I remember back in 1990, when Ken Davis put out his best selling book, stealing the title from a Sam Cook song: “Don’t know much about history!” Some of you can probably hum James Taylor’s version of the song in your head. As a student of history, I have always found it fascinating when an author delves into select events of the past and draws out great reflective lessons from the journey.
When I was still in high school, author Will Durant received his Presidential Medal of Freedom. For those who don’t like to read history, you may be unfamiliar with this incredible man and his work. William James Durant lived nearly a century (1885 –1981) and was a prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher. He and his wife Ariel, were best known for their 11 volume set called The Story of Civilization, published over forty years between 1935 and 1975. The couple was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. One of their most insightful works, in my opinion, is the little volume entitled simply Lessons from History. This work was nothing less than brilliant for this author’s time. Durant was gifted at pulling together massive amounts of detail of the past, and pulling the salient selection into thoughtful lessons. He was the kind of writer that fired the imagination of students of history the world over. The tough part of such a work is to take the vast material and reduce it to something that impacts us practically.
I mention such works today, because in a way the Apostle John offered the same quality to readers – but of prophecy – not of history! John opened the door to seven simple lessons of a period that has not yet come to be – the Millennium. The Bible was not silent on this time period before Revelation, and in point of fact, Revelation has very little compared to other parts of the Bible concerning this period. There is enough in the Word on the Millennium for any Pastor to teach an entire course on the period – but we simply cannot do it in this one lesson.
J. Dwight Pentecost, in His large work called Things to Come (p. 476) said this: “A larger body of prophetic Scripture is devoted to the subject of the Millennium, developing its character and conditions, than any other one subject. This millennial age, in which the purposes of God are fully realized on earth, demands considerable attention.”
Our study isn’t about the topic of prophecy – rather, it is the study of this one cyclical letter calle the Book of the Revelation. Because of that, I want to point to the Biblical backdrop only briefly, and set the stage for seven important lessons. Without the backdrop, I am not sure we would get as much meat from this text, but with a proper setting, we should understand John’s point in this book. It is incredibly important to understand that all of the lessons sit on one single premise, the key principle of this lesson.
Key Principle: God’s promises are clear and His fulfillment is certain. He is the God of literal clarity, not allegorical hocus-pocus. His Word offers us deep assurance and precise promise.
God has always been in the communication and relationship business. He WANTS us to know Him. The sheer size and detail of the Bible speak volumes on that point (pun intended). Don’t forget that when people start weaving incredible details from prophetic passages and making things bend to fit the modern newspaper. God wanted us to know Jesus through this book, and to have some basic primer on things that would come to pass. To offer it in such allegorical and cryptic language that none of the details keep any significance goes against the nature of a clear and relational God. He isn’t playing games with our lives or our destiny as a race. He speaks straight to the point.
Before we ever look at the details of the Millennium, we need to establish that the Bible offers a specific reason why this 1000 year Kingdom comes to the world. After all, why not just get it over with – boot Satan into the abyss and be done with it. Well, that is a good question. From the standpoint of the Church Age, that would be fine – but God is also working with Israel in a specific way.
Don’t forget, God made specific promises to the people of Israel in the form of COVENANTS:
He made the Abrahamic Covenant: That God would title a specific piece of land for Abraham and his sons, and that they would always own it – but only get to have domicile in it if they obeyed Him. The size and shape of that land was revealed at larger borders than Israel has ever to this day occupied, and lest we wander, the promise was given to “sons of your loins” and reaffirmed to Isaac and Jacob later in Genesis. God hasn’t yet given them all the land promised them – and the Millennium will check that off of God’s list.
He made the Davidic Covenant: That God would put on the throne of Judah one from the line of David that would judge righteously before the whole world – but the world would still harbor rebellion. Though Jesus spiritually reigns in the hearts of men, the rule over Israel has still not come, and the nations cannot truly see Him as Righteous Judge and Ruler. The Millennium begins with the Savior of Israel coming in the clouds, as we saw at the end of Revelation 19.
He made the New Covenant: Despite the many churches that treat that covenant as completely about the church age, any clear reading of Isaiah 59 and Jeremiah 31, where the term NEW COVENANT comes from in the Bible shows the point of it is about Israel’s final redemption:
Jeremiah 31:31 says it ever so clearly: “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Paul later shared with the Corinthians that believers in the Church Age have a foretaste of the New Covenant, because we have the indwelling of God’s Spirit – but that doesn’t mean the terms of God’s New Covenant are complete in the church. In fact, when Jesus said in the Upper Room: “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood.” He was elegantly describing the only means possible to get the Spirit of God’s indwelling power – the taking inside of one’s self the Savior. The New Covenant then is fulfilled in the Millennium, after all “Israel is saved” as Paul said in Romans 11:26 because they “looked on Him they had pierced” (Zechariah 12:10) and they repented of their sin. We saw that in our last lesson. Israel will one day see Messiah and accept His salvation – and the Millennium will follow that time.
The Millennium isn’t essential for the believers of the Church Age, accept for the fact that God keeps His Word literally – just as He did when Messiah came the first time in Bethlehem of Judah, to a young woman that did not know a man. The Millennium is essential for God to wrap up the literal promises with Israel, made in eternal covenants that God said He would NEVER BREAK as long as the sun, moon and stars were in the heavens (see the end of Jeremiah 31).
The biggest problem with understanding the Kingdom of the Millennium as a literal and earthly kingdom, as it clearly appears to be in Revelation 20, is that the Bible uses the word KINGDOM in many different ways.
While it is true that God is not trying to make it overly complicated, it is also true that there are differing dimensions to the way some terms are used. Sometimes the Kingdom of God is used to denote God’s work in people. Sometimes it is His providential work in nature and the world. You see this often:
- Psalm 10:16 “The Lord is King forever and ever.”
- Jeremiah 10:10 “But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation.”
- Prov. 21:1 “The King’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.”
Other times KINGDOM refers to His work in Heaven, among the angels. Sometimes Jesus used it to describe His saving work in the lives of lost people. And yet, sometimes, like here in Revelation, it sounds very physical a literal throne of a real King in Jerusalem during a specific period of time in the future.
If God is trying to be clear, why is the term complicated? Because God’s Kingdom is ALL of those things we have described – and more.
When it is used “spiritually” the term KINGDOM is used in a specific context of the ongoing spiritual battle between God and His Adversary that ends in a physical battle – as it is used here in Revelation. In this sense, the word KINGDOM is used to describe the REALM of God. This is what Satan objected to in the beginning, before the earth was formed as the great illustration of Who God is.
Take a minute and go back to that ancient scene, recorded in the poetry of two Hebrew prophets: Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Isaiah 14:12-17. A closer look at the Isaiah 14 account offers insight to the original objection to God’s rule:
Isaiah 14:12 “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit. 16 “Those who see you will gaze at you, They will ponder over you, saying, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, Who shook kingdoms, 17 Who made the world like a wilderness And overthrew its cities, Who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’
Look at Satan’s challenge to God’s right as King! He made five statements:
- I will ascend to Heaven. Satan wanted God’s third Heaven, where God and the redeemed are to live (2 Cor. 12). Characteristically, Satan DOES live in that place for now, until Michael is given permission in the middle of the Tribulation to throw him out (Revelation 12:7ff).
- I will raise my throne above the stars of God. Satan wanted to rule over the angelic beings of God’s first kingdom – sometimes referred to in Scripture as stars. One third of the angelic world apparently rebelled in the initial fight, and God’s Word appears to teach that angels are still susceptible to rebellion. Paul cautioned believers to watch their behavior because angels were watching.
- I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the recesses of the north. Ancient Jerusalem’s Temple sat on the heights of the Ophel Ridge to the north of the city. Satan wanted the mountain of God’s temple – and during the “times of the Gentiles” God has let him have it – for a time.
- I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. This one can be tough to pick out without help. Of the more than 150 references to clouds in the Bible, two thirds of them, more than 100, refer to God’s glory and manifest presence. It looks like this was a poetic way of saying, “I want to steal some of God’s glory!”
- I will be like the Most High. This isn’t a statement that Satan desired to be LIKE GOD – for his character couldn’t be more opposite if that were his goal. Here he used a specific title of God – THE MOST HIGH (Elyon). This is a Biblical title for God as “possessor of Heaven and Earth” and “ruler of armies” in the Bible, taken originally from Genesis 14:18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all.”
We need to grasp what God’s word teaches us about the Kingdom of God. We serve a Sovereign King. We are not His equal, and though He extends His powerful kingly grasp to pull us to Himself, we are not His peers. He is the High King of Heaven. The angels march in vast array at His call. The stars hear His voice and turn on their axes. The clouds above us move at His design. The birds follow His thoughts. The earth groans before Him awaiting His redemption – in a language He alone can fully grasp. Before anything was – He is eternal, the God Creator, the King Supreme. His immortal span and His immeasurable power stun all those who see Him in His holy abode. He is the King, not the servant—and His people must learn to think of Him as such. Failure to do so has already led the angelic rebels to the edge of the pit of the abyss.
In Revelation 19and 20, the battle between God and the Adversary that was for generations (as in our day) largely a masked spiritual fight, becomes a physical reality. You cannot get more physical than the terminology of Revelation 20:1-2:
20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
Revelation 20:1-10 offers two important pictures sketched out in words. The first is at the beginning and end of these verses, where we can clearly observe a frame around the Millennium – describing Satan as bound and a temporary rest for the earth. The second picture, tucked into a few verses in the center, offer a snapshot of life in the Millennial Kingdom. We have but moments together, but look at the important lessons of this Kingdom from John’s record:
Lesson One: All of history is controlled from Heaven.
Revelation 20:1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him…
What a great comfort that God is able to lift His hand to command the enemy in His time. The enemy has such power and commanding influence over our world right now, it is hard to imagine Isaiah 14:16-17, when the nations will see Satan stripped of his deceptive princely garb and marvel that they sacrificed to him and followed his commands. They will ask, “Is this the one who made us all tremble? Is this the one who shook Kingdoms of the earth? Is this the one who destroyed our planet and made it uninhabitable? Is this the one who took prisoners forever – never to release them?
1 Peter warned the believers of the first century about the trickery and fierceness of the enemy in our day: 1 Peter 5:6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Do you see it? Peter said God works in those who are humbled before Him – recognizing His greatness and Sovereign right to rule over them. He is big enough to take on His shoulders all their cares. At the same time, they are not to be lax or lazy – but watchful. The enemy is on the prowl. He doesn’t want to harm you – he wants to destroy you. He wants to devour every good thing you have. What must be done? Resistance. Suffering sometimes. But the day will come, when the key will be brought down and the door will be slammed shut. The enemy is on a short leash – even if he seems so powerful and supreme today.
- He may control our schools – but one day truth will silence his lies.
- He may control our courts – but one day judgment will be meted out against him.
- He may control our brothels, our porn industry, and even our religious world – but one day his relationship with men will be snatched from his hands – and they will be amazed they let him lead at all.
Lesson Two: Nations are coaxed into deceit by the Enemy.
Revelation 20:3b…so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time….
If there is anything about the allegorical position of John Calvin and Martin Luther that makes me crazy it is this: When men like these who did not believe in an actual Millennium were asked about the binding of Satan, they replied that Satan “cannot hinder the Gospel as it goes forward, and in that way he is BOUND spiritually right now.” Harold Camping of Family Radio held that view. Many others do today. Here is my problem… If Satan is bound now – are you telling me that he isn’t seeking to devour believers? If he is limited by the power of the Gospel, can someone please tell me why Paul thought otherwise? Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
The bottom line is this: Don’t be surprised when all things related to God and His Word are violently swept aside in our culture. Don’t look for LOGIC in the way people are making decisions. Satan blinds men. He deceives them into ruining themselves and the world around them. Anyone who has been tempted and succumbed knows that is the truth. He whisper: “No one will know!” Immediately after you sin his voice changes: “Everyone will find out!” Liars lie – news at eleven.
Now here is the good news… His days of coaxing the nations will be cut short, and someday men who have proudly followed him will be ashamed of what he is, and what they did.
Lesson Three: God has a plan for us that is thrilling.
Revelation 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them.
One of the neat aspects of God’s future plan for believers is that we will be given opportunity to use God’s righteous principles from His Word and judge many who are brought before us. Much about this judgment is not fully disclosed in Scripture, but there are a few details:
Paul told the Corinthian church not to take brothers to court in the world system, because of the high position of believers in the time to come in judgment: 1 Cor. 6:1 Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? 4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers?
Someday, we will use the learning of God’s Word, and the careful study of God’s character, to act on God’s behalf and serve as judges. What an esteemed position for any of us who know ourselves so well – that God would entrust any mission to a sinner such as I is beyond comprehension. It is both humbling and exciting!
Lesson Four: God remembers those who paid for truth.
Revelation 20:4b …And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
God is the Ever in the Present One… the “Ancient of Days”. All the pain of the sins committed against you were not forgotten or washed away by time. God remembers like you were just hurt today. God brings to the judgment all of the weight of the sin, losing nothing in the patience of time passages. Time doesn’t heal all wounds – God does. His memory is perfect and no abused person will walk the streets of gold complaining that God forgot to make right things that happened to them. He hurts when you hurt, but He remembers even more than we do.
Look at what God gives to those who gave their lives for Him – they become priests and princes. God doesn’t forget those who put their life on the line for the truth. He doesn’t pencil in a “Memorial Day” – it is always on His mind.
Lesson Five: The nations don’t need Satan to raise a huge number of rebellious children.
Revelation 20:7 When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.
When I was a kid, the comedian Flip Wilson used to say: “The devil made me do it!” Lots of people believe that every evil thing that happens to them is the enemy’s fault. The millennium will clearly show one important fact: what is broke is inside the heart of men. The devil need not be involved to raise a rebellion – because we are, deep within, rebellious. Our children don’t have to have direct contact with Satan to become hellions. The poison in the blood of fallen mankind is enough to kill truth within them. Even after a thousand years of a Righteous King modeling truth, after one thousand years of Satan’s deceptions being a mere memory, even after men are convinced that Satan was never worth following – the sick and rebellious heart of man will rise in rebellion once more. Children of the Millennium will turn back to war.
Lesson Six: The world system abhors God and His people.
Revelation 20:9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
Over and over again, the answer of the world is the same. Kill the followers of God. Run them off. Silence them. Call them bigots when they won’t let us kill our inconvenient children or sell moral sewage as education. Call them ignorant when they won’t believe we are all nothing more than chance made evolving viruses. Call them intolerant when they won’t embrace any lie we feed them. Here is the truth – the world thinks those who follow God are the problem because they won’t be bought with trinkets of this world, and they won’t be taught by those who don’t know Who made them or why they are here.
Lesson Seven : Hell is real, eternal and terrible.
Revelation 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
If you have followed this whole lesson, and you have never committed your life to Jesus Christ – don’t miss this last point. Anyone who tells you the Bible is not crystal clear on the issue of eternal punishment in hell hasn’t taken seriously Revelation 20:10. I cannot read it without shuddering. The devil will be tormented forever. The beast will be endless tortured. The false prophet will beg and find no mercy – forever. Why is that important? Because by the end of the passage – the lake of fire will get more occupants:
20:15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
If there was ever a book you wanted your name in – it is the one God will read on that day. The book is not inscribed with the names of good people. It is inscribed with the names of surrendered people – those who know they cannot earn Heaven, but God gave it as a free gift.
In the end, the story is this: God Keeps His Word – just as it was delivered. God’s promises are clear and His fulfillment is certain. He is the God of literal clarity, not allegorical hocus-pocus. His Word offers us deep assurance and precise promise.