3rd Sunday after Pentecost
This is the day the LORD has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it! In the name of Jesus, our ruling Savior, dear friends in Christ, Someone once said, “If I wished to punish my enemy, I should make him hate someone.” Hate is a strong word, isn’t it? It is an intense and passionate dislike for someone or something. The interesting thing about hate is that it tears apart the person who has it and constantly looks to try and tear apart the object of the hate.
Did you know that there is someone who absolutely and totally hates you? There is someone who wants nothing more than for you to fail, to laugh at your misery, and to ridicule you at any opportunity. He wants the absolute worst for you. He wants nothing less than to see your life turn into an absolute disaster and he wants nothing less than for your death day to begin an eternal torment of which there is no end. That’s what he wants for you. There is someone who fights with all he has in order to bring you down. He hates the fact that you are here, he hates the fact that you sit in a pew and sing praise to God, he hates it that you bow your head in humility and pray to God, finally, he hates you. You’ve probably guessed who it is, the devil, Satan.
There is a real war going on around us every day. Satan’s fate has been sealed. He’s doomed to suffer eternally in torment of the dungeon of hell. And until the Last Day he has just one goal: to bring as many people down into misery with him that he possibly can, including you and me. And he will use whatever means possible to achieve that.
The book of Revelation was first written to believers who were facing some intense persecutions for their faith. Christians were being robbed of their possessions, they were being imprisoned and exiled, many of them were being put to death. The apostle John himself was put in exile on the island of Patmos for preaching God’s Word, in chapter 2 of Revelation we’re told about someone named Antipas who was put to death because of his faith, others were put in prison because of their faith, in chapter 6 of Revelation we hear about believers who were put to death for their faith. Keep in mind that this is also a time when the Christian church was very small. By every outward appearance it looked rather dismal. There must have been many Christians who were tempted to wonder whether Jesus’ promise that all the power of the devil would never be able to destroy the church was really true. And some Christians fell away from the faith, Satan was tickled.
But in this section we’re given incredible comfort from God of the true reality of things. We’re told, “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.” The “angel” is probably Jesus Himself. In Greek the word “angel” is the same word for “messenger” and clearly Jesus was the greatest messenger to our world. The “abyss” is hell. So what about this chain? Is he talking about a literal steel chain that He binds the devil with? Well, you can’t take a physical steel chain and bind something that is a spirit. It doesn’t work that way. So what is the chain? What binds Satan? What hinders the devil’s work, what chains Satan is when God’s Word is proclaimed, whenever God’s Word is spread Satan is bound.
“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.” So, if the “chain” was a word picture in the previous verse, would it make sense that the 1,000 years would also be a word picture? Sure! Well, in the book of Revelation there are a bunch of numbers that are used in symbolic ways. The number 10 is used through out the book as the number of completeness. So, 10 x10 x 10 would equal 1,000 or a complete number. In other words, God is saying that He has determined a specific amount of time that the devil will be bound and it is a complete amount of time. And what is that time? The 1,000 years is really the symbolic way to picture the entire NT era, the entire time from Jesus’ ascension into heaven until the day when Jesus will return on Judgement Day. In other words, it’s going on right now, we’re living in the 1,000 years and Satan is bound, he is bound as God’s Word continues to be spread freely and without error.
“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 (better, came to an end). After that, he must be set free for a short time.” The picture language continues, in other words, the devil is locked, he is chained, he can’t do whatever he wants.
Now that doesn’t mean he doesn’t try. We’re also told that the devil is very active, like a roaring lion looking to devour people. The devil’s goal is to deceive. That’s what we saw in our first lesson with Adam and Eve. He led them to trust in him instead of in God. The devil is constantly trying to lead people to trust in anyone or anything other than God. He wants people to trust in their own ingenuity, to trust in Allah, to trust in their own good deeds, anything but God. In the OT times, the times before Jesus came to this earth, the devil seemed to be able to deceive whole nations of Gentiles, non-Jews. Only few Gentiles were brought to faith in the true God. But then Jesus came. Jesus lived the perfect life for all humans, Jesus died as the payment for the sins of all. Now, Satan can no longer accuse people, no longer can he say God must punish us for our sins, our debt has been paid, our sins forgiven. And this good news is to be spread to every nation of people. Just think about these NT times. Millions and millions of Gentiles have been brought into God’s kingdom. God has opened the eyes of millions and millions of Gentiles to the truth of our salvation. But we’re also given a sober reminder, as our world gets closer and closer to the end, Satan will work harder and more ferociously and even have success in quieting God’s Word and polluting it with false teachings.
“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 for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. The lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” We need to read this carefully. Notice who is reigning? It isn’t Jesus (of course, we know Jesus is reigning, but that’s not the thought here). Here it’s the souls of those who had been beheaded for their faith in Jesus! They are sitting on thrones! Can you imagine? Those people who had been beheaded and killed because they refused to give up their Christian faith, their bodies were very much dead, but their souls are very much alive! They were with Christ and were reigning with Him as kings! It seemed like they were defeated, but they were actually better off now than they had been before!
What does it mean that they hadn’t received the mark of the beast? The beast seems to refer to the Antichrist. And the Antichrist’s main teaching is that you can be saved by what you do, that you have to earn heaven. So, if you believe that, you’re an unbeliever, you’ve rejected Jesus and what Jesus has done on the cross for you.
One more note, “they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” That’s a bad translation. Better would be “They lived and reigned with Christ.” “Live” and “reign” are both the same tense. Remember that when we’re born into this world, we’re born dead in our sins, spiritually dead. We can’t do anything on our own. But then God comes with His Word and the Sacraments and brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life. We live! When you were brought to faith, you were given spiritual life and as such, even when your body dies, your soul never dies, your soul goes on living forever with the Lord. That’s what Jesus told Mary and Martha, “Whoever believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” So, as we live, throughout the 1,000 years of the NT era we actually reign with Jesus!
“The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part 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.” The “rest of the dead” are those who remain in unbelief. They are “dead” even when they are “alive.” Even though they may be physically alive, they are spiritually dead. At the end of the NT era, the end of the 1,000 years, the Last Day, they will be raised to physical life, but for the purpose of being sent to hell. Why? Because they never were part of the “first resurrection.” YOU have had part in the first resurrection, for Jesus has raised you to spiritual life! Jesus has convinced you that He is your Savior! Because God has raised you to life, you have nothing to fear from the “second death.” The “second death” is eternal death in hell. You have been brought to spiritual life, you need fear hell no longer, the devil himself cannot hold terror over you, Jesus has opened the doors of heaven for you!
And think about what that means for our lives. Yes, there is someone who prowls around our world seeking to devour you, yes he will continue to hate you all the days of your life, yes he will try to make sin look enticing for you and me, yes he will try to get us to see all the garbage of the world, to experience suffering and trouble, and try to lead us to doubt God’s love, God’s power, God’s grace and kindness, God’s control, God’s rule. Why? Because he hates you and he wants you to suffer with him.
But look at what God tells you! You’ve been raised to spiritual life, not only when you die will you continue to live and reign with Christ, but you live and reign with Christ even now! You live and reign with Christ throughout this “1,000” years of the NT era until Jesus returns. You reign because God guides all things for your benefit! You reign because God takes into account your prayers in His master governing of the universe! You reign because with God’s Word the devil must flee from you and he cannot have his way with you because God has him on a chain and the more you know God’s Word and make it known to others, the devil’s chain gets shorter and shorter.
So, continue in God’s Word, continue to dig in it, and as you do your reign with Christ becomes more and more glorious. Amen.