Apocalyptic Elements in Revelation 20:1-4

As I mentioned last time, I’ll begin our study of Revelation 20-22 by discussing the apocalyptic elements of the text first, with an emphasis on chapter 20.

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. (20:1-3)

The Binding of Satan The first image we find is the binding of Satan, which is an odd image in light of all of the activity we have seen in the first 19 chapters of Revelation. We have already discussed the Abyss, and you no doubt recall that it is the dwelling place of demons as we found from Jewish apocalyptic literature of the period. Satan has been deceiving the nations since Genesis 3 and Jesus called him “a liar and the father of lies” in John 8:44. He has used governmental authorities, false prophets and many other human agents to turn people against Christ and His Church throughout this present age (see Rev. 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:8, 10). In addition, Jesus and the Apostles predicted that this would be the case (e.g. Matt. 24:4-5, 11, 24; Mark 13:5-6; Luke 21:8; 2 Thess. 2:11-12; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; 2 Jn. 7).  The angel imprisons Satan in the Abyss “for a thousand years”. We will discuss the “thousand years” next time.

The image of Satan being locked up or bound is one that is fairly common in Jewish apocalyptic writings as illustrated by 1 Enoch 10:4-6…

And again the Lord said to Raphael: ‘Bind Azazel (Satan) hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there for ever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire.

(cf. Isa. 24:21-22; 1 Enoch 18:12-19:1; 21:1-10; 54:1-6; 67-69; Test. Levi 18:12; Jubilee 5:10)

A Christian example of this kind of image is found in 2 Peter 2:4…

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment

We will discuss this element further when we get to our conclusions.(cf. Mark 3:26-27; Jude 6)

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life… (20:4a)

The resurrection of Christian Martyrs. To the image of the binding of Satan, John adds the resurrection of martyrs, the “new Israel” or New Covenant people. These are the ones who have not worshipped the beast or had his mark placed upon them; in short, they have paid a price for resisting the pressure brought to bear against them to abandon their relationship with Jesus Christ. Both Jewish and Christian writers have written about the idea of the faithful being raised up to participate in the final judgment. To illustrate, consider the following from the Wisdom of Solomon:

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them. In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them for ever. (Wisd. Sol. 3:1-8 RSV)

Consider Jesus’ words in Matt. 19:28…

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Paul also commented on this theme:

Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

1 Corinthians 6:2-3

As you can see, John has followed this tradition with the image of the martyrs being raised to life and reigning and judging with Christ at the last day.  Next time, we’ll pick with the third apocalyptic element of this section, the Millennial Reign of Christ, see you there!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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1 Response to Apocalyptic Elements in Revelation 20:1-4

  1. Thanks Don for this interesting trip through the last book.

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