The General Resurrection of the Dead
Futurists presuppose that the general resurrection and judgment of the dead will occur at the end of history. Preterists are persuaded that it occurred in the past, when hades, the temporary abode of the dead, was abolished (Revelation 20:14). The preterist view is that those residing in hades went to their eternal destination at Christ’s Parousia (his so-called “Second Coming”) that is, his effectual divine presence in judgment. The faithful went to heaven; the damned went to hell (variously understood as eternal conscious punishment or annihilation). While this seems foreign to Christians who have never studied this carefully, there is convincing biblical proof that it happened in AD 70.
A passage about the general resurrection and judgment in the New Testament is Matthew 25:31-46, often labelled “The Final Judgment.” Here we see Jesus “returning” in judgment. The context is the several chapters in Matthew just preceding (21-24) where Jesus condemns the Jews of his day and promises that his wrath would be poured out on them in their generation (Matthew 23:29-39)—for their specific sins and refusal to accept Him as Messiah. But the Matthew 25 judgment is more than judgment upon the Jews. It is judgment upon all who were residing in hades. Passages such as 2 Timothy 4:1 confirm that Jesus was “about to judge the living [old covenant Israel] and the dead [those residing in hades]” (Young’s Literal Translation).
Futurists assume that this judgment happens at the end of the world. But that is problematic because the Bible never speaks of the end of the world! (Really!) Indeed, various passages assume that the earth will abide “forever” (Psalm 78:69; 104:5; 148:3-6; Ecclesiastes 1:4; Ephesians 3:21). The Bible only speaks about the end of the AGE, not the end of the WORLD. The end of the age was the end of the old covenant age, which ended with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1-3).
The time-line for this “final judgment” was when the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the temple (Luke 21:6, 20-24, 32). This was the final consummation of biblical Judaism predicted throughout the Old Testament. There is no specific time of fulfillment mentioned in Matthew 25. However, the theme of Jesus coming in judgment with his angels mirrors other passages that do have clear time-restrictions. Matthew 16:27-28 restricts this event to a time before all of those standing before Jesus had died. Matthew 24:29-34 further restricts his Parousia to his own literal generation.
Let’s look at the Old Testament. The most important passage on resurrection there is Daniel 12, which states:
1 “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. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” . . .7 . . . and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished. 8 Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, “My lord, what shall be the end of these things?” 9 And he said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. . . . 11 And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, . . . 13 But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days.” (Daniel 12:1-2, 7b-9, 11a, 13; cf. Job 14:7-14, 19:26; Psalm 49:15; Isaiah 26:19, NKJV)
This is definitive. There are numerous indicators that the resurrection happened in AD 70. For example, it would happen when the power of the holy people would be shattered and the sacrifices for sin would end. Clearly, this was in AD 70 when the temple was destroyed. It also is the time of the “abomination of desolation” that Jesus said would be in his generation (Matthew 24:15, 34). Further, the book of Revelation declared the soon completion—the unsealing of the book—just prior to AD 70. Its fulfillment was then imminent—the time was “near” per Revelation 22:10. Thus, the sealing of Daniel 12:9 and the unsealing of Revelation 22:10 are bookends that set the time of completion in AD 70. Revelation fulfills Daniel’s prophecy.
Now for some more New Testament examples that proclaim the first-century imminence of the resurrection and coincident judgment:
having hope toward God, which they themselves also wait for, [that] there is about to be a rising again of the dead, both of righteous and unrighteous; (Acts 24:15, Young’s Literal Translation)
because He did set a day in which He is about to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom He did ordain, having given assurance to all, having raised him out of the dead. (Acts 17:31, Young’s Literal Translation)
I do fully testify, then, before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is about to judge living and dead at his manifestation and his reign. (2 Timothy 4:1, Young’s Literal Translation)
but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. . . . For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:5, 17, NKJV)
And the Lord God of the holy prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things which must shortly take place. . . .Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. (Revelation 22:6, 12, NKJV)
One thing that confuses Christians is that the resurrection was not to earth, but rather to heaven, so it would not have been observable. This is to say that resurrection is not about bodies coming out of graves, but spirits who had been in hades going to heaven. (When Peter said that Jesus visited the “spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:18-19), it should be obvious that it was not Jesus’ physical body which remained in the tomb, but rather Jesus’ spirit (or soul or glorified body) that visited the spirits in hades. Author and nineteenth-century theologian J. Stuart Russell, in his classic work on eschatology, “The Parousia,” simply questioned why any Christian reader would doubt what the text says: “What, then, hinders the conclusion that such events might have taken place without observation, and without record?”
Another thing that makes Christians stumble on this point is that they assume that believers’ bodies in heaven will be the exact same fleshly bodies that lie in the graves. This too is incorrect. Paul, in first Corinthians 15 uses a seed analogy to explain this. The husk of the seed stays in the ground, while a new body—which he describes four times in the passage as a SPIRITUAL BODY—is what emerges. He also describes it as an IMMORTAL BODY and a GLORIFIED BODY. So, we obtain a new body suitable for our heavenly existence. Jesus describes our heavenly bodies as being like angels (Luke 20:36). It is clear enough that Paul expected 1 Corinthians 15, another important passage about the general resurrection, to be fulfilled during the lifetimes of his contemporaries. The time was growing short (1 Corinthians 7:29-31 and 10:11).
Why is the dissolution of hades significant? Answer: Christ’s work was finished. There was no longer any reason for a temporary abode of the dead after AD 70. The good news for Christians from the preterist perspective is that because of Jesus’ first-century work, believers can expect to go directly to heaven when we die. There is no waiting in hades, and no confusion about our soul being “re-united with the body” at the end of time.
Another interesting passage is Isaiah 65-66. This also contains the “Final Judgment.” But this is not the end of history. Regular human history continues after Armageddon—including sin, birth and death, house building, etc. There are still people living on earth who never heard of God! And the faithful survivors are instructed to evangelize!
For more information, see my book CHRISTIAN HOPE THROUGH FULFILLED PROPHECY, available at Amazon.com.