We began to study this chapter the last time when we considered what is meant by the millennium, or that period of one thousand years which John refers to in several places in this chapter. And you’ll remember that I said there are three main views about the millennium: there’s the pre-millennium view which says that that Lord will return to earth and then he and his people will reign on the earth for a golden period of one thousand years. Then he will destroy the Devil and all who have sided with him and bring in the new heavens and the new earth.
Then there’s the post-millennium view which says that after a golden period of one thousand years on the earth, the Lord will return to destroy the Devil and all who have sided with him and to bring in the new heavens and the new earth.
And there’s the a-millennium view — which is the one I agree with — and it says that when John refers to the one thousand years he’s referring symbolically to the period of time which began with the Lord’s first coming — so it began with his incarnation and his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave — and it will end shortly before his second coming, when he comes again to destroy the Devil, to judge the living and the dead, and to bring in the new heavens and the new earth. In other words, the one thousand years refers symbolically to these, the last days in which we’re living.
So, when we read in verse 2 of Revelation 20 that Satan was bound for one thousand years, the a-millennialists say that John is referring here to the time when the Lord Jesus came into the world the first time, because when he came into the world the first time, Satan was bound. He was bound in the sense that his power to deceive the nations is now restrained and limited. Before the coming of the Lord, he was able to deceive all the nations, apart from the Jewish nation. Apart from the Jewish nation, every other nation was kept in the dark about God. However, with the coming of the Lord, and his death and resurrection and ascension, the Devil’s power to deceive has been restrained and limited, so that throughout the world, through the preaching of the gospel, men and women and boys and girls are being set free from Satan’s tyranny, and they’re coming to a knowledge of the true God, and they’re being brought into Christ’s kingdom of grace. And so it will continue, until shortly before the Lord comes again. So, right now, the Devil is bound, not in the sense that he can do nothing; but in the sense that his power to deceive is limited. He’s still a roaring lion, but he’s chained up and restrained for now.
However, just before the Lord comes again, the Devil will be released from his bondage for a short time; and what he’ll do during that short time and what will happen to him after that short time is over is the subject of verses 7 to 15. But before we get to that, let’s look at verses 4 to 6.
Verses 4 to 6
And in verse 4, John tells us that in this vision he saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. Now, pre-millennialists say that these thrones are set up on the earth; and they say that John is telling us here that, after the Lord comes again, his people will be raised from the dead and he and his resurrected people will reign on the earth for one thousand years, after which all of Christ’s enemies will be condemned.
However, we should note carefully that John doesn’t say the thrones are on the earth. In fact, back in chapter 4, for instance, when John saw God’s throne, the throne was located in heaven, not on earth. And that suggests that these thrones, which John describes in verse 4, are also located in heaven. And the saints who are on these thrones, have not experienced the resurrection of their bodies. Why do I say that? Well, look at what John says he saw in verse 4. he says he saw the souls of those who had been beheaded. He saw their souls, not their bodies. He never mentions their bodies.
So, this part of John’s vision is located in heaven. And in heaven, John sees the souls of the martyrs, who have been killed because of their faithfulness to Christ. Instead of bowing down to the beast and his image, they remained committed to the Lord. And these martyrs probably represent all of Christ’s people, because all of us have suffered in some way for our faith in Christ.
At the end of verse 4, John tells us that the souls of the martyrs came to life and reigned with Christ for one thousand years; and at the end of verse 5, this coming to life is called ‘the first resurrection’. Well, normally the Bible uses the word ‘resurrection’ to refer to the resurrection of our bodies from the dead, which will take place on the earth when Christ comes again. So, when he comes, all people will be raised — the righteous and the wicked, believers and unbelievers — to stand before Christ’s judgment seat. However, before we jump to conclusions and assume that John is referring here to the bodily resurrection of all people when Christ comes again, we should remember what I’ve said already: this vision of John is located in heaven, not on earth; and John never refers to bodies here. And so, it’s likely that John is referring to something else here, and not to the resurrection of our bodies when Christ returns.
So, what does he mean by ‘the first resurrection’? It’s very simple: though these saints have died, nevertheless they are still alive, because although they have died, and their bodies have been placed in the grave, their souls are alive with God in heaven. Their bodies have gone down to the grave; but their souls have gone up to heaven. That’s what John means by ‘the first resurrection’.
Think what an encouragement that would have been to John’s first readers who were being persecuted by the Roman Empire. And think what an encouragement this is to every believer who has suffered for their faith. The world hates us and opposes us and perhaps even puts us to death. They think they have got rid of us; and that, by killing us, they have destroyed us. However, God overcomes and overturns what they have done, because even though they can kill our bodies, they cannot kill our souls; and even though they can destroy our bodies, we’re not destroyed, because God’s suffering people, after we have died, are enthroned in heaven where we will reign with Christ. The world thinks they can destroy us; but they can’t, because after they have done their worst, we’re enthroned in heaven with Christ the Lord.
What about those who do not believe and who die before the Lord comes again? Well, it’s likely that John is referring to them in the first part of verse 5. John says that the rest of the dead — that is, those who don’t believe — did not come to life until the one thousand years are ended. So, they will not live or reign with Christ, but are kept for the coming day of judgment when they will be condemned and sent away from the presence of the Lord to be punished for ever. But ‘blessed and holy’ are those who take part in this first resurrection — says John in verse 6. In other words, blessed are those who have believed and whose souls are now with Christ in heaven. The second death — that is eternal punishment — has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, serving before them, and worshipping them, in the holy and heavenly temple, while they wait for the end of the one thousand years when Christ will come again to raise the dead, and to judge the nations, and to bring in the new heavens and the new earth.
What an encouragement to believers this is: yes, for now, here below, we must suffer for Christ, because the Devil is stirring up the world’s opposition and hatred towards Christ’s church. However, after the suffering of this life, we will reign with Christ in heaven. And the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that awaits us in the presence of the Lord in heaven. So once again, the Lord’s suffering people are encouraged to persevere and not to give up the faith, because death is not the end, but it’s the doorway into the presence of the Lord.
Verses 7 to 10
The vision in verses 1 to 3 is located on the earth, because it’s about how Satan has been bound to prevent him from deceiving the nations of the earth. And the vision in verses 4 to 6 is located in heaven, because it’s about how Christ’s faithful people who have died reign with him in heaven. The vision in verses 7 to 10 is located on the earth, because it’s about how Satan gathers an army to make war on the church after the thousand years is over.
So, between the time of Christ’s first coming into the world and shortly before he comes again, the gospel will be proclaimed in all the world; and while many will not believe, many will believe, because the Devil has been bound and his power to deceive is limited. Nevertheless, shortly before the Lord comes again, the Devil will be released from his bondage and from his chains and he will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth and to gather them together for the battle.
I’m not sure why, but the NIV translation of verse 8 has dropped the definite article which appears in the Greek text. You see, John is referring not to any old battle, but to the battle, the last battle, which he’s already referred to in previous chapters. He referred to it in verse 19 of chapter 19, where he saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the white horse — that’s the Lord Jesus — and his army. And he referred to the same battle in verses 14 to 16 of chapter 16, where he told us that the evil spirits gathered all the kings of the world for battle at a place called Armageddon. Those two passage and this one here in Revelation 20 refer to the same battle, this final battle which will take place shortly before the coming of the Lord.
And John refers to the nations as Gog and Magog. The names Gog and Magog appear in Ezekiel 38 and 39 where Ezekiel saw a vision in which Gog, of the land of Magog, launched an attack on the Lord’s people. And in Ezekiel’s vision, the Lord’s anger was aroused against Gog, and he sent an earthquake, and he rained down rain, hailstones and buring sulphur on Gog and his army, to destroy them. And then the Lord summoned birds to come and feast on their remains. Well, in Revelation 19, the Lord summoned the birds to come and feast on the remains of all the nations who gathered for battle against the Lord and his people. That image is taken from Ezekiel’s vision. And now, in Revelation 20, there’s another echo of Ezekiel’s vision, because John too sees how the nations, like Gog of Magog in Ezekiel’s vision, gathered for battle against the Lord’s people. And look at verse 9: they marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the church which is here described as a camp, because we’re a pilgrim people, travelling through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land of Eternal Life. But the church is also described as a city, because inside this city, this mighty fortress God’s people are protected by the Lord who loves us.
And look! The battle is short-lived, because just as Ezekiel saw the Lord rain down burning sulphur on Gog of Magog, so John sees the Lord pour down fire from heaven to devour the nations who have surrounded the church. And the Devil, who deceived the nations, was thrown in the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth were also cast. And there, they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
We’ll pause there. But once again, all of this is written to comfort and encourage God’s suffering people and to re-assure us that though the church often struggles, and though the church is often despised and rejected, and hated and persecuted, nevertheless victory belongs to the Lamb. Victory belongs to the Lamb.
During this millennium period — the period of time between Christ’s first coming and shortly before his second coming — the Devil has been bound to prevent him from deceiving the nations. And so, the church preaches the gospel with confidence, because we know that, though some will not believe, many will believe and come to know the one true and living God.
And then, even though the Devil will one day be released, and will be allowed to deceive the nations once more, so that the nations will fight one final battle against the Lord, nevertheless, they will not succeed. Though they try to destroy the church, they are the ones who will be destroyed.
And, of course, in the meantime, until the Lord comes again, all who have died in Christ will reign with him in heaven. And then, when he comes, we will live with him in body and soul, for ever and ever, in the new heavens and the new earth, the home of righteousness.
No wonder it says at the beginning of the book of Revelation:
Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.
We’re blessed, because the things contained in this prophecy are designed to comfort us and to encourage us and to re-assure us so that we will not give up the faith, but will persevere right to the end, while we wait for Christ to come again.