When is the thousand year reign of the saints?
Kim Riddlebarger presented his interpretation of the thousand years of Revelation 20 in his article: They Came to Life and Reigned With Christ for a Thousand Years — Rev 20:1-15, part of a series of articles on the book of Revelation. He supported amillennialism.
In this post I quote from the above article and discuss some of Riddlebarger’s interpretations.
In Revelation 20:2-3, the term “bottomless pit” is an oxymoron. It combines contradictory terms; no doubt John meant to show that this was not a literal pit. The concept of a pit seems to be the opposite of a high mountain. A pit implies darkness, and forced restraint, the opposite of freedom.
Here is how Riddlebarger explained the abyss:
The abyss is a reference to death and Hades-the realm with which Satan is most closely associated in this book. Having been cast of out heaven (according to Revelation 12:7-9), John now sees an angel (either Christ himself, or an angel exercising Christ’s authority) confining Satan to the realm of the dead since Satan has been cast from heaven where he had been making accusations against the saints.
In fact, the Scriptures do not support any connection between the bottomless pit, and death, or the grave. In Revelation 12:7-9, Satan is cast to the earth; he is not confined to the “realm of the dead” at all.
Riddlebarger improperly associates the “bottomless pit” with “the realm of death and hades.” He wrote:
We must be clear about what John is actually saying. Satan is bound to the abyss-the realm of death and hades-for a specified time (a thousand years), for a specific purpose (so that he is prevented from deceiving the nations), until the thousand years are over.
Why associate the bottomless pit with death, which is human? John would not have used such a phrase, if he meant the grave, or sheol. In the book of Revelation, the term bottomless pit is invariably associated with Satan. It is distinct from hades, which is the Greek term used in the New Testament to represent the grave and the state of death. In Greek mythology, Hades was the god of the underworld, and a brother of Zeus, the sky, and Poseidon, the sea.
Riddlebarger argued that during the present age Satan is prevented from deceiving the nations, and from turning them against the church. But, why are Christians not persecuted? are Christians doing their job? Paul wrote: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” [2 Timothy 3:12] Riddlebarger wrote:
John’s point is not that Satan ceases all activity during the thousand years-in fact the Scripture implies the Devil’s rage increases because he knows the end is coming. But Satan is prevented from deceiving the nations so as to organize them against the church until being released at the end of the thousand years. Isn’t this what John has been telling us from the very beginning of this book? The beast was already manifest in the Roman empire (the fourth empire of Daniel’s vision). But Christ has defeated Caesar, which is why we go to Rome today to look at the ruins of the Roman empire. Rome’s Antichrist emperors have come and gone, relegated to the annals of history. Indeed, beasts in many forms have come and gone throughout the age, persecuting the church for a time, only to be overcome by the testimony of the saints and the blood of the Lamb. Hitler’s thousand year Reich lasted less than fifteen years. Stalin’s great socialist republic collapsed before our eyes. Even though nations who persecute the church come and go, they are prevented from organizing against the church as a whole. And inevitably they come to an end-often times a bloody end brought about by the providential intervention of God.
In fact, Satan has been quite active in organizing men to oppose the saints, throughout the centuries. How else can we explain the phenomenon of Christians killing other Christians, in the persecutions of the Middle ages, and in the great conflicts of the last century? Catholics and Protestants from the United Kingdom, France and Russia, as well as the British Commonwealth nations, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Union of South Africa, fought against Catholics and Protestants of the Central Powers, including Germany, and Austria-Hungary, in the First World War. Over 60 million Europeans were involved; more than 9 million died.
And in the Second World War, Catholics and Protestants from the Allies, including France, Poland, the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth nations, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Union of South Africa, the Soviet Union, and the United States of America, fought the Axis countries, including Germany, Italy, and Japan. In many battles, Christians fought other Christians.
What else can we conclude, but that Satan had deceived men? And how else can we account for Christians being scattered among tens of thousands of denominations? Riddlebarger wrote:
Thus when John speaks of Satan being bound for a thousand years, he is talking about Satan being cast from heaven and confined to the realm of the dead until released.
This has already been discussed above. Although Riddlebarger repeated this assertion several times he did not cite any Scripture to support his claim that Satan is “confined to the realm of the dead.” Riddlebarger wrote:
Recall that in the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus sends seventy-two followers out to preach the gospel, two by two. They came back and reported to Jesus, “Master we saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” Thus the confining of Satan to the abyss is somehow connected to the preaching of the gospel.
In Luke’s account, Jesus was the one who saw Satan fall from heaven; he had bound Satan.
And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.
Throughout the Book of Revelation, thrones are always in heaven, not on the earth. Therefore, this scene is a heavenly one, not earthly. This is further supported by the fact the John sees “souls,” not people. According to John, these souls are the disembodied spirits of those who were put to death for refusing to worship the beast or to take his blasphemous mark upon their bodies. These individuals held to their testimony for Jesus and his word, until taking their final breath. But when they die, John says, they immediately come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years! This is hardly a description of a future earthly millennium characterized by a time of universal peace. This is a time characterized by persecution and suffering.
When John declared that he saw “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God,” and that they “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years,” he meant beheaded figuratively, not literally. John used beheading as a metaphor. In the Levitical sacrificial system, beasts offered for sacrifice were beheaded. The saints who John saw were those who were “living sacrifices.” The literal approach excludes those who have died because of other kinds of wounds, or by fire, or those who were killed by animals, or those who, like Stephen, were stoned to death. It excludes saints who died from sickness or old age. John refers to the saints as “beheaded,” I suggest, because their minds and hearts have been renewed. Paul wrote: “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]
Although Paul said that he was crucified, he obviously meant this in a spiritual sense rather than literally. John used a similar metaphor: beheaded. Riddlebarger wrote:
John calls this translation from earth at the time of death to the reign in heaven, the “first resurrection.” Indeed “blessed and holy” are those who take part in it. This is not a reference to the bodily resurrection at the end of the age, but is instead a reference to a believer’s regeneration, conversion, and entrance into heaven at death, a point confirmed by a number of New Testament passages, most notably John 5:24-25, where John quotes Jesus as saying, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” In his gospel, John very clearly teaches that all those who come to faith in Jesus Christ, do so because they have already crossed over from death to life. Thus the first resurrection occurs at the time of regeneration when we are born again, and is manifest when we leave this life and enter into the presence of Christ in heaven, where we will reign with Christ as priests until the thousand years are over.
If reigning for a thousand years were post-mortem, why does it say they reign as priests? Peter called the saints “a royal priesthood,” referring to their role in this present life, not after death. Riddlebarger wrote:
Thus Revelation 20:1-6, is not a description of a future millennial reign of Christ upon the earth. It is a description of the present reign of the saints in heaven. And in heaven, those who have suffered at the hands of the beast are now protected from Satan’s assaults, for Satan no longer has access to heaven, having been cast down to earth and confined to the abode of the dead. Instead of suffering, the saints now rule and reign for a thousand years as priests of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Revelation 20:7-10 describes what happens when Jesus Christ returns to earth in judgment.
I think, those who reign with Christ as priests, are living saints; the thousand years is a figure, which Scripture associates with 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?” [Ecclesiastes 6:6]
The thousand years is also compared to yesterday. “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” [Psalm 90:4] These references support the idea that the thousand years represents the life times of individual Christians. This leads to the concept of Discrete Millennialism. Riddlebarger wrote:
Thus when all is said and done, Revelation 20:1-10 is not describing a golden age upon the earth or future hope. The reign of Christ described in these verses is a present reality. This is also a text which should bring us great comfort. For when we die-either at the hand of the beast or because of the wages of sin-we immediately enter the presence of Christ and reign for a thousand years as priests, safe from Satan and delivered from our sins.
The reign of Christ is indeed a present reality. But his reign is forever. It is the saints who “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” who reign with Christ, and Paul says this is “while we were yet sinners.” John limited the length of the reign of the saints, but not the reign of Christ. The thousand years applies to individuals, and Satan is bound with respect to individual saints.
But the thousand years end prematurely for some; only while they are figuratively beheaded do they reign with Christ. Some turn aside from following Christ. This leads to the assault on the camp of the saints and the beloved city, described in Revelation 20:7-9.