PWS wrote:I'm approaching this from the millennial standpoint. Can I assume that "the rest of the dead" are in contrast to those mentioned in verse 4? That is, unbelievers?
I agree that the "rest of the dead" are in contrast to those mentioned in verse 4. That, I believe is fairly self-evident. What I have trouble with, is the assumption/conclusion(?) that the rest of the dead are all unbelievers. This would mean that the first group, identified quite specifically as 'those who had been 'beheaded for Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands', would have to be widened in scope to include many others who had not necessarily faced anything like the trauma that identifies this group.
Let us suppose, for the purposes of this discussion, that believers may be classified in two separate groups. In the first group are those which are described in v 4. The single characteristic of this group is that they were involved in a situation where they were either forced to renounce their commitment to Christ or they would be put to death. They did not die natural deaths, nor were they allowed to live out their lives towards spiritual growth and maturity. Satan, who had forced this situation of judgement, and had put unbelievable pressure on these Christians to deny their faith, had failed to do so, and thereby had lost any future cause to argue his case against them. John says of them that the second death has no power over them.
The second class of believers are faithful followers of Christ, have lived through trying circumstances and persecution, but never to the point of dying for Christ. Their lives were not terminated in martyrdom, but in the natural course of maturity, accident or old age. They died in faith, expecting and looking forward to meeting Christ and being with him forever. This class of believers are not part of v4 but belong with the rest of the dead in v5. , the rest were not conscious of the passing of time and were awaiting the resurrection and judgement.
Looking back through the book of the Revelation, we can see a number of references to the first group. They are first identified in the 5th seal (Rev 6:9-11 "souls... slain... white robes... more to be killed... judgement and avengement of our blood on those who dwell on the earth). In 7:13ff they are identified to John according to similar characteristics as in 20:4. The same is found in 12:11. In Rev 14 the 144,000 are mentioned as/or along with first fruits. Notice the similarities between first fruits and this group - both are picked early from the crop or flock, neither get to live out their natural lives, both are represented before God as sacrifices of worship. Both heaven and earth are blessed by their testimony and witness. In chapter 19, the armies of heaven return to earth, clothed in robes of fine linen (which are described for us by John as the righteous acts of the saints). Here they are able to witness the judgement they asked for in chapter 6. In these references they are presented as being in heaven, but not native to it. They are souls, wrapped in robes, not yet resurrected. In chapter 20 John recounts the events of their lives and how it all comes together.
Here is the sequence of events as I see them in chapter 20. The millennium begins at Christ's resurrection or not later than Stephen's martyrdom. It continues through to Christ's return at the end of this world. The thousand year length is given to cover this period. Peter explains this to his readers in his epistle. Some will have arrived early (e.g. Stephen), some will come in very late. The 'souls' (not bodies) of the first group come to life (not resurrected) and are transported to heaven to live and reign. They live and reign with Christ 1000 years ( v4). By way of note, the rest of the dead did not live again until the 1000 years were ended. v5 - that is, while the millennial reigners, at the same time, were alive and conscious.
John comments in v 6 that those who take part in the first resurrection are blessed. While no second resurrection is identified, it will be clear under these suppositions that the resurrection has both a beginning and continuing phase as well as the final culmination of events when the millennial reigners, now returned to earth (1 Thes 4:14), the believing rest of the dead (1 Thes 4:16) along with the unbelieving rest of the dead, together with those alive and remaining at the end of time (1 Thes 4:17) will all be together to be resurrected at the same time.
In the Biblehub.com under Rev 20:5, Matthew Poole's commentary notes allow for the idea that the millennial reigners are a restricted group, but does not find in scripture other references that give it support. Here are some other comments, that to me, give the idea some substance.
I believe the writer to the Hebrews references a select group in chapter 11 (heroes of the faith) and chapter 12, a great cloud of witnesses. Heb 11:35 talks about their refusal to deny their Lord in order to attain to a 'better' resurrection.
Paul states in his epistle to the Philippians that he wants, somehow to attain to a resurrection (out) of the dead. He is the one who tells us that everyone is going to experience a resurrection, so what is he looking to attain to?, if not one that is out of the ordinary.
Of all the people that may be considered qualified to reign with Christ in heaven, I would consider that martyrs would be near the top of the list.
Under this study, the millennium takes a much lesser significance. In many views the millennium accounts for 1/7 of humankind's earthly existence, and all manner of scriptures are dragged towards it to give it substance and structure. But, seen as for a select group, who cannot, or should not, or do not pursue it, lest it become a pursuit of pride, it can hardly be emphasized as a goal to reach for, or as a sign that one is more spiritual than another. The final determination of qualification for this position comes from Christ himself. John 5:21 may apply here. So one would not expect the writers of the New Testament to promote it. Yet in its understanding, it would have brought tremendous blessing to those who faced its reality. From what I read in the Bible, its rather minor place in our redemptive journey is not and should not be over-emphasized.
My own journey. The denomination I belong to are fence-sitters when it comes to eschatology, allowing the basics of the imminent and certain return of Jesus Christ, of judgement and eternal destiny. I have not been exposed to any die-hards, or have stayed away from those who were. I have favored an a-millennial view point as being most biblical and reasonable, and have read a number of books discussing various viewpoints. I do not use the a-millennial label lest I find myself aligning myself with baggage I do not favor. A few years ago, I read the advice of a pastor who advised that we should read the Bible as a little child. So I sat down one day to read Revelation 20 as I thought a child would read it. It was in this session, putting aside the few notions I had, and seeking to extract from the Bible what John was really saying, that I began to explore the above mentioned ideas.
I hope there is something in all this that may help you in your pursuit.