The First Resurrection (Rev. 20:4). It is of utmost importance to understand the first resurrection. The first resurrection is a resurrection "from among the dead". All of the dead will be raised, but the first resurrection is a special resurrection that will take place before the general resurrection. It is "from among the dead" because some will be raised and others left in the grave. Only believers will be raised in the first resurrection. The first resurrection is like a seal of God's approval on the souls of those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ; therefore He separates them from the rest of mankind. It the case of Christ, it was God's full satisfaction and pleasure in His Son. In the case of believers, it is on account of our acceptance through the Son.1 This is why our Lord spoke of those "who are counted worthy to have part in that world, and the resurrection from among the dead" (Luke 20:35). The first resurrection, or the resurrection from among the dead, is a matter of worthiness. For Christ, it was His own personal worthiness; and for us, it is on account of our standing in Christ's place before God. Christ was "declared to be the Son of God with power" by the "resurrection from among the dead" (Rom. 1:4), and so we too will be declared to be sons of God by adoption in the same character of resurrection!2 As we know, the first resurrection is separated from the resurrection of the wicked dead by 1000 years; "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection" (Rev. 20:5). However, the first resurrection has three parts, or installments. All three installments are seen together in Rev. 20:4.
- Christ the first fruits (1 Cor. 15:23). When Jesus rose from the dead, the first resurrection began. His body was raised and changed into a "body of glory" (Phil. 3:21). Lazarus and others who were raised were not part of the first resurrection, because Christ is "the firstfruits". Just as the firstfruits of a certain crop promise a much greater harvest of the same fruit, so Christ's resurrection was the promise of many to follow in the first resurrection. As of today, Christ is still the only man with a glorified body; but that will change very soon!
- The sleeping saints at the rapture (1 Cor. 15:23; 52). All those who "are Christ's" that have died will be raised at the rapture; "afterward, they that are Christ's at His coming". The question might be raised, which part of His coming? The rapture or the appearing? This is answered for us in 1 Thess. 4:16, that the dead will be raised when the Lord descends from heaven at the rapture. This will include all saints, from Adam on down to the last one in the grave. We know this because while all saints are not "in Christ" (1 Thess. 4), yet they all "are Christ's" (1 Cor. 15). Hebrews 11:40 would also indicate that the Old Testament saints are waiting for us to be "made perfect"; i.e. glorified. These raised and raptured saints will go up to heaven to be "with the Lord". They are seen in Revelation under the figure of "the twenty-four elders".
- The martyred remnant in the tribulation (Rev. 20:4; 14:13). After the rapture, the seventieth week of Daniel will unfold, and many saints will be martyred. Some will be killed in the first 3 1/2 years by the false Church for preaching the gospel of the Kingdom (see Rev. 6:9-11, 17:6, 18:24, and 19:2). Others will be killed in the last 3 1/2 years by the beast for not worshiping him (Rev. 13:15-17). Some will be Jewish (Rev. 11:3-12, 14:2-3) and some will be Gentile (Rev. 15:2). They will not miss out on sharing the Millennial reign of Christ with the other saints! By connecting Rev.11:11 with Rev. 14:13, it seems that the moment of the third installment in which all martyred saints are raised and bodily ascend, is just before the Son of Man appears. This is necessary so Christ can come with ALL His saints (1 Thess. 3:13) at His appearing, and then all reign together in the Millennium (Rev. 20:4).
- In Mark 9:9, 10 we read of "the rising from the dead," about which the disciples questioned; every Pharisee, every orthodox Jew, believed in the resurrection of the dead. What did the resurrection of Christ mean? It was God's seal on everything He was, and everything He had done during His life here. He took Him out from among all the other dead. If He takes people out from among the rest of the dead because He delights in them, that is the seal of their acceptance. Paul says, No matter what it costs me, I will attain to that. What condition is the saint raised in? "Sown in weakness, raised in power; sown in dishonour, raised in glory." "Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming." As God put His perfect seal on Christ and Christ's work, and raised Him, so, when He raises us up, He puts His seal on us: only it is because of His righteousness, not our own. - Darby, J.N. Brief Thoughts on Philippians.
- It is indeed the capital truth of the New Testament, that as Christ, by resurrection from the dead was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, so we through grace are (not like Christ in Person but by adoption) also declared to be the sons of God, by attaining, when the time comes, the resurrection of the body. - Darby, J.N. Lectures on the Second Coming of Christ. Lecture 3.