“The world’s living population now stands at about eight billion. With the return of Christ, many people who are dead will awake. The population of the world will multiply. Question: How would Christ judge so many people? Please explain Christ’s judgment on the resurrection.”
There are two parts to this question – firstly how many of the dead would awake, and secondly how could Christ judge so many people. There’s logically a third question too; how would so many live on the planet during the kingdom?
1. Before answering how many would awake it is interesting to get an estimate of how many have ever lived.
A BBC article Do the dead outnumber the living? By Wesley Stephenson BBC News 4 February 2012 cites Population Reference Bureau estimates that about 107 billion people (as defined by modern man: homo sapiens) have ever lived so there are 15 dead people for every person living. That is over 50,000 years. For most of the period, the study assumes, population was growing fairly constantly : 4 million in 10,000 BCE, 190 million in the year 0. Then experiencing the first significant climb in the 15th and 16th Century to 600 million in 1700, and from there starting to grow fast, 990 million in 1800, and then in the 20th Century “explode”, to 7.7 billion in 2019. So in fact of those 15 dead people for every person living a significant number, more than half, are very recent – from 1800 onwards.
2. But who will rise?
The Old Testament consistently views man outside relationship with the God of Israel having no resurrection. Isaiah 26:14, speaking of the pagan nations, is clear “They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish.” (KJV).
This compares explicitly with Isaiah 26:19 “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.”
Of course this does not say who “thy dead” are. The Jews of Jesus’ day certainly understood that as those in covenant by circumcision. But Jesus corrected them with the example of the uncircumcised men of Nineveh to whom Jonah preached (Matthew 12:41).
So how many will rise? The total number of believers in the Old Testament is surprisingly small – as Israel was a small nation with only a short history from the Exodus from Egypt through to the time of Jesus. The question about “how many will rise?” then largely depends on the question “how many dead since Jesus will rise”, and that is impossible to answer since we don’t know Jesus, and God’s criteria for that.
Some people have argued for a “universal resurrection” based on John 5:28-29 where Jesus says that “all” in the graves shall hear his voice and rise. The problem is, as always in the Bible, “all of what”. The “all” here is defined by the context of believing Jews and followers of Jesus. Jesus is not contradicting Isaiah 26.
The one thing we don’t see in the New Testament is any consistent teaching that large numbers of people who don’t hear, don’t want to know, have no connection with God will be raised. And sadly we know that even among “believers”, Jesus teaches that there is a narrow gate and a narrow path which leads to life, and there will be “few that find it” (Matthew 7:14)
So even on the most optimistic reading of the Bible’s teaching, it seems unlikely that a substantial portion of the 15 dead for every 1 person living would rise.
3. And then judgment
So to the second part of the question. How would Jesus judge such large numbers?
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad”
Believers naturally – for better or worse – expect this to be personal encounter with Christ, and it is difficult to frame a giant queue of living and resurrected into a natural 24-hour day. But then again, what is the alternative, to have no judgment? To have no personal encounter?
4. And how could the planet sustain so many raised?
Assuming, purely for the sake of argument, that the population of the earth suddenly doubled: assuming survival of most of the world’s current 7.7 billion population and an additional 7.7 billion resurrected ‘saints’ – and assuming (a reasonable assumption) that the resurrected eat, as Jesus did after his resurrection. That would not be beyond the Jesus who fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. It is in fact not greatly beyond the current limits of agricultural science. Isaiah 35:1 prophecies that “The wilderness and the land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose.” While believers often understand that as miraculous healing of the spoiled environment, if many of the economic and political causes of that despoiling were removed much enviromental dam
It’s extremely difficult to imagine. It’s simply that the alternative – the widespread slaughter of mankind preached by some churches in their last days prophecies – is horrific and counter to the Bible prophecies that Jesus’ kingdom will bring “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”. (Luke 2:14)