Current Issue

When I was a boy, I desperately wanted to drive the family car. Dad made it look so easy. He’d slide smoothly into the driver’s seat, and it seemed like all he did was turn the key and step on the gas, and the car lunged forward. I hungered for the time when I could become as nonchalant as he was behind the wheel.

Farm boys like me learned to drive earlier than city kids, so I think I was 14 when Dad climbed in on the passenger side and gestured me into the driver’s seat. Glancing at him, I discovered that all of his nonchalance had evaporated. Now, he looked nervous.

“Now listen to me,” he said tensely and then rattled off a lot of surprising steps I hadn’t thought of. Push in the clutch (we had a manual transmission), release the emergency brake, put the shift in first gear, turn the key, race the engine a couple of times, s-l-o-w-l-y let out the clutch, gather speed, push in the clutch, shift to second, let out the clutch, and so on. And all this time, I had to keep the big picture in mind—I was now in complete charge of 2,000 pounds of motorized metal and had to keep alert for other motorized metal in my vicinity.

All this first-time pressure led to a lot of lurching, tire-squealing, and perspiring, accompanied by panicky roars from my copilot. And this was all because I wasn’t used to the surprises that stood in the way of a satisfying car trip.

meet the millennium!

Have you ever read all the way through Revelation, the Bible’s final book? If you have, maybe it felt something like riding along with 14-year-old me on my maiden car cruise—shudders, swerves, brake squeals, and some pretty dangerous drama. However, by the time you arrived at chapters 21 and 22, you found yourself safe in a happy eternity.

But just before Revelation’s blissful end, some totally unexpected surprises surface in chapter 20, and they can be truly challenging. That may be why you don’t hear a lot of sermons about the main subject of the chapter—the millennium. Although puzzling, we shouldn’t skip over it because that thousand-year period is firmly a part of “the revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants” (Revelation 1:1).

Also, the millennium’s surprises reveal some breathtaking and heart-satisfying truths about God. So right now, find a Bible, or access one online, and read the first ten verses of Revelation 20. Continue reading here when you’re done.

OK, what do you think? Did you spot some surprises? For me, there are at least three. And each of them could be life changing. Let’s review them, starting with the first two verses:

“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.”

surprise one: God will “catch and release” Satan

Whoa. God sets the bound Satan free? Like “catch and release”? Truly? Why doesn’t God simply “catch and destroy”? Of course, it’s encouraging that Satan’s final freedom will be only “for a short time.” But why deal with Satan this way? After all he’s done, doesn’t the devil deserve the worst—as quickly as possible?

Park this first surprise on the shelf for a moment while we get some background on the millennium. Millennium simply means “a thousand years.” But when did—or when will—the millennium happen? Well, notice what events mark its beginning and its end. Those thousand years start with Satan’s imprisonment, which keeps him from deceiving people, and the period ends with him being released and briefly allowed to deceive again (verse 7).

Think back in history. Since Adam and Eve trudged out of Eden, has there ever been a thousand-year period when all of humanity has been free of Satan’s deceptions? No. How about right now? Tragically, no. A glance at the news shows that both nations and individuals are still under Satan’s deceptive spell.

That means the millennium is still in the future. But when? Verse 5 mentions “the first resurrection,” which happens at Jesus’ return, when “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Jesus hasn’t returned yet, but when He does, the “dead in Christ” will rise, and the millennium will begin.

Let’s read verse four, where we find the second surprise:

“I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.”

Here’s the millennium’s second surprise.

surprise two: God shares His authority to judge

Logically, allowing humans to judge doesn’t make sense. God knows everything; humans don’t. As Abraham said in Genesis 18:25, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” As years of tortured history have shown, humans are biased, but God isn’t. Humans are sinful; God isn’t. Yet here in Revelation 20:4, thrones are set up, and sitting on those thrones are seated “those who [have] been given authority to judge.”

Who are these non-divine judges? Paul gives us a clue in 1 Corinthians 6:2 and 3: “Do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? . . . Do you not know that we will judge angels?” This is definitely surprising, even breathtaking, right?

Guess what? I’m going to ask you to do some more shelf storage. Park “God shares His judging” right up on the shelf beside “God will catch and release Satan” because the third surprise about the millennium will make sense of the first two.

Revelation 20 is the only Bible chapter where the millennium is mentioned—but it’s mentioned six times in the first seven verses. A thousand years is a long time—think of all the history that happens over a thousand years. Maybe that’s the biggest surprise of all. Why would an all-powerful God, who knows us totally and judges us wisely, need to suspend the future while a millennium drags slowly along?

At least part of the answer is found in verse 6:

“Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

So, everybody who came to life in the first resurrection is “reigning” with Christ during the millennium. We aren’t given details about what that means, but it is concurrent with the judging identified in verse 4—a judicial review of the cases God has already rendered judgment on, maybe something like an appeals court.

But why? Why the wait? Why would an all-knowing God need this monumental delay? And why would His faithful people, already deemed worthy to receive back their lives at the resurrection, already judged as safe to enter heaven, need this delay?

The answer, I think, is the millennium’s most staggering surprise:

surprise three: God wants satisfied minds

What’s surprising is that God wants every mind to be satisfied. Not just the Christians, not just the converted, not just the repentant thief on the cross. God wants the minds of those enthroned millennium judges—those human beings who will be looking over the cases of the righteous and wicked—to be satisfied with everything He has done or allowed. And God wants the stubbornly wicked pre-Flood people to look into the eyes of the One who loved them. God wants to make sure that every human being who ever lived understands the reasons for their fate.

But even knowing those reasons, the resurrected wicked won’t repent.

Verse 5: “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.”

In other words, when Satan is temporarily released from his thousand-year imprisonment, his human followers will be temporarily resurrected. But their minds and attitudes haven’t changed.

Verses 7–9: “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.”

For one last time, the unrepentant ones will let themselves be deceived by Satan. They’re so conditioned to stubborn selfishness that he’ll easily seduce them again and rouse them to rebellion, and they’ll follow him to their doom.

And finally, everyone—literally everyone—will fully understand the difference between those who follow the selfless Savior and those who follow the rebellious narcissist.

Sobering thoughts, right? But evil must end. And God takes responsibility for making sure it does.

You see, the whole point of the millennium is choice.

Once upon a time in heaven, the most talented and privileged angel made a choice—to turn his back on God and inspire others to hate Him as well. And this hellish choice has festered and blossomed in generations of hearts since then, instigating pain, abuse, torture, and war.

But that’s not the only choice available. The other is to let the Holy Spirit change our hearts through the Bible’s teachings so that we’ll come to understand and be in harmony with all that God’s patient love has tried to do.

It’s up to you. Where would you like to spend the millennium?

Maylan Schurch is a pastor in Washington State and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.

The Millennium's Three Surprises

by Maylan Schurch
From the May 2024 Signs