PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS
|The Thousand Years||Satan Bound 1000 Years||The Binding of Satan and the Reign of the Martyrs||The Thousand Years||The Reign of a Thousand Years|
|The Saints Reign with Christ 1000 Years|
|The Defeat of Satan||Satanic Rebellion Crushed||The Loosing of Satan and the Final Conflict||The Defeat of Satan|
|The Judgment at the Great White Throne||The Great White Throne Judgment||The Final Judgment||The Final Judgment||The Last Judgment|
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO REVELATION 20:1-15
A. Chapter 20 must be related theologically to chapters 19 (the Second Coming) and 21-22 (the eternal kingdom). The interpretive question is whether the Second Coming precedes the millennial reign of Christ, if so then some form of pre-millennialism is inevitable (if this is to be interpreted as historical narrative). But what if chapters 20-22 are a new unit that recapitulates 17-19 (cf. W. Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors)? This change would be similar to the recapitulation between the seals, trumpets, and bowls, then some form of idealism or amillennialism fits best.
B. Chapter 20 introduces several theological concepts not revealed in other parts of the Bible:
1. a two-stage resurrection
2. a limited temporal reign of martyrs
3. a Messianic earthly reign for 1000 years
4. an ineffectual reign of the Messiah (mankind rebels again at the instigation of Satan after a 1,000 year reign of Christ)
5. another battle with unbelievers after the Great White Throne judgment
C. Difficulties in interpretation exist because of
1. the theological distinctives of chapter 20
2. the ambiguity in several key areas
a. Satan's binding, v. 2
b. number of groups in v. 4
c. who is involved in the first resurrection, v. 5
d. the who, where, and how, of this reign with Christ, v. 6e.where do "the nations" in v. 8 come from
f. meaning and location of "the beloved city," v. 9
g. who is involved in the White Throne Judgment of vv. 11-15 and how it relates to Matt. 25:31ff
3. There is a great lack of agreement among godly, believing commentators, even those of the same millennial theory. One's millennial theory should not affect the reality of a physical, literal Second Coming which is referred to often in the NT.
4. some good quotes by people I trust
a. in his commentary, Revelation, George E. Ladd says "American Evangelicalism has placed an unwarranted emphasis on this doctrine of millennium. . .One thing is clear; he (Jesus) is not concerned to teach a temporal earthly kingdom before the eternal order in the Age to Come."
b. in Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson says, "This wonderful book was written to comfort the saints in a time of great trial, not to create strife among them" (pp. 457-458).
c. in Worthy is the Lamb, Ray Summers says, "This chapter needs to be approached with great humility of spirit, a recognition of its difficulties, an avoidance of dogmatic statements, and respect for the honest interpretation of others. This chapter has been a bitter debating ground for Christians for many centuries" (p. 202).
d. in his commentary on The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary Series, Robert H. Mounce, says, "Judging from the amount of attention given by many writers to the first ten verses of chapter 20, one would judge it to be the single most important segment of the book of Revelation. The tendency of many interpreters at this point is to become apologists for a particular view of the millennium. Without denying the significance of this important passage, it should not be elevated above such basic themes as the return of Christ, the final judgment and removal of all wickedness, and the splendor of the eternal state. A careful reading of the millennial passage (vv. 1-10) will show that it is perhaps limited to the resurrected martyrs alone, and that it contains no specific indication that their reign with Christ takes place on earth or that it necessarily follows the second advent" (p. 351).
D. The millennial reign is not the same as
1. the Messianic Age, or
2. the Kingdom of God (both #1 and #2 are eternal, cf. Dan. 7:14,27; Isa. 9:7; Luke 1:33; II Pet. 1:11; Rev. 11:15; 22:5)
E. The concept of a 1,000 years of bliss with Christ may have come from the idea of 6,000 years of history and then a Sabbath rest of prosperity from Genesis 1. It seems this (historical pre-millennialism) was part of some early Christian writings (cf. Epistle of Barnabas 15 and II Enoch 33).
F. This chapter is obviously inspired revelation and has a divine purpose. However, what is that purpose: (1) outlining end-time events or (2) giving spiritual insight into the spiritual struggle of every age?
Interpreters must be careful of pushing their own agenda and not John's. Curiosity, one-upmanship, or loyalty to a theological position or teacher has caused a legion of interpretations and bad attitudes. John's agenda/purpose is conveyed in his choice of genre and his choice of OT, not NT, imagery! Taking apocalyptic literature literally is not a sign of conservatism, but misguided enthusiasm! Why do modern interpreters try to make some of John's symbols literal and others figurative? They are all figurative (this does not mean they are not true)! John's end-time presentation is primarily an OT structure. He seems to purposely ignore Jesus' and Paul's eschatological teachings. The biblical writers, both OT and NT, do not reveal a systematic eschatology. They certainly present truth, but not in a logical, chronological, or systematic way! Let us affirm the central truths of the visions and not be dogmatic about the details.
G. This chapter has been made to bear theological weight out of proportion to its place in the overall structure and message of the book! This is not the major emphasis of the author! The millennium is a precursor to the eternal reign of God. Only Revelation chooses to mention this temporal Messianic reign. It appears in a genre that communicates truth by means of symbolic language. Personally, it is not the millennial reign that surprises me (in light of OT texts), but
1. the two-stage judgment
2. the mixing of resurrected saints and normal humans together in an earthly setting
3. the presence of rebellion after a lengthy Messianic reign
Will Christ's personal reign be ineffectual in bringing mankind unto righteousness even with the absence of Satan? Or is this a symbolic way to clearly show the extent and debauchery of human kind?
H. God help us all in light of 22:18-19! We are all affected by our sin nature, our age, our experience, and our teachers!
A. Alan Johnson, "Revelation," The Expositors Bible Commentary, vol. 12
B. George Ladd, Revelation of John
C. Leon Morris, "The Revelation of St. John," Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 20
D. Robert Mounce, "The Book of Revelation," The New International Commentary
E. Ray Summers, Worthy Is the Lamb
F. Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism
G. D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:1-3
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.
20:1 "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss" This is similar to the angel who had the key to the abyss in 9:1-2,11. It is interesting that Satan is bound by an unnamed angel.
▣ "the key of the abyss" We have seen two "keys" in Revelation. Jesus has the keys to Death and Hades in 1:18 and the unnamed angel has the key to the abyss in 9:1. The term "key" is metaphorical for "authority over."
The term "abyss" is the Greek word for "depth" with an alpha privative (the bottomless pit) and has been discussed in 9:1. It seems to be the prison of demonic spirits. However, this cannot be an absolute interpretation because of Paul's use of it in Rom. 10:7. It may be synonymous with "Tartarus" as the place of confinement for all evil spirits (cf. Luke 8:31; Jude v. 6; II Pet. 2:4). In rabbinical Judaism of the 2nd and 3rd centuries it was understood to be the unrighteous part of Hades.
20:2 "the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan" These fourfold titles of the evil one, which were discussed in 12:9, are emphasized to define precisely who is being bound and who will later be thrown into the lake of fire (cf. v. 10). This links the Beginning (cf. Genesis 3) with the End (Revelation 20-22).
The term "dragon" may be
1. parallel to "serpent." In the OT the Hebrew term tannin can refer to
a. land snake ( cf. Exod. 7:9,10,12; Deut. 32:33; and possibly Ps. 91:13)
b. sea snake (cf. Gen. 1:21; Ps. 148:7)
2. parallel to the mythical sea monster, Leviathan (cf. Job 7:12; Ps. 74:13-14; Isa. 27:1), which is used to describe one of God's creatures (cf. Job 41; Ps. 104:24-26), or as a symbol of evil (like Rahab, cf. Isa. 51:9)
3. used symbolically of the leaders of Israel's enemies
a. Egypt (cf. Ps. 87:4; Rahab; Ezek. 29:3)
b. Babylon (cf. Jer. 51:34)
4. used in Mesopotamian mythology as the chaos monster (cf. Introduction to Revelation 12 #B and specifically in 12:3)
The King James Version translates both tannin and tannim (howlers or jackals, cf Job 30:29; Ps. 44:19; Isa. 13:22; 34:13; 35:7; 43:20; Jer. 9:11; 10:22; 49:33; 51:37; Ezek. 29:3 and Mic. 1:8) as "dragons," but they are not related terms. Jackals is the plural of tan.
▣ "bound him for a thousand years" Humans have always felt that the corporate condemnation resulting from Adam and Eve's choices is unfair. It may be that this removal of evil and temptation provides a setting theologically similar to the Garden of Eden. Not only will mankind be spared temptation from Satan, they will enjoy the presence of the Glorified Messiah for an extended period. The tragedy is that mankind will again rebel against God's reign in Christ (cf. 20:7-9)!
The OT concept of the two Jewish ages was a way of depicting the conflict between good and evil (limited dualism). The Jews pictured this cosmic conflict as being resolved in an end-time battle (cf. Psalm 2). John uses this imagery to help the persecuted Christians of his day and every day. In a book of such obvious symbolism, and a revelation so isolated and unrepeated as the 1000 year reign, why would anyone want to interpret this literally? The answer lies in the interpreter's presuppositions, not in exegesis. It is not a matter of believing the Bible; it is a matter of proper, consistent interpretation of apocalyptic literature. Believers' desire for more information about the end-time has driven them (1) to turn this book into a chronological presentation of the Second Coming and (2) to force the details to fit into their own history, culture, and interpretative, theological grid. If this is taken literally, only the Christians who lived and died during this period will reign with Christ (cf. vv. 4-5)!
20:3 "and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him" There are five verbs related to the binding of Satan by an unnamed angel: (1) "he laid hold of"; (2) "bound him"; (3) "cast him"; (4) "shut it"; and (5) "sealed it." All of these are aorist active indicatives. This implies a complete removal of Satan's influence. This may be an allusion to Isa. 24:22.
▣ "so that he would not deceive the nations any longer" Deceit has always been the purpose of the evil one and his agents (cf. 12:9 13:11-14; 16:14; 19:19; 20:8). Because he knew that his time was short (cf. 12:12), he was trying to lead as many as possible of God's beloved creation, men and women, away from Him into rebellion and unbelief. He also desires worship, as can be seen in the temptation of Jesus in Matt. 4:9 and 13:4.
A very pertinent question is, to whom does "the nations" refer? The unbelieving nations were previously destroyed in 17:2; 18:3 and 19:18-21. Some have said that it refers to the same nations, but it is the remnant of them, not their defeated army. Others have said that it is different nations who were not involved in the anti-God, anti-Christ conspiracy. The symbolism of "the nations" is very difficult (see notes at 2:26 and 10:11) because they are seen again in Rev. 22:2, even after the destruction of Satan and all unbelievers.
It is possible that 19:11-21 (i.e., chapters 17-19) is recapitulated in 20:1-10 (i.e., chapters 20-22). This may solve the question of the presence of "the nations" after the complete and final judgment of chapter 19. "The nations" usually refers to wicked, godless peoples (see note at 2:26 and 10:11 and article by Dave Mathewson, "A Re-examination of the Millennium in 20:1-6: Consummation and Recapitulation," JETS, vol. 44 #2, June 2001, pp. 237-251). The finding of Satan in 20:1-10 would be analogous to Luke 10:17-20 (Satan cast from heaven); Matt. 12:26-29 (Satan's kingdom defeated by Jesus' exorcisms); Col. 2:10,15 (disarmed the rulers and authorities). Revelation 20:1-10 would refer to Christ's victory at His first coming and the results abide until just before His second coming (amillennialism).
If this recapitulation is true then it shows how John is influenced by the single end-time battle motif of Ezekiel 38-39 (and also Psalm 2). John has taken this OT confrontation with godless nations in Asia Minor and universalized it into the eschatological battle between God's people and the people influenced by Satan and unbelief.
▣ "until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time" There has been much discussion about why Satan "must" (dei) be loosed a little while. Some see it as God showing the justice of His condemnation of rebellious humans; others see it as possibly one more chance of redemption as in 9:20-21; 14:6-7; 16:9,11.
It is also possible to see Satan's binding as symbolic of evil's final defeat using Jewish apocalyptic images from I Enoch 10:4-6,11-13, where Azazel (the desert demon of Lev. 16:8,10,26) is imprisoned by an angel so that he cannot lead people astray. The imprisonment was a way of holding evil angels until judgment day in Isa. 24:21-22; II Pet. 2:4; and Jude v. 6.
It is also possible that his release triggers the end-time, once-and-for-all confrontation between God, Messiah, Spirit, and their followers vs. Satan, the sea beast, land beast, and their followers. Creation will be purged of evil. History has become the battleground, history will be the scene of the final confrontation. The OT motif is from Psalm 2 and Ezekiel 38-39. This same end-time judgment is seen in 19:19-21. If this is true then chapters 17-19 and 20 parallel and cover the same period from Christ's first coming to His second coming.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:4-6
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.
20:4 "Then I saw thrones" This is an allusion to Dan. 7:9. Numerous thrones are mentioned in Revelation: (1) God's throne (cf. 5:1,1,17; 6:16; 7:10,15; 19:4; 21:5); (2) Satan's throne (cf. 2:13); and (3) the beast's throne (cf. 13:2; 16:10). It is a metaphor of authority and power.
▣ "and they sat on them" This is an allusion to Dan. 7:22. The question is, to whom does "they" refer? In Daniel it could be the angelic host or the saints. There has been much discussion among commentators about how many groups are mentioned in this verse.
1. some see three groups (those on the thrones, martyred Christians, and other Christians who did not worship the beast)
2. some see two groups
3. some see one group.
If it is one group, it refers to the Christian martyrs. However, there is no other Scriptural parallel to a limited reign of the martyrs. The Bible promises a reign to all saints (cf. Rev. 3:21; 5:10; 22:5; Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:29-30; II Tim. 2:12). See Special Topic at 5:10.
Others base their view of two groups on the little phrase in the latter part of v. 4, "who refuse to worship the wild beast." They see this as a second group of Christians, all believers who died a natural death but who refused to worship the beast. In light of the Second Coming in chapter 19 and the great White Throne judgment of 20:11, this may be the best interpretation. If this interpretation is true, then the great White Throne judgment of vv.11ff refers only to the lost and is not a direct parallel to Matt. 25:31ff.
NASB"and judgment was given to them"
NKJV"and judgment was committed to them"
NRSV"were given authority to judge"
TEV"were given the power to judge"
NJB"was conferred the power to give judgment"
This Greek phrase can refer to either (1) their reigning with Christ (cf. 2:26-27; I Cor. 6:2, see Special Topic at 5:10) or (2) their receiving justice (cf. 6:9-11; Dan. 7:22).
▣ "the souls of those who had been beheaded" Some interpret this as disembodied spirits (cf. 6:9). The term "beheaded" refers to the double-edged axe which was used for capital punishment in the Roman Republic (cf. Rom. 13:4 and Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14:9:4). This refers to Christian martyrs.
▣ "and those who had not worshiped the beast" If the above phrase refers to martyrs, then this phrase refers to others who died during this period of time (cf. 13:15). Now if this is a picture of the period between Christ's two comings, then it refers to all believers. If it is just this end-time period, then only that generation.
▣ "had not received the mark" See note at 13:16-17. The mark is parallel to "who had not worshiped the beast or his image."
▣ "they came to life" This term (zōē) often refers to physical resurrection (cf. Matt. 9:18; John 4:25; Acts 1:3, 9-11; Rom.14:9; Rev. 1:18; 2:8; 13:14). Interpreters cannot interpret one use of the term in v. 4 as spiritual resurrection and the second use in v. 5 as physical resurrection. Do the martyrs who reign with Christ have resurrection bodies or physical bodies which decay? If they have resurrection bodies, then what about "the nations"?
▣ "and reigned with Christ for a thousand years" The concept of Jesus reigning is mentioned in Rev. 12:5; 19:5 and seems to be alluded to in Ps. 2:8-9; the saints' reigning with Christ is mentioned in Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:28-30; II Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21; 5:10; 20:4,6 and 22:5. Is the reigning millennial or eternal (cf. Dan. 7:14,18,27 and Rev. 22:5)? Is the reigning earthly (cf. 5:10) in a Palestinian context or a universal context? See Special Topic on Reigning in the Kingdom of God at 5:10. See chart of the different millennial views in Appendix Five.
If the 1,000 years is symbolic of the church age (incarnation to Parousia), then this 1,000 years (10x10x10 – Hebrew superlative form of the number for completeness) refers to eternity.
However, this scenario does not fit vv. 5-6 very well. This is a good example of how one interpretive approach answers some texts well, but not all. These different interpretive schemes developed as different interpreters emphasized different texts and read the whole NT through certain chosen "key" texts. There is fluidity here, ambiguity here, mystery here. Let's not compound the problem with exclusivism and dogmatism!
20:5 The NRSV and the TEV translations make v. 5 a parenthesis. Who is involved in this first resurrection will determine who is involved in the general judgment of 20:11ff. Here are the options for "the rest of the dead."
1. the lost (cf. v. 6; Dan. 12:2)
2. Christians from previous periods (cf. v. 6; II Tim. 2:12)
3. Christians from this period, but who died natural deaths (cf. v. 4c)
▣ "the first resurrection" Throughout the NT there has been an emphasis on the resurrection of the dead (cf. John 5:28-29; Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15; I Cor. 15:52; Phil. 3:3; I Thess 4:16; II Thess. 1:7-10). However, there is no parallel in the Bible for two separate resurrections for believers, unless it is an allusion to the dual resurrection of Dan. 12:2 (the lost and saved), although George Ladd sees John 5:29 and I Cor. 15:24-25 as possible parallels. All theological systems, even those which believe in a literal one thousand year reign, have major interpretive problems with this split resurrection. Are raptured Christians (cf. I Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 4:11 or 11:12) involved in the thousand year reign; are OT believers involved in the thousand year reign? Does this include OT martyrs, or only those who were martyred during the end-time tribulation?
▣ "they will be priests of God and of Christ" This is an allusion to Exod. 19:5-6. This terminology, referring to Israel as God's instrument of Gentile revelation and redemption, has in the NT been widened to include all the church (cf. I Pet. 2:5,9 and Rev. 1:6; 5:10). In the letter to the church of Philadelphia, an allusion is made to the saints in relation to a temple (cf. 3:12). The metaphor has changed from servants of God on behalf of this world to intimate fellowship with God.
20:6 This verse adds to the interpretive problem. Why would any believer be subject to the second death, which is a metaphor for hell (cf. v. 6)? Are only the martyrs priests to God or are all saints (cf. 1:6; 5:10; II Pet. 2,5,9)? Will only first century martyrs reign or will OT martyrs be included, will the martyrs in every age be included or will all Christians who remained faithful be included?
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:7-10
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.
20:7 "Satan will be released from his prison" Ezekiel 36-39 is the background to this context. In Ezekiel God's people rest securely in an eschatological setting (Judah or Jerusalem or the Promised Land), but are still attacked by evil nations (Gog and Magog). In rabbinical Judaism these two enemies came to be used to describe all of the enemies of the Messiah and the people of God. Originally, Gog was a man from the land of Magog, but in this chapter, the terms have been personified into twin enemies. John always reworks his OT allusions to fit his first century readers.
20:8 "and will come out to deceive" It is amazing that mankind can be led into rebellion after a 1,000 reign of Christ! Were these nations "unbelievers" or "initially believers?" Is Christ's presence and reign not able to effect permanent change in human society?
▣ "Gog and Magog" This is an allusion to the continuing rebellion of the unbelieving nations. After Israel is restored to the promised land (cf. Ezekiel 37), based on God's actions (cf. Ezekiel 36), she will still have problems with the nations who will again invade her ("Gog in the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal," Ezek. 38:2). These stand for leaders' names or regional names of invading armies; Ezek. 38:5-6,13 make it an international army. Chapters 38-39 of Ezekiel have an end-time setting (cf. 38:8,10,14,16,18; 39:11). These chapters have been the source of much of John's OT end-time allusions. Things will get worse (birth pains of the new age) before they get better (new Jerusalem).
Notice how John has taken OT texts but reworked them in light of first century Greco-Roman culture. Gog, Magog, and Babylon are not enemies from Mesopotamia or Turkey, but Rome.
▣ "the nations which are in the four corners of the earth" This is obviously a universal deception and rebellion (cf. 7:1). The number "four" had symbolic significance representing the whole world.
▣ "like the sands of the seashore" This phrase was originally used of the seed of Abraham (cf. Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 32:12 and Heb. 11:12). This may be another example of evil mimicking the terms which describe God's people. However, because of the first phrase of v. 9, this seems to be just another definition to denote a very large army.
20:9 Does this verse refer to a literal battle on the plains of Megiddo as an end-time army moves toward the Palestinian city of Jerusalem? There are many allusions to this scenario in the OT (cf. Psalm 2; Ezekiel 38-39; Dan. 9:24-27; Zech. 13-14). However, Jerusalem is many miles from Megiddo.
In Revelation "the city" is usually (1) human society organized and functioning apart from God, personified as Babylon and (2) historically referring to Rome in John's day (cf. 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:2,10,16,18,19,21). However, the city of Jerusalem is possibly referred to in 11:8 and here.
The NT authors in general, and John in particular, have taken OT imagery and universalized it to relate to all mankind. The issue in Revelation is not Jews versus Gentiles, but believer versus unbeliever. This then is the same end-time battle as 6:15-16; 11:18; 16:12,14,16; 19:19 (parallelism).
▣ "and fire came down from heaven and devoured them" This is an allusion to Ezek. 38:22 and 39:6. The victory is God's!
20:10 "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone" This is where the beast and the false prophet were cast in 19:20. This is where Death and Hades will be cast in 20:14 and where all who have not trusted Christ will be cast in 20:15. It is synonymous with Gehenna (hell) and represents eternal separation from fellowship with God and His Christ (cf. Mark 9:43,48).
▣ "and they will be tortured day and night forever and ever" This is very similar to Rev. 14:10-11 and 19:5. The concept of a permanent separation is alluded to in Matt. 25:46 where the same term (aiōnios), used for heaven, is used for hell.
Most of God's judgments had redemptive purposes; that is true of the OT and the NT. Hell has no known redemptive purpose. It fulfills God's promise to restore justice and righteousness. Hell is the isolation of evil from God's good creation. As horrible as hell is for mankind, it is worse for God. By allowing His highest creation, mankind, to have a choice (one aspect of the image of God in man), God knew that a significant percentage would choose self and sin. Hell is an open, bleeding sore in the heart of God that will never be healed. Hell is a tragic mystery of the paradox of the eternal love and the justice of God!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 20:11-15
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. 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. 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.
20:11 "Then I saw a great white throne" This is an allusion to Dan. 7:9. The great white throne seems to be a parallel to Matt. 25:31-46, but if this is only the judgment of the lost, it cannot be parallel to Matthew 25 because there the sheep (saved) and the goats (lost) are addressed together.
▣ "and Him who sat upon it" This is an allusion to Dan. 7:9. In the NT God has made Christ the Judge (cf. John 5:22,27; 9:39; Acts 10:42; 17:31; II Cor. 5:10; II Tim. 4:1 and I Pet. 4:5). However, in some passages, Christ said that He did not come to judge (cf. John 3:17-21; 12:47-48). Christ did not come to judge, but to save, however, the fact that humans reject Him brings judgment on themselves. So, who sits on this throne? Is it Jesus? This is possible because of Matt. 25:31-46 and particularly John 5:22 and II Cor. 5:10, however, most of the time in the NT and especially in the book of the Revelation, God the Father is the One who is seated on the throne (cf. Rom. 14:10; Rev. 5:1,7,13; 6:16; 7:10,15; 19:4 and 21:5).
▣ "from whose presence earth and heaven fled away" Some see this as the removal of the curse which was put on physical creation when Adam and Eve rebelled and fell (cf. Gen. 3:17-19 and Rom. 8:19-22). Others see this as a metaphor for the complete destruction of the current physical order as described in II Pet. 3:10,12 (cf. Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:21).
This is OT language signifying: (1) the coming of God to His creation, cf. Ps. 114:3-6; Isa. 13:10; 24:19-20,23; Joel 2:10,30-31; 3:15; Zech. 14:6) or (2) God does not need His two eternal witnesses anymore, cf. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15. He reigns!
Heaven in this context does not refer to God's throne, but to the atmosphere above the earth as in Gen. 1:1.
20:12 "And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne" The exact makeup of this large group is uncertain and is usually based on one's presupposition, as are most interpretations of the details of the visions in the book of the Revelation.
The phrase "the great and small" can refer to (1) believers (cf. Ps. 115:13; Rev. 11:18; 19:5) or (2) unbelievers (cf. 13:16; 19:18). In this context it is parallel to "sheep and goats" of Matt. 25:31-46 or "those in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth" of Phil. 2:10-11.
▣ "and books were opened" This is an allusion to Dan. 7:10. There are two books mentioned: the book of deeds or remembrances and the book of life (cf. 3:5; and 13:8). The book of life is described in Exod. 32:32-33; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27. The book of deeds or remembrances is described in Ps. 56:8; 139:16; Isa. 65:6; Mal. 3:16 and Rev. 20:12-13. These are metaphors for God's memory. God will deal fairly with His creation; humans are responsible for their actions and motives and are accountable to God (cf. Gal. 6:7). There is only one judgment.
▣ "and the dead were judged from the things written in the books, according to their deeds" Judgment is based on mankind's lifestyle choices (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). We reap what we sow (cf. Gal. 6:7). The theological truth that all humans are judged by their works can be seen in Jer. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; II Cor. 5:10; Rev. 2:23; 20:13. For a full list of references see note at 2:23.
20:13 "the sea. . . and death. . . and Hades gave up the dead which were in them" This does not refer to the fact that the dead are kept in three different places; the parallel metaphors assert that all of the dead stood before God (cf. Phil. 2:10-11).
20:14 "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire" These were referred to earlier in 6:8. Death, mankind's great enemy (cf. Heb. 2:14-15), has been defeated and removed (cf. I Cor. 15:26,54-55; II Tim. 1:10; Rev. 1:18; 21:4).
▣ "the second death" The Bible speaks of three stages of death:
1. spiritual death, cf. Genesis 3; Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:12-21; 7;10-11; Eph. 2:1,5; Col. 2:13; James1:15
2. physical death, cf. Genesis 5
3. eternal death called "the second death" in Rev. 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8, which refers to Hell
20:15 "if anyone's name" This sentence is a first class conditional which assumes that there will be those who are not written in the book of life (a metaphor for those who have not trusted Christ).
▣ "the book of life" See note at 13:8.
This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.
1. Why do so many godly, Bible-believing commentators disagree on the interpretation of this chapter?
2. If this book is written in symbolic language (apocalyptic genre), why do so many people take this chapter so literally and historically?
3. Why is Satan bound for a little while? Where do the nations come from in vv. 3 and 8?
4. How many groups are involved in v. 4 and why is this significant?
5. Why is it so surprising to find a two-stage resurrection in this chapter?
6. How do resurrected saints co-exist with physical nations?
7. Who is involved in the great White Throne Judgment of vv. 11-15?
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