Revelation 20

Revelation 20  •  21 min. read  •  grade level: 8
“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." (Verses 1-3.) In view of His death upon the cross, Christ had said, "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out." (John 12:31.) Although a mighty prince, Satan is already a fallen creature. And a blow was given to his power at Calvary, of which the result will be his utter downfall, and finally his eternal judgment. Driven out of the heavenly, sphere, which he now occupies, by Michael the archangel and his angels, as we have seen, he will come down to the earth in a great rage, and will exercise his fourfold power among men. (Rev. 12:9-12.) Here, in Rev. 20, his short time being over, an angel from heaven, with a key and a great chain in his hand, lays hold of him and hinds him and casts him into the abyss, shutting him up and scaling it over him. And as in chapter, 22:9, so here; his four names are expressly mentioned. It shows in the plainest language how completely powerless this mighty enemy of God and men will be rendered. In the abyss he will languish as a bound prisoner, with all his power nullified and his malicious and wily schemes utterly frustrated. For a thousand years his draconic power in connection with empire and the political world will cease; his deceptive power as the old serpent will be stopped; his devilish wiles will be destroyed; and his power as Satan, the roaring lion, the great adversary, be brought utterly to naught. He will not be allowed to deceive the nations, as now, any more. To-day men vaunt their power and progress, blinded and deceived by this great and evil prince of the power of the air and god of this world. But during the thousand years, when Christ shall wield the scepter of the glorious world to come, this great foe will be fast bound. If any evil shall manifest itself then, it will proceed from the evil heart within of unregenerate men. (Matt. 15:19.) The sower of evil, Satan, will no longer be loose as now. The world will no longer lie in the wicked one, but will be ruled in peace and equity by Christ, the appointed Heir of God. But when the thousand years are completed, Satan must be loosed again. It is cause for thankfulness that it is only for a little season. We shall see the effects in verses 7-9.
“And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw 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." (Ver. 4.) This remarkable verse, in relation to the world (or age) to come, and to which we briefly referred in chapter 6, requires careful study in order to apprehend its distinct application. It comprehends clearly three classes of saints. First, those who are seated on thrones; secondly, the souls of those beheaded; and thirdly, those (for this word is added in the Greek) who had not worshipped the beast. Who are they? The heavenly saints (of the Old and New Testaments) are mentioned for the last time as elders in chapter 19:4; next they are viewed as the bride and invited friends; then as included in the heavenly armies (19:14); now a fourth time, as seated on thrones in relation to the thousand years' kingdom. In Dan. 7:9 the thrones are said to be cast down. It is a mistaken translation. It should read "set up." In Rev. 20:4 we have the fulfillment of this vision, and the thrones are occupied. "They sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them." We read in 1 Cor. 6:2, "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" In this scripture the hour has come. The heavenly saints are associated with Christ in His kingly rule in that glorious age to come.
But whilst John beholds these saints perfected and set to rule, there are others in the same vision who are in the unclothed state. He saw their souls.
They had been beheaded in a time of pressure and persecution for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God. The language is almost exactly the same as that used of the souls under the altar of God in chapter 6:9, 10. No doubt it is the same Class, martyred on account of their testimony, after the translation of the heavenly saints, and before the time of the manifestation of the beast in his true colors, and the running out of the last half-week. They lose their heads by beheading. The guillotine, or some other such deadly judicial weapon, will be very busy in that day of the beginnings of sorrows. (Rev. 6:9.)
Thirdly, "And those [there should be a semicolon after 'the word of God '] who had not done homage to the beast nor to his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and hand." These, too, are in the disembodied state. They are the martyred saints of the last half-week, when Satan's power has full sway, and the beast is on his throne, the second beast (antichrist or the false prophet) causing the earth-dwellers to do homage to the first beast and his image, under the penalty of death. He also causeth that none may buy not sell without his mark. (Chapter 13 11-17.) There are those who refuse to submit, and in consequence lose their lives. "They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." Blessed reward of God for their faithfulness. These two classes of martyrs, before and during the last half-week, refusing submission to Satan during his short period of rule, live by divine power. They suffer death, but God causes them to live again. It is resurrection life, for, after speaking of the rest of the dead (the unconverted wicked) in the following verse (which is to be understood parenthetically), it adds, "This is the first resurrection." This should make clear to all that there is, so to speak, a supplementary raising of saints between the resurrection and rapture of 1 Thess. 4:15-18 and the close of Daniel's last week. That is, the first resurrection includes these three classes, namely, the heavenly saints (of the Old and New Testaments); the martyrs of the beginnings of sorrows; and those slain under the rule of the beast. Whilst Old Testament scripture speaks of resurrection in comparatively general terms, the New Testament teaches clearly two resurrections, namely, of those who have done good (that is, those who are accounted righteous by faith (Rom. 10:6) and walk in practical righteousness), and of those who have done evil. (Rev. 20:5, 12, 13.) And of those who have done good there are more than one class, as we have seen, the latter being raised a little later (probably about seven years) than the first class. All reign with Christ the thousand years (that is, as it is variously spoken of, the millennium, or world, or age to come).
“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." (Ver. 5.) The rest of the dead would include all who die in the natural unconverted state from Adam onward, through all ages of time down to the close of the reign of Christ. The rest of the dead are the same as those that have done evil. (John 5:29.)
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
(Ver. 6.) It is precious to find that each one who has part in the first resurrection is pronounced both blessed and holy. They suffer here for the name of the blessed and holy Savior, the Son of God, and they are raised from among the dead by divine power, to share with Him, as blessed and holy ones, the glories of His kingdom. The term "first resurrection" is again employed. The use of the word "first" clearly indicates that there is another. The first is a resurrection to life and glory, the second is a resurrection to eternal judgment. On those who have part in the first, the second death hath no power. Now "the second death" is also a clear indication that there are more deaths than one. From the fall onwards man has been morally dead as regards God, separated in sin from Him and exposed to receive sin's wages, which is death. Hence it is appointed unto men once to die. (Heb. 9:27.) But the same scripture that tells us this (and the whole history of man is a witness to the deeply solemn fact) adds, but "after this the judgment." And Rev. 20:15 says that "whosoever" was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. And in the preceding verse, speaking of the lake of fire, it says, "this is the second death." Hence all men are face to face with these two facts: namely, that the second death, which is the lake of fire, has no power over the believers who have part in the first resurrection; but that this terrible doom (prepared for the devil and his angels) is the awful portion also of all who, doing evil, die in their sins, and are raised to judgment. It is one portion or the other for all.
Moreover, all who have part in the first resurrection shall be priests of God and of Christ. We, as Christians, are already privileged to exercise priestly functions towards God, both in worship and intercession, and in association with Christ, who is the great High Priest. In this coming day, when Christ will sit as King and Priest upon His throne (Zech. 6:13), we shall be associated with Him as a kingly priesthood, exercising our privileged functions during the whole thousand years, “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them." (Verses 7-9.) Altogether the expression the "thousand years" is mentioned six times. At its expiry, Satan shall be loosed out of the abyss, which is called "his prison." (Ver. 7.) The long period of his captivity will not have produced any change in his character. Immediately he is free, he recommences to practice his devilish deception, and he finds many nations ready to be victimized. Nothing either changes the heart of man but the sovereign action of the Spirit and the grace of God. Innocent man listened to Satan's lie and fell; left to his conscience, he lapsed into violence and corruption; preserved in mercy, he fell into drunkenness and self-exaltation; under law, he became a transgressor; in the presence of perfection in Christ, he put Him to death; in the presence of the Holy Spirit, he resists Him; borne with in grace, he misuses it for license; in the hour of judgment, he blasphemes; and lastly, in the presence of Christ's manifest glory and perfect, righteous rule, he is ready at the bidding of Satan to gather together to war against Him.
Great as will be the blessing of God for Israel and the nations in that glorious world to come, at the close there is a vast impenitent host, whose number is as the sand of the sea, ready for open rebellion. Satan finds them in all directions, on the four corners of the earth. They are called by the names of Gog and Magog. We first meet with these terms in the Old Testament. In Ezek. 38 they clearly apply to the vast hosts of Russia and het allies, when swooping down on the land of Palestine just before the close of the judgments which shall usher in the millennium. But here they are employed morally to denote the nations in general which are deceived by Satan. "They went up on the breadth of the earth." Satan sets them in movement apparently in all parts of the earth. Their object is to destroy the whole testimony of God upon the earth, notwithstanding that they had enjoyed the rest and privileges and blessings of Christ's kingdom for so long a period. These innumerable hosts, under the deception of the devil, compass the camp of the saints about and the beloved city. It appears to be the most widespread effort of men under Satan's leadership to blot out every semblance of Christ's authority and grace that the world in its long sad history has ever known.
The camp would set forth the sphere where dwell the saints of God at that day, and the beloved city can surely be none other than Jerusalem, which will again be the capital city of Jehovah's beloved earthly people Israel, who shall all know Him, from the least to the greatest. About to carry out their fell purpose upon outwardly unprotected people, who for a thousand years had laid aside all military power and lived in peace, God intervenes.
Like as more than once in Old Testament times, fire comes down from Him out of heaven, and the whole of that willful and ungodly host is devoured by it. It is apparently the most awful judgment with which God has ever visited man for his wickedness. Both grace and glory are absolutely refused.
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever." (Ver. 10.) Here we reach the awful doom of the great arch-leader in wickedness, the devil. It is worthy of remark, that although his four names are mentioned, both when cast down from heaven to the earth, and when cast into the abyss, only two are mentioned when loosed again. He neither recovers draconic power, nor comes forth in his old serpentine character, but only exercises his deceptive powers as Satan and the devil. (Verses 8-10.) His final effort to overturn the kingdom of Christ having failed, and his dupes having been devoured by the fiery judgment of God, he himself is cast into the lake of fire, which burneth with brimstone, which was originally prepared for him and for his angels. The beast and the false prophet had already been cast there alive just ere Christ had established His kingdom. They had languished there during the thousand years. The arch-leader, Satan, now joins his two leading victims in that dreadful doom. This is the portion of the anti-trinity. Whilst the triune God—the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost—dwells eternally in the uncreated blessedness and glory of the Godhead, this wretched trio of imitation reap eternally the fruit of their awful wickedness.
We do not suppose for a moment that the lake of fire is to be understood as a lake of material fire. We must bear in mind that we find this terrible doom brought forward in a book filled with figures and symbols. But, nevertheless, the reality is as dreadful morally as the image of a lake of fire conveys to our minds viewed materially. It is a definite sphere, set apart by God, out of which there is no escape, where wickedness is eternally punished. Our God, spoken of in relation to Christians, is said to be a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:29.) He jealously, for His own glory, withers up everything which is not consistent with His holy nature, and must have, to vindicate His glory, an abiding and eternal witness before the whole universe against all unjudged evil. His fiery judgment, searching and penetrating, will rest upon all who are cast into that sphere of unutterable anguish and misery. Day and night, adds this awful scripture, these three great leaders of apostasy and blasphemy and wickedness shall be tormented for the ages of ages. Unceasing, abiding and eternal judgment is their sure and richly deserved portion. Moreover, all evil will be relegated to that awful sphere-the lake of fire.
Chapter 20 closes with the deeply solemn tribunal of the great white throne, where all who have died without God and without Christ during the whole of this world's history will be arraigned. The prophet continues, "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them." (Ver. 11.) A great white throne conveys the threefold thought of the greatness of the issues connected therewith; that all that transpires there will be in accord with its spotless purity; and supreme power and authority in relation to the judgments of the One who sits thereupon. We are not told in the vision who this is. The name of God is introduced in the next verse in our English translation, but it reads in the original "before the throne." John 5:22 and 2 Tim. 4:1 spew clearly, however, that all judgment, both of the quick and the dead, is committed to the Son, Christ Jesus, who is God. (Heb. 1:8.) Acts 17:31 is a further confirmation.
From the face of this holy and glorious One, the earth and the heaven flee away. These two spheres, where Satan and sin have wrought such fearful havoc, flee from His holy presence when He takes His seat as Judge upon the great white throne. No more place is found for them. God's purpose in relation to them will then have been fulfilled. But in chapter xxi. I John sees a new heaven and a new earth. In seeking to interpret the Revelation one has to be careful not to wrest the meaning of the expressions used by the Spirit of God. Whilst the earth and the heaven flee away, and no place is found for them, we judge that in all probability the new heaven and the earth in the age of ages (chap. 21:1) are the present ones remodeled and refashioned by divine power in a condition suited to the stable and abiding character of that marvelous scene, the sea, figure of the restlessness and unsettled state of man now, ceasing to exist.
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God [or the throne]; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." (Ver. 12.) This is the final judgment of the dead, that is, all who have passed out of this world unconverted from the fall onwards till the close of time. Both small and great, raised by divine power to judgment (John 5:29), stand before the throne. First, books are opened. They are full of writing. They appear to contain the records of the works of those arraigned, who are judged accordingly. The book of life is also opened, but the names of this vast host of impenitent men are not found therein. Had their names been written in the book of life, they would not have been found among the ranks of the dead case life would have been their portion, and they, would have come forth to the resurrection of life, and not to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:29.) No true believer will ever stand before the great white throne. We would here remark that a very clear distinction is maintained in scripture between the duration and the severity of the judgment pronounced and inflicted upon the wicked dead. "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." (Ver. 15.) And this takes place after that the earth and the heaven have fled away, and time has ceased to be. It is final, irrevocable, eternal judgment. (Rev. 20:12-15.) Men will weep and wail and gnash their teeth in vain (Matt. 8:12), where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:42-49.) But God is just. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Surely. He will vindicate His own glory, and the sentence of each one will be according to absolute righteousness, which all will own. The severity of the punishment will be according to the privileges, the light, and the conduct of each. In Luke 12:47, 48, we read of few stripes and many. In Matt. 10:15; 11:24, that it shall be more tolerable for some cities than for others. In Matt. 23:14, that scribes and Pharisees guilty of certain conduct shall receive greater damnation or judgment. And here, too, at the great white throne, it is according to works. These passages and others show that God makes a difference. The duration of judgment in the lake of fire is eternal, the severity varies. Thank God the true believer “shall not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life." (John 5:24.)
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [or hades] delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." (Ver. 13.) Nothing can be clearer from this verse than that none can escape. The sea, death and hades all yield up their dead. Tens of thousands have found their graves in the depths of the oceans-sailors, travelers and others. Myriads have passed into the unclothed state, their bodies buried in graves, sepulchers, cremated or otherwise, their immortal souls in hades, the place of departed spirits. All will most assuredly hear the awful summons of the Judge. Divine power will raise all. With God all things are possible. Many ungodly vainly try to escape the agonizing thought, and many would gladly devise means to escape. But "it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment." Not a single impenitent soul of Adam's fallen race can escape the threatened doom. God cannot lie. It repeats a second time, "they were judged according to their works," and it adds the words, "every man.”
"And death and hell [hades] were cast into the lake of fire... And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." (Verses 14, 15.) The earth and the heaven having departed, and the judgment of the dead having been pronounced, death and hades, no longer needed, are, so to speak, personified, and are cast into the lake of fire. And last of all, whosoever (mark it well, dear reader, lest you should be found included therein) was not found written in the book of life, wherein the names of all who repent and believe the gospel are inscribed, was cast into that same awful sphere of punishment, the lake of fire. It was prepared for the devil and his angels, not for men. Judgment is God's strange work. God has wrought redemption for men. In His great love to the world He gave His only, begotten Son to this end. Jesus died for God's glory, and for us, that we might have eternal redemption and eternal life. But if men persist in neglecting, despising or rejecting God's love, refusing to bow to His Son, Lord and Head of all, they must surely reap the awful eternal consequences of their folly. There is no other alternative. "Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:43.) "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16.) But it is equally, solemnly true, that "whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." How will you meet Christ, the Son of God? As a Savior, or as a Judge?,