Monday, December 8, 2014

REVELATION 20:1 – 15 “THE THOUSAND YEARS“

Summary of Previous Chapters

·       Revelation 17-18 dealt with the destruction of the great prostitute.
·       Revelation 19:1-10 described heaven’s reaction to the news of God’s judgment of the  great prostitute , which then ushers  in the  marriage supper of the Lamb. 
     ·       Revelation 19:11-21 describes  the judgment of the  beast (the anti-christ) and the false prophet–who are caught alive and thrown into the lake of fire at the  time of Christ’s return.  It also speaks  here of   the destruction of  all Christ’s enemies  “ free and slave , small and great”  (19:18).

The text before us  is very challenging, and I tell you why.  Revelation 20  is the  text that many  believe to be the proof text  that  there will be after  Christ’s  coming  a literal, millennial reign on earth  when Christ reigns over the nations.   In fact, this group of Christians [1]  speak of two comings of Christ. The  first   is called the rapture   and  the other which is called   the revelation. [2]   The  rapture , they say occurs  when   the Lord Jesus  takes His people secretly out of the world (i.e. not a public event)   before the  great tribulation,  and the  revelation   is  said to be that time, after some time  after  the  tribulation He comes visibly   with the raptured saints,  taking the anti-christ and the false prophet  captive. Following this they teach that Satan will be bound and thrown  into the bottomless pit for a thousand years.  At this  time  it is said  that  Christ  will rule  the nations  on  earth from Jerusalem. However, after a  1 000 years  of peace  they say  that   Satan will be released for a short time  to cause havoc  on earth , after which  the ultimate judgment and  end will come.

But  is  this what   Revelation  20 is teaching?  The problem begins  with  the way we read  the book of Revelation. Two principles govern  our understanding and reading of the book of Revelation 
(i) Spiritual truths are  described in symbolic and not literal language 
(ii)  the book of the Revelation does not present a linear  history of events. The Revelation is  a series  of  cyclical  repetitions of the events that occur  between Christ’s ascension and descension,  as seen from different angles.  This is not to say that there is no “ forward movement” in the book of Revelation. There is ! Everything steadily progresses and moves to the end, but as we said , in cyclical fashion. 
We shall see  in this regard that  Ch.20 does not follow    the events of Ch. 19.  We shall see  that Ch. 20 depicts another vision, which like the others describes the entire period of time between the first coming and second  coming of Jesus. 

What follows now in ch.20   is  another   retelling of the final judgment from yet another  perspective.  Just ask yourself the question :  If all people and nations are judged at Christ’s return in Revelation 19:18, why do they  resurface in Revelation 20:3,8 ? This means that the relationship between these two chapters is not a chronological one. This is important for us  to understand.

What then is happening in Revelation 20 ?
In order to make sense of this  we will have to go back to 12: 7 -9. Here is a description of  what happens to Satan, when he  was engaged in  a  war in heaven  with the heavenly  angels  under the leadership of  the archangel Michael. At that time we read  that  Satan  was thrown down to the earth, and  he lost his place in heaven.   This  all happened when  Jesus began His messianic ministry on earth,   at His first coming. Remember  that  Satan  did his outmost to  kill  Jesus  the Messiah –  first at his birth, when  under Herod  there was an edict to kill all baby boys, which was in reality   an attempt made to  kill  Christ (Matt 2:16-18). Then Satan tried to tempt  Christ in Matt. 4:1-11 ,in order to get him to compromise and sin  as our first parents did.  But  Jesus  resisted  Satan  and did not sin.  And then Christ demonstrated  that  the  kingdom of God had come  with every demon cast out, with every healing  and miracle, with  every person  raised from the dead – all these  were  signs that someone  greater and mightier  than   Satan was here !  Satan’s ultimate defeat  however occurs  after he  thought that he had Christ killed on the cross.  So, when Christ  rose  from the dead, He  not only  overcame  death, but He triumphed over Satan,  fulfilling the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 : “ he  shall  bruise your head , and you shall bruise his  heel”.   Colossians 2:15  says  that “ He (Christ on the cross)  disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Now what is the effect of Christ’s   first coming upon Satan?  The answer is that  Satan had  been bound by Christ’s appearance!  How  was  Satan bound? Was he bound with literal chains?  No! Satan is a spirit being. He cannot be bound with literal chains.  Satan  is however bound by the preaching of the gospel!  In Luke 10:1-20   Jesus sends  72 disciples  out to preach the gospel. They came back and reported to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons submit in your name”,  to which  Jesus replied: “I  saw Satan fall like lightning  from heaven.”   Satan is  bound  by  the preaching of the gospel!
We are  going to argue that  Revelation 20  is not   reflecting  a  literal  future, earthly,  millennial  reign  of Christ over the nations from Jerusalem.  We will  argue that  the millennial reign of Christ is NOW. It  follows the cross , resurrection and ascension,  after which  the ascended Christ   is enthroned in heaven , ruling there from His throne. In His presence there will be all those who have  faithfully followed Him  and who died in the service of the gospel, and  who have suffered at the hands of the great prostitute, the anti-christ and the false prophet.  
We maintain that  Revelation 20 is a description of  this present gospel age and not of a future age to  come.  Let us  now  follow  the logic of Scripture as it unfolds in Revelation 20 :1-10 . 

Revelation 20

Begins a new vision - Throughout the Book of Revelation, whenever John uses the phrase  “kai eidon” (And  I saw) he is introducing a new vision.

What  John sees:   He sees an angel coming down from heaven holding the key to the bottomless pit  and  a great  chain  with which  Satan  is bound.   Who is the  angel and  what  is the meaning of the key[3] to the bottomless pit[4] and the  chain? In Rev. 1:18 we see  that  Christ holds the keys of death and hades in his hand.   Take note also  of   Rev. 9:1-2  where a star  that had fallen from heaven was  given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit etc.  The bottomless pit  is a reference to death and Hades–the realm  of Satan.   So,  having been cast of out heaven (Rev.12:7-9), John now sees an angel (either Christ himself, or an angel exercising Christ’s authority) confining Satan to the realm of the dead for a specified time (1000 years) and  for a specific purpose (so he  cannot deceive the nations).  The binding of Satan does not mean that his evil activities completely cease during this time.  It simply means that he is not  as free  to do as he pleases . Satan is bound  like a dangerous  dog  on a long chain. In  John  Bunyan‘s  Pilgrims Progress,   there is  a picture  and an anxious moment where Christian on the way to the heavenly city  has to pass between some lions.  He grows fearful, but  a man called ‘Watchful’ reminded him  that  these lions were  kept on a chain.  If he would keep on the path he would be safe.  This is a great illustration  in terms of how Satan is bound.  If you keep your distance  from his territory you will be safe. If you get  within the radius of the chain you will be in trouble.  If you stay with Christ you are safe.

So then it is not that   Satan ceases all activity during Christ’s millennial  reign. He is thrown down to the earth, but  he is bound  by the gospel  so that he cannot   hinder the work of the true  church. Jesus  said : “ 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.”  (Matt. 16:18,19). We have seen this in the history of the world  of the last 2000  years. The Roman empire tried to  get rid  of  the church. Today we  go and visit the Roman ruins!  Mao Tse Tung  and Lenin and Stalin and Hitler and many other communist dictators tried to get  rid of the  church. Well they are all dead, and the church continues. 
It will only be at the very end , just   before Christ’s second  coming   that  Satan will be set loose for a little while and he  will achieve  what is described  in  11:7-10!  But until that time comes, he is bound.  

In verses 4-6 the scene now shifts to heaven.
Throughout the Book of Revelation, thrones are always in heaven, not on the earth. Therefore, this scene is in heaven. On the thrones  are those  to whom authority is given to judge  (see the allusion of Jesus in  Matthew 19:28 and  Luke 22:28-30) And then  there are according to John “souls,”(psuchas)  - the  spirits of those who were killed for refusing to worship the beast.  When they die, John says, they immediately come to life and  they reign with Christ for a 1000 years! They are reigning with Him in heaven right now !

The rest of the dead  (who did not  die as martyrs)  did not come to life until the 1000 years were ended  (i.e. until the second coming)  . They  have shared in the first resurrection  over which the second death  has no power . This needs some explanation !   The first resurrection
is not a reference to the bodily resurrection at the end of the age, but it refers  to a believer’s salvation  in this life  through regeneration, conversion, and finally  through  entrance into heaven at death, a point confirmed by a number of New Testament passages, most notably John 5:24-25, where Jesus says  “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” In his gospel, John very clearly teaches that all those who come to faith in Jesus Christ, do so because they have already crossed over from death to life. When you become a Christian you  experience the first resurrection . You cross over from death to life ! 

What  happens at the end of the thousand years!  (vv 7-10)
According to v. 7, “when the thousand years are  ended , Satan will be released from his prison and will  come out to deceive the nations…”  etc .
The  focus shifts back  again to the  earth, to those days  before the return of Jesus Christ. Satan will be released from his prison.  With the help  of the  great prostitute, the anti-christ and the false prophet  Satan will  now be  able  to deceive the nations for the  purpose of  getting rid of the  church of Jesus Christ.  Notice the  reference  to  Gog and Magog (cf  Ez. 38 & 39 ) a  prophecy of  in which gentile nations attack Israel en masse – like a cloud covering the land (Ez.  38:16)   John has referred to this final battle when the nations gather to make war on the church in Rev. 16:12-16 ,   the battle of Armageddon at  which the devil and all his associates are finally and definitely defeated .

SUMMARY : So then the point is  that Revelation 20:1-6, is not a description of a future millennial reign of Christ upon the earth. It is a description of the present reign of the saints in heaven. And in heaven, those who have suffered at the hands of the beast are now protected from Satan’s assaults, for Satan no longer has access to heaven, having been cast down to earth and confined to  bottomless pit. The  saints  now rule and reign for a thousand years as priests of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Revelation 20:7-10 describes what happens when Jesus Christ returns to earth in judgment.  Jesus comes to rescue his church in it’s  greatest  trial, at which time  Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire  together with the great prostitute , the beast and the false prophet. All that remains then is the final judgment, described in verses 11-15.  We will keep that for next year when  I want to finish this series in revelation with a  series of sermons on heaven .

You may look forward to the second coming of Christ, which  will be visible (and not secret or in two stages) . When Jesus comes no one will be mistaken . Every eye will see Him . You may look forward to the end of the age  and to the recreation of the  heavens and the earth – the idea of a millennial reign  on earth seems muddled  and problematic . You may look forward to  your resurrection body  and to life everlasting in a perfect world where there are no traces  of sin and  Satan when Christ returns  at His second coming . Even so Lord Jesus , come ! Amen



[1] Called Pre-millenialists
[2] Herman Hoeksema : Behold  He cometh: An Exposition of Revelation , P&R , p.637
[3] Keys are frequently mentioned in Revelation :  1:18 ;  3:7
[4] Greek-  abbadon

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