A Millennial Kingdom – Revelation 20:4-6

Athe_lion_and_the_lambfter describing the coming of the Messiah, John’s vision turns to a scene of thrones. These thrones for those who were killed during the time of tribulation described in Revelation. There are other New Testament passages promising thrones to the faithful. In Matt 19:28 Jesus tells the twelve disciples they will sit on “twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Paul tells the Corinthians that believers will “judge the world” and will “judge angels.” Even in Revelation, the one who overcomes will have sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21).

The souls John sees in these verses are likely those under the altar in Rev 6:9. In that context, the souls were crying out to God asking to be avenged. Likewise, in 20:4 these souls were put to death because of their testimony of Jesus. These souls came to life and reign with Christ for the 1000 years (Rev 20:4). The verb ζάω (“came to life”) is used often in Revelation to describe God as the “living one” (1:18, 10:6) or Jesus as the one who “died and lives again” (2:8). In 13:14 the beast appears to have died and “came to life.” This first resurrection is after the tribulation and the return of Jesus. It is quite specific since only those who were martyred are raised. But they are raised to life on earth, not some ethereal heavenly state.

The function of these souls is that they are “priests of God” and reign with Christ. This reflects Exodus 19:6, God’s promise that Israel would be a nation of priests. This is consistent with the rest of Revelation. In 1:5-6 the people of God are called “a kingdom and priests,” now at the end of the book a kingdom is established and the resurrected martyrs fulfill Israel’s role as priests of God.

How should we understand the “1000 years?” A 1000 year rule by the messiah is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture. Even though a kingdom is described frequently in both the Old and New Testaments, the duration of 1000 years is not found. In fact, the kingdom is usually described as eternal: it never ends. But the idea of a Millennium (Latin, mille, a thousand; anum, years) is not based on this single passage since even here the kingdom continues forever, even if an event occurs after 1000 years.

The Jews were expecting a Messiah to come and establish a kingdom, a real physical rule on earth. This Messiah would be God’s personal representative, and like the kings of Israel, would be called a “son of God.” Beyond this, they speculated about how long human history would last, and how much of that history would be the kingdom. Ranges for the duration of the kingdom in Jewish apocalyptic ranged from 40 years to 7000 years. In the Apocalypse of Weeks human history is portrayed as a series of ten “weeks,” the first seven weeks lead up to the time of the writer but the eighth through tenth weeks are still future. 1 Enoch describes this “eighth week” after the judgment as a “week of righteousness.” During this period a house will be built for the great king “in glory forevermore” (91:12-13). The (Christian) letter of Barnabas described the history of the world in seven creational days of 1000 years each, with the seventh being the idealized age (i.e., the kingdom).

John clearly intends for us to understand a particular period of time in human history when Christ will rule with the martyred on earth. This was the understanding of the early church as well, Justin Martyr taught in the second century that the dead in Christ would be raised, followed by 1000 years in Jerusalem. Irenaeus, also in the second century, taught that there would be an earthly millennium where saints and martyrs would be rewarded. But by the fifth century, Augustine tried to interpret the kingdom in a non-literal way. The 1000 years, he taught, were the interval between the first and second coming. Satan was bound in Jesus earthly ministry, the first resurrection is the moment of salvation.

Revelation 20 follows the glorious return of the Lord and represents the final vindication of those who have died for their testimony of Jesus—they are raised to life to reign with Jesus. This reign is the fulfillment of the messianic expectations of Jews and Christians in the first century. God will act decisively and send his anointed one to deal with the empires of man. The point of the Millennium is not to reward martyrs in some sensual paradise, but to demonstrate that God’s Kingdom has finally overcome the kingdoms of man.

13 thoughts on “A Millennial Kingdom – Revelation 20:4-6

  1. I appreciate your careful study of this passage in Revelation 20. You are correct that nowhere else in the Bible is their an explicit mention of a “1,000” year reign of Christ. However, this passage in Rev 20 is the clearest description of the future reign of Christ on earth. Some scholars say this passage is a case of the “tail wagging the dog.” However, I have trouble not seeing Christ’s future reign as a literal 1,000 year reign because this passage is the most clear description of his future reign and it mentions “1,000” six times in only six verses. In the future this revelation will become perfectly clear, so in the meantime we can only speculate with our best attempt to understand Scripture. (Therefore, I admit that my exposition of Rev 20 could be incorrect.)

    Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work.

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    • Thanks for the comment. I remain an unrepentant premillenialist, for what it is worth. My point here is the Millennium of Revelation 20 is the same as the restored kingdom the prophets in the OT expected.

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  2. I appreciate your careful study of this passage in Revelation 20. You are correct that nowhere else in the Bible is their an explicit mention of a “1,000” year reign of Christ. However, this passage is the clearest description of the future reign of Christ on earth. Some scholars say this passage is a case of the “tail wagging the dog.” However, I have trouble not seeing Christ’s future reign as a literal 1,000 year reign because this passage is the most clear description of his future reign and it mentions “1,000” six times in only six verses. In the future this revelation will become perfectly clear, so in the meantime we can only speculate with our best attempt to understand Scripture.

    Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work.

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  3. I believe in Revelation 20 the readers are able to see the good in which God promises His people. Throughout the rest of the book there is a lot of fear, dread, horrible beats, wrath, and judgment that can cause readers to turn away from it. However, in this passage that is near the end, we are able to see defeat and victory over Satan. The passage describes Satan being bounded up and unable to rule over our lives. In 1 Peter 5:8 it descries Satan as a roaring lion who is free to roam around and devour anything he desires. Of course, we understand that Satan existed in our world today, but we also are given the information that Satan can be defeated. Will God’s truth, power and love, Satan can be defeated. Ultimately, this passage gives reassurance to the people who are being persecuted because of their faith in the Lord. Like you stated, “Revelation 20 follows the glorious return of the Lord and represents the final vindication of those who have died for their testimony of Jesus.” John makes it known to his readers that they will not be left behind. God has not forgotten them, and they will be lifted up by the Lord during His second coming. They will be saved from this suffering in which they are enduring and the people who are being wicked towards them will be judged by God.

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  4. It seems that the focus on the number one-thousand or the specific amount of time of Jesus’ reign is not what is intended to be focused on. The focus, as it seems to me, is the glory of Christ and his reign on earth (not the specific amount of time but his reign in general). Revelation 20:4-6 is a description of who is to judge with Jesus. It is not necessarily important that these believers, who “had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its make on their foreheads or their hands,” are with him for one-thousand years. What is important is the honor given to those who are a part of the first resurrection. There will be a period of time with those who are reigning with Jesus. This only comes to an end with the second resurrection of the rest of the believers. “After [the Millennial Kingdom], Satan is released to deceive the nations again into making war against the saints, but he is defeated and thrown into the lake of fire forever, to be joined by Death, Hades, and those whose names are not in the book of life” (Reading Revelation, 161). The second resurrection is what causes the end of the thousand-year reign of Jesus and those with him. It seems as though the first resurrection is a reward for the martyrs addressed in Revelation 6. Revelation 21 describes a New Heaven and New Earth that seems to be what will be happening for the rest of eternity. The Millennial Kingdom as a reward to those chose to judge and once the defeat of Satan takes place then the second resurrection occurs and we are to live on New Earth. The timeline does not matter. What matters is that Jesus will reign in the Millennial Kingdom and beyond.

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  5. There is a lot of imagery in the souls coming back to life to rule on thrones with Jesus as priests. Believers will reign alongside Jesus, acting as judges with him. But it is even more interesting to see the relationship with the martyrs. They will come to life before other believers, living on the earth during that time. And then the idea that the souls will serve as priests of God is a common idea seen throughout Scripture. Since Israel was a nation, they have been called priests, and this continues through the New Testament, and is completed in Revelation.
    The thousand year reign is definitely something to be examined. There are many interpretations of the thousand years, as people try to decide if it is literal or figurative. The point that the thousand years is not in Scripture was something that I never knew before. People always talk about the millennial kingdom, so I assumed that it was found in Scripture, when in reality it is not. Scripture does say that the kingdom will last forever, so it is interesting that we have added the thousand years into our views of what comes after Jesus’ return.

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  6. I feel as though it wouldn’t necessarily be wrong to draw a parallel between the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom and the beginning of some large, heavily anticipated event, such as the Passion Worship Conference. After being excited for the event for so long, seeing the lights go out, and hearing the music start as the stage lights illuminate the singers feels incredibly rewarding for the wait.
    This is how I imagine the Martyrs feel as all of their patience for God to avenge them, followed by the wait for their resurrections as rulers along with Christ. All of these people, who were “beheaded for their testimony,” and others who had not given into the temptations to sin and worship the beast or defile themselves with prostitution (Revelation 20:4). This is an amazing time in world history, where the Dragon is sealed away from the people of the world. Instead, it is ruled by the Messiah himself, and for an incomparable period of time for us mortals, who are lucky to live to one-hundred years, let alone a thousand! Even better, at the end of the thousand years, there is yet another resurrection, where the rest of the souls are brought back to life, and those found worthy can live with Christ forever!

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  7. I think the imagery of the twelve different thrones for the twelve disciples is pretty cool. It reminds me a little of the knights of the round table. I like that you touched a little bit on both souls and the 1000-year reign. Both of these topics are rather confusing to me, especially the 1000 years as you have mentioned the Bible does not talk about it. To me, because of its lack of mention in the Scriptures, the exact 1000 years as being literal or metaphorical did not really matter too much. I always felt it was far too easy for some to get carried away with minor details that probably do not matter that much, so I never paid attention to the 1000 years. I do think, as you have mentioned that the real importance is that the kingdom is not finite but rather it is eternal. Finally, I like that you mentioned that the point of the millennium is not to simply reward people but rather to show that God’s kingdom is far superior to that of man. Much like the old and new covenants, God’s way is better than our way. The coming of His kingdom restores the perfect creation He had intended and originally made.

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  8. The promise of the faithful being allowed to reign with Jesus for a thousand years is so beautiful, and a wonderful encouragement for us to keep us in pursuit of the King. Because of the language in verse 4, you could almost interpret it to mean that the ones who are sitting on the thrones–“to whom the authority to judge was committed” (20:4)–could be people other than the martyrs. Because of the language of “also,” this could be interpreted as the martyrs are not the ones that are seated on the thrones. As you had mentioned, the twelve disciples were told, by Jesus, that they would “sit on ‘twelve thrones’” (P. Long). This is more likely as to who sits on the thrones. How many thrones are there in heaven? We know that there are the 24 elders; this drives us to a question of who are the elders? Would these be some of the martyrs? It seems more likely that the twelve disciples and twelve tribes of Israel’s leaders would be the 24 elders.
    Even so, the martyrs have been raised, and to reign with Christ for a thousand years. Reflecting the Old Testament, “the resurrected martyrs fulfill Israel’s role as priests of God” (P. Long).
    The idea of the 1,000 years is tricky, as you explained. There is not a clear, literal 1,000 years to be expected. Perhaps the 1,000 is merely meant to represent the eternal state of the kingdom when it is established. There are a lot of different views as to what the 1,000 years means to the lives of the martyrs, saved, and unsaved. Whether the 1,000 years is literal, or simply represents the future time of resurrection, where the dead in Christ will be resurrected, it is sure that God is the one that will be ultimately reigning; He will invite whoever He pleases to reign with Him for whatever period of time He has set forth.

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  9. This portion of Revelation chapter 20 gives in details about the thrones and the martyrs which are to be priests of God and for those who died for Christ Jesus during the tribulation. How many of us can say we are ready to face whatever comes our way in persecution and dying for Christ Jesus? It’s one thing to read it, but it’s another thing when we are actually facing the dangers of our beliefs and our faith. Just trying to understand the millennium time frame, is very complexity because we don’t know much about it, and what to expect. I think we as believers, should evaluate our faith, and to be completely honest if when the tribulation and persecution comes over the world and our land of United States, where we are so custom to having liberty and freedom, I wonder if we are to withstand to the very end? If we do, what should our reward be, other than having eternal life? To be honest, it does not matter if there is a 1,000-year period of peace or not, as long as my name is written in the book of life. The rest could be enteral history.

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  10. I found it interesting that the idea of an actual 1000 years isn’t found anywhere in scripture. I guess in my mind it has been talked about so much that I just kind of assumed/imagined it was there until I went back and read through Revelation again. As stated here, I think John definitely intends for us to know that Christ will establish his kingdom and rule over it, but the exact timing is again one of those things that we don’t really have an exact answer for but we trust that it will happen in God’s timing. I also thought it was interesting that other texts used a variety of different numbers to describe this length of time, which makes me think the numbers we use when discussing this length of time aren’t even based in any sort of tradition or general agreement, but more just different people’s best guesses or opinions. As Elizabeth Shively says in Reading Revelation, “Yet John’s ultimate point is about reversing the state of affairs: Out of the obliteration of Satan’s pseudo-reign emerges the new heaven and new earth, and the new Jerusalem, where God and the Lamb will reign with his people forever” (166). It’s less about the smaller details like timeframes and more about the bigger idea and the theme, which is Jesus’ victory over Satan and reign of His kingdom.

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  11. The first keyword in Revelation 20: 4-6 is thrones. When I think of thrones, I think of royalty that brings justice to the world and that’s exactly what the saints have been resurrected with Christ. However, there were times that the Kings would miss using their powers. For example, Pharoah missed used his power by enslaving the Egyptians and a King Herod in Matthew wanted to kill all the boys.

    However, the Son of Man is the perfect person to be on the Throne. He will bring justice to the martyrs, the ones that have been killed because they sacrificed themselves for Christ’s sake and those that have not taken up the mark of the beast on their forearm or forehead. Due to Christ being on the throne and all the other Saints, they will bring peace to the world and the animals that are enemies in the wildlife will sleep with each other. For example, a lion is a predator and a lamb is a pray.

    Another key event that is mentioned in Revelation 20:4-6 is two resurrections. The first resurrection will happen before the1000 years. The second Ressurection will happen after the 2nd coming of Jesus and the Great White Throne.

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