Revelation-Part 45

By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2003
Who are the ones sitting on the thrones in Revelation 20:4? Revelation 20:5 speaks of two resurrections. Who will be involved in each? Dr. Thomas gives us the answers.

Events of the Seventh Bowl, #5: Resurrection and Millennial Rule

Following the list of scenes comprising the seventh bowl judgment (see our column for November 2002), we arrive this month at the fifth of the eight scenes, entitled “Satan’s release and final defeat.” Revelation 20:4-10 describes the scene, but because of the fulness of the description we will discuss only Revelation 20:4-6 this month, and will take up the remainder of the scene next month. An appropriate title for verses 4-6 is “Resurrec­tion and Millennial Rule.”

The Rulers

Last month’s column dealt with the time, place, duration, and purpose of the one thou­sand-year binding of Satan. On the heels of describing that binding, in Revelation 20:4 the text moves to the fifth scene of the seventh bowl judgment introduced by another “and I saw.” The prophet saw thrones, and “they sat upon them” (Rev. 20:4). Much debate centers in identifying the “they” of this statement since the immediately preceding verses of chapter 20 contain no antecedent for the pronoun. Of the various suggested identifications that have come, the best is that “they” refers back to first scene of the seventh bowl and the armies in heaven that will accompany Christ at His second advent (Rev. 19:14), an army referred to again in the third scene (Rev. 19:19). The armies of the conqueror usually become the rulers of the conquered. So it will be in this future situation. Earlier, we have identified those armies as being composed of saints of the body of Christ who will return to serve as rulers and judges with Christ when He returns to earth at His second advent. This prediction coincides with the prophecy of Paul who promised that members of Christ’s body will judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2).

Yet members of the body of Christ will not be the only rulers. Revelation 20:4 also tells of those martyred “because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.” They refused to worship the beast and his image and to receive his mark upon their forehead and their hand, and therefore lost their lives. In other words, these are people who will live and die under the regime of the future false Christ during the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy. As the thousand years begin, they too will be raised from the dead and reign with Christ during the millennium. “The first resurrection” is the title given to the act of God that brings them back to life (Rev. 20:5). Such faithful ones of the future will come back to life and join the body of Christ in ruling and judging throughout the thousand years of the future kingdom. Obviously, this will be the same thousand years during which Satan will be bound (see Rev. 20:1-3), a great time for righteousness to triumph throughout the whole world.

Yet the body of Christ and the martyrs will not be the only rulers in the millennial king­dom. The text says they will rule “with Christ” (Rev. 20:4). They will, of course, be subrulers with the supreme ruler Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Some have sought to separate the kingdom spoken of in these verses of Revelation 20 from the king­dom promised to Israel in the Old Testament, but many tie-ins connect this millennial king­dom with the kingdom promises to Israel. For example, verse 4 is a probable allusion to Psalm 2 where verse 6 quotes the Lord as saying, “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain,” a statement that comes shortly after the words “The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed” (Ps. 2:2). During the millennium will come the fulfillment of Psalm 2 as well as Revelation’s statements connecting the future kingdom with the Old Testament king David (for example, Rev. 3:7; 5:5). This kingdom of the future will be one and the same as that promised to Israel many places throughout the Bible.

The Resurrections

Revelation 20:5 speaks of two resurrections, the first resurrection before the thousand years (referring back to the resurrection mentioned in 20:4) and a resurrection following the thousand years. Those who deny a future thousand-year kingdom on earth—that is, present-day amillennialists and the postmillennialists—find it impossible to explain verses 4 and 5 to agree with their theological systems when the verses say, “they [the martyrs] came to life and reigned with Christ; the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.” The only reasonable way to interpret the text is to understand two future resurrections separated by a thousand years since both resurrections are associated with Christ’s future second coming and the period afterward. The only way a thousand years can separate two resurrections is to allow that the thousand years is still future, not past or present. The Greek verbs translated “came to life” and “did not come to life” are identical except for the negative “not” occurring with the second verb. Both words must refer to bodily resurrections from the dead. Because of the millennium’s relationship to the two resurrections, rational principles of interpretation can lead only to a premillennial timing for the second coming of Christ.

Verse 5 calls the resurrection of the martyrs “the first resurrection.” Further reflection discloses, however, that the raising of the martyrs is only one phase of the first resurrec­tion. Members of the body of Christ will have already been raised so that they can accom­pany Christ back to earth as members of His army (Rev. 19:14). They too must be part of the first resurrection. In addition, the resurrection of Christ Himself (Rev. 1:18; 2:8) pre­cedes the resurrection of the martyrs, so His resurrection is a phase of the first resurrection all its own. Accompanying the resurrection of the martyrs at the beginning of the millennium will also be the resurrection of Old Testament saints (Dan. 12:2). All these are aspects of the first resurrection spoken of in separate places elsewhere in Revelation and the rest of the Bible.

When John writes, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed” (Rev. 20:5), he is referring to the resurrection of the wicked after the millennium. All the righteous dead will have been raised in the first resurrection. Those not having a part in the first resurrection are obviously limited to those who have not been clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Such unsaved people will receive their due at the Great White Throne Judgment following the thousand-year reign of Christ (Rev. 20:12-15).

Revelation’s fifth of seven beatitudes (see Rev. 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 22:7, 14) de­clares the blessed state of all participants in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6). Their being pronounced “holy” (Rev. 20:6) expands their bliss to include holiness too. By participating in the first resurrection, they will enjoy deliverance from the second death (Rev. 20:6), a fate associated with consignment to the lake of fire at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:14). A further privilege to be enjoyed by first-resurrection participants will be serving as priests of God and Christ and reigning with Him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:6). Anticipation of such surpassing promises spurs the saints on to lives of faithfulness even in face of what will be the unparalleled persecution at the hands of the false Christ during Daniel’s seventieth week.

The future could not be brighter for those in Christ, those who have trusted Him and His atoning death at Calvary for forgiveness and salvation. On the other side, the future could not be darker for those who have failed to exercise an active faith in Him and therefore must die in their sins. For one group, a knowledge of the future provided by the book of Revelation serves as an energizer for lives of wholehearted dedication to God and the fulfillment of His will. For the other group, that same knowledge is a wake-up call to settle accounts with God by receiving Jesus as Savior and launching out to serve Him for the remainder to life on this planet. Each person must choose a group on his own. No one else can do it for him/her. Which will it be, friend?

Note: For more details on resurrection and millennium rule, see my discussion in Rev­elation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 412-422 and 545-565. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or

Read Part 46

1 Comment

  1. […] Events of the Seventh Bowl, #5: Resurrection and Millennial Rule – Revelation – Part 45 […]

Leave a Comment