In Revelation 20:4, John is given a vision of “…the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God…” risen to reign with Christ for a thousand years.

The raising to life of the souls of the martyred saints is further referred to in verse 5 as “…the first resurrection.” However, verse 5 also states that “…the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished,” clearly alluding to a ‘second resurrection’.

Is there anything in the text of Revelation 20 to suggest that these two resurrections may differ in substance (e.g. the latter referring to a bodily resurrection, but the former resurrection intended to be understood differently)?

Secondly, if the ‘second resurrection’ is to be understood as the only bodily resurrection of the two (referred to in verse 5), are we meant to understand the ‘second’ as a general resurrection to bodily life of believers and unbelievers alike (i.e. not of unbelievers only)?

  • Re "unbelievers" v. "believers': keep in mind that according to Revelation (and elsewhere in Scripture), people will not be judged according to whether they "believe" or do not "believe", but will be judged rather according to their works. See Rev 20:12, 22:12. – user33515 Feb 26 '18 at 5:30

Revelation 20:4–5 (NET, emphasis mine) — Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. 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 finished.) This is the first resurrection.

In the first resurrection, martyrs are given life to reign with Jesus over the remainder of mankind (who were not destroyed in the events of Jesus' return) for 1,000 years. The rest of the dead are not raised yet, no matter if they were believers or not. All the rest of the dead await what some call the White Throne Judgement, which is the judgement of the dead.

Revelation 20:11–12 (NET) — Then I saw a large white throne ... And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne ... So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds.

On verse 5's particular usage of the word, Louw-Nida defines ἀνάστασις (23.93), "to come back to life after having once died."

It is important to note that a resurrection deals with your physical body, and is not a description of what happens after death. If you die and "go to heaven," this would not be called a resurrection. A true resurrection is a physical event, not a purely spiritual one.

The passage in question does not really tell us what happens immediately after death.

This answer is intended to be in contrast to the historicist view of Revelation, which understands Revelation 20 to be a narrative overview of the entire "church age", not chronologically connected to chapter 19.

  • Hi Neil, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange, thanks for contributing! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. – Steve Taylor May 23 '16 at 8:36
  • (+1) This is one of the best first answers I've seen in the past few weeks - thanks very much for adding this Answer. It could be improved by making it clear which eschatological position this is framed against, but then again so could the OP's question! – Steve Taylor May 23 '16 at 8:54
  • 1
    @SteveTaylor Thank you. Attempted the suggested improvements. – neil.consider May 26 '16 at 17:33
  • "A true resurrection is a physical event, not a purely spiritual one." - Right on. The resurrection, or literally, the standing again, refers to the standing again or rising up of what has fallen, i.e. the body, never the spirit or soul. I have to ask, neil.consider: Did you upvote the OP's question? I assume you thought it was good enough to answer. If not, perhaps you can offer some recommendations on how the OP can revise their question so it may be worthy of an upvote. – user862 May 26 '16 at 20:09

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