Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
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.
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Understanding And Applying the Text
It is tempting to take this chapter by itself. And there are 22 chapters in the book. And this is chapter 20. Chapter 20 is the twentieth chapter. I know that sounds obvious. But that means it comes at the end. We cannot lift chapter 20 and its imagery out of the context. That would be like reading the next to last chapter in a novel. You would not understand the characters. You would not understand the plot. In short, you would not understand the book. It does not work.
Many think this is the most important part. It is an interesting part. It tells us about the millennium. That is it tells us about the 1000 year reign.
But let’s keep it in context. This is the only place the Bible that mentions the thousand years. It mentions it 6 times in the first seven verses. That is it. The millennium shows up nowhere else. That is significant. Our emphasis needs to be the same. The Bible, that is, God does not emphasize it. So we should not either. That does not mean it is not true. That does not mean it is unimportant. It means we should not emphasize it.
The millennium dominates the discussion of prophecy. The names of entire schools of prophetic interpretation come from it. There are pre-millennialists, dispensational pre-millennialist, post-millennialists, and amillennialists. And those who make light of it. They call themselves pan-millennialists. “It will all pan out in the end.” I do not mean to put pan-millennialist down. For a very long time, I was a pan-millennialist.
Post-millennialists believe Jesus will return to earth at the end of the millennium. That is why this view is post-millennial. It refers to Jesus’ return after the millennium.
Amillennialists are a subset of post-millennial. Amillennialists see Revelation 20 as a summary of the preceding chapters. So they believe Christ’s millennial reign started 2,000 years ago. It started when Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down on His throne. That means we are in the millennial reign.
Amillennialists recognize the number 1,000 does not mean a literal 1,000. The Hebrews did not understand numbers as moderns do. One-Thousand could refer to an indefinite number or even forever. There are many examples of this in scripture. God owns the cattle on 1,000 hills (Psalm. 50:10). That does not mean God owns the cattle only on 1,000 hills. He owns all cattle everywhere. The psalmist said, “one day in the house of God is better than 1,000 elsewhere” (Psalm. 84:10). Again the number 1,000 is non-literal. Other examples are Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 1:11; Psalm 68:17; 90:4.
One -thousand is a figure of speech. In the context of Revelation 20, it refers to all the years between Jesus’ first coming and His second coming. Many past church leaders understood the 1,000 years as an indefinite period. These included; Augustine, Eusebius, John Calvin, John Knox, and John Wesley.
There is indeed a millennium mentioned by St. John; but the most, and those pious men, look upon those words as true indeed, but to be taken in a spiritual sense.Cited in The Literal Interpretation of Scripture Enforced by Platt
But a little later there followed the chiliasts, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years. Now their fiction is too childish either to need or to be worth a refutation.John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion
Pre-millennialists believe the events in Revelation 20 follow those in 1 through 19. They believe Jesus will return before His millennial reign. There are two premillennial views. It is important not to confuse them. They are dispensational premillennialism and historic premillennialism. Dispensational premillennialism is a modern invention by today’s futurists.
Dispensational premillennialist see Revelation 4 through 18 as in the future. They occur during a future seven-year period. They call this “the end-times.” The end-times contain earthquakes, famines, wars, and the antichrist. These all precede the millennial reign of Jesus.
The futurist’s view of the millennium as “dispensational.” It comes out of dispensational theology. The Scofield Reference Bible popularized that theology. This is a recent invention. It divides history into time periods.
The other form of premillennialism is historic premillennialism. It is called “historic premillennialism” because it appears in church history. It also sees Jesus return before His millennial reign. Many early Church fathers held this view. They include; Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Papias, and Tertullian. Historic premillennialism is not the same as dispensational premillennialism. Do not confuse them.
There are partial preterists are historic premillennialist. And there are partial preterists who are post-millennialist. Both hold that the kingdom of God came to Earth 2,000 years ago. Both believe Christians can experience the kingdom of God now while we are alive on Earth.
But there is one significant difference. It has to do with when Satan is bound and thrown into the abyss. Revelation 20:2–3 tells us that at the beginning of the millennial reign of Jesus. An angel threw Satan “into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him… .” The historic premillennial view is Satan’s thrown into the abyss after Jesus returns. This view sees Satan dethroned when Jesus ascended into heaven. Satan lost his throne when Jesus sat on His. But Satan wanders the Earth. He does so until Christ comes again. The postmillennial view sees Satan was not only dethroned. He was also thrown into the abyss when Jesus ascended into heaven.
Postmillennial Partial Preterists believe Satan was already bound. He was bound with Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. (Revelation 12:9; Matthew 12:29; John 12:31; Colossians 2:15). Satans binding allowed the spread of the gospel. This started in Acts as the result of God restricting Satan’s power.
Until recently most of the church has been Postmillennial. In the 19th century, dispensational premillennial became dominant. It was a new view. And “new” in theology almost always means wrong.
While the previous chapters appear fulfilled in the early church. This chapter is, from the first-century church’s point of view, in the distant future. Every time reference to this point has been a short time. “shortly, half-hour, hour, five months, year and a half. The book begins and ends by saying these things will happen soon. The idea that time is short is the central message of the Book.
Some try to compress the thousand years into a short period of time. They try to fit it into the early church period. Some say the reference to a short time and a thousand years refer to the same period. These positions are unreasonable.
Some argue God could not have chained Satan. Their evidence is the continued evil in the world. That thinking is the result of too high a view of man. It comes from the belief man is basically good. That is in direct opposition to the bible’s description of man. Man is evil (Romans 3:9-20). We are good at being bad. We do not need any help from the devil. That is not popular. But it is what the bible says. So the existence of evil has no bearing on rather or not Satan was bound.
The fact the church grew at a phenomenal rate is evidence Satan was bound. Notice what John writes, “… so that he might not deceive the nations any longer… .” The church grew because the deceiver was bound.
The saints rule with Christ and judge the world with Christ. I don’t know about you but I find this a little frightening. If all the saints judge the world then I am to aid them. If I judge I would get it wrong. My judgment would be too harsh or too lenient. It would not be just. The only hope is if God completes my sanctification first. And He infuses me with a lot more wisdom.
John refers to two resurrections. If the first resurrection is bodily. It coincides with Christ’s Second Coming. (1 Cor. 15:51–57; 1 Thess. 4:13–18) That would make the premillennialists correct.. . But John also mentions a second death. John contrast’s the second death with the first death. The first death is bodily. It is not an ultimate death. The second death is ultimate and spiritual. So, the first resurrection is not the ultimate resurrection. The saints’ reign with Christ. Christ’s reign is a spiritual reign. Christ is in heaven. So it is reasonable to conclude the first resurrection is a spiritual resurrection. The second resurrection is a bodily resurrection. The first resurrection is the spiritual new birth (John 5:24, 25). That would make the Postmillennialist correct.
“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.”
They are in Christ’s presence that is the reason for their blessing. This passage was a comfort to those who first read it. It should be a comfort to us also. If we die in Christ we take part in the first resurrection. We enjoy Christ’s presence.
Note: John does not say, their reign is on earth. The saints are “with Christ.”
The second death is ultimate and spiritual in nature. So, the first resurrection is spiritual. And the second resurrection is physical. The first resurrection is preliminary. And the second resurrection is ultimate. The first resurrection coincides with the new birth. (John 5:24-25; 2 Corinthians 5:8 Philippians 1:23)
Once God releases Satan, Satan gathers God’s enemies. He marches against God’s saints. Satan and his armies surround the saints and the beloved city. But God destroys them. There is not any mention of God’s saints needing to fight.
At the end of the thousand years comes the great judgment.
There are similarities between this description and previous judgment descriptions. In the seven seals, there was similar is imagery. The heaven departed. The mountains and islands moved out of their places. (chap. vi. 14). Also, similar imagery is found in the seven vials. (chap. xvi. 20). The seventh trumpet declared, “the time of the dead, they should be judged, is come,” (chap. xi. 18). And in the seven mystic figures, we see “a white cloud, and on the cloud one sitting, like unto the Son of Man” (chap. Xiv. 14). This corresponds with “the great white throne, and him that sat on it.”
But there are some unique features to this vision. There are the books of judgment. The sea, death, and Hades, give up their dead. Christ throws death and Hades into the lake of fire.
This is the same scene Jesus describes in Matthew 25: 31-46. There we see the ‘throne of glory.’ This is the same gathering of all the nations. God judges according to their works. And there is the same ‘everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’
This is the scene described in Matthew 25. But it is not “the end of the world,” as many depict it. That is, it is not the dissolving of the material world and the end of human history.
It is Christ’s coming glory. He comes to vindicate and reward His faithful servants. He comes to judge and destroy His enemies. All the New Testament is unified in this, the gospels, the epistles, and in the Apocalypse. This is one harmonious and concurrent doctrine. Each part of scripture confirms the others.
But there are several questions that I have I cannot find a reasonable answer to. In fact I can few who even address them. Let me outline them.
Why a thousand years? I am not asking about the length of time. I am asking why is there a termination point? At the end of the thousand years, John said Satan must be released. Why MUST Satan be released? I have searched and cannot find anyone who even addresses these questions. I know I am not the only one in church history to ask them. But if you are asking the same questions I fear I have no answers for you. But there is one answer of which I am certain. It brings glory to God to do so.