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All Believers?

 

From The Dawn Magazine, No. 176, Nov. 15, 1938, p. 370, D. M. Panton, Ed.
 

The parable of Harvest - God's great Resurrection Work - runs through nature, through life and through the Word. For "The harvest is the end of the age", and "Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap; be not deceived" (by anyone saying it is not true, or not true of Christians, whom the apostle was addressing). Now harvest, we learn from the Word (Lev. 23), consists of first-fruits; then the general harvest (which itself is sectional, being of considerable - even 40 days' - duration); lastly, of the corners of the field. Hence we read of "all the days of Harvest" (Joshua 3:15; 5:10-12; Ruth 1:22, 23). Without question, therefore, harvest is a period, a serial process, and it is a time-word. Without question, too, harvest is a picture of resurrection and rapture, the catching up to the heavenly floor or garner. Indeed, the very word for "rise" (in resurrection) is from the same root as the word for "standing corn" (in harvest), and in John 12:24 our Lord shows Himself as the Corn of Wheat raised to the top of the stem, and crowned with the rejoicing "much fruit" of the many sons He brings from prison-darkness to liberty and glory (Heb. 2:10; 2 Cor. 1:14; Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19).

From the First Fruits comes the thought, picture and name of the First Resurrection, which is seen thus to be not only a time- word, but a quality-word, suggesting vigour, ambition, victory and earlier enjoyment. Christ is the First Fruits already; therefore the firstfruit resurrection is not a unit, even though it is a unity that includes the first resurrection of some or many of His saints (Matt. 27;52-53) raised 1900 years ago. Christ is (in His, the First Resurrection) the First Begotten (Heb. 1:6, 9), the First Born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), and the First Fruits of them that slept (1 Cor. 15:20, 23). The selective blessedness and holiness of the First Resurrection - out from among the dead, leaving dead behind in Hades - (Rev. 14:3-5; 20:6) are indicated in Acts 3:26; Heb. 1:9, and Rom. 1:4, as well as Luke 14:14; and 1 Cor. 15:23 teaches us that "in Christ shall all be made alive", but every (=each) man in his own order. Christ the first fruits; afterwards they that are Christ's (not "at His coming" but, "during His Parousia-Presence" as the Greek shows). That is, each man (belonging to Christ) will be raised in his own order - class, company, batch - at various periods during the Lord's stay in the air, in the interval between His secret thieflike coming in the clouds and His glorious appearance like lightning, during which period (the period of harvesting to the garner or floor, to be winnowed or purged (Luke 3:17; Matt. 13:30; 3:12) the judgment of believers (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10) will take place. And the Church will be judged before either Israel or the world, for "Judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17), "whose house are we, if. . . ." (Heb. 3:6). For believers to be individually examined will take a long while, especially as the Judgment will be down to the "idle word" (Matt. 12:36-37).

Resurrection, then, like reaping, is clearly sectional and serial, for it is not merely wheat that is reaped, but ripe wheat (Mark 4: 29, margin ; Rev. 14:18). Besides, even firstfruits themselves are not all ripe at the same time in the case of different fruits (barley, wheat or " some other grain ", 1 Cor. 15:37 ; cf. Neh. 10:35). Only ripe grain is reaped, and it is reaped in the order of ripeness—as soon as it ripens, not before, and it does not all ripen at once. Hence it will not all be reaped at once. In Christ personally and the saints of Matthew 27:52-53 the First Resurrection, therefore, has already begun, with an interval of 1900 years before the next batch. He is the Firstfruits without leaven, as His people are the Firstfruits with leaven in the wave- offering. (Lev. 6:17; 7:13; 23:10, 17). You will agree that the firstfruits of barley are reaped before the firstfruits of wheat (Ruth 2). This explains how there can be "a first before a first ", or, if you prefer, "the first of the firstfruits " (Exod. 23:19). It is a question of comparison, of relativity. The north of England is south of Southern Scotland; the 1st of January is subsequent to the 31st of December in the preceding year, but before the 31st of December, in the same year.

Merit (or worthiness), it must be maintained in the teeth of all denial, is a definite condition and qualification for the First Resurrection : "They which shall be accounted worthy to obtain . . . the resurrection from among the dead ", our Lord says (Luke 20:35) "cannot die any more." Others can. For while it is "appointed unto man once to die," some will die a second time; though over others "the second death hath no power" (Rev. 20:6). These are overcomers who will "not be hurt of the second death" (Rev. 2:II). Priests of God and of Christ, they "shall reign with him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:6), not instead of eternally, but millennially before eternity proper begins. Others—proud, indulgent, cowardly—are judged unworthy of Christ and of aeonian life. Now we know from several epistles that some believers will be excluded from this Kingdom of Heaven and of God (Eph. 5:5-8). We are warned lest, deceived, we share the wrath (not appointed but) incurred by the fact of disobedience, and have our crown taken from us. On the contrary, we have to be accounted worthy (it may be, by suffering at the hands of fellow-believers) in order to obtain that Kingdom of the age to come (1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5; Matt. v. 20; Luke 20:35). Hence "blessed and holy is he"—it is individual, like the "Overcomer" with the "one ear" of Rev. 2 and 3—"that hath part in the First Resurrection ".

For it is both a time-word and a quality-word. And being a quality-resurrection it carries with it an extra of time, because renewed time (that is, life) is resurrection, or, rather, resurrection is restoration of time—for "in the Resurrection" means in the "Regeneration" or "Restitution"—by living again on the part of those who were dead. But "the rest of the dead (saved and unsaved) lived not again until the I,000 years were ended" (Rev. 20:5). Which instructs us that resurrection properly speaking is not only an act but a state, not a point of time, but a period, a place, a realm—"IN (i.e. not at but during) the Resurrection"—wicked and slothful servants being raised merely for the purpose of judgment, and then temporarily dismissed to darkness and remorse in the Hades they were summoned from; but to be in the first (class) resurrection means to have the continuous and permanent enjoyment of life and bliss before others. Hence, not all are raised at once, nor do all at once enjoy resurrection life. For even after the I,000 Years two groups of dead are raised, one group of unsaved from the department of the underworld called "death", another group of saved from the department of the underworld called "hades" (mistakenly rendered "hell" in Rev. 20:13). Resuscitation (or mere rising of the dead to appear before the Lord) is not really resurrection at all, any more than was the case with Samuel at Endor. For sooner or later, all the dead (good and bad) will be raised, passively, without exception, but only the holy are qualified to inherit as first-born sons the blissful prior estate of the First Resurrection.

Not all believers (it must be admitted) are equal in God's sight, for He has favoured ones according to their devotedness to Him, and He rewards them with more of Himself, and with more time with Himself, by their being brought to Him like Enoch and Elijah before others. Hence the 144,000 Firstfruits (Rev. 14:4), ripe earlier—guileless virgins—are reaped earlier than others, though doubtless all Christians ideally, as fulfilling God's purpose of fruit bearing (John 15:16), should have been firstfruits of His creatures (Jas. 1:18). Alas, that the reality falls short of the ideal!

The First Resurrection is therefore described in several other terms which make clear its character of competitiveness and exclusiveness, superiority and priority. As we have seen, it is (a prize or reward, Phil. 3:2, 14) for the "blessed and holy" who are to begin reigning 1,000 years before those who have only the gift of eternal life—bare salvation, as we say. For it, believers will have to be qualified or accounted worthy. It is a selective resurrection "from among the dead", leaving dead believers behind, as is proved by the fact that even Paul strove "if by any means he might attain unto it" (Phil. 3:11-12). It is a blessed resurrection of the just (or righteous or holy) with its recompense to the unselfseeking and generous (Luke 14:14). And it is also called a "better" resurrection, costing torture and life itself (Heb. 11:35)—a better resurrection that had to be obtained, or that the martyrs strove to obtain; it was a resurrection "better" because "prior" by 1,000 years to the general resurrection. It is the First Resurrection, with its qualifications and conditions. What is said of it, therefore, in its various contexts and under its various names is also said of the Kingdom of Heaven, the prize or reward or wages which we have to earn and seek first of all (Matt. 6:33; 5:20). Hence it is by our Lord bracketed with the coming Kingdom of glory in the next age, to which, indeed, it introduces. "They that shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age and the resurrection from among the dead" (Luke 20:35).

It is a resurrection of martyrs chronic and acute, who have died the martyr's death or lived the martyr's life of self-denial and world-renunciation, losing this life and age in order to find or gain the next in the Regeneration—the "shall find it" (of Matt. 16: 25; 19:27-30, etc.) being not a direct future tense but an extra adverb meaning "about to" (live), which thus refer almost exclusively to the age to come as being the next item on the Divine programme (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:8).

Finally, to end where we began, God is not in a hurry and His methods are not as simple as we might like. "All the days of harvest" are 40 days, a characteristically probationary period throughout the Word. One day beneath the microscope of the Lord's omniscience is as 1,000 years; and while the saints are changed—the dead "in a moment," the living "in the twinkling of an eye" (though not necessarily all in the same moment)—the Resurrection period may well last 40 years, and prove to be the first hour—1/24 of the 1,000 Years—of the day of God (John 5:25, 28). In any case, plurality of rapture (and of resurrection—for dead and living believers will be "caught up together") is indicated not only by the universal Scripture harvest-parable, the one taken first, the other later (Matt. 24:40-42, linked with the "all" of 2 Cor. 5:10), by the gradual returns from the Captivity ("Captivity led captive" being a notable figure of death and resurrection), and by the Lord's 10 separate presencings during the 40 Days before His ascension detailing the "like manner" of Acts 1:11), but also by the actual plural resurrections and raptures of the Apocalypse itself.