William Hendriksen got it right when he entitled his masterful commentary on the book of Revelation More Than Conquerors.1 Indeed, the book of Revelation has as its main theme the victory of Christ and the Church.2 How beautifully Revelation 20:1-10 spells out that victory. The passage begins with the binding of Satan at the first coming of Christ (vv. 1-3). The passage concludes with the loosing of Satan just prior to the second coming of Christ (vv. 7-10). In between the binding of Satan at the first coming of Christ and the loosing of Satan just prior to the return of Christ, the passage describes the present reign of the saints in Christ (vv. 4-6).
Verses 1-3 record the binding of Satan: "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."
What event are these verses describing? When was Satan bound and cast into the bottomless pit? When was he shut up, having a seal set upon him, so that he should deceive the nations no more? At the first coming of Christ! Verses 1-3 describe Jesus' first coming in terms of his binding of Satan. Satan was bound at Jesus' first coming.
The gospels spell it out for us. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus comes as the King who brings his Kingdom. After his baptism, Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In the first temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to turn the stones into bread; and Jesus answers, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). In the second temptation, the devil tempts Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple; and Jesus responds, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God" (Matthew 4:7). And then, in the third temptation, the devil puts deceit behind him; he takes Jesus up on an exceedingly high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said to him, 'All these things I will give you if you will fall down and worship me'" (Matthew 4:9). Satan tempts Jesus with the greatest temptation he can muster. He offers to him a Satanically controlled Messiahship.3 He is saying to Jesus, "be my messiah, and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world." "I will give you the crown without the cross." "I will give you glory without suffering." "I will give you the kingdoms of the world and their glory." How does Jesus respond? "Away with you Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve" (Matthew 4:9-10). It is only after withstanding the temptations of the devil that Jesus then goes forth a few verses later to proclaim: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).
In Mark's gospel it is the same. Only after withstanding the temptations of the devil in the wilderness does Jesus go forth to proclaim, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15).
Luke makes it clear in Luke 10:17-18. Jesus has sent out the seventy; and they return to him with joy saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name." He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (10:17-20).
Though Jesus begins to bind Satan during his earthly ministry, the great binding of Satan occurs at the cross. John, the fourth evangelist (and writer of Revelation), sets before us the glory of Christ at the cross. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14). Only days before his death, Jesus speaks of the hour of his death as the hour of his glorification (John 12:23)the hour that ushers in the judgment of this world (John 12:31)the hour that casts out the ruler of this world (John 12:31). Jesus binds Satan at the cross.
Jesus' incarnationhis first comingis the inauguration of the millennium. With Christ's first coming, Satan is bound.
But what exactly is the nature of that binding? Is Satan so bound that he is rendered completely and utterly powerless? Revelation 20:3 gives the answer: he is bound "so that he should deceive the nations no more." Satan cannot deceive the nations. Christ is powerful to take the captives of Satan right out of his clutches, and Satan can do nothing to prevent it (cf. John 12:31-32)! The hour of Jesus' death is the hour of Jesus' glorificationthe hour in which he draws all peoples to himself (John 12:32). Satan is powerless to prevent Christ from drawing all peoples to himselfmen and women of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.
Because he has bound Satan, Christ now plunders the house of Satan! Do you see what is in view in your redemption, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ? Your redemption is pictured to you here in terms of your great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, reaching down into the pit of hell itself, rescuing you from the clutches of Satan, and raising you up to seat you in heavenly places! He has translated you out of darkness into the kingdom of light! He has transformed you out of the realm of the dead into the kingdom of life abundant! He has taken you, born children of wrath, and adopted you as children of God, having graciously given you birth from above! This is your redemption! And Satan is powerless to prevent it.
Verses 1-3, then, speak of the inauguration of the millennium. Satan is bound for a thousand years at the first coming of Christ. Verses 1-3, however, also hint at the end of the millennium. "After these things he must be released for a little while." Verse 3 alludes to Satan's "little season." Verse 3 alludes to the loosing of Satan. That loosing of Satanthat little season of Satanis described for us in verses 7-10.
When the thousand years are completed Satan shall be released for his little season. Verses 7-10 speak of that little season. "Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city."
Verses 7-10 set before us the loosing of Satan. Even as we asked the question as to when the binding of Satan occurred, so now we ask the question when will the loosing of Satan occur? Our text tells us that the loosing of Satan will occur at the end of the thousand yearsat the end of the millennium. Satan shall be loosed at the end of the millennium, just prior to the second coming of Christ.
Do you see where that leads you in terms of the millennium? Satan was bound at the beginning of the millennium, at Christ's first coming. Satan will be loosed at the end of the millennium, just prior to Christ's second coming. The millennium, then, spans that entire time period between Christ's first coming and his second coming. Be not mistaken! The millennium is not to be construed in terms of some literal thousand year reign in the literal nation of Israel in the literal city of Jerusalem! The millennium is now! You are in it!
Satan has been bound at the first coming of Christ, but he shall be loosed just prior to the second coming of Christ. This means that we live in that time period where Satan is bound, but will yet be loosed. We live in that time period where Christ has already come, but will yet come again. We live in the Already/Not Yet. We live in the millennium.
If Satan is yet to be loosed, what is the nature of that loosing? Revelation 20:7-8 answers the question. Satan is loosed that he "might go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city." Satan is loosed that he might go forthunrestrained, unboundto gather his troops for the great battle.
The battle in view here is the same battle that is depicted in Revelation 19:19, "And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him who sat on the horse and against his army." That same battle is also in view in Revelation 16:16, "And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armagedon." It is the same battle that is depicted in each of these passages. The battle of Revelation 16:16, 19:19 and 20:7-8 is one and the same battle. In the original Greek, each of these passages speaks of the battle. A careful exegesis of each of these passages will find that all of them draw upon the language and the imagery of Ezekiel 38-39.4 We are dealing with one battle, and that battle is the final spiritual conflict between the world and the church. The world is deceived by the devil and brings its final spiritual assault upon the church. It is the world's final, furious, hate-filled, hell-incited onslaught against the church. That is what is in view in this final battle described in these three passages.
Now why would the Lord allow Satan to be loosed for such a battle? Why would he take off the reigns? Why would he loose Satan from his chain? Why would he allow Satan to ascend out of that bottomless pit in which he is now sealed? Why would he allow Satan and his minions to surround the church?
The answer is clear: "And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (20:9-10). Satan is loosed at the end of the millennium that he might be destroyed, and that for all eternitythat he might be tormented day and night forever and ever!5
The loosing of Satan at the end of the millennium, then, does not call into question your security in Christ. That final battle does not jeopardize your standing in Christ. You need not put your hope in some pre-tribulation rapture! Such falsehoods must be left behind! Nor do we need to put our hope in some "golden age"! Such hopes are little more than Jewish dreams! Our hope is in the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13; Revelation 22:20)! Our hope is in Christ!
Our hope is in the Christ who holds us in his hands. Though the people of God are even now subject to the attacks of the evil one, and will be increasingly subject to those attacks, and though the people of God at the end of the millennium will be surrounded by Satan and his minions, God will not allow his own to be snatched out of his hand. Though the church will be surrounded by the world, Christ will not allow the gates of hell to prevail against his church. Satan is loosed, he gathers his armies, he lays siege upon the beloved city; he makes his final assault, but that for one reason: that God might devour him! The saints of God are untouched! No onenot even Satan loosed in all his furyis able to touch the saints of God who are held in God's hand.
Now do you understand the beauty and brilliance of verses 4-6? "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall reign with him a thousand years."
If verses 1-3 describe the beginning of the millennium with the first coming of Christ, and if verses 7-10 describe the end of the millennium just prior to the second coming of Christ, then verses 4-6 describe the millennium as that time period between the first and second comings of Christ. Verses 4-6 describe for us the history of the church as she lives between the incarnation of Christ and his coming in glory. Verses 4-6 describe the history of the church in the world between those comings. Verses 4-6 describe our history. Verses 4-6 describe your story!
And what is your story? You live and reign with Christeven now! That is to say, the saints live and reign with Christ during the millennium. Or to put it even more clearly, the saints live and reign with Christ from the time of his first coming to the time of his coming on the clouds of glory. You live and reign with Christ even now!
Let me set before you one more question in terms of verses 4-6, a most important question: who does John have in view in verses 4-6? Most commentators maintain that the saints who live and reign with Christ are only those martyred saintsthose who have been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the Word of God (verse 4). William Hendriksen pushes you a bit further. He argues in his commentary that not only the martyred saints are in view here, but all those who have died in the faith.6 In other words, not only the martyrs live and reign with Christ, but also all those who have died in the faiththey too live and reign with Christ. On the view of most commentators, and even on the view of such a great scholar as Hendriksen, the prerequisite to living and reigning with Christ is either martyrdom or death in the faith! You must either be a martyr to live and reign with Christ or you must die in the faith to live and reign with Christ.
But, beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ, John would push you still further. Though John is certainly speaking of the comfort that is ours even in death, John is pushing you to the comfort that is yours already now in life! John has in view not only the martyrs, not only those who have died in the faith; he has in view the church! Even now, in the millennium, between the first and second coming of Christ, you live and reign with Christ! That is the point of Revelation 20:4-6. You presently reign with Christ; your life is in him! Though John did not know the words of the first Question and Answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, he certainly knew its truth! "My only comfort is that I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." You belong to Christ not only in death, you belong to him in life! Even now you live and reign with Christ!
Do not let the mention of the martyrs fool you into thinking that these verses have nothing to do with you! Why, then, does John use the terminology of martyrdom? He uses it for this reason: to impress upon you the nature of your victory in Christ. So secure are you in Christ, that even as you are persecuted, perhaps even called to lay down your life in conformity to the Lamb who was slain, you are secure in that Lamb! You are held in the hollow of Christ's hand. Satan cannot snatch you away. Even now you live and reign with Christ. O Church of Jesus Christ, nothing can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christnot persecution, not martyrdom, not even death!
Revelation 20:4-6 is but another way of expressing what Paul writes in Romans 8:35-39: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.' Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
How can Paul write the words of Romans 8:35-39? Because of what he writes in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Paul pens the words at the end of Romans 8 on the basis of the words at the beginning of Romans 8. Final judgment has intruded into time and history at the cross of Jesus Christ, condemning him in our place, so that there is therefore NOW no condemnation for those in who are in Christ Jesus! Your life is now in Christ; nothing can separate you from Himnot now, not for all eternity. He will not allow it!
We find the same connection in Revelation 20:4-6. How can John write the words of Revelation 20:4-6? Because of what he writes in Revelation 20:4, "I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them." On the basis of Daniel 7:22, the verse may be rendered, "Judgment was given on their behalf."7 Beloved saints of Christ Jesus, you have already been judgedand that in Christ. No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Your final judgment has been rendered at the cross! My sinO the bliss of this glorious thought my sin not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord,O my soul! And it is because of that fact that we sing with joy, O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend. Even so, it is well with my soul. For even then I shall continue to be held in the hands of the Savior in whom I already now live.
Do you see what John has done here in Revelation 20:1-10? He has told you that you live in the millenniumyou are in it. He has told you that you are secure in Christyour salvation has been accomplished in Christ; nothing in all of creation, nothing above, nothing below can change that! What John has done is lifted up your eyes to the heavens. Even as you live here in the midst of this world, he has shown you the reality of your life hidden with Christ in God. He has shown you the nature of your victory in Christ!
The book of Revelation has as its main theme the victory of Christ and the Churchyour victory in Christ. Hendriksen got it right when he entitled his masterful commentary on the book of Revelation More Than Conquerors. Indeed, we are more than conquerors in Christ!
This is Amillennialism, and it is the eschatology that puts meat on your bones. This is the eschatology by which to die. Even more than that, this is the eschatology by which to live. For this is the eschatology that fixes your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ. And fixing your eyes on Christ, it teaches you to say in all things: it is well, it is well, with my soul now and for all eternity!
Trinity United Reformed Church
1 William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982).
2 Ibid., p. 185.
3 Cf. Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994) 113-14.
4 Cf. Meredith G. Kline, "Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium." JETS 39/2 (June 1996): 207-22.
5 It is interesting to note that for the saints in heaven there is no day nor night, while for the condemned in hell eternity is measured in terms of day and night, thus adding to their suffering and misery.
6 Pp. 192-93.
7 Cf. Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001) 290.