Monday, November 25, 2019

The Great White Throne- Revelation 20:11-15

While many of us, myself included, are looking forward to learning more about the glories of heaven and the eternal state described in Revelation 21-22, there is an important discussion that must first be entertained about an entirely different domain—hell. Would it surprise you to hear that Jesus spoke more of hell that he did of heaven in his ministry? The reality of hell and the judgment that precludes it is something the Bible itself emphasizes time and time again. However, for a whole host of reasons (it is negative, unpopular, uncomfortable, not seeker-sensitive, perceived as harsh, etc.), many neglect passages such as the one that we are going to take a look at today in Revelation 20:11-15. However, I believe that one must be a student of all scripture that has been inspired by God and that the measure of attention one should give to certain passages is not dependent on how cozy it may make one feel. In fact, one might say that a robust doctrine of hell is important to the Christian life. For instance, it creates a better appreciation for heaven, and it stimulates greater urgency in our mission share the message of the gospel to those who are still at risk of being sent there. Therefore, with great reverence for the full counsel of God’s Word, let’s make three observations of the final judgment that is described in Revelation 20:11-15 and come to appreciate both holiness and grace of God.

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1. The Judge-20:11

While many debate when the battle of Revelation 19 will take place or where to stick the millennial kingdom of 20:1-6 or exactly what transpires in the final insurrection of 20:7-10, all are agreed that what is portrayed in 20:11-15 will occur at the end of history. This is the final line of demarcation that separates what exists now and the new heavens and the new earth described in Revelation 21-22. This pivotal passage and the vision that it contains is introduced with a familiar literary convention and a new observation—“Then I saw a great white throne” (20:11a). This is reminiscent of John’s first prophetic vision in 4:2 when John passed through the open door of heaven, was taken up in the Sprit and beheld “a throne” and “someone sitting on it.” In the beginning of Revelation (chapters 4-5), God’s unmatched majesty was celebrated as this One on the throne was worshipped for having created the universe. Here, the throne is described in more vivid detail than before--“great white”—and celebrates its occupant’s authority to judge the world. The size suggests the great task of final judgment and the white color demonstrates the purity and holiness of God that makes Him the only fitting judge (Wilson, ZIBBC, 362). After all, white has been used throughout the book to demonstrate purity and holiness in various contexts: Christ has white hair (1:14), sits on a white cloud (14:14), and returns on a white horse (19:11). Also, celestial beings wear white (4:4) and the victorious saints adorn white robes (3:4, 4; 6:11; 7:9, 13). The “whiteness” of this “great” throne encapsulates all of these themes/associations (Osborne, Revelation, 720). It is a victorious throne of holiness from which God will judge that which has been defeated because of its impurity.
This throne is similar to what is found in Daniel 7:9-10.

Daniel 7:9-10-“ I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; his vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened.”  

This passage runs parallel to what will take place in Revelation 20:11-15. “All rise for the Judge who is seated on his great white throne!”

So awesome is the presence of the Judge seated on the throne that John describes the courtroom scene as follows: “Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them,…” (20:11b). As the gavel calls the court to order the present earth and the heavens pass away, paving the way for a new heavens and new earth in their place. Isaiah 51:6 predicts this when it says, “The heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment.” 2 Peter 3:7 echoes this when it shares “the earth and everything in it will be laid bare…and the heavens will disappear with a roar.” In many ways, this is what creation has been pining for since it fell due to mankind’s sin (see Romans 8:18-22). Everything that shows the symptoms of decay and the stain of sin vanishes as this court hearing begins—everything, that is, except the sinner who stands before the Judge who is seated on his great white bench. In stark contrast to the fantastic displays of complex phenomena, here, in this somber moment, the scene is simple: you have the great white throne and the line of defendants awaiting their trial.

2. The Hearing-20:12a

After the Judge takes his seat and declares the court is now in session, the hearing can begin. The defendants in the hearing are introduced in the beginning of verse 12—“and I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne” (20:12a). There are two general views about what happens here. First, some believe that given the dead in Christ were raised earlier to life (following the first resurrection) and ruling with Christ in the millennial period, given that in 20:4 a “judgment” of the redeemed seems to have already been rendered, given the parallels between this and verses 13-15, and given that the Bible does not make a habit of referring to the saved as “dead” (except in reference to sin or the “old man”), the “dead” mentioned here are probably all who have ever died who are not among the people of God. In this dramatic courtroom scene, these are raised to life only to stand trial before the great white throne. Notice that regardless of what they may or may not have accomplished in their earthly lives, their sin and this judgment thereof acts as a great equalizer. All, the “great and small,” stand convicted in their sin before God.

Others hold that that verse 12 is a separate judgment from verse 13. In verse 12 God judges the dead in Christ (awarding them with the eternal state of heaven) and in verse 13 the lost are condemned to eternity separated from God. Those that hold this view note the different in tone that is struck between verse 12 and verse 13, and that those in verse 12 are “standing” just as the victorious saints were shown “standing before the throne” in 7:9. Both interpretations are possible.

The trial described here is described as follows: “and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged,…” (20:12b). This reveals that written records of the acts of each individual form the basis of this judgment (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 431). This is what the first set of “books” contain—a register of human activity and words. The scriptures make many references to such books.

Psalm 56:8-“You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?”

Isaiah 65:6-“Behold, it is written before Me, I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will even repay into their bosom,”

Daniel 7:10-“The court sat, and the books were opened.”

Matt. 12:37-“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The other book mentioned in this verse is separate from this record of deeds and receives more of the focus in this passage. This is the Book of Life which records the names of those included among the people of God—“a divine register for every loyal believer (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 432).

Isaiah 4:3-“It will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy—everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem.”

Psalm 69:28-“May they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous.”

Luke 10:20-“Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”

So much hinges “from the things that were written in the books, according to their deeds,” (20:12c).  Daniel prophesied in Daniel 12:1 that “everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered.” If you believe that verse 12 involves those who are dead in Christ, then those who stand trial here find that their names are present in this book and will be delivered from the prospect of being separated from God forever. For these, their works recorded in the first set of books coincide and run complimentary to their name being in the Book of Life—(as saving faith works well and good deeds evidence real relationship with Christ). The deliverance promised to the righteous is everlasting life. This was already mentioned in Jesus’ comments to the church at Sardis. Those saints were promised that their names would not be erased from the Book of Life in Revelation 3:5.
For believers, the final judgment will look less like a courtroom scene ending with a charge of guilty and more like a graduation celebration where everyone gets to walk the stage to receive their diploma, having accumulated differing honors along the way toward the same goal.
However, if you hold that this passage describes a single judgment of the lost, the absence of their names in the book of life betrays the litany of wicked deeds found in the other books. Their works condemn them and no deliverance from their fate will be granted. Regardless of which view you hold, those standing trial here are who are NOT found in the book of life, are judged—i.e. condemned to punishment.

For these, judgment will look like being convicted on multiple counts in court only to be immediately rushed to the sentencing hearing.

Among these are those described as having been given up in verse 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” (20:13). Though it would appear as though different domains are being referenced with “sea,” “death,” and “hades,” these three are all speaking of the same place—the realm of evil where souls without Christ are held until this occasion of final judgment. The “giving up” described in verse 13 is the second resurrection that is followed by the second death. The deeds of these, as mentioned before, indict the lost on multiple counts, rendering them unfit to enter the new heavens and the new earth. Again, verse 13 is either a retelling of verse 12 in different language or the first description of the judgment of those without Christ. Either way, the lost are condemned and the saved are rewarded following this pivotal eschatological hearing.

3. The Sentences-20:14-15

Once the guilty verdict for the unsaved is reached after the account of their lives is read from the books, the sentences can be read aloud. First, death and hades get what has been coming to them, “then death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. To what does “death and hades” refer? It is most likely that this is a reference to what Paul called the last enemy to be destroyed in 1 Corinthians 15:26.

1 Corinthians 15:26-“the last enemy to be destroyed is death”

After all, the Antichrist, false prophet, and Satan have already been relegated to the lake of fire. The only thing standing in the way of eternal life with God is death itself. Death will be done away with in this moment, forever banished from the presence of God and his people. 
Along with death, “anyone’s name [that] was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:15). This is the second death mentioned in Revelation 20:6 when it says, “blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” This is also the second death that Jesus says will not hurt the faithful in the church of Smyrna: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11).

This second death in the lake of fire is not annihilation—i.e. where the souls of these just cease to exist. It is the conscious separation from God along with its punishment. This is portrayed in Matthew 25.

Matthew 25:41, 46-“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;… These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Joining the beast, false prophet, and Satan in misery, these will spend eternity in dreadful existence.  
Why is hell eternal? Is it fair of God to punish for eternity those sinners who sinned temporally? Ultimately, the answer to these questions is found in a better appreciation of the crime unrepentant sinners commit. J. Warner Wallace writes, “The crime that earns [people] in the place in Hell is rejection of the true, living, eternal God. The rejection of God’s forgiveness is not finite. People who reject Jesus have rejected Him completely. They have rejected Him as an ultimate, final mortal decision. God has the right (and obligation) to judge them with an appropriate punishment. To argue that God’s punishment does not fit [the] crime is to underestimate [the] crime.” This punishment of hell can also be understood as more than appropriate given that eternal life in heaven has been offered by God to sinners in the person and work of Jesus. Not only has the offer for forgiveness of all sin been made to the world and all the blessings therewith, evidence has been made available for the reality of Jesus’ identity and his many claims (1 Cor. 15), and the gospel message has been proclaimed throughout the world (Matt. 28:19-20; Act 1:8). Not only that, but evidence of God in creation is available for all to see (Rom. 1) that can be used of God in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sin and lead them to the special revelation of Christ (Jn. 15:26; 16:8). In other words, as real as hell is, so too is God’s gracious means of avoiding it in Christ. Praise the Lord!

So What?

How will this coming day of final judgment be for you? Might it be comparable to a graduation of sorts in which your good works will testify to the fact that you have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and you name is written in the book of life? Or, at present, would it look more like a trial in which you are accurately convicted of many multiple crimes, the greatest being the rejection of God, denial of Christ, and ignoring the Holy Spirit? Those who graduate will be ushered into a new heaven and a new earth—glorious, perfect, and full of life. Those who are convicted in God’s court will be banished from such for all eternity, forever separated from him and his blessings. Thankfully, God has made a way for people to trade a death sentence for a promise of life. It is found in Jesus Christ. He alone turns the woeful dropout into a decorated graduate, the dead in sin to alive in him, the hopeless to the hopeful. The final judgment is coming. What will be your verdict?

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Final Insurrection -Revelation 20:7-10

Have you ever come across an intimidating passage of Scripture that you have, for whatever reason, decided to figure out/study some other day. I’m talking about those passages about which even your mentors and teachers are a bit befuddled and lacking in cogent explanations. There is one such passage in the Book of Revelation that fits this criteria for me and today is the day where, as a responsible expositor of the text, I am finally forced to deal with it. There is no more putting this one off as our study leads us to examine Revelation 20:7-10 and the four components of what might be called the final insurrection against God and his people. In this text, God permits Satan to leave his holding cell in the abyss so that he can once more wreak havoc on a world that, for a thousand years, has enjoyed the reign of Christ and his church without this little devil. Why would God allow this? What lessons can we possibly learn from something that, on the surface, appears unexplainable? Today we are going to explore the answers to these questions and come to learn what all of this has to say about the desperate human condition and the only hope there is to fix it.

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1. The Timing of the Insurrection-20:7-“…When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,…”

So far two efforts have been given to finally and completely eradicate evil from the face of the earth as the end times heads to the final state: 1) The battle of Revelation 19:11-21 that successfully removed the Antichrist and false prophet from the face of the earth and 2) The expulsion of Satan at the beginning of the millennial period. Revelation 20:7-10 is phase three of this process in which a final eschatological war ensues, forever relegating Satan to the lake of fire. After what is described in this passage takes place, evil will be removed for all eternity, preparing the way for the new heavens and the new earth that is described in Revelation 21:1-22:5.

It is important to remember from the outset of this passage that there is a modified dualism (good vs. evil theme) at work here—the same that has been in play for the majority of this apocalyptic work. The forces of good and evil are not opposite but equal. The battle that is mentioned here is, like conflict describe earlier in Revelation 19:11-21, a “nonevent” (Osborne, Revelation, 710). In it, God is supremely victorious over an infinitely inferior foe. This is indicated in verse 7 when it says, “When the thousand years are complete, Satan will be released from his prison” (20:7). The passive voice here indicates that Satan did not escape his temporary holding cell in the demonic jailhouse that is the abyss (see 20:1-3). He was released by a higher authority—i.e. granted temporary parole. Nothing, not even this final insurrection is beyond the scope of God’s sovereignty. Once the thousand years is complete—that is the millennial reign of Christ on the earth—Satan will be temporarily loosed upon the earth.

2. The Nature of the Insurrection-20:8

The two-fold purpose of this release is given in verse 8—“and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog” (20:8a). First, he will be released to “deceive the nations” (def. “to cause someone to hold a wrong view and thus be mistaken”). The “nations” include those who have been repopulating the planet and living under Christ’s reign. These are those masses that will be managed in part by the glorified people of God. In other words, believers today and those who have passed away before us are not a part of the “nations” described here. Instead, these nations include the children of the survivors of the tribulation who have been living their lives during this thousand-year period without Satan’s presence on the earth.

When Satan is released, the text infers that it doesn’t take long for the nations, in spite of their experience under the millennial reign of Christ, to immediately flock after the devil. This peculiar episode indicates several important things for today’s reader. “Neither the designs of Satan nor the waywardness of the human heart will be altered by the mere passing of time” (Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 371). 1000 years in a holding cell doesn’t reform Satan out of his ancient habits of deception and destruction. Neither does 1000 years of the existential reign of Christ cure the natural human condition of sin. You have heard it said “time heals all wounds.” However, this text teaches otherwise.

This global deception is compared to what was witnessed in Ezekiel 38-39 in an episode involving an ancient power—"Gog and Magog” (20:8a). In this historical conflict, Gog (the king of the northern lands) and Magog (meaning the land of Gog) come to wage war against the people of God. Interestingly, the story that unfolds in Ezekiel runs parallel to the events of Revelation 19-20. In Ezekiel 36 the nation is resurrected and reconstituted (see the “valley of dry bones” passage). This foreshadows to Revelation 20:4-6’s description of the resurrection of the redeemed who go on to rule alongside Christ during the millennial kingdom. In Ezekiel 38, a coalition of nations comes to destroy God’s people. This is similar to what we read here in Revelation 20:1-9a. However, the enemies of God are said to be destroyed in Ezekiel 39 and then the victorious people of God are then permitted to enjoy the eschatological temple in Ezekiel 40-48. This mirrors Revelation 20:9b-14 and 21:1-22:5 respectively. In other words, John frames this end-times episode by means of a familiar story that most of his audience would have remembered. He describes the victory God achieves here in Revelation  by means of another victory He was awarded earlier in Ezekiel 38-39. In many respects, the conflict of Ezekiel 38-39 projects what will one day be fulfilled here in Revelation 20 (See Osborne’s discussion in Revelation, 711-712).

The second reason for Satan’s release involves war. In fact, the aim of his deception of the nations is to “gather them for the war.” (20:8b). Satan’s appetite for war is insatiable. He will stop at nothing to ruin what God has created and what God has willed. From Lucifer’s short-lived tenure in the heavenlies as an especially powerful archangel, to the insidious deception in the garden, to the misinformed building project at Babel, to the conspiracy to kill Christ in the first century, to the skirmishes he has lodged throughout church history, to the programmatic persecution during the tribulation, to the war in heaven against Michael in Revelation 12, to the battle of Armageddon in Revelation 19, Satan’s proclivity toward insurrection is bordering on clinical. He certainly has proven to live up to his title “the adversary” and this he will continue to do here at this final insurrection.  

The size of the armies Satan will quickly amass is incalculable for John—“the number of them is like the sand of the seashore” (20:8c). By the end of Satan’s quick program of deception, you will have, generally speaking, two kinds of people on the earth—the glorified and redeemed people of God who sympathize with the reign of Christ and rule the world with him and those who buy into the lie of this newly-arrived rebel and take up arms against the very King who has perfectly ruled the earth for a thousand years.

3. The Highlights of the Insurrection-20:9

The insurrection itself is depicted by means of two highlights. First, Satan and his massive army of deceived soldiers from the nations of the earth “came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city” (20:9a). In keeping with ancient military strategy, the satanic forces surround/”lay siege” to the saints who are in Jerusalem/”beloved city.” As the city of Jerusalem is too small to house all of the redeemed, this spectacle most likely paints the battle in symbolic language in an effort to reveal that the people of God will be surrounded by those who have allied themselves with the Devil.

This battle formation is very common throughout history. As a proud son of Texas, one of the most vivid examples of this strategy for me is the battle of the Alamo. Santa Anna’s Mexican army surrounded the small mission-turned-garrison where the even smaller Texan militia had boarded themselves up. The Mexican army’s goal was to wait for the tiny unit inside the domain of its dominating perimeter to run out of rations and supplies only to finally overwhelm them in a swift battle. At least in this example, Santa Anna’s army was successful. However, the same will not be true in the final insurrection described in Revelation 20.  

Before the battle horn can even be blown the text reveals the next highlight of the scene: “and fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (20:9c). As Satan ascends from the abyss to wage war with Christ’s kingdom, he is met with a descending and consuming fire. The verb means to consume/destroy completely (Louw & Nida) and is reminiscent of another battle found in 2 Kings 1. There, a wicked king summons Elijah to come down to him and this is what transpires:

2 Kings 1:9-11-“Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him and behold, he was sitting on the top of the hill. And he said to him, ‘O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’ Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, ‘If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.’ Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.”

It is also similar to the consuming fire in another earlier conflict in which the prophets of Baal are humiliated when they cannot call down fire to consume the altar. After God answers Elijah’s prayer by sending down fire, the pagan prophets are seized and slain (see 1 Kings 18).

To be sure, God has made a habit out of sending fire to judge and destroy his enemies. Even in the Old Testament parallel events of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38:22 and 39:6 fire is sent down upon the enemy forces. Earlier in Revelation, the two witnesses of God breath fire and devour their enemies (see Rev. 11:5). This brand of judgment is in keeping with God’s holy character. Just listen to how Hebrews 12:25-29 describes God’s judgment.

Hebrews 12:25-29-“See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”

This text, taken alongside Revelation 20, reveals that there will ultimately be two kinds of people: those who show gratitude for the kingdom that God sets up in the end and those who will wage war against it. The latter will be devoured by God’s holy wrath, described as a consuming fire.

4. The Results of the Insurrection-20:10

The results of this final insurrection are presented next “and the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also” (20:10a). Though God granted parole to the Devil from the jail that the he occupied for 1000 years (see 20:1-6), here he sends Satan to a maximum security prison called the “lake of fire” that he will never leave. There he will join the beast and the false prophet who are already there and together these three—the unholy trinity—“will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10b).  

This descriptive phrase is a combination of other phrases used to illustrate the eternal judgment of the wicked elsewhere (see Rev. 14:10-11). The verb (which means to punish by physical torture (Louw & Nida)) and the pairing of “day and night” with “forever and ever” demonstrate the grave reality that is the fate of the devil and his minions.

So What?

In reflecting on the events and outcomes mentioned in this passage, one commentator writes, “The picture here is too detailed to mean anything other than eternal punishment. One of the themes of the book is the depths of human depravity. Sin is eternal, so its consequences are also eternal. After a thousand years of experiencing Christ, the unbelieving nations throw themselves after Satan the first chance they get. The message is that in a billion years, a trillion years, they would do the same!...” (Osborne, Revelation, 716).This goes a long way to explain why in the world God would permit Satan to instigate this final battle. While saints today need not fear being deceived by Satan in this final insurrection as, following the first resurrection, they will be gloried (rendered perfect), there will be many on the earth during this millennial kingdom who are not yet glorified (the descendants of the survivors of the tribulation). The final insurrection reveals that nothing save from repentance and faith in the completed work of Christ can save these from their sin and their habit of following after Satan the first chance they get—not even the physical and visible reign of Christ on the earth. If we can learn anything from this passage it is this: the solution to mankind’s problem of sin is not some external motivating factor (the law in the Old Testament or the existential rule of Christ in the millennial kingdom), but an inner and transforming miracle of regeneration. The only thing that can save a wretch like you and me is the amazing grace of God applied to sinners who turn from their sin and place their faith in who Jesus is (God made flesh) and what he has done (came to the earth, died in our place, and was raised back to life). This has always been the case and always will be.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Coming Kingdom of God-Revelation 20:1-6

Historically, kings and kingdoms have been a mainstay in the consciousness of the world population. Though some rulers and regimes proved inspired and inspiring (Israel under David, King Arthur and Camelot) others were disappointing and tyrannical (Ahab and King George at the time of our nation’s founding). Though world kingdoms differ in size and scale, style and sovereignty, they share something in common: they are imperfect and led by imperfect people. This is not so with what replaces the evil regime of the Antichrist following the tribulation. In Revelation 20:1-6 we read a lengthy description of an often-debated period of history—the millennial kingdom. While the minutia of this coming empire might prove complex, what it will reveal about God is simple and profound. Today we are going to examine TWO ELEMENTS of the millennial kingdom as described in Revelation 20:1-6 and learn what this coming age says about our great and awesome God.

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1. The Preparation of the Millennial Kingdom-20:1-3

As the theme of victory persists in what follows the epic battle described in 19:11-21, there is one more character that needs expelling from the face of the earth—Satan. Having already removed the Antichrist and the false prophet (see Rev. 19:11-21), there is a special Satan-removal service that is called upon to eradicate this wicked pestilence and the infestation of evil that he brings. This special Satan-removal service is introduced as follows—“then I saw an angel coming down from heaven holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand” (20:1). Though many have speculated on the identity of this angel, the best view understand him to be a special heavenly intermediary commissioned for this particular task (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 406). This helps promote the theme of the inferiority of evil. Satan’s expulsion from the face of the earth is a task that God delegates to a heavenly servant. This demonstrates, once again, that Satan and his evil is small potatoes compared to God and his good. Just as Michael, the archangel, had expelled Satan from the divine realm in Revelation 12:7ff, here, another angel brings Satan even lower.

This angel comes prepared with a key to what is referred to as “the abyss” and a chain to tether the devil to his temporary cell. Interestingly, this is the fourth passage involving “keys” in the book. You have “keys of Death and Hades” in 1:18, the “key of David” in 3:7, and the “key to the shaft of the abyss” in 9:1. This lattermost key and the abyss that it lock/unlocks is what is in view here in 20:1. The abyss mentioned here was also introduced in 11:7 and 17:8.

Revelation 11:7, 17:8-“When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them… The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction.”

The abyss is comparable to a “prison house of demonic spirits” (Osborne, Revelation, 699) as it is out of the abyss that the Antichrist emerges and the place where Satan is confined here. This location is different that the lake of fire that is described in 19:20 and 20:10. The lake of fire is more severe and is a permanent place of punishment while the abyss is a temporary holding cell. The abyss might be compared to a jail and the lake of fire a maximum-security prison full of those serving a life sentence without the opportunity for parole.

This angel/warden of the abyss is said to have “laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan” (20:2a). Though the verb simply refers to holding onto some object, in this context it carries the added connotation of arresting and placing into custody. The arrestee’s description (wrap sheet) is extensive—“dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil, and Satan” (20:2a). There is something important to learn from each of these titles/labels/aliases for this fallen angel. First, “dragon” is the term most used of this figure in Revelation (12:3, 4, 7, 13, 16, 17; 13:2, 4, 11; 16:13) and highlights his most recent infractions against God and his people during the tribulation—i.e. calling forth the beast of the sea (Antichrist) and the beast from the land (false prophet), and leading the unholy trinity in its insurrection against the redeemed (see Rev. 12:13ff). “Serpent of old” references a very early crime in Genesis 3—the crime of deceiving Adam and Eve into disobeying God, thereby introducing sin and death into the earth. Therefore, in both the beginning as a serpent and at the end as a dragon, this criminal is guilty of introducing chaos and death. “Devil” (diabolaV) means “slanderer”/speaker of lies (see Jn. 8:44) and “Satan” identifies him as the adversary who stands for nothing and will stop at nothing to oppose God’s program and will.

Therefore, upon Satan’s arrest we might hear something like the following: “Lucifer, you are being placed under arrest for conspiracy to kill God’s people with an evil world empire (“dragon”), for accessory to deception in the case of Adam and Eve (“serpent of old”), for multiple counts of slander and character assassination (“devil”/”slanderer”), and for inciting violence and disturbing the peace (“Satan”/”adversary”).  

After this arrest the text reads that this arresting angelic officer “bound him for a thousand years; and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him” (20:2b-3a). Notice to what lengths the text goes to accentuate the degree to which Satan has been “put away.” First he is said to “be bound” (tethered to something—no doubt with the chain that the angel was carrying earlier). Then he is thrown into a different domain (“the abyss”)—again, a demonic jailhouse separated from the earth. The opening to this abyss is then shut and then sealed (no doubt with the key that the angel was said to possess in verse 1). These actions are further emphasized by the emergence of the aorist tense (contrasting the participles used earlier in the chapter), illustrating the definitive and completed actions taking place.

The purpose for this arrest and imprisonment is presented in the remainder of verse 3—“so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed” (20:3b). In other words, following the tribulation period, there will be a time in which Satan will have no sway on the world’s stage. There will be no demonic and/or Satanic influence during this period that the Bible refers to as “a thousand years.”

However, though Satan is removed from the scene and placed in custody, the text predicts that one day he will be let out temporarily—“after these things he must be released for a short time” (20:3c). At this point, he will lead one final insurrection against God and the people living on the earth. This is described in greater detail in verses 7ff and will be discussed in the exegesis of those verses later.
That said, what we do know for now is this: Satan will be expelled from the earth for a long period of time following the tribulation. His arrest and imprisonment will come by means of a capable angel who will apprehend the devil and lock him away along with his influence for a thousand years. This is thousand year period is what many call “the millennial kingdom.”

2. The Parameters of the Millennial Kingdom-20:4-6

During this millennial kingdom there will be thrones—“then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them” (20:4a). While there are many views as to what these thrones and their occupants represent, the view that John promotes in Revelation is best—that these thrones are tribunal offices occupied by the faithful ones who will share Christ’s future reign.

Revelation 2:26-28-“He who overcomes, and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations,…”

Revelation 3:21-“He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne,…”

Revelation 5:10-“”You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”

Such a view also has precedent in 1 Cor. 6:2--“Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?...” (see also Matt. 19:28).

That the saints are the ones seated on these thrones ruling in this age is consistent with what has just transpired in the context. “It is an unvarying principle that those who win a war become the ones who assume the rulership over the conquered entity” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 414). Therefore, these occupants of the thrones are most likely the saints who rode behind Christ in victory during the second coming.

In addition to the victorious saints now seated on thrones ruling alongside Christ are “the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God” (20:4b). Though the world under the control of the beast and the dragon sought to silence the people of God through spiritual genocide, here the persecuted and martyred are shown alive and well during this millennial kingdom. This, in many ways, fulfills the promise given to the persecuted church at Smyrna—“…be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10b).

A third group witnessed are “those who had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand” (20:4c). These are those who refused allegiance to the beast and were willing to give their lives to remain faithful to the one true God and his Christ.

These who paid the ultimate price “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years,…” (20:4c). In other words, those killed for Christ during the tribulation (i.e. tribulation martyrs) join the ranks of the church who followed Jesus on horseback from heaven during the final battle and both groups (the church and tribulation saints who died for their faith) reign alongside Christ during this millennial kingdom.

But this begs another question: Who exactly will we, the church and the martyrs of the tribulation, be ruling with Christ? The answer is those who survived the tribulation in Christ. The faithful who miraculously escape death during the tribulation will immediately be ushered into Christ’s kingdom on the earth and be allowed to live, marry, and have children who have children who have children on the earth. These will live under the existential rule of Christ and his fellow governors with no satanic influence on the earth for a thousand years. These millennial kingdom citizens will not yet be glorified (as we will be following our resurrection).

Both the church that returns to the earth with Christ and those followers of Christ who were killed during the tribulation are glorified here at the beginning of this thousand year period—i.e. their bodies are rejoined to their souls. It is at this moment that they become like Christ was following his resurrection—a glorified body.

1 John 3:2-“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

The text goes on to explain that “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed” (20:5). Who are the rest of the dead? Well if the God’s people already in heaven have been identified and the saints who gave their lives during the tribulation have already been counted, “the rest of the dead” refers to any and all who have died in history without a relationship with Christ. In other words, there are going to be two resurrection events: 1)The resurrection of the saved at the beginning of the millennium that will result in glorified bodies for those who rule alongside Christ the King. (this is what verse 5 calls “the first resurrection”) and 2) the resurrection of the lost at the end of the millennial kingdom.  

“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,…” (20:6). This is the 5th beatitude of the book. In it the text celebrates those who are resurrected in the first round of resurrections because these will never die again. Instead, their glorified bodies will remain through the millennial period and on into the final state described in chapters 21-22. The encouragement given to Smyrna earlier in Revelation foreshadows this.

Revelation 2:11-“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.”

Those who are not pat of the first resurrection—(those who die without a relationship with Jesus)—are raised after the millennial kingdom only to then experience a second death that will leave them totally separated from God forever.

Though there are multiple views on the millennial kingdom and whether or not it corresponds to a literal thousand-year period, it is interesting to note the repetition of “thousand years” in this passage. The phrase occurs six times in the first seven verses of chapter 20, perhaps indicating that this is a duration of time that needs to be understood more literally than figuratively. But why this period anyway? Why not just move from the tribulation to the eternal state/heaven? Why do we need chapter 20 to begin with? The answer involves the Jews. God will make good on his promises to Abraham for land, blessing, and descendants that bless the world here in this millennial kingdom (see Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18-21). Jesus will serve as the geopolitical ruler/Messiah over a world kingdom, the likes of which was promised to David and was expected by many Jews to take place during Jesus’ first coming (2 Sam. 7:11-16). This is an important period of time complete with fulfilled promises to God’s people given all the way back in the Old Testament. In fact, something of the purpose of this epoch is hinted at in Luke 22:30 when Jesus promises the disciples (those who would establish the church)—“that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging [i.e. ruling—judging in the book of judges sense of the word] the twelve tribes of Israel.”

So What?

Beyond the theological debates and complicated details often associated with this passage, there are several important attributes of God that this text celebrates that ought to inspire the redeemed and challenge the lost today. First, God is shown to be fare greater than Satan and his wickedness. For the redeemed this means victory, for the lost this spells defeat. What have the faithful to fear in Satan? Ultimately he is an easily captured criminal who will be forcibly removed from the earth to make way for the perfect King! What have the lost to fear in Christ? Judgment and expulsion from his glorious presence forever. Second, God is shown to be faithful to his promises made to his people—promises made to both his Old Testament (Abraham and David) and New Testament people (disciples, and others like the church in Smyrna). For the redeemed, this means we can always count on God to keep his word to us. For the lost this means there is no future worth looking forward to. “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,…”.

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Climax of History-Revelation 19:11-21

Typically once a couple is married they take time off for a honeymoon and, for a brief season, they are able to enjoy their new lives together uninhibited by the regular cares of the world. In the case of the bride and groom in the Book of Revelation, one small task stands in the way of so smooth a progression—defeating the fallen world and all its wickedness. Thankfully, what might appear to be a tall order for any one of us is no problem at all for Christ. As we turn to Revelation 19:11-21, immediately after the wedding feast, we are whisked away to the battlefield. I use the term battlefield loosely for the conflict that is about to commence in this text is hardly a fair fight at all. In fact, the spectacle lacks the sort of tension one might expect to find in a gripping war epic. Let’s not put it off any further and dig right in to see three scenes that successfully portray the Second Coming of Christ and his victory over the world as we know it in Revelation 19:11-21.

Image result for Revelation 19 Jesus

a. SCENE #1: Jesus rides on Horseback from Heaven-19:11-16

Once the marriage feast the verses 7-10 is complete, it is time for the groom (Christ) and his bride (the Church) to make their way to their new lives together. In this particular case, this means returning to the earth. However, on the earth is a very bleak reality. By this late point in the tribulation, the Antichrist/beast (see Rev. 13:1ff) has consolidated all power under his evil rule (see Rev. 17:8-13) and together with the kings of the earth is persecuting any and all who defy him by refusing to worship his image (see Rev. 18:24). The false prophet (see Rev. 13:11ff) is cheering him on and the dragon (see Rev. 12:3ff) is empowering him every step of the way (see also Rev. 16:13-16). Doesn’t sound like the kind of place to enjoy much of a honeymoon for this couple! However, this is no problem for Christ, and as this passage reveals, victory over these characters will come swiftly.

This passage is introduced with “after these things” (Μετὰ ταῦτα) and breaks up the rising action culminating in the climax and the falling action that leads to the resolution and conclusion of the entire book. What follows Revelation 19:11-21 will include the bliss and long-awaited peace that many in the believing community are anticipating now and will on day experience. However, this peace must be brought about by means of a final and ultimate victory. This victory is introduced with “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on is called Faithful and True,…”(19:11a). It is here where the divide between the spiritual and physical realm is forsaken and Christ breaks through in a most climactic and cosmic way.

Equal to this dramatic entrance is his other-worldly description. The opening line of the passage portrays Christ as seated “on a white horse” (suggesting purity), and calls Him “Faithful and True.” In the first coming, Jesus’ ministry culminated in the Passion which was set in motion after he entered Jerusalem on a young donkey—a beast of burden (humble and submissive). Here, in the description of His Second Coming, Jesus’ conclusive ministry is predicted to culminate in a procession in which Jesus is seated on a pure white war horse (brilliant, victorious, and regal). Other horses were used in the Book of Revelation to describe coming plagues (white, red, black, pale green); however, this horse is superior because of its rider—“Faithful and True.” This is none other than Jesus Christ who returns to bring about a new reality upon the earth.  

Faithful and True” riding on this white war horse is next said to, “in righteousness,…judge and wage war,…” (19:11b). Though in today’s world wars are fought for a whole host of unjust and immoral reasons, there is coming a war, perhaps the shortest war of all, in which one will fight against legions and in the struggle judge the wicked and battle against the corrupt. It will be a war that will, once and for all, end all wars. This is the war Jesus will fight and win and this statement is as faithful and true as the name He is given in this context!

“Faithful and true” is described next with the following, “His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself,…” (19:12). Equipped with the piercing perception afforded Him by his omniscience (the flaming eyes) and marked with the emblems of absolute authority and power (the many diadems), Jesus is no longer shown to be an ordinary man from Nazareth in Galilee, but an all-knowing warrior King.

As the description continues, we are introduced to a mysterious name that is not revealed along with the following added detail: “He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood and His name is called the Word of God” (19:13). The graphic details of Jesus’ “robe dipped in blood” indicates that Christ is not above getting His hands dirty in bringing about the final victory envisioned in this passage (v. 13). While in his first coming, Christ’s own blood was spilled, in his Second Coming, it will be the enemy’s blood that is spilled, thereby staining Jesus’ heavenly robe. Though in Jesus’ first coming the “angry fury of God” was directed toward him on the cross, in the Second Coming this same wrath will be directed against an unbelieving world that has not accepted the cross.  

This blood-stained warrior on the horse is called in verse 13 “the Word of God.” Sound familiar? It should, for in John 1, the same author of this vision described Jesus thusly, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. . .and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14). In John, the Word of God is said to have spoken the world into existence and proved the character of God through His presence. Here, the “Word of God” is the commander of armies, bringing about total victory so that a new world may exist. This particular name of Jesus brings continuity to His office as creator, redeemer, and vindicator. He is present at the beginning, middle, and end of history and plays the most crucial role in it all. Jesus is the Word which spoke the heavens into existence, redeemed the world after it fell, and the same Word that will usher in a new world to replace the present one as predicted here in this little preview.

Jesus was, is, and will be not just any Word, but the Word “of God.” The phrase, “of God” is especially loaded with theological importance as its grammatical function does not describe what kind of word Jesus is, but renames Jesus altogether. Properly translated, this phrase reads, “His name is called the Word who is God.” That is a powerful Word!

As such, Jesus leads the armies of heaven which are described as “clothed in fine linen, white and clean,…following Him on white horses,…”(19:14). Though this description of the heavenly ranks tells us something of the holiness and purity of the forces represented, what is perhaps most significant about this description is what is not present. This heavenly army, unlike any well-prepared legion, has no swords or spears. This could only mean that this army, though present, takes no part in the coming action of military/spiritual victory. “They are noncombatant supporters of the Messiah as He wages the war single-handedly” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 387).

An answer to the question “where will we be when this all occurs?” is found here. In the preview of this battle in 17:14, the Lamb was accompanied by his faithful followers. Also, the uniform of these riders behind Christ is the same apparel worn by the saints at the marriage supper of the Lamb in 19:8. The army, is the bride of Christ—the people of God (Wilson, ZIBBC, 356). Where will we be when all of this transpires? We will be following our Savior on horseback among these ranks in victory. As we have followed him in this life and in the next, so too will we follow him here at the climax of the eschaton in his Second Coming. “…Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ,…” (2 Cor. 2:14).

The victory that Jesus will receive is described in three ways. First, the text reads, “from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations” (19:15a). The same Word of God that spoke the heavens and earth into existence will bring an end to this world of corruption and pave the way for a new world in its place. This, he will do by striking down the nations that are bent against them with a word.

This single passage celebrates so much about Christ. Just Jesus was the agent of the creation (see John 1:1-3) so too will he be the agent of the recreation in the end. Just as the Word of God was stained with blood in His first coming to bring salvation on the cross, so too will His robe be stained with blood when He brings about total victory in the end. Just as Jesus provided righteousness to the lost who could do nothing for themselves, so too will He usher in heaven for the righteous who will do nothing to earn it and are yet present to receive it. The same Savior who saved believers totally in the past and sustains believers in the present, will ultimately usher believers into glory. In all, Christ satisfies the ongoing theme of the God’s agent that has existed from the beginning.

The second way Jesus’ victory is described is “and He will rule them with a rod of iron” (19:15b). This image builds off Psalm 2:9 in which an iron scepter is conceived as a shepherd’s club that kills the enemies of the sheep. In this context, the “shepherding” does not pertain to the care of the sheep so much as the destruction of predatory foes (Antichrist, kings of the earth, etc.) (Osborne, Revelation, 685).

The third description of his victory is found in the last part of verse 15 which reads “and He treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (19:15c). Why settle for two ways of highlighting the victory (by sword and iron scepter) when you can throw a third one in there! This last image of the wine press of the fierce wrath of God combines 14:19-20 and 16:19 where the nations are thrown into the great wine press of God and where God gave Babylon the Great the cup filed with wine of his furious wrath (Osborne, Revelation, 686). In Isa. 63 God trod the winepress so that blood stained his garments (62:2-3). In this image and in Revelation, the shedding of blood will serve as just payment for the world’s program of murdering the saints.

The two names already given of Christ in this passage (“Faithful and True” in verse 11 and “Word of God” in verse 13) are joined by a the third name in verse 16, “and on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘King of Kings, and Lord of Lords’.” This title’s unique placement on the part of the robe covering Jesus’ thigh, given that Jesus sits atop his horse, makes it noticeable to all who see him. The importance of this title is further reiterated by its placement at the very end of this section and accentuates his total sovereign rule over all the earth.

b. SCENE #2: An Angel Invites the Birds to Feed upon the Vanquished-19:17-18

The demonstrative victory of Christ spells total defeat for those who would come against him and before the defeat of Jesus’ enemies is even described, a morbid image foreshadows just how awful the loss will be for the wicked. “…Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, ‘Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great,…” (Rev. 19:17-18).

Just as the false trinity gathered her forces for this battle in 16:14, 16, so too does this angel call forth the birds who will clean up what is left behind following the inevitable slaughter. In fact, there is a grim juxtaposition drawn here between the glorious wedding feast of verses 7-10 and the birds that will feast upon the bodies of the wicked here in verse 18 (see also Ezekiel 29:17-20).
c. SCENE #3: The Beast and his Forces Lose an Important Battle-19:19-21
What is foreshadowed by the calling of the birds comes to fruition in verses 19-21. In these final three verses of chapter 19, two different phases of the loss are recorded. The first phase involves the assembling of the armies—“And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army,…” (19:19). This is a reiteration of what was prophesied in 16:14. The Antichrist and his horde will join ranks against Christ and the church who follows behind.

However, the battle is not long at all, for, as soon as they assemble, the text reveals “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone…” (19:20). This is phase two of Jesus’ victory and the world’s defeat. To call this a battle is a bit euphemistic as it is not a fair fight at all. Christ speaks with the sword of his mouth and instantly arrests all wicked leaders—beast and false prophet—and throws them into the lake of fire. This demonstrates, once again, that the forces of evil in the world are no match for the goodness of God. God is infinitely better at goodness than the world is at being wicked.

Not only were the beast and the false prophet destroyed, so too were the others—"and the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh,…” (19:21). So total is the victory over the fallen world that the text reveals that to the degree the enemies of God were killed, the birds feeding are their flesh were filled. YIKES!

So What?

Here in lies the climax of the book of Revelation and, in many ways, the climax of history. This is what the whole book as been pointing to—the total victory of Christ over the fallen world. Everything that precedes these verses has been anticipating this so-called battle and everything that follows is, in many respects, a result of the victory Christ achieves here.

For us to rejoice upon reading this victory and in order to be counted among the ranks that will be following the Lord Jesus on horseback when this all comes to pass, we must have embraced another victory that Jesus achieved—the victory over sin and death. When Jesus first came to the earth as a baby in Bethlehem, he came to die and be brought back to life so that we might be freed from sin and have the hope of glory with him in heaven. When Jesus will return to the earth as a warrior king, he will bring death and judgment to the wicked world. In order to be ready for the second coming and the climax of history, one must embrace who Jesus proved himself to be in his first coming—Lord and Savior of the world. Is he your Lord and savior today? I pray that if you have not yet embraced the Word of the Lord, you will do so before that same Word of the Lord brings judgment upon the deserving world.