By: Lazarus Conley
Revelation 20 Notes:
These notes reflect an amillennialist bend. Historical premillennialism (chiliasm as taught by ECF like St. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, etc. are not heretical. What was deemed heretical about certain forms of chiliasm was that some taught contrary to the phrase in the Nicene Creed, "His Kingdom shall have no end". The saints that do teach a form of chiliasm do not teach that there shall be an end to the Kingdom of God. Contrary to the opinion of some, you can believe premillennialism (note: this is not the same as dispensationalism premillennialism and feel free to message me if you want to discuss that). That being said, I am quite convinced of the amillennial perspective and these notes will reflect that. When reading these notes, read them alongside the Scriptures. I'd advise to read the Scriptures first and then read these study notes.
"Those years wherein Satan is bound are in the first advent of Christ, even to the end of the age; and they are called a thousand, according to that mode of speaking, wherein a part is signified by the whole, just as is that passage, the word which He commanded for a thousand generations, although they are not a thousand. Moreover that he says, and he cast him into the abyss, he says this, because the devil, excluded from the hearts of believers, began to take possession of the wicked, in whose hearts, blinded day by day, he is shut up as if in a profound abyss. And he shut him up, says he, and put a seal upon him, that he should not deceive the nations until the thousand years should be finished. He shut the door upon him, it is said, that is, he forbade and restrained his seducing those who belong to Christ. Moreover, he put a seal upon him, because it is hidden who belong to the side of the devil, and who to that of Christ. For we know not of those who seem to stand whether they shall not fall, and of those who are down it is uncertain whether they may rise. Moreover, that he says that he is bound and shut up, that he may not seduce the nations, the nations signify the Church, seeing that of them it itself is formed, and which being seduced, he previously held until, he says, the thousand years should be completed, that is, what is left of the sixth day, to wit, of the sixth age, which subsists for a thousand years; after this he must be loosed for a little season. The little season signifies three years and six months, in which with all his power the devil will avenge himself under Antichrist against the Church. Finally, he says, after that the devil shall be loosed, and will seduce the nations in the whole world, and will entice war against the Church, the number of whose foes shall be as the sand of the sea". –Victorinius-
The devil was hooked by the Lord, like a dragon, by the hook of the Cross; and was taken in a drag-net, and was bound like a fugitive slave, and his lips were perforated by a ring and a bracelet, and he is not permitted to devour any of the faithful. Now, like a wretched sparrow, he is made sport of by Christ; now he groans at his companions, being trodden like serpents and scorpions under the heels of Christians. (Life of Antony 24) –Athanasius-
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself says, No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man (Matt. 12:29) — meaning by the strong man the devil, because he had power to take captive the human race; and meaning by his goods which he was to take, those who had been held by the devil in various sins and iniquities, but were to become believers in Himself. It was then for the binding of this strong one that the apostle saw here. bound him: But the binding of the devil is his being prevented from the exercise of his whole power to seduce men, either by violently forcing or fraudulently deceiving them into taking part with him. If he were during so long a period permitted to assail the weakness of men, very many persons, such as God would not wish to expose to such temptation, would have their faith overthrown, or would be prevented from believing; and that this might not happen, he is bound. For the Almighty does not absolutely seclude the saints from his temptation, but shelters only their inner man, where faith resides, that by outward temptation they may grow in grace. And He binds him that he may not, in the free and eager exercise of his malice, hinder or destroy the faith of those countless weak persons, already believing or yet to believe, from whom the Church must be increased and completed; Now the devil was thus bound not only when the Church began to be more and more widely extended among the nations beyond Judea, but is now and shall be bound till the end of the world, when he is to be loosed. Because even now men are, and doubtless to the end of the world shall be, converted to the faith from the unbelief in which he held them. (City of God 20.7) –Augustine-
For by the number of a thousand he denoted not the quantity of time but the universality, with which the Church exercises dominion. Now the old serpent is bound with a chain and cast into the bottomless pit, because being tied up from the hearts of the good, while he is shut up in the minds of lost sinners, he rules over them with worse cruelty. (Morals 18.42) –Gregory the Dialogist-
But He, when He shall have destroyed unrighteousness, and executed His great judgment, and shall have recalled to life the righteous, who have lived from the beginning, will be engaged among men a thousand years, and will rule them with most just command. Then they who shall be alive in their bodies shall not die, but during those thousand years shall produce an infinite multitude, and their offspring shall be holy, and beloved by God; but they who shall be raised from the dead shall preside over the living as judges...About the same time also the prince of the devils, who is the contriver of all evils, shall be bound with chains, and shall be imprisoned during the thousand years of the heavenly rule in which righteousness shall reign in the world, so that he may contrive no evil against the people of God. After His coming the righteous shall be collected from all the earth, and the judgment being completed, the sacred city shall be planted in the middle of the earth, in which God Himself the builder may dwell together with the righteous, bearing rule in it. –Lactantius-
On the other hand, what man is there that does not feel consolation in the reflection, that Jesus Christ has vanquished this savage fiend, and bound him in fetters, by limiting the exercise of his rage and malice? Some understand this chaining of the dragon of the reign of Constantine, and particularly after the defeat of Licinius; and the thousand years of the intermediate period between Constantine and antichrist, when the devil will again be let loose, but for a short time, only three years and a half. Bound him The power of Satan has been very much abridged by the passion of Christ; for a thousand years; that is for the whole time of the new testament, but especially from the time of the destruction of Babylon or pagan Rome, till the new efforts of Gog and Magog against the Church, towards the end of the world. During which time the souls of the martyrs and saints live and reign with Christ in heaven, in the first resurrection, which is that of the soul to the life of glory, as the second resurrection will be that of the body, at the day of general judgment. –George Leo Haydock-
Set a seal upon him. That is, placed upon it the bolt of the cross so that he might never regain his strength, nor any more seduce the nations, whom the resurrection will restore and make better.
no more suduce the nations. The devil, then, is bound and shut up in the abyss that he may not seduce the nations from which the Church is gathered, and which he formerly seduced before the Church existed. For it is not said that he should not seduce any man, but that he should not seduce the nations— meaning, no doubt, those among which the Church exists. -Augustine-
And I saw the seats. Already teaching thrones have been given to the holy apostles through whom the nations have been enlightened. They will be given, according to the divine promise also in the future for judging those who rejected the gospel preaching. And the souls of them.... they will judge the demons, until the consummation the present age, (the saints) being venerated by pious kings and faithful rulers, and manifesting God-given power against every bodily ailment and demonic activity. Those liberated from them by Christ, according to the manner mentioned above, will co-reign until his second coming, afterwards enjoying these divine promises to an even greater degree. -Andreas of Ceasarea-
Until the thousand years were finished. That is, the time of Christ; for they will rise with others at the end of the world to be punished simultaneously in body and spirit. –Nicholas of Lyra-
First resurrection. That certainly is the first resurrection in which we rise again through baptism, as the Apostle says, "If you have risen with Christ, seek the things which are above." (Col 3:1). For as the first death in this life is through sins, since "the soul that sins, it shall die," (Ezek.18:20) so also the first resurrection is in this life through remission of sins. –Bede-
The rest: Whosoever have not heard the voice of the Son of God, and passed to life from death, during all that time in which the first resurrection takes place, that is, the resurrection of souls, in the second resurrection, which is the resurrection of the flesh, will assuredly pass with the flesh itself into the second death, that is, into eternal torments. –Bede-
Reign: The Spirit when He wrote this, declared that the Church would reign a thousand years, that is, unto the end of the world; and a doubt might arise from this. For that it is concerning a perpetual kingdom is manifest; SATAN LOOSED -Ibid.-
Priests of God and Christ. It is not said of bishops only and of presbyters, who properly are called "priests" in the Church. But as we are all called Christs because of the mystical chrism, so are we all called priests, because we are members of the one Priest, of Whom the Apostle Peter says, "a holy people, a royal priesthood." (1 Pet. 2:9) -Ibid.-
Saints: Another version has "priests of God and of Christ," and it is not said of bishops only and of presbyters, who properly are called "priests" in the Church. But as we are all called Christs because of the mystical chrism, so are we all called priests, because we are members of the one Priest, of Whom the Apostle Peter says, "a holy people, a royal priesthood." –Ibid.-
Blessed: That is, he who has kept the state of being born again. –Ibid.-
It must be known that Ezekiel also prophesied that these nations will come in the end times with great power to fall upon the land of Israel and that their weapons are to be burnt for seven years through a great fire, which on the one hand, some of the interpreters took (to mean) the fall of the Assyrians with Sennacherib having occurred many years ago at the time of Hezekiah during the prophecy of Ezekiel (2 Kgs 19:35), but on the other hand, some (interpret it as) the destruction of the nations attacking those who undertook to rebuild Jérusalem after her capture by the Babylonians, (Theodore) first Cyrus the Persian, and after him Darius having commanded so to the governors of Syria. And some see it as meaning the powers of Antiochus having been defeated by the Maccabees. From the Hebrew language some interpret Gog as "one who gathers" or "gathering" and Magog "proud." Through the names is to be signified either the gathering of the nations or arrogance. –Andrew of Caesarea-
Seduce. He will then seduce them, to the end that he may gather them together to this battle. For even before he used to seduce them in whatever manner he was able, through many different evils. And "he will go out" means, he will burst forth into open persecution from the hiding-places of his hatred. –Bede-
Like wild beasts from their lairs, so these also will be released over the earth from their places through the Devil their general, so that they may destroy the camps of the saints-that is, the Church- which have been established in the four extremities of the world; unaware that not one angel but many are those that surround the fearers of God, as the Psalm says, “Camps of angels of the Lord surround his fearers and guard them.” (Ps 33:8). Straightaway, they will also lay hands on the holy city Jerusalem; whence the divine law was spread throughout the whole world by the apostles, and where too we have learned from the Apostle that Antichrist sits in the temple. (2Thess 2:4) –Nerses of Lambron-
The beloved city. That is Jerusalem, (the Church) which will be inhabited at that time by Christians, as was said in Ez. 39. –Nicholas of Lyra-
It is not to be understood of the final punishment which shall be inflicted when it is said, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire; (Matthew 25:41) for then they shall be cast into the fire, not fire come down out of heaven upon them. It is well understood of the firmness of the saints, wherewith they refuse to yield obedience to those who rage against them. For the firmament is heaven, by whose firmness these assailants shall be pained with blazing zeal, for they shall be impotent to draw away the saints to the party of Antichrist. This is the fire which shall devour them, and this is from God; for it is by God's grace the saints become unconquerable, and so torment their enemies. For as in a good sense it is said, The zeal of Your house has consumed me, so in a bad sense it is said, Zeal has possessed the uninstructed people, and now fire shall consume the enemies. (Isaiah 26:11) And now, that is to say, not the fire of the last judgment; or if by this fire coming down out of heaven and consuming them, John meant that blow wherewith Christ in His coming is to strike those persecutors of the Church whom He shall then find alive upon earth, when He shall kill Antichrist with the breath of His mouth; but the last judgment is that which they shall suffer when the bodily resurrection has taken place –Augustine-
It must not be supposed that this is the final punishment. But it is rather the fire of envy, with which the adversary will be tormented through the firmness of the saints. For "heaven" is the firmament. This is the fire which went forth from the mouth of the witnesses of God, and it will devour their enemies. For in the last day He will not rain fire upon them, but when they have been gathered together before Him and judged, He will send them into eternal fire. -Bede-
Breadth. They certainly are not represented as having come, or as about to come, to one place, as if the beloved city, that is, the Church, were to be confined within some one place. For much rather wished he to intimate by "the breadth of the earth," that it would be persecuted in all nations; and by the term "camp", that not even then would it forsake its warfare. -Ibid.-
Fire. It must not be supposed that this is the final punishment. It is rather the fire of envy, with which the adversary will be tormented through the firmness of the saints. For "heaven" is the firmament. This is the fire which went forth from the mouth of the witnesses of God, and it will devour their enemies. For in the last day He will not rain fire upon them, but when they have been gathered together before Him and judged, He will send them into eternal fire, concerning which it is here added, as follows. –Bede-
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the sight of the Lord's throne: and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is (the book) of life: and every one was judged according to those things that were written in the book, according to their own works." –Treatise Against Heretic Novatian-
For after the times of the kingdom, he says, "I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat upon it, from whose face the earth fled away, and the heavens; and there was no more place for them." –Iranaeus-
Stand: "When the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, then will be gathered before Him all nations." -Bede-
Book of life. Another version has, "which is of the life of each one;" So then by "the opened books," he means the Testaments of God, for the world will be judged according to both Testaments. By "the book of the life of each one," he means the memory of our actions, and not that the discerner of hidden things has a memorial book. -Ibid.-
Written: That is to say, they were judged out of the Testaments, namely, according to that they did from them or did not. The books may also be understood to be the deeds of the righteous. For while the reprobate are condemned by comparison with these, in the spreading out of these they read, as it were, the good which they themselves were unwilling to do. -Ibid.-
Moreover "he says, "the book of life was opened, and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books, according to their works; and death and hell were sent into the lake of fire, the second death." –Irenaeus-
Consider, he says, whether too the blessed John, when he says, "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it: and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them" –Methodius-
"And if any one "it is said, "was not found written in the book of life, he was sent into the lake of fire."-Irenaeus-
Revelation 20:1 The “bottomless pit” (abyss) is the great nether regions (Ps. 87:7 LXX) where the disobedient are confined awaiting final judgment. The demons fear it (Lk 8:31; Jude 6). It is reached through a chasm, the “key” to which is in the hand of the “angel”. The “great chain” binds Satan (Mark 5:3).
20:2 Though most didn’t, a few early Fathers did believe in a literal “thousand years” binding Satan and reign of Christ and the saints on earth (vv.2-7). The Church, however, authoritatively rejected this teaching (chiliasm) at the 2nd Ecumenical Council. In apocalyptic literature, numbers have symbolic significance. “Thousand” is often used in the Scriptures to denote a long period of time, a great quantity, completion, perfection, thoroughness (Job 9:3; 2 Peter 3:8). Here, a thousand years (vv.2-7) is interpreted as the Church age, when Jesus reigns on earth in those who believe. It’s that era between the first and second comings of Christ, also called the “last times”, when Satan’s effectiveness at deceit is restricted through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, and the saints share in Christ’s earthly reign through the Church. For those persecuted Christians threatened by martyrdom, this is a consoling hope.
20:3 The devil is thrown into the pit, which is “shut” and “sealed” for “thousand years” – meaning a long period of time – to allow the Church to be planted, to grow, and to overcome, even in times of persecution and trial. The word “millennium” is synonymous with thousand years, and carries with it no connotations of peace and prosperity. The Bible teaches that Satan was bound at the completion of Christ’s saving work (Mt. 12:28, 29; Lk 10:17, 18; Jn 12:31, 32; Col 2:15). He’s not totally inactive (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 5:5; Eph 6:11), but he can’t “deceive the nations” by keeping the gospel from them. At the close of the millennium or Church age, Satan will be “released for a little while” (vv.7, 8).
20:4-6 Those who have died “for their witness to Jesus” are in paradise (some refer to this as heaven) living and reigning with Him (5:9. 10; Mt 19:18; 2 Tim 2:12) as royal “priests” (1:6; 5:9; 10; Isa 61:6; 1 Peter 2:9-10), while the Church serves Him here on earth. “The first resurrection” (v 6) is the heavenly life of souls who have died in Christ before His 2nd Coming. Those not in Christ who die are in Hades awaiting the resurrection of the body at His coming. For the righteous saints with Christ, the “2nd death has no power” (v.6). These righteous spirits (Heb 12:23) await only the reuniting of soul and body after the final judgment, when all things are made new (21:1). Hell or Hades (Sheol), where sinners’ souls are separated from their bodies, will give up its dead to Gehenna (vv. 13, 14), the lake of fire that burns with Sulphur (21:8), which is eternal damnation (Mt 25:41). Sinners will be excluded from the blessedness of the age to come. Hell cannot harm the victorious in Christ (2:11).
20:7-10 The lengthy millennial period of Satan’s binding and the saints’ heavenly reign (vv. 1-6) is concluded by the release of Satan and the final battle of history (probably the same as that of 16:12-16, 19:14-21). “Gog and Magog” (v. 8; see Ezek 38; 39) are nations hostile to God’s people, gathered for one final assault directed against the “beloved city” (v 9), Jerusalem as the Church. As Elijah called down “fire … out of heaven” on his persecutors (4 Kings 1:10-12) so here God sends a consuming fire (Gn 19:24; 3 Kings 18:38; Ezek 38:22; 39:6). The “devil” joins “the beast and the false prophet” in the “lake of fire”, the 2nd death of eternal damnation, and is no longer a threat to the world.
20:11 God executes judgment from the “greaet white throne” (see Dan 7:9; 1 Enoch 18:8). The One who sits on the throne in Revelation is God the Father (4:2-9; 5:1, 7, 13; 6:16; 7:10; etc.). However, in the rest of the NT Christ is the judge on the throne (Mt 25:31-46; Jn 5:22; Acts 10:42; 17:31; 2 Cor 5:10). John is about to show their unity: “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (22:1). “Earth” and “heaven” flee “away” (Mt 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10-13) in terror, a cosmic sign of the great Day of the Lord and the coming of the new heaven and earth (21:1).
20:12 “Standing before God” at His throne at the final judgment, “the dead” are confronted with “their works”. “The books” of judgment (Dan 7:10) contain a record of men’s deeds; their own works will judge them (Ps 61:13 LXX; Jer 17:6 LXX). This judging of believers’ works is a common theme (Mt 16:27; Rom 2:6; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Peter 1:17; see also the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. Basil and the hymns for the Sunday of the Last Judgment). In contrast is the “Book of Life”. It contains the names of all saved by grace (see Ex. 32:32; Isa 4:3; Dan 12:1, 2) – not that they have no works, but that God’s mercy is far greater in comparison. The Orthodox liturgy thus petitions God for a “good account before the dread judgment seat of Christ”.
20:13-15 The “sea, Death, and Hades” – the powers that held men captive – show all the dead are judged. That Christ has the keys to death and Hades (1:18) expresses not His power to put men to death, but His trampling of death by death. He’s victorious over death. The sea as a symbol of turbulence, chaos, and the unknown will be no more (21:1). Death, the “last enemy that will be destroyed” (1 Cor 15:26), and Hades, the intermediate state between death and resurrection, will end. They’re cast into hell, “the lake of fire” (vv.14, 15), along with all who reject the grace of God.
In order to prepare ourselves to understand John better here, it may be useful to reflect on the literary image of the thousand years already well known to John. In the Judaism of John’s time there was the popular belief that the Messiah would reign on the earth a thousand years… This popular belief is extant in Jewish literature of the time, such as The Testament of the 12 Patriarchs and some sayings of famous rabbis. We also find a variation on this theme in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which speak of the just who live a thousand generations.
John’s description of the Messiah reigning with his loyal followers for a thousand years seems in large measure to be inspired by Daniel 7, where God is portrayed as a very old man, the “Ancient of Days”, who would take the authority from the 4th beast and give it to God’s holy ones, those who are suffering persecution for his sake (Dan 7:9-10, 22, 26-27). The early Christians were fond of this passage, because Jesus identified himself as the Son of Man, who appears in this same scene in Daniel 7:13-14.
We note that Daniel 7 speaks of “thrones” in the plural, which Christians understood to mean they too would take part in the judgment of the beast. In other words, they too would sit on thrones along with the Messian (Mt 19:28). (Indeed, St. Paul would apply this idea to a practical ethical question that arose in the early Church, in 1 Cor 6:1-3). To say that the believers will judge doesn’t mean, of course, that they’ll judge in the same sense that God does, because only God has access to the depths of the human heart.
Nonetheless, there’s a true and genuine sense in which believers stand in judgment with Christ over history. In the Holy Spirit they’re given to know which elements of history are good, and which bad; they’re given to discern those components of history that are of value in the sight of God, and those that aren’t. That is to say, the disciples of Christ are forever passing true judgment over history. They’re already on their thrones with the Messiah. The final judgment, at history’s end, will simply reveal that they were, all along, the authentic judges of history.
This, then, is their thousand years’ reign. It’s that area of Christian experience in which Christians are already seated in the high places with Christ (cf. Eph. 2:6), already on their thrones, already judges of history. They’re said to reign because they’re not slaves to the beast and its image. Their reign, nonetheless, isn’t yet complete, because they still have ahead of them the battle with Gog and Magog.
God was already well known to readers of Ezekiel 38-39, who would scarcely have been surprised to hear of him, for it was the name of a person from the somewhat recent past. The Hebrew name “Gog” (or Gug) corresponds to the Assyrian “Gugu” and the Greek “Gyges”. He was a famous 7th Ce. King of Lydia in Asia Minor, who had died in 644. Accounts of the original Gog are found in the Assyrian annals and History of Herodotus.
The name isn’t especially important for the identification of the invader; like the other names in these chapters of Ezekiel, it symbolizes evil realities much larger and more menacing than their historical references. Thus understood, Gog and his forces appear here in Revelation 20. “Magog” appears to be an abbreviation of the Hebrew min-Gog, “from Gog”. Here in Revelation he’s a derived ally of Gog, much as, elsewhere in the book, one beast shares his authority with the other beast in 13:4.
In verses 11-15 everything testifies to its own contamination by “fleeing” from the throne of God. In Chapter 4 John had seen the throne as the origin of all things, and now he sees it as the arbiter of history. Everything flees before it. This is the final judgment, and it belongs to God alone. Here we meet once again the image of the “Book of Life” that appeared earlier in 3:5; 13:8; 17:8.
-Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon. Revelation A Liturgical Prophecy. 105-107.-
Conley's Concluding Thoughts on the matter:
I think that the thousand years stand for the whole history of the Church, triumphant and militant, in heaven and on earth, from Christ’s resurrection until His parousia. The “first resurrection” refers to the transition from the death of sin to the life in faith. However, the question here isn’t about all the Christians, but only about the martyrs; (in literature this is called telescoping) and they’ve already experienced this spiritual resurrection before their physical death.
Full preterism teaches transmillennialism which means the thousand years is somehow turned spiritually into fourty years... This seems outlandish to anyone with common sense but I digress. If anyone can show me how 1000 = 40 please be my guest but as far as I'm concerned, that is nothing but foolishness from decieved people who need to repent and come to Christ.
Satan has already, through the Cross, been driven from heaven (12:9). He is restrained and restricted from what was once his sphere of influence. I wish to note this does not mean Satan is not still at work. What is being said though is that with Christ, the Church and her saints will be victorious over all enemies of Christ. The gates of Hell shall not prevail against Christ and His Church. We have the assurance of victory and the lies that Satan may share and spread to the nations will be exposed and Christ be victorious over it all.
At the end of this "thousand years", this period, Satanic forces are at work and Satan’s rage, fueled by his imprisonment may be compared to the fury by which he ignoited persecutions against the Church after his expulsion from heaven (12:13). With the final expulsion of Satan no further obstacles remain to the definitive establishment of God’s reign upon a new earth.
The resurrection of the dead and the Last Judgment, marking the end of this world and the start of a new age comes (20:11-15). This single throne the “great white throne” (v10) is God’s absolute dominion over all.
The Creation will not be destroyed but be changed, restored, and renewed (Rom 8:21) and the renewal (Mt 19:28) of creation. The NT insists on the universality of judgement on all people (Mt. 25:32; Jn 5:28; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Peter 4:5). The two books are opened containing all of men’s actions, good and evil (Dan 7:10; Isa 65:6-7; Mal 3:16). The book of life contains those destined for eternal life with God. In the future era, death will be unknown (21:4). The first creation has disappeared from what it once was (20:11); the wicked have been driven off to punishment (20:15). Nothing remains but the magnificence of the eternal Kingdom of God. Creation is renewed and refashioned in order to befit redeemed humanity (Isa 65:17; 66:22).
There’s some fun stuff that could be talked about with the sea, but we’ll have to leave that for another day with the Leviathan and other things in the bible. We are with God and He is with us. What we enjoyed in Paradise and Israel experienced in the desert and Temple is now granted to all members of the People of God, forever. The new condition of the world that comes here is the opposite of what happens to Babylon (18:22-23).