I believe at this point in my study that it’s more likely than not that the “First Resurrection” of Revelation 20:4-6 is the same as this event that occurred immediately after Jesus’ resurrection:
Matthew 27: 51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
This theory is shocking to many, some of whom will argue that if it had been so, there’d be more in the Bible about it. This post, therefore, is about building a concise list of passages that may in fact be related to this event, or that may mention it, either directly or indirectly. Here’s the model, as I think it is emerging:
- When Jesus was resurrected, he also raised up “the bodies of many holy people” on that same day.
- Those people were “the whole house of Israel”–that is, all the faithful Jews in Sheol/Hades. (It seems likely that it also included all the faithful patriarchs from BEFORE the foundation of the nation of Israel—but I haven’t yet gathered textual support for that idea.)
- They had been “captives” (or “prisoners”) in Sheol/Hades–they had been “cut off”, but were thus “redeemed” by Jesus.
- They witnessed to many.
- They were taken to heaven with Jesus in Acts 1.
- They were the “great cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 12:1, and the group described in the previous chapter.
- They were the “first resurrection” of Revelation 20:4-6. They were “redeemed from the earth” quite literally, and redeemed from mankind quite literally—taken to heaven to “reign with Christ”. (Check the Greek on this passage and see that it’s not ONLY about martyrs.)
- They were the “holy ones” who came with Christ at his return in 70AD. They had been given the authority to judge.
- This gives a much deeper meaning to “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
So, with no further adieu, here the supporting passages, with minimal notes.
John 5:25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
[They would “hear his voice” because he went to Sheol/Hades upon his death. There he spoke to them all. Even though he says “all who are in the tombs”, I do not think he has all of humanity in mind, but only those in the lineage from Adam to Christ–only the Jews and the patriarchs before them—or as Ezekiel puts it below, “the whole house of Israel”.]
Ezekiel 37:1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. 3 He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” 4 Again He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.’ 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. 6I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the LORD.’”7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.”’” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.11 Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel [This phrase is very important, for this is a prediction of raising all those from the dead whom God considered part of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. 13 Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. 14 I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.’”
Revelation 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
Revelation 20:1-5 Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3 and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. [Not “redeemed ON the Earth”, mind you, but redeemed “from” it.] 4 It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind [note that they had been redeemed “from” mankind—taken away] as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5 and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
Ephesians 4:7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” [Notice what is said to have happened “when he ascended”–which was in Acts 1:8. He “gave gifts to men”, which is a reference to the Acts 2 pouring out of the Holy Spirit, as foretold in Joel 2:28. Before that, however, it was said that he “led a host of captives”. This would be those faithful Jews among the dead in Sheol/Hades. 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? [This descent happened at his death. He raised them up just after he rose himself.] 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
Psalm 68:6 God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land….
18 You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.
…22 The Lord said, “I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
Psalm 42:6 I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
7 to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
Isaiah 61:1 61 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;[a]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;[b]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
Isaiah 49: Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages,
9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
Zecharaiah 9:11 As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
12 Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
John 5:25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. [The word for “tombs” here is mnēmeion, and not Sheol or Hades. This is NOT, therefore, a mention of human spirits/souls being raised out of Hades, but of dead bodies (remains) being raised out of their actual gravesites.]
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered[b] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which[c] he went and proclaimed[d] to the spirits in prison, 20 because[e] they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Jude 14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. [Starting from this next verse, the author introduces the cast of the First Resurrection, which discussion continues through the end of Chapter 12]4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. [Did he want them back in Jerusalem so that he would be raised right there with Jesus?] 23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. [This may be a reference to widows at the time of Jesus’ resurrection whose faithful husbands were raised back to life that day. If not this, then what? Where is any such event told elsewhere in scripture?] Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. [apart from whom? That “generation” in which Jesus said he would settle it all?]
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
….18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem [not the Earthly one], and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn [this is plural here, so it’s not about Jesus] who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect [Note that these people had been righteous on the Earth, but not flawless. They had since been MADE flawless in heaven, and it had happened ALREADY.], 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Luke 13:28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
How would these living people, to whom Jesus was speaking, have ever seen Abraham et al “in the kingdom of God”, yet themselves cast out? One might posit that Abraham and the others were in Sheol/Hades, and that when these people died, they would go there and see them across the “great chasm”, but this doesn’t work, for Sheol/Hades was never considered to be the kingdom of God. No, this is more likely a reference to seeing these raised patriarchs after the Matthew 27 resurrection.
Further, if Sheol/Hades were in view, it would be hard to explain those coming from afar, who were also to enter the kingdom.
Romans 2:9 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. [Note that the faithful Jews would be glorified first, and then the Greeks. There’s your first and second resurrections. The only exception here would be those faithful Jews who were still living at the time of that generation. But even then, it would seem that the faithful among the Jews were sheltered from the tribulation at Pella, Jordan, while the Gentile believers had to endure it as their time of testing.]
Acts 26: 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? [Paul argues before Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice as if it should be well known that God raises the dead. While such argument could be made on the evidence of Jesus, and even Lazarus, perhaps it makes even more sense on the evidence of the Matthew 27 resurrection of “the bodies of many holy people”.
Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[c] in heaven and on earth is named, How could there have been families in heaven if there had not already been a resurrection at this point?
The reader will have to pardon me since this is a work in progress. I know it raises many questions not answered here. And then there’s the grand finale: I believe that ALL of faithful Israel was raised from Sheol/Hades by Jesus right after his own resurrection. No, the Bible doesn’t come right out and say so, but that’s the nature of the texts we have; they simply don’t purport to tell us everything. Some things can be deduced—at least to a point of demonstrable plausibility. And this is one of those things, in my opinion.
Do you remember the language of “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” in the first chapters of Romans? Well, I think that’s what we’re seeing here. I think he came and got ALL the faithful Jews from Sheol/Hades in about 30AD, when he was resurrected himself. I think they ascended to heaven with him in Acts 1, and then “reigned with Christ for 1,000 years”. No, the “1,000” was not literal, but indicated an undisclosed period, which was being concealed on purpose as a tactical decision, so as not to educate the fallen angels as to the full plan. Besides, then that “1,000 years” was almost OVER is when the Revelation was written. Hence, the imminence with which Jesus’ return was being discussed by so many of the NT authors.
It was the faithful Jews who got to reign over the Earth (with Christ) to oversee the destruction of Satan and all his evil angels, and all the evil spirits whose existence was the result of the intermarriage of angels and human women. It was they who were there to help avenge the “blood of Abel’, and of all the prophets and martyrs since. They were brought forth to rule the nations with a rod of iron. They were not abandoned, but were rescued in the most glorious moment of all of history to that point.
THIS is what was in view when Paul asked Agrippa, “Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?” It’s because Jews—presumably from all over the world—were literally raised up from their graves, their bodies being reconstituted in literal fashion, and reunited with their spirits. This would have been WIDELY known, and it would have scared people silly from Spain to Ethiopia.
No, there is no historical narrative of this event in the Bible, other than the minimal mention of it in Matthew 27, yet the whole of the evidence seems to suggest that it MUST have happened this way. So we can add it to the other momentous events (such as the destruction of the Temple in 70AD) as we try to work the massive “What happened?” puzzle.
Below is a list of relevant excerpts from extrabiblical works. I list there here for now.
Apocalypse of Moses 13:1 And Seth went with Eve near paradise, and I they wept there, and prayed God to send his angel and give them the oil of mercy. And God 2 sent the archangel Michael and he spake to Seth: ‘Seth, man of God, weary not thyself with prayers and entreaties concerning the tree which floweth with oil to anoint thy father Adam. For it shall not be thine now, but in the end of the times. 3 Then shall all flesh be raised up from Adam till that great day,-all that shall be of the holy people. Then shall the delights of paradise be given to them and God shall be in their midst. And they shall no longer sin before his face, for the evil heart shall be taken from them and there shall be given them a heart understanding the good and to serve God only. But do thou go back to thy father. For the 6 term of his life hath been fulfilled and he will live three days from to-day and will die. But when his soul is departing, thou shalt behold the awful (scene of) his passing.’
Note: This is not a general resurrection, but one of only the holy people from Adam until the day of this resurrection.