The End? The reign of peace

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 a 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 technical 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, signify 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 me and you. 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 are read in three primary ways.

millennial-views

Premillennialism expect Jesus to return and end the tribulation, reign in peace for a 1000 years, and then make an end of 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 ushers in God’s peaceful reign for 1000 years, before Christ returns to judge the world.

Amillenialism reads the 1000 years 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 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, clear 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?”

angel_binding_dragon
Angel binding Dragon by Joshua Wilson.

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 bound not by God, not by Christ, not by a known archangel like Micheal or Gabriel.  Rather, 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 persecutes 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, and 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.  Thereafter 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 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 read “with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8) we don’t start calculating our age in God-years; rather, we understand that the Ever-living One is not bound by time as we are.

dove_11

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 period.

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 immanent reign was confirmed with powerful 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 can 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 enforces of his reign of peace.

elders_bowing_throne2

The church reigning (20:4-6).  John sees the church, in particular martyrs and those who refused to worship the beast, receiving thrones with the 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 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 victory and judgment 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 rather 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).

throne_of_judgment

The great judgment (20:11-15).  With all the dead raised to stand before God’s throne, God is said to open “books” for judgment.  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 great throne judgment of God, the dead are brought to life.  Remember that John already saw the 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.

great multitude - palm branches

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.

throne_of_judgment2

Somber Sobriety. This chapter brings a somber warnings and three invitations.  Firstly, that 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 the 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 to think hard of the Words of Paul, “Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:6) 

 

The End? The dragon, the woman and the boy

The age-old war between the dragon, the woman and her offspring is our focus in this 17th study through Revelation, stopping at chapter 12 today. A recording will be uploaded to Shofar’s Youtube channel

If Jesus is victorious, and Satan is defeated, why are things so bad?  This was the question that whirled in the minds of the oppressed believers in John’s day – the question that gets answered clearly in chapter 12.  The first half of the Revelation focused on the reality of the church (ch 1-3), God’s throne room and Christ’s unfolding reign played out on earth (ch 6-11).  Chapter 12 reveals the cosmic battle in heaven which results in the chaos on earth and persecution of the saints.

Revelation 12 paints the picture of an epic war between a woman with a male child and a great read dragon.  This scene in the middle of the book is the first of seven “signs” or symbols which explore the depth of the message of the scroll.  These seven “signs” depict greater mysteries that govern the realities of our world and is rich in theological substance, helping the church make sense its struggles on earth. (See 12:1-7; 13:1-10; 13:11-18; 14:1-5; 14:6-13; 14:14-20; and 15:2-4).

You will note again in this chapter that Revelation is not a chronological roll-out of God’s redemptive plan, but in various ways depicts the church’s struggle with evil throughout history.  Although chapter 11 concludes with a picture of the 7th trumpet as God’s Final judgment and victory the end, chapter 12 revisits the origin of this battle starting in Eden, in Bethlehem and Jesus’s ministry.  But this time the struggle is shown from heaven’s perspective.

Three characters are introduced in this sign: the woman, the great red dragon, and the male child.  Who are they?

woman_Rev12_1
By Ted Larson (2004)

The woman is said to be clothed in the sun, the moon at her feet, having twelve stars around her head – an allusion to Israel in Joseph’s dream (12:1; Genesis 37:9).  But there is more: this woman “gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (12:5; compare Psalm 2:9) – representing Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Furthermore, the dragon wages war with the woman and her offspring – an allusion to the curse on the serpent in the garden of Eden and Eve (12:17; compare Genesis 3:15).  And lastly, we read that this woman’s offspring are “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17)– meaning the woman also represents the church.

The woman here in Revelation 12’s first sign simultaneously represents Israel, Mary, Eve and the church – God’s redeemed Kingdom people throughout the ages.  This is another depiction of the Lamb’s army or 144’000 from every tribe, tongue, people an nation depicted in Revelation 7.

OXYGEN

The Red Dragon is “great”, with seven heads, seven horns, seven diadems and a large sweeping tail – a picture of full of strength and reign.  This dragon is “the ancient serpent” of Eden, named “the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (12:9).  In the chapters to follow we will see that the Dragon is the source of power behind the beasts (all that is oppressive and intimidating), Babylon the great prostitute (and all that is sensual and seductive), and the False Prophet (all that is deceptive).  The Red Dragon symbolises all that is oppressing and seducing and deceiving God and his people.

Revelation-12-woman-child-dragon

The Male Child is the man Jesus, the Son of God, “one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron… [and] was caught up to God and to his throne” (12:5, compare with Psalm 2:9 and Acts 1:9).  This is not meant to be read that the Jesus was taken away as child, but these things are said that we may know his identity and the identity of the Woman. The focus of this drama is on the battle between the Dragon and the Woman.

The drama describes how the Dragon wants to “devour” the male child at his birth, hinting to the great infanticide of boys by Herod the Great in Bethlehem after Jesus’s birth (Matthew 2:16).  Satan’s lethal pursuit of Jesus is seen during in his wilderness testing (Matthew 4:1-11), but most vividly when “Satan entered Judas” (Luke 22:3), to sell him out to his executioners.  Yet Christ conquered the worst the Dragon could do to him and ascended.  With the Child seated on the Throne, the Dragon’s vengeance is directed at the Woman who had “fled into the wilderness” (12:6).

The wilderness is said to be “a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1260 days” (12:6).  This is an allusion to Elijah, God’s prophet against the wicked king Ahab and his sorcerer wife Jezebel, who announced God’s judgment of drought on Israel’s rebellion against his rule (1 Kings 17:1).  Elijah was hidden and nourished by God in the wilderness for 3½ years, which equals 42 Jewish months or 1260 days (1 Kings 17:2-16; compare James 5:17).  As with all the numeric values in apocalyptic genre, this should not be read as a literal duration of time, but as symbolic.  Paul Spilsbury says

“They – 1260 days, 42 months and a time, and times, and half a time – don’t tell us anything of the literal duration of the time of the ‘tribulation’, but what the tribulation will be like.” (The Throne, the Lamb & the Dragon: A Reader’s Guide to the Book of Revelation, Intervasity Press : 2002)

I explained in the previous post why the period of 1260 days represent a season for the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes on earth.  As in the case of Elijah’s wilderness hide-out, the Woman’s 1260 days in the wilderness after the Child’s ascension represents the time required for God’s purpose on earth to be fulfilled.  Gordon Fee concludes on this number:

“In apocalyptic literature such numeric imagery refers to a time of national distress. John now is using it to point to a limited time of suffering on the part of God’s people which precedes the coming of the glorious kingdom of God.” (Revelation, New Covenant Commentary, Cascade Books : 2010)

In plain language, “1260 days in the wilderness” speaks of the Church’s preservation in suffering during the time of God’s redemptive judgment on the kingdoms of the world.  This period began at Christ’s ascension and will conclude at his return.

Times of trouble.  This drama shows that this period is marked by trouble for the church, and the sustaining grace of God, as their place is being prepared.  This image of God’s sustenance of his people in the Wilderness, awaiting their full salvation is also an allusion to God’s covenantal faithfulness to Israel during their Exodus journey towards the Promised Land (compare “two great wings of an eagle” in 12:14 with Exodus 19:4).  This wilderness period for Israel was characterized by God’s protection and provision, but was not free from trials, tribulation and temptation.  Likewise the church’s time on earth is marked by Christ’s victory over sin and slavery, yet not free from the presence of intimidation, seduction and deception.

michael_drag_war2

The cosmic conflict.  In verse 7 the vision moves from what takes place on earth to what takes place in heaven (similar to transition between chapters 1-3 and chapters 4-5).  The drama shifts from Christ’s work on earth to the result from his victory played out in heaven.  This is depicted as a angelic battle, wherein Michael the arch angel dispels Satan.  Six times this scene describing the cosmic conflict John reaffirms that Satan has been “thrown down”, a result secured “by the blood of the Lamb” (12:11).

Why the hardship? At this point the early church should have interrupted the reader of John’s message and ask the logic question: “If the Dragon has been defeated, why is the church suffering so much?”  John’s vision answers this question next, describing the “wrath” and “fury” (12:12, 17) which the Devil lashes out in vengeance against the Woman who bore the child. He is angry “because he knows that his time is short” (12:12) – he will  be thrown into the lake of fire forever (20:10).  He is angry because the Dragon’s domain is shrinking as Christ’s Kingdom Gospel is spreading (Matthew 16:19; compare Luke 10:17-20).  And therefore he persecutes the Woman who finds shelter in the wilderness.

Satan’s Schemes. How does the Dragon wage war on the Woman? This chapter reveals his strategies as accusation, deception and violence/ murder.  The word for Satan means accuser.  Accusation drowns the believer in guilt, causing him to feel discredited, dishearten and defeated.  Without confidence before God the believer will not witness and might walk away from Christ. Secondly the Dragon deceives believers, luring away with lies – either through temptation or false religions.  Thirdly, the Dragon vengefully persecutes through violence, intimidating the church into caves into by the threat of pain and death.  These images of the Great Dragon’s schemes would have been very relevant to the early church, even as it is very relevant to the church today.

reddragon
Defeat the vengeful Dragon

Defeating the Dragon. John’s vision inspires and instructs the church by showing believers in God’s throne room who “have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (12:11)   They overcame accusation by the blood that washes away all sins, giving a clear conscience before God (Hebrews 9:14).  They overcame deception by their testimony that Christ is risen, conquering death (Matthew 28:6; 1 Corinthians 15:8ff). They overcome the threat of violence and the love of pleasure by following Christ’s example of enduring all for the prize set before Him (Hebrews 12:1-3).

In chapter 13 this drama is depicted in greater detail, unveiling more of the church’s struggle on earth.

Bringing it Home.

We are right to ask the question the early believers struggled with: If Jesus is victorious, and Satan is defeated, why are things so bad?

MiguelCabrera-Virgin_of_ApocalypseThis apocalyptic vision describes our context by unveiling the reality of Satan’s vengeful pursuit of Christ’s church. Satan is angry because he is losing his domain and his time is short.  It helps us understand that we live in this period where God’s redemptive grace leans a measure of protection and provision for the church, while opening a door for the nations to turn to him in light of his redemptive judgments.

The comfort in this vision is that the Dragon’s time for vengeance is short, but the church’s victory is eternal.  The challenge in this vision is that Satan is is behind the voices of accusation, the seduction of pleasure and power, the fear of pain and death there is a Dragon lurking, “looking for someone to devour. [Therefore,] resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”   (1 Peter 5:8-9)