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Archangel Michael - Guido Reni (1636)

John saw an angel come down from heaven holding the key to the Abyss and a great chain. He seized the dragon (Satan) and bound him for one thousand years (a millennium). He threw Satan into the Abyss and locked and sealed it over him to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

Fall of the Rebel Angels - Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1562)John saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given the authority to judge. He saw souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended).

This is the first resurrection. Blessed are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them. They will be priests of God and will reign with Jesus for a thousand years.

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth – Gog and Magog – and to gather them for battle. In number, they are like the sand on the seashore.

They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them and the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Sturz der rebellischen Engel - Sebastiano Rocci (1720)

Then John saw a great white horse with a man seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence – there was no place for them. John saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened – the Book of Life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them. Each person was judged according to what they had done.

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Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.

What the story means to us today

Christ returns to complete his mission

The Beast and the False Prophet have already been thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur and their armies destroyed. Now we see Satan restrained and thrown into the Abyss. Christ destroyed the Beast and his armies in the previous chapter, now he finishes the job, turning his attention to Satan himself.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Revelation 20 – A difficult chapter for biblical scholars

"Die Bibel in Bildern - Matthias Gerung (1530)Revelation Chapter 20 is notorious for the variety of interpretations offered by biblical scholars – and it’s likely one of the most important chapters in Revelation. After all, your view of the afterlife is dependent on this single chapter.

The biggest argument is whether the one-thousand-year rule of Christ is literal or not. The easiest interpretation of course, is to take the timeline as a literal one-thousand-year reign. However, since the number one thousand could symbolize “completeness”, some believe the reference alludes to a complete or full reign of Jesus in our hearts up until his second coming.

Evidence points toward a literal one thousand (or some long period of time) reign of Jesus after his second coming but before the great battle in which Satan is finally defeated once and for all.

The sequence of events

The “end-historical” view sees the millennium (1,000-year reign) as the end-historical event that also marks the beginning of God’s eternal reign. The sequence of events is:

  1. One thousand years.
  2. Satan is bound and thrown into the Abyss for one thousand years.
  3. The first resurrection – those who were martyred are resurrected and will rule with God on earth for one thousand years.
  4. End of one thousand years.
  5. Satan is released from the Abyss and gathers nations for battle.
  6. Fire comes from heaven and destroys Satan’s armies.
  7. Satan is thrown into the lake of fire.
  8. The judgement of the dead.
  9. The remaining Christians are resurrected and judged according to what they had done as recorded in the Book of Life.
  10. The end.
  11. Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire – the second death.

John Milton Paradise Lost - Gustave Dore (1866)Shortened: Defeat of the Antichrist – binding of Satan – resurrection of martyrs – millennium for martyrs – release of Satan – final judgement – new heaven and earth (see next chapter).

Those seated on the thrones

John says, “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.” We are not told who was sitting on the thrones, but Luke may have earlier provided a hint. In Luke 22:29, Jesus tells the disciples, “You will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”.

Why would God leave his followers on Earth for a millennium?

John does not tell us what the millennium will be like. He only tells us who will participate in it. The millennium will be a thousand-year period during which Jesus will defeat all his enemies and conquer death. It is likely that during the millennium, the martyrs, who were also mentioned in Revelation 6:9, will be allowed to experience a thousand-year period where Jesus will demonstrate his teachings, allowing the martyrs to see first-hand what they died for.

That Satan is released and comes back to reform an army hints that during the thousand-year period, there will still be people who will rebel against God. If this is the proper interpretation, despite Jesus living amongst the people, Man’s heart is still stubborn and, in some instances, man will still refuse to adhere to God’s will. This demonstrates mankind’s penchant for rebellion against God even when Satan is subdued and out of the picture.

Why are the dead resurrected one thousand years after the martyrs?

Jesus had already told us about the resurrections in prior verses. In John 5:25 he said,

“A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live”.

The Earthly Paradise - Hieronymus Bosch (1510)In John 5:28, he continues the thought,

“A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done what is good will rise to live and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned”.

Although we cannot be certain, it may be that the martyrs are brought forth early to assist Jesus during the thousand-year reign. Some theologians believe that during this thousand-year reign, there could still be people who falter and fall out of God’s favor. Having an army of martyrs would surely be beneficial to assist in one final attempt at saving these souls.

A second potential option requires a careful reading of the verses. Although the Book of Life is mentioned, the verses do not specifically say the second resurrection involves Christians. It merely says John saw the dead standing before the throne, the Book of Life opened, and the dead judged. It may be that the second resurrection is solely judgement for the damned – an event referred to as “the resurrection of the wicked dead”.

Why would Satan be released a second time and allowed to deceive mankind again?

John tells us an angel threw Satan into the Abyss and locked and sealed it for one thousand years “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” He then reveals that Satan will be set free for a short time. Why would God’ design allow Satan to be released a second time? And who would Satan gather for battle if the beast and his armies had already been destroyed?

Of course, this is an impossible question to answer with certainty. God’s plans are unknown to us, but it could demonstrate that evil may be different that we typically perceive. It may be that not all evil is driven by Satan but derives from the soul of man himself.

The one seated on the white throne

The verses tell us, “I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it. The earth and the heaven fled from his presence and no place was found for them.” As with other references in the Bible, we can assume the white throne represents victory. The one seated on it is God.

Why would hearth and heaven flee from him? This statement could be a symbolic reference to evil fleeing God’s presence. Some think this is a reference to the destruction of the physical earth and a replacement with some sort of new universe altogether – a new heaven and earth.

What happened to the people that were raptured during the thousand-year reign?

La chute des anges rebelles - Charles Le Brun (1680)This is a tricky chapter to interpret – possibly the most difficult in the book of Revelation. Assuming the interpretation of events tells us Christians were raptured at this point, the question becomes, where are the raptured during the thousand-year period?

The raptured may be among the martyred people John sees. It could be that they are simply included in the count and not mentioned. Or possibly they are considered martyrs because of their sacrifices incurred to maintain their morality. Or possibly what John sees is only a subset of those present during the thousand-year period. Or maybe he saw more and simply did not mention it.

As with any apocryphal/prophetic book, we must avoid the temptation to apply concrete interpretation of the events and instead, understand that, like pieces of a puzzle, the solution will be revealed when the events begin to unfold.

Notes on Biblical translation

A one-thousand-year reign

As with the number seven, “one-thousand” may represent completeness and not a literal number. It would be clear to ancient readers like “I’ve told you a dozen times already” would be understandable to modern-day readers. Thus we cannot ascertain whether the millennium is a true 1,000 year period or if it represents a perfect, complete reign.

Gog and Magog

The verses tell us, “Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations of the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle.” Gog and Magog are mentioned in other verses in the Bible. In Ezekiel, Gog is referenced as a person from a land called Magog. In other verses, the two words symbolize mythical locations and are seen as a reference to all lands, nations, or religions other than Israel or Christians. The words seem to be similar to our modern-day use of the word “Waterloo” to represent any major battle that was disastrous.

Bible Text

Die Bibel in Bildern - Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1855)NIV

20 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

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Saint Michael and the Fall of Angels - Johann Georg Unruhe (1760)The NET Bible

20:1 Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. 20:2 He seized the dragon—the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan—and tied him up for a thousand years. 20:3 The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.)

20:4 Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 20:5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

20:7 Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison 20:8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea. 20:9 They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely. 20:10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.

20:11 Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 20:12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. 20:13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 20:14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. 20:15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 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. 9 They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. 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.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 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. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

20 I saw an Angel descending out of Heaven. He carried the key to the Abyss and a chain—a huge chain. He grabbed the Dragon, that old Snake—the very Devil, Satan himself!—chained him up for a thousand years, dumped him into the Abyss, slammed it shut and sealed it tight. No more trouble out of him, deceiving the nations—until the thousand years are up. After that he has to be let loose briefly.

4–6 I saw thrones. Those put in charge of judgment sat on the thrones. I also saw the souls of those beheaded because of their witness to Jesus and the Word of God, who refused to worship either the Beast or his image, refused to take his mark on forehead or hand—they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years! The rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years were up. This is the first resurrection—and those involved most blessed, most holy. No second death for them! They’re priests of God and Christ; they’ll reign with him a thousand years.

7–10 When the thousand years are up, Satan will be let loose from his cell, and will launch again his old work of deceiving the nations, searching out victims in every nook and cranny of earth, even Gog and Magog! He’ll talk them into going to war and will gather a huge army, millions strong. They’ll stream across the earth, surround and lay siege to the camp of God’s holy people, the Beloved City. They’ll no sooner get there than fire will pour out of Heaven and burn them up. The Devil who deceived them will be hurled into Lake Fire and Brimstone, joining the Beast and False Prophet, the three in torment around the clock for ages without end.

11–15 I saw a Great White Throne and the One Enthroned. Nothing could stand before or against the Presence, nothing in Heaven, nothing on earth. And then I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there—before the Throne! And books were opened. Then another book was opened: the Book of Life. The dead were judged by what was written in the books, by the way they had lived. Sea released its dead, Death and Hell turned in their dead. Each man and woman was judged by the way he or she had lived. Then Death and Hell were hurled into Lake Fire. This is the second death—Lake Fire. Anyone whose name was not found inscribed in the Book of Life was hurled into Lake Fire.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

20 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.

4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. 9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. 10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database

 

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