The Last Sunday of the Church Year November 26, 2006
609, 656, 660, 429
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the Word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, whose life is our life:
What is a thousand years? It is a very long time for most of us. It exceeds the life span of even the oldest of the Old Testament patriarchs. A thousand years is a good chunk of recorded history. In the last thousand years we have gone from catapults to guided missiles, from gunpowder to the atom bomb, from leeches to laser surgery. A thousand years seems to us like a very long span of time.
Mathematically, a thousand is ten to the third power. In Revelation, ten is a number that symbolizes completeness—like a plan laid out and finished to perfection, like a period of time that cannot be cut short, or lengthened, or changed in any way.
This chapter of Revelation is about a thousand year period—a millennium—that represents a triumph of the Lord and His saints and the defeat of the dragon—our old evil enemy. But the message held out to the Church in all of this is much more personal than the binding of the dragon. It is even more personal than the reign of their Lord. This thousand years is about the martyrs and fallen members of the Church who gave their lives rather than surrender their confession and hope in Jesus, the Lord. The promise of this section is that they who confessed the Lord Jesus shall reign with Him for a thousand years. As we consider this glorious promise of comfort for the Church, we will consider first, what sort of thousand years this is (I. The living Christ extends His Kingdom during this era). We will see how it will affect the Devil (II. The dragon shall deceive not more), and we will see what it means that the martyrs will reign throughout this time (III. The martyrs shall live and never die).
The millennium…just the mention of it raises eyebrows and can generate heated discussions among Christians. There are different ideas among Christians about what the millennium in Revelation is and what it means. A great number of Christians consider the millennium to be a literal thousand year period of relative peace on the earth and quiet dominion for the Church. Some (postmillennialists) say that Christ’s second coming will occur after the millennium. Others (pre-millennialists) say that Jesus’ second coming will be before the millennium.
Then there are those of us who say that there is to be no literal millennium—no period of apparent power and glory for the Church here on the earth. The post- and pre- millennial folks are a little offended at this viewpoint and call us “a-millennialists,” i.e. not believing in a millennium at all.
Scripture does speak of a millennium, just not of the type that either the post- or pre- millennialists believe. We recognize that the Holy Spirit speaks to us through Revelation just as He does through every other part of Scripture. In Revelation, God reveals wonderful things, including this thousand year period of glory for Christ and His Church. In fact, when properly understood, this millennium of triumph for the Lord and His Church is a very precious teaching. The thousand year period refers to the revelation of the Gospel of our salvation. How could this millennium not be precious to us?
As a period of time, the word for thousand is only used here in Revelation. When it is used at other times it refers to a number of people. But what is this thousand years? What is the key to this and all of Revelation? It is Jesus Christ, our Savior. What is the key to understanding all of Scripture? It is to know Jesus Christ as our substitute and Savior. To know the Scriptures is to know that God here gives us the answer to man’s fall into sin and his continuing search for relief from sin, guilt, and death.
God reveals Himself and His gracious nature to us through Jesus Christ. God assures us that we are justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Seeing Jesus throughout Scripture is to understand the simple Gospel truth that Jesus Christ has redeemed us from the curse of sin by becoming sin for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Whoever believes in Jesus as his Savior has complete salvation and has conquered sin, death, and the power of the Devil. Paul declared this when he wrote, “he just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17), and Jesus Himself assured His listeners that “whoever believes in Me shall not die, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
How do we come into possession of this great good news of salvation? God reaches out to us and proclaims this Gospel to us and simply says, “It is My Word. Believer it!” Paul said that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:16).
That is where the millennium is to be found —not in an earthly kingdom, not in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, not in the political ascendancy of different church leaders, and not in the rigid enforcement of outward morality. The millennium of Revelation 20 refers to the risen Christ having finished His work and sending His gospel out to the four corners of the earth. The millennium refers to the era when the knowledge of the true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, is advanced to every nation so that many might be converted and saved. Christ rules! He rules right now through the Gospel truth of salvation.
That era of triumph through the Gospel has two important results. One of these results is that the dragon is bound for this same thousand year period. Now, you may remember that the dragon is another name given to the Devil. The Devil was referred to the “dragon” back in chapter 12 of Revelation. In that part of John’s vision the dragon waits for the woman’s Child to be born so he could devour Him. The dragon is foiled in his wicked attempt and the archangel, Michael, defeats him in the heavenly realms.
All of these things that happen with the Devil point to some of his characteristics: he is powerful, he is boiling over with hatred, and he doesn’t give up. These characteristics and all that God tells us about the Devil should make us realize that he is a creature about whom every one of us ought to be very concerned.
But we need not despair or panic. In all of the Revelation images of Satan, this dangerous foe is already defeated. He can do nothing to overcome Christ and His kingdom. In Revelation, we hear that the Devil is chained up in the depths of Hell and shall “deceive the nations no more.” [v.3] That is the key to understanding what this “chaining” is all about. Satan is actively trying to gather the earth’s powers and people to join forces in rebellion against “the Lord and His anointed” (cf. Psalm 2:2). More often than not, Satan does this through sheer deception—he convinces people that evil is good and that rebellion is better than obedience.
The good news is that the dragon will deceive the nations no more. Before Christ, the world of Gentiles did not have the Word of God and the Gospel. By God’s grace, they have now received the Gospel through the Lord’s Apostles and all subsequent spreading of that Word. Paul carried the message to Greece, which was the high point of culture and religion in the Gentile world of that day. In Athens—the heart of Greek culture and the Gentile world—Paul proclaimed: “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone… Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained” (Acts 17:29-31).
Satan is bound as the Gospel’s dragon-destroying message extends out into the far reaches of this world and turns people from idolatry and spiritual darkness. The Devil cannot hold these people in their idolatry. The Gospel breaks through and makes people free. Not all believe, but those who don’t have rejected the “seal of the living God” (Revelation 7:2) in favor of the “mark of the beast” (Revelation 13:16). Satan’s ability to move and work freely in nations like China, India, Africa has been forever restrained through the spread of the Gospel to those lands just as in the early centuries of Christianity he was restrained in Europe and then in the Americas.
It seems like a strange little note at the end of this section when we hear: “But after these things he must be released for a little while.” [v.20] What does this mean? Not everything about this detail is clear to our understanding, but this much is apparent: As the end of the world draws near and God’s Day of Judgment is at hand, Satan will have greater freedom again for all out war against the Most High God. But Satan cannot win the victory. He is judged, and in the end there will be no question concerning his defeat and God’s majestic triumph.
Another important message that comes out of this lesson has to do with the saints who held fast to their confession of Christ in the face of persecution. John refers to those Christians who “had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the Word of God.” [v.4] Not every martyr for Christ was beheaded, but the mention of beheading may imply that the point of killing the martyr was to silence him as well as terrorize the rest of the Christian population.
Concerning the martyrs John tells us, “I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God…and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” [v.4] What marvelous and very reliable comfort this was to the children, wives, and fellow Christians who felt the sting of the martyrs’ deaths! They still lived and reigned!
It is interesting how little of Revelation is new information. Certainly these are truths we have heard before. Do those who die in Christ really die? No, Jesus called it “sleep.” He showed us that real life begins at the conception of faith in the heart and cannot be quenched by physical death: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believes in me, though he may die, yet he shall live. And He who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
We who live and die with Christ in this world—no matter how unworthy we may have appeared here, or how hated by the world—will sit in judgment with Him. “…you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30).
“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.” [v.6] This refers to the conversion of the sinner to faith in Christ. In Baptism, we die to the flesh and are raised to a new life in Christ. We who believe have a part in that first resurrection. The confidence we now have is that the second death—eternal death—will have no power over us. We are alive, and will remain so as long as we continue in the true faith. Satan is in the death business and eternal death is where he will end up along with all of his friends. Our God is in the business of life. May we embrace that life, explore it, and turn away from all that might interfere with it, for we will reign with Him who reigns forever! Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.