This chapter is so often merely viewed as controversial or baffling, or used as a tool to determine orthodoxy. But its message is one of great encouragement and comfort. Christians do disagree on how to interpret these verses, but a Fellowship group is unlikely to be the place to resolve all those disagreements, so where possible I would suggest you avoid spending too much time debating the relative merits of pre-millenialism or amillenialism!
All the numbers in the book have been symbolic, rather than literal (eg. the 144,00) so it would seem natural to suppose that this 1000 years is symbolic of a period of time. But to when does it refer? Simply put, premillennialists take Rev.19-21 as being sequential – ie Christ returns (ch.19), then establishes his 1000 year reign, then after a brief period of time when Satan is let loose, there is judgment day (ch.20), and then the new creation (ch.21). But the events described in the book often don’t follow sequentially; rather we are taken over the similar ground again and again, being shown what to expect in these last days and then shown something of the End. It seems more likely that the millennium is a way of speaking of these last days. Two things characterise this time –
(i) Satan is bound (vv.1-3)
The Abyss is Satan’s realm, where he is now restrained. Not so that he is kept from doing anything (for earlier chapters have spoken of his present activity) but he is kept specifically from “deceiving the nations”. This binding of Satan was evident in the ministry of Jesus (cf. Matt.12:29), but happened particularly in his death and resurrection (cf. John:12:31-32, Col.2:15, Heb.2:14). Satan’s being bound means that his house can now be plundered, even from among the nations – ie that people can be saved. Every time someone hears the Gospel and turns to Christ that is proof that Satan is now bound. So the millennium is a time for worldwide mission.
(ii) Christians reign with Christ (vv.4-6)
When a Christian suffers and dies for their faith it might seem that Satan has won, but actually death will prove again that Satan is a defeated foe. For at death Christians will rise (spiritually, our new bodies are only given at the second Resurrection) to be with Christ, where we will reign with him and serve him (cf. 2 Tim.2:11,12).
Just before Christ returns, “for a short time” (v.3), Satan will be released and able to do his work of deceiving the nations again. He will gather the world in opposition to God’s people for a final battle – a battle described earlier in 16:16 and 19:19, and called Armageddon. It sounds rather scary, but it proves to be rather an anticlimax (vv.9b,10). The outcome was never in doubt because the crucial battle was already won at the cross (5:5,6). The devil will be destroyed forever – and notice how far removed this is from the popular conception of hell where the devil is quite at home, torturing a few helpless victims (v.10)
All then will face judgment as “the books” are opened, which record all that each has ever done. Who could stand before such a judge before whose presence even earth and sky shrink back in awe? Wonderfully another book too is opened – the Book of Life, listing all those belonging to the Lamb. For them there is the prospect of chs.21,22, for the Lamb has paid for their every sin. For all those not in the book of life there awaits the lake of fire, which v.10 makes plain speaks of unending, conscious torment.
To be truly “millennium-minded” then is to view these last days as a time for urgent evangelism, because Satan for now is bound and yet Judgment Day approaches. And it is to be marked by a confident hope, for our names are in the Lamb’s book and we will surely reign with him.