Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Here comes the millenium?

Rushing in where even fools fear to tread, I have some thoughts on the interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6. This has to be one of the most hotly-contested passages amongst Bible-believing Christians and, rather bizzarely, large theological edifices are built upon it.

"1Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
4Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years."

What is it all about? Let me suggest an interpretive framework/approach to it.

My first suggestion is that the 1000 years is not a literal period of time. This makes sense because of 1. given the genre of Revelation which revels in symbolism 2. the idea that in Jewish thinking world history lasted 6000 years with the final 1000 years being a Sabbath before the consummation. Thus the 1000 years could well be seen as a Sabbath day (see also Ps 90:4) of rest.

My second suggestion is that the main focus of the passage is on the symbolic (non-temporal/non-geographical) reign of the martyrs (v4) who have died for Christ. This first 'resurrection' is about them. The focus is upon their reign and victory over the devil and evil itself! Satan being bound is really about their victory over him. The symbolic reign of the martyrs is pre-emptive of the final reign of Christ in the new creation (see 2:26 - is this referring to this kind of reign?). They pre-emptively enter into a Sabbath rest of '1000 years' with the Lord Jesus (with the concomitant 1000 years of humiliation of satan). So Revelation 20 is about giving hope to Christian martyrs - positions are exchanged, satan is imprisoned, they are vindicated, given rest and made into kings. Their 'defeat' in death is turned into victory with Christ. The passage plays out the first part of the drama of Psalm 2, which concludes in v.7f - satan and the nations are finally crushed.