Question Box: Addressing the Book of Revelation


What are we to make of the predictions in the Book of Revelation about the binding of Satan and the thousand-year reign of Christ?

In an earlier column I cautioned about taking a sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) approach to reading the Bible and the importance of good scholarship and the interpretative tradition of the Church. This is especially true when it comes to the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. Rather than interpret these texts as literal guides to the end of days, from the Catholic perspective we have long seen these as cries of a suffering people. They are written more to make sense of what the people at the time were going through than to predict the future.

For that matter, often we think of the prophets as divinely commissioned “fortune tellers,” but this is not the case. I like to say that the prophets were not telling the future, but the present. That is, they were pointing out where the people had gone astray in their own time and calling them back to deeper fidelity to the covenant God had established with them.

The Book of Revelation speaks of the chaining of the “ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan” and a thousand-year reign of Christ with his holy ones until Satan is “released,” followed by the deceiving of the nations and a great battle (Revelation 20:1-10). Pretty gripping stuff, I’ll admit, but we should be careful.


The footnote in my Catholic Study Bible states: “Like the other numerical values in this book, the thousand years are not to be taken literally; they symbolize the long period of time between the chaining up of Satan (a symbol for Christ’s resurrection-victory over death and the forces of evil) and the end of the world. During this time God’s people share in the glorious reign of God that is present to them by virtue of their baptismal victory over death and sin.”

I should also note that we have a tendency to believe that our own time is the worst of times and that we are on the threshold of the end of all things. Maybe, but maybe not. There were some pretty awful things in the past too (plagues, wars, social upheaval, moral degradation, schisms, corruption within the Church, etc.), but we have endured one after another of these events.

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” is clear in its condemnation of strict forms of this kind of “millennialist” interpretation of Scripture. It states, “The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modern forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the ‘intrinsically perverse’ political form of a secular messianism” (par. 676).

Of the various positions on this, the Catholic position is best described as “amillenialist.” We do not believe in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ with his Church sometime in the future. We believe that this period has already begun with the first coming, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and will culminate in his second coming and final judgment at the end of time. This is by no means a “modern” idea but goes back to the early Church fathers and is solidified especially in the writings of St. Augustine (4th century). This view is also shared with most mainline Protestant denominations.

(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Send questions to

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1 thought on “Question Box: Addressing the Book of Revelation

  1. Thank you for your explanation of the Book of Revelation. I know that even some of the historical books of the Bible are not factual history as we understand it today, but are intended to teach us religious truths. Even so, some of the descriptions in the last book of the Bible sound almost like a Halloween horror story. Unfortunately, a lot of the real facts of history–including the ones we are creating today– are even worse than a Halloween Horror story.

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