Revelation 20:1-3: Should the Millennial (1,000 Year) Reign of Christ Be Taken Literally or Symbolically? Why or Why Not?

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The objective here is to give the reader the context of the entirety of Revelation 1:3 from several great conservative sources, leading Bible scholars on the book of Revelation. We will begin with the shorter easier to understand sources and then move on to the intermediate, followed by the advanced ones. John F. Walvoord is the leading scholar on apocalyptic prophetic books so we will start with a series of his books. This will be followed by Robert L. Thomas’ mammoth two-volume commentary on Revelation.

Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times,

Revelation 20:1–3. John recorded what he saw concerning the binding of Satan: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time” (vv. 1–3). John saw an angel who had the key to the Abyss, the natural home of Satan and the fallen angels. As he watched, he saw the dragon, or Satan, bound with a great chain, thrown into the Abyss, and the opening was sealed and locked with the statement that it would not be opened until one thousand years later. While he could see that Satan was being bound and cast into the Abyss with the obvious point being that Satan would be unable to be active any longer, in addition to what he saw, he heard the interpretation that this binding of Satan would last one thousand years and the purpose was to prevent Satan from deceiving the nations.

Inasmuch as the revelation of the duration is a matter of direct divine revelation that John has told, the one thousand years must also be taken as a literal figure because it was revealed by God as the duration of this event. If God were in any way to try to describe the literal binding of Satan and his being inactive to one thousand years, He could not have done it in any more graphic or clear way than He has done in these three verses.

The events of verses 1–3 are clearly chronological in order and in total support of the premillennial interpretation. The passage makes clear that Satan is not simply restricted, as some would teach, but he is totally inactive in the millennium. By contrast, the New Testament teaches that Satan is still very much alive and well in the present age. In Acts 5:3 Ananias was declared to be filled with Satan and motivated by him in lying about his sale of property. In 2 Corinthians 4:3–4 the statement is made that Satan is very active in blinding the eyes of those who hear the gospel so that they will not see it and understand it. In 11:14 Satan was declared to be an angel of light, appearing in religious guise, deceiving the church through false teaching. According to Ephesians 2:2, the unsaved are working in the power of Satan. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 Satan was revealed to have hindered Paul in his desire to come to the Thessalonians. In 2 Timothy 2:26 unsaved people were declared to be taken captive and can only be saved by the grace of God. The most decisive text is in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

These passages teach dramatically that Satan is not bound in the present age, and though he is somewhat restricted by God, as in the case of Job, Christians can depend on God’s protecting power. Satan is, nevertheless, very active in the world and a leader in all its rebellion against God. The one thousand years will follow the second coming.[1]


The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures.

20:1–3. Chapter 20 begins with the familiar phrase, And I saw an angel (cf. 7:2; 8:2; 10:1; 14:6; 18:1; 19:17). The “and” with which this chapter begins suggests that it continues the sequence of events begun in 19:1, which is introduced with the words “after this.” In chapter 19 the Greek has “and” at the beginnings of 15 verses (but it is omitted in the niv in vv. 4, 8, 10–11, 13–16, and 21 and is trans. “then” in vv. 5–6, 9, and 19 and “but” in v. 20). The use of the word “and” (kai) often indicates action that follows in logical and/or chronological sequence. Accordingly there is no reason why chapter 20 should not be considered as describing events which follow chapter 19. “And” (kai) continues throughout chapter 20, beginning each verse except verse 5. There is thus no linguistic or grammatical suggestion that these events are anything other than events following the second coming of Christ and occurring in sequence.

In addition to the grammar which connects these incidents, there is also the causal connection of the events which follow naturally from the fact that Christ will have returned to the earth. In chapter 19 these events include casting the beast and the false prophet into the lake of burning sulfur and destroying their armies. Having disposed of the world ruler and the false prophet as well as the armies, it would be only natural that Christ should then turn to Satan himself, as He does in chapter 20.

Accordingly John saw an angel descend from heaven holding the key to the Abyss and a great chain. The angel grabbed Satan, the dragon (cf. 12:3–4, 7, 9, 13, 16–17; 13:2, 4, 11; 16:13), that ancient serpent (12:9, 14–15), bound him, and threw him into the Abyss, and locked it, in order to prevent Satan’s work of deceiving the nations any more for a thousand years.

An important interpretive question is whether Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ, as is commonly advanced by amillenarians, or will be bound at His second coming, as is held by premillenarians. Revelation 20:1–3 rather clearly contradicts the amillennial interpretation that Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ. Throughout the Scriptures Satan is said to exert great power not only against the world but also against Christians (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Tim. 1:20). If there is still any question whether this is so, it should be settled by the exhortation of 1 Peter 5:8: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS Young Christians

Amillenarians answer this by saying that Satan is limited by the power of God. But this has always been true, as illustrated in the Book of Job and elsewhere. To describe Satan’s present situation as being locked in the Abyss and unable to deceive the nations for a period of a thousand years is simply not factually true today, and it requires extreme spiritualization of the literalness of this passage as well as other New Testament references to Satan’s activities and present power. This same power of Satan is further revealed in the Great Tribulation when he empowers the world ruler (Rev. 13:4). Satan will have been cast out of heaven at the beginning of the Great Tribulation and will then be more active than ever (Rev. 12:9, 13, 15, 17).

If Satan is actually deceiving the nations today, as the Scriptures and the facts of history indicate, then he is not now locked in the Abyss, and the thousand-year Millennium is still future. This interpretation is also supported by the final statement that after the thousand years, he must be set free for a short time (20:3). Here expositors again are at a loss to explain this except in a literal way, making possible a final satanic rebellion at the end of the millennial kingdom.[2]


John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ,

The Binding of Satan (20:1-3)

20:1–3 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.

The next phase of the prophetic program is introduced by another vision of an angel (cf. 7:2; 8:1; 10:1; 14:6, 8, 9, 15, 17, 18; 17:1; 18:1; 19:17). Though some have understood the angel of 20:1 to be Christ Himself, in lieu of specific proof it is better to assume that this is another great angel operating at the command and in the authority of God. As John witnesses the scene, he observes the angel coming down from heaven possessing the key of “the bottomless pit,” that is, “the abyss” (cf. 9:1, 2, 11; also “the deep,” Luke 8:31; Rom. 10:7). This is the home of demons and unclean spirits. The angel is also observed to have a great chain in his hands. In verse 2 the angel is seen laying hold of Satan and binding him for 1, 000 years after which, in verse 3, Satan is cast into the abyss and its door is shut. A seal is placed upon Satan himself making it impossible for him to deceive the nations until a thousand years have elapsed, after which, the angel declares, Satan must be loosed for a little while.

The dramatic prophecy contained in these three verses has been the subject of endless dispute because to some extent the whole controversy between premillenarians and amillenarians hangs upon it. The passage yields to patient exegesis, and there is no solid reason for taking it in other than its ordinary sense. According to the prediction the angel is empowered for six functions: (1) to lay hold on the dragon, (2) to bind him for 1, 000 years, (3) to cast him into the abyss, (4) to shut him up, that is, to use the key which will lock up the abyss, (5) to set a seal upon Satan which will render him inactive in his work of deceiving the nations, (6) to loose him after the thousand years. At every point, however, the prediction has been disputed.

Encell, in keeping with his historical interpretation of Revelation, finds the chain with which Satan was bound a symbol of “the chain of evidence that has been coming to life for nearly a hundred years past, but mostly within the last half century, and is still coming to life, corroborating the truths of the Bible.” By this he means archaeological evidence confirming the Bible record. He continues:

We are living in the time when the many lengths of this chain are being brought forward for which to bind Satan; when he is securely bound a happy state of things will prevail, as for a long period of time, is indicated by the expression “a thousand years.” How long a period of time is symbolized no mortal knows.

The difficulty with this symbolic interpretation is that it fails to satisfy the passage. The mounting evidence for Christianity does not seem to have bound Satan in the twentieth century.


The question has been raised as to how an angel who is an immaterial being can lay hold on Satan who is also an immaterial being. Such a query is born of unbelief. Certainly the qualities belonging to a physical body are frequently attributed to angels and to Satan; and God, the Creator of angels, can also deal with them in a physical way. Particular objection has been raised to the idea of binding Satan with a chain, again on the grounds that an immaterial being such as an angel or Satan cannot be bound with a physical chain.

In considering this problem, we must bear in mind that we have here the language of appearance, that is, that John saw the angel with a chain in his hands. The word chain here (Gr., halysis) is the same as found in Mark 5:3 relating to the man possessed of demons who had been bound with chains. It is also used for the chains which fell off Peter (Acts 12:7) and for Paul’s chains (Acts 28:20; 2 Tim. 1:16). Different words, however, are used in 2 Peter 2:4 referring to the chains of darkness binding the wicked angel, and for the everlasting chains of Jude 6. These are more general terms for being bound. The four instances in Scripture of the word for “chain” in Revelation 20:1 give no reason for interpreting the word in other than its ordinary sense.

Whatever the physical character of the chain, the obvious teaching of the passage is that the action is so designed as to render Satan inactive. The intention is not to represent Satan as merely restricted but as rendered completely inactive. In confirmation of this, verse 3 states that he is cast into the abyss, which by its character is a place of confinement. The angel uses the key and shuts him up in the abyss. If God wanted to show that Satan was totally inactive and out of touch with the world, how could He have rendered it more specifically than He has done in this passage? The fact that Satan is bound for a thousand years is confirmed by the multitude of passages dealing with the kingdom period in which Satan is never found working in the world.

Of major importance, however, is the decision whether this scene refers to the future millennium or to the present age as is taught by the amillenarians. It should be made clear from this passage that if the millennium is the interadvent period between the first and second comings of Christ, as held by amillenarians (the common Augustinian viewpoint of the interadvent age), then Satan must be bound during the present age. There are few theories of Scripture which are less warranted than the idea that Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ. Amillenarians often refer to Luke 10:18, as does Augustine, where Christ said to the seventy witnesses returning in triumph from their period of witness and miracles, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” From this it has been inferred that the fall of Satan occurred at the first coming of Christ instead of in relationship to the second coming.

Opposed to the amillennial interpretation, however, is the uniform revelation of the New Testament which shows that Satan in the present age is a very active person. If anything, he is more active than in preceding ages and is continuing an unrelenting opposition to all that God purposes to do in the present age.

In Luke 22:3, Satan is said to have entered “into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve” with the result that he went out to betray Christ. Satan is revealed to have attempted to dominate Simon Peter as recorded in the Lord’s saying in Luke 22:31: “The Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” It was only the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, not the binding of Satan, which prevented the defeat of Peter.


Throughout the rest of the New Testament similar references are found. In Acts 5:3 Ananias and Sapphira are said to be filled with Satan and motivated to lie to the Holy Spirit regarding the extent of their gift to the church. In 2 Corinthians 4:3–4, Paul records that Satan is active in blinding the minds of those who hear the gospel: “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:14 Satan is declared to be transformed into an angel of light thereby deceiving the church through false teachers. The unsaved, according to Ephesians 2:2, live “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2:18 that Satan had hindered his coming to them. More dramatically, in 2 Timothy 2:26, unsaved people are declared to be taken captive by the devil at his will and are rescued only by the grace of God. The capstone to this series of references to the activity of Satan is found in 1 Peter 5:8 which should settle the matter beyond dispute. In this passage Christians are told, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” This passage, instead of saying that Satan is bound and unable to deceive the nations, pictures him as a lion which has been loosed, walking about, roaring, seeking someone to devour. That Satan is hindered by the protective power of God is evident throughout the Scriptures as in the case of Job. There is no evidence whatever that Satan is bound today, but rather the mounting evil in the world and in the church would seem to demonstrate that he is more active than ever. The nations of the world are being deceived today and saints are being opposed by the ceaseless activity and deceptive power of Satan.

Much has been made of the fact that these verses are found in a book largely given to symbolic presentation and visions. It is true that John is seeing a vision in these early verses of chapter 20. The passage reveals, however, something more than what he saw. John visually saw the angel bind Satan and cast him into the pit. John could not see visually how long Satan was to be in the pit nor could he see the purpose, namely, that the devil should deceive the nations no more and that he should be loosed again after the thousand years. This purpose had to be given to John by divine revelation which constituted an interpretation of the vision. If the record had given only what he saw without any indication as to the meaning of the passage, it might have lent itself to diverse interpretation. But with the vision recorded as it is, accompanied by the divine interpretation, expositors are not free to inject their own preconceived ideas but must accept the plain statements and interpretations of the passage as given.

It is most important to observe that while the thousand years are mentioned in verses 4 and 5 in the vision of John, they are also mentioned in verse 6 in the interpretation. The expositor is not free to spiritualize the interpretation of the vision but must accept the interpretation in its ordinary and literal meaning. If this is done, there is no other alternative than the premillennial interpretation which holds that at the second coming of Christ, Satan will be bound for a thousand years. This will constitute one of the major features of Christ’s righteous rule upon the earth and in fact will make possible the peace and tranquillity and absence of spiritual warfare predicted for the millennial kingdom. The period before Satan is bound, that is, the great tribulation, and the period at the close of the millennium, when Satan is again loosed, stand in sharp contrast to the tranquillity of the thousand years in between. The fact is that the only period in all human history in which Satan will not execute his work of deception will be the thousand years in which Christ will reign.

This passage also introduces, for the first time in Scripture, the exact length of the mediatorial kingdom of Christ. Six times in this passage the fact is stated that the period is a thousand years or a millennium.

The idea that the future millennium would be 1, 000 years has been suggested by apocalyptic writers before Christ. In the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, 32:2; 33:1–2 Enoch holds the idea that the history of man will run for seven thousand years, the last millennium of which will be one of great blessedness and will precede the eighth millennium, which is eternity. According to R. H. Charles, Enoch’s view can be explained as follows:

As the world was made in six days, so its history will be accomplished in 6, 000 years, and as the six days of creation were followed by one of rest, so the 6, 000 years of the world’s history would be followed by a rest of 1, 000 years. On its close would begin the eighth eternal day of blessedness when time should be no more, 32:2–33:2.

While evidence points to the conclusion that it was commonly believed that the kingdom reign of Christ would be a thousand years even before this scripture was written, possibly originating in direct revelation from God through His prophets although not recorded in Scripture, here scriptural authority is given for this concept.

Much of the opposition to the futurist interpretation has been leveled at this concept of a literal thousand years. Barnes, more than a century ago, in commenting on the phrase “a thousand years,” stated that it should be understood “either (a) literally; or (b) in the prophetic use of the term, where a day would stand for a year, thus making a period of three hundred and sixty thousand years; or (c) figuratively, supposing that it refers to a long but indefinite period of time.” Barnes seems to prefer the interpretation that the millennium is 360,000 years in duration. He further holds that Revelation 20 should not be taken literally, and interposes the words “as if” before the judgment and resurrection of 20:4 as well as with the binding of Satan. This would seem to be adding to the book, so strongly forbidden in 22:18.

Baldinger, like many others, rejects completely the prophetic character of Revelation and dismisses the thousand-year reign of Christ in these words:

This mooted passage is, therefore, nothing more than a word of encouragement to those Christians who are facing martyrdom for refusing to bow before the image of the beast or burn incense to Caesar… a man who brings an unprejudiced mind to this passage will find not a scintilla of evidence for two resurrections… We believe it [the millennium] refers merely to a great period of time of unknown length, in which evil will be more and more restrained and the gospel increasingly triumphant.

There is no good reason for taking the thousand years in other than their literal sense. Even Augustine, living in the fourth and fifth centuries, though he denied many other aspects of the literal reign of Christ on earth in his attempt to accommodate it to the interadvent age, was favorable to the concept of a literal thousand years. It was only after the second thousand years of the interadvent age had passed that questions began to be raised concerning the literalness of this event in an attempt to harmonize it with the interadvent period. It is evident that much has to take place which will require time, including the repopulation of the world after its decimation in the great tribulation.

While Scripture sometimes uses the term “day” in other than a literal sense, never in the Bible is a month or a year used in other than its literal sense. Even the word day used of a period of time in reference to “the day of the Lord” is used literally throughout the book of Revelation. It may also be faithfully held that all numbers in the Revelation are literal. About the only number that can even be reasonably questioned is that of the army of two hundred million in 9:16. Even here it is probable that the number is intended to be taken literally as is the “ten thousand times ten thousand” of 5:11. Certainly there is nothing inherently impossible in a thousand-year period in which Christ should reign upon the earth.[3]

Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary,

20:1 With the beast, the false prophet, and their followers out of the way, the fourth scene of the seventh bowl judgment turns its attention to one who furnished their motivation and power, Satan: Καὶ εἶδον ἄγγελον καταβαίνοντα ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, ἔχοντα τὴν κλεῖν τῆς ἀβύσσου καὶ ἅλυσιν μεγάλην ἐπὶ τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ (Kai eidon angelon katabainonta ek tou ouranou, echonta tēn klein tēs abyssou kai halysin megalēn epi tēn cheira autou, “And I saw an angel descending from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain upon his hand”).

Earlier comments have established that the eight scenes of this last bowl portray events in the order of their chronological fulfillment. Further reflection regarding the present paragraph confirms this conclusion. It cannot be a recapitulation of the earlier account of Satan’s being cast from heaven to earth where he proceeds to deceive and persecute (12:9; 13:14; 18:23c). The account of 20:1–3 tells of a removal from the earth that keeps him from pursuing these activities any longer. The only way one could view Satan as bound before a time in the future would be to construe his binding as a restriction of his activity, not a cessation of it. Confinement to the abyss, however, requires a complete termination of his activity in the sphere of the earth. To date this has never happened. The uniform testimony of the NT is that Satan is not bound during the period between Christ’s two advents. A further problem for a view that this paragraph recapitulates the present era is its inabilility to explain Satan’s release at the end of the Millennium. What restrictions currently placed on him will be removed at the end of this age? No credible answer to this question has ever been advanced.


Even proponents of some form of recapitulation concur that their view does not rest primarily on exegesis of particular texts, but on the analogy of faith. With their hermeneutical assessment of the basis of recapitulation, advocates of the sequential nature of these scenes agree. Chronological sequence is the natural understanding of the visions. Also, the OT framework that supplies the foundation for this book requires such a future period on earth to fulfill the promises of a Messianic age. It is a structural necessity of Revelation that this thousand years lies in the future too. The binding of Satan and the thousand years are an element of the seventh and last of the seven bowl judgments, otherwise known as the seven last plagues. Few, if any, would dare to argue that the last of the seven last plagues is a picture of the present age prior to the second advent of Christ. So the binding of Satan and the Millennium must come in conjunction with and as a result of the second advent of Christ.

This binding and imprisonment of Satan will not be limited to believers as the language of 20:1–3 makes clear. It requires an absolute stopping of his activity (Mounce, Johnson). “The nations” (20:3) who will be free from his deceptive ploys are not the same ones as Christ has destroyed at His earlier coming (19:11–21). They will be a new crop of nations emerging from the faithful mortals who populate the Millennium at its beginning. The privilege of reigning with Christ will extend to those martyred by the beast, the ones who are in the fore-front of 20:4, but it will also include all the faithful up to that point, both from Israel and from the church. Such a future chronologically limited kingdom on earth is necessary to allow for a rule of God in history such as the OT emphasized. It also accords with the theological framework provided by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:20–28.

Various suggested identifications of the “angel” (ἄγγελον [angelon]) charged with the responsibility of binding Satan have been Christ, the Holy Spirit, the twelve apostles, one of the popes, and Constantine the Great. None of these has convincing support, however. The better course is to understand him to be a special angel commissioned for this particular task (Walvoord).

The expression καταβαίνοντα ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (katabainonta ek tou ouranou, “descending from heaven”) described angels in 10:1 and 18:1. The reason this angel must descend is that Satan’s location is now on earth. He lost his place in heaven earlier according to 12:9, 12 (Lee). The beginning of the Millennium marks the end of Satan’s ὀλίγον καιρὸν (oligon kairon, “little time”) for spreading havoc on earth.

In his possession the angel has τὴν κλεῖν τῆς ἀβύσσου (tēn klein tēs abyssou, “the key of the abyss”), probably the same key to lock or unlock the mouth of the shaft that leads down into the abyss as in 9:1 (cf. Luke 8:31; Rom. 10:7). The abyss, also mentioned earlier at 11:7 and 17:8, is different from the lake of fire in 19:20 and 20:10. The latter is more severe and is a permanent place of punishment. The picture of a locked dungeon differs from that of an open shallow pool of fire that constitutes the lake of fire. Both, however, are places and not just symbols (Swete, Lee).

The angel also carries a ἅλυσιν μεγάλην ἐπὶ τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ (halysin megalēn epi tēn cheira autou, “a great chain upon his hand”). Paul wore a chain in Rome (2 Tim. 1:16) as Peter did during his Jerusalem imprisonment (Acts 12:6–7), but here it is not a material chain such as would bind a physical being. It is rather one that would be necessary to shackle a spiritual being such as Satan (cf. Jude 6, where a different word for “chain” appears). With this in mind, it is a literal binding of Satan, not merely a limited restraint. Just as the sickle of Rev. 14:14–15 depicts a grand and dreaded reality, so does the chain here. It is stronger than the one that bound Sampson (Judg. 6:6 ff.) and stronger than “Legion” who broke the chains that restrained the Gerasene (Mark 5:3–4) (Swete). The chain was draped “over” (ἐπί [epi]) the angel’s hand and ready for use.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

20:2 Swinging into action immediately, the angel seized and bound the dragon: καὶ ἐκράτησεν τὸν δράκοντα, ὁ ὄφις* ὁ ἀρχαῖος, ὅς ἐστιν Διάβολος καὶ ὁ Σατανᾶς, καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτὸν χίλια ἔτη (kai ekratēsen ton drakonta, ho ophis ho archaios, hos estin Diabolos kai ho Satanas, kai edēsen auton chilia etē, “and he seized the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years”). The name τὸν δράκοντα (ton drakonta, “the dragon”), the first of Satan’s titles used here, is his most frequent title in Revelation (cf. 12:3, 4, 7, 13, 16, 17; 13:2, 4, 11; 16:13). Then follow the other names ascribed to him in 12:9.

The title ὁ ὄφις ὁ ἀρχαῖος (ho ophis ho archaios, “the serpent of old”) receives emphasis by being in the nominative case, though in apposition with the accusative ton drakonta (Lee). This type of phenomenon is frequent in Revelation, and is sometimes called an anacoluthon (e.g., 1:5) and sometimes a parenthesis. Διάβολος (Diabolos, “The devil”) is the name that refers to this divine opponent in 2:10; 12:9, 12; 20:10. Ὁ Σατανᾶς (Ho Satanas) refers to him in 2:9, 13, 24; 3:9; 12:9.

The binding of a spiritual being such as ἔδησεν (edēsen, “bound”) depicts is a mystery to humans accustomed to the material world only. Whatever it is, it is the same as the binding of the angels in 9:14 which prohibited their movement and activity (Swete). The idea behind this securing of the great enemy is probably the same as that in Isa. 24:22–23 (Charles).

The duration of the binding is χίλια ἔτη (chilia etē, “a thousand years”), an accusative expressing extent of time. The sixfold repetition of this number of years (cf. 20:3, 4, 5, 6, 7) indicates its great importance (Lee). Exegetes have expressed different understandings of this period whose duration of one thousand years was undisclosed until John wrote this (Charles). One school of thought voices concern over even discussing the issue for fear of creating strife among the saints. This view emphasizes that God’s clock does not follow our reckoning, so humans cannot know what “a thousand years” means. This view looks to 2 Pet. 3:8 for support, but 2 Pet. 3:8 along with Ps. 90:4 states the very opposite. “A thousand years” in these two verses refers to a literal thousand years. To say that the period with man is only one day with God, does not deny that it is actually a thousand years with God too (Walvoord). The point is that time does not limit an eternal God, not that He is ignorant of what time means with man. Another feature opposed to this agnostic approach to the meaning of “a thousand years” is that this writer, when he wants to speak of an indefinite time, uses something like μικρὸν χρόνον (mikron chronon, “a little time”) (20:3) rather than give an explicitly definite period of time.

Another way of handling the thousand-year period has been to view it as symbolic of a relatively long age of indefinite length. This explanation looks to the pattern of using numbers symbolically throughout Revelation for support. Most equate it with the period between Christ’s two advents, with the binding of Satan being equal to the enlightenment of the nations through the gospel.22 As the largest conceivable unit of time in the Bible, it represents a period absolutely long just as “half an hour” (8:1) denotes a space of time absolutely short. All of this reasoning is exegetically futile, however, because it rests on preconceived theological dogma. The only semblance of exegetical support is the effort to equate the casting of the dragon from heaven in 12:7–9 with his casting into the abyss (20:3). But this equation is very doubtful, as already shown.

If the writer wanted a very large symbolic number, why did he not use 144,000 (7:1 ff.; 14:1 ff.), 200,000,000 (9:16), “ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (5:11), or an incalculably large number (7:9)? The fact is that no number in Revelation is verifiably a symbolic number. On the other hand, nonsymbolic usage of numbers is the rule. It requires multiplication of a literal 12,000 by a literal twelve to come up with 144,000 in 7:4–8. The churches, seals, trumpets, and bowls are all literally seven in number. The three unclean spirits of 16:13 are actually three in number. The three angels connected with the three last woes (8:13) add up to a total of three. The seven last plagues amount to exactly seven. The equivalency of 1,260 days and three and a half years necessitate a nonsymbolic understanding of both numbers. The twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel are literally twelve (21:12–14). The seven churches are in seven literal cities. Yet confirmation of a single number in Revelation as symbolic is impossible.

So ample good reasons exist for not taking the number symbolically, but there are many good reasons for taking one thousand to be literal (Walvoord). It is the plain statement of the text six times. It is doubtful that any symbolic number, if there be such, is ever repeated that many times. Other symbolism in Revelation is not opposed to a literal understanding of the thousand years. The mention of the thousand years is not limited to the binding of Satan. John received the information by direct revelation apart from symbols also (cf. 20:4, 5, 6) (Walvoord). Alleged problems in identifying this kingdom with the one promised in the OT—such as its limited length, rather than being eternal, and its lack of the ideal conditions cited in the OT—are only apparent. The kingdom will have a limited phase and will enter its eternal phase after the conclusion of the thousand years. And it will have the ideal conditions described in the OT, but John has no occasion to mention them here.

The conclusion is that the only exegetically sound answer to the issue is to understand the thousand years literally.

20:3 The angel’s next action is to transfer the dragon to his place of confinement: καὶ ἔβαλεν αὐτὸν εἰς τὴν ἄβυσσον καὶ ἔκλεισεν καὶ ἐσφράγισεν ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ ἵνα μὴ πλανήσῃ ἔτι τὰ ἔθνη ἄχρι τελεσθῇ τὰ χίλια ἔτη· μετὰ ταῦτα δεῖ λυθῆναι αὐτὸν μικρὸν χρόνον (kai ebalen auton eis tēn abysson kai ekleisen kai esphragisen epanō autou hina mē planēsȩ̄ eti ta ethnē achri telesthȩ̄ ta chilia etē; meta tauta dei lythēnai auton mikron chronon, “and he cast him into the abyss and shut it and sealed it above him that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years have been completed; after these things it is necessary for him to be loosed for a little time”). Besides being bound, the dragon must remain in the place of confinement that was at one point the prison of the demonic horde released under the fifth trumpet judgment (9:1 ff.) and the beast (11:7; 17:8) before his endowment with power from the dragon (13:4, 7) (Lee).

The angel “shut” (ἔκλεισεν [ekleisen]) and “sealed” (ἐσφράγισεν [esphragisen]) the opening to the abyss above the dragon. The latter action was for purposes of special security as with Daniel in the lion’s den (Dan. 6:17) and the tomb of Christ before His resurrection (Matt. 27:66). In normal cases, sealing prevented any attempted escape (Swete). The threefold means of incarceration—chaining, imprisonment, and sealing—is a forcible guarantee that the dragon will be helpless to deceive the nations during the thousand years. This phase of his punishment entails no specified suffering, such as will come later (Swete, Beckwith).


The purpose of the confinement comes in the words ἵνα μὴ πλανήσῃ ἔτι τὰ ἔθνη (hina mē planēsȩ̄ eti ta ethnē, “that he might not deceive the nations any longer”). He will have been busy doing this before his confinement (cf. 13:14; 16:13–14) and will renew his deceptive tactics after his release (20:8) (Lee). In the intervening thousand years, nations on earth will be quiet and willing subjects of the warrior-King, but upon his release (v. 7) they will allow his sly trickery to lead them in rebellion against God (Alford).

Probing the origin and identity of these nations has provoked several answers. One has been that only the beast and his demonic armies meet their end in the battle of 19:19–21, but this violates the clear indication that those armies are composed of human fighters (Johnson). Another answer has been that not all people of the earth joined the beast in the conflict of 19:19–21, thus leaving the unaffected people alive on earth to enter the Millennium and eventually defect under the leadership of the dragon (Moffatt, Ladd). This explanation, however, questions the worldwide extent of the earlier kingdom of the beast (cf. 13:3, 7, 8) that rebelled and was eventually defeated by Christ. The suggestion that only the men of war fell during the battle of 19:19–21 (Mounce) places undue restrictions on the exhaustive categorizations of humanity upon which the birds of prey were to feast in 19:18. None but the protected faithful remnant will survive this conflict. Neither is the answer found in using this as an example of conflicting ideas that characterize Revelation. The alleged conflicts lend themselves in each case to harmonization among those not bent on finding literary discrepancies. An attempt to limit the battle of 19:19–21 to political power without affecting the nations themselves is also futile, because it gives inadequate attention to the military language of the battle passage.

The only viable alternative is to allow that the battle of 19:19–21 resulted in death for all those not faithful to the Messiah. However, the redeemed but nonglorified population on earth survives the battle, enters the Millennium (cf. 11:13; 12:13–17), and reproduces offspring some of whom do not become saved as they mature. These unredeemed will comprise Satan’s rebellious army at the Millennium’s end. The children of the saints who survive the beast’s persecution will far outnumber their parents and will quickly fill the planet. The rate of population growth during this period will be far higher than ever before because physical death will be the exception rather than the rule throughout this ideal period (cf. Isa. 65:20). So a new set of nations will come to exist on earth in a relatively short period. They will remain undeceived from external sources “until the thousand years have been completed” (ἄχρι τελεσθῇ τὰ χίλια ἔτη [achri telesthȩ̄ ta chilia etē]).

It is a divine necessity (δεῖ [dei, “it is necessary”]), however, for the dragon to be released “after these things” (μετὰ ταῦτα [meta tauta])—i.e., the thousand years. The final answer as to why God sees this as a necessity with its fruition in another rebellion is hidden in the counsels of God (cf. 1:1; 4:1; Isa. 55:8; Mark 8:31; 13:7; Luke 24:26, 44) (Alford, Swete, Lee, Moffatt, Beasley-Murray, Johnson). Yet one purpose may be a partial answer. Through his release the whole universe will see that after a thousand years of his imprisonment and an ideal reign on earth, Satan is incurably wicked and men’s hearts are still perverse enough to allow him to gather an army of such an immense size.

The “little time” (μικρὸν χρόνον [mikron chronon]) allowed the dragon after the Millennium is not the same as the “little time” (ὀλίγον καιρὸν [oligon kairon]) (12:12) allowed him on earth before the Millennium. In the earlier case he deceives through the beast and false prophet, but in this one he will deceive through personal intervention.[4]



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[1] John F. Walvoord, Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2011).

[2] John F. Walvoord, “Revelation,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 978–979.

[3] John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Galaxie Software, 2008), 290–295.

[4] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 404–411.

One thought on “Revelation 20:1-3: Should the Millennial (1,000 Year) Reign of Christ Be Taken Literally or Symbolically? Why or Why Not?

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  1. Didn’t you ask this same question on another article? There are 31,102 verses in the Bible, 404 verses in Revelation. All 66 books are one book. There are many verses that say Jesus will reign as a king, talk about the Messiah setting up a kingdom, that he will have co-rulers. And Jesus talked about his coming kingdom a lot.

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