Revelation 20:1-10 – The Millenium – Ben Warfield

From The Princeton Theological Review, v. 2, 1904, pp. 599-617.

With the opening of the twentieth chapter the scene changes (xx. 1-10). Here we are not smitten in the face with the flame and flare of war: it is a spectacle of utter peace rather that is presented to us. The peace is, however, it must be observed, thrown up against a background of war. The vision opens with a picture of the descent of an angel out of heaven who binds “the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan,” for a thousand years. Then we see the saints of God reigning with their Lord, and we are invited to contemplate the blessedness of their estate. But when Satan is bound we are significantly told that after the thousand years “he must be loosed for a little time.” The saints themselves, moreover, we are informed, have not attained their exaltation and blessedness save through tribulation. They have all passed through the stress of this beast-beset life – have all been “beheaded” for the testimony of Jesus. And at the end we learn of the renewed activity of Satan and his final destruction by fire out of heaven.

This thousand-year peace that is set before us is therefore a peace hedged around with war. It was won by war; the participants in it have come to it through war; it ends in war. What now is this thousand-year peace? It is certainly not what we have come traditionally to understand by the “millennium,” as is made evident by many considerations, and sufficiently so by this one: that those who participate in it are spoken of as mere “souls” (ver. 4) – “the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God.” It is not disembodied souls who are to constitute the Church during its state of highest development on earth, when the knowledge of the glory of God covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. Neither is it disembodied souls who are thought of as constituting the kingdom which Christ is intending to set up in the earth after His advent, that they may rule with Him over the nations. And when we have said this, we are surely following hard on the pathway that leads to the true understanding of the vision. The vision, in one word, is a vision of the peace of those who have died in the Lord; and its message to us is embodied in the words of xiv. 13: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth” – of which passage the present is indeed only an expansion.

The picture that is brought before us here is, in fine, the picture of the “intermediate state” – of the saints of God gathered in heaven away from the confused noise and garments bathed in blood that characterize the war upon earth, in order that they may securely await the end.8 The thousand years, thus, is the whole of this present dispensation, which again is placed before us in its entirety, but looked at now relatively not to what is passing on earth but to what is enjoyed “in Paradise.” This, in fact, is the meaning of the symbol of a thousand years. For, this period between the advents is, on earth, a broken time – three and a half years, a “little time” (ver. 3)9 – which, amid turmoil and trouble, the saints are encouraged to look upon as of short duration, soon to be over. To the saints in bliss it is, on the contrary, a long and blessed period passing slowly and peacefully by, while they reign with Christ and enjoy the blessedness of holy communion with Him – “a thousand years.”

Revelation 20:1-10