The Thousand Year Reign

Revelation 20:1-10

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
September 2012

The passage we will be studying is Revelation 20.  It deals with some very advanced topics in biblical prophecy.  It is part of the meat of the Word.  It is an extremely important chapter.  It is one of the most important chapters in the whole book.  In fact, it is one of the most important chapters in the whole Bible.

It is also a very controversial chapter.  There are many different views on Revelation 20.  As we study this chapter, I want to look at some different ways that Christians in other churches throughout the centuries have interpreted this chapter and compare them to Scripture.

Most people when they think of Revelation 20, they think of the Millennium.  They think of Revelation 20 as the Millennium chapter.  They are right.  It does mention the Millennium but Revelation 20 also deals with several other things.  Each one of these topics are very important.

Overview of Revelation 20

  • Revelation 20 describes the punishment of Satan. 
  • Revelation 20 describes two resurrections.
  • Revelation 20 mentions the thousand year reign by the saints. 
  • Revelation 20 mentions a final rebellion on earth against Christ.
  • Revelation 20 mentions the destruction of the earth.
  • Revelation 20 mentions the final judgment (Great White Throne Judgment).

The Punishment of Satan

 “I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil or Satan and bound him for a thousand years.” (20:1-2)

Satan’s punishment comes in two phases.  At the beginning of the chapter, he is THROWN into the Abyss (20:1-3).  At the end of the chapter, he is THROWN into the Lake of Fire (20:10).  Who is this being?  John uses two names and two metaphors to describe this person.  His names are Satan and the Devil.  Those are his names but he is referred to as the Serpent and the Dragon because of what he does.

As a Serpent, he deceives and tempts people.  Adam and Eve were tempted by a serpent.  As a Dragon, he persecutes and kills people.  We saw that in Revelation 12 when the giant red dragon with the long tail went after the woman and tries to kill her and when that didn’t work, it went after her son and when that didn’t work, it went after the woman’s other children.  The one who is behind all of the persecution of God’s people on planet earth and the one who wages war against the saints is the Dragon.

“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” (20:2-3)

Five Predictions About Satan

Where will Satan be during the Millennium?  Revelation 20 answers that question.  What five things will happen to Satan after Jesus returns?  As you will see, he will be completely powerless.  An angel comes down from heaven with a key and a heavy chain.  Five things will happen next.

1. Satan will be seized.

Like the beast and false prophet, he is captured, like criminals today who are arrested.

2. Satan will be bound.

Angels are spirit beings.  They do not have physical bodies.  I do not know how you tie up an angel but this would be no problem for God.

3. Satan will be thrown into the Abyss.

Satan is incarcerated.  It is called a “prison” in 20:7.  We have already seen the Abyss in Revelation 9.  It is a prison for demons.  It is not just a place of confinement; it is a place of punishment for demons.  It is described in 9:2 as a gigantic furnace.  When it is opened, you John saw all a lot of smoke.

He saw so much smoke that “The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss” (9:2). Where there is smoke there’s fire. Smoke comes from a fire.  It will be his third home.  His first home was heaven (12:9).  From heaven, he will be cast to the earth.  From the earth (12:12), he will be thrown into the Abyss (20:2).  His final resting place will be the Lake of Fire (20:10).

4. The Abyss will be locked.

Not only is Satan tied up, he is thrown into a prison that is completely locked.  There is no way he can get out.  The Abyss is mentioned two times in the book.  It is always said to be locked.  In Revelation 9, an angel descends from heaven with to let some demons out of the Abyss.  In Revelation 20, an angel comes down from heaven, not to let someone out, but to throw someone in it.

5. The Abyss will be sealed.

There is no way that anyone can get out or in, because it is locked and sealed.

Amillennialists have a different view of the binding of Satan.  They take this to mean simply that he is restricted.  He still has power to do many things.  He is like a mean dog on a chain.  The idea would be that Satan can do all kinds of things today but he has some restrictions on him placed on him by God.  There are some things that he cannot do.  Amillennialists leave one out one important fact.

Revelation 20 does not merely say that Satan will be bound.  It says that he will be thrown into the Abyss and the Abyss will be locked and sealed.  He will not be able to do anything to anyone, because he will be in the Abyss.  It is a picture of someone who is completely powerless and harmless.  It describes someone who cannot hurt anyone, because he is not on earth roaming around.  He is completely bound and locked up for a thousand years.    Is Satan bound today?

Two Reasons Satan is Not Bound Today

Some have argued that Satan is right now bound[1].  That was the view of one of the church fathers in the fourth century named Augustine.[2]  He was a brilliant man.  I recommend you read some of his writings, if you haven’t but he is wrong on this point.  This can be easily proven from Revelation.  Satan cannot be bound today in Revelation 20 for two important reasons.

1) Satan cannot be bound now because he is still deceiving people today.

Satan will be bound during the Millennium to keep him from deceiving people.  That is the stated purpose of his confinement.  Revelation 20:2-3 says, “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, TO KEEP HIM FROM DECEIVING THE NATIONS ANYMORE.” 

Is Satan deceiving people today?  Yes.  Revelation 12:9 says that he deceives the whole world right now.  All you have to do is to read the newspaper or listen to the news.  On this point, there is no debate from anyone.  Does Satan deceive nations today?  Yes. It is very clear that he is doing this today.

There are nations in the world today that abuse human rights.  There are nations that are dominated by a false religious system (Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism) and openly worship false gods.  There are nations that support terrorists.  There are other nations that actively persecute, imprison and even kill Christians.  Will he deceive nations in the future?  Yes.  This is clear from Revelation.  That is also why the kings of the earth will gather together to wage war against Jesus (16:12-14; 17:14; 19:19).

  • Why are there are false religions in the world today?  Satan deceives people.
  • Why will people take the mark of the beast and think that the Antichrist is a great man?  They will be deceived by Satan.
  • Why do people reject the gospel today?  It is because Satan “blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (II Corinthians 4:4). 
  • Why will the kings of the earth will gather together to wage war against Jesus?  Satan will deceive them.

2) Satan cannot be bound today because that does not fit the chronology of the book.

The Book of Revelation describes the beast, the false prophet and the dragon as a satanic trinity.  Everyone agrees on this point.  In Revelation 19, Jesus returns to earth and what does he do.  He kills everyone who fights against him and then he takes care of the satanic trinity.

First he throws the beast and false prophet into the Lake of Fire (19:20) and then he throws Satan into the Abyss (20:1-3).  Is Satan bound right now?  No.  Jesus has not returned and the beast and the false prophet have not been judged yet.  In fact, they have not even been revealed yet.  The chronology of the book makes this impossible yet.

After a thousand years, Satan is let out of the Abyss.  What does he do when he get out?  He deceives the nations.  He didn’t get any better being in the Abyss for a thousand years.  Satan’s basic nature was not changed.  He was not reformed.  What happens after he deceives the nation? They rebel against Christ.  The text says that they gather to battle (20:8) and this is not just a few people either.

“In number they are like the sand on the seashore” (20:8).  This rebellion will come from every corner of the planet, the four corners of the earth.  They want to overthrow King Jesus.  They will not want him to be in charge.  They will want “hope and change” instead.  They want someone else on the throne.

This raises a few questions.  Who is rebelling against Christ here and why would they do this?  This will not be a rebellion of redeemed saints in glorified bodies who will be destroyed by fire from heaven.  Glorified bodies are immortal (I Corinthians 15:42).  They cannot die.  This will be a rebellion by unredeemed individuals who will be alive during the Millennium.

You have to be saved to enter the Millennium.  When the Millennium begins, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).  No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord, ’because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:34)  “From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me says the Lord” (Isaiah 66:23).

However, there will be many people on earth who are saved when Jesus returns living in natural bodies.  They will have children and those children will be born with a sin nature and will still have to accept Christ as Savior.  Many will get saved but apparently many will not.

Why would anyone who lived in the Millennium be unhappy? People who live in the Millennium will have a perfect government.

  • Jesus will take care of the poor and the needy.  With righteousness he will judge the needy; with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth (Isaiah 11:4) He will implement social justice.  Jesus “will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:5).
  • Health care will not be a problem in the Millennium, as it is today.  Jesus will take care of the sick and diseased.  “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:5).  “No one living in Zion will say, “I am ill” (Isaiah 33:24).
  • People will live much longer then than they do now.  “For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people” (Isaiah 65:22).  “The one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child” (Isaiah 65:20). There will no longer be any infant mortality.  “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days” (Isaiah 65:20).
  • Dangerous animals today will no longer hurt anyone.  “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord” (Isaiah 65:25) They will be so harmless that people will let their kids play with them and not be afraid for their safety (Isaiah 11:6-9).  “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.” (Micah 4:4).
  • The entire planet will be characterized by peace.  Warfare will be abolished.  “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore”. (Isaiah 2:4)  There will be no need for weapons or military academies anymore.  No one will study military science.  There will be no need for any martial arts schools.  “Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety” (Hosea 2:18).
  • People will not worry about crime, like they do today.  “No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders” (Isaiah 60:18).  Nations will not have to worry about other countries attacking them.  “Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her” (Joel 3:17).

Some may not like the rules.  It may seem too strict for an unbeliever.  People will go to Jerusalem to worship.  Worship will be compulsory.  “If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain. If the Egyptian people do not go up and take part, they will have no rain”. (Zechariah 14:17).  You will not have the option to choose another religion. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name”. (Zechariah 14:9).

Some will look at these rules as bondage.  They will see it as slavery and will say, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” (Psalm 2:3).  There are many people who will obey outwardly because they are forced to but will rebel the first opportunity they get and when Satan is released, it will be their opportunity.  Satan will be let loose to test humanity.  This will be God’s final test on humanity.  After living in a perfect world for one thousand years, will they choose him or will they choose Satan.  Some will choose Satan.

The rebellion will be massive and come from every corner of the planet.  The rebels will completely surround and outnumber the inhabitants of Jerusalem but Jesus will not be threatened at all.  The one who sits in heaven will just laugh at them (Psalm 2:4).  Fire will fall from heaven and destroy all of the rebels (20:9).

The Two Resurrections

In 20:4-6 John sees some people sitting on thrones with authority to judge.  He also saw some dead souls that came to life and reigned with Christ.  A thousand years later, some other dead people come to life.  This makes up the two resurrections in the chapter.  There are two groups of people that come to life.  Many Christians believe that there will be one general resurrection at the end of time.

In Revelation 20 we learn that there will be two resurrections and they will be separated by a thousand years, one before the Millennium and one after the Millennium.  They are resurrections of two different groups of people at two different times with the completely different results.

Are these both resurrections of dead bodies?  Yes.  They have to be.  In the fourth century, Augustine came up with the idea that First Resurrection is spiritual and the Second Resurrection is physical[3]. There are many today who follow that interpretation.  They are called amillenialists.  They believe that the souls who come to life in the first resurrection come to life spiritually at salvation.  Where do they get this idea?

There are two places in the NT which seem to talk about a spiritual resurrection. The Apostle Paul speaks of people who are dead in trespasses and sins who become made alive in Christ.  They were spiritually dead and become spiritually alive and spiritually raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-6).  John 5:25 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, AND NOW IS HERE, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”  

Jesus is talking about spiritually dead people in the context.  He mentioned in the verse right before people who cross over from dead to life when they believe in him and receive eternal life.  Is John talking about a spiritual resurrection in Revelation 20?  Is the First Resurrection spiritual?  No.  How do we know this

The First Resurrection is Not Spiritual

1. The Context Is Dealing With Physical Resurrection

John says that he “saw the souls of those who had been beheaded”.  He then says that these souls “came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years … This is the first resurrection” (20:4).  In the context, what does come to life mean?  It has to mean come to life physically.  They had their heads chopped off and now they come to life.  That is the normal way to understand the passage.

2. The Souls Raised Would Not Need a Spiritual Resurrection

Furthermore, this CANNOT refer to come alive spiritually, because they were already saved.  In fact, they were beheaded for their Christian witness.  The text specifically says that they were beheaded “because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands.”  That gives clear evidence that they were already saved.  A spiritual resurrection would not make any sense in that passage.

The Millennium

“They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (20:4)

Those who share in the first resurrection “will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years” (20:6)

The topic of the Millennium is very controversial and is a matter of much debate.  It raises many questions.

Will it be a Literal Thousand Years?

Amillennialists believe that this will not be a literal one thousand year period.  The only time that the Bible mentions a thousand year period is in Revelation and everyone knows that Revelation is a book full of symbols.  It is apocalyptic book.  Apocalyptic book uses symbols and sometimes use numbers as symbols.

While it is true that Revelation uses symbols and some of the numbers in Revelation are symbolic, all of the numbers in Revelation are not symbolic (seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven churches).  There are several reasons why this refers to a literal one thousand year period.

Three Reasons for a Literal Interpretation

1. It is mentioned six times in the text.

Revelation 20 may be the only time we see the phrase in the whole Bible but it mentions it six times in the chapter In fact, it mentions it six times in six verses (20:3, 4, 5, 6, 7).  It mentions it not only in the vision itself (20:4-5) but also in the interpretation of the vision (20:6).  Revelation 20:3 says that Satan “must be set free for a short time”.  The author could have easily written that Christ will rule the world for a long time but instead, he says that he will rule for one thousand years and he says this, not once but six times.

2. A literal interpretation is consistent with the Jewish eschatology of the time.

The Jews expected the Messiah to reign on earth for a limited period of time before the final judgment.  The debate was whether the messianic rule would last four hundred years or one thousand years.  There was a Jewish view that the Messiah would rule for a thousand years.  That is firmly rooted in Jewish tradition.  In the Talmud, there is a Jewish belief that after six thousand years, the earth would have a Sabbath period that would last one thousand years.  The final one thousand years would take place during the Messianic Era (Sanhedrin 97).

3. This was the view of the early church.

There is really no debate about this.  This was the majority position of the early church for the first three hundred years.  It wasn’t until the fourth century when we get to Augustine that anyone ever questioned this.

When Will It Take Place?

This is a big debate between premillennialists and postmillennialists.    Premillennialists believe that Jesus will return before the Millennium and the Millennium will take place AFTER the Second Coming.  Postmillennialists believe that Jesus will return after the Millennium and believe that the Millennium will take place BEFORE the Second Coming.   Which view is correct?  All you have to do is to read the text.  You don’t have to be a Greek scholar or an expert in biblical prophecy.  All you have to do is to read the passage.

What happened in Revelation 19?  In Revelation 19, the Second Coming takes place. Jesus returns on a white horse followed by the armies, defeats the wicked and returns to rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  The Millennium clearly follows the Second Coming.  Revelation 20 takes place after Revelation 19.  The Second Coming will be Premillennial.

If you believe that Jesus Coming is Postmillennial, then you have to say that the Millennium takes place BEFORE the Second Coming.  That would lead to the absurd conclusion that the Millennium takes place during Revelation 6-18.  Anyone who reads those chapters knows that those chapters do not describe the Millennium.

The saints are not reigning in those chapters.  They are being slaughtered.  The souls that are martyred cry out for vengeance under the altar.  The one who is ruling in those chapters is the Antichrist.  He wages war on the saints and overcomes them.  After Jesus returns, the tables are turned.  The Antichrist is cast into the Lake of Fire and the saints rule and reign with Christ.

Where Will the Millennium Take Place?

Many say that Revelation does NOT say that the saints will rule with Christ on earth.  It just says that they will rule with Christ. Is it possible that the Millennium will take place in heaven?   There is evidence that this rule must take place on earth.

Three Reasons for an Earthly Millennium

1. The OT predicted that there will be a kingdom on earth.

The OT did not just predict a heavenly kingdom.  It predicted an earthly kingdom with the Messiah reigning on earth.

For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9)

Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth (Jeremiah 23:5 NKJV).

And Jehovah shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall Jehovah be one and his name one” (Zechariah 14:9).

2. Revelation predicts that saints will reign on the earth.

Revelation 5:10 says, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and THEY WILL REIGN ON THE EARTH.”

3. Jesus returns to earth to rule and reign.

The Second Coming is to earth.  Christ will be on earth when he returns.  Jesus sets his feet on the Mount of Olives and he comes to rule as King of kings and Lord of Lords.  He will reign on earth.  At the end of this period there is a rebellion that reaches to “the four corners of the earth” (20:8) which clearly ties this rule to the earth.

[1] Those who believe that Satan is bound right now base it on one passage of Scripture.  Matthew 12:29 says, “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.”  It is a short parable.  Some have called it the Parable of the Strong Man.

Who is the burglar in this parable?  The burglar in the parable is not Satan.  It is Jesus.  Who is the strong man?  Who does Jesus tie up here?  Many believe that the strong man is Satan.  The argument here would be that Christ could not cast out demons unless he first bound the strong man.   Jesus plundered Satan’s house when he cast out demons but in order to do that he had to first bind Satan.  The very fact that Jesus cast out demons demonstrated his power over Satan, so he could not be casting out demons in the power of Satan, as his critics alleged (12:24).

Even if the strong man in this parable is Satan, amillenialists make two mistakes here.  First, they base their theology from a parable.  You do not want to read too much into a metaphor.  This is a metaphor.  Amillennialists believe that Jesus bound Satan even before the cross based on a parable which does not even mention Satan directly. Second, they take this verse out of its historical context and applied generally.  The context is specifically talking about an exorcism.

Matthew 12:29 and Revelation 20:3 clearly do not describe the same event.  Even if Jesus bound Satan in Matthew 12:29, he did NOT send him to the Abyss.  Revelation 20:1-3 describes a binding of Satan in the Abyss and is eschatological.  An alternative view is that the strong man in the parable represents the demon and Jesus is simply saying here is that the demon in the man had to be cast out before he could be healed.  The demon had to be tied up and bound before the man could be healed.

[2] Augustine, City of God, Book 20, Chapters 7-8.

[3] Augustine, City of God, Book 20, Chapters 6-7.

One Response to The Thousand Year Reign

  1. Thanks for the great explanation Alan, its definitely a lot more clearer after reading this lesson. Miss you man! Blessings to you & your family!

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