(Rev 20:1-3 ESV) Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
How long is 1,000 years? Well, most time indicators in the Revelation are symbolic, and we can’t just assume that 1,000 years is literal, when so many other numbers are not. And the rest of the scriptures make no mention of a 1,000-year reign. Rather, we find the 1,000-year reign in Jewish and Zoroastrian speculations.
As summarized in the Wikipedia,
According to the Talmud, the Midrash, and the ancient Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, the ‘deadline’ by which the Messiah must appear is 6000 years from creation. A majority of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews believe that the Hebrew calendar dates back to the time of creation; the year 2010 of the Gregorian calendar corresponds to the Hebrew year 5770.
There is a kabbalistic tradition that maintains that each of the 7 days of creation in Genesis 1 correspond to seven millennia of the existence of natural creation. The tradition teaches that the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath day of rest, corresponds to the seventh millennium (Hebrew years 6000 – 7000), the age of universal ‘rest’ – the Messianic Era.
The Talmud comments:
- R. Katina said, “Six thousand years the world will exist and one [thousand, the seventh], it shall be desolate (haruv), as it is written, ‘And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day’ (Isa. 2:11)… R. Katina also taught, “Just as the seventh year is the Shmita year, so too does the world have one thousand years out of seven that are fallow (mushmat), as it is written, ‘And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day’ (Isa. 2:11); and further it is written, ‘A psalm and song for the Shabbat day’ (Ps. 92:1) – meaning the day that is altogether Shabbat – and also it is said, ‘For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past’ (Ps.90:4) (Sanhedrin 97a).”
The Midrash comments:
“Six eons for going in and coming out, for war and peace. The seventh eon is entirely Shabbat and rest for life everlasting”.
The Zohar explains:
- “The redemption of Israel will come about through the mystic force of the letter “Vav” [which has the numerical value of six], namely, in the sixth millennium…. Happy are those who will be left alive at the end of the sixth millennium to enter the Shabbat, which is the seventh millennium; for that is a day set apart for the Holy One on which to effect the union of new souls with old souls in the world (Zohar, Vayera 119a).”
Elaborating on this theme are numerous early and late Jewish scholars, including the Ramban, Isaac Abrabanel, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Rabbeinu Bachya, the Vilna Gaon, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Ramchal, Aryeh Kaplan, and Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis.
And so, although the scriptures were silent on a Millennialism when the Revelation was being written, there was a Jewish tradition predicting that the final age of the world would be 1,000 years. But the tradition isn’t quite the same as the 1,000 years described in Rev 20. The Jewish tradition is that the final 1,000 years will be a Sabbath age of rest.
This tradition is parallel to a similar one in Zoroastrianism —
Millennialism is also a doctrine of medieval Zoroastrianism concerning successive thousand-year periods, each of which will end in a cataclysm of heresy and destruction, until the final destruction of evil and of the spirit of evil by a triumphant king of peace at the end of the final millennial age (supposed by some to be the year 2000). “Then Saoshyant makes the creatures again pure, and the resurrection and future existence occur” (Zand-i Vohuman Yasht 3:62).
It’s easy to imagine Zoroastrianism, centered in Babylon, having an influence on Jewish end-time speculations, as Babylon was also a major center of Jewish learning during Roman times.
Therefore, it seems to me that the point of the Revelator speaking of a 1,000-year reign is to make clear that the Christian age is, in a sense, the 1,000-year concluding era that the Jews (and others) had been anticipating. This is the final age, and there’s no other age to come until Jesus returns and the world is transformed by God as described in Rev 21.
Rev 20:3 says Satan will be imprisoned “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer.” This sounds a lot like —
(Jud 1:6 ESV) 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day–
And this is spoken of as having occurred in the past. Anthony Hoekema explains,
What is meant, then, by the binding of Satan? In Old Testament times, at least in the post-Abrahamic era, all the nations of the world except Israel were, so to speak, under Satan’s rule. At that time the people of Israel were the recipients of God’s special revelation, so that they knew God’s truth about themselves, about their sinfulness, and about the way they could obtain forgiveness and salvation. During this same time, however, the other nations of the world did not know that truth, and were therefore in ignorance and error (see Acts 17:30) — except for an occasional person, family or city which came into contact with God’s special revelation. One could say that during this time these nations were deceived by Satan, as our first parents had been deceived by Satan when they fell into sin in the Garden of Eden.
Just before his ascension, however, Christ gave his disciples his Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19, NIV). At this point one can well imagine the disciples raising a disturbing question: How can we possibly do this if Satan continues to deceive the nations the way he has in the past? In Revelation 20:1-3 John gives a reassuring answer to this question. Paraphrased, his answer goes something like this: “During the gospel era which has now been ushered in, Satan will not be able to continue deceiving the nations the way he did in the past, for he has been bound. During this entire period, therefore, you, Christ’s disciples, will be able to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations.”
This does not imply that Satan can do no harm whatever while he is bound. It means only what John says here: While Satan is bound he cannot deceive the nations in such a way as to keep them from learning about the truth of God. Later in the chapter we are told that when the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations of the world to gather them together to fight against and, if possible, to destroy the people of God (verses 7-9). This, however, he cannot do while he is bound. We conclude, then, that the binding of Satan during the gospel age means that, first, he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel, and second, he cannot gather all the enemies of Christ together to attack the church.
(Rev 20:4 ESV) 4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Who reigns with Christ — and when? Well, sometimes the scriptures speak of Christians ruling at the end of time, but sometimes the idea is that Christians rule right now.
(Eph 2:4-7 ESV) 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Rom 5:17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
In some sense, Christians are already in heaven, seated on the throne of Christ, reigning. Of course, there’s also an easier-to-understand sense in which we don’t yet reign. We live in the in-between times. But we do reign because we’ve been included in Christ who reigns. If we are “in Christ,” then we are in him as he sits on his throne and rule as part of him.
The doctrine of Christians reigning is taken from —
(Gen 1:26-28 ESV) 6 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Have dominion is radah, the same word used for the reign of kings and of God himself. Man was created in God’s image to reign, and so restoration of man to God’s image necessarily implies a restoration to his rightful reign.
The Genesis account is echoed in the Psalms –
(Psa 8:3-9 ESV) 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The Psalmist sees us as already having dominion over the creation.
(Dan 7:1 ESV) 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’
(Dan 7:21-22 ESV) 21 As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.
(Dan 7:1 ESV) 27 And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.’
Daniel is not easily interpreted, but there’s clearly the idea here that the saints will possess a kingdom and that all others will serve and obey them. In those days, kings were judges — the supreme court of the land — and so giving judgment to the saints puts them in the place of kings. It’s hard not to read this as a prediction of the rule of God’s saints.
With these verses in mind, we can see how the Revelator can say that those who’ve resisted Rome reign even today. (We’ll get to why I say this is about today.) The irony implicit in the teaching is that, even though Rome is persecuting and martyring the faithful, it’s actually the faithful who rule!