The Millennium (part 1)
This is the Word of the Lord. Good to see you all this morning. If you’re visiting, we are nearing the end of Revelation. Over the next few months we’ll be finishing this series up, Lord willing. If you need an outline, raise your hand. Otherwise, go ahead and grab a Bible near you and turn to Revelation 20.
A of couple of weeks ago, a group of our 20-something singles who have a Bible study on Tuesday night flew out to Colorado to do some long weekend skiing. And while they were out there, they did what is called CAT skiing. And that is, you are taken in a snow CAT (that thing) above the lifts, beyond where the normal skiing is. It’s not quite helicopter skiing, but it’s close (a little cheaper), and you get to ski on untouched powder. And the scenes are stunningly beautiful. So, this is a picture one of them took from up there. And so, just imagine yourself, up on the top of this mountain, there’s nobody around. You’ve been dropped off, snow CAT disappears, and you can take it all in, this beautiful view. You’re looking at these super steep slopes, waist deep in powder, the dream. And then the dream ends for one of their members (not from this church, of course. They would not do that).
But one person let go of her snowboard accidentally. So, you’re watching your snowboard go down the slope without you, hundreds of yards. And suddenly this stunningly beautiful, exhilarating scene is frustrating because you’re waist deep in powder and now you’re having to sort of roll, stumble, crawl your way down, trying not to become an avalanche and drown in snow. And so, what was stunningly beautiful is now frustratingly petty, perhaps. You’re getting all this powder deep within your snowsuit. It’s kind of like going to the Grand Canyon. You know, those family vacations where this is the dream, we’re having a blast. And then all of a sudden kids are fighting over which is going to ride which mule down into the canyon. Or some kind of … You go from this is stunningly beautiful to this is really petty, really frustrating. We’ve all been there.
And what I fear, the focus of today, is that I fear this has happened to Revelation 20. Revelation 20 includes some of the most stunningly beautiful promises in the Bible. And yet it is a passage racked with controversy. Let me just give you a few examples from some really smart people, scholars who have wrestled with this passage.
Grant Osborne, “This is easily the best-known portion of the book as well as one of the most divisive passages in the Bible.”
Thomas Schreiner,”Here we have the famous millennial text, certainly the most debated text in the Book of Revelation.”
Leon Morris, “This brings us to one of the most difficult parts of the entire book.”
He goes on to describe the “endless disputes”, in his words, “some very bitter.”
John Walvoord, “A bewildering array of diverse interpretations greets the student of this passage.”
I love that, “a bewildering array.” You can see, a bewildering array is very different from a stunningly beautiful scene. It’s very different from a group of people coming to a passage and saying, “Oh, this is magnificent.”
I want to do something that’s going to drive some of you crazy, but you’re used to that, aren’t you? I want to look at Revelation 20:1-10 without even talking about the controversy. What we’re going to do is go up ten thousand feet, top of a mountain, we’re just going to look at the scenes. Three beautiful peaks that pop out of this passage. And we’re going to take it in and make sure we’ve enjoyed, embraced, received what God has for us. These three big ideas are believed by all Christians when approaching this passage. None of the various interpretations change these three things. And then, lest some of you lose your mind, we will come back next week. Don’t worry. Because I’m with you. We have to wrestle with the interpretations. We have to deal with the details. The Bible gives us details for a reason.
And so next week, Lord willing, we’ll come back and we’ll wrestle with: How do post-millennialists view this passage? How do a-millennialists view this passage? How do pre-millennialists view this passage? And we’ll wrestle with some of the detail and some of the controversy because there is a vital role. But hopefully we can do it with a view of the beauty and significance of this passage. Are you with me? Thank you. That’s encouraging. Let’s pray.
God, please help us. Help us hear what you have to say to us, even if we don’t have answers to all our questions, even if we can’t understand how other Christians can interpret this in such a wrong way, even if it seems insane, these other interpretations. Let us just enjoy the view today and let your Spirit speak to us about what we all agree about, what believers in your Word hear and see here. And Lord change us through it, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Let’s read it again. We want to take it all in. Revelation 20:1,
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 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. And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they were marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
What’s the first thing you think about when you think about Revelation 20? It’s really good to memorize themes of chapters so that if you’re going through something, you know where to turn. When we think of Revelation 20, especially the first half, what should we think about? What do all Christians agree on from this passage?
Number 1, Satan is going down. Can I get an amen? Satan is going down. Verses 1-3, you see that — a great chain, a bottomless pit, an angel — which is just amazing. All it takes is an angel who
“seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him … threw him … shut him … sealed it … that he might not deceive the nations any longer.”
That’s for a thousand years. And then verse 10, if you drop down to the end,
“and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Throughout the Book of Revelation, we have encountered an unholy trinity — beast, false prophet … The beast that is characterized by destruction, a military destruction, the false prophet that’s characterized by deception, and then the dragon or Satan. And in the end of 19:20 we see the beast and the false prophet (last week) destroyed, gone forever. But we still have a problem. Satan is still free to deceive and to destroy. You can see the vital role that chapter 20 is playing, because if you just stop at chapter 19, you can’t have a new heaven and a new earth. You can’t get to chapter 21 until you go through chapter 20. Our enemy must go down. He must be destroyed. And Revelation 20 does that, brings an end to the devil.
Whatever your view of the millennium, as Christians we can all agree on who are real enemy is, right? Let’s bring that closer to home. Whatever your political views are, we can all agree that we wrestle not, ultimately, we wrestle not against what?
“Flesh and blood, but against rulers, … authorities, against the cosmic powers [that rule] over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces … in heavenly places.”
That tells us there is a battle above the battle. There’s a battle going on. We can see the battle. We can see the battle for people’s hearts. We can see the battle going on now in relational conflicts, marriage struggles, work divisions, that kind of thing. We can see the battle. But what the Bible is communicating is, there is a battle above the battle. And that’s the real battle that ends up influencing the battle we see. And that that is why Paul in Ephesians 6:12 (the one I just quoted) emphasizes that we must be aware of the power of the enemy. That is why he warns us that we are a hunted people. If you never lived … And I’m not talking about living in fear, but I’m talking about living with an awareness that you are hunted. 1 Peter 5:8,
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
And he’s not always recognizable. 2 Corinthians 11:14, he
“disguises himself as an angel of light.”
We cannot underestimate the deceptive and destructive intentions of our enemy. However, we cannot inflate his power either, right? He is a created being, there is no cosmic dualism. In other words, God and Satan are fighting it out and we’re wondering who’s ultimately going to win. No, God made the being that fell and became Satan. And I love the fact that here he just sends an angel. “Got a spare angel? Go ahead and seize Satan.” That’s all it takes. There is no room for any of us to live in dreaded fear of Satan. It’s not an equal battle. It’s not even close. And therefore, the Bible puts a tension out. Yes, this is a real enemy, that if we try to fight him on our own, we’re toast. But in Christ, he is a defeated foe.
The women are studying in Colossians 2 in the Women’s Bible study. Look at verse 13,
“And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.”
He has no accusing authority over any of us. He is a defeated foe. Now he can lie, and he can deceive, and with smoke and mirrors he can make us think that things are true which aren’t true, which is why we gather and why we pray and why we lock our thinking into the Word of God rather than trying to navigate life on our own. Because we know, as Paul says in Romans 16:20,
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Satan is going down. Can we say that together? Satan is going down. And as we think of all the destruction and if you think, “I don’t see Satan doing anything,” just read the news. Open your eyes to his destruction, his deceit. Many of us are so used to living in a broken world, we don’t even spot it. We think this is normal. It is not normal. It is not what God has for us ultimately. And that is why Revelation 20 is really good news. He is going down.
This week I was having lunch with a friend who had been battling some intense bondage and deception and led to all sorts of (in the past) sexual brokenness. And he was describing a prayer time he had recently where some friends had gathered around him and laid hands on him and prayed, and what it was like for these months since as this bondage of Satan (he really believed it was a satanic bondage) that goes way back was absolutely broken on him. To see the joy in his face, to see the liberation, to see the victory over temptation, to see just a new understanding and experience of the grace of Christ. And as he’s sharing this, and we’re rejoicing and giving thanks to God, I think this is a micro glimpse, a very personal glimpse of what Revelation 20 is promising globally, not just individually. We’re seeing that here at church, this week, people coming to Christ. We’re seeing him break chains and set people free. The kingdom is invading as God’s power through Christ comes into our lives. The good news of Revelation 20 is it’s going viral. It’s permeating the globe. Satan is going down.
Number 2, Jesus is reigning, and he’s reigning with his resurrected ones. Verses 4-6,
“I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
So, don’t miss what was just described. When people are beheaded, what are the prospects of them in the future? What do those prospects look like? Yeah, generally people who lose their heads lose their lives, right? Generally. I mean, we’re really blessed here in Greenville to have some incredibly gifted medical people and they’re here in our church. If you have a need, they will be glad to serve you. But if you lose your head, physically, your upward mobility is greatly hindered, your future is limited. And I’m not trying to be sarcastic here, I’m just trying to allow us for a moment to take in what we’re reading, because humanly speaking, it is insane what we just read. It’s creating a worst-case scenario. You lose your head for Jesus; you reign with Jesus. How does that go together? Worst case scenario, they take your head away, they kill you for following Jesus. And you end up reigning with him. End of verse 4,
“They came to life and reigned with Christ.”
Now we’re going to wrestle with when is that, who is that, all those interpretive questions. They’re important, but don’t miss the view. Don’t miss what he just said. Whoever this is, whoever this Jesus is who can turn headless martyrs into fellow heirs who rule and reign with him. I want to be with him, whoever that is.
And this week, Friday, as we were gathering in this room to honor my father, who went to be with the Lord Monday. As I’m meditating on this and thinking, “Jesus,” my father was not beheaded, but he was assaulted with Alzheimer’s, lost his ability to think clearly, communicate. A man so gifted athletically, so kind and gentle, to not be able to walk or speak. And so, when the Lord took him home, imagining him just going to be with the Jesus described right here who can bring people to life and bring them into a new kind of life, a reigning with him. My father’s faith was not in his health, which he was generally a healthy man all his life. It was not in his athleticism, although he was extremely gifted. His faith was not in his kindness, it was in Jesus.
And Jesus is the one who said to Martha right after her brother died,
“‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, [though he has his head removed, or dies of cancer, or Alzheimer’s, or anything else — though he die physically] yet, shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never [ultimately] die. Do you believe this?’”
Let me ask it again. Do you believe this? That’s our hope. That changes everything. That has changed everything for my life. That has changed everything for my father, for my family. It changes the way we think about his homegoing. It changes the way we all think about aging, losing things that we once took for granted. Jesus is reigning.
Just think about those two things. When we come to Revelation 20, what if the first thing we thought about is, “Oh yeah, I know that passage. That describes Satan going down. And yeah, I know that passage, Jesus going up, raising up believers whose confidence is in him rather than trying to impress or please other people or get along in the world system that they’re in.”
One more and this may be, this isn’t as obvious as the other two. Maybe it’s just a quirk of mine, but it’s one that always hits me when I think about this passage, and that is number 3, God is not in a hurry. You say, where is that? God is not in a hurry. Look at verse 2. The angel seized the serpent and “bound him for a thousand years.” Whether you take that as a literal thousand years or a long period of time is irrelevant right now. The point is, it’s not eternity. And my question is, why not? If you’re seizing Satan, why don’t we just eliminate him? That’s my suggestion. If there’s a question box, I’m going to submit that. Why? I don’t care if it’s 500, 1000, 10,000. Why not forever? And then, even worse, verse 3, “After that he must be released for a little while.” Why? And then verse 7, “Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations.” Again, why?
When I read this, I get the same feeling I get in an action movie where the hero finally subdues the villain and won’t kill him. You feel this violence come out. It’s like, “please!” Because, you know, if you turn your back, he’s coming back. He’s coming back. Let’s just end this. Why give him another chance to do more damage? And that is a good question, and we’ll wrestle with that next week. What is the purpose of this millennium? But before we answer that, I think that if we bring that down to where we live today, it’s a question we often have. God, why do you work the way you work? Why don’t you just … As Americans, westerners, we typically, if there’s a job to do, if there’s a problem to fix, let’s just fix it. I love checking the box. That’s done. We don’t have to worry about him. He’s gone. Let’s just now get on to the next problem. And maybe this is just me, but in a frustrating way, God typically does not work that way. He doesn’t just save us, and then you see this straight line to heaven, you know? “Hey, I became a Christian here and then I just … Yeah, there were some hard things, but it was just straight up.” You say, why not?
And so, the millennium, in a sense, becomes this picture of a bigger thing, and that is the way God works. He doesn’t seem to be in a frantic hurry. Okay, a thousand years and then we’re going to release Satan for a little while. However you interpret that, what we’re trying to do is stay 10,000 feet up and say, “Okay, God, why would you do that? Maybe there’s something about the way you work and what you’re revealing about yourself and what you’re revealing about us as fallen, broken sinners who are so easy to deceive even in a relatively perfect environment. What can we see here about you and us?”
And, specifically when you read the gospels, you see a Jesus who is so intentional, so methodical, never frantic, never hurried. Not that he’s passive, but he’s not frantic. And the picture of the millennium gives us this macro glimpse at what is right now for each of us a micro calling. And that is, how do you deal with delay when God says, “I’m not going to remove this right away.” Like when he said to Paul, “I know you’ve asked three times for that thorn to be removed. I’m going to give you the grace.” Well, why don’t you just eliminate it? Why don’t you just eliminate him, Satan?
How do we deal with delay? Because the millennium is amazing, but it’s still not chapter 21. That’s coming. Does that make sense? That’s why wrestling with delay and the lack of hurriedness of God is an important point that comes out in chapter 12. How do you deal with delay?
There was an interesting study recently. A question asked to young people, and they gave them a bunch of options. Microsoft did it. When nothing is occupying my attention, what is the first thing I do? And 77% of young people said the first thing I do is reach from my phone. When I feel like I’ve been held up or delayed, or I’m bored, the first thing I grab is my phone. And that says a lot about our culture. We tend to find distractions in the midst of delay. Others of us are kind of bipolar. We go from being a useless distraction to a frantic action. You know, wait and hurry. I know the Lord is really working on me regarding hurry, learning to see delay be fruitful. Whether we’re talking about something small, like a stoplight or something big, like God calls you into a season of wilderness and waiting where it doesn’t seem like you’re going anywhere, where it just seems like you’re in a rut. How are we to think about that?
And I want to go back to a letter I read years ago by Jack Miller because I have to go back to this often. He’s writing to a missionary couple, friends of his who are frustrated about the fact that in the country where they minister, nothing seems to be happening, nothing goes fast. And he talks about how Westerners are hasty. And then he says this,
“Actually, delays are great because they often reveal the power of indwelling sin. We are flying high, then comes a postponement of our hopes, and we end up with an irritable spirit which shows an alarming degree of self-independence and reliance on human capacities. What we fail to see is that reliance on people, their capabilities, their keeping their promises is a demonic faith, a cooperation in heart with the powers of darkness. We join the enemy, Satan, when we fail to rely on the promises of God to move on our behalf. In brief, our impatience often has a Devilish, earthly side to it, which reveals that we have unconsciously forgotten that trusting Christ is more important than doing things for Christ.”
I’ve talked about the fact that that tension bothers me. Trusting Christ is more important than doing things? What if I’m doing things while trusting him? What does that look like in the midst of delay, waiting, or methodically carrying out what God has called you to do even if you haven’t seen the fruit that God will ultimately bring about? Jesus talked about this, where he brings together two things that normally don’t go together — rest and work. Look at Matthew 11:28.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, [Wait, what did he just tell us to take? A pillow? A yoke, hmm … ] and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Eugene Peterson paraphrases this same passage.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
You see, what Jesus is doing is he’s bringing together two things that normally don’t go together — a yoke, which has to do with work, and rest. Bruner helps us see the connection.
“A yoke is a work instrument. Thus, when Jesus offers a yoke, [You guys know what a yoke is? We’re not talking egg. It’s that thing they would put on oxen, the wooden yoke. That kind of yoke.] he offers what we might think tired workers need least. They need a mattress or a vacation [amen], not a yoke. But Jesus realizes that the most restful gift he can give the tired is a new way to carry life, a fresh way to bear responsibilities … Realism sees that life is a succession of burdens; we cannot get away from them; thus, instead of offering escape, Jesus offers equipment. [Try to let that soak in. Instead of offering escape, Jesus offers equipment.] Jesus means that the obedience to his [and he gives an example of his yoke] Sermon on the Mount [his yoke] will develop in us a balance and a ‘way’ of carrying life that will give more rest than the way we have been living.”
Such a different way to live. Just imagine being yoked in together with Jesus. I want to run ahead, drag behind. He’s modeling and empowering a new way of bearing responsibilities. The reason I love this is for the mother of a bunch of little kids at home, for you to hear today, “Hey, you need to trust Jesus, not try to do stuff.” “Yeah, oh okay, my kid will change his own diapers.” No, there are things we have to do. There are responsibilities he’s given us to carry out and burdens we all bear — some we need help with, some we can bear alone with God’s enabling. But Jesus is saying, “Come to me.” The same Jesus who brings people to life in the millennium, the same Jesus who puts down Satan, is the same Jesus who invites us in, in a micro level now, one day on a macro level. “Come to me. I want to give you rest. Learn from me.” Just imagine right now all those things that are barraging your mind and heart that you feel like, “I need to hurry up. I need to get those done.” Learn from me. You’ll find rest for your souls.
What do we take away from this passage? Yeah, there’s a lot we didn’t talk about. There are a lot of questions we didn’t answer. But can you imagine if all of us here, when we hear somebody says, “Hey, I’ve been reading Revelation 20:1-10.” Oh, yeah, that’s where Satan goes down. That’s where Jesus raises up. And that’s where we see an example that informs the way we live today of how God is not in a hurry. He’s methodically carrying out his plan, and he invites us into this new way of living through Jesus. Let’s pray.
Spirit, we are asking that you would let us take in the view — what it’s like to imagine a time when Satan goes down. We can’t wait. We know he’s lost. We know he has no power over us. But he’s just like Hitler at the end of World War II, just seeing how much damage he can cause, how much destruction, even though he knows he’s lost. So, Father, we can see from Revelation 20, a time when he truly goes down. We can see from this view by faith a time when, Jesus, you reign, and you raise up those who have given their lives for you. And you do it all in a time and in a way that is unhurried. I know a day is as a thousand years. You are so patient, but methodical. So, we pray, Lord, that we would take in this view and then we would take it to the way we live, the way we interact with our kids, our parents, our co-workers, our friends. Lord, please let us live in the victory of Jesus in the unhurried, non-frantic, methodical victory that you produce. And Father, I pray if there are some here who don’t know you, Jesus, who are trying to navigate life on their own. May they call out to you and see you’ve given your life for them. You’re inviting them into this new life. They can call out to you right now. Lord, speak to us. Continue to minister now. In Jesus’ name, amen.