The Meaning of the Thousand Years

Revelation 20

Chapter 20 of Revelation is the only place in the Bible where a thousand year reign is mentioned, but there it is mentioned six times in seven verses. This has served as a basis for all kinds of speculation through the years. Many have made revelation 20 the central feature of a particular scheme for trying to interpret future events that, when we come toward the end of the book of Revelation, a reference to a thousand year period would refer to something yet to come.

But, I believe that we have begun to see that Revelation is not put together in such a way as to give us a consecutive chronological picture of events from the time that Christ came the first time until He comes again. But, rather, we are seeing a series of visions that give us a view of the Christian age from various perspectives, calling attention to various aspects of our relationship to God and God's dealing with our world.

For example, we have seen already in our journey through the book of Revelation, the scene of the end of the world, and the judgment of God, six times in the first 19 chapters. We saw it back in chapter 6 toward the end of that chapter, and we saw it again in chapter 11. We saw another view of the judgment of God in chapter 14, and we saw it again in chapter 16, chapter 18, and another one in chapter 19.

After each of these descriptions of the final judgment of God on mankind, we are taken back for another look at God dealing with mankind while we are living here on the earth. So, it should be no surprise when we suggest that as we come to chapter 20 of Revelation, we are being shown another view of the Christian age from the first coming of Jesus until the time when He comes again.

There is no more dramatic example of this kind of transition in Revelation than is found at the end of the eleventh chapter. There, we clearly see the judgments of God, and we see the people of God victoriously living in His presence. Then, when we come to chapter 12, we are taken back to the birth of Jesus Christ again, and then we are taken forward to the events that


followed the death of Jesus, the resurrection, then the church coming into existence and the persecution of the church. We see the same kind of transition from chapter 19 to 20.

In chapter 19, we see the final judgment of God again. We see Jesus going to war against the enemies of God and being victorious. Revelation 19:17–18, says, “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, ‘Come and gather together for the supper of the great God, that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses, and of those who sit on them, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, both small and great.’ ” At the end of chapter 19, all mankind is destroyed. If we were to look at this chronologically, then in chapter 20, there would not be anyone around to be enjoying any reign for a thousand years. All of mankind are destroyed at the end of Chapter 19.

You recall that we saw the three major enemies of God and Christ and His people presented in chapters 12 through 14 in sequence. First of all, we saw Satan himself, the dragon presented in chapter 12. Then, in chapter 13. we saw the beast of the sea, and then we saw the beast coming out of the land. Now, as we move on toward the end of Revelation, we see one–by–one, in reverse order, the final judgment of God poured out on each of these. We see the judgment of the beast that came up out of the land, later referred to as the false prophet. Then, we see the beast that came up out of the sea and the judgment of God on it.

In chapter 20, we will see a description of the judgment of God on Satan himself. So, although we have seen a series of views of the final judgment of God, we are seeing the same kind of judgment as it applies to different groups and from different perspectives. Now, we are going back and looking at Satan's activity in our world and how his final judgment comes about.

Revelation 20 begins by saying: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive


the nations no more till the thousand years was finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.”

In these first three verses, we see the binding of Satan. It is understandable that people might assume that this has to be something that is going to take place in the future, because it does not look like Satan has already been bound in view of all the evil in the world. Yet, that is precisely what I would argue, that Satan has already been bound. He was bound almost two thousand years ago. He was bound at the time when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. The binding of Satan happened way back then.

It is not something we are going to look forward to in the future. You might be inclined to say I am crazy because surely, in view of all the misery in our world, Satan is not bound. But, let us allow the Bible to interpret itself. Let it tell us about what “binding” means. Then, we shall be able to understand the rest of the twentieth chapter of Revelation. We will see that the popular theories that suggesting that Jesus, someday, is going to come back to this earth and set up His kingdom here and reign for a thousand years are not true.

John speaks, in Revelation 20, of the binding of Satan in the very introductory portion of the chapter. Revelation, as we have seen, is a set of visions of the Christian age, each vision looking at it from a different perspective. Revelation is not written as one series of events described in chronological order. That means, then, that what is described at the end of the book is not necessarily discussing all those thing that happen at the end of the world. The fact is, the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:2 refers to the very thing that Jesus was speaking of in Mark 3:27. The binding of Satan was associated with the first coming of Christ, not with the second coming. Jesus said: “No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.”

This context is one in which Jesus has been casting out demons and He was being accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. Jesus replied to that by saying that could not be because: “ If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is


divided, he cannot stand, but has an end“ (Mark 3:23–26). And then, Jesus, makes this statement, “But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.” Who is the strong man? The strong man is Satan.

No one can enter his house and spoil his goods except he first bind the strong man. The meaning of Mark 3:27 is well expressed by J.W. McGarvey in his commentary when he said, “Satan is the strong man, his house the body of the demoniac, and his goods the evil spirit within the man. Jesus had entered his house and robbed him of his goods to demonstrate the fact that He was making successful warfare against the dominion of Satan.”

In Luke 10:17–19, we find another suggestion of Jesus winning the warfare against Satan. Jesus sent seventy out on an evangelistic mission preaching the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Luke says: “Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’ And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.’ ”

Jesus was entering the house of the strong man and binding him so that his power now was limited and that His messengers could carry out their evangelistic activity. Now, the victory over Satan was being achieved as the message of the gospel of the kingdom advanced. But, the consummation of the victory is pinpointed by John as occurring at the cross.

We have looked at Mark, we have looked at Luke and now, turn to John 12:31–33. Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die.” You see, when Jesus died on the cross, the prince of this world was cast out.

According to Revelation 12, Satan, in connection with the events of the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven, was cast out of heaven. There, the power of Satan


was broken at last. The binding of Satan at the cross as a accomplished fact is suggested in other passages of scripture. In Hebrews 2:14–15, the writer said: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” So, it was through death that Jesus brought to nothing the power of the one, that is the devil. That is when it was accomplished.

Now, look at Colossians 2:15. Paul said of Jesus, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” And, if we read the previous verse, we see that he is speaking about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. It was when he died on the cross that he despoiled the principalities and powers and made a show of them openly.

Look at I John 4:4 where John said, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” We are overcomers because there is One who is greater than the one who has been giving us so much trouble. Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to overcome Satan. Satan is bound. He is limited. There is only so much that Satan can do. Mark 3:27 implies that , in some very real sense, Satan was being bound, or else the Lord could not have cast out the demons.

It must be understood that the binding of Satan does not mean his destruction. That is where so many people fail to get the idea of Revelation 20. Binding Satan does not mean his destruction. In fact, if you will read Revelation 20, you see that the purpose of binding Satan was to limit Satan. It means a limitation of his power rather than a total curtailment of the power of Satan. Since the world is in bad shape today, it could be in infinitely worse shape than it is if Satan were only turned loose on the world.

That, in itself, indicates that Satan must be limited and restrained by some divinely imposed boundaries. We know that Satan can only go so far in his attacks on Christians, because of a number of references that we find in the New Testament. No


temptation can overtake you but such as you can bear, because God provides a way of escape with every temptation as is seen in I Corinthians 10:13. That means that Satan cannot overpower you as long as you are willing to stand for God. We know that he can only act as God will permit. In Luke 22:31, Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked permission to sift him like wheat. Satan is on a leash. He can only go so far. He is limited. He is bound in that sense. He is bound like a dog on a chain. It is true that Peter describes Satan as one who goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

I am sure you have seen dogs on leashes that looked like roaring lions about to devour you. You were grateful for the fact that they were on a leash because they would snap their teeth and snarl at you, but they could not get to you. This is the way Satan is. He can only go so far. Now, if you want to walk over there within the boundaries of the chain, he can tear you to pieces, but God is not going to permit him to get to where you are if you do not want him to. Satan is bound in our world now, and that began when Jesus died and rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.

We know that Satan and his angels are presently reserved in chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment. They are bound. Jude 6 presents the same thought: “And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own habitation, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.”

The fact that demon possession does not exist today, contrary to what many would claim, but which none can prove, ought to be evidence that the binding of Satan is an accomplished fact. Demon possession was peculiar to the age in which Jesus lived. It would seem that God permitted Satan, at that time, to give some unusual proofs of his existence, his power and his malice by frequently attacking men's bodies.

This proves what a dangerous enemy he is and how great a need there was for the aid of One who had power over Satan. The casting out of demons then was a proof of what people could see and hear, and evidence of the victory of Christ over Satan. No kind of wonder could be more suited for demonstrating the nature of Christ's mission nor for drawing men to Him.


Certainly, it was evidence of the binding of Satan. If you need any further evidence that this idea of “binding” does not mean the total elimination of the power and ability of Satan to do anything, I simply invite you to read Romans 7:2. Here Paul said, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.” Bound is exactly the same word that is used in Revelation 20:1–3.

Paul said a woman is “bound” to her husband. Does that mean she is totally incapacitated and can never do anything from then on? Of course not. Well, what does it mean? It means that there are some boundaries, there are some limitations now on what the woman can do with respect to her husband. She is bound to him. She is not free to run around with every other man that comes along. So it is with Satan. Satan is limited. He can only do so much; he can only go so far. Satan was to be bound for a thousand years. If Satan was bound when Jesus came the first time, has that time long since expired? No, that time has not expired if we understand the thousand year period in the same way that we have understood other numbers that have been used in Revelation. That is, we understand them as numbers that are symbols.

The number seven is the symbol of completeness and even ten is sometimes the number of completeness. The number 1,260, the number 42 months, the time, times and half a time of Revelation and the 144,000, we have already seen in previous lessons, are not literally those numbers of days or months or years or peoples, but rather, they are numbers suggestive of something else. These numbers are symbols, which we have explained in previous lessons, and so it is with 1,000, a perfect symbol of completeness or fullness. Then cubed, ten times ten times ten is 1,000, a symbol of fullness or completeness. In other words, throughout the entire period from the first coming of Christ to nearly the second coming of Christ, Satan is bound, limited, and Christians are able to reign. I am suggesting that the thousand year period is the period from the first coming of Jesus Christ until just before the time when Jesus comes again. This is a symbolic figure. The Bible used the explanation “a thousand” in other contexts in the same way, not meaning literally 999 plus 1, but a figure of largeness or completeness. For example, in II Peter 3:8, Peter said, “But, beloved, do not


forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” He simply is using a thousand years as a symbol of a gigantic period of time, an enormous period of time, in contrast to a single day.

In the Old Testament, the number is used in the very same way. For example, Psalm 90:4 says: “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night.” In Psalm 50:10, God says: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” God was not meaning by that if there were 1,263 hills that 1,000 of the hills that have cattle on them are His and the other 263 are not. It is simply a figure of speech meaning they are all Mine. It is a symbol of fullness, of completeness. We use the expression in our own language when we say, “I would not believe that in a thousand years.” We do not treat other things in chapter 20 in such a literal way. No one really believes that a literal chain was taken by an angel to bind Satan in a literal pit somewhere. This approach is contrary to the whole spirit of the book of Revelation.

We have seen the binding of Satan taking place. Read verses 4 through 6: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has not power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”

Where does this reign take place? There is not a word in chapter 20 of Revelation about this reign taking place on the earth, which is what so many believe today. The thousand–year reign occurs in heaven where the throne is. Forty–eight times in Revelation the throne is mentioned and, with the exception of the throne of Satan and the throne of the beast, which is his servant, the thrones are always in heaven. So, that is where the disembodied souls of the martyrs are. It is important to notice that the writer says, “... I saw the souls of them.” I did not see


the bodies of them. I saw the souls of them that were at the throne of God. Back in Revelation 6, we saw a scene of those people who had been put to death because their allegiance was to Jesus Christ. The seal of the book is opened and we see the souls of them who have been put to death because of their loyalty to Christ at the altar of heaven. That is where the souls are. Their bodies were not there yet, but their souls had gone to be in the very presence of God.

Now the souls reign until the second coming. Who are these? They are martyrs and such as worship not the beast, neither his image, and receive not the mark on their forehead and on their hand. We have learned in previous lessons that when it speaks of those who have the mark of the beast, it simply means all of those who give their allegiance to Satan, as opposed to those who have been sealed on their forehead with the name of God, which means all of God's people, all who are the faithful to God.

This means that when you die, you are not going to be lying there in the grave and sleep until such a time as Jesus comes again, but your soul is going to be in the presence of God. That is what we are seeing in Revelation 20. The souls of those who did not wear the mark of the beast, which means all of God's faithful people, are going to enter into His presence. That is why Paul said he had the desire to “... depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). That is what happens when a faithful person in the service of God dies. He goes to be with the Lord.

He does not go and stay in the cemetery. His body does, until Jesus comes again, and then his body will be transformed and he will receive a new body. In the meantime, the souls of the righteous reign with Jesus Christ throughout this entire period of human history until Jesus comes again. Then, the saints reign, not a thousand years, but, according to Revelation 22:5, forever and ever. Then, they will have received bodies that will have been transformed according to I Corinthians 15:35–54, and the final judgment will have been pronounced and then heaven will be their eternal home.

What is the first resurrection? It is when Jesus comes again. At that time all those in the grave will hear His voice and rise from the grave. Those living along with those that have arisen


will meet the Lord in the air. The saved will thereafter always be with the Lord. At this second coming all of those that have not worshiped the beast will be glorified. The unbelievers will enter the second death, as they will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.

What happens after the thousand years? Revelation 20:7–10 says, “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

This particular scene corresponds to scenes that we have already seen in Revelation 11 and 13. Apparently, right at the end of time, there is going to be a brief period, a little time, when Satan is going to be able to dominate the minds of men in greater measure and will have made such inroads among humanity that it will seem as though the church has been wiped off the face of the earth. There will be a few righteous souls left and they will be spared at the end but, apparently, there is going to be a very terrible period right at the end of time when Satan will be loosed.

Up to this time, the point of his being bound is that he cannot deceive the nations. That is to say, the gospel can be carried throughout the world and men throughout the world are capable and willing to receive the message of Jesus Christ.

But, at the very end, Satan will again be able to deceive the nations. Men will have become so corrupted and so debased that the power of the gospel of Christ will not even be able to penetrate their hearts and the question can properly be asked, “When the Son of man comes, will He really find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? The answer is: they may be hard to find but there will be a few when Jesus comes again. We have reference here to Satan gathering his forces together just as we saw in chapter 10.


We saw Satan gathering his armies together, the beast, and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the white horse and against His army. But, do you know what happens? We are ready for a great battle scene and all of a sudden the beast is taken and cast into the lake of fire. There is not a battle. In other words, Satan is totally impotent in his battle against Jesus Christ and against God. He can muster all of his forces, but he cannot even begin to create a battle, because God is the victor before the battle ever begins.

Again, in Revelation 20, we see Satan gathering together men from the four corners of the earth. Gog and Magog, in Jewish literature at that time, were terms that referred to all of the forces of evil combined. The point is, Satan brings all of his powers to bear to destroy the efforts of Jesus Christ and it looks like a great war is going to take place. We are not talking about literal warfare with bullets, machine guns, tanks, and hydrogen bombs. We are talking about the kind of warfare the Bible speaks about from beginning to end, the battle for the minds of men. It is a spiritual battle, and Satan, at the end, is going to seem to be winning. Then, the end comes, and Satan is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. God's people are victorious and reign with Him forever and ever.

Finally, we have the great judgment scene, verses 11 through 15: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each on according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”

There is the final judgment, the scene of the judgment of God when all the nations of the earth shall be gathered together before the throne of God and they shall be judged. They shall be judged of the things written in the books according to their


works. It has to refer to the books of the Bible. Some people say it refers to the books of the works of your life. But, the statement is that they will be judged out of the books according to their works. If that book represented the works of your life, it would have the nonsense of saying the dead are to be judged out of the books that give their works according to their works. But, what is going to happen is that your life, the deeds of your life, are going to be put up beside the standard of God's truth as revealed in scripture.

The books of the Bible comprise the final examination book for your life. Where do you stand with reference to it? Are you prepared for the final judgment when all shall stand before the throne of God and when you will be judged out of the books that God has given us in scripture? If not, you need to make preparation that you might have your name written in the Lamb's Book of Life that you might be able to enjoy the presence of God forever.

If you are not a Christian, we urge you to surrender your life to Jesus that you might enjoy the victory over Satan, that you might enjoy the triumph of the people of God, that you might avoid being among that number who will be cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.