The Thousand Years - Part 2 (Revelation Sermon 36 of 49)
February 18, 2018 | Andrew Davis
Revelation 20:1-10 covers the topic of the Millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, which we started looking at last week. Today we will gain more clarity about the Millennium, and though we will move forward next week I will continue studying it. In John Calvin’s introduction to his commentary on Romans, he used a phrase that stuck with me. He was seeking, he said, to achieve “lucid brevity” — clarity and briefness — that I seek to emulate this morning. I want to briefly and clearly explain what I think is happening in these incredible words.
As we study the Bible week after week, I am more and more in awe of this book. By any definition, it is a miracle. It is an encounter with the living God. There is no human explanation for this book. It contains predictions about the future that were made centuries before which have now been fulfilled. It is a supernatural book because it goes outside of nature. James reminds us that we do not know what will happen even tomorrow, so how much more do we not know what will happen centuries in the future. But this book predicted the first coming of Christ in great detail — aspects of his genealogy, where he would be born, what his life would consist of. Every one of those has been fulfilled in every detail.
Revelation is a book unlike any other in this library of books, which the Bible really is — 66 books, written from the mind of God through various authors at different times. It borrows heavily on Old Testament prophecies and language, but it has a new word to say, and it teaches us details about the Second Coming of Christ and about the events that precede the Second Coming.
We believe that this world is poisoned and dying with sin, and it will take a series of cataclysms such as we can scarcely imagine to draw out the elect, the chosen, from this horrible sin-wracked world and get us into a New Heaven and New Earth in our resurrection bodies. This is a very painful perilous journey. Many of the things we have been studying have not yet happened, perhaps have not even begun. Some general signs have happened, but they have been happening for 20 centuries now: wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes in various places.
But there are cataclysmic events recorded in Revelation that we have never yet seen on earth. Revelation 8 and 9 bring the seven trumpet judgments in which the ecology of the earth is ripped apart — a third of the sea turns to blood, a third of the sea creatures die, a third of the green plants and all of the grass are burned up, and a third of the fresh water is poisoned. That is only the first round. In the second round in Revelation 16, the seven bowl judgments are poured out — the entire sea turns to blood and every living thing in the sea dies. We have not seen anything like that ecological disaster. These things are yet to come.
In Revelation 13, we see the reign of Antichrist, this terrible one-world ruler that by deception takes over the military levers of power of human government all over the world. He wields his authority in an overpowering way. Soon after, the false prophet comes along to shift the whole thing to a religious focus, setting the Antichrist up as a god whom people worship.
People all over the world are compelled by the force of military might and the police state to receive a mark, the mark of the beast, without which they cannot buy or sell. Most people accept it willingly and worship the beast. God, through all of this, protects a remnant of His own, Jews who at last, in the final act of redemptive history, will see in Christ their Savior, their Messiah, their Son of David. At last, they embrace him. Zechariah tells us that they will weep for him as for an only son, and Paul says in Romans 11 that they come to him in faith and “…all Israel will be saved.” The Antichrist mobilizes his forces militarily from across the surface of the earth to come wipe out the followers of Christ — not just the Jews, but specifically those in Palestine. The great battle of Armageddon ensues, predicted in Revelation 16 and again in Revelation 17. This is the context of the Second Coming of Christ in Revelation 19. Jesus returns with the armies of Heaven and slaughters this vast army that comes to wipe out his people.
Three Views on the Millennium
As we come to Revelation 20, we need to review some theology and church history. There are three basic views on the Millennium. One, I believe, has been so vigorously discredited by the unfolding of history that I do not mention it much, namely Post-millennialism. This is the idea that the Gospel will so saturate the world that everything will get better and better, and people will come more and more to faith in Christ, and then Jesus will return. I do not see that happening. The last century has been rough on the planet. It is right for us to marry together current events and Scripture. Jesus told us to do that with the abomination of desolation — when that happens, then the prophecy of Daniel has come true, and those alive at that time should run for their lives. Thus, I have set that aside. I respect those that view Post-millennialism as a reasonable view, but that leaves me, as an evangelical, two views on the Millennium.
The Millennium refers to Revelation 20:1-10, which talks about the thousand-year reign of Christ physically on earth. There are two views on this time period that square with being evangelical. The Amillennial view teaches that Revelation 20:1-10 is a recapitulation of what we have already covered in church history and the spread of the Gospel, that Satan has been bound in some way, restricted to keep him from deceiving the nation so that the Gospel can spread. In Matthew 12, in his analogy about the strong man, Jesus says that no one can plunder his house unless he first bind the strong man; then he can plunder his house.
The Amillennial view says this refers to the spread of the gospel for a thousand years, that 1000 is just a symbolic number, like when God claims in Psalm 50 that He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” Clearly that verse is not literal but poetic. The question we have to ask though is, is the number, 1000, spiritual or poetic? And here in this text, that's the question you have to ask.
I have been exhorted to read the text and preach accordingly. The alternate view treats the text as innocent until proven guilty, to take it that it will happen unless some compelling reason proves otherwise. That is the Premillennial view, that the Second Coming happens before the Millennium. Jesus returns with the armies of heaven, destroys Satan’s army led by the Antichrist, and slaughters all of them in vast carnage. After that he sets up his thousand-year reign on earth.
Just as I have studied these two different views, I commend them to you to continue to study them as well. In a broad general way, the Amillennial view does well in the entire New Testament but not so well in Revelation 20:1-10. Premillennialism does not fare well in all of Paul’s epistles, but it does a good job of explaining these 10 verses. I am a verse-by-verse expositor, so I have to adopt the Premillennial view today, because as I go through these verses, it is hard to explain it from the Amillennial view.
It starts: “I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil or Satan and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. And after that, he must be set free for a short time.”
The Amillennial view does not have a good explanation for the details of those verses, specifically the word “Abyss”. This word refers to a specific place mentioned in various passages in the New Testament, especially with the demoniac of the Gadarenes in whom there was Legion, 6000 demons inside him. A simple reading of Revelation 20:1-10, as you compare Satan and Jesus, shows the infinite gap of power between the two — Satan is nothing compared to Jesus. Inside the man in Luke 8, the demons are terrified of Jesus; they plead with him not to throw them into the Abyss before their time.
The Amillennial view of the chaining of Satan is that it has to do with evangelism and missions. Those who ascribe to this view acknowledge that Satan is out and about, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. They agree that we need to be strong in the Lord and His mighty power and to put on the full armor of God, because our struggle is against the devil and his demons. But they say the binding is really focused on keeping the devil from deceiving people about Jesus. When you share the Gospel with a co-worker, if that co-worker is elect and God is using you to bring that person to faith in Christ, Satan will be blocked or bound to some degree from that interaction. Your witness will be effective to rescue them from the dominion of darkness and bring them over into the kingdom of light by the power of the Holy Spirit. I say “Amen”, but I do not think that is what the Abyss is about here.
We would not imagine that Satan is bound with a great chain and thrown in the Abyss as believers are sharing the Gospel, leading others to Christ in the break room or East Asia or Africa. No, he is still prowling around like a roaring lion at that moment. Looking at these verses, I have a hard time accepting that exegetically. Premillennialism does well here in verse-by-verse exposition. If I were preaching 1 Corinthians 15, I would have a hard time with Premillennialism, because I do not see the Millennium in anything Paul writes about the resurrection. In sharing the Gospel in this current age, I do not see how Satan is bound with a great chain and thrown into the Abyss, which is locked and sealed over so he cannot deceive the nations. A more natural reading is that this capture of Satan is yet to come.
The Millennial Kingdom
A (Somewhat) New Earth
If you accept that, then you will have many logistical and practical questions. Is it a kingdom? Yes, it is. Revelation 20:4-6 “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 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 are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”
Those who resist during the Great Tribulation will come to life and reign with Christ physically on earth. This would be the Millennial kingdom. Picture what it would be like when Christ returns. The earth will be a smoldering pile of wreckage — the sea is blood, everything in it is dead, there is no fresh water, there has been a massive worldwide earthquake from which the cities of the earth are destroyed — piles of rubble. It will be a massive rebuilding project; it is unimaginable what Jesus will have to do to rebuild planet earth. He can do it. His Heavenly Father created everything through him. John 1:1-3 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…” Colossians 1:16 says, “…things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” He has all resources at his disposal.
I am reminded of Nehemiah when he heard from his brother that Jerusalem was filled with rubble. He asked for and was granted permission from the king to go back to rebuild the wall, which he and his cohorts did in a short amount of time while the enemies of the Jews looked on. This was done by God. How could we give Nehemiah greater place than Jesus? Jesus can do it.
Who are Christ’s Subjects and Enemies During the Millennium?
Who is on Earth?
The next practical question is, who is he reigning over? I do not know, but we can imagine some possibilities. It is possible that all of Jesus’ enemies, those who did not believe in him at the Second Coming, died in the final battle. Revelation 19:17-18 says, “And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.’” This could mean that everybody who has not believed in Jesus up to the moment when they see the sign of the Son of Man in the clouds will mourn because they know they will die. Every single unbeliever will die, and the birds will eat their flesh.
Or it is possible that those who are part of the army assembled to fight against the people of God, the battlefield participants, are the ones who will die. That would leave a population of unbelievers whom then Jesus will rule over with a rod of iron. If that is the case, they had better behave themselves.
Thus, the two possibilities for the human starter set for the Millennial population are either all genuine believers in Christ, not yet resurrected, still in their physical bodies, who have been through a horrific time, along with those beheaded during the Tribulation that are going to be raised to reign with them; or a mixed group of believers and unbelievers. Jesus will rule the unbelievers with a rod of iron, settling disputes between the nations. They will come to Zion, to Jerusalem, to have those disputes settled, and if they do not obey, they will suffer consequences such as no rain in their land, according to Zechariah. There are many images from the Old Testament which could possibly apply to this mixed population during this Millennial time.
I prefer at this point to interpret that all the unbelievers die, leaving only genuinely regenerate, born again but not yet glorified believers. Many of those will be Jews, but I do not think that it will be only Jews, because it says that Satan can no longer deceive the nations. I think there will be Gentile believers there too. These are generally called tribulation saints, who are converted during the final era of history.
It is interesting that they will need to be ruled over. Verse 4-6, “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ 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 are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”
There is an Amillennial interpretation of this, that these are the martyrs who reign in Heaven — absent from the body, present with the Lord. Let’s set that aside for now and zero in on the Pre-millennial approach. There are two options for who these people are. One, they are all who have ever believed in Christ, including the martyrs, but who had died before that point. The ones who are still alive are the starter set of that population. Everybody else is up in Heaven, not only those who died in the tribulation. Everybody is raised physically — we get our resurrection bodies at that point. We sit on thrones and we judge.
Who Will Be Judged?
Who will we judge? We will judge the not-yet-glorified, not-yet-resurrected believers. We may wonder why thrones and judgments are needed. If you believe in the Millennium — the literal thousand years — those in the starter set are not yet glorified. They are believers like you and me with an internal sin nature. They will have children, and they will get old and die. Their children will have an advantage as to believing the Gospel. There will be no Satan to tempt them; he is locked up in the Abyss. There will be no evil world system set up by Satan, as 1 John 5 says, that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. When he is gone along with the world system he set up, all children will have godly parents. In addition, they will have Jesus reining physically on earth in a glorified state, and they will have the resurrected people sitting on thrones to help them come to faith in Christ. But amazingly, not all of the subsequent generations will be believers in Jesus.
Isaiah 65 says, describing Millennial life, that one who dies at 100 will be seen to have died early. Most, then, will live to 125 or 150. That will be from seven to ten generations during the thousand years. Not all the descendants will be believers in Christ. The resurrected glorified saints will sit on thrones and judge the population and settle disputes under Jesus.
Those who judge must be a narrow set of people. The Gospel has done very well over the last 20 centuries — Revelation 7 emphasizes “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.” Imagine being part of the remnant that survived the Second Coming, being judged at a 10:1 ratio of resurrected glorified not resurrected or glorified people. In terms of sanctification and holiness, I cannot resolve that dynamic. The glorified, resurrected believers who are perfect and never sin will judge those who are struggling and muddling through. If that will literally happen, it must be a narrow set; hundreds of millions are not needed.
The text says specifically that those who are raised are the ones who have been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and the Word of God. They will not have worshiped the beast or his image, nor received his mark or their foreheads or hands, meaning they will have lived during the time of the beast. They will have had the possibility of receiving or refusing the mark of the beast — they will choose to refuse, and will have paid for it by being beheaded. This is a very small group, and they receive the honor, the privilege, of this early resurrection to reign with Christ physically on earth. Most Millennialists agree that is what is happening here. They will sit on thrones and reign with Christ.
Verse 5 says, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” In the Amillennial view, that would be all of the reprobates who are given resurrection bodies and sent to Hell. It may also include the rest of us who are absent from the body, present with the Lord during the whole thousand years, in Heaven doing whatever we will do — likely celebrating and worshiping God — while the Millenial kingdom is happening. The rest of the believers will be on earth during the Millennium. Logistically, it is a difficult issue to resolve. Those in Heaven will come to life and receive our resurrection bodies in a second phase. The first resurrection will include the special ones who are chosen. “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them…” The second death is Hell, which we learn in the rest of Revelation 20. Those in the first resurrection will not be subject to Hell. The second death will not have power over the rest of the saints either, but the reprobate will certainly be subject to it.
This smaller set of believers will come to life to reign with Christ for a thousand years, and they will be priests of God and of Christ. There will be a Millennial religion, which will be focused on worshiping Jesus, the Savior and the King. Animal sacrifice will have no part in it. I would urge you to read the book of Hebrews and come to the conclusion that God will never again accept blood sacrifice of animals. Fundamentally, the religion will be a spiritual one of following Jesus. He is at that place now in redemptive history, reigning bodily in glory; and in the. Millennium, these resurrected glorified saints will be priests of God and reign with Christ on earth.
Why a Literal Millennium?
That is not the end of the story. This is remarkable. Some of you want to understand and have your questions about this time answered, and some of you are ready to skip the Millennium and go straight to Heaven, where there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain. Either way, the next logical question is, Why would God do this, if this what will happen?
Satan’s Last “Tour”
Revelation 20:7-10: “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth — Gog and Magog — to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
To some degree, if you believe in the Millennium, it seems almost unbelievable that this would happen. After the thousand years, the binding is done, and the devil comes up out of the Abyss where he was thrown. Parenthetically, I think it is a very hard verse for Amillennials to explain — What does he come up out of at the end of the thousand years? There is no explanation in a metaphorical framework.
Satan is unbound, on the loose at the end of the thousand years. What does he do? It is like Napoleon on an incomparably larger scale. Napoleon was exiled to Elba after losing a series of battles. When he was later released and returned to France, instead of the French immediately arresting him and throwing him back in prison, they followed him into one more battle — Waterloo — where more of them were slaughtered for Napoleon’s tyrannical ambitions. Satan has been exiled for a thousand years, locked in the Abyss. When released, he rallies a large number of followers to fight Jesus. The insanity of it is staggering. The Millennial kingdom has been beautiful — well ordered, well governed, fruitful, magnificent. Jesus has reigned with a rod of iron, which results in peace and beauty, with no disputes, no wars. Satan, the instant he is released, is able to gather together from Gog and Magog (language from Ezekiel 38 and 39, meaning rough, distant Gentile nations) for one more battle.
Satan’s Army Defeated by Fire From Heaven
Those who follow Satan are like the sand on the sea shore. It is tragic. They come across the breadth of the earth to the camp of the people that God loves, perhaps Jerusalem, to attack the people of God one more time. There is very little description about this, but it is obvious who wins. Fire comes from heaven to burn them up, and that is that.
In 2 Kings, a wicked king sends 50 men to arrest Elijah, the prophet, who is sitting on a hill. The captain orders, “Oh, man of God, come down.” Elijah replies, “If I am a man of God, may fire come from heaven and burn up you and your 50 men.” Immediately the men were burned up. They're dead. A second captain with 50 men tries again, with the same results. My favorite is the third captain, who humbles himself to say, “Oh, man of God, please, if it is not too much trouble, I would like to ask that you have mercy on my life.” The Lord tells Elijah to go with him, and Elijah gives the king a prophetic message that he will die, which is fulfilled soon thereafter.
That was Elijah. This is Jesus. You do not come after Jesus, lay hold of him and topple him from his throne. Psalm 2:6 says, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” He will not be conquered. When they come this last time, fire comes from Heaven, and rebellion on earth is ended.
The Education We Always Wanted
In the Garden, at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we desired an education — we wanted to know. In February 1970, undergraduates at Harvard University were told that their tuition would increase the next year by $200, from $2400 a year to $2600 a year. Two years ago, it costs $45,270 for one year, all costs. Since 1970, if it had kept pace with inflation, it would cost $15,700. Education comes at a high cost. The students at Harvard that year did not realize how much the cost would continue increasing for that education. That is a picture of redemptive history. We wanted an education in good and evil, and we have had six millennia of such an education. During all those millennia, sin has proven to be exceptionally stubborn to eradicate; our education has been very costly.
Romans 5 helps answer the question of why God would set up a physical Millennium in this way. (Of course, whether we hold the Pre-millennial or Amillennium view, we will not be excluded if we have subscribed to the wrong view on this point. God will decide, and we will all be there.) Romans 5:12 says, “…just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men because all sinned.” Through Adam, we sinned; through Adam, death entered the world.
But then Paul says in Romans 5:19-20, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase.” [You may read right over that and not give it any thought. Why would God add the law of Moses so that the trespass would increase? That would be like firefighters spraying kerosene on a house fire.] But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life [not thousand-year life; eternal life] through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
What has been going on for six millennia has been a clear display that the only force in the universe that can conquer sin is the sovereign grace of God in Christ. It must go to the nth degree; He must get inside my soul, mind, and heart, take out the heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, and more than that. He must glorify me or I will sin. Oh, unglorified but sanctified and justified, saved people. You know exactly what I am talking about. Paul talks about it in Romans 7:15, 17, 24: “…what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do… [Why?] … it is sin living in me… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Death’s Final Defeat
When we at last are delivered from death, we will have been delivered from sin. Those happen at the same time. Death is the final enemy. When death is finally gone, then sin will be finally gone and vice versa. If there will be a starter set of unglorified but truly justified saved people whom he rescues, when they die, they will be absent from the body, present with the Lord just like us. They will go to Heaven. Their children, if they believe in Jesus, if they trust in him as their personal Savior, will have their sins forgiven, and then they will also go to Heaven after much better lives than we are living. They will die at age 137 after having been abundantly blessed in their labors. But if their children do not believe in Jesus, despite all of the evidence, they will die and go to Hell. If they should be living at the end of the thousand-year reign, Satan will call and they will listen and hear, and they will come together under Satan to fight Jesus. That will be the final display of the wickedness of sin.
Romans 5 also tells us that step by step, from Adam until Moses, sin reigned, which means death reigned. Death reigned from Moses to Jesus’ first coming, and sin and death has continued and will continue to reign in some way on until the Second Coming. After the Great Tribulation, there will be one more thousand-year reign for sin and death, and then Jesus will finally bring us into Revelation 21, where there'll be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. We will be glorified. We will be able to look back and remember how we got what we asked for — a costly education in evil — but we will love righteousness and hate wickedness, just like Christ.
That is all I can say about the millennium. If in the end, the Amillennial view is true, then praise God for the limited binding of Satan. Go out and evangelize. Be involved in missions. Share the Gospel with your boss or your neighbor or classmate or suitemate or total stranger, or an unreached people group on an overseas mission trip. Watch God bind Satan right in front of you. Watch Christ rescue souls.
In the meantime, know that someday we will get to a world, the New Heaven and New Earth, which will last not a thousand years but forever — not long life but eternal life. Disease and sickness and death and sorrow will all be gone, and we will go there someday.
If you are here today because someone invited you, or you walked in off the street, you may be confused, wondering what all this is about. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, the resurrection chapter, “…what I received I passed on to you as of first importance [top priority for you] that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” And John 1:12: “…to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” You do not need to do any works, you only need to trust in Jesus who was crucified for sinners like you and me, then buried and raised from the dead on the third day. Trust in Him and you will be forgiven of all your sins.
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the two weeks we have had to look at this difficult topic. It is not easy to understand the Millennium and all of the ramifications. We look forward to the time when Satan will be not merely bound but thrown into the lake of fire, not to trouble us ever again. Lord, in the meantime, help us to be bold with the Gospel. Help us to be courageous, to take risks for the gospel, to be willing to go overseas as missionaries, to walk across the office to a cubicle to talk to somebody, maybe a new employee at the company. O Lord, help us to be bold in witnessing on college campuses, at Duke and UNC and NC State and Central. Help us to be involved in seeing people cross over from death to life. Help us to be bold. We thank you for the things we have learned. In Jesus’ name. Amen.