The Millennium (Part One) – the thousand years and the Binding of Satan

An exposition of Revelation Chapter 20

And I [John] saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years (Revelation 20:1 – 6).

The word “Millennium” means a thousand years. The Biblical concept of the Millennium is derived primarily from this passage in the book of Revelation. In part one of this article we will consider two key issues: Firstly, are we to understand the term “a thousand years” as an exact period of time or is it a figure of speech to indicate a long time, and secondly what is meant by the binding of Satan? In part two we will consider the first and second resurrection as well as the second death.

In Christian eschatology the period referred to as the Millennium constitutes the reign of the risen and exalted Messiah-King. There is, however, a divergence of views concerning where and when this reign commences. We will endeavour to prove from Scripture that the thousand years referred to in Revelation chapter 20 is a figurative representation of the present rule and reign of Christ from his heavenly throne and that Satan is bound during this period so that people from every nation, tribe and language may be set free from the power of Satan to worship the only true God through the preaching of the gospel. In fulfilment of prophecy (Daniel 7:13-14 and Isaiah 9:6-7), all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matt 28:18) in spite of the fact that he allows rebellion against the kingdom of God to continue for a time. But the rebellion is only allowed to continue during the day of salvation while God extends his grace and mercy to sinners to repent and to be reconciled to him through faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. This is confirmed by the Apostle Peter:

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:3-9).
The proclamation of the gospel is that the victory over sin and death has been won through the death and resurrection of the Messiah who is now enthroned at the right hand of God as King of kings – “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Is.52; 7). The good news is that the Kingdom of God has come.

Alarmingly, despite the benefit of hindsight, a large part of the professing church has undermined the proclamation of the gospel (Your God reigns) by embracing the very teaching that was the downfall of the Pharisees, expecting God to establish his kingdom only in the future by vindicating unbelieving Israel and by installing Jesus as Messiah-King in the earthly city of Jerusalem. We wonder how those who regarded themselves as the most orthodox, faithful members of the Jewish community could have been so blind as to fail to recognize the Messiah in their midst, yet today we are witnessing the same phenomenon as many who regard themselves as fundamental Christians fail to recognize that the Kingdom of God has expanded from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, teaching that the church is merely a parenthesis, that the kingdom of God has been postponed and that the kingdom will only be restored to unbelieving Israel some time in the future. They scoff at those who declare the Kingdom of God to be a present reality, expecting a future Kingdom to be established after the carnal expectations of their first-century counterparts. They thereby unwittingly affirm the Jewish rejection of Jesus Christ during the present age since they put off the salvation and vindication of Israel to the future. However, when Jesus returns it will not be to vindicate any who have not believed in him nor been born again of the Holy Spirit.

While many people refuse to acknowledge Jesus as King the Scriptures reveal that it is deliberately hidden from those who are wise in their own eyes.

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44 see also Mt. 11:25, Lk. 10:21).

Many of the Jewish teachers overlooked the prophecy of Daniel (ch. 2) where it was revealed that the Kingdom of God would not immediately overthrow the kingdoms of the gentiles. They were expecting the kingdom of God to come with the forceful overthrow of the Gentile oppressors, but the rule of Jesus Christ is first established in the hearts of the humble who repent of their sins.

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).

The unbelief of those who do not recognise that the kingdom of God has come does not negate the fact that God has installed his anointed one, Jesus, as Lord over all. God is calling all men to submit to his authority that he has established through his Messiah and everyone who does not submit to Him will eventually be put to shame.

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. …The LORD has set his anointed King on His holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2:1-2;6).

Jesus warned his disciples to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees who were convinced that God would vindicate them by destroying the unbelieving nations. However, contrary to the expectations of the Pharisees, it was the earthly city of Jerusalem that fell under God’s judgement in AD 70 because they failed to recognize the time of God’s visitation (see Matthew 16:5-12 and Luke 21:20-24). Many people from all nations came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and were included among God’s redeemed, holy nation together with the Jews who believed and many Jews were cut off from God’s holy nation because they hardened their hearts and became spiritually blinded.

How Long is “a Thousand” Years?

Is the thousand years referred to in the book of Revelation a literal one thousand years yet to commence or is it a figure of speech indicating the long period that began with the ascension of Jesus where he has been enthroned at the right hand of the Father in heaven until his return to finally end the rebellion and judge the world? Those who adopt the literal approach often criticise figurative interpretation as “spiritualizing the meaning away.” We will endeavour to show that such literalism, as far as a thousand years is concerned, ironically undermines the literal truth of the gospel by projecting into the future certain events that are present realities and are critical to our understanding of the gospel, such as the reign of Christ, the binding of Satan and the first resurrection.

The language of the Book of Revelation is very obviously apocalyptic and figurative. In the opening verses this is made clear by the Lord himself: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place (Revelation 1:1). To understand the use of figurative language, let us consider the symbolism of the Eucharist. The breaking of the bread and the cup of wine used in commemoration of the “Lord’s Supper” was intended to be a memorial to symbolically demonstrate the Lord’s death and the shedding of his blood until he comes in glory. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come (1 Corinthians 11:26 [KJV]).

The opening verse of the Book of Revelation contains the key for its interpretation. God intended to reveal the glory of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus, now enthroned in heaven, by means of symbolism. The term “to show” or “to shew forth” implies to show to the church on earth, by means of symbolism, the revelation of Jesus Christ enthroned in the heavenly realm. Some people have insisted that the bread and wine is more than symbolic and that it literally becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Those who fail to see the symbolism of a thousand years ironically obscure the real meaning of the passage by insisting that the millennium is a future period of a literal one thousand years. The symbolic language used in the Book of Revelation is used elsewhere in the Scriptures, including the use of the number of a thousand, to mean the full number, not a literal one thousand.

Following are several examples found elsewhere in Scripture where “a thousand” is used as a figure of speech to describe the full – or vast – number of particular things or long periods of time:

“… I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).

“The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as many as the stars in the sky. May the LORD, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand times and bless you as he has promised!” (Deuteronomy 1:9-11).

“I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:9). (Everyone will agree that this obviously means that all the cattle, not literally the cattle on exactly one thousand hills are the LORD’s, yet many people insist that the thousand years mentioned in revelation must be taken absolutely literally.)

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;…(Psalm 84:10).

For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night (Psalm 90:4).

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you (Psalm 91:7).

He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations,…(Psalm 105:8).

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man– even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity (Ecclesiastes 6:3-6).

Your neck is like the tower of David, built with elegance; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors (Song of Songs 4:4).

In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns. Men will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns (Isaiah 7:23-24).

A thousand will flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five…(Isaiah 30:17).

The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation (Isaiah 60:22).

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “The city that marches out a thousand strong for Israel will have only a hundred left;…(Amos 5:3).

These examples provide ample evidence that the term “a thousand” is often used in Scripture in a figurative manner, not intending to convey a precise number but rather a great or full number. Today we use the number “a million” to describe a great or exaggerated number – obviously not intending to describe a literal or precise number (eg. That will never happen – not in a million years!).

The period referred to symbolically as “a thousand years” is the time of God’s favour, through the revelation of Jesus Christ as Saviour, Redeemer and King through whom people are being given the opportunity to be set free from sin and the power of Satan so that they may enter the kingdom of God. During this period those who were dead in their sins and transgressions are being raised to new life through the power of the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead – this is the first resurrection which will be followed by a bodily resurrection, which will be expounded in more detail in part two.

Let us now consider the Scriptural interpretation of the events which take place within the full period of time of the revelation of Jesus Christ which is figuratively referred to as “a thousand years” or “the millennium”.

The Binding of Satan

“And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.” (Revelation 20:1-3).

The period commences with the binding of Satan. Those who hold to a pre-millennial view suggest that the millennium commences when Jesus appears from heaven in his glory – thus they only anticipate the binding of Satan at the time of the “second coming” of Christ. Some who hold to a post-millennial view do not see the binding of Satan as a decisive moment through Christ’s triumph against sin and death on the cross but rather as a gradual process that continues through the preaching of the gospel as more nations are brought into obedience to Christ.

Those who maintain that the “thousand years” is not a literal one thousand years, (i.e. the view commonly known as “Amillennialism”), affirm that Satan was bound through the coming of Jesus Christ and his redeeming work on the cross so that people could be set free from the power of the devil through the knowledge of the truth.

In the following quotation Jesus affirmed that when people are set free from sin and death through the power of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God has come upon them.

Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 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” [The Greek word translated as “ties up” is elsewhere, as in Revelation 20:2, translated as “bound”] (Matthew 12:22-29).

Jesus also affirms in this passage that he entered this world to set people free from the power of Satan and that Satan must be bound while his house is being plundered. By his atoning death on the cross, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has indeed bound Satan so that he can no longer deceive the nations.

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali– to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles– the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:12-16).

When Paul was called to take the gospel to the Gentiles Jesus commissioned him “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me'” (Acts 26:18).

The Apostle John wrote, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). The devil is the father of lies – Jesus is the Truth and his word [the truth] sets us free from the lies of the devil. Through the preaching of the gospel we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5). …having disarmed the powers and authorities, he [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:15).

The pre-millennial position underrates to some extent the power of the gospel to set people free from the power of Satan now since they mistakenly anticipate a future time when Satan will be bound so that the nations will worship God.

Since Christ’s death, resurrection and his ascension into the heavenly realm, millions of people from all nations have been set free from the power of Satan and have entered the kingdom of God through faith. Whereas, in the past the ignorance of the Gentiles in worshipping idols was overlooked Paul told the Athenians that God now commands all people everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

Satan held people captive through their fear of physical death. The manner in which rulers would defeat their enemies would be to have them taken prisoner, oppressed and ultimately killed if they refused to submit to their authority. As the accuser, Satan held people captive and estranged from God because of their sin and guilt, and fear of the penalty, which was death. But through faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, those who confess their sins are cleansed and set free from all guilt.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

The ultimate condemnation of sinners under the old covenant was the death sentence. But those who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death and are raised to new life by the power of the Holy Spirit who also raised Jesus. Through faith in Jesus Christ who died on our behalf and was raised again, we have been set free from our fear of death.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2).

Revelation 11:7 speaks of the beast that comes up from the Abyss who is able to attack the witnesses of Christ, and overpower and even kill them when they have finished their testimony… But the witnesses of Christ are not defeated by physical death because those who die continue to live in the glorious presence of the Lord where they reign with Him.

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11).

There are many scoffers who point to all the sin and evil in the world as evidence that Satan has not been bound. In fact, many will say, “If this is how things are when Satan has been bound we would hate to see the day when he is released for a short time!” But it is important to note that the binding of Satan is associated specifically with his power to deceive the nations, not with the total restraint of evil. The binding of Satan is connected to the period of grace when the truth of the gospel spreads to all nations, after which he is released for a short time at the close of the age and is once more allowed to deceive the nations.

In the previous article on the tribulation we endeavoured to show that there is no future opportunity of salvation for sinners after the coming of Christ since the handing over to the delusion before He comes is already part of the judgement by which they will be condemned. Those who harden their hearts and stubbornly refuse to believe the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ now can only expect to be handed over to a powerful delusion of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles which have not been permitted during the period of the preaching of the gospel while Satan has been bound. Satan is released for a short period at the end of a thousand years so that everyone who refused to believe the truth will believe the lie before the coming of Christ, not after a future millennium after his coming. Revelation chapter 20 should be read in parallel to Paul’s teaching in 2 Thessalonians which very clearly takes place before the second coming when Jesus appears to overthrow the rebellion once for all:

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. 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. But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:1-15).

Satan is referred to as the god of this age. Those who are short-sighted and persuaded by the carnal expectations of the Pharisees may be taken in by the promises of the anti-Christ when Satan is released for a short time for he will attempt to mimic all the promises of the great redemption of Israel in the realm of the earthly things. But we have been warned not to look to earthly things but to the heavenly realities that are “seen” by faith (2 Cor. 4:18, 5:7). We have come to the heavenly Jerusalem which is the eternal reality of which the earthly is merely a shadow. The earthly city of Jerusalem is now figuratively compared to Sodom and Egypt because those who look to the earthly city are still in bondage to sin and are dead in their transgressions (see Revelation 11:8).

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23).

The apostle Paul taught that at the time of Christ’s coming he will overthrow the lawless one and destroy the rebellion led by Satan by the splendour of his coming. Those who teach a future, literal thousand year period anticipate that the rebellion will not be finally destroyed at the “second coming” since they anticipate a further rebellion against the Kingdom of God after a thousand year earthly reign of Christ.

In the book of Acts it says, “He (Jesus) must remain in heaven until the restoration of all things. To anticipate a further one thousand year earthly reign of Christ after he returns, followed by another great rebellion and war, plainly contradicts this verse. We understand this to mean that when Christ returns He will usher in the new heavens and the new earth, the home of righteousness, which will be the restoration of all things since the fall of mankind.