Now we will look in more detail at the passage itself, which is best divided into two parts. To begin, we have verses 1-3, which describe the binding of Satan. Then we have verses 4-6, which describe the thousand-year reign of Christians with Christ.
2. A Closer Look At Revelation 20:1-6 Itself.
We will start by focusing on verses 1-3.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.
There are several things we can say about these verses.
Satan is bound for 1,000 years. What is the purpose? “So that he might not deceive the nations any longer.” This binding is reminiscent of other texts in which we learn Satan is defeated and contained in Jesus’ victory over him through the cross and resurrection (Mt. 12:26-29; Rev. 12:7-9). It also coincides with a greater coming to Jesus by the nations, as prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 59:19-62:12). This binding of Satan is best taken as the ending of the times of ignorance (Acts 17:30), that time when the nations were, for the most part, lost—during the years of God’s working primarily through Israel. Since once Satan is released, he will gather the enemies of Christ to band together to attack the church (7-9), “We conclude, then, that the binding of Satan during the gospel age means that, first, he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel, and second, he cannot gather all the enemies of Christ together to attack the church.”
Since Revelation is full of symbolic numbers, it would be consistent that the 1,000 years is a symbolic reference. “Since the number ten signifies completeness, and since a thousand is ten to the third power, we may think of the expression ‘a thousand years’ as standing for a complete period, a very long period of indeterminate length” which would occur between the first and second comings of Christ in light of the structure of Revelation.
“Since the ‘lake of fire’ mentioned in verses 10, 14, and 15 obviously stands for the place of final punishment, the ‘bottomless pit’ or ‘abyss’ mentioned in verses 1 and 3 must not be the place of final punishment. The latter term should rather be thought of as a figurative description of the way in which Satan’s activities will be curbed during the thousand-year period.”
That this binding is real, but that the words in the text which depict it are symbolic and not literal are seen in the fact that a non-corporeal being is being bound with chains. How does that take place literally? It does not.
So, what is Revelation 20:1-3 talking about? It addresses a greater working of God among the nations, through the Church, so that people from all over the world will come to know Christ and take their place among the Church. Though Satan still works and brings much damage (cf. Eph. 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8; Rev. 6:1-8; 12:1-6, 10), nevertheless God also is currently bringing about a great work and a great harvest at one and the same time that many trials and much persecution are taking place.
These verses read:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
There are several points I want to make about these three verses that should help us understand them better.
The thousand year period of verses 4-6 should be seen as the same period verses 1-3 addressed. We have already seen that period extends from the first to the second comings of Jesus Christ and so, just like there, the reference to a thousand years is figurative, rather than literal.
Justice, especially for those martyred, is an important theme in Revelation (cf. 6:9-11). It is significant, then, that these saints are pictured seated on thrones and given authority to judge in some manner (Mt. 19:28 shows that reigning and judging go together). These three verses picture Christians who have died (martyrs probably stand for all Christians who have died as is the case earlier in the book (6:9-11). We must note that these saints are in heaven. After all, the word “throne” is used 47 times in Revelation and all but three (2:13; 13:2; 16:10) appear to be in heaven. There is little doubt, then, that this reigning is taking place in heaven and not on earth. It might even be said that verses 1-3 picture what takes place on earth from the first to second comings of Christ and verses 4-6 picture what takes place in heaven.
It needs to be noted that this text says nothing about Christ or saints reigning on earth (what would be necessary for it to reference a 1,000 reign of Christ and saints on earth). That concept needs to be brought into the text by implication. If, however, as we are suggesting, the better explanation for this entire passage is what the amillennialist puts forth, then there is no need to bring in that concept of an earthly reign.
Even though the words, “they came to life” (v. 4) can refer to a physical resurrection (See Mt. 9:18; Rm. 14:9; 2 Cor. 3:14; Rev. 2:8 where the same verb is used for physical resurrection) and certainly the words in v. 5, “this is the first resurrection,” let us know that this coming to life is a kind of resurrection, we are led away from seeing it as the future bodily resurrection of saints since that appears to be covered later on in verses 11-13. What we have here involves those in Jesus Christ passing from this life to even greater life in heaven. It is so much greater, even though it still does not involve the future bodily resurrection, that there is no way to describe it other than this—it is as if they are coming to life; they are being raised! Those who have true life are coming to know even greater and fuller life.
Most likely the words “first” and “second” (Rev. 20:5, 6, 14; 21:1) are not intended merely as ordinal numbers. Rather they describe what has to do with this present age (“first”) and the eternal age to come (“second”). What we learn, then, in the larger context is that those who have been given new life in this age and experienced that first resurrection will not undergo the second death. Rather, they will experience the new heaven and new earth (which is equal to the second heaven and earth—that of the new age). Additionally, those who have not experienced the first resurrection will experience the second death (which is equal to the lake of fire) and will not experience the second or new heaven and earth.
In verse 5, John’s clause, “the rest of the dead did not come to life unto the thousand years were ended,” is parenthetical. So, the subsequent clause, “this is the first resurrection,” refers back to the end of verse 4, before John offers the parenthesis. This parenthetical statement in v. 5 appears primarily to be stressing that those apart from Christ do not experience the greater life during this age. And, the only “greater” life they will have is that of being resurrected to face judgment and eternal conscious punishments (cf. vv. 11-15).
Finally, in verse 6, the fact that these “raised” believers who are reigning with Christ are “priests of God and of Christ,” suggests that the picture here is parallel to Rev. 5:9-10, a vision of heaven that takes place during this inter-advent age.
So, in all aspects of Revelation 20:1-6 (the explanation of the six verses, as well as structure and context) we conclude that the best explanation is that offered by Amillennialists (or Realized Millennialists).
What is left to do is to outline what is significant about properly understanding this text. In other words, what are some points of application that arise from this passage?
3. Some Points Of Application That Arise From This Passage.
To start, we should gain courage and boldness to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. During the present age, though Satan still has great power and can wreak much havoc, he has not only been defeated, but his ability to deceive the different ethnic groups through the world and to keep them in spiritual darkness has been very much curtailed. This is why we have seen so much success in missions in this age. It is also why we can step out in faith and great hope that God will continue to work mightily to bring the different ethnic groups to himself in salvation.
Additionally, we are certain that if we know Jesus Christ as Savior, if we die before he returns, we will go from experiencing true life in this age to even greater life in his presence. And, we will still look forward to even greater life than that when our bodies are resurrected and we are reunited with them as spiritually and physically glorified (perfect) saints.
What is more, we are certain that the future second death has no power over us. We are assured in Christ we will go from life to more life and enter into our eternal joy.
Though the circumstances of this world often seem to suggest otherwise, Jesus Christ presently reigns over all things. Though this reign is not recognized and appreciated by all (which awaits a future time), it does bring encouragement to his people as we go through this hostile age and face hostile cultures.
Finally, we are reminded the next big thing we are awaiting that arrives with the future coming of Jesus Christ is the full future, eternal kingdom of God the Father and Son, the new heaven and earth. There is no need to have an additional period or kind of kingdom as all the promises made to Israel under the old Covenant are fulfilled in the true end-times Israel, comprised of Jews and Gentiles. Truly we as the New Covenant Church are the people of God, the apple of his eye, and not part of a second-class group of God’s people—a Plan B.
Joyfully Following Our Reigning Christ With You,
 Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 228.
 Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 227.
 Hoekema, The Bible And The Future, 227-28.
 Anthony Hoekema explains: “Premillennialists understand what is described in verses 11-13 as the resurrection of unbelievers which, they claim, occurs after the millennium, since the resurrection of believers has taken place before the millennium. The separation of the resurrection of unbelievers from that of believers by a thousand years, however, must be challenged, particularly in view of Jesus’ words in John 5:28-29.” That text reads: “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” So, it is better to take verses 11-13 as referring to the resurrection of all—believers and unbelievers.