“When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released…”(Rev. 20:7-15)
It’s future passive which means God’s going to let him loose, and there’s going to be a purpose in it. “…from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations…” – it’s amazing to me that people who have been with Christ for a thousand years can be led by Satan into a rebellion. The question arises, are these nations “unbelievers” or initially believers? Does this suggest an ineffectual reign of Christ that it did not cause a permanent change in human society? It’s also amazing to me that these resurrected saints are going to be mixed with people who still have apparently a potential towards sin. I don’t see how that’s going to fit. It’s a mystery that’s why I’m not so certain that taking this literally is the best way to interpret. “…which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog,” – this goes back to Ezekiel 38 & 39. I really think the background to this whole chapter is Ezekiel 36 to 48 really, and in 36 the people of God are brought back to the land. There’s a resurrection in 37 of the national Israel based on God’s actions. And then in eschatological setting, God’s people are still attacked by evil; the expression Gog and Magog seems to mean all people, and it came to be used by the rabbis as the enemies of God’s people. Of course, Magog is originally a land from which Gog came, but here they’re both personified as two evil enemies in the usage of rabbinical Judaism. “…to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore…” – that’s one of the promises to Abraham back in Genesis 22:17 and repeated in Hebrews 11:12, obviously again the mimicking of evil to God’s people and promise. “And they came up on the broad plain of the earth…” – now some interpret this to mean that they’re going to fight on a plain much like we saw in chapter 16 verse 16 in the battle of Armageddon, or some say it means just a large army that covered the land that kind of idea and surrounded the camp of God’s people. This may be a camp in the sense of the wilderness wandering idea or an army camp. Now, what is the ‘Beloved City’? Well, some say it’s obviously used for Jerusalem, but the usage throughout the book of the Revelation has been the ideal of a heavenly city of God, and an earthly anti-God city. I personally think this is this heavenly Jerusalem versus the physical end-time anti-God world systems. “And fire came down out of heaven,…” – that’s Ezekiel 38:22 and 29:6. “… and devoured them.” – you might want to see Luke 21:20. “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone,” – this idea of evil being thrown in the lake of fire we saw back in chapter 19:20, now here the beast and the prophet are cast into the lake of fire. A little later in 20:14, death and hades are going to be thrown into the lake of fire. And then in verse 15 all the lost mankind are going to be thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is synonymous with ‘Gehenna’; it stands for eternal separation and punishment. It’s now the ideal of fire, which is common to some Jewish apocalyptic books, but also the stinking smell of burning sulfur is also caught up in this. “…where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” – the idea of ‘forever and ever’ goes back to Matthew 25:46 where is described as eternal, and the separation from God is described as eternal.
Now here comes the Judgment Day, “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it,” – the problem with this is how does this relate to what seems to be a parallel passage in Matthew 25:31 through 46 because in that passage, the nations are separated like the sheep from the goats; there’s the lost and there’s the saved together. If you believe that all the saved were resurrected in the first resurrection before the Millennium, then this Judgment act can only be for the lost. So, it’s not a parallel, and there are real questions about who is involved here. Now, who is it that sits on the throne? Well, in several passages it seems that God has given judgment over to Christ, particularly John 5:22. However, in John 12:47-48 it says that Jesus doesn’t judge the anybody. So, the idea here is that Jesus is the Judge for God, but in reality Jesus came not to judge but to save, but the fact that men refused to trust Him, they judge themselves by what they do with the Son. In many passages in the book of the Revelation, it is God who’s on the throne repeatedly. And in Matthew 25:31 it seems to refer to Christ. “From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away;” – some say, this is “all things become new”, and so they would see this in the sense of the physical realm sharing the curse of the fall of man (cf. Romans 8:14-22). Others say this refers to 2 Peter 3:12 where all the physical elements are going to be burned up, and we’re going to have a new heaven and a new earth, and that’s the idea of Revelation 21 and 22. Notice when it says, “…and there was found no place for them.” – this is very similar to the phrase found in chapter 12:8 which speaks of evil. In verse 12, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God;” – now who are these? Are they the lost only, or they’re both groups? I just can’t answer that. And as a matter of fact, many people have already interpreted this chapter before they ever get to it because of the system they’re pre-committed to. There is much ambiguity here and people kind of interpret ambiguity away. I’ve been amazed in reading through this, how dogmatic some of these commentators are. They kind of think that everybody but them are dumb, and if you don’t agree with what they agree, there’s something wrong with your spirituality. Well, that is just totally inappropriate when many Godly commentators interpret this chapter radically different as they do. That is surprising because obviously God is trying to tell us something, and i don’t think He was trying us to get us so mad at each other. Obviously, the essential truth is the sovereignty of God in history which really had a word for the first century persecuted Christians, and every generation of Christians. I do think there’s truth here, but I’m not sure we can take it literally and chronologically when it’s a literary genre known as apocalyptic prophetic literature.
Now, “And I saw the dead, small and great,” – we’ve seen this phrase ‘great and small’ several times in the book of the Revelation. “…and the books were opened:” – now this ‘books’ seems to go back to Daniel 7:10. There are two books mentioned; the book of life and the book of remembrances. It was back in chapter 3:5 where we find the book of life. This idea of the books of God is also a recurrent theme in Apocalyptic Judaism (2 Esdras 6:20). Now it says, “and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” – of course it’s not the idea there that they were saved by their works, but it’s obvious that judgment in on two grounds. Number one is that their names are not in the Lamb’s book of life (vs. 15), but on the other side is because, since they are saved, they are going to live a certain way; Ephesians 2:8 through 10, particularly 10 that we sometimes leave out that good works are in the will of God (cf. Jer. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; Matt. 25:31ff). Now in verse 13, “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.” – the sea, death, and Hades that’s not three different places; it’s just a way of saying all the dead were there, and they were all judged according to what they have done. “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” – it’s obviously symbolic here; we’ve got death and Hades personified and thrown into a fiery lake. Now, we’re in the area of symbols, and people say Revelation chapter 20 must be taken literally because there’s nothing symbolic in it. Well, what about the ‘binding of Satan with a chain, and throwing him in a pit”, what about death and Hades being personified? This is obviously a book that has many symbols. I have prayed so much about this study, and I must say the more i read and the more i study, the more confused I get when i go back and read the simple structure of the Bible. I think the Book of the Revelation is not that hard to interpret, but we’re trying to make it say too much, and we want too much information from it. I think all we’ve got to say is, God is in control of history; He is coming back for His saints, and there is going to be justice. Wickedness is going to be overthrown. I certainly believe in an end time anti-Christ. I certainly believe in a visible return of the Lord, but I’m not sure of all the events. I get more and more nervous when people say they’ve got it all worked out and present a detailed timeline of eschatological events. This is an apocalyptic book; obviously we’ve got dragons, and women having children in the sky, and stars falling and all. We’re in an apocalyptic, symbolic passage, and I have interpreted the rest of the book of the Revelation, and I believe a struggle between God and the evil one. I’ve seen the church throughout the book of the Revelation, and I don’t share the Dispensationalist presupposition that Israel and the church are totally separate, and that all prophecies must be literally fulfilled of Israel. I believe this is a symbolic representation of truth to help the hurting Christians of every age to ensure within us the hope that Jesus is coming for us, and anyone who trusts Him can go with Him. God help us all.