The meaning of the thousand years is very much discussed today. How should we interpret the passage? It helps us to see what is happening when we realise that four different events are described in the chapter and we will focus on each of them briefly. They are (1) the binding of the devil, (2) the reign of the martyrs, (3) the defeat of God’s enemies and (4) the day of judgement. We will consider the first today and the others tomorrow.
What is meant by the curtailing of the devil? In the account, he is chained and thrown into a bottomless pit and a secure lid is placed over it. The imagery of this pit suggests that devil finds it impossible to get out of this curtailment. He is always falling down the pit, and even if he managed to reverse this he cannot get past the lid. The reason why he is placed within this pit is to prevent him from deceiving the nations for the period of the thousand years.
We should ask a couple of questions at this stage. First, when was the period when the devil deceived the nations? One answer would be that he did so during the centuries before Jesus came. Since Jesus ascended to heaven and began to build his worldwide church, it cannot be said that all the nations are deceived. So we can deduce that during that period the devil is prevented from hindering the complete spread of the gospel.
A second question concerns the nature of the binding. If the period of the church is the same as the thousand years, we can see lots of places where the devil seems to hold millions in spiritual blindness. The binding does not mean that he is inactive. Instead it means that he cannot do what he used to do. God limits the range of the devil’s influence.
Here, the devil is said to be the ancient serpent mentioned in Genesis 3 as the creature who tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God in the Garden of Eden. On that occasion, the Lord announced that a Champion would come and defeat the serpent. That prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus defeated the devil at the cross.
There are several comforts that we can take from this reality. First, the binding is evidence that God is in control. Second, the activity of Jesus on the cross included defeating the devil and the removal of his power over the nations. Jesus did defeat the powers of darkness when he was on the cross, as Paul states in Colossians 2:15. Third, during this long period represented by the thousand years, the gospel will triumph among the nations as the kingdom of Jesus progresses.