And I saw thrones, and they sat on them
Previously, it was the twenty-four elders who were seen sitting on thrones (Rev. Rev. 4:4+). Here, the throne-sitters are resurrected men which supports our conclusion that the twenty-four elders are not angels, but resurrected men who also sit on thrones. See commentary on Revelation 4:4.
Now the only Company of Believers that we see sitting on Thrones are the Four and Twenty Elders of Revelation Rev. 4:4-5+. These as we have seen stand for the Church, and were resurrected or caught out before The Tribulation, and are the Harvest of which Christ and those who rose at the time of His Resurrection were the First Fruits.1Surely the sitters on these thrones are those to whom this implied judicio-regal authority is everywhere promised.2 They are the overcomers who obtained the promises Jesus gave to the church at Thyatira and Laodicea: And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nationsHe shall rule them with a rod of iron: they shall be dashed to pieces like the potters vessels (Rev. Rev. 2:26-27+), To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne (Rev. Rev. 3:21+). See commentary on Revelation 2:26 and Revelation 3:21. See Millennial Reign of the Saints.
Here we begin to see what God has gained out of the whole trail of earth history. Man, made a little lower than the angels, is raised through the redemptive death of the Lord who also was willing to be made lower than the angels (Heb. Heb. 2:7, Heb. 2:9), to a higher position. In salvation we are not lifted back to the level from which Adam fell, but higher. We are not lifted to the level of the angels, but higher. We are lifted above all the principalities and powers to the very throne of Heaven.3and judgment was given to them
These seated on thrones are from two major resurrection events, both of which are part of the category known as the first resurrection:
Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded
Souls is ψυχὰς [psychas] . Rev. 6:9+), but here clearly resurrected, for they live and reign with Christ a thousand years. Thus, this is the figure of speech Metonymy of the Cause, whereby soul is put for the person. . . . The use of soul here provides no basis for asserting a spiritual, as opposed to a literal, reign or resurrection.5 It is also possible that John first describes them as souls because as he watches in the vision they come to life (are joined with their resurrected bodies).
Who had been beheaded is πεπελεκισμένων [pepelekismenōn] , perfect tense: the ones having been beheaded with an axe.6 They were martyred and are now identified as having been faithful unto death (Rev. Rev. 2:10+). At the opening of the fifth seal, John saw those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held (Rev. Rev. 6:9+). Elsewhere, John was shown a great multitude who came out of the Great Tribulation, most of whom were probably martyrs (Rev. Rev. 7:13-14+).
The guillotine in revolutionary France was a revival of the mode of capital punishment of pagan imperial Rome. Paul was beheaded [as was John the Baptist, Mtt. Mat. 14:8; Mark Mark 6:24-15], and no doubt shall share the first resurrection, in accordance with his prayer that he might attain unto the resurrection from out of the rest of the dead (Greek, exanastasis). The above facts may account for the specification of this particular kind of punishment.7for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God
who had not worshiped the beast or his image
Who had not worshiped is και οἵτινες οὐ προσεκύνησαν [kai hoitines ou prosekynēsan] : and all the ones who not worshiped. The Beast arose from the sea, having recovered from a deadly wound to the acclaim and worship of the world (Rev. Rev. 13:4+). The earth dwellers, under the urging of the False Prophet, constructed an image of the Beast which was worshiped under penalty of death (Rev. Rev. 13:14-16+). These, having faith and being protected from deception by the power of the Holy Spirit, had not been swayed by the great deception of their age. They had rejected worship of both the Beast and His image. As a result, they suffered martyrdom. In their physical death, having held true to their testimony (Rev. Rev. 12:11+), they had escaped eternal torment (Rev. Rev. 14:9-11+) which is the second death (Rev. Rev. 2:11+; Rev. 20:6+). Prior to the bowl judgments, John saw those from among them who had already died, who had victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb (Rev. Rev. 15:2-4+).
The grammar of the Greek provides the possibility that a third group is described beyond those sitting on thrones and those who had been beheaded:8
John describes three groups of resurrected believers (they came to life) in Rev. Rev. 20:4+. First, the thrones represent believers of the pre-tribulation era (as the twenty-four elders sat on their thrones before the tribulation beganRev. Rev. 4:4+); second, the souls of those who will be martyred in the first half of the tribulation; and third, those who will refuse to worship the Beast in the second half of the tribulation.9The three groups are not mutually exclusive, for the second two are probably a subset from among the first:
That martyrs and the faithful ones under the Beast are not different parties from the sitters on the thrones, but special classes specifically included. A somewhat parallel presentation occurs in Revelation Rev. 1:7+, where it is said of the Saviour at his great Epiphany, that every eye shall see him, and they which pierced him. The meaning is not that they which pierced him for a separate class apart from every eye, but that even those who slew Christ shall be among those denoted by every eye, and that they too shall look upon him.10In any case, these cannot include the living saints who survive the Tribulation until the Second Coming of Christ and enter the Millennial Kingdom in their natural bodies, because these have previously died and are resurrected.
and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands
Their hands is τήν χεῖρα αὐτῶν [tēn cheira autōn] : the hand [singular] of them. Hands is plural in the same sense as foreheads, many people with one [right] hand each that could have received the mark.11 Their refusal of the mark of the Beast meant they could neither buy nor sell (Rev. Rev. 13:17+). Their only means of survival was by supernatural assistance, living off the land, or through the black market. Thus, they demonstrated their faith by their works and lived under extreme duress in order to remain true to their faith in God.
they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years
They lived is ἔζησαν [ezēsan] , used of dead persons who return to life, become alive again.12 It is an ingressive aorist: they came to life and began to live.13 The same word is used by Christ to describe His own resurrection: These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life (ἔζησεν [ezēsen] ) (Rev. Rev. 2:8+). It describes the revival of the Beast from physical death: And he [the False Prophet] 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 to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived (ἔζησεν [ezēsen] ) (Rev. Rev. 13:14+).
The reason they come to life is because Christ overcame death (Rev. Rev. 1:18+; Rev. 2:8+). For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will (John John 5:21). A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also (John John 14:19). This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him (2Ti. 2Ti. 2:11). Through identification by faith in Jesus Christ, they obtained resurrection to life. In one of the most significant scenes in the gospels, Jesus makes a dramatic claim:
Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again. Martha said to Him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (John John 11:23-25) [emphasis added]Their persecutors, the Beast worshipers, had saved their own physical lives for a time, but ultimately lost eternal life: He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it (Mtt. Mat. 10:39). This is a resurrection to receive a glorified body never to die again. It differs from those who were raised from the dead, but then died again (1K. 1K. 17:22; Luke Luke 7:15; Luke 8:54; John John 11:43-44):
Jesus answered and said to them, The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. (Luke Luke 20:34-36)
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1Cor. 1Cor. 15:50-53)Those who claim we are already in the time which John describes must find a different way of understanding this verse because the physical resurrection of the believing dead has obviously not yet transpired. The most frequent way to explain away the future force of the passage and move it into the past is to explain this resurrection as being a spiritual regeneration by which people come to faithhaving previously been spiritually dead.
From at least the time of Augustine, the first resurrection was understood as a regeneration of the soul and the second resurrection as the general physical, bodily resurrection of the just and unjust (City of God 20.9-10). It must, however, be insisted that it is quite weak exegesis to make the first resurrection spiritual and the second one physical, unless the text itself clearly indicates this change, which it does not.14But this cannot be a spiritual resurrection because these are said to have previously died because of their faith! The very faith which the amillennialist now claims is attained at their resurrection:
It seems absurd to press this passage into a spiritual or moral conversion in the face of the beheading which was endured for the Word, since it is virtually affirming that the sinner, previous to his conversion, suffers death because of his witnessing for Jesus; that the unregenerated man endures a beheading for his unswerving devotion to the truth; and then, after such an exhibition of love, he is resurrected, i.e., converted, etc. . . . The persons who have part in this resurrection are such as were converted to the truth before this death.15This is the future physical resurrection of the just which the early Church Father Irenaeus described:
For, behold, says Isaiah, the day of the Lord cometh past remedy, full of fury and wrath, to lay waste the city of the earth, and to root sinners out of it. And again he says, Let him be taken away, that he behold not the glory of God. And when these things are done, he says, God will remove men far away, and those that are left shall multiply in the earth. And they shall build houses, and shall inhabit them themselves: and plant vineyards, and eat of them themselves. For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings; and [with respect to] those whom the Lord shall find in the flesh, awaiting Him from heaven, and who have suffered tribulation, as well as escaped the hands of the Wicked one.16Their coming to life and reigning with Christ is a future event which is the fulfillment of the prayers of the saints throughout history that God would bring His kingdom to earth (Mtt. Mat. 6:10). See The Arrival of Gods Kingdom. This is the beginning of the literal kingdom on earth which smashes all other earthly kingdoms and fills the globe. See Nebuchadnezzars Dream and Daniels Vision. See Millennial Kingdom. Both Jesus and the saints rule in the kingdom. See Millennial Reign of Messiah. See Millennial Reign of the Saints.
At the sounding of the seventh trumpet, it was announced that He shall reign forever and ever (Rev. Rev. 11:15+). The reign of Christ and the saints eventually extends beyond the thousand years and on into the eternal state (Rev. Rev. 22:5+).
2 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 457.
6 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 641.
7 A. R. Fausset, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 20:4.
8 The fact is that this pronoun, οἵτινες [hoitines] is in the nominative case, and therefore does not depend on any verb, but is the subject of a new sentence altogether, of which the verb is lived again. This is a grammatical fact that scientifically determines the matter for us, and prevents us from introducing our own opinions. Of one class of persons, viz., the beheaded martyrs, it is said that they were righteously judged and vindicated. The next statement of verse 4 goes on to say that not only these (who were beheaded), but all, including these who refused to worship the Beast, lived again: i.e., had part in the first resurrection.E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), Rev. 20:4.
9 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 20:4.
10 Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation, 458.
11 Those with physical abnormalities by birth or accident, who lack a right hand, can receive the mark on their forehead.
13 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999, 2002), 559.