Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
Eschatology: Lesson 3 – The Millennium of Revelation 20
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2004, 2010, 2013
The Promise of a Kingdom
When Did the Kingdom Begin?: Matthew 12:22-29
Satan In Chains in Revelation 20:1-7
The 1000 Years in Revelation 20:1-7
The Characteristics of the Millennium: Revelation 20:4
Is this the Golden Age?
Two Kinds of Resurrection: Revelation 20:4-6
Those who Live and Reign with Christ: Revelation 20:4-6
God’s Final Judgment: Revelation 20:7-15
The Promise of a Kingdom
People have viewed the 1000 year reign of believers with Jesus Christ while Satan is bound in different ways. In this lesson we will look at Revelation 20 where that period is described and explained.
Messiah came to rule on the throne of David
The Kingdom of God became more visible on earth under David than it had in any previous age. God promised that ancient king an unending dynasty. The promise obviously went far beyond David’s immediate descendants. It would be through his family line that the Messiah would come.
Among the passages that make this promise clear is 2 Samuel 7. The outline of the key section of that chapter is as follows …
7:12-13 God promised that a descendant of David would be established to rule over a kingdom forever.
7:14 The Davidic king would be like a son to God.
7:16 David’s house and kingdom will endure before Jehovah forever, and his throne will be established forever.
This means that David’s rule and God’s rule are bonded together in some way. But King David’s physical, political dynasty lasted only about 400 years, then it ended. How can this rule be understood as lasting forever?
The New Testament interprets the Old Testament promises making it beyond dispute that Jesus fulfilled that promise in his incarnation when he came to reign on David’s Throne.
Luke 1:32-33 is Gabriel’s announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary: “… the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end.”
John the Baptist announced the kingdom’s coming in Matthew 3:2, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The same message was later proclaimed by Jesus in Matthew 4:17.
Isaiah identified the Messiah with the Davidic king. He wrote in Isaiah 9:6-7, “unto us a child is born … the government shall be upon His shoulder … of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.”
Peter identified the reign of Jesus with David’s throne in Acts 2:29-32. There he pointed out that David spoke in Psalm 16:8-11 of one of his descendants who would reign upon his throne. Peter clearly identified Jesus as fulfilling that promise.
Hebrews 1-3 makes many references to this truth as it speaks about Jesus. Hebrews 1:2 identifies Him as heir of all things, and as the Creator. In this verse he is called the Son of God reminding us of the promise in 2 Samuel 7:14 which said that the promised Davidic king will be like a Son to God. Just as an earthly king’s son continues his rule, this Promised One would not merely be a son of king David. He would more importantly rule as God on earth, the one who represents and continues the authority of the Creator himself.
Hebrews 1:5 merges Messianic sonship with Davidic sonship by quoting from Psalm 2:7 “Thou art My Son”.
Hebrews 1:8 identifies Jesus with the Messiah by quoting Psalm 45:7 “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever”.
In Matthew 1:1 we see how this “Son of God” became by birth a “son of David”.
Jesus did not come as the kind of Messianic King the Jews expected
The Jews had come to expect a perverted form of the promised kingdom. They imagined that the Messiah would be a political/military figure who would cause the Jews to gain superiority over the Gentiles. Some at that time expected him to overthrow the Roman Empire.
Jesus corrected their misconceptions of the kingdom. First, they needed to understand that the kingdom would be primarily spiritual and invisible rather than physical and political. He told Pilate “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). He refused the foolish efforts of some who offered to recognize him as their earthly king.
Jesus made it clear that depraved man cannot bring in this kingdom by his own power and efforts. It will be sovereignly established by a supernatural work of God. It is entered only by repentance and the new birth as he explained in John 3:3,5 “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
God’s Kingdom and the church is populated by the covenant people. “The visible church is an earthly embodiment of his kingdom” (Vos). The purifying of the church by ecclesiastical discipline is spoken of as the perfecting of the outward representation of the kingdom on earth. (Matthew 18:15-20, Romans 11)
Some in the Jewish branch of the early church continued to expect an earthly physical and political kingdom which was to come before the final judgment at the end of earth’s history. The Gentile branch of the early church was not as much influenced by that Jewish expectation.
The early church as a whole did not expect the kingdom in that way. There were at various times some individuals within that body who held that more political view. There was support for it in a few early spurious writings known to us in the writings of Barnabas and Papias.
In the brief period from 150 to 250 AD Irenaeus and Tertullian taught a millennialism that expected that an earthly kingdom of God would be brought about by the destruction of the then present Roman Empire, by the coming again of Messiah to establish an earthly reign for a thousand years. The term Millennium is used to describe the 1000 reign of the saints with Christ in Revelation 20:1-7 which they identified with this future earthly kingdom. Both of these early writers record as proof seeing a Judean city lowered down from the sky every morning and disappear as the day advanced during the Parthian war. Their interpretations of the classic texts are very fanciful and would probably not be published today by any proponent of modern pre-millennialism.
Each of the classic views (A- Post- and Premillennialism) has historic roots with the exception of the Dispensational form of Premillennialism. That latter view’s founders openly proclaimed it’s recent origin (early 1800’s). Non-dispensational premills are usually called “historic premils”. They reject the idea that God revealed new information about the ages to the founders of Dispensationalism (particularly John Nelson Darby).
The earliest writers did not form a confessional view of the millennium. The historic creeds do not affirm that an earthly millennium would be established after the age of the church. The Nicean Creed states that Jesus “… ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.” The Apostles’ creed essentially states the same position as that of the Nicean Creed. After this church age comes the final judgment, not a whole new era. The belief was that the millennial kingdom was coexistant with the church age.
An earthly millennial kingdom after the coming of Christ was not embraced by the Reformed confessions. The Westminster Confession (chapters 32-33) makes no mention of any future millennial kingdom on earth after the present church age. Christ is said to return and then comes the judgment. The idea of an earthly and physical millennial kingdom is openly condemned as “damnable heresy” in the Augsburg Confession, and rejected in the 39 Articles of the Church of England. The view is also ruled out by the wording of the Belgic Confession.
Only recently did some denominations begin to insert a view of a future earthly millennium into the Reformed Church’s doctrinal statements. Bible Presbyterians in 1938 modified the Westminster Confession to require their view of historic Pre-Millennialism.
Jesus did not accommodate these early kingdom expectations of the Jews. He clearly opposed them and corrected them (as we will see).
When Did the Kingdom Begin?
The question of when God’s promised kingdom comes depends upon how we understand the nature of the promised Kingdom. The various views we have already explored diverge from one another most sharply over this issue. A good place to begin is with the words of Jesus himself when he directly addressed this matter.
22 Then there was brought to Him a demon-possessed man who was blind and dumb, and He healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw.
23 And all the multitudes were amazed, and began to say, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?”
24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”
25 And knowing their thoughts He said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand.
26 “And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?
27 “And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? Consequently they shall be your judges.
28 “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
The basic teaching of this passage is given in verse 28. Jesus said, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Since Jesus did cast out demons by the Spirit of God on that occasion, there can be no doubt about his message, the Messianic form of the kingdom had come. It was established at the first coming of Messiah. We will see in other passages that this same kingdom will become perfect and eternal at his second coming.
The kingdom is a dominant theme in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. The word “kingdom” is used 158 times in New Testament. It would be impractical to try to summarize all those references here. A simple look through a concordance will illustrate the prominence of this theme.
Jesus spoke of the kingdom as if it was being established in his first coming.
He often spoke of the kingdom as then being “at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:17). Jesus said that the kingdom of God is “in your midst” (Luke 17:21). This is the obvious translation of of the Greek phrase used here. The Pharisees had asked him when the kingdom was coming (17:20). His answer was to show them that it wasn’t a matter of what physical location it will have, but that the kingdom was already (present tense) in the midst of them.
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus presumed that the kingdom was attainable by those to whom he spoke. In Matthew 6:33 he told his followers, “Seek ye first the kingdom …” In his model for prayer he told them to pray, “thine is the kingdom”, and “Thy kingdom come.”The advancing of this already present kingdom is applicable to all who follow the model of what we call the “Lord’s Prayer”.
John the baptist’s ministry marked the end of the period before the kingdom’s full realization in the special reign of the Messiah. After him the promised kingdom was established in a way that surpassed it’s form under the Law and the Prophets (see Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16). John, as one acting in the spirit of Elijah, announced “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Those in the kingdom will be greater than John (who still lived under the old Kingdom order).
Jesus gave Peter the keys to the “Kingdom of Heaven” in Matthew 16:19. In Matthew 16:18 we have the first direct reference in the New Testament to the “church.” Jesus repeated his lesson about this same binding authority to the other Apostles in Matthew 18.
Jesus taught many “Kingdom Parables”. (For example see those in Matthew 13: the sower, wheat and tares, mustard seed, leaven, hidden treasure, pearl of great price, fish net, householder’s new and old treasure.) These all speak of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s called the Kingdom of God in Mark and Luke. Matthew used “Kingdom of Heaven” meaning the same thing, but he was careful to use terms that accommodated the mind-set of his Jewish readers at that time.
Jesus often promised that his contemporaries would see the kingdom soon.
Mark 9:1 “there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste of death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (see also Luke 9:27).
Matthew 16:28 he said, “there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
Matthew 26:64 Jesus said to the high priest at his trial, “you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). In Luke 23:42-43 the Thief on the cross said, “remember me when you come in your kingdom” Jesus answered, “Today, you shall be with me in paradise”
At the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem we see in John 12:15 that it was in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 about how the Messiah-King would come into his kingdom.
Jesus said in Matthew 28:18 “all authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth.” What is kingship and sovereignty if it is not having full authority over all things in heaven and on earth?
Jesus clearly announced the intended immediate establishment of the kingdom. Those who choose not to accept the church as spiritual Israel for doctrinal reasons, need to place the promised kingdom at a time after the church age. The Dispensationalists have explained that when Jesus offered the Messianic Kingdom, the Jews rejected it. They suggest that the kingdom was postponed from what God originally intended, and he inserted the church age. They have said that the kingdom will again be offered to the Jews after this age at the second coming of Jesus. But by proposing this, they admit that the clear teaching of Jesus was that he intended and expected the Kingdom to be established at his first coming over 2000 years ago.
In Acts 1:3 the resurrected Jesus taught his disciples about the “Kingdom of God”. Six times the preaching of the apostles is called the preaching of “the Kingdom.”
The testimony of the entire New Testament
After the earthly life of Jesus, the Apostles and other writers of the New Testament continued to teach that the Messianic Kingdom had come and is present. In Acts 2:30-36 Peter affirmed that Jesus by his resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God, now sits as King on the throne of David. It says, “let all Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ”
In Colossians 1:13 the Apostle Paul writes, “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son”
Hebrews 12:22-24 states that believers in Christ are now come to Mt. Zion to the heavenly Jerusalem. (Galatians 4:25-26 says the present Jerusalem is from “above” and is therefore to be taken spiritually.)
The kingdom does not come all at once, it comes progressively.
It grows in visibility, and expands throughout this present age in which it grows by the gospel of Grace. The kingdom parables show what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. For example, in Matthew 13 several parables indicate a present and growing kingdom. Among them are these:
The parable of the wheat and tares shows that both good and bad are yet intermingled in the kingdom. It is not yet perfect but will be one day when the final judgment comes.
The parable of the mustard seed shows the kingdom as a growing organism that progresses from seed to a great tree.
The parable of the leaven compares the kingdom to an expanding small lump of leaven that eventually penetrates the whole loaf.
The parable of the net cast into the sea shows how the gathering into the kingdom includes both the good and the bad. They are taken in together to be separated “at the end of the age”.
The kingdom is not in its final form yet, but it has been established during the earthly ministry of Jesus. Then it expanded becoming increasingly visible on earth. The kingship of Jesus became more and more evident in his resurrection, ascension and session. It’s glory was further revealed in the greater work of the Holy Spirit beginning at the outpouring at Pentecost and which continues through the church era. It grew by means of missions and the expansion of the church beyond the descendants of Israel. It is evidenced in the obedience and sanctification of individual Christians transformed by grace, and in the faithful practice of evangelism and discipline by the local churches.
At the second coming of Jesus Christ the kingdom will be perfected for eternity. It will then take on its final, and completed form.
1 Corinthians 15:23-28 explains that the end comes when Jesus delivers up the Kingdom to the Father. At that time all will be subjected to him (even death :26), and “He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet”
The Kingdom Parables show the distinction between the immanent and eschatological comings of the kingdom. On the one hand it has a present, gradual and increasingly visible character. On the other hand it will reach a final, complete and fully visible state. But clearly, it is the same Messianic Kingdom, the one promised in ancient times, and realized most fully up to this point in history in the life of Christ on earth.
Satan In Chains
The Bible teaches that Satan was restrained by the ministry of Jesus, particularly in our Savior’s work of atonement. At the ascension of Jesus to the throne of the Messianic Kingdom, Satan is no longer permitted to keep the gentiles from becoming partakers of the gospel. The Kingdom of God expands beyond the Jews during this era and spreads throughout all the nations. The primary text that teaches this is Revelation 20:1-7.
1 And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss
and a great chain in his hand.
2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan,
and bound him for a thousand years,
3 and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him,
so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years
were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them.
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony
of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the
beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead
and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ
for a thousand years.
5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were
completed. This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection;
over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God
and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
7 And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be
released from his prison,
In what way does this passage say that Satan is bound?
The Greek verb used for “bind” in the original text is from the common word deo (δέω). It is used 44 times in the New Testament. The leading Greek Lexicons agree that it means “bind, tie, chain, and imprison”. The word is used in several ways in the Bible: literally, legally, and figuratively.
Literally: There are examples where this word is used physically meaning “to tie up or bind things, often in bundles.” In Mark 11:2,4 it is used of the colt found tied up by the door. In Acts 21-22 it is used to describe Paul’s being bound and arrested. It is the word used in John 11 to describe how Lazarus was bound in grave clothes after he died. It’s used in Matthew 12:29 to describe how a strong man must be bound up before his things can be taken from him.
Legally: The word is used to describe how persons are bound by a contract or obligation. In the rabbinic writings it is used for declaring what is forbidden. In this case someone or something is bound by the judgment of the Rabbis (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). It is contrasted with the loosing of someone or something by the Rabbis when restrictions are lifted and something is permitted. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Kittel explains this rabbinic use of the words to bind or loose as “to impose or remove an obligation.” Dr. Hendriksen explains that these expressions were used when a person persisted in what was forbidden. He would have to be bound, restricted, disciplined. But if the bound person repented the restrictions would be lifted and he would be loosed.
Figuratively: The word is used of the bond between a husband and wife in Romans 7:2, and 1 Corinthians 7:27, 39. 2 Timothy 2:9 says that the word of God is not bound. Acts 20:22 Paul says, “now, behold, bound in spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.” It is use for the binding of spirit beings in Luke 13:16 and Acts 20:22.
Here in Revelation 20:2 the figurative meaning is the only one that is consistent. Satan is a spirit and cannot be bound with physical ropes or chains. He can’t be held back by a closed door even when a physical seal is placed on it. The meaning most consistent with the actual use of the word elsewhere in Scripture is that some kind of restriction or limitation is imposed upon Satan. As in all these other uses it does not necessarily mean a total confinement and inability to function.
What is the abyss?
The English word used in verses one and three is a transliteration of the Greek word abussos (ἄβυσσος) which appears here. It was used by the Jews at that time to represent the Old Testament Hebrew word tehom (תּהום). That’s the word used in Genesis 1:2 when it said that darkness was upon the face of the “deep”.
Abussos and tehom were used in ancient times of the primitive ocean, the place of the dead, and in later Judaism of the interior of the earth where they believed corpses caused defilement. In the New Testament it’s used only nine times. Seven of them are in the Book of The Revelation.
– It’s used in Luke 8:31 when the demons ask not to be cast into the abyss.
– It’s used in Romans 10:7 when Paul asks who shall descend into the deep?
– It’s used twice in the present text about the confinement of Satan
– Five other times it’s used in the Revelation: It’s a place which when opened it emits smoke ( 9:1,2,11 from which comes locusts), a beast comes out and makes war (11:7), a beast comes out to bring destruction (17:8)
The term is not identified with a specific place. It appears to be a general term used to represent where evil is kept restrained. No physical prison holds Satan since we see him active in the world and his complete isolation is contrary to what Revelation 20 says about his binding for the thousand year period. The term is therefor not to be taken in a topological sense, but in a figurative sense as it represents the limits placed around this enemy of God.
To what extent is Satan bound?
Binding is not equivalent to total restraint. For example, even the literally tethered colt in Mark 11 was was free to move about. When I was young my grandfather kept a garden in our yard. To keep my dog from digging it up we chained him to an overhead cable so he could freely run around the yard but couldn’t get near the forbidden garden. When Lazarus was bound by the grave clothes in John 11 he was limited but not unable to come out of the tomb when called. The binding of husbands and wives is limited to their marriage obligations and moral fidelity, not that they must never be physically separated during the day while they go about their duties.
Satan’s binding is also limited in nature. It does not say it extends to all of Satan’s evil activities. In Revelation 20:3 it says that he is bound in only one very particular way. He is no longer free to deceive the nations as he had during most of previous history. The Greek word here for “nations” is ethnos (ἔθνος). It is translated either as “nations” or “Gentiles”. The time of the Jews was coming to an end. The era of the Gentiles had come. Nothing more is said. This is the only way the Bible says Satan is bound during the thousand years.
I’ve heard some critics show their lack of understanding of this text when they ridicule the view I’ve outlined by saying, “If Satan is bound today, then he must have a very long chain!” Of course Satan is active today. Very active. All the while he is bound in this one specific way, he remains very active in every other way.
The era of the binding of Satan is to be an age where people from all nations come to the Savior.
When Does Satan’s Binding Take Place?
This binding marks the boundaries of the thousand years of Revelation 20:1-7. The term millennium means “a thousand years”. This term is used to describe this period only in Revelation 20. There is a strong difference of opinion about other passages of the Bible whether they describe this same period of time or something else. There is no other explicit mention of this thousand year period in any other passage of the Bible.
The millennium begins with the binding of Satan (20:2-3), and ends with his being loosed for a little season (20:7). This final assault of intense fury will precede the second coming of our Lord in Judgment. It will be a releasing of pent-up desires to deceive the nations. We don’t know how long this “little season” will be. But it will be a time of a massive and renewed deception of the nations. The a-mil people see the binding of Satan as beginning at the time of the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross. The pre-mil and post-mil supporters see this as a yet future event.
The Bible tells us directly that the deception of the nations has already ended. Before the coming of the Messiah, the Gentiles (the nations) lived in deception and heathen darkness. Romans 9:4 speaks about the Israelites, “to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the temple service and the promises…”
Acts 14:16 says, “in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways.” The Gentiles had no part in the covenant aside from a few becoming Jews covenantally. Before the coming of Jesus very few Gentiles came to the Lord. It was a time when they were as a whole held in blindness to God’s truths.
After the completing of the work of Jesus the nations became the main focus of the church. In Acts 9:15 Paul was sent by Jesus to “bear My name before the Gentiles”. In Acts 11:1 it says, “the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” Then in Acts 13:46 Paul and Barnabas say, “we are turning to the Gentiles”.
Many times in the New Testament the nations (the Gentiles) are seen coming in faith to Christ and are welcomed into the covenant community. Handling this change was the reason for the calling of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15.
The New Testament directly teaches that restraints were placed on Satan. Jesus implied that Satan was bound in Matthew 12:22-29 when he said, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”
The obvious implication is that Jesus was in fact casting demons out by the Spirit of God, therefore the Kingdom of God had come. But first, the strong man had to be bound (Matthew 12:29).
The context of this passage makes it clear (verses 24-27) that this strong man was Satan. First he had to be “bound” (this is the same word used in Revelation 20:2 of the binding of Satan), then the house of the strong man may be plundered.
Just what was it that Jesus was going to taken from Satan? In the context of this passage in Matthew men were being freed from demonic possession. Satan was about to lose his possessions, the souls of captives were to be set free. Psalm 68:18 is directly applied to the finished ministry of Jesus Christ in Ephesians 4:9. The Psalm says, “Thou hast ascended on high, Thou hast led captive Thy captives.”
In Luke 4:17-21 Jesus spoke in the synagogue using Isaiah 61:1. That passage says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me, To bring good news to the afflicted, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners.” Then he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In John 12:31 Jesus said that Satan was to be cast out at that time. “Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out.” Then in verses 32-33 Jesus spoke of his coming crucifixion as the event that will accomplish this casting of Satan from areas where he formerly moved freely. He will no longer be able to keep the Nations of the world out of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said He saw Satan fall from heaven in Luke 10:17-18. This was when the 70 had been sent out by Jesus and they returned with great joy. They remarked in verse 17 saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” To that Jesus responded in the next verse, “and He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” In the ministry of these sent out by our Lord, something was happening to the power of Satan. He was beginning to be limited in a way he had not been restricted before.
Later, after the ascending of Christ and the special coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Apostle Paul reflected back on the work of Jesus and assured the Colossians that Satan was defeated. He wrote in Colossians 2:15 “When He (Jesus) had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”
The writer of Hebrews assures us that the Devil had already been defeated and his ability to hold men captive was taken from him. In Hebrews 2:14-15 it says of the work of Jesus, “… that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
The Bible makes it clear that during the earthly ministry of Jesus, Satan’s liberty began to be bound. In the death of Messiah that binding was advanced. Satan’s power over the hearts of men is limited so that he no longer is free to bring massive deception over them. Like a mad dog on a chain, he is very dangerous but his area of deception is now limited.
With the binding of Satan, he is no longer free to keep the nations in darkness. This unleashed the spread of the gospel which through missionary efforts that still go on has gathered in believers from all nations, no longer just from the race of Israel. It gives us the assurance that in this age our efforts in evangelism can and will bear real fruit. Satan is not able to freely deceive the hearts of the nations as he had up to the time of Christ.
The 1000 Years
Revelation 20 is the only passage of Scripture that mentions the 1000 year period which we have come to call the Millennium. In the previous section we saw that it begins when Satan in bound (Revelation 20:2-3) so that he will not be able to deceive the nations as he had previously.
As we saw in our historical sketch of this issue in the Summary of the events of Revelation 20 in Lesson One of this unit, the most broadly accepted view of the early church was that the millennium had begun and would end after 1000 calendar years. The main issue that divided those dedicated to an infallible view of Scripture was how the term 1000 was to be interpreted. Since the coming of Christ took place almost 2000 years ago, either the a-mil view must be rejected, or the number must be taken figuratively.
How is the term translated as “1000” used in Scripture?
The Greek word for “1000” here in Revelation 20 is chilioi (χίλιοι). It represents the Hebrew word eleph (אלף ) which comes from a root word meaning “ox, cow, kine”. A symbolic drawing of an ox head became the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and is called “aleph” (א), similar to “alpha” (α), the first letter of the Greek alphabet and similar to the letter “a” in English. These words came to be used to represent the number 1000. There are over 385 uses of this number in the Bible. Many of them are figurative uses establishing that the number has a non-numeric meaning which God used in his word.
Those in the early church who believed in a physical and political earthly kingdom that would last exactly 1000 years after the church age were commonly called, “Chiliasts”. This view was strongly condemned and argued against by Augustine, Luther, Calvin and many others who were the great exegetes of the Bible in their times.
Like many biblical symbols, its figurative meaning was established in the writings of Moses and appears with the same meaning in other Old Testament texts. The Book of Deuteronomy is often called the “Covenant Book” of the Bible. Many biblical symbols are first established there. There are two passages there which seem to use this number in a way that does not make much sense if taken as a literal number.
Deuteronomy 1:10-11 “The Lord your God has multiplied you, and behold, you are this day as the stars of heaven for multitude. May the Lord the God of your fathers increase you a thousand-fold more than you are …”
Even more clearly is the reference in Deuteronomy 7:9 where God “keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
If a generation is taken to be about 20 years, this would mean that from the time of Moses, God would keep his covenant for 20,000 years. This would mean that God has set a limit on the time of his love for his people. Does this mean that the final judgment will still not come for another nearly 16,000 or 17,000 years while we are here on earth to keep his commandments? Or that a few thousand years into our eternal stay in heaven after Christ’s coming God’s love suddenly lapses toward his children? No serious Bible scholar has interpreted this in that way. It’s taken as a figurative expression.
In Psalm 50:10, we are told by God that, “every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”
Certainly there are more than 1000 hills in this world. 1000 isn’t even close! There are many thousands of hills in the land of Israel alone. God hasn’t made a counting error here, and he isn’t saying that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills but that those on the many thousands of other hills are not his. In verse 12 of that Psalm God assures us that “the world is Mine, and all it contains”. This number would have been understood figuratively . It is the way the word was often used by those who would have read Psalm 50 at the time it was written.
In Psalm 90:4 where we read, “For a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.”
Does this mean that 1000 years is numerically equal to 24 hours (the length of yesterday), and at the same time is exactly equal to 4 hours (the length of a watch at night)? Obviously not. God is not implying some mathematical equivalency of this sort. But if understood in it’s common figurative sense, such an odd understanding of mathematics is not required.
Another example occurs in Psalm 91:7. “a thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand”
The expressions “side” and “at your right hand” are use as synonyms in Hebrew literature. They follow a typical poetic form known as “synonymous parallelism.” But if taken as a specific number it presents a strange image of 1000 enemies falling at the person’s side, and at the same time 10,000 falling by their side. But the figurative use of the number fits exactly with an expression like that.
Figurative meaning of 1000 supported by Scripture
Just assuming something is figurative is not a sound approach to the Bible. If our understanding of a passage seems best if we look for a figurative meaning, the obvious place to begin is with the Bible itself. We want to know how God has employed this word in other places. If a figurative use is clearly presented in the Bible, then it can be considered in passages where there is controversy about interpretation.
The number 1000 is used 20 times in the Book of the Revelation. The book is filled with figurative uses of numbers. This doesn’t mean that the actual numeric values have no correspondence with what they represent. The number 12 is often used to represent the covenant people of God. There were 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles, etc. The number is used in other places to represent divisions or representatives of God’s people. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t actually 12 apostles or 12 tribes. But there seems to be a symbolic reason why this number came up so often in relation to the covenant.
The number 10 is also used in the Bible in places where it has a clear symbolic meaning attached beyond simply reporting how many things there are. It is used as a number representing completeness. There were 10 Commandments that presented a sufficient summation of God’s moral law. There were 10 Plagues that completed God’s judgment on Egypt. Other uses reveal that this was a common number God chose for such things.
When symbolic numbers were squared or cubed, the Hebrews thought of it as showing extremes in what they symbolized. If 12 represented some way the covenant people were represented or divided as a unit, then 12 times 12, 144, represented the covenant people in some more completed sense. 10 times 10 times 10 = 1000, a number often used to show the fullness of completion. When 144 is multiplied by 1000 we get the number God used in Revelation 7:4 indicating the complete fullness of the covenant people. It is there that the 144,000 are sealed.
This is the way these numbers were commonly used and understood in the literature contemporary with our Bibles. It was the language and culture God used when giving us his written word. In applying this scripturally confirmed symbolism to the passages we studied in the section before this, they make perfect sense.
In Deuteronomy 1 we see that God’s blessings extends to 1000 generations. That would mean to the completeness of the generations or, as is commonly translated, “to all the many generations.” In Psalm 50, God doesn’t just own the cattle on 1,000 hills and the rest belong to someone else. He owns the cattle on the hills taken as a whole, completely, “all the many hills.” Psalm 90 means that to God, all the many years we experience are to him like a day is to us.
If this same meaning carries over into the Book of the Revelation, the mystery of why the end didn’t come 1000 years after the time of Christ is easier to understand. Satan will be bound for a complete period of time, for “all the many years” while Christ and his people reign in some particular way. The number is used here as it is by God in other places. Not that Christ reigns for only 1000 exact calendar years until his final judgment. But that Christ reigns for all the many years between his first and final advents. God is giving us a warning, not a schedule or calendar.
The Characteristics of the Millennium
One of the most evident features of the Millennium is that it is a time when Messiah reigns in a special way as mentioned at the end of verse 4.
Revelation 20:4, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
This is a period of gospel freedom.
To briefly review up to this point: The Millennium is a time when Satan is bound so that he is unable to hold the Gentiles in blindness. Since he is unable to deceive them as a whole, many are rescued from him, set free from bondage to sin, and transformed into redeemed citizens of God’s kingdom.
The Apostles were no longer limited in their ministry to comforting the Jews only. They were able to bring God’s message of salvation to the Gentiles as well (Acts 13:46). In Romans 11 the Gentiles are brought in as the branches from the wild olive tree. They are grafted into the good olive tree which is spiritual Israel, the church.
Our liberty to bring the Gospel to people of every nation and heritage is only a blessing to us as messengers when we exercise that liberty to actually persist in our witness to all who are lost. In 2 Timothy 2:24-26 Paul writes, “the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition; if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
Biblical evangelism is God’s way of extending His kingdom to all the elect. This period of history is an exciting one. Those who take part in the work of the Kingdom will share in its joy. Those who sit by idly abandon the Lord and do not obey him. He said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Those who are idle also cast doubt into their own hearts where there should be assurance and hope. Since we do not know which of the people we meet will be touched by grace and come to the Lord through faith, we are expected to tell the gospel to all we can, to Jews and Gentiles alike. This is how we obey God’s mandate for this era of Satan’s bondage.
The Canons of Dort are the primary statement historically of what we call the Five Points of Calvinism. There, in the 2nd head of doctrine, article 5, it expressed the importance of evangelism in this gospel age; “.. the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.”
Is this millennium the Golden Age
mentioned by the prophets?
The prophets of the Old Testament spoke of a future time of God’s special blessing. It was sometimes likened to a “kingdom” (Zech. 9), but was never called a “millennium”. The identity of the times to which each golden age prophecy refers needs to be decided for each text.
There are several possibilities to consider when we come to those passages. The specific reference may be to one of these times:
1. the joyful time of Israel’s restoration after its captivity when the Temple was rebuilt and the sacrifice resumed.
2. the time of the presence of Jesus Christ during his life on earth when our Savior lived and taught among us.
3. the age of the church with its direct ministrations of the Holy Spirit and the expanding of the church to include all nations.
4. the perfect age where glorified believers are with their Lord eternally after the final judgment.
Before we dare insert another era after the church age and before the final state of glory, we would have to rule out each of the other possibilities for interpreting each of the so-called Golden Age prophesies. We should also keep in mind that the only perfect age is the one after the final judgment when sin is no longer free to show itself among God’s people, or to exercise itself in defiance of the Creator.
We also need to remember that the Millennium of Revelation 20 is only limited in one specific way as to the liberty of Satan: He is not able during that time to deceive the Gentiles. It says nothing about sin being restricted more than in other eras of history.
It would go beyond the scope of this study to present a full analysis of each of the Golden Age passages in Scripture. But It will help to briefly summarize a few of the classic passages often cited.
The 70th Week of Daniel 9:24-27 describes a time where there is an end to sin, atonement is made, there is a beginning of a righteousness which never ends, Messiah is cut off, and the city and sanctuary are destroyed.
The traditional interpretation is that this refers to the time of Christ and the church age. There are several references to this passage in Matthew 24 where Jesus describes the situation as it was at the founding of the New Testament church replacing the Levitical system. There Jesus also warns of the judgment of Jerusalem for the corruption of the Jews at that time. The temple and the city were destroyed by Rome in 70 AD.
Isaiah 65:17 talks about a “New heavens and new earth”. (See also Isaiah 66:22, 2 Peter 3, Revelation 21.) To what era does this description belong?
The passage includes many expressions which need cautious interpretation. It mentions that the wolf and lamb will graze together, the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.
Some take this passage in an extremely literal way. They see it as a time where God makes drastic physical and biological changes in specific animals. He redesigns the entire digestive systems, nutritional demands, and bio-chemistry of the animal kingdom. It imagines that the lions are to be nourished by straw instead of being carnivores. The bio-chemical processes in the lion, or the chemistry of the straw would have to be changed. It’s teeth would be redesigned to chew vegetation rather than to eat meat. This would make these animals something other than what we know as “lions”, and different from what they were created to be. There is no doubt that God certainly could do all that. But such a wide-ranging miracle isn’t the point of the Isaiah passage, and isn’t required by the words and grammar used by Isaiah.
The traditional interpretations of this passage sees it as either a reference to the eternal state or to the spiritual peace found in the church of Jesus Christ. The terms used in this chapter are well established biblical symbols that teach spiritual truths which are explained in the New Testament. The transformation made by the Gospel of Christ can turn former enemies into brothers in Christ. Those who once made war and were hostile to one another, become a united body of believers who will dwell together in peace for all eternity.
The same imagery is used in Isaiah 11 where it is usually understood as referring to the first coming of Jesus Christ as a branch from the stem of Jesse. The first 10 verses are either directly quoted or alluded to at least 18 times in the New Testament and applied directly to the life of Jesus Christ on earth, or to conditions in this age of the church.
This passage (Isaiah 65) is quoted in 2 Peter 3:12-14 where it tells us that the elements will melt with great heat, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth. It’s hard to see confirmation here that there will be a time more like heaven than the church age, but not as perfect yet as heaven will actually be. There is little here to support the view that there is a future golden age after the church age yet before the final consummation. There is even less that would connect this with the Millennium described in Revelation 20.
Golden Age prophesies are often hard to interpret with full certainty because they focus more on the promises of God and the encouragement he gives to his covenant people than on trying to spell out the exact historic details of the ages to come. But these passages don’t demand that we insert an age of semi-perfection on earth after the era of the church but before the final judgment. No such age is directly mentioned in the Bible. Each prophecy fits well into one of the four periods of blessing prior to the final judgment as listed above.
There are Two Kinds of Resurrection in Revelation 20
The two types of resurrection mentioned in this chapter correspond with the two kinds of death described in Scripture. The basic meaning of death in the Bible is separation. In physical death there is a separation of the soul from the body. In spiritual death there is a separation of the person from God. In terms of the history of the unfolding of God’s plan there are two stages of the manifesting of death.
1. The first death represents the present separations experienced during this life. From the time of Adam’s sin this phase of death has ruled the lives of all humans. Because of our inherited guilt and disobedient hearts we live in spiritual separation from God. Ordinarily this includes the ending of a person’s life in physical death. The body dies and the soul is separated from it. This is part of the curse of spiritual death (Genesis 3:19).
Genesis 2:17 “the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”
Romans 6:23 “the wages of sin is death”
Ephesians 2:1 “you were dead in your trespasses and sins”
Ephesians 2:5 “we were dead in our transgressions”
2. The second death is the yet to begin eternal separation from God which occurs at the final judgment as described in Revelation 20:14-15, “death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the Lake of Fire. and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Corresponding to these deaths there are two kinds of resurrection in Scripture. The word that appears in the original text of the New Testament is the Greek word anastasis (ἀνάστασις). It combines the prefix ana (which means “up” or “again”) with the root word stasis (which means “existence, standing, rise, uprising”). The resulting word means “to stand up” “to exist again” or “to rise again.” It is an un-doing of the separation of death. In physical resurrection a body and soul separated in death are rejoined. In spiritual resurrection a person separated from God by sin is brought back into fellowship with him.
1. The first resurrection is when those who are spiritually dead and alienated from God become spiritually alive again in Christ. They are re-united to fellowship with God when the offense that separates them is removed by grace.
In Ephesians 2 those born-again are called “raised up” to life.
2:1.”and you were dead in your trespasses and sins”
2:5. “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”
2:6. “and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus”
Colossians 2:12-13 “.. you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. and when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions”
1 John 3:14 “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.”
As these verses show, the Bible regularly speaks of this rebirth of the soul as being raised up (resurrected) from death to life. This is the spiritual resurrection experienced by those redeemed in this era from Eden until the final judgment.
To avoid confusion with the great resurrection at the return of Jesus Christ, John added the word first. So here in Revelation 20, before he speaks of the final resurrection, he wanted his readers to know that something must come first. The person must be born-again if he is to escape the second death in the great resurrection.
In his gospel (John 3:3) John recorded the words of Jesus, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” .
There is no biblical reason to invent some otherwise unrevealed physical resurrection to understand what he means by “first resurrection”. In 20:6 John clarifies exactly what kind of resurrection this is. “Over these the second death has no power”.
2. The great resurrection at the end of this age is never actually called a “second” resurrection as if there are two events of the same kind. There is only one final resurrection to judgment in Scripture.
Some have held to a theory of two physical resurrections and two judgments which are separated by a 1000 year Jewish millennial kingdom on earth which is very different from what we have described so far. Most will openly admit that the only evidence for this view is this one verse in Revelation 20 which uses the word “first” to describe the resurrection that ensures deliverance from eternal condemnation at the final judgment.
The overwhelming testimony of Christian scholars, past and present, is that there is but one resurrection to judgment. The saved are raised to eternal glory, and the unsaved to eternal punishment.
The Westminster Confession (32:2) speaks of “all the dead” being raised at the last day to be “united with their souls forever”. Similarly the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds, speak of “The Resurrection” followed by the life everlasting. They do not speak of more than one physical resurrection.
There is strong Scriptural support for there being only one resurrection of the wicked and of the righteous at the end of this age.
Daniel 12:2 Those written in the book of life will be rescued. “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”
Acts 24:15 “… there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”
In John 5 Jesus Himself said,
:24 “he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
:28-29 “… an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”
Hebrews 9:27 “It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment”
Nothing in any of these texts even hints at a long age of 1000 years which separates two resurrections and two judgments.
Those who live and reign with Christ
4. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
6. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
This passage lists several qualities about those who are ruling with Christ during this millennial period. First we should note that John sees souls. They are the souls of those beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and God’s word. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark. They came to life (evidently from some type of death) to reign with Christ. They were partakers of the first resurrection and therefore the second death has no power over them.
First, it says that these reigning souls had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and God’s word. The focus of John’s observation here is toward what is going on in heaven. Therefore he sees souls. When he says they were “beheaded” we need to keep in mind that this doesn’t always mean literally someone who has had his head cut off. The term had come to be used very generally of any martyrs who had been killed in any violent way. James Moffatt’s Expositors Greek Testament says that the term “beheaded” as used here simply means “executed”. We have examples in literature where the same word was used to describe those thrown to lions, burned as torches by Nero, and so forth.
There was a great concern among believers at that time. If Christ had established his kingdom as he and the Apostles seemed to teach, then have the martyrs missed out on the glory of this time when Satan is no longer able to keep the Nations in spiritual blindness? when Jesus reigns over his church in glory? John’s vision assures them that this is not the case. The departed martyrs also reign with Jesus Christ in glory as their souls rest in his presence. They are very much a part of this glorious Messianic Kingdom.
These reigning saints are also those who did not receive the mark of the beast on their foreheads and hands. This has caused a lot of speculation on the part of those who take all this to be yet future. They imagine a fulfillment of the mark of the beast as the literal marking of his followers with a physical brand or tattoo of some kind.
To understand this biblical terminology we have to trace what the Scriptures say about how people are marked on their hands and forehead throughout Scripture. John is using a well established figure of speech, not something new to the readers of the Revelation.
The true child of God is marked out as a member of God’s covenant by his thoughts and deeds as explained in the early book of the Covenant, Deuteronomy. There in 6:4-9 it teaches us about what the commandments of God are to the covenant children. It says in verse 8, “bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.”
This means that God’s word must bind our hand (where it directs what we do), and it should be on our foreheads (where it directs our thoughts and minds).
The Pharisees had turned this figurative meaning into something physically literal. They actually tied straps around their hands and hung leather pouches over their forehead with the commandments written on them. But that’s not what God meant in Deuteronomy 6. It wasn’t meant to be just a physical mark or sign. It was supposed to be a spiritual presence of God’s moral and religious principles to guard and guide their thoughts and actions. Many who wore the leather straps lacked obedience to what they represented. The word of God must bind us and produce evidences in our lives. (See also Proverbs 3:5-6; 4:23; 6:20-23; 7:3.) This is the mark the Christian. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
The mark of those who follow after the beast (who is contrary to the ways of God) likewise bear a similar mark to show where their loyalties lie. Their hands are quick to do evil and violate God’s law. Their minds are ruled by thoughts of immorality, greed, and ungodliness. The sign isn’t a mere outward physical mark. It is the evidence every unbeliever already bears in his thoughts and deeds showing that he does not belong to God through faith in Christ.
It’s tragic that some who fret about literal tattoos and laser codes may already bear the mark of the beast on their minds and hands. Only the Christian indwelt by the Spirit and in love with God’s word avoids bearing the mark of the beast. His thoughts are captive to Christ through his word, and his deeds are being sanctified daily as he grows in grace to conform to what pleases God.
So then, who are the “rest of the dead” mentioned in Revelation 20:5? They are the ones who did not come to life until the 1000 years were completed. Their resurrection is a re-union of body and soul to judgment, since they did not take part in the first resurrection, the spiritual re-union of the sinner with God during this life. After the kingdom age there will be a “rising again” of the rest, meaning the unbelievers who are not born again. Without having taken part in the first, spiritual resurrection, they are condemned to the second death when they are resurrected to judgment. They are cast into the everlasting fire (20:14).
This does not mean that believers only reign in heaven with Christ if they were martyrs. While the attention of John in this vision was on those in heaven who had been executed for their faith, we also know that believers reign and serve as priests of God during this church age when Messiah reigns over his kingdom on earth. We also know that all departed saints are now with Christ, not only those who were killed for their testimony.
Christians are said to reign on earth as priests with Christ in this church age
1 Peter 2:9 “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”
Revelation 1:6 “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests …”
Revelation 5:9-10 “… Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. And Thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
Romans 16:20 “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” This means that the Roman Christians were being used by God in his kingly work of crushing Satan.
We who are redeemed are with Christ while we remain on earth. Enoch walked with God while he lived on earth (Genesis 5:22). This doesn’t imply a physical presence in heaven with Christ. We are with him spiritually and he is with us daily as we live here on Earth.
This same language is used in speaking of the rule of believers with Christ during this era.
The New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) of Matthew 19:28 says, “you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
There is a variety of ways this is translated. The King James Version says, “And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
The English Standard Version (ESV) has, “Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
So when do believers reign? Is it during the “new world” or “in the regeneration”? The translators were each looking for a way to translate the Greek expression “en tae palingenesia” (ἐν τῇ παλιγγενεσίᾳ). The first two words are just the preposition and definite article, “in the”. The word they struggled with is a compound word. It combines “palin” (παλιν) which means “again”, with the a form of the word “genesia” (γενεσία) which means “beginning” or “coming into being”, and it was often used to mean “birthday”. The title of the book “Genesis”comes from this word because it is a “Book of Beginnings”. When believers reign with Christ it is “in the beginning again” of something.
The context up to this point has been the judgment that will soon fall upon apostate national Israel because of her desecration of worship and abandonment of God’s true promises. As part of that judgment the Temple will be destroyed to finally put an end to the perverted sacrifices. This will bring in a new era where the true Israel of God are those who believe in the work of Christ, the Messiah, who alone paid for his people’s sins, and ascends to sit at the right hand of the Father to rule as head of his continuing church on Earth through his redeemed people.
Further help comes from the way Luke puts it in Luke 22:30 when talking about the reigning of the twelve tribes of Israel, “you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel”
Luke speaks of this reign as taking place while believers sit with him at his table “in my kingdom”.
There is not as much difference in the meaning of the translations as it might at first seem. Believers who follow Christ are said to sit on thrones with some type of authority by which they judge the covenant nation. Matthew calls it “the regeneration” (when something or someone is born again), while Luke calls it “the kingdom”. During this time while Christ sits at the right hand of the Father, during this age of regeneration, believers sit on thrones in the Messianic Kingdom.
Commentators take various approaches to this passage. Some extend it to the time after the final resurrection and judgment when believers judge the twelve tribes in the eternal glory of heaven. Others recognize that the context and the meaning of the words do not lend themselves easily to this interpretation. The final state is not the issue Jesus is dealing with here. Also, there is no judgment in that era after the final judgment is completed.
Judgment is given to these believers. But it is always God alone in the person of Jesus who judges at the final judgment (see Psalm 72:2; 96:13 and Isaiah 2:4; 42:4). The Bible speaks of the saints judging the world in this age, not in the final judgment.
Daniel 7:22 “Until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom”
1 Corinthians 6:2,3 tells us that Christians shall judge the world, and shall judge angels. Paul’s reasoning is that if God calls his church to make judgments in large matters, like judging the world and angels, then why should the members of the church run to unbelievers to settle their lesser disputes?
Scripture shows that humans do not stand in eternal judgment over any creature. God alone is the final judge of the eternal destiny of men and angels.
The idea of judgment is often confused by our modern understanding of it. We live under a culture that divides the courts from the other branches of government. Those who make our laws, enforce them, and lead in our defense are not the ones who sit as judges in our courts.
In biblical times, these duties were usually combined in the same office. For example, the Elders, both of ancient Israel and of the church, ruled, lead, taught and made legal judgments for God’s people. When God raised up Judges after Joshuah’s conquest of Canaan, they were military leaders rather than judges in courts of law. This is the context in which the writers of the Bible speak of humans judging the world.
To judge the world and the angels doesn’t mean to decide their eternal fate. We are not going to help God make his decisions. The decisions are already made eternally. There is no uncertainty remaining for us to decide as if we were court judges.
A judgment is made whenever a person looks at the facts of a situation, compares it with some general standard, then decides whether the standard is being complied with or not. We make judgments about things every day, but not to decide guilt or punishments.
On the final Judgment Day, we will stand with Christ as those united to him by redemption. God will display the truth about all persons, then pronounce his sentence. He already knew eternally how each person will measure up. It’s not that in the Judgment he has to make a decision. When we judge the world and angels with Christ in that day, it’s when we see God’s evidence, and witness his pronouncements, and recognize that it’s a perfectly just and fair judgment. The saints will judge by fully concurring with the wisdom of God.
There’s also a very real sense in which we judge the world now. We reign with Christ in this life because we know and apply God’s word. We use that word to correct wrongs in society around us as much as we can as the salt of the earth, and to explain God’s truths both inside and outside the church as the light of the world. In this sense we expand the fact of God’s Kingship as judges appointed to these duties.
Since God calls us to this important duty as Judges to apply his word daily, and even to concur with his dealings toward the world and angels in the last day, why would the bickering Corinthian Christians prefer to go to the Roman courts? There is no justification for taking a brother to the civil courts over common every-day issues. They should be taking on the responsibility for peace and fairness in their own spiritual family.
The judgment of the saints and of this world is not merely a one time event reserved for the end of the age. in John 12:31 Jesus said, “Now judgment is upon this world, now the ruler of this world shall be cast out.”
Believers bring the world into judgment by proclaiming the gospel. Some will believe. Dead souls will be raised to life through faith in the promises of God which we preach. Others will reject the gospel we proclaim. The word of God soundly condemns them to the second death.
The Reformer Martin Luther wrote, “the gospel shall not only be judge over flesh and blood, nay, not only over some of Satan’s angels or devils, but over the prince himself, who has the whole world mightily in his hands.”
Revelation 20:4 focuses on the departed, martyred saints, their souls in heaven. It doesn’t say that this is the only reign of saints. John offers great hope to those who had lost family and friends in the persecutions. But they should rest with confidence that these too reign with Christ, sit on thrones, and are called priests (see 20:6).
God’s Final Judgment
The judgment of God will one day fall in awesome finality. The words of Revelation 20:7-15 describe a great confrontation that will take place at the end of this age.
7 And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,
8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.
9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The moment of the final judgment begins in what is called Satan’s Little Season. He will be released from his prison (see notes on verse 3) and will be enabled once more to deceive the nations (verse 8).
There has been much speculation about the meaning of Gog and Magog in this passage. There is much good exegetical material on this and it goes beyond the purpose of this study. It is sufficient to comment that the words are not introduced here for the first time in the Bible. They come from Ezekiel 38 and 39. It speaks of the Son of Man setting his face toward Gog of the land of Magog.
Dr. William Hendriksen explains that this is a reference to the Selucids (particularly Antiochus Epiphanes) and their kingdom which was located in Syria and extended beyond the Tigris and north over Mesheck and Tubal (districts of Asia Minor). The reference is probably brought into the Revelation to remind Israel of this past great oppression of God’s people and how the Lord has always delivered them. Often nations of the past are mentioned in Scripture to represent the continuing historical battle between the forces of evil and God’s kingdom. When God overcomes such odds, the unexpected victory is a clear evidence of the Sovereign power of God acting in judgment.
There will be in that end time a gathering of the armies of evil for war. They boldly come upon “the breadth” of the earth (verse 9) and surrounded the camp of the saints, and the beloved city Jerusalem, Zion, the city of God. This city is often used as a spiritual symbol for the the church in this present age (See Hebrews 12:22-24 and Galatians 4:25-26).
But the battle ends in a most sudden, unexpected, and final manner. God’s wrath is poured out as fire falls from heaven. The enemy is defeated without a single act of violence being recorded.
At the close of this era, all who have ever lived will stand before God’s judgment seat. As God’s word tells us throughout:
Hebrews 9:27 “it is appointed for men to die once after this comes judgment”
John 5:28-29 “an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds, to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”
It tells us in verse 12 that all will be judged according to their deeds. This can be confusing if isolated from all we’re taught in Scripture about the grounds for our eternal salvation.
As our earlier studies have shown conclusively, no one descended from Adam could be judged to be righteous on the basis of his own works.
Romans 3:23 “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”
Galatians 2:16 “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified”
It’s only by the works of Christ that believers are made righteous in God’s sight. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “no one comes to the Father, but by me”
When speaking about the life and work of Jesus Christ Paul wrote in Romans 5:19 “through the obedience of the One (Jesus), the many will be made righteous”
Our good deeds only come about after we are enabled to do them by God’s grace in applying the finished work of Christ to our lives.
Romans 6:18 “freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness”
1 John 2:3 “by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”
The deeds of our lives stand as evidence of true faith and regeneration in Christ. Those who have done things truly pleasing to the Lord will stand in the judgment because it is proof that they have been redeemed, transformed by grace, clothed in the righteousness of the Savor, and restored to fellowship with God. Jesus said in John 13:35 “by this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” and in John 14:15 he said, “if you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
John later wrote in 1 John 2:4, “the one who says, ‘I have come to know Him’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
As this chapter ends, we see that evil is punished, and those who have been justified by a true saving faith in Christ are rewarded.
The fallen and unredeemed will be cast into eternal perdition. These are the ones who have not been redeemed by Christ. They did not have His righteousness imputed to them and were therefore not able to stand in the judgment.
Horrible offense demands horrible suffering. Daniel 12:2 says, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”
As tragic as it seems to us who also deserve eternal damnation, their punishment will be filled with infinite and unending agony, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power”
Hell is not a place where the wicked are free from the presence of God. Psalm 139:7-12 assures us that God is in all places always. Part of the agony will be to bear total separation from fellowship with God, while knowing with devastating certainty that they bear his wrath in his watchful presence. The words of Hebrews 12:29 are a chilling warning to the those who refuse to bow humbly before the God who made them. It tells us that “our God is a consuming fire.”
But the righteous will be blessed forever. There will be a purging, a renewing of the universe as described in 2 Peter 3:12-13 “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat, but according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” In Revelation 21:1-5 we are told more about the new heavens, new earth, new Jerusalem, and how all things are made new.
For now all lies in wait for that glorious day. In Romans 8 we read the words of Paul,
19. “creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God”
21. “creation itself also will be set free”
Those in Christ, who possess his righteousness, are blessed forever. They will know blessing beyond imagination for all of eternity.
Note: The Bible quotations in this study are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.