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Comfort in the midst of conflict: Revelation 20
Timothy J. Westendorf
Chapter 20 introduces the seventh and final vision. Many Christians have been taught to expect a coming millennial (thousand-year) reign of Jesus on earth based, in large part, on the words of this chapter.
On the one hand, we will be sympathetic to and patient with those who are troubled and confused by this section of God’s Word as they seek his truth. On the other hand, we’ll want to read these words carefully and compare them to the rest of the Bible. From that study, we conclude that the so-called millennium is not taught anywhere in Scripture.
Chapter 20 begins with the dramatization of a historical truth and the ongoing reality that results from it: Jesus, the angel from heaven, has defeated Satan, the dragon, by his life, death, and resurrection. That good news of Jesus’ victory, the gospel, keeps the devil chained up from fully and freely deceiving people and nations with his wicked lies. The dragon will be bound for “a thousand years,” a complete number (10 cubed) representing a definite and determined time from Jesus’ ascension until shortly before his return in glory.
During that same time, we’re told that a group of people, those who have taken part in the “first resurrection,” reign with Jesus. Who are those people? When we remember the Bible teaching that all human beings are born dead in sin, we understand the first resurrection to be the new birth given by the Holy Spirit through faith. These are all believers in Jesus! While they take part in the first death, a physical one, they all have eternal life in Christ and need not fear the “second death” (eternal separation from God). Along with all people, they will participate in the second resurrection, a bodily one at Christ’s return. In the meanwhile, saints in heaven and on earth live and reign with their living and ruling Savior.
Satan’s short season and final demise
At the end of this period, Satan will be loosed from his chain and allowed to deceive widely and freely. This vision tells us that it will be a “short time” (v. 3). We are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:21-25, where he speaks of a time of severe testing but promises that he will mercifully cut that time short for the sake of his people. Previous visions in Revelation also point to this time when gospel witness will be nearly or completely silenced. But that short season will come to an end. That end means final judgment for the old evil foe.
That end also means Jesus’ return to judge the living and the dead. Those who stand before the judge without the righteousness of Christ by faith are justly sentenced based on their own faulty record. Those who are found in Christ, who are written in the book of life, are judged on his perfect performance and guilt-removing sacrifice. They have life and peace with God through Christ and need not fear his judgment now or ever.
Jesus himself, the victor over sin and Satan, is our life and hope, our comfort in every conflict.
Reflect on Revelation chapter 20
- Read Ephesians 1:1-10. What reasons to praise the Lord are similar to those in Revelation 20?Revelation 20 shows us the results of Christ’s work of redemption, picturing the saints in heaven who were faithful to the Lord even during persecution. We see the end of Satan’s reign on earth and his eternal destruction, which involves torment day and night for ever and ever. John also writes what God revealed to him about the resurrection—the first resurrection, that is, the coming to faith, and the second resurrection of the dead as humanity of all kinds stand before the judge. Those whose names are written in the book of life receive life, but those whose names are not written in the book of life—those who did not do what God demanded, that is, believe in the one he had sent, Jesus Christ—are thrown into the lake of fire.Paul’s words in Ephesians praise God for the blessings we have in Christ. He has chosen us to be his eternally. We are holy and blameless in his sight because we are covered with the righteousness of Christ. We have redemption through Christ’s blood, forgiveness, and eternal life. All these blessings depend on the pleasure and will of God—his grace.Both sections focus on the same things but from different perspectives. Paul sees these blessings through the eyes of faith. John sees them all accomplished at the end of time.
- How do the words of Jesus in John 5:24-30 teach the same lessons as Revelation 20? Jesus is the judge who will raise the dead and welcome all those who believe into eternal life. The words of Jesus point us to the events John sees in Revelation 20.
This is the tenth article in as 12-part series on the book of Revelation. Find the article and answers online after Sept 5.
Author: Timothy Westendorf
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019