Kline: The First Resurrection In Revelation 20:6

One of the critical points in the exegesis of Revelation 20 is the interpretation of prōtos in the phrase, “the first resurrection” (v. 5). Premillennarians understand it in the purely sequential sense of first in a series of items of the same kind. They interpret both “the first resurrection” and the resurrection event described in verses 12 and 13 of this chapter as bodily resurrections. The contextual usage of protos, however, does not support such an exegesis; it rather points compellingly to an interpretation of “the first resurrection” found in (so-called) amillennial exegesis.
The vision of the recreation of the world in Revelation 21: 1ff. will be a good starting place for our survey of the relevant data concerning prōtos. This word is employed here as the opposite of “new.” The consummation of history brings “a new heaven and a new earth” (v. 1) and a “new Jerusalem” (v. 2). Indeed, God as Consummator will make “all things new” (v. 5). And the word “first” is used for that which is superseded by the “new”: “the first heaven and the first earth were passed away” (v. 1). Indeed, when God makes all things new, all “the first things” pass away — tears, death, sorrow, crying, pain (v. 4). In this passage to be “first” means to belong to the order of the present world which is passing away. Prōtos does not merely mark the present world as the first in a series of worlds and certainly not as the first in a series of worlds all of the same kind. On the’ contrary, it characterizes this world as different in kind from the “new” world. It signifies that the present world stands in contrast to the new world order of the consummation which will abide forever.
An alternate term for “new” in Revelation 21 is the word “second.” The death that is identified with the lake of fire and is the eternal counterpart to the death that belongs to the order of “first things” (v. 4) is called “the second death” (v. 8). Thus “second” as well as “new” serves as the antithesis of “first.” Whatever accounts for the preference for “first” over “old” in describing the present world, the use of “first” naturally led to the use of “second” alongside of “new” for the future world, particularly for the future reality of eternal death for which the term “new” with its positive redemptive overtones would be inappropriate.
In this antithetical pairing of first death (an expression virtually contained in verse 4) and “second death” (v. 8), Revelation 21 confronts us with the same idiom that we find in Revelation 20 in “the first resurrection” (vss. 5, 6) and the second resurrection (an expression implicit in this chapter). The arbitrariness of the customary premillennial insistence that “the first resurrection” must be a bodily rising from the grave if the second resurrection is such is exposed by the inconsistent recognition by premillennial exegesis that, although the first death is the loss of physical life, “the second death” is death of a different kind, death in a metaphorical rather than literal, physical sense.
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Meredith Kline | “The First Resurrection” Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974/75): 366–75


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  1. Exceptional! Very helpful!

    Placing myself as the student in the lecture, the one who dares to ask the “stupid question” aloud, might we not coordinate the “its ok” born-again view as first resurrection with the “this is best” death-of-the-Christian view?

    > Regeneration in Jh 3 is by means of a preceding death.
    > This is described in (NT) as death to the way of life in this world, under the fall.
    > This is described (NT) in the already/not yet schema.

    Hence, might we not formulate it this way?

    > First death
    > (initiated in regeneration, consummated in believer’s physical death/initial glorification)
    > First resurrection

    (Again, open the professor’s “ugh, well, no, b/c …”.)

  2. How is this to be understood, as regeneration from spiritual death? Or as some commentaries will say, a spiritual resurrection from physical death ie Christ calling us up to himself at our death?

  3. Thank you for posting Dr. Kline’s essay on Revelation 20 and 21. Although I have not focused on these two books of Revelation I know his study will be fruitful.

    In addition, I am most grateful for the link to Dr. Kline’s webpage.


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