Dr. Richard L. Strauss
July 15, 1979
It is the commonly accepted view among secular psychologists and sociologists that man's basic selfishness and sinfulness is due to his environment. If we can only change society and eliminate poverty, men's wicked natures will be changed. The problem is with the man's environment but not man himself. No passage of Scripture destroys that Satanic lie more decisively than the one before us today--Revelation 20:7-15.
We have just studied the Millennium: 1000 years of righteousness and peace on earth, under the personal rule of the sinless Son of God. The Apostle John did not tell his readers much more about the Millennium than that believers would reign with Christ. He took for granted that they were familiar with the great passages the Old Testament, and some in the Gospels which describe that period in great detail. It would probably help us, though, to review some facts from those passages in order to get the full impact of what John is going to teach us verses 7-10 of Revelation 20.
First of all, it is clear that only believers enter the Millennium. You may have wondered over whom the resurrected believers will reign. We will reign over saved Jews and Gentiles who survive the Great Tribulation and enter into the Millennium in their mortal bodies. This doctrine is taught in many passages of Scripture--probably the most well known being in Matthew 25 where Jesus told two parables.
One was the parable of the ten virgins. That's what that parable is intended to teach. There were five who went into the marriage feast--which pictures the Millennium--and there were five who were barred from Christ's kingdom. The next parable in order in Matthew 25 is the parable of the talents. To those who showed their faith in the Lord Jesus by reproducing, by fruitfulness, Jesus said, "You've been faithful in a few things; I'll make you ruler over many. Enter into the joy of your Lord." They entered the kingdom. The one who didn't reveal faithfulness in his life and didn't reproduce was cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. He was not permitted to enter the kingdom where he would share in that rule. So some enter, some do not.
Also, in Ezekiel, God says to Ezekiel that He will purge out the rebels in Israel, and in chronological sequence, that comes right before He establishes His kingdom on earth--before the nation would inherit her promises in the land (Ezekiel 20:37-38).
That's not only true of Israel, it's true of Gentile nations. The nation Israel will have a preeminent and prominent place in the kingdom. But Jesus taught in the sheep and goat judgment in Matthew 25 that only believing Gentiles would enter the Millennium. Remember, Jesus called all those who were living on the earth when He returned. There were some sheep that He put on His right side and some goats that He put on the left side, and He said to the sheep, "Enter into the kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation of the earth." And He said to the goats, "Depart from Me." Some were allowed to enter the kingdom, some were not.
All who are living in mortal bodies at the beginning of the Millennium are believers. All unbelievers are purged out and separated. There will be no ungodly, immoral, unbelieving people to corrupt the human inhabitants of the earth at the outset of the Millennium. Everyone living at that point in time will know the Lord. Isaiah said the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the water covers the sea (Isaiah 11:9). The prophet Jeremiah that in the new covenant, God says, "They shall all know Me" (Jeremiah 31:34).
Now, while there will be children born to these human inhabitants of the earth during the Millennium--children with sin natures who need to be saved--they will nevertheless live in a perfect environment. Consider that environment for a few moments:
First of all, Satan will be bound (Revelation 20:1-3). There will be no Satanic influence on men's character, nor Satanic enticement to sin.
Second, Jesus Christ will be personally present on earth in His resurrection body. What advantage this will be to encourage faith in their hearts.
Third, He will maintain perfect righteousness, perfect justice, perfect equity for all, perfect peace. He will rule with a rod of iron, and no wickedness whatsoever will be tolerated. It will be immediately punished and removed (Psalm 72:1-4; Isaiah 11:4). In other words, there will be no unwholesome influences of any kind. Perfect law and order will prevail at all times.
Fourth, Christ will be assisted in His rule by myriads of resurrected beings who have been transformed into His likeness--you and me. And we'll have no sin natures. Our rule will be perfect. What an influence for good this will be on the human inhabitants of the earth.
Fifth, the earth itself will be delivered from its curse (Isaiah 11:6-9). It will be more productive than it has ever been since before Adam sinned. There are evidences that sickness will be drastically reduced (Isaiah 35). While people will die during the Millennium, the length of life will be extended (Isaiah 65:20).
Think of it for a moment--at the beginning of the Millennium every living person on earth is a believer, and the children born to them are exposed to a perfect physical, social, moral, and spiritual environment. That is the background we must have in our minds when we read in Revelation 20:7-10:
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
1. The Last Rebellion and the Judgment of Satan
Now remember, in the 1000 years of the Millennium, we have had ideal conditions. While the number of people who actually enter the Millennium will probably be small because the unbelievers are weeded out, it is certain that with the ideal conditions we have been discussing, the earth will be teeming with people at the conclusion of the 1000 years. And every one of them will have had to make a decision in his heart at some time during his life to accept or reject the Son of God reigning in Jerusalem.
Since He will rule with a rod of iron, no outward rebellion will be tolerated. All will openly profess to submit to His rule or be killed, but it becomes obvious now that many have only submitted outwardly. Their sinful hearts have remained unchanged. They have never really trusted Jesus Christ to give them a new nature and everlasting life. When Satan is released for just a short time (verse 3), and attempts to rally them together for his final revolt against the kingdom of Christ, he finds hearts that are ready to follow him in rebellion. What a sad commentary on the human heart! Is there any doubt now that the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked? Can anyone question that man is totally depraved and hopelessly alienated from a holy God?
The Communists, Socialists, and liberal thinkers continue to tell us that if only we can change man's environment we can change men. And so they labor to better men's social conditions, to eliminate poverty and squalor, to establish a utopian atmosphere, hoping thereby to change men's nature. But it can't be done. After 1000 years of perfect utopia, men's hearts and nature will be unaffected. We ought to do everything possible to eliminate poverty, to give every living human being an equal opportunity to life happiness. But let us not fall into the Satanic trap of thinking for one minute we shall thereby change men's hearts.
The only thing that can radically transform man's sinful nature is personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for deliverance from sin. That's true today, and it shall be true in the Millennium. If you are willing to confess that you are not the person you ought to be, I can tell you on the authority of God's Word, you never shall become that person apart from the personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Savior. No social or economic advantages can change your heart. You need the Lord Jesus. Will you accept Him now?
Critics of a literal interpretation of this passage, and of the premillennial view, have questioned why Satan should be released after being imprisoned for 1000 years. Why should God permit such a thing? I believe the question has already been answered: Faith, to have validity, must be tested. How else do we really know, unless that faith is tested, whether someone's faith is genuine? Job's faith was tested. Paul's faith was tested. Ours is tested in many different ways throughout our lifetime. The people of the world will profess allegiance to Jesus Christ. But in the hearts of many there will be secret rejection.
This has been God's purpose in every dispensation: to show that no matter to what degree He revealed Himself to men, they remain totally depraved and incapable of remedying their sinful condition apart from receiving His grace. That's the doctrine of total depravity. Man cannot save himself. And now the conclusive proof of all will be offered. Even after 1000 years of righteousness and peace on earth, sinful men are eager to follow Satan in his final rebellion against the Savior.
But what is this Gog and Magog in verse 8? "And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle." There is a battle by the same name predicted in Ezekiel chapter 38-39. For that reason, some Bible teachers have identified this battle in Revelation 20 with that one. But study the two passages in Ezekiel and Revelation sometime. There are tremendous differences. In Ezekiel, Gog and Magog represent a great northern power; in Revelation, they represent all nations of the earth ("the four quarters of the earth"). The chronology of Ezekiel 38 and 39 places that battle before the Millennium. The chronology of Revelation 20 places this one after the Millennium. In Ezekiel, the bodies fall on the mountains and it takes seven months to bury them; here they are devoured by fire from heaven. Why then the same name? There are two possible explanations. The first is that Gog is a general term in Scripture that represents the rulers of the earth and Magog the people. The second is that "Gog and Magog" is simply an expression used to describe a disastrous battle much as we would use "Waterloo" (Walvoord, 303).
In verse 9 we see the object of their attack. It is the camp of the saints, the beloved city, and an obvious reference to the city of Jerusalem. This is the seat of Christ's authority over the earth, and naturally, it becomes the object of the assault for Satan and his rebellious followers. The Lord permits them to set their armies in array all the way around the city, then suddenly fire comes down from God out of heaven and devours them.
Satan's destiny is described in verse 10. That old deceiver will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. This is hell. God didn't make hell for people (though there will be people there, according to Revelation 20:13-15); it was prepared for the devil and his angels according to the Lord Jesus in Matthew 25:41, and now Satan shall occupy it forever.
Is there any doubt that this is a literal place of conscious torment? You might recall that the Antichrist and his false prophet were cast into the lake of fire 1000 years before this (Revelation 19:20). They are still there 1000 years later still suffering torment. "And they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:10). There are skeptics who claim to believe the Bible but insist that a God of love could not punish people forever. The Antichrist and his prophet are people, and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever. I wish that weren't so--but it is hard to imagine language being more specific and emphatic than that. People who believe Satan's lie, and reject God's gracious offer of salvation in His Son, are going to experience eternal separation from His presence in hell. That doesn't make God happy, but He cannot overlook sin and His justice requires it.
If I didn't know Jesus as my personal Savior and I read Revelation 20:10 and the rest of this chapter, I would admit my sin and accept that Jesus Christ paid the price for my sin by dying in my place, and I'd open my heart to Him as my Savior.
Now the last rebellion and the judgment of Satan is completed, and the scene changes, indicated by those words of John which have occurred so often before: "And I saw."
"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them" (Revelation 20:11).
We have seen other thrones in the book of Revelation but none just like this. It is great, in the sense of being a momentous occasion, when all the unbelieving dead from all ages of human history stand before God. That's a momentous occasion; it's great. It is white, symbolizing the absolute purity and justice in which judgment will be made. And it is a throne, indicating the place of authority and judgment. It is the Great White Throne.
The judge who occupies the throne can be none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He said, "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22). The Lord Jesus will be the final judge of mankind.
Note, furthermore, in verse 11 that from His face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. I do not know what this could mean other than that this judgment occurs somewhere in space, and that such great passages as 2 Peter 3:10-11 which predict the destruction of this present world by fire, is being fulfilled at this time. In chapter 21 we shall see a new heaven and a new earth, but here in 20:11 the way is prepared for it.
John says, "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books" (Revelation 20:12).
First, let's establish who these dead are. They cannot be believers, since all believers were raised before the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6). Back in that passage we read, however, that the rest of the dead--that is, unbelievers--would not be raised until after the Millennium (Revelation 20:5). This then must be them. There are no believers here at all--unless the Lord Jesus allows us in some way to participate in this judgment. But there are no believers here to be judged. This is the judgment of the wicked dead from all ages: Old Testament, New Testament, Tribulation, and Millennium. They are characterized as "small and great," that is, from all walks of life. Kings and peasants, masters and slaves, employers and employees, famous and obscure--all will be here, all who never trusted Jesus Christ for forgiveness.
Notice from where they come. "The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works" (Revelation 20:13).
The dead came from three places. That's interesting. Death, which is a physical experience, gives up the bodies it captured. And hades, which is the intermediate abode of the souls of unbelievers, gives up those souls. (Hades is the equivalent of the Old Testament place called Sheol. The intermediate abode of the unbelieving dead. It is not the eternal state; it is intermediate. Luke 16 says it's a place of torment. Hades is cast into the lake of fire, which is hell, so hades is not the same as hell. Gehenna or the lake of fire are names used in Scripture to describe hell, the eternal state of the lost.) So hades gives up its souls so that the bodies that death gave up are reunited with their souls to stand before the Great White Throne for the final judgment.
Why does John mention the sea? It may well be because there would be some question about those who were buried in the sea. It's easy to see how the bodies buried in the ground could be reunited with their souls, but what about the remains of the bodies that have been scattered and dissolved in the sea? It makes no difference. God is going to reconstitute those bodies at the last resurrection where they will face judgment.
Now having seen from where they come, look next at their standard of judgment. "And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works" (verse 12). "And they were judged every man according to their works" (verse 13). Works? Immediately some will ask why we say salvation is by grace, when we read here that the dead will be judged according to their works.
Notice something very important in this passage. It is found in verse 15. "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire."
The books filled with the records of every unbeliever's works have nothing to do with whether or not they are consigned to an eternal hell. The only issue which condemns a man to hell is the fact that his name is not found in the Book of Life. I don't fully understand the Book of Life. I have to admit that the Scripture can be difficult to understand on this topic. But it seems to boil down to this: When a person dies without having received Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, his name is blotted out of the Lamb's Book of Life. God has that book here just to be perfectly accurate and fair. And none of those standing before the Great White Throne will see their names in the Book of Life. They rejected Christ: their names were removed, and that is why they are here at this last resurrection and judgment.
But what then are the books which record the works? I am convinced from the Scripture that there will be degrees of punishment--not so much on the basis of how much we sinned, but on the basis of how much we sinned as compared to the light we had from God. There are other passages of Scripture which imply degrees of punishment for the wicked. In Matthew 11:22-24 it shall be more tolerable for the inhabitants of Sodom in the day of judgment than for those of Capernaum, because Capernaum had more light; Jesus was right in their midst. Again, in Luke 12:47-48, the servant who knew the master's will and refused to do it is more responsible than the one who did not know it.
There are other passages as well which state that men shall be judged according to their works (Revelation 2:23; 18:3-6; 22:12). Since salvation is by grace through faith apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9), and entrance into heaven depends upon names appearing in the Book of Life by faith in Jesus Christ, this reference to judgment according to works could refer to nothing other than degrees of punishment. Every unsaved person from every age will be here, and will be consigned to hell, but not all will experience the same degree of punishment.
Note this final word in verse 14, "And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." There is no more need for death which claims the physical body. No more need for hades, the intermediate abode of the soul. Both of them, and all who were a part of them are cast into the lake of fire. This is called the second death.
How long will they be there? It isn't a pretty thought. In fact, it's quite terrible. But God's absolute holiness and justice demands it. According to verse 10 they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Please don't let that doctrine destroy your faith in God's love and God's grace. God is infinitely holy; He cannot allow sin in His presence. But the very fact that He provided a means to escape this eternal punishment, even when it cost Him His own Son, that enhances His love and grace; it doesn't destroy it. He gave His only beloved, begotten Son, and He let Him hang on that cross and bear in His body the penalty for our sins--an eternal hell and those moments on Calvary's cross--and He did it because He loves us. Now He wants us to tell others of His love.
If there are any folks here today who feel that they can earn God's favor and enter into God's glory through their own good deeds and their own religious works, may I remind you that the application of today's message is: You need to put your trust in God's provision, which is the death of His Son, and be delivered from this judgment. Let's pray.
Father, we ask You that if there are those who have not come to know Christ personally and have never been born again, You'll use this passage from Your Word right now to bring them to conviction and to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior from sin. We ask it in His name and for His sake. Amen.
Continue to RV-15A: The Heavenly City (Part 1)