The King and His Kingdom
May 15, 2016 | Randy Smith
The King and His KingdomRevelation 20:1-15
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
Some questions to ask of the text:
Revelation 20:1 "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years [Literal or symbolic?]; 3 and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time. 4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them [Who is this? Is it in heaven or on earth?], and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years [Just the martyrs or all Christians?]. 5 The rest of the dead [Believers (i.e. the "non-martyrs) or unbelievers?] did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This [Reference to martyrs of verse 4 or "rest of the dead" in verse 5?] is the first resurrection [Spiritual resurrection or physical bodily resurrection?]. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death [That's clearly hell] has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years [Again, literal or symbolic? In heaven or on earth?]. 7 When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war [A different war or the same war mentioned in chapter 19 just seen from a different perspective?]; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. 9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds [Will believers also appear before the Great White Throne or is it just for unbelievers]. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."
Eschatology Explanation (slide)
Eschatology - the study of the last things.
I believe this slide describes many of us well. Maybe I should say that it used to describe us very well. Since we've invested roughly a year in Revelation, many of you have relayed to me how your understanding of eschatology has greatly improved.
My goal has been to present the aspects of Revelation in which we can have the greatest confidence. I have found a lesser time and patience for timelines and the debates over the minutia of the symbolism. Keeping the main points the main points, Revelation has taught me how to expect and live amongst the persecution of the world, how to stand for Christ without compromising. It has taught me of God's overall sovereignty and eventual defeat of evil and to value the superior worth and beauty of Jesus Christ.
This is important to keep in mind because as we turn the page to chapter 20 this morning, perhaps no other chapter in this book has caused more debates, speculation, confusion or ink to be spilled. Specifically, the issue is what we call the Millennial Kingdom.
We need to keep in mind the words of one commentator: "The tendency of many interpreters at this point is to become apologists for a particular view of the millennium. Without denying the significance of this important passage, it should not be elevated above such basic themes as the return of Christ, the final judgment and removal of all wickedness, and the splendor of the eternal state" (Mounce, Revelation, p. 351).
In other words, as we study chapter 20 this morning. Let's keep things in perspective. Let's not let the novelty of this issue overshadow the clarity of more essential doctrines.
Perhaps it will help as we prepare to dive into chapter 20 to show you the various positions as it pertains to the rapture of the church and the Millennial Kingdom. This is where the debates are situated. These are basically the only positions available. Only one (as best) in each of the two categories is correct. And our acceptance of wherever we stand on these issues must be derived from Scripture and understood to be non-salvation (non-salvific) in nature.
1. Two Positions Considered
The Rapture Positions (slide)
Let's first start with the four rapture positions. In other words, when will Jesus take the church from the world?
To the far left is what is commonly called the pretribulation rapture. What this means is that Jesus will rapture the church before the Great Tribulation. This is what most of the evangelical church believes. The theory is only about 150 years only.
Moving to the right you see the midtribulation rapture. As it sounds, this is the belief that Jesus will rapture the church at the midpoint (in other words, just before Antichrist reveals himself) and it gets really ugly for the Christian. This is not a commonly held belief.
Another belief not commonly held is the prewrath position. The prewrath position claims that Jesus will rapture His church near the end of the Great Tribulation, but before God pours His wrath (in the trumpet and bowl judgments) out upon all mankind still remaining on the earth.
Finally, on the far right is the posttribulation rapture. Though not as wildly accepted today, this was the overwhelming and predominant position of the church for almost the last two-thousand years. Again, as the name indicates, Jesus will take His church back to Himself after God's wrath is delivered (obviously God's children will be protected from God's wrath no different than they were during the Egyptian plagues). Everything happens simultaneously. Jesus return and the church is raptured.
Which one is correct?
The Millennial Positions (3 slides)
Now our topic for today - the three millennial positions. And while I'll be painting with a large brush, please understand that there are various positions within these positions.
Premillennialism means that Jesus will come back before the Millennium. In other words, premillennialism asserts that the Millennial Kingdom often considered to be a literal thousand years will take place after Jesus returns. He will bind Satan and set up His kingdom on earth. When Satan is released another war will ensue that will lead to the final defeat of all evil and usher in the eternal state. For the most part, this has been the historical position of the church and this is what most Christians believe today.
Postmillennialism means that Jesus returns after the Millennium. This belief, common in the eighteenth century, but held today mainly by liberal theologians, claims that the world will continue to get better before the return of Christ. I personally see little support for this in Scripture.
Lastly, amillennialism, "a" the prefix of negation attached to the world "millennial" believes that there is no literal Millennial Kingdom. The thousand years in Revelation 20 that we will look at shortly is interpreted symbolically and stands for the church age, the time in-between the first and second comings of Christ. This was popularized by Augustine and held to by many of the Reformers.
Again, which one is correct?
2. Two Interpretations Explained
Omitting the postmillennial period perspective, let's explain the other two millennium positions using our text from Revelation 20. And might I also add, when it comes to specific Millennium teaching, the only place to turn to in the New Testament is here.
Let's walk through Revelation 20 first seeing the passage through the lens or grid of amillennialism. Follow along in your Bibles. Again, this is amillennialism, or an "amill" perspective.
In verses 1 and 2 we read of Satan being bound. This is taken to believe that Satan is bound during the church age (first to second coming of Christ). You say, what about all the Scriptural passages that teach us that Satan is a roaring lion and warn us of the need to wear our spiritual armor? That doesn't sound like Satan is bound! Answer, he is not bound completely, but he was, as it's clearly presented in Scripture, defeated through the work of Christ (Mk. 3:27; Col. 2:15). And though active today, he is limited by God now in his scope and power since Calvary. His ability to deceive during the church age is not in some sense what it once was. Many argue this is why we can account for massive Gentile conversions after Christ's appearance.
Others in the "amill" camp stay directly with the text and argue from verse 3 that Satan's power is limited on his ability to "deceive the nations." In other words, until he is "released," he cannot mobilize them for international rebellion against God. Satan will not be permitted to stage an Armageddon before its time.
The thousand years as seen in verses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 for the "amiller" is to be taken symbolically as most numbers in Revelation are intended. The numbers seven and ten appear frequently in Revelation. Seven is a number of fullness in quality and ten is a number of fullness in quantity. Thus it is argued that 1,000 multiplies and intensifies this (10x10x10). We see this elsewhere in Scripture. God owns "the cattle on a thousand hills" (Psm. 50:10). Does God not own the cattle on hill 1001? Or 2 Peter 3:8, "With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day." No one takes those numbers literally.
At the end of verse 4 lies the key to unlocking the Millennial mystery. What does it mean when John says those beheaded because of their faithfulness to Christ will come back to life?
The traditional "amill" position holds that this is a spiritual resurrection. In other words, since these individuals paid with their lives to prove the greatest devotion to Christ, our Lord promises them eternal life. In the words of one author, "What better, more appropriate, or even more biblical way could he have done so than by assuring them that though they may die physically at the hands of the beast they will live spiritually in the presence of the Lamb?" (Sam Storms, Revelation 20:1-15, Part 2). After death they will reign with Christ for the remainder of the church age.
Yet how do the "amillers" interpret "the rest of the dead" in verse 5? Why do they wait the church age to come to life? Obviously since all Christians are resurrected spiritually the moment they die, this refers they say to their physical resurrection. Jesus returns to earth after the church age is completed and then all believers are given their physical resurrection bodies. As verses 5 and 6 tells us, this is the "first resurrection," the physical resurrection of believers. The second resurrection is the physical resurrection of unbelievers and hell is their "second death." But hell (the "second death") has no power over Christians who participate in the "first resurrection."
The "amill" perspective takes the release of Satan (verse 7) to be an unbinding of him when Jesus returns. He goes to make war with God and the saints, the same war we read about in chapter 19. He's defeated (verse 9) and thrown into the lake of fire (verse 10).
Now let's walk through Revelation 20 seeing the passage through the lens or grid of a premillennialist. They see chapters 19 and 20 chronologically.
When church age is completed and Jesus returns, He will bind Satan. According to "premillers," this binding is absolute. Satan is literally tossed into the abyss (verse 1) and held without the ability to deceive anyone for a literal thousand years (verses 2 and 3). He will be confined and rendered completely inactive. After the thousand years are completed, he will be released for a (verse 3) "short time."
So once Jesus returns and Satan is bound, our Lord will set up His kingdom. Though some say this will be in heaven, most believe it is a literal 1,000 year kingdom of Christ established here on earth. Some take verse 4 to refer to literal martyrs, but most take verse 4 to refer to all Christians that will at this time be resurrected bodily. It is what verse 5 call the "first resurrection." You see that at the end of verse 4. "They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years."
Verse 5, "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed." Now they say this is in reference to unbelievers and their physical resurrection or we could say a "second resurrection." So believers are physically resurrected before the 1,000 years (the "first resurrection") and unbelievers remain as disembodied spirits in Hades until the 1,000 years is completed. Then at that point they too will receive resurrection bodies (the "second resurrection").
When Satan is released from the abyss (verse 7) after being there for 1,000 years he will "deceive the nations" (verse 8) and assemble the unbelievers to make war against (verse 9) "the camp of the saints and the beloved city." "Premillers" take this as an additional battle to the one mentioned in chapter 19. God devours them with fire from heaven (verse 9) and Satan and eventually all unbelievers are judged and thrown into the lake of fire.
Even though this brief explanation probably didn't do great justice to the either of the two positions and I doubt I swayed anyone to convincingly stand in one camp or the other, it at least demonstrated the right questions you need to be asking of the text. Barring a few variations, these are the only two options when handling Revelation 20.
3. Two Take-Aways From The Text
Yet before we go, I would like to lastly present to you two take-aways from the text that we can be totally assured of.
Evil will be defeated
First, evil will be defeated.
I find it interesting that if you go with the "premill" position how corrupt society is after the fall. Jesus reigning on earth for a 1,000 years and people still have the capacity to be deceived and desire to overpower Christ in a final battle. Moreover, how about Satan? He is bound in the abyss for 1,000 years. Yet is he reformed? Does he learn his lesson? No, immediately upon release he seeks to defeat God. Satan starts his career by deceiving Adam and Eve and ends his career by deceiving the nations. Yet the great deceiver will be shown to have been greatly deceived himself.
Any way you slice it, regardless of your millennial position, Satan and all those not in Christ will be defeated. Verse 10 tells us that Satan will be "thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and false prophet are also (cf. Rev. 19:20) and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever."
Verses 11 and 12 tells> us that unbelievers will appear before the Great White Throne judgment. Their names will not be found in the book of life and by their own deeds they will be condemned. They, along with all the other unbelieving dead in presently Hades, after being judged, verse 14, will also be "thrown into the lake of fire."
Evil appears to be winning today, but Revelation 20 teaches us that all of it is perfectly permitted under the sovereign control of God. And when it's time (verse 9) fire comes down from heaven to devour God's enemies and their judgment will be the lake of fire (verse 15).
Righteousness will win
The second take-away is that righteousness will win.
The "second death" spoken of in verse 6 and 14 is clearly a reference to hell. All believers who die before the return of Christ obviously experience physical death, the first death. Yet the second death (hell), unlike unbelievers, is one they will never experience. Because they trusted Christ who went to the cross and paid the penalty for all their sins, they are forgiven, washed clean of their sins in the blood of the Lamb and will not be condemned with the rest of the unbelieving world.
Think of it this way: The believer dies physically, but experiences spiritual resurrection. The unbeliever is resurrected physically, but experiences spiritual death. Or for the Christian, to die is resurrection. For the non-Christian, to be resurrected is to die.
Once again we see in Revelation a terrible future to those without Christ and a blessed future to those who love Jesus and in Him are made clean before God's judgment.