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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Revelation 20

 

 

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Verse 1

The first word, "And," supports the idea of chronological sequence. It implies a continuation from what John just revealed (cf. Revelation 19:11; Revelation 19:17; Revelation 19:19; Revelation 20:4; Revelation 20:11-12; Revelation 21:1-2; Revelation 21:22). Amillennial interpreters disagree. [Note: Beale, pp974-83.]

"John says nothing to place this chapter in the time sequence." [Note: Morris, p235. Jack Deere answered this objection very effectively in "Premillennialism in Revelation 20:4-6 ," Bibliotheca Sacra135:537 (January-March1978):60-62. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 , pp404-5 , is also helpful here.]

It is logical that having judged the beast and the false prophet ( Revelation 19:20) Jesus Christ should next deal with Satan. God assigned an angel to bind Satan. Previously God cast Satan out of heaven ( Revelation 12:9), and now He cast him out of the earth. This is the end of Satan"s "short time" in which God allowed him to spread havoc on the earth ( Revelation 12:12). This angel now has the key to the abyss (cf. Revelation 9:1-2; Revelation 9:11; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 17:8; Luke 8:31; Romans 10:7). The binding of Satan is real, though the chain must be figurative since it is impossible to bind spirit beings with physical chains (cf. Revelation 9:14). Though Jesus Christ defeated Satan at the Cross ( Luke 10:18; John 12:31; John 16:11), He did not bind him then nor will He bind him until the beginning of the Millennium. Presently Satan has considerable freedom to attack God"s people and oppose His work (cf. Revelation 2:13; Revelation 3:9; Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Peter 5:8).


Verses 1-3

1. The binding of Satan20:1-3


Verse 2

Four titles make the identity of the bound creature certain. The dragon is his most frequent name in Revelation ( Revelation 12:3-4; Revelation 12:7; Revelation 12:13; Revelation 12:16-17; Revelation 13:2; Revelation 13:4; Revelation 13:11; Revelation 16:13). This title alludes to the serpent of old (cf. Genesis 3). This is an anacoluthon or parenthetical reference (cf. Revelation 1:5; et al.) [Note: Robertson, 6:257.] The Devil ( Revelation 20:10; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 12:12) and Satan ( Revelation 2:9; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 2:24; Revelation 3:9; Revelation 12:9) are his more common biblical names.

There is no reason to take this thousand-year time period as symbolic. All the other numbers in Revelation make sense if we interpret them literally, and this one does too. It is impossible to prove that any number in Revelation is symbolic. [Note: Smith, A Revelation . . ., p269; Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p295; Hoehner, p249.] The repetition of this number six times in this pericope stresses the length of Satan"s confinement. God did not reveal the length of the Millennium (from the Latin mille, thousand, and annum year) before now. Neither did He reveal many other details about the future before He gave John these visions (cf. Revelation 17:5).

Morris offered the following reason for taking the thousand years as symbolic.

"One thousand is the cube of ten, the number of completeness. We have seen it used over and over again in this book to denote completeness of some sort, and this is surely the way we should take it here. Satan is bound for the perfect period." [Note: Morris, p235. Cf. Vern S. Poythress, "Genre and Hermeneutics in Revelation 20:1-6 ," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society36:1 (March1993):41-54.]

Morris acknowledged that God will release Satan at the end of this period ( Revelation 20:8). [Note: Morris, p236.] To him the thousand-year reign is a reign of martyrs in heaven that has no relation to the Second Advent. [Note: Ibid, pp234 , 237.] However, there is no reason in the text or context to assume that we should interpret1 ,000 symbolically. In fact, in view of the other numbers in this book, we would expect another literal number here.

"If1 ,000 is a symbol, what about7 ,000 ( Revelation 11:13), 12 ,000 ( Revelation 7:5), or144 ,000 ( Revelation 7:4)? Are these symbols also? If1 ,000 years is a symbolic term, what about5 months ( Revelation 9:10), 42months ( Revelation 11:2), and1 ,260 days ( Revelation 11:3)? To ask these questions is to show the absurdity of regarding the numbers as figurative, for on what ground could one consistently hold that one, 1 ,000 , is figurative, and the others, including where multiples of1 ,000 are used, are literal?" [Note: Smith, A Revelation . . ., p269.]


Verse 3

The angel will throw Satan into the abyss and then shut and seal the opening to it to guarantee that he will not escape (cf. Daniel 6:17; Matthew 27:66). This action assures his confinement, but it does not specify that he will suffer otherwise. Satan will not have access to the earth but abide in the abyss (bottomless pit, Revelation 9:1-2; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 13:4; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 17:8) throughout the Millennium. His confinement will preclude his deceiving the nations, which he had been doing ( Revelation 13:14; Revelation 16:13-14).

The nations in view will be the descendants of mortal believers who do not die during the Great Tribulation but live on in the Millennium ( Revelation 11:13; Revelation 12:13-17). All unbelievers will evidently perish when Christ returns to the earth ( Revelation 19:19-21). Life spans will be much longer in the Millennium ( Isaiah 65:20), so the earth"s population will increase rapidly, as was the case before the Flood. The children who are born during the Millennium will need to believe on Jesus Christ for salvation, and some of them will not do so. This group will probably constitute the unbelievers whom Satan leads in rebellion at the end of the Millennium ( Revelation 20:8-9). God will release Satan out of divine necessity (Gr. dei) to fulfill His plans after the thousand years. White argued that the epic ideology of victory over the dragon followed by house-building constitutes a fundamental hermeneutical paradigm for the historical-grammatical, yet non-literal interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3. [Note: R. Fowler White, "On the Hermeneutics and Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3: A Preconsummationist [i.e, Amillennialist] Perspective," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society42:1 (March1999):53-66.]

"The final answer as to why God sees this as a necessity with its fruition in another rebellion is hidden in the counsels of God (cf. Revelation 1:1; Revelation 4:1; Isaiah 55:8; Mark 8:31; Mark 13:7; Luke 24:26; Luke 24:44) ... Yet one purpose may be a partial answer. Through his release the whole universe will see that after the thousand years of his imprisonment and an ideal reign on earth, Satan is incurably wicked and men"s hearts are still perverse enough to allow him to gather an army of such an immense size." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22 , p411. See also David J. MacLeod, "The Third "Last Thing": The Binding of Satan ( Revelation 20:1-3)," Bibliotheca Sacra156:624 (October-December1999):469-86.]


Verse 4

John saw a new scene. The purpose of the thrones that John saw was twofold: ruling and judging (cf. Daniel 7:9-10; Daniel 7:22; Matthew 19:28). Those sitting on them are probably the faithful saints who have returned with Christ to the earth ( Revelation 19:7-8; Revelation 19:14; Revelation 19:19; cf. Revelation 2:26-28; Revelation 3:12; Revelation 3:21). [Note: Seiss, pp457-58; Thomas, Revelation 8-22 , p414.] Other views are that they are the24elders viewed as representatives of the church, [Note: Smith, A Revelation . . ., p270; Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p296.] Tribulation saints, [Note: Charles, 2:182-83; Caird, p252.] or the apostles and perhaps some other saints. [Note: Swete, p261; Beasley-Murray, p293; Beale, p991.] They receive authority from God to take charge of the earth, the beast"s domain, under Christ"s rule.

John also saw the souls of some people not yet resurrected. These are quite clearly Tribulation martyrs who died because they held steadfastly to the testimony that Jesus bore and the word of God (cf. Revelation 6:9; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 18:24; Revelation 19:2). [Note: Ladd, p263; Herman Hoeksema, "The Reign of the Saints," The Researcher20:4 (Winter1990):20-21.] They refused to take the mark of the beast or to worship his image and had died for their faith ( Revelation 13:15). John saw them come back to life; that Isaiah , they experienced bodily resurrection (cf. Revelation 20:5; Revelation 1:18; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 13:14; John 11:25; Acts 1:3; Acts 9:41). [Note: See Richard S. Yates, "The Resurrection of the Tribulation Saints," Bibliotheca Sacra163:652 (October-December2006):453-66.] Moreover these martyrs will reign with Christ on earth during the Millennium (cf. Revelation 5:10). The name "Christ" (Anointed One) looks back to Psalm 2:2 here, as it does wherever it occurs in Revelation ( Revelation 11:15; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 20:6), tying this reign to Old Testament expectations of God"s kingdom on earth.

"They who were once judged by earth"s courts to be worthy of death are now the judges of the earth under Christ." [Note: Johnson, p582.]

Many amillennialists believe this reign of Christ refers to His spiritual reign over the hearts of His people or the triumph of the martyrs in a symbolic sense. There are four good reasons why Jesus Christ"s reign will be a physical, earthly reign rather than a spiritual, heavenly one. First, Christ will be on earth after He returns ( Revelation 19:11-16). Second, at the end of His reign the saints, who reign with Him, will still be on the earth ( Revelation 20:9). Third, God promised the saints an earthly reign ( Revelation 5:10). Fourth, the Old Testament Messianic prophecies anticipated an earthly kingdom (e.g, 2 Samuel 7:10-16; Psalm 2:8; Isaiah 65:17 to Isaiah 66:24; Daniel 7:27; et al.).


Verses 4-6

2. The resurrection of tribulation martyrs20:4-6

". . . it is not difficult to see why the early church understood John to be teaching a millennium in Revelation 20. Three arguments support this interpretation: (1) the teaching of two resurrections, (2) the binding of Satan, and (3) the ruling of the saints with Christ." [Note: Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, p274. See also Ford, Revelation , p350; and David J. MacLeod, "The Fourth "Last Thing": The Millennial Kingdom of Christ ( Revelation 20:4-6)," Bibliotheca Sacra157:625 (January-March2000):44-67.]


Verse 5

The "rest of the dead" evidently refers to the wicked who are physically dead whom God will raise at the end of the Millennium ( Revelation 20:12).

The "first" resurrection refers to the first of the two resurrections John spoke of in the context ( Revelation 20:4-6; Revelation 20:12). This includes the resurrection of the Tribulation martyrs at the second coming of Christ ( Revelation 20:4) and other believers resurrected at the same time (i.e, Old Testament saints; Daniel 12:2; John 5:28; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:23). The second resurrection in this passage is the resurrection of the wicked at the end of the Millennium ( Revelation 20:12-13). [Note: Smith, A Revelation . . ., p273.] Other names for this "first" resurrection are the resurrection of the just ( Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15), the resurrection from among the dead ( Luke 20:34-36), the resurrection of life ( John 5:29), and the resurrection to everlasting life ( Daniel 12:2). This verse clearly opposes the view that there is only one resurrection at the end of history, which amillennialists and postmillennialists prefer.

The "first" resurrection cannot be first in temporal sequence since God has already resurrected Jesus Christ ( Matthew 27:52-53). Furthermore, Christians will have experienced resurrection by this time ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16). Various groups of the righteous will experience resurrection at various times. However, God will raise all the wicked at one time, namely, at the end of the Millennium ( Revelation 20:12-13).

The times when God will raise the righteous are as follows. First, He raised Jesus Christ who is the firstfruits of those who sleep ( 1 Corinthians 15:23). Second, He raised some saints near Jerusalem shortly after Jesus" resurrection ( Matthew 27:52-53), though this was probably a temporary resuscitation like that of Lazarus. Third, He will raise Christians at the Rapture ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Fourth, He will raise the two witnesses during the Great Tribulation ( Revelation 11:3; Revelation 11:11). Fifth, He will raise the Tribulation martyrs at the beginning of the Millennium ( Revelation 20:4-5). Sixth, He will raise the Old Testament saints at the same time ( Isaiah 26:19-21; Ezekiel 37:12-14; Daniel 12:2-4). Seventh, He will apparently raise the saints who die during the Millennium (cf. Revelation 20:12-13). The idea that the resurrection of believers takes place in stages also finds support in 1 Corinthians 15:23. Many premillennialists believe that the first resurrection refers to the resurrection of the righteous and the second resurrection refers to the resurrection of the unrighteous. [Note: E.g, Roy Aldrich, "Divisions of the First Resurrection," Bibliotheca Sacra128:510 (April-June1971):117-19; and Newell, p330.]

Historic amillennialists usually take the first resurrection as a reference to spiritual regeneration (i.e, salvation). They believe the second resurrection describes a general physical resurrection of all the dead at the end of time. This view takes "resurrection" figuratively in one case but literally in the other.

"If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned ... the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave;-then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to any thing." [Note: Alford, 4:732.]


Verse 6

Revelation"s fifth beatitude reveals that those who participate in the first resurrection are blessed and holy. The "second death" is final death beyond physical death (cf. Revelation 20:14; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 21:8). It involves death of the soul (whole person) as well as the body ( Matthew 10:28). Specifically, the first resurrection involves deliverance from the lake of fire. Those who participate in the first resurrection are also blessed because they will be priests of God and Christ, and they will reign with Christ for1 ,000 years. Priests have unlimited access to and intimate fellowship with God. Exactly how they will reign remains to be seen, though the extent of their authority under Christ seems connected with their previous faithfulness (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27).

Note that many of the promises to the overcomers in the letters to the seven churches find their fulfillment in the Millennium (cf. Revelation 2:11 with Revelation 20:6; Revelation 2:26-27 with Revelation 20:4; Revelation 3:5 with Revelation 20:12; Revelation 20:15; and Revelation 3:21 with Revelation 20:4). This seems to indicate that the rewards Christians receive from the Lord at the judgment seat will also involve serving under Him in the Millennium (cf. Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27) and beyond ( Revelation 22:3; Revelation 22:5).

The phrase "a thousand years" occurs six times in this chapter ( Revelation 20:2-7). Since God revealed that events will occur both before and after Christ"s thousand-year reign, we should interpret this number literally (cf. Revelation 11:2-3; Revelation 12:6; Revelation 13:5; Revelation 20:3). John specifically located this reign yet future in this verse. This is a strong argument against interpreting it simply as Jesus Christ"s present reign in human hearts, or His reign throughout eternity, as many amillennialists do.

John gave us no information here regarding what life will be like on earth during the Millennium, but many Old Testament passages provide this revelation. [Note: See John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, pp296-323 , for a full discussion of government, spiritual life, social, economic, and physical aspects of the Millennium.] The main point here seems to be that the Millennium will follow Jesus Christ"s second coming, the main event in the Book of Revelation.

There are three major schools of interpretation that deal with millennial prophecies. Amillennialists interpret the Millennium figuratively and believe it does not correspond to any specific era. Some of them teach that it refers to Jesus Christ"s rule in the hearts of His people presently living on earth. For example, Arthur Lewis wrote that the Millennium of chapter20 is not a perfect state, but the future messianic kingdom is a perfect state. Therefore the Millennium of chapter20 cannot be the future messianic kingdom, but it is the present age. He believed the kingdom age is really the eternal state of chapters21,22. [Note: Arthur H. Lewis, The Dark Side of the Millennium: The Problem of Evil in Revelation 20:1-10. For a good critique of this book, see Jeffrey L. Townsend, "Is the Present Age the Millennium?" Bibliotheca Sacra140:559 (July-September1983):206-24.] Other amillennialists teach that the Millennium refers to Christ"s rule over His people in heaven throughout eternity. Berkouwer articulated the view of many amillennialists regarding this pericope.

"This vision is not a narrative account of a future earthly reign of peace at all, but is the apocalyptic unveiling of the reality of salvation in Christ as a backdrop to the reality of the suffering and martyrdom that still continue as long as the dominion of Christ remains hidden." [Note: G. C. Berkouwer, The Return of Christ, p307.]

Postmillennialists hold that Christ will return after the Millennium. Some of them believe we should interpret the thousand-year reign of Christ figuratively as referring to the present age in which we live. Others believe it is a literal thousand-year period yet future. Postmillennialism has not been very popular since the First World War. Since then it has become increasingly clear to most people that the world is not getting better and better but worse and worse. While there has been progress in many areas of life, it seems clear that worldwide peace and the other millennial conditions that the prophets described will never come without divine intervention that will change the course of history. Postmillennialism teaches that world peace and all millennial conditions will precede the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Premillennialists take the revelation in these passages more literally as a description of events that will proceed chronologically in order. We believe the Second Coming will precede a literal earthly millennial reign of Jesus Christ. [Note: For more information on these views, see John F. Walvoord, The Millennial . . ., pp263-75 , or idem, The Revelation . . ., pp282-90. See also the diagram of premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism at the end of my comments on chapter6 in these notes.] Among premillennialists there are two main groups. "Historic premillennialists" (Covenant premillennialists) believe that God will fulfill His promises to Abraham ( Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; et al.) through the spiritual seed of Abraham, namely, believers whom the Old Testament writers called Israel and the New Testament writers called the church. "Dispensational premillennialists" believe that God will fulfill His promises to Abraham through the physical seed of Abraham, namely, the Jewish people whom the writers of both testaments referred to as Israel.

Jesus Christ"s earthly reign will be the fulfillment of many prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the reign of a completely faithful descendant of David ( 2 Samuel 7:10-16; et al.). God promised David that one of his descendants would reign over the Israelites forever, that His kingdom would have no end. Most dispensationalists have believed that this reign will begin after Jesus Christ returns to earth at His second coming, and it will continue through the Millennium and on into eternity forever. We believe that since David"s kingdom was an earthly kingdom and since David and his successors ruled on the earth, the coming fulfillment of Davidic kingdom promises will take place on the earth. Progressive dispensationalists, on the other hand, believe that Jesus" rule as David"s successor began when He ascended into heaven following His resurrection and that it will move to earth at the second coming and will continue throughout eternity. They view the promised Davidic kingdom as having heavenly (already) and earthly (not yet) stages. Almost all dispensationalists believe that what is in effect now is some form of God"s kingdom program (cf. Matthew 13). The difference of opinion is over whether the present form of the kingdom, the church, is a stage of the Davidic Kingdom or distinct from it.


Verse 7

At the end of the Millennium God will release Satan from the abyss (cf. 1 Peter 3:19). Two reasons are implied in the text: to demonstrate the incorrigibility of Satan, and to demonstrate the depravity of humanity. [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Fifth "Last Thing": The Release of Satan and Man"s Final Rebellion ( Revelation 20:7-10)," Bibliotheca Sacra157:626 (April-June2000):204-5.] God may use an angelic agent for this purpose (cf. Revelation 20:1-3).


Verses 7-10

3. The final judgment of Satan20:7-10


Verse 8

The devil will then resume his former work of deceiving the nations ( Revelation 20:3) into thinking they will be better off submitting to his authority than to Jesus Christ"s (cf. Genesis 3; Matthew 4). He will eventually gather innumerable soldiers from all parts of the world to fight against Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 7:1; Isaiah 11:2; Ezekiel 38:3-6; Ezekiel 39:1-2).

"At the close of the Millennium, Satan will be released from the pit and permitted to lead one last revolt against the Lord. Why? As final proof that the heart of man is desperately wicked and can be changed only by God"s grace [cf. Jeremiah 17:9]. Imagine the tragedy of this revolt: people who have been living in a perfect environment, under the perfect government of God"s Song of Solomon , will finally admit the truth [that they hate Him] and rebel against the King! ...

"In one sense, the millennial kingdom will "sum up" all that God has said about the heart of man during the various periods of history [dispensations]. It will be a reign of law, and yet law will not change man"s sinful heart. Man will still revolt against God [cf. Genesis 2:16-17]. The Millennium will be a period of peace and perfect environment, a time when disobedience will be judged swiftly and with justice; and yet in the end the subjects of the King will follow Satan and rebel against the Lord. A perfect environment cannot produce a perfect heart." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:620.]

The people who follow Satan in this rebellion will evidently be those who have not trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior during the Millennium. Even though everyone will know who Jesus Christ is during the Millennium ( Jeremiah 31:33-34), not everyone will trust in Him as Savior. Only believers will enter the Millennium, but everyone born during that time will need to trust Christ to experience eternal salvation.

The phrase "Gog and Magog" ( Revelation 20:8) evidently refers to the world"s rulers and nations in rebellion against God. Gog, the ruler, and Magog, his land, probably have symbolic significance as well as literal meaning, much as Babylon does, and they signify Messiah"s enemies. People will come from all over the world to rebel against Christ ( Ezekiel 38:3-6). It seems quite clear that the total invasion by Gog described in Ezekiel 38 , 39 is not in view here, though part of it is. One phase of the invasion will evidently occur at the end of the Tribulation (cf. Revelation 19:17-21). Similarly chapters17,18 that record the destruction of Babylon allude to Isaiah 21and Jeremiah 51 , which record both future and eschatological destructions of Babylon. In view of its description in Ezekiel , Gog"s invasion of the Promised Land finds fulfillment in two events. In Revelation 20 , we see a worldwide rebellion at the end of the Millennium. The battle of Armageddon (cf. Revelation 16:14) will be a similar earlier and limited fulfillment.

"That rebellion of the godless forces from the north will have made such an impression on mankind that after one thousand years, that last rebellion of man bears the same label-Gog and Magog.

"We have passed through a similar situation in this century. World War I was so devastating that when war broke out in Europe, involving many of the same nations and even more, it was also labeled a World War, but it was differentiated by the number two." [Note: McGee, 5:1058.]

Amillennialist Meredith Klein argued that Har Magedon is Mount Zion, the battle in Revelation 20:7-10 is the one described in Ezekiel 38-39 , and it is the same as Armageddon in Revelation 16:12-16. [Note: Meredith G. Kline, "Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society39:2 (June1996):207-22. Cf. C. C. Torry, "Armageddon," Harvard Theological Review31 (1938):237-48.]


Verse 9

The rebels will occupy Palestine ("the broad plane;" cf. Ezekiel 38:9; Ezekiel 38:11-12; Ezekiel 38:15-16; Ezekiel 39:2). This probably refers to the Plain of Jezreel in northern Israel (cf. Ezekiel 11-16). However topographical changes will precede and accompany Christ"s second coming, so the location of this plain may not be exactly identifiable now. The rebels will also surround the dwelling place ("camp") of believers, even the earthly city of Jerusalem. This city will be Christ"s capital during the Millennium ( Jeremiah 3:17; cf. Isaiah 24:23; Ezekiel 43:7; Micah 4:7; Zechariah 14:9-11), the center of the world ( Ezekiel 38:12). Nevertheless, God will destroy the rebels with fire from heaven (cf. Genesis 19:24; Leviticus 10:2; 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12; Ezekiel 38:22; Ezekiel 39:6; Luke 9:54). John described the destiny of these mortal rebels in Revelation 20:12-15.

Many less literal interpreters understand this verse as a description of the church"s final victory over her enemies. They usually equate this city with the New Jerusalem. [Note: E.g, Swete, pp268-69; and Beale, pp1025-28.]


Verse 10

Then God, perhaps using an unnamed agent, will cast Satan, the deceiver, into the lake of fire that He previously prepared for the devil and his angels ( Matthew 25:41). The fact that the beast and the false prophet are still there shows that this is a place of conscious torment, not annihilation ( Revelation 19:20). The Gog of the former invasion of Palestine ( Revelation 19:17-21) is the beast. Furthermore the lake of fire is a place of eternal judgment: "day and night forever and ever." This will be Satan"s final abode, and this judgment will constitute the ultimate bruising of his head (cf. Genesis 3:15; John 12:31).

"It is hard for humans to conceive of how literal fire can bring torture to nonphysical beings, but the reality of unbearable pain inflicted on Satan is unquestionable. However the Bible may speak of that future punishment-whether as the lake of fire, outer darkness ( Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30), wailing and gnashing of teeth ( Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30; Luke 13:28), a never-dying worm and unquenchable fire ( Mark 9:48), or fire and brimstone-it presents a picture of mental agony and corporeal suffering combined in proportion to the guilt of those who have sinned ( Luke 12:47-48) ..." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22 , p426.]


Verse 11

This "And I saw" introduces something else John saw in this vision (cf. Revelation 19:11; Revelation 19:17; Revelation 19:19; Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:4; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:1-2). The continuation of chronological progression seems clear from the continued use of "And" to introduce new information. Almost every verse in this chapter begins with "And."

The "great white throne" John saw seems to be different from the thrones he referred to earlier in this chapter ( Revelation 20:4). It is evidently God"s throne in heaven (cf. Revelation 4:2; Revelation 5:7; Daniel 7:9; Ezekiel 1:26-28). It is great because it is God"s throne and because it is the seat of this last judgment. Its whiteness suggests that the verdicts that proceed from it are pure, holy, and righteous (cf. Psalm 97:2; Daniel 7:9). The judgment described here is the last in a number of future judgments (cf. Revelation 20:4-5; Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

The one sitting on this throne is God. This is probably a general reference to the Father and Jesus Christ since both will judge finally (cf. Revelation 3:21; Revelation 4:2-3; Revelation 4:9; Revelation 5:1; Revelation 5:7; Revelation 5:13; Revelation 6:16; Revelation 7:10; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 19:4; Revelation 21:5; Revelation 22:1; Revelation 22:3; Revelation 22:12; Daniel 7:9-10; John 5:22-23; John 5:26-27; John 8:16; John 10:30; Hebrews 1:3).

John saw earth and heaven flee from God"s presence (cf. Psalm 114:3; Psalm 114:7). This seems to indicate that we have come to the end of His dealings with this earth as we know it (cf. 2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:10-12). The flight of the present earth and heaven from God"s presence strengthens the description of Him as the ultimate Judge.


Verses 11-15

4. The judgment of the wicked20:11-15


Verse 12

The dead before this throne are evidently at least the unsaved of all ages who now stand resurrected ( Revelation 20:5; Daniel 12:2). They come from all classes and groups of humanity. The "books" contain a record of their deeds (cf. Deuteronomy 32:34; Psalm 56:8; Isaiah 65:6; Daniel 7:10; Malachi 3:16; Matthew 12:37). The "book of life" contains the names of God"s elect ( Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:27; Isaiah 4:3; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3). God will condemn unbelievers raised to face this judgment because of their works, including failure to believe in Jesus Christ ( John 6:29). Since He will evaluate their deeds, there seems to be a difference in degrees of punishment as there will be differences in rewards for believers (cf. Matthew 11:20-24).

"The teaching of judgment by works runs throughout both the OT and the NT." [Note: Mounce, p365. Cf. Psalm 62:12; Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 2:6; 1 Peter 1:17.]

There is no revelation about what will happen to mortal believers who are alive at the end of the Millennium. Perhaps Satan and his followers will kill them all before God judges the rebels. Another possibility is that they will live through this rebellion and God will give them immortal bodies with which they will be able to enter the new earth. Neither is there information about the divine judgment of these believers. There will probably be a judgment of them since God judges everyone else who has ever lived at one time or another. Probably He will judge them at the end of the Millennium. A resurrection of those of them that died during the Millennium is also probable (cf. Isaiah 65:17-20).


Verse 13

This verse describes the resurrection and judgment of the unrighteous more fully. In logical sequence this verse fits in the middle of the preceding one. This resurrection results in death (cf. Revelation 20:6) whereas the previous one ( Revelation 20:4) resulted in life.

God will resurrect the bodies of all unbelievers and unite them with their spirits, even those bodies decomposed in the sea and in every other way. The special mention of death by drowning and burial at sea may be due to the fact that the ancients regarded these fates as especially abhorrent. [Note: Swete, p273.] "Death and Hades" probably refer to the state of death and the place of death. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22 , p433.] "Hades" is the temporary abode of unbelievers" spirits until the great white throne judgment. Hades is the unseen place where all non-Christians (believers from other dispensations and unbelievers) who die reside until their resurrection (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:8). It includes Paradise ( Luke 23:43) and Gehenna ( Luke 12:5), also called Abraham"s bosom and the place of torment and anguish ( Luke 16:22-28). It is a place of conscious torment for unbelievers ( Luke 16:23). "Hades" is the New Testament word for this place, and "Sheol" is the Old Testament word.

Another reference to judgment on the basis of deeds again stresses personal responsibility (cf. Revelation 20:12; Revelation 2:23; Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; Romans 14:12; 1 Peter 1:17). God will judge all people on the basis of their works ( Revelation 20:12; cf. Psalm 62:12; Matthew 25:41-46; Hebrews 4:12-13). This is also true of Christians at the judgment seat of Christ ( Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

"The White Throne Judgment will be nothing like our modern court cases. At the White Throne, there will be a Judge but no jury, a prosecution but no defense, a sentence but no appeal. No one will be able to defend himself or accuse God of unrighteousness. What an awesome scene it will be!" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:621.]


Verse 14

From this point on there will be no more death (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). God will cast death and Hades into the lake of fire. This is hell, the place of eternal punishment.

"Death and Hades are an inseparable pair, as in i18 , vi8 ..., representing the two aspects of Death, the physical fact and its spiritual consequences ... Here they appear as two voracious and insatiable monsters who have swallowed all past generations, but are now forced to disgorge their prey." [Note: Swete, p273.]

The "second death" is separation from God in the lake of fire (cf. Revelation 19:20; Revelation 21:8). Evidently the wicked too will receive resurrection bodies that are different from their former mortal bodies. They will be indestructible. [Note: See Robert A. Peterson, "A Traditionalist Response to John Stott"s Arguments for Annihilationism," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society37:4 (December1994):553-68.]

"As there is a second and higher life, so there is also a second and deeper death. And as after that life there is no more death (ch. xxi4), so after that death there is no more life, Revelation 20:10; Matt. xxv41)." [Note: Alford, 4:735-36.]


Verse 15

The names of the wicked will be absent from the book of life. This will confirm their eternal fate (cf. Revelation 14:11).

"When taken seriously, this final note evaporates all theories of universalism or apocatastasis [restoration]..." [Note: Johnson, p590. Cf. Robertson, 6:465; and Ladd, p258. See Berkouwer, pp387-423 , for a very good discussion of eternal punishment.]

Eternal punishment is a doctrine that is becoming increasingly unpopular in our day. Notice that Jesus Christ, the Judges , spoke very plainly when He affirmed it ( Revelation 20:14-15; Revelation 20:10; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 14:10; Matthew 18:8; Matthew 23:15; Matthew 23:33; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:46). [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Sixth "Last Thing": The Last Judgment and the End of the World ( Revelation 20:11-15)," Bibliotheca Sacra157:627 (July-September2000):315-30.]

"If we once saw sin as God sees it, we would understand why a place such as hell exists." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:621.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 20:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/revelation-20.html. 2012.


Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 15th, 2018
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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