The First Resurrection -- By: Meredith G. Kline

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 37:3 (Spring 1975)
Article: The First Resurrection
Author: Meredith G. Kline

The First Resurrection

Meredith G. Kline

One of the critical points in the exegesis of Revelation 20 is the interpretation of prōtos in the phrase, “the first resurrection” (v. 5). Premillennarians understand it in the purely sequential sense of first in a series of items of the same kind. They interpret both “the first resurrection” and the resurrection event described in verses 12 and 13 of this chapter as bodily resurrections. The contextual usage of Prōtos, however, does not support such an exegesis; it rather points compellingly to an interpretation of “the first resurrection” found in (so-called) amillennial exegesis.*

[*Two articles on Revelation 20 appearing in the forum of this journal within the last two years (cf. The Westminster Theological Journal 35, 3 (1973), 281–302 and 36, 1 (1974), 34–43) were in agreement on the negative conclusion at least that “the first resurrection” is not a bodily resurrection. I find that the supplementary evidence for that conclusion to be offered in the present comments is not altogether unanticipated in the commentary literature, but I wish to call attention to it because it seems to be generally overlooked in current discussions and because it has, I believe, a quite decisive bearing on the whole millennial issue.]

The Meaning of Prōtos

The vision of the recreation of the world in Revelation 21:1ff will be a good starting place for our survey of the relevant data concerning prōtos. This word is employed here as the opposite of “new.” The consummation of history brings “a new heaven and a new earth” (v. 1) and a “new Jerusalem” (v. 2). Indeed, God as Consummator will make “all things new” (v. 5). And the word “first” is used for that which is superseded by the “new”: “the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (v. 1). Indeed, when God makes all things new, all “the first things” pass away—tears, death, sorrow, crying, pain (v. 4). In this passage to be “first” means to belong to the order of the present

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