It is written:
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
Having previewed the teaching of the Old Testament regarding the resurrection of the dead, and the ensuing discussion among the Jewish Rabbis during the Intertestamental Period, we now turn to the New Testament Scriptures regarding this important subject.
Teaching Of Jesus And His Apostles
Jesus and His Apostles clearly taught during His ministry that the resurrection of the dead would occur, in consistent harmony with the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures.
John 5:28-29-Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
Here, Jesus declares that the resurrection will take place some day in the future. He also makes it clear that this resurrection will be composed of both the saved and the unsaved, at the same time. This is in perfect harmony with what Daniel the Prophet declared (Daniel 12:2), and with the teaching of the Apostle Paul:
Acts 24:15-I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.
Notice that Paul emphasizes that there will be a resurrection (singular event), comprising two sets of people (the just and the unjust).
The resurrection of all the dead will occur at the same time.
Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that this resurrection will take place “on the last day.”
John 6:39-This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.
John 6:40-And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:44-No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 6:54-Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 11:24-Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus also emphasizes again that the unsaved will be judged at that same time:
John 12:48-He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.
The teaching of the rest of the New Testament also demonstrates that the resurrection of the saved and the unsaved will take place at the same time (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:50-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-1-5:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
The First Resurrection Of Revelation 20
Someone may ask, “What about the “first resurrection mentioned in Revelation?”
Revelation 20:6-Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Is this teaching that there will be a thousand year delay between the resurrection of the saved and the unsaved, in contradiction to what the rest of the Old and New Testament Scriptures declare?
Not at all.
First of all, the context of the Book of Revelation is often sorely overlooked. The Apostle John wrote a series of seven visions, each one beginning with the triumph of Jesus at His First Coming, the binding of Satan and his gradual regaining of power during the Christian Age, and then his ultimate defeat at the Second Coming (Revelation 1:1-3:22; 4:1-7:17; 8:1-11:19; 12:1-14:20; 15:1-16:21; 17:1-19:21; 20:1-22:21). This means that the “first resurrection” which John describes as taking place during the Millennium is what takes place during the Christian Age, not after the Second Coming of Christ.
Second, the “first resurrection” is to be understood symbolically, as the context of Revelation demonstrates. John made this clear in Revelation 1:1, where he declared that the things which he was writing were “signified” by the angel. That word “signified” is important to understand in our interpretation of the Apocalypse of John.
“Revelation’s imagery is deeper and more visionary than strict literalism allows. Instead of trying to “figure out” Revelation’s images literally, as if they were a code or script for the future, Revelation invites us to enter into its world of vision. The Greek word for what Revelation “shows” or “makes known” in the very first verse of the book is the same verb for “sign” as the signs in John’s Gospel and in Revelation 12. This verse tells us that the whole book is intended not as a slavishly literal kind of showing, but a deeper sign-level. We are invited to go with John on the apocalyptic journey, to experience the book’s transformative power. In order to go on that journey we have to let go of a literalist fixation, and come instead to Revelation with all our senses ready for God’s voice. As Kathleen Norris argues in her commentary on Revelation, “this is a poet’s book, which is probably the best argument for reclaiming it from fundamentalists. mentalists. It doesn’t tell, it shows, over and over again, its images unfolding, pushing hard against the limits of language and metaphor, engaging the listener in a tale that has the satisfying yet unsettling logic of a dream.”‘” (Barbara R. Rousing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message Of Hope In The Book Of Revelation, 96-97 (Kindle Edition); New York, NY; Basic Books) “
“semaino (4591), “to give a sign, indicate” (sema, “a sign”: cf. Sign, No. 1), “to signify,” is so translated in John 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 11:28; 25:27; Rev. 1:1, where perhaps the suggestion is that of expressing by signs.¶”. (W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 54941 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
The word “signified” therefore carries with it the idea of the conveying of a message through symbolic or figurative language. The Greek word is used throughout the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) and throughout the New Testament with this connotation (cf. Exodus 4:8; 8:23; 13:9; 31:13, 17; Numbers 16:38; Deuteronomy 6:8; 11:18; 13:1-2; 28:46; Joshua 4:6; Judges 6:17; I Samuel 2:34; 14:10; II Kings 19:29; 20:8-9; Isaiah 7:11, 14; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 38:7, 22; 55:13; 66:19; Jeremiah 44:29; Ezekiel 4:3; 14:8; 20:12, 2; John 12:33; 18:32)
Then, the “first resurrection” in Revelation 20 is not discussing the general resurrection of the dead that we have been studying about.
What then is the “first resurrection” of Revelation 20:5?
Notice that the “first resurrection” is what makes it possible for a person to be freed from the power of the second death, made a priest of God, and part of God’s kingdom.
Is there a “resurrection” that believers undergo which accomplishes these functions?
Romans 6:3-4-Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Colossians 2:12-13-buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
In baptism, the believer is set free from the power of spiritual death because he is saved (Mark 16:15-16), forgiven of his sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), and made a child of God (Galatians 3:26-27). Furthermore, in baptism, God adds one to His church (Acts 2:41, 47), or kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19; Colossians 1:13). As part of God’s kingdom (Revelation 1:9), the Christian is also identified as a priest (1 Peter 2:5-11), where he may offer up spiritual sacrifices unto the Lord (Romans 12:1-2).
The “first resurrection” of Revelation 20 is a reference to baptism. The ones that John describes had undergone this “first resurrection” while on Earth, and were now safe in the Hadean realm, reigning with Christ during the Millennium (i.e., the Church Age). Indeed, this is a consistent theme that John uses throughout Revelation when describing dead Christians: they are safe in Sheol with Jesus, awaiting the Second Coming!
Revelation 5:9-12-And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, 10 And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
Revelation 6:9-11-When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.
Revelation 7:9-10-After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 12:11-And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
Revelation 14:3-They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth.
John, in describing the first resurrection of Revelation 20, is reminding his readers yet again that the believers who have died for the Lamb during the Church Age are safe in Paradise, having been saved from their sins when undergoing the first resurrection of baptism.
Early Christian writers understood this, and commented on it.
Victorinus-“There are two resurrections. The first resurrection takes place now. It is of the souls that are in the faith. For this faith does not permit men to pass over to the second death. Of this resurrection, the apostle says, “If you have risen with Christ, seek those things that are above.” (c. 280, W), 7.359)
Caesarius of Arles-“The first resurrection] is that by which we rise through baptism. As the apostle says, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above.” [Col 3:1.] And again he says, “living as [those who have been brought to life] from the dead.” [See Rom 6:13.] For sin is death, as the apostle says, “when you were dead through trespasses and sins.” [Eph 2:1.] Therefore, just as the first death is in this life because of sin, so also the first resurrection is in this life through the remission of sins.” (Exposition on the Apocalypse 20.5, Homily 18. [PL 35:2448.]
The “first resurrection” of Revelation 20:4-6 (when interpreted and understood in light of the Book’s symbolic and structural arrangement) is a beautiful and profound reference to salvation from sin when the repentant believer is baptized and into Christ. Because of the redemption offered by the Lamb through the plan of salvation, those martyred believers in Revelation 20 (and the other believers in the Book who have similarity died) are safe from the further acts of the devil. They are victorious, and part of the cloud of witnesses who encourage us to be faithful (Hebrews 12:1-2).
The “first resurrection” of Revelation 20, therefore, is not a reference to the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time (which is, incidentally, referenced in Revelation 20:11-15).
The teaching of the New Testament regarding the general resurrection of dead is based upon, and in some ways, expands upon the teaching of the Old Testament.