Revelation 20 Devotional
By Pastor Lawrence Bowlin
Our chapter today has been the source of more disagreement concerning eschatology (the study of the end-times or last things) than any other, and that disagreement stems from the one word “millennium” which signifies a thousand years. This is the one and only place in the Bible where it explicitly states that Christ will reign for a thousand years. But what does that mean, and when does that take place? Is it a literal thousand years or is it a symbolic number like many of the other numbers in the book of Revelation? Does it take place in heaven or on earth? Will it happen in the future or has it already begun? The answers to those questions is what distinguishes the three main eschatological camps, which include the premillennialists, postmillennialists, and the amillennialists.
The premillennialists usually interpret the number of years literally to refer to a political reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years between his second coming and the last judgment. The postmillennialists interpret the number either literally or figuratively to refer to a golden age of Christ’s spiritual influence on earth prior to his second coming. And the amillennialists strictly interpret the number figuratively believing it represents the entire gospel age between Christ’s ascension and his second coming when he reigns with the saints in heaven while the gospel continues to advance on earth.
Usually, the Premillennialists have a bleak view of the future until Christ returns. The Postmillennialists, on the other hand, have a very optimistic view of the future in which they see Christ reigning over most human spheres until the time of Armageddon and Christ’s return. The amillennialists have more of a mixed view of the future, seeing many highs and lows in a clash of kingdoms until Christ suddenly returns and ushers in a new heaven and earth. Most Reformed scholars are in this latter camp, and all three of your pastors fall mainly within that camp as well.
The reason that we believe that we are in the millennium now is because of the language that is used in this passage to describe the binding of Satan. In vv.1-3 John sees a heavenly angel seizing the devil, binding him, throwing him into the bottomless pit and then sealing that pit that he might no longer deceive the nations until the end of the millennium. In 2 Peter 2:4 and in Jude 6, the Scripture does not describe this as a future event but something that has already happened. All the fallen angels have already been cast into the bottomless pit and committed to chains of gloomy darkness until the Day of Judgment. It is only on the last day that he and his angels are fully released to do their worst.
But keep in mind, this is still figurative and symbolic language. John is seeing a vision of what appears to be a dragon being bound in a pit; John is not making an historical observation. So what does the symbol symbolize? It shows that Satan is now on a leash and kept at bay, which is an Old French expression that literally refers to a dog that keeps barking but can’t bite. Satan has very limited power now that Christ has defeated him at the cross. All authority in heaven and on earth is now given to Christ that he might send forth his disciples to evangelize the nations. Previously, outside of Israel, the other nations were under the control of Satan, deceived by him and sitting in darkness, but now a light has dawned upon them in Christ. Now that Satan is restrained, the gospel can run freely, and it has. That is the earthly perspective.
On the other hand, in heaven, where Christ has now ascended, the souls that were under the altar crying out are now sitting on thrones reigning with Christ. The very fact that Jesus is depicted as seated at the right hand of God proves that he now reigns as king. In 1 Peter 3:22 the apostle says that Jesus “has gone into heaven and is now at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and power having been subjected to him.” The fact that Jesus now reigns in heaven in beyond dispute (see Matt. 26:64; Mk. 12:36; 16:19; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:10; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2). Certainly, he has been reigning for at least a thousand years now.
Thus, for a millennium, representing a very long time, Satan is held in check on earth, and the saints who have experienced the first resurrection, the resurrection of the soul, now live and reign with Christ in heaven. In the meantime, although the devil is restrained, he is still scheming, still setting his snares, and still looking to devour the dwellers on earth. Nevertheless, according to Luke 10:18-19, because Satan has fallen from heaven, Christ has given authority to his people to tread over all the power of the enemy. Truly, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
But at the end of the millennium, Satan will be loosed again for a short time, just as he was at the first coming of Christ when demons were possessing people left and right. And at that time, Satan will prop up the Antichrist and deceive the nations to lead a final assault against God’s people, but the Lord will inflict vengeance upon them before he finally throws them into the lake of fire where they will suffer eternal punishment away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. Finally, the Day of Judgment arrives, the books are open, all those who have trusted in Christ will experience the second resurrection, the resurrection of the body, and they will live and reign with Christ on earth. But for those whose names are not found in the Book of Life they will join the devil and his angels in the lake of fire forever.
That’s the big picture, at least, without going into all the details. The good news for us in this chapter is twofold. There is hope for those on earth because Satan has been bound, so let us not be ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of salvation to everyone who believes. And there is hope for those now in heaven. Indeed, blessed are those who die in the Lord for now on, for they not only rest from their labors, but they now reign with Christ in his heavenly kingdom.