Jesus Wins! – Part 35: Thousand-Year Reign: Rev. 20:1-10

//Jesus Wins! – Part 35: Thousand-Year Reign: Rev. 20:1-10

Jesus Wins! – Part 35: Thousand-Year Reign: Rev. 20:1-10

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, 10 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. [1]

 

WHAT’S IN A PREFIX

For the majority of American Evangelicals, the word millennium conjures up images of lions and lambs bedded down together in the green grass, children playing with poisonous snakes and harmless predators, and Jesus seated on a throne in the re-built temple of Jerusalem from whence he rules over all the world for 1,000 years of universal peace and prosperity. This is what I was taught in my childhood. I was also taught that anyone who believed otherwise was either a theological liberal or a Roman Catholic.

Hal Lindsey’s futurist view of Revelation in his book, The Late, Great Planet Earth was almost as authoritative as scripture itself. It defined the orthodox interpretation of biblical prophecy with its pictures of the Soviet Union and China as the biblical Gog and Magog, and its picturing of locusts as attack helicopters, and the European Union as the 10-horned beast. Premillennialism – the view that Jesus would return to Jerusalem for a literal 1,000-year earthly reign prior to the final judgment – was a test of orthodoxy in my childhood. Revelation had to be interpreted as literally as possible in a chronological, sequential fashion because to do otherwise was “liberal” and “spiritualizing the text.” First, Jesus returns to earth; then, he sets up a literal earthly reign of peace and prosperity; finally, he conquers the devil and holds the final judgment.

The premillennial view seems logical at first glance. If Revelation 19 describes Jesus’ second coming, then chapter 20 must describe a literal earthly 1,000-year reign of Christ before the final judgment and consummation of all things. The “pre” in premillennial means Jesus returns before the beginning of this 1,000-year period. Is this what Revelation is teaching? Respectfully, no. No, it is not.  If you hold to some form of premillennialism, I am not here to insult you or berate what you have been taught. But preachers are not human jukeboxes whose purpose is to play the hits everyone wants to hear; we’re called to teach according to the best of our understanding. I believe there is a much simpler view of Revelation, and of chapter 20, than the premillennial view.

The view taught by Martin Luther and all the reformers, the one expressed in all the Reformed confessions, and the view held by most Lutheran and Reformed theologians to this very day is known as amillennialism. It literally means “no millennium,” which isn’t an accurate name. This historic reformed teaching sees Revelation 20 as a description of Christ’s present reign from heaven with all the saints who have passed into glory. The 1,000 years is a symbolic number (like all the other numbers in Revelation) describing the period between Messiah’s first and second coming.

Although it may initially sound attractive, premillennialism raises serious questions.  Suppose, for a moment, that Jesus does return 1,000 years before the final judgment and there is a bodily resurrection of believers to reign on earth with Christ as premillennialism teaches. First, this text nowhere describes universal peace on earth. Second, the text nowhere describes Christ ruling from Jerusalem over all the earth. Third, if premillennialism is true, it teaches a great number of people somehow survive the final judgment in their earthly bodies to repopulate the earth along with the resurrected saints in their heavenly bodies which neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matt. 22:30; Mk. 12:25; Lk. 20:35). [2] Revelation 19:15 tells us the nations were struck down. “Nations” is the biblical term for all Gentiles, all unbelievers, all the earth-dwellers. As Rev. 19:18 describes the vultures feasting upon: “the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.”[3]

Nowhere does John ever imply that perfected, resurrected believers live on earth alongside unregenerate sinners. How do these unregenerate sinners with earthly bodies escape judgment upon the nations in chapter 19? Is it because they were relatively less immoral than the rest of the idol-worshipping earth-dwellers? Some sinners deserved judgment, but others do not? Fourth, what happens at the end of this literal 1,000-year earthly reign? Satan is said to be unleashed to orchestrate a world-wide revolt against Christ while Christ is ruling the earth. Not only does it suggest there will be a kind-of second fall of mankind from a state of kind-of perfection, but it calls into question the character of Messiah’s rule that allows sin to even exist, much less reign, in this allegedly peace-and-justice-filled age.

The traditional interpretation builds on what we have been studying already in Revelation, considering the context and the fact that this is not a series of chronologically-connected visions, but different camera angles of the same series of events. “This chapter is a part of the larger literary segment extending from 17:1 to 21:8. The first sections of the literary unit have been the announcement of the fall of Babylon at the end of time (ch. 17), elaboration of Babylon’s fall, especially the responses from both unredeemed and redeemed multitudes (18:1–19:10), and Christ’s judgment of the ungodly world forces at the end of history (19:11–21).”[4] This literary segment (17-22) forms a chiasm, with chapters 17-19 showing the judgment of the harlot of Babylon and chapters 21-22 showing the vindication of the bride of Christ, the church. The structure of these four chapters shows us this is not a chronological sequence but a thematic sequence.

The visions in these chapters re-examine the history of the spiritual opposition to Messiah and his inbreaking kingdom. Revelation 19 showed us a more detailed, slow-motion camera angle of the church age previously introduced to us as symbolic histories in chapters 12-14 (the woman, the child, the dragon and his flood of deception). In reverse order of their appearance in those chapters, the harlot of Babylon is pictured first with her judgment clearing the way for the Lamb’s wedding feast because the presence and power of sin must be removed before ANY kind of paradise (temporary or eternal) can exist.

Then, we saw the next camera angle of the very same last judgment; only this time the focus was on what happened to the beast and all his little client-state toady rulers called “the false prophet.” So, we’ve had the judgment of the city of man and the judgment of the political-military forces. Whose part in the final judgment is left to describe? Satan is left, and chapter 20 replays the last judgment with a camera angle upon the great red dragon’s role from the first coming of Jesus to the second coming and last judgment. Can you see how chapters 17-20 are arranged according to the subjects of the final judgement? They’re not chronological; they are topical because they are part of a chiasm – a parallel literary structure. The harlot’s, the beast’s, the false prophet’s, and the devil’s judgments happen at the same time because it is one final judgment at the end of the age. [5]

Revelation 20 is a symbolic description of the entire church age that ends, like all the other visions we’ve been examining, with the final judgment – the focus of which, in this scene, is Satan.[6] Remember back in 12:7-9 we read:

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. [7]

We noted this was not a literal war in heaven, but a judicial proceeding. Satan had been the prosecutor of heaven, pointing out all the sins of all the saints. But when Messiah died and rose again, the permanent ground for the saint’s forgiveness was established and Satan was disbarred and thrown out of the heavenly courtroom. “When Jesus begins his messianic ministry and ushers in the kingdom of God, he overcomes all of Satan’s efforts to prevent the seed of the woman–promised way back in Genesis 3:15–from ever being born. Not only does the Messiah usher in the kingdom of God, but when Satan orchestrates Jesus’ crucifixion, ironically, he assures his own defeat. For when Jesus Christ dies upon the cross for our sins and then rises again from the dead, he crushes Satan under his feet, though his own heel be bruised.”[8]

Paul wrote in Colossians: “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[9] Satan was defeated by Jesus Christ during his public ministry, something John describes in Revelation 12:7-9, using apocalyptic symbolism–i.e. a war in heaven with Satan losing and being cast down to the earth, and here in Revelation 20 with the language of Satan being bound. In Revelation 20, John is not foretelling a literal 1,000-year earthly reign of Jesus where sin is partly defeated, the earth is partly restored, and Messiah partly reigns over a partly-lost and partly saved humanity. Nowhere else in this great letter is there any other supporting text to suggest an entirely literal interpretation of this chapter.

VISION CASTING

Chapter 20 begins with a new vision. We see that in the literary device John uses: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven….”[10]  As we’ve seen several times before, when John uses the phrase “I saw” he is introducing a new vision as a different camera angle of the same great event. This vision sees an angel holding a key to the realm of the dead and a chain to frustrate the devil’s purposes. Remember, this is apocalyptic literature. Satan is a fallen angel, a spiritual being, no physical literal lock and chain can hold him. No place can hold him. Only the power of the Word of God over his creatures can hold the angelic forces of the spiritual realm.

Keys have been mentioned several times in this letter. In Revelation 1:18, Christ holds the keys of death and hades in his hand. In chapter 3, we read of the Holy One who has the key of David which opens and shuts. And then in Revelation 9:1-2 we read that “The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2 When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss.[11] The abyss is the realm of the dead, the place of death and Hades. It is the realm with which Satan is most closely associated, likely because he was the bringer of both spiritual and physical death to humanity. We could speak of all those not raised to life by trusting into Christ as “the realm of the dead.” The earth-dwellers are the realm of the dead. Satan is bound in that realm for a specific purpose – that he is unable to deceive the nations for 1,000 years.

Satan is not prevented from all activity. John has already written in 12:12 that when the devil was disbarred and cast down to earth upon Jesus resurrection, an angel announced, “woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.[12] So Satan is not in some jail cell unable to do anything for a literal 1,000-year period. He is prowling about like a roaring lion seeking whomever he can devour, as Peter warns. Paul calls him the god of this age who blinds the minds of unbelievers. Satan does not cease all activity; he is prevented from organizing the earth-dwellers as a world-wide unified force against the church until just before the consummation of all things, as we’ve already seen in the 6th and 7th seals, trumpets, and bowls visions.

Even though countries arise that persecute God’s people they come, and they go. Present-day Rome is a city full of ruins marking the fall of a beast. Hitler’s 1,000-year Reich lasted about 15 years. Stalin’s communist empire collapsed. Even though countries arise to persecute the church, the devil is prevented from unifying the whole of unsaved mankind against the church to stop the spread of the gospel. Messiah’s kingdom continues to break into the dark corners of the devil’s realm and the walking dead are and shall be raised to life until that last soul is saved, and Messiah returns to destroy all those arrayed against his chosen ones. The only literal number we have seen in this letter is the number of churches addressed by Jesus in the first three chapters. Even then the number seven still represents the whole of the congregations of Roman Asia.

Numbers are used symbolically throughout this letter. Seven is the number of perfection and completion; four is the number for the earth and things earthly; 144,000 is a symbol of the tribes of Israel arrayed for holy war as a picture of the innumerable members of the church; and, 666 is a picture of the unholy trinity’s shabby attempt to mimic Father, Son, and Spirit. In 2:2 the saints of Smyrna were told they would endure 10 days of suffering but would reign with Jesus for 1,000 years.  “Therefore, the intensification of ten days (a short time) to a thousand years (an ideal time) is intended to show that our momentary suffering is rewarded by great glory, even during this present age, prior to the eternal state. Thus, when John speaks of Satan being bound for a thousand years, he is talking about Satan being cast from heaven and confined to the realm of the dead until released.”[13]

In Luke 10, the 72 disciples Jesus sent out to proclaim the gospel returned to report to Jesus. “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”

18 And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.[14] It seems Satan’s confinement to the realm of the dead is connected to proclaiming the propositions of Christ’s imputed righteousness, his atoning death, and his glorious resurrection and ascension. He cannot stop those whom Christ has sealed for salvation from abandoning his dark kingdom of death and entering Messiah’s unstoppable inbreaking Kingdom of life.  In response to Jesus preaching and demonic exorcisms in Mark 3:23-30, the scribes of Jerusalem accused Jesus of being possesses with a powerful demon. Jesus asked how Satan could cast himself out? He said, “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.[15] The devil’s binding began with Jesus’ earthly ministry.

THRONES AND SOULS

In verses 4-6 John writes, “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.” [16]

The premillennial view says these thrones are set up on earth. But of the 47 times thrones are mentioned in Revelation, 45 are references to heaven. The other three instances are thrones of Satan or the beast on earth (2:13; 13:2; 16:10).[17] “Life and rule are the primary themes in 20:4–6. This means that the primary point of the millennium is to demonstrate the victory of suffering Christians. Those ‘whom the beast put to death are those who will truly live … and those who contested his right to rule and suffered for it are those who will in the end rule as universally as he—and for much longer,’ not only for a figurative millennium but for eternity (22:5) This is in line with NT teaching elsewhere, such as 2 Tim. 2:11–12: ‘If we die with him, we will live with him; if we hold fast, we will reign with him.’”[18]

Throughout the Book of Revelation, thrones are always in heaven, not on the earth. Therefore, this scene is a heavenly one, not earthly. Also, John sees “souls,” not people. According to John, these souls are the disembodied spirits of those who were put to death for refusing to worship the beast or to take his blasphemous mark upon their bodies. These individuals held to their testimony for Jesus and his word, until taking their final breath. But when they die, John says, they immediately come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years! This is not a description of a future earthly millennium characterized by a time of universal peace. This is a time characterized by persecution and suffering – the entire point of the letter. People are dying because they confess “Jesus is Lord,” in the face of the persecution of the beast. Not only do these people come to life, but the second death–which is a reference to eternal judgment and the fires of hell–has no power over them. They come to life and reign with Christ in heaven until his return at the end of the age.[19]

John calls this translation from earth at the time of death to the reign in heaven, the “first resurrection.” Those raised from death to life are “blessed and holy.” This is not a reference to the bodily resurrection at the end of the age, but a reference to a believer’s regeneration, conversion, and entrance into heaven at death, a point confirmed by a number of New Testament passages, most notably John 5:24-25, where John quotes Jesus as saying, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.[20]

The first resurrection occurs at the time of regeneration when we are born again and becomes evident when we leave this life and enter into the presence of Christ in heaven, where we will reign with Christ as priests until the thousand years are over.[21] The glorified saints reign with Christ in part because Satan can no longer enter the heavenly courtroom to accuse God’s people and more than he can deceive all the earth-dwellers to unite in battle against the earthly church until God ushers in the final battle and final judgment.

FINAL JUDGMENT REDUX

Verse 7 begins another camera angle of the great last battle and final judgement with the focus upon Satan’s end. John’s focus shifts back to earth, to those days immediately before the return of Jesus Christ. Satan will be released from his restraints and finally be allowed to unify all the earth-dwellers against God’s people. Since he cannot touch the resurrected saints reigning in heaven, he is determined to drive Messiah’s kingdom off the earth he has ruled since Adam’s rebellion.

John paints with the colors of Ezekiel 38 and 39 where the prophet describes God’s final defeat of two Gentile leaders and their vast armies amassed against God’s people. These two leaders and the imagery of their judgment appeared in chapter 19’s description of the great final battle as well. In chapter 19:17-18 we saw the great feast of God prepared for the predators. That comes from Ezekiel 39:17-20 and links this camera angle of the final battle and judgement to chapter 19’s camera angle of the same event. Interestingly, Ezekiel 38 and 39 also form two descriptions of the final battle, one focusing on God and the next on Magog just like Revelation chapters 19 and 20 that draw heavily from Ezekiel 38 and 39.

So, what is the point of this vision of saints enthroned with Jesus for an ideal time? By suffering during their earthly witness on earth through their worship of Jesus instead of the idols of personal, self-generated happiness, they enter their vindication and rest with Messiah. Their resurrection is completed as the leave behind the world, the flesh, and the devil to reign with Christ in heaven. They go into the heavenly temple as priests of God with immediate access to him, enjoying the perfect spiritual worship before the face of divine glory.[22] They are delivered from the power and presence of sin that reigns upon the earth until the final battle and the last judgment we will see next week.

The hope Revelation offers to suffering saints upon an earth ruled by the world, the flesh, and the devil is not a temporary life in a partially-restored old earth where sin is still present. The hope is the new heaven and new earth we shall shortly hear described. The hope is that one day our present sufferings will eternally (not temporarily) cease. All our relationships will be perfect. All our worship will be perfect. All our proper longings will be fulfilled. All our perturbations will have become perfect peace because sin has been completely wiped away, all its idols cast down in favor of the One who is worthy of all worship.

So, Paul wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Come and trust into him whom to know is life eternal, who offers the sure and certain promise that imperfection will be permanently and eternally destroyed and all those found in Christ will enjoy the first resurrection, escape the second death of eternal judgment, and reign with him for eternity.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. [23]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 20:1–10.

[2] Riddlebarger, They Came to Life and Reigned with Christ for a Thousand Years (Rev. 20:1-15). http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/downloadable-sermons-on-the-bo/They%20Came%20to%20Life%20and%20Reigned%20With%20Christ%20for%20a%20Thousand%20Year%20edited%2028.pdf

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 19:18. Emphasis added.

[4] Beale, 972.

[5] Phillips, 567.

[6] Id.

[7] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Re 12:7–9.

[8] Riddlebarger, op. cit.

[9] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Col 2:14–15.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 20:1.

[11] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Re 9:1–2.

[12] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Re 12:12.

[13] Beale, 995; Riddlebarger, op. cit.

[14] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Lk 10:17–18.

[15] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mk 3:27.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 20:4–6.

[17] Phillips, 576.

[18] Beale, 991.

[19] Riddlebarger, op. cit.

[20] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Jn 5:24–25.

[21] Riddlebarger, op. cit.

[22] Phillips, 583.

[23] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Re 22:17.

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