Before we begin, let us pray…
“Teach us your way, O Lord, and lead us on a level path. Teach us, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then we will keep them to the end. Give us understanding, and we will keep your law and obey it with all our hearts. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” (Worship Sourcebook)
Let us continue our study of Revelation chapter 20. Last week, we learned about the various views about the relationship of the Second Coming of Christ with the Millennium Period. We concluded by establishing the Amillennial position as the most biblical and realistic view. So moving forward, we will interpret verses 1-6 with this view in mind.
There are two important details about these verses that we need to take notice. First, what is the meaning of the term “first resurrection”. Second, what does it mean that Satan in bounded?
We will answer the first question by comparing the terms first resurrection/second death (verse 6) with first heaven and first earth/new heaven and new earth from Revelation 21:1. Then we will visit passages in the New Testament that uses the same pairing of first/second. From there we can conclude the validity of the Amillennial position.
Next week, we will answer the second question by comparing the binding of Satan from Revelation 20 with the throwing down of Satan on earth found in Revelation 12. The event of this star falling has been alluded to in the Gospel narratives together with the binding of the strong man in the house. From here we can again conclude that preaching of the gospel is the reality we are now living under the millennial reign of Christ, the period between his first and second coming.
These two important points we will meditate this Lord’s Day morning and coming Lord’s Day next week.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years (verses 1-6)
The first resurrection corresponds to the first death believers experience that sets their journey towards eternal life. It begins from their spiritual regeneration that pushes towards the end of their earthly life. Then this continues as an intermediate state where their souls reigns and rules with Christ in heaven. There they now await their bodily resurrection fitted for the continuation of their eternal life in the new heaven and new earth.
We need to remember that the setting for this set of visions from John here on Revelation 20 is in the heaven and not on earth. It is an important distinction we need to recognize because contrary to what the premillennialist says about the millennium reign, it is heavenly and not earthly. John in verse 4 wrote, “Then I saw thrones…” and we know thrones, consistently portrayed here in this book, are always in the heaven (Revelation 4-5 and etc). Also, John made explicit reference to the state of those living in this millennium. He said in this verse, “…Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.” They are souls and we understand souls means without flesh and blood. They are disembodied souls and having been beheaded for Christ they experience death.
Now these martyred saints as said by John came to life (zoe) and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. This means either of two things: 1) they experience bodily resurrection; 2) it is the beginning of their journey towards eternal life. The Premillennialist favors the first view for obvious reasons. They believe Christ will physically rule and reign here on earth after his Second Coming. The Second Coming is understood to happen already from Revelation 19 so it literally means Revelation 20 succeed it. However, we have to understand that the events that takes place on this particular vision in heaven and not on earth. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the life (zoe) the saints enjoy is with Christ in heaven. It is the intermediate state of our soul after we die. Paul wrote, “…to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21)“. So who are we set to gain? Christ! And from where to we begin this intimate union with Him? In heaven after we die here on earth.
The Amillennialist views these passages happening in heaven where thrones existing. The ruling and reigning of the saints with Christ is happening now in the heavens as each of the saints die and their soul reunites with their Lord. This is the first resurrection. It corresponds to the first death that belongs here on our earthly existence. It is the paradoxical pairing of death and resurrection as it follows the patter of Christ’s death and resurrection. We know that Jesus in his death was buried only for three days then resurrected, and now ascended into heaven. Similar to us, Christian saints, when we experience our first death as part of our earthly existence we begin our journey towards eternal life in the new heavens and new earth and this is our first resurrection.
But what differentiate Christ and us at this point is: Christ possess a gloried body while the saints remain in a disembodied state. We still wait our bodily resurrection and this is our second resurrection. Going back to verse 4-5, notice how John refers to the “first resurrection” as the first state of the saints and the wicked, “They (saints) came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead (wicked) did not come to life (opposite of the saints) until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.” Both the saints and the wicked continues to experience life and death in their disembodied states. Again, this is an intermediate state because in verse 6 John wrote, “ Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
From here we can understand the pairing between first/second with death/resurrection. Those who experienced the first resurrection, meaning the coming life in Christ even in a temporal disembodied state, will never experience second death which means eternal death. Next week, we will examine the rest of the passages in Revelation 20 but for our purposes for today let me read verse 14, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Therefore, it is clear here that the second refers to an eternal state. This means it is reasonable for us to conclude that the first state is an earthly temporal state. So the “first” means from this creation order while the “second” belongs to the new creation order.
The next chapter appears to also follow the same pattern. Scripture reads in Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The first heaven and first earth clearly refers to the present or old creation. Why? Because it is what said to have passed away. Then the new heaven and new earth is our new destination. It is new creation. From here I think it is reasonable to conclude that the designation “first” and “second” does not mean a difference in quantity or kind like what the Premillennialist insist (there are multiple bodily resurrection events). Rather, it is difference in quality or state meaning the first means this-present-age and the second means the age-to-come.
Paul also made reference to this first/second, old/new, this-present-age/age-to-come pairing. In Romans 5, he refers to Adam as the type of Christ (Romans 5:14) then in 1 Corinthians 15, he wrote “Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. The first clause comes from Genesis 2:7 where man (dust/ground) said to have received the breath of life (ruach) from God and became a living soul (nephesh). Adam is the “first” man. Then in contrast to the “last” man who is Christ, there was a difference is the quality or order. Paul wrote, “But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual”. So we can say the first/natural/earth/Adam/old belongs to this creation while the second/spiritual/heaven/Christ/new points to new creation. Paul explicitly states the Christ is new creation in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The last clause alludes to the Revelation 21: 1 passage we mentioned a while ago.
It is also worth mentioning that the preacher of Hebrews also uses the pattern of first/second with its interpretation of the old/new covenant. In Hebrew 8, Scripture reads: “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second (covenant).” This is also carries the distinction between the old covenant meaning earthly while the new covenant as heavenly. The first gives way for the second: “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Hebrew 8:14).” To complete our pairings: first/natural/earth/Adam/old creation/old covenant then second/spiritual/heaven/Christ/new creation/new covenant.
What encouragement can we take away from knowing these passages from Revelation 20:1-6?
Well, it assures us of our temporal and eternal state in Chris even in death. Ursinus wrote this Q&A our passing state even after death:
Q#42. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?
Answer: Our death is not a payment for our sins, but only a dying to sins and an entering into eternal life.
The first death of the saints is their first resurrection. Physical death is simply our passageway to eternal life. It is not as the catechism puts it a payment for our sins for Christ paid for them all. Rather, it is a temporal state we enter after which we enjoy life and reign with Christ in heaven. Soon we receive our glorified bodies so our disembodied state will no longer exist and we live eternally in the new heavens and new earth. Let us encourage one another with these words.
ZCRC(Imus), to live is Christ and to die is gain (Christ). We begin eternal life here on earth upon regeneration and continue to live in Christ when even we die. This assures us of our eternal destiny in Christ and as we await his second coming, let us encourage one another even in the midst of trails and suffering. Maranatha!
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.