Why the Last “Soul”?
Our reigning with Christ
in the coming age
depends on whether
we lose our soul
in this age
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God….And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
— Revelation 20:4
This verse contains the last mention of the word “soul” in the entire Bible. This does not seem to make sense, however, for these saints are not merely souls. Rather, they have already been resurrected, which means their soul and spirit have been reunited with their body. So, why does the Bible refer to them here as “souls”?
The first reason seems to be to connect their reigning in this verse with the cry of the martyred saints earlier in Revelation, at the time of the 5th seal. The saints then really were only “souls,” for they had not yet been resurrected. Moreover, the description of those saints almost exactly matches that of the saints in Revelation 20:
When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”…
— Revelation 6:9-10
At this point the Age of Grace is coming to an end, for the saints here no longer ask God for His mercy to save sinners; now they cry out instead that their blood would be avenged. The time of grace will last only “a little while longer” (v. 11), until the opening of the 6th seal; then men will cry out in terror at the realization that, instead of God’s mercy, “the great day of His wrath” has finally come (Rev. 6:12, 15-17).
And after all God’s judgments prior to the Millennium are completed, those saints who suffered for Christ, to the point of being “slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held,” and who as “souls” cried out from under the altar, will be among the “souls” who live and reign with Christ for 1,000 years; praise the Lord!
But the use of the word “souls” in Revelation 20:4 also connects that verse to the first occurrences of that word in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Matthew. (As we read these verses we should keep in mind that the Greek word for “soul” also means “life,” so it’s often translated that way, depending on the context.)
When Jesus was sending out the Twelve He told them:
“He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his soul will lose it, and he who loses his soul for My sake will find it.”
— Matthew 10:38-39
And a few chapters later He gave them a very similar word, with a fuller explanation of it:
“Whoever desires to save his soul will lose it, but whoever loses his soul for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
— Matthew 16:25-27
So, if we lose our soul, our life, in this age, we will gain it when the Lord comes in glory, but if we save our soul in this age, we will lose it when He returns (cf. Mark 8:38).
This does not mean we will lose our salvation; we will still reign with Christ and all the saints, after the Millennium is over, in the new heaven and new earth “forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). But, we will lose the reward of reigning with Christ for the 1,000 years prior to that time (1 Cor. 9:24-27; cf. 2 Tim. 4:7-8). It is that reward of reigning with Christ during the Millennium that Revelation 20:4 is speaking of, and it is also the “finding” and “gaining” of the soul the Lord speaks of in Matthew.
And that is why, at the end of the New Testament, Revelation 20:4 speaks of “souls”: it is the ultimate fulfillment of the Lord’s word at the beginning of the New Testament, in Matthew, regarding the gaining of our soul when He returns. That is, those who reign with Christ at that time will be the ones who gained their soul in that age, because they were willing to lose it in this age.
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— 18 February 2023 —