At least four scripture passages in the Bible seem to indicate that everyone who has died will ultimately be resurrected from death. Only one of these scriptures specifically mentions that there will be two separate (i.e., non-concurrent) resurrections of those who have died. This article will focus on all four passages.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless we indicate otherwise.]
Scriptures that Mention Only One Resurrection
The first of these scriptures is Daniel 12:1-2, which declares:
At that time [i.e., the so-called “Last Days” of the world as we know it] Michael [almost certainly, the archangel with that name] shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth [i.e., the people who previously died] shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.
With regard to this scripture, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible explains that the “many” who are “awakened” probably indicates that everyone who previously died will be resurrected (i.e., not just a large number of people or a particular group of people, such as those who are regarded by God as righteous). According to Barnes,
In these passages no one can well doubt that the word many is used to denote all, considered as composed of the “many” that make up the human race. . . .
Not a few interpreters, therefore, have understood this in the sense of all, considered as referring to a multitude, or as suggesting the idea of a multitude, or keeping up the idea that there would be great numbers. If this is the proper interpretation, the word “many” was used instead of the word “all” to suggest to the mind the idea that there would be a multitude, or that there would be a great number.
That sleep – [I]t would be most natural to understand it of those who were dead, and this idea would be particularly suggested in the connection in which it stands here.
In the dust of the earth – The language denotes the ground or earth considered as composed of dust, and would naturally refer to those who are dead and buried – considered as sleeping there with the hope of awaking in the resurrection.
Shall awake – This is language appropriate to those who are asleep, and to the dead considered as being asleep. . . . [I]ts most obvious, and its full meaning, would be to apply it to the resurrection of the dead, considered as an awaking to life of those who were slumbering in their graves.
Some – One portion of them. The relative number is not designated, but it is implied that there would be two classes. They would not all rise to the same destiny, or the same lot.
To everlasting life – The single idea is that of living forever, or never dying again. This is language which must have been derived from the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, and of the future state. . . .
And some to shame – Another portion in such a way that they shall have only shame or dishonor. The Hebrew word means reproach, scorn. . . . Here the word means the reproach or dishonor which would rest on them for their sins, their misconduct, their evil deeds.
And everlasting contempt – The word “everlasting” in this place is the same which in the former part of the verse is applied to the other portion that would awake, and like that properly denotes eternal. . . . The word “contempt” . . . means, properly, a repulse; and then aversion, abhorrence. . . . The word everlasting completes the image, meaning that this feeling of loathing and abhorrence would continue forever.
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible interpretation of “many” in the same scripture is consistent with that of Barnes. According to Pett,
Daniel may have specifically had in mind those who have been going through the time of trouble and will be delivered from a martyr’s death by resurrection. . . . However, it would also include those who had died in other ways. . . . It was a hope offered to the righteous. Death was not the end.
But an alternative is to see Daniel as meaning rather that ‘many’ (always an indefinite number in Daniel) will arise. That is that the resurrected will be a huge number. Those who awake will be many and not few. They include the multitude that no man can number out of all nations (Revelation 7:9).
But others would rise only to face shame and everlasting contempt. . . . The contrast was between the faithful and the unfaithful, those who knew their God . . . and those who did not.
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible believes the term “many” in Daniel 12:1-2 could indicate a multitude or may take into consideration that a number of people will still be alive when Christ comes, so they will not need to be awakened. Gill asserts,
[A]s death is oftentimes compared to “sleep”, in which the senses are bound up, and the body is in a state of inactivity . . ., so the resurrection from the dead is expressed by awaking out of sleep. . . . The word “many” is used, either because, as all will not sleep, so all will not be awaked; there will be some that will be alive and awake at Christ’s coming, . . . or, as it signifies, a multitude. . . .
some to everlasting life; to the enjoyment of everlasting life and happiness with Christ in the world to come; . . . expressive of that felicity and bliss which the saints enjoy in heaven after this life is over . . .; they that shall enjoy this are those that are written in the Lamb’s book of life, or are ordained unto eternal life; who are redeemed by the blood of Christ . . .; these are the dead in Christ, which rise first:
and some to shame and everlasting contempt; wicked men, who lived in a course of sin in this world, without any remorse or shame; but, when they shall rise from the dead, they will rise with all their sins upon them. . . . T]hough the resurrection of both is spoken of here and elsewhere together, yet it will be at distinct periods of time; the resurrection of the just at the beginning of the thousand years, and that of the wicked at the end of them,
The second scripture that mentions only one resurrection is Acts 24:14-15, which states,
But this I [the apostle Paul] confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets and [I] have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
The following discussion of this scripture by Gill emphasizes that the multitude of people who will be awaked from death by the resurrection will include all the wicked, as well as all the righteous, so they can all be judged for the deeds they did before they died:
Certain it is, as the apostle affirms, that all shall rise, both just and unjust: the just are they who are made so by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, and who being created anew unto righteousness and true holiness, live soberly, righteously, and godly; the unjust are they who are destitute of righteousness, and are filled with all unrighteousness; and these latter, as well as the former, will rise again from the dead; which is clear, not only from the words of Christ, and the writings of the apostles, but from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, particularly Daniel 12:2 and also from the justice of God, which requires that they who have sinned in the body, should be punished in the body; wherefore it is necessary on this account, that the bodies of the wicked should be raised, that they with their souls may receive the full and just recompense of reward; and likewise from the general judgment, which will include the righteous and the wicked, and who must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive for the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil; in order to which there must be a resurrection of them; to which add, the account the Scripture gives of the punishment of the wicked in hell, which supposes the resurrection of the body, and in which the body and soul will be both destroyed. Indeed there will be a difference between the resurrection of the just and of the unjust, both in the time of their rising, the dead in Christ will rise first at the beginning of the thousand years, the wicked not until they are ended; and in the means and manner of their rising; they will be both raised by Christ. . .; the just will rise in bodies not only immortal, and incorruptible, but powerful, spiritual, and glorious, even like to the glorious body of Christ; the wicked will rise with bodies immortal, but not free from sin, nor glorious: yea, their resurrection will differ in the end of it; the one will rise to everlasting life and glory, the other to everlasting shame and damnation.
Likewise, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible says. in reference to Acts 24:14-15, that everyone who has died – both the sanctified and the unsanctified – will be resurrected so they can all participate in the final judgment. According to Henry,
Observe here, [1.] That there shall be a resurrection of the dead, the dead bodies of men, of all men from the beginning to the end of time. It is certain, not only that the soul does not die with the body, but that the body itself shall live again; we have not only another life to live when our present life is at an end, but there is to be another world, which shall commence when this world is at an end, into which all the children of men must enter at once by a resurrection from the dead, as they entered into this, one after another, by their birth. [2.] It shall be a resurrection both of the just and of the unjust, the sanctified and the unsanctified, of those that did well, and to them our Saviour has told us that it will be a resurrection of life and of those that did evil, and to them that it will be a resurrection of condemnation (John 5:29). . . . This implies that it will be a resurrection to a final judgment, by which all the children of men will be determined to everlasting happiness or misery in a world of retribution. . . .
The third scripture that mentions only one resurrection is John 5:28-29, which says,
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.
With regard to this scripture, Gill alleges that “all that are in the graves” refers to all the people who have died, not just to those who are actually in graves, as follows:
[T]here will be a resurrection both of the just and unjust, of all that are in their graves; and though all that are dead are not in graves, or interred in the earth, as some are in the sea; yet, because the greater part are in graves, this phrase is chosen to express the universality of the resurrection: and this is also a proof of the resurrection of the same body. . . .
they that have done good; such are designed here who believe in Christ, which to do is the work of God, and the greatest and best of worlds; and without which it is impossible to please God in any; and indeed, whatever is not of faith is sin, and cannot be a good work: a good work is that which is done according to the will of God, from love to him, in faith, and with a view to his glory; and those that do such works shall come forth
unto the resurrection of life; that is, unto everlasting life, glory, and happiness. . . . All shall rise to life, to an immortal life, so as never to die more; yet only good men shall rise to enjoy an [sic] happy and glorious life; which will lie in communion with God, angels, and saints, and in conformity to Christ, and in the everlasting vision of him:
and they that have done evil; who give up themselves to work wickedness; whose continual employment, and the business, series, and course of whose lives it is to commit sin; who are slaves unto it, and vassals of it, and are properly workers of iniquity. . . .
unto the resurrection of damnation; that is, to everlasting damnation, shame, and reproach; they shall be condemned by the Judge of the whole earth. . . . All will rise, but with a difference; the dead in Christ will rise first, in the morning of the resurrection, in the beginning of the thousand years, and therefore are here mentioned first; the rest, the wicked, will not rise until the evening of that day, till the thousand years are ended, and therefore are spoken of last.
Scripture that Specifically Mentions that There Will Be Two Separate Resurrections
The only scripture that specifically mentions that there will be two non-concurrent resurrections is Revelation 20:4-6, which states,
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.
Although Barnes believes that the first resurrection alluded to in this scripture will include all the righteous who have died previously, apparently he also believes that only those who have been martyred will be given special honor. Furthermore, he argues that the first resurrection involves only souls or spirits, not physical bodies, whereas the second resurrection will include the physical bodies of all the righteous, as well as the physical bodies of all the people who are deemed unrighteous. According to Barnes,
And I saw the souls of them – This is a very important expression in regard to the meaning of the whole passage. John says he saw “the souls” – not “the bodies.” If the obvious meaning of this be the correct meaning; if he saw the “souls” of the martyrs, not the “bodies,” this would seem to exclude the notion of a “literal” resurrection, and consequently overturn many of the theories of a literal resurrection, and of a literal reign of the saints with Christ during the thousand years of the millennium. The doctrine of the last resurrection, as everywhere stated in the Scripture, is, that the “body” will be raised up, and not merely that the “soul will live” (see Revelation 20:5-6), but there is not the slightest intimation that it would be a resurrection of the “body,” or that it would be identical with the “final” resurrection. John undoubtedly intends to describe some honor conferred on the “spirits or souls” of the saints and martyrs during this long period, as if they were raised from the dead, or which might be represented by a resurrection from the dead.
[T]here is reference, in the passage before us, to the fact that a portion of those mentioned had been “beheaded for the witness of Jesus. They were put to death in the body, but their “souls” were now seen to be alive. They had not ceased to be, but they lived and reigned with Christ as if they had been raised up from the dead. And when this is said of the “souls” of those who were beheaded, and who were seen to reign with Christ, it cannot mean: (a) that their “souls” came to life again, for there is no intimation that they had for a moment ceased to exist; nor, (b) that they then became “immortal,” for that was always true of them; nor, (c) that there was any literal “resurrection of the body,” . . . as is supposed by those who hold to a literal reign of Christ on the earth, for there is no intimation of the resurrection of the “body.”
The meaning . . . must be, that there would exist, at the time of the thousand years, a state of things as if the martyrs were raised up from the dead – an honoring of the martyrs as if they should live and reign with Christ.
This would not occur in respect to the rest of the dead – even the pious dead, . . . for “their” honors and rewards would be reserved for the great day when all the dead should be judged according to their deeds. . . .
But the rest of the dead – The phrase “rest of the dead” here would most naturally refer to the “same general class” which was before mentioned – the pious dead. The meaning is, that the martyrs would be honored as if they were raised up and the others not. . . .
This is the first resurrection – The resurrection of the saints and martyrs, as specified in Revelation 20:4. It is called the “first” resurrection in contradistinction from the second and last – the general resurrection – when all the dead will be “literally” raised up from their graves and assembled for the judgment (Revelation 20:12). It is not necessary to suppose that what is called here the “first resurrection” will resemble the real and literal resurrection in every respect. All that is meant is, that there will be such a resemblance as to make it proper to call it a resurrection – a coming to life again.
“[T]he rest of the dead who lived not again until the thousand years were finished” – must of course be expected to “live again” in the same bodily sense [when] those thousand years were finished. But, so far from this, there is no mention of their living then. . . . There is no intimation, as the “literal” construction, as it is claimed, would demand, that immediately after the “thousand years arc finished” the “rest of the dead” – the wicked dead – would be raised up; nor is there any intimation of such a resurrection until all the dead are raised up for the final trial (Revelation 20:12).
[With regard to the first resurrection] There is no intimation in the passage itself that the “righteous” will be raised up “as such” in this period, and the proper interpretation of the passage is contrary to that supposition. There are but two classes mentioned as having part in the first resurrection. They are those who were “beheaded for the witness of Jesus,” and those who “had not worshipped the beast” – that is, the martyrs, and those who had been eminent for their fidelity to the Saviour in times of great temptation and trial. There is no mention of the resurrection of the righteous as “such” – of the resurrection of the great body of the redeemed; and if it could be shown that this refers to a “literal” resurrection, it would be impossible to apply it, according to any just rules of interpretation, to any more than the two classes that are specified. . . .
[With regard to the second resurrection] The fair statement in Revelation 20:11-15 is, that all the dead will then be raised up and be judged. This is implied in the general expressions there used – “the dead, small and great”; the “book of life was opened” – as if not opened before; “the dead” – all the dead – “were judged out of those things which were written in the books”; “the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell (hades) delivered up the dead which were in them.” This is entirely inconsistent with the supposition that a large part of the race, to wit, all the righteous – had been before raised up; had passed the solemn judgment; had been clothed with their immortal bodies, and had been admitted to a joint reign with the Saviour on his throne.
In contrast with Barnes, Pett expresses the belief that the first resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 is for all the righteous, but seems to believe, like Barnes, that this resurrection will involve only the souls, not the physical bodies, of those who will be resurrected at that time. Pett declares,
The Bible . . . constantly describes Christians as ‘already ‘raised’ with Him, and as already reigning with Him. It also tells us that as He took His place in Heaven, and judgment was given to Him, so it was also given to us, a judgment we exercise ‘in Him’ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) and will exercise in the future at the final resurrection. So the First Resurrection, not otherwise specifically so-called in Scripture, is that which we share with Christ. And that is what is pictured here.
The ‘souls’ of the martyrs (which might be seen as suggesting that there has been to this point no literal resurrection) are also seen as sharing His reign (Revelation 20:4). . . . It began when they became Christians and it continues on after their martyrdom.
This incidentally also shows that the passage is confirming that in their rest and their ‘sleep’ before the resurrection (it is their bodies which sleep), the people of God are conscious of and enjoying the presence of Christ, and are also reigning with Him. That is why Paul could say, ‘to me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21).
When the final bodily resurrection is mentioned in Scripture it is always in such a way as to suggest that the resurrection of both righteous and unrighteous takes place at the same time (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29). But here . . . we have learned of a different kind of resurrection which precedes the general resurrection. . . .
‘And the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished’. The general resurrection will not take place until the end of this period, until Christ’s second coming. Then all will be raised physically to face God’s final judgment.
Unlike both Barnes and Pett, Gill believes that in Revelation 20:4-6, the first resurrection refers to a resurrection of the bodies, not just the souls, of all the righteous, and that the second resurrection refers to a resurrection of the bodies of everyone else (i.e., all the people who are deemed to be unrighteous). Gill states,
and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God: these, with the persons described in the next clause, are they who will sit on thrones, during the thousand years of Satan’s being bound, and will have judgment given them; even such who have bore [sic] witness to the truth of Jesus being the Son of God, the true Messiah, and the only Saviour of sinners, and to him as the essential Word of God, or to the written word of God, the whole Gospel, all the truths and doctrines of it; and who have been beheaded for bearing such a testimony. . . .
[A]ll the dead in Christ will rise first, or be partakers of the first resurrection; and all that are redeemed by his blood, of whatsoever nation, or in whatsoever age of the world they have lived, even from the beginning of it, shall be kings and priests, and reign with him on earth (Zechariah 14:5). . . .
and they lived; meaning not spiritually, for so they did before, and while they bore their testimony to Christ, and against antichrist, and previous to their death; nor in their successors, for it would not be just and reasonable that they should be beheaded for their witness of Christ and his word, and others should live and reign with Christ in their room and stead; nor is this to be understood of their living in their souls, for so they live in their separate state; the soul never dies; God is not the God of the dead, but of the living: but the sense is, that they lived again, as in Revelation 20:5 they lived corporeally; their souls lived in their bodies, their bodies being raised again, and reunited to their souls, their whole persons lived; or the souls of them that were beheaded lived; that is, their bodies lived again, the soul being sometimes put for the body (Psalm 16:10) and this is called the first resurrection in the next verse:
But the rest of the dead;…. Meaning not the dead saints, for they will be all raised together, but the wicked dead; and not them as morally or spiritually, but as corporeally dead: these
lived not again until the thousand years were finished; so that there will be such an exact term of years between the resurrection of the saints and the resurrection of the wicked; nor will there be any wicked living upon earth, or in bodies, during that time; for the wicked dead will not be raised with the saints at Christ’s coming, and the wicked living will be destroyed in the conflagration of the world, and neither of them shall live again until the end of these years. . . .
This is the first resurrection; which is not to be connected with the living again of the rest of the dead at the end of the thousand years, for that will be the second and last resurrection; but with the witnesses of Jesus, and the true worshippers of God living again, in order to reign with Christ a thousand years; . . . . by this first resurrection must be meant a corporeal [i.e., bodily] one; for as some of those that will live again were corporeally beheaded, and all of them corporeally died, they will be corporeally raised again; and in such sense will the rest of the dead be raised at the end of these years; with respect to which this is properly called the first resurrection; it is the first in time, it will be at the beginning of the thousand years, and the second will be at the close; the dead in Christ will rise first in order of time. . . .
Also, in reference to Revelation 20:4-6, Henry believes that the first resurrection may involve either the bodies or the souls of the righteous, but he is not clear as to whether or not he thinks all the righteous will participate in this resurrection or just those who have shown extraordinary faithfulness to Jesus Christ. In any case, Henry seems to believe that only the wicked will be raised in the second resurrection. He says,
The honour bestowed upon them [i.e., the saints]. (1.) They were raised from the dead, and restored to life. This may be taken either literally or figuratively; they were in a civil and political sense dead, and had a political resurrection their liberties and privileges were revived and restored. (2.) Thrones, and power of judgment, were given to them they were possessed of great honour, and interest, and authority, I suppose rather of a spiritual than of a secular nature. (3.) They reigned with Christ a thousand years. Those who suffer with Christ shall reign with Christ they shall reign with him in his spiritual and heavenly kingdom, in a glorious conformity to him in wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, beyond what had been known before in the world. This is called the first resurrection, which none but those who have served Christ and suffered for him shall be favoured with. As for the wicked, they shall not be raised up . . . till Satan be let loose; this may be called a resurrection. . . .
Summary and Conclusions
The Bible indicates that there will be two resurrections., and Revelation 20:4-6 indicates that there will be 1,000 years between the two resurrections.
Bible scholars agree that the first resurrection will involve only the just (i.e., those whom God regards as righteous because of their faith in Him), but they disagree as to whether this resurrection will include all of the just. There is also disagreement as to whether or not this resurrection will involve the souls (or the spirits) of the just, rather than their physical bodies. In this regard, we would argue that if human souls (or spirits) are eternal, as most Christians believe, then souls (or spirits) do not need to be resurrected and, therefore, the first resurrection, as well as the second resurrection, will involve only physical bodies, not souls (or spirits).
Regardless, there is general agreement among Bible scholars that ultimately the physical body of each person who has ever lived on the earth will be resurrected and reunited with the soul (or spirit) of that person. However, the nature of their subsequent existence will depend on whether God deems them righteous or unrighteous. Those who are deemed righteous will enjoy eternal bliss, whereas those who are deemed unrighteous will suffer eternal punishment.
[To learn how to be assured of eternal bliss with God, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]