A good friend of mine has said many times that when it comes to reading the Bible, we need not to check our common sense at the door. Yes, there are some things that might take a little more effort than others to understand but the Bible, fundamentally, is an understandable book. Paul wrote to the Ephesians “when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4 NASB 95). He would not have said that if we could not understand the Bible.
So lets keep that in mind as we tackle the question, what is the 1000-year reign of Revelation 20? I believe there is one scripture that will greatly help our understanding of Revelation and answering of this question.
That scripture is Revelation 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to his bond-servant John.”
The NASB words it as above that the angel “Communicated it.” The KJV words it as “he sent and signified it.” This means that the message of Revelation was given in signs, symbols, or word-pictures. That means we have to read and interpret Revelation according to how it was written. Which was with the heavy use of symbolic language. Stephen S. Smalley in his commentary on Revelation made this point:
“So, in this setting, ἐσήμανεν (esēmanen) means more than ‘he indicated’; it has the force of ‘signifying’, or (as in the translation) disclosing deep truths. The seer will inevitable and consistently interpret the truth he receives symbolically; and this should warn the reader against an interpretation of Revelation which is literal and (although anchored in history) purely historical”Stephen S. Smalley
To set the context of our question, the book of Revelation is all about God’s ultimate triumph over evil. The theme is best seen in Revelation 17:14 and chapter 20 is leading up to the picture of Judgement day (Revelation 20:11-15) and the unveiling of the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21-22) which is God’s ultimate triumph at the end of time.
With this in mind lets consider the text in question, Revelation 20:2 which reads, “and he laid hold of the dragon, and the serpent of old, who is the devil and Stan, and bound him for a thousand years.”
Let’s start with what the text says. Looking at the end of v.4 “they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” and note v.6 “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priest of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” What we see here is that it is implied that Jesus is already reigning and it is the saints who will join Jesus in His reign. Nothing in the text would indicate a literal earthly reign and if we keep in mind Revelation 1:1 this would make sense because the book is written in symbols. Now lets break down these verses and offer some additional Scriptures that will help clarify our understanding.
- Jesus is already reigning at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56; Ephesians 1:20-21).
- The first resurrection is a reference to a sinner’s baptism. It is when a person dies to sin, is buried in the water (baptized) and is raised to walk in the newness of life. They undergo a resurrection. A resurrection made possible only by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:3-7; 1 Peter 3:21).
- This resurrection was first preached on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-47) which is when the church began.
- The power of death is made powerless to those who have been resurrected (i.e., baptized). This is because when one is baptized, they are baptized into Jesus. And death has no power over Him. (Galatians 3:26-27; Hebrews 2:9-18).
- Those who have been baptized into Christ now serve as Priest of God and of Christ (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Let us now tie this all together and suggest an answer. Because Jesus is already reigning, that those who undergo the first resurrection are Christians, it is we who are the priest of God and Christ, then it seems to me that the 1000 year reign is a symbol of God’s perfect rule through Christ in the church. In which Satan cannot tear down God’s kingdom (cf. Matthew 16:18).
 Smalley, Stephen S. The Revelation to John. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2005.