The 2 Resurrections of Revelation 20
COPYRIGHT ©2019 - James M. Frye
All scripture quotations are taken from the Authorized King James Bible. Any deviations are not intentional. All underlines, bold and words within brackets are the author's.
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Revelation 20:4-5 … and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
Revelation 20:12-13 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
The Bible clearly teaches that there will be only one future physical resurrection of the dead unto immortality and that both the just and the unjust will be raised at this same resurrection (John 5:28-29, Acts 24:15, Daniel 12:1-3, Rev 11:18, etc.). See the article at the following link for proof of this.
How then are we to interpret these two resurrections mentioned in Revelation 20?
Since the Bible does not contradict itself (John 10:10, Psalm 119:160) only one of these two resurrections can be physical. When we study these matters we find that this future physical resurrection will take place on the Day of Judgment (see the above mentioned article for proof). Since the second of these resurrections mentioned in verses 11-15 is clearly a resurrection unto judgment, we know that that this “second” resurrection is the future physical resurrection which will take place at the second coming of Christ. See the article at the link below for more details.
We must, therefore, search scripture to find how else the term "resurrection" is used so that we might understand what this “first resurrection” is referring to. It is interesting that we find the answer in John's (the same John who wrote Revelation) gospel. Jesus taught two resurrections - the first one spiritual, and the second one physical.
John 5:24-25 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. 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.
Notice that when a person believes they pass from death unto life. Wow! That is a resurrection. What is a resurrection but the passing from death to life? A physical resurrection is the passing from physical death unto physical life, and a spiritual resurrection is the passing from spiritual death unto spiritual life. Notice that Jesus says clearly that the hour was present at his first coming that people would hear his word (voice) and be spiritually resurrected.
Now Jesus goes on in the same context as our first passage to talk about the future physical resurrection.
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.
This resurrection is not spiritual but involves that which is in the graves - bodies. So we see that Jesus taught two resurrections. The first one is a spiritual resurrection which takes place when a person is saved, and a second one is a physical resurrection which takes place at His coming. These are the same two resurrections John is speaking of in Revelation 20.
Here are some other verses which speak about this first spiritual resurrection which takes place at salvation.
John 11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
Jesus is the resurrection (being is the firstfruits of them who slept - 1 Cor. 15:20), and those who believe the gospel regarding His physical resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-4) also experience a spiritual resurrection (life from the dead spiritually).
Ephesians 2:1 And you hath he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Ephesians 2:5-6 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us [made us alive] together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
Colossians 3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
[Words in brackets added for clarification]
In all of these passages a person who is saved is said to have been raised from the dead spiritually.
Also, notice what Rev. 20 says about those who experience this first resurrection.
Revelation 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...
Those who experience this "first resurrection" are said to:
1. Be delivered from the power of the second death (Hell).
2. Become priests of God and of Christ.
When do these things happen - when we believe and are saved, or at some supposed future physical resurrection? Both of these things happen to us when we are saved? The second death is referred to as the lake of fire (Hell) in Rev. 20:14, but our deliverance from Hell came when we were saved (John 5:24).
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 [be cast into hell]; but is passed from death unto life [has been spiritually resurrected].
[words in brackets added for clarification]
Notice that our deliverance from the second death (Hell) comes when we were spiritually resurrected! That is the very thing Rev. 20:6 is saying.
Now what about this idea of becoming priests? When does a believer become a priest - when they are saved, or as some future physical resurrection? Once again interpreting this unclear passage in Rev. 20 in light of clear passages we find:
1 Peter 2:5 Ye [believers] also, as lively stones, are [present tense – Now] built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:9 But ye [believers] are [Now] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
[words in brackets added for clarification]
Is this not one of the cardinal doctrines of Christianity - "the priesthood of all believers"? We become priests when we are saved, but notice that Rev 20 says that this happens during the millennium. The millennium is taking place now! Like the rest of the book of Revelation, it is a symbol (Rev 1:1). When we interpret those symbols in light of the clear passages in the NT, then and only then, do we find their true meaning.
So we see that the Premillennial interpretation of the two resurrections mentioned in Revelation 20 is wholly inadequate, since scripture clearly teaches that there is only one physical resurrection (unto immortality). Scripture may not be interpreted is such a way that causes it to contradict itself. We must instead interpret this unclear reference to two resurrections in Revelation 20 in light of the clear passages in the rest of the New Testament. When we do this, it leads us to see that the Bible does indeed teach two resurrections - the first one being spiritual when a person is saved, and the second being physical at the second coming of Christ.