The Thousand-Year Reign

There’s a popular evangelical teaching entitled “dispensational premillennialism” which holds that we are living in the church era, or dispensation, and when the resurrection of the righteous comes—a doctrine referred to as “the rapture” that’s taken from 1 Thess 4:13–17—there will be great tribulation. After the great tribulation, a resurrection of tribulation-era saints will establish Jesus’ kingdom on earth for a literal 1,000 years. At the end of that period, Satan will be let loose, and then the final resurrection of the wicked will occur, judgment will be given by God, and we will enter into eternity.

There are issues with this doctrine, the first of which being that Rev 20:1–6 is read literally. While a few of the early church fathers interpreted this section literally, the majority did not, and the Second Ecumenical Council (381 CE) rejected the literal doctrine of the thousand years known as “chiliasm.” Another issue is that the term “rapture” never appears in Scripture. In the Latin Vulgate, one may read, simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus Christo in aëra, and rapiemur is a cognate of rapto—from which we derive “rapture.” However, in evangelical thought, the rapture is not only being caught up but a state of ecstasy or lofty emotion. A third problem is that, biblically, the tribulation appears as having come before rather than after the millennium (Rev. 7:14)—if one reads it this way.

One more issue is a misunderstanding of the nature of Christ’s kingdom. This view sees the kingdom as something to be established on earth, and not something already installed—which Scripture points toward (cf. Luke 9:27; Col. 1:13; Rev. 1:5, 9; 5:10). This view is a very materialistic view of the kingdom of God. Because of the literal interpretation of those who espouse such a view, they always speak about the end times in language relative to the current mores of glorified warfare.

The Millennial Age 

All I may offer is how I read it with what knowledge of apocalyptic literature I retain. When read as a whole, Revelation has several interludes of which Rev 20:1–6 is but one. The purpose of such intervals is to assure the faithful of God’s judgment upon those who’ve grieved them and that they will survive the tribulation in which they are living.[1] The other interludes do this, and some are essential to the church (cf. 7:1–17; 10:1–11:13; 14:1–20; 19:1–10). Understanding that this section gives us a break from the “action” of the book allows us to see the purpose it serves rather than dwell methodically on every little detail. The enemy at the very heart of the trouble that the Christians face is himself to be bound and, as we shall see going forward, judged, and condemned.

The thousand years shouldn’t be treated as any more literal than any other number, because such appear used in figures of speech rather often in Scripture (Job 9:3; 2 Peter 3:8). I tend to hold the binding of Satan as the key (v. 2) more so than the number of years because Satan was bound upon Christ’s saving work (Matt. 12:28–29; Col. 2:15). It’s clear, however, that he isn’t totally disarmed and weak (Acts 5:3; Eph. 6:11), but he cannot keep the gospel from pervading the nations through his deception (v. 3). Therefore, this is the age in which we’re living. It isn’t a literal thousand years, but a period, or era during which Satan’s power is considerably diminished because of what Christ accomplished on the cross. This doesn’t speak of the last days, because we are living in the last days and have been since Pentecost (Acts 2:16–17; Heb. 1:1–2; 1 Peter 1:20).

One likely concern among the Asian Christians was what would become of those slain during such a horrendous episode in the history of the church. The Lord, next, shows where the martyrs are: they reign with the Lord in heaven (2 Tim. 2:12). They never worshiped the beast or his image. They did not receive his mark because they bore the seal of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their lives on earth, however, were of no consequence to the powers of the earth. What we know is that those of whom John is explicitly speaking were Roman citizens, because beheading was the primary capital punishment for Romans. They were bound to a post, stripped naked, beaten with whips, and then put to death.[2] This earth wasn’t kind to them, but because they remained unyielding in their faith, they now reign. The first resurrection I take here to be the resurrection to eternal life that is through death (vv. 5–6). When a saint dies in the Lord, of course, they could be said to have been raised to eternal life. They are assured of remaining untouched by the second death. They now reign with Him in the era of the church and faith in Christ Jesus.

Satan’s Release 

If we were to take the view that Revelation was written with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in mind, there’s so much of this book that could make sense—especially the release of Satan, Gog, and Magog, and the battle at the beloved city. When we observe the juxtaposed images in Revelation (e.g., the harlot versus the bride, Babylon versus New Jerusalem), we can note that this isn’t so much a period as much as it’s a juxtaposition, but of what? The passage appears akin to the second coming of Satan if you will (vv. 7–9). When we consider second comings, we envision the Parousia of Christ, our Lord. Satan will come a second time with the intent of raising the armies of all opposed to God, but Jesus comes as the reigning, triumphant King of Kings and Lord of Lords to execute judgment on the devil (v. 10). The devil himself, the arch-enemy of God and the deceiver of the nations, is resigned to the lake of fire and brimstone to join the beast and false prophet. Because the latter two did his bidding, they join the god of this world in the place prepared for him (Matt. 25:41). No longer is he a threat, but a non-concern.

When we reflect back on September 11, 2001, the mastermind who perpetrated the attack was the one person we wanted to bring to justice. Osama Bin Laden had used his money, influence, and hatred to orchestrate attacks that hurt our nation and took the lives of people of all religions and color. For a brief time, we were united as a country. We had a common enemy that we knew our government would target. Nearly a decade later, Seal Team Six would see to it that one of the world’s and America’s most wanted terrorized no more. Rob O’Neill, along with 23 other Seals, was brought in after a long period of surveillance to execute the mission. Working on the tail-end of the formation that worked floor-by-floor neutralizing targets, Rob and another Seal ascended to the third floor where in one room, he was face-to-face with Bin Laden. As he was trained to do, when the threat presented itself, Rob fired three shots, killing the most notorious terrorist in our lifetime. Before going, the team leader informed them that the chances of returning alive were minimal. These brave warriors went, believing that they wouldn’t return, and their leader reminded them that they weren’t going for the bravado or fame, but for, among others, the single mother who’d dropped her only son off at school only to find herself jumping to her death from a burning tower forty-five minutes later. For her, it was better to leap to her own grave than burn alive. Her last gesture of human decency was holding her skirt down so no one could see her underwear as she plunged to her death. That’s why they were going.

In the finality of the world, when all accounts are reckoned, King Jesus will impose on the mastermind of deception and perdition the death blow. Satan, humanity’s most notorious terrorist, will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. This place has been prepared for him since he began wreaking havoc on humanity. For every marriage that’s been broken apart, for every arm that has had a needle thrust into it, for every tear shed and every night of lost sleep, for every person who’s suffered abuse at the hands of another, and for every victim, the enemy and orchestrator of our misery will pay. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”


[1] Michael J. Gorman, Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness Following the Lamb into the New Creation (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 144.

[2] Livy, 2.5.8; Seneca, Dial. 3.18.4.

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