“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6).
The book of Revelation contains seven beatitudes (Revelation 1:3; 14:12-13; 16:15; 19:6-9; 20:6; 22:7, 12; 22:14). These seven passages tell us how to find true, lasting happiness with God.
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. What is the first resurrection? (1) The first resurrection does not refer to the general resurrection of the dead. Wayne Jackson comments, “There will be a general resurrection of the dead, which will involve, at the same time, both good and evil persons, see – John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15” (Jackson, Revelation: Jesus Christ’s Final Message of Hope, p. 217). (2) Many brethren believe that the reference is to baptism. John Kachelman Jr. writes, “The ‘first resurrection’ of Revelation 20 is a spiritual resurrection of our souls from spiritual death and is accomplished only when we hear and obey the gospel” (Kackelman, Studies in the Book of Revelation, p. 162). There are good points to be made for this position. Baptism is not only a burial, but also, a resurrection (Colossians 2:12 cf. 3:1; Romans 6:3-5; Ephesians 2:1,5-6). Christians are sometimes depicted as currently being the priests of God (1 Peter 2:9; 1 Peter 2:5 cf. Hebrews 13:15; Revelation 1:4-6). (3) Others believe that this refers to being faithful until death. Revelation 2:10-11 reads, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life… He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” Revelation 20:6 reads, “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power…” Foy Wallace Jr. comments, “There is an axiom which decrees that things equal to the same things are equal to each other. In Revelation 2:11 it is said that overcoming the persecutions exempted them from the second death. But in Revelation 20:6 it is said that part in the first resurrection exempted them from the second death. Things equal to the same things being equal to each other – part in the first resurrection referred to overcoming persecutions and entering into triumph of that victory” (Wallace, The Book of Revelation, p. 416). Wayne Jackson adds, “It may be… that this ‘resurrection’ symbolizes a relief from a period of horrible persecution, somewhat analogous to the figurative resurrection portrayed in Ezekiel 37, which depicts Judah’s release from Babylonian captivity” (Jackson, p. 217). (4) I believe that the last two points are not mutually exclusive. I believe that both are included. Remember the words of Revelation 12:11 (cf. Revelation 7:13-14) “They overcame …by the blood of the Lamb” [note: Blood is contacted at baptism (Revelation 1:5; 7:13-14 cf. Acts 22:16 cf. Romans 6:3-4). The blood continues to be available to those who walk in the light (1 John 1:7,9; 2:2)] “and by the word of their testimony and they did not love their lives to the death” [note: This is speaking of faithfulness (Matthew 10:32-33; 16:24-25; Revelation 2:10-11; 7:13-14). The faithful will be blessed even in death (Revelation 14:13)].
The second death has no power over such. There is no question that the second death refers to being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-15). Ray Summers comments, “The ‘first death,’ which is not mentioned but implied, must be physical death. The ‘second death’ which is mentioned here is symbolic of eternal separation, eternal punishment in the lake of fire” (Summers, Worthy is the Lamb, p. 205). Consider the words of Jesus, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28); “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you shall fear; Fear him who, after He has killed, has power to case into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5); “Be faith until death…He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11).
They shall be priests of God and of Christ. The reference is to those who overcame. This includes martyrs (Revelation 20:4,6 cf. 6:9-11). Death does not defeat the faithful. They are elevated to better things (cf. Revelation 14:13).
They shall reign with Him a thousand years. The thousand years are not to be understood as a literal length of time. Foy Wallace Jr. comments, “There are twenty figures of speech in the nineteenth and twentieth chapters alone. In a series of symbols such as these, it is not reasonable to make a literal application of the thousand years and a figurative application of all the rest… without a contextual or historical reason for doing so” (Wallace, p. 403). Some consider the thousand years as the whole period of Christianity. It may be most of it. However, it is not all of it (cf. Revelation 20:7-10). The thousand-year reign seems to refer to a long period of time (cf. Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalms 50:10; 90:4) in which the church would come out of intense persecution and would experience a long unprecedented period of relative peace (Revelation 20:1-3 cf. 20:7-10). The devil would again return to great opposition to Christianity, but then comes the end (Revelation 20:7-10).
Yes this is a difficult section of scripture to understand. However, the central message is be faithful. Let us be faithful. If we are faithful, the second death will do us no harm. If we are faithful, then we will be blessed, whatever the specific details of the events of final things may be.