Satan bound, released and condemned
The "1000 years" of Revelation 20 are understood differently by christians:
The POST-MILLENNIAL view is that Christ will appear AFTER (post = after) a millennial (1000 year) period of peace during which the gospel has great effect and the christian faith is triumphant world-wide.
The PRE-MILLENNIAL view is that Christ will appear BEFORE (pre = before) a period when He will reign on Earth from Jerusalem during a time of peace and blessing (apart from a final rebellion).
The A-MILLENNIAL view is that there is no literal millennium (a- = not) and that Revelation 20 is designed to teach us something about the defeat of Satan and the present day experience of the church.
I am an amillennialist for two reasons:
Firstly, this period is not easy to find prophesied elsewhere in the bible. Some people point to Old Testament promises about long life and prosperity for Israel and therefore call them "unfulfilled" and think such texts describe a millennial reign of peace and plenty. But passages of this sort are usually interpreted in the New Testament as being figurative of the blessings of the church now or in her future state. See, for example, Acts 15:16-18, Romans 15:12, 2 Corinthians 6:2 and you will see Old Testament "millennial" texts applied to today. Other promises of universal joy should be taken as promises of the resurrection life.
Secondly, in the structure of the Revelation, this is the second to last vision in the section belonging to the seventh bowl of wrath. It fits in with the other sections dealing with the defeat of God's enemies. Here we see Satan weakened and bound at the beginning of the church age, released to inspire Armaggedon and then destroyed with his henchmen and followers in the lake of fire. Remember that the seventh bowl of wrath will complete and fulfil ALL God's wrath (15:1, 16:17) so there is no room after that time for any more acts of wrath such as consigning Satan or his followers to Hell.
People tend to become very entrenched in views about prophecy and each of the main opinions can muster many arguments in their favour. Furthermore, each party can muster lists of great christians who held to their view.
To be autobiographical for a moment; I have personally been persuaded of each of these three opinions in my own life! Beginning with dispensational-type premillennialism, I became disillusioned with the ever-increasing complexity of speculation which such an opinion required as more and more texts had to have their literal meaning squeezed into the scheme. After a while I concluded that the basic interpretive method was wrong. Taken to its logical (?) conclusion this scheme robs the ordinary christian of much of the scripture (particularly the Revelation) and puts it into the hands of that modern scribe, the student of prophecy.
I then adopted a post-millennial view as another way of coping with "unfulfilled prophecy". A particular attraction of this scheme was the discovery that many great men of God had a belief that a great age of "gospel prosperity" awaited the world as millions believed and obeyed Christ. The optimism of such a view is also attractive. Close study of the Revelation dissuaded me of this view. There seems to be a double progression described in all the scriptures. Goodness and faith will certainly become more clear-cut but mainly because there will also be a progression in evil which culminates in the final and worst incarnations of Babylon and the Beast.
The a-millennial view now seems to me to harmonise the scriptural data most effectively. Most importantly, Christ's own direct teaching in the gospels seems to clearly indicate that there is to be one return of the Lord accompanied by one general resurrection to judgement, followed by the restoration of all things and the beginning of the eternal state of bliss or grief. This uncomplicated pattern should shape the way we read figurative literature like the Revelation.
If the whole of the church period is in view then we should ask ourselves why it should be represented as being a thousand years long. The first and obvious thought is that John is preparing the church for a "long haul". Christ is not going to return for quite a long time after the Revelation was written. This point needed to be made in an age when many christians were looking for an early appearing of Christ and were being unsettled by sects and cults claiming to have special information on an imminent return (the churches have often been troubled in this way since!).
The other feature of this thousand years is that it looks like a symbolic number. It may just be a way of saying that the church will have to wait a long time. The choice of a number which is 10x10x10 seems to have a sense of completeness about it which is similar to the cycles of seven which we have already seen clearly marked. When the thousand years are up and the seventh seal, trumpet and bowl are fulfilled we can expect something very new and very different to come; we will truly be at the end of an age.
We will now turn to look at this "thousand years". The three marks of this period are:
The period begins with an angel from heaven laying hold of the dragon and overcoming him. The language and description in 20:2 is very similar to 12:7-9 and is meant to remind us of that great victory. The description of Satan's downfall is different but we should see it as the same defeat suffered when Michael overpowered the Evil One.
In chapter twelve the emphasis was on the churches' experience of persecution and we were taught that behind the actions of men lies the hostility and organising of the devil himself. But even that work is a sign that he has already been defeated and is soon to be destroyed (12:12).
In chapter twenty we are being taught about Satan's eternal fate. The important thing to realise is that he is already a defeated foe. Christ conquered him on the cross and that victory has already been seen in the way Christ "plunders his house" by gathering converts to God from every nation. The important thing about the "binding of Satan" is that his captives, the Gentile nations, are now free to serve God. In a very important sense, the nations are not deceived (20:3). The reference to Satan being bound is probably a deliberate reference to Jesus' own teaching found in Mark 3:20-27.
The "1000 years" are a time when the gospel can go out and take people of every nation and bring them to the Lord. He is no longer just the "God of Israel" but is the God of millions from every nation.
The two signs of Satan’s bondage are the worldwide spread of the gospel and the relative rarity of demon possession in our days compared to the time of Christ. Incidently, reports of people being demonised do seem to be increasing in Western society just as the gospel is being forgotten or perverted. Satan is bound when the word of the cross is proclaimed (see the earlier remarks on 12:11).
Both the binding (v.3) and loosing (v.7) are in terms of Satan's ability to blind people to God and make them enemies of Christ.
The Reign of Murdered Martyrs
Christ is already reigning in heaven but he shares his rule with the souls of beheaded martyrs. Why should such souls have such honour and of what could their rule consist?
I believe we are being taught that those who witness unto death have a powerful and lasting effect on history. They succeed where they seemed to fail. Tertullian (who lived 100-150 years after this book) said that "the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church". We should think about Revelation 10:11 again and understand that the binding of Satan occurs as christians witness faithfully unto death.
The binding of Satan does not make the witness of the church easy - some will be beheaded - but it does guarantee that the gospel will succeed. The beheaded saints live and rule in heaven.
Christians in Britain are well-used to slogans which describe Satan as a defeated enemy but they misunderstand the part required of us in his downfall. There are those who claim he has been virtually nullified by the work of Christ on the cross such that all we have to do is effortlessly live by "faith" without any struggle or pain on our part. Others delight in a verbal "spiritual warfare" of singing and shouting (usually in a crowd) where the "claiming" of victory and the "binding" of Satan are achieved at no greater cost than a noise-induced headache and a hoarse throat.
Both these views are species of an easy believism which thinks overcoming is easy. Christians overcome and rule by losing their heads not sacrificing their minds.
The testimony of these overcomers is both positive and negative (20:4). Positively, they bore witness to Christ and the scriptures. Negatively, they had refused to compromise with sin.
Why are these people represented as being resurrected early before the rest of us? Is there a particular benefit in having been beheaded? John would surely not want us to believe this and, if he did, he would have signalled such an important advance in christian doctrine before now!
It is the souls of the beheaded saints which are said to be resurrected in verse four so we should assume that their bodies will be raised at the end with all those who died in the Lord. The first resurrection must therefore be a symbol of their continuing influence and power. It is a fact that christians often achieve more in death than they did in life. A witness sealed in blood has changed the course of nations and has won millions to Christ. In 2:10-11 the Smyrnan christians were promised that the second death would not touch them if they suffered the first death for Christ's sake. In 20:6 that promise is repeated.
The Last Rebellion
We read in 2 Thess. 2:3-12 that, before Christ comes,there must be a rebellion which sounds very much like Rev. 20:7-9. This is the final form of "anti-Christ", the human revolt against Christ which is inspired by Satan. This rebellion has already been described as the triumph of the beast over the witnesses (Revelation 11:7-10) and as Armageddon (16:12-16 with 19:6). The church may not be totally destroyed but there will be a concerted hostility to the Christian faith.
I sometimes wonder if we are not seeing the beginning of this today. We live at a time when rebellion against righteousness and blasphemy against Christ are marks of our intellectual and social climate. Europe is succumbing to a new paganism and the nations are to some extent being "re-deceived". This is not being defeatist, I hope, but may be a sign of the times.
In any case, our duty to remain faithful has been highlighted so often in this study of the Revelation that no christian need doubt the need for patient and uncompromised witness and holiness in every time.
The last rebellion is short-lived but fierce. The picture in 20:9 is of the church surrounded by hostility like an embattled army camp or besieged city. At the moment when darkness seems ready to triumph the fire of God falls.
Once again, the moment of victory is described and completed in one sentence. There is no struggle at that moment because Satan has no weaponry that can withstand or even hinder the assault of heaven. It will be enough for Christ to appear and speak the word of doom which will consign the Evil One to eternal torment. There never was a power struggle between Christ and the devil because infinite omnipotence cannot be resisted by any creature. The conflict was always a purely moral one. The great conquest of Satan will not occur at the last day; it has already happened in the life and death of Christ and it continues today in the holy witness of His people. The mention of eternal torment in 20:10 should not surprise or shock us. The depravity and evil of rebellion against God will have been fully exposed and worked out in the history of the world. Nothing less than this would have been just.