An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 30 June 2011; Revised 30 November 2015
Scripture: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the chapter commentary. The Revelation Scripture text is taken from the NASB (1977 Edition) and unless otherwise indicated other Scripture quotations are from the NASB 1995 Updated Edition. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet.
Ancient Sources: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Works by early church fathers are available online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library or Early Christian Writings. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.). Online.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from Walter Bauer, W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Satan Bound (20:1-3)
1― And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.
And I saw an angel: The next sight for John was an angel departing heaven for earth as in 10:1 and 18:1. come down from heaven: Grk. ouranos, the area above the earth that encompasses the sky, interstellar space and associated phenomena or the transcendent dwelling-place of God (Danker). See the note on 3:12. Here the latter location is intended. having the key: Grk. kleis refers to anything used for locking, especially a key. of the abyss: Grk. abussos. See 9:1 on "bottomless." The angel could be Yeshuaís personal "aide-de-camp," since Yeshua has the key to Hades (1:18). The "abyss" is otherwise known as the bottomless pit. The "key to the abyss" may be a metaphor for Godís authority or special power to open the abyss, but just as likely includes using something tangible to accomplish the task. The mention of a "key" presupposes a lock, neither of which is described.
and a great chain in his hand: The "great chain" indicates some kind of restraint device and is the same word used to describe the chain that bound both Peter (Acts 12:6) and Paul (2Tim 1:16) during their confinements. The word "great" may emphasize the length, but more likely the tensile strength of the chain, because it must be a very special chain to bind an angelic being. No human manufactured chain would suffice. The fact that John described the angel as "holding" the key and had the chain "in his hand" may indicate that the key was in one hand and the chain was in the other hand. Of course, why God should need a chain to bind Satan is not clear. For John who witnessed the scene it may have had the gratifying effect of seeing Satan treated as a common criminal.
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 angel then "laid hold on" Satan, which refers to placing someone under arrest by forcible seizure. Of interest is that the Lord delegates the task of apprehending Satan to an angel. What an insult to Satan who has deluded himself into thinking he is Godís equal! While arresting Satan is certainly a special task for any of Godís angels there is no indication that God chose one of His noted archangels. Sending an "ordinary" angel to capture the "god" of this world and the chief ruler of a demonic empire would be a direct blow to Satanís feeling of pride, power and privilege.
the dragon: All four titles of the believerís enemy are given, as in 12:9, all of which are a reminder of his activities as deceiver, tempter, accuser and adversary. (See 12:3, 9 on the names of Satan.) These titles are not unlike a wanted poster listing a criminalís name and aliases.
and bound him: Grk. krateō, aor., to gain control of, to restrain or secure. Satan is then "bound" with a long chain for transport to the abyss and kept bound for the duration of his confinement in prison. Rabbinic writers believed prisoners in Sheol are held captive with ropes (cf. 2Sam 22:6; Ps 18:5; 116:3) ("Sheol," JE). Many commentators since Augustine have assumed that the word "bound" symbolically refers to Satanís defeat in the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Yeshua. Victorinus suggested that "the devil, excluded from the hearts of believers, began to take possession of the wicked, in whose hearts, blinded day by day, he is shut up as if in a profound abyss." Amillenarians insist that based on Matthew 12:29 Satan is bound now and point out that he cannot destroy Scripture; he cannot tempt believers more than they can bear; God makes a way of escape with every temptation, etc.
Yeshua used the metaphor of binding the strong man in Matthew 12:29 to describe His freeing individuals from demonic oppression, and in no way implies any impotence of Satan to work in the world. It could well be that Yeshua was also giving the Pharisees a preview of the later revelation to John (cf. John 12:31). Yeshua certainly achieved victory over the local demonic organization in Israel as Paul reports, "Stripping the rulers and authorities of their power, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by means of the stake" (Col 2:15 CJB). However, Satan has not only worked in the hearts of unbelievers, but also among the people of God. The parable of the wheat and tares pictures the enemy actively sowing bad seed among the people of God during this present age (Matt 13: 24-30, 41).
There is no other verse in the apostolic writings that speaks of Satan being bound anywhere at any time, for as Peter says, he "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1Pet 5:8). At times in Scripture Satan is restrained in the sense that he had to obtain Godís permission to act against one of Godís saints (cf. Job 1:9-12; Luke 22:31-32). Yet, other passages assert that Satan has unfettered freedom to act within all cultures and societal systems under his control (2Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 6:12; 1Th 1:18; 1Jn 5:19). Yeshua promised that "the ruler of this world will be cast out" (John 12:31) and the apostles recognized that the end of Satanís deceptive influence and grip on world power still lay in the future (Rom 16:20) and would only be accomplished by the personal return of Yeshua (2Th 1:6f).
for a thousand: Grk. chilioi, a thousand, a numerical value. In the LXX chilioi translates Heb. eleph (SH-505), "thousand." The number occurs 11 times in the Besekh, and all but one in Revelation. In the Tanakh the number is often literal, such as the numbering of Israel (Ex 12:37), the division of Israel into military units of "thousands" (Ex 18:21, 25; Num 31:5) and the counting of livestock (1Sam 25:2; 2Kgs 18:23). Sometimes the word is used in a hyperbolic sense to indicate a great many (Lev 26:8). When Samuel wrote that King Saul had killed "thousands" it is only to compare him unfavorably to King David who killed tens of thousands (1Sam 18:7). years: pl. of Grk. etos, a time period of twelve months, year. The accusative form of the two nouns indicates the extent of time (Rienecker).
The number "thousand" is used in connection with time, a "thousand years," twice in the Tanakh (Ps 90:4; Eccl 6:6). In both of those passages the "thousand years" is a literal span of time. Peter alludes to Psalm 90:4 when he compares a thousand years to a day from God's perspective:
"For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day." (2Pet 2:5-8 NASB)
Peterís words are set in the context of explaining the seeming delay of the Lordís coming and thus the Peterís words must mean that just as there were six days of creation so there would be a thousand years for each creation day, and then the Day of the Lord would usher in the seventh or Sabbath millennium. Some people attempt to use Peterís contrast of a thousand years to a day to rebut the straightforward meaning of "day" in Genesis 1 by assuming that Peter uses "thousand" as an indefinite number. Moses stressed that God is not bound by time as people are (Psalm 90:2). Thus, when God exercises His patience to allow people to be saved, a thousand earth years may go by. However, the misinterpretation of "day" in Genesis ignores the fact that Moses and Peter were discussing two entirely different subjects.
The fact is, Peterís contrast doesnít work unless we know how long a thousand years last. If "day" in Genesis 1 is indefinite and meaningless, then so is the expression "a thousand years." Maybe Peter meant a million years or a billion years. Interestingly, the early church fathers took Peterís words literally and interpreted the passage as meaning that just as there were six days of creation so there would be a thousand years of history for each creation day, and then the Day of the Lord would usher in the seventh or Sabbath millennium, just as God rested on the seventh day after creation.
The fact that Peter stated his proposition forwards and backwards is significant. The context shows that Peter is answering mockers who dispute the reality of the Second Coming by giving them an overview of history beginning with creation (verse 5) and concluding with the day of judgment (verse 7). These two events are the bookends of earth history. Therefore, it makes sense that Peterís cryptic comment has something to do with earth history. Peterís historical summary may reflect agreement with the Rabbinic viewpoint later written in the Talmud: "The world will exist for six thousand years, then for one thousand years it will be desolate" (Sanh. 97a). In the same source another Rabbi taught, "The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era."
In this chapter the time reference of a "thousand" occurs six times in seven verses. The first mention of a thousand year period, or millennium, is connected with the confinement of Satan. The reign of the Messiah cannot commence in its fullest sense without the archenemy of the Kingdom of God being removed from his position as god of this world. Ever since the early church fathers there has been much debate among theologians and Bible expositors about whether the millennium should be taken literally as to length, whether it occurs before the Second Coming of Yeshua or afterwards and whether it occurs on earth or in heaven. Advocates of the symbolic view cite Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8, but those verses actually treat "thousand years" in a literal sense; otherwise the contrast of a thousand years to a day loses its force.
The repetition of the number argues against it being merely hyperbole or symbolic. The real puzzle is why only a thousand years? Incarceration in the abyss jail is not pre-trial confinement. Why not keep Satan locked up forever? Why not send him directly to the lake of fire as the beast and false prophet? The thousand-year confinement does serve the purpose of keeping Satan completely out of the world while the Lord Yeshua establishes His reign over all the earth, as described in verse 4 below.
3― and threw him into the abyss, 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 abyss: In 12:9 Satan was thrown out of heaven to the earth, but now the angel of the Lord exerts his superior power and hurls Satan into the deepest recesses of the earth, the abyss or bottomless pit. One can only imagine the cheer in heaven when this event is actually accomplished. Thank you Lord for putting Satan where he belongs! Of course, the Lordís angel not only throws Satan into his jail, but also takes steps to insure that he cannot escape. shut it and sealed: "Shut" and "sealed" represent double security. The sealing is reminiscent of the sealed scroll that only the Lamb could open. In this way the earth is free of Satanís activity for the thousand years. it over him: The Greek adverb epanō, meaning over or above, emphasizes the location of Satanís confinement as being in the depths of the earth with the only way out being overhead.
While not specifically mentioned, Satan joins the tens of thousands of the beastís army slaughtered at Armageddon, as prophesied by Isaiah,
"So it will happen in that day, that the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high, and the kings of the earth on earth. They will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon and will be confined in prison; and after many days they will be punished." (Isa 24:21-22)
so that he should not deceive: Grk. planaō, aor. subj., to lead astray, cause to wander, mislead or deceive. The subjunctive mood of the verb could be interpreted as either a result ("would") or a purpose ("should") (Rienecker). The reason given for the confinement is to prevent him from engaging in further deceptive activities, at least during the 1,000-year period. Scripture reveals that Satan has an array of talents and tactics for keeping the world under his influence and carrying out his spiritual warfare against the saints. Deceit may be Satanís chief weapon in accomplishing his ends and he has enjoyed untold success with it ever since Adam and Eve. Satan is certainly skilled at using trickery to pervert the right ways of the Lord (Acts 13:10), disguises himself as an angel of light (2Cor 11:14) and will use false miracles to lead the world into idolatry of the Antichrist. In reality if he told the truth about himself and his plans most humans would not want to follow him and it is the truth that brings freedom (John 8:32). To have a society free of the author of deceit would be blessed indeed.
Satanís activities in Scripture include causing environmental calamity (Job 1:16, 18f), instigating violence (Job 1:14f, 17), murder (John 8:44), tempting to sin (1Jn 3:8), stealing the gospel from people (Mark 4:15), lying (Acts 5:3), prompting betrayal (John 13:2), scheming against Godís people (Eph 6:11), causing physical infirmities (Job 2:7; Luke 13:16), taking people captive to his will (2Tim 2:26), oppressing people (Acts 10:38), possessing people (Luke 22:3), continually prowling for prey (1Pet 5:8), and hindering plans of the saints (1Th 2:18).
The nations, the object of Satanís deception, is a generic term normally referring to Gentiles in contrast to Jews, and can refer to either righteous or unrighteous as in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matt 25:32). In this case the nations could be all the nations that have ever existed in earth history or this could be a reference to those who are deceived by Satan into following the beast. The trumpet and bowl judgments cause horrific fatalities and the beastís army was destroyed in the final battle at Armageddon (cf. 6:8; 8:9ff; 9:18; 14:9f; 19:19ff), but not all the nations are eliminated since Zechariah 14:16 refers to "any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem."
after these things he must be released: Grk. luō has two basic types of meaning: (1) to loose, untie bonds, set free, untie or release and (2) to break up into component parts, tear down, destroy, bring to an end, abolish or do away with. In reality, both types of meaning have application here, because Satanís bonds are removed and he is released from prison, but his release results in bringing his power and influence to an end.
While this "temporary" confinement is something of an enigma and no reason is given for his release, the results and events that follow may define the purpose. God wants to finally put an end to sin and Satanís power and influence. God will probably seek to further test the nations that survived Armageddon and prepare His people for Kingdom living, just as He did with the ancient Israelites. In addition, the abyss is in the present earth, which will soon be replaced with a new earth without such a prison.
for a short time: Fortunately, the devil is to be released only for a "short time," an intriguing expression in this context. The vague length of Satanís release stands in contrast to the specific mention of the length of his incarceration, both of which should be taken literally. The brief respite from incarceration does not function as a measurement from the time of his release until his final defeat, but the amount of time Satan has to be free to foment rebellion.
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.
And I saw thrones: While the section on the millennial reign is not classified as a mystery, it could certainly qualify because the information is sketchy at best. John says he saw "thrones," the same word used of the heavenly thrones in 4:4, but does not specify how many thrones he saw or where they were located. and they sat: Grk. kathizō, aor., cause to sit down. The NIV has "they were seated." Johnson suggests that the plural ekathisan may be another instance of the Hebrew idiom where the plural is used for the passive idea (cf. 12:6 on "nourished").
and judgment: Grk. krima. While the Greek word means "judgment" the underlying Hebrew concept of mishpat can mean "rule" or "judgment" (Mounce). was given to them: "Judgment" does not mean that people are being judged, but rather that the authority to exercise judgment was granted to those sitting on the thrones. John also does not say who he saw sitting on the thrones nor what sort of judgment is exercised. In context "they" are probably to be distinguished from the reference to the martyrs that follows. "They" may be the "overcomers" whom Yeshua said He would give "authority over the nations" (2:26) and the privilege of sharing His throne (3:21), which speaks of an executive function. Paul told the Corinthian congregation that the saints would judge the world and the angels (1Cor 6:2-3). In particular, Yeshua promised His original disciples that they would judge the twelve tribes of Israel during the millennial kingdom (Matt 19:28; cf. Isaiah 1:26). In any event, the millennial kingdom will have a governing structure determined by the Messiah.
And I saw the souls: John then sees the "souls" of the saints who were faithful to Yeshua. These were not "ghosts," but living people. While the characteristics listed here appear to be describing only the martyrs who suffered at the hands of the great tribulation beast, the grammar indicates that John is describing two groups of people, as indicated by the NASB translation. of those who had been beheaded: The verb "beheaded" comes from the Greek noun pelekus, a double-edged axe, and thus means "to cut off with an axe" (Robertson). The first group consists of those who had been executed for their faith. The martyrs die as a result of being "beheaded," the only mention of the beastís method of capital punishment. See 6:9 where the same phrase occurs with "slain" substituted for "beheaded."
Beheading by an axe was the standard method of execution in republican Rome, later supplanted by a sword (Robertson), and many saints during the first three centuries were legally murdered in this manner. As a cheap and practical method of execution beheading was widely used in Europe and Asia until the 20th century, but now is confined to several Islamic countries. In spite of modern opposition in many countries to the death penalty for capital crimes, there are not likely to be any cries of "cruel and unusual punishment" from those bearing the mark of the beast. Beheading may provide a sadistic appeal to the beast as punishment for the refusal to take his mark on the forehead. Two immediate reasons are given for the beheading.
because of the testimony of Jesus: The martyrs are faithful to the "testimony of Yeshua" and the "word of God," both of which John notes as the reasons he was exiled to Patmos (See 1:9 on the "testimony of Yeshua.") All of God's people are ambassadors to share the Lordís testimony, that is, explain the reason for oneís faith (1Pet 3:15), and to proclaim His Word. Taking an active stand for Yeshua or merely being identified his disciple can lead to persecution as millions of saints in history have experienced.
and those who had not worshiped the beast: The phrase kai hoitines, "and those who," is capable of bearing two different meanings. It could simply introduce a further qualifying phrase adding to the identification of the beheaded martyrs, which is followed in most translations (CEV, CJB, KJV, NCV, NET, NIV, RSV, and TEV). The phrase may also be used to introduce a second group. In other words there are (1) those who were beheaded for their witness and (2) also those who did not worship the beast (NASB, NLT). Johnson points out that usually in Revelation the relative pronoun hoitines ("who") simply refers to the preceding group and adds some further detail (2:24, 9:4; 17:12); but in one other passage the pronoun is introduced by the conjunction, kai, which serves to single out a special class or group that is part of the more general group in the preceding statement (1:7). Johnson believes that kai hoitines introduces a special class of the beheaded, i.e., those who were beheaded because they did not worship the beast, etc. However, the reverse is just as likely and the second group consists of those who were faithful to Yeshua but did not suffer a martyrís death.
and had not received the mark: Grk. charagma. See 13:16 on the mark of the beast. The second group consists of those who refused to serve the beast or be tattooed with his mark. (See 13:16 on the "mark of the beast.") Not all saints in history have died for their faith, but all have had to make the choice to worship the God of Israel, the Father who sent His Son into the world, and to take His name. Thus, all those who have made the choice to avoid worship of any other gods, including self-deified humans, in order to take the name of the true God and serve Him will be among the "souls" John witnessed before the throne. In addition, John has already been informed that the beast-spirit was present in his day (17:10; cf. 1Jn 4:2f), and that the beast-spirit had made repeated appearances in history and would come again (17:8). Daniel, too, prophesied that the saints would be resurrected after the great "distress" or tribulation (Dan 7:21f; 12:1f), which of necessity corresponds to the resurrection described here.
and they came to life: The phrase "came to life" translates the Greek verb ezēsan, which is the aorist tense of zaō and lit. means "they lived" (Rienecker). Zaō can refer to physical life in contrast to being dead, to living again after death, to the spiritual life of being a child of God and to a specific aspect of the conduct of life. In the LXX zaō translates "living soul" of Genesis 1:20. The aorist tense of zaō occurs in Revelation 1:18 and 2:8 in reference to the resurrected Messiah (cf. Rom 14:9) and in 13:14 for the restoration of life to the beast. It would seem that if the resurrection of the saints had occurred at any point earlier in the Johnís narrative the verb would be in the perfect tense (event occurring in past time with continuing results to the present). The aorist is often used in Revelation to stress the certainty of a future event.
The concept of living with Yeshua would also include receiving an incorruptible perfect body. Paul declared, "but we will all be changed" (1Cor 15:51) so that "we will be like Him" (1Jn 3:2; cf. Rom 6:5; 8:29; Php 3:21; 1Jn 3:2). Several people in biblical history were brought back to life from the dead, e.g., the Shunammiteís son (2 Kgs 4:34ff), the man thrown into Elishaís grave (2Kgs 13:20f), the widowís son (Luke 7:14f), Lazarus (John 11:43f), the saints who came out of the tombs after the resurrection of Yeshua (Matt 27:52-53), and Dorcas (Acts 9:40). But all of those people eventually died again. The blessed hope for the saints is to never again be subject to the curse of death (Rom 8:29; 1Cor 15:53f; 2Cor 5:1-4; Php 3:21; 1Jn 3:2).
Many believers wonder, of course, whether the comparison to Yeshuaís body means that they will retain the same physical appearance after the resurrection. After His resurrection Yeshua was not immediately recognized by those who knew Him best and only the scars and miraculous actions proved His identity conclusively, although some still doubted as He prepared to leave them (cf. Matt. 28:17; Luke 24:15f, 30f, 36-43; John 20:14ff). It is imperative that the saints be able to recognize their Lord, but being "like Him" may only pertain to the holy and immortal quality of His person without implying any likeness to oneís present body.
and reigned: Grk. basileuō, aor., to be a king, to reign, to exercise the power of a sovereign. See 5:10 on "reign." with Christ: Living with Yeshua naturally results in "reigning" with the Jewish Messiah. Modern Bible versions translate "live" as "came to life" to emphasize the beginning point of the living, i.e., the resurrection, but both "live" and "reign" are the same verb tense. Consistency would require rendering "reign" as "came to reign." The point of the sentence is not specifically the event that begins the thousand years, but the association between the faithful disciples and their Messiah for that period. The saints live "with" Messiah (2Tim 2:11). In the present age the saints enjoy fellowship with Yeshua through the Holy Spirit, but in the millennial age the fellowship will be personal and direct. Yeshua said that He came to offer abundant life (John 10:10), and in that day the fullness of living that Yeshua intended will be enjoyed and celebrated without the fear of death.
Paul said, "If we endure, we will also reign with Him" (2Tim 2:12). Reigning with our Lord is a tremendous promise, but it is not quite the same thing as being fellow-heirs with Yeshua (Rom 8:17). The only one truly wise and righteous enough to govern is Yeshua (Zech 14:9). The saints have no real experience in reigning with Yeshua in a political sense and history has shown that the Church tends to lose its spiritual focus when granted political power. The nearest copy of the Messiahís rule was David, but among his final words is a divine revelation of the coming perfect King, "The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me, ĎHe who rules over men righteously, who rules in the fear of God, is as the light of the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds, when the tender grass springs out of the earth, through sunshine after rainí" (2Sam 23:3-4).
The terse reference to the reign of the Messiah sums up all that Scripture has foretold of those days (Ps 72, Isa 65:17-25; 66:10-24; Ezek 34:11-31; Dan 7:14, 27; Mic 4:1-8; Zech 14). The Jewish apostles clearly expected that when Yeshua returned in glory He would restore self-rule to Israel and Jerusalem would be the center for all nations to worship the Lord (Matt 24:3; Acts 1:6). At the Jerusalem Council the apostles concurred that Godís prophecies still remained to be fulfilled.
"Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ĎAfter these things I will return, And I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, And I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it, So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, And all the Gentiles who are called by My Name,í Says the Lord, who makes these things known from long ago." (Acts 15:14-18)
for a thousand years: The precious privilege of these martyrs is that they will live and reign with the Messiah for a thousand years. With very few exceptions Christian leaders and theologians during the first three centuries believed that the millennium of Revelation would begin after Yeshua returned and would be the time when Yeshua would establish His Kingdom on the earth with His capital in Jerusalem. The doctrine became known as chiliasm, based on the Greek word for "thousand." (See my article The Millennium.) There was much speculation in chiliast writings as to the nature of the millennial kingdom. Points of discussion included whether or not the earthly Jerusalem would be rebuilt, whether Yeshua would reign from earthly Jerusalem or the heavenly Jerusalem, to what degree the Jews would share in the kingdom and whether the lifestyle would be prosperous and pleasurable.
The basic belief of the chiliasts that the reign of the Messiah on earth begins after His glorious return is now called premillennialism and is widely accepted in Protestant evangelical churches. While John reports that the reigning of the saints with Yeshua on the earth lasts a thousand years, many interpreters since the fourth century have treated the millennium number as symbolic. (See the discussion of "thousand years" in verse 2.) This is the only place in Scripture that speaks of a thousand year reign of Yeshua on the earth, even though the Gospels and the rest of the apostolic writings contain much material about the Second Coming and the Kingdom. For example, Gabriel told Miriam that her son would "reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:33). The emphasis from Gabriel was on an everlasting reign, which is reiterated in Revelation 11:15. Without Revelation one might assume that the Second Coming would immediately commence the eternal kingdom.
However, in his instruction on the resurrection Paul seems to hint at an intermediate period of reigning: "For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death" (1Cor 15:25f). Two facts mentioned in Paulís prophecy support the Revelation account of the millennial reign. First, the reigning occurs before and continues until His enemies (Satan and his minions? rebellious nations?) have been completely conquered. Second, the intermediate reign is completed with the abolition of death. Revelation speaks of death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire after the millennium reign concludes (20:14). Unlike Jewish rabbis Paul does not engage in any speculation as to the length of this intermediate period and God chose to reveal the length of the reign only to John. Estimates of the Days of the Messiah by Jewish rabbis included 40 years, 70 years, three generations, 365 years, 400 years, 3,000 years, 4,000 years, and 7,000 years (Sanhedrin 99a). Stern believes that a similar distinction between the millennium and the eternal kingdom may be found in Ezekiel 36Ė48.
It may well be, as Metz suggests, that the millennium will be a period of internship in kingdom living so that the saints may truly learn how Yeshua meant government and society to function. All that makes this present life difficult, painful and sorrowful will be gone, affording the opportunity to live fully by the two great commandments to love God and to love oneís neighbor. According to the Hebrew Scriptures Jerusalem, the city of the great King (Ps 48:2), will be the capital and all the nations and people of every language will serve Him (Dan 7:14). The Torah will be the law of the land and the law of the Messiah will go forth from Zion (cf. Mic 4:2).
The next age will be a time of celebration. The Sabbath and monthly festivals prescribed by the Torah will be observed throughout the earth (Isa 66:23), and representatives of every nation will come annually to Jerusalem to participate in Feast of Booths (Zech 14:16-19) (Baron 520f). Such feasting follows the example set at Sinai when God met with his people and gave Moses the Torah. As it says, "they saw God, and they ate and drank" (Ex 24:11). Yeshua promised, "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 8:11). Luke adds that people will also come from north and south (Luke 13:29). There is no reason not to take these prophecies in their literal sense.
5― The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
The rest of the dead: This verse really completes the thought of verse 4 to explain what happens to the "rest of the dead," presumably referring to those who had taken the mark of the beast and lived contrary to the Word of God. Given the emphasis on the great tribulation martyrs in verse 4 and the recently completed Battle of Armageddon, the "rest of the dead" would most likely refer to those killed in the battle, as well as members of the general population who died as a result of the trumpet and bowl plagues. did not come to life until the thousand years were completed: To say the rest of the dead "lived not" (Marshall), stresses the fact that the power to provide and withhold the breath of life necessary for living in this present age and the age to come resides solely with God (John 5:21; 6:63; Acts 17:25; Rom 4:17; 1Tim 6:13).
This is the first: Grk. protos means "first" of several, but also where two persons or things are involved. Protos may be used in relation to time, referring to the earliest or earlier, to a number in a sequence or to rank or degree in the sense of foremost or most important. resurrection: Grk. anastasis means "a standing up." The usage of anastasis is divided between references to the resurrection of Yeshua and the resurrection at the end of the age. In common usage anastasis referred to standing in contrast to sitting (Lam 3:63; Zech 3:7f) and was used as a religious metaphor to depict the opposite of falling (Luke 2:34). The noun is derived from the verb anistēmi, which means to rise, stand up or get up and in its literal uses refers to one who is sitting or lying down.
Johnís mention of the first resurrection confirms the essential meaning of the term "resurrection." and clarifies its place in endtime chronology. Regardless of the dictionary meaning of the Greek word the explanation reflects the original Hebrew text. Resurrection is to become alive in the flesh and enjoy life with the Messiah as God intended. Yeshua asserted to His enemies that there would most certainly be a "resurrection of life" (John 5:29) and He assured Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies" (John 11:25).
In apostolic times the subject of life after death was a topic for lively debate among the Jews. Traditional Judaism, exemplified by the Pharisees and Rabbi Gamaliel believed in a renewed physical life (Sanhedrin 90a-b, 91b; cf. John 11:24). Rabbis found support for the resurrection in Job 19:23-27; Psalm 49:15; 73:24ff; Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2f. Some, as the Sadducees and the Samaritans, questioned its reality (Matt 22:23). Yeshua reminded the Sadducees that according to the Tanakh persons did live on after the death of the flesh. Yeshua pointed out the present tense of the Torah, "I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (Ex 3:6; Matt 22:32).
Yeshua went further and asserted that resurrection is not only for the few that will be saved but also for the unrighteous and unbelieving (cf. John 5:29). Daniel was the first to be informed of the universal resurrection, "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt" (Dan 12:2). Paul was just as emphatic when he said, "there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked" (Acts 24:15). Thus, the universal resurrection of the dead was a cornerstone belief in apostolic theology (1Cor 15:12-14, 21-22; Heb 6:1f). Outside of Revelation references to the two resurrections dwell on the certainty of the events and provide assurance to believers that they can have confidence in the Lordís promise. Those few passages that include the resurrection of the wicked do not expand on the sequence or time between the two events.
While there will be universal resurrection, one should not assume that the rest of the apostolic writings treats the two events as occurring simultaneously. Yeshua provided a possible hint in His parable of the invited guests (Luke 14:7-14) when he said "you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14). He did not merely speak of "the resurrection," but spoke of the "resurrection of the righteous" as if it were a distinct event from the resurrection of the wicked. The text here clears away all ambiguity and asserts categorically that the "rest of the dead" are not raised until a thousand years after the first group is raised from the dead.
John was informed that a thousand years separate the resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous, but premillenarians are divided over when the resurrection of the righteous occurs. Pretribulationists place the first resurrection before the Antichrist is even revealed, midtribulationists place it before the evil reign of the Antichrist and persecution of the saints, and pre-wrath advocates place it just before the seventh seal with its judgments on the beast and his followers. Johnís narrative places the event after the battle of Armageddon, the defeat of the Antichrist and the binding of Satan. There is no mention of a resurrection in Revelation prior to 20:4 and the Greek syntax of this section does not support the event occurring at any other time than at this point. See my article The Mystery of the Resurrection.
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: The prophecy of verse four is summarized and reiterated with some important additions. The resurrected saints are described as "blessed." (See 1:3 on "blessed.) A secular person might interpret "blessed" as "lucky." Certainly, these saints are privileged in the sense that they participate in the first and not the second resurrection. Yet, human imagination is not sufficient to even hypothesize the euphoria, unbounded joy and incredulity that will overwhelm the saints while standing before God, marveling at being the recipients of so great a grace. "Blessed" is pure understatement. "What a day that will be, when my Yeshua I shall see!"
and holy: Grk. hagios, set apart for dedication to the interests or expectations of God. All orthodox Christian theologies affirm that one must be holy to enter heaven (Heb 12:14). Since the emergence of John Wesleyís emphasis on entire sanctification in the 18th century there has been much discussion, and not a little debate, regarding the nature of holiness and just how and when a person becomes holy. This verse indicates that "blessed and holy" are dual conditions coincidental with participating in the resurrection, inferring that the God of grace will complete whatever may be lacking in the faithful believer on that great day (cf. 22:11). The completion of sanctification at the resurrection may also be inferred from some passages (1Th 3:12-13; 1Pet 4:1; 1Jn 3:2). No disciple is or ever can be as pure as God, as perfect as the angels or as innocent as Adam and Eve before they sinned. See 15:4 on the holiness of God. The apostles taught, consistent with the Torah, that holiness is both a state of belonging wholly to God and a goal of being transformed into the image of Godís Son (Rom 8:29), as Yeshua prayed for all His disciples (John 17:17). Being designated holy also indicates the special status and separateness of those admitted into Godís eternal fellowship from those who are excluded.
Considering the context, it is important to remember that the essence of both the Hebrew and Greek words for "holy" when applied to people mean being dedicated, set apart or belonging to God (Lev 20:26; TWOT 2:786ff). For God being holy is primarily a property rights issue. Holiness in this life is not a matter of developing a personal list of rules or building a resume of good works, but of consecrating oneself or transferring the title to oneís life to God and allowing God through the Holy Spirit to claim His rightful ownership (Lev 11:44; John 17:17ff; Acts 1:8; Rom 12:1; 15:16; Titus 3:5).
Such a spiritual transaction does not mean that the disciple will never commit another sin (see 1:5 on "sins"), but that by becoming the property of God (i.e., wholly His), possessed by His Spirit, and single-mindedly devoted to pleasing God, the discipleís life will demonstrate a moral character that conforms to Godís commandments. The forehead seal on the saints described in 7:2-3 proclaims Godís ownership, reflecting His claim on everything the saints possess, whether time, talent or treasure. Thus, the use of "holy" here is a corporate label, as well as an individual condition, distinguishing those who receive the blessings and privileges of resurrection from those who receive the punishment of the last judgment.
the second death has no power: By participating in the first resurrection the second death will have no "authority" over the saints, also pure understatement. The second death is defined as confinement to the lake of fire (20:14), but the import of the judgment is not merely an uncomfortable place where one is located but the awful horror of being separated from God and all that is good for eternity. The positive assertion of avoiding the second death implies that the saints will not stand before God in the great white throne judgment (cf. John 5:24). The first resurrection, then, inherently involves a judgment which determines who has the right to participate in its benefits. Being required to endure the second judgment after receiving the blessing of the first resurrection, as some commentators suggest, would then be nonsensical.
they will be priests: Not only will the saints exercise judgment in the millennial kingdom, but they will also function as priests, perhaps similar to the ministry of the 144,000 who "follow the Lamb." (See 1:6 on "priest" and 14:4 on the 144,000.) The role of priests in the millennial kingdom is not clarified, but some conclusions may be drawn from the Old and New Covenants. Certainly, the sacrifice of praise (Heb 13:16) will be a prominent feature of millennial life, but various priestly activities in Scripture may be expected, such as teaching the Word (Deut 17:9ff; 24:8; Mic 4:2) and assisting with the annual celebration of festivals mandated in the Torah to be observed in perpetuity (Lev 23:21, 31, 38, 41).
Yeshua and the apostles faithfully observed the prescribed festivals during their lifetimes, and never directed or even hinted that these celebrations should end, but infused the celebrations with new meaning. (The superseded sacrifices referenced in the epistle to the Hebrews are those for atonement.) The destruction of the Jerusalem temple suspended many offerings and shifted religious observances to the home, synagogue and church. Godís appointed times of spiritual celebration and worship detailed in the Torah were intended for all mankind (Acts 17:26), so with the inauguration of the millennial kingdom, the Messiah will oversee the restoration and celebration of Godís appointed feasts (Isa 66:22f; Ezek 46:1-11; Zech 14:16; Matt 26:29).
and will reign with Him: Finally, the resurrected saints do not merely miss eternal hell, but they actually reign with Yeshua, echoing the description in verse four above (cf. 3:21 and 5:10). The word "reign" means to rule. Obviously every citizen of the kingdom cannot be a ruler. Yet, the association of the saints with the King who rules the kingdom is so grounded in love that the benefits of His authority and power are shared with all. The saints will not be serfs of a totalitarian state. The reference to the thousand-year reign is repeated to give emphasis to its certainty.
The Final Defeat of Satan (20:7-10)
7― And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,
Satan will be released: For the sixth time in seven verses the "thousand year" period is mentioned. Again, such repetition can only be a Divine insistence that attention be paid to the words. Satan does not escape from prison, but is deliberately set free. Yet, he is not being pardoned or paroled for good behavior. God is always in control. Satan only operates by Godís permission and is only released to accomplish Godís purpose.
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 will come out to deceive: The purpose of Satanís release from his prison cell in the abyss might be deduced from the outcome. Satan has had plenty of time to plan what he would do if ever he achieved freedom and he wastes no time setting out to use his favorite weapon Ė deception. The target of the deception is identified as the "nations which are in the four corners of the earth." The dilemma posed by the phrase "deceive the nations" is the nature of the deception and the identity of the nations, since they are distinguished from the saints in verse 9. After all, the saints do consist of people converted out of the "nations" (5:9; 7:9; 15:3f; 21:26; 22:2).
However, most of the time in Revelation the term "nations" is used to refer to people who are opposed to God and over whom Yeshua will rule with a rod of iron. The text infers that Satan must already have a following during the millennium to so rapidly (it appears) raise a rebellion, but how is this possible? First, there is no clear statement in Revelation that the population of the earth is totally annihilated from the trumpet and bowl judgments, and the great white throne judgment does not take place until after the millennium.
Second, while the conquering Messiah conducts a trial of the nations immediately after His glorious return with the angels (Matt 16:27; 25:31-46) and before the beginning of the millennium, the summary judgment may not be exacted until the end of the millennium. Third, the fact the Messiah will rule with a rod of iron implies that these nations will render only a feigned submission to the King. Zechariah 14:16-19 suggests that even though representatives of the nations will go up to Jerusalem from year to year for the Feast of Booths, a number of nations will refuse and suffer immediate divine punishment. Thus, these Gentile nations would be a natural seedbed for Satanís deception to attempt an overthrow of the Lordís rule.
the four corners of the earth: Johnís reference to "four corners of the earth" does not mean that he either believed in or borrowed from sources that believed in a flat earth. The expression can refer to four specific points on the globe or it can serve as a metaphor for the four directions of the compass (cf. Isa 11:12). See 7:1 on the "four corners." Two significant deductions may be made regarding the use of the expression "four corners of the earth" here. First, the present earth will continue to exist through the millennial reign until after the final judgment (22:1). Second, Satanís deception is global and the enemies of God will assemble from all over earth.
Gog and Magog: The use of the names Gog and Magog present an interesting puzzle. Rabbinical writings make frequent mention of Gog and Magog as nations that will march against the Messiah (Earle). The name of Magog first appears as a grandson of Noah (Gen 10:2) and the first mention of Gog is in 1 Chronicles 5:4 as the grandson of Joel. The names next appear (and together) in Ezekiel 38:2 where Gog seems to be a demonic prince over the descendants of Magog, Meshech and Tubal (cf. Dan 10:13). Some think this passage repeats the prophecy of Ezekiel since his narrative depicts the Messianic reign in chapter 37, the invasion and destruction of Gog and Magog in chapter 38 and the New Jerusalem in chapters 40 through 48.
Ancient authorities offer incomplete information on the location of Magogís descendants. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, associated Magog with the Scythians, a nomadic warrior people located east of the Caspian Sea (Antiquities of the Jews, I, 6:1). Another suggestion is that Magog refers to the name of Armenia, located now in Turkey (BDB 156). BDB also notes the similarity of Gog with the Assyrian G‚gu, chief of a mountainous tribe north of Assyria (155).
to gather them together for the war: While the structure in Ezekiel of temporal reign, invasion and then eternal reign are parallel to the narrative in this chapter, Ezekiel was not provided any sort of time table of these events and Yeshua viewed His reign as commencing with His first coming, not His second coming. There are too many differences in the details between the two prophecies for them to be the same event. The demonic-inspired invasion of Ezekiel 38 fits better as occurring before the Second Coming of Yeshua, perhaps even as a parallel narrative of the invasion of Israel and the "mother of all battles" described in Zechariah 14 and Revelation 19.
The use of these names during the millennium is probably parallel to the use of pre-Flood river names to name rivers after the Flood, which totally reshaped the surface of the earth and obliterated the original rivers. A thousand years in prison will not deter Satan from thinking he can be successful. The names of Gog and Magog may also be intended as the names of demonic princes who are released with Satan and help to gather the rebellious nations.
the number of them is like the sand of the seashore: The hyperbolic metaphor was first used in the Tanakh in God's promise of fruitfulness to Abraham (Gen 22:17), then to Jacob (Gen 32:12) and finally the realization under King Solomon (1Kgs 4:20; cf. Isa 10:22; Hos 1:10). The metaphor was also used of the amount of grain Joseph stored up in Egypt (Gen 41:49) and the extent of Solomon's wisdom (1Kgs 4:29). Four times the metaphor was used of large numbers gathered for battle (cf. Josh 11:4; Judg 7:12; 1Sam 13:5; 2Sam 17:11). The point of observation is the city of Jerusalem, which is elevated above the surrounding area, thus affording excellent surveillance. From its ramparts the inhabitants see a mass of humanity tightly packed together advancing on the city. It is not likely that the rebels have any weapons (cf. Mic 4:3), but apparently their intent is to overwhelm the city by sheer numbers.
Some interpreters question the possibility of such a large population as suggested by the metaphor, but it could be literally true. It is possible that those of the nations who survive the trumpet and bowl judgments, not sharing in the resurrection of the righteous, will live out their normal lifespan (or even a greater lifespan with improved climate conditions), including having children, and then die (cf. Isa 65:20, 23). Scripture presents no contradiction of resurrected people living with non-resurrected people. As Juster points out the resurrected Yeshua stayed with His disciples for 40 days before going to heaven, perhaps foreshadowing the millennium (Juster 93). The starting population would not have to be very large to produce billions of people after a thousand years.
Henry Morris has demonstrated with the standard formula used by demographers that starting with just one couple and assuming that the average family has four children, that the children are born by the time the parents are 35 years old and that the average generation is 30 years, there would be a population of 3,220,000,000 after 1,050 years (BBMS 418). These are very conservative figures, so starting with many more people and the absence of factors that would hinder population growth, the numbers that choose to take up Satanís banner would easily be like the "sands of the seashore."
The last deception will be a variation on the first temptation in the Garden of Eden. Satan will simply encourage the citizens that its time for them to assert their rights of nationalism and throw off the shackles of theocratic rule from Jerusalem. One of the biggest controversies today is nationalism vs. internationalism. The "nations" will accept Satanís rationalization for national autonomy but the "saints" will maintain their loyalty to Godís global rule. The silver-tongued rhetoric of Satan convinces a vast multitude from around the globe to strike a blow for national pride. Imagine a time when all physical and mental barriers to knowing God will be removed. People will have a thousand years of benefiting from Messiahís benevolence and living by Godís rules, but when the opportunity arises, there will still be rebellion just as in the beginning.
What is especially important for believers to realize is that God does not allow Satanís deception to be directed at them. There is no hint in this chapter that the millennium poses any threat to the security of the saints who have trusted in Yeshua for salvation and have been resurrected to enjoy the full benefits of eternal life. The Lord takes care of His own and the millennium is but the overture to the heavenly joy of living with Him forever.
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.
And they came up: Grk. anabainō, aor., to go up, typically of a change in elevation or ascent. Idiomatically the verb means to enter or approach. on: Grk. epi, lit. "over." the broad plain of the earth: Grk. to platos tēs gēs, literally means "the breadth of the land" (Marshall). The depiction of the terrain as a plain is significant, since the current area occupied by Jerusalem is mountainous. One would expect that after the global cataclysmic earthquake and the mountains "were not found" (16:20) the earth would be reduced to something like a plain. The Hebrew prophets predicted that God would make the earth a plain by lowering the mountains and raising the valleys (Isa 40:4; Zech 14:9-10) and the ground upon which Jerusalem sits will rise above the plain. Godís chief instrument to change the earth will be seismic and volcanic activity (Rev 6:14; 16:17-21; cf. Isa 24:17-20; Heb 1:12). The verb then emphasizes that Jerusalem will occupy a plateau elevated above surrounding regions.
and surrounded the camp: Grk. parembolē is the word for a military camp and is so used in the LXX for the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex 29:14), in the apostolic writings for Roman barracks (Acts 21:34, 37) and for an army formed in a battle line (here and Heb 11:34) (Robertson). From the point of view of the city, the enemy army spreads as far as the eye can see from horizon to horizon. of the saints and the beloved: Grk. agapaō, perf. pass. part., to love. The perfect tense emphasizes the longstanding devotion to and passion for the city of Jerusalem. city: The object of attack is Jerusalem, it having been restored after Armageddon and serving as the millennial capital. Jerusalem is referred to as a "camp," which emphasizes its orderly layout and internal organization, and the "beloved city," indicating the love and devotion of both the Lord and the saints for this special place (cf. Ps 78:68; 87:2).
and fire came down from heaven and devoured: Grk. katesthiō, to eat up, consume, devour or swallow. The foolhardy followers of Satan meet a quick end as a blazing inferno engulfs and incinerates the insurrectionists. This entire scenario is prophesied in Psalm 2, in which God laughs at the impotent efforts of rebellious nations to overthrow the rule of His Son.
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.
And the devilÖwas thrown into the lake of fire: The devil is the greatest deceiver since creation, having led astray Adam and Eve and their descendants, as well as a third of the angels. The fact that Satan deceived the "nations" does not lessen their accountability to God. The devil is not led gently to a cell. The word "thrown" indicates a violent catapulting that sends Satan hurtling across outer space to his doom in the lake of fire. (See 19:20 on "lake of fire.") The one who throws the devil into the lake of fire is not identified, but perhaps the strong angel of 20:1 carries out the Lordís order. A comparison is made to the previous judgment of the beast and false prophet (19:20), so now the third person of the unholy trio joins them for eternity. The metaphor of "day and night" relates in human experience that the devilís torment will be continuous in duration (cf. Luke 16:22-23). Whether the devil will experience pain while imprisoned in the Pit is unknown, in the lake of fire he will suffer unceasing pain and agony.
The White Throne Judgment (20:11-15)
11― And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
And I saw a great white throne: John reports seeing a throne that should probably be distinguished from the throne in Chapter Four. There the throne is neither "white" nor "great." The name of the "Him" who is seated on the throne is not mentioned, but John knows that judgment of the living and the dead has been given into the hands of Yeshua the Son of God (John 5:22; Acts 10:42; Rom 2:16; 2Tim 4:1). Yeshua does not act alone but serves in the name of the Father and with His concurrence (John 8:16; Acts 17:30f).
earth and heaven: lit. "the earth and the heaven." Given the fact that ouranos is used for three different places called "heaven," John probably means the heaven that is directly associated with the earth, i.e., the atmosphere. He obviously doesnít mean the heaven of God's throne and interpreting "heaven" as interstellar space in this verse is problematic. fled away: Grk. pheugō, aor., lit. "to flee," but in both BAG and Danker believe that in this apocalyptic context the verb means to vanish or disappear. and no place: Grk. topos means a place, position, region or location. was found for them: The disappearance of the earth is emphasized by a description of its loss of position.
There are three possible interpretations. First, the earth may be forced out of its position in the galaxy relative to the sun and other planets. Scripture affirms the relative fixity of the earthís current position during the present age: "the world is firmly established, it will not be moved" (Ps 93:1). Yet, in the future God will remove the earth from its place: "Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of the Lord of hosts in the day of His burning anger" (Isa 13:13). Second, the description may be of the disintegration of the earth and its atmosphere to prepare the way for the new earth and new heaven depicted in 21:1.
Third, the word translated "earth" can also mean "land" and with "heaven" meaning "sky," the "great white throne" could be on the earth, probably in Jerusalem, and not in heaven. Thus, the "fleeing" of the land may be parallel to the rapid movement of the islands and landmasses in 16:20 caused by a great earthquake. The phrase "no place was found for them" would then apply to the "dead" mentioned in the next verse, meaning there was no place where the "dead" could hide from the Judge of their souls. Since it is difficult to imagine that the souls of the condemned would be brought to heaven for trial, then the third option seems as reasonable as the other interpretations.
12― And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, 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.
And I saw the dead: God is a God of mercy, but in the end God will sit in judgment over every soul He has created (Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom 2:16; 2Tim 4:1; Heb 10:30; 12:23; 13:4; Jas 4:12). Jewish tradition, unlike Gentile philosophies, has always contained the belief in a God who judges and that at the end of life all will face the God who will fix eternal destiny (cf. Matt 12:36; Rom 14:12; 2Cor 5:10; 1Pet 4:5). The Hebrew service for a funeral begins with the blessing: "Baruch Atah Adonai, Elohenu Melech HaOlam Dayan Ha Emet," which means, "Blessed are You Lord our God, King of the Universe, the True Judge" (Brickner 107). While some may think that the apostolic writings emphasize Godís mercy over against the supposed sternness of the Old Covenant Scriptures, the apostles clearly warned of this day of Godís judgment (Matt 10:15; 12:36; Acts 17:31; Rom 2:3; 14:10; 2Cor 5:10; Heb 9:27; 10:27; 2Pet 2:4f; 1Jn 4:17).
John says that the "the dead" stood before the throne, fulfilling Yeshuaís prophecy of the resurrection of judgment (John 5:29). None can escape the appointment of death and for most it will be followed by judgment rather than mercy (Heb 9:27). Even the resurrection of the living of necessity means the death of the corruptible body in order for it to be replaced with the incorruptible body.
The dead would certainly include the "rest of the dead" who did not take part in the first resurrection and the millions who rebelled against Godís rule at the end of the millennium and were killed (verse 9 above). The phrase "the great and the small," stated in opposite order in 11:18; 13:16 and 19:5, is a Hebrew idiom for the young and the old. Social status will mean nothing on judgment day because with God there is no favoritism. While not stated here, the great white throne judgment also includes the fallen angels as Jude prophesied, "And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day" (Jude 1:6).
and books were opened: John observed multiple books being opened, which determined the destination of those judged. The first use of "books" is plural and could be called the Books of Works, since there are many volumes and contain not only the names of every person who has ever lived but a full record of their deeds. The second mention of "book," being singular is identified as the Book of Life. (See 3:5 on "book of life.") As a legal formality the Book of Life may be searched for the names of the unbelieving just to publicly and officially verify that they do not merit eternal life.
according to their deeds: Grk. ergon means "work" and may refer to a deed, task, assignment or action. Those who have lived for themselves, denying the opportunity to receive Godís offer of forgiveness through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, now wait for the books to be opened. Although the outcome is already decided, the guilty are subjected to the legal formality of a trial. God, perhaps with the aid of His angels, has diligently recorded every word spoken and deed performed in every personís life (cf. Dan 7:9-10; Matt 12:36-37; Jude 1:15). The participants of the second resurrection are then judged "according to their deeds," an allusion to the proportional punishment standard in the Torah, which required fitting the judicial sentence to the crime (Lev 24:17-22). Godís judgment has always been based on deeds, as Yeshua promised,
"For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds" (Matt 16:27), and
"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28f).
For those who lived during the Old Covenant the righteousness prescribed by the Torah will be the standard of judgment for Jews and Gentiles,
"All who have sinned outside the framework of Torah will die outside the framework of Torah; and all who have sinned within the framework of Torah will be judged by Torah. For it is not merely the hearers of Torah whom God considers righteous; rather, it is the doers of what Torah says who will be made righteous in God's sight. For whenever Gentiles, who have no Torah, do naturally what the Torah requires, then these, even though they don't have Torah, for themselves are Torah! For their lives show that the conduct the Torah dictates is written in their hearts. Their consciences also bear witness to this, for their conflicting thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them on a day when God passes judgment on people's inmost secrets." (Rom 2:12-16 CJB)
For those who have lived since the initiation of the New Covenant failing to trust in Yeshua will be the definitive deed (John 3:18; 6:29; 14:6). When atonement through Yeshua is rejected and the principal deed or work is absent, then the deeds that are left are insufficient to merit entrance into Godís eternal kingdom. No doubt some will quote Paul, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5; cf. 2Tim 1:9). In reality Paul was pointing to deeds performed in lieu of accepting Yeshuaís atonement. Yet, Paul strongly asserted that deeds of righteousness must follow the act of believing (Eph 2:10; Titus 2:14) and thus reaffirmed the Lordís warning that everyone will be judged by their deeds (Rom 2:6; 2Cor 5:10; 11:15; 2Tim 4:14; cf. 1Pet 1:17).
13― And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.
And the sea: The first point of origin for the dead being judged refers to those buried or lost at sea from shipwreck or battle. gave up the dead: The defendants in the trial are referred to as "dead" four times in this section, in spite of their being raised and standing before the throne, but "dead" emphasizes their spiritual state (cf. Eph 2:1) and may suggest some qualitative difference in their resurrection bodies. After all, the wicked do not have the right to receive a transformed body like our Lord. The main focus of the resurrection of the wicked dead is on bringing them from their prison to the Kingís court for trial and sentencing. Many commentators believe the great white throne judgment corresponds to the "Messiahís court of judgment" (2Cor 5:10 CJB) before which "we" must all stand (Earle). Yet, to Paul the "we" would be the saints and his prophecy would correspond to the "glorious throne" judgment that occurs before the millennial reign begins (Matt 25:31f). John identifies the dead as coming from realms in which the saints do not reside at the end of the millennial reign.
and death: Grk. thanatos. See the note on 1:18 and 6:8. and Hades: Grk. Hadēs ordinarily refers to the place where the unredeemed dead are kept in anticipation of the judgment (Luke 16:22f). See the note on 1:18. The fact that Death and Hades are listed together hearkens back to 6:8 where they are the names of two demonic princes wreaking havoc on the earth. "Death and Hades" are not intended here as references to alternate locations of dead people, because the land would be the corollary to the sea. When Paul said that death is the "last enemy" (1Cor 15:26) he wasnít speaking in the theological sense of the curse on Adamís race. By the all-powerful word of God Death and Hades surrender their prisoners to stand before God.
and they were judged: For the second time it is noted that the final judgment focuses on each personís deeds. Most non-believers donít believe in an after-life examination and those that jokingly consider the matter are not actually worried about the prospect of having their deeds examined. It is human nature to consider oneself at least as good as, or even better than others, but even if they may have done some really bad things in life, all the good things they have done will cancel out the bad. Unfortunately, the God who holds the scales of justice will be using a standard that no one can measure up to, and the consequences to millions will be horrific.
14― And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
The Lord also gavels the verdict against Death and Hades and they are thrown into the lake of fire. (See 19:20 on the place of eternal torment.) To say that Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire really represents the ending of the penalty on sin imposed in the Garden of Eden. Since the devil has been consigned to his eternal fate in hell, it is fitting that Death and Hades, which followed in his wake on earth, should join him there as well. The lake of fire is called the second death. In Adam all die (1Cor 15:22), making physical death on earth the "first death." The judgment of those standing before Godís throne results in the death penalty for the second and last time. Death is the absence of life, and to be separated from true life that can only be found in Godís kingdom for an eternity will bring unimaginable suffering.
15― And if anyoneís name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
And if: Grk. ei denotes an unreal (contrary to fact) condition. The chapter ends with a sobering statement of reality. anyoneís name: The word "name" is not in the Greek text, but is implied. The use of "if" with the past tense of "found" is an idiomatic expression indicating that the Lord already knows that none of the "anyone" will be found in the Book of Life, but He goes through the formality of looking anyway. was not found: Grk. heurisko, aor. pass., means to find, discover or come upon after seeking. It can also mean to come upon accidentally. Whatever may have been found in the Books of Works, the deciding factor is the Book of Life. Without oneís name being in the Book of Life deeds will profit nothing.
The essence of eternal life is to know God and Yeshua His son (John 17:3) and not being found listed in the Book of Life means the person either never knew God or knew Him and his name was removed for apostasy (cf. Matt 7:23; 25:24-30; John 8:19; Rom 1:21). (See 3:5 on "erase.") The use of "anyone" indicates the very personal nature of Godís judgment even though the trial is conducted en masse. Only God in His omniscience could expedite such a proceeding and He does not delay the verdict.
The grim reality of this passage is that billions of people will be separated from God forever. Using the population statistical methodology of modern demographers and assuming a young earth based on biblical chronology, the number of people who have lived since Adam and Eve could be about 20 billion (BBMS 424). Yeshua warned,
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt 7:13-14).
The total number of the "few" saved may not be more than a tenth of the total population of history. God established the pattern early of taking a tenth and the firstborn for His own possession (Gen 12:6; 14:18ff; 28:22; Ex 34:19f; Lev 27:30ff; Deut 14:22). Millions more will be added from the millennium population. In Noahís day the number saved was statistically and shockingly miniscule in comparison to the number lost in the global flood. The human mind cannot fully grasp the enormity of such a catastrophe.
To the secular mind the report of this verse is appalling. How could a loving God (if He exists) be so harsh? The secular complaint seems sincere, but it masks a refusal to recognize the sovereignty and standards of God over human behavior and minimizes the sacrifice God has made to provide a way of escape from hell. In magnanimous grace God has promised that Ďwhoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom 10:13). The choice is simple as Yeshua said, "He who believes in Him [Yeshua] is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already" (John 3:18). Failure or unwillingness to believe in Yeshua will result in eternal loss. C.S. Lewis appropriately characterizes the nature of the last judgment this way: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God ĎThy will be doneí and those to whom God says, ĎThy will be doneí" (The Great Divorce, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1946, 72f.)
was thrown into the lake of fire: The text goes on to explain how the guilty get to hell. After all, they will not go willingly, but the prisoners at the bar are forcibly seized and thrown into the lake of fire. This is not merely symbolic language, since Yeshua used the same terminology during His earthly ministry (Matt 5:29; 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30; Mark 9:45, 47; Luke 12:5). Once the Lord pronounces the dreaded words, "depart from Me" (Matt 7:23; 25:41), angels will transport the condemned to the lake of fire (cf. Matt 13:41f, 49f; 22:13; Rev 20:1ff). Finally, the bold nature of "throw" suggests that it is done from a safe distance. In contrast the servants of King Nebuchadnezzar were slain by the flames when they threw the Hebrews into the furnace (Dan 3:22).
Some interpreters deem a literal lake of fire to be nonsensical as a place of punishment, and regard it as a word picture of the emotional pain of being separated from the beauty and bliss of heaven, spending eternity in regret and resentment against God. Clearly everything pertaining to the descriptions of heaven and hell are outside of manís experience, but Johnís report must be taken at face value.
Stern points out that "the Judaism of today tends to finesse or minimize the punishment to be meted out to the wicked. Orthodox Judaism speaks of a probationary period (like the Roman Catholic purgatory) of not more than eleven months for members of the House of Israel. In this sense Judaism does not take sin seriously, in terms of its consequences to the individual sinner." Most Gentiles do not try minimizing hell; they simply do not believe in it as a real place.
The reality of the white throne judgment calls for sober reflection. To those who consider Godís punishment to be unfair, consider the admonition of Scripture: "the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:10) and "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Prov 14:12). Since you will face Godís judgment and you can predict the outcome, "what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness" (2Pet 3:11)?
BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.
BBMS: Henry Morris, Biblical Basis for Modern Science. Baker Book House, 1984.
BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981. Online.
Brickner: David Brickner, Future Hope. Purple Pomegranate Productions, 1999.
Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Earle: Ralph Earle, The Book of The Revelation. Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. X. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967.
JE: Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), JewishEncyclopedia.com, 2002-2011.
Juster: Daniel Juster, Revelation: The Passover Key. Destiny Image Publishers, 1991.
Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vols. The Zondervan Corporation, 1980.
Robertson: Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. 6 Vols. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933. (Parsons CD-ROM Version 2.0, 1997) Online.
Stern: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. 5th ed. Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1996.
TWOT: Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. ed. R. Laird Harris. Moody Bible Institute, 1980.
Victorinus: Victorinus, Bishop of Pettau (d. 303 A.D.), Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John.
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