Reign and Priesthood of the Saints

SYNOPSIS:  The saints reign with Jesus in the present age as a “Kingdom of Priests” – Revelation 20:4-6.

Dawn Photo by Remi Yuan on Unsplash
Remi Yuan on Unsplash
Only two activities that are to occur during the thousand-year period are recorded - The imprisonment of Satan, and the reign of victorious saints. Ironically, the “rest of the dead” do not live until the “second death.” There is no mention of any temple, the city of Jerusalem, the restoration of animal sacrifices, or national Israel in Chapter 20 of the book of Revelation. Furthermore, the passage is the ONLY one in the entire Bible to refer to a thousand-year period during which the saints “reign.”

The Premillennial interpretation of the passage stands in sharp tension with the New Testament portrayal of the arrival of Jesus a final and singular event that results in the cessation of death, the final judgment, the Resurrection of the righteous dead, and the New Creation (Romans 8:19-23, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28, 2 Peter 3:3-12).
  • (Revelation 20:4-6) – “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and sentence of judgment was given unto them; and [I saw] the souls of them who had been beheaded because of the witness of Jesus and because of the word of God, and such as had not done homage unto the wild-beast or unto his image, nor had received the mark upon their forehead or upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with the Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead, lived not, until the thousand years, were ended. This is the first resurrection. Happy and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: upon these, the second death hath no authority; but they shall be priests of God and of the Christ, and shall reign with him for the thousand years.”
I saw thrones and they sat upon them and judgment was given to them.” The Greek clause reads, “And judgment was given to them,” or, “for them” (kai krima edothé autois). The sentence alludes to the vision of Daniel of the judgment scene before the “Ancient of days” at the appearance of one “like a Son of Man”:
  • (Daniel 7:9-27) – “I beheld till thrones were placed, and one that was ancient of days did sit… I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him…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 that the saints possessed the kingdom…And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”
Precisely who was sitting upon the “thrones” is not stated in the passage, though presumably, the overcoming saints themselves sat on them (Revelation 3:21 - “To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne”).

Judgment “to the saints” may indicate a judicial sentence in their favor or, possibly, the bestowal of judicial authority on them. Considering the emphasis on the saints reigning with Jesus, the latter sense is the more likely one. So, also, in the passage from Daniel where judgment “to the saints” resulted in their “possession of the kingdom.”

I saw the souls of them who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.” The description identifies this group with previous saints who were persecuted for the “testimony of Jesus” and the “word of God,” as follows:
  • (Revelation 1:9) – “I, John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
  • (Revelation 6:9) – “And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held.”
  • (Revelation 11:7) – “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.”
  • (Revelation 12:11) – “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death.”
  • (Revelation 12:17) – “And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus.”
  • (Revelation 14:12) – “Here is the patience of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”
This does not mean that only martyred saints reign on the “thrones.” This company includes “such as had not done homage to the Beast.” Refusal to give allegiance to the Beast results in personal loss and economic deprivation, if not actual martyrdom. Regardless, overcoming saints must be willing to persevere in the “testimony of Jesus” even when doing so risks violent death.
Elsewhere in Revelation, overcoming saints are men and women who follow the Lamb wherever he goes and, therefore, they have “come off victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name” (Revelation 14:1-4, 15:1-4).
And they lived, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Jesus was the “first and the last, who was dead, and lived” (Revelation 1:18, 2:8 - kai ezésen). Likewise, in Chapter 20, with the overcoming saints - “And they lived” (kai ezésan). This verse contains verbal links to the letter to the church at Smyrna, including the warning that believers would suffer “tribulation ten days.”

The figure of “ten days” is the source for the figure of a “thousand years.” Numbers in the book of Revelation are figurative and often are doubled or even tripled for effect (e.g., the 12,000 males from the 12 tribes becomes the company of 144,000 sealed servants of God). Elsewhere, overcoming believers qualify to sit on the throne and reign with Jesus - “Even as I, also, overcame and sat down on my Father’s throne.” That is, in the same manner as Christ by persevering through tribulations and even martyrdom.

The “first resurrection” means that victorious saints will not taste of the “second death” (“Blessed and holy is he that participates in the first resurrection: over these the second death has no power”). The victory of the saints is called the “first resurrection”; however, there is no mention of a “second resurrection” or of a “first death.” Thus, Chapter 20 juxtaposes the “first resurrection” with the “second death.” Saints who persevere through tribulations escape from the “second death,” but not necessarily from physical death.

Likewise, the members of the church at Smyrna who remained faithful even unto death would not “be hurt of the second death,” and the “second death” is nothing less than the “Lake of Fire.” The “rest of the dead” will not be judged and condemned to the Lake of Fire until the judgment before the Great White Throne (Daniel 1:14, Revelation 2:7-11, 11:15-19, 20:11-15, 21:8).

Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection.” This is the fifth of the seven beatitudes in the book of Revelation that define the happy results of perseverance and obedience for the sake of Jesus. They function as a call to action for believers, as follows:
  1. (Revelation 1:3) – “Blessed is he that reads and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
  2. (Revelation 14:13) – “And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.”
  3. (Revelation 16:15) – “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.”
  4. (Revelation 19:9) – “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
  5. (Revelation 20:6) – “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.”
  6. (Revelation 22:7) – “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keeps the sayings of the prophecy of this book.”
  7. (Revelation 22:14) – “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”
Overcoming saints have been constituted a “kingdom of priests.” Elsewhere in the book, this status is a present reality because of the shed blood of the Lamb:
  • (Revelation 1:5-6) – “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood; and he made us a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father.”
  • (Revelation 5:9-10) – “Worthy are you to take the book and to open the seals thereof: for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them for our God a kingdom and priests; and they are reigning upon the earth.”
In the book of Revelation, the saints reign with Christ in their role as “priests,” servants of God who mediate the testimony of Jesus to the nations. Not only are they priests, but they are also a “kingdom of priests” - Priesthood defines their reign and authority, not smashing sinners, the nations, or the other enemies of God.

Like that of the Lamb, the rule of the saints is paradoxical. They “reign” even while persevering through suffering, persecution, and martyrdom. Through gospel proclamation, they participate with the “son” as he “shepherds” the nations - (Revelation 1:4-6, 2:27, 3:20-21, 5:5-7, 12:11).

The thousand-year period during which overcoming saints reign portrays the time between the coronation of the Lamb and the release of Satan for a final “short time.” At that time, the Devil is unleashed to deceive the nations and lead them in a final attempt to annihilate the church. In the interim, the Devil may be able to persecute the church, but he is not able to deceive the nations into destroying her completely until the end of the age. In the interim, saints “reign with Christ” by persevering in the “testimony of Jesus,” even “unto death.”


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