How To Interpret Revelation 20

Eschatology means the study of the end things. It includes what life will be like after death, the final judgement, and the events leading up to the final judgement in history. There is a lot of interest about what will happen on earth leading up to Christ's return.  With much of western civilization turning a away from Christ, Christendom appears to be on the decline.  Is this is a sign that Christ will be returning soon to rapture away his church and then after 7 years of tribulation come again to establish a 1000 year earthly kingdom in Jerusalem?  Are we the last generation?  Are things only going to get worse? Or are things going to stay the same or even get better?

A large part of answer these questions has to do with how you interpret Revelation 20.  This is the chapter that speaks specifically about a 1000 year reign of Christ.  How do we interpret it?  There are three main views of interpreting Revelation 20. They are premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism.

Premillennialism - This view primarily comes from the futurist interpretation and views the thousand years as a literal time frame that has great spiritual, physical, and cultural prosperity. This happens after the 2nd coming of Christ. So Christ returns”pre” the thousand years. There is then a physical resurrection of the righteous only, Christ reigning physically on Earth for a thousand years, then after “Satan’s little season” the is a second physical resurrection of all people and the final judgement. Often those who hold to this view argue that they are just interpreting the bible literally.

Amillennialism - This view primarily sees the thousand years as a symbolic reference to the Church age. Christ reigns from Heaven over the saints. The blessings of this period are seen as either the spiritual benefits of salvation or referring to the intermediate state of deceased believers. The world itself continues on in a typical fashion, mostly getting worse over time, until the 2nd coming of Christ when there will be a physical and general resurrection and final judgement. An often used text to support this view is Matthew 13:24-30. There are both historic and optimistic advocates for this position. 

Postmillennialism - In this view Christ returns to Earth after the 1,000 years, hence “post” the millennium. The first resurrection is a  reference either to Christ’s resurrection and the benefits believers receive from it, or the new spiritual life believers gain from regeneration. The “thousand years” are not necessarily literal, but refer to a long period of time where the world experiences spiritual, physical, and cultural blessings as Christ rules the world from Heaven and the Gospel bares fruit as the nations are discipled.

How to interpret Revelation chapter 20.  
When you read the chapter there are several key events or descriptions that stick out:   
1. Satan is bound for a time.  2. There is a first resurrection where those who are a part of this first resurrection are said to reign with Christ.  3. Then after the thousands years there is a small season where Satan is loosed and the saints of God are surrounded before fire from heaven descends to destroy the enemies of God. 4. Then finally there is a final judgement/general resurrection where the wicked receive eternal damnation and the righteous eternal life.

Are we to think of this as something to start sometime in the future?  Is the first resurrection mentioned a physical resurrection that happens when Christ comes to reign for a thousand years or is something else happening?  

Our dear brother Zach Jackson has prepared a study guide to help you read what scripture itself has to say about of these events.  You just keep in mind that the book of Revelation is highly symbolic.  Its symbols are meant to convey real truths but we must not be woodenly literal when looking at the symbology.

Timing and chronology - When do these things happen? See Rev. 1:1, 1:3, 22:6, 22:10, 22:12, 22:20.   To the original audience these things were near in time.  The beginning of the thousands years was nothing something far off in the future.  

 Is “1,000” used literally in this passage? How is it used elsewhere? See Deut. 7:9 and Psalm 50:10.

If the millennial reign of Christ began with Christ’s first coming then what about the binding of Satan?  See Matt. 13:22-29, Luke 10:18, John 12:31, 2 Thes. 2:6-7, Heb. 2:14, Rom. 16:20. Matt. 28:18-20  Notice the purpose of the binding.  

What does scripture say about the first resurrection-Coming to life and reigning with Christ - 
See John 5:24, Rev 1:5-6, Eph. 2:4-7, 2 Tim. 2:8-13, 1 John 3:14 Rom. 5:17, Rom. 6:5-11.

The Second Coming is both simultaneous “fiery” judgement on the wicked and relief for the saints. See 2 Thes. 1:5-10 and 2 Pet. 3:7-12.

The general resurrection, final judgement, and return of Christ are all a part of the same complex of events that happen on “the last day,” and “then comes the end.” See John 5:28-29, Matt. 25:32 and 46, 1 Thes. 4:13-18, 2 Thes. 1:6-10, John 6:39-40, 1 Cor. 15:22-28.

These verses and many more are just some of the reasons why premillennialism is not biblical. Christ has already established his reign. The first resurrection has and is already happening in the lives of all those who are changed by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, both the Amil and Postmil position are in agreement regarding the timing of the events in this passage.  The question left to be answered then is what the content of this time period will be.  It is here that these two positions differ. 

Therefore what should we expect the Kingdom of God to be like on Earth and what should we anticipate to happen before “the end?” See Matt. 13:31-33 Dan. 2:44-45, 7:27, 9:13-14, Gen. 12:2-3 with 15:5-7 and Rom. 4:13, Psalms 2, 45, 72, and 110, Isa. 2:1-4, 11:6-9, 51:4-5, 65:17-25, Micah 4:1-3, 1 Cor. 15:22-25