THE SYMBOLIC THOUSAND YEAR PERIOD
Rev 20:4-10 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Again, as we study the verses of the lesson text, it must be reemphasized that the apostle John is recording a vision he was privileged to witness as a door was opened in heaven (Rev. 4:1). Therefore, the things that God revealed to him were symbolic representations of future events that were to occur in the history of the church of Christ. Just as the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan was symbolically bound with a chain, so the thousand years of his binding must also be symbolic understood (Vss. 2-3). Continuing with the lesson text, we must then conclude that the thrones referred to were also a symbolic depiction. Those that were seated upon these thrones were not characterized as kings, monarchs, or other rulers, but they were judges having God-given authority to pass righteous judgment on all humanity. John does not specifically say who these judges were to be, but one good possibility would be the twelve apostles of Christ as noted in Matthew 19:28.
John also saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus. No doubt, these were the Christian martyrs that had sacrificed their lives in order to remain faithful to Christ Jesus and His New Testament plan of eternal salvation. Note, that John did not see their resurrected earthly bodies, but rather their spiritual souls. These souls are further identified as those which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands. We know from previous studies that the men and women, who that were followers of the Catholic Religion, as led by their popes, were said to have proudly wore a mark on their foreheads, which identified them as members of this apostate religious order. And as devoted followers, they readily obeyed papal orders to pay homage, and bow down, to images of the temporal leaders of their civil government, whom, by the way, had been selected, and appointed, by the Roman papacy. As noted in the lesson text, the righteous Christians, who refused to pay such homage to Roman civil and religious authority, were among those that were persecuted and martyred, because of their religious convictions. The threat of persecution and death could not keep them from remaining faithful to the truths found in God's New Testament gospel of salvation.
These souls were to be adjudged righteous by those that sat upon the thrones previously mentioned. Since this event is to take place during the symbolic millennial period, we must assume that Christ will not be present upon earth as some pre-millennial theorist claim. If Christ will not be physically present on earth during this era, then how can one assume that He will literally reign on earth for a thousand year period? To say that they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years must be taken symbolically, just as other predicted events are referred to in the Revelation letter. This period of 1,000 years must be understood as referring to the same completeness as does the numbers 10 and 100. Men and women that have been obedient to God's plan of salvation, and have been baptized for the remission of sins, have been added, by God, to the church of Christ, over which Jesus rules from His throne in heaven at the right hand of God. This period, was ushered in by the Holy Spirit-inspired apostles on the day of Pentecost after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven by our Savior, Christ Jesus. This was the day His church and kingdom was established; it continues to exist today, and will exist until Christ's second coming, when He gathers His obedient followers, God's children, and takes them to their promised eternal home in heaven.
Although the Christian martyrs referred to here, are already resting in the bosom of Abraham - the same place of safety revealed by Jesus in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (See Luke 16:19-31). It seems that because of the great sacrifice these martyrs made to remain faithful to the cause of Christ, they are given a special place, and a higher recognition for their steadfast resistance to the torture and death administered to them by the Roman government, as it was directed by the apostate leaders of Roman Catholicism. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. This passage is referring to the faithful dead in Christ Jesus, but a distinction is made between them and the Christian martyrs previously referred to. This assuredly refers to the general resurrection that will take place at the end of time - the final Judgment Day. This is the day suggested in verse 12, which follows the lesson text; the day when all will be raised from death and receive their final judgment.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power. Having favor with God through Christ Jesus, these Christian martyrs, who were spiritually resurrected in this symbolic celebration, referred to here as the first resurrection, were deemed blessed and holy. Their steadfastness to uphold the New Testament gospel of salvation, and their refusal to deny Christ Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world, resulted in their death, at the hands of the tyrannical Roman civil and religious leaders. The second death, referred to here, is noted again in verse 14, which follows. There it is explained as being cast into the lake of fire, that is, eternal punishment to be meted out to disobedient sinners, at the second coming of Christ on Judgment Day. The faithful followers of Christ, who were martyred for their unwavering stand for God's truths, will be exempt from this second death because they are already promised eternal life in heaven. (T)hey shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. Here, and only here, do we find any indication that there will be a literal resurrection of saints in Christ that will rule with Him for a thousand year period that will supposedly take place before the final Day of Judgment.
Although it is a rather lengthy quotation, the commentary found in Barnes' Notes gives an outstanding opinion to refute a literal resurrection of dead martyrs and a thousand year reign on earth prior to the Day of Judgment. Barnes wrote that "it is strange, not to say improbable, that the doctrine of the literal resurrection of the righteous, a thousand years before the wicked, should be announced in one passage only. If it were so announced in plain and unambiguous language, I admit that the believer in the divine origin of the Scriptures would be bound to receive it; but this is so contrary to the usual method of the Scriptures on all great and important doctrines, that this circumstance should lead us at least to doubt whether the passage is correctly interpreted. The resurrection of the dead is a subject on which the Savior often dwelt in His instructions; it is a subject which the apostles discussed very frequently and at great length in their preaching, and in their writings; it is presented by them in a great variety of forms, for the consolation of Christians in time of trouble, and with reference to the condition of the world at the winding up of human affairs; and it is strange that, in respect to so important a doctrine as this, if it be true, there is not elsewhere, in the New Testament, a hint, an intheation, an allusion, that would lead us to suppose that the righteous are to be raised in this manner."
The book of Revelation is thoroughly known for its symbolism, and to take this one passage and give it a literal meaning seems totally out of context with the figurative nature of the book in total. Considering many other references to the second coming of Christ, there is no mention of a millennial period in which Christ will reign on earth with His resurrected saints (See Matt. 25:41; 5:28-29; Rev. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:23; Phil. 3:20-21; 2 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 9:28; 1 John 2:28-29; 3:2). In the language of Prof. Stuart (Com. vol. ii. p. 479), there is "not a word of Christ's descent to the earth at the beginning of the millennium; nothing of the literal assembling of the Jews in Palestine; nothing of the Messiah's temporal reign on earth; nothing of the overflowing abundance of worldly peace and plenty."
The symbolism used here simply mean that a predicted length of time would occur after the fall of the Roman Empire and binding of its Satan-inspired civil and religious leaders, that the church of Christ would be revitalized, and the doctrine of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus would have a free course to spread throughout the known world. However this binding of Satan's influence would not be assured forever. Righteousness will ebb during the years following this symbolic binding of Satan. The evils of the world would ebb, but emerge once again, and have a detrimental effect on the kingdom of Christ, His church. Satan's worldly lure, although restrained, would continue to adversely affect the future of Christianity and its scriptural New Testament doctrine being taught to men and women on earth. No doubt, this is the meaning of the reading of the lesson text which states that Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
Considering Ezekiel 38:1-18, we learn that Gog was the military leader (also possibly the king) of a northern barbaric nation known as Magog. The prophecy revealed here seems to relate to an impending invasion of Israel which, due to the intervention of God, never took place. However, when referred to in the lesson text, Gog and Magog are used to represent the diabolically evil "invasion" of Satan. He is said to prophetically return and lead the scripturally weak and unlearned men and women of the world astray, similar to that era in which the Roman military and religious leaders persecuted the church of Christ for over a thousand year period, and restricted its growth throughout the world. The extent of this threat of Satan against the church of Christ is noted in verse 9: And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city. This seems to be a universal threat over the entire earth where Christ's church had been established by the divine, Holy Spirit-inspired preaching of the apostles and their associates. Jerusalem is singled out because it was the original church that was formed by the apostle's preaching of the gospel of Christ on the Day of Pentecost (See Acts 2).
According to Ezekiel, God intervened and destroyed the armies of Gog and prevented the literal destruction if His chosen people, the Jewish nation. So it is prophesied that He will intervene with destructive fire that came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. This prophetic act of God will prevent Satan's destruction of His chosen people, the Christian nation, is represented here symbolically as Gog and Magog. The ultimate and final punishment that will destroy Satan and his followers will be take place on Judgment Day, when they will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
The prophecy found in the lesson text pertains, not only to the times when religious freedom allowed the gospel of Christ to spread freely throughout the known world, but also to the times when the church was hindered by the influence of Satan and those that were seduced into following his evil ways. This, by the admission of Christ, as well as his apostles, was to be the future of the church of Christ on earth, from its inception on the Day of Pentecost until the end of time. This is to be the symbolic thousand year period.