PBC Forum Class May 22, 2005
Notes from Ray Stedman:
Conclusion of Chapter 18: Note that the cruel treatment by Mystery Babylon
goes back to the time of the apostles. Religious error has come
in that has created opposition to the truth, and unleashed attack
upon prophets and apostles and the saints of God.
Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: "With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world's great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth." (Revelation 18:21-24 NIV)
We do not need to add anything to the solemnity of that final word. But we must not stop there. There are five more verses from Chapter 19 that belong with this:
After this [John says] I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her the blood of his servants." And again they shouted: "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever." The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: "Amen, Hallelujah!" Then a voice came from the throne, saying: "Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!" (Revelation 19:1-5 NIV)
This is the first time the word "Hallelujah" appears in Revelation. There is a great Hallelujah Chorus in heaven that rejoices over the final removal of this terribly destructive church that insinuates error into the midst of truth and, in the name of God, leads people astray. Verse 3 confirms that the final judgment of Babylon is from God for it says, "The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever." That is not an earthly scene; it is eternity that is in view.
Let us now leave that solemn and sobering picture. The quarrel God has with Babylonianism wherever it may be found, not only in the Roman church but in many churches which fall prey to this error, is that "she glorifies herself" in the name of God. She teaches in the name of Christ, mingling truth with error. Saints are called to separate themselves from that root error: the hunger for earthly glory and position obtained by religious devotion. Whenever a church seeks influence by impressing people with outward splendor you have the seeds of Babylonianism present. Whenever individual Christians try to appear pious and devout while the heart runs after material gain or status, there is the silken allurement of Babylon. In the New Testament the occasion where this begins in the church is the judgment that came upon Ananias and Sapphira. That couple seemed to be godly and devout, but what they were after was not the glory of God but self-glory. They were using an apparent act of devotion on their part in selling their land and giving only a part of the proceeds to the apostles to gain a false status in the midst of the people.
We must ask ourselves, "Why does God
show us all this?" All through Revelation we are seeing the
end of things that are present with us now. We are shown this
because, if we see how things will end we can turn away from them
now. That is the reason this book is sent to the seven churches
of Asia -- that they might learn from the judgments God will bring
on Babylon what is wrong with the practices they see around them
throughout the church age.
THE RIDER ON THE WHITE HORSE: Chapter 19 of Revelation brings us to the climax of this great book -- the Second Coming of Jesus, the glorious appearing of our Lord. It is fitting that we should consider this on Palm Sunday, when we celebrate the Lord's so-called Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. He would not have called it a triumphal entry for he wept as he came down the mountainside. But this Second Coming described in the book of Revelation is the true Triumphal Entry. Last week we ended our study in the midst of a great Hallelujah Chorus in heaven. I mentioned at the time that this is the first appearance of the word "Hallelujah" in Revelation. But even more remarkably, this is the first appearance of the word "Hallelujah" in the whole New Testament! There are many Hallelujahs in the Psalms, and indeed in much of the Old Testament, but it is rather striking that there is no mention of anyone in the New Testament singing "Hallelujah" until this remarkable scene in Revelation 19. Here, at last, heaven breaks into praise and rejoicing over the judgment of Mystery Babylon the Great, the harlot church which claimed to be the queen, the true wife of the Lamb of God. She is destroyed by God himself just before the appearance of Christ. Now this great chorus comes to a crescendo to announce the true bride of Christ.
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) (Revelation 19:6-8 NIV)
We have now come to the wedding of the Lamb, where he claims his Bride for himself. We will see this bride again in Chapters 21 and 22, under the figure of a great city which is called "the bride, the wife of the Lamb." It is here, however, that the wedding of Jesus and his bride takes place. Most of the commentators identify the bride as the church, because the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5 says that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless," (Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV). Though the term "bride" is not employed there it seems to be descriptive of our Lord's bridegroom relationship with the church. Other Scriptures lead me to believe that the bride includes the church but, beyond that, it includes all the glorified and redeemed saints of all ages. Jesus speaks of this wedding supper of the Lamb when, in Matthew 8:11, he says: "many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast [the wedding feast] with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven." Thus, Old Testament saints are part of the bride as well. In Chapters 21 and 22, when the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, comes down from God out of heaven, "prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Revelation 21:2 NIV), and labeled the "bride of the Lamb," it will have twelve gates named for the twelve tribes of Israel and twelve foundations named for the twelve apostles. So there is a blending of Old Testament and New Testament saints in the bride of the Lamb.
When it says in Verse 7 that the "bride has made herself ready," this seems to infer that the judgment seat of Christ is now over. There are passages in Paul's letters where he speaks of this judgment seat. In Second Corinthians 5:10 he says, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad," (2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV). This is a time of evaluation. It is not to settle destiny but to determine the degree of reward. It is a time when our service for the Lord during these days on earth is evaluated, and we are shown what was done in reliance on the Spirit and what was done in the energy of the flesh. According to the apostle, those deeds done for self-glorification or in the energy of the flesh for selfish purposes are all "burned with fire," and all that is left are the "righteous deeds of the saints." That is what we have here. We are told "fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear," and, "the fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints." So here the bride has made herself ready by means of the judgment seat of Christ. Even her righteous deeds are washed in the blood of the Lamb so that the garments she wears are bright and clean white linen. The importance of this occasion is seen in Verses 9 and 10:
Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God." At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:9-10 NIV)
It is a great honor to be invited to this wedding feast. That invitation is the gospel which goes out to all men and women everywhere, in every age, inviting them to the wedding feast of the Lamb to be part of the bride of Christ. This links with the parable told by our Lord in Matthew 22. A great king, said Jesus, made a wedding banquet for his son. He sent invitations out to certain ones but they refused to come. This seems to refer to the nation Israel. When Jesus presented himself to the nation at the Triumphal Entry, riding down the Mount of Olives on a donkey as Zechariah had predicted, ["Behold your king comes unto you, meek and lowly, and riding on a donkey," (Zechariah 9:9)] the people received him but the leadership of the nation rejected him and thus refused to come into the banquet hall. Then the king sent his messengers out into all the highways and byways, and he appealed to anyone, good or bad, to come to the wedding feast, (Matthew 22:2-14). When many came he gave them wedding garments that they might be suitably clothed for the feast. This is clearly a picture of the great event we have before us here.
The Spirit of God has been calling men and women throughout the Christian centuries, and before that in Old Testament times, and now even through the tribulation period, inviting them to come and join this wonderful scene of the wedding supper of the Lamb. What a privilege it will be to see the great Bridegroom himself, and to be a part of his beloved bride, to share in the intimacy of fellowship with the Lord Jesus! Each individual member of that bride will be able to feel that the Lord himself is their peculiar possession. I often think of the words of Samuel Rutherford, that great Scottish saint who wrote in the 18th century,
The Bride eyes not her garments,
But her dear Bridegroom's face.
And I will not gaze at glory,
But on my King of Grace.
Not at the crown he giveth,
But on his pierced hands,
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel's land.
It is almost impossible to describe adequately
the beauty of this scene and to make it real to our hearts. What
a wonderful, blessed thing it is to be invited to the wedding
supper of the Lamb! So incredible is it that the angel adds, "These
are the true words of God." John is so moved by this that
he falls down to worship the angel and is immediately rebuked.
The angel says, "No, do not do that. I am merely another
servant of the King. I am like you, one of those who bear the
testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" And how do you do that?
The very spirit of prophecy itself tells us how, for the angel
adds, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
All prophecy points only to Jesus. It is not designed to give
us a calendar of the last days, though some read it like that.
No, the spirit, the essence, of prophecy is to bear witness to
Jesus. He is the central figure of all Scripture. It is not events
which we are to focus on, but the One who brings them to pass,
the Lord Jesus himself. Thus we are instructed here by the angel
to focus our attention upon him.
In Verses 11-16 we come to the great climax of all history. This is the once far-off divine event toward which all human events since the beginning of time have moved -- the unveiling of the presence of Jesus in power and great glory. It is the most prophesied event in the Bible. Three different times in this book, at the end of each of the series of judgments -- the opening of the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls of wrath -- we have been brought to the very edge of this event, and each time the Spirit of Truth has brought us back again to see in more intensified form what God is doing in the world of that day. But now at last we come to the event itself.
This is what Paul calls, in Second Thessalonians, "the splendor of his coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8 NIV), or literally, in the actual Greek, "the outshining of his presence." Jesus came as a thief for his church at the beginning of the last week. He took them away unexpectedly, suddenly, as a thief takes treasure out of a house. Since then he has been, as we have seen, invisibly present with the church behind the scenes throughout the whole seven-year period, directing its events. From time to time the book has shown him to us -- meeting with the 144,000 on Mount Zion and directing various activities that take place upon the earth. But now his invisible presence is made visible, as he himself described it in the great Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:
"At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30 NIV)
The first chapter of Revelation also refers to that,
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him. (Revelation 1:7 NIV)
Now we read of this actual coming in Verse 11 and following:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns [diadems]. He has a name written on him that no one but he himself knows. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16 NIV)
This is not the Lone Ranger on Silver, though that fiction may be based on this theme. This Rider on a White Horse is identified for us by four different names: The first is found in Verse 11: There he is called "Faithful and True." It is in that capacity that he comes "to judge and to make war" but all in perfect justice. There are just causes for the correction of evil and the punishment of evildoers despite the campaign against capital punishment today. Our Lord comes to execute perfect justice in judging and making war. At last, as Scripture has long promised, all the wrongs done on earth will be made right; all the cheats and scams that we are familiar with today will be exposed and corrected; all drugs that blow the minds of people will be eliminated; all crime will be brought to an end; all hatred among mankind will cease, for Jesus comes to judge the earth and to right all matters.
Another name is found in Verse 12: "His eyes are like blazing fire and on his head are many crowns, and he has a name written on him that no one knows but himself." That unknown name is linked to the blazing eyes and the many diadems on his head. "Blazing eyes" speak of full discernment, penetrating knowledge. "Many diadems" speak of full authority. The two together picture omniscience and omnipotence, but each vested in a man. That is the point of this text. The wonder of Jesus is that it is as man that he manifests all the fullness of God, for he is both God and man. His name, his unknown name, reveals that. What this suggests is that no one knows the full extent of that mysterious union of God and man. All that is meant by that marvelous revelation, that there is vested in a man the full authority, power, omniscience and omnipotence of God, is something that no one fully knows. We shall be discovering new aspects of that throughout eternity. That is why heaven seems to be constantly breaking out with new praises and new wonders at what our Lord is like.
In Verse 13 there is still another name: "He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God." That Word of God is associated with the robe dipped in blood and with the armies of heaven following him, as well as with the sharp sword that comes out of his mouth. Some commentators refer to the "robe dipped in blood" as descriptive of the cross, of the sacrifice of Jesus. I do not take it that way. I think it refers to a remarkable dialog found in the 63rd chapter of Isaiah, a dialog between the prophet and the Warrior-Messiah. As Isaiah is shown the coming of Christ, it is as though he is standing in Jerusalem looking toward the south, toward Edom, and he sees a great warrior coming with garments stained red. He asks the question:
Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? (Isaiah 63:1a NIV)
The warrior answers,
"It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save." (Isaiah 63:1b NIB)
The prophet asks again:
Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress? (Isaiah 63:2 NIV)
The warrior replies,
"I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come." (Isaiah 63:3-4 NIV)
The sharp sword which the prophet sees here
in the mouth of Jesus is the Word of God. In the opening vision
of this book John saw the Lord Jesus with a double-edged sword
proceeding out of his mouth. It is a symbol, of course, of the
power of the Word, and here it portrays power to smite the nations
-- to destroy them if necessary.
Have you ever been smitten by the Word of God? Some of us have had that experience. Some word from the Bible has caught our attention and awakened our conscience, and we are suddenly aware that God sees deeper into us than we thought he ever could. We become aware of how guilty we are. On the day of Pentecost the Jews who were listening to Peter's great message, at the end "were cut to the heart," (Acts 2:37 NIV). They were smitten by the Word of God. I think also of that scene in Acts when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit. When Peter, speaking by the Spirit, exposed their lies, they both dropped dead instantly. So, here, there are those who will be killed by the sword which comes from the Lord's mouth.
Accompanying our Lord are armies of saints and angels. The book of Jude quotes Enoch, the prophet, as saying, "I saw the Lord coming with tens of thousands of his saints," (Jude 1:14 KJV). We have already seen in 17:14 the promise that "his called, chosen, and faithful followers," will accompany him when he comes. This describes the church returning with the Lord when he appears in glory. But also armies of angels will accompany him. Several passages speak of the hosts of angels, the multiplied millions, who will return with the Lord. They too will be using the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Verse 16 gives us the rider's fourth name: "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS." This is linked with his ruling with an iron scepter. When our Lord comes he will rule over the nations. First he will destroy their evil ones, and then he will rule over the rest. The word "rule" is really "shepherd" -- "He will shepherd the nations with a rod, or a staff, of iron." You will recognize these words taken from Psalm 2. For the third time in Revelation there is reference to the promise of this Psalm:
"I will set my king upon my holy
hill of Zion (Psalm 2:6 KJV)
"You will rule them with an iron scepter, you will dash them to pieces like pottery." (Psalm 2:8b NIV)
That "rod of iron" is a symbol of tough justice, of unbending, unwavering righteousness. It is the standard of God's morality which he cannot lessen or diminish in any way. This is descriptive of the millennial years when righteousness will reign in all the earth. There will be sin and sinners present, but they cannot upset things; their evil will be immediately brought to justice. This characterizes that millennial day. The effect of our Lord's appearance upon the antichristian enemies we have been observing is given in Verses 17 on. Here we will learn what is meant by the phrase "he treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." First, there is a call to a great slaughter.
I saw an angel standing in the sun, who
cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come,
gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat
the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their
riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and
great." (Revelation 19:17-18 NIV)
This is another description of the great campaign that is called the Battle of Armageddon. We have already seen that 200,000,000 soldiers from all the armies of the earth will gather into the land of Palestine. There are other descriptions of this in the prophets. Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe it in detail. Also, Joel 2, Daniel 11 and Isaiah 24 give us the development of this as the king of the north comes down into the land and is met by the king of the south, i.e., the armies of Egypt, coming against Israel. The conflict is settled only by the sudden destruction which comes from the appearance of Jesus himself. The fate of these antichristian powers is given in these closing verses from 19 on:
Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh. (Revelation 19:19-21 NIV)
It is almost incredible, is it not, that when Jesus reveals himself, and every eye sees him, that these leaders of the nations actually attempt to assault and attack the Lord himself: "They gather to make war against the Lord and his armies." But it is an unequal contest. The beast and the prophet are immediately captured and thrown into the lake of fire, which in Chapters 21 and 22 is called "the second death." It is a terrible symbol of eternal torment, a fire, an inward torment that burns on and on and never ends.
And the rest, we are told, are killed by the Word of God -- not by a physical weapon but by the simple word spoken. When our Lord was in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:2-6), as the soldiers approached him, he asked them, "Who is it you want?" They said, "Jesus of Nazareth." The Lord said, "I am he," literally, "I AM". It is recorded that they all fell backwards to the ground at that word. That is the power of the word. Our Lord could have walked out of the garden a free man had he chosen to do so. But he gave himself into their hands. He sacrificed himself, through the eternal Spirit. So, here, when he comes, one word from his lips takes care of the enemies of God. Martin Luther's great hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, has a line that says that when the Lord confronts the devil, "one little word shall fell him."
We have not yet seen the fate of the great dragon, Satan, this archenemy of God who has for centuries afflicted and tormented the peoples of earth. There is an unfortunate chapter break at this point for actually the account goes right on to tell us what happens next. We will see Satan bound and the millennial kingdom set up. All comes as an immediate result of the appearance of the Lord Jesus. But we will take this up in our next study. I remind you again, as we come to the close of this message, that the essential purpose of prophecy is to testify of Jesus. He is the central figure of all life. We hear many religious ideas being spread abroad today. From Eastern religions to New Age philosophy to the cults, all of them are claiming to tell us how the universe is set up, how life properly operates, and what to do in order to relate to whatever God there may be. But the test of all such faiths, and the question that every individual on earth has to answer, is, "What do you do with Jesus? What place in your religious view is there for Jesus?" Because he was here. The record of his life is unassailable. He came, he lived, he taught, he died, he rose again. All this has been established with unanswerable evidence. It is a fact. Therefore, any faith that offers to help man must deal with that fact. How does Jesus fit into your scheme? This is the question the Bible confronts us with. Jesus is the great issue of life. All life finds meaning only in him, and all hope for this broken world flows from the fact of his coming again into the world.
ONE THOUSAND YEARS OF PEACE: Over 100 years ago, Victor Hugo, the French novelist and author of Les Miserables, wrote these words:
In the twentieth century war will be dead. The scaffold will be dead. Hatred will be dead. Frontier boundaries will be dead. Dogmas will be dead. But man will live. He will possess something higher than all these: a great country, the whole earth, a great hope, the whole heaven.
Today is Earth Day. We are almost at the end of the twentieth century. Meeting in the midst of our drugged and polluted planet, we have to say: "How mistaken Hugo was!" Or was he? Those words reflect the hope that has been burning in men's hearts for centuries -- the dream that there would come some day, somehow, a golden age upon the earth, a time when peace would spread throughout the whole world, a utopia, where men would live in unbroken peace and abounding prosperity. This has been the promise of every politician since governments began, but they have never been able to bring it to pass.
It is a hope that is yet unrealized. But still, as we have studied the book of Revelation, perhaps we have come to the realization that this wonderful dream could be only a few years away -- or even less than that! In our last study we saw the prophesied climax of history: The Second Coming of Jesus in visible power and glory to reclaim the earth from the devil and his angels, to end the domain of evil among men, and to fulfill the promise of an earthly kingdom made to Abraham and again to David many centuries ago. It is very important to understand that there should be no chapter break between Chapters 19 and 20. In the original Greek this account moves without a break to what follows the return of the Lord. I invite you to look with me at this, in Verses 1-3 of Chapter 20:
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Revelation 20-1:3 NIV)
Twice in that passage appears the phrase "a thousand years." It actually occurs six times throughout the whole chapter. The word "millennium" comes from the Latin mille annum, which means "a thousand years." This is the passage that teaches clearly and distinctly about a millennium of peace yet to come upon the earth. This passage is one of the great battlefields of Scripture. Two differing views of end events clash headlong in this chapter, premillennialism and amillennialism. Those are jaw-breaker terms, so to help you (and me) I will refer to those who hold these views as "premills" and "amills." Premills, (among whom I include myself), take this passage literally and believe that there is coming a thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth. That will be a fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies concerning an earthly reign of Christ.
The amills ("a" means no, or none), the non-millennialists, believe that this event is now being fulfilled. They say there will be no thousand-year reign of Christ to come, but that this is a picture of the present age of the church and is being fulfilled in a metaphorical or figurative way. They say the binding of Satan which is mentioned here took place at the cross when Jesus overcame Satan, and he has been bound ever since throughout the history of the church. Concerning that view, someone has well remarked that if Satan is bound today it must be with a very long chain! Our Lord did, of course, liken Satan to a "strong man who holds his goods in peace." The "goods" there represent the whole human race. Both amills and premills believe that Satan is in control of this world today. Jesus called him "the god of this world," (2 Corinthians 4:4 KJV). But our Lord said that he, Jesus, was a "stronger one" who would "bind the strong man and divide his goods." You will find that in Luke the 11th chapter, Verses 21-22.
So there was a binding of Satan that took place at the cross. The Apostle Paul, in Colossians 2:15, says that Jesus "disarmed the powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." There was a time when Jesus indeed did bind Satan. And the amills say that this chapter is talking about that event. It is a flashback to the binding of Satan at the cross.
But Scripture indicates that that binding or restraint of Satan at the cross was only valid to faith. It was true only for those who believe in Jesus. James, in his letter, says to Christians, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7), i.e., his power will not be able to control you. He is restrained, bound, restricted, with regard to you, if you believe. But that restraint does not help those who do not believe in Jesus. The Apostle Paul states, "The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ," (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV). There is a blinding power which Satan exercises going on right now. The Apostle Peter, speaking to Christians, says, "Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith," (1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV). Even Christians need to believe in order to oppose the devil. Satan is bound only to faith, but in that sense there is a binding of the devil occurring today. But now notice the difference with this binding here. This is something quite distinct:
First, it was not done at the cross, but it follows the Second Coming of our Lord. It is clearly related to that event which closes Chapter 19 (remember, there is no chapter break here at all in the original); this binding of Satan occurs after Jesus appears in visible glory. And, second, the binding was not done by Jesus! Notice, it was done by an angel whom Jesus sends to bind Satan with a great chain. It must have been a very great angel indeed, possibly, Michael the archangel. Third, the angel not only binds Satan with the chain (that is a metaphor, of course, of restraining him), but he throws him into the Abyss and locks and seals the door! There are four separate symbols here. It is not merely a binding that is in view.
First, the chain speaks of severe restraint. It is not a literal chain but what it symbolizes is literal. Satan is a spiritual being and you cannot bind a spiritual being with a literal chain. The chain is a symbol of extreme restraint, a limiting of his power and ability to function. Second, he is not only bound but he is thrown into the Abyss, which pictures a total removal from the earth. Remember that, in Chapter 9, we saw an angel come with a key to the Abyss, open it, and out of it came a horde of demonic beings who poured onto the earth. The Abyss is there seen as separate from earth. For Satan to be thrown into it speaks of a total removal from the earth. Third, the angel shuts the door and locks it, which means it is rendered impossible to be opened from within. If you are locked in a room you cannot get out yourself. That is the meaning of the Abyss being locked or shut. Fourth, the angel seals it over so that it is impossible to open from without. No power can break through to release Satan during this time. He is totally removed from earth and permitted no access to it for one thousand years!
Someone may well ask, "What about the demons?" Scripture reveals that not only is Satan at war with humanity but he has a whole host of beings whom Paul calls "wicked spirits in heavenly places," (Ephesians 6:12 KJV). What about them? What happens to them when Satan is removed? It does not tell us anything about that here, but we cannot require every passage of Scripture to teach everything there is to say about a subject whenever it is mentioned. But the question can be answered! Isaiah speaks of it in his 24th chapter, often called, "The little Apocalypse." This is what he says:
In that day the Lord will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below. (Isaiah 24:21 NIV)
We have already seen the punishment of the kings because that is what the Lord did when he came in Chapter 19. He assaulted the kings of the earth. But Isaiah goes on:
They will be herded together like prisoners bound in a dungeon; they will be shut up in prison and be punished [the margin says "released"] after many days. The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously. (Isaiah 24:22-23 NIV)
That seems clearly to be a parallel passage. It indicates that Satan and his angels are removed from activity on the earth. It is a total removal, without access to earth, with no possibility of release for a thousand years. Thus Isaiah confirms what John in Revelation also saw. Now our amillennial friends say that the thousand years is not to be taken literally. It is only a figure, they say, a metaphor for an indefinite period, or even perhaps for an idea, such as "totally" or "completely." But the answer to that is contained in the passage in the last phrase of Verse 3, "After that, he must be set free for a short time." The word "time" is chronos, from which we get "chronology." It clearly is a reference to a specific period of time, as is the "thousand years" as well. Six times throughout the chapter the "thousand years" appears. As someone has well said, "If God wanted to say it was going to last a thousand years, how could he put it more plainly than this?"
Again, the amills say that this is the only passage in the Bible that teaches a millennium. But that is a distortion of truth. Actually the earthly kingdom of Christ, restoring the throne of David over the nations, is taught in scores of passages. We have referred to many of them as we have gone through this account, but there are many more in the Old Testament and a few in the New. We are going to look at one from the New Testament in a moment. This passage is, however, the only one that tells us how long that kingdom is going to last. It is the only place that tells us that it will be a thousand years duration. In that sense this is the only Bible passage that teaches there will be a thousand-year reign of Christ.
The purpose for this removal of Satan is
clearly stated here: "to keep him from deceiving the nations
any more." You are well aware that this is what Satan has
actually been doing throughout this whole church age. He has been
deceiving the nations. He deceives them with drugs. He deceives
them with the wrongful use of sexuality. He deceives them with
lusts for power and greed. He deceives them about the true values
of life. These lies have been poured into human ears from unseen
and invisible powers for centuries. The whole record of human
history is a record of the deceitfulness of the devil. But now
God says, "That will cease." It is not to go on any
longer. Satan is bound and thrown into the Abyss with all his
angels. He is locked in and sealed over and God says, "For
a thousand years the earth is going to live in peace."
Some of you may be asking, "If God took care of the devil like that, why on earth does he let him go again?" What a foolish thing to do! Authorities do that sometimes. They turn murderers loose upon people again. There was a terrible story on television just this week about a man who had threatened to kill his wife if he was let out. He was freed from prison on an 8-hour pass, and, sure enough, he brutally killed her. Why would anyone do such a foolish thing, especially God? I am going to answer that in a moment but let us read on now. We are given information now on the long-promised reign of the saints with Christ.
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4-6 NIV)
We must notice three distinct groups that
are mentioned here: First, John sees thrones, and seated on them
are those "who had been given authority to judge." Who
are they? This ties in with a strange promise that Jesus made
to his twelve disciples, found in Matthew 19:28. There Jesus said
to them, "I tell you the truth, at the restoration of all
things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who
have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the
twelve tribes of Israel." Clearly he gives them authority
to judge! The twelve disciples are specifically to judge the nation
of Israel, and they are linked, in this Revelation passage, with
restored Israel. "I saw thrones," says John, "on
which were seated those given authority to judge." But that
phrase includes more than the twelve disciples, because more than
they are "given authority to judge" by our Lord. It
also includes the "overcomers" of the present age of
the church. These are described in the letter to the church at
Thyatira, found in Chapter 2:26. Jesus said to them, "To
him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority
over the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will
dash them to pieces like pottery." Thus, associated with
the reign of Jesus over the nations are the believers of the present
age, the true, born-again believers in Christ. That is why Paul
writes to the church in First Corinthians, Chapter 6, and says,
"Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?"
(1 Corinthians 6:2 NIV). And he even goes further, "Do you
not know that we will judge angels?" (1 Corinthians 6:3 NIV).
His argument is, "If we are going to do all this judging
and we are learning how to do it now, for heaven's sake can't
you settle those little disputes in the congregation now!"
There is also a second group here -- the martyrs of the tribulation -- those "who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and ... had not worshiped the beast or his image or received his mark ... on their hands." This is the same group we saw in Chapters 6 and 7 who were put to death because of their faith in Christ. They refused to bow before the authority of the Antichrist or to worship him. They will live again, we are told, and reign with Christ a thousand years. But there is still a third group. They are only mentioned here but are not dealt with, and we will see why in a moment. In a parenthesis, in Verse 5, John says, "The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended." That is a reference to the unbelieving dead, who will appear before the Great White Throne which is described at the end of this chapter. We will look at that before we are through. Leaving out the parenthetical expression, John is saying that all those who reign with Christ are included in what he calls "the first resurrection."
Would you not think that this would clearly establish the fact that there is more than one resurrection? If you have a first, surely there must be a second. But our amill friends believe there is only one. It comes at the final end of history and therefore must be associated with the Great White Throne judgment, yet to come. They say it will be a judgment of both the righteous and the wicked dead -- raised at the same time and judged in one judgment. Of course, if that were the case, and since Verse 5 says "the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended," they are driven to say that this "first resurrection" here is not a resurrection of the body, but something which happens to the spirit or soul. They say that this refers to spiritual rebirth, or possibly, to the survival of the spirit after death. But that is an extremely weak position because the word "resurrection" literally means "to stand up again." The Dutch have a wonderful word for resurrection: oopstanding, they call it. That word captures the meaning exactly. A spirit cannot stand up; it is immaterial. Neither can a soul. But a body can, and this word "resurrection" is never used in Scripture except for bodies. Therefore, it is indeed a raising of the bodies of the dead that is meant by "the first resurrection."
I do not have time to develop this at length, but there is a passage in First Corinthians 15 that speaks of the order of resurrection and it says of Jesus that he was "the first fruits from the dead." So the first resurrection here reaches back to include the resurrection of Jesus and those raised with him. Matthew 27:52-53 tells us that at the time our Lord was raised "many of the bodies of the saints came out of the tombs." Many people do not seem to know that, although the Scriptures plainly state it. They, too, were part of that sheaf of the first fruits which was offered to God as the initial installment of the first resurrection.
Then the verse in First Corinthians says, "then, when he comes, those who belong to him [will be raised]," (1 Corinthians 15:23 NIV). When Christ appears, to catch the church to himself, that is the next segment of the first resurrection. Over 2000 years lie between, but time is no factor in an eternal event. Then the verse says, "then the end will come," i.e., the end resurrection, which would be the final one before the Great White Throne. So there are clearly two resurrections taught in Scripture. Jesus himself referred to a "resurrection of life" and a "resurrection of judgment" (John 5:29 KJV), and in several other passages this is made very clear. Resurrection of individuals will be "each in his own order" (1 Corinthians 15:23), as Paul says, but the "first resurrection" touches only those who believe in Christ. Thus John says, "Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years." In Verses 7-10 we are given the answer to why Satan must be released after a thousand years.
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth -- Gog and Magog -- to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:7-10 NIV)
Someone asked me last week, "What reason is there for a millennium after Jesus comes back?" Here is the answer: A thousand years of peace and blessing is to demonstrate, beyond question, the fact that everyone finds hard to believe: that we belong to a fallen race, and everyone is born with a basically evil nature. No one wants to believe that! Try teaching that in public school and see how far you get. Our whole education system is based upon the idea that we all have a basically good nature with some potential for evil; but Scripture does not teach that. That famous theologian, Flip Wilson, was known for saying, "The devil made me do it!" That has become the ultimate excuse of man for the evil in the world. Much of it does come from the devil, without a doubt. That is why he must be taken out of the scene before world-wide peace can come. But not all evil comes from the devil. God wants to impress upon humanity what Jeremiah declares so plainly, "The heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" That is why everyone needs salvation. We are desperate and hopeless without it.
If we do not have a Savior there is no hope for anyone because of the taint of evil within us which affects all we do. That is very hard for people to believe. But I see it in my own life -- and certainly in yours! I struggle with it all the time. People are saying nice things about me as they learn I am going to be gone soon. It would be nice if I could believe that was all there was to say, but I know better. I know the malice, the selfishness, the impatience, the anger and other things which come upon me unbidden and unwanted many times. I struggle with the same things that you struggle with. Everybody does. There are no exceptions. When you take a look at your own life and what goes on in your thoughts -- your heart and your motives -- there is no question but what the biblical picture of man is accurate. We are born with a fallen nature. The millennium will prove that to be true. No one will doubt it from then on. For a thousand years the temptation of the devil ceases. He is removed from the earth. He cannot stir up this evil propensity within us any longer. As a consequence the earth will be greatly improved. Men will live together in peace. There will be no more war. That beautiful picture from Isaiah 2, read to you this morning, will be true: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and men shall make war no more," Isaiah 2:4). But did you notice also that it said that Jesus "will judge among the nations and settle disputes among many people?" Sin is still going to be there even when the devil is gone.
The curse will be lifted from nature. The land and ground will produce abundantly. Many lyric passages in the prophets describe this. There will be abundant food and beauty and peace. The whole world will be like Hawaii -- without the tourists! But there will still be sin and there will still be death! Read the 65th chapter of Isaiah. There the prophet says, "He who dies at 100 will be thought a mere youth," (Isaiah 65:20b NIV). The life of man will be greatly extended, probably to reach the longevity the patriarchs had, like Methuselah who lived 969 years -- almost 1,000. That will be restored. The animal kingdom will be changed so that the animals that are now carnivores and predators shall live together in peace. This is all said in the same context as the verse,
"The wolf and the lamb will feed
together, and the lion eat straw like the ox," (Isaiah 65:25
Isaiah goes on to say, "The sinner who reaches 100 will be considered accursed," (Isaiah 65:20b KJV). There is still going to be some sin and it will affect the lifespan. The presence of sin is why Jesus must rule with a rod of iron -- still, righteousness will be dominant. Today evil is the dominant philosophy of the masses. Righteousness must struggle to exist. But then it will be reversed. The dominant practice of the day will be justice, wholeness, peace and purity. Evil will have to keep under wraps and will find it difficult to express itself -- but it will be there. Therefore the judgment of the "rod of iron" will still be necessary for some. But, as Revelation goes on to say, at the end of the thousand years "at the four corners of the earth," retreating as far as possible from the central glory, there will still be many who represent Israel's old antagonists, Gog and Magog, and therefore are called by their names. They have the same attitude as the enemies of Israel who are described in Ezekiel 38 and 39. These are men and women who are not born-again despite the wonderful, almost perfect, world in which they live. When Satan is released there is an immediate response from them.
It will be clearly demonstrated for all time that there is still an evil inheritance in man; that until he is born-again his nature remains unchanged, and immediately these respond to Satan's appeal and deception. They march upon Jerusalem, but they are destroyed, with fire coming down from heaven. The devil, the old enemy, is thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet have been for a thousand years. That clearly shows that the end of man is not annihilation or liquidation, as though they disappear into nothing, but they remain alive forever. As it says here, "They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." It is a very sad picture, but it is certainly clear. Now we come to the last sobering scene in Verses 11-15:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 NIV)
This scene hardly needs any comment at all. Earth and heaven flee away, which means it is not on earth but it is a judgment in eternity. The judge is Jesus, not the Father! Jesus himself said, "The Father has committed all judgment to the Son," (John 5:22). So it is he who sits upon this throne of majesty and gathers all the dead before him. There will also be some living people from the millennium who will be there as well for it needs to be determined as to whether their names are in the book of life or not. But judgment will be "according to what each one has done." Deeds reveal what the heart is like. They reveal belief. It is all preserved in God's great library. Books are used as symbols here; we would probably use video tapes. The whole record of every life is made known before all, and judgment will be based upon that. We have already seen in recent history a President of the United States who was forced to resign because of the tapes he made when he thought no unfriendly ear was listening. Here we learn that if your name is in the book of life, your deeds will have been righteous. Only those whose names are in the book of life can do righteous deeds.
That is the point of this. Such deeds are done by the power and energy of the Spirit of God, not by the person himself. All other deeds are burned with fire, and only righteous deeds remain.
If your name is not in the book of life, it reveals evil deeds have been done. They may look good on the outside but inwardly are tainted by the selfish, self-centered desire for prominence or power, influence or recognition. So the ultimate question put here is the words of an old song,
Is my name written there,
On the page bright and fair?
In the book of God's kingdom,
Is my name written there?
When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to minister to other cities and towns in Israel they came back reporting great victories, and especially that the demons were subject to them. They could cast evil spirits out of people with just a word, and the demons obeyed them. They came back very excited about that. Jesus said to them, "Do not rejoice over that, [That is nothing you have done; God did that through you], but rejoice that your names are written in heaven," (Luke 10:20 NIV).That is the central question of life: "Is my name written there in the Lamb's book of life?"
It is written when you believe in Jesus. No one needs to go to the lake of fire. No one is thrown into it against his or her will. They have chosen the lake of fire! They have refused the Savior, and there is no other choice. This is not talking about those who have never heard; do not bring that up, because they are not in view here. The best information we have on them is found in Hebrews11:6, "Anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." God will deal with them according to the great declaration of Scripture, "Will not the judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25 NIV). Scripture does not really tell us what happens to them, but God will deal in justice and righteousness with them. The great question here is, having heard of him, is your name written there? Jesus knows our hearts. Nothing has been hidden from his view. If we come to him, we will be given life. In his first epistle, John writes,
This is the testimony, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son! He who has the Son has life, but he who does not have the Son of God, does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12 NIV)
The ultimate issues of life are all settled here. If your name is written in the book of life, you enter into eternal life. If you refuse him, then your ultimate fate is the lake of fire, the second death, along with the devil and the beast and the false prophet. That is a most sobering scene. I dislike preaching about these matters, but it is wonderful to preach against this dark background and offer to all what Jesus offers -- eternal life by faith in him, as you receive him into your heart and life. May all who hear or read these words be included in the Lamb's book of life!
Ray Stedman web site: http://raystedman.org/revelation
Class notes and audio recordings: http://ldolphin.org/cleanpages/
May 22, 2005.