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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 20

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-3

‘And I saw an angel coming down out of Heaven having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand, and he laid hold on the monster, the old Serpent who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more until the thousand years were finished. And after this he must be loosed for a little time.’

In this vision John is carried back in time to the period of the binding of Satan (Mark 3:27; Colossians 2:15). The effect of Christ’s presence on earth and the power He endowed on His disciples through His Spirit resulted in the restricting of Satan and his fall from heaven (Luke 10:18). Now the angel coming down from Heaven with the key of the Abyss is to act as his gaoler. See for the end of this situation Revelation 9:1-11. There it is clear that there has been a period when the powers of evil have been kept under restraint in the Abyss. This is in contrast with the star that fell who was also later given the key of the Abyss (Revelation 9:2). The latter was to open the Abyss. This angel in Revelation 20 is thus acting prior to that and utilising the Abyss as a prison in which to hold Satan and his minions. Satan’s total grip on the world was therefore broken

The later opening of the Abyss is a theme of Revelation and is described a number of times. It is described in Revelation 9:2 where the star fallen from heaven to earth is given the key to open the Abyss, in which is the king of the Abyss, called Abaddon and Apollyon. A powerful host of evil spirits is released , including their king. It is mentioned in Revelation 17:8 where the red beast comes out of the Abyss (for a short while) and after a while goes into Destruction, compare Revelation 11:7 where he is described as the beast who comes up out of the Abyss. As Satan is here described as being chained in the Abyss (Revelation 20:3), and after his loosing also goes into Destruction (Revelation 20:10) it is natural to see these events of the Beast and Satan ‘going into Destruction’ as parallel.

The Binding of Angels and Satan in the Abyss.

The Abyss is both a place where the dead go (Romans 10:7) and also a place for the imprisonment and punishment of spiritual beings (Luke 8:31). It is the unseen world other than Heaven.

We learn in Jude that “the angels who kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6). This is used as an example for false teachers, who misuse the truth to their own condemnation, showing that those who turn from the truth face severe judgment. It is clear that the chaining of angels who did not keep ‘their first estate’ in everlasting chains is in the past for Jude, and the context, coming before Sodom and Gomorrah, suggests it refers to Genesis 6:1-4.

This is specifically confirmed by Peter, for in 2 Peter 2:4 we read, “God spared not the angels who sinned, but cast them down to Tartarus (a place of torment), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment”, and he refers this to the time of Noah. Thus these angels were certainly chained in the abyss in pre-history because they crossed the forbidden boundary between the natural and the supernatural.

Satan also is later described by Jesus Christ Himself as being bound so that his goods can be spoiled. Indeed Jesus claimed that He was here as ‘the stronger than he’ and that it would be necessary for Him to ‘bind the strong man’ so that He could despoil his house (Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:22). A Greater than Satan was here. When His disciples returned from their ministry amazed that they had been able to cast out evil spirits and joyously announcing to Him their triumph, He replied, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In other words Satan was a defeated foe. He had seen Satan defeated at the hands of His Apostles. His statement indicated that, as the disciples had discovered, Satan was now disempowered. His total grip on the world was broken. In other words he was bound.

The heaven from which Satan ‘fell’ was not the Heaven of Heavens, but the spiritual sphere in which he was active. Late in His life Jesus could declare, “now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). In other words the whole life and work of Jesus resulted in a continual binding and casting out of Satan, finalising in His victory on the cross. As Paul says in Colossians 2:15, “having spoiled principalities and powers (in the cross), he led them in a show of triumph”. His work on the cross resulted in the final spoiling and captivity of Satan and his minions.

This defeat of Satan is also described in Revelation 12:7-9 (which see). Satan is defeated, and having been defeated is cast down ‘to the earth’, the emphasis being on the fact that he is no longer in a position to directly approach God and accuse His people. It is shortly after this point possibly that the angel, under instructions, chains the defeated foe in the Abyss which is always described as being under the earth, restricting his activities. All this suggests that the opening of the abyss to receive Satan and his angels is to be seen as a past event, an event followed by his later release in the end days (Revelation 11:1-9).

One objection raised to this is that it fails to explain how Satan, if he is bound in the abyss, can be so active on earth. That Satan is active can be seen quite clearly in 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6 to Job 2:7; Psalms 109:6; Zechariah 3:1-2; Matthew 4:1-10 and parallels; Matthew 12:25-29 and parallels; Mark 4:15; Luke 13:16; Luke 22:3; Luke 22:31; Acts 5:3; Acts 26:18; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:20; 1 Timothy 5:15; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 2:24. We have deliberately included all the main apposite passages at the risk of overemphasis so as not to weaken the case being argued against.

In these passages we learn that Satan leads men astray, accuses them before God, tests them out, walks around like a lion seeking to devour men, is allowed limited powers against them, holds sway over unbelievers, hinders Christian activities and performs ‘lying wonders’. If he can act so, it may be asked, how can he then have been bound? As someone has sarcastically put it, ‘if he was bound, it was with a remarkably long chain’.

But this is to ignore the symbolism behind all this. The point is that Satan has been defeated, he has been chained in the abyss so that he cannot deceive the nations any more, and it is from there that he carries out his present activity, although in the end for a short time being allowed his final personal go at the world.

In regard to this we must consider:

a) That Satan is so powerful that even Michael the Archangel is wary of him (consider Jude 1:9). This being so why would he be as restrained as he is if he is not bound in some way? His powers have clearly been restricted. That is why Paul can speak of ‘that which restrains’ (2 Thessalonians 2:6) until he - the man of sin - is revealed in his season. He speaks of ‘one who restrains until he be taken out of the way, and then shall be revealed the lawless one’ (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The ‘restrainer’ may well have in mind the angel of the abyss, and the restraint the heavenly ‘chain’.

b) How literally are we to take the descriptions in the verses which teach about Satan? The answer is that we must remember that Satan is a spirit-being who can only operate within the restrictions put on him by God. The truth is that the Bible has to teach heavenly things in earthly language. We must be careful not to over-press such language.

Taking the second consideration first. Satan comes before God to accuse both Job (Job 1:6 to Job 2:8) and Joshua the High Priest (Zechariah 3:1-2). But does this really mean that Satan has physical ready access to God in a physical Heavenly court, and can approach His glory and holiness without fear?

The fact is that this is simply a picture in earthly language, picturing spiritual truth in terms of the way in which great kings called men before them for judgment or praise. But God is not limited to a physical place in space and time, and nor for that matter is Satan. The aim of the picture is to express God’s overall sovereignty and His awareness of all that happens, and especially of Satanic claims. It brings out the accountability of Satan. But it is not intended to be interpreted physically. If Satan were really to come into the presence of God he would shrivel up before His holiness.

In the same way the picture of Satan as being bound in a long chain in the Abyss is simply a picture. It is a picture of a doomed and controlled Satan, a picture of him as a defeated and reined-in foe, as restricted in what he can do. The homely pictures are to be seen as conveying ideas, not describing actual physical events. God is not physical, neither is Satan. We must surely therefore accept that Satan could not be bound with a physical chain. The chain is rather the restrictions put on him by God. Nor indeed could he survive in the presence of God’s awesome holiness. The pictures depict spiritual realities, not physical realities.

The fact is that Satan’s power is such that if he were not restrained Christians would stand no chance against him, and the world even less. If even Michael the archangel hesitates in his dealings with him (Jude 1:9), where would anyone else stand? That is why he had to be ‘restrained’ by a Greater than he and is depicted as bound. He operates on his chain. As we have mentioned, 2 Thessalonians 1:6 mentions ‘that which restrains’ where ‘that’ is neuter and may well indicate the Abyss and the chain. So while Christians may expect to suffer from his attentions they do so in the confidence that he is restricted by God in what he can do. The result of his being bound is seen here as that the good news goes out into the whole world, ‘he deceives the nations no more’ (Revelation 20:3). Light goes out to the Gentiles.

So Satan has been ‘bound’ by Jesus, and subjected to the disciples in Jesus’ name, and is clearly under restraint - and doomed. It is God Who restrains him. No physical chain could restrain Satan, and no physical place hold him. Those are but pictures in earthly terms. The fact that God allows him limited activity does not cancel out this fact. He is still seen as tightly controlled under God’s ‘seal’ like a savage dog on a leash. When he walks around seeking whom he may devour he does it through his minions, those on earth who persecute God’s people. But the further point of Revelation 20:1-3 is that for a short period in the future that restraint will be somewhat lifted, as revealed earlier in the book.

At last he will have his hour (Revelation 17:12), the little season (Revelation 20:3). And this will lead to the final face to face encounter, and the final consummation of the victory of the One Who is the Word of God (Revelation 19:11-16; compare John 1:1). Thus Revelation 20:1-3 is a brief summary of Satan’s defeat and ‘binding’ under God’s control in the period from the time of Jesus’ first coming to the second coming of Christ.

‘Bound him for a thousand years.’ In the ministry of Jesus He had laid emphasis on the fact that His people must be ready for His second coming. As the events described in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 occurred the people of God felt the excitement mounting and began to look for that return. But the years passed and He did not come. It was then that the Apostles drew their attention to the fact that in God’s eyes even a thousand years was but a short time (2 Peter 3:8).

Peter said, “Do not forget this one thing, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (2 Peter 3:8). If there is delay in His coming, he says, it is because of God’s longsuffering, His desire to give men ample opportunity for repentance. So he sees ‘a thousand years’ as representing that unknown space of time between Christ’s first and second coming. It simply means a long, long time. Indeed through Peter’s words it may well have become a technical term for that period. And it is for the same length of time that Satan must be bound. It is thus a round number indicating what could be a considerable period of time, the length of which was unknown.

Note on the Biblical Use of ‘A Thousand’.

We do not intend to discuss the question of what a ‘thousand’ indicates when it is used as a part of larger numbers, only its significance when used on its own, as here. Nor will we consider its use when it means a military or family unit. There are a good number of examples of its use on its own:

1). In many cases it is used simply in order to indicate a large amount. Thus:

· ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as you are, and bless you, as He has promised you!’ (Deuteronomy 1:11). Here it is simply the equivalent of our saying, ‘I have a thousand things to do.’ It simply means, ‘many times’.

· ‘And the man said to Joab, ‘Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in my hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king's son: for in our hearing the king charged you and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom (2 Samuel 18:12). This is similar to the first case and simply means a large round number. The ‘thousand’ was figurative.

· ‘And he spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five’ (1 Kings 4:32). Here we have a generalisation probably indicating a huge number of proverbs and a large number of songs.’ Compare how we might say, ‘I’ve got thousands of them’, and ‘I have a thousand and one things to do’.

· ‘For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills’ (Psalms 50:10). We can assume that no one asks who the cattle on the other hills belong to. Here a thousand hills point to all hills.

· ‘Your neck is like the tower of David built for an armoury, on which there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men’ (Song of Solomon 4:4). Again the significance is of a large number.

· ‘And it shall come about in that day, that every place will be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall even be for briars and thorns (Isaiah 7:23). Again the significance is of a large number.

· ‘Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand’ (Daniel 5:1). It is doubtful if this is intended to indicate an actual number. It rather means a large number of lords.

2). More significant in this context are the examples where ‘a thousand’ is used with a time word indicating the passage of time:

· ‘Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, Who keeps covenant and mercy with those who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations’ (Deuteronomy 7:9). We suspect here that no one would suggest here that God’s mercy would fail once the thousand generations were past, nor that it bound God specifically to a thousand generations. It simply means a great many.

· ‘For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of My God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness’ (Psalms 84:10). Again the significance of ‘a thousand’ is ‘many’, and once more in a time context.

· ‘For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night’ (Psalms 90:4). Here the idea is of a large number, (he could have used any large round number). It is important here because it refers both to how God sees time, and to a time context.

· ‘He has remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations’ (Psalms 105:8). Here again we have a reference to God’s view of time and it is related specifically to the passing of time and to a time word, ‘generations’. No one would suggest that here the idea is that after a thousand generation He would forget His covenant, nor that He is indicating that a thousand generations will actually be achieved.

· ‘Yes, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet has he seen no good. Do not all go to one place?’ (Ecclesiastes 6:6). Here ‘a thousand years’ signifies a long time, and interestingly it can without difficulty be seen as two thousand.

All this would seem to stress that when God says ‘a thousand years’ it simply means a long extent of time.

End of note.

‘After this he must be loosed for a little time.’ In Revelation 17 the scarlet beast is released from the abyss for such a time (Revelation 17:8), as is the king of the abyss (Revelation 9:11), and under the wild beast the ten kings exercise authority for ‘one hour’ (Revelation 17:12). Satan himself is also aware from the beginning that he only has ‘a short time’ (Revelation 12:12). So all the ingredients of these first three verses are found earlier in Revelation. They are a resume of what has gone before.


Verses 1-10

Vision 8 The History of Satan and the People of God (Revelation 20:1-10).

This passage is of special significance. Indeed it determines greatly what view we take of the whole overall doctrine of the Second Coming.

Those who read it just as a continuation of chapter 19 glean from it the doctrine of the Millennium, which they see as a time of peace and plenty on earth as described in the Old Testament prophets. But the prophets had no conception of a life in another heavenly world and thus had to describe the eternal future in that way. Those who take this view apply all these prophecies literally without considering the fact that many of them transcend time (they speak of ‘everlasting); that the deeper inner meaning is drawn out constantly in the New Testament (e.g. Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 11:10-14); and that there is an application of those prophecies in Revelation.

Yet there is no detailed description of such an age in this narrative, nor any mention of it anywhere else in the New Testament. Neither Jesus or Paul ever refer to the idea of a millennium. In this chapter the concentration is rather on the binding of Satan and the triumph of the people of God.

In fact a careful examination of the narrative here points to the fact that this is a new vision, and that it is a brief summary of the history of Satan and the people of God from the time of the triumph of the Man-child when He takes His place on the Father’s throne as judge and ruler of all (Revelation 12:3), until the final establishment of God’s everlasting kingdom. It is a new vision summarising salvation history as already revealed in earlier visions.

Consider the parallels with previous descriptions.

1) Satan is depicted as bound. Here we can compare Mark 3:27; Luke 11:22 along with all verses which refer to the defeat of Satan which was accomplished by Christ’s presence on earth, and through His cross and resurrection (e.g. Colossians 2:15; see below for further detail). Consider also the reference to the present ‘restraint’ of Satan in 2 Thessalonians 2:5-10.

2) The purpose of this restraint here is so that he may not be able to deceive the nations. The New Testament constantly refers to the fact that he is the deceiver of men. He is indeed the arch deceiver. Throughout the Old Testament period, with rare exceptions, the nations had been kept in darkness, deceived by Satan. But now those who walk in darkness will see a great light through the coming of the man child (Matthew 4:14-16). On those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death light will spring up (see also Isaiah 9:2). For them at least the deceiver will be able to deceive no more. He is ‘chained’.

3) He will be released for a little while at the end of the age - compare Revelation 17:8; Revelation 17:12; Revelation 9:2-11. See also Revelation 12:12. The same period is surely being referred to. We cannot expect two releases.

He will take up his position on the sand of the sea in order to enlist the nations in his activities (Revelation 13:1 a; compare Revelation 20:8)

4) He will finally be brought into judgment. Compare Revelation 19:11-21. Along with the Beast and the False Prophet (Revelation 19:20) he is cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:10).

5) Meanwhile the people of God will triumph.

Thus this is the heavenly counterpart of all that is happening on earth. It is not all in the future. Indeed, apart from Satan’s short time, it is for us mainly in the past. It has been and is happening.

This also ties in with another remarkable fact. In Revelation 12 we read of ‘the great Dragon who was cast down, the old Serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world’, who was ‘cast down to earth, and his angels were cast down with him’ (Revelation 12:9). The chapter then delineates his activity as he seeks to destroy the man child, Jesus Christ, and then the ‘woman’ who bore Him (Israel), finally turning his attention to ‘the rest of her seed’. But the interesting fact to note is that he is then only once more mentioned and that in an incident that refers to the final days of the age (Revelation 16:13). While his influence is undoubtedly felt, there is no mention of him (other than in Revelation 16:13), from Revelation 13:1 to Revelation 19:21. But now suddenly the idea is taken up again using exactly the same terminology as in chapter 12, for the writer again refers to ‘the Dragon, the old Serpent, who is the Devil and Satan’ (Revelation 20:2; compare Revelation 12:9), thus connecting back to chapter 12. It is as though chapter 20 is taking over where chapter 12 finished off. Thus chapter 20 continues the story of Satan from chapter 12, with what comes between being, as it were, a parenthesis (as will be seen we could move directly from chapter 12 to chapter 20). We ask at the end of chapter 12, what happened to Satan? Why is he not mentioned in what follows? We are given the answer in chapter 20. He was enchained in the Abyss, from which he was released in Revelation 9:1-11. The ‘1000 years’ thus occurs between his binding in the days of Jesus and the early church, and his release in Revelation 9:1-11. This is then followed by the short time that he is allowed in order to do his worst.

Let us consider this in more detail.


Verse 4

‘And I saw thrones, and they sat on them and judgment was given to them, and I saw the persons of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and such as did not worship the beast or his image, and did not receive the mark on their forehead and on their hand, and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection, over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.’

‘I saw thrones.’ The Bible does previously speak of a time when thrones were placed and sat on by those who participated in judgment, where nothing more is said of their participation, and that is in Daniel 7 where we read, ‘and I beheld until thrones were placed’ (Daniel 7:9), and nothing more is said of their occupants. It could be that these were for the twenty four elders in Revelation 4:4, who did sit on thrones and represented the people of God before the One on the throne. But if so why are they not mentioned?

But the more likely explanation is that they were for the Ancient of Days, and for ‘the son of man’ who approached to receive his/their kingdom. There the One on the throne is described as ‘the ancient of days’ (the eternal One), and ‘the son of man’ (who signifies both the true Israel and especially Israel’s King, i.e. Israel receive kingship in the person of their king - Daniel 7:14; Daniel 7:27) approaches the Ancient of days to receive the kingdom. It is a time when judgment is being given (Daniel 7:10). The thrones are thus for the ‘son of man’, i.e. the people of God and their king.

Just as the beasts previously described had represented both kings and their kingdoms, so this son of man represents the people of God and their messianic leader. He would receive the kingship and worldwide dominion (Daniel 7:14), and they would receive the kingship and worldwide dominion in him (Daniel 7:27). They too will judge with a rod of iron (Revelation 2:27).

That is why Jesus came into the world declaring Himself to be ‘the Son of Man’. Under such a heading He claimed the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10), and to reinterpret the law of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). As the Son of Man He would serve and give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). And as the Son of Man He would suffer and die (as the son of man in Daniel in the person of His people would also suffer and die - Daniel 7:25), and would rise again (Mark 8:31).

He was then carried up into Heaven and came into the presence of God where He was given ‘all authority in Heaven and earth’ (Matthew 28:18), sitting in the place of supreme authority at God’s right hand and being declared both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:33-36). Thus the Son of Man received His kingdom and His dominion on His own behalf and on behalf of His people. And it is as the Son of Man that He will one day return to the earth in glory to exercise judgment (Mark 13:26).

So there is a distinction, and a considerable period, between His coming to the throne of God to receive His kingship, and His return to earth to exercise judgment. One happens at His resurrection, the other at a considerably later time.

However, as we have already stressed, the son of man in Daniel represents not only the King but also His people (just as the beasts represent kings and peoples). They too receive the kingdom, the dominion and the power. They share His throne.

Therefore the mention of the thrones, and those who sat on them, and the giving of judgment, refer to the time when the Son of Man comes to the throne to receive His kingship on behalf of His people, that is, to the time of His resurrection, when He is exalted at the right hand of God and made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:33-36; Ephesians 1:20-21).

This is indeed the first resurrection, the resurrection of Jesus, along with a number of Old Testament saints who are raised with Him (Matthew 27:52). But it is also the time whenallHis people are ‘raised with Him’ to share His glory (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:7). For there Paul clearly declares that all who are true Christians have been raised with Him and seated with Him on His throne, even while also being on earth. The throne is potentially ours and we can take our place there by faith. We have come with Him as the son of man to receive the kingdom.

‘They sat on them.’ That is, all the true people of God. They would share with their Lord in the judgment of the world and even of angels. The content of ‘they’ is now described.

‘Even the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and such as had not worshipped the beast --- and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.’ The description includes all God’s true people (it is ‘such as had not worshipped the beast’), but with special emphasis on the martyrs. They are all described as enjoying a great blessing ‘They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years’. It does not particularise when they reigned, or where they reigned, only that they did so through the period when Satan was bound, which as we have seen earlier dates initially from the time of His defeat when Jesus was here on earth.

‘Those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus’ describes who they are, not when they reigned. Now it is commonplace with some to assume that this must refer to the period after their resurrection at the end of the age, but this is by no means necessary. Indeed on this interpretation this passage has no place for the raptured people of God. But that would be to overlook the glorious and wonderful truth that we have just drawn attention to, and that is that, in the eyes of the Apostles, Christians wereraised from the dead and began to live and reign with Christ as soon as they became Christians. And they no doubt continue to do so in the after-life.

These martyrs, and those who refuse to wear the mark of the beast, began their reign the moment they became Christians, a fact which continued on through their martyrdom, at which point they reigned with Him in Heaven. This is in direct contrast to what had happened to Satan. They were crowned in Christ, he was bound by Christ.

Jesus spoke of this first resurrection and the second resurrection in John 5:25-29. In John 5:25 He says, “in very truth I tell you, the hour is coming andnow is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” Here is the first resurrection when the spiritually dead hear the voice of the Son of God and respond, receiving new life pictured in the form of a resurrection. That this is the picture comes out by comparison with John 5:28-29. “The hour comes in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done ill to the resurrection of judgment.” The reception of new life, eternal life, is pictured in terms of the resurrection, and will later finally result in a physical resurrection, the second resurrection.

Paul also declares that we have been buried with Him in baptism ‘wherein you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead’ (Colossians 2:12). Indeed he says that we have been “raised together with Christ” and should therefore “seek those things which are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God”, a position which true Christians share with Him (Colossians 3:1).

More emphatically, in Ephesians 1:20 to Ephesians 2:6 Paul describes Christ’s effective work when he declares that He was ‘raised from the dead and made to sit in Heavenly places, far above all rule, authority, dominion and power, with all things in subjection under His feet’. Then he adds, “And you --- ” (no verb in the Greek), which means - ‘and you also were, in Him, raised from the dead and made to sit in heavenly places, far above all rule, authority dominion and power, with all things in subjection under your feet’.

If this seems too much it is confirmed in Revelation 2:4-6, “But God Who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has made us alive together with Christ (by grace you are saved) and has raised us up together and made us sit together in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. Thus Paul sees us as living and reigning with Him even now.

So in Paul’s eyeswe have already partaken of the First Resurrectionalong with Jesus Christ. This he continually stresses. As he says in 2 Corinthians 5:5, because of this we have been given the foretaste and guarantee (an earnest) of the Spirit, until the day we experience it in bodily form. It is through His resurrection life that, having been reconciled to God, we are saved (Romans 5:10), so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). That is why we should be “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:10). Thus we should be “giving thanks to the Father Who has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Who delivered us out of the power of darkness and translated us (past tense) into the Kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:12-13), which means that we are seated above with Him (Colossians 3:1).

The Bible therefore constantly describes Christians asalready‘raised’ with Him, and as already reigning with Him. It also tells us that as He took His place in Heaven, and judgment was given to Him, so it was also given to us, a judgment we exercise ‘in Him’ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) and will exercise in the future at the final resurrection. So the First Resurrection, not otherwise specifically so-called in Scripture, is that which we share with Christ. And that is what is pictured here.

But, it may be asked, what of those who have died, and especially those who have been martyred. Have they lost this privilege? John is concerned to encourage God’s people in the face of coming persecution and emphasises that they also continue to reign with Him. Death does not rob them of this glorious privilege. The ‘souls’ of the martyrs (which might be seen as suggesting that there has been to this point no literal resurrection) are also seen as sharing His reign (Revelation 20:4. Compare the use in Revelation 6:9). It began when they became Christians and it continues on after their martyrdom. And this is in contrast with ‘the rest of the dead’, for the world is still dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).

This incidentally also shows that the passage is confirming that in their rest and their ‘sleep’ before the resurrection (it is their bodies which sleep), the people of God are conscious of and enjoying the presence of Christ, and are also reigning with Him. That is why Paul could say, ‘to me to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21).

When the final bodily resurrection is mentioned in Scripture it is always in such a way as to suggest that the resurrection of both righteous and unrighteous takes place at the same time (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29). But here from Paul we have learned of a different kind of resurrection which precedes the general resurrection, a pre-resurrection, a ‘first resurrection’ along with the One Who first rose. This is the situation John has in mind here.

‘And the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished’. The general resurrection will not take place until the end of this period, until Christ’s second coming. Then all will be raised physically to face God’s final judgment.

“And they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6). The Bible tells us that we are already a royal priesthood ( 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9), and that through His blood we have been made kings and priests unto God and His Father (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10). Note the past tense. It is already true. Thus we and the martyrs, together with all who have died free from the mark of the beast, are priests of God and reign with Him at this present time, and will do so ‘for a thousand years’, that is for an unknown length of time until the end.

“We reign (or shall reign) on the earth” (Revelation 5:10) stresses that, in spite of appearances, because we are such kings and priests we will triumph over all obstacles, however powerful they may seem, and currently demonstrate Christ’s sovereignty, and this is again asserted here. We reign on earth and after death we reign in Heaven. Nothing, not even death and martyrdom, can prevent it. Man’s violence cannot take away the Christian’s privileged position for it is inviolate.

‘And they lived and reigned with him a thousand years’. As in Revelation 20:3 the period of ‘a thousand years’ indicates that unknown period between Christ’s first and second coming. It is also a round number and can be seen as indicating an ‘ideal’ period of time. Adam, because of his sin, died ‘seventy’ years short of a thousand years. He failed to achieve the ideal. Even Methuselah could not achieve the thousand. For a thousand years indicated life to the full. It was the equivalent to the New Testament idea of eternal life. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes sees ‘a thousand years’ as indicating an ideal length of life (Ecclesiastes 6:6), and even speaks of two thousand years. We can compare the usage in the words, ‘the cattle on a thousand hills’ (Psalms 50:10). This did not mean that God only owned the cattle on a thousand hills. The thousand hills indicated all hills. Thus it is not to be taken literally but as meaning ‘the perfect time that God has planned’.

It is therefore quite clear from careful comparison with Scripture that this vision described in Revelation 20:4-6 reveals the present state of Christian believers ‘in Christ’ and not some future ‘millennium’.


Verses 7-9

‘And when the thousand years are over Satan will be loosed from his prison and will come forth to deceive the nations who are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people (the saints) and the beloved city, and fire came down from Heaven and devoured them.’

Satan’s loosing from his prison (Revelation 9:11) indicates that in the final days before Christ’s coming he will be given greater rein (Revelation 12:12; Revelation 17:12), although, as we learn earlier, unable to touch those who have been sealed by God (Revelation 9:4). He especially reveals the effect of this release in the rising up of the beast from the abyss (Revelation 17:8) and of the dreadful spiritual creatures headed by their equally dreadful king Apollyon, which is almost certainly another name for Satan himself (Revelation 9:2-11).

‘And will come forth to deceive the nations.’ The emphasis is here laid on his deceitfulness. This is one of the characteristics most often applied to Satan, along with his pride (1 Timothy 3:6). He is ‘the father of lies’ (John 8:44 compare 2 Corinthians 11:3). His known career began with deceit in the Garden of Eden and here it ends in deceit, and he has deceived people all the way through (2 Corinthians 4:4). It is because of him that people ‘believe a lie’ (2 Thessalonians 2:11 in context). This ‘coming forth’ has very much the rise of the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 in mind.

‘Gog and Magog ---’. This idea is taken from Ezekiel 38, 39 where in the final days Gog, of Magog (Ezekiel 38:2), - both the king and his people - will come against the people of God only to be totally defeated and destroyed (compare Revelation 19:21). In Ezekiel they are situated in Asia Minor, and there is no question but that this comes before Christ’s second coming, for the final restoration of God’s people is then described. In apocalyptic and Rabbinic literature, however, ‘Gog and Magog’ have become symbolic figures representing the enemies of God, so that they have by this time become world figures, which explains why they can gather such huge forces.

‘The number of whom is as the sand of the sea.’ It was on the sand of the sea that Satan first stood when the beast first came out of the sea (Revelation 13:1). His standing on it signified his dominion over it, just as later the strong angel would stand on the sea and the earth to indicate God’s taking control (Revelation 10:5). Now he makes use of those whom he dominates.

‘To gather them together to war.’ This parallels Revelation 19:19. Now we see what chapter 19 is indicating. Satan was not expecting the rider on the white horse to appear. He had gathered his armies together to finally eliminate the people of God.

‘And they went up over the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people and the beloved city.’ Note that God’s people live in ‘a camp’, in temporary accommodation (parembole - fortified camp or barracks) for they are soldiers of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3-4) and strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11:13). They seek a city which is above whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).

‘The beloved city’ is in contrast to ‘the great city’ likened to Sodom and Gomorrah in Revelation 11:8. The latter is physical Jerusalem. The former is those in that city who are true to God (the sanctuary of Revelation 11:1-2) and look to the city that is above (Galatians 4:26). Compare how in Psalms 78:68 ‘the mount Zion which He loved’ is the tribe of Judah, the ‘chosen’ tribe, over against the remainder of Jacob’s descendants, so that ‘He loves the gates of Zion more than the dwellings of Jacob’ (Psalms 87:2). The ‘beloved city’ therefore refers to the camp of the chosen remnant. This suggests that here the people of God are the beloved city, as they are the components of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2 with Revelation 21:12-14).

This is confirmed elsewhere in Revelation for it is clear that while the literal Jerusalem itself is a city rejected and condemned, ‘trodden down’, there is a chosen remnant within with whom God deals (chapter 11, see especially Revelation 20:8) . The thought of a fortified camp of Christians fits well with the picture of Satan making war with God’s people (Revelation 11:7 and elsewhere). This explains why the armies go ‘over the breadth of the earth’ (compare Habakkuk 1:6) for the camp of the people of God is worldwide. Compare Ezekiel 38:11 where Gog’s attack is on ‘the land of unwalled village, --- those who are quiet and dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls and having neither bars nor gates’, a perfect description of the people of God whose stronghold is God. This camp of God’s people is in total contrast to the first camp when Cain ‘built an encampment’ (Genesis 4:17 with Numbers 13:19). Cain’s action was leading up to Babel and Great Babylon. The camp of God’s people is a leaving of Babel to stand with God.

‘And fire came down from Heaven and devoured them.’ When Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to call on their God (who was god of storm and lightning) to light the fires of sacrifice directly (through his lightning) they failed in their endeavours, but for Elijah the fire came down from Heaven and devoured the sacrifice (1 Kings 18:24; 1 Kings 18:38). This same fire came down on Elijah’s enemies from God (2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12). So will God’s fire finally fall on Satan’s hosts.

Here again we have an illumination of chapter 19. As we saw there, there was really no battle, and yet the hosts were destroyed. Here we have the explanation. There they were described as slain by the sword from the mouth of the Word of God (Revelation 19:21), here we learn it was a fiery ‘sword’, a sword of lightning like the sword in Genesis 3:24. Once again those who rebel against God are being prevented from having access to the tree of life by the fiery sword, but this time it is permanent. Ezekiel 38 links the sword with fire and brimstone (Revelation 19:21 with 22).


Verse 10

‘And the Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet also are, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.’

The Devil shares the fate of his close minions, and the severity of their punishment is stressed. This parallels the fate of the unearthly beast and the false prophet both of whom represent Satanic power (see Revelation 19:20). All three are sent there. Unlike mortal man Satan appears to be indestructible. As a spirit-being he cannot be destroyed and he must therefore be kept under total restraint for ever. The ‘chain’ had allowed him some freedom. That will be the case no longer. The ‘lake of fire’ is a symbol of something that destroys, but that it is not literal comes out in that in the end death and Hades will be destroyed by it (Revelation 20:14). It is thus God’s incinerator. Satan’s torment will mainly lie in what he has forfeited and lost, and in what this has made him. It will be the consequence of his own choice and of what he has turned himself into. It will be eternal remorse, burning like a fire around him. It will be a place where he is totally restrained and which he can never leave. His influence is finished.

This is in strict contrast with the fate of rebellious man. The beast and false prophet were cast ‘alive’ (this is emphasised - Revelation 19:20) into the lake of fire, whereas it is stressed that the remainder ‘were killed’ (Revelation 19:21). Of them we learn that it is only ‘the smoke of their torment’ that arises for ever and ever (Revelation 14:11; compare Revelation 18:9-10; Revelation 18:18; Revelation 19:3). In their case, having suffered their deserved punishment, their suffering itself ceases, but the means of their punishment burns on for ever as an everlasting witness.

This is as depicted in Isaiah 66:24 where they are described in terms of dead bodies tossed on to an eternally burning rubbish dump. Compare Isaiah 34:10 where a similar idea of smoke arising for ever and ever from God’s judgment is depicted, and the judgment of Babylon the Great, which is also depicted in terms of similar rising smoke (Revelation 18:18). Its punishment and destruction leaves behind a permanent reminder, symbolised by rising smoke.

‘The lake of fire and brimstone’. That this is not a literal lake of fire is clear from the fact that Satan has no bodily form, and could thus not be cast into fire. It contrasts, by its connection with brimstone, with the pure fire of God’s holiness (compare Revelation 9:17 with Revelation 11:5). It indicates something dreadful and miserable and beyond comprehension. It is the ‘eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels’ (Matthew 25:41). That their punishment is severe there can be no doubt, but its true form we can never fully appreciate. As mentioned Death and Hades are also thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). It can thus denote a place of permanent end. They clearly are not kept alive.


Verse 11

Vision 9 The Great White Throne and the New Jerusalem (Revelation 20:11 to Revelation 21:8).

The Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15).

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

Once again a vision brings us to the judgment day, but now it is prior to a description of everlasting blessing for the people of God. Previously events have led up to the judgment day, depicted in a number of ways. Now a vision commences with the judgment day and leads up to what lies beyond. This time, rather than being described in terms of earthquakes and great hail, it is described more in terminology similar to Matthew 25:31-46 and Daniel 7:26. The throne is great (it is the only throne described as great) because of Him Who sits on it, Whom we must see as Christ Himself, for God has committed all judgment to His Son (John 5:22; Acts 17:31). The throne is white because of the purity and righteousness of the Judge. There are no thunders and lightnings and voices as previously, only a solemn silence before the great Judge. Yet we must recognise that all are but pictures. In the heavenly world there are no physical thrones and neither the Father nor the Son need to sit on one in order to judge. This grand and solemn scene is human to the core. But what it actually reveals is fully true, and far more solemn than the picture. It indicates that God will call all men into solemn judgment. Every man will have to give account of himself to God.

The same truth is pictured elsewhere by means of reapers, earthquakes, great hail and fear before the coming One. But all are saying the same thing. Man is called to account in one way or another and then suffers punishment from the wrath of God against sin.

‘There was found no place for them.’ Earth and heaven flee from His majesty (compare Mark 13:31; 2 Peter 3:10). But this in itself should warn us that we must be careful about taking things too literally. Now there is no creation in which a throne can be set. Heaven and earth have fled at the presence of God. The point of course is that they not only flee in awe before Him but that they have completed the purpose for which they were created and are no longer required. This is apocalyptic language similar to Revelation 6:13-14.


Verse 13

‘And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them, and they were judged every man according to his works.’

The picture is all inclusive. None have died in such a way that they cannot be reached. All are raised for judgment. To be lost at sea was considered by Israel to be a tragedy. Many considered that it prevented their resurrection, something denied here. The passage is significant in that it demonstrates that Hades is not seen as a place for all the spirits of the dead, but as a place for those buried on land, who have been laid in the earth. It is the shadowy world of the grave. Others are in the shadowy world of the depths of the sea. There is no real life there. We must look elsewhere for how men live in the after-life before the resurrection. For those who are not the true people of God that outlook is looked on as bleak. The judgment is based on how they have responded to God, how they have responded to the words of Jesus and the prophets, both old and new, how they have responded to the word of God and His law, for ‘works’ include all three (Matthew 5; Matthew 16:27; Luke 16:31; John 6:28-29). No one will have any complaint. Justice will be done.


Verse 14

‘And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire.’

This demonstrates that the primary purpose of the lake of fire is to burn up that which is at enmity with God’s final purposes. It also demonstrates that we must not literalise the scene. Death and Hades are not existing entities, they are ideas (compare Revelation 6:8), as is much of what lies behind the beast (false empire) and the false prophet (false religion). These are all destroyed. This is the death of death the last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). But it is only the fallen spiritual beings who are described as facing an unending future of remorse and misery.

Note with regard to men how the phrase ‘the dead’ is constantly stressed. The resurrection of those who are not His is not a joyous occasion of new life but of those who are dead while they are alive, and when, like death and Hades, they are thrown in the lake of fire they are not thrown in ‘alive’ as were the beast and the false prophet. They are thrown in as ‘the dead’. There is no reason to doubt that they too will be destroyed and utterly consumed. It is the second death for it is final. It is the death of the soul. After this there is no resurrection.


Verse 15

‘And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.’

Thus all men are involved in this judgment. It is an all-embracing scene into which all other pictures of the judgment have to be fitted. And fitted they can be if we recognise that what is important is the spiritual lessons and not the physical descriptions. The significance of the book of life is that it contains the names of those who have been cleansed from sin, who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). It is revealing that only those who are hidden in Christ and covered with His righteousness can face the judgment without fear for all their sins have been borne by another. But as Paul constantly stressed, while our works cannot justify us, they can certainly condemn us, and those who are not His will be found doubly guilty, for they have not only broken God’s law but they have also rejected His mercy. For them there is no future. There is only the lake of fire.

So briefly is the fate of the wicked depicted. But now they are left behind. Now that man’s final judgment has been described, and the destruction of all that is evil revealed, we move on in the remainder of the book to the destiny of the righteous. For this in the end was the aim of book and is the aim of God. And what a transformation it is. A few verses previously it was all doom and gloom, but that is now behind and we are to see the glorious vision of the future. One can but feel sorry for those who see in this new picture a future that will be tarnished and fail, for it is rather a picture of complete triumph and full blessedness for all who are His.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 20:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-20.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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