The Millennial Kingdom

February 14, 2016 / No. 3815

Dear Radio Friends,
Last week we began a new series on the Reformed Witness Hour on the subject of eschatology, the Bible’s teaching on the end times. This study is not an “arm-chair study,” in which we try to figure out and unlock mysteries concerning the future that have nothing to do with us today. Instead, the study of eschatology lays before us the main calling that we have to watch and be ready for the day of the Lord.
I began this series by looking at three main truths from the Bible. Last week we looked at the fact that there is only one future coming of Jesus Christ that will be the end of all things, the judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth.
The second main truth is this, that the rule and kingdom of Jesus Christ is not future and earthly, but present and spiritual. That is the one we want to look at today.
Third, there is the principle that there are identifiable signs of the coming of Jesus Christ of which we must be aware as Christians.
Today, we look at the second one, that the kingdom and rule of Jesus Christ are present and spiritual. We are going to do that from the very popular passage of Revelation 20:1-6, which speaks of the millennium, or the thousand-year kingdom of Christ. For the sake of time, I am not going to read that right now. I ask you, if you have a Bible handy, to open it. We will make references to these verses as we go along.
In these verses, we have the binding of Satan for a thousand years and Jesus Christ ruling with His saints. Much of the confusion and false teaching about the end times swirls around and comes from a misinterpretation of this passage.
There are three basic views of the millennium. The first is the premillennial view, which teaches that the millennium is a future, earthly kingdom and that, prior to this, that is, “pre-millennial,” Christ will come two times: first, in a secret rapture in which all true Christians will be taken up into a temporary, seven-year holding pattern in the skies during which time the kingdom of Antichrist will rise and the Jews, because of severe persecution, will be converted en masse. Then, at the end of that seven years, Jesus will come again with the Christians and establish the thousand-year, earthly kingdom of peace and prosperity. That is premillennialism.
The second view is that of postmillennialism, which also teaches that the thousand-year kingdom of Jesus Christ is mostly future and earthly. This view teaches that in the last one thousand years or so of history here on earth, Christianity will make great strides, the world will become a better place as a result, and there will be a golden-age of gospel and prosperity. Not only will the majority be converted, but society will be dominated by Christians, so that world economies and politics are run according to biblical principles. Then, at the end of that period of time, Jesus will come (“post-millennium”), and He will come into a mostly good world, will destroy the few remnants of sin and Satan, and will usher in a new heaven and a new earth.
Both of those views take the passage in Revelation to refer to an earthly, future kingdom.
The other view, which has been labeled “amillennialism,” is the one that I will be teaching and explaining in this message. This view does not deny that there is a millennium but, rather, teaches that the thousand-year reign of Revelation 20 is a present, spiritual reality, that Jesus reigns from heaven throughout the entire New Testament age by His Spirit and His Word, and that it is during this time that Satan is bound for a thousand years.
Let us look at Revelation 20 and explain that.
First, we notice this, that this is the only mention, in the entire Bible, of the millennium. When you have something like that, you need to consider it in its biblical context. What does this mean in the book of Revelation and in its broader context—in the entire Scripture? How does it fit with the rest of the teaching of the Bible, and how does the rest of Scripture shed light on this passage?
First, about this book. Let us notice three things. The book of Revelation is written to seven specific churches that were being persecuted and were surrounded by a godless culture. It is not a speculative book that only tells about things in the future that have nothing to do with the present, but it is written to encourage the church in the world that is being persecuted. It has a practical purpose.
Second, the book of Revelation is a book of prophecy that tells about things in the end times. But, as a book of prophecy, it cannot be read chronologically. It is not describing different periods of history that will unfold one after another. Instead, the seven main sections that can be identified in this book must be considered as parallel to one another. John sees the same history from seven different perspectives. As the book progresses and these seven sections unfold, the focus comes more and more on the last days. In the last three chapters in this book we have the last section, where the focus has shifted from what is happening on earth to the spiritual realm and to Satan and to his final destruction at the end of time.
Third, we must understand that the book of Revelation is almost entirely symbolic. It is made up of visions that cannot be taken literally. You see that with the numbers in the book of Revelation: twenty-four elders represent the Old and New Testament churches; the hundred forty-four thousand represents the whole body of God’s elect gathered in heaven. Or, you have the vision of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that cannot be taken literally, but it represents the devil and his dominion in the earth. So, the book of Revelation is symbolic. You even have that in this passage. There is a spirit, the Devil, that is bound with a chain; there is a pit without a bottom. Those obviously cannot be taken literally.
Looking more closely at Revelation 20:1-6, we see a clear division here in the description of the millennium. The first three verses look at this millennium from the perspective of earth and what happens on earth. The second three verses (vv. 4-6) look at it from the point of view of heaven. That is really what the millennium is: it is the binding of Satan so that he cannot do something on the earth, and it is the rule of Christ, from heaven, with the saints.
In the first three verses, we have the binding of Satan. The first verse describes for us the Devil’s jailer, an angel with a key. “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.” He is sent from heaven, not as a heavenly messenger to announce something, but as a heavenly servant to do something. So, he has a key and a chain in his hand.
In verses 2 and 3, with that chain, “he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up.” Now, what draws our attention here is that Satan is described with four names: the dragon, the old serpent, the Devil, and Satan. That is not done only to describe to us the dreadfulness of Satan, but also to show the absolute power of God over Satan. He is just an angel, a creature, with a name. As Luther wrote: “One little word shall fell him.” God is sovereignly powerful over him.
Verse 3 describes for us the pit and his binding. He was cast into this pit and shut up and the angel “set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.” We are familiar with the picture of a pit. Paul and Silas were cast into a prison. Jeremiah was cast into a pit. With chains, Peter was bound hand and foot and locked in a prison. What is this pit? This pit is not hell, which is described a little later in the chapter as the lake of fire. Nor is it a literal pit on earth, because it is a bottomless pit and that cannot be literal. Instead we take this as a figurative description of God’s placing a restraint on the power of Satan during the millennium.
That helps us to understand the millennium. What is the millennium? Satan is said to be bound for this length of time described as a thousand years that is mentioned six times in this passage. Should we take this thousand years literally? Why should we? The passage itself is full of symbolism. Almost all the numbers that are used in the book of Revelation are also symbolic. It does not fit with the book of Revelation to take this as a literal thousand years. It certainly does not fit with the rest of Scripture, based on this one passage, to speak of a lengthy earthly kingdom. Instead, a thousand in the Bible is a picture of completeness. You have, for example, this in Psalm 50:10: the cattle on a thousand hills are His. Do we take that number one thousand literally, so that the cattle on hill number one thousand and one are not His? No, the thousand refers to completeness. It means the cattle on all the hills are His. So, here, the thousand years refers to a complete period of history: ten times ten times ten—ten being the number of completeness in the Bible and a cube pointing to perfection.
So, when is this period of time called here a thousand years? To answer that, you have to answer another question—what does it mean that Satan is bound? This period is marked at its beginning by the binding of Satan and at its end by the loosing of Satan. So we ask the question: What is different during this thousand years, from before the thousand years and after the thousand years? In the “purpose clause” in verse 3, we learn what is different. God’s purpose in binding Satan is “that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled.” Verses 7-9 that describe to us what happens at the end of the thousand years help us to understand that. When the thousand years are expired, verse 7-9 says, “Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle…. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city.”
The restraint of Satan during the millennium makes it impossible for him to deceive the nations. This restraint is not a complete restraint. Still Satan works during this millennium with temptation and persecution and false teachings and other ways to deceive the people of God. He goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. But there is one thing that he truly wants to do, which is his main desire, which he cannot do—he cannot deceive the nations. That means that he cannot hold the nations under the darkness of unbelief. During the time before this binding, the Old Testament period, all the nations except Israel were, so to speak, under the rule of Satan. He blinded the nations. God’s special and saving revelation came only to Israel. The nations were deceived.
But now, during the binding of Satan, the gospel goes to these nations. During these thousand years, Satan cannot combine the nations of the earth under one political power that opposes the cause of God in Christ. It is only at the end of the thousand years (v. 8), that he gathers all the nations together. This restraint is placed on him during the thousand years.
So, the question is: when is Satan bound? The answer is: now, in the present, during the entire New Testament age from the ascension of Christ into heaven until shortly before His return. This is what takes place. Satan is unable to prevail because he cannot get the nations together as a unified force. Instead, as we look at history, there is constant warfare, the nations cannot get along. It is not until the very end that they will come together under the kingdom of Antichrist against the church and the people of God. This is the deceiving of the nations. Satan is bound for the duration of the New Testament age so that the gospel of Jesus Christ can go forth victoriously to all the nations. They are not under the deceit of Satan.
Now, think of a couple of passages in the New Testament. In Matthew 16, Jesus says, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In Matthew 28, when He gives the Great Commission, Jesus says, “Go ye into all the world,” and in connection with that, He speaks of His role: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth…. I am with you always.” During this period, Satan is bound so that the gospel may have free course and so that Satan may not bring the nations together against the cause of Jesus Christ.
We have to look at this not only in the context of Revelation, but more broadly in Scripture. Is there any indication in the rest of Scripture, now specially in the New Testament, about the timing of the binding of Satan? The answer is: Yes, there is. It is connected to the cross of Jesus Christ, His resurrection, His ascension, and the gospel going forth to the Gentiles. I want to make reference to three different passages in the gospel. In Matthew 12, Jesus is accused by the Jewish leaders of casting out devils in the name of the devil. Jesus responds in Matthew 12:28, 29 in this way: “If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil the house.” The word there used for “binding the strong man” (and the strong man here is a figure or a symbol of Satan) is the same word that is used in Revelation 20. Jesus is basically saying that the power by which He cast out the devils is not the power of Satan, but a power that is against Satan and that binds Satan. This is what Jesus is doing in His ministry.
Now, turn to Luke 10. The disciples here are sent out—the seventy—by Jesus. We read in verse 17 that they returned with astonishment, with joy: the “seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” Then Jesus answers them in verse 18: “He said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” That is not to be taken literally, but it is a figure of Satan’s power being dealt a crushing blow and cast out from heaven and from his position of power over the nations. That fits with the mission preaching of the apostles.
There is one more passage in the gospels that is also parallel, and that helps us to see this, and that is in John 12. There are some Gentiles, some Greeks, who come to Philip and say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Philip communicates this to Jesus, and Jesus answers this way, in verses 31 and 32, in connection with the gospel going to the Gentiles, the Greeks. He says: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out [that’s Satan]. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” What is important here is that in verse 31 Jesus says, “the prince of this world [will] be cast out.” He will be cast out now, as Jesus goes to the cross, is buried, rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven. As He is lifted up on the cross and in His ascension, He will draw all men. People from all the nations of the earth, will be drawn by the gospel to Jesus Christ.
So, that is the way to understand the binding of Satan and what takes place during this period of time.
Then, in Revelation 20, we have in verses 4-6 the millennium from the point of view of heaven—what happens in heaven during this thousand years, this New Testament age. Let me read verse 4: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” This fits perfectly with what we have already said. While Satan is unable to deceive the nations, Christ and the saints rule from heaven. Why do I say from heaven? Because there is nothing in the verse here to indicate that this rule is an earthly rule. Instead, these are souls, souls of those who have been beheaded, that is, people who have been killed. These are not headless bodies but these are souls that have been separated from their bodies. What is being described here is the intermediate state of the souls of believers. The soul of the believer at the moment of his death is immediately given life. Verses 5 and 6 speak of the first resurrection: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.” The first resurrection is a resurrection in the new life that our souls receive at the moment of death. These souls, the souls of those who have died as believers, in their intermediate state live and reign with Christ for a thousand years. They are given life, the life of Jesus Christ in their soul. They are conscious in the presence of Christ, and they reign with Christ. Note there: they reign with Christ. Christ is reigning in the present, during this thousand years. His kingdom is in the present and believers, in their souls, are given a place of rule with Him.
What happens to the rest? Verse 5 says, “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” And these do not participate in the first resurrection. That is, unbelievers who die in their sin and unbelief are not given this place of glory and this place of rule.
What an encouragement this is to the church militant, the church here on earth. Here is the church triumphant. Satan cannot deceive the nations. There is still a lot that he can do. One of those things is his persecution. Saints are beheaded as a result of that persecution. They die for the cause of Christ. Satan may destroy this body, and here is the encouragement, but in doing that, he only becomes the instrument to bring these saints into a greater glory and God’s truth goes on, the gospel goes forth victorious to the nations. Luther says, “The body they may kill, but God’s truth abideth still.”
So we have in the millennium of Revelation 20 the present, spiritual rule of King Jesus from heaven by His Spirit and Word throughout all of the New Testament age and the reigning of His saints with Him. This is the victory of the white horse of Revelation.
What a comforting truth that is for believers.
The book of Revelation, I said, is written to persecuted Christians in the midst of a godless culture. What are you going to tell these people? Are you going to give them something abstract and some distant event about some future Jewish kingdom? Are you going to tell them that the world is getting better and better? No, this is what you will tell them. You will tell them that Jesus is King; that He is building His church; that the gates of hell will not prevail against it; that the gospel and the truth will stand; that the next great event in history is the return of Jesus Christ to conquer and destroy the devil and those who serve him; and to make all things new. Then you will tell the Christians who face death and persecution about the glory of their souls at the moment of death. Not only can Satan not triumph over the gospel and the church, but he cannot destroy you in killing you. At the moment of death the souls of believers go and live in the victory and are given life with Jesus Christ.
In my temptations and in my persecutions and your temptations and your persecutions as a Christian, this is what you want to hear. That is the beautiful truth of the millennium. That is Christ’s message for the church here on earth.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for this beautiful and encouraging truth that Jesus is King today; that Satan’s power is limited; that the gospel goes forth victoriously; and that even though Satan may have the power to persecute and to take away our life, still our souls, at the moment of death, are given an everlasting life and a place of exaltation with Jesus Christ. We thank Thee, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.