I wonder what Revelation 20:12-14 is talking about in terms of "the dead". It seems they are different groups, but share a common label.

In ch20, how does "the dead" compare between v5 and v12?

  • This question is delightfully vague - I am struggling to understand exactly what you are asking. Can you make it more explicit and precise?
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 9:59
  • If you describe that the "Bible tells us"... from a passage other than Revelation, then we can't look at that because that approaches theological systems. We need to keep focused on specific Bible passages. Different verses within the same book constitute one, whole passage. So, I edited it to clearly limit the scope to Revelation.
    – Jesse
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 13:03

3 Answers 3


The two verses you are asking a question about are:

"But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." Revelation 20:5 K.J.V.

"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." Revelation 20:12 K.J.V.

However, if the query starts with a "But..." in verse 5 (as it does), hermeneutics requires establishing who and what went before. When verse 4 is checked, it is obvious that this describes a particular effect of Christ's triumphant resurrection, involving a particular resurrection, called "the first resurrection" in verse 5. Now, understanding of this from the New Testament is (simply) that believers experience the first resurrection when 'raised' from their body of sin at conversion. They become new creatures in Christ at that point. They come to life, spiritually, where before they were spiritually dead. Their physical bodies will have to die later (for "the wages of sin is death") but their spirit returns to God who gave it, and they then await the future general resurrection where their spiritual part will be joined to a new, resurrection body.

I cannot go further at this point because some come to Revelation chapter 20 with premillennial, dispensational interpretations. That would result in a different answer to your question. I am not here to offer a particular interpretation, but simply to give an answer which, of necessity, is incomplete, because the question is 'incomplete'. I hope this will get you going in further research.

  • Thanks, Anne - the NT never describes conversion as a resurrection. It is described as a new creation in 2 Cor 5:17 but never a resurrection. However, Jesus spoke of the two resurrections in John 5:28, 29. See also Acts 24:15, Heb 11:35.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 22:16
  • @Dottard I was thinking of Paul's explanation of water baptism in Rom. 6:3-11. Going under the water is entering into Christ's death, and being raised out of the water is being raised to newness of life in him. That's a spiritual resurrection. Paul uses past tense for dying to sin, and present tense to then being alive to God through Jesus Christ. The resurrection of the mortal body still awaits though one has died to sin while living because of righteousness (Rom. 8:10-11).
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 10:58
  • OK. I Understand your thinking but it is still at odds with Biblical language - the resurrection of the righteous is a still future event according to Matthew 22:23, (28), 30; Mark 12:18, 23 Luke 20:27, 33, 36; John 5:28, 29, 11:24; Acts 17:18; Acts 23:8; 2 Timothy 2:18, because it occurs at the end of the age. That is, the resurrection is literal and not spiritual, in Biblical terminology.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 11:13
  • @ Dottard. It is both spiritual AND literal. Only those symbolically raised (before physical death gets them) are spoken of as having the first resurrection. At death they are "absent from the body and present with the Lord", to be later clothed with their resurrection body at the end of the age 2 Cor.5:1-10. I'm not denying a literal, bodily resurrection then! P.S. Originally, baptism swiftly followed profession of faith (conversion).
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 11:34
  • @Dottard - Then there's Galatians 2:20-21, "I am crucified with Christ [= dead to the law, vs. 19] nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me : and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God..." Then 6:14, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world". Crucifixion here equates with death. But life follows without a blip. New life. Spiritual life.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 13:56

They are two overlapping groups at separate times

Looking over the text helps answer this. There are various places where we see "the dead" as a literal term, but also other words used to describe what can only be "the dead". For example, "those... beheaded" (v4) and "from them" (v11).

Two resurrections and deaths

Each of these resurrections and deaths imply each other. The first is called the "first resurrection". The end of the events just after the unnamed second resurrection is called the "second death". So, we can clearly presume two deaths and two resurrections—the first resurrection only some partake in. The first death is before the first resurrection; the second death is after the second resurrection.

First resurrection

(those beheaded for testimony of Jesus)

Rev 20:4-6 (NASB emphasis added)

4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

This "rest of the dead" imply that there is a first part of this dead—a first part who returned to life to reign with Jesus for a thousand years (v4). This "rest of the dead" are others who are dead, but they stay dead for now with no resurrection yet.

Second death

(all people from all time)

We need some context, not just v12 cf v5. Though we should look at the whole chapter, vv11-12, 14-16 are sufficient for our purposes...

Rev 20:11-13 (NASB emphasis added)

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

Rev 20:14-15 (NASB)

14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

This includes all who died, whether they partook in the first resurrection or not. This is where all are judged from all time.


A key takeaway is that the lake of fire, AKA the "second death", depends on the Book of Life. That book is the matter when all dead are judged.

There doesn't seem to be a judgment at the first resurrection. And, there seems to be only partial correlation between the group that partakes in the first resurrection and the group escapes the lake of fire. The second death is not escaped only by being in the first resurrection, but by being recorded in the Book of Life. Since v6 states that those in the first resurrection are not threatened by the second death (lake of fire), we can conclude that their names are in the Book of Life. But, there may be others who do not partake in that first resurrection who are in the Book of Life—compared like rectangles and squares.

How all of that fits into various Eschatological views is another matter. Suffice it to say that we have two different groups that are not entirely separate. The main point is that only in the second event is there a judgement and that second event includes all people who ever lived.


The Greek text reads:

καὶ εἶδον τοὺς νεκρούς, τοὺς μεγάλους καὶ τοὺς μικρούς, ἑστῶτας ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου,
καὶ βιβλία ἠνοίχθησαν·
καὶ ἄλλο βιβλίον ἠνοίχθη, ὅ ἐστι τῆς ζωῆς·
καὶ ἐκρίθησαν οἱ νεκροὶ ἐκ τῶν γεγραμμένων ἐν τοῖς βιβλίοις κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν.

καὶ ἔδωκεν ἡ θάλασσα τοὺς νεκροὺς τοὺς ἐν αὐτῇ,
καὶ ὁ θάνατος καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἔδωκαν τοὺς νεκροὺς τοὺς ἐν αὐτοῖς,
καὶ ἐκρίθησαν ἕκαστος κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν.
καὶ ὁ θάνατος καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἐβλήθησαν εἰς τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρός·
οὗτος ὁ θάνατος ὁ δεύτερός ἐστιν.

which in English translation (KJV) is:

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.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.
This is the second death.

You are asking if the dead in verse 12 (as well as 13) refers back to verse 5:

καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ τῶν νεκρῶν οὐκ ἔζησαν ἕως τελεσθῇ τὰ χίλια ἔτη. αὕτη ἡ ἀνάστασις ἡ πρώτη.

But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.

According to Andrew of Crete, who wrote the first complete commentary on the Apocalypse, it could mean either (or both) those who are physically as well as spiritually dead:*

He says dead, (meaning) either ail people as enduring the death of the body, or those which became dead by means of transgressions, great and small, either those being such by age or those who did more or fewer deeds of deadness and accordingly will be punished for the deeds, or great being the righteous and small being the worthless sinners, inferior by means of the soul.

Here he is alluding to Paul's writings:

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins ... Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved) (Ephesians 2:1,5)

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses (Colossians 2:13).

In this context Gregory the Great believed that the book of life is actually our conscience:

For the Book of Life is the very sight of the approaching Judge. In this are written as it were, ail His commands, for whoever beholds it, soon understands by the testimony of conscience what he had omitted to do. The books are also said to be opened, because the conduct of just men, in whom the commands of heaven are seen impressed in act, is then made manifest. And the dead were judged out of those things which are written in the Books; because in the conduct of the righteous, which is set forth, they read as in an open book the good which they refused to do themselves, and are condemned on comparison with those who did it (Morals 24.8(16))

* E. S. Constantinou, "Andrew of Caesarea and the Apocalypse in the Ancient Church of the East: Studies and Translation" (2008)

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