Intro. – We often go through life confused and disoriented. We struggle to interpret things of life and this, in turn, affects our attitudes toward God, the world, and people. We talked a little bit last week about the difference between interpreting life deductively and inductively. In a nutshell, we either interpret the details of life in light of a “Big Picture” or we interpret the big picture in light of the details.
I have had some conversations regarding the study of Revelation. Because there are different ways of understanding Revelation and the end times in general, is there really a point to study? I would have to say “yes.” Regardless of your conclusions regarding the specifics and timelines etc., you emerge with a greater understanding of the nature of God, the nature of the Adversary (Satan) and the nature of mankind. And this allows us to walk the road in front of us with greater clarity. We can interpret the details of life better.
Up to this point, if you have not yet grasped the plan and sovereignty of God (power and authority), I hope that this will glare out at you this morning. We will see a great contrast through this chapter as well as the entire book – the sovereignty of God versus the futility of Satan.
We continue our current study in the book of Revelation. And we find ourselves in chapter 20. Please turn there with me. It is important that you are able to see for yourselves our text and so if you came without one today, we would be happy to let you use one from the back. Revelation 20 you will find at the end of the Bible. If you flip back a few pages from the back cover, you will quickly find our passage for today. Everybody there? Hear the word of the Lord…
READ - Revelation 20
I have to admit that it is difficult to study and preach on the nature of hell and eternal torment and I am really looking forward to the final chapters of this book when evil and sin are eradicated and we have heaven in the presence of God to look forward to.
We will look at the text in four points as we see that “He Reigns.” First, we will see the Temporary Triumph over the Dragon. We see this in the first three verses of chapter 20. There are also two sub-points in this section pertaining to the character of God and the character of Satan. We see an angel that descends from heaven and he is holding keys in his hand that belong to the bottomless pit. This place, the bottomless pit, is elsewhere referred to as the abyss. The abyss is like a prison house of demonic spirits. In 2 Peter 2.4, the apostle speaks of a place where the fallen angels are chained and kept until the judgment. Jude 6 says “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” And in Revelation 9 we recall that a messenger from heaven has the key to the bottomless pit.
The angel with the key opens up the abyss, takes the dragon, throws him into the pit, shuts and seals it for a thousand years. Nothing to it. With regard to Satan, I think we often either overestimate or underestimate his power. Some of us walk the Christian life as if there were no spiritual battle taking place. On the other hand, many ascribe too much power to our foe. I find it interesting that God did not personally apprehend and detain him. It was an angel. The angel seemingly has no problem overpowering this other fallen angel. It appears as though he throws him around handily. Satan is banished for a thousand years and our text says that he will be released. In fact, it says he MUST be released. (That’s noteworthy and we’ll talk about it more in a little while.) And it says that this is after the thousand years. Now this is where things get tricky. In fact, some commentators state that this is perhaps the most divisive chapter in the Bible. Let me just tell you that’s not intimidating at all as a preacher… The ambiguity revolves around the thousand years, or the millennial kingdom. Most of the discussion pertains to the language being literal or symbolic and the timing of all the events of this book.
So with regard to the Millennium, there are godly folks who differ on their understanding of this portion of Scripture. In fact, I probably have friends that hold each of the major views of the Millennial Kingdom. If you have the ESV Study Bible, there is a great explanation of these views on pages 2458-2460. Commercial: “This study Bible, I will say here, is probably the best one-volume resource you could possess for Bible study. It provides overviews, maps, theology, Christian ethics, world religions and so much more – all in a 4 inch wide book. If you don’t have one and are looking for something to enhance your understanding of God’s Word, I highly recommend it.”
Anyway, at the risk of oversimplification I offer the views in a nutshell. Amillennialism would suggest that there is no future kingdom but that Christ reigns spiritually in our hearts when we come to Christ. The events in the book of Revelation are symbolic and indicative of events that occur throughout the entire church age. Postmillenialism and Premillenialism both believe in a literal millennial kingdom but disagree on how it is brought about and the timing of Christ’s return. Postmillenialism believes that we will usher in the Kingdom through the preached Word of God among the nations and the advancement of the church. We can so influence the world and culture as to redeem it. And then Christ returns after to usher us into the eternal state. Premillenialism (of which there are two camps) believe that Christ returns in order to establish the millennial kingdom and to reign over it. This is the position I hold to and will attempt to explain briefly this morning. I believe Scripture to be interpreted at face value unless you have indication to do so otherwise. So when Scripture speaks of a literal thousand year kingdom, you need much more support to say that it isn’t to be taken literally.
However you understand these events, it is important that these are NOT doctrines to divide over. They are not necessary for salvation – like the deity of Christ, the trinity, salvation by faith and the like. You will find genuine believers that interpret these events differently.
Ok. Pressing on. Besides the details of these events, we learn a lot about the character of Satan. Verse two identifies him in such a way as to be his indictment. He is the dragon that we saw in chapter 12. If you recall, this sign in heaven looked throughout history at the dragon’s attempts to thwart the plans of God. We remember that he tried to usurp God’s authority when he was in heaven. And then he was thrown out of heaven along with a multitude of angels who followed after him. He deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden, as that ancient serpent, where she rebelled against God. Through Herod he tried to kill the Christ-child. And all throughout the rest of history, he has been active and continues to dissolve the testimony of Christ. He is THE devil, the slanderer and adversary. He is Satan, the enemy – the enemy of Jesus Christ and His followers.
It is interesting to note that his modus operandi is NOT to overpower, but to deceive. This is his defining characteristic. We see it all throughout Scripture and twice in our text this morning – here in verse 3 and also in verse 8. If he isn’t deceiving people personally, he operates through individuals – namely false teachers. As we have seen, there is often imitation of truth within the deception. Satan used Scripture to try to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. He and his unholy trinity imitate signs and wonders in the book of Revelation to try to deceive people. And false teachers abound. Doug and I have tried to communicate the necessity of believers to be discerning. There is a LOT out there that “sounds” Christian. But unless we are diligent in the Scriptures, we risk being deceived by false teaching. Satan is characterized by deception.
God is characterized by sovereignty. He merely needs to send an angel to carry out justice on Satan. There is a key and God possesses all authority and power to carry out His plan. If you’ve been with us on this journey through Revelation, you have seen this time and time again. Even the progress that Satan and evil make is only because God allows it. Revelation 6:8, “And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” Revelation 9:3 “Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.” Revelation 13:7 “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation,” Revelation 16:8 “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire.”
You recall the story of Job. He was persecuted by Satan only because God allowed him to. Satan cannot carry out anything unless God allows it. Brothers and sisters, no matter what you are going through this morning (as difficult as it may be), nothing happens without the permission of God. Be encouraged! For the One who allows it is GOOD and not EVIL. And He works things out according to His plan and for your good if you love Him! Big picture thinking, remember? Deductive. Our God is a good and sovereign God and all things are working out toward a predestined end for His glory! And if you are His child, there is cause for rejoicing! For you will be resurrected on that day!
And this is the second point, Reign of the Resurrected. READ vv. 4-7. The apostle John sees thrones which are occupied by many. He mentions some specifically as those who are martyred for their faith and those who were faithful through the tribulation period. They came to life! They were resurrected. As with Jesus, the grave cannot contain them because Jesus overcame the grave! 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 “19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Here John points out specifically the vindication of those who were martyred. This recalls for us the fifth seal where John saw under the altar the souls slain for the word of God and their witness. They cry out for justice and vengeance. Here they receive their just reward. They are resurrected and they sit on thrones.
The text indicates that this is the first resurrection. When Christ returns it will be the believers that are resurrected. And then, parenthetically speaking he asserts that unbelievers will not be raised until after the Millennium.
Though John mentions some specifically, I believer that all unbelievers will participate in this reign. Matthew 19.28 reads, “Matthew 19:28 “28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Revelation 3:21 “21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” Revelation 5:10 “10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
This was all prophesied 600 years before Christ came to earth. Daniel 7 declares this, Daniel 7:18 “18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.’ Daniel 7:22 “22 until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.” 2 Timothy 2:12 “12 if we endure, we will also reign with him.”
“Blessed” and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Why? The second death has no power! The second death is eternal. It is the lake of fire according to verse 14. The absolute worst that this world can do to us is to take away the temporal and physical life. In fact, Matthew 10.28 says “28And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We will be resurrected into eternal life! And we are blessed because we will serve God forever and reign with him. In the beginning of Revelation, John informs the churches in Asia that they are a kingdom and priests to God the Father and then includes the rest of the redeemed in 5.10 which includes that we will reign on the earth.
My third point from this passage is True to Form. We find this in verses 7-10. After the Millennial Kingdom, Satan will be released (notice he does not escape) for a time. And what does he do? He acts out his character. He deceives the nations from all over in order to gather for battle. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The sixth bowl judgment. There is an army assembled for Armageddon. This one is led by the beast. And in the message last week, this army is destroyed instantaneously. And so it appears as though it was only the assembled army in that text that was destroyed by the sword in 19.21 and not all earth-dwellers. There are still those who are unbelievers at the time of the Millennium and beyond.
John refers back to Ezekiel when he mentions Gog and Magog. Many have tried to identify specific nations that will assemble. But I think that this just refers to people from all over whose number is like the sand of the sea. There is again another army in opposition to God and His people. Our text indicates that they marched up and “surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city”. We know that the “beloved city” historically is Jerusalem, the capital of the chosen nation of Israel. This is more difficult to take literally because the city would not be able to contain all of God’s saints at this time. So it may refer symbolically to God’s people in general. Hebrews chapter 13 refers to the “camp” as symbolic of believers and those outside the camp as unbelievers. So it is likely that this refers generally to an advance of Satan and his followers against God and the saints. Do you find anything peculiar about this??
Satan has been gone for a thousand years. The rest of the earth has been under Christ’s rule along with the resurrected saints. And yet there are multitudes of people who do not follow Christ. Still there is sin. Still there is rebellion and opposition to God. Satan acts true to form and so do people. We are sinners to the core. There are no victims of circumstances for the devil has been absent. As soon as Satan is released they forget all the years they have spent with Christ and immediately flock after Satan. This is a powerful picture of total depravity. And this shows our absolute need for Christ. Apart from His salvation, we follow the Adversary.
Grant Osborne notes, “The purpose [of this temporary release of the dragon] is to prove the power of total depravity and demonstrate once and for all the necessity of eternal punishment. The millennium is the judicial evidence that will convict the earth-dwellers and prove that their eternal sin demands eternal punishment.” And again, “The power of sin is eternal over those who have rejected Christ again and again, as seen in the repeated repudiations of God’s offer of repentance throughout this book (Rev. 9.20-21; 16.9, 11), culminating in the final refusal after experiencing the reign of Christ for a thousand years. So God can respond to eternal sin only with eternal torment.”
Another commentator adds, “Their depravity is in complete control, and so eternal punishment is the only valid option.” Remember verse 3? John stated that Satan must be released for a little while. This indicates that it is part of the divine plan and perhaps the plan is to provide some insight to our nature. We are sinners in need of divine grace.
Satan deceives as true to form. People sin as true to form. And God judges sin as true to form. As the armies are assembled fire comes down from heaven and consumes the opposition. The devil, once again characterized by deception, was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur to join the beast and false prophet. Satan fell from heaven to earth in Revelation 12, from the earth to the abyss in verses 1-3 and now into the lake of fire where he will experience eternal judgment.
Satan knows its coming. There is an appointed time he and his demons are aware of. Jesus went to the country of Gadarenes when he came upon two demon-possessed men. The demons recognized Jesus and cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Remember? Jesus sent them into the herd of pigs who rushed into the sea. 2 Peter 2 tells us that many reside in the abyss until the judgment. And in Revelation 12.12 “the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.”
And the fourth point is Judgment Day. John sees a great white throne and the Judge upon it. We have seen several allusions to “white.” Jesus is described having white hair in Revelation 1.14, sitting on a white cloud in 14.14 and returning on a white horse in 19.11. The celestial beings and the triumphant saints wear white and return with Christ on white horses. White symbolizes purity and holiness. And it is before the holy Judge we all must stand. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 2 Peter 3:10 “10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” Psalm 102:26 “26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
The glory of Christ is so intense as to dissolve the universe. All that remains in the picture are the Judge, the dead (great and small) and the books. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Only the judgment. The books. Daniel 7:10 “10 A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.”
The dead were judged according to what was written in these books. I believe that there are two judgments taking place in this passage. Revelation 20.12 I think is the judgment of believers and verses 13-14 is the judgment of unbelievers. Some suggest that there is no judgment of believers. But I think that dismisses several Scripture passages that refer to believers being judged by works. Romans 14 says we will all stand beore the judgment seat of God and will give an account to God. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 “12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. The judgment of believers does not determine their eternal state for that is certain. We are saved by grace, but will be judged by works. Our eternal state is determined by the book of life.
Death and Hades likely refer to physical death and the demonic realm. The unbelievers who stand before the throne are not found written in the book of life and stand condemned. They participate in the second death whereas believers do not. They are cast into the lake of fire for an eternal conscious torment.
My friends, hell is not a big party where your friends are laughing it up having a good time waiting for you to join them. It is indescribable and unfathomable. In the same way that the glories of heaven cannot be adequately communicated in earthly language so too the unbearable torment of the lake of fire. I pray that none of you who are here this morning will experience this fate. If you remain alienated from God, I beg you to consider your sin in light of his holiness and to repent. Eternal sin deserves eternal punishment.
For the believer, we long for the Day. For those who suffer, we are encouraged that when God deems the time appropriate, it will take only one angel to imprison the devil. We long for the day that our Lord Jesus will return and set things right. However, I believe we too face judgment. Do we really want to enter the gates of heaven by the skin of our teeth? Do we want to stand ashamed before our Lord because we did not live our lives fully for His glory? Consider it grace that He has given you a new day to repent and strive for His glory! Let’s Pray.