In the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds (or tares) in Matthew 13:24–30 (with its interpretation in Matthew 13:36–43), Jesus explains that the Son of Man sows good seed—the children of the kingdom—in the world. But the devil came at night and sowed weeds—the children of Satan—among the good seed. At the close of the age, the Son of Man will send His angels to separate out of His kingdom all lawbreakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. The righteous will then shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Another parable in parallel to this is the Parable of the Net in Matthew 13:47–50. Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a net that catches all kinds of fish. When the net is full at the end of the age, the net is drawn by men who separate the good fish (the righteous) from the bad (the wicked). The good fish are kept, and the bad are thrown away into the fiery furnace. How could there be an interval of one thousand years between the drawing of the good and the bad when there is only one net that hauls in fish of both kinds in one catch?
Based on these passages alone, the resurrection of all the dead—righteous and wicked—will take place, not as two events, but as one event at the end of the world. These clear texts contradict the dispensational premillennialist teaching of multiple resurrections. In the dispensationalist scheme of the end times, the righteous will be resurrected at the so-called Secret Rapture, and 1,007 years later, the wicked will in turn be resurrected, judged and sent to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11–15). The intervening period includes a seven-year tribulation after the rapture and a thousand-year millennial reign of Christ.
This scheme is classic eisegesis, or reading ideas into the text. Because dispensationalists presuppose a literal millennium, every passage has to be examined through the millennial lens. However, in addition to the above, many other texts show that this imaginary thousand-year separation between two resurrections is inserted by dispensationalists without even an iota of Scripture as basis, in contradiction to the biblical teaching of a general resurrection on “the last day.” Let us examine some of these different points of view.
One Resurrection on the Last Day
Several Pauline texts teach that the righteous will be resurrected when Christ returns. At “the coming of the Lord . . . the dead in Christ will rise first,” preceding the righteous who are still alive (1 Thessalonians 4:15–16). Christians “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21). Christ, being “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” will be resurrected first, “then at his coming those who belong to Christ” will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23).
When would this resurrection of the righteous happen? Jesus repeatedly points out—four times to be exact—that it will be on the “last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). If the wicked are resurrected a thousand years after the righteous, how can the resurrection of the righteous be on “the last day?” As well, in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus foretells that when the Son of Man comes “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory”—unmistakable second coming language—His angels “will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:29–31).
Several texts are very clear that there is one general resurrection at the end of the age. Daniel 12:1–2 speaks of the awakening of “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth” “at the time of the end” (Dan. 11:40)—“some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus uses similar language when he said in John 5:28–29 that “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” Paul also preached “a resurrection [anastasin, singular] of both the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15). Can “an hour” span a thousand years? Can two resurrections separated by a thousand years be properly called a single resurrection?
Three Last Judgment Parables
In Matthew 25 there is a series of three parables about the coming of the Son of Man. In these three parables, Jesus shows that the last judgment—of both the righteous and the wicked—will take place on the day of His coming. This clearly means that everyone will stand before Him on the same day, and that there is no 1,000-year period separating the judgment of the righteous and the wicked.
In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), the bridegroom came unexpectedly at midnight. The five who waited patiently and were prepared went in with the bridegroom to the marriage feast, but the door was shut, leaving out the other five who were unprepared. This parable is confirmed in Revelation 19:6–9 where the Bride of Christ is described as the blessed “who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The wicked are left outside the city gates (Revelation 22:14–15) because nothing unclean will ever enter the heavenly city (Revelation 21:27).
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30 tells of a master who goes away on a journey, entrusting his property to three of his servants. After a long time, the master comes back and calls each of his three servants to give an account of how they managed his property. The “good and faithful servants” enter into the joy of the master, while the “wicked and slothful servant” is cast into the outer darkness.
Of these three parables, the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31–46) gives the clearest evidence of a single, general resurrection of the righteous and the wicked. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory” together with all His angels, He will sit on His judgment throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him, the righteous sheep on His right and the cursed goats on His left (vv. 31–33). The righteous will “inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world” (v. 34), but the cursed will be sent into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41).
After analyzing these three parables, the obvious dilemma for premillenial dispensationalists is this: How can there be two resurrections separated by 1,000 years when the separation occurs in the same event on the same day, the day of Christ’s return?
Because of Revelation 20:1–6, Ignore All of the Above?
Dispensational premillennialists ground their whole millennial eschatology on a few verses in Revelation 20, where “a thousand years” is mentioned six times. In effect, they are insisting, “Never mind the overwhelming crystal-clear evidence discussed above; we want to develop our whole system of doctrine based on six verses in Revelation 20, however unclear these are compared to the rest of the evidence.”
Revelation 20 tells us that when Christ returns, those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus will come to life in a “first resurrection.” The rest of the dead will not come to life until after the thousand years are ended (Revelation 20:4–5), implying a separate second resurrection. Furthermore, the “second death” has no power over these martyrs for Christ (Revelation 20:6). The “second death” also refers to Death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). Obviously, the “second death” implies a “first death.”
Meredith Kline’s careful exegesis of this text is helpful.1 Since the Bible clearly teaches one general bodily resurrection, the “first resurrection” cannot mean that there is another physical resurrection a thousand years later. Rather, John is pointing out the antithesis between “first” (protos) as old in the sense of the present and temporal state of things, and “second” as the new and eternal state of things. Since bodily resurrection is the introduction of man to eternity, and the “first resurrection” refers to a passing, temporal state, the “first resurrection” cannot be a physical resurrection.
Kline sees two pairs of paradoxical patterns in this text. The first pair, “first resurrection” of the righteous and the “second death” of the wicked, is explicit and metaphorical. Both the “first resurrection” and “second death” are written in the text. As well, the “first resurrection” is not in the physical sense, and the “second death” is not an actual physical death that the wicked is subject to for a second time.
The second paradoxical pair, the first death of the wicked and the second resurrection of the righteous, is only implicit in the text and literal. Both are not written, but only implied in the text. As well, both the first death of the wicked and the second resurrection of the righteous are bodily in nature. With this paradoxical scheme, the temporal and eternal state of the righteous is referred to as “resurrections,” while that of the wicked is referred to as “death.” In this way, John exclusively reserves the word “death” for the wicked, and the word “resurrection” for the righteous.
The death of the Christian is identified as “the first resurrection,” because when the righteous dies, he lives and performs his kingly and priestly functions with Christ (vv. 4 and 6). Paul agrees when he says, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)—the gain of resurrection. In contrast, on judgment day, the wicked are awakened and delivered from the grave (v. 13) only to be thrown into the lake of fire (v. 15), an event John calls “the second death.”
This pair of paradoxes is summarized in the chiastic2 structure below:
This article has sought to show that there is one general resurrection of the dead—righteous and wicked—at the end of the age when Christ returns. Inserting a period of a thousand years between the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked cannot be justified from Scriptures, whether from the Old Testament or the New Testament.
It is the prayer and hope of the author of this article that those who teach or believe in a future literal millennial reign of Christ on earth would look and study the texts cited above and reconsider and reevaluate their well-entrenched eschatological presuppositions developed, not from Scriptures, but from popular contemporary literature and media.
1. Kline, Meredith G, “The
First Resurrection”, Westminster Theological Journal 37:3 (Spring 1975) 366–75.
2. Chiasm is a literary device represented by the Greek letter Χ (chi), wherein the elements of a text are paralleled in reverse order, with the center of the Χ as the main idea.
Rev. Nollie Malabuyo is an associate pastor of the Trinity URC in Walnut Creek, CA.