You mentioned that the thousand-years referred to in Revelation 20 is synonymous with forever or eternity. If that is they case, why does it say Satan will be released after the thousand years? How is that so?
The question really gets into trying to make a metaphor walk on all fours, particularly a metaphor that is in the context of apocalyptic literature. The metanarrative that you have in John’s Apocalypse is about Satan, who has been defeated by Christ. If you look throughout the Scriptures, you see how Christ comes, and He makes a spectacle out of the principalities and powers of darkness (Col. 2:12). He triumphs over them by the cross and that triumph is not a temporary triumph. It is an eternal triumph. It is a triumph that will forever demonstrate that Christ is victor and that Satan is defeated.
Now, within the context of the metaphor, within the context of the overall metanarrative as well, you have Satan released for a short time. After his eternal vanquishing, he is released for a short time. This is tantamount to saying that after Christ has made a spectacle of principalities and powers of darkness, with the domain of Satan being defeated, Satan has yet a short time, in this metanarrative a short time. This is part of the narrative communicated in apocalyptic language and you cannot try to make the metaphor walk on all fours.
The whole idea of thousand is used in many different ways metaphorically. It can be used to say that God owns all the cattle on a thousand hills (Psa. 50:10). In other words, this is a way of saying God owns everything. It can also be used to say that God’s loving kindness is to a thousand generations (Exod. 20:6), i.e. an everlasting lovingkindness. You cannot try to make the metaphor walk on all fours. If you do, you end up with loose strings popping out all over the place.
I mentioned this before, but it is sort of like someone saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” and you start asking “What size are the dogs?” and “What color are the cats?”
The grand metanarrative of John’s expanded Olivet Discourse, which is the Book of Revelation—No Olivet Discourse appears in the Gospel of John but the Synoptic Gospels record them (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21)—John’s Apocalypse gives you an expanded Olivet Discourse. Within this expanded Olivet Discourse, he says
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-2).*
This is a way of saying that Christ eternally defeats the powers of darkness through His triumph. This is a way of talking about Christ defeating Satan. Yet, in the narrative of the Apocalypse, the people of God are going to suffer under Satan, the Beast, and the woman who rides the Beast. John is telling the readers, Satan is going to be set free for a short time. He is going to continue to wreak havoc upon the earth. That is what is going on in the story.
The thousand years is indicative of everlasting and complete defeat. As the metaphor continues, God keeps His covenant to a thousand generations, indicative that His mercy is forever, so too Satan is forever defeated, but John is saying the worst of the tribulation still looms on the horizon; therefore, Satan must be set free for a short time, he must surround the camp of God’s people, the city He loves, before Christ coming in judgment
He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time and ultimate vindication.
Think about the language of Revelation 20—many years ago I took the time to memorize the passage and cogitate upon the passage for hours upon hours as I would walk and think about it—you have an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key to the abyss, and having in his hand a great chain, how does an angel, if you are pressing the language, hold in his hand a great chain? An angel is a non-corporeal being. Then he takes the Devil, and throws him into the abyss, then locks and seals it, how is that done? Did he really throw Satan into some kind of container and then put a lid on top of it? If you take apocalyptic language and you try to make it walk on all fours, you end up with unmitigated nonsense. You got to read the language in which it is intended.
The language itself is very, very interesting, because it is not just an apocalypse in the sense of an unfolding, but it is a linguistic matrix that has its roots in the rest of Scripture. What makes Revelation so easy to understand is the overall understanding of Scripture as a whole. In other words, if you understand the Scriptures as a whole, Revelation does not come out of left field. Think about it. Revelation is only four-hundred and four verses with two-hundred-seventy-eight being direct allusions to Old Testament passages. Those who are familiar with the Bible, right away see what is going on in the apocalyptic language because it has its roots in the linguistic matrix of the rest of Scripture.
This blog adapted from the May 11, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast.
*All Scripture cited from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984).