Hold Onto The First Resurrection
Stand back a little. If ever you go to New York, it would be good to go the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, if you look in the right place, you’ll find the impressionist art collection. And there you’ll see the paintings of Degas, Renoir and others. And what is amazing about their paintings is that, when you see them you’ll realize they aren’t made with brush strokes. No, instead, every face and every flower is made with little tiny dots. That’s impressive. In fact, it’s so impressive you can get pulled in to looking at the dots. But the problem with this is that when you look so close that all you see is dots you miss the picture and the point the painter was making. Reading this last book of Revelation is much like that. By God’s Holy Spirit, John speaks in beautiful word pictures. But the key to understanding these words is by keeping these words in context. So, in Revelation 20, we read: “1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:1–3 NIV11-GKE)
The Holy Spirit gives John a vision. And what does he see? He sees and angel chaining Satan for a thousand years. Now, notice how John speaks. First he says that there’s this angel who chains a dragon. Then John goes out of his way to tell us that he’s speaking figuratively. This is not a literal dragon with scales and wings. No, John tells us that this angel is Satan. John goes out of his way to tell us that he is speaking figuratively, painting word pictures to fill our imaginations. This is important to know because right after he says that there is this angel that ties and binds Satan we learn that the time-frame for Satan’s imprisonment is 1000 years. This is not a literal 1000 years. In Revelation 10 is the number for completeness. 10 x 10 x 10 then is super-duper completeness. What is this complete amount of time? It is the New Testament Age. It spans from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus return on Judgment Day.
I mention this because, if you look at these words like me looking at that painting too close you see dots, but not the meaning in context. There are many who get this wrong today. There are many who conclude that these words are speaking about Jesus coming down to earth and ruling here for a thousand years. But the words here are speaking are a word picture, speaking about the complete amount of time that Satan is tied up and tied down, under Jesus’ complete control.
But the other reason I mention this is what Jesus mentions at the end of verse three: “4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)” (Revelation 20:4–5 NIV11-GKE)
At first John sees and angel chaining Satan. Next John sees souls sitting on thrones. Now here I’m going to do what I have never done before. I would like you to go home today and where is says, “Came to life”, instead, write the word, “lived.”1 You see, the point God is making here is not that Jesus is going to come down to earth and reign here and along with him disembodied souls are going to rise up like zombies in a bad Halloween movie. No, instead, John sees souls living and reigning with Jesus in heaven for 1000 years. And remember what that 1000 years is: the entire New Testament age.
What the Holy Spirit wants us to see in these words is the loved ones we had in this life who knew Jesus and died trusting in him. The Holy Spirit wants us to know that their faith was not in vain. For they live with Jesus in heaven. And even more than that, they rule with him in heaven. They are safe from all of this world’s harm and Satan’s lies.
These words are worthy especially on this day of thinking about and pondering. But as we do so we see that we face two real temptations in lives as Christians. First, There is the temptation to obsess over what we can see. Satan wants us to go to hell. And one of the ways he does this is by taking the good gifts that God gives to us and then make them into idols. You drive through the country side and you think to yourself, “it’d be nice to have a home on the lake.” The challenge and temptation though is that Satan wants us to absorb ourselves in that home on the lake so much that we forget that, at any moment, that home and the lake could go up in flames on Judgment Day. We could say the same about our bodies. God wants us to care for them. But if we spend so much time counting lbs and calories that we forget that, at any moment, like these souls that John sees, we could have our souls ripped from our bodies in death, then we are sinning by losing sight of our heavenly goal.
But the same is true on the opposite side. Just as there is the temptation to obsess over what we can see, there is the temptation to obsess over what we cannot. This happens when we lose a loved one through death. That person was a part of our life. They worshipped with us, maybe even here in our church. But then what happened? They died and they are now with the Lord. And when that happens, it can be ever so tempting to ask the question, “Why am I still here?” And if that is given room in your heart you can easily end up saying “there’s no point in me living anymore.” And so, one temptation is idolatry. but this temptation is despair. Since our loved one is not with us anymore we want to give up running our race here with perseverance.
And so, Satan that ancient dragon really exists. And he really tempts us to sin. What is the solution to this ancient enemy? In our closing words, we read: “5 This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:5–6 NIV11-GKE)
If Satan is so good at tempting us either to idolatry or to despair, then who can stand up to him? Not you. Not me. No, instead, the one who stood up to him is Jesus. Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, but never gave into Satan’s lies. And Jesus paid for our sins of idolatry and despair on the cross. But he did still more. He gave us the promise that if you have the first resurrection then you will have the second too. What is he talking about? The first resurrection is unbelief.2 God raised you from the dead in those waters of baptism and gave you the gift of faith. And if you have this gift of faith (and you do), then the second death (physical death) will have no hold on you when you die.
And so, my dear friends in Christ, you have this first resurrection, faith in Christ. Now what should you do with it? Hold onto it. Read your bibles. Come to bible study here after our worship time. Grow in your faith. And as you do this the most wondrous change will happen. When you’re doing those sit-ups at the gym or you’re taking the dock out of the lake you can appreciate the gifts God has given you now, but yearn—yearn for the better life God has waiting for you—a life where you will see those who have gone before you in to heaven. And even more, you will see Jesus face to face. Hold onto the first resurrection. Amen.
1 “ⲉⲍⲏⲥⲁⲛ” (Revelation 20:4 GNT-ALEX)
2 cf. Ephesians 2