Chapter Eleven - Jesus Shall Reign (19:1-20:15)

 

1. THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST (19:1-21)

For some time now, John's visions have been dark and foreboding. Chapter 16 pictured the seven bowls of God's wrath. Chapter 17 described the punishment of religious Babylon (i.e., the great prostitute). Chapter 18 dealt with the destruction of commercial Babylon. Against this bleak background, we now hear what has been called the "Hallelujah" Chorus in 19:1-6, which is the concluding remarks about the destruction of Babylon described in 17:1-18:24. It consists of a song of thanksgiving in heaven that God has judged the great harlot. After this thanksgiving, John depicts the events of the last-day in the rest of Chapter 19.

The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet are themselves en route to lead their followers into the last great battle of Armageddon at the great day of God Almighty (16:13-14). Preparations for the battle are also underway in the heavens. The holy angels are there, and the raptured saints are there, and all have been watching the terrible judgments on the earth, knowing that they very soon will also march forth to follow their King as He returns to earth.

Chapter 19 is divided into four sections:

  1. The Hallelujah Choruses (19:1-6);

  2. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:7-10);

  3. The Advent of Christ (19:11-16); and

  4. The Armageddon Conflict (19:17-21).

1.1. The Hallelujah Choruses (19:1-6)

1.1.1. The hallelujah of a great multitude in heaven

Verse 19:1

After these things I heard, as it were, a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God;

The phrase "after these things" has occurred several times in Revelation to indicate a new vision (cf. 4:1; 7:1, 9; 15:5; 18:1; 19:1). John uses it in 19:1 as the scene shifts from the destruction of Babylon to the reaction of the heavenly multitude. It refers to the visions of chapters 17 and 18 and especially the fall of Babylon. In 18:20 there was the call to rejoice over Babylon's destruction. Now there is heaven's response to that call. 

What John heard is described as "a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven." This is undoubtedly the multitude of angels in 5:11 and the martyrs in 7:9-12. These martyrs, like those mentioned in connection with the fifth seal (cf. 6:9-11), have been waiting for the righteous and deserved judgment of God to fall upon the world dictator. With the completed revelation of that judgment, as given in chapters 17 and 18, they make a great note of praise in heaven. This is seen in the word "hallelujah" (Greek: ἁλληλουϊά, transliteration: hallēlouia). This word (Hebrew: הַלֽלוּיָה, transliteration: halěly) comes from two Hebrew words. The first is a verb (Hebrew: הַלֽלוּ, transliteration: halěl) meaning give praise. The second is the name of God (Hebrew: יְֽהוָ֗ה, transliteration: yhweh) in the shortened form (Hebrew: יָה, transliteration: y). It means praise Yahweh or praise the Lord. Jews and Christians adopted the expression "Hallelujah" as a liturgical exclamation of joy. The word appears twenty-four times in Psalms (e.g., 106:1; 113:1; 111:1; 150:1) and four times in Revelation (19:1, 3, 4, 6). 

"Salvation and glory and power to our God" is a triumph shout in recognition of what God has done in bringing down once mighty Babylon. God planned salvation and chose us in Christ before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11). When the human race plunged into sin, God stood ready to redeem His people. He receives the praise and glory for the redemptive work the Lamb has accomplished (7:10). The salvation that God initiated and the Lord Jesus fulfilled results in God’s displaying both His glory and power (cf. 5:12; 7:12). In the decisive battle against Satan, the victory belongs to God, whose glory is matchless and whose power is infinite. Each of these three great attributes of God should awaken its own response in the heart of man. The "salvation" of God should awaken the gratitude of man; the "glory" of God should awaken the reverence of man; the "power" of God should awaken the trust of man.  

Please note the "our" in "our God." Those giving praise had rejected the god of this world and his false messiah, and by faith had accepted the Lord Jesus as their God and Saviour.

Verse 19:2

because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her."

God is praised due to the following three reasons:

  1. His judgments are true and righteous (cf. 16:7);

  2. He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality; and 

  3. He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants.

This act of judgment is "true" because it is based on His covenant faithfulness. He has perfect knowledge (omniscience) and, therefore, He has all the facts so that all His judgments are correct, and in accord with the truth. It is also "righteous" because it is based on his holy character that must destroy all that is evil. His perfect righteousness cannot act unfairly. The same two attributes are also ascribed to God by the saints in 15:3 and by the voice of the altar in 16:7.

The legal basis is that the great harlot has "corrupted the earth with her immorality" (14:8; 17:2; 18:3, 23). Her "immorality" is her seductive and unholy alliances with the entire world. The punishment that the great harlot has received is precisely what she deserved. Now she has paid the price for her sinful folly.

In addition, God has "avenged the blood of his servants on her." The Old Testament states that God "will avenge the blood of his servants" (Deuteronomy 32:43; 2 Kings 9:7), and this is an extension of that covenant promise. The martyrs under the fifth seal asked God how long it would be until he would avenge their blood (Revelation 6:9-10). The blood of the saints and/or prophets is mentioned in 16:6, 17:6, and 18:24 as well. These prayers were partially answered in the seals, trumpets, and bowls judgments (16:5-6), and are now fully answered in the destruction here, which includes both Armageddon (16:12-16; 19:17-21) and the Great White Throne judgment (20:11-15). God does not allow His servants who suffered under the great harlot to go unavenged. Sometimes in this age there appears to be no justice, but this cannot and will not always be the case because of the character of God.

Verse 19:3

And a second time they said, "Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever."

The second "Hallelujah" celebrates the extent of that punishment. It is given in connection with the statement, "Her smoke rises up forever and ever." Previously, the kings and mariners, who were allied with Babylon, grieved when they saw the smoke of her burning (18:9, 18). By way of contrast, the multitudes in heaven rejoice at seeing the smoke from Babylon’s fiery downfall, since it marks the end of the city’s tyranny.

This "smoke of torment" is in direct contrast to the "smoke of incense," the prayers of the saints (8:4), and the "smoke from the glory of God" that filled the temple (15:8). Also, the "eternal torment" of the unbelievers is in direct contrast to the God "who lives forever and ever" (1:18; 4:9, 10; 10:6; 15:7), and "reigns forever and ever" (11:15). 

This "smoke" is an allusion to the fire that will destroy Babylon (17:16; 18:8, 9, 18), the devastation caused by the war of Armageddon (16:12-16; 19:17-21), and her eternal punishment in the lake of fire (14:11; 19:20; 20:10, 14-15).

The verb "rises up" (Greek: ἀναβαίνει, transliteration: anabainei) is present tense, therefore the smoke is keeping on rising. It echoes what the gospels teach about unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17; Mark 9:43).

The image of smoke, "rises up forever and ever" marks the finality, completeness, and irreversibility of God’s judgment (cf. Isaiah 34:10; Revelation 14:11). 

1.1.2. The hallelujah of the 24 elders and the four living beings

Verse 19:4

And the twenty-four elders and the four living beings fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne saying, "Amen. Hallelujah!"

The third song comes from a different source, "the twenty-four elders and the four living beings." They are the celestial worship leaders in the book (4:8-10; 5:8, 11, 14; 7:11-17; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4).

Once more (4:10; 5:14), they "fell down and worshiped" God. Prostrating oneself is a more serious form of worship, symbolizing total surrender. The emphasis is on God’s complete sovereignty.

The worship is addressed to "God who sits on the throne" which is a title for the Holy Father (7:10). God, with His great power and steadfast love for us, sits permanently on the throne. But too often we are like the world, we want to usurp God's right to rule, but when we do, it is always our own loss.

They do not utter another hymn but instead give a solemn affirmation of the hymns sung by the great multitude. The word "Amen" (Greek: ἀμήν, transliteration: Amēn) is a translation of a Hebrew word אָמֵן of similar sound (transliteration: ’āmēn) meaning "be it true." It is used to indicate solemn agreement with the words of another (cf. 1 Kings 1:36; Revelation 7:12). Elsewhere in the book of Revelation, the word "Amen":

  1. concludes the doxology of 1:6;

  2. affirms the prophecy of 1:7;

  3. concludes the series of praise songs in 5:9-14;

  4. frames the praise song of 7:12; and

  5. concludes the book in 22:20, 21.

Thus, the "Amen" confirms the worship of the previous hymns, and the "hallelujah" continues the praise established in 19:1, 3. The combination "Amen. Hallelujah" occurs nowhere else in the New Testament but is found in Psalm 106:48, where it follows a prayer for deliverance from the nations. Here that deliverance has already occurred, and this is thanksgiving for God’s mighty act. In light of all that God has accomplished for His people, the whole of the celestial kingdom can only say, "Praise Yahweh!"

1.1.3. The final hallelujah of the great multitude

Verse 19:5

And a voice came from the throne, saying, "Praise to our God, all you His servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great."

This is the third group after the multitude in Revelation 19:1-3, and the twenty-four elders and living creatures in 19:4. Now the scene shifts from heaven to earth, and "a voice came from the throne" addresses the saints on earth for the praise.

Even though it comes "from the throne," it is not the voice of God, for it requests them to "praise our God." The voice is also not the Lord Jesus Christ, because of the first person plural pronoun "our" (Greek: ἡμῶν, transliteration: hēmōn) in the expression "our God." The Lord Jesus’ way of speaking of God is using first person singular pronoun "my" (Greek: μου, transliteration: mou) in the expressions "my Father" (John 20:17), and "my God" (Revelation 3:2). This is probably an angel, who is nearest the throne, bringing a divine message.

The phrase "praise our God" is a translation for "Hallelujah." The verb "Praise" (Greek: Αἰνεῖτε, transliteration: Aineite) is imperative present tense, which is a request of continuous praise. Therefore, it requests all believers to engage in joyous doxological praise continuously.

There are three descriptions of the saints in this verse:

  1. "His servants" (Greek: δοῦλοι, transliteration: douloi) means a person who is legally owned and determined by his master. Therefore, servants of God are His special possession (1:1; 2:20; 7:3-4; 11:1-2, 18; 22:3, 6).

  2. "You who fear him" (11:18) means more than reverence. This refers to that healthy fear of the holy God who is Judge and rewards both saint and sinner "according to their works" (2:23; 14:13; 18:6; 22:12).

  3. "The small and great" (11:18; 20:12) reflects Psalm 115:13 and means all stand equally before God and have the privilege of worshipping Him.

In this statement, all social and economic distinctions are removed in the worship of God by His people. Before God and in Christ, all believers, as the blood-bought possession of the Lord Jesus, are His servants.

Verse 19:6

Then I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.

This is the second half of the united set of "Hallelujah" hymns in Revelation 19:1-10, with the first half (19:1-5) celebrating the destruction of Babylon (17:1-19:5), and the second half (19:6-10) describing the second coming of Christ and final war that destroys the empire of the beast (19:6-21).

Response to the heavenly request to praise our God (19:5) is immediate. John heard, "as it were, the voice of a great multitude ..." Another multitude thunders the New Testament’s final "Hallelujah!" There are several reasons to believe that this multitude is different from the previous one introduced in 19:1:

  1. John’s use of "and I heard" to open the verse suggests that he has switched to a different subject.

  2. The lack of definite articles in the Greek text for the two nouns "voice" and "multitude" suggests that John is not referring back to the multitude of 19:1.

  3. The adjectives used to describe the two multitudes and their voices are also different.

It is better to see this as another angelic chorus in heaven due to the following reasons:

  1. "The sound of many waters" compares to voices in 14:2 which were angelic.

  2. "The sound of mighty peals of thunder" is similar to the expressions in 6:1; 10:1-4; 14:2 (cf. Ezekiel 1:24). In all these places the utterances had angelic sources.

  3. It matches with 11:15-17 where angelic singers rejoiced in anticipation of the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth just as these do.

They sing a fourth heavenly "Hallelujah," and immediately furnishes the reason for doing so, "for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns." The title for God utilized by the singers is "the Lord our God, the Almighty" (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 21:22), stressing His omnipotence and lordship over His creation.

The kingdom of God can now replace the demolished world-power that had dominated the earth in opposition to God for so long. The verb "reigns" (Greek: ἐβασίλευσεν, transliteration: ebasileusen) means to rule as a king, and is proleptic and ingressive aorist tense. Looking back from the future point when the climactic battle of 19:19-21 is complete, the verb tense sees God’s assumption of power in reigning over the earth. They celebrate God has begun to accomplish what was forecast in 11:15-17, that is God’s heavenly rule on earth (cf. 1 Chronicles 16:31;  Psalm 93:1; 97:1; 99:1; Zechariah 14:9). This direct divine rule will continue into eternity in the New Jerusalem city (Revelation 21:1-3), but first it must demonstrate itself on the old earth during the Millennium (20:4).

1.2. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (19:7-10)

Another announcement made at this time also results in great rejoicing and in glory being given to God. It is revealed to John that "the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready" (19:7).

1.2.1. The historical background of the marriage custom

To truly grasp the significance and meaning of this passages, it would be helpful to explain the marriage custom of John's day which was in three stages:

  1. betrothal;

  2. presentation; and

  3. marriage supper.

1.2.1.1. Phase 1: the betrothal

Marriage was by a contract drawn up between the fathers, often while the parties involved were still children. In other words, this was the negotiating phase. Though the marriage was not consummated at this point, they were considered legally married (cf. the word "husband" in Matthew 1:19, and also the word "betrothed" in 2 Corinthians 11:2), even though they did not live together. Whenever a believer receives the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour he becomes a part of the bride of Christ. The church age is the betrothal phase, the time when God is calling out a bride for His Son.

The payment of a suitable dowry was also often a part of the procedure (cf. Ephesians 5:25). Thus, Christ gave His own life for us as a dowry. Today all believers are legally married to Jesus Christ and through living faithfully in the Word, we are kept as pure virgins, kept from Satan, apostasy or fornication (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-26; James 4:4).

1.2.1.2. Phase 2: the presentation

When the couple reached a suitable age the wedding took place. The father of the bridegroom would present the contract to the father of the bride. The bridegroom would then go to the house of the bride in the company of his friends and escort her to his home. This is the background for the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.

During the betrothal phase the groom would prepare an apartment, a place to live in his father's house. Homes, especially for the wealthy, were often very large complexes. Only the portions which were needed, however, were finished and furnished. When a son was to be married, a portion was completed to make ready for the new bride (John 14:2-3). The church today is the virgin bride of Christ waiting in her home for the coming of her bridegroom. That "coming" is what is pictured in the idea of the "rapture" of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The Lord Jesus Christ will come for His bride and take her back to His home (cf. John 14:1-6).

The groom and his friends would then escort the bride to their new home. The ceremony which followed was the "presentation" or actual marriage. This was considered the marriage ceremony. Ephesians 5:27 speaks of this presentation, that is Christ's present work of keeping the church pure and productive by loving her through the Word.

1.2.1.3. Phase 3: the marriage supper

The groom would invite many guests and gather all his friends to come to the marriage supper and view his bride. The length and lavishness of the supper would of course depend on the wealth and status of the bridegroom. It might last a day or a week or even longer. The Millennium represents the marriage supper where Christ displays His bride (i.e., the church).

In the parable of Matthew 22:l-10, we have an illustration of this custom. The parable pictures the rejection of Israel and Christ's gracious extension of the invitation to all nations. Originally, Christ had prepared a great supper of spiritual blessings, but Israel did not care, so the offer was extended to the nations or the Gentile world (cf. Romans 11:1-32). Guests who attended the marriage supper must wear a wedding garment (Matthew 22:11). Personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ provides the wedding garment (i.e., righteous robe) necessary to get into the supper.

In Matthew 25:l-13, we have another reference to the marriage supper only this time it refers to the Millennium and the invitation is to come as ten virgins to this great supper. The invitation is to catechumen (foolish), and saints (wise) of the Tribulation to come to the marriage supper. Those who were foolish took no oil with them, therefore the bridegroom did not allow them to enter the marriage supper. Personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ provides the oil (i.e., Holy Spirit) necessary to get into the supper.

1.2.2. The explanation of 19:7-9 in the light of this custom

Verse 19:7

"Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready."

The song begun in verse 6 continues with an exhortation to "rejoice and be glad and give the glory to" God. God deserves praise because "the marriage of the Lamb has come" and "His bride has made herself ready."

1.2.2.1. The identity of the bride

In the Old Testament, God is the bridegroom of Israel (cf. Isaiah 54:6; 62:5; Jeremiah 31:32; Ezekiel 16:7-14; Hosea 2:16, 19), and in the New Testament, Christ is the bridegroom of the church (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25 ff.; Revelation 3:20; 19:9; 21:2, 9; 22:17). The figure of marriage denotes the intimate and indissoluble union of saints with the Messiah.

We need to establish the identity of the bride. Does she represent the saints of the church age only, or the saints both from the Old Testament era and the church age? Only the church is Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:32) due to the following reasons:

  1. She is a virgin bride (2 Corinthians 11:2) in waiting for her coming Bridegroom (Revelation 21:2, 9).

  2. The place on Christ’s earthly throne promised to the church in the coming kingdom (3:21) is confirmation of her role as bride.

  3. Christ’s anticipation of eating with her once again in the kingdom, when He instituted the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:16, 30).

  4. The promise to the Laodicean church of participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb (3:20).

  5. The apparel of Christ’s armies is the same as that of His bride (compare 19:14 with 19:8).

  6. To come with Him at His return as His armies do presupposes their bodily resurrection prior to that time. The only ones who will have risen from the dead by then will be members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Only they will have had opportunity to put on the prescribed attire for a triumphant return to earth with Christ.

  7. The difficulty of including Israel along with the church as part of the bride is a chronological one. Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs from the period of Daniel’s seventieth week will rise in time for the Millennium (Daniel 12:1-2), but not in time to join Christ in His triumphal return (19:14).

  8. It is also impossible for saints who die during the Millennium to be a part of this company because their resurrection will not come in time (20:5-6).

1.2.2.2. The separation of the marriage ceremony from the marriage supper

As explained in 1.2.1.2., according to the marriage custom of John’s day, the marriage ceremony (19:7) is separated from the marriage supper (19:9). It is necessary to have the marriage initiated in heaven after the rapture of the church, because when Christ’s army of saints return with Him to earth, they will have already put on their wedding apparel (19:8, 14). So, the marriage ceremony happens in heaven, but the celebration of that union with a grand marriage supper ensues on earth for the span of the Millennium.

1.2.2.3. The time and place of the marriage ceremony

The bride represents the church (i.e., the people of God between Pentecost and the Rapture of the church), therefore the marriage ceremony takes place in heaven after the rapture of the church, but before Christ returns to earth. The chronological sequence in chapter 19 and the location of the current scene in heaven argue for this time and place.

1.2.2.4. The time and place of the marriage supper

After the destruction of Babylon and at the end of the Tribulation, has the return of Christ to earth. This fixes the place of the marriage supper as on earth and the time as during the Millennium. Yet the marriage supper cannot transpire on earth in a completed sense until the rest of the saints, including the Tribulation martyrs, and the Old Testament saints, have been resurrected and have the chance to participate in it. Since the Lord Jesus Christ will be the bridegroom and the church will be the bride, they will be the guests of the marriage supper during the Millennium.

1.2.2.5. The integration of Israel with the church in the New Jerusalem city

After the Millennium, Israel will appear with the church in the New Jerusalem city, at that time, both of them are Christ’s bride (21:2, 9, 12, 14). The city’s twelve gates (21:12) and twelve foundations (21:14) prove the presence of both distinctive groups. So, the bride of Christ will be a growing body of people, with the church functioning as Christ’s bride during that phase of the marriage supper that comes during the Millennium, but with the integration of the new heaven and new earth (21:1ff.), the bride receives the enhancement of the redeemed of Israel and of all ages, including the Millennium.

1.2.2.6. The bride has made herself ready

The preparedness of the bride for this marriage is a related reason for the celebration called for in the song of 19:7. Since the wedding day has arrived, the "bride has made herself ready." This brings out the responsibility of self-preparation (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 John 3:3; Jude 1:21).

First, there is the personal responsibility in relation to salvation. To be a part of the bride, one must have accepted Christ as his or her personal Saviour from sin. Then, they must choose to walk by the Holy Spirit according to the Word, so they can produce good works. The emphasis here relates to the issue of true spirituality which results in preparation for eternity. 

The ultimate preparation is furnished by God because the preparation of the bride is the work of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27). He has purchased His bride with His blood (Revelation 1:5; 5:9). Therefore, He expects her to live faithfully (2:10, 13), and to remain virgin for Him (cf. 14:4).

1.2.2.7. The bride's wedding gown

Verse 19:8

And it was granted to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and pure; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

This verse continues with an explanation of the preparation of the bride. The marriage day has arrived, so "it was granted to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and pure." The verb "it was granted" (Greek: ἐδόθη, transliteration: edothē) was written in divine passive form, signaling something granted by God (cf. 6:2, 4, 8). In other words, God "gives" wedding gown to the bride.

The "fine linen" is the luxurious linen of 18:12. Compare the garish ostentation of the great harlot in 17:4 with the simple beauty here. These garments are "bright and pure," symbolizing the bride’s spiritual victory and purity, the same as the armies of heaven in 19:14 that wear "fine linen, white and pure" (cf. Isaiah 61:10).

The wedding gown that the bride wears is defined as "the righteous acts of the saints." This implies that the bride will have experienced some sort of a judgment, for the righteousness that she wears is not the righteousness of Christ, which has been imputed to her through her faith in Him. Rather, the wedding gown is said to be "righteous acts of the saints." The noun "righteous acts" (Greek: δικαιώματα, transliteration: dikaiōmata) is plural, implying that the righteous acts of service performed following one's salvation are what is in view here. This idea fits with what is said about the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Apparently, some time following the rapture of the church, but before their return with Christ (Revelation 19:11-16), all saints will be judged for their services. The issue is not one of salvation, for only those who are saved will be qualified to be present in heaven as members of the church. The issue is the saint's service, the result will be either reward or the loss of reward (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

The "fine linen" is a part of the reward "granted to her" at the judgment seat of Christ to those who have served Him. At that moment, all the raptured saints will have been rewarded, purified, and made like Christ (1 John 3:2-3; Romans 8:29). In essence then, the church age is not only the betrothal stage, but a time where the bride is preparing her "fine linen" for the marriage ceremony.

In this parable, the church age saints (i.e., bride) will have put on her appropriate wedding gown (i.e., fine linen), and prepared to meet her Bridegroom (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ).

1.2.2.8. The marriage supper of the Lamb

Verse 19:9

And he said to me, "Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’" And he said to me, "These are true words of God."

Following the praise to God and the announcement of the marriage of the Lamb, John is now instructed to write, "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." The speaker is probably the interpreting angel of chapter 17.

The "marriage supper of the Lamb" is the same event as the "messianic banquet" (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29; 14:15; 22:30). It is the custom of inviting guests to the marriage supper (cf. Matthew 22:2-14; 25:1-13). In this verse, as in verses 7 and 8, the bride of the Lamb is distinguished from the guests, the bride apparently being the church, and the guests will be the groups of Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs, who are never said to be part of the body of Christ, but who are, nevertheless, redeemed.

Here we encounter the fourth of the seven beatitudes in Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7, 14). First, this is the pronouncement of blessing to those who are invited because the Millennium will be the most blessed time in the history of the earth. It will be an unprecedented time of blessing just as the Tribulation was an unprecedented time of misery. It will be a time worth waiting for and worth suffering for. Second, all men are invited, but to enter one must accept the invitation, and come with the right wedding garment, that is clothed in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus. This means one must first accept the invitation to believe on the Lord Jesus (Matthew 22:8-13; John 1:12; 3:3, 16; Romans 3:21-22; 4:5). Not only will the bride have her wedding gown, but every guest must wear a wedding garment, that is a righteousness robe, in order to participate the marriage supper and the Millennial reign of the Savior.

Next, John is told, "these are true words of God." This underscores the absolute certainty of this beatitude and reinforces the sovereign character of this divine revelation. This authentication should not be limited to the beatitude itself but refer as well to the song of the heavenly multitude (19:6-8), and even to all that the angel has explained beginning with chapter 17.

It should be noted from 19:7-9 that apparently God maintains distinctions among His redeemed people. It is obvious that God treats the church age saints better than the others (e.g., the Tribulation saints). There is a reason for doing this. The Lord Jesus pronounced, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29; cf. 1 Peter 1:8). This blessing comes to all who believe the gospel. Believers living in the church age are not deprived by not seeing Him physically, instead, they are the recipients of this special blessing. In this connection, it is now the right time to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Saviour lest missing the blessing of the rapture of the church and the privilege to become the bride of Christ. 

Verse 19:10

And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God." For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

So over-whelming of these revelations that, John "fell at his feet to worship him." Scripture records similar responses by various individuals (Numbers 22:31; Joshua 5:14; Judges 13:20; Daniel 2:46; Tobit 12:15-16; Acts 10:25; 16:29). Whether he mistakenly regarded the angel as God, yielded to the temptation to worship an angel (cf. Colossians 2:18), or was simply beside himself with excitement over the arrival of the consummation, is unknown. Whatever the cause, he had to be corrected. The angel forbids his worship immediately with the words, "do not do that." (cf. Revelation 22:8-9). And then, the angel provides the following reasons:

  1. The angel explained, "I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren." This reminds us that men and angels are together obligated to explicit obedience to God, and they are only God's servants to do His work. The angel knew who he was and operated accordingly, and so should we (cf. Colossians 1:7; 4:7). Here he was bringing out two concepts:

    1. Angels minister to believers on behalf of God (Hebrews 1:14); and

    2. One day, the saints will be over angels and judge them, having greater power and authority (1 Corinthians 6:3; Hebrews 2:7). Remember, it was Satan who, in his pride, forgot who he was.

  2. The angel further explained that he was simply one who, along with the brethren, held "the testimony of Jesus." This points out the fact that believers and angels are together responsible to bear testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. The principle is that when men get their eyes on the messenger, it always does harm to the message, that is the testimony about the Lord Jesus.

  3. The angel gave another command as a further reason. He said, "worship God." There is slight evidence that angel worship was a problem in early Christian Christianity (Colossians 2:18). It is an important reminder to all of us in an age when angels are often elevated to near-god-like status in some circles. It is appropriate to revere God’s words, but not the messenger who brings them.

  4. Finally, the angel said, "for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." It means the purpose of prophecy is essentially to bear testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:11). We are not to bring attention to ourselves or to any other created being. The phrase "the spirit of prophecy" has two meanings:  

    1. God’s Spirit (i.e., Holy Spirit) communicates the prophecy to the readers. Messages from the risen Lord Jesus to the churches were conveyed through the Holy Spirit (2:7, 11; 22:17). The spiritual state in which John receives visions is said to be inspired by the Holy Spirit (1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). Prophetic utterance was commonly ascribed to the Holy Spirit (Numbers 11:25; Ezekiel 37:1, 4; Joel 2:28; Luke 1:67; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20; 1 Peter 1:11; 2 Peter 1:21); and

    2. The last sentence is not a part of the words of the angel to John but is John’s explanation of the angel’s words, explaining why the angel is considered unworthy of worship. The angel is not the object of the prophetic word; on the contrary, the angels, together with John’s brethren who are inspired by "the spirit of prophecy," bear witness to the Lord Jesus, and in this regard, the angel is no more than a fellow servant with the saints in their relationship to Christ.

1.3. The Advent of Christ (19:11-16)

A century ago, most people believed that history was progressing inexorably toward a man-made utopia. The Industrial Revolution, the scientific discovery, and the social reform seemed to augur brighter days ahead. Today, however, two world wars; innumerable wars; countless acts of terrorism; and the collapse of moral values make such rosy optimism seem quaintly naive.

There is only one solution for the world’s problems: the return of its true King, the Lord Jesus Christ, to establish His earthly kingdom. Only under His rule will there be peace, justice, and righteousness. But that glorious event will occur with opposition from Satan, and sinners. The Tribulation, the seven-year period immediately before Christ’s return, will see the world empire headed by the Antichrist. The earth will be infested with demons (Revelation 9:1-10, 14-20; 12:9). It will be a time of escalating human wickedness, people will still refuse to repent (9:20-21; 16:9, 11), despite the unprecedented outpouring of God’s wrath in the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments.

But while chaos reigns on earth during the Tribulation, the raptured church will be presented in heaven. The church, the bride of the Lamb, will be eagerly awaiting the marriage supper of the Lamb in the earthly Millennial kingdom (19:7). But before that celebration can take place, the Lord Jesus must win the final battle of Armageddon. At that final battle, all of Christ’s foes will be vanquished, and His kingdom will be established. Both the Old Testament (Zechariah 14:3-4) and New Testament (Matthew 24:27-31) Scriptures anticipate this glorious event. God’s people throughout redemptive history have eagerly anticipated the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The final revelation of this event is recorded in Revelation 19:11-21. That will be the time when:

  1. the destruction of Satan is completed (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20);

  2. the true King receives the ruling scepter (Genesis 49:10);

  3. the Lord Jesus will reign at the throne of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 9:7);

  4. the Lord Jesus will rule the world with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:6-9; Revelation 2:27; 19:15);

  5. the armies of Gog and Magog will be shattered (Ezekiel 38-39);

  6. the nations will be judged (Joel 3:1-2, 12-14) after their defeat in battle by the Lord Jesus (Zechariah 14:3-4);

  7. Jerusalem will be the centre of Messiah’s kingdom (Jeremiah 3:17);

  8. the angels will gather the wicked for judgment (Matthew 13:41-42);

  9. the wicked will face God’s wrath (Romans 2:5-9); and

  10. the Lord Jesus will descend visibly (Revelation 1:7) from heaven, bringing retribution on the persecutors of His people (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; cf. Revelation 6:9-11).

The Bible lists several compelling reasons why the Lord Jesus must return to earth:

  1. the promises of the Lord Jesus Himself (3:11; 22:7, 12, 20; Matthew 24:27, 30, 37-44; 25:31; 26:64);

  2. Christ must rapture the church to heaven in preparation for the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7-10);

  3. God’s plan for the nations—their judgment (14:14-20; Joel 3:1-2, 12-14; Matthew 25:31-46);

  4. God’s plan for Israel—the salvation of the remnant of believing Jews (Ezekiel 36:25-35; 37:1ff.; Romans 11:25-27);

  5. Christ’s humiliation at His first coming, when He was despised (Psalm 2:1-3; 22:6-8, 18; Isaiah 53:3; Matthew 26:67-68; 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-19), dead (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:33-37; Luke 23:44-46; John 19:28-30), resurrected (Matthew 28:9-20; Mark 16:9-18; Luke 24:13-49; John 20:11-21:25; Acts 1:3-8; 1 Corinthians 15:5-7), and ascended (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11), demands His return to display His glory (Matthew 25:31);

  6. Satan, the "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4; cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:19), will not be permitted to keep his usurped throne (cf. Luke 4:5-6; Revelation 20:1-3, 10) forever. The rightful Heir to earth’s throne must return, defeat the usurper, and take what is rightfully His (cf. Revelation 20:4, 6); and

  7. The hope and expectation of God’s people (Titus 2:13; 1 John 3:2-3; Revelation 6:9-10).

The Second Coming of Christ must be distinguished from the rapture of the church prior to the seven-year Tribulation, the differing biblical descriptions of the two events indicate that they are distinct from each other. At the rapture, Christ comes for the His saints and meets them in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; cf. John 14:2-3), and there is no evidence of immediate judgment upon the earth. At the Second Coming, Christ comes with His saints (cf. Revelation 19:14b), and He is coming to the earth with the purpose of bringing divine judgment (19:15-21) and establishing His Millennial kingdom (20:4, 6).

At this point we come to a climactic place in the book of Revelation, for now our Lord Jesus is presented as the victorious White Horse Rider, who comes out of heaven, and who is also King of kings, and Lord of lords. This is where God's kingdom comes to be on earth as it is in heaven. Here God's program is climaxed; God exalts His Son and puts all creation under His feet, a symbol of His victory and control (Psalm 2:1-12; 110:1; Ephesians 1:22; Hebrews 1:13).

1.3.1. His aim (19:11)

Verse 19:11

And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.

The dramatic presentation of this awe-inspiring scene is introduced by John’s statement, "and I saw heaven opened." The heavens are opened to allow this procession to take place. This may refer to the thick darkness and the cloud cover which will be characteristic of the Tribulation (Zephaniah 1:15; Joel 2:2). The Saviour will be there on a white horse followed by His armies (19:14). The armies of the world will be gathered in battle array on the hill of Megiddo and the mountains of Israel. The oriental bloc will be set against the western confederacy under the authority of the beast, but when this event transpires, they join forces against the Lord (19:19).

With the words, "and in righteousness He judges and wages war'' we see the Savior's aim. "In righteousness" emphasizes that what follows is the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. All evil and the enemies of God are about to be executed and removed.

"Judges" and "wages war" are both in the present tense to describe the process. Once it starts, it will not stop until every enemy that has stood in rebellion against God is judged and removed.

But what a stark contrast to Christ's first advent. Then He came full of grace and truth, not to judge but to bear the penalty of sin, to be judged for our sin. But in this scene He comes as Judge. At Christ's first advent He defeated Satan on the cross and established Satan's potential defeat. Here it will be carried out in fact.

"And behold, a white horse ... " (19:11) and "the armies that were in heaven (the church and the angels) followed Him on white horses ... " (19:14). The mention here of the white horse rider and riders that follow Him portrays a scene that is an allusion to the ancient Roman Triumph.

The Roman Triumph was the highest honour that could be bestowed on a victorious Roman general. It came from a Greek word that referred to a public and triumphal procession. The procession was a parade up the Via Sacra, the main street of Rome, that led from the Forum to the temple of Jupiter which lay on the Capitoline Hill. The General was mounted on a white horse which was the symbol of a victorious triumph in the field over the enemies of the nation. First came the spoils of war which were eventually given to the general's army and friends. Next came the captives who had been defeated and captured in battle, disarmed and in chains. Then came the General on his white horse followed by his family, friends, and his army. Later the prisoners were often executed by the soldiers, often one on one until they were all executed.

Now compare the following Scriptures: In Colossians 2:15 we have a reference to Christ's victory in battle via the Cross. Here Christ is proclaimed as the triumphant General in the field of battle. Ephesians 4:7f speaks of Christ giving gifts to men as spoils of war following the victory over the Satanic hosts. (The first phase of the triumph). Finally, Revelation 19:11 speaks of the removal of all enemies. (The final phase of the procession resulting in the execution of all enemies).

1.3.2. His appellatives (19:11b)

Verse 19:11b

and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war.

In this section, a number of different names are used of the Saviour because together they describe the many features of the Lord Jesus Christ as to His person and work.

"Faithful" refers to "one you can rely and count on" always. This characteristic of the King of kings flows out of His divine essence and perfect, glorified manhood. Other rulers, because of ignorance or lack of the facts, have often been untrustworthy and have failed their people. But this one possesses all wisdom and knowledge. His knowledge cannot change, nor be mistaken, nor be in the least inadequate, so men can count on Him. He is reliable. He never judges by appearance.

Further, because He is omnipotent and because His power is always guided by His holiness and wisdom, He can always perfectly fulfil His promises and purposes. But history is filled with the many leaders of the world who have come with promises of peace and prosperity or of good government, but have failed because of their lack of wisdom and power and character to carry out their plans.

Also, because He is immutable and because He is perfect holiness, wisdom, love and grace, His plans and purposes are always best for us and cannot be changed by caprice, greed, or expediency. We can always count on Him.

Because He is perfect holiness, man can count on His plans and purposes knowing they are always right and just. He is one who pours out mercy on those who seek Him and justice and judgment on those who turn away (Isaiah 11:1-5).

There are two concepts to be gleaned from this word ''true." First, it means "real, genuine" versus "false." History has constantly been plagued by world leaders who promoted themselves as man's answer or as a nation's answer. They have promised peace and solutions to the ills of society, but over and over again they have been revealed as spurious. Hitler made such promises but proved hideously false. In Revelation 6 the white horse rider also promises peace, but as one who is not true, he goes forth to conquer (i.e., to subjugate in tyranny). He is "true," just as He claimed to be (cf. John 14:6), for everything that He has promised has come to pass. As He comes riding on the white horse from heaven, He is coming to judge and to take over the nations of the world, as promised in Psalms 2.

Second, it also means the "ideal" versus the "imperfect." Man has long looked for the perfect ruler, one who had the power, wisdom, love, grace, holiness, and unchangeableness to rule in perfect righteousness. Of course, nations are sometimes blessed with good rulers, but they are always temporary. They either die by natural causes or get removed by political intrigue or assassination. They are then too often replaced by someone far less qualified (cf. 2 Kings 18:3-6 with 21:1-2 and Isaiah 6:1f). But this white horse rider will remain by reason of His eternality. Thus, He will be the perfect Ruler, the Ideal.

1.3.3. His appearance (19:12)

Verse 19:12a

And His eyes are a flame of fire, and upon His head are many diadems;

"His eyes are a flame of fire." This symbolizes the searching and penetrating judgment of the white horse rider upon mankind. Like fire, His eyes penetrate and search out every person. No one can escape his vision and judgment. Men can hide behind every conceivable mask, but only those who stand in His righteousness will escape this judgment. Even these will be examined and rewarded for production by the same eyes (cf. Revelation 2:23 with 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10). It is a reminder of John's vision in chapter 1 when he turned to see the One who was speaking to him. John mentioned there that "His eyes were like a flame of fire" (cf. 1:12-14).

"And upon His head are many diadems." This is not the victor's crown (Greek: στέφανος, transliteration: stephanos), but the "diadem" (Greek: διαδήματα, transliteration: diadēmata), the crown of absolute sovereignty, the crown of kings. Believers receive the victor's crown for bearing fruit in the Christian life (3:11). The diadems of 19:12 are set in contrast to the ten diadems of the beast (13:1, i.e., ten diadems verses many diadems). Christ's universal sovereignty (King of kings) is the point being made by the many diadems. The world dictator (i.e., Antichrist) has claimed to be the ruler and to rule over many peoples, but this One is the true King.

1.3.4. A name written which no one knows (19:12b-13)

Verse 19:12b

and He has a name written upon Him which no one knows except Himself.

This is precisely that, a name that is not revealed; it is not simply a name no one knows the significance of, but one no one knows period.

Verse 19:13

And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God.

"And He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood." The robe refers to Christ's royal robe, an outer garment with which He is clothed. "Clothed" is a perfect tense which calls attention to the abiding condition, permanently clothed in royal splendor and authority.

The fact that His clothing is "dipped in blood" is probably anticipatory of the judgment that is about to fall as a result of His coming, for that judgment is pictured as occurring in a wine press (19:15; Isaiah 63:1-6). When Christ is portrayed as the slain Lamb, it speaks of redemption by means of His blood, i.e., His death on the cross (Revelation 1:5), but here the blood represents not Christ's blood or death, but the blood or death of the wicked caused by this judgment of Christ.

"Word" (Greek: λόγος, transliteration: logos) is "a word, saying, message." It denotes the expression of thought, a collection of ideas in the mind, and the words by which they are expressed. It signifies the outer form by which thought is expressed as well as the inward thought or collection of ideas themselves.

As "the Word of God," Jesus Christ is the complete personal manifestation of God, not just a part of God's essence and plan, but the whole. He is the complete revelation, the collection and expression, and the outward manifestation of all that is God. The expression "the Word of God" goes back to John 1:1-3, where the Lord Jesus Christ was presented as the One who is the exact expression of deity. This One was presented there by John as the Creator, who by virtue of His creative work is the possessor of all things. As the rightful possessor of the earth, He here comes to claim that which is His.

In His first advent, Jesus Christ came as "the Word of God" revealing God in His plan of salvation (love, grace, power and perfect holiness). But, in His second advent, He will come revealing God in His plan of wrath and judgment (compare 19:13a, the blood dipped garments, and 19:14, the armies, with John 1:4, 17).

1.3.5. His armies (19:14)

Verse 19:14

And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and pure, were following Him on white horses.

As Jesus Christ returns from heaven, He will be accompanied by "the armies which are in heaven," which also are "clothed in fine linen, white and pure" and are "following Him on white horses." What is the identity of this army? According to 19:8 the bride had clothed herself in "fine linen, bright and clean," the army should be composed of the bride, the Lamb's wife, that is, the church, the body of Christ. But this army could also include Old Testament saints and Tribulation martyrs who are present with the Lord in heaven. It is also possible that the armies of heaven might include the Archangel Michael (Daniel 12:1; Revelation 12:7) and other angelic beings (cf. Jude 14-15). The association of angels with Christ at His second coming is an established biblical teaching (e.g., Matthew 16:27; 24:30-31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).

1.3.6. His mouth comes a sharp sword (19:15a)

Verse 19:15a

And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations;

"And from His mouth comes a sharp sword ... " The One whom John saw in His vision from chapter 1 had "a sharp two-edged sword" (cf. 1:16) that proceeded from His mouth, a fact stated again in 19:21. The fact that the sword proceeds from His mouth shows this is His Word. "Sword" is a symbol of judgment and suggests that Christ will simply speak and by His Word thousands will fall. The basis of His judgment will be the words which He spoke in His first advent (John 12:48). In His first advent He came speaking words of reconciliation, seeking to save that which was lost. But at His second advent, because of rejection of these words, He will come speaking words of retribution which will slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4).

1.3.7. His authority (19:15b-16)

Verse 19:15b

and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

His authority is seen in a number of things in these two verses. First it is seen in His Name, "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS" (19:16). In verse 12 the "diadems," are the royal crowns He will wear, which, as pointed out previously, likewise demonstrate His authority over the whole earth.

His authority is also seen in the sharp sword with which he smites the nations in judgment, slaying and removing the enemies. This is preparatory to the Millennial reign of Christ.

His authority and the nature of His rule is also seen in, "He will rule them with a rod of iron" (cf. Psalm 2:9; Revelation 2:27). This represents the unyielding and absolute governmental authority of Jesus Christ in His kingdom reign under which men are required to conform to the righteous and just standards. No lawlessness or injustices will be tolerated. Men today can get away with murder, deceit, fraud, lying - but not then.

"Rule” (Greek: ποιμανεῖ, transliteration: poimanei) means "to shepherd." In this we see the nature of His rule. It will be like a shepherd who cares for his sheep. It will involve love, provision for all needs (spiritually and physically), as well as discipline and swift and effective justice.

"Rod of iron" further describes the nature of His rule. Shepherds normally used a staff made of wood with which they protected, cared for, and disciplined the sheep. This rod, however, is made of iron which symbolizes the strength, absolute authority, and unbreakable nature of His authority and rule. This imagery looks back to Psalms 2:9, which says that God's true King will "break them with a rod of iron."

His authority is further shown by the phrase "and He treads the wine press ... " This figure returns to what He must do in order to take up His rule on earth. It is a striking figure of the judgment that will occur at Christ's return (14:20). The picture is that of treading a wine press full of grapes. The press runs red with the juice of the grapes which have been pulverized by the treading. So when Christ returns with His armies and lands on the Mount of Olives, He will literally destroy hundreds of thousands and their blood will flow through Israel (cf. Isaiah 63:1-6; Revelation 14:19-20).

"Treads" is present tense of continual or progressive action. This means He continues the judgment until all the enemies are defeated, either slain or gathered for judgment. The armies of the beast will be wiped out while the rest of mankind will be gathered for judgment. They will either be cast directly into the lake of fire or allowed, if believers, to go into the Millennial reign of Christ. Compare Matthew 24 and 25 for this sequence:

  1. The Tribulation judgments will wipe out many via the seals, trumpets, and bowls (Revelation 6-18).

  2. Christ returns for the final battle of Armageddon with all armies gathered to do battle (Revelation 19:11-19).

  3. The Antichrist and False Prophet will be cast directly into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).

  4. The armies of the world are destroyed (the treading of the wine press) (Revelation 19:15, 17, 19, 21).

  5. This followed by the judgment of the rest of the living Jews and Gentiles (Matthew 25:31-34).

  6. Then comes the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ (Revelation 20).

"Of the fierce wrath" means "exploding, volatile wrath, anger in action." Remember that Revelation 14:10 declares God's wrath will he poured out, at this point, in full strength, undiluted, and without mercy and grace. It will be too late for mercy and too late for repentance. God's forbearance with man, at long last, comes to an end - as in the days of Noah.

1.3.8. King of kings and lord of lords (19:16)

Verse 19:16

And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."

"And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written." This means partly on His robe and partly on His thigh - written at length - extending from His robe down to and on His thigh. The robe is a symbol of majesty, and the thigh suggests power.

"Has written," because of the perfect tense, means it is a permanent title; once He assumes His rule, it will never end. There will be no one who can dethrone Him as Satan dethroned Adam and Eve.

"Of kings" and "of lords" means over all others, and like no others. This declares both His authority and quality. The title "King of kings" is one that Persian and later rulers of empires ascribed to themselves (cf. Ezra 7:12), but only the Messiah qualifies for it in its true sense (cf. Deuteronomy 10:17). He is the rightful ruler, chosen by the Father from all eternity to rule over the world which He created. Satan's man attempted to usurp that throne, but he was shown to be an impostor. Now the rightful King will rule.

1.4. The Armageddon Conflict (19:17-21)

Right away a great contrast occurs with this section of Revelation 19. Above, in verse 9, saints are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. But here, birds are invited to another supper, only now it is to eat the flesh of those killed in this battle. Either one accepts God's supper of grace, or he must face the one of God's judgment.

Now following the vision of Christ with His armies, John is given another striking vision which may be divided up as follows:

  1. The carnage for the birds (19:17-18).

  2. The conflict with all the armies of the earth (19:19).

  3. The captives thrown into the lake of fire (19:20).

  4. The conquest of the remaining ones (19:21).

While this was discussed in chapter 16, it might be helpful to review the Armageddon conflict. The events discussed here describe the final phase or battle of Armageddon which actually began with the invasion of the king of the north and her allies around the middle of the Tribulation (Ezekiel 38-39). At that time, the king of the north will be destroyed on the mountains of Israel by God. This leaves a vacuum of power and the beast of the western confederacy, seeing this as an opportunity to strengthen his power, he will move into Israel, break his peace treaty with Israel, and begin to conquer greater portions of the earth (cf. Daniel 11:40-43).

But at the end of the Tribulation he hears tidings out of the East, i.e., the kings of the East are marching to Israel to do battle with the beast and his armies (Daniel 11:44-45). Here all the remaining armies of the earth will gather to do battle with one another to gain control the world and especially Israel (see Joel 3:9-14).

Then suddenly, the heavens are opened, and there, appearing for all the world to see, is the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings with His armies. But in hardened rebellion and in spite of the awesome wonder of the Lord in heaven, the armies of the world ban together in what will be the first truly successful United Nations action to do battle with Christ. Verses 17 and following portray the results and the victory of our Lord.

1.4.1. The carnage for the birds (19:17-18)

Verse 19:17

And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, "Come, assemble for the great supper of God;

"And I saw an angel standing in the sun." Just how the angel stands in the sun is not explained. Whether he stands in the sun itself or merely in its light is not specifically stated. As a supernatural spiritual being this would be no problem for an angel, but probably the idea is that he will stand in the direct path of sun light, but possessing even greater brilliance so that he can be seen. The image is one of great brilliance and light which again manifests and emphasizes this whole scene as an act of God's glory, especially His holiness, righteousness and justice.

The fact the angel "cried out with a loud voice" signifies that something very important is impending (6:10; 7:2, 10; 10:3; 14:15; 18:2).

"Saying to all the birds which fly in mid heaven." The angel does not speak to man, but to birds. He is not just talking about birds which fly, but about those that are noted for soaring high in the sky and noted for eating flesh, i.e., vultures, buzzards, and perhaps even hawks and eagles (cf. Matthew 24:28; Job 39:26-30).

"Come" is an adverb of command or exhortation. "Assemble" suggesting urgency. The birds are invited to the "great supper of God" to consume the flesh of those about to be killed as a result of God's judgment.

Verse 19:18

in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great."

Verse 18 shows the purpose of this assembly of the birds - operation cleanup. They are assembled to eat the flesh of those slain by the King of kings. Note that the men are divided into classes:

  1. kings;

  2. commanders;

  3. mighty men;

  4. cavalry troops; and

  5. men both free and slave, small and great.

But why the various classes? To emphasize a timeless principle of Scripture: God's judgment upon man is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:6-11). His judgment is a great equalizer of all.

It is interesting that when Jesus Christ spoke of His second coming He said that it would be like the lightning that "comes from the east and flashes even to the west" (cf. Matthew 24:27). Then He immediately added these words: "Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather" (Matthew 24:28). It refers to the carcasses which fall in battle when Christ returns, and the gathering of the birds to eat them.

1.4.2. The conflict with all the armies of the earth (19:19)

Verse 19:19

And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army.

"And I saw the beast." This includes the seven remaining kings of the ten nation confederation who will give their power and authority to the beast (i.e., Antichrist). Later three will rebel and will be destroyed, so only these seven will be left (Daniel 7:18; Revelation 17:12-17). But "kings" 19:19 also refers to all the remaining kings of the earth, primarily the kings of the East who now ban together in this final United Nations against Christ.

"Assembled to make war." Remember that, as John saw this vision of the future, they were originally assembled there by demonic activity (16:12-16). It had been revealed earlier that three unclean spirits had gone out to gather the kings of the whole world for the war of the great day of God (16:14). Their job was to bring all these kings and their armies together in Armageddon (16:16).  In 2013, the "One Belt One Road" project initiates by China, includes constructing roads and railways connecting China with the Middle East and Europe, would make it possible for the "kings from the East" to travel from the far east to the land of Israel to assemble at Armageddon.

MAP SHOWING TRADE ROUTES FOR ONE BELT ONE ROAD

The sixth bowl judgment dried up the Euphrates to prepare the way for the coming of the kings of the east (16:12) and the sixth trumpet mentioned an army of two hundred million that would sweep across the same river (9:16-19).

While the understood reason for the nations to assemble at Armageddon is probably to contest the authority of the beast as world ruler, the appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ coming from heaven will constitute a much greater problem for these armies. As Jesus said, "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn" (Matthew 24:30). They will understand that Jesus Christ's coming means judgment for them and they will join forces against the King of kings for one final attempt to prevent His return. No doubt, this will be Satan's final futile attempt to keep Jesus Christ from reigning as planned from all eternity (16:13-16). The results of this encounter will not be exactly what Satan has in mind.

1.4.3. The captives thrown into the lake of fire (19:20)

Verse 19:20

And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.

John sees first in this vision that at His return the Lord Jesus will deal with the Antichrist (i.e., beast) and the False Prophet. They will be "seized" at the beginning of the conflict and cast directly into "the lake of fire."

Several things are said about the False Prophet to make certain that there is no confusion as to who he is. It is noted that this is the one "who performed the signs in his (i.e., the beast's) presence." This is a clear reference to 13:13-17, where the beast that came up from the earth was described. This is the one who instituted the idea of the special mark of the beast, which gave men the authority to buy and sell; he also caused the whole world to wonder after and to worship the beast.

The most dramatic part of the verse is the last part where it tells us these two were "thrown alive" into the lake of fire. The reason for the emphasis is that this is not the ordinary sequence of the doom of unbelievers. The normal sequence is death (Luke 16:22), torments in hades (Luke 16:23), the second resurrection that leads to the second death (Revelation 20:11, 13a), the Great White Throne Judgment (20:11-12), and then the lake of fire or the second death (20:14-15). The armies of the beast, for instance, will be killed, and will go to torments and follow the above sequence.

It is clearly revealed that when the Lord Jesus returns He will take both the Antichrist and the False Prophet and cast them "alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone." This place of eternal fire and torment is apparently a place that God has prepared as the final abode for Satan and his demonic followers (cf. Matthew 25:41). When the Antichrist and the False Prophet are cast there at the time of the Lord's return, they appear to be the first occupants of that place of eternal separation from God. They will be joined later by others (20:10), but apparently for the first one thousand years they will be the only ones there.

1.4.4. The Conquest of the Remaining (19:21)

Verse 19:21

And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.

The second advent of Jesus Christ will also result in the judgment of the world armies that are gathered at Armageddon. The rest of Jesus Christ’s enemies, the 10 kings and their armies, will die in a moment by His word and will go to Hades. There they will await resurrection and final judgment at the end of the Millennium (20:11-15). "The rest" probably also includes all earth-dwellers. They had plenty of opportunity to repent but did not do so. The Word of God makes plain that God so loved the world that He gave His Son, and that all who avail themselves of the grace of God are immeasurably blessed in time and eternity. On the other hand, the same Word of God states plainly that those who spurn God’s mercy must experience His judgment without mercy. The present age reveals the grace of God and suspended judgment. The age to come God brings every evil work into judgment and that those who spurn His grace must experience His wrath.

John records that they will be "killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse." Their destiny will be different from that of the Antichrist and the False Prophet, both of whom were immediately sent to the lake of fire. Their death will be similar to that of any person who dies today. Physically their lives will end and their bodies will be left behind on the earth. The birds that have been called to the great supper of God will have plenty of food to eat. The nonmaterial natures of those who die will depart into "death," which refers to the temporary dwelling place of the spirits of the wicked. A resurrection awaits these individuals for their final judgment (cf. 20:11-15), but as the Lord Jesus returns to earth to establish His kingdom, He will judge these who are assembled in a futile attempt to prevent His return. So many people will die that "the birds" will have plenty to eat (Ezekiel 39:17-20).

 

2. THE REIGN OF CHRIST AND THE GREAT WHITE THRONE (20:1-15)

The term "Millennium" (Greek: χίλια, transliteration: chilia) is a Latin word "mille" meaning one thousand years, is the term that has come to be used of the thousand-year period spoken of in this passage. The term "Millennium" is found six times in verses 20:2-7.

The idea that the future Millennium would be 1,000 years has been suggested by apocalyptic writers before Christ. In the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, 32:2; 33:1-2, Enoch holds the idea that the history of man will run for seven thousand years, the last Millennium of which will be one of great blessedness and will precede the eighth Millennium, which is eternity. Enoch’s view can be explained as follows:

"As the world was made in six days, so its history will be accomplished in 6,000 years, and as the six days of creation were followed by one of rest, so the 6,000 years of the world’s history would be followed by a rest of 1,000 years. On its close would begin the eighth eternal day of blessedness when time should be no more (Enoch 32:2-33:2)."

While evidence points to the conclusion that it was commonly believed that the kingdom reign of Christ would be a thousand years even before this scripture was written, possibly originating in direct revelation from God through His prophets. Much of the opposition to the futurist interpretation has been leveled at this concept of a literal thousand years. Some Bible scholars stated that the "Millennium" should be understood either:

  1. literally;

  2. in the prophetic use of the term, where a day would stand for a year (2 Peter 3:8); or

  3. figuratively, supposing that it refers to a long but indefinite period of time."

2.1. Various Views of the Millennium

The view that Revelation 20 is speaking of a literal thousand-year reign of Christ is one of the most controversial and a bewildering array of diverse interpretations may be found in regard to this passage. There are three views about the "Millennium," they are:

  1. Premillennial;

  2. Postmillennial; and

  3. Amillennial

2.1.1. Premillennial view

This is the view that Christ will personally return and reign on earth for one thousand years. The prefix "pre" expresses the view that Christ returns first, then literally reigns on earth. It also views Christ as fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies literally in a kingdom on earth. The premillennial view is the result of a literal interpretation of Revelation 20, a view held by even the very early church fathers of the second century as Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.

PREMILLENNIAL VIEW

2.1.2. Postmillennial View

This view holds the whole world will be Christianized and brought to submission to the gospel before the return of Christ. The prefix "post" expresses the view that Christ returns after the Millennium. The world wars and continuation of global strife demonstrate the error of this view along with such passages as Matthew 24:4f; 2 Timothy 3:1, 13; 4:3; and 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3. This view originated in the writings of a Unitarian (false cult) by the name of Daniel Whitby (1628-1725).

POSTMILLENNIAL VIEW

2.1.3. Amillennial View

This view goes back only as far as Augustine in the third and fourth centuries. This view denies the literal reign of Christ on earth. Satan is conceived as bound at the first coming of Christ and the present age between the first and second comings of Christ is seen as the fulfillment of the Millennium. Its adherents are divided. Some believe the Millennium is being fulfilled now on earth, and is equivalent to the kingdom of God in you. Others believe it is being fulfilled by the saints in heaven. It may be summed up in the idea that there will be no more Millennium than there is now, and that Christ's second coming is immediately followed by the eternal state. The prefix "A" simply means a denial of the Millennium.

This Amillennial view has a great impact on a vast amount of Scripture. For instance, all the kingdom prophecies to Israel are spiritualized. Either they are spiritualized to apply to the church today, or they have been abrogated entirely and have no fulfillment at all, or they must be spiritualized to apply to the future or eternal state. As an illustration, rather than pointing to a literal reign of Christ on earth, Isaiah 11:4-10 refers to the peace and tranquillity of mind of the believer, or it speaks in a spiritual way of heaven or eternity. The key factor here is the method of interpretation. In the postmillennial and amillennial positions one must spiritualize a large amount of Scripture. In the premillennial view Scripture is taken literally, i.e., according to its normal, more obvious meaning. Figures are taken figuratively, but they are not spiritualized.

AMILLENNIAL VIEW

2.2. Reasons for the Literal Interpretation

2.2.1. Definition of the "literal" method

This is the method that gives to each word the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage whether in writing or speaking or thinking. This method is called the grammatical-historical method because it is based on contextual, grammatical, lexical, and historical considerations.

2.2.2. Definition of "allegorical" or "spiritual" method

It is that method of interpreting a text or passage of Scripture that regards the literal sense as merely the vehicle for a secondary, more spiritual, and more profound sense. "In this method the historical import is either denied or ignored and the emphasis is placed entirely on a secondary sense so that the original words or events have little or no significance" (J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, Dunham Publishing Company, p. 4). Pentecost quotes Charles T. Fritsch who says, "According to this method the literal and historical sense of Scripture is completely ignored, and every word and event is made an allegory of some kind either to escape theological difficulties or to maintain certain peculiar views ... " (Ibid., p. 4).

Paul teaches us that the Old Testament Scripture and God's dealing with Israel do have spiritual analogies for the Christian life (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11-12). Scripture is full of such analogies and types, but their significance is based on the literal historicity of the event whether past or future. It is never a means to deny its literal meaning or fulfillment.

2.2.3. The danger of the allegorical or spiritual method: Pentecost cogently points to three great dangers

First, he warns, "... it does not really interpret Scripture." In other words, it goes beyond all well-defined principles and laws of interpretation and leaves one open to the unlimited scope of one's own fancy. It yields no true interpretation, though it may possibly illustrate certain valuable truths.

A second danger is that in the allegorical method: "the basic authority in interpretation ceases to be the Scriptures, but the mind of the interpreter. The interpretation may then be twisted by the interpreter's doctrinal positions, the authority of the church to which the interpreter adheres, his social or educational background, or a host of other factors."

Finally Pentecost says, "a third great danger in the allegorical method is that one is left without any means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested." (Ibid., pp. 5-6).

The point is simply this. Scripture abounds in allegories, whether in the form of types, symbols, or parables. Paul explains such an allegory in Galatians 4:21-23. These are accepted and legitimate ways to teach and communicate spiritual truth. However, there is a great deal of difference between such use of allegories and allegorical interpretation. In one you have the illustration and application of spiritual truth based on literal interpretation and historical fact. In the other, you have disregard for the literal meaning and historical fact based on the literal method of interpretation and in its place an allegory is set up based on the interpreter's own fancy.

2.2.4. Evidences for the literal interpretation

In defense of the literal approach it may be argued:

  1. The literal method of interpretation is the usual practice in interpretation of literature. When we read a book, essay, or poem we presume the sense is literal. This is the only conceivable method of communication.

  2. All secondary meanings of documents depend upon the previous meaning of these documents, namely, upon their literal interpretation. Parables, types, allegories, symbols, and figures of speech (metaphors, similes, hyperboles) presume that the words have a more primitive reference than the sense in which they are used.

  3. A large part of the Bible makes adequate and significant sense when literally interpreted. Of course the literal interpretation of Scripture does not blindly rule out figures of speech, symbols, allegories, and types. The literal meaning of a figure of speech is its proper meaning. "Ephraim is a cake not turned" (Hosea 7:8) means that Ephraim is "half-baked."

  4. The literal method is the necessary check upon the imagination of men. To rest one's theology on the secondary stratum of the possible meanings of Scripture is not interpretation but imagination ... The only sure way to know God's word is to anchor interpretation in literal exegesis. (Adapted from: Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, W. A. Wilde Company, 1956, pp. 93-95). In the earlier 1950 edition of Ramm's book he wrote in defense of the literal approach: "... this method is the only one consonant with the nature of inspiration. The plenary inspiration of the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit guided men into truth and away from error. In this process the Spirit of God used language, and the units of language (as meaning, not as sound) are words and thoughts. The thought is the thread that strings the words together. Therefore, our very exegesis must commence with a study of words and grammar, the two fundamentals of all meaningful speech." (Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp. 55).

2.2.5. Advantages of the literal method of interpretation

These are summarized by Ramm and Pentecost as follows.

  1. It grounds interpretation in fact. It seeks to rest its case in any given passage on such objective considerations as grammar, logic, etymology, history, geography, archaeology or theology....

  2. It exercises a control over interpretation attempting to match the control which experimentation exercises over hypotheses in science.

  3. This methodology has proved itself in practice. The enduring and valuable contributions to Biblical exegesis are the result of grammatical and historical exegesis.

  4. It gives us a basic authority by which interpretations may be tested. The allegorical method, which depends on the rationalistic approach of the interpreter, or conformity to a predetermined theological system, leaves one without a basic authoritative test. In the literal method Scripture may be compared with Scripture, which, as the inspired Word of God, is authoritative and the standard by which all truth is to be tested.

  5. It delivers us from both reason and mysticism as the requisites to interpretation. One does not have to depend upon intellectual training or abilities, nor upon the development of mystical perception, but rather upon the understanding of what is written in its generally accepted sense. Only on such a basis can the average individual understand or interpret the Scriptures for himself.

2.2.6. Some specific reasons for interpreting Revelation 20 by the literal method

We have the following specific reasons for interpreting Revelation 20 by the literal method:

  1. Expositors usually understand Revelation 20:10-12 literally. Why not verses 1-9?

  2. The passage lends itself naturally to solid literal exegesis. There is no reason to spiritualize it other than because of a bias against the thousand-year reign.

  3. Those who take it otherwise cannot agree on what it means.

  4. If the Millennium refers to our inter-advent period, i.e., to today, then the passage teaches Satan is bound today and this in no way fits with Scripture. There are few theories of Scripture which are less warranted than the idea that Satan was bound at the first coming of Christ. Amillennialists often refer to Luke 10:18 (as did Augustine) as proof that Satan has been bound, but Luke 10:18 is a prophecy of Revelation 12:7f, which takes place in the middle of the Tribulation. Opposed to this is the constant revelation of the New Testament which shows that Satan is very active in the present age, in fact, that he is even more active and will become more and more active as time goes along (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1-4:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10). Other Scriptures showing the activity of Satan in this present age are: Acts 5:3, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; 11-14; Ephesians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Timothy 2:26; and 1 Peter 5:8.

  5. Some maintain Revelation is full of symbolic visions that cannot be pressed for literal meaning. However, throughout the book of Revelation it interprets itself. Specific explanations are given to John that explain the visions and give their meaning. Expositors are not free to inject their own preconceived ideas.

  6. In his vision of chapter 20 John could not see one thousand years, he had to be told this. Further, the thousand years are mentioned in verses 1-4 which describe the vision, but verses 5-7 give the divine interpretation of these verses and the thousand years are mentioned in all of these verses. Thus, we are not left to conjecture. The point is, just because we have a vision in a passage we are not free to resort to symbolic or spiritualized interpretation.

2.3. The Millennial Reign of Christ (20:1-10)

Like the calm after a storm, chapter 20, which catapults us into the Millennial reign of Christ, brings a great sigh of relief with the binding of Satan and the resurrection and reward of the Tribulation martyrs. In the overall outline, this chapter is the second part of the third main section of Revelation (cf. Revelation 1:19). Remember that this third section, chapters 4-22, is all futuristic. The first part of the third section described the Tribulation (4-19). The second part describes the Millennium and Great White Throne judgment (20), and the third part takes us into the eternal state (21-22).

The Millennial reign of Christ is one of the greatest and most important chapters of the Bible. It is a reign of peace and righteousness on earth will follow the Second Coming of Christ. It is in this future period that many Old and New Testament prophecies will find their ultimate fulfillment (Psalms 2; 24; 72; Isaiah 2:1-4; 4:2-6; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14; Hosea 3:4-5; Amos 9:11-15; Micah 4:1-8; Zechariah 8:1-8; ; portions of Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 15:16-18; Romans 11:25-27).

2.3.1. Satan and the abyss (20:1-3)

Verse 20:1

And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.

Scripture describes this present time in which we live as an evil age and Satan is called "the god of this world," (2 Corinthians 4:4). Today Satan is free and walks about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8), but because of Christ's victory on the cross, Satan and his forces are even now a defeated lot. Consequently, during the Millennium and Christ's reign on earth, Satan (and this includes his demon hosts) will be bound and put out of action until the very end of the thousand-year reign of our Lord (John 12:31; Colossians 2:15).

The reason this "angel coming down from heaven" is that Satan’s location is now on earth. He lost his place in heaven earlier according to 12:9, 12. This is a holy angel who is given authority from heaven and who operates at the command of God.

The fact the angel having "the key and the chain of the abyss" shows he has been given authority and power from heaven to carry out this assignment. "Abyss" (Greek: ἀβύσσου, transliteration: abyssou) means "bottomless pit." The abyss, also mentioned earlier at 11:7 and 17:8, is different from the lake of fire in 19:20 and 20:10. This is a prison of fallen angels (i.e., demons or unclean spirits) (Jude 6-7; Luke 8:31).

The angel also carries "a great chain upon his hand" which is not a material chain such as would bind a physical being, is rather one that would be necessary to shackle a spiritual being such as Satan. With this in mind, it is a literal binding of Satan, not merely a limited restraint. Just as the sickle of 14:14-15 depicts a grand and dreaded reality, so does the chain here. It is stronger than the one that bound "Legion" who broke the chains that restrained the Gerasene (Mark 5:3-4).

Verse 20:2

And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,

"And he laid hold of ... " The word "laid hold of" carries several ideas. It means:

  1. to be strong, mighty, and hence, to be master over, rule over, prevail;

  2. to get possession of, obtain, take hold of; and

  3. to hold fast and firmly.

All of these ideas have a certain application here, but the main idea is that this angel, operating under God's authority and with His power, will possess the strength necessary to seize, hold firmly, and restrain the devil and bind him in the Abyss with no possibility of escape.

"The dragon, the serpent of old ... " Here again we have a reiteration of some of the various names applied to Satan. See the study on 12:9. Each name has significance and describes him in terms of his wicked and adversarial activity in the world in his warfare against God and the people of God.

Verse 20:3

and threw him into the bottomless pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

"And threw him into the bottomless pit, and shut it and sealed it over him." Sealing prevented any attempted escape. The threefold means of incarceration—chaining, imprisonment, and sealing—is a forcible guarantee that Satan will definitely be put out of commission and will absolutely not be a problem to man in the Millennium, at least for the thousand years. An observation and an inference should be made at this point. While John sees that Satan is taken and confined to the Abyss, nothing is said about his followers, i.e., a third of the stars of heaven (12:4a) or called demons. Should they also be included in this confinement of one thousand years? It makes perfectly good sense to infer that if Satan's demons were left free to roam the earth during the kingdom age, the earth would not be free from "satanic" deception. Therefore, it may be a valid inference to include the hoards of demonic creatures in this confinement.

SATAN IS BOUND INTO THE ABYSS FOR A THOUSAND YEARS

"So that he should not deceive the nations any longer ... " This states the purpose is to stop the deceptions of Satan, the master of deceit. He is a liar and the father of lies. Why does he lie? To deceive and lead astray (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; Revelation 12:9). It is important to know that Satan's key deceptions concern the Word of God, which of course is the Word of truth. His greatest attack and deceptions concern the integrity of God, both the living Word (Jesus Christ and His person and work) and the written Word (the Holy Bible). It is in this way that he deceives the world (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Why do Satan and his followers have to be shut up in the Abyss for the one thousand years? Probably for three reasons:

  1. The binding of Satan is a demonstration of Jesus Christ's authority, for He is the One who has the right to reign on the earth. The binding of His arch rival will truly be a demonstration of His power.

  2. The Millennial age will be a time when the whole earth will be in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Satan will be removed so that there can be no possible source of external temptation on mankind. What a man does in the Millennial kingdom will be done because of what he is, not because of external influence. No man in the kingdom will have the excuses of Adam and Eve as they were tempted the first time by the devil (Genesis 3:1-7, 12-13).

  3. The Millennium will be a time when the whole "earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9). For this to take place fully and completely, Satan will be removed so that the earth may prepared for the kingdom of God, a time of truth and the knowledge of God.

"After these things (i.e., the one thousand years) he must be released for a short time." Clearly, Satan's confinement to the Abyss is not his final judgment. The nations will be free from his deceptions only during the time of Christ's Millennial kingdom on the earth. It is significant to note that Satan "must be released." Why is he not permanently bound or cast directly into the lake of fire? The purpose for his release is explained in 20:7-9 and his final judgment is recorded in 20:10. But let's not miss the fact that his release is for "a short time" only.

2.3.2. Saints and the kingdom (20:4-6)

Verse 20:4

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the 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 upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

As mentioned, the binding of Satan will occur as a preparation for God's kingdom on earth. We now come to a passage which deals with a portion of the inhabitants of this kingdom on earth.

The revelation of the kingdom promised through King David to his greater "son," the Messiah, is so complete in the Old Testament that little needs to be added at this point in Revelation. It is clearly revealed in prophecies like Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jeremiah 23:5-8; 33:14-26; and Zechariah 14:8-11 that Jesus Christ Himself will be reigning on David's throne. But others will be reigning with Him, which is why there is mention of "thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them."

Looking at Scripture as a whole, the kingdom will be inhabited in the beginning by two board categories of citizens:

  1. Saints with resurrected bodies: There will be resurrected saints in glorified bodies like that of our Lord (Philippians 3:21). This will include:

  1. church age saints (the bride of Christ);

  2. Tribulation martyrs; and

  3. Old Testament saints.

  1. Believers with mortal bodies: There will be those believers during the Tribulation period who escaped death and were preserved through the Tribulation to go into the kingdom of our Lord (Matthew 24:13; 25:10, 30, 32-34; Revelation 14:1). These believers will have mortal bodies like ours today.

2.3.2.1. Saints with resurrected bodies

2.3.2.1.1. Church age saints

The first group undoubtedly refers to the raptured church saints (the bride of Christ) because of the many specific promises given to the church regarding ruling with Christ (Luke 22:29-30, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21). This is in keeping with what Jesus told His disciples, for He said: "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration, that is, the kingdom when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28).

2.3.2.1.2. Tribulation martyrs

John was given the revelation that those "who had been beheaded because of the 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 upon their forehead and upon their hand" these "came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years."

The second group refers to the Tribulation martyrs, including:

  1. The souls under the altar in the 5th Seal (6:9-11);

  2. The great multitude at God's throne (7:9-17);

  3. The two witnesses (11:7-12);

  4. Those overcame Satan and they did not love their life unto death (12:11);

  5. Those had not worshiped the beast or his image (13:15); and

  6. Those had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand (13:16-17).

Any believers who came to faith after the rapture of the church and then died for whatever reason would not have experienced the resurrection of his body during the Tribulation period. The moment he died, his spirit would have been "absent from the body and ... at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). God's previous revelation to John pictured some of these individuals present in heaven before the Lord's throne (cf.  6:9-11; 7:9-17; 11:12; 15:1-8 and 19:1-6). But the glorious hope of human beings is that there will be a resurrection of the body for those who experience physical death (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-58). That great hope becomes a reality for those believers who die during the Tribulation; they will be resurrected  after the Tribulation and reign with Christ for a thousand years in the His kingdom.

These who were the special objects of Satan’s hatred and the beast’s persecution are now exalted, rewarded, and blessed. They are declared to have "came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years."

2.3.2.1.3. Old Testament saints

While John does not record it at this point in the book of revelation, Old Testament saints will be like the Tribulation martyrs, they too will experience their resurrection after the Tribulation and reign with Christ in the His kingdom (Daniel 12:2). John records that those resurrected at this time will all reign with Christ. 

2.3.2.2. Believers with mortal bodies

Who else will share in the glorious kingdom of Jesus Christ? It is clear that there will be people in physical bodies living on the earth. It would be impossible for Jesus Christ to have a kingdom and rule unless there was someone for Him to rule over. While Satan, the Antichrist and the False Prophet will attempt to destroy all Jewish people to prevent the kingdom (12:13-17), they will not be successful. These Jewish believers will be joined by many Gentiles who will also come to faith in the Lord Jesus during the Tribulation and they will survive physically.

Everyone living at the time of the Second Advent will go through a judgment and only the redeemed will enter the kingdom. The wicked will die physically like the kings of the earth at the battle of Armageddon (19:21). The judgment on Jews living at the time of the Second Advent is taught in Ezekiel 20:33-44 and is illustrated by Jesus in His story of the five wise and the five foolish "virgins" (Matthew 25:1-13). The judgment on living Gentiles at the Second Advent is taught by Jesus in His story of the judgment of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

GOAT AND SHEEP JUDGMENT AT THE END OF TRIBULATION

During the course of the Millennium, the believers with mortal bodies will beget children. These children will also, regardless of the personal and glorious presence of Christ, need to receive Jesus Christ as their Saviour by faith. This fact will provide the potential for a third category of people in the Millennium, unbelievers in mortal bodies, men and women susceptible to the deceptions of Satan. These will form the constituency for the last-time revolt under Satan's final deception.

2.3.2.3. Different groups of saints will be resurrected at different times

Verse 20:5

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.

In verse 5, with reference to the group of verse 4 who "came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years," we are told that "this is the first resurrection." In Revelation 20, as Christ also intimates in John 5:29, two resurrection programs are seen. There is the first resurrection; this is the resurrection of the just (believers). But there is also the second resurrection, the resurrection of the unjust and those who experience the second death (unbelievers). Here in Revelation 20 we can clearly see that these two resurrections are separated by one thousand years (20:5).

The idea of such a sequence of resurrections is set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:20-24:

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power (1 Corinthians 15:20-24).

Paul speaks of Christ's own resurrection and then states that in the same pattern "all shall be made alive." He immediately explains that this will be according to a schedule: "each one in his own order." That is, all will not be made alive at the same time. For example: Christ is the "firstfruits," the pattern for the rest, and others will follow in a planned sequence.

Actually, two other resurrections of righteous follow Christ's resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53):

52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many (Matthew 27:52-53).

The purpose of this resurrection was apparently to provide a further credential in support of Christ's resurrection. Those raised likely were people who had died not long before and were well known by acquaintances still living. Bible scholars commonly believed that these people did not die again. They probably were raptured directly to heaven after performing the mission intended in their resurrection.

According to the above Scriptures, different groups of saints will be resurrected at different times, including:

  1. The two resurrections of righteous follow Christ's resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53);

  2. When Christ return, the church age saints will be raptured to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58); and

  3. At the end of the Tribulation, when Christ return with the heavenly armies to establish the earthly Millennial Kingdom (19:11-21), the Tribulation martyrs (20:4-6)and Old Testament saints (Daniel 12:2) will be resurrected.

2.3.2.4. The two distinct resurrections

The Bible teaches two distinct resurrections:

  1. the first of which affects all the righteous (i.e., believers); and

  2. the second of which affects all the unrighteous (i.e., unbelievers).

2.3.2.4.1. The first resurrection

The first is of "life" and embraces "the just"; the second, of "damnation," and embraces "the unjust" (John 5:28-29). And there are at least one thousand years between them (Revelation 20:4-6). They differ both in character and time, therefore they must be clearly distinguished. The first resurrection actually includes three major stages:

  1. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus;

  2. The resurrection of the church age saints at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18;1 Corinthians 15:51-58); and

  3. The raising of the Tribulation martyrs (20:4-6) and the Old Testament saints (Daniel 12:2) at the end of the Tribulation period.

These are not three resurrections, but one, though experienced in three stages. This is illustrated in Israel's crop-harvest of old:

  1. The farmer first cut the sheaf of "firstfruits" and presented it before the LORD (Leviticus 23:9-14);

  2. After which he reaped his main "harvest"; and

  3. This was followed by the gathering of the "gleanings" by the stranger and the poor (Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19).

The "firstfruits" answers to the personal resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23), while the "harvest" corresponds to the great ingathering at the rapture of church age saints. The subsequent raising of the believing martyrs (Revelation 20:4-5) and Old Testament saints (Daniel 12:2) at the end of the Tribulation period answers to the "gleanings".

2.3.2.4.2. The second resurrection

"The rest of the dead" refers to the unredeemed dead of all time, from Cain through the end of the Tribulation. "Did not come to life until the thousand years were completed" simply means the rest of the dead were not resurrected at this time, not until the end of the thousand years (20:11f). The last group to be resurrected will include the unredeemed dead of all time, and they will be raised at the end of the Millennial kingdom to stand before the Great White Throne in a judgment that will sentence them to the lake of fire (20:11-14).

2.3.2.5. The order of resurrections

The Bible carefully outlines the order of resurrections. "Every man in his own order" (1 Corinthians 15:23). The sequence of events of the resurrection of the just and unjust are listed in the following chronological order:

  1. the resurrection of the dead saints in the church age during the rapture before the Tribulation;

  2. the translation of the living saints in the church age during the rapture before the Tribulation;

  3. the resurrection of the two witnesses during the Tribulation;

  4. the resurrection of the Tribulation martyrs at the end of the Tribulation;

  5. the resurrection of the Old Testament saints at the end of the Tribulation; and

  6. the resurrection of the unredeemed dead of all time at the end of the Millennium.

2.3.2.6. The problems of the post-tribulation rapture theory

Post-tribulationists teach that the rapture and the second coming of Christ are facets of a single event which will occur at the end of the seven-year Tribulation of Daniel's seventieth week. The church will go through the Tribulation, enduring it by the grace and strength of God. When Christ comes, the saints who have died in Christ will be resurrected. They, together with the Tribulation saints who are alive, will be caught up into the clouds to meet the Lord who has come into the air on His way from heaven to earth, and then return to earth to reign with Him in the millennial kingdom. See below chart for illustration:

POST-TRIBULATION RAPTURE THEORY

The first problem is that most post-tribulationists call attention to the expression "first resurrection" in Revelation 20:4-6. They argue, how could a resurrection (to be occurred at the end of the Tribulation period) be "first" if a rapture had actually taken place before the Tribulation? The question raised by the post-tribulationists is replied as follows:

  1. Post-tribulationists overlook that Christ was resurrected from the dead first.

  2. The actual meaning of the word first is to designate the resurrection which is before the resurrection of the Great White Throne, not in the sense of the first resurrection to take place in history.

  3. The resurrection of Revelation 20:4-6 actually occurs after the second coming of Christ and therefore contradicts the idea that the rapture in the posttribulational view is a part of the second coming of Christ from heaven to earth.

  4. In the graphic and complete description of the second coming of Jesus Christ in Revelation 19, there is no indication whatever that the procession will be met by the raptured church rising from earth to meet the Lord in the air. There is no indication of either resurrection or translation occurring in the process of Christ's descent to the earth. The implication clearly is that the Tribulation martyrs and Old Testament saints will be resurrected after Christ has come and started to establish His Millennial kingdom on earth, not while He is descending from heaven to the earth.

The second problem is that when the Millennium begins, some people have to be alive in unresurrected bodies, who can beget children and populate that kingdom. The Millennium not only involves the reign of Christ with His people, who will then have resurrected bodies, but also the reign of Christ over people on this earth who will not have resurrected bodies. If there were only resurrected saints in the kingdom, then there would be no death, no increase in population, and no differences in the ages of millennial citizens (all of which are indicated as characterizing the kingdom - Isaiah 65:20; Zechariah 8:5; Revelation 20:12). Since resurrected people do not propagate, there would be no way to populate the kingdom unless some unresurrected people enter the Millennium. Thus it is necessary to have some adults who survive the Tribulation who are not taken to heaven at the end of the Tribulation but who enter the Millennium in unresurrected bodies to become the first parents of the millennial population.

According to the post-tribulationists, the church will live through the Tribulation. The 144,000 Jews and the great multitude of Revelation 7 are included in the church. At the end of the Tribulation all living believers will be raptured, given resurrection bodies, and return immediately to earth in the single event of the rapture and Second Coming. This would seem to eliminate all redeemed unresurrected people from the earth at that point in time so that there will be no one left to begin to populate the kingdom. If the wicked survivors are either killed or consigned to Hades at the end of the Tribulation, then there will be no one left in an unresurrected body to enter the Millennium. Due to the above reasons, the post-tribulation rapture theory is self-contradictory and unreliable.

Verse 20:6

Blessed 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.

"Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection." "Blessed" means the "recipient of God's blessings." "Holy" means "set apart." The believer is set apart in Christ and is the recipient of the blessings of salvation. All who are involved in the first resurrection will experience life and will find great blessing, for they will share in Christ's glorious kingdom. Though they all experienced the first death (which is the idea of the separation that existed between them and God because of the sinful natures with which they were born), their faith in Jesus Christ will result in resurrection unto blessing.

"Over these the second death has no power." The first-resurrection participants have exemption from the power of the second death. The "second death" refers to eternal consignment to the lake of fire following the second resurrection (2:11; 20:14; 21:8). Exemption from the authority of the second death means deliverance from an eternity spent in the lake of fire, a considerable privilege that partially explains the blessedness of those raised at the first resurrection. Those who never experience saving regeneration will ultimately find themselves subject to the second death, which is eternal and physical separation from God (20:14).

"They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him." Another aspect of their blessedness is the privilege of being priests and rulers. The function of being "priests of God and of Christ" will consist of the privilege of unlimited access to and intimate fellowship with God (cf. 1:6 and 5:10). They will also join Christ in ruling the earth. Priesthood and royalty are dual aspects of their future service to God.

"For a thousand years" indicates that the priesthood and reign are special and temporary because of the limited duration of this kingdom on earth. This is not to say, however, that both will not continue with the ushering in of the eternal phase of the kingdom. The prophecy is explicit that they will continue (22:3, 5).

2.3.3. Satan, sinners, and the last revolt (20:7-10)

Verse 20:7

And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,

The verb ''are completed" means not simply "completed," but "brought to its goal and purpose." Previously, in verse 3, this release of Satan, and possibly his followers, was anticipated and presented as a must in the fulfillment of the plan and purposes of God for human history. This was followed by a brief mention of the reign of Christ and the reward of saints who will reign with Him for the thousand years. But nothing of the character and nature of the Millennium is given in Revelation 20. However, the nature of the Millennium is the subject of much of Old Testament prophecy as in Ezekiel 36:33-36; Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:7-9; 65:20-25 and Psalm 72. Here in chapter 20 it is assumed that the reader knows and understands this so that aspect is not covered. Remember that it is a time of unprecedented peace, prosperity, justice, righteousness and holiness. This is due to two important facts of the Millennium:

  1. the removal of Satan and his demon hosts; and

  2. to the presence and perfect reign of the Lord Jesus Christ as the glorified Son of God in all His perfect wisdom and power.

The people in physical bodies living on the earth will have had one thousand years of freedom from any satanic or demonic deception. This is not to imply that men might have been either influenced or deceived by other men, but no wicked spiritual influence will have been around for the complete kingdom age.

In the progression of the revelation given to John, the thousand years have quickly passed. What John sees next continues the prophetic revelation beyond the time of the Millennial kingdom. When that time has been completed, "Satan will be released from his prison ..."

Verse 20:8

and 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.

"And he will come out to deceive the nations" declares the immediate purpose for Satan's release. As a fallen angel who is confirmed in his rebellion, this prison term will have no effect on Satan. He will still be the adversary, the arch enemy of God, and confirmed in his rebellion and perversity. Thus, immediately upon release he will engage in his age-old schemes of deception and war.

"The nations which are in the four corners of the earth" is an expression referring, not to a flat earth, but to the four main points of the compass: north, south, east, and west. It shows Satan's deceptions will reach out to the entire earth.

But who will he be able to deceive? A valid question is in order at this point. If the kingdom age on the earth is a time of spiritual blessing with Jesus Christ ruling from David's throne in Jerusalem, and if the physical subjects living on the earth as Christ's subjects are all true believers, how will Satan be able to deceive anyone? Will people who once were "saved" suddenly become followers of Satan and lose their salvation?

Well, no regenerated individual can ever lose his eternal salvation. But there is a very simple solution to this problem. The living Jewish and Gentile people who pass the judgments at the end of the Tribulation and become the subjects of Christ's kingdom will still be living in their physical bodies. Those bodies will still be subject to their sinful natures, the old Adamic natures, which they inherited from their parents. Since life in the kingdom will be a time of great blessing, it may be assumed that normal life will return during the one thousand years. Men and women will marry and bear children, perhaps at a rate that has never been experienced in the history of the world. Any child born during the kingdom age will have an Adamic, or sinful, nature and will be in need of regeneration. But with no external satanic deception and with the King present on the earth, spiritual regeneration will be the normal experience for most individuals.

Many in the world today place the blame for their situation in life on their environment, their education, or their economic level. If those things were just a little bit better, they too would be better people. But none of those things will be a problem in Christ's kingdom. Everything will be perfect and perfectly cared for. But even in a perfect environment, man's nature is such that given the opportunity to rebel, he will quickly jump to the occasion. Even in a perfect environment there will be some who will say, as many did when Jesus came the first time, "We will not have this man to rule over us" (Luke 19:14). While most will not rebel outwardly in any way, inwardly they will not experience God's saving grace. Perhaps some will even move a far away from the center of the Messiah's kingdom, Jerusalem, as they can. This final act of Satan in deceiving men will demonstrate once and for all the wickedness of the human heart.

This final great rebellion is called "Gog and Magog" (20:8), these names are used appositionally to describe the nations though they are used without any explanation; they are simply introduced as a description of the nations from the four corners of the earth. While some have attempted to connect the prophecy in Ezekiel 38-39 with what is described here in Revelation 20, this is not the same as Ezekiel 38-39 due to the following reasons:

  1. The invasion in Ezekiel comes from the north, but this one comes from all directions;

  2. Ezekiel's battle seems to occur about the middle of the Tribulation when the people of Israel are trusting in the treaty with the beast, but this battle occurs over a thousand years later, after Christ comes to earth; and

  3. In Ezekiel, Gog and Magog are the names given the ruler from the north and his land, a territory now occupied by Russia, but according to Ezekiel these will be decisively wiped out in the Tribulation.

So why use this term here? This final rebellion is likened to "Gog and Magog" probably because of the following similarities that exist between the two events:

  1. The outcome of that event will be that fire will come down from heaven and destroy the invading forces (Ezekiel 39:6). The later event has similar features, for once again there will be an invasion of Israel with the result that fire will descend from heaven to destroy the invaders.

  2. These names stand symbolically for a rebellious and war-like people and for the nations in rebellion against God and His people (Psalm 2) who will be crushed. It may be used like we use "waterloo" to express a disastrous battle, but one not directly related to the historic situation.

The one event is not exactly like the other, but it would, nevertheless, be a disaster of similar proportions.

Satan will gather a group of individuals who will attempt one final time to thwart God's plan. He will be very successful; the group that he is able to assemble is likened to "the sand of the seashore" which is a figure of speech used in Scripture to describe a vast, uncountable multitude (Genesis 22:17; Joshua 11:4; Judges 7:12; 1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Kings 4:20; Hebrews 11:12). As previously noted, the ideal conditions of health, prosperity, safety, and peace that will prevail during the Millennium, coupled with the long life spans of its inhabitants, will lead to a massive population explosion. Incredibly, vast numbers of those people will join Satan in his final act of rebellion against God.

Verse 20:9

And 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.

The earth’s topography will have been drastically reshaped by the catastrophic events of the Tribulation (cf. 16:20; Zechariah 14:4, 9-11). That will allow the rebel forces to come "up on the broad plain of the earth." "Broad plain" refers metaphorically to a great plain sufficiently large to accommodate the multitude of assailants determined to bring down the camp of the saints.

The city of Jerusalem itself is described as "the beloved city" (cf. Psalm 78:68; 87:2), which is the place of Messiah’s throne and the center of the Millennial world (cf. Isaiah 24:23; Ezekiel 43:7; Micah 4:7; Zechariah 14:9-11). After the judgments of the Tribulation there will be tremendous topographical changes in Jerusalem. The rebuilt city and surrounding territory is described in great detail in Ezekiel 40-48.

"The camp of the saints." The word "camp" (Greek: παρεμβολὴν, transliteration: parembolēn) refers to those in battle, an army in battle array, hence a "fortified camp, fortress," or "citadel." The saints will be encamped around "the beloved city" of Jerusalem (cf. Psalms 78:68; 87:2), enjoying the glorious presence of the Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 24:23; Jeremiah 3:17) when the attack comes.

"Surrounded ... the beloved city" refers to Christ permits the army to assemble and encircle the capital city in preparation for a military attack (cf. 2 Kings 6:14-15).

But this attempt at a rebellion will be futile, for "fire will come down from heaven and devour them." Fire from heaven as an instrument of divine punishment is well-known (cf. Genesis 19:24; Leviticus 10:2; Ezekiel 38:22; 39:6; 2 Kings 1:10, 12; Luke 9:54). It is a fitting climax to this last battle with Satan and his armies.

Remember that God's purpose with the various dispensations is to give new opportunities and tests from every conceivable angle. In the Millennium, therefore, God gives man his great society, one which exceeds anything man could ever dream of, a society and world order with a perfect environment. Then at the end he releases Satan. Again we ask why? To the above reasons let me add the following for further reiteration:

  1. To show the frightfully and totally bankrupt condition of man and that what he needs is not a great society with all evils removed (a perfect environment), but that any effective and lasting change must come from within through God's grace plan of salvation which regenerates and gives new life and spiritual capacity. Nothing else can permanently change man.

  2. To further substantiate God's case against Satan, that Satan is the liar, the slanderer, and the deceiver, and a large degree the cause of man's misery.

  3. To show that God is absolutely just in His sentence of Satan to the lake of fire (20:10 - his permanent, eternal prison); and that God is perfect holiness and His actions are always consistent with His character.

Verse 20:10

And 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.

The thing of greatest significance in this whole story is what happens to Satan, for it is finally revealed that he will be "thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone." The lake of fire is a literal place, it is not just a figurative expression for hell on earth or for separation from God, it is also everlasting and constant torment. This is the final judgment on Satan and seals his eternal destiny; he will be in the lake of fire apart from the presence of God. This is the ultimate bruising of his head (Genesis 3:15; cf. John 12:31). That this is the ultimate destiny of Satan is not a new revelation. Jesus spoke of it during His first advent (Matthew 25:41). It is hard for humans to conceive of how literal fire can bring torture to nonphysical beings, but the reality of unbearable pain inflicted on Satan is unquestionable.

There will be no confusion concerning its location, the passage says that this lake is the same place "where the beast and the false prophet are also" (cf. 19:20). The Antichrist and the False Prophet are still there after a thousand years; they are not annihilated.

John writes further that "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." The facts revealed here provide a great commentary not only on when Satan will be for eternity, but also on the eternal state of wicked human beings. There are some who believe that the eternal suffering of the wicked is not a truth affirmed in Scripture. Rather, many believe that while there will be eternal blessings for the righteous, the wicked will simply cease to exist. Others believe that yes, the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire, but that the fire will bring about the annihilation of any who fall into it. The Scripture does not teach that there will one day be a universal salvation of all mankind after they have suffered a while. Mark 9:43-48 shows that it does not end. Matthew 13:41-42; 8:12; 22:13; and 25:30 speak of weeping, etc. This shows there is not annihilation, but continual torment.

When it is remembered that the Antichrist and the False Prophet are two human beings who will rise to significant positions during the Tribulation, the picture of the eternal separation of the wicked from God becomes clear. These two individuals will be cast alive into the lake of fire at the end of the Tribulation (cf. 19:20), and will apparently become the first occupants of that horrible place. The lake's fire will not consume them, for after the one thousand years have passed Satan will be sent there too (20:10). Together they will spend eternity separated from the living and true God. While such a condition is dreadful to contemplate, it certainly the biblical teaching. The wicked will be separated eternally from God, which is what the final section in chapter 20 is all about.

2.4. The Great White Throne Judgment (20:11-15)

Here is the last and final judgment of history following the close of the Millennium. The righteous will have been resurrected earlier so they can share in Christ' Millennial kingdom. Now the wicked from the very beginning of time will have come forth in resurrection. As a result of their judgment they will join the Antichrist, the False Prophet, Satan, and his demons in the lake of fire, where they will spend eternity separated from the true God whom they all refused to acknowledge as Lord.

2.4.1. The description of the great white throne (20:11a)

2.4.1.1. The time

This judgment follows the Millennium and the doom of Satan (20:1-10). It is followed by the creation of the new heaven and earth and the eternal state of the redeemed (21:1f).

2.4.1.2. The character of this throne of judgment

Verse 20:11a

And I saw a great white throne

This "And I saw" introduces something else John saw in this vision (cf. 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 12; 21:1, 2). The continuation of chronological progression seems clear from the continued use of "And" to introduce new information. Note that almost every verse in this chapter begins with "And."

The "great white throne" judgment has the following characters:

  1. It is called "great" (Greek: μέγαν, transliteration: megan) because of the awesome intensity and the degree of its importance. Here each unbeliever's eternal destiny is determined and declared with ample proof and reason. It is great because it is the final judgment putting an end to all judgment for all time. Finally, it is great because all the unjust of all time, from Cain to the final revolt at the end of the Millennium, will be here assembled to face the bar of God's perfect justice. The only exceptions will be the Antichrist and False Prophet who have already been consigned to the lake of fire.

  2. It is called "white" (Greek: λευκόν, transliteration: leukon) because of its purity and the holiness and righteousness of the verdicts that issue from it (cf. Psalms 97:2; Daniel 7:9). Throughout history God has taught man that he must have God's kind of righteousness, that God is of purer eyes than to approve evil, or to accept or look upon wickedness (Habakkuk 1;13), that all have sinned and come short of God's glory (Romans 3:23), and that the penalty of sin is eternal death, separation from God (Genesis 2:17; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:2). Now these facts will become evident to each individual and proven without question.

  3. It is called a "throne" (Greek: θρόνον, transliteration: thronon) because here the Lord Jesus Christ will sit in absolute majesty and sovereign authority to consign these eternally to the lake of fire. In Revelation 4:2 John beheld a throne set in heaven from which the Tribulation judgments proceeded. The word "throne" is used more than 30 times in the book, but this throne, the great white one, is to be distinguished from all others because it is the most significant of all.

2.4.1.3. The place

Verse 20:11c

earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.

"Earth and heaven fled away" pictures a sudden and violent termination of the physical universe. The exit of the old creation aligns with the consistent teaching of the temporality of matter in both the Old Testament (Psalms 97:5; 102:25-26; Isaiah 51:6) and the New Testament (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; 21:33; Hebrews 1:10-12; 2 Peter 3:10).

"And no place was found for them." The unavailability of any "place" for the earth and the heaven following their departure indicates that theirs is a flight from the present existence. They will give way to the new heaven and the new earth.

Heaven and earth are seen fleeing from the face of Him who sits on this throne. In other words, they are destroyed, dissolved (2 Peter 3:7, 10-12). The great white throne is located somewhere in limitless space and outside human history. The point is the great white throne judgment does not occur on earth or in heaven as we know it, but somewhere beyond, perhaps in extreme outer space. The indication is also clear that it does not occur in the new heaven and earth which is not created until after this event.

In other words, God has removed Satan and demons, the False Prophet, and the Antichrist, etc., and He is about to judge the rest of the unbelieving dead. It is only fitting then, that He also judges the earth and heaven which has been the scene of the struggle with Satan, sin, and sinners. This evidently takes place after the resurrection of the unbelieving dead from the grave and Hades. They are resurrected, gathered before the throne and behold this destruction as heaven and earth are dissolved before their eyes. Then the judgment will proceed.

2.4.2. The participants of the great white throne (20:11b, 12a, 13a)

2.4.2.1. The judge

Verse 20:11b

and Him who sat upon it,

"Him who sat upon it" is the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 5:22 Jesus said, "Not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son." In Acts 10:42 Peter declared that Jesus "is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead." In Romans he wrote of "the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus" (Romans 2:16), while to Timothy he noted that "Christ Jesus … is to judge the living and the dead" (2 Timothy 4:1). It is God in the Person of the glorified Lord Jesus Christ who will sit in final judgment on unbelievers.

2.4.2.2. The judged

Verse 20:12a

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne,

The ones judged are "the dead, great and small," those who had no part in the first resurrection (20:5-6). This include all the unbelievers who ever lived. The question has been raised concerning the judgment of those who die in the Millennium. It is clear that the unsaved who die in the Millennium are included in this judgment. This is the "resurrection of judgment" (John 5:29), the resurrection "to disgrace and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2).

"The dead, great and small" emphasizes that no one is exempt; all who have died without Jesus Christ, regardless of their status in human history, religiously, politically, economically, or morally, must "stand before the throne" to face the judgment of Jesus Christ "for there is no partiality with God" (Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17). This excludes the Antichrist and the False Prophet because they are seen to be sent directly to the eternal lake of fire (19:20).

"Standing before the throne." Their standing posture means that they are now about to be sentenced. This is a fulfillment of the principle of Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."

The Bible teaches that no believer will ever face God’s judgment for sins, because "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Everyone "who believes in Him is not judged" (John 3:18); they have "eternal life, and do not come into judgment, but have passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). Far from being judged, all the godly participants in the first resurrection (20:6) will have already received their rewards (cf. 20:4; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15) at the judgment seat of Christ. At the Lord Jesus' coming for His saints, this judgment will take place. God's people are not saved by works but by faith in Christ. But they are saved "unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10), on the basis of which their rewards will be meted out. For every child of God there will be "reward" or "loss" (1 Corinthians 3:14, 15), although he himself as a believer will be saved (1 Corinthians 3:15).

2.4.2.3. The source of their resurrection

Verse 20:13a

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them;

They come from:

  1. "the sea," i.e., those who died at sea and were not buried in the earth;

  2. "death," those who were buried in graves in the ground, cremated, or destroyed in any other way on earth; and

  3. "Hades," is the temporary abode of unbelievers’ spirits until the great white throne judgment. It is a place of conscious torment for unbelievers (Luke 16:23). "Hades" is the New Testament word for this place, and "Sheol" is the Old Testament word.

The significance of mentioning both the sea and the ground  (i.e., death) is to make it clear that everyone who has died throughout all history will experience a resurrection. It does not make any difference whether the body was placed into an earthly or a watery grave, that person will come forth to stand before Jesus Christ.

The sea and the ground (i.e., death) contain the bodies and Hades contains the souls. At this second resurrection, the soul and body are reunited and the person is brought up before the throne.

Imagine the different categories of people who will form that group of unsaved from all history:

  1. those who replaced the Creator with idols and false gods;

  2. those who turned their backs on the free grace of God in favor of a works-based religion;

  3. those who repeatedly heard the gospel of Christ but rejected Him until too late;

  4. those who concluded, based on logic, reason, and experience, that God doesn’t exist; and

  5. those who lived out their depravity through selfishness, wickedness, and violence.

2.4.3. The basis of the judgment (20:12b, 13b, and 15a)

Verse 20:12b

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.

The basis of the judgment is what is found in the two sets of books:

  1. the "books" which were opened; and

  2. the other book, the "book of life."

2.4.3.1. The books

Written records of the acts of each individual form the basis for this judgment (cf. Daniel 7:10). This is what the "books" or "scrolls" (Greek: βιβλία, transliteration: biblia) contained. The judgment is not arbitrary. The nature of the human deeds recorded in these books may be good and bad deeds. Scripture makes consistent reference to a register of human actions (Psalms 56:8; Isaiah 65:6; Daniel 7:10; Malachi 3:16; Matthew 12:37). These books are records of human deeds, a symbol of God’s complete and lasting knowledge of human actions, which ensures that his judgment will be informed and just.

2.4.3.2. The book of life

The greater focus of this passage, however, is on the other book, "the book of life," which apparently decides the ultimate issue (cf. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 21:27). It was mentioned in 3:5 and understood to be a listing of those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ as personal Saviour. To put it another way, it is a record of those who have not rejected God's plan of salvation and who have responded to Him in faith. It is a divine register for every loyal believer (cf. Isaiah 4:3; Psalms 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20). It originally contained the names of all for whom Christ died, i.e., the whole world, but at the judgment of the great white throne many blank spaces will signal the removal of many names who never believed in Christ for salvation. The "book of life" is used here almost as a "safety check" to make certain that no one is wrongly judged. Here, at this judgment, it will be used to make certain that no redeemed person is included.

Verse 20:13b

and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.

"Deeds" refers to "anything that is done, a deed, action, or work." It is used of:

  1. good deeds (Matthew 26:10; Mark 14:6; Romans 2:7);

  2. evil deeds (Colossians 1:21; 2 John 11);

  3. dead works (Hebrews 6:1; 9:14);

  4. unfruitful deeds (Ephesians 5:11);

  5. ungodly deeds (Jude 15);

  6. deeds of darkness (Romans 13:12; Ephesians 5:11); and

  7. works of the Law (Romans 2:15).

The dead are judged on the basis of the records, the sum of their "their deeds" (Psalms 62:12; Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; 1 Peter 1:17) is now examined. Each person’s life will be individually evaluated.

Why, therefore, will "their deeds" be reviewed, as recorded in the books? Most likely because the justice of God demands that there must be degrees of punishment for the wicked (Matthew 10:14-15; 11:23-24; Luke 10:13-14; 12:47-48; 20:46-47; Hebrews 10:29; James 3:1). Here "their deeds" evidently are such that salvation is not the issue but rather the degree of punishment, as there is no indication that any righteous are found in this judgment.

The great white throne judgment will be nothing like our modern court cases. At the White Throne, there will be a Judge but no jury, a prosecution but no defense, a sentence but no appeal. No one will be able to defend himself or accuse God of unrighteousness. What an awesome scene it will be!

2.4.4. The judgment or punishment (20:14-15)

Verse 20:14

And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

"Death" refers to the physical dead of the bodies, and "Hades" refers to the temporary place of punishment for the the souls of unredeemed men. "Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire" meaning that they will go out of existence, swallowed up by the final hell. Their inmates, currently suffering in their spirits only, will be united with specially designed resurrection bodies and cast into eternal hel. That final hell, described as "the lake of fire."

The perspective now changes as "death and Hades" come to be personified as inseparable companions, two voracious and insatiable monsters who have swallowed all past generations and now meet the same fate. The last enemy meets his end (1 Corinthians 15:26, 54-55; cf. Isaiah 25:8; Hosea 13:14). He no longer threatens the human race. Death will not be around to disturb the tranquillity of the new heaven and the new earth (21:4), because it joins its victims in "the lake of fire."

The "lake of fire" has already been defined as unending, conscious punishment for all who are consigned to it (14:10-11; 20:10). Now it is also termed "the second death." The last words of 21:8 make the same equation. This is not a second physical death. The unbelievers undergoing judgment have already died physically and been resurrected (so 20:5, 12-13). The torment of the "lake of fire" involves not physical death but suffering that is primarily spiritual in nature, since Satan and his angels are only spiritual beings (20:10). Corporeal suffering may be included for unbelieving humans, but only because they suffer spiritually while possessing resurrected bodies, which never die physically.

THE LAKE OF FIRE

Verse 20:15

And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

The note of final judgment is rung once more for emphasis. Assuming that some will not find their names written in the "book of life," this verse predicts their being "thrown into the lake of fire." This implies that all who are listed in the "book of life" are spared from the judgment, which 3:5 and 21:27 make explicit. This implication is also warranted by the statement in Daniel 12:1: "all the people will be saved, whoever is found written in the book."

The clearest and most vivid of the New Testament terms used to describe the final hell, "the lake of fire," is "Gehenna"  (Greek: γέεννα, transliteration: geenna). Gehenna is the New Testament word for the valley of Ben-Hinnom (Hebrew: גֵּי הִנֹּם, transliteration: gey hinnom), located southwest of Jerusalem (also called Topheth; 2 Kings 23:10; Isaiah 30:33; Jeremiah 7:31-32; 19:6). In Old Testament times, idolatrous Israelites burned their children in the fire there as sacrifices to false gods (Jeremiah 19:2-6). In Jesus’ day, it was the site of Jerusalem’s garbage dump. The fires kept constantly burning there gave off foul-smelling smoke, and the dump was infested with maggots. Sometimes the bodies of criminals were dumped there. The valley of Ben-Hinnom was thus a picture of eternal hell, one used repeatedly by Jesus (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). Hell will be God’s eternal cosmic dump; its inmates will be burning as garbage forever.

Scripture vividly portrays the various aspects of the final hell, it is a place of:

  1. "Fire." It is used more than twenty times in the New Testament to depict the torment of hell (cf. 14:10; 19:20; 20:10, 15;  21:8; Matthew 3:10-12; 5:22; 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41; Mark 9:44; Luke 3:9, 16-17; John 15:6; Hebrews 10:27; Jude 7). Whether the fire of hell is literal, physical fire is unknown, since "the lake of fire" exists outside the created universe as we know it. If the fire here is symbolic, the reality it represents will be even more horrifying and painful.

  2. "Total darkness." It will isolate its inmates from each other (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13).

  3. "Worm." Where the worm devouring the wicked will never die (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:44).

  4. "Sorrow." Where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).

Although the lake of fire was originally intended for "the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41), those who submitted to demonic rule over their lives will find themselves consigned to the same eternal destination where Satan, the Beast, the False Prophet, and the demons were sent (19:20; 20:10).

There is only one way to avoid the terrifying reality of hell. Those who confess their sins and ask God to forgive them on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary death on their behalf will be delivered from God’s eternal wrath (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9).

Many people seem to think that some day there will be a general judgment - that everybody will have to stand before the tribunal of God and be judged at the same time. This is, of course, not the case. The Bible teaches that there are several divine judgments. The careful student of the Scriptures must learn to distinguish between these judgments and to see them all in their proper setting and sequence. Various judgments are summarized in below table for illustration:

WHAT HAPPENS TO A PERSON AFTER HE OR SHE DIES

As of this revelation to John, all of mankind has been dealt with by God.

 

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