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Understanding Revelation

Revelation 20: An extract from a sermon preached at Lausanne Free Church

Whenever TV covers a major sporting event they always have many cameras positioned around the venue. Each camera records the same event but from a different angle.

The book of Revelation is similar. This book is God’s record of events that will take place during the Gospel age, that is from the first coming of Jesus to his second coming. But it does so from seven different angles. We see the same period but from a different perspective.

This means that the book of Revelation is not in chronological order. So for instance Revelation 11:18 announces that the end of the world has arrived. We read the nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged.

Yet two verses later in 12:1 we return to the beginning of the Gospel age with the birth of Jesus: Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labour and in pain to give birth.

In Revelation there are six camera angles of the Gospel age:

Chapters 1 to 3 cover the letters to seven churches. They tell us that throughout the Gospel age churches will be established. They will not be perfect but will still be lights in a dark world.

Chapters 4 to 7 cover the seven seals. They tell us that throughout the Gospel age the Gospel will be proclaimed but there will be wars, plagues, famines and disasters.

Chapters 8 to 11 cover the seven trumpets. They tell us that throughout the Gospel age judgements will be visited on the anti-Christian world.

Chapters 12 to 14 cover the rise of the beasts of the sea and earth. They tell us that throughout the Gospel age there is a deeper spiritual war going on between Christ and his seed and Satan and his seed.

Chapters 15 to 16 cover the seven bowls of wrath. This section tells us that throughout the Gospel age God’s wrath reveals itself. Now it strikes one, then another until at the end of the age all the unsaved are struck.

Chapters 17 to 19 cover the fall of Satan’s helpers. Throughout the Gospel age anti Christian governments and the seducing spirit of the world tempts Christians away from the Lord. But at the end of the age they will fall.

We now come to the last section chapters 20 to 22. There is only one great enemy left to be defeated – Satan. There is only one great event to be described - the day of judgement. There is only one great picture to be painted – the new heavens and the new earth. These are the themes of this last overview of the Gospel age.

Remember the great theme of this wonderful book: It is the victory of Christ and his church over every enemy. When Satan is hurled into the lake of fire in verse 10 there is not a single enemy left to persecute and threaten the church. Alleluia! We are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

The binding of Satan

As with all the previous overviews this section starts by going back to the beginning of the gospel age. Chapter 20 starts with an event that took place when Jesus was on the earth.

Verses 1-3 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

John sees an angel coming down out of heaven. He has a key and a great chain in his hand. He uses the chain to bind Satan and he throws him into the bottomless pit. He then shuts the lid of the pit and seals it. Satan remains locked up for 1,000 years.

The purpose of this binding and imprisonment is that for 1,000 years Satan is not able to deceive the nations. However at the end of 1,000 years he will be released for a little while to deceive the nations again.

What does this symbolic picture mean? To rightly understand it we need to answer two questions: 1) when did this binding take place? 2) How long does this binding last?

1) When did this binding take place?

It took place when Jesus started his three years of ministry in around 27 AD. We have three statements of Jesus that show this is true.

The first happened when Jesus started to cast out demons. The Pharisees accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan.

Let us read Jesus’ reply: Matthew 12: 25-29 (p860) “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.  Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.” The strong man is of course Satan. John uses the same word for binding in Revelation 20:1 that Jesus uses here. Jesus’ casting out demons from people is a sign that Satan is now bound.

The second happened after Jesus had sent out 70 men as missionaries to proclaim the Gospel. When they returned they said to Jesus that even the demons were subject to them in his name. Jesus replied “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” Luke 10:18. Here the devil’s fall is associated with the beginning of missionary activity.

The third happened when certain Greeks asked to see Jesus. This is remarkable. Gentiles are coming out of darkness into the light! Jesus immediately said “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” A sign of Satan being cast down is the Gospel going to the Gentiles.

In all three passages the casting out and binding of Satan is associated by Jesus with his coming into the world to save sinners. Peter confirms this. Writing 30 years later he says God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment. 2 Peter 2:4

So, the binding of Satan took place during Jesus’ ministry on earth.

2) For how long will this binding take place?

Well the answer of Revelation 20 is 1,000 years. 1,000 years is mentioned 6 times in its 14 verses. Now we come to the crucial question. Are we to take the 1,000 years as a literal time period?

Now of course we should always assume in the first instance that numbers in the Bible are literal. However there is an exception: If there is clear evidence that the number is symbolic. I believe there is such evidence here. I say this for four reasons:

First I have shown that throughout Revelation  nearly all the numbers are symbolic. We have had 24 elders, 144,000 saints who are sealed, with 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Second we have also seen that the time periods in Revelation are also symbolic: The holy city will be trodden underfoot for 42 months, two witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days, two men will be resurrected after 3.5 days; the woman flees to the wilderness for 1,260 days.  

Third the number 1,000 is used at least seven times elsewhere in the Bible in a symbolic way. It symbolises a complete number.

In Psalm 84:10 we read that a day in your court is better than a thousand

In Psalm 90:4 that a thousand years in your sight is like yesterday

In Job 33:23 we read about a mediator one among a thousand.

In Ecclesiastes 7:28 we read about one among a thousand.

In 2 Peter 3:8 says that to God a thousand years is one day.

Fourth, we have established that the 1,000 years started in 27 AD. If there 1,000 years was literal it would now have finished in 1027 AD. No Biblical scholar claims that in 1027 AD Satan was released to go and deceive the nations. No-one believes that Satan has already been cast into the lake of fire. All agree that this still to take place.

Fifth, the 1,000 years is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Jesus spoke nothing about 1,000 years in his sermon on the future events in Matthew 24. Paul and Peter say nothing about it.

So I believe that 1,000 years is a symbol of a period of time. What period of time? From the first coming of the Lord Jesus until shortly before the second coming. It covers nearly all of the Gospel age.

What do we learn from this binding? Let us take ourselves back to the world of the apostle John. It is around 100 AD. What a picture of spiritual darkness! Walk around your local town and you would see idols on every corner. You would see the moral corruption of pagan religious festivals. You would see people worshipping false gods. There were a few scattered churches but in the main heathenism is triumphant.

Go further back to prior to the time of the birth of Jesus. All nations with the exception of tiny Israel were steeped in paganism and idolatry. The entire world seemed under the rule of Satan. Now of course God always reigns supreme, but Satan had great sway over the earth.

As a believer in 100 AD you may have been thinking “is this ever going to change? When is God going to fulfil his promises that the Gospel will go to every nation and that people from every nation will be saved?”

The answer is here. “Do not fear. Satan is bound. Christ is going out to conquer. The Gospel will be preached to every nation.”

What has been the evidence since 100 AD? Within 200 years of John writing his book a Roman Emperor professed faith in Christ and Christianity became the dominant religion for Europe. Today the Gospel has gone throughout the world. Papua New Guinea is country just north of Australia. It is almost as far from Israel as you can get. Today over 96% of the population claims to be Christian. I am not saying they are all saved, but that is still a remarkable statistic.

All through the Gospel age Satan’s influence has been curtailed. Satan has been unable to prevent the worldwide spread of the Gospel. God’s word is preached and blessed by the Holy Spirit; sinners are saved in their not just thousands but millions.

Now of course I am not saying that the world is becoming better and better. Many hear but do not believe. In some countries the Gospel light that shone so brightly has almost gone out. Satan is active in promoting persecution and is tempting Christians away from the faith. There is false teaching on every side.

Satan is still very dangerous. He still has an influence on this world. He is like a vicious dog...but that dog is chained. He barks and sounds terrifying, but as long as we do not go near him he cannot bite us. If however we do go too near him he will bite and harm us, but still he is bound. There is one final evidence that Satan is bound - it is you, Christian. The mere fact that you are here today listening to a Gospel sermon worshipping God is evidence that Satan is bound.

If we were living here in 2000 BC or 1000 BC or even 0 BC would there be a Christian Church? Would there be one in USA? In Sri Lanka? In South Africa? No. The world was bound in sin. But now it is different. There are Christian churches all over the world.

Thank God that he chose you to live in the age when Satan is bound. Thank God for his electing love, who chose you and saved you!

If you wish to listen to a series of sermons on Revelation contact us.