He grabbed hold of the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and the satan. He tied him up for a thousand years, threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he wouldn’t be able to deceive the nations any more, until the thousand years were complete. After that he must be let out for a short time…When the thousand years are complete, the satan will be released from his prison. Out he will come to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog. He will summon them for battle, a throng like the sand of the sea in number. ~REVELATION 20:2-3, 7-8
One of the challenges of reading Revelation is approaching it afresh, leaving behind preconceived notions, and ignoring the copious amounts of extra biblical literature and thoughts which have so heavily influenced popular interpretation of this enigmatic book. A fresh approach is what I have intensely attempted to embark upon ever since this deep dive began last December. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound it makes; but you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going to. That’s what it’s like with someone who is born from the Spirit.”* This is how I’ve labored to ingest Revelation, to sit and listen for the Wind. It has been wonderfully fascinating to rediscover what is actually written, and not written, in this letter by John. For example, did you realize that the word “antichrist” is not in the book of Revelation? Who knew??
Another riveting detail is this thousand year business and all that goes along with it. Known as “The Millennium”, it has been the spark of much discussion and debate over the decades of my life, and beyond. There are three predominant views of the millennium: 1) It will occur after the second coming of Christ. 2) It will occur toward the end of the church age and Christ’s return will happen at the close of the millennium. 3) it started at Christ’s resurrection and will be concluded directly before His final coming. I grew up with view #1 being hammered in pretty emphatically, but as I said earlier, I tried my best to shed what I heard before and look at it again for the first time.
The interpretation most convincing to me is that this “thousand years” began with Christ’s resurrection, and is running thru what we call the “Church Age”, and that it is not a literal 1,000 years since that number is used so often in Scripture to denote simply “a long time”, and besides, the Church Age is obviously closing in on the 2,000 year mark. I wonder if churches will have huge bimillennial celebrations to commemorate!
(A quick caveat here. I am in no way saying I would argue this in court, or that you better also see it this way. I’m simply sharing what I’ve gleaned from my studies and what makes the most sense to me at this time. Ultimately, my hope is that you will find encouragement in the overall message.)
Now with this view there is an issue which needs some resolution, that of the satan being bound and unable to deceive the nations during the last two thousand years. It sure seems that the devil is indeed still deceiving nations, especially after hearing deeply disturbing updates from my Ukranian friends who were in town a week ago. But what does the text actually say? During the “thousand years”, the satan is not allowed to deceive the nations in order to gather them together to launch an attack on God and God’s people. The devil is still active today, and unfortunately deceiving many churches, but he is not able to go all “Gog and Magog” on everybody until God allows it. (over the years “Gog and Magog” came to represent everything that is against God and that attacks God–see Ezekiel 38-39)
But, the plot thickens.
Revelation 20 tells us that when satan does deceive the nations of the world into launching this attack on Yahweh’s eschatological plan, that it will fail miserably, resulting in the devil’s final defeat and destruction.
So why would God prevent satan from initiating his own demise?
I shall defer to Michael Heiser’s answer, the scholar who has been the most influential on my interpretation of Scripture: “God wants to forestall the judgment of the nations in favor of redeeming people from all those nations. The delay of Satan’s specific deception in Revelation 20:8 for the duration of the Church Age provides time for the Great Commission to be fulfilled.”
Here is some encouragement. God is patient. God waits until so many more turn to Him in love. Yahweh is crazy about us and seeks after more and more of us to join the family! Also, we yet again see that God is in ultimate control, dictating the outcome of history even in the midst of horrific ugliness caused by humans. The deceiving of the nations by the satan will ironically bring about the very battle in which he will be finally defeated. Oh how the turn tables!! As Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no power over me unless it had been granted to you from above.”
*The Greek word pneuma is used for spirit, wind, and Spirt.