Revelation 20.1-6

Does God only own the cattle on a thousand hills (see Psalm 50)? Are we meant to forgive only 490 times (see Matthew 18)? Or are these numbers figurative?

When The Revelation speaks about the rule of Christ for 1,000 years some take that to mean Jesus will only triumph for a period of time (literally 1,000 years) before his reign is interrupted, contested and finally reasserted. To be clear, Revelation chapter 20 is the only place in the entire Bible that could even be misconstrued to mean something like that.

And it doesn’t mean that.

The numbers in Revelation are always symbols, not statistics. These few references to a 1,000 reign are meant to emphasize that the martyrs reign with Christ rather than specify the duration of their government (never mind the fact that the Second Testament repeatedly makes it clear that Jesus is reigning already {see Matt. 12.28-29, Mk 1.14-15, Luke 17.20-21, John 12.12-15, Acts 2.30-36} and that we, too, are reigning with him {see Eph. 2.6, Col. 3.1-4}) As such, the purpose of this passage is relational nor calendrical or even geographical. As one biblical scholar put it ‘just as the door to the abyss cannot be found on a map, the duration of the 1,000yr reign cannot be found on a calendar.’

This piece of The Revelation is meant to reinforce that Christ shares his reign with us, and that the means through which we govern alongside him is our priesthood (‘they will be priests to God and Christ’). That’s a funny phrase, isn’t it? That we reign as priests? It echoes the sentiments of Revelation 1.6 & 5.10, as well as our original vocation from Eden. In Eden we were made imago dei (‘in the image of God’), but the word for ‘image’ in Hebrew is tselem, which literally means ‘idol’. Idols were crafted in the image of ancient kings to serve as boundary markers along national borders. When you passed the king’s idol you knew you were now under his authority. Idols were also constructed of pagan deities in temples where priests administered rites. When you stood before the idol you were mean to feel the presence of the god. God wants us to be his idols, his images; such that whenever people are around us they know they are under the authority and in the presence of Him. That is the way we rule and reign—by mediating the presence of God to a broken and hurting world.

And we’re never supposed to stop, not even after a thousand years.