Previously: He seized the dragon – Revelation 20:2-3
Rev. 20:2 – He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for 1,000 years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the 1,000 years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time. (HCSB)
For 1,000 years
Revelation 20 is the only place in scripture that refers to 1,000 years during which Satan is bound. Few time periods in the Bible have been written about with so much conviction – and debated with so much contention. Before surveying the various views of the “millennium,” let’s look at every reference to 1,000 years in this chapter:
- Verse 2 – The angel seizes the Devil and binds him in the abyss for 1,000 years.
- Verse 3 – Satan is not able to deceive the nations until the 1,000 years are completed.
- Verse 4 – People that have been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of God’s word, and who have not worshiped the beast or his image, and who have not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands, come to life and reign with the Messiah for 1,000 years.
- Verse 5 – The rest of the dead do not come to life until the 1,000 years are completed.
- Verse 6 – Those who share in the first resurrection will reign with Jesus for 1,000 years.
- Verse 7 – After the 1,000 years are completed, Satan is released from the abyss and goes out to deceive the nations.
Are we to take the 1,000 years literally or figuratively? Is this period of time past, present, or future? And are there other passages of scripture that shed light on the meaning of the millennium? With respect to these questions, there are three general schools of thought. But before we briefly survey them, let’s begin with some general observations about these verses.
First, Satan is bound during this period of time. He is not able to deceive the nations until this period ends.
Second, Christ is reigning during the millennium.
Third, reigning with Jesus are martyrs and other believers who share in the “first resurrection.”
Fourth, the rest of the dead do not come to life until this period of time ends.
Fifth, after the millennium, Satan is released and goes out to deceive the nations, but Christ quickly and decisively defeats him and casts into the lake of fire.
With these observations as background, let’s look at three general views Bible commentators express about the 1,000 years, or the millennium.
Pre-, post-, and amillennialists
Premillennialists believe the 1,000 years are a literal period of time in the future when Christ reigns on earth from Jerusalem. Satan is bound in the abyss throughout this period, only to be released briefly at the end of the 1,000 years to lead a final revolt against Jesus and His people, which is quickly put down. The resurrection of the wicked takes place after the Millennium. The wicked stand in final judgment before the Great White Throne and are cast into hell. Finally, the Lord creates new heavens and a new earth.
Postmillennialists believe Christ will return after the 1,000 years. Some postmillennialists believe the 1,000 years are literal, while others do not; but they agree that this is a future glorious age prior to the Second Coming in which the gospel enjoys widespread positive impact. Some see Satan’s binding as symbolic, with the gospel overpowering the works of the evil one; others believe it to be a future event that effectively reduces Satan’s influence to nothing. In any event, Satan is loosed for a short time at the end of the age, but his revolt fizzles. At the return of Christ, there is a general resurrection and judgment of all people.
Amillennialists contend that there is no visible, earthly millennial reign of Christ. They see in the binding of Satan the victory of Jesus over the powers of darkness. The 1,000 years are symbolic of a lengthy, indeterminate period of time corresponding to the present church age. Satan is loosed briefly near the end of the age to foment evil and persecute the church. The fire coming down from heaven and consuming the wicked (Rev. 20:9) is symbolic of Christ’s return in power and glory, which is followed by general resurrection and final judgment of all people, and then creation of new heavens and a new earth.
A commentator’s lament
One Bible commentator laments, “If verses 4, 5, and 6 of Revelation 20 [he should have included verse 7] had been omitted, no one would ever have dreamed of a literal thousand years of Christ’s reign upon the earth — his setting up a temporal throne in Jerusalem and inaugurating a millennial reign as an earthly monarch. Yet whole systems of eschatology, theology, and philosophy of history have been constructed on this precarious basis of highly symbolical verses” (M. Gourgues, Worthy is the Lamb: Interpreting the Book of Revelation in Its Historical Background, p. 203).
Not everyone sees it that way. While admitting that only Revelation 20 specifically mentions the 1,000 years, many scholars point to a number of Old Testament passages that speak of a coming golden age on earth, an age when swords are beaten into plowshares and the lamb lies down with the lion, when justice reigns and people joyously ascend the temple mount in Jerusalem to worship the reigning Messiah.
Hank Hanegraaff, who argues against a literal 1,000-year Messianic golden age, points out that “thousand” as a whole number is invariably figurative: “God increased the number of the Israelites a thousand times (Deuteronomy 1:11); God keeps his covenant to a thousand generations (7:9); God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); better is a day in God’s courts than a thousand elsewhere (84:10); the least of Zion will become a thousand and the smallest a mighty nation (Isaiah 60:22); God shows love to a thousand generations (Exodus 20:6); ‘even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lift my hand against the king’s son’ (2 Samuel 18:12). And a thousand more examples (metaphorically speaking) could easily be added to the list. The point in context quite simply is this: God would allow the Beast to execute his reign of terror for ‘ten days’ – a relatively short time – and would vindicate the beheaded, allowing them to reign with Christ for ‘a thousand years’ – a comparatively limitless time” (After Life, p. 182).
Whatever your view of the millennium, it’s helpful to keep in mind the clear and common truths of scripture: Jesus is returning personally, visibly, and physically one day to set things right; He will raise the dead and judge them in righteousness; He will separate His own from those who have hung their stars on the prince of darkness; He will redeem our sinful and fallen world from the effects of the fall, resulting in new heavens and a new earth; and we will delight in His personal presence forever and ever. While the order of events of the Day of the Lord is important to explore, we should not lose fellowship with other believers over disagreements about the non-essentials of the Christian faith.
Next: The saints reign with the Messiah – Revelation 20:4