LCG Article

The Third Resurrection Is a Matter of Life and Death

The third resurrection, the resurrection to condemnation, is mentioned or alluded to in a number of places in God’s word. While there is no such thing as an ever-burning hellfire, there will be a permanent execution of the irredeemably evil.

Dexter B. Wakefield

Throughout the centuries, God’s people have faithfully endured difficult trials and persecutions. However, some in the Church of God who have had their minds opened to God’s truth, received His Spirit, and had a full opportunity for salvation have turned aside from it and rejected the gift of God. We know that this is true—both from reading God’s word and from personal observation. God did not reject them; they rejected God. The Apostle Peter described this phenomenon:

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:20–22).

This is a most grave wrongdoing. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26–27). Such people, having rejected God’s Holy Spirit, will not be in the first resurrection—and, having had their chance for salvation, they will not be in the second resurrection. How then can they be judged and condemned?

When Christ returns, there will be a first resurrection—the resurrection of life—in which God’s true servants will receive immortal spirit bodies. This is one of the great meanings of the Feast of Trumpets. There is also a second, physical resurrection. The Bible explains that this second resurrection is to allow all who have ever lived to have a full chance for salvation. At that time, those who were never called—perhaps never even heard the name of Jesus Christ—will have their opportunity to be called, repent, be converted, and receive the Holy Spirit, ultimately leading to eternal life. God is merciful and completely fair.

But what about this statement by Jesus?

Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:25–29).

Christ presents us with two very different resurrections: the resurrection of life and the resurrection of condemnation. What is this resurrection of condemnation? Is it the second resurrection? “Condemnation” does not sound like a merciful, fair chance at eternal life. How does one explain “the resurrection of condemnation”?

The answer is in the third resurrection, which is what Jesus was referring to in this scripture. All living in this age or in the Millennium will, in fact, ultimately experience one or the other—either the resurrection of life or the resurrection of condemnation. Eternal life or eternal death—there is no other option.

People Sometimes Have Questions about the Third Resurrection

Some have asked, Since the term “third resurrection” isn’t found in the Bible—how do we know that there is one? And if the third resurrection is a physical resurrection, isn’t it just a part of the second resurrection? Why say “third resurrection” at all?

The third resurrection is indeed mentioned in multiple places in the Bible—just under different names. And there is a reason why we call it the third resurrection. Someone may have questions about it because they misunderstand the chronology of the resurrections, or they might misunderstand what is meant by the numbering of the resurrections.

There are two kinds—or categories—of resurrection: resurrection to immortality in a spirit body and the resurrection of one’s physical body. We do not have immortal souls that waft off to heaven or hell when we die. If we are going to live again after we die, we must experience a spiritual or physical resurrection.

The Apostle Paul explained that we can exist in one of two kinds of bodies. He said, “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 became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:44–45). We are all physically descended from the first man, Adam, but Jesus Christ—a life-giving Spirit being—is the firstborn of a different kind and can give eternal life.

To be alive, you must have either a physical body or a spiritual body. The physical body is the one you were born with, and it can be resurrected for an additional period of temporary life. Someone with a spiritual body is either an angel or an immortal member of the holy God Family, in which Christ is the Firstborn of many (Romans 8:29).

Ancient Israel was a nation set apart by God for a purpose, but without His Holy Spirit. Physical Israel pictured, in type, the Israel of God to come. Only those who are holy to God—set apart by His Spirit in them—can have this inherent life forever. The Apostle Peter quoted God’s command to physical Israel when he wrote to spiritual Israel that “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15–16; cf. Leviticus 11:44; 19:2). Those who are resurrected to this spiritual body enter the holy God Family. No one who is profaned by sin can enter; they can be resurrected to a physical body, but that body will inevitably die. The wages of sin are truly death.

The first resurrection occurs at the beginning of the 1,000-year period (Revelation 20:5–6). The second resurrection happens at the end of that Millennium. Yet there are a number of physical resurrections recorded in this present age, prior to the first resurrection. For instance, Lazarus was resurrected during Christ’s life (John 11). In Luke 7:11–15, a young man was resurrected, and in Luke 8:49–56, a synagogue ruler’s daughter was resurrected by Jesus. Other instances are recorded in the New and Old Testaments. Because of these events, some have erroneously concluded that “parts” of the second resurrection occur before the first resurrection—even before Christ’s resurrection.

Furthermore, because those who rise up in the second resurrection will then have their one chance for a spiritual birth and immortality, some erroneously conclude that “parts” of the first resurrection occur after the second resurrection. Doesn’t this sound a bit confused? That’s because such reasoning is incorrect; “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

Those who reach these wrong conclusions are thinking categorically when they should be thinking chronologically. The first, second, and third resurrections are not categories of resurrections; they are events. They are general resurrections—events at which the dead will be brought back to life. Yes, there are two categories of resurrection—physical and spiritual—but the first, second, and third resurrections are not different categories; they are different events of general resurrection.

The term “first resurrection” is found in the Bible in Revelation 20:5, and some are concerned that the term “third resurrection” is not mentioned. However, the term “second resurrection” is not found in the Bible either. You could call it by its biblical reference, the resurrection of “the rest of the dead [that] did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:5). So, why do we call it the “second resurrection”? Because it occurs after the first resurrection.

And why do we use the term “third resurrection”? You could call it by its biblical references, the resurrection “to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2) or “the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:29). Or you could use the term “final resurrection.” We say “third resurrection” because it occurs after the second resurrection. “First,” “second,” and “third” refer to the order of the resurrections—not to the nature of them. Having already set that order for His plan of salvation, God is not limited to those three occasions and may choose to accomplish a physical or spiritual resurrection anytime He pleases.

We know that the second resurrection is one of great hope and promise. All who are in it will have their calling and a first genuine actual opportunity for eternal life (Revelation 20:5). It is not a “second chance.” But there is another resurrection specifically mentioned that is very different.

Yet if the words “third resurrection” are not found in the Bible, where is this resurrection mentioned?

The Third Resurrection Is Very Different

The prophet Daniel mentioned this event:

At that time Michael 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, everyone who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:1–3).

There is only everlasting life or everlasting death. Everyone in this resurrection “to shame and everlasting contempt” has an everlasting condemnation. It is very different from the second resurrection, which is a resurrection of great hope and promise for all who have lived but have not yet been called.

Notice that it is not until after the White Throne Judgment that the wicked are burned up permanently: “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14–15).

The Greek word translated “condemnation” in John 5:29 is krisis, the same word translated “condemnation” in Matthew 23:33, where Jesus says, “Serpents , brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” The word translated “hell” in the NKJV is Gehenna, which is the lake of fire where the irredeemably evil will be executed.

Being resurrected “to shame and everlasting contempt” or to “condemnation” does not describe the second resurrection. Rather, it describes another resurrection to judgment.

In the end, either you are transformed into an immortal spirit being, or you die permanently in the lake of fire. One or the other—there is no alternative. God’s plan for humanity provides for both mercy and judgment. Either you live forever in God’s kingdom, or you die permanently.

The Contrast Between Life and Death Pervades Scripture

From Genesis to Revelation, we see this dramatic choice presented: Life or death. In Genesis, the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, were given the choice between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they rebelled and ate of the latter, they would surely die. God had told them, “‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ Then the serpent [Satan] said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die’” (Genesis 3:3–4). But that was a lie. Being profaned by sin, they could not receive immortality at that time. No flesh is immortal, and all flesh must die. God pronounced Adam’s condition and future when He said, “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Adam’s physical body would surely die.

Christ told our Church era, “Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown” (Revelation 3:11). It is possible to lose one’s crown, and Paul gave us a sobering reminder in the book of Hebrews. Those who have knowledge of God’s truth, yet knowingly reject it, are making a fateful choice. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26–27)—life or death.

God told the ancient nation of Israel its true condition when He said, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

God gives spiritual Israel—the Israel of God—the same choice. 

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:20–23). 

Life forever or death forever—in the end of God’s plan, it’s one or the other. This is a major theme in the Bible, repeated over and over, and it expresses the true condition of mankind.

The Second Death Is Permanent

This life-or-death choice is finalized in the third resurrection, the resurrection to condemnation, and it is mentioned or alluded to in a number of places in God’s word—in addition to the references cited earlier in this article.

For example, this final death is mentioned in Revelation: “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened…. Then Death and Hades [the grave] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire [eternal death]” (Revelation 20:12–15). “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades [opening the grave in resurrection] and of [eternal] Death” (Revelation 1:18).

The End Is a New Beginning

After the resurrections and final judgment are accomplished, God completes His plan for mankind and the earth. The works of the earth are to be burned up, but the earth itself will remain—in a completely new state. The Apostle Peter briefly summarized events in the seventh “millennial day” of God’s 7,000 year “millennial week” in which He completes His plan of salvation. Just as God completed His restoration of the earth and rested on the seventh day, at the end of the millennial Sabbath, He will complete the restoration of the new earth and His divine family. That family has eternal life; all the rest are dead forever. Peter first commented, “But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:7–8).

What day is like a thousand-year period? The Sabbath day pictures the millennial rule of Christ. Then Peter said the following:

But the day of the Lord [the millennial Sabbath of 1,000 years] will come as a thief in the night [when it begins], in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat [at its end]; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10–13).

That righteousness is the immortal God Family dwelling in the City of God, the New Jerusalem.

Abraham Foresaw the City of God

Because Abraham was looking through the eyes of faith, he was able to see what would come long after his time.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance… for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth…. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:8–16).

The holy city will be the New Jerusalem, which will come down from heaven:

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things [eternal life], and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death [eternal death]” (Revelation 21:1–8).

Christ Offers Us a Glorious Future

The night before He was crucified, Christ made a most important request to the Father. He prayed, “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was…. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one” (John 17:5, 22). The oneness of God is the oneness of a divine family that we can enter.

That request will be fulfilled for us. “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God” (Revelation 21:9–11). Christ will give His Bride, the New Jerusalem, the same glory that Christ and the Father had “before the world was.” What a glorious future!

When this amazing prophecy is fulfilled, God will have completed the beginning of His plan for us, and His immortal family will stand at the threshold of eternity!