The word ‘flummoxed’ means baffled, confounded, stumped, bemused, flabbergasted, perplexed, confused, mystified, or puzzled. This is how I feel after reading Revelation 20:1-6. Three things stand out as especially perplexing. First, “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan” is apprehended and locked up in the Abyss for 1,000 years. Then, he is released for a short time. Why? I don’t have a clue. Hitler is the embodiment of evil. If Hitler were an eternal evil spirit, would you ever let him out of his cage? Isn’t that like letting a black mamba, whose venom can kill dozens of people with just one bite, loose in a playground full of blind children? Second, what is the 1,000 year reign mentioned here (and no where else in the Bible)? I know the theories regarding the millennium, that the second coming of Christ is either before or after this 1,000 year reign or that the 1,000 year timeframe is completely symbolic. But the second coming of Jesus does not seem to be mentioned at all here. In fact, this scene appears to be situated in the heavenly throne room where the 24 elders are sitting, not on earth. Third, what is this business about a first and second resurrection? And why do only those who were beheaded for Christ experience the first resurrection? Does this give martyrdom a special status in God’s eyes? Where are those who died in Christ but did not experience martyrdom?
I must admit that I have no idea how to answer these questions and problems of interpretation. I am happy to see that N.T. Wright also acknowledges the difficulty in interpreting this section of Revelation as well. Not only is the Bible difficult to understand at points, but it is also the case that some parts of the Bible are beyond all human comprehension. Some people are agitated that the Bible is hard to read. It is worse than that! There are parts of the Bible that completely defy human understanding. But, then, why do we assume that the Bible should be easy to read and understand? That appears to be a false assumption. Does that mean we should give up reading the Bible and trying to understand it? No. Much more of the Bible is completely clear and intelligible. And as Mark Twain once said, “It is not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, but the parts of it I do understand!” This reinforces what I have said in earlier blogs about interpreting the Book of Revelation – it is best to stay with the general themes and not get bogged down in the details. Here is what we know: we are suffering now; evil seems to be winning; Jesus is coming again; he will vanquish evil and set all things right; those who live for Jesus now will experience eternal bliss in God’s new creation. The rest are details that cause one to be flummoxed.