By David Baumann
A Reading from Revelation 20:1-10
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
4 Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshipped 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. 6Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these 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.
7 When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8and will come out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, in order to gather them for battle; they are as numerous as the sands of the sea. 9They marched up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 10And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Because of its strange and unfamiliar symbolism, many people either derive bizarre conclusions from the book of Revelation or are deterred from reading it altogether. This is unfortunate since its message is one of the most glorious of any of the books of the Bible. Its theme is that, though Christians will suffer in this life, the ultimate and eternal triumph is to be theirs, and the blessings which God has in store are so wonderful that we cannot imagine them. The book is written in mystical language, so its message is not straightforward — nonetheless, with a little familiarity with history, knowledge of the Old Testament, and understanding of ancient Jewish numerology, its message can be prized from its pages. For four days, we will read the last chapters of Revelation, which also consummate the entire Bible.
In this passage Satan the First Enemy is overthrown. We are reminded of his seduction of Eve (for he is called “the ancient serpent”), and his having been bound by Christ’s actions which limited his power and assured Christ’s ultimate conquest. The thousand years is the length of time from that binding until Satan’s complete overthrow. This is the time span between the Incarnation and the Second Coming; it is the age of the Church Militant, i.e. the Fighting Church. Satan is released a little before the end for the sifting of the faithful as Jesus had predicted (Mark 13:20). In the first resurrection and the second death, we see the two possible human ends: conversion to Christ and condemnation to hell. (There is no mention of a “second resurrection” or a “first death.”) Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38 and 39) refer to all of the world’s ungodly. The devil’s final attempt to overthrow the true Church fails, and he is thrown into the burning lake.
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of South West Tanganyika (Tanzania) and the Rt. Rev. Matthew Mhagama
Diocese of Esan (Nigeria) and the Most Rev. Friday Imaekhai
Grace Church, New York, N.Y.