Bible Lessons on the Book of Revelation: The Doom of the Dragon – Victory Through Christ, Lesson XX – Part 2

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these 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

Read More Than Conquerors, pp. 229–232


Elisabeth Elliott in Through Gates of Splendor relates how the families of the five missionary-martyrs were comforted when they reflected on the promise, “Whosoever shall  lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” They knew that their dear ones were “with Christ” in glory.

Thus also in the days of John, the apostle, the dear ones left behind by the martyrs must often have thought about the condition of “the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God.” In the vision which John beholds the departed ones are clearly pictured as being in heaven, that is, in the place where the thrones are (“And I saw thrones and they sat upon them”) and where Jesus lives (“And they lived and reigned with Christ”).


A recent commentator is of the opinion that the thousand years refer to eternity. Objection: how then could John write, “And when the thousand years are finished”? Will eternity ever be finished? Clearly, the thousand-year period of reigning with Jesus is limited in time. At Christ’s glorious second coming it will end.

Nevertheless, we need not completely reject the view which I have just criticized. It remains true that the glories which the soul enjoys during the period of limited duration called the thousand years are, in turn, typical of the even greater glories in which the redeemed as to both soul and body will everlastingly participate in the new heaven and earth. More about this in our next Lesson.


Only those who have accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord, not “the rest.” And even these only as to their souls. John saw souls, not bodies. The distinction between soul and body is even emphasized: “the souls of them that had been beheaded.” Language could not be clearer. Every effort to make John refer to people who in body are living on earth must fail. Why not take God at his word?


It is a living in the closest possible communion with Christ, and a reigning or sharing royal glory with him. It is a judging with him (in the sense of Revelation 15:3,4; 19:2). It is the first resurrection. This resurrection has two phases. The first occurs when a sinner is brought from darkness to light, both initially and progressively. The next, when the soul is translated from earth to heaven and enjoys the glories of the heavenly state. Here, in verses 4b and 6, the reference is especially to this latter phase. Please note that in neither of its phases does the first resurrection have anything at all to do with the body. It pertains only to the soul, exactly as the text says. In that soul there rings a melody of love in response to God’s love. That soul loves, honors, worships Christ. In heaven it has fellowship with the rest of the redeemed. Together they glorify the Triune God in the Redeemer. They have received their beautiful mansions and their degrees of glory. Tasks, both individual and collective, have been assigned to them. They never experience pain or sorrow or disappointment any more. They never sin any more. Death, of course, is completely absent. Here they live and reign. Here they worship and adore!


“The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished.” When the thousand years are finish ed, then these wicked people will experience a change. This is clearly implied in the word “until.” The change, however, is not for better but for worse. As is clearly implied in the context here, and stated in verses 14 and 15, those who hitherto have been punished only as to their souls will then, at Christ’s second coming, be plunged soul and body into “the second death,” that is, into “the lake of fire,” hell as a place of punishment for both soul and body. That this was clearly in the mind of the inspired author follows from the clear statement in this very context, “Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power.” What would be the sense in writing, “Over these (redeemed souls) the second death has no power” unless it be implied, “But over the others it does have power, that is, they will he delivered up to the second death as soon as the thousand years are finished”?



1. Does the reign of the souls in glory pertain only to martyrs?

2. Is the main purpose of Scripture to instruct or is it to comfort?

3. Should children be encouraged to read missionary stories that turn out to be martyr-stories?

4. Do the souls in heaven have contact with those on earth?

5. Summarize Scripture’s teaching regarding the intermediate state.

6. In what other Scripture-passages is the new life called a resurrection?

7. In verse 6 what is meant by the implied second resurrection? By the implied first death?