Revelation 20:1

As we have continued in our study of the book of Revelation, we have observed how the number of fellow saints who share our understanding of the text dwindles ever more as we proceed. This is because interpreting the book of Revelation is like traveling along a series of roads from a point of origin to a destination. As with any roadway, along the route we meet with numerous forks in the road which head off in different directions—leading to varied destinations.

The fork in the road which looms before us in Revelation Rev. 20:1+ is the thousand years: the Millennial Kingdom. Is the thousand year reign described here that of a literal kingdom on earth? And is it a future reign—or is it already in progress? Are the two resurrections which bracket the thousand years to be understood as literal, physical raisings from the dead? Or are they spiritual resurrections, related to faith? Or are they some combination of the two? When Satan is bound for the duration of this period, how complete is his binding? Who binds him and how is he bound? Is he bound even now? These are just some of the questions which confront the reader of Revelation Rev. 20:1+.

That a kingdom would be the subject of this chapter is not unexpected. In the previous chapter we saw Christ ride forth under the declaration that he would (1) strike the nations, and (2) rule them with a rod of iron (Rev. Rev. 19:15+). The striking took place during the Campaign of Armageddon. Now, the “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. Rev. 19:16+) is to take up His promised earthly reign (Mtt. Mat. 6:10). It would seem most natural that if His Second Coming occurs in Revelation Rev. 19:1+, then the rule described here (Rev. Rev. 20:4+) would follow upon His physical return. Alas, there is great confusion over what should be obvious.

The reader may recall the introductory material which we studied prior to our verse-by-verse exposition. He may recall the premise which motivated such preparation: If we all read the same text, how is it that such widely-different understandings result? The answer, to a great degree, was found in differing Systems of Interpretation which are themselves the result of different views concerning how to interpret the text, especially Interpreting Symbols. There is perhaps no more dramatic illustration of the significant affect that interpretation has upon meaning than the divergence of opinion attending the Millennial Kingdom which comes before us in this chapter.

The view we set forth is that of the earliest Church Fathers, known as premillennialism or chiliasm—the belief that Christ returns before His kingdom commences on earth for one thousand years.

We now come to Rev. Rev. 20:1-6+ which was so universally held by the early Church to teach a literal resurrection, and to be so thoroughly consonant with Jewish views, that the Apocalypse narrowly escaped proscription by the enemies of Chiliasm . . . If we reject the early Church belief in this particular, the veracity of Apostolic Fathers, who assert that they received their interpretation of it from the Apostles and their associates . . . is impeached, and the teaching of the Apostles themselves which directly led to such a faith in all the churches established by them is open to grave suspicion. . . . Popery . . . almost crushed the early interpretation of the passage; but others held fast to it, as e.g. Paulikians, Waldenses, and Albigenses. Various writers, some men of acknowledged ability and talent, have continued from the Reformation . . . down to the present, to entertain the same, and today some of the most able men in nearly all, if not all, denominations, accept of this ancient faith.1

In accord with our A Policy of Inoculation, we will present elements of alternate views—together with what we view to be their weaknesses—so that the reader is better equipped to judge these matters for himself. Let the reader take note: whether or not one grasps firmly to the Golden Rule of Interpretation will to a large degree determine what meaning is derived from the text. Most agree that a plain, literal reading of the passage results in the premillennial understanding which we hold—that a future, literal reign of Jesus Christ on earth will follow His Second Coming and precede the eternal state:

Kuyper, in trying to refute chiliasm, makes admissions which substantially give his position away. In commenting on the passage Rev. Rev. 20:1-7+, he notes: “Reading this passage as if it were a literal description would not only tend to a belief in the Millennium but would settle the question of chiliasm for all who might be in doubt concerning the same . . . If we take it for granted now, that these thousand years are to be taken literally, that these thousand years are still in the future, and that this resurrection was meant to be a bodily resurrection, why then we may say, that at least as far as Rev. Rev. 20:1+ is concerned, the question is settled. Then we must admit that Rev. Rev. 20:1-7+ is a confession of chiliasm with all it contains.”—Kuyper, A. Chiliasm, p. 9.2

It was this very matter, opposition to what the book of Revelation describes regarding The Arrival of God’s Kingdom on earth, which inhibited its Acceptance into the Canon. See Millennial Kingdom. See The Millennial Kingdom in the Early Church.

Depending upon how one understands the first few verses of this chapter, one will most likely wind up in one of the major interpretive camps: premillennial, postmillennial, or amillennial. Only the premillennial interpreter takes the verses in their most literal way—symbolism being used to describe literal events yet future. The other two interpretive positions are forced into spiritualizing elements of the passage in order to achieve self-consistency among elements within the passage (e.g., the nature of the resurrections, the binding of Satan, the duration of the kingdom).

Waymeyer offers a helpful summary of key differences between premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial interpretations of the first six verses of this pivotal chapter:

Key Interpretive Issues in Revelation Rev. 20:1-6+3
IssuePremillennial ViewPostmillennial ViewAmillennial View
Satan’s Binding:FuturePresent / FuturePresent
First Resurrection:PhysicalSpiritualSpiritual
Thousand Years:LiteralLiteral / SymbolicSymbolic
Locale of Reign:EarthEarth / HeavenHeaven
Chronology of chapters 19-20:4 SequentialSequential / RecapitulationRecapitulation

We submit that the premillennial interpretation is the only interpretation which does justice to the text—recognizing the use of symbols to describe literal events which are entirely consistent and which do not violate exegetical consistency (e.g., such as taking one resurrection as physical and the other as spiritual).

I saw an angel coming down from heaven
John has previously seen other angels coming down from heaven on divine missions. A mighty angel came down from heaven to stand upon the sea and land and declare God’s dominion retaking the earth (Rev. Rev. 10:2+). An angel with great authority came down from heaven to declare the destruction of Babylon (Rev. Rev. 18:1+). Even before this angel takes action, we know that he is on a mission from the throne having divine authority. Given his mission, it is remarkable that he is not even described as being great or mighty. Nevertheless, he will be able to easily dispatch Satan to his millennial prison.

having the key to the bottomless pit
In the ninth chapter, John saw a “star” which fell from heaven having the key to the shaft of this same earthly compartment (Rev. Rev. 9:1+). The star (angel) opened the pit to loose the demonic locusts at the fifth trumpet judgment. Here, an angel will perform the opposite action with his key: locking up the bottomless pit, probably by means of securing the same shaft. If the star which loosed the locusts was Satan, the irony which confronts him now is being a prisoner in the very abyss which he was previously able to unlock. See commentary on Revelation 9:1.

Bottomless pit is ἄβυσσον [abysson] : a very deep gulf or chasm in the lowest parts of the earth. See commentary on Revelation 9:1.

The Angel with the Key to the Bottomless Pit

The Angel with the Key to the Bottomless Pit 5
a great chain in his hand
This is not a literal chain, but a figure describing the angel’s authority and ability to restrain Satan. This is not the first time where an angelic power will have been said to be chained: “God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness” (2Pe. 2Pe. 2:4) and “the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own above, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude Jude 1:6). Since spiritual beings, such as angels like Satan, cannot be restricted by physical means, we must understand the chain to denote a supernatural restraint which is ultimately provided by God for the express purpose of the angel’s task. In a similar way that the rebellious angels were locked away and unable to roam, so too will be Satan. The figure of a chain is used: the restraint provides no degree of freedom whereby it may be stretched.

In our discussion of The Rise of Allegorical Interpretation, we saw that once the tether of literal interpretation is cut, there is virtually no limit to the variety of fanciful solutions which may be provided as possible explanations for the meaning of the text. And so it is with amillennialism which denies the plain meaning of the text and takes almost the entire passage as an imprecise approximation of the spiritual authority now present in the Church. Here, we are told that an angel will bind Satan. Although the Church is never said to be an angel, amillennialist Kik is sure it is the Church which has this chain and that Satan is currently bound:

It is not difficult to ascertain by what means Satan is bound. The chain is the Gospel. Wherever a soul is released through the preaching of the Gospel there Satan is restrained and limited. . . . Unfortunately the Church of today does not realize the power that Christ has given her. Christ has placed in her hands the chain by which she can bind Satan. She can restrain his influence over the nations. But today the Church bemoans the fact that evil is becoming stronger and stronger. She bemoans the fact that the world is coming more and more under the control of the Devil. Whose fault is that? It is the Church. She has the chain and does not have the faith to bind Satan ever more firmly. Satan is bound and the Church knows it not! Satan can be bound ever more firmly and the Church does it not! [emphasis added]6

According to amillennialism, the chain is riddled with lack of faith. Its ability to restrain is compromised because the Church doesn’t realize it already has this chain. Satan would be bound ever more firmly if she would just realize this fact. Immediately we meet with a characteristic of amillennialism which fails to do justice to the text: the binding is not truly a binding. It is “loose” and needs to be ever more firmly pulled in. Amillennialism teaches that Satan was bound at the cross:

According to the preterist view, Satan is currently bound (Revelation Rev. 20:2-3+) and crushed (Romans Rom. 16:20). The enemy was not just defeated de jure (legally) at the cross, but has been crushed de facto (in fact). Therefore, there is no external spiritual roadblock prohibiting Christians from reigning and ruling now.7

If the binding of Satan is now and its ineffectiveness is found in the weak faith of the Church, then what hope is there that he will ever be bound by this means? By the measure of amillennialism, even the “super apostle” Paul was unable to muster the necessary faith to get the job done:

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2Cor. 2Cor. 12:7-9)

Paul was unable to “bind” Satan because Satan is not bound in this present age. His binding is future, after the Second Coming of Christ and during the Millennial Kingdom.

Notes

1 George H. N. Peters, The Theocratic Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1978, 1884), 2:264.

2 Charles Feinberg, Premillennialism or Amillennialism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1936), 212.

3 Matthew Waymeyer, Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate (The Woodlands, TX: Kress Christian Publications, 2001, 2004), 13.

4 See Literary Structure.

5 The angel with the key to the pit seen with the angel showing John the New Jerusalem in the background. Albrecht Durer (1471 - 1528). Image courtesy of the Connecticut College Wetmore Print Collection.

6 J. Marcellus Kik, Revelation Twenty: An Exposition (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1955), 19-20.

7 Thomas Ice, “Some Practical Dangers of Preterism,” in Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, eds., The End Times Controversy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2003), 423.

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