Benefits of the First Resurrection

John Plunkett

Feast of Trumpets
September 21, 2017

The words to today's special music – "When the Stars Begin to Fall" by the Seekers – is what I would like to talk about today.

My Lord!  What a morning!
When the stars begin to fall!
There will be a shout of victory
When the stars begin to fall!

What wonderful, awe-inspiring words.

Yes! What a morning!  Or whatever time of day it might be when we rise to meet Jesus in the air. 

I personally believe that, rather than being morning, it will probably be at sunset – the true beginning of the day – at the beginning of the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets and, even quite likely, on the Feast of Trumpets itself. 

I have often thought that the Feast of Trumpets that we are observing today is kind of a big "spark plug" to begin the wonderful autumn feast season.  Also, the Feast of Trumpets pictures one of the most pivotal days of all eternity –  the day when everything begins to change!

This day pictures the day when the ownership of the kingdoms of this world are going to change hands – when the kingdoms of this world that Satan and his cohorts believe to be solidly and eternally theirs, are going to be taken over by the Lord Jesus Christ, His holy angels and His new-born spirit-composed brothers and sisters:

Revelation 8:
2:  And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets...
Verse 6: And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
Verse 13:  And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe" to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!

Then we must skip down two whole chapters to Revelation 11:

Revelation 11:15:
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever."

The Feast of Trumpets pictures the time of the return of Jesus Christ to this world, and it also pictures the time of the First Resurrection.

I would like to give you a brief outline of the benefits of having a place in the First Resurrection.

We just listened to the Seekers singing the words “What a Morning!”  Yes.  Again, what a fabulous day that will be!  We can’t even visualize it with our limited human minds.  What an event for us to be blessed to be able to be there.  Try to imagine it in your mind’s eye.  We can’t, can we?  But again, what a blessing it will be for us to witness it all first-hand and to have a part in!

I used the term "blessing."  Yes, we will be blessed to have a part in the First Resurrection!  But, believe it or not, amazingly, I have met one or two people who don’t seem to think so!  You may be thinking, "He's not talking about Church of God members!  Surely not!"  But yes, I am talking about Church of God members!

Have you ever heard – or perhaps overheard – a fellow church member complaining that he or she was called in this life?  Have you ever heard a church member wishing that he or she would not have been called until the Second Resurrection period, rather than the First?  Have you ever heard a church member doubting that he or she would be able to endure the trials and the overcoming that are required and that automatically "come with the territory" of being a member of God’s true church?  Have you ever heard a church member even moaning that he or she would rather have been left to enjoy a trouble-free, stress-free lifetime of relative ease?

Maybe you haven’t, but I certainly have!  Not often!  Only a few times, it's true.

Sadly, what is much worse that a person merely wishing that he or she had not been called in this lifetime  is that some brethren have succumbed to these Satan-inspired feelings and desires and have gone so far as to have given up their calling.

I’m not talking about people who have moved from one branch of the Church of God to another.  I don’t have a problem with that and I know that God doesn’t have a problem with that.  I’m talking about those who have given it all up and have left God’s church completely.

Of course, I am not their judge.  And you are not their judge.  And no human being is their judge... thankfully!  Our great, merciful Father has given all judgment over to His equally great, equally loving, equally merciful, Son, Jesus Christ (John 5:22).  Jesus is the supreme Judge and only He can say what the future holds for those people.

When we consider what God inspired to be written in Hebrews 6, it certainly does make one fearful for the future of those who have turned their backs on God and His true church. 

Hebrews 6:
4:  For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5:  And have tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
6:  If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame.
7:  For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes often upon it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God:
8:  But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

The Feast of Trumpets is a happy and joyful day; but in some respects it can be a day to really ponder the big things in life.

Verses 7 and 8 of Hebrews 6 seem to be referring to Jesus’ symbolism of His requirement for His brothers and sisters to stick to the job – to stick to the job of bearing spiritual fruit.

Jesus gives us a clear warning about when we are initially being called by the Father into His church:

Luke 9:62:
And Jesus said unto him, "No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

He is the perfectly fair and righteous Judge.  Not any of us.

However, I strongly believe that some who apparently may have given up their calling at a very early stage might be considered to have been represented by the soil by the wayside, on the rock or among thorns – on which God’s spiritual seed fell (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). 

There is a somewhat hard-to-understand but very hope-giving passage of scripture in I John 5:14-16 in which God seems to be giving us permission to pray earnestly for the repentance of what we might call "our wayward brethren" who have left the church – those who have parted company with the greater Church of God.

Hopefully, they have not committed the "sin unto death" that John refers to in that passage.  But, although that is a message for another day, I wanted to mention it today because, if you have friends and loved ones who you believe to have left God’s church altogether, please pray for them.  If it is God’s will, He will bring them back.  Hopefully, they have not lost their salvation permanently. 

Although only God the Father and Jesus know all those details, of course, I believe that there is one detail in this regard that we can know and that is certain.  And that is that, if those people don’t repent and don't come back to one of Jesus’ sheepfolds by some specific point in time that has been set by God, they certainly will have lost something that is very special.  And that something very special is their part in the First Resurrection!

Believe it or not, the patriarch Job seems to have harbored at least some of these same feelings during the time when he was going through his major trials:

Job 14:
10:  But man dies, and wastes away: yes, man gives up the
{human} spirit, and where is he?
11:  As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decays and dries up:
12:  So man lies down, and rises not.  Till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
13:  O that you would hide me in the grave, that you would keep me secret, until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

It is important to note that, technically, the fulfillment of these two "time stamps" mentioned here by Job – "Till the heavens be no more" and  "Until your {God's} wrath be past" – will not come to pass until after the complete fulfillment of the Last Great Day, the Third Resurrection, and the second death.

14:  If a man die, shall he live again?  All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
15:  You shall call, and I will answer you: you will have a desire to the work of your hands.

Poor Job!  In all that he was going through, he was asking the same questions that virtually every thinking human being asks at least once in his life: 

And he came up with at least some of the right answers: 

The vast majority of the dead will remain in their graves until the time of the "Second Resurrection" which will take place at the end of the time we call the “the Millennium” – the initial thousand-year period of Jesus Christ's reign on earth.

But for a group of people that Jesus referred to as "the elect," their resurrection will come at the beginning of that Millennium.  God will raise them from their resting-places to meet Jesus as He returns to the earth to take over its rulership from Satan, and to take His rightful place as its King:

Matthew 24:
29:  Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30:  And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31:  And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

I believe that Job, whether he knew it or not during his own "first" lifetime, is – and will be – included in Jesus’ elect.  I believe that he will be in that wonderful gathering together of Jesus' elect that He was talking about here. 

That is how Jesus worded it. Now let’s take a look how the apostle Paul worded the same future event:

I Thessalonians 4:
13:  But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14:  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
15:  For this we say unto you by the Word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent
{precede} them which are asleep.
16:  For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17:  Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

Although Job, when he wrote the aforementioned verses, seemed to harbour at least some preference for a place in the Second Resurrection, after the apparent flight of the heavens and after the wrath of God has been expended, he, like others of Jesus' elect who remain obedient, faithful, and loyal to God, will come up in the First Resurrection, and will witness both of these great events which, sadly, will be necessary to bring the world’s rebellious peoples into subjection to God's happy way of life.

So then, just what are the real benefits of being in the First Resurrection?

Again, you and I may have occasionally heard fellow church members undergoing trials expressing 'wishes' similar to those of Job, such as:  “I wish I hadn't been called in this life. I would have been better off and less troubled if God hadn't called me until the Second Resurrection!” 

Let me assure you, though, that non-membership in God’s church does not automatically guarantee a trouble-free, stress-free life of ease.  I'm sure that you know that.  Just think about your friends and relatives who are not in the church.  Be honest.  Are they truly free of stress and troubles?  I don’t think so.

However, there are many, many real benefits to having been called into God’s church now.  Just one of those benefits is having a part in the First Resurrection.  Having a part in the First Resurrection comes with its own set of benefits.  What are those benefits?  Is there really any reason to desire a place in the First Resurrection?  Is what we are going through really worth it? 

The apostle John – inspired by God – seemed to think so.  It appears that John was especially beloved by Jesus, and, in my estimation, at least, somewhat especially inspired by Jesus:

Revelation 20:4:
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.  Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the Word of God, who had not worshipped the Beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived
{Greek "zao": RSV: "came to life"} and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

There's a couple of benefits just to start with!  Thrones are going to be given to us!  Judgment is going to be committed to us!  As we are not the "high-up" people in today's world, these things are hard for us to get our minds around.

We will be living and reigning with Jesus during those amazingly transitional thousand years, which is going to be a very special time.

Just those three – the thrones, the judgment and the living and reigning with Jesus must be worth something very valuable!

Still in Revelation 20, then comes the "parenthetical" statement – as though it were enclosed in brackets – like this:

5a:  (But the rest of the dead did not live again [Greek: "anazao ou"} until the thousand years were finished)...

Then, referring to the "coming to life" mentioned back in verse 4:

5b: … This is the first resurrection.

But will it be worth having a part in?  Yes!  Why?  Because:

6:  Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.  Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

Jesus had revealed this fact to John way back at the beginning of the Revelation vision:

Revelation 2:11:
He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches:  He that overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.

So right here, Jesus, through the pen of the apostle John, gives us part of our answer.  Here is John’s partial list of the benefits of having a part in the First Resurrection:

1.  Death, specifically the second death, will no longer have any power over us.  In modern parlance, we will have made it.

2. We will have the guarantee of being alive during that fabulous, transitional Millennium.

3. After being crowned as kings, priests and co-rulers with and under Jesus, we will have a part in helping to rebuild this broken world.  Please keep the vision of that crown, and value it highly!

These are just a few of the many wonderful blessings of having a part in the First Resurrection. 

Can you imagine the first years of the Millennium?  Can you imagine the vast changes that are going to be taking place?  And we will have a part in that!

We are going to be given thrones and we are going to be given crowns.  We will be kings, priests, and co-rulers with Jesus.  We will not be on the same level as Jesus; but we are going to be "sub-rulers" with Him.  We will have a part in helping Him to rebuild the shattered world as it will have become at that time. 

We just read, back in Revelation 20, John’s God-given vision.  He saw a vision of Jesus’ faithful brothers and sisters, as kings and priests, being given thrones to sit on:

Revelation 1:6:
And He has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 5:10:
And Jesus has made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.

Look at the tense in those two verses: "has made us kings and priests."  What that is saying is that our thrones, our crowns, and our positions as kings and priests have been reserved for us already.  We have not actually been given them yet.  Jesus and the Father have them reserved in heaven for us.  

So, if we want to receive them – and obviously, I am sure that we all do –  we need to be patient, we must be willing to wait for them and we must be willing to endure to the end (Matthew 24:13; Mark 13:13; James 5:11). 

In our mind’s eye, you and I need to keep the vision!  I need to keep the vision of my throne and my crown.  You need to keep the vision of yours.  We need to value them highly.  We must hold them fast:

Revelation 3:11:
Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown.

I'm sure that if we told our non-Church-of-God friends and neighbours that we have a throne and a crown waiting for us, they would laugh us to scorn.  But please remember that the world mocked our Elder Brother too.  They mocked Him for saying that He had a Kingdom that is not of this earth, that He was and is a King.

These thrones and crowns are very important.  Let’s take a closer look at them.

In Matthew 19, we learn that there are twelve thrones reserved for Jesus’ twelve faithful disciples:

Matthew 19:
27:  Then answered Peter and said unto Him, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed you.  What shall we have therefore?"
28:  And Jesus said unto them, "Verily I say unto you, that you which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

We know, of course, that Judas did not follow Jesus to the extent that he should have, and that he did not "hold fast" his throne and his crown.  Judas' throne and crown will likely be taken over by his replacement, a man by the name of Matthias.  In Acts 1, where we read the account of the apostles choosing Judas’ replacement, in verse 20, Peter quoted David’s words from Psalm 109:8 – where David said, “Let another take his office.”  That was another prophecy that was fulfilled at that time shortly after Jesus' ascension.

This also shows us that our offices, our thrones and our crowns can be taken away from us if we don’t value them highly enough. 

But, it is not just Jesus’ twelve apostles who are promised thrones.  There is a place in Jesus’ throne promised to every overcomer.

Revelation 3: 21:
To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne.

If you can imagine such a thing, it appears that each of our thrones, and probably the disciples’ thrones too, will be a kind of "sub-throne" within Jesus’ throne... just as Jesus’ throne is a "sub-throne" within His Father’s throne. 

This is another detail that is hard to get our minds around.  When we think of a throne, we probably think of a big chair.  We see pictures of thrones – some of them very fancy and bejewelled; some of them not.  If you have ever seen a picture of the British coronation throne (which used to have the "Stone of Scone" housed in it), that throne is surprisingly plain. 

But John describes God’s throne as being something much bigger than just a mere large chair:

Revelation 4:6:
And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.

We are getting the idea that is this is something much more than just a big chair.

Revelation 5:6a:
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain…

Revelation 7:17a:
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them…

These scriptures here are likely referring to Jesus’ or the Father’s throne room.

Obviously, these thrones are in heaven, in what we could think about as being the heavenly original of the Most Holy Place (also known as the Holy of Holies).

There is also a possibility that the thrones that are promised to us will also be throne rooms:

John 14:2{RSV}:
In my Father’s house are many rooms
{Greek: "mone"}; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place {Greek: "topos": can also be translated as "room"} for you? 

Again, one of these wonderful throne rooms is reserved in heaven for each of us.  They are another great benefit of having a place in the First Resurrection.

Now, let’s talk about crowns:

I Corinthians 9:25a:
And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown
{Greek: Stephanos}… 

When Paul writes “they, he is referring to athletes and other sportsmen and women.  They would receive a wreath that was made out of corruptible laurel leaves.

25b: … but we an incorruptible.

To receive a crown from God is another wonderful, "royal" benefit, and one which is associated with thrones.

But, just like those athletes, in order for us to eventually receive our crowns, we have to keep on running!  This is Paul’s example too:

Verse 26:  I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air;
27:  But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 

So, these crowns from God, are worth disciplining ourselves for.  They are worth the self control that we must exercise (Acts 24:16; I Timothy 4:7-8; Hebrews 5:14; 12:11).

These crowns are worth running after.  The way that Paul puts it, they are even worth fighting for.  We must never "throw in the towel"!  We must keep fighting the good fight:

I Timothy 6:12:
Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto you are also called, and have professed a good profession before many witnesses.

Just as Paul did:

II Timothy 4: 
6:  For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7:  I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

Yes.  As Paul did, we too must fight the good fight, to the very ends of our lives:

8:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

That includes you and me, if we too will continue to love His appearing.

Our crowns are not wreaths made of perishable laurel leaves.  Neither are they crowns made of metal.  All metal – yes, even gold – will decay, rust or wear away to dust.  But, our crowns are incorruptible, imperishable crowns of righteousness.

Please notice that, just as John wrote that Jesus has made us kings and priests (past tense!), Paul says that "there is laid up for me a crown."  It is laid up for him in heaven.  Even though Paul knew that he would not receive his incorruptible crown of righteousness until "that day" – the future day of the First Resurrection – it was already laid up for him way back then, almost 2,000 years ago, immediately prior to his death.

How?  Why?  Because Jesus knew that Paul "loved His appearing."  Paul loved Jesus for being willing to temporarily downgrade Himself, in order for Himself to appear on earth at His first appearing –  His first coming.  And Paul loved Him for His promise of His future appearing, at the time of His second coming to earth, when He will appear and come in great glory.  James agreed with Paul on these details:

James 1:12:
Blessed is the man that endures temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to them that love Him.

Yes, we are to love God the Father and Jesus.  And, as Paul wrote to Timothy, we too are to love the very concept, the true reality and actuality of Jesus’ second coming, because it is as good as "a done deal."  It was a done deal as soon as Judas walked out of the upper room on Jesus' last Passover night.  Actually, it has probably been a done deal from the beginning of eternity!

As James reminds and strongly advises us, if we will endure temptations and trials to the very ends of our physical human lives, we may be a little respectfully "cheeky" as Peter was and we may ask Jesus what will He give us.

Paul says that He will give us an "incorruptible crown."  James calls it a "crown of life."

That "life" will not be just a continuation of this pain-laden, trial-laden, physical, temporary human existence.  No!  It will be eternal life, as spirit-born children of God!  Again, the details of that eternal life are just too much for our limited human minds to even begin to comprehend.

Is there anything else?  Yes, there is:

Revelation 2:10:
Fear none of those things which you shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be you faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.

This was written to the Church of God at Smyrna; but I believe that it is still applicable to us all.

John calls our crown the same as James called it – "a crown of life."  He advises us that, if we want to be sure of receiving our crowns of life, in addition to the requirement of continuing to love the Father, Jesus and their way of life, and in addition to continuing to love the very idea of Jesus’ appearing, there is something else.  He says that we must keep on keeping on. We must stay faithful unto death. 

That doesn’t mean to say that we worship death.  It means that each of us must stay faithful right up to the day of our death.  He says that we must keep on enduring and we must not fear any suffering, temptations, trials or tribulations, whenever Satan sends them our way.  Even imprisonment, if that were to become necessary.  And for some of our brethren in today’s world., it has become necessary.

As we have seen, since the very days of our baptisms, our thrones and our crowns are as good as ours.  But still, we have never to take our ownership of those crowns and thrones for granted.  Yes, we know that they are stored up for us in heaven; but we don’t actually have them yet.  We must "keep on running" to make sure of receiving them:

Philippians 3: 
10:  That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;
11:  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
12:  Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13:  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14:  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

That "prize" is a crown, a throne and all the other wonderful things that come with the First Resurrection.

Today, on this lovely Feast of Trumpets, we have looked at just a few of the many wonderful blessings of having part in the First Resurrection.  We have concentrated most of all on the thrones and on the crowns, which we will finish with by re-reading:

Revelation 3:11:
Behold, I am coming quickly!  Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.

It is your crown, which you have!  And, just as Paul, James and John knew that they had theirs, you can know that you have yours!

What a crown!  We don’t know all the details of it; but we can be absolutely sure that it will be worth the effort.

Please – value it greatly!

Please – hold it fast!