1. And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3. and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: after this he must be loosed for a little time. 4. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
The second coming of Christ and the signs of the limes preparatory to his coming is always a much discussed subject in a day such as ours. Earlier news releases from the publicity offices of the World Council of Churches, for example, indicated that the Christian hope will be a chief topic of discussion at its Evanston conference.
Among the signs of the times which the Bible pictures is the one found in the last chapter of Daniel, “Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased.” This does not refer to modern rapid travel by means of airplanes, automobiles, submarines, and the like. The idea is rather that there shall be a running to and fro on the written or printed page of the Scriptures. Thus many shall run to and fro studying the prophecies and knowledge shall thereby be increased.
There shall also be wars and rumors of wars, famines, and pestilences in various places. These signs accumulate in one place while they decrease in another. They may be more numerous here, less numerous in Asia, or vice-versa, at a certain time. They are like the tide which ebbs and flows, but withal they are so prevalent that there is no point in history in which men would have had excuse if Christ had come then. Even at the time of the apostles signs of the times were so numerous that they were ever alert for his return, and such has been the case with God’s expectant people ever since.
The Bible also connects the second coming of Jesus Christ with the well-known thousand years of Revelation 20. In our present consideration of this period we propose to discuss two matters: (1) the thousand years in connection with the binding of Satan; and (2) the thousand years in connection with the life and reign of the saints, who rule with Christ for a thousand years.
I. The Binding of Satan
In the vision which comprises our text (Rev. 20:1–4) we see that Satan wiII be bound with a chain and cast into the bottomless pit. The question here is, In what way does the Lord bind Satan? We read that Satan will be bound so that he call deceive the nations no more (vs. 3). Later, when the thousand year period is fulfilled, he will be loosed so that he can again deceive the nation Now what do you mean by this, that he will deceive the nations? And is that the only respect in which he will be bound? In other words, will Satan be bound so that he can not make any kind of a move, or will he be bound in only a single respect, namely, the deception of the nations?
Other Biblical References to the Binding of Satan
There are several passages in Scripture which speak of a binding of Satan. We read in Peter’s second epistle that the angels, of whom Satan was one, having sinned were not left in heaven, but were cast out and delivered into chains of darkness (I Peter 2:4). You will notice that the wicked angels are bound. This binding is of a certain kind, not in every respect but only in a certain respect, since Peter himself declares elsewhere that Satan goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8). Surely, a devil of lion-like ferociousness walking about is not bound in every respect!
Satan, then, must be loose in at least some respect. But he is also bound, and the rest of the wicked angels with him, in at least one respect. Peter indicates that they are bound in “chains of darkness.” Now we, too, are by nature in darkness, but our bonds and chains of darkness can be broken. When that occurs we are then brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light and into the kingdom of his dear Son. But the Bible gives no ground for thinking that this is the case with Satan and the evil spirits, the fallen angels. They are forever bound in darkness, and will eventually be cast into outer darkness. With respect to darkness. therefore, they are indeed bound, but this binding must not be extended beyond this point if we arc to remain with the actual teaching of the passage. Surely this instance ought to serve as a warning for us when we return presently to Revelation 20, for the probability is that if the binding in Peter’s second epistle is only with regard to a very specific thing, so also there we are likely to find it to refer only to a certain, specified aspect of Satan’s work.
We find another illustration of the binding of Satan in the life of Job. We need not repeat the story in every detail, but the Lord granted permission for Satan to test job, binding him, however, by refusing him the right to take away Job’s health (1:12). Satan’s first attempt to make Job disloyal to the Lord fails (1:20–22). He returns to aver that Job will prove disloyal if his health is taken away. The Lord then allows Satan to proceed to take away Job’s health, stipulating. however, that he may not take away Job’s life (2:4–6). So we see Satan bound again; he cannot take away Job’s life.
We read in the Bible that God will not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to bear (I Cor. 10:13), which means that Satan is in a sense bound that way in our lives too. “So far and no farther” is the rule for Satan. That, therefore, is an example of Satan being bound even to the very present, even as he is in all reality bound in chains of darkness to the present day. Surely Satan was not bound in every respect insofar as Job was concerned, as we can easily see from the biblical account. This binding is it binding in a single respect, namely, that specified in the text.
The life of Christ offers another illustration of the binding of Satan. In his day certain opponents said that our Lord was casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of devils (Matt. 12:21; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15). In reply Jesus tells a parable. No one can rob a strong man of his properly unless he first bind that strong man. Strictly speaking, Jesus doesn’t say in this connection “strong man” but “strong one,” and that is Satan. In other words, Jesus means to say that he has so bound Satan that he can cast out devils. Again, however, this binding is prescribed; Satan is not bound in every respect.
From these biblical illustrations of the binding of Satan we notice that although this binding is very real, nevertheless it is in every instance a binding specified with respect to a certain feature of Satan’s activity. He is until this very day bound in hopeless darkness, restrained by the Lord from going one step farther than the Lord will allow him to go in his terrible work of temptation, and until this present day he is also bound in such a way that our Savior can rescue people out of his clutches.
The Deceiving of the Nations
We return now to Revelation 20, especially the first four verses. Seeing that other biblical references to the binding of Satan indicate (1) that Satan is actually bound, but (2) that this is a binding only with respect to it given feature of his activity, we will do well to consider that one respect in which Satan is said to be bound here rather than to imagine a number of additional applications.
What does the binding of Satan consist of in our text? It is that Satan is bound so that he can no longer deceive the nations (vs. 3). We read later in the chapter (vs. 8) that Satan is loosed so that he “shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth…”
To what does Satan’s deceiving of the nations refer? What is meant by the word nations, and what is so significant about Satan’s deceiving of them that it is necessary for him to be bound in this respect?
Looking up the word for “nations” in the Greek and the Hebrew original languages of the New and Old Testaments, respectively, we find that in both of these languages there is it special word which designates those nations which are outside of the covenant of grace. That word is sometimes translated “nations” and sometimes as “Gentiles.” Then we find another word which applies to the people or nation within the covenant. This nation is considered to be the people of God, the covenant people. These two words are in general distinguished that way in the Greek and in the Hebrew.
Here in Revelation 20 we have the nations as outside of the covenant, sometimes called Gentiles, and we read that Satan will no longer deceive them because he is bound, but what are Gentiles? It is at the time of Abraham that the distinction between the people of God and the Gentiles becomes explicit, when the Lord promises to make Abraham a great, covenant people in distinction from the others who are looked upon as the heathen or Gentiles. These heathen peoples or Gentiles do not keep God in remembrance, and he gives them over unto their wickedness and the devil deceives them.
The devil deceives them so thoroughly that they are willing to bow down to idols of wood and stone, thinking that this will help them. One must be greatly deceived to think that such activity will benefit. Suppose that today we would go to a large museum displaying old idols and select one of the most impressive made, we’ll say, alit of marble and decorated with gold and silver and precious stones. Let us then proceed with it to one of our large penitentiaries and say to its prisoners, “Now, men, here is one of the finest idols in the world. You can easily see that it is a wonderful piece of work. Very precious materials went into it. We have selected for you a very expensive one. Bow down and worship it. It is one of the best in all the world!”
What do you think these men would say? Why, they would be quick to reply that they know better than to do that. They would tell you that such deception cannot be perpetrated upon them. After all, they went to Sunday School, they have heard preaching from the Bible, their parents or grandparents knew the Bible. No,—you can’t fool them—but the devil did deceive their forbears in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and on down the line.
But then Jesus came and commanded that the Gospel be preached to all nations. “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth” why that power? Not only to make the Gospel powerful but also to hold the devil in check so that he can no longer deceive the nations, That Gospel gets into the nations and bears fruit there, even though Satan would like to prevent the Gospel from getting among the heathen nations. The devil is bound so that he can no longer deceive India and the Gospel gets there! The devil is bound so that he can no longer deceive Africa and the Gospel get., there! Occasionally some are martyred, but not so that the Gospel cause does not go forward. Fact is, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church!
A different situation will come to pass, however. Satan will be loosed again so that he can deceive the nations, So also in 2 Thessalonians we read of that situation in which it is said that God will send a “strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2:11). This refers to a people who have turned their back upon the Gospel, living in that age of which Jesus makes mention when he asks, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith upon the earth?” For this reason the Lord will smite them with a strong delusion so then they will believe a lie.
Then is ushered in the era of the man of sin, the Antichrist. In that time a “strong delusion” will be prominent, which means deception and lying. Who is going to tell the lies? God? Of course not! The good angels? No! The faithful Church? Hardly. Who then? AI! the Lord needs to do is to release the wicked angels and they will indeed spread the lie in such a fashion as predicted by that incident in the story of Micaiah the son of Imlah in which we see the lying spirit pul into the mouths of the false prophets.
What kind of a lie do these lying spirits tell? Two times two is five? No, but rather that Jesus is not the Son of God, that there is no triune God, that Jesus did not die in order to make atonement for the sim of his people, etc. You might say that these arc equally or more foolish lies than that two times two is five, and you would be right. And so God will smite such a faithless people, people who love darkness rather than light, who have turned their back upon the Gospel, with a strong delusion so that they will believe a lie, ridiculous as it might be. This corresponds with that which we find in Revelation 20, namely, the loosing of Satan in order once again to deceive the nations.
“Thousand” Years, Literal or Symbolical?
When will all this transpire? In Thessalonians you find this presented as happening just before Christ’s second coming, in the time of the Antichrist. How long will Antichrist have the great political power which is ascribed to him? Not too long, evidently, and then the Lord will come to conquer the man of sin.
Antichrist is in existence then right up to the second coming of Christ. During his time the devil and his hosts will again be loosed so that they can once more deceive the nations into believing a lie. Now, if the lime of Antichrist goes right up until the return of our Lord we get this kind of interpretation: the thousand years in which Satan was bound covers the period from which Jesus said, preach the Gospel to all nations until the time of Antichrist.
When did Jesus say, preach the Gospel to all nations? Just before he ascended to heaven. That marks the end of his first coming, therefore. When will Antichrist come? Just prior to Christ’s second coming. So the thousand years would be that great stretch between Christ’s first coming and the Antichrist, or that time just prior to our Lord’s return. Strictly speaking, you have a slight differential of a few years involved in the beginning of this period when the apostles had to spend some time getting this world-wide preaching mission underway, and at the end between the loosing of Satan, the appearance of Antichrist. and the second coming. Nevertheless, the great era of the thousand rears is roughly between the first and second coming of Christ.
But, you reply, that is not strictly a thousand year period. We are now more than a thousand years removed from Christ’s first coming. May you so interpret this expression thousand years as to represent an era much longer than a literal period of that length?
Yes, we may, In a previous chapter (Rev. 13) you have the number 666 given as the number of man. Did anyone have this number as his name? I have met people with such numbers as seven and thirteen for their name, but did you ever see a man with 666 as his name? Oh, you say, I don’t expect to meet him, because that is a symbolical number, not to be taken literally. Similarly, we take the number 1000 as a symbolical rather than a literal number.
But how does that work out? Let’s take the numbers ten, hundred, and thousand and look at them both from the literal and symbolical points of view. First the number ten. Ten cents equals one dime. One cent too many or too few and it is no longer a dime. Symbolically, we find in the Scriptures the account of the ten virgins, five wise, five foolish. Are there only five wise in heaven and only five foolish in hell? Of course not, and thus we see that the number is used symbolically. One hundred cents makes one dollar. One cent too many or one too few makes it wrong. But symbolically taken, a man has a hundred sheep and one of them will astray. Is there only one person that ever went astray? A thousand cents equals one ten dollar hill. Again just one cent less or one more and you no longer have a ten dollar bill. But the Scriptures tell us that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as one day. Can you also say that with the Lord one day is as 500 years and 500 years as one day? Yes, in fact you can even say that 10,000 years with the Lord is as one day, and a day as 10,000 years!
$0, we believe, the number thousand is used in Revelation 20. It symbolizes a long era not necessarily limited to exactly one thousand years. That this is a strong possibility has been shown by the citations above in which we have seen (1) that Satan is bound indeed, but that the Scriptures usually indicate exactly the single respect in which this binding takes place; and (2) that the time of this binding is the “thousand years”—the complete period between Christ’s ascension and return, the time in which the Gospel is to be proclaimed to the Gentiles.
II. The Reign of the Faithful
Our second main thought is concerned with those souls who will live and reign with Christ for a thou· s.and years. Who are they? First of all, the text tells us then they are the souls of those that were beheaded for the witness or Jesus. Their bodies were beheaded, but their souls go to heaven and there live and reign with Christ for a thousand years. Are these the only ones so glorified? No, there is a further description of this group as those who have not worshipped the beast or his image. This is the beast mentioned in Revelation 13 and 19. Very quickly, let us say that this beast represents the evil world. There al”e those that worship the world with mind and hand, bearing upon their forehead and hand the mark of the beast. But all who remain faithful to Christ martyred or not—reign with him.
What is the Sign of the Beast?
What sign do you have upon your forehead? Looking into a mirror you fail to discover any there. That, of course, doesn’t mean that you don’t possibly bear such a sign. To illustrate: you will remember that baptism is a sign and seal of saving grace. If you are baptized you have a sign upon your forehead, to which you must remain true and faithful. But there are those who wandering to do with their Lord and with their baptism. Instead they prefer to worship the world. They belong to the world. To it they give their devotion, heart, mind and hand. Upon their forehead they bear the sign of the world. You may not be able to see it, but it is very much there nevertheless. Such people worship the beast and his image.
Now that could be an image of wood or stone but it doesn’t need to be. The image of God is also an image, but it is not an image of wood or stone. We might say that the image of the beast or the image of the world is just the opposite of the image of God. In some sense or other there are people that worship the world, feel that they belong to the world and thus have the sign of the world upon their forehead and right hand. Christians, most certainly, do not want such a mark upon them!
Now the Bible here declares that the souls of them who do not have the sign of the beast upon their forehead and upon their hand live and reign with Christ for a thousand years. The location of their reign is, of course, that place where the souls of God’s people go after death—heaven. Those martyred for the faith and those not martyred but nevertheless loyal to Christ and therefore without the mark of the beast reign with the Lamb, the ascended Christ. Following Calvary the reign of the Lamb begins. The thousand years, we see once again, begins with the ascension.
How long do those souls live and reign with Christ as souls? Until they get their bodies back, which will happen when Christ returns in his second coming. So again the thousand years is from Christ’s first to his second coming, or approximately so And the reign of these faithful souls is the first resurrection, and they escape the consequences of the second death. If we remember that the Bible teaches consistently that our souls are dead in sins and trespasses we can see easily how the regeneration of believers can be termed a resurrection. The first resurrection is the new birth, the recreation in Jesus Christ unto good works. That life is ours now. In place of sin and misery we have life, the beginning of the new life.
Do we have it perfectly complete today? No, the Bible and the Reformed confessional standards stress that we have only a small beginning o( the new obedience (I John 1:8; Rom. 7:14, 15; Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 44, q. 114). We still have sin to contend with. But when we die the soul goes to heaven. It leaves behind that sinful pollution, those sinful traits, that sinful nature, the “old man.” Having had a beginning comparable to the bud, it now blossoms out into a beautiful flower to the praise of God.
No longer is there constant struggle between flesh and Spirit, life and death within the believer! The soul now lives, not only, but even reigns. Here our souls are often apparently defeated by the sin which so easily besets us, and we are not triumphant as we ought to be over everything that would deter us from serving our Lord. But when the soul gets to heaven it is no longer opposed by the evil nature, the old man of sin. It lives and reigns with Christ. And that is the first resurrection. Such a soul has made the great transition from being dead in sin and misery to complete lire in Christ. Until Christ’s return which will be occasion for even greater glory -these souls reign with our blessed, triumphant Lord.
That is the glorious future of the Christian!