Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, May 19th, 2024
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Revelation 20

Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NTLuscombe's NT Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors



This chapter is not that difficult to understand. The problem with chapter 20 is the many who have tried to make it say things it does not say. The contents here are confused with the supposed contents. Men have “read into” this passage many things that are just not there.

This chapter is, I am sure, the most abused chapter in the Bible. Perhaps it is tied with Mat_24:1-51 as the most abused sections of scripture. Close behind is Dan_7:1-28 . These three chapters are all abused by the same religious persuasion. The pre-millenarian teachings cause people to read all kinds of things into these portions of the Bible.

I will not take the time or space here to expound on the theory of the literal return of Christ to establish a physical kingdom in Jerusalem and reign for a period of 1000 years. There are many facets of this theory. In a nutshell here is the heart of the matter.

1. They claim that Jesus came 2000 years ago to establish his earthly kingdom. Because of the rejection of the Jews, the kingdom had to be postponed.

2. Think about that. What if Jesus had succeeded? What if Jesus had set up his kingdom and reigned forever? There would be no forgiveness. We would still be under the law of animal sacrifices. We would still have no hope of eternal life or resurrection.

3. Here is the real issue: DID JESUS COME 2000 YEARS AGO TO SET UP AN EARTHLY KINGDOM AND REIGN FOREVER OR DID HE COME TO DIE ON THE CROSS, AND BE RAISED AGAIN THE THIRD DAY? It cannot be both ways. If Jesus came to live and reign forever, then He could not have come to die for our sins. If he came to die and be raised again, He could not have come to reign forever.

There is one issue that must be understood before we begin the study of this chapter. What is the meaning of the period mentioned in this chapter, one thousand years?

Of course, some take this number as literal. The question to ask is what in this chapter is literal? Bottomless pit, Key to the pit, Satan bound, great chain, a thousand years - Which of these are literal?

My view, to be consistent with the rest of the book, is that this number must be symbolic. The number “1000” was commonly understood by the Jewish people to represent ultimate completeness. If ten is complete, then high multiples of that number (10 X 10 X 10 = 1000) compounds the totality of the completeness. One thousand is ten to the third power.

It is my view that this period of one thousand years represents the entire Christian Age. While the church is on earth, while there is suffering and persecution, these events will recur.

Verses 1-2

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;

A. After the judgment of the immoral mother of harlots, the persecuting governments and the false religious teachers, Satan has no defense left. He is left alone. This chapter describes his fate.

B. An angel appears with a great key chain. A key on the chain is the key to the door of the bottomless pit. This angel grabs Satan, and binds him for a thousand years.

C. If the thousand years is symbolic of the Christian Age, then, some will ask, in what way is Satan bound? Is Satan bound today? Absolutely!

1. The word “bound” means to restrict. One might put a dog on a leash and tie it to a tree. The dog can move. He can run around. But, his area of activity is limited. This is the intent of the text here.

2. Satan is limited is several ways. He is not able to control God’s people. We have the power to resist Satan and he will flee from us. ( Jam_4:7 ) Satan is not able to threaten us with death. Christ overcame death, and Satan. ( Heb_2:14 ) Before the cross of Christ there was no forgiveness of sins. Death (spiritual death) reigned supreme. Satan ruled the world until the death of Christ. The death of Christ pulled down his hold over man.

3. It has been observed that, during the lifetime of Jesus and the apostles, Satan was allowed to possess people. However, after the age of miracles ended, Satan has been restricted in his power and control

Verse 3

3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

A. He is “tied to the tree” by being cast into this pit. He is limited. He is on a short leash. He can only harm those that come close to him and allow him to harm them.

B. We are reminded that we have the power to resist Satan. ( 1Pe_5:8-9 ) Satan wants us to come near to him. We have the power to walk away.

Verse 4

4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

A. Here we have a description of those who live and reign with Christ.

B. NOTE: Notice what is NOT in this verse. This is not the reign of Christ. It is the co-reign of Christians. The thousand years is not the length of Christ’s reign. It is the length of the time we reign with Christ.

C. This is not a scene of eternity with resurrected bodies. John saw souls. These were souls of the martyred saints. (See the fifth seal - 6:9-11) These souls had died because of their faith. They had remained faithful, not receiving the mark of the beast. They had not worshipped his image.

D. These faithful Christians, whose faith had stood the ultimate test, death, were living and reigning with Christ. This reign continued through the Christian Age.

Verse 5

5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.

A. There are two views here. 1) The rest of the dead are all the non-Christians. 2) The rest of the dead are the faithful Christians who were not killed, but died natural deaths. I believe the first view is correct. The rest of the dead are those who are not Christians. The issue is not how a Christian dies - natural vs. persecution. The fact is that the death of faithful believer is distinguished from the death of an unbeliever.

B. Here is the message of this verse. There is a group who, after death, lives and reigns with Christ. This group is faithful Christians. Implied in this statement is: There is a group who does not live and reign with Christ.

C. This group of unbelievers will not live and reign with Christ. They will not be resurrected until the thousand years (Christian Age) is finished.

D. What is the first resurrection? The New Testament is of great help here. Paul explains that baptism is a death, burial and resurrection. ( Col_2:12-13 ; Rom_6:3-6 ) When we confessed our faith in Christ, and repented (died to sin), we were buried in a watery grave and raised to a new life in Christ. Have you participated in that “first resurrection” called baptism?

E. Woodruff comments, “Therefore, the first resurrection is the resurrection of the soul from the grave of sin. It is a spiritual resurrection. ( Col_1:18 )” (1, 370)

Verse 6

6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

A. If you have participated in the first resurrection (baptism into Christ) you are blessed.

B. If you have already shared in the first resurrection, the second death poses no real credible threat. The second death will not harm the faithful baptized believer in Christ.

C. We will be priests of God. (See comments on 1:6)

D. We will reign with Christ during the Christian Age.

Verse 7

7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison

A. Admittedly, this is a difficult verse to understand. It will help if we understand that the limitation of Satan is the preaching of the gospel.

B. Satan is limited because the gospel is having an influence on the lives of men. Satan will be released (not bound or restricted) at some point. It would appear that there will come a time when the gospel is no longer reaching man. Perhaps man is hardened. Again, I quote Woodruff. “The only logical meaning to this is that all people who will ever become obedient to the gospel will have done so.” (1, 371)

C. Here is the scary truth: There will come a time when men will not hear the gospel and be inclined to obey it. The gospel will not spread. As fewer and fewer people are willing to study and obey the gospel, more and more will be living lives of rebellion and sin.

D. Think about the words of Jesus, “As it was in the days of Noah …” ( Mat_24:37 )

Verse 8

8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.

A. Where the gospel does NOT go, Satan will be given greater room to roam. He will go to the four corners of the earth. The four directions (North, South, East, West) are used to describe the complete and total spread of Satan’s influence.

B. This verse describes a time when Satan will have far reaching power and influence because the gospel has been stopped. The world will become more wicked and rebellious. This will be a world that totally rejects God and His church.

C. Many theories have come out of the woodwork to find two modern nations that represent Gog and Magog. These terms represent those who oppose God. ( Eze_38:1-23 ; Eze_39:1-29 )

D. The numbers of people who have rebelled against God and rejected the gospel are like the sand of the sea. They are beyond number.

Verse 9

9 They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.

A. Sin will literally take over the world. The entire world will be plunged into wickedness.

B. The faithful Christians will be surrounded as if under siege.

C. When you think that you are all alone, that no one else is faithful to God - Do not give up. This is no time to surrender. Victory is just around the corner.

D. God will win the battle. Fire from heaven will devour the wicked world.

Verse 10

10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

A. This is the final defeat. Satan has lost his great harlot, Babylon. He has lost his persecuting governments. He has lost his false religions. He saw the world become so wicked that he was thinking he was winning.

B. Out of the jaws of victory, God gives Satan his final and ultimate defeat.

C. Satan is thrown into the same lake of fire and brimstone as his generals. They are now in torment. The torment is continual, without rest, day and night, forever and ever.

Verse 11

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.

A. All that remains is the final judgment. John sees a great white throne. The power and majesty of Christ is so strong that all look away.

B. Because of the brilliance, Christians cannot look. Because of their sins, the world does not want to look. They are looking for a place to hide. The world has been destroyed. There are no rocks to hide under. There is no place to run.

Verse 12

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

A. All the dead appear before God. All the dead will appear before the judgment seat of Christ - small and great, good and bad, rich and poor. Paul adds that the living and the dead will stand before God. ( 2Ti_4:1 ) Jesus said, “All nations shall appear before him.” ( Mat_25:31 )

B. The books were opened. We will be judged according to what is written in these books. There can be little doubt that the books referred to here are the books of the law of God. For the nation of Israel before the cross, the Law of Moses, and for the world after the cross, the New Testament. In a broader sense, the entire Bible represents the books by which we will be judged.

C. Another book (singular) is called the Book of Life. God keeps a record of those who are His. When one becomes a Christian, God writes their name in the Book of Life. ( Php_4:3 ) Jesus promises that if we will remain faithful our name will not be blotted out of the book of life. (3:5)

Verse 13

13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.

A. Some have devised theories of as many as seven different resurrections. God only discusses one bodily, physical resurrection. We have already discussed the spiritual resurrection by baptism.

B. Jesus taught one general resurrection of saved and lost. ( Joh_5:28-29 )

C. All who died, no matter where or how their body decayed, will be raised. Some have died at sea. Others died and were buried in protected vaults and caskets. Still others have been mummified. And still others have died in fire, explosion, war and other situations were there was not body to be found. None of these things matter to God. God created us from dust the first time. He can resurrect us from the dust of the earth.

D. Judgment will be personal and individual. We will not be judged as a nation, state, city or local congregation. We will be judged “each one” by our own deeds.

E. Some have questioned the reason for judgment. It is argued that if, when we die, we go to torments or paradise, then we know our destiny. Since there is a great gulf between the two, no one can cross from one side to the other. The problem is this: We often think of “judgment” as the time we are adjudged guilty or innocent. Guilt or innocence is determined at death. The judgment of God is not for the purpose of holding hearings on our guilt or innocence. The purpose in judgment is to pronounce sentence. In our legal system, when a person is pronounced guilty of a crime, the judge will say, “On this date, sentence will be pronounced.” Here is a man who knows he is guilty. He is in jail. What he does not fully understand is the full punishment to be inflicted on him.

F. Judgment Day will be the time when God announces the sentence on the wicked and the reward for the righteous.

Verse 14

14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

A. The ultimate end of all things is here. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. ( 1Co_15:26 ) All have been raised from the dead. Death ends. All have been raised to eternal life or eternal separation from God.

B. Hades (the temporary abode of the departed spirits) has been emptied. Hades ends.

C. God has finished with them and they are thrown into the lake of fire.

D. The lake of fire is the second death. Death means separation. Spiritual death is separation from God. ( 2Th_1:7-9 )

E. Christians do not have to fear this second death. We have already died twice. We died to sin in baptism. Then we died to this physical body. There is no fear of the second death for faithful Christians.

Verse 15

15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

A. God’s record is accurate. Is your name written there?

B. All not written in the Book of Life are thrown into the lake of fire.

Summary of Rev_1:1-20 ; Rev_2:1-29 ; Rev_3:1-22 ; Rev_4:1-11 ; Rev_5:1-14 ; Rev_6:1-17 ; Rev_7:1-17 ; Rev_8:1-13 ; Rev_9:1-21 ; Rev_10:1-11 ; Rev_11:1-19 ; Rev_12:1-17 ; Rev_13:1-18 ; Rev_14:1-20 ; Rev_15:1-8 ; Rev_16:1-21 ; Rev_17:1-18 ; Rev_18:1-24 ; Rev_19:1-21 ; Rev_20:1-15

We have now seen the end of all things.

 The material world

 Death

 Hades

 Immorality (Babylon, mother of harlots)

 Persecuting civil governments

 False prophets and false religions

 Pain, suffering, persecution, hardship

All that remains now is to follow the righteous to the glorious abode of our God and the Lamb.

Bibliographical Information
Luscombe, Manly. "Commentary on Revelation 20". Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mlc/revelation-20.html. 2021.
Ads FreeProfile