Eternal Life

A resurrection to eternal life is promised to those who have walked with God faithfully, carrying on the sanctification process throughout the remainder of their lives. Many Christians believe that when they die good people will go to heaven, and live there forever. Their church and their tradition have taught this. So it is presumed that people like Moses and David, and other prophets such as Elijah, Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah have gone to heaven. But wait: that is not what Jesus taught! All those men died long before Jesus came; consider what Jesus told Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, [even] the Son of man which is in heaven. (John 3:13)

If we believe Jesus, we must accept what He said. He said none of prophets and leaders of the Old Testament had gone to heaven... none of them, not even Abraham or Moses or David, "a man after God's own heart." This is likely an unpleasant surprise to most professing Christians today. It is important to understand and accept this, so here is another example: the apostle Peter spoke about King David saying

Men [and] brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day... For David is not ascended into the heavens... (Acts 2:29 and 34)

Here is another example, from the apostle Paul, describing Jesus...

...the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15, 16)

Many Bibles use the word "alone" instead of "only" in this verse. Jesus at this time is the only one that has immortality. No one else has immortality and no one else has gone to heaven.

So if Abraham, Moses and David have not gone to heaven, what about us? Will you go to heaven? Will I go to heaven? Let's see what the Bible says will happen to the faithful. What did Jesus and the early Christians believe about life after death? They understood that the dead would wait for a resurrection from the grave. Here is what Jesus said in John 5:28, 29:

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

 Please note that Jesus did not say anything about going to heaven. Maybe your church says you'll go to heaven, but Jesus said you'll wait - in the grave - for your resurrection! Also note He said nothing about a soul.

So, when are the faithful resurrected? The apostle Paul wrote that Christ was the first to be resurrected from the dead to eternal life, and that the faithful would be resurrected in a similar manner at the return of Christ:

But now is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept... But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. (1 Corinthians 15:20,23)

A few verses later Paul added more details. True followers of Christ would be resurrected to eternal life at the time of Christ's return, at the last "trump." In prophecy, this symbolic seventh and final "trump" or trumpet sounding announces the return of Jesus to Earth. Here is what Paul wrote:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:50-54)

Paul is saying that some true followers would be "sleeping" in death in the grave - and others would still be alive - at the time of the last trump. Those who were dead would be raised - in a resurrection from the grave - to incorruptible, immortal life. At the same time those where were alive would "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" be changed to incorruptible, immortal life. Having received immortality, these true followers will never again be subject to death. Having received eternal life, they would then be able to "inherit the kingdom of God." In a letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gave another description of the resurrection of the true followers of Christ at His return:

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [take the place of, or, go ahead of] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)

Paul never mentions going to heaven. His message is consistent with Jesus' statement about the resurrection: there is no mention of going to heaven and there is no mention of a soul. Instead, true followers of Christ who have died will remain in their graves until the return of Christ. As Christ returns they will be resurrected to eternal life. At the same time true followers who are alive will "in the twinkling of an eye" receive eternal life. Together they will rise to meet Christ "in the air." All these true followers, now immortal, will be with Jesus forever. We will see that Jesus and these true followers will return from the air to the Earth, for a purpose.

photo of a memorial stone for Captain Fortunatus Eager

A memorial stone for Captain Fortunatus Eager of the American Revolutionary War

The inscription at the bottom reads:

My flesh shall slumber in the ground

'Till the last Trumpet's joyful sound,

Then burst the chains in sweet surprize,

And in my Savior's image rise.

Perhaps you noticed that Jesus said the wicked would also be resurrected... but Paul never mentioned it. Was Jesus wrong, or, did Paul forget to mention the wicked? No: there is more than one resurrection. The resurrection Paul describes comes first and applies only to the faithful. The resurrection Jesus described comes much later, at least a thousand years later. Two resurrections are mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6. These verses start with a description of the resurrected and immortal faithful of the first resurrection, including those who are victims of a world-ruling "beast" shortly before the return of Christ:

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received [his] mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This [is] the first resurrection. Blessed and holy [is] he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Those in the first resurrection (with those who were alive and made immortal at the same time) will be priests and kings reigning with Christ - here on Earth - for one thousand years. These will have eternal life and will never suffer a second death. After the thousand years there will be at least one more resurrection for "the rest of the dead." Some of those in the later resurrection(s) are apparently raised to mortal life for a time of judgment.

According to the Bible, all the dead are awaiting a resurrection. If the dead were already in heaven, what would they need a resurrection for?

What will the resurrected, immortal faithful be like? Paul describes their bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49:

So also [is] the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was made] a quickening spirit. Howbeit that [was] not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man [is] of the earth, earthy: the second man [is] the Lord from heaven. As [is] the earthy, such [are] they also that are earthy: and as [is] the heavenly, such [are] they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.

Jesus also explained regarding the first resurrection:

For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven. (Mark 12:25)

Apparently we will have bodies similar to Jesus' body after He was resurrected. Jesus was able to appear and disappear, and was able to walk, talk and eat as described in John chapter 21. Note that Jesus said nothing about the resurrected dead going to heaven or being in heaven... only that they would be similar to "the angels which are in heaven."

This would be a good opportunity to point out the consistency of the Bible when it is properly understood. Jesus, Paul and John (in the book of Revelation) all state that those in the first resurrection will have eternal life... and will be resurrected from the grave right here on Earth. And note that nowhere is there mention of going to heaven. Now some might ask: "Well, what about Jesus' statement that our reward is in heaven?" Here is the verse: "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matthew 5:12). Doesn't that mean we go to heaven? It is easy to jump to that conclusion. Again, the Bible explains itself... "For precept [must be] upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). Yes, the reward is stored in heaven, but we do not go to heaven to get the reward. Jesus will bring it from heaven to us when He returns, as He says in Revelation 22:12: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward [is] with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." In Luke 14:12-14 Jesus ties it all together nicely, showing how the righteous will be rewarded at their resurrection which, as we have seen, occurs when Jesus returns with their reward: 

... When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor [thy] rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

Earlier we read Paul's statement that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God"; Paul was referring to the thousand year reign of Christ, here on Earth. Those made immortal at the time of Christ's return will rule with Him here on Earth for the following thousand years; that is part of their inheritance. Here is another passage from Revelation about those who are in the first resurrection:

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou [referring to Jesus] art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9,10)

Later in this website you will see many more scriptures about the Kingdom of God. The coming of the Kingdom of God is a central theme in Bible prophecy. We will also see what happens to those who fail to receive eternal life.