Part 9. The final victory (19:1—20:15)
9.5. Satan bound (20:1-3)
9.6. Millennial reign (20:4-6)
9.7. Satan destroyed (20:7-10)
9.8. Final judgment (20:11-15)
† PICTURE: John sees the capture of Satan who is imprisoned in the Abyss for 1000 years. After the millennium, Satan was released and he immediately gathered the nations to rebel against God. They are quickly destroyed. The fearful great white throne judgment then begins.
20:1 The angel is probably the one who in ch.9 released the demonic locusts by opening the Abyss. The Abyss is a vast subterranean cavern used as a place of confinement for disobedient spirits awaiting judgment (Jude 6; Lk 8:31). The imprisonment of Satan follows the imprisonment of the other two persons of the evil trinity in ch.19 (though they are in a different place and already in their final destiny—the fiery lake).
20:2 The angel seizes the dragon, binds him with the chain, and throws him into the Abyss. There he remains for 1000 years, unable to carry on his work of deceiving the nations. The 4 titles of Satan used in Revelation appear together in this verse:  the dragon defeated in heavenly combat by Michael (12:7-8),  the serpent who tried to sweep away the messianic community with a flood (12:15),  the devil who knows that his time is short (12:12),  Satan, the adversary (Hebrew meaning), the slanderer, the false accuser (Greek meaning).
The binding here during the 1000 years (millennium) can be interpreted in 2 completely different ways:  The binding takes place between the two comings of Christ. The devil’s influence is curtailed so that he is unable to prevent the growth of the church. There are some verses which associate the binding, casting out, or falling of Satan with the first coming of Christ (Mt 12:29; Lk 19:17-18; Jn 12:31; Col 2:15).  The binding takes place after the second coming of Christ. Satan is not merely restricted but completely inactive. There are some verses that describe Satan as extremely active in the present age (Lk 22:3; Ac 5:3; 2Co 4:3-4; 11:14; Eph 2:2; 1Th 2:18; 2Ti 2:26; 1Pe 5:8). The last verse is especially clear: “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Therefore, Satan is not yet bound at the present.
It should be noticed that the purpose of the confinement is not to punish him but to prevent him from deceiving the nations. It should therefore be understood as a complete cessation of his influence on earth. The Abyss is sealed as a special precaution against escape.
Some commentators understand the millennium as a literal 1000 years while others take it to indicate a lengthy period of undetermined duration. Some interpret the number 1000 to symbolize the completeness of restraint, that is, not to be interpreted literally.
20:3 In ch.19, the kings of the earth and their armies were killed with the sword of Messiah (19:19-21). Here, the nations are either:  the remnant from nations who opposed the Messiah OR  the nations who never entered the battle of Armageddon (perhaps those nations very far from the centre of action and were not called to fight).
After 1000 years, Satan is to be released for a short time (described in 20:7-10). It is difficult to find a reason to explain why there needs to be yet another conflict. It perhaps proves that Satan will not alter his plans even after 1000 years of confinement, or it proves that 1000 years of freedom from the influence of wickedness do not change people’s basic tendency to rebel against their creator.
20:4 There are many different interpretations of the millennium (1000 years). The following explanation uses the premillennial view, that is, the second coming of Christ will occur before the millennium. Other views will be explained in a special study later.
John saw thrones with people who are given authority to judge. In the Bible, to judge often means to rule so these are probably the rulers of the nations of the world in the millennium (described as “reigning” in v.6). The identity of these judges is not given. But elsewhere in the Bible, the responsibility of judging was given to:  the apostles (Mt 19:28 promises that they will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel),  saints (1Co 6:2-3 reminds that saints will judge both the world and angels), and  those who remain faithful in the final trial (Rev 3:21).
After that, John saw the souls of the martyrs (“AND I saw”) who were faithful to the end and were killed. It is possible that not all of them were killed. Some of them may be those who gave their lives in faithful commitment to Christ. At the beginning of this verse, they were described as “souls” before their resurrection, but at the end of the verse, they are resurrected and take part in ruling the world. The fact that the martyrs alone (but not the rest of the church) are described as coming to life is an assurance that their death from violence (such as beheaded or burnt) will not prevent them from resurrection. However, some commentators believe that only the martyrs receive their bodies at this time; the interpretation will then put the two groups described in this verse as the same group.
20:5 “The rest of the dead” can have 2 interpretations depending on whether v.4 points to all believers or just the martyrs:  These are just non-believers who died because all believers will reign with Christ in the millennium.  These are all the non-believers plus all the believers except the martyrs.
The resurrection in the v.4 is called the “first resurrection”. Most believe that this includes all believers. If only the martyrs are resurrected, then some other verses of the Bible will be difficult to explain, including:  Paul’s teaching on the rapture (1Th 4:15-17, also 1Co 15:51-53; Col 3:4) would not make sense because Paul describes how those who are alive (certainly not martyrs) will be changed and swept up to meet with Christ at His second coming. All those living at that time are obviously not martyrs.  The promise to all saints of judging the world (1Co 6:2-3; Rev 5:10) will not be realized.  Christ’s bride cannot be described as ready (Rev 19:7) as she will not be representing all the saints.
20:6 Those who participate in the first resurrection are pronounced “blessed and holy”. There are 3 reasons for this description:  they are not subject to the second death,  they will be priests of God and Christ, and  they will reign with Christ for 1000 years. This can imply that those not raised in the first resurrection will be subject to the second death.
The second death is defined in 20:14 and 21:8 as being cast into the lake of fire, sharing the fate of the Satanic trinity (the devil, the beast, and the false prophet) and be tormented day and night forever and ever (20:10). It should be noted that the first death is virtually universal (except some will still live at the second coming) but the second death is selective; the first resurrection is selective but the second resurrection is universal.
The Latin word for “priest” is pontifex, “bridge builder”. The role of the priest is to establish a bridge between God and mankind.
20:7 The rebellion of evil forces after the millennium is prophesied in Eze 38—39. It occurs after Israel is restored to land in Eze 36—37. After the warfare, the portrayal of the eternal state in the form of a rebuilt temple in the New Jerusalem is in Eze 40—48.
20:8 Once released, Satan resumes his rebellion against God by deceiving the nations for the purpose of gathering them for battle. The nations are identified as Gog and Magog. In Eze 38:1, Gog is the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, who leads the invasion against Israel. In Eze 39:2, Magog is a territory located in the far north. The names here may have no relationship with those names in the book of Ezekiel. They simply represent the nations of the world. The large number of the evil army is described as “like the sand on the seashore.”
20:9 The nations marched “across the breadth of the earth” because they probably come from different areas of the whole world. They try to attack the city that God loves, probably referring to Jerusalem. The “camp of God’s people” is a reminder of the wilderness travel of the Israelites. In this world, God’s people will always be pilgrims in a foreign land. This also implies that the world is not yet the eternal home of God’s people.
The fire from heaven destroying the evil army is prophesied in the judgment of fire upon Gog (Eze 38:22) and Magog (Eze 39:6).
20:10 Satan is finally put into the fiery lake of burning sulphur where there will be no more escape. Most theologians believe that the fiery lake or hell is the place where the Satanic trinity and all non-believers will be tormented for eternity. However, a few prominent theologians (such as John Stott) believe that hell means annihilation (total destruction, termination of existence). If such a belief is based on contemporary sensitivities alone (that is, finding it difficult to visualize how some of our relatives and friends can suffer day and night forever just because they did not accept salvation), then it is not worthy of further consideration because God’s sovereignty is not restricted by human sensitivities. However, there are good reasons for annihilationism, and are worthy of further studies.
20:11 The final Judgment Day has now arrived. In Dan 7, the Ancient of Days takes His seat upon a throne flaming with fire to execute judgment upon the kingdoms of this world. Here, the throne is great in size and white or shining in appearance. Its size conveys the grandeur of its authority, and its appearance reflects the presence of the glory of God.
Jn 5:22 specifically says, “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.” (compare 2Co 5:10; 2Ti 4:1) Elsewhere in Revelation, the One seated upon the throne is the Father (4:2,9; 5:1,7,13; 6:16; 7:10,15; 19:4; 21:5). The NT also speaks both of the judgment seat of Christ (2Co 5:10) and of the judgment seat of God (Ro 14:10). All these imply a unity of the first two persons of the Godhead sitting in judgment.
Even earth and heaven flee away before the awesome God ready to judge. This may only be a poetic imagery expressing the fear of the created order before a judging God. However, it can also mean the dissolution and disappearing of the former earth (or the whole universe) in preparation for the new heaven and the new earth in ch.21. Isa 51:6 describes that “the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment.” 2Pe 3:10-12 describes how the heaven and earth are to be destroyed by fire.
20:12 Before the great white throne stand the dead, both great and small; no one is so great or important as to be immune from judgment, and no one is so small or unimportant as to slip through the crack of judgment. Although all are described as the dead but they have all been raised in the second resurrection (see v.5) to face the final judgment (Jn 5:28-29).
It is possible that the saints raised in the first resurrection have already been judged and awarded accordingly, although there is no record of this in Revelation. It is also possible that there is only one judgment and everyone will be judged here.
This last judgment is impartial and not arbitrary (1Pe 1:17). The punishment (or reward) is based on the evidence written in the books. There are obviously many books. The first sentence about the books possibly refers to written records of what each person has done in the earthly life. They will decide what each person will receive (Ps 62:12; Jer 17:10; Ro 2:6).
In addition to the record of people’s conduct and deeds, there is another book, the book of life. It is not clear what relationship is there between the books of people’s deeds and the book of life. It has been suggested that those whose names are missing from the book of life (because of not knowing the gospel) can claim for a last assessment to be included, based on the books of deeds (Ro 2:14-15). While this suggestion is a pure speculation, everyone is actually shown here to be judged on the evidence supplied by both books.
20:13 The sea, death, and Hades all hand over their dead to be judged by God. Those lost at sea were not formally buried; their bodies (and even their skeleton) may have been totally destroyed but they too cannot avoid judgment. Judgment is universal and no one can escape from it. Hades has different 2 meanings in the Bible. It can refer to the place of all souls (both righteous and unrighteous) during the intermediate state (Ac 2:27,31), but it can also refer to the abode of the unrighteous dead (Lk 16:23).
20:14 Death and Hades are now thrown into the lake of fire to be eternally destroyed. However, both death and Hades are not real beings, nor concrete things. Death is the state of termination of life while Hades is a location for souls of the dead. Both of them symbolize the effects of sin and wickedness (1Co 15:26,54-55). Therefore the destruction of death and Hades is a symbolic way to express the permanent disappearance of death (Isa 25:8). There will be no more death, ever! Similarly, sin and wickedness will be no more.
20:15 In Mt 25:41, Jesus indicated that the eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. In the final judgment, all whose names do not appear in the book of life will share their fate.
† The Last Judgment is a major event in everyone’s life. Like death, no one can avoid it. Yet it is more important than death because it decides how we will live in eternity. First, whether we accept or not accept God’s salvation will decide whether we will live in heaven or in hell. Second, if we already have God’s salvation, then how we live this short life will determine how we live in eternity because our conduct and deeds will be assessed by God. To live this early life following God’s will is like an investment that will yield limitless profit. Therefore, one would be wise to always remind oneself that we in fact live everyday under the shadow of Judgment Day.