A Reformed View of the 1,000 Years — Revelation 20:4-6

Sermon Series in Revelation # 40 Revelation 20:4-6 English Standard Version

4Then 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.

5  The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.

6  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. [1]

Thousands of people have claimed to have a near-death experience. Their stories have a familiar ring. They feel like there are falling asleep, but wake up to intense white light and the warm welcome of family and friends.

Most people in the scientific community, and a many in the faith community, dismiss these stories. Dr. Eben Alexander was a scientist and a sceptic. As a highly trained neurosurgeon, Alexander knew that near death experiences feel real, but are simply fantasies produced by brains under extreme stress.

He thought this until he had his own near death experience from which he wrote a book and gained internal acclaim. Alexander claims to have journeyed beyond this world to encounter an angelic being who guided him into the deepest spiritual realms where he met and spoke with the Divine source of the universe itself.

Here’s the thing, there is a better and more reliable story by another author who had an out of body experience in Heaven, and this story has many more details than Dr. Alexanders. Have you ever heard of a man named John the Apostle? John also gained worldwide acclaim for his extraordinary experience. John’s story is certified genuine by the universal church and the Divine Sources of the universe have preserved John’s story for all generations.

But which story is at the top of the New York Times best seller list? LOL . . . Dr. Alexander’s book of course!

Let’s look at some more of the John’s account from our text this morning. Verse 4 Then I saw thrones. There’s some symbolism here which teaches truth. John is not jumping back and forth between an allegorical writing style to a literal writing style to confuse us.

John says that the Devil is locked up for a long period of time. A thousand years. Yet, his power to influence the masses is but a short period of time called a little while in verse 4.

Obviously, we need to come to terms with what the Bible is teaching about a 1,000 years. We need to decide if it is a literal period of time, or a figurative (allegorical) period of time. I am going to argue three separate ideas. I am going to describe the Ideal language of the Bible, the limit of the human mind and the meaning of the number 10 as three ways of helping us to think differently about the use of the number 1,000. I pray you find this helpful.

First, the Bible prophesies use an IDEAL Type of language. Lions lay down with lambs. Lands flow with milk and honey. Wine and oil are enjoyed without any restrictions. These are the eternal blessings described in an ultimate way. They are maxed out in the mind and sometimes God uses almost infinite hyperbole. The divine blessings are unimaginable and unmeasurable.

Let me illustrate. Most people 100 years ago couldn’t image a million dollars. A millionaire was almost more an expression than a defined net worth.

Until the American national debt hit a billion dollars, people used to think that a billion was an unimaginable number. Sadly, in the 21st century we think that a trillion is a number that we can understand. How about a Quadrillion? Can we qualify in our mind the meaning of a quintillion or a sextillion? I suggest we cannot.

Can we understand that the observable universe is 96 billion light years from one end to the other? These numbers are literally too big for us to understand.

In the time of Christ the largest number used with meaning was a millennium. When the Bible speaks of a 1,000 it means the totality of all the years. Saying that someone would rule for a 1,000 years summarized the completeness of that person’s reign.

Further, the number ten is a specific number that holds meaning in the Bible. Like the Ten Commandments which cover all the Laws of Moses. So the number 10 times 10 times 10 is the completeness of the Trinity’s view on a matter within time and history. Two illustrations of that.

Remember the number 144,000 that are saved? Was that a literal number limiting the actual souls of people who can get saved? Of course not. In sermon #27 covering Revelation 14:1-5 I said that This 144,000 represents the twelve tribes of Israel, multiplied by the twelve Apostles, multiplied by a millennium. It’s God’s way of speaking about the Great Host of the Redeemed, united in one Faith Community in Heaven. (12x12x1,000=144,000) Only cults think it is literal.

Jesus talked this way when He said that 7 times 70 is all the goodness and kindness we must offer in hospitality. To limit our forgiveness to 490 would disappoint Jesus and the Apostles. We must think deeper than that.

When a period of time is described as a thousand years, God is describing a period of time that is complete and done. God is counting out complete periods of time between one event and another. God is not counting out the exact years. This period of time described as a 1,000 years is God’s way of saying that the specifics of that period of time will never again occur. The uniqueness of that period of time is done. Complete. Satan will never again be bound awaiting his being loosed back to the Earth. Satan is never coming back!

There is a long period of time when Satan is bound, and a short period of time when Satan is loosed. If 1,000 was literal, then why didn’t God give us the exact number of years for the little period of time? Because neither period of time is helpful for us to know in real numbers.

I think that the Bible itself proves that the use of a specific period of time is often not the point. The Jews speak of the Messianic Kingdom as a day, as a period of time, and as a day that lasts a thousand years. Isaiah 63:4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and my year of redemption had come. Is the day of the Lord a 24 hour period or a whole year? Poetically it is both.

Psalm 90:4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 2 Peter 3:8 says even more clearly But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

So I don’t feel uncomfortable standing with hundreds of other scholars who interpret the 1,000 years in this passage as symbolic language. That’s very hard for us who grew up Baptist to swallow, but I no longer think that this passage is referring to a literal 1,000 year period of time following a secret Rapture.

In the same way there are many Greek words for throne. I do not think we should imagine a stone structure. Imagine rather a king delegating authority throughout his kingdom. I think that churches are the ones who make judgment calls over today’s moral issues and whether things are within or without the moral laws of God’s holiness and the commandment to love one another. Churches do not declare the eternal destiny of a soul, but with the Word of God, and guided by the discernment of the Holy Spirit, we communicate God’s Laws to ourselves and the world.

We are seated on little thrones. We reign with Jesus within His Kingdom. We are not acting like the King of Kings, but as a Kingdom of Priests who discern the Law. We are princes with regional spiritual authority. We communicate God’s commandments as clearly as possible.

If we chose to understand the text in this fashion, then we are already living in this period of time. There was a foretaste of the Church Age during the incarnation of Jesus. Luke 10:17-20 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And Jesus said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

We are living now in the age when Satan is restricted by the work of the Spirit of God by the work and prayers of the Church. The Devil will be unleashed in a remarkable way at the end, but the Second Coming of Jesus will also bring that unleashed rebellion to an end.

and seated on these thrones were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. This is primarily the role of the organized Church. We should be able to trust church leadership to guide our family. If the Church confronts our life on a particular point, we need to be making preparations in our hearts, asking God for the strength, to repent.

John sees people as eternal souls. 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.

This is the first resurrection. We are born again into the Spirit. We are resurrected into the newness of spiritual life in Jesus Christ.

Verse 6 makes perfect sense if we see the difference between the two resurrections and read this passage in that light. 6 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.

You are so blessed to be saved! You are so blessed to be forgiven, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We are so happy to know that our sins will not be regarded against us at the judgment seat of Christ. How wonderful to know that our names are written in the Lambs book of LIFE.

A glorious Second Resurrection awaits those who died in faith. Those who do not by faith participate in the First Resurrection are not going to enjoy the Second Resurrection.

If we are not converted, then we are dead in our sins, and we will not transition from this life to life everlasting, we will remain dead in the ground until we are resurrected for our final judgment.

John 5:28–29 Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.

People who die without saving faith in Jesus will have their first resurrection be unto judgment. That’s verse 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. That could read, this is their first resurrection.

The pressing message is to be resurrected in Jesus unto newness of life, so that we are not first resurrected to Jesus for judgment.

It’s the same admonition Jesus gave in Revelation 2:10-11 when He said Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.

If we die to ourselves today, then we will not fear the second death of our bodies. If we refuse to die to ourselves today, then we should fear our first death for it will usher us into the wrath of God.

The same is true of our resurrections. If we are resurrected with Christ into newness of life now, then we will have a glorious second resurrection into life everlasting. If we stay dead in our sins, and our first resurrection brings us unrepentant into the Courtroom of Heaven, then we are in big trouble.

We need to be like the Apostle Paul who testified, Philippians 3:8-11 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

We are living the resurrection of Jesus right now as we die to self and live to God. We are living out our first resurrection. We are alive from the dead and we are reigning with Jesus as Head of the Church.

May God bless us to be engaged in the battle for souls and living in the victory of Jesus over this world and over Satan. May God encourage you with these promises from His holy Word.

Let us pray . . .

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


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