"1And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. 4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (Rev 20:1-6, KJV)
In this text we have one of the most controversial passages in all of the Bible. Whole bodies of theology have been founded on this text, then placed as a template upon the rest of the Scriptures. These doctrines affect the way people read the Bible. They have an impact on what they expect to happen, and how they live their lives. They do not represent harmless positions. When it comes to the study of last things, called Eschatology, we are on especially sensitive ground. This is no place for error.
VIEWING THE CONCLUSION
Our view of the conclusion of all things will penetrate everything we do and say. At no point are we allowed the luxury of considering last things apart from the revealed purpose of God. This objective is called an "eternal purpose" (Eph 3:11), and relates to everything God has done, is doing, and will do. It is declared from several different perspectives. Considering the outcome of His great salvation, that purpose will be realized in the conformity of the saved "to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29). Viewed from the perspective of undoing everything infected by sin, God has purposed that in "the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; in Him" (Eph 1:10). Peering into the eternal realm, that purpose is declared in this manner: "that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:7). In respect to the exalted Son receiving due recognition, that purpose will be realized when "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:10-11). Other declarations of our Lord's predetermined purpose include (1) The ultimate and final frustration of the devil (Gen 3:15; Rev 20:10), (2) Everything being made new (Rev 21:5), and (3) The exaltation of the church to reign with Jesus, world without end (2 Tim 2:12; 1 Cor 6:1-2; Rom 8:17).
Any view of last things that drives these things into the background is a delusion. Such views have not come from God, regardless of their seeming wisdom and employment of Scripture. If it does not have to do with salvation, then it cannot have to do with Christ! He is primarily "the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14). Apart from that, there is no reason for "the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim 2:5).
OUR PERSON AND OUR VIEW MUST BE APPROVED BY GOD
As we approach this passage, we must do so with a disciplined heart, soul, mind, and spirit. It is imperative that we bear in mind the solemn injunction of the Spirit: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15, NASB). Steer clear of novel approaches to the Word of the Living God! This is the Word that will judge us in the last day (John 12:48). We do well to exercise ourselves not to be at variance with the Author of Scripture-particularly in our understanding of it.
Let none imagine that the Lord Jesus departs from His revealed agenda in this book, and especially in this chapter. The emphasis of His Word has not suddenly shifted from salvation in Christ and the eternal purpose of God, to world history. Nor, indeed, is a new doctrine of the appearance of Christ, His reign, and the resurrection of the dead, unveiled in this passage. Novel doctrines are a curse to the church, drawing it into profitless bypaths and vain speculations. Add to this the austere warning of our Lord concerning adding to or taking from the word of this prophecy, and you have sufficient incentive to realize we are standing on holy ground. The shoes of human speculation and creative theology must be removed as we stand before this text!
PERSPECTIVE, NOT CHRONOLOGY
The book of revelation provides spiritual perspective, not detailed chronology. It views the "day of salvation" from several different perspectives. These allow us to address life in confidence that everything is being governed by the reigning Christ. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Think of the perspectives we have seen already.
1 History from the standpoint of the churches. The recap of the seven churches reveals the impact of life in this world upon those wearing the name of Christ. There are jeopardies that attend their sojourn in this world. As an assembly, God's people can leave their "first love." They can get caught up in the world's approval, and even allow destructive teaching to take place among them. Their hearts can grow lukewarm. They can also hold to the faith, being faithful to the end (Chapters 2-3).
2 Considered from a heavenly point of view, earth's history is nothing less than the Lord Jesus Christ ruling and reigning-bringing the saints to glory. He is in absolute control, holding the book of eternal destiny in His hand (Chapters 4-5).
3 In the seven seals, we have the world's general disdain for the churches revealed. Although the Lamb rides triumphantly through the world, conquering and to conquer, the realm itself is aligned against the saints. The world and its inhabitants are challenges to be overcome. In all of this, the saints are protected (Chapters 6-7).
4 The seven trumpets introduce history from the standpoint of Divine judgment. God judges the world for its treatment of His people. He has done so historically, and will conclude earth's history with eternal judgment upon those who oppose His Son and those who follow Him. Even the judgment of Satan himself is declared. In all of this, the saints are protected (Chapters 8-11).
5 Another view of history reveals the consistent difficulty the church has had with worldly government. It is a ruthless beast, rising out of social turmoil, to eventually oppose the people of God. It is also animated by the devil himself, who seeks to destroy the Lord's inheritance. In all of this, the saints are protected (Chapter 13).
6 A lengthy section of the book is devoted to showing the conflict between the saints and worldly religion-spiritual Babylon. Here is an approach to religion that borrows from the world's concept of government and rule. The worldly church is the embodiment of unfaithfulness- spiritual harlotry. This represents the devil's most extensive assault on the body of Christ. In all of this, the saints are protected (Chapters 14-19).
In all of these representations, nothing totally new is taught. Everything is fully supported by the teachings of the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles. The very language and images employed are found in the holy Prophets. This confirms to our heart the Divine agenda has never changed. It also buttresses our faith by unveiling the superiority of the Lamb of God in all of these circumstances. The struggle is NOT in heaven, but upon the earth.
OUR FOES PAINTED VIVIDLY
The Scriptures, especially the New Covenant writings, alert us to the conflict believers face. In this world, we are in a war zone, with intense activity. We are involved in this warfare, depicted as "wrestling" against a staggering array of enemies (Eph 6:12). The book of Revelation confirms this to our hearts in picturesque language. At least five great foes are mentioned.
1 THE DEVIL himself is the arch-foe, animating all other foes. He is depicted as "Satan," "the angel of the bottomless pit," "Abaddon," "Apollyon," "the great dragon," "the great red dragon," "the old serpent," and "the devil" (2:9; 9:11; 12:3,9; 20:2).
2 THE BEAST that rose from the sea. This is understood to be political government: the organization of men for self-exaltation. This beast comes from the "bottomless pit," and is given life by Satan (11:7; 13:1-10).
3 ANOTHER BEAST that came from the land. This beast had the appearance of a lamb, but spoke as a dragon. It is the false church considered as a ruthless opponent of God's people. He has all of the power of the first beast, even working miracles in an effort to seduce the elect (13:11-18; 14:11; 15:2).
4 BABYLON THE GREAT. This is an additional view of the false church. It represents some refinement over the condition depicted in the second beast. Power and domination still exist, but are now draped with the robe of success and religious beauty. This is religious institutionalism as we know it. Appearing attractive to men, it is really a harlot, unfaithful to God, and responsible for shedding the blood of His people (14:8; 16:19; 17:1-18:21).
5 THOSE HAVING THE MARK OF THE BEAST. These are the individuals who subscribe to false religion. They embrace a form of godliness that rejects the power of God. Those who triumph by faith are said to have gained victory, not only over the beast, but over "his mark" (15:2). Those identified with lifeless religion are enemies of God's people. They attempt to make attractive what God has cursed.
The message of the Spirit to the churches offers consolation to the saints of God. All of their foes will be totally vanquished.
1 The devil is presently controlled by Jesus. The key to the bottomless pit, which is the devil's resource, is held in heaven. The devil will be thrown into the lake of fire (9:1; 20:1,10).
2 The first beast was "wounded to death," portraying the casting down of worldly empires who opposed the church (13:3).
3 The second beast will be "cast alive into the lake of fire," forever removed from the presence of the Lord and His people (19:20; 20:10).
4 Spiritual Babylon will be brought down, decimated by the reigning Lamb. All false religion will be powerfully overthrown (14:8; 16:19; 18:2-21; 19:20; 20:10).
5 Those who have the "mark of the beast"-who embrace lifeless religion-will also be "cast alive into the lake of fire" (19:20).
KEEP IT IN REMEMBRANCE
Do not allow a curious mind to rob you of these basic realities. If you are ever tempted to think this world is your friend, remember the enemies that are affirmed in the Revelation. They are all in "this present evil world." If you are ever tempted to despair because of this wicked conglomerate, remember their end is declared in this book! Such holy recollections will assist you in fighting the "good fight of faith," and laying "hold on eternal life." Your labor in the Lord is NOT vain (1 Cor 15:58).
SOME NEW PHRASEOLOGY
In this brief passage, we are introduced to some new scriptural expressions. They are not found anywhere else in Scripture.
THE FIRST RESURRECTION
Of especial interest is the term "the first resurrection" (20:5-6). This is the only place in all of the Bible where this phrase is mentioned. The word "resurrections" does not appear a single time in all of Scripture-in any version! Resurrection is always in the singular, never in the plural. Jesus declared the singularity of the resurrection when He said, "for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29). Paul affirmed, "there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15). Isaiah heralded a solitary event when he said, "the earth shall cast out the dead" (Isa 26:19). No less than twenty times the phrase "THE resurrection" is used by the Holy Spirit. In all of them, the definite article "the" is used, denoting the singularity of the resurrection (Matt 22:28,30,31; Mk 12:23; Lk 14:14; Lk 20:33,35,36; John 5:29; John 11:24,25; Acts 4:2; 17:18,32; 1 Cor 15:21,42; Phil 3:11; 2 Tim 2:18).
While it may seem trite, it is not on the part of wisdom to construct an entire theological framework from this text, then read the rest of the Bible with that framework in mind. Such an approach contradicts every form of sound reason-to say nothing of the reasoning of faith, which is far superior to any other form of reasoning. One old aphorism says, "It is through the known, and only through the known, that we come to learn of things unknown."
Thus, in our study of Scripture, what is mysterious or difficult to understand, is to be comprehended in view of what is more plainly declared. If, in our understanding, what we read in the Revelation, does not fit into the greater context of Scripture, and things plainly declared, we must make no attempt to wrest the text from the rest of the Bible. Better to ask God for understanding, and wait until greater clarity is experienced.
I will, therefore, view the "first resurrection" within the context of the resurrection of the dead. That consideration constrains me to view it as a spiritual resurrection, and not a bodily one. Just as "the second death" is different from the general death experienced by all men, so the "first resurrection" is different from the general resurrection which will be experienced by all men.
A THOUSAND YEARS
Also, as a specific measure of time, this is the only place in Scripture where "a thousand years" is mentioned (20:2,3,4,5,6,7). Other places where this expression is employed do not identify a particular segment of time. Rather, it is used in a metaphorical sense. "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night" (Psa 90:4). "Moreover he (a father with many children) hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other. Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?" (Eccl 6:5-6). "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet 3:8). In any version of Scripture these nine verses represent every single time the phrase "thousand years" in mentioned.
You have no doubt heard the word "millennium." It is a single word that means "a thousand years." A new millennium, such as we are now approaching, is a new thousand year period. The word "millennium" is not found in any standard version of Scripture. In spite of this remarkable circumstance, there is an astounding amount of teaching in the Christian community concerning "the millennium." Three of the primary teachings concerning the end of the world center in this phrase. They are "Premillennialism," "Postmillennialism," and "Amillenialism." The first teaches Jesus will come again BEFORE the millennial reign of Jesus. The second teaches He will come AFTER the millennium. The third teaches we are presently IN the millennium. The is a single thing that each of these positions have in common. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is NOT the central point in any of them. One additional observation: neither the return of Christ nor His Kingdom are ever approached in this manner in Apostolic doctrine. Interestingly enough, this section of Revelation holds a prominent position in these humanly developed teachings.
THE REST OF THE DEAD
Verse five reads, "But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." Some are persuaded this means there will be a one thousand year interval between the resurrection of the righteous and the resurrection of the wicked. The only expression in all of Scripture that can be wrested to mean this is in the text before us. Candidly, a doctrine that depends upon such handling of Scripture bears the thumb print of man upon it. It also reveals a grossly carnal way of handling the Word of God that is wholly without precedent. Such a view does not blend with any word concerning the resurrection uttered by the prophets, Jesus, or the Apostles.
Because this Book is the testimony of a vision, and because it is apocalyptic, or symbolic, in nature, I will view this passage in harmony with the rest of Scripture. This passage will not be viewed as a detailed outline of the end times. Rather, it will be approached as a high and lofty summation of the the outcome of salvation. This summation will be seen as perfectly harmonious with the remainder of scripture.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE TEXT
When we look closely at this text, we behold marvelous things. It is best to first view them in principle.
1 The bottomless pit that was once opened by an angel, is now closed.
2 The same Satan that deceived the whole world is now restrained.
3 The devil is restrained for a significant period of time.
4 Satan is not able to deceive the nations during this period of time.
5 Following this period, Satan will be loosed for a brief time.
6 Occupied thrones are beheld, and judgment was given to them.
7 The souls of martyrs are beheld-individuals who did not yield to the foe empowered by the Devil.
8 These souls lived and reigned with Christ during the specified time period.
9 The rest of the dead, or those not included in the souls of the martyrs, do not live again until the designated time is completed.
10 The living and reigning of these souls with Christ is called "the first resurrection."
11 A blessing is pronounced upon those participating in the "first resurrection."
12 The "second death" has no power over those taking part in the "first resurrection."
13 The living and reigning ones are called "priests of God and of Christ."
14 These reign with Christ for the designated period of time.
It should be evident that this passage cannot be the basis for the formation of doctrine concerning the last times. Visions support sound doctrine, but are not to be the basis for its formation. The reason for this condition is that visions are not marked with the clarity required for doctrinal presentation. That is why the visions of the prophets were always explained-else they would have obtained no value.
The vision given to John assumes familiarity with what had already been revealed. It would not be possible to gain any degree of understanding from Revelation were it not for the rest of the Word of God. The Scriptures themselves are what throw light upon this book.
Satan Is A Controlled Adversary
It is also apparent this passage does not declare the end of Satan. There is a resounding message that comes to us through its words. SATAN IS STRICTLY CONTROLLED FROM HEAVEN! He is bound and loosed at the behest of the reigning Christ. He simply cannot work when He is bound by heaven. Conversely, when he is loosed, there are immediate ramifications upon the earth.
The Righteous Cannot Ultimately Lose
Even if they are slain for the word of their testimony, the righteous cannot ultimately lose. Their "souls" will yet impact the world, and their message will live on! Believers need to hear such affirmations! There is such a thing as being dead, yet speaking (Heb 11:4). It is possible for your works to "follow" you, even after you have "rested" from your "labors" (Rev 14:13).
There is a realm and a condition in which the saints become impervious to "the second death." While men may argue about when this condition occurs, and where this realm is located, our faith must grasp the truth of them both. There are living personalities over which the second death has "no power." Such individuals are with Jesus, and follow Him wherever He goes. They are identified exclusively with God and Christ, and they are reigning with Jesus! They are neither sad nor idle, but are truly blessed.
CHRIST'S RETURN NOT THE POINT OF THIS TEXT
The return of Jesus is mentioned several times in Revelation, and from varied perspectives. APPARENCY OF HIS COMING--"Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him . . ." INCENTIVE TO FAITHFULNESS- "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown . . ." WARNING TO BE WATCHFUL-"Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame . . ." A TIME OF REWARD-"And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work . . ." THE SURETY OF HIS COMING-"Surely I am coming quickly" (1:7; 3:11; 16:15; 22:12; 22:20).
For His enemies, His return is said to be "the great day of His wrath" (6:16). For His saints, His coming will be a time when "the harvest of the earth is ripe," and the earth is "reaped" (14:15). It is a time when His church will be gathered to Himself in a great "marriage supper" - a supper for which the bride is making "herself ready" (19:7,9).
There is a note of finality in all of these representations. None of them are associated with temporality. Nor, indeed, do any of them portray Satan as remaining active, enemies as still present, or things displeasing to God continuing on the earth. All of these things are seen as occurring at the conclusion of time, not during a brief period in the midst of time.
Yet, in this text, there is no reference to the second coming of Jesus. Men have chosen to wedge that idea into the text, making it fit into their preconceived systems of theology. Satan is bound, then Satan is loosed. That cannot refer to the coming of Christ, for Satan will not be loosed after that! Rather, he will be removed from all influence, never again to lead, dominate, deceive, or oppress the saints. Saints are said to reign with Jesus, but it is limited in duration. This cannot be the eternal reign, when they "inherit all things," for that will never end. Further, our presence with the Lord in the world to come is never presented in terms of limitation. Rather, its duration is described as "throughout all ages, world without end," "forever and ever," "ever be with the Lord," and "the ages to come" (Eph 1:7; 3:21; 1 Thess 4:17).
But no such references are found in this passage! No mention of Jesus returning. No indication He is gathering His people from all of heaven and throughout the earth. Not a hint that He is coming to reap the earth, destroy the wicked, or judge the world. In fact, the Lord Jesus Himself is not the heart of the text, but those who are aligned with Him-those who have died because of their witness of Him.
Yet, men have taken upon themselves to take this text of Scripture and create a religious vocabulary that has actually become a standard among man. Think of expressions like "millennial reign," "millennium," "millennial kingdom," and "set up His Kingdom upon earth." These are common expressions among devoutly religious people, yet not a single one of them is found in Scripture. All of them are founded on an interpretation of this text: Revelation 20:1-6. Mind you, they are NOT established on the text itself, but on an analysis, or commentary, of the text-an uninspired one! To say that such an approach to teaching is dangerous seems rather elementary. Particularly since the Spirit summarily curses "any man" adding to or taking from "the words of the prophecy of this book" (22:18-19).
I make no apologies for approaching this book with reverence, and the doctrines of men with contempt. Myriads of believers have been adversely influenced by "the doctrines of men" (Col 2:22). Such teachings are subtle because they employ the words of Scripture. The strength of their teaching, however, is not in the Scripture itself, but the interpretations men assign to it.
I understand such an approach is not popular in many circles. Tests of fellowship have actually been made over humanly conceived teachings. Others, unwilling to disfellowship those not holding such views, consider the people embracing them to be superior in understanding. But all of this is a sort of spiritual fog that tends to obscure the Word of God. I will, therefore, make a concerted effort to ignore religious traditions that have surrounded this passage. At the same time, I hold in high regard all those who respect the passage, earnestly laboring to keep it pure.
I have taken the time to give this lengthy introduction to the text because of its gross corruption in the Christian community. I see such corruption as a sin of unspeakable enormity and inestimable danger. It is sad that so many approach this subject with unbecoming casualness. It betrays a fundamentally flawed heart.
THE ANGEL WITH THE KEY
"1And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand." Here again, an angel is employed by the King. Remember, angels are at the Lord's disposal, performing His will instantly and effectively (Psa 104:4; Heb 1:7). We understand their ministry to be devoted to "them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb 1:14). They answer, however, to the risen Savior, doing His bidding (Heb 1:6; 1 Pet 3:22). When, therefore, we read of the activity of a holy angel, we may conclude at least two things. First, the angel has been dispatched by the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, he has been sent for the benefit of the saints.
"DOWN FROM HEAVEN"
While this may appear redundant, we must be reminded "the heavens do rule" (Dan 4:26). Affirming this to be the case, the Kingdom is frequently called "the Kingdom of heaven" (Ex, Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:3). When this kingdom moves, nothing can restrain it. Thus, when both John the Baptist and Jesus announced "The Kingdom of heaven is at hand," they were announcing a heavenly initiative against which Satan was impotent. Satan may cause trouble on earth, but since the exaltation of the Son of God, he causes none in heaven, and is never depicted as doing so!
The phrase "come down from heaven" denotes an appointed objective-a determined purpose against which there can be no effective opposition. Whenever this phrase is employed by the Holy Spirit, what God determined came to pass, and foes were vanquished (2 Kgs 1:10-14; 2 Chron 7:1; Dan 4:13,23; John 3:13; 6:33,38,50,51,58; 1 Pet 1:12; Rev 10:1; 18:1).
The people of God need to hear of the Sovereign government of heaven! They must learn this rule is for the benefit of those in Christ Jesus, and that nothing-absolutely nothing-is not controlled by heaven. In this very passage, this will be confirmed with strength to our hearts.
THE KEY TO THE PIT
The "bottomless pit" is only mentioned in the Revelation. It is referred to no less than seven times-two times in this very passage (9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3). This is no doubt the place to which the demons in "the country of the Gadarenes" asked not to be consigned. They besought Jesus that "He would not command them to go out into the deep," or "the Abyss" -NASB, NIV (Lk 9:31). Coincidently, this is precisely the same Greek word translated "bottomless pit" in Revelation (, a-bus-son-a). We do not have an extensive description or commentary of this dreadful place. If even demons fear being cast there, what should be our attitude?
Here is a place with no "bottom"-a source of unimaginable evil and torment. Just as heaven is the source of inconceivable benefit, so the bottomless pit is a source of incredible wickedness. The idea of it being opened should strike fear into every person capable of serious thought.
This is not the first time we have heard about this "key." Nor, indeed, is it the first time it is said to have been used. Our first exposure to this key was in the ninth chapter. There, as a judgment from God, it was used to "OPEN" the "bottomless pit" (9:1-11). From it emitted darkness and destructive forces. Heaven restricted the activity of the wicked forces, not permitting anyone identified with the Lord to be harmed. However, for all others, the forces from the "bottomless pit" worked with such power and effectiveness that men actually sought to die rather than to live (9:6). These forces were led by Satan himself, who was their "king" (9:11). Praise the Lord, their influence was limited to "five months," an expression denoting Divine control. When that period was over, the work of the hellish horde was brought to a grinding halt.
The point to be seen is that the "key" to this dreadful place is in heaven, not in hell. It is held by the King of kings, not the prince of demons! Satan cannot use the key, nor can any of his wicked hosts. Whatever power he possesses is derived from God. He simply cannot work at will, doing whatever he wants whenever he wants. The key to his arsenal is maintained in heaven. It may only be used at the discretion of the One who is "bringing many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10).
A GREAT CHAIN IN HIS HAND
In the hand of this angel is not only "the key to the bottomless pit," but "a great chain." Not only, therefore, does the angel have the authority and ability to open and close the "bottomless pit," he also has dominion over everything that is in it. He can not only release dark powers from it (9:1-2), but can remove such powers from the realm of influence, and consign them to prison of darkness. I gather this is the same kind of chain with which the wicked angels are bound. As it is written, "For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment" (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6).
This vividly pictures for us the extent of Christ's government. I am chagrined by the alarming absence of this kind of preaching from the pulpits of the land. In many circles a great fear of Satan and his powers exists simply because the people have not been told of the greatness of the King of kings. Satan is NOT to be feared! Fear is a response belonging to God alone. Satan is to be "resisted" (James 4:7; 1 Pet 5:8-9). With the boldness of faith, the people of God are admonished, "do not give the devil a foothold" (Eph 4:27, NIV). The saints can "stand firm against the schemes of the devil," struggling victoriously against the highest expression of his power (Eph 6:11-13).
But such triumph is not likely to occur if the people of God consider Satan to be more powerful than he actually is. If they do not know the truth of the KEY and the CHAIN, they will tend to overestimate Satan's power and underestimate "the exceeding greatness of the power that is toward" them (Eph 1:20). While the world speaks of a "ball and chain," the saints can confidently speak of the "key and the chain" held by heaven!
Notice, there is no battle with Satan in this text-not an ounce of resistence from him! The only battle with Satan occurred in the twelve chapter of this book-and that was not with Jesus, but with Michael and his angels. That "war in heaven" depicted the overthrow of Satan through the redemptive work of Christ. That is why his expulsion from heaven occasioned the heavenly response, "Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him . . . " (12:10-11). But there is NO fight in Revelation 20:1-6). Satan is simply taken, bound, cast into the pit, and the pit locked. No resistance, no fight, and no struggle! That is how effective the triumph of Jesus is! Satan is a foe, but he is a controlled one. Praise the Lord!
THE BINDING OF SATAN
"2a And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, 3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled."
I cannot get over the glory of this text. The bottomless pit has been the source of political, social, and religious opposition to the saints. From it has proceeded both delusion and bloody aggression. Its assault against the church is highly organized, led by a king who orchestrates the activities of spiritually destructive forces (9:11). It is good to hear this resource for evil is controlled by heaven! Praise the Lord!
Notice what occurs here. It is most significant. First, Satan is "bound," or placed in restraint. The nature of the restraint is specified, "that he should deceive the nations no more." Setting a "seal upon" Satan refers to confining him to the Abyss, much like Pilate set a "seal" upon the tomb of Jesus (Matt 27:66). In the case of our Lord, the seal was broken. However, that is emphatically NOT the case with the devil.
The time of his restraint is, however, limited. It is only "until the thousand years should be fulfilled." This is not, then, the permanent removal of Satan, when he will be cast into the lake of fire (20:10). From this we see several key principles.
1 That Satan is subject to heavenly powers.
2 As long as the world stands, the binding and loosing of Satan are temporary.
3 The failure of Satan to any longer deceive the nations is traceable to his binding, not the evangelistic activity of the church.
4 We will not be totally done with deception until the heavens and earth passes away. Until then, we must contend with the lie.
LOOKING AT THE CIRCUMSTANCE
It is not on the part of wisdom to read this text with only our culture in mind. Behold it from the view of those who first received this revelation. Look at it from the perspective of John, who received the Word from heaven.
Look all about that world! In every direction, spiritual darkness and desolation dominated. While the Gospel had been "preached to every creature under heaven" (Col 1:23), it had by no means been believed by every person. Nor, indeed, had it toppled any empires, widespread revival had not taken place, and the saints were being oppressed. Were you to make an attempt to count the idols and abominations that were in every city, you would not be able to do so. Heathen temples dominated the social landscape. Abominations, filth, and corruption attended the cultures of the world. Licentious festivals, prostitution, immorality, bloodletting, and all forms of indulgence dominated the most advanced cultures. There were superstitions and vice extant that stagger the imagination. Temples and shrines to false gods were filled with ignorant worshipers, cluttering the landscape of the world. Truly, darkness covered "the earth, and gross darkness the people" (Isa 60:2).
Here and there, a few scattered churches existed-i.e., "the seven churches which are in Asia" (Rev 1:4). Everywhere, heathendom, idolatry, and spiritual ignorance dominate! Jesus had died and risen again, yet sin reigned! He had been received up into heaven, and was given all power in heaven and earth, yet the truth had not yet filled the earth, nor did the knowledge of the Lord cover it as the waters cover the sea. It was nearly the end of the first century. The church had been established, and the message had been preached by faithful witnesses. Yet the world "sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons" (Psa 107:10).
Without a solitary exception, every single nation on the face of the earth was dominated by Satan and in the grip of delusion! Even the Jewish nation, to whom the Savior same, remained blind and unable to see the truth. Even in that nation, the saved were but a "remnant." Come now, you who would go back to the first century! This is the condition that prevailed at the conclusion of that century!
There, in the grip of this vision which confronted the saints of old, we sigh in grief and ask some questions. Is this condition ever going to change? Will the devil maintain his rule over the peoples of the world? Will the glorious light of the Gospel ever penetrate the cultures of the world? Will spiritual darkness continue forever? "Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?" (Psa 77:9). Arresting questions, indeed!
A VITAL LESSON TO BE LEARNED
Cursed by an academic environment, the Western church needs to seriously consider this text! It has placed too much significance on its own wisdom-its methods and techniques. It imagines that by rallying its forces, it can bring the world to bow before King Jesus. Is this really the case?
Remember, we are speaking of an era during which the likes of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb, and Paul the Apostle filled the earth with their anointed message. The world killed all of them, save John the beloved-and they made an attempt to slay him. In their day, the Apostles were the "the offscouring of all things" (1 Cor 4:13).
Heaven Alone Can Restrain Satan
Unless Satan is restrained by heaven, he cannot be bridled on earth! He is strictly governed by the Lord, to be sure. However, his activities, or the suppression of them, do not happen automatically. Nor, indeed, can they be regulated by mankind-even redeemed mankind. Jesus gave "the keys of the kingdom" to His Apostles (Matt 16:19). They were told, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matt 16:19). However, Jesus did not give them the "key to the bottomless pit."
Nowhere are believers said to "bind" Satan, even though some are known for attempting such things. We can resist him, but are warned not to make a place for him. When told our adversary like a roaring stalks about seeking whom he may devour, we are not admonished to rebuke him or bind him, but to "resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world" (1 Pet 5:8-9). Neither the key nor the chain have been placed in our hands, and we had best conduct ourselves with an acute awareness of that circumstance. Once perceived, it will assist us in drawing close to the real King, allowing no distance to form between us and Him through our unbelief.
These things should be evident enough to us without providing extensive commentary. The killing of James (Acts 12:2), scattering of the early church (Acts 8:1-4), killing of Stephen (Acts 7), imprisonment of the Apostles (Acts5:40), imprisonment of Paul (2 Tim 1:16), exile of John (Rev 1:9), and countless other revealed circumstances should make the matter clear enough. It is the Lord, and only the Lord, Who can "deliver us from the evil one" (Matt 6:13, NIV). If Paul determined to go to Thessalonica "time and again; but Satan hindered" him (1 Thess 2:18), what shall we say of those who boast of being able to bind the devil? If a mortal man, regardless of spiritual attainments, makes a claim to having the "key and the chain," he has simply not told the truth!
It seems to be that a perception of this truth will have a significant impact on our prayers. Armed with this insight, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven . . . And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one . . . " (Matt 6:10-13) makes a lot of sense!
Revival, whether global, regional, or personal, has much to do with Satan being restrained. Perhaps this is one of the things involved in us wrestling "against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12). Revivals occur more indirectly than directly.
This passage portrays a universal awakening: a time when the nations will not be in the grip of the wicked one. It is the time prophesied by the prophets and announced by the Apostles. The prophets affirmed "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Isa 11:9). Isaiah revealed the Father said to the Son, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth" (Isa 49:6). David declared, "All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's, And He rules over the nations" (Psa 22:27-28).
IN A SENSE, HE IS BOUND NOW
There is a sense in which the "old serpent" is bound now. From this view, Satan being "bound" would be something like a chained up dog. He is not totally removed, but is significantly restrained. The word "bound" (, ed-a-se-ne) can carry the meaning of restriction. This is the word used when telling us Herod laid hold on John the Baptist and "bound him" (Matt 14:3; Mark 6:17). It is also used to describe the woman with a bowed back, whom Satan "bound" for eighteen years (Lk 13:16). While I do not place a lot of value on this approach to understanding Scripture, in both instances the individuals, we assume, had some movement, although it was not total.
Thus, many understand the binding of Satan to be such restraint as enables all men everywhere to come to Christ is they desire. He is thus depicted as having a chain attached to him that greatly restricts his movement-like a dangerous dog on a leash. Only those wandering within the circumference of his influence can therefore be deceived by him. There certainly is a lot of truth to that view. This perspective accounts for the present circumstance of believers throughout the world. They have received Christ while in nations that were formerly dominated and deluded by Satan.
This would be a "binding" much like that which was experienced when the Lord Jesus Himself "cast out demons" in a forceful display of the power of God (Matt 12:28,29). It also was seen when He sent out the seventy, giving them power over "all the power of the enemy." Even the demons were subject to them at that time, a circumstance that even surprised them (Lk 10:17-19).
In this sense, the Spirit affirms that in His death Jesus "spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them" in His cross (Col 2:15). In this arena of defeat, Jesus draws men to Himself, out of the darkness into the light (John 12:32). Such marvelous results are largely due to the weakening of Satan. Now, the empire of Satan is being invaded, with the veil being lifted from many eyes. Whosoever will may "come," a circumstance not always available to men.
THERE IS MORE TO COME!
With all of this marvelous activity, Satan is still deceiving the nations! Our text speaks of a time when "he should deceive the nations no more." Too, the text does not say Satan had a chain placed on him, yet continued to traffic among the nations. It states, he was "cast into the bottomless pit," which was "locked and sealed . . . over him" (20:3, NIV). I find it difficult to believe that has been fulfilled in the era from Pentecost to now. There has never existed more than a mere remnant of God's people from Pentecost until this time. Great awakenings have not been global, or even national in scope. They have been provincial and regional. But men do greatly err if they imagine nothing better will occur.
The Spirit compares the impact of Israel being cut off to them being grafted in again. Once again, hear His marvelous words. "Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! For if their rejection be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Rom 11:15, NASB). If we are tempted to imagine they have utterly fallen, never to rise again, the Spirit reminds us. "I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous" (Rom 11:11).
Do not for one moment imagine that God cannot raised up a valley of dry bones, whose hope is lost (Ezek 37:1-14). Though scattered among the nations and sorely divided, God has promised, "and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations, and they will no longer be divided into two kingdoms. And they will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God. And My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances, and keep My statutes, and observe them. And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons, and their sons' sons, forever; and David My servant shall be their prince forever. And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever" (Ezek 37:21-28).
It is still possible for a cleansing river of life to flow from the Divine altar into all the world, healing all but the "swamps and marshes" (Ezek 47:1-12). The knowledge of the Lord can still cover the earth as the waters cover the sea! It is still possible for "the nations" to flow into the Lord's house, coming of their own volition because they have beheld the working of the Lord (Isa 2:2). Do you imagine these words cannot be fulfilled by the mighty God of heaven? "He will also lift up a standard to the distant nation, And will whistle for it from the ends of the earth; And behold, it will come with speed swiftly" (Isa 5:26, NASB). Again he said, "All the earth shall worship You And sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name" (Psa 66:4).
There is simply too much of this in the Word of God for it to be ignored. The Abrahamic covenant was, "In you all families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14, NASB). The Psalmist declared, "All nations whom Thou hast made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord; And they shall glorify Thy name" (Psa 86:9, NASB).
Who among us is capable of imagining the affects of Satan being bound? An angel not only CAN do this, he has been assigned to do so at the proper time. Let your mind contemplate what would happen if Satan COULD NOT deceive the nations anymore-if he were removed from the battle field for a season, and locked in the "bottomless pit." And who would dare to question that this could, in fact, be done? Particularly since it is categorically stated that is will be done. Let your own conversion confirm the possibility of such a thing to you. Let your awareness of great awakenings settle it in your heart. Satan can be bound from heaven! He can be chained, cast into the bottomless pit, and the pit locked upon him.
What we have in this text is an explanation for the sudden breaking forth of the truth of the Gospel. It is not so much owing to the awakening of the church concerning its responsibility, as it is to the binding and removal of Satan. The time will come when the Divine shout will again be heard, "Enlarge the place of your tent; Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left." (Isa 54:2-3, NASB).
This will be a time of unparalleled spiritual calm and renewal-one that will surpass all that the world has ever known. In a very true sense "The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former" (Hag 2:9). The great God will yet show how great His salvation really is! If this appears too difficult for the faint-hearted, remember this. God's Kingdom has been progressive from the very first. It has never retrogressed. With each succeeding revelation, things expanded. Noah had more than Adam. Abraham was given more than Noah. Moses was granted more than Abraham. The prophets experienced greater revelation than Moses. John the Baptist exceeded all who were before him. The Lord Jesus outshone all of His predecessors. When He left, He told His disciples they would do even "greater works," because He was going to the Father (John 14:12). Why, then, should it be thought a thing incredible that Satan could be bound and the knowledge of the Lord fill the earth in the latter times?
A LITTLE SEASON
"2b . . . and after that he must be loosed a little season." Following the binding of Satan, he "MUST be loosed for a little season." Thank God, it is a "little" season! This is something that "MUST" be done. Remembering this is a book of perspective, it is important to see the comparison between the binding and loosing of Satan. He is bound for "a thousand years," and loosed for a "little season," or short while. Thus the blessing is infinitely larger than the curse. The effects of Christ's atoning death will prove to be much larger than the devastating impact of Satan's delusion. "For more are the children of the desolate Than the children of the married woman, says the LORD" (Isa 54:1).
As Ezekiel indicated in the vision of the healing waters, universal blessing by no means indicates the blessing of every single person. There will remain spiritual "swamps marshes," even after the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea. Now, throughout the whole world, clusters of saints may be found. They provide a haven for weary travelers, as Elim was to the journeying Israelites (Ex 15;27). Such places are no more in abundance than were oasis to Israel in their wilderness journeying. But that situation will be reversed in due time. The restricting influence of Satan will cause the waters to break forth like a mighty cleansing and healing flood.
Satan does not work himself loose, but is "loosed." The same power that confined him released him. And why "must" he be loosed? Because there will yet remain those "swamps and marshy places" that were unaffected by the advantages of his binding. He will go to deceive and gather those who "received not the love of the truth that they might be saved" 2 Thess 2:10). He will disrupt the calm, which he could not do while locked in the "bottomless pit."
Satan is capable of doing much in a "little season." The brevity of the time does not indicate a brief and uneffective work. Remember what he did to Job in a single day (Job 1:12-19)? Do you recall what he did to David in a moment of time, while he lingered on a housetop (2 Sam 11:2)? Neither revival nor a sudden plummet into sin require a lengthy period of time.
By saying "little season," the Spirit accents that Satan will do much, but not what he really wants to do. His effort will be short-lived in that it will come short of his objectives. Nor, indeed, will it undo what has been done while he was bound. God will use this "little season" to reveal His glory.
A REMARKABLE PARALLEL
We have in this passage a remarkable parallel to a previous section of Revelation. While not precisely the same, the Divine agenda for this world can be seen in principle. The passage to which I refer is Revelation, chapters twelve through fourteen. Briefly stated, four elements an be seen.
1 Satan defeated: 12:5-12/20:1-3
2 A period of nourishment: 12:14/20:4-6
3 Brief period of persecution: 13:7/20:7ff
4 The coming of the Lord: 14:14ff/20:11ff
Throughout history, these cycles can be seen. (1) Divine restraint. (2) Divine renewal. (3) Persecution. (4) Consummation. The cycle can be seen in Israel's deliverance from Egypt. It is again seen in Samson's life, and in David's life. The early church experienced a miniature, as it were, of this very cycle. (1) The restraint of the wicked one is seen in the outbreak of spiritual renewal that occurred on Pentecost. (2) The church quickly flourished, enjoying a period of peace. (3) Then persecution was unleashed against it. (4) Finally, it enjoyed once again "the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied" (Acts 9:31).
We will see this very cycle of events in the Revelation. (1) Satan is initially restrained as the Warrior from heaven rides triumphantly throughout the world, conquering and to conquer. (2) During every cycle, the church is marvelously sustained by the Lord. There will yet come a time when truth will gloriously and apparently triumph as Satan is placed under Divine restraint. (3) Still, before the consummation, he will once again be loosed to make an attempt to destroy the church. (4) When He appears, the Lord will bring Satan's efforts to an abrupt end, however, to the praise of the glory of His grace. His demise will not be attended by any degree of difficulty.
These very things are even experienced on a personal level. There are times when Satan appears to be impotent-when his power over us is so neutralized that we make significant progress. As a result sudden and effective growth takes place, as we are more rapidly conformed to the image of God's Son. But alas, lest we become complacent, the enemy is again loosed upon us in driving fury. He even looks as though he will do us in, as we are tempted right to the brink of our ability. Then, praise the Lord, deliverance comes as the Lord raises a standard against the devil, thwarting his efforts, and ending the trial.
We should not be surprised that what occurs on a personal level will also occur on a global level. We are, after all, a microcosm of the universe-a sort of little world. Both good and evil are resident in us. We experience the influence of both Satan and the Holy Spirit. There are times when we flourish and times when we languish. We are two persons in one body, two worlds in a state of moral collision. Our own cyclical experience should confirm the the truth of the message contained in this passage.
(1) If , on a personal, regional, or global level, the Gospel is triumphing gloriously, we must rejoice. Our rejoicing, however must not presume this will always be the case, or that renewal will never wane. The end is not yet.
(2) When spiritual nourishment, enlightenment, and growth occur at unprecedented levels, it is an occasion for great rejoicing and thanksgiving. However, such times must not cause us to imagine they will continue forever. Believers dare not think Satan has been permanently removed, or rendered utterly powerless. The pit can be opened again! The end is not yet.
(3) Should we be in the throes of an attack from the bottomless pit, and Satan appears to be having his way, saints must not faint. We can be nourished during such times in the secret place, prepared by our God. Neither, indeed, can they assume such trials cannot be brought to a conclusion, and the fires of renewal flame again. The end is not yet!
(4) Beyond all human experience, whether good or evil, there is a day appointed when unrighteousness shall be peremptorily terminated, and the godly venerated. At the appearance of Christ Jesus, Satan and his hosts will be cast into the lake of fire, never to rise again. The saints will also be exalted, never again to fall or be subjected to the ferocious attacks of the wicked one.
In these cycles, we also see a very fundamental truth. It is not enough for the agents of evil (principalities, powers, etc.) to be overthrown. Both the beast and Babylon can suffer defeat, but it is the devil that must finally be cast forever into the lake of fire. Until that is done, evil will break out in this world, and the wicked will be marshaled together to assault the saints. There will be times when such outbreaks are prominent and devastating. But the end is coming!
In my perception, this is the overriding perspective developed in the Revelation. When this view is perceived and embraced, it genders great confidence in the heart of the believer. In that confidence, the individual is made strong-able to stand against the devil. Faith is, indeed, the victory!
THRONES AND THOSE UPON THEM
"4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
In this enigmatic and mysterious section of Scripture, we must not allow the flesh to dominate our approach. Many highly and respected theologians have fastened their attention on the "thousand years" here mentioned-i.e., the millennium. But this is not the focus of the passage at all! Were that the case, the Spirit would have first mentioned "a thousand years," then what occurred within that period. But that is NOT what He does. Instead, the Spirit first reveals places of dominion (thrones). Within that setting he mentioned the ones sitting upon them (rulers). Then he identifies the nature of their reign (judgment). He further identifies a special group of personalities participating in this reign, who had given their life for Christ in martyrdom (souls). Magnifying this group of "souls," their particular triumph over the beast and his image is mentioned (political power and false religion). Then, the duration of their reign is identified as "a thousand years." It is not possible to read that passage without human theology in mind, and come up with an emphasis on a "millennium."
NOT A DEPICTION OF ALL SAINTS
Those persuaded this is a picture of Gospel age, see this as a depiction of all saints. The chief thing that is ignored in this view is that the thrones in question are "in heaven" and that they are occupied. The saints of God are going to reign with Jesus, to be sure. That condition, however, is held out as a coming reality, and not a present experience. Thus it is written, "If we endure, We shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim 2:12). Again, Jesus promised, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Rev 3:21). We are no more enthroned in this world than was the Lord Jesus. He had to leave this world to be enthroned, and so must we!
Some will object that saints are said to reign right now. "For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:17). That is a very real reign, to be sure. However, as the succeeding chapters confirm, it is a reign over our own fallen nature-a "reign in life"-and not a reign over the wicked. Too, it is a reign "THROUGH Christ," not "with Christ." The words "reign with," when applied to reigning with Jesus, are ALWAYS preceded by the word "shall" (2 Tim 2:12; Rev 5:10; 20:6; 22:5).
Others will refer to saints presently being "kings" - and that is also the truth. That blessed condition is associated with being washed from our sins (Rev 1:6). It is in this sense that we are called "a royal priesthood" (1 Pet 2:9). While we are, indeed, kings, we have not yet occupied our throne or been given our "crown." We are much like David before his enthronement. He was anointed king a considerable while before he assumed the throne. While king Saul was still alive and ruling, God sent Samuel to anoint David as king, while he was yet a youth. The Scriptures tell us of that occasion, "Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward" (1 Sam 16:13). It was not until five years later that he actually began to reign. That is similar to our situation. We have been anointed kings, but have not yet begun to reign. Like David, we enjoy occasional exploits in the interim. However, they are but as faint glimmer of what is to come.
A THOUSAND YEARS
Realizing I am dealing with a highly controversial passage, I must draw your attention to the precise way in which the Spirit speaks. (Remember, this is what "the Spirit is saying to the churches.") He does not say "THE thousand years!" That particular expression is used in this passage (20:1-7) three times-but not here! Incidentally, those three times are the ONLY place in all of Scripture that the phrase is used (including the following versions: KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, NIV, RSV, NRSV, NCV, NLT, Darby's, LB). The only translation I could find using "the thousand years" was Young's Literal Translation. In this verse, however, he departed from translation literalness.
While this may appear to be a mere technicality, I must devote s short space to the matter. The reason for this approach is that a very fundamental and pervading doctrine concerning "the thousand years" is prevalent in the church. It has caused many to miss the intent of this passage. It has also occasioned the development of a theological wedge that has been forced into Scripture. This wedge has shaped the way people read the entire Bible. The development of this intrusive theology represents a sin of the greatest magnitude. It has been the mother of countless theological by-paths that have hurt Christ's body.
The article "THE" is not found in this reference to "thousand years"-that is why the vast majority of translations read "A thousand years." That means the point is not the duration of the "years" but the NATURE of that time. Even when the expression "THE thousand years" is employed (20:3,5,7), precise length is NOT the point. Those verses read, "And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled . . . But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished . . . And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison." In Each of these expressions, the length of the period was not the point, but what occurred during it. In fact, the clear reference is verse two, where the none-specific form is first used. "He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years." That is "the thousand years" to which verses 3,5, and 7 refer. It is the time of Satan's binding.
This is the Spirit's way of identifying a time segment, with an emphasis on WHAT is occurring, rather than WHEN it is occurring.
There are other times in Scripture when the Spirit emphasizes time differently-showing WHEN something took place. A few examples will suffice to illustrate this point. "From the morning until the evening" (Ex 18:13-14), "from the year that he was sold until the year of Jubilee" (Lev 25:50), "From Abraham to David," "from David until the carrying away into Babylon," "from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ" (Matt 1:17), "From Adam to Moses" (Rom 5:14). In each of these TIME was the point. I give them to show the Spirit speaks differently when time is NOT the point.
Apart from this passage, the only other places in all of Scripture where "A thousand years" is mentioned are as follows. "For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past . . . Though it has not seen the sun or known anything, this has more rest than that man even if he lives a thousand years twice . . . with the Lord one day is as a thousand years" (Psa 90:4; Eccl 6:6; 2 Pet 3:8). In each of these passages, it is apparent the expression in question is one that avoids specificity rather than articulating it.
Here, then, is the significance of "a thousand years." It is a Divinely appointed and governed time when Satan will be restrained in an unprecedented way. Because of that condition, it is also a time when significant spiritual renewal will take place. In this renewal, those who are with Christ Jesus will play a prominent role, living and reigning with Him.
THRONES OF JUDGMENT
In the vision, John beheld thrones and those seated upon them, who were given authority to judge. The wording of the passage is peculiar. "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them" (KJV). But who are the "they?" Other versions make the matter a little clearer. "Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed" (RSV). "I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge" (NIV). In my judgment, these are the "they" mentioned previously in this book-the redeemed. From one perspective, "These are they which came out of great tribulation" (7:14). From another view, "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" (14:4). From yet another angle, these "are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb" (19:9). When it comes to personalities other than Jesus, these are the emphasis of the book of Revelation.
The government of Jesus is again emphasized in the words, "and judgment was GIVEN unto them." It was given at an appointed time, and for an appointed duration. Lest believers be tempted to be "wise in their own eyes" (Isa 5:21), the authority to judge did not begin until Satan was bound. Even in Christ, men are not free to rule, reign, or judge, at will.
Too, notice we are not talking about a military conflict but of judgment-a discretionary rule. Jesus meant precisely what He said when He affirmed to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36). Some are quick to point out Jesus said His kingdom was not NOW of this world. They assume it WOULD be of this world at a later time, and that His servants WOULD fight at that time. But that view is only an imagination. The Kingdom of Christ is always singular, never plural. Too, it is NEVER represented as changing in either substance or focus. In fact it is written, "Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this" (Isa 9:7). If one posits that Christ's Kingdom will "increase" from NOT being of this world to a state of BEING of this world, a remarkable confession of ignorance has been made. It is not possible for Christ's kingdom to advance from Spirit to flesh, non-fleshly aggression to fleshly aggression, and non-worldliness to worldliness. Such imaginations should be aggressively "cast down," not embraced!
In this reign, the erroneous notions perpetrated and fostered by the powers of darkness, will be overthrown. Delusion will become apparent, and the truth will be more clearly seen. This is another way of describing a global awakening. It will be of the same order that occurred regionally on Pentecost in Jerusalem, and later in Samaria.
SOULS WHO HAD BEEN BEHEADED
With the keenness of sight obtained in revelation, John says, "I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God." This is now the second time he has seen these souls. When first he beheld them, they were not upon thrones, but were "under the altar," awaiting the vindication of their blood (6:9-10). These had been slain because of "the Word of God" and "their testimony." It was their message-what they said-that brought the wrath of sinful humanity upon them.
The Proper Emphasis
While it is not fashionable to say so, the thing for which the church is to be most noted is "the Word of God" and its "testimony" to involvement with Christ. Its morality, while absolutely essential, is not its brightest light. Even the love for one another that exists within its confines, though a bright and shining light, is not its refulgence. Fundamentally, the church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). It is the appointed means through which the Lord keeps His word before men. The church is to apprize men of what the Lord has said. That is to be done with a proper focus. Its role is not simply to share SOME things God has said, randomly cavorting through His Word as in a play-field.
After nearly fifty years of preaching, and extensive exposure to the churches, I can tell you the professed church has failed miserably in this responsibility. There is a level of Scriptural illiteracy that exists in the churches that is unparalleled and wholly without justification. It is no wonder that spiritual sterility is found throughout the Western church! This was NOT the case with "the souls that were beheaded for the Word of God, and for the word of their testimony!"
Beheaded, But Not Destroyed
From the world's viewpoint, it looked as though it was ridden of the godly influence of these souls. Both their persons and their message appeared to have been removed from prominence. But we will find that was not the end of the matter. What is started by God cannot be finished or terminated by man!
Beheading is the ultimate insult. It is what God did to the Philistine god Dagon (1 Sam 5:4). It is what David did to Goliath (1 Sam 17:51). It is also what the Philistines did to king Saul (1 Sam 31:9). Herod "beheaded John" the Baptist (Matt 14:10). James the Apostle was also beheaded (Acts 12:2). As we will see, whom the world beheads is NOT ultimately removed!
WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE?
What is John beholding? What is the point of seeing "souls" who were once removed from the arena of battle through beheading? The point is, they were removed, but their cause remained! The shedding of their blood was not only personal, it was an insult to the Living God! It revealed not only the rejection of His messengers, but of His message! Their removal by wicked men was not merely an attempt to frustrate their cause, but subvert the cause of the Almighty.
These "souls" are further identified as having gained the victory over the forces of darkness. They "had not worshiped the beast" allowing political power to turn them from the Lord. They had not worshiped "his image," which was the representation lifeless religion, employed by Satan to bring men under his power. These "souls" had not "received his mark upon their foreheads," thinking after the pattern of worldly religion. Neither, indeed, had they received his mark "in their hands," serving the other master of human institutions and the devil's delusion.
They did not simply claim allegiance to Christ, they affirmed it by laying down their lives. Because of this, heaven received them while earth killed them. The devil made every effort to dissuade them, but was not able to do so. Their identity with Jesus kept them safe from the destroyer.
The Cause Will Again Flourish
Thus, this passage portrays the resurfacing and dominance of the CAUSE for which the martyrs were beheaded. Two things are thus introduced tom us. (1) The cessation of the dominance of evil. (2) The flourishing of the Gospel of Christ. No person should think this to be impossible, or consider it too incredible to believe.
The message for which the martyrs laid down their lives will rise again, like the two witnesses of Revelation 11:11. Although centuries may have passed between the death of these souls and the resurfacing of their message, not one whit of power will be missing from it. If it shone brightly in a world DOMINATED by Satan, what will happen during a time when he is bound? If the Gospel made inroads when the bottomless pit was opened, what will it do when it is "shut up." If wicked Agrippa said "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" when darkness covered the world (Acts 26:28), what will be done when the prince of darkness is locked up?
Their Spirit Alive In Others
The spirit of the martyrs will live in other saints. This is not some form of channeling, as practiced by the occult. Rather, it is a kingdom phenomenon involving one individual having the traits of another. Thus John the Baptist came "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Lk 1:17). In fact, Jesus said of John, "he is Elijah who is to come" (Matt 11:14). The Lord Jesus, referring to Malachi's prophecy of the return of Elijah (Mal 4:5-6), did not limit the fulfillment to John the Baptist. In answer to the disciples question concerning the coming of Elijah, and considerably AFTER John the Baptist had been beheaded, Jesus said: "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands" (Matt 17:11-12). Rather, Jesus points out, than John restoring "all things," the people to whom he ministered "did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished." He did not, therefore, exhaust Malachi's prophecy. Jesus left the door open for its fulfillment, and so must we.
Without being unduly diverted from our passage, the point is that the traits of departed souls can in some sense, be seen in succeeding generations. Those in the first century had no difficulty thinking in this manner. Herod, for example, thought Jesus was John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded (Mark 6:16). When asked by Jesus what the people were saying about Him, the disciples replied, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets" Matt 16:14). The language before us, therefore, should not be strange to us.
Reigning From Heaven
Without carrying the matter too far, I suggest departed saints, in some sense, are presently reigning. Too, that reign can be accentuated within the provinces of the Divine will. We are told of "the spirits of just men made perfect," into whose fellowship we have now come (Heb 12:23). In an account of activity beyond the veil, Jesus spoke of Abraham comforting departed Lazarus. He also informed an occupant in hell of activities on the earth, even announcing with authority what was and was not possible. He also gave a description of circumstances in the unseen world (Lk 16:22-31). The Spirit also informs us that although Abel was killed, "through his faith he is still speaking" (Heb 11:4, RSV). The extent of Abel's involvement in the testimony is not the point. Rather, it is that a cause lives on, even though the one embracing it passes on.
Spearheaded By the Jews
Although I have mentioned this before, I deem it necessary to again affirm it. This global awakening will be spearheaded by the Jews. They will flame with the spiritual energy of the martyrs. The lifeless institutionalism that has gripped the Gentile church reveals Satan's activity, not that of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is an appointed time when "the full number of the Gentiles has come in" (Rom 11:25, NIV). It is the time to which Jesus referred when He said of the destruction of Jerusalem, "And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Lk 21:24).
In a powerful exposition of Divine purpose, Paul argues that Israel has NOT been summarily rejected-that there is a glorious future determined for them (Rom 11:11-31). His argument is so convincing, it is difficult to believe it has been rejected by great bodies of the Christian community. These few points will confirm the solidity of the message.
The Possibility of It All
1 They have not stumbled so as to fall, or not rise again (v 11a).
2 Through their fall salvation has gone out to the Gentiles to provoke them to jealousy (v 11b).
3 If riches were brought by their fall, "much greater" riches will come through their "fulness" (v 12).
4 Paul's Apostleship to the Gentiles was to provoke the Jews to emulation (v 12-14).
5 If their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, their acceptance will bring life from the dead (v 15).
6 If the "firstfruits" of believers coming from Israel were holy, so is the whole "batch"-root and branches (v 16).
7 The Jewish branches were NOT broken off so the Gentiles could be grafted in (v 17-22).
8 God is able to graft them in again (v 23).
9 If wild olive branches (the Gentiles) could be grafted into the appointed tree, it is more reasonable to suppose the natural branches can be re-grafted into their own tree (v 24).
10 "Blindness in part has happened to Israel" until the full number of the Gentiles are come in (v 25).
11 "All Israel will be saved," as the Deliverer comes to "turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (v 26).
12 God's covenant with them is to "take away their sins" (v 27).
13 Although "concerning the Gospel," they are enemies for the sake of the Gentiles, they are still "beloved for the fathers'[Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] sake" (v 28).
14 The "gifts and calling of God are WITHOUT repentance" (v 29).
15 Just as "in times past" we Gentiles have obtained mercy "through their unbelief," those Jews who have "now not believed," through the mercy given to the Gentiles "also may obtain mercy" (v 30).
16 God has shut up "all men" to disobedience that He might have "mercy" on all-not just the Gentiles (v 32).
Let none, therefore, question the possibility of the conversion of the Jews-or the lifting of the veil from their eyes, and their turning to Christ.
ALL NATIONS WILL BE INVOLVED
God has gone on record concerning this matter. "And he will destroy in this mountain [the mountain from which Gospel blessing flows, v 6] the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations" (Isa 25:7). These marvelous words parallel the words of our text, "that he should deceive the nations no more" (20:2). It refers to the removal of hindering influences, as well as the provision of the Word of salvation. Through Isaiah the Lord gave a word to the ancient people. "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn" (Isa 60:1-3, NIV).
Sandwiched in his book, Zecharaiah, moved along by the Holy Spirit, said, "Thus says the LORD of hosts, In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (8:23). Zechariah prophesied around 520 BC. Beginning around 120 years later, the fountain of revelation ceased to flow for a period over 400 years. Nothing during that period could be said to have fulfilled Zechariah's word. Certainly the laying of the foundation and building of the walls that took place under Ezra and Nehemiah provides no fulfillment of the word. Nothing of this magnitude occurred from the Apostles until this day. Even during Christ's earthly ministry this did not take place. Gentile acceptance was unusual during His earthly ministry, not common.
Until this day, the involvement of "all nations" has been representative. Even relatively small nations have not been relieved of the overwhelmingly deceptive power of Satan. But this will not always be the case! A Divinely scheduled time has been appointed wherein an unprecedented display of the potency of truth will be shown among the nations-when Satan will no longer be able to keep them captive.
Numerous passages of Scripture confirm that "all nations," or "all the earth," will be blessed. The listing of a few of them will suffice. Genesis 12:3; Psalm 2:8; 22:27-28; 65:2; 66:4; 72:8,11,19; 86:9; 138:4; Isaiah 2:2; 24:16; 25:6ff; 40:5; 45:8; 66:12; Jeremiah 3:17; 16:19; Daniel 2:44-45; Habakkuk 2:14; Zepheniah 2:11; 3:9; Malachi 1:11.
Additionally, this is not the first time this perspective has been declared in Revelation. It is also found in 5:9; 11:15; 14:6; and 15:4.
Final Thought On This Matter
The martyrs left this world with a burning heart, flaming with the power of the Gospel. Like David, they "served" their generation (Acts 13:36). They preached the Gospel, declaring the testimony of Jesus in the presence of threatening opponents. They lost their lives because of their word. Their preaching cost them their lives.
Was their righteous cause thrown to the ground when they died? Were their lives lived in vain? God forbid! Their influence extends beyond their generation, just as that of Peter, Paul, and John. The Apostles are, to some extent, reigning with Jesus wherever a soul turns from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. The reign of God's servants is not limited to the geographical areas in which they labored. Nor, indeed, does the taking of their lives by their enemies terminate their influence.
Every person who died for Jesus will realize the extension of their cause when Satan is bound and shut up for an extended period in the bottomless pit.
Those who consider the present "day of salvation" to be the period in reference in our text are many, but they are not right. They have not successfully dealt with the binding AND shutting up of Satan. Nor, indeed, have they offered a reasonable explanation for the inability of Satan to deceive the nations any longer. The flourishing of the cause for which righteous men died is not duly addressed by them either. In fact, there is a certain impotence among such people that is staggering. They have not yet been able to awaken slumbering churches-to say nothing of "the nations." Their evangelistic and missionary efforts have not yielded anything approximating what God has declared will take place.
These failures are not owing to them, but to the influence of Satan. That influence cannot be successfully countered on a large scale until the old serpent is restrained. How thankful we must be for the light this passage sheds on the history of the world. What often appears to be chaotic is being orchestrated by heaven to a grand conclusion. That conclusion will be for the ultimate good and glory of all who follow Jesus.
THE REST OF THE DEAD
"5aBut the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." Capitalizing on the Scriptural ignorance that pervades our world, a widespread acceptance of erroneous views of this passage prevails. With a remarkable level of acceptance, it is taught this refers to a second bodily resurrection. The godly, it is affirmed, are raised prior to the millennium, and the ungodly are raised after it-one thousand years later. Thus we have a temporal world inhabited by resurrected souls, without the presence of the wicked. It does require a prodigious imagination to embrace such a view.
First, it assumes the compatibility of glorified personalities with an unglorified heavens and earth. Second, it presupposes God is honored by the presence of glorified people in the realm from which they were once delivered. Third, it contradicts every single word of Scripture regarding the resurrection of the dead. Here, in this highly symbolic passage, certain teachers have found a basis for generating a doctrine no Prophet ever foretold, and no Apostle ever expounded. It is a view Jesus never affirmed, and John the Baptist never mentioned. It is most difficult for me to conceive of a more flimsy foundation for teaching than that. Add to this the fact that we are dealing with a book that, without any qualification whatsoever, curses anyone and everyone who tampers with its contents.
Who are "the rest of the dead?" I gather these are the opposite of the "souls of those who were beheaded for the Word of God." They are the ungodly dead, but not merely the ungodly dead. It appears "the rest of the dead" are those who exercised unusual influence in the world, but not for righteousness. Just as the Lord has unusual people who turn men from darkness to light, so the devil has "ministers" who turn men from light to darkness. Simon the sorcerer, you may recall, for a "long time" bewitched the entire city of Samaria with his sorceries (Acts 8:11). "Hymenaeus and Philetus," through their doctrine "overthrew the faith of some" (2 Tim 2:17). Peter foretold the coming of a class of false prophets who would "bring in damnable heresies," even denying the Lord who bought them. With great sobriety he wrote, "And many shall follow their pernicious ways" (2 Pet 2:22). Paul also wrote of "that man of sin," who would rise with great power, "showing himself that he is god" (2 Thess 2:3-4).
There are people who are influential for evil. Often, even after they die, their cause is taken up by someone else, and their heresies and contemptible lies resurface. Some pioneers of iniquity are unsuccessful in their generation, but their cause is resurrected in succeeding generations. History is cluttered with the revivals of iniquity as well as those of righteousness. In our own day, there has been a remarkable renewal of idolatry, witchcraft, Satan worship, and devilish philosophies, such as hedonism, gluttony, and the justification of immorality.
But these influences will not dominate when the cause of the martyrs flames into prominence. "The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." When Satan is bound and shut up in the bottomless pit, his ministers become impotent, and his cause falls to the ground! Throughout history, we have seen this on a small scale. It will yet happen on a large one. This should not be difficult to believe.
THE FIRST RESURRECTION
"5bThis is the first resurrection. 6a Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power." There is a principle that is found in the Kingdom: death first, life last! Ultimately, the grandest display of this is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. In His own words, "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen" (Rev 1:18; 2:8). Thus, whenever we read of "resurrection," we are reading of a key factor in the working of God's eternal purpose.
Referring to the ones who "lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years," the Spirit says, "THIS IS THE FIRST RESURRECTION." Again, it is unfortunate that strange doctrines have been developed from this text. The wisdom of men, though counted "foolishness" by God (1 Cor 3:19), allows men to tamper with the very Word of God, and feel comfortable doing so. Thus, "the first resurrection" is said to be the first phase of the general resurrection. This particular teaching affirms the righteous will be raised first, one thousand years before the wicked are resurrected.
The Dead in Christ Will Rise First
Those embracing this view fasten upon a phrase in First Thessalonians which seems to support their view. "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thess 4:16). However, the Holy Spirit is not comparing the resurrection of "the dead in Christ" with the resurrection of the wicked. Rather, He is comparing the resurrection of "the dead in Christ" with the believers who are "alive and remain" until the coming of the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).
The subject under consideration in the Thessalonian text is the appearing of Christ. Some of the believers in Thessalonica thought those who died would not participate in the Lord's coming. They imagined that only those who were "alive" at that time would enjoy being gathered to the Lord. Thus the Spirit sets about to correct their thinking on the matter. Believers who have died have not "perished," and we are not to sorrow as though they have (4:13). Even now, their spirits live on. In fact, when our Lord comes again, "even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him" (4:14). At that time, they will be united with their resurrection bodies, and those who are alive at that time will be "changed" in the twinkling of an eye. The changing of those living, and their joining to the Lord, will not precede, or occur before, the resurrection of those who have gone to be with the Lord (4:15). "The dead in Christ will rise first, THEN we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (4:16-17).
Speaking of the coming of Christ from the very same perspective, the Spirit says "Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 incorruptible, and we shall be changed" (1 Cor 15:51-52).
The wresting of the Thessalonian passage to make it fit into a contrived theology is contemptible. While innocent people have embraced it, innocent people did NOT create it. Further, to base this corrupt doctrine upon one of the most veiled texts in all of Scripture reveals a heart that is utterly contaminated.
"FIRST" AND "SECOND"
The words "first" and "second" are not always chronological words, like 1,2,3. Frequently, as in this passage, they denote a different order or kind. This perception is fundamental to good understanding.
The Old Covenant is called the "First Covenant" (Heb 8:7,13; 9:1,15,18), and the New Covenant is referred to as "the Second" (Heb 10:9). Actually, there were other covenants before "the First Covenant" (Gen 9:12,13,16,17; 17:11). But the promise to never again send a flood, and the covenant of circumcision, were of a different order than the covenant of the Law. The Law was "the FIRST" of a particular kind of covenant that dealt with men being approved by God. The "Second" Covenant was a second kind, or order, of covenant. It was not the same kind as the former covenant. Thus it is written, "I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt" (Heb 8:8-9).
Two kinds of covenants one by works, and one through promise. One by law, the other by grace. One through doing, the other through believing.
Adam and Jesus
Adam is called "the FIRST man," and Jesus "the SECOND Man" (1 Cor 15:45,47). Jesus was not the "Second man" chronologically. He was a different order of man, and generated a new kind of race.
Two kinds of men. One from the earth, the other from heaven. One disobedient, the other obedient. One made a living soul, the other a life-giving Spirit.
The Second Death
Again, being cast into "the lake of fire" is called "the SECOND death" (Rev 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8). This does not mean that men die the same death twice. Rather, the second is a different kind of death-a SPIRITUAL death. Death, a sentence passed upon "all men" (Rom 5:12) is obvious. Therefore spiritual death is distinguished from it by the use of the word "second."
Two kinds of death. One is a separation of the spirit from the body. The other an eternal separation of the person from God. The second is not apparent, and is therefore distinguished from the other by the word "second."
There is also another KIND of resurrection-one that differs from the general resurrection of the dead. A "first resurrection" by no means implies another of the same order. We nowhere read of a "second resurrection," or one that is of the same order, only involving different personalities. The general resurrection, in which all will participate (John 5:28-29) is obvious. Therefore this resurrection is distinguished by the word "first." It is also called "first" because it occurs after death, but before the general resurrection. This is a SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION.
The "first resurrection" and "the second death" are spiritual. Both occur AFTER the experience of death, which passed upon "all men." Everyone will participate in the general resurrection (John 5:29), but all will not have part in the "first resurrection." It has been appointed unto men "to die ONCE" (Heb 9:27), but not all will experience the "second death."
Participation in the "first resurrection" excludes one from "the second death." One birth is granted to all living, and one death is appointed. If a person, however, is born only once, he will die twice. If a person is born twice, or "born again," he will only die once. In this, the Scripture is fulfilled, "death unto death . . . life unto life" (1 Cor 2:16).
A LARGER VIEW
Some have supposed "the first resurrection" is the new birth. That is, of course, a spiritual resurrection. Those in Christ have been "quickened," or "made alive" in Christ. They have also been "raised up together," and "made" to "sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:6). Still, however, they have "this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Cor 4:7). They are, indeed, "kept by the power of God," but it is "through faith, unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet 1:5). Their condition, blessed as it is, does not qualify for the statement, "Over such the second death has no power."
While they are in the world, safety is afforded to believers upon the basis of their faith (John 3:16,18,36). There yet remains a part of them over which the "second death" indeed has power. It is believers that are told, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom 8:13). Widows who were believers, yet lapsed into the flesh, are described in awesome words: "But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives" (1 Tim 5:6).
As though all of this were not enough, the Lord Jesus speaks to the churches specifically about the second death. With unusual clarity, He declares that only those who finally overcome will pass beyond the the danger zone. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death" (Rev 2:11).
For these reasons, I cannot accept the notion that "the first resurrection" is the new birth.
THE MARTYRS LIVE ON
When beholding the thrones and those sitting upon them, John saw "the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands" (20:4). These were, in fact, OVERCOMERS, to whom the promise of Jesus (2:11) applied. If they were not the only personalities on those thrones, the others were also overcomers, even though they were not martyred.
These souls had imbibed the truth of God, and spoken it to a sinful generation. Even though they were killed, their works followed them, as they rested from their labors (14:13). Their influence remained among men, even though they had been removed by martyrdom.
The "first resurrection," then, refers to the lives of those who have passed on, once again exercising godly influence in the world. It takes place when their cause flourishes, and the very thing that brought about their death becomes the occasion for an awakening in the world. These are lives that can be duplicated again. It is like the "spirit and power of Elijah" surfacing in mighty John the Baptist.
In a general sense, this confirms that those who "die in the Lord" do not pass into extinction in their departure from this world. In a very real sense they move up higher. While they are not yet in the fulness of the inheritance reserved for them, they are much closer to it than they were when in the world. On the mount of transfiguration, Moses and Elijah returned from the unseen world. They "appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Lk 9:31). They were, in a very real sense, reigning with Jesus. While we are not told the particular's of that conversation, it must resulted in the strengthening our Lord for being made sin and a curse for us. The formidable weight of His commissioned death was, no doubt, lightened by the appearance of these two departed saints.
Who knows the extent of involvement of those who have overcome the world, and are now on the other side? Perhaps James, killed at the very beginning of the "day of salvation" played a key role from heaven when "the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7).
REIGNING WITH JESUS
"6b . . . but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." These enthroned overcomers will rule with Jesus during the period Satan is bound. In some significant way, they will participate when the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.
When we first saw these martyrs, they were crying out for their blood to be avenged. They were told to "rest a little while longeruntil both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed" (6:11). We have seen their request answered in the overthrow of the beast and Babylon-of the tyranny of earthly government and the peril of the false church.
But now, John sees them as resting no longer. They are not under the altar, but seated upon thrones. They are not crying for vengeance, but reigning with Jesus as "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ." What a blessed vision this is, and what great consolation it brings to those who are fighting the good fight of faith. It is especially comforting to those who are speaking the Word. Candidly, those who labor in the Lord's vineyard need a good word like this! They need to know their lives are continually progressing.
WHY WAS THIS PASSAGE WRITTEN?
We must never forget, John was commissioned, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea" (1:11). It is possible to be distracted from this by the theological jargon that has filled the earth. Under such delusion, one might consider that only the first three chapters were written to the "seven churches," with the rest of the book bearing little relevance to them. But this is not at all the case.
This book was written during a time of persecution, when the church was under attack from "the beast." That is why John wrote, "I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ" (1:9). The Roman Empire had become the great antagonist of the church. Even Antipas', Christ's faithful martyr, had been slain (2:13). Too, trial was imminent for some believers (2:10).
The book is written to comfort believers experiencing the opposition of the world. God sees their tears (7:17; 21:4). Their prayers are instrumental in the rule of the world (8:3,4). Their death, cruel though it may be, is precious in His sight (14:13; 20:4). Their final victory is assured, as they keep the faith and refuse identity with Satan's fabrication (15:2). Injustices done to them will be fully avenged by their Lord (6:9; 8:3).
The Revelation confirms to us that things are NOT what they appear to be. The mighty God and His Christ are ruling behind the scenes. They are orchestrating the affairs of this world for the ultimate glory of God and the benefit of His saints. Nothing is really out of control. The final conclusion will confirm this to be the case.
Christ is not unmindful of His grievously afflicted people. He gives them a view of conquering souls-not merely departed souls, but CONQUERING souls. God's people must have more than a finely spun systematic theology! It is not enough simply to challenge them to run harder, reach higher, and fight more diligently. They must have a view of the grand conclusion. They must also see something of what awaits them between passing from this world and the "end of all things." That is WHY this book was written. Throughout the years, its message has buoyed up believers in troublesome waters.
Here, in this world, a few short years of suffering. There, in the world to come, we live and reign with Christ! This is not a cold and calculating doctrine, but a comforting message of contrast between here and there, and now and then.
Prophetically, Revelation speaks of the triumph of the truth-the revealed and spoken truth. The martyrs were beheaded "for the witness of Jesus." The earth extended itself to cut their restricting bands from itself, like it did with Jesus (Psa 2:8). It looked like the world won, but it did not!
A few more martyrs. A few more sacrifices for the cause of Jesus. A little more blood. A short season where the enemy seems to triumph. Then, the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. The kingdoms of this world WILL become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ!
I expect the truth to triumph and evil to fall, and exhort you to do the same. Evil will have his day. The dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and those who have "the mark," will all have their day. They will oppose the saints, and at times will appear to absolutely triumph over them. However, the eye of faith can see beyond all of this! Praise the Lord for the book of Revelation! It provides insights that strengthen and cheer the heart. It makes fighting the good fight of faith sensible.