Revelation 20:4

Friday, 23 July 2021

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Revelation 20:4

The last verse saw Satan cast into the bottomless pit (prior to the millennium) for a thousand years. What is now stated occurs after that, as the thousand years are ready to begin. Before the millennium, there will be a judgment. As it says, “And I saw thrones.”

The setting of thrones signifies both rule and judgment. No number of thrones is given, and no names are stated, but it is apparent from other parts of Scripture that judgment will be given to the Lord’s disciples. For example, it says in Matthew (and as is repeated in Luke) –

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” Matthew 19:28

Similarly, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:2, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world.” As this is so, it is possible that people from the various nations or ethnic groups will be set on thrones to judge those groups, just as the Jewish apostles of Jesus will judge the twelve tribes. That these are thrones of judgment is confirmed by the words, “and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.”

The Lord will determine who is given the right to rule and judge according to His wisdom, and those chosen will have the authority to decide the cases that are brought before them accordingly. Albert Barnes is correct when he says –

“This was not in relation to the whole race of mankind, but to the martyrs, and to those who, amidst many temptations and trials, had kept themselves pure. The sentence which is to be passed would seem to be that in consequence of which they are to be permitted to ‘live and reign with Christ a thousand years.’”

The judgment now being relayed is a pre-millennial judgment. The final judgment will be a post-millennial judgment conducted by the Lord as is recorded in Revelation 21:11-15. With this in mind, John next says, “Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded.”

Here is a word found only this once in Scripture, pelekizó. It signifies to cut off with an ax, especially in the sense of beheading. As Islam is famous for execution by beheading, it may be assumed that it will play a major role in the end times in this capacity.

Or it may be that beheading will be the preferred method of execution by a coming world court. France was once famous for their beheadings by the guillotine. It may be that this will be picked up again during the tribulation. As the mark of the beast is to be set on the right hand or the forehead, it may be that beheading will be a means of intimidating those who refuse it. “Because you will not take the mark on your forehead, you will now lose your head.”

Among some scholars, the statement, “Then I saw the souls,” is taken to a ridiculous extreme saying that because the “souls” and not the “bodies” are seen, it cannot be a literal resurrection. This is then an attempt to deny a literal millennial reign of Christ. The rest of the verse, along with the next verse, clearly indicates that these souls will be reunited with bodies in a literal resurrection. Paul speaks of the soul without a body being “naked.” Thus, to live and reign with Christ means to have a new body –

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.” 2 Corinthians 5:1-4

The word next continues by noting those who were beheaded “for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God.” This is the basis for their judgment. For those who were willing to witness to the truth of God in Christ and to the truth of the word of God, even to the point of being beheaded, they will receive a favorable judgment, being raised again in this resurrection. Their souls, naked and bodiless, will be brought to a state of restoration.

In testifying to the truth of Jesus and the surety of the word of God, they were confident that their lives would not be lost permanently. Therefore, they are those “who had not worshiped the beast or his image.”

This is the dividing line. There will be countless souls killed during the tribulation period, but many of them will have worshiped the beast or his image. In this, they will reject the word of God which tells of Jesus. As such, they will receive condemnation. But for those who will not bow the knee in this unholy manner, their souls will be spared. They “had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.”

Receiving the mark is the identification that an allegiance to the beast and the image has been made. Thus, worship of them is implied in the taking of the mark. Both are voluntary acts, and there is no hint of coercion in one area or the other. The mark will not be forced upon someone who has not first voluntarily given his allegiance and worship to the beast or his image. These tribulation saints will be ratted out and pursued. Jesus, speaking to Israel showed that those during the tribulation will face just this –

“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head shall be lost. 19 By your patience possess your souls.” Luke 21:16-18

If some will be put to death, and yet not a hair of their heads will be lost, then this is – without any doubt – referring to a literal resurrection. As such, John finishes with, “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

These martyred saints will be brought back to physical life with physical bodies, and they will reign with Christ during the millennium. This is the reward for their allegiance to Christ, even when it is to the point of death. They shall be granted life eternal (as will be seen in verse 6). This is now the third of six times that the “thousand years” has been mentioned. Again, it is incredulous to think that supposed scholars of the Bible would ignore the literal nature of what is being conveyed. There will be a thousand-year reign of Christ, and His people will reign with Him.

Life application: There will be an established order at “the regeneration” and there will be those who are given authority to conduct the affairs of the people in positions subservient to Jesus. When Jesus speaks of this regeneration, it is clearly meant as a fulfillment of hundreds of Old Testament prophecies directed specifically toward the nation of Israel. The world as a whole will be renewed, but this in no way discounts the promises of God to Abraham and his subsequent generations.

Rule and authority will come from Israel at the command of Jesus and with Israel as the head of the nations. And this time of glorious government and peace will be for a thousand years.

There are only a few possible reasons for symbolizing or spiritualizing this amount of time. One is a misunderstanding of the contents of the Bible due to a lack of study. A second is a misunderstanding of these promises because of faulty training – such as “replacement theology” which teaches that the church has “replaced” Israel. The third is an inability to comprehend the contents of the Bible; a failure to take God at his word. And a fourth is anti-Semitism.

The fourth option is becoming more and more prevalent within the church, and it has led to real trouble for Israel now, which – of course – is setting up the very events that will take place in the book of Revelation. God promised this land to Abraham and his physical descendants, and it will remain theirs in this millennial reign.

Another point to consider is that the raising of those who are beheaded because they refuse to worship the beast and his image and who refuse to take the mark is that it belies the notion of a universal application to the concept of the “strong delusion” referred to by Paul in 2 Thessalonians. The vast majority of the people of the world will follow after the antichrist, but there will be a “great multitude” who will overcome this by placing their trust in Christ – even to the point of death.

The teaching that anyone who has heard the gospel before the tribulation begins cannot later be saved during the tribulation is false. There is nothing to hint at this in Scripture, and it diminishes the efficacy of the work of Christ for anyone who believes. As such, this teaching is to be ignored. The love of God in Christ for those who are willing to accept it is available to any and all who will receive it, by faith, before their final breath. None will be turned away who place their trust in JESUS.

Lord, it is so wonderful to read passages in Your word that tell us that every soul who calls on You will be given the life You have promised, even if they have to suffer before it comes. We know that we will indeed have eternal life in Your presence in a restored and perfect setting. As such, we know that the faith we possess is not in vain. For now, give us the courage to stand fast during our trials as we await that glorious day! Amen.