“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.”
King James Version (KJV)
20:4 And I saw thrones - Such as are promised the apostles, #Matt 19:28|; Luke 22:30. And they - Namely, the saints, whom St. John saw at the same time, #Dan 7:22|, sat upon them; and Judgment was given to them. #1Cor 6:2|. Who, and how many, these are, is not said. But they are distinguished from the souls, or persons, mentioned immediately after; and from the saints already raised. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded - With the axe: so the original word signifies. One kind of death, which was particularly inflicted at Rome, is mentioned for all. For the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God - The martyrs were sometimes killed for the word of God in general; sometimes particularly for the testimony of Jesus: the one, while they refused to worship idols; the other, while they confessed the name of Christ. And those who had not worshipped the wild beast, nor his image - These seem to be a company distinct from those who appeared, #Rev 15:2|. Those overcame, probably, in such contests as these had not. Before the number of the beast was expired, the people were compelled to worship him, by the most dreadful violence. But when the beast was not, they were only seduced into it by the craft of the false prophet. And they lived - Their souls and bodies being re - united. And reigned with Christ - Not on earth, but in heaven. The reigning on earth mentioned, #Rev 11:15|, is quite different from this. A thousand years - It must be observed, that two distinct thousand years are mentioned throughout this whole passage. Each is mentioned thrice; the thousand wherein Satan is bound, verses 2, 3, 7; #Rev 20:2|,3,7, the thousand wherein the saints shall reign, verses 4 - 6. #Rev 20:4 |- 6 The former end before the end of the world; the latter reach to the general resurrection. So that the beginning and end of the former thousand is before the beginning and end of the latter. Therefore as in the second verse, #Rev 20:2 at the first| mention of the former; so in the fourth verse, #Rev 20:2 at| the first mention of the latter, it is only said, a thousand years; in the other places, the thousand, verses 3, 5, 7, #Rev 20:3|,5,7 that is, the thousand mentioned before. During the former, the promises concerning the flourishing state of the church, #Rev 10:7|, shall be fulfilled; during the latter, while the saints reign with Christ in heaven, men on earth will be careless and secure.
Re 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they that sat upon them. These thrones are symbols of rule. It implies that they who sit on them shall have sway. And judgment was given unto them. They shall exercise a moral judgment over humanity. And [I saw] the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus. Of the martyrs. Note that it is the "souls" that he observes. These are they "who came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years". Is this a literal resurrection from the grave? I answer decidedly in the negative. (1) The apostle does not say one word about the resurrection of the "bodies" of the martyrs, nor does he say that he saw the martyrs themselves. He is particular to say that he saw the "souls" or "spirits" of the martyrs living and reigning with Christ. (2) They had been put to death in the body, and their souls were unseen upon the earth, but there is no intimation in Scripture that their souls had ever ceased to exist. They were alive with Christ, but now they live in some sense different from that existence which they had before. It cannot mean that their souls came to life, for they had never ceased to have existence. (3) What, then, does the affirmation mean? That as Christ reigns upon the earth during the millennial period by his truth, so the spirit of the martyrs is revived and lives in the Church. The souls of the martyrs live because the Church is composed of those who love Christ better than goods or liberty or life. This glorious reign of Christ pervades the earth because the souls of the martyrs are resurrected and live in all who name the name of Christ, and who are filled with the spirit of ancient martyrs. (4) If any should think such an interpretation of symbolical language far fetched, let him compare Scripture. This explanation is not forced nor the interpretation of the language unusual. It was predicted by the prophets that Elijah must come again before the Messiah. He did come in spirit and power, not in person, but as the stern, fearless, upright reformer of the wilderness of Jordan. In the same sense Ezekiel speaks (Eze 37:12-14.) of the return of the captive Jews to their own land: "'I will open your graves', oh my people, and cause you 'to come up out of your graves', and bring you into the land of Israel". When Martin Luther was engaged in deadly struggle with the Papacy, Pope Adrian sent a brief to the German Diet at Nuremburg, which contained these words: "The heretics Huss and Jerome are now alive again in the person of Martin Luther". And they lived and reigned with Christ. John saw that those who sat on the thrones reigned with Christ a thousand years. See Isa 2:2. Will Christ come visibly to reign in person as an earthly monarch? The personal coming of the Savior is placed by all the sacred writers as the last event before the great judgment day. This great epoch is placed after the millennial period, and also after the overthrow of Satan in his last conflict. If the Savior, then, during the millennial period, is not visibly present upon the earth, how can he reign? Just as he reigns over each saint now. Those who know the Lord accept him as king, but in this period "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9). All men shall hear and obey the gospel, and all shall submit to the beneficent scepter of Christ. A thousand years. I am not prepared to say that this blessed period shall be limited to a thousand years, but am rather disposed to believe that a thousand years, a round period of great duration, is chosen to show to the longing student of the prophets that there shall be a long, long period of righteousness upon the same earth that has been reddened with blood, filled with crime, and made foul by sin. The characteristics of this golden period of the human race are clearly pointed out by the prophets.