Suggested Pre-reading: Resurrection of the Dead 3
As we have contemplated how the resurrection of the dead functions as a gateway from this life to the Messianic Age, we must not forget that the Messianic Age is only for those who have trusted in Jesus the Messiah. For those who have not in this life believed in Christ, the resurrection of the dead is a gateway to eternal judgment.
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’…Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels’… ‘These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ (Matthew 25: 31 – 34, 41, 46)
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5: 24 – 29)
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20: 11 – 15)
For those who read the Bible but do not believe it teaches an eternal judgment, such as universalists, who think all will be saved, or annihilationists, who think unbelievers will have their life taken away as if they never existed, the resurrection of the dead is a strange event in the chronology of God’s eternal plan. What is this separation taking place, described by Daniel and Jesus and John? Why are people literally being brought before God and placed into one of two categories (righteous or damned)? If all are saved, then putting people into two groups makes no sense at all. If the damned are destroyed with no memory, rather than sent to conscious eternal torment, then why would God keep them as disembodied spirits until the resurrection, reunite them with their bodies, raise them to life, bring them before Him, and then destroy them so that they have no memory of anything?
As hard is it can be to fathom, we must hold to the Biblical truth that God will separate people into two groups at the resurrection, and one of those groups will be sent to the lake of fire, conscious of their punishment for rejecting belief in God and His Christ. It is the severity of that day that ought to move us to reach out to those who are lost and to teach them of Christ and His good news.