Revelation 20 – The Millennium
Chapter 20 in the Book of Revelation regarding the millennium, has always called for many discussions and different points of views. Before I start to argue for mine, I have to make a short comment: The “thousand years” described in Revelation 20, appears only once in the whole Bible. Due to this fact, we must be careful when dealing with this specific chapter, without having other texts confirming what the Apostle is writing.
The striking point in many of the discussions is whether the millennium is something appearing in the future, or if these “thousand years” is a (symbolic) period between the day that Jesus died on the cross and a few years before he is coming back. My own understanding is the latter, that we are now living in the millennium, and that this period is about to be completed. In the introduction to this chapter, John the Apostle writes:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. (Rev. 20:1-3)
There are different kinds of angels appearing in The Bible. The most important are listed below:
- Seraphim, angels closely connected with the praising of the Lord. (Isaiah 6:1-6)
- Cherubim, angels that are typically represented with wings, feet, and hands but are also described in different forms as having two or even four faces (Ezekiel 10:21). They were known for guarding sacred things. They guarded the tree of life, and they were also over the Ark of the Coventant on the Mercy Seat.
- Archangels, angels of high rank, where most biblereaders are familiar with the two we know the names of; Gabriel who was sent as messenger to Mary, and later to Joseph saying that Jesus would be born, and Michael, known for being a protector of Israel and God’s people.
- Angel of the Lord. He is appearing both in the Old and the New Testament. Among many incidents he speaks directly with Abraham:
..And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord.. (Genesis 22:15-16a)
The only reason an angel can speak this way, with this kind of authority, is because this angel is the Lord himself. Altough the Bible does not identify this angel 100 percent, we may know him as Jesus Christ from the following facts:
- He speaks as God, identifies Himself with God and exercises the responsibilities of God, as seen above.
- In several of the incidents where the Angel of Lord appears in the Old Testament, those who saw the angel of the Lord feared for their lives because they had “seen the Lord.”
- The appearances of the angel of the Lord cease after the incarnation of Christ. After the birth of Christ, the title “Angel of the Lord” is not specifically mentioned in the New Testament, although I believe he appears in Revelation 20.
- Finally, Jesus’ declaration of being existent before Abraham (John 8:58) – it makes sense that He would be active and manifest in the world also before He was born into this world.
Following this, the Angel in Revelation 20:1 must be the angel of the Lord, Jesus Christ himself. Who else:
- has the key to the bottomless pit?
- could lay hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bind him for a thousand years?
Past or Future
One major question is whether this has already happened, or if this is a description of incidents happening in the future. As far as I can see, this is what happened when Jesus died on the Cross, and in my opinion, all thoughts saying that this is not the case, disqualifies what Jesus actually did on the Cross. Jesus dying on the Cross was the only incident possible to bind the devil. This is what the author of the letter to the Hebrews says:
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14 -15)
Jesus confirms this thought hours before He died:
Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. (John 12:31)
So if Jesus himself says that He cast out the devil on the Cross, and the author of the letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus destroyed the devil through His death, I find it hard to accept any arguments saying that the devil will be bound (again) in the future. Yes, there will be things happening in the future that are very dramatic and extraordinary, as when the devil is cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). However, this and other spectacular things described in the Book of Revelation must not throw any shadows over what happened on the Cross 2000 years ago when the devil was bound and defeated.
The Church father Augustine writes the following in the book “City of God” chapter VII:
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself says, No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man — meaning by the strong man the devil, because he had power to take captive the human race; and meaning by his goods which he was to take, those who had been held by the devil in various sins and iniquities, but were to become believers in Himself. It was then for the binding of this strong one that the apostle saw in the Apocalypse an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss, and a chain in his hand. And he laid hold, he says, on the dragon, that old serpent, which is called the devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,— that is, bridled and restrained his power so that he could not seduce and gain possession of those who were to be freed.
In the same book, Augustine says that the binding of Satan does not mean that his power was destroyed entirely; it simply means that Satan’s power to rule over the races of men, as he had in the past, was done away with. He was still like a “vicious dog” that attacked the Church ferociously, but his power was chained. While Satan was bound, he could not enforce the rule he once had over the peoples of the earth. So, in a spiritual way, Satan was bound for a thousand years. He was robbed of the dominion he had over the world. This “binding of Satan” restrained him from destroying the work of the Church, which was then able to establish the spiritual Kingdom of Christ on earth.
We also saw this reality when discussing Revelation chapter 17 regarding the beast with the seven heads/kingdoms. Five have fallen,” the angel says, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while,… The Apostle continues: As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction.
The beast that was and is not refers, as already stated, to the kingdom the Apostle is living in, the Roman Empire. Jesus died on the cross during this kingdom, and He established a kingdom of peace, also on earth. This kingdom is not everywhere and any time after it was established, but everywhere and any time where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and received by faith.
There are, however, more difficulties in this chapter. Most of all, there are questions regarding those “ruling” in the millennium who is a part of the first resurrection.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. (Rev. 20:4-5)
There are two groups sitting in “God’s Government” together with Jesus in the millennium. The first group are those sitting on thrones. It says that judgment was given unto them. The second group are the souls of those that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus.
Those Sitting on Thrones
Who are those sitting on thrones? Based on the conclusion above, they must be people appearing in this world (or in the heavens) after Jesus died on the Cross. Are they among those who are Christians, or are they all Christians? Honestly, I am not clairified enough to give a qualified answer on these open questions. On the contrary, I have found it interesting to try to understand how this world is ruled after the devil was bound by Jesus on the cross. This way of attacking the passage above might shed some light on who these people might be.
Most Christians agree that there is power in the name of Jesus, and that the message of the Cross is the Power of salvation (1. Corinthians 1:18). However, many seem to forget that exactly this message, this word, is the same word Jesus is ruling the world with right now – in the millennium. Just like God created heaven and earth by His word in Genesis 1, and just like God, by the same word, arose Christ from the dead on Easter morning, our Lord is ruling the entire universe with His word right now. This is His rod of Iron (Rev. 12:5).
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
God’s Word in Us
Now, as God’s word, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, creates what He commands and raises everyone hearing and believing it from “death to life”, there must be some kind of power in us when receiving this word. When we pray to Him, praise Him and when we preach His Salvation, His life must dwell in us. We do not have any power, light or life in our mortal bodies ourselves, but through His Word, the miracle happens; His power, His light and His life dwells in us. As Christians, we might look few and weak. But in Him, or Him in us, we have a much more important role in the society than everybody thinks, also ourselves. Jesus compares, in this context, the Christians with “salt” and “light”.
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:13-14)
As we know, salt prevents meat from rotting, it causes ice to melt and it gives taste to what we eat. Light shines up a dark place. These two elements, salt and light, are very important for us to live. Now Jesus says that these things dwell in this world because of Him dwelling in us who are Christians. And when He and His word dwell in us, satan loses his power, because the centre of this word is the Cross where Jesus died, and the blood he shed for our sins. When satan faces the blood of Christ, he must escape, because by this blood, he was conquered on the Cross.
John, the Apostle, confirms this in one of his letters:
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1. John 4:4)
Now, this is how Jesus rules the world: By the Gospel, yes, or more precisely, by the Gospel dwelling in us. This is how Jesus has overcome he [satan] who is in the world, and this is the way he has been ruling His kingdom, since His death and resurrection, in the midst of the sixth “head” of the beast. Augustine calls it the Kingdom Militant in the City of God:
It is then of this kingdom militant, in which conflict with the enemy is still maintained, and war carried on with warring lusts, or government laid upon them as they yield, until we come to that most peaceful kingdom in which we shall reign without an enemy.
But the Apostle saw some in addition –
…those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4-5, KJV)
Who are these beheaded? They are hard to find, but we do have a statement from Matthew the Evangelist that there actually were many rising from the dead in connection with the death of Christ (Matt. 27:52). We do not know who these holy persons were, what they did, what happened to them, nor if they died again. It is actually quite interesting that we do not hear more about this group rising from the dead, as this is quite extraordinary. The John the Apostle actually uses one chapter on the awakening of Lazarus (John 11), but the only information we are told about this resurrection is:
… and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (Matthew 27:52-53)
A possible guess is that the “many” meeting these holy resurrected persons were not to write or tell anything about what they saw. Imagine if one of the persons arising was the beheaded John the Baptist. It would take a lot of focus away from the major fact, also for us, that the death and resurrection of Christ was the main thing happening this Easter.
Although we do not know if this is what happened, there is a possibility that the persons rising from the dead in this resurrection are the persons John the Apostle saw ruling the millennium together with Jesus and the other group described in Revelation 20:4-5.
One more thing about those who were raised from the dead before the millennium; they had not:
…worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. (Rev. 20:4)
How is it possible to say that this is something happening before the beasts from the sea and the earth even appear?
As we could see when dealing with the beasts in Revelation 13, the beast is somehow a “composition” of a kingdom and 2 persons (in addition to satan himself). The name of the kingdom or the persons we do not know, but satan has, and has had, many relatives to this “composition” in history. The Bible calls them antichrists. These antichrists have always persecuted, and will always persecute, the Christians and try to set their “mark” on their thought (forehead) and deeds (hand). This is what Nebuchadnezzar did when commanding his people to worship a monument of him, and also Adolf Hitler tried to brainwash his people to follow his beliefs.
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1. John 2:18)
Satan Will Be Released
Finally, the end of the millennium:
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev. 20:7-10, KJV)
Now, this is what is going to happen after the millennium. Satan will be released from his prison, as if the “government” in the millennium has withdrawn, and as if he now has the possibility to do whatever he wants. At this time we will see what Jesus told us to expect in Matthew 24: wars, “cold” love and lawlessness.
Also Gog and Magog are mentioned – representing the whole army going against Israel in the end (Ezekiel 38-39). When the millennium is over, when Satan will be released from his prison, we will understand what we actually had when the Gospel of Jesus Christ was still our treasure. We will experience what happens when the “salt loses its power” and God withdraws His hand from the earth. It is hard to understand why there will come a period like this on earth, why it is necessary before Jesus is coming back. However, it will come, and this will be a serious struggle for everybody in general, and specially for any believing Christian.
Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. (Rev. 14:12)
However, through everything, our Lord will be with us. Things will seem like they are out of His control but He will keep us by His own power not to worship the beast, and to remain faithful to His Word. Jesus will keep us under His wings and keep time and track with us: “… but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22). We must rely in Him, also in the days to come.