The twentieth chapter of
the book of Revelation falls into four natural divisions: the binding of Satan
(20:1-3), the reign of the saints (20:4-6), the loosing of Satan (20:7-10), and
the judgment (20:11-15). Two of these subdivisions, the binding of Satan and
the reign of the saints, occur during the millennial period. After the
millennium is over, Satan is released for “a little season” (20:3), and
following this last great apostasy, the dead stand before God’s judgment seat.
Thus the chronological sequence is: the millennium (20:1-6), followed by Satan’s
last rebellion (20:7-10), followed in turn by the judgment 20:11-15). The
central question that must be answered in any study of Revelation twenty is the
time of the millennium: is it future, as certain postmillennialists and all
premillennialists maintain, or is it already present, as many postmillennialists
and all amillennialists believe?
The above terms describe the second coming of Christ in relation to the millennial period. The word millennium is based on the Latin translation of the terms rendered “thousand years” in English Bibles. Representatives of all three views regard the words as symbolic of a long period of time, thousand representing greatness. However, many premillennialists would view the time as meaning exactly one thousand years. A premillennialist believes that the return of Christ will precede the millennium, while a postmillennialist believes that Jesus will return after the millennium. Amillennialism literally means “no millennium” and is perhaps a misleading term in as much as amillennialists do believe in the millennial period, but they believe that it has already begun and is a symbolic way of referring to the time between Christ’s first and second comings.
The term amillennialism serves to distinguish those who do not believe in a future millennium from those who do. Both amillennialists and postmillennialists believe that Jesus will return bodily from heaven after the millennial period to judge the living and the dead. The greatest difference between them lies in their beliefs concerning good and evil. The amillennialist believes good and evil exist side by side during the millennium, whereas the postmillennialist believes that good will triumph over evil before the return of Christ.
THE BINDING OF SATAN (20:1-3)
The time of the millennium is tied to the time of Satan’s binding and the reign of the saints according to Revelation 20:1-6. It must be noted at the outset that this binding of Satan is not said to be a total captivity. It is only in reference to the deceiving of the nations that he is bound; nothing else is said concerning the effect of the binding of this spiritual being than this in Revelation twenty.
Does the Word of God have anything to say on this subject elsewhere? In Matthew 12:29 Christ speaks of the binding of Satan. In order to ascertain the time of this event, the whole passage must be considered (Matthew 12:22-32). It contains the account of Jesus’ healing a demon-possessed man. Being freed from his bondage to Satan, this formerly blind and dumb man now both saw and spoke. This wonderful sign had eschatological (having to do with the last days or the end time) significance to the Jewish people, who responded in amazement by saying. “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:23) Realizing the effect of the healing on the people, the Pharisees sought to undermine the power of Jesus by saying that he cast out demons by the power of the prince of demons, Satan (Beelzebub).
Jesus refutes the Pharisees’ charge and then presses the point of what the people had been saying about the Davidic kingdom: “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28). The force of this passage must not be missed, for the Lord Jesus here proclaims that the Messianic age has already begun. He speaks of the arrival of the kingdom of God not in a future tense but in a past tense. The presence of the kingdom of God means that Satan’s kingdom will now be plundered, but this plundering is not possible without the previous binding of Satan: “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house” (Matthew 12:29). But what is the healing of the demon-possessed man but the plundering of Satan’s kingdom? And this means that Christ had to bind the Devil prior to this healing. The healing was thus irrefutable evidence to the Jewish people that the Kingdom of God had come and that Jesus was none other than the Messiah who, having bound Satan, would now spoil his house.
The writer of Hebrews gives the reason why Jesus came to earth: “Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14, 15 NASB). What did Jesus’ death accomplish? It bound Satan, so that his captives could be freed from his tyrannical kingdom and transplanted into the kingdom of grace. Jesus’ death results in the Devil’s being cast out and his former slaves being drawn to Christ. “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:31-33). Thus the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry marks the beginning of the end for Satan; and Jesus’ blood seals the Devil’s doom.
THE REIGN OF THE SAINTS (20:4-6)
In light of his coming death, Jesus sent out his disciples; “he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1, 2). The disciples met with success: when the seventy returned to Christ, they reported “with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” (Luke 10:17) Jesus responds by saying, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” Luke 10:18, 19).
This promise sheds light on the great commission. Because the Lord Jesus had bound Satan, the Church would have success. Where she preached, the nations would be won to the Savior, for Satan was bound “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended” (Revelation 20:3). Thus the early Christians were called kings because they shared in the resurrection reign of Christ. John writes to the seven churches of Asia and informs them that they have already been made kings and priests through Christ (Revelation 1:6). And this reigning with Christ results in further plundering of Satan’s house.
THE FIRST RESURRECTION (20:4-6)
The saints themselves are rescued from Satan’s bondage by the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. This is the meaning of the first resurrection in Revelation 20:6. There is no evidence at all in the passage that this is a physical resurrection. Who is better to consult on the meaning of the two resurrections than the Apostle John himself? Turning to the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel one finds a description of the two resurrections: the first resurrection mentioned there is the new birth. This does not happen to all men: “The Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it” (John 5:21). Only those who hear and believe have “crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). “The second death (eternal punishment) has no power over them” (Revelation 20:6); they have “eternal life and will not be condemned” (John 5:24). True believers are those who “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), but they have heard the voice of the Son of God, and they therefore now live (John 5:25). The words “now is” are found in John 5:25, but not in John 5:28. The resurrection of dead sinners occurs today when men are born again through the foolishness of preaching (1 Peter 1:23-25).
This first resurrection brings the King of heaven into the heart of the believer. And because believers are “in Christ,” they are “blessed with all Spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Such is the glorious fulness of being “in Christ,” that the believer is said to sit with Christ even now on the throne of his glory (Ephesians 2:6). This Spiritual resurrection makes the Christian really and truly a citizen of heaven. This is why Paul urges believers to seek heavenly things, because they already have been resurrected with Christ (Colossians 3:1, 2). The Church even now has “come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God . . . to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven . . . to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). The grammatical force of this passage and of Ephesians 2:6 cannot be missed: the believer is now seated with Christ in heaven; the communion of the saints is between the saints of all times, the living and the dead; and this is all tied to the resurrection that the Holy Spirit produces in the heart of every child of God. To be “in Christ” is to be reigning with him even now in heaven.
Now, is this not that of which John writes in Revelation 20:4-6? Does not the writer to the Hebrews speak of a communion between the living saints and the departed martyrs in the above passage? The souls of the departed are in heaven, and they share in the Lord Jesus’ reign there. But the exile church here on earth shares, in a measure, in that blessed heavenly communion, too. Because they have the marks of heavenly grace in their hearts, the earthly saints will not worship the beast, nor receive his mark (Revelation 20:4). Surely then that person is truly blessed who has been born again, for he has been born into a heavenly kingdom. He is with Christ, and Christ is with him. On him the second death shall have no power, for he already possesses eternal life.
THE SECOND RESURRECTION AND THE JUDGMENT (20:11-15)
The second resurrection comes after the millennium; it is described in Revelation 20:11-15. Here, John sees all people stand before God, both the small and the great. Not only the grave, but even the sea yields up the bodies of its dead. Unlike the first resurrection, which happens only to the church, the second resurrection is for all people. When one turns back to John 5 and consults verses 28 and 29, he finds that the Lord is speaking now of that physical resurrection. The words “and now is” which are found in John 5:25 concerning the resurrection of the inner person are not found here in John 5:28 for this resurrection has not yet happened.
The second resurrection of John five is still future for it concerns “all that are in the graves” (vs. 28). They, both saved and lost, shall stand in resurrected bodies before the Lord. Then the books shall be opened; then the sins of all people shall be made open to all; then even the saints should perish for their sins, were there not for another book, the book of life. All whose names are in it will be saved, but “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Thus it can be seen that John 5 speaks of two resurrections: the first is the resurrection of the inner man, and the second is the resurrection of the outer man, the body. There is only one physical resurrection, and it occurs at the last day. An examination of the passages that deal with the judgment will verify this: e.g. Matthew 13:36-43, 47-50; 25:31-46; John 5:28,29; Revelation 11:18; 20:11-15. And from those passages that deal specifically with the physical resurrection of believers there is no evidence that this takes place on a separate day from the resurrection of unbelievers (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
THE LOOSING OF SATAN (20:7-10)
At the end of the millennium, but before the second resurrection, the great apostasy occurs; this is recorded in Revelation 20:7-9. The present age in which the church finds herself will not continue for ever; the Millennial age has continued now almost two thousand years. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:9). “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise” (2 Peter 3:10).
The time is delayed; the Millennium is prolonged out of the mere mercy and long suffering of God, that people should be saved (2 Peter 3:10). But before the Lord returns, there must first be a falling away, “and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). In no small measure, the gospel has already triumphed over Satan around the world. Once the Kingdom was confined to a little country in Palestine; now people from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation have been released from Satan’s prison house and have become part of that heavenly kingdom of priests (Revelation 5:9, 10; 1 Peter 2:9, 10).
Christians tend to forget the tremendous triumphs of Christ’s kingdom over the kingdom of the now bound Satan. Not only have countless millions been saved from hell, but even over the lost the gospel has reigned. Christian principles of philosophy, science, and government have had a tremendous effect in restraining wickedness during this era. Has the Church yet experienced that time of triumph when as the prophets said, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9)? In a measure, yes, but only God determines the full measure of this prior to the return of Christ.
Does further revival and a great sweeping of people into the kingdom lie ahead? The Church can only pray that such will be the case. But whether it does or not, one thing is certain—these blessed conditions shall cease for a season, and that season may be near. It will be a time of terrible persecution for Christians, a time when the nominally Christian world will remove its mask and reject every semblance of Christian thinking. Satan once again will run wild with the world. Then, in the middle of this persecution the trumpet will sound, and all believers from all times will be caught up to join the returning Lord; then all will stand before God, and time shall be no more.
In summary, Revelation twenty deals with the now present Christian era and those things that will follow it. Verses one through six paint a graphic picture of the positive and negative aspects of that era. It is a time when those who have been born again reign with Christ. It is a time when the great foe who was defeated at Calvary has his kingdom plundered—multitudes are won from Satan’s kingdom in order to be united with the ascended Lord in heaven. But this gospel era comes to an end. Satan is released for a little season once again to deceive the nations. In Verses seven through ten this rejection of the gospel and of all Christian law and order is described. Finally the Lord Jesus returns; his saints are physically resurrected to meet him in the air. But the Lord does not pause or retreat back to heaven with his saints. Instead he presses on towards the judgment, and all men, in one great judgment, stand before the Triune God. Those who are not elect find their everlasting doom in hell fire, justly punished for their sins recorded in the books. However, true believers survive this judgment, solely because of electing grace.
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