Who Gets Resurrected, and When?

Who is Rev. 20:4-6 referencing in respect to resurrection? 

Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of the two resurrections: one being the first resurrection, which is believers, and one being those throughout history who died without believing. 

Before we address the specifics of Revelation 20, let’s take a look at each of the resurrections.

The Apostle John learned about them both firsthand from Jesus while He was on earth.

John 5:25-29

25Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself;  27and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

So Jesus foretold these two resurrections—the resurrection of life for those who believed, and the resurrection of judgment for those who did not.  

The first resurrection occurs in four phases: first Jesus, then the rapture of the Church, then the Old Testament saints, and finally, the millennial saints.

Jesus’ Resurrection

Luke 24:1-8

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” 8Then they remembered his words.

There are several passages that describe or refer to the resurrection of Jesus. Luke clearly reveals that Jesus was gone from the tomb, that He had risen as He said He would, and that the announcement was delivered to the women by angelic beings. They reminded the women that this was exactly what Jesus had said would happen.

The Rapture of the Church

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

13Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him15According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words. 

The essence of hope for every Christian is the resurrection of Jesus. It is the only reason to bother. If there is no resurrection, then there is no point to Jesus’ life and death, and certainly no point to our following Him.

First Corinthians 15 contains the most detailed explanation of the existence and importance of the truth of the resurrection. This passage is a sample that explains its importance.

1 Corinthians 15:12-18

12Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; 14and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; 17and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

So we see the promise of the resurrection and the importance of it.

He challenges the false teachers with the error they are spreading by attacking the logic of it.

He makes the point that they also preach Christ, and that He’s been raised from the dead, yet they say there is no resurrection of the dead. If that’s true, then Christ also could not have been resurrected, because there is NO resurrection of the dead. And if that is true, then preaching Christ and Him crucified is vain, meaning empty, and our faith itself is vain, being built on a lie.

And if it is built on a lie, then those who testify that Christ is raised are actually false witnesses of God by proclaiming His resurrection, if there is actually no resurrection of the dead.

And following this logic, if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless because you would still be in your sins. Without Christ conquering death, He could not offer salvation to sinners. He, too, would be caught by the grip of death caused by sin.

And finally, it means that all who have already died in Christ have perished. They have no hope. They wasted their lives hoping for the promise of Christ and eternal life when there was no hope at all. We who have done so would deserve to be pitied.

But he goes on to set the record straight, exposing their error and correcting their faulty logic.

20But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep21For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

But, he says, Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first fruits of those who have died believing in Him. And here’s the God-authored logic: since Adam, a man, brought about death by sinning, then it would also have to be a man, Jesus, to bring about the resurrection of the dead. And since by the man Adam all die, conversely, in Christ, all who believe in Him will be made alive, meaning they will be resurrected, just as He was.

But it must be in the proper order, as ordained by God. Christ first, He’s the first fruits. The first fruits are the first batch, and they’re the evidence that the harvest is about to come in. It’s the assurance that the full harvest will come. And God said, 

Leviticus 23:10

10 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.’ ”

As the sheaf offering of the first fruits pointed to the full harvest to come, Christ is the offering of the first fruits of the harvest to come, of all who believe.

Old Testament Saints Resurrected

The Old Testament believers were also promised the resurrection in conjunction with the promise of the reign of Messiah. At that time, He will gather them once again to the promised land and Christ will reign.

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.’” 

Ezekiel states that they will come up out of their graves. Their bodies will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they will come to life, and He will place them in their own land. This is the resurrection of the Old Testament believers. Daniel 12:1-2 also prophesied the resurrection of the Old Testament saints.

Daniel 12:1-2

And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 

Daniel hones in on the timing of this resurrection, a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation. This speaks, of course, of the tribulation, that afterward many of those who sleep will be resurrected. It says many because it is only those who believed who will be resurrected at this time. Then later, those who did not believe will also be resurrected to disgrace and everlasting contempt.

Resurrection of the Tribulation Saints

That brings us to the Revelation 20 passage. Here, the last and final group of believers are also resurrected, meaning those who lost their lives during the tribulation reign of the beast, the antichrist, thus leaving only unbelievers still awaiting resurrection.

Revelation 20:4-6

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

Revelation 20 happens immediately after the tribulation and explains what happens to the saints who were killed during the tribulation. They are resurrected, and they join all the rest of the resurrected believers to reign with Jesus and act as judges during the millennial reign of Christ.  

How do we know who will go into the millennial kingdom to reign with Christ?

Revelation 3 – Thyatira

 26 He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 27and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; 

Here the church of Thyatira is told that all who overcome will be given authority over the nations, and rule them beside Christ.  

The question is, who is it that overcomes?

John already answered this in his first epistle.

1 John 5:5

Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

The Spirit declares whoever believes in the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed one who overcomes the world, thereby establishing how to understand references to overcoming and overcomers in the Scripture.

Therefore, the overcomers are all of those who believe in Jesus. 

In Revelation 3:26, John further explains in light of the truth of 1 John 5:5, that all believers will have authority over the nations. This can only happen during the millennial kingdom, while Christ exercises His authority received by His Father.  

Peter explains another aspect of service believers in Christ will perform.

1 Peter 2:9 “You are a chosen race,” speaking to the church, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”

We will reign, we will serve God, we will represent His nation, His Holy temple. This can only happen during the millennium.  We will be rulers and priests.

Also in Matthew 19:28 Jesus said, 

“Truly I say to you, you who have followed me in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  

We shall reign with Jesus and the apostles.

1 Corinthians 6:2 

“Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world?”  

Again, during the millennial reign, we will sit as judges. There will be no people left to judge in the world after the millennial reign, since only believers will move into the final state of eternity with Christ.

So the bottom line is there are two resurrections: one to eternal life, the other to judgment— the second death. 

The first resurrection is in four parts: Jesus, who was resurrected on the third day after His death; the Church, who will be resurrected right before the tribulation period begins; the Old Testament saints, who will be resurrected at the end of the tribulation period; and the tribulation saints who will be resurrected as Jesus begins His millennial reign. All of these saints will accompany Jesus into the millennial reign, to help Him govern and judge the nations.  

Then, at the end of the millennial reign, Satan will be loosed, and try one last time to defeat Jesus. He won’t succeed and will be judged and sent to hell for eternity.  At this time, everyone who hasn’t been resurrected yet will be. They are unbelievers, and they will be subject to the second death—eternal suffering and separation from God.

Revelation 20:4-6

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.

The rest of the dead, which are those who did not believe, do not come to life until the end of the millennium. Only those of the first resurrection are spared the power of the second death—eternal separation from God amidst eternal suffering.

Satan Freed, Doomed

7When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 8and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. 9And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Judgment at the Throne of God

11Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Those who did not believe are resurrected to the second death and immediately face the Great White Throne of Judgment, where they will be ultimately sent to hell with Satan and the demons.  The records of heaven are opened, and they are found guilty of their sins. When the book of life is checked, their names are not found in it, because they never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus their sins were not atoned for, and they were sentenced to eternally pay for their own sins.

God’s plan of salvation is perfect, complete, just, fair, and full of mercy.  Don’t end up being of the second resurrection of judgment.  Acknowledge your sins to God now, and believe in the message of Jesus, who paid for your sins and mine on the cross—the perfect life for the imperfect, the sinless life for the sinful—and begin a journey of following Him in this life, and reigning with Him in the next.

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