UNDERSTANDING THE BOOK OF REVELATION
The First Resurrection to the End
By Gary Ray Branscome
In chapter twenty verse four John says, “I saw thrones, and those who sat on them were given authority to judge: and I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast, or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads, or on their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection,” (Rev. 20:4-5).
Now, those who read these verses often assume that this resurrection is a physical resurrection, and that these “souls” will be reigning on earth. However, we know that is not true, because Christ has specifically told us that He will not raise up believers until the “last day” (John ). Therefore, the claim that those mentioned here have been raised from the dead and “raptured” before the “last day” is not only pure conjecture it is rebellion against God, for Christ said just the opposite (John 6:40). Moreover, because that interpretation has its origin in man’s imagination it is a “private interpretation,” and private interpretations are not acceptable as doctrine (2Peter ). Furthermore, any interpretation that contradicts what the Bible plainly says is of the devil (Isaiah ).
If we will allow the clear passages of Scripture to cast light on these verses, we will find that the first resurrection is not a physical resurrection, but is the spiritual resurrection from being “dead in trespasses and sins,” to new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:5-6). As it is written, “If you have risen with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is sitting at God’s right hand” (Col. 3:1). However, the Book of Revelation is not here talking about believers who are still on earth, but those who have gone on to be with Christ. For, “to be absent from the body” is to be “present with the Lord” (2Cor. 5:8). In fact, all who have died in the faith are, at this very minute, reigning with Christ in paradise (Luke ). As it is written, “He who hears my word, and believes on him who sent me, has everlasting life, and will not come into condemnation; but has passed from death to life” (John ). What’s more, the very “angel” (messenger) who was talking to John was one of those believers.
That leaves us with the question: Why does Revelation 20:4-5 speak of believers reigning for one thousand years? However, since the Bible does not answer that question, we dare not add to God’s word by making up an answer. Perhaps that number is figurative. Perhaps it points to a time when their testimony has triumphed, and Christianity reigns worldwide. Perhaps it describes the glory they have in heaven with Christ prior to the resurrection. We do not know. But we do know that they will not be physically present on earth, because Christ specifically said that He would not raise them up until the “last Day” (John 6:40).
At the beginning of chapter twenty John saw Satan imprisoned in the “bottomless pit” for a “thousand years” (Rev. 20:1-3). This “bottomless pit” is the same “bottomless pit” spoken of in chapter 9:1. And, we know that the release of Satan at the end of the “thousand years” is the same release that is mentioned in chapter 9:1, because in both cases Satan’s onslaught ends with the final judgment (compare Rev. 11:18 with ). Chapters nine through eleven simply give us a more detailed account of the events that will take place after Satan is released.
This brings us to the final judgment. As John tells us what he saw, the words, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God,” tell us that everyone will be there (Rev. 20:12). There will be no exceptions! We know that those who claim that believers will not be present are not telling the truth, because the words, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” say just the opposite (2Cor. ). Moreover, those who try to get around those words by claiming that they refer to a different judgment are adding sin to sin because the Bible says no such thing.
The words, “the Father does not judge anyone, but has committed all judgment to the Son,” tell us that it is the Son who will be sitting on the great white throne (John ). And, we know that this will take place on the “last day,” because the Bible plainly tells us that it will take place on the “last day” (John and ).
On the last day, the trumpet will sound (1Cor. ), the dead (including believers) will rise (John -40), and all who trust in Christ will “be caught up”… “to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thess -17). Then, on that same day, “the elements will melt with intense heat, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up” (compare 1Thess. 5:1-2 with 2Peter ).
At this point, when you read the
words, “everyone was judged according to their works,” it is important
understand the proper relationship of Law and Gospel. The Law was given
us our sin and need of forgiveness in Christ (Rom. -20), and church members who are
rationalizing sin, or
doing what they know to be wrong, need this warning. At the same time,
who have a repentant heart and a tender conscience before God,
need to know that no sin is imputed to those who trust in Christ (
Because God is everywhere, the moment the dead rise they will all be standing before His throne (Matt. 25:31-32). Therefore, when Christ raptures the saints, He will be saying to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). At that time, all believers will be caught up to His throne, and will join Him in passing judgment on the lost. And, all who are “not found written in the book of life,” will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). As it is written, “the saints shall judge the world” (1Cor. 6:2).
The mention of the “throne” in chapter
21:5 tells us that the account of the last judgment is continued in
chapter. So it is in connection with the final judgment that John sees,
heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). He
then sees, “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out
heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). The
“bride” in that passage identifies the heavenly
Now, as we look at the description he gives, it is important to know that translators have a hard time matching many of the ancient names for gem-stones with the names that are used today. For example: in verse eleven “jasper” is said to be “clear as crystal”. However, while “jasper” is a form of quartz, in modern gemology the thing that sets “jasper” apart from other forms of quartz is the fact that it is not clear, even in part. So, perhaps the word “jasper” might be better translated simply as “quartz”.
Now, when it comes to the “new heaven” and “new earth,” Some Bible scholars believe that it will be completely new, while others think that the present heaven and earth will be renovated. As far as I am concerned, the fact that the stars fall from the heavens, and the elements melt with fervent heat precludes the possibility of renovation. Moreover, the fact that the new heavens and new earth will have no sun, moon, or sea is strong evidence that it will be radically different from anything we have known, and far more glorious (Rev. 21:1 and 23). As it is written, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for those who love him” (1Cor. 2:9).
The words, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand,” then remind us that the things prophesied in this book were beginning to take place at the time the book was written (Rev. 22:10).
Jesus Himself then warns us not to add to, or take from what is written (Rev. 22:16, 18-19). And, the book closes with the words, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (Rev. 22:21).
The words, “we have not written anything to you, other than what you read,” tell us that the actual words of Scripture, the words that John wrote down, tell us only what John saw and heard in his dream, nothing more (2Cor. 1:13). Therefore, whenever men try to interpret what John saw, they are interpreting a dream, not the words of Scripture. For that reason, every interpretation which they devise is a “private interpretation” (2Peter ). That is why we should never interpret John’s dream/vision to contradict what the Bible plainly says. We should never interpret it to contradict Christ’s words, “My kingdom is not of this world,” or, “Every one who looks to the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day” (John and ).