What is the First Resurrection?
In Scripture, the first resurrection refers to the resurrection to celestial and immortal life of Jesus’ anointed followers. We believe that this is the little flock which he spoke of at Luke 12:32. We believe their number is a literal 144,000 as described at Revelation 7:4. It is also our belief that those of this group who have died since the first century down to our day are now all in heaven, having experienced their resurrection from1918 onward.
“Therefore, anointed Christians who died before Christ’s presence were raised to heavenly life ahead of those who were still alive during Christ’s presence. This means that the first resurrection must have begun early in Christ’s presence, and it continues “during his presence.” (1 Corinthians 15:23) Rather than occurring all at once, the first resurrection takes place over a period of time.” (w07 1/1 p. 28 par. 13 “The First Resurrection”—Now Under Way)
All this is predicated on the belief that Jesus’ presence as the Messianic king began in 1914. There is reason to dispute that position as explained in the post Was 1914 the Start of Christ’s Presence?, and the Scriptures that refer to the first resurrection actually add to the weight of that argument.
Can We Determine When It Occurs From Scripture?
There are three scriptures that speak of the timing of the first resurrection:
(Matthew 24:30-31) And then the sign of the Son of man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in lamentation, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send forth his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.
(1 Corinthians 15:51-52) Look! I tell YOU a sacred secret: We shall not all fall asleep [in death], but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, during the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
(1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) For if our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, those who have fallen asleep [in death] through Jesus God will bring with him. 15 For this is what we tell YOU by Jehovah’s word, that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep [in death]; 16 because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first. 17 Afterward we the living who are surviving will, together with them, be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and thus we shall always be with [the] Lord.
Matthew links the sign of the Son of man which occurs just prior to Armageddon with the gathering of the chosen ones. Now this may refer to all Christians, but our official understanding is that ‘chosen’ here refers to the anointed. What Matthew relates appears to refer to the same event described in Thessalonians where the surviving anointed will “be caught away in clouds to meet the Lord in the air”. 1 Corinthians says these do not die at all, but are changed “in the twinkling of an eye”.
There can be no argument that all this occurs just before Armageddon, because we have not witnessed it occurring yet. The anointed are still with us.
This is not the first resurrection technically, since they are not resurrected, but transformed, or “changed” as the Bible says. The first resurrection consists of all those anointed from the first century onward who have died. So when are they resurrected? According to 1 Corinthians, during the “last trumpet”. And when does the last trumpet sound? According to Matthew, after the sign of the Son of man appears in the heavens.
So the first resurrection appears to be a future event.
- Matthew 24:30, 31 – The sign of the Son of man appears. A trumpet is sounded. The chosen are gathered. This happens just before Armageddon starts.
- 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – The living are transformed and the [anointed] dead are raised at the same time during the last trumpet.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 – During Jesus’ presence a trumpet is blown, the [anointed] dead are raised and “together with them” or “at the same time” (footnote, Reference Bible) the surviving anointed are transformed.
Notice that all three accounts have one common element: a trumpet. Matthew makes it clear that the trumpet is sounded just before the outbreak of Armageddon. This is during Christ’s presence—even if that presence started in 1914, this would still be during it. The trumpet sounds and the surviving anointed are transformed. This happens “at the same time” the dead are resurrected. Therefore, the first resurrection is yet to occur.
Let’s look at it logically and explore whether this new understanding is more consistent with the rest of Scripture.
The anointed are said to come to life and rule for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4) If they were resurrected in 1918, then the vast majority of the anointed have been alive and ruling for almost a century. Yet the thousand years have not yet begun. Their rule is restricted to a thousand years, not eleven hundred, or more. If Christ’s presence as the Messianic king begins just prior to Armageddon and the anointed are resurrected then, we have no problem with the application and consistency of Rev. 20:4.
What about 1918?
So what is our basis for ignoring all the foregoing and fixing on 1918 as the year the first resurrection is said to begin?
The January 1, 2007 Watchtower gives the answer on p. 27, par. 9-13. Notice that the belief is based on the interpretation that the 24 elders of Rev. 7:9-15 represent the anointed in heaven. We can’t prove that, of course, but even supposing it to be true, how does that lead to 1918 as the year the first resurrection started?
w07 1/1 p. 28 par. 11 says, “What, then, can we deduce from the fact that one of the 24 elders identifies the great crowd to John? It seems that resurrected ones of the 24-elders group may be involved in the communicating of divine truths today.” (Italics ours)
“Deduce”, “seems”, “may”? Counting the unproven interpretation that the 24 elders are the resurrected anointed, that makes four conditions to build our argument on. If even one of them is wrong, our reasoning collapses.
There is also the incongruity that while John is said to represent the anointed on earth and the 24 elders the anointed in heaven, there were, in fact, no anointed in heaven at the time this vision was given. John got a direct communication of divine truth from heaven in his day and it was not given by the anointed, yet this vision is supposed to represent such an arrangement today, even though the anointed today do not get direct communication of divine truth either by vision or dreams.
Based on this reasoning, we believe that in 1935 the resurrected anointed communicated with the anointed remnant on earth and revealed the true role of the other sheep. This was not done by holy spirit. If such revelations are the result of the anointed in heaven ‘communicating divine truths today’, then how can we explain the many faux pas of the past such as 1925, 1975 and the eight times we have flip-flopped on whether or not the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are to be resurrected.[i] (The reasoning that these are merely refinements or examples of advancing light cannot apply to a position that is repeatedly reversed.)
Let’s be clear. The foregoing is not stated so as to be unnecessarily critical, nor as an exercise in faultfinding. These are simply historical facts that have an impact on our argument. The date of 1918 is predicated on the belief that the resurrected anointed are communicating divine truths to the remnant of anointed on earth today. If so, then it is become difficult to explain the errors we have made. If, however, the anointed are being guided by holy spirit as they rove about in the Scriptures—something the Bible actually teaches—then such errors are attributable to our human condition; nothing more. However, accepting as the way things happen removes the only basis—albeit a highly speculative one—for our belief that the first resurrection has already occurred.
Just to further illustrate how very speculative is our belief in 1918 as the date of the first resurrection, we arrive at this year assuming a parallel between Jesus being anointed in 29 C.E. and enthroned in 1914. He was resurrected 3 ½ years later, so “could it, then, be reasoned that…the resurrection of his faithful anointed followers began three and a half years later, in the spring of 1918?”
Based on 1 Thess. 4:15-17, that would mean God’s trumpet sounded in the spring of 1918, but how does that jibe with the trumpet linked to these same events described in Mt. 24:30,31 and 1 Cor. 15:51, 52? Particular difficulty arises in trying to equate 1918 with the events described in 1 Corinthians. According to 1 Corinthinans, it is during the “last trumpet” that the dead are resurrected and the living are changed. Has the “last trumpet” been sounding since 1918; almost a century? If so, then since it is the last trumpet, how can there be another, yet future trumpet blast to fulfill Mt. 24:30, 31? Does that make sense?
‘Let the reader use discernment.’ (Mt. 24:15)
I am wondering if the 7th trumpet of Revelation is the same as the last trumpet mentioned by the apostle Paul which signals the start of the resurrection or does it indicate the end of the millennial reign? The wording seems to imply that Jesus is turning over authority to Jehovah. Rev 11:15 states: The seventh angel blew his trumpet. And there were loud voices in heaven, saying: “The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will rule as king forever and ever.” Is the “kingdom of the world” the governments… Read more »
Also, if they’re claim that angels are communicating to them then that would mean that they are INSPIRED, which is something they deny.
Don’t know why this one went into the moderation queue. You make a good point, by the way.
[…] We’ve already shown that the presumptive presence of Christ in 1914 is based on false assumptions. It follows that subsequent events said to occur in 1918 and 1919 would also be false, since their entire basis is founded on the so-called pivotal date of 1914. So the 1919 resurrection of anointed ones has no basis in Scripture. In fact, Scripture points to the resurrection occurring at the return of Christ. (See When Does the First Resurrection Occur?) […]
Good reasoning Meleti. With regards to all Christians going to heaven, I can see more clearly as to why Jesus would have mentioned, that in the resurrection, none will marry since they will be like the angels in heaven. Your thoughts?
You’ll have to remember this was written in May, 2012. This site is in part a record of my journey to spiritual self-awareness. I no longer hold that there are two classes of Christians with distinct hopes. In answer to your other question, Jesus was answering a question about what the sign would be of his presence and the conclusion of the system of things. So he gave us the sign or signs. He doesn’t discuss Armageddon or the conclusion of the system of things because he wasn’t asked what that would be like. He was only asked to provide… Read more »
I agree the resurrection is in the future at the coming of the Son, but I have two questions for you about some details in the article: Quote “Matthew links the sign of the Son of man which occurs just prior to Armageddon with the gathering of the chosen ones. ” Where does Matthew talk about Armageddon? Only mention is the GT. Can you prove the judgement over the goats by Jesus is the same as Armageddon? Quote “Now this may refer to all Christians, but our official understanding is that ‘chosen’ here refers to the anointed.” Where in the… Read more »
Don’t forget John 6:54. Jesus playing states that the resurrection occurs on the last day. As a life long JW I’m hurt that we have been fed false doctrines. It hurts even more that I can’t mention it without potentially destroying relationships with friends and family.
Thank you! Great article like are so many others on this site! I just recently found the site. About the 24 elders: it is impossible that they are the same as 144.000. Why? Revelation 5: 9,10: And they sing a new song,+ saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought people for God+ out of every tribe and tongue* and people and nation,+ 10 and you made them to be a kingdom+ and priests to our God,+ and they are to rule as kings+ over the… Read more »
Very sound reasoning. The light does indeed get brighter. 🙂
There are other points as well. Consider Revelation 20:4 for example which says: And I saw thrones, and those who sat on them were given authority to judge. Yes, I saw the souls* of those executed* for the witness they gave about Jesus and for speaking about God, and those who had not worshipped the wild beast or its image and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand.+ And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ+ for 1,000 years. According to the Watchtower “those who sat” here are the 24 elders.… Read more »
@Nightflyer- The 24 elder in Rev. 5:9,10 most likely are not singing about the 144,000. Remember the 144,00 are sealed ” out of every tribe of the sons of Israel (Rev 7:4).” It is the great crowd who are taken from “every tribe and tongue* and people and nation (compare Rev 7:9).” So who are the 24 elders singing about, the great crowd? It’s a possibility.
[…] the anointed occurs just before Armageddon, not throughout the last days. (Mt. 24:30; See also When Does the First Resurrection Occur?) Of course, if we did change it to “day of the Lord”, we’d have to explain how we are not in […]