Revelation 20:1-6 (Millennial Views)

Introduction

Have you ever read a really good Science Fiction book? If you have, what kept you interested in it? I bet the cast of characters, the worlds described and the plot built your intrigue about what was going to happen next. The Book of Revelation has a similar feeling to it as we hear the Apostle John talk of a Beast who comes from the sea, a dragon set on destroying the world. In our day and age these things come across as a fanciful story with no real grounding in history (be it future or past) to some people whether they are inside or outside of the body.

Before we can begin to understand what the book means, we must understand where it came from, and the man who wrote it. The Apostle John was the author; he was a beloved disciple of Jesus himself. Out of all the Apostles, he is the only one not to die a martyrs death. According to conservative history, the Book of Revelation was written around the end of the first century in A.D. 95, on the island of Patmos. What makes this book special is that it is not a second hand account seen by another and told to John for him to write down, but they were things actually seen by the Apostle (Rev. 1:11-12).

In this book we find many different things that are left to interpretation, and from these interpretations come some pretty serious conflicts. One the largest conflicts that arise has to do with Revelation 20:1-6, and the millennium that is spoken of in this section of Scripture. There are generally three main views about this topic; they are a/pre/postmillennial. A very brief description of each view is that the amillennialist do not believe that Christ will rule on earth for a literal one thousand year reign, but for a long indefinite period of time between his crucifixion

and his second advent. While the premillennalist do believe that Christ will reign on the earth for a literal thousand year reign, but only after the period of the Great Tribulation. Postmellinnials

believe that the church will spread the gospel to all nations and Christ will rule for an indefinite period of time after the church is the majority rule in the world.

At the time of writing this, I personally do not know to which position I hold firmly; however I do know the position I do not agree with. No matter which view we hold to we should be able to agree with C. H. Spurgeon when he says, “Tomorrow Christ may be on this earth, “for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh” (Matt. 24:44). Tomorrow all the glories of the millennial splendor may be revealed.”[1] My goal is to dig deep into the word itself and see what it has to say verse by verse and then attempt to cover the millennial views in the later part of this essay. So let us begin our endeavor into Revelation 20:1-6 by reading what the passage has to say.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 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.

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. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 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. (Revelation 20:1-6 ESV)

Exegesis of the Passage

John begins this portion of Scripture telling us that he saw and angel (or messenger) coming down from heaven. Now what I am curious of is does John mean heaven as in the place where God dwells or from the sky? Because in the Greek, οὐρανός ouranos; is used 273 times in the New Testament, and fifty-two times in Revelation. Of all the ways it can be translated, heaven is the most common; “heaven:—air(9), heaven(218), heavenly*(1), heavens(24), sky(22).”[2] So with this understanding we can picture John watching this messenger from heaven coming out of the sky with a key to the abyss or bottomless pit, while carrying a great chain. Mark Wilson in his commentary on Revelation points out that, “This is the second time that the Abyss is opened with a key. In 9:1, a “star” opens the Abyss to release a plague of demonic locusts. Here an angel is dispatched from heaven, not to release, but to imprison.”[3] In regards to the size of the chain, Wilson goes on to say, “That such a large chain is required suggests the great demonic power of the one being bound.”[4]

The very next thing we are told is that the angel seized the dragon, and the verse continues to lay out the other names he is known by so that there is no confusion. The text says that after he seized him, he bound him. The word used here is dēo used forty-two times in the NT and twice in Revelation, it can be defined as “to tie, bind:—bind(7), binding(1), binds(2), bound(23), imprisoned(4), prisoners(1), put … in chains(1), tied(4).”[5] So we could know that it meant that he was imprisoned, for a thousand years. This is where it can become interesting because there are those who will tell us that the thousand years is an allegory to a long period of time while others are emphatic that it is a literal thousand year period. In making his point John MacArthur says, “Using the same literal, historical, grammatical principles of interpretation so as to determine the normal sense of the language, one is left with the inescapable conclusion that Christ will return and reign in a real kingdom on earth for 1,000 years. There is nothing in the text to render the conclusion that “a thousand years” is symbolic. Never in Scripture when “year” is used with a number is its meaning not literal (see note on 2 Pet. 3:8)”[6]

There are some who believe that Satan was bound at the time of Christ’s death on the cross and that he is restricted in his activities now. But the text as a whole tells us that he was bound (imprisoned) and then thrown into the bottomless pit. I don’t know about you but anyone I know that has been incarcerated has not had the ability to do anything outside of their confinement. Warren Wiersbe articulates it this way,

Some Bible students feel that the “chaining” of Satan took place when Jesus died on the cross and arose from the dead to ascend to heaven. While it is true that Jesus won His decisive victory over Satan at the cross, the sentence against the devil has not yet been effected. He is a defeated foe, but he is still free to attack God’s people and oppose God’s work (1 Peter 5:8). I think it was Dr. James M. Gray who suggested that, if Satan is bound today, it must be with a terribly long chain! Paul was sure that Satan was loose (Eph. 6:10ff), and John agreed with him (Rev. 2:13; 3:9).[7]

As verse three continues, it says that he will be bound for the thousand years, and it is this section that begins our trouble; is this going to be a literal period of time or is it an allegory of a long period of time? Lawrence O. Richards believes, “The debate is not really about the length of time, but whether O.T. prophecies are to be understood as literal or merely symbolic revelations of God’s plans for the future. If the O.T. prophets are taken literally, many prophecies must surely be fulfilled during this 1,000-year span.”[8] Then you have some like Herschel Hobbs who is the polar opposite of Richards. Hobbs believes, “The 1,000 years is a symbol of a long period which perfectly fulfils its aim.”[9] If we go back to the point of John MacArthur previously, it would seem that we should agree with the idea that the thousand years is a literal span of time.

What has caused more trouble for me than the question of the thousand years has to do with the phrase “he must be released for a little while”. If the Lord has come to set up his kingdom then why must he allow Satan a second chance to mess with his saints? The best answer that I have found is from John Walvoord, he says,

If Satan is actually deceiving the nations today, as the Scriptures and the facts of history indicate, then he is not now locked in the Abyss, and the thousand-year Millennium is still future. This interpretation is also supported by the final statement that after the thousand years, he must be set free for a short time (20:3). Here expositors again are at a loss to explain this except in a literal way, making possible a final satanic rebellion at the end of the millennial kingdom.[10]

Verse four starts off with, “Then I saw thrones…” What are these thrones in heaven? Wouldn’t God the Father have the only throne since he was the ruler of the world? Bob Utley points out that, “This is an allusion to Dan. 7:9. Numerous thrones are mentioned in Revelation: (1) God’s throne (cf. 5:1, 1, 17; 6:16; 7:10, 15; 19:4; 21:5); (2) Satan’s throne (cf. 2:13); and (3) the beast’s throne (cf. 13:2; 16:10). It is a metaphor of authority and power.”[11] Now understanding that there are others who sit on thrones, who are those who sit with the authority to judge? There are some commentators who believe this is reference to the Apostles and elders of the tribes of Israel. Others think that it refers to all Christians throughout all time. Then the last and most prominent point of view I came across is that those sitting in judgment of others were the tribulation saints. However Wilson’s treatment of this topic is interesting, he says, “Judgment by the saints is a familiar theme in New Testament. Jesus promised the apostles that they would “sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). And Paul reminded the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?…Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:2-3). While the martyrs are given authority to judge, they are never shown judging.”[12]

It is interesting that as the verse moves along John says “Also I saw” meaning that this again is not something told to him but a fact he witnessed himself. But what he saw is the thing that quickens my attention. He says he saw the souls of those beheaded for the testimony of the Lord. Now what stood out to me first was the word beheaded, because in his commentary MacArthur writes, “The Greek word translated “beheaded” became a general term for execution, not necessarily a particular method.”[13] The word being considered is pelekizo is used only once in the New Testament in this verse and it means to “to cut off with an ax, esp. to behead:—beheaded (1)”.[14] So with all due respect to Pastor MacArthur if we take the use of one thousand years literally why should we take the use of this word any less directly? The souls John saw not only belonged to those beheaded for their testimony but also those who refused to worship the beast and receive his mark, and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. While the passage is specific about those who were beheaded, it does have a bit of a vague feeling when dealing with the other group John saw. One thing that has a hint of curiosity is there was no specific mention of them accepting and following Christ. We can assume that since Christ has allowed them to reign with Him, they are his followers.

The first resurrection seems to point to all who were/are believers in Christ returning to life after the Tribulation saints. Verse six goes on to tell us that we are blessed who share in the first resurrection because we will reign with Christ for a thousand years. After looking closer at this passage of Scripture, it is easily noticed that John refers to a thousand years more than once. With that being the case, it seems to be that there is the possibility that John means one thousand years because he very easily could have chosen to use different terminology. With that being said, I will attempt to take a look at the different views of the millennium.

MY View of the Millennium

Generally everyone has their own understanding of what the millennium means or brings with it. Personally I am not sure which lane to take on the millennial highway. I gave a description of the major views in the introduction, the two views that I believe hold the most merit are the pre-millennial and the amillennial views. My struggle with the post-millennial view is its belief that the church will have done a good job reaching all the nations with the gospel and will then help usher in the kingdom of God. When you survey the world around you there does not seem to be enough evidence that we are doing a good enough job for us to begin to think that the Lord will return at any moment. Both the Pre and Amillennial positions have an urgency to their stance. For me there is an appreciation of the amillennial stance of the already/not yet understanding of the fulfillment of Christ promises. My struggle with their view lies in the use of very specific terms used by John in the book. He could have very easily said an extended period of time, or any number of things. He specifically and repeatedly said one thousand years. There is an appreciation for the premillineal view because it shows the love of God to keep believers from having to face the extreme hardships of the tribulation. However, I struggle with the special place that is made for national Israel, Paul in the Book of Romans speaks about how Christians are the true Israel as the seed of Abraham.

Conclusion

While there is much I am still uncertain of, there are some things I do know. I know that Jesus Christ is Lord, and he has a plan for this world. He has an enemy in Satan, who he will defeat permanently at some point. Before that defeat takes place Satan will work as hard as he can to stop the spread of the Gospel, by using a human vessel in the form of the Antichrist. The Antichrist and Satan will both be cast into the lake of fire and spend eternity there. There will be a new heaven and a new earth and the Triune God will rule from the New Jerusalem.

For a good brief general discussion of the major millennial views, read Across the Spectrum by Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy. They do a very good job dealing with the topic as a whole and bringing up the objections that may be raised. Even though I have read this material I am not sure if what I believe falls into any specific millennial view; but it is the understanding that I have now and as I grow in the Lord, may he change me as He sees fit. It is my hope that this work has glorified God and enriched you in some way.

Bibliography

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition Notes, Biblical Studies Press, 2006.

Boyd, Gregory A., and Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Dockery, David S., Trent C. Butler, Christopher L. Church et al. Holman Bible Handbook. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992.

Paschall, Franklin H. and Herschel H. Hobbs. The Teacher’s Bible Commentary: A Concise, Thorough Interpretation of the Entire Bible Designed Especially for Sunday School Teachers. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1972.

Horton, Michael. The Christian Faith. Grand Rapids Zondervan: Zondervan, 2011.

Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Johnson, Alan F. The Expositors Bible Commentary-Revelation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985.

Knowles, Andrew. The Bible Guide. 1st Augsburg books ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 2001.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

McNaughton, Ian. Opening Up 2 Thessalonians. Leominster: Day One Publications, 2008.

Richards, Lawrence O. The Bible Readers Companion. electronic ed. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991.

Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, 1997.

Spurgeon, Charles H. 2,200 Qutations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon. Edited by Tom Carter. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.

Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.

Utley, Robert James. Vol. Volume 12, Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation. Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2001.

Walvoord, John F., Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1997.

Wilson, Mark. “Revelation.” In The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, ed. Clinton E. Arnold, 245-383. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.


[1] Charles H.Spurgeon, 2,200 Qutations from the Writings of Charles H. Spurgeon. Edited by Tom Carter. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005) 183.

[2] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

[3] Mark Wilson, “Revelation.” (In The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, ed. Clinton E. Arnold, 245-383. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) 358.

[4] Ibid, 358.

[5] Thomas, New American

[6] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary. (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005) 2034.

[7] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996), Re 19:11

[8] Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991), 925.

[9] Franklin H. Paschall and Herschel H. Hobbs, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary: A Concise, Thorough Interpretation of the Entire Bible Designed Especially for Sunday School Teachers (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1972), 816.

[10] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-), Re 20:1–3.

[11] Robert James Dr. Utley, vol. Volume 12, Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, Study Guide Commentary Series (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 2001), 138.

[12] Wilson, Revelation, 359.

[13] MacArthur, Commentary, 2035.

[14] Thomas, New American.

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3 thoughts on “Revelation 20:1-6 (Millennial Views)

  1. How do you decide what is literal and what is figurative in John's Revelation? For example, if the dragon and the prostitute are figurative how can the millennium be literal? If the seals and bowls are figurative, how can the mark of the beast be literal? Any ideas?

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  2. Mark,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. It is a small world, I am friends with Jeff and a several other brothers from NRBC.

    In regards to your question that is a difficult one for me, most of the things I read that were of the premil bent say that you should take it as literal until it no longer makes sense in a literal manner.

    When we read in Revelation about the dragon, there are also several other descriptors that follow it mentioning the name of Satan lastly at least twice in the book. I am not sure that the seals and bowls are figurative, and if the Lord seals those who are His with a sign, then we can believe that the Antichrist will do the same. Would you agree?

    At this time its not a subject I feel authoritative on, but very willing to attempt to discuss.

    Live Long, Pray Hard, Die Well!

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  3. It seems to me that Revelation is a kaleidoscope of symbols. These symbols are portraying ACTUAL events but they are symbols nonetheless. For instance, we know that the seal of Christ on believers is real but there is no physical “sign.” Could it not be the same for the “mark” of the beast. In addition, the number 1,000 is very specific in reference to the idyllic reign of Christ in Revelation 20. Merely because John could have used a more vague term does not mean that it is literal. For example, if I say I make Thanksgiving dinner with Turkey, gravy, and the “whole 9 yards” I am using a very specific number. I could have said “and everything.” Maybe the 1,000 is specific because it is intended to symbolically portray perfect, a long period of time, or the like.

    In any case… blessings!

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