Last Sunday evening I began by saying: we’ve been going through Revelation for some time now in the evenings, and we have arrived at the famous chapter where we find the description of the millennium. On one hand, some of you have long anticipated this chapter and are very eager to discuss it, to lean into it, and to examine all that surrounds the debate of the millennium. But on the other hand, others of you have been dreading this chapter because it is so debated, and because it has caused such division within the Church. Wherever you are in this, whether delighted or dreading this chapter, or somewhere in between, we’ve officially arrived at chapter 20, and we must face it.

This is our second week in this text. Last week we covered the debate surrounding this passage, where I walked through the three majority positions on the millennium: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism and concluded by making a brief case for the amillennial view as the correct view. If you haven’t watched that teaching yet I would encourage you to do so after you listen to this one. It will aid you in working through this text. It’s there on our Facebook or YouTube page, easy to find for your convenience. As for tonight though, we turn away from the debate and look to what matters more, the actual text of Rev. 20:1-10. These ten verses come to us in three distinct portions.[1] The binding of Satan in v1-3, the reign of the saints in v4-6, and the loosing of Satan in v7-10. We’ll take the one at a time…

The Binding of Satan (v1-3)

“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.”

As we begin in v1 we once again get the phrase we see 32 times throughout the book of Revelation, “Then I saw…” With this new vision John sees here in v1 he begins his conclusion of his apocalypse, summarizing and tying together many of the threads found in the whole book here in chapters 20-22 in what could be rightly called one grand final movement.[2]John sees an angel coming down from heaven holding a key and a great chain. The key, v1 says, is to the bottomless pit or the abyss, while the great chain is to bind a dragon. A dragon, v2 reveals, who is not a literal dragon, but the devil and Satan, the ancient serpent. John uses these titles for Satan to remind us that this devil is not a new enemy but our oldest enemy, one who has been against God and His people ever since Genesis 3:1. This angel John sees, v3 tells us, binds the devil, throws him into the pit so he cannot deceive the nations, shuts the pit, and seals it for a thousand years, until the time it’s opened when Satan will be released for a little while.

Some say at this point, ‘You see this is exactly why the thousand year period is entirely in the future. Satan isn’t bound right now, doesn’t Scripture tell us he is the ruler of this world and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one? How then can Satan be bound now and be the ruler of this world at the same time?’ This might seem to make sense on the surface but it falls apart on a deeper look. See two things in particular.

First, this thousand year period isn’t to be taken as a literal thousand year period but symbolic. Remember this book is apocalyptic in genre. As we’ve seen time and time again it’s full of symbolism from Old Testament realities. Every number we’ve come to before in this book up to this point, from the 144,000 to 666 and more, we’ve interpreted as symbolic of a greater reality. Why then, if we’ve taken this view so far, should we change now and take this thousand year period literally? Answer: we shouldn’t.

But secondly and more important, Satan’s binding isn’t a future event, it’s something God has already done, something we’re enjoying right now. When did God do this? At the cross. Colossians 2:14-15 states this well when it says that at the cross God forgave all our trespasses “…by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to an open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.” Clearly then, Satan was not only bound and defeated at the cross but was publicly shamed at it.[3]This is the binding John is referring to here in v1-3. So let’s ask the question, in what sense is Satan now bound?[4] 

I find it helpful to picture this as if Satan were a dog tied up on a leash in the back yard. At first glance it might not appear he is tied up with a great chain with all the evil in our world today, but he is. And because the Master has bound him he can only go as far as the chain allows. Imagine that same dog at the door of a house. You knock on the door and the master of the house opens up with the dog next to him. He sees your fear and says ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got him tight.’ So you go in with confidence knowing the dog is held under control. This is the confidence the original readers of Revelation we’re given and the confidence we ourselves are given in v1-3.[5] The devil can no longer keep the Gentiles in darkness, in deception, and outside the covenant promises given to Israel. No, God bound him at the cross and is now gathering a new Israel, a new people, made up of Jew and Gentile through the gospel that we call the Church. And we also have confidence that the devil will not be allowed to destroy the Church. And none of this is new, Isaiah spoke of this reality in Isaiah 24 and John pulls that language forward to describe these things.[6] But it does leave us with a question: what then does it mean that the devil will be released for a little while? We’ll get to that in v7-10, for now look onto v4-6 where we see…

The Reign of the Saints (v4-6)

“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”

The move from v3 to v4 is a move from the angel binding to the saints reigning. The saints in view are saints on thrones, in positions of authority and rule. Saints who’ve remained faithful to Christ, who did not receive the mark of the beast, and did not worship the beast but were martyred are also included in this group as well. This then is the whole Church in view, those who belong to Christ, and those who’ve been martyred for Christ. Of this whole group of it says briefly at the end of v4, “They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” And as we asked before about the nature of the binding of Satan, let’s ask here about the nature of the saints reign.

Some do believe, as before, that this reign is only a future reality. Staying in line with how we interpreted v1-3, I disagree with the future only view and believe the saints reigning is a present spiritual reality. Of course, I fully affirm that we will experience a future physical reigning with Christ but that’s not what’s in view here. The pivotal phrase to notice here is in v5 and v6 where it says, “the first resurrection.” Most people have an idea of two resurrections in the Christian life; one that is spiritual that happens at conversion (being born again, the second birth) and the other that is physical that happens at Christ’s Second Coming. By stating this is the ‘first resurrection’ John clearly has the former, the spiritual resurrection, in view. This is also why John mentioned earlier in v4 that he only saw the ‘souls’ of the saints and not the bodies. If it were the physical resurrection he’d would’ve seen bodies and souls reunited, but here he only sees souls.[7] 

This is in line with the rest Scripture as well. Ephesians 2:4-6 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” John even uses the same imagery here in v4 when he says, “They came to life and reigned with Christ…” Yes, there will be a future resurrection where we physically reign with Christ, but here John is referring to our spiritual state in Christ now. Which helps us understand the rest of this middle section. Those who’ve been spiritually raised with Christ, v6 says, are blessed, why? Because of saving us and making us alive and raising us up to sit with Christ in the heavenlies now, we no longer fear the second death, it has no power over us, no. Rather we are those who reign with Christ now spiritually, and forever physically. This would mean the group in view in v5 who is described as the ‘rest of the dead’ who don’t come to life until the thousand years are over refers to all unbelievers who are spiritually raised to new life in Christ, who remain dead in sin in this life, and who will rise in the end only to come to the judgment of Christ.[8]

Again, to the original audience of Revelation, can you see how thick the confidence in view is? Regardless of what you experience here in this life, death or life, lack or plenty, all those who believe in Jesus are already reigning with Him. Death has indeed lost its sting for those in Christ.

The Loosing of Satan (v7-10)

“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

v7-10 brings us back to the end of v3 and fills out the details about what occurs when Satan is released for a little time after the millennium. And to describe this little season John goes back and uses the language of Ezekiel 38-39.[9] Back in Ezekiel’s context the nations attacking Israel are called Gog and Magog. Here John uses those terms to refer to all the fallen men and women, and kingdoms of the world who are coming together to attack God’s people. Their leader is the devil and their number will be countless, like the sand of the sea, and it says they will surround God’s people. Again, symbolically interpreting this means this won’t be an all out war, Armageddon fashion, but rather reveals the Church in the very end of days will be surrounded overwhelmed by her enemies.[10] But praise God, when all seems dark Christ will return deliver His people and destroy the wicked.

For the third and final time I’ll say, how great a confidence the original readers would’ve gleaned from this as they experienced all kinds of suffering in their time. And how great a confidence do we glean from this as we experience a persecution of our own kind in our day. No evil will ultimately triumph in the end. Only Christ and those who belong to Him will reign forever and ever.

To limit these events to future realities only as some of the positions in eschatology do, is to put ourselves at a distance to this great confidence we’re meant to gain from this passage. Those in Christ are spiritually and truly already made alive, and are right now reigning with Him, seated with Him in the heavenlies. 

Our position in Christ above, ought to fuel our life in Christ here below.

[1] Joel Beeke, Revelation: The Lectio Continua: Expository Commentary on the New Testament (Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 513.

[2] Beeke, 510.

[3] Dennis E. Johnson and Robert L. Plummer, ESV Expository Commentary: Hebrews-Revelation, ed. Iain M. Duguid, Hamilton Jr James M., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2018), 727.

[4] Beeke, Revelation, 514.

[5] Beeke, 516.

[6] Johnson and Plummer, ESV Expository Commentary: Hebrews-Revelation, 726.

[7] Beeke, Revelation, 518.

[8] Johnson and Plummer, ESV Expository Commentary: Hebrews-Revelation, 728.

[9] Johnson and Plummer, 731.

[10] Beeke, Revelation, 523.

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