Reigning with Christ I

Nearing the close of the prophetic and apocalyptic Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John a startling and exciting revelation takes place. In chapter 20 John records:

(1) I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. (2) He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (3) He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (4) I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ 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 are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand yearsRevelation 20:1-6 NIV [1] 

Revelation 20:4-6 

Verse Four: 

In verse 4 thrones are seen for “they” (third person plural pronoun) who have been given authority to judge. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 records that believers judge angels but here it could refer to them judging on earth in a new creation. This pronoun could refer to the church or believers (Revelation 6:9; 4:4); the apostles (Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:29-30) or the believers as a whole (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).

Beheading by axes and swords were not unheard of in the first century and prior but the term “beheaded” does have a broader semantic range. It could mean something like “executed” because as Paul has already informed us (1 Corinthians 6:2-3) all believers will reign with Jesus. Revelation 2:26-28 and 3:12, 22 also support this understanding. The subjects of Revelation 20:4 are described differently than those of 5:10 or 6:9 but similarities also exist. While this passage may not explicitly distinguish two sets of tribulation groups if either existed the language could imply both. They came to life and reigned with Christ (Revelation 3:21) for a thousand years.

The words “came to life” at the end of this verse can refer to bodily resurrection. The same Greek verb used to translate “came to life” is used to speak of Christ’s physical resurrection in Acts 1:3 (“he shewed himself alive” KJV) and also in the aorist in Revelation 2:8 where we read “came to life again.” (NIV). It also occurs in Revelation 13:14 where the beast is “wounded by the sword and yet lived.” (NIV) This same verb is also used in the Greek of the LXX to render “and they lived” to describe dead men brought to life (Ezekiel 37:10). Throughout John’s Apocalyptic writing believers have lost their physical lives for the sake of Christ and are even give a crown of life and reign with Christ (Revelation 2:10; 5:10). These are seen by John to be real lives and not merely figurative ones. Therefore, John is not referring to coming to life from spiritual death since believers or martyrs were not spiritually dead.

Verse Five: 

The best interpreter of John is not one limited only to his presuppositions whether they are a covenant theologian or a premillenialist. John himself is his own best interpreter. Notice the movement from verse four to verse five from the NIV: “…They came to life and reigned with Christ 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.” This coming to life is the first resurrection. Some will contend that there is only one resurrection and therefore John here refers to that one resurrection. However, John clearly says “the first resurrection” here which could imply another. Daniel 12:2, Acts 24:15 and John 5:28-29 can also be understood to support this view. The operative term in verse five is “resurrection”. This coming to life refers to a physical resurrection since the noun is routinely referred to about 40 times as a physical resurrection from death to life (Matthew 22:23, 28, 30-31; Mark 12:18, 23; Luke 14:14, 20:27, 33, 35-36; John 5:29, 11:24-25; Acts 1:22, 2:31, 4:2, 4:33, 17:18, 32, 26:23; Romans 6:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:12-13, 21, 42; Philippians 3:10; 2 Timothy 2:18; Hebrews 6:2, 11:35; 1 Peter 1:3, 3:21).

John also refers to the rest of the dead that did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. The translators add the parenthesis for clarity and to clearly express the intent of John here. Here in verse five the verb which translates “come to life” is also aorist as in verse four. Those who came to life reigned until the thousand years ended or were completed.

Verse Six: 

The prepositional phrase “in the first resurrection” modifies those who are blessed or fortunate and holy or dedicated. They belong entirely to the Lord. These “have part” (NIV) or are they “who shares” (ESV) in the first resurrection. In 20:14 the “second death” is defined by John clearly, “The lake of fire is the second death.” (NIV) The second death has no power over these rather they will be “priests of God and of Christ” (NIV). 

The term “thousand” here has caused much controversy. The option is either to suggest thousand here does not really mean thousand or go with a straight forward reading where thousand means thousand. Attention will be given to the duration of the millennium in the following posts.

This author does not think the text demands two sets of 1,000 years either (literal or symbolic). Both instances are separate clauses within the same sentence. It is interpreted that way though. Scholars like Bengel (two mill. periods) and Lange (one mill. period) worked this out and came to different conclusions. On my reading, it appears that the 1,000 years separates the two resurrections indicated in vs. 4.

John is seeing this in a vision and is reporting it to us as it unfolds. (32x John says then I saw) The chapter prior referred to the second coming (Rev. 19:11-21) and therefore this millennium would chronologically refer to a period after the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. It does not seem to be incompatible with the text itself at least.

In verse four those who did not receive the mark came to life and reigned for 1,000 years. In verse five the others did not until after the 1,000 years were completed. In verse six John describes those in the first resurrection as “blessed” and “holy” and over them the second death has no power. And they will reign. Those who reign in vs. 6 reign, together, with others who are “blessed and holy” and apart of the first resurrection.

Zechariah 14:9 records, The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name. (NIV)

Zechariah makes this clear and without dispute, “The LORD will be king over the whole earth.” This kingdom will be set up, on earth, when Christ returns a second time, in the clouds of the sky, just as He departed (Revelations 1:7). Later the Apostle Paul refers to His coming as a blessed hope and glorious appearing (Titus 2:13).


[1] The New International Version will be used throughout unless noted otherwise.

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Adversus Trinitas

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