Revelation 19 concluded with the judgment of the great prostitute (19:2), the beast (19:20), and the false prophet (19:20). Rome and her empire, along with all the rulers and provinces associated with the empire, have been brought under judgment. Revelation 20 reveals what happens next.
The Dragon and The Abyss (20:1-3)
John sees an angel coming down from heaven. In his hand is the key to the abyss (bottomless pit) and a great chain. We read about the abyss in Revelation 9:1 where we saw Abaddon/Apollyon (Satan) open the abyss and release locusts. Those locusts represented Satan unleashing the Roman Empire as the destroyer of the Jewish nation. The angel seizes the dragon and binds him for 1000 years. We are reminded that the dragon is Satan. Satan is thrown into the abyss, shut it, and sealed it for the 1000 years. It is important to read the meaning of this binding. The binding means that Satan “might not deceive the nations any longer.” It is important to consider that the angel does not say that Satan is no longer deceiving people. Satan is the great deceiver and will continue to tempt people to sin until Christ returns (1 Peter 5:8). The angel is pointing to something different when we are told that Satan can no longer deceive the nations. What has Satan been doing in the book of Revelation that he will no longer be able to do for the 1000 years? It seems evident from our study that the dragon has lifted up a world power to make war on those who follow Jesus (12:17) and deceive the world to worship it rather than God (13:13-15). This is what the dragon has been causing in the second half of the book of Revelation. As Daniel prophesied in Daniel 2:44 the kingdoms of the earth have been brought to an end by the kingdom of God that shall never be destroyed. The deception of the nations by the dragon will be expanded on toward the end of this chapter.
We also need to examine the 1000 year period. As we have noted throughout our study, we are taking these numbers as symbols unless something in the text demands otherwise. There is nothing here to suggest that the 1000 years are a literal 1000 years. Further, the 1000 years seems to be in contrast to what will happen after the 1000 years. Satan will be released “for a little while.” Satan is going to be sealed in the abyss for a significant duration of time while his release will be for a very short amount of time. We will be given more details about the 1000 years in the next few verses.
New Testament scholar, G.K. Beale argues for the 1000 years to be understood figuratively. “The events in vv 1-3 and vv 4-6 occur during the same period, which is referred to as ‘1000 years.’ That this is not a literal chronological number is apparent from: (1) the consistently figurative use of numbers elsewhere in the book, (2) the figurative nature of much of the immediate context (‘chain,’ ‘abyss,’ ‘dragon,’ ‘serpent,’ ‘locked,’ ‘sealed,’ ‘beast’), the predominantly figurative tone of the entire book (so 1:1), (4) the figurative use of ‘1000’ in the O.T. and (5) the use in Jewish and early Christian writings of ‘1000’ years as a figure for the eternal blessing of the redeemed. The overall analysis of vv 1-6 supports a figurative meaning. 1000 is the third power of ten, and if figurative here, might represent a long era and, at least, would signify an ideal epoch” (Beale, New International Greek New Testament, 995).
Reigning With Christ (20:4-6)
John sees thrones and those seated on the thrones who were given authority to judge. We will speak more about this image in a moment. John sees the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and the word of God. These are the ones who had not received the mark of the beast and did not worship the image of the beast. These are also the souls that we saw under the altar in Revelation 6:9. Remember that the souls under the altar were told that more servants of God would be killed before their blood was avenged (6:11). We have seen that truth occur as those who did not worship the beast are also killed. Their victory is again depicted as “they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Judicial vindication occurs on behalf of the slain servants of God. They are reigning with Christ.
It does not seem to fit that this is speaking about a bodily resurrection. Rather, a contrast is being drawn. The saints were previously seen as under the altar. They are killed for the cause of Christ either by their testimony of Jesus or for not worshiping the beast. They are now pictured as seated on thrones and reigning with Christ. I think this makes the most sense of who is seated on these thrones. Osborne points out that verse 4 could be seen as epexegetical, “And I saw thrones and those sitting on them…namely, the souls” (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 704). The description in the rest of verse 4 is John’s explanation as to who are those seated on thrones. Further, there are places in scriptures where resurrection is not speaking about a bodily resurrection. In Ezekiel 37:12-14 we see resurrection describing the restoration of the nation. In Isaiah 26:19 the prophet says, “Your dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” Isaiah was not prophesying that those killed in the Babylonian invasion would experience a bodily resurrection. Rather, this is an image of victorious resurrection. Life will be given to the true people of God. It is an Old Testament picture of triumph over the world nations. They are the victorious saints who have overcome. Yes, they died, but they are alive and are not lost. They share in the victory and are not permanently dead. Because of this, they will not experience the second death, which is referred to in Revelation 20:14-15, a spiritual death.
This is the picture in Revelation 20:4-6. Notice that this is the fulfillment of what Jesus promised to the seven churches of Asia. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11). The faithful will not be hurt by the second death. Verse 6 makes that very point. These faithful martyrs are sharing in the victory of life and reigning with Christ for 1000 years. This is a simple image of triumph for the people who have gone through this ordeal. Those who have died for the cause of Christ are not left out or left behind, but are reigning with Christ. Also notice that there are places in the New Testament where within the same context the writer shifts between speaking about spiritual life, death, and resurrection and physical life, death, and resurrection. Paul switched between such language in Romans 6:4-13 and Jesus did similarly in John 5:24-29. Therefore, we should not bothered by Revelation 20:4-6 teaching that those who suffered physical death for the cause of Christ will avoid spiritual death. Those who did not suffer physical death for Christ will suffer spiritual death. The first resurrection refers to those killed for Christ being given victorious life in Christ, reigning with him. The second resurrection will deal with the rest and their outcome will be determined at the white throne scene in verses 11-15.
The thousand years are the time of the reign of Christ (20:4,6). The scriptures teach that the reign of Christ began when he rose from the dead.
“…according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:19–23 ESV) Paul taught the same point in 1 Corinthians 15:25 concerning Christ reigning after his resurrection. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 ESV)
The 1000 year reign of Christ began when he rose from the dead. He must continue to reign until all the enemies are put under his feet and death is the last enemy. Therefore, the 1000 year period is not 1000 earthly years, but a symbol for the complete time of Christ’s rule. Another way to describe the 1000 year period is the church age (Beale, NIGTC, 992). Beale states, “Satan’s binding was climactically put in motion immediately after Christ’s resurrection, and it lasts throughout most of the age between Christ’s first and second comings” (Beale, NIGTC, 985).
After The 1000 Years (20:7-10)
Now we come to some disturbing words in this prophecy. When the thousand years are ended, Satan is going to be released from his prison in the abyss and will come out to deceive the nations again. We noted at the beginning of this lesson that Satan being prevented from deceiving the nations meant that a world empire would not be able to persecute the Christians nor deceive the world into worshiping it rather than God. Verse 8 indicates that Satan will unleash one more effort as he did during the days of the Roman Empire. Satan is going to use a world power to persecute Christians and sway the world away from worshiping the true God.
Futurists have given much attention to Gog and Magog. Many have tried to identify Gog and Magog as the Soviet Union, communist China, and other evil regimes. However, Revelation 20:8 identifies Gog and Magog as “the nations that are at the four corners of the earth.” Gog and Magog appear in Ezekiel 38-39.
In speaking about Gog, God said, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them?” (Ezekiel 38:17 ESV) God said Gog had been prophesied of in former days by God’s servants the prophets. Yet we only read of Gog and Magog right here. So what is Gog and Magog? Gog and Magog represent the heathen enemies against God’s people. These are the nations of the world that fight against God’s people. The devil is going to exert his power over the nations of the world again to gather for battle. The devil will have the power to deceive the nations again just as he deceived those during the days of the Roman Empire, igniting persecution and false worship.
Verse 9 is reminiscent of when the kings of the earth and the beast gathered for battle against Christ (19:19: 16:14-16). Satan is going to try to destroy the people of God yet again. This is the meaning of the symbolism of nations of the earth marching against the camp of the saints and the beloved city. The TNIV and HCSB are right to translate the Greek as explaining the camp of the saints as the beloved city of God. “They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves.” (Revelation 20:9 TNIV) Just as the nations gathered to try to destroy God’s people before but were destroyed by Christ, so it will happen again. Christ will destroy the enemies of God’s people, described as fire coming down from heaven and consuming the enemies.
Satan is finally cast into the lake of fire at the end of the 1000 year reign of Christ, the place where the beast and false prophet were already cast in chapter 19. There they all are tormented day and night forever and ever. God brings his judgment against Satan and he will endure eternal punishment. Jesus made the same point about the fate of Satan.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'” (Matthew 25:41 ESV) Eternal torment in hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. Satan is now cast into the punishment he deserves.
The Great White Throne (20:11-15)
The final scene of this chapter is of a great white throne. This is the scene of final judgment. Earth and sky are no longer needed. The time for this world is over. This imagery fits New Testament teaching. Hebrews 1:10-12 says, And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Hebrews 1:10–12 ESV) Also 2 Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:10 ESV)
All the dead are standing before the throne. As the apostle Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV) The books of our deeds are opened in preparation for judgment. “The dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” The sea giving up its dead and Death and Hades giving up its dead further emphasizes the point that this is the final judgment that no one will escape. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This shows that there is no more death at this point and there is no more Hades. Hades is the resting place of the souls who died. There is no more need for Hades because their is no more death and no more earth (20:11).
Verse 15 contains the critical message concerning our future. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15 ESV) The book of life represents the roll of citizens who are in God’s kingdom by faithfulness to the Lamb. “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5 ESV) Those not written in the book of life will experience the lake of fire, which is the second death. This reminds us that separation from God is the ultimate eternal punishment. We do not understand how awful it is to live in a world where the hand of God is not involved. We have no grasp of how terrible it would be and that is why the scriptures use images like being tormented day and night forever and ever to communicate this reality to us. There will be great suffering in eternal punishment for those who are not written in the book of life. It is worth noting that there is nothing that suggests our punishment, nor the punishment of Satan, is annihilation. “Torment day and night forever and ever” points us not to annihilation but eternal suffering because our souls will be in full separation from God. We must live our lives striving to remain faithful to the Lord so that our names will be found in the Lamb’s book of life on the day of judgment.