Revelation: The Time is Near
In our teaching time this morning, we are looking into the first ten verses of Revelation 20. Turn there and prepare to give your attention to Christ’s Word. It’s on p. 1040 of the Bible under the seat before you.
Many commentators admit that these ten verses are the most controversial in the whole book of Revelation. Our purpose for this message is not to pick fights or prove a particular position. We are here to submit to, worship, and devote ourselves to our reigning Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s keep that focus as we turn to the text. Revelation 20, v. 1.
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. 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. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. 7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:1–10)
The phrase “1000 years” appears six times here and nowhere else in the New Testament except in 2 Peter 3:8. There, from God’s perspective, 1000 years is equal to one day and vice versa. In English, we call a period of 1000 years a millennium. The word comes from two Latin words.“Mille” refers to a thousand and “annum” is the word for year.
Christians argue about what they call the Millennium: an era of the special rule of Christ. Controversy arises because Christians answer two questions about the book of Revelation differently.
First, all Christians believe that Revelation uses symbolic language to describe literal events. The question is, “What is symbolic, and what is literal?” For example, John uses numbers symbolically in other places in Revelation. Is 1000 here in ch. 20 literal, or does it simply refer to an established era?
Second, Christians believe that everything prophesied in Revelation will come true. God will accomplish all his purposes. What He has spoken will be fulfilled. The question is, “What parts of Revelation have already come true and which have not yet come true?” Bible-loving Christians offer different answers.
The closer to the end of the book, the more agreement there is that John is describing future realities. By ch. 21 it's clear that the new heaven and earth are still to come. But what about ch. 20:1-10? Some Christians believe that we are already in the millennium others believe that it will not begin until Jesus returns in the future.
The point of Revelation 20:1-10 is not to win the debate, but to grapple with the theme of authority. This passage is about rule, reign, control, and kingship; who’s in charge? To whom are you loyal? What kind of leader should you follow? What is true power and how should it be used?
The passage reverberates with references to authority, some good, some bad. Some legitimate. Some not. So let’s learn what we can from looking at: The Reign of Christ; the Reign of His People; the Reign of Satan; and then the Reign of Evil. This morning’s message will focus on the first, Reign of Christ, and we will cover the other three next week.
The Reign of Christ
John mentions Jesus Christ by name only three times in this passage, yet his presence and power stand out as supreme. Some commentators consider the angel in v. 1 to be Jesus Christ. But the angel here appears to be a heavenly servant carrying out Christ’s orders. The “star” in chapter 9 has the key to the bottomless pit and so it may be that “star” is another way to refer to the angel who reappears in 20:1.
What’s significant is that Christ’s reign over Satan is absolute. When it’s time for Satan to be bound, Christ simply dispatches an angel to do it. Satan is not Jesus’s equal, but a conquered enemy. Through a crisp series of verbs in v. 2, without any resistance from the convicted criminal, the angel seizes Satan, binds him with a chain, throws him into the pit, shuts the door, presumably locks it with his key, and seals the door. Christ simply eliminates his arch-enemy.
The reign of Christ on earth mentioned specifically in vv. 4 & 6 lasts for 1000 years. I don’t believe the number has to be literal. But 1000 years at least marks a notable era, a long uninterrupted epoch of rule by the Conquering Prince. Recall from ch. 19 that, as Christ returns to earth, he comes to rule the nations with a rod of iron and judge them (19:15).
I conclude that this reign of Christ happens personally and visibly on this earth in the future. So, does that mean that He is not reigning right now? Is Jesus the Future King or is He the Eternal King? How does his rule change across history? Answers to these questions affect how you and I live right now.
The Bible describes Christ’s Reign over the world in three layers:
First, as Eternal God, the Son has always ruled over all things. We can call this His Creating Reign.
According to Hebrews 1:2-3, God made the world through his Son. Ever since creation the Eternal Son “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Of the Son it may be said, Psalm 103:19,
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:19)
An ancient king declared this truth about the Eternal Son,
His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand (Daniel 4:34-35)
Second, after the Eternal Son becomes a man in Jesus Christ and accomplishes salvation for his people through His life, death, and resurrection, God the Father exalts Him in heaven, to reign at His right hand. We can refer to this as His Redeeming Reign.
Peter preaches just after Jesus ascended to heaven saying,
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.” ’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:33–36)
As he prepares to return to his Father’s throne having completed his work on earth, Jesus declares,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ….” (Matthew 28:18–19)
Ephesians 1:22-23 describes the Father’s receiving the Son on heaven’s throne
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22–23)
Christ reigns today as the God-Man. One of us, a human being, is seated on the throne of the universe. Humanity has been exalted to the highest place in Christ. In the initial creation, human beings were made in God’s image to rule and to have dominion, on this earth. But, in an unexpected and undeserved display of his glory, Christ not only saves repentant sinners from eternal banishment but exalts their big brother to the highest throne. To be in Christ is to share his Kingly Honor.
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. (Ephesians 2:4–6)
Jesus Christ, the God-Man rules today from heaven having received back from the Father his eternal glory and a new kingdom centered in His Church. He especially reigns over His people, serving them for their good.
On earth, Christ exercises his reign indirectly as His Holy Spirit empowers his church to serve and suffer as the gospel captures hearts and minds across the whole world.
Here in v. 4, we glimpse life for Christ’s faithful ones on earth even as Christ reigns in heaven. Many are killed because they remain faithful to God’s word and the gospel testimony about Jesus. All of them must suffer to remain loyal to Jesus and not worship the beast, not sell their souls for riches or the renown of this world.
A third layer to Jesus’s reign is future. He will return to Earth. We saw this last week in 19:11-16. He will bring his people with him. He will raise those who have died to inhabit resurrection bodies like his own. He will fully extend his reign directly and visibly. He will subdue all his enemies and bring them under eternal judgment. Let’s refer to this layer as His Culminating Reign. Paul sets out the facts in 1 Corinthians 15:24–25
Then comes the end, when [Jesus Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Corinthians 15:24–25)
Jesus reigns now. But he has yet to put all his enemies under his feet. He has authority that He does not yet fully express. We have to appreciate all three layers if we are to delight in Christ’s authority over us and the world.
The most important takeaway for us about the reign of Christ is that, right now, today, He rules on earth through his people who suffer to spread the gospel. His power is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Christ is not currently destroying all his enemies in judgment. He is conquering hearts through the gospel as his people declare it and display it through sacrificial love.
We do not extend Christ’s kingdom by seizing political power or controlling financial markets. We do not take up the rod of iron to rule our neighbors. We are led by the Lamb who set the example of a suffering servant; a Lamb who suffers to serve those who defy and defame Him. Jesus describes the implications of his present reign this way,
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5).
Paul reminds Timothy of the words of what may have been a song sung in some of the earliest churches.
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
Today is the day for endurance, not exaltation. It is a day for serving not assigning thrones. We leave the final layer to Jesus. In their book, The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, Ja-min Goggin and Kyle Strobel observe,
“The call of every Christiaan is to [represent] God’s kingdom in the world by living according to the invisible reign of God. This sounds nice, but in reality, our hearts reject Christ’s way. We want power. Jesus Christ claims that without him we can do nothing. We want to win. Christ offers the cross. We want to do big things. Christ waits for us to be faithful with little things. The whole enterprise runs contrary to our sensibilities.”
This perspective on Christ’s reign changes how we exercise authority. Christian husbands lead by sacrificial love rather than control and power. Pray for the husbands in our church, that the Lord might open their hearts to embrace this new kind of Christlike authority.
Christian parents shepherd their children rather than seek to control their behavior. Pray for our parents to reflect Christ’s reign as they direct and discipline their children.
Elders in a local church,
exercise oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly … not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering … but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2–3)
Pray for Larry, Brandon, Joe, and me that we would reflect Jesus Christ in the way we use authority in this fellowship.
Christians serve their friends rather than use them to get ahead. And as one pastor said, “Christians do not love others in order to share their faith. They share their faith as a means of loving others.”
Christ’s invisible rule becomes visible through local churches like Riverbend. Goggin and Kyle note:
Committing ourselves to the small, simple, and hidden works of love in our church communities is the path to bear witness to the way of the lamb. This is the path where being known and loved is normal. This is a path where the confession of sin is normal. This path leads us to affirm and exult in the truth that power is found in weakness.… This is more than just finding the right leaders or having the right way to run a church. At every level we need to buy into the way of Jesus, trusting that what he said was true.
For us, experiencing Christ’s rule will mean a very different definition of victory.
In the middle of the last century, Nazi Germany instituted a reign of evil that left many wondering whether Jesus Christ may have abdicated. The Allies achieved a military victory over the wicked regime. But an event after the war demonstrates Christ’s reign through the power of the gospel.
The incident is narrated by Corrie Ten Boom, who endured Nazi atrocities as a young woman. I quote her:
“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I said, ‘God casts [our sins] into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’
“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe.… People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me …. Betsie, how thin you were!
(Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.)
“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’
“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. “‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.
“‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—'will you forgive me?’
“And I stood there—I whose sins had, again and again, to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? “It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me, it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
“For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’
“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war, I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much.…’
“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.… “ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ “For a long moment, we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”
Goggin and Strobel ask,
“Where will we place our faith: the way of the dragon or the way of the lamb of God? The way of the dragon is fixated on the spectacular, obsessed with recognition and validation, and intoxicated by fame and power. The way of the lamb is committed to worship, pursues God in the ordinary, and is faithful in hiddenness. The dragon devours and dominates, while the lamb humbly and sacrificially serves.”
If we pray “Your kingdom come” we will conclude with Paul,
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16).