Friday, April 22, 2011

The Thousand Years of Revelation 20

One of my teacher used the word gestalt a lot when he taught us how to look at problems.  He wanted us to look at how everything fit together instead of focusing only on a part.  My bible teachers taught that same approach when  they told me to look at the context of a verse and to view the passage in the context of other passages on the same topic.  I see very little of that approach in studies of Revelation 20.  When we try to understand how Satan is bound for a thousand years, but he is released for a short time to deceive the nations we often neglect to ask where else the bible discusses these issues.  I make no claim to have answered all the questions about Revelation 20, but I do hope I have made you look at some of the other passages in the bible that discuss the issues found in this chapter.

I was taught that you can sometimes use a simpler passage to understand a difficult passage.  Rev. 20 is certainly difficult, but 1Cor. 15.22-26 is much easier to understand.  Paul discussed the resurrection of the dead in 1 Cor. 15  and he described what is going to happen and the order it is going to happen in.  First, Jesus was raised from the dead (vs. 23), he is the "first fruits."  When Jesus comes again he will resurrect "those who belong to him" (vs. 23) and then is the "end," when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father.  Before he hands over the kingdom to the Father he will destroy "all dominion, authority and power" (vs. 24); the last enemy to be conquered before the end will be death.  When death is destroyed Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father (vs. 26).  In verses 50-55 Paul describes the resurrection, at the last trumpet, and how it coincides with victory over death.  Paul also tells us that the dead will be raised first and then the living will meet the Lord in the air (1The. 4.15-17).

So, the order looks like this:
1.  Jesus resurrected (vs. 23)
2.  Jesus Returns (vs. 23)
3.  Resurrection of the Righteous and Defeat of Death (vs. 23 and 50-55)
4.  The End
5.  Jesus Hands Over the Kingdom to the Father (vs. 26)

Let's compare what Paul wrote to what John records in Rev. 20

1.  Satan bound 1000 years (vs. 1-3)
2.  The First Resurrection (vs. 5)
3.  Thousand Years End (vs. 7)
4.  Satan deceives the nations (vs. 7)
5.  Fire From Heaven destroys God's enemies, and Satan thrown into the lake of fire (vs. 9-10)
6.  Earth and sky flee/Judgement of the "great and small" (vs. 12)
7.  Death and Hades thrown into the lake of fire (vs 14)

Revelation 20 opens with an angel binding Satan with a great chain and sealing him in the Abyss to prevent him from deceiving the nations for 1000 years.  Even those who like to take things in Revelation literally don't think that the chain is a real chain.  God is showing us that in some manner Satan will be bound during this period.  A problem with determining when this will happen is that Satan has always been bound in his actions with people.  This is most easily seen in Job 1 and 2.  Talking about Job Satan complained that God had "put a hedge around  him and everything he has" (Job 1.10).  Satan could do nothing to Job without God's permission, and even when God allowed him to act God put limits on his actions: "Very well, then, everything he has is in you hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger" (Job 1.12).  As far back as Adam and Eve Satan had to resort to deceiving  Eve to cause her to sin, "you will not surely die" (Gen. 3.1-5).

If Satan has always been bound is anything different now that Jesus came into the world?  We have the gospel and Jesus' atoning sacrifice for our sins.  As the author of Hebrews wrote "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb 2.14-15).  But if Satan is bound now how is he prowling "around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1Pet. 5.8)?  The gospel prevents Satan from deceiving those who obey it.  However, he is still able to deceive those who reject the gospel, that is why he works so hard to prevent it from growing in people's hearts (Mat. 13.19).  The person who has been reborn is kept safe by Jesus and "the evil one does not touch him" (1John 5.18).  Satan is bound and unable to deceive us.

What of the thousand years Satan is bound?  I'm going to assume several things about it: I'm going to assume that it and the thousand year reign are the same thing.  We may not know when the thousand years of Satan's binding is, but we do know when the reign of Jesus began and when it will end.  The kingdom began with the founding of the church on Pentecost. John and Paul both wrote about being in the kingdom (Rev. 1.6, 5.10, Col. 1.13).  That is when the thousand year reign of Jesus began.  The end, as we saw in our study of 1Cor. 15 is when Jesus returns and defeats the last enemy - Death.  If the 1000 years of Satan's binding and the 1000 years of Jesus kingdom are the same, then as long as we remain in the kingdom of Jesus we are safe: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin" (1John 1.7).  When we leave the kingdom Satan is freed for his little season to deceive us.

In verses 4-6  John saw the souls of those who were beheaded "because of their testimony for Jesus."  He calls this the first resurrection (Rev. 20.5).  This is not the resurrection that we read about in 1Cor. 15.23, 50-55, because he only saw "souls," not their new bodies.  However, it is likely the resurrection Jesus spoke about in John 5.24-25 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned: he has crossed over from death to life.  I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live."  Whatever the first resurrection is, it is not the resurrection on the Last Day.

John wrote that the saints who were beheaded reign with Jesus and are priests for a thousand years.  It is taught in other places that we reign with Jesus if we are faithful.  Paul wrote in 2Tim. 2.12 "if we endure, we will also reign with him..." and John wrote in Rev. 5.10 "You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."  In this passage those who were beheaded for Jesus are given special praise.  John writes that the "second death has no power over them" (verse 6).  Jesus said in John 5.24 that those who hear his word have "crossed over from death to life."  The first death is when we sin (Eph. 2.1), the first resurrection is when we hear the word of Jesus and obey it; we then  "cross over from death to life."

Whenever we leave the kingdom of Jesus the thousand years end and Satan is free to deceive people once more.  John wrote that Satan will gather the unbelieving nations to make war on "city he loves."  (Rev. 20.9).  This city is commonly understood to be Jerusalem, but Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in 70 AD, and what little was left of it after Titus was done were leveled in the revolt of Bar-Kokhba in 135 AD.  The old walls and the buildings we see in the present city of Jerusalem are relics of the crusades.  The city that Jesus walked in no longer exists. The "city he loves" may refer to the church under attack by the world, which is something that has always happened, and we defend ourselves with the word of God.

The battle in verses 7-10 is a spiritual battle.  This shouldn't surprise us; Jesus said "my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18.36) and Paul wrote "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, and against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6.10-12). John wrote that Satan and his army will be destroyed by "fire from heaven" not by a human army.  This section is very similar to what Paul wrote in 2Thes. 2.8: "And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow, with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming."

The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote  "'You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.'  In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him.  Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him" (Heb. 2.7-8).  The conquest of the world by Jesus is going on right now and will end when he conquers Death.  In verses 11-15 we have reached the section that parallels what Paul wrote in 1Cor. 15.  The last enemy, Death, is defeated, the dead are judged and anyone whose name is not found in the book of life is thrown in the lake of fire, which is the second death.

Revelation 20 is a difficult chapter in a difficult book, but many of the things that we read in it are taught else where in the bible in a more simple fashion.  We were once dead in our sins, but Jesus made us alive again with his word.  He freed us from the power of Satan and we now reign with him in his kingdom.  Jesus destroyed the power of Satan and as long as we remain in him we are safe from the deceiver.  And Jesus will destroy all his enemies and by the power of his word.  The message of this chapter is no different than the message we read in the rest of the bible.


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