We have seen in our previous lesson that Satan was bound for a thousand years to prevent him from assembling a global army to destroy the church. He might attack the church in many senses, but he would not be able to organize sufficient strength to overcome the church. How will he attempt to overcome the church? He will deceive the world, masquerading as the Messiah to lead those astray who refuse to believe the truth.  Essentially, Satan attempts to blind the people to the gospel, or keep them in darkness about the redeeming quality of Christ’s sacrifice.  If Satan is bound, he cannot personally approach us or accuse us at the throne of God as he was used to doing. So, he has acquired many henchmen to do his work in the world.  These henchmen are unbelievers; hypocrites within the church, even preaching and driving out demons; judges and kings.

They teach that the lie is not a lie and those who attempt to prove them wrong are mean-spirited and the enemy of the people.  They soothe people’s minds with language they want to hear and which makes them feel good about themselves.  They become teachers that are to all men what they want them to be, gladly complying with what their itching ears want to hear, as long as they turn their ears away from the gospel. They teach that there is no such thing as good and evil, that man is in principle good and that he can excel to moral excellence if only they would trust in them.

The Holy Spirit protects the church, illuminating and stirring up the hearts of Christians and calling them to persevere in the gospel refusing to be misled by these purveyors of deceit.  They judge themselves and other family members of the household of faith according to the pure Word of God. They reign with Christ over sin and the world as kings; they spread the good news about Christ’s kingdom as prophets; and they show compassion towards all, especially to the household of faith, interceding for their brothers and sisters with prayers and supplication as priests.

II Timothy 4:1-5 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge. 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction, 3for the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

What does Satan’s binding mean? Since he is a spirit, the language of the binding, “casting him into the Abyss and sealing it over him” must be seen symbolically.  We should bring this binding into context with the protection that God provides the church as we see in,

John 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

What does it mean when God protects us from the evil one? Exactly how God protects us from Satan is irrelevant at this point.  The fact of the matter is that God’s protection of the elect manifests itself in Satan’s binding.  The evil-free zone that we enjoy under God’s protection does not mean that there is a completely sterile area in which we may live and outside of it evil rules; it rather means that we have the ability to choose between good and evil in this life. We have the ability to grieve the Holy Spirit by our sins, as we are dragged away by our evil desires, either by accident or by choice. We also have the ability to flee from evil and resist sin to the point of shedding our blood.

Hebrews 12:4  In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

It is for a good reason that we are called to live holy lives, holy meaning to remain separate or to be set apart.  If we are, then, in the world, in the midst of the enemy, but protected by God so that Satan can afflict us but not deceive us, Jesus’ high priestly prayer that God should not take us out of the world but protect us from the evil one (Satan), reveals to us many things about John’s revelatory visions.  There are the two witnesses who were set apart to preach the gospel; the woman who fled into the desert out of reach of the beast and the earth that swallowed up the river of deceit; and the binding of Satan for a thousand years.  We will deal with these three visions again a bit later.

See the tone of ‘holy,’ ‘called’ and ‘setting apart’ that reign in the following passages:

Hebrews 2:11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

Hebrews 3:1  Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

Hebrews 10:10, 14 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all, 14because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Hebrews 13:12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

I Peter 1:16 For it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

I Peter 2:5 You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

John 10:36 What about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'?

Romans 1:1  Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-

Galatians 1:15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace…

Hebrews 7:26  Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

I Corinthians 1:9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

II Thessalonians 2:13,14  But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

II Timothy 1:9 Who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time

These passages explain the character of the thousand years that the world finds itself in, which is clearly this time in which we now live.

Let us look at the three visions that concern the church between Christ’s resurrection and his Second Coming.


The First Resurrection.

Let’s read the three passages again that deal with the First Resurrection.

Revelation 20:4-6  I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

Those that John saw sitting on the thrones, who had been given authority to judge, are not only those martyrs who were beheaded, but they include those who persevered in the gospel.  We know this from the language that follows the words, “those who had been beheaded…” which is, “They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands.”  This includes those who were not martyred, but who persevered in the gospel as all believers do. It means, therefore, that the entire body of the invisible church will be seated on thrones, come to life and reign with Christ during the thousand years.  Each one in turn, Christ first as the first fruits, then those who believe.

Twice in the passages quoted above, do we see a reference to the duration of the saint’s reign with Christ, which is the thousand years.  The first, at the end of verse four, is joined with their coming to life and that they reign with Christ. The second, at the end of verse six, is joined with their priestly office and that they reign with Christ. 

Between these two statements, dealing with the elect during the thousand years, there are four revelations about the elect. These passages are bundled together as follows:

They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years

a)     The rest (those outside the church) of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended;

b)     This is the first resurrection;

c)      Blessed and holy are those who have part in the First Resurrection; and

d)     The second death has no power over them.

They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

Points a) and c) deal with the people involved, while b) and d) deal with factual statements. Since Christians are within the world but separate and holy, while suffering the deceit and misinformation of Satan’s henchmen, it stands to reason that there is no gray area between the holy and the unholy, but a sharp and distinct boundary exists between them. If one is not part of the church one is de facto part of the forces of evil.  An analogy may be drawn between oil and water. Oil will always be separate from water and if oil should become soluble with water, it will immediately separate from the oil and dissolve into the water.  Oil can never be oil and water at the same time.

So, when Scripture teaches us to be holy because God is holy, it says that we ought not to seek to be like water, in our analogy, but to remain separate like the oil.  The oil is in the water, but not of the water.

This separateness defines both the elect and “the rest” as they are defined in point a) above. The believers come alive and this is called the First Resurrection; the “rest” do not have a part in this “coming alive” and they remain dead for the entire thousand years.

Since we do not wish to spend time on the other doctrines that teach that the millennium is a physical period, we will focus on two trains of thought regarding the First Resurrection that is of the scriptural persuasion.  Some say that the believers are coming alive already in this life as they come to faith and live godly and holy lives, being alive in Christ because of His death and resurrection. Others say that the “coming alive” of the elect refers to the believers’ physical death from this life and spiritual ascent into heaven, to the bosom of Abraham, in the language of the parable.

If we look at the Scripture passages that deal with the First Resurrection, we will see that Scripture refers to both interpretations as the First Resurrection, the one in the promise and the other consummated. Revelation 20:4 says, “They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” So, it is during the thousand year period that they came to life.  Revelation 20:6 says, “…they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” Again, they will reign during the thousand years.

We need to determine when life actually commences, or when does the believer go over from death to life.

John 3:15, 18, 36 That everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.

John 5:24  "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."

Romans 5:17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Here we see clearly that “life” commences in this life and we may rightly state that we are coming to life while in the thousand years, reigning with Christ.

In the following passage, however, we see not only the confirmation that life already belongs to the believer in this life, but we see clearly that there is a distinction between “shall have eternal life” and when “I will raise him up at the last day.”

John 6:40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Once again, Jesus confirms that the one “who believes has eternal life.” It is given here and now.

John 6:47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.

More passages with the same message.

John 8:51 I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.

John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Scripture here connects Christ’s resurrection with our being alive in a new life.

Romans 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Another example of having been brought from death to life while we are in this life, since after Christ’s Second Coming it would not be possible to “offer the parts of [our] body to sin…”

Romans 6:13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.

Romans 8:2 Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

I John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

This “coming alive” is in the promise, not yet consummated as the following passages clearly state. Pay particular attention to the two basic concepts: we have already received eternal life and it is a hope to be received later.

Titus 1:2 A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.

Titus 2:13 While we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Titus 3:7 So that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Romans 5:2 Through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

I Timothy 6:12, 19 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

II Timothy 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.

I Peter 1:3  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

I Peter 1:4 And into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you.

I John 5:11-13 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son: 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

Jude 1:21 Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

But isn’t this a contradiction, that we will receive those things that we already have? No, the promise that we will inherit eternal life once we perish bodily from this life, is as strong as the integrity of God the Father.  It is not only a mere holy promise, but God especially took the promise to a higher level, to the level of an oath, so that we may have a very clear understanding of the unchangeable nature of this promise.

Hebrews 6:16 - 18 Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.  17Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.

Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?

I Samuel 15:29 He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.

These passages prove that we “came alive” in the First Resurrection in this life already when Christ took up his life and rose from the dead as the Firstfruits of the living. Based on the promise that death’s sting has been removed and that our graves become nothing more than a glorious passageway to heaven, we are so sure that it would happen, because God cannot lie or change his mind, that we already live lives as eternally glorious beings. That is why we cannot be both of this world and in this world. We either radiate Christ’s glorious work in us or we do not.  It does not mean we are without sin and perfectly radiate Christ as our Savior, but how we deal with our infirmities should also show our hope on our eternal life an be manifest of our faith in the gospel.

In Luke 16:19 Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and how, when Lazarus died, the angels carried him to the bosom of Abraham in heaven. In Luke 23:43 Jesus told the thief on the cross that he will be in paradise with Him that day. The following passages tell of death that will reign no more.

I Corinthians 15:55, 56 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

If the sting of death is sin, then the removal of sin is equal to the granting of eternal life.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is no need to defend the doctrine of life after this physical death, because if eternal life has been promised, and given, in this life, it stands to reason that it will survive our graves and be permanent in heaven.

Once we pass through the grave, we are directly taken into heaven, carried to the bosom of Abraham by angels, in the language of the parable, and will be eternally alive in glory, not yet in our glorified bodies, which will happen when the Second Resurrection takes place.

The First Resurrection speaks about the thrones in heaven, which have not been fully explained in our study so far. The locale of the thrones in which the resurrected rulers sit and the fact that they are described as the “souls” of the martyrs and other believers who resisted idolatry, need further explanation.  We ought not to confuse the image of “souls” sitting on the thrones as if it is entirely symbolic.  There are many scriptural testimonies that the souls of the saints will reign with Christ in heaven.  Should we conclude that that the First Resurrection refers to the physical death of believers, a paradox that is not uncommon in John’s visions? After all, we see the lion who conquered is actually the lamb who has been slain.  The exact numeration of the Israelite army of 144,000 celibate males is an innumerable multitude from every nation and people. The church is safe from destruction, yet exposed to persecution, even to death. The beast overcomes Jesus’ witnesses and kills them, yet in so doing the beast inadvertently forfeits to them the real victory, for in their fidelity to the death they overcome the dragon. 

The martyrs in heaven may be seen as sacrificial victims waiting for their vindication. But they have also been freed from the persecution of this life, giving them the experience of a consummated “first resurrection,” the deliverance of their souls from all that threatened them on earth, enjoying the rest from their enemies. But their first resurrection also includes the priestly privilege of worship in God’s presence and the assurance that even now, as they await final vindication through the resurrection of their bodies, and judgment of their enemies, they participate in the Lamb’s reign through the ongoing fruit of their testimony in their words, their life, and their death.

But we cannot conclude that their first resurrection is the only first resurrection. We saw in our study that not only will the “coming alive” belong to those saints still in this life through the promise and consummated once passing through the grave, but the sitting on a throne with Christ also happens already here, which will be consummated once we pass through the grave and ascend to our thrones as souls waiting for our glorified bodies in the second resurrection.

We may, then, safely conclude that the first resurrection belongs to two dynamic groups: the living saints who reign with Christ on earth as disciples and saints, and the departed souls who ascend to their thrones. These groups are dynamic since their numbers increase constantly in heaven as saints make the glorious journey through the grave to the presence of Christ.