What is a lifetime these days? What is there in our lifetime that lasts throughout? Change comes so quickly. Looking back over just the last five years of any life, so many things have changed. It is hard to keep track of the transformation of many aspects of our circumstances, people in our life and the course of events.
What about a thousand years? Would anybody like to weary your thoughts with possible events over a time period of a thousand years? I think we are already struggling to figure out a hundred years, that only a few very strong humans reach.
So what is the mentioning of a millennium to us? A thousand years is well out of our reach as a life span, and really hard to imagine.
I remember so well, discussing figures and numbers with my mother. She was a businesswoman and worked in an era without computers and spreadsheets. She made her own spreadsheets, sometimes pasting sheets together to make bigger pages for an overview of the calculations. It was easy to put an extra naught in or leave one out. I think she realized a mistake in one of her many little sums, when she philosophized over naughts in general.
It matters where you put the naughts in your life, she said. Naughts before the one means nothing. Naughts after the one, multiplies quickly. Make sure to put your life’s naughts (own little efforts) after the One. When we “calculate” our life, it is only what comes after the One, written in the shape of the Cross of Jesus, that counts.
So we are again contemplating numbers in this 20th Chapter of Revelation. The whole idea of reigning for a thousand years finds its basis in Jewish beliefs. The “doctrine”, if one could call it that, was greatly varied and changed from scholar to scholar as they reached prominence in society and social status amongst the leaders.
The origin of this doctrine is not specifically Christian but is to be found in certain Jewish beliefs about the Messianic age, very common in the century before the birth of Christ.
Before Jesus was born, scholars felt that this world was so incurably evil that the Kingdom of God could never finally come in this realm. So there emerged the conception that the Messiah would have a limited reign and that after his reign the final consummation would come.
Some of the ancient scholars see history as a series of weeks. There are seven weeks of past history. The eighth is the week of the righteous, when a sword is given to the righteous, sinners are delivered into their hands, and the house of God is built. In the ninth week the evil is written down for destruction, and righteousness will flourish. In the tenth week comes judgment; and only then comes the eternal time of goodness and of God.
In Psalms 90:15: Make us glad as many days as You had afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. It was, therefore, held that the period of bliss would correspond with the period of affliction.
Even more popular was the notion that the age of the world would correspond to the time taken for its creation and that the time of creation was 6,000 years.
A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday. (Psalms 90:4)
One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Peter 3:8)
The ancient Jewish scholars taught that each day of creation was a thousand years. It was, therefore, held that the Messiah would come in the sixth thousand of the years; and the seventh thousand, the equivalent of the Sabbath rest in the creation story, would be the reign of the Messiah.
On the basis of this passage of Revelation, Millenarianism was very widespread within the early Church, but never universal.
It was Augustine who dealt Millenarianism its deathblow. At one time he himself had been a Millenarian. He longed for spiritual blessings. A summary of Augustine’s position: “He had learned to see in the captivity of Satan nothing else than the binding of the strong man by the stronger than he which the Lord had foretold (Mark 3:27; Luke 11:22); in the thousand years, the whole interval between the first Advent (birth of Christ) and the last conflict; in the reign of the saints, the entire course of the kingdom of heaven; in the judgment given to them, the binding and loosing of sinners; in the first resurrection, the spiritual share in the Resurrection of Christ which belongs to the baptized” (Augustine: The City of God 20: 7). Augustine spiritualized the whole idea of the Millennium.
The everlasting dominion (great rock) that was prophesied in Daniel 2:44 and 7:14 and 27 is the kingdom that was confirmed by Jesus in His first words of ministry. Matthew 3:2 – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
One can safely accept the interpretation that we are living in the symbolic millennium, a time period ruled by Jesus, the expected Messiah, introduced by Him when He lived on earth. John wrote to include all the legends and teachings of the Jews that made them blind for what really happened. He collected all the beliefs and even superstitions about the Messiah, to submit them once and for all to the coming of Jesus.
Psalms 50:10 says that the cattle on a thousand hills belong to God; and Job 9:3 says that a man cannot answer God once in a thousand times. Thousand is simply used to describe a very large number.
The serpent is that ancient enemy of the human race, who, in the shape of a subtle snake, deceived the first parents of mankind, and brought sin and death into the world, with an incalculable train of evils attendant on them. The devil is the malicious and false accuser of God’s saints. Satan is the grand adversary both of God and man. All these names for demonic manifestations are mentioned in 20:2.
The abyss is a vast subterranean cavern beneath the earth, sometimes believed to be the place where all the dead went, sometimes seen as the place where special sinners were kept awaiting punishment. It was the abyss which the devils feared most of all. In the story of the Gerasene demoniac the request of the devils was that Jesus would not command them to leave the man and to go out into the deep, that is, the abyss (Luke 8:31).
A seal is set on the chasm to ensure the safekeeping of the prisoner, just as the seal was set on the tomb of Jesus to make sure that he would not escape (Matthew 27:66).
The loosing of the Devil meant a testing-time for Christians. There are times when a testing-time is essential, if the reality of the faith is to be preserved. Both he who dies for Christ and he who lives for Christ will receive his reward. Those who have been loyal to Christ are to receive the privilege of judgment.
The thrones are those of the 24 elders, the church made up of the 12 tribes, our Jewish heritage and the 12 apostles. The elders are mentioned four times in Revelation. They are representative of the church in heaven and on earth. (Daniel 7:22,27, Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30, Hebrews 12:1,2)
Beheaded is a symbol of the martyrs or anybody suffering for the Gospel.
Judgment from a throne is an idea, which occurs more than once in the New Testament. Jesus is represented as saying that, when he returns to sit on the throne of His glory, his twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). Paul reminds the litigious Corinthians that the destiny of the saints is to judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2) Again we do not need to take this literally. The idea is that the world to come will redress the balance of this one. Even now, we know the truth, since we know Jesus, the Truth. We have to discern and judge daily in a world of deception and betrayal.
Death has no power over the saints. Physical death is the gateway to the everlasting. (20:6)
Priest means a bridge-builder according to the Latin, pontifex. The priest is the builder of a bridge between God and man. Those who have been loyal to Jesus Christ have the right of free entry into the presence of God and they have the privilege of introducing others to Jesus Christ.
The church will reign with Christ. In Christ the most ordinary man becomes a king and priest (1 Peter 2:9).
In the next verses a final rebellion is described (20:7-10). Satan wants to hasten the day of battle to limit the scope of salvation, but God controls the times. Four corners means worldwide.
A final attack on Jerusalem by hostile nations is one of the standard pictures of the last times in Jewish thought. We find it especially in Daniel 11:1-45 and in Zechariah 14:1-11.
The picture of Gog and Magog is found first in Ezekiel 38:1-23 and 39:1-29. The Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and of Tubal, is to launch the great attack upon Israel. The enemy is to be utterly destroyed in the end. In Jewish thought it came to stand for everything that is against God. The rabbis taught that Gog and Magog would assemble themselves and their forces against Jerusalem, and would fall by the hand of the Messiah.
It is not a physical military battle. The battle is spiritual. We live in the spiritual dispensation after Jesus’ ascension. The physical Jerusalem has been replaced by the new Jerusalem, the church of Jesus.
In the last verses of the chapter (20:11-15), the final judgment is described.
We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10)
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
These scriptures confirm the unity of God and Christ. The concept of Trinity makes them one God. This notion is very important to the Jews. One of the core scriptures of old Hebrew teaching, central to Jewish religious principle, forever contrasting them to the many idols of the pagan nations around them, is Deuteronomy 6:4:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away (Revelation 20:11)
Heaven and earth will pass away, was a phrase used by Jesus to illustrate the everlasting quality of His words in Mark 13:31. See also 2 Peter 3:10, Psalms 102:25-27.
There are two kinds of books that are mentioned in Revelation: the book that records and the Lamb’s Book of Life. In Daniel 7:10 the books were opened. Man writes his own destiny. Man’s choices itself are a judgment. We rejoice in the opening of the books. The names of the people who talk about the Lord are recorded to become the jewels, the precious possession of God. (Malachi 3:16-18)
The books of God are mentioned often in Scripture. Moses is willing to be blotted out of the Book of Life, if it will save the people (Exodus 32:32). The prayer of the Psalmist is that the wicked will be blotted out of the Book of the Living and not written with the righteous (Psalms 69:28). Isaiah speaks of those who are written among the living (4:3). Paul speaks of his fellow-labourers whose names are in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3). It is the promise of the Risen Christ to the Church at Sardis that the name of him who overcomes will not be blotted out of the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5). Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life are given over to destruction (Revelation 13:8). The idea behind this is that every ruler had a roll-book of living citizens under his control; and, of course, when a man died, his name was removed from the roll. Those whose names are in the Book of Life are those who are (spiritually) living, active citizens of the kingdom of God. Nothing, not even death, can remove our names from the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Although a saint (born-again child of God) is physically dead, he is still living and active in the invisible kingdom of God.
The sea gives up the dead is to be understood in the light of the ancient world’s view on burial. A proper burial was of the utmost importance, otherwise the soul wanders. Anybody who died at sea was not deemed buried. John comforts the people and states that it doesn’t matter how you died or had a burial or not, you are covered under God’s jurisdiction. Satan can claim no one, even if they were not properly buried.
Death and Hades were seen as the temporary abode of the dead till the final judgment. When Jesus was resurrected it has been emptied. All the dead in Christ are with Him.
According to one commentator: “these voracious monsters who have themselves devoured so many are in the end themselves destroyed.”