The End of the World (The Resurrection of the Dead)
Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
The Resurrection of the Dead
On the great day of the Second Coming of the Son of Man, the General Resurrection of the Dead will occur. All people will rise from their graves in a transformed state. The Lord thus describes this event: "Do not marvel at this: for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice [of the Son of God] and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:29).
When the Sadducees expressed doubt as to the possibility of physical resurrection, the Lord reproached them, saying: "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Mt. 22:29). The Apostle Paul expressed the importance of faith in the resurrection in these words: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty … For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:13-22).
The Resurrection of the Dead will be general and simultaneous for both the righteous and sinners: "And shall come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:29; Acts. 24:15). But the appearance of the resurrected righteous will differ substantially from that of the resurrected sinners: "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father" (Mt. 13:43), said the Lord of the saved. Commenting on these words of the Savior, St. Ephraim the Syrian says that "the ones will resemble light, while the others will resemble darkness."
Carefully analyzing what the Scriptures teach regarding the General Resurrection, one must conclude that the resurrected bodies in their essence will remain the same as they were during their earlier existence: "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Cor 15:53). But they will rise up transfigured and will become imperishable and immortal. After resurrection they will be absolutely free from physical exhaustion and from any weaknesses of our present life. They will become spiritual and heavenly, free from any physical needs. Life after resurrection will resemble the lives of the bodiless angels. As to sinners, their bodies will also, undoubtedly, arise in a transformed state; however, having received immortality, they will at the same time reflect in themselves all the hideousness of their moral decay.
To strengthen the faith in Christians regarding the forthcoming transfiguration of bodies, St. Paul refers to a generally known fact: "Someone may doubt — `How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?" — Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain; perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body" (1 Cor. 15:35-38). Supporting the same idea, the Fathers of the Church point out the fact that in reality nothing is ever destroyed nor disappears, rather it is transformed into something with new properties, and certainly God has power to restore and transform everything that He created. Turning to nature, they found in it many similarities to resurrection, such as: the germination of plants from a seed, buried into the earth and decayed; the annual renewal of nature during the Spring; waking from sleep with renewed energies; the initial formation of man from the dust; and other similar phenomena.
Those people who will be living on earth during the Second Coming of the Lord, according to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, will undergo instantaneous transformation similar to the one which will occur to those who were dead: "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:51-53). Regarding the meeting of the faithful with the Lord, which will occur after this, St. Paul says: "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thes. 4:13-17).
A widespread error among contemporary Protestants is that of the rapture. Unheard of before the 19th century, this belief has it that during the "great tribulation" near the end of the world (either before or after the millennium, according to various versions), true Christians will be raptured into the air to escape the sufferings of those who remain on earth. It is based on the misinterpretation of 1 Thes. 4:17, which teaches that at the very end of the world believers will be caught up in the clouds together with the resurrected dead to meet the Lord Who is coming for judgment and the opening of the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. The Scripture is quite clear that even the elect will suffer on earth during the tribulation period and that for their sake this time will be shortened (Mat. 24:21-22).
In speaking about the Resurrection and everything that will follow it, we should remember that these are events which we are neither able to fully comprehend, nor imagine, as nothing of this nature was ever experienced by us. For this reason, we never will be able to solve all the related questions which often arise in inquisitive people's minds.
The End of the Physical World.
As a result of mankind's fall into sin, all creation unwillingly submitted to "the slavery of decay, and groans and suffers till now" (Rom. 8:22). The time will come in which mankind and the entire material world will be purified and renewed. This will occur on the last day, following the Universal Judgment, and it will happen by means of fire. As the world that existed before the deluge was purified from sin by means of the flood, likewise "the present heaven and earth," St. Peter teaches, "are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men … [On that] day … the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up … Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet. 3:7-13).
The fact that the present temporary world will be transformed was predicted many centuries before Christ by the Psalmist who said: "Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, all of them will grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will have no end" (Ps. 102:25-27). In other words, the end of the world will not be its destruction but its total renewal.