2. The significance of first-second and old-new antitheses elsewhere in Revelation and the Bible.
This contrast between physical or corruptible realities and incorruptible, eternal realities runs through chs. 20 and 21. The qualitative distinction between the two resurrections is also suggested by the qualitative antithesis between the “first” (old) creation and second (“new”) creation in 21:1, where the former was pre-consummate or temporary, while the latter is consummate and eternal. Strikingly, in 21:4-8 there is a formal antithesis between “[the first physical] death” and “the second [spiritual] death.” In 21:4, physical “death” is the focus of the clause “the first things have passed away,” which is contrasted with “the second [spiritual] death” (21:8), which is part of the “new” things of the eternal new creation (21:5). 21:1, 4 are a clear allusion to Isa. 65:16-17, where the same qualitative contrasts occur between the first or “former” earth or “troubles,” and the” new heavens and a new earth.”
In Isa. 43:18-19 and 65:16-17, the first or “former” things, referring to the present, old creation, stand in contrast to the “new,” everlasting creation (cf. Isa. 65:19-22 and 66:22) which will replace it. Isa. 66:22 affirms that one of the qualitative differences is that the new heaven and new earth will remain forever, in contrast to the former, which passed away. Thus, the distinction between “first” and “second” and “old” and “new” throughout Revelation focuses not so much on temporal succession (as argued by premillennialists with respect to the two resurrections) as on the qualitative difference between that which is transient and that which is eternally enduring.
This understanding is consistent with similar “first-second” and “old-new” contrasts elsewhere, such as with the “first Adam” and “last Adam” in 1 Cor. 15:22, 42-49 and the “old (first) covenant” and “new (second) covenant” in Heb. 8:6-10:9. The first Adam had a perishable, inglorious body, and he brought death, whereas the last Adam had an imperishable and glorious body, and He brought eternal life. The first covenant was temporary and led to death (e.g., Heb. 8:13), while the second was eternal and led to life. Neither in Revelation, 1 Corinthians, or Hebrews does “first” function as an ordinal in a process of counting things which are identical in kind; rather, it functions to identify things which are opposite to and different in quality from one another.
Consequently, here in vv. 4-6 there are two different kinds of death — one corruptibly physical and one incorruptibly spiritual, and, correspondingly, there are two different resurrections — one eternally spiritual and one physical. Some clarification is still needed. Could the idea that the “second death” is not literally physical but spiritual restrict the nature of that death too much? Does it not also include the physical existence of the reprobates who have been resurrected? The answer is yes, but remember that unbelievers suffer not temporarily in hell, but suffer eternally both spiritually and physically, though this physical suffering does not include physical destruction.
The key is that it is an eternal spiritual suffering in the midst of some kind of ongoing eternal physical suffering. Likewise, believers who experience the first resurrection will later experience a fully consummated spiritual and physical resurrection in the new creation. So the first resurrection, though incomplete, launches an eternal spiritual resurrection, which will be consummated later in an eternally greater spiritual yet fully physical form. The first-second antithesis carries over in that the second resurrection represents the eternal consummation of the first.
-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 441-442.