The book of Revelation is not the most popular book of the bible and many skip through it claiming it is too hard to understand. Others have said that chapter 20 is too controversial and as such a uniform interpretation will never exist Some theologians have claimed that the book of Revelation was not written in a chronological manner and that Revelation 20:1-6 does not immediately follow Revelation 19:11-21 but rather it deals with the same events albeit from a different angle. While the later has been claimed to speak on the destruction that came upon Jerusalem in 70 AD and the former clearly shows how the gospel will be equipped to conquer the world between a timeframe of the fall of Babylon and the Last or Final Judgement.
In Revelation 20:1-3 we are given the information that Satan would be chained and bound for 1,000 years. This binding will render Satan incapable of any action during the millennium and since we can see from the world we live in today that he has not yet been bound, we can also infer from that then that the millennium is a future event and has not taken place or taking place. This therefore means that Satan will be bound upon the return of Christ and the commencement of His earthly reign. However there are other parts of the New Testament that explain the binding of Satan to already be in play as a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Col 2:5, Heb 2:14). His house has been plundered even though he still remains active in our world (1 Pet 5:8). This binding that is already taking place is therefore not a complete cessation but rather a crippling that prevents him from deceiving the nations enough in time for his final battle. In Rev 20:4-6 we see as saints reign when Satan is bound and judged for his action against the martyrs and those of John’s generation who refused to worship the beast. This verse could be used to refer to the whole passage as we can tell that the people that participated in the first resurrection would not be subject to the second death found in the 6th verse. It therefore acts as a synecdoche for the entire church.
Satan’s binding during this resurrection will last for a thousand years and while some dispensationalists see this to mean a literal 1,000 years but the use of the word shmai,nw has led readers to see this as a symbolic reference to numbers as opposed to literal. It is expected that if the numbering is in fact symbolic then the 1,000 years or millennium just signifies a very long time. In bible numerology 10 is the number of completeness so 1,000 years would just mean a variance of this. .
The book of Revelation is one of the most difficult books in the bible to understand and this is a difficult passage. However doctrines still abide concerning this passage no matter how tentative they may be.
Hermeneutics – the reformed hermeneutics state that scripture must interpret scripture. The fact that the whole scripture of the bible is the voice of one author goes to show that his voice must be consistent and he will not contradict himself. Therefore obscure passages in the bible must find clearer ones to draw clarity from. Therefore if scripture says that Satan will be bound at the time of Christ’s return, then there must be scripture proving that there will be a cessation of Satan’s activities when Christ reigns on earth.
Supersessionism – these theologians have stated that the church has taken the pride of place that was occupied by Israel in the fulfillment of God’s purpose. I do believe that the church has indeed replaced Israel to the point that words and prophecies in the Old Testament that referred or related to Israel could in fact be related to the church. Revelation reveals that the harlot Israel had to make way for the Church bride with regards fulfilling God’s plans.
Imminent Return of Christ – if the millennium is indeed a long period of time then when exactly does Christ return? The book of Matthew also spoke of a delay in the coming of Christ. If Jesus Christ is coming soon and the millennium would last for a 1,000 years then some tension would arise with the interpretation of time as temporal rather than thematic.
Gospel Confidence – Satan is bound and deprived of the power to deceive nations from 70 AD till before the Parousia. Israel over many times in the old testament did not live up to the status of light of the nations and while it may be seen as a result of the apostasy of the covenant, the passage we are reading tells us that it is as a result of Satan deceiving the nations and preventing them from turning to Yahweh. Rev 20:1-6 tells us therefore that the church having taken over from Israel now rules the world in her stead; and this is without the opposition that Satan threw at Israel since he is now bound.
Hence Rev 20:1-6 has implications through doctrine that shows the place the church must occupy in God’s covenant till the return of Christ. It also imbibes the Christian with a confidence that will make it possible for her to share the gospels that has been given to her by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ – which will conquer the world. .
The Importance of the Context
In a bid for one to truly and clearly understand the millennium, one must understand the chronology of the book of Revelation. Some scholars interpret this book and its chronological themes through the use of progressive parallelism. In indicating this progression, john used the term “and I saw” (kai eidon). When John speaks of the saints and martyrs who reigned with Jesus for a thousand years we see a switch of terms from verse 4 and verse 6. He used the aorist tense when he said in verse 4 that they reigned with Christ for a thousand years and then he moved to the future tense in verse 6 when he says they “will reign” with Christ for a thousand years. I infer from this text that the millennium is a future event from the point of view of the author of this passage. The first three verses of the 20th chapter of Revelation indicate that Satan himself will be imprisoned for 1,000 years but would be released for a short time.
However careful study of the bible will show a similarity between Rev 20:1-6 and Dan 7. The millennial kingdom therefore is a future kingdom as the world ruler has not come as the saints will only receive their kingdom after he has been destroyed. In our passage there are five times 1,000 years are used with two of those occurrences being nominative while the other three are accusative. In Rev 20:4 we see the martyrs who refused the mark of the beast reigning with Christ for a thousand years as Satan is bound for a thousand years in verses 2 and 3.
The amillennialists claim the 1,000 years began after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Should this be true then the martyrs who died must have done so before the death of Christ. My question to them would be how they would then be able to reign with Jesus Christ for the thousand years like it was declared in the book of Revelation chapter 20 in the 4th verse.
Satan is Bound
Many theologians and even Christians of today claim that Satan is indeed bound in our present day using text like Mark 3:24-27 to back their claims. While I agree that our presence on earth as Christians binds Satan somewhat, he is not completely bound. Hoekema said that Satan being bound today means that he cannot prevent the gospel from spreading and he cannot attack the church through the soldiers he may have gathered. However in Rev 20:1-3 we see a different type of binding as now we are told of the great chain and key that will be used to lock Satan in the abyss. In revelation chapter 9 we also see another angel with a key to the abyss. In the latter the angel uses the key to keep the creatures confined from any earthly contact while the former sees the angel using the key to confine Satan to the abyss. In speaking about the binding of Satan John uses strong words like “shut it and seal it over him” This is the most telling description of any form of imprisonment in the New Testament as John made sure it was understood that Satan would be bound completely.
In The Book of Revelation, Beale in page 985 refuses to believe that the binding of Satan is absolute. He looks at the parable of the thief that plundered a house and was in turn bound and claims that though it became restrictive for the man it was not permanent. My answer to this claim is that the context of binding in Matthew and in Revelation is totally different. Another amillennialist G. C. Berkouwer said that although Satan would be bound during the millennium he is not bound today. While he cannot deceive the nations anymore, he does still seem to get to act in Christendom.
The Reign of the Saints
If we remember that the book of Daniel chapter 7 acts as a backdrop for the passage we are discussing here. However if we find out who will sit on the thrones we can look at four views that will be important in our bid to answer this questions. First we need to determine who “they” in verse four is speaking about. It is Christ who will give the authority to those that will reign with him. This book of the scripture says that there are martyrs who did not take the number of the beast. They were the ones who already experienced the first resurrection and would experience the second as well. They are individuals unlike the 24 elders and we do not know how many thrones are set up for them. We may also never know why they were the only ones mentioned by John of people that will share in the reign of Christ. A debate rages as to what state these “souls” are in with some claiming them to be disembodied souls and others claiming them to be resurrected embodied people. Many premillennialists claim the saints to disembodied souls and as a result were not bodily resurrected. The question therefore becomes if these souls were reigning in heaven or on earth as this would determine if it were a physical resurrection or not. While we are told that these martyrs did not receive the mark of the beast and as a result were able to reign with Christ for a thousand years.
Who therefore will live?
In verse 4 of the passage in question we notice that the verb is had been translated to “they came to life” however verse 5 continues by saying that “the rest of the dead did not come to life?” in trying to understand what these verses mean standing side by side it may be better to see the verses as “and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years while the rest of the dead did not come to life till the completion of the thousand years.” The phrase “they came to life” is also the Greek translation of the word used by John in reference to the bodily resurrection of the Lord in Revelation 2:8. Also another thing to consider is that out of the 41 times resurrection is used as a word it is used to refer to bodily resurrection 40 times. One could therefore use this thinking to admit that the fact that “they came to life” and resurrection are used together suggests that the resurrection in question could very well be bodily. We can therefore infer from these two verses that the power of the second death had enough power to ensure the rest of the dead stayed dead for the thousand years.
The Thousand Years
This duration of time has always been a source for debate with many claiming that the book of Revelation is a symbolic one and as such the numbers are symbolical and should not be taken as literal. The book of Revelation on its own has 174 cardinal numbers and another 19 that are proper or improper fractions like 1/3. We get a total of 254 numbers in this book when we include the ordinal numbers as well. Numbering in the bible could fall under any of the four major categories of conventional, rhetorical, symbolic and mystical. While a lot of debate has gone on about the numbering in the book of Revelations I will like to believe that the numbers be categorised as conventional. John made it clear in many verses that the numbering should be taken as such where we see him add up numbers or counts the number of seals or churches or candlesticks. Even as he mentions that there are 24 elders we see him in scripture talking to one of them in Revelations 4:4. We also see him multiply the 12 groups of 12,000 to get 144,000 or 42 months that is broken down to 1260 days. Although there are some rhetorical numbering in the book of Revelation like the instance John used ‘myriads of myriads’ or ‘ten thousand of ten thousands’ to describe the elders in their number, they are few and far between.
While John made it clear that there will be an earthly kingdom he also said over and over again that it would be 1,000 years. The concordance will tell you that when the word year is attached to any number of times that time is literal. Therefore one could and should read the book of Revelation understanding that such times are in fact literal.
The way John structures his writing shows that the future thousand year kingdom is literal. We see it through his use of the past tense reign and future tense to reign. We therefore see the thousand years mentioned in both the vision as well as its interpretation. This makes me believe that these thousand years should be seen as literal for a literal millennial kingdom. I will also like to point out that since the length of time being 1,000 years did not change from the vision to the interpretation, I would surmise that he was using the conventional numbers Revelations 20:4-6.
Where will Saints Reign for a Thousand Years?
Saints will reign on earth for a thousand years. Many verses like Revelation 19:11-16 and Revelation 20:4 support this claim. The 5th chapter of Revelation in the 10th verse says that saints will reign on the earth as priests. In the book of Revelation 20 we see that there must be a millennial kingdom and it was predicted in the Old Testament. This very kingdom will fulfil all the covenant promises God made his people in the Old Testament. It will show where man’s rebellion against God stems from – not from Satan as may be assumed but rather from the inner recesses of man’s heart. The glory of Jesus Christ will be manifested in the same world that rejected him.
It is best to view the 20th chapter of the book of Revelation through a premillennial view. I believe that Christ will come a second time and judge the nations as he bounds Satan. There will be a bodily resurrection for all believers as they will reign with Christ for a thousand years. Although Satan will be loosed at the end of the 1,000 years, he will be judged and cast into the lake of fire.
After the thousand years those who died unbelieving will be raised again to be judged and cast into eternal damnation.
Concluding, I would say that Rev 20:1-6 could very well signify the period between 30 AD – 70 AD when the church replaced the rule of harlots who desecrated Jerusalem and currently rules with Christ. Taking a look at Exodus 19 and Ezekiel 37, I can infer that the church is a resurrected church that holds the world till the coming of Christ when Satan would be bound to prevent him deceiving the nations.
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Miller, Stephen. R. The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville TN: B & H Publishing Group, 1994. EBook. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=r3D6niEj9_sC&pg=PA54&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Matthewson, Dave. “A Re-Examination of the Millenuim in Revelation 20:1-6: Consumation and Recapitulation.” Jets. 44 no 2. (2001): 237 – 251. http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/44/44-2/44-2-PP237-252_JETS.pdf