IS THE 1,000 YEAR AGE LITERAL?
FOLLOWING THE SECOND COMING OF Christ, Satan will be
captured and bound with a great chain (Revelation 20:1-2). He
will then be incarcerated in the abyss, which will be shut and
sealed (20:3), and thus Satan will not deceive the nations for
1000 years. Meanwhile, the Tribulation martyrs will be
resurrected to reign with Christ (20:4-6).
(The Bible teaches that ALL saints from the time of Adam to the
second coming of Christ in glory and power will be resurrected or
instantly changed. All will be made immortal and will meet Christ
is the air, in the clouds, and come to the Mount of Olives with
Him. We have covered all this in some detail elsewhere on this
Website - Keith Hunt)
When the 1000 years end, Satan will be released for a short
time to once again deceive the nations (20:3,7-8).
Some believe that the 1000 years are already occurring
figuratively and that Satan is already bound by the cross of
Christ and the church. However, the New Testament never states
that Satan has already been bound. Nor has Satan been
incapacitated on earth as Revelation 20:1-2 describes. He still
entices men to lie (Acts 5:3), he still blinds the minds of
unbelievers to the glorious gospel of Christ, and he is called
the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan currently
disguises himself as an angel of light to deceive the church (2
Corinthians 11:2-3,13-15). The devil hinders ministers of God (2
Corinthians 12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18) and roams about the earth
to devour its population (1 Peter 5:8). He has unbelievers under
his dominion (Acts 26:18), he tempts believers (1 Corinthians
7:5), and he seeks to deceive them as he battles against them
(Ephesians 6:11-12). He is at work in unbelievers to influence
them to live as they do (Ephesians 2:2). He deceives and traps
unbelievers and holds them captive to do his will (2 Timothy
2:26) and remain in his power (1 John 5:19).
Satan cannot be bound and so active at the same time.
Clearly Revelation 20 looks forward to a future time when Satan
will be bound.
NUMBERS AND TIME
The essential question is this: Does "chilia ete" (1000
years) in Revelation 20 really mean a literal 1000 years? A basic
rule of hermeneutics states that numbers should be accepted at
face value - that is, as conveying a mathematical quantity -
unless the context includes substantial evidence to warrant
otherwise. This rule holds true throughout the Bible, including
the book of Revelation. A survey of numbers in Revelation
supports this. For instance, the seven churches and seven angels
in Revelation refer to seven literal churches and their
messengers. Twelve tribes and 12 Apostles are actual, historical
numbers (21:12,14). Ten lamps (2:10), five months (9:5),
one-third of mankind (9:15), two witnesses (11:2), 42 months
(11:2), 1260 days (11:3), 12 stars (12:1), ten horns (13:1), 1600
stadia (14:20), three demons (16:13), and five fallen kings
(17:9-10) all use numbers in their normal sense. Out of the
scores of numbers in Revelation, only two (seven spirits in 1:4
and 666 in 13:18) are conclusively used in a symbolic fashion.
(The "seven spirits" are not sybolic - they mean just what they
are - seven spirits - seven spirit beings - Heb.1:7 and Rev.1:20
- Keith Hunt)
Numbers are generally to he taken at face value in
Revelation, and this is more specially true with numbers
referring to time. Revelation 4-20 includes at least 25
references to measurements of time. Only two of these should be
understood figuratively. The "day of His wrath" (6:17 NKJV) would
likely exceed 24 hours, and "the hour of His judgment" (14:7)
seemingly extends beyond 60 minutes. However, nothing in the
phrase "one thousand years" suggests a symbolic interpretation.
Never in the Bible is "year" used with a numerical adjective
when it does not refer to the actual period of time that it
mathematically represents. Also, the number 1000 is not used
elsewhere in the Bible with a symbolic sense. One thousand and
its varied combinations are used frequently in both Testaments.
No one questions the literal interpretation of 5000
believers (Acts 4:4), 23,000 then killed (1 Corinthians 10:8), or
7000 killed (Revelation 11:13). Likewise, we find no exegetical
reason to question the normalcy of 1000 years in Revelation 20.
THE TESTIMONY OF HISTORY
From the earliest post-apostolic era, the church understood
the millennium of Revelation 20 as a literal 1000 years. Papias,
Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian all gave
evidence of this fact in their writings. The church taught
nothing else until the fourth century. When some theologians
distorted biblical teaching about the millennium and described it
as a time for the enjoyment of man rather than for the glory of
God, other teachers attempted to correct this error by proposing
a more spiritual interpretation of the 1000 years.
In the fifth century, Augustine popularized this reaction,
which reasoned that the church inherited the blessings promised
to Israel and that those blessings are spiritual, not earthly. He
taught that Revelation 20 referred to this time. However, even
Augustine, called by many the father of amillennialisim,
understood from Revelation 20 that this period would last 1000
literal years. To not hold to a literal interpretation is to do
injustice to the text.
An unmistakable bridge links the OId Testament promises of a
restored earthly kingdom of Israel with the distinctive
statements of Revelation 20. It is the rule and reign of Jesus
Christ on the throne of David in the city of God (see 2 Samuel
7:12-16; Psalm 2:1-12; Isaiah 2:2-4; 9:7; Jeremiah 13:14-18;
Ezekiel 34:23-24; Daniel 2:44-45; Hosea 3:5; Joel 3:9-21;
Zephaniah 3:14-20 Zechariah 14:1-11; Revelation 20:4.6).
TEXTUAL CHRONOLOGICAL CLUES
Amillennialists and postmillennialists normally conclude
that the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, the
destruction of this world, and the rise of the new heavens and
the new earth will all occur at the time of the second coming.
"They leave no room for a literal 1000 years before or after the
second coming (see Kuyper, p.272). Furthermore, they allege, "The
text only reveals the order in which John saw the visions, not
necessarily the order in which the events were to take place"
Both of these assumptions rest on faulty hermeneutics. The
sequence of events in Revelation will also be the sequence of
their prophetic, historical fulfillment. Walvoord says that this
is "based on the natural sequence of events in chapter 20
following chapter 19, viewing them as sequential and as stemming
from the second coming of Christ. Many passages speak of the
second coming of Christ being followed by a reign of
righteousness on earth" (Walvoord, "The Bible Knowledge
With the exception of two verses (Revelation 20:5-6), every
verse in chapter 20 begins with the connective "and" (Greek,
kai). All but 5 of the 21 verses in chapter 19 use the same
grammatical feature. The constant usage of the connective
demonstrates the flow of narrative action. John saw one event
after another unfold before his very eyes. The continuation of
the connective from chapter 19 into chapter 20 gives the
impression that the events of chapter 20 follow those recorded in
chapter 19. To conclude that the events of chapter 20 precede
those in chapter 19 is to violate the hermeneutical principle of
observation before interpretation and the normal grammatical
usage of the connective in a narrative passage.
In addition, the usage of the adverb "no more" (Greek, eti)
in the purpose clause of Revelation 20:3 strongly suggests that
the events described in 20:1-3 follow those described in
19:11-21. The use of the adverb indicates an interruption of
something that was already taking place - namely, the deception
of the nations by Satan. The action of binding Satan, thus, could
not occur before the second coming.
The beast and the False prophet are cast into the lake of
fire at the second coming (Revelation 19:20). Satan is cast into
the lake of fire 1000 years later (Revelation 20:10). In the lake
of fire, Satan is reunited with the beast and the False Prophet.
(No Satan is not "re-united" with the beast man and false
prophet, that idea comes from the teaching of the "immortal soul"
where sinners will suffer in pain and agony for all eternity.
Such a teaching as the immortal soul is utterly false - Keith
This narrative action makes no sense if Satan is cast into
the lake of fire at the same time as the other two. In fact, the
phrase "where the beast and the false prophet are" presupposes an
earlier judgment upon the beast and the False Prophet (Revelation
19:20) and also suggests a chronological sequence of Revelation
20 events following those in chapter 19.
(The word "are" in Rev.20:10 is NOT in the Greek - the beast man
and false prophet are not still in the lake of fire 1000 years
after being thrown in. Satan is cast into the lake of fire where
the beast and false prophet "were thrown in" is the correct
understanding. The Bible teaches no such idea as the "immortal
soul" - Keith Hunt)
Some argue that (1) the time designator "thousand years"
does not occur anywhere else in New Testament eschatological
teachings; (2) Jesus did not mention it in the Oliver Discourse
(Matthew 24-25); and (3) no epistle refers to the 1000-year reign
of Christ on earth, so the reference to this length of time in
Revelation 20 should be understood symbolically (see Kistemaker,
p.535). They further advocate that the book of Revelation is a
book of symbols, and the numbers must also be understood
symbolically. Kistemaker, for example, states that "one thousand
is ten to the third power and denotes fullness. It is therefore
more in line with the tone and tenor of Revelation to interpret
the term metaphorically... to refer to an indefinite period
between the ascension of Jesus and his return" (Kistemaker, pp.
However, the normal, ordinary meaning of "1000 years" is
1000 years. This is the essence of literal interpretation. If the
plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense. As Walvoord
observed, "This chapter presents the fact that Christ will reign
on earth for a thousand years. If this chapter is taken
literally, it is relatively simple to understand what is meant"
(Walvoord, "The Bible Knowledge Commentary," p.977).
Besides, John knew how to describe an indefinite brief
period of time as such. In 20:3 he wrote that Satan would be
released from the abyss for "a little while" (Greek, "mikron
chronon"). The Holy Spirit could have guided John to write that
Christ and the saints would reign for "a long time" (Greek,
"polun chronon"), the same phrase used in the parable of the
talents to indicate the period of the master's absence (Matthew
25:19). But God led John to contrast a definite period ("thousand
years") with an indefinite period ("a little while").
In fact, all time designations in the book of Revelation are
literal, having significance only if their temporal meanings are
accepted in the normal sense. The non-literal view makes
Revelation 20 to be the exception.
Occasionally, some will reference 2 Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4
in defense of a non-literal meaning. Peter wrote "that with the
Lord one day is a thousand years, and thousand years as one day."
For this comparison to make sense, the time phrases must be taken
literally. The infinite, eternal God does not view time as we do,
but He does know the distinction between a 24-hour day and a
millennium. Psalm 90:4 conveys the same idea.
Robert Thomas has noted that "no number in Revelation is
verifiably a symbolic number" (Thomas, p.408). All numbers should
be accepted literally, at face value. The distinctions in
numerical value must be maintained throughout the book. They
remain a literal constant in a book of symbols and metaphors.
(See the article titled "Millennium.")
RICHARD L. MAYHUE
AND ROBERT GROMACKI
Kistemaker, Simon J. "Exposition of the Book of revelation: New
Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids. baker Books. 2001
Kuyper, Abraharm. "The Revelation of St.John." Gland Rapids.
Eerdmas Publishing Company, 1963.
Mathison, Keith A. "Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the
People of God." Phillipburg, NJ: P&R Publishing 1995.
Thomas, Robert. "Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary,"
Chicago: Moody Press, 1995.
Walvoord, John F. "Revelation." In "The Bible Knowledge
Commentary." John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds.Wheaton, Il.
Victor Books, 1983.
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ." Chicago: Moody Press, 1996.
Wiersbe, Warren W. "The Bible Expostion Commentary" 2 vols.
Wheaton, IL. Victor Books, 1989.
The years, days, months, numbers (i.e.12,000; 144,000 etc.) as
given in the book of Revelation much indeed be taken at face
value, or anything can be taken as meaning anything, and hence
the book of Revelation would make no sense and in fact would be
up for interpretation as per any persons interpretation. The
writer of this study has got the basic truth of the matter - a
1,000 years means just that - a THOUSAND YEARS!!
Entered on this Website, April 2009