“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” – Rev 20:7-10 (ESV)
One of the great sources of debate in interpreting the book of Revelation is the thousand year reign of Christ. When does it occur? If we try lay a chronological timeline over the passages in Revelation, we find that, after the world has been plagued, after Babylon has been destroyed, and after the Beast and the False Prophet have been judged and thrown alive into the lake of fire and Satan has been imprisoned – then the thousand year reign begins. The trouble is, we are not sure that Revelation is meant to be read chronologically. Indeed, it is unlikely it was intended to be read as a step-by-step program of the end of the world. Unfortunately, our human desire to be in control of our lives encourages us to take the easy way out and look for signs to interpret and steps to memorize instead of trusting and obeying God in the present. Let me restate that. The faithful are not the ones who know God’s master plan for the end of the world. The faithful are the ones who trust God with the world now and in the future, regardless of their understanding of the end times.
The lack of faith and trust in God we sometimes demonstrate has driven Christians in history to seek out this thousand year reign of Christ. Through noble intentions (particularly around turns of centuries) people have done extreme things in attempt to “usher in” the millennial reign of Christ. Most of us can remember the kind of extreme things people were saying, doing, writing, etc. during the last change of the century and millennium, and that continues today with predictions about the world ending in the year 2012. Do you remember all the panic about the Y2K glitch that was rumored to be able to topple governments and economies? The world was full of anxiety on New Year’s Eve of 1999.
A thousand years earlier, the western world was in a similar state of anxiety, particularly as the church looked upon her losses in the middle east with Islamic and Jewish groups predominating in the “New Jerusalem” of the time. Instead of trusting and obeying God in the present, they too tried to “usher in” the millennial reign of Christ with the military strength of the European Kingdoms in a war that lasted over the course of 200 years. Historians refer to that war as the Crusades – a failed attempt of the Church to win back the Holy Lands by military might. The consequences of that bloodshed reach into our lives even today as the Church continues to struggle to regain her witness in the Middle East – to be seen not as a imperial tyrant, but as Jesus: one who served, loved, and died for sinners the world over. I do not pretend to make excuses for anyone’s actions in our conflicts with the Middle East or the people of Islam… it’s a long, drawn out, and complicated mess. However, I do point to the fact that 1000 years ago, Christians tried to force the hand of God, and it did not work. It backfired terribly.
In fact, I can recall a time, nearly 1000 years before the Crusades, when the people of God tried to do the very same thing. We celebrate that attempt this weekend as Palm Sunday: the day Jerusalem opened her doors to Jesus the Messiah and gave him a royal welcome with shouts of Hosanna (“Save us”) and waving palm branches (which was equivalent to the national flag of Israel). They wanted to take this young, charismatic teacher and prophet, and make a general out of him, for the purpose of kicking out Rome and reclaiming Jerusalem for themselves. Their plan did not pan out. In fact, by the end of the week, the city had turned on Jesus and those who had not simply run off were standing in the crowd shouting “Crucify him!”. God did not act according to their plans and so they sought to kill him. God’s plan was not ruined by the impatience and impertinence of His people though. Through their actions he worked redemption in the midst of that devastation. What the devil and man had intended for evil, God worked for the good, and with the blood He shed, he poured out forgiveness upon the whole world and broke the power of sin forever.
Look at this passage in Revelation one last time. The armies of Darkness gather at the gates of God’s city, surrounding it on all sides and numbering as many as the sands that touch the sea. Who is the hero of the light that marches out of the gate and slays the darkness? What army turns them back from wherever they came from? What secret weapon do the people of God unleash that saves the day? No one. No army. No secret weapon. It is God, who like a loving father, like a good shepherd, like He always has, reigns down fire from heaven and destroys those who seek to harm His children. They don’t have to lift a finger, but only trust Him. Even on the day of the last great battle, God is clearly in control… and He is today as well. Let us put our minds and our actions to the things that are pure and noble, seeking to better trust God with our todays and our tomorrows rather than trying to force the world to be the way we think it should be. Let us seek God first and let Him work His redemption in and through us.
Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
there’s mercy with the Lord;
and he will surely give you rest,
by trusting in his Word.
Only trust him, only trust him,
only trust him now.
He will save you, he will save you,
he will save you now.