The study of end times or “eschatology” has come to be highly divisive in evangelical church. View on the Rapture or the Millennium frequently used as test not just of sound doctrine but of Christianity. If you believe in one system or don’t fully subscribe to another system then you’re certainly wrong and probably not a real Christian. May God graciously keep us from such lack of charity toward brothers and sisters.
The one who claims Revelation 20 is obviously easy to understand has a simplistic view of Scripture. Text is not a complete mystery either; takes effort to properly figure out what John communicates by use of imagery. Also not a text that stands alone, in isolation from rest of Scripture; cannot be interpreted rightly without considering what remainder of Revelation and all of Bible teaches about themes covered here. What is contained here MUST have provided comfort and encouragement in the 1st century, a primary purpose of John. Had to do so without deceiving or confusing and thus playing into Satan’s agenda. Should look to rest of Scripture to shed light on portions of text that are less clear, fit this into that, not other way round.
Chapter 19 speaks of the dragon’s allies massing for battle, ends with beast and false prophet being thrown alive into lake of fire, all of their followers killed by the Divine Warrior’s sword. Chapter 20 speaks of Satan gathering nations together for battle, ends with death and Hades and anyone whose name not in Book of Life thrown into lake of fire. Chapter 20, although new vision, does not chronologically follow chapter 19; rather, retells chapters 16 through 19, but from different perspective.
A. Satan bound v.1-3
CAUTION: this is apocalyptic language, word picture intended to communicate certain truths. John portrays Satan as being bound, shut up, confined for the 1000 year period. Purpose of this binding is stated: “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer”. Restraint is in respect to one sphere of Satan’s activity, not a complete incarceration. Nowhere else in Scripture is Satan described as being completely restrained prior to the end; however, some of his activities certainly have been curtailed.
For 4000 years Satan was able to keep the nations in darkness, deceiving them about the truth of God. Only as God through his agents enabled people to understand did they come to faith and turn from worshiping idols. The one exception – the one nation, the children of Abraham through his grandson Israel. But all that changed at the cross, the empty tomb, the commissioned apostles, the Day of Pentecost and outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Satan still has great power, is active throughout the world, but his nearly universal ability/power to deceive is bound. In last 2000 years, Gospel has gone to the nations and Satan is powerless to stop it. He can harrass, cause a few (relatively speaking) casualties here and there, but cannot prevent establishment of Christ’s church among “every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) Satan divinely prevented from mounting universal organized opposition to the Church. He will be let loose for a short time in future, now as surely restrained by God’s decree as if shackled in prison cell.
B. Saints reign v.4-6
Jesus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed (crossed over) from death into life.” John 5:24 “the perfect indicates a completed action whose effects are felt in the present.” Mounce “implies the performance of the action in past time, yet states only that it stands completed at the present time.” Goodwin “the perfect tense is used for indicating not the past action as such but the present ‘state of affairs’ resulting from the past action.” Wallace
In course of human experience – first (kind of) resurrection is to spiritual life; first (kind of) death is physical. Second (kind of) resurrection is bodily, soul and body reunited; second (kind of) death is spiritual death or eternal torment. All mankind except those present at Jesus’ return experience both first death and second resurrection. All mankind experience either first resurrection (at time of conversion, rebirth) or second death (at time of judgment). “The first resurrection occurs at the time of regeneration when we are born again, and is manifest when we leave this life and enter into the presence of Christ in heaven.” Riddlebarger
Great comfort for those in John’s day (and since): death, even horrific death, at hands of Satan’s agents for sake of Gospel not meaningless. It is beginning of something far more glorious – instant translation to heaven and place of honor with exalted Christ. Throughout Revelation thrones located in heaven, not on earth. Also consider Jesus’ words answering Pilate, question if he were king of the Jews: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” John 18:36 Kingdom is a spiritual one, not physical, exercised from heaven along with saints who are there, present time.
The 1000 years?? 10^3, human completeness to the superlative degree, amount of time necessary to bring God’s plan for mankind to completion. A long period of time, obvious, 2000 years plus, only God knows how many more. Meanwhile, saints in heaven not simply sitting around waiting for end; actively involved with Lord Jesus in governing his kingdom in preparation for the end.
C. Satan released v.7-10
At end of 1000 years, short time before Lord Jesus’ return, Satan released from restraining order. Will be allowed to work with his agents to deceive once again – seen already in Rev 16:12-16; 17:12-14; 19:20. Dragon, beast and false prophet work in concert to deceive nations into thinking they can prevail against the church; in reality, against Kingdom of Christ “physically” seen in his church.
Satan will be successful, will put church under seige, seemingly surrounding it so there is no escape from forces of world power aligned against it. Throughout history have been periods when church in particular area/nation under concerted attack: various times under Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire, communist countries, Nazi Germany. This will be different – portrayed as universal worldwide assault on God’s people, the “camp of the saints”.
When all seems hopeless for the saints, Satan and agents giddy with anticipated success, God in person of his Son enters time and space to bring things to a conclusion. Without ceremony, Satan banished to lake of fire along with beast and false prophet. There as inmate, not warden; object of God’s wrath, not his agent, enduring eternal punishment for his rebellion.
D. sinners judged v.11-15
Told 3x in NT that Christ will judge “the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5). In this chapter we’re told that saints “live and reign with Christ” (4). Now, v. 11ff, John’s attention is on the dead – he “saw the dead”, “the dead were judged”. Doesn’t mean the living weren’t present, just weren’t the primary focus here. The prostitute has been taken care of, the beast and false prophet, then Satan, now the last of God’s enemies – the dead, those who did not experience the first resurrection.
Judge is none other than Lord Jesus, the one appointed by God to be the judge and confirmed by his resurrection from the dead (Acts 10:42; 17:31). As perfect Mediator between God and men, suited to be perfect Judge; pictured here in majesty and authority much like vision Daniel saw in Da. 7:9-10. No one escapes judgment, final test is “book of life”; God knows his, none is missing from either the book or the gathered crowd of people. Purpose of judgment isn’t to figure out who merited what for a sentence; no need for interrogation, no opportunity for defense or appeal.
Purpose is to declare what God has already determined based on what is written in his books: deeds of the ungodly as done in their flesh, deeds of the godly as done in Christ, confirmation of exclusion from or inclusion in book of life. Therefore, ungodly have no hope of standing in judgment, godly have no fear of falling in judgment. In epistle John gives great encouragement to godly: “In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment” 1 John 4:17
As John pictures it, second death is final and irreversible, not only for ungodly men and fallen angels but for Death (the last enemy) and the grave as well. Once final judgment is declared, those who are listed in book of life need never fear death again. Hell, place of eternal damnation a literal place but probably not literal lake of fire. Almost certainly far worse than any language can communicate, any picture could convey – will be physical and spiritual torment, contrast to physical and spiritual bliss enjoyed by the righteous.
We will be present there at the judgment but have nothing to fear; not standing there by ourselves, on our own merit. Already seen images in Revelation about that: the white robes, fine linen, white and clean, robes washed and made white in blood of the Lamb. That’s how God will view us on that great day: complete in him we will stand before the Judge justified, sanctified, pardoned and glorified.