A Millennial Milieu

Revelation 20

“And I saw an angel coming down from heaven,

having the key of the abyss

and a great chain in his hand.

And he laid hold of the dragon,

the serpent of old,

who is the devil and Satan,

and bound him for a thousand years,

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.

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.

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed.

This is the first resurrection.

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.

And when the thousand years are completed,

Satan will be released from his prison,

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

And 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.”

This is the Millennial Kingdom, except it isn’t–at least it’s probably, not exactly what we’ve been taught, that it is. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers make such a fuss over the Millennial Kingdom that they never dig into the context. “I own the cattle on a thousand hills,” says the Lord. Yet no one takes that literally. Why then do many pastors and preachers theologians and teachers take a literal stance on this statement in a book written in apocalyptic genre?

Let’s start with the obvious, the beginning. “And I saw an angel coming down from heaven…” I have lost count of the similar situations seen by John. At least three times he saw an angel coming down from heaven. Several other somewhat similar scenes are also seen. Usually it indicates a separate scene or a transfer from ones focus on one particular piece or perspective, to another. Often in introduces an interlude. We know that the chapter breaks are added, and not original, for ease of reference. I suggest that the chapter breaks in  18, 19 and 20, are as good as they can be. However, the angel switching focus does not indicate separation of the chapters, nor do the chapters themselves; (I repeat, you remember), the chapter breaks were added later for ease of reference. They do not belong there. I use them as starting and stopping points for the same reason the translators chose to use them for a break, it’s a natural pause. That doesn’t mean it’s a completely different thought.

The seventh seal is the seven trumpets. The seven trumpets are the seven bowls. Literally, this chapter is the continuation of the seventh bowl. The angles and aspects change and the scenes are replayed. Our focus is drawn from the followers of the beast to the followers of the Lamb. With wide-angle we waltz through the earth, the sky and the sea, then zoom in on heaven, then on the city of servants and a city of slaves to sin. Ultimately we find but one conclusion…But that will be discussed in the last two chapters. Nevertheless, throughout all of Revelation, we see scenes of death and destruction–love and life. We find Christ is ruler of it all, as Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.” Jesus rules Revelation.

I listen to podcasts, satellite radio, regular radio and read books by brilliant, pre-millennial, dispensationalism dispellers whose research is impeccable and above reproach. I also listen to not-as-brilliant commentators. In regards to both, whether brilliant (and I mean brilliant) or ignorant, they fall into the modern trap of reading into Revelation what we know rather than drawing out the author’s aspirations to his first century audience. Don’t get me wrong, Revelation is timeless but it must be understood within its genre. Nevertheless, and I will speak of the brilliant book writers not the uninformed and unintelligent, they always make the same two claims. The first is the Antichrist. One claim, frequently made, is that the Antichrist is alive and well right now. That makes the Antichrist really, really old. Which is fairly ironic because they also claim that the Antichrist will be a young, charismatic politician. They say that the world is declining, the church is dying and secularism prevails, therefore we are in the very last seconds of earth. But, they tell us to take heart, things are not falling apart they’re falling into place. I find that statement pitiful. Brilliant people with incredible research abilities and they don’t seem to understand Revelation or Colossians. Things are not falling into place, they are exactly as they should be, held together by the sovereign Lamb. It’s as if they are reading Revelation and see a God waiting for things to get bad when Peter tells us explicitly that God is waiting for things to get good. Even that is a poor description. We have a very low understanding of Christ’s authority, which he claimed to be “all.” We forget about the Lamb followers that do repent when Revelation is zooming in on those that don’t repent and give glory to God. It’s the danger of taking verses out of context. We see separate cities in separate scenes but we know that both groups grow up together, and Jesus has authority over both. Let’s look for that “all authority” in the text.

An angel, not described as powerful or illuminated by glory, grabs a hold of Satan. Who’s the boss? And this average angel who has the keys to the Chrysler and a chain, binds the devil for a thousand years. This is a Genre alert! Are the 144,000 a literal 144,000? Are the Seven Spirits of God literally seven Spirits? Is one hour a literal one hour? Then the angel tosses the devil into the abyss. Context alert. Wasn’t Satan given the keys to the Chrysler in Revelation 9? The bottomless pit in Revelation 9 is literally translated as, “the shaft of the abyss.” Later in verse nine Satan is called the King of the abyss. That was after the blowing of the seventh trumpet. Revelation 20 is after the seventh bowl. This is a recapitulation of chapter 9. This is zooming in on Christ’s control. Different angle and different lens but it is the same behind the scenes situation. Think about it in the form of a question: how many times does Revelation state that, “it is done?” Seventh trumpet, done; seventh bowl, done. And remember the so-called false Christ in the first seal? Wasn’t that the Antichrist? We need to slow down and see what the first century church saw.

Apocalyptic genre: It’s entirely unfamiliar to us. Thus, many mindful men make the mistake of taking the words in Revelation to literal extremes,when the words were written to paint a proverbial picture. I am not an amillennialist, meaning that I don’t believe that the millennial kingdom is purely figurative. I don’t think that 1,000 years should be taken literally but I also believe that it is more than a figurative reign of Christ in only the believers or a metaphor for those who have died but are present with the Lord. Nevertheless, the way in which Revelation was written, especially concerning the Lamb and the dragon and the two types of people, it’s a convincing argument. Revelation 20 is full of the same characters, setting, descriptions, and vocabulary as chapter 9, yet much is different. In chapter 9 the dragon is said to rule the abyss, he’s the King. But in chapter 20, he is said to be bound and in prison in the same abyss. It appears to the perishing people, he is king. But to the people of the promise, he is bound. We also remember that evil swallows up evil. We see the scene of the abyss from the vantage points of the two peoples but more importantly, we see the scene through the sovereignty and purpose of the Lamb.

We then see those who have been beheaded for the sake of the Lamb. They reign with Christ for a thousand years. I doubt but a few followers would take this literally. Though many have been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, most are not. This is imagery and most take it this way. What they fail to see is the continuation of the tale told to the martyrs. They are also the 144,000, and the great multitude, and the two witnesses, and the ones with the mark of God and the Lamb on their foreheads. Also symbolic is the thousand years. In apocalyptic language it means, “a long time.” I used to doubt this, until I studied the use of the word in the Bible itself. “How could one chase a thousand, And two put ten thousand to flight, Unless their Rock had sold them, And the LORD had given them up?” “One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you.” “For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.” 

If I told you once, I have told you a thousand times to consider the genre. We also need to see the recapitulation of Revelation, I have told you this a thousand times. It would seem that we also, in our vernacular, venture into the metaphorical–at least we used to. More and more our communication is collapsing.

Remember how the people of God are described in the recapitulation of Revelation: no rain falls on them, no scorching heat of the sun and every tear is wiped from their eyes. Also remember the bowls, trumpets, plagues and woes: scorching heat, darkness, pain and suffering. Revelation continually and consistently contrast the two peoples. To those who are amillennial, you may be right, this first resurrection seems to be referring to salvation. Nevertheless, it also zooms in on the Kingdom further.

“And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 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.” If Satan returns, how can salvation be the Kingdom? On the face, this is a good argument for a literary, thousand-year Kingdom. However, we must consider all of the context in Revelation. This is a re-telling of the end. Satan gathers his army and encircles the “beloved city,” to wage war but is quickly devoured by fire. The question is not where the beloved city is, but who? The great multitude, the two witnesses, the 144,000 represent the city of God. They stand in opposition to the followers of the dragon. Much like the previous Biblical quotes about one standing against a thousand, the multitude of believers don’t have to lay a finger on the greater multitude of unbelievers–Jesus takes care of them all.

“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. 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. 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. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if danyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Let’s not have a low view of God. He sits on the great white throne and keeps records of every-little-thing. This is not a God standing on the sea of glass, pacing back and forth, hoping everything will turn out fine. In his great power and authority, he sits. This is the same God who spoke the worlds into being. The use of angels in Revelation are symbolic of his great power. We also understand the imagery of him used in Revelation to demonstrate that great power. Things are not falling into place, they are either going the way of the earth or the way of heaven based upon his constant rule and reign.