Description
This chapter describes Satan being bound for the Millennium, his release for a short time at the end of it, and his final defeat and punishment. The first and second resurrections are described, after which people face judgment in each case.
Commentary
The Thousand Year Millennium (v1-6)
Verses 1 to 3 say, "Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon – the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan – and tied him up for a thousand years. The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time)".

John saw an angel with the key to the Abyss in Revelation 9:1, at the time of the 5th trumpet. Perhaps this is the same angel. The Abyss is the deepest part of Hell, also known as Tartarus in Greek, and as the Pit in the Old Testament. It is the place of torment for the most wicked dead, and the place in which demons can be locked up (Luke 8:31, 2 Peter 2:4). After becoming sin for us and dying for the sins of the world, Jesus is seen to have descended there (Romans 10:7). The Antichrist and his beast empire are seen to have arisen out of the Abyss (Revelation 11:7). I believe this is one reason Antichrist is called Gog in Ezekiel 38, after Gyges the hecatoncheire of Greek mythology whom Zeus released from the Abyss to help him overthrow the Titans.

Satan is identified with four different names in verse 2, Satan and the Devil being his most common generic names in the New Testament. He is also called 'the dragon', as in Revelation 12 and 13. A dragon is a flying monster and fits with Paul's description of him as 'the ruler of the kingdom of the air' (Ephesians 2:2). 'The ancient serpent' refers to Satan in the Garden of Eden where he deceived Eve (Genesis 3). He is tied up for a thousand years with a huge chain and thrown into the Abyss. The huge chain implies that he will be securely bound and cannot escape. This is further emphasised by the Abyss being locked and sealed over him. He cannot deceive the nations during the Millennial age, so the earth will be free to worship God without people being tricked into worshipping any false god. Effectively, Eden is restored, almost to how things were before Adam and Eve sinned. This is the time when 'the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea' (Habakkuk 2:14 - NIV). People will live longer but still die during the Millennium (Isaiah 65:20). The full restoration awaits the eternal age, after the Millennium (Revelation 21:4). Before that, Earth's inhabitants must be tested one last time, and Satan will be released for a short time.


Judgment of Believers (v4-6)
Verses 4 to 6 say, "Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.".

This is a judgment and rewarding of righteous believers. Taking this passage on its own, it is portrayed as a judgment only of those believers who paid the ultimate price and were martyred for their faith. In verse 5, 'the first resurrection' is the same as the resurrection and rapture described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. This portrayal seems to be inclusive of all true Christians, not merely those who have been martyred. In John 6:39-40, 44 and 54, Jesus makes it clear that God's will is for all Christians to be 'raised up at the last day'. Similarly Jesus describes the rapture in an all inclusive manner in Matthew 24:31, "And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other". Consequently, I understand that Jesus and Paul give us the 'wide-angle view' of the resurrection and rapture. Here in Revelation, John gets a very 'zoomed-in view' and sees only the martyrs. As a reward, these martyrs are made priests of God and are allowed to rule with Christ for the thousand years. Those who receive this reward are called 'blessed and holy'. The second death has no power over them, meaning that they need not fear the judgment at the end of the Millennium, or the lake of fire (see verse 14).

Is it only martyrs who rule with Christ? In Jesus' Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:17 the king says to the servant with ten minas, "Well done, good slave! Because you have been faithful in a very small matter, you will have authority over ten cities". So ruling with Jesus is presented as a reward for faithful service, without any mention of martyrdom. Similarly, in 2 Timothy 2:11-12, Paul says, "If we died with him, we will also live with him. If we endure, we will also reign with him".

During the Millennium, Earth will be populated by survivors from the Great Tribulation, and will be ruled over by Jesus and those whom he appoints to rule with him. At the beginning of the Millennium, it seems that the survivors will be few in number compared to Earth's population today (see my commentary on Revelation 6:8). If all true Christians who have ever lived were appointed to rule with Christ, Earth's rulers would greatly outnumber the survivors they rule over. Ruling with Christ is therefore a reward and privilege given to a select few who have shown themselves worthy. My assumption is that the rest of resurrected Christians spend the Millennium enjoying life in the New Jerusalem (see Revelation 21:10).

Verse 4 is very specific about the method by which Christians will be martyred during the Great Tribulation - they will be beheaded. This is the method of execution prescribed in Quran 47:4, and practiced by the Prophet Mohammed when he beheaded 600 Jewish prisoners from the Qurayza tribe (see my commentary on Revelation 17:6). It is one of many clues pointing to the Antichrist as a Muslim, and to his empire as a revived Islamic Empire.

Verse 5a says, "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished". The first resurrection is only of Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:16). This second resurrection is of everyone else, including those who died in the Old Testament period, and those who die during the Millennium. They will then be judged before the great white throne (v11-15).

The judgment of Christians is also described by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46. In that passage Jesus separates true Christians from false Christians, portrayed as him separating the sheep from the goats. That raises an important question about the rapture (Matthew 24:31, 1 Thessalonians 24:16-17). It is commonly assumed that only true Christians are raptured and that false Christians are left behind. But if the rapture separates the true from the false, then there is no further need to separate the sheep from the goats. Jesus' description of the rapture (Matthew 24:31), together with the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-40), the Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50), and the judgment of Matthew 25:31-46, all seem to imply an inclusive rapture of all living Christians, both true and false.

In verse 6, what does it mean "they will be priests of God and of Christ"? Returning as a resurrected human being, Jesus will reign as king from Jerusalem. Despite his divinity, I don't imagine that he will be seen to be visibly present everywhere on Earth. So there will still be a role for a priesthood. This statement also clearly alludes back to Exodus 19:5-6 in which God tells Moses to say to the Israelites, "…if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation". Also in Revelation 1:6, John describes Jesus as the one who 'has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father'. And in Revelation 5:10, the twenty four elders sing of Jesus, "You have appointed them as a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth". Jesus rules as the Son of David (1 Chronicles 17:11-14), and is our great high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4, Hebrews 7:17). As such, Jesus fulfils the role that God intended for Israel, and his selected believers fulfil it with him.


Satan's Final Defeat (v7-10)
Verses 7 to 8a say, "Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle".

Just as it may seem strange that God allowed Satan into the garden of Eden where he could tempt Adam and Eve, it perhaps seems strange that God releases Satan for a short time at the end of the Millennium. Once again he is allowed to tempt and deceive the earth's inhabitants, bringing chaos and war for a short time. Apparently the generations that are born and raised during the Millennium must be tested before God allows them to enter his new heaven and new earth for the rest of eternity.

The reference here to Gog and Magog is a common source of confusion among Christians. The Gog and Magog war is described in Ezekiel 38-39, and describes Antichrist's invasion of Israel at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. Along with his various allies, he is seen to attack Israel from all four directions of the compass, as represented below:
Stacks Image p4520_n3
Consequently, 'Gog and Magog' in this context reinforces the phrase 'the nations at the four corners of the earth'. In this final rebellion at the end of the Millennium, Jerusalem will once again be attacked from all directions.

Verses 8b to 9 say, "They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea. 9 They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely".

This is another huge army, which once again surrounds Jerusalem. The 'camp of the saints' portrays the saints as an army, encamped and ready to defend it. But this time round, fire comes down from heaven and completely devours these attacking armies. There is no fall of Jerusalem like in Ezekiel 38-39 or Zechariah 14. There is no apparent repeat of a Great Tribulation for God's people. 'They went up on the broad plain of the earth' seems to be a reference to Millennial Jerusalem. According to Zechariah 14:10 and Isaiah 2:2-4, at the end of this age Jerusalem will be levelled like the Arabah from Geba to Rimmon and then raised up as a very high mountain. So it will sit within a broad mountain plain.

Verse 10 says, "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever".

Apart from this brief description, the bible does not seem to give further details about this final war at the end of the Millennium. On the other hand, in Ezekiel 38:17, God asks rhetorically about Gog, "Are you the one of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days that I would bring you against them?". So Gog and his invasion of Israel are described in many passages. It is clear he is the Antichrist, and his Ezekiel 38 invasion is at the end of this age, not at the end of the Millennium.

The general order of events in Revelation 20-22 follows that given in Isaiah 24:21-23 which says, "At that time the Lord will punish the heavenly forces in the heavens and the earthly kings on the earth. They will be imprisoned in a pit, locked up in a prison, and after staying there for a long time, they will be punished. The full moon will be covered up, the bright sun will be darkened; for the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will rule on Mount Zion in Jerusalem in the presence of his assembly, in majestic splendour". What Isaiah described as 'a long time' Revelation now defines as a thousand years when Satan is locked up. His punishment is the lake of fire. Notice that Isaiah describes Satan in the plural sense. We often think of 'Satan' or 'the Devil' as references to Lucifer, the chief of demons, but these are also collective terms referring to Lucifer and all his demons.


The Great White Throne (v11-15)
Verse 11 says, "Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them".

The phrase 'the one who was seated on it' is typical of New Testament references to Jehovah without actually naming him. The name Jehovah was considered so holy that it was irreverent to even say it. From a trinitarian perspective of Jehovah, this is God the Father seated on his throne.

Daniel had a vision of God's throne which he describes in Daniel 7:9, "While I was watching, thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His attire was white like snow; the hair of his head was like lamb’s wool. His throne was ablaze with fire and its wheels were all aflame".

Here in Revelation, the white throne fits with the white of God's clothing and hair, although Daniel's vision fits within an end-of-tribulation context.

The statement in verse 11b, "the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them" implies their destruction. Revelation 21:1 confirms this, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist". The Millennium is a transitional age in which the present earth and heaven continue to exist as well as the New Jerusalem. Similarly the present hell (Hades) exists as well as the Lake of fire. At the end of the Millennium, the present earth and present heaven are destroyed, and Hades is thrown into the Lake of fire (v15). The destruction of heaven and earth is prophesied in Psalm 102:25-26, Isaiah 24:19-23, and 2 Peter 3:7, although its timing is not very clear in these passages. Isaiah 24:19-23 gives the impression that earth's destruction occurs at the end of this age, Satan is locked in a pit for 'a long time' (the Millennium) and then punished, and then the New Jerusalem is revealed.


Verse 12 says, "And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds".

At the end of this present age, believers are resurrected and raptured and then face judgment as in verses 4 to 6 and in Matthew 25:31-46. Here in verse 12, this judgment is for all the rest of humanity at the end of the Millennium. Daniel 7:10-11 describes a judgment scene, similar to the one described here, when Antichrist is put on trial at the end of the Great Tribulation and then sentenced to be thrown into the flaming fire. Books are opened in both cases. The book of life is also described in Daniel 12:1. The book of life presents a rather black-and-white view of salvation. Either your name is in it and you are saved, or it isn't and you will end up in hell. The books (plural) contain a record of each person's life so they can be judged or rewarded according to what they have done. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:10, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil". Paul's statement is probably applicable to both judgments, that of believers at the end of this age, and that of all humanity at the end of the Millennium.


Verse 13 says, "The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds". The emphasis here seems to be that everyone in the whole realm of the dead is resurrected and judged. The bible portrays the realm of the dead as being in 'the pit' or 'the depths', including the depths of both the earth and the sea.


Verses 14 to 15 say, "Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire".

This means that the realm of the dead is completely emptied, its occupants are all judged, and death no longer exists (see also Isaiah 25:8). When people are resurrected from Hades and judged, they are not all automatically thrown into the lake of fire. Each is individually judged, and only those whose names are not found in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire. By implication, some of them are found in the book of life and receive eternal life. So this is a resurrection and judgment of both saved and unsaved. Some of those saved individuals will be people who believed and died during the Millennium. But what about Old Testament believers? Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, "…and the dead in Christ will rise first". He makes no mention of Old Testament believers. Daniel 12 however, gives the impression that they will be included. So are they, or are they not included? Revelation 20:4-6 seems to indicate that the first resurrection is limited, and not all inclusive. So perhaps some Old Testament believers are included in the first resurrection, and others await the second one.

It might seem confusing that people are resurrected out of Hades, and yet some of them are found in the book of life and are saved. Hades refers to the realm of the dead, and is a complex realm. There is more to Hades than it being simply 'the present hell'. See my commentary on Luke 16:19-31, on Jesus' portrayal of the realm of the dead in the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

Another question that theologians debate is whether the lake of fire is a place where the souls of the dead are annihilated, or whether they continue to exist there in a state of eternal torment. Death being thrown into the lake of fire implies its annihilation - there is no more death (Revelation 21:4). Revelation 20:10 states that Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet will be eternally tormented in the lake of fire, 'day and night forever and ever'. Is that also true of everyone else who is thrown into the lake of fire? Or do they, like death, cease to exist?
Tags
Places:
Symbols: Dragon, Serpent, Hades
Tags: Abyss, Hell, Lake of fire, Satan thrown into the lake of fire, Martyrdom, Judgment of believers, Judgments and rewards, Mark of the beast, Resurrection of the dead, First resurrection, Rapture, Millennium, Earth and heavens destroyed, Second death, Kingdom of priests, Reigning with Christ, Gog and Magog, Jerusalem raised up, Throne of God, Book of life, Death destroyed
The Thousand Year Reign
20 Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain.
2 He seized the dragon – the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan – and tied him up for a thousand years.
3 The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.)
4 Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection.
6 Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

Satan’s Final Defeat

7 Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison
8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea.
9 They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely.
10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.

The Great White Throne

11 Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them.
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened – the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds.
13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds.
14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death – the lake of fire.
15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.
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