Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Revelation 20, The Last Days of Time and History

In this incredibly rich chapter, John records the sequence of events that conclude history, as we know it. The capture and ultimate abolishing of Satan, the one thousand year kingdom of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the final great white throne judgment of man, hades, and death.

v.1-3 "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon 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."

In preparation for the millennial reign of Jesus Christ following Armageddon, John sees an angel lay hold of Satan and cast him into the bottomless pit (see also—Isa.14:15). And there he will remain sealed, shut up, and bound for a thousand years; up to the very end of the Millennial reign of Christ on earth.

The purpose for Satan’s abolishing is explained: “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.” In other words, during the full term of Christ’s one thousand year reign on earth, Satan will be in confinement in the bottomless pit without power. And as a result, all the nations of the earth will enter a time of peace and prosperity not known since before the fall of man. “But after these things he must be released for a little while." That is, after Christ has completed His earthly reign Satan will again be released with an ability to do evil for a short while.

Satan’s four awful names adequately define him:
  1. The dragon – he's the persecutor of Christ and His people (Rev.12:17)
  2. That serpent of old - the one in the Garden of Eden who tempted Eve (Gen.3:13)
  3. The Devil ("slanderer") – he's the false accuser of the brethren and the author of lies (Rev.12:10)
  4. Satan ("adversary") – he's the enemy of God, the murderer of God's people, and the destroyer of God's creation
v.4-5 "And I saw thrones, and they that sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And 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. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.”

These kingly judges seated upon thrones are the saints of Christ. All those who had been redeemed by His blood, resurrected from the grave, and raptured into His presence. These (the saints) will reign as kings and priests with Christ (see—Rev.1:5-6; 5:9-10).

The remainder of the souls John sees is the tribulation martyrs. Seemingly, in view of the unique circumstances they will suffer and yet maintain a faithful witness for the Lord under the most severe difficulties, they are given special recognition and then deliberately reassured that they, too, will live and reign with Christ throughout the Millennium.

The “rest of the dead” speaks of the unsaved souls imprisoned in Hades who did not take part in the “first resurrection” with the redeemed—men and women who live and die without accepting Jesus Christ as Savior.
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan.12:2)
The "first resurrection" refers to the resurrection of the redeemed (more below).
v.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."

According to the Bible, there are two “deaths” and two "resurrections". Since it's important for us to understand what they are and how they apply, let’s look.

There are two “deaths.”

The first death concerns that which is common to all man—namely, the death of the body (Heb.9:27). The second death concerns the spirit of man but only applies to the unredeemed that are made to suffer eternal death and damnation (v.14). In other words, though all men die, and therefore must suffer the first death, only the souls of the unsaved are affected by the power of the second death that leads to eternal torment. This is why John says of believers, “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."

There are two “resurrections.”

The word "resurrection" is a Greek word meaning, "to make to stand" or "rise up.” It speaks of that occurrence when the soul (which departs the body at death) reenters the body and causes it to rise up from the grave. Everyone dies, therefore everyone also resurrects, but the event is vastly different between the saved and unsaved.

The saved (those redeemed in Christ) take part in the first resurrection and acquire a new body in the process (Phil.3:20-21; 1Cor.15:52). “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1Cor.15:23). In other words, the first resurrection is not a one-time event, but a procession much like a parade. It began with Jesus Christ, seemingly ends with this group of tribulation martyrs, and in between, consists of at least three separate occasions where other believers are resurrected (see—Matt.27:53; 1Thess.4:16,17; Rev.11:11).

The unsaved (those not redeemed in Christ) take part in the second resurrection. Unlike the first resurrection, however, they are not given a new body, and the event is not in stages, but rather a one-time event that follows the Millennium. This is why John says of the unbelievers, “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.”

Okay, now let's shift gears and consider the Millennium.

It should be noted right up front that the word "millennium" does not appear in Scripture. But that doesn't mean the event is not scriptural, or that it will not occur. The word comes from the Latin words mille (“thousand”) and annum (“year”) and is always translated as a "thousand years".

John records the phrase "thousand years" six times in this chapter, and it's safe to say that he is always referring to the period we call the “Millennium”; described in Scripture as a time of righteousness, healing, and restoration unlike any other in the history of this earth. Listen to just some of the amazing facts about the Millennium:
  1. Jesus Christ will sit on David's throne in Jerusalem and reign supreme over the earth in judgment and justice (Isa.9:7; Zech.14:9)
  2. The nation of Israel shall be honored above all nations (Isa.62:2-3) and Jerusalem will be the capital of the world (Jer.3:17)
  3. Satan (the Devil) will be taken from earth and locked up, so he can no longer tempt and deceive the nations (v.1-3)
  4. There will be no war between men (Isa.2:4)
  5. There will be peace with and within the animal kingdom (Isa.11:6-8)
  6. The whole earth will be "full of the knowledge of the Lord" (Isa.11:9)
  7. There will be no sickness or disease (Isa.29:18)
  8. There will be absolute law and order (Isa.29:20)
  9. All of the earth will be healed and subsequently restored to its original beauty (Isa.35:6-7; Isa.35:1-2)
Christians can look forward to reigning with Christ during the Millennium as priests, given the authority to teach and enforce righteousness over the inhabitants on earth; which, of course, raises the question: Who are the inhabitants on the earth over whom we rule?

When Jesus returns He will judge the nations to determine who amongst the living survivors may enter the Millennium (Matt.25:31-46). Those who did not accept the mark of the beast and showed favor to the Jews will be allowed; the others will be rejected. But these mortals allowed to enter the Millennium will not have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It will be our responsibility, therefore, to teach them the way and truth of God.

v.7-9 "Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 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. They went up on the breath 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."

When the thousand years ends, Satan will be released from Hades and rally thousands of people “whose number is as the sand of the sea” to move “on the breath of the earth” and surround Jerusalem in an attempt to overthrow Christ.

Even in the best of environments, man is unable rid himself of that corrupt nature that opposes God, and unless one is “born again” and made new in God’s Spirit the sin that leads to death remains.

This invading army will all be devoured by a fire from heaven, making this the last rebellion of man against God forever and in turn ends the Millennium.

The identity of “Gog and Magog” at this point of the Vision is somewhat uncertain. Moreover, it seems unlikely that this is the fulfillment of Ezekiel's prophecy that Russia will lead such countries as Iran and Libya in an invasion of Israel (Ez.38:2-16). That invasion seems more probable during the Tribulation (see notes—Rev.14:14-20).

Maybe the answer is as one commentator noted that “Gog and Magog” is a mystical phrase that signifies “the prince and the people”, and in turn represents all of the final adversaries of the Messiah led by Satan in person.

v.10 "And 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."
Several aspects about hell are clearly answered here and should be noted:
  1. It’s eternal. The phrase, “forever and ever” used in this verse to describe the “lake of fire’s” torment is the same phrase used elsewhere to describe the throne of Christ (Heb.1:8). So hell is unending as Christ is unending.
  2. It’s a place of eternal torment. There’s nothing to suggest any future hope of clemency, forgiveness or escape from the lake of fire.
  3. Unsaved man will be cast into the eternal lake of fire along with Satan and the unrepentant angels. In fact, two humans (antichrist and the false prophet) are actually cast into the lake of fire before Satan (see notes—Rev.19:19-20).
v.11-13 "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. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which was the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 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."

The “great white throne” speaks of the judgment throne of Christ, for it is to Jesus whom God has granted the authority to execute judgment (John 5:27). All the condemned shall be resurrected from their graves in corrupt flesh and made to stand before Him for judgment (check—Dan.12:2; John 5:28).

“From whose face the earth and heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them." Scripture says that from the face of Jesus Christ this present world and its atmosphere will pass away (Matt.24:35) in what Peter characterizes as a literal “meltdown” of all the elements of this earth and its atmosphere (2Peter 3:10).

Seemingly, the emphasis here is to show us what it will be like for the unbeliever that stands before the great white throne. There is no rainbow above this throne to suggest grace in judgment, no sign of a Lamb on the throne suggesting that He was slain in substitution for sinful man, no human figure, and no incarnate Son of man; rather, just an awesome Presence that is all a matter of trial and judgment.
"And books were opened, and another book was opened, which was the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books."
These “books” represent the Divine record of the works of the unsaved by which God will justify the sentence of eternal punishment passed upon the wicked. The “other book” called the Book of Life is the roster of the names of the righteous who inherit eternal life (Phil.4:3; Rev.3:5; 13:18; 17:8; 21:27).

v.14-15 "Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire."

The “second death” is the ultimate death. The very "death of deaths” in which one becomes eternally gone and eternally forgotten even by God Himself (check—Isa.65:17; Ps.88:5). All in opposition to God will be cast into the lake of fire and endure the second death: Antichrist, the False Prophet, Satan, the fallen angels, the unsaved, Death, and Hades.

The idea that "Hades" will be cast into the "lake of fire" might be confusing so let's consider what each signifies.

"Hades" is a Greek word used in the New Testament to denote the realm of conscious departed spirits and is generally equivalent to the Hebrew word "Sheol" in the Old Testament. It is not "Hell" and it is not eternal. Hades is a temporary holding place in the center (bottomless pit) of the earth. Once consisting of two compartments as the abode of all departed souls (see—Luke 16:19-31), when Christ died His spirit descended into Hades (Eph.4:9), proclaiming victory to the evil spirits incarcerated there (1Pet.3:19) then returned with the souls of those who died in faith (Eph.4:8; Matt.27:52-53). Today when the righteous die, they go into the immediate presence of the Lord (2Cor.5:6-8; Phil.1:23). Hades is only where the disembodied spirits of the unsaved dead are confined until the day of judgment.

The "lake of fire" speaks of Hell, the final eternal abode of the wicked after judgment. The Greek word "Gehenna", also used with the same meaning, furnished the imagery of Hell. Taken to mean Valley of Hinnom (a garbage dump south of Jerusalem with perpetually burning fires once notorious as a place of child sacrifice to Molech) Gehenna describes the dread, fear and torment of Hell. Today no one is yet in Hell (Gehenna).

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