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Revelation 20

Chapter 20

v. 1: I do not believe that this event is the same as the one described in 9:1, nor do I believe that the angel here is “the star” there.  Note that the star, which “was given the key to the bottomless pit” (9:1) “had fallen from heaven to earth,” whereas the angel here is “coming down from heaven.”  Falling is not a purposeful action; in the context of 9:1 it implies failure and defeat, as it does in Revelation 2:5, and 18:2.[1] Coming, on the other hand, (as the angel does here in 20:1) implies control and purpose.  Also, the chronology of events does not allow for the events of 9:1 and 20:1 to be the same.  The events of 9:1 take place at the blowing of the 5th trumpet, which parallels the pouring of the 5th bowl, and Beast I is alive at the pouring of the 5th bowl.  But when the angel comes to earth in 20:1, Beast I and Beast II have already been thrown into the lake of fire (19:20, 20:10).

v. 4: John says he saw “the souls” of Christians who had been martyred during the reign of Beast I.[2] (I suspect that these are the 144,000.[3])

John also saw “the souls” of the martyrs in 6:9.  Saying he saw their souls may simply be an idiomatic way of saying he saw the martyrs themselves.  In other words, John may not be attempting to distinguish between the body and soul as such, and thus he may not mean “I saw the souls [but not the bodies] of those who had been beheaded;” he may simply be saying, “I saw those who had been beheaded.”  Luke uses a similar turn of phrase in Acts 2:41 when he writes, “That day about three thousand persons were added.”  The Greek word that the NRSV there translates as “persons” is the same word it translates here as “souls.” In the Greek it is psuche[4] (Strong’s entry 5590).  We use a similar turn of phrase in English when we say, “There was not a soul in sight.”  This seems to be the most natural way of interpreting this scripture.  I believe they do have their bodies because vs. 4-5 say that they are resurrected, in contrast to “the rest of the dead.”  “The rest of the dead” are those who will be resurrected and judged on Judgment Day, after the 1,000 year reign has ended and after Satan is thrown into the lake of fire with Beast I and Beast II.  The resurrection on that day is a resurrection of the body, so it seems natural that this first resurrection should also be.

The dead who are raised on Judgment Day include Christians, hence the need for the judgment itself, the division of the resurrected into those whose names are in the book of life and “anyone whose name …[is] not found written in the book of life.”  This must be the scene Christ describes in Matthew 25:31-46.

Concerning the 1,000 year reign itself, I believe the following things are true:

1)  Life on earth during the 1,000 years must be significantly better than it is before because Beast I and Beast II are gone entirely and Satan is bound and unable to deceive the nations.  Even if Christ is not literally on earth during this time, righteousness and love must flourish on the earth like never before (except perhaps in Eden before the fall).

2) It does not begin with the establishment of the Church when Christ takes up his father’s throne after ascending to heaven (12:5, and Acts 1-2).  Starting it then contradicts the sequence of events that John outlines.

a) For example, John says the martyrs who reign with Christ “had not worshiped the beast.”  Since all of these Christians associated with this 1,000 year reign were martyred under Beast I, the establishment of the Beast’s kingdom had to precede the start of the 1,000 years.  It cannot begin after the 1,000 years begins.  This means, therefore, that the 1,000 years cannot begin when Christ first takes up his throne and establishes the Church because these events precede the establishment of the Beast’s kingdom (12:1-13:18).  If, however, one accepts that the sequence of events described in 19:19-20:15 is in chronological order, then this does not present a problem: the kingdom of the Beast is established and falls before the 1,000 years begins.

b) At the time John receives the Revelation (around 90-96 A.D.), Beast Iis not [alive], and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit…” (17:8).  Ascending from the bottomless pit is synonymous with rising from the sea and symbolizes resurrection from the dead (13:1-4).  Thus, Beast I is raised from the dead (and subsequently establishes his kingdom) sometime after the time John receives the Revelation.  John received the Revelation around 60 years after the establishment of the Church.

c)  I can see no way of interpreting this particular vision as a restatement in different symbols of earlier visions.[5] If it is, what would correspond to Satan’s binding and being thrown into the abyss?  The most likely correspondence is to his being cast down from heaven, which does happen around the time of the establishing of the Church on Pentecost (12:7-9), but the casting down here in chapter 20 cannot correspond to the casting down in chapter 12 because in chapter 12 Satan is cast out of heaven to earth, not the abyss.  Earth and the abyss are two very distinct places.  Besides, after he is cast to earth, he still has power (12:1-13:18), unlike after he is cast into the abyss “where he would deceive the nations no more…” (20:3).  Similarly there is no correspondence between Satan’s rising from the abyss (v.7) and anything in a previous vision.  The most likely correspondence to this is the rising of Beast I from the abyss in chapter 13.  Perhaps (one might argue) Satan rises vicariously through the Beast.  But this cannot be.  Even if one ignores the fact that Beast I is (at the time of Satan’s binding) in the lake of fire (20:10), one cannot ignore the fact that, if Satan rises vicariously through Beast I, then the 1,000 years must take place before Beast I comes from the abyss (20:7).[6] In that case, the 1,000 years during which Satan is allowed to “deceive the nations no more” would include the time of Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion, which makes no sense at all.  Besides this, Beast I must rise from the abyss and establish his kingdom before anyone can be martyred in it to qualify as one of the martyrs reigning with Christ during the 1,000 years.[7]

Therefore, I believe this 1,000 years represents a specific period of time toward the end of the reign of Christ, not the entirety of his reign.[8]

Nevertheless, I find it difficult to reconcile this view with other references to “the great day” of God.  Every other place I can think of seems to treat the Judgment Day and the day of the last battle against darkness (Armageddon) as though they were one and the same.  But the interpretation I give above and in my Order of Events appendix makes them two different days and puts the 1,000 year reign between them.

In Revelation 16:15 and in 3:3, John is alluding to the words of Christ recorded in places like Matthew 24:43.  Therefore, I guess that Christ’s descriptions of “that day” (Matthew 24:36), which are recorded in Matthew 24-25, apply to “the great day of God the Almighty” (Revelation 16:14).  Similarly, other references use the same imagery and thus associate themselves with the same day.  For instance, 1st Thessalonians 5:2 says, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,” and 2nd Peter 3:10 says, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief.”  Linked by the common image of a thief in the night, the various scriptures listed above combine to describe “the great day of God the Almighty” as follows:

  • Although wise people have a chance of knowing when it is imminent (Matthew 24:32-33), its actual arrival will be a surprise, like a thief in the night (Revelation 16:15, Revelation 3:3, Matthew 24:43, Luke 12:39, 1st Thessalonians 5:2, 2nd Peter 3:10).
  • On that day, Christ will come to earth from heaven with great power (Matthew 24:30) to fight against the forces of evil (Revelation 19:19-20[9]) in the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).
  • His coming will be unmistakable (Matthew 24:24-27), and when he comes “the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire” to be replaced afterward by “new heavens and a new earth” (2nd Peter 3:12-13).
  • He will defeat the evil forces (Revelation 19:19-20), judge the living and dead (1st Thessalonians 4:16-17) of all humanity (Matthew 25:31-32), reward the faithful and condemn the unfaithful (Matthew 25:31-46).

One argument against my interpretation is the fact that both my first day (that of the battle of Armageddon) and my second day (Judgment Day) have qualities associated with the one “great day of God the Almighty,” which would naturally lead one to conclude that they are actually the same day.  Nevertheless, I cannot understand Revelation 19-20 without placing the battle of Armageddon before the 1,000 year reign and Judgment Day after the 1,000 years.

The main reason I believe my interpretation is correct is John’s statement that “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (Revelation 20:5).  All these dead must be judged, and if they are raised after the 1,000 years, they must be judged after the 1,000 years.  This puts Judgment Day after the 1,000 years.

But the battle of Armageddon and the return of Christ must come before the 1,000 years.  The binding of Satan must come before the 1,000 years (20:7); thus, the kingdom of Beast I must end before the 1,000 years begins; otherwise the 1,000 years could not be described as a time during which Satan “would deceive the nations no more” (20:3).  And thus the battle of Armageddon, when Christ comes with power as a thief in the night (16:15-16) must happen before the 1,000 years since it is at this battle that Christ overthrows the kingdom of Beast I (16:16, 19:19-20).

The only solution that I can see is to acknowledge that what I am calling two days (separated by 1,000 years) should in fact be considered two events in one day; however, this “day” includes the whole sequence of events from the battle of Armageddon, through the 1,000 year reign, to Judgment Day.  While writing about Christ’s return and the end of the world, Peter says, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day” (2nd Peter 3:8).  In this scripture, Peter is referring to the incalculable amount time that will pass before Christ’s return, not the 1,000 year reign.  Nevertheless, if one accept the truth of his statement that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,” one is justified in calling the 1,000 year reign, as well as the two events that bookend it, one day.  Thus, when Christ or Paul or Peter describe the two separate events of Christ’s return and Judgment Day, they describe them as happening in one day, “the great day of God the Almighty.”

A stronger argument against my interpretation could be drawn from a couple of Paul’s scriptures concerning the great day.  In these scriptures, Paul seems to imply that the events of the great day (the battle of Armageddon, the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment of humanity) all happen instantaneously.  In 1st Corinthians he writes,

We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1stCorinthians 15:51-52)

I think, however, that Paul only means to say that our bodies will change from perishable to imperishable “in the twinkling of an eye,” not that all the events of the great day will happen that fast.  In 1st Thessalonians, Paul describes the great day again:

The Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. (1st Thessalonians 4:16-17)

Here, as in 1st Corinthians, Paul is obviously compressing the description of the great day by leaving out certain events (like the judgment of humanity[10]).  If he has left the judgment out, he may have left other things (like the 1,000 year reign) out.  The trumpet in 1st Thessalonians, which heralds Christ’s descent from heaven, is not explicitly called the last trumpet, which leaves open the possibility that it is not synonymous with “the last trumpet” in 1st Corinthians 15:52.  The last trumpet of 1st Corinthians is explicitly connected to the resurrection, not Christ’s return.  Therefore, one might interpret these scriptures in something like the following manner:

“The Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven” (1st Thessalonians 4:16) to fight the battle of Armageddon.  After the battle, he will establish his 1,000 year reign.  After the 1,000 years, Satan will be released and defeated.  Then the last trumpet “will sound and the dead [in Christ] will be raised imperishable,” (1st Corinthians 15:52). and “we who are alive, who are left (1st Thessalonians 4:17) “will be changed” in an instant (1st Corinthians 15:52), and “will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air” (1st Thessalonians 4:17).

I confess I do not feel extremely confident that this is the proper interpretation of 1st Thessalonians and 1st Corinthians.  It feels too clever, like a forced fit rather than an honest reading.  If I were not trying to make Paul’s description of the great day accommodate my reading of Revelation, I would probably say that Paul meant for the trumpet of 1st Thessalonians and the last trumpet of 1st Corinthians to be synonymous and that he was not assuming the existence of a literal 1,000 year reign between the return of Christ and the general resurrection of the dead.  In the end, all I can really say is that I find it difficult to reconcile my most honest reading of Paul’s description of the great day with my most honest reading of Revelation 19-20.

v. 5: Who are “the rest of the dead”?  Based on the language of the translation, I think the most reasonable answer is that they are all the dead  who were not martyred during the reign of Beast I; this number would include Christians and non-Christians.

THE FIRST DEATH: This is temporary death.  It is represented by the sea (20:13) and the abyss.  All humans must experience this except those who are alive when Christ comes to judge humanity (1st Corinthians 15:51-52, Revelation 20:9).

THE FIRST RESURRECTION:  Only the Christians who are martyred under the reign of Beast I experience this (20:4-5).

THE SECOND RESURRECTION:  Every human experiences this except the Christians who were martyred under the reign of Beast I and whoever is alive when Christ comes to judge humanity (20:12).

THE SECOND DEATH: This is permanent death.  It is to this death that Satan, Beast IBeast II (20:10) the angels of Satan, and all the human enemies of God go (20:15).[11]

v. 9: Although John does not say that the martyrs and Christ reign on earth during the 1,000 years, I believe they might.  I believe this because by the time the 1,000 years begins Christ has already returned to earth “like a thief in the night” (16:15) to fight the battle of Armageddon.  It is hard to imagine that he would return to heaven and come again on Judgment Day.  This 1,000 year reign might be what the loud voices in heaven are referring to in 11:15 when they say, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah….”  Nevertheless, the fact that, at this point, the kingdom of heaven and earth seem to become one in a more definite way than they were before[12] makes it difficult to say where Christ and the resurrected martyrs are while Satan is besieging Jerusalem.  I believe the siege is on earth and that Christians still living on earth are the target of the siege, but whether or not Christ and his martyrs are there also, I do not know.  If 14:1-4 describes the martyrs after their resurrection, they seem to be in heaven.

v. 10: Notice that in Revelation 19:20 both Beast I and Beast II, (who is there called “the false prophet”) are thrown into the lake of fire.  But while they are in the lake of fire, the Dragon is cast into the abyss and locked up for 1,000 years (20:1-3).  Then, after he is released “for a little while” (20:3), he is “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the Beast and the false prophet were” (20:10).  From this I think it is also safe to conclude that the abyss and the lake of fire are two distinct places.  The abyss is (among other things) the first death (see notes on v. 5).  The lake of fire “is the second death” (20:14).

v. 14: It is difficult to understand exactly what being thrown into the lake of fire means.  It is a form of death, “the second death.”  But what happens to those who are thrown into the lake of fire?  Beast I, Beast II, and Satan are thrown into the lake of fire and “tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10).  To be tormented, one must exist and one must be conscious; therefore, the lake of fire does not seem to be a place of immediate destruction, but a place where beings exist in torment.  But for how long are they tormented?  “Forever” is infinite, but infinity is a paradox we cannot grasp, so on the one hand, I would say that our understanding and experience of time make this reference impossible to grasp.  To say that something will last forever seems like a different thing than saying it will last for a really long time.  Nevertheless, there does seem to be a reference to our understanding of time in the statement “day and night,” which confuses things a little more for me.  At the very least, we could conclude that Beast I and Beast II have been in the lake of fire for a minimum of 1,000 years (whatever length of time the 1,000 years really refers to) by the time Satan is thrown in.  These things would lead me to believe that those beings thrown into the lake of fire are never destroyed.  But what does it mean, then, that Death and Hades are also thrown into the fire?  I believe that John means to say that death itself dies.  What is death, then?  Essentially it is separation from God, who is life; death is the loss of being.[13] Thus, when death is thrown into the lake of fire, death dies.  It loses its being.  It no longer exists.  If death no longer exists because it is thrown into the lake of fire, why should  other things thrown into the fire not experience the same result?  Being thrown into the lake of fire is, after all, called the second death.  Besides, if death itself dies, then nothing else that exists at that moment should ever lose its being or be separated from God again.  How then can any being exist in the lake of fire after that moment, separated from God?  Based on this and on Christ’s words in Matthew 10:28,[14] I believe that those things consigned to the lake of fire are condemned to destruction[15]; perhaps the destruction is not immediate, but I believe it is complete by the time death is thrown in.  I think that is what throwing death in symbolizes.  As with my dilemma concerning the 1,000 year reign, however,[16] I have to admit that this conclusion does not fit my most honest reading of 20:10 as smoothly as I would like it to. 


[1] The Greek word in 2:5 is ekpipto (Strong’s entry 1601) and is derived from pipto (Strong’s entry 4098), which is the word used in 9:1 and 18:2.

[2] I believe they were martyrs because he says they were “beheaded for their testimony to Jesus” and “had not worshiped the beast or its image.”

[3] See notes on 7:3 and 14:1.

[4] For a fuller discussion of the word, see notes on Hebrews 4:12.

[5] See note on 7:1.

[6] See notes on chapters 12 and 13.

[7] See a) above.

[8] Christ’s reign starts when he takes up his Father’s throne (12:5), and ends when he hands the throne back over to God the Father (1st Corinthians 15:24-28).

[9] Although this scripture does not use the “thief in the night” imagery, I include it here because it attaches itself to the scripture that does use it (Revelation 16:15) by describing the battle of Armageddon (16:16) where the kings of the earth and Beast I (Revelation 16:16 and 19:19-20) are defeated by Christ.

[10] See Matthew 25:31-46.

[11] See 2:11.

[12] See John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world….”

[13] When we die The First Death (see notes for 20:5) our bodies die, i.e., they cease to be (eventually) even if our souls continue to exist.  When we are resurrected, we are given new bodies (1st Corinthians 15:50-54).

[14] See notes there.  See also notes on 1st Corinthians 15:50.

[15] I also believe this because my God-given sense of proportion and justice rejects the idea that anyone could commit a crime or a series of crimes in his or her 70 years on earth that would merit burning in fire for, say, even a million years.  Of course, I admit that this sense of proportion may be mistaken, just as any other of my God-given senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste) may make a mistake because they have limited capacities.

[16] See notes on 20:4.

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19 Responses to “Revelation 20”

  1. […] [3] For a discussion of this day, see 20:4 notes. […]

  2. […] [3] For a discussion of this day, see 20:4 notes. […]

  3. […] [8] For a discussion of this day see notes at 20:4. […]

  4. […] [1] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4. […]

  5. […] [1] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4. […]

  6. […] [5] For a discussion of this day see notes at 20:4. […]

  7. […] [5] For a discussion of this day see notes at 20:4. […]

  8. […] [5] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4. […]

  9. […] [5] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4. […]

  10. […] [8] For a discussion of this day see notes at 20:4. […]

  11. […] [8] For a discussion of this day see notes at 20:4. […]

  12. […] [2] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4. […]

  13. […] [2] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4. […]

  14. […] [4] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4. […]

  15. […] [4] For a discussion of this day, see notes at 20:4. […]

  16. […] [5] There are problems with this.  See notes on the 1,000 year reign in Revelation 20. […]

  17. […] [5] There are problems with this.  See notes on the 1,000 year reign in Revelation 20. […]

  18. […] [5] There are problems with this.  See notes on the 1,000 year reign in Revelation 20. […]

  19. […] [5] There are problems with this.  See notes on the 1,000 year reign in Revelation 20. […]

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