Tonight’s question is essentially: “Please, explain the
1000 years of Revelation 20.”
I am answering this not because I believe I have all the
answers on Revelation,
but because I have a different perspective on it than most. I want
to share this perspective to help your study. When we are done, I
am more than willing to hear your perspective. If there is
something I have missed, then we can help one another. My hope
with tonight’s lesson is not to provide a definitive explanation
of Revelation 20.
Rather, it is just to help promote study of this awesome book.
What Revelation 20
used as the number one proof text to claim that at some point in
our future, Jesus will return to the earth to establish an earthly
kingdom, over which He will reign from David’s throne in
Jerusalem for 1000 years. While I am certain I do not fully
understand Revelation 20,
I am certain it does not teach this.
Note what Jesus taught about the kingdom He planned to
16:28; Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27 show Jesus planned to establish His kingdom within the
lifetimes of His audience. Since everyone in His audience is now
dead, His kingdom must already be established. We are not awaiting
it—we need to be in it right now.
Jesus explained the nature of His kingdom in John
18:36 saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The Jews
of Jesus’ day wanted an earthly kingdom and the
Premillennialists of our day want one as well, but Jesus said His
kingdom is not earthly. His kingdom is not about earthly cities,
lands, armies and battles. It is a spiritual kingdom. Therefore,
we do not look for a physical fulfillment of the kingdom promises
Note some other passages about the kingdom found in the New
claims Christians are already transferred into the kingdom of
Jesus Christ. We are not awaiting some future kingdom but are
already in it.
When Peter preached in Acts
2:25-36, he explained that Jesus, the descendent of David, had
been promised by the Spirit to sit on David’s throne at the
right hand of God. Peter makes it abundantly clear that Jesus has
already been exalted to the Father’s right hand and is already
reigning on David’s throne from heaven. [Additional information:
the New Testament claims Jesus is already at the right hand of God
fourteen times—Acts 2:25,
33; 5:31; 7:55, 56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1;
Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22]
Note passages in Revelation
that teach about Jesus’ kingdom.
said Jesus was already the ruler of the kings of the earth. John
was not prophesying Jesus’ future rule but describing His
already established rule.
said Jesus had already made His people a kingdom and priests. John
was not prophesying a future kingdom but describing an already
demonstrated neither John nor his audience were expecting some
future great tribulation or kingdom, but were already
participating together in both.
5:9-10 repeated that when Jesus purchased men from every
tribe, tongue, people and nation with His blood, He made them a
kingdom and priests. Again, John was not prophesying a future
kingdom and priesthood but an already established one.
Therefore, though I still have many questions about Revelation
20, I have one question answered. Revelation
20 does not prophecy a future earthly kingdom that will last
in real time for 1000 years with Jesus reigning in physical
Jerusalem on David’s throne. If it did, that would contradict
the often repeated and established New Testament theme that Jesus
is already reigning in the heavenly Jerusalem, at the right hand
of God; over His kingdom, the people He purchased with His blood.
I hope I have demonstrated that truth to you clearly. Now, I do
not just want to tell you what Revelation
20 certainly does not mean. I want to present to you what I
believe it does mean. To do that, we must first understand the
apocalyptic nature of Revelation.
The nature of Apocalyptic Literature.
is written in a very specific literary style. One of the biggest
mistakes made in studying this book is to misunderstand this
genre. If I were to ask you in what genre Revelation
was written, what would you say? Most of us would say,
“Prophecy.” But that is not entirely accurate. Revelation
is not a prophetic book, it is an apocalyptic book. Certainly
there are prophetic elements in it. But Revelation
is an apocalyptic book with prophetic elements, not a prophetic
book with apocalyptic elements. We are not familiar with
apocalyptic literature. However, our first century counterparts
were. God did not make up this genre with the Revelation.
People in that time were very familiar with the already
established rules and norms of this kind of literature.
Allow me then to present to you some of the norms of
is born out of faith in crisis.
The big question of apocalypse is, “If God is so good and
powerful, why are such bad things happening to us, His
children?” That is Revelation’s question. In 1:9,
John explains that he was a partaker in tribulation. In the
introductory letters, he spoke of Ephesus’ toil and perseverance
(2:2-3), Smyrna’s tribulation and poverty (2:9) and Pergamum’s martyr, Antipas (2:13). These Christians were going through a crisis of faith. They
needed immediate help, not a promise of good things millennia down
the road. Thus, John repeatedly assured his readers that his
message was immediate. 1:1—“things
which must soon take place.” 1:3—“the
time is near.” 3:11—“I
am coming quickly.” 22:6—“things
which must soon take place.” 22:7—“I
am coming quickly.” 22:10—“the
time is near.” 22:20—“I
am coming quickly.”
To answer the big question, apocalypse speaks not only of what we
can see in the world, but draws back the curtain to reveal what
God is doing behind the scenes. This assures the audience that God
has not lost, but is working and will win in His time. Thus, John
is invited into heaven to see what is going on there (4:1). There are bigger forces at work than what we see (Ephesians
6:12). We are just a small part of a big picture. We increase
our faith by opening our hearts to what God is really doing in
Revelation 1:1 says that this revelation was “communicated” (NASB)
or “signified” (KJV, NKJV) to Jesus’ servant John. The term
translated here (semaino—Strong’s
#4591) means to indicate with signs or to “sign-ify.”
Therefore, we are not surprised to see symbolic language.
Regrettably, the Premillennial camp has made such a big deal of
taking the Bible literally (which they do not) that we too often
believe we are lessening the meaning of scripture if we say it is
symbolic. We are not weakening scripture; we are reading it the
way God said we should, as signs and symbols.
is grand, visual, vivid and extravagant.
In the genre of parables, we see detailed symbols where one thing
represents another. In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew
13), seed is symbolic of the word and soil is symbolic of the
listener’s heart. Apocalyptic literature does not work the same
way. Certainly, apocalyptic literature employs this kind of
representative symbolism at times. However, we must not force that
kind of symbolism unilaterally through Revelation.
You have heard someone say, “Do not miss the forest for the
trees.” Apocalyptic literature is about the forest, not the
trees. The trees are not there for us to try to examine each one.
They are there because forests have trees. We do not have to ask
what every part of the vision represents; rather we ask what the
vision as a whole represents. We do not have to ask what the four
living creatures represent, or the 24 elders, or the two
witnesses, the stones of the gates of the city, etc. We need to
ask, “What is the overriding message of the vision presented?”
Further, these visions are presented in a very visual and
extravagant way. Not because each vivid detail in the picture
represents something, but because they drive the big picture
message deeper into the reader’s heart by providing a more
exciting learning experience. It is like watching a movie. We know
the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys wear black hats,
but we do not ask why there is a saloon, a jail and tumbleweeds in
the movie—it is a western. Those details just fill the picture.
It would be a very boring movie if these details were not in the
picture. But we do not get bogged down with their meaning. Which
would you remember more—a doctrinal treatise on the victory of
God over Satan or a visual picture of God’s army overcoming the
enemy’s army with fire flaming from heaven to consume the enemy
and then birds eating the enemy’s dead flesh? Which would you
remember more—a prosaic discussion of how government and false
religion can oppose true Christianity or a picture of giant beasts
that wage war on God’s people, expect everyone to worship them
and brand their own people with a mark on the forehead? The modern
fascination with Revelation
testifies to the effectiveness of this kind of literature.
instills complete confidence in God’s triumph. Apocalypse is written because God’s people are enduring a crisis of
faith. They need confidence. Therefore, it explains that things
are going on behind the scenes that we do not know about. God is
working in ways we cannot fathom and for reasons we cannot know.
In His time, He will secure His victory, judge His enemies,
vindicate His people and reward His faithful. Apocalyptic
literature, therefore, paints the present picture as vividly
terrible with pictures of famine, pestilence, death, the slaying
of powerful people on God’s side and the attack of beasts. But
then it presents God’s judgment and victory in equally powerful
and certain terms, stars being blotted from the sky, the moon
turning to blood, plagues of horselike scorpions, 100 pound
hailstones, fire consuming the enemies and the birds eating their
flesh. This is why the book starts with seven letters to churches
in Asia repeating seven times what is promised “to him who
overcomes” (2:7, 11, 17,
26-28; 3:5, 12, 21).
Within this framework, as we come to Revelation
20, we are not expecting to find some detailed prophetic
timeline of future events. Instead, we expect to see a very grand,
very vivid, very symbolic, very extravagant big picture of God’s
victory over His people’s enemies.
Getting to Revelation
In the letters to the seven churches (Revelation
2-3), Jesus demonstrated His knowledge of the hearts and
actions of men. He acknowledged the tribulation His people were
enduring. Further, He encouraged His people to persevere,
promising them reward if they overcame and endured.
He gave a behind the scenes vision of God’s glory and heaven’s
confidence. He encouraged His church to overcome and reminded them
that He had already overcome for them (5:5)
and they just needed to stay on His side.
Throughout the rest of the book, Jesus provided John with a
series of interlocking visions, portraying the same big picture.
There were two sides in both the spiritual realm and the earthly.
On the side of good and right, we find the Father, the Sacrificed
Savior and the Holy Spirit, with their angelic hosts and armies
and their multitude of followers on the earth (1:4-5;
5:11; 7:9; 19:11-18). On the side of evil is Satan with his
angelic hosts, plus his myriads of followers, and his two great
beasts—government and false religion (12:7-9;
11:9-10; 19:19; 13:1-18). Throughout these visions we see the
same theme. Despite the power of God and His people, at times
things look very bad. So bad, that those who have died will wonder
how long God will let this go on (6:10). Yet repeatedly, God’s judgment and victory come in to
vindicate His people and judge His enemies (6:12-17; 7:9-17; 9:3-6;
One thing we must note within this book is the constant
contrast between those who are marked by Satan and the beast in 13:16-18
and those who are marked with the name of God who refuse to be
marked by the beast in 7:2-9
In Revelation 19,
we are presented with another picture of great victory for God’s
people. Jesus, the word of God, goes out with His army to wage war
against the beast, the false prophet and those who received the
beast’s mark. In 19:20-21,
the beast and the false prophet were cast into the lake of fire
and their host was killed with the sword and eaten by the birds.
Jesus won. That brings us into Revelation
What do we see in Revelation
do we see regarding our ultimate enemy, Satan?
Interestingly, he is not immediately cast into the lake of
fire like the beast and the false prophet. Instead, he is only
bound for 1000 years in the abyss (20:3).
After the 1000 years, he was released for a short time (20:3). When he was released he went back to his old tricks of
deceiving the nations (20:7-8).
Satan used his deceptions to get his followers to attack
God. Even though His army was like the sands of the seashore, he
was again defeated. Ultimately, he was not tucked away in a prison
but cast into the lake of fire, tormented day and night forever (20:9-10).
The “released for a short time” business causes trouble
for many. Remember, we are not looking for some detailed prophetic
timeline. We are looking for the big picture message. What is that
message? I think there are two keys to help us understand this.
First, notice vs. 8.
What will Satan do when he is released? He will deceive the
nations. That is what Satan was doing all throughout this book.
See specifically 12:9.
He will just be doing the same thing over again, deceiving the
nations, probably using government, false religion and worldly
society to promote an attack against God and His people.
Second, do not overlook the end of vs.
3. How long will Satan be given freedom? Only a short time.
But look back to 12:12.
Satan was only allowed to deceive the nations, using the beast and
the false prophet for a short time. This is nothing new. Again,
all we see is that Satan gets another shot at trying to win. He
will deceive many and they will attack God’s people, but he will
Keeping this in mind, what do we learn?
First, while the earthly forces that Satan used throughout
the majority of Revelation
are utterly destroyed and cast in to the lake of fire, Satan was
not. When the battle the Christians were fighting when Revelation
was written was over, they would win the victory and Satan
would lose. But Satan would be back and he would try again. In
reality, what we find is an apocalyptic version of Luke
4:13. Satan is defeated and flees, but looks for another
opportune time. However, God’s people who resist will be
victorious. This point, by the way, is why Revelation is a message for our times as well as the initial
readers. While they heard about victory over the particular
tribulation through which they were going, we learn that all of
Satan’s attacks on God’s people will go the same way. When we
face the same situation they faced, Satan will lose.
Second, within this chapter note the time contrast.
Satan’s deceptions and attacks are actually for a short time.
But the victory and the peace that comes from resisting and
overcoming lasts for a long time, 1000 years. That is not some
detailed prophetic timeline drawn to scale. It is just a contrast
to remind us that our suffering will pass and victory in Jesus
will be worth it.
Third, while Satan will still get to attack God’s people,
in the end he, too, will be ultimately defeated and cast into the
lake of fire and will be tormented day and night forever and ever
do we see regarding the saints?
is actually a very amazing passage, pulling together many threads
from the entire book of Revelation into just three verses.
First, we see a fulfillment of the promises made in the
introductory letters to the seven churches of Asia. Specifically 2:10-11,
26-27; 3:21-23 are seen as fulfilled. Those who overcome reign
with Christ, receiving thrones and implicitly crowns.
Not only are they kings, but they are also priests,
ministering to Christ as His servants as well as reigning with Him
at the same time. This brings back the picture of 7:14-17.
Those who come through the tribulation of Satan’s attack will
still serve God.
Interestingly, the above two issues are not necessarily
just about overcoming. Remember 1:6
and 5:10. Every Christian is a king and priest with Christ (cf.
I Peter 2:9). What does that mean? Jesus is not promising that
some new thing will happen down the road if we hang on. Rather, He
is assuring us that nothing changes throughout tribulation. Keep
in mind the purpose of this book. Revelation
is assuring its audience that no matter how bad things get, God
knows those who are His and will not lose them through some kind
of heavenly oversight. This is an apocalyptic version of Romans
8:31-39. Nothing separates us from God as long as we love Him
and do not turn to follow the beast.
Further, this passage calls to mind two distinct groups of
people. It calls to mind the martyrs under the altar of 6:9-11,
that is, those who died in the battle. It also calls to mind the
people who overcame the tribulation, living through it in 7:14-15
and 15:2-4. What
does this passage tell us? If we are faithful, it does not matter
if we live through tribulation or die in it, we will still be
victorious with Christ. This is an apocalyptic version of the
similar message taught in I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
We must not forget that one of the major aspects of Revelation is a contrast between the two sides. This issue of
God’s people reigning for 1000 years presents a contrast to
Satan’s kings in 17:12.
Those who follow the beast will appear to reign. Christians may be
tempted to go over to their side. However, their seeming reign
will last only for an hour. The true reign of God’s people will
be for 1000 years. Again, this is not a detailed prophetic
timeline drawn to scale. It is simply a contrast that shows which
side we want to be on.
Finally, we must reiterate that this picture just drives
home the big message of Revelation.
God wins. His people win with Him.
with seven letters in which we learn not everything is going well
with the brethren. The tribulation was taking its toll. Some were
leaving their first love. Some were adulterating the doctrine of
Christ. Some were compromising with false religion. Some were
banking on their reputation but had no real life. Some had been so
impacted by the world they were lukewarm. This book was written
because souls were in peril. The book begins with this
presentation of the dangerous position many were in. After
providing the grand, vivid and extravagant pictures of Christ’s
victory and judgment on those who switch sides, the book ends with
an invitation in 22:16-21. Jesus is offering life giving water. We can drink from the
river of life that flows from the throne of God right now. But we
have to choose sides. If we do not take the warnings and promises
of this book seriously, believing them and acting based on them,
then we will be the ones punished by these plagues and our name
will be removed from the book of life. Which side will you choose?
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ