Posted by: stpowen | September 4, 2014

Revelation (15). The Millennium

Revelation (15). The Binding of Satan and the Final Judgement

Isaiah 42:6-7. ‘I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness, and I will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles. To open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.’

Mark 3:27. “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods unless he first bind the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.”

Taken from a Bible Study first given at Exeter Independent Evangelical Church.
Please read Revelation 20.

We have come to the most controversial chapter in Revelation. The three main systems of interpretation of the book, Premillennialism, Amillennialism and Postmillennialism, take their names from the thousand-year period spoken of in this chapter. Indeed, this is the only chapter of the Bible where a ‘millennium’ is mentioned.

I believe very strongly that Christian should not fall out over eschatology, so long as it is agreed that there is a future return of Christ to which we can look forward {1}. The Lord Jesus will come in the way that He has determined, and He won’t ask our opinions before He does so. We should therefore approach the subject with great humility, but that should not stop us from studying the matter and seeking the help of the Holy Spirit in finding out the truth.

Premillennialists read Chapter 20 as following on historically from Chapter 19. They see a literal reign of Christ for a literal 1,000 years, followed by another universal rebellion of mankind. The problem with this is that such events are not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture. Postmillennialists believe that Chapter 19 doesn’t really describe the second coming of Christ, but rather symbolizes the way that the Church, under Christ’s Lordship, gradually regains control of the world and leads it into a time of peace. Amillennialists, of whom I am one, do not believe that all the chapters of Revelation follow on from each other historically. They see the book as containing seven visions of the complete time between our Lord’s ascension and return {2}. Therefore the battle of 19:19 is the same one as that in 20:8 and indeed that of 16:14.

Why should not the ‘Thousand Years’ of Rev. 20 not be literal? As usual, we have to look at the Old Testament to find our answer, and to compare Scripture with Scripture. ‘For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night’ (Psalm 90:4. cf. 2 Peter 3:8). Would 2,000 or 3,000 years be any different? ‘For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills’ (Psalm 50:10). There are more than a thousand hills in the world. Do the cattle on the thousand and first hill not belong to God? ‘He remembers His covenant forever, the word which He commanded for a thousand generations’ (Psalm 105:8). There have not yet been a thousand generations of mankind, but if there were, would the covenant fail? Absolutely not, in every case! No, the meaning of a ‘thousand’ in these texts and in Rev. 20 is of ‘all that there are.’ Satan is bound from the time of Christ’s ascension for all the years that there are until just before His return.

The structure of Chapter 20 is as follows:
1-3. The chaining of Satan.
4-6. The reign of the saints with Christ.
7-10. The rebellion and fate of Satan.

The great question of vs. 1-3 is, in what respect is Satan bound? ‘So that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished’ (v.3). Satan had kept the nations (ie. Gentiles) under his sway all through the Old Testament period, but at the cross, Christ has defeated him, and now, ‘The nations walking in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9:2). Satan is bound inasmuch as he cannot stop the Lord Jesus plundering his house (Mark 3:27) and bringing in the Gentiles (John 21:31-33; Eph. 2:11ff; Col. 2:15). This doesn’t mean that the devil is totally vanquished in this age; he is still able to do much harm (eg. 9:1-3), but he is defeated and his final destruction is sure (12:12). He is only able to do as much as he is allowed (Luke 22:31; 1 Peter 5:8). The devil may ‘Prowl about like a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour,’ but he may not devour true Christians who are kept by the power of Christ (John 10:28), nor may He keep God’s elect out of heaven (John 6:39-40) nor keep the Gospel coming to all the nations (Acts 1:8). He is bound.

‘But after these things he must be released for a little while.’ Two questions come immediately to mind. Why must he be released? We’re not told, but presumably so that the world may see its leader finally and utterly defeated. How long is this ‘little while’? Once again, we don’t know, but back in Chapter 11 we saw that the two witnesses were slain and lay in the street for ‘three and a half days.’ When we looked at that chapter, I suggested that the ‘forty-two months’ and the 1260 days, which both add up to three and a half years, represent the time between our Lord’s ascension and His return. If He returned tomorrow, that would be about 2,000 years. So on that basis the three and a half days would equal 2,000 days or somewhat less than six years. Of course, we don’t know when the Lord Jesus will return. It might indeed be tomorrow or it might be 10,000 years from now, and there is no reason to suppose that God will use the same method of calculation that I have done. However, some commentators, seeing the rise in persecutions of Christians in recent times, and the increase in wickedness in many parts of the world, have speculated that Satan’s release may have already happened. Maybe so; maybe not. Our task as Christians is two-fold. Firstly, we must, ‘Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is’ (Mark 13:33). Secondly, we must be busy in our Lord’s service: ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes’ (Luke 12:42-43).

V.4. ‘And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgement was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.’

Thrones are symbols of honour and authority. ‘Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?…….Do you not know that we shall judge angels?’ (1 Cor. 6:2, 3. Cf. Matt. 19:28). Those who sit upon them are from three groups, not one. As well as the martyrs, there are those who have resisted the temptations of Satan and those who have not have not sold out to him. They are the overcomers. ‘To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne’ (3:21).

Vs. 5-6. ‘But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.’

Those outside of Christ await their bodily resurrection at Christ’s return. So what is the first resurrection? Surely it is nothing else but the New Birth. Without it no one shall either see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). As the saying is, one must either be born twice and die only once; or, having been born only once, one must die twice. But by the mercy of God, chosen sinners who were dead in trespasses and sin are given new life and ‘made to sit in the heavenly place in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2:1-10). The second death is surely judgement and hell. It has no power over believers because they are safe in Christ, having all their sins washed away by His blood. Reader, have you been born anew? Are your sins forgiven? Are you sure? If not, give yourself no peace until you can say with Paul, ‘I know whom I have believed’ (1 Tim. 1:12). Turn away from your sins to Christ. Seek Him continually, in His word and in prayer, and you will surely find him. Encourage yourself with Luke 11:9ff.

Vs. 7-9. ‘Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God and devoured them.’

We now come to the great end-time rebellion, also known as ‘Satan’s Little Season.’ At the end of this age, just before the return of Christ, Satan will be released- that is, the restrictions on his activities will be removed and he will be able to deceive the nations again (cf. v.3) and he will cause those who do not know Christ to hate Him and Christians with Him. How little will this ‘little season’ be? We don’t know, but not long. In 11:7-14 we see a time when Christian witness is slain and lies dead in the street for ‘three and a half days.’ If we compare this with the ‘1260 days’ (11:3) which is the figurative time of the present age, then we can see that it is a comparatively short period, just a few years. “And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matt. 24:22). There are those who look at the increasing hostility towards Christians and think that the time must have started already, but we don’t know; it must seem like it to those who are suffering.

The reference to God and Magog is from Exekiel 38. I believe that chapter and Rev. 20 refer to the same time, as does Zech. 14. To understand Rev. 20 properly will be a great help in comprehending the Old Testament passages.
‘They went up on the breadth of the earth….’ Satan’s followers do not only come to Jerusalem but all over the world, therefore the ‘camp of the saints’ and the ‘beloved city’ cannot be present-day Jerusalem, which is in any case figuratively referred to elsewhere as ‘Sodom and Egypt’ (11:8). No, It is spiritual, ‘new’ Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 3:12), believers all over the earth whom Satan will be besieging in those last days, but God will have the final victory in the return of Christ, and Satan will be thrown into hell, utterly and finally defeated. He doesn’t reign there, he will be tormented along with his followers. That includes you, reader, if you have not repented of your sins and trusted in Christ for salvation. There are only two sides in this war- God’s side and Satan’s; which one are you on? ‘Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless’ (2Peter 2:14); only those who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ will be found in that condition on the last day.

V.11. ‘Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away. And there was no place found for them.’

Now comes the general resurrection and the great universal judgement. The old order of things is
finished; the old heaven and earth disappear, to be replaced by the new (21:1). The whiteness of God’s throne reflects God’s holiness and the righteousness of His judgements.

All people who have ever lived must appear before God’s throne. Those who have hated Christ and opposed His rule may wish that the mountains would fall on them and cover them (6:16), but they too must appear before God. ‘Books were opened’ (v.12); judgement will be according to evidence. But another book will also be open- the ‘Book of life.’ We have seen this volume mentioned before in 3:4-6 and 13:8. It is also mentioned in Psalm 69:28 and Phil. 4:3, and alluded to in Heb. 12:23. It is the record of all of God’s elect, given by Him to the Son who has redeemed them at measureless cost (John 6:39). There is no judgement for those whose names are in the Book of life (Rom. 8:1), for Christ has paid their penalty for them.

‘Payment God will not twice demand,
Once at my bleeding Surety’s hand,
And then again at mine.’
Augustus Toplady.

The ‘sea’ (v.13) probably represents the mass of unsaved humanity (Isaiah 57:20) and ‘Hades’ is the temporary home for those who have died outside of Christ. Judgement is ‘according to ….works’ but none will be acquitted save those in the Book of life (v.15); not those who bear outward allegiance to Christ, but those who have been born again by the Holy Spirit and bear ‘fruit worthy of repentance’ (Matt. 3:8). This is the very scene portrayed in Matt. 25:31-46. How does your life differ from those around you? Is there any sign at all of a regenerate heart? How important therefore is self-examination. ‘Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you are disqualified’ (2 Cor. 13:5). Let no one suppose that this is a matter of life and death- it’s much more important than that!

Notes

{1} I exclude ‘Hyper-preterism’ from orthodoxy, because that view excludes a future physical return of Christ.

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