Friday, January 1, 2021

SURVEY OF REVELATION 20 PART 2

 

Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV) (Crossway.  ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL:  Good News Publishers, 2008.)

This post studies Revelation 20:4-6.  As a simplified organization, I shall ask and answer a series of questions.

THE QUESTIONS

1.     What all is covered under “I saw” of verse 20:4?  This is not a critical question in the analysis.  John begins chapter 20 with “And I saw an angel…” In 20:4, he announces, “And I saw thrones…”  In 20:11, he states, “And I saw a great white throne…”  In chapter 21, verse 1, he says, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth…”The phrase/clause “I saw” is a prevalent introduction to material throughout the book, as follows.

a.      In chapter 5, he says:  “then I saw in the right hand…a scroll…”

b.    Chapter six begins (in Greek):  “And I saw…” 

c.     Chapter 7 begins:  “After this I saw four angels…”

d.    The second verse of chapter 8 begins:  “Then I saw the seven angels…and seven trumpets were given to them…”  

e.    Chapter 9 tells how, after the fifth trumpet is blown, John “saw a star fallen from heaven to earth…” 

f.      Chapter 10 relates how John “saw another mighty angel…” 

g.    This pattern is broken in succeeding chapters, but chapter 12 begins with “a great sign appeared in heaven…” which is an implication of the process of “seeing.” 

h.    Chapter 13 begins:  “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea…” 

i.       Chapter 14 contains implications of seeing: 

                                                             i.      14:1 is the image of the 144,000

                                                          ii.      14:6 begins “Then I saw another angel…” 

j.       Chapter 15 begins “Then I saw another sign…”  (This begins the narrative of the seven last plagues which continues through chapter 16.) 

k.    In 17:3, John, in the Spirit, says:  “and I saw a woman…”  (This begins the account of Babylon and its fall, which carries through chapter 18 and into chapter 19.) 

l.       Chapter 19:11 begins “then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!”  Thus begins the description of the Battle of Armageddon. 

m. So, the pattern throughout the book is an ACCOUNT OF WHAT JOHN SAW.  Revelation begins:  “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place.  He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” (1:1-2, emphasis added)

n.    Throughout the book almost every new topic is introduced by John’s relating that he saw something.  This reminds us that John had a series of visions.  So, chapter 20 begins with John’s seeing the angel that captured Satan.  Then, in verse 4, John saw the thrones.  He is changing the topic to the thrones and those who sat upon them.  Everything that follows in 20:4-6 is the vision of those on the thrones.  John SAW it all. 

2.    Who are included among those who were beheaded and how are they connected to those who sat on the thrones?  Note the categories that are listed. 

a.    In the Greek these categories are as follows: 

                                                             i.      Those who sat on the thrones

                                                           ii.      The souls of those who were beheaded on account of the testimony about Jesus and the word of God

                                                        iii.      Whoever did not worship the Beast nor his image and did not accept the Mark on their forehead or their hands

b.    The Greek does not carefully group these, but it is logical to group these as follows:

                                                             i.      I saw:  all of the groups

1.    Those beheaded:  probably this group includes all that follows

                                                           ii.      So we could  indicate the inclusiveness of categories, as follows:  I saw:  Those on thrones to whom judgment was given, including those who were beheaded

1.    On account of the testimony about Jesus

2.    On account of the word of God

3.    Because they did not worship the Beast or his image

4.    Because they did not receive the Mark on their forehead or their hands (although it is possible that the last two groups were not among the beheaded)

3.     What is the “First Resurrection?”  I believe that this is one of the crucial questions in the interpretation of this passage.  First, we need to divide the question into two parts:  (a)  How should verse 20:5 be understood?  (b)  How does the first resurrection compare with the data in I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 4, and John 5?

a.    How should verse 20:5 be understood?  Verse 5 begins by stating that the “rest of the dead did not come to life” until after the thousand year period.  Then, there follows:  “This is the first resurrection.”  The question would be:  “Is the ‘first resurrection’ that which takes place when the ‘rest of the dead’ come to life?”  The arrangement of the clauses, including those in verse 20:4, could imply this.  This is because the statement on the “first resurrection” is delayed until after the statement on the resurrection of the “rest of the dead.”  However, if one counts, in order, the resurrections, there are two and the first is described in verse 20:4.  Despite the insertion of the statement about the “rest of the dead,” it is logical to infer that the “first resurrection” is that of the martyrs of verse 20:4 (as well as all other Christians of other ages—see below).  We then must conclude that the sentence regarding the “rest of the dead” is parenthetical.  Although, to my knowledge, Greek did not have parentheses, parenthetical material does not seem to be totally unexpected.  This parenthesis is a brief explanation that helps the reader keep track of all the cast of characters and events.  It also is further explained in verse 20:6.  I shall discuss that later.

b.    How does the “first resurrection” compare with the data in I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 4, and John 5?  There are three major descriptions of the resurrection in the New Testament.  I shall consider them out of order.  Each serves a different purpose.

                                                             i.      I Corinthians 15 is Paul’s in-depth discussion of the resurrection that ties Christ’s resurrection to the salvation and to the resurrection of all the righteous.  It goes on to give some understanding of the physical/metaphysical nature of the resurrection.  It goes on to introduce the rapture of living Christians as an adjunct to the resurrection.  This powerful presentation was written to the church at Corinth and includes admonitions that are applications of the truth of the resurrection.  Paul calls his readers to join him in facing persecution with confidence in the resurrection (15:30-32), to live sober lives as reflections of the truth of the resurrection, to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” in the light of the resurrection.  Note that Paul is presenting the resurrection as the certain future of Christians of the first century (and beyond) and not only the martyrs of the last days.

                                                          ii.      I Thessalonians 4:13-18 is Paul’s answer to those who are concerned about their loved ones who have died.  He wants them to know that they will be reunited with those loved ones in the resurrection/rapture.  He describes that set of events in the following order:  (1) a complex of almost simultaneous events consisting of a “cry of command, with the voice of the archangel,” “the sound of the trumpet of God,” and the descent of the Lord from heaven; (2) the resurrection of the “dead in Christ”; (3) living Christians are “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (the Rapture).  (4)  And “so we will always be with the Lord.”  This is written as an encouragement to Christians (of the first century and beyond) about their loved ones who have died (verse 4:13 and 4:18).  It describes their resurrection at the coming of Christ.  They certainly would not be among the last-day martyrs.

                                                       iii.      John 5 (especially 5:19-29) After Jesus healed the man born blind, which is related in John 5:1-17, Jesus spoke to his Jewish opponents in a lengthy discussion (5:19-47) regarding his divine nature, power, and prerogatives.  It comes out of this comment by John (5:18b):  “…not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”  Jesus began (5:19-29) by focusing on the power to raise the dead that is possessed by the Father and the Son.  (5:21)  Associated with the power of resurrection is the prerogative of judgment (5:22), because the outcome of judgment is either life or death.  For example, Jesus said in 5:24:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”  Jesus goes on to specify the ultimate separation in association with resurrection (5:25):  “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  He expands and explains this further (5:28-29):  “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”  Jesus is dividing all humanity into two camps:  those who hear his “word and believe him who sent me” (5:24) and “those who have done evil (5:29).  The category of the righteous is not limited to last-day martyrs.  In fact martyrdom is not the ultimate criterion for the “resurrection of life.”  Rather, saving faith in Jesus Christ is the deciding factor.

                                                        iv.      In conclusion, the “first resurrection” of Revelation 20:5 includes all the righteous dead who are raised at Christ’s return, as related especially in I Thessalonians 4.  It also includes those who are raptured in that same complex of events.  Since the martyrs during the reign of the Beast (a period often referred to as the Tribulation) would be included among the righteous dead, they would join the righteous of previous centuries in this great gathering together of those who experience the “resurrection of life.” (John 5:29)

4.    Who will reign with Christ for 1000 years? (verse 20:6)

a.    There are two groups who are said to reign with Christ.  The first is the group of martyrs that are listed in verse 20:4.  They are as follows.

                                                             i.      They proclaimed the testimony of Jesus

                                                          ii.      They proclaimed the word of God

                                                       iii.      They had refused to worship the Beast or its image

                                                        iv.      They had not received the Mark of the Beast

                                                          v.      These all are said to come to life and reign with Christ

b.    The second group is defined in 20:6 as those who experience the first resurrection.  In my discussion above, I conclude that this group includes all the righteous dead.  They will be from all generations.  (I’ll discuss the “Old Testament” righteous elsewhere.)

c.     I conclude that those who reign with Christ will be all the righteous dead.  Yet, a special place of honor seems to be reserved for the last-day martyrs.  They are defined by their verbal witness, their defiance of the order to worship the Beast and his image, and their refusal to receive the Mark of the Beast.

d.    I believe that the message to all Christians of all ages is to follow the example of these last-day martyrs.  There may not be a Beast demanding worship and loyalty overtly as is the case of the Beast of the last days.  However, there are always pressures to go along with whatever this world is currently holding up as worthy of worship.  It may be a teen-age idol, the latest fashions, some video game that has created a sensation.  It may be abortion rights or the homosexual agenda.  It may be a harsh dictator.  It may be those powerful temptations that I John 2:14 lists that have always drawn people away from loyalty to the Father and the Son.  In every case there are consequences to refusing to worship the gods of this world.  The consequence may not be to experience a martyr’s death; it may simply to be shunned or to find one’s career is in jeopardy.  The martyrs of the early Christian centuries as well as those who suffer today, especially in North Korea, China, and Muslim countries—all of these serve as examples for us to follow.  Finally, we have the example of the last-day martyrs.  Let us pray for faithfulness and courage and deep love for God to be worthy fellow servants with all of these heroes of the faith.

5.    What is the “second death” (verse 20:6)?  This question is answered directly in 20:14:  the second death is to be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  This topic will be discussed in another post when I consider 20:11-15.  In a previous post, I diagrammed how all (or most) humans experience a “first death.”  Those who are saved experience also a “first resurrection.”  The rest experience a “second resurrection” and a “second death.”  This will be expanded in the material on 20:11-15.

 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

SURVEY OF REVELATION 20 PART 1

 

          Chapter 20 is a fast-moving account that moves us from the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the Battle of Armageddon (Chapter 19) to the final culmination of all things in the Eternal Kingdom of God (Chapters 21 and 22).  It includes the mysterious Millennium, the final judgment of Satan, and the Great White Throne Judgment of humans.  This post will cover the first six verses of Chapter 20 in a preliminary way.  It will seek to clarify the identity of Satan, to introduce the Millennium, and to begin an intense look at verses 20:4-6.  Future posts will continue thinking through verses 20:4-6, discuss further the Millennium, and then discuss the latter part of the chapter, including the final judgment.  Obviously, a lot of work lies ahead. 

Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the English Standard Version (ESV).  Other abbreviations are

·       ESVSB = English Standard Version Study Bible

·       NIVSB = New International Version Study Bible

·       KJV = King James Version

VERSE 20:1:  John has a new vision, which he introduces with “then.”  In the Greek, it simple is “and.”  The translator observes, rightly I believe, that this sentence begins a new focus.  The Battle of Armageddon is over, and now we are observing the next series of events.  It begins with an angel, one of many who play important roles in Revelation.  The angel comes down from heaven, and he is equipped with a key and a great chain.  The key is to the “bottomless pit,” which I translate as “Abyss.”  This, it seems to me, is faithful to the Greek word (it is a transliteration of the original).  It does not draw any conclusions about how deep the Abyss is, nor whether it has a bottom.  It is a deep, dark hole that seems to have some sort of lid. 

VERSE 20:2:  The angel goes into action.  He seizes the dragon.  It is significant that an ANGEL did this.  Notice that Satan is big and powerful and scary, but there are persons—angels—that can lick him.  In Revelation 12:7ff, Satan (the Dragon) and his angel fight against Michael and his angels.  And—guess what?—Satan loses.  He is thrown out of heaven.  Moreover, credit for this defeat is also given to the “brothers,” which are the human followers of Jesus:  “And they [the brothers] have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”  (12:11)  So, this is the formula for whipping the devil: 

·       Rely on the blood of the Lamb:  The blood of Jesus was shed for our sins.  If the devil tries to convince us that we’re no good, we’re failures, jerks, of no value, we do not point to our accomplishments or our family name or our good looks.  We point to the cross of Jesus Christ where he died for our sins.

·       Testify faithfully about Jesus:  The one thing that Satan wants to do is to “control the narrative.”  But the word of God has another explanation:  it tells of who Jesus is—the Son of Man and the Son of God, what he has done—he died and rose again, and what it means for us—Jesus has conquered sin, hell, and the grave and has made us a kingdom and priests unto our God.  We can give an extended, detailed testimony to all that, or just simply say:  Jesus is my Savior and I trust him.  It will destroy the works of the devil.

·       Love not your life even unto death:  Be willing to risk reputation, social standing, money, and even your life to tell the story of Jesus and to live for him.  When you take that stand, you have cut the ground from under Satan.

The description takes additional words to identify exactly who is seized:  “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan…” (See Revelation 12:9.)  The “dragon” is used exclusively in Revelation—in Revelation 12:3, 4, 7, 9, 13, 16, and 17; 13:2, 4, and 11; 16:13; 20:2 (the present verse).  Chapter 12 describes the dragon to be a monstrosity with seven heads and ten horns.  He is sort of a prototype for the Beast.  He is described as sweeping stars from heaven, which may mean that he has a great many followers, especially demons.  He also is a threat to the male child of the “woman clothed with the sun,” whose description identifies him as Christ.  He has a huge war with Michael that involves angelic hosts on both sides.  He is identified as the deceiver of the whole world and is expelled from heaven.  He is an archenemy of the woman and of her offspring, those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”  The dragon gives the Beast power and great authority (13:2).  The Beast draws people, not only into worship of himself, but also into worship of the dragon.  (13:4)  The second beast of chapter 13 is described as speaking “like a dragon” (13:11), perhaps a reference not just to dragons in general but to the dragon who is Satan.  In 16:13, three demonic spirits appear, one from each member of an unholy trinity:  the dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.  These will entice the kings of the earth and their armies into a battle that ultimately will be with Christ and his armies at Armageddon. 

          The term “serpent” has some connection with evil and with Satan.  For example in Luke 10:19, Jesus promises his followers “authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy…”  The “serpent deceived Eve…” is mentioned in II Corinthians 11:3, in reference to the narrative in Genesis 3.  Serpents are in the tails—or the tails are like serpents—of monstrous horses that are released as part of the nightmare of the sixth trumpet in Revelation 9:19.  In Revelation 12, verses 9, 14, and 15, “Satan” and the “serpent” are used as synonyms.  In fact, the wording of 12:9 is very similar to verse 20:2:

·       Verse 12:9:  And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world…

·       Verse 20:2:  And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan…

The term “devil” (Greek “Diabolos”) is a common word.  It is used 36 times in 14 different books of the New Testament.  The following are a few examples:

·        Matthew 4:1 “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

·       Luke 8:12 “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so they may not believe and be saved.”

·       John 8:44  “You [his Jewish adversaries] are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”

·       Acts 10:38 “…He [Jesus] went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

·       Ephesians 4:27 “and give no opportunity to the devil”

·       I Timothy 3:6 “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”

·       Hebrews 2:14 “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”

·       I Peter 5:8  “Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

·       I John 3:8 “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

·       Revelation 2:10 “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to thrown some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Verse 20:2 continues with a very few words:  “and bound him for a thousand years.”  Those very few words and the reference to a thousand years in verses 20:3, 4, 5, 6, 7 are the basis for the concept of the “Millennium,” or 1000-year reign of Christ over the earth.  The following is from George Eldon Ladd:

The interpretation of this chapter [Revelation 20] has been a source of great debate and even conflict in the church.  Systems of eschatology have often been identified in terms of the way they treat the question of the millennium—the thousand-year reign of Christ.  A postmillennial view was popular among interpreters of the historical school, who saw in the Revelation a prophecy of the course of history down to the end.  Postmillennialism means that the return of Christ would not occur until the Kingdom of God had been established by the church in human history.  In this view, chapter 19 does not describe the coming of Christ but is a very symbolic way of describing the triumph of Christian principles in human affairs and the triumph of Christ through his church.  After this “golden age,” Christ will return to raise the dead, judge the world, and inaugurate the new eternal order.

          Amillennialism is the term used to describe the view of those who do not look for a millennial reign of Christ either before or after his second coming.  This way of interpreting Rev. 20 involves the principle of recapitulation, viz., that the structure of Revelation does not relate consecutive events but frequently covers the same ground from different perspectives.

          Interpreters of this viewpoint often identify the binding of Satan and his incarceration in the abyss with the victory over Satan accomplished by our Lord in his earthly ministry.  It is clear that the gospels do represent Jesus as having bound Satan (Matt. 12:29) and toppled him from his place of power (Luke 10:18); and this victory over Satan is reflected in the Revelation…; it is an open question as to whether the binding of Satan in Rev. 20 is the same as that in Matt. 12 or is an eschatological event.

          Amillennialists usually understand the “first resurrection” in one of two different ways.  Some see here the resurrection unto eternal life, which is an altogether spiritual reality that occurs for each believer when he becomes a Christian (John 5:25; Eph. 2:5-6).  The reign of Christ with his saints is either the reign of Christ manifested in history through his church, or the spiritual reign of believers with Christ “in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:6).  The thousand-year period is not literal piece of history; it is a symbolic number coextensive with the history of the church on earth between the resurrection of Christ and his return.

          A different amillennial interpretation understands the resurrection and reign of the saints with Christ to represent the destiny of the martyrs.  Though they were slain, the martyrs did not really die.  In fact, they lived and reigned with Christ in heaven.  The “millennium” is the church age when martyred saints reign with Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection.

          Premillennialism is the view that Rev. 20 is altogether eschatological.  The coming of Christ will be followed by a binding of Satan and the resurrection of the saints who will join him [Christ] in a temporal kingdom when he reigns over the earth.  This millennial kingdom will end with a final rebellion and the last judgment.

          A variant form of premillennialism is Dispensationalism, which sees the millennial kingdom primarily in terms of God’s theocratic promises to Israel.  The entire book of Revelation is interpreted in terms of these dispensational presuppositions and is concerned with the fate of restored Israel in the last days and not with the church.  In many circles the only form of premillennialism known is Dispensationalism.  The form of premillennialism which sees the Revelation as a prophecy of the destiny of the church is not widely held today but it is the theology expounded in the present commentary [Ladd’s book].

          A key issue in our understanding of the millennium is whether chapter 20 involves recapitulation, looking back from the end to the whole history of the church.  In chapter 12, it is unmistakably clear that the passage looks back to the birth of Messiah.  However, in the present passage, no such indication is found.  On the contrary, chapters 18-20 appear to present a connected series of visions.  Chapter 18 tells of the destruction of Babylon; chapter 19 tells of the destruction of the beast and the false prophet; and chapter 20 moves on to tell of the destruction of Satan himself—a destruction accomplished in two stages…. (Ladd, 259-261)

The preceding material is pretty heavy for anyone to grasp, and especially difficult for someone who is a newcomer to all this terminology.  A brief set of definitions of my own making are the following:

·       Postmillennialism asserts that the church will triumph in the world and create a thousand-year paradise  BEFORE Christ returns.

·       Amillennialism asserts that there will be NO 1000-year reign of Christ on earth.  Instead, the millennium represents the age of the church—quite imperfect—which Christ oversees from heaven.

·       Premillennialism asserts that there will be a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth after his Second Coming.  Dispensationalism is a complex set of ideas that includes premillennialism. It asserts that Christ will reign from Jerusalem over Israel, which will be the dominant nation on earth.  Christ will set up the throne of David and literally fulfill all of the promises to Abraham, the nation of Israel, and David. 

Another commentator, certainly more liberal than Ladd, comments on the thousand years:  “For the present the Dragon is not slain or consumed, but only made a prisoner…for a term of a thousand years, i.e. a long period of time, a great epoch in human history…” (Swete, 257)  He further comments:

Any serious attempt to interpret the vision of the Thousand Years must begin with an examination…of contemporary Jewish belief [about]…the Messianic Reign. (1)  While the O.T. represents this Reign as permanent (Daniel ii. 44, vii 27…), the pseudepigraphic writers of 100 B.C—100 A.D….looked for a temporary triumph of righteousness before the consummation of all things… (2) To this golden age varying periods were assigned [from 40 to 7000 years].  (3) In Enoch xci. ff. human history is divided into weeks, of which the eighth and ninth witness the victory of righteousness, while the tenth is that of the final judgment…This conception of a week of millennia took root in early Christian thought [with allegorical treatment of Genesis 2]…

It can scarcely be doubted that St. John’s mind is familiar with these conceptions; yet he employs them with considerable reserve…But St. John does not commit himself to a reign upon earth.  When [a commentator named Charles] writes “the martyrs…reign with Christ personally on earth for a thousand years…with Jerusalem as the centre of the kingdom,” he introduces…ideas which are in fact absent from [this passage]…

Early Christian interpretation fell into the same snare.  [He quotes various early commentators.]  [However Augustine saw] in the captivity of Satan nothing else than the binding of the strong man [Mark 3:27].  [And interpreted] the thousand years [as] the whole interval between the first Advent and the last conflict…[And he saw] in the reign of the Saints, the entire course of the Kingdom of Heaven; in the judgment given to them, the binding and loosing of sinners; in the first resurrection, the spiritual share in the Resurrection of Christ which belongs to the baptized…

[Augustine’s interpretation] overlooks…the limitation of the first Resurrection to the martyrs and confessors.  But on the whole it seems to be on right lines.  The symbolism of the Book is opposed to a literal understanding of the Thousand Years… (Swete, 260-262)

VERSE 20:3:  This verse continues the account of the imprisonment of Satan.  He is put in the Abyss sealed within it.  This action disables Satan as the deceiver of the nations.  In chapter 12, Satan was expelled from heaven.  The implication seems to be that he no longer has access to God to accuse the Christians (12:10).  However, he continued to have considerable power and freedom on earth (12:12).  Now, he has totally lost his freedom.  However, his final act is yet to come:  “After that he must be released for a little while.  (20:3c)  This is explained later in the chapter.

VERSE 20:4-6:  The following verses are a bit confusing.  Allow me to give an interpretive outline, which does not strictly follow the order in these verse:

I.                   Humans are given thrones and authority to judge

II.                The fate of the martyrs

a.    The souls of those who were beheaded are seen (see 6:9-11)

b.    Included among these are the souls of those who had not worshiped the Beast nor taken his Mark

c.     These all come to life

d.    They reign with Christ for 1000 years

e.    This is the First Resurrection (?)

f.      They are blessed and holy

g.     They do not experience the Second Death

h.    They will be priests of God and Christ and will reign with Christ for 1000 years

III.             The fate of the rest of the dead: 

a.    They do not come to life until the 1000 years are over

b.    They experience the Second Resurrection (?)

c.     They experience the Second Death (?)

There are several difficulties in this passage.  First, I shall give a fairly standard version of events, and then I shall point out how this passage creates questions about that standard version.  In the standard version, ALL CHRISTIANS ARE EITHER RESURRECTED OR RAPTURED AT THE RETURN OF CHRIST.  (Dispensationalists have a different twist on this, but their version does not affect this “version.”)  This is the First Resurrection.  At his return, Christ sets up the Millennial Kingdom and Christians participate in his reign.  At the end of the Millennium, and after a brief skirmish with Satan, the Great White Throne Judgment takes place.  Sinners are resurrected (the Second Resurrection) long enough to be judged and thrown in the Lake of Fire.  Being thrown into the Lake of Fire constitutes the Second Death.  The following chart may help (or not) clarify this terminology:

 

Saved individuals

Sinners

Normal physical death = First Death

Most

All

Resurrection/Rapture

= First Resurrection

All

None

 

Second Resurrection

Before Judgment

None

All

Second Death = Lake of Fire

None

All

 

The present passage (20:4-6) seems to imply that ONLY martyrs reign with Christ during the 1000 years.  This is implied in 20:4b, in which those who had been beheaded for their testimony are mentioned, and 20:4c, in which those who refused Beast worship and refused to take the Mark of the Beast are mentioned.  In 20:4d “they” come to life and reign with Christ. 

There are several questions that one may have after reading these verses.  These questions include:

·       What does it mean to see the “souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus”?  Are these “souls” without bodies—of persons who had not been resurrected?

·       Do these descriptions allow for “all Christians,” including those who have not been martyred, to have thrones and reign with Christ? 

·       Does this verse even allow for martyrs previous to the reign of the Beast to reign with Christ? 

·       Who are the “rest of the dead” in verse 20:5. 

·       What exactly is the “First Resurrection” of verse 20:5?

          I shall quote extensively from commentators and study Bibles to give their views on some these verses.  Before I do, I would like to say that I believe that the “standard version,” which I described above is an accurate representation of the two resurrections and the two deaths that these verses refer to.  I have put in the questions because, if we read these verses, it is quite possible to raise these questions.  I shall present several commentators’ views and then—in a second post—come back to face these questions again and try to sort them out.  I honestly do not think any of these commentators face the passage in an honest way, but simply impose their views (variants of the “standard version”) on the passage.

          The following is a quote of the notes on Revelation 20:4 and on 20:5 from The Ryrie Study Bible King James Version.  As I quote from notes in study Bibles, I must deal with the style of these notes.  A note often includes a brief quotation of part of the verse referred to.  I include these quotations, including italics when they are used, so that the reader knows exactly what the note is commenting about.  Ryrie’s notes are as follows.  20:4 the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus.  These are the martyrs of the tribulation days who will share the joys of the millennial kingdom.” “20:5 the rest of the dead. The wicked dead will be raised and judged after the millennium.  The first resurrection Refers back to the end of v. 4.  This resurrection includes all the righteous  (the resurrection of life, John 5:29, and the resurrection of the just, Luke 14:14), who will be raised before the millennium begins.” (Ryrie)

Ryrie does not comment on John 5:29 directly.  In his comment on John 5:21-27, he comments that “Those who believe will escape judgment (v. 24).”  In the KJV, John 5:28-29 states:  “Marvel not at this:  for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”  John 5:24 states:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”  All of these quotations from John are in the context of an extended direct quotation from Jesus.

Similarly, Ryrie does not comment on Luke 14:14, nor does he make any pertinent remarks on the passage.  Luke 14:14 (KJV) states [direct quotation from Jesus]:  “And thou shalt be blessed:  for they [the poor whom you invited to a banquet] cannot recompense thee:  for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”

To summarize Ryrie’s comments:  He believes that those who reign with Christ during the Millennium include all believers.

Other comments in other study bibles are not as definitive.  ESVSB does not deal with these questions head-on.  It indicates, but rather ambiguously, that the Premillennial view is that all believers will reign during the Millennium.  NIVSB recognizes the problem, without much comment.  Its comment on verse 20:5 is as follows:  rest of the dead Either the wicked or everyone except the martyrs (see v. 4).” 

The Wesley Study Bible describes the Premillennial view briefly:  “Other Christians believe that 19:1-21 depicts Christ’s Second Coming which will culminate in the binding of Satan pictured in 20:1-3, after which the saints will be raised and rule with Christ on earth for a period symbolized by 1,000 years (20:4-6).  At the end of this period Satan will be released for one last rebellion and will be destroyed (20:7-10).  Then the unrighteous will be raised and all will be judged (20:11-15).  This position is called premillennialism (pre = before) since it teaches the return of Christ before the millennium.  It is an ancient Christian position which has become popular again since the last century.”

Pentecost, a Dispensationalist, argues that 20:5 is a reference to the resurrection of the unrighteous:  “It will be observed that the first part of verse five [20:5], ‘But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished,’ is a parenthetical statement that explains what happens to those who are left in the realm of death when the first resurrection is completed at the second advent of Christ. This passage teaches that one thousand years will intervene between the first resurrection, or the resurrection unto life, and the resurrection of the rest of the dead, which, according to Revelation 20:11-13, is the resurrection unto damnation.  The only way that the obvious teaching of this passage can be obviated is to spiritualize it so that the passage is not speaking of physical resurrection, but rather of the blessedness of the souls who are in the presence of the Lord….the New [Testament] makes it clear that the resurrection unto life and the resurrection unto judgment are separated by a span of one thousand years.” (Pentecost, 401-402)

The original Scofield Bible notes comment on Revelation 20:5 as follows.  “The ‘resurrection of the just’ is mentioned in Luke 14:13, 14, and the resurrection of ‘life’ is distinguished from the ‘resurrection unto damnation’ in John 5:29.  We here learn for the first time what interval of time separates these two resurrections.  See I Cor. 15. 52, note.” (Scofield) 

Scofield’s note on I Corinthian 15:52 presents the Dispensationalist view in a way similar to Pentecost and Ryrie, but, I believe, makes the case for a separation between the “resurrection of the just” and the “resurrection unto judgment” better than the other two authors:  “Two resurrections are yet future, which are inclusive of ‘all that are in the graves’ (John 5:28).  These are distinguished as ‘of life’ (I Cor. 15.22, 28; I Thes. 4.14-17; Rev. 20. 4), and ‘of judgment’ (John 5.28, 29; Rev. 20.11-13).  They are separated by a period of one thousand years (Rev. 20.5).  The ‘first resurrection, that ‘unto life,’ will occur at the second coming of Christ (I Cor. 15.23), the saints of the O.T. and church ages meeting him in the air (I Thes. 4. 16, 17); while the martyrs of the tribulation, who also have part in the first resurrection (Rev. 20.4), are raised at the end of the great tribulation….The bodies of living believers will, at the same time, be instantaneously changed (I Cor. 15.50-53; Phil. 3.20, 21)…After the thousand years the ‘resurrection unto judgment’ (John 5.29) occurs.  The resurrection-body of the wicked dead is not described.  They are judged according to their works, and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20.7-15).

          The table that follows may clarify (or not) the views of these commentators.    

 

 

Verse #

Quotation from the verse

Comment

Revelation 20:4

“The souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus”

Ryrie:  These are the martyrs of the tribulation days who will share the joys of the millennial kingdom

Revelation 20:5

“The rest of the dead”

Ryrie:  The wicked dead will be raised and judged after the millennium. 

Revelation 20:5

“the first resurrection”

Ryrie:  “Refers back to the end of v. 4.  This resurrection includes all the righteous (the resurrection of life, John 5:29, and the resurrection of the just, Luke 14:14), who will be raised before the millennium begins.”

ESVSB:  (Comment does not clarify who is on the throne) “Premillennialists think this [all of verse 4] means that deceased believers will experience bodily resurrection at the beginning of the millennium”

Revelation 20:5

“the rest of the dead”

NIVSB: “Either the wicked or everyone except the martyrs (see v. 4)”

Revelation 20:5a

“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.”

Pentecost:  :  “It will be observed that the first part of verse five [20:5], ‘But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished,’ is a parenthetical statement that explains what happens to those who are left in the realm of death when the first resurrection is completed at the second advent of Christ.”

Revelation 20:5

“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.  This the first resurrection.”

Scofield Bible:  “The ‘resurrection of the just’ is mentioned in Luke 14:13, 14, and the resurrection of ‘life’ is distinguished from the ‘resurrection unto damnation’ in John 5:29.  We here learn for the first time what interval of time separates these two resurrections.  See I Cor. 15. 52, note.”

John 5:21-27

(See below for quote of John 5:24.)

Ryrie:  Those who believe will escape judgement (v. 24). 

John 5:28-29

“Marvel not at this:  for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

 

John 5:24

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

 

Luke 14:14

“And thou shalt be blessed; for they [the poor who are invited to a banquet] cannot recompense thee:  for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”

 

I Corinthians 15:52

“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

Scofield:  “Two resurrections are yet future, which are inclusive of ‘all that are in the graves’ (John 5:28).  These are distinguished as ‘of life’ (I Cor. 15.22, 28; I Thes. 4.14-17; Rev. 20. 4), and ‘of judgment’ (John 5.28, 29; Rev. 20.11-13).  They are separated by a period of one thousand years (Rev. 20.5).  The ‘first resurrection, that ‘unto life,’ will occur at the second coming of Christ (I Cor. 15.23), the saints of the O.T. and church ages meeting him in the air (I Thes. 4. 16, 17); while the martyrs of the tribulation, who also have part in the first resurrection (Rev. 20.4), are raised at the end of the great tribulation….The bodies of living believers will, at the same time, be instantaneously changed (I Cor. 15.50-53; Phil. 3.20, 21)…After the thousand years the ‘resurrection unto judgment’ (John 5.29) occurs.  The resurrection-body of the wicked dead is not described.  They are judged according to their works, and cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20.7-15).

 

 

 

REFERENCES:

Biblica, Inc.  NIV Study Bible.  Kenneth L. Barker, Gen. Ed., Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1985, 2011.

Crossway.  ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL:  Good News Publishers, 2008.

Harper, Albert F. (Gen. Ed.)  The Wesley Study Bible New King James Version.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publ., 1990.

Ladd, George Eldon, A Commentary on the Revelation of John.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.

Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come A Study in Biblical Eschatology.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publ. House, 1958.

Ryrie, Charles Caldwell.  The Ryrie Study Bible King James Version.  Chicago:  Moody Press (The Moody Bible Institute), 1976.

Scofield, C. I. The Scofield Reference Bible.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1909, 1945.

Swete, Henry Barclay.  The Apocalypse of St. John.  The Greek Text with Introduction Notes and Indices.  London:  MacMillan and Co., Limited, 1906.