Jesus said people who lived in different centuries will come alive again at the same time. What is this second resurrection? Will people raised in this resurrection get a second chance?
Jesus said that “the men of Nineveh [during the time of the prophet Jonah] will rise up in the judgment with this generation [the people to whom Jesus was speaking in the first century]” (Matthew 12:41).
He also said that “the queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here” (verse 42, compare with Luke 11:29-32).
Which resurrection was Jesus talking about?
The phrase “rise up in the judgment” used in these passages means being resurrected back to life. But when is this resurrection? As we will see, it cannot be when Christ returns and the righteous saints—ones both dead and alive—are changed to spirit (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
Upon closer examination, we see that Jesus called the generation to whom He was speaking “evil” (Matthew 12:39; Luke 11:29). It seems that the people of previous generations referred to by Jesus were likewise evil. Although the people of Nineveh temporarily repented due to the preaching of Jonah, history shows that these people soon returned to their evil ways. As for the queen of the South (Sheba), while she marveled at Solomon’s wisdom, there is no record of her turning to God.
Since those who do evil “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21), the resurrection to which Jesus referred cannot be the one that occurs when Christ returns.
Summarizing the principles found in the preceding passages, we note:
- There will be a resurrection in addition to the one when Christ returns.
- People who lived centuries apart from each other will be brought to life at the same time.
- The dead brought to life in this resurrection spoken of by Christ were sinners when they died.
Why bring sinners back to life?
Why is God going to resurrect these people? Is He doing so to give them a second chance at salvation? Or is He changing them to spirit even though they died as sinners? Neither suggestion is correct, according to the Scriptures!
Read Jesus’ full statement: “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South [the queen of Sheba] will rise up in the judgment with this generation [the people of the first century] and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:41-42).
This is talking about a resurrection to judgment. It is not a resurrection to salvation or eternal life. Compare John 5:28-29, where Jesus prophesies of a resurrection to life (salvation, eternal life) and a resurrection to judgment (some translations say “condemnation,” but “judgment” is more accurate). Before examining judgment in greater detail, let’s consider the context of Jesus’ teaching.
The context of Jesus’ statement
Millions have read these verses in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke without realizing the significance of Jesus’ words. In addition to plainly saying there will be more than one resurrection, Jesus was explaining that, unlike His critics in the first century, both the Ninevites and this queen at least acknowledged a servant of God. Nineveh recognized that Jonah was a prophet of God; the queen of Sheba recognized that God had given Solomon great wisdom. The religious leaders of the Jewish community blatantly accused Jesus of being a fraud, of falsely claiming divine authority.
That’s why Jesus Christ said the Ninevites and the queen would “condemn” the first-century Jewish religious authorities when they all come alive again and meet face-to-face. In other words, their actions would condemn the error of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Christ was not saying that unrighteous people would sit in judgment over other unrighteous people.
Not a second chance
This resurrection to which Jesus referred is not a second chance at salvation! No one gets more than one opportunity to receive God’s gift of salvation. But an honest reading of Christ’s words leaves no doubt that some people will have a second chance at physical life. There is no other way to take His plain declarations.
How will Christ judge Nineveh? How will He judge the queen of Sheba? How will He judge the generation to which He preached as the Son of Man?
As with any scripture that is hard to understand, background details often provide greater clarity. What was happening here that prompted Jesus to make the statements about a future judgment?
Background of Matthew 12
When Jesus was preaching to the Jewish leaders of the first century, He was constantly disheartened at the lack of repentance He saw in His own people. They were typically more interested in signs and miracles than in His actual teachings. Reading chapters 10 through 12 of the book of Matthew gives us an interesting glimpse of what Jesus faced while He preached to His own countrymen.
Matthew 12 reveals that Christ’s audiences were looking for a Messiah who would rescue Judah from Roman rule and restore Israel to the greatness it once enjoyed! The Jews thought in physical terms, not really understanding the full meaning of the prophesied Kingdom of God. As a result, they hoped that Jesus’ miracles were proof that He had the power to defeat the Romans and to restore Israel to preeminence in the region.
Correcting their misunderstanding, Jesus laid out the process for them in a short summary. He included the precise prophecy that, after dying for their sins, He would be in the grave for three days and three nights. (This was not Friday night through Sunday morning, which is only two nights and one day. See “Sign of Jonah: Did Jesus Die on Good Friday? Was He Resurrected Easter Sunday?”) After those 72 hours, He would be resurrected to glory.
Then at a time far in the future, He would return as a conquering Messiah in power and glory and bring judgment on all people.
Jesus’ teaching on afterlife
Most people read right over Jesus’ statement about the people of Nineveh being brought back to life, along with other sinners. In doing so, they miss a profound truth. Even though this truth is explained in several places in the Bible, few people have put the scriptures together or understood the significance.
Most assume that a person’s eternal destiny is judged at the point of death. It is assumed that if they die a sinner, they will spend eternity being tormented in hellfire. (Actually, the Bible teaches that no one will be tormented forever. See “What Is Hell?”) Jesus’ prophecy about the men of Nineveh, the queen of Sheba and the first-century Jewish leaders presents an entirely different doctrine of the afterlife.
The Bible teaches more than one resurrection
Consider the implication of the wording used by Paul as he wrote about the resurrection: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22-23, emphasis added throughout).
The phrase “each one in his own order” implies more than one resurrection. Later in the chapter, Paul explains about those resurrected at Christ’s second coming. Those in this first resurrection will be “raised incorruptible” (verse 52). Speaking of these people, the book of Revelation says “they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4).
The next verse in Revelation 20 continues the thought of resurrections: “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:5). Here is another resurrection. The “rest of the dead” can only mean those who died as sinners. During the thousand years (Millennium), those who died having been converted will have already been resurrected, and will be reigning with Christ.
In order to be fair to all, God will give everyone a full opportunity to learn about and receive salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ.Later verses in this same chapter tell of both the second and a third resurrection (verses 11-15). The fact that these people come up in these resurrections instead of the first resurrection shows that they are the same type of people of whom Jesus spoke in Matthew 12. These are people who also died as sinners. (To learn more about the three resurrections spoken of in the Bible, see “What Are the Resurrections?”)
No salvation except by Jesus Christ
The resurrection of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 12 and Luke 11 is a resurrection to physical life. These people’s judgment was not complete when they died. In order to be fair to all, God will give everyone a full opportunity to learn about and receive salvation that comes only through Jesus Christ.
Perhaps you have heard suggestions that God will grant salvation to people of any and all faiths if they “did the best that they could with what they knew.” The Bible says otherwise! “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” said the apostle Peter about Christ in Acts 4:12.
All people, like the men of Nineveh and those first-century Jews who rejected Jesus in ignorance, will have an opportunity to receive salvation after being resurrected into this time of the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11).
God’s judgment begins with gathering and weighing evidence
Does judgment mean being finally sentenced? It can, but in most cases it means more. Sentencing is only part of judgment. First comes the gathering of evidence. Notice the wording: “And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books [the Bible]” (Revelation 20:12). It can’t mean works they did before they died. We already know they died as sinners!
Clearly, there will be a period of time during which everyone in this second resurrection will have the opportunity to learn what they did not understand before—the way of salvation. This will be their first opportunity. Then, they will be judged by their works—that is, by what they do with what they know.
Even the Old Testament foretells such a period of learning, living and being judged for one’s actions. Ezekiel 37 is quite detailed about both the resurrection and the lives people live afterwards. Isaiah 65:20 also indicates that people will live long enough to be judged as righteous or as unrepentant sinners.
Judgment is now on the Church of God, according to 1 Peter 4:17. This illustrates that judgment is a process of God’s calling, followed by people responding, repenting, obeying—and Christ evaluating all on what they do. This is not “earning salvation,” for salvation is a gift! But none can deny that God judges the recipients of the gift as to whether they remain faithful to how He expects them to live. Revelation 17:14 speaks of the “called, chosen, and faithful” being with Christ in God’s Kingdom. Study more about God’s judgments in our article “Judgment of God: The Real Story.”
Where do you fit in God’s plan?
If you were in the crowd spoken of in Matthew 12:39-42, would you have gotten Christ’s profound meaning about a second resurrection? Perhaps some did but then rejected the invitation to follow God’s way of life. If so, they would have missed their opportunity to be part of the firstfruits.
What about now? Do you understand? Then you must consider whether God is opening your mind for an opportunity to accept or to reject His invitation.
To study this question further, see the article “God Calling!”