Satan under arrest
Satan’s thousand-year sentence1 Then I saw an angel descend from the sky. He was carrying in his hand a huge chain and a key to the abyss of punishment. 2 He arrested the dragon, that snake from ancient times who’s known as the devil and Satan. The angel locked him up for a thousand years. 3 He tossed Satan into the abyss, locked him there, and then sealed the place closed. For a thousand years Satan wouldn’t be able to trick nations of the world. But after he served his thousand-year sentence, he’d go free. Not for long.
First wave of resurrections4 Then I saw some thrones, with judges sitting on them. I saw souls of people who had been beheaded because they followed Jesus and obeyed God’s rules. These are people who hadn’t worshiped the statue of the beast. They also didn’t let anyone write the mark of the beast onto their foreheads or hands. They came back to life and ruled with Christ for a thousand years. 5 This was the first group resurrected. The others who had been killed wouldn’t come back to life until the thousand years was over. 6 It’s a great honor to be among the first of God’s devoted people resurrected. The Second Death can’t touch them. They’re going to serve as worship leaders for God and Christ during Christ’s thousand-year reign.
Evil Trinity burns forever7 Satan will get out of the abyss prison after serving his thousand-year sentence. 8 He’ll go right back to tricking nations all over the world, from Gog to Magog. He’s going to lure them into a battle. They’ll unite into one army so large that trying to count them would be like counting sand along the seashore. 9 This army traveled a long way and then surrounded the city God loves, where God’s people were staying. Fire fell out of the sky and destroyed the invaders. 10 The devil who had tricked these people into war got himself thrown into the lake of fire with its burning sulfur. That’s where the beast and the fake prophet are. All three of them are going to suffer that torture forever.
The end11 I saw someone sitting on a large white throne. Earth and sky were gone; they ran away from him. Both had served their purpose. 12 I saw the world’s dead—the famous and the ignored. They stood there in front of the throne. I saw books opened. Then I saw the Book of Life. It was open, too. The dead were judged according to what they had done with their lives. It was all recorded in the books. 13 Death and the grave surrendered. Both gave up all the dead they had been holding, including those who died at sea. Everyone showed up for Judgment Day. And everyone was held accountable for what they had done with their lives. 14 Death and the grave get pitched into the lake of fire. That’s the Second Death, the lake of fire. 15 Anyone whose name didn’t show up in the Book of Life got thrown into the lake of fire.
Satan’s thousand-year prison. Jews at the time taught that the abyss was the underworld—the place of the dead (Romans 10:7). Luke 8:31 also presents it as “the home of demons.” Scholars sometimes translate the word abyss as “bottomless pit.” It’s in Revelation 20:1-3. It’s also linked to the depths of the sea, something Luke may have had in mind when he reported the story of demons ending up in the Sea of Galilee after Jesus cast them into a herd of pigs (Luke 8:33).
The more literal words are “bound” and “sealed.” In ancient exorcism rituals, exorcists would recite incantations and then sometimes finish by telling the demon it was “bound” and “sealed,” leaving it powerless and unable to hurt its previous host. Readers in John’s day probably got the message that God had conquered the devil.
Some say an Antichrist will run the world for three-and-a-half years. They base it in part on prophecies such as Daniel 7:25.
Followers of the beast worshiped a statue of the beast and wore the number representing the beast’s name on their hands or foreheads. The number, 666, is reached by assigning numbers to the Hebrew letters that are equivalent to the letters in Neron Caesar, Nero’s name and title in Greek, and adding them up. (Revelation is written in Greek.) If the letters in the Hebrew equivalent of the Latin (Roman) form of the name are used, Nero Caesar, the number turns out to be 616, a number found in some ancient copies of Revelation.
Some students of the Bible say Christians will face a time of persecution commonly called the Tribulation, and that afterward Jesus will come and rule the world for a thousand years before Judgment Day. Others say Jesus will come after a thousand years of peace on earth. Others say the thousand years symbolizes a stretch of peace, after which Jesus will come and Judgment Day will follow.
Literally, “the first resurrection.” John reports a second resurrection in 12:12-13.
Second Death is the lake of fire (20:14). John mentioned it in 2:11.
“Gog and Magog” are words that Bible writers used in different ways. Here, many scholars say, it’s a way for John to repeat and emphasize what he had just said. It means “nations all over the world.” It would be a bit like someone today saying, “nations everywhere, high and low, from the Antarctic to the North Pole.” But these nations unite in their hostility toward God’s people. The prophet Ezekiel used these names as a phrase to predict that northern invaders would attack the Jewish homeland (Ezekiel 38). Ezekiel identifies Gog as a prince over territories that seem to have been in what is now Turkey. First-century Jewish historian Josephus, was writing history books at the same time many scholars say John wrote Revelation. Josephus said Gog was the Galatians, a territory in what is now central Turkey. He said Magog was the Scythians, a nomadic people living in parts of the Eurasian Steppe, which includes a wide strip of many countries north of Israel, from Ukraine and Russia along the Black Sea and stretching to China in the East (Antiquities of the Jews 1.123). Jewish writers in ancient times used the phrase “Gog and Magog” to refer to a coalition of non-Jewish countries attacking Israel in the end times (3 Enoch 45:5).
Fire fell from the sky and destroyed people several times in the Bible stories—most famous: cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24). But the fire John may have had in mind was the combo of fire, sulfur, hail, and rain that the prophet Ezekiel predicted would fall on Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38:22). Elijah also called down fire to wipe out soldiers coming to arrest him (2 Kings 19:10, 12).
“Lake of fire” is a place of eternal punishment. Some say it’s eternal because souls burn there in pain forever. Others say it’s eternal because they are burned up and annihilated, gone forever. Some students of the Bible say they see this as a literal place. Others say it’s a metaphor about people getting punished for sin. The Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament, talks about the earth swallowing a group of sinners who rebelled against Moses (Numbers 16:32). But none of the Bible writers talks about a lake of fire until John. Some scholars say he borrowed the metaphor from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. That book was written at least by about 1800 BC, several hundred years before Moses. John also wrote about “the Second Death,” another idea that surfaced first in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Greek philosopher Plato (about 428-348 BC), wrote in Gorgias about a lake of fire where souls are tortured forever or until they get another chance and are reborn.
Some students of the Bible call them the Unholy Trinity or Evil Trinity. Some Bible scholars identify the trio formed by Satan, the beast from the sea, (which they say is the Antichrist), and the beast from the land (which they identify as the fake prophet) as the Evil Trinity, a counterpoint to the divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
More literally, “there was no place for them anymore.” It sounds like the physical universe won’t be needed in God’s world.
Most Bible experts seem to agree that the Book of Life isn’t a celestial book. It’s a metaphor, a way of identifying people devoted to God. This word picture may have begun centuries earlier, when palace scribes kept records of the king’s enemies and his loyal servants. Kings generally rewarded the loyal souls with life and other perks. People who betrayed the king weren’t so lucky.
Literally “Hades.” Many people in ancient times came to speak of Hades as an incredibly inhospitable waiting room for the inevitable judgment that was coming. In the Hebrew language, Jews called this place Sheol, a place where the shadowy dead live and don’t return (Job 7:9).
Three popular theories about end time spin around Revelation 20. What do you know about them, based on what you’ve read or heard taught?
- Pre-Millennium. Jesus comes before God locks up Satan for a thousand years.
- Post-Millennium. Jesus comes after the thousand years of peace on earth.
- A-Millennium. Jesus comes after a long stretch of peace, not literally a thousand years.
“I saw an angel descend from the sky. He was carrying in his hand a huge chain and a key to the abyss of punishment” (20:1). He’s about to lock the devil up for a thousand years. Really? Are we supposed to believe God needs a chain and a key to lock up the devil? What are some of the different ways you would expect to hear Christians explain this scene?
Remember the snake in the Garden of Eden? It convinced Eve to bite into the forbidden fruit. This is the snake God cursed: “Crawl on the ground. Eat dirt for the rest of your life” (Genesis 3:14). It’s never identified as Satan until what appears to be the last book written for the Bible. John makes the link: “the dragon, that snake from ancient times who’s known as the devil and Satan” (20:2). What do you think most Christians would make of that? Pick one reaction or offer one of your own.
- If it had really been Satan, the Genesis writer would have said so.
- The Genesis story of Creation wasn’t history. It was more like a parable, a story to help people understand God created the universe.
- If it’s in the Bible, it’s solid. The snake was the devil.
- John probably linked the snake to the devil because Jews had been teaching that for a long time.
- That was then, this is now. I’m dealing with enough “now” to keep me busy.
In what sounds like another reference to the Battle of Armageddon, Satan gets released from his thousand years in lock-down and he goes “right back to tricking nations all over the world” (20:8). They unite into a coalition army and surround “the city God loves” (20:9). Sounds more like Jerusalem than Cleveland, though God loves the people of both, if the Bible writers got God right. If you made a movie about this battle, based on what the Bible says about it, what would it look like?
“Anyone whose name didn’t show up in the Book of Life got thrown into the lake of fire.” (20:15) Do you think most Christians believe Satan and sinful souls will burn forever?
LIFE APPLICATION. Do you think it motivates anyone to live as good souls on earth when they read in the Bible something like “Everyone showed up for Judgment Day. And everyone was held accountable for what they had done with their lives” (20:13)?