It’s Not Han’s Millennium… But What Is It? (Revelation 20:1-6)
GIST: Because of Jesus’ power and grace, we can be part of what He’s doing now & forever.
Are you a premillennialist, postmillennialist, or amillennialist? These questions might not mean anything to some of you, but they are the kinds of questions that made me so nervous about walking through the book of Revelation several years ago. Not because they don’t matter, but because they tended to accompany a line of questioning that turned the study of Revelation more into an opportunity for academic debate than a chance to talk about the character and plans of Jesus. On a less spiritual level, they also made me nervous…because I really didn’t feel like I had a good answer ☺️.
If you’ve studied Revelation before or even heard much about the book, the term Millennium (which I actually have a really hard time spelling by the way) is probably one you’ve heard. It’s one of the most talked about and probably the most debated concepts in the book, and that's not without reason. It actually directly impacts how people read the entire letter. What’s interesting to me is that the entire concept comes from six verses. Not just six verses in Revelation. Only these six verses in the entire Bible reference these 1,000 years. That being said, it is important to make sure we interpret Scripture through the lens of Scripture. I never want you guys to think I somehow have a superior understanding. There are things in these passages I don’t fully understand. And there are theologians I highly respect that have differing viewpoints on these six verses, as well. That’s ok because the core message of the passage doesn’t change with these interpretative views. What we have to be very careful about is reading into these verses that which the rest of Scripture contradicts. Unfortunately, that happens too often.
So, today we’re going to read those six verses, and I will try to prayerfully walk through them with you before you stuff your bellies with turkey and ham ☺️. However, let’s pray that God’s truth is on full display as we talk through what is meant to point us to Him!
“1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. 4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of 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. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
Every Sunday, my goal is to get us into God’s Word as quickly as possible. I know my personality is easily distracted, so I want to try my hardest to combat that and keep Jesus the focus of our time together. However, before diving into the passage breakdown this morning, I want to at least quickly outline the four major millennial viewpoints for you. You know I’m passionate about not “skipping stuff” just because it’s difficult—and this falls into that “difficult stuff” category. Therefore, if I’m going to tell you this is frequently debated amongst Christians, I want to at least show a snapshot of why. I will try to keep this brief, but even if it’s not super brief— I have pictures ☺️.
I wanted to start by showing this one because it is by far the most popular view in America. In fact, this is probably the way most of you have grown up hearing the book of Revelation taught. However, it’s actually fairly new. It didn’t really become a distinct viewpoint until the 1800s and caught steam in America because of something called the Scofield Reference Bible. This was the first study Bible printed in America, and starting in 1909 it was widely distributed across the country. Because of this, it had a profound influence on early American theologians, so the dispensational view of Revelation was taught by early American evangelists, and over time it became the prevailing view in our country. In our lifetime, we’ve seen it popularized and spread even more by things like the Left Behind series. This viewpoint divides history into dispensations which basically show God working in different ways throughout different times in history—the Old Testament, New Testament, Great Tribulation, and Millennium are key parts of that. This stance takes a very chronological approach to Revelation. According to this view, there will be a physical rapture of all believers—which would be God taking all the Christians out of the earth—before or sometime during a literal 7-year great tribulation. Then, Jesus will come back and rule with believers on earth for a thousand years (which in dispensationalism focuses quite a bit on the nation of Israel being restored) before the final judgment of the world.
I just want to be completely honest here. I feel like this interpretation is not a very faithful reading of Scripture. It tends to really focus on Revelation as a code to crack, and, unfortunately, often when I have listened to people teach from this perspective I end up hearing a lot more about foreign powers and subversive government plots than I do about Jesus’ plan to rescue and redeem the world. In addition to this, this viewpoint often includes teachings that don’t seem to fit with the rest of Scripture like the Holy Spirit, who is God and omnipresent, being removed from the earth before that “Great Tribulation”— which would also result in anyone who is saved being saved by some form of good works, or at the very least without the Holy Spirit working in their hearts. To me, this doesn’t match with the intention of the book to reveal Jesus to us, or the structure of the book that shows us not a chronological list of events or a secret code to crack, but the same picture of God’s justice and grace from several different angles, so we can look forward to being with Him while also being prepared for what life will be like until He returns.
Ok, so I’ll be much faster on these next few, but I’ve been asked about dispensationalism several times over the course of this study (even if that name was never used), so I wanted to address the elephant in the room (and Melissa encouraged me to do so ☺️).
This is a much older viewpoint. In fact, most of its teachings date back to the second century. Just looking at the picture, you can see it is premillennialism stripped of the dispensations. It does teach that the church will be taken away after a time of tribulation which is when Jesus returns to reign on earth for a literal 1,000 years and before the final judgment of the world.
These next two views are actually very similar. In fact, in most cases, they primarily differ in their view of what will happen during the millennium, but not significantly.
This is another early viewpoint, but it was especially popular with the Puritans. Though there are some that view the great tribulation as the temple being destroyed in A.D. 70 (as indicated in the graphic above), most view the millennium as the time from Christ’s resurrection until His return (which we’ll touch on more in a moment) concluding with a time with lots of salvation especially amongst ethnic Jews just before Jesus’ return and the final judgment.
Now, like I said, this last viewpoint and postmillennialism are very similar. In fact, postmillennialism is sometimes referred to as optimistic amillennialism.
This is a stance that was held by early church fathers like Augustine. The term literally means “no or without millennium”. However, it is not saying that there isn’t one, but that it’s already happening. Like postmillennium, it does not take this 1,000 years to be a literal time period. Instead, it teaches that both great tribulations and great movements of God in salvation will continue to happen (though they will intensify) until Jesus returns. To me, this seems consistent with not only how Revelation uses numbers—in fact, we’ve seen thousands used to represent innumerable masses before (see Revelation 7)— but also with the picture we’ve seen painted throughout the letter of what life will be like until Jesus comes back.
Ok, so I know that was a lot, but hopefully it helped someone. Now, all that being said, what is the gist of these six verses ☺️? For the next few minutes, let’s try to keep the focus the focus: Because of Jesus’ power and grace, we can be part of what He’s doing now & forever. Let’s break this down, and then hit some takeaways.
“1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.”
This section is frequently referred to as the binding of Satan. The question that arises is…what exactly does that mean? As has probably become abundantly clear ☺️, these verses have resulted in a lot of debate. However, this is something we’ve seen happening throughout Revelation. In fact, I was just re-reading Revelation 12 last week, and there we see the dragon (Satan) being thrown down from Heaven, defeated by the blood of the Lamb, and then turning and pursuing the people of God who keep being rescued by Jesus. It’s the same picture! Here are couple of observations.
1. Satan is a defeated foe, and the gospel is spreading! Though there is much here that is difficult for me to understand, I do see this. The binding of Satan means his influence over the nations isn’t what God allowed it once to be. As part of Jesus’ rescue plan, we see people outside of Israel accepting Christ in large numbers. Jesus references this in Luke 10, as well. “17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!" 18 And He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."” When these first missionaries came back, they were shocked that even demons were listening to them. And Jesus responded with, “Yeah, I did that! But keep your joy in the right place. Don’t be hyped that demons are listening to you, but be excited about why—you’ve been saved and covered in My righteousness!”
2. A final “battle” is coming, but Jesus is going to win. This verse tells us Satan will be released, then verses 7-10 tell us he will set the stage for a war against God…and immediately lose. We’ve seen that picture several times throughout Revelation. Until Jesus returns, the gospel will be free to spread, but Satan is bound—not gone. That means there will be building persecution and trials. Life will be hard… but blessed because we know what’s happening next. When Jesus returns; sin, Satan, and death will be defeated once and for all, and Truth will reign!
Speaking of reining… that’s what this next section seems to be about, as well.
“4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of 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. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
Ok, let’s try to break this down. First, where are we? We see thrones and people sitting on them. That’s an image we’ve seen in Revelation before. Remember when the 24 elders, who represent the whole Church, were sitting on thrones surrounding the throne of Jesus back in chapter four? Where was that? Heaven.
And who is sitting on these thrones? If you’ve been studying this with us for a while, you probably know the answer. If it was happening this way earlier… there is a good chance we’re getting to see the same picture another way. But just in case, let’s check it out. Those killed for Jesus—that would be martyrs, those who lost their lives because of Christ. Special attention is given throughout this letter to those who will die while serving Jesus. Why? Well, for one, that was the reality these early churches were facing, so they’re being directly reminded: that’s not the real end of their story! However, is this only those who have been killed for Jesus? No. There is an and there. It also includes those who have not been marked by the beast. I know it’s been a bit, but if you remember, this refers to all believers—those who have chosen Jesus over the world.
So, what is happening to them? First, we see that they are alive. In fact, they have experienced the first resurrection. What exactly does that mean? Well, we’re told that means they won’t face the second death which is a reference to Hell. So, what keeps you from facing Hell? Salvation. Keep this passage in mind, and listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 2:1-8 “1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- 6 and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”
This is a picture like those we keep getting in Revelation. Jesus shows us His justice and then reminds us of His grace! Satan will rage against God’s people. Sin will fight to destroy us from within, but we can rest assured of the future He has prepared for us because He came to bring us life. And because He loves us, we get to be part of His story. In something that is crazy to me, we’re told these believers are reigning with Christ and serving as His priest, people who draw near to Him and convey His message to the world. This isn’t the only time we see this kind of language in the Bible. Look at 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” That’s beautiful. Now and forever, we have the privilege of being part of what Jesus is doing all around us! That seems to be the message of these six verses.
Ok, I know that was a lot, but let’s hit some quick→
Some things are hard to understand, but this is clear:
Sin wants to destroy you.
But Jesus loves you.
He has also given you the message that saves the world, so you can be part of His plan right now!
AND—because of His incredible love—those who belong to Him will also continue to be part of what He’s doing forever!
Yeah, that’s a good reason to be thankful. Because, you know, it’s Thanksgiving Sunday, so I probably should mention that somewhere in here ☺️.