On Thursday we remembered the Ascension of our Lord. In 10 days we will remember Pentecost. The next big item on our Lord’s calendar is His second coming. It is fitting therefore that this Sunday after the Ascension we should think about the next great event on God's calendar - the second coming!
The text before us is very challenging, and I tell you why. Revelation 20, some believe and teach is the proof text that there will be, after Christ’s coming, a literal, millennial (thousand year) reign on earth, a time when Christ reigns over the nations here on earth.
They also speak of two comings of Christ. The first coming is called the secret rapture, and the other coming is called the revelation.
The rapture, they say occurs when the Lord Jesus takes His people, the church, secretly out of the world (i.e. not a public event) and before the great tribulation which is coming upon the world. The revelation is said to be a time after the tribulation, when Jesus comes visibly (i.e. He is revealed), and He comes with the previously raptured saints, ushering in the millennial kingdom on earth.
They teach that during the 1000 years of Christ’s earthly reign Satan will be bound and thrown into the bottomless pit for a thousand years. Accordingly, Christ will rule the nations on earth from Jerusalem. However, after a 1000 years of peace, they say that Satan will be released for a short time, in which he causes renewed 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 in we read the book of Revelation. Two principles ought to govern our understanding and reading of the book of Revelation:
(i) Spiritual truths in the Revelation are described in mostly symbolic and not literal language.
(ii) 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 His descension, as seen from different angles. This is not to say that there is no forward movement in the Revelation. There is! Everything steadily progresses and moves to the end, but as we said, it moves forward in cyclical fashion.
We observe then that in this regard Chapter 20 does not follow the events of Chapter19. Chapter 20 depicts another vision, another cycle, which like the other cycles describes the entire period between the first and second coming of Jesus. What follows now in chapter 20 is another cycle, another retelling of God’s dealing with the world and its final judgment from yet another perspective.
At the end of Revelation 19:18 we read of the final judgement of all people and nations at Christ’s return. In Chapter 20 this is repeated, but with a different emphasis. This is, as I said a typical pattern found in John’s Revelation. The relationship between Chapters 19 and 20 is not a chronological one. Revelation 20 stands independently.
What then is happening in Revelation 20? The BIG picture
In order to make sense of this we will have to go back to 12:7-9. There we find a description of what happened to Satan, when he was engaged in a war in heaven with the heavenly angels under the leadership of the archangel Michael. Satan, at that time was thrown down to the earth. He lost his place in heaven.This all happened when Jesus, at His first coming, began His messianic, gospel ministry on earth. You will remember that Satan did his utmost to kill Jesus the Messiah. He tried this 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 to sin as our first parents did. But Jesus resisted Satan firmly and He did not sin. In fact, He proved that the kingdom of God had come, with every demon cast out, with every healing and miracle done, with every person raised from the dead. All these were signs that someone greater and mightier than Satan was here! The gospel of Jesus systematically robbed Satan of his power and of his subjects.
Satan’s ultimate defeat however occurs at the cross, after he thought that he had disposed of Christ. So, when Christ rose from the dead, He not only overcame death, but He triumphed over Satan. 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 was 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 was bound by the preaching of the gospel! In Luke 10:1-20 Jesus sends out 72 disciples 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.” (Luke 10:18). Satan is bound by the preaching of the gospel.
Jesus is reigning NOW. The millennial reign of Christ is NOW. Satan is bound NOW. The millennial reign of our Lord Jesus follows the cross, resurrection and ascension. Following His ascension He is now enthroned in heaven, ruling over everything tfrom His throne, even now praying for His people (Romans 8). After this He shall return again to judge the living and the dead. We also know that the present earth and heavens will be destroyed and recreated by Christ.
Revelation 20 is a description of this present gospel age and not of a future age to come. The future age is the new Heavens and the new earth. Let us follow the logic of Scripture as it unfolds in Revelation 20:1-10.
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.
20:1-3 The Binding of Satan
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 to the bottomless pit (Gr. abyss) 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 present 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 an anxious moment where Christian, on his way to the heavenly city has to pass between some lions. He grows fearful, but a man called ‘Watchful’ reminds him that these lions were kept on a chain. If he would keep to 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 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 visible second coming that Satan will be set loose, by God’s sovereign decree for a little while, and he will achieve what is described in 11:7-10. The church of that period will undergo a very hard time, but until that time comes, he is bound.
20:4-6 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 Jesus speaking of this in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30.
And then there are, according to John, “souls” (Gr.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, those 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 new birth. When you are born again, you are literally made alive 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.”
John teaches very clearly in his gospel that all those who come to faith in Jesus Christ have crossed over from death to life. When you become a Christian you experience the first resurrection. You cross over from death to life!
20: 7-10 What happens at the end of the thousand years?
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 and his chronies will be released from his prison for a little while. 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 trying to get rid of the church of Jesus Christ. Notice the reference to Gog and Magog (cf. Ezekiel. 38 & 39). This is a prophecy in which gentile nations attack Israel en masse – like a cloud covering the land (Ez. 38:16) John has already 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.
Revelation 20:1-6, is not a description of a future millennial reign of Christ upon the earth. It is a description of Satan’s limited power right now, while the gospel has its way in the earth right now. Satan is bound. All the true sheep of Christ must be called out of this present kingdom of darkness and be brought into Christ's kingdom of light (John 10).
We also read of the present reign of the saints in heaven. And in heaven, those who have suffered at the hands of Satan’s beast, these are now protected from Satan’s assaults, for Satan no longer has access to heaven, having been cast down to earth (Rev.12:7ff).
The saints – the church of Jesus, now rule and reign for a symbolic thousand years as priests of Jesus Christ as His kingdom advances all over the earth.
But there will be a time, a final brief time when all hell will break loose, and were it not for Christ’s sudden return it would be terrible: “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short (Matt. 24:22).
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, which is described in verses 11-15 – the great white throne judgement – the final judgement.
Each true believer 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.
We 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.
When Christ returns at His second coming we may look forward to our resurrection bodies and life everlasting in a perfect world where there are no traces of sin and Satan.
Even so Lord Jesus, come! Amen