17. (a) Will the “great crowd” of survivors of the “great tribulation” be made instantaneously perfect after the abyssing of Satan? (b) When will they be able to keep God’s law flawlessly, and why?
17 In order to emphasize this difference between their instantaneous state at resurrection and the state of the rest of the world of mankind at the start of the thousand years, the apostle John proceeds to say: “These came to life again and reigned with Christ for a thousand years, though the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were over.” (Revelation 20:4, 5, New English Bible) This proves that even the “great crowd” of worshipers at God’s spiritual temple, who survive the “great tribulation,” will not instantaneously be made perfect in their flesh and pronounced worthy of everlasting life on earth immediately after the binding and abyssing of Satan the Devil and his demons. By the uplifting aids and blessings of the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ, they will progress gradually to human perfection and to ability to live sinlessly in the flesh and to keep God’s laws flawlessly.
Among those thus coming forth from Haʹdes or the common grave of dead mankind will be that evildoer hung on an execution stake alongside Jesus, to whom Jesus said: “Verily I say unto thee this day: With me shalt thou be in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43, Rotherham’s translation; New World Translation) This evildoer will come forth from Haʹdes into the earthly Paradise reestablished for mankind by the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In that Paradise the evildoer will share the opportunity along with all the other resurrected human dead to correct his life course and be cured of human imperfection and sinfulness. In this way, by the end of the thousand years of Christ’s reign, he will be able to reach the goal of human perfection in God’s image and likeness. All those attaining to human perfection and sinlessness on earth by the end of the thousand years must, however, undergo a final test of their loyalty to God’s universal sovereign rule, in order to keep their perfect life.
19. (a) So, then, how is it that “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended”? (b) What is done to those who do not pass the test of loyalty to God’s sovereignty?
19 Those perfected humans on earth who maintain their integrity and prove faithful to God’s rightful rule will be declared righteous by the Supreme Judge, Jehovah God. These innocent ones He will declare to be worthy of eternal life, and He will assign to them the right to endless life in happiness in the earthly Paradise. Free of all condemnation, these obedient ones now really live from God’s perfect standpoint. In this manner it is, then, that “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:5)
“THE FIRST RESURRECTION”
20-22. (a) When John returns to discussing “the first resurrection,” why does a question come up regarding Ephesians 2:1-6? (b) Similarly with regard to Colossians 2:11-13, where Paul discusses Christian circumcision?
20 After interjecting that statement about the “rest of the dead,” the apostle John refers back to the coming to life again on the part of those who were “executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God” and proceeds to say: “This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and will rule as kings with him for the thousand years.”—Revelation 20:5, 6.
21 Can it be that this “first resurrection” of these 144,000 Kingdom joint heirs of the Christ is what the apostle Paul speaks of at Ephesians 2:1-6? There the apostle writes to the first-century Christians in the city of Ephesus, Asia Minor, and says: “And you were dead, through the crimes and the sins in which you used to live when you were following the way of this world, obeying the ruler who governs the air, the spirit who is at work in the rebellious. . . . But God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ—it is through grace that you have been saved—and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.”—The Jerusalem Bible, Roman Catholic, of 1966.
22 Similarly, when discussing Christian circumcision with Christians in Colossae, Asia Minor, the apostle Paul wrote: “This is circumcision according to Christ. You have been buried with him, when you were baptised; and by baptism, too, you have been raised up with him through your belief in the power of God who raised him from the dead. You were dead, because you were sinners and had not been circumcised: he has brought you to life with him, he has forgiven us all our sins.”—Colossians 2:11-13, Je.
23. (a) Because the foregoing scriptures refer to one of the “first” experiences in a Christian’s life, what does the New Catholic Encyclopedia say about the “first resurrection”? (b) Hence, about Satan’s binding for a thousand years?
23 We do have to admit that this passing from death to life in a figurative way, or in a spiritual sense, is one of the “first” experiences in a Christian’s course. So, taking this experience to be the “first resurrection” mentioned in Revelation 20:5, 6, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (copyrighted 1967) goes on to say under the title “Millenarianism”:
. . . The “first resurrection” symbolizes Baptism, . . . by which one shares in Christ’s resurrection. . . . All the faithful, both those on earth and those in heaven, share in the 1,000 year reign of Jesus, a symbol for the entire life span of the Church considered in its glorious aspect from the Resurrection of Christ until the Last Judgment, . . . The chaining of Satan during this same period signifies that the influence of Satan has been notably reduced, not completely removed. The lessening of Satan’s influence is the result of the effectiveness of Christ’s Redemption. After a final struggle near the end of time . . . Satan will be completely conquered by Christ. . . .
24, 25. How long has been the Church’s life-span since Pentecost of 33 C.E., and what does Paul say about ruling as kings in the Christian congregation during his time?
24 Does such an explanation of the “first resurrection” harmonize with what John writes in Revelation 20:1-6? Well, since the day of the Festival of Weeks in the year 33 C.E., when the Christian congregation at Jerusalem began to be baptized with God’s holy spirit, until now, the “life span of the Church” has proved to be, not just one thousand years, but nearly double that. During all these nearly two millenniums has any member of the true Christian congregation “reigned,” even in the midst of the congregation itself?
25 Who of the apostles thus “reigned”? Not the apostle Paul! For he wrote to certain ambitious members of the congregation in Corinth: “You have begun ruling as kings WITHOUT us, have you? And I wish indeed that you had begun ruling as kings, that we also might rule with you as kings. For it seems to me that God has put us the apostles last on exhibition as men appointed to death, because we have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men.” (1 Corinthians 4:8, 9) To his missionary companion Timothy, he presented the matter of reigning as coming after the Christian’s physical death, saying: “Faithful is the saying: Certainly if we died together, we shall also live together; if we go on enduring, we shall also rule together as kings; if we deny, he also will deny us.”—2 Timothy 2:11, 12.
26. According to Jesus’ words to the Laodiceans, what is shown as regards a Christian’s reigning on earth from the day of his baptism?
26 And what about the apostle John? While on the Roman penal isle of Patmos as an exile, he quoted the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ as saying to the Christians in Laodicea: “To the one that conquers I will grant to sit down with me on my throne, even as I conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21) All the reigning was future, after the physical death of the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. There was to be no reigning on this earth, from the day of the Christian’s baptism in water.
27, 28. (a) Does Revelation 20:4 picture them as coming to life from a figurative death by a willing water baptism? (b) By what means is the death pictured as coming, and for what, and so from what kind of death must the “first resurrection” be?
27 By what kind of resurrection is it that “they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years”? By a figurative resurrection or by a literal resurrection from actual death and the grave? Revelation 20:4 does not speak of their coming to life from the figurative death that they willingly experience when they are baptized in water as Jesus himself was. No, but it is the death that they experience when they are “executed with an ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God.”
28 This ‘execution with an ax’ comes upon them not by their will, but by the will of the enemies of God and of Christ, and it occurs after their baptism in water and because they bear witness to Jesus as the Christ and speak about God as the rightful Ruler of the universe (including our earth). This ‘execution with the ax’ results eventually in a real physical death. Consequently, their ‘coming to life again’ to rule as kings is from a literal, physical death, and not from a figurative one that takes place at water baptism. Likewise, the ruling as kings does not begin on earth after a spiritual resurrection that follows their baptism in water. The resurrection meant in Revelation 20:4-6 is the real, literal resurrection from the sleep of death in Sheol or the common grave of mankind.
29, 30. (a) Is it true of those who have had merely a figurative resurrection that “over these the second death has no authority”? (b) What does Paul say on this in Hebrews 10:26-31?
29 Another point in proof of this must not be overlooked: Revelation 20:6 says: “Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority.” That second death is symbolized by the “fiery lake that burns with sulphur.” (Revelation 19:20; 20:14) Is this true of those who have merely been baptized with water and who have spiritually been made alive from death in trespasses and sins and who have been raised up together spiritually and been “seated . . . in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus”? (Ephesians 2:1, 5, 6) No, it is still possible for these baptized ones to prove unfaithful while on earth under test and to come under the penalty of the “second death,” total annihilation. That is why the apostle Paul warned the baptized, anointed Christians in Corinth, Greece: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) Also, Hebrews 10:26-31 warns the baptized, anointed Christians:
30 “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition. Any man that has disregarded the law of Moses dies without compassion, upon the testimony of two or three. Of how much more severe a punishment, do you think, will the man be counted worthy who has trampled upon the Son of God and who has esteemed as of ordinary value the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has outraged the spirit of undeserved kindness with contempt? For we know him that said: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will recompense’; and again: ‘Jehovah will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
31. What does Hebrews 6:4-8 say on this?
31 Also, in Hebrews 6:4-8 we read: “It is impossible as regards those who have once for all been enlightened, and who have tasted the heavenly free gift, and who have become partakers of holy spirit, and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but who have fallen away, to revive them again to repentance, because they impale the Son of God afresh for themselves and expose him to public shame. For example, the ground that drinks in the rain which often comes upon it, and that then brings forth vegetation suitable to those for whom it is also cultivated, receives in return a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is rejected and is near to being cursed; and it ends up with being burned.”
32. Only those Christians who experience what kind of resurrection are not subject to the “authority” of the “second death” or harmed by it?
32 In view of this, the “first resurrection” is not that figurative resurrection that follows baptism in water and that leaves the baptized one still exposed to the possibility of the “second death,” liable to its “authority.” It is the real, literal resurrection from Sheol to life as a spirit son of God in the invisible heavens to which Jesus Christ himself ascended. To these the promise of Jesus applies: “Prove yourself faithful even to death, and I will give you the crown of life. Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations: He that conquers will by no means be harmed by the second death.” (Revelation 2:10, 11) Those having part in the “first resurrection” cannot be harmed by the “second death” and are not subject to its “authority” because in this resurrection they have been clothed upon with immortality and incorruption.—1 Corinthians 15:53, 54.
33. In what two ways can it be called “the first resurrection”?
33 We can now appreciate the reason why this is called “the first resurrection.” It is because it is the same kind of resurrection that Jesus Christ experienced on the third day of his death, a resurrection to instantaneous fullness of life, so that the resurrected Jesus Christ became “the firstborn from the dead.” (Revelation 1:5; Colossians 1:18) It precedes in time the ‘coming to life’ of the “rest of the dead.” It is not only first in time, but also “first” in being the best resurrection that the dead could experience. It is a resurrection to incorruptible, immortal life as a spirit son of God in God’s own heavens.
34. How are those having part in the “first resurrection” holy?
34 Indeed, then, it can be exclaimed: “Happy and holy is anyone having part in the first resurrection.” (Revelation 20:6) They are truly “holy” in that no unfaithfulness on their part that would deserve “the second death” is possible for them. Also, by this resurrection it is made possible for them to be heavenly “priests of God and of the Christ” and to “rule as kings with him for the thousand years.” Satan the Devil will not be the world’s ruler then.