Bishop's chair in Cathedral with lion statues (Photo by curaphotography)
Where does Christ reign for a thousand years, when "the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God... came to life" (Revelation 20:4)? As we shall see, a thorough exegesis of the text will show that the millennial kingdom of Christ is situated in heaven, not on earth.
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 those who had not worshiped 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 Revelation of Jesus Christ to his apostle John in Revelation 20:4 (circa 65 AD)
According to Premillennialism, the location of the thousand-year reign of Christ is on earth. For example, in his book, Because the Time is Near (2007), Dr. John MacArthur states that "Christ will return, and then establish a literal kingdom on earth, which will last for a thousand years" (pg. 297). This is based on his interpretation of the previous chapter as describing a physical return of Christ down to earth (Revelation 19:11-16). Dr. MacArthur states, "...heaven opened before John's wondering eyes... to let Jesus out... Christ's coming is reality. The symbolic language represents various aspects of that reality" (pg. 289). Even though Dr. MacArthur correctly recognizes the symbolic nature of the passage (i.e., the horse, crowns, sword, rod of iron, and the winepress), the Premillennialist fails to differentiate between the invisible manifestation of the King of kings, and his Second (physical) Coming to raise the dead and preside over the final judgment. Furthermore, the apostle John never states that Jesus descends to earth, only that he "saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!" (Revelation 19:11). The apostle John uses the same "heaven opened" phrase in his Gospel in order to describe the invisible manifestation of angels ascending and descending on a ladder that reached unto heaven (John 1:51, Cf. Genesis 28:12-13). If we recognize and acknowledge that the description of heaven opening and Jesus riding a white horse in chapter 19 is a symbolic representation of his non-physical manifestation in judgment on apostate Jerusalem (i.e., Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes [Revelation 17:5]), then the millennial reign that begins in chapter 20 must be in heaven since the final judgement occurs after the thousand years are ended (Revelation 20:11-15). This is also when heaven and earth are renewed and made ready to accommodate the new and holy city of God (Revelation 21:1-3).
To more thoroughly answer the question concerning the location of the millennial reign of Christ, we shall investigate several key points: the current location of God's city, the current location of Christ's throne, the difference between the body and soul coming to life, and the timing of the descent of new Jerusalem from heaven.
Where is the city of God?:
Contrary to Premillennialist beliefs, the city of God is not the modern, secular Jerusalem located in the Middle East. In fact, Jesus and other Holy Spirit-inspired New Testament writers explicitly declare that the city of God is in heaven, not on earth (See also Galatians 4:25-26, Revelation 3:12):
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering...
The letter to the Hebrews in Hebrews 12:22 (circa 60-70 AD)
We see then that the city of God is the new and holy Jerusalem in heaven. This is also where the throne of God and of the Lamb are situated after its descent to earth (Revelation 22:1-2).
For an extensive study on the Biblical people of God and his holy city, please refer to these articles:
The apple of God's eye
Two Jerusalems: Holy and Unholy
Is God a racist?
Where is Christ’s throne?:
At the time the New Testament was written during the first century AD, several passages clearly show that Christ's throne is in heaven, where those in Christ are also seated with him (Ephesians 2:6):
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven...
The letter to the Hebrews in Hebrews 8:1 (circa 60-70 AD)
We also learn that Jesus is seated next to his Father, also in heaven:
...looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The letter to the Hebrews in Hebrews 12:2 (circa 60-70 AD)
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.
Jesus Christ to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3:21 (circa 65 AD)
In addition, the prophet Isaiah states that Christ's throne was located in the temple in heaven (Isaiah 6:1) even before his incarnation and first (physical) advent. King David foresaw Jesus' post-incarnation/resurrection ascension up to heaven and being seated at the right hand of God when he prophesied, "The LORD [Yehovah] says to my Lord [Adonay]: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool"" (Psalm 110:1, Mark 12:35-37, Acts 2:34-36).
The Revelation passage in question (Revelation 20:4) also records that John "saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed." To whom was this responsibility to judge assigned? Dr. MacArthur ascribes this authority to "God's people" and the "glorified saints" in general (Because the Time is Near, 2007, pg. 299 ). While it is true that the saints will judge the world and angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3), the wording of the passage seems to suggest that "those to whom the authority to judge was committed" were already present, even before "the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God... came to life." Furthermore, the passage describes these souls that came to life serving as "priests of God and of Christ" (Revelation 20:6, Cf. Revelation 1:6, 1 Peter 2:9), not judges. The Old Testament makes a distinction between the priest and the judge (Deuteronomy 17:12). The former was primarily assigned to carry out the duties of the temple (Exodus 35:19). However, there were some occasions when the priest and judge were both consulted for judgment (Deuteronomy 17:9). Recall that Jesus specified that his personal disciples "will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:28-30). Some may find reason to believe that this is proof that the millennial kingdom is indeed on earth, since the final judgment takes place on earth on the last day. However, the final judgment, during which time Jesus descends to earth in physical form and sits on his glorious throne (Matthew 25:31-46), does not take place until after the thousand years are concluded (Revelation 20:11-15). It is also clear, that Jesus is the judge presiding over the final judgment (John 5:22).
Body and soul?:
Premillennialists contend that the residents of the millennial kingdom will still retain their sinful nature, and be able to procreate. For example, Dr. MacArthur states, "Amazingly, a vast part of the population, born of believers who alone entered the [millennial] kingdom, will in that perfect environment love their sin and reject the King" (Because the Time is Near, 2007, pg. 299 ). This position is presumptuous on two points: the first is that Scripture calls the occupants of the thousand year reign of Christ as "blessed and holy", and upon whom the "second death has no power" (Revelation 20:6). If death has no power over them, then they must be either in heaven in a disembodied state, or, they already possess their glorified and sinless bodies. The latter cannot be so since Christians do not receive their glorified bodies until the Lord Jesus returns to earth at the last day-resurrection event (John 6:39-44, 6:54, 11:24, 12:48, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54), that is, after the thousand years are ended. The second point is the absence of any explicit declaration of procreation taking place in the millennial kingdom. In fact, Jesus taught, "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven" (Matthew 22:30, Cf. Mark 12:25, Luke 20:35).
The other point to consider in the passage is that John specifically indicates that "the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus... came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4). These are in addition to the "souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne" who cried out from under the alter of God in heaven (Revelation 6:9-10). The Greek word used for soul in the passage (psyche ) is different from the Greek word used for body (soma ) elsewhere in the New Testament (Matthew 10:28, 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Also, the inspired-writers of the New Testament seem to make a distinction between the life of the body and the life of the soul:
And do not fear those who kill the body [soma] but cannot kill the soul [psyche]. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Jesus Christ to the disciples in Matthew 10:28 (circa 50s or 60s AD)
For you will not abandon my soul [psyche] to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.
The apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost to devout men from every nation under heaven in Acts 2:27 (circa 62-64 AD) Cf. Psalm 16:10
Hence, it must be the soul of the believer, apart from the body, that participates in the millennial kingdom in heaven. The apostle Paul reinforces the concept of the soul of the believer being brought before Jesus in heaven while the body remains seperated in the grave:
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
The apostle Paul to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (circa 56 AD)
We see then, that to be absent from the body means the Christian is at home with the Lord in heaven, existing in a disembodied state until the last day-resurrection event when the soul is joined to an imperishable and immortal body (1 Corinthians 15:53).
The last point we shall consider, and the one that was mentioned in the beginning of this article, is the timing of the descent of new Jerusalem from heaven. This is important in determining the true location of the millennial kingdom. We have already shown that the location of the throne of Christ and of God are in heaven. And, that the thrones of both God and Christ are located within the city of God, new Jerusalem, also in heaven. Also evident, is the fact that the final judgment, which begins in Revelation 20:11-15, occurs after the thousand years are ended. Scripture clearly shows that the final judgment takes place on earth, when Christ descends in physical form and sits on his glorious throne (Matthew 19:28, 25:31).
The graphic below summarizes in chronological fashion the timing of events from Revelation 19 through 22, and provides support for a heavenly-based millennial reign of Christ with his disembodied saints where they "will be priests of God and of Christ" (Revelation 1:6, 20:6, 1 Peter 2:9). This thousand-year reign began at the conclusion of the destruction of apostate Jerusalem and its temple by the Romans in 70 AD and continues even now in heaven.
Finally, the phrase "a thousand years" or simply "a thousand" is used figuratively throughout Scripture to denote an indefinitely long period of time (Psalm 90:4, Ecclesiastes 6:6, 2 Peter 3:8, Revelation 20:2-6), or an undefined quantity (Deuteronomy 1:11, 7:9, 32:30, 1 Chronicles 16:15, Job 9:3, Psalm 50:10, 84:10, 91:7, 105:8, Ecclesiastes 7:28). Dr. MacArthur counters and states, "There is nothing in the text to render the conclusion that "a thousand years" is symbolic. Never in Scripture when "year" is used with a number is its meaning not literal" (Revelation: The Christian's Ultimate Victory, 2006, pg. 116). However, the symbolism of the word "thousand" is evident throughout Scripture (e.g., "a thousand times" [Deuteronomy 1:11, Job 9:3], "a thousand hills" [Psalm 50:10], "a thousand generations" [Deuteronomy 7:9, Psalm 105:8], "a thousand days" [Psalm 84:10], "a thousand years" [Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8]).
Also, the Greek word used for thousand in the passage (chilioi ) is a an "adjective, plural of uncertain affinity" according to Strong's Lexicon. Conversely, the Greek word for thousand in regard to the "144,000 [chilias ], sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel" (Revelation 7:4) refers to the number one thousand. We have to wonder why, if the apostle John wished to communicate a literal, one thousand year kingdom, did he not use the latter instead of the former. Hence, the position taken in this article regarding the length of the "a thousand years" and the location of Christ's reign with the saints must be the correct interpretation.
Graphic showing the timeline of events beginning with Christ’s divine manifestation in Revelation chapter 19 and ending with the descent of new Jerusalem from heaven in chapters 21-22.
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Sabz, S. (2017, June 23). The millennial kingdom: in heaven or on earth?. Retrieved from http://scienceandbibleresearch.com/millennial-kingdom-in-heaven-or-on-earth.html