“And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.” (Revelation 20:1-3)
Here we have the binding of the dragon for a thousand years. Note that it says “he laid hold on the dragon.” It is the dragon under consideration here. This dragon is identical with the great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns of Revelation 12. The fact that it said “the dragon” proves it is referring to something with which we have already been made acquainted. Otherwise, it would have said “a dragon” and have given a description of him to identify him. Therefore we conclude there is only one dragon considered throughout the book of Revelation, and “the dragon” of Revelation 20 is the same as the dragon of Revelation 12, which has already been discussed and identified at considerable length.
Revelation 20:1-3 is identical with the 12th chapter of Revelation, in that it reviews the same period and conditions, though under different symbols. The binding of the dragon and casting him down into the pit is identical with his being cast out of heaven or his high, exalted position in the hearts and minds of the people of the religious world. Jesus spoke of this same thing when He said, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” (Luke 10:18)
The angel which came down from heaven in chapter 20 properly represents the whole ministry of the early church who worked in such close contact with Christ through the Spirit, and in such unison with each other, that they properly stand together as one unified body that could be represented by one angel. The chain in his hand is the unbreakable chain of truth which exposes every false thing.
The works of the devil and all his false doctrines and religions can only live in darkness because he is the ruler of the darkness of this world. Truth is light. Light dispels darkness. When darkness is dispelled and the evil works of darkness and the devil are exposed they have no power to operate any more, hence, it is said this false system of religion (the dragon) was bound.
The dragon (paganism, heathenism, idolatrous worship) was overthrown and bound through the earnest, faithful work of the early church in getting the soul-enlightening truth to the world. Truth, in the hands of Michael and His angels (Christ and His ministers), prevailed. The glorious triumphs of the early church continued until about A.D. 270 when the overthrow of the dragon power in a general sense seemed to be complete. However, about this time there began a decline in spirituality among the children of God; this opened the way for a great apostasy and the falling away which finally led to the establishment of the Papal system about A.D. 530.
When the devil saw his first agent of deception (the dragon) was defeated and cast down, he just quickly changed his clothes, so to speak, and took on a Christian garb which he wore in the Papal system. Thus he continued right on with his work of deception and spiritual destruction, but by means of a different agent. Note, it was the dragon (the system) and not the devil himself which was bound, cast out, etc., for the devil continued his work right on in the beast of Revelation 13; he is the dominating spirit of Papalism as well as Paganism.
Note that Christ has seen fit in the Scriptures to personally identify Himself with His system of religion and the workings of His church in the earth. (The church in the Scriptures is called the Body of Christ, which would signify a body or group of people which was actuated and motivated and empowered to function by the Spirit of Christ within them.) We should understand then, that it would only be natural and proper for the devil to be personally identified with his system and work in the earth also. Hence, the dragon was called the devil and Satan.
The Papacy was given power to continue 42 months (Revelation 13:5). Counting 30 days to the month this would be 1260 days. Prophetic time was reckoned on the basis of a day for a year (Ezekiel 4:6) which would give us 1260 years that the Papacy was to continue.
Reckoning from the time set by most of the church fathers and historians for the beginning of the spiritual decline (A.D. 270) and continuing on ahead to the time of the Martin Luther Reformation, when the power of the papacy was broken (A.D. 1530), we have exactly 1260 years. We could not say that the papal system was destroyed or eliminated at the time of the Martin Luther Reformation, because it has continued even until now on a big scale, but its reign as a supreme religious power was broken. Then the prophetic narrative moves into another step or phase of false religion—Protestantism—which was to continue 350 years until the time of the Evening Light Reformation, when the true church of God as the visible functioning body of Christ was again restored to the earth.
The thousand-year time period used in this part of the prophecy—which measured the duration of the time the dragon was to be bound as well as the time the disembodied spirits of the martyrs were reigning with Christ in Paradise—could not be literally applied as an exact period of a thousand years’ duration. I did apply it this way in the original article printed in the February 1970 issue of Faith and Victory, but I see now that to apply it literally, and all other parts of the text as symbols, which they clearly are, would violate the fixed laws of interpreting symbols and miss the proper meaning. Neither can we apply the rule before used of a day for a year, for then we would have 360,000 years, which would throw the events described here clear out of harmony with all other related events described in the prophetic narrative. So, in order to preserve the consistency of the use and interpretation of symbols, we conclude that this thousand years is symbolic of a long, indefinite period of time. This thousand-year period, from the events described at its beginning and its ending, seems to span all the intervening time breaks connected with the different events in the progress of the prophetic history of the Revelation from the close of the early morning church age (about 270 A.D.) until the Evening Light Reformation age (about 1880 A.D.) when the true church of God was restored as the visible, functioning body of Christ in her pristine glory. The subsequent loosing of the dragon in the atheistic spirit and power of communism which is so rapidly covering the earth today and deceiving one nation after another in rapid succession, shortly following this reformation. The dragon had been the mortal enemy of the true church of God as she shined forth in all of her glory in the beginning of the Christian era. Now he comes forth to engage her in mortal combat again, when she comes forth in this evening time to shine again in all of her glory and beauty as in the morning time after being hid from view for more than 1600 years by the two major systems of apostasy—Papalism and Protestantism.
There have been three major systems of false religion in the earth—Paganism, Papalism, and Protestantism, in that order, and operating one at a time. The spirit of the devil has been predominant in all of them, changing from one to another as the power of each was broken by the power of God and His truth; and now in the last days they are all three operating in the world at the same time. If we understand this, then all of these different symbols of the Revelation will not be hard to understand clearly.
Now for a brief reference to verse 4 of Revelation 20: “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus… and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4) Note, it was not people upon this earth that is referred to here at all, but the souls of them that had been beheaded (the martyrs of Jesus) in paradise. This was the company that “loved not their lives unto the death.” (Rev. 12:11) This is the same thing referred to in Revelation 12:5 which says, “And her child was caught up to God and to His throne.”
This was that glorious company of converts who were not accounted worthy to live on the earth because of their faith in Christ, but were persecuted unto death. But as they were put to death down here, their souls ascended up to God. The victorious reign of the church, God’s true people, down here was cut off because they were not permitted to live here during that time, so the scene shifts from earth to paradise where they did live on and reigned with Christ during the long reign of Papal darkness (known as the Dark Ages), when the Papacy reigned supreme, and the 350 years of the Protestantism era (known as the dark and cloudy day), during which time the dragon was bound.
The thousand years (long, indefinite period of time) does not measure the duration of their reign at all. It did not end at that time. They are still living and reigning with Christ in Paradise and will continue to live and reign with Him eternally in heaven. The restoration of the true church of God in her full power and glory was accomplished through a Holy Spirit-filled ministry, preaching the Word of God in all of its fullness, which, when believed and obeyed, brings a full, free and uttermost salvation from sin. Thus salvation work on a general scale began again in the earth, and the people of God, His church, were again restored to that victorious, triumphant life upon the earth. So the prophetic scene shifts back down here where the work of salvation is being carried on, and just leaves this grand company to continue their reign with Christ in Paradise.