Revelation 20:1-3 (NIV) 1 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 thethousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.
On verses 1-3: Previously in Revelation 9 we read of “the angel of the Abyss” (9:11) who was also called a “fallen star” and given the key to the Abyss (19:1). Many commentators believe this angel is Satan himself. Here in Revelation 20:1 John sees another angel coming down out of heaven possessing the key to the Abyss and holding a great chain. This angel seizes the red dragon Satan, throws him into the Abyss, locks and seals the Abyss, so that Satan cannot deceive the nations for 1,000 years. After the 1,000 years are over, verse 3 says that Satan “must be set free for a short time”.
Revelation 20:4-6 (NIV) 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 for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his 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 have part 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.
On verses 4-6: At about the same time that Satan is locked up in the Abyss, the souls of those who had been beheaded for their faith in Jesus come to life (v4). This is what John calls “the first resurrection” (v5). These resurrected Christians reign with Christ for 1,000 years, the same number of years as Satan is locked up in the Abyss (v4). Presumably when John sees thrones on which are seated “those who had been given the authority to judge” (v4), John is talking about these same resurrected Christians who are reigning with Christ. He makes several statements to describe these resurrected Christians:
In another “Revelation beatitude”, he calls them “blessed and holy” (v6);
The second death, referring to being thrown into the lake of fire (v14-15), “has no power over them” (v6);
They will be both priests of God and of Jesus for a thousand years in God’s kingdom (v6);
They will reign with Jesus for a thousand years (v6).
Revelation 20:7-9 (NIV) 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–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.
On verses 7-9: Starting with verse 7, John turns his attention to what happens once the 1,000 years are over. At the end of the 1,000 years Satan will be released from his prison (the Abyss) (v7). He will deceive the nations “in the four corners of the earth”, apparently called Gog and Magog, and use them to form an army as numerous as the sand on the seashore (v8). This army of Gog and Magog travels across the globe to surround “the camp of God’s people, the city He loves” (v9), which some commentators believe is Jerusalem. However, fire comes down from heaven and devours the army of Gog and Magog (v9).
Here it is worth noting that in Ezekiel 38 Gog is described as an individual from the land of Magog (Ezekiel 38:1). Ezekiel goes on to say that Gog and Magog, like a great army from the north, would attack the land of Israel, “advancing like a storm” and “like a cloud covering the land” (Ezekiel 38:8-9). In response, God will attack and defeat Gog (Ezekiel 38:21-23 and Ezekiel 39:1-16), at least in part by sending fire on Magog (Ezekiel 39:6). This picture from the book of Ezekiel seems to match in many ways what we read in verses 7-9 of Revelation 20.
What can we learn from this? Even after a thousand years of inactivity, when Satan is released from the Abyss and launches one final massive onslaught against God, God still wins. Revelation 20:10 (NIV) 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.
On verse 10: Here we see Satan’s final destruction as Satan the red dragon is thrown into the lake of fire (v10) to be tormented together with the beast from the sea (the anti-Christ) and the false prophet (the beast from the earth).
A Note on Pre-Millennialism, Post-Millennialism, and A-Millennialism
Notice that in Revelation 20:1-10, John makes six different references to a period of a thousand years (a millennium). During this millennium period, Jesus will reign with His resurrected believers and Satan will be locked up, unable to deceive anyone. Since Jesus Himself promises that He is coming back to earth one day, scholars have debated whether Jesus will return to earth before or after this special millennium period.
Some scholars believe that Jesus’ return to earth will happen before this millennium period, a position known as pre-millennialism. Pre-millennialists generally believe that Jesus will return, the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth will be thrown in the lake of fire, Satan will be locked up in the Abyss, the dead will be raised and judged, and thenthe millennium will take place (after which Satan will be released and rebel one last time, only to be thrown in the lake of fire).
Other scholars believe that Jesus’ return to earth will take place after this special millennium period. This position is known as post-millennialism.
Still, there are other scholars who believe that the period of one thousand years should be taken figuratively not literally, and that “a thousand years” simply means a long period of time for Christ to reign with His people. This third position is sometimes known as a-millennialism. In objection, both pre-millennialists and post-millennialists would argue that the period of Christ’s reign on earth is a literal 1,000 years. “Why else would John keep mentioning the phrase one thousand years over and over again in these verses?”, they say.
These are the three main approaches when it relates to “the millennium”, but within each approach different scholars have their own different points of view.
Which position is correct – pre-millennialism, post-millennialism, a-millennialism? No one knows for sure on this side of eternity. Thankfully, our salvation in Jesus does not depend on whether you are a pre-millennialist, post-millennialist, a-millennialist, or have no idea. What matters is that you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, rose from the grave, and is alive today.
Since Jesus’ return and when this special millennium happen are both beyond our control, let’s focus on what is within our control: regardless of which position one takes on the topic of the millennium, let’s live for Jesus every day of our lives, believing that one day Jesus is coming again.
Revelation 20:11 (NIV) 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky 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 he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
On verses 11-15: Here we see the day of final judgment unfolding where the dead – whether found in the sea, in hell or elsewhere – stands before the Lord’s great white throne. Books recording the deeds of every person are opened (v12). I’ll call these the books of deeds, since they record what they did during their lifetimes on earth. Each person is judged according to what they had done in the books of deeds (v12b and v13).
In addition to the books of deeds, another book is opened: the book of life (v12). Seemingly regardless of how a person was judged according to the books of deeds, anyone whose name was not found in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire, joining death, hell (v14), Satan, and his two beasts (v10). This “second death” of being thrown into the lake of fire is what awaits every person who has not put their trust in Jesus Christ.
Some commentators believe that this time of judgment before the great white throne of God is only for dead unbelievers. They believe that by this time all Christians have already been raised and have already been reigning with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4-6). They see this “great white throne of God” before which unbelievers are judged as being different and distinct from the “judgment seat of Christ” before which believers are judged (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Another interpretation is that everyone – both Christians and unbelievers – will appear before the great white throne and will be judged for their deeds according to the books of deeds. After that, they go to heaven or hell depending on whether their names are written in the book of life. Under this view, this great white throne and the “judgment seat of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10) may be the same thing.
In any event, we know that God will hold us accountable for what we do in our lifetime, but the most crucial question that determines where we will be for eternity is: is your name written in the book of life (that is, have you trusted Jesus as your Saviour)?
Finally, how could a loving God send people to hell? The Bible says that no matter how good we think we are, none of us deserves to get into heaven, for God is holy and nothing containing sin can stay in God’s holy presence. Yet though we are sinners, God did not give up on us. Desperately wanting us to be with Him for eternity because He loves us, God sacrificed His perfect, one and only Son to pay for our sins. That way through faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross, we can be forgiven. It is through Jesus that God takes away our sins and gives us His righteousness so that we can be with Him in heaven.
In other words, God has already made a way available for every person to be with Him for eternity. The question that remains is: will we choose God and humbly accept what He has done for us in Jesus Christ, or will we choose to reject Jesus and insist on our own way. From this perspective, despite the imagery of “being thrown into the lake of fire”, it is not so much that God sends anyone to hell. Rather, people who choose hell for themselves when they reject God’s way and insist on doing things their own way.
Lord Jesus, thank You that my salvation does not depend on whether I am a pre-millennialist, post-millennialist, a-millennialist, or haven’t a clue. Thank You that my salvation depends on believing that You died on the cross for my sins and rose again. I believe in You, Lord Jesus. Thank You that I get to be with You not just for a thousand years or for “a very long time”, but forever. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!