Blog 165: 3.25.9 - 3.25.12

The annihilation of the wicked was not a popular thought in the sixteenth century. Therefore, when Calvin discusses the resurrection of unbelievers, it is not so much the fact of their resurrection that is in view, but the implications of it. If unbelievers, too, are resurrected to "life," does this imply that Christ came "to give life to all mankind without distinction" (3.25.9). Is universalism true after all as Origen's doctrine of apokatastasis had affirmed (and labeled a heresy by the Synod of Constantinople in AD 543)?

To speak of the resurrection of believers and unbelievers seems to suggest that the resurrection is a common benefit of the cross. Had the discussion taken place half a century later we might have expected Calvin to address how this relates to the efficacy of the atonement. But this is the mid-sixteenth century and for Calvin the discussion takes a different turn: "what would be less fitting than that they in their stubborn blindness should attain what the pious worshipers of God receive by faith alone" (3.25.9)? We are to understand that the resurrection of unbelievers is a "resurrection of judgment." Christ is not only the Mediator of the elect but the judge of the wicked. The resurrection of the wicked is an "incidental resurrection" in which they are "unwillingly haled before the judgment seat of Christ" (3.25.9).

However, when Scripture speaks of the resurrection it most commonly refers to the resurrection of believers whereby what now seems "wrapped in obscurities" will eventually be revealed in "his glory, that we may behold it face to face" (3.25.10). And here Calvin becomes lyrical, suggesting that we meditate on heaven remembering at all times our finite capacities "lest we be overcome by the brightness of the heavenly glory" (3.25.10).

Alas, too few care how they get to heaven only that they do so. They do not adequately consider the vengeance of God against the wicked. We need to strive to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10).