JESUS CHRIST AND HIS BRIDE - [1] The ‘thousand years’ [Revelation 20:1-6]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

[If you wish, see Appendix #1 and Appendix #6 for a brief discussion of the controversies connected with Revelation 20.]

The understanding of this study series is that Revelation 20 gives a brief but impactive overview of the New Testament era, commencing with the first coming of Jesus Christ and ending with the final judgment. It gives a final symbolic vision of the same truths we have seen repeatedly from various perspectives in other visions.

A. THE BINDING OF SATAN – Revelation 20:1-3

Again John sees ‘an angel’. In the vision this angel has a ‘key’ and a ‘great chain’. These are all apocalyptic symbols – for we know that it is not an ‘angel’ who binds the devil, nor can the devil be bound with a physical chain or locked away with a physical key or a physical seal. That the vision is presented in symbols is further evidenced by the fact that the devil is called ‘the dragon’ and ‘that ancient serpent’ – both of which are symbols, representing the devil. [We have seen before that some symbols in Revelation are contradictory if understood in a literal sense. Different symbols are used to portray the same reality – as here, where the devil is both a dragon and a serpent. This is something we need to remember as we study Revelation 20.]

A.1 The description of the devil – verse 2
Satan is described in four ways:

[1] ‘the dragon’ refers us back to Revelation 12 where under the symbol of ‘the dragon’ the devil is shown attacking ‘the woman’ as she gave birth to a male child. After the child escapes [that is, after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ] the dragon pursues ‘the woman’ – Satan attacks the church.

[2] ‘that ancient serpent’ – this symbol takes us all the way back to Genesis 3. It was used also in 12:9 where it is stated that he ‘leads the whole world astray.

[3] ‘the devil’ – which means ‘the accuser’ [see 12:10].

[4] ‘Satan’ – which we have already seen in 9:11 means the destroyer.

Revelation 20 thus brings together the four names, including two symbolic names, used of Satan previously in Revelation.

A.2 The binding of the devil – verses 2,3
Here we are faced with at least three questions: [1] Who binds Satan? [2] What does binding mean? [3] Why was Satan bound? In looking at these questions we also need to ask another question: Is anything taught about this in the rest of the Scripture? And the answer to that question is that indeed there is, and what is taught elsewhere is of immense help in answering the others.

A.2.1 What the scriptures say about the ‘binding’ of the devil
Revelation presents Jesus Christ as the one who has already conquered [3:21; 5:5; 6:2] and who already rules [1:5,18; 3:7,14,21; 7:12]. From the very beginning of Revelation we have known that it is he who is in charge, and that he, that glorious, authoritative and powerful ‘one like a son of man’ [see Daniel 7:13,14, Revelation 1:12-18] is present in his church [1:12,13; 2:1]. There is no question of his present supremacy and authority. This victory of the incarnate Christ is the focus of persistent praise [1:5,6; 5:8-14; 7:9-14; 12:10-12a].

In the apostolic letters: Paul presents Jesus Christ as already victorious over the devil [Colossians 2:15], seated at the right hand of the Father in the position of total authority [Ephesians 1:19b-22] and ‘head over every power and authority’ [Colossians 2:10]. The Father has already given to Christ the highest position and the highest name [Philippians 2:9].  In Hebrews 2:14 we read that Jesus ‘shared our humanity’ ‘so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil’. Similarly, John states that ‘to destroy the devil’s work’ was the reason for the incarnation of the Son of God [1John 3:8]. Peter affirms that Jesus ‘has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him’ [1Peter 3:22].

According to Revelation and the apostles, the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ did not leave the question of authority hanging in the balance: it decided the question: Jesus conquered. Jesus rules. Satan was decisively defeated. The imagery used in Colossians 2:15 is that used to describe a conquering general leading his defeated enemies chained together in his triumphal procession through their previous domain, utterly defeated, utterly subdued, utterly subject to him.

In the gospels: During the period of his incarnation Jesus exercised his authority over the evil one. He defined his incarnation as the ‘kingdom’ of God coming or coming near. Although he came as a human being he was at all times during his incarnation the King.

He exercised his authority over Satan by exposing and defeating Satan’s temptations [Matthew 4:1-11; 16:23].

He exercised his authority over Satan by casting out demons [Luke 11:20] and thereby demonstrating that the kingdom of God had come with his coming. In Mark 3:23-29 Jesus taught that his casting out of demons indicated that he had bound Satan – he had bound [same word as in Revelation 20:2] the ‘strong man’ and was even now carrying off the ‘strong man’s’ possessions.

He exercised his authority over Satan by releasing from physical disability those whom Satan had bound [Luke 13:16]; indeed, he understood his healing miracles as evidence that he was the Messiah, the long-expected King [Luke 7:22,23. See also Acts 10:38].

He exercised his authority over Satan by enabling his disciples through the power of his name [Luke 10:17,18].

He demonstrated his authority over Satan by his substitutionary, sin-bearing death [John 12:31], teaching that by that death ‘the prince of his world’ was ‘driven out’. The Greek here is ekballo.

We ought not to lightly disregard this obvious victory and rule of the incarnate Jesus Christ over Satan. And in particular we ought not disregard the powerful victory over Satan demonstrated in his death for sin and resurrection to life. This testimony of the Gospels, which is the testimony of Jesus, clearly teaches that Jesus in his incarnation and by his death ‘cast’ Satan out and ‘bound’ him. To interpret Revelation 20 in any way that ignores, denies or minimizes this victory is surely to embark on a perilous journey.

The New Testament church: The witness of the New Testament church also affirms the present rule/reign of Christ. In Acts 2:33 Peter describes Jesus as ‘exalted to the right hand of God’ and as ‘both Lord and Christ’ in 2:35. Stephen saw the ascended Jesus ‘standing at the right hand of God [Acts 7:56]. Paul proved to the Jews in Damascus that Jesus is the Christ [Acts 9:22]. This testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, is not irrelevant to the point in question, for the pre-millennial viewpoint is looking for a Messianic reign of Christ on earth during a literal 1,000 years. In contrast, the New Testament church affirmed that Jesus was the Christ and was already reigning – that his reign began with his incarnation, and continues through the current age of witness. In addition to this Messianic affirmation of the church in Acts, we also find that the purpose of Christ in leaving the church on earth is to bear witness to his coming and his defeat of the evil one, not only to the inhabitants of the earth, but also to spiritual principalities and powers.

Through the Church – the Holy Spirit convicts the world of guilt ‘in regard to judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned’ [John 16:8,11].

The Church is commanded, because all authority has been given to Christ, to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations [Matthew 28:18,19]. They are reassured in this task by the fact that Jesus, the one with all authority, is with them always [verse 20]. [This presence of Christ with his Church on earth is portrayedin Revelation 1:13,20; 2:1 as Christ in the midst of the lampstands’.]

Christ gave the Church ‘the keys of the kingdom’ – the power and the authority to bind and to loose [Matthew 16:19], the authority to forgive or not to forgive [John 20:20,21]. [This difficult concept is related to the Church having the ‘word of God’ and the ‘testimony of Jesus. As the church bears that word and that testimony to the world Satan is bound by that word and that testimony and men and women are released from his bondage and from his accusations. We will see more of this below.]

Through the Church – the manifold wisdom of God is ‘made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’ [Ephesians 3:10.11].

The Church, armed with the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, goes into the world armed with his authority and his power, for both are embedded in that word and that testimony [Romans 1:16; 1Corinthians 1:18-29]. By this word of God and this testimony of Jesus they conquer the evil one [2Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-17].

According to the New Testament it is thus impossible for Satan to continue the same as he did before the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Something has obviously happened in the Christ-event that curtailed the enemy in such a way that the words ‘destroy’, ‘bind up’, ‘cast out’, ‘disarm’ are used to refer to it. Satan’s authority over human beings has in some way been removed, so much so that mere humans – the Church – can go into his kingdom and by the testimony of Jesus set Satan’s subjects free from his dominion.

A.2.2 So what does ‘bound’ in Revelation 20:2 refer to?
It is consistent with the clear testimony of both Revelation and the rest of the New Testament, to understand the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:2 as a reference to Christ’s conquering of Satan during his incarnation, and specifically to his defeat of Satan in his sin-bearing death and resurrection.

It is also consistent with the rest of Revelation and the New Testament to see an additional aspect included within this primary understanding. Prior to the incarnation events the ‘nations’ were for the most part in spiritual darkness. As we will see in A.5 below they were deceived by Satan and did not have God’s verbal revelation of himself. In Acts 14:16 Paul states ‘In the past, he let all nations go their own way’. In Romans 1:24,26 and 28 he teaches that ‘God gave them over’ to the desires of their hearts. But now, as the light of the gospel is taken into the whole world, that light binds Satan. The ‘word of God’ and ‘the testimony of Jesus’, which are mentioned frequently in Revelation, and which include the truth about the incarnation events, bind Satan.

This is the situation during the age of witness and suffering, and up until the brief period referred to in verse 7ff: Satan is bound. [We will learn more about this in sections A.4 and A.5 below.]

A.3 The thousand years – verse 2,3
In this final parallel section and this final vision of the age of witness and suffering, this age is referred to by the symbol of ‘a thousand years’.

Previously it has been symbolized by ’42 months’, ‘1260 days’ and ‘three and a half years’ [11:2,3; 12:6,14; 13:5]. Those numbers [three and a half is half of seven, the number of perfection] infer that this is a period of imperfection: it is not yet the final state, it is not yet the perfect world, the new heavens and the new earth. [These symbols are not about specific calendar time, but about the quality of imperfection that characterizes the pen-ultimate era between the first and second comings.]

It has also been referred to by the phrase ‘a little longer’ [6:11], which infers that although it seems like a long time to us, it is not really long in the big picture.

Now in this final vision the numeric symbol for the age of witness and suffering changes to ‘a thousand years’ – 10 x 10 x 10. Ten is the number of completion. The use of this number symbolizes completion at several levels: the end comes when the complete number of the redeemed have been saved from every nation, people, tribe and language – not one will be missing; the end comes when the complete number of martyrs have been killed for the testimony of Jesus [6:11]; the end comes when evil has maxed out; the end comes when the full fury of God’s wrath has built up; the end comes when the conditions determined by God are complete.

It is during this ‘thousand years’ that Satan is ‘bound’. These are the years during which Christ walks in the midst of the churches. These are the years in which the ‘two witnesses’ witness. These are the years in which ‘the woman’ sojourns in the desert while Satan and his cohorts try, but fail, to silence and destroy her.

A.4 Satan thrown into and locked in the Abyss
Here we have a further symbolic picture of the impact of the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ on Satan, which in some ways parallels the vision in 12:5-12. [See notes in sections B.3 and B.4 in the study on Revelation 12]. Although different symbols are used the same reality of Satan’s defeat by the incarnate Christ is depicted.

Here in Revelation 20:3 we see Satan ‘thrown’ – the same word – ballo - translated ‘hurled’ in 12:9, and the root of the word used by Jesus in John 12:31 referring to Satan being ‘cast out’ – ekballo - by his death. By the death of Jesus the ‘prince of this world’ is defeated and cast out.

A.5 … to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended
In these words we are told the purpose for and result of the binding of Satan and his symbolic confinement in the Abyss. It is in order that [the Greek word is hina] he would no longer deceive the nations. Up until the coming of Jesus Christ the light of God’s truth was basically confined to Israel. The nations were in darkness, deceived by the evil one.

Paul speaks at length of this darkness in Romans 1:18-31. Although the truth about God is clearly evident in the created world [verse 19,20; Psalm 19:1-8] this truth has, by humans, been suppressed [verse18], darkened [verse 21], exchanged for lies [verse 22,25], and deemed worthless [verse 28].

Similarly Paul writes of the darkness of the Gentiles – the ‘futility of their thinking’, their darkened understanding, their ignorance and hardness of heart [Ephesians 4:17-19]. Also in Ephesians Paul says of believers ‘you were once darkness’ [5:8].

In 2Corinthians 4:4 he teaches of the blindness of those who do not believe – blindness caused by the evil one.

Satan’s deceptions encompassed the nations – he has led the whole world into darkness. Except for isolated individuals, they had no access to the supernaturally revealed written Word, which the Jews had by the grace of God. [Paul draws attention to this ‘advantage’ of being a Jew in Romans 3:1-2; 9:3-5.]

But even in Israel, in whose history and in whose hands was the word of God, the same darkness reigned in the hearts of all but a few. That darkness of which Paul spoke in Romans 1 he applied also to Israel. It is for them an even deeper darkness because they have been deceived into believing that it is light. So Paul spoke of their dark lostness [Romans 2; 9:30-10:4,21; 11:9,20,25]. Jesus also spoke of it [Matthew 6:23; 15:14; Luke 11:35; John 3:19; 5:45-47].

Satan had thus also deceived most of the people of Israel. [Their entire history reveals their repeated involvement in the darkness of idolatry.]

But with the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ the light of God has triumphed over the darkness. Satan is, in the symbols of Revelation 20, ‘bound’ and locked in the Abyss. This binding and locking is with the specific intention that he will no longer deceive the nations as he has done up to this point.

Thus we read of the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel as the bringing of the Light to the nations and the rescue of those who have been enslaved under the reign of the darkness of Satan’s deceptions:

This was always the purpose of Christ’s coming: Isaiah 9:2; 40:5; 42:6,7; 49:6; 60:1-3; Luke 1:78,79; Matthew 4:14-16; Acts 26:22-23..

This was the impact of Christ’s coming: Luke 2:30-32; John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35,36, 46.

This was the reason for and impact of the worldwide proclamation of the Gospel of Christ: Acts 13:47; 26:18; 2Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:12,13; 1Thessalonians 5:4-8; 1Peter 2:9; 1John 1:5-7; 2:8.

During this ‘thousand years’ Satan is bound for this purpose and result clearly specified in Revelation 20:3: it is in order that he can no longer deceive the nations. In this respect he is bound. [This is later testified in verse 8 which states that after he is released he ‘will go out to deceive the nations’.]

Thus in Revelation, the churches are symbolised as ‘seven golden lampstands’ [1:13,20] – lights shining in the darkness, dispersing the darkness of Satan’s dominion, shining the light of Christ into the world. Satan is bound.

Thus in Revelation, the risen, exalted Christ, the glorious Son of Man, walks among his churches [1:20]. They are not left alone in the world to conquer the enemy. He is with them all the time, empowering them, instructing them, correcting them.

Thus in Revelation, believers are referred to as those who have ‘the word of God’ and ‘the testimony of Jesus’ [6:9; 12:11,17; 17:6; 19:10]. It is because of this word and this testimony that they are pressured and persecuted by the enemies, and it is by this word and this testimony that they ‘overcome’ the enemies.

Revelation 20:3 does not speak of any other restriction on Satan. From the rest of Revelation we have learned that his destructive actions are always limited by what God permits. From Revelation 12:10 we learn that the accuser ‘has been hurled down’ by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. Romans 8:31ff confirms that his accusing actions have already been disempowered and rendered illegal by the Gospel.

A.6 ‘… until the thousand years were ended’ – verse 3
As the Gospel is proclaimed throughout the world the dark deceptions of Satan are undone. The Light shines, dispersing the darkness. The truth is made known, exposing the deceptions. Men and women from every nation, tribe, people and language are redeemed – redeemed from the darkness. Satan is ‘bound’ until this process is complete – one thousand, 10 x 10 x 10. The Greek word translated ‘were ended’ in the NIV is rendered ‘should be fulfilled’ in the KJV. The verb is teleo which means completed – brought to their intended goal or end. It is this same verb that Jesus used on the cross when he said ‘It is finished’ [John 20:30], indicating that God’s eternal plan of salvation, determined before the creation of the world, had here in his death, reached its complete fulfilment. Now, similarly, Satan is prevented from deceiving the nations for ‘the thousand years’ until God’s purpose of saving people from every tribe and nation is completed. [We will see further perspective on this when we look at verse 7].

In Revelation 6:9 another ‘until’ is mentioned: there the ‘souls’ of the martyrs are seen in a vision to be ‘under the altar’. They are crying out to the Lord to avenge their blood. They are told that they have to wait ‘until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed … was completed’. In both visions the ‘completion’ of some aspect of the current era is the cut off point. In both visions the ‘souls’ of the martyrs are specifically discussed. This raises the question of what, if any, connection there is between the prayers of the martyrs here and the reign of the martyrs in Revelation 20.

A.7 After that he must be set free for a short time
This will be described further in verses 7 to 9. Note that this release of Satan is determined by God’s ‘must’. It is not that Satan breaks out. He is let out – ‘set free’ from his bonds - by God’s will and purpose. The word used is luo – to set loose. Ironically, this word, used figuratively, means to dissolve, to melt or to destroy [see John 2:19; Acts 27:41; Ephesians 2:14; 2Peter 3:10-12; 1John 3:18], for such a destruction of Satan is God’s purpose in releasing him. His freedom is ‘for a short time’; then his end will come.

 

B. THE THOUSAND YEAR ‘REIGN’ – Revelation 20:4-6

Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of believers coming to life and reigning with Christ for the ‘thousand years’. What these two concepts mean is a point of disagreement among Christians, even among those holding the same millennial view. The following comments reflect the view expressed above that the ‘thousand years’ is a symbolic way of referring to the time between the incarnation events and the final judgment.

B.1 What is John talking about?
In the vision John saw a number of things:

Thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. It is not stated who these are, but most teachers understand them to be those described in the next sentence in verse 4.
The souls of those beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and the word of God. These ‘came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years’.

On the surface it seems that John is speaking only about those who died because of their Christian faith – that it is only these who ‘came to life’, that it is only these who ‘reign with Christ for a thousand years’, that it is only these who are participate in ‘the first resurrection’, that it is only these who are ‘blessed and holy’, that it is only these over whom ‘the second death has no power’, and that it is only these who are ‘priests of God and of Christ’.

But when we look at all of these descriptions we realize that many of them, indeed all of them except being beheaded because of their faith, are, according to the New Testament, true of all those redeemed by the Lamb.

All of the redeemed have already come to life spiritually [John 5:24; 1John 5:12].

All of the redeemed who have died are already alive with Christ [John 11:25,26; 2Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:13].

All the redeemed, both living and dead, have already been raised up with Christ and live with Christ [Romans 6:3-11; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12], and therefore participate in this ‘resurrection’. This is part of the complete salvation package that every believer already has in Christ.

[Note that Revelation 20:4-6 is speaking of ‘souls’ not the bodies. When it states that it is talking about ‘the first resurrection’ it is not talking about the resurrection and restoration of the bodies of believers that occurs when Christ returns.]

All the redeemed are already ‘blessed’ – quite apart from any other texts, Ephesians 1:3 states that in Christ God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing. In simple words, there are no additional spiritual blessings.

All the redeemed are ‘holy’. That is what the term ‘saint’ means – it is simply the adjective ‘holy’. In addition, believers are described as ‘holy in his sight’ [Colossians 1:22], ‘holy and blameless in his sight’ [Ephesians 1:4], and ‘made holy through the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ [Hebrews 10:10]. All the redeemed are ‘a holy temple’ [Ephesians 2:21; see also 1Corinthians 3:16,17]. All the redeemed are ‘holy and dearly loved’ [Colossians 3:12]. All the redeemed are ‘a holy priesthood’ and ‘a holy nation’ [1Peter 2:5,9]. In Revelation all the redeemed are symbolised as ‘the holy city’ [11:2; 21:2,10; 22:19].

All the redeemed have already been permanently rescued from ‘the second death’ which Revelation 20:14 clearly states is ‘the lake of fire’ – a symbol for the final and ultimate punishment. Jesus stated that those who believe ‘will never be condemned’ [John 5:24]; Paul stated that ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ [Romans 8:1]. This rescue from the ultimate judgment is the reason Jesus died – he came and died so that those who believe in him ‘will not perish’ [John 3:16].

All the redeemed are those who do not worship the beast. This is clear in Revelation 13:8, which states that the ones who worship the beast are those whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life.

All the redeemed are already ‘priests of God and of Christ’. Revelation has affirmed this [1:6; 5:10]. Peter affirms this in 1Peter 2:5,9].

Thus, except for one item, the description given to these ‘souls’ of the martyrs is clearly true not only of these martyrs but also of all believers regardless of whether they are physically dead or physically alive. All that is left is the concept that they ‘reign with Christ a thousand years’ [verses 4,6].

This leaves us with a number of questions. Assuming the ‘thousand years’ is the current period in which we are now living -

Are all believers, dead and alive, currently reigning with Christ? Or,
Are only the deceased believers, both martyrs and non-martyrs, reigning with Christ? Or,
Are only the deceased martyrs currently reigning with Christ?
Are there different ways in which different categories of believers reign with Christ?

Whatever the answer is, it is something that occurs for the duration of the ‘thousand years’, that is, until the end of the interim era of kingdom, witness and suffering.

B.2 The concept of ‘thrones’ and of believers ‘reigning with Christ’
At the very beginning of Revelation we read that Christ, ‘the ruler of the kings of the earth’, having freed us from our sins by his blood, ‘has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father’ [1:5,6] This description of the result of the work of Christ is repeated in 5:10. We also read that believers share ‘the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance’ in Jesus [1:9].

These introductory statements indicate two clear truths: [1] that Jesus is currently reigning. This is obvious throughout Revelation and has been affirmed twice in the previous section – that Jesus is ‘King of kings’ and that Jesus is ‘Lord of lords’ [17:4; 19:16]; and [2] that believers are currently ‘a kingdom’.

B.2.1 Is there any sense in which all believers who are still alive are presently reigning with Christ?
Yes. The truth that the redeemed already possess the kingdom, and therefore already ‘reign’, is affirmed several times through the New Testament:

Matthew 5:3 and 10 teach that ‘the kingdom of heaven’ belongs to ‘the poor in spirit’ and those who ‘are persecuted because of righteousness’. This ‘kingdom’ is not something for which they are waiting beyond their physical death. Rather this ‘kingdom’ is already theirs. It is, as Jesus taught, ‘within’ them [Luke 17:21].They are already children of the King, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ the Son [Romans 8:17], heirs of the kingdom [James 2:5].

Romans 5: 17 teaches that believers ‘reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ’.

In Revelation 11:3-6 the ‘two witnesses’, symbolic of the Church, have authority from Christ. This authority is depicted with various symbols, and lasts throughout the ‘until ‘they have finished their testimony’, which is for the duration of the 42 months, the 1,260 days. This duration ‘until …’ parallels the ‘when the thousand years are over’ of Revelation 20:3. [See A.6 above.]

As indicated above in Section A.2.1 under the sub-heading ‘the New Testament Church’, the Church has significant authority given to it by Jesus Christ by which, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, it goes out into the world and exercises and implements that authority where the evil one once held dominion. By the word of God and the testimony of Jesus which they possess they bring down the strongholds of the evil one and rescue his captives. By that word and that testimony the light of Christ replaces the darkness.

We can see here two distinct aspects of the current ‘reign’ of believers who are still alive physically: [1] to be saved, to be ‘in Christ’, is to ‘reign in life’. This is part of the complete salvation granted to all who are in Christ on the basis of his atoning death. [2] As believers, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, and equipped with the ‘word of God and the testimony of Jesus’, go into the world, they ‘reign with Christ’ – they prevail against the evil one. Revelation 12:11 brings these two aspects together by stating ‘They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony’. This dual aspect of believers reigning with Christ is happening even now as you read these words. You, by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, are overcoming the evil one. You are reigning with Christ.

We could add to this the perspective that whenever the word of God and the testimony of Jesus is communicated by the Church that word, that truth, sits in judgment on its hearers, and judgment is a form of reigning. As we have seen earlier in this study, the message of the Church is authoritative. The message defines the fate of those who hear it. The message releases or condemns. If, however, the church refuses to proclaim the message, or if the church deliberately or ignorantly corrupts the message, then the church is making an executive decision to leave its community, its world, under the reign of the evil one. But when the Church is fulfilling its commission in faithfulness and truth, then it has made an executive decision, a ruling decision in line with its God-given authority, to set about releasing the captives.

That the redeemed reign with Christ during these ‘thousand years’ is thus a grand and liberating gift from God; but it is also a responsibility. [That is why Revelation begins with the seven letters to the churches.] Those who are truly Christ’s reign with him – they do ‘overcome’. They are saved by his blood and they hold to his testimony – they hold to the truth about him.

[See also the comments on Revelation 3:21].

B.2.2 Is there any additional sense in which Christians who have died ‘reign with Christ’, regardless of whether or not they died because of their faith?
In several places in Revelation we are given visions of the redeemed in the presence of the ‘throne’ of God and the Lamb. The throne belongs to ‘the one who sits on the throne’ and to ‘the Lamb’, but because they are ‘with’ him, they are within the extended area termed the ‘throne’. It is sometimes difficult to decide whether these visions are only about the time beyond the final judgment, or are also true of deceased believers during the current ‘thousand years’.  

In Revelation 4:4 the twenty-four elders are portrayed as sitting on ‘twenty-four other thrones’ that surround ‘the throne’. If these elders symbolically represent the redeemed, then the redeemed are in the presence of God, in immediate proximity to his throne. They have ‘crowns of gold on their heads’, but these are victory crowns, not royal crowns. In 4:10, in the vision, they repeatedly worship the one who sits on the throne and lay their own crowns down before him. Whatever their thrones and their crowns are they do not ‘reign’ in the same way that he reigns. In 5:8 these same elders fall down before the Lamb and worship him. They also hold in their hands golden bowls symbolically full of the prayers of the saints.

In Revelation 7:9-17 there is an extended vision of the redeemed ‘before the throne’. It is very clear from its content and context that this vision takes us to the time beyond the final judgment, but this does not necessarily exclude the presence of deceased believers ‘before’ the throne during the current ‘thousand years’ of kingdom and suffering.

However, the shorter vision in 14:1-5 is more easily seen to include deceased believers during the current era. In both Revelation 7 and 14 the word used to describe the position of the redeemed is enopion – which means ‘in the presence of’. They are ‘in the presence of’ the throne.

The vision in 15:2-4 also portrays the redeemed in the presence of God, but this appears to be of all the redeemed including those who have been caught up from the earth away from and immediately prior to the final destruction of the earth.

From these Revelation visions of the redeemed in the presence of God there is no reference to them actually reigning with Christ. However, that the deceased redeemed are with Christ, and in the presence of his throne, having ‘conquered’ the enemies by his blood and by the word of God and the testimony of Jesus cannot be disputed. It may be that the concept of their reigning with Christ during this era is a symbolic way of portraying this truth.

Paul considered that to die and be with Christ was a far better option than remaining alive [Philippians 1:20-24]. He considered it ‘gain’ and ‘better by far’. That this is so needs no explanation, given that the life of the saints on earth is described in Revelation as ‘the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus’.

B.2.3 Is there any sense in which the martyrs in particular can be described as reigning with Christ?
In Revelation there is one truth that is mentioned several times, although except for one reference, it is not confined to those killed for their faith: the prayers of the martyrs, along with the prayers of all the saints, evoke God’s judgments [preliminary and final] on the enemies, including the ‘inhabitants of the earth’.

This concept has been mentioned before where it arose in the text. The combined teaching of 5:8; 6:10; 8:3-5; 15:7,8; 16:5-7 indicates that the judgments of God and the justice of those judgments are directly related to the mistreatment and death of the redeemed at the hands of the enemies. At the final end, as we have already seen in previous visions of the end, and will presently see again in Revelation 20:7-10, it is the combined enemy attack on God’s people that brings on the final destruction of the enemies.

As mentioned, this relationship of the prayers and suffering of the redeemed to God’s judgments on his enemies is not restricted to the deceased martyrs’ cry for vengeance. But in the context of the whole of this Revelation given to John to give to the pressured and persecuted Church, the concept of the deceased martyrs reigning with Christ is one of great encouragement and reassurance.

They were killed. To all appearances they were the losers, they were the powerless, they were the fools. But that appearance is deceptive. So significant are they [along with all other saints] that beyond their death they actually ‘reign’ with him who is the ‘ruler of the earth’, ‘the ruler of God’s creation’, the ‘King of kings and the Lord of lords’. They, and all the faithful, are actually ‘with him’ [Revelation 17:14; and possibly also 19:14]. They are with Christ where he is [John 17:24]. They are so precious to God and to the Lamb that their suffering brings on the judgment. In this, they ‘reign’.

But there is also a deeper layer to this: that in rejecting and despising those who have the word of God and the testimony of Jesus the enemies have also rejected and despised both that word and that testimony and God and Jesus. There can be for them no other outcome than that the judgment must fall. In despising those they have killed, they have refused the only way of salvation. They have actually chosen the judgment. In this the martyrs ‘reign with Christ’. Their death at the hands of the enemies has sealed the fate of the enemies, unless those enemies subsequently repent. The judgment can be avoided only by believing the message which these martyrs proclaimed. Like Abel, they ‘still speak, even though (they are) dead’ [Hebrews 11:4]. Indeed, the blood of all the prophets and all the saints, still speaks, still determines the outcome for those who so despised their testimony. They ‘reign’.

Additional note:
There is one detail that helps us discern the meaning of Revelation 20: in both chapters 7 and 14 a limited symbol is used to depict the full number of the redeemed. In Chapter 7, the symbol of ‘144,000 from all the tribes of Israel’ [verse 4], suddenly becomes ‘a great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language’ [verse 9]. It is this expanded number that is in the presence of the throne. In Chapter 14 the symbol of ‘144,000’ is again used, but this time it is ‘those who had his name and his Father’s name’ on their foreheads [verse1]. These are further described as those ‘who had been redeemed from the earth’ [verse 3], and ‘those who did not defile themselves with women’ [verse 4]. They are those ‘purchased from among men’ [verse 4]. A limited symbol has again been used to refer to all the redeemed.

In the light of this, the apparent limitation of those who ‘reign with Christ’ to only the martyrs [20:4], need not be taken in a precise literal sense. They may well be a symbol for all the redeemed.