“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 the thousand years.” Revelation 20:4
There is a lot of confusion about heaven today. Ask the average Christian and you will get a variety of answers. Yet the Bible clears up a lot of this confusion when we take time to study it. For example, did you know that the Bible says believers in Jesus will experience heaven in three stages?
First, believers will experience heaven with Christ after the Rapture or sudden removal of the church from the earth before the Tribulation starts (I Thessalonians 1:10; 4:13-5:11). At any moment the Lord Jesus could come for His church to snatch it off the earth to be with Him in the third heaven where God now dwells (Revelation 4:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Following the removal of the church, there will be seven years of terrible tribulation on the earth (Daniel 9:27; Revelation 6-19).
Second, following the seven-year Tribulation period, the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth and establish His thousand-year earthly kingdom (Revelation 20:1-6).
Third, at the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ on the earth, there will be a new heaven and new earth where believers in Jesus will be with Christ for eternity (Revelation 21-22).
By far, the most is said in the Bible about the second stage, the earthly kingdom of Jesus Christ that precedes the new heaven and new earth. We call this earthly reign of Christ the Millennial Kingdom.
In our study of the book of Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ returned to earth from heaven with His heavenly armies to cast the beast and false prophet into the lake of fire and destroy all His human enemies who had gathered to war against Him at Armageddon (19:19-21). Then a mighty angel bound Satan in the bottomless pit so he could not deceive the nations “till the thousand years were finished” (20:1-3).
Next the apostle John writes, “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 the thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4). Once His enemies have been defeated and Satan has been bound, King Jesus finishes His descent to the earth with His heavenly armies to reign on the earth. The “they” (20:4a) refers to the only ones left after John’s vision of the beast, false prophet, and human armies being defeated and Satan being bound – King Jesus and His heavenly armies who accompanied Him from heaven to earth (19:19). 1
The King of kings and Lord of lords is now sitting on His throne in Jerusalem (cf. Psalm 2:6-9; Zechariah 14:1-21). But the Lord Jesus will not be reigning alone for these thousand years. Two groups of people are mentioned reigning with Him in Revelation 20:4. The heavenly armies accompanying Christ to earth (19:14) consisted of angels (Matthew 16:27; 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9) and faithful church age saints (19:7-8; cf. 2:10, 17, 25-27; 3:5, 10-11; 17:14). These church age believers comprise the first group seated on “thrones” to whom “judgment was committed” (20:4a; cf. I Corinthians 6:2). They have already been resurrected and glorified at the Rapture of the Church (cf. Revelation 4:1-4; I Thessalonians 4:15-17). 2
Jesus told His original disciples, “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). Notice Christ says, “you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones.” Following Christ was necessary for Christ’s disciples to rule with Him in His kingdom. Believing in Jesus for eternal life was necessary to enter Christ’s kingdom (John 3:5-6, 15-16), but following Jesus was necessary to reign with Him in His kingdom.
John expands this idea further in the book of Revelation to include all faithful followers of Christ from the church age. “25 But hold fast what you have till I come. 26 And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations— 27 ‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’— as I also have received from My Father.” (Revelation 2:25-27). Remaining faithful to Jesus till He comes or “until the end” of one’s Christian life is necessary to reign with Him in His kingdom (cf. 2:25-27; 3:21; 2 Timothy 2:12).
Not all true believers in Jesus keep Christ’s works till the end of their lives, including Jacob’s sons (Genesis 37:20-35), the 250 well-known community leaders (Numbers 1:16; 7:1-9:14; 16:2-3, 11, 30-32; Deuteronomy 1:11-15; Exodus 14:31), King Saul (I Samuel 10:1, 6-11, 24; 116; 12:14, 25; 13:13-14; 15:24-25; 18:21, 29; 19:9; 22:17-18; 24:16-21; 26:21, 25; 28:3, 6, 15; I Chronicles 10:13-14), King Solomon (I Kings 1:1-12:33), the kings of Israel and Judah (Rehoboam – I Kings 12:6-14:24; 2 Chronicles 11:13-17; 12:1-14; 13:7; Jehu – 2 Kings 9:1-10:36; Joash – 2 Kings 12:2; 2 Chronicles 24:1-24; Amaziah – 2 Kings 14:3-4; 2 Chronicles 25:2-27; Azariah – 2 Kings 15:3-5; Uzziah – 2 Chronicles 26:4-20; Asa – 2 Chronicles 14:1-16:12), Balaam (Numbers 22:7-24:16; 31:16; Deuteronomy 23:4-5; Joshua 13:12; Micah 6:5; Nehemiah 13:2; 2 Peter 2:14-16; Jude 1:5-12), the carnal wilderness generation of Israelites (Deuteronomy 1:35; Exodus 4:31; 14:31; Jeremiah 2:1-3; Psalm 78:8; I Corinthians 10:1-11; Hebrews 3:7-11), Lot (2 Peter 2:7-9; cf. Genesis 13:12-13; 18:23-32; 19:8, 33), Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24), the carnal Corinthian believers (I Corinthians 1:1-11:30), the carnal Christian readers of Hebrews (Hebrews 5:11-6:8), and the carnal Christian readers of James (James 1:1-5:20). 3 They will be “in” Christ’s kingdom, but they will be “the least” in His kingdom (Matthew 5:19) 4 in that they forfeited ruling with Christ (cf. Matthew 22:1-14; 24:45-50; 25:18-19, 24-30; Luke 19:20-26; 2 Timothy 2:12).
The apostle Paul refers to carnal Christians as those who practice “the works of the flesh” and “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). The New Testament distinguishes “entering” the kingdom from “inheriting” the kingdom. We “enter” the kingdom of God by faith alone in Christ alone (Matthew 18:3; 19:14; Mark 10:15; John 3:5, 15), but we “inherit” the kingdom of God through faithful, sacrificial service and suffering for Christ (Matthew 19:27-29; Romans 8:17b; I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21b; Ephesians 5:3-5; Colossians 3:23-24; Hebrews 1:2, 5, 9, 13-14; 6:12, 17; 9:15).
For example, “entering” my house is different than “inheriting” my house. Entrance into my house is free. But if you want to inherit or possess my house, you must pay for it. When you pay for it, then you are entitled to certain privileges or authority. When you inherit my house, you can decide how to arrange the furniture and what colors to paint on the walls. But if you just enter my house, you don’t have those privileges. The same is true in the spiritual realm. You enter the kingdom of God through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. But you will not have all the privileges or authority that come with inheriting the kingdom. You must earn those privileges through faithful service to Jesus.
Just because Christians have eternal life now which can never be lost (cf. John 3:16; 10:28-29), does not mean they can live however they want on earth without facing any consequences. God wants believers to live like the “saints” that they are (I Corinthians 1:2) by virtue of their position in Christ lest they experience grief and shame because of the loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. Matthew 25:24-30; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 6:9-10; I John 2:28).
The second group of believers in Revelation 20:4 consists of martyred Tribulation saints “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” (20:4b). During the Tribulation period, these believers were not afraid to confess Christ before the beast and his followers (cf. Matthew 10:32-33) and therefore they lost their lives because of “their witness to Jesus and for the word of God” which they obeyed rather than men (cf. Acts 5:29; Revelation 15:2). 5
They obeyed God by refusing to worship “the beast or his image” or by not receiving “his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.” Their devotion to Christ “will be so great that they will choose death over disobedience.” 6 When Jesus returns to earth, these Tribulation martyrs will be resurrected (“they lived”), and because they kept Christ’s works until the end (cf. 2:26-28), they will receive authority over the nations and will “reign with Christ for a thousand years” (20:4 c). The Bible clearly teaches that bodily resurrection and kingdom entrance will be experienced by all Old Testament, Church-Age, and Tribulation believers in Christ (both faithful and unfaithful) according to John 6:39-40. But the Bible is also clear that only faithful believers in Jesus will reign with Christ 7 (Revelation 2:25-28; 3:5, 21; cf. Matthew 24:45; 25:16-17, 20-23, 31, 33a, 34; Luke 19:15-19; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Timothy 2:12).
These faithful followers of Christ will be the only rulers over the earth with King Jesus. None of them will be corrupted by deception, “money, greed, pride, or power. Imagine what that would be like. No more political conspiracies in the headlines! No more scandals exposed on the news! No more bribery, quid pro quo, filibustering, waffling, or broken campaign promises!
“The corruption of all earthly governmental systems will be gone forever… The righteous, not the wicked, will be in the majority, and a holy Leader will be in authority.” 8
Those who are subject to their rulership will be unfaithful believers from all periods of history leading up to the Millennium Kingdom along with the offspring of the mortal Tribulation saints who did not die in the Tribulation (Matthew 25:31-46).
“But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” (Revelation 20:5). This verse implies that all who have not been resurrected physically by the time the Tribulation martyrs are resurrected physically, will “not live again until the thousand years” are over. Jesus’ words in John 5:28-29 demonstrate that by this time all who have died possessing eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone are now resurrected bodily and physically. When John states, “This is the first resurrection,” he is explaining what the first resurrection is about without going into specifics. 9
“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6). The phrase “has part in” (ho echōn meros en) can mean “possesses a portion in” and refers to an inheritance reward in the first resurrection that is conditioned on obedience (Revelation 20:4; cf. Colossians 3:23-24), as the remainder of verse 6 attests. 10
The phrase “the second death has no power” or authority over them is best taken as a litotes (an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite) and is clarified by the statement that “they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” 11 These resurrected co-rulers with Christ “are as far from being under the authority of the second death as they could possibly be since they themselves have authority as king-priests with Christ.” 12
The thousand-year reign of King Jesus with His faithful followers will be the paradise for which the world longs. There will be no war (Isaiah 2:3-4). The lion will lie down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6-9). There will be topological changes to the earth. Jerusalem will be changed with new mountains and valleys. A river will flow from Jerusalem to both the Mediterranean and Dead Seas (Zechariah 14:3-9). Deserts will be transformed into gardens; the territory of Israel will be transformed into a place of remarkable beauty reflecting God’s glory (Isaiah 35:1-7). The lifespan of people will increase exponentially as in the early years of the Old Testament (Isaiah 65:20). 13
There will be industry and development (Isaiah 65:21-22). After the terrible Tribulation and Armageddon, much rebuilding will need to be done. There will be time to do things you have wanted to do: other careers, exploring, developing relationships. A renewed earth will more than adequately provide for the world’s population. There will be perfect government and swift justice as King Jesus rules with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:6-9), making no allowance for rebellion. Faithful believers from all ages will have many opportunities to rule with Christ. Since they will have glorified bodies, each person will be perfectly suited to carry out his or her responsibilities. 14 Some will hold positions of authority like Presidents, Governors, Mayors, City Council Members, Judges, Senators, Representative, and the like. There may also be transportation companies, publishers, developers, utilities, entertainment, and sports companies, etc. All these businesses will need people in various levels of management. We can have one of those positions of authority if we live faithfully for the Lord Jesus until we go to be with Him.
The Christian life is like a long, grueling race (Hebrews 12:1-2). You may be running that race God has set before you now. But what about 10 or 20 years from now? Will you keep living for the Lord even when life gets tough? Will you finish strong for Him? Knowing what God has in store for us in the Millennial Kingdom, should motivate us to live for Him until we go to heaven to be with Him. Together, we can finish our Christians lives well for Jesus if we keep our eyes on Him.
Prayer: Gracious heavenly Father, thank You that Jesus Christ is coming back for His church at any moment to snatch us off the earth to be with Him in Your heavenly house. Following the removal of the church, many more people will be saved during the terrible Tribulation period. Together, church age believers and Tribulation believers in Jesus will reign with King Jesus for a thousand years on earth following His return to at the end of the seven-year Tribulation. With great anticipation, we pray and live for Your coming Kingdom on earth when much of the curse will be lifted and life on earth will be what the world has longed for. Please use us to share Your gospel of grace so many more people can enter Christ’s kingdom through childlike faith in Him. In Jesus’ mighty name we pray. Amen.
1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 355.
2. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1578.
3. Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition (Grace Theology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition), pp. 503-536.
4. Ibid., pg. 520.
5. Vacendak, pg. 1579.
8. Swindoll, pg. 356.
9. Vacendak, pg. 1579.
11. Ibid., pp. 1579-1580.
12. Ibid., pg. 1580.
13. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2418.