Having overcome the “beast,” Christians reign as a “kingdom of Priests” now and during the “thousand years.”
According to Revelation, believers are a priestly kingdom, present tense. By his death, Jesus has “loosed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” Already, saints that “overcome” qualify to reign with Jesus on his throne, “just as I also overcame and sat down on my Father’s throne.”
In his first vision, John saw Jesus portrayed as the royal “Son of Man.” But he was clothed in the robe of the high priest, and he was standing in the sanctuary where he walked among and attended to the “seven golden lampstands,” which represented the seven churches of Asia.
But not only is Jesus a priestly figure, he also is pictured as the sacrificial lamb who ransomed his people from enslavement to sin and Satan. In the vision of the heavenly throne, by his shed blood, the “Lamb” purchased men from “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and made them for our God a kingdom and priests, and they are reigning on the earth.” Once again, the royal and priestly status of the saints is presented in the present tense.
But it is especially in the vision of the “thousand years” that the priestly reign of the saints is presented in detail. At the beginning of that period, Satan was imprisoned and the victorious saints began their reign.
Rather ironically, during the “thousand years” the “rest of the dead” do not live until the “second death” at the “Great White Throne of Judgment.” The image of the saints reigning at this time is described with language from Daniel’s vision of the “one like a Son of Man” who received the “kingdom” from the “Ancient of Days.”
Daniel saw “thrones” surrounding the “Ancient of Days.” The individuals sitting on them were not identified. However, their identity is revealed in Revelation, namely, the victorious saints. That this is what Jesus promised to the congregation at Laodicea: – “To him that overcomes, I will grant to sit with me in my throne, just as I overcame and sat with my Father on His throne.”
- “I looked, and this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most-High, and the time came, and the saints possessed the kingdom” – (Daniel 7:21-22).
In John’s vision, “judgment was given for” the saints, an allusion to the judgment scene from Daniel. Grammatically, this means either a judicial sentence in their favor or the bestowal of judicial authority on them. Considering the emphasis in the passage on their “reigning,” the latter is the intended sense. Likewise, in the vision from Daniel, judgment was made “for the saints” and resulted in their receiving the “possession of the kingdom” – (Revelation 20:4-6).
And they were “beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and the word of God.” This identifies the group that was reigning on the thrones, the “saints” who were persecuted for their “testimony of Jesus,” the same men and women against whom the “beast from the Abyss,” the “Dragon,” and the “beast from the sea” waged “war” – (Revelation 1:9, 6:9, 11:7, 12:11, 12:17).
This does not mean only martyred saints reign on the “thrones.” This company included saints who had “not rendered homage to the beast.” For many, refusal to give their allegiance to the “beast” resulted in suffering and economic deprivation, if not actual martyrdom. Elsewhere, overcoming “saints” are men who follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” and consequently, they “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 reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Previously, Jesus declared that he was the “first and the last, who was dead and lived” – (kai ezésen). Likewise here, the overcoming saints “lived” for the “thousand years” (ezésan). In addition to this clause, the passage includes other verbal links to the letter to Smyrna with its warning that the congregation would experience “tribulation for ten days”:
- (Revelation 2:8-10) – “These things says the first and the last, who was dead, and lived again… Fear not the things which you are going to suffer. Behold, the Devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life… He that overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”
The “ten days” from the letter to Smyrna becomes the source for the “thousand years.” Numbers in Revelation are figurative, and often doubled and even tripled for effect. Elsewhere, overcoming believers qualify to sit on the throne in the same way that Jesus did, by persevering in tribulations, and martyrdom when called on to give their lives “for their testimony and the word of God” – (Revelation 1:5, 3:21).
The “first resurrection” means that these overcoming saints will not participate in the “second death.” There is no mention of any “second resurrection” or “first death.” Instead, the passage juxtaposes the “first resurrection” with the “second death.” “Saints” who persevere avoid the “second death,” but not necessarily physical death.
So, also, the members of the church at Smyrna who remained faithful “unto death” were not “be hurt by the second death,” which is the “lake of fire.” As for the “rest of the dead,” they will not be condemned to the “lake of fire” until the judgment before the Great White Throne. Thus, they “lived not until the thousand years ended” – (Daniel 1:14, Revelation 2:7-11, 11:15-19, 20:11-15, 21:8).
Overcoming “saints” become the “kingdom of priests.” Previously, that status was presented as a present reality because of the shed blood of the “Lamb,” and if so, their reign as “priest” in the “thousand years” must point to the same reality. And as “priests,” they mediate the “testimony of Jesus” to the nations. Priesthood is what defines their reign, that is, how to implement the rule of the “Lamb” on the earth – (Revelation 1:5-6, 5:9-10).
And the reign of the “saints” is paradoxical; they rule even while persevering through persecution and martyrdom. By means of their faithful “testimony,” they participate with the messianic “son” as he “shepherds” the nations. The “thousand years” portrays the time between the coronation of the “Lamb” and the release of the “Dragon” for his final attempt to destroy the “saints” at the end of the “thousand years” – (Revelation 12:12, 20:7-9).
In the interim, the Devil persecutes the saints. However, he is not yet authorized to deceive the nations and mount his last-ditch effort to annihilate the church worldwide.
For now, overcoming believers “reign with Christ” by persevering in their “testimony of Jesus” – even “unto death” – and in this way, they advance the “kingdom of God” and the sovereignty of the “Lamb” over the nations.