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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 7

Revelation 20 and the Thousand Years

We are talking about the restraint placed upon Satan during the gospel age. One key passage on this subject is found in Rev. 20:1-6. Satan does not want this passage and truth understood. He hates it. That is why he has worked so hard to propagate the belief in a future “golden age.” It is part of the flood out of his mouth to cause people to miss what God is saying to His people.

In considering anything from the book of Revelation it is necessary to understand some basic things. First, we can never forget that Revelation is highly symbolic. Truth is portrayed in pictures and symbols not meant to be taken literally. For example, no one expects that one day people will turn on their TVs to CNN for live coverage of a beast with seven heads and ten horns emerging from the ocean! It is obvious that this “beast” is meant to portray something ... something very real ... symbolically. Of course, some symbols are explained. We are directly told that the “dragon” is the devil, for example.

Another thing is that the book of Revelation (and, indeed, the Bible in general) cannot be understood through mere intellectual effort, no matter how sincere or diligent. It is God’s Word and its truths are meant to be concealed from unbelieving humanity. It can only be understood to the extent that it pleases God to reveal it. Deut. 29:29. Much error has resulted from man attempting to pry into things God wasn’t revealing. We are completely dependent upon Him.

Another thing to note is that the book is not necessarily in chronological order. The timeline of each vision stands alone, many spanning the entire age. Rev. 20 is one such vision.

There are many symbolic elements in this vision including a “key of the bottomless pit,” “a great chain,” “the dragon,” “a thousand years,” “a seal,” “thrones,” and so forth. There are two time periods mentioned: “a thousand years,” and “a little season” to follow.

Widespread popular teaching takes the “thousand years” literally and portrays Christ as one day returning to establish a political and military rule over this present evil world. Many even merge this concept with the golden age dreams of apostate Judaism. If these concepts are so then this passage refers to events of the future, interesting to speculate about, but not particularly relevant to Christians today. I believe, however, that both the thousand years and the little season are highly relevant and very important to understand.

The First Resurrection

One key as to when the thousand years takes place is “the first resurrection.” It is something very special, so special in fact that the second death ... the lake of fire ... has no power against those who experience it. There is another resurrection mentioned in verse 5, one that specifically occurs after the thousand years. What are these resurrections and how do they help us to unlock this mystery?

Heb. 9:27 tells us, “...it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Please take note: it does not say, “judgments,” but “the judgment.” There is only one judgment. Since men die it is necessary for them to be raised from the dead in order to be judged.

Rev. 20:11-15 describes this judgment. “The dead, small and great” will stand before God. They are judged according to what is written in books which evidently provide a record of their lives. Remember the words of Jesus in Matt. 12:36, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Once again, it is “the day of judgment.”) The book of life will be there and anyone not found written in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire.

With expressions such as these it should be obvious that all the dead will be there on that occasion, righteous and wicked. There would be little point in looking to see if someone’s name were in the book of life if ... as some teach ... only the wicked will be there!

It should likewise be very obvious that the resurrection that brings men before the judgment is different from the one referred to as “the first resurrection.” The resurrection that leads to the judgment scene includes those whose destiny is the “second death,” the lake of fire. What we might then call “the second resurrection” takes place after the “thousand years” and before the judgment. What, then, is the first resurrection?

Let’s go to John 5 where Jesus plainly sets forth both resurrections. In verse 21, Jesus declares that, just like His Father, He has the power to give life to the dead. The expression “whom he will” shows the absolute sovereignty He exercises in resurrection.

In verse 22, Jesus lets us know that all judgment over men has been committed into His hands. This alone lets us know Who it is that will sit on that great white throne in Rev. 20. Is it any wonder that God’s declaration concerning His Son will be quite literally fulfilled? Phil. 2:9-11 says, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

All humanity will be gathered before the Lord Jesus Christ on that great day, those who gladly and willingly bowed to Him here and those who rejected Him. The fate of all will be completely in His hands. It will be as Paul indicates in 2 Tim. 4:1 where he refers to “Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead.” NIV.

The first resurrection mentioned in John 5 is in verse 25: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”

Those who “live” are referred to simply as “the dead.” These are not people who have died and been buried in tombs like Lazarus in John 11. Remember that verse 21 declares that “the Son quickeneth whom he will.” It is within the power of the Lord Jesus Christ to cause people who are classified as “dead” to hear His voice and to give life to those who hear.

Notice when this takes place. This is important! Jesus said, “The hour is coming and now is....” That’s like saying, “from now on....” This resurrection was not something way off in the future but something that was already happening and would continue to happen. What was Jesus talking about?

We have only to go back to verse 24 to see: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Does that remind you of something? What about in Rev. 20:6 where it says, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power....”?

What Jesus is talking about is simply the preaching of the gospel! There are more ways to be “dead” than simply being laid in a grave. The fact is that the entire human race is born dead ... dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) ... dead to God and righteousness.

The commission of Jesus Christ is literally to raise the dead. When men who have been called and anointed proclaim the message of the gospel it is literally the voice of the Son of God that goes forth. Most listeners hear only the voice of the man through whom the message comes but the elect hear the real Voice. As they hear and embrace the One Who is speaking to them they are literally called out from among the dead and they enter into eternal life. Their bodies may later die and be buried but they themselves ... at that moment ... are alive with the very life of God.

Look at Eph. 2. After a description in verses 1-3 of what it means to be “dead,” Paul says in verses 4-7: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Paul said, “hath raised us up.” The resurrection to which Paul referred was in the past. It had already happened!

That is because this resurrection is simply salvation! Look at Col. 2:12-13: “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.”

Col. 3:1 says, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” This is not some isolated truth in the Word. What is wrong today is that churches are filled with people who have never been raised from the dead. They have never heard the voice of the Son of God and entered into life. They are no more than religious dead people. And yet there is a remnant!

In John 10:28 Jesus says of His sheep, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish....” In John 11:25-26 He said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” These and many other scriptures confirm that salvation is nothing less than resurrection from the dead to everlasting life.

All That are in the Graves

In John 5:28-29 Jesus spoke of another resurrection: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

Notice the difference. This resurrection lay in the future. It involved “all that are in the graves,” both righteous and wicked. The one group will come forth to “the resurrection of life” and the other to “the resurrection of damnation.”

There are actually those who teach that these are two distinct events separated by 1007 years plus a “little season”! This is necessary to fit what Jesus said into their elaborate theological tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus said, “... the hour is coming....” “The hour” can hardly be construed as anything other than something that happens at the same time. There is one general resurrection that leads to one judgment for both righteous and wicked. Remember, the book of life will be consulted. The reason for the two expressions is not because they refer to different events but because the nature and purpose differs. Consider first the righteous.

When they hear and believe they enter into eternal life. They are born of God ... on the inside. However, their bodies remain bodies of sin and death ... hence the fight of faith that we experience in this world. Full redemption awaits the redemption of our bodies. Rom. 8:23. In Phil. 3:21 Paul speaks of Jesus Christ, “Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”

In I Cor. 15:50-52 Paul teaches about the resurrection of believers in these words: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

What a glorious thing it will be to have brand new bodies, free of sin, sickness, pain, or death, full of the very life of God! I can hardly wait!

For the wicked, however, it will be very different. Though they are summoned from their graves it will not be to divine life but to final judgment and condemnation.

The Last Day

We have but to look in John 6 for confirmation that these resurrections take place together. In verses 39 and 40 Jesus said, “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Notice the time element. When did Jesus say that the resurrection of believers would take place? The last day! How is it that some teach that the resurrection of the wicked will take place 1007 years and a little season after this “last day”? Is it the last day or isn’t it? How can there be more days after the “last day”?

Lest there be any question Jesus repeats his statement, “...and I will raise him up at the last day” two more times ... in verses 44 and 54. But when is this “last day”?

Let’s look at what Paul said in I Cor. 15:23: “But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” This whole passage is about the resurrection. Notice when “they that are Christ’s” are to be raised from the dead: “at his coming.” The coming of Jesus Christ will be the last day of this earth’s history. His coming will be like the days of Noah ... rescue and deliverance for His people and judgment for the rest. It will be like the day when Lot went out of Sodom: “...it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:26-30.

What we’re seeking to establish is when the “thousand years” of Rev. 20 occurs. It certainly can’t occur after “the last day.” It certainly can’t occur after the coming of Christ and the death of all the wicked! Who would be left for Christ to reign over?

Rev. 20 plainly places the resurrection of the wicked after the “thousand years.” When Christ comes and the dead are raised and it is time for the judgment the “thousand years” will have been history. In fact the period referred to as a “little season” will have come and gone as well. The judgment occurs at the time of the general resurrection: “at his coming,” “the hour cometh,” on “the last day,” at “the last trump.” All history is headed for a sudden and shocking climax. But who is preaching this?

Satan Bound

One thing that contributes to people’s confusion about Rev. 20 is the reference to Satan being bound for a thousand years. On the surface this sounds as though he is to be removed from the scene altogether and earth is to be completely free from his evil influence. This is not so at all.

Remember the scriptures we have already pointed out that referred to Satan as having been “cast out,” and the “strong man” having been bound. Rev. 20:3 gives us more detail on the nature of the restraint upon Satan: “...that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled.”

What does this mean” We have but to look at Rev. 20:7-9. If you want to know what the binding is about, simply look at what he does when is loosed. As soon as he is free to do so he immediately sets out to “deceive the nations” ... for what purpose? ... “to gather them together to battle.” Don’t you think that Satan would have united the world against the kingdom of God long ago had he been able to do so? He has not had the power. Christ ascended to the throne and has limited what Satan has been able to do so that the gospel could go forth and His people be delivered from the power of darkness.

Every empire that has tried to rise and seek to rule the world has been defeated. Rome, the empire that ruled the known world in Christ’s day was brought to ruin. Only eternity will reveal all the ways in which Satan’s plans have been thwarted on the orders of our Lord Who sits on the throne. Angels have influenced the passage of laws; they have whispered in the ears of rulers; they have helped to bring some men to places of power and influence, and to bring others down.

Satan would love to banish Christ and His people from planet earth once and for all. The “little season” is all about him being released to pursue that goal for a short period of time before being finally crushed forever at the coming of Christ. In verses 9 and 10 we see the destruction of the wicked by fire and Satan being cast into the lake of fire.

Always remember that no matter what he is allowed to do, the gates of hell will never prevail against the church of Jesus Christ. Matt. 16:18. This does not mean all the institutions we call churches but rather the sum total of all true born-again believers. The proclamation of the gospel represents an invasion of Satan’s kingdom. The “gates of hell” are shut fast about his victims but they will never prevail against the true church. Every one of God’s elect will be fully rescued from Satan’s power.

There is a great promise in John 6:37 ... “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Most people gloss over the first part of that verse and focus only on the last part. But what a great promise this is of God’s sovereign overshadowing of the process of calling out His own through the gospel and of the faithfulness of Jesus to carry out His Father’s will!

Has the world seen great evil since Satan’s defeat at the cross? Of course. Don’t forget his “great wrath” directed at those who remain under his dominion, the flood of deception out of his mouth, and his war against the saints. Rev. 12. Almost 2000 years is still a “short time” in the overall picture. And how much more is this true as we see the end approaching? Still, what Satan has been able to do is nothing compared to what he would like to have done. This alone should cause anyone who sees it to flee to Christ and His righteous and loving rule. It is either Christ or Satan. There is no middle ground.

And I Saw Thrones

In our discussion of Rev. 20, questions will undoubtedly remain in the minds of some regarding verse 4. This is because of what they have been taught. Verse 4 says, “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.”

The first thing John mentions is “thrones.” A throne is a symbol of rule and authority. When Jesus Christ ascended to heaven following His resurrection it was to a “throne” on the “right hand of God.” This doesn’t mean He is literally sitting on a big chair somewhere in the sky beside God! For one thing God is a Spirit Who fills everything and beyond. He is not some “old man” sitting in a chair somewhere.

These statements about Jesus are meant to convey to us in earthly terms the exalted position He now occupies as a result of His death on the cross. As He told His disciples, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth....” Matt. 28:18.

But in this vision John saw thrones ... plural. And he saw someone sitting on those thrones, and judgment, or authority to judge, given to each one. This shows us that the authority of Christ has been shared with others. In one sense, every believer reigns with Christ. In Eph. 2:6, Paul says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus....” That statement was written to believers and was in the past tense: it was something that had already happened.

But the scene in Revelation 20:4 is not an earthly one. At first John refers to those sitting on the thrones as simply “they.” Then he is allowed to know and reveal information about some of those reigning ones. The first group consisted of “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God.” Clearly these are people whose earthly life is over and yet they are described as “souls.” Thus their bodily resurrection has not yet taken place. They are in the state described by Paul as, “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Cor. 5:8.

Notice that in Rev. 20:5, “...the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” What a difference! Those who die without Christ remain in their graves until they are suddenly awakened to judgment. Believers, though they die physically, continue to live and reign with Christ. For them, the resurrection means the climax of salvation ... brand new immortal bodies! Until that time they are properly referred to as “souls.”

There is nothing about this passage that remotely suggests that the “reign” described is some kind of an earthly, military, political kingdom as so many teach. Such an idea does not come from this passage. Rather it is read into the passage as a result of prior belief.

In verse 4 we are afforded a glimpse of the current state of believers whose earthly life has come to an end. They are not dead and gone; they are alive and reigning with Christ! This must have been a great comfort to first century believers who witnessed so many of their fellow believers die for their faith ... including some who were literally beheaded.

Notice that they reign “with Christ,” that is, Christ reigns and they have a part in that reign. But when is this reign? 1 Cor. 15:25-26 says of Christ, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” But when is that? 1 Cor. 15:50-54 tells us that at the last trumpet, at the resurrection, death will be “swallowed up in victory.” This is when believers receive their glorified bodies and enter into full immortality. The “souls” of Revelation 20:4 hadn’t reached that point yet. This reign of Christ is not after the resurrection of believers but before it.

Follow the sequence: Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” John 18:37. He is crucified, buried, and raised the third day. He ascends to heaven to a place of authority second only to the Father. 1 Corinthians 15:27. The evidence of this exaltation is the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Acts 2:33. The day of salvation and victory over Satan has come (Revelation 12:10-11) and Jesus begins, through the apostles, to gather a people to Himself through the gospel. Satan has been bound and cannot prevent this. The cross has taken his power away.

As time goes along believers begin to die physically, some in the natural course of things, and some as martyrs. But, true to Christ’s promise, they continue to live, because they have a life on the inside that can never die. When their bodies die, they simply go to be with the Lord and share in His reign. Towards the end of the age, Satan is loosed for a short time. When the age ends, the climax of Christ’s reign happens when He comes again, forever conquering death on behalf of every one of God’s children. The resurrection occurs followed by the judgment scene.

I believe that those who have gone on to be with the Lord continue to share in His reign even in things pertaining to this earth. We know from the Word that those beings who were created as angels play a key role in the life of every believer. Heb. 1:14, Psalm 34:7. But I believe there are also those of our brethren who have gone before us who undertake missions to earth on behalf of the kingdom. One example is the one who showed John the things he saw in Revelation. See Rev. 22:8-9. See also Hebrews 12:22-24.

Notice what Rev. 20:6 says of those in the first resurrection. It says they will be “priests” and “reign” with him a thousand years. See what John said in Rev. 1:5-6 ... “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”

This was something God had done ... past tense ... for us ... including John himself. Peter refers to believers as “a royal priesthood” in I Pet. 2:9. The thrones of Rev. 20 are not just something from the future but have existed throughout the age. All believers share in this reign but the focus in Revelation 20 is on those who have gone on to be with Christ.

The Mark of the Beast

A few comments are in order regarding some others John saw, those who had “not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands.” Popular tradition makes these things very literal and places them in the future, after the so-called “rapture” of the church. If that is so then it is totally irrelevant to any believer alive today, not to mention to all who have gone before! Is that all there is to it ... a future dictator who will somehow mark all of his followers ... literally ... on their foreheads or their hands?

I don’t believe so. In symbolic language the Lord has given us a picture of what it means to serve Him in every age. “The beast,” “his image,” the “mark upon their foreheads and in their hands” are all symbols that pertain to Satan and his kingdom. These things may take particular forms at particular times in history but they are not confined to any one time.

Even in Daniel’s day ancient empires were portrayed by God as “beasts.” Daniel 7. What the Lord is conveying is the true nature of earthly kingdoms. They express the rebellious “beast” nature of fallen humanity that stands in opposition to the rule of heaven. And man in this condition is a willing prey to the power of darkness ... the world of Satan and his demons. Eph. 6:12.

One of the chief ways Satan has sought to rule over man is by raising up empires and governments to his liking. And even though he has been restrained from his ultimate goal during the gospel age, all of the principles expressed in verse 4 have still applied. Even the very best of human government falls far short of the kingdom of God. There is too much of the “beast” in it.

But what of the “mark”? Just as God seals His own unto the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30), so does Satan seek to seal all he can under the power of sin. He uses every form of religion and philosophy that stands in opposition to Jesus Christ to accomplish this ... including much that goes by the name “Christian.” Notice where the “mark” is applied: the “forehead” and the “hands.” This symbolically represents the mind and works, thoughts and deeds.

Those who are thus “marked” demonstrate by thought and deed their love of this world and their own lives. Their heart is here. They will not submit to the gospel or to Jesus Christ. They have reached that point where God has ceased to strive with them. They worship and serve the creature more than the creator (Rom. 1:25). They are as surely bound for hell as a genuinely born-again believer is bound for heaven.

This kind of marking isn’t confined to a short period in which people are physically marked in some way (even assuming that ever literally happens). It has occurred since the beginning of the world as men have chosen darkness rather than light. Those in verse 4, however, turn their back on this world and choose Christ. They believe in and confess the word of God.

Is not Rev. 20:4 a marvelous picture of the kingdom Christ has established and of what it means to be a Christian? And ... collectively ... followers of Christ, partakers of the first resurrection, have reigned with Him throughout the age. We refer to the Romans as having ruled the ancient world for many centuries. We don’t mean that every single Roman citizen was alive for that whole period, though, do we?!

The Thousand Years

What then, is the “thousand years”? It is simply a divinely-ordained period of time during which Satan is restrained and the gospel preached. I believe it corresponds to the call in Luke 14:21 to “...go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.” A “thousand years” is not literally 1000 of our years but a symbol for this period of time ... known to God.

This period is to be followed in God’s plan by “a little season,” a relatively short time in which Satan is loosed to pursue his dream of a world without God. During this time of gathering darkness, God’s last call goes out (Luke 14:22-23). There is an urgency to this call because time is rapidly running out. It is as Jesus said to His disciples, “Night cometh, when no man can work.” John 9:4.

Following this is simply the end.

This same pattern of restraint, release, and sudden destruction is plainly set forth in 2 Thess. 2:1-12. There is a “mystery of iniquity” ... a secret principle of lawlessness ... that was already at work in Paul’s day, yet it was restrained. Paul foresaw the day when that restraint would be removed and the “man of sin” would be revealed. Whether there will be a single man who somehow embodies the spirit described in verse 4 or not is debatable. Mankind was created to be God’s temple but proud rebellious man reigns there instead.

His revolt is somewhat restrained during the gospel age but at the end those with eyes to see will see man for what he truly is in God’s eyes: a hell-bound rebel inspired by Satan. A great last revolt is to be stirred up as a result of the “working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.” Verses 9-10. In the end, however, there is a destruction as a result of “the brightness of his [the Lord’s] coming.”

Is any of this sounding familiar? For those who have followed this series do you see the parallels between the gospel age and the ancient world, and also God’s dealings with Israel? Do you see the extended day of opportunity followed by a countdown to judgment ... a countdown of which the lost are willingly unaware? Just how close are we to the end? Where are the voices warning of its approach?

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