It warrants the reading of the entire chapter 20 as an opening to our study of the millennium, then we will, as usual, address each verse separately, and then we will summarize the millennium study with our conclusion.
Revelation 20:1-15 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3He 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. After that, he must be set free for a short time. 4I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.
6Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. 7When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.
9They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The timeline of events described in this chapter should not be taken literally, because we must remember that we are dealing here with visions, symbols, and signs.
If we map out the events in Chapter 20 in a literal sequence, then they would appear as follows:
This graphic shows the millennium as a physical period that separates the binding of Satan and setting him free again.
Let us look at whether we should see the millennium as a literal thousand years or is it a symbolic period. Here are the other numbers in John’s vision.
In Rev 1:4 Jesus wrote letters to seven churches but meant it for all the churches of all time. It is a symbolic number.
In Chapter 1:12 John saw “… seven golden lampstands…” It is a symbolic number.
In Chapter 1:16 someone like the ‘son of man’ held “… in his right hand … seven stars.” It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 1:20 explains the symbolism of 1:12 and 1:16, “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. This confirms that 1:12 and 16 contain symbolic numbers.
In 2:10 Jesus says to the church in Smyrna, “… you will suffer persecution for ten days…” It is a symbolic number.
In 3:1 Jesus refers to himself as the one holding the seven stars and the seven spirits of God. These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 4:5 says, “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 4:6 speaks of the “four living creatures.” It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 4:8 says the four living creatures each “had six wings” and were covered with eyes all around. It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 5:1 speaks of the scroll that was “… sealed with seven seals.” It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 5:6 says, The “…Lamb … had seven horns and seven eyes” and immediately continues to explain the symbolism of the seven eyes, “…which are the seven spirits of God.” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 7:1 says, “… I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds…” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 8:2 speaks about the “… seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets.” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 9:5 speaks about the locusts that were given power to torture the people who had the mark of the beast for “five months.” It is a symbolic number.
In Chapter 9:14 the sixth angel with the trumpet were told, “Release the four angels who are bound at the River Euphrates.” It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 10:3 says, “… the voices of the seven thunders spoke.” It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 11:3 speaks of the two witnesses. In the next verse Scripture explains the symbols with which the two witnesses are identified: “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 11:13 says, “… there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed…” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 12:1 says, “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 12:3 says, “An enormous red dragon [appeared in heaven] with seven heads and ten horns…” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 13:1 says, “[the beast coming out of the sea] had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns…” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 13:11 says, “[Another beast coming out of the earth] “… had two horns like a lamb.” It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 15:1 John saw, “…seven angels with the seven last plagues…” These are Symbolic numbers.
In Chapter 15:7 the seven angels received “…seven golden bowls…” It is a symbolic number.
Chapter 17:3 says, “[John saw] a woman sitting on a scarlet beast … with seven heads and ten horns.” These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 17:9, 10 explains the symbolism of the seven heads and ten horns. Scripture even here calls for a “mind with wisdom” so as to correctly understand the symbols portrayed in the numbers. “The seven heads are seven hills.” Not only are they seven hills, but they are also seven kings. These are symbolic numbers.
Chapter 17:12 and 16 explains the meaning of the ten horns, that they signify ten kings. It is a symbolic number.
There are other numbers in the book of Revelation, such as the 144,000 of Chapter 7:4, which some thought has to be a literal number, but they, too, were embarrassed when it turned out to be a symbolic number after all.
It begs the question why would all the numbers in John’s vision be symbolic; have a meaning beyond the literal for the church, but this one number, one thousand years, was meant to be taken literally. The book of Revelation is, after all, a prophecy given in visions, signs and symbols, not only to give the church comfort that her marriage with the Lamb is certain, but that it should reveal Jesus Christ. This prophecy is not about history or about events that we could calculate for our benefit, this prophecy is about Jesus Christ, with everything else that is revealed subjected to that objective.
The book of Revelation starts out with that announcement:
Revelation 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John.
Not only is the object of this prophecy made known, but the purpose is also clearly stated. So, to seek a literal meaning in the 1,000 is to make this book’s purpose the object and the Object the purpose.
The numerology of 1,000 fits within the pattern of numbers used throughout the book, further testifying to its symbolic value rather than its literal value. One thousand is 10, the number of completeness to the power of three, the number of God: 103=1,000 years.
The angel that came down from heaven, is one of God’s faithful servants and has come to seize, bind, and imprison Satan. The language used here is that the angel “locked and sealed” the Abyss over him. It is not merely the closing of the Abyss, but the locking and sealing of it to indicate that there is no possibility of escape. Since Satan is a spirit, the chain, the Abyss, and the locking and sealing must be seen in a spiritual sense. We do not know how a spirit-being can be locked and sealed in a place, but God locks and seals Satan, which means he will have no way of escaping God’s lock and seal.
It is purposely revealed to John that this Satan is the same devil who deceived Eve in the Garden and it is he, who accused and prosecuted the guilty before God’s tribunal.
Revelation 12:9, 10 The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. 10Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down."
There is an important connection between the vision of a thousand years and that vision of Satan’s expulsion from heaven to earth and his frustrated efforts to destroy the heavenly woman through the deceptions he pours from his mouth.
The reason why the dragon is bound for a thousand years is, “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” Since it is impossible for Satan to deceive the elect, the unbelieving nations are the objects of his deceit so that they would rise up and destroy the church. His strategy here corresponds with his attempts to destroy the male Child by trying to snatch Him away at birth and when he failed in that, he persecuted his mother with a river of deceit.
Rousing up the nations for battle against the church after the millennium is impossible if all the unbelievers were killed in the battle before the millennium. Binding Satan to prevent him from deceiving the nations is equally absurd if the nations had been destroyed in the battle preceding the binding.
It stands to reason, then, that Satan’s binding could only have taken place before the battle in which John witnessed the capture and destruction of the antichrist and the false prophet.
If, then, Satan was bound before these battles, we must see these events as different visions of the same event, a phenomenon with which we will deal later.
Satan’s binding, therefore, prevents him from gathering the nations in a worldwide conspiracy to blot out the church for a period of a thousand years, which is symbolic for the time in which we live now.
The language of the purpose-statement of Satan’s binding corresponds with this reasoning, “…to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore…” The language here does not speak about future activities, but it speaks about something that was ongoing and had to be brought to a stop. He was not bound for the thousand years to prevent something in the future from happening. Satan’s hurling down from heaven confirms that he exited heaven where he accused the saints before God’s throne, as he did Job and others.
In Revelation 20:4, 5, 6 we read among other that the “souls of those who had been beheaded (suffered) … came to life and reigned with Christ… for a thousand years…” This implies that the 1,000 years mark the return of Christ to reign in a worldly kingdom during which the world will experience a perfect kingdom, according to those who believe the 1,000 years to be a literal period.
But Jesus said in
Luke 17:20, 21: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you.
He also said in
Matthew 12:28 But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Colossians 1:27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
We don’t see anywhere that Jesus alludes to a period that will precede his final return. These, and many other Scripture passages, rather explains the presence of Christ here and now, in this life, within us.
Furthermore, if we take the timeline in Revelation 20 literally, Jesus’ return to reign with the saints will not be his final return. But Jesus speaks only about a “last day”.
John 6:39, 40, 44, 54 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 54Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 11:24 Martha answered [speaking about her brother, Lazarus], "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
John 12:48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.
Acts 17:31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.
There is no mention of anything else but a final return and a last day upon which there will be a resurrection and a judgment.
Scripture teaches us that Christ made one sacrifice, which was sufficient for all believers for all times, contrary to the sacrifices of the priests, which were made repeatedly. Scripture continues…
Hebrews 9:26 - 28 … But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
There will also not be a resurrection for the righteous and another resurrection for the unrighteous.
John 5:28, 29 Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
Acts 24:15 And I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
The prophets prophesied about this,
Daniel 12:2, 3 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
Hosea 13:14 I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? I will have no compassion.
Scripture is clear that there is only one more return of Christ, and at that time all who had ever lived will rise from the dead, some to eternal glory and others to eternal damnation. It is important to remember this critical order of events as we proceed and as the revelation to John took on more than one facet, or camera angle, so to speak.
The literal millennium doctrine suggests that there were survivors from the battle in chapter 19, which lived with Christ on earth during the 1,000 years. But the language and intent of Rev 19:18 contradicts that theory.
Revelation 19:18 So that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.
The idea that the 1,000 years is a period during which some people will enter into Christ’s kingdom in their natural bodies to reign with Him, is contradictory to Scripture, which teaches that…
… flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (I Corinthians 15:50)
John 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
Jesus is clear in what He says here that, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” How absurd is it to assume that some who are not born again might live in God’s kingdom for 1,000 years?
According to those who believe that there is a literal millennium, death will only be destroyed after the 1,000 years reign on earth. But Scripture teaches us that death will be the last enemy that will be destroyed and it will happen during Christ’s reign after all his enemies have been put under his feet. So, from that it is clear that Christ will reign for a certain period, which will not end until that objective has been achieved. The question is, then, when did Christ start his reign because if we can determine the commencement of His reign it will be easy to know whether the duration of his reign is only 1,000 literal years or does the 1,000 years refer to a symbolic period.
We must first explain what we mean by Christ’s reign. We acknowledge that Christ has been the Head of the church since God created the universal, invisible church by writing the names of the elect into the book of life before creation. In that sense, Christ reigned over the church since eternity. The reign spoken of here, however, is in the context of the first, perfect human to be raised up, the First Fruits of the resurrection and it started when Christ visibly took up his office as Head of the church.
First, the church had to be cleansed from her sin so that she would be justified, and then he prepared her as his bride. To cleanse her from her sin meant that Christ had to pay for her debt, which He did on the cross. Satan’s presence in heaven ended when Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished” meaning all of His work has been accomplished. That was the exact moment Satan was thrown from heaven and bound for a thousand years.
Christ’s ascension into heaven to the right hand of the Father signified the rise of the first Man with a physical body, who is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Since Satan is the prince of the air, or prince of the world, he is a regent. Before Satan was hurled from heaven, he was a regent, present in the domain of another regent, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, which had not yet ascended to his domain. There can never be two regents in the same domain, so at the completion of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, Satan was hurled down to never again be in the domain of the regent Jesus Christ. Christ’s resurrection marks the point in time when the perfected human nature with the perfected body has risen from the dead as first fruit of the living. Satan had to be out of heaven before that could happen. The regent Jesus Christ took up his office as King and Lord when he took up his life again, and all that was remaining was for Him to ascend to his domain at the right hand of the Father.
In the context of John’s prophecy, Christ’s reign started at his resurrection, having conquered his enemies, locked them up in the Abyss until he returns for his bride to keep them from deceiving the nations anymore.
When Christ was made alive it also meant that the believers were made alive. Scripture connects the fall, through which death came, to Christ’s resurrection, through which life was restored. That means those who died in Adam are made alive in Christ at his resurrection. Christ was “made alive” with his resurrection and even though we remain under the curse of death, we already enjoy the resurrected life because each one in his own turn is made alive through the resurrection. First to be made alive is Christ, who is the firstfruits, then when He comes again, those who belong to him will be made alive. And then, the end will come. Not the 1,000 years, the end.
I Corinthians 15:20 - 26 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When Scripture speaks in this passage of those who belong to him will be made alive “when he comes” it means we will be made alive as Christ was made alive, which means in the new perfected body. It is clear that will happen when he comes; not before and not after, but at that time. Because of Christ’s integrity, we already assume lives that reveal our faith in our new bodies by producing the fruits of the Holy Spirit and by keeping the church and ourselves pure.
Further proof that we are in this world but not under the curse of death or the domain of Satan, is Jesus’ high priestly prayer,
John 17:15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.
Christ’s promise that we will be raised from the dead when he comes, just before the end, is so certain that we already, in this life, live under Christ’s reign and not that of death. We live with the kingdom of God within us, reigning with Christ in the world, just as the prophecy of John says.
If the 1,000 years were literal, then we are living outside of this glorious reign with Christ in this life. Listen to these passages and determine whether Scripture speaks about the symbolic millennium or are we now living outside of it.
John 5:24, 25 "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. 25I 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 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Romans 6:14, 22 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. 22But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.
Romans 7:4, 6 So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. 6But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Romans 8:2 Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Galatians 2:19, 20 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Hebrews 10:10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
I Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
It is evident from the foregoing that we already, in this life, have passed over from death to life and to live forever.
Revelation 20:4 says, “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.” Who would they judge? The world? No, they would judge the church to keep her pure and expel the wicked from among us. Scripture is unambiguous that we ought to judge those inside the church and that it is none of our business judging those on the outside. God will judge those outside.
I Corinthians 5:12, 13 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
Who are these saints who will judge? They are those who persevered; those who did not worship the beast or his image and did not receive his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They are the ones who came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. They died to that fatal archenemy, sin, through the body of Christ, and came to life in his resurrection.
We have, then, determined that Christ’s reign, of which Revelation 20:4 speaks, commenced at his resurrection and it will continue until He hands over the kingdom to God the Father at the end of time.