The Millennium (Rev 20)  

Published on Saturday, 26 August 2017 04:05
The meaning of the thousand years is very much discussed today. Probably, the most popular idea about it is that it refers to a thousand-year reign of Jesus on earth. This period is regarded as commencing after Jesus returns and then reigns in Jerusalem for a millennium. Many devout believers have held and do hold to this idea. Indeed, most of the ones I have known, and I was converted in a Brethren assembly, were convinced that such an interpretation of Revelation 20 is obvious.

In addition to that premillennial interpretation, there are two other views. The post-millennial view, as the name implies, is advocated by those who believe Christ will come after the millennium. In their case, the millennium is a long period of gospel prosperity that will be followed by a brief period of worldwide departure from the gospel. This idea puts the second coming of Jesus far into the future. Many people in the past held this view, but it is not so common today.

The third view is the amillennial view and its endorsers regard the millennium as symbolic of the present age which covers the period between the two comings of Jesus.

How should we interpret the passage? Here are some suggestions.

First, we should recognise that it may be inappropriate to take the thousand years as a literal period of time. After all, many if not most of the numbers mentioned in this book are not literal. It is better to take the thousand years as representing two things. First, it refers to a long time and, second, it refers to a fixed time. Since the Lord is the controller of time, we can see in this description a reference to his patience and his sovereignty. His patience is seen in the length and his sovereignty is seen in that he decides how long the period will be.

Second, who is affected by the thousand years? The devil is affected by it and those who had died for Jesus had been affected by it. During this period, the influence of the devil is curtailed and the martyrs reign for the thousand years.

Third, it helps us to see what is happening when we realise that four different events are described in the chapter and we will focus on each of them briefly. They are (1) the binding of the devil, (2) the reign of the martyrs, (3) the defeat of God’s enemies and (4) the day of judgement.

The binding of the devil

What is meant by the curtailing of the devil? In the account, he is chained and thrown into a bottomless pit and a secure lid is placed over it. The imagery of this pit suggests that devil finds it impossible to get out of this curtailment. He is always falling down the pit, and even if he managed to reverse this he cannot get past the lid. The reason why he is placed within this pit is to prevent him from deceiving the nations for the period of the thousand years.

We should ask a couple of questions at this stage. First, when was the period when the devil deceived the nations? One answer would be that he did so during the centuries before Jesus came to the cross. Since Jesus ascended to heaven and began to build his worldwide church, it cannot be said that all the nations are deceived. So we can deduce that during that period the devil is prevented from hindering the complete spread of the gospel.

A second question concerns the nature of the binding. If the period of the church is the same as the thousand years, we can see lots of places where the devil seems to hold millions in spiritual blindness. The binding does not mean that he is inactive. Instead it means that he cannot do what he used to do. God limits the range of the devil’s influence.

It is possible that the angel who imprisons the devil is the Saviour. After all, in Jude when the archangel Michael was involved in a dispute with the devil, he won the victory with divine help and not by his angelic strength. It takes a divine being to limit the activities of the devil, and Jesus is divine. Jesus spoke in Luke 11:21-22 of binding the devil.

Here, the devil is said to be the ancient serpent mentioned in Genesis 3 as the creature who tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God in the Garden of Eden. On that occasion, the Lord announced that a Champion would come and defeat the serpent. That prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus defeated the devil at the cross.

There are several comforts that we can take from this reality. First, the binding is evidence that God is in control. Second, the activity of Jesus on the cross included defeating the devil and the removal of his power over the nations. Jesus did defeat the powers of darkness when he was on the cross, as Paul states in Colossians 2:15. Third, during this long period represented by the thousand years, the gospel will triumph among the nations as the kingdom of Jesus progresses.  

The experience of the martyrs

John sees thrones but we are not told where they are located. Given that the description is similar to previous descriptions of the heavenly throne room, it is likely that John was shown what was taking place in heaven at that time. He saw rulers, which may be a reference to angels, but more likely refers to believers who have died. Then he mentions those who had been martyred for the sake of Jesus (including John’s own brother James). They reign with Jesus during the thousand years. Their coming to life is said to be the first resurrection, yet what is surprising about them is that John does not see their bodies. Instead he sees their souls. This also would suggest that the location of the thrones is heaven.

Here we have information about what the righteous dead are engaged in during this period of a thousand years. In heaven, they function as priests and kings. As priests, they participate in the worship of God and of Christ, and as kings they reign with Jesus. We don’t know what or how those contributions take place. Yet we can deduce several details from the description. First, they are conscious, involved in the life of heaven. Second, they are consecrated to divine service. Third, they will experience the work of the Spirit – this is implied in their roles as kings and priests because such were anointed for their tasks. Fourth, they have communion with God and with Jesus.

After the thousand years

Earlier John had been told that the devil would be released for a little while after the period represented by the thousand years was over. Within that brief period, the devil deceives the nations and leads them in an attack on the kingdom of Jesus. The imagery is taken from the book of Ezekiel where Gog and Magog attacked the holy land and were destroyed there by God. A similar outcome occurs here, with the devil’s army destroyed, and he is given special punishment, similar to how the beast and false prophet were dealt with. This is obviously not a literal battlefield. The people of God are not located in a literal camp and city.

Yet we can learn some important truths from this description. First, God is going to have complete victory. Second, large numbers of people will be willing to join an attempt to dethrone God. Third, however bad things are today from a spiritual point of view, they can get a lot worse.

The Great White Throne

John is given an awesome description of the final judgement day. It will be a day of cosmic upheaval. The description is of an ancient trial in which a king judges his enemies. Unlike our trials, there is not a jury. Everyone who is at it is described as dead – they have experienced the first death because they are about to experience the second death. They have undergone a physical resurrection, and all will be there no matter how their lives ended. Evidence will be presented about their lives – this is the point of the books – and each is judged for his or her own actions.

Some matters to observe are these. First, there is the awesomeness of the Judge – his presence causes disturbances. This is probably a description of Jesus, although it could be a reference to the Father. Second, there is the accuracy of the book of life – only those whose names are in it will not be punished by the Judge. Third, there is the size of the assembly – all those who have defied God.

Fourth, there is the complete triumph of God – as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, the last enemy that will be destroyed is death and here it and the temporary place of the dead are overthrown (tossed into the lake of fire). There will be found the beast (the political opponents), the false prophet (the religious opponents), the devil (the leader of the opponents), death (the consequence of the opponents’ practices) and the place of the dead (Hades) – all of them will experience the second death forever. Jesus will have defeated them all. 

Some thoughts

It looks to me that here John uses the word resurrection to describe heaven and the word ‘death’ to describe the places where sin will abound (whether on earth today or in the lake of fire). He does not say that the first resurrection is spiritual regeneration, which is how we often use it. Instead he uses it to describe what happens to the martyrs when their souls get to heaven and are crowned. Other believers also experience the first resurrection when their souls enter heaven.

The thousand years does not refer to a literal millennium – instead it covers the length of time between when Jesus bound the devil until shortly before he returns as judge. Nor does the thousand years refer to what happens in a restored holy land – instead it covers everything that happens anywhere between the binding and the final rebellion. Today we are living somewhere in the thousand years. It is not a literal number, but a symbolic one.

As far as the binding of Satan is concerned, Jesus gave foretastes of it during his years of public ministry. He showed he could the devil during the temptations in the wilderness and every time he delivered someone from demon possession. When his disciples were used to deliver someone from demon possession, it was evidence of the Saviour’s ability to bind the devil. Paul says in Colossians 2:15 that when Jesus was on the cross he made a public display of the devil’s defeat.

I would suggest that the aim of this chapter is twofold. One is to show the completeness of the victory of God illustrated by the binding of the devil, the defeat of the rebellious army, and the verdicts from the great white throne. The other is the glory enjoyed in heaven by departed saints, whether or not they were martyrs. They are blessed beyond words. They are perfect in holiness and they function as priests and kings in the presence of Jesus.

Read more http://greyfriarssermons.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-millennium-rev-20.html