All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Premillennialism: This is probably the most popular eschatological position (Dispensational Premillennialism (DP), in particular). I talk about this now because we will be dealing with the only passage in the entire New Testament that gives us the idea of a thousand year kingdom, which premillennialists interpret literally. Basically, proponents (DP) of this position teach that God has a plan for Israel that is separate from the Church. Most teach that the Rapture of the Church will take place before the so-called seven year tribulation period, which is known as the pre-trib Rapture. Some teach that the Rapture occurs in the middle of the tribulation period; that’s known as the mid-trib Rapture. They teach that the people of Israel will come to faith in Christ during this seven years tribulation period. They teach that at the end of it, Christ will return to judge the world and to set up His earthly millennial kingdom, where the Old Testament prophecies regarding Israel are finally fulfilled.
In this kingdom – according to premillennialists – will dwell glorified saints with non-glorified saints, and with unbelievers too, because they believe there will be surviving believers from the tribulation period who will enter this kingdom — but not everyone will be saved during this 1000 year reign. The Jewish temple with its animal sacrifices will also be restored (as a memorial, they say). At the end of this kingdom, Satan will be released to gather all the unbelievers against Christ and His people for one final battle before we enter into the Eternal Kingdom of the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21 and 22).
That’s Dispensational Premillennialism in a nutshell.
[Note: There are two premillennial positions: Historic Premillennialism (HP) and Dispensational Premillennialism (DP). The primary difference is that HP sees no real difference between Israel and the Church. Whereas, DP teaches that God has a separate plan for the nation of Israel apart from the Church.]
For a good explanation between the DP and HP, click on the link below:
One thousand years: Again, this chapter contains the only reference in the New Testament to a thousand year kingdom. Premillennialists, of course, use it to validate what they see prophesied in the Old Testament, that there will be an earthly kingdom where Christ reigns. However, the NT doesn’t teach such a kingdom. On the contrary, if you’ve read my series regarding the Kingdom of Christ, you know that the NT doesn’t even make room for it. The idea of an earthly kingdom must be squeezed (assumed) into every NT text used by premillennialists to teach this kingdom. However, nowhere in the NT is an earthly kingdom of Christ taught. It’s simply not there. Again, that’s an idea that must be assumed, based on a preconceived notion about the Kingdom of Christ.
I believe the 1000 years of this chapter is symbolic for a long period of time, and specifically refers to the Church age — from the first coming of Christ to His second. It seems to me that if this 1000 year period refers to an earthly kingdom where Christ reigns upon an earthly throne, where glorified saints are dwelling with the people of this world, there would be some sort of description of it, like what we have regarding the Eternal Kingdom of Revelation 21 and 22. But again, there isn’t anything said about it in the whole NT other than what appears to be in this one passage. One would think that if there was going to be such a glorious kingdom as this coming to this world, there would be something more revealed about it in the NT.
The fact that there is literally nothing said about this so-called millennial earthly kingdom in the NT (except, supposedly here), strongly indicates that there is no such a kingdom to talk about. I think the silence is very telling.
[Note: I encourage you to read my series titled “Kingdom of Christ Now.” You will find there a strong biblical case against the idea of a millennial kingdom where Christ reigns prior to the Eternal Kingdom of Rev 21 and 22.]
As for the OT passages that seem to indicate an earthly kingdom, I believe those passages refer to either the Church or to the Eternal Kingdom of “the new heaven and new earth” (2 Pe 1:11; Rev 21:1-3), depending on the context. Just as the book of Revelation contains a lot of symbolic and figurative language, so does the OT. When interpreting the OT, it’s necessary that we do so in light of our understanding of the NT, because the NT fulfills the OT. Disastrous results occur when we do that the other way around.
(Rev 20:1) – 1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.
The “abyss” is normally associated with Satan and his demons (Lu 8:31; Rev 9:1-2,11; 11:7; 17:8). Regardless of what others may teach about this abyss, Scripture is not perfectly clear about what this place is. In fact, I believe it’s certain that this abyss is symbolic, and not a literal abyss (pit). It’s just as symbolic as the “key” and the “great chain.”
What is clear is that this abyss is associated with Satan and his demonic rulers of darkness (Eph 6:11-12). In Rev 9 we see demons (depicted as locusts) coming out of the abyss. In Rev 11:7 and Rev 17:8, we see what I believe to be the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:3) – totally indwelt by Satan – coming up out of the abyss. In none of those places should we understand that they are literally coming up out of some abyss or “bottomless pit” (some translations). Reason being is that Satan and his demons are free to roam this earth, fully involved in deceiving the people of this world (within the limits God places upon them). Likewise, the “man of sin” is a real person, and therefore, we cannot believe that he too literally comes up out of an abyss — even though he will be totally indwelt by Satan.
Therefore, I believe we’re to understand this verse to refer to the limitations (“key” – “great chain”) that God places on Satan and his demons, as rulers of the kingdom of darkness.
Satan and his demons are not totally free to do as they please, but only as God allows (limitations, restrictions). In verse 2 and 7, we’ll see what this restriction is within the context of this passage. There we’ll see what this “key” and “chain” specifically refer to. God has the key and He has the chain, which again, are symbolic — symbolic of God’s sovereignty over Satan and his kingdom.
(Rev 20:2) – 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,
As I explained in the introduction, this “thousand years” is symbolic for a long period of time. More specifically, it refers to the entire Church age. We see that Satan is “bound” during this time. As I indicated in verse one, this is a matter of control over the activities of Satan. God places limits on what he and his demonic army do. In this context, Satan is restricted from gathering all the nations against the people of Christ, as verses 7 and 8 indicate. Just prior to the return of Christ when He judges the world, the restriction on Satan will be removed, and he will then be allowed to gather all the nations against His Church.
I believe this “binding” of Satan is the “restraint” that Paul referred to in 2 Thesalonians 2:6-10:
(2 Th 2:6-10) – 6 And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming; 9 even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10 and with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
Satan, who will work through the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:3) at the appointed time, is being “restrained” during the current Church age from gathering the nations against the people of Christ. This is what the “chain” refers to. Right before the return of Christ, at the end of the Church age, this chain of restraint will be unlocked by the “key” (vs. 1). At that time Satan will gather the nations against the Church of Christ. This “gathering” (vs. 8) is what is known as the “War of Armageddon” (Rev 16:16).
(Rev 20:3) – 3 and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: after this he must be loosed for a little time.
NET – 20:3 – The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.)
This casing of Satan into the abyss is figurative language for the limitations that God has placed on Satan, as explained in verse 2. During the Church age, Satan and his demonic rulers of darkness, are limited in their activities. They’re not allowed to fully carry out their will according to all the power that they possess.
While there’s a general restriction placed upon them, in the context of this passage, this restriction applies directly to the gathering of the nations against the Church worldwide. Again, we see that in verses 7-8. In order to gather all the nations of the world against God’s people, Satan would have to be able to “deceive” all the people of the world. They would have to be of “one mind” to do that. We see this in 2 Thes 2:10-11 and Rev 17:17. Of course, by this time, everyone who is going to get saved, will be saved, and the Church complete.
From here, we’re going to skip to verses 7-10, since they’re directly related to what’s going on with Satin in verses 1-3. Then we’ll return to verse 4-6 afterwards.
(Rev 20:7-8) – 7 And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8 and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
“Loosed out of his prison,” is figurative language. When the Church age has ended (“the thousand years”), and the Church is complete, the restraint upon Satan will be removed, and he will be free to “deceive the nations” and gather them against the Christians of the world, just before Christ returns in judgment.
Refers to “Armageddon” of Rev 16:16. Armageddon is not a true battle, but a coordinated, worldwide assault against the people of God, where a large number of Christians will be killed.
“Gog and Magog”
This is clearly a reference to Ezekiel 38 and 39, since this is the only other place in the whole Bible where these two terms are used together. Premillennialists don’t believe the war of this passage is the same war as described in those two chapters of Ezekiel. They believe they are two different wars at different times. However, I believe they are one and the same. We have to allow Scripture to interpret itself. Therefore, it makes better sense to interpret the “God and Magog” of Rev 20 as the same “Gog and Magog” of Ezekiel 38 and 39. Knowing that these two OT chapters are the only other places in the Bible where these terms are used together, I don’t believe John would confuse his readers if he wasn’t referring to those chapters. We have to allow the obvious to lead us.
The war described in this passage is very brief, while the war described in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is very extensive and detailed. However, “brief” does not mean different, but only a shorter version of the same. Furthermore, this is the same war that is described in these passages:
These are not different wars, but different views of the same war.
(Rev 20:9) – 9 And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them.
Net – 9 They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely.
The “camp of the saints” and the “beloved city” (Rev 21:1-2), refers to the people of Christ, the Church worldwide: “over the breadth of the earth.” As revealed in Rev 11:7-13, the “man of sin” will lead the nations against all the Christians of the world. It will be a worldwide mission to exterminate all those who profess the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, this is the “War of Armageddon” (Rev 16:16). After the extensive slaughter of Christians, they will be brought back to life again via the resurrection for all the world to see. Those Christians who are still alive at that time, will be caught up together with them (1 Th 4:13-18: 1 Cor 15:51-54).
“fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them”
Soon after Jesus receives His people via the resurrection, He will return in Judgment against the world. That is what we see in the “plagues” of Rev 16 and in the destruction of “Babylon the great” of Rev 18.
This “fire coming down out of heaven” could be referring to the release of nuclear weapons. We can’t know for sure, but I think it’s a reasonable scenario. In other words, this could be the means that God uses to judge the world, as Rev 17:16-17 indicates. Thus, this is what is being described in Rev 16 and 18.
The description of this fire coming down “out of heaven,” simply means that this judgment comes from God. In no way does that eliminate the idea that God could use nuclear weapons as the means of this judgment. A careful reading of Rev 16, reveals a near perfect description of what occurs in a nuclear explosion and in the resulting fallout. However, to be clear, it could very well be that this fire of judgment will come directly from God Himself, without the aid of anything on earth. I talk about nuclear weapons as merely a possible scenario.
(Rev 20:10) – 10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Once the world has been judged and destroyed, then Satan will be cast into the “lake of fire,” where “the beast” and “false prophet” are also. I believe that the beast is the kingdom of darkness and the false prophet is the combined rulers of that kingdom. “They” in this verse, therefore, refers to Satan and his co-rulers (demons), as described in Eph 6:11-12. They will be tormented forever and ever in this lake of fire that was prepared for them (Matt 25:41). I think also in view here may be the “eighth king” of Rev 17:11, whom I believe to the the “man of sin” of 2 Thessalonians 2.
“day and night”
This is figurative language for continuous “torment,” for it’s not likely that there will be a “day and night” in the lake of fire, for day and night is something that is caused by the rotating of the earth around the sun. Thus it would be senseless to take this literally. This is a good example of the symbolic and figurative language of the book of Revelation.
“lake of fire”
Place of eternal punishment for everyone who does not belong to Christ (Rev 20:11-15).
We now go back to verses 4-6 (Rev 20:4-6):
(Rev 20:4) – 4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
“I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them”
A “throne” represents authority. The thrones in this passage are either the thrones of the Apostles (Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30) or the thrones of the twenty-four elders (Rev 4:4; 11:16), which would be the representatives of both Old and New Testaments. Or it’s the thrones of all Christians.
I believe in context, these are the thrones of all Christians, because we “reign with Christ” (Eph 2:4-6; Rev 5:9-10), and we do so throughout the Church age. As followers of Christ, we are His representatives in the world — He who is King of kings. Jesus sits upon His throne now, and reigns in His kingdom now, and we “reign with him” — throughout the whole “thousand years,” which is symbolic for the whole Church age. We “reign” with Christ and “judge” in the sense that as His representatives, we have the truth, and we have been given authority to judge between the truth and all that is false. Verse 6, especially, lets us know that those who sit on these thrones are all believers (see verse 6).
“the souls of them that had been beheaded”
The fact that martyrs for Christ are highlighted in this verse, does not mean that they are the only ones who are in view here. The book of Revelation is largely about Christian persecution. This book is meant to provide encouragement for those who are persecuted (or may be persecuted someday) for the name of Christ and for His gospel, in order to give them a glimpse of what they have to look forward to. This book serves as a reminder that life in this world is only temporary, a life that merely prepares us for eternity in the presence of God. Furthermore, just as martyrs for Christ are the focus of this passage, I believe that there will be a special reward for them that the rest don’t get to enjoy.
To be clear, then, while the focus is on those who die for Christ in this passage, I believe all Christians are in view, for we all “reign with Christ” and we’re all given authority to “judge” between truth and falsehood (via God’s Word). Christ’s kingdom (the Church) is a spiritual kingdom, and we reign with Christ within that kingdom as a witnesses and messengers for Him in (and over) the world.
“such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand”
I believe “the beast” is the kingdom of darkness — all that opposes the truth, all that opposes Christ. Its “image” is the kingdom of the world (whole world system), and the “mark” of the beast is the symbolic mark that identifies unbelievers with the kingdom of darkness and the whole world system. This is not a literal mark, but an identification that God sees.
Martyrs for Christ, and all other Christians, since we belong to Christ and are members of His kingdom, we are not a part of the kingdom of darkness or the kingdom of this world. We are not identified with either. As followers of Christ, we are identified with Him by our faith and our allegiance to Him. We “worship” the true God.
“They came to life” (NET, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NIV)
As the next verse reveals, this refers to the “first resurrection.” In order to identify the first resurrection, we have to allow Scripture to interpret itself. The following verses make it clear that the first resurrection occurs upon our faith in Christ:
(Ephesians 2:4-6) – 4 but God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus:
(Colossians 2:13) – 13 And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, you, I say, did he make alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses;
(Colossians 3:1-3) – 1 If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. 3 For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
(Also Romans 6:1-11)
The resurrection discussed in these verses is a spiritual resurrection, where we are raised to new life in Christ (regeneration, new-birth). At the moment we place our faith in Christ, we experience a death and resurrection — where we are “raised up with Him.” This is the first resurrection that we experience, so how is this not the “first resurrection” spoken of in this passage? I think one has to go way out of their way to interpret this any other way.
“and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
Upon this spiritual resurrection, John says that we “reigned with Christ a thousand years” — that is, throughout the whole Church age. John uses past tense here, as looking back throughout the course of the Church age, up to the time of Christ’s return. In other words, John is seeing this from the end of the Church age viewpoint, and looking back.
(Rev 20:5) – 5 The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection.
This verse should be read as a parenthesis:
(The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished). This is the first resurrection.
We have to remember that there is no punctuation in the Greek NT language, so oftentimes in order to correctly interpret a phrase or sentence correctly, we have to consider punctuation. The parentheses is needed, because the sentence actually continues from verse 4 to “this is the first resurrection.” The NET, NRSV, NIV, LEB are in agreement:
NET – 20:5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection.
The “rest of the dead” are those who are dead spiritually and remain dead. All of us are dead spiritually until we come to faith in Christ. Thus those who “came to life” are those who were once dead, but came to life spiritually because of their faith in Christ. Again, this is the “first resurrection.” Therefore, “the rest of the dead,” are those who remain spiritually dead, and thus, are not part of the “first resurrection.”
Therefore, their resurrection, the one spoken of here (“did not come to life until…”), has to be a physical resurrection. This resurrection doesn’t occur until after “the thousand years are finished.” That is, it doesn’t occur until the end of the Church age when Jesus returns in judgment.
So to be clear, the “first resurrection” refers to believers and is a spiritual resurrection (at the point of conversion and regeneration), and the other resurrection refers to unbelievers and is a physical resurrection. Of course, both believers and unbelievers experience a physical resurrection, but in this context, the Apostle John is distinguishing between the spiritual resurrection of believers and the physical resurrection of unbelievers.
Many object that the type of resurrection in this passage must be the same in both cases. So if the “rest of the dead” have a physical resurrection, then those who “came to life” must also be referring to a physical resurrection. However, that’s an unwarranted assumption, because unbelievers do not have a spiritual resurrection, only a physical resurrection. That’s the only “life” that they will ever know. Therefore, when John says that the “rest of the dead did not come to life until….,” he’s speaking of the only kind of “life” that unbelievers will ever know — which is a physical resurrection of judgment (Rev 20:11-15).
Accordingly, the interpretation makes perfect sense, that the “first resurrection” refers to the point of salvation when believers are raised up spiritually, and unbelievers (“the rest of the dead”) are raised up physically. Again, John is making an important distinction between the two types of resurrections.
In summary, believers are resurrected spiritually at the point of salvation, and “reign with Christ a thousand years.” In other words, throughout the Church age. When the “thousand years” (Church age) is over, when Christ returns, then all unbelievers (the spiritually and physically dead) will be resurrected physically to stand before Christ in judgment.
Second resurrection: It should be noted that a “first” resurrection implies a “second” resurrection. As we already discussed, the “first resurrection” is a spiritual resurrection that people experience upon their faith in Christ. The “second” resurrection obviously must refer to the physical resurrection that both believers and unbelievers will experience upon the return of Christ (John 5:25-29; Matt 25:31-46; Ro 14:10-12; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11-15).
(Rev 20:6) – 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power;”
This statement confirms our interpretation of verses 4-5. Both believers and unbelievers take part in the “second” resurrection, which is physical. That leaves us with the “first resurrection,” which has to be spiritual. In other words, it’s only through the new birth (regeneration) that we become “blessed and holy” in the eyes of God. And if that’s the case, then “reigning with Christ for a thousand years” has to be referring to the period between the first and second advents of Christ (Church age). Furthermore, these verses make it clear that our “reign with Christ” begins upon our resurrection. That is, it doesn’t wait for some literal, 1000 year kingdom (premillennial view).
The “second death” is the “lake of fire” (Rev 20:14-15). This is the place of eternal torment for those who are without Christ (Rev 20:10; Matt 25:41,46).
“but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
Compare this with the following verses:
(1 Peter 2:5) – 2:5 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (NET)
(1 Peter 2:9) – 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (NET)
(Rev 1:6) – 1:6 and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father – to him be the glory and the power forever and ever! Amen. (NET) [also Rev 5:10]
Mention of the believers “priesthood” is a key to interpreting this passage (Rev 20:4-6). The priesthood of believers is now. It doesn’t wait for a so-called 1000 year kingdom. I don’t even know how this can be up for debate, because Peter makes it clear that we are a “holy priesthood,” we are a “royal priesthood.” We are “priests of God and of Christ” now, during the present Church age. That’s what the Apostle John reveals in this verse.
Don’t let the word “shall” [be priests] throw you, for this merely refers to those who will be born and raised to new life throughout the Church age.
“over these the second death hath no power”
Again, as John reveals in Rev 20:14 and Rev 21:8, the “second death,” is the “lake of fire.” This is the place of torment for those who die without Christ as Lord and Savior — forever separated from God. So, of course, as believers in Christ, the “second death has no power” over us. We will never see that place, but will dwell in the everlasting kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” of Revelation 21 & 22.