They Who Lived and Reigned

“I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, … and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
—Revelation 20:4

THE PROSPECT OF LIVING and reigning with Christ is set before his followers in various ways. It is the “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14) From another standpoint it is the “heavenly calling.” (Heb. 3:1) It is an “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” (I Pet. 1:4) Paul wrote, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.”—II Tim. 2:11,12

In our text, John describes those whom he saw reigning with Christ, and says that they were the ones who had been ‘beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God.’ The word beheaded, from the natural standpoint, is not a pleasant one. Most of us would rather not think of scenes in which victims have their heads severed from their bodies. But the Lord uses it, and possibly one reason is that there are certain aspects of the Christian life which are not pleasing to the flesh, experiences from which the flesh shrinks; experiences, nevertheless, which must be borne with fortitude if we are ‘to live and reign with Christ.’

Crucifixion was quite generally practiced under the Roman law, although in Rome some of the prisoners considered worthy of the death penalty were beheaded. However, as nearly as we can ascertain at this time, not many of the early Christians were literally beheaded. Evidently, therefore, the Lord used the expression in a figurative sense; even as crucifixion was thus used by Paul when he wrote, “I am crucified with Christ.”—Gal. 2:20

Crucifixion and beheading both describe the taking of life, but each from a different standpoint. In the crucifixion symbol we are represented as daily taking up our cross, dying daily with Christ, until the death of the flesh is fully consummated. The beheading symbol highlights the fact that we surrender our will to the Lord, and accept Christ as our Head. Thus the “old man” dies, while the “new man” follows the directives of its Head, endeavoring to be obedient to his every wish.—Col. 3:9,10

Paul’s detailed lesson in I Corinthians, chapter twelve, reveals many of the things involved in our beheading. It is in this chapter that he uses the figure of a man to represent Christ and his church. In this illustration Jesus is the Head of the body, and the individual members of the church are represented by the other parts of the body. It is a simple illustration, with vital meaning for all those who aspire to live and reign with Christ.

Paul writes, “As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.”—vss. 12-14

We enter the body by means of baptism, or burial—not baptism in water, but the burial of our will, and the acceptance of the will of Christ, our new Head. We read, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3) In other words, we know in advance that when we accept the headship of Jesus, by being baptized into his body, we place ourselves in a position to die. Indeed, we can hardly imagine one who is beheaded not dying.

We know that Christ’s will for us is the same as was the Father’s will for him. “The head of Christ is God.” (I Cor. 11:3) Jesus buried his will into the will of his Father when he said, “Lo, I come: … I delight to do thy will, O my God.” (Ps. 40:7,8) Jesus knew that the Father’s will for him, as outlined in the “volume of the book,” was for him to die. He did not understand this clearly prior to his consecration, but soon thereafter he did, and the entire course of his ministry was one of daily dying, until on the cross he cried, “It is finished.”—John 19:30

When we are baptized into Jesus Christ, as members of his body, it is a baptism into death. It is not only the death of our own wills in the acceptance of the headship of Christ, but eventually the death of our bodies also, which are presented as “a living sacrifice.” (Rom. 12:1) These are made acceptable through the merit of Christ. It is a serious step to take, and only by Divine grace is anyone able to carry through victoriously to the end. But great is the reward for those who do, for they shall live and reign with Christ a thousand years.


Paul reminds us of the unity and cooperation of the various parts of the body. “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.”—I Cor. 12:15-18

Here, every beheaded Christian is presented with a heart-searching lesson in humility and the acceptance of the Lord’s will. There is nothing in worldly associations to compare with this. It is contrary to the natural trends and desires of the fallen flesh. In the world, for example, no one is condemned for ambitiously seeking a place of prominence and authority among his fellows. Men think it nothing wrong for a candidate for office to travel throughout the country endeavoring to impress the people with his greatness. A man will spend millions of dollars or more to convince the voters that he is qualified to be president of the United States.

But this viewpoint is entirely out of place for the beheaded Christian. Having accepted Christ as our Head, and become members of his body, we leave the choice with the Lord as to just what place we will occupy in the body. Can we imagine the hands and feet of a natural body arguing as to which should become the eye? This may seem incongruous, but it is just this that Paul brings to our attention to impress us with the need of accepting the will of the Lord in this as well as in all other matters.

And Paul makes another application of the illustration—‘Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body.’ This suggests what is sometimes observed among the brethren; namely, that if one cannot have the position in the church to which he aspires he becomes discouraged, and begins to think that he does not belong at all. Such is the reasoning of the deceitful heart, and it sometimes happens that later a brother with this viewpoint will be found creating a little body all of his own, not realizing perhaps, that the position he really coveted was to be the head.

Nor should any member of the body undervalue, in any manner, the importance of the other members. Here, also, is a lesson in humility and brotherly interest in all the body members. Those who are truly of the body, regardless of the position they may occupy, will highly “esteem” every other member, regardless of the lowly position some of them may seem to occupy.—Phil. 2:3,4

It is a privilege to be in this body at all. It came about by the grace of God, through Christ, and since God has placed every member in the body as it has pleased him to do, how fitting that we recognize the importance of all our brethren in Christ, regardless of their abilities, or of the place which God has assigned to them in the body.

Paul suggests the proper viewpoint in this matter. “Those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”—I Cor. 12:23-26

How different is this from the backbiting efforts so often seen in the world to attain positions of honor and authority among men! What a tremendous change must take place in the human heart for one to be truly beheaded and accept the headship of Christ, with all that it implies of humbly submitting to the Divine will, and of rejoicing to associate with those whom the Lord has called, regardless of their talents, or of how they may measure up to our ideals.

One of the things a worldly-minded person likes people to know is that he is personally acquainted with this, that, and the other great personage in the world of government, or of the theatre, or of sports. A man who has been entertained by the president, or by one or another of the few kings that are left, or by a prince, is considered quite important. But how different among the members of the body of Christ. Of Jesus himself it was asked, “Have any of the rulers … believed on him?” (John 7:48) No, of course not! His disciples were just plain people—fishermen, and the like. There was a physician—Luke—and later there was Paul, a “Pharisee” of the Pharisees. (Acts 23:6) But generally speaking, if we were asked to mention the celebrities whom we know, and who are associated with us, we probably could name none, but we would name those in the humblest walks of life. These are a royal company.

What a royal company! All of them are associates of a King. Indeed, they are on the most intimate terms with him. He speaks for them at the throne of heavenly grace; he is their Elder Brother; their Bridegroom to be. Indeed, these lowly, unknown ones from the world’s standpoint are all of a royal line, children of the great King Jehovah, and in training to live and reign with Christ a thousand years.


In Paul’s use of the body illustration he makes it clear that every member in the body has a work to do. We cannot be in the body at all unless we work. Looking to the Head for guidance, we hear him say that we are to be his witnesses. The Truth is to be ministered to one another, and to the world. It is this important work of bearing witness to the Truth that helps to emphasize the need for the harmonious working together of all the members of the body. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. … Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”—John 17:17-21

In general, the world as a whole will not be convinced that God sent Jesus to be their Redeemer and Savior until during the kingdom. But we are now in training for that future work of enlightening the world, and the Lord is giving us practical tests as to our enthusiasm for his cause by bidding us to be his witnesses now. It is for this, the Revelator says, that we are beheaded.

As beheaded followers of the Master we of necessity must be members of his body, else we have no head at all. This means that all the beheaded ones will work together in the common witness work. As individuals we bear witness to the Truth, but if we are to live and reign with Christ we must, as individual members of his body, learn to be subject one to another, and above all to our new Head, Christ Jesus.

The expression, beheaded for the witness of Christ, strongly implies that this is the main purpose of our beheading. We are not beheaded to attend meetings, or to study the Bible. We attend meetings and study the Bible in order that we may become more fully acquainted with the will of God for us, that thus we may be more completely in line with the directives of our new Head, Christ Jesus. In our beheading we gave up our own plans and ways, and we need earnestly to seek the plans and ways of the Lord that we may work in harmony with him, and in close cooperation and harmony with our fellow members of the body.


Witnessing for Jesus as beheaded members of his body is a voluntary service. The influence impelling us to faithfulness is love. The message we bear is so wonderful that it is a joy to tell others about it, but the results are not always joyful. The world is in darkness, and the darkness hateth the light, and as we let our light shine the world frowns upon us. We are not accepted among our friends as we once were. Some may even speak evil of us and persecute us. These situations are not pleasing to the flesh, and there may come the temptation merely to adhere as best we can to the righteous principles of the Truth, but not bear witness to it.

Then there is the temptation to become “weary in well doing.” (Gal. 6:9) Witnessing for Jesus and for the Word of God is not an incidental thing in the beheaded Christian’s life. It is his chief vocation, his chief business. Other things are more or less incidental. But sometimes there is a tendency to reverse this arrangement using less and less of time and strength for the main issue of our consecrated lives, and more and more for the less important things.

Jesus mentioned this danger in his parable of the Sower. In his reference to the seed, which fell among thorns, he said, “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” (Matt. 13:22) Here is the case of one who has progressed to the extent of bearing Christian fruit, and then allowed other interests to enter in, to the point of ‘becoming unfruitful.’

Then there is the danger of discouragement. The cold indifference of the world to the Gospel of the kingdom does not inspire enthusiasm, but has a tendency to dampen zeal. We labor for years, perhaps, and see no tangible results from our witness work. Under these circumstances the flesh would say, What’s the use? Why should I continue to spend my time, my strength, my money, when nothing is being accomplished? But the new mind, consulting the Head, is reminded that the results of our witness work are not our responsibility, that it is God who giveth the “increase.”—I Cor. 3:7

We are not invited to witness for Jesus and the Word of God because our help is needed, but because we need the opportunity thereby to prove our zeal for the Truth, and our joy in the fact that God intends to bless all the families of the earth—a joy that impels us even now, and at great cost, to tell as many as we can about it. The only ones who will live and reign with Christ a thousand years are those who demonstrate their enthusiasm for the purpose of that reign, and for this cause we now are being beheaded, for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God.

Another temptation that comes to some in connection with the witness work is the inclination to boast of the great works they are doing. Or, deep down in our hearts, we might feel a sense of great satisfaction that we have done so much for the Lord, even though we may not have expressed our feelings to others.

If we find ourselves being tempted along this line we should recall Jesus’ parable in which we are represented as “unprofitable servants.” (Luke 17:10) If we have spent much time and strength in the service of the Lord, it is only what we agreed to do when we made our consecration to him and were beheaded, therefore we have nothing to boast about, for we are still ‘unprofitable servants.’ What marvelous grace is here manifested! The Lord has taken us into partnership with him, made us one of his coworkers, yet from the beginning to the end of our earthly course we are a liability to him—servants which do not bring him a profit.

A moment’s reflection reveals the reason for this. On the night Jesus was born, God used the angels to make the announcement to the shepherds. First one spoke, proclaiming the glad tidings, and then a whole multitude of the angelic hosts sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:10-14) God could have continued to use the angels to proclaim the Gospel. With no difficulty at all God could arrange for the angels daily to proclaim the glad tidings of the kingdom, and with a display of glory the like of which the world has never known. How insignificant and weak our efforts seem when we compare them with what God could do in other ways, but for the fact that he is giving us an opportunity to prove that we are worthy to live and reign with Christ a thousand years.


“God is love.” (I John 4:8) His plan for the blessing of the world is prompted by love. To be in harmony with him, our efforts to cooperate in his plan must be motivated by love. This is the vital lesson Paul so effectively sets forth in I Corinthians, chapter 13, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, … and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing.” (vs. 3) Jesus told the rich young ruler that if he bestowed all his goods to feed the poor he would have “treasure in heaven.” (Mark 10:21) Paul knew this was one of the ways of expressing the terms of the narrow way. He knew that we cannot lay up treasures in heaven except through the sacrifice of all that we have and are for the blessing of others and the glory of God. But Paul knew also, that unless our giving, our sacrificing, is prompted by the spirit of unselfishness, by love, it will profit us nothing—no treasure will be laid up in heaven.

“Though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing.” (I Cor. 13:3) Paul knew that giving our bodies ‘to be burned’ is what is involved in our being beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God. Paul writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”—Rom. 12:1

Presenting ‘bodies’ in ‘sacrifice’ is a thought that Paul got from the services of the typical Tabernacle, in which animal sacrifices were burned on the brazen altar in the court. He knew that, antitypically, Christians are also called upon to offer bodies to be burned—not the bodies of animals, but their own; not on literal altars and by literal fire, but on the altar of God’s service, and by the fiery trials of hardship and persecution which must inevitably accompany such sacrifices.

Paul knew that there was no other way into the glories of the kingdom, to live and reign with Christ a thousand years. But he also knew that there is much martyrdom that is prompted by motives other than Christian love.

However, there is no profit in sacrifice, no laying up of treasures in heaven, if we have not love. This does not mean that if we have love we will hold back from sacrifice. Rather, the more fully we are filled and controlled by love, the greater will be our determination to give all we have and are in sacrifice, knowing that it will be acceptable to God through Christ.

Love not only prompts to sacrifice, but also controls the way we sacrifice and serve. “Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind,” says Paul. (I Cor. 13:4) As beheaded members of the body of Christ, we serve one another. Are we doing it kindly, sympathetically? Are we patient with others’ weaknesses as we would like them to be patient with ours? Is the spirit of kindness manifested in our witnessing to the world?

Love should enter into, and control, all our activities, all our associations. To the extent that it does, we will not be envious of others; we will not be boastful and puffed up; our conduct will be such as becometh the children of God; we will not be easily provoked, nor insisting on our rights, nor will we think evil of others.

Love “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” Love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity [love] never faileth.” (vss. 6-8) Love, filling our hearts and controlling our words and acts, is the great principle and power that makes our feeble efforts in God’s service acceptable through Christ. If we are truly beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God it is because we are motivated by love. This is why we may confidently hope for the glorious consummation of living and reigning with Christ a thousand years.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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