SYNOPSIS – The image of the saints reigning as a “kingdom of Priests” is linked to the vision of the “Son of Man” received by Daniel – Revelation 20:4-6.
In this next paragraph, only two activities to occur during the “thousand years” are recorded – The imprisonment of Satan, and the reign of victorious saints. Rather ironically, the text declares that the “rest of the dead” will not live until the “second death.” There is no mention of a temple complex or the city of Jerusalem anywhere in the chapter. The Old Testament story behind this picture is the vision received by Daniel of “one like a Son of Man” who received the “kingdom” from the “Ancient of Days” – (Daniel 7:13-14).
(Revelation 20:4-6) – “And I saw thrones and they sat upon them, and sentence of judgment was given unto them; and [I saw] the souls of them who had been beheaded because of the witness of Jesus and because of the word of God, and such as had not done homage unto the wild-beast or unto his image, nor had received the mark upon their forehead or upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with the Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: upon these, the second death hath no authority; but they shall be priests of God and of the Christ, and shall reign with him for the thousand years” – (The Emphasized Bible).
“I saw thrones and they sat upon them and judgment was given for them.” The Greek clause states that “judgment was given for them.” The sentence alludes to the vision of Daniel of the judgment scene before the “Ancient of days” when he saw one “like a Son of Man” appear before the “Ancient of Days”:
(Daniel 7:9-14) – “I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit… I saw in the night-visions, and behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him…I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them; until the ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most-High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.”
Precisely who was sitting upon the “thrones” is not stated in the passage from Daniel, though presumably, the overcoming saints themselves sat on them – (Compare – Revelation 3:21 – “To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne”).
Judgment “for the saints” indicates either a judicial sentence in their favor or the bestowal of judicial authority on the “saints” – or both. Considering the emphasis on “reigning,” the latter is the more likely sense. Likewise, in the passage from Daniel where judgment “for the saints” resulted in their “possession of the kingdom.”
“I saw the souls of them who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.” The description identifies the group with the “saints” persecuted previously for the “testimony of Jesus,” as follows:
- (Revelation 1:9) – “I, John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
- (Revelation 6:9) – “And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.”
- (Revelation 11:7) – “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.”
- (Revelation 12:11) – “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.”
- (Revelation 12:17) – “And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus.”
This does not mean that only martyred saints reign on the “thrones.” This company includes “such as had not done homage to the Beast.” Refusal to give allegiance to the “Beast” resulted in their personal loss and economic deprivation, if not martyrdom. Regardless, overcoming saints must be willing to persevere in the “testimony of Jesus” even if doing so risks a violent death.Elsewhere in Revelation, the overcoming “saints” are men and women who follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” and therefore, they have “come off victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name” – (Revelation 14:1-4, 15:1-4).
“And they lived and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Similarly, Jesus was the “first and the last, who was dead, and lived” – (kai ezésen). Likewise, with the overcoming saints – “And they lived” (kai ezésan). The clause includes verbal links to the letter to the church at Smyrna – The warning that believers would suffer “tribulation ten days” – (Revelation 1:18, 2:8).
The figure of “ten days” from the letter to Smrna is the source for the figure of a “thousand years.” Numbers in Revelation are figurative, often doubled or even tripled for effect. Elsewhere, overcoming believers qualified to sit on the throne and reign with Jesus – “Even as I, also, overcame and sat down on my Father’s throne.” That is, in the same manner as Christ, by persevering through tribulations and even martyrdom.
The “first resurrection” means that victorious saints will not taste of the “second death” – (“Blessed and holy is he that participates in the first resurrection: over these the second death has no power”). Their victory is called the “first resurrection”; however, there is no mention of a “second resurrection” or of a “first death” – The passage juxtaposes the “first resurrection” with the “second death.” Saints who persevere through tribulations escape from the “second death,” but not necessarily from physical death.
Likewise, the members of the church at Smyrna who remained faithful even unto death would not “be hurt of the second death,” and the “second death” is nothing less than the “Lake of Fire.” The “rest of the dead” will not be judged and condemned to it until the judgment before the Great White Throne – (Daniel 1:14, Revelation 2:7-11, 11:15-19, 20:11-15, 21:8).
“Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection.” This is the fifth of the seven beatitudes in the book of Revelation that define the happy results of perseverance for the sake of Jesus. They function summon believers to faithfulness – (Revelation 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, 22:14).
Overcoming saints are constituted into a “kingdom of priests.” Elsewhere in the book, this status is a present reality because of the shed blood of the Lamb:
- (Revelation 1:5-6) – “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father.”
- (Revelation 5:9-10) – “Worthy are you to take the book and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them for our God a kingdom and priests; and they are reigning upon the earth.”
In Revelation, the saints “reign” with Jesus in their role as “priests,” the servants of God who mediate the “testimony of Jesus” to the nations. Not only are they “priests,” but also a “kingdom of priests” – Priesthood defines their reign and authority, not smashing sinners and other human enemies of God.
Like that of the “Lamb,” the rule of the saints is paradoxical – They “reign” even while persevering through persecution and martyrdom. By means of their faithful “testimony,” they participate with the messianic “son” as he “shepherds” the nations – (Revelation 1:4-6, 2:27, 3:20-21, 5:5-7, 12:11).
The “thousand years” during which the overcoming saints reign as “a kingdom of priests” pictures the time between the coronation of the “Lamb” following his Death and Resurrection, and the release of the “Dragon” from the “Abyss” for a final “short time” during which he “deceives the nations” into one last attempt to destroy the church.
In the interim, the Devil is able to persecute the church, but he is not authorized to deceive the nations into destroying her completely; that is, not until the end of the age. For now, the saints “reign with Christ” by persevering in the “testimony of Jesus,” even “unto death.” It is in this way that they advance the “kingdom of God” and its rule over the nations.