"Thrones" are symbols of power. As the saints are to reign with Christ on the renewed earth, in obedience to the invitation: "Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world," (Matt.25:34); their being inducted into the kingdom is symbolized by their being seated on thrones. Thus they sing in the "new song," addressed to Christ: "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth," 5:9, 10. In the first chapter, also, all who ascribe praises to "Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood," also add: "and hath made us kings and priests unto God, and his Father," 1:5, 6.
All the saints being thus exalted to kingly and priestly dignity, symbolizes the exalted rank they are to hold in the new creation -- the symbols of their station being taken from the most exalted offices known on earth. Thus God said to ancient Israel: "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation," (Ex.19:6); and the Christian church is addressed as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people," 1 Pet.2:9.
The time when the saints shall reign on the earth is in connection with the destruction of the "little horn" of Daniel's "fourth beast," which, as he saw, "made war with the saints and prevailed against them, until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom," Dan.7:21, 22. "The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever," Ib. v.18. "And the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him," Ib. v.27. "And they shall reign forever and ever," 22:5. Thus the Saviour said: "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," Luke 12:32.
Those who receive the kingdom are symbolized by the souls of martyrs, &c., living again and reigning with Christ. The symbol includes, with the martyred saints, those who had stood aloof from the worship of the beast and his image, and those who had not received his mark; who are shown by a parallel scripture to represent all who are redeemed to God "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation," 5:9, 10. Some of these were symbolized, under the fifth seal, as crying from under the altar in anticipation of this day, 6:9. Now, with "their fellow servants," they receive their reward.
The souls of the departed living again, can only symbolize those who have been subjected to death, and are again raised. Consequently they are the subjects of a real resurrection. And this is shown by the explanation of the symbol, which affirms that, "This is the first resurrection."
It is denied by many that a literal resurrection is here taught; but in so doing they deny the faith of the church in its best and purest ages. In the first two centuries after Christ, there was not an individual, who believed in any resurrection of the dead whose name or memory has survived to the present time, who denied that the resurrection of the just is here taught.
Eusebius, who opposed this view, quotes Papias, who he admits was a disciple of St. John and a companion of Polycarp, as saying that "after the resurrection of the dead the kingdom of Christ shall be established corporeally on this earth." And Jerome, another opposer, quotes from him that "he had the apostles for his authors; and that he considered what Andrew, what Peter said, what Philip, what Thomas said, and other disciples of the Lord."
Polycarp was another of John's disciples; and Irenaeus testifies in an epistle to Florinus, that he had seen Polycarp, "who related his conversation with John and others who had seen the Lord, and how he related their sayings, and the things he had heard of them concerning the Lord, both concerning his miracles and doctrine, as he had received them from the Lord of life; all of which Polycarp related agreeable to the scriptures." Following such a teacher, Irenaeus taught that at the resurrection of the just, the meek should inherit the earth; and that then would be fulfilled the promise which God made to Abraham.
Justin Martyr, born A. D.89, says that, "A certain man among us, whose name is John, being one of the twelve apostles of Christ, in that Revelation which was shown him, prophesied that those who believe in our Christ shall fulfil a thousand years at Jerusalem." He affirms that himself "and many others are of this mind" -- "that Christ shall reign personally on earth;" and that "all who were accounted orthodox so believed."
Tertullian, about A. D.180, says it was a custom for Christians to pray that they might have part in the first resurrection. And Cyprian, about 220, says that Christians "had a thirst for martyrdom that they might obtain a better resurrection."
Mosheim assures us that the opinion "that Christ was to come and reign 1000 years among men," had, before the time of Origen, about the middle of the 3d century, "met with no opposition." And it is the testimony of ecclesiastical historians, that the first who opposed it, seeing no way of avoiding the meaning of the words in Rev.20th, denied the authenticity of the Apocalypse, and claimed that it was written by one Cerenthus, a heretic, for the very purpose of sustaining what they called "his fiction of the reign of Christ on earth." This doctrine is not now evaded in this way, but by spiritualizing the language of the Apocalypse, and thus finding a meaning in it which is not expressed by any of the admitted laws of language. Theologians who thus reason make the first resurrection the conversion of the world. But those who are affirmed to be raised, are persons who have lived and are dead. If the resurrection is a mere metaphor, then the martyrs must have metaphorically died, and must have comprised only those who had been previously converted and were fallen away. The rest of the dead must then be understood as persons morally dead, which would be inconsistent with the idea of a converted world. Those who were raised being those who were previously converted, they must have been literally dead, and the only resurrection predicable of such is a literal resurrection.
The Bible teaches such a resurrection of the righteous prior to that of the wicked. Thus the Psalmist says of them: "Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them, and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning." But of himself he says: "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave," Psa.49:14, 15. Of the wicked Isaiah testifies: "They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise," i.e. with the righteous; but to Zion he says: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out her dead," Isa.26:14, 19. To the same import is the prophecy of Daniel, respecting the time when Michael shall stand up, and "thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some, [the awakened, shall be] to everlasting life, and some, [the unawakened, shall be] to shame and everlasting contempt," Dan.12:1, 2. Such, according to Prof. Bush, is the precise rendering of the original.
The New Testament also teaches a resurrection of the just, in distinction from that of the wicked. Paul says, while all are to be made alive, that it will be "every man in his own order," or band -- "Christ the first fruits; afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming," 1 Cor.15:23. None others are spoken of as being raised at that epoch. When the Lord descends from heaven with a shout, at the trump of God, not the entire mass of the dead, but "the dead in Christ shall rise first," before the righteous living are changed, 1 Thess.4:16. In accordance with this priority in the resurrection of the righteous, Paul teaches that the worthies who died in faith "accepted not deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection," (Heb.11:13); and himself, he says, counted all things loss for Christ, "if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead," (Phil.3:11); which is "the resurrection from among the dead" -- it being a resurrection to which some will not attain. Thus also the Saviour taught: while "they that have done good shall come forth at [as it is literally] the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil at the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:29), the two are not co-etaneous; for the righteous shall be "recompensed at the resurrection of the just," Lu.14:14. That must be the resurrection of which those are the subjects who receive the kingdom; for "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God," 1 Cor.15:50. While "the children of this world marry and are given in marriage," "they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection," Lu.20:34-36.
The children of the resurrection thus include all who attain unto that world, which, consequently, the wicked do not obtain, and of which the righteous dead and the living saints are made equal subjects, according to Paul's "mystery:" "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed," i.e., to the same incorruptible state to which the dead are raised, (1 Cor.15:50-54); so that all the righteous will alike "bear the image of the heavenly" (v.49) when they "shall be caught up together" (1 Thess.4:16) "to meet the Lord in the air."
The resurrection state is that to which the ancients looked for the restoration of Israel.
Rabbi Eliezer the great, supposed to have lived just after the second temple was built, applied Hosea 14:8 to the pious Jews, who seemed likely to die without seeing the glory of Israel, saying: "As I live, saith Jehovah, I will raise you up, in the resurrection of the dead; and I will gather you with all Israel."
The Sadducees are reported to have asked Rabbi Gamaliel, the preceptor of Paul, whence he would prove that God would raise the dead, who quoted Deut.9:21: "Which land the Lord sware that he would give to your fathers." He argued, as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had it not, and as God cannot lie, that they must be raised from the dead to inherit it.
Rabbi Simai, though of later date, argues the same from Ex.6:4, insisting that the law asserts in this place the resurrection from the dead, when it said: "And also I have established my covenant with them, to give them the Canaan;" for, he adds, "it is not said to you, but to them."
Mennasseh Ben Israel says: "It is plain that Abraham and the rest of the patriarchs did not possess that land; it follows, therefore, that they must be raised in order to enjoy the promised good, as otherwise the promises of God would be vain and false." -- De Resurrec. Mort., L. i., c.1. § 4.
Rabbi Saahias Gaion, commenting on Dan.12:2, says: "This is the resuscitation of the dead Israel, whose lot is eternal life, and those who shall not awake are the forsakers of Jehovah."
"In the world to come," says the Sahar, fol.81, "the blessed God will vivify the dead and raise them from their dust, so that they shall be no more an earthly structure."
Thus "Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance ... sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God," Heb.11:8-10. While he dwelt in that land, God "gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on; yet he promised that he would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him," Acts 7:5. This was also true of all those "who died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth," -- desiring "a better country, that is, a heavenly" (Heb.11:13-16), "not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection" (v.35), "God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect," v.40.
When the promises are thus made good to Israel, all who are of the faith of Abraham will participate in the same promises. For "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law ... that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise," Gal.3:13, 14, 29. So the Saviour said to the Jews: "Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the children of the kingdom [unregenerate Jews] shall be cast into outer darkness," Matt.8:11, 12. And then, as the Saviour said to the twelve: "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel," Matt.19:28.
"The rest of the dead," who live not again till the thousand years are ended, must be the wicked dead; for, the righteous being raised, no other dead ones remain. They include all the wicked, who have died in all ages, and "the remnant" who "are slain with the sword" (19:21), when the kingdom is cleansed from all things that offend.
"The thousand years" to intervene between the two resurrections, are regarded by some as a symbol of 360,000 years. There seems to be no necessity for such an interpretation. When time is symbolized, it is always proportioned to the duration of the other symbols used. Thus, in Dan.8th, when beasts symbolize kingdoms, it would have been incongruous to have specified the duration of the vision in literal years; for beasts do not continue during centuries, as the kingdoms symbolized by them have done. But days are proportioned to years, as beasts are to kingdoms; so that there is a fitness in symbolizing the years foreshadowed in that vision, by 2300 days; between which measure of time and the duration of the existence of beasts, there is a perfect congruity.
In the 4th of Daniel, where the cutting down of a tree is used to symbolize the loss of the king's reason, there is no such disproportion between the duration of man's existence and that of a tree, as there is between the life of a beast and that of an empire. And therefore there is no incongruity if the time specified is a symbol of literal time, i.e., if a time is used to symbolize a year. In this case, the seven years could not have been symbolized by seven days; for there is no marked disproportion between the duration of the other symbols in connection, and the things symbolized; and had days been used, days must have been understood in the fulfilment.
There might be either 1000 years, or 360,000, between the first and second resurrections, without conflicting with any other Scripture. But there is no disproportion between the other symbols and the things symbolized, -- the living again of the martyrs in vision, and their actual resurrection; and therefore the 1000 years need not, by any parallel usage or law of language, be understood, to be other than a literal thousand.