Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
How often has someone asked a question to which there appears to be an uncertain answer to which the reply might be, “How long is a piece of string?” Today’s reading could well place us in the situation where that piece of string comes to mind. Early Christianity was still influenced by Judaism, and to some extent variations in what Jewish leaders were teaching concerning the coming of God’s kingdom and resurrection raised questions to which there appeared to be conflicting answers.
There were a variety of thoughts about the details of the Kingdom of God. In particular, the question as to how resurrection would come about. The devil would be bound for a thousand years and Christian martyrs would be resurrected rather than most believers who had not been martyred This would be followed by a thousand years in which Christ and His saints would reign. This was not an exclusively Christian belief, but found in some Jewish Messianic beliefs.
These time differences are referred to in Psalm 90 verse 4 and 2 Peter 3 verse 8. Our passage today ends by emphasising that physical death is not to be feared for it becomes the entrance to eternal life. The most ordinary person can share in the Kingdom of God when they express their faith by the very way they live their earthly life. None of us knows when this will happen for the individual believer, so how long is that piece of string?
Timeless God, so often we make the mistake of thinking we know best and have control of everything, forgive our arrogance. Help us to see this life and beyond in your terms, not trying to guess our futures, forgive our impatience. Help us to see Your kingdom as You reveal it to us in our everyday experiences. This we ask in the name above all names. Amen.
Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister, a member of Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex