Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 20
Satan Is Imprisoned for a Thousand Years
- 1I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2He took hold of the dragon, that old serpent, who is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3He 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 that he must be set free for a short time.
Commentary: These first three verses function more as a conclusion to the preceding chapter than as a beginning to the rest of this chapter. The Beast and his prophet have already been handled. Now it is time for the third member of this unholy trinity. His various names are listed in verse 2 to remind readers of his various characteristics: dragon – ancient enemy of God; serpent – tempter and liar of humankind; and Ha Satan or the Devil – the accuser. He is then bound and thrown in a bottomless (i.e., inescapable) pit for a thousand years. The triple imagery of being thrown in, locked in, and sealed off show how completely Satan is out of the game, at least for now. It is important to note, however, that Satan is not killed. It seems that evil can never be completely destroyed, only contained. This should serve as a warning against complacency to the believer. Christ’s victory on the cross and the promise of his final victory do not allow us to let down our guards.
It is also interesting to note that since the angel comes down from heaven with the key, this would indicate that these events occur somewhere other than heaven. Perhaps they are even to have happened on earth's surface.
It is safe to say that the bottomless pit is not in Heaven, but is representative of a place for those separated from God and demonic spirits. Satan's dominion and influence has now become curtailed because of the victory Christ had when he conquered the grave.
The First Resurrection
- 4And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. I saw the souls of those who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, nor had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands, and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years, 5but the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.'
Commentary: In the New Testament, the resurrection was exemplified in Jesus, who is said to have risen from the dead after three days. Paul writes, "Since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ, all will be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at his coming."[1 Cor 15:21-23] Another development in the New Testament is the understanding, principally from this passage, that there are two resurrections: one for the people of God before the Millennium; the other for the rest of the people after the Millennium. Those who are a part of the first resurrection will not have to worry about the "second death" and the "lake of fire” associated with the Last Judgment (see below). Jesus’ words agree with those of Revelation: "He who hears my word and believes in him who sent me has everlasting life, and will not come into judgment… The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth: those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."[Jn 5:24-26]
The persecuted and martyered saints are once again mentioned. The reference to the martyrs once again seems to appear quite a few times in Revelation. Given the context that John writes his revelation in, this reoccurring theme is not surprising. During this time the early church was undergoing persecution and John's words served to bring solace and encouragement.
The Bible teaches that our resurrected bodies will be different from those we have now. Jesus said, "In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven."[Mt22:30] The resurrected body, therefore, is a spiritual body which does not have the needs of the physical body. Paul adds, “So also is the resurrection of the dead: the body is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body."[1 Cor 15:42-44] For Paul, the words of the prophet Hosea[Hos 13:14] find their fulfilment in the resurrection: "O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"[1Cor 15:55]
In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul writes, "The Lord himself will descend from heaven... and the dead in Christ will rise first.” But he adds that “we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."[1Th 4:16-17] The rising of those who are still alive to join the resurrected dead is known as the Rapture. Paul's words imply that he believed the three events —- the coming of the Lord, the Resurrection, and the Rapture —- would be more or less simultaneous.
This passage also has a great deal to do with Rome. Beheading was a common method of Roman execution. However, it was not a punishment that was given to just anyone. It was an execution designed for Roman citizens, since it was considered to be less humiliating than crucifixion. It is interesting to note that John never directly says anything about those who followed Christ, but were not martyred for their beliefs. It can be assumed from the passage about the faithful in the book of life that they are rewarded, but the book uses passages like these to comfort and console those who find themselves on trial for their beliefs.
- 6Blessed and holy are those who have a part in the first resurrection. On such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with him a thousand years.
Commentary: Although there are other passages in the Bible which speak of an age of peace, only Revelation tells us how long it lasts. The word millennium simply means "one thousand years" and could refer to any thousand-year period, but through common usage, the Millennium has come to be understood as referring to the age of peace of Revelation. In the Millennium, the forces of darkness have no power on the Earth. It is a time of love and unity, of peace and harmony. Isaiah speaks of such a time and describes it in Edenic terms:
- The wolf will dwell with the lamb; the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf, and the young lion, and the yearling together, and a little child will lead them. The cow and the bear will graze; their young ones will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the cobra's hole; and the weaned child will put his hand in the viper's den. They will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.[Is 11:5-9]
Just as the physical bodies of people are changed into spiritual bodies in the resurrection, so Isaiah implies that animals will undergo a transformation which enables them to live in peace with human beings and with each other. There is no more killing, either in the human or the animal kingdoms. God reverses the covenant made with Noah in which he said, "The fear and the dread of you will be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that moves on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea."[Gen 9:2] If the passage in Isaiah is interpreted literally, a return to the vegetarian diet of Eden[cf. Gen 1:29-30] seems to be a natural conclusion.
Micah expresses similarly lofty thoughts, adding that Jerusalem will be the Lord’s capital in those days:
- Out of Zion the word of the law will go forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more. But everyone will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.[Micah 4:2-4]
John continues to encourage his readers, especially those in persecuted regions and lifts their spirits helping them to endure. It is interesting to note that the martyrs are given a priestly role. This may suggest that these priests can intercede for those that still remain on earth.
The Final Confrontation between Good and Evil
- 7After the thousand years have expired, Satan will be freed from his prison, 8and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
Commentary: There is continuing discussion over the identity of Gog and Magog. In the context of the passage, they seem to equate to something like “east and west.” There is a passage in Ezekiel, however, where God says to the prophet, "Set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him."[Ezek 38:2] Gog, in this instance, is the name of a person of the land of Magog, who is ruler (“prince”) over the regions of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. Ezekiel says of him: "You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you..."Ezek 38:2 Despite this huge show of force, the battle will be short-lived, for Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation all tell us that this last desperate attempt to destroy the people and the city of God will end in disaster: "I [i.e. God] will bring him to judgement with pestilence and bloodshed. I will rain down on him and on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him: flooding rain, great hailstones, fire and brimstone."[Ezek 38:22]
- 9They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints, and the beloved city, but fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.
Commentary: It may be that the images of fire raining down are an ancient vision of modern weapons, though these passages may also be interpreted as a supernatural intervention by God, or they may be interpreted symbolically.It is hard to distinguish if the beloved city here is referring to Jerusalem or a different place. Some believe that the beloved city is actually referring to the "New Jerusalem", the city of God, because old Jerusalem was earlier in the book equated with Sodom and Gomorrah. Witherington guesses that the beloved city is neither Jerusalem nor Rome nor any other city we've heard of before, but only a metaphor for the society of the saints. The battle is not fight by the saints, but by God, as He is the one that brings down the fire. This attack is similar to the results and methods of destruction used in the battle of God and Magog, as described by Ezekiel.
- 10The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and he will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Commentary: This verse shows Satan joining the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire. (Recall the beast and the false prophet were condemned at the beginning of the Millennium in Revelation 19:20, and now we are at the end of the 1,000 years.) In other words, this is the final overthrow of Satan. It is important to note that this punishment is clearly described as a permanent, eternal one, quite unlike Satan's earlier punishment of Revelation 20:2 in which Satan is captured for a thousand years. It is interesting to note that many Christians conceive of Satan as the tormenter of the damned, but this verse clearly indicates that Satan will also be tormented for all of eternity, a punishment worse than death because there is no escape.
The Last Judgment
- 11And I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them.
Commentary: The Last, or Final, Judgement is sometimes called the Great White Throne Judgement because of this description. Jesus sits on the throne, and this is where He, the Judge will do the final judgment. This throne is different from any mentioned previously in the book of Revelation and signifies that the person who is seated there is more important than any mentioned before (it could be Jesus or God himself). The white throne represents the righteous and holy ways that the judgment will convey. All must pass before this throne to be judged. The fact that the earth and heaven attempt to flee is metaphorically saying there was no place for anyone to escape too to hide from God's judgment, and that it is so overwhelming they try and escape it but can't.
- 12And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God. The books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life, and the dead were judged according to those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and death and hell delivered up the dead who were in them, and they were judged everyone according to their works.
Commentary: Everyone must stand before and be judged before God, this is everyone who has ever lived since the biginning of time. It even states in these verses that the sea will give yo the dead, symbolizing that no one is able to escape the judgement. This is the seventh vision of the prophet which begins in Chapter 19. All are reunited with their bodies to be judged. This is the second resurrection. The fact that God is using to books to judge implies that he is doing it justly and fairly, taking all actions into account. Every person's name will either be in the Book of Life or in the book of damnation. The people will not be able to give excuses or become sorrowful. Their destination is chosen and written in the books. Despite the comfort of just and fair judgement, this passage has a dark focus on death, the sea, and the wicked. This verse toys with the idea of salvation being dependent by faith or works, as the dead are judged by their works. Witherington suggests that we consider the dead coming from the sea as people who have not made it into Hades due to incomplete or improper burial rituals.
- 14Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And whoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Commentary: Just as the Bible speaks of two births (the physical and the spiritual), it speaks of two deaths. The first death is physical death, and the second is the death of the soul in the lake of fire.
While the Antichrist and False Prophet, who are thrown into the lake of fire before the Millennium, are said in Revelation to suffer eternal torments, no mention is made of eternal torment in connection with those who are banished to the lake of fire at the last judgment. The description of the lake of fire as the "second death" implies that the souls of those who go there at the last judgment do not live forever, but die, either immediately or after a suitable period of punishment. Many people believe that the souls of the lost will, nevertheless, suffer eternally, and offer scriptural passages to support their argument. Others offer passages which indicate that the nature of God only allows for punishment until such a time as justice has been served, and no more. There are therefore conflicting viewpoints on the subject.
While it is not specifically stated, it is implied that those who are a part of the second resurrection, i.e. the rest of humanity that were not martyrs, go on to suffer the second death in the lake of fire. Also, the specific mention of Death and Hades being cast into the lake of fire make it clear that those two entities were not associated with Hell itself.
Much of the judgment of Revelation 20 is echoed in Daniel 7. Both texts speak of a divine judgment, the defeat of a beast, and those in whom God finds favor. There may also be an allusion to Daniel 7:10 in Revelation 20:15's mention of the Book of Life as Daniel 7:10 speaks of books which are part of the process of divine judgement at the end of times. Isiah 24 and Ezekiel 36-39 also contain similarities to Revelation 20. -
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.