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At the general resurrection where all are raised, the believers will receive immortal life, but not before they have undergone whatever judgments are due to them. Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:14, 15,
14 If any man’s work, which he has built upon it [that is, upon the Foundation that is Christ] remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
This obviously refers to the believers whose works are supposed to be made of spiritual “gold, silver, precious stones,” rather than “wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor. 3:12). Paul implies that many Christians will “suffer loss,” even though they “will be saved.” Likewise, Jesus’ teaching in Luke 12:42-49 shows that some will be flogged with few or many lashes, depending upon the person’s knowledge of the will of God. However, whether this is to be taken literally or simply to represent the uniqueness of each person’s judgment is a matter of opinion.
However, one thing is clear from Luke 12:46 (KJV). The believers will be judged at the general resurrection along with the unbelievers. Jesus says that those who abused their slaves will be “cut asunder,” not cut in half, but rather CUT OFF from the body of overcomers, and God “will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” In other words, such believers who abused others will receive their rewards at the same time that the unbelievers are judged. Though Jesus did not explain this further, Paul knew that many believers would be “saved yet so as through fire.” Jesus concluded His remarks about few or many lashes by saying in Luke 12:49,
49 I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!
Jesus was not expressing the desire to cast all sinners into a burning fire forever, for such a statement would hardly be consistent with His character of love. Instead, He was showing that flogging was part of the “fiery law.” Any judgment of the law is a metaphorical “fire.”
Only the overcomers will avoid the judgment, having been raised a thousand years earlier. The overcomers are those who allow the “fiery law” to burn the flesh and to cleanse them during their life time. This baptism of fire comes through the feast of Pentecost and performs the same function as Daniel’s “river of fire” and John’s “lake of fire.” The fire of God is His nature, and its effect upon sinful flesh is to burn it until the person is fully conformed to His image.
Those who had remained in a state of unbelief during their life time on earth will be judged at the same time as the believers. Their sentence will be lengthy, because the unbelievers will have to await the Creation Jubilee before they receive full immortality (or complete salvation).
The believers’ judgment will be very temporary, because Jesus said that at the general resurrection, the believers would be raised to a resurrection of life (John 5:29). The unbelievers, however, will have to wait much longer while they learn righteousness in the “lake of fire.”
How long will this age of judgment last? Paul does not tell us, nor does John. Paul says only in 1 Cor. 15:24-26,
24 then comes the end, when He delivers up the Kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
The end will not come until “He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.” These things are to be “abolished” during the age of judgment by means of the “lake of fire.” How long must Christ reign before turning the Kingdom over to the Father? We are told that “He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” In other words, when there are no more enemies—no more resistance to His will—then the end will come.
The end of history is the culmination of the divine plan for the earth. When God has been fully successful, and when His New Covenant oath has been fulfilled, then death itself will be abolished.
But wait! Was not death abolished at the general resurrection? John says in Rev. 20:14,
14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
When death is cast into the lake of fire, no one will die from that point on during the age of judgment. The unbelievers will shift from the first death to “the second death, the lake of fire.” Thus, they will not yet be granted immortality, but neither will they die as mortals during their time of judgment. Our physical bodies were designed to live indefinitely, as long as old cells are replaced as fast as they wear out. I suspect that this will be the condition of those in the second death.
The first death is the mortality that we received on account of Adam’s sin. The second death is the judgment that men receive on account of their own sin. What is the difference?
The second death is the lake of fire, the judgment of the fiery law. It is the same type of death that overcomers and believers are required to experience in this life time. John the Baptist said that Christ would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). We submit our flesh to the fire of the Holy Spirit today so that we may avoid it later. But one way or another, all of us must submit to this second type of death. We must all “die daily,” as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:31.
When we die to self and die to the flesh, we submit to the judgment of God. It is not the same as mortality, which is the first type of death and which every man experiences on account of Adam’s sin.
After the unbelievers are raised to stand before God, every knee will bow, and all of them will “swear allegiance” to Jesus Christ (Isaiah 45:23). Paul goes further, saying that they will swear allegiance “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). But they will be spiritual babes in Christ at that point. Having been justified by the blood of the Lamb, they will have a Passover experience, and then they will be in need of the baptism of fire.
They will be in need of spiritual growth that comes through the feast of Pentecost. This takes time. How long will it take? It will not end until all things have been put under the feet of Christ.
Then and only then will death itself be abolished, Paul says. But which death will be abolished at that time? Mortality? No, for mortality—the first death—is to be abolished at the general resurrection, as John tells us. It will be the second death that is abolished at the end of time. Death is “the last enemy,” Paul says. If it is abolished before all things have been put under the feet of Christ, then it cannot be “the last enemy.”
When death is abolished, the beneficiaries will be those who were summoned to the Great White Throne to receive the “resurrection of judgment” (John 5:29)—in other words, those in the lake of fire.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:27, 28,
27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.
When God created man, we read about the divine intent in Genesis 1:26,
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
This is repeated in Gen. 1:28, where we read God’s direct command to Adam to “subdue” the earth. It was God’s purpose to give Adam authority over the earth, and, in fact, this is the origin of all authority in the earth. All sub-authorities are derived from this. Psalm 8:6-8 celebrates this authority, saying,
6 Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
This is the passage that Paul referenced in 1 Cor. 15:27. This Dominion Mandate was given generally to mankind, but the highest authority was given to Adam and then passed down from him to the Birthright holders in succeeding generations. Hence, it was passed down to Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and then to Judah (Gen. 49:10) and David, and finally to Jesus Christ. For this reason, Jesus Christ is the rightful King and Heir of the earth, and in the end, all things must be put in subjection to Him.
This is stated again in Hebrews 2:8,
8 “Thou hast put all things in subjection under His feet.” For in subjecting all things to Him, He left nothing that is not subject to Him. But now [at the present time] we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.
In other words, Christ has the divine right to rule all things, but as long as portions of His creation remain in a state of rebellion, others are usurping His rights. History ends, however, with full victory, for we read in Col. 1:16, 20,
16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him… 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
He created “all things” (ta panta, “the all”), and “all things” are reconciled to Him in the end. This is how the original purpose of creation is successful. God loses nothing in the end, even though history is the story of God’s enemies until they are all fully subdued and reconciled. This is “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21).
In the end, there is only one King in the universe. While the Greeks believed that light and darkness, good and evil, would be separated in the end, the biblical view is that Christ will have no rival. Whereas the Greeks believed that good and evil would always coexist and that the existence of good actually depended upon the existence of evil, the Bible refutes that idea. Evil will be abolished, all enemies will be reconciled, all that was lost will be restored, and God will be all in all.