[Note: For the record, neither of these are stand-ins for the author, though both speak as the author does on occasion, in the elevated manner of a formal scholarly disputation.]
Tertius – I saw you shaking your head at both of the recent messages by our pastor emeritus.
Segundo – What of it?
Tertius – I took your head-shaking as a sign of skepticism about the messages.
Segundo – Again, what of it? Surely you know I actively listen to any message that happens, unless I happen to be more interested in what is going on on my smartphone than in the message, which admittedly happens sometimes.
Tertius – But you seemed to shake your head in particular at mentions of the third resurrection.
Segundo – Again, I don’t see the point of your finger-wagging. Do you have some kind of point to make here?
Tertius – Only that it would be heretical to deny the existence of the third resurrection. Surely you know it has been a fundamental belief of the Church of God for decades now. As it is written in our creedal statement: “We believe that the only hope of eternal life for mortal humans lies in the resurrection through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We believe that at the return of Jesus Christ a resurrection to spirit life will take place for all who have been God’s faithful servants. We believe that after Jesus Christ has ruled on earth for 1,000 years there will be a resurrection to physical life of the vast majority of all people who have ever lived. We believe that, after these people have had an opportunity to live a physical life if they become converted they, too, will receive eternal life. We also believe that those who reject God’s offer of salvation will reap eternal death (1 Corinthians 15:19, 42-52; Acts 23:6; John 5:21-29; Romans 6:23; 8:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Revelation 20:4-5, 11-15; John 3:16; Matthew 25:46).”
Segundo – I do not deny a word of it. I too believe that those who reject God’s offer of salvation will reap eternal death. That statement itself does not state the circumstances of the eternal death that those who reject God’s offer of salvation will receive.
Tertius – What, then, do you believe?
Segundo – I believe in two resurrections, a first resurrection for believers who have believed in God before the return of Jesus Christ, and a second general resurrection of those who will have a chance to repent and believe at the Great White Throne judgment. Furthermore, I believe that those who accept that offer of salvation among the second group will have their names written in the Book of Life and receive eternal life and those who reject that offer will have their names removed from the Book of Life and will be burned up in the lake of fire.
Tertius – So far we are agreed then.
Segundo – So far we are, yes.
Tertius – What about those who have received their chance of salvation in this life. Do you believe they will have a second chance at salvation?
Segundo – No, I do not. I believe, along with the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 6:4-8, the following: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.”
Tertius – Do you believe that they will be raised up in the general resurrection that follows the Millennium then?
Segundo – I do. For one, Hebrews 11:35 tells us: “Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” The statement of a better resurrection accords with what Revelation 20 says about there being a first and second resurrection. There use of the comparative better rather than the superlative best implies that there are two resurrections being spoken of here rather than three.
Tertius – Are there any other points other than grammar that would support a belief in two resurrections?
Segundo – Again, as I already mentioned, Revelation 20 also implies there are only two resurrections. As Revelation 20:4-6 reads: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” The rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years were ended implies that the rest of the dead were resurrected at that point.
Tertius – It does not necessarily mean that, for it is possible that there could be a resurrection afterward.
Segundo – Do you have a positive statement from scripture that those who rejected their chance at salvation while they were alive on earth during their physical life are resurrected only to be put to death immediately afterward?
Tertius – Do you have a positive statement from scripture that those whose fate has already been determined will live during the Great White Throne judgment?
Segundo – Is it not written in Isaiah 65:20 the following: “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, Nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; For the child shall die one hundred years old, But the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.”
Tertius – And is not not written in Luke 16:19-31 that there was no time at all between the death of the rich man and his experiencing of torments and the facing of the lake of fire?
Segundo – You are going to try to use the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man as doctrinal material of the afterlife? I must admit this is not an approach I have often heard in the many messages I have listened to about this subject. Surely if one is going to look for a systematic discussion of the logistics of the lake of fire, the Bible does not provide a lot of details about some of the matters of the resurrections.
Tertius – What do you mean? Are you going to make an argumentum ad silencio?
Segundo – No, but the doctrine of the third resurrection springs from precisely those fallacious grounds. The Bible speaks clearly of two resurrections, one for those who are believers here and now who God has called and who have accepted that call and lived and died in the faith, and one for everyone else. To speak of a third is to make an argument from silence.
Tertius – Do you believe it is just, then, for God to let people live for 100 years during the judgment when they have no chance of repenting again and entering into eternal life?
Segundo – I do not assume anything about God’s judgment. If God wants to keep people alive who have no chance of repentance, that is His prerogative. After all, God allows Satan to continue to exist even though His fate is certain. And the demons who met Jesus and were cast out of people were upset that He was coming before the time appointed for their judgment. Who is to say that God will not be longsuffering and patient to human beings and allow them to see others repent and enter into the kingdom before they are dealt with, even if their fate is certain. I do not have the mind of God; I am only a creature myself. My human reasoning will not bring me very far into the wisdom for God. I can only go with what the Bible itself says, not about assumptions I make about the justice or fairness of God in doing His will.
Tertius – You do not think that the torment of living for 100 years while one knew one was going to be condemned is contrary to the love and mercy of God?
Segundo – Not necessarily. God’s love and mercy often reveal themselves in mysterious ways to those of us here on earth. God allows little children to be abused and does not prevent it. He allows people to be bullied and raped and murdered. He allows a great deal of suffering so that human free will can work itself out in horrifying and terrible ways often without interfering in it. If he allowed people to live for a hundred years, as Isaiah indicates, during the process of judgment so that those who had firmly rejected repentance for their sins and accepting the offer of salvation from God through Jesus Christ, so that they could see what they were missing out on, would that be so mysterious considering the way that God’s justice reveals itself in our own physical lives?
Tertius – Were we having an argument about theodicy? Do you want us to have a discussion of Romans 8?
Segundo – I only brought it up to point out that arguing about the justice of God only forces us to deal with the fact that God’s justice is far more incomprehensible than we would like it to be. If the existence of terrible evil on this earth for those who are comparatively innocent does not disprove the justice of God, and I do not believe that it does, then neither would allowing people to be tormented by their guilt or being seen as an object of ridicule and derision for a hundred years by those who have entered or will enter into eternal life.
Tertius – Surely your view of God is rather harsh then.
Segundo – I suppose it is. But I do not see a third resurrection stated openly in scripture. Nor do I think it necessary that an occasion for judgment necessarily means a separate resurrection. After all, I believe that those who live during the millennial rule of Jesus Christ and the resurrected saints on the earth will have their time of judgment during their lives. Do you not believe that?
Tertius – I do indeed believe that, but the Bible does not state when they will be resurrected into eternal life, whether at the end of their lives or at the Great White Throne judgment that follows the millennium.
Segundo – I agree with you there. Where the Bible does not speak clearly, we do not have the license merely to speculate and then call it doctrine. I am not opposed necessarily to speculation, as I do it a fair amount–
Tertius – Aye, that you do!
Segundo – But our opinion simply isn’t worth very much. I consider the third resurrection to either be a speculative matter, if one speculates that the dead who rejected their chance for salvation in this life or, like the beast and false prophet, who have been consigned to the lake of fire are raised immediately preceding their punishment, or to be part of the second resurrection if you mean it to refer to the second death that comes to those who do not enter into eternal life. If the first, I see no scriptural warrant for it. If the second, I see no reason to separate one of the results of a resurrection from the resurrection itself. We may simply call it the second death, and say that it is one of the two results of those who come up in the second resurrection, and that it is made up of various groups of people, including those who rejected the offer of eternal life and salvation during their physical lives in this present evil age, during the millennium, or during the Great White Throne judgment and who refused to repent and hardened their hearts against God’s ways.
Tertius – And that is your stance then?
Segundo – It is. It is not so different from your own view.
Tertius – That is what heretics always claim.
Segundo – Am I a heretic then?