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Thousands and thousands

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sermon for the second Sunday in Advent

The question is there for all to see. If you’ve managed to bind up the Devil in the bottomless pit for a thousand year, what would possess you to let him out again?

The Revelation to St John is a very difficult book to understand. We’re dealing with the vision of a man who sees Heaven and lives in a culture very different from our own. This culture has symbols and metaphors and cultural references that we have lost. We have to understand that. Our descendants will have the same problem. If we look at our mobile phones the icon we touch for “phone” is an old handset from a telephone that has been practically obsolete from the turn of the twenty-first century. In a thousand years, that icon will confuse our descendants.

This doesn’t answer the question. Why must Satan be released in a thousand years?

[PAUSE]

First, we do need to look at this business of what “thousand” means here. Is it a literal thousand years? The answer is no.

If we look at what St John is saying, the pattern is as follows.

Satan gets bound and put in the pit. Then the faithful are raised and reign with Christ for a thousand years in the first resurrection.

After the thousand years, Satan gets loosed from the pit to deceive the earth and war is made but it seems that he is quickly beaten and thrown into the fire for ever together with those whose names are not written in the book of life.

The clue which tells us that this thousand years is not literal is the fact that Our Lord does not reign just a thousand years, but reigns for ever. His kingdom shall have no end.

[PAUSE]

Time in St John’s Revelation is just as symbolic as everything else. What’s does a thousand years symbolise? Well, here’s the thing. According to the Jewish scholars of St John’s time, a thousand years before the Lord’s birth is the beginning of the reign of King David. Thus the thousand years mark the years of Jerusalem with all its ups and downs, with all the rises and falls, the captivities and freedoms, and the great temple. All this ends with the coming of the Lord at His birth in Bethlehem.

The first thousand years represents all the prophecy that points to Christ. It represents the rule of David and the Old Covenant. The second thousand years must therefore also point to Christ, especially the witness of His reign and the New Covenant. This is why God says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

While Christ is King, Satan is bound. But a king is only a king for as long as the people accept his rule, and the same is true for Our Lord. Our Lord does not force us to accept Him as our king, even though He most definitely is the King of Heaven. Satan remains bound for as long as people accept Christ as their king. The moment they reject Him, they are in the clutches of Satan. That’s when the rule of Christ ends for them. This is when the thousand years ends for those who reject God. There is only one fate for those who do reject Him: the second death – the permanent death.

It is not God who sets Satan loose. It’s us, and this is why he must be set loose for those who willingly and firmly refuse to recognise Jesus as King. In writing to the Corinthians, St Paul reminds us that there are times when we need to let the unrepentant go their own way. He says that we need to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Sometimes, that is the best we can do and hope that the prodigal son will return to the kingdom of Our Lord. Love can never insist on its own way.

In Eternity, Time means nothing – this is why the Book of Revelation is so confusing. We may live in times when respect and love for God are waning. We can rest assured, though, that while our time is short, the Kingship of Christ is always near us. While the Church stands, while the sacraments are available, and while the Gospel is preached, Christ is with us.

And one day soon, we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

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