by Epiphany Bible Students

No. 680

“…he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection.” “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.” (Acts 17:18,32) But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.(1 Cor. 15:13-18)

It may seem strange that we should ask any Christian the question: Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? The word “resurrection” is used more than forty times in the New Testament, besides various other words of similar import. All the prominent creeds of Christendom declare faith in a resurrection as an integral and essential part of Scriptural doctrine and of the hope of eternal life.

Nevertheless, we have serious reason to doubt that a belief in the resurrection of the dead prevails among Christians; and it is because we believe the resurrection to be a very important doctrine in its connection with other doctrines of Scripture (throwing light upon other doctrines), that we desire to call general attention to this subject and to invite an examination of our question in the light of facts and of Scripture; our hope being that after a careful examination of the subject many more of God’s people will come to believe – consistently, logically, Scripturally – in a resurrection.


The views of the clergy on any subject may safely be considered an index to the views of their congregations. It is not difficult to ascertain the views of the clergy of all denominations on the subject of the resurrection of the dead; for, although that topic is rarely chosen for discourse, except upon Easter Sunday, it is, nevertheless, attached to every funeral service; and these numerous occasions, we believe, validate our statement that both the clergy of all denominations and their followers have little or no faith in a resurrection of the dead.

True, it is customary at a funeral to read the words of the Apostle Paul, in which he sets forth the resurrection as the Christian’s hope (1 Cor. 15), but this seems to be a mere concession on the part of the officiating minister. He feels it to be his duty to read something on the subject, but his remarks following the reading prove most conclusively that, so far from believing that the person whose corpse is about to be buried is dead, he believes, and instructs his hearers that they should believe, that their friend and neighbor is “more alive than he ever was.”

Frequently, indeed, he plays directly into the hands of the “Spiritualists” and “Christian Scientists,” by telling the audience that the spirit of their dead friend is with them in the room, hovering over them; and that if permitted to speak he would say to them, “Dry your tears; weep not for me; I am far better off in glory.”


It has come to be the general belief among Christian people that death is a delusion, and not a reality; that people merely seem to die, and do not die; that they merely experience a change to a higher form of being; that so-called “Christian Scientists” are quite correct in saying, “There is no death.”

Whoever holds such views does not, cannot consistently believe in “the resurrection of the dead”; because if no one is dead, how can there be a resurrection of the dead? Wherein would be the sense in speaking of a resurrection of the dead to life, if they already have life more abundantly than they possessed it before they seemingly died?

But thousands of ministers would answer us, saying, “When speaking of the resurrection, we merely mean a resurrection of the body – the bodies which we bury are all to come forth again from the grave, and the spirits which parted from them in death are to be rehabilitated in those bodies in the resurrection. This is what we mean by resurrection.” [Another contemporary interpretation holds that the spirits will receive a “new incorruptible body”, evidently meaning these spirits are roaming the universe body-less until the resurrection occurs.]


Who would have supposed such inconsistency on the part of so many of the learned and well-meaning! Before taking up the Scriptural side of the question, to show that such expectations are at variance with the Scripture teaching, let us examine the proposition of these ministers in the light of its own inconsistency.

(1) They tell us that the deceased is “far better off,” in that he has gotten free from the “fetters of the flesh,” and that now “his free spirit wings its flight to God, no longer hampered and hindered by the mortal dust.” They go into ecstasies in describing the grandeur and liberty and blessedness of the one who has died, and who, by reason of getting rid of the body, has attained to life more abundant, knowledge a hundredfold, and blessings indescrib-able.

(2) In the same breath they quote the Scriptures referring to the resurrection and (wholly misconstruing those Scriptures) tell us that by and by, at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the same bodies of flesh that were buried will be reorganized [or a new incorruptible body formed]; they tell us that then the spirit beings which, they say, left those bodies at death, will then return to them, as their everlasting habitations. Then, inasmuch as the resurrection is Scripturally set forth to be the grand and glorious result and consum-mation of our salvation, they feel compelled to go into ecstasies over their erroneous presentation of the resurrection, and to tell how glorious and grand will be the result.

They seem to overlook entirely the inconsistency of these two propositions; and they expect that their hearers will be similarly inconsistent and illogical (apparently with full justification); in fact, many of them seem to think that the more inconsistent and unreasonable their belief may be, the more reason they have to congratulate themselves that they have a very strong faith. However, the real fact is that they have a very strong willingness to believe without adequate evidence. But they will have no reward for believing unreasonable things which God’s Word has not taught, but has contradicted.

Who cannot see that the man who dies in old age, if in dying he obtains life more abundant and knowledge a hundredfold, and a freedom to “wing his flight,” etc., would be sadly disappointed by a resurrection – if it should mean to him re-imprisonment in a tenement of clay, with physical restrictions and human limitations? And then, if he had thus for centuries been a “free spirit,” roaming at liberty throughout the Universe, unhindered by a body and bodily limitations, where would be the consistency on God’s part of re-imprisoning such an one in a human body, whose powers and uses would be entirely forgotten during those centuries of liberty? And if to be without a body is “perfect bliss,” as the funeral orators tell, how could there be anything added to perfect bliss by a resurrection of the body, and a re-incarceration therein?


From the foregoing considerations, we feel justified in our assumption that the vast majority of Christian people do not believe in a resurrection – either the Scriptural kind (a “resurrection of the dead”), or in the kind they themselves teach, namely, a resurrection of the body. With this preface, we go to the Scriptures to learn from them what is meant by “the resurrection of the dead, and in what manner and why the Scriptures speak of the resurrection as the hope, the only hope, the blessed hope, not only of the Lord’s people, who are to have part in the “first resurrection,” but of the world in general, who are to have an opportunity to share in the resurrection of judgment, improperly translated in the KJV, “the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:29)

Whoever would believe the Scriptural doctrine of the resurrection, must also believe the Scriptural doctrine respecting death – that death is death, the cessation of life. Then, and not until then, will he be able to understand the Apostle’s words in our text, “If there be no resurrection of the dead,...then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” Nor is this statement by the Apostle an exception to or different from the teaching of the Scriptures elsewhere. Their unanimous testimony is that the dead are dead; that “in that very day his thoughts perish.” (Psa. 146:4) Of the dead the Scriptures further declare, “His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them.; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. (Job 14:21; Eccl. 9:10)

[The above is in direct contradiction to the thoughts of most Christians today. To quote one popular theologian: “Though our body dies, the spirit or soul never dies. The body ceases to function, but not the inner person, or spirit. Hence physical death does not end life, it is only one step in the ongoing and eternal process of conscious life.”]


Here is a direct conflict between modern teachers and the inspired Word, the Scriptures claiming that the dead know not anything, the modern theologians claiming that they know everything. The Bible claims that the dead are really dead, and have really suffered according to the Divine penalty for sin pronounced against our race – “Thou shalt surely die.”(Gen. 2:17) Those who oppose take up with Satan’s delusive statement to Mother Eve, “Ye shall not surely die,” (Gen. 3:4) and attempt to prove that the dead are not dead; that God’s penalty against sin did not go into effect, and that death, so far from being the sentence or curse upon our race, is a blessing, a step in a general process of evolution. The two theories are as far apart as the poles, and the two teachers of these two theories, as we have shown, are God, on the one hand, and Satan, who has no truth in him,” on the other hand. Which shall we believe?

The entire Plan of Salvation is connected with this question. If death was not the penalty of sin, incurred through Adam, then life more abundant is not the reward and blessing of God secured through Christ by a resurrection. Satan’s proposition, which has been so widely accepted by the Lord’s people, and which exercises so blinding an influence upon their minds, is the reversal, in every sense of the word, of the Divine proposition – that death is the curse or penalty of sin; that Christ died to release man from this sentence or curse, and that the release comes by the resurrection of the dead, who otherwise would never have future life, as says the Apostle in our text.

Satan’s theory declares death a blessing which brings the fullness of life and liberty and joy, and would make of the resurrection a curse, bringing imprisonment and difficulty and restriction and pain and trouble.


No wonder that the majority of theologians and their many followers are leaving the doctrine of the Atonement, which declares For since by man [Adam] came death, by man [the man Christ Jesus] came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:21,22)

If the reality of death is denied, it is no more difficult to deny the reality of sin. If it is claimed that Father Adam was not created in the image and likeness of God, but was created a very close image and likeness of the ape, it follows that in that low condition of intelligence he was unfit for trial for eternal life; and it is only a further step to deny that he ever had a trial, and that he ever failed and fell from grace. And if the fall is denied, and, instead, the claim is put forward that man has really been advancing even to the present time – losing his likeness to the ape and gaining in likeness to God, then it will be consistent also to take the next step, and declare that since man did not fall he did not need to be redeemed from the fall.

And hence, with such reasoning, contrary to  all Scriptural basis, it appears logical to deny the repeated declaration of God’s Word, that our Lord Jesus is our Redeemer, and that:

“…he is the propitiation for our sins [the Church’s sins]: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), giving for us as our Ransom or corresponding price, His own life, that He might buy back the forfeited life of Adam.

We thus see that the leading lights of Christendom today repudiate both of the cardinal features of the Gospel, which the Apostle preached of old: “Jesus and the resurrection” – Jesus as the Redeemer of mankind from sin and its curse – death – and the resurrection as the grand result of that redemptive work, by which the blessing secured by the Ransom-sacrifice will be made applicable to and available for whosoever will accept eternal life upon the terms of the Millennial Age. This reminds us of our Lord’s own words respecting unbelief at the present time: He says:

 “…when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)


The Scripture declarations respecting death are in full accord with the testimony of the five senses given us as men by our Creator; and this is what we should expect, though we should be ready to admit the possibility of our senses being in error if the Divine revelation contradicted our senses. But when our senses are contradicted by a human theory, contrary to Scriptural statements, the theory should be rejected and the testimony of the senses held to be true; and when the Scriptures and our senses together unite in one testimony, it is certainly wrong to hold to a theory which is contradicted by Divine revelation and by our own senses as well. And whoever thus repudiates his God-given (though sin-impaired) senses and the Divine testimony, need expect nothing else than to be led into darkness and stumbling. Today, as nineteen centuries ago, the blind are leading the blind into the ditch of unbelief and error.


The testimony of our senses, like the testimony of God’s Word, is that death means the loss of life, and not an increase of life. Watch the dying one, and note his weakening powers, mental and physical, until the spark of life becomes extinct. You have seen nothing go from him, you have heard nothing but the death-rattle; you have felt the gradual cessation of the pulse, and noted the gasping for breath; and all of your senses which you can exercise upon the subject tell you that your friend, your loved one, is dead – alive no longer. You look about you and study the subject and inquire of others, “What next?” The answer to your senses is, “The next thing is corruption; when the spark of life has gone, the corpse must be buried; ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes.’” You note the similarity between the death of your friend and loved one and the death of the brute beast, and your senses can discern no difference between them; and the Scriptures declare, “…as the one dieth, so dieth the other; they have all one  breath [spirit of life].” (Eccl. 3:19)

But with a longing for a future life, implanted in your nature by our Creator, you inquire: Is there no hope; hath a man no preeminence above a beast? The Scriptures answer your question, assuring us that, physically speaking man “hath no preeminence above a beast.” But the Scriptures assure us that although mankind is not possessed of any power of life beyond that of the beast, the Creator has, nevertheless, made a provision for man that He did not make for the beast; and that provision is the very thing for which we long, namely, everlasting life. The Scriptures point out to us that this provision for man’s everlasting life was made by the LORD in the beginning – not by implanting a deathless quality in the man’s constitution, but by providing in the life-sustaining trees of the Garden of Eden, the means of continuing his life everlastingly; nevertheless this provision was conditional, dependent upon man’s obedience to his Creator.

The Scriptures point out that man’s disobedience brought upon him the sentence of death, and that the execution of that sentence was effected by driving him out of the Garden and away from the life-sustaining fruit of its trees. Thus driven out, the sentence, “Thou shalt surely die,” took effect upon Father Adam gradually, and he lived out nearly to the end of the first thousand-year day. His posterity, becoming weaker and weaker as generations rolled by, are today (notwithstanding the many advancements in science, and medicine and sanitary arrangements) reduced to an average of about seventy-five years – “and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow” and they are soon “cut off” from the “land of the living,” to go into “the land of the enemy” – into the great prison-house of death, in which thousands of millions are already – “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.” (Psa. 90:10; Jer. 31:16; Job 3:17)


The Scriptures answer our inquiries respecting the dead. While assuring us of the justice of the Divine sentence of death, they nevertheless declare that our Creator is a God of mercy and of pity, and that when there was no eye to pity and no arm to deliver us, His Arm brought salvation to us. The Scriptures, moreover, point out to us the Lord Jesus Christ as the Arm of Jehovah, stretched down for our relief from sin and sickness and pain and trouble and for our deliverance from the prison-house of death, and for our restoration to the liberties and privileges of sons of God.

In due time, God sent His only begotten Son into the world for our redemption – to give for us the Ransom-price, and ultimately to recover all who will accept of Divine mercy, from all the consequences of the fall by a resurrection from the dead. But Divine Love could not make void Divine Justice; it was necessary that God should be just, if He would be the justifier of them that believe in Jesus; hence the demands of Justice – the penalty for sin – must be paid by our Redeemer, before the work of release and restitution could begin. And here we have the best of evidence respecting what is the penalty of sin, and what is not; because, since our Lord Jesus pays for us the just penalty of sin, what He laid down for us will prove what was the penalty against us. What did He do for us? The Scriptures answer: He laid down His life for us; He died for our sins”; “the just for the unjust”; He “poured out his soul unto death;” He made “his soul an offering for [our] sin,” and “with his stripes we are healed.” (1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 3:18; Isa. 53:4-6, 10,12)

Nothing is more evident than that our Lord Jesus did not suffer an eternity of torment as the price of our redemption; and hence, if the matter needed proof we have here the proof that eternal torment was not the penalty for our sins. On the contrary, the fact that our Lord Jesus died for our sins, and that the Heavenly Father accepted of that sacrifice of His life on our behalf, proves that it was our lives that were forfeited by sin; that the full penalty of the Divine Law against us as a race was the deprivation of life. The whole race, under sentence of death, has gone down to the great prison-house of death – the grave, sheol, hades. And so our dear Redeemer, when He gave up His life for us, went also to sheol, hades, the grave. He took our place, and suffered for us the penalty for our sins.

But as Jesus’ death ransoms man from the sentence of death, so His resurrection from death became the assurance of the justification of all who accept and obey him.

The Heavenly Father gave evidence that the Ransom-price was entirely satisfactory; and our Lord, who was thus obedient to the Father, was raised from the dead, and, as the Father’s Agent and Representative, will soon begin the work of blessing the entire world redeemed by His precious blood.


The blessing of the world means the breaking open of the prison-house and the setting at liberty of the captives, who for centuries have been going into the prison-house of death. For this reason our Lord is called the Life-giver, because His great work will be to give back life to the world of mankind, who lost life in Adam. And since the restoration of life to mankind will mean the removal of pains and sicknesses and troubles (a part of the dying process), our Redeemer is styled the Great Physician.

The prophecy which mentions the breaking open of the prison-house of death, and the setting at liberty of its captives (Isa. 42:7), was applied, and unquestionably correctly, by our Lord to Himself; but He did not break open the prison-house of death, and set all the captives free by resurrection immediately upon His own resurrection. He tells us when this work will be done, saying (John 5:25-29), “…the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth…”; “…and they that hear [obey His voice then], shall live.” (See also Acts 3:22,23)

Our Lord thus passed over the interim of the Gospel Age, and pointed to the grand consummation of His work in the incoming Age, because such was the Father’s prearranged Plan. The Father sent the Son, and the Son willingly undertook the work of redemption, at a time sufficiently in advance of the “Times of Restitution,” (Acts 3:21) or resurrection, and the general blessing of the world during the Reign of Messiah, to leave the interim of this Gospel Age for another work, namely, for selecting from the world a “little flock,” a “royal priesthood,” a “peculiar people,” a “holy nation,” to be joint-heirs with Christ Jesus their Lord in the honors of the Mediatorial Kingdom. These shall be associated with the Redeemer in the grand and glorious work of destroying the Prince of Darkness and breaking open the prison-house of death, and setting at liberty the captives of sin and ignorance and superstition; and in fulfilling generally all the provisions of the gracious promises of God made to Father Abraham, that in His Seed (Christ, and His elect Body, the Church), “shall all families of the earth be blessed.”(Gen: 12:3; Gal. 3:8,16,29)


This brings us to the Scriptural proposition, that there is a first, a chief or special resurrection, and a general one later. The first or superior resurrection includes the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the entire elect “Church, which is his Body” – no more, no less. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6) – the Messianic Kingdom class. Those who will share in this First Resurrection will experience a “change” from the human nature to the divine nature – the highest of the spirit natures; not human, not flesh and blood, for “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”(1) (1 Cor. 15:50) Their trial and perfecting of heart takes place beforehand, and only the overcomers will receive this blessing. Some of the characteristics of their change are indicated by the Apostle as a change from weakness to power, from dishonor to glory, from corruption to incorruption, from a natural [human] body to a spirit body.

The time for this best, or chief resurrection, is everywhere in Scripture indicated to be at the close of the Gospel Age, at a time when the entire Gospel Church will be completed. This includes the living members, whose “change” to spirit nature will be instantaneous, so that the moment of their dying as human beings will be the moment of their “change” to perfect spirit beings. Meantime, the Scriptures declare that the Lord’s people who have died, like the rest of mankind, are really dead, as human beings, and know not anything; but inasmuch as God has provided for their resurrection, and inasmuch as they have been informed respecting it, and have hopes therein, therefore they are spoken of as being merely asleep – resting from their labors. As the apostle declares, they are waiting for “…a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8)

And, likewise the world of mankind, even though they know not of the Lord as yet, are spoken of as being “asleep in Jesus.” Although the whole world was under condemnation of death through Adam, without knowledge or volition on their part at the time of the sentence, Jesus laid down His life “a Ransom for all.” All who have faith in the Divine provision for the awakening may properly speak of the interim figuratively as a sleep. Thus the Apostle exhorts us to trust and hope in the resurrection as respects all our dear friends who go down into the prison-house of death, and not merely as respects those who were sanctified in Christ Jesus, which would include, as a rule, only a small proportion of those for whom we would be inclined to sorrow. He says, “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep [all our sleeping friends], that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died [a Ransom for all] and rose again [that He might be Lord and Life-giver to all], even so [let us believe as truly that] them also which sleep in Jesus [all whom He purchased with His precious blood] will God bring with him [from the prison-house of death].” (1 Thes. 4:13,14)


(1)Some are confused by this expression, “flesh and blood”; they fail to see that it signifies human nature; we therefore invite such to examine the use of the same phrase elsewhere, by the same New Testament writers. In so doing they will be convinced that our definition, human nature, is the correct one, the Scriptural one. See the following uses of the phrase: Matt. 16:17; John 3:5,6; 1 Cor. 15:50.


But as the First Resurrection is the resurrection of the blessed and holy, of the sanctified in Christ Jesus, His Body, so the general resurrection, which is for the world, is designated as “the resurrection of judgment.” It is styled a “resurrection of judgment” because, while all the preparation has been made, so far as God is concerned, for granting to the world of mankind a full resurrection or restitution back to all that was first given to Adam, and lost by his disobedience, to be recovered by our Savior’s precious blood, yet there are certain conditions attached to this blessing, namely, the conditions of the New Covenant.

God does not propose to give eternal life through Christ to any except those who earnestly desire it, and who are in heart sympathy with the principles of righteousness which must always be the Law of the Divine Government. Hence, when the world is awakened from the sleep of death, it will not signify resurrection, but much less; for resurrection, in its full, complete, Scriptural sense, signifies a complete raising up, out of sin and out of death, to perfection of being, perfection of life.

The surrounding conditions of society will then be greatly improved; knowledge will have taken the place of ignorance, and the reign of righteousness and the law of love will at that time have superseded the rule of sin under the law of selfishness; and Satan will be bound, that he shall deceive the nations no more for the thousand years. The resurrection, so far as the world is concerned, will be a gradual work; its first step an awakening from the sleep of unconsciousness and nonentity; its succeeding steps will be along the lines of judgment, the conduct of those who are on trial being either approved or disapproved. For those who are incorrigible and unworthy of the gift of God, eternal life, it will culminate in the sentence to the Second Death.

Those judged worthy will receive and enjoy the great boon of Life Eternal under the blessed conditions which are then promised to prevail – when there shall be no more sighing, no more dying, no more crying, because there will be no more sin and none of the penalties for sin, for all the former things shall have passed away. (Rev. 21:4).


Of each of the Patriarchs of the past it is written, “he slept with his fathers”; “he fell asleep.” And so also in the New Testament we have a similar record that Stephen “fell asleep.” The Apostle Paul speaks of those who saw the Lord after His resurrection and says, “He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.” Again he speaks of some which are “fallen asleep in Christ,” here distinguishing between the Church, who are in Christ,(2) as members of His Body, and the world of mankind in general, who “sleep in Jesus.” (1 Kings 2:10; 11:43; Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 15:6,18;1 Thess. 4:14)

The Apostle shows that this sleep-condition will prevail, even as respects the Church, until the time of the second coming of Christ, assuring that the living members of the Church at the time of the Lord’s Second Advent will not be blessed prior to those that have fallen asleep, but contrariwise, the living “shall not prevent [hinder] them which are asleep, for the dead in Christ shall rise first; then those who are alive and remain will be blessed, and ultimately experience their “change.” (1 Thes. 4:15-17)

The moment of re-awakening will seem to the awakened ones to be the next moment after their death – for there is no wisdom or knowledge in the grave. (Eccl. 9:10) The bodies in which the world will be awakened will be practically the same as those which died, though not the same atoms of matter; for in the hands of our Creator one atom of dust is as good as another in this great work. Thus the Apostle says, "thou sowest not that body that shall be." (1 Cor. 15:37) The bodies of the world will really be new bodies, in the sense that they will be different atoms of matter; but they will be old bodies, in the sense that they will be duplicates of those which died and went to dust.

We cannot wonder that the worldly mind, which knows not God and knows not of his power, cavils at the thought of resurrection. It will be a most stupendous work, more wonderful by far than man's original creation; it will thus be to the world of mankind, and to the angels of heaven also, the grandest exhibition ever given of Divine Omnipotence.


(2)Christ (from the Greek “Christos,” meaning “anointed”) is the title of our Lord as the New Creature, and of His office; while Jesus is the name for the Redeemer, through whose sacrifice comes to all men an opportunity to share in a resurrection of the dead.


This paper was adapted from Pastor Russell Reprint 4791. It has been edited to fit the space.