A Top-Down Faith: The Devil Does His Worse, Yet Jesus Always Wins

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Watch the livestream beginning at 9 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Reading: Genesis 3:8-15 (NIV)
Second Reading: Revelation 20:1-6 (NIV)
Gospel: Mark 3:20-35 (NIV)


  • Hymn: CW 556 “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall”
  • Hymn: CW 871 “Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You”
  • Hymn: CW 574 “The Tree of Life”
  • Hymn: CW 863 “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

Pentecost 3                June 9, 2024
Revelation 20:1-6       Pastor Wolfe

A Thousand Years of Victory!

I wonder if the book of Revelation has gotten a reputation it doesn’t deserve. It’s been so misquoted, misinterpreted, and mistaken, I get the impression people think of it as a book that’s more trouble than it’s worth. A book that’s impossible to understand. Even a book that might be dangerous for a person to read. But really, that’s not the case at all. Revelation is a book you certainly have to read carefully. You have to control your imagination a little bit while you’re reading it, but it’s not dangerous. It’s really not even difficult most of the time. And it’s absolutely worth reading, especially in the world we live in today. There is one simple truth that gets repeated over and over in Revelation. The theme of the book is essentially the same as the theme of our service. Jesus wins! And he gives that victory to us.

The part of Revelation that we are looking at for our sermon today is one of the high points of the book. One of the crescendos of victory that gives us confidence to face struggles in life. In the typical figurative language of the book, God proclaims to us that we will enjoy with Jesus A Thousand Years of Victory! Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Here in Revelation 20, God tells us Blessed are those in the first resurrection, because they will escape the second death.

In 96 AD when Jesus gave the Apostle John this vision to write down, the church was suffering through extreme persecution. God wanted to reassure his people that even though the enemies of the church fought against him, he would bring victory in the end. Listen to the first two verses of our text. “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.”

One of the key features of Revelation is symbolism. It’s a figurative book meant to be taken figuratively. Some of those symbols are explained, some we can figure out ourselves, and others we may never know. John explains one of the symbols in this section for us. The dragon here, the ancient serpent, is Satan. Then there’s also an angel that comes down from heaven with a great chain and a key to the Abyss. He seizes hold of Satan and binds him for a thousand years. This isn’t difficult to figure out if you let the rest of the Bible do the work for you. Who holds the key to hell? Who came down from heaven and defeated Satan? Who would have the power to seize him and bind him? You know that’s Jesus of course. And when did he defeat Satan? Remember our sermon from last week? “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

Jesus disarmed Satan when he gave his life on the cross. Good Friday was the fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 3. Yes, Satan struck Jesus’ heal, painfully and powerfully. But it wasn’t a lasting wound. Jesus rose from death and in doing so he crushed our ancient enemy’s head. On the cross, at the empty tomb of Easter, Jesus seized Satan, destroyed his plans, and broke his power. Yes, Satan still thrashes around in his chains and he still works to drag us into the Abyss that was prepared for him, but he can’t just do whatever he wants. He’s like a vicious dog chained to a stake in the yard. He’s dangerous if you wander into his territory, but he can’t hurt you if you stay away. Remember that as you make your choices about who your friends are, what you watch, and what messages you consume. Satan is already defeated, but not completely disabled. Allow deceivers with so-called worldly wisdom to overwhelm the Word of truth in your life and you put yourself in danger. Mess around with Ouija boards and tarot cards and all of that stuff and you open the door to a spiritual arena best avoided. Jesus put that dog in chains. Let him lie alone.

It says here also that Jesus bound Satan for 1000 years. Perhaps no verse in all of Scripture has been as muddled and mangled as this one. There are some who believe that this verse refers to a literal 1000 years at the end of the world when believers will rule on the earth in power and glory. They’re wrong. And it’s not hard to see why this isn’t a literal 1000 years. First, just look at the verses around it. Every phrase in these first two verses is figurative. Jesus is called an angel. The devil is pictured as a dragon. Hell has a key and Satan is going to be bound with a great chain.

No, the numbers of Revelation are symbolic. Throughout the book the number 10 represents completion, a whole thing. In chapter 2 Jesus says that the church will suffer for 10 days. A short time, but a complete time. And the church does indeed suffer at the hands of the world. It’s always been that way and always will be. And it’s obviously symbolic because the church has suffered much longer than 10 days! The number one thousand then? If you’re good at math then you know that 1000 is just 10x10x10. A complete time, repeated for emphasis. The rest of Scripture prevents us from believing in a Christian utopia in this world. Think of the way Jesus described the last days. Not peace for believers, but persecution. Not a powerful and dominant church, but a world in which “the hearts of most will grow cold.” Not a world where everyone comes to believe, but where most reject us because they reject him.

No the thousand years isn’t some future heaven on earth. It’s the New Testament age that we live in now. The time between Jesus’ victory on the cross (Satan’s binding) and Jesus’ return at the end. God isn’t promising us 1000 years of heaven on earth. He’s promising us more. That in spite of persecution, in spite of enemies and trials and difficulties, in spite of the devil doing his absolute worst – we never have to worry that God isn’t in control. He’s defeated our enemy. He’ll bring us home to heaven not just for a thousand years but forever.

As we wait for these years to end before Jesus’ coming, God says that believers live and reign in heaven. Verse 4, “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 about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image (one of the helpers of Satan in Revelation) and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. (Another symbol of Revelation. It means they didn’t believe what he said.) They came to life and reigned with Christ 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.”

John’s attention turns from this sight of Satan’s binding to heaven, where there are thrones with the souls of the martyrs on them. (Souls because their bodies lie in the ground until the last day) There’s no passage of time here. The souls reigning in heaven are doing it now in this New Testament age. Unfortunately, the NIV editors let their beliefs affect their translation. In verse four the word translated “came to life” is a regular old past tense. It’s more natural (and better) just to say “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Think of that! There’s far more comfort here than some imaginary thousand years in the future. Jesus is saying that right now, even before he returns, believers live and reign with him. We have the comfort that everyone who dies in Christ is already now in heaven with him. Their souls are seated on the thrones of heaven, just as John saw here.

Satan can do his worst, but Jesus always wins. John says in verse five, “the rest of the dead”, (unbelievers) did not LIVE until the thousand years were ended.” They missed out on what John calls the “first resurrection.” Again, others might wonder what this means but it’s not a mystery to us. We just heard it last week in our sermon on Colossians 2: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” The first resurrection simply refers to this moment when God brought us to life. We were born as dead things spiritually – there was no life in us. We couldn’t do what God wants. We couldn’t earn our way into heaven. So God brought us to life. This is the new birth that Jesus spoke about with Nicodemus. It’s the new life that the Holy Spirit created in us. It’s the new person that we have and that we are because of faith. That’s the first resurrection from death to life. On the last day when our bodies rise to be united with our souls? That will actually be the second time God raised us from death to life. Praise God for victory in Jesus!

Finally, because we’ve been raised from spiritual death into life, John also says of believers, “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.” Everyone in the world is born into the first death of sin, and if nothing changes it will end in the permanent second death of hell. But if you are here because you trust in Jesus for salvation… If you have faith in Christ… Then you don’t need to fear hell. You don’t need to fear punishment for sin because God has raised you to life and separated you from death. There is no enemy too powerful or fear too great. Another top-down truth from God.

Our three readings today really paint us the whole picture don’t they? The devil did his worst in the garden, separating us from God in sin. But the war was over before it began. Already there God promised a Savior who would not fail. A Savior who could cast out demons with a word and preach with power never seen. And because of his victory at the cross and tomb, this picture of heaven we see in Revelation is a promise of our future to come. Jesus has given us a thousand years of victory. May we live for him and serve him faithfully until he returns in glory to take us to glory. Praise our God and Savior. Amen.

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