From: Reinterpreting Revelation Twenty Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2014
The Second Millennium,
of All the Triumphant Saints—Eternity
20:5 (KJV): But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
NASB: But the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
20:6: Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
NASB: 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 him for a thousand years.
1. “This is the first resurrection”
a. The physical/bodily resurrection is promised in BOTH testaments.
We usually identify the bodily resurrection as a doctrine of the New Testament because it is much more heavily stressed than in the Old Covenant and is commonly presented in far more explicit language. Even so, there are several passages in the Old Testament that seem to indicate the embracing of just such a teaching—if readers were paying close attention to the text. (In their defense it should be noted that we can fall into the same trap of inadequate attention; it is a too common human failure.)
To cite a selection of the passages that point in that direction let us begin with Job:
And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from the flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes shall see and not another. My heart faints within me. (Job 19:25-27)
[Page 197] In the “flesh” he would “see God” even though his “skin” had already been destroyed. What else can he be thinking of than some form of resurrection?
Earlier in the book, Job stresses that physical death only lasts till the time for the world to come an end—which in the New Testament is identified with Christ’s second coming at the end of earth-time:
So man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens be no more, he will not awake nor be aroused out of his sleep. Oh that Thou wouldst hide me in Sheol, that Thou wouldst conceal me until Thy wrath returns to Thee, that Thou wouldst set a limit for me and remember me! If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait, until the change comes. Thou wilt call, and I will answer Thee; Thou wilt long for the work of Thy hands. (Job 14:12-15)
Though in Sheol, he will ultimately receive God’s “call” at a time when “the heavens be no more” (= come to an end). Yes, he is a worrier about this: “If a man dies, will he live again?” Yet the faith is there that—fears notwithstanding—that a day of “change” will come and that God will “call” him out of death. If a resurrection is not in view, what is?
In Isaiah we read:
Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. (Isaiah 26:19)
The grave will not retain them forever. They “will rise” out of them. Again, if a resurrection is not in view, what is?
In Acts two, one of David’s psalms (16:8-11) is quoted as evidence that the death and resurrection of the Messiah had been predicted of old. It is perhaps often overlooked that the Psalmist is citing the certainty of the Messiah’s resurrection as equally certain as the fact that his own body will not remain forever in the grave; the two thoughts of Messianic and personal resurrection go hand-in-hand, in his thinking:
And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him,
“I was always beholding the Lord in my presence; for He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will abide in hope; because Thou will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.” (Acts 2:24-28)
[Page 199] If Peter’s exegesis is right in Acts 2, this was a prediction of the physical resurrection of Jesus. As this is certainly true, does this not require that when David speaks of the rescue of his own soul from Hades, that that also requires a physical resurrection of the ancient king of Israel? Unless one is going to argue that physical resurrection was intended only for these two individuals, isn’t one forced to conclude that when other Biblical texts refer to the resurrection of believer that a similar physical resurrection is in mind as well?
In the first century it was much like today in regard to belief in the resurrection: while many accepted it as a promise for the future, others denied it would ever occur (Acts 23:6-8). On the believing side, we find that though Martha moaned the death of her brother Lazarus, she shared the common confidence that he would not remain dead forever, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24).
Paul appeals to the fact of Christ’s resurrection and that of believers as evidence that Christians must live a moral, upright life, i.e., one can not escape the consequences of a reprobate lifestyle by hiding in the shadows of death; the shadows will be wiped away by the light of the resurrection:
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. (Romans 8:11-12)
Note the train of logic: Jesus was physically raised from the dead and given a body that could be seen, touched, handled, that could eat. “He who [Page 200] raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies.” Not a symbolic or spiritual resurrection but one just as tangible as that of the Lord.
. . . Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! (1 Corinthians 6:13-15)
The resurrection of Jesus and that of ours is paralleled: Hence we have every reason to accept that ours will be just as tangible and objectively real as that which He had. From the fact that this individual resurrection will occur, Paul argues that we should not join our flesh to that of a prostitute. For the parallel to be valid between the two bodies under discussion—pre and post resurrection--does it not require that he assumes that our resurrection will be just as individual and tangible as the Lord’s had been?
One of the reasons Paul was as direct in his preaching as he chose to be was due to the fact that he knew he would be resurrected and answer for whether he had spoken as he should:
But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed, therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore also we speak; knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. (2 Corinthians 4:13-14)
[Page 201] The bodily resurrection is not presented in the New Testament as some type of “optional” doctrine. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul lays heavy stress on the fact that to deny our own resurrection requires us to deny Christ’s as well—note that he has the physical and tangible bodily resurrection of Christ in mind—and that denial guts the very foundation of Christian faith. In effect, he argues that we must embrace or repudiate both—either both occur as physical and bodily resurrections or neither occurs as such:
Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection from the dead?
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)
[Page 202] So when we turn to Revelation twenty and read of the “resurrection” it surprises us not at all. Nor that it means an individual, visible, physical, tangible resurrection.
What does come as a surprise is to see the reference to the “first resurrection.” Theorists can have a field day with it, but what did John mean when he used the expression?
b. Bimillennialism and the contextual meaning of “the first resurrection.”
Much religious opinion today is convinced that there will be two physical resurrections: The first is of the righteous dead; they are resurrected and share in an earthly millennium with Jesus while He personally rules over the world from a capital in Jerusalem. The second resurrection is that of the “rest of the dead” (the wicked) and occurs at the end of the millennium.
Bimillennialism utterly destroys this theory! Verse 5 identifies the “rest of the dead” for us:
The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. THIS is the first resurrection.
[Page 203] “The rest of the dead” are specified as those who are in the “FIRST resurrection.” That is to interpret the verse in the light of what it says rather than importing into it one’s own theologies. Hence the “rest of the dead” are emphatically not unbelievers but the believing dead who were not martyrs but who now enter into a “millennial” reign with them. In these verses, at least, the resurrection of the wicked dead isn’t even under consideration.
Hence John labels it the “first” resurrection not because there would be a “second” one, but because those in the First Millennium were martyrs made “alive” without being resurrected in the body. By putting the timing of the “first resurrection” as at the end of the reign of the martyrs, he warns his readers against interpreting the First Millennium in terms of such an event
c. The incompatibility of a “second (bodily / physical) resurrection” with Bible doctrine.
[Page 204] Accepting the Bimillennial interpretation of Revelation 20, the “rest of the dead” have to be the remainder of the righteous dead. Hence there is absolutely no necessity of considering at all the premillennial theory that there are two separate physical resurrections: that of the righteous at the beginning of the monomillennium and that of the wicked at the end. Even so, the doctrine is so popular it would still be appropriate to devote some space both to its defenses and to its weaknesses—weaknesses that would still exist even if Bimillennialism is rejected.
As to its defenses, one fact is readily obvious: Revelation 20 is the linch-pin to the theory. Without the conviction that the doctrine is firmly rooted and conclusively proved here, the other texts would be regarded as weak and too speculative for all but the most tenuous theorizing. Indeed, Revelation 20 is the only passage that speaks of “the first resurrection” and without that particular wording—and the elaborate premillennialist / dispensationalist theology built upon it—there is precious little in other texts that would suggest the thought.
The closest is 1 Thessalonians 4:16b, “ . . . the dead in Christ shall rise first.” Surely that must mean that the wicked are raised separately? If that were so, there still is nothing to suggest any great period of time—much less a thousand years—between the two events. Minutes or hours would be adequate to meet such a scenario. Indeed, when one thinks in terms of how many billions will be envolved in the resurrection, a segmenting of it would make a certain logistical sense, would it not?
Even so, we have touched upon the fatal flaw in the use of the verse: it represents proof-texting of the most abhorrent kind, ignoring the words that follow next:
. . . . [T]he dead in Christ shall rise first. THEN WE who are ALIVE and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17b-18)
[Page 205] Their very “proof” text tells us that the other group under discussion are living Christians, alive at the return of Christ. The wicked aren’t even under discussion. Indeed, the specification excludes them!
John 5:29 offers creative opportunities for the imaginative as well. Here one does indeed read of “a resurrection of life” as contrasted to “a resurrection of judgment.” Two resurrections then?
Well, there is not the slightest hint in the text that they occur at different times, much less a thousand years apart.
Indeed, if one consults the preceding verse the very possibility crumbles to ashes: in verse 28 Jesus affirms that “an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice.” In that “hour” (surely a short period of time!) they “will come forth to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”
Rather than affirming any extended time lapse—much less of a millennium--the text affirms that it all happens within an “hour” (singular). And in this kind of text it probably doesn’t even have the idea of 60 minutes in mind, but the idea of brevity and certainty: “the time is coming” when both righteous and unrighteous will be resurrected.
Beyond these two self-exploding proof texts the evidence becomes even weaker.
The Old Testament martyrs are described as enduring their anguish in the hope of “obtain[ing] a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35). The point of comparison is not with the wicked who are resurrected but with the kind of resurrection (reward) they themselves would have if they had declined to be so steadfast. Because of their loyalty, the resurrection would be “better” for them than it otherwise would be; they had paid the price and now they would reap an even greater reward.
The comparison is between the quality of life for a specific individual produced by the resurrection . . . if he is faithful . . . compared to if that person is not. The comparison is not between a group of righteous and a group of unrighteous.
The fact that “the resurrection of the righteous” is mentioned without any reference to the resurrection of the wicked (Luke 14:14, for example) does nothing to prove any massive chronological gap between the resurrection of the two groups. It simply points to the fact that Jesus’ listeners were far more interested in the “righteous” resurrection since it was the kind of resurrection they wished to participate in and which Jesus wished to encourage them to seek.
[Page 207] The simple fact is that on those occasions when the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked are mentioned in the same text there is never the slightest hint of a time gap between the two. They are spoken of as if the two occur simultaneously. An Old Testament prophet expressed it this way in a passage that traditionally has been interpreted as a reference to physical resurrection:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
By itself, this would argue one resurrection at one and the same time for all the dead, regardless of their character. Without there being an explicit statement teaching the opposite, this is the only fair construction we can place on such texts. (This element of jointly occuring at the same time, would also be true if Daniel actually has in mind something different—like the “resurrection” of Israel after its foreign suppression in chapter 11.)
In fact, some texts seem to go out of their way to eliminate even the possibility of a gap. We already referred to John 5:28-29 above, a scripture that refers to the “hour” (not “hours”) of resurrection when “all” (not merely the righteous but the wicked as well) will be called forth from their tombs. Also note
[Page 208] that Jesus speaks in terms of “resurrection” singular (i.e., one resurrection event) and not in terms of “resurrections” plural--which would have been the case if two distinct, chronologically distant resurrections were in His mind.
In Acts 24:15 the singular “resurrection” is once again used and applied indiscriminately to both the redeemed and the lost:
“Having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
From hearing these words, would the listeners receive the slightest hint of ten centuries between the raising of the righteous and the raising of the wicked?
In Second Thessalonians, the return of the Lord and His distribution of both rewards and punishments are pictured as on the same “day” (singular—synonymous with a short and concise period of time):
For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
[Page 209] An “hour” and a “day” both refer to a short period of time; what neither can refer to without destroying the imagery of brevity are two separate resurrections a thousand years apart. Hence all such references like these are fatal to the two resurrection interpretation of Revelation 20.
In Matthew 16:27 Jesus makes another remark relevant to our present subject:
“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to His deeds.”
NOT a thousand years later will the wicked come face to face with the punishment they deserve but “then” . . . at the time when Christ returns—at the same time as the righteous rise. In His explanation of the parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30), the wicked are purged out at the same time as the righteous come into their deserved glory (verses 36-43, especially verses 42-43). No thousand year gap between!
The resurrection of the righteous is placed a thousand years prior to the end of earth time in the double / separate resurrection theory of premillennialism. Indeed, it makes the resurrection of the wicked the last event of world history. Jesus implicitly repudiated this chronology by insisting that the resurrection of the just comes at that chronological marker. Hence if the wicked are resurrected at all—and they are—that implicitly comes at the same time:
“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I myself will raise him up on the last day . . . No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:39-40, 44)
We have here in the space of a few verses a triple attestation that the resurrection of the righteous occurs at “the last day.” Hence there is no way that the resurrection of the wicked must wait yet a further thousand years. If its “the last day,” the earth won’t be around any longer for the wicked to be resurrected out of!
These verses also play havoc with the idea that there will be an earthly millennium after the return of Christ. So far as Jesus was concerned, the resurrection at His return marks the final “day” of earth history rather than the beginning of a new earthly millennial epoch.
d. A symbolic use of “resurrection”?
[Page 211] We went to great lengths earlier in this book to provide evidence that “come to life” (verse 4) does not have to carry the connotation of “resurrection” (verse 5)—that they are two separate events and phenomena, i.e., they do not both allude to the (physical) resurrection. It should be noted that there are also those who argue the opposite—that “resurrection” should be redefined in terms of “coming to life” rather than vice versa.
In all fairness to those who wish to prove that “resurrection” should be taken in such a symbolic sense, making both of them non-literal expressions—I include the following extracts from an effective presentation by Henry Cowles that I came across in my earlier research on these verses:
The choice lies between the literal sense—the raising of the dead body to life; and the figurative, viz., joy after sorrow; the passing from agony, despondency hard by despair, into high fruition and blessedness—the change from a quasi-death to real life. We may call the latter the symbolic use of the “word resurrection.”
In fact of this usage of the word here, I adduce the following conside rations—
(1) The almost universally symbolic strain of this book. Not going beyond this chapter we have symbols in the “great chain,” the “old serpent,” the “seal” put upon him, the “thrones,” the “second death,” the “camp of the saints,” the “beloved city,” etc., etc. It is therefore with and not against the analogy of the book to account this resurrection symbolic.
[Page 212] (2) John found this symbolic use of “resurrection” and of its idea, in the old prophets; particularly in Isaiah 26:14, 19, and Ezekiel 37:1-14, and Hosea 13:14. . . . The argument here is that since John follows the usage of the Old Testament prophets almost if not quite invariably, it is fair to assume that he follows it here. Seeing their usage of this idea of resurrection, he naturally adopts it himself. . . .
(3) Another remarkable fact deserves careful consideration. Twice in his gospel (viz., 5:24-29 and 11:23-26) our author touches the subject of resurrection and in both cases he has two resurrections before his mind, viz., (1) the raising of souls from death in sin to real and blessed life in God; and (2) the raising of bodies from the grave.
Note the order of his thought.—“He that heareth my words and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” (This is the first resurrection.)
The second and other is put thus: “Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming in the which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth.” Beyond all question this second is the literal resurrection of the bodies of all the dead. Equally beyond question is that the former is a spiritual resurrection; i.e., the resurrection is made a figure or symbol for that more wondrous and far more glorious change which comes over human souls when they pass from death in sin to everlasting life and peace in God.
[Page 213] The resurrection of Lazarus gives us the other case referred to. And here too the first and leading thought is that higher, grander and more comprehensive one—“I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live.” As the infinite fountain of all life and of all resurrection power, I first evince it by raising dead souls to the life of peace and love and blessedness in God—even the souls of all who believe in me; and next I do the subordinate and very inferior thing of raising their mortal bodies to life.
The first resurrection is the spiritual. This is the natural order in which the mind of Jesus and consequently the mind of John arranges the grand ideas connected with resurrection. Should it therefore surprise us that having followed this order in every case where he touches the resurrection in his gospel, he should follow it here also?
() The first resurrection is correlated here, not distinctly with a second resurrection of bodies, but with the “second death.” Now since this second death is certainly symbolic, i.e., is not a second severing of soul from body, but simply a state full of awful terror and indefinite anguish which no other symbol but that of death can adequately express, therefore we may naturally suppose that the first resurrection, correlated to it, is also symbolic—used in an analogous sense, of what is indefinitely blessed.
These considerations are modestly submitted as the grounds which incline me strongly to the view of a figurative as opposed to the precisely literal sense of this “first resurrection.”
[Page 214] As already noted, in our judgment, the expression “first resurrection” is used to tell us--in part--that the “coming to life” and beginning to “reign” was not due to “resurrection.” The two would seem to represent natural contrasts, to reflect two different ideas. Hence Cowles’ effort to merge the two into a single concept is as unneeded as the effort to “physicalize” the “coming to life.”
Because the discussion of Revelation 20 nearly always involves the contention that a physical resurrection has occurred, we developed our analysis accordingly. Perhaps others may feel I should have taken time to provide a similar in-depth rebuttal of Cowles, though his approach would seem to be extremely uncommon. The lack of its popularity is the reason I have not done so, but I thought its inclusion would still be justified in case others wish to consider this approach on their own.
2. The character of the Christians who reign.
The Greek word so rendered is makarios. Is is the word translated “blessed” in the KJV Beatitudes in Matthew five:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . (verse 3)
“ . . . They that mourn . . . (verse 4)
“the meek . . . (verse 5)
“they which do hunger after righteousness . . . (verse 6)
“the merciful . . . (verse 7)
“the pure in heart . . . (verse 8)
“the peacemakers . . . (verse 9)
“[the] persecuted” (verse 10)
These are “blessed” not just because the type of behavior that is lauded is inherently praiseworthy, but also because they reflect the character traits that are rewarded with salvation in the Eternal Millennium when all the righteous reign for their “thousand years” (which is used to cover however long endless eternity may be). What could be more “blessed” than a lifestyle that produces eternal redemption in a place where death can no longer reach us nor power be abused to injure or harm us?
The Beatitudes in no way exhaust the frames of mind and types of behavior that God considers “blessed” and which will be found in the character and history of those partaking in their reign. For example, Luke 14:12-14 adds to the list benevolence to the needy: not the distant second hand assistance of donations to some charitable organization but direct involvement, personal helpfulness to those needing assistance.
[Page 216] Since so many specific elements are involved in having a “blessed” lifestyle, we can understand why some passages sum it all up under the conception of faithfulness / obedience to God and His Son. For example in Luke 11:27 we come across a woman who cries out how “blessed” was Mary for having borne the Lord into the world. Jesus immediately pointed to how every man and every woman could obtain an even greater benefit, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it” (verse 28).
Jesus worded it this way in his last admonition to the apostles in the upper room, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:17). Blessedness then consists not just of knowledge and not just of good works beneficial to our fellow man but of whole-hearted obedience to the will of God in all the forms it may take.
Hence the “blessedness” in which first century Christians shared was one available to all future generations, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29). And, like them, we will be called forth in the resurrection to enjoy with them the fruits of our faith—the eternal, never ending millennium of Heaven.
[Page 217] Being redeemed, holiness is the natural result. With the resurrection, though, the believer becomes “holy” in ways impossible in the current world: Two of the main sources of defilement are removed.
First are the weaknesses and stumblings produced by our physicality. Though we are apparently resurrected with a body of flesh, Paul is emphatic in First Corinthians 15 that the body is immediately altered into a flesh substitute compatible with its eternal destination:
Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (verses 50-55; cf. verses 35-49 where Paul also stresses both the fact and the necessity of this change.)
[Page 218] How many temptations come through the flesh! How many adulteries . . . how many lies . . . how many perversions of our highest aspirations so that we can “do our own thing and feel good!” No wonder Paul calls it “sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3)!
Let no one mistakenly limit “fleshly” sins to merely sensual ones. Pandering to the worst elements of our personal pride, our efforts to “get ahead” at any and all costs, our mouths watering after whatever it is we don’t yet have but is today’s latest “must buy” product to stay part of the “cutting edge”—these may not always be sensual, but do they not originate or are encouraged by our “natural” self-centeredness? But in the resurrection this never-ending stumbling block to sin will be replaced, thereby permitting the believer to exceed the character development that occurred while on earth.
Furthermore, the greatest external inciter and encourager of sin will no longer be around to plague believers, not even within the circumcised limits within which he must currently work. The Devil will be permanently exiled from being any further danger to any one for he will be “thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone” (Revelation 20:10).
He personally caused Eve’s fall and he is repeatedly pictured in the Bible as looking for ways to destroy mankind. Unable to use many of his tricks and abilities during the Millennium of the Martyrs due to his being “bound,” during the Eternal Millennium he will be shorn of all his tricks and be completely and permanently removed from ever being a negative influence on disciples. Hence the believer will not only be holy as the condition of entering that millennium; he will be able to maintain holiness to a degree not possible in this life.
3. The eternal rewards for the resurrected Christians in the Millennium of Eternity.
a. “Over these the second death has no power.”
We all die once, but the unrepentant face what is the functional equivalent of death for a second time—with no further chances thereafter. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were under the guarantee of “death” if they sinned. Death (with its central idea of separation from life) occurred in several senses. The two most widely mentioned are the fact that they began the physical decay that results in death; others point to the fact that they died spiritually due to their rebellion against God.
Yet there is another, related sense that is rarely mentioned but—because it lies on the very surface of the text—is more likely to be what was in the forefront of the mind of the Genesis author: By being banned from the garden, they were literally “cut off” from that tree of life which would have permanently kept them alive. When one is cut off from that which gives life, is not one truly “dead”? It only becomes a matter of when one is going to bury the corpse.
[Page 220] For a modern equivalent, think of you being on a drug that keeps you alive. Because of war or conflict, you are cut off from any supply of it. You have been cut off from that which gives you life. You are physically still alive but you are as surely “dead” as if someone had put a bullet through your skull.
In this life, one’s sins cuts one off from the blessings of God in a spiritual sense. In a physical sense, sin still can bear fruit in carnal death, however, both as a result of our souls being encased in a physical body and—in too many cases—because of the abuse of the physical body that has caused us to become plagued by disease we would otherwise have escaped.
Just as both physical and spiritual death sprang from Adam’s transgression, we also face both kinds of death in our individual life due to our own sin. Yet if we are committed believers, only the physical death remains a danger; the spiritual breach has been healed: we will be raised to die no more. Adam and Eve were “cut off” from that tree of life by their transgression; by our faithfulness we will gain access to its equivalent in the Eternal Millennium.
In contrast, the wicked are raised only to face another death: the pain and anguish of eternal separation from God and His blessings. By itself this knowledge would be tormenting enough in eternity, but the Apocalypse stresses that the very place of confinement will itself be a place is discomfort, pain, and punishment:
And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15)
[Page 221] The dual elements of exclusion and active punishment are combined in the description in the following chapter:
“He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:7-8)
Excluded from the presence of God and included in a place whose very description conveys the ideas of anguish, suffering, and sorrow. A sea of never-ending regret where escape is impossible. Those who have been faithful to God will not face hat ignoble destiny, however: tormented by all that a cruel life can throw—its hurts and pains, its temptations and stumbling blocks—they yet survived them and overcame them through the strength God provides. And find their reward in heaven.
The church in Smyrna was reminded that by not flinching back even at the ultimate challenge of physical death, they would be spared the even worse “death” that occurs in eternity:
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:10-11)
[Page 222] The gospel does not protect against death in this life, but does guarantee escape from the even more frightening “death” awaiting the reckless in eternity.
b. “They will be priests of God and of Christ.”
Although Jesus will return the kingdom to God and subject Himself once again to His Father’s authority when this world comes to an end (1 Corinthians 15:20-28), this Revelation text indicates that believers will continue to serve both of them as spiritual priests. Jesus’ role of the Father’s one, unique Son will not cease with the passage of this world. Hence it is only appropriate that our service honoring them both will be continued as well.
And that is one of the central ideas of a “priest,” one who is set aside for the service of God. Such a person has a special status not enjoyed by the rest of mankind; hence Christians are so pictured because they are but a minority of humankind. The rest follow their own fancies; Christians follow the Lord.
But just what does a “priest” do in serving Christ and the Father? For one thing, priests offer worship and sacrifice; this was central to their function in the [Page 223] Old Testament and, in a revised form, continues under the gospel dispensation. Peter develops the imagery in his first epistle: “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
The idea of “priests” also carries with it the connotation of someone who shares God’s will with others. A few verses after the above words, Peter mentions this function as well: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellency of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
In both of these verses, the believer’s future role as “priest” reflects a function already being carried out in the present life and which does not have to wait until entry into eternity to begin. Although specific duties may well be changed to reflect the realities of the very different environment in eternity, the elements of continued worship and service will surely continue in whatever new ways God decrees.
That eternity “continues” (if you will) an already-existing Christian priesthood is not an idea we have merely “imported” into Revelation from Peter’s writings. It is also affirmed in the general introduction to the Apocalypse when John describes first century believers as already functioning in such a manner: “And He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:6).
c. “They . . . will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
The First Millennium continues in existence at this very hour. Hence it has already lasted roughly two thousand literal years and how much longer only time and God’s patience will ultimately reveal. If a millennium can describe over two thousand years, there is surely no impropriety in picturing eternity in such terms—especially since the First Millennium could just as easily last another two thousand years . . . or even longer.
I find it hard to believe that “only” 50 years ago I got out of junior college. We can barely imagine a hundred years. Who can fully comprehend a thousand years? It is a period—even in its literal significance—ten to twelve times longer than our individual lives on earth. Looking at it a different way, our lifespan is only eight to ten percent of its length. Compared with our typical span of life, even a literal millennium seems (almost) “forever” in comparison. Hence its appropriateness as verbal shorthand to concisely and briefly picture the duration of the eternal realm.
We are not suggesting in any shape or form that eternity has actual time limits to it. We are simply attempting to show why a “thousand years” is an appropriate description for a boundless period of time that is beyond full human comprehension. (Beyond even partial comprehension at times, it seems.)
What our duties will be—what our responsibilities will be—God has not seen fit to reveal beyond the very modest deductions that can be drawn from the Biblical text. Perhaps those functions would not yet make sense and would only do so after [Page 225] we arrive. Perhaps it would be like describing the character of nuclear fission to an illiterate villager outside ancient Pompei. Whatever the actual nature of eternity turns out to be, it is pledged as an abundant reward for what has been endured in the current life. Earth literalism is inadequate to describe it; we must await a personal face-to-face encounter.