The Final Battle (Armageddon) and the Final Judgment
The following is adapted from "Behold He Cometh: the Binding of Satan with a View to Gog and Magog"
by Herman Hoeksema (1886 - 1965), ©1969 Reformed Free Publishing Association.
Revelation Chapter 20
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:6-10)
The Binding of SatanJohn writes: "I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in His hand. And He laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after that he must be loosed a little season."
It is very evident that in these words John, the Seer of Patmos, does not describe what he saw happening historically but what he beholds in a vision. Therefore, a strictly literal interpretation of the text is not in harmony with the nature of the passage nor is it possible. We do not consider a literal interpretation when John tells us: "I stood upon the sand of the sea and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy."
In Revelation 13:1, it is understood without difficulty that John saw all this in a vision. The same is true of the entire passage of the book of Revelation that we are now discussing. It is not a contradiction but a correct interpretation of Scripture when we say that John was shown a vision of these things. He did not actually see these things as they actually happened, but he saw what was represented to him in a vision. In other words, he did not actually see an angel come down with a great chain in His hand and the key of the bottomless pit, and he did not actually see that the devil was bound and shut up in the bottomless pit.
Neither must a vision be interpreted as if it were a mere and direct foretelling of events as they shall actually happen. It would not be interpreting but doing violence to Scripture, and also to this particular passage of Scripture, if we should paraphrase these verses in the following fashion: "Then shall an angel come down from heaven with the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in His hand. And He shall lay hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and shall bind him a thousand years." Such a paraphrasing of the text completely disregards the fact that the passage speaks of a vision.
The question is: "What is the central idea of the vision? What fact does John here behold as being realized before his eyes?" And the answer to this question is readily given: the devil is bound by a divine decree so that he is prevented from accomplishing his purpose. The following may be regarded as belonging to the form of the vision only: the angel coming down from God to carry out this decree, the key of the bottomless pit, the great chain, and the shutting and the sealing of the pit. These things all serve to emphasize the fact that Satan is bound by the divine decree securely and effectively so that during the period of his confinement he cannot carry out his evil purposes.
To correctly interpret this widely discussed part of the book of Revelation, it is extremely important that we conceive of it in its true light: it is merely another apocalyptic picture of some phase of the "day of the Lord." Any attempt to carry the time element into this prophesy and to interpret it as if the events foretold here follow in time upon those referred to in chapter 19, verses 11-21, must fail.
The Abyss, the Bottomless PitThe bottomless pit is the proper temporary abode of the devil and his angels (cf. 11 Peter 2:4). The key and the chain are not to be allegorized; in the picture, they are just that, and nothing else: they represent the power of the Mighty Angel to open and shut the pit and to bind Satan.
"I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." (Revelation 1:18)Before we go further, we not only must ask the question, but also very definitely answer it. And the question is: "Is this imprisonment of Satan, this secure confinement of the devil, absolute and complete? Is he restrained in all his activity, or is he restrained relative and in part so that the restraint placed upon him limits him in part (only in a certain direction) and dooms him to partial inactivity only?"
This question is answered in the text. The text replies to this question and says, without a doubt, that the restraint is partial and with a view to a certain sphere of action:
- The purpose of the binding of Satan is designated in verse 3: "that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years should be fulfilled."
- In verse 8, we are informed still more definitely: he "shall be loosed a little season," and "shall go out to deceive the nations, which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea."
- The binding of Satan is limited to certain nations, which are called Gog and Magog.
- This confinement prevents him from deceiving these nations till the thousand years should be fulfilled.
- The deception, which he is prevented from realizing by this imprisonment (or the restraint that is put upon him), is what would otherwise cause these nations to gather for battle against the camp of the saints and the beloved city.
The Meaning of Numbers in the Book of RevelationThe period of Satan’s restraint is designated as "a thousand years." Again, it would be very arbitrary to interpret this in its literal sense. In the first place, all Scripture attaches a symbolical significance to numbers as it also does to colors and dimensions. Numbers such as one, three, four, six, seven, ten and twelve, and their combinations and products, represent certain realities of the kingdom of God.
The earthly relations are also, in their numbers, pictures of heavenly and spiritual realities of God’s covenant. For example, the truth of this is evident as soon as we call to mind that in our weekly period of time there is a combination of six plus one, labor and rest, time and the eternal Sabbath, the completion of the kingdom of God. Or that seven in Scripture (and especially in the book of Revelation) evidently occurs as the combination of three and four, the Triune God and the world, the perfection of God’s covenant.
Furthermore, the number twelve occurs as the product of three and four, which is evidently the number of the elect. In Scripture, we read of the 12 tribes, 12 apostles, 12 times 12,000 servants of God who are sealed, and 12 plus 12 elders around the throne of God and of the Lamb. These numbers abound in Scripture and, more emphatically, abound in their symbolical significance in the book of Revelation.
The whole book of Revelation is based on the scheme of the number seven. There are seven seals to the book, which is opened by the Lamb. The seventh seal itself dissolves into seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet reveals itself as the seven vials. There are seven golden candlesticks just as the seven churches of Asia represent the complete picture of the Church in the world.
This is equally true of the number ten and its products, especially in the thousands. The days of tribulation for the church of Smyrna are ten. The number of the servants of God who are sealed is 10 times 10 times 10, multiplied by 144 (which is the product of 12 times 12). The number of those who appear on Mt. Zion with the Lamb, who have His Father’s name written on their foreheads, is 1000 times 144 (cf. Revelation chapter 14). The anti-Christian beast appears with 10 horns. The length and breadth and height of the New Jerusalem are 12 times 1000 furlongs.
The number ten itself suggests completeness, a fulness of measure. It is a round number. All the instances in Scripture where this number occurs denote the same idea. There are 10 plagues upon Egypt, indicating the fulness of the wrath of God upon Pharaoh and his people. There are 10 commandments, expressing the fulness of God’s ethical will for men. There are 144,000 people of God according to the election of grace; i.e., 10 times 10 times 10 times 144. There are 10 virgins, 10 talents, and 10 days of tribulation for the church of Smyrna. In all these instances, the number ten evidently expresses the idea of fulness or completeness.
The number ten represents the idea of completeness as determined by the will and counsel of God. The "thousand years" in Scripture is the number ten to the third power. It does not speak of days or even of hours, but of years; therefore, it suggests the idea of a long period.
And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night... Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. ― Revelation 12:3-10,12
God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. ― 2 Peter 2:4
And He said unto them, “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” - Luke 10:18
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. ― Revelation 20:1-3
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. ― Revelation 20:4
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. ― Revelation 20:5
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. ― Revelation 20:6
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. ― Revelation 20:7-8
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth... And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. ― Revelation 11:3,7
For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. ― Psalms 90:4
But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. ― 2 Peter 3:8
The Time Period of Satan Being Bound in the Abyss: the "Thousand Years" of RevelationOn all these grounds, we interpret the text of "the thousand years" or "a thousand years" as indicating a long period of time, fully determined by the will and counsel of God, a period that must be fulfilled before the devil can be permitted to deceive the nations, which live on the four quarters of the earth.
This interpretation is based on the text: it is fully justified by the entire character of the book of Revelation, and it is also in harmony with the line of Scripture in general. Of all this, there can be no doubt. Besides, this explanation is capable of application to history itself and to actually existing conditions in the world of today.
In connection with the apocalyptic character of the book of Revelation, in general, and in the light of all these facts, we are certainly justified in saying that it is arbitrary to insist that the "thousand years" of Revelation chapter 20 must be understood in the literal sense of the word.
The period of "a thousand years" is to be applied to this entire dispensation until the time shortly before the Second Coming of the Lord in the clouds of heaven. The fact that the vision in the passage that we are now discussing follows the vision of the Second Coming of Christ mentioned in chapter 19 cannot be adduced as an objection against this view. This is because of the simple reason that the order of the book of Revelation is not chronological, but rather idealogical. Repeatedly, the book follows the development of the world to its very end from a certain point of view in order, and it then resumes the drawing of the same picture from a different viewpoint (as for instance in chapters 6:12-16; 11:15-19; 14:17-20; 16:17-21, 18; 19:11-21).
This reign of Christ with respect to the world is such that, almost until the very end, the devil shall be bound with respect to Gog and Magog so that he cannot deceive these nations and gather them for battle against the camp of the saints, the Church, the body of Christ. At the time near the end of this dispensation, the devil shall be "loosed a little season" to gather the nations to battle against the Church before Christ returns in the clouds of heaven.
And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour and a day and a month and a year, for to slay the third part of men. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire and of jacinth and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire and by the smoke and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold and silve, and brass and ston, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts (Revelation 9:13-21).
Satan Loosed from the Bottomless Pit in Order to Deceive the Nations"When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, the beloved city; and fire came down from God out of heaven and destroyed them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Revelation 20:7-10)
Presented here in this separate vision is what partly has been pictured in a different setting in preceding chapters. We may gather from Revelation 16:12-16 that this deception by the devil of the nations (which live on the four quarters of the earth) to gather them together for battle will be realized in the period of the sixth vial. This is also in harmony with the statement in Revelation 20:3: "he must be loosed a little season."
The ultimate result of the devil’s deception upon the heathen nations is that they shall gather for battle against the very center of the anti-Christian kingdom. If we combine these different elements, which undoubtedly have bearing upon the same historic event of the future, we may come to the following conception:
- In the nominally Christian world, the final consummation of the anti-Christian world power shall ultimately be realized.
- This anti-Christian world power is the power of the beast and the false prophet.
The Nominally Christian World Verses the Camp of the SaintsThe anti-Christian world power to come will be an empire that represents the highest ambitions of man, and these ambitions shall be realized to the utmost. From a purely humanistic viewpoint, the kingdom of antichrist will be a glorious kingdom, and thoroughly humanistic it will surely be—religiously, scientifically, socially, industrially and politically. However, it will be anti-God, anti-Christ, and anti-Church. The saints shall refuse to receive the mark of the beast and they shall have no place in this anti-Christian kingdom.
From the passage in Revelation chapter 17, we learn that the first result of the deceptive influence of the devil upon the heathen nations, Gog and Magog, is that they shall join into one great world power with the central anti-Christian kingdom.
For "one hour," for "a little season," the world power shall realize its greatest ambition and a strictly universal empire shall be established, of which also the heathen but civilized nations form an integral part. However, this cannot last, for ultimately the ten kings shall hate the whore and shall make her desolate and naked and shall eat her flesh and burn her with fire (Revelation 17:16).
Gog and Magog are heathen nations in distinction from nominal Christendom. The nations of Gog and Magog, which are on the four quarters of the earth, I would identify as the people (as a whole) who in the new dispensation never played a part in the history of the world, but which in our very day are waking up. I refer to the overwhelmingly strong non-Christian world: the nations of China and Japan, the great and strong multitudes in India; the followers of Confucius and Buddha and of Islam and Brahmanism; and the millions of Africa and of the islands of the sea.
The Christian nations are the historical powers, and Gog and Magog are hitherto apparently asleep. The prince of this world is restrained from employing these forces against the Church, the beloved city, the camp of the saints, the new Israel of God.
The devil is bound, as we said, in regard to the nations of Gog and Magog. We may note here that the dragon, the devil upon which the angel lays hold, is described in all his evil powers. He represents the prince of this world, the spiritual power behind all the anti-Christian forces in opposition to Christ and His Church (cf. Revelation 12:3,4). Moreover, he is described here in all his evil purposes and power of deceit. He is the old serpent, referring, of course, to the temptation in paradise. He is called the devil; that is, the liar and deceiver, mudslinger, accuser of the brethren. And he is described, or named, as Satan, the opponent, the adversary of Christ, and the adversary to the cause of God in the world.
In the vision, the angel overpowers the devil and securely binds him with the chain, casts him into the bottomless pit, locks the pit, and sets a seal upon him. The angel seals the pit against all violation. The devil, therefore, is very securely bound, and he is bound with respect to these heathen nations as described in the passage that we are now discussing.
The passage teaches that the devil is bound in such a way that he cannot marshal the heathen nations of Gog and Magog to battle against the Church, the beloved city, or, if you please, against the Christian nations. The devil may in this very period of his restraint do many things, both among the nominally Christian nations and among the people who are called Gog and Magog: he may go about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, as he actually does. However, until near the end of this dispensation, he is prevented from deceiving the heathen nations so as to gather them to battle against the camp of the saints, the Church, the elect of God.
We can easily surmise what it would mean if these heathen nations were permitted to unite and marshal their tremendous forces against the nominally Christian nations: the Church would have no place in the world, no room for development. However, the devil is bound with respect to them until near the end of this dispensation.
Influences shall issue forth from the anti-Christian kingdom upon the heathen nations that live on the four quarters of the earth. Under the influence of the so-called mission work of the anti-Christian unclean spirits, the heathen nations indeed shall be awakened out of their prolonged slumber, becoming conscious of their power and quickly adopting the anti-Christian civilization.
The Waking Up of the Heathen Nations, Gog and MagogThe deception of the devil must work out till the bitter end. Shortly before the end of this world, this final deception of the nations shall take place. The heathen nations shall be civilized and they shall become conscious of their power, and they shall, for a time, join forces with the beast and the false prophet to form one great world empire. Nevertheless, they shall remain pagan in every respect, and though they give their power to the beast for "one hour," for "a little season," this cannot possibly last.
The heathen nations and the anti-Christian civilization will ultimately gather as separate forces for the last war, which will be a world war in the strictest sense of the word.
Looking upon the nominally Christian world, which in fact will be anti-Christian, the heathen nations shall do as the nations of the old dispensation did with respect to Jerusalem; that is, they shall say: "Let us go up to Jerusalem; let Zion be defiled; let our eye look upon Zion!" This shall be their guilt: for their purpose shall be to fight against the camp of the saints and the beloved city, against God and His Christ and His Church. However, this also will be their deception since the nominally Christian world in fact will be anti-Christian, and they will be fighting against it rather than the camp of the saints.
In the old dispensation, God used the nations in their hatred against the Holy City to chasten and destroy a Jerusalem that had actually become Sodom. And again the Lord will use the hostile spirit of the heathen nations to destroy the anti-Christian power and eat the flesh of the great whore. However, they will never touch the camp of the saints: the people of God shall look for the coming redemption, which shall then be very near. It will be upon this final scene of confusion and iniquity that the Lord will appear in judgment to destroy His enemies and to give His saints the victory forever.
If we thus conceive of the end of Gog and Magog, it is needless to conclude that we are living in significant times. A humanistic modernism claims the right and title to the name of Christianity, and it is a religion without the Christ of the Scriptures. Humanistic, modernistic Christianity is without the incarnation of the Son of God, without the cross, without the resurrection. It is a religion of this world, based on human imagination rather than on the Word of God in the Scriptures.
In the meantime, the power of men develops with tremendous strides in every sphere of life. And the influence of this modern spirit is felt far outside of the Christian world. Modernism has its missionaries, and the nations on the four quarters of the earth are waking up. The millions upon millions in China and Japan clamor for their own place in the midst of the nations of the world.
The Heathen Nations, Gog and Magog, Appear Upon the Scene LastIn Revelation chapter 16 we read this: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon."
In this passage, the reference is evidently to the same going forth of the devil to the nations, the kings of the whole world that live on the four quarters of the earth, to deceive them and gather them for battle. Also we learn that this deception of the nations through the devil shall proceed immediately from the anti-Christian kingdom. Unclean spirits shall proceed from the center of the anti-Christian world, and they shall have their influence upon the nations that live on the four quarters of the earth.
It does not matter now what these unclean spirits will present since we know that they certainly signify a three-fold influence of the anti-Christian civilization. The final result of this anti-Christian influence will be that the heathen nations will unite their forces for war against the nominally Christian world, the last war that shall ever be fought on earth (the battle of Armageddon).
In Revelation chapter 17:12-17, we find a similar presentation of the same period of history. There mention is made of ten kings who as yet have received no kingdom, but shall receive power as kings one hour with the beast: their dominion shall last but "one hour" with the beast; that is, "a little season." This is also supported by the text in Revelation chapter 20: these ten kings are again the same as the power of Gog and Magog. This is also supported in the kings of the east mentioned in Revelation 16: the kings of the whole world.
In chapter 19, verse 17, we have the picture of the destruction of all nations, yet here in chapter 20 we still meet with those very nations that live on the four quarters of the earth. This can be understood only if we take the stand that in Revelation 20:1-10 we are presented with a new aspect of the same "day of the Lord," other phases of which have been pictured before.
This particular vision presents to us the aspect of the judgment upon Gog and Magog and the final judgment of the dragon, together with an explanation of the fact that these heathen nations appear upon the scene last. Hence, we may not read as if John had written, "And after this shall the devil be bound a thousand years, etc.," as all the pre-millennialists need to do. We must leave the text as it stands: "And I saw an angel come down from heaven." Evidently John beholds the angel in some human, physical form. This angel has "the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in His hand."
In Ezekiel 38:2 ff. and Ezekiel 39:1-16, we read that Gog is the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, of the land of Magog. They constitute a vast horde that descend upon Israel from the north, even from the limit of the horizon, to make a final onslaught on the people of God. However, hailstones, fire and brimstone from heaven cause their utter destruction. In the passage of Revelation that we are now discussing, these same hordes are simply called Gog and Magog; and now they are described as living on the four quarters of the earth and as coming on the camp of saints from every direction.
In harmony with all Scripture, Israel here is to be taken in the New Testament sense of the word. The vision of the restored Israel, of which Ezekiel chapter 38 and 39 speak, has been realized in the Church of the new dispensation. It is "the camp of the saints." It is "the beloved city." It is Christianity in its widest sense as it exists and develops in the new dispensation and as it corresponds to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. It is represented in the text as being situated in the center of the earth. Around it, on the four quarters of the earth, outside of the pale of history, are nations that remain pagan. The elect also are gathered from these pagan nations into the Church; however, as nations they remain distinctly heathen.
The Glorified Saints: the Entire Church Triumphant in HeavenThe anti-Christian power will manifest itself in its ultimate realization and consummation. Essentially, the power of antichrist, the beast, and his image are always in the world. Yet always the believers have the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God; always they refuse to worship the beast and his image, and they refuse to receive his sign in their right hand or in their forehead.
It is a common idea in Scripture that the saints who overcome and endure unto the end shall reign with the Lord in glory. "And he that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father" (Revelation 2:26-27). And again: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His throne" (Revelation 3:21).
The blessed and glorified saints reign with Christ. On earth, they endured suffering for Christ’s sake; on earth it was given them of grace to have the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God in their hearts and in their mouths. Therefore, also it was given them in the cause of Christ to suffer with Him (cf. Philemon 1:29), for they had this testimony in the midst of an anti-Christian world.
Concerning this reign with Christ, it is evident that centrally and essentially it is a reign of the exalted Lord to whom is given all power in heaven and on earth and to whom is given a name that is above all names. The term "reigning saints" means that the entire Church triumphant is in heaven: they reign and judge the world with Christ. This reign commenced in heaven with the exaltation of their Lord at the right hand of God. Those "dead in Christ" now are in glory with Him and are free from all suffering and persecution.
The saints who shall live in the last days before Christ returns will suffer just as those "dead in Christ" suffered before going to heaven to reign with Him. Although the saints must suffer in the cause of Christ while they are still in this world; nevertheless, they have the victory, for they overcome through the blood of the Lamb, and they judge the world by faith in Christ.
God's People Must Not Be Deceived: They Must Keep the Testimony of JesusThe glorified saints participate in Christ's glorious reign in heaven. When Christ returns to destroy His enemy, the devil, the saints shall be completely delivered from all the power of the enemy and shall be with the Lord forever and ever. And the saints shall be given to know Christ’s works with regard to the final realization of the kingdom of God, even as He knows the Father’s counsel and is found worthy to open the book with its seven seals. The glorified saints shall know perfectly the mind of Christ, and He shall have no secrets from them. They shall concur in His judgments of the world, and thus they shall partake in them. And they shall rejoice in the full realization of His perfect victory.
We do not mean to speak of the day and the hour when Christ shall come, but we do emphasize that God's people must not be deceived. They must know the times, and they must know what the New Israel of God ought to do at all times and seasons. They must, above all, watch and keep the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God, and they must steadfastly refuse to worship the beast and the image of the beast: blessed is he that "watcheth and keepeth his garments."
And let us be of good cheer for our King is given us of Israel's God: He has all power in heaven and on earth; He has a name above all names. The victory, therefore, is the Lord's, and the victory is ours through Him: "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world!"
We must add a few words yet about the rest of this section. In verse 9, we read about the judgment of the nations: "And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them."
In this verse, the prophecy contained in this section of Revelation changes again from direct prediction, as we had it in the preceding verse, into the form of the vision. In the vision, John now beholds the nations marching up from the ends of the earth against "the beloved city." "The camp of the saints" and "the beloved city" are not to be allegorized: they are certainly Jerusalem and the people of God encamped round about it. Only, we must remember that this is true only of the vision, and that also this part may not be read as if it were history literally foretold.
There are those who apply this prophecy in such a way that they find here a prediction, and the prediction is that Jerusalem (the earthly capital of earthly Canaan) shall be rebuilt. However, this violates all the rules of interpretation. It is an error to interpret Scripture in such a way. Christ and His resurrected and glorified saints in their spiritual bodies shall not live and reign on earth literally for "a thousand years:" there will be no "millennium" where the heathen nations of Gog and Magog shall actually gather for battle against these glorified saints and their Lord.
This interpretation errs because:
- It violates the apocalyptic character of the whole book of Revelation, in general, and of this passage, in particular; and it reads as if it were literal history, although it only may be interpreted as a vision.
- In the whole New Testament, Jerusalem as it exists after Christ's exaltation is the Church, the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:16; Hebrews 12:22). And this is also true in particular of the book of Revelation (cf. 3:12; 21:22). It is quite in accord with this to explain "the beloved city" in this passage as representing the same Jerusalem.
- "The first resurrection" is not the bodily resurrection: it is the glorification of the saints with Christ after physical death (cf. my interpretation of verses 4 and 5).
- It is absurd to present the glorified saints in their incorruptible and spiritual bodies with their glorified Lord living in an earthly, material city in a corruptible and corrupt world and being actually attacked by earthly enemies with material weapons.
The Final JudgmentIn Revelation 20:9, the camp of the saints and the beloved city certainly represent the Church and the people of God. And they represent the entire Church in the whole earth and even in heaven. In the first place, the Church, of course, is centrally in heaven in Christ their Lord, and through faith the Church reigns with Him. The saints are actually in heaven as far as the Church triumphant, or the Church glorified, is concerned. In the second place, they are, notwithstanding their heavenly character, in part still in this world and are represented by the Church visible on earth. And, thirdly, in their widest representation in the world, they are known as Christendom, that is, nominal Christianity.
It is especially Gog and Magog that look upon all Christendom, no matter how apostate, as the beloved city, even as the heathen nations in the old dispensation considered earthly Jerusalem to be the city of God no matter how apostate and wicked it had become. The nations of Gog and Magog, in compassing about and coming to battle against Christendom in its widest sense, certainly intend to destroy "the beloved city," the cause of Christ, and to make paganism supreme in the world. In this, they reveal their wickedness and become ripe for the judgment. God nevertheless uses them to inflict His judgments upon the anti-Christian world (cf. Isaiah 10:5, ff.).
There we read:
"O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few. For he saith, Are not my princes altogether kings? Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus? As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria; Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?"
"Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasurers, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man: And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped. Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood. Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire."
It is evident and clearly stated in the text that fire from God out of heaven destroys them. We must also in this connection confer chapter 16, verse 21. There we read: "And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great." Moreover, we can refer also to chapter 19, verse 21: "And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceedeth out of His mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh."
All these passages refer to the same end, although the presentation differs. In Revelation 16:21, it is the great hail that destroys them. In Revelation 19:21, it is the sword that proceeds out of the mouth of Christ that slays them. And in Revelation 20:9, it is fire from God out of heaven that destroys them.
The idea is that all the wicked shall be killed in that last day in order to pass through the resurrection of damnation and to appear before the judgment seat of God in Christ:
"It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
"God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4).
Finally, in verse 10 of Revelation chapter 20, we have the judgment of Satan recorded: "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever."
- We may note here, in the first place, that by deceiving the nations, which live on the four quarters of the earth, Satan performs his last act of wicked deception and rebellion against the Most High, and thereby fills the measure of iniquity, thus becoming ripe for judgment.
- In the second place, we must also note that Satan, like the beast and the false prophet, is presented here as being unworthy even of any public and formal judgment. He is immediately cast into the lake of fire and brimstone; that is, into hell (cf. 19:20). This is not true of his fellow devils, but of Satan himself, as the prince of the devils, alone, even as it is not true of the followers and worshippers of the beast and his image, but of the beast and the false prophet only.
- In the third place, we may also note that this punishment consists in continuous torment day and night, and that too, without end, forever and ever.
The Resurrection of the DeadScripture speaks of the resurrection of the dead in more than one sense: for the godly dead, it refers to regeneration; for the ungodly dead, it refers to damnation.
"It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27).
"And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15).
"And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15).
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25).
"Wherefore he saith, Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).
"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection."The First Resurrection is Only for the Righteous: It is the Resurrection of the Godly Dead Unto Glory Immediately After Physical Death
The expression "the first resurrection" does not refer to a separate group of saints who are raised first in distinction from the raising of the wicked "a thousand years" later as a "second resurrection" (note that the term "second resurrection" is not in Scripture). Rather, it refers to a state or degree in the overall resurrection of the dead.
As we can see in Revelation 20:5, the first resurrection refers to the state of the saints in glory immediately after physical death: they are delivered from battle and from the persecution and suffering inflicted on them by the anti-Christian forces that are always in the world throughout this dispensation.
The saints "dead in Christ" reign with Him: "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). John tells us: "I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them." This part of the picture evidently represents a people who reign, a royal people, for such is the meaning of their sitting on thrones, as well as of the statement that judgment was given unto them.
To judge is a function of royalty: it implies authority to rule. "Who are these royal people?" The text does not directly answer this question: it does not inform us who they are, nor where we must look for their thrones. However, in the latter part of verse 4, John plainly describes these same people as he continues: "And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
It is self-evident that "the thousand years" refer to the same period as that in which the devil is bound with respect to Gog and Magog. In this entire "thousand year" period, these people reign with Christ whether they are with Him in heaven or are still here on earth. Upon physical death, they are the saints in glory: "the souls of them that were beheaded" permits no other interpretation.
In answer to the question, "What is the first resurrection," we cannot introduce our own preconceived notion. We are bound to the text, and we are constrained to say: The first resurrection applies only to the righteous upon death: it is the reign of the souls on their thrones in heaven; that is, the souls of the elect of God. The text plainly says, "this is the first resurrection," and the pronoun "this" refers back to the statement in verse 4 concerning the souls that reign with Christ.
The Resurrection of "the Rest of the Dead" is the Resurrection of the Ungodly Dead Unto Eternal Damnation
"God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2 Peter 2:4).
The resurrection of "the rest of the dead" in Revelation 20:5 is the raising of the ungodly dead on "the last day" for judgment and eternal damnation.
"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." (Revelation 20:4-5)
"Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." (Revelation 20:6)
The millennialist cannot adduce the first part of verse 5: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." Certainly, "the rest of the dead" are the ungodly dead. And it may be frankly admitted that the form of the expression would almost invite us to complete it as follows, "then they also shall live again;" however, we must remember that the text does not say this and that we have no authority to add to Scripture.
Besides, even the millennialist would not venture to finish the expression in that fashion. Although the wicked also shall have a certain rising from their graves and receive their bodies again, it cannot be said of them that they shall "live" again. Their resurrection will be a resurrection to eternal perdition, and Scripture clearly teaches that this going forth out of the grave unto perdition will take place at the same time, as in one hour, with the resurrection of the righteous unto eternal glory (John 5:29).
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, 'The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself; and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.'" (John 5:25-29)
So, then, the text in Revelation 20:5 can only mean that while the souls of the righteous were seen as living in glory and in power, the rest of the dead had no place in this picture at all, and they did not live again. And when they do appear once more, it will be to be sent into perdition, to be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death.
- The first death is physical death, the death of the physical body, which we all shall experience.
- The resurrection of the dead refers to everyone, for we all shall die the physical death; however, only the righteous shall be raised to reign with Christ in their gloried bodies. Therefore, only the godly dead shall experience the "first resurrection." The "rest of the dead," the ungodly dead, shall be raised on "the last day" for judgment and eternal damnation.
- The second death is the state of perdition of body and soul in hell. The "rest of the dead" shall be raised for judgment on the "last day," and they shall be sentenced to the second death along with Satan. Only the ungodly dead shall experience the second death.
In connection with the first ten verses of Revelation chapter 20, we find that the position of those who believe that these verses indicate a literal "thousand year" reign of Christ on earth is untenable for the following reasons:
- The temporal, historical view of the book of Revelation is untenable.
- Even a complete binding of Satan would not do away with sin, which is in the hearts of men.
- Revelation chapter 20 is the only place in Scripture where such a "millennium" would be taught while other passages contradict it.
- The millennium theory is impossible because it is plainly not taught even here in Revelation chapter 20.
- The first resurrection refers only to the reign of the saints with Christ after their physical death.
- Satan’s binding is symbolic of the partial restraint placed upon him with regard to the heathen nations, Gog and Magog.
- The "loosing" of Satan refers to the fact that he will be allowed to stir up the heathen nations against the Church of Christ shortly before the time of the end.