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This is the most difficult chapter of the whole book of Revelation to understand. Fortunately our salvation and growth in Christian grace does not depend upon our understanding of what is meant by "A millennium"--"the 1000 years reign of Christ." If our salvation depended on our understanding this symbol, then God would have made it much plainer.
It is in this chapter that most of the sects have their origin. My understanding is that "the 1000 years reign of Christ" is a symbol NOT of any period of time BUT IS A SYMBOL OF THE COMPLETE AND ABSOLUTE RULE OF CHRIST OVER THE LIVES OF ALL COMPLETELY SURRENDERED CHRISTIANS AND THAT CHRIST THUS REIGNS NOW.
All numbers in the Book of Revelation are symbols.
It makes nonsense of the book if we interpret some numbers as literal and others as symbols. As, for instance, the "666" of chapter 13:18 is clearly symbolic so also is "the 1000 years" of chapter 20.
In the following pages we will study chapter 20 more closely.
This is a much debated chapter. But with all its difficulties and with all the differing opinions regarding this chapter, its main point is clear: SATAN IS JUDGED.
It helps us to see that the main thought of these verses is not the reign of 1000 years, but the judgment of Satan. If we cannot understand all the details of this chapter let us hold fast the main truth--Satan will be judged. Every understanding of this vision is beset with difficulties and will meet with opposition from those whose opinions differ. Whatever interpretation we adopt we need to speak with caution because none of us knows the whole truth. We need to speak with love to those who honestly understand this chapter differently from ourselves. Diverse interpretations of this chapter have created serious divisions of the Christian church and formed the basis of many sects. Tolerance with those holding views differing from our own is very necessary. If the Lord meant us to understand the significance of the detailed events described in Revelation Chapter 20 concerning the 1000 years reign of Christ, and if our salvation and growth in Christian grace depended upon such understanding then He would have made it much clearer and more easily understood.
It is Christ’s command that we love one another whether or not we agree with each other’s interpretations. If we only have fellowship with those who agree with our opinions "What thanks have ye? for sinners also do the same. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven." (Luke 6:32-37).
It is a Protestant Principle to allow liberty of opinion. One of the watchwords of Churches of Christ is "in things essential, UNITY; in matters of opinion, LIBERTY; in all things, LOVE."
I. STUDY NOTES--Revelation 20:1-15
Before we begin our study on chapter 20 we need to emphasise THAT THE REIGNS OF 1000 YEARS IS NOT THE MAIN THEME OF THESE VERSES--BUT THE JUDGMENT OF SATAN. (The Latin word for "1000" is "millennium").
Very little is actually said about the 1000 years reign of Christ here. Most of our ideas about it are read into it from Old Testament prophecies. If the millennium is so important we would have expected the book of Revelation and the rest of THE NEW TESTAMENT to speak more directly about it.
This is the only chapter in the New Testament where we read of "a 1000 years" except for the one text in 2 Peter 3:8 which states that "one day is with the Lord as a 1000 years and a 1000 years as one day." Dr. J. P. Love writes: "That the millennium has caused a perfect welter of differences of interpretation in the church throughout the ages, and that it has received attention far beyond the importance suggested by its meagre length, is one of the strangest facts of biblical usage. The whole idea of the millennium rests entirely on this one passage; the figure occurs nowhere else in scripture . . . The thought of a 1000 years is used elsewhere in the Bible only to suggest that such a time, so long in man’s experience, can be like a single day to God. (Psalms 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8)" (Dr. J. P. Love--Layman’s Bible Commentary on John--Jude--Revelation" SCM Press, Page 110).
There are 3 main views--or interpretations of the 1000 years in Revelation 20:1-15. (1) That it means a literal and exact 1000 years (2) That it refers to a literal but indefinite period of time (2 Peter 3:8) (3) That it is A SYMBOL WITH A DEFINITE MEANING--NOT OF A PERIOD OF TIME BUT A SYMBOL OF THE COMPLETE AND PERFECT RULE OF CHRIST OVER THE LIVES OF ALL FULLY SURRENDERED CHRISTIANS. (Reference is made in an appendix to the main theories of interpretation. In these notes we explain the interpretation which we accept). WE APPLY THE SYMBOLIC INTERPRETATION TO THIS 20TH CHAPTER OF REVELATION CONSISTENT WITH OUR SYMBOLIC INTERPRETATION OF THE REST OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION.
THE MAIN THOUGHT OF Revelation 20:1-10 IS THAT THE DEVIL WILL BE FINALLY JUDGED.
--So the three enemies of Christ and His church will be judged and forever removed from being able to harm God’s children.
In verse 2 the devil is called "the dragon" because he is fierce, and "the serpent" because he is subtle. The devil is bound and shut in the pit for a thousand years.
When does this take place? When is Satan bound? We believe this to be a symbolic reference to what took place at Christ’s victory over Satan at the Cross of Calvary. There Christ bound Satan for Christians in so far as Christians are fully surrendered to Christ. (The symbol of "the 1000 years reign of Christ" describes the complete reign of Christ over fully surrendered Christians). Surely the victory of Christ over the devil at the Cross was a REAL victory!--see Colossians 2:15, at His Cross Jesus "spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." In John 12:31 Jesus says of His coming victory at the Cross "NOW is the judgment of this world, NOW shall the prince of this world be cast out." In John 16:11 Jesus said "The prince of this world IS judged." The verses 1-10 of Revelation chapter 20 refer to the victory of Christ over the devil at the Cross. There Christ bound Satan from harming the REAL life of Christians who are completely surrendered to Him. (This COMPLETE RULE OF CHRIST OVER FULLY SURRENDERED CHRISTIANS IS THE 1000 YEAR REIGN OF CHRIST). It remains true that the devil still makes war against Christians, he persecutes and may even kill the bodies of Christians but their real life is hid with Christ in God, and the prayer of Jesus in John 17:11 is answered. "Keep those whom Thou hast given Me"--And John 17:15 "I pray that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil one."
THE BINDING AND LOOSING OF SATAN is referred to in verses 2 and 3. To what does this refer? During this age from the Pentecost of Acts 2:1-47 until the second coming of Christ the devil is "bound" and cannot really harm those Christians WHO ARE FULLY AND COMPLETELY SURRENDERED TO CHRIST, but the devil is "loosed" to continue to deceive unbelievers in this present age. "The loosing of the devil when the 1000 years were ended for a "little while" (verse 3) simply means that beyond the sphere of the completely surrendered lives of Christians the devil is loosed NOW to deceive people on earth. The victory of Christ over the devil at the Cross means that in the measure that Christians are surrendered themselves to the rule of Christ the devil is now "bound," he cannot deceive or harm them. But the devil is still "loose" to deceive unbelievers. We repeat that the reference in this chapter to "1000 years" is a SYMBOL OF THE COMPLETENESS OF CHRIST’S REIGN OVER FULLY SURRENDERED CHRISTIANS. Numbers are used symbolically throughout the whole book of Revelation. It makes utter nonsense if we interpret some numbers in the book as mathematical and literal and other numbers as symbols. We must try to be consistent in our interpretation. If "666" in 13:18 can only be understood as a symbol so also is the "1000 years" of chapter 20. (In our introduction we indicated "10" as a symbol of "completeness"--the cube of 10 (1000 years) is a symbol, not for any length of time, but of a perfect and complete rule of Christ over the lives of surrendered Christians). So, "the binding and loosing" of Satan took place at the Cross. Satan is only bound from harming the real life of those Christians who are completely surrendered to Christ’s control. Satan is still loose for "the little while" (verse 3) of the Christian dispensation in which we now live and he afflicts us. So, belief in "the 1000 years reign of Christ" is not a weird anticipation of some future time in history when there will be a let up in evil before the end of history, but is a SYMBOL OF THE GREAT RESTRAINING POWER WHICH GOD GIVES TO TRUE CHRISTIANS--A power which is able to restrain the devil’s power in us although it cannot destroy the devil himself. Only God can do that. For such a power Christians should be grateful and spend less time arguing about the millennium. Compare this interpretation of the opening verses of Revelation chapter 20 with the teaching of Romans chapters 6 and 7. Notice how they agree. The main message of Romans is that: (1) Salvation is ours by FAITH in Christ and not by our own work and effort. (2) Personal holiness (sanctification) is ours--not by struggle but by the complete surrender of self to Christ’s control--victory over sin means that we are no longer bound by sin. This comes through complete surrender to Christ. We strongly urge the reading of Romans chapters 6 and 7 at this point in studying Revelation chapter 20. In the translation by J. B. Phillips we have verses like these: "Let us never forget that our old selves died with Him on the Cross that the tyranny of sin over us might be broken--for a dead man can safely be said to be immune to the power of sin." (Romans 6:6-7). The Apostle Paul continues the theme in chapter 7. Christ has loosed us from the binding power of sin. We can’t loose ourselves but Christ frees us. We can see that the teaching of Romans chapters 6 and 7 is in accord with the interpretation of the binding and loosing of Satan for 1000 years which we see in Revelation chapter 20.
II. THREE MAIN THEORIES--Revelation 20:1-15
There are three main theories of interpretation.
Each has its difficulties. Each has endless variations. Each has its firm advocates. We must never presume to claim that our view is God’s view. We must never condemn those Christians who hold different views from our own particularly as regards this chapter of scripture.
We must observe that the second coming of Christ is not expressly stated in Revelation chapter 20. It is possible to fit it in before the millennium, after the millennium, or after the "little while" of verse 3.
Whatever interpretation we make of Revelation 20:1-15 we must be cautious, humble, scriptural and loving.
This chapter does not state when Christ will come in relation to the millennium. The chapter leaves this to be a matter of opinion. We should do the same. We repeat--If the Lord meant us to know, or if our salvation and growth in grace depended upon our knowing, He would have made it plainer.
Whichever of the three main theories of interpretation we accept we must accept that other sincere Christians will differ from us. We must always be ready to grant liberty of opinion and not be critical of each other.
THE PRE-MILLENNIAL VIEW:
In general this view believes that the millennium is still future, and that Christ will (1) come BEFORE THE Millennium to bind Satan and to reign for a 1000 years (20:1-3) ("PRE" means BEFORE). (2) During the period of the millennium the saints will reign with Christ (20:4-6). (3) After the millennium Satan will be loosed and then judged and punished (20:7-10). (4) Then the resurrection and judgment of the wicked will take place (20:11-15). The pre-millennial view is based on this chapter, and when it is accepted here it can then be read into many other passages of scripture. Acceptance of the pre-millennial view in Revelation chapter 20 will also determine one’s interpretation of the whole book of Revelation. Most premillennialists see almost the whole of the book as referring to judgments, plagues, events still in the future. (chapters 4-22). Most premillennialists see the vision of the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 as successive periods of church history and interpret this present age as "The Laodicean period" (Revelation 3:14-22). Most premillennialists adopt a literal interpretation of the book of Revelation except in those verses in which a literal interpretation is plainly impossible. This view is widely held among Christians.
THE POST-MILLENNIAL VIEW:
This view believes that the millennium is a period of time (2 Peter 3:8) which is usually identified as the present whole Christian age. In this view Satan was bound when Jesus died on the Cross and rose again (20:1-3). Colossians 2:15 --"Having spoiled principalities and powers--triumphing over them in it." The saints are at present living and reigning with Christ (20:4-6; Ephesians 2:6). This view sees Christ’s victory on the Cross as a real victory which gives to Christians the promise of victory over Satan. The defeat of Satan (inflicted by redemption) is described as "a fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18), as "a casting out" (John 12:31), as "a Judgment past," "The prince of this world has been judged" (John 16:11). But the rejection of Christ’s power and victory by unbelievers postpones the realisation.--The refusing of the King’s Son ("We will not have this man to reign over us") interposes a barrier against the immediate fulfilment of the vision of Christ’s victory. AFTER the millennium (or Christian age) Satan will be loosed and Christ will then come and cast him into the lake of fire (20:7-10). In this view, the second coming of Christ is AFTER the millennium (POST means AFTER). Then will come the general resurrection of the good and the wicked at Christ’s second coming. The wicked will be judged and Christ will reign forever. (20:11-15). This view also is widely held among Christians.
THE SYMBOLIC VIEW
(which we have adopted in these study notes) is that "the 1000 years"--the millennium--mentioned in Revelation chapter 20 is A SYMBOL, not of a period of time but OF COMPLETENESS. Satan is bound for a 1000 years, that is, he is completely bound. The saints reign with Christ for a 1000 years, that is, they reign in complete victory. Numbers are always used as symbols of ideas in the book of Revelation (e. g., "666") "10" (the complete) X 10 X 10 (1000) a symbol of "complete" as definite as John can make the symbol. This view believes in the millennial reign of Christ. But this interpretation believes that the millennium describes, not the duration but the PERFECTION of Christ’s reign. It means the complete and perfect reign of Christ over and with those whose lives are completely surrendered to Him. Those who hold this view recognize that not all the difficulties are solved, but this view enables them to read the whole book of Revelation seeing in its visions symbolic pictures of principles active in the present daily lives of Christians and not only of future events. For to them this book describes the present victory of Christ in the lives of all who are yielded completely to Christ, and it becomes the most thrilling and hopeful book in the world as it pictures the certainty of Christ’s future and final victory. The use of this symbol of the millennium in this way is consistent with other scriptures. Wherever Christ’s servants give their lives entirely to Him, wherever they die for Him, either literally or in the life of each day, there the angel of the Lord binds the power of Satan. There it is that those who thus give their lives to Christ are "raised up" into newness of life, the "first resurrection" where they experience the joy of being victors with their Lord. They know the meaning of triumphant life as no other can. In their lives, and as far as their lives extend, the devil is completely bound, (bound a 1000 years). 10 X 10 X 10, the most complete binding that John can express in figures.
These are the three main alternative views. We are free to choose between them.
ONE OF THE BEATITUDES OF REVELATION
"Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:6). This first resurrection we described in our notes previously as the spiritual resurrection of our new birth--The first resurrection took place at our conversion according to Jesus’ own words in John 5:24-29.
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Norris, Harold. "Commentary on Revelation 20". "Norris' Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany