The Coming Resurrection

jesus-resurrection-life2

 

A question from a reader:

In Revelation 20, it says the beheaded, etc. will also come back to life and reign with Christ. What do you think that means? Or what might it look like? I believe it could be literal but wondered if you had more insight…

 

THE purification of the world from evil will also, according to the Early Church Fathers, usher in an Era of Peace when Satan will be chained for a “thousand years.” This will coincide also with a Resurrection of the saints and martyrs, according to the Apostle John:

They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were over. This is the first resurrection. (Rev 20:4-5)

Citing the written and oral tradition of the Church, St. Justin Martyr wrote:

I and every other orthodox Christian feel certain that there will be a resurrection of the flesh followed by a thousand years in a rebuilt, embellished, and enlarged city of Jerusalem, as was announced by the Prophets Ezekiel, Isaias and others… A man among us named John, one of Christ’s Apostles, received and foretold that the followers of Christ would dwell in Jerusalem for a thousand years, and that afterwards the universal and, in short, everlasting resurrection and judgment would take place. —St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 81, The Fathers of the Church, Christian Heritage

What exactly is this “resurrection of the flesh” that occurs before the “everlasting resurrection”?

THE PASSION OF THE CHURCH

One of the central tenets of this writing apostolate is that the Body of Christ appears to be entering into its own Passion, following in the footsteps of its Head, Jesus Christ. If that be the case, then the Body of Christ will likewise participate in the Resurrection.

Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers… The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection.   Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 672, 677

There may come a time when the visible head of the Church, the Holy Father, will be “struck” and the sheep will be scattered (see The Great Scattering). This will precipitate a more formal persecution of the Church as she will be systematically stripped, scourged, and mocked before the world. This will culminate in her crucifixion when some souls will be martyred for the sake of the Gospel, while others will remain hidden until after the merciful purification of the world from evil and godlessness. Both the remnant and the martyrs will be hidden in the safe refuge of the Immaculate Heart of Mary—that is, their salvation will be safeguarded within the Ark, covered as it were, by the Mercy Seat, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

 

THE FIRST RESURRECTION

Those who have died in Christ during this time of tribulation will experience what John calls the “first resurrection.”  Those who,

…had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands. They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were over. This is the first resurrection. (Rev 20:4)

This is indeed a tremendous hope (and remarkable that we are suddenly living in a time when Christians are being beheaded again)! Though we cannot know for certain the exact nature of this resurrection, Christ’s own Resurrection may give us some insight:

This authentic, real body [of the risen Jesus] possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm.  —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 645

It is possible that the resurrected martyrs will participate in the reigning temporal Kingdom of the surviving remnant Church inasmuch as the risen saints will not be “confined to earth” nor necessarily be ever-present, as Christ only appeared at times during the 40 days before His Ascension.

Christ’s Resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he had performed before Easter: Jairus’ daughter, the young man of Naim, Lazarus. These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised returned by Jesus’ power to ordinary earthly life. At some particular moment they would die again. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 645

Since the risen saints will have experienced the “first” resurrection, they may be in a state such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is able to appear on earth, while also enjoying the beatific vision of Heaven. The purpose of this grace to be bestowed upon the martyrs would be two-fold: to honor them as “priests of God and of Christ” (Rev 20:6), and to help prepare the remnant Church of the new Era, who are confined still to time and space, for the Final return of Jesus in glory:

For this reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith. —CCC, n. 645

The first resurrection will also coincide with a “new Pentecost,” a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit begun earlier in part, through an “illumination of conscience” or “the warning” (see The Coming Pentecost and The Eye of the Storm).

At Jesus’ Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is “the man of heaven.” —CCC, n. 645

 

OF THE FLESH?

All this said, the Church has ruled out the reign of Christ in the flesh on earth during an Era of Peace. This is known also as the heresy of millenarianism (see Millenarianism—What it is and is Not). However, the nature of the “first resurrection” is more ambiguous. As “Christ’s resurrection was not a return to earthly life,” neither will the resurrected saints return to “rule on earth.” But the question also remains as to whether or not the first resurrection is spiritual only. In this regard, there is not an abundance of teaching, though St. Justin Martyr, citing the apostle John, speaks of a “resurrection of the flesh.” Is there a precedent for this?

Beginning with Scripture, we do see a bodily resurrection of the saints before the end of time:

The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after His resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. (Matt 27:51-53)

However, St. Augustine (in remarks which confuse other statements he has made) says that the first resurrection is spiritual only:

Therefore, while these thousand years run on, their souls reign with Him, though not as yet in conjunction with their bodies.The City of God, Book XX, Ch.9

His statement also begs the question: what is different now from that first resurrection at the time of Christ when saints were raised? If saints were raised then, why not in a future resurrection before the end of the world?

Now, the Catechism teaches that Christ will raise us up…

When? Definitively “at the last day,” “at the end of the world.”Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1001

“Definitively”—the end of time will bring about the resurrection of all the dead. But again, the “last day” should not necessarily be interpreted as a single solar day, as in 24 hours. But a “day” that is a period which begins in darkness, then dawn, noon, night, and then, everlasting light (see Two More Days.)  Said Church Father Lactantius,

…this day of ours, which is bounded by the rising and the setting of the sun, is a representation of that great day to which the circuit of a thousand years affixes its limits. —Lactantius, Fathers of the Church: The Divine Institutes, Book VII, Chapter 14, Catholic Encyclopedia; www.newadvent.org

And another Father wrote,

Behold, the Day of the Lord shall be a thousand years. Letter of Barnabas, The Fathers of the Church, Ch. 15

Within this period, St. John seems to indicate that there is a first resurrection which culminates in a second resurrection of the dead for the Final Judgment “at the end of the world.” Indeed, that is the “definitive” Judgment and thus the “definitive” resurrection.

Isaiah, who prophesied a time of justice and peace on earth when “the leopard will lie down with the goat” (Is 11:6) also spoke of a resurrection that seems to precede a time when the Church, the “new Israel,” will envelop the whole world. This echoes Revelation 20 where Satan, the dragon, is chained, after which there ensues a temporary time of peace on earth before he is released for a last attack upon the Church. All this takes place “on that day,” that is, over a period of time:

As a woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pains, so were we in your presence, O Lord. We conceived and writhed in pain giving birth to wind… your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust… On that day, The LORD will punish with his sword that is cruel, great, and strong, Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the coiled serpent; and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea. On that day—the pleasant vineyard, sing about it! In days to come Jacob shall take root, Israel shall sprout and blossom, covering all the world with fruit…. He must make peace with me; peace shall he make with me! …On that day, The LORD shall beat out the grain between the Euphrates and the Wadi of Egypt, and you shall be gleaned one by one, O sons of Israel. On that day, A great trumpet shall blow, and the lost in the land of Assyria and the outcasts in the land of Egypt Shall come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem. (Is 26:17-19; 27:1-2, 5-6, 12-13)

Isaiah alludes to the fact that “briers and thorns” may still rise up among this purified vineyard:

I, the LORD, am its keeper, I water it every moment; lest anyone harm it, night and day I guard it. I am not angry, but if I were to find briers and thorns, in battle I should march against them; I should burn them all. (Is 27:3-4; cf. Jn 15:2).

Again, this echos Revelation 20 when, after the “first resurrection,” Satan is released and gathers Gog and Magog, a kind of “last Antichrist” [1]We shall indeed be able to interpret the words, “The priest of God and of Christ shall reign with Him a thousand years; and when the thousand years shall be finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison;” for thus they signify that the reign of the saints and the bondage of the devil shall cease simultaneously… so in the end they shall go out who do not belong to Christ, but to that last Antichrist… —St. Augustine,The Anti-Nicene Fathers, City of God, Book XX, Chap. 13, 19 to march against the “camp of the holy ones”—a final attack that ushers in the return of Jesus in glory, the resurrection of the dead, and the Final Judgment [2]cf. Rev 20:8-14 where those who have rejected the Gospel are cast into the eternal flames.

This is all to say that both Scripture and Tradition attest to the possibility of a “first” and “final” resurrection beyond their symbolic interpretation that this passage refers merely to spiritual conversion (ie. a soul is plunged into death and rises to new life in the Sacrament of Baptism).

The essential affirmation is of an intermediate stage in which the risen saints are still on earth and have not yet entered their final stage, for this is one of the aspects of the mystery of the last days which has yet to be revealed. —Cardinal Jean Daniélou (1905-1974), A History of Early Christian Doctrine Before the Council of Nicea, 1964, p. 377

 

PREPARING THE BRIDE

Why, though? Why wouldn’t Christ return in glory to crush the “beast” and usher in the eternal New Heavens and New Earth? Why a “first resurrection” and a “thousand year” era of peace, what the Fathers called a “sabbath rest” for the Church? [3]cf. Why an Era of Peace? The answer lies in the Vindication of Wisdom:

Your divine commandments are broken, your Gospel is thrown aside, torrents of iniquity flood the whole earth carrying away even your servants… Will everything come to the same end as Sodom and Gomorrah? Will you never break your silence? Will you tolerate all this for ever? Is it not true that your will must be done on earth as it is in heaven? Is it not true that your kingdom must come? Did you not give to some souls, dear to you, a vision of the future renewal of the Church? —St. Louis de Montfort, Prayer for Missionaries, n. 5; www.ewtn.com

And yet, we should realize that God’s mysterious plan of salvation will not be fully understood until the end of time:

We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God “face to face”, will we fully know the ways by which – even through the dramas of evil and sin – God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth.CCC n. 314

Part of this mystery lies in the unity between the Head and the Body. The Body of Christ cannot be fully united to the head until it is purified. The final birth pangs of the “end times” do just that. When a baby passes through its mother’s birth canal, the contractions of the uterus help to “purify” the baby of fluids its lungs and air canal. So too, the persecution of Antichrist serves to purge the body of Christ of the “fluids of the flesh,” the stains of this world. This is precisely what Daniel speaks of when referring to the wrath of the “little horn” that rises against the holy ones of God:

By his deceit he shall make some who were disloyal to the covenant apostatize; but those who remain loyal to their God shall take strong action. The nation’s wise men shall instruct the many; though for a time they will become victims of the sword, of flames, exile, and plunder… Of the wise men, some shall fall, so that the rest may be tested, refined, and purified, until the end time which is still appointed to come. (Dan 11:32-35)

It is these martyrs whom both St. John and Daniel refer to specifically as the ones who experience the first resurrection:

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever… I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands. They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Dan 12:2-3; Rev 20:4)

These “risen saints” may appear to the survivors who enter the era to instruct, prepare, and guide the Church that she may become a spotless Bride prepared to receive the Bridegroom…

…that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:27)

Scripture and Patristic allegories further suggest that these martyred will not return to definitively reign on earth in the flesh, but will “appear” throughout the era to instruct the remant of Israel, much like the visions and apparitions of the saints of the past. —Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi, The Splendor of Creation, The Triumph of the Divine Will on Earth and the Era of Peace in the Writings of the Church Fathers, Doctors and Mystics, p. 69 

It will be a time of unparalleled sanctity and union of the Church Militant with Christ and the Church Triumphant. The Body will corporately pass through “the dark night of the soul” a deep purification, so as to contemplate Christ in a new era in a “new and divine holiness”(see The Coming New and Divine Holiness) This is precisely the vision of Isaiah.

The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or to the left. And you shall consider unclean your silver-plated idols and your gold-covered images; you shall throw them away like filthy rags to which you say, “Begone!” …Upon every high mountain and lofty hill there will be streams of running water. On the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall, the light of the moon will be like that of the sun and the light of the sun will be seven times greater (like the light of seven days). On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people, he will heal the bruises left by his blows. (Is 20-26)

 

THE VOICE OF SACRED TRADITION

I believe it is no coincidence that these mysteries have been hidden for a time beneath the veil, but I believe this veil is lifting so that, just as the Church is realizing the necessary purification which lies before her, she will also recognize the ineffable hope which awaits her beyond these days of darkness and sorrow. As was said to the prophet Daniel regarding the “end time” revelations he was given…

…the words are to be kept secret and sealed until the end time. Many shall be refined, purified, and tested, but the wicked shall prove wicked; the wicked shall have no understanding, but those with insight shall. (Daniel 12:9-10)

I say “hidden,” because the voice of the Early Church in these matters is fairly unanimous, even though that voice has been obscured in recent centuries by an incomplete and sometimes erroneous theological discussion of these matter coupled to an improper understanding of the genuine forms of the millenarianist heresy (see How the Era was Lost). [4]cf. Millenarianism—What it is and is Not

In closing, I will let the Church Fathers and Doctors speak for themselves of this coming Resurrection:

So, the blessing foretold undoubtedly refers to the time of His Kingdom, when the just will rule on rising from the dead; when creation, reborn and freed from bondage, will yield an abundance of foods of all kinds from the heaven’s dew and the fertility of the earth, just as the seniors recall. Those who saw John, the Lord’s disciple , [tell us] that they heard from him how the Lord taught and spoke about these times… —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Church Father (140–202 A.D.); Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus of Lyons, V.33.3.4, The Fathers of the Church, CIMA Publishing Co.; (St. Irenaeus was a student of St. Polycarp, who knew and learned from the Apostle John and was later consecrated bishop of Smyrna by John.)

We do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem… We say that this city has been provided by God for receiving the saints on their resurrection, and refreshing them with the abundance of all really spiritual blessings, as a recompense for those which we have either despised or lost… —Tertullian (155–240 A.D.), Nicene Church Father; Adversus Marcion, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Henrickson Publishers, 1995, Vol. 3, pp. 342-343)

Since God, having finished His works, rested on the seventh day and blessed it, at the end of the six thousandth year all wickedness must be abolished from the earth, and righteousness reign for a thousand years… —Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius (250-317 A.D.; Ecclesiastical writer), The Divine Institutes, Vol 7.

Those who on the strength of this passage [Rev 20:1-6] , have suspected that the first resurrection is future and bodily, have been moved, among other things, specially by the number of a thousand years, as if it were a fit thing that the saints should thus enjoy a kind of Sabbath-rest during that period, a holy leisure after the labors of six thousand years since man was created… (and) there should follow on the completion of six thousand years, as of six days, a kind of seventh-day Sabbath in the succeeding thousand years… And this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints, in that Sabbath, shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God…  —St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.; Church Doctor), De Civitate Dei, Bk. XX, Ch. 7 (Catholic University of America Press)

I and every other orthodox Christian feel certain that there will be a resurrection of the flesh followed by a thousand years in a rebuilt, embellished, and enlarged city of Jerusalem, as was announced by the Prophets Ezekiel, Isaias and others… A man among us named John, one of Christ’s Apostles, received and foretold that the followers of Christ would dwell in Jerusalem for a thousand years, and that afterwards the universal and, in short, everlasting resurrection and judgment would take place. —St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch. 81, The Fathers of the Church, Christian Heritage

 

First published December 3rd, 2010. 

 

RELATED READING ON THE ERA OF PEACE:

 

 

 

   [ + ]

1. We shall indeed be able to interpret the words, “The priest of God and of Christ shall reign with Him a thousand years; and when the thousand years shall be finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison;” for thus they signify that the reign of the saints and the bondage of the devil shall cease simultaneously… so in the end they shall go out who do not belong to Christ, but to that last Antichrist… —St. Augustine,The Anti-Nicene Fathers, City of God, Book XX, Chap. 13, 19
2. cf. Rev 20:8-14
3. cf. Why an Era of Peace?
4. cf. Millenarianism—What it is and is Not
Posted in HOME, MILLENARIANISM, THE ERA OF PEACE.

Comments are closed.