************ Sermon on Revelation 20:1-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 11, 2009
"The Comfort of the Thousand Years"
The book of Revelation ends with seven visions dealing with the return of Jesus. Each vision begins, in the Greek, with "Then I saw" (Rev 19:11,17,19; 20:1,4,11; 21:1). Now, these seven visions are not to be seen as depicting seven events in chronological order. Rather, John as it were, turns the camera on different actors or scenes of the same event. "Then I saw." In the first vision, we saw Jesus riding a white horse. In the second vision, we saw an invitation to the great supper of God – we learned it was a supper of judgment. In the third vision, we saw God preparing the menu for His great supper – a menu made up of the beast, the prophet, and all unbelievers. Today, we are looking at the fourth and fifth visions.
In the fourth vision, John sees an angel from heaven who seizes, chains, and locks the dragon into the Abyss for a thousand years to keep the dragon from deceiving the nations anymore. In the fifth vision, John sees thrones, and on them the souls of beheaded Gospel martyrs who come to life in the first resurrection and reign with Christ for the same one thousand years. The fourth and fifth visions – to use the Latin phrase for thousand years – deal with the millennium.
What really is the millennium? According to our Bible reading, it is characterized by two distinct features. The fourth vision tells us about the millennium in terms of the church on earth. The fifth vision tells us about the millennium in terms of the church in heaven.
I The Millennium and the Church on Earth
A Let's start by looking at the millennium in terms of the church on earth as we find it in vision four, Revelation 20:1-3.
Like many prior visions, John first sees an angel. Other times, John focuses our attention upon the glory, the might, and the majesty of the angel in question. This time, his focus is on what the angel is holding:
(Rev 20:1) And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.The angel holds two things: a key and a chain. The key to what? The key to the Abyss, the bottomless pit. What kind of chain? Imagine leg irons or handcuffs or shackles or even the chain wrapped around a body before it is dumped into a lake. Why are the key and chain in the angel's hand? Because he is about to use them.
B Who is this angel? To put it simply, he is Satan's jailer. Listen to the rest of the fourth vision:
(Rev 20:2-3) [The angel] seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. (3) He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him ...
Before anything else, we need to take note of Satan's identification in this vision. John identifies him using four names. Why not just one name? To remind us of how dangerous Satan really is. He is the "dragon" – reminding us of his ferocity; like a dragon he breathes out fire and death. He is the "ancient serpent" – reminding us of his power to deceive, going all the way back to Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden. He is the "devil" – reminding us that he is an evil spirit. He is "Satan"– Satan means adversary, reminding us of his slanderous accusations against us before the throne of God. Satan is terrifying. Satan is powerful. Satan cannot be ignored.
Now, notice what the angel does. The angel seizes Satan. The angel bounds Satan. The angel throws Satan into the Abyss. Then the angel locks and seals the Abyss. Who does this? Not God. Not Jesus. But an angel. An angel. An unknown, unnamed angel. This almost implies Satan's insignificance. And Satan's weakness. Because, did you notice what Satan does to stop this? Nothing! Obviously, Satan is helpless even before one of the angels of God.
C What is the Abyss? "Abyss" is the actual Greek word; an English translation is "bottomless pit." In the symbolism of the Revelation, it is a giant underground cavern with a narrow opening at the top. We first saw the Abyss in Revelation 9 at the blowing of the fifth trumpet. At that time, Satan was identified as the king of the Abyss. God gave him the key to the Abyss. When Satan opened the Abyss, out came smoke, locusts, and scorpions that tormented unbelieving people. So, what is the Abyss? It is that place where demonic beings are confined while they await their final destiny in the lake of fire. So, during the millennium, Satan is locked up in the same place as his demons. And, Satan will eventually share their judgment in the lake of fire (Rev 20:7ff).
D Notice, Satan is bound for a thousand years. Thousand. That is a nice, round number. A complete number. A number implying a great amount. Remember, as I said before, thousand is the biggest numeral used in the Roman world. So, Satan is bound for a long time.
Is thousand meant to be taken literally? When else have we taken numbers literally in the Revelation? John wrote the Revelation to the seven churches of Asia Minor, but we discovered there were more than seven churches. John wrote about the 144,000 who were sealed from the judgment of God, but we discovered they were actually a multitude no one could count, from every nation and tribe and people and language. In the Revelation, numbers are used symbolically. That is true for the thousand years, the millennium, of Revelation 20 as well.
E Everything becomes clear when we look at the purpose of the binding. Why was Satan thrown into the Abyss, which was then locked and sealed? What does Scripture say? "To keep him from deceiving the nations anymore."
In what way was Satan bound? Experience alone tells us Satan is not bound in the sense he can do nothing at all. Satan is not bound in the sense he can do no evil at all. Satan remains the terrifying enemy of the people of God. Someone we cannot ignore. Someone we would be foolish to ignore. In what way, then, was Satan bound? In the sense that he can no longer deceive the nations.
What kind of deceiving are we talking about? In Revelation 13, we are told that the false prophet deceived the inhabitants of the earth into idolatry (Rev 13:14ff). In Revelation 16, when the sixth bowl of wrath was poured out, three lying spirits deceived the kings of the world into gathering for the battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:12ff). According to Rev 20:8, Satan also deceives the nations and gathers them for battle.
Idolatry in place of whom? Battle against whom? The deception is aimed against God and Christ, the church and the Gospel. The aim is to destroy the church and to stop the spread of the Gospel.
Now, take a look at the situation in the Roman Empire at the time of John. Or, even before the time of Rome. How does Isaiah put it? He says, "darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples" (Is 60:2). Every city and town had its own idol, as did every trade guild. Religious perversions, abominations, and vices were the order of the day. The landscape was dominated by paganism. Satan was behind this. What did he do? What was he doing? He was deceiving the nations.
But then came Christ and the Gospel. Remember what the aged Simeon said as he held the Christ-child in His arms? He called Jesus "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Lk 2:32). Don't we see the fulfilment of this when Magi from the east came to worship Him (Mt 2:2)? Think, too, of Jesus' contact with various Gentiles: the Roman centurion (Mt 8:5), a Canaanite woman (Mt 15:22), a Samaritan woman (Jn 4), a bunch of Greeks (Jn 12:20). Think of the 72 who were sent out as missionaries; they preached the good news, they cast out evil spirits, they healed the sick. Remember what Jesus said about this? "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Lk 10:18). And, then, think of Pentecost. A crowd from every nation under heaven heard the Gospel and about three thousand repented and believed. After this, we see the Gospel being spread from Jerusalem to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of earth (Acts 1:8). Do you see what happened with the coming of Jesus? With the coming of Jesus, Satan was no longer deceiving the nations. Was he still powerful? Yes. Was he still tempting and luring? Yes. Was he still opposed to Christ and the Gospel and the worship of the one only true God? Of course! But he could no longer deceive the nations!
Why not? Because he has been bound! Because he has been thrown into the Abyss! I am speaking of the Gospel. I am speaking of the church's missionary task. I am speaking of the witness of God's people. Satan no longer is able to stop this as he did before the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus (cf Lk 10).
Let's fast forward to today. Every time a baby is baptized, every time someone professes their faith, every time a sinner repents, every time a church is planted, we see the binding of Satan. The Gospel is proclaimed in spite of Satan's hatred for it.
F In saying all of this, I have answered the main question: When is the millennium? When is the binding of Satan so he cannot prevent the proclamation of the Gospel? Isn't is now? Isn't it now, the time between Christ's two comings? Isn't it now, the time when the church is witnessing and growing? Isn't it now, the time when Satan is helpless to stop what is being done – the saving of many souls?
Do you see what the millennium means for the church on earth? It means she can proclaim the Gospel with confidence because Satan has been bound. It means we can have Faith Promise, Mission Emphasis, VBS, TASC, a radio ministry, Big Springs, church plants, and every other kind of mission project because Satan cannot stop us. The millennium means the Gospel will prevail. What comfort for pastors and missionaries, for churches and church plants – Satan cannot stop the spread of the Gospel!
II The Millennium and the Church in Heaven
A In Revelation 20:4-6 we come to John's fifth vision. Like the fourth vision, this one is also about the millennium. But, unlike the fourth vision, it is about the church in heaven.
During the millennium, the church on earth is able to do her work of witnessing because Satan is bound. What about the church in heaven? What is she doing during the millennium? Look at John's opening phrase: "I saw thrones" (Rev 20:4). The Revelation uses the word "throne" 46 other times – 41 times for the throne of God, 2 times for the twenty-four thrones of the twenty-four elders, and 3 times for the throne of Satan and the beast. What are thrones used for? You know. And, John tells us:
(Rev 20:4) I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge ... They ... reigned with Christ a thousand years.Thrones represent power, authority, and rule. Somehow, in someway, during the millennium the church in heaven rules and reigns with Christ.
B I keep mentioning the church in heaven. Who is in this church? Well, obviously, they are dead believers. For only dead believers are in heaven "with Christ" (Rev 20:4). But we can say more, because Revelation 20:4 says more. We see that John distinguishes two groups of people.
First, John mentions "the souls of those who had been beheaded" (Rev 20:4) because of their testimony for Jesus and the Gospel. John is talking, here, about all Gospel martyrs – not just those killed by beheading. We know that Christians were killed in different ways in the Roman Empire: crucifixion, burning, hungry lions in the Colosseum; but the most common way was beheading. However, what is important here is not the manner of their execution but the why of their execution. Why were they executed? They were executed "because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God" (Rev 20:4). So, the first group who reigns with Christ in heaven during the millennium are all Gospel martyrs.
Second, John mentions those who "had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands" (Rev 20:4). Unlike the first group, these are Christians whose lives are not cut short by martyrdom. Like the first group, these are Christians who are faithful to Christ and the Gospel. Or, to put it another way, these are Christians who do not succumb to the pressure of the world to practice idolatry.
Who reigns with Christ in heaven during the millennium? The soul of every person who perseveres to the end in faithfulness to Jesus Christ – whether that life is cut short by martyrdom, old age, disease, or warfare. In the language of Revelation 2 and 3, these people are "overcomers."
C Four words characterize the church's reign with Christ in heaven during the millennium.
The first word: judge. Notice what John writes about the church in heaven?
(Rev 20:4) I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge ...What happens to the church, the church ends up doing to the world. The world has judged Christians and condemned Christians and, in some cases, has even killed them. But in heaven the shoe is on the other foot and the church ends up judging the world.
The second word: resurrection. Notice what John calls life in heaven? He calls it the "first resurrection" (Jn 20:5). Implying what? Implying a second resurrection. Christians have died. What happens to them? They are brought into heaven's throne-room – not as dead souls, not as sleeping souls – but as living souls. As the song puts it:
By the sea of crystal saints in glory stand,As for the future, when Christ comes again, theirs will be the second resurrection – when their bodies are raised from the grave and reunited with their souls.
myriads in number, drawn from every land.
Robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus' blood,
they now reign in heaven with the Lamb of God.
Out of tribulation, death, and Satan's hand,
they have been translated at the Lord's command.
In their hands their holding palms of victory.
Hark! the jubilant chorus shouts triumphantly.
The third word, actually it is a phrase: blessed and holy. Notice what John says in verse 6:
(Rev 20:6) Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them ...Why are Christians in heaven during the millennium pronounced "blessed and holy." Because the "second death has no power over them." The "second death." Implying what? Implying a first death. The first death is the death of the body. The second death is the eternal death of the soul, being thrown into the lake of fire.
The fourth word: priests. Notice what John writes about the church in heaven during the millennium in verse 6:
(Rev 20:6) ... they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.In that time and place what was the benefit of being a priest? Priests served God. They could draw close to God when everyone else had to stand back. This implies intimacy. They are close to God, just like the twenty-four elders seated on twenty-four thrones surrounding the throne of God.
Do you see what the millennium means for the church in heaven? It means judge, resurrection, blessed and holy, and priests. Theirs is authority. Theirs is life. Theirs is blessing. Theirs is intimacy with God and Christ. What comfort this gives us as we face death – either our own or of a loved one!
In this discussion of the millennium, I've passed over the bulk of one verse. Listen to what John placed in parentheses:
(Rev 20:5) (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)During the millennium, every faithful Christian who dies goes to heaven to be with Christ. But what about those who are not believers? They die, just like believers. But, unlike believers, they do not experience the first resurrection. They die and remain in death. And someday, someday when the millennium is done, they will be raised only to be given the second death in the lake of fire (Rev 20:14-15).
Which group are you in? To which group do you belong? Are you one of those who witness to Christ while Satan is bound? Are you one of those who remain faithful to Christ whatever the cost? Are you one of those who will be translated at the Lord's command? Or, are you one of those who will be raised on the last day to be cast into the lake of fire?
During the millennium, I know where my comfort lies – not in the world, but in the Christ Whose coming means the binding of Satan and the reign of His people.
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