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Revelation 20: Resurrected and ruling with Christ

Unsplash/Ben Vaughn
Unsplash/Ben Vaughn

Although now long out of print, “The Sunday School Times” once published an interesting story about a Christian woman who was talking with a Christian man about their future in Christ. She said to him with excitement, “I have taken a single ticket to Glory, and do not intend to come back.” Whereupon the Christian man replied: “Then, you are going to miss a lot. I have taken a return ticket, for I am not only going to meet Christ in Glory, but I am coming back with him in power and great glory to the earth.”

One of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was known to have said, “God grant that not only the love of liberty but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the earth, so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say, ‘This is my country.’”

That day is coming! It will happen when Christ returns to set up His Kingdom for a thousand years. This period is called “The Millennium.”

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This time will begin after Christ comes again, bringing His Saints with Him from Heaven, the enemies of God are defeated at Armageddon, Satan and the demons who do his bidding are seized and thrown into the abyss, surviving sinners of the Tribulation will be consigned to perdition, the Tribulation saints will go into the Kingdom, and Christ will appoint under him thrones, rulers, leaders who have shown themselves faithful, and the Savior shall splendidly rule over the entire globe.

This incredible future era is mentioned in Revelation chapter 20 verses 4 through 6. The Bible says:

“Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

“This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them, the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4-6).”

Other stirring passages of Scripture also predict this Golden Age, as some scholars have called it. The book of Daniel foretells:

“But in the end, the holy people of the Most High will be given the kingdom, and they will rule forever and ever” … until the Ancient One — the Most High — came and judged in favor of his holy people. Then the time arrived for the holy people to take over the kingdom … Then the sovereignty, power, and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be given to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will last forever, and all rulers will serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27).

The apostle Paul alluded to this same time, saying:

“Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So, you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life” (I Corinthians 6:2-3).

Recalling Christ’s words in his letter to the fourth church of the seven churches of Revelation, Thyatira, the Scriptures say:

“To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, To them I will give authority over all the nations. They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots. They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star!” (Revelation 2:26-28).

A foundational belief of Christianity is that salvation is a gift of grace from God. It is not earned through good deeds (Ephesians 2:8,9). It comes through faith in Christ and His finished work, not our own. And, while it is true that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone, the Bible also teaches that genuine faith is accompanied by good deeds or a transformed life (James 2:14-26). Believers are to live according to God’s commands, not so that they might be saved but because they are saved — because they love the Savior and are grateful for His mercy.

Christ admonished his followers to obey His teachings (John 14:15). Believers are commanded to grow in their relationship with the Lord, deepen their understanding of God’s Word (2 Peter 3:18), and strive to bring every part of their lives into compliance with God’s will (Colossians 3:17).

The Bible also emphasizes stewardship in life (I Peter 4:10), where God’s people are seen as stewards of the resources and gifts he gives them — the opportunities He gives them to glorify His name and advance His purposes.

In Luke chapter 19 and verses 11 through 26, Jesus told a parable commonly known as the “Parable of the Talents.”

In this parable, Jesus said a nobleman gave ten servants talents (a form of currency) and asked them to invest those talents while he was away to become King. Upon his return, he rewarded those who earned more talents, giving them authority over cities. One servant, however, did nothing, and his talents were taken away from him. The point of the parable is that faithful stewardship for the Lord is generously rewarded, while neglect leads to loss — not the loss of salvation but the loss of reward.

A passage that cross-references what Jesus said about rewards is I Corinthians chapter 3 verses 10 through 15, where the apostle Paul talks about believers’ works being tested by fire on the Day of Judgment. If a person’s works endure, they will receive a reward, but if their works are burned up, they will suffer loss, but still be saved. This passage suggests that while all believers are saved, there can be differences in the rewards they receive based on their earthly actions.

Note that during the millennial reign of Christ, John said that he saw thrones, clearly places of rule on the earth assigned by the Lord Jesus. What did the Lord Jesus reference as a reward for the faithful servants in his parable of the talents? Jesus said:

“The first servant reported, ‘Master, I invested your money and made ten times the original amount!’ ‘Well done!’ the king exclaimed. ‘You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.’ “The next servant reported, ‘Master, I invested your money and made five times the original amount.’ ‘Well done!’ the king said. ‘You will be governor over five cities’” (Luke 19:16-19).

The application of this text may be broad, with some appropriate spiritualizing, but there is no reason it shouldn’t be interpreted literally, too. The bestowed reward entails the privilege of exercising dominion and governance over cities.

While salvation is a central focus of the New Testament, several verses encourage believers to have an eternal perspective. In other words, our actions and choices in the present age have significance in the context of Christ’s future Kingdom. Those who were faithful with what they were given shall be given more responsibility and reward, while those who were unfaithful will have what was given them taken away. There are gradations of reward, gradations of responsibility, and even different levels of honor and status, for those who are loyal to the Master.

It might be said this way:

“We are to prepare now to prevail later.”

“We are to master the present for Christ so that we may rule the future with Him.”

Salvation is by grace alone, but rewards and a privileged position in Christ’s future Kingdom come by works. Some Christians mistakenly think that in the future Kingdom of our Lord everyone will be equal. Every believer will indeed be equally satisfied and equally joyful, but not all will be equal in the recognition of their service.

Who specifically makes up the people who sit upon the thrones of Christ’s Messianic Kingdom? The late evangelist Jack Van Impe, in his book, Revelation Revealed, succinctly answers, saying the ones who rule on the thrones are those who take part in the first resurrection, “which includes the Old Testament saints, Church Age saints, and Tribulation saints.” Van Impe continues:

“The resurrection of the Old Testament believers is described in Daniel 12:1 and 2, and the resurrection of the New Testament saints in I Thessalonians 4:16-18 and I Corinthians 15:15-54 ... [T]he resurrection of the martyred Tribulation saints undoubtedly occurs at the ‘glorious appearing of Christ’ (Titus 2:13) when he returns to earth. Chapter 6 [of Revelation] verses 9 through 11, presented this view. At that point, these martyrs awaited their resurrection but were told to wait ‘yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.’

“Thus, we see that the thrones are occupied by resurrected believers from Adam onward, inclusive of the last Tribulation martyrs. Each has been a participant in the first resurrection. These saints are entitled to sit upon thrones because they are members of a ‘royal priesthood’ (I Peter 2:9). Christ has made them ‘kings and priests’” (chapter 5, verse 10).

Who can fathom such a day!? There has never been anything in history like it. It will mean the world will be governed by Christ at the head, His lieutenants on thrones subject to his authority, and perfect righteousness and justice shall fill every land.

M.R. DeHaan in his commentary on Revelation further explains:

“While he was here on earth the Lord Jesus taught that all men who die will be raised again at some future time. His words are unmistakably clear: ‘All that are in the graves … shall come forth’ [John 5:28-29] … Most Christians have been taught to believe in a ‘general’ resurrection, a resurrection of all men at the end of the world … However, the Bible and the Lord Jesus teach a view entirely different than this. According to Jesus and all New Testament apostles, there will be two distinct resurrections separated by at least a thousand years during which Jesus will reign upon the earth and set up His Millennial Kingdom. The saved of both the Old and New Testament will be raised before this blessed Kingdom Age, whereas the lost of all ages will not be resurrected until after ‘the thousand years are ended.’ …The first resurrection will occur at the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ when he descends upon the clouds of heaven, and all the saints’ bodies which have been sleeping in the grave will be raised and joined to their redeemed souls, which have been in the presence of the Lord, conscious and happy awaiting the time of the resurrection of the body … This first resurrection at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ before the Tribulation [at the Rapture] is called in a word ‘that blessed hope.’ Our hope is not the setting up of a kingdom of peace by man’s efforts, and our comfort when we bid our loved ones farewell is not that they are now in Heaven while their bodies crumble in the dust. We are not comforted by the fact that our loved ones are ‘absent from the body, and … present with the Lord.’ Our comfort is not this, that while their bodies are decaying in the dust they are disembodied spirits, but this is our blessed hope: Jesus Christ is coming again to raise the bodies of our loved ones and unite them with their redeemed spirits. We shall meet them again, not simply as ghosts and spirits, but as human beings with bodies redeemed and glorified. We will meet never to part again, but to enjoy forever and forever the fellowship of our Lord and the fellowship of those who were so dear to us here below…This is the hope of all who have a part in the first resurrection …This glorious and imminent event will be the greatest reunion the world has ever seen and ever known. Not only will we meet him, the One who died for us, but we will be reunited, never to part again, with our loved ones who have died in the faith.”

Wow, as one old country preacher said, “If that don’t light your fire, your wood’s wet!”

According to Revelation chapter 20 verse 4, the martyred Tribulation saints are later resurrected at the end of the Tribulation, the Consummation, when Christ returns as a warrior King on that magnificent white horse to put down all opposition to His Lordship.

Thus, the apostle Paul’s meaning when he says in I Corinthians 15:23 that there is an order to the resurrection of the righteous, “every man in his own order.” The resurrection of the Tribulation saints completes what is considered the “first resurrection” — the resurrection of the redeemed.

Indeed, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power” (v. 6).

What wonderous assurance! The martyrs for Christ only die once physically, but are forever literally brought back to life again in the “first resurrection.”  

Those who reject Christ as Savior die twice, once at their passing, and after the 1,000 year reign of Christ when they are bodily raised to life again to be judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:14).

There is an extraordinary story told many years ago by Dr. E.R. Bull, a Methodist missionary, concerning something remarkable found on the Ryukyu Islands of Japan.

Dr. Bull said a huge grave was discovered on the island of Amakusa, where a marker stated that the heads of 11,111 Christians were buried. The date of the grave was marked 1637 — the year the Japanese government ordered every Christian to be exterminated. Christians were beheaded, and their bodies were buried separately.

The purpose behind this bizarre brutality was the missionaries who brought Christianity to Japan had fervently preached the bodily resurrection of those who place their faith in Christ. The preaching of this Gospel so disturbed the Japanese rulers that they supposed that separating the heads of the Christians from their bodies in burial would make it impossible for them to return from the grave.

But God has ordained that those who genuinely trust in the Savior for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life will most assuredly rise from the grave, having new, whole, immortal, and indestructible bodies to live and reign over the whole world with Christ.

Jesus promised in His Sermon on the Mount, “God blesses those who are humble,(God blesses those who humble themselves before him), for they will inherit the whole earth” (Matthew 5:5).

God’s children, those born again by the Spirit, have not just been given a one-way ticket to Glory, but have been given a two-way ticket, and are coming back with Christ in power and great glory to the earth.

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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