Throughout Scripture, death means separation, and at times it means inability to produce. It does not mean cessation or annihilation of life. Death is first mentioned in Genesis where God promised Adam he would die if he disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17). When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he immediately died spiritually in that his relationship with God was severed (3:1-7), and he later died physically (Gen. 5:5). If Adam had continued in his state of spiritual death, he would have been in danger of being separated from God forever in the Lake of Fire, which is the Second Death (Rev. 20:11-15). Adam was made spiritually alive again when he accepted God’s provision for him (Gen. 3:21). It was Adam’s single act of sin in the garden that brought both spiritual and physical death upon the entire human race (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22). The term death is also used to refer to Sarah’s inability to procreate (Rom. 4:19-21), the inability to produce divine good (Jam. 2:26), the unbeliever’s positional death in Adam (1 Cor. 15:21-22), the believer’s positional death in Christ (1 Cor. 15:21-22), and the believer who is living a carnal life and is out of fellowship with God (Jam. 1:14-15). The following list should prove helpful:
Spiritual Death (separation from God in time Gen. 2:16-17; Eph. 2:1).
The Second Death (the perpetuation of spiritual death into eternity; Rev. 20:12-15).
Physical Death (the separation of the soul from the body; Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 5:8).
Sexual Death (the inability to procreate; Rom. 4:19-21).
Operational Death (the inability to produce divine good; James 2:26).
Positional Death: in Adam (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22), and in Christ (Rom. 6:8; 1 Cor. 15:22; Col. 3:3).
Carnal Death (this is the believer out of fellowship with God, operating according to his Sinful Nature; Rom. 8:6, 13; James 1:14-15; Rev. 3:1; Luke 15:24, 32).
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27 NASB)
When God originally created Adam and Eve, He created them in His image (Heb. tselem), to have personality, consciousness, self-consciousness, intellect, volition and emotion (Gen 2:16-27). God formed Adam’s body from the dust of the earth and created his soul (Heb. nephesh; Grk. psuche) and breathed it into his body (Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 15:45). At that moment Adam became a living being.
When Adam sinned through disobedience and brought sin into the human race, he also brought death, both spiritual and physical (Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-8; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Death means separation. Spiritual death refers to separation from God, and physical death refers to the separation of the soul from the body. The unbeliever who is alive on the earth is separated from God in time, and should he continue his entire life rejecting the Gospel message (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9), will be separated from God for eternity in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). At physical death, the soul is separated from the body. Solomon states, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccl 12:7). God gives life, and He takes life (1 Sam 2:6; Psa 100:3; Luke 12:20).
Death is not the final victor in life. God created the soul to be forever united with the body. Therefore, God will resurrect (Grk. anastasis) each body that has died and will reunite it with every human soul. It is necessary to distinguish between resuscitation and resurrection. There were times when God raised, or resuscitated, a person back to life, but that person was subject to death, and eventually died again (John 12:9-10). When a person is resurrected, they never die, but live forever (John 11:25-26).
Concerning resurrections in general, the OT prophet Daniel wrote, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2). Daniel is writing in general and referring to the resurrection of believers and unbelievers. The resurrection of believers means the body and soul will be reunited and spend eternity with God in heaven. The resurrection of unbelievers means the body and soul will be reunited and spend eternity separated from God in the Lake of Fire. We learn from other biblical passages that there are several resurrections mentioned in the Bible:
The resurrection of Jesus (Matt 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Rev 1:5).
Unidentified Old Testament saints were resurrected after Christ’s resurrection (Matt 27:50-53). There is some question as to whether these people were resurrected (to live forever and translated into heaven) or resuscitated (brought back to life and died again).
The resurrection of the church at the Rapture (1 Cor.15:51–53; 1 Th 4:14-17).
The two witnesses who are killed and resurrected during the tribulation (Rev 11:8-11).
The Tribulation saints (Rev 20:4-6).
Old Testament saints at the Second Coming after the Tribulation (Job 19:25-27; Isa 26:19; Ezek 37:12-14; Dan 12:1-2, 13).
The resurrection of all unbelievers at the end of the Millennium who stand before the Great White Throne before being thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). Those who are part of the second resurrection partake of the second death (Rev. 20:14).
The first resurrection occurs in several stages starting with Christ, and involves only believers who will live with Christ during His millennial reign and for all eternity (Rev 20:4-6). According to John Walvoord, it is called the first resurrection, “not in the sense of being number one or prior to all resurrections, but in the sense that it occurs before the final resurrection, the resurrection of the wicked.” The final resurrection is for unbelievers only who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, which will occur after the millennial reign of Christ. Charles Ryrie states:
The resurrection of the just is also called the first resurrection and will occur in several stages, not all at once. The dead in Christ will be raised first at the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:16). The redeemed of the tribulation period who die during that time will be raised before the millennium (Rev 20:4). The redeemed of Old Testament times will also be a part of the resurrection of the just. Expositors are divided over when they will be raised, some believing that it will happen at the rapture when the church saints are raised, and others holding that it will occur at the second coming (Dan 12:2—the writer prefers the latter view)…all unsaved people of all time will be raised after the millennium to be judged and then cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:11–15). At their resurrection they will apparently be given some sort of bodies that will be able to live forever and feel the effects of the torments of the lake of fire.
The following illustration may be helpful:
As a special note, all children who die before reaching God consciousness have heaven as their home. They are given resurrection bodies and will spend eternity in the presence of God. Robert Lightner states:
In the Bible, infants, little children, and others who cannot believe are neither told to believe nor expected to do so. They are not classified as wicked evildoers and rejecters of God’s grace. It is always adults who are addressed, either directly or indirectly, regarding these matters. Because the Bible has so much to say about those who cannot believe and yet says nothing about their being eternally separated from God because of their inability, we conclude that they have heaven as their home. They die safely in the arms of Jesus.
Those who reach the age of God consciousness are accountable for their own lives. How each person responds to God determines his eternal destiny. Man cannot save himself, as he is severely damaged by sin and totally depraved (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Today, the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is clear. The good news is, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16; cf. 1 Cor 15:3-4). Salvation is as simple as, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).