The following is not that of a dogmatic position. It is an invitation to rethink the millennium.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 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. ~ Revelation 20:4-6
Consider that (1) John saw thrones. (2) John saw the souls of martyrs reigning with Christ. (3) John says “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” (4) John does not say “they reigned with Christ on earth a thousand years.”
In Revelation 5, we do read the following:
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. ~ Revelation 5:9-10
The question that we need to ask is who is “we” a reference to in the text above which says, “we shall reign on the earth.”
In Revelation 20, those who reign with Christ are said to be the souls of martyrs, and there is no mention of them being on earth. In Revelation 5 there is no specific reference to martyrs and no time span a thousand years mentioned.
Now consider the preceding verses in Revelation 5
And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. ~ Revelation 5:6-8
Contextually, those who will reign with Christ on earth are either, the 24 elders, or the saints whose prayers are mentioned. It seems that the most reliable interpretation would be the saints.
Consider the words of Jesus from the sermon on the mount: Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. ~ Matthew 5:5
Is Revelation 5:10 and Revelation 20:4-6 referring to the same thing?
Revelation 20 is often interpreted as evidence for a future Messianic Kingdom which is believed to precede the coming new heavens new earth. It is commonly referred to as the millennial reign of Christ, or the millennium. Those who hold to this eschatological view believe that Revelation 20:4-6 refers to a dispensation in time on earth which will last for a literal thousand years, based on the rotation of the earth around the sun.
However there is are some important details that we need to consider.
First, this is the only scriptural reference to a thousand year reign in the entire Bible. Other texts which are are often cited as millennial texts do not mention a thousand years, but have had the thousand years mentioned in Revelation 20 projected onto them by men who hold to this particular eschatology.
Secondly, the emphasis of Revelation 20:4-6 is not that of Christ reigning. Instead, the emphasis is placed on martyrs reigning with Christ, and they reign with Christ as priests. Christ is already reigning throughout the book of the Revelation.
Within eschatological views such as dispensational premillennialism, the central focus of the millennium is not that of martyrs reigning with Christ, and in many instances, the focus isn’t Jesus reigning either. The central focus is often the secular nation of Israel. However, there is no mention of the nation of Israel in Revelation 20:4-6. The focal point is vindication of martyrs who reign with Christ.
In Revelation 6 we have a clue as to who the martyrs reigning with Christ might be.
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. ~ Revelation 6:9-11
In chapter 20, those who are specifically mentioned as reigning with Christ are the souls of martyrs who were reigned as from thrones.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. ~ v. 4
Notice that those reigning with Christ are specifically martyrs, who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God. Is it possible that the martyrs reigning with Christ reigned in Heaven, or must they be on earth to reign with him?
Consider the promise of Jesus to the overcomers:
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. ~ Revelation 3:21
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus promised thrones to his disciples when he would sit on the throne of his glory.
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. ~ Matthew 19:28
Notice that Jesus refers to his being seated in the throne of his glory, is at the time of the regeneration, i.e., the time when men are born again by the Spirit of God. (see Titus 3:5)
According to the New Testament, Jesus is enthroned at the right hand of God. Is it possible that this scripture is fulfilled in the Heaven? The promise of Jesus to overcomers (Revelation 3:21) and the enthroned martyrs reigning with Christ (Revelation 20:4-6), and the disciples (apostles) enthroned and judging the 12 tribes of Israel speaks volumes regarding our union with Christ.
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul taught that believers are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ if we suffer with him.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. ~ Romans 8:16-17
We can see hints of ruling, or reigning with Christ in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
Even when we were dead in sins, (God) hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. ~ Ephesians 2:6-7
Notice that Paul speaks of being “seated with Christ in heavenly places.” This is worth remembering when we consider the “reigning martyrs” who reign with Christ. Remember, the text does not say “they reigned on earth,” but simply, “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
Some Bible translations say, “they came to life” and others say, “they came back to life” and some say, “they lived again.”
Revelation 20:5-6 interprets their living, or coming to life, as the first resurrection.
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 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.
Was this resurrection physical? Is it still in our future? Could it be a reference to Heaven?
The scriptures reveal that there was resurrection of many saints which occurred after the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. ~ Matthew 27:50- 53
Is it possible that this phenomenon mentioned in Matthew was a kind of first-fruits of the coming resurrection of the saints? Is it possible that these saints received their resurrected bodies and are now in Heaven in resurrected bodies? The scriptures are not clear about this, but do speak of resurrection in broader terms than we sometimes think.
In the Bible, resurrection is described as follows:
1. Living in the presence of God after death
2. The new birth
3. The resurrection of the body.
First, in the gospel of Matthew Jesus refers to life after death in the presence of God as “in the resurrection.”
The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him, Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. Now there were with us seven brethren: and the first, when he had married a wife, deceased, and, having no issue, left his wife unto his brother: Likewise the second also, and the third, unto the seventh. And last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine. ~ Matthew 22:23-33
Notice that Jesus speaks of the resurrection in view of living in the presence of God in the after life. This is clearly understood by simply reading the text, as there is no reference here of bodily resurrection which certainly is taught elsewhere in the New Testament.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were physically dead and not yet bodily resurrected at the time of this statement. However, Jesus claims that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, saying, God declared himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who though physically deceased, yet lived!
This truth is supported by Jesus’s reference of Abraham’s bosom in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16). Abraham was alive in the presence of God, though no longer living in this world, for the Lazarus was taken to Abraham’s bosom after he physically died.
Secondly, Paul believed that believers had been raised to new life when they trusted in Jesus. Having already referenced Ephesians 2:6-7, consider the following from the book of Colossians:
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened (made alive) together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses… ~ Colossians 2:9-13
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. ~ Colossians 3:1-4
Paul taught that believers are already partakers of the resurrection life in Christ, even though they had not yet received the resurrection of their bodies. Paul also believed that those who suffered for Christ would also reign with him
If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us… ~ 2 Timothy 2:12
Finally, John (in Revelation 20) specifically mentions that he saw “the souls” of those who reigned with Christ, and are said to be priests of God in verse 6. According to the balance of the New Testament, we do not become priests of God after our bodily resurrection, but when we are given new life in Christ.
John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. ~ Revelation 1:4-6
Kings and priests, could more accurately be translated, “a kingdom of priests.”
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. ~ 1 Peter 2:5
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light… ~ 1 Peter 2:9
Finally, we know from other texts such as 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 that there will be a physical resurrection of all the saints at the coming of the Lord.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live…Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. ~ John 5:24-25; 28-29
We must determine according to the context which resurrection is being refereed to by the Biblical writer (i.e., the new birth, being in the presence of God after physical death, or the resurrection of the body at the coming of the Lord).
John saw the souls and not the bodies of those who had given their lives for Jesus.
Just something to consider in your own studies.