Pastor Scott Andrews | May 21, 2023
It’s great to be back with you. Tana and I took a vacation, to among other things, visit some kids and grandkids. Which means we came back to rest. I’m thankful for Brett Edwards of International Commission sharing with us a couple weeks ago – what a great and challenging missions Sunday that was. I’m also thankful for John LaShell taking Mother’s Day last Sunday – and he set an example I should have followed for the book of Revelation – he covered an entire book of the Bible in one Sunday.
We’ve been in Revelation for over a year now, with just a few weeks to go. And after months of judgment, wrath and destruction, we finally got to the last 4 chapters – good stuff like the hallelujah chorus, the marriage supper of the Lamb, the glorious return of Jesus Christ, the Battle of Armageddon, which was no battle at all – Jesus simply destroyed the armies gathered to oppose Him and cast the Antichrist and the False Prophet into the lake of fire. All that remains is chapter 20 with the resurrection of the just to life, and the resurrection of the unjust to judgment. Then we will finally get to chapters 21 and 22, the new heavens and new earth, when God will dwell with His people forever. Hallelujah, turn in your Bibles to the gospel of Luke.
We are on a sprint to the finish – all is good, right? We’ve rounded the corner, on the final homestretch, the crowd is cheering. Well, then I took my commentaries with me on vacation and read things like:
“Here we have the famous millennial text, certainly the most debated text in the book of Revelation…. This text is the most controversial in the book of Revelation, and interpreters debate the credibility of various millennial views.” Thomas Schreiner
“This brings us to one of the most difficult parts of the entire book. There have been endless disputes, some of them very bitter, over the way to understand this chapter. Evangelicals have divided from one another and sometimes have been quite intolerant of views other than those of their own group.” Leon Morris
“This is easily the best-known portion of the book as well as one of the most divisive passages in the Bible…. Few issues have divided the church for as long as this, for the church in the first three centuries had extensive debates over [the topic]. Grant Osborne
By the way, that last one I read first while on vacation. I don’t know why I did it – but there you go. It’s a good thing I had my wife, the beach and grandkids to distract me. Now, there are many more commentaries I could quote, but you get the idea – this is a challenging, church-dividing text. But I do want to quote some commentators who went on to say this:
Leon Morris says, “It is necessary to approach the chapter with humility and charity.” Listen, there are issues to divide over – I do not believe this is one of them.
Thomas Schreiner says, “Unfortunately, clarity will be lacking on this issue until Jesus returns. Fortunately, the central truth is that Jesus is indeed returning!”
Finally, Grant Osborne writes, “This issue will not be solved until the events take place, and then we will see who is ‘right.’ Until then, we should not fight over these issues but be ‘iron sharpening iron’ as we work together for the kingdom.”
That has hopefully been my attitude in approaching the entire book of Revelation – whether teaching a preterist, historical, idealist, or futurist view, a dispensational or covenant view, or a pretrib, midtrib, or posttrib rapture view. Hopefully by now, you even know what some of those words mean.
In regard to that hopefully gentle grace, I watched a video titled An Evening of Eschatology moderated by John Piper. Three others sat with him around a table discussing their respective millennial positions, which I will cover very briefly in a moment. They were Sam Storms representing the amillennial view, Doug Wilson representing the postmillennial view, and James Hamilton representing the premillennial view (which incidentally Piper holds). They were most gracious with one another while disagreeing and ended with a mutual commitment to Christ and His gospel, which includes the unerring promise of His return, and a mutual love for one another. I quote Doug Wilson, who along with Piper was most gracious and humorous, when he said, “I don’t mind changing my theology midair.”
I do not plan to thoroughly examine each position, and thereby bore you to tears, but simply give a definition. Understand, this is not a seminary class – and some of you would say, amen, you should remember that occasionally. I would suggest we have people holding each one of these views in this room. In fact, when I give you my position, some of you will undoubtedly be tempted to approach me following the service to set me straight. That’s fine, but understand three things: first, my position and yours can likely be substantiated biblically; second, they are held by various godly and biblical scholars, who agree to disagree. And third, you should know that I have Piper on my side, so good luck.
Before briefly summarizing the three positions, let’s go ahead and read the text, so you can settle into your likely already-held position. Revelation 20:1-10.
By way of continued introduction, what are those three positions on this text? Almost all the commentaries summarized them and then went on to gently suggest why their position was right – fingers crossed. That’s what I will do. I found this chart in Steve Gragg’s book, Revelation, Four Views, to be most helpful:
- The binding of Satan represents the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness accomplished at the cross. (Meaning, Satan was bound at the cross. Further, Satan’s binding was not complete, since he is obviously still active, but is bound or limited in regard to his ability to deceive the nations. Some say it this way – Satan is bound, but he has a long leash.)
- The 1,000 years is symbolic for a long, indeterminate period, corresponding to the age of the church. (That is, from the death of Christ to the return of Christ, so currently, 2,000 years and counting. Which means, the millennium is happening right now in heaven – not on earth.)
- Satan will be loosed briefly to wreak havoc and to persecute the church at the end of the present (church) age.
- The fire coming from heaven and consuming the wicked is symbolic of Christ’s Second Coming.
- A general resurrection and judgment of the evil and the good will occur at Christ’s coming, followed by the creation of the new heaven and a new earth. (By the way, the first resurrection is a spiritual resurrection when people are saved, brought from spiritual death to spiritual life, and the second resurrection is a physical resurrection when all are raised to life for judgment.)
- Please note, the millennium is a current kingdom being presently enjoyed in heaven by those who are there. When Jesus returns, He will return with His people, destroy Satan after he has been released, throw him into the lake of fire where he will join the Antichrist and False Prophet as well as all unbelievers, and we will enter the eternal state in the new heaven and the new earth.
- Simply stated, Jesus returns at the end of the millennium.
- Some interpret the chapter essentially as do the amillennialists, but with an added note of optimism about the success of the gospel in the present age. (That’s important – those holding this view generally agree that the gospel will successfully permeate the earth, which means, the world will at some point largely then be Christianized.)
- Some see the binding of Satan to represent a future point when the successful preaching of the gospel will have effectively reduced Satan’s influence to nothing. (In other words, it’s the church and the success of the gospel that bind Satan.)
- The 1,000 years may or may not be a literal duration, but speaks of the future glorious age (sometimes called the golden age), prior to the Second Coming, in which the influence of the gospel will have universal sway.
- A final attempt on the part of a loosed Satan at the end of the age will get nowhere. (In fact, Satan and those who join him will be defeated and cast into the lake of fire.)
- A general resurrection and judgment of all people will occur at the coming of Christ.
Are you still with me? Let’s look at the third view:
Premillennial Approach (I dare say most of you have been taught and hold this view.)
- The binding of Satan is yet future. It will take place when Christ returns (since Satan is obviously very active today, as is noted throughout the NT. Incidentally, when Christ returns, the first resurrection will take place – that is, the bodily resurrection of the just, since they will rule with Him. The second resurrection that we read about in verses 11ff is the resurrection of the unjust to face judgment.)
- The 1,000 years is a literal period during which Christ will reign on earth from Jerusalem, with His people.
- The loosing of Satan will bring the Millennium to a climax (when Satan is defeated), followed by the resurrection and judgment of the wicked at the Great White Throne.
- The new heaven and new earth will be created after the Millennium, i.e., 1,000 years after Christ’s Second Coming, and then we will enter the eternal state.
So those are generally the three positions, with some variations in each one. Now, as I reviewed those positions, were you able to determine which one you hold? How many of you don’t care – that is, you’ll decide midair? I have told you that I hold a futurist view of the book of Revelation, which also means I hold the millennium to be future – in other words, I don’t believe we’re in it right now – in heaven or on earth. And so I generally hold a premillennial view of this chapter, and will teach it as such.
You see, while I understand the book is not always strictly chronological, a simple and clear reading of the text seems somewhat chronological. That is, the Second Coming is followed by the battle of Armageddon in which the False Prophet and Antichrist are cast into the lake of fire. But the dragon – Satan – is still loose. Until we get to chapter 20 – after the return of Christ. Then Satan will be bound for 1,000 years locked up in the abyss, after which he will be fully and finally defeated, cast into the lake of fire, and then we enter the eschaton, the new heaven and the new earth.
So let’s make our way briefly through this text, since I’ve already largely taught it, with this outline:
- Satan is Bound (1-3)
- Christ’s Millennial Reign (4-6)
- Satan’s Ultimate Defeat (7-10)
By the way, if we continued the outline, which we will next week, in verses 11-15, we see the judgment of the unrighteous, the unbelievers, at the second resurrection.
So look at verses 1-3 to see Satan Bound. An angel comes down from heaven, holding the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. Now, we saw an angel with the key to the abyss come down from heaven in chapter 9 to release the horde of locusts – demons, remember that? There, as God’s judgment was being poured out, the angel released the demons. Now, the prince of demons is to be chained and locked in the abyss. Obviously, this is apocalyptic language – Satan is a spirit, a fallen angel, and we don’t think of him being chained, but the idea is he is completely restrained.
Look at verse 2 – it’s as if John is making a point. The angel lays hold of the dragon (who is also the serpent of old who deceived Eve, the devil and Satan, our adversary who is the deceiver and slanderer and accuser of the children of God), and bound him for a thousand years. Yes, I know this is apocalyptic, but notice John uses that term – a thousand years – six times in these verses. And notice the completeness of the binding – he is bound, the angel threw him into the abyss, he shut it, and he sealed it. It sure doesn’t seem like Satan is merely on a leash. He will be locked away. And yet, everyone agrees he is active now – but he will not be then. He will be completely confined, for one thousand years so as to not deceive the nations any longer.
During this age, he has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they will not see the glory of the gospel. He has been the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit of the sons of disobedience. He prowls around, looking for someone to devour – I believe by his deception, possession, or oppression. But no longer. He will be bound, completely helpless the text seems to say, in the abyss, the bottomless pit, for a thousand years. Yes, at the end he will be released for a short time. Why? We’ll come back to that in a moment.
Which brings us to our second point, the Millennial Reign of Christ, in verses 4-6. John says, then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. He doesn’t clearly identify who they are. It could be referring to a heavenly court, like the 24 elders sitting on thrones. But the rest of the verse seems to identify who they are, but even that is a little ambiguous. John says he saw the souls of those who had been beheaded – speaking of martyrdom – because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God.
That is a clear reference to the fifth seal back in chapter 6. Remember when the fifth seal was opened, John saw underneath the altar in heaven the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony which they maintained. And we saw them cry out, how long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth? And they were given white robes and told to wait a little while longer until the number of those who would be similarly killed would be completed.
So, in chapter 20, these who had been killed for their faith, came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years – the same thousand years. But now look closely at the middle of verse 4, And I saw the souls – that is, disembodied souls awaiting the resurrection of their martyred bodies – some call this this intermediate state. In other words, when people die as believers, their bodies are buried awaiting future resurrection, but their souls immediately go to heaven to be with Jesus. But at the second coming, their bodies will be resurrected. Remember, Jesus promised this – to the thief on the cross, today you will be with Me in paradise. And we remember Paul said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Again, this is that intermediate or disembodied state.
We also remember Jesus said, there is coming a day when all those who are in the grave will hear His voice and come out. Be physically raised to life. (Lazarus) That seems to be what is happening here with the martyrs – but the verse goes on, the souls of those martyred because of their faith, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead or on their hand – they came to life. So clearly believers, not just those beheaded, came back to life and reign with Christ. I think it is all believers of all time.
My brothers and sisters, this promise is made to us throughout Scripture. In chapter 3 of this book, Jesus said to the church of Laodicea, “he who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne.” In chapter 2, Jesus told the church in Thyatira, “he who overcomes…to him I will give authority over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.” He had told His disciples that they would sit on thrones judging the tribes of Israel. Paul had said in I Corinthians 6, “Don’t you know that the saints will judge the world?” In II Timothy, he said, if we endure, we will also reign with Him.
It’s all over. The point is, in Revelation 20, while special attention is given to the martyrs, the Scripture seems clear that believers will reign and even judge with Christ – I think right here during the Millennial Kingdom.
But notice verse 5, the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. So again, I think all believers will be resurrected at the second coming – the first resurrection – and will reign with Christ. The rest of the dead will be resurrected one thousand years later to face the Great White Throne judgment.
And so, verse 6, blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power. We will find the second death is to be cast into eternal torment in the lake of fire. We will look at that next week. But here, those in the first resurrection will instead be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. We remember the song of the 24 elders and the four living creatures in chapter 5, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom of priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Fulfilled, I think, right here.
But at the end of the thousand years or the Millennium, Satan will be released, which brings us to our last point, Satan’s Ultimate Defeat in verses 7-10. Let me simply work our way through these verses. When the thousand years is completed, Satan will be released from his prison – you see, he has been confined, not on a leash.
And he will come out to once again deceive the nations which are throughout the four corners of the earth – Gog and Magog. Gog is the king, Magog is the land or its people. This is reference to Ezekiel 38 and 39 which speaks of the unbelieving armies of the world gathering for one final assault against Christ. By the way, in Ezekiel 40-48, we then have a description of the temple which I think is a description of the new heaven and the new earth.
Anyway, the armies will gather, and their number will be as the sands of the sea. Don’t miss that. You see, when the Millennium begins, it will be inhabited by resurrected saints who will reign with Christ, it appears, from the beloved city – that is, Jerusalem. But, not all people will be believers in the Millennium. Where did they come from? Before the Second Coming, the armies of the world will gather at the Battle of Armageddon, and they will be defeated and destroyed at the coming of Christ. But that’s not everyone – that’s the armies. Those left alive in the nations will enter the Millennial Kingdom and will live, bear children, and will be ruled by Christ. We’ll come back to that.
Verse 9, they will all gather in the broad plain of the earth – that is, throughout the earth – in rebellion against Christ. And they will surround the camp of the saints – a metaphor for believers, especially around the capital and beloved city of Jerusalem. Then fire will come from heaven and devour them once and for all. Once again, there is not a war – it is over in an instant.
And then the devil who deceived them will be thrown into the lake of fire where the Antichrist and the False Prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And we say hallelujah, because the enemy of God has been defeated. Keep that in mind – we’ll look at that again next week.
Here’s the question as we close – why? Why the Millennial Kingdom, why Satan bound, why unbelievers in the Kingdom where they are ruled perfectly by Christ, why is Satan released, and why do they rebel? Great questions. And the answer is simply this. The earth dwellers or unbelievers on the earth have been given opportunity time and time again to repent and turn in faith to Christ. And yet, they have rejected every opportunity to do so. During the Millennium, they are forced to experience the glorious reign of Christ for 1,000 years without Satan to deceive them. Yet, when he is released, they all flock to him and follow him in his continued rebellion against God.
The purpose of all this is to demonstrate the depth and power of total depravity, and to justify the necessity of eternal punishment. It proves that even 1,000 years of Christ’s benevolent and righteous reign is not enough to overturn the earth dwellers’ allegiance to Satan. And so, while we say hallelujah to the unholy trinity being cast into the eternal torment of the lake of fire, we will also recognize its just deserts for those who continue to rebel against God. And by the way, it also serves as final vindication for those who have followed Christ, despite the great cost of doing so.
And so here’s the question for you this morning. Will you bow your knee in humble repentance and faith to Jesus Christ, or will you continue in your stiff-necked opposition and rebellion, having heard the end that awaits each choice?