16 Resurrection and Judgment
The subject matter of Revelation 20 is well known, though the interpretation of detail has occasioned a deal of controversy.
In the opening scene, the dragon (also called "that old serpent, which is the devil, and satan") is bound and imprisoned in the abyss for a thousand years. The consequence of this is worth noting: the nations are no longer deceived. At the end of the thousand years, however, satan is released, and inevitably the nations are deceived. They are incited to rebellion against God's people, and then destroyed.
A period of 1000 years is also referred to in another connection in the first part of Revelation 20. It is the duration of the reign of the resurrected saints — "and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years" (verse 4). The commonly held view, that these two periods of 1000 years are the same, is surely reasonable. As we should expect, sin is restrained when Christ and the saints rule the earth, and militant opposition to God's purpose is not possible.
A relaxation of authority and a consequent revolt at the end of the millennium would not imply failure, as some have suggested. Just as Solomon, in his wisdom, gave Shimei an opportunity to reveal his latent wickedness and be punished for it, so God gives irresponsible, frustrated worldlings the opportunity to fulfil their heart's desire and rebel. By their wickedness they call forth the wrath of God; they virtually invite God to destroy them.
It seems reasonable to regard the thousand-year period as literal. Even so, those who insist that all other time periods in Revelation are figurative ought not to be dogmatic about the literalness of the duration of the millennium.
After the final elimination of all sinners, the ultimate of God's purpose is reached. The last enemy, death, is destroyed; all who continue living are partakers of the divine nature, and God is "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6).
Although the expression "second resurrection" does not appear in this chapter, nor indeed elsewhere in Scripture, it seems to be implied by the phrase "first resurrection".
Many imagine that the second resurrection is that referred to in the concluding section of Revelation 20. Certainly this passage refers to an occasion of resurrection and judgment:
"And I saw a great white throne, and him that 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, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20: 11-15).
The idea that this resurrection and judgment is post-millennial is based on the fact that the scene that comes immediately before this passage concerns the (rebellion that erupts "when the thousand years are expired".1
Careful students of the Apocalypse know that the scenes depicted in the book are not necessarily presented in chronological sequence — sometimes the order is reversed.2 Indeed, all who consider the judgment scene of Revelation 20 to be post-millennial are compelled to regard the scene that follows (described in the beginning of Revelation 21) — when John beholds a new heaven and a new earth — as an earlier one, because it is clear from Isaiah 65 and 2 Peter 3 that the millennium itself is the new heaven and earth. So a backward step must be taken either at the beginning of verse 11 (quoted above) or at the beginning of the next chapter.
The proposition submitted here is that the backward step in time is at the beginning of verse 11, and that the judgment scene associated with the great white throne is, in fact, the judgment seat of Christ. The resurrection that is connected with this judgment is therefore the resurrection that takes place when the Lord returns to the earth. Here is a summary of the evidence:
1. The fact that sequences are sometimes reversed in the Apocalypse has already been established. A big step back in time would thus be introduced by the words, "And I saw ..." in Revelation 20:11.3
2. The words of Revelation 20:10 concerning the dead being tormented day and night for ever and ever do not seem to lead on to the great white throne scene of verse 11. There is a break in the subject matter.
3. The words of verse 11, "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them" invite comparison with those of Revelation 6:14 concerning the opening of the sixth seal: "And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places." The verbal link between the two passages — obviously designed — would be pointless if this were a post-millennial scene.4
4. A verbal connection with Daniel 7:10 has already been noted.5 An occasion of judgement, in which "the books were opened", is common to both. The occasion is manifestly the same; and a quick reading of the relevant part of Daniel 7 should be sufficient to assure the reader that it cannot be post-millennial. The judgment scene of Daniel 7 is referred to in the context of the little horn. This God-defying power is condemned and destroyed for its blasphemy. In terms of Revelation, this is the judgment of the beast, and he is certainly destroyed before the end of the millennium. Observe that the rebels at the end of the millennium are cast into the lake of fire "where the beast and the false prophet are" (Revelation 20:10). The beast and the false prophet have been cast into the lake of fire earlier.
5. In the judgment scene described in Revelation 20 the book of life is opened. From the references to the book of life scattered over the Scriptures, and especially from the references in Revelation, it can be seen that the book is concerned with the destiny of those whose probation will end with the Lord's return. It is unthinkable therefore that the only reference to the opening of this book of destiny concerns the end of the millennium. Can it be seriously supposed that the book of life will not be opened until the end of the kingdom; or that it is opened, closed up and opened again at the end of the millennium, and that this post-millennial opening alone is sufficiently important to mention?
No, this is the judgment seat of Christ. It is a white throne — a symbol of righteous judgment.
The prophetic narrative follows right through into chapter 21. Having been told that the heaven and earth have fled away from the face of him who sits on the throne (20:11), we are prepared for the words: "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth ..." (21: 1). Remember that there were no chapter divisions in the original.
Incidentally, it may be worth pondering the fact that little seems to be revealed in Scripture concerning "the great beyond" — the post-millennial era. There could be two reasons for this: it is too far distant to have much immediate relevance; and in any case, in our mortal state we should not be able to understand. Another example of the 'perspective' principle, perhaps.
The second resurrection
Back then to the question of the second resurrection. Since the great white throne scene is not post-millennial, the references that are made to resurrection on this occasion are not concerned with a post-millennial resurrection.
If the phrase "first resurrection" does indeed imply a second resurrection (and it seems to), then we must look to other scriptures to discover what this is and when it occurs.
A reminder may be appropriate here that there is no want of Bible evidence that the judgment of righteous and unrighteous will take place at about the same time.6 This is implied by the Lord's declaration to the Pharisees, "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:28); as it is by his parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). It is also the obvious sense of Paul's words to Timothy, ". . . the Lord Jesus Christ . . . shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:1); and to the Thessalonians, "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). See the force of that word "when". The wicked will be punished when the righteous are rewarded. There is no great time gulf between the two occasions. The words of the angel to Daniel almost amount to an explicit statement that the resurrection of good and bad will take place at the same time. He is dealing with a 'time' question when he says: "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2).
The suggestion that is now offered is not original. It is that the word "first" in the phrase "first resurrection" relates to importance and not to time. (Peter is described as the first of the apostles, although Andrew was called before him. The Greek word protos, here translated "first", is actually translated "chief" in about half a dozen places in the AV.) The idea then is that the first resurrection is that of the just — "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power." The other, inferior resurrection, the second, is that of the unjust. The implication is that the second death does have power on the unjust ones who are raised from the dead.
The Lord himself speaks about two resurrections in John 5. He calls them "the resurrection of life" and the "resurrection of damnation":
"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (verses 28, 29).
The rest of the dead
"But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20:5).
These words concerning the rest of the dead read like a parenthesis. The main thought moves on from the end of verse 4 to the last sentence in verse 5, thus: "... they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. [Parenthesis concerning the rest of the dead.] This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection . . ." (verses 4, 5, 6).
Who are the rest of the dead? One view is that they are those who die during the millennium. Yet any reference, at this point, to those who die during the millennium, some of whom would not even have begun to exist at the time under consideration, would be irrelevant and distracting. More likely the words refer to the wicked dead who are raised when the Lord returns, as distinct from the righteous dead who are raised at the same time. We have seen that there is considerable scriptural evidence that wicked and righteous will be raised at about the same time. Moreover it has been noted that the 'great white throne' scene does not speak of a post-millennial resurrection.
What this passage does seem to teach is that the wicked, who are raised to life and judged and condemned, die again. Whereas the second death has no power over those who have part in the first resurrection, it does have power over these others. Whereas the righteous are permitted to live and reign a thousand years (and more!) there is to be no life for these others during this thousand-year period — no, not until the thousand years are finished. In other words: never! The idiom employed here can be compared with that used in connection with Michal, Saul's daughter: "Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death" (2 Samuel 6:23). No one would argue that these words imply that she had a child on the day of her death.7
Ezekiel 38 again
The Gogian invasion of Ezekiel's prophecy was discussed in chapter 4 (Part 1). There it was argued that the hostile confederacy comes down on the land after the Lord's return and the establishment of the kingdom.
The question was raised at to whether the Gogian invasion of Ezekiel 38 was the same as that of Revelation 20. The arguments against this view have been heard many times, so here, for a change, are some arguments for equating them. Please bear in mind that here I am proceeding tentatively — just presenting ideas for consideration.
1. Both occasions are after the Lord's return and the establishment of the kingdom.
2. Whereas the restoration of Israel is said to be "at hand" in Ezekiel 36:8, the Gogian invasion is "after many days" (Ezekiel 38:8). So a long period seems to separate the restoration from the invasion. This would be in line with Revelation 20.
3. Consider the words of Ezekiel 38:8 concerning the Gogian host: "After many days thou shalt be visited". These words are a quotation from Isaiah 24:22, and the context of Isaiah's words (concerning a long imprisonment before the visitation) is very similar to the picture presented in Revelation 20. The reader is invited to read both passages and note the similarities. The suggestion therefore is that because Isaiah 24:22 has features similar both to Ezekiel 38 and Revelation 20, it is a passage that links the two together and shows that they relate to the same occasion.
Whether these arguments for equating Ezekiel 38 and Revelation 20 carry conviction or not, the earlier proposition, that the invasion of Ezekiel 38 is after the Lord's advent, is surely beyond dispute.8
References and Notes
1. Some of those who believe in a post-millennial resurrection and judgment think that the ones who are raised and judged are those whose probation takes place during the millennium. Others regard Revelation 20:12 as the resurrection and judgment of the wicked — a thousand years after the resurrection and judgment of the righteous.
2. See Part 2, chapter 15, page 180 — The doom ofBubylon.
3. Those who have regarded, "And f saw . . ." at the beginning of chapter 21 as an expression that introduces an earlier scene should not automatically reject the proposition that "And I saw ..." introduces an earlier scene at verse 11 of chapter 20.
4. If my "Book of Life" thesis (Part 2, chapter 11) is valid, this link is specially significant.
5. See Part 2, chapter 11, page 130.
6. The word "about" is used advisedly here. Whereas the judgment of righteous and unrighteous will take place about the same time — the millennium will not separate the two occasions — they may not happen at precisely the same time. See Part 2, chapter 15, pages 175—178.
7. Another good example of the same idiom: Deuteronomy 23:3 (compare with Nehemiah 13:1).
8. See Appendix 1 — The Gogian Invasion.