Questions From Readers
● Revelation 20:5 reads: “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” Does this text show that the resurrection will take place after the thousand-year reign of Christ?—Ecuador.
No, this text need not be understood in that way.
There is even some uncertainty as to whether these words actually appeared in what the apostle John originally wrote. They are definitely not found in the fourth-century Sinaitic Manuscript. If they were in the original, these words must still be considered in the light of the context and the rest of the Scriptures.
Revelation 20:4-6 reads: “I saw thrones, and there were those who sat down on them, and power of judging was given them. Yes, I saw the souls of those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God, and those who had worshiped neither the wild beast nor its image and who had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand. And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection.”
Manifestly, those experiencing the “first resurrection” come to life before the end of the thousand-year reign, as they are associated with their Lord in rulership during that period. But those not experiencing the “first resurrection,” the resurrection to heavenly life, are spoken of as ‘not coming to life until the thousand years were ended.’ The question is: Does such ‘coming to life’ refer to their being resurrected?
No; viewed from the context, and in the light of other scriptures, it is plain that this is not the case. Describing the resurrection, Revelation 20:11-13 states: “I saw a great white throne and the one seated on it. From before him the earth and the heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. But another scroll was opened; it is the scroll of life. And the dead were judged out of those things written in the scrolls according to their deeds. And the sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them, and they were judged individually according to their deeds.” Then, in Revelation 21:1, we read: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away.”
The context thus shows that the general resurrection of the dead takes place after the “former heaven and the former earth” pass away. When does this take place? According to 2 Peter 3:10, the former heavens and earth are to pass away in “Jehovah’s day.” That day, according to 2 Pe 3 verses 3 through 6, will catch ridiculers unprepared, as did the flood of Noah’s day, and therefore precedes the thousand-year reign of Christ.
In the days of Noah neither the literal earth nor the literal heavens perished. But a wicked human society, under the control of wicked spirit forces, perished in the floodwaters. Similarly, the destruction of “the heavens and the earth that are now” does not mean the end for the literal earth and the material heavens. (2 Pet. 3:7) However, an ungodly human society will perish. And Satan the Devil and his demons, who have been like ruling “heavens” over disobedient mankind, will be put out of action or abyssed.—Rev. 20:1-3.
Inasmuch as Revelation 20:11-13 links the general resurrection of the dead with the ‘fleeing away of the earth and the heaven,’ that resurrection must take place during the thousand years that Satan is in the abyss. Hence, the ‘coming to life’ of the dead at the end of the thousand-year reign, as mentioned in Revelation 20:5, cannot be applied to such resurrection of the dead in Hades. How, then, should it be understood (if actually part of the inspired text of the Bible)?
The Bible shows that even the living can be viewed as ‘dead’ from God’s standpoint. Jesus Christ said: “Let the dead bury their dead.” (Matt. 8:22) He also spoke of those accepting him in faith as ‘passing over from death to life.’ (John 5:24) Similarly, the apostle Paul, with reference to those in line for heavenly rulership, wrote: “Though you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcised state of your flesh, God made you alive together with him [Christ].”—Col. 2:13.
So it can be seen that a person does not become alive from God’s standpoint until such time as he is free from condemnation resulting from sinfulness. In the case of those who will rule with Jesus Christ, Jehovah God, on the basis of his Son’s sacrifice, “declares them righteous” and thus views them as being perfect, without sin, while yet in the flesh on earth. (Rom. 8:33) However, others of mankind, including those resurrected on earth during Christ’s thousand-year reign, will not immediately be freed from sinful inclinations and their deadly effects. In fact, without the benefits of Christ’s ransom being applied to them and their availing themselves of these, such resurrected ones on earth would die again. That liberation from sinful inclinations will eventually take place during the Christ’s thousand-year reign is confirmed at 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. There we read that not until “the last enemy, death,” is brought to nothing will Jesus ‘hand over the kingdom to his God and Father.’ This ‘handing over of the kingdom’ could not occur until the completion of Christ’s thousand-year reign. Thereafter Satan will be released from the abyss and permitted to subject humankind to a final test.—Rev. 20:3, 7-10.
Those passing this test will be declared righteous and granted the gift of everlasting life. They will thus “come to life” in the sense of being justified or declared righteous to eternal life. No longer will sin or its deadly effects operate within them. They will become alive as members of God’s family, ‘free from enslavement to corruption and having the glorious freedom of the children of God.’—Rom. 8:21.