I think I’ve been fair in my exegesis of Revelation so far. I’ve not gone into every nook and cranny, but I have been trying to find the right interpretive keys for the book as a whole. I’ve tried hard to let the book itself determine what those interpretive keys are, without coming to the text with a pre-determined bias.
On that basis, the appearance of this 1,000 year period mentioned in Revelation 20 is somewhat out of the blue.
To begin with, it reads sequentially. Babylon has fallen; the beast and false prophet have been thrown into the lake of fire. Then we read of Satan being locked in the Abyss for 1,000 years. During that 1,000 years souls live and reign with Jesus. At the end of 1,000 years Satan is also thrown into the lake of fire. Then we read of the general resurrection of the dead and judgement before the great white throne of God.
But there are questions.
The reign seems to include souls of Christians. So is the reign in heaven or on earth?
If Satan is bound, and the beast and false prophet destroyed, what becomes of mankind in those 1,000 years? Can people become Christians? If so, will it still count as faith if they can actually see Jesus in action? Will people still marry, have kids, have jobs, etc?
With pretty much every other number in Revelation being symbolic (7, 10, 144000, etc), what’s the hermeneutic for taking this number literally? Or, if it is symbolic, what does it signify?
There’s quite a battle scene when Jesus rides out in chapter 19, destroying the beast and the false prophet. Jesus then reigns with peace, until there’s another battle at which Satan himself is snuffed out. Who will Satan deceive? Unsaved people? Why not be done with it all at the first battle?
More than everything, why has my reading of Revelation up to this point not prepared me for hearing about this 1,000 years of reign after Jesus’ return? What is the function of that reign?
I’m not saying that the above summary is wrong. But I do think the questions are valid.
So I decided to dig some more. The key question is whether the events of chapter 20 denote sequential action or are another of John’s chronologically-shifted visions. All commentators agree that John’s Revelation is not wholly chronological, but is that a valid question at this point?
John doesn’t say, “Then I saw”; he says “And I saw” – that’s not conclusive either way, but does permit us to at least question the chronology. John has rewound the clock a few times: the seals, trumpets and bowls all seem to cover the totality of time between Jesus’ first and second coming. He also rewound in his portrayal of the woman in chapter 12, and how Satan pursues the church. If we consider the 1,000 years in the same way then we’d have the binding of Satan at Jesus’ first coming and his release at Jesus’ return. That “fits” in the sense that Jesus’ work at the cross certainly bound Satan and opened up salvation to the nations, and the idea of final battle is easy to see in the Bible. In short, it puts Jesus’ return as a decisive, one-off activity which destroys evil once for all and ushers in the new eternal reality in one go. It removes the need for an awkward post-return reign for which there is little specific evidence. (Wayne Grudem would disagree – he gives lots of evidence in his Systematic Theology but it just doesn’t seem to join up well to me!)
If this is a better way to read these verses, then the souls reigning with Jesus would be reigning with him right now. Paul does say something like that in Ephesians 2, and it would surely fit with our interpretive key of how this book is of relevant to Christians in every time, from the first 7 to read it until now.
But here too there are questions.
Throughout Revelation, the same period has been referred to as 3.5 years. Where does this 1,000 come from?
What’s the hermeneutic for rewinding the clock at 20:1? I suppose it’s possible that John is consciously “finishing off Satan” in a move designed to highlight him specifically, to undo the damage of Genesis 3.
What does it mean to have Satan bound when he remains so visibly active in the world?
From these observations I end up at an amillennial position, but it’s more of a persuasion than a solid conviction. The most significant thing I can say about it is that I haven’t had to face the question until I reached chapter 19, and I think that may be the most significant observation of all.