By Reverend Mark Hunnemann
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit1 and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and resealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4 Then 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.
Responsible biblical scholars differ in their interpretation of the meaning of "the thousand years" (millennium), and these verses are among the mostly controversial in Revelation. I will only be able to give a brief outline of the three main views.Since this is not an issue essential to salvation, gentleness and a desire to learn from each other should mark the way we view differ.
This book is apocalyptic in genre, and that means that there is much symbolism. The issue is how much of Revelation is symbolic and how much is "literal". It needs to be said that the use of symbols does not detract from the authority of the bible.(see ch 1 for how symbols begin...."lampstands")
Some see this book as primarily future....some see it a primarily past (fall of Jerusalem),,,,and some see it as mixture of both.
1. Premillennialists--those who believe Christ will return "pre" (before) the millennium. This is usually thought to be a literal thousand years, which will be a time of great peace and justice, with Christ physically reigning here on earth, along with believers. They tend to minimize symbolism as much as possible.I cannot deal with the differing views of the tribulation nor the notion of the rapture.However, classical premills differ from pre-trib premills in that they believe the rapture/second coming are same event.
2. Postmillenialists--those who think that Christ will return "post" (after) the millennial period, and that the gospel will triumph in changing individuals and culture, and peace and justice will reign for a thousand years (or a long time). They see a future which will be systematically transformed by the gospel, but that prior to Jesus' return there will be an unleashing of wickedness....then Christ will return for Judgment. .Not all post-mills are reconstructionists...again, I have to leave it at that.
3. Amillennialists--those who hold an "a" ( non, or non-literal view of the thousand years), and believe this "thousand years" is the same as this present church age, and that this is the "millenium" before Christ's return. As with the others, they believe in a great apostasy before Christ's literal return.What differentiates them from post mills is that, even though they believe in the extraordinary transforming power of the gospel, they do not believe in a golden age prior to Jesus' Second Coming.The victory is that deceased believers reign with Christ now...and the alive believers are more than conquerors in Christ.
Each of these views are to be understood in terms of interpretation of other passages (e.g. Matthew 24), and each view falls within the framework of historic Christian othodoxy. In addition, many folks adhere to a mix of these views!
v. 1-3 (cf 12:9-17) The nature of this binding of Satan is crucial to each millennial view. Premills read this as predicting a complete removal of Satan from the earth during the millennium. They argue that "shut it" and "sealed it over him" picture a removal of Satan from Earth too complete to represent the current age. Postmills also think this will be a future golden age, but believe that Christ will not return until after the end of that time. Amills note that the NT affirms that Jesus's first coming has already bound Satan (Matthew 12:29) and brought God's light to the nations (Matthew 4:14-16; Luke 2:32; Acts 14:15-17; 17:30-31) Hence, they argue that this binding of Satan for a "thousand years" refers to the gospels spread among all nations during the present age, and to the present restraint of the church's persecutors until an outbreak of rebellion before Christ's return (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8) v.4-5 "...and reigned with Christ for a thousand years".Premills think this means that resurrected believers will assist with Christ's thousand year reign as King over the earth. Amills think this means that deceased believers now (and during the entire "thousand years", which means from Pentecost to second coming) are reigning with Christ from heaven. Postmills see it as a future triumph of Christianity in the world.
Historically, there are significant differences amongst those who are premill, and there are other overlapping factors amongst the three views, but this is a humble attempt to clarify the basic three views held during the last 2,000 years. The main issue is that Jesus is most certainly returning to judge the living and the dead, and that He reigns supreme NOW.
Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.