April 25, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 19:15 in the audio file.
Series: Just Conquer #55
The study of the end times is not just a study of prophecies but of promises. The result of such study is not just (hopefully) a more detailed accuracy about what is going to happen but a deepened hope in what God is going to cause to happen. He is a God of promises, a God of hope, and He is always faithful to His Word.
From the beginning of our study in the book of Revelation I have maintained that the major “problem” with Revelation, if it really should be called a problem, is that all the things John saw and wrote about have not happened exactly the way that John saw and wrote about. All of the approaches to the Apocalypse wrestle with this fact and propose different ways of handling it.
But this is a larger problem than the descriptions and promises found in the last book of the Bible. There were many promises in the Old Testament that were fulfilled when Christ came, but not all of them. Jesus Himself taught about some things that have not happened yet, and this is a feature not a bug in the Bible. In this dispensation we live by faith not by sight. However much God’s Word provides understanding, the point is that we should believe whatever God says. Learn the lessons He teaches, including the lesson of leaning on Him and not our own understanding. He is faithful.
God has given a lot of revelation about His reign on earth. He is sovereign by nature, cannot be anything but sovereign, and this is more certain than a triangle having three sides. God rules, has ruled, and will rule. Before He ascended Jesus said that all authority had been given to Him by the Father (Matthew 28:18), and He sits at the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 12:2). This God who rules is the God who reveals the His rule will be embodied on earth, and “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). God promised such a kingdom to Abram (Genesis 17:1-8), that would come through Judah (Genesis 49:8-10), as a son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). There would be a King to rule over all the earth from His throne in Jerusalem.
This has not happened yet.
That reality has been variously explained, and there are two broad categories of explanation. It is happening, but in a spiritual sense, or it will happen more than in this spiritual sense.
If we are going to give ourselves to serve this God, if we are going to follow the commands of Christ, if we are not going to be ashamed of Him and His words, if we are going to refuse compromise with the world, if we are going to suffer as those who believe in Him without seeing Him, we ought to give full attention to what He says about what He’s going to do. It is not an overstatement to call His promises an issue of life or death.
Last Lord’s Day we considered John’s vision about the binding of the devil for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1-3). While it is supernatural, it is not fanciful or fictional. The purpose and duration of Satan’s time in the pit relates to this next paragraph (20:4-6) which views the thousand years without the devil’s deceiving work among the nations.
There are significant interpretive questions about these three verses. There is significant disagreement, with downstream implications, about the interpretation of these verses. Let’s reread them and see what promises there are to be celebrated.
> Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also, I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6)
Three times the phrase for a thousand years qualifies the duration. It was used twice in the previous paragraph for the binding-time of Satan, it will be used once more in verse 7 as a summary marker, “when the thousand years are ended.” As I said last week, this is the Millennium (from the Latin word mille meaning “thousand”). The reason why we refer to the Millennial Kingdom is because two of the three uses of for a thousand years in verses 4-6 speak about reigning with Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed King. This is a period of Christ’s reign, and of some group with Him.
It is tempting to leave the paragraph and bring in other theological categories, or even other Scripture passages, both of which are worthwhile in their place, but neither of which are required just yet. Let’s look at the text in front of us first.
Along with the reigning Christ, who else do we meet here? An angel and Satan, as affecting the nations, were the main characters in the previous section. Here John sees 1) those seated on thrones, 2) those who share the first resurrection, and 3) those who are resurrected but not in the first resurrection. Both of the first two groups have authority to judge and reign with Christ and cannot be affected by the second death, the last group is resurrected for sake of the second death.
Two related questions arise. What type of resurrections are these? And where is the judging and reigning (by the resurrected) taking place?
We can work from what we know. The second death is eternal death, which means that the first death, not explicitly referenced here, but by implication, is physical death. Anyone whose name is not found in the book of life experiences the second death (20:15), but before that, the (physically) dead are “raised” and brought before the “great white throne” (20:11). This raising is what verse 5 describes: the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. So everyone is raised physically, those who are part of the group called the rest are raised to face the second death.
What is the first resurrection? The ones who experience the first resurrection were souls who came to life. They are those who cannot be affected by the second death, and they come to life at a different time than the rest who are affected by the second death. They are also the ones who reign with Christ for a thousand years.
Every clue in the passage itself points to a physical resurrection and therefore a physical reign.
This is the promise for those who would not submit themselves to the beast while living on earth. This is the promise for those who actually were willing to give up their physical lives. The promise is not simply that their faithfulness on earth, which caused them their life on earth to end, would result in their reward of reigning with Christ in heaven. This is not merely a spiritualized reward.
It is a common interpretation to say that the first resurrection refers to Christian regeneration, that is, to spiritual resurrection (Augustine seems to have been the first to promote this view). As we’ll see in a moment, what that allows is for a spiritual reigning as well as making the thousand years a symbolic reference.
But not only does this make the vision about two different kinds of resurrections, the first spiritual and the second physical, it makes the promise for living without compromise a promise of salvation. Yet it is those who are saved, as in, already spiritually resurrected in Christ, who resist the beast. The first resurrection occurs after the beheadings/martyrdom, so if the first resurrection is spiritual, then the martyrdom results in spiritual life. In other words, they died for Christ before becoming spiritually alive. That misses the entire point of this promise.
When the souls…came to life, these are already spiritually saved souls who get their new physical bodies. Which also means that when they came to life and reigned with Christ, this reigning must be more than spiritual as well. If the thousand years is happening now, between Christ’s comings (as Douglas Wilson and many others maintain) then the reigning must be spiritual. That perspective creates more problems.
John saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. We are not told the explicit identity of the ones sitting on these thrones, but the movement of this part of the end times points to their authority being on earth (contra Wilson). Christ defeated His enemies on earth (19:17-21), Satan is bound away from the earth (21:1-3), so why would the thousand years of reigning, as opposed to the reign of the beast, not also be on earth? Whereas John had previously seen elders sitting on thrones in heaven (4:4), these thrones represent authority on earth.
Because the ones on the thrones are distinguished from the ones who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus…who had not worshipped the beast or its image, we have reason to think that the ones with authority are the same group as those who were in the army of the Rider on the white horse (19:14). Based on promises given earlier in the book of Revelation, these are the saints who lived and died before the tribulation, and the beheaded were those who lived and died during the tribulation.
> The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)
It is not only the martyrs, both groups are blessed. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection. They receive their resurrected bodies and are certain not to succumb to the power of the second death, and they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
Such a reign of Christ on earth with His resurrected saints fulfills prophecy after prophecy (see for example Exodus 19:6,; Isaiah 61:6; Zechariah 14:9), beginning in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament. While it has always been true that God is King over all the earth, God established a covenant with David that David’s son would sit on a throne in Jerusalem and rule the nations (2 Samuel 7:16). So many Psalms anticipate not just the recognition of the Anointed one’s spiritual worth and spiritual authority, but of the Anointed one’s coming and defeat of enemies and blessing of His people.
> Rise up, O judge of the earth. Understand O stupid people! (Psalm 94:2, 8)
But not everyone agrees with this.
> The mention of the saints’ resurrection in 20:4–5 probably is a reference to their share in Christ’s own resurrection, which gives them power to rule spiritually over the devil. (Beale)
> Having entered into glory, they continued to live on, and they participated in the reign of Christ over all the nations of men. (Wilson)
> Rushdoony takes the view of many amillennialists that the first resurrection is a figurative way of referring to the regeneration of the believer, whereas Benjamin B. Warfield held the view, also found among some amillennialists, that the first resurrection is the entrance into heavenly joys and that these verses present a picture of the souls of the redeemed safe in heaven. (4 Views)
Such interpretations just don’t fit.
I cannot comprehend what Abraham Kuyper thinks would be so boring about such a future kingdom. Due to what’s seen in verses 7-10, when Satan is released for a short time and we find that some are on earth who are still capable of being deceived into rejecting the good reign of King Jesus, there is plenty of plot to work with. If we’re going to play that game, how many Christians have been bored thinking about their eternal rest, strumming harps on the sidewalks next to streets of gold? It’s possible to make anything “uninteresting” if we try, but God’s plan, and the fulfillment of His promises down to the jot and tittle, is definitely not going to upset us.
We are not in this kingdom, we are before it, and Christ will come before it, which is what it means to be a Premillennialist. The judging and reigning is not ecclesiastical or spiritual but civil and historical, just as the war was at the end of chapter 19 was on earth, and even as the dragon could no longer deceive the nations.
I plan to preach a part two of this paragraph next week, with a brief breakdown of the attempts to square it with eschatology perspectives. I mean, I haven’t even shown one chart yet.
We are still praying as the Lord taught us, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And God has promised: The LORD will come and all the holy ones with Him (Zechariah 14:5),
> And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one. (Zechariah 14:9)
We make promises because God makes promises. We keep promises because God keeps promises. We imitate Him by giving our word and we imitate Him by following through on our word. But this is not only parallel behavior, as in a mirror. His faithfulness doesn’t just show us how, His faithfulness blesses our how. His promises don’t just give us ideas, His promises and His faithfulness and His joy make us strong.
> Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23–25, ESV)