Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 20:4-6

Revelation 20:4-6

Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
(NET Bible)

A rough sketch of the Millennium

It only takes a glance at the face of a child, crushed by finishing second, to know that our culture is cruel for insisting that first place is all that matters. At times there is more discussion going on about how to determine the best college football team than there is to figure out how to feed those going hungry. That is a measure with our obsession to be first.

Fortunately for us, the one time it is essential to be first — taking part in the first resurrection — is within the reach of anyone. It requires giving your life to Jesus. Finishing second is for those who prefer an eternity of suffering. Will you be among the first to rise?

Revelation 20:4 is an enigma, and other parts of the Bible must come to the interpreters rescue. In particular, Jesus has promised that the twelve apostles will judge Israel in the kingdom while sitting on thrones (Luke 22:30). That may partly explain who are those who had been given authority to judge (20:4).

Before you get to thinking that you will spend the Millennium at the French Riviera, consider that Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 6:2a that Christians will also be involved in judging the world. Besides, the Riviera probably falls with Babylon. :)

Consider too that the camp of the saints (20:9) should reasonably include all who take part in the first resurrection. Accordingly, Grant Osborne says, All the saints — those persevering during the OT, NT, church age, and tribulation periods — will be present during this final period of history.[1]

The rule of all the saints with Christ during the Millennium requires that the faithful dead must be resurrected. Revelation 20:5 calls this the first resurrection. It adds that the rest of the dead — who by elimination must be the unbelieving dead — will not rise until the end of the Millennium. Osborne[2] explains that for unbelievers who die, the next conscious thought will be when they face Gods judgment at the great white throne (20:11-15). Craig Keener[3] points out that the resurrection to damnation is so horrible that it is given the name second death (20:6; 20:14) rather than second resurrection. That is a somber thought indeed.

When discussing the honor and blessing due those who take part in the first resurrection, John explains three advantages (20:6): (1) the second death cannot touch them; (2) they will represent God and Christ to the people as priests; and (3) they will rule with Christ for a thousand years. I plan to ask for Bariloche (Argentina) and Mount Hood (Oregon), so, hands off! [Both feature mountains and lakes, and God made them beautiful.]


Of course, the world will offer you many alleged ways to be first, and the Scriptures support the idea that sin may be pleasurable for a time (Heb. 11:25). The problem with that path is that it ends with the second death rather than the first resurrection. That is not acceptable!

When Jesus was executed as a capital criminal, it appeared that he was anything but first. But Paul explains:

As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11)

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 705.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 708.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 467.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.