What we believe Revelation 20 teaches depends on how we interpret the Book of Revelation and the highly figurative language of Scriptnre. ” . . . It is a sound principle of interpretation not to use a passage of Scripture that is hard to understand to overthrow other passages that are perfectly clear” (S.S. Times, July 29,
1944). “It is a basic principle of exegesis that no plain passage of the Word is to be neutralized by one whose meaning appears to he doubtful or ambiguous, that no explicit promise is to be set aside by a parable the significance of which is not readily determined, that no doctrinal declaration is to be nullified by the arbitrary interpretation of a figure or type. That which is uncertain must yield to what is simple and obvious; that which is open to argument must be subordinated to what is beyond any debate” (A. W. Pink, “Studies in the Scriptures,” Nov. 1943). The historical books of the N. T. (Gospels) are interpreted by the epistolary books. And the typical or figurative material Leviticus, Song of Songs, Revelation, et al. are illuminated and further explained by the interpretative. We for this reason do not view the interpretative passages in the light of the figurative. We believe that the Revelation, the last book of the Bible, must be interpreted in the light of all the rest of Scripture, and not all the rest of Scripture in the light of the Revelation. This means that we interpret Revelation 20 in the light of such passages as Matt. 24, Rom. 8, I Cor. 15, I Thess. 4, etc., and not all these many, and more, in the light of Revelation 20.
With this in mind we point out that Scripture distinguishes only two ages including the one in which we are now living, when it, for example, mentions that the unpardonable sin is never forgiven, “neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:32). There is no intervening age. There is the period we call “in this time,” and the future, “in the world to come” (Mk. 10:30); or “this world,” and “that world” which comes with the resurrection of the dead (Lk. 20:35). The view of the future that the Gospels present is that of “this age” and “that age” with no mention of a millennial age coming between this one and the eternal age. As long as this age endures no other can supervene. The epistles have the same thought: Christ is on the throne of universal dominion and reigns “not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21). What is to take place at the end of this age is “Christ’s coming,” and after that, “then the end” (I Cor. 15:23, 24).
The binding of Satan mentioned in Revelation 20 is the decree of Cod to put the devil under a certain restraint. In Matt. 12:24-29 we have the account of Christ executing that decree when He by the Cross bound the strong man, Satan. This “binding” then is the preventing of Satan from deceiving the nations so as to gather them for battle against the Church. How long Satan is so limited and restricted in his machinations is said to be a thousand years. This period is no more to be understood in the “literal” sense than are the “chain,” or the “dragon,” or the “bottomless pit,” or beheaded souls, or “four quarters of the earth.” Certain numbers in Scripture are given a symbolical significance. This is true of the numbers 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12, 1260, 1000 and 144,000. The meaning they are intended to convey is the realities with respect to the fulfilment and various aspects of God’s covenant. The number 1,000 signifies a period, to man, of indeterminate length, but fully determined by the decree of God, and which applies to that period of time extending from Christ’s binding the strong man to the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
While Satan is bound, there are certain who sit on thrones and reign with Christ during that same period. They are “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus” (20:4). These would then be the saints in heaven before the resurrection of the body, of whom it is said that they “reign in life thru the One, even Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17), for they have been delivered out of the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Dispensationalists, to be sure, deny that these souls are only souls in the disembodied state. They have a theory to maintain, and that theory demands that where they usually interpret “literally,” now they must do so “figuratively.” But if John wished to indicate saints in glorified bodies, then why did he use a word which rarely ever means body? Verse 5 further hears out our interpretation which speaks of “the rest of the dead,” so that these “souls” are contemplated in the category of the dead, but as absent from the body, and present with the Lord, reigning in heaven with Him. This is the first resurrection. For the plainly evident antecedent of “this” is the reigning of these souls with Christ (v. 4). Nowhere in this chapter do we read of Christ reigning on this earth, nor is there mention of the saints reigning on earth after the resurrection; nor is there a hint of 1,000 years intervening between the bodily resurrection of the righteous and the wicked.
The first resurrection is, therefore, not of the body, as is plain from a comparison of John 5:25 and Eph. 5:14. The contrast which the passage makes is not between the first resurrection and the second resurrection, but between the first resurrection and the second death. The second death is not of the body, but is a spiritual death of both body and soul in the lake of fire forever. It is true enough that “the rest of the dead” are the wicked dead; but it is never said in Scripture that they live. In fact, here the very opposite is said, – they “lived not,” for they are raised only to he cast into “the second death” (v. 15). As to the word “again,” it is not in the original language of the text; and the word “until” does not necessarily indicate that something different is to follow. (Cf. I Cor. 15:25). “Until” does not mean that they shall live after the thousand years; for they shall “by no means come out hence until they have paid the uttermost farthing” (Matt. 5:26), which can never be paid! At the expiration of the thousand years (v. 8) the dead which live not are cast into the lake of fire, and just previous to that Satan is released “for a little season” to finally and fatally deceive the nations. This means that at the end of this age both he and they, together with death and hades, are cast into that fiery lake. Thus ends the war that really ends all war!
Space does not permit, nor is it our purpose, to treat all the elements of this chapter. For further detail read, “The Millennium Period,” a tract by Rev. H. Hoeksema. Suffice it to say that the millennium is this gospel age in which the saints, living and dead, reign with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6). During this period, Satan is prevented from deceiving the nations into making a last concerted effort to prevail against the Church. But at the end of “this world” and after Satan does attempt his last deception, then the general resurrection, and not the resurrection of the wicked only, consummates the age (vv. 11-15). This is evident from the fact that “the books were opened, and another Book was opened, which is the Book of Life!”