The First Resurrection
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
Note that the ones being addressed in this passage are rewarded with ruling an reigning for what they did and didn't do. That is, works. Remember the promise to the overcomer at the Church at Thyatira, "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron." And even in the lukewarm Church at Laodicea we see this promise, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."
The context is reward for works. And not only works, but he who "keeps my works unto the end." We recall the Lord's words when he spoke about the Tribulation and the end of the age in Matthew 24, "But he who endures to the end shall be saved." The context is, thus, believers. Jewish believers. For only believers can be overcomers. Only believers have works and service judged. These are not passages about the forgiveness of sin. That's a free offer by the blood of Christ alone.
We've seen this pattern with all rewards: Works, Faithfulness. We won't repeat the argument here, suffice to say scripture is clear that our rescue from the grave (not our reward) is "not of works, lest an man should boast" (Eph 2:9). And scripture is clear that God has already reconciled himself to the world and does not hold the sins of men against them (2 Cor 5:19). Servants are judged for their work. Yes, I know I am repeating myself, but I'm up against years of tradition.
And it appears the greatest work is faithfulness unto death, a very real prospect in that terrible time to come. Death may very well be the qualifier.
The Former Resurrection
We know turn to the final part of this promise. The ones who had not worshiped the Beast are blessed in the "first" or "former" resurrection. That is, the first of a pairing of the same company. There are a number of resurrections in scripture, but these two in the Revelation go together.
We can see this pattern of "former/latter" when scripture refers to the "first" covenant. Well, the first covenant in scripture is the covenant God established with Noah. He also established a covenant with Abraham. Later, he would establish a covenant with David.
So how are we to reckon this verse in Hebrews 8? "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second." Clearly the writer is referring to the "Old" and the "New"covenants with Israel (as the context shows). But as we've noted, the Old and New Covenants are neither the first nor the second (respectively) in time or sequence.
The next chapter itself gives us the same Greek word translated as "former."
There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
The idea is the first of a pair. That is, the two go together. They may be rendered "former" and "latter" as we've noted. This helps us understand the phrase "the rest of the dead." This would be the rest of the same group.
The Greek word for "rest" is "loipoi." In the KJV, here is how the translators translated it:
- other, 15x; other things, 1x; others, 7x; remnant, 4x; residue, 1x; rest, 12x; which remains, 1x
Let's see it's usage in this book (from Strong's Concordance) :
The "rest of the dead" is limited to the rest of the group in view. It does not mean "all the dead who ever died." If the traditionalist wants to force this meaning upon it, he runs into trouble explaining why millions, already in fiery torment, are being resurrected to have their works judged. The rest here are said to "live not again" until the end of the millennium. This limits to believers who did not overcome during the Tribulation.
The Latter Resurrection
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Putting together our timeline:
They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night [to the ages of the ages].The armies destroyed. Satan cast into the Lake of Fire with the Beast and the False Prophet. This is where "the rest of the dead" (those who did not overcome in the Tribulation) are raised.
This is the setting for the GREAT WHITE THRONE, the BOOK OF LIFE, the SECOND DEATH, and the LAKE OF FIRE. The context and subjects of this scene are believers who failed to overcome. These failed in faithfulness and service. The warnings to these believers, spoken to the seven churches, limited to that age, will now come to pass.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades [KJV: Hell] delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
We will look at these and related issues next time.