Preached: June 17, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit comforts us with Christ's victory is Revelation 20
And I saw an angel coming down from heaven. He had the keys for the Abyss and a strong chain in his hand. He got hold of the Dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil, Satan. He bound him for a thousand years and threw him into the Abyss. He locked and sealed it over him in order that he would not deceive the Gentiles until the thousand years came to an end. After this he must be released for a little while.
And I saw thrones. They sat upon them and judgment was given to them. That is, I saw the souls of those beheaded because of their witness about Jesus and because of the word of God. They did not worship the beast or his image and did not receive his mark on their forehead and on their hand. They lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years came to an end.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no authority over them, but they will continue to be priests before God and Christ and to reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-6).
This is the word of our Lord.
So much speculation has gone into these verses. So many point to this section to prove their opinion that Jesus will reign on this earth for a thousand years. That opinion is called Millennialism. They accuse us of not taking the Bible literally if we don’t agree with their notions. So before we can enjoy the comfort these words were written to picture for you and me, we need to see that, because we take the Bible as God’s literal word, we must reject that false notion of a thousand year reign of Christ on earth.
What principle guides us as we seek to understand what the Bible says? The basic principle to always apply is this: Scripture interprets Scripture. What does it mean that Scripture interprets Scripture? Two thoughts to keep in mind: First, the context determines what a word, phrase, or sentence means. Second, the clear passages of Scripture help us understand the less clear ones. Let’s use both of those thoughts as we look at the text.
First, look at the context. John makes it clear that he is describing some of what the ascended Lord Jesus had shown him. Twice in the text, John writes, “I saw.” Throughout the book of Revelation, what Jesus shows John is filled with imagery and figurative pictures. Even numbers and time frames were used figuratively in previous chapters. And this chapter starts out using a key and chain figuratively. For a physical key cannot lock hell, and a literal chain cannot bind the devil, even if it’s made out of titanium steal or adamantine. So unless something in the Scriptures compels to take the thousand years as a literal thousand year span of time, the context clearly allows, even requires, a figurative interpretation.
Now look at what the words actually say. Millennialism claims that these verse refer to Christ reigning on earth. But do they? Earth or any place on this earth is not mentioned at all. In fact, verse four talks about souls, not resurrected bodies, that sat on the thrones. That directs my thoughts to heavenly thrones, not earthly ones. And it’s these souls that reign for the thousand years. It doesn’t say that's the span of Christ's reign but of these souls. So when we let Scripture interpret Scripture, the context clearly shows that these verses do not teach a thousand year reign of Christ here on this earth.
Second, let’s look at the clear passages of Scripture that address this topic. For whenever we deal with figurative language in the Bible, we must not let our imagination spin whatever interpretation we want out of it. Rather, we must let the clear passages of Scripture determine our understanding. Scripture interprets Scripture.
What does the Scripture say about Christ’s kingdom? During his ministry Jesus had said, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21 NIV84). He continues and says that if someone tells you, “Here he is!” or “There he is!” you shouldn’t believe them. So if someone tells you “Jesus is reigning on earth at Jerusalem,” or anywhere else, don’t believe them. Or remember what Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NIV84). Anyone who claims that Jesus will reign on this earth for a thousand years or for any other amount of time is not listening to what Jesus himself says.
Here are a few other clear teachings of Scripture to keep in mind so that these false notions of millennialism don’t lead you astray. Jesus will return only once and that return will be visible for all to see. Think of what the angels told the disciples as they gazed up into heaven at Jesus’ ascension: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 NIV84). They saw him leave visibly, and so he will return visibly. When Jesus returns, it will be the Last Day, not some sort of beginning of a thousand year reign. All the dead will be raised. There’s no double resurrection separated by a thousand years. He will judge the living and the dead. Those who believe, as evidence by their serving others in his name during this life, will be saved. Those who do not believe will be condemned.
Scripture interprets Scripture. The context and clear passages of Scripture are a bright light clearly illuminating for us what we are to believe and do. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:104 NIV84).
When we let Scripture interpret Scripture what pictures of comfort shine out from these words? First, we see that because of Christ’s triumph, Satan is restrained.
He’s called the ancient serpent, which takes us back to the beginning. As a snake he deceived Eve as Adam watched. They believed his lies instead of God’s truth. Even his name, the devil, means liar and deceiver. They despised God’s love, thinking he was trying to hold them back. They ate the forbidden fruit and hid. They were no longer alive with God but instead dead in sin. Only the Lord’s promise to send the Serpent-crusher, the Champion born of a woman, who alone would restore their relationship with God by reconciling them through his death -- only that promise made them alive again, raising them from spiritual death. You heard that in the First Lesson (Genesis 3:8-15).
Jesus, the Champion, the Serpent-crusher has come, born of a virgin. As you heard in the Gospel today (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus is the Stronger One who tied up the strong man, Satan, chaining him. His miracles of driving out demons proved that. But you, dear friends, have even greater proof. Yes, Satan struck Jesus heal as we see him suffering and dying on the cross, but by that death Jesus crushed Satan’s head. His resurrection proves that beyond all doubt. Every time we confess that Jesus descended into hell, we are confessing that he has the victory over Satan. For early Easter morning Jesus descending into hell as the Conqueror parading down the enemy’s capital in a victory parade. He holds the key.
Remember that after his resurrection, Jesus sent out his disciples to all nations to preach the Gospel, the Good News of forgiveness through him. That’s why Satan can no longer deceive the nations. Deception only works when the truth is hidden. God’s truth is no longer confined to one small nation on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. His Word goes out into all the world. His Word is the chain that restrains Satan. It does so not just for a little while, but the full time God has determined as pictured by the thousand years, the time that started when Jesus finished his earthly work and continues for us still today.
So dear Christian, know and believe that Jesus has chained Satan with his Word. As his Word lives in your heart and fills your life, you do not have to worry about Satan. Yes, the Bible warns that he is a roaring lion seeking to devour our soul. For that’s what happens if we wander away from God’s word. Satan’s lies deceive us if we leave behind the fullness of God’s truth. Remember God’s Word is the chain that holds Satan back. So when God’s Word lives in your heart and fills your life, Satan is like a fierce dog on a chain. He can bark and growl and even lunge at you. But as long as you stay by Jesus in his Word, Satan can not harm you. What comfort you have because of Christ’s triumph! Satan is restrained.
We don’t have time to talk about the details of the second part, but here is the picture of comfort. Put yourself back into the Roman Empire at the end of the First Century. A Christan martyr appeared so week and helpless. All he or she had to do was worship the emperor. But instead they remained faithful to Jesus. As they were beheaded or suffered some other hideous death, they appeared to be the losers. But John says, No! They live. They not only live but they reign with Christ seated on the thrones. They had been born dead in sin, but God had made them alive in Christ. That spiritual resurrection during this life is the first resurrection. God had made them alive in Christ, so that even the physical death of their body did not end their life. They continue to live and reign with Christ. The second death, not physical death which they have already suffered, but eternal death in hell -- the second death has no power over them. Christ’s people reign.
What a comfort when we must say goodbye to a faithful Christian who has departed this life. Death brings that sense of lose and sadness. Their body lies lifeless and helpless. But take heart, for Christ’s people reign. The souls of all who have faithful followed Jesus and refused the ways of this world are seated on the thrones. They are priests before God and Christ. They reign with him right now. What a comfort! Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.