Will those who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ, often because of when or where they were born, miss out on the opportunity of salvation?
Let’s begin our search for answers with the Apostle John’s vision of Christ’s return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords recorded in the book of Revelation.
Chapter 19 describes the return of Jesus Christ to save humanity from self-destruction.
Then in chapter 20 a resurrection of the dead is described: “...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” (Revelation 20:4).
This first resurrection consists of those who followed God both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament Church. They will reign on earth with Jesus Christ for 1,000 years, during what is commonly called the millennium. “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” (Verse 6). We find more details about this resurrection from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.
The Apostle John also comments rather mysteriously in Revelation 20:5 “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.”
To discover who ‘the rest of the dead’ we need to look at the end of Revelation 20, where John describes what will happen after the 1,000 years, or millennium: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away...And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Revelation 20:11-16).
This series of events, commonly called the Great White Throne Judgment, describes billions of people brought back to life, and having the Scriptures opened to their understanding.
Those awakened in the “first resurrection” are raised as incorruptible spirit beings, while the dead raised in the Great White Throne Judgment are resurrected to a physical life. This is described in Ezekiel 37 as a vision of a valley filled with dry bones, followed by an incredible scene of bones coming together, organs being re-formed, muscles forming, and skin covering the bodies of countless people who have died over the course of history.
God promises"...Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves...Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves...I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live…” (Ezekiel 37:10-16). This description in Ezekiel isn’t anything like the first resurrection described by Paul and John in which people are resurrected to spirit life. These people are raised to physical life again.
Those in the first resurrection are people who have already turned to God, repented, and received His Spirit. Ezekiel’s prophecy is about people who are resurrected so that they can have their first opportunity to know God, repent, receive God’s Spirit, and be saved. This is not a second chance at salvation. They will be taught the truths of the Bible for the first time and have the opportunity to decide whether or not they will obey.
After fully understanding the way of God the few who decide to reject it will suffer the consequence of the ‘second death’, in the lake of fire also mentioned in Revelation 20, but it will not be eternal, agony and torture in a ever-burning hell, as so often falsely portrayed.
This little understood, great biblical truth demonstrates God’s love and fairness, providing hope for this sick and dying world and for the billions who have ever lived.
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