A First Resurrection
Abinadi said the following:
And behold, I say unto you, this is not all.
For O how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that is the founder of peace, yea, even the Lord, who has redeemed his people; yea, him who has granted salvation unto his people; for were it not for the redemption which he hath made for his people, which was prepared from the foundation of the world, I say unto you, were it not for this, all mankind must have perished. But behold, the bands of death shall be broken, and the Son reigneth, and hath power over the dead; therefore, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ—for so shall he be called.
And now, the resurrection of all the prophets, and all those that have believed in their words, or all those that have kept the commandments of God, shall come forth in the first resurrection; therefore, they are the first resurrection. They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death. And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord. And little children also have eternal life.
But behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection. (Mosiah 15:19-26)
Alma said the following, paraphrasing and expanding upon the teaching of Abinadi:
Now, there are some that have understood that this state of happiness and this state of misery of the soul, before the resurrection, was a first resurrection. Yea, I admit it may be termed a resurrection, the raising of the spirit or the soul and their consignation to happiness or misery, according to the words which have been spoken.
And behold, again it hath been spoken, that there is a first resurrection, a resurrection of all those who have been, or who are, or who shall be, down to the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Now, we do not suppose that this first resurrection, which is spoken of in this manner, can be the resurrection of the souls and their consignation to happiness or misery. Ye cannot suppose that this is what it meaneth.
Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but it meaneth the reuniting of the soul with the body, of those from the days of Adam down to the resurrection of Christ.
Now, whether the souls and the bodies of those of whom has been spoken shall all be reunited at once, the wicked as well as the righteous, I do not say; let it suffice, that I say that they all come forth; or in other words, their resurrection cometh to pass before the resurrection of those who die after the resurrection of Christ.
Now, my son, I do not say that their resurrection cometh at the resurrection of Christ; but behold, I give it as my opinion, that the souls and the bodies are reunited, of the righteous, at the resurrection of Christ, and his ascension into heaven.
But whether it be at his resurrection or after, I do not say; but this much I say, that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. (Alma 40:15-21)
Notice, in particular, these words of Alma:
Now, whether the souls and the bodies of those of whom has been spoken shall all be reunited at once, the wicked as well as the righteous, I do not say; let it suffice, that I say that they all come forth; or in other words, their resurrection cometh to pass before the resurrection of those who die after the resurrection of Christ. (Alma 40:19)
So, all those who died before the resurrection of Christ, both the righteous and the wicked, get resurrected before all those who die after the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of those who die before Jesus’s resurrection, then, is termed a first resurrection. (And within this first resurrection, the resurrection of the just is called the first resurrection.) The resurrection of those who die after Jesus’s resurrection, then, might be termed a second resurrection. (And within this second resurrection, the resurrection of the just is still called the first resurrection.)
21 September 1823
Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, Jun., on 21 September 1823, as a resurrected personage. As Moroni died after the resurrection of Christ and was now resurrected, this means that every single person who died before the resurrection of Christ, both the righteous as well as the wicked, had already been resurrected. So, all those dead souls that lived during that approximately 4000 years were alive by that date.
After resurrection comes judgment
Alma taught that there is a “time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.” After you get resurrected, then, you get brought to stand before God and you get judged. As far as I can recall, there is no indication in any scripture that there is a space of time or waiting period between the resurrection and your judgment.
So far we know from this that between the resurrection of Christ and 21 September 1823, all the people who lived and died in the first 4000 or so years must have come forth and, if the logic follows, must have been subsequently judged by God. But they didn’t necessarily come forth at the same moment during this span of 1,823 years. Alma also said:
Now my son, here is somewhat more I would say unto thee; for I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead. Behold, I say unto you, that there is no resurrection—or, I would say, in other words, that this mortal does not put on immortality, this corruption does not put on incorruption—until after the coming of Christ. Behold, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead. But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet.
Now, I unfold unto you a mystery; nevertheless, there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know—that is concerning the resurrection. Behold, there is a time appointed that all shall come forth from the dead. Now when this time cometh no one knows; but God knoweth the time which is appointed. Now, whether there shall be one time, or a second time, or a third time, that men shall come forth from the dead, it mattereth not; for God knoweth all these things; and it sufficeth me to know that this is the case—that there is a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead.
Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise it mattereth not; for all do not die at once, and this mattereth not; all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men. (Alma 40:1-5,8)
The First Resurrection
We obviously know that the righteous (Celestial and Terrestrial souls) came forth first, inheriting the first resurrection, whereas the Telestial souls and the sons of perdition were resurrected afterward. So, the scriptures that speak of the many saints rising at the resurrection of Christ in the land of Jerusalem and also among the Nephites were those of the first resurrection. This may have been only a part of those of the first resurrection, for some righteous souls needed to remain in Paradise to perform the missionary labors in the spirit world until more saints died after the resurrection of Christ, who could then take over these labors for them, allowing those who died before the resurrection of Christ to now leave Paradise without the missionary work suffering. As to the resurrection of all the rest among this group, we have no information about when this occurred, except that it was finished by 21 September 1823.
Judged by the books
Here’s where it gets particularly interesting, for we learn from Joseph Smith that the dead must be judged out of the records which have been kept concerning the dead, and in particular the records of the ordinances which they have received, whether these were done while they were yet alive or done vicariously by someone else:
And further, I want you to remember that John the Revelator was contemplating this very subject in relation to the dead, when he declared, as you will find recorded in Revelation 20:12—
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven; the principle agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letter which I wrote to you previous to my leaving my place—that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven.
Now, the nature of this ordinance consists in the power of the priesthood, by the revelation of Jesus Christ, wherein it is granted that whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Or, in other words, taking a different view of the translation, whatsoever you record on earth shall be recorded in heaven, and whatsoever you do not record on earth shall not be recorded in heaven; for out of the books shall your dead be judged, according to their own works, whether they themselves have attended to the ordinances in their own propria persona, or by the means of their own agents, according to the ordinance which God has prepared for their salvation from before the foundation of the world, according to the records which they have kept concerning their dead.
It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it? (D&C 128:6-9)
Now surely many of the righteous saints of this 4000 year period had their ordinances done while alive, and these records were kept somewhere, and thus there was no lag time needed for their resurrection and judgment, for the records already existed, but what of the others of the same period, who had not had their ordinance work done, yet? If they got resurrected, there could be no subsequent judgment, for judgment must be “out of the books.” If, then, judgment does, indeed, immediately follow resurrection, then none of these could be resurrected until the ordinance work was done for them, for none of them could be judged.
We know that the Jewish church performed baptisms for the dead in the land of Jerusalem after Christ was resurrected, and we can assume the same with all the other sheep of the fold, but the Jewish church didn’t last long. Could they do all the ordinances that needed to be done during that time? Maybe the lost tribes church had more time. We don’t have this information.
What we do know, though, is that the Nephites had a sort of Millennium experience after Christ visited them, and they got the whole thing, the entire revelation of the brother of Jared, which revealed all things. It is possible, then, that it was the Nephites, those ultra diligent, miracle-working people of the Lord, that performed these labors, doing all the ordinance work and writing all the records, recording and doing everything and completing the work for all those of the first 4000 years. As they had all the information, and they lasted for quite some time, and they were super diligent, more so than any other branch of Israel, they might have finished this enormous task in record time. But we don’t yet know if this was the case.
Setting in order the house of God
This leads to an even more bizarre scenario. If the resurrection of the dead must wait for the ordinance work to be done, and we have a resurrection coming up, even the first resurrection, which will happen at the Second Coming of Christ, and this resurrection will be for all those Celestial and Terrestrial souls who died after the resurrection of Christ, which is a period of about 2000 years, then that would mean that all these ordinances for the dead must be done before Christ comes back, not during the Millennium.
Our common LDS belief is that the work for the dead will be an ongoing task of the Millennium. This is not a scriptural understanding, but was put forth by Brigham Young, I believe. Doctrine and Covenants section 85, though, is curious, because it says, “I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong…to set in order the house of God,” which I have interpreted to mean putting the temple and other church records in perfect order. As this will be done by the miraculous power of God working in this servant, the apparent impossibility of doing all the vicarious work for the dead and making the records complete before the Second Coming of Christ is not an issue. In other words, just because there ain’t enough time or even enough people to get all the work done and all the records filled out and perfected before Christ comes doesn’t matter. This servant will be able to do it, anyway. If, in fact, these ordinances and records need to be done before the first resurrection (which takes place at the Second Coming)—otherwise all these people can’t be resurrected—then it makes sense that God must send someone endowed with seemingly unlimited power to accomplish the feat.
I am not saying that this is the case. I am just saying that if this is the case, then we’ve got things wrong concerning the Millennium and the vicarious work for the dead and the resurrection and judgment. And I am also saying that if this turns out to be true, then this servant is going to have the biggest work load (impossibly big) of anyone who ever lived and he will have to accomplish it all in an impossibly small amount of time, which is getting smaller all the time (since he apparently hasn’t even started working, yet.)