Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 20:1–3

Revelation 20:1–3
Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. 2 He seized the dragon — the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan — and tied him up for a thousand years. 3 The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.)
(NET Bible)

The Millennium

There comes a point where you have to decide: is Jesus really Lord of all? Some live as if he only rules spiritual matters; others discount him altogether.

In a skeptical age, go all-in with Jesus! He is the All-Powerful Lord who will really return, really hurl Satan into the lake of fire, and really deliver you into a tangible eternity of joy!

NT commentators are agreed that Revelation 20 is the most debated chapter of all, and this debate hinges on the timing of Christ’s return in relation to a period of time known as the Millennium. The word millennium is borrowed from Latin into English, and it means “a thousand years.”

This post reflects my view that Jesus will physically return prior to the Millennium to establish a literal rule of righteousness upon the earth for a period lasting an actual one thousand years. For those familiar with the language, that is a premillennial position because Jesus returns before the Millennium. The earliest church fathers also held premillennial views.[1]

This phrase “a thousand years” is important because it occurs six times in Revelation 2–7 as a translation of the Greek phrase chilia et? (“a thousand years”). What happens during this period of one thousand years? First, Satan will be bound securely in the abyss so that he cannot deceive the nations (20:3). Second, Christ will rule the nations of the world along with those who have believed in him, both living and resurrected (20:4). Third, the unbelieving dead will remain in Hades until the Millennium ends and final judgment occurs (20:5).

Recall that the military opposition to Christ’s return and the rulers leading that resistance were utterly destroyed (19:21). So, whom does Jesus rule? He rules the billions of largely unbelieving people who did not gather at Armageddon with those who were destroyed.[2] Jesus will not destroy the nations at Armageddon but rather the military forces gathered there in armed resistance.

Revelation 20:1–10 breaks into three parts: before the Millennium (verses 1–3), during the Millennium (verses 4–6), and after the Millennium (verses 7–10). Our passage for today shows how Satan will be securely confined for the thousand years during which Jesus will rule the world. We will elaborate on that rule in the next post.

If you expect some furious battle when the angel comes to seize and confine Satan, then you will be surprised. Satan is in no way equal to God in power, so the angel holding the key and the chain will have no difficulty securing the prisoner in the abyss (19:2–3).

You probably realize that the many views on this chapter arise from various assumptions made about which elements are literal and which symbolic. I have already revealed that I generally take the elements as literal. So, I conclude John saw an actual angel holding a real key and chain. The angel will confine Satan in a real place where he has no direct influence over humanity. Of his eventual and temporary release at the end of the age (19:3b), I will explain that another day.

Satan’s days are numbered

Though Satan will be bound after Christ returns, for now he remains at large as a desperate threat. If you do not take his existence seriously, then you may find yourself deceived by a world he covertly rules (1 Pet. 5:8). But the ease of Satan’s future capture should give you a jolt.

Never forget that even Jesus was tempted by Satan over an extended period (Matthew 4) and then later (Luke 22:39–46). You too will be tempted, but one day all temptation will end forever!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 470.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 703.

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Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!