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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Resurrection, the First

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is a phrase occurring in Revelation 20:4-6 :

"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years."

Interpreters have been divided as to the distinction in time here denoted bv the two successive resurrections. It was the general opinion of the early Christians (but not universal; see Heingstenberg, Apocalyp. 2:348 note, Carter's ed.) that the thousand years were to be comr puted from the birth of Christ; and coupled with this reckoning was often expressed a belief in. the literal resurrection of saints at that time, prior to the general resurrection; but it is hardly a fair statement that "those who lived next to the apostles and the whole church for three hundred years, understood these words in their literal sense" (Alford, Comment. ad loc.). Bishop Wordsworth affirms (Greek Test. with Notes, ad loc.) that the spiritual interpretation "is that which has been adopted by the best expositors of the Western and Eastern churches from the days of St. Augustine to those of bishop Andrews." A glance at the conspectus given in such works as Poole's Synopsis Criticorum, and Wolff's Curce in N.T., at this place, will suffice to show the great discrepancy' in the earlier interpreters on the subject, and that in Ellicott's Horte Apocalypticae, ad loc., displays an equal divergence in modern times., Those who hold the literal view maintain (1) that this is the only plain meaning of the text, and (2) that it is sustained by several other passages which speak of a distinction of the righteous as raised first (especially 1 Thessalonians 4:16). But these latter passages do not require, nor even admit, so long an interval between the resurrection of the saints and that of others, which, moreover, are elsewhere represented as substantially simultaneous (John 5:28-29; Revelation 20:12); indeed, Scripture everywhere (unless in the passage in dispute) knows of but one future advent of our Lord, and that the final and universal one at least after the figurative one at the destruction of Jerusalem. (See ESCHATOLOGY). Moreover, such a temporal and earthly reign of Christ as the literalists here require, is at variance with the whole spirit and economy of the Gospel and we may add that the anticipations which such a theory engenders have been the bane of Chiliasm (q.v.), and the fosterer of fanaticism in all ages. (See MILIENARIANS). Finally and conclusively, the passage in dispute itself explicitly limits the resurrection in this case to the "souls" of the martyrs (not all saints), apparently meaning a revival of their devoted spirit, or, at most, their glorification (as in the case of the "two witnesses," Revelation 11:11-12); and not a word is said about a terrestrial reign, but only one "with Christ," i.e., in the celestial or spiritual sphere. The modern literature of the discussion is very copious, but quite sporadic, and no complete treatise has yet appeared on the subject. The best is that by David Brown, D.D;, Christ's Second Coming (Lond. 1846, 1847, 1856).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Resurrection, the First'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/r/resurrection-the-first.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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