(Rev 20:5 ESV) The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.
This is a highly controverted passage. The text implies that the faithful were resurrected early, perhaps at the beginning of the Millennium, whereas “the rest of the dead,” surely meaning the damned, aren’t resurrected until the end of the Millennium. But it’s really hard to fit a resurrection of the saved 1,000 years before the resurrection of the damned into the rest of the Bible, which plainly teaches to the contrary.
The solution is found in thinking less literally, but not all that much less literally.
(Rom 6:3-4 ESV) 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
(Eph 2:4-5 ESV) 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–
(1Pe 3:21-22 ESV) 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
The first resurrection is, of course, the resurrection of Jesus —
(1Co 15:19-20 ESV) 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Notice how Paul refers to our baptism as a participation in Jesus’ resurrection. We are, again, in an in-between time, between participating in Christ’s resurrection and before enjoying our own resurrection. But if Paul can describe us in Eph 2:7 as already in heaven — and hence already resurrected in some sense, there’s a sense in which our participation in the resurrection of Christ means we’ve already enjoyed the first resurrection.
The damned, however, will also be resurrected, but their resurrection will only be at the end of this age. And that fits v. 5 very nicely.
Obviously, the fact that we’ve already been resurrected in Jesus does not mean we won’t be physically resurrected at the Second Coming. Rather, for the saved, the first resurrection anticipates and promises the second resurrection.
(Rev 20:6 ESV) 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
The “second death” is the death of the resurrected damned. It’s damnation. And that pretty plainly shows that the “first resurrection” is salvation in Jesus, which is further confirmed by calling the saved “priests of God and Christ.”
(Exo 19:5-6 ESV) 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
(Isa 61:5-6 ESV) 5 Strangers shall stand and tend your flocks; foreigners shall be your plowmen and vinedressers; 6 but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast.
(Rev 1:4-6 ESV) 4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
These ideas blend together in –
(1Pe 2:9 ESV) 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
We are not only priests, but royal priests — and “royal” means we’re both priests and kings. Now under the Law of Moses, this was quite impossible, as only Levites could be priests, and only a descendant of David, of the tribe of Judah, could be a king. But as Hebrews teaches us, Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, that is, a priest of the God Most High not from Levi.
And so, you see, we’re also kings and priests, although we’re from the wrong tribe. Most of us aren’t even Jews. Rather, we find our priesthood and kingship in Jesus — present tense!
(Rev 20:7-10 ESV) 7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
In the Old Testament, Gog and Magog are referenced in genealogies, but we know next to nothing about them. However, in intertestamental Judaism, Gog and Magog —
were thought of as two leaders. In apocalyptic writings writings, for example, they often symbolize the forces of evil.
Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries.
As noted earlier, the battle against Gog and Magog describes the same battle as described in chapter 19 —
(Rev 19:19-21 ESV) 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.
The battle of chapter 19, like the battle of chapter 20, ends with God’s spiritual enemies in the lake of fire and their earthly soldiers dead.
Now, there’s no reason to suppose that Gog and Magog are two humans. After all, God’s enemies in chapter 19 were the “beast” and the “false prophet.” Meanwhile, the battle of Arrmeggedon in chapter 16, God’s enemies are the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and Babylon.
I’m sure someone has thought this through very carefully and in much greater detail, but the point seems to be that anyone at all who stands against God will be defeated, from Satan, to Rome, to idolaters, to anyone who has not shared in the first resurrection. And this will be true even if God utterly unchains Satan, because if God could chain him once, he can defeat him again. Satan will lose.
I make no pretense at having solved all the mysteries of the Revelation. I haven’t. But I remain firmly convinced that —
1. Premillennialism is mistaken. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. It isn’t like Rome and won’t be like Rome. Rome is the enemy in Revelation, and there’s no sense that God intends to defeat Rome with Roman weapons. When victories are won in Revelation, God wins them by his own power.
2. There is nothing in the Revelation that contradicts conditional immortality. Indeed, the passages clearly say that the damned will be killed. References to perpetual torture are all references to spiritual beings.
3. The 1,000-year reign is the time between the first resurrection (Jesus’ resurrection in which the saved participate) and the second (at the Second Coming). It’s going on right now. And we are kings and priests right now.
As N. T. Wright points out in After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, in a very different context, we are kings in Jesus who are like Jesus, that is, servant kings. We aren’t like worldly kings who demand to be served and who oppress. Rather, like Jesus, we are kings who will die for others.
(Zec 9:9 ESV) 9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The kingship of the Kingdom is a kingship of humility. And there’s no reason we can’t reign in service to others today.