“And I saw thrones, and there were those who sat down on them, and power of judging was given them. Yes, I saw the souls of those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God, and those who had worshiped neither the wild beast nor its image and who had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand. And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.
8, 9. (a) Where were the thrones seen located, and how many of them actually were there? (b) So John was seeing the beginning of what “day,” and how did Paul speak of it at Athens?
8 The thrones that John saw were up in heaven, not on earth, for these are the thrones of those who are to rule as kings with the Christ for a thousand years. The number of thrones was therefore not indefinite. The number was 144,000, to correspond with the 144,000 spiritual Israelites who are sealed with the “seal of the living God” and who follow the Lamb Jesus Christ “no matter where he goes.” (Revelation 7:1-8; 14:1-5) During the past thousands of years that Satan the Devil has been the “ruler of this world” there has been such an absence of justice or miscarriage of justice that it will be an excellent thing when the power of judging mankind is committed to these 144,000 associate judges of the Lord Jesus Christ. So when the apostle John saw those 144,000 thrones and those who sat down on them, he was seeing the beginning of the glorious judicial day that was spoken of to the Court of Areopagus, Athens, nineteen centuries ago, in these words:
9 “God . . . has fixed the day on which he will have the world judged, and justly judged, by a man of his choosing; of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”—Acts 17:22-31, New English Bible, of 1970.
10, 11. What kind of “souls” were they that John saw, and for what work were they equipped?
10 The apostle John further identifies the occupants of the judicial thrones as being the 144,000 Kingdom joint heirs of the Lord Jesus Christ by going on to say: “Yes, I saw the souls of those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God, and those who had worshiped neither the wild beast nor its image and who had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand.”—Revelation 20:4.
11 The apostle John did not see headless “souls.” By using the descriptive word “souls” he was not talking like spiritistic mediums about “disembodied spirits.” He was using the word “souls” in the way that the inspired Holy Scriptures use the word, and he meant live, conscious beings in bodies, through which bodies they expressed their personalities. Only, in order to occupy judicial thrones in the invisible heavens, their bodies would have to be spirit bodies. In the discussion of the resurrection of the dead, we are told in 1 Corinthians 15:44: “It is sown [in death] a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body.” Hence the apostle John saw live, conscious heavenly bodies, persons equipped with mental abilities for judgment work, and these John identified as being those “executed with the ax” for the witness of Jesus and God’s Word.
“EXECUTED WITH THE AX”
12. (a) Have all Kingdom joint heirs of Christ been executed with the ax literally? (b) Does God figuratively do the executing with the ax, or who does so, and for what?
12 However, not all the 144,000 Kingdom joint heirs of Jesus Christ were executed with the ax or beheaded for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God. Not in a literal way! The apostle James, the natural brother of John, was killed by the sword, possibly beheaded, by King Herod Agrippa I. (Acts 12:1, 2) According to tradition, the apostle Paul was beheaded at Rome, Italy. (2 Timothy 4:6-8) But not all the 144,000 suffer a martyr’s death by having their heads chopped off. Certainly it is not God who does the executing of them with the ax, either literally or figuratively, inasmuch as it was for speaking about Him that they are all executed with the ax. It is the political state that executes them. In the case of the Roman Empire, of which the apostle John was a prisoner on the penal island of Patmos, this power of execution was symbolized by the ax wrapped within a bundle of rods with which criminals were scourged and beheaded. This symbol was called the fasces, and was carried in procession by lictors before the highest Roman magistrate. Benito Mussolini the Duce of the Fascist Party popularized this symbol during his regime in Italy.
13. According to Revelation 20:4, why does the political state world wide figuratively execute the 144,000 Kingdom heirs with the ax?
13 In effect the political state of this world executes the 144,000 Kingdom heirs by judging them as unworthy to live under its authority. It sentences them to death, as it were. The reason for this is made plain by the apostle John. In what way? In that, as John says, they “had worshiped neither the wild beast nor its image” and “had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand.” In other words, these 144,000 Kingdom heirs had not worshiped the political state in any of its varied expressions throughout the earth. Neither had the remnant of these Kingdom heirs in this twentieth century worshiped that international organization for world peace and security now known as the United Nations, but known previously as the League of Nations. The symbolic “wild beast,” the worldwide political state, is the one that is hurled into the destruction symbolized by the “fiery lake that burns with sulphur” in the “war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Har–Magedon.—Revelation 13:1-17; 14:9-11; 19:19, 20; 20:4.
14. In what way do the 144,000 Kingdom heirs not worship the wild beast or receive its mark on forehead or hand?
14 The 144,000 Kingdom heirs do not worship the symbolic “wild beast,” meddling in its politics, running for political offices, sharing in its sanguinary warfare. Thus they do not receive a mark on their foreheads nor on their hands, to symbolize that they are slaves of the state and are lending it an active hand in carrying on its worldly activities, often beastly. Neither do the 144,000 worship the “image to the wild beast,” ascribing salvation to a man-made international organization for world peace and security. They worship only the God about whom they speak and give their allegiance to Him as the Universal Sovereign. They do not magnify the earthly political state, but bear witness to Jesus, the Son of God, as being the Christ, the Messiah, whom the Most High God has appointed to rule the world of mankind for a thousand years. Little wonder that the “wild beast” executes the 144,000 as with the ax!
15. What do all the 144,000 experience finally on earth, and how is it that they can sit down on judicial thrones in heaven?
15 Whether finishing their earthly course by a violent martyr’s death or not, all the 144,000 Kingdom heirs do at last die in a physical way. How is it, then, that they can enter into the kingdom of the heavens and sit down on those judicial thrones up there? It is not by any immortality of the human soul, but is by a resurrection from the dead. Says John concerning “those executed with the ax for the witness they bore to Jesus and for speaking about God”: “And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for a thousand years.”—Revelation 20:4.
16. In their coming to life again, it is as what kind of creatures, and what now is the measure of their life?
16 They “came to life” again, not on earth as human creatures or human souls, but up in heaven as spiritual sons of God. It is as such that they are seen by the apostle John in vision. They have a span of life longer than that of mankind today. They can live longer than Methuselah did, who lived 969 years. (Genesis 5:25-27) They can live for the thousand years of their reigning with Christ and then on into endless eternity, for they are clothed upon with immortality at their resurrection from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:50-57) At the instant of their being resurrected they are at the fullness of life, without weakness, without corruption, without any of the imperfection that had previously attached to their dying physical bodies that they had inherited from sinful Adam and Eve. They are perfectly alive, justified by Almighty God to everlasting life in the spirit.—1 Corinthians 15:42-55.