The great story begins all over again, starting with Christ’s First Coming to earth and ending with his Second. But the emphasis is very different this time. Each of the seven ‘sections’ of between two and four chapters in Revelation – according to the commentator William Hendriksen – covers this gospel age in some way, but its focus is different each time. Chapters 20-22 are therefore the final section, the last and greatest ‘movement’ in God’s great ‘symphony’ of truth. In these we read of the final victory of Christ over Satan and an in-depth view of the new heavens and new earth that will be created by the Lord – ‘the home of righteousness’. (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13).
This short chapter has spawned enormous controversy, with its reference to the ‘Thousand Years’ (or ‘Millennium’) and large numbers of competing ‘End Times’ theories have sprung up in it wake. It illustrates the danger of interpreting scripture by starting with the ‘obscure’ and not with the plain and simple. Nowhere else in the whole of scripture is this ‘Thousand Years’ mentioned – and particularly not in the didactic epistles or the sayings of Jesus in the gospels. This should be a warning to us when we begin to search for an interpretation of it!
The first point to make is that we are again back at the beginning of the gospel age, since the last reference to the Final Judgment was at the end of chapter 19. Chapters 17-19 dealt with the demise of Babylon, the Beast from the Sea, and the False Prophet, but no mention was made in these chapters of the final demise and judgment of Satan himself.
Firstly, then, a great angel takes Satan and chains him for a thousand years, to prevent him deceiving the nations. What does that mean? See Luke 10:17-18 where, during the ministry of Jesus, He says: “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven “; this was associated with the very first missionary activity to the Gentiles by the Seventy(-two) disciples. The probable meaning of Revelation 20:1-3, where Satan is described as ‘bound’ indicates that, during this gospel age, he is not able to gather all the nations in opposition to the Church to destroy it. Satan can still tempt people, but he cannot create a concerted world-wide persecution against the Church during this period of time. We see that after the gospel age, he is released and does do just that! Also, during that metaphorical thousand year period, those faithful believers who had died in the faith were raised to life – not yet with resurrection bodies – and reigned with Christ for the duration of that gospel age in heaven. For them, this is the ‘First Resurrection’ – the new birth!
Revelation chapter 12 is quite similar to this, in terms of how the devil is treated. It probably describes the same event in a slightly different way. But in both there and in Revelation 20:3-6, his influence is restricted. Also, in 11:7 and 13:7, a very brief period of intense persecution by Satan then follows, which is similar to that describe in 20:7-9.
Finally, in 11:17-18; 14:14-; and 20:11, we have roughly parallel passages that picture the second coming of Christ in judgment. Based on this set of parallel scriptures and given the complete absence in the remainder of the New Testament of any reference to any literal intermediate ‘Millennium’ period, it is logical to conclude that the ‘Thousand Years’ mentioned here is synonymous with the 1,260 days or 3½ years or 42 months of those other chapters. In other words, it refers to the gospel age that we live in now, the period between the First and Second Comings of Christ.
A great angel chains the Devil for this ‘thousand years’ and locks him into the Abyss, sealing it over. From that point on, the gospel can travel to all the nations – not just the Jews – and all mankind can see and respond to the light of Christ. The receiving of the Holy Spirit by men from every nation at Pentecost and then Samaria and Cornelius’ household demonstrated that this was a spiritual reality. During this gospel age, the faithful believers – whether physically alive or physically dead – are ruling and reigning with Christ. They have been raised from death already: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). This really is the First Resurrection!
VV 7-10: Not until the figurative thousand years is over is the Devil released again, to do his worst. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is likely to be a commentary on this ‘little season’ of Satan. Then, “…the one who now holds it back will… be taken out of the way” (v7). Perhaps that strong angel is told to open the Abyss and release the devil. In earthly terms, it is the period of The Antichrist, the most intense and oppressive concerted persecution every suffered by God’s church.
It is unlikely, therefore, that a literal great battle will occur, centring on Jerusalem. Much more likely is a concerted global attack on the Church, wherever it is in the world, with the aim of destroying it once for all time. For once, the nations will be perfectly united in their aim of accomplishing this task – it nearly happened many times historically in one empire and another, but in the very last days, the Antichrist will co-ordinate it globally with great efficiency. Just at that point, Jesus himself will return and destroy the Devil and all his works, judging the ungodly and destroying Death itself forever. Now we see how the Devil is destroyed: thrown into that same lake of burning sulphur as the one that received the Beasts of Sea and Land. This lake symbolises eternal punishment!
In this final section of Revelation, the prophetic ‘spotlight’ has travelled very quickly from First Coming to Second Coming, because it has as its focus the judgment of the unrighteous dead and the joy of the all the righteous. First, we see a great white throne that eclipses and banishes all the old earth and heavens, ready for the new versions to take their place. All the dead stand before the Lord to be judged. The records of their lives on earth are opened, as in a courtroom trial. And no-one was found to be sufficiently good to qualify him or her for acceptance into eternal life. Only those whose names had already been entered in the Book of Life – those who have been redeemed by faith in Christ – only these can be counted as sufficiently righteous to inherit eternity with God. The rest… are hurled into the lake of fire that has been prepared for the Devil and his angels.