In reading some comments by the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans, it appears that Paul might not have understood that most Israelites who are not called to salvation in this day and age will be called in the Second Resurrection and will then be given their opportunity to inherit eternal life. Is this impression of Paul's lack of understanding correct?
It is not. Paul clearly understood and taught that there is a Second Resurrection for all those who were never called to salvation in this life. This will include the multitude of the past and present houses of Israel and Judah, as well as the multitude of non-Israelite nations–the “Gentiles.” Paul knew that today, only very few –the “firstfruits” (compare Romans 8:23)–will be called to salvation and the pre-millennial First Resurrection to eternal life. Paul knew that the Second Resurrection will not be to eternal life, but to a physical temporary existence, but with the potential to qualify for eternal life.
Paul knew, of course, Old Testament passages which clearly describe the Second Resurrection of the entire house of Israel to physical existence. He was aware of Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the resurrection of the entire house of Israel to physical life is prophesied (see verse 11). He knew of Jesus Christ’s sayings in passages such as Matthew 12:41-42; 11:21-24; and 10:14-15, referring to the post-millennial (second) resurrection to (the Great White Throne) judgment of Gentiles and Israelites. Even though the book of Revelation had not been written by the time of Paul, he undoubtedly was familiar with the concept of the Second Resurrection and the Great White Throne Judgment, as described in Revelation 20.
Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24 that there would be an “order” of resurrections (see verse 23). He knew that only those in whom God’s Holy Spirit dwelled at the time of their death, would be in the First Resurrection to eternal life (Romans 8:11). He taught that all would die in Adam, and that all would be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22). He taught the resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). He himself wrote that God wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
At the same time, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:14 that true Christians will be raised up when Christ returns. In the Greek, it literally says that God will raise them up “from among the dead,” or, “out of the dead.” Again, in Philippians 3:10-11, the original Greek says in verse 11 that true Christians will be resurrected “out of the dead.” V.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words explains that the literal meaning is, “the out-resurrection from among the dead.” Paul taught that at the time of Christ’s return, only a few would be resurrected “out of” or “from among” all the dead; that is, only those who were called by God in this day and age and who had received the Holy Spirit. He knew that one must be preordained or predestined by God to be called today (compare Romans 8:28-30).
When Paul wrote that there would be an order of resurrections, he understood that most people would not be resurrected to immortal life at the time of Christ’s return, but that their resurrection to physical existence would occur 1,000 years later (compare Halley’s Bible Handbook, comments on Revelation 20; and The Nelson Study Bible, comments on Revelation 20).
Why then, did Paul make certain comments in chapters 9-11 in the book of Romans, which might prompt some to think that Paul did not know about the Second Resurrection? Referring to passages in Romans 9:1-5 and Romans 10:1, some might conclude that Paul, being unaware of the Great White Throne Judgment period, felt that it was his utmost responsibility to preach the gospel to save Israel from final condemnation; that he had to preach God’s Word to them so that “all Israel will be saved” there and then, after “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (compare Romans 11:26, 25).
However, apart from the fact that God sent Paul ultimately to the Gentiles, not the Israelites (compare Acts 13:46-48; 18:6; 28:28; Galatians 2:7-8), Paul DID understand the concept of the Second Resurrection, as we have seen. But this does not mean that he did not have a desire to see his countrymen being called to salvation during his time, since the First Resurrection is the “better” resurrection (compare Hebrews 11:35).
Those who enter that resurrection have “made it” into the Kingdom of God–they can never die anymore (Luke 20:35-36). However, this is not true for those in the Second Resurrection. They still will have to qualify at that time–they still can fall away–they still can be condemned in judgment (John 5:24). So, Paul felt a deep responsibility–as we all should have the same conviction of responsibility today–that he and the other ministers of God had to preach the gospel with all their might (1 Corinthians 9:16), so that God could call those Israelites and Gentiles whom He had preordained to call in this day and age. Paul said that no one could come to God and call on Him unless he believed in Him, and in order to believe in Him, he had to have heard of Him, and in order to hear of Him, there had to be true ministers of God, preaching and proclaiming the gospel (Romans 10:14-15).
But Paul knew that those Israelites and Gentiles who would not be called in this day and age would be called during the Great White Throne Judgment period–and it will be then that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). Paul quoted this passage in connection with Isaiah 59:20, speaking about the salvation of Israel AFTER Christ’s Second Coming–not before then.
This does not mean that every last single Israelite will ultimately inherit eternal life, as some, who have committed or will still commit the unpardonable sin, will have to die the second and eternal death in the lake of fire; but it appears that in the Second Resurrection, the overwhelming majority of Israelites and Gentiles will repent and be given an opportunity to receive the Holy Spirit; they will live a life of overcoming their own human nature (as Christians have to do today); and they will ultimately be changed into spirit beings.
Since they don’t have to overcome Satan at that time, and since Jesus Christ and the saints will have ruled on this earth for 1,000 years and will have transformed this planet into a beautiful and peaceful place, it stands to reason that the reward or extent of rulership responsibilities will be greater for those in the First Resurrection than those in the Second Resurrection. After all, true Christians today have to overcome Satan and this evil rotten society, in addition to their human nature.
This might also indicate why Paul had such great desire to see as many of his countrymen as possible qualify for the First Resurrection, and why he was conscious of the fact that he and the other ministers of God had to do everything possible in their power to fulfill their responsibilities of participation as co-workers in God’s ongoing plan of salvation. Still, however, all who will become born-again spirit members in God’s Kingdom and Family will rule forever and ever (Revelation 22:5).
For more information on the resurrections, please read chapter 22 (“The Resurrections”) of our free booklet, “Is That in The Bible? — The Mysteries of the book of Revelation!”
Lead Writer: Norbert Link