Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Revelation 20:6 -- Answering the Challenge of Eschatological Traditionalism

The doctrinal position that states that all true Christians will reign with Jesus Christ is in grave error. It functionally serves to neuter the greatest of motivations to pursue sanctification and intimacy with Christ: rewards and accountability. Recently, someone who takes the position that all will be basically the same in the kingdom of God for church age saints, proclaiming that all will reign with Christ, wrote, “I've noticed that preachers of [rewards theology] have a real problem explaining this Scripture away: 'Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years' (Rev. 20:6, NASB)."

We will deal with this verse in its context in this article (which is an excerpt from a paper I did in seminary where I wrote a commentary on Revelation chapter 20). I need to learn how to do footnotes in my blogs. So until then, I have to put my footnotes in the text itself.

The Reigning of the Overcoming Saints
Rev 20:4-6
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
(The italics is the NKJV translator’s addition)

Our attentions are now turned from Satan in the bottomless pit to the third heaven. Many commentators find two groups of people here. The author of this commentary only finds one. Verse four contains a very complex sentence that is awkward in English because of its word order in the Greek.

--[For those grammatically challenged, please skip ahead to the next paragraph]--
According to the diagramming of this author, verse 4a has 3 coordinate main clauses: (1) “I saw thrones and the souls” (2) “They sat” and (3) “Judgment was given to them”. The second coordinate object of the first clause, “the souls,” is further modified by two subordinate clauses. The first subordinate clause is a perfect genitival participial phrase, acting adjectivally, “of the ones having been beheaded.” This subordinate clause is further modified by two prepositional phrases: (1) “on account of the testimony of Jesus,” and (2) “on account of the word of God”. The second subordinate clause modifies the substantival participle, which is the first subordinate clause (“of the ones having been beheaded”). This second subordinate is a relative, adjectival clause, using the third person, plural relative pronoun οιτινες, which is translated “those who”. This relative clause has two coordinate predicates: (1) “(those who) neither worshipped the beast nor his image,” and (2) “(those who) did not receive the mark”. The object of this last predicate, τα χαραγμα (= “the mark”) is further modified by two prepositional phrases: (1) “upon the forehead,” and (2) “upon their hand”. The second coordinate main clause, “They sat” is modified by the prepositional phrase, “upon them” (the antecedent of this plural demonstrative pronoun is “thrones”, which is the first of two coordinate objects of that clause.

The word order that would make sense to the 21st century English reader would be this: “And I saw thrones and the souls of the ones having been beheaded on account of the testimony of Jesus and on account of the Word of God, and who neither worshipped the beast nor his image and did not receive the mark upon the forehead and upon their hand. And they sat upon them [thrones] and judgment was given to them” (Author’s translation).

What is said about this one group of people, who died martyr’s deaths, is that they “came to life” and co-reigned with Christ for the thousand years. The NKJV translates εζησεν (3rd person, plural, aorist, active, indicative) as “lived”. In the context, however, it would be better translated as an ingressive aorist, “came to life,” since bodily resurrection is mentioned in verse 5a. (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 559)

What is unmistakable in this passage is the meritorious heirship of these martyrs. It was on account of their faithful testimony to Jesus Christ and their ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives for it that they were given the reward of co-reigning with Christ in the kingdom. “The faithful martyrs of the Great Tribulation are rewarded with a share in Christ’s royal power.” (Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse (Third Edition), (Irving: Grace Evangelical Society, 2007), 82). This is not to be the privilege of every born-again believer who enters the kingdom, but of those Christians who overcome by perseverance and endurance in their Christian life, and the trials and hardships associated with it (see Rev 2:26-28; 3:21).

The unsaved dead were not resurrected, did not “come to life” (the same ingressive aorist is used here as in verse 5) until the end of the Millennium. They are waiting in Hades for their opportunity to make their case before God at the Great White Throne (Rev 20:13).

“This is the first resurrection” has given some people problems. There not need be any. The simplest explanation can often be the best. The “first resurrection” is a term denoting the final destiny and existence of all believers in the same way the expression the “second death” designates the ultimate eternal fate of all unbelievers. The first resurrection does not imply chronology, per se. The example of the martyred saints comes after the resurrection of the raptured church saints and far after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the first in terms of quality, priority, and preference.

We find in Rev 20:6 one of seven Beatitudes found in the whole book of Revelation. We must note the other six:

Revelation 1:3 “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand” (KJV). This blessing is pronounced upon those who “hear…and keep” what is found written in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 14:13 “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (KJV). John says blessed are the martyrs who die for Christ, for “their works follow them”. See also the previous verse which declares, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev 14:12).

Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (KJV). Joyful is the person who “watches,” keeping his testimony.

Revelation 19:9 “And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God” (KJV). The marriage supper of the Lamb is for the overcoming Saints who will be co-heirs with Christ in the Kingdom and will co-reign with Him there. It is the celebration of the overcomers. Not all Christians will be attending this feast (see Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Those invited to this intimate feast are those who were granted to wear “fine linen, clean and bright” (Rev 19:6), where we learn in the very next verse the reason that they are honored by such: “the[ir] righteous acts” (19:7).

Revelation 22:7 “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (KJV). A blessing is again pronounced upon the one who guards and keeps the sayings contained in the book of Revelation.

Revelation 22:14 “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (KJV). The saints who perform the commandments of Christ are they who will be rewarded (blessed) with the right to the tree of life, and entrance through the honored gates into the city (rather than through the common entrances).

What is evident from examining these Beatitudes is that they are all conditioned upon works of some kind or another. They enunciate rewards and honors based upon the merits of the works done by the saints. This observation will be important as we consider the Beatitude found in Rev 20:6.

Revelation 20:6 “Blessed and holy is he who has part [a portion] in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (NKJV). As we noted above, the martyrs who died for the testimony of Christ and the Word of God were rewarded a share in Christ’s reign in the kingdom. As we have also observed, the Beatitudes in Revelation depict blessings being pronounced upon fulfillment of conditions of works. In like manner, John now declares the happiness and joy of those who have a “part in the first resurrection.” Not only are they blessed, but these people are sanctified (Greek: a[gioj), set apart for priestly service and royal authority.

It would be wrong to read these words in a vacuum. The text need not be construed as saying that certain people simply “take part” in the first resurrection. On the contrary, John’s vivid statements must be read against the background of our Lord’s parable of the minas [Luke 19:12-16] and against the background of all the other Scriptures already noted [see 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-27; 3:21]. What we have here is co-heirship with Christ. In this splendid sphere of existence which is called “the first resurrection,” there are those especially blessed because they have a portion, an inheritance, there. And that inheritance or portion is described as an immortality which entails priestly and kingly duties. (ibid. 82)

The word for “part” [better translated: portion] in Rev 20:6 is the Greek term μέρος. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament Scriptures, called the Septuagint, we have this term used of a portion of inheritance: Proverbs 17:2 “A wise servant shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part [or a portion] of the inheritance among the brethren.” In Daniel 5:7, we have Belshazzar stating that anyone who could interpret the writing on the wall that “rulership shall be given unto him: a third part [Greek: μέρος] of the kingdom” (Author’s translation from Septuagint Greek), using the term to indicate a share in authority in the kingdom (see also Dan 5:16, 29 for similar usages of μέρος). This word is also used by the Prodigal Son when he asked for his inheritance ahead of time: “And the younger of them said to his father: ‘Father, give me the share [μέρος] of the wealth that is to become mine.’ So he divided his assets between them” (Luke 15:12). (Ibid., 81. Translation is that of Zane C. Hodges).

In context, then, we have those saints who, through their merit, receive a kingdom, cf. “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim 2:12). It is in such a way that Jesus Christ Himself has received His kingdom: “Jesus… who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). What an application this should have for us in the Christian life: “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). To finish the race set before us is to receive the crown, the symbol for kingly authority. Who could forget the words of Paul?

1 Cor 9:24-27
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

The “second death” has no power over these overcoming saints. The expression used here in Rev 20:6 is an example of the figurative language called litotes, which is “an understatement or negative statement to express an affirmation.” (Roy B. Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation, 156). What is being said here is that far be it from being touched by the second death, these overcoming individuals will be priests and kings in the Millennium.

End excerpt

From the whole context of Revelation we learn that those who will co-reign with Jesus Christ in the kingdom of God are those who have merited such by loving righteousness and hating lawlesseness, enduring until the end. The whole New Testament speaks of the conditionality of the superlative glories and honors available to the saint in the coming ages.

One need only take off the blinders of tradition to see them...