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James Dodson


NO rule of hermeneutics is more self-evident than that the obscure passages of Scripture should be interpreted in harmony with the plain. To wrest the plainer passages of Scripture from their most evident meaning, in order to force them into agreement with a certain interpretation of an obscure passage, while this very passage is capable of an interpretation in perfect accord with the most evident meaning of a large number of plain passages, is exegetical insanity. It is because of this principle that we have felt ourselves compelled to defer the consideration of Rev. 20:4-6, and certain obscure allusions upon which Pre-millennialists depend to support their general theory, until the more explicit passages had been examined. We assume, of course, that the Scriptures thus far adduced are among the plainer teachings of the Bible, and that Rev. 20:4-6 is one of the more obscure passages. Does this need proof? The passages we have referred to were almost all given in direct discourse, and are in unfigurative language. The speaker or writer evidently thought those addressed would understand his meaning. Apart from any bias because of theories of the millennium, there has been scarcely any disagreement among interpreters as to their meaning. On the other hand, the whole book of Revelation, at least after the letters to the seven churches, has ever been regarded as obscure and difficult of interpretation. It is the language of figure and symbol. Not only have its interpreters been divided into great general classes, but they have disagreed upon points almost numberless, as in the case of no other book in the New Testament.

Neither is Rev. 20:4-6 among the least obscure parts in this book. Not only are interpreters divided on the question whether it is to be understood literally or spiritually, but there is great diversity of opinion both among the literalists and those who explain its meaning figuratively. Dr. Gordon thought it included all the saints, as have the larger portion of Pre-millennialists, in the past. Blackstone, Brookes, McNeil, and a growing proportion of the Pre-millennialists of the present, regard it as confined to what they term the tribulation saints, or such as die during the great tribulation, the time between the so-called rapture of the saints and our Lord’s return to the earth with them. Others believe that the most eminent of the confessors in all ages will share in this resurrection. A similar diversity of view prevails among those who interpret the passage figuratively. Probably there is no other passage about which there has been more difference of opinion. It is true that many of our pre-millennial brethren think of both the book of Revelation, and this passage especially, as among the plain portions of Scripture; but in view of all this divergence of belief among themselves as well as others, this claim is preposterous.

If, therefore, the question be whether we shall begin with Rev. 20:4-6 and interpret the passages hitherto adduced in harmony with one of the many possible views as to its meaning, even by doing violence to their most evident sense, or whether we should begin with these passages and make the consensus of their unforced teaching the norm to judge as to which of the many possible interpretations of Rev. 20:4-6 is the correct one, the rule we referred to at the beginning of this chapter requires us to do the latter, and justifies us in the plan of treatment we have adopted.

The only question, then, is whether the plainer and more explicit passages bearing on the questions under discussion do teach a single and general resurrection, a single and general judgment, the end of the race in the flesh, and the end of probation, at the second coming of our Lord, or whether it is their teaching that there are two, if not three, distinct and separate resurrections and judgments, and that the race in the flesh and probation do continue after His coming. The reader must judge for himself whether it has been made plain that the former and not the latter is their teaching; but this is what their natural and unforced interpretation seems to me to declare with overwhelming explicitness and iteration. Believing, as I do, that Scripture is never in conflict with Scripture, when correctly understood, the true interpretation of Rev. 20:4-6 must be the one which brings its teaching into accord with that of the rest of the New Testament as we have explained it. Apart altogether from its bearing on the question of the millennium, candid interpreters have explained it both as figurative and as literal. This proves it to be capable of either a figurative or a literal interpretation. As the literal interpretation would bring it into conflict with what appears the unforced meaning of whole classes of explicit passages thus far adduced, I am compelled to explain it figuratively. But, even if it were otherwise, ought we not to be willing to accept a less satisfactory explanation of this one obscure passage, rather than consent to wrest all these plain passages from their natural and evident meaning?

Let us read Rev. 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 had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”

Let it not be forgotten that this is the only direct passage of Scripture urged in favor of the two resurrections, with the millennium between, and involving the belief in two separate judgments, and the continuance of the race in the flesh and of probation after our Lord comes. Dr. Gordon frankly admits this in the question: “But how is it we have never met this startling doctrine of two distinct resurrections, with a millennium between, till we reach the last book of the Bible 2" While he claims that this doctrine has been met in other parts of the Scripture, he was unable “to define it” until this passage is reached, and he adds, later on, “There is, perhaps, no doctrine of Scripture, the references to which are at once so fragmentary and so complemental of each other as this doctrine of two resurrections.”[1]

Dr. Brookes says: “We come now to the well-known passage which distinctly asserts the doctrine”[2] (of the two resurrections), tacitly conceding that this is the only Scripture which “distinctly asserts” it. This means that this doctrine could never have been drawn from the Bible without the help of this passage; in other words, that this passage is indispensable to the theory of two resurrections with all it involves. Now, Pre-millennialists deem this doctrine of two resurrections of vast moment. Does it not seem strange that so very important a doctrine should have been left to depend for its revelation upon a single passage in almost the last chapter of the most difficult book of the Bible? We should at least expect that this one brief passage, which was to serve so momentous a purpose, should be one of crystal clearness. It is safe to say that no other important doctrine of Scripture is left to depend for its revelation upon a single passage, however clear it may be. Much less might we expect the one indispensable passage itself to be so obscure that honest interpreters have differed so widely as to its meaning, and to be found in a book so full of strange and mysterious imagery. Can we believe such a passage as this was intended to be the medium of the revelation of a doctrine so important as this is deemed, and its one indispensable bulwark? Much less are we justified in making one of the possible interpretations of this passage the centre of a great system, around which the plainer teaching of the New Testament must be grouped, even if they must be wrenched away from the meaning which the vast majority of interpreters suppose they convey.

But let us examine the passage more carefully.

1. If this is the description of a bodily resurrection, it is not of a resurrection of all the righteous dead.

The words, “Them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand,” are evidently intended to restrict those that “live and reign with Christ” to two classes. Could such language be used to describe all the righteous dead that have ever lived? The first class—“them that had been beheaded”—are martyrs. Who constitute the second? “Such as worshipped not the beast,” etc. This is made clear by Rev. 6:9-11, wherein the first class is described almost in identical terms —“them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.” These are asked “to rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, which should be killed, even as they were, should be fulfilled,” before the Lord should “judge and avenge their blood.” The second class included in Rev. 20:4 are those referred to in chap. 6:9-11 as still to be slain. This is apparent from the correspondence between the description—“such as worshipped not the beast,” etc.—and the account of the persecutions which are said to burst out in connection with the beast and his image, in the chapters between Rev. 6:9, and Rev. 20. Notice especially chap. 13:15, where it is said, “It was given unto him to give breath to it, even to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as should not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” To make Rev. 20:4-6 refer to all the righteous is to set at nought the plainest intention of the most definite language, as well as the evident relation of Rev. 6:9-11 and Rev. 20:4-6. As we have said, Pre-millennialists are more and more adopting this restricted interpretation as of the martyrs only. Forced by the demands of their theory of a coming of Christ for His people, and a subsequent coming with them, they would restrict its meaning too much, and make it refer exclusively to what they term the tribulation saints, or those who endure the trials of the times between these two alleged comings of our Lord. But while Rev. 20:4-6 refers to two classes exclusively, it evidently includes all these classes. While “such as worshipped not the beast” may include those only who lived immediately before the millennium, “them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God,” or as in Rev. 6:9-11, “them that had been slain for the word of God and the testimony which they held,” can only mean all that had ever been slain for this reason.

Now, if Rev. 20:4-6 is to be interpreted literally, it requires us to face the difficulties involved in two distinct resurrections of the righteous. It even then leaves all the hosts of saved people who may die during the millennium unprovided for, to be raised at some other time or times. Now, how does this conception square with the general teaching of the New Testament as to the resurrection of the righteous? Take a few passages:

1 Cor. 15:51, 52: “Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trump shall sound, and the dead shall be raised,” etc.

1 Cor. 15:23: “They that are Christ’s at his coming.”

John 5:29: “They that have done good unto the resurrection of life.”

1 Thess. 4:14: “Them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”

1 Thess. 4:16: “The dead in Christ shall rise first.” These expressions, “the dead,” “they that are Christ’s,” “they that have done good,” “them that are fallen asleep in Jesus,” “the dead in Christ,” are all perfectly general, and they are also used in connection with accounts of the resurrection, as of a single, and, for the most part, of an instantaneous, event. It is difficult enough to attempt to rend the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked asunder, but to accept an interpretation of Rev. 20:4, which requires us to rend the resurrection of the righteous itself into fragments, against what seems the most explicit teaching of the rest of the Bible, appears to me most unsafe. The fact that there is not only not the remotest allusion to any such fragmentary resurrection of the righteous in the New Testament apart from the literal interpretation of Rev. 20: 4-6, but that the general teaching of the plain passages of the New Testament is directly against this idea, forms the strongest presumption against the correctness of such literal interpretation of this passage.

2. The alternative presented is to have “part in the first resurrection” or to be under the power of the “second death”—to be cast into the lake of fire.

The implication seems to be that all who do not have part in the first resurrection here spoken of must share in the second death. Now, if this is a literal resurrection, say, of all the righteous dead, until the millennium, as Pre-millennialists have generally held, then what about those who live during the millennium? They do not share in this resurrection. Must they be cast into the lake of fire? If this resurrection is literal and of the martyrs only, the difficulty becomes all the greater.

3. It is said, “The rest of the dead lived not, until the thousand years should be finished.” The natural, if not the necessary, implication of this is that the rest of the dead should live when the thousand years should be finished. Now, what do we find at the end of the thousand years? Is it a literal resurrection of the wicked dead? Let us read: “When the thousand years are finished Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,” etc. (vs. 7-10). It is a resurrection of wickedness which has been virtually dead during the millennium, and which now, under satanic impulse, dashes itself in its last expiring throes against righteousness and those who represent and embody it. If the resurrection of the martyrs here spoken of and of the “rest of the dead” referred to be of the same character, as seems evident, then, as the resurrection of the “rest of the dead” is not of the bodies of the wicked, neither can that of the martyrs be physical.

4. If this passage refers to the physical resurrection of the martyr dead, as the final act in the resurrection of all the saints and their reign with Christ on the earth, then we have to face a difficulty which to me seems almost insuperable. Pre-millennialists suppose that Christ, during the millennium, will, through His personal and visible presence on the earth, manifest transcendent power. Through this power, righteousness not only shall prevail, but wickedness shall be practically non-existent. With Him, and sharing His rule, will be the glorified saints in their resurrection bodies, to be visible witnesses of His power which had raised them from the dead, and of the certainty that all His words of promise or threatening must come to pass. And yet, in an evangelized world, among those who must be acquainted with the very prophecy which assured the overthrow of their uprising, in presence of the glorified saints, and in the face of the omnipotent and reigning Christ, as He had ruled in personal presence and resistless power for generations and generations, wicked men arise, as it would appear, suddenly, and the strength of wickedness, in a little time, assumes such proportions that its votaries “compass the camp of the saints and the beloved city”— the city of Jerusalem, where Christ and the glorified saints have the seat of their rule—and fire must come from heaven and devour them; or, as it would appear, they would have swept the saints away and triumphed.

Now, all this is not irreconcilable with the view of the millennium which Post-millennialists hold. Righteousness prevails, not through the personal presence of Christ in irresistible power after having raised the righteous dead, but through such progress of the Gospel as we observe to-day. There will be no personal and visible presence of the omnipotent Saviour, reigning in mighty power with His glorified people in Jerusalem; but righteousness will maintain its sway, as it secured it, by the power of truth and moral influences. There will be no memories handed down of the tremendous display of majesty and might described in Matt. 25:31 sq.; for this judgment is still to be. While righteousness will dominate the world, wickedness will still exist, but in a suppressed state. In the end, evil, which has been becoming more intense as it has maintained itself in the face of the strongest moral forces, and as it has been pent up, will burst forth in a last struggle for supremacy over the earth, and then those who are its representatives will meet their final overthrow, as the Lord comes to raise the dead and judge all that have ever lived.

But to suppose there will arise such an insurrection of the wicked in the teeth of the power which Premillennialists assume will be displayed by a Christ ruling in majesty and glory with His glorified saints—to suppose men with knowledge of the scenes enacted at His coming (described in Matt. 25:31), and with knowledge of the almighty power with which He has been ruling for so long, will dash themselves against His personal might, as well as that of His living and glorified saints—seems to me well-nigh incredible. In proportion to these difficulties will be the objection to the interpretation which involves them all.

5. As already remarked, Rev. 20:4-6 contains the answer to the prayer of the martyrs recorded in Rev. 6:9-11. These are represented as crying “with a great voice, saying, How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? . . . It was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, which should be killed even as they were, should be fulfilled.” In Rev. 20:4-6, the time for the fulfilment of this promise has come, through the complement of the martyrs being made up, and we see the “judgment” prayed for “given to them ” (v. 4). Now, if this passage is to be interpreted literally of martyrs who have been raised from the dead, then the judgment must be upon those who dwelt upon the earth with them and shed their blood (Rev. 6:10). But before all who were to be slain from that time on, had been martyred, these persecutors had long since been dead, and they are not to rise till the thousand years and the last uprising of evil are over. How can judgment and vengeance be executed upon those whose time for judgment has not yet come?

6. Pre-millennialists who interpret this passage literally are compelled to connect it with the second coming of our Lord. Yet the second coming of our Lord is not hinted at in the remotest way, although the coming of the angel to bind Satan is mentioned (v. 1). Can we believe that the event which is to be the grandest in the history of the world and the consummation of the ages—that which, according to premillennial interpretation, gives all its significance to the whole narrative—would be left out? Had John seen our Lord descending to raise the dead in this vision, can we believe he would have left this most transcendent part of the vision unnoticed? Some, however, have sought to escape this difficulty by referring to Rev. 19:11 sq., as a vision of our Lord’s personal coming to raise the righteous dead. However, Pre-millennialists themselves are far from agreed upon this as the true interpretation of this Scripture. The imagery differs altogether from the descriptions uniformly given elsewhere of His coming: Matt. 24:30: “The Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory;” Matt. 25:31 : “When the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory;” 2 Thess. 1:7: “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of his might, in flaming fire;” Matt. 26:64: “Ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” If this passage refers to His second coming, instead of raising the dead when He appears, a series of grand and terrific events (see Rev. 19:11-21) is to intervene between His advent and the resurrection of the righteous, to which Rev. 20:4-6 is supposed to refer. On the other hand, the Pre-millennialists, who see in Rev. 20:4-6 a resurrection of “tribulation saints” only, believe that the righteous dead generally were caught up with the living saints in “secret rapture” quite a period before this lesser resurrection. They place His second coming to awaken the righteous dead generally before the pouring out of the seven vials of the 16th of Revelation, and a long time prior, therefore, to that described in Rev. 19:11 sq. Finally, in Rev. 20:11 we have our Lord’s appearing for judgment described in language almost identical with that of Matt. 25:31, thus making it apparent that the same judgment is spoken of in both passages. But in the latter passage, the judgment is in immediate connection with His second advent; and, therefore, the second coming of our Lord must be in immediate connection with Rev. 20:11, not prior to Rev. 20:4-6, and Rev. 19:11-21 must be a symbolic representation of some part of the history of the Church prior to His personal coming. The fire “coming down from heaven” (Rev. 20:9) and devouring the wicked in their last uprising is rather in connection with the Lord as He appears in flaming fire taking vengeance on His enemies (2 Thess. 1:8).

7. If Rev. 20:4 refers to the post-resurrection reigning of all the saints “with Christ,” why is it said to be for one thousand years only? To “him that overcometh” (Rev. 3:21), our Lord says, “I will give to sit down with me in my throne,” and the promise to all the saved in Rev. 22:5 is that “they shall reign forever and ever.” If it be said that it refers exclusively to reigning on the earth, it may be replied that the passage does not mention reigning on the earth; it is reigning “with Christ,” apparently in the most general sense in which saints reign with Him, if this refers to their reign with Him after He comes again. In any case, allowing that exclusive reference is to a reigning on earth, the implication is that the saints shall reign on the earth only for a thousand years, and the pre-millennial belief that the earth is to be the eternal home of the redeemed is set aside. But as has been shown, and as a very large proportion of Pre-millennialists now admit, Rev. 20:4-6 refers to the martyrs only. Are none but the martyrs to reign with Christ in the post-resurrection state? If not why are they alone mentioned as sharing in His rule? Questions will also arise as to the saints who are born and live during the millennium. Do they have no share in this reigning with Christ?

We thus find that the literal interpretation of this passage is very far from the plain and easy matter Pre-millennialists ever assume it to be. It is encompassed with difficulties of the most serious nature, if they are not insuperable. While we do not venture to say that the figurative interpretation is without its difficulties—the passage is too obscure to make a perfectly satisfactory explanation possible—it is hoped that it may be made to appear, apart altogether from the tremendous presumption against the literal interpretation afforded by the general teaching of the New Testament, that there is less against and more in favor of the figurative interpretation than of the literal.

1. The most of Revelation, from the beginning of chapter four to the end, is in the language of symbol and figure. Take the vision of chapter four—the elders, the lamps, the sea of glass, the beasts, are all symbolical. The book with the seven seals, the Lamb with the seven horns and eyes (chap. 5), are of the same character, and the whole scene is to represent truth of a larger significance than that which appeared to John. Equally symbolical is the opening of the seals and the horses of various colors of chapter six. And so the visions of symbolic beings and doings succeed each other to the end. The angels holding the four winds, the sealing of the servants of God on their foreheads, the angel with the censer, the seven angels with their trumpets, the sounding of the trumpets, and what follows, are all in the language of figure. Then the woman and the dragon and the beasts which follow him, and the struggles, the vials, the woman in scarlet, Babylon, the white horse and his rider followed by the armies of heaven on white horses, the sharp sword proceeding out of his mouth, the summoning of the vultures, etc., are all figurative and symbolical. John did not see, for the most part, at least, a vision of the very things which were to come to pass, but visions of what represented them in symbol and figure. Thus we come to the immediate connection of our passage, and still, up to the very passage itself, we find the language of symbol continued. No one surely can suppose that the angel with his key and his chain, his binding Satan with the chain, his casting him into an abyss and locking him in and sealing the abyss over, is a literal representation. Even in the passage itself there is much that is undeniably symbolical. The beast and his image, and the receiving of the mark on their foreheads and in their hands, are of this character. Instead, therefore, of its being unjustifiable to interpret this passage figuratively, even if it is at all possible to explain it literally, the overwhelming presumption from the whole character of the book from the third chapter, and from the character of its immediate connection and much of the passage itself, is in favor of a figurative explanation. It is more reasonable to interpret it figuratively, unless its language makes this explanation well-nigh impossible.

2. The second death, from which those who have part in the first resurrection are secure, is figurative. Is it not reasonable that the first resurrection in immediate connection with which it stands should also be figurative? Pre-millennialists assume that the second resurrection—that of the rest of the dead—of which that of Rev. 20:4-6 is said to be the first, is described in Rev. 20:11 sq. As the latter is admitted by all to be a physical resurrection, they argue very strongly that the first resurrection which this succeeds must be of the same kind, and likewise of the bodies of those raised. Now, if the physical resurrection of Rev. 20:11 sq., were correlated with that of Rev. 20:4-6 as the second, of which this latter is the first, their argument against the first being a figurative resurrection would be very strong. But in assuming that the resurrection of Rev. 20:11 sq., is that of the rest of the dead spoken of in Rev. 20:5, or the second resurrection of which that of Rev. 20:5 is the first, they assume the very point to be proved, and attribute to Post-millennialists a view that most of them repudiate, and that is forbidden, as it seems to me, by the passage itself. It is nowhere said that Rev. 20:11 sq., describes the second resurrection, or that of the rest of the dead. What are really correlated in this passage are “the first resurrection” and “the second death.” Are we not almost as fully justified in assuming that both these must be of the same character, as we should be that the resurrections of v. 4 and v. 12 sq., must so be, if they were related in the same way? It is the Pre-millennialists and not the Post-millennialists who would make the resurrection of one kind and the death of another, the former literal and the latter spiritual. So Pre-millennialists are more guilty of the inconsistency they charge upon us than are Post-millennialists, who hold that the first and second resurrections spoken of and implied in Rev. 20:4-6 are both figurative.

3. The “rest of the dead,” it is declared, “lived not until the thousand years should be finished.” Can we doubt that this means they were to live when the thousand years were ended? In v. 3 we read that the angel shut Satan in the abyss “that he should deceive the nations no more until the thousand years should be finished,” an expression identical with v. 5, quoted above. Now, we know that “until the thousand years should be finished” of v. 3 did not mean that Satan was not to go forth to deceive the nations until a somewhat prolonged period after the thousand years were over; but that he was to begin his evil work as soon as they were ended (v. 7). What right have we to suppose the very same words in v. 5 mean that the rest of the dead were not to live again until the conclusion of a fateful period after the thousand years were completed? And yet this is what the literal interpretation of Rev. 20:4-6 requires us to believe. The rest of the dead, the unrighteous, according to this view, instead of living again at the end of the thousand years, do not rise from the dead until after the last uprising of wickedness has run its course, after the conclusion of the millennium (vs. 7-10), and in the resurrection of v. 11 sq.

And yet Pre-millennialists are properly very much concerned to insist upon the implication of this word “until.” For instance, Luke 21:24, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled,” is not thought to mean that Jerusalem is to remain trodden down until long after “the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”; Rom. 11:25, “Hardening in part hath befallen Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in,” is not interpreted to mean that this hardening shall continue until a lengthened period has elapsed after “the fulness of the Gentiles be come in”; Acts 3:21, “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things,” is not thought to imply that our Lord is not to come until long after the times of restoration have ended. And so we might continue to refer to the use of “until,” but these passages should suffice.

It seems plain, then, that Rev. 20:5 means that the rest of the dead will live again as soon as the thousand years are finished, and not remain unquickened until after the great uprising of wickedness shall have intervened. The pre-millennial interpretation, therefore, which sees the resurrection of “the rest of the dead” in the vision of vs. 11-15, after the uprising of evil shall have been crushed, rather than when “the thousand years are finished,” must be wrong, and we are shut in to another interpretation than the literal, and one which does not contradict the plainest implication of the passage. The resurrection of “the rest of the dead” must take place at the end of the thousand years, and not after the last struggle of evil which succeeds this period.

Is there an interpretation, then, of this difficult passage, which is less obvious to the objections which lie against the literal explanation, and which will better meet the positive conditions which have been named, while, at the same time, it does not conflict with the direct and general teaching of the New Testament? We hold that there is such an interpretation, although no exegesis of the passage may be altogether satisfactory.

As already noticed, Rev. 20:4-6 is to be interpreted in connection with Rev. 6:9-11. In the earlier chapter there is a vision of the souls of a class of martyrs, under the altar, crying out for a judgment and vengeance upon their persecutors, which they are told cannot yet be executed. The vital question in the interpretation of both these related passages is whether this is a vision of the actual, or whether it is a vision of what represented the actual in a symbolic way. It must be remembered that the altar, and the martyrs, and their crying for satisfaction, are a part of John’s general vision recorded in chapters 4, 5, and 6, of the throne and one sitting upon it, of the four and twenty elders, of the lamps burning before the throne, of the glassy sea, of the four living creatures full of eyes, etc. Now, no one believes this all a vision of what was actually existing and taking place in heaven. The lamps, the elders, the living creatures are all symbolical and represent something. So also of the altar and the martyrs. Can we believe that John saw the souls of the martyrs except in vision? Can we believe that the souls of these most faithful witnesses for God are cast down at the foot of an altar, like the beasts slain in sacrifice? Can we believe this to be their condition in heaven, and that they must remain thus, consumed with unsatisfied desire, until the last witness has sealed his testimony with his blood? No, it is doubtful if any sober student of the Bible, be his view as to the millennium what it may, has ever thought this to be a vision of the actual. The altar, the souls of the martyrs, their place under or at the foot of the altar, their crying with a great voice for satisfaction upon their persecutors which would not be granted—all are to represent something in the language of symbol. What can the martyrs represent but the cause and principles for which they suffered, and the spirit which animated them in their heroic struggles? Their position at the foot of the altar of sacrifice shows forth the depressed condition of the cause, principles and spirit they represent. They are like the animals slain in sacrifice, and cast down beside the altar. To the same effect is the significance of the cry for judgment and vengeance, and the delay in the answer. The cause and principles represented by the martyrs are crushed under the opposing power of evil. Complete satisfaction for the martyr blood shed is still future, because evil still is strong. This condition must continue “until their servants also and their brethren, which should be killed even as they were, should be fulfilled.”

In Rev. 20:4-6 that time has come, and in this vision the fulfilment of the promise is represented in similar imagery. The class of martyrs seen in Rev. 6:9-11 reappears, accompanied by those who had now been “killed as they were.” But now, instead of being as dead, at the foot of the altar of sacrifice, they live. Instead of having to cry with a great voice for judgment and vengeance, they have judgment given to them, and they sit enthroned and reign with Christ. This vision shows the consummation of the long struggle between good and evil, God and Satan, which is traced in the symbolic representations between Rev. 6:9-11 and Rev. 20:1. The emissaries of Satan—the beast and the false prophet—have gradually been overcome. And now Satan himself is said to be bound, as the final issue of the long and desperate conflict, and the martyrs hold dominion with Christ. Now, if the martyrs represent the cause, principles and spirit of the martyrs, as we seem compelled to believe, unless we make both visions views of the actual rather than symbolic representations of what is real, then for the martyrs to live and sit enthroned and have judgment given to them, and reign with Christ, must mean that this cause and spirit and these principles, instead of continuing as though lifeless, through being overborne by the might of evil, now live, through asserting themselves with superior power. They judge and reign because these principles are recognized as the law by which life is to be judged, and they now rule in the life of the world. Rev. 20:1-6 gathers up into a single vision the results of the progress of the cause of Christ and the principles and the most devoted spirit of the Gospel, through a long process of conflict and gradual triumph, and symbols it forth in the enthronement and reign of the class of men who represent the highest life of the Church.

Just as the martyrs are said to live in the resurrection to life and power of the principles and spirit of which they are the highest representatives, so likewise the wicked are said to live in the resurrection to life and power of the principles which they represent. When it is said, therefore, that “the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished,” or that the rest of the dead were to live when the thousand years had expired, it means that we are then to look for a resurrection to life and power of the principles and spirit of evil men, which had been practically dead during the millennial period, just as the principles and spirit represented in the highest way by the martyrs had been practically lifeless at the time referred to in Rev. 6:9-11. And this is just what we do find. Just as Satan is represented as bound through the curbing of his power during the thousand years, at the close he is said to be loosed again, as his power again is manifested through the lives of men (Rev. 20:7-10). This is the resurrection which is the second, of which that of Rev. 20:4-6 is the first. Both resurrections are of the same kind and figurative, Both correspond to the second death, which is also figurative. The two classes of men which represent the opposing spirit and principles and cause of righteousness and wickedness, of Christ and Satan, are said to live in the life and power of what they represent. This is one of the most common forms of expression in the Bible. The prodigal, when he abandoned the spirit of his home, died; when he was restored to a right mind again, he rose from the dead (Luke 15:32). When men are delivered from the dominion of sin and become righteous, they are said to be alive from the dead (Rom. 6:13). When nations are delivered from bondage, they are said to live again in their restored prosperity (Ezek. 37:12-14). In Rev. 11 the two witnesses are said to be slain and rise again from the dead, as the open testimony to the truth which they represent is suppressed or proclaimed. Allowing for the inevitable setting or drapery of all symbolic descriptions, which must not be pressed for a significance it was not intended to convey, this interpretation is not unsatisfactory; at least, it is not beset with the difficulties to which the literal explanation is exposed. The martyrs are said to reign with Christ but a thousand years, because it is only for this period that the principles and spirit they represent have unbroken sway over men. The judgment and the avenging of the blood of the martyrs, in answer to their cry (Rev. 6:9-11), is to be interpreted in the light of Rev. 19:2, “For he hath judged the great harlot, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and he hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand,” “the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain” (Rev. 18:24). The judgment and vengeance here spoken of was realized in the overthrow of the cause and system of wickedness which slew the martyrs and which is here represented by a harlot, just as the cause and principles of Christ’s kingdom are represented by the martyrs. The pre-millennial interpretation would require us to believe that the prayer of the martyrs for judgment and vengeance was not answered until the resurrection of Rev. 20:11 sq.—after the great uprising of wickedness. But the answer was to be delayed only until their brother martyrs had been killed. In Rev. 20:4-6 we see them in company with these very martyrs that were afterward slain, showing that this is the time for the promised answer, and not after a subsequent period had run its course.

The judgment and vengeance asked for in Rev. 6:9-11 are, therefore, to be looked for in the crushing of the persecuting cause of wickedness, through the triumph of the cause and principles of which the martyrs were the most faithful exponents, as represented in Rev. 20:4-6.

We have not space to elaborate this interpretation at greater length. The reader must judge whether, on its merits, in view of the symbolic and figurative character of all the visions of Revelation, it is not preferable to the pre-millennial explanation. Are we not, at least, more than justified in accepting it in its general features, rather than wrest from their natural and evident meaning all the plain and direct passages to which we have referred the reader, bearing on the questions of a general resurrection, a general judgment, and life in the flesh and probation after Christ comes again, as we must do, if we accept the alternative pre-millennial and literal interpretation of Rev. 20:4-6?

While Rev. 20:4-6 is the only direct passage claimed by Pre-millennialists in favor of a distinct resurrection of the righteous and another of the wicked with more than the millennium between, they refer to allusions which it is held can only be interpreted in harmony with their view. The chief of these is the expression, “resurrection from the dead,” εκ νεκρῶν. The class of passages containing this expression, it is claimed, “represent the resurrection of believers as eclectic and special,[3] . . . refer to . . . a separation and quickening to life out from among the dead.”

This argument at one time appeared to us to be very strong. A study of all the passages in which “resurrection from the dead” and “resurrection of the dead” occur, has greatly reduced our estimate of its force.

These are the facts:

1. The resurrection of our Lord, which is preeminently a resurrection from the dead, is twice spoken of as a resurrection of the dead.

Acts 26:23: “How that the Christ must suffer, and how that he first, by the resurrection of the dead, should proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles.”

This, of course, means, “that He first” by His own resurrection as He was “first born from the dead” (Col. 1:18) “should proclaim light,” etc., His own resurrection being thus termed a resurrection of the dead.

Rom. 1:4: “Who was declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection of the dead.” This declaration was made by His own resurrection, which is again called a resurrection of the dead.

It is also more than probable that Acts 17:32, “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead,” refers specially to the resurrection of Christ, spoken of in the preceding verse, thus making three instances in which our Lord’s resurrection is spoken of as a “resurrection of the dead.”

2. In only two cases is there mention made of a resurrection from the dead, apart from references to the resurrection of our Lord, of Lazarus, and Herod’s guilty fear that John the Baptist had arisen from his grave. These are Luke 20:35 and Phil. 3:11. It is to be remarked, also, that while the record of our Lord’s answer to the Sadducees in Luke 20:35 is, “They that are accounted worthy to attain to that world and the resurrection from the dead,” etc., in Matt. 22:31, referring, as it would appear, to the same resurrection, it is said to be “of the dead.”

3. Of the nine times in which the expression, “resurrection of the dead,” is used of other than that of Christ (Matt 22:31, Acts 23:6, 24:21, 1 Cor. 15:12, 13, 21, 42, Heb. 6:2) it is certainly used three times (Acts 23:6, 24:21, 1 Cor. 15:42)—most exegetes would say six times, reckoning in 1 Cor. 15:12, 13, 21 as well—where the apostle had only the resurrection of the righteous in his thought.

4. It is especially to be noticed that in 1 Cor., chap. 15, where, as is generally admitted, Paul has the righteous dead alone in mind, and in v. 42 where their resurrection alone can be alluded to, this resurrection is always referred to as a resurrection of the dead, and not once as a resurrection from the dead (vs. 12, 13, 21, 42).

Now, if Paul thought the resurrection of the righteous to be a first resurrection to glory from among the wicked dead, who were not to be raised for more than a thousand years, and in a second resurrection to shame and everlasting contempt, it would seem as though he must certainly have indicated it in the only chapter in which he treats at large of their rising from the dead, by using the expression, “resurrection from the dead,” especially in v. 42. The use of the expression, “resurrection of the dead,” in this whole chapter, makes it pretty evident that he did not have before him this conception of the resurrection of the righteous as from among the dead.

It is also difficult to believe that our Lord’s resurrection should be referred to as a resurrection “of” as well as “from” the dead, if the latter expression is intended to convey a meaning distinct from that of the former.

Neither let it be forgotten that the act of being raised or of rising, whether it be of saint or sinner, can be expressed in no other way than as being raised, or as a rising, “from the dead.” In this case there cannot possibly be any thought of eclectic resurrection of some from among others who remain in their graves. The expressions are probably elliptical wherein being raised or rising from the dead is used for being raised from the place or state of the dead. Now, if there can be nothing of the eclectic idea in these verbal expressions, do we need import this significance into the substantive form, “resurrection from the dead”? May it not also be an elliptical expression, meaning resurrection from the place or state of the dead? In view of the interchangeable way in which “from" and “of” the dead are found to be used, and also of Paul’s use of “resurrection of the dead” in the chapter, of all others, in which we should expect the other form, were it intended to mean what our pre-millennial brethren declare, are we justified in freighting it with so large a significance? It may be added that the great majority of commentators pass over the expression, “resurrection from the dead,” as though this form “from the dead” had no special significance.

Phil. 3:11, “If by any means I may attain unto the resurrection from the dead,” is not difficult of explanation in harmony with this view. The apostle had in mind, when writing, the blessedness which should come to believers at their resurrection, as is made evident by the following verses, not necessarily any idea of a special resurrection of the righteous in point of time before that of the wicked. His longing and striving were for the blessedness of this resurrection of the righteous, which only he had in thought, irrespective of the question whether they were raised with or before the wicked.

Another argument for a separate resurrection of the righteous is sometimes urged, on the ground that New Testament writers so frequently refer to the resurrection of saints exclusively. 1 Cor, chap. 15, and 2 Cor. 4:14 sq., are especially instanced. It is argued that Paul could scarcely have failed to make any reference to the resurrection of the wicked, if he had supposed them to share in the same general resurrection with the righteous. But this form of reasoning is very unsafe. We might just as well argue, when we read that Christ died for His sheep, and no reference is made to His death availing for all men, that He must have died a second time for them. The explanation is that in the connection in which such passages stand, the writer is treating of the righteous only, and naturally refers to their resurrection alone. Pre-millennialists themselves do not place much stress on this argument, and many omit it altogether in their discussions. We merely mention it.

This finishes the discussion of our subject as it relates to two resurrections and what is involved in this fundamental pre-millennial conception. We have sought to give the evidence for the view we hold candidly, and with a desire to avoid a strained and one-sided interpretation, while endeavoring to give interpretations which will harmonize the teachings of the New Testament, rather than bring them into conflict. We have also sought fairly to meet the arguments urged in favor of the pre-millennial view. The reader must judge for himself of our success.



[1] “Ecce Venit,” pp. 219, 228.

[2] “Maranatha,” p. 66.

[3] “Ecce Venit,” p. 220.