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.) 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 20:4-6
In our text for today, there are three distinct groups mentioned: Those seated on thrones, the Martyrs of the Tribulation and the unbelieving dead from the Tribulation.
Those that are seated on the thrones are those "who had been given authority to judge."
In Daniel 7:18 we are told the saints of the Most High shall receive and possess the kingdom forever and ever. Then in Daniel 7:22 we see that when the ancient of days came, time came for the saints to possess the kingdom. Then in Daniel 7:27 we learn the kingdom and dominion and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
Also, it was the Lord Jesus who said in Matthew 19:28, "I tell you the truth, at the restoration of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
The disciples of the Lord will, with Him, judge the twelve tribes of Israel! So the Old Testament saints and the twelve apostles were all promised a position of ruling and reigning with the Messiah in His coming kingdom.
But, there's more. In 1 Corinthians 6 the Apostle Paul informs us the Church will also judge the world. And, in 2 Timothy 2:12 the Apostle also tells us that those who endure we shall reign also with Him. Then, in Revelation 5, there is the song that is sung before God and before the throne and the Lamb. The church sings, "You have made us kings and priests to our God and we shall reign on the earth."
So we've got Old Testament saints, we've got twelve apostles over twelve tribes of Israel and we've got New Testament saints ruling over the world. They will all be included in this group who will reign with the Lord.
The second group mentioned in v.4 of today's text is made up of those "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."
This is the same group we saw in Revelation 6-7 who were put to death because of their faith in Christ. They refused to bow before the authority of the antichrist or to worship him. They will live again, we are told, and reign with Christ a thousand years.
Then there is this third group. "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended."
This is a reference to the unbelieving dead, who will appear before the Great White Throne which is described at the end of this chapter. These will come back to life when the Millennium is over.
In v.6 of our text we read, "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."
John clearly establishes the fact that there is more than one resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul writes of the Lord Jesus that He was "the first fruits from the dead." So the first resurrection reaches back to include the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and those raised with him at that time.
Matthew 27:52-53 tells us that at the time the Lord Jesus was raised "many of the bodies of the saints came out of the tombs." They, too, were part of that group of the first fruits which was offered to God as the initial installment of the first resurrection.
Then, in 1 Corinthians 15:23 we read, "then, when he comes, those who belong to him will be raised." When Christ returns, to catch the church up to himself, that will be the next segment of the first resurrection. Over 2000 years lie between, but time is no factor in any eternal event.
Then, 1 Corinthians 15:23 reads, "then the end will come." This is referencing the final resurrection before the Great White Throne will happen.
So, there are clearly two resurrections taught in Scripture. In John 5:29, the Lord Jesus Himself referred to a "resurrection of life" and a "resurrection of judgment." The "first resurrection" involves only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. These will be resurrected to life for they know the forgiveness of their sins. Thus John says, "Blessed and holy are those who have part 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."
Sadly, there will be those who will be resurrected to face the judgment of God. They will do so because they rejected the free gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus Christ is not one of many ways to approach God, nor is He the best of several ways; He is the only way, because He is the only one who has ever overcome sin and death by resurrecting from the dead.