Reformed Theology

The Resurrection of Believers: Already and Not Yet

Richard Gaffin, quoted by Rev. Kim Riddlebarger in A Case for Amillenialism:

The unity of the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of believers is such that the latter consists of two episodes in the experience of the individual believer—one which is already past, already realized [e.g. Col. 2:12: “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead”], and one which is future, yet to be realized [e.g. Col. 3:4: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”]. In the period between the resurrection and the Parousia of Christ, any believer is one who has already been raised from the dead, and is yet to be raised. . . . The distinctive notion that the eschatos, the “age-to-come,” is both present and future, is reflected in [Paul’s] teaching concerning the fundamental eschatological occurrence for the individual believer: his resurrection is both already and not yet. (67)

This passage really helps explain how Jesus’ kingdom is already realized, though we await the final consummation.


6 thoughts on “The Resurrection of Believers: Already and Not Yet

  1. The concept of the resurrections in Amillennialism has been very hard for me to grasp. If I could come to an understanding of it all, then I would probably be amill. I'm trying to figure out how Rev. 20's definition of the First Resurrection fits into the Amill interpretation. Is it death? Is it conversion? I have issues with both in the fact that Rev. 20 seems to portray people who are physically dead, and they are already Christians…Do you understand my hang-up?

  2. Based on the treatments in Paul, Riddlebarger says we have entered First Resurrection at regeneration (although the literal text in the epistles also equate it with baptism). But I think in the context of Revelation 20…

    “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. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. (Rev. 20:4-5, ESV)”

    … John says right there that those who take part in the First Resurrection are those in the intermediate state, who die in faith. I think Riddlebarger agrees with this in the context. Both are true: We are raised with Christ (present text, cf. Paul's epistles), and we enjoy the First Resurrection (John's label) when we die. We reign with Christ until the End of the Age, when the Second Resurrection occurs.

    The First Resurrection: We die, and are in the presence of the Lord 2 Cor. 5:6-10, so we are alive, even though we don't have our bodies yet.

    First Death: When everyone dies physically. For believers, this corresponds with the First Resurrection. The First Death is not explicitly mentioned, but can be inferred by the use of “First Resurrection” and “Second Death”, in which context the “first” is the intermediate state and the “second” is the eternal state.

    Second Resurrection: We are reunited with our resurrection bodies and enjoy the rest of eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth.

    Second Death: After the judgment, the reprobate are sentenced to an eternity in the Lake of Fire. (Rev. 20:14-15, 21:8)

    In terms of your “hang-up”, it doesn't matter whether the First Resurrection happens at conversion or death. The saints in Rev. 20 are dead, because it says they had been beheaded. Whether the “First Resurrection” happened when they died or when they were saved, they are still in the First Resurrection in Rev. 20. However, Scripture says we are already “seated in the heavenlies”. This is another instance of the “Already and Not-Yet”. We are already seated in the heavenlies. But in the Resurrection, we will really be seated in the heavenlies because we will be glorified. Our current state is like a seal of a promise yet to be fulfilled.

    “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. 20:6, ESV, cf. Rev. 2:8-11).

  3. But it would matter what exactly the First Resurrection is because if (according to Rev. 20) the people are 1) already regenerated and 2) already have died and are present with God, then the Amill’s interpretation of the First Resurrection doesn’t make any sense because it says “they came to life”. There’s no more definitions left, at this point, of the word “life”, so I would think that the “life” it’s referring to must be a physical one AFTER regeneration AND AFTER their death/presence with God, which would sound more like the interpretation that Premill’s have of the First Resurrection. I’m confused here, and this is my hang-up.

    The reason I would say that the people in the vision of Rev. 20 are already regenerated is because they “had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God”. Likewise, the reason I would say that the people in the vision of Rev. 20 are already in the presence of God and in Heaven (or the intermediate state/Heaven) is because they are obviously physically dead since Paul sees “the souls of those who had been beheaded”. I also would tend to think that these “souls” are the same ones in Rev. 6:10 that “cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”, which is the precursor-scene to the Rev. 20 scene when Paul sees the “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… They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years”.

    Just from reading Rev. 20 I would also think that the second resurrection in Rev. 20 is that of non-believers only, to the resurrection of judgment described in John 5:28-29…“an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” I think these verses in John 5 could go either way as far as whether or not both resurrections here happen at the same moment or each are separated by a long period of time.

    What verses support the definition you just gave of the second resurrection being “We are reunited with our resurrection bodies and enjoy the rest of eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth.” I don’t doubt that’s what happens at some point, but how is that the definition of the second resurrection implied in Rev. 20 when it sounds like it’s referring to non-believers only?

    I do appreciate you mentioning the concept of the already and not-yet in the First Resurrection, that helped a little.

  4. To limit yourself to the dictionary definitions of a word when excegeting a passage is to commit a fallacy, when it is always possible that a word can be used as a metaphor for something else (I've been reading D.A. Carson on this subject). You say there's no more definitions left of “life”, but that is inconsistent with the fact that Revelation gives us a definition for the Second Death (the Lake of Fire), one that is beyond the normal definition of death (physical death). “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” John 11:25, ESV.

    To “come to life” is to enter the intermediate state. Imagine yourself in the place of someone who was just recently beheaded for the sake of Christ. When you die, are you going to feel like you died? Or are you going to feel like you just came to life? To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, so of course you're going to be living your best life ever up to that point, before the very throne of God! Or imagine if you were someone who had been beheaded a few years back, and then your Christian friend was just recently beheaded. In your perspective, it is going to be as if that friend had just “come to life”, because you hadn't seen him for three years, and suddenly he's ushered into the place where you are, around the throne of God! What a joyful reunion that will be!

    I don't know if you have access to the works of B.B. Warfield, but I found his chapter on the Millennium to be very helpful on this point. I think it's what pushed me over the threshold towards Amillennialism.

    So, I believe in Revelation 20, the “First Resurrection” is referring to those who die before the Second Resurrection and have a unique experience that those who are still alive when Jesus returns will not know. When Paul says we have already been raised with Christ, this is in terms of the “already and not-yet” of New Testament eschatology: we will not see this resurrection realized until later. But in Pauline terms (the epistles), you could in fact call this the First Resurrection. But do not let this confuse you into thinking I'm saying that the “First Resurrection” in John (Revelation) means regeneration.

    The First Resurrection is a metaphor for the transitory state of life after death for believers. The phrase “Second Resurrection” only makes sense when you are differentiating it with the First. I believe in Revelation, John equates the First Death as physical death, and the second death with spiritual death, and the First Resurrection with (only spiritual) life, and the second with life that's both spiritual and physical. In any other part of the Bible, the Second Resurrection will be spoken of merely as The Resurrection because you're not comparing it to a symbol.

    1 Thess. 4:13-18
    2 Peter 3:8-13
    1 Cor. 15

  5. I'm sorry, I wasn't very clear with that first sentence. When I said, “To limit yourself to the dictionary definitions…”, I meant, “To limit oneself to the dictionary definitions…” I was trying to make an epistemological/exegetical point, not to cut you down. I hope it came out right when you read it.

  6. Pingback: The First Resurrection of Revelation 20 | I must follow, if I can

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