A lot of theological thought and ink has been expended on the first 6 verses of Revelation 20, and all because it mentions six times a thousand years, yet nowhere else in the Bible is this time frame ever mentioned.
The futurist sees it as a literal one thousand years after Jesus has returned. The problem is that much of Revelation is not literal, it’s in sign and symbol – sometimes that’s explained, at others it’s assumed to be understood by those in the know, and a great deal of it finds it’s meaning in the Old Testament.
I used to believe this was literal, I used to believe the majority of Revelation was in the future, the near future, any moment now (that was 30 odd years ago) – no more. The bulk of it is in the past, with only the end of the book pointing to the future.
The thousand years is no more literal than a literal beast. Some say 10 is the number of human government. Well a 1000 is multiples of 10, so perhaps we could say that it refers to a long period of human government – certainly the idea seems to be of a very long period of time.
Though this is the only time a ‘millenium age’ is mentioned in scripture it’s not the only time a 1000 is, in fact it’s used several times, one example being the cattle on a thousand hills belonging to God, but we would never think for one moment that that means God doesn’t own the cattle on the 1001st or the 1002nd hill. Strict literalism can get you into all sorts of trouble.
Another thing that we should no notice is that it says nothing about Jesus coming to, and reigning on earth during this time – the vision appears to be entirely heavenly – there is no millenial reign of Christ on earth.
The chains too are no more literal than the idea of a literal Dragon in Rev. 12 (can you chain an angel?), but rather tells us in symbolic language that the Devil is bound in such a way as to stop him deceiving the nations – previously he had had what would appear to be ‘free reign’ (he even offered Jesus a short cut to the kingdoms of this world, and Jesus did not say they weren’t his to give), but no more! Yes we can go and preach the gospel and disciple all nations, and the devil cannot stop it, his power to hold them in darkness has been broken!
Another thing to notice, is that those who would soon lose their lives in the Great Tribulation for their testimony about Jesus, were actually very much alive, and not only that they were reigning with Jesus – yes some would suffer, but God had assured them and continued to assure them that he knew who they were and though they might loose their lives they would one day be with him, and reign with him – the devil certainly didn’t have have last word! Encouragement indeed to stay true to Jesus. Not only that, they were now in the place of exercising judgment.
What is happening on earth during the 1000 years? The gospel is advancing, Christ is building his church – a glorious church, ‘without spot or wrinkle’ as Paul puts it, of people from every tibe and tongue and nation, and that church is to be both light and salt, challenging and changing the world it is in.