Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times. The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.
Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.
Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.
Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.
There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.
With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.
Rev. 12:12 – Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time. (HCSB)
Rejoice, O heavens … woe to the earth and the sea
As a result of Satan’s expulsion from heaven and the victory won by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the saints’ testimony, the voice in heaven declares, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time” (v. 11).
There is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents, being transported by faith out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness into Christ’s kingdom of light (Luke 15:7). There is rejoicing on earth when Jesus casts out demons; when He rides triumphantly into Jerusalem; and when He rises from the dead, being declared the Son of God with power and defeating the Devil and his works. And there is rejoicing in “the heavens” – the sky, the stellar heavens, the unseen spiritual realm – when Satan is banished and his span of influence is severely restricted. The angels, the redeemed – even creation itself – exults in this epic event with everlasting benefits. There is rejoicing everywhere the glory of God dispels the darkness of Satan.
But in this passage there also is woe, because Satan has not yet been banished to the abyss for a time, or to hell for eternity. For a short time, Satan and his demons are confined to earth, and knowing his time is short, he rules his fleeting kingdom with great fury. It’s interesting to look ahead one verse, where the dragon sees that he has been thrown to earth. It’s as if he cannot believe his lot. Once an anointed cherub, once a mighty, beautiful, intelligent servant of God, with the universe at his disposal, he now finds himself confined to the “earth and the sea,” and he is not happy about it.
Rev. 12:10 – Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come, because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown out: the one who accuses them before God day and night. (HCSB)
A loud voice in heaven
In verse 10 John records, “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven.” We are not told whose voice utters this celebratory hymn, just as in previous passages in Revelation we are not always given the identity of those speaking. The emphasis here is not on the messenger but on the message. We may, however, rule out an angelic source to the voice in heaven because of the words “the accuser of our brothers” (v. 10b). Satan accuses sinful and fallen people, not angels, before God. Further, scripture does not refer to the angelic host as “brothers.” So, it’s possible the voice in heaven is that of Jesus on behalf of the redeemed – or, more likely, the combined voices of the martyrs before the throne.
It is fitting that we hear a song, for the people of God often raise their voices in praise when they witness the miraculous deeds of our sovereign God. In the Old Testament, for example, there is the song of Moses at the Red Sea (Ex. 15); the song of Deborah after the Lord delivers Israel from Jabin the king of Canaan (Judges 5); and the song of David, when the Lord delivers him out of the hand of all his enemies (2 Sam. 22). In the New Testament, followers of Jesus compose hymns of praise to honor Him for His finished work on the cross, and singing becomes an integral part of worship (for example, see Acts 16:24-26; 1 Cor. 14:25-27; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16).
In this passage in Revelation, there is particular cause for joy. “On no occasion could such a song be more appropriate than on the complete routing and discomfiture of Satan and his rebellious hosts” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Rev. 12:10).
The woman is depicted as “pregnant” in verse 2. She cries out in labor and agony to give birth. Perhaps this is a summary description of Israel’s tortuous path to the virgin birth. God’s people have experienced slavery in Egypt, captivity in Assyria and Babylon, the destruction of their great city and temple, and a legacy of wicked leaders and false prophets. That the nation of Israel exists at all by the time of Roman rule is a miracle unto itself. But now the agonies of childbirth are about to give way to the joy of experiencing a most unique miracle as God becomes flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
Despite his most sinister efforts, Satan is unable to destroy God’s people or prevent the birth of their Messiah. John describes it simply: “But she gave birth to a Son – a male who is going to shepherd all nations with an iron scepter” (v. 5). This reference is taken from the Greek translation of Ps. 2:9 – “you will shepherd [rule] them with a rod of iron.” The Hebrew text renders it, “[Y]ou will smash them with a rod of iron.” Either way, the emphasis is on the reign of a king.
One of the more humbling experiences from my days in corporate life was being told that my reserved seat on a company jet was revoked at the last minute to make room for a late-arriving executive. Not to worry. I was offered the one remaining seat, located in the plane’s lavatory, where the toilet came equipped with a safety belt. Rather than cool my heels on the tarmac, I swallowed my pride and took my place on the aluminum throne.
It reminded me of Jesus’ parable rebuking those who reclined at the choicest seats at a wedding banquet. Even more, it brought to mind the future humiliation Jesus said would come to those boasting of a place in the kingdom of heaven, yet being cast out. Though the kingdom is open to all who receive Christ by faith, the day is coming when those who falsely stake their claim will be unceremoniously shown the door.
There are at least three types of people who will be cast out of the kingdom of heaven.