Previously: The saints reign – Revelation 20:4
Rev. 20:4b – They came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (HCSB)
The first resurrection
John writes, “They [the martyred saints] came to life and reigned with the Messiah for 1,000 years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the 1,000 years were completed. This is the first resurrection” (vv. 4b-5). What does John mean by the “first resurrection?” Certainly, if there is a first resurrection, a second resurrection is implied.
Some interpreters take the first resurrection to be spiritual only, as in being “born again” (John 3:3). This allows for a second, physical resurrection of all people, resulting in final judgment. Others suggest that the first resurrection is influential in nature. In other words, the faithfulness of the martyrs encourages believers who come after them to be faithful. But these views stretch the way in which the term “resurrection” is used consistently throughout scripture.
It seems better to see both the first and second resurrections as bodily in nature. John Gill writes, “It does not mean that they lived spiritually, for so they did before, and whilst they bore their testimony to Christ and against Antichrist previous to their death; nor in their successors, for it would not be just and reasonable that they should be beheaded for their witness of Christ and his word, and others should live and reign with Christ in their room and stead. Nor is this to be understood of their living in their souls, for so they live in their separate state; the soul never dies; God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. But the sense is, that they lived again, as in verse 5; they live corporeally; their souls lived in their bodies, their bodies being raised again, and reunited to their souls; their whole persons lived, or the souls of them that were beheaded lived; that is, their bodies lived again, the soul being sometimes put for their body; and this is called the first resurrection in the next verse” (quoted in The Apocalypse, p. 460).
Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times. The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.
Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.
Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.
Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.
There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.
With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.
Today at sundown, Jews around the world will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This celebration is more than a secular event, however. It is rooted deeply in Jewish life and worship. One of the seven major Jewish feasts, Rosh Hashanah also is called the Feast of Trumpets, and the ram’s horn, or shofar, plays a prominent role.
Many Jewish Christians, and their Gentile brothers and sisters, see the significance of this feast as pointing to the rapture of the church — the physical removal of Christians from this world to meet the Messiah in the air. Just as the four spring feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Pentecost) signified the work of the Messiah in His first coming and priestly ministry, the three autumn feasts (Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles) depict the Messiah’s second coming and kingly reign.
The sounding of the shofar and the resurrection of the dead are connected in the New Testament. Consider these passages:
- 1 Cor. 15:51-52 – “Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will 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 incorruptible, and we will be changed.”
- 1 Thess. 4:16-17 – “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.”
In Old Testament times, the reasons for trumpet blasts were well established. It appears their purposes continue in events to come, if indeed Rosh Hashanah foreshadows our resurrection. The reasons for sounding the shofar are:
- To gather an assembly before the Lord (the rapture of the church).
- To sound a battle alarm (God will defeat Satan and his rebellious followers).
- To announce the coronation of a new king (Jesus the Messiah will sit on the throne of David as King of kings and Lord of lords).
Download a free study: Jesus in the Feasts of Israel.
In Revelation 4:1, the apostle John writes, “After this I looked, and there in heaven was an open door. The first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.'”
So, whose voice is like a trumpet?
John hears this voice and recognizes it instantly. It is “[t]he first voice that I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet” (v. 1). This is, of course, the voice of Jesus, who spoke to John many times during His earthly ministry. But now, with the sonic fullness of heaven’s atmosphere, John hears the Messiah’s magnified tones and remembers the sound from Rev. 1:10 as Jesus instructs him to write what he sees to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Some time later the Savior tells John, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this” (v. 1).
Those who hold to a futurist view of Revelation argue that John’s call into heaven is a foreshadowing of the Rapture, which Paul describes as being accompanied by “a shout” from the Lord and “the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16).
There is some connection between the shouts of Jesus and the opening of the graves;
- In John 11, Jesus stands outside the tomb of Lazarus and shouts loudly, “Lazarus, come out!” His friend soon emerges from the grave after being dead nearly four days.
- In Matt. 27:50, just before dying, Jesus shouts with a loud voice and then gives up His spirit. The very next verses record, “Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened and many bodies of the saints who had gone to their rest were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many” (vv. 51-53).
- And, of course, Paul’s teaching about the future resurrection of the saints in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 features Jesus descending from heaven with a shout, resulting in the resurrection of believers whose bodies rest in the graves.
The sound of the trumpet also is significant. Not only are trumpets used to herald kings, alert armies to prepare for battle, and forewarn God’s people of judgment, but Paul tells us a trumpet will sound when it’s time for the church to be called into heaven: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52b). Some argue that Rosh Hashanah, the feast of the Jewish New Year, prefigures the Rapture of the church – a feast in which shofars, or rams’ horns, play a prominent role.
Whether John’s vision in Revelation 4 is indeed a preview of the Rapture, as futurists contend, or simply a unique invitation from Jesus for the apostle to see inside heaven’s throne room, it is clear that that future resurrection awaits all people, and that Jesus is the one who calls the dead from their graves and into judgment. He said in John 5:28-29: “… a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear His (Jesus’) voice and come out — those who have done good things to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked things, to the resurrection of judgment.”
One final note: Lest you think Jesus’ words support the false notion of works-based salvation, Jesus is clear on the requirements for eternal life just a few verses earlier: “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). The “good things” and “wicked things” of verse 29 are merely the fruits of a person’s belief, or lack thereof, in Christ.
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapters 24-27 of Isaiah form a single prophecy. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the time in which it is given, it seems best to place it a short time before the attack by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, on Jerusalem in 701 B.C.
Isa. 26:13 – Lord, our God, other lords than You have ruled over us, but we remember Your name alone.
In the context of chapters 24-27, Isaiah uses an analogy of the future destruction of all God’s enemies (chaps. 24-25) to urge the people of Judah to trust Him now (chaps. 26-27). Although God is using the Assyrians as the rod of His judgment against Judah, those who place their faith in the Lord and endure the childbirth-like pains of His correction (vv. 17-18) will rejoice in His salvation: “Yes, Lord, we wait for You in the path of Your judgments. Our desire is for Your name and renown” (v. 8).
Some would argue there’s a contradiction in chapter 26. In verse 14 Isaiah declares that “the dead do not live, departed spirits do not rise up.” Then, in verse 19, he states that “your dead will live; their bodies will rise.” How can both be true? The Apologetics Study Bible explains: “This apparent conflict vanishes when the statements are placed in context. He [Isaiah] referred to past oppressors of Israel, the ‘wicked’ who act ‘unjustly’ (v. 10), the ‘other lords’ who had ruled over God’s people and whom God had already ‘visited and destroyed’ (vv. 13-14). These oppressors could no longer attack God’s people. The situation changed with verse 19; in the future God’s people who die will live … a person can have life after death. The fact that Elijah and Elisha brought to life two boys who had died (1 Kg 17:17-24; 2 Kg 4:18-37), and that a dead man came back to life when his body touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kg 13:20-21), indicates that individual resurrection from the dead was known and experienced long before the time of Isaiah” (pp 1024-25).
The Song of Judah (Isa. 26:1-6)
Although Jerusalem will be surrounded in Isaiah’s day, and vanquished a century later by the Babylonians, the day is coming when Israel’s remnant will sing of their glorious reversal of fortune as they enter the impregnable New Jerusalem. The humble will be exalted and the oppressors crushed. Because of Messiah’s presence there, the city figuratively is said to have salvation as its walls and ramparts (v. 1). While other nations will have places in the kingdom, believers in Israel will hold special positions.
The Lord promises perfect (genuine, complete) peace to those who trust Him – now, as well as in the Millennium (v. 3). The apostle Paul reminds us of this great truth in Phil. 4:7: “And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck write, “This availability of inner tranquility encourages believers to continue trusting the Lord (Isa. 26:4) because He is firm like a Rock … and He is eternal” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1074). For other Scriptures that describe the Lord as a Rock, see Ps. 73:26 (“strength” literally means rock); Isa. 17:10, 30:29, and 44:8.
“The Hebrew word for ‘peace’ (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. ‘What is your peace?’ is the way Jews often greet one another; and Isaiah’s reply would be, ‘My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in Him!’ Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6-9 is based on Isaiah 26:3″ (Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, S. Is 26:1).
In contrast with the righteous who enter the city are the arrogant who “live in lofty places” (v. 5); the Lord will bring them down. Those who used their wealth and privilege to oppress the poor will be on the business end of God’s rod of justice. This does not mean that poverty itself is a virtue. Isaiah simply repeats an oft-repeated message that God has special concern for the poor who seek Him (Isa. 25:4; Matt. 11:5; Luke 4:18).
The Long Night of Waiting (Isa. 26:7-18)
Isaiah describes a level and straight path for the righteous, cleared by God Himself. “In the Yukon of old, one man was often sent ahead to ‘break trail’ for others or a dog sled. This passage reminds us that a righteous God has already broken trail for those who follow Him because they are committed to righteousness too” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 424). As a result, God’s redeemed “wait” for Him, “desire” His name and renown, “long” for Him in the night, and diligently “seek” Him in order to “learn righteousness” (vv. 8-9). What a dramatic change occurs in the hearts of men and women when they learn to trust God above all else.
The struggles of Judah returning to God are like the pains of childbirth. Isaiah writes that the nation is writhing in anguish beneath the punishing hand of God. Like a pregnant woman giving birth to wind, Judah experiences emptiness and defeat through its sinful acts. The Hebrew verb in verse 13 translated “ruled over” gives us the noun baal, the Canaanite storm god whose worship caused so much trouble in Israel. But the word also means “husband,” so the message is that God’s people were not faithful to Him, preferring to pursue their lust for idols. The same image is given in James 4:4: “Adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.” Even so, the Lord graciously carries His people through and keeps His covenant. For other comparisons of spiritual struggle to childbirth, see Isa. 13:8, 42:14; John 16:21; Gal. 4:19.
Isaiah’s comment about the dead tyrants who have troubled Judah (v. 14) do not contradict the doctrine of universal resurrection supplied in verse 19 and elsewhere in Scripture (see, for example, Job 19:25-27; Ps. 17:15; Dan. 12:1-3; John 5:28-29, 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 20:11-15). The prophet simply is emphasizing that the rulers who wrought so much terror and destruction on God’s people can no longer do them harm. Lawrence O. Richards comments in The Bible Readers Companion: “Storms of judgment may sweep over our earth. Wars may devastate, and disease may ravage. Famines may decimate the land, while starvation stalks our families. There are indeed dread fates that are to be feared. But these are not history’s last words! At the end of history – both the history of nations and the personal history of each individual – the shout of God’s promise echoes. ‘Your dead will live; their bodies will rise!’ What a truth to hold fast in troubled times” (S. 424).
Resurrection and Judgment (Isa. 26:19-21)
This is a most revealing Old Testament passage on future resurrection and judgment. While these verses focus on the resurrection of the just – the “first resurrection” of which John wrote in Rev. 20:5-6 – Daniel adds that the unjust also will be raised and that all people will experience eternal life or eternal shame (Dan. 12:2). What a comfort these words are to those experiencing warfare, captivity, injustice, and even death. The promise that God will raise all people one day and pronounce final judgment with absolute justice should spur fear in the hearts of the wicked as it does hope in the hearts of the righteous.
Although views differ on the order of events, the New Testament clearly teaches future resurrection and final judgment for all people:
- Jesus often speaks of His return and final judgment. For example, in John 5:28-29 He says all people will be raised from the dead and experience either everlasting life or condemnation.
- The apostle Paul writes in detail about the rapture (“catching up” / “snatching away”) of the church in 1 Cor. 15:50-58 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18, as well as judgment and reward for all believers (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10).
- The apostle John refers several times to resurrection and final judgment in the book of Revelation. He alludes to the rapture by not mentioning the church from Rev. 4-18, chapters depicting the tribulation. He also speaks of the “first resurrection,” or resurrection of the just, in Rev. 20:5-6. And he writes in some detail about the raising of the wicked to stand before the great white throne, from which they are cast into hell (Rev. 20:11-15).
Verse 20 urges God’s people to “hide for a little while until the wrath has passed.” “When God is about to take vengeance on the ungodly, the saints shall be shut in by Him in a place of safety, as Noah and his family were in the days of the flood (Ge 7:16), and as Israel was commanded not to go out of doors on the night of the slaying of the Egyptian first-born (Ex 12:22, 23; Ps 31:20; 83:3). The saints are calmly and confidently to await the issue (Ex 14:13, 14)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 26:20).
Finally, verse 21 gives Judah the assurance that God will deal with her oppressors – Assyria in the near term and Babylon in the long term. Even more, this verse previews the glorious appearing of the Messiah one day to execute judgment upon the earth’s wicked (see Rev. 19:11-21).
Commenting on the phrase in verse 21, “The earth will reveal the blood shed on it and will no longer conceal her slain,” Matthew Henry writes: “Secret murders, and other secret wickednesses, shall be discovered, sooner or later. And the slain which the earth has long covered she shall no longer cover, but they shall be produced as evidence against the murderers. The voice of Abel’s blood cries from the earth, Gen. 9:10, 11; Job 20:27. Those sins which seemed to be buried in oblivion will be called to mind, and called over again, when the day of reckoning comes. Let God’s people therefore wait awhile with patience, for behold the Judge stands before the door” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 26:20).
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips