In his prophecy about the “thousand years,” John declared that during that period Satan is bound, and no longer deceives the nations, and in the same period of time, those who have been beheaded reign with Christ, and they are priests of God and of Christ. The apostle Peter said that a thousand years with God is as a day, and a day as a thousand years. [2 Peter 3:8] Thus, when John mentioned a thousand years as the length of the saints’ reign with Christ, this must be a figurative number, to be understood spiritually, rather than in terms of the letter. Earth days, earth months, and earth years, do not apply to things that are spiritual. The reign of the beheaded saints together with Christ, in Revelation 21, is clearly a spiritual concept. How could it be otherwise?
In Revelation 20:1, the angel which comes down from heaven, to bind Satan, holds a key, and a great chain. These are spiritual concepts; the chain is something other than a literal chain. The pit, also, where Satan is cast, is not literal. The phrase “bottomless pit” links to Revelation 11:7, where the “beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit” makes war with the two witnesses and kills them. This must refer to a spiritual conflict; the witnesses are not flesh and blood.
In Ecclesiastes 6:6, “a thousand years” is related to a portion of a human lifetime; “Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?”
The apostle Peter wrote, “the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries.” [1 Peter 4:3] He encouraged the believer “to live the rest of his time in the flesh”according to the will of God. The two parts of his life, whatever the duration may be in real time, might each be represented by a symbolic thousand years.
In Revelation 20:3, a seal is put upon Satan, so that he is restrained, and prevented from deceiving the nations. A seal is also associated with the message of the Gospel. For example, Paul said, “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” [2 Timothy 2:19]
Revelation 20:4 refers to “them that were beheaded” as the ones who reign with Christ. To be “beheaded” in this case should be understood metaphorically, and it represents those whose minds are subject to Christ. John the Baptist was beheaded, and Jesus identified him with the Elijah foretold in Malachi 4:5; the spirit of Elijah is one subject to Christ. Compare with Paul’s statement, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” [Galatians 2:20]
Paul spoke of the old nature as dead, and the saints being made anew. “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” [Romans 7:6]
The believer becomes a “new creature.” “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” [2 Corinthians 5:17]
The mind is renewed. “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” [Ephesians 4:23] This leads naturally to the idea of “beheading” as a metaphor of the person who repents and lives the new way, subject to Christ.
Those who are “beheaded,” reign with Christ. A thousand years is the label for the duration of the period. The number is also connected with the dimensions of the heavenly city, Revelation 21:16.
In Revelation 20:5 the phrase “the rest of the dead” alludes to those who are ignorant of the Gospel.
In Revelation 20:6, the ones who reign with Christ are said to be “priests of God and of Christ” indicating they are saints in the present age. The apostle Peter said, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” [1 Peter 2:5] He also wrote, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” [1 Peter 2:9]
If this approach is correct, and John uses a thousand years to represent the believer’s reign with Christ, that period coming to an end signifies those who fall away, and become apostate from the faith. Thus, in Revelation 20:7, the phrase “when the thousand years are expired” would apply to those who turn away from the truth. For them, the “thousand years” come to an end, and Satan is loosed from his prison; they no longer enjoy the protection of God.
In Revelation 20:8, “the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth” refers to people in all parts of the earth, including people who were not previously in the faith. These people come against the prophets, by misinterpreting prophecy, and the doctrines of the apostles, and they oppose those who are obedient to the Gospel.
In Revelation 20:9, “the camp of the saints” alludes to the camp of the Israelites in the wilderness, typical of the church which has “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust,” [1 Corinthians 10:1-11; 2 Peter 1:4; Revelation 12:14] and “the beloved city” refers to the heavenly Jerusalem. [Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:9-10]
Copyright © 2011 by Douglas E. Cox
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