Revelation 19:17–21 (CSB)
17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he called out in a loud voice, saying to all the birds flying high overhead, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of military commanders, the flesh of the mighty, the flesh of horses and of their riders, and the flesh of everyone, both free and slave, small and great.”
19 Then I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and against his army. 20 But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with it the false prophet, who had performed the signs in its presence. He deceived those who accepted the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image with these signs. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 The rest were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds ate their fill of their flesh.
Revelation 20:1–15 (CSB)
1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven holding the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the abyss, closed it, and put a seal on it so that he would no longer deceive the nations until the thousand years were completed. After that, he must be released for a short time.
4 Then I saw thrones, and people seated on them who were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and who had not accepted the mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
7 When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 They came up across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the encampment of the saints, the beloved city. Then fire came down from heaven and consumed them. 10 The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and one seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books. 13 Then the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them; each one was judged according to their works. 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Two Millennia of Millennial Mystery
Unfortunately this passage has become the epicenter of the debate about the nature of Revelation. And it would be so easy to get lost in the details of the controversy that we lose the beauty of what is being revealed clearly to us here.
But in order to explain what is going on in this passage, I have to get into the debate a bit. I have to do that because those of us who have studied revelation in this room hold differing understandings of what is being described and implied by this text. So, I want to go through that discussion for a bit here to try and do justice to those understandings before describing what I see going on here, and more importantly, pointing out the areas of agreement and clarity in this magnificent passage.
Two Ancient Paths of Interpretation.
Two paths: Chiliasm and non-chiliasm.
Chiliasm: (Pre-millennialism, historic & dispensational)
- This text is largely literal, chronological with Revelation 19,
- Describes a period of time between Jesus’s return to rule on earth in a partial way,
- The eternal state waits for 1000 more years
- God’s promises to Israel/Abraham literally (literastically) fulfilled (specific patch of land, boundaries, etc…)
- During that thousand years, multiple states of existence
- Resurrected saints in their eternal bodies
- People are born and die natural deaths (intermixing?)
- Believers who die – confusing status. Soul rest vs. consciousness.
- Unbelievers who die await the second resurrection for judgement
- Sort of like Lord of the rings.
- Two resurrections, two battles, two judgements
Non-chiliasm: (Amillennialism, Postmillennialsim)
- This text is a series of separate “cut-scenes” which painting a picture, delcaring of the final fate of the beast and the dragon and God’s people.
- It is not chronological in terms of timing
- Recapitualation of timeline, as John has been doing all through the book
- The thousand years describes a long period of time between Christ’s resurrection and ascension where he now reigns, and oversees creation and guards his people through the tribulation, and his return for the final battle and judgement day.
- First resurrection here describes our conscious state with Christ in heaven while we await his second coming for judgement and the eternal state
- God’s promises to Israel/Abraham literally fulfilled, but in an “all that and more” way, along with all gentile believers who have been grafted in.
- No multiple states of existence
- One resurrection, one battle, one judgement
The Reason For The Debate.
- Taken with the whole picture the rest of the Bible paints, the text itself is not clear, this is the only place such a time period is specifically mentioned. (Other supposed references are “read back into” the text, based on the assumption that this is literal.)
- Reasonable arguments on both sides
- Literalist interpretation vs. figurative: both camps do both
- Harmonization vs. distinguishing of similar events: both camps do both
- It depends on how far you go and where you draw the lines.
Why This Debate is Frustrating:
- It is emotionally hard for us to have our opinions challenged
- We are not comfortable with certainty
- We need to be okay with that
- It is okay to come to a conclusion, but hold it loosely.
Some Historic Perspective
- Need to do some historic theology
- Just because the two teachings are equally old, does not mean they are equally held
- Diversity of opinion ever since the text was received,
- Debate starting in 100s AD
- Debate settled by the 300s, like the debate about the humanity/divine natures of Christ and the nature of the trinity.
- Settled until the 1600s
- The reformation re-raised the question (small sects began to toy with it again)
- Became prominent in the 1800s, and dominant in mid-late 1900s in America.
- Assumed by most average church goers due to the popularity of books like The Scofield and Ryrie study bibles, Hal Lindsay’s Late-Great Planet Earth, and the Left Behind fiction series.
- But is the minority view among believing New Testament scholars, and is not frequently taught in most evangelical seminaries.
- Confusion clear meaning vs. possible implication:
- Analogy: music: “Overtone” vs. primary tone
- Different primary tones yield different overtones
- Making an implication a primary meaning leads to different implications = the nexus of theological error.
- Holding a view too dogmatically: elevating a “tier 3” theological issue to a “tier 2” or “tier 1” becomes unnecessarily divisive.
- Some division is necessary, division here is not.
- Interpret the unclear text in light of the clear text
- Hold the details loosely
- Realize that Revelation is chock-full of imagery – metaphor especially. Simile vs. metaphor.
- “Something IS this, vs. something IS LIKE this..” — revelation uses metaphor.
- How do we know? Judgement call, wisdom, taking into account the rest of the new testament.
- I want to urge you to be very careful if an unclear text in Revelation seems to indicate some new information not found elsewhere in the Bible.
- So that you know where I’m coming from, and what my biases are to this text, I wanted to lay out my understranding of what is going on in this passage.
- The beast and false prophet are symbols of world powers and worldly teachings that are opposed to Christ and His people and are the reason The Church is persecuted, oppressed, marginalized throughout history. I think most everyone can agree with that, as long as I include the fact that there will be a final iteration of each of these, as I’ve taught over the past couple weeks.
- Satan is actively working in the world through the beast and the false prophet (he’s “behind it all”) — but his power is limited, he is “bound with a chain” from being successful.
- I believe the thousand year language is as figurative as the “bound with a chain” language as is the “sword coming out of Jesus’s mouth” language.
- What kind of chain can bind a spirit? What sort of metal is it made of?
- But be quick to change position if confronted with the reality. Like when Jesus showed up.
- The main point of this pasage:
- NOT CLARITY about timing of events
- CERTAINTY of outcome.
- SECURITY of the saints in the eternal sense
Where We All Agree
- The beast and the dragon are doomed
- The mission God has for his people will be successful, and no beast can stop it
- Jesus is returning to rule
- Everyone will be resurrected and face judgement
- Those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (followers of Christ) will be saved
- Those who do not follow Christ, who have rejected him to go after the beast will join them in the lake of fire for eternity
- A new creation is coming
- So lets talk about those things for the remainder of our time.
19:17-18 – Announced: The supper of God (from Ezekiel 39) – the destiny of the beast and everyone who follows him: Everyone: slave and free, small and great is included in this announcement.
The Fate of the Beasts
19:19-21 – An encouragement to the early church: We will win! The beast is doomed!
- The beast, the kings, and their armies, waging war against the Jesus and his army
- How are they doing this? Persecution, oppression, mockery, but mostly: unbelief
- In the end: Beast and false prophet taken prisoner – no actual fighting!
- Thrown into the “lake of fire” – commonly what we mean when we say hell – the place of eternal torment in judgement of the dragon, the beast, and all who have rejected Christ and do not follow him.
- The rest were killed with the sword from the rider’s mouth: the preaching of the gospel of salvation and judgement, mercy and condemnation.
The Fate of the Dragon
20:1-3 – Scene shift, backing up the timeline. In 9:11 the devil is described as “the angel of the bottomless pit” – the king over the demons who are released to torment the saints.
- Here we see how he got into the bottomless pit. He will be released at the end for a short while to conduct the final battle before judgement day.
- Notice that he is bound from only one, very specific thing: deceiving the nations.
- This is a signal that there is hope for The Great Commission!
- This was a message to the early church that even the dragon himself the great enemy, the great deceiver can’t flex all of his power against the mission. He is prohibited from keeping everyone completely blind to the Gospel message.
- Skip to verse 7 (we’ll come back) – Gathers his forces for battle (either a second battle, or as I take it a reiteration of what we just saw in chapter 19)
- Notice how that battle goes: no fighting is done. No people are harmed. Fire from heaven consumes them. As with the beasts – Jesus. Just. Wins.
- Satan thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur with the beast and false prophet. Tormented day and night forever and ever.
The Fate of the Saints
Back up to v4-6 – What becomes of God’s people during this time that this ongoing tribulation is happening and are suffering and dying for the faith? Their fate is not sealed, their existence is not over, they are not conquered! They are reigning with Christ! They are priests of God and of Christ! Does that phrase sound familiar? The rest of the New Testament uses it of all believers. That teaches us something about who is being talked about here.
Verse 11-15 – After the beasts and the dragon are condemned to eternal torment in the lake of fire, the judgement seat is set up.
- “Earth and Sky Flee” – Clear the stage! Nothing else matters at this moment in history! There is nothing else to see, only the dead, great and small, standing before the throne of judgement: And the judge, seated on the throne: Christ, and a set of books.
- “The books” (plural) and then “The book” (singular).
- In the books: all the deeds they had done in life.
- In the book: those who belong to Jesus.
- Judged according to the content of the books? Everyone guilty.
- Only those who belong to the lamb, are in his book of life, escape final judgment: are saved at the final judgement.
- Then death and hades (the place of the dead) are finally defeated. Man’s last enemy. Swallowed up in victory. “NOW we can finally say Where oh grave is your sting, where oh death is your victory??” It follows the dragon and the beasts into the eternal lake of fire.
- And then all those, judged correctly, justly, the judgement we all deserve, whose names were not in the book of life, are given the wages they earned in life: eternity in the lake of fire.
- The “lake of fire” – commonly what we mean when we say hell – the place of eternal torment in judgement of the dragon, the beast, death and hades, and all who have rejected Christ and do not follow him.
- And this is no light thing. The message to all of us: this is what we deserve. This is the “Bad news” that makes “the good news” so good. Our rebellion: pride, arrogance, lust, greed, deception of others, self-centeredness – our ignoring our wise, good, loving creator who reaches out with blessing to us – earns us death in hell. We all deserve it.
What Should We Take From This
- Follow the Lamb: how is one’s name written in the book of life? Faith. Worship. Give yourself up to Him. Follow your creator’s plan for you! Repent of your rebellion. Repentance is a complicated word. It means “turn”, it means “think again/differently”- have a change of heart. This is something we can’t force, work for, or earn, its a gift. Pray for repentance. Follow your savior’s call.
- Judgement is real: We warn others
- Never fear the beast: Hardship comes from preaching, awkwardness, rejection, derision, but also success, most exciting thing is to see new brothers and sisters born into the family.
- Judgement is final, but not the last thing in the book: New creation is coming! Glory! Eternity with our creator and our brothers and sisters in a renewed, sin free, death free, pain free body in a sin-free world!