|.4a And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.|| Thrones
in judgment as promised to the disciples mt1928.
And they sat Or "took their seats" Who sat? The "souls." See note 1 for this verse.
Judgment The word here is krima which means "sentence" or "verdict." Because they reign "with Christ" we may see them as reviewing and confirming His decisions.
Judgment was given They reigned with Christ as judges according to the rest of the verse. The judgment that was "given" is also mentioned in da0722.
Souls Are these disembodied spirits? See note 2.
|.4b And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.|| Beheaded
Those who died this way are a relatively small group. The term is symbolic,
based on the ministry of John the Baptist. He announced the first
advent of Christ. Because the beheaded ones here have resisted bowing to
the beast we identify them as the end-time counterpart of John the Baptist
— those who call for repentance as they announce the second advent
of Christ. See note 3 or the specific
about John the Baptist.
Souls ... beheaded Compare the souls under the altar in the opening of the fifth seal.
Witness of Jesus ... word of God Or better, witness about Him. See on re0102. This passage describes those who judge. There is confusion in modern theology about where the judgment takes place. See note 4.
|4c And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.||Which [who] had not worshipped This confirms our identification of the beheaded ones. The people of the end time will have refused the command to worship beast and image re1315., re1409. However, the wicked do worship beast and image who coerced. Thus they disobey God. Remember that the end-time religious power that demands compliance from the world will be false re1308.|
they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
.5a But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
They do not die with the wicked in re1921rem
at the beginning of the thousand years. They are also the ones who meet
Christ in the air and are taken to heaven. See note
5 for verse 4.
Rest of the dead Who were not " the dead in Christ." See note for verse 5.
|.5b But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.|| This
is A casual reading without the context makes it appear that the
dead staying dead is a resurrection.
First resurrection The resurrection of the "dead in Christ" 1th1416. These reign with Christ (as we see in the next verse) along with those who lived. A "first resurrection" implies a second which we see in v9 where the wicked "went up on face of the earth."
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such
the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of
Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
death hath no power The "dead in Christ" who were raised will have
accepted His forgiveness and cleansing. They do not die again. The wicked
(rest of the dead 5a) are not raised at the coming of Christ do not repent
when they are raised at the end of the thousand years. When the fire comes
down re2009b, they die again.
Priests The resurrected ones reign with Christ as do those who "lived" but with a different role. Both examine the books in judgment. See the note for verse 6.
Literary pattern clarifies the deaths and resurrections go.
More on kings and priests go.
Note 1 for verse 4,
As we begin to read the text, something unusual immediately snags our attention. "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them." Who are we reading about? Who is represented by the pronoun, "they"? The only candidate among the preceding words for the meaning of "they" is "the nations" of verse 3. But those on the thrones reign with Christ and thus can't be the nations because we find, in verses 8 and 9, that the nations are wicked. They join Satan to take the holy city and are destroyed. (The KJV translation is accurate here).
So to whom is [the aurhority of] judgment given? We understand as we read. Besides being given judgment, these people sit on thrones. This means that they are judges and thus not those being judged (ps12205; mt1928). Our passage is like so many in Revelation which derive their meaning from the rest of the Bible. Notice where this one comes from: "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 [later, at the end of the thousand years] that the saints possessed the kingdom." (Dan. 7:21, 22).
Daniel described the same judgment time as here in Revelation 20 — the one where "judgment was given...." This is confirmed by comparing the two passages although they use different sets of symbols. In Daniel, judgment was given after the horn power came to an end just as judgment is given here after the beast power is ended by being cast into the fire (top of page).
This millennial judgment time was described by Paul. He said, "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? . . ." (1co0602). Now listen to the apostle again: "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who . . . will bring to light the hidden things of darkness. . . ." (1 Cor. 4:5). So when is this judgment? Paul says it's after the coming of Christ. Then those things about the wicked which were not understood, will be. (Also see the flow of events in 11:17, 18.)
"But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment." (Ps. 9:7). This confirms the idea of the thrones being for judgment.
Another explanation for the lack of an antecedent is that we are expected to look for it after the pronoun 1206. So we see it in the context. The concept of being judges is important, too, of course.
Note 2 for verse 4,
The souls judge
John saw the "souls" of those who were beheaded. The word, soul, is often misunderstood to mean an intelligence without a body. This is not the Bible meaning. A soul is a life or a person ge0207. A soul may sleep in the grave and it may die jb3328; ez1804) A soul may be saved or lost spiritually mt1028, mt1626. False concepts of life after death have developed from the influence of Greek paganism lu16b-4jos.
The souls in our verse represent a group of people in a spiritual role.
Note 3 for verse 4,
Characteristics of the assistant judges
Look at the text again. We find several characteristics of these people in addition to being given judgment.
They had been beheaded because of their witness (Remember that this is symbolic language).
They refused to worship beast and image and to receive the signs of this false authority.
They reigned with Christ for a thousand years. They sat on thrones.
Note 4 for verse 4,
Where will the righteous reign with Christ?
First, where He is — in heaven jn1401, he0801 (Passages often have more verses than the one indicated in the link codes). God's throne is in heaven 1ki2219; ps01104. Christ joined Him there he0801 and He, in turn, invites us to sit with Him on His throne re0321. We, as the righteous, will judge with Him in heaven. Also see ac0510wh. Without this clear picture of where we will be during the thousand years, we might read re0510 to say we will reign on the earth. The Greek word there translated may also mean "over" which is obviously the correct choice. We examine the records kept in heaven. Decisions are made about the wicked who are dead on the earth.
Some explain this topic differently. For a closer look at the text to see how Daniel shows the same picture, see the note on a special page r20c. Then come back and continue here.
Does the great
tribulation fit into this picture?
John saw "the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God," but their tribulation is in the past at the time they are judging. The wicked surround the city, but they are destroyed. They don't cause trouble for the saints inside.
People who connect tribulation with the thousand years are generally thinking of Matt. 24 where the abomination of desolation is mentioned mt24-trib. If we look closely, however, this tribulation just doesn't fit into the thousand years. If you are wondering if I'm right here, just keep your question in mind as we go through this chapter about the thousand years.
When were the souls beheaded? I believe this is a metaphor and that it happens during the trouble explained to Daniel: "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan. 12:1, 2).
The idea of facing death during this time appears in Daniel two verses earlier. "But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away [devote to destruction] many. And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in [or "and"] the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him." (Dan. 11:44)
Here the wicked king (the false religious power of the end times) will set out to kill all who do not accept his supreme authority. He will be stopped by Michael who, in the the next verses already quoted, steps in and saves His faithful ones. Some will be martyrs re1413b, but as a group, they will be saved out of the trouble. If saved, why would they be pictured in symbols as being beheaded? We will soon see.
Beheaded ones (literally, "killed with an ax")
Again we consider the source of the imagery v4. Who were (or was) beheaded as a witness for Jesus? John the Baptist. He was "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." mr0103. He did the work of the promised Elijah mt0303 who called for people to be ready for the first coming of Christ. So now, before the second coming, we may expect the call to be given again. John the Baptist not only preached. He opposed the wickedness of King Herod who consequently had his head removed. You can read about it in mr0614. Of course these people at the end of time aren't all John the Baptist. They only have his role as witnesses to truth. This is symbolic language. The illustration shows John the Baptist in prison before his execution.
They refuse false
So what more do we know about the beheaded ones? They refuse to worship beast and image. This will be a serious offense according to the end of chapter 13 r13g. They face the threat of death (and some will die). The final generation of righteous people are also pictured as being prepared to stand in the final storm of strife (7:1-4) r07a. They are the sealed ones — the 144,000. They live to the very end and will be among those who are "alive and remain" to meet the Lord in the air and be forever with Him along with those who are resurrected (1 Thess. 4:16 1th0416). Although represented as beheaded, we see this group primarily as the living ones. This is partly because of their end-time role and partly because we will soon see the resurrected ones.
Note 5 for verse 4
The other characteristic of this group here in Revelation 20 is that "they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." The word translated "lived" can mean "continued to live" or "came to life" implying a resurrection. The latter fits with the context.
If those who are victorious over beast and image are basically people who are "alive and remain" at the time of Christ's coming (as referenced above), why would they be represented by the souls of the beheaded ones? If you look at chapters 13 and 14 you see the mighty final conflict between true and false worship at the end of time. In chapter 13:15, the world is commanded to worship the beast's image or be killed. In chapter 14, God declares that those who participate in this false worship will lose their lives instead of saving them. They will receive His wrath poured out without mercy re1409c. With either choice, the reward is declared to be death. This is the final struggle. God stops Satan and His systems of oppression (Rev 17:14 and Dan. 11 above) The threat from the beast's image is not carried out. Those who have chosen to die rather than be unfaithful to God are the souls who live and reign with Christ re0611b-te.
Let's look a little closer at the threat in chapter 13. The beast from the earth performs the miracle of calling fire from heaven. He is pretending to be the Elijah which Malachi said would come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord mal0405 (the final time of trouble) re1313b. Jesus said that John the Baptist fulfilled this role and that it also had a future fulfillment mt1710. In the symbol of calling fire down from heaven, the earth beast is shown as a false Elijah (Compare 1ki1838), a counterfeit of the true end-time special messengers of God who are the remnant of the woman's seed re1217e. Here in chapter 20, those with the end-time message are as John the Baptist who chose to be beheaded rather than to dishonor Christ. As noted, they choose death rather than disobedience to God although most are rescued from death da1201c. They are not taken out of the world jn1715.
We have been looking at a complex picture. You might want to jump to a summary of the core meaning I see in verses 4 to 6. Then come back to continue here. Summary.
Note for verse 6
Different roles for the beheaded and the resurrected
We said that the beheaded souls are those who will be alive and translated when Jesus comes. The souls who are actually resurrected appear in the last part of verse 5 and in verse 6. So they are here, too. They are priests during this judgment time.
"This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (20:5b, 6)
So the first group — the "beheaded" who perform the mission of John the Baptist — reign with Christ as judges. Those who were literally brought to life in the first resurrection will reign, too. Their part will be the priesthood. In the sanctuary of Heaven, Christ is both priest and judge. We see Him on the day of atonement as priest in Lev. 16 and also as judge when the same holy day is described in Lev. 23:27:32. 0611c. Here the righteous assist Him with these two functions. The translated ones as kings or judges and the resurrected ones as priests. Indeed we saw that the multitude in chapter 7 served God in the temple 0715.
Note for verse 5,
Who are the "rest of the dead" and who are they the rest of?
We looked at the two groups who meet the Lord in the air at His coming. They are those who live and reign with Christ, and those of the first resurrection who come to life and reign with Him. We examined verse 5b but don't intend to ignore 5a. "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." So they would live again (be resurrected) at the end of the thousand years.
If they are the "rest," who are the dead that they are the rest of? The passage has drawn our attention to those who will be resurrected and those who will be translated at the coming of Christ. The first group were called the "dead in Christ." Although alive during the thousand years, they are in contrast with the wicked who were not "in Christ" and not raised. Thus the resurrected ones are called the "dead" (they were dead, then raised at the coming of Christ) and those not resurrected (because they were not "in Christ") are the "rest of the dead." The key is to realize that the "dead" and the "rest of the dead" are seen as the two groups were at the time of the resurrection.
The righteous who are living then are translated. They chose death from the end-time oppressor rather than dishonor to God and are symbolized as having had the fate of John the Baptist.
The rest here are all the wicked. The end-time wicked who were living were all killed at the coming of Christ as we saw at the end of chapter 19. The wicked who died throughout the six thousand years before the final conflict did not die trusting in God. So they stayed dead when the "dead in Christ" were resurrected. Now you can read verses 5 and 6 again in your Bible or below.
Other translations recognize the confusion in verse 4 and add parentheses which help us understand: "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 years." (NIV, I believe the translators accurately expressed the intent of the Greek text).
The second resurrection
Let's read verse 5 again: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." Those who were not "dead in Christ" would not have been raised in the first resurrection. Theirs would be the second resurrection. (Although the term "second" is not used, it is implied by mention of the "first resurrection."). The verse makes sense when we look at the larger context. Verse 4 was dealing with the righteous who were described as dead (dead in Christ). The parenthetical statement about "the rest of the dead" is a contrast. It identifies who were not among those refusing beast worship. Then, in verse 6, we continue to describe the "dead." During the thousand years, all the wicked are dead and all the righteous are living. For a quick list of texts that deal with the two resurrections and when they occur, see on ac2415.
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years."
Will the first
resurrection be literal?
Some believe that the first resurrection was only a spiritual experience made possible with Christ's sacrifice. This sounds nice, but requires reading something into the plain texts that is not there. Of course you can check this out for yourself. Also, we would not have all the righteous reigning with Christ for a thousand years if those who had been "dead" among them had not been literally resurrected at the beginning of this time period.
Jesus spoke of
"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (John. 5:28, 29).
What can we learn from this verse?
The resurrection of life would be the first one when "the dead in Christ rise." See notes page.
They come forth to "life" and to unending presence with Him.
The other resurrection, the "second" in our chapter, is the resurrection of damnation. The primary meaning of "damnation" is "judgment" with a reward of punishment for those being judged. In our passage in Revelation 20, the people of the second resurrection are judged. They are called before the great white throne and sentenced to the lake of fire. Some read the passage in about the two resurrections differently jn0524.
Let's make a chart to help us understand relationships of the deaths and resurrections.
History of Death
Beginning with creation and the fall of humanity
|Creation and the gift of life||No death|
Sin and death enter
|For 6000 years righteous and wicked live||. . . and they die the first death (sleep, awaiting the call of a resurrection)|
Living (in Christ) join "dead in Christ" who are raised. Both received into heaven *
Living wicked are slain (white horse) — Dead wicked not raised
|Righteous live and reign with Christ for 1000 years.||Wicked remain dead (sleep)|
All wicked raised when the thousand years "are finished."
Jerusalem comes down
Wicked (the nations) gathered to invade the city
Judgment around the white throne in presence of every human who ever lived
Fire comes down and devours the wicked (hell punishment)
Those who refuse the source of life are eternally dead (not a sleep)
Death and hades cast into the lake of fire
from the curse of sin
New heaven and a new earth
|God dwells with His people. The universe is eternally free from sin and death.||No death|
The first resurrection is explained by 1 Thess. 4:16, 17 and John 14:2, 3.
You may have heard a nice explanation of the pattern in this chart. We may choose to be born twice and die once or to be born once and die twice. See John 3.
A careful look at the thematic structure of the passage beginning with verse 4 (after the first sentence) and continuing through verse 6 helps clarify the meaning.
Souls [who chose death rather than dishonor to God]
testimony of Jesus and word of God
refusal to follow the beast
reigned 1000 years [as judges]
B The rest (remainder) of dead [the wicked,
those who do dishonored God]
[resurrected at end of 1000 years - second resurrection]
B' [Referring to the dead who lived in
this is the first resurrection
[Souls, righteous who did die before coming of Christ]
participants in the first resurrection
happy and holy
[lived] second death would have no power
reigned 1000 years as priests
First death chosen by kings
B Rest of the dead - second resurrection
B' The dead - first resurrection
A' First death experienced by priests
Soon we will look at
the second death.
Have we seen the kings and priests before?
may first think of the verses near the beginning of the book of Revelation
"And [grace and peace] from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (1:5, 6) Also 0510.
Some may feel that the two groups are the same. This is not a bad idea since they work together, but I believe there is a difference. Let's notice their characteristics again. One is pictured in verse 4, the other in verse 6.
. . . and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of
Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast,
neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads,
or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
. . .
6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Among those living at
the end of probationary time, there will be two groups, the righteous and
the wicked. The righteous are those who refuse to worship the beast and
accept his mark. They receive instead the seal of God 1316c.
They are the 144,000 0702b.
In chapter 7 we saw the 144,000 and a second group of righteous people,
the great multitude 0713.
Between them, only the 144,000 who were sealed for the great end-time blowing
of the winds of strife will be living at the end of time. In other words,
there will then be only the righteous – the 144,000 – and the wicked. The
multitude will be sleeping in their graves.
So if the kings are the 144,000, do we have textual reason to believe that the priests are the multitude? Let's read about the multitude again.
"And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these [great multitude] which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them." (7:13-15).
Reference to the throne and the temple strengthens our idea that the priests who reign with Christ here in chapter 20, are the great multitude of righteous people who sleep in death until the resurrection. There will be no temple except for God and the lamb after the thousand-year judgment 2122.
The symbolism we have examined seems obscure until we see the whole picture Here we attempt to pull the pieces together
Reading on to verse 6 we see a second group who also reign during the thousand years (following the coming of Christ). We discovered that, strange as it seems, the beheaded souls represent those who will be living. This is because they are in the role of John the Baptist. Two things confirm this identification. First they refused the mark of the beast. This test is only for the last generation (Rev. 13). Also, they "lived." This term is not used for the group described in verse 6 who we saw as the multitude or those who were raised from their graves at the coming of Jesus. This second group are called "priests" and the second death has no power over them. We infer that they did come under the power of the first death.
If they are priests, are those of verse 4 kings? I suggest that they are. The two are mentioned in Rev. 1.
We discuss God's grand purpose in the judgments. The details will be clearer as we look at God's purpose and His methods of judgment. go.
"And I saw thrones, and they
sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them." Both kings and priests
have thrones and are involved in judgment. We need to wait for the reign
with Christ to see just how this will work. Clues from the sanctuary system,
however, will help our partial understanding. Because Christ is both king
and priest we look to His ministry for a clue about how we will reign with
him. Let's look at the two phases of priestly ministry. Throughout the
sanctuary year, animals were slain and forgiveness for specific
sins was received as an act of faith in the Lamb of God who would die on
Calvary le0427ff. On the
day of atonement, the sanctuary was cleansed and the people were cleansed.
Forgiveness and cleansing (1
John 1:9) are both necessary. Christ forgives us and cleanses us (helps
us "walk in newness of life," Rom. 6:4). He both covers our past and helps
us develop characters like His own. Will our jobs during the thousand years
relate to forgiveness and to cleansing? We'll see.
In the sanctuary system the one high priest entered the most holy place on the day of atonement to stand before the ark. Ordinary priests ministered in the holy place and never entered the most holy. The two types represent Christ in His two types of ministry for us — forgiveness and cleansing. The high priest wore a gold plate on his forehead, with the inscription "Holiness to the Lord." (Ex. 39:30). This was called a crown and represented the kingship of Christ validated by His character in our foreheads (Isa. 62:3; Rev. 14:1c). I suggest that the "kings" who reign with Christ during the thousand years will be involved with judging the character formation of the wicked dead (the cleansing), while the priests will be involved with the forgiveness aspect.
Isn't forgiveness enough?
Some feel that we don't need both forgiveness and cleansing or that improvements in behavior (cleansing of character) are an automatic result of being forgiven. Our characters are to continue to develop as we see how we can live more like our Lord. It is a responsibility. When we are forgiven, we receive Christ as our Saviour. This is not where we stop seeking Him, however. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him." (Col. 2:6).
Our salvation is pictured in the Bible as walking through a gate and then up a path. Both are restrictive. "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matt. 7:13, 14). The gate is our initial forgiveness, our entry into the path of Christ. The path is our continual walk, seeking His glory in our characters. When Christ comes He does not make us ready in these two ways, He finds us that way — without spot (cleansed) and blameless (forgiven). (2 Peter 3:14) mt0712.
While Christ provides both forgiveness and cleansing and we can discuss these two aspects separately, we do not experience one without the other. When we come in sincerity to Christ, repenting and confessing our sin, we are ready to walk in the way of the Lord. If we aren't ready for one we aren't ready for the other. Thus we have both gifts. However, if, after forgiveness, we cease growing in grace (the cleansing process), we are in sin again and have lost the forgiveness, too.
When the law, as a mirror (James 1:23), shows us a problem in our behavior, we must run to Christ in repentance. We can't fix the behavior on our own without sorrow for the sin and asking forgiveness. This is grace!
May we walk ever closer to
our Lord, growing in grace and in knowledge of Him.