explore the question of whether or not every person who partakes of this resurrection will automatically be cast into the lake of fire. For instance, what about those who never heard the gospel? What about those who heard the gospel but didn’t understand it for one legitimate reason or another? What about those who rejected it because it was either a flawed, religionized version of the gospel or it came with serious baggage, like imperialism? Every legitimate minister of God’s Word must consider these obvious questions and try to answer them based on what the Bible says and simple common sense. I would be seriously skeptical of anyone who doesn’t do this, particularly those who write off such questions in preference to the official position of whatever group they adhere to, which is an example of rigid sectarianism. Staunch sectarianism actually hinders the truth and, in fact, is a form of legalism, i.e. counterfeit Christianity. Remember, Jesus said it’s the truth that will set us free (John 8:31-32), so anything that hinders the acquisition of truth is not good.
The Resurrection of the Righteous
The first resurrection is the resurrection of the righteous, meaning those in right-standing with God. Again, when Jesus and Paul spoke of two basic resurrections they were talking about types of resurrections and not numbers. While there’s only one resurrection of the unrighteous, the resurrection of the righteous takes place in stages, which correspond to the analogy of a harvest.
In biblical times the harvest took place in three basic stages: 1. the firstfruits, 2. the main harvest, and 3. the gleanings. The harvest began with the firstfruits, which concerned the first fruits and grains to ripen in the season and were offered to the LORD as a sacrifice of thanksgiving (Exodus 23:16,19). Later came the general harvest (Exodus 23:16) and, lastly, the gleanings, which were leftovers for the poor and needy (Leviticus 19:9-10).
Let’s examine the three stages:
1. The Firstfruits. Paul described Jesus as the firstfruits here:
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (21) For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. (22) For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (23) But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
1 Corinthians 15:21-23
Just as the firstfruits of the harvest were a sacrifice to the LORD so Jesus Christ was sacrificed for our sins and raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25); hence, he’s the firstfruits of the resurrection of the righteous.
2. The General Harvest. Verse 23 shows that the main harvest takes place when Jesus returns for the church—his “bride”—which is the Rapture, detailed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. This harvest includes physically-alive believers translated to heaven.
3. The Gleanings refer to the righteous who were not included in the main harvest and are, as such, “leftovers.” This resurrection takes place at the time of Jesus’ return at the end of the Tribulation. Jesus’ return to the earth to establish his millennial reign is separate from the Rapture, which is when the general harvest occurs. Remember, when Jesus comes for his church he doesn’t return to earth, but rather meets believers in the sky (1 Thessalonians 4:17). We’ll address this in a forthcoming section. The gleanings include the resurrection of Old Testament saints—at least a bodily resurrection, but more likely a soulish/bodily resurrection (more on this later)—as well as the bodily resurrection of believers who died during the Tribulation.
The “gleanings” will also include believers who physically die during the Millennium. Some argue that such a resurrection won’t be necessary because, as Isaiah 65:19-25 shows, lifespans will return to the lengthy durations of people before the flood, like Adam and Methuselah. However, this passage doesn’t actually say righteous people won’t die during the Millennium; notice what it says:
Never again will there be in it [Jerusalem] an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.
The passage simply shows that lifespans will be greatly increased, as before the flood; it doesn’t say righteous people won’t die. In fact, it’s implied that blessed people will die by the reference to “an old man who does not live out his years.” Moreover, verse 22 says that God’s people will live as long as trees during the Millennium. Depending on the species, trees can live less than a hundred years or up to a few thousand, but they ultimately die.
Something else to consider: While it’s true that many people lived to be over 900 years old before the flood, it’s still not a thousand years, which is how long the Millennium will last. Also, some people died well short of 900-plus years; for instance, Lamech died at 777.
Someone might argue: How can both the resurrection of the righteous at the beginning of the Millennium and another resurrection at the end be considered “gleanings” since they’re separated by a thousand years? Answer: Because the very word “gleanings” implies more than one gleaning; after all, the poor gleaned the harvested fields more than once in biblical times. Also, Psalm 90:4 shows that a thousand years is like a day to the LORD, so the two gleanings occur only one day apart from his perspective.
Why is it Called the “First Resurrection”?
The resurrection of the righteous is called the “first resurrection” in this passage:
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 about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (5) (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy are those who share 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.
The passage refers specifically to the bodily resurrection of Christian martyrs from the Tribulation, which John calls the “first resurrection.” By calling it the first resurrection is he saying that there were no resurrections before this? No, because Jesus Christ was resurrected at the beginning of the Church Age and believers will be resurrected bodily at the time of the Rapture while living believers will be translated; not to mention the resurrections of Enoch, Elijah and Moses as types, covered in Chapter Nine. Speaking of those three, their resurrections can be considered “taste-testing of the fruit” according to the harvest analogy.
Here’s a diagram that helps visualize the first and second resurrections and the three stages of the first (click image for clarity and enlargement):
By calling the resurrection of the righteous the “first resurrection” John may mean more than just first in order. The Greek word for “first” is prótos (PRO-toss), which also means principle, chief, honorable or most important. How is the resurrection of the righteous the more honorable resurrection? Because it entails the resurrection of people in right-standing with the LORD through covenant and spiritual rebirth (Titus 3:5 & Ephesians 4:22-24). Since this resurrection involves people who are in right-standing with their Creator, i.e. God’s children, it’s the more honorable resurrection and therefore the more important one to the LORD, just as the resurrection of your child would be more important to you than some stranger you never knew.
Someone might argue that all people are God’s children, even atheists. No, all people are creations of God, but only those born-again of the seed (sperm) of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit are children of God (1 John 3:9). Because of the death and resurrection of the Messiah, Old Testament saints who were in covenant with God automatically become spiritually-regenerated at the time of their resurrection.
‘Isn’t this too Complicated?’
Some might argue that the resurrection of the righteous, as mapped out in this chapter, is too complicated. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why the so-called “father of orthodoxy,” Augustine of Hippo, simplified human eschatology by inventing (or, at least, popularizing) the false doctrine of amillennialism. Believe it or not, this erroneous teaching suggests that we’re currently already in both the Millennium and Tribulation; and when believers or unbelievers die their immortal souls either go to heaven forever or suffer never-ending torment in hell. Incredibly, Augustine argued that biblical references to the new Jerusalem, new earth, new heavens and the believer’s new glorified body are all symbolic language for heaven! Talk about adding to and taking away from the Holy Scriptures, a practice repeatedly denounced in the Bible (see Revelation 22:18, Proverbs 30:6 and Deuteronomy 4:2).
NOTE: See Hell Know for more information on Augustine and his false doctrines that corrupted the church, specifically Chapter Seven’s The Augustinian Corruption of Christendom and Chapter Nine’s The Good and Bad of Orthodoxy and Traditionalism.
Getting back to our question: Is the resurrection of the dead too complicated? Think about it like this: When referencing a complex subject to someone who knows little about the topic it’s best to state the facts in the simplest of terms, which is how Jesus and Paul talked about the resurrection of the dead in John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15 (both cited at the beginning of this chapter). Daniel did the same thing in Daniel 12:1-2. All three of these passages detail that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous, which is true, but they don’t go any further than this. As such, we have to look to the rest of Scripture for more details and that’s what we’re doing in this chapter. This is in line with the hermeneutical rule “Scripture interprets Scripture” wherein the more clear and detailed passages offer necessary data that helps interpret the more ambiguous and sketchy ones.
Furthermore, the argument that “this is just too complicated” implies that truth—reality—must always be simple when this simply isn’t the case. Take brain surgery, for example. Is it simple or does it take years of schooling to master? How about computer technology, astronomy, world history, languages or law? How simple is the sewage system of any major city? How about the electrical grid of New York City? I could go on and on.
Yes, the resurrection of the dead is more complicated than what Augustine taught, but it’s certainly not too complicated for the average person to grasp. The above diagram illustrates that it’s actually not that complicated and it’s much less complicated than any of the topics just listed.
As noted at the beginning of this chapter, the resurrection of the dead is one of the six basic doctrines:
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, (2) instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Years ago I did a six-part series on these foundational doctrines, one sermon per each doctrine. A knowledgeable minister could easily do a series of teachings on every one of them. Unbelievably, in most Christian camps the six basic doctrines are almost utterly ignored. And then ministers wonder why many in their congregations act like spiritual babies. It’s because the pastors and teachers aren’t properly feeding them! This, by the way, explains the existence and mission of my ministry, Fountain of Life—to feed the body of Christ the rightly-divided Word of God; and to do this free of the constraints (hindrances, limitations) of rigid sectarianism (Matthew 4:4).
In any case, the writer of Hebrews was lamenting that the people he was addressing needed to be taught these basic doctrines all over again when they should’ve been teachers by this point (Hebrews 6:12). Now, think about it, if the topic of the resurrection of the dead was as simple as Augustine taught—that is, people just go to heaven or hell when they die to spend eternity in either bliss or torment—why would these people need to be taught the subject again? If the subject were that simplistic it’d take just a few minutes to teach and not a whole sermon or series of sermons. Moreover, if it were that simple how could the believers not grasp it the first time around?
Yes, the resurrection of the dead is a complicated subject and this explains why this chapter exists, as well as the previous chapter.
The Second Coming: Jesus’ Return for his Church and his Return to the Earth
I pointed out something in a previous section that should be elaborated on: Most believers don’t realize that there are two phases to the Lord’s Second Coming: 1. Jesus’ return for his Church, known as the Rapture, and 2. Jesus’ return to the earth to establish his millennial kingdom. The former is detailed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and the latter in Revelation 19:11-16. A comparison of these passages and other pertinent Scriptures reveal two separate phases of Jesus’ Second Coming that can be distinguished like so (click image for clarity):
One of the differences on the list is that the Lord’s return for his Church—the Rapture—can happen at any time once the general season of the end is apparent, meaning it’s imminent, whereas many distinct signs precede his return to the earth. These signs include, amongst others: the global cataclysm of the Tribulation period itself (Revelation 6-19), the revealing of the antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8), the two witnesses (Revelation 11:1-12) and the institution of the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17). Generally speaking, once the Tribulation begins—and it will be obvious when it does—you can be sure that Jesus will return to the earth seven years later (which is different than saying you’ll be able to pinpoint the precise moment or day).
However, this isn’t the case with the Lord’s return for his Church because, again, it’s imminent and could happen at any time with zero warning once the general season of his return is at hand, which means now (Matthew 24:3-14). Notice what Jesus said:
(36) “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (37) As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
(42) “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. (43) But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (44) So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Matthew 24:36-37, 42-44
As you can see, we are instructed to “keep watch” and “be ready” because Jesus “will come at an hour when we do not expect him.” Interestingly, the Son doesn’t even know the day or hour, only the Father knows (verse 36). We must be “dressed ready for service” and “keep our lamps burning” (Luke 12:35) precisely because the Lord’s return for his Church is imminent. I should add that, while we don’t know the day or hour, we can know the general season via Jesus’ descriptions and, again, that season is now.
While some claim that the word “Rapture” isn’t biblical, it is. It refers to a phrase used in this passage:
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
1 Thessalonians 4:17
‘Caught up’ in the Greek is harpazó (har-PAD-zoh), which means to “snatch up” or “obtain by robbery.” It’s translated in Latin as “rapio” in the Vulgate, which is where we get the English “Rapture.” With this understanding, when the Bridegroom, Jesus, comes for his bride, the Church, he’s going to obtain us by robbing us off the earth!
We looked at the most prominent support text for the Rapture last chapter—1 Thessalonians 4:13-18—but there’s quite a bit more support:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. (2) My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? (3) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—(52) in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51-52
and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:10
What is the “coming wrath” and how does Jesus “rescue” us from it? The coming wrath refers to the Tribulation and the Lord rescues the Church from it via the Rapture.
Notice what Jesus promises the faithful church of Philadelphia:
“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”
“The hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world” is referring to the Tribulation period detailed in Revelation 6-19. Jesus doesn’t say he would just protect believers during the Tribulation, but that he’d “keep them from the hour of trial” altogether. Keep in mind that, while the church at Philadelphia was one of seven first century churches that Jesus addresses in Revelation 2-3; these seven churches were picked by the Lord because they typify the seven kinds of churches that exist throughout the Church Age. As such, Jesus’ words were to all faithful Christians throughout the ensuing centuries of the Church Age. In fact, since the Rapture and the Tribulation didn’t come at the general time of this message to the church of Philadelphia circa 90-100 AD, the passage must more specifically refer to a future generation of faithful believers.
Further support for the Rapture can be observed in what happens to John in the book of Revelation. Jesus gave John the threefold contents of Revelation at the end of chapter 1: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later” (Revelation 1:19). This is the Contents Page of the book of Revelation: “What you have seen” refers to chapter 1 because that’s what John had seen up to that point in the vision while “what is now” refers to chapters 2-3 and “what will take place later” refers to chapters 4-22.
Chapters 2-3 of Revelation cover “what is now,” meaning the Church Age, as noted above. These chapters cover the seven types of churches that exist throughout the Church Age. Chapters 4-22 address “what will take place later” and chapters 4-19 specifically the period of the Tribulation, which involves the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments of God’s wrath that will befall the earth and its inhabitants.
Here’s my point: John was an apostle of the church and right at the beginning of Revelation 4—the beginning of his coverage of the Tribulation—Jesus says to him, “Come up here,” referring to heaven (verse 1). You see? John is representative of the church and just before the Tribulation he is taken up into heaven. Why? Because the church itself will be delivered from the Tribulation via Jesus’ return for his church, which is the Rapture.
Another thing to consider is that the church is referred to no less than nineteen times in the first three chapters of Revelation and not once on earth in chapters 4-19. Why? Because the church isn’t on earth; all genuine believers will be “snatched up” to heaven before the Tribulation starts. Revelation 19 details Christ’s return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation. Guess who’s riding with him? The church (verse 14).
This doesn’t mean, however, that there won’t be believers during the Tribulation because there will be multitudes; and, yes, they are the church because ‘church’ simply refers to the ekklesia (ek-klay-SEE-ah), the “called-out ones” who are called out of the darkness of this world into the kingdom of light. However, the existing church at the time of the Rapture before the Tribulation will have been snatched away. In other words, believers during the Tribulation embraced the gospel after the Rapture. We’ll address this in the next section.
The snatching up of the church before the Tribulation corresponds to the biblical pattern of the righteous being saved from destruction when God’s judgment falls on unrepentant masses. Jesus noted this pattern when he taught on the Rapture:
For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. (25) But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
(26) “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. (27) People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
(28) “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. (29) But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.
(30) “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. (31) On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. (32) Remember Lot’s wife! (33) Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. (34) I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. (35) Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”
Jesus is talking about “the day the Son of Man is revealed” (verse 30) that “will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other” (verse 24). In other words, it’ll take place in the blink of an eye. The last two verses show beyond any shadow of doubt that Jesus was talking about his snatching up of the church: “Two people will be in bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left” (verses 34-35). This, incidentally, presents a problem for those who argue that the Rapture takes place at the same time as Jesus’ return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation because the impression of these verses is that of ordinary every-day life and not that of people who just went through a horrible worldwide cataclysm horrifically described in Revelation 6-19.
Observe in verses 26-29 how Jesus likens the time of the Rapture to the “days of Noah” and the “days of Lot.” “Just as it was” in the days of these two “so it will be” when he returns for his church. What’s the significance of this? In the days of Noah and Lot there were warnings of the LORD’s coming judgment on masses of people if they stubbornly refused to repent. In Noah’s situation the judgment concerned the entire world whereas in Lot’s situation it concerned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In both cases the righteous were removed before God’s judgment fell. “So it will” be with the future Tribulation—those in right-standing with God will be taken out of the way before His wrath falls on rebellious humanity. Those who become believers during the Tribulation are those who wisely respond to the pouring out of God’s wrath by repenting.
In verse 30 Jesus says “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” Just like what? Just like the days of Noah and Lot where people were carrying on business as usual—eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting and building (verses 27-28). This is what people will be doing when Jesus comes for his church, not enduring a global upheaval, which disproves the post-Tribulation position.
Speaking of the post-Tribulation view, how do people who hold this position explain Luke 17:24-35? They argue that Jesus only speaks of his coming once in this passage, not twice, and when he comes he will 1. snatch up the righteous and then 2. pour out his wrath on the unrighteous, citing verses 26-32. The problem with this, of course, is that it’s an explicit description of the pre-Tribulation position (or, at least, “pre-wrath”)! The only thing they’re omitting is Jesus’ return to the earth after God’s wrath is poured out on rebellious humanity to set up his millennial kingdom (Matthew 25:31). As already explained, this is detailed in the book of Revelation: In Revelation 4:1 Jesus says to John—representing the church—to “come up here” to heaven. Chapters 4-19 cover the Tribulation where God’s wrath is poured out and Jesus returns to the earth at the end (Revelation 19).
Here’s a timeline diagram to help visualize these events:
(Click image for clarity)
Some people suggest that the Rapture isn’t part of Jesus’ Second Coming and that only his return to the earth should be designated as the Second coming, but Jesus himself spoke of his snatching up of the church as “the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:27, 37, 39) and within this context are clear references to the Tribulation (verses 21-22 & 29). The Greek for “coming” in these passages is parousia (par-oo-SEE-ah), traditionally translated as “advent” in Christian circles as in “the Second Advent of Christ.” This is the same word used to describe the Lord’s coming at the end of the Tribulation in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. Jesus elsewhere referred to this latter coming as “When the Son of Man comes in his glory” (Matthew 16:27 & 25:31). Since the Rapture of the church is clearly separate from the Lord’s coming to the earth—with the Tribulation separating them—and both the Rapture and Jesus’ return to the earth are described in terms of “coming” then we must conclude that they both represent his Second Coming, albeit two phases.
Someone might argue: “But these two phases are separated by several years, how can they both refer to the same Second Coming? Because it’s one coming taking place in two stages. Besides, seven years isn’t that long of a time to the eternal God. Let me put it in perspective: The Bible says that a thousand years is like a day to the Lord (Psalm 90:4), which means that seven years would be like 10½ minutes! So from Jesus’ perspective the Second Coming—both stages—takes place in 10½ minutes. It’s hard to get out of the airport without baggage in that amount of time!
“For it will not be, unless the Departure comes First”
Both phases of the Lord’s Second Coming are covered in this passage:
Now, brothers, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him, we ask you (2) not to be quickly shaken in your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from us, saying that the day of Christ had come. (3) Let no one deceive you in any way. For it will not be, unless the departure comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction, (4) who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped; so that he sits as God in the temple of God, setting himself up as God. (5) Don’t you remember that, when I was still with you, I told you these things? (6) Now you know what is restraining him, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. (7) For the mystery of lawlessness already works. Only there is one who restrains now, until he is taken out of the way. (8) Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth, and destroy by the manifestation of his coming;
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (WEB)
Verse 1 shows that this text concerns the Second Coming, including the church being “gathered together to him,” which is the Rapture. Verse 8 details the second phase of Jesus’ coming, which is when he returns to the earth and destroys the “lawless one”—the antichrist—with a mere word or two from his lips. (So much for Christ being a milksop weakling as he’s often maligned in modern Western culture!) The Greek word for “coming” in both verses is the aforementioned parousia. You see? The Second Coming consists of 1. Jesus’ return for his church and 2. His return to the earth to vanquish his enemies and establish his millennial kingdom.
Verse 3 reveals the sequence of events, emphasizing that the “day of Christ” will not come to pass until “the departure comes first, and the man of sin is revealed.” The “departure” is an obvious reference to the snatching up of the church while the revealing of the “man of sin” refers to the unveiling of the antichrist, a wicked, possessed man who will obtain worldwide power during the Tribulation (Revelation 13:7).
The Greek word for “departure” is apostasia (ap-os-tas-EE-ah) and is only used one other time in the Bible where it refers to departing from—“forsaking”—the law of Moses (Acts 21:21). Interestingly, the word was translated as “departure” or “departing” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 in the first seven English translations of the Bible, which changed when the King James translators decided to translate it as “falling away.” Most modern English versions have followed the lead of the KJV by translating it as “apostasy” or “rebellion,” but the World English Bible (above) translates it as “departure.” I believe this is the proper translation for a few reasons:
1. The verb form of the word is used 14 times in the New Testament where it predominantly means “departed.” Luke 2:37 is a good example where it refers to an elderly prophetess who “never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying;” Acts 12:10 is another example where it refers to an angel leaving Peter after helping him escape from prison.
2. It simply doesn’t make sense in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 to translate apostasia as “rebellion” or “apostasy”/“falling away.” Concerning the former, the world has always been in rebellion against genuine Christianity (please notice I said “genuine”). Concerning the latter, there’s already mass apostasy in Christendom with whole denominations embracing gross libertinism and rejecting the most obvious biblical axioms. In fact, this has been increasing for decades.
3. Translating apostasia as “departure” fits both the immediate context of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 and the greater context of the Lord’s Second Coming in the Bible, the latter of which we’ve already covered. Regarding the former, verse 1 speaks of the Second Coming in terms of the church being gathered to Jesus, which involves believers departing from this earth. And verses 6-8 speak of the “restrainer” of lawlessness, which must be removed before the antichrist can rise to power. Who is this “restrainer” of lawlessness? The most obvious answer is the Holy Spirit and, by extension, the church, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). When they depart the earth the antichrist will no longer be restrained and, in the vacuum, he will make his move. Whereas the church will remain in heaven during the Tribulation the Holy Spirit will return as masses of wise people will almost immediately turn to God after the incredible testimony of the Rapture. The Holy Spirit obviously returns because it’s the Spirit who regenerates people through the gospel (Titus 3:5). As noted earlier, untold millions will be saved during the Tribulation (Revelation 7:9,14) through the testimony of (1.) the Rapture, (2.) the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, (3.) the two witnesses, (4.) the mass divine judgments, and (5) an angel commissioned to preach the eternal gospel to the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 14:6-7).
As you can see, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8 strongly supports 1. the two phases of the Second Coming and 2. the pre-Tribulation Rapture.
For more details on the Second Coming go to this article at the Fountain of Life website, but let me close by stressing that I personally don’t care if the Rapture takes place before the Tribulation, mid-Tribulation or “pre-wrath.” I don’t even care if it takes place at the same general time as Jesus’ return to the earth at the end of the Tribulation. Don’t get me wrong, like any sane believer I have zero desire to go through the Tribulation, but as a responsible minister of the Word of God all I care about is accurately conveying what the Bible teaches and my studies have led me to conclude what is contained in these last two sections. Bear in mind that I’m a faithful non-sectarian and therefore don’t draw doctrinal conclusions based on the pressure of a certain group. I draw conclusions from the God-breathed Scriptures and, as you can see, they overwhelmingly point in the direction of a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
I encourage you to unbiasedly look at the different perspectives in your studies and draw your own conclusions with the help of the Holy Spirit. I recommend David Reagan’s many excellent articles, which can be found at lamblion.com, as well as the great works of Hal Lindsey and Todd Strandberg, noted in the Bibliography.
Lastly, all genuine believers who know how to read agree that the Lord will “snatch up” his church when he returns based on the clear passages we’ve looked at in this section, so the Rapture is a biblical fact. It’s the timing of the Rapture that believers disagree on and this is a secondary issue; it’s not something to argue about or break fellowship over. Whether pre, mid, post or pre-wrath, the Rapture will occur.
Distinguishing the Millennium from the New Earth
We’ve seen that the Bible teaches there will a thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth before the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth is established. What is the scriptural evidence for the Millennium and what differentiates it from the coming eternal age? Most importantly, what’s the purpose of the Millennium?
While there are several biblical references to the Millennium, such as Zechariah 14:1-9 and Isaiah 11, Revelation 20 is the most detailed passage in the New Testament:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. (2) He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (3) He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
(4) 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 about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (5) (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy are those who share 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.
(7) When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison (8) and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. (9) They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. (10) And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
The sequence of events is as follows: 1. After the Tribulation the devil will be seized and locked in the Abyss for a thousand years. As such, he will not be able to deceive the nations, which suggests that all demonic entities will be powerless over people during the Millennium. 2. The third stage of the first resurrection takes place wherein martyred believers will be bodily resurrected and reign with Christ for a thousand years. Other passages show that mortal believers will not receive their glorified bodies, but will enter the Millennium as mortals (Isaiah 65:20-25). We’ll consider why momentarily. 3. Glorified believers will be priests of God and will reign with Christ during the Millennium. Such believers will not be able to propagate because, as Jesus taught, “they will neither marry nor be given in marriage… for they are like the angels” (Luke 20:34-36). 4. At the end of the Millennium Satan is released and immediately deceives the nation, inciting a mass attack on the righteous government of Christ in Jerusalem. 5. The rebellion is easily defeated and the devil is cast into the lake of fire forever.
Those who deny a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on this earth argue that Revelation is full of symbols and therefore the millennial reign of Christ is symbolic of one thing or another. While it’s true that Revelation contains a lot of symbolism, the symbols are usually interpreted. For instance, the first chapter of Revelation speaks of seven stars and seven golden lampstands, which Jesus later explains are seven designated angels and seven churches of Asia Minor (verse 20).
Another example of symbolism from Revelation 1 can be observed in verse 16 where a sharp, double-edged sword is said to be coming out of Jesus’ mouth. Since this is obviously a symbolic statement, what does the symbolism refer to? Ephesians 6:17 shows that it’s a reference to the Word of God. Scripture interprets Scripture.
Secondly, not everything in Revelation is symbolic. After all, John is referred to repeatedly. Is he symbolic? Is Jesus Christ symbolic?
So how do we know the “thousand-years” isn’t symbolic? Several reasons: 1. There’s nothing about the phrase “the thousand years” that would indicate it’s figurative as is the case with the sharp sword coming out of Jesus’ mouth. In other words, you don’t interpret something allegorically when there’s no indication in the passage or elsewhere that it’s non-literal. 2. Nowhere does the book of Revelation say that the “thousand years” refer to something altogether different, like it does with the seven stars and seven churches in 1:20. 3. Since there’s no interpretation of what the “thousand years” refer to then it must refer to—you guessed it—a thousand years! 4. Lastly, notice that I underlined “thousand years” six times in verses 2-7 above. Keep in mind that, while this is John’s vision, it’s actually the “revelation of Jesus Christ” to John via the vision he’s given (Revelation 1:1). The point? The Lord stresses six times in six verses that there will be a thousand year reign of Christ on this earth. What more do we need to know that Jesus is referring to a literal thousand years? It goes without saying that anyone who uses theological mumbo jumbo to say that there won’t be a literal Millennium is getting precariously close to “taking words away” from this divine prophecy (Revelation 22:18-19).
With the understanding that a literal Millennium is scriptural, what distinguishes it from the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth? Several things, including:
- While believers with glorified bodies will reign with Christ during the Millennium, there will be nations of mortal people who will breed throughout the thousand years. These people are the “sheep” and their ensuing offspring that Jesus allows to enter the Millennium after the Judgment of Living Nations detailed in Matthew 25:31-46 (also called the Sheep and Goat Judgment or the Pre-Millennial Judgment of Christ). The “sheep” are promised eternal life and are allowed to enter the Millennium—as mortals—because they assisted believers during the Tribulation, which would include the 144,000 Jewish evangelists and their innumerable converts. These mortals will breed throughout the thousand years all over the world and, despite the completely righteous government of Christ, many of these will be susceptible to the devil’s deception when he’s released from the Abyss at the end of the Millennium to “deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth” (Revelation 20:7-8). Thankfully, this won’t be the case in the eternal age-to-come because there won’t be any mortals with ungodly natures.
- While life during the Millennium will be a veritable utopia compared to our current age because of (1.) the righteous government of Christ and (2.) the absence of the devil and his filthy spirits to deceive people, there will still be sin because mortals will still have sinful natures, which explains why many of them will be open prey to Satan’s deceptions when he’s released from the Abyss. There will also be aging, pain and death. Not to mention the earth and universe will yet be burdened by the bondage to decay, which is entropy.
- Lastly, the function of glorified believers during the Millennium will be focused on assisting the King of kings as priests of God, reigning in love over the nations of the earth (Revelation 20:6). While this is wonderful, it’s a limited purpose compared to the literally universal scope of eternal life detailed in the Epilogue.
There are other differences, of course, but these are the most obvious.
God’s Purpose for the Millennium
Finally, what’s the purpose of the Millennium? Some answer this by saying that the Millennium is the fulfillment of Scripture prophecy in that biblical promises to Israel, the church and Jesus Christ will be fulfilled. While this is true it doesn’t satisfactorily answer the root question: What is God’s actual purpose for the Millennium? I’ve heard it said that the Millennium is a transitional phase between this present evil age (Galatians 1:4) and the eternal righteous age-to-come (Luke 18:29-30). While this is also true (not to mention obvious) it still doesn’t answer the root question.
Hal Lindsey and David Reagan offer a fascinating explanation: The Millennium is the LORD’s irrefutable proof to humanity that the religion of secular humanism is a lie. As you may or may not know, secular humanism is atheistic in nature and therefore anti-God. To those who embrace this godless religion there’s no sin problem because there’s no God with whom to sin against. To them, the problem of evil isn’t humanity’s sin nature and alienation from our Creator, but rather a negative environment. As such, they believe evil, crime, poverty, war and other ailments will largely be eradicated when the right government is in place and every person is provided an education, a decent job, a nice living environment, protection from crime, and so on. While these things are good they don’t actually remedy the sin problem or reconcile people to their Creator. After all, a white collar man living in a rich suburb is still perfectly able to commit fraud due to a greedy heart, not to mention be a drunkard, drug addict, wife-beater, slanderer, hypocrite, adulterer, murderer, blowhard, oppressor, porn addict or practicing homosexual.
In the Millennium the LORD is going to provide nations of mortals the perfect government and environment—a veritable worldwide utopia. Since Jesus will be the King over all the earth and his assistants will be glorified believers who don’t have a sin nature there will be zero corruption in the government (imagine that!). Yet as the population increases over the course of the Millennium many of the offspring of the original “sheep” will just go through the motions of being faithful to Christ while their hearts aren’t in it. This is legalism—putting on the airs of godliness without the heart of godliness. Because legalism is an “outward job” it’s decidedly inauthentic. As such, when the devil is unleashed at the end of the thousand years these covert rebels will naturally embrace the lies of the kingdom of darkness and unite for war in an insane attempt to take over the completely righteous government of Christ!
Of course the rebellion is quickly quelled (Revelation 20:9) and, after the Great White Throne Judgment, the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth will manifest (Revelation 21-22).
So the Millennium is the Most High’s eternal showcase in disproving the religion of secular humanism. Chew on that!
The Resurrection of Old Testament Saints from Sheol
NOTE: This section involves a technical issue and is therefore recommended only for detail-oriented readers. All others are encouraged to jump to the next chapter.
In regards to the resurrection of holy people from periods preceding the resurrection of Christ, what evidence is there that righteous people of the Old Testament era were—or will be—resurrected from Sheol and when will their bodily resurrection take place? Or does their soulish resurrection from Sheol take place at the same time as their bodily resurrection?
Amazingly, many Old Testaments saints were resurrected from Sheol when Jesus was resurrected:
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
(51) At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split (52) and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (53) They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
These holy people were “raised to life” and came out of their tombs, just like Lazarus when Jesus raised him from the dead (John 11:11-44). These saints were raised from Sheol—death—which is why it says they were “raised to life” and not “they were raised from life with father Abraham in the paradise compartment of Sheol.” Again we see that this bizarre belief of righteous people consciously dwelling with Abraham in a blissful section of Sheol makes utter nonsense of the Scriptures, which shows that Jesus’ tale of the Rich man and Lazarus is a parable—a figurative story—and not a literal depiction of the nature of Sheol (see Chapter Eight).
I bring up Matthew 27:52-53 to plainly show that “many” Old Testament saints were resurrected from Sheol when Jesus was resurrected. This was a temporary resurrection, of course, in that they’d have to sooner or later physically die again, but they would never again have to go to Sheol since Jesus was resurrected for our justification and ascended to heaven forty days later.
Since these holy people who were resurrected from Sheol went to heaven when they later physically died, like all new covenant believers, what about the rest of the Old Testament saints held captive to death in Sheol? Asked another way, if Jesus delivered “many” righteous people from Sheol when he was resurrected what about when he ascended? Would he deliver the rest of them then—taking their souls directly to heaven with him (like believers’ souls go straight to heaven when they die, as proven in Chapter Ten)?
This is why I entertain the possibility that Jesus resurrected the Old Testament Saints from Sheol when he ascended to heaven forty days after his resurrection. Here’s potential support for this:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. (8) This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
(9) (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? (10) He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
Although this passage might refer to Jesus resurrecting righteous “captives” of Sheol when he ascended, there are a couple of other possibilities.
For instance, the “captives” in verse 8 could be referring to vanquished evil spirits whom Jesus brought to heaven in a victory parade. To explain, generals back then would bring their defeated enemies to Rome and paraded them around the streets as the people cheered and mocked. This is the visual we get from Colossians 2:15 with Jesus’ victory over the powers of darkness through his crucifixion and resurrection. With this in mind, observe the Amplified Bible’s rendering of verse 8: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive [He led a train of vanquished foes]”. Please keep in mind, however, that when words appear in brackets in the Amplified version it’s the author’s opinion and not the Word of God, scholarly though it may be. As such, the Amplified Bible is essentially a paraphrase. Regardless, this is a possibility we need to keep in mind.
Another possibility is that the captives in this passage simply refer to all believers who die after Jesus ascends to heaven and who essentially “follow him up,” which corresponds to the biblical evidence contained in Chapter Ten.
If the souls of Old Testament saints were not resurrected to heaven when Jesus ascended and aren’t resurrected at some other point, we can be sure that they’ll be resurrected at the time of their bodily resurrection when the Lord returns to the earth to establish his millennial reign, which takes place at the end of the Tribulation, as shown in the following two passages:
“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. (2) Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Daniel prophesies that the resurrection of the Israelites will not take place until after a “time of distress” so great that such a thing never occurred before in the history of humanity. This refers to the Tribulation detailed in the book of Revelation (chapters 6-19). Daniel speaks in general terms of the righteous who will be delivered or resurrected at this time. He refers to them as “your people”—i.e. God’s people—and “everyone whose name is found written in the book,” which would of course include more than just old Testament holy people; it would include Christian martyrs during the Tribulation, as well as living believers.
Jesus gets more specific about the resurrection of Old Testament saints at the end of the Tribulation in this passage:
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (29) And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (30) But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”
Some might inquire why Old Testament saints are not resurrected at the time of Jesus’ return for his church—that is, the Rapture—which is when believers are bodily resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), but this idea is negated by the obvious fact that the Rapture concerns the Lord’s return for his church—his bride—and not his return for holy people of the Old Testament period.
If Ephesians 4:8 is referring to Jesus delivering holy souls from Sheol when he ascended, some people inevitably argue that they’re not shown ascending with Jesus, as seen in this passage:
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
(10) They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. (11) “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
If holy people were rescued from Sheol—death—when Jesus ascended, the reason they wouldn’t be seen by witnesses in this passage is because it wasn’t a bodily resurrection, but rather a soulish one. As such, they naturally couldn’t be seen by people on earth. Their souls would’ve been resurrected from Sheol and gone straight to heaven just like the many holy people who were resurrected when Jesus died would also go to heaven when they eventually physically perished.
Now, notice something interesting about the above passage: Verse 10 shows “two men” suddenly appearing to the disciples and speaking to them. Who were these two men? I suppose this could be a reference to two non-descript angels but, if so, they wouldn’t likely be designated as “men” in the text. Who were they? Perhaps Moses & Elijah who appeared to Jesus and the three disciples on the mountain.
Incidentally, Moses & Elijah are almost certainly the two prophets who will appear during the second half of the 7-year Tribulation period, detailed in Revelation 11:1-14. What evidence is there that these witnesses were Moses & Elijah? Verse 6 plainly says that these prophets “have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.” This is evidence that these prophets were Elijah & Moses since it was Elijah who miraculously stopped the rain (James 5:17) and Moses who turned the Nile River into blood (Exodus 7:20). For further evidence, Elijah stopped the rain for three and a half years and this was the same amount of time the two prophets will be functioning during the Tribulation.
Another objection to the possibility that the souls of Old Testament saints were resurrected when Jesus ascended is this passage where Peter addresses a crowd in Jerusalem shortly after Christ’s ascension:
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day… (34) For David did not ascend to heaven… ”
Acts 2:29, 34
All this passage says is that David died and was buried in a tomb and that he did not ascend to heaven, but Peter was technically referring to the general time of David’s death and not to the time of Christ’s ascension. As for David’s tomb, it would remain unchanged even if his soul ascended to heaven at the time of Jesus’ ascension.
Regardless, the theory that the souls of Old Testament saints were resurrected from Sheol at the time of the ascension of Christ is just that—a theory—a possibility based on scant evidence. Please keep this in mind. If the theory’s not true then both their souls and bodies will be resurrected when Jesus returns to the earth at the end of the Tribulation.
NOTE: You can purchase a low-priced book version of Sheol Know, which is freshly edited and contains additional material (14 chapters, 339 pages), here.