George Gifford on the first resurrection
In some of the prophecies of Revelation, life and death have spiritual meanings, which are explained by Jesus in the gospels and by Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians. These concepts underlie the prophecy of Revelation 20, where those who have been beheaded for the witness of Jesus and who do not worship the beast are said to reign with Christ. There are probably no commentators who think that this applies only to those saints who were literally beheaded. The meaning of the saints living and reigning with Christ in this chapter was discussed by George Gifford, in Sermons vpon the whole booke of the Reuelation, Sermon XLIII. 1599.
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In the next words the state of the Church is set forth, for that thousand years in which the devil is chained up. Saint John saith, he saw seats, and there were that sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and the souls of them that were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, &c. The Church of God is but one, but yet we say, the Church militant, and the Church triumphant: for one part is warring upon the earth and that is militant, the other part hath gotten the victory over the devil and sin, and their souls triumph in heaven, and therefore called the Church triumphant. Now the question is here, whether S. John do here set forth the flourishing state of the Church triumphant only when he saith, I saw seats, and there were that sat on them, and judgment was given unto them, &c. Or whether he be to be understood of both, that is the militant, and triumphant: because that after he hath said, I saw seats, and there were that sat on them, he addeth that he saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus. It is usually taken of interpreters only for the church triumphant. That is to say, that S. John’s vision saw the souls of the martyrs sitting upon seats, & exercising judgment, not as having the office of Christ derived unto them, who is properly the only judge of both the quick and the dead, but as the members joined unto their head: for they are said to live and reign with Christ. This doctrine is according to the words of Christ to his Apostles, Ye shall sit upon twelve seats, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And to that which Saint Paul saith, Know ye not that we shall judge the Angels? 1 Cor. 6:3.
The saints reign now
So that it may very well be said here, that the souls of the martyrs do sit upon seats, and judge, and reign with Christ. But I take it, that Saint John doth not here alone set forth the state of the Church triumphant, for that time in which Satan was bound, but also sheweth how in those days the Church militant upon earth, did flourish and exercise her power: for it seemeth very requisite, that somewhat should be said of the state of the Church in the world, while Satan did lie in his chain. And the words themselves which Saint John hath set down, do divide the matter into two parts. I saw (saith he) seats, and there were that sat upon them, & judgment was given unto them: And the souls, that is, and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, &c. I take the seats then, & them that sit upon them, to be upon the earth in the Church militant: and that to describe, and set forth how the Church exercised her power in the world that thousand years that Satan was bound. The Scribes and Pharisees were said to sit in Moses’ chair, as we read how Christ our Lord speaketh, Mat. 23. Even so all the Apostles, and their successors have chairs, or seats in the which they exercise judgment, whilst they do deliver forth the pure doctrine, that ruleth and judgeth among the nations, as it is written Isa. 2. These seats were set in many lands, where there were great Churches, which had very famous teachers, that did instruct and guide the flocks, according to the rules of the holy word. Now was judgment given them, now was the power of our Lord Jesus exercised whilst Satan lay bound with his chain. In this thousand years those Churches did live and reign with Christ. For that latter clause, which is, they did live and reign, may very well be referred to the former part of the sentence: and not only to the souls of the martyrs which live with Christ for evermore. He speaketh then, as I suppose, how the church here upon earth should live and reign those thousand years, in which the dragon was tied up from seducing: for all the faithful do after a sort live and reign with Christ while they are here upon the earth: seeing that through faith, they overcome the world, as it is written: 1 John 5. They subdue Satan, and sin.
The error of Chiliasm
This is to be observed against the error of the Chiliasts, or Millenaries. They be both one, for Chilias in the Greek tongue is a thousand, and Mille is so many in the Latin. So that Chiliasts, or Millenary, are they which from this scripture did gather, that after the overthrow of the Antichrist, the Lord Jesus would come, and with the faithful reign here a thousand years upon the earth. And that in this time, that Christ should so reign as a great and glorious king upon the earth, his subjects should enjoy all manner of earthly pleasures and delights. This fond error is confuted by the words that follow in the text, as we shall see afterward.
But here there may arise some doubt, upon this that Saint John saith, he saw the souls of them, which refused to worship the beast, and the image of the beast, and that received not his mark, in their forehead, nor in their hands. The doubt is this, how he may be said, to see the souls of those, that would not worship the image of the beast, in those thousand years that Satan was bound: seeing the image of the beast was not set up until Satan was loosed. We know this that in, and from the time of the Apostles, the sixth head of the Roman tyranny was up, that is the Empire, and that under the heathen Emperors many thousands were put to death, for refusing to worship that beast. They would not obey the Roman laws, which commanded to worship idols: and so they were put to death. These were indeed in those thousand years. But now the seventh head of that beast, which is the second beast, the beast with two horns like a lamb, which without controversy is granted on all parts to be the great Antichrist, he setteth up the image of the beast, and causeth the inhabitants of the earth to worship it. He causeth them to receive the mark, of which he here speaketh. This beast, that setteth up the image to be worshipped, reigneth not in those thousand years in which Satan is bound, but is he by whom Satan when he is loosed, doth seduce the nations. How then saith Saint John, that those which were slain, because they would not worship the image of the beast, nor receive his mark, did live and reign with Christ that thousand years? They are slain for not worshipping the image of the beast, after those thousand years are expired, even in the days that Satan again being let loose, seduceth the nations. It may be answered, that the second beast, the tyranny of the popes, which is called the false prophet, rose not up of a sudden, or at once, but by degrees, and was grown to a great height before that full loosing of Satan. We read how Saint Paul speaketh of it, 2 Thes. 2. How the mystery of iniquity did work even in his time. If Satan in those days of the Apostle when the greatest power was for to bind him, did secretly lay the foundations of that wicked apostasy, we may well think that the work was grown to some perfection, before the thousand years were expired: although not to such as at the full loosing and after the loosing of Satan. So then there might be, and was, great tyranny used against the servants of God before Satan’s loosing, by the second beast. It may be some will say, that although those holy servants of God which were put to death, because they would not worship the image of the beast, were after the thousand years, yet Saint John seeth them altogether in vision, with those which were slain by the heathen Emperors in the former part of those thousand years. If we take it so, how could he say, that they did live and reign with Christ, that thousand years? I take it therefore, that the words are thus to be joined, that John saw seats, and there were that sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them, and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years, taking it of the Church in earth: and not to join it to the souls which he saw, as to say, that they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. For that thousand years then, in which Satan was bound from seducing the nations so generally as he had done, the Gospel prevailed and converted very many unto God, ruling and judging, though not in so full measure as in the former times. For in the time of the Apostles, the light of the Gospel was spread far and near in the heathen kingdoms, and that with all pure sincerity. After their days, abuses and corruptions crept in, and superstitions increased and that more and more, but yet so that even to the full thousand years, the principles and grounds of the holy faith were held in great Churches. So although after six hundred years the clear sincerity of the truth was much dimmed, yet there was a general power still, and they lived and reigned with Christ which were quickened by the Gospel in all lands.
Who are “the rest of the dead”?
The words which do follow do more clearly carry the sense this way. For first he expoundeth the matter by the contrary, when he saith, the rest of the dead lived not, until the thousand years were finished. Mark well this saying: for it openeth much, together with that exposition which followeth of it. For indeed the words that follow do declare in express and plain manner, what life, and what rising from the dead this is to be understood of, which the rest of the dead do not attain unto.
Touching the former, wherein, as I said, he openeth the matter by the contrary: it is in these words, the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished: here is first evidently shewed that all were dead, and that one part are raised from death in these thousand years, and another part is not raised, who he called the rest of the dead. For unless some were raised from death to life, in those thousand years, and others were not raised, how could it be said, the rest of the dead lived not, &c? or how could he speak of a resurrection? To make this more evident, we must first note the general estate that all be in by nature, both the elect and the reprobate, and that is, all be dead, for in regard to the elect which are raised up out of that general estate, the reprobate are called the rest of the dead. What manner of death this is, the holy Scriptures do evidently set forth. Being all corrupted in Adam, we all die in him as the Apostle teacheth, 1 Cor. 15. And that is to be understood, not only of this separation of the soul and body, but also of a spiritual death in the soul, even while we live here. For whosoever are separated from God, there is no true life in them. But look how the devils may after a sort be said to live, and yet it is no life indeed, but an everlasting death: for the souls of men although they have natural powers and faculties in them by which they give life to the bodies, and in that respect are immortal, because those faculties never die, yet so long as they be under the dominion of sin, they be dead touching the spiritual life. And in this state are all, both the elect and the reprobate, the elect herein only differing, that they be raised up to life in Christ. And you (saith S. Paul) hath he quickened, that were dead in trespasses and sins, Ephes. 2:1. Also in the same chapter he saith, he made us alive together with Christ, when we were dead through trespasses. And in the 4th chapter of the same epistle, he saith, they were strangers from the life of God, verse 18. All then being by nature (as the same Apostle saith) the children of wrath, now let us see how the difference of the elect is made from those whom he calleth here the rest of the dead. It is made by Christ, they are raised up to a spiritual life by him, even while they live here. And our Lord Jesus himself setteth forth this thing very plainly, John 5:25 saying, The time shall come, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the son of God, and they that hear is shall live. Then Christ by his voice raiseth the soul to life, they that are chosen, hear the Gospel and live by it. But all are not raised, for he saith the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished. What is that? This it is, in those thousand years, in which the Gospel is preached, and the voice of Christ which raiseth the dead, is sounded forth with great power, there be many which are not raised up unto life by it, but do continue still in their former estate, under the power of sin even strangers from the life of God. All are not raised from the death of sin, unto the life of righteousness, at the sound of the Gospel. There were many that heard Christ himself preach, many that heard the Apostles, which were not raised to life, but remained still under the power of Satan, and were dead in sin. Many in those thousand years in which the Gospel flourished, and Satan lay bound, were raised from death, and did live and reign with Christ, but many more, whom he calleth the rest of the dead, despised the Gospel, and so were not raised to life by it, whom he calleth the rest of the dead. This thing is fulfilled in all times, and in all places where the Gospel is preached: for some do embrace it, and by it have Christ living in them: others are never the better for it: but the devil and sin have even as great power over them, as before. But here the Chiliasts, of whom I told you before, do ground their error, because he saith, until the thousand years were finished. For this speech seemeth to import that after the thousand years finished, they shall rise also whom he calleth the rest of the dead. For to say they shall not live until the thousand years be finished, what is that but to say that they shall then live? This then they take thus. That the devil shall be bound a thousand years, and then shall all the faithful be raised up in body, and reign all that thousand years upon the earth with Christ. And this (say they) is the first resurrection.
The first resurrection: what it means
Then when the thousand years are finished, they take it that all the dead shall live, and that they call the second resurrection. So they held that there should be two resurrections of the body, the first of the faithful, and the second of all the dead. We do believe, for the holy Scripture doth so teach, that all the dead both good and bad shall rise with their bodies: but we are also taught by the word of God, that all shall rise at once, there shall be but one resurrection of the body. The first resurrection therefore (as it is here called) is in the soul, when it is raised from the death of sin. Of which Saint Paul speaketh, saying, if ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, Col. 3:1. Then to maintain their opinion, they must shew that there be three resurrections. For if there be two of the bodies, then this which Saint Paul doth speak of, maketh the third. Again, they must prove, which they can never, that the resurrection of the bodies of the faithful, goeth before the resurrection which S. Paul speaketh of to the Colossians, If ye be risen with Christ: for the resurrection which John here speaketh of is the first: which is most absurd. Whereupon it must needs follow, that the first resurrection which Saint John here speaketh of, is not of the body, but when the soul receiveth the life of Christ. This is the first resurrection, and it is peculiar to the faithful, the rest of the dead do not rise at all in this resurrection. But yet the matter is not answered: for that word until. For if it be so, that the rest of the dead never rise in this kind of resurrection, how should it be said, they live not until the thousand years be finished? I answer, that for this word until, it is both in common speech and in the usual phrase of the Scripture, to say such a thing was not until such a time, which indeed when that time is come, is not neither. As Joseph took Mary, and knew her not until she had brought forth her first born son, Mat. 1. Where we are not to take it, that he knew her after she had brought forth her first born. Also where David danced before the Ark, and Michal despised him for it in her heart, therefore sayeth the holy Ghost, Michal the daughter of Saul, had no child until the day of her death, 2 Sam. 6. Shall we gather upon this, that she had a child at the day of her death? We say usually, such a man was never married until his death. No man taketh it thereupon, that after his death he was married. So when it is said, that the rest of the dead lived not, until the thousand years were finished, it is as much as to say they were never raised to that spiritual life. That thousand years was a time in which many were raised to life at the sound of the Gospel: but there were many then not raised. For although Satan were bound to that he could not so seduce the nations as he had done, yet he did harden their hearts, and blind the eyes of the reprobate, so that they embraced not the life he offered. Then we see what this first resurrection is. And now that we may be moved with the desire of it, even to labour to have our part therein, here is the commendation thereof set forth. Blessed and holy (saith Saint John) is he that hath his part in this first resurrection, for on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be the priests of God, and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years, This is a singular commendation of the first resurrection, that every one is blessed and holy that has his part in it. What is greater than true blessedness? And every one that is raised to life in this first resurrection, is pronounced to be blessed. Then this is a resurrection of none but the blessed ones. And it is to be marked how he joins these two together, blessed and holy. For there is none raised to life in Christ, but by his spirit. Christ dwelleth in them, and they in him. They walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit, Rom. 8. They be new creatures which are in Christ, as the holy Apostle plentifully teacheth. If therefore ye do make account of blessedness, if ye do make account to have your part in the first resurrection, labour to be holy. Seek to be found in Christ, that ye may die unto sin, your old man being crucified, and that ye may be raised up unto newness of life, even unto true holiness. For many may imagine that they have their part in this first resurrection, because they profess the Gospel, and be deceived, for except they be raised up from under the dominion of sin, they be not holy, they be still dead. Then there is a reason rendered why they are blessed, which is in these words, for on such the second death has no power. It is as much as to say, they be blessed, for they be delivered from the damnation of hell. For there is the second death, in which the devils and the reprobate do die eternally.
Doug comments: the second death is not “the damnation of hell,” as Gifford suggests above, but instead refers to the judgment, when all those who were not called in the present age will be enlightened. Jesus said that the generation of those who heard Jesus preach will be raised up together with the people of Nineveh. All are to be enlightened by the gospel. [Matt. 12:41] John wrote of Jesus, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” [John 1:9] And, he said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” [John 12:32] Again, Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” [John 6:44-45]
So you see then, that as there is the first and the second resurrection, so there is the first and the second death. The first death is the separation of the soul and body, which the elect do pass through: the second death is the torments of hell, into which all those enter that do die in their sins. And are not they right happy which do escape from hell, over whom death hath no power? And he teacheth that all that have their part in the first resurrection, that second death shall have no power over them. Here is yet a further reason of this also rendered. For such as be consecrated to God and to his Christ, and that get the victory as Kings to reign with him, how shall the second death have any power over them? But Saint John sheweth how these shall reign with him. And what is that but to be conquerers and Kings? These overcome, these be in the presence of God, who shall reign with him a thousand years. For shall they reign but a thousand years? Shall not the Saints reign world without end? Ye must note that he speaketh here of the reign of the faithful even upon earth, for the space of that thousand years, in which Satan is bound: which excludeth not their eternal glory in the heavens. O beloved, give your souls to God, seek this first resurrection, that ye may be blessd for evermore in the heavens.