How many resurrections are there in the Bible? Saying “the first resurrection” implies more. What’s the Bible say about the second and third resurrections?
Contrary to many traditional teachings, at death, human beings are not rushed off to an eternity in either heaven or a burning hellfire. The Bible shows that the dead await a future resurrection. For a biblical explanation, see our video series “Life After Death.”
What is a resurrection anyway? The English word originates from a Latin word meaning a rising again from the dead. Resurrection is used by the Bible to describe someone who was dead being given life once again.
Types of resurrection
The Bible provides several examples of individuals resurrected to physical life. The most famous individual to experience this was Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John 11:38-44). Jesus miraculously restored Lazarus to life. You can read about others who were raised to physical life in our online article “Raised From the Dead.”
There is another, better resurrection to eternal, spirit life. The Bible shows there’s been only one example of this type of resurrection so far. Jesus, the Son of God, was raised to spirit life after three days and three nights in the tomb.
All will rise
God expresses a desire that “all should come to repentance” and not perish (2 Peter 3:9). His divine purpose for mankind involves bringing individuals into eternity with Him.
Knowing God’s desire for the human family should be incredibly encouraging. His plan offers forgiveness, relief, comfort and opportunity for deliverance.
But how does that work? The Bible teaches that everyone will be raised from the dead. Paul wrote, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Even though all humans fall short of the righteousness of God (Romans 3:23), God reveals here that all humans will be resurrected and made alive.
Many in the Christian world acknowledge this promise. However, when and how a person will be resurrected is often overlooked.
A resurrection to spirit life
Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians has been called the resurrection chapter. This passage reveals much of the framework of God’s plan.
Writing to the Christian congregation in Corinth, Paul affirmed, “Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Jesus was the first raised to spirit life. This special type of resurrection will be extended to others at Christ’s second coming.
Note the timing: “Each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (verse 23, emphasis added throughout). Christians who died in the faith are currently awaiting this resurrection.
Paul explained, “We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16).
First resurrection Bible verse
The Bible calls this resurrection at Christ’s return “the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5).
Those faithful saints who are asleep in the grave will be raised to spirit life—eternal and incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
The majority of humans lived without being called by God and without the opportunity to choose repentance and have the faith necessary for salvation. Those individuals, numbering in the billions, will receive that opportunity. But when?Understanding that the first resurrection is limited to the faithful saints of God prompts a number of questions: What happens to the millions who died prior to Jesus’ first coming? What about those who perished in Sodom and Gomorrah, the Flood or the unmentioned millions who died through war, disease and a multitude of other causes before Jesus came in the flesh to offer a path to salvation?
What about those who lived and died after Jesus died for the sins of the world yet were never drawn to Christ (John 6:44) during their physical lifetime? Millions of humans created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) have lived and died, never having heard of the path to salvation. Are those people left out of God’s plan?
Various Christian denominations proclaim God as “the Father of mercies” (2 Corinthians 1:3) yet assume that those individuals are eternally lost. Many believe in the unbiblical notion that those individuals will spend eternity in a miserable plight of suffering.
Thankfully, the God of the Bible does offer mercy and comfort.
What is the second resurrection?
Jesus Himself makes clear that those who did not receive an opportunity to embrace salvation will also be resurrected. When rebuking those who witnessed His ministry and miracles yet refused to repent, Jesus said, “It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon . . . [and] the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:22, 24).
The majority of humans lived without being called by God and without the opportunity to choose repentance and have the faith necessary for salvation. Those individuals, numbering in the billions, will receive that opportunity. But when?
Scripture provides the answer. They will be resurrected 1,000 years after Christ’s return. Revelation 20:4 explains that at Jesus’ return those in the first resurrection, having been raised to spirit life, will live and reign “with Christ for a thousand years” over those who live through the Great Tribulation into the Millennium. The earth will be beautified and restored as a healthy, vibrant habitat for mankind. (Read our booklet The World to Come: What It Will Be Like as a guide through Scripture to discover how the world will be changed.)
John goes on to explain what comes next. “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (verse 5). The rest of the dead includes the majority of humans. Those from Tyre and Sidon lived in a different age than those in Sodom. Yet they will all be resurrected at the same time.
There are some key differences between this second resurrection and the raising of the saints at Christ’s return. The second resurrection will restore billions to a physical life.
Note this vivid description: “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (verse 12).
This second resurrection is a resurrection to a period of learning, choosing and judgment. These individuals will be restored to physical life and given the opportunity to be taught God’s righteous way of life and have their minds opened to the truth as revealed in the Bible. For the first time in their lives, they will have a real opportunity to choose the path to salvation offered through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
As Peter explained about the name of Christ: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The billions in the second resurrection will experience this opportunity in a world at peace, ruled by the King of Kings, and in harmony with the Word of God.
A final, third, resurrection
There remains one other group of individuals to consider. Often referred to as the incorrigibly wicked, these are individuals who, in their physical lifetime, willfully and consciously reject Jesus Christ and choose to dismiss God’s way of living.
John briefly references this group. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15). For those with knowledge who deliberately reject or ignore God’s calling, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
While sobering to contemplate, this third resurrection reflects God’s wisdom and mercy. In His mercy, God has determined that those who refuse to repent will not be condemned to an eternity of torture and misery. In keeping with His righteous judgment, those who won’t repent and who choose to reject Christ’s redemptive, atoning sacrifice will be briefly restored to physical life and will experience a swift death (Malachi 4:1-3).
From that time forward, “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Which resurrection for you?
What about us and those we know? It is not our role to determine which resurrection other people may be in. Jesus is the Judge (Romans 14:10-13; Revelation 20:11).
However, in our own lives, once God has led us to Jesus and into the knowledge of His truth, we have to decide. How we individually respond to that calling is pivotal.
If God is working in your life now, then you may well have the opportunity to share in the first resurrection. For more information, see our online article “Many Are Called, but Few Are Chosen.”
There is great comfort in knowing that all people, including those now dead, will have an opportunity to receive God’s truth and know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Learn more in our booklet The Last Enemy: What Really Happens After Death?