The resurrection of the dead is an essential Christian doctrine. But if our souls are already in heaven, what is the purpose of the resurrection? Can there be a resurrection without an earthly kingdom?
This is the third article in a series of articles on Amillennialism, a doctrine believed by nearly 50% of Christians and their denominations. In our first article we discussed the foundational theory that the Bible teaches that Christ will return 6000 years after creation and will then reign on the earth for 1000 years. If you haven’t read that article, please read about it HERE. Our second article was about whether the Kingdom will be a literal 1000 years, or was that number figurative? Please read about that article HERE.
In that second article we examined Rev. 20 where several of the references to the 1000 years are found. We examined five separate proofs that the 1000 year Kingdom follows the return of Jesus, is a literal 1000 years and takes place on the earth. In this article we will look at one of those proofs in great detail: the two resurrections mentioned in Revelation 20.
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. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 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. (Rev. 4:4-6)
In looking at Rev. 20:4-6 above, Premillennialists consider these two resurrections depicted in these verses to be literal and physical, both occurring after the return of Jesus; separated by 1000 years.
Amillennialists have taken two different positions on these resurrections:
- Some consider the first resurrection to represent the spiritual birth and regeneration that takes place during the lives of new believers during this present age when believers “come to life” by placing their faith in Jesus. These Amillennialists then believe the second resurrection is a physical resurrection upon the return of Jesus. So they argue these are different types of resurrections; one is spiritual and one is physical.
- A second group of Amillenialists argue the First Resurrection takes place when a believer is ushered into the presence of Jesus in heaven; that it is a resurrection to a new type of life in heaven.
Premillennial Arguments to Spiritual Birth Resurrections
Because Amillennialists have taken two different positions on what the First Resurrection in Rev. 20 truly is, we will need to present arguments for both. We will look at the predominant position first; that the First Resurrection is the spiritual birth that happens in every believer’s life when they place their faith in Jesus. This was the position of Augustine in Book 20 of his work, “City of God.”
The first arguments are same as we made in the last article (HERE). The plain reading of scripture is that the events of Rev. 20 directly follow the events of Rev. 19 and are sequential. It is then impossible for either of the resurrections to refer to events prior to the return of Jesus. The fact that there is a man-made chapter break between chapters 19-20 of Revelation has caused this misinterpretation as Amillennialists have not considered the full context of Rev. 20:4-6.
The second argument is regarding the term “resurrection” (Gk: ANASTASIS) itself. This word means a falling only to rise again. Obviously we are born into a sin nature. We never spiritually die to rise again spiritually. Rather we are born spiritually dead and come alive. Thus the word “resurrection” could never mean spiritual birth. In the New Testament there are 40 other occurrences of this Greek word outside of these two in Rev. 20:4-6. In every single instance this word refers to a physical (not spiritual) resurrection. So what Amillennialists wish us to believe is that this one use that they claim is a spiritual coming to life (not physical) is different than all the others. This “unique use” of the word requires a heavy burden of proof on Amillennialists. We are to assume a physical resurrection unless proved otherwise.
Third, if we examine the wording of Rev. 20:4, it mentions seeing the souls of the beheaded who eventually come back to life. Again, this is obviously a physical resurrection as those coming to life are already dead! Then again in verse 5, the Second Resurrection refers to the “rest of the dead”, implying those raised to life in the First Resurrection were also dead. If there was any doubt the Second Resurrection was a physical one, later in Rev. 20 we see “the sea gave up her dead” and “the grave gave up her dead” for this resurrection as well.
Fourth, the passage uses the term “come to life” in regard to both resurrections (First and Second). This implies, of course, that the “coming to life” in both resurrections is the same type of “coming to life.” Both resurrections will be physical not spiritual. Nothing could be more clear.
Finally, those in the First Resurrection reign with Christ for a 1000 years. The Greek wording is an “accusative of time”; that is, that all those resurrected in the First Resurrection begin their reign together at the same time. This is an insurmountable problem because the Amillennial view is that believers come to faith in Jesus over a 2000 year period of time.
For all these reasons, clearly both resurrections are physical and both occur after the return of Jesus. Augustine’s “spiritual birth” concept simply isn’t biblical.
The Amillennialists object. Their main objection is that elsewhere in the Bible (Dan 12:2; John 5:28–29; Acts 24:15) only one physical resurrection is mentioned and it is for both the righteous and unrighteous. Amillennialist Kenneth Gentry explains:
Why should we believe that the New Testament everywhere teaches a general, singular resurrection on the last day, only to discover later in the most difficult book of the Bible that there are actually two specific, distantly separated resurrections for different classes of people? – Kenneth Gentry
My first response to this statement is that ignoring the testimony of Revelation because it doesn’t match your theory is grave error indeed! God gave us the entire bible so his full revelation to man could be known. Revelation is difficult to understand only if you are viewing it through a theological lens that is clouded. The closer we get to biblical truth, the more clear and understandable Revelation is.
Let’s look at each of the other references to resurrections outside of Rev. 20 which Amillenialists claim are the Second Resurrection (only):
At that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Dan. 12:1-2)
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)
Having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (Acts 24:15)
The first thing we notice in all three examples is that none preclude two resurrections. As most students of the Bible know, earlier prophecies may present two separate events as appearing to not have anytime between them. Many Old Testament prophecies mix events from the first and second comings for instance. John 5 actually does mention two resurrections, but gives no specifics as to the division of time between them.
Second, each mentions the resurrections in the same order, righteous first, wicked second. This is the same order as Revelation 20. There is nothing in these earlier passages that negate two bodily resurrections.
Finally, and most importantly, progressive revelation is a method of interpretation that explains that later prophecies frequently provide more information to the student of prophecy. This is the purpose of Revelation, to tie together and explain all other prophecies in the Bible. So the Revelation prophecy is a more “complete” prophecy with more details than the others.
Ushered Into Christ’s Presence Resurrections
Amillennialism is a tradition; a tradition ascribed to primarily by certain denominations. As these older Amillennial theories about the First Resurrection were shown to be false, those wishing for their denominations to not be shown to be “wrong,” scrambled to find new proofs for their positions.
One of these is the idea that the first resurrection isn’t a bodily resurrection or the spiritual regeneration to spiritual life that happens upon conversion, but rather that it is the ushering of a believer into the presence of Jesus upon death. Essentially, these believers claim this resurrection is a transfer of the soul from earth to heaven.
The first problem with this interpretation is that “resurrection” never means being ushered into the presence of Jesus elsewhere in the Bible. In every instance it means a return to life in bodily form. Resurrection doesn’t mean “life after death,” but rather “bodily life from death.” Eternal life begins upon regeneration, not upon death. All that dies when a believer passes away is the body of the believer.
So the question one must ask is what is resurrected? The soul is eternally alive from the moment of regeneration on. As we mentioned earlier, a unique use of a word requires a burden of proof that Amillennialists haven’t provided.
A second problem with this view is the same as what we mentioned above in the first Amillennial view of the resurrections, that the phrase “come to life” is mentioned in regard to both First and Second Resurrections and therefore must mean they are the same type of resurrection, not two different meanings.
And just as we mentioned above as well, the Greek wording about the reign of the resurrected being a 1000 years is an accusative of time; that is, that all those resurrected in the First Resurrection begin their reign together at the same time. Believers are ushered into Christ’s presence when they die, which is constant process throughout the church age.
Souls Beneath the Altar
Additionally, those who “came to life” are souls to whom a change occurs. “Souls” is the same word found in Rev. 6:9-11, and I argue those in Rev. 20 are the self-same martyrs and witnesses. Let’s look at both verses:
When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer. (Rev. 6:9-11)
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. (Rev. 20:4)
Notice the nearly identical quotes of who these souls are. Use of quotes is how John identifies things that are the same. For instance there are 500 OT quotes in Revelation’s 400+ verses. This use of quotes and references is how John categorizes and explains the Old Testament prophecies. It is also how he references people and events he mentioned earlier in Revelation. It is the beauty of scripture interpreting scripture.
|Rev. 6:9-11||Rev. 20:4|
|I saw||I saw|
|who had been slain||who had been beheaded|
|because of the word of God||because of the word of God|
|because of the testimony which they had maintained||because of their testimony of Jesus|
Once we realize these two groups are the exact same souls, we can see they are already in heaven and under the altar in Revelation 20:4 before the resurrection takes place! In Rev. 6:9-11, they are told to wait for God’s avenging and to wait to put on their robes. The eventual putting on of the robes is the change. This change happens at the Resurrection. In Revelation 7:9, we see this same group included with those in the Vast Multitude before God’s throne. They are now wearing the white garments, waving palm branches in their hands. They are now in resurrection bodies! These are things (stand, wave, wear garments) that bodies do not souls. They are also in wild celebration (rather than crying out, they are shouting out!). Also notice John knows who they are in Rev. 6, but has to ask who the Vast Multitude are. These are all indicative of a massive change. That change is the resurrection and the gaining of a resurrection body.
So Rev. 6:9-11 and Rev. 20:4 are sequential parts of the story. Rev. 6:9-11 comes first and Rev. 20:4 comes second, and Rev. 7:9-17 comes last.
Can There Be a Resurrection Without an Earthly Kingdom?
Now we have done an exhaustive research into the resurrection that occurs after the sixth seal of Revelation (but mentioned in Rev. 20:4-6), we know it is a bodily resurrection. Souls of the dead are given new resurrection bodies. Bodies have only one purpose-to live upon the earth. This is completely consistent with Rev. 5:
“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Rev. 5:11
This is not a resurrection to live in heaven forever, but to live and reign with Jesus upon the earth!