Few scriptures have sparked more imaginations than Revelation 20. Theories are legion about John’s statement, “And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (vs.4).
With any passage, the burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulders of the one seeking to use it as a prooftext for his beliefs. It’s not enough simply to cite a scripture; one must be able to demonstrate a connection between his point and the verses at hand.
Though fraught with variations, consider the primary tenets modern premillennialists promote: Following the first phase of Christ’s return to earth (the “Rapture”), during which the faithful dead will be raised and the living faithful will be changed, all the saints will meet Jesus in the air and enjoy the marriage feast of the Lamb. After Christ’s marriage to His church, all will complete the descent to earth where Jesus will sit on the literal throne of David in the city of Jerusalem where He will reign for 1000 years. In some versions, the Jews will convert to Christ, a modified version of Old Testament worship will be restored, and a perfect utopian existence on earth will be enjoyed for the duration of Christ’s reign.
Obviously, not all this is based on Revelation 20:4-6. Yet speculators do cite the passage to prove that the saved who’ve been resurrected will be with Jesus in the literal city of Jerusalem, and enjoy 1000 years of peace and bliss. But consider what these verses do not mention: The second-coming of Christ; the bodily resurrection of the saved; Jesus setting one foot on the earth; the city of Jerusalem; the throne of David; the conversion of Jews; the church on earth. As commentator Homer Hailey has wryly noted, “A theory that rests on a passage of scripture in which not one of its peculiar tenets of doctrine is found cannot be true!” Amen.
So then, what does this mysterious scripture mean? Before we can reach any conclusions or make any applications, we must first consider the raw facts stated:
1) Those sitting on thrones were not resurrected bodies; John saw the “souls” of those beheaded for the cause of Christ. Those who reigned were dead physically, but alive spiritually. (2) They lived (spiritually) and reigned with Christ for 1000 years. (3) At the conclusion of that time period, “the rest of the dead” would “live again” in some sense. (4) Those who were living with Christ were part of the “first resurrection” even though they were physically dead. (5) Those who have a part in the first resurrection need not fear the “second death” - whatever that is. (6) Those who partake in the first resurrection will be priests of God and reign with Christ.
Now let’s see if all these facts can be put together logically and scripturally. Revelation 20 describes the state of the faithful dead while life continues on earth. The key to this passage is found in the words of the New Testament. Simply put, those who have become Christians have experienced “the first resurrection,” inasmuch as they have crucified the flesh and been “raised to walk in newness of life” (See Rom. 6:3-7; Col. 2:12-13). Those thus resurrected “reign in life” with Christ (Rom. 5:17). They have been “raised up together” and made to “sit together in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 2:6) - not in a future time, but right now. Their “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). It’s true enough that as citizens with Christ, saints long and pant for a bodily resurrection (Phil. 3:21), but Revelation 20 speaks of disciples not yet raised from the grave.
John’s vision is of the glorified condition of dead saints who, though murdered in the flesh, reign in power and glory with the Lamb. The 1000 years need not be thought to speak of a literal period of time, but of an extended period of unspecified length. (Even many premillennialists concede that point.) However long this time may be, it will continue as long as the Lord sees fit. And during these years, while the faithful enjoy the presence of their Savior “which is far better” (Phil. 1:23), the world will go on as always.
But at the end of this time, those who are spiritually dead - who have never known the “first resurrection” - will be raised to face the Lord at judgment. Their sentence is the “second death,” the “first” having been spiritual death by rejecting the Lord during their lives. This “second death” is identified in Revelation 20:14 as the “lake of fire.”
Then finally in Revelation 20:6 we reach the main point of this prophecy. “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with Him a thousand years.”
Everyone saved through the blood of Christ is a priest of God. As the apostle said in 1 Peter 2:9, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people . . .” The saved in Christ share in His millennial reign right now. God has “delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13). Jesus is not to become our King. He is King today! And Revelation calls on us to put our trust in Him no matter what. He is King of kings and Lord of lords!