In Revelation 20:8, John says those who have part in the first resurrection are blessed, and holy; he said that "they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." [Revelation 20:6]
A question for many is, does this refer to a future resurrection, or to the present state of believers? Do the saints now reign with Christ?
Jesus promised the disciples that they would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. "And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." [Matthew 19:28]
The apostle Peter wrote that the saints are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." [1 Peter 2:9-10]
Peter referred to the light of the Gospel.
In the first chapter of Revelation, John says of Jesus, "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." [Revelation 1:5-6]
These scriptures connect reigning as kings and priests with the present era. James identified the church with the tabernacle of David, the royal line. [Acts 15:16]
Why did John say that the saints reign for a thousand years, in Revelation 20:8? Perhaps it is because this period corresponds to the time when Satan is bound with a chain, and confined in a bottomless pit. [Revelation 20:2]
Jesus said, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven," [Luke 10:18] referring to his own victory over Satan. He is the "strong man" who binds Satan. [Mark 3:27]
Paul said believers have been translated into Christ's kingdom. He connected Christ's kingdom with light, and contrasted it with "the power of darkness." He wrote: "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." [Colossians 1:12-14]
He said the saints are "children of the day"--"Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness." [1 Thessalonians 5:5]
Jesus spoke of the eye as the "light" of the body, and he said, if our eye is single, the whole body is "filled with light." [Matthew 6:22-24] He used the eye figuratively. "If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" The New Testament shows that while the saints are citizens in the kingdom of light, some become seduced, and turn aside. For them, Satan is no longer bound.
In the 20th chapter of Revelation, there are several phrases which also occur in the 7th chapter of Daniel, suggesting that John alluded to Daniel's prophecy. They are compared in the table below.
|Daniel 7||Revelation 20|
|I beheld till the thrones were cast down (vs. 9)||And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them (vs. 4)|
|and judgment was given to the saints of the most High (vs. 22)||and judgment was given to them (vs. 4)|
|the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom (vs. 22)||and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years (vs. 4)|
|I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them (vs. 21)||And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth (vs. 7, 8)|
|he shall wear out the saints of the most High (vs. 25)||And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: (vs. 9)|
|his throne was like the fiery flame ... A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him (vs. 9, 10)||and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. (vs. 9)|
The parallels between Daniel 7 and Revelation 20:4-9 suggest the influence of the little horn of the fourth beast in Daniel's vision corresponds to Satan being loosed from the bottomless pit where he was cast after he was bound by Jesus.
In Revelation 20:7, the expiry of the thousand years must
occur individually; if a Christian turns aside from the light and truth
of the Gospel, to darkness, that person becomes deceived. Just as beheading
is personal and individual, so the thousand years of the
saints' reigning with Christ as kings and priests seems to apply
personally and individually. If so, the prophecies of Daniel 7 and
Revelation 20:1-9 apply to the present age.
The expression "in the days of ... " applies to persons, referring to their lifetimes, as in the examples below. John could have meant something like "in the days of ..." when he selected the phrase "a thousand years" in his prophecy.
|the days of Herod the king||Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5|
|the days of our fathers||Matthew 11:12|
|the days of Noah||Matthew 24:37; Luke 17:26; 1 Peter 3:20|
|the days of Abiathar the high priest||Mark 2:26|
|the days of Elias||Luke 4:25|
|the days of the Son of man||Luke 17:22|
|the days of Lot||Luke 17:28|
|the days of David||Acts 7:45|
|in the days of Melchisedec||Hebrews 5:6-7|
|the days of the voice of the seventh angel||Revelation 10:7|
|the days of their prophecy||Revelation 11:6|
When a person believes the gospel, and is baptized, he or she is raised up, to newness of life. Paul said, "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." [Romans 6:4] The saints who are "beheaded" and reign with Christ are those who "walk in newness of life."
Paul said believers have been blessed with spiritual blessings in heavenly places. [Ephesians 1:3] He said they sit together "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." [Ephesians 2:5-7] What else could this be, but reigning with Christ?
If the thousand years of Revelation 20 are understood in a spiritual sense, rather than by the letter, the "thousand years" could be symbolic of the duration of the lives of individual Christians. The thousand years would come to an end for an individual only if that person were to fall away, and abandon the faith, and return to the world from which he or she had escaped. For those who cease to walk in the way of Christ, the thousand years, and their reign with Christ, has ended.
On the other hand, those who endure to the end are promised a "crown of life." James wrote, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him." [James 1:12; see also Revelation 2:10]
John said, "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." [Revelation 20:6]
The apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 3:8, "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Suppose we replace the words "thousand years" in Revelation 20:1-7 with the phrase "day with the Lord." Would it make sense? Let's see:
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a day with the Lord,
And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the day with the Lord should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
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 day with the Lord.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the day with the Lord was finished. 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 day with the Lord.
And when the day with the Lord is expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.
The number a thousand is used in Scripture to signify the idea of completeness or fullness, as in: "For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills." [Psalm 50:10]
For some, the thousand years or the day with the Lord
might end prematurely. This applies to those who fall away and abandon
their faith, and return to the world from which they were delivered and
had escaped. John's prophecy suggests they are in danger of being
deceived and turning against the "camp of the saints" and the "beloved
city." Enemies of the Church and of the Gospel are frequently former
The author of Hebrews contrasted "milk" with "strong meat."
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
The metaphor of "milk" represents basic things about the Gospel, ideas that need no chewing. Infants lack teeth, and so they are unable to chew, or to eat "strong meat," which is another metaphor.
In John's account of the saints who were beheaded reigning with Christ for a thousand years, the simplistic approach is to say it refers to a millennium on the earth. That view might be characterized as handling John's prophecy as if it was "milk," food meant for babes. It involves little interpretation, and difficulties are ignored. It can simply be swallowed, or believed, without chewing, or understanding.
Those who say there is to be a thousand years when Jesus reigns on the earth at Jerusalem and the Jews are exulted and doted on by Gentiles have a problem with the attack by the hordes of Gog and Magog that is supposed to come at the end of it. Isaiah wrote:
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
If they don't learn war any more, why are they all equipped with swords and clubs and spears and bows and arrows, shields and bucklers, etc., as described by Ezekiel?
When the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord, why would Satan be let loose, to deceive the nations? What a sad end to the thousand years -- all those people deceived, who attack the beloved city!
Some say that the attack by Gog and Magog comes at the beginning of the millennium rather than its end. Others say it occurs before the millennium, and they search for signs of an invasion by Russia and Iran and various other nations. But this idea is problematic, because the Jews have built a great wall or fence around the West Bank and the prophecy says the invaders come against "a land of unwalled villages." The Jewish state of today does not qualify; besides, the idea of armies coming on horses and armed with bows and arrows and spears and clubs does not fit today's military technology very well.
Still another idea is that there are two invasions, one at the start of the millennium, one at the end. Or, one before the millennium, and one at its end. The one at the end is based on Rev. 20:8-9. The first one is based on Ezekiel 38-39.
None of these schemes is very satisfactory, and the whole idea of a rebellion in the millennium seems to contradict what Isaiah wrote, "neither shall they learn war any more" ... "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain."
The idea of reigning with Christ now, in this life, is revealed in Paul's epistles, Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:13. John also brings in the concept of beheading. Jesus spoke of cutting off a hand, and plucking out an eye; John spoke of beheading.
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into gehenna.
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into gehenna.
I suggest that the meaning of beheading should be understood spiritually; it refers to the mind being renewed, "be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind;" [Romans 12:2] "be renewed in the spirit of your mind." [Ephesians 4:23] It is not that hard to connect beheading with the mind change involved in becoming a Christian. Just as beheading is personal and individual, the binding of Satan, and reigning with Christ, are concepts that are personal, and individual.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the ass, and the colt following, he fulfilled Zechariah 9:9-10, according to Matthew 21:4. He was called the king of Jerusalem; they crowned him with a crown of thorns, and put a label on his cross, "Jesus the King of the Jews."
Isaiah 2:1-3 says the mountain of the Lord's house will be "established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills." This is fulfilled in the New Testament; Jerusalem is "the Jerusalem which is above" [Gal. 4:26] and Heb. 12:22 says "ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem."
Jerusalem was raised up, higher than the hills, to heaven, when Jesus ascended to heaven, which fulfills Isaiah's prophecy. Those who believe in him have been "delivered from the power of darkness," and they have been "translated" into Christ's kingdom. [Colossians 1:13] His kingdom is invisible, not an earthly one.
To be "delivered from the power of darkness," corresponds to the
binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3.
Paul said, in Ephesians 2:5-6, that the saints "sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." In the same epistle he spoke of "spiritual wickedness in high places," that the saints wrestle against.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
The armor of God includes a breastplate, shoes, a shield, a helmet, a sword, and Paul says "Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth."
Compare this armor with the swords carried by the hordes of Gog and Magog, [Ezekiel 38:4] and their shields, bucklers, bows and arrows, handstaves, and spears. [Ezekiel 39:9]
Paul said the sword represents the Scriptures, and in Psalm 64:3, arrows are identified with "bitter words."
The armies of Gog and Magog all ride upon horses, [Ezekiel 38:15] and horses are involved in the invasion described in Zechariah's prophecy too. "I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness." [Zechariah 12:4]
The horses, asses, mules, and camels in the assault upon Jerusalem are smitten with an awful plague. [Zechariah 14:15] Horses and mules are symbolic of people with no understanding. "Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee." [Psalm 32:9] Note that plagues are often infectious; the flawed interpretations of prophecy are likewise very infectious, and affect many.
Those who have claimed that Ezekiel's prophecy is about a military attack on the Jews by a group of nations including Russia and Iran and various other nations are greatly embarrassed by the construction of the Israeli West Bank Separation Barrier in the last 10 years, which thwarts their interpretation of Ezekiel's prophecy, and exposes their interpretations as completely false.
John interprets Ezekiel's prophecy about Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:9 as an assault upon "the camp of the saints" and "the beloved city," which is the church, the bride of the Lamb in Revelation 21. The thousand years, then, must be something other than the millennium of dispensationalism.
In his prophecy about the "thousand years," John declared that during that period, Satan is bound, and no longer deceives the nations, and in the same period of time, those who have been "beheaded" reign with Christ, and they are priests of God and of Christ. The apostle Peter said that a thousand years with God is as a day, and a day as a thousand years. [2 Peter 3:8] Thus, when John mentioned a thousand years as the length of the saints' reign with Christ, this must be a figurative number, to be understood spiritually, rather than in terms of the letter, as earth days, earth months, and earth years, do not apply to things that are spiritual. The reign of the beheaded saints together with Christ, in Revelation 21, is clearly a spiritual concept. How could it be otherwise?
In Ecclesiastes 6:6, "a thousand years" is related to a portion of a human lifetime; "Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?"
The apostle Peter wrote, "the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries." [1 Peter 4:3] He encouraged the believer "to live the rest of his time in the flesh" according to the will of God.
Paul spoke of the old nature as dead, and the saints being made anew--a new creature. "But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." [Romans 7:6]
This could be what is signified by beheading in Revelation 20. Paul said: "And be renewed in the spirit of your mind." [Ephesians 4:23] This leads naturally to the idea of "beheading" as a metaphor of the person who repents and lives the new way, subject to Christ.
Those who are beheaded reign with Christ, and beheading is personal and individual. The "thousand years" applies to individuals, not the whole church. The "time, times and a half" applies to the whole age of the church, but the "thousand years" is associated with the individual who has been figuratively "beheaded" reigning with Christ. Beheading is also associated with the idea of sacrifice, as some animals that were sacrificed were beheaded. Paul wrote:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Copyright © 2011 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.