The resurrection of the dead is proven historically by Jesus rising from the dead. The entire Biblical book of Acts recounts the historical actions of those who personally knew Jesus and saw him after his resurrection. The book was actually written by Luke who accompanied the apostle Paul on his missionary journeys to the Middle East and Europe. A very interesting passage is Acts 17:30-31 which says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” You will notice that this passage begins with one of the first elementary doctrines, repentance, and ends with the last two of these doctrines, judgment and the resurrection of the dead. Some other very important Scriptures dealing with these last two issues are Daniel 7:9, 10, 26, 27; 12:13; I Corinthians 15:12 – 28; II Corinthians 5:10; II Peter 2:9; and Revelation 20:11 – 15.
These verses show us that all people, believers and unbelievers alike, are resurrected unto a judgment of one sort or another. II Corinthians 5:10 says, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” This verse certainly includes Christians. Too many Christians believe that once they have faith in Christ that they are immune from judgment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christians are held, in fact, to a higher standard of life and moral conduct than unbelievers. This is why Peter declares, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to Turn Back from the Holy Commandment Delivered unto Them.” (2 Peter 2:20-21)
Why will it be better for some if they had never known the truth? Obviously, because one’s judgment will be more severe if he turns away from the truth after having known it. The point here is that knowledge of God’s righteousness brings accountability to God with it. This wisdom of Peter’s is not proof that Christians can lose their spiritual salvation, as some teach. This one verse utterly disproves the rampant Christian doctrine that states that all unbelievers will suffer like judgment in an eternal hell. Rather, the verse shows the seriousness of daring to call oneself a Christian.
For example, many Christians refuse to forgive others for their perceived sins against them, yet they fully expect Jesus to forgive their many sins against him. They base this expectation, as they should, upon their faith in Jesus. But Jesus said, “if you do not forgive others of their sins, neither will I forgive you of your sins.” I personally know a Christian couple whose Christian daughter married a Christian man without their permission. They believe their daughter and her husband sinned against them. Although both have for years tried to apologize for misunderstandings and to appease her parents, the parents refuse to be reconciled. They continue to harbor bitterness and unforgiveness against their daughter and especially against her husband. If Christ comes for them before they forgive their children, they will be sorely disappointed by that meeting. They will suffer punishment at the judgment seat of Christ. But have these parents lost their salvation? Will they suffer eternal punishment? What about the person who doesn’t believe in Christ at all? Will he suffer eternally?
The fact is that the New Testament word for eternal is the Greek word aionios and is derived from the Greek word aion which means eon or age. Both aionios and aion speak of particular periods of time which have both a beginning and ending. The Bible is always talking about different ages in which God does one particular work or another. For example, we have the antediluvian age prior to Noah’s flood, the age of the patriarchs from Noah to Moses, the Mosaic age from Moses to the time of Christ’s resurrection from the dead (which some call the Passover Age), and the Christian age after Jesus’s resurrection (which some call the Age of Pentecost). Now we stand on the precipice of a new age which some call the age of Aquarius and others call the age of Tabernacles.
The important thing to understand about “age-lasting judgment” is that it is not eternal in the sense that we in Western civilization think of eternal. All of the Bible, including the Old Testament Law and the many parables of Jesus, teach us that God is a God of justice. God’s proscribed punishments always fit the crime. God never asks men to carry out punishments which go beyond a man’s crimes. For example, if a man were to be whipped as punishment for his crime, he was never to receive more than 40 lashes. The reason was that he was not to be degraded in the sight of other men. If a man committed an act worthy of death, then he was to be executed according to the law. Obviously, if he needed punishment beyond what society meted out to him, then God will deal with that personally when the dead man arises alive in God’s presence.
Jesus consistently and persistently rebuked the Pharisees and other religious leaders because they did not understand that the God they served was a God of mercy. Twice he said to them, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7) Now, I ask you, where is the justice and the mercy in God if he casts untold millions into eternal hell because they never heard that his son Jesus died for their sins? Again, where is the mercy of God if, for whatever reason, he did not open the eyes of a man to the truth, but sent him to hell for having not believed in the truth? The God that I serve is a God of mercy and justice. Indeed, says my God, mercy triumphs over judgment.
The elementary doctrines of Christianity teach that there is a resurrection from the dead for all people, beginning with Jesus Christ himself. One of the reasons that Christ’s resurrection is so important is that it proved for all time that a resurrection from the dead truly will occur for each of us. Scripture also teaches that upon our resurrection, each of us will individually be judged by Christ for what we have done during our life in the earth. The Bible does not teach that God will cast all unbelievers and sinners into an eternal hell to suffer eternal punishment. But, it does teach that many will be cast into the lake of fire to learn obedience. The duration of that judgment will, I believe, be different for each person and will constitute an “age” of judgment for each person. This is the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and eternal, i.e. age lasting, judgment.