When Dying Brings You Life

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Revelation 20:4-6 | May 19 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
May 19
When Dying Brings You Life | Revelation 20:4-6
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Gracious heavenly Father, we pray one more time as we come to Your Word.  Help us to listen, to understand, may You give a special encouragement to any here who may sense the even tide falling upon them, to any here especially grieving the loss of a loved one.  We pray that You would give us minds to understand and You would give us hearts to believe and be comforted in Your Word.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.   

Our text comes from Revelation chapter 20.  The last book in the Bible, chapter 20.  The second paragraph in chapter 20 in many ways is a continuation from last week dealing with the millennium.  This morning reading from verses 4 through 6.  Revelation chapter 20, verses 4 through 6.

“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 rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.  This is the first resurrection.  Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection!  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.”

I remember a number of years ago now I had the honor of preaching at one of my grandfather’s funerals and I sort of regret the decision but I kind of think it was a good decision.  I preached on this paragraph.  Some of you are saying, “Typical, Pastor Kevin.  You would pick that for a funeral text.”  I sort of regret it in that it is probably a better idea at a funeral to pick something a little easier to understand, a little more accessible.  Yet, I hope by the end of this message, you will find that this paragraph is a great encouragement for us as we mourn those who have died in the Lord.

So though it may seem esoteric at first, it is, I want to argue, a great funeral text.

Last week we looked at two questions from verses 1 through 3.  That first question, “When does the millennium occur?”  This thousand-year reign of Christ.  The answer, the millennium occurs before Christ’s second coming, and I argue that the battle scene described in verse 7, we’ll get to that, Lord willing, next week, that battle scene and all that follows comes after the thousand years and this is the same battle that we’ve already seen in chapter 16 and chapter 19.  In fact, it’s the same Greek word, you could translate “the war.” 

So the beginning of chapter 20, in other words, does not follow chronologically from the end of chapter 19 but rather it takes us back prior to the end of the world.  Chapter 19 is giving us a picture of the end of the world.

If chapter 20, the binding of Satan, happens chronologically after chapter 19, it doesn’t make sense.  We have to ask what is the point because by the end of chapter 19 the bad guys have all come together, they’ve been wiped out, Christ has subdued the nations by the sword of His mouth, so what battle is left to be waged?  Why bind Satan now?  He’s thoroughly depleted.

So the argument was that the binding of Satan happened at the coming of Christ and His death, resurrection, and ascension.  So the millennium is the age of triumph of the Gospel inaugurated by Christ and His death and resurrection.  We are then in that millennium now.  During this Church age we will see the contemporaneous growth of the Church spreading to the nations and so we see the Bible’s being translated and churches are being planted and to the ends of the earth the Gospel has gone and at the same time we’ll see the growth of evil.  Right up until the end there will be persecution and opposition even a there are triumphs of the Gospel.  We are, in other words, in the symbolic thousand years right now.  That millennial reign of Christ when the devil’s activity is curtailed at the end of which he will be released for a short time for one final intensification of opposition and ultimate defeat.

That second question I asked followed the first.  So if that’s the millennium and we’re in it now, what is meant by Satan being bound for a thousand years?  And the answer is Satan’s being bound for a thousand years refers not to his total activity being eliminated, we know that he fires fiery darts and he comes at us and he accuses us and he prowls around like a lion, so the devil is very active in the world, but he is bound, or as the Gospels say, he is cast down in two specific ways.

First, that he cannot deceive the nations, to gather them together to wipe out the Church, so the Church is invincible.  And second, the nations will no longer be in the times of ignorance but will be responsive to the Gospel.

So during this millennium, which I argued is this time now, the Church age, the devil, defeated by Jesus’ death and resurrection, cannot martial his troops to wipe out the Church and he cannot prevent the nations of the world from being drawn to Christ by the preaching of the Gospel.  Those were the two questions we looked at last week.

There is one more question about the millennium and that’s what I want to deal with this morning.  It deals specifically with verse 4, the end of verse 4.  So here’s the third of these questions and the one question for this morning:  How are we to understand at the end of verse 4, “they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years”?

Are we talking about, as many Christians believe, two physical resurrections?  So that first the believers have a resurrection and then separated by a thousand years then the unbelievers have a resurrection.  That’s what pre-millennialism would teach.  Or might there be a better understanding of this coming to life and reigning with Christ for a thousand years. 

That’s what I want to think about, this end of verse 4.  In order to understand what verse 4 is about, and then to land on a couple points of application, there are four things we have to understand.  So just one question, but four things we have to understand.

Here’s the first thing we need to understand:  Where are we in this text?  Where are we?  What is the vision the John is seeing?  Where is the vision taking place?

And the answer is the vision takes place, what he sees, is in heaven.  We’ve seen throne room scenes before, most notably in chapter 4 and 5, and there’s One who sits on a throne and then there’s 24 elders on their 24 thrones, so the word “thrones” should tip us off that we have a heavenly vision.  The word “throne,” and you can all learn this word in Greek.  You ready?  Thronos.  Ah, you knew Greek already.

Thronos.  It occurs 47 times in Revelation.  Twice it refers to Satan’s throne in a metaphorical sense.  Once for the beast, four times in the new heavens and the new earth, and then the remaining times all refer, what is that 40 leftover, to the throne in heaven, or thrones in heaven.  So unless there is clear evidence otherwise, when we read “thrones” in Revelation, we know we are in heaven.  This is a picture of what’s going on in heaven. 

In fact, we have disembodied souls.  Look at verse 4 – I saw thrones, seated on them those with authority to judge, also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded.

This whole scene from verse 6 through verse 15 is an echo of the heavenly scene that’s in Daniel chapter 7.  Now I haven’t read the rest of chapter 20; we’ll get to it next week.  But it’s very much a deliberate echo of Daniel 7.  Here’s what Daniel says:  As I looked, thrones were set in place and the Ancient of Days took His seat, that’s God.  His clothing was white as snow.  The hair of His head white look wool, His throne was flaming with fire, its wheels were all ablaze, a river of fire was flowing coming out from before Him.  Thousands upon thousands attend Him, ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.  The court was seated and the books were opened.

Next week we’ll get to the opening of the books.  This is a deliberate echo and final fulfillment of what Daniel saw in chapter 7.

So thrones.  We have this heavenly courtroom scene, God on His throne, you have people on a throne, their thrones, and soon we will have the final judgment as they come before God for His verdict.

So we are not talking about earthly thrones in an earthly millennial reign.  That’s why this first question is important.  We are not on the earth; we are in heaven.  That’s the where.

Second thing.  Second thing we need to understand to answer this question is who.  So first where, heaven.  Second, who.  Who is this this passage about?

Well, again, look at verse 4 – I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God.

So narrowly, the first way to introduce these people are martyrs, the souls of those who have been beheaded.  But we have good reason to think that we’re not thinking strictly about martyrs only.  First of all, you have this expression “those who had been beheaded.”  To be beheaded in the ancient world was the capital punishment for those who were Roman citizens.  Most of the Christians who lost their lives were not by beheading.  Of course, we know that Jesus was crucified.  Others would be crucified.  That was reserved for lowly rebels and criminals and thieves.  They might throw Christians to the lions in the amphitheater.  We have stories like that.

But beheading.  So right away we should think, ah, this is not literally only those who were beheaded.  We always have to distinguish in Revelation between the symbol, what John sees, and the referent.  So here’s what he sees; what is it referring to?  So the picture is not just to speak of those literally beheaded for Christ.  There weren’t very many of those.  It’s to speak first of all narrowly about martyrs but more broadly for any believer, and this should really be all believers, who stand fast, don’t compromise, and hold to the Word of God.

So look at what it says continuing in verse 4.  Those beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God and, so this may be another group or it may be a way of describing the same group in different language, but we’re rounding out who we’re talking about.  So here’s, there’s narrow – martyrs, broad – those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.

So we are talking more broadly about deceased believers. 

Revelation 3:21 – To him who overcomes I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  

That was the promise to Laodicea in Revelation 3.  So the promise to sit on a throne in heaven is not only for those who are literally killed for Christ but it is for all those who overcome the temptation of the world, maintain their witness, faithful, obedient, steadfast to Christ, all the way to the end.  To put it most simply, we are talking about deceased Christians.  They have overcome.  They’re reigning.

John sees in his vision deceased, disembodied Christians because the final resurrection has not come, sitting on thrones in heaven with authority to judge.

So that’s where we are, in heaven; who are we talking about, we’re not just talking about martyrs but about all who maintain their faithful witness, deceased Christians; and then verse 4 gives a summary, they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  That’s what the rest of the verse has shown us.  Believers who have come to life and are reigning with Christ.  

Those were the easy questions.

The third one is the most complicated one.  It really gets to the heart of the matter.  So remember we’re trying to answer this question, what does it mean they came to life?

So we need to know where we are, heaven; who are we talking about, faithful believers.  Then the third thing we have to understand is what is meant here by coming to life?  The Greek word is zao.  So the third thing we have to understand if we’re going to answer this question is the meaning of this verb zao, which is translated there “come to life.”  It’s in verse 5, come to life.  It’s at the end of verse 4, they lived, or here translated they came to life.  This verb zao you would transliterate it z-a-o occurs 130 times or more in the New Testament.  It has over a dozen different connotations so it can mean a lot of different things.  Zao certainly in a number of places means a physical resurrection, someone who is physically dead, they bodily/physically are raised to life.

But the language and the concept of resurrection can also be used to describe spiritual life.  In Romans 6, in Ephesians 2, in Colossians 2 and Colossians 3.

So what I’m going to argue here is that this resurrection, what is called the first resurrection, is a spiritual resurrection.  That when it says “they came to life,” it is not talking about a bodily resurrection of believers and then a thousand years later we have a bodily resurrection of unbelievers, but this resurrection here at the end of verse 4, zao, means a spiritual coming to life. 

I don’t mean new birth or regeneration in the life of the Christian on earth, but I mean the living and reigning with Christ that deceased Christians now have in heaven.

We have to, when dealing with difficult passages, one of the good principles of hermeneutics, that just means how you interpret things, one of the good principles of hermeneutics is you interpret more difficult, less common passages with those statements that are easier to understand and more common.  So this is a difficult passage.  No way around it.  This is a difficult passage.  How to understand and any interpretation you give has certain things that seem and certain things that seem hard about that interpretation.

But we need to start, what do we know about the resurrection.  So we might be apt to say, ah, this passage is teaching there’s two different bodily resurrections separated by a thousand years.  But if we know our Bibles, we should say if that’s what this is teaching, it’s the only place in the whole Bible that teaches something like that and, in fact, if there are two bodily resurrections separated by a thousand years, it doesn’t make sense of other passages in Scripture.

For example, Daniel 12:2, multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

There the emphasis certainly seems to be there’s a resurrection coming.  This is going to happen at the end one time, everybody’s raised.  Not good guys first, thousand years later bad guys next.

More importantly, here’s this verse, John 5:28 and 29.  Here’s what Jesus says:  Do not be amazed at this for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out and those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Now notice what Jesus says.  There is an hour.  There’s an hour coming.  Now that doesn’t have to mean a literal 60 minutes but an hour means there’s a moment coming, this final endpoint of human history.  It would not make sense for Jesus to say an hour is coming when the dead will come out to everlasting life, to everlasting judgment, and, oh by the say, that’s really separated by a thousand years. 

No, He says there’s an hour.  There will be one general resurrection when all of those bodies will be raised and given new bodies and then judged, some to eternal life, some will receive the judgment and go to everlasting death.

So we have that as the clearer, more common passages that help us understand, okay, if that’s what the Bible teaches, there’s a general resurrection, that certainly seems to be the overwhelming stress, one general resurrection.  How should we then understand that in this place only here in Revelation we have the language of a first resurrection?

Well, we have to let context help determine what is meant by this first resurrection.  Here there are two very deliberate parallels with other points in Revelation.  By now you understand that Revelation works in these cycles, this recapitulation.  We see the scene in one way and then we see the same scene in a different way.

So let me show you these two connections.  First go to Revelation 6, verse 9.  Revelation 6, verse 9.  This is the opening of the seventh seal and here’s the other martyr passage, explicit martyr passage.  Revelation 6:9 –  “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar,” and the language here other than beheading is almost identical to what we read in Revelation 20, “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.  They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood…?  They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete.”

So these in Revelation 6:9, these are souls, everyone agrees, who have not been bodily resurrected.  They’re given white garments.  So they’re still crying out for final vindication, but they are under the altar.  These souls, it’s almost the exact same language in Greek, then described in chapter 20.

So the souls in chapter 6, everyone agrees, are those souls alive now in heaven, not yet bodily resurrected, and so these souls here in chapter 20 are those alive in heaven not yet bodily resurrected.

There’s an ever closer parallel.  Turn back a few more chapters to Revelation chapter 2.  So that was the first parallel, chapter 6.  Here’s the other one, chapter 2, verse 10.  This is the end of the letter to the church at Smyrna, which is facing persecution, and some will be put to death.  Chapter 2, verse 10:  “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’”

So this is very conceptually similar to Revelation 20.  We’ll come in Revelation 20 to this language of the second death and here is says in Revelation 2 you’re not hurt by the second death.  Now why is this important?  Because these in chapter 2 are clearly speaking to those right now.  It’s not looking to some future resurrection at the end of time; it’s saying to those in Smyrna, some of you will lose your life, but if you are faithful, I will give you a crown of life and you will conquer and you will not be hurt by the second death.

In other words, both chapter 2 and chapter 6 are giving us a picture.  Christians, if you are faithful, no matter the cost, even at the cost of your own life, I’m telling you, John says, that when you die, you will life and you will reign.

That’s what chapter 2 promises, that’s what chapter 6 promises, and the argument then is that is what chapter 20 is promising.

So zao, come back to chapter 20, verse 4.  They came to life.  Zao does not refer to a physical resurrection.  There are not two physical resurrections but rather it refers to a spiritual coming to life of the saints in heaven.  Zao here refers to a spiritual coming to life of the saints in heaven, what is called inelegantly the intermediate state.  Before the final new heavens and new earth where we have our bodies, so there is a time where we exist as souls.  How does that work?  I don’t understand it fully.  We can’t conceive of ourselves as souls without bodies, but here they are.  They’re souls, so this isn’t the final end of the new heavens and the new earth, but these Christians who have been faithful to the end are, upon death, given zao.  They are given life.  Not a physical resurrection, but a spiritual resurrection to live and reign with Christ in glory.  

There’s confirmation of this interpretation if we think about 1 Corinthians 15.  We read that at the beginning of the service.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, the mortal with immorality, then the saying that is written will come true, death has been swallowed up in victory.

So think about it.  This coming to life in verse 4 cannot be a physical bodily resurrection because if there is a physical bodily resurrection, they have their glorified bodies, and when you have your glorified bodies, all is accomplished and death has already been swallowed up in victory.  When you get your resurrection body, life has been swallowed up in victory.  But we know that Satan will be released at the end of this metaphorical thousand years and that the finality of death has not at this point in Revelation been totally conquered.

So it would be incongruous for these believers to have a bodily resurrection when death has not yet been finally vanquished.  Zao means they lived with Christ in heaven.  The hope offered to the saints in verses 4 and 5 is the same hope offered again and again in Revelation.  It’s Occam’s razor, and I know it’s maybe not quite what Occam’s razor says, but there’s this philosophical principle, more or less, if you can find a simpler explanation to fit all of the data, that’s usually the better explanation.

So rather than saying that in this one verse John is introducing a very different view of the end times that we don’t see anywhere else in Scripture, makes more sense to say this is the same thing he said in all of the seven letters.  If you overcome, you’ll live; if you overcome, you’ll reign; if you overcome, you’ll get a crown; if you overcome, you will have a throne in heaven.

So here’s a picture of those who did it.  They conquered, they overcame so that even in death they are triumphant.

The hope, then, is that saints are now sitting on judgment thrones, living and reigning with Christ, in this figurative one thousand years.  That, in other words, is the first resurrection, that the dead saints live and reign with Christ.  Like 2 Timothy says, if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him.

If you experience the first resurrection, that is you die as a Christian and you live with Christ, you won’t experience the second death.  That’s the logic.  There’s actually, he never says first death there or second resurrection, that’s just left unstated.  The connection is explicitly if you have this first resurrection, that is you are a faithful Christian and when you die you live with Christ, then you can be confident you won’t experience the second death.  You had a first death and you reigned with Christ.  The second death is this death to come, this eternal death, this hellish death.

Fourth point we need to understand, briefly, and then we’ll give a couple points of application.  With this understanding, if zao means they lived with Christ, our deceased loved ones in Christ now live and reign, they’re spiritually alive, what is meant then when it says, verse 5, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended”?

Well, given the explanation I just gave, there’s a couple ways you could interpret that, that the rest of dead did not come to life until the thousand years.  You could be saying, well, the unbelieving dead, they come to life, but here zao refers to a physical resurrection.  They don’t have the spiritual resurrection to reign with Christ, but it could be saying now we’re talking about a different kind of life.  Human language has a variety of meanings and the text could very well work this way. 

I think, however, there’s a little simpler explanation and that’s to say that the rest of the dead did not come to life all the way through the thousand year millennial reign of Christ.  See, look at the word there in English, “until.”  There’s two different ways we can use the word “until.”  You could say if you’re leaving your child with a baby-sitter, “You can stay up until Mommy gets home.”  Now what you mean there is you can stay up until Mommy gets home and then when Mommy gets home you’ll go to bed.  The “until” leads you to a point of time after which the reverse happens.  So you could read this text as saying, the rest of the dead, they aren’t brought to life until the end of the thousand years and then they are brought to life.

But there’s another way we can use the word “until.”  You could say, leaving your kid with the baby-sitter, “I want you to be a good boy until Mommy gets home.”  Now do you mean, “and once Mommy gets home, oh, you don’t have to be a good boy, the situation changes.”  No, you simply mean “I want you to be a good boy all the way to the terminus of this event, which is you being watched by the baby-sitter.” 

There are a number of times that the New Testament uses “until.”  The Greek is achri.  Uses the word in this way, for example, Acts 23:1.  Paul says I have fulfilled my conscience until this day.

Now he doesn’t mean, “I fulfilled conscience until this day, whew, after this day I can sin against my conscience.”  He just means all the way through this period, to the very end of this period.

Or Acts 26:22.  Paul says, “I have had God’s help until this day.”  Same preposition, achri.  Until this day.  He doesn’t mean, “And now after this day, the situation changes and God no longer helps me.”  He just means during this whole period, up until the terminal point of this period, this is true.

I think that’s the best way to understand verse 5.  The rest of the dead during this millennial reign did not have spiritual life.  How could they?  They were not Christians.  They compromised or they were not faithful.  They were not believers.  So it’s not saying, “and then the situation changes,” but the word “until” simply means during this entire experience.

So what does this all mean if you have followed with me thus far?  The question we were trying to answer at the end of verse 4, “What does it mean they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years?”  And the answer I was trying to give in those four points is to say it means that when you die as a Christian, you live and reign with Christ from that moment forward.

So here’s the two points of concluding application.

Number one.  Death for the faithful Christian means reigning with Christ.

Now what does it mean that you have a wife, a husband, a child, a parent, a grandparent, a friend, in heaven reigning with Christ?  We aren’t given specifics.  Might it mean that they echo in their judgment against those who do evil?  Is there some sort of participation in making decisions?  At the very least what it means is the presence of believers in heaven as overcomers is testimony to their innocence and the guilt of those who persecuted them because they were Christians.  So it reigns with Christ to show these were God’s chosen ones, these were the faithful ones, these were the ones who clung to Christ, restored to their rightful place of God-given dominion over the earth.  This is what we were made to do back in Genesis chapter 1, to be made in His image, that we might have dominion over the earth and subdue it.

So as we reign with Christ, it is giving to us our rightful place, vice regents, as His image-bearers, to have dominion over the earth.

In Genesis 1 we are made to be creation kings and queens, to subdue the earth.  If Christ can use angels as His servants, as His ministers, in some way to rule with Him, then He can do the same with the saints who are in heaven.  We aren’t told specifics, but it is a wonderful promise.  To be a faithful Christian upon death means you reign with Christ.  That’s the first.

Here’s the second concluding application.  Death for the faithful Christian means life.

You can see to come full circle this is why I chose to preach from this text at my grandfather’s funeral all those years ago.  I am not sure if those there waded with me through all the Greek words or not, I’d like to think I didn’t do it but knowing me I probably did.  But I wanted to get to this conclusion, so I hope you’ve had patience to come and land on this conclusion.

Look at verse 6.  Remember I’ve said before there are seven Beatitudes in the book of Revelation, seven times we have this word “blessed.”  Here’s the fifth.  So we’ve got two more to come.  Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection, those zao who have been made alive upon death with Christ.

John sees believers.  People like loved ones, each of you now have in your head and in your heart who died in Christ.  John sees a picture of believers who though dead are more alive than ever before.  The coming to life describes the souls of believers who have died but now share in the reign of Christ.

Don’t we hear this in other passages?  For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.  Oh, it’s so sad for those of us who remain, but for those who die in Christ, it’s all gain.

2 Corinthians 5:8 – I’d rather be away from the body, Paul says, and at home with the Lord.  He awaits the final resurrection, he wants to be clothed with his body, so it’s a waiting, but to be away from the body is still an unimaginable glory because it means in a new way to be at home with the Lord.

We already read in Revelation 14:13 blessed are those who die in the Lord.

Or think of that time in the gospels when they’re trying to stump Jesus and see what He believes about the resurrection, because this was a common Jewish debate.  Can you prove the resurrection from the Old Testament?  How would you prove the resurrection?  And you remember what Jesus says?  God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  God is the God of the living, not the dead.

Jesus was saying Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they’re alive, they are alive, in a sense that is more filled with vigor and energy and glory than we are alive.  So Jesus says, “Oh, I can prove it to you that there’s a resurrection.  God’s a God of the living.  Right?  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And they’re alive.  They’re not dead.  Oh, sure, they died, but they’re not still dead.  They’re alive and they live and they reign.”  Same word there, zao, by the way.

Think about what good news this is, what comfort this is.  When someone dies, it is usually not a pretty picture.  There may be some who have the very peaceful experience and they die in bed and that’s a blessing, but usually it’s not the case.  If someone dies young, it’s often because of an accident or cancer or some disease.  It’s devastating.  If someone dies later in old age, the body has already begun to fail.  It’s lost its vigor of youth.  We lose the hair in the places we want it and we start getting it in the places we don’t want it.  We get wrinkled, splotchy.  We shrink.  We get hunched over.  We can’t do all the things we once did.

But if you are a Christian, there is such a life ahead of you.  Such a life, coming sooner than you may think.  So many people live their lives trying to avoid thinking about death.  You could almost say our entire Western world is to steer us, just to help distract us enough or give us enough product or enough procedures so we don’t have to face the reality of death.  You know why we’re so wicked and foolish?  Because the Bible says it is wisdom to consider your days, to count your days.  If you want a heart of wisdom, you have to know that you’re going to die.  It puts things in perspective.  If you live like you think there’s no death, there’s no judgment, you can just do it forever, you will be a fool.  The Bible says the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  To live in the fear of the Lord is to know that you will stand before God one day.

You and I are going to die.  Pray that Jesus might come back, but likely you and I, we’ll all die.  And what will happen in that next moment after death?  After your heart stops beating, the synapses stop firing, the lungs stop breathing?  What will happen?  It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God if you do not know Christ, if you do not have your sins forgiven, if you cannot claim before the judgment seat of God, “I’m with Him.”  That’s your only hope. 

But if you belong to Christ, that next moment after death is a moment of profound life.  If your Christianity does not help you die well, then you’re not thinking about Christianity in the right way.  If we don’t have a church ministry, if we don’t preach sermons and we don’t sing songs, if we don’t have ministry that helps people die well, then we’re not paying attention to the thing that matters most.  It’s so easy for people to live and talk and go about life, even for preachers to preach, as if there was no eternity, if there is no death.  Do you mourn as those who have no hope?  Do we live as if there is any hope beyond this life?  This text gives us unimaginable good news.

The millennium can seem esoteric and it is difficult.  It can seem like something that Christians just argue about.  But if this interpretation is correct, and I pray that it is, then the millennium is a great engine of hope.  Not only hope for what God will do in the world through the preaching of the Gospel, but He will do for you and has already done for your loved ones who have died in Christ.

Love has won.  Christ has conquered.  The nations belong to Him.  You belong to Him.  In that moment of death, you will begin to live and reign for a thousand years with Christ, until all of the bodies are lifted out of the earth and clothed with immortality and the new heavens and the new earth come down.  We will live as embodied creatures as we are meant.

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection over the second death.  Such has no power but they will priests of God and of Christ and they will reign with Him for a thousand years.          

Let’s pray.  Father in heaven, we give thanks for Your unspeakable good news.  Comfort us as we come to the end of our days, and for some here it may be days, others will be decades, but it will come.  We thank You for all those who have gone before, all the saints who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name, O Jesus, forever blessed, and we sing hallelujah.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.