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The First Resurrection
Publication: Banner of Love, June 2021
Author: Stephen R. Aquino
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Questions & Answers On The First Resurrection

REVELATION 20: 4-5-6 


1.     WHERE- does this vision figuratively take place, on earth or in heaven?

    Answer = John sees “thrones” in heaven.


Comment/References:  In this chapter, we have an “Angel come down from heaven having the key” (20:1;1:18), depicting control over a “bottomless pit and a great chain” (20:1;12:9), and the Angel has a hold on “the Dragon.” We read of a “Great White Throne” and “Lake of Fire,” representing final judgment and eternal punishment. In our text we have, “thrones,” where are these thrones? Are these literal thrones on earth, in a futuristic physical kingdom? Or are they in heaven?  

     Remember that “heaven and earth” are mentioned throughout Revelation, typically depicting two extremely different realms. Secondly, interpretation of pictorial symbols should never “rearrange the furniture”[1] of plain established truths elsewhere in Scripture.  In the book of Revelation, a “throne” is almost exclusively figured in heaven. While Satan has a “seat” (2:13), it was not found in heaven. (Strong’s 2362 defines it as a “stately seat”). His kingdom is “full of darkness” (16:10), that seat, or rule of the beast. The plural form of this word, “thrones,” is used once - in our immediate text. All other 31 references of the word are singular, and in most cases, figure God’s throne of majesty and dominion. His kingdom rule is both in heaven and earth (See Col 1:16) because He has all power – everywhere.  These respective thrones are of a vision in heaven and are used as “seats” of judgment and authority.   


2.     WHO – are the “souls” said to be sitting on these thrones in heaven?

     Answer = The 24 crowned elders, and those said to have been “beheaded,” and “which had not worshiped the beast.”


Comment/References:  These thrones initially seem to refer to the 24 elders who once represented the word and purposes of God among men but now are seated in judgment in heaven. John is writing about himself, with the Apostles, numbered with the sons of Jacob to equal 24 elders (See 21:12,14). Alongside them are souls who were beheaded who share royal authority in heaven. The KJV translators use a semicolon linking these two independent groups as being connected. No one is actually beheaded in heaven.  However, those privileged saints who were martyred on earth are said to “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth” (14:4); even into heaven, they are now “souls” in heaven. So, in addition to the 24 elders, they are considered “firstfruits unto God,” who “loved not their lives unto death” (12:11). Their testimony was this: they “would not worship the image of the beast” and who were “killed” (13:15) for their faith. Of the churches in Asia, Smyrna was without rebuke, yet, they were forewarned that they “may be tried” and suffer “tribulation.” As overcomers, the promise to the brethren was that they “shall not be hurt of the second death” (2:10-11). Though a statement of fact for all elect, this reiteration of a grand promise is key to understanding their true position in Christ, even though conditions seem to be failing. John the Baptist suffered beheading (See Mk 6:27). This is a literal and graphic language for all those who “die in the Lord” (14:13), who, for “the word of their testimony” (12:11), were “slain for the word of God” (6:9). If we ask, “Where is John now?” The answer must be, “His soul is (right now) in heaven,” like other souls who were “under the Altar” (6:9).  (Different picture – same meaning).  John not only preached the “Lamb of God,” but like other martyred saints, “came out of great tribulation,” whose robe was washed, made white in Jesus’ blood! (See 6:9-10-11); The Baptist overcame evil by “the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).


3.     WHEN – does the prophecy of this vision take place and when applied?

      Answer = John writes, from Patmos to the churches of Asia, but also, for churches today. John describes the martyrdom of saints which occur during this present church age.


Comment/References: Interestingly, all six references in the Bible of a “thousand-year” reign are found in one chapter - Rev. 20!  This gives us reason to be cautious of all pretextual criticisms.  This is significant of an absolute and complete period of time, representing the current church age. Smyrna’s tribulation was said to last “ten days” (See 2:8-11).  Though this church is not around today, their persecution lasted longer than ten literal days.  (Ten, or even Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,” may be representative of an entire period, be it definite or indefinite).  According to historical tradition, Polycarp, a pastor of Smyrna, was martyred in AD 156 - long after the tribulation associated with the Mosaic temple destruction in 70 AD.  Important to note, symbolic language of the Bible, referencing time, numbers, or fractions like; seven, a tenth, a fourth, twelve, forty and four thousand, etc., typically represent a particular period of real-time.  The “thousand years” is synonymous with another phrase in context, “should be fulfilled” (3). This period represents the accomplishment and finishing concerning the purposes of God during the church age, which, compared to eternity, is but “a little season” (See 6:11), an inexpressible period of time (See Ps 105:8).


4.     WHAT – is the operation of God’s enabling? And, WHAT does the first resurrection mean?

    Answer = These beheaded souls were resurrected by God’s operative power. This term denotes a spiritual resurrection, a risen up, rest in heaven, or gathering unto.


Comment/References: When Rachel died, her soul departed or ascended to heaven (See Gen 35:18); this also is a resurrection or gathering up. This was not a bodily resurrection. John said, “I saw the souls” of martyred saints. I do not think this is a vision of literally beheaded persons on earth reigning with Jesus somewhere in Jerusalem.  But a vision of current activity in heaven. A resurrection must imply an ascension, not a descension. It is described as a “first resurrection,” which is a leading resurrection[2] or a former resurrection, one that comes before – the final or notable one – “a resurrection of the dead, both the just and unjust” (Acts 24:15). There is only “one” resurrection of the bodily dead, not “two,” separated by a time, however long or short. Remember, the Bible plainly asserts a resurrection of all humanity taking place on the last day.  All saints killed, for the testimony of Jesus Christ, during the present church age, are considered “Blessed and holy” and may very well be the greatest of all timely deliverances!  Theologically, Jesus’ resurrection must be The One that enables all other subsequent resurrections mentioned in the Bible, both OT, and NT. Because of Him, the second death has no power on their souls. Jesus is referred to as the “Firstfruits” from the dead (1 Cor 15:23); the “First begotten of the dead” (1:5), the “firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18).  But, here, this leading, or “first resurrection,” (figuratively), speaks to the blessing given those, who have “resisted unto blood,” and have literally died in the Lord, yet now, are safe in heaven, (a present reality).  It could be said after such horrific demise, “that they may rest from their labors,” who sing a new song, “before the throne,” and whom it was said, had the “Father’s name (or mark) written in their foreheads.” (14:1,3,13). (OT figurative language for bearing the outward mark [this word in ancient Hebrew sign language, was the sign of two sticks in the form of a cross] due to an inward Spiritual reality, See Ezk 9:4-6). Note the inverted is mentioned in 20:4, in that these souls refused the mark of the beast (13:16-18), in their foreheads and thus beheaded). Regeneration is also a spiritual resurrection, or passing from death to life (John 5:24,25), and is associated with the resurrection of Christ. But the subjects of verse (20:4) are said to have been “beheaded for the witness of Jesus,” who are in heaven reigning with others on thrones. Their conscience-active-self is alive and reigning with the LORD.  


5.     WHY – Do these souls reign with Christ?

    Answer = God’s children are made, “kings and priests unto God and His Father,” to bear witness to the rule and dominion of Jesus Christ.   


Comment/References:  Departed saints in heaven and living saints on earth, reign with Christ (1:6), in judgment against this world and sin, through the victory of the Lord, who said, “I am He that liveth.” In Daniel, this language is synonymous with, “The time came that the saints possessed the kingdom” (Dan 7:22). All the faithful are in a visible and manifest union with Him because they are overcomers. They bear the mark of their LORD! Jesus, who is “in the midst of the seven candlesticks,” which are “the seven churches” (1:13,18,20), is “working with them.”  The promise by Jesus, “to sit with me in my throne” (3:21), was once given to the in-time faithful at the church in Laodicea, but also a promise to all God’s children who trust Christ throughout the church age. 



     Answer = Two groups; the “rest of the dead”(5) and those “blessed and holy” (6).  Secondly, our take away = The assurance of the faith to all believers.


Comment/References:  The “rest of the dead” are those souls who are none-elect, who die outside of Christ – throughout the ages of time.  They are reserved unto judgment at the Great White Throne (20:11-15). The beheaded souls' reign with Christ Jesus,  but the dead are awaiting His final judgment. Verse (6) mentions those “BLESSED,” who “hath part” - a description of the blessing already in their possession.

How do saints today, “hath part,” in the first resurrection? The answer is that all saints who die, besides those martyred previously mentioned, are equally blessed to be in heaven before the resurrection of the last day. “Absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8).  Divine love that connects saints together in, and by, and to Christ - are eternally secure, in vital union with Him, not subject to the second death. Therefore, they ascend into heaven to be with their LORD at physical death. 


Conclusion:  Suffering Christians who read the Revelation of Christ Jesus, an epistle from John, a “brother and companion in tribulation,” may easily perceive the comfort granted to them. Anxiety and fears associated with deadly persecution - predicaments many brethren must face even today - are diminished by the power of faith. This spiritual power is afforded you by faith! Tribulation is sure to all those who live godly in Christ Jesus. So also is the assurance we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us! While different interpretations vary, this explanation seems plain to the wording and consistent with the overall purpose of the prophecy of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. 

Written & Shared by Stephen Aquino – Baltimore, MD. May 2021


[1][1] A phrase from the Late, Sonny Pyles, showing that established truths of the Bible must not be in conflict with colorful language of Revelation.

[2] Can also mean, ”BEFORE, BEGINNING, CHIEF, FIRST, FORMER” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words).

larry heldman  

Elder James Compton (1905 - 2007)
Elder James Compton was the original founder of the 'Gospel of Grace Tape Supply.' His collection of tapes began as he traveled to Church meetings and Associations recording sermons on Reel to Reel. He has maintained this library of sermons faithfully over the years and are now the foundation of PB Sermons. org. This web site is dedicated to Elder James Compton (1905 - 2007)