Question: Is there going to come one, big, resurrection of everyone at the same time? Or are there going to be multiple resurrections with different groups going in a certain order?
Is it Really One Thousand Years?
Six times in seven verses John specifically says one thousand years. Against the view of Covenant Theologians and Amillennialists, who argue this is only an allegorical way of referring to a long time, I believe that 1,000 years is a literal 1,000 year time period. Much is often made of the fact that Revelation is a book that uses many symbols. “Since there are all these symbols in the book things can’t really be understood literally as they are stated – including the time frame of 1,000 years.”
Seemingly, to many good students of the word, Revelation is more like a Jackson Pollock painting – chaotic randomness, no meaningful form or image other than the one each reader subjectively “sees” for himself.
God didn’t intend Revelation to be in insolvable riddle. Sure there are some things we’re left confused on, but, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the majority of what John the Apostle communicates is well within reach. None of us denies symbolism abounds in his book, but, we point out that those symbols all point to very real things that we can and should see. Rather than obfuscating the reality and details of prophetic events, Revelation’s rich symbolism focuses our understanding of the reality being pointed to by that very symbolism. We also stress that while symbolism permeates Revelation, there is much said that is not symbolism, and, ought to be taken “at face value”. The 1,000 year Kingdom of Jesus Christ is one such instance.
The Resurrection You Want to be At (20:5-6)
Question: Is there going to come one, big, resurrection of everyone at the same time? Or are there going to be multiple resurrections with different groups going in a certain order? Let’s look at Revelation 20:4b-6a: They [Tribulation martyrs] came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection.”
So we have a “first resurrection” happening at the beginning of the 1,000 years. Then we have another resurrection happening at the end of the 1,000 years.
Now, what I’m telling you is that you want to be part of the first resurrection. Over and over we see the order in Scripture is that the righteous are raised first, then the wicked (e.g. Dan. 12:2; John 5:29-30; 1 Pet. 4:17). Here the righteous are said to be raised up. Later, in verses 11-15 we see the wicked are raised up to face their judgment and destiny. Righteous first, then the wicked.
Now, you might be looking at the text and saying, “Well, Pastor, it says in the text that the martyred Tribulation saints will be raised up and will reign with Christ for 1,000 years. That doesn’t say anything about us as the Church. So, how can we be part of this first resurrection?”
Great question. The first resurrection is for the righteous, those who are saved, from all of human history. It’s first in that it occurs before the resurrection of the wicked. But, the first resurrection is actually composed of several phases. All the saved from all time will not all be raised up at the same time. Jesus is the first phase; the Church is the second phase; and the OT saints along with these Tribulation Martyr saints will be the 3rd phase.
Jesus is the first phase. Turn to 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 says, “For since death came through one man [Adam], the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to Him.” Our Lord is the firstborn from among the dead (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5), the “Head” of all the righteous who will be raised up. He rose up first, so, He is the first phase, or, act, or, stage in what is called the “first resurrection” – the resurrection of the righteous. Keep in mind, the fact that He has rose already guarantees the subsequent resurrection of all those He has saved – from all time. They will be raised up, as we will see, in their “own turn”.
You might have noticed in that passage it says “those who belong to Him”. Specifically Paul was referring to the Church, and, the it is the Church which is the second phase of the First Resurrection. Now, you may remember that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 this resurrection event is described. Often we think of the Rapture when we think of this passage, but, we should not forget that a resurrection will happen at the same time. At an unknown time in the future we are told Jesus snatches up the living Christians on the earth to meet Him in the air. But if you reread that passage you will see that right before the living Christians are raptured it is the dead Christians who are resurrected, “we who are still alive until the coming of the Lord will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep [dead Christians]…the dead in Christ [dead Christians] will rise first. After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up [raptured] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Now, we’ve learned at other times that the best place for this event is before the Tribulation sometime.
Finally, the last group of righteous to be raised are the OT saints and the Tribulation martyrs. Referring to OT saints, an angel describes to Daniel the distant future when his people (Israelites) will undergo severe tribulation – a reference to the Great Tribulation as described in Revelation chapters 6-19. After that tribulation the angels declares “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan. 12:2). The martyred Tribulation saints, as we’ve seen, will also be raised up when Jesus comes back at the end of the Tribulation. All the righteous – all the saints – from all ages must come to life to inherit the kingdom God has ordained to give them, “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High.” (Dan. 7:27)
All three of these resurrections, while happening at different times in history, together compose what is called the first resurrection. It is the resurrection of the righteous – the saved. That is how the “First Resurrection” is: one event made up of 3 phases. First Christ, then the Church, then the OT and Tribulation saints.
Application: You want to be part of this resurrection. If you want to then the way to do that is to place your faith in the name of God’s Son so you too can have your sins forgiven and receive eternal life. Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.”
The Second Death (20:6)
So, like there are two resurrections, there are also two deaths. Did you see verse 6? “Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them.” You might even remember when Jesus encouraged the believers in Smyrna back in 2:11 not to be afraid of dying for their faith when He said, “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.”
What is this second death that they are insured against? The answer is in 20:14, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” This is the final, permanent place of separation from God. The first death is physical death, what each of us will experience. It’s when our souls are separated from our bodies; our bodies go into the ground and our spirits go to be with the Lord.
The second death is the separation of the whole person from the presence and blessings of God forever. The second death involves not just the location separate from God, but, the condition experienced for all eternity apart from God: never-ending fire and brimstone, weeping and gnashing of teeth, suffering and torment. The location and the agonizing condition experienced in that location is called the second death.
The Bible does not teach annihilation – the idea that God obliterates unsaved people entirely from existence. Nor does the Bible teach soul sleep, an unconscious existence for eternity. The Bible says that people who are not saved will be resurrected (Rev. 20:12; John 5:28-29), judged, and hurled into the Lake of Fire – fully conscious, forever under the painful torments of this awful place. We will explore this more as well as the Bible’s teaching on death in the next week when we study the Great White Throne of Judgment.
The Millennial Career of the Resurrected (20:6)
Those resurrected at the First Resurrection will be given careers during the Millennial Kingdom. They will be priest-rulers. Now I’m going to string a few verses together from Revelation here to show this point.
- (20:4), “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded…They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
- (20:6), “The second death has no power over them [beheaded Tribulation saints], but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
- (5:10), “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.”
- (2:26-27), “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end I will give authority over the nations…just as I have received authority from my Father.”
- (1:6), “and [Jesus] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father…”
Did you notice that those future priest-rulers are not just the decapitated Tribulation saints who will be priest-rulers, but, all saints from other eras too. Sharing in this privileged office are Church Age saint – us!
- (1 Peter 2:5), “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
- (1 Peter 2:9), “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…”
- (1 Corinthians 6:2), “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?”
- (2 Timothy 2:12), “If we endure, we will also reign with Him
Jesus Himself will be the King-Priest during the Millennial Kingdom. His Preisthood is in the order of Melchizidek, that ancient Priest of God Most High who was also King of Salem, who met Abraham in Genesis 14. Unlike the OT, where the King and the Priest were separate offices, during the Millennial Kingdom they will be combined in one Person: Jesus Christ. He will be the King-Priest, or Priest-King, having all religious authority and governmental authority invested in Himself. But, before the Kingdom begins, He will judge the believers and based on their faithfulness in this life they will receive as rewards, varying positions in His global Kingdom. And just as He is a King-Priest, so too will the priest-rulers under Him have civil authority and religious authority.
When a new President begins serving He immediately begins building His Cabinet. He has the consuming task of selecting who will serve in the multitude of different offices in his administration. Changes happen at the highest levels: heads of departments turn over, ambassadors are assigned, and so forth.
It will be like that when Jesus establishes His government in the new Millennium. He will bring in His own people to co-rule with Him. They will be made heads of states – kings, governors, lords, supervisors and so forth. Who are they? Us! Christians! And those future saints from the Tribulation who will be decapitated for their faith in Christ.
What will we do?
- We will declare the word of God and teach it to the people we are assigned over. Romans 15:16, Paul says he is “a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
- Most likely this will involve leading the national, regional and local worship
gatherings in our respective countries. The teaching of the word of God, prayer, music, any required ordinances, etc. will be carried out by those who are the “royal