Read Revelation 20
There is a lot packed into these last few chapters of the Bible. At the end of Chapter 19 we see the Beast, symbolic of the antichrist, and the false prophet captured in the last battle between the armies of God, led by Jesus, and the forces in opposition to God. Then John sees an angel coming down from heaven who binds up Satan. Associated with this is a 1,000-year reign of Christ and the martyrs who were faithful to Him and did not worship the beast.
How this all plays out is a bit difficult to interpret. Many have offered their interpretations and many “doctrines” have come out of these attempts. The three major interpretations are known as Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism, each carries a different interpretation of when Christ’s actual return will be in relationship to the millennial reign” that is spoken of here in Revelation 20.
Postmillennialists believe that the physical appearance of Christ at the second coming will be the culmination of a 1,000-year era of blessedness that will take place in the world. As the church grows and the Gospel spread, it was thought that things on earth would get increasingly better until a time that evil was practically non-existent. This would mark the supposed binding of Satan and would last for a millennium until the time that Satan would be loosed, Jesus would appear, and the final judgment would take place. Especially toward the end of the second millennium, that is the years 1,000 – 2,000, many people started to believe this. As countries developed and life became better for some people, there was a notion that somehow the Church and the spread of the Gospel were causing this era of blessing which, some believed, would culminate in a 1,000-year reign beginning, perhaps, at the end of the millennium. The height of this view’s popularity was in the early 1900’s before a significant decline following the first and second world wars.
Premillennial belief is a bit more complex as there are two forms that it comes in. Normal Premillennialists, also known as historical premillennialists, believe in the rapture, a time in the future where Christ will “return” to take all the faithful up to heaven with Him. Following that will be a period of great tribulation and persecution, the time of the rule of the antichrist, and the period when the judgments that we have read about will be poured out on the earth. This will also be the last chance for people to turn to Christ. At the end of this period, which many believe will be seven years, drawing on the numbers from different parts of Revelation, Christ will return and set up His millennial reign on earth which will mark the period when Satan is bound as well. All of this will take place for 1,000 years which will be followed by the final judgment and eternity. This belief was held early on in the church but started to die out mid 300’s B.C. and was given little consideration until it was revived in the post-reformation era.
Dispensational Premillennialism offers a similar premillennialist view but casts it within a greater understanding of how God deals with humanity in different, successive ways, or dispensations, throughout time. Each dispensation is a further revelation and offers a new understanding of God and the way He deals with humankind. Another marker of Dispensational Premillennialism is the literal view taken on the differences between Israel and the Church. God’s dealing with the world through the Church is different than His dealing with Israel, prior to Christ, and He will return to His work with Israel post-rapture, during the time of the tribulation. Those sealed from the tribes of Israel, then, would be an actual number of Jewish people saved prior to Christ’s physical return roughly seven years after the Rapture. This particular spin on Premillennialism comes largely from U.S. Biblical Fundamentalists, finding a most of its roots in the 1800’s, and has become widely popular in U.S. culture. Many books such as the widely popular Left Behind series have been written from this perspective and have served to popularize this theory all the more. Much of the political dealings with Israel as well as a number of other things throughout western culture have been influenced by the Fundamentalist influence, something you won’t find much in Christianity throughout the rest of the world.
Amillennialists hold to the view that, like the rest of Scripture, and especially the book of Revelation, the numbers in chapter 20 are symbolic and there is no “true” millennium. Amillennialism, also known as realized millennialism, says that the binding of Satan took place at the time of Jesus resurrection, that Jesus is reigning now along with the saints and the Church, and that this reign is spiritual in nature. This binding of Satan and the reign of Christ is shown in the spread of the Gospel throughout the world because Satan “cannot deceive the nations anymore”. At the end of the so-called millennium, which if you remember the number 1000 is a symbol in other places for power, strength, and completion, Christ will return, the final judgment will take place, evil will be vanquished forever, and the eternal reign of God will begin. Along with this view of eschatology comes a particular grounding in Scripture and Covenant theology, much of which we have talked about, and does not look at Revelation differently than the rest of Scripture but views it within the context of the entire Bible, as we have tried to do here. At some time in the future, it seems that Satan will be set free to deceive the nations once again and gather the people in opposition to God for a final battle at which time He will be summarily defeated and the eternal reign of God will begin.
These topics are very interesting to talk about and even debate with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is important, however, to recognize that our views of “eschatology,” the study of end times, are peripheral in nature and not central to the doctrines of salvation by grace. They should not be dividers within the Church nor should they be barriers to the Gospel. Scripture is very clear that, while the signs of the “end times,” can be clearly seen, and we’ve talked about that throughout this book, the actual times and dates, as well as the specific events that will take place, are known only to the Father.