The saints in glory share in Christ’s victory over the power of death. Despite death and martyrdom, these saints cannot be deprived of their part in the triumph of the Lamb who was slain and who is the Lion from the tribe of Judah.
One of the primary themes in the book of Revelation is the paradox of the Christian life. Believers are united to Christ, the Lamb who was slain but now reigns as the Lion from the tribe of Judah (Rev. 5–6), and they are “more than conquerors” even when they experience trial, persecution, and martyrdom for their testimony concerning Jesus Christ. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that a paradox is “the truth stood on its head to get our attention.” The depiction of the reign of believers with Christ for one thousand years in Revelation 20:4–6 is an instance of such a paradox. Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Even in the face of death, believers live and reign with Christ.
Where are the saints whom John sees?
After describing the binding of Satan in verses 1–3, the vision of Revelation 20 changes its angle to focus upon a scene in which the Apostle John sees the saints, those who participate in the “first resurrection,” reigning with Christ during the millennial period:
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 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…Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (vv. 4–6)
There are two questions that are immediately prompted by this vision. First, where does the scene that John sees in this vision take place? Is this a scene of the saints in heaven or the saints upon the earth? Second, who are these saints whom John sees? Are they the full company of believers? Are they believers who have died and now reign with Christ in heaven? Or are they only martyred believers who enjoy the special privilege of reigning with Christ as a reward for their fidelity to Him?
In answering the first question, it is especially significant that “thrones” are the first thing the Apostle John sees. The likeliest location of these thrones is in heaven. Heaven is the place of the throne of God and the Lamb in the book of Revelation. But it is also the place where the saints who have died or who have been martyred have a share in the reign of Christ. In all of the references to thrones in the book of Revelation (forty-seven instances), only three refer to some other place than heaven (2:13; 13:2; 16:10). For example, in Revelation 3:21 we read this promise of Christ: “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.” Were the thrones of Revelation 20 located on the earth so that the reign of these saints is not only over but also upon the earth, they would not be consistent with the common imagery of the book.