In Revelation 20:1-6, it is said that the martyrs, who died during the reign of “the Beast”, will arise, prior to “the thousand years”. This is called “the first resurrection”. However, does the resurrection of which Paul speaks in 1Thesslonians 4 (“snatched away in clouds to meet the Lord”) not precede the time of “the great tribulation”? Why then “the first resurrection”?
The Bible distinguishes between two kinds of resurrections:
1. “the resurrection FROM AMONG the dead” (e.g. Luke 20:35) and
2. “the resurrection OF THE dead” (e.g. Heb.6:2).
The “resurrection FROM AMONG the dead” is a resurrection of a select group in which “the rest of the dead” remain behind, in their graves (Rev.20:5). Elsewhere this is called “the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14) and “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29). Compare this with the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” (John.11:43). He was mentioned by name so that others, who were buried in the same area, would remain in their grave.
“The resurrection OF THE dead” will take place when all the (remaining) dead arise. This resurrection will be “after the thousand years” (Rev.20:5), at the great white throne (Rev.20:12). This is “the resurrection of judging” (John.5:29). “The first resurrection” is not so much a moment but a kind of resurrection: others, who are dead, remain in their grave. It is a resurrection which takes place in a series of moments. (1a) The Firstfruit, Christ, already about two thousand years ago. (1b) The “snatching away” in 1Thes.4 is the next in the series. After that, (1c) will be the resurrection of the righteous, 75 days after the great tribulation (the 1335 days in Daniel 12). And then, there will be (1d) the final resurrection of martyrs, right before the thousand years, referred to in Revelation 20. In fact, this resurrection is the last one within the category of “the first resurrection”.
Summarized: “the first resurrection” is the resurrection from among the dead, which takes place at a number of times (1a, 1b, 1c and 1d), but all of them before the beginning of the thousand years (Rev.20:5).
Translation: Peter Feddema