We have shown that eternal life and being changed to
God’s nature are granted to the faithful after the judgment. Christ will firstly
resurrect those responsible to his judgment, and then judge them after they have
been gathered to him. Seeing that the reward of immortal nature is given at the
judgment, it follows that all those who are raised have mortal nature first of
all. If they are raised with immortal bodies, then there is no reason for a
judgment seat at which to dispense the rewards.
We enter the Kingdom of God straight after the judgment seat (Mt. 25:34); the faithful are therefore not in God’s Kingdom before the judgment. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (so)...we shall all be changed...For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:50,51,53). It follows that this change of nature, from mortal to immortal, occurs at the judgment seat, seeing that is where we enter the Kingdom.
However, the inspired apostle Paul often speaks of “the resurrection” in the sense of “the resurrection of life” - the resurrection of the righteous, who will then receive eternal life after judgment. He understood, of course, “that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). He would have been aware that the responsible “shall come forth (from the grave); they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jn. 5:29).
In his positive way, Paul seems to have often referred to this “resurrection of life” when he speaks of “the resurrection”. The righteous come out of their graves “unto the resurrection of life” - after emerging from the earth they will be judged and then given eternal life. This whole process is “the resurrection of life”. There is a difference between their “coming forth” from the grave, and “the resurrection of life”. Paul speaks of his striving to live the Christian life, “if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:11). Because he was responsible he will be raised to give account at the judgment in any case; that he strove to “attain unto the resurrection” must therefore mean that “the resurrection” here refers to the “resurrection of life”.
Other examples of “the resurrection” meaning the “resurrection of life” ( cf. Lk. 14:14) include Lk. 20:35; Jn. 11:24; 1 Cor. 15:21,42; Heb. 11:35; Rev. 20:6. In Ps. 17:15 David speaks of receiving his reward the moment he “awakes”. He had the same view of the resurrection, although he knew there would be a judgment. The usage of this phrase, “the resurrection”, like this in 1 Cor. 15 helps explain 1 Cor. 15:52 - “the dead shall be raised incorruptible”. It is noteworthy that the phrase “the dead” sometimes (and especially in 1 Cor. 15) refers to the righteous dead, who will be raised to receive eternal life at the judgment: 1 Cor. 15:13,21,35,42; 1 Thes. 4:16; Phil. 3:11; Rev. 14:13; 20:5,6.
1 Thes. 4:16,17 lists the events associated with Christ’s return.
1. Christ visibly returns
2. The dead are raised
3. The responsible who are alive at the time will be snatched away to judgment
The granting of eternal life is after this gathering together (Mt. 25:31-34; 13:41-43); therefore immortality cannot be given at the resurrection, seeing that this precedes the gathering together. We have shown that all the righteous will be rewarded at the same moment (Mt. 25:34; Heb 11:39 40). This would be impossible if immortality was granted at the resurrection, seeing that the resurrection precedes the gathering together of the living responsible.
It should be noted, however, that our conception of time is very human; God is not bound by it at all. It is possible to go too far in trying to work out a specific chronology of events which will occur around the time of Christ’s return. The resurrection and our change to immortality at the judgment seat are described as occurring “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor.15:51,52). It is a common Biblical principle that each of those responsible to the judgment will give an account of their lives at the judgment seat. The Bible teaches that eternal life will be granted at the judgment seat rather than the resurrection. For this reason 1 Thes. 4:17 speaks of the righteous being called away to the judgment by a trumpet blast, whilst 1 Cor. 15:52 speaks of the same trumpet being associated with their being given immortality. This also explains why Paul thought of the resurrection as identical with acceptance at the judgment seat (e.g. Phil. 1:23).