OceanSide church of Christ

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Victor M. Eskew


     Revelation 20 is one of the most challenging chapters of the Bible.  It is challenging because this chapter has been used to promulgate the false doctrine of Premillennialism.  It is also challenging because it is highly figurative, and the figures are not clearly defined by inspiration.

     The chapter begins with the words:  “And I saw…”  The apostle John is seeing a vision revealed to him by God.  In John 20:1-3, he sees the Devil cast into a bottomless pit for a thousand year period.  In verse 4, John’s attention is turned to “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God.”  These martyrs had been raised to sit upon thrones, “and judgment was given unto them…and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”  In John 20:5, John refers to this as “the first resurrection.”  The question that this article seeks to answer is:  “What is this first resurrection?”

     As we answer this question, let us keep two points in mind that are made at the outset of the book of Revelation.  First, this is a book written in figurative language.  In Revelation 1:1, we are told that Jesus “sent and signified” the message “by his angel unto his servant John” (emp. mine, vme).  Second, many of the things described in this book were to “shortly come to pass” (Rev. 1:1; 22:6).  This point has been lost by many who interpret this book.  They would have us to believe that almost all the events of Revelation are still future.  With these things said, let’s seek to understand the first resurrection.

     It is important to realize that this resurrection has to do with those who were “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God.”  It was this group that was raised to sit upon thrones.  They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  They were involved in the first resurrection.  This is not a resurrection of all the righteous dead as the theory of Premillennialism asserts.

     The first time we are introduced to these martyrs is in Revelation 6.  The seals of the book were being opened by the Lamb of God.  “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:  and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9-10).  Roman opposition against the church was growing stronger.  Many Christians were losing their lives to the Roman sword.  For a period of time, it looked as though the cause was faltering.  It seemed that Rome would destroy the church of the Lord.  Even the saints are pictured as wondering when God would avenge their blood.  While under the altar, they were fearful, confused, and weary.

     In Revelation 20, things are different.  The martyrs are raised (resurrected) to sit upon thrones.  Judgment is given unto them.  It is no longer in the hands of their oppressors.  They are living the reigning with Christ.  The cause of Christ is no longer dying.  It is alive and growing by leaps and bounds.  Figuratively, the cause was raised from the dead.

     The Revelation presents two different pictures of the martyred saints.  In one picture, they are crouched under the altar wondering, “How long?”  In next picture, they are raised to sit on thrones and reign with Jesus Christ.  Even though the cause of Christ seemed to be dead at one point, it would live again.  It would be resurrected to vibrant life.  This is the first resurrection.  What a message to Christians who were suffering, even to the point of death, under the intense persecution of the Roman Empire.