Read the Passage: Revelation 20
Reminder: The book of Revelation is structured around seven parallel sections, each describing the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. These sections can be delineated into chapters 1–3, 4–7, 8–11, 12–14, 15–16, 17–19, and 20–22.
Kingdom Reign (20:1–6)
This chapter is one of the most debated sections in the book of Revelation. Indeed, there are a lot of details in this chapter, things that scholars quibble about, and events over which good people disagree. Yet, the point of this chapter is clear: In the end, God’s people win. Or to be more specific, God triumphs and believers get to enjoy His presence. Most people recognize that every good story ends in the same way: They all lived happily ever after. Clearly, this idea resonates with the human heart. We intuitively know that in a good story the hero wins in the end. Even children and non-believers know this is true. This is because, as Solomon wrote, God “has put eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:11). Mankind was made to hear and to have a role in this grand story. So, as Rev. 20–22 will reveal, in the end Satan is vanquished, the saints are delivered, and Jesus is glorified. This is both true and right.
Rev. 20–22 contains John’s seventh and final telling of the story of history, focusing especially on the judgment of Satan. The framework of this narrative is this: Jesus’ first coming, Satan being bound, Satan being loosed and rebelling, and Jesus’ second coming. In Rev. 20:1–3 John sees an angel bind Satan with a chain and cast him into a pit for 1,000 years “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:3). This is a picture of the present curbing of the work of Satan in the world and the present spread of God’s kingdom (cf. Luke 10:17–18) that is made possible through Jesus’ atonement. This is not to say Satan currently has no influence; rather, it is to say the mission enterprise is presently resulting in the world-wide, incremental, growth of the church. While Satan still influences the world, he cannot deceive all of the nations.
Whereas Rev. 20:1–3 describes the curtailing of the power of Satan during the time between Jesus’ first and second comings, Rev. 20:4–6 teaches about the empowering and ruling of the saints during this same time. Here John sees saints—specifically martyred believers and others who did not conform to the world—sitting on thrones and reigning with Jesus. Those John sees have passed away; yet, are described as having experienced “the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5), which is salvation or, perhaps, translation to heaven. These, then, are saints who have died and reign in heaven with Christ. Unbelievers who have passed away do “not live again” (Rev. 20:5), but await the second death, which is the final judgment at Jesus’ second coming. John notes the second death has no power over believers, who need not fear future judgment, for Jesus’ atonement has paid for their sins.
Satanic Rebellion (20:7–10)
Rev. 20:3 referred to the release of Satan “for a little while,” which is sometimes called Satan’s little season. Details of this release, and its consequences, are given in Rev. 20:7–10. In this passage Satan is described as leading Gog and Magog against the church before God intervenes and casts Satan into the lake of fire. The language of Gog and Magog is borrowed from Ezekiel 38–39, where it refers, at least in part, to the second century BC persecution of God’s people under the Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes. This is an appropriate reference, for this event was the last widespread persecution of God’s people in the Old Testament, it was severe and it was brief, and the Jews’ victory was unexpected. Similarly, the end-times rebellion will be the last widespread persecution of the church, it will be severe and brief, and the church will triumph in spite of seemingly overwhelming odds.
Divine Judgment (20:11–15)
Rev. 20:11–15 describes the so-called Great White Throne judgment. This passage has clear overtones of Daniel’s vision recorded at Dan. 7:9–14. Here John sees God sitting on His throne, as well as all who have ever lived appearing before the throne to be judged. The record of each one’s life is then consulted and those whose names are not written in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire. John calls this “the second death” (Rev. 20:14). The first death, then, is physical death and the second death is eternal divine judgment. Death and Hades are also cast into the lake of fire (cf. 1 Cor. 15:26), signifying that there will be no more death and no more separation of body and soul after the final judgment. Note that the second death entails both bodily and spiritual torment. Further, observe this passage describes one general resurrection of judgment for all of mankind.
- If, as Jesus taught, “the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21), what things can we do in the present world to make this a reality?
- Do most believers read the book of Revelation with the aim of discerning the end-times calendar or of gaining personal comfort?
- If the millennium is understood to be the time between Jesus’ first and second comings, in what sense can we say that Satan is currently bound?
- Is it acceptable for Bible interpreters to attempt to identify references in Revelation with contemporary events, persons, nations, etc.?
- Since history is marked by times of gospel flourishing, as well as by the persecution of Christians, how can we know when the end-times are near?