Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 1 of 11

A response to the premillennial interpretation of [Revelation 20:1-6] is based on the following considerations:

1. The meaning of “resurrection” and “life” as used here.

It is important to recognize that [the Greek word] anastasis is found in Revelation only here in 20:5-6. In addition, “first” (Greek protos) appears with ‘resurrection’ (anastasis) nowhere else in the Bible. Nor does “second” appear in connection with “death” anywhere else in biblical literature (other than the related use in 21:8). Studies of words expressing the idea of “first” and “second” must therefore be conducted to determine better the meaning (on which see below) and to determine what “resurrection” means here.

In addition, the verb zaō (“live”) has a range of meanings in Revelation and elsewhere in the NT and can be used with reference to both physical and spiritual resurrection in the same context. In 1:18 and 2:8, it refers to a physical resurrection, and in 16:3 and 19:20 it refers to some form of physical life. In 3:1; 7:17; and 13:14, however, it refers to a form of spiritual existence, as also in six other places where it refers to God’s attribute of timeless spiritual existence, so that the predominant meaning in Revelation is spiritual life or a spiritual coming to life.

However, most striking is the observation that elsewhere in the NT anastasis and zaō (or the noun zōē, “life”), together with other synonyms, are used interchangeably to refer to both spiritual and physical resurrection within the same immediate context. For instance, in Rom. 6:4-11, Paul says (according to the following paraphrase) that we have been buried with Christ spiritually so that, even as Christ was raised (egeirō) physically from the grave, we might receive a new life (zōe) spiritually (6:4); that if we have become conformed spiritually) (in our conversion) to His physical death, so shall we be conformed spiritually to His physical resurrection (anastasis, that His resurrection life will begin to become real in our present spiritual existence, v.5). We have died with Christ spiritually that we should live with Him (syzao) spiritually (6:8, another reterence to our present spiritual resurrection life). Therefore, Paul concludes, we should consider ourselves spiritually dead to sin but spiritually alive to God in Christ Jesus. Then Paul says, “the life that He [Jesus] lives [zaō], He lives [zaō] to God” (v.10); “…even so consider yourselves…to be alive [zaō] to God in Christ Jesus” (v.11). Paul takes words like “death,” “life” (zōē, syzaō) and “resurrection” (anastasis) (the latter two words found in Rev. 20:4-6) and mixes two different senses of them in one passage: spiritual (pertaining to our present spiritual resurrection life in Christ), and physical, referring to Christ’s resurrection (though anastasis is not explicitly used in a spiritual sense, it is clearly synonymous with syzaō and zōē). Note also how Paul states that we have already experienced a resurrection in our coming to Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1).

The same is true in John 5:24-29. There, Jesus teaches that one who hears His word already (“now”) has life (zaō) spiritually and has already passed from eath to life (zōē) spiritually (v.24). But an hour is coming, Jesus continues, when those who are dead physically will rise physically, and those who have heard His voice will experience a physical and eternal “resurrection of life” (anastasin zōēs), but others will experience a physical “resurrection [anastasis] of judgment.” Here again, the spiritual and physical senses or the words “life,” “death,” and “resurrection” are used interchangeably in one passage (though again anastasis is not explicitly used in a spiritual sense, it is clearly synonymous with zōē, as a genitive of apposition “resurrection which is life”; but zōe is used spiritually in v. 24). Furthermore, v. 25 and vv. 28-29 refer to the same resurrection prophecy from Dan. 12:1-2, which means that the prophesied resurrection of Dan. 12:2 is interpreted by Jesus to be both spiritual (v.25) and physical (vv. 28-29).

Must then the verb zaō, “live,” have the same (i.e., physical) meaning throughout Rev. 20:4-5? The immediate and broader context of Revelation must determine the meaning. Consider that the “second death” in v.6 dearly refers to a spiritual death of the unrighteous involving conscious, eternal suffering (see on vv. 10, 14-15). On the other hand, the death of the righteous mentioned in v.4 (“the souls of those who had been beheaded”) refers to a literal, physical death. Therefore, in vv. 4-5 there is a first death
of believers, which is physical and is different in nature from the second death of unbelievers, which is spiritual. If there are two different kinds of deaths it is plausible to infer that the two different resurrections would reflect the same dual nature of the deaths. That is, the resurrection of believers is spiritual, whereas the resurrection of unbelievers is physical. The first, physical death of saints translates them into the first, spiritual resurrection in heaven, whereas the second, physical resurrection of the ungodly translates them into the second, spiritual death. This interpretation suits the thought of v.6, since a first, eternal, spiritual resurrection is the minimal condition needed to prevent one from suffering a second, eternal, spiritual death. As the bodily resurrection of the wicked shows, bodily resurrection by itself does not provide protection against the second death. There is a second, final, physical resurrection (of both believer and unbeliever), as there is a first, physical death (of both believer and unbeliever). But the first resurrection is experienced only by believers, whereas the second death is experienced only by unbelievers.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 439-441.

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