The Reign of Christ and the Great White Throne (Rev 20:1-15)
The Millennial Reign of Christ
Like the calm after a storm, chapter 20, which catapults us into the millennial reign of Christ, brings a great sigh of relief with the binding of Satan and the resurrection and reward of the Tribulation martyrs. In the overall outline, this chapter is the second part of the third main section of Revelation (cf. Rev. 1:19). Remember that this third section, chapters 4-22, is all futuristic. The first part of the third section described the Tribulation (4-19). The second part describes the Millennium and great white throne judgment (20), and the third part takes us into the eternal state (21-22).
This is one of the greatest and most important chapters of the Bible. It presents in summary the tremendous series of events that encompass the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. Many Bible expositors believe that it is in this future period that many Old and New Testament prophecies will find their ultimate fulfillment like Isaiah 2:1-4; 4:2-6; 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; portions of Matthew 24 and 25; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; and 2 Peter 3:10-12.
However, the view that Revelation 20 is speaking of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ is also one of the most controversial and a bewildering array of diverse interpretations may be found in regard to this passage.
Various Views of the Millennium
The term millennium, a Latin word meaning one thousand years, is the term that has come to be used of the thousand-year period spoken of in this passage. The term “millennium” is found six times in verses 2-7.
This is the view that Christ will personally return and reign on earth for one thousand years. The prefix “pre” expresses the view that Christ returns first, then literally reigns on earth. It also views Christ as fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies literally in a kingdom on earth. The premillennial view is the result of a literal interpretation of Revelation 20, a view held by even the very early church fathers of the second century as Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.
The ancient church down to the time of Augustine (354-430) (though not without minor exceptions) unquestionably held to the teaching of an earthly, historical reign of peace that was to follow the defeat of Antichrist and the physical resurrection of the saints but precede both the judgment and the new creation. To be sure, there were various positions as to the material nature of the Millennium (see comments on v. 4), but the true conception of the thousand years was a balance between the worldly aspects of the kingdom and its spiritual aspects as a reign with Christ.225
This view holds the whole world will be Christianized and brought to submission to the gospel before the return of Christ. The prefix “post” expresses the view that Christ returns after the Millennium. The world wars and continuation of global strife demonstrate the error of this view along with such passages as Matthew 24:4f; 2 Timothy 3:1, 13; 4:3; and 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3. This view originated in the writings of a Unitarian by the name of Daniel Whitby (1628-1725).
This is the most popular modern view, but it goes back only as far as Origin and Augustine in the third and fourth centuries. This view denies the literal reign of Christ on earth. Satan is conceived as bound at the first coming of Christ and the present age between the first and second comings of Christ is seen as the fulfillment of the Millennium. Its adherents are divided. Some believe the Millennium is being fulfilled now on earth, and is equivalent to the kingdom of God in you. Others believe it is being fulfilled by the saints in heaven. It may be summed up in the idea that there will be no more Millennium than there is now, and that Christ’s second coming is immediately followed by the eternal state. The prefix “A” simply means a denial of the Millennium.
This Amillennial view has a great impact on a vast amount of Scripture. For instance, all the kingdom prophecies to Israel are spiritualized. Either they are spiritualized to apply to the church today, or they have been abrogated entirely and have no fulfillment at all, or they must be spiritualized to apply to the future or eternal state. As an illustration, rather than pointing to a literal reign of Christ on earth, Isaiah 11:4-10 refers to the peace and tranquillity of mind of the believer, or it speaks in a spiritual way of heaven or eternity. The key factor here is one’s method of interpretation. In the postmillennial and amillennial positions one must spiritualize a large amount of Scripture. In the premillennial view Scripture is taken literally, i.e., according to its normal, more obvious meaning. Figures are taken figuratively, but they are not spiritualized.
Reasons for the Literal Interpretation
(1) Definition of the “literal” method: This is the method that gives to each word the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage whether in writing or speaking or thinking. This method is called the grammatical-historical method because it is based on contextual, grammatical, lexical, and historical considerations.
(2) Definition of “allegorical” or “spiritual” method: It is that method of interpreting a text or passage of Scripture that regards the literal sense as merely the vehicle for a secondary, more spiritual, and more profound sense. “In this method the historical import is either denied or ignored and the emphasis is placed entirely on a secondary sense so that the original words or events have little or no significance.”226 Pentecost quotes Charles T. Fritsch who says, “According to this method the literal and historical sense of Scripture is completely ignored, and every word and event is made an allegory of some kind either to escape theological difficulties or to maintain certain peculiar views …”227
Paul teaches us that the Old Testament Scripture and God’s dealing with Israel do have spiritual analogies for the Christian life (1 Cor. 10:6, 11-12). Scripture is full of such analogies and types, but their significance is based on the literal historicity of the event whether past or future. It is never a means to deny its literal meaning or fulfillment.
(3) The danger of the allegorical or spiritual method: Pentecost cogently points to three great dangers:
First, he warns, that “it does not really interpret Scripture.” In other words, it goes beyond all well-defined principles and laws of interpretation and leaves one open to the unlimited scope of one’s own fancy. It yields no true interpretation, though it may possibly illustrate certain valuable truths.
A second danger is that in the allegorical method “the basic authority in interpretation ceases to be the Scriptures, but the mind of the interpreter. The interpretation may then be twisted by the interpreter’s doctrinal positions, the authority of the church to which the interpreter adheres, his social or educational background, or a host of other factors.”228
Finally Pentecost says, “a third great danger in the allegorical method is that one is left without any means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested.”229
The point is simply this. Scripture abounds in allegories, whether in the form of types, symbols, or parables. Paul explains such an allegory in Galatians 4:21-23. These are accepted and legitimate ways to teach and communicate spiritual truth. However, there is a great deal of difference between such use of allegories and allegorical interpretation. In one you have the illustration and application of spiritual truth based on literal interpretation and historical fact. In the other, you have disregard for the literal meaning and historical fact based on the literal method of interpretation and in its place an allegory is set up based on the interpreter’s own fancy.
(4) Evidences for the literal interpretation. In defense of the literal approach it may be argued:
a. The literal method of interpretation is the usual practice in interpretation of literature. When we read a book, essay, or poem we presume the sense is literal. This is the only conceivable method of communication.
b. All secondary meanings of documents depend upon the previous meaning of these documents, namely, upon their literal interpretation. Parables, types, allegories, symbols, and figures of speech (metaphors, similes, hyperboles) presume that the words have a more primitive reference than the sense in which they are used.
c. A large part of the Bible makes adequate and significant sense when literally interpreted. Of course the literal interpretation of Scripture does not blindly rule out figures of speech, symbols, allegories, and types. The literal meaning of a figure of speech is its proper meaning. “Ephraim is a cake not turned” (Hosea 7:8) means that Ephraim is “half-baked.”
d. The literal method is the necessary check upon the imagination of men. To rest one’s theology on the secondary stratum of the possible meanings of Scripture is not interpretation but imagination … The only sure way to know God’s word is to anchor interpretation in literal exegesis.230
In the earlier 1950 edition of Ramm’s book he wrote in defense of the literal approach:
… this method is the only one consonant with the nature of inspiration. The plenary inspiration of the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit guided men into truth and away from error. In this process the Spirit of God used language, and the units of language (as meaning, not as sound) are words and thoughts. The thought is the thread that strings the words together. Therefore, our very exegesis must commence with a study of words and grammar, the two fundamentals of all meaningful speech.231
(5) Advantages of the literal method of interpretation: These are summarized by Ramm as follows.
a. It grounds interpretation in fact. It seeks to rest its case in any given passage on such objective considerations as grammar, logic, etymology, history, geography, archaeology or theology …
b. It exercises a control over interpretation attempting to match the control which experimentation exercises over hypotheses in science.
c. This methodology has proved itself in practice. The enduring and valuable contributions to Biblical exegesis are the result of grammatical and historical exegesis.232
Pentecost adds the following:
In addition to the above advantages it may be added that (d) it gives us a basic authority by which interpretations may be tested. The allegorical method, which depends on the rationalistic approach of the interpreter, or conformity to a predetermined theological system, leaves one without a basic authoritative test. In the literal method Scripture may be compared with Scripture, which, as the inspired Word of God, is authoritative and the standard by which all truth is to be tested. Related to this we may observe that (e) it delivers us from both reason and mysticism as the requisites to interpretation. One does not have to depend upon intellectual training or abilities, nor upon the development of mystical perception, but rather upon the understanding of what is written in its generally accepted sense. Only on such a basis can the average individual understand or interpret the Scriptures for himself.233
(6) Some specific reasons for interpreting Revelation 20 by the literal method:
- Expositors usually understand Revelation 20:10-12 literally. Why not verses 1-9?
- The passage lends itself naturally to solid literal exegesis. There is no reason to spiritualize it other than because of a bias against the thousand-year reign.
- Those who take it otherwise cannot agree on what it means.
- If the Millennium refers to our inter-advent period, i.e., to today, then the passage teaches Satan is bound today and this in no way fits with Scripture. There are few theories of Scripture which are less warranted than the idea that Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ. Amillennialists often refer to Luke 10:18 (as did Augustine) as proof that Satan has been bound, but Luke 10:18 is a prophecy of Revelation 12:7f, which takes place in the middle of the Tribulation. Opposed to this is the constant revelation of the New Testament which shows that Satan is very active in the present age, in fact, that he is even more active and will become more and more active as time goes along (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-4:3; 2 Thess. 1:8-10). Other Scriptures showing the activity of Satan in this present age are: Acts 5:3; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; 11-14; Eph. 2:2; 1 Thess. 2:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; and 1 Pet. 5:8.
- Some maintain Revelation is full of symbolic visions that cannot be pressed for literal meaning. However, throughout the book of Revelation it interprets itself. Specific explanations are given to John that explain the visions and give their meaning. Expositors are not free to inject their own preconceived ideas.
- In his vision of chapter 20 John could not see one thousand years, he had to be told this. Further, the thousand years are mentioned in verses 1-4 which describe the vision, but verses 5-7 give the divine interpretation of these verses and the thousand years are mentioned in all of these verses. Thus, we are not left to conjecture. The point is, just because we have a vision in a passage we are not free to resort to symbolic or spiritualized interpretation.
Satan and the Abyss (1-3)
Scripture describes this present time in which we live as an evil age and Satan is called “the god of this world,” (literally “age”; compare Eph. 5:16; 2 Cor. 4:4). Today Satan is free and walks about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8), but because of Christ’s victory on the cross, Satan and his forces are even now a defeated lot. Consequently, during the Millennium and Christ’s reign on earth, Satan (and this includes his demon hosts) will be bound and put out of action until the very end of the thousand-year reign of our Lord (cf. John 12:31; Col. 2:15; with this passage).
“An angel coming down from heaven” (vs. la). Because of the power displayed over Satan some have understood this to refer to the Lord. But this is unwarranted and without evidence from the passage. This is a holy angel who is given authority from heaven and who operates at the command of God.
“Having the key of the abyss” (vs. 1b). The fact he has the key and the chain shows he has been given authority and power from heaven to carry out this assignment. The word “abyss,” the Greek abussos, means “boundless or bottomless.” This is the bondage place of fallen angels (demons or unclean spirits). It is the same place called “tartaros” in 2 Peter 2:4. Literally, 2 Peter 2:4 reads, “and to pits of darkness (gloom), he committed them by casting them into tartaros” (the verb here is tartaraw, “to cast into tartaros”). This and other verses tell us: (1) that tartaros is an abyss of gloom or darkness, (2) that it is a prison of fallen angels, and (3) that the fallen angels that were bound there were those who sinned in the days of Noah in Genesis 6 (2 Pet. 2:5; Jude 6-7; Luke 8:31).
“And he laid hold of …” (vs. 2a). The word “laid hold of” is the Greek kratew, and carries several ideas. It means (1) to be strong, mighty, and hence, to be master over, rule over, prevail, (2) to get possession of, obtain, take hold of, (3) to hold fast and firmly.234 These ideas have a certain application here, but the main idea is that this angel, operating under God’s authority and with His power, will possess the strength necessary to seize, hold firmly, and restrain the devil and bind him in the abyss with no possibility of escape.
“The dragon, the serpent of old …” (vs. 2b). Here again we have a reiteration of some of the various names applied to Satan. See the study on Revelation 12:9. Each name has significance and describes him in terms of his nefarious and adversarial activity in the world in his warfare against God and the people of God. These names are also warnings to us.
“And threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him” (vs. 3a). This is designed to stress the fact that Satan will definitely be put out of commission and will absolutely not be a problem to man in the Millennium, at least for the thousand years.
“So that he should not deceive the nations any longer …” (vs. 3b). This states the purpose—to stop the deceptions of Satan, the master of deceit. Deceit or deception is one of the keys, if not the key characterization given to us in the Bible of Satan. Satan cannot operate in the realm of truth, but he operates in the realm of a lie. He is a liar and the father of lies. Why does he lie? To deceive and lead astray (John 8:44; 2 Cor. 11:3; 2 Thess. 2:10; Rev. 12:9).
It is important to know that Satan’s key deceptions concern the Word of God, which of course is the Word of truth. His greatest attack and deceptions concern the integrity of God, both the living Word (Jesus Christ and His person and work) and the written Word (the Holy Bible). It is in this way that he deceives the world (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10-12).
The Millennium will be a time when the whole “earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). For this to take place fully and completely, Satan will be removed so that the earth may prepared for the kingdom of God, a time of truth and the knowledge of God.
“After these things (i.e., the one thousand years) he must be released for a short time” (vs. 3c). It is significant to note that Satan “must be released” (italics mine). “Must” is the Greek verb dei which points to a logical as well as a moral necessity. It looks at a constraint arising from the divine appointment or purpose of something. Why is he not permanently bound or cast directly into the lake of fire? Why is it necessary for him to once again be released? This is an important question, but since verses 7-9 are devoted to his release, we will save the answer and discuss it then. But let’s not miss the fact that his release is for a short time only.
Saints and the Kingdom (4-6)
As mentioned, the binding of Satan will occur as a preparation for God’s kingdom on earth. We now come to a passage which deals with a portion of the inhabitants of this kingdom on earth.
Looking at Scripture as a whole, the kingdom will be inhabited in the beginning by two categories of saints. First, there will be resurrected saints in glorified bodies like that of our Lord (Phil. 3:21). This will include Old Testament saints, church age saints (the bride of Christ), and Tribulation martyrs. Second, there will be those Tribulation saints who escaped death and were preserved through the Tribulation to go into the kingdom of our Lord (Matt. 24:13; 25:10, 30, 32-34; Rev. 14:1). These believers will have mortal bodies like ours today and during the course of the Millennium they will beget children. These children will also, regardless of the personal and glorious presence of Christ, need to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith. This fact will provide the potential for a third category of people in the Millennium, unbelievers in mortal bodies, men and women susceptible to the deceptions of Satan. These will form the constituency for the last-time revolt under Satan’s final deception.
“And I saw thrones and they that sat upon them …” (vs. 4a). These verses are complicated by a lack of specifics respecting just who is included here. Who are these sitting upon the thrones with judgment given to them? Also are there two groups here or three? Some see three groups: (1) those sitting upon the thrones with judgment given to them, (2) those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and (3) those who had not worshipped the beast. Most likely, however, we have only two groups with the so-called third being only a further description and reason why the second group was beheaded. We could translate, “… and because of the Word of God, even those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, …” In the first description we are told of the method of their death along with the ultimate cause of their death—their witness for Jesus and the Word. In the next description we see the more immediate cause and the effect of their faith in Christ and the Word—their refusal to worship the beast.
The first group undoubtedly refers to church saints because of the many specific promises given to the church regarding judgment and ruling with Christ (cf. Luke 22:29-30 [the apostles were members of the church and represent the church], 1 Cor. 6:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21).
In verse 5, with reference to the group of verse 4 who “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years,” we are told that “this is the first resurrection.” In Revelation 20, as Christ also intimates in John 5:29, two resurrection programs are seen. There is the first resurrection; this is the resurrection of the just (believers). But there is also the second resurrection, the resurrection of the unjust and those who experience the second death (unbelievers). Here in Revelation 20 we can clearly see that these two resurrections are separated by one thousand years (cf. vs. 5a).
But it is also important to note that in the first resurrection there is sequence and several phases, i.e., all the saints are not resurrected at the same time. This is evident from 1 Corinthians 15:20-24 and by the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture, a doctrine founded on an abundance of scriptural evidences and facts.
First Corinthians 15:20-23 clearly teaches us that there is a time lapse or sequence, and a definite order to the resurrection program. Paul says “but each in his own order.” The word “order” is the Greek tagma which means “a company, a troop, a battalion, or rank.” This was a military term used of ranks or troops of soldiers marching in sequence, with one order or troop following another. This word suggests sequence in the resurrection program of God. “His own” is the Greek idios which means “private, personal,” and shows we all have a personal place or order in the resurrection according to the group to which we belong.
Then we read, “those who are Christ’s at His coming.” This directs us to the time of the next phase or phases of resurrection and the type of resurrection. It is the resurrection of the just, those who belong to Christ (believers). This includes all saints of all time. But there are also two phases here because there is the coming of our Lord for the church which is silent and unseen by the world. This is the rapture (1 Thess. 2:19; 4:15; 5:23). But then there is also the coming of the Lord at the end of the Tribulation which is seen by the whole world (Rev. 19; 2 Thess. 2:8). The term used of Christ’s coming in 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 4:15; 5:23, and 2 Thessalonians 2:8 is the Greek parousia which has both a technical and a non-technical use that has no eschatological implications whatsoever. But it is used technically of the return of Christ. Some have concluded that the use of parousia for the return of Christ proves that there is no distinction between the rapture (the return of Christ for His saints) and the second coming (the return of Christ with His saints). The same argument is applied to other Greek terms used of the return of Christ like epifaneia, “manifestation” or “appearance” (2 Tim. 1:10; 2 Thess. 2:8), and apokalupsis, “unveiling” or “revelation” (Luke 3:32; 2 Thess. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13). But this is an unwarranted conclusion.
Concerning the error of this viewpoint and writing on “The Imminent Return of the Lord,” Earl Radmacher writes:
But before one hastens to the conclusion that all of the references are to a single event, which seems so obvious on the surface, one should probe deeper into Scripture.
First, there is no reason to conclude that the Rapture and the Second Coming must be one single event because the word parousia is used of both of them. This is a major flaw in the reasoning of Marvin Rosenthal, who asserts that the use of parousia demonstrates the fact of the Rapture’s inclusion in the Second Coming. Noting that parousia can mean “arrival” and “presence” (which is certainly clear in Scripture), he concludes that because it is used of both the Rapture and the Second Advent the two are a single event. (Rosenthal, The Pre-Wrath Rapture, 215-30). With respect to Rosenthal’s reasoning, Paul Karleen states,
“The author has committed the linguistic error of illegitimate totality transfer, in which meanings of a word in various occurrences and contexts are all poured into one particular occurrence. An example of this would be saying that horn means “a projection from an animal’s head,” “the end of a crescent,” “a brass or other wind instrument,” “a noise-making device on a vehicle,” “one of the alternatives in a dilemma” and “a telephone” all at the same time and in all occurrences. (Paul S. Karleen, The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church: Is it Biblical?, B F Press, p. 83).”
… In the second place, when the contexts of the Greek words are studied, a number of distinctions between the Rapture and the Second Coming become very apparent. John F. Walvoord has listed a number of these distinctions in his book, The Rapture Question, but one of the most obvious distinctions is that which is the theme of this paper. Passages demanding imminency would refer to the Rapture, whereas passages demanding signs would refer to Christ’s Second Coming. Failure to recognize this distinction and trying to see the Rapture and the Second Coming as a single event has forced certain writers into the dilemma of having a second coming that is imminent in some passages and not imminent in other passages.
… Finally, it should be noted with respect to the Greek words used that it is not necessary to understand them as categorizing words but rather as characterizing words. It will only lead to confusion to try to make a distinction between the Rapture and the Second Advent on the basis of the words alone; rather, they should be seen in their respective contexts as words that characterize both of the events… The vocabulary is not categorizing (cf. parousia used of both comings), but is characterizing. When one investigates all the contexts of these words in the New Testament, however, it appears that two specific events are in view, namely the coming of Christ in the air for His saints and the coming of Christ with His saints to earth. In the latter case there will be specific signs such as are outlined in Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2.235
But there is another possibility with regard to the use of these Greek words used of the return of the Lord, or at least something to give some thought to. According to ancient usage, and especially as used of important persons like kings, parousia described a coming and a presence, or a coming which included the presence of the king after his arrival. The teaching of the Scripture is that our Lord comes for His bride (the church), and takes her up into the heavens (1 Thess. 4:13-17); a throne is set in the heavens, hidden for the most part from the world (but cf. Rev. 4:2; Dan. 7:9 with Rev. 6:14-16 where we are told that the sky will split apart and the world will have a view of this heavenly throne). It is from this throne that the Lord pours out the Tribulation judgments upon the earth and also probably rewards His bride. But the point is this: could this not constitute Christ’s presence? He has come and is in the more immediate heavens pouring out judgment (Rev. 6:16). For the most part, however, this is hidden from the world. Then at the end of the Tribulation (Rev. 19), He manifests His presence by coming to earth. Second Thessalonians 2:8 may be translated “… and then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the manifestation (epifaneia) of His presence (parousia).”
So in this portion of the resurrection program (the first resurrection) there is sequence; first the resurrection of the church before the Tribulation, and then after the Tribulation the resurrection of Old Testament and Tribulation saints (Rev. 20:4-6; Dan. 12:1-2).
“The rest of the dead …” (vs. 5a) refers to all unbelieving dead of all time, from Cain through the end of the Tribulation. This does not refer just to the spiritually dead, but to all the unbelieving dead in the grave (the body) and in torments (the temporary abode of souls of all unbelieving dead) until the second resurrection of the unjust to the great white throne judgment. The exceptions are the beast and the false prophet (Rev. 19:20), and perhaps those judged by the Lord in the judgment of the Jews and Gentiles at His return to earth (Matt. 25).
“Did not come to life” (vs. 5b) simply means the rest of the dead were not resurrected at this time, not until the end of the thousand years (Rev. 20:11f).
“Until the thousand years were completed” (vs. 5c). The Greek word for “completed” is the passive form of telew which may not only mean “completed” in the sense that a period of time has run its course, but it may also imply accomplishment. The passive voice and the verb bring out God’s hand and operation in fulfilling His purposes in this thousand-year period. At this point God will have accomplished His purposes and the rest of the dead will be raised. More will be said on God’s purposes for the Millennium below.
“Blessed and holy is the one who has a part …” (vs. 6a). “Blessed” means “happy” as well as blessed, the recipient of God’s blessings. “Holy” means “set apart.” This is both positional and experiential. The believer is set apart in Christ and is the recipient of the blessings of salvation—Christ’s righteousness, forgiveness, eternal life, reconciliation to God, etc. (1 Cor. 1:30). As a result he will experience the ultimate rewards or fruits of this, experientially, in the thousand-year reign. All believers as resurrected saints will share and experience all the blessings of the Millennium, politically, spiritually, morally, and in every possible way. It will be a time of unprecedented joy.
“Over these the second death has no power (or authority)” (vs. 6b). The “second death” refers to eternal consignment to the lake of fire following the second resurrection, the resurrection of the unjustified (vs. 14). This comes from having no part in the first resurrection of the just, those who stand justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 1:16-17). Or, to put it another way, the second death comes from having only one birth.
Man is born (physical birth) spiritually dead. He needs a second birth (spiritual birth) by faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-8; John 3:3-6, 16). If only one birth, then because man is spiritually dead, he must face two deaths (physical death and the second death—eternal separation from God). If man has two births, (physical and spiritual), then because he has been made spiritually alive in Jesus Christ, he may face physical death (if he dies before the rapture), but he can never face the second death by virtue of the first resurrection. The second death can have no power over believers because the Lord Jesus has “rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14).
“And will be priests of God … and will reign” (vs. 6c). Believers will be given responsibilities of service and worship in the Millennium. The Millennium, as well as eternity, will be a time of joyous activity and service.
Nothing is mentioned here or elsewhere about the resurrection of Millennium saints, that is those who go into the Millennium with mortal bodies or who are born during this time. Some have taught that: because there is no mention of this resurrection, because of the lifting of the curse (Isa. 11:6-9; 35:1-2, 9), and because of the healing and lack of sickness in the Millennium (Isa. 35:5-6; 29:17-19; 33:24; Ezek. 34:16), there will be no death in the Millennial age.
But Isaiah 65:20 appears to teach otherwise. This verse indicates: (1) The normal life span will be over 100 years, but death will evidently occur. (2) Evidently there will be no shortened life span because of sickness or old age, but (3) there will be a shortened life span through divine discipline for sin and rebellion (cf. Isa. 11:4; 65:20b). (4) Otherwise people will live out a long life span and then death will take them. Except for those who die by divine discipline, it will undoubtedly be very peaceful and without fear—perhaps even with immediate resurrection. (5) It also appears that when men do die, they will die, not from old age, but as a youth, young of body and mind (Isa. 65:20b).
Satan, Sinners, and the Last Revolt (7-10)
“And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison” (20:7). Previously, in verse 3, this release of Satan was anticipated and presented as a must, a moral necessity in the fulfillment of the plan and purposes of God for human history. This was followed by a brief mention of the reign of Christ and the reward of saints who will reign with Him for the thousand years. But nothing of the character and nature of the Millennium is given in Revelation 20. However, the nature of the Millennium is the subject of much Old Testament prophecy as in Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:7-9; and Psalm 72. Here in chapter 20 it is assumed that the reader knows and understands this so that aspect is not covered. Remember that it is a time of unprecedented peace, prosperity, justice, righteousness and holiness-politically, physically, spiritually and morally. This is due to two important facts of the Millennium, i.e., (1) the removal of Satan and his demon hosts, and (2) to the presence and perfect reign of the Lord Jesus Christ as the glorified Son of God in all His perfect wisdom and power.
“Are completed.” Again as in verse 5 we have the aorist passive of the verb telew. The passive voice brings out God’s activity and involvement in the outworking and accomplishment of this age of a thousand years. The aorist tense is a culminative aorist and looks at the results, i.e., what this period will prove or demonstrate. The verb telew means not simply “completed,” but “brought to its goal and purpose.”
There are several doctrinal principles which can be gleaned here: (a) God has special purposes in the outworking of each dispensation (or economy) and the culmination of each does not simply end them, but accomplishes and demonstrates certain goals and purposes that God has for history during that administration of His plan. (b) Each dispensation provides new conditions and opportunities to test man from every conceivable angle as well as new opportunities to reveal the character and nature of Satan and man under those different conditions. (c) It also provides new ways to demonstrate God’s glory, character, mercy and grace, and divine provision for man. The Millennium is the seventh and final test which accomplishes this effect. We will look at the purpose of the Millennium followed by the release of Satan below.
“And he will come out to deceive the nations” (vs. 8a) declares the immediate purpose for Satan’s release. As a fallen angel who is confirmed in his rebellion, this prison term will have no effect on Satan. He will still be %o satanas, the adversary, the arch enemy of God and confirmed in his rebellion and perversity. Thus, immediately upon release he will engage in his age-old schemes of deception, disruption, and war.
“The nations which are in the four corners of the earth” (vs. 8b) shows his deceptions will reach out to the entire earth. But who will he be able to deceive? Walvoord says:
These who are tempted are the descendants of the Tribulation saints who survive the Tribulation and enter the millennium in their natural bodies … The children of those entering the millennium far outnumber the parents, and undoubtedly the earth is teeming with inhabitants at the conclusion of the thousand year reign of Christ. Outwardly they have been required to conform to the rule of the king and make a profession of obedience to Christ. In many cases, however, this was mere outward conformity without inward reality, and in their experience of real temptation they are easy victims of Satan’s wiles.236
Walvoord quotes William Hoste in his book, The Visions of John the Divine:
The golden age of the kingdom will last a thousand years, during which righteousness will reign, and peace, prosperity, and the knowledge of God will be universally enjoyed. But this will not entail universal conversion, and all profession must be tested … Will not a thousand years under the beneficent sway of Christ and the manifested glory of God suffice to render men immune to his [Satan’s] temptations, will they not have radically changed for the better, and become by the altered conditions of life and the absence of Satanic temptations, children of God and lovers of His will? Alas! It will be proved once more that man whatever his advantages and environment, apart from the grace of God and the new birth, remains at heart only evil and at enmity with God.237
“Gog and Magog …” (vs. 8). These names are used appositionally to describe the nations though they are used without any explanation; they are simply introduced as a description of the nations from the four corners of the earth. Though expositors disagree in their understanding of Gog and Magog, this is not the same as Ezekiel 38 and 39. This is evident from several things: (a) The invasion in Ezekiel comes from the north, but this one comes from all directions; (b) Ezekiel’s battle seems to occur about the middle of the Tribulation when the people of Israel are trusting in the treaty with the beast, but this battle occurs over a thousand years later, after Christ comes to earth; (c) In Ezekiel, Gog and Magog are the names given the ruler from the north and his land, a territory now occupied by Russia, but according to Ezekiel these will be decisively wiped out in the Tribulation.
So why use this term here? Because, from its use in the Ezekiel passage, these names stand symbolically for a rebellious and war-like people and for the nations in rebellion against God and His people (Psalm 2) who will be crushed. As Walvoord suggests, it may be used like we use “waterloo” to express a disastrous battle, but one not directly related to the historic situation. The ties are the nature of the people, rebellious, and their defeat, complete disaster!
“And they came to the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints …” (vs. 9a). The word “camp,” the Greek parembolh, refers to those in battle, an army in battle array, hence a “fortified camp, fortress,” or “citadel.”
Walvoord suggest that,
… here the term seems to refer to the city of Jerusalem itself which is described as ‘the beloved city’ (cf. Psalm 78:68; 87:2). Apparently Christ permits the army to assemble and encircle the capital city. No sooner has the army of Satan been assembled, however, than fire comes down from God out of heaven, and the besiegers are destroyed, like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This shatters the last vain attempt of Satan to claim a place of prominence and worship in attempted usurpation of the prerogatives of God.238
But please note something else: here also ends the vain idea of man that if he just had a perfect environment, the world would be a wonderful place without war and conquest. If man just had a perfect environment he would willingly serve others and the God who created and redeemed him. But this is false because it fails to take into account the fallen nature of man and his desperate need of the redemptive work of Christ. So even in the perfect situation of the millennial reign of Christ, countless numbers immediately respond to the first temptation to rebel. However, they are quickly destroyed and this brings an end to the rebellion of the nations and to Satan’s career.
Throughout the history of mankind, but especially in the last days of apostasy, man in his human viewpoint and satanic viewpoint has tried to believe that man is basically good, that within man is a divine spark which only needs fanning, i.e., good opportunities, the perfect environment, the great society, etc. In other words, take away all the inequalities, give everyone a fair shake, and we will have a wonderful world. Today we hear a great deal about reforming the criminal element, they only went bad because of a bad environment, etc., which of course cannot change as long as Satan is around and Jesus Christ is absent. Man has also believed, especially today, that what we need is a one-world state with an international police force and that this would bring world peace and an end of wars. But as we have seen in our study of Revelation, this will only pave the way for the beast and his godless system of tyranny and murder.
Remember that God’s purpose with the various economies is to give new opportunities and tests from every conceivable angle. In the Millennium, therefore, God gives man his great society, one which exceeds anything man could ever dream of, a society and world order with a perfect environment. Then at the end he releases Satan. Again we ask WHY? To the above reasons let me add the following for further reiteration:
(1) To show the frightfully and totally bankrupt condition of man and that what he needs is not a great society with all evils removed (a perfect environment), but that any effective and lasting change must come from within through God’s grace plan of salvation which regenerates and gives new life and spiritual capacity. Nothing else can permanently change man.
(2) To further substantiate God’s case against Satan, that Satan is the liar, the slanderer, and the deceiver, and a large degree the cause of man’s misery.
(3) To show that God is absolutely just in His sentence of Satan to the lake of fire (vs. 10—his permanent, eternal prison); and that God is perfect holiness and His actions are always consistent with His character.
“Into the lake of fire …” (vs. 10). The lake of fire is literal. It is not just a figurative expression for hell on earth or for separation from God. It is a real, literal place. It is also everlasting. The Scripture does not teach that there will one day be a universal salvation of all mankind after they have suffered a while. This teaches the opposite idea—there will be no annihilation of the wicked. The lake of fire is not symbolic for annihilation. The word expressly teaches that there is a literal place in which there will be everlasting and constant torment.
Revelation 20:10 says “for ever and ever.” This is very strong and literally means “unto the ages of the ages.” The beast and the false prophet are still there after a thousand years; they are not annihilated. Mark 9:43-48 shows that it does not end. Matthew 13:41-42; 8:12; 22:13; and 25:30 speak of weeping, etc. This shows there is not annihilation, but continual torment. Matthew 25:46 states the punishment is everlasting punishment and looks at what the person suffers. In Matthew 10:28 the reference to the destruction of the soul does not refer to its annihilation, but to the loss of its meaning and purpose of existence.
The Great White Throne Judgment
The Description of the Great White Throne (11)
Here is the last and final judgment of history following the close of the Millennium. It is an awesome and solemn scene and one which should cause deep concern to our hearts for many of our friends and even relatives will be here, those who have never received Jesus Christ as their Savior. All who have scoffed at God, denied His being, rebelled at His rule, or rejected His sovereignty, and in the process, have also rejected His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, must at this time stand before this throne to be condemned to eternal judgment. May the study of these verses make us more concerned and more committed to reaching the lost for Christ.
This judgment follows the Millennium and the doom of Satan (20:1-10). It is followed by the creation of the new heaven and earth and the eternal state of the redeemed (21:1f).
The Character of this Throne of Judgment
First it is called “great.” The Greek word is megas which connotes: (a) the size of something, the extent, (b) the intensity or degree of something, and (c) rank, dignity, or standing. In essence, all of these ideas have application here. It is great because of the awesome intensity and the degree of its importance. Here each unbeliever’s eternal destiny is determined and declared with ample proof and reason. It is great because it is the final judgment putting an end to all judgment for all time. Finally, it is great because all the unbelievers of all time, from Cain to the final revolt at the end of the Millennium, will be here assembled to face the bar of God’s perfect justice. The only exceptions will be the beast and false prophet and perhaps those of the judgment of the Jews and Gentiles at the end of the Tribulation who have already been consigned to the lake of fire.
Second, it is called “white” because it will be the supreme, undimmed display of the perfect righteousness and justice of God. Throughout history God has taught man that he must have God’s kind of righteousness, that God is of purer eyes than to approve evil, or to accept or look upon wickedness (Hab. 1:13), that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), and that the penalty of sin is eternal death, separation from God (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:2). Now these facts will become evident to each individual and proven without question.
Third, it is called a “throne” because here the Lord Jesus Christ will sit in absolute majesty and sovereign authority to consign these eternally to the lake of fire. In Revelation 4:2 John beheld a throne set in heaven from which the Tribulation judgments proceeded. The word “throne” is used more than 30 times in the book, but this throne, the great white one, is to be distinguished from all others because it is the most significant of all.
Heaven and earth are seen fleeing from the face of Him who sits on this throne. In other words, they are destroyed, dissolved (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-12). The point is the great white throne judgment does not occur on earth or in heaven as we know it, but somewhere beyond, perhaps in extreme outer space. The indication is also clear that it does not occur in the new heaven and earth which is not created until after this event.
In other words, God has removed Satan and demons, the false prophet, and the beast, etc., and He is about to judge the rest of the unbelieving dead. It is only fitting then, that He also judges the earth and heaven which has been the scene of the struggle with Satan, sin, and sinners. This evidently takes place after the resurrection of the unbelieving dead from the grave and Hades. They are resurrected, gathered before the throne and behold this destruction as heaven and earth are dissolved before their eyes. Then the judgment will proceed.
“And no place was found for them,” i.e., for heaven and earth. In the eternal state there will be no place for that which reminds men of the rebellions of Satan and man with all their wickedness and sorrow (cf. 21:4; 22:3).
The Participants of the Great White Throne (11b, 12a, 13a)
“The one sitting on the throne” (20:11b). This is the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:22). All judgment has been put into His hands as the perfect Son of man, Son of God, the one qualified to judge by virtue of his sinless humanity and His defeat of Satan and sin on the cross (Rev. 5).
The ones judged are “the dead, great and small,” those who had no part in the first resurrection (20:5-6). This of course refers to the unbelieving dead of the second resurrection (John 5:29).
“The dead, great and small” emphasizes that no one is exempt; all who have died without Jesus Christ, regardless of their status in human history, religiously, politically, economically, or morally, must stand before this throne to face the judgment of Jesus Christ. This excludes the beast and the false prophet (19:20), and perhaps those unbelievers judged at the judgment of the Gentiles and Jews (Matt. 25:41) because they are seen to be sent directly to the eternal lake of fire.
The Source of their Resurrection
They come from: (a) “the sea,” i.e., those who died at sea and were not buried in the earth, (b) “death,” those who were buried in graves in the ground, cremated, or destroyed in any other way on earth, and (c) “Hades,” a reference to the place of torments, the compartment which contains the souls of unbelievers (Luke 16:23). The sea and death (i.e., the ground) contain the bodies and Hades contains the souls. At this second resurrection, the soul and body are reunited and the person is brought up before the throne.
It appears that the lake of fire will contain spirit beings in spirit bodies (Satan and his demons) and even unbelieving people will have some kind of imperishable resurrection body as well (cf. Rev. 19:20).
The Basis of the Judgment (12b, 13b, 15a)
The basis of the judgment is what is found in the two sets of books: the books which were opened, and the other book, the book of life. Note that the text says “and the books (plural) were opened, and another book (singular) was opened, which is the book of life.” So we have two sets, the books, and the book which is mentioned also in verse 15a.
The identity of the books is not specifically revealed. We can only speculate from a comparison of other Scriptures and from the nature of these verses.
The first book opened will probably be the Scriptures, the Word of God which contains the revelation of God’s holy character, the moral law, the declaration of the sinfulness of man and God’s plan of salvation by faith in the Savior. This book also reveals that even when men do not have the written Word, they have the law of God written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-16) and the revelation of God consciousness in creation (Rom. 1:19-20). Because of this they are without excuse (Rom. 1:20; 2:12). All men are responsible for the revelation they have and stand at this judgment because of their own negative volition to God’s grace (Rom. 1:18; 2:4, 14; John 7:17). So then, Scripture will be used to demonstrate the clearness of the plan of God and that man is without excuse (cf. also John 12:48-50; and 1 John 3:23).
The second book will be the book of works (deeds). Verses 13 and 14 state that the unbelieving dead will be judged according to their deeds (works). Undoubtedly, one book is the book of works which contains a record of their deeds as a witness of the true nature of their spiritual condition.
“Deeds”’ is the Greek ergon which refers to anything that is done, a deed, action, or work. It is used of good deeds (Matt. 26:10; Mark 14:6; Rom. 2:7), of evil deeds (Col. 1:21; 2 John 11), of dead works (Heb. 6:1; 9:14), of unfruitful deeds (Eph. 5:11), of ungodly deeds (Jude 15), of deeds of darkness (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11), and of works of the Law (Rom. 2:15).
The principle here is that Jesus Christ died for their sins, for their evil deeds, to forgive them and to provide them with a righteousness from God so that they might have a perfect standing before Him. But when men reject the knowledge of God and His plan of salvation, they determine to stand on their own merit or in their own righteousness. So, the book of works will contain a record of all their deeds, good and bad, to demonstrate Romans 3:23, that they fall short of God’s righteousness and have therefore no basis upon which to stand accepted (justified) before God. This judgment proves them sinners and in need of Christ’s righteousness by faith.
The Book of Life
This book contains the names of believers, all who have put their faith in Christ and His plan of salvation through the suffering Savior. To put it another way, it is a record of those who have not rejected God’s plan of salvation and who have responded to Him in faith; for these their faith is reckoned for righteousness (Rom. 4:22).
At the great white throne the book of life is produced to show that their name, because of their rejection of Jesus Christ, was not found written in the book of life. They, therefore, have no righteousness and cannot be accepted before God, but must be cast into the eternal lake of fire. The book of life contains the names of believers who have been justified by faith and who have a righteousness from God imputed to their account. These are accepted by God and will spend all eternity with Him (Rom. 3:20-26; Phil. 3:9).
The Judgment or Punishment (14-15)
“And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” “Death” refers to the body now resurrected, and “Hades” refers to the soul, the immaterial part of man. Both the body and soul are eternally separated from God in the eternal lake of fire, a very real and literal place. It is important to note that the emphasis here (the real issue) is on whether their name is in the book of life and not on their deeds. Salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ and the loss of salvation is brought about by the one sin which separates man from God—failure to trust in Him (John 3:16, 36; 16: 8-11).
Related Topics: Eschatology (Things to Come)