REVELATION
AFTER HISTORY AND ETERNITY

Notes on Revelation 20 - 22
Cecil N. Wright

Introduction: Going back to Chapter 12, we have a great red Dragon (the Devil and Satan as embodied in the Roman empire) who attempted to destroy the Christ and, upon being completely thwarted, waxed wroth against the Woman that gave birth (the community of the saints, which became the church) and went about to "make war against the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and the testimony of Jesus." In Chapter 13, we have a first Beast and a second Beast who are confederates, and likewise were agents of the Dragon in making war against the saints. The first seems to have been Imperial Rome, and the second to have been the pagan priesthood promoting emperor worship. In Chapter 16:12-16, we have the same trio again, except that the second Beast, the priesthood of the imperial cult, has become the False Prophet - making preparation for the Battle of Armageddon. And in Chapter 19:19-21, we have the Beast and the False Prophet utterly defeated - "cast alive into the lake of fire that burneth with brimstone." This represents decisive and permanent victory for the cause of Christ over Imperial Rome and the cult of emperor worship in the empire. While it does not represent a victory of equal proportions over Satan - not yet - it does so greatly restrict his influence that he cannot deceive and manipulate the nations into universal persecution of the saints again - not for "a thousand years," near the end of history - when his final effort is aborted and he too, is "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (20:1-10). Then follows the end of history, with its general resurrection and universal judgment (20:11-15) and a glimpse of the eternal blessedness of the righteous (Chapters 21-22). It is with the events of these chapters (20-22) that these Notes will now be concerned, treating them under two major heads as (1) Earthly Sequel to Armageddon (20:1-15) and (2) Eternal Future for the Saints (21:1 - 22:5), exclusively of the (3) Epilogue (22:6-21).

 

            I EARTHLY SEQUEL TO ARMAGEDDON (20:1-15).

            1. The Millennium (vs.1-6): The term "millennium" does not occur in English translation, but is a from a Latin word meaning a thousand years. And various theories have been formulated regarding it, and have been categorized as (a) Premillennial, (b) Postmillennial or (c) Amillennial. Premillennialists take it that Christ's kingdom has not yet been established and that his second literal and bodily coming to earth will precede its establishment, after which he will reign for a thousand years before the end of history. Postmillennialists believe Christ's kingdom was established as a sequel to his first coming, that the millennium will be a golden age of the kingdom lasting till near the end of history and after which Christ will come a second time at the end of history. Amillennialists do not accept either of these theories, but for various reasons. Some of them believe that no time element at all is symbolized by the thousand years, but simply the completeness of the victory of Christ and his saints over Satan and all his agents. It will be obvious from what will soon be said in these Notes, and from various things already said that none of these viewpoints is being espoused in them.

            a. Satan bound (vs.1-3): "And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should not deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: After this he must be loosed for a little time."

            Satan is here represented as bound and incarcerated for a period symbolized as a thousand years, which may simply represent a very long time period in comparison with all lesser periods elsewhere symbolized rather than a mathematically precise one thousand years. And it is not at all stated that he would be completely inoperative or ineffectual during the time indicated. The limits described are that "he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished." And we find later (vs.7-10) that when he is loosed out of his prison he shall "come forth to deceive the nations ... to gather them to make war" against "the camp of the saints" - which is what he and the Beast and the false Prophet were doing in preparation for the battle of Armageddon (16:12-16). That effort was a failure, and he lost the Beast and the False Prophet as a result (19:19-21). His next effort to marshal the nations of the world in a universal war of extermination against the saints will not only fail as did the other, but he himself will also be completely and forever vanquished and doomed as the Beast and the False Prophet had been.

            Excursus: Aside from the above symbolism, we call attention to the fact that again the Dragon is described as "the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan," as previously in 12:9. Satan is no doubt referred to as a serpent because he made use of a serpent in the Garden of Eden to seduce Eve. The Hebrew word translated "serpent " in the Genesis record (Chapter 3), and found 31 times in the Old Testament, is nachash, the general word for serpent, corresponding to ophis in Greek, found 14 times in the New Testament.

            In the King James Version of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word tannim is translated "dragon" in the following passages: Job 30:29; Psalm 44:19; Isaiah 13:22; 34:13; 35:7; 43:20; Jeremiah 9:11; 10:22; 14:6; 19:33; 51:37; Ezekiel 29:3; Micah 1:8; and, tannoth, feminine plural, in Malachi 1:3. But Young's Analytical concordance defines it as "howlers, jackals." And the American Standard Version translates it "jackals" with only one exception, in Ezekiel 29:3, where it is translated "monster".

            The other Hebrew word translated "dragon" is tannin, of which the King James Version translators may have considered tannim to be a variant. It occurs in Deuteronomy 32:33; Psalm 74;13; 91:13 148:7; Isaiah 27:1; 51:9; Jeremiah 51:34, and is used of any large reptile, but in the KJV is always translated "dragon", yet never in the ASV, where it is rendered "serpent" in Deuteronomy 32:33 and Psalm 71:13 and 148:7.

            Tannin is also translated "whale" in the KJV in Genesis 1:21 and Job 7:12 and so is tannim in Ezekiel 32:2; but the ASV uses "sea-monster" in each.

            In Isaiah 27:1, leviatan" (a great water animal (see Psalm 74:14; 104:26), and in Job 41 seemingly a crocodile) is also called a "serpent" (nachash) - a "swift serpent" and a "crooked (or, winding) serpent" (ASV). And in Amos 9:3 God is represented as saying of the wicked attempting to escape his vengeance, that "though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea thence will I command the serpent (nachash), and it shall bite them."

In Exodus 4:3 and 7:15, we read of Moses' rod becoming a "serpent" (nachash). And in Exodus 7;9,10,12, Aaron's and the magician's rods became "serpents" (tinnin).  

            To summarize, we can see that in the Bible a "dragon" is a reptile, may be considerable size, may be of either water or land, or it may be amphibious. In apocalyptic literature, it may be and often is a grotesque creature with nothing in nature quite corresponding to it.

            As for the English word itself, Webster says it derives originally from the Greek drakon, akin to drakos, and is so called from its terrible eyes. Out of 14 different definitions, the following are significant for our purpose: 1. A huge serpent. Now Rare. 2. A fabulous animal, generally represented as a monstrous winged and scaly serpent or saurian [lizard], with a crested head and enormous claws. 10. Used in the Authorized Version of the Old Testament to translate several Hebrew forms, some of which are translated jackal or serpent in the Revised Version, or by sea monster in the American Revised Version. See Job 30:39; Psa.71:13; 90:13; Jer.49:33; Rev.20:2. 14. a. Any of numerous small, harmless, brilliantly colored lizards constituting the genus Draco, of the East Indies and southern Asia ... b. any of certain other lizards of the related genera (Amphibatus, Physignathus, etc.). End of Excursus.

            b. Martyred Saints Reign (vs.2-6): "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: And I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection:. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years."

            In this vision, John sees, not the bodies, but the souls of Christian martyrs, and of those who had not yielded to emperor worship even if they had not been pit to death as a result, enthroned as it were, and reigning with Christ a thousand years, till death has been destroyed (see Acts 2:22-36; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28), whereas the thousand years begins after the Beast and False Prophet had been cast into the lake of fire, well into the Christian era, but ends before death has been destroyed (Revelation 20:1-15). It does, however, represent a long period of time when the spirit of those described as enthroned live and reign on enough people of that period that Satan cannot deceive and manipulate the nations into universal persecution of the church and of Christians, as he will almost succeed in doing later (vs.7-10).

            This is called a "resurrection," not because their bodies have been raised, for seemingly they have not, but because they live again in others, as Pope Adrian spoke of Jerome and Huss, saying: "The heretics Huss and Jerome are now alive again in the person of Martin Luther." It represents the triumph of their cause over those who would exterminate it if they could.

            (For a biblical example of the foregoing principle, consider that the return of Elijah the prophet was foretold [Malachi 4:5], and that because John the Baptist performed "in the spirit and power of Elijah" [Luke 1:17] Jesus said of him, "And if ye are willing to receive it, that is to come" [Matthew 11:14; see also 17:9-13].)

            Moreover, the above is called the "first resurrection." This is in contrast either with (1) the general resurrection as the end of history (John 5:28-29; 6:39,40,44,54; 1Corinthians 15:20-28; Revelation 20:12-13), or else with (2) an implied figurative living again of the non-Christian and anti-Christian element of mankind (a) with whom emperor worshippers and other persecutors of Christians had been identified and (d) who again will attempt universal was against the "camp of the saints" after the "thousand years" is finished.

            It is declared that, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priest of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." Those whose souls were seen of John under the alter upon opening of the Fifth Seal (Revelation 6:9-11) and all others of the past who had been martyred for Christ, or who had been loyal to him though escaping martyrdom, prior to the "thousand years," are particularly the ones under consideration. However, there is also an important sense in which those in whom they live again have a part in their resurrection - and surely, therefore, in their blessedness.

            2. Satan's Final Doom (vs.7-10): "And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day night for ever and ever."

            "The war" here is Satan's final effort - after the "thousand years" in which he had been unable to deceive the nations into an international and universal war of extermination against the camp of the saints, and the beloved city" - the latter contrast with the harlot city that had fallen prior to the "thousand years". This war is intended to succeed at what the Battle of Armageddon more than a "thousand years' earlier had attempted to do but failed, but results in the same doom for Satan that the former had resulted in for his earlier confederates, the Beast and the False Prophet.

            In preparation for this war, Satan goes forth to enlist even the remotest nations of the earth - "Gog and Magog" - Gog and the land of Gog. The backdrop for this symbolism is Ezekiel 38 and 39, where Gog is said to be the "prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Jubal" (38:1,2; 39:1) - or, since rosh means head or chief, "the chief prince of Meshech and Jubal." " The Hebrew word rosh (head), which is used in the adjectival sense of meaning 'chief' (Ezek.39:1), has no relationship to Russia nor does Meshech refer to Moscow, as has been alleged" (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible [1962], Vol.2, p.437.) However, Josephus states that "Magog [see Genesis 10:2-4] founded those that from him were named Magogites, but who are by the Greeks called Scythians" (Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter VI), and these did in ancient times inhabit what now is southern Russia. "Scythians were a race of savages, inhabiting a region of rather indefinite boundaries, north of the Black and Caspian Seas and the Caucasus Mountains ... War was their chief business, and they were a terrible scourge to the nations of Western Asia ... They broke through the barrier of the Caucasus in 632BC and swept down like a swarm of locusts upon Media and Assyria, turning the fruitful fields into desert; pushing across Mesopotamia, they ravaged Syria [of which Palestine was a part] and were about to invade Egypt when Psammitichus, who was besieging Ashdod [in Palestine], bought them off with rich gifts, but they remained in Western Asia for 28 years, according to Herodotus." (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [1939], Vol. IV, p.2706.)

            In apocalyptical language, the Book of Ezekiel, dating from the 6th century B.C., represents God as saying of Gog: "And thou shalt come from thy place out of the uttermost parts of the north, thou, and many peoples with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company and a mighty army; and thou shalt come against my people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall come to pass in the later days, that I will bring thee against my land, that the nations may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes ... And it shall come to pass in that day, when Gog shall come up against the land of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah, that my wrath shall come up into my nostrils ... And I will magnify myself, and sanctify myself, and I will make myself known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am Jehovah ... I will give thee unto revenous birds of every sort, and to the beast of the field to be devoured. Thou shall fall upon open field; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord Jehovah. And I will send a fire on Magog, and on them that dwell securely in the isles [margin: or, coastline]; and they shall know that I am Jehovah ,,, And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall make fires of the weapons and burn them, ... and they shall make fires of them for seven years; so they shall take no wood out of the field neither cut down any out of the forest; for they shall make fires of the weapons; ... And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will give unto Gog a place for burial in Israel, the valley of them that pass through on the east of the sea; and it shall stop them that pass through: and there shall they bury Gog and all his multitude; and they shall call the valley Hamon-gog. And seven months shall the house of Israel be in burying them, that they may cleanse the land. Yea, all the people of the land shall bury them; and it shall be to them renoun in the day that I shall be glorified" (38:15 - 39:13).

            It is to be further noted that Gog's army in Ezekiel would come not only from his home north of the Black and Caspian Seas and the Caucasus Mountains, and from the "Meshech, and Jubal," which were in Asia Minor, just south of the Black Sea (yet to the north of Israel, of which he was the "chief prince," but also from "Persia [Iran, to the east from Israel]. Cush [to the south, in Africa]. And Put [Libya, in Africa] ..., Gomer [in Asia Minor]. And all his hordes; the house of Togarmah in the uttermost parts of the north [likewise in Asia minor], and all his hordes; even many peoples with thee" (38:1-6) - and possibly "Sheba [in southern Arabia]. Dedan [in northwestern Arabia], and ... Tarshish [Spain, in the westernmost part of Europe] (v.13). These would be forces from long distances in every direction from Israel - an international army of overwhelming proportions - converging upon her and surrounding her holy city - a most impressive prototype of the armies of Satan "FROM OVER THE BREADTH OF THE EARTH, COMPASSING THR CAMP OF THE SAINTS ABOUT AND THE BELOVED CITY" for the CLIMATIC BATTLE OF HUMAN HISTORY. The main difference is that in Ezekiel the forces of Gog and Magog were to be gathered by God for their destruction, whereas in Revelation they were gathered by Satan for the destruction of the people of God - a figurative "gathering," however, for the saints are not themselves literally gathered in a single locality.

            And the outcome of the latter gathering was not the destruction of the saints, but Satan's own defeat and everlasting doom instead. For "fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them [that is, the armies of the nations in the four corners of the earth, gathered to war against the saints]." "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." That takes care of Satan and a; his corporate agencies used by him against God and his people on earth, for all eternity to come. Individuals as such allowing themselves to be used by Satan will likewise be dealt with according to their works, as next is to be seen.

            3. End of History: General Resurrection and Final Judgment (vs.11-15): "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire."

            The "heaven" that fled away" was not the abode of God, but evidently the atmospheric heaven surrounding our earth, with possibly the more distant siderial heaven. No doubt this is what 2 Peter 3:10-13 describes, as follows: "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved, with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing that these things are thus to be dissolved, what manner of person ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness, looking for and earnestly desiring the coming of the day of God, by reason of which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." And this very thing is the next topic of Revelation, beginning with 21:1.

            The universality of the resurrection is emphasized by the sea giving up the dead in it, and death and Hades being emptied of the dead in them. The grave or its equivalent gives up the bodies of the dead, and Hades gives up their spirits to animate their resurrection bodies - so that soul and body go together into whatever destiny awaits (cf. Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

            "The book of Life," referred to in both the Old and New Testaments (in Exodus, 32:32 the first time), is mentioned again and again in Revelation (3:4; 13:8; 20:12; 20:12,15; 21:27; 22:19). Names may not only be written in the book, but also blotted out. "And if any was not found written in the book [at the time of judgment], he is cast into the lake of fire."

            To be "cast into the lake of fire" is the ultimate doom, and never ends. It is significant that "death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire." That means the end of them. "Death" is used here either of the state of death itself or else of the grave or its equivalent for the bodies of the dead. And "Hades" refers to the place of departed spirits between death and the resurrection. It had been said of Christ that he should reign till all enemies had been put under his feet, and that "the last enemy that shall be abolished is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). "The second death, even the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14), is symbolically represented as the death of death itself. So we shall be reading in the next chapter, "and death shall be no more" (21:4) - for those inhabiting the new earth.

 

II. AFTER HISTORY (21:1 - 22:5).

            1. New Heaven and New Earth (21:1-8): "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away; and the sea is no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men. And he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more: the first things are passed away. And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he saith, Write: for these words are faithful and true. And he said unto me, They are come to pass. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit these things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But for the fearful, and the unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death."

            This is a generalized description of the blessedness of the people of God after the end of history. Heaven, the abode of God, and the new earth are one, as it were. And only the righteous will be present. Those who are otherwise shall be in the lake of fire. It is noteworthy that "the sea is no more," for it held terror for the ancients because for them and their small and frail craft it was often so very dangerous and deadly. In the new order there will be no terrors, but blessedness only - which probably can be appreciated adequately only because of experiences in the first order of things.

            2. New Jerusalem (21:9 - 22:5): Now begins a specialized description.

            a. John invited to view the city (21:9-10) It was the holy city Jerusalem, the bride, the wife of the Lamb, coming down out of heaven from God. His host is one of the seven angels that had the seven bowls laden with the seven last plagues, as had been the case when he was shown the judgment of Babylon the Great, the harlot city drunken with the blood of the saints and martyrs of Jesus (Chapter 17). At that time John was taken "in the spirit" to a wilderness as the most appropriate vantage point. At this time, he is taken "in the spirit" to still another vantage place more suitable for the breath-taking view that was to be his - namely, "to a mountain great and high."

            b. The City's outward appearance (21:11-21a): Glowing with the glory of God, it was of immense proportions, lying foursquare, with walls as high as its other dimensions - namely, 12,000 furlongs, or approximately 1,500 miles - and 144 cubit, or approximately 216 feet, thick There were twelve gates - three on either side - each one a single pearl, with an angel stationed by it - and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written of them. The walls had twelve foundations, adorned with twelve manners of precious stones, and on them the names of the apostles of the Lamb written.

            c. The interior of the City (21:21b-27): The street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. There was no temple in it, for God and the Lamb are its temple. Likewise, it had no need of the sun or moon, for the glory of God and of the Lamb are its light, and the nations (redeemed from all nations) walk by it (it being only for the redeemed, small and great, of whatever nationality) - nothing ever entering that is unclean, abominable, or false, "but only they that are written in the Lamb's book of life." Also, the gates are never shut by day (there being no danger of invasion by enemies) -- and "there is no night there."

            d. Provisions of the city (22:1-5): "And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no curse any more: and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be therein: and his servants shall serve him; and they shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun; for the Lord God shall give them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever."

            This is the "Paradise of God" referred to and promised to overcomers in 2:7. And it is described in terms of what was in Eden and lost there through sin, except that now it seems even more magnificent and is in no danger of being lost by those who have known both good and evil and have opted, through much tribulation, for the good, and have "overcome" (see 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21; cf. Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12) - in many instances at the cost of life itself upon the earth (Revelation 6:9; cf. 7:13-17; also Romans 8:36-37).

            III EPILPOGUE (22:6-21):

            In many respects this resembles the opening section of the book. It is a sort of appendix after the visions have ended. Besides being an apocalypse, it is also written in the form of an epistle. It contains statements from Christ, from the angel employed in communicating the Revelation to John, and from John himself, At times it is difficult to know when transition is made from one to the other, though the messages themselves are clear.. Emphasis is placed upon the fact that what has been shown must "shortly come to pass" - meaning that it was written primarily in view of what that generation and those immediately succeeding it would be experiencing - though finally sweeping through more than a "thousand years" to closing scenes of earthly history and to ultimate rewards in eternity. It contains a final warning against worship of any being less than God. Heavy stress is placed upon the fact that this book is prophecy - that its contents neither to be added to nor taken from. It pronounces blessedness upon those who "wash their robes [the privilege of all sinners, if they will (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11)], that they may have right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city." And a part of all blessedness consist in freedom from vile, repulsive, and contaminating social environment: "Without are dogs [a term used figuratively of unclean and despicable persons, and in Deuteronomy 23:18 of male equivalent of a harlot], and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie." A great invitation is also issued : "and the spirit and the bride say, come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely." And it closes with a benediction: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the Saints. Amen."