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Question 116.

 

Father your blessing.
In Revelation chapter 20 (the thousand year kingdom) is written/prophesied the following: "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season."
Also it says that "the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received [his] mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
My questions are: Is it known from the teachings or tradition of the holy fathers and the church who this angel was that held the key to the bottomless pit and bound Satan with chains for a thousand years?
Also, when will this happen, before or after the Second Coming of Christ? And why must a thousand years first pass before Satan is loosed again?
In other words will he not be able, will the devil not have the power to do anything for a thousand years? Why so many years? And what exactly will Christ do when he comes to earth with his martyrs to reign for this period of a thousand years?

With love in the Triune God
John.


Answer to Question 116.

 

Dear John,
Much has been written on the Book of Revelation. There is no other book in the history of humanity that has as many commentaries, writings, and references as this book and a great deal more will be written in the future. The majority of these writings are misleading and dangerous, giving interpretations that come from sick imaginations. There are all sorts of weird and misleading interpretations which cause a great deal of confusion especially among people who do not have the Orthodox Church to guide them. But Weird interpretations of Revelation are not new. Already in the second and third centuries there were so many twisted and sensational misinterpretations that the false teachings that arose caused great confusion to the Christians of the time. Even from the times of the Apostles Christians were convinced that Christís Second Coming was near. Certainly with the persecution of Christians that followed, they believed that the prophecies concerning the persecutions of Christians in the last times was at hand and so they willingly went to their martyrdoms praising God that soon they would reign with him in the New kingdom of heaven. Possibly the misleading interpretations and the confusion they brought played a major role in the fact that the Book of Revelations was not accepted by the Eastern Church for several centuries. Even when it was finally included in the Canon of Scripture it was not permitted to be read publicly in the services of the Church, something that is observed even to this day. But this does not mean that the Orthodox Church discourages the private reading of Revelation. The Church does not discourage but she does caution people to read it carefully with a solid background knowledge of the rest of Scripture, especially the New Testament, and with a basic understanding of the times which produced Revelation. At the same time, the Orthodox Church does not accept the notion that everyone can properly interpret the Bible as he or she wants as do many protestant churches. There is a great difference between reading scripture for yourself and interpreting it by yourself. The only authority that can properly and reliably interpret Scripture and teach it is the Church that Christ founded 2000 years ago. Holy Scripture is the inspired word of God, revealed to the Church, revealed to mankind and not to single individuals. No individual has the right to interpret Scripture without consulting what the Church has to say lest one comes to ridiculous conclusions.
Within the church we see that many Church Fathers did not over occupy themselves with the book of the Revelation. Of recent years Panayiotis Trembelas, a great Greek Biblical scholar of the 20th century, regarded as an authority and whose works are read and used by most orthodox priests, interpreted and published commentaries on all of the books of Holy Scriptures with the exception of the book of the Revelation.
Interpreting the Book of Revelation is a very difficult task because it deals with a vision of symbols and images of things seen in heaven and earth which cannot be confined only to what is to happen in the future. The vision and prophecies have to do with the past, the present and the future and unlike most interpretations available to the English speaking world; the events are not confined to geographical areas like Greece, Rome or America, and neither do they point to specific people in contemporary history.
Personally I have always shied away from trying to interpret the Book of Revelation because I know I am not adequately qualified or spiritually enlightened enough for such an undertaking. Saying this I did give a series of talks on "Revelation" in 2012 based on lectures given by Archimandrite Athanasios Mitilinaios who died in 2006. I think I stopped at chapter 13 because the season came to an end and I didn't continue with it in the new season.
Your questions concern chapter 20 of Revelation which I didn't reach so I can't answer how Athanasios Mitilinaios interprets this chapter without listening to his lectures. I would think that the angel with the key to the abyss is not named by any of the fathers. Of the thousand years this is a figurative number which could be referring to a time in the future but also could be referring to the past or even the present time. One question many people ask is if the so called millennial kingdom will intervene between the coming of the antichrist and the second coming of Christ. The answer is no. Christ appears immediately after the three and a half years after the antichrist. The millennial kingdom has been totally misinterpreted by the Jehovah Witnesses and all protestant millennialists. There will not be a one thousand year kingdom after the coming of the antichrist neither after the coming of Christ. Initially the number 1,000 is used figuratively to denote a long period of time; it is not a specific number like the three and a half years, but a representative number as is also the 144,000 which represents the number of the faithful. The thousand years represents the period between the first coming of Christ and the second coming of Christ and is interpreted by all the fathers as the time of the Gospel.
Sorry I can't be of more help on these questions, Revelation is not an easy book; it is written with symbolic language and thus should not be read and interpreted literally. St. Irenaeus said something excellent, "It is safer and less dangerous to await the fulfilment of a prophecy than to keep trying to guess and estimate and foretell what is about to take place."
If you have time read my talks on the Book of Revelation, I do not remember everything I wrote but Athanasios Mitilinaios' interpretations were very enlightening and you can also hear his lectures translated into English by Constantine Zalalas online. http://www.saintnicodemos.org/content/apocalypse_audio.php


With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher