Why Revelation 20 Makes Sense
For all we can tell, the apostle Paul went to glory unaware that the Messiah’s everlasting Kingdom will begin with a 1,000-year precursor to the endless ages that follow.
The Hebrew Scriptures are explicit and univocal: The eschatological Messianic Kingdom is eternal (Dan. 2:44; 7:27). Only in the final pages of the New Testament, given to the apostle John three decades after Paul’s martyrdom, did God introduce the concept of a Millennial Kingdom, revealing that the end-times drama will begin with a period of 1,000 years.
This segment of the Messiah’s Kingdom will differ from the eternal segment on two important counts, at least. First, mortal humans will enter the Millennial Kingdom and bear children who will need to be evangelized. Second, many of those born into the Kingdom will reject Christ, gather as an army against Him, and rebel at the end of the 1,000 years when Satan is loosed “for a little while” (Rev. 20:3).
Clearly, the 1,000-year Kingdom of Revelation 20 must be understood as the initial stage of the everlasting Kingdom to be ruled over by Messiah Jesus.
People who reject a literal reading of this passage and spiritualize the text by using allegorical interpretation insist there is no rationale for such a flawed first-pass at Messianic rule. Surely, we are scolded, there can be no value in an imperfect initial epoch that features a temporary binding of Satan and the Messiah ruling over an earth populated in part by mortal unbelievers.
So, say the naysayers, the 1,000-year Kingdom must be a metaphor; no defense is possible for an opening scene that concludes with another act of sedition against God and His Christ.
My reply is twofold. First, it does not follow that, because no rationale is explicit, no rationale is possible. God’s Word clearly reveals an initial stage. It seems impertinent to insist that, because one’s mind (or one’s theology) sees no room for such a strategy, God’s Word cannot mean what it quite plainly says.
Would it not be nobler to bow the knee to the clear teaching of the passage and trust that God knows what He is doing, even if it is not immediately manifest to us?
Second, the rationale for the initial Millennial epoch is really not so inscrutable. To live in this world is to be a walled city set upon by three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. In the Millennial stage of the Kingdom, the Devil will be bound; he will be incapable of troubling mortals living on Earth. The world will be under the perfect rule of King Jesus, with only peace, equity, justice, and plenty across the globe.
What is left? Fallen man, who is an inveterate excuse-maker. People love to lay blame at someone else’s door: “All of the failures and wickedness of my life are someone else’s fault!”
The Millennial Kingdom will demonstrate infallibly to the entire moral universe that man’s problem is himself—his own rebellion; his bottomless pride and selfishness; and, above all, his hatred of the God who deserves his devotion and allegiance.
After 1,000 years, Satan will be freed; and, in a flash, the tempter will gather a vast army from among those who enjoyed the idyllic life King Jesus provided. That army will rise up in insane and futile rebellion against Him.
Is it possible to conceive of a more powerful indictment of humanity than the scenario spelled out through a literal reading of Revelation 20:1–7?
Indeed, the Millennial Kingdom is best conceived as the peroration in the Creator’s prosecution of a rebellious race. God has fashioned and will fashion all of human history in the way that most perfectly displays His glory; and it is only against such a demonstration of mankind’s utter depravity and rebellion, as described in Revelation 20, that we can understand the depths of God’s mercy and grace (1 Cor. 1:21).