The first resurrection in Revelation is peculiar indeed. Of course, the Bible makes mention of many resurrections at different times, not the least of which is the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, only once is the “first resurrection” mentioned and it occurs in the book of Revelation, in a chapter that is most difficult to interpret with certainty.
How Scripture answers "What is the first resurrection in Revelation?"
Defining the first resurrection in Revelation 20:51 is best begun with the “Scriptural backstop” of resurrection passages that can be clearly understood. The New Testament well establishes a resurrection of the saints4,5,6,7 at the judgment day4,5,7,10 – the “last day”7 resurrection including both Christians (“life”) and non-Christians (“death”)4,10.
We can go a step further and eliminate any literal interpretation for the first resurrection of Revelation 20. It’s clearly not speaking of the actual first resurrection recorded in the Bible (1 Kings 17:17-23). It’s also clearly not referring to Jesus Christ’s resurrection. What our text1 does clearly identify are the characteristics of those taking part in the first resurrection…which happen to be the same as the individuals eligible for the resurrection on the last day4,5,6,7,10…which also happens to be the same as how John describes the very audience he’s addressing2 and Christians in general3. It is Christians – all faithful Christians – that are Priests of God1. They are not subject to the “second death” that’s awaiting the unrighteous but are promised to reign with Christ eternally5 (signified in our text1 by the “thousand years”).
Therefore, the first resurrection in Revelation 20:5 is the resurrection that all Christians partake in through their baptism into Christ8, since this “first” resurrection must precede/necessitate their bodily resurrection to eternal life4,5 coming on the last day7,10. It is only by or through this “first” resurrection that the individual is free from the second death.
NOTE: One of Daniel’s visions9 bears striking similarities and correlation to John’s vision through Revelation chapters 19-20.
Why begin with the “Scriptural backstop”? This one passage1 is the only reference to a “first” resurrection in the entire Bible, which is further compounded by the fact that it occurs in a genre (e.g. prophecy) that is by nature highly figurative and symbolic. In these cases, we would look to an inspired writer to illuminate us….but there is none (see the first reason). Therefore, a logical place to start is finding what is clearly taught about resurrection in general. When we coupling this with eliminating what Scripture clearly would not support for a definition, we just may come to terms with the best understanding for the first resurrection of Revelation 20:51 without straying outside the bounds of God’s authoritative word.
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