4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years – Rev. 20:4-6
The next thing that John sees after the removal of Satan is the manifestation of something that has been time and again hinted at throughout Scripture: The reign of Christ with His people.
The earthly Kingdom of Christ is of course not a new concept in Scripture. It is prophesised in the Old Testament (e.g. Is. 2:2-4; 9:7; 60:1-4; Dan. 2:44; 7:9-14, 27; Mic. 4:1-3), proclaimed by Christ Himself numerous times during His earthly ministry (e.g. Mat. 13:24-32; 38-43; 47-50; 20:1-16; 22:2-14; Mark 1:15) and hinted at by the apostles (cf. 1 Cor. 6:3; 1 Pet. 2:9). And even though there is much to say about what that kingdom of justice, prosperity and peace will be like, for now let’s focus on the mind-boggling fact of our own involvement in it.
Have you ever thought about this? If you are like me, you are guilty of often skimming over astounding, world-shattering, transcendent truths in the Bible without anything really sticking (rule of thumb for reading the Bible: If you consume too slowly, you’ll starve. If you consume too fast, you’ll choke. Chew your daily bread).
Fact: If you are a Christian, if you are bought by the blood of Him who is to rule supreme over the whole universe (1 Cor. 6:20), one day, by His grace, you will be seated with Him on a throne and exercise co-regency under Him with all your other brothers and sisters in Christ. That tremendous fact is what John so matter-of-factly describes in a mere 58 words (in the original).
I have to go back again to that question about the meaning of life. When we speak of heaven, we speak about our glorification (following our election, predestination, salvation and sanctification). And it often seems to us to be too remote, too far away and too irrelevant to the issues (oh, those issues) we are faced with right now, right here.
The intention of this vision is to change that. Heaven is not some pie-in-the-sky pipe-dream, but a reality that will involve every one of us who has placed their faith in Christ and has been clothed with His righteousness (Eph. 4:22-24). And when we think of that, how can we look at our existence in Christ with anything but thrill, excitement and crushing gratitude? Why should we, sinners at best, be made to rule with Christ, “the King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 19:16)? Doesn’t the fact that, by grace alone, we will one day sit on white thrones of holiness by His side eclipse every other ambition of our life? Doesn’t free us from pointless pursuits and make us focus on those things that are above, since all of our life has now become Christ (Col. 3:1-4)?
And as if that wasn’t enough, we can also find comfort in this: If we are to reign with Christ at a specific time in future history, then we can have assurance that He will not fail to prepare us for that task. Even despite our shocking lack of wisdom (James 1:5), our despicable indwelling sin (Rom. 7:14-23) and our alarming unfamiliarity with the realm of heaven (1 Cor. 13:12), Christ will ensure that we will be fully qualified to exercise righteous authority in His Kingdom. It’s that comforting truth that Paul told the believers in Philippi: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). It’s why we should be discouraged when we look at ourselves and worshipfully encouraged when we look at Christ.
Leaving much unsaid (the curse of blogs) let’s look at verse 5. There are some who are not raised, but will spend the Kingdom era dead and buried. These are those who have tragically died in their sins; they have died in same condition as everyone who is born. They are not better or worse than those who reign with the King. They are not less intelligent or more morally deficient. The only difference between them and those on the white thrones is that they never partook of God’s gift of grace, the gift of salvation. They never repented. They never broke under the weight of their guilt to cry out for God’s mercy forgiveness. They remain in their graves because there is no place for them in Christ’s Kingdom; nor, as we will see later on, will there ever be.
John calls the Kingdom “the first resurrection”. It is also referred to as the “resurrection of the righteous/just” (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15), the “resurrection of life” (John 5:29), and the “better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35). In 1 Cor. 15:23 Paul speaks about this very event, telling us that after the second coming of Christ, those who belong to Him will follow.
And then, in verse 6, John makes a comment: Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! (this is also the fifth of seven benedictions that John exclaims in Revelation – cf. 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 22:7, 14). The word for blessed (μακάριος) is the same as the one Jesus used in His famous benedictions (Mat. 5:1-12). It is a term that speaks of a state of complete joy bursting forth from God’s own blessing, without even a hint of shadow; think of it as an exploding, unquenchable light that God Himself brings forth. It’s not mere joy, peace and satisfaction; it’s beyond that, so much that we don’t have the words to fully describe it. Exactly like Heaven.
But there’s more: Those who partake of the first resurrection, those who are found in Christ, are also holy (ἅγιος). There is really only one way to understand this statement: It’s not so much a future promise as blessed, but an observation. Those who are raised to reign with Christ are holy. Not they might be holy. Not they are working on being holy. They are holy, because without holiness “no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
This statement is both an exhortation and an encouragement. It is an exhortation to Christians to pursue holiness, because that is their eternal future and their nature. If you are in Christ, being holy is your nature, and you should live in holiness because your Father who gave birth to you is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). But also remember that, because of your ultimate destination, you are already holy (the same word for “saints”), and every flaw and blemish on your holiness will be removed when you enter Heaven.
May we all be in that first resurrection, blessed and holy.