I’ve been saying that the period of one thousand years — which John mentions in several places in Revelation 20 — symbolises the period of time in which we’re now living which began with the Lord’s first coming into the world and which will end shortly before he comes again. So, at the Lord’s first coming — when he suffered and died and was raised — the Devil was seized — as John tells us in verses 2 and 3 — and bound.
If you think about the Lord’s parable, the Devil is the strong man, who has now been bound by the even stronger man, Jesus Christ. Or, as John tells us in his first letter, the reason the Son of God came into the world was to destroy the works of the Devil. And, as the writer to the Hebrews tells us, the Lord Jesus became one of us in order to destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the Devil). Or Paul in Colossians 2 tells us that the Lord disarmed the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross. And in Luke 10, the Lord Jesus spoke about seeing Satan fall like lightning from heaven. When was the Devil bound? Whenever the Lord Jesus came into the world the first time.
The Devil has been bound; but not in the sense that he can do nothing at all, but in the sense that his power to deceive the nations is now restrained. It’s limited. It’s restricted. And as a result, while he’s still able to blind the minds of some people, nevertheless he’s unable to blind the minds of every person. And while we wait for the Lord to come again, we know that there will be many, many, many men and women and boys and girls who will hear and believe the good news of the gospel. They will hear and believe, because the Devil is unable to deceive all the nations as he once did.
And so, during this period in which we’re now living — which began when the Lord came into the world to redeem us by his life and death and resurrection until shortly before he comes again — the gospel will be preached to all the nations, and many will believe. The Devil is still very much active in the world, blinding the minds of many, and stirring up opposition to the church; nevertheless he’s chained and restrained and he’s under the mighty power and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But then, the last time, we saw in verse 7 that — shortly before the Lord comes again — the Devil will be released and he’ll be allowed to deceive the nations one more time, in order to form an army to oppose the church. But he will not get very far, because fire will come from heaven to devour all those who rallied to the Devil’s side; and the Devil himself will be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented day and night for ever and for ever.
So, shortly before the Lord returns, the Devil will be allowed to gather an army one last time. But it will be the last time, and it will be for only a little time. And then what? Well, then the Lord will come to judge the living and the dead. And that’s what verses 11 to 15 are about. Or — as one of the commentators puts it — these verses are about God’s justice and grace, for he will punish the wicked for their wickedness, which has all been recorded in books; but he will pardon all those whose names are written in the book of life.
And so, John tells us that he saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Many of the commentators see a connection between John’s vision here and the dream which Daniel recorded for us in Daniel 7. In his dream, Daniel saw thrones set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. The name ‘Ancient of Days’ — which is a name for the Lord Almighty — speaks to us of his eternal nature: he is for ever and for ever. And in Daniel’s vision, the Ancient of Days’ clothing is white like snow and the hair on his head was white like wool. And thousands upon thousand attended him and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, Daniel tells us, and the books were opened. Well, that was Daniel’s vision; and John’s vision is like it, because this is a vision of the Judgment Day. The King is on his throne; the court is in session; and the judgment is about to begin.
But this vision also recalls the Lord’s words at the end of Matthew 25 where he spoke about how he, the Son of Man, will come in his glory, and all the angels with him; and he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. And all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people, one from the other as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Those are the Lord’s word in Matthew 25 and John’s vision is like it, because at the end of this judgement scene there will be a separation between those whose names are written in the book of life and those whose names are not written in it.
Notice that the throne is white, a colour which symbolises purity and holiness, and which says to us that God’s judgment of the nations will be pure and good and right.
And look what else John saw: earth and sky fled from God’s presence, and there was no place for them. We read about the same kind of thing in chapter 6, with the opening of the sixth seal, and in chapter 16 where we read about the pouring out of the seventh bowl of God’s wrath which was accompanied by a severe earthquake and every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. On all three occasions, John is describing the destruction of the world as we know it, the end of the first creation, before the new heavens and the new earth appear.
Then, in verse 12, John tells us that he saw the dead, great and small. By referring to the ‘great and small’, he’s referring to everyone: we might say rich and poor, young and old, men and women. It’s everyone. And though they’re described as being dead, they’re now standing before the throne. How can the dead stand? Well, they can stand only because they’ve been raised from the dead. You see, when the Lord comes again, there will be a general resurrection: a resurrection of everyone who has ever lived.
The Lord refers to this general resurrection in John 5 where he tells us that the time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out: either to enjoy everlasting life or else to be condemned. And Paul refers to this general resurrection of the righteous and the wicked in Acts 24. And, of course, in Matthew 25, the Lord Jesus tells us that all the nations will be gathered before the Lord. So, while some Christians say the bodies of the righteous will be raised at one time, and the bodies of the wicked will be raised at another time, the Bible makes clear that all will be raised at the same time; and all will stand before God’s throne for judgment. And when John tells us here that the dead will stand before God’s throne, he’s referring to this general resurrection which is followed by the judgment.
And, in his vision, John tells us that books will be opened. What is written in these books? Well, read on in verse 12 for the answer, because later in the verse he tells us that the dead are judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. So these books contain a record of everything we have ever done. Everything we have done, everything we have said, everything that we have thought.
Remember how Eamonn Andrews carried that big book in ‘This is Your Life?’ And he read from it in order to describe each person’s life. But his book only contained the good things in a person’s life, the things they did well and were proud of. And it only contained the big things, the most significant things in a person’s life. But the books which John saw contain everything about us, including the bad things, the shameful things, the things which we want kept hidden forever, and which no one else knows about. These are books we all want to keep closed; we don’t want anyone to see these things, because we know what kind of people we are, and we know what we have done wrong. But these are books which will one day be opened. And, John tells us, the dead will be judged, we will be judged, according to what we have done as recorded in the books. So, the day is coming when these books will be opened.
But then — and it seems that John is keeping us hanging, because instead of going straight on to tell us what the outcome of this judgment will be, he repeats what he’s just said in different words. So, he tells us in verse 13 that the sea will give up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades, or death and the grave, will give up the dead that were in them. He’s repeating and reinforcing what he’s just said: the dead will stand before God’s throne for judgment; not one of them will be missing, but all will stand before the King to be judged according to what they have done.
Verses 14 and 15
And still we must wait to hear what will happen to the dead after they’re judged by God, because before telling us about them John tells us in verse 14 what will happen to death and the grave.
What will happen to death and the grave? Well, they’ll be thrown into the lake of fire, which is here called ‘the second death’. Now, since death and the grave are thrown into the lake of fire, then that means there will be no more death. People will not die, because death and the grave have been defeated and removed by God.
And so, instead of dying, those whose names are not written in the book of life will — according to verse 15 — be thrown into the lake of fire. And as we saw in verse 10, the lake of fire is a place where those who are cast into it will be tormented day and night for ever and for ever. They will not die again, but will be punished, day and night, for ever and for ever, for all the ways they have sinned against the Lord as recorded in the Lord’s books, and for all the ways that have fallen short of doing his will.
However, there’s another book, isn’t there? And, as one of the commentators says, this is not a book of deeds, but a book of names. If a person’s name is not there, they will be thrown into the lake of fire. But if a person’s name is there, what will happen to them? Well, that’s what chapters 21 and 22 are about, because John goes on to describe the new heavens and the new earth, where all of God’s people — whose names were written in the book of life — will come into the place God has prepared for them and they will enjoy his presence for ever and for ever.
What is this book of life? Well, in chapter 13 it was called the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain. It’s the book containing the names of everyone for whom Christ died. None deserves to have their name written in that book, because everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But the Lord is very gracious and kind, and though none of us deserves it, though we all deserve to be punished for ever, nevertheless, this book of life is filled up with name after name after name after name. So many names, they’re like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, because there are too many to count.
And so, this passages speaks to us of God’s justice and grace. He judges the world justly and repays them according to what they have done. But then, he is also very gracious, because instead of punishing all, he graciously pardons those whose name are written in the book of life and for whom Christ suffered and died. Though they deserve to be condemned along with everyone else, they are pardoned by God for the sake of Christ who died for them.
How can anyone tell whether their name is written in the Lamb’s book of life? Well, it’s simple: Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? That’s the sign that your name is written there, because faith in Christ is the sign of belonging to Christ. Before the world was made, God chose those who would belong to Christ and who would live with him for ever. And then he sent his Spirit into their lives to enable them to believe in Christ. And so, if you believe, it’s because you name is written there in that book of life. And whoever’s name is written there will never, ever be thrown into the lake of fire.
Throughout this book, we’ve read about the Dragon-like Devil, and the beast and the false prophet, and Babylon, and all those who refuse to repent and believe and who oppose and persecute the church.
But throughout this book, John has been reminding us that the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb who was slain are the ones who are in charge. They’re the ones who are enthroned over all. It’s not the Devil or the beast or anyone else; it’s the Lord and the Lamb.
And he’s the one who has bound Satan and who decides how much freedom Satan is permitted to have and how much or how little he can persecute the church. He’s the one who controls all of our lives so that every single one of his chosen people will, at the right time, be convinced and converted to faith in Christ. He’s the one who controls all of history in order to strengthen his people in the midst of our trials. And in the end, because he rules over all things, he will banish his enemies from his presence and all of Christ’s people — all those for whom Christ died — will live with him for ever in the new heavens and the new earth where there will be no one and nothing to trouble us or hurt us or to bring a tear to our eyes, but there will only be perfect peace and rest. Revelation 20 teaches us that victory belongs to the Lord God Almighty and to the Lamb who will one day judge the nations according to his perfect justice; and who will save his people according to his glorious grace.