16 Apr 2023
Passage Revelation 20
Speaker Chris Haley
If you were born before about 1992, you’ll probably remember the Millennium. I mean by that the year 2000. People got a bit obsessed about it at the time. There were those who were excited, partying like it was 1999! Popping down to see the Millennium Dome in London! But it’s easily forgotten that there was another group who locked themselves in bunkers, convinced the world would end in an apocalyptic fireball. As the dreaded Millennium Bug would cause planes to fall out of the sky, and nuclear missiles to launch. Of course, it didn’t, but they had a very different millennium experience to the partygoers.
I was 17 when the millennium happened. I stayed in with my sister watching Graham Norton while my parents went out partying! Fact! It was thoroughly underwhelming!
When we talk about the millennium in the Bible though, we’re talking about something different. Something that gives us lots of long words ending in ‘ism’ which I promised I would not use in this series. If you want to talk about those long words, you can speak to me afterwards.
This morning though, we’re going to talk about the thousand years we heard read about earlier. As with most things in Revelation, there will be different views in the room. But this morning we’re going to look at it in the context of the book and in line with ways we’ve looked at all the other passages in Revelation: New Testament truth, with Old Testament language. So firstly…
Another Battle? v7-10
To help us understand what’s going on, I want to start in the middle of our passage with the battle, with the simple question - is this another battle? Is this battle different from the one we’ve seen being described over the last few chapters? Is there a battle to defeat Babylon, a battle to defeat the beasts, and then a battle to defeat Satan? Or are they all the same event from different perspectives, something that we’ve seen throughout Revelation?
Well, let’s see. Three questions. Firstly, who are they fighting? An army of nations led by the Kings of the Earth. In Revelation 20, it’s the nations from the four corners of the earth. All the kings and their lands are gathering for battle. And we’ve seen this before in Revelation 19:
Revelation 19:19 ESV “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army."
And as well in Revelation 17. If we read it as one account after another, all the kings have already assembled at least once to make war on the lamb.
The new detail here is that this is Gog and Magog they’re fighting. Magog only appears three times in Scripture. Twice as a descendant of Japheth- in Genesis and 1 Chronicles which repeats the list, and then being defeated in battle by God in Ezekiel 38 and 39. ‘Gog’ there is not another nation, but their prince. In fact, ‘Gog’ mostly likely means ‘Prince’. And Magog then means ‘land of the prince’. Some commentators take it like ‘king and country’. In other words, the nations and kings that are at the four corners of the world. In which case, Gog and Magog would be a prophetic way of explaining what he’s just said.
What it does do is bring to mind Ezekiel 38 and 39, which in the future section at the end of Ezekiel, there is a great battle between God’s people and Magog. The end time battle- Armageddon.
Except Armageddon has already happened in Revelation at this point:
"And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon." (Revelation 16:16 ESV)
In Ezekiel 38 and 39, it ended with birds being invited to feast on their enemies. However, that, too, has already happened in Revelation, after the battle in the previous chapter. In both cases, the ones they’re fighting are all the kings and nations of the world, and in both cases, they are allusions back to Ezekiel 38 and 39. The devil assembles them both in both cases.
Revelation 20:7-8 refers to the devil. But again this is what we saw before with this battle:
Rev 16:13-14 ESV “And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty."
It's a match!
Thirdly, where does the enemy come from? The bottomless pit. In Revelation 20, the dragon comes from the pit to go to destruction, but in Revelation 17, the beast rises from the pit to go to destruction.
Revelation 17:8a ESV “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction."
Both are then cast into the lake of fire. I’m not saying that the beast and the devil are the same. Instead, what they are showing is that the accounts are parallel, and they match each other. Why am I pointing all this out? Because, apart from the Millennium, we have two incredibly similar battles.
It is possible that one battle takes place before the Millennium, and one after. But from what we’ve seen in the book of Revelation so far and the way it works, isn’t it more likely that we’re seeing one event from several angles? That the defeat of Babylon, the defeat of the Beast, and the defeat of the Devil are not three consecutive events, with three consecutive battles, but actually one event, with one decisive outcome- the defeat of evil in all its forms. This is speaking of what the Old Testament called the Day of the Lord, when Jesus Christ returns as judge, and all rebellion will be put down, and all his enemies will be judged. In other words, this is Judgment Day. And notice that the devil himself will be judged and cast into the lake of fire, eternal conscious punishment.
We need to lose the idea that in eternity, the devil and his demons will be poking people with pitchforks. Far from it, they will be punished along with all others there. In other words, this place is a place of punishment for them too. One day the devil and all the forces of evil will be judged and punished. There will be an end to evil. There will be no more devil at work to deceive and tempt. There will be a garden, we’ll see next week, but there will be no serpent in it to make it all go wrong. That’s got to encourage us, surely, which is a big goal of this book. One day evil will be over. In the battle, we’re on the winning side.
But if this is end of evil is just what we saw before in chapter 16 and chapter 18, then what’s this whole millennium thing? Well our second point, the Millennium is…
Another Picture of Our Time v1-6
If Judgment Day is the end, when Jesus returns, then the Millennium is what comes before Jesus returns. The period we’ve been seeing described as 42 months, 1,260 days, 3½ years, is the time between Jesus’ first and second coming.
"Why then though describe it as a thousand years? What is the point he's making? A thousand years is a long amount of time! In chapter 2, he told the church in Smyrna they would have tribulation for ten days. We said then that it was some time, but only a short, limited time. If 10 is some, 100 a lot, then a thousand is an awful lot—10x10x10! A lot, a lot, a LOT! It's not the largest number we meet in Revelation—twice times ten thousand times ten thousand. But it is a big one, A LONG time. So it's not a literal thousand years, any more than it is a literal 1,260 days or a ten day tribulation for the church in Smyrna. But again why picture it as a long time? If this is the time we live in and the time between Christ's ascension and return, then isn't supposed to be a short period of time? Revelation 22:7a ESV 7 "And behold, I am coming soon..."
And yet we know now don't we, that Christ has been reigning at the right hand of his father for almost 2,000 years, and still hasn't returned! It has been a long time. This is no mistake on God's part. His reign continues, and the length of time gives us time to see Christ's power and reign.
Let me put it this way- the devil was deceiving most of the world for thousands of years before Christ came. People worshiped wood and stone, and sun and the stars, and with the odd exception, like Jonah, they were left to it! The ethnos, the nations, the gentiles (same word) were the devil's to deceive. The number of gentiles included in the kingdom was tiny. In answer to the promise that all nations would be blessed through him and his offspring, the Gospel now goes to the nations, the gentiles. The secret is now out. The mystery of the Gospel has now been revealed. The gentiles, the nations are now in on it! This is how the book of Romans ends. The Gospel…Romans 16:26 ESV …has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith. The nations, the gentiles are no longer in the dark, says Paul. If you want evidence, look around you. There are more believers in the world today than ever before in history! According to the World Christian Encyclopaedia, around 3 million people a year convert to Christianity. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_converts_to_Christianity)."
"When Peter preached at Pentecost, three thousand were saved. Globally, that's somewhere between 2-3 Pentecosts every single day! 342 converts an hour. That's without counting those who are born into Christian families and don't 'convert' so to speak! I know in our corner of the world progress seems slow, and the Christian scene can seem rife with compromise. But that's not the case globally. Oh, there are problems elsewhere, don't get me wrong! But there are different ones. That's why I love the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3- a message for the church wherever we are! But we see the Gospel go forth, we see the veil lifting on the nations. And the Gospel is still going forth. As the Gospel goes forth, there is persecution, that is true, and we've seen lots of it in Revelation. We see it hinted at by the loosing of the devil at the end, but there is at the same time a positive side to what’s happening in the world. There are good things going on in our world that we can celebrate- the church globally is growing! And the millennium gets across that idea. Christ is reigning, and the devil is in some senses bound!
Jesus himself used this language. Mark 3:26-27 ESV says, "And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house."
The strong man needs binding, says Jesus, if you are to plunder his house. Jesus there is speaking about his own power over evil. He can bind the strong man! The devil. Jesus triumphed over the power of evil on the cross. Jesus has bound the strong man. And now the Gospel is going to the whole world. That is what is going on during the Millennium.
During this time, it says that many will be part of the ‘first resurrection’ which means they won’t face ‘the second death’. This first resurrection is not an extra pre-end physical resurrection of believers. This is the spiritual resurrection that Paul repeatedly speaks of that all believers experience now.
Colossians 2:12 ESV says, "...you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead."
Ephesians 2:5 ESV says, "even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…"
Believers have been resurrected Spiritually, the first resurrection. But we yet haven’t been raised physically, the second resurrection. And these people are priests of God. They reign with him.
Again though this is not a new idea.
Revelation 5:9-10 ESV says, "And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’" Who is it that is a kingdom, and priests, who is it that will reign? Those whom Christ has ransomed from every tribe, tongue, and nation.
Some think that the reigning with Christ is something that happens in heaven. Others think it’s believers now, since we are described as priests and a kingdom now. But I don’t think it’s an either or. After all, it seems like those who have died for their testimony are included here. Let’s go back to our passage in Ephesians though.
Ephesians 2:5-6 ESV says, "even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
It’s not just that we’re spiritually resurrected in Christ. In Christ, we are raised up to heaven and seated with Christ.
Where are you this morning? Physically you’re sat in a chair in a hall in Otley. But Spiritually you are seated at the right hand of the majesty on high in Christ, reigning with Him. One foot on Earth, and one foot in heaven. "We have come," says the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:22 ESV), "to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” - the seat of the throne. We are there, spiritually, and that does not mean we are not there literally. The opposite of spiritual is not literal; it's physical. We believe that the spiritual is as true and real as the physical. We really are reigning with Christ in heaven.
It's a bit like the Narnia chronicles - The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On Earth, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy were children, infants, normal regular people. But in Narnia, they were kings and queens; they reigned with Aslan. That was before the new Narnia and the new Earth come in the final book. The people around us are not just sons of Adam, daughters of Eve; they are spiritually kings and queens, princes and princesses, sons and daughters of the King.
Someone asked me this week about low self-esteem, well how about this: in Christ, you are sons and daughters of the King, princes and princesses of the Kingdom because of what Christ has done. The challenge is not to look at ourselves more highly but to live a life worthy of the calling we have received! Sons of God, my friends! So, there is a sense in which we reign now, and again, this should encourage us. Christ is reigning now; we are reigning with Him! He is working all things for our good. His reign might not be acknowledged everywhere, but that doesn't make it any less true, and the same is true of us now. We live as Peter, Edmund, Lucy, but we know our true calling to which God has called us.
Ok last point…
A Final Picture of the End v11-15
From what we've seen and from what we see elsewhere (mainly 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4), after the time in which we live is done, there will be judgment. Christ will descend from Heaven "with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God." Those believers who have died prior to that day will rise to new life, with new imperishable resurrection bodies, and they will meet Christ in the air. Believers who are still alive will also be caught up in the air to meet with Christ. Their bodies will be changed into immortal resurrection bodies in the twinkling of an eye! The perishable will put on imperishable; the mortal, immortality. Those on Earth will be destroyed in the battle we've been hearing of, and then all the dead will rise and go together with believers before the judgement seat of God, the great white throne.
On that day, there will be two books. One is more a set of books, but let's just stick with two books for now. In one is written everything everyone has ever done, recorded there for all to see. Everything that was private is now public, every secret is now out in the open. It is the charge sheet of humanity. On it is written every sin that has ever been committed, every lie, every evil thought, every secret grudge, every lustful gaze, every private backstab, every jealous rage, every moment when no one was looking, every time it was ‘okay because I'll never get caught’. All there, all there for all to see. It is a terrifying day. I imagines it’s a bit like a nightmarish version of "This Is Your Life." But we see here that everything we've ever done is known by God, and this book is evidence in our trial on judgment day, and the penalty is the lake of fire, Do you remember that show? Michael Aspel would surprise some celebrity with a big red book, and he would take them to a studio with all their friends and family there. He would then tell them all the celebrity’s life story. It was always a very tame affair. They skipped over scandals, sins, and misdemeanours. But what if they didn’t? Would you want to sit through that with your life on the screen? I wouldn’t!
But we see here that everything we’ve ever done is known by God, and this book is evidence in our trial on judgment day. And the penalty… is the lake of fire, the place where the devil and his angels “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” I can’t deny the reality of what we normally refer to as Hell because it’s there!
But there is another book, The Book of Life. We’ve seen it several times before in Revelation, and you also see it in the book of Philippians, Exodus, and the Psalms! In it is a list of names, a list of names of those not to be thrown into the lake of fire.
Now I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know the order here - I’ve flip-flopped on it. I don’t know which book they check first. I really don’t want to endure the experience of my life being exposed like that. But on the other hand, it’s another incentive to live for Christ as much as I can now! But those written in the book of life are not thrown into the lake of fire. In fact, a glorious future awaits them - an eternity with Christ. We’ll see it next week, and it’s a future that’s secure.
Why? Because we’ve been in this book a long time! Revelation 13:8 says, “and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” The same is true in Revelation 17:8. Our names have been on there since before the world began, and God promises to the church in Sardis, and more generally to others in Revelation 3, that he will never blot us out! There is no tippex in the lamb’s book of life!
Our future is not based on what we’ve done. If it were, there’d be no hope. Instead, it’s based on what the lamb has written, based on what the lamb has done. And that gives us hope and security. So there are two very different futures laid out for us here, and what makes the difference really is what is in the Book of Life. That’s recorded there to make sure our confidence lies in Christ, not in ourselves and in our works, written in the other books.
Of course, it's just one picture. This same group is dressed in white robes in Revelation 3. This same group are the ones who conquer, who overcome, in other words, who trust in Christ and keep trusting in Christ. We can’t write our names in the Lamb’s book of life, we can’t blot our names out, but we can trust in Christ and keep trusting in Christ. And all who do that, guess what, they’re in the lamb’s book of life!
And that means what happens in the millennium is significant. If we don’t put our trust in Christ before he returns, you will be lost for eternity! We don’t know when He will return and bring in judgment day, or when our own personal judgment day will arrive when we die. The lesson, of course, is to put your trust in Christ now.
And for those who are trusting in Christ already, this millennium is a bit like the other one. In one sense, there is much to fear, much more than the millennium bug! The rest of the book has shown us that we will face persecution in this time.
But on the other hand, there is much to celebrate. If there is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner that repents, they’re partying even harder than we did in 1999! Millions are putting their trust in Christ each year. The Gospel is going out across the globe - reaching new places. In part, that’s why we have persecution!
So in the millennium, there is reason for pessimism and for optimism! For weeping, and rejoicing, for prayer and praise. Let’s pray that God would keep us going, keep us growing, while we await Jesus’ return. Let’s pray.