(5) But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
“The rest of the dead” contrast with the souls in verse four who had been slain for their faithfulness to Christ. As seen in the previous verse, the faithful dead are not dead but living and reigning with Christ. But the rest of dead are not living, nor reigning with Christ. These in context are those who identified with the beast’s position against the church. These are called “the dead” because they were killed in 19:21, “And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.” These are not physically dead; they had suffered a figurative death, being condemned by the power of the word of Christ for their allegiance to the beast.
“Lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” They did not get to live in the symbolic thousand-year reign; for that was reserved only for the faithful. They have no part in the victory of the faithful and did not experience that joyful reign. They have no reward, and even though the text states that they will live again, it will only be for the judgment at the end of this chapter.
“This is the first resurrection.” The resurrection in consideration is the one which the faithful took part in. Let’s again recognize that we are immersed deeply in a signified context, and this resurrection is limited to the content of this chapter and must be in harmony with the stated parameters of the book. Outside of this book, the first resurrection could be applied to Christians when they rise from the waters at baptism (Romans 6:4-5), but inside this book and chapter, “the first resurrection” is a sign. These individuals are not being baptized, they have already been baptized, for they are the ones who had faithfully endured with Christ through both the Jewish and Roman conflicts of the first century. There resurrection is one of vindication! It is a sign of their blissful avenged state. They rose out of this conflict in victory.
It is called the first resurrection not to identify it with a doctrine in the scriptures, but to distinguish it in context from the other resurrection that takes place in this chapter. It may be helpful to consider it not just “the first resurrection” but “the first resurrection in the chapter.” Those spoken of as “the rest of the dead” in verse five have already taken part in the first death (figurative), which came by the word of truth (19:21). Soon they will take part in the second resurrection (figurative) in the chapter, followed by the second death (figurative) of the chapter.
(6) Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
A blessing is given to those who rose from the conflicts justified, because they were faithful to their Lord. They are not only blessed but “holy.” Their identity as “holy” confirms that it is only the faithful of verse four who had a part in the first resurrection of this chapter. Based on what we heard from the previous verse about the “rest of the dead” about to live again, it stands to reason that the second resurrection in the chapter will be to these unholy ones.
“On such the second death hath no power.” I must say again how critical it is that we remain in context; for this “second death” is not a reference to a doctrine of scripture, but it is spoken consequently to distinguish it from the first death in context. In a book that is “signified” (1:1) a resurrection cannot be a literal resurrection, nor can a death be a literal death. Signs must stand for a something, so the resurrections and deaths in this chapter are relating spiritual truths about what took place in the first century. For the saints, the symbolic resurrection meant victory for them and justice upon the enemies; likewise, for the unholy, the symbolic death meant loss and defeat.
“Priests of God and of Christ.” They live to be priests of the Father and the Son. With victory fulfilled there is a fresh picture representing the faithful as priests. Before this time, the figure of the twenty-four elders sat on thrones as representatives of the royal priesthood in Christ (see comments on 4:4); but now it is a scene of a multitude on thrones, some are alive, some have died, but they are all living and victoriously reigning with their Savior.
“And shall reign with him a thousand years.” For a fuller discussion of this point, see 20:2 and 20:4. Again, we are reminded here that this is not the reign of Christ under discussion, but their “reign with him.” As discussed above, the thousand years has no reference to a period or length of time (see 20:2) but is symbolic of an idea. Their life and reign is complete with Christ; their lives are full and their victory is total. If we understand this to be a period of time, then their joy, their lives, and their victory must all come to an end at 1,001 years – or whatever length of time that symbolizes! This isn’t so! Because the figure of a thousand years should not convey time, but totality and completeness. Their victory over the conflict in context is complete.