THE FIRST RESURRECTION
Copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
I have spoken quite a bit concerning the first resurrection of the dead. I do not believe it is preached very much. Yet I believe it is an important topic to consider. Perhaps it will come more to the front in Christian thinking as the Day of the Lord draws near.
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. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)
This is the first resurrection. Blessed 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. (Revelation 20:4-6)
I believe that when the Apostle Paul told us that attaining to the resurrection was his foremost goal, and that he was laying all else aside in order to attain to this goal, he was speaking of the first resurrection of the dead.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10,11)
The Lord Jesus said that all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth.
Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth — those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 5:28,29—NKJV)
So if Paul was striving to attain to the resurrection from the dead, it must be a different resurrection from the final resurrection. This is because the bodies of all who have lived on the earth shall come forth at the final resurrection; thus there is no need to attain to the final resurrection.
Revelation 20:4-6 indicates that the first resurrection indeed is different from the final resurrection. Paul told us that it can be attained to. If Revelation 20:4-6 is so important, perhaps we had better take a look at it. The first thing that strikes us is that no books were opened, as in the case of the final resurrection:
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. (Revelation 20:12)
The above is the final resurrection.
Now, look again at the first resurrection:
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. (Revelation 20:4)
Can you see that in the final resurrection, the general resurrection of mankind, the dead will be judged from what was written in the books? But in the first resurrection (above), no books are opened. This tells us that those who are found worthy to participate in the first resurrection, which will occur when the Lord Jesus next appears, are being judged today. They are appearing before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Their sins are being pointed out to them by the Spirit of God and they are confessing and turning away from them. This is the doctrine of eternal judgment.
Instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)
It appears it is possible to get all or most of our judgment
accomplished while we are in this world. Being judged before our
death is possible if we truly have been crucified with Christ, for it is
appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment
The remainder of our judgment will take place in the next world. Christians, whether alive in the present world or in the spirit world, must be judged in advance if they are to participate in the first resurrection.
But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (I Peter 4:5,6)
To continue with Revelation 20:4:
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. According to Revelation chapters 2-3, only those who live a victorious life in Christ are chosen to sit on thrones and exercise judgment. Rulership is not assigned to those who merely have “accepted Christ” and have not pressed forward to the ranks of the chosen and the faithful.
To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—“He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery”—just as I have received authority from my Father. (Revelation 2:26,27)
They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. (Revelation 17:14)
We know from this that only the victorious saints will participate in the first resurrection.
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. It is taught commonly that everyone who “accepts Christ” will be in the first resurrection, and that everyone in the final resurrection will be cast into the Lake of Fire. The Scripture does not support either of these concepts.
If the Bible meant that everyone who professes belief in Christ will participate in the first resurrection, it certainly would say so. Instead it points toward being beheaded because of their testimony and because of the Word of God. This very well could be referring to physical beheading. My personal opinion that it is referring to those who have chosen to live by the Life of Jesus rather than by their own minds.
Also, those have not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark. I do not believe everyone who only has made a profession of belief in Christ, and has not pressed forward to victory over sin and self-will, will fulfill these requirements. The “beast” is Antichrist. His spirit fills the civilized world today, especially the United States. The spirit of Antichrist is characterized especially by the pursuit of money. The pursuit of money is the worship of the god of money, of Antichrist.
The self-will and self-fulfillment that is taught in America today is the spirit of Antichrist. The willingness to accept humanistic values, such as the “rights of people,” is of the spirit of Antichrist. The emphasis on sexual perversions and gender confusion is of the spirit of Antichrist.
Now tell me, how many professing Christians of our day in America are free from: the worship of money; the emphasis on self-fulfillment; the insistence on pleasure, entertainment, and luxury; placing the rights of people above the rights of God; pornography, sexual perversions, and gender confusion?
It is not at all true that everyone who professes faith in Christ is free from the current abominations, and therefore they will not participate in the first resurrection.
Nor is it true that everyone who is raised in the final resurrection is thrown into the Lake of Fire; only those who names are not written in the Book of Life.
They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Notice especially the expression “they came to life.” Perhaps because of the influence of the religion of Gnosticism, Christian preaching and teaching has gotten away from the New Testament’s emphasis on the resurrection of the body. It is thought today that our salvation is pointed toward the inner man, and what happens to the body is not important. This is not at all true. The Divine redemption climaxes with the making alive of our mortal body, and this accounts for the desire of the Apostle Paul to attain to the resurrection.
“They came to life” means they experienced resurrection when Jesus returned, prior to their being caught up to be with Him.
For 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. (I Thessalonians 4:16)
The expression “the dead in Christ will rise first” means that those saints who came from the spirit world with Christ will rise from the dead. They will be resurrected at that time, and then, along with the living saints, will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. The living saints will be transformed into immortality without having experienced physical death.
The resurrection of our body is so important that before we are resurrected, we are not considered to be alive. Obviously those who “came to life” had been alive spiritually, in that they had overcome the Antichrist spirit. But the Bible does not regard people as fully alive until their bodies have been raised from the dead.
These saints overcame the spirit of Antichrist, and then were made alive in their bodies at the coming of the Lord. After that, they were caught up to meet the Lord, and along with Him, govern the nations of the earth throughout the thousand-year Kingdom Age.
(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. “The rest of the dead did not come to life” means their bodies had not been resurrected. They remained in the spirit world. They may, at the final resurrection, be brought over to citizenship on the new earth and participate in the new world of righteousness. Or, those whose names were not found in the Book of Life were thrown into the Lake of Fire.
Two of the great advantages of being found worthy to participate in the first resurrection are:
- You will be with Christ throughout the thousand-year Kingdom Age;
- Once you are raised from the dead, you no longer will need to fear the final judgment. You already have been sentenced to be with Jesus forever.
It is no wonder Paul was regarding everything as garbage that he might attain to the first resurrection. Hopefully each of us will have the same attitude.
Blessed 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. I do not believe we would be amiss in stating that the terms “blessed and holy” imply that those who participate in the first resurrection are distinguished by being unusually blessed and holy.
If one is acquainted with many Christian churchgoers, it may be noted that some beat their wives; some are addicted to pornography; some are addicted to cigarettes, or alcohol, or drugs. Some are violent; some cause division in the assembly; some are bitter and unforgiving. These hardly are blessed and holy.
Perhaps it may be claimed that they are blessed and holy by imputation, that God sees them through Christ. The current idea that “once an individual makes a profession of faith in Christ, he or she is blameless in the eyes of God,” is founded on an incorrect understanding of how the plan of redemption operates.
When a person receives Christ as his or her Lord and Savior, that individual is righteous in the sight of God. All former lawlessness and sin is immediately forgiven. But the New Testament is filled with warnings about how we are to conduct our life after that. We must, after having received Christ, prove ourselves worthy of the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you (II Thessalonians 1:4-6)
For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5)
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Colossians 3:5-8)
The behaviors listed in the above passages are common in today’s Christian churches, as they were in Paul’s day. Why didn’t the Apostle Paul tell us that such behavior does not matter because God sees us through Christ? Why did Paul say the sinning member of the church in Ephesus had no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God?
The Christian teaching of today, at least in America, is unscriptural and destructive. We have churches filled with spiritual babies as a result; and this spiritual uncleanness pervades our government and culture because our churches are being taught an unscriptural lawless grace.
No, such church-attenders are neither blessed nor holy. They absolutely shall not be raised from the dead or transformed when Christ appears, or be carried up to Heaven in an unscriptural “rapture.”
The second death has no power [literally, authority] over them. How can it be that the second death no longer has authority over them? God has given the Lake of Fire authority over eight specific behaviors.
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
The answer is simple: through the help of Jesus and the Spirit of God, they have completely overcome these behaviors. Since numerous people who profess in Christ are sexually immoral, cowards, and liars, we understand that not every individual who professes to believe in Christ will take part in the first resurrection.
There are those who say if an individual professes faith in Christ, and yet commits some of the sins mentioned in the New Testament, that person never was a genuine Christian. If this were true, there would be few Christians in the world. Many of us did those things, but we since have gotten victory over them. Is that true of you?
So many preachers of our day are misinformed. They have been taught error and they are teaching error. They are watchman on the wall, but they are not warning the sinners in Zion that they are spiritually dead. Therefore the sinners will die in their sin, but their blood will be required at the hands of those of today are teaching that Divine grace is a substitute for godly behavior, for living the life of victory in Jesus.
They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. These are the members of the royal priesthood.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (I Peter 2:9)
I have become aware these days that every true Christian is a priest of God, with the Lord Jesus being the great High Priest. I have not thought much about this previously, and have not heard it preached often. But we are! Our eternal role is to bring the presence of God to people and the presence of people to God. We are mediators between God and His creatures. This is why we are going through such rigorous training.
The best part of all is that we will be with Christ throughout the thousand-year Kingdom Age. Other Christians, as well as the people of the nations of the earth, must wait until the final resurrection to see what their destinies will be.
But those who are qualified to take part in the first resurrection will have a wonderful time of fellowship when the Lord Jesus appears from Heaven with the saints of days gone by.
The trumpet of God will sound, and we will be raised from the dead and clothed in immortal bodies. There will be hundreds of thousands of us, if not more, standing on the earth. No doubt there will be a period of time before we are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, just as there were forty days after Jesus rose from the dead before He was caught up to Heaven.
Can you imagine what a time of fellowship that will be? Any person you are interested in seeing and being with, whether someone you knew while living on the earth, or a hero of faith you read about in the Bible, will be with you as soon as you think about him. Time and distance will not control us once we are raised from the dead.
There will be singing and shouting in those days. We will realize that the Divine judgment has been exercised upon us and we have been sentenced to be alive in Christ, to be with Him for eternity. There is nothing left to fear. It is no wonder the Apostle Paul throughout his Christian life was groaning for the adoption, the redemption of his body.
I think it is time now for us Christians to begin to think more about attaining to the first resurrection. The idea of going to Heaven to live in a mansion for eternity may have sufficed for time past. Now that the coming of Christ is near, we are being made aware of the true goal—that of attaining to the first resurrection, the resurrection to the life and glory of the royal priesthood.
(“The First Resurrection”, 3475-1, proofed 20211008)