Sermon on Revelation 20:1-6
Text: And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 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 are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.
What is faith? How would you define “faith?” God gives us this definition in Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It is trusting that something is true, even if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes. There are many things that God tells us to simply believe that are true, even if we haven’t seen or experienced them. God has told his believers to trust in him throughout the ages. For example, let’s go back to the time that the words of our text were written. All the apostles had, in all likelihood, died a martyr’s death, except John. He was in exile on the island of Patmos for confessing his faith in Jesus to others. Christians were being persecuted. God had promised that his Church would endure to the end of time. It certainly didn’t look like that was going to be the case. So, God came to John with this vision, this revelation, to tell the believers that the Church would endure. God comes to us today, as we study these verses from Revelation 20 and tells us HAVE FAITH, LITTLE FLOCK. 1. The Dragon Has Been Chained. 2. The Saints Continue To Reign.
As we go through these verses, we want to note that there are many false teachings that have arisen from the book of Revelation. This is especially true of the twentieth chapter.
Our text begins, “I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.” (Verse 1) While it might be that this angel is one of those heavenly creatures that serve our God, it seems that this is more than a mere angel. We compare these words with what Jesus said of himself in the opening chapter of Revelation, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:18) The Abyss and Hades are different terms for hell. John sees Jesus with a key in his hand and a great chain.
In verses 2&3, we find out what will be done with the key and the great chain, “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.” After Christ seizes the dragon, that is, Satan, he throws him into the Abyss, where he is locked in.
There are several things that need to be addressed in these verses. First, what is the chain that Christ used to lock in Satan? It is something that is used “to keep [Satan] from deceiving the nations anymore.” Satan has been lying to people going all the way back to Adam and Eve. The opposite of a lie is the truth. The truth of the gospel is what has bound Satan. The gospel’s message hinders the devil from leading people into eternal damnation. John wrote of Jesus’ mission on this earth, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8) Whenever and wherever the gospel is proclaimed and hearts believe it, Satan is bound.
The next thing that we note is that it says that Satan will be bound for 1,000 years. This phrase also comes up in the second part of our text. Many have looked at these words and say that Christ will come to the earth and reign for 1,000 years, also known as “The Millennium.” At the end of this 1,000 years, there will be a great battle with Satan, who will ultimately be defeated. Then, Christ will rule unopposed for all eternity. However, this is not what is being spoken of here. It is a symbolic picture, just as Jesus isn’t actually holding a big chain and a key or that the devil is a dragon. It is a picture that God is using here. Also, Jesus tells us that we will not know the exact date of the end of the world. If there were an actual millennial rule of Jesus, we could count to 1,000 and know when the end would happen.
So, if it’s not a literal 1,000 years, what is the truth that God is teaching us? First, as we study the Scriptures, especially the book of Revelation, it becomes clear that the number “10” and multiples of it, have to do with completeness. We have the same concept today. We talk about 10 as two hands full. Our monetary system is based on 10’s. So, instead of this period being exactly 1,000 years, it is a complete period that God has designated. We see that it began with Satan being chained. When was Satan’s work destroyed? It happened when Jesus suffered and died on the cross. After having suffered to pay for the sins of the world, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Because his work of atoning for the sins of the world was complete, that also meant that Satan’s hold over humanity had come to an end. He has been chained. That is the beginning of the 1,000 years. It also says that at the end of this 1,000 years, Satan “must be set free for a short time.” This is consistent with what Jesus spoke of happening before the end of the world, “Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:11-12) The end of those 1,000 years will be when Jesus comes back in glory at the end of time. In other words, you and I are living during this 1,000 that are spoken of here in Revelation 20.
One other note, before we go on to the next part of our text. Satan has been bound. He has been chained. It does not mean that he has bene locked behind a door in hell and cannot be active on earth. Satan’s work still goes on, but his activities are hedged in by the limits that God has placed on him. He is like a fierce, wild lion in a cage. The cage is the gospel, found in the Word of God. We are safe from him, as long as we don’t stick our hand in the cage or in some other way expose ourselves to his vicious teeth and claws. We want to keep watch so that we don’t become complacent in our faith or so sure of ourselves that we think we can play patty-cake with the devil. If we do so, he will devour us. Make use of the gospel message, that chain, to keep him at bay.
As further encouragement during those days of persecution, John tells us what he saw in the next part of his vision, “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They 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 a thousand years.” (Verse 4) All of those people who lost their lives because they proclaimed and held to the truth of the gospel were alive in heaven. They were not lost forever. When it says that “They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands,” it isn’t speaking of a literal worshiping of a beast or having some sort of mark placed on you or in you. Rather, it shows that these people remained loyal to Christ. They had not joined with the rest of the world in following Satan with their lives. They were living in the glorious inheritance that God has promised to all believers. The translation “They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years” isn’t really the best one. It would be better translated, “They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” We know from the rest of Scriptures that, when a believer dies, their soul goes to heaven. This is what John was seeing in this portion of his vision. In this case, he is seeing those Christians who lost their lives “because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God.”
John continues, “(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Verses 5-6) What is the first resurrection that John is speaking of here? For there to be a resurrection, there must be a death. Paul writes about this death that affects all people in Ephesians 2:1, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.” This is how all people come into this world. We are born spiritually dead. However, as Paul continues, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) When we were brought to faith, we were raised from spiritual death to spiritual life. This is the first resurrection that John is referring to. Since this is true, we know that, for the believer, they will never truly die. Jesus said, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) The unbelievers are those who are referred to as “the rest of the dead.” Again, it would be better translated, “The rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years were ended,” rather than “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” The unbelievers are not experiencing life as they lie in their graves waiting until the Last Day. They are dead.
With this being the case, that the believer, who was born spiritually dead but has been made spiritually alive, “the second death has no power over them.” (Verse 6) That second death would be an eternity of separation from God in hell. It is an eternal death. The first death’s hold was broken when the believer came to faith. As a result, the second death has no power over them. Instead, they will enjoy an eternal life with all the blessings and happiness that their Savior won for them by his life, death, and resurrection. As these martyrs wait for the end of time, “They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Verse 6) The world would look at their lives as a total loss. God wanted to show his people that those who remained faithful even to the point of death had received a victor’s crown.
You can understand why God, in his love, gave this vision to his infant church. They were undergoing fierce persecution for their faith. They may well have wondered if the church would even endure. By means of this vision, God was telling his little flock that he was still in control and that, at the last, they would be in heaven with him. Maybe, sometimes, we wonder about the same things that the early church did. It appears the world is becoming more and more evil. It appears fewer and fewer people believe in Jesus as their Savior. My dear friends, God says the same thing to us today: HAVE FAITH LITTLE FLOCK. The dragon is still chained. You, my saints, will reign forever. Amen.
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