Following seven long years of Great Tribulation and in conjuncture with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to put an end to the rebellion of man under the Antichrist and establish His Kingdom on the earth, Revelation 20 opens with John seeing “an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.”
John then observes how this unnamed, nondescript angel proceeded to “lay hold of the dragon, that serpent of old (a reference to Genesis 3), who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; cast him into the bottomless pit, shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.”
At some point in our distant future, for 1,000 years, Jesus will reign on this earth populated with two different groups of people: glorified administrators and fallen citizens.
As for this first group, we know “the saints” will rule with Christ acting as administrators of His Kingdom. This will include Old Testament believers, the Church, as well as those martyred for their faith in Jesus during the Tribulational Period. Everyone in this collective will live on the earth, exist in their glorified bodies, will be sinless, and unable to reproduce.
At the end of verse 5, John refers to this group of people as being “the first resurrection.” What is meant with this phrase “the first resurrection” is that we are the first collection of people who’ve died only to later return to earth in a physical state. To this point, John notes how “the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.”
In Acts 24:15, the Apostle Paul describes two different “resurrections of the dead” — one “of the just” which seems to happen at the Rapture of the Church and then manifest on earth during the Second Coming of Jesus, and another “of the unjust.” As to this second group, John will provide us an account of this second resurrection of all those who’ve died rejecting Jesus’ offer of salvation at the end of this chapter.
As to whom we will specifically rule and reign over, during these 1,000 years the earth will repopulate with the Christians who lived through the Tribulation to see the Second Coming. This group of citizens includes the 144,000 Jewish men who’d been sealed, men and women who were able to find safety in the cities of refuge, along with those who survived God’s judgment and the persecution brought about by the Antichrist towards believers.
Keep in mind, the citizens who make up the Millennial Kingdom will have the same mortal bodies they had during the Great Tribulation. As such, they will be able to marry, have children, who will have more children who have children. It’s easy to imagine a 1,000 years being more than enough time to repopulate the earth to the same levels we see today.
While these individuals are able to die, because Jesus will have restored the planet back to its original design, there seems to be evidence these folks will be able to live into their 900’s like the Pre-Flood world. Of the Kingdom area, we read, in Isaiah 65:20, “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die 100 years old, but the sinner being 100 years old shall be accursed.”
Though the first generation of Millennial citizens will have already made a decision to follow Jesus during the Tribulation, I should point out everyone born during these 1,000 years will have to make a personal decision to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for sin in order to be saved. This idea will become particularly relevant in just a few minutes.
Regarding these 1,000 years, the Bible tells us the capital city of the earth, where Jesus establishes His throne, will be Jerusalem. In fact, a new Temple will be constructed and Temple services will occur as a memorial to God’s former work. Once a year, everyone will take a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. According to Hosea 3:5, King David will be given the specific responsibility of reigning over the Nation of Israel.
Before we move on, I want you to consider how long 1,000 years really is! Just think how much the world has changed since the year 1021 A.D.? Now extrapolate things out to at least 3028 A.D. (1000 + 7) with Jesus having ruled this earth for a Millennia. My guess is if we designate time B.C (Before Christ) and A.D. (In the Year of our Lord), with the Second Coming of Jesus and the start of His Kingdom we’ll likely need a new designation!
With the first generation of Millennial citizens living through a still future world from our own, imagine what type of technological developments will be achieved over these 1,000 years — especially, when we’re living on a restored planet with Jesus at the helm! There is no question life during these years will manifest in ways we can’t even begin to fathom.
It’s also worth considering that by the end of these 1,000 years, very few people alive will possess any personal recollection of the Tribulation or what came before. The Second Coming and what the earth was like will be subjects taught in the kid’s history classes.
In the first three verses of Revelation 20, John describes the imprisonment of Satan not for punishment but in order to restrain his ability to “deceive the nations” during these 1,000 years. While the sinful nature of those who live on and repopulate this earth will still exist because they remain the descendants of Adam, for the first time ever, the fallen tendency to do the wrong thing is largely kept at bay because it’s under the authority of Christ.
You see with Satan (and we can presume the demonic hosts) locked away, these 1,000 years under the reign of Jesus present the most incredible Millennium of human history. There will be no war, no conflict, no divisions, no rebellion, just an abundance of joy.
The King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Prince of Peace will institute a perfect society founded upon righteousness. The culture of the Kingdom will be one of holiness. The contrast between the reign of man on this earth and the reign of Christ will be stark!
One of the things interesting about this period is that it has a very defined expiration date. Our passage is clear Jesus’ reign on this earth, over those who still retain a sin nature, would not be indefinite. Instead, His Kingdom would last for only 1,000 years. In fact, at the end of verse 3, John leaves the reader with an ominous foreshadowing. He writes, “But after these things (after the 1,000 years are completed) Satan must be released for a little while.”
Let’s jump down to verse 7 to see what happens… Revelation 20:7-8, “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.”
At the end of these 1,000 years, John tells us that God “releases Satan from his prison.” He doesn’t escape. He’s set free! And, as to be expected, what does the Temper of old do? Satan immediately organizes yet another rebellion of mankind against God by “deceiving the nations” in order to “gather them together” in an attempt to overthrow King Jesus.
Incredibly, even with Jesus on this earth sitting on His throne and humanity experiencing the greatest 1,000 year period of peace and global stability in history, Satan is still successful in his wicked aim. John says, “The nations in the four corners of the earth” and in “whose number is as the sand of the sea” rally together in this final rebellion against the Lord. We truly haven’t seen such a shocking development since the Garden of Eden!
Describing this astounding mass of people, John refers to them using an Old Testament title first presented in Ezekiel 38-39, “Gog and Magog.” While we know the battle recorded by Ezekiel takes place before the Tribulation, John’s reference back to “Gog and Magog” seems to have a geographic intention. It’s as though John is letting us know the instigators of this rebellion will be located to the North of the Holy City of Jerusalem.
When you get to this passage two questions jump off the page… Why would God free Satan and allow this one final rebellion to take place? And secondly, why would anyone rebel against Jesus after living under His reign for 1,000 years? I believe there are a few answers to these two questions that completely intertwine with one another.
First, by this point in history, there have been several generations of people born in sin who’ve never been given an alternative to Jesus. Keep in mind, for 1,000 years, Jesus has been on the throne and that’s the only reality many have ever known. For the vast majority of those alive, life apart from the influence and reign of Jesus was only theoretical. Jesus was on the throne, the saints His administrators, with no competing forces.
Never forget, the decision of one’s will to accept Jesus demands the freedom of one’s will to reject Him. It’s why God originally placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden and said to man, “Don’t eat of it!” God wasn’t laying a trap for Adam and Eve. Instead, He was giving them a mechanism whereby they could choose to reciprocate His love back to Him through their obedience. They were given an alternative.
At the end of the Millennium, it will be necessary for the Temper to be set free so that the sinful men living under the reign of Jesus could be put into a position where they now have to make a choice. Do we follow Jesus because we have to or because we want to?
Secondly, knowing what would happen, in allowing this final rebellion to occur God is illustrating the intrinsic fallenness of man’s nature. Again, we come back to the really unbelievable notion that man would actually rebel against Jesus at this point, yet he does, and if we knew anything about the previous 65 books we shouldn’t be surprised!
Keep in mind, in this final, future scenario, mankind will not be able to blame his rebellion on his environment for he’s only lived in a Kingdom ruled by Jesus. Man will not be able to justify his rebellion on some type of societal oppression or governmental injustice for Jesus has ruled the world in complete righteousness. The core idea people sin because they are sinners and aren’t sinners because they sin is demonstrably proven true!
Back in Eden, man exchanged the perfect world he’d been given for one of his own sinful making. And while he’d been warned by God what would happen, experientially he had no idea what his new life would look like. In a way, Adam’s rebellion occurred in ignorance.
That said, at the end of the Millennium, man again attempts to exchange the perfect world he’d been given for one of his own sinful making but this time the decision was made with the complete knowledge it would end in disaster. With history, man was no longer ignorant.
With this in mind, the flip side to this reality is man’s rebellion in such a circumstance reinforces the notion there is no outside remedy to man’s inward condition. Is man a byproduct of his environment or his nature is a question psychologists have debated for years. And yet, in man’s rebellion at the end of these 1,000 years, the question will be finally settled. Man’s perfect environment failed to remedy his propensity for rebellion!
In spite of a 1,000 years of the best life imaginable, the very moment Satan is released and mankind could rebel he does! You see the simple fact remains — sinners don’t like to be ruled, especially by Jesus! Incredibly, even after 1,000 years of life on this earth as God had always intended, man still buys into the lie he can make a better life for himself.
Revelation 20:9, “They (this massive group of people) went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. (We have the stage set for one final global conflict. God’s people are completely surrounded.) And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” (This battle ends up being a little anticlimactic. The rebellion ends before it begins. They gather and fire devours them.)
I want to add one more thought to this crazy situation… In the end, this final rebellion illustrates an interesting idea — not even the physical presence of Jesus in a person’s life can change a sinful heart. We saw this in His first advent. Judas spent three years living with Jesus and was still able to reject him and in turn hang himself out to dry.
King Jesus will rule men in total justice for 1,000 years and even that experience will come up short in yielding a true internal transformation of the sinner. You see, the only thing that can change a man is when his heart of stone is replaced with the indwelling Spirit of God.
Following their swift execution, John then tells us… Revelation 20:10, “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
In Matthew 25:41, Jesus said that hell, also known as “everlasting fire” or in this passage as “the lake of fire and brimstone,” had been originally “prepared for the devil and his angels.” At this point in time, Satan is not restrained but, at long last, sees his sentence executed.
In the famous movie “The Usual Suspects” one of the central characters remarked, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” There is a truth to this statement. I would add, however, the second was convincing the world hell doesn’t.
From country artist Aaron Lewis’ song “Party in Hell” to a scene in SOUTH PARK that has Satan throwing a luau on the shores of the Lake of Fire, common depictions intentionally twist the Biblical presentation of hell as being a literal place of divine judgment. Author Mark Twain famously wrote, “Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company!”
Right from the jump, please know Satan is not currently living in hell. It’s not his home. Furthermore, Satan is not hell’s ruler nor is hell a place he has dominion over. Lastly, hell is not the place where all the cool kids get to go party for eternity.
Instead, John is crystal clear hell is a real place where its inhabitants “will be tormented (literally they will vex with grievous pains both physically and mentally) day and night forever and ever.” In Matthew 25:46, Jesus calls hell a place for “eternal punishment” adding, in Mark 9, that hell is a place “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
Today, the doctrine of annihilation is gaining in popularity. This is the position that instead of a place of eternal punishment at some point in time the wicked simply cease to be — annihilated. The problem with this idea, whether you like it or not, is that the torments of hell lasting forever are totally inescapable in light of this particular passage among others.
One of the foremost scholars on the Book of Revelation, theologian, and professor John Walvoord, wrote, “There would be no way possible in the Greek language to state more emphatically the everlasting punishment of the lost than here in mentioning both day and night and the expression ‘forever and ever,’ literally ‘to the ages of ages.’”
To this point, when John records Satan being cast into hell, he notes of hell that it’s “where the beast (the Antichrist) and the false prophet are.” If you recall back to Revelation 19:20, at the Second Coming of Jesus, these two were captured and cast alive into “the lake of fire.” When Satan finally joins them, 1,000 years have past and they are still in hell!
I’ll admit the topic of hell is not what most consider to be seeker-friendly. And yet, I’d contend it’s the most seeker-relevant. In the end, there is a reason Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. As we consider an eternal decision, Jesus wanted us to know of the eternal consequences. No human being is forced into hell. We choose it!
Revelation 20:11-12, “Then (after this last rebellion of man is put down) I saw a great white throne (“great” infers status, “white” purity, and “throne” sovereignty) and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.” (This image that “the earth and heaven fled away” articulates a finality to what’s about to happen. Regarding “Him who sat on” this Great White Throne, we have no need to speculate. According to John 5, the ultimate judge of the wicked will be Jesus.)
And I saw the dead, small and great (no one can escape this moment), standing before God… (Back in verse 5, John recorded how “the rest of the dead” or all those who’ve died rejecting Jesus “did not live again until the thousand years were finished.” This massive group of people have been in a holding place known as Hades awaiting this moment.
Now, in what’s called the second resurrection, the dead are brought to earth to face the judgment of Jesus. What results, according to John's description in verse 6, is the “second death.” If you die rejecting Jesus’ offer of salvation, this is your future destiny.)
And books were opened (there’s been a clear accounting method of your life in heaven). And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life (this is the record of who’s accepted Jesus. If your name is not found in this book, you’re in trouble). And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.”
It’s important to point out John is not describing a trial but a final sentencing. Everyone “standing before God” in their sin has already been found guilty for “the wages of sin is death.” And yet, while hell will end up being everyone’s destination, the Bible indicates a person’s experience in hell will be determined “according to their works.”
What this means is that every sinner will not receive the same punishment! In His justice, God will judge according to the good deeds and wicked acts you’ve committed in this life. Hitler will receive a different judgment than you. God will be totally fair. Whether this idea proves different tiers to hell or implies everyone will have a different misery index, either way, we can say confidently that hell is the just consequence for all unrepentant sinners.
Revelation 20:13-15, “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
The old adage rings true, “Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once!” In this moment, at the culmination of the Great White Throne Judgment, the last echos of sin are finally gone. Satan is not only gone forever but the wicked are judged. What began so many years earlier in the Garden of Eden is finished. Death is now filed away as a distant memory.
Again, I need to reiterate that “anyone not found written in the Book of Life” made a personal decision not to be included. While this may be the most consequential moment in human history, it’s also the most avoidable. “Anyone not found” rejected Jesus’ offer of eternal life and therefore decided to take upon themselves the wages of their own sin.
In his classic book “The Great Divorce” (which I highly recommend) C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
Please understand why it’s necessary that hell be a place of eternal punishment. You see an imperfect being (what you are) can never make a perfect payment which is what sin requires (“the wages of sin is death”). Logically, this means it will take a sinner dying for all of eternity in order to satisfy a debt that continues to incur interest and therefore never ends.
If you only have $1000 bucks a month to pay off a credit card that’s incurring $1500 a month in interest fees, how long until you pay off the card? This is why God had to offer a perfect, sinless sacrifice in Jesus to effectively pay off the perfect debt your sin demanded.
Friend, in the end, your sin will be ultimately addressed in one of two places. It can be permanently resolved at Calvary by Jesus or you will make a continual payment in hell on your own for eternity. You can be saved by a faith that works or you can spend eternity working to pay off a debt you never can. The choice is entirely up to you!
Next Sunday we’re going to work our way through Revelation 21 and discuss what eternity is going to look like — it really is one of the most amazing and detailed sections of Scripture in the entire Bible. God didn’t want our eternity after these things to be a mystery!
That said, I don’t want to move any further into the narrative without getting back to the main thing. The entire purpose of this book is to reveal certain aspects of the person of Jesus we wouldn’t know otherwise — a revelation not provided by the four Gospels.
With this in mind, there are two big takeaways from this passage concerning Jesus — and I’ll add what I’m about to say will be rough. First, Jesus is absolutely unforgiving! I know that sounds odd — especially when you consider He died on the cross to pave the way for forgiveness, but it’s quite true for in this chapter Jesus is not a Savior — He’s the Judge!
Within this chapter, we have an innumerable mass kept in Hades while Christians enjoy this earth and Kingdom exclusively for 1,000 years. Then, when this is over, these people are finally raised to life only to be judged by Jesus and cast into hell for all of eternity.
We find in this passage no invitations given. No final chances being extended. No appeals heard or grace mentioned. Concessions are not made. No forgiveness bestowed. What takes place at the Great White Throne feels cold and in many ways matter of fact. People stand before God, books are open, lives evaluated, and sentences administered.
And why is this the case? Though Jesus came to pay the penalty for any and all sin you may have committed no matter how heinous or depraved the deed may have been, there is one thing He cannot forgive and remain just — your rejection of His sacrifice for your sin! This is the most consequential decision you make in this life that determines the next.
Let me explain why. Following Adam and Eve’s rebellion and God laying out the curse, in Genesis 3:24, we read, “So He drove out the man and placed cherubim at the east of the garden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Without getting deep into the weeds, God graciously eliminated man’s access to the Tree of Life and in doing so instituted human death in order to separate our lives into two basic existences: the temporal and the eternal. And because of this, in an interesting way, God affords us all a taste of hell. We are all born into a fallen condition into a fallen world.
As such, every man knows first hand what life separated from God is like. It’s kind of like God has given everyone a test drive so you’d know what hell is like… This world is the best that life apart from God will ever be able to afford! It’s a world with man at the helm.
You see if you reject this fallen world and are reconciled to God through Jesus, death ends this hell as you instantly enter His glory. However, if you choose this fallen world and reject Jesus, death simply continues your torment as you are cast forever from His glory.
The incredible reality of death is that it affords man the choice he would never have been given if he’d retained access to the tree of life: continue forever in this hell or choose a new life to be lived eternally in the presence of God! Death allows the temporal man the chance to choose a different existence in his eternal state — heaven as opposed to hell!
Friend, if you do long for something better not only did God send His Son Jesus to make a way, but the eternal life He offers is available right this very moment! It’s been said, “For the believer, this life is the closest to hell we’re ever going to get. And yet, for the unbeliever, this life is the closest to heaven they are ever going to get!” In Christ, the lowest point of this earthly life will be the lowest it’ll ever be for you. And yet, apart from Christ, the highest point of this life will be the best it’s ever going to get for you! The choice is yours!
Secondly, Jesus’ love is utterly boundless! Seriously, it blows my mind that if you’d prefer an existence apart from Him, Jesus will honor your choice when you die by allowing you to live for all of eternity apart from Him. There are some people who love to ask rather condescendingly, “How can a God of love send someone to hell for all of eternity?”
First, God sends no one to hell who hasn’t chosen to go there. Secondly, how can God be loving and so blatantly violate your free will by forcing you to spend all of eternity with Him when you’ve spent this entire life making it clear you wanted nothing to do with Him? In such a scenario, making a person go to heaven would be a twisted version of hell anyway.
I see the very existence of hell as being the greatest manifestation of Jesus’ love for the sinner second to the cross. In one act of love, He died in order to save. And yet, in the other, Jesus dies all over again when He lets go of the one rejecting His salvation. You see God is not a spiritual rapist. He’s a divine gentleman that, in the ultimate act of love, will honor your decision to reject Him in spite of all that He’s done to persuade you otherwise.
Legendary singer Johnny Cash, a man who’d come to know his own personal demons very well, once said, “How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man.” Friend, as long as you’re breathing you can still decide where you’ll spend eternity!
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