THE FIRST RESURRECTION
AND THE TRIBULATION MARTYRS


A devotional/exhortational essay
by Gavin Finley MD
Email: gwfinley@cox.net


AN EMAIL DISCUSSION OF THE FIRST RESURRECTION
AND THE TRIBULATION MARTYRS AND OVERCOMERS.

Dear Gavin,

I was reading your article concerning 'the rapture' and understand that you believe that ALL the saints (follower’s of Christ) will be resurrected on the Lord’s day (at the coming of Christ) immediately after the tribulation (Mat. chap 24). Whereas I agree that Jesus returns at the conclusion of the tribulation (as per Matthew chapter 24), I disagree with “ALL” the saints being resurrected at that time. Perhaps I misunderstood the “ALL?”

(David continues bringing up the various points in his email and I have attempted to address these in the article below.)

Hello David,

Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting email. Yes, my current understanding is that all the saints will be in the Resurrection-Rapture at the end of this age. But this idea you are sharing of a special role for martyrs of Christ has crossed my mind before. There is no doubt that the martyrs John saw in Rev. 20 are given special mention. And they are specifically given special office to rule and reign with Messiah. My belief up to now has been that all the saints will rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years. As I have read the commentaries and listened to Bible teachers expound on the subject of the Resurrection and Rapture their being gathered all at once at the end of this age has always seemed a more democratic, egalitarian, even ecclesiastically friendly idea I guess. My belief up to now is that these martyrs of the Great tribulation are just being given special mention in Rev. 20. They are at the head of the parade of all the saints as it were. I had considered that the Tribulation martyrs are given this special mention because they are the ones who break the tape to finish the relay race of the saints. See Heb. 11 - Heb. 12:1. Thus they bring in the final witness to open the 5th seal.

The End-Time witness of the saints is a Bridal witness. And this Bridal witness is essential for the consummation to occur.
See this article on blood covenant Christianity.

The End-Time 5th seal witness of the saints is indeed essential. It is a prophecy, a written scripted inevitable piece of future holy history. This final witness must happen for the books to be closed on the human rule of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse/Unveiling of Messiah. The 5th seal witness of the saints is essential to clear the way for Messiah to act and for Him to return at the 6th seal. But David, you are suggesting that the Tribulation Martyrs are given more than just special mention. You are suggesting that these martyrs are destined to make up the entire company of those who are resurrected at the end of this age to rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years as stated in Rev. 20. You are suggesting that these martyrs make up the entire company of the saints of the First Resurrection, the resurrection of the righteous that will occur at the end of this age?

I am open to this different view that the First Resurrection includes just martyrs. But only if it can be proven from Holy Scripture. So I will attempt to address the points you raise in as scripturally faithful a manner as I can.
And so we begin our discussion.

Gavin>>>

This is an interesting consideration. My current understanding is drawn from what is laid out in 1Cor. 15.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26 (NKJV)
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. (resurrected - GWF)
23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.
24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.
26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.
Verse 23 (above) indicates that after the resurrection of Christ, (the firstfruits from the dead), there will be a resurrection of those who belong to Christ when He comes. To me this had seemed to suggest a single time and a single resurrection event for all the righteous dead from this present evil age. It was my belief that this resurrection of all the righteous dead would occur at the Second Coming of Christ at the terminus of this age.

David>>>

Jesus said: Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen (also Mt 19:30, Mk 10:31).” AND Luke 13:30, “And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.”

Gavin>>>

I link this truth with what Jesus said. "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way" and "few there be that find it". The coming trials will prove that many who say they know God, many church leaders in fact, people who are now first, will be last. And why? Because they do not really know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings. They are offended by the Way of the cross. So they do not know the real Jesus at all. Hence the End-Time Apostasy or Great Falling Away of 2Thes. 2.

David>>>

When Jesus referred to the last being first, He was referring to the first resurrection. Revelation 20:6,
“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.”

This is a select group of people composed of ONLY those who died (were martyred) into the last 3.5 years of the seven year peace treaty and those who are alive and remain at Christ’s coming.

Gavin>>>

This is an interesting perspective. I am prepared to check it out Biblically. My present view is that these saints of the First Resurrection include the all who are in Christ mentioned in 1Cor. 15. Chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians is the great Resurrection chapter. Here our apostle Paul is laying out the Resurrection of the the HEAD of Christ and shows how this will be followed up later by the resurrection of the BODY of Christ. Christ our sacred head was the Firstfruits of the dead. See this article. Jesus at His resurrection effected the initial resurrection breakthrough to emerge victorious from the realms of death. This resurrection of Christ the HEAD occurred nearly 2,0000 years ago. Then the passage goes on to speak of the ensuing and subsequent resurrection of "those who are Christ’s" which we are told will happen "at His coming". This would include all the saved from both sides of Calvary. I had understood this company of “those who are Christ’s” to be another view of the First Resurrection company John speaks of in Rev. 20. And the timing of this resurrection of “those who are Christ’s at His coming” has always seemed to me to be specifically the Second Coming of Christ at the end of this age.

David>>>

Revelation chapter 14 enters into a discussion of the mark of the beast and the special damnation that applies to those who receive it. Then, we encounter the following verse: Revelation 14:13, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” NOTE: Those who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name clearly defines the timing and group of people. Those who die are blessed because they shall rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years AND the second death hath no power over them.

Gavin>>>

I concur that those who are martyred are resurrected to rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years.
But the question we have is this. Do the martyrs of this age make up and fill up the full complement of the First Resurrection?

David>>>

It is understood that the beast is given power over the saints (to kill them) in the last 3.5 years of the peace treaty (great tribulation). This is all clarified in Revelation chapter 20: Revelation 20:4-6, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 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.”

Note the following:
1) those who did not worship the beast and his image, and did not receive the mark of his name clearly defines the timing and the group of people.
2) These were killed (beheaded) in the tribulation for refusing to worship the beast.
3) They reign with Jesus for a thousand years. And
4) the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.

Gavin>>>

David, you are suggesting here that the martyrs of the Tribulation are the only ones resurrected at the end of this age to reign with Christ for a thousand years. That is certainly a different view. Yes, these Tribulation martyrs are stated to belong to the First Resurrection. But if these martyrs are the only ones resurrected at the end of this age then we need to answer this question. What happens to the rest of the righteous dead? Are you saying that the other non martyred saints will be resurrected later in the implied Second Resurrection at the end of the Millennium?

Revelation 20
4 .... Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God,
who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.
And they lived and reigned with Christ for a[a] thousand years.
5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished...........
This brings up another related question. Is this resurrection to life at the end of the thousand years spoken of in Revelation 20 just the resurrection of the wicked dead? (This is the generally accepted view and the one we have been taught). Or might this Post Millennial Resurrection include the resurrection of the non-martyred saints as well? David, you are saying the latter applies? Well, this is certainly an interesting possibility. Let’s look into this matter further.

In this scenario you are advancing the non-martyred saints would be resurrected at the end of the Millennium. So we are looking at this as a final "sorting out" and it will occur after the Millennial Rebellion at the end of the thousand years. This would have to be the Great White Throne judgment of Rev. 20, correct? In this final final judgment we read in Rev. 20 that the books will be opened, including the Book of Life.

Now that has always been an intriguing point to me. Why open the Book of Life if all those appearing at the Great White Throne Judgment are to be damnned? This is interesting. We have been told by Bible teachers and read in commentaries that all who appear at the Great White Throne Judgment are the wicked dead. We have been told that no righteous saints will be there, and certainly no resurrecting saints from the former pre-Millennial age. The wicked dead are easily sorted out. There will be no wicked living on earth at the end of the Millennial Rebellion at the end of this age. The wicked are destroyed and put in the graves at the end of this age and the end of the Age of Messiah to come. This final White Throne Judgment sees the wicked dealt with. It seems all the wicked are gathered from both this evil age and from out of the future Millennium of Messiah. Then after the Great White Throne Judgment these rebels will be cast alive into the Lake of Fire for eternity.

But what can we say about the fact that this Book of Life is consulted at this final White Throne Judgment? Is this Book of Life opened up to find the names of the saved? Or is the Book of Life accessed just to condemn those whose names do not appear? If the non-martyred saints of both this present evil age and of the age to come are indeed to appear at the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the Millennium and the Book of Life is opened then the names of these non-martyred saints will certainly appear in the Book of Life. And they will then be resurrected to life. This would be the Second Resurrection. These saints would be resurrected complete with new spiritual bodies of light just like the martyred saints of the First Resurrection. The non-martyred saints of the Second Resurrection would then join the martyred saints of the First Resurrection to be taken by Messiah to the realms of the Father in the New Heavens and New Earth. See 1Cor. 15:24

1 Corinthians 15:20-25 (NKJV)
23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.
24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.
25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.
26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.
David>>>

So: 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

AND 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17,
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God:
and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds,
to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

This must refer to:
1) those who are alive and remain at Christ’s coming AND
2) the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast,
neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

Gavin>>>

Here in these two passages we can definitely see a combined Resurrection-Rapture. But I do not see any scriptural basis for a special gathering and glorification of just the martyred saints at the end of this age. My current view is being challenged and is changing but it is the Revelation 20 passage that is doing this. But I still have to believe that when Christ comes all who are Christ’s, that is, all who belong to Him will be glorified into new spiritual bodies at His coming. Is this "coming" mentioned in 1Cor. 15:23 referring only to the Second Coming at the end of this present age? I had always assumed this to be so. But now I am not sure.

Here, then, is the question. Is Christ coming for the righteous dead at the end of this age or at the end of the age to come? Or might both apply? As you say, Revelation 20 seems to state that there will be special treatment and special office given to martyrs of the Great Tribulation. And the Hebrews 11 - Heb. 12:1 passage suggests some expansion of this to include all who made a stand or suffered for the witness of God.

But Rev. 20 features the Tribulation martyrs who did not take the 666 mark. Why? Perhaps because most martyrs are not martyrs of the past. They are martyrs of the present and especially the future. Half the people who have ever lived are living today. And the great refining and the Great End-Time witness is yet future. So my former belief, (before this discussion you kindly presented), was that the martyrs of Rev. 20 linked to the First Resurrection were just being given honor and special mention in that passage. But as we put a spotlight on Rev. 20:4-6 and as we hear in Hebrews 11 about a "better resurrection" we are beginning to get a clue that this "special mention" of the Tribulation Martyrs in the First Resurrection may not be the whole story.

David>>>

RECALL: But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.

David, the Lord’s servant

Gavin>>>

As we have delved into the scriptures here I must confess that I am warming to your idea that it may be tribulation martyrs alone who are resurrected to rule and reign with Christ for 1,000 years. Other overcomers raptured out alive at the Resurrection-Rapture at the end of this age may join with them. This is what Rev. 20 states at first blush. These saints would be a continuation of the Hebrews 11 “hall of fame of the faithful” the saints who suffered and lived and died for the faith in the Lord, overcoming saints from both sides of Calvary. But what about the other saints of the Second Coming the non-martyred saints. Are they included in the Resurrection-Rapture we read about in 1Thes. 4 and 1Cor. 15? And what are we to say about the Olivet Discourse and the promised all encompassing gathering of the entire complete undivided single Elect gathered from the four winds of heaven? Surely the Elect of this age is ultimately a single undivided union of saints is it not? See this article on the single undivided Elect. Is this unity of the Elect achieved at the end of this age? Or will this full restoration and reunion only be wrapped up at the end of the Millennial Age to come?

Let us consider the possibilities here. If these saints, the martyred dead resurrecting saints and the rapturing saints are being glorified into new spiritual bodies and entering into eternity at the end of this age then when will the non-martyred dead resurrecting saints be glorified? If they are not resurrected at the end of this age then surely they will be resurrected at the end of the thousand year Millennium, right? Can two different gatherings of resurrecting saints enter eternity from the two different ages and two different time vortices to arrive at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb together. Do they arrive at this eternal event at the same time from an eternal perspective? Remember, there is no connection between eternal realities and our Newtonian time-space reference. There are no calendars in heaven. See the article on 'the Marriage Supper of the Lamb'. Will all the saints be gathered by Messiah from both the terminus of this age and the terminus of the Millennial Age to come? Are all the saints from both ages then to be gathered as one big undivided Elect? Is this what Jesus meant when He spoke of gathering His Elect from the four winds of heaven, the four dimensions of space and time?

As I considered the Marriage Supper of the Lamb I concluded that all the Chosen are destined to enter the Marriage Supper at the same time. The saints enter into the eternal realms with new spiritual bodies. They are in fellowship and union with Christ and in union with each other. Nevertheless each are enjoying their own mansions/dwelling places. Are the dwelling places of the Tribulation Martyr saints different from the dwelling places of the non-martyred saints? Probably so. And yet "in Christ" the two sheepfolds will be united. They will be united under Messiah as One Elect.

So back to our question. Could these Tribulation martyrs alone be the ones resurrected in the First Resurrection at the end of this age? And are they the ones who will be ruling and reigning with Christ during the Millennium? And could the non-martyred saints be glorified and resurrected to new spiritual bodies at the end of the future Millennial Age? If that is so then they will be resurrected later. And they will not be ruling and reigning with Christ during the Millennium.

I am prepared to look at this possibility. Rev 20 clearly connects the Tribulation martyrs with the First Resurrection. The Holy Spirit says,

“Blessed are they that have a part of the First Resurrection,
they will rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years”.
So are martyrs the sole passengers in this First Resurrection?
Or are they just at the head of the parade of all the saints from this present age?

This latter had been my understanding up until this point. But I must confess I am looking at the scenario you have presented. There is no doubt that these martyrs of the Great Tribulation are resurrected at the Second Coming. And there is also no doubt that these martyrs rule and reign with Christ for the thousand year Millennium. Apparently they have ministerial and royal authority and responsibilities under the Messiah in the two offices of Melchizedek.

But here is the rub. What about the dead in Christ who are not martyred? Are they not resurrected at Christ’s Second Coming at the end of this age as well? And what about those who are not martyrs who arrive at the end of this age? Are they not tried and proven? What are we to say about them? I do believe that the rapturing saints will be glorified at the end of this age. They will be left standing at the coming of the Son of Man. They will have endured a prolonged trial and tribulation. During this deadly end-time witness they will have been refined as gold.

But what about the non-martyred righteous dead? They probably make up the bulk of all the righteous dead of this current era? Are they to be resurrected in the First Resurrection to rule and reign with Christ for a thousand years?

Up until now I have believed that to be so. But you say they will be resurrected later? This is an interesting point. The Bible does speak of the martyrs of former times in Hebrews 11. And the Holy Spirit does say that these who suffered for the faith will have a BETTER RESURRECTION! Is this First Resurrection the Better Resurrection spoken of here in Hebrews? Are these people of the "better resurrection" the overcomers?

By Faith They Overcame

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.
31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:
33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire,
escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
35 Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a BETTER RESURRECTION.
36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.
37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted,[a] were slain with the sword.
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy.
They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise,
40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

Blessings,
Gavin