The Thousand Years, 1-6

Rev 20:1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.

Rev 20:2 he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.

‘We find it so easy to possess men with a fervent zeal for the Millenary Opinion, and so hard to make them zealots in holy love to God and man, and in heavenly conversation, as may make us suspicious that both sorts of zeal have not the same original.’

Richard Baxter

A thousand years

From this passage the idea of the ‘millennium’ has entered Christian thought and speech. Many believe that these verses predict a long period in the earthly history of the church, in which Satan is to deceive the nations no more and the resurrected martyrs are to live and reign with Christ. However, the book of Revelation is a symbolical book, and it is wrong to substitute the symbol for the reality.  Morris points out that 1000, being the cube of 10, is symbolic of completeness, and the significance would then be that Satan is bound for the full period determined by God.

As to what this period is, several opinions are offered:-

(a) Hendriksen thinks that this refers to the period between Christ’s first and second comings, when Satan is unable to prevent the church’s evangelisation of the nations.  This would accord quite well with v3, and with the thought that Satan was ‘bound’ at the time of our Lord’s atoning death.  But the idea of Satan being ‘bound’ at the present time seems to fit ill with Eph 6:10ff and Rev 2:13.

(b) Warfield suggests that these verses are about the intermediate state. Chapter 19 has depicted the church militant striving and conquering here on earth; the beginning of chapter 20 tells of the church expectant – not only waiting, but living and reigning with Christ, free from strife and safe from assault. These two – the church militant and the church expectant – constitute the church of Christ, and together pass through the great trial (latter part of chapter 20) to inherit the new heavens and new earth, chapter 21. This expresses in symbolic form what Paul says more directly when he says that, whether we wake or sleep, we shall all live together with Christ in the last great day, 1 Thess 4:15; 5:10; 1 Cor 15:39-40. (See Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings I, 348ff)

Rev 20:3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

To keep him from deceiving the nations anymore – ‘The word for ‘nations’ is, more precisely, ‘Gentiles’. Before Christ, Satan had complete dominion over the Gentile world. Every nation but Israel lay ‘in darkness and in the shadow of death’ (Psalm 107:10). Before the cross, even Christ Himself forbade the disciples to evangelise the Gentiles: ‘Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6). Up to the moment of Pentecost Satan held the Gentiles enthralled. They were in moral and spiritual bondage: in total spiritual darkness.  But now all that has completely changed. Whatever the power and influence of Satan over modern civilisation, the kingdom of Christ has made great inroads into the world community. Whole continents which once lay in darkness and in the shadow of death have received the light of the gospel. It shines in Europe, in North and South America and in large areas of Africa and Asia. It influences millions upon millions of human lives; and it does so because Satan is bound and no longer holds the Gentiles in thrall. They have become the inheritance of Christ: ‘Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance’ (Psalm 2:8). That is one of the great impulses to world mission. The Gentiles belong to Christ by right.’ (Macleod, A Faith to Live By)

Rev 20:4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Those who had been given authority to judge – This implies that to some extent Christ shares the process of judging with his people.  Cf. 1 Cor 6:2f.

Grudem: ‘Although the text does not explain the identity of those seated on the thrones, the fact that they are mentioned in the plural indicates that Christ does not reserve every aspect of the process of judging for himself alone. Indeed, he tells his twelve disciples that they will “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28; compare Luke 22:30). This accords with the fact that throughout the history of redemption God has from time to time given the right to exercise judgment into the hands of human authorities, whether Moses and the elders who assisted him, the judges of Israel whom God raised up during the period of the judges, the wise kings such as David and Solomon, the civil government of many nations (see Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:13–14), or those who have authority to rule and govern within the church and to oversee the exercise of church discipline.’ (Systematic Theology)

Those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus – This raises two issues relevant to Christian/Muslim relations: (a) the fact that in our own day some, acting in the name of Islam, are carrying out beheadings of Christians and others; (b) the concept of martydom, which continues to be debated in Muslim circles.  See this article by Ida Glaser.

The so-called ‘amillennial’ view takes the millennium to symbolise the period between Christ’s first and second comings. In Christ’s Easter-work, the powers of death and evil have met their match and Satan was bound. This view is supported by 2 Tim 1:10; Heb 2:14-15; Col 2:15 and others.

Rev 20:5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

Rev 20:6 Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them – ‘Never let unregenerate souls expect a comfortable meeting with their bodies again. Rise they shall by God’s terrible citation, at the sound of the last trumpet, but not to the same end that the saints arise, nor by the same principle. They to whom the spirit is now a principle of sanctification, to them he will be the principle of a joyful resurrection. See then that you get gracious souls now, or never expect glorious bodies then.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)

Satan’s Doom, 7-10

Rev 20:7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison

Rev 20:8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.

Rev 20:9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.

Rev 20:10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever – ‘The fire of hell is unquenchable, (Mk 9:43) eternal, (Mt 18:8) its punishment is the converse of eternal life. (Mt 25:46) There is no suggestion that those who enter hell ever emerge from it. However, the NT leaves the door open for the belief that while hell as a manifestation of God’s implacable wrath against sin is unending, the existence of those who suffer in it may not be. It is difficult to reconcile the ultimate fulfilment of the whole universe in Christ (Eph 1:10 Col 1:20) with the continued existence of those who reject him. Some scholars have contended that an eternal punishment is one which is eternal in its effects; in any case eternal does not necessarily mean never-ending, but implies ‘long duration extending to the writer’s mental horizon’ (J. A. Beet). On the other hand Rev 20:10 does indicate conscious, never-ending torment for the devil and his agents, albeit in a highly symbolic passage, and some would affirm that a similar end awaits human beings who ultimately refuse to repent. In any case, nothing should be allowed to detract from the seriousness of our Lord’s warnings about the terrible reality of God’s judgment in the world to come.’ (NBD)

Beale says that ‘the phrase “unto the ages of the ages” (eis tous aiōnas tōn aiōnōn) occurs twelve other times in Revelation 19 and always refers to eternity (i.e., God’s or Christ’s eternal being, God or the saints’ eternal reign; 19:3 is a parallel to 14:11). In particular, the expression describing the eternal duration of the punishment in 20:10 appears to be balanced antithetically by the identical phrase describing the eternal duration of the saints’ reign in 22:5.’  (in Morgan, Christopher W.. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Kindle Locations 2817-2821). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

‘Does the book of Revelation not say that in the lake of fire “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”’ (ask John Stott)? ‘Yes, that sentence occurs, but only once (20:10), where it refers not only to the devil, but to “the beast and the false prophet,” just as the noun for “torment” had been used of “the harlot Babylon” (Rev 18:7, 10, 15), though without the addition of the words “forever and ever.” The beast, the false prophet, and the harlot, however, are not individual people but symbols of the world in its varied hostility to God. In the nature of the case they cannot experience pain. Nor can “Death and Hades,” which follow them into the lake of fire (Rev 20:13). In the vivid imagery of his vision John evidently saw the dragon, the monsters, the harlot, death, and hades being thrown into the lake of fire. But the most natural way to understand the reality behind the imagery is that ultimately all enmity and resistance to God will be destroyed. So both the language of destruction and the imagery of fire seem to point to annihilation.’  (In Christopher M. Date, Gregory G. Stump, Joshua W. Anderson. Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism (pp. 53-54). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

The Dead Are Judged, 11-15

Rev 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.

There have been judgement a-plenty in Revelation, but this is the final judgement.

Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

I saw the dead, great and small – ‘Pharaoh! You must see a greater than Moses. Herod! You must see the young Child on his throne. Judas! You hanged yourself to escape the judgement of your conscience, but by no means can you escape the judgement of your God. Though four thousand years have elapsed since men died, yet when the trumpet rings out, their bodies shall live again, and they must all come forth, each one, to answer for himself before the Judge of all the earth.’ (Spurgeon at his Best, 367)

Good news for Muslims

‘Many Muslims are struggling with satanic temptations and are trying to pacify malevolent spirits. The Good News is that all these evil powers are subject to the reign of Christ – now, as well as at the end of time. All faithful Muslims work to make sure that their record books will contain as much good and as little bad as possible when they are opened at the final judgement; but they do not know of ‘the other book’ – the Book of Life, where their names can be written because of what Jesus has done for them.’ (Ida Glaser)

Rev 20:13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.

Rev 20:15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.