Question: "When will the resurrection take place?"
Answer: The Bible is clear that resurrection is a reality and this life is not all that there is. While death is the end of physical life, it is not the end of human existence. Many erroneously believe that there is one general resurrection at the end of the age, but the Bible teaches that there will be not one resurrection, but a series of resurrections, some to eternal life in heaven and some to eternal damnation (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29).
The first great resurrection was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is documented in each of the four Gospels (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20), cited several times in Acts (Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33; 26:23), and mentioned repeatedly in the letters to the churches (Romans 1:4; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:3). Much is made of the importance of Christ's resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:12-34, which records that over five hundred people saw Him at one of His post-resurrection appearances. Christ's resurrection is the "first fruits" or guarantee to every Christian that he will also be resurrected. Christ's resurrection is also the basis of the Christian's certainty that all people who have died will one day be raised to face fair and even-handed judgment by Jesus Christ (Acts 17:30-31). The resurrection to eternal life is described as "the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:5-6); the resurrection to judgment and torment is described as "the second death" (Revelation 20:6, 13-15).
The first great resurrection of the Church will occur at the time of the rapture. All those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ during the Church Age, and have died before Jesus returns, will be resurrected at the rapture. The Church Age began on the Day of Pentecost and will end when Christ returns to take believers back to heaven with Him (John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The Apostle Paul explained that not all Christians will die, but all will be changed, i.e., given resurrection-type bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-58), some without having to die! Christians who are alive, and those who have already died, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air and be with Him always!
Another great resurrection will occur when Christ returns to earth (His Second Coming) at the end of the Tribulation period. After the rapture, the Tribulation is the next event after the Church Age in God's chronology. This will be a time of terrible judgment upon the world, described in great detail in Revelation chapters 6-18. Though all Church Age believers will be gone, millions of people left behind on earth will come to their senses during this time and will trust in Jesus as their Savior. Tragically, most of them will pay for their faith in Jesus by losing their lives (Revelation 6:9-11; 7:9-17; 13:7, 15-17; 17:6; 19:1-2). These believers in Jesus who die during the Tribulation will be resurrected at Christ's return and will reign with Him for a thousand years during the Millennium (Revelation 20:4, 6). Old Testament believers such as Job, Noah, Abraham, David and even John the Baptist (who was assassinated before the Church began) will be resurrected at this time also. Several passages in the Old Testament mention this event (Job 19:25-27; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:1-2; Hosea 13:14). Ezekiel 37:1-14 describes primarily the regathering of the Nation of Israel using the symbolism of dead corpses coming back to life. But from the language used, a physical resurrection of dead Israelis cannot be excluded from the passage. Again, all believers in God (in the Old Testament era) and all believers in Jesus (in the New Testament era) participate in the first resurrection, a resurrection to life (Revelation 20:4, 6).
There may be another resurrection at the end of the Millennium, one which is implied, but never explicitly stated in Scripture. It is possible that some believers will die a physical death during the Millennium. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, "No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed" (Isaiah 65:20). On the other hand, it is also possible that death in the Millennium will only come to the disobedient. In either event, some kind of transformation will be required to fit believers in their natural bodies in the Millennium for pristine existence throughout eternity. Each believer will need to have a "resurrected" type of body.
It is clear from Scripture that God will destroy the entire universe, including the earth, with fire (2 Peter 3:7-12). This will be necessary to purge God's creation of its endemic evil and decay brought upon it by man's sin. In its place God will create a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4). But what will happen to those believers who survived the Tribulation and entered the Millennium in their natural bodies? And what will happen to those who were born during the Millennium, trusted in Jesus, and continued to live in their natural bodies? Paul has made it clear that flesh and blood, which is mortal and able to decay, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That eternal kingdom is inhabitable only by those with resurrected, glorified bodies that are no longer mortal and are not able to decay (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). Presumably, these believers will be given resurrection bodies without having to die. Precisely when this happens is not explained, but theologically, it must happen somewhere in the transition from the old earth and universe to the new earth and new heaven (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4).
There is a final resurrection, apparently of all the unbelieving dead of all ages. Jesus Christ will raise them from the dead (John 5:25-29) after the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ (Revelation 20:5), and after the destruction of the present earth and universe (2 Peter 3:7-12; Revelation 20:11). This is the resurrection described by Daniel as an awakening "from the dust of the ground ... to disgrace and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2). It is described by Jesus as a "resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28-29).
The Apostle John saw something that would happen in the future. He saw a "great white throne" (Revelation 20:11). Heaven and earth "fled away" from the One sitting on it. This is evidently a description of the dissolution by fire of all matter, including the entire universe and earth itself (2 Peter 3:7-12). All the (godless) dead will stand before the throne. This means they have been resurrected after the thousand years (Revelation 20:5). They will possess bodies that can feel pain but will never cease to exist (Mark 9:43-48). They will be judged, and their punishment will be commensurate with their works. But there is another book opened—the Lamb's book of life (Revelation 21:27). Those whose names are not written in the book of life are cast into the "lake of fire," which amounts to "the second death" (Revelation 20:11-15). No indication is given of any who appear at this judgment that their names are found in the book of life. Rather, those whose names appear in the book of life were among those who are blessed, for they received forgiveness and partook of the first resurrection, the resurrection to life (Revelation 20:6).