The First Resurrection: A Response -- By: J. Ramsey Michaels

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 39:1 (Fall 1976)
Article: The First Resurrection: A Response
Author: J. Ramsey Michaels

The First Resurrection: A Response

J. Ramsey Michaels

The debate over the question of a millennium in Revelation 20 can be narrowed down to two points of interpretation: the binding of Satan and his deception of the nations in vv. 1–3 and 7–10, and the “first resurrection” described in vv. 4–6. In his article in the Westminster Theological Journal, XXXVII (Spring, 1975), 366–375, my friend and colleague Meredith Kline has advanced the discussion of the latter and raised it to a higher plane, beyond the usual charges and counter charges of “spiritualizing” and “unwarranted literalism.” His excellent study deserves careful attention, especially from those who still propose to interpret the “first resurrection” as a future eschatological event separated from a second resurrection by a thousand years.

Kline argues that “first” and “second” in Rev 20:5f denote not mere sequence, but a difference in kind. He compares to it the use of “first” and “new,” in 21:1 with reference to the heaven and the earth, as well as the contrast in the Epistle to the Hebrews between the “first” and the “new,” or “second,” covenant, and in 1 Cor 15 between the “first” and “second,” or “last,” Adam.

The complex interweaving of “first” resurrection and “second” death in Rev 20:5f presupposes a second resurrection and a first death. This double binary pattern (as Kline calls it) focuses on the metaphorical and makes it explicit, while taking the literal for granted. The silent members of the pattern (i.e., “first death” and “second resurrection”) are the realities commonly labelled death and resurrection respectively. Kline argues that while the first death is physical, the second is different in kind: not literal or physical, but metaphorical. In the case of resurrection, the second is the literal one; therefore the first is different in kind: not literal, but metaphorical. This “first resurrection” is “first” in that it “belongs to the order of the present

passing world” (p. 370). It is nothing other than the death of the Christian believer. “What for others is the first death is for the Christian a veritable resurrection!” (p. 371). Thus, living and reigning with Christ for a thousand years is identified with the intermediate state rather th...

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