The Feast of Trumpets
After Israel's pentecostal experience at Mount Sinai, God gave Moses instructions to build the tabernacle and its various articles of furniture. They erected the tabernacle on the first day of the first month just one year after leaving Egypt (Exodus 40:17). A month later, the pillar of cloud over the tabernacle lifted and began to move toward the land of Canaan (Num. 10:11). The people followed.
Now God told Moses to build two trumpets of silver. Apparently, up to this time no one had ever thought to build a trumpet out of silver. The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us in Antiquities, III, XII, 6, "Moses was the inventor of the form of their trumpet, which was made of silver. . . It was composed of a narrow tube, somewhat thicker than a flute . . . it ended in the form of a bell."
Of course, the Bible tells us that God inspired Moses to make these trumpets. This is recorded in Numbers 10:1-10,
1 The LORD spoke further to Moses, saying, 2"Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. 3And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 4Yet if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you. . . .
8 "The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations. . . .
9 "And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies.
10 "Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first days of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the LORD your God."
The Feast of Trumpets prophesies of the resurrection of the dead. It has been called in Jewish circles, "the Day of the Awakening Blast." Because this festival fell on the first day of the seventh month, it fell on a new moon--that is, when the first sliver of the new moon appeared in the evening sky at the beginning of each lunar month. There was always some uncertainty as to when the new moon would appear or could be seen (if cloudy). For this reason, Jesus spoke of His coming in Matthew 25:13, saying, "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour." This phrase about not knowing the day nor the hour is a peculiar Hebrew saying, which they specifically applied to the Feast of Trumpets, whose beginning was unknown until the new moon was sighted.
The Feast of Trumpets is the first of the autumn feast days, which prophesy of the second coming of Christ. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:16,
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise FIRST.
The first event on the prophetic calendar relating to the second coming of Christ is the resurrection of the dead. We believe that the appointed time for this event is on the Feast of Trumpets of some year. We have already seen that Jesus could not be crucified on any day other than on Passover, and that He died at the moment the people began to slay their lambs. We have also shown that Jesus had to await the third hour of the day on the day of the wave-sheaf offering before He could ascend to the Father and present Himself as alive in the heavenly court. We also saw that the Holy Spirit could not be sent until the third hour of the day on the Feast of Pentecost.
These were all appointed times, prophesied in the law. By observing how God treats these appointed times, we can begin to understand the significance of the autumn feast days and how they likewise set the timing for prophetic events. These past patterns strongly suggest that the archangel will blow the trumpet signaling the resurrection of the dead on the Feast of Trumpets of some year.
The Two Resurrections
The law suggests that there will be more than one resurrection. For this reason, God told Moses to make TWO trumpets of silver. When the priest blew with just one trumpet, only the leaders, the heads of the people, were to gather before God. When the priest blew BOTH trumpets, the entire congregation was to gather before God.
John tells us in Revelation 20 that there will be two resurrections, not just one. The first resurrection, John says, will include only believers. Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of this first resurrection,
4And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
This is obviously a partial resurrection, because not all men are raised to life at this time. Only those who are called to "reign with Christ for a thousand years" are raised in the first resurrection. "The rest of the dead" are NOT raised until the second resurrection at the end of the thousand years. The first resurrection, therefore, includes only the heads of the people--that is, those who are called to rule in the Kingdom during the Age of Tabernacles. This is why Paul speaks of the "trumpet" (singular) which the angel will blow, calling them forth from the graves. It fulfills Moses' prophecy of the single trumpet that was to summon only the rulers of the people.
When the apostle Paul speaks of the resurrection of the dead, he usually speaks of the first resurrection, rather than the second. Consequently, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, quoted earlier, the dead are raised "at the last trumpet" (singular). Paul identifies those raised as "the dead in Christ," NOT ALL the dead, small and great. In other words, the first resurrection is a limited resurrection; the second is general that includes the rest of the dead.
Not All Christians Are Raised in the First Resurrection
Revelation 20 does NOT tell us that ALL BELIEVERS are to be raised in the first resurrection. He merely tells us that ONLY BELIEVERS will be raised in the first resurrection. This may seem like an odd point to make, since most Christians assume that all believers are raised at the same time. But other scriptures compel us to question this common assumption. Jesus spoke of the second resurrection in John 5:28 and 29.
28Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
It is plain that Jesus was not referring to the first resurrection, which was limited to ONLY believers. Jesus says that "an hour is coming" where ALL will be raised, and at that time some will be given life (immortality), while others will be judged. It is obvious that this cannot be a reference to the first resurrection. This can only refer to the second resurrection recorded in the latter verses of Revelation 20,
11And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Notice especially that in this general resurrection the Book of Life is mentioned. The wording in verse 15 implies that many WERE found written in the Book of Life. Nowhere does it tell us that no one in the general resurrection could be found in that Book. Nor does it anywhere imply that everyone raised at this time should be cast into the lake of fire.
We can only conclude, then, that in the general resurrection at the end of the thousand-year Tabernacles Age the angel will blow BOTH trumpets. This will summon the entire congregation (Church) from the grave--except for the rulers, of course, who had been summoned a thousand years earlier. The Church as a whole, then, will be raised from the dead at the end of the thousand years along with all the unbelievers. Here the unbelievers will be judged by the "lake of fire," while the congregation of non-ruling believers will receive life (immortality).
The Apostle Paul's testimony before Felix, recorded in Acts 24:14 and 15, affirms the same thing:
14But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law, and that is written in the Prophets; 15having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
Paul says that there will be a single resurrection that will include both the righteous and the wicked. This is obviously not the first resurrection. It can only refer to the second. This shows that believers will certainly be raised in the second resurrection, but because their names ARE found written in the Book of Life, they will be given immortality and not be cast into the lake of fire with the unbelievers.
For this reason, the Apostle Paul labored to be an overcomer and to attain to the better resurrection. In Philippians 3 he said that he counted all of his own righteousness as dung, that he might know Christ and "the fellowship of His sufferings" (3:10). To what purpose? Verse 11 says, "in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" [Greek: exanastasis ek nekron, "the OUT-resurrection FROM the dead"]. Dr. Bullinger's note on that verse in The Companion Bible says of this,
"Resurrection from the dead (ek nekron) implies the resurrection of some, the former of these two classes, the others being left behind."
In other words, Paul understood the concept of the two resurrections, even as John did. Paul's earnest desire was to attain the first resurrection out from among the rest of the dead. In that context, Paul then says in verses 12-16,
12Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 13Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; 16however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
Some have interpreted this to mean that Paul was unsure of his salvation. This is certainly not the case. He knew that he was saved and would be raised to immortality at some point. However, he did not presume to have attained to the FIRST resurrection, which was his goal, "the prize of the upward call of God." To attain this high calling, one must learn obedience, often by suffering, and one must endure to the end. And so Paul exhorts all believers to have this same attitude of mind, as well as to continue living by a Christian moral standard in obedience to the law of God.
Christians Will Be Held Accountable
Many Christians will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, not only to determine their rewards, but also to be held accountable for unrepentant lawless behavior. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15,
10According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. 11For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. 14If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul makes it clear that he is speaking of Christians here, people who have been justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb. They are the people who claim Jesus Christ as their Foundation. These are people who have experienced Passover in their lives, people who have come out of "Egypt" (the world) and who are citizens of God's Kingdom. Even so, like the Israelites of old, just because they came out of Egypt does not mean that they have learned obedience through Pentecost (the leading of the Spirit).
Under Moses, "the Church in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38) was lawless. It is the same with the Church in the wilderness of the Pentecostal Age. Jesus affirms this in Matthew 7, saying,
21"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. 22"Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' 23"And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness [Greek: anomia].'
Lawlessness (anomia) is a heart attitude of despising God's law, rather than an act of committing any particular sin. To deliberately cast aside any portion of God's Word is a manifestation of unbelief, or lack of faith. Why? Because he who does this is in disagreement with God, not believing what He has spoken. Some (like Marcion in the fourth-century Church) have gone so far as to say that the Old Testament was inspired by Satan. Others merely believe that God's law is hateful or vengeful, and that it needed to be replaced by Jesus, the God of love.
One often hears statements from the pulpit that disparage the divine law as being something less than perfect, even though David confessed that "The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul" (Psalm 19:7). One often hears that the law has been put away, even though Paul said, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law." One often hears that Jesus fulfilled the law so that we would have no requirement before the law, though Jesus said in Matthew 5:19,
19Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus did not say that such lawless people would be EXCLUDED from the Kingdom. He merely said that they would not be rulers in His Kingdom. They will be called "the least in the kingdom" but they will still be in the Kingdom. They will be called forth in the second resurrection and will be held accountable at that time according to their lawless attitude and works.
God's Servants Scourged
Jesus spoke a parable illustrating the judgment of the believers and unbelievers in Luke 12:41-48. It was in response to Peter's question in verse 41:
41And Peter said, "Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?"
Jesus then explains to Peter and the others the difference in rewards given to the overcomers and to the rest of the Church:
42And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of [Greek: epi, "over"] his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of [epi, "over"] all his possessions."
These are the overcomers who will reign with Christ in the Tabernacles Age for a thousand years. They will be put in a position of rulership OVER "his servants" as well as OVER "his possessions." God's servants are the believers, while the faithful stewards represent the overcomers. Next Jesus speaks of those who misuse their positions of authority and oppress the people in this present life:
45 But if that slave says in his heart, "My master will be a long time in coming," and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him, and at an hour he does not know, and will cut [Greek: dichotomeo, "to cut up by scourging"] him in pieces, and assign him a place [Greek: autos meros, "his portion"] with the unbelievers."
We apologize for the poor translation of this verse done by the New American Standard translators, who did not understand what Jesus was saying here. Their lack of understanding made them translate Jesus' words to say that these servants, or slaves, of God would be cut in half. Instead, Jesus was referring to the judgment of scourging, mentioned in the next verse. The Greek word, dichotomeo, does not mean to chop someone in half or into pieces. It means to cut by means of a whip.
Also, Jesus told Peter that such lawless Christians would be judged at the same time as the unbelievers. He will "assign him his portion WITH (meta, "with, after, among") the unbelievers."
This does not mean that Christians will lose their salvation, nor does it mean they receive the same reward or judgment as unbelievers. They will be "saved yet so as by fire," while the unbelievers will be thrown into the lake of fire. The fire is the same only in that it represents judgment of the divine law, as we will explain shortly. The law mandates that the judgment always fit the crime. Some are only worthy of scourging, while others are judged with more serious offenses. Jesus explains this "scourging" further in the next verses:
47 And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
This is not talking about nonbelievers, as if to teach that the very wicked will be given hotter flames in hell than the ordinary non-Christian. No, this is talking about God's servants, or slaves. They are believers who, because of their attitude of lawlessness and their oppression of others in this life, will be held accountable for their works at the same time that the wicked are judged.
The Christians who knew better, but actively refused to be obedient to the law of God will receive a greater degree of judgment than those who did not know God's will and sinned out of ignorance. There are many Christians who are ignorant of God's law, simply because they have never heard it taught in church. Thus, they often violate it unknowingly--not because they have a wicked heart.
Scourging, or flogging, was a judgment in the divine law for misdemeanors. It was strictly limited to forty lashes (Deut. 25:1-3). The number of lashes was supposed to be dispensed according to the seriousness of the sin. Yet it was a form of punishment that was concluded rather quickly, as opposed to other types of crime, such as theft. When a thief was caught stealing, he was to pay at least double restitution and if he did not have the money to repay his victim, he was to be sold as a slave for a set amount of time. Such slaves might have to work for many years, if the sin-debt was great.
At the Great White Throne, God will judge the lawless believers quickly, treating them much like rebellious children in need of a brief but effective whipping. This will be their judgment of "fire." Of course, whether God implements literal flogging, or whether this merely establishes the principle by which God will judge Christians as rebellious children, we leave it in the hands of the most capable Judge. God will correct them by the perfect judgment of His perfect law.
Jesus concluded His parable with the words,
49 I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!
The "fire" here is the fiery law, applied specifically as a the flogging in the previous verses. Fire is the biblical symbol of the judgments of God's law. Deuteronomy 33:2 speaks of God's "fiery law" that He gave us at Mount Sinai. In Jeremiah 23:29 God says, "Is not My word like fire?" It is always the divine law that God uses to judge mankind, for that is His standard of sin and righteousness (1 John 3:4; Romans 7:7). In Daniel 7:9 and 10 the prophet saw God's throne as a fire, from which "a fiery stream" issued forth to judge the people. A throne is a symbol of law, and when the monarch sits upon the throne to judge the people, it signifies that he is ruling and judging the people according to the law.
It is therefore very appropriate that God came down upon Mount Sinai and manifested Himself only by FIRE when He gave His law to the people. That this is not to be taken literally is proven by the fact that one must search in vain throughout the law to find any sin that was worthy of torture in a literal fire. The worst punishment that could be dispensed in the divine law was to burn or cremate the dead body of one who was executed, so as to prevent an honorable burial. This actually occurred with Achan in Joshua 7:25 after he had been stoned.
In Luke 12:49 quoted earlier, Jesus was not anxious to burn the earth with fire, but restore it with the baptism of fire. He takes no pleasure in destroying or torturing sinners. He was, however, anxious that the divine law be implemented and enforced in the earth, because, as Isaiah 26:9 says, "For when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness." This is the purpose of divine judgment. It is to teach and correct, not to destroy. This is why Jesus expressed His yearning to see this divine fire come upon the earth. It was because He loved the world (John 3:16) and longed to see it restored, as the prophets have all foretold.
The Parable of the Talents
Jesus told a parable in Matthew 25:14-30 that sheds more light on the differences in rewards that believers will receive. In the parable, the man (representing Jesus Himself) traveled into a far country. That is, Jesus ascended to heaven. Before leaving, the man entrusted varying amounts of money to his servants (Christians), telling them to do business with the money until his return.
He gave one man five "talents," another two, and another just one talent. A talent in biblical days was over a hundred pounds of silver. The servants were to use the money while the man was gone to buy and sell and increase the money through lawful business transactions. When he returned, the man entrusted with five talents had made another five, while the one entrusted with two had made another two. The servant who had been given just one talent of silver decided that it was not worth the risk to invest the money. He buried it, or hid it, and made no increase.
The master then gave rewards to the servants according to the measure of their success in trading. The servant who buried his talent received no reward at all. In fact, his talent was then given to the most profitable servant. In verse 21, the man then told his profitable servants:
21 His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of [Greek: epi, "over"] many things, enter into the joy of your master."
It is apparent from this that not every Christian and not every overcomer will receive the same reward. The rewards will be according to our works. Immortality itself, of course, will be the same for all, for this reward comes to those who are justified by faith. Even the servant (Christian) who hid the money entrusted to him will not lose his reward of immortality, for that is not based upon one's works. Yet he certainly would lose the reward of being entrusted with rulership over many things. In other words, he would lose the first resurrection and not receive life in the Age of Tabernacles, which follows the current Pentecostal Age.
While this particular parable does not reveal much about the two resurrections, it does establish the principle of differing rewards for God's servants. The rewards are described in terms of rulership, being put "in charge of many things." In the related parable in Luke 19, Jesus puts it in terms of ruling over CITIES. Therefore, we believe it is safe to say that this parable is talking about the overcomers who will reign with Christ during the Age of Tabernacles (Rev. 20:4-6).
The Resurrection of the Righteous
We have already seen from Luke 12:42-44 that those who will be made rulers in God's household are those who are faithful and wise stewards, people who do not abuse their positions of authority in this present age. In order to distinguish such people from the other believers (Christians), we call them overcomers. Others call them the remnant, or the elect. What we call them is not important, so long as we understand that there are two categories of Christian believers mentioned in the Scriptures.
In Luke 14:12-14 Jesus spoke a parable regarding the first resurrection and those who would inherit it:
12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. 13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. "
Jesus says nothing in this parable about the general resurrection of ALL the dead, but only "the resurrection of the righteous." This identifies it as the FIRST resurrection. The lesson here is that in order to be an overcomer that inherits the first resurrection, one must show qualities of unconditional love, of giving with no thought of receiving in return. The principle is simple, even if its outworking might prove to be more difficult, depending on how much of our substance God asks us to give.
Did the First Resurrection Already Occur?
There are some that hold the view that the first resurrection has already occurred at the time of Jesus' resurrection. In support of this position, they quote Matthew 27:50-54,
50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. 51 And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, 52 and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!"
Matthew is the only Gospel writer who mentions this event. There are few details given, and so we are left with many unanswered questions. First, the way it is recorded, it is hard to say if this occurred at the time of His crucifixion or later at the time of his resurrection. Matthew seems at first to place this resurrection at the time of Jesus' death when the veil was rent in two. Then next he seems to say they arose "after His resurrection."
As for the earthquakes, Matthew 27:54 makes it quite clear that a quake struck at the time of Jesus' death on the cross, but in Matthew 28:2 we are told that another quake (or aftershock) occurred at His resurrection. The other Gospel writers say nothing at all about earthquakes.
It is difficult to believe that the dead would be raised at the time of Jesus' death. One would think that, if anything, they would be raised with Christ on the third day. And if they were indeed raised from the dead, we must ask if ALL the overcomers were resurrected, or just "many," (Greek: polus) as the text indicates. Why did Matthew not tell us that "all" (Greek: pas) of the Old Testament saints were raised? He certainly could have used this word, since he used it a few verses earlier in Matthew 27:45, saying that "all the land" was covered in darkness."
Matthew says that "many" saints were raised and appeared to "many" in Jerusalem. The Greek word is the same in both cases. It is certain that these saints did not appear to "all" in Jerusalem, and so it is apparent that neither were "all" the saints raised. This was no doubt a limited resurrection of saints that had been buried near the vicinity of Jerusalem, rather than a general resurrection of all the saints of the Old Testament who had died around the world.
Our second question is if they were raised to immortality, or were raised for a short period of time for only that day. It is certainly a fairly common view, even in the early Church that all the Old Testament saints were raised from the dead when Jesus was raised from the tomb, and that these saints went to heaven with Jesus when He ascended. Along with this, it is generally taught that the "cloud" that received Jesus at His ascension was the "cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1).
On the other hand, Peter said in his Pentecostal sermon in Acts 2:29,
29 Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
Peter seems to know nothing about David being raised from the dead. Though he cites David's own prophecy of his ultimate resurrection, Peter applies the Scripture only to Christ and His resurrection. It seems strange that if David himself had just been raised from the dead and had ascended with Christ 40 days later that Peter would have missed so great an opportunity to tell the people of this great witness to the Messiahship of Jesus. Why did not Peter and the other New Testament writers give more attention to this very important miraculous sign?
Were the Old Testament saints perfected before the New Testament saints, contrary to what Hebrews 11:40 seems to tell us--"that apart from us they [Old Testament saints] should not be made perfect?" Would the writer of the book of Hebrews have failed even to mention this resurrection of Old Testament saints? It hardly seems plausible.
Revelation 6:9-11 likewise raises questions about this resurrection.
9 And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, should be completed also.
Why are these souls "underneath the altar," rather than enjoying the benefits of heaven? We know that the priest was to pour the blood of the sacrifice under the altar and that the soul (Heb. nephesh) is in the blood (Lev. 17:11-14). In Isaiah 53:12 the prophet foretells of Jesus' sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, saying (KJV), " he hath poured out his soul [Heb. nephesh] unto death." Here the soul is said to be poured out, but it is through the agency of the blood. Hence, the souls under the altar are portrayed as being martyrs sacrificed as the body of Christ. Their souls are under the altar, even as the blood was poured upon the ground under the altar in the temple. But the real question pertinent to our discussion is this: Why are these souls not enjoying heaven? Why are the white robes given only a consolation to them until a future time of redemption? Is it because regardless of whether or not these saints are in heaven having the white robes (of immortality and righteousness), they still have not received their final reward, which is the Feast of Tabernacles? We believe so, and this will be explained in chapter seven.
Meanwhile, however, we must ask ourselves why there are souls in Revelation 6 who are yet "under the altar," or under the ground where the law puts the blood (soul). Are these souls limited to the New Testament saints that have been martyred as a sacrifice? If so, can the Old Testament saints be perfected apart from them?
Revelation 20:4-6, speaking of the first resurrection, says nothing about the resurrection in Matthew 27, which (if a true resurrection) would have been the first resurrection and limited to the Old Testament saints. Instead, verse 4 speaks more of the New Testament martyrs than merely those of the Old Testament era. It includes "the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus" as well as those not receiving the mark of the beast. While both descriptions certainly might be taken to include the saints of the Old Testament, the description is clearly in terms of the New Testament saints.
So Matthew's account is more perplexing than informative. It was nothing more than a very limited resurrection of a few people--perhaps of those who had only recently died. It was not a major enough sign of Jesus' Messiahship to warrant more than the passing mention by just one of the apostles. We are compelled to conclude that the "first resurrection" of Revelation 20 does not fit the description of the raising of the dead in Matthew 27. Regardless of what happened in Matthew 27, we cannot conclude that the Old Testament saints fulfilled the prophecy of the first resurrection, nor can we say that they received their final reward prophesied in the Feast of Tabernacles. Revelation 22:12 tells us,
12 Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.
This is a reference to Isaiah 40:10, which says,
10 Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.
In Jesus' parable of the talents, He speaks of giving rewards to His servants when He returns, not when He was about to leave. When He gave the talents to the servants, this was not meant to be their reward. They were only stewards of this money, and their later reward was based upon what they did with the money while He was gone. Nor can we say that they received their rewards while He was yet gone. No one received his reward until He returned.
On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, God gave gifts unto men. This was not the final reward. This was like the man who gave the talents to his servants, expecting them to invest the money and increase it during the Age of Pentecost. Then when He returns, He expects to see an increase from each of the servants. Only at this point are the actual rewards given to the servants.
Whatever we might say about the state of the dead believers who have lived and died, we cannot say that they have received their rewards yet. This is reserved for the time of the resurrection. The perfection must await the day when the full corporate body of Christ has been born in the earth. God is doing a corporate work here, and men are not going to be perfected one at a time in a piecemeal fashion. This was why the stones of Solomon's temple were cut and prepared away from the temple site itself (1 Kings 6:7), and when all was ready, the stones were placed upon each other. In the same manner, God has been preparing the living stones of His temple for thousands of years, and they will be placed together in unity at the last day.
The reward that Christ brings with Him is ultimately the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles. The purpose of creation itself was for the Father to glorify Himself in earth. He gave Adam a glorified body--spiritual flesh, as it were--but Adam lost this inheritance when he sinned. God is in the process of restoring that which was lost in Adam. For a Christian to die and go to heaven to live in a spiritual existence does not fulfill the ultimate purpose of God for us. Some believe that man goes to heaven at death, while others believe that all men sleep until the resurrection. This doctrinal dispute is not really relevant to our present discussion, because either way we contend that the Feast of Tabernacles cannot be fulfilled until we receive spiritual flesh like Jesus had after His resurrection. (This was also manifested in His transfiguration on the mount.)
But we must reserve this subject for a later chapter when we deal with that feast. Meanwhile, let us merely draw the conclusion that the Old Testament saints have not yet received their reward, even as we have not. The first resurrection has not yet occurred. The events in Matthew 27 may be a raising from the dead, but we cannot assume that they were raised to immortality. Certainly, they did not receive their ultimate reward.
So then, what DID happen when Jesus was crucified? There is no way to prove any viewpoint positively. But we do know that in the Scriptures there are examples of people who have been raised from the dead, but who did not receive immortality. They were raised to life in a limited sense of resurrection. For example, Lazarus was raised from the dead in John 11, but early Church history records that he died later as a missionary in Marseilles, France. His tomb is still with us to this day.
Matthew does not tell us who was raised from the dead that day. Many assume that it was all the Old Testament saints. But Matthew only says that "many" arose, not all, and he says that they appeared unto "many." We are given no names, such as Abraham, David, or Isaiah. Such views are based purely upon assumption. In fact, how would men have known it was Abraham or David? There were no photographs or paintings of them. The only way to know which saint had been resurrected is if the saint had personally identified himself to them. However, Matthew merely says that they "appeared to many." It would seem that such an astounding event would have been recorded by more than just one gospel writer, and that we would be given more specific details.
It is almost as though the people raised were recognizable to those who were alive at the time--perhaps because they had known them personally before they died. It seems most likely that a number of godly people who had recently died were resurrected to a mortal existence as a witness of Jesus' resurrection. These lived again for a time, and then later died, as did Lazarus.
Hymenaeus and Philetus
Some in the early Church believed that the first resurrection had already occurred. No doubt they based their belief and teaching on the resurrection mentioned in Matthew 27. The Apostle Paul mentions two such men in 2 Timothy 2:17 and 18:
17 And their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some.
Paul tells Timothy that such teaching had overthrown some people's faith, and he likens it to "gangrene." So what exactly were Hymenaeus and Philetus teaching in the Church? Were they teaching that Jesus' resurrection had already taken place? No, for Paul would have agreed with them in this. Were they teaching that the general resurrection of the dead had already occurred at the great white throne judgment? Probably not, for it would have been self-evident to these men that they themselves had not yet been raised to stand before God at the judgment. There were still many sinners in the world who had not been brought to justice. It is unlikely that very many Christians could have been convinced to believe such a foolish doctrine.
Did these men believe like the Sadducees that there was no resurrection at all? Obviously not, because Paul says that they did believe in the resurrection of the dead; but that it had already occurred in the past.
Finally, this passage shows that Paul himself did not believe--as some teach--that the resurrection is merely one's salvation experience. If resurrection occurs the moment one is justified by faith, then for all believers, the resurrection must have already occurred in the past. If that were indeed the case, then Hymenaeus and Philetus would have been correct in asserting that the resurrection were already past.
Whatever we make of all this, there is one thing that seems certain. The resurrection had not already occurred prior to the time Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy (no earlier than 64 A.D.). This means that whatever happened at Jesus' death or resurrection, the first resurrection had not yet occurred. Matthew 27 does not record the time of the first resurrection. Nor were Hymenaeus and Philetus correct in their view that the resurrection had already occurred.
The Purpose of a Bodily Resurrection
As we said earlier, some believe that the resurrection, or at least the FIRST resurrection, is merely the life that a Christian receives when he is justified by faith. To support this view, they cite scriptures exhorting us to "die daily" (1 Cor. 15:31) or to be raised in "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4). This view attempts to deny the bodily resurrection of the dead in favor of a more spiritualized view.
On an individual, personal level we are indeed to "die daily" and be raised with Christ daily. But this is only a type and shadow of resurrection--not the resurrection itself. Our justification by faith imputes righteousness and life to us, but this is not the same as actually being raised from the dead. Throughout the Bible, the resurrection of the dead is spoken of as a future event, not as something that is presently enjoyed. Paul wrote an entire chapter on this subject in 1 Corinthians 15, because there were people in his day who denied the resurrection as well. Paul bases his entire argument upon the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, proving that the dead are indeed raised, and proving that resurrection means coming back to life even as Jesus was raised.
Those who hold an opposing view often ask, "why would anyone want to come back into a physical body, once they have left this body and have been given a spiritual body in heaven?"
This is not a new question, of course. The Pharisees and Sadducees had a running debate on this subject during Jesus' day. Paul had been of the school of the Pharisees and no doubt had been well schooled in the arguments from both sides. Though Paul was later converted to Christianity, he never deviated from the basic view of the Pharisees that there would be a literal resurrection of the dead. If he had changed his mind, his letter to the Corinthians would have been quite different.
The Sadducees were influenced greatly by Greek philosophy. The spiritualizing of resurrection has its roots in the Greek world view, whereas the idea of the bodily resurrection has its roots in the Hebrew world view. If we go back to the beginning and study the foundations of these views, we can come to the truth of the matter.
Before the world was created, God ruled a perfect universe by His sovereign power. Because all things were made by Him (John 1:3), there was a time when physical material did not exist. All that existed was spiritual. Then at some point God began to create the universe. At each stage of development, God pronounced His creation "good" (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). When it was finished, He pronounced it all "very good" (Gen. 1:31). This is the biblical view of creation that sets the tone for the entire plan of God for the earth. Any view that deviates from this foundation, and anyone who teaches matter to be inherently evil, is teaching from a Greek perspective, not from a biblical, Hebraic perspective. Unfortunately, after the early Church was scattered by persecution into the world of Greek philosophy, it did not take long for the Church to forget the Hebrew view of creation. This affected many Christian doctrines in later years.
The Greek philosophers taught that spirit was good and that matter was evil. They taught that the body was a prison for the "spiritual soul," and that the only means of escaping the evil of this physical existence was for the flesh to die, so that the spiritual soul could be set free. This incorrect view of the physical creation caused some Christians to teach that Jesus Christ did not really manifest in the flesh, because in their view a good God could never manifest Himself in evil flesh. Consequently, John addressed this view in the first part of his gospel and again in his letters. He says specifically, "and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). He said further that anyone who denied that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh was not of God, but of that "antichrist" spirit (1 John 4:3).
In other words, this view of matter and spirit is a prime issue that lies at the heart of the difference between the Greek and Hebrew religions. One's view of creation will affect one's view of the end, the purpose of creation, and the goal of history.
The Earth's Baptism of Fire
The earth has a distinct purpose for its existence. Though sin has INVADED the creation, sin is not an eternally intrinsic part of the material creation. It is a temporary condition, which the work of Jesus overthrows. The goal of history is to eradicate all sin and death (1 Cor. 15:26) and replace it with that which is of God, until finally God is "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28).
The earth is not destined to be destroyed or burned up entirely by fire, as some have interpreted 2 Peter 3:7-10, where Peter compares the final judgment of fire with the judgment of water in Noah's day:
7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements [Greek: stoicheion, "first or primary principles] will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
In Genesis 6:17 God told Noah that a flood was coming to remove the breath (Heb. ruach, "spirit") of life from all flesh. After the flood, we read in Genesis 8:1 that God sent a wind (Heb. ruach, "Spirit") into the earth, and the waters receded. This was a highly prophetic statement, for it signified that God would overcome the problem by sending forth His Spirit. Noah then sent out the dove three times, signifying three historic moments when God would send forth His Spirit to indwell mankind once again. These three historic occasions were: (1) at Sinai, when the Spirit of God came down as fire to give the law to Israel; (2) at Jerusalem in the upper room, when the earnest of the Spirit actually came to the 120 disciples at Pentecost in Acts 2; and (3) at the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, when the first group of believers--the overcomers--will experience the fullness of His Spirit.
Then in Genesis 9 God made a covenant with Noah, his sons, and with the whole earth, stating that He would never again destroy the earth by water. Many teach that this means God will destroy the earth by fire the next time. However, this undermines the entire intent of God's covenant. It was an unconditional covenant with the whole earth, signified by the rainbow, in which God promised never to DESTROY the earth. In later years, God stated His intention that His glory would fill the whole earth. (See Num. 14:21; Isaiah 6:3 and 11:9; Ps. 72:19; Hab. 2:14).
This shows that there is a second flood coming. It is not a flood of water, but a flood of the Holy Spirit that will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. This will be a baptism of fire, not for the purpose of destruction, but to create a new heavens and a new earth. It will destroy sin and all evil. It will search out and purify all things, so that the purpose for creation may be fulfilled.
1 Peter 3:10 (quoted earlier) tells us that the "elements" will be burned with fire. The Greek word used is stoicheion, which is a bit difficult to translate, because it was used differently in the philosophical circles of the day. However, Paul used this word in Colossians 2:8 to describe the basic principles of the world's philosophies, calling them the traditions of men:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Paul uses the term again in Colossians 2:20 in the same manner. In other words, the basic assumptions of the world's philosophies and teachings will be tried by fire and burned up, in order that they might be replaced by a new divine order of the Kingdom of God. Such basic assumptions as atheism, materialism, and evolution will be eradicated totally from science vocabulary. Only truth will be taught, for in that day truth will be known and understood fully.
The earth is destined to be filled with the fire of God, which is His life, His character, and His very being. The purpose of God has always been to manifest Himself in the physical creation, so that He receives glory not only in the spiritual dimension (the heavens) but also in matter itself. The goal is for God's kingdom to come to earth, and for God's will to be done "in earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). The crescendo of this goal is for God to manifest Himself in man, who was created of the dust of the ground, whose name (Adam) means "earthy."
Man is a microcosm of the earth itself, a little earth. It is God's purpose to manifest Himself in man specifically and in the earth generally. This is why He seeks to pour out His Spirit upon "all flesh" (Joel 2:28). It is the beginning of this manifestation of God in the material creation of the earth. Resurrection into a physical body that is fit for the fullness of His Spirit is the ultimate purpose and reason for creation.
If we proceed from the viewpoint that all things were created "very good," and that sin and death have invaded creation, then we have laid a proper foundation of truth and can begin to understand the overall plan of God. The plan is to restore all things, not to destroy all things. The plan is for all things to be placed under the rulership of Jesus Christ, not to retreat to heaven and leave the rest of creation to the devil. The plan is to resurrect the dead into a perfected, restored body that is after the pattern of Jesus' own resurrected body. It is NOT to leave the physical existence and retreat to a purely spiritual body in heaven.
The Greeks taught that the earth was a springboard to heaven; the Hebrews taught that heaven was a springboard to the earth. In other words, the goal is not to escape matter and go to heaven in a spiritual form; it is rather that God created matter in order to manifest Himself on this level, in this physical plane. Heaven is thus coming to earth in what is called the kingdom of heaven--that is, the kingdom FROM heaven. As for the overcomers, "Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth." (Rev. 5:10).
Those who redefine resurrection to mean "becoming a Christian" or "going to heaven when you die" have missed the bigger picture of God's purpose for creation. While there is certainly a spiritual application of the concept of resurrection, we must not use the application to define the term itself.
In a later section we will expound more fully on this topic, because ultimately the purpose of the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., the resurrection) is to re-embody the dead in order to allow them to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. In the fulfillment of that final feast, all will be "changed" into the likeness of Jesus Christ after His resurrection. The Spirit of God will then fully saturate human flesh in a manner not seen since Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection. At that point--like Jesus--we will exercise authority in both heaven and earth--that is, in the spiritual and in the physical world. We will have the ability to move in both realms at will, even as Jesus did, because we are both the sons of man and the sons of God. Only then will the purpose for creation be realized.