O Lord, we praise You today because we know that history and its end are not in question. Every detail of the universe and of history itself is in Your hand. We praise You because You are sovereign, and we praise You because of Your great love for Your people, the church of your Son, Jesus Christ. Our great enemy has already been defeated, and we look forward to the day when he will be fully and finally destroyed. Help us, O God, to press on in faithfulness to You until the dawn of that day. Amen.
Read Revelation 20
Revelation 20 envisions the final defeat of the dragon, Satan. The chapter’s message is simple: however dire things may sometimes look, God is in control of every detail of history. Not only so, but He is bringing it all to an end that He has already determined. Having been introduced as the mortal enemy of the church back in Revelation 12, here the dragon is finally and completely destroyed.
The chapter divides nicely into three sections: the binding of Satan and the reign of the saints with Jesus in 20:1–6; the short release of Satan and then his destruction in 20:7–10; and, lastly, the final judgment in 20:11–15. Most of the attention given to this part of Revelation has centered on the first six verses, and Christians have understood the meaning of those verses in several different ways. That said, however you finally understand the details, the most important thing to see is that above all, this is a promise of King Jesus’s final victory over the serpent, the dragon, the devil of old, Satan.
THE END TIMES
Watch the two videos linked below on how Christians should view the end times.
How He will finally win that victory is of less interest to John here than the certain fact that He will win it. The basic idea is that Satan will be bound for “a thousand years” (10x10x10, probably, as in other places, a finally indeterminate amount of time), then released for a short while to deceive the nations, and finally destroyed. And then will come the final judgment.
The question that has always surrounded this text, however, is “When does all this happen?” Is this a prophecy of something that will happen in the future, or is this a description of what is happening now? Many Christians understand Revelation 20 as something that happens in the future—a “millennial reign” (as it’s often called) that happens after Jesus returns to earth. In other words, they read Revelation 20 as following chronologically on the heels of Revelation 19. Before we go any further, we should say upfront that this might very well be the right way to read it. Many faithful Christians do read the text that way, and it’s worth acknowledging they are taking the Bible very seriously and trying hard to understand it rightly.
That said, it’s more likely the text shouldn’t be read like that. I think that, just like it has over and over again in the book, the clock “resets” at the beginning of Revelation 20, and we go back again to the time of Christ’s death and resurrection. So I think this thousand-year binding of Satan and this thousand-year reign of Jesus and His people is happening right now, in the whole time between Jesus’s two comings. Whether you agree or disagree, let me tell you briefly why I think this way.
First, reading the text this way is faithful to the structure of the book. Throughout this study, we’ve seen how Revelation is made up of seven or eight (I think eight) visions, and each one is going over the same time period, from the resurrection of Jesus to His return. Here are the eight sections, as I see them: the letters (Revelation 1–3); the seals (4:1–8:5); the trumpets (8:6–11:19); the woman and the dragon (12–14); the bowls (15–16); Babylon (17–19); the reign of Christ (20); and, finally, the new heavens and new Earth (21–22).
Second, the reason I think Revelation 20 is going over ground we’ve already covered is because the battle in 20:7–10 has already been mentioned several times. For example, at the end of Revelation 16 when the bowls are poured out, and at the end of Revelation 19 just as the beast and false prophet are thrown in the lake of fire. Those are not three different battles; they’re the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel 38–39, a great battle in which all the nations of the world push the church to the breaking point just before the Messiah returns. The repeated depictions of that battle in Revelation are one indication that we’re seeing visions of the same time laid over each other in successive layers to create a full and complete picture.
Third, the rest of the New Testament makes it clear that the binding and casting down of Satan took place at the first coming of Jesus. In Mark 3, for example, Jesus says that the reason He has come is to “bind” the strong man and plunder his house. “Bind” there is the same word used in Revelation 20. In Luke 10, when the 72 missionaries return, Jesus rejoices and says He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. In John 12, two Gentiles come to Jesus and He says that “now the ruler of this world is cast out”—again, the same word here as “thrown.” In Colossians 2, Paul connects defeat of Satan with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hebrews 2 says that Satan was destroyed through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And in Revelation 12, John has already seen a different vision of this same reality, with Satan being cast out of heaven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. All this language shows that Satan’s defeat—his binding, his casting down—happened at Jesus’ death and resurrection.
If this understanding is correct, then it means that Satan is currently bound, right now. Of topic, John is aware that the “binding” of Satan here doesn’t mean he cannot act at all. After all, Revelation 12 says he pursues and persecutes the church during this time, and Revelation 9 even says he’s given the keys to the bottomless pit so he can unleash evil in the world. Remember, these are visions and symbols, so John is not particularly worried about the inconsistencies created when the different visions and symbols are compared with one another. Each vision is communicating different realities, and therefore each one has to be taken on its own terms in order to arrive at the whole picture.
And what is that whole picture? It’s that Satan is active in persecuting the church, yet in some important way he is restrained. Revelation 20:3 is specific about the nature of that restraint: Satan is restrained from deceiving the nations. In other words, he will not be able to stop the church in its mission of preaching the gospel to the nations. It is as Jesus said: “The gates [i.e., the defenses] of hell will not prevail” against the church as she carries out her mission.
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.
- The implications of this text for us, especially as those who want to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others, are enormous. Above all, once we realize the vision of Revelation 20 isn’t simply something we’re waiting on, but rather something we’re living even now, it gives us great courage and motivation. For one thing, it removes the sting and fear of death for us. If you’re a Christian, then you have no need to fear death because to die is to be in the presence of King Jesus.
- This text also encourages us to be bold in carrying out the mission Christ has given us. Why? Because we realize that God has irrevocably determined that the church will not fail in her mission. Men and women from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will bow before the King of Kings.
- Decide what you think about how this text should be read. Do you think it’s describing a present reality or a future one? Why?
- Spend some time meditating on God’s determination that His church will not fail in her mission of evangelizing the world. How does that reality affect your heart? Does it give you courage? Does it undermine fear? Why do you think that is?
- Tell your accountability partner what you put into action from your Physical and Financial Stewardship plan.