The First Resurrection

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The key to the interpretation of the chapter is what John tells us about what he calls the First Resurrection:

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God, and those who had not worshiped the Beast or his image, and had not received his mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years were completed. This is the First Resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the First Resurrection; over these the Second Death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6).

In the first place, we can dispose of the Amillennial position right away, by pointing out the obvious: this is a resurrection, a rising again from the dead. Dying and going to heaven is wonderful, but, for all its benefits, it is not a resurrection. This passage cannot be a description of the state of disembodied saints in heaven; moreover, the context as a whole is set on earth (cf. v. 7-9).

Second, however, this is not a bodily resurrection. John gives us a clue that he means something special by calling it the First Resurrection. What could this mean? We saw in a previous chapter that there is only one bodily resurrection, at the end of the world. To find the answer, we again go back to Genesis, which tells us of the First Death: "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From every tree of the Garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die' " (Gen. 2:16-17). As we know, Adam and Eve did not actually die physically on the day that they ate the forbidden fruit. But that was the Day of their Spiritual death, their alienation from God. This Spiritual death was inherited by the children of Adam and Eve, so that we all are born "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph.2:l). The First Death is this Spiritual death. And thus the First Resurrection is Spiritual as well:

God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6; cf. Col. 2:11-13; 1 John 3:14).

It is the bodily, physical Resurrection which takes place at the Last Day, when "there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 24:15). But would John have used the term resurrection in two radically different senses in the same passage? Certainly - and with excellent precedent, for Jesus did so Himself, in another passage recorded by John:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My Word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live. . . . Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment (John 5:24-25, 28-29).

We who believe in Him are now partakers in the First Resurrection, Jesus said; and some day all men, the just and the unjust, will rise out of the graves. The First Resurrection is Spiritual and ethical, our regeneration in Christ and ethical union with God, our re-creation in His image. This interpretation is confirmed by the Revelation's description of those in the First Resurrection: they are blessed and holy; the Second Death has no po wer over them; they are priests (John began the Revelation informing us that all Christians are priests: Rev. 1:6); and they reign with Christ (the Bible says we are now seated with Christ, reigning in His Kingdom: Eph. 1:20-22; 2:6; Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9). The greatest error in dealing with this passage is the failure to recognize that it speaks of present realities of the Christian life. The Bible is clear: we have been resurrected to eternal life and rule with Christ now, in this age. The First Resurrection is taking place now. And this means, of necessity, that the Millennium is taking place now as well.

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