Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – Revelation 20:1-10 07/04/21
Today our text is Revelation 20:1-10. It reveals Jesus Christ reigning on the earth for a thousand years. That sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? At this point we should stop and think, why was Revelation written? The Revelation is designed to strengthen the Church. There was rot from within and persecution coming from the outside. It shows us that the things of this world are not our ultimate objective, and that there is still waiting for us the New Earth and an eternity spent with a God who loves us so much that it defies understanding. It is this that we hope for, not what this world has to offer.
In our passage today John sees and hears the events of chapter 20. It’s a vision in vivid technicolor with surround-sound. But… how much should we understand as literal? When John sees a kingdom lasting a 1000 years, and the resurrection of the dead, and the defeat of Satan, should we assume, in the face of all the symbolism we’ve dealt with so far, that these references are literal events, or should we expect them to be symbolic?
The word translated “revelation” is (ἀποκάλυψις). It conveys the idea of laying bare, or disclosing truth. In the New Testament, especially in the epistles, this word is primarily used with reference to the historical coming of God through Jesus Christ. The purpose of divine revelation is nothing less than the manifestation, the revelation, of deity. It is through “revelation” that God reveals Himself. As He does so, He reveals Himself as the Creator of all things, He reveals Himself as the Lord of history, and He reveals Himself as holy and gracious. So what we find is that the idea of revelation includes two extremes, first it is making something known, but there is also a very real sense of mystery. God is simply beyond our comprehension.
So, John sees Satan removed from the scene, it doesn’t even require God’s direct intervention. It’s accomplished by an angel. Then we find Jesus establishing His own Kingdom. Our passage today shows that He has come to reign.
To begin to think this through, notice the NKJV opens with “then.” They have taken the conjunction “and” (καί) and translated it as “then.” This is a mistake. The passage open with “and.” This word (καί) is a conjunction functioning as a logical connective. It links ideas or grammatical elements to previous ideas or grammatical elements. This is different from the repeated, “after this,” that has so often indicated the next vision rather than the next historic sequential event. Because of this, there’s no grammatical or logical reason to not understand chapter 20 as being chronologically linked to the concluding events of chapter 19. Remember, the chapter break between 19 and 20 are not a part of the original text and have been artificially inserted.
And then, we’re plunged into Revelation 20:4-6. It is fascinating to me that the expression “a thousand years,” referring to the Millennial Kingdom, occurs six times in chapter 20… but, there are no other specific references to it in the rest of Revelation, or the rest of the New Testament, or the rest of the entire Bible. Honestly, this is the only place that the reign of Christ for 1000 years is specifically addressed. That’s strange.
There are three primary ways that the Millennial Kingdom has been understood, although there are many, many, sub-perspectives. I think it is worth our time to examine each of them briefly.
Premillennialism: Here the 1000 year reign of Christ takes place following Jesus’ second coming. Generally, those who hold this view also expect a pre-tribulation Rapture. However, technically, this view does not actually address the rapture of the Church, it addresses the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is the oldest understanding of the events we’re considering today. Writings dating back to the first century can be found promoting this view, and it seems to have been how the early church Fathers understood the ends-times events.
In this view the world will continue to get worse and worse until the end of history, at which time the Ante-Christ will take control. This view sees the events of Revelation in a more literal way. This method of interpreting the text is based on the natural sequence of events as they’re introduced, particularly in chapters 19 and 20. This approach sees the return of Jesus as the only way to stem the tide of evil. There are many Old Testament passages that support this interpretation, a representative sample includes Jeremiah 23:5-6 and Daniel 2:44.
Postmillennialism: the second option, understands Jesus’ return to take place at the end of the time referred to as the “millennium.” In general, those who hold this view believe that the triumph of the Gospel across the face of the earth will result transforming human society and establish the Millennial Kingdom, and this will precede the second coming of Christ. This view tends to see the events recorded in chapters 19-20 as symbolic. This is generally believed to have been first introduced by a controversial writer named Daniel Whitby in the 17th century. During the 20th century, this view has been largely discarded.
Amillennialism: this understands the Millennial Kingdom to have come into existence with Christ’s resurrection and the establishment of His Church. The Millennial Kingdom will be concluded when He returns. Therefore, this system believes that there will be no literal physical Millennial Kingdom. Instead, the millennial reign of Christ is understood as the spiritual reign of Jesus in the hearts of His followers. Amillennialism was first widely considered during the 4th century as Augustine advocated it. There are a number of passages that tend to support this perspective; Luke 17:20-21 and John 18:36 are two examples among many. Frankly, this view has much to commend itself.
Each of these views has benefits, and problems, in terms of biblical interpretation. However, in each of them there is a common central truth, Christ will return as promised and all evil will be overthrown.
As already noted, much in the Amillennial interpretation of Revelation makes sense. But… there is a problem, and it’s a big one. The problem that we run into by eliminating a literal 1000 reign of Christ is this: in prophetic literature phrases such as “latter days,” “after these things,” and the like, are normally used to point to the general eschatological period when Israel will be restored and the nations are judged. This is significant, if the Millennial Kingdom is not literal, I’m not aware of any point in history when many of God’s promises to the nation of Israel can in any real way be understood to have been kept. Just a brief survey of Hebrew prophesy makes the Millennial Kingdom necessary. These are promises such as Micah 4:6-8, Isaiah 2:1-4, and Ezekiel 37:24-28. Frankly, if you spend any time reading through the prophets you will find that the Millennial Kingdom is vital to the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews. A literal approach to the Old Testament prophesies about Israel demands taking the millennial period literally.
Now, I have friends, friends whom I respect, that see the promises God made to the Jews as being spiritual in nature and therefore not requiring a literal fulfillment. I have to respectfully disagree.
So, Jesus establishes His perfect reign over the earth. Then, to show the full depth of humanity’s insanity, mankind will once again listen to Satan and rebel against God as their King; Revelation 20:9-10. Who are these who will follow Satan? These are the descendants of the Christians who survived the Tribulation period; remember everyone else was slain by Jesus after overthrowing Satan. Revelation 19:21. So, apparently the handful of Christians that will survive the Great Tribulation will bear children and repopulate the earth. You may remember that Jesus specifically stated that the days of the Great Tribulation would be cut short to make sure that this will happen; Matthew 24:22.
These survivors, then, provide for the continuation of mortal humans on the earth. Anyway, just as today, being a follower of Jesus Christ is no guarantee that our children will also follow Him. So, apparently, those who will follow Satan will be the descendants of Christian who were not, themselves, converted through faith in Jesus Christ during His reign in the millennial kingdom. So they choose to follow Satan, and as you would expect, Satan and his followers are defeated and destroyed, and human history on this planet comes to an end.
As I consider this passage, it leaves me wondering. What is it that I spend my time and energy worrying about? Some things are in my power to influence, and I should certainly do what I can to address those problems. But the reality is there’s a lot