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Revelation 20:1–2

“I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years” (vv. 1–2).

Today we come to what might be the most controversial and most-discussed part of the book of Revelation: chapter 20. This text, especially verses 1–6, is key for understanding the nature and timing of the millennial reign of Christ, a topic that continues to cause disagreement among believers.

Space limitations and the complexity of the issue mean that we cannot answer every question raised by this admittedly complex passage. However, we can identify some broad principles that will help us make sense of Revelation 20. First, we must consider the chronological relationship between Revelation 19 and Revelation 20. Revelation 19, we have seen, concludes with a vision of the return of Jesus and His defeat of the beast and those nations allied with the beast against the people of God. Does this mean that Revelation 20 describes what will happen after the second coming of Christ?

A variety of factors indicates that the events of Revelation 20 do not follow Revelation 19 chronologically. First, Revelation 19:17–21 very clearly describes the defeat and destruction of the nations and individuals who enter into an alliance for one final attempt to defeat Christ and His people. Yet, Satan is able to lead the nations against the Lord in Revelation 20:7–10. It is hard to see how there would be any nations left for Satan to lead after Revelation 19:17–21, so chapter 20 most likely does not refer to events that occur in time after the second coming of Jesus. Second, there are important parallels between Revelation 20:1–10 and Revelation 9:1; 12:10–17. In both cases, there is a defeat of the devil and a curtailing of his power after he has fallen from heaven. Since we know that 9:1–11 and 12:10–17 describe things that take place between the first and second comings of Christ, the parallels with Revelation 20 indicate that Revelation 20 likely refers in some way to the same period.

The book of Revelation has a cyclical structure in which the same kinds of things are looked at repeatedly but from different perspectives. For instance, 6:12–17 likely depicts the final judgment at Christ’s return, but then the final judgment is seen again in 19:11–21 and then in 20:7–15. Revelation 20 fits into this pattern, so the chapter seems to be telling us again about the entire period between Christ’s first and second comings, culminating in the return of Jesus in glory to judge the living and the dead. So, the thousand years of 20:1–6 probably do not refer to a period after Jesus returns.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

In order to understand the teaching of any book of the Bible, we must read it according to the logic and intent of the author who wrote it. That is why it is important to have a basic grasp of sound hermeneutics, the principles for interpreting Scripture that allow us to discern the mind and intent of the author. Grasping sound hermeneutical principles takes work, but it is worth it to keep us from misreading the Word of God.


For Further Study
  • Ezra 7:10
  • Ecclesiastes 12:9–10
  • 2 Timothy 2:15
  • Revelation 12

Jesus the Conquering King

The Binding of Satan

Keep Reading The High Priestly Prayer of Jesus

From the December 2020 Issue
Dec 2020 Issue