Chapter 20

Introduction

The events of chapter 20 logically follow those of chapter 19. At the end of chapter 19, Christ had returned to utterly destroy all those who had opposed Him. In particular, we saw God deal with the two human members of the unholy trinity, (1) Antichrist and (2) the False Prophet. Now, chapter 20 begins by dealing with the final member, Satan himself.

Commentary

The Millennial Kingdom Begins

1Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

v1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven – This is another transition. In this case, we go from seeing God deal with His human opponents on earth (Antichrist, the False Prophet, and their followers at the end of chapter 19) to seeing God deal with his opponents in the spiritual realm. This angel is coming down to earth because that’s where Satan had been cast down (Rev 12:9).

v1 holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand – This chapter is opening similar to chapter 9, since both chapters begin with an angel appearing with a key to open a place called the “abyss”. Both chapters may be referring to the same place, but they are very different angels.

  • In chapter 9, the angel was described as having “had fallen to the earth” — I believe it’s best to see this “fallen” angel as Satan (explained in Demonic Activity in the End Times).
  • Here in chapter 20 the angel is said to be “coming down from heaven” — This is a holy angel coming against Satan. That this angel is coming to do battle with Satan suggests that he may be the archangel Michael (Dan 10:13, Jude 1:9, Rev 12:7-9), but one cannot be sure.

v2-3 2And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed – Satan, however powerful he may be, desired to be like God, but he is “only” an angel and apparently not even the most powerful of angels. His influence on earth is now suspended. In chapter 12 it said his time was short, and now his time is over, at least for the next thousand years.

Side note: The text mentions only that Satan was sent to the abyss, which leaves open the question about other demons. Some commentators conclude that the other demons will still influence the earth during the millennial kingdom. However, I don’t believe that this can be correct because (1) the overall purpose of Christ’s return is to put an end to sin (e.g. Dan 9:24, Isa 13:9), and (2) the stated purpose for restraining Satan was to prevent the nations from being deceived. It seems more reasonable to assume that Satan’s demons are likewise banished. If they aren’t, the imprisonment of only Satan would be of questionable significance.

The idea that Satan’s demons share Satan’s fate seems supported by the the account of Satan’s ultimate destruction in Rev 20:10. The other demons aren’t mentioned in that account either, and yet it’s preposterous to conclude that they escape this judgment. In fact, Matt 25:41 makes it clear that Satan and his demons will share the same fate.

v3 after these things he must be released for a short time – Somewhat surprisingly, we learn that Satan is to be released after a span of one thousand years. Until that time, Christ shall reign with his redeemed saints, and there shall be no more sin based on Satanic deception. This thousand-year period is called the Millennial Kingdom.

Note that the seven-year period that we generally call the “end times” isn’t really the end of time. It is only the end of this present church age, and this present age is characterized by the following:

  • The earth is (to an extent that God allows) under Satan’s rule.
  • The kingdom of God is not fully enacted upon the earth, as evidenced by the allowance of sin and the presence of Satan’s “kingdom” (Matt 12:26).
  • The kingdom of God exists partially on earth through the church, which consists of those people who acknowledge Christ as their king, and serve to represent him.

This all changes during the Millennial kingdom, because Satan will be removed as an influence upon the earth, and Christ shall reign in person, not by representation.

The First Resurrection

4Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is the one who has a 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 for a thousand years.

v4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them – This reveals new information about this Millennial kingdom. Some individuals will be seated on thrones and be given authority to judge. As we’ll see shortly, they will be making judgments about the dead.

Who are the judges on the thrones?

Their identity is not stated, and yet John writes as if it is unnecessary to identify them because their identities should be readily understood. There are good reasons to think that they may be the 24 elders, as explained in Who Are the 24 elders.

It is important to notice that both of these accounts of judging the dead (first in chapter 11 and again here in chapter 20) mention judging both the righteous and the unrighteous, and they are in agreement with regard to the timing:

  • The mention of judging the dead in chapter 11 is described at the end of the seventh trumpet event. Since the seventh trumpet is itself is a summary of the bowls, that judgment of the dead may properly be understood as something which happens at the conclusion of the bowl events.
  • The mention of judging the dead in here in chapter 20 clearly follows the description of the bowls in chapters 16-19. So again, the judgment of the dead takes place at the conclusion of the bowl events.

In other words,the judgment of the dead referenced in Rev 11:18 and Rev 20:4 are both describing to the exact same event. In both accounts, the righteous dead will receive rewards and the unrighteous dead are destroyed. We begin with the righteous in the following verse.

v4 I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years – A specific group of faithful followers of Christ are identified here. They are the tribulation saints who remained faithful, and were ultimately martyred for their faith. John saw that they were alive to reign with Christ during his Millennial kingdom on earth.

Side noteBeheading was the standard way that the Roman government of John’s day carried out capital punishment against criminals who were Roman citizens. Thus, one may understand “beheaded” in verse 4 to mean “executed by the ruling government“. The text isn’t demanding that the faithful martyrs must be killed by this one specific method.

v4 This is the first resurrection – As discussed in The Resurrections of the Dead, scripture teaches that there shall be two main resurrections of people: (1) the resurrection of the righteous for those in Christ, and (2) the resurrection of the wicked for those who reject Christ. From this, we may conclude that this resurrection of these tribulation martyrs is only part of the much wider first resurrection of the righteous.

When does the first resurrection happen? It takes place shortly before the rapture, which itself takes place immediately before the bowl judgments of God’s wrath strike the earth. These tribulation martyrs will be part of that first resurrection, and they will be joined with the raptured saints in heaven in accordance with 1 Thes 4:16-17 “…the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…“.

Side note: You may have the impression that this first resurrection occurs after the bowl judgments because verse 4 above says “they came to life“. This wording suggests that John witnessed the resurrection at this point (shortly after the bowls, at the start of the millennial kingdom) in chapter 20.

However, the Greek text actually says only that “they lived” (as it is rendered in several translations, including KJV and YLT), allowing that John saw them already alive at this point. Thus, their actual resurrection may easily have taken place earlier (e.g. before the bowls).

v5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed – This clarifies that the first resurrection (of the righteous) is finished, and that there will be a second resurrection (of the wicked, as we shall see) after the Millennial kingdom period is finished.

v6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a 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 for a thousand years – This statement is true for all saints (Dan 7:27, 2 Tim 2:12, 1 Pet 2:9, Rev 3:21, Rev 5:10), and it supports the idea the first resurrection mentioned above is the resurrection of the righteous in general — and not only the resurrection of executed tribulation saints.

The “second death” refers to second resurrection, although it’s called “death” because of the eternal state of destruction for those (the wicked) who have a part in it.

The Millennial Kingdom Ends

7When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 8and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. 9And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

v7 When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison – The Millennial kingdom ends with Satan being released from the abyss where he had been bound, as promised in verse 3 above.

v8 and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth – This, remarkably, is the purpose for releasing Satan. For explanations, please see The Millennial Kingdom.

v8 Gog and Magog – This is thought to refer to a king (Gog) and his kingdom (Magog). One can only assume that Revelation is again using an Old Testament account to describe an analogous event in the future. I believe the parallel is rather simple:

  • In the verses 8 and 9 we see a vast number of people planning to attack the peaceful people who are living in Christ’s kingdom, but the attackers are ultimately destroyed by fire.
  • This corresponds to the Old Testament account where Gog and Magog make plans to attack people living at rest in unwalled villages (Ezek 38:10-12), but God’s response is to destroy Magog with fire (Ezek 39:6).

v8 to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore – When the thousand years are over, the people will have multiplied many times over in Christ’s kingdom. But many among the subsequent generations will not be redeemed. They will rebel against God as soon as they are deceived into thinking they could win. God actually uses Satan’s influence for this purpose to expose them.

v9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city and fire came down from heaven and devoured them – This removes the final stain of human corruption from the earth. Again, explanations are provided in The Millennial Kingdom.

v10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever – Satan is utterly defeated, and he finally receives his eternal judgment in the lake of fire. The first occupants of this place shall be the unholy trinity of Satan, Antichrist, and the False Prophet.

The Second Resurrection

11Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13And 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 one of them according to their deeds. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

v11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them – This is the throne of God, described as “white” to emphasize His righteousness and holiness. When this final judgment occurs, the “earth and heaven” will no longer needed. The implication is that they have served their purpose. Nobody is on the physical earth anymore.

v12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds – This point in time thus identifies the second resurrection, which (as discussed in The Resurrections of the Dead) is the resurrection of the wicked. I believe that all people (both the righteous and the unrighteous) are present at this event (Rom 14:10-12).

v13 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 one of them according to their deeds – One does not need to wonder how the sea can give up its dead when the earth itself (according to verse 11 above) no longer exists. Verse 13 does not chronologically follow verses 11 and 12, but rather it adds clarity to those verses. It emphasizes that no person who has ever lived on the earth will miss this event. Further clarifications follow.

v14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire – “death and Hades” refers to the state of being physically dead (it should not be confused with “hell”). Like the earth itself, these are no longer needed since everyone who will ever experience physical death has now been raised in either the first or second resurrection. Hades (the abode of death) is empty and never to be used again.

v15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire – This verse adds important clarity to the proceedings at this white throne judgment. Specifically, this verse makes it known that there are two groups of people gathered here: (1) those whose names are in the book of life, and (2) those whose names are not. These two groups respectively correspond to (1) the wheat, and (2) the tares, described in the parable of Jesus which ends in Matt 13:30 by saying “Allow both [the wheat and the tares] to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’’“. That is, the unrighteous group is first gathered to be thrown in the lake of fire, and then the righteous are taken into God’s kingdom (Matt 13:38,40).

The “book of life” refers to the righteous (Ps 69:28) who were part of the first resurrection. People who are not in this book of life must be those taking part in the second resurrection of the wicked. This corresponds to the division of people that Jesus described in Matt 25:33, regarding the sheep (Matt 25:34) and goats (Matt 25:41).

The wicked are judged by their deeds according to God’s holy law, and they will be found guilty (Rom 3:23). Having rebelled against God the righteous King, and having rejected the salvation that was offered by Christ apart from the law (Rom 3:21, Heb 2:2-3), they must receive their due penalty under the law: a place in the lake of fire along with Satan, the defeated ruler whom they chose to follow.

In summary, we see that Antichrist and the False Prophet go into the lake of fire before the millennial kingdom (Rev 19:20). All of the other wicked — including Satan — shall be imprisoned until after the millennial kingdom, at which time they will also go there. This agrees exactly with the words of Isaiah:

  • In Isa 24:19-20 the prophet describes the great earthquake that occurs just prior to the millennial kingdom. This is the great earthquake of the seventh bowl event.
  • This is followed by Isa 24:21-22 – 21So it will happen in that day, That the LORD will punish the host of heaven on high, And the kings of the earth on earth22They will be gathered together Like prisoners in the dungeon, And will be confined in prison; And after many days they will be punished.

The first punishment is the bowl events which sends all the wicked to their deaths. They will stay imprisoned in that state of death for many days (the thousand years of the millennial kingdom), after which comes their second and eternal punishment.

Share Button