Christians in the first century and in every century since then have benefited from the pictorial representation of Christ's victory over diabolic forces as presented in the Revelation. In the "enigma of the interim" between the redemptive coming of Jesus Christ and His future coming in glory to consummate all things, Christians are encouraged by the verification of Christ's victory in the passion of His death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal outpouring, as well as the expectant hope of the culmination of His victory in the parousia. This final panoramic perspective of Christ's victory ties the accomplished victory of Christ in the past to the consummated victory of Christ in the yet future, giving us a glimpse of concluding realities.
Since this segment of the revelatory drama tends to bring things to a close in climactic fashion, and even to address the "end of time," it is increasingly important not to become myopic and attempt to interpret the vision with a microscope. The micro-interpretations that attempt to figure out every detail of the figurative symbols by identifying them with an earthly and historical counterpart, lose the perspective of the "big picture" of God's activity throughout human history. We must continue to employ a macro-cosmic interpretive viewpoint which attempts to transcend time and place in order to see the whole, and to recognize spiritual realities that take place "above history." This requires that we conceptualize abstractly, without seeking to tighten down every detail with concrete and tangible identifications of particular earthly events at precise periods of time.
Most of what John records having seen and heard throughout the Revelation vision, he carefully notes that he saw and heard happening "in heaven." This should alert us not to be too quick to equate these with events that happen "on earth." Our natural tendency, of course, is to attempt to fit everything into chronological parameters since finite thinking operates in the context of space and time. When we do so we lose the eternality of the divine perspective. As Christians who are "seated in the heavenlies" (Eph. 2:6), we must continually strive to keep the heavenly perspective of God's actions, and to recognize that the imagery of heavenly action that transpires in these panoramas does not require our connecting it with a particular historical event. The heavenly actions may or may not have particular earthly counterparts, and may have multiple historical manifestations identifiable by Christians in different generations, but the victory of Jesus Christ will be evident to all Christian readers in every age. (See Addendum G)
Seeing "heaven opened," John beheld a "white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True" (19:11). Whereas the white horse and its rider referred to earlier in 6:2 seem to represent the religious pretense of power and victory as they go forth to conquer men, the white horse on which Jesus Christ is mounted in this pictorialization is no parody, but represents the reality of Christ's victory. Though Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem in the week prior to His crucifixion to illustrate that the means of His victory was not to be by the ways of men, this does not forestall the use of the symbol of a "white horse" to portray His victory over all evil forces.
That Jesus is the rider of the "white horse" is evident from the numerous descriptions provided in vss. 11-15. "He who sat upon the white horse is called Faithful and True" (19:11). The risen Lord Jesus identified Himself earlier as "the faithful and true witness" (1:5; 3:7,14). He is "the Truth" (John 14:6) personified. As the "Righteous" One, He "judges in righteousness" (19:11), having declared that His "judgment is just and true" (John 5:30; 8:16), just as Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah (Isa. 11:3-5). The eyes of Jesus are described as "a flame of fire" (19:12) as they were previously in 1:14 and 2:18. With penetrating gaze and knowledge, Jesus sees all things and knows all things; He cannot be deceived, therefore His judgment is always just. "Upon His head are many diadems" (19:12) representing His royal power as "ruler of the kings of the earth" (1:5). Though the dragon (12:3) and the beast (13:1) are pictured with diadems, they are but a pretentious parody of Him who is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (19:16), having such a title inscribed on His robe. In addition He had "a name written which no one knows except Himself" (19:12); " a name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9), for the completeness of His character no man knows. The name of the rider of the white horse is called "The Word of God" (19:13). This typically Johannine designation refers to none other that the expressive agency of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). "The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). "What was from the beginning...the Word of Life" (I John 1:1). Who else other than Jesus Christ could be identified as "The Word of God, King of kings and Lord of Lords, Faithful and True, and the Righteous Judge" with omniscient awareness? No one!
Jesus is further described as a conquering victor. "He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood" (19:13). Some have identified this as His own redemptive blood, and others have interpreted it as the blood of the martyrs, but the context is best suited to an identification of the blood as that of those who have died in His righteous judgments. This is reminiscent of Isaiah's imagery of God's judgment where the red garments are the lifeblood of those trampled in the wine press of God's wrath (Isa. 63:1-6). In like manner Jesus is portrayed as "treading the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (19:15), working out the judgment of God (cf. 14:20). "From His mouth comes a sharp sword" (cf. 1:16; 2:12,16; 19:21) indicating the cutting edge of His righteous judgment pronouncements wherewith He "smites the nations," fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy that He would "strike the earth with the rod of His mouth" (Isa. 11:4), and consistent with Paul's expectation of Jesus "slaying the lawless one with the breath of His mouth" (II Thess. 2:8). In His victory Jesus "rules the nations with a rod of iron" (19:15) in fulfillment of the Messianic expectation of Psalm 2:9, already quoted in Rev. 2:27 and alluded to in 12:5.
Accompanying Jesus, also on "white horses," are "the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean" (19:14). Note again that this is a heavenly scenario, not necessarily to be equated with any historical events. God's people, the followers of Christ, participate in His victory "conquering through Him" (Rom. 8:37), and express His character of purity, holiness and righteousness, represented by the clean, white garments of priesthood (3:5,18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9,13; 14:4,13; 19:8,14).
A consequence of Christ's judgment is then viewed by John, as he sees "an angel standing in the sun," that is the presence of God from whence all light comes, "crying out with a loud voice to all the scavenging birds of prey which fly in the midheaven," calling them to "Come, assemble for the great supper of God" (19:17). Similar symbols are used by Ezekiel of the Son of Man speaking to every kind of bird, saying, "Assemble and come, gather...that you may eat flesh and drink blood" (Ezek. 39:17). Religionists serve as birds of prey upon mankind (8:13; 18:2), but in God's righteous judgment upon them they will suffer the indignity of being eaten by scavengers. The rotting flesh of religion and its adherents will be devoured. This is referred to as "the great supper of God," surely to be contrasted with "the marriage supper of the Lamb" mentioned just eight verses previous (19:9), wherein Christians celebrate their eternal and unhindered consummation of intimacy with Christ. The ungodly who have rejected Jesus Christ will also come to a supper, but they will not be feasting; rather they will be the fare. The birds of prey will "eat the flesh of kings, commanders, mighty men, horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men" who do not receive the Spirit of Christ regardless of their status, "free men and slaves, great and small" (19:18), but inevitably religious.
John then reports seeing what preceded and precipitated that grim feast, when "the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army" (19:19). The beast of religion is allied with government as the primary agents of diabolic destruction, making war against Christ and those identified with Him. The battle that ensues does not require a particular identification with the final "war of the great day of God" (16:14), or the so-called "battle of Armageddon" (16:16), but it might have such an earthly counterpart in such a battle. Christ overcomes (John 16:33) and the beast of religion (13:1-10) is captured (19:20) along with "the false prophet" who is identified with the other beast (13:11-18) as engaged in deceiving religious signs and wonders (13:13; 16:14). These two personified symbols of religion are then "thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone" (19:20). The imagery for the "lake of fire and brimstone" may have come from the concept of Gehenna which is apparently derived from the garbage dump southwest of Jerusalem in the valley of Hinnom which was often burning and smoldering. Jesus referred to the "Gehenna of everlasting fire" (Matt. 18:8,9), the ultimate consequence for all who refuse to accept and express Him. "The rest" (19:21) of those in the army of opposition to Jesus Christ, those who had identified with religion accepting "the mark of the beast" (19:20) and participating in the idolatrous worship of images other than God, along with the governmental militants, these "were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse" (19:21) and their flesh was devoured by the scavenger birds. God's judgment must come on all that is contrary to His character.
Getting deeper to the root source of all religion and all that is adversarial to God's objective for His creation through His Son Jesus Christ, the next vignette of the vision seen by John pictures the culminating defeat and demise of the devil. G.B. Caird explains that Rev. 20:1-10 is "a passage which, more than any other in the book, has been the paradise of cranks and fanatics on the one hand and literalists on the other,"1 so we must tread carefully.
John indicates that he "saw an angel coming down from heaven" (20:1), which is not necessarily a cosmologically directional statement but explanatory of divine activity just as "born from above" (John 3:3,7). God is not locked in a dualistic battle with diabolic evil for an eternal standoff, but God is sovereignly omnipotent to effect the defeat, the limitation and ultimate demise of the satanic adversary. The heavenly messenger carries the "key" of divine authority (1:18) "over the abyss" (cf. 9:1) and has "a great chain in his hand" (20:1). Since Satan is a spirit (Eph. 2:2), he cannot be held by a physical chain, so we must recognize again the symbolism of this activity.
The angelic messenger "laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (20:2). Exercising superior divine strength and power, the angel captured the adversarial opponent of Christ, previously identified in like manner (12:9) as the dragon, the Genesis serpent, the devil and Satan. He is the Evil One (Matt. 13:13,38; Eph. 6:16; II Thess. 3:3; I John 2:13; 3:12; 5:19) whose very nature is the personified source of all evil contrary to the character of God, the one from whom all sin (I John 3:8) and religion (Rev. 13:1-18) is derived. The failure to understand this theodicy causes Christians to berate themselves masochistically, to repudiate their humanity, and to focus their antagonism on human adversaries, even religionists, rather than on the Satanic adversary who energizes all that is in opposition to God. The first order for those engaged in warfare is to know their enemy.
In the picture that John draws for us the devil is "bound for a thousand years" (19:2). Keeping our heavenly perspective outside space and time, how is this to be interpreted? Should we attempt to identify any earthly counterpart to this action? Is this a future event that we should look forward to seeing fulfilled? Are we to apply earth-based time chronologies? Since Scripture is the best commentary on Scripture, can we discover any other occurrences where "binding" is applied to Satan? Yes we can. The Pharisees argued that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul because they did not want to admit that He was of God. Jesus explained that "Satan does not cast out Satan," and indicated that if He casts out demons, He has first gone into the "strong man's house" and "bound the strong man," Satan, and carried off his property, the demons (Matt. 12:24-29; Mark 3:22-27). Does this mean that Satan was incapacitated and rendered inoperable throughout the world because Jesus had "bound" him and cast out demons? No! Later Jesus told a parable about wheat and tares, the tares representing "sons of the evil one" who are to be bound and burned (Matt. 13:30). To His disciples Jesus gave divine authority in the "keys of the kingdom" so that "whatever they bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven" (Matt. 16:19; cf. 18:18). Avoiding the physical and tangible localization that is so often applied to the Satanic spirit, perhaps we can understand how limitations are imposed upon Satan's activity. When the seventy witnesses returned Jesus told them He "saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning" (Luke 10:17-19), indicating that a binding limitation was taking place. If one particular historical counterpart is to be identified with Satan being "bound," perhaps it would be the defeat of Satan when Jesus died on the cross. It was at that point that Satan was "cast out" (John 12:31), "disarmed" (Col. 2:15); "judged" (John 16:11); "thrown down" (Rev. 12:9,10,13); "rendered powerless" (Heb. 2:14), and his works "destroyed" (I John 3:8). Though it can obviously be argued that Satan is very active still today, "roaring and seeking to devour" (I Peter 5:8), "blinding" (II Cor. 4:4), counterfeiting (II Cor. 11:14), "capturing and ensnaring" (II Tim. 2:26), and "working" (Eph. 2:2), it must also be conceded that he is limited in his action. He does not have free reign, particularly in the lives of Christians.
The purpose of Satan's being "bound" is "so that he should not deceive the nations any longer" (20:3). When did Satan's deceiving of the nations begin? It commenced in the garden of Eden, and after the fall of man Satan's deception encompassed all of mankind, for "all the nations were permitted to go their own ways" (Acts 14:16). Satan reigned supreme as "the god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4). "The whole world lies in the Evil One" (I John 5:19). At the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" in the garden, Satan defeated the first Adam (Gen. 3), but at the "tree" (Gal. 3:13) of the cross he could not defeat the second representative man, the "last Adam" (I Cor. 15:45), Jesus Christ. Rather, Christ defeated Satan, exclaiming from the cross, "It is finished!" (John 19:30), for the divine mission was accomplished and set in motion. The good news of the gospel to "all the nations" (Matt. 28:19) from that time onward was that the life of God could be restored to man by receiving Jesus Christ (I John 5:12), that Satan's jurisdiction would thus be supplanted (Acts 26:18), and his ability to deceive the Christian limited and curtailed. Christians who do not understand the defeat of Satan at the cross, often live deficient Christian lives by selling themselves short of participation in the victory of Christ in the battle already won! They fail to attain the maturity whereby they are not tossed and carried about by the "deceitful scheming" (Eph. 4:14) of Satan and his religious efforts. The victory of Christ over Satan was accomplished at the cross. Satan was defeated and no longer has universal unlimited ability to deceive mankind. This does not mean that he was annihilated, incapacitated or rendered inoperable. He is still the "tempter "(I Thess. 3:5), the "accuser" (Rev. 12:10), and the "adversary" (I Peter 5:8). But in accord with the pictorial portrayal, Satan has been "thrown into the abyss," the bottomless pit of his underworld activities, and it has been "shut and sealed over him" (20:3) so that we are "protected by the power of God for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (I Peter 1:5), "made safe" from Satan's right to rule over us and thus to abuse and misuse us and create deceptive dysfunction in us.
The parameter given for this restraining restriction and confining constraint of Satan is "a thousand years" (20:2,3). Let us not forget that we are viewing this panorama from a divine perspective beyond space and time, wherein "a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (Ps. 90:4; II Peter 3:8). T.F. Torrance notes that
We have noted throughout this study of the Revelation how numbers are employed figuratively and symbolically (ex. 3 1/2, 7, 10, 12, 24, 666, 144,000), rather than with base-ten human arithmetical designation. The number of "one thousand" seems to represent the "full scope," "comprehensiveness" or "completion" of that which is being described. Throughout the Scripture it is often used with this meaning. God is said to "keep His covenant and His lovingkindness toward men to the thousandth generation" (Deut. 7:9; I Chron. 16:15; Ps. 105:8). Does this mean that God's character of faithfulness and compassion ceases after the literal "thousandth generation" of mankind? No, it refers to the comprehensive and eternal completion of His character. Likewise the psalmist indicates that God possesses "the cattle on a thousand hills" (Ps. 50:10). Is He limited to a literal "thousand hills" of cattle? No, he possesses all the cattle in the world, and the number of "a thousand" is used to point out the complete comprehensiveness of God's control over His creation. Contemporary English usage still uses "thousand" in a figurative way, an example being, "I've told you a thousand times..." We must beware of limiting God by literalness of humanly defined interpretations. Symbolic and figurative interpretations are "literal" when they correspond to the literary intent of the literature, which is the case in this instance.
The Greek word translated "thousand" in these verses is the word chilia. The Latin word for "thousand" is mille, and when conjoined with the Latin word annus meaning "year" it forms the basis of the English word "millennium." The theories of those who interpret this thousand year period as an exact thousand calendar year expectation in the future have often been labeled as "chiliasm" or "millennialism." This interpretation which expects Christ's return to be prior to such a precise thousand year period is also called "premillennialism," as distinct from "postmillennialism" which expects Christ to return after a thousand year period of increasing evangelism, and the misnomer of "amillennialism" which does not mean "no millennium" as the etymology of the word implies, but interprets the thousand years to be a figurative period as we are doing in this study. It is most regrettable that millennial theories have become such a divisive issue among Christian peoples, and that some Christians have so focused on this "thousand year" period referred to only in this paragraph, Rev. 20:1-7, that they have superimposed it upon the rest of Scripture as a grid for all Scripture interpretation. (See chart in Addendum H).
In the midst of this comprehensive period of "a thousand years" which seems to have commenced in historical terms at Christ's victorious defeat of Satan on the cross, John "saw thrones" (20:4) in heaven with God's people "seated in the heavenlies" (Eph. 2:6). "Judgment was given to them" (20:4), just as Jesus indicated that His followers would "sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:29), and Paul wrote that "the saints will judge the world" (I Cor. 6:2). John also saw those martyred "because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God" (20:4). These were obviously Christians who endured physical death, knowing that spiritual life in Christ was of ultimate value. In addition, John saw "those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead or their hand" (20:4), these being Christians who did not succumb to religion and its idolatry, disallowing religion to stamp their thinking and their activity. These Christians are represented as having "come to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (20:4). Just as Jesus "was dead, and has come to life" (2:8), Christians have "come to life" passing "out of death into life" (I John 3:14). In so doing they "reign in life through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17,21). To thus "reign with Christ" in His reign is to participate in "the kingdom of the beloved Son" (Col. 1:13), for the word "reign," basileuo, is the root of the word basileia which is translated "kingdom." The mistaken Jewish concept of a militaristic Messiah who would be a human king in a physical and nationalistic kingdom realm must not be transferred over into Christian interpretations of the kingdom reign of Christ during the "thousand year" period. Jesus explicitly said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36); "the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20,21).
This "coming to life" and "reigning with Christ" is identified as "the first resurrection" (20:5). The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ was incorporative of the spiritual resurrection of all believers, for Jesus was "the first born from the dead" (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5) among "many brethren" (Rom. 8:29) who would likewise experience a birth (John 3:3,7; I Peter 1:3) unto spiritual life out of spiritual death. "As Christ was raised from the dead, so we too walk in newness of life, ...united in the likeness of His resurrection...alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:4,5,11); "raised up with Christ" (Col. 3:1); "made alive together with Christ and raised up with Him" (Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:12). The very resurrection-life of the risen Lord Jesus indwells the Christians and is to be operative in his behavior. "Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20, Paul declares; "Christ is our life" (Col. 3:4). There is a pathetic paucity of understanding among those who posit the "first resurrection" as a future event and thus deprive Christians of recognizing the privilege of living by "the power of His resurrection" (Phil. 3:10), "reigning in life with Christ." Although a second resurrection is not mentioned in the text, some have speculated that it might be the bodily "resurrection from the dead" (I Cor. 15:12-57; Phil. 3:11).
"Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection" (20:6) declares the heavenly voice in another beatitude. Just as all Christians have participated in the "first resurrection," having "come to life" being "raised up with Christ," every Christian has thereby been "blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3), and "made holy" (Col. 1:22; 3:12) by the presence of the Holy One (Acts 2:27; 3:14), Jesus Christ, in them. All Christians are "priests of God and of Christ" (20:6), a "holy priesthood" (I Peter 2:5), a "royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9), "priests to God" (Rev. 1:6) who "reign upon the earth" (Rev. 5:10), "reigning with Him for a thousand years" (20:6) as kings and priests in the kingdom.
Over "these" Christians, John is told, "the second death has no power" (20:6). The death of Jesus "rendered powerless the one having the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb. 2:14), but Christians on earth are still mortal and the "first death" of physical death still has power over them. "It is appointed for men to die once" (Heb. 9:27). The "second death" is clearly identified as the experience of "the lake of fire and brimstone" (20:14; 21:8). It is the everlasting consequence of remaining in spiritual death, absent from the life of God and in perpetuity of identification and union with Satan. Jesus befuddled the Jewish leaders when He said, "If anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death" (John 5:51,52), for He knew that He had come to "abolish death, and bring life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Tim. 1:10), so that faithful Christians "will not be hurt by the second death" (Rev. 2:11).
The comprehensive and complete period of the "thousand years" will be "completed" (20:3,5,7). It will have a terminus, the timing of its counterpart on earth known by no man. It was "in the fullness of God's time" (Gal. 4:4) that Jesus came the first time in incarnation, and it will likewise be in the fullness of God's time when His objectives are completed, that Jesus will come again to conclude our reign with Him here on earth. At that time "the rest of the dead" who died during the "thousand year" period, other than those who have come to life spiritually in Christ during that period, "will come to life" (20:5) in what many call the "general resurrection," the "resurrection of the wicked" (Acts 24:15) and the "resurrection of judgment" (John 5:29).
Also at the conclusion of the "thousand year" period, "Satan will be released from his prison" (20:7) "for a short time" (20:3). His limitation of activity having been illustrated by the binding of a chain (20:1,2) and the preventive custody of incarceration (20:3,7), but not indicating the incapacitation of inactivity, Satan is to be released to mount a final insurrection. He "will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, God and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore" (20:8). Consistent with his nature as the adversary, deceiver and the destroyer, Satan will attempt to influence unregenerate peoples from the nations of the earth, who have been functioning throughout the "thousand years," to oppose God and Jesus Christ. "Gog and Magog" are terms which were previously used in the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek. 38,39), and refer to the assemblage of ungodly, hostile nations and peoples. The war for which they are gathered, like that referred to in 19:19, may refer to a final "war of the great day of God" (16:14) and be equated with a "battle of Armageddon" (16:16), but does not require such a particular historical, if yet future, designation. Obviously the entire world of mankind is not going to become Christian, for the army assembled against the "saints" is innumerable and incalculable, "like the sand of the seashore." This army assembled by the devil from the expanse and breadth of the earth "surrounds the camp of the saints and the beloved city" (20:9). The "camp of the saints" might seem to indicate an earthly scenario, since Christians as "citizens of heaven" (Phil. 3:20) are always in pilgrimage on earth, but "the beloved city" refers to the "New Jerusalem" (3:12), the "Jerusalem above" (Gal. 4:26), the "holy city" (11:2), the community of all who are identified with God through Christ, "beloved" as the Bride of Christ. This city cannot be localized geographically on earth, and cannot be equated with the ecclesiastical institution of the physical church.
The big question might be, "Why does God see fit to turn Satan loose to deceive the nations after the thousand year period?" Some have suggested that God's purpose is to expose that the nature of Satan has not been rehabilitated and that he remains evil and destructive despite the comprehensive period of captivity. Others suggest that the purpose is to reveal Satan's defeat and impotence; that he is a loser. In the similar imagery of Ezek. 38, God states His purpose as being, "I will magnify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations, and they will know that I am the Lord" (Ezek. 38:23). God can use the activity of Satan to bring people to Himself, and to bring glory to Himself.
God's judgment is then depicted as falling upon Satan and the army he assembles. "Fire came down from heaven and devoured" (12:9) those people who Satan had gathered together in his army, just as fire came upon those of Gog and Magog in Ezek. 38:22 and 39:6. "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). Some interpret this with the yet future counterpart of Christ's second coming, for Paul writes that the "Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire" (II Thess. 1:7). The sovereign judgment of God upon the devil is illustrated by his being "thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also" (20:10; 19:20). The final demise of the devil is here pictured, and from henceforth he is "out of the picture." That the "lake of fire and brimstone" is not referring to annihilation or cessation of being seems evident in the explanation that "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (20:10).
All that remains in the picture of Christ's over-all victory defeating all foes is the divine judgment on the personified consequences of the devil's activity in "death and hades," for "the one having the power of death is the devil" (Heb. 2:14). God "abolishes all ruler and authority and power" (I Cor. 15:24) contrary to His character. John saw "a great white throne" (20:11) with a divine presence exercising His authoritative judgment thereon. This can be both "the judgment seat of God" (Rom. 14:10) and "the judgment seat of Christ" (II Cor. 5:10) at the same time. Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30).
"Earth and heaven fled away" from the presence of God, "and no place was found for them" (20:11). "Earth and heaven" could refer to the physical and material "heavens and earth," the creation of which is recorded in Genesis 1:1. On the other hand, since we are considering figurative and heavenly realities, the phrase "earth and heaven" could refer to the composite order of the "world system," the fallen and degenerative order, the realm which Satan developed as "the god of this world" (II Cor. 4:4) and in which the beast of religion operated. There is "no place" for this order in the presence of God, for they are mutually incompatible, and this world order will be obliterated and cease to exist. The "new heaven and new earth" (21:1) of God's new Christic order will exist eternally.
As "it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27), John saw "the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne" (20:12). These would appear to be equivalent to those identified as "the rest of the dead" in 20:5, the unregenerate who died during the "thousand year" period. Whether their status be "great or small" no one is exempted or immune from facing judgment. These people's names were not to be found in "the book of life" (20:12), the heavenly register of the names of those who are identified with Jesus Christ, the Life (John 14:6). Rather they "were to be judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds" (20:12). They had to face God on the basis of their behavior (Ps. 62:12; Jere. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6), all of which was contrary to the character of God, a total failure to function in accord with the purpose for which God created man (Isa. 43:7). The "fruit of our deeds" (Jere. 17:10) can always be traced to the root of spiritual source and identification (Matt. 12:33-35). "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). "The one committing sin derives what he does from the devil" (I John 3:8). Who would want to face God's judgment with that record?
The judgment of God upon death continues as "the sea gave up the dead which were in it" (20:13). Are these the physical waters of earth, or is this the reservoir of evil (cf. 13:1), the murky depths of death and darkness from which monsters often come? If the "earth and heaven" of vs. 11 are interpreted as the physical cosmos of planet earth, then this would consistently be understood as the physical sea, but if "earth and heaven" are the fallen world order, then the sea is best understood figuratively. "Death and hades also gave up the dead which were in them" (12:13). When Satan is banished and the fallen and degenerative world order "flee away" (20:11) and vanish, then "death and hades" have no context in which to operate and hold people hostage. The effects of sin which began when "through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin" (Rom. 5:12), are now totally overcome. The unregenerate dead are "judged according to their deeds" (20:13), and the personified "death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire" (20:14), alienated from the life of God. Paul wrote that "the last enemy that will be abolished is death" (I Cor. 15:26).
Everyone whose "name was not found written in the book of life is thrown into the lake of fire" (20:15). "This is the second death" (20:14), where if one's first physical death occurs while they are in a state of spiritual death, such spiritual death will be perpetuated after the judgment in everlasting death, in perpetuity of identification and union with Satan. They will be sent away "into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41), joined there by the devil (20:10), the beast and false prophet (19:20), and "death and hades" (21:14).
As each of the panoramas of the Revelation wrap up with a scene of victory to provide an encouragement to Christians in every age (2:7,11,17,26,27; 3:5,12,21; 7:9-17; 11:15-19; 15:1-4; 19:1-10), so too does this final perspective. But this vision of victory is the most lengthy and conclusive of all of them as it moves from the ultimate defeat of the devil and death to the eternal reign of life in Christ Jesus.
John "saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there was no longer any sea" (21:1). The temptation of our finite thinking is to visualize this in terms of concrete, tangible and corporeal entities of space and time, rather than retaining the abstract perspective of spiritual realities. Though it is true that the physical "heaven and earth" will "perish" (Ps. 102:26), "being reserved for fire" (II Peter 3:7), for the physical is not eternal, it is equally true that the fallen and degenerative world order which has so pervaded the physical universe as to be observable in the scientific "second law of thermodynamics," also "passes away" as noted in the previous chapter. The "first heaven and first earth" are included within "the first things" (21:4) which include Satan, sin, death, the beasts and Babylon, all of which "pass away" (21:1,4), along with the murky depths of Satan's operations in the reservoir of evil, the "sea" (21:1). Instead of participating in that degenerative world system, John sees God's people participating in the new, regenerative "heaven and earth" wherein God is "making all things new" (21:5), "transforming everything into the image of His glory" (II Cor. 3:18). Isaiah foresaw that God would "do something new" (Isa. 43:19) by "creating new heavens and a new earth" (Isa. 65:17). It is a "new creation" (Gal. 6:15) in which all new things in Christ are operative: a "new and living way" (Heb. 10:20), a "new covenant" (Heb. 8:13; 9:15; 12:24), a new birth (John 3:3,7), a "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4), a "new Spirit" (Ezek. 36:26), a "new man" (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), the "new creature in Christ" (II Cor. 5:17) singing a "new song" (Rev. 5:9; 14:13). It is the "new heavens and new earth in which holiness and godliness and righteousness dwells" (II Peter 3:11,13).
Therein we see "the holy city, the New Jerusalem" (21:2), the "Jerusalem above" (Gal. 4:26), the "beloved city" (20:9), "the city whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10), "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22), the perfected community of God's people which we have been getting glimpses of throughout the Revelation (3:12; 11:2). This is not a geographical location, nor is it an institutional ecclesiastical entity. The essence of this city is the presence and character and activity of God by His Son Jesus Christ. It is contrasted with the cities which represent evil such as "Sodom, Egypt and Jerusalem of old" (11:8) and Babylon (18:2), the latter of which is also pictured as a "harlot" (17:1-6) in contrast to the spiritual city of "New Jerusalem" which is being "made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" (21:2), preparing to be "presented as a pure virgin" (II Cor. 11:2), "holy and blameless" (Eph. 5:27), at the coming "marriage supper of the Lamb" (19:9). Although the two contrasting "heaven and earth" orders are seen by John from the perspective of eternity wherein the "first order" is terminated, both the old and the new are present together in the "enigma of the interim" of the "thousand years." The "New Jerusalem" in "the new heaven and new earth" is not a reality that is reserved for the future. Christians participate in this "new creation" presently.
In verification of this "a loud voice from the throne" of God's divine presence, declares, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them" (21:3). God's tabernacling among men was pre-figured in the physical tabernacle in the wilderness during the exodus when God's people constructed "a sanctuary that God might dwell among them" (Exod. 25:8; 29:45). God explained to the Israelites, "I will make My dwelling among you, ...I will be your God, and you will be My people" (Lev. 26:11,12). The disobedience of the old covenant peoples did not allow this relationship to transpire (Jere. 7:23), and Hosea illustrated this by naming his son "Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God" (Hosea 1:9). The prophets went on to speak for God indicating that there would be an everlasting covenant wherein God could say, "My dwelling place will be with them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people" (Ezek. 37:27; Zech. 8:8; Hosea 2:23). That new "heaven and earth" order was introduced when "the Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us" (John 1:14). On the basis of His taking death on our behalf and giving us His "divine nature" (II Peter 1:4) and life, Paul indicates that "we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people'" (II Cor. 6:16). We who "were not God's people" in the old covenant are "now God's people, ...sons of the living God" (Rom. 9:25,26), "a people for God's own possession" (I Peter 2:10), for we "are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us" (I Cor. 3:16). The spiritual reality of this indwelling relationship is already the experience of every Christian, but the unhindered perfection of such relationship is yet to come.
The "first things" (21:4) of the "old heaven and earth" order have been superseded by "the new heaven and earth" order wherein "all things have become new" (II Cor. 5:17) and God "is making all things new" (21:5). We participate in the "better things" (Heb. 7:19,22; 10:34; 11:16,40). There is no longer any spiritual death within the "new creation" order for such cannot dwell where God's life dwells, but the physical consequences of the death process which began in Eden are still present in mortal men. We have been "delivered from the fear of death to which we were subjected all our lives" (Heb. 2:15), but we will still "die once" (Heb. 9:27). Yet to come in the unhindered expression of the New Jerusalem, "death will be swallowed up in victory" (I Cor. 15:54). Isaiah indicated that God would "swallow up death for all time, and will wipe tears away from all faces" (Isa. 25:8) for "sorrow and sighing will flee away" (Isa. 35:10) and "mourning will be finished (Isa. 60:20). For such we yet wait in the anticipation of expectant hope when "he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain" (21:4).
John is once again commissioned by the divine voice to "write, for these words are faithful and true" (21:5), as instructed previously (1:11; 19:9). "It is done" (21:6), God declares. Though some would point out that God does not say, "It will be done" in the future, we must admit that there is still a yet to be enacted consummation of that which is already accomplished from God's eternal perspective. Jesus declared from the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30), and now the affirmation of completion and consummation is made, as was made in the final judgment of the seven bowls (16:17).
The divine voice identifies Himself by saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" (21:6). Through Isaiah, God said, "I am the first and the last, and there is no God besides Me" (Isa. 44:6; 48:12). In like manner Jesus identifies Himself as "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last" (Rev. 1:8; 22:13). Jesus constitutes all of what God has for man; everything from A to Z, and everything in between; everything that it takes for man to be man as God intended man to be.
Because He is such, He can "give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost" (21:6). Jesus said, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14). "If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, from his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37,38). "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). The innermost desires of man are fulfilled in Jesus Christ for time and eternity.
As Christians "we have obtained an inheritance" (Eph. 1:11), and we "share in the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12; Eph. 1:18) with the indwelling "Holy Spirit as the pledge of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:14). We look forward to receiving "the reward of the inheritance" (Col. 3:24) "reserved in heaven" (I Pet. 1:4) for us, for "he who overcomes shall inherit these things" (21:7). We continue to overcome by identifying with the Overcomer (John 16:33), by allowing for faithful receptivity of His activity in our lives as Christians. Thus we continue in that relationship wherein God is our Father and we are "sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26), being "led by the Spirit of God" (Rom. 8:14).
Contrasted to this are the faithless, "the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars" (21:8). These do not have a place in the New Jerusalem community of God for their behavior is contrary to the character of God; "uncleanness, abomination and lying, shall never come into it" (21:27). This kind of behavior is indicative of the other community, the religious city of Babylon, wherein lying is derived from "the father of lies" (John 8:44). The Christians at the end of the first century and in every age thereafter have been tempted to take the cowardly course of self-preservation; to cower under the threat of persecution, suffering and death; to choose personal safety over faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it" (Mark 8:35). Those who revert to religion, with which all these behaviors are identified, "their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (19:20; 20:6,10,14,15), the perpetuity of identification with Satan's destination (Matt. 25:41).
"One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, came and spoke with John" (21:9), as in 17:1, offering a fuller explanation of what he had seen. "Come here, I shall show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb" (21:9), was the invitation of the heavenly messenger. Controlled by the Holy Spirit, John was carried "to a great and high mountain" (21:10), either for a better perspective and vantage point for viewing, or perhaps because the "holy city" of the "heavenly Jerusalem" is "Mount Zion, the city of the living God" (Heb. 12:22), the "mountain of the house of the Lord" (Isa. 2:2), the "city on the high mountain" (Ezek. 40:2). What John saw was the holy city of the New Jerusalem which is personified as "the bride, the wife of the Lamb," in contrast to the city of the old order, Babylon, which was personified as a harlot. Neither of them is to be construed as a tangible entity in a particular geographical location or as an individualized personage in history. The "Bride of Christ," the "New Jerusalem," is the collective community of God's people throughout time and eternity. The physical city of Jerusalem, the "city of peace," was to have been the pre-figuring of what God would do in the midst of the community of His people, but it became the center of the Judaic religion of the old covenant representative of the slavery of religion (Gal. 4:25). In fulfillment of God's intent, the New Jerusalem above represents the freedom (Gal. 4:26) of God's action in expressing His character within His creation unto His glory, for it "comes down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God" (21:11).
John continues his writing, attempting to describe this dynamic city which is already the experience of every Christian, but is yet to be experienced in unhindered consummation between Bridegroom and bride. What he saw is beyond human words; it is indescribable and inexplicable, as the dynamic presence and activity of God always is. How does one explain in human words the heavenly reality of a city which is not a place, and a bride who is not a person? The symbolic imagery that is employed is for the purpose of illustrating the inexpressible, by showing how impressive and immeasurable and invaluable and illuminative and inviolate and intimate and ideal this incredible heavenly reality really is.
The great value of God's presence is expressed as the "brilliance of a very costly stone" (21:11), and the splendor and radiance of His presence "as a stone of crystal-clear jasper" (21:11). When Isaiah saw a glorified Zion, he explained, "You will call your walls salvation, and your gates praise" (Isa. 60:18), indicating that the symbol of walls refers to spiritual realities. John describes the immensity of "a great and high wall, with twelve gates" (21:12), allowing for abundant entrance of all the people of God. In conjunction with Ezekiel's vision (Ezek. 48:30-34), the twelve gates have "names written on them, which are those of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel" (21:12), which shows an inclusivity of continuity with God's people in the old covenant. "The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (2:14), similar to Paul's explanation of "God's household built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner-stone" (Eph. 2:20). A "gold measuring rod" was used to "measure the city, and its gates and its wall" (21:15), all of which is to give us a measured understanding and discernment of this heavenly reality which is immeasurably immense and infinite. The city was "laid out as a square" or a cube, "its length and width and height are equal" (21:16). This perfect symmetry was pre-figured in the Holy of Holies of the temple which was a perfect cube of "twenty cubits" each direction (I Kings 6:20). "Twelve thousand stadia" (21:16) is the human number given as a measurement of this heavenly city; twelve being symbolic of God's people, noted above as "twelve tribes" (21:12) and "twelve apostles" (21:14); a thousand representing the full complement thereof; a stadia, from which we get the English word "stadium," was the distance of a race course. So the measurement of this heavenly city was comprehensive of the full complement of God's people who run the race of life by God's provision. "One hundred and forty-four cubits" (21:17) is the measurement of the wall of the city. Whether this represents its height or its thickness, we do not know. Twelve (representing the number of the twelve tribes of the old covenant) times twelve (representing the twelve apostles of the new covenant) times a cubit, which is the length of a man's forearm, is the symbolic number of the wall, and we are advised that a cubit is a cubit for angels also (21:17), for it is still a creature's attempt to measure God's immeasurable.
Though this city is not corporeal and material, John records that "the material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass" (21:18), indicating the splendor and value and purity of what he saw. "The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone" (21:19,20), similar to the stones in the breastplate of the priests in the Old Testament (Exod. 28:17), and the parody of such in the King of Tyre (Ezek. 28:13), who apparently symbolized Lucifer. "The twelve gates were twelve pearls" (21:21) representing great value (Matt. 13:45,46). "The street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass" (21:21), pre-figured by the floor of the sanctuaries of the temple in the old covenant which were "overlaid with gold" (I Kings 6:30) wherever the priests walked. Now the new covenant "priests" move about on the purity and ultimate worth of God's character.
There was "no temple" in this heavenly city, though, "for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple" (21:22). The purpose of the physical temple in the old covenant was to portray a "holy place" where God was represented as dwelling, which was "set apart" from all that was unclean, unholy and sinful. In this "holy city" (21:10) there is "nothing unclean" (21:27), so no need for such a temple. Religious institutions and buildings are superfluous. The inherent presence of God and Christ Jesus is pervasive throughout this city, so that the entirety of it is a Theocentric and Christocentric "Holy of Holies" wherein "true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21).
The Shekinah glory of the divine presence illumines this city, and it "has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine upon it" (21:23). It "will have the Lord for an everlasting light" (Isa. 60:19). "Its lamp is the Lamb" (21:23), for Jesus Christ is "the light of the world" (John 8:12), the "light of men" (John 1:4), having "come into the world to enlighten every man" (John 1:9). The light of Christ enlightens all within this holy city. Isaiah foresaw that in the New Jerusalem, "nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising" (Isa. 60:3). Earthly nations have indeed incorporated the concepts of God's kingdom, but any glory of royalty or government is subsumed and superseded by the glory of God, for God is only glorified by that which is derived from Him (Isa. 42:8; 48:11). "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (I John 1:5), so in the eternal day of the Lord "there will be no night there" (21:25; 22:5).
Jesus Christ is the "way" (John 14:6), having provided open access to this "holy city" by His substitutionary death. "Its gates shall never be closed" (21:25), just as Isaiah explained that "your gates will be open continually; they will not be closed day or night" (Isa. 60:11). No security measures are necessary, for "Jerusalem will dwell in security" (Zech. 14:11). "The glory and the honor of the nations" (21:26) will be transformed by the inter-relational character of Christ's life. The character of this city will remain inviolate and incorruptible, for "nothing unclean, abominable or false shall ever come into it" (21:27). God will not tolerate anything contrary to His character. Residency in this city is exclusive to those "whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (21:27), recorded in the heavenly register as having been identified and spiritually united with Jesus Christ.
John is describing "paradise regained." Just as there was "a river that flowed out of Eden" (Gen. 2:10), John sees "a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (22:1). Ezekiel saw water flowing from the temple, and it was announced that "everything will live where the river goes" (Ezek. 47:1-12). Jesus provides that "water of life" (Rev. 7:17; 21:6), for He is the "well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:14) and His indwelling presence produces "rivers of living water" (John 7:38). The psalmist referred to this reality of "a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High" (Ps. 46:4). Just as "the tree of life was in the middle of the garden" (Gen. 2:9), so John sees the river "in the middle of the street, and on either side of the river was the tree of life" (22:2). Throughout Scripture the "tree of life" represents the abundance of the expression of the character of God. Jesus said, "I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). This will involve the behavioral expression of "the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22,23). "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (22:2), John continues, for they abrogate the effects of the fall of man and restore God's intent for all of His creation.
In accord with Zechariah's prophecy that "there will be no more curse" (Zech. 14:11), John also indicates that in the "beloved city" the "curse" that came in the fall of man (Gen. 3:17) would no longer be present (22:3). Christ took the curse for us on the tree of crucifixion (Gal. 3:13), and Christians need not incur the curses for disobedience (Deut. 27,28) but may participate in the "blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3).
Within this heavenly community is "the throne of God and of the Lamb" (22:3) evidencing God's authority, in response to which God's "bond-servants shall serve Him." "God is not served with human hands, as though He needed anything" (Acts 17:22), but is "served" by our availability to His Lordship wherein we allow His character and activity to be expressed in our behavior. Thus we serve as "bond-servants of Christ" (Gal. 1:10).
The intimacy of this heavenly relationship that John is describing is indicated by the reference that we "shall see God face to face" (22:4). To Moses, God said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live" (Exod. 33:20). In His sermon on the mount Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). There is a sense in which we can "see God" as Christians, for "God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (II Cor. 4:6), but we still look forward to "seeing Him just as He is" (I John 3:2) "face to face" (I Cor. 13:12). Meanwhile, like Moses, "we endure, as seeing Him who is unseen" (Heb. 11:27).
Those who reside in the spiritual and heavenly "city of peace" have "His name on their foreheads" (22:4), which seems to mean that they are identified with God in Christ as the character of God is evidenced in their thinking. "They shall reign forever and ever" (22:5). Though we "reign in life now through Christ Jesus" (Rom. 5:17,21) throughout the "thousand years" (Rev. 20:4,6), "if we endure, we shall continue to reign with Him" (II Tim. 2:12) eternally.
We must never forget that the Revelation was designed to serve as an incentive for Christians in all ages to endure and persevere during "the enigma of the interim" as they hope for the consummated victory of Jesus Christ. Christians must be willing to share in Christ's suffering even unto death, as they allow for the ontological out-living of the life of Jesus in their behavior. The emphasis of the Revelation is not on getting all the graphics figured out epistemologically, nor on charting future events eschatologically, but on the life and character of Jesus Christ lived out through us ontologically despite possible mistreatment and the temptation to revert to religious self-preservation.
This final panorama (19:11-22:5) of the victory of Jesus Christ over all religion (19:17-21), its satanic source (20:1-10), and its consequences (20:11-14), is timelessly applicable, being transgenerational and translocational. We must avoid pinning down God's heavenly realities to arbitrary humanly determined space and time parameters. When we do so, we miss the "big picture" of what God is doing in Jesus Christ, and draw the attention of Christians away from the privilege of present participation in Christ's victory.
Religious gnosticism is rampant in the varying contemporary interpretations of the Revelation. So many religious interpreters think they "know" the details and have "secret knowledge" about heavenly realities and future events. This last book of the Bible, which perhaps more than any other reveals the damnable character of religion, has been obscured by religious interpreters more than any other. Should we be surprised? Religionists certainly do not want to see or admit that it is they who are being exposed throughout the Revelation. They will never accept the message that "religion goes to hell" (19:20), along with its adherents and interpreters.
1 Caird, C.B.,
A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine.
(Black's New Testament Commentaries). London: Adam and Charles
Black. 1966. pg. 249.