The book of Revelation, which speaks in symbols, cannot be understood if a literal interpretation is applied. Here it is that many flounder and wrest the scriptures to “their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16), as is done with chapter 20.
Let us first consider the context of this chapter. It is a history from the time of the early church to the final Judgment Day. Verses 1-3 reveal the events in the days of Peter and Paul.
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
The early brethren, equipped with a chain and a key–the binding power of the Word of God–laid hold on the dragon and cast him into a bottomless pit. The apostle John had personally witnessed and partaken of this in his own lifetime.
What Is the Dragon?
What is this dragon? He is first introduced in Rev. 12 as a foe seeking to devour the new converts to Christianity. Chapter 12 refers to the same events as chapter 20. What were the angels–Greek for messengers or ministers–facing in their day? An “old” pagan belief system. We read of its workings throughout the Old Testament dispensation.
“The great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” Rev. 12:9. Called the Devil, meaning it was a devilish system. Jesus once told Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan [opposer].” The premillennial house of sand collapses when we understand the symbols. It is not Satan himself that is bound, for he has been loose since Eden and will be till the trumpet sounds. If it is Satan himself, then are we to believe the devil looks like a literal red dragon, having seven heads, as described in Rev. 12:3?
Paganism was conquered by the gospel, with many forsaking their idols to serve the living God. The preaching of the Word of God broke the chains of the dragon’s influence.
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God.
Where is the 1,000 Years’ Reign?
These people are indeed reigning, for they are on thrones, but where is this taking place? If one understands that the whole family [is] in heaven and earth” (Eph. 3:15), it helps solve this particular mystery. After life on earth, the church of God continues their reign of righteousness in heaven. No reign on earth is mentioned here. The scene brought before John’s view is paradise, that land of rest for departed saints; it is here that he beholds the faithful through persecutions and the perils of Satan’s false religious systems during this long period of time.
This is the only reference to a thousand years reign in the entire Bible. It is not a literal thousand years–not in this book! We cannot break the law of biblical hermeneutics. All the numbers mentioned throughout Revelation are symbolical, none excepting. It simply means a very long period of time. Verse 4 spans a period from the early church up until the sounding of the seventh trumpet, which was approximately 1980 when the thousand years “were finished.”
The Mark of the Beast
We see the progression of time in this period with mention of the rise of the beast and his image. These are first introduced in chapter 13, and represent two false systems of religion that also fought and obscured the true church–papalism and protestantism. Those who escaped being marked by the spirit and teachings of these beasts and were not seduced by its falsities are seen enjoying a heavenly reign.
Everybody has either the mark of the beast, or the mark of God (Rev. 14:1); a mark of the false or of the true.
The First Resurrection
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power.
During this thousand year period, a salvation work among the people was limited, being hindered by the deception of false religion. But after the thousand years were finished, the clear message of the seventh trumpet started to sound, and the dead were again finding life. Resurrection means to be raised out of a dead state and made alive–quite the miracle! And so it is for sinners who experience real salvation. They are born again, are no longer “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and have “passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). This is the glorious first resurrection. To have part in this makes one “blessed and holy.” Blessed indeed, for “on such the second death hath no power”!
In speaking of the Great White Throne Judgment further into this chapter, John clearly explains that it is “the second death.” Verse 14. Without salvation, the second death, which is the final Judgment will have woeful power over you.
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison. And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. Rev. 20:7-9.
Loosing of the Dragon
When paganism was bound, it was no longer a prominent influence in the world. At its loosing, this same spirit, joined with every other false system, has made a resurgence. This has already taken place and has resulted in the chaos we see today! Satan is loosed via every antichrist spirit and system that has ever worked in the world since Eden. Filled with wrath and intent on deceiving the nations, we are in the battle of our lives–the last in the war of Armageddon. He is encompassing the church, for it is a war against God and every moral and righteous principle.
Verse 3 states “he must be loosed a little season.” Verse 9 lets us know that after this little season, “fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.” At the height of this crucial conflict, God’s wrath will fall upon Babylon in glorious preliminary judgment, exposing the fullness of evil. The prophecy of Rev. 16:18-19 speaks of the same: “There was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great…great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.”
Shortly after this, the trump shall sound and God will summon this world to the Great White Throne Judgment.