You are gods: Carl Mosser on theosis

Michael Bird’s Euangelion blog is a constant source of intriguing biblical studies, etc., miscellanea. Yesterday it was Byzantine Star Wars iconography, today it’s Carl Mosser explicating the biblical basis for the supposed doctrine of theosis—roughly the idea that believers, if they stick with the process, eventually become divine. It’s mainly associated with Eastern Orthodoxy, but C.S. Lewis appears to have held the view: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”1

Mosser cites three “proof texts”:

“ which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Pet. 1:4)

 I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” (Ps. 82:6–7)

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 Jn. 3:2)

But he argues that really theosis has to do with the whole economy of salvation. God creates humanity in his own image and likeness to have dominion over the earth. Humanity is crowned with glory and honour, with all things subject to them (Ps. 8:5-6). Hebrews applies this text to Jesus (Heb. 2:6-8), who is the “first human being to fully exemplify what it is that God intended for his human creatures to be”.

Mosser gives greatest weight in this brief presentation, however, to “notions of enthronement”. The book of Revelation applies to the redeemed some “very astonishing things that it also applies to the risen and ascended Jesus”. The churches are told that the one who conquers will rule the nations with a rod of iron and will sit on Jesus’ throne—in other words, he will share in Jesus’ glorified reign at the right hand of God (Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21; cf. 12:5; 19:15). Thus the redeemed participate in the eternal state, “ruling and reigning over the vast cosmic order that God has made”. This is where the whole biblical narrative is heading. We are to resemble God in some way, we are to be his physical likeness in the created order, we exercise rule with Christ as redeemed humanity over a redeemed cosmos.

I don’t think that this is a tenable argument.

  • The phrase “partakers of the divine nature” in 2 Peter 1:4 has a rather specific meaning: believers have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” and will share in the immortality or incorruptibility of the divine nature. If, therefore, they practice virtuous works—qualities associated with the incorruptible divine nature—they will gain “an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (1:11). In other words, they will be identified not with God but with the reign of Jesus—see further below.
  • In Psalm 82 YHWH gets to his feet in the divine council and indicts the gods of the nations for failing to defend the weak and needy against the wicked. It’s a wonderful piece of theological theatre. Because of this failure, though gods, they will die like men, and YHWH will inherit the nations from them. Jesus appears to have taken the Psalm differently, but even then the issue is not ontology or identity but authority: ‘The passage refers to the judges of Israel, and the expression “gods” is applied to them in the exercise of their high and God-given office.’2 Jesus rephrases the Jews’ accusation: are you upset because I said, “I am the Son of God”?
  • John says that at the parousia or revelation of Jesus “we shall be like him”—that is, we shall be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2). This is not theosis. If believers share in the sufferings of Christ, they will also share in the glory of the resurrected Lord (cf. Rom. 8:17, 29; Phil. 3:10-11, 20-21; Col. 3:3-4).
  • The point of Hebrews’ use of Psalm 8:5-6 is not that the humanity of Psalm 8 is assimilated into the divinity of Jesus. It is the reverse: Jesus is a human to whom all things have been subjected. The argument is that as a human he will at some point in the future—from the writer’s perspective—be given supreme authority because of his faithful suffering and death.
  • It is not the redeemed in general in Revelation, as Mosser assumes, who will share in Christ’s reign at the right hand of God but the martyrs. The “one who conquers” is a martyr who conquers death, as Jesus did (Rev. 3:21); by way of reward he receives the same authority that Jesus received from his Father (Rev. 2:26-27). It is those “beheaded for the testimony of Jesus” who will be raised in a “first resurrection” to reign with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-5).
  • Christ and the martyrs do not reign over a “redeemed cosmos”. Kingdom is required precisely because the cosmos is not redeemed, because there is still sin and hostility. Kingdom comes to an end after the thousand year reign, when the cosmos is finally made new (Rev. 20:6; 21:1; cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28).

What these passages affirm is not a general theosis or divinization of the redeemed but a quite narrowly conceived inclusion of the early martyr church in the eschatological rule of Christ over the nations throughout the age to come.

  • 1C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (1980), 18.
  • 2Leon Morris, The Gospel of John (1995), n.p.

Andrew, some of your criticisms make erroneous assumptions about the content of the doctrine of deification and its historical development. It may be helpful to watch the first video in the series (“What is the Doctrine of Deification?”) and read an accessible overview I recently published, “Deification: A Truly Ecumenical Doctrine.” Links for both can be found on my Academia page, as well as to scholarly articles I’ve written on the logic of the patristic interpretation of Psalm 82 and deification in Calvin. One of the latter (“An Exotic Flower?”) addresses some of the historical assumptions that seem to be coloring your impression of the concept.

Carl, thanks for responding on this, but I’m a little flummoxed. I watched the first video and read “Deification: A Truly Ecumenical Concept” and “The Earliest Patristic Interpretations of Psalm 82, Jewish Antecedents and the Origin of Christian Deification”, and I now have a much better idea of how and why the concept emerged in the second century. But I could see nothing in the exegetical logic of the Fathers to suggest that there is a plausible “biblical basis” for it, which is what your video is about.

The New Testament does not apply theos/theoi to the redeemed, either as attributives or as substantives. Immortality is grounded in the resurrection, not in any process of becoming god-like or divine. None of the examples of “exchange” formulas that you cite from the New Testament says anything like Athanasius’ “He… assumed humanity that we might become God.” Psalm 82 does not mean what the Fathers took it to mean—if the “gods” are not gods, they are the unrighteous rulers of Israel. It looks to me as though Justin, for example, has assimilated “gods” to a Christian understanding of “sons of the Most High”, whereas in the Psalm “sons of the Most High” is another term for “gods”, as members of the divine council. So whatever the Fathers managed to do with the “synonymous parallelism”, I don’t see how it is now an option open to us as interpreters.

So I don’t see on what grounds can it be said that “it is appropriate to say that redeemed human beings are made theos/theoi”, even with the qualification that this does not mean that they become deities (“Deification”, 9). It seems pretty clear that you are not merely arguing that “this is what the Fathers thought”. You say, for example: “Once we understand patristic language and how scripture warrants it, we begin to see that deification is not an import alien to the gospel” (13). But I am still inclined to think that this is more an apologetic for patristic thought than an exposition of biblical thought.

I guess my bottom line question is this: should I as a believer and reader of the New Testament think of myself as theos? I’m not persuaded—perhaps I’m not supposed to be—but I’m going to have a look at Michael Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God, see where that gets me.

You are correct to observe that I am trying to explain the origin of the patristic view, how it emerges from their reading of scripture, and argue that the doctrine has biblical warrant (more than the Fathers themselves recognized, in fact). There may be more going for the patristic reading of Psalm 82 than you are granting, especially if one accepts ki-adam (v. 7) as a referent to Adam (as I and a few commentators do). In any case, whether one accepts the patristic reading or any part of it is actually beside the point. For them the Psalm points to Gal 4, Rom 8, Jn 1:12, 1 Jn 3:2, etc. and the notions of becoming sons or children of God. That is why deification and adoption are frequently synonymous terms in patristic literature. What matters here is the content of the doctrine and the way it ties together various biblical themes, not whether a particular verse sufficiently proves it by itself. That’s why I’ve said the doctrine can be readily established apart from Ps. 82:6 and 2 Peter 1:4 (in any case, the latter played no role in the origin of the doctrine).

As for applying theos to ultimate redemption, you are right that the NT does not do this. However, in the cultural-linguistic context of the early centuries anything immortal, incorruptible, or glorious could be described as theos—especially in philosophical writings. Those are precisely the three attributes Paul ascribes to the resurrection body in 1 Cor 15. He did not choose those adjectives ignorant of their import to his Corinthian audience. This one passage is enough to show that patristic use of theos as short hand for Christian redemption was entirely warranted. In answer to your question: if you experience the resurrection of life, then you will indeed be appropriately described as theos in the relevant sense.

I can’t argue for the connection between the Irenaean exchange formula and the NT in a com box. I think the underlying pattern is clearly at work in the passages I cite in the article, but if you don’t see it, then I recommend Morna Hooker’s article “Interchange in Christ” (JTS 1971; reprinted in her From Adam to Christ).

You say “Immortality is grounded in the resurrection, not in any process of becoming god-like or divine.” I say this is a false dichotomy. It is grounded in the resurrection, but it is also becoming God-like. Keep in mind that immortality belongs to God alone (1 Tim 6:16). The immortality experienced in the resurrection is God’s immortality bestowed to the righteous. They come to share in what is properly his. In making the righteous immortal he makes them like himself. This is part of him making good on his intent to form creatures in his image and likeness.

Undergirding your comments seems to be concern about the appropriateness of the terminology. Many Christians today are only familiar with such language in reference to heterodox movements or the ancient Imperial cult, so they understandably find it initially jarring. Many Protestants with a theological education aware of it in a Christian context but see it as an exotic import from the East and worry about its compatibility with Reformational teachings. We should keep in mind that deification terms like theopoieo are amongst the very oldest in the Church’s theological lexicon. Since the second century thoughtful Christians have repeatedly deemed such language useful for expressing Christian truth. This way of describing our ultimate salvation is found in most of the foundational theologians of the East and West alike, Protestant as well as Orthodox and Catholic. This is very traditional theological terminology with a longer pedigree than such stalwarts as “Trinity” and “creatio ex nihilo.” So, there is a pretty strong prima facie argument in favor of the appropriateness of its use within Christian theology.

If you want a fuller overview of the doctrine, I recommend Daniel Keating’s Deification and Grace. For this purpose it will be more helpful than Gorman’s book.

Carl, thanks for the excellent response and the suggestions for further reading. All very helpful—but I’m spending far too long it!

There may be more going for the patristic reading of Psalm 82 than you are granting, especially if one accepts ki-adam (v. 7) as a referent to Adam…

Justin’s reading is forced. While “you shall die ki-adam” could mean “as Adam”, it’s harder to defend his view that “fall like one of the princes” refers to the serpent. Besides, we would still only have the “gods” in the heavenly council who have failed to uphold justice dying as Adam died, falling as Satan fell.

That is why deification and adoption are frequently synonymous terms in patristic literature.

But my question is still whether “deification” is a good word for us to use now with reference to the New Testament texts that you cite.

The argument in Galatians 4:1-7 is that those under the Jewish Law have been redeemed, therefore they have received adoption as sons, therefore they have received Spirit of the Son, therefore they shall inherit everything—that is, they will share in Christ’s rule when the kingdom of God comes. The argument does not require immortality.

Similarly in Romans 8:12-30. Those who have been adopted as sons will become “fellow heirs with Christ” on condition that they suffer with him. Two things here: first, it’s about inheritance; secondly, it’s conditional—it’s those who suffer and die as Christ suffered and died, not all believers, who will inherit the kingdom of God. Immortality and imperishability are given to them so that they may reign with Christ throughout the coming ages (cf. 1 Cor. 15:50).

With respect to Hooker’s argument about “interchange”, I think that what’s going on here is the assimilation of the suffering church, of the apostles in particular, to the pattern of Christ’s suffering and vindication—I make much of this in The Coming of the Son of Man. I think we have over-generalised the language. 2 Corinthians 5:21, for example, is a statement about apostleship, not about salvation in general terms. If the suffering apostles have become the “righteousness of God”, it is because they have become the improbable means by which YHWH will be vindicated. OK, it’s a tough argument to make, but there is no “exchange” here by which believers become immortal or in any sense “divine”.

The phrase “children of God” has reference to the present state of believers: “we are God’s children now” (1 Jn. 3:2; cf. Jn. 1:12; Rom. 8:16; Phil. 2:15). John goes on to say that at the parousia “we shall be like him”, but it’s not clear that he has in mind the transformation of the believers—nothing is said about resurrection or immortality. The issue is rather that they should abide in him now as “children of God” so that they will have confidence when he appears and not be ashamed (2:28). They will be like him in the sense that they practise the same righteousness (2:29).

So while it may be the case that the early church could reasonably have used theos to denote immortality and incorruptibility in general terms, it still seems to me that they were missing the point of the texts. The argument of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 is that Christ has been raised from the dead, reigns until the last enemy has been destroyed, then “delivers the kingdom to God the Father… that God may be all in all”. Those in Christ who are raised participate in this narrative: they inherit the kingdom that had been given to Jesus. No reference to this inheritance-kingdom narrative is found in the passages that you cite in “Deification: A Truly Ecumenical Concept”, 10. Athanasius speaks of inheriting not the kingdom but immortality (On the Incarnation 54).

Keep in mind that immortality belongs to God alone (1 Tim 6:16). The immortality experienced in the resurrection is God’s immortality bestowed to the righteous. They come to share in what is properly his. In making the righteous immortal he makes them like himself.

There is a difference, I suggest, between the immortality which belongs to God alone, which is intrinsic to his nature, and the immortality or imperishability of the resurrection body, which is determined by the fact that death has been defeated. The resurrected person is not “divine”; he or she is still merely a human creature, but no longer subject to death: Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10).

This is part of him making good on his intent to form creatures in his image and likeness.

The resurrected person is not conformed to the image of God but to the image of Christ, who has overcome death and who reigns at the right hand of the Father throughout the ages (cf. Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18). Colossians 3:10 may be an exception (“have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”), but it is ethical transformation that is in view, not immortality (cf. Eph. 4:24).

You say “Immortality is grounded in the resurrection, not in any process of becoming god-like or divine.” I say this is a false dichotomy. It is grounded in the resurrection, but it is also becoming God-like.

I say this is a false correlation. I don’t see any reason to think that New Testament writers thought of resurrection as “becoming God-like” other than in the nominal sense that the athanatos/aphthartos word-groups can be applied to both. Both the resurrected dead and God are immortal, but for different reasons. There is not the sort of commonality of nature that, to my mind, would be implied by the word “deification”.

Since the second century thoughtful Christians have repeatedly deemed such language useful for expressing Christian truth.

But even if it made sense in the second century (on the strength of a usage that is not evidenced in the New Testament or LXX) and tradition has seen fit to preserve the notion, that does not mean that the “deification” terminology either usefully explains the New Testament or works under modern linguistic conditions. At both ends I think it imports a conceptuality that is at odds with the New Testament argument.

Andrew, I don’t have time to engage in a point-by-point exegetical discussion, so I will keep my comments brief. Two things seem to lie at the root of your objection: (1) an allergic reaction to deification terminology and (2) a desire to limit the scope of a great many texts to the apostles and martyrs to the exclusion of the redeemed generally and/or then limit the claims of those texts to the present or a temporary future state to the exclusion of final salvation. There also seems to be some continuing confusion about the doctrine of deification itself.

I detect a reaction to the word when you say your question is whether ‘deification’ “is a good word for us to use now”; when you suggest some sort of “commonality of nature” would “be implied” by the word ‘deification’, and whether deification terminology “works under modern linguistic conditions.” There are two issues here.

First, we can’t generalize about what “works under modern linguistic conditions” as if it is obvious that ‘deification’ is problematic. Lots of people use it in Christian theological discourse without any difficulty whatsoever. It obviously can work. As with all traditional theological terms, there are certainly contexts in which it is prudent to articulate the conceptual referent by other means. But that should not lead us to abandon a venerable term or avoid it in scholarly theological discourse.

Second, the word ‘deification’ does not imply anything. If we want to understand what it means in a Christian context, we have to look at how Christians have used this kind of language over 1800+ years. Whatever it might mean in other contexts or what one might presume from its etymology is irrelevant. Obviously, the way it is used in other contexts can give rise to problematic connotations. Because of that, in some situations it is wise to articulate the concept by other means. But that doesn’t constitute reason to say the terminology is bad “for us to use now” across the board. Rather, we explain it and draw distinctions so people understand what is and is not meant, as we do with other terms that are either uncommon or used differently outside theological discourse.

Your interpretation of various passages seems driven by some kind of eschatological scheme that I’m not familiar with and some of your readings strike me as quite forced. I think a fruitful discussion of individual passages would require prior discussion of the underlying hermeneutic. Here is the basic principle underlying my reading and which I am convinced arises from the NT itself: what is presently true of the Son in his resurrected, ascended, glorious humanity will be made true of the redeemed. That is what it means for Christ to be the firstfruits/firstborn from the dead (1 Cor 15:20; Col 1:18), firstborn of all creation (Col 1:15), firstborn of many brothers (Rom 8:29), who came to bring many sons to glory and call them brothers (Heb 2:10-11), etc.. These texts are indeed concerned with inheritance. And the question in dispute is this: what is the content of that inheritance? I say it is all the NT themes that are tied together in the patristic concept of deification: union with Christ, being one with the Father and Son, being filled with the Spirit and the fullness of God, adoption to divine sonship, being begotten with imperishable seed, being raised immortal and incorruptible, sharing in the glory of God, being made a new creation, growing in likeness of Christ, restoration of the divine image and likeness, imitation of God, undergoing ethical transformation, and so forth. These are realities which begin in the present and are consummated in resurrection.

You say the resurrected person “is not ‘divine’; he or she is still merely a human creature, but no longer subject to death.” Well, to no longer be subject to death is to no longer be merely human. We also have another false dichotomy. In the sense relevant to the doctrine of deification, to no longer be subject to death is precisely to be divine (theos). But that does not in any way entail that the person ceases to be human or that they become a deity. But neither are they merely human. They are human beings whose humanity has been elevated to share in the life of God and transformed in accordance to God’s original intentions for the human race—something we see exemplified for the first time in the risen and ascended Christ seated at the Father’s right hand. That is why many have observed that the doctrine of deification can also be described as a doctrine of humanization.

Finally, you claim deification imports a conceptuality that is at odds with the NT argument. Obviously, I am convinced of the opposite, as were nearly all Christian thinkers until Ritschl and Harnack called that into question. But here is something to note about the implications of your claim if correct. Over the last century and a half patristics scholars have repeatedly observed that the doctrine of the Trinity and the Christological dogmas of the early church emerge from a soteriology of deification. Deification was frequently the presupposition undergirding patristic arguments for the views which became the ecumenical consensus. If one concludes that a soteriology of deification is truly at odds with the NT, then one should also reconsider the Trinity and Incarnation. Perhaps you are willing to do that, but if so, then you’ve moved from evangelical theology to the radical reformation. My hope is that you will investigate the doctrine further and charitably, open to the possibility of reconsidering your view.

Carl, your supposedly “brief” comments are much appreciated.

Yes, there is probably a bit of an allergic reaction to the deification terminology—it’s not part of my theological tradition. But the problem remains that the patristic texts I have looked at appear to me to be misreadings of the biblical passages, even allowing for an attributive sense for theos/theoi that amounts to something less than literal divinization.

The summary of your reading of New Testament eschatology is very helpful, and I may attempt a compare-and-contrast exercise with it next week, particularly with regard to the disagreement over inheritance.

But it’s not just my unconventional “eschatological scheme” that is causing problems here. Psalm 82 may not be the sole basis for the doctrine, but it features prominently in your writings, and I find the spin that Justin, Irenaeus and Clement put on it unconvincing. Indeed, you write that “The reason they adopted this language… lies in their interpretation of Psalm 82.” If they adopted non-biblical language on the basis of a misreading of one Psalm, that makes me wonder whether there’s really much to be gained today by speaking of redemption as theosis.

If one concludes that a soteriology of deification is truly at odds with the NT, then one should also reconsider the Trinity and Incarnation. Perhaps you are willing to do that, but if so, then you’ve moved from evangelical theology to the radical reformation. My hope is that you will investigate the doctrine further and charitably, open to the possibility of reconsidering your view.

This is an important consideration. I can’t give an adequate response here—in fact, I probably can’t give an adequate response full stop—except to say i) that I don’t think exegesis should be held to ransom by patristic theology; and ii) that I’m quite happy to allow that the Greek and Latin fathers were right to reconceptualize the New Testament witness in the manner that they did.

Andrew, you say deification terminology is not part of your theological tradition. I suspect it is but you weren’t previously aware. This terminology is well attested throughout the patristic traditions of the East and West alike. Its found in the writings of many medieval theologians. The early Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican theologians accepted it as part of the catholic heritage which they sought to uphold and defend. It is found in subsequent Protestant writers as diverse as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Wesley, and C.S. Lewis. Unless you belong to a restorationist church, then arguably it is actually part of your tradition.

Second, I am not trying to convince anyone of the patristic interpretation of Psalm 82. My article aimed to show that more is going on in it than presumed by Harnack and his followers who see deification as the apex of the Hellenization of Christianity. Contrary to their presumptions, the primary significance of the Psalm was “sons of the Most High,” not “gods.” Furthermore, the fathers adapted pre-existing Jewish interpretations of the Psalm which led them to see in it a kind of prediction of NT our adoption in Christ and being begotten anew whereby we attain all that Adam and Israel forfeited (and more) by disobedience to God’s command. Deification does not depend on the psalm but rather the biblical themes to which it was thought to point, as well as others found in mature explications of the doctrine. Thus, one can disagree with the patristic interpretation but embrace the doctrine itself (e.g. Calvin).

Third, deification terminology did not arise only because of the patristic reading of Psalm 82. The statement you quote was not intended to exclude other warrants. My point was that the language really does arise out of interpretation of the psalm; the psalm was not cherry picked and cited as ex post facto justification for terminology appropriated from Hellenistic philosophy or mystery religions. But it is also the case that Paul’s description of the resurrection life in 1 Cor 15 (among other passages) independently justifies use of theos in reference to ultimate redemption. Given his cultural-linguistic context, it would have been natural for Greek-speaking readers to instinctively see that Paul himself described redemption as some kind of divinization of human nature. I don’t see any way of avoiding that conclusion. There are other grounds as well, but that’s the most obvious one and thus easiest to discuss in a com box.

In any case, the fact remains that deification terminology, including theos/theoi, is amongst the very oldest in the Church’s theological lexicon. Regardless of the means by which it entered (beware the genetic fallacy), it is perfectly orthodox Christian language that continues to be employed by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. It is not prudent to use this language in some contexts, but Christians should not object to it as such once they understand what it does and does not mean in the context of Christian theological discourse. At the end of the day it’s the concept that should be assessed regardless of what terminology is used to articulate it.  

Finally, you are, of course, free to compare and contrast as you please, but I’m not sure it will be particularly helpful or a good use of time since I gave but the barest informal sketch and made no attempt to establish my claims exegetically. Either way, I am grateful for the interaction thus far.  

Brian Byars | Fri, 10/09/2015 - 21:47 | Permalink

Christ and the martyrs do not reign over a “redeemed cosmos”.

This I do not understand. As it was often presented in my youth, we were all supposed to be ruling and reigning with Christ, but we were never told what it was we were ruling and reigning over. Since this was often presented as part of a premillennial view that I no longer hold, I presumed it must have been part of the new heavens and earth. But in that case, there would not be anyone to reign over. Perhaps we would be reigning over paradise in a return to Genesis 2, which would make for nice bookend images for the Bible’s metanarrative.

But you say here that this is the martyrs reigning with Christ, I presume, in the amillennial kingdom now. However, does the image of the martyrs crying out under the throne work with this?

Again, I don’t understand and am asking to understand better. Thank you in advance.

Good questions.

The first point I would make is that we tend to confuse the coming of the kingdom of God with the remaking of the cosmos (there is no “redemption” of the cosmos as such). Kingdom has to do with YHWH’s rule over his own people and over the nations—it is a political doctrine; and I argue that the coming of the kingdom anticipated in the New Testament happens—in effect—when Christ is confessed as Lord by the nations of the Greek-Roman world.

This moment is described apocalyptically in Revelation 18-19, when Rome is judged, and John hears a great shout in heaven: “Hallelujah. For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns” (19:6). In historical, rather than purely theological, terms, this is the coming of the kingdom, the climactic achievement of YHWH’s reign over the nations.

It is also the moment when the persecuted churches are vindicated for their faithful witness (cf. 1 Thess. 4:14-17). The beheaded martyrs are raised in a “first resurrection” at this point and reign with Christ—the prototypical martyr, firstborn from the dead, firstborn of many brothers, the founder and perfecter of our faith—throughout the coming ages, the thousand year period. Only at the end of the thousand years is the cosmos made new.


Revelation 22:5 suggests that all of God’s servants reign forever and ever. The debate will be to whom does “they” refer to in verse 5. I think it refers to the servants in verse 3.