In this chapter, John uses prophetic figurative language in order to rehearse the effect the gospel has had on the work of the kingdom of darkness. This seventh and last symbolic vision of John in Revelation is given to manifest the totality of the victory of the gospel over the spiritual powers of darkness. The beast and false prophet have been judged. Now it is time for the vision concerning the judgment of the enemy of all righteousness. This vision begins with the revelation of the gospel. It concludes with the judgment of the wicked. In this one chapter, John is given a truly splendid picture of what this dispensation of the gospel is all about. It is a thrilling vision and revelation of what the early Christians experienced through the preaching of the gospel. It is a comforting vision because of the revelation of what will be the end of those who persecute the church. In reference to John’s audience, this vision concludes with the torment into which their persecutors are cast. In chapters 12-14, John gave an expanded picture of the beginning of the gospel dispensation to the time that the Son of Man was told to thrust in His sickle (Rv 14:15). In chapter 20 we begin with the coming of the binding power of the message of the gospel. The vision ends with the final judgment after the death of those who were “not found written in the Book of Life.” They were cast into the lake of fire which was especially prepared for the devil and his angels (vs 15; see Mt 25:41).
THE BINDING OF SATAN
20:1 An angel coming down: As in the other visions, this angel is simply another messenger of God. He comes bearing the power to confine. That which will confine the work of Satan is the gospel of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from physical death (1 Co 15:1-4). As the woman brought forth the Man Child (Jesus) in chapter 12, so the result of Jesus’ coming (the gospel) is emphasized here. Key: The key is symbolic of authority. This figure is taken from the Old Testament in passages as Isaiah 22:20-22. Eliakim was given the “key” of the house of David. He “will open and no one will shut; and he will shut, and no one will open” (Compare Mt 16:18,19; Rv 1:18; 3:7,8). This messenger, therefore, has the authority to bind the works of Satan with the power of the gospel (Rm 1:16). Abyss: The bottomless pit of the King James Version would literally be translated “abyss” (9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; Lk 8:31). The abyss is confinement. It is the confinement of the power of Satan. Satan is thus thrown into a bottomless pit (KJV) where he does not hit the bottom. His confinement is sure. Chain: Satan is restrained with a chain. He is limited by that which confines him. Those angels who did not keep their original places for which they were created, but were disobedient, have been confined with everlasting chains (Jd 6; 2 Pt 2:4). During His ministry, Jesus was in the process of binding the strong man Satan and plundering his house (See Mt 12:29). By His miraculous works and preaching of the good news He was confining the work of Satan in this world. In this sense, therefore, Satan was being cast down in a world that he formerly controlled by deception. But when the truth of the gospel was revealed, Satan was bound.
20:2 Laid hold of the dragon: The dragon was a fictitious creature that caused fear in the hearts of men. The serpent was a cunning deceiver. The devil is the accuser. All such metaphors portray a grim picture of Satan as the enemy of humanity. Nevertheless, Satan is bound with the power of the gospel. Jesus died for our sins that cause spiritual death in our lives (Rm 6:23; 1 Co 15:3). However, He was resurrected in order that He might destroy death (See 1 Co 15:20-22; Hb 2:14,15). Bound him: Satan is bound. In chapter 12:1-9 the dragon, Satan, is cast out of his place of authority. He is cast down. The same truth is taught here by a different picture. Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world. Now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (Jn 12:31). The word “now” referred to the time of Jesus’ ministry. During His ministry, Jesus was in the process of beginning the casting down of the prince of the world. He visually manifested His power over Satan by His own supernatural power and by His giving control of supernatural power to the disciples, who in turn, manifested their power over Satan by casting out demons. After Jesus had sent them out on various preaching tours, they returned from one such tour and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Lk 10:17). Jesus then said that Satan is fallen (Lk 10:18,19). Through the cross, men can be delivered from sin. Through the resurrection, they can be delivered from death, and thus, live forever. Therefore, Jesus “disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public display of them, triumphing over them in it [the cross]” (Cl 2:15). Jesus now exercises kingdom reign over all things (Ep 1:20-23). Through one’s obedience to the gospel, he can “reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ” (Rm 5:17). Though Satan goes about in the world as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, he cannot separate faithful children of God from God (See comments Rm 8:31-39; 1 Pt 5:8). For a thousand years: Since it is by the gospel that Satan is bound, then we conclude that the binding began when the gospel was first made effective in the lives of men. That time was when the first official announcement of the death, burial and resurrection and kingdom reign of Jesus was publicly made by Peter on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30 as Luke recorded in Acts 2. The binding will continue while the gospel is continually preached throughout the world. It will be preached until Jesus comes again. Therefore, we would conclude that the one thousand years of binding began in A.D. 30 and will continue until Jesus returns. This is the definite period of his confinement. However, the amount of time is not determined by the “one thousand years.” The number “one thousand” is only figurative of this period of confinement of the power of Satan by the preaching of the gospel. Again, this figure is taken from the Old Testament where the number 1,000 referred to a definite time, but not to a period of time that was determined by a specific number of years (Ps 90:4; 105:8; Dn 7:10).
20:3 Cast him into the abyss: Satan was confined. The binding was effective in reference to his work. He was also sealed, that is, consigned to the abyss and its consequences. He was not cast into the abyss as punishment, for this will come later in this vision. He is bound in the abyss to prevent him from ravaging the saints. He would no longer have the freedom to lead masses of people, especially the saints, into darkness by deception. The influence of the gospel would permeate the very constitutions of nations with values that would preserve societies. The whole earth would not be led astray as in the days of Noah when every imagination of man’s heart was continually evil (Gn 6:5). Before the preaching of the gospel, there was a time when men gave up the knowledge of God in order to worship the creation (Rm 1:18-32). But the gospel brought life and immortality to light (2 Tm 1:10). The binding of Satan by the gospel does not mean the cessation of the activity of Satan. Within the realm of the preaching of the gospel, however, he is bound by the gospel. He goes about outside the realm of gospel influence as a devouring lion (1 Pt 5:8). Wherever the gospel is preached and obeyed, he is confined. Where it is not preached, he seeks to deceive and devour. Those of the Roman Empire who rejected the truth of God continued in deception and the clutches of Satan. However, the saints of the Lamb did not fall under the deception of the harlot. In the church, God will not allow Satan to tempt the saints beyond what they are able to endure (1 Co 10:13). In this sense, Satan is bound. However, he goes about as a devouring lion among those to whom the gospel is not yet preached. Nevertheless, his work is bound in reference to the saints. The deceived of the world live without any understanding or concern for either their souls or eternal consequences of their sin. They live in ignorance of God and the judgment to come. However, those who have come to a knowledge of Jesus and His word have been enlightened through Jesus concerning the reality of God and our responsibility to His law. We are thus not deceived by our own ignorance of God and what He would have us do in reference to His will. The world that walks in ignorance of God and His will remains bound by darkness. Those who have a knowledge of Jesus and His word are no longer in darkness. Released for a little time: If Satan is bound within the area where the gospel is preached (the church), then he is unleashed in the church when members cease standing on the foundation of the gospel. This is certainly the meaning of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church when he wrote concerning their belief in the gospel, “… by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you …” (1 Co 15:2). The Corinthians had to continue believing the testimony of the gospel if they were to continue in a saved relationship with God. John seems to indicate that there would be a brief time when his audience would cease believing in the power of the gospel. When the church ceases believing in the gospel, Satan is unleashed. However, a second understanding of this “loosing” would be in reference to the end of time. Satan would be loosed for a little season. If he is bound by the preaching of the gospel, then at the end of the gospel dispensaton, he would be loosed when the gospel is not preached. Could this be a brief time before the end of time when the church has lost its purpose or is suppressed in persecution to the point that the disciples cease preaching the gospel? However, if we refer to the one thousand years as a quality of time in reference to the present dispensation of the gospel age that began with the establishment of the church in A.D. 30, then we would also assume that the little time here refers to quality and not a period of time. In other words, the effect of the gospel upon those who have obeyed it is much greater than the influence of Satan in their lives. The obedient live in the realm of the gospel, though they are not outside the temptations of Satan.
20:4 I saw thrones: The thrones were kingly seats of power or authority. This is a place of royalty. In this verse, authority and royalty are given to two groups of the saints. First, there were the martyrs who had given their lives for preaching the gospel (6:9,10). They continued to live and reign in the world through their testimony. They were as Abel who continues to speak though he is dead (Hb 11:4). Secondly, there were the living saints who refused to be identified with the worship of the Roman Empire. These were those of Revelation 13:12-15 who received great persecution because of their stand for the faith. They overcame the beast “by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (12:11). They lived and reigned with Christ: Those who did not submit to the worship promoted by Rome, lived because of their obedience to the gospel (Rm 6:4,5). They reigned with Jesus (Rm 5:17; 2 Tm 2:11,12). Christians have died with Jesus (Rm 6:6), and thus, they endure with Him in this life (At 14:22). While on earth, Jesus said the apostles would reign on twelve thrones in the time of the regeneration (Mt 19:28). The “time of regeneration” is the same as the “one thousand years.” It is the time when the apostles rule through the authority of their inspired word. This word brings judgment to those who do not receive it. Through the preaching of this inspired word, Christians bring judgment to those who reject it. They bring judgment by the preaching of the gospel because those who reject the gospel judge themselves by their rejection of Jesus (Jn 12:48).
20:5 The rest of the dead: John said that the rest of the dead, that is, the spiritually dead, did not live until the end of the one thousand years. This would be the time explained by Jesus in John 5:28,29. The spiritually dead would be resurrected to go away into eternal destruction (Mt 25:46; 2 Th 1:9). Those who do not partake of the spiritual resurrection will be raised to face the judgment of destruction (2 Th 1:7-9). The first resurrection: This is the key verse that helps us understand the meaning of the entire chapter. We assume from the first resurrection that there was a first death. This would be spiritual death in sin as a result of separation from God (Rm 5:12; 6:23; Is 59:1,2). When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, he spiritually died (Gn 2:17). When every man reaches the age at which he can determine rebellion against God, and subsequently chooses rebellion, he sins and thus spiritually dies (Rm 5:12). This is the one who “lives in pleasure,” but is dead while he lives (1 Tm 5:6; see Mt 8:22). The first resurrection, therefore, is a spiritual resurrection from spiritual death (Rm 6:3-6; Ep 2:5,6; Cl 2:12,13). The one who partakes of the spiritual resurrection has “passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24; 1 Jn 3:14). The first resurrection implies a second. Though the first is spiritual in the sense that one is spiritually regenerated when resurrected from the grave of water, it is the condition for the second to be bodily. The context of Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of a spiritual resurrection (resurrection from the waters of baptism), and the indication of the second resurrection (the bodily resurrection) at the end of time when Jesus comes again. In John 5:24-29, Jesus also spoke of both a spiritual and physical resurrection. Jesus said that those who believe on Him have “passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). This statement refers to a spiritual resurrection from a state of being spiritually dead to a state of being saved, and thus spiritually alive in Christ. Jesus spoke of the final resurrection when the righteous would be raised to life (Jn 5:25). Those who would live are those who would hear, believe and obey the gospel by immersion for the remission of their sins (At 2:38; Rm 6:3-6). In verses 28 & 29 of John 5, however, Jesus changes in the context from the spiritual resurrection to a physical resurrection that would take place in the future. Those who have worked that which is good, will be resurrected to life. They will be resurrected at the same time as those who have worked evil. But the unrighteous will be resurrected to condemnation and punishment. According to the statement of Jesus in John 5:24-29, both resurrections will take place in the same hour. John 5:24-29, therefore, is a commentary on what John symbolically reveals in Revelation 20:1-6. Jesus came to preach to those who were spiritually dead. Those who heard could in their lives bind Satan by their obedience to the gospel. In Christ, therefore, they were protected from the power of Satan, for in Christ we are not allowed to be tempted beyond that which we are able to endure, but with temptation we are given a way of escape (1 Co 10:13). Through the blood of Jesus the Christian has come into a realm wherein Satan is bound. As long as one faithfully remains in this realm, he will not suffer the second death, that is, removal from the presence of God, and thus, destruction (See Rv 2:11; 20:14; 21:8; 2 Th 1:7-9).
20:6 The second death has no power: John talks of a coming second death (Rv 2:11; 20:14; 21:8). The second death is the removal from the presence of God of those who are presently spiritually dead because they did not obey the gospel (Mt 10:28). The result of their removal from the presence of God will be their second death with unending consequences (See comments 2 Th 1:9). However, those who are obedient to the gospel are made spiritually alive. They are priests of God and Christ who minister the gospel to the world (1:6; 5:10; 1 Pt 2:5,9). They are reigning with Christ during this gospel dispensation (1:6; 5:10; Rm 5:17). Reign with Him a thousand years: Those who partake of the first resurrection (obedience to the gospel), reign in life by their victory over sin. Because of their obedience to the gospel, they have victory over death (Hb 2:14,15). They were thus reigning on this earth with Jesus at the time John recorded this vision (2 Tm 2:12). This is what John had earlier written in chapter 5:10. Jesus has made us “a kindgom and priests to our God. And we will reign on the earth.”
THE DEFEAT AND DOOM OF SATAN
20:7,8 Satan will be released: The beast, or Roman government, oppressed the church. The period of oppression was earlier identified by John to be the three and a half years, though this time is not a specific three and a half years in reference to time (Rv 12:12; 13:5). This was a “short time” (vs 3). In the brevity of such a short time, Satan will be released at the end of the one thousand years, or gospel dispensation. He will be released from confinement because of the lack of the preaching of the gospel, or the suppression of preaching by governmental powers. The majority of the inhabitants of the world will thus be deceived as they were during Roman oppression in the 1st century. Deceive the nations: Satan will go forth to the four corners of the world, that is, the entire world. Gog and Magog are references to God’s enemies in the Old Testament (See comments Ez 35-40). The battle is parallel with the Harmagedon of 16:16. At the end of the gospel dispensation, the number of the deceived will be as the sand of the sea. In other words, the vast majority of the inhabitants of the world will be resistant to the truth. They will be resistant to the gospel either by indifference, or through oppression.
20:9 Surrounded the camp of the saints: The “beloved city” is the church of saints who have not submitted to the intimidation of whatever Satan uses. These are those who have not become indifferent to the gospel, or submitted to the oppression of any force that might intimidate them to reject the power of the gospel. The end of the gospel dispensation will be a time when it seems that the church will be oppressed out of existence. However, “fire,” or God’s judgment, will come upon those who persecute the people of God (2 Th 1:7-9; compare Jd 14,15). As God intervened in the days of Noah with the global flood (Gn 6), and in the case of delivering righteous Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 18,19), so He will deliver those who remain faithful. In the historical context of John’s readers, this surely referred to the persecution of the church by Rome. The enemies of God went throughout all their world (the Roman Empire) to encompass and attack the church. However, in a secondary sense, this has happened to the church among wicked governments since the days of the 1st century. In numerous places of the world, the church has been suppressed out of existence. It is suppressed out of existence by those who have given themselves over to false religious beliefs. As in the days of Roman imperial religion, religiously misguided men deceived themselves into following after false religions in order to reject the commandments of God (Compare Mk 7:1-9). It was God’s purpose in the creation of the world to populate heaven. When the present world ceases the purpose for which it was created, then God will terminate the world. Therefore, when few people will respond to the message of the gospel, then there will no longer be a reason for the existence of the world.
20:10 The devil … was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone: All the wicked hear the words of Jesus, “Depart from Me you cursed into everlasting fire that is prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41). Hell is the intended place of punishment for Satan. All those who would be messengers of his cause will end up in the same place and suffer the same punishment. The severity of the punishment is manifested in the metaphor “fire and brimstone.” We do not make the mistake, as some biblical interpreters, of literalizing the metaphor. “Fire and brimstone” is something literal and of this world. That which is signified by the metaphor in the heavenly realm is always greater and above this world. Therefore, we must assume that hell is more horrible than the literal fire and brimstone of this world. Where also are the beast and the false prophet: The nature of this statement indicates that the wicked Roman persecutors had already been cast into this place of torment before the devil is cast there. This indicates that at the time of physical death, one immediately faces final judgment, and is subsequently cast into torments as the rich man was in Luke 16 (See Hb 9:27). The beast (Roman government) and the false prophet (Roman religion) have been cast into the place that is reserved for the devil who will end up in torment at the conclusion of all things (Mt 25:41). John’s comfort to the righteous is that those who have tormented them are now in torment themselves. Forever and ever: The duration of the torment is indefinite, though certain. It is everlasting (aionios) in the sense that God has appointed it to happen, therefore, it will not be taken away. The destruction into which they are cast will have unending consequences that cannot be undone. There is thus no chance to escape the finality of the consequence that will result from the destruction of both soul and body in hell (See comments Mt 10:28). As in the Old Testament, “everlasting” and “forever” are English words that translated the Hebrew word olam. This word carries with it the Jewish understanding that the torment will last throughout God’s intended time of duration. Emphasis is not on the length of time, but on the certainty of the punishment’s existence and the consequences that will result from such after the punishment has served justice for the crime. Consider the use of the Hebrew word olam that is translated “everlasting” and “forever” throughout the Old Testament (Ex 12:24; 29:9; 40:15; Lv 3:17; Dt 15:17; Ja 14:9; I Kg 8:12,13; 2 Kg 5:27). When the Jews translated the Old Testament into the Greek language (the Septuagint), they used the Greek word aionios to translate olam that carries with it a similar meaning. Therefore, time without end must not always be read into the meaning of the texts that use these words, for both olam and aionios are used to refer to God’s covenant with Israel (Lv 24:8), slavery under the law (Dt 15:17), the Passover (Ex 12:24), the Sabbath (Ex 31:16), the levitical priesthood (Ex 40:15), leprosy (2 Kg 5:27) and mountains (Hk 3:6). All these things had an end, and thus, olam in reference to these things and institutions did not continue without end. Therefore, with reference to the use of the equivalent Greek word aionios we must not assume an unending existence of those who will be separated from the presence of God (See 2 Th 1:7-9). The fact that God can destroy both soul and body (Mt 10:28), and that the disobedient will face destruction from the presence of God, assumes that there will be a termination of the unrighteous after just punishment has been rendered. The process of destruction will not go on without end, but the results of the destruction will.
[Lecture continued tomorrow.]