Well, I feel I must begin today with an apology.
At the end of last week’s chapter, I said the next part of John’s vision would be the final judgement.
The reason I said this is because the end of Chapter 19 was clearly the end of the famous “Battle of Armageddon”. And according to John’s previous vision cycles, and according to Daniel’s visions in the Old Testament, the final battle is supposed to be followed by the final judgement.
But now, as we turn the page to Chapter 20 of Revelation, we read this:  And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.
And by this point in the book we all know what the appearance of this angel means: it is time for yet another interlude!
Every time John has seen an angel coming from somewhere having something in his possession, it has triggered a giant pause in the action. In every case, the vision was stopped and rewound to some earlier point so that we could experience the same events from a different perspective.
The first time was when John saw an angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. That interlude paused the Cycle of the Seven Seals, went back and showed how all of God’s people had been counted and marked with the blood of Jesus even before the judgement cycle began.
The second time was when John saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, holding a little scroll. That interlude paused the Cycle of the Seven Trumpets, went back and showed how, even though the souls of all God’s people have been sealed up safely in God’s sanctuary, Jesus’ Church on earth still has work to do — work that will end in death.
The third time was when John saw an angel flying in midair, having the eternal gospel to proclaim to every nation. That interlude paused the Cycle of the Seven Signs, went back and showed how those who accept the mark of the beast always do so voluntarily, even though they really know the truth.
The fourth time was when John saw an angel coming down from heaven having great authority. That interlude actually paused the Battle of Armageddon, went back and zoomed in on the character and collapse of Babylon the Great.
Well, now, John sees an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.
So, I apologise! I promised you a vision of the final Judgement this week. Instead, it seems, John’s vision is going to pause — yet again! — and rewind to some earlier point.
All we can really do now is keep on reading and find out how far back this interlude is going to take us:
 The angel seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
Mmmm…okay. That is a very distinctive introduction: “that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan.” We have only heard those words once before, back in Chapter 12 when the dragon was first introduced to us as “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan.”
So John clearly wants us to make a connection between this moment and what happened back in Chapter 12.
So now we have to ask: what happened back in Chapter 12?
Chapter 12 was the story of how Jesus was born on earth and then rose victorious to be crowned king over all creation. As a result an angel named Michael was empowered to hurl the great dragon down to the earth. The dragon was basically locked out of heaven, prevented from ever climbing back up into God’s courtroom ever again. He no longer has access to the souls of God’s people that have been sealed up safely in God’s heavenly sanctuary! — and so, instead, he went to war against the bodies of God’s people that are still on earth. And then Chapter 13 told us he would be allowed to operate for a fixed period of forty-two months.
Well, here, in Chapter 20, an angel is again empowered to bind the dragon, this time for a fixed period of a thousand years.
It seems like John trying to tell us that this interlude is really a retelling of the dragon episode in Chapter 12 — just from a different perspective.
But let’s keep reading and find out:
 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.
Okay! This interlude really does seem like a retelling of the events in Chapter 12. After all, there are some significant parallels here: in both passages the dragon is hurled in a downward direction where he is restrained from doing something for a fixed period of time.
…but wait a minute! someone is going to say: there are also some significant differences here! Forty-two months is very different from a thousand years! The earth is a very different place from the Abyss! The dragon at war against God’s people is very different from the dragon bound and powerless to deceive the nations! So how can we say that this dragon episode is just another perspective on the dragon episode from Chapter 12?
Well, we can say this because something very important happened between Chapter 12 and Chapter 20: John has literally changed the perspective from which he is watching these visions.
Way back in Chapter 4, John was carried away in the Spirit up to heaven. So in Chapter 12 he was watching that dragon episode from heaven’s perspective.
But in Chapter 17 — just three chapters ago — he was carried away in the Spirit into a wilderness: he was returned to the earth. So he is now watching this dragon episode from earth’s perspective.
And perspective makes all the difference!
For instance, back in Chapters 11 and 12 and 13, we discovered that forty-two is a number borrowed from the Exodus that symbolizes all the years of tribulation Jesus’ Church will experience as we travel through the wilderness of this world. From heaven’s perspective, our centuries of sojourn on this earth are really not that long: only forty-two months!
But from our perspective, here on earth, these ”forty-two months” of tribulation feel like…a thousand years. But not a literal thousand years; just like forty-two months is a symbolic number that means “a difficult but relatively short time”, a thousand years is a symbolic number that means “a long but relatively good time”.
And we know this from how the Old Testament uses the number “thousand”. We actually read one of those examples regularly in our worship, from the Ten Commandments: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me.” One of the Psalms says God “remembers his covenant forever, for a thousand generations” — so “a thousand” can also symbolize “forever”. In another place we are told that God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” If we took that number literally, we would have to say, “Only a thousand hills? That’s actually kind of pathetic!” But no one interprets that number literally: everyone recognizes that a thousand hills means “all hills”.
And we could find many more examples like these in the Old Testament, because ancient people loved the number “thousand”. Why?
Because, first, they loved the number 10. After all, 10 is just wonderfully easy to use, right?
But guess what is even better than 10? 100! — because 100 is the square of 10, it is 10×10.
And look, if 10 is good, and 10-squared is better, then what must be the absolute best? 10-cubed. 10x10x10. Which equals 1000. For ancient people there was just no other large number so beautiful in its simplicity and symmetry than a thousand!
So the forty-two months of the dragon’s authority to wage war on earth, and the thousand years of the dragon’s binding in the Abyss are actually describing the same period of time from two different perspectives. From heaven’s perspective, our history is a relatively brief time of tribulation. But from our perspective, the refining process feels much, much longer — we are like children in a car who have no real sense of how long the journey really is. But just like children we do have the comfort of knowing that our Heavenly Father is driving the car of history, and he drives it perfectly, he drives it “a thousand”. And we know this because he has cast Satan down to earth and bound him in the Abyss where he really cannot stop our journey.
…but wait, wait, wait, not so fast! our friend is going to say. Surely Satan being cast down to earth is very different from Satan being cast into the Abyss! The earth is different from the Abyss…isn’t it?
Well, from the perspective of heaven, yes: the earth is distinct from the Abyss. But from the perspective of the earth…we actually live in the Abyss, looking up at the heavens.
Remember, ancient people believed our physical universe is a vast cosmic ocean, and the earth is a bit like an island in that ocean, with the heavens like a dome above everything. And we know this from how the Old Testament often describes our reality. For instance, we actually read one of those examples regularly in our worship, again from the Ten Commandments: “Do not make an image for yourselves in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below the earth…”
So in Chapter 12, when Satan was thrown out of heaven, from heaven’s perspective he was being cast down to earth. But here in Chapter 20, when Satan is thrown out of heaven, from earth’s perspective he is being cast down into the Abyss…alongside us!
…huh, our friend might say. But still: back in Chapter 12 the dragon was described as very active, rushing around the earth in a rage. And other parts of the New Testament agree! For instance, Peter says, “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” But here Satan is bound. That does not sound very active at all! So which is it: is Satan actively at war with us, or is he restricted?
Well, the answer is: both. Satan is permitted to be active in certain ways, but restricted in others.
For instance, he is restricted from heaven — that is what being bound in the Abyss means. To a powerful angelic creature like Satan, this restriction would feel like a cosmic MCO! He can no longer travel across state lines, into God’s infinite presence, and accuse God’s people of sin like he used to.
However, he does have authority to prowl around the earth, just like we prowled around our houses during MCO.
But Satan’s authority to prowl around the earth is restricted, in two ways:
First, he is restricted to the very limited period of forty-two months, or “a time, times and half a time.” That is the set period for Satan’s MCO. And that is why he is so full of fury, according to Chapter 12: because he knows that his time is short.
Second, he is restricted in what he is allowed to do: he can wage war against Jesus’ Church, he can look for people to devour, but he cannot deceive the nations like he used to before.
Satan is permitted to prowl around down here in the Abyss, but at the same time he is restricted from deceiving the nations anymore.
…okay, our friend might say. But what does that mean? Isn’t the dragon’s main job “deceiving the nations”? Back in Chapter 12 he was very distinctly introduced to us as that ancient serpent who leads the whole world astray. Here he has been reintroduced in almost exactly the same words, except now he is kept from leading the whole world astray! How does this make any sense?
Well, if we keep reading, I think we will find that later on John explains to us exactly what SOPs the dragon has to follow during his MCO. So don’t worry, we will come back to this question.
But before we move on, John does want to confirm that Satan’s MCO does have a fixed end-point: after that, he says — after the thousand years are ended — he must be set free for a short time.
And, again, in just a little bit John will tell us what exactly Satan does with his new-found freedom, so we’ll be coming back to that.
But in the meantime, John says,  I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 a thousand years.
Okay, what is John seeing here?
First he sees judgement thrones — not just one judgment throne, but several, or perhaps even many. And seated on these thrones he sees the souls of dead Christians. But even though these Christians are dead, they are also…alive. And not just alive: they are reigning with Christ throughout the thousand years of the dragon’s MCO.
Which is exactly what Jesus has promised would happen at various other points in Revelation. For instance, just last week, we saw how he told the Christians of Laodicea, “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne.”
Basically, John is seeing the victorious Bride of Christ ruling alongside her husband from heaven as Jesus spends these thousand years extending his gospel message throughout the world, the message that says, “By the way, the earth is under new management now!”
But what did Jesus’ bride have to do to receive this great reward?
Well…according to these verses she was beheaded. Before she could come to life she had to die! just like Jesus did. But — and this is important — it was not enough for her to simply die, everybody knows how to do that! No, to receive this reward of new life and authority, she actually had to die because of her faithful service to her lord.
Which is exactly what has been described for us at various other points in Revelation. For instance, during the interlude in Chapter 10 we discovered that Jesus’ people are here on earth as his ambassadors, announcing Jesus’ new kingdom and living the values of his new kingdom. Then in Chapter 11 we discovered that, if we do this faithfully, then eventually we will be killed for it. But then we also discovered that being killed is not so bad, because we will be resurrected — reunited with our bodies — at the end of time when the voice from heaven says, “Come up here!”
But John’s vision here is actually adding something new to our understanding of what happens between our death and the final resurrection. He is showing us that those who die in faithful service do not simply go to sleep or something, unconscious until the resurrection call: actually, the dead are…active! Awake! Our bodies die, but our spirits immediately come to life in God’s presence and then continue in faithful service alongside our lord until the end of the thousand years — at which point the final resurrection happens, when we are reunited with our immortal bodies.
And John confirms all this by his comments in verse 5. First he says, the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.
Then he goes back to his first subject and says, this is the first resurrection, by the way.
So, apparently there is a difference between those who die in faithful service to Jesus, and those who die in unfaithfulness. The faithful come to life in God’s presence immediately after death: they live and work and reign alongside Christ while they wait for the final resurrection at the end of the thousand years — and John calls this whole process the first resurrection.
But the souls of the unfaithful do not come to life until the final resurrection at the end of the thousand years.
…but this is where someone might say: uhhhh, hang on a moment! What are you saying, that the spirits of the unfaithful dead are…actually dead somehow, unconscious or asleep or something?
We have to remember that the bible is often stuck with describing spiritual realities to us using earthly language. From our perspective in these physical bodies we just cannot really comprehend the realities of spiritual experience. They are beyond us. So most of the time the bible is left saying, “well, the spirit-world is a little bit like this,” or, “it is a little bit like that.”
So when scripture talks about the ongoing existence of human spirits after death, it consistently says that our spirits are conscious in some way that is a little bit like our consciousness now.
But scripture also consistently says that the faithful dead and the unfaithful dead are conscious of very different things:
The spirits of God’s faithful people are conscious of God’s presence in some way that resembles joyful relationship and activity. So they experience a kind of life that is a little bit like this one but ”a thousand” times better.
On the other hand, however, the spirits of those who rejected a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father are conscious of God’s absence in some way that resembles complete isolation, the end of all joyful relationship and activity. And since God is light, to exist without the experience of God means to live in complete darkness…a bit like spending MCO in a sensory-deprivation tank.
Perhaps we could say it like this: the spirits of the unfaithful dead are conscious; but since there is actually nothing for them to be conscious of except their own continuing existence…isn’t that also a kind of unconsciousness? — but the most hellish kind possible: just an endless, featureless, timeless darkness, without any way to know how close the final resurrection might be…!
So it makes sense for the bible to say that, since the souls of the faithful dead are conscious of God’s joyful presence, they “come to life” after death. It also makes sense for the bible to say that, since the souls of the unfaithful dead are conscious only of nothingness…they do not “come to life” after death, they continue in a kind of living death until the thousand years are ended.
No wonder John goes on to say,  Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection.
Uh, yeah! Ya think?
The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
…but wait a minute, what is this bit about the second death?
John is going to explain what he means next week, so…make sure to come back for that.
The main point John is making here is that those who die in faithful service to Jesus are going to get to experience even more faithful service in the next life. Death is not the end for us, it is just the beginning. However active and effective we may be as Christ’s priesthood in this life, now we have this promise that we will be ”a thousand” times more active and effective in the next!
But now, let’s keep reading:
 When the thousand years are over —
— ah! Okay. So those last few verses were basically a summary of what the thousand years are going to be like for us as Christians: first, we have the authority to preach God’s Word on earth, and then — after our testimony is finished and we die — we come to life and receive the authority to rule through God’s Word from heaven.
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison.
His MCO is going to come to an end.
And what will he do with his new-found freedom?
 He will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.  They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves.
And here we have the answers to all our earlier questions about what exact SOPs Satan was required to follow during his MCO: he was allowed to prowl around the earth, but he was forbidden to gather all the nations to surround God’s people.
In the Old Testament, Satan was able to gather the nations and surround God’s people, mostly because the camp of God’s people was contained in one place, ruled by one city named Jerusalem. He got the Assyrians to attack Jerusalem, then the Babylonians, then the Greeks, and finally the Romans. He was also successful in deceiving God’s people so that they remained centralized, instead of sending preachers out to the surrounding nations like they were supposed to.
But Rome was the last time God’s people were centralized in one place, in one empire. It was during the Roman empire that Satan made one last attempt to destroy the city of Jerusalem once and for all. And he succeeded! But in destroying Jerusalem he actually defeated himself, because once the old Jerusalem was gone, God’s new Jerusalem — Jesus’ Church — found themselves scattered throughout all the nations of the earth, not so easy to surround anymore.
So what this means is that, during his thousand year MCO, the dragon was very active, waging war against Jesus’ Church by deceiving various nations in various ways so that they would attack Jesus’ Church. But he was also bound: not permitted to deceive all the nations all at once, or gather them all together into one great coalition for battle against all God’s people.
In other words, Jesus’ witnesses are going to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth, and Satan will be powerless to stop the expansion of Jesus Church! — until the thousand years are over.
At that point in history, when Jesus’ witnesses have finished their testimony, when the Church has reached its maximum expansion, then Satan must be set free for a short time, which he will use to deceive the nations—Gog and Magog—and gather them for battle.
…and of course now we have to pause and ask: who is Gog and Magog?
Well, Gog and Magog is a king and his kingdom from the Old Testament — who is only actually mentioned in one place: in the Book of Ezekiel the prophet.
…okay. But then why does John bring up Gog and Magog here, when the “Gog and Magog” concept is only talked about once in the whole Old Testament?
Well, if we went back to Ezekiel’s prophecy, we would see some interesting parallels with John’s visions:
First, Ezekiel saw a valley filled with dry bones, the bodies of God’s people who had been slain. Then, as he watched, they came to life and were gathered into God’s city on God’s mountain, where they were ruled by a resurrected King David.
But then Ezekiel’s vision turns dark. After many years of peace and safety for God’s people, God himself will release a monstrous king named Gog, of the land of Magog, who will gather a mighty coalition, made up of nations from the four corners of the earth, to surround and destroy God’s people in God’s city on God’s mountain.
But just as Gog’s armies are on the verge of victory, Ezekiel says, God will trigger a great earthquake. Gog’s coalition forces will suddenly start attacking one another. Hailstones and burning sulfur will rain down on them, and then God will call every kind of bird and all the wild animals to come and eat their fill of the dead bodies.
In short, Ezekiel’s ancient prophecy about Gog and Magog is a prophecy about this great battle at the end of time. And that is why John makes sure to mention Gog and Magog here: he wants us to understand that this is yet another look, from another perspective, at the same battle he has been telling us about for many chapters now.
We caught the first faint echoes of this battle way back in Chapter 6, when a great earthquake caused the kings of the earth, generals, and other mighty men to stop whatever they were doing and beg the mountains to fall and hide them from God’s judgement —
Then again in Chapter 11, when we saw the beast from the Abyss overpower and kill the Church —
Then in Chapter 14, when the angel swung his sickle over the earth and dumped the rebellious remains of the nations into God’s winepress —
Then again in Chapter 16, when the counterfeit trinity gathered the kings of the whole world together to the place that is called Armageddon —
Then in Chapter 17 when those kings waged war against the Lamb and lost, while at the same time they suddenly started attacking Babylon the Great and one another —
And then again — just last week! — in Chapter 19, we saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered to wage war against the rider on the white horse, only to be struck down by God’s Word and feasted upon by all the birds flying in midair.
John’s vision is Ezekiel’s vision! Which means we already know how this battle ends:
But fire came down from heaven and devoured them —
— just as Ezekiel said it would.
 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
And that is it! Once again — and for the last time, I promise — this is how the Battle of Armageddon ends. We have now seen it repeated at least a half-dozen times, from a half-dozen perspectives, and this is now the last repetition.
And we can tell this is the last time because here, finally, the dragon is disposed of, the final member of the counterfeit trinity.
And this is actually very fitting. Because when we look back over the structure of John’s book, we discover a beautiful symmetry to it:
The first evil elements introduced to us at the very beginning, way back in Chapter 1, were Death and Hades: the great enemies of all mankind. Then later on the dragon was introduced, followed by the beast from the Abyss and then the false prophet: the three persons of the counterfeit trinity. And last of all we met Babylon the Great, the counterfeit church, the counterfeit kingdom.
Then Babylon the Great met her judgement first, followed by the beast and the false prophet last week, and today the dragon. God’s enemies have been destroyed in the reverse order in which they were introduced. Which means that, if the pattern holds true, the last enemy to be defeated will be the first that was introduced: Death and Hades — hopefully next week, so make sure to come back for that.
But in the meantime I do want to pause here for a moment and make it clear that Babylon the Great, the beast, the false prophet, and the dragon all actually meet their fate on the same day, at the end of the same battle. The only reason John described each judgement in separate chapters was so he could focus on the details of each one in turn.
Unfortunately this has caused confusion for some readers who did not realize that this battle in Chapter 20 is actually a retelling of the same battle described at the end of Chapter 19. At the end of Chapter 19 they see how the beast and the false prophet are thrown alive into the fiery lake — but then when they turn the page to Chapter 20 they miss the literary significance of the angel descending from heaven with a key in his hand. They do not realize that Chapter 20 is actually an interlude, a replay. They assume these chapters happen in chronological order. And so they end up misunderstanding Chapter 20, teaching that the dragon is only thrown into the fiery lake a thousand years later, after a second great battle.
And that is really too bad, because that small literary mistake has resulted in some really complicated versions of End Times theology. Instead of Jesus returning just once to destroy his enemies and redeem his people, now he has to destroy his enemies twice: once at the end of Chapter 19, and then again a thousand years later at the end of Chapter 20? It actually makes no narrative sense!
But even worse, it makes no biblical sense. Nowhere else in Revelation — nowhere else in the entire bible! — do we find this idea that, after the great battle that destroys the beast, there will be a long gap where the physical Messiah will rule over a physical kingdom on the physical earth, followed by another great battle that destroys the dragon. Nowhere else in Revelation has John ever introduced a brand-new concept that was not already talked about in the Old Testament.
And, by the way, those teachers readily acknowledge that their interpretation cannot be found anywhere else in Revelation or in the whole bible. But because they sincerely believe Chapters 19 and 20 are meant to be read chronologically, they have had to invent all kinds of complicated theological reasons for why John found it necessary to suddenly introduce a brand-new concept right at the very end of the bible.
So the classical understanding of this chapter as an interlude is a better interpretation. Not just because it respects John’s literary signals, not just because it is a less confusing narrative, but above all because it matches up perfectly with the End Times prophecies made by Peter, Paul, Jesus, and all the Old Testament prophets.
And so I hope that, by this point, it is clear to all of us what just happened during this chapter: here, for the last time in the book, John’s vision was paused and rewound to retell the entire history of the world — from the time of Jesus right up to the end of the last battle — the same history that was covered by the Cycle of the Seven Seals, then the Cycle of the Seven Trumpets, the Cycle of the Seven Signs, and even the Cycle of the Seven Last Plagues.
This chapter is basically John’s review of the entire Book of Revelation. So if all the details have been very confusing to you up until now, that is okay! This chapter is all the summary you need.
And so now, when we ask the question we like to ask every week: what does this have to do with us? — the answer should be obvious: it has everything to do with us because we are now living through the thousand years described in this chapter.
This is our history written down here. Ever since Jesus returned home to be crowned by his Father in heaven, Satan has been restricted to the earth, bound in the Abyss, helpless to keep Jesus’ Church from preaching the Gospel to every nation. Sure, he can nibble away at the edges of Christianity: he fools some people with false teachers, he seduces others with prosperity, he can inspire the persecution and even the killing of Christians here and there — but he will not be able to unite all the bestial powers of the world for one last universal killing blow until the thousand years are ended.
And the Good News for us during this millennial age is that, even after Satan manages to arrange our death, we come back to life! We are actually resurrected into a greater spiritual life than we ever enjoyed here: we get to reign with Christ a thousand years while we wait for the final resurrection.
…but some of us may have a concern about whether this promise here actually applies to all of us.
Because John does say quite clearly that it is the souls of those who have been beheaded that come to life and reign with Christ. So, what if I die of old age instead of being killed for my faith: do I get to come to life and reign with Christ? Or does my soul end up in some kind of…limbo while I wait for the final resurrection? Does this “first resurrection” apply to all of us, or only to martyrs?
Well, over the centuries, some have interpreted John’s words to mean that only martyrs experience the first resurrection; everyone else — the rest of the dead — do not get to come back to life until the thousand years are ended.
But this interpretation misses the mark on two points:
First, if we are going to interpret John’s words that narrowly, then really we would have to teach that only martyrs who are beheaded will experience the first resurrection. If we are burned, or stoned, or shot — or even crucified! — we would be out of luck.
Now, obviously John does not mean that. So clearly, when he says “those who have been beheaded” he is including Christians who have died in many different ways.
But is he including Christians who have died in non-violent ways, through illness or old age, for instance?
Well, this brings us to the second way such a narrow interpretation misses the mark: we actually first met these souls way back in Chapter 6, when John saw under the altar of incense in heaven the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God — which, again, could have given us the impression that only martyrs experience the first resurrection. But then, in the chapters that followed, we saw these souls reintroduced to us as “the 144,000”, a number that symbolizes all of God’s people combined from the Old Testament and the New Testament, not just those who are killed for their faith. And then, a few chapters later, we saw the 144,000 again, but this time we were told they had been purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God — which is the ancient language of sacrificial death. In other words they were all dead by that point in the book, and they had clearly all come to life again, because there they were: standing on Mount Zion alongside the Lamb, singing!
All the way through Revelation, John has been teaching us that all of God’s people will experience the first resurrection after we die, no matter how we die. All that matters is that we die in faithful service to our Lord, clinging to our identity as the Bride of Jesus Christ.
To put it another way: a Christian martyr is any person who dies in faithful service to Jesus Christ.
…but now some of us might be thinking, “Yes, but what if I am not ‘in faithful service’? I am not a pastor, I am not ‘in ministry’, I am not a small group leader or a Sunday School teacher or anything like that…how can I qualify for the first resurrection?”
If that is what you are thinking, please do not worry.
If we are faithfully participating in a local Christian community, practicing how to wear the wedding dress Jesus sent us — the righteous acts of God’s people — then it does not matter what our job is, or what roles and responsibilities we might have in this world. All that matters is that we are faithful to the one who died to marry us.
This is why the apostle Paul says in one of his letters: “To me, to live is Christ.” To simply live as a Christian is to live in faithful service. For a three-year-old child, faithful service might mean learning how to honour mom and dad. For a forty-year-old, faithful service might mean working in a less-than-fulfilling career in order to feed the family. For a ninety-year-old, faithful service might mean praying for forty-year-olds and three-year-olds. “To live is Christ,” Paul says —
…but “to die is gain.” Because to die in faithful service is to be promoted to greater service: the right to sit with Jesus on his throne.
So, brothers and sisters, since we have this great promise of resurrection into our next life…let us serve in this life as faithfully as we know how! If you are three years old, learn to love your annoying little brother. If you are forty, learn to serve the family God has given you, even when it does not feel very fulfilling. If you are ninety, please love us all by showing us what it looks like to finish well. Encourage us who are running the race after you. Pray for us! and we will see you on the other side.
In closing here, I want to apologise again that we did not get to see the final judgement today, as I promised last week. But next week —
Wait, let me check and make sure…
Yes. Next week the End Times action definitely resumes, I promise! We will finally get to see the end of all things…and the beginning of something new.
So please make sure to come back for that!