Satan bound for a thousand years

The events described in Revelation 20 and their placement in the sequence of end-time events are difficult and controversial.  A messenger comes from heaven and binds Satan for a thousand years. (Most English translations use ‘angel’ where the Hebrew and Greek texts read ‘messenger’.)

Who is the messenger?

Malachi prophesied:  suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the LORD Almighty (Mal. 3:1). Jesus is both ‘Lord’ and ‘messenger’ in fulfilment of this prophecy.  No-one beside him has power and authority over Satan (Jude 1:9).

Satan is bound for the thousand years to prevent him from deceiving the nations ‘any more’.  Satan is not restrained in this time from tempting, persecuting believers, or from instigating wars between nations.

What is meant, then, by the binding of Satan?  In Old Testament times, at least in the post-Abrahamic era, all the nations of the world except Israel were, so to speak, under Satan’s rule. At the time the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s special revelation, so that they knew God’s truth about themselves, about their sinfulness, and about the way they could obtain forgiveness and salvation. During this time, however, the other nations of the world did not know that truth, and were therefore in ignorance and error (see Acts 17:30) – except for an occasional person, family or city which came into contact with God’s special revelation. One could say that during this time these nations were deceived by Satan [and constantly hostile to His revelation, purposes and truth] …  Just before his ascension, however, Christ gave his disciples his Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19)   (Anthony A Hoekema, in The Meaning of the Millennium, Robert G. Clouse, 1977).

Satan is restrained in this time from rousing the nations ‘to a unified and concerted effort to destroy the church’ (Samuel E Waldron, The End Times, Calvary Press, 2003), and from preventing the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth – unto salvation for all who believe.

In the apostle’s vision the faithful martyrs reign with Christ for a thousand years. These martyrs partook in ‘the first resurrection’. The rest of the dead will partake only in the ‘second resurrection’ at the end of the period (Rev. 20:5).

The first resurrection occurs earlier than the second, but is also a different type of resurrection. How do we know that? Because the first resurrection saves us from the second death, which is the eternal Lake of Fire, while the second resurrection does not.

John’s Gospel clearly shows that believers are resurrected spiritually first and then physically at the end.

‘Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time … has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live’ (Jn.  5: 24-25).

This is the newness of life that every faithful believer in Christ experiences, which the same John sees in his vision as ‘the first resurrection’.  ‘We were once dead in our transgressions and sins, in which we used to live when we followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient  …  Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ …’ (Eph. 2:1-5).

In a moment that is yet to come the bodies of departed souls will be raised up from the grave and assigned to their eternal destinies. ‘A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned’ (Jn. 5: 26-30). This is the second resurrection, which is for all.  Saved and unsaved, good and evil alike are raised up in immortal bodies and judged at the end of the age.

The believer partakes in both resurrections, spiritual and physical, while unbelievers receive the physical resurrection only and ‘do not come to life until the thousand years are ended’. The believer suffers the first death only, namely physical death at the end of mortal life, while the unbeliever suffers the first death and the second. The second death is the eternal Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14).

When do the thousand years begin and end?

Many struggle to accept that the ‘thousand years’ refers to the present age or epoch of Christ’s Messianic reign which has already lasted two times longer than a ‘literal’ one thousand years. Consider that the dragon in John’s  vision is not a real dragon, but rather the ‘Ancient Serpent’ or ‘Satan’;  and that the chain and dungeon are symbolic and not the real mechanism by which Satan is restrained. Understand then that the ‘thousand years’ is also symbolic and not intended as a measure of time.

The apostle Peter speaks of the same period, namely from the Lord’s first to his second coming when he says ‘with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day’ (2 Pet. 3:8).

The ancient rabbis divided the history of the world into periods of a thousand or two thousand years each. ‘The school of Eliyahu taught:  “Six thousand years is the duration of the world. Two thousand of the six thousand years are characterized by chaos; two thousand years are characterized by Torah, from the era of the Patriarchs until the end of the mishnaic period; and two thousand years are the period of the coming of the Messiah”‘ (Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a).

None of rabbi Eliyahu’s periods lasted an exact two thousand years – he divided the six days of creation into thee equal periods for greater symmetry and impact. His predicted Messianic age corresponds with the approximately two thousand years of the Christian era and is followed by the Judgment and the enduring Sabbath – the eternal state of rest.

The symbolic thousand years of Revelation 20, refers to the age or epoch in which the Lord Jesus rules from the right hand of the Father in heaven, directing forces and principalities toward the restoration of a chosen remnant of humanity to its Creator – in anticipation of the Judgment.

When the Lord Jesus ascended in the clouds a few days before Pentecost (Acts 1:9), he fulfilled Daniel’s vision:

‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed’ (Daniel 7: 13-14).

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,’ said the Lord Jesus, ‘therefore go and make disciples of all nations …’ (Mat. 28:18).  The Lord Jesus reigns now. And, ‘as the Father has sent me, I am sending you’  (Jn. 20:21).  To the extent that His obedient and faithful people are prompted and led of the Holy Spirit, we are reigning with him – even now –  ‘as priests of God’.

‘Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions …  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 2: 4-6).  Notice how Paul’s teaching corresponds with the vision in Revelation 20:

‘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’ (Rev. 20: 4, ASV).

That believers participate in the reign of Christ in the present age is a universal truth that applies to every faithful believer. John mentions those who were beheaded (the way Roman citizens were executed in that time), and those who refuse the Beast at the end of the ‘thousand years.’ But these are a just sample representing the greater whole.

Satan is released at the end of the thousand years to deceive the nations, as God the Father has planned and purposed for him to do: ‘They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness’ (2 Thes. 2: 10-11).  (I believe that we are entering or have entered this dreadful final hour of mortal history.)

The physical resurrection at the end of the ‘thousand years’ coincides with the coming of the Lord Jesus in the clouds with great glory, to judge mankind.

The Beast and Satan, and after them death and Hades, and all whose names are not found in the Book of Life, are cast into the eternal Lake of Fire, which is the second death (Rev. 20: 10,14). This ends the ‘thousand year reign of Christ: ‘Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death’  (1 Cor. 15: 24-26).