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"Reigning with Jesus"   

Revelation 20:4-6
Theme: Those who faithfully suffer for Jesus now will reign with Him in the future.

(Delivered at Bethany Bible Church on Sunday, August 13, 2000.  All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)


Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses, and all the king's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

We're all familiar with that nursery rhyme.  But did you know that it has actually been the subject of some serious philosophic debate?  Some believe that this rhyme was meant to be a parable of political philosophy -- one that teaches the principle that, try as they may, the leaders of this world can't restore a kingdom to a place of former prominence once that kingdom falls from power.

For example, one interpretation of the nursery rhyme is that it's a reference to the Roman Empire.  Throughout the centuries since its "great fall", many kings and leaders have sought to revive this great world empire and restore it to its former glory.  But in spite of all their efforts, no ruler or nation has ever been successful in "putting it back together again".

Another interpretation of the rhyme is that "Humpty Dumpty" is a derisive reference to King Richard III, the hunch-backed king.  ("Humpty Dumpty" was a slang phrase, in those days, for a short, clumsy person.) During the Battle of Bosworth Field, as the theory has it, King Richard was riding on the stallion he had named "Wall" when he suffered an injurious fall from his horse.  This "great fall" couldn't have happened at a worse time; because immediately, Richard was surrounded by enemy troops and was hacked into pieces.  Hence the final part of the rhyme takes on a grisly meaning: "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again!"

Another, rather sobering interpretation is that the nursery rhyme is a subtile reference to King Charles I -- the English king who, in the 17th century, had the infamous distinction of being beheaded by Parliament. His son was later placed on the throne by those who were faithful to the monarchy; but thing just weren't the same anymore.

This is all very interesting; but of course, in the end, it might be that the nursery rhyme isn't anything more than just that -- a nursery rhyme.  It's fun to speculate about, anyway.  Nevertheless, the principle certainly seems to hold true: the great kingdoms of men, once fallen, cannot be put back together again.  Even the greatest kingdoms of mankind are, at best, temporal and very frail.  Try as men may, they can't turn back the clock and restore a fallen kingdom to its former glory.

There is one future kingdom, however, that will prove to be somewhat like the Humpty Dumpty story -- only set in reverse.  In this case, all the kings horses and all the kings men will, one day, collect together to smash this future kingdom off its "wall" of prominence and break it irreparably into pieces.  And yet, the collected kings and mighty men of this world will utterly fail in their attempt to do so.

The Bible tells us that one day, Jesus Christ will return bodily to the earth in power and great glory -- riding on a white horse, and followed by the armies of heaven -- to assume His rightful place on it as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:11-16).  And yet, the Bible also tells us that the devil will inspire his hand-picked world-ruler -- the Antichrist, along with his false prophet -- into deceiving the whole world, and conspiring the armies of the nations together to overthrow King Jesus before His earthly rule can begin.  In Revelation 19:17-21, the apostle John tells us;

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, "Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great."  And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.  These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.  And all the birds were filled with their flesh (Rev. 19:17-21).

What a grotesque scene!  This time, there's a new twist to the 'Humpty Dumpty' script: it's all the kings of the world, and all their horses, that can't be put back together again! Following this, John tells us;

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.  But after these things he must be released for a little while (Rev. 20:1-3).

And that's when we read of the great kingdom that Jesus Christ Himself will put together -- a kingdom that the kings and mighty men of the ungodly system of this world will seek to make "fall", but that will nevertheless remain standing for a thousand years; a kingdom that no one will ever be able to break apart.  John writes;

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them.  Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.  And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.

This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6).

* * * * * * * * * *

Yesterday, I was leaving a restaurant after enjoying breakfast with another brother; and we had our Bibles tucked under our arms.  (If you want to be encouraged by how many brothers and sisters you have in Christ, by the way, I recommend that you go out to a restaurant on Saturday morning with your Bible.  You'll be encouraged to see lots of folks doing the same thing.  I always enjoy it when someone I don't know greets me by smiling and pointing to his or her Bible.)  As my friend and I were walking out of the restaurant, I walked past one man standing in line who tapped my Bible and said, "Good book! I especially like the ending!"  I said, "I do too! We win in the end!"

That's what is so great about the passage before us this morning! It's a declaration that Jesus wins in the end; and that we who love Him and follow Him will gloriously win with Him!

When you think about it, this passage is remarkable, in part, because of what it doesn't tell us.  The Bible tells us much in other places about what Jesus' earthly reign will be like when He comes back.  We can read many prophecies about it -- particularly in the Old Testament. But these three precious verses constitute the only clear description we have in the entire Book of Revelation of the greatest Kingdom earth will ever see.  Even thought it may not tell us all that we'd like to know about that future period of time, it does tell us what God wants us to know about it.  He tells us the things He tells us in it in order to encourage us that those who share faithfully in His sufferings with Him will also reign with Him in glory.

This vision of the future reign of Jesus is revealed to the apostle John immediately after a long description of the future suffering of God's people.  This period of suffering, often called the Great Tribulation, is described as a future event -- unprecedented in its intensity.  John described something of their suffering in Chapter 13.  He writes about how the devil's world-ruler -- described as "the beast" -- would, for a short period of time, be granted the ability "to make war with the saints and to overcome them" (13:7).  We're told that this "beast" will appear to suffer a fatal wound of some kind; but that the devil will deceive the world by making it appear as if this world-ruler had been raised from the dead. John says that "All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (v. 8).  John says;

Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.  And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.  He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.  He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Rev. 13:11-17).

Many who will follow Jesus Christ, and who will refuse to worship the beast and his image and take his mark on their hands or forehead, will be murdered.  John tells us of their outcry in heaven: "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"  And John says;

Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren,who would be killed as they were, was completed (Rev. 6:11).

Believers will suffer terribly under the devil's greatest effort to establish his own kingdom on the earth.  But on the other side of their suffering is the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  The persecution is terrible; but they win in the end!  They suffer for Jesus for a while; but afterwards, they reign gloriously with Him for a thousand years!

* * * * * * * * * *

Right now -- even as we speak -- the subjects of Jesus' glorious future kingdom suffer in this world because of their love for and devotion to Him.  They must go against the grain of this world.  They have to say no to the things this world demands they say yes too; and they have to say yes to values and commitments that the world demands they say no to.  Jesus' followers are the targets of this world's ridicule, and abuse, and hostility.  And in some places in the world, the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ is almost indescribable.

And yet, Jesus told us, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  That's a promise that, in Him, we will win in the end.

Do you ever feel the pain of that suffering?  Do you feel as if your faith in Jesus Christ cost you too dearly?  Do you feel the rejection of old friends and relatives because you've decided to follow Jesus?  Do you ever find yourself wondering whether or not it's all worth it?

We should be encouraged by this passage that it's wonderfully "worth it" to remain faithful, and keep on to the very end -- no matter what the cost.  In the end, Jesus will be victorious.  We really do 'win in the end'!  This passage describes for us the saints' enjoyment of that glorious victory with King Jesus.  Look at verses 4-6, and at how those who suffer for Jesus now can be assured of reigning with Him in the future. 

1.  He will establish His authority on earth.

John says, "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them."  As the NIV translates it, "I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge" (20:4).

Here, we read that, when Jesus returns and the devil has been bound, "thrones" -- that is, seats of authority -- are established on the earth.  And apparently, "judgment" -- that is, authority to judge -- is awarded to some, and they are seated on those thrones.  The question is, who is the "they" who sit on those thrones?

We're not told for certain; but I'd like to suggest that the "they" are the very same one's who cried out from beneath the altar of heaven, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (6:10), who were given white robes and told to rest a while longer until the full number of their brethren were killed as they had been.

I believe they're the very same ones who are described later in Revelation 7; where John says,

... I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (7:9-10).

John was told who these who celebrate before the throne were:

"These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and       made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.  And He who sits on the throne will dwellamong them.  They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; nor the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (7:14-17).

I suggest that these are the very same ones who are described as accompanying Jesus when He returns to the earth; "And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses" (19:14).

When Jesus establishes His authority upon the earth, He will set up thrones in the very place where the devil sought to establish his own earthly kingdom.  And I believe this passage is telling us that King Jesus will place on those thrones the very ones the Antichrist slew for not worshiping his own image. 

2.  He will resurrect His faithful co-regents.

How will these who were killed live again to reign with Jesus? John tells us; "Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.  And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (20:4).

Why are they referred to as "souls"?  It's because that's how the Bible referred to them before they are resurrected and joined again to their bodies.  In Revelation 6:9, they're referred to as "the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held".

These were put to death because of their faithfulness to their testimony to the Gospel of Jesus and to the word of God.  Their commitment meant that they wouldn't bow down to the Antichrist or worship his image; and that they wouldn't take his mark on their foreheads or hands.  For those commitments, they were put to death.  Apparently, we're even told how most of them were put to death.  The Greek word that's used to describe the method of their execution is one that means, "to strike or cut with an ax."

But we're also told that they who were killed for their faith were made to live again.  As Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26).

* * * * * * * * * *

John seems to depart from his description of the resurrection of these tribulation saints for a moment to answer a question.  He's told us what happens to those who died for their faith during the time of the tribulation; but what happens to the rest of the dead?  Look at what it says in verses 5-6.  The apostle writes,

But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.  This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years (Rev. 20:5-6).

This passage teaches us that there are two resurrections: the first at the beginning of the thousand year reign of Jesus on earth, and the second when that thousand year reign is completed.  Only one of those resurrections -- the first one -- is described as a blessing to be a part of.

Why is the first resurrection the blessed one?  It's because this passage also tells us that there are two deaths.  The first one is the physical death experienced by the saints -- particularly, in this case, the saints who gave their lives for Christ in martyrdom.  It's the same physical death that we will all experience -- expect, of course, those who are alive at the time of Jesus' appearing (1 Thess. 4:15-17).  There is a second death, however; and the Bible describes it as much more dreadful than the first.  It's the eternal judgment of separation from our Creator forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).  The Bible tells us that those who are blessed to be part of the first resurrection have no reason to fear the second death.

How does someone "have part" in the first resurrection, and thereby avoid the dreadful judgment of the second death?  Jesus taught that the way to have eternal life is through faith in Himself.  He said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24).

Jesus also taught that there were two resurrections.  He spoke of Himself as the Son of Man, saying,

... The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice, and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation (John 5:28-29).

The first resurrection Jesus spoke of is a resurrection unto eternal life.  The second is a resurrection unto condemnation and judgment. Each of us will experience one of these resurrections -- either one or the other.

And this is a good time to stop and ask the all-important question: Which resurrection will you have a part in?  The first or the second?  Have you placed your faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross?  Have you trusted Him as your Savior from sin?  Have you "heard His words", and "believed on the One who sent Him"?  If so, you have no need to fear the second death.  You will have part in the first resurrection; and the second death will have no power over you.

If you haven't placed your trust in Jesus, now is the time to do so.

3.  He will reign with them for a thousand years.

Not only does Jesus raise these tribulation saints from the dead, but He also raises them to rule with Him!  John says, in verse 4, that "they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years."  It says the same thing in verse 6; that they "shall reign with Him a thousand years."

I take those words literally.  You may know, however, that there are many honest, Bible-believing brothers and sisters in Christ who do not. They interpret this "thousand year" period symbolically.  They would say that the "resurrection" is a literary symbol of the beginning of the Christian church, starting with the preaching of the apostles; and that the "thousand years" is a symbol of the undefined period of time that the Church is active upon the earth.  They would say that there will be no literal, bodily reign of Jesus on earth for a thousand years.  Instead, they say that the age we're living in right now is what the "thousand years" is meant to represent.

Others have taken the "thousand years" to refer to a period of time on earth when the Church will, as it were, "come to life" in a powerful way.  It will grow stronger and more holy, and will eventually have such an impact upon the earth that, after a long, undefined period of time (symbolically referred to as a 'thousand years'), the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will have been brought about upon the earth.  In this interpretation, its only after the Kingdom of Jesus has been established on the earth that Jesus will finally return and assume His rightful place as its King.

Those who have held to these views do so because they find it unreasonable to take what this passage says literally.  To be sure, there's much in the Book of Revelation that's obviously meant to be understood symbolically.  But personally, I see no good reason why we shouldn't take this passage as referring to a literal thousand years.  Consider that John himself seems to treat it as if it were a literal thousand year period.  He tells us that the devil is bound for a thousand years (20:2); that he is kept bound until the thousand years were finished (v. 3); that after this resurrection, "the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (v. 5); that the saints will reign with Jesus for a thousand years (v. 6); and that, "when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison" (v. 7).  John also tells us that, when it's all over, Satan is cast into the lake of fire -- not for a thousand years, but to "be tormented day and night forever and ever" (v. 10).  It just makes sense to treat these words as literal.  All the other elements of this passage make sense when we do so.  And as one of the fundamental rules of Bible interpretation states, "if the plain sense makes good sense, then seek no other sense."

What will that thousand year period be like, as Jesus reigns on earth with His resurrected saints?  The Bible gives us many 'previews of coming attractions'.  We're told that it will be a remarkable time of peace in God's created order.  Isaiah 11 says that, during that time,

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all. My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9).

Not only will there be peace between creatures, but there will also be peace between nations -- as Jesus Christ Himself rules the world from the city of Jerusalem.  The Old Testament prophet Micah writes;

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it.  Many nations shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths."  For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshears, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Micah 4:1-3).

And it may well be that people will live on the earth as long as they lived before the flood of Noah.  Isaiah describes a future time when,

No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.  They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree, so shall be the days of My people, and My elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.  They shall not labor in vain, nor bring forth children for trouble; for they shall be the descendants of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them (Isaiah 65:20-23).

Let yourself imagine for a moment a world where the devil is bound for a thousand years and rendered incapable of afflicting evil on mankind. Imagine a world where Jesus Christ reigns bodily as the King of all the nations of the earth, along with His resurrected saints.  Imagine a world where there's no longer any war or conflict between people groups; where the world is like the Garden of Eden spread around the globe; where technology and scientific research is permitted to advance unhindered for centuries through people who conduct their work in the reverence of the Creator, and for the genuine good of all.  We may not understand all of what the Bible tells us about Jesus' future reign; but God tells us enough to thrill our hearts, doesn't He?

And notice how this 'reign' of the saints is characterized.  Their reign is given a particular dignity.  John says, "they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (v. 6). Their reign is a reign of ministry to Jesus to His Father.

It's the highest of all privileges to serve Jesus; and the reign of the saints on earth will be characterized by this highest of all privileges.  Even throughout eternity, that will remain the highest privilege; because we're told that in the New Jerusalem, "There shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.  They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.  There shall be no night there: they need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light.  And they shall reign forever and ever" (Rev. 22:3-5).  To serve Jesus perfectly -- that's what it means to 'reign'!  And to serve Him forever -- that's what it means to 'reign forever'!


Dear brothers and sisters; the devil has fought against this future Kingdom reign of Jesus from the beginning.  He fights against it even today.  But in spite of all his horses and all his men, he will never be able to prevent the reign of Jesus Christ from becoming established on  the earth.

Let's never lose hope when we suffer for the name of Jesus Christ. Let's remember the lesson of this passage for us.  It's the principle that Paul expressed when he said, "... If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.  If we endure, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:11-12). Let's willingly suffer for King Jesus now; knowing that we will certainly reign with Him in the future!

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