This 24th post looks into the 20th chapter of Revelation. A recording of this study is available on Shofar Durbanville’s Youtube channel.
What is wrong with the world? And what will make everything right again? How you answer these questions does not only define your religion but your approach to and expectation of life itself. This is the focal point of Revelation 20. John describes the end of Satan, sin and death, ushering in 1000 years of peace. This 1000 years of peace, called the millennium (Latin for thousand), is the cause of much debate in Christian circles.
If you are new to Christianity, the debate surrounding the millennium might seem strange. But six times in this chapter the 1000 years are mentioned – it is central to the meaning of this chapter. Moreover, this reign of peace is central to the message of Revelation: the destruction of Satan’s earthly forces (Babylon, the Beast and the False Prophet) in the previous chapters and here the end of Satan, sin and death, signifying the culmination of Christ’s work of redemption – making the 1000 years of peace possible. From John’s perspective, the millennial reign of peace is central to God’s plan to redeem creation, and therefore significant for you and me. It is what the church – and all mankind – longs for. How we make sense of this chapter will impact your view and expectation of life.
What then is meant by John’s vision of the 1000 years of peace? When is it? John’s millennium is read in three primary ways.
Premillennialism expects Jesus to return and end the tribulation, reign in peace for a 1000 years, and then make an end to Satan, sin and death. This is the most prominent view among Christians in the West today.
Postmillennialism expects the church by way of the Gospel to usher in God’s peaceful reign for 1000 years, before Christ returns to judge the world.
Amillennialism reads the 1000 years as symbolic, having been initiated by Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. From this perspective, we are now in this thousand years of peace.
All three of these views are held by very learned people who have given much thought to these views. Sadly, in all the dust kicked up by the debates about when the millennium will or has commence(d), some beautiful truths in Revelation remain unnoticed. Let’s walk through the chapter and ask ourselves “What did John see, and what could this have meant to him?”
The end of Satan (20:1-3, 7-10). An angel descends from heaven and binds Satan in the Abyss, sealing the pit. Satan is tied up not by God, not by Christ, not by a known archangel like Michael or Gabriel. Instead, Satan is bound by some ordinary angel who “came down from heaven.” This reassured John that Satan is not God’s equal and never a threat to God’s authority or purposes. Although Satan persecuted the church on earth and gave power to the empires of the Beast, the Sovereign Lord allowed Satan to roam loose in service of his redemptive plan. Once the Devil had served his purpose, God commissioned an angel to bind him up. At an appointed time, Satan will be released briefly again to serve God’s redemptive purpose in bringing judgment on the wicked nations. After that, he will be thrown into the lake of fire forever, joining his servants the Beast and the False Prophet.
The thousand years (20:2-7). “One thousand years” is mentioned six times in these six verses – the only place in the Bible explicitly naming the thousand years of peace. How do we read it? For one, we know that we cannot read this as literal ten centuries in the apocalyptic genre. This genre calls for a symbolical interpretation, just as we read the seven horns and seven eyes of the Lamb of God to convey a particular truth about Christ. We also note this symbolism elsewhere in the Bible. When we read that God “owns the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10), we don’t ask “on which thousand hills do God’s cattle roam?” When reading “with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8) we don’t start calculating our age in God-years; instead, we understand that the Ever-living One is not bound by time as we are.
In apocalyptic genre, 1000 is read as 10x10x10 – three sets of 10. Ten is the number depicting totality or completeness, as in 10 commandments to Israel, 10 plagues over Egypt, or 10 horns and 10 crowns of the Beast (Revelation 13:1). Therefore 10x10x10 years refers to an ideal, perfect or ultimate time.
What did the binding of Satan mean for John? This disciple had seen Jesus demonstrate power over the Devil’s hordes and had heard him teach about binding before. After Jesus’ baptism, empowerment and testing in the wilderness, Jesus returned to announce “the Gospel… repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” (Mark 1:15). Christ’s preaching of God’s imminent reign was confirmed with significant signs of healing the sick and deliverance of those afflicted by demons (Matthew 4:23-26). Being confronted by hypocritical teachers about the source of his authority, Christ explained that “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed, he may plunder his house” (Mark 3:27). Here we see Christ referring to the binding of Satan and plundering of his house.
In another instance, after Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, Son of God, Christ turned and said to him “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19). The preaching of the Gospel of God in Christ binds Satan and allows for the plundering of his “house” – souls can be redeemed from death and Hades.
So, from John’s perspective, the church lives in a now/not now reality of peace in God’s reign. Yes, “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). And yes, with the preaching of the Gospel of God’s reign in Christ, “what is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven”, and Satan’s dwelling may be plundered of souls (Matthew 16:18-19; Mark 3:27). The proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel is the way the Devil is bound, and souls are saved from his domain for the fullness of time. In this way, the church is reigning with Christ on earth – the enforcers of his reign of peace.
The church reigning (20:4-6). John sees the church, in particular martyrs and those who refused to worship the Beast, receiving thrones with authority to reign and judge with Christ for this “1000 years” period. These are depicted as kings and priests with Christ (refer to Revelation 4:4; 5:9-10; compare Luke 19:11-27; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3). Only these saints are raised to reign with Christ in these “1000 years”, and are spared the second death – the lake of fire (20:14).
To John and his first readers/hearers, this vision conveyed the assurance of their standing with God, the reality of sharing in Christ’s resurrection and victory over death (Romans 6:3-5) and their authority to “reign in this life” with Christ (Romans 5:17). Through faith in Christ, saints who “were dead in our trespasses, [were] made alive together with Christ… and raised up with Him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus“ (Ephesians 2:5-6).
The great war (20:7-10). Satan is “released from his prison” for a little while to deceive the nations again. Alluding to Ezekiel 38-39, the author records a great battle where Gog, Magog and other nations draw up in battle against God’s people “in the last days” when “thoughts will come into [their] mind, and [they] will devise an evil scheme” (Ezekiel 38:8,10). They will be consumed by the fire of God’s judgment (20:9; compare Ezekiel 38:22; 39:6).
It is important to note that Revelation 19-20 together allude to Ezekiel 38-39. The battle and victory over the Dragon and his earthly puppets the Beast (ungodly governments), the False Prophet (secular ideologies), and Babylon the Great Prostitute (seductive culture) is one. In both chapters, we see that the victory is complete and final – there are no human enemies left (19:18-19; 20:7-9). This speaks of a singular event of judgment and victory – the same triumph and retribution that is referred to in the outpouring of the 7th seal, 7th trumpet and 7th bowl (8:1; 11:15-19; 16:17-21).
Just as these seals, trumpets and bowls do not foretell different judgments chronologically, but are somewhat different perspectives on the same disasters that plague humankind throughout history, so too the final seal, trumpet and bowl point to Christ’s final judgment on evil and renewal of all things (Matthew 16:27). Like birth pains of a woman in labour, these disasters incrementally increase in intensity and impact, with shortened intervals, with the last “little while” being unparalleled in pain (20:3; see Matthew 24:6-8, 21-22, 24).
The great judgment (20:11-15). With all the dead raised to stand before God’s throne, God is said to open “books” for retribution. The first is a record of “deeds“, another the Lamb’s “book of life” (20:12; 13:8; 17:8). In OT literature, the “book of life” was a record of citizenship (compare Exodus 32:31-33; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3). The Lamb’s Book of Life contains all those who have been (and are) saved through his blood, who remain faithful to him; it is a record of citizenship of the New Jerusalem (21:27; compare Hebrews 12:22-23 and Philippians 4:2-3).
At this throne judgment of God, the dead are brought to life. Remember that John already saw the saints before God’s throne; they are already alive, having been raised from death to life by sharing in Christ’s resurrection (20:4-6). Those in Christ are not judged by God (Romans 8:2). The judgment, therefore, distinguishes those who want to live by their own works and those who live by faith in the completed works of Christ, the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins. In this judgment, only those who are not found in the Lamb’s Book of Life are judged by their own deeds.
At the end of this chapter, Satan, Death and Hades are all judged and thrown into the lake of fire to join the Beast and the False Prophet. Those bound in their sin to death share in this condemnation. Here the battle with evil is finally won.
Bringing this home.
This chapter brings much comfort, hope and sobriety to the reader.
Considerable comfort. The glimpse into heaven shows believers – even those struggling with sinful seduction or despair – that we are already seated with Christ in heavenly places, and reign with him forever (Ephesians 2:4-6; Romans 5:17; Revelation 5:9-10). It reminds us that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus – that we escape the judgment seat of God (Romans 8:2). This is all because of God’s gift of grace, bought with the blood of the Lamb. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life!
Healing hope. Revelation 20 shows saints that Christ has the final victory over sin, Satan and death (Compare 1 Corinthians 15:54-57). It reminds us that all our struggles on earth are temporal, that all this shall soon pass away when Christ returns to renew all things.
Sombre Sobriety. This chapter brings sombre warnings and three invitations. Firstly, there will be a time of unparalleled hardship – especially for believers – for a short while. It will be intense, but it will be brief, and “calls for the endurance of the saints” (Revelation 14:12). Secondly, the church is not called to a life of leisure or self-preservation, but a life of witness. We are the light of the world, and especially in dark times we should not hide our light (Revelation 1:12, 20; Matthew 5:14-16). The stakes are high: eternal life and joy for all who believe the Gospel, or eternal death and torment for all who trust in themselves. In the Gospel, the church holds power to bind the Devil and plunder his hellish house, to redeem souls from death to life (Romans 1:16-17). This chapter calls us to think hard of the Words of Paul, “Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:6)
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