What Happens Next? Revelation 20: The Millennium; The Great White Throne

“The two competing major solutions should be summarized briefly, even at the risk of oversimplification. The first one that developed in Christian history usually goes by the names millennialism (Latin mille, “thousand,” and annus, “year”) as well as premillennialism. In this solution, the return of Christ will be followed by the visible, earthly kingdom of Christ and his people on earth that lasts numerous 365-day years, probably a thousand. After this, there will be one final battle in which the last human rebels will be crushed, the devil will finally be cast into eternal torment, the final judgment of humanity will occur, and at last there will be a new heaven and new earth. Chapter 20 is a central point in this view, especially the perceived literary unity between the closing verses of chapter 19 and 20:1–3, where the “demonic trinity” meets its judgment. This solution faded into obscurity for more than a thousand years of Christian history but has reemerged in the past two centuries in several forms.

The second major solution was urged by Augustine in the early medieval period. It completely dominated Christian thinking both throughout the Middle Ages and throughout the Reformation era. It still finds many devout, Bible-believing proponents, and is usually called amillennialism. In this solution, the return of Christ described in Revelation 19 is preceded by the invisible, spiritual kingdom of Christ and his people that lasts throughout the period between his First and Second comings. After this, there will be one final battle in which the last human rebels will be crushed, the devil will finally be cast into eternal torment, the final judgment of humans will occur, and at last there will be a new heaven and new earth.

Bitter theological battles have been fought over which view is correct. The more this writer has studied Revelation and the rest of Scripture on the millennial question, the more difficult it has been to decide. Both views have strengths. Both views have weaknesses…” – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 367–368.

20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.

  • “an angel” – perhaps the same mentioned in 9.1-2 (key to the Abyss).
  • “a great chain” – not literal. Premills see this as symbolic of God’s power to defeat Satan. Amills understand this to be symbolic of the gospel to be able to ‘bind’ Satan when it is used and accepted.

And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,

  • From a Premill perspective, John has not spoken about the fate of Satan. He now turns to answer that question. In 17.7-9 he was thrown down from heaven to the earth, now he is thrown into the abyss.
  • “dragon” – “By comparing chapter 12 with this chapter, we get as much of the history of the dragon as Revelation provides. Coordinating the teachings of Revelation on the rise and fall of the devil with the rest of the Bible’s teachings is difficult. Revelation teaches the following:1. The dragon begins in the heavens (12:3).2. It fails in its effort to destroy Christ at his first coming (12:4).3. It is thrown down to the earth for a little while and deceives the nations (12:12).

    4. It is thrown into the Abyss for a thousand years (20:3).

    5. It is released for a little while and deceives the nations (20:8).

    6. It is thrown into the fiery lake forever (20:10).

    Interpreters generally agree that the introductory scene with the dragon is figurative and covers the entire period from the life of Jesus in history until the final end times (12:1–6). Premillennialists argue that these verses in chapter 20 necessarily follow the verses of chapter 12 chronologically. Amillennialists believe that this last scene with the dragon (20:1–10) is, likewise, figurative and covers the same period as the first scene, from the life of Jesus until the final end times. On this understanding, item 5 repeats item 3 and item 6 repeats item 4.

    The main point, however, is that this reference to the enemy includes all four titles that Revelation uses for him (dragon, devil, Satan, serpent; see 12:9 for a discussion of these). These names contrast with the four names of the conquering Christ in chapter 19 (Faithful and True; the Word of God; King of kings; Lord of lords).” – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 370.

and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

  • “threw…shut…sealed” – He’s not getting out of there. He is there, not for punishment, but to prevent him from deceiving the nations.
  • Premills posit that this is the total removal of Satan’s influence upon the nations during the millennial reign.
  • Amills understand this to be a limiting on Satan’s influence so that the Gentiles would be able to understand and receive the gospel during the time between Jesus first and second coming.
  • Either understand does not overshadow that Satan’s primary defeat occurred during the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
  • “a little while” – But why? Either to demonstrate that man always defaults to sin, or to demonstrate God’s authority and power to the entire universe. Amills see a direct tie between this and 12.12

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

  • “I saw thrones, and…” – See Dan. 7.9-10, “As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.… The court was seated, and the books were opened…”
  • John doesn’t tell us exactly who has authority to judge. Some say angels, others say the disciples, others suggest they were martyrs…
  • “souls” – the fact that John describes them in this way gives support to the Amill view.
  • “They came to life” – a big source of contention between theological view points.
  • Amillennialists hold that this refers, at the least, to the survival of the souls of the martyrs after they died. Death did not terminate their existence at all. They cite Jesus’ teaching in John 5:25–29 as being fulfilled here: “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead [spiritually] will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live [spiritually, same verb as Rev. 20:4].… Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live [bodily], and those who have done evil will rise [bodily] to be condemned.” –  Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 373.
  • Premillennialists argue correctly, however, that verse 4 must refer to bodily resurrection, just like the counterpart in verse 5, as all interpreters agree” – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 373. Add a positive to the premill view.
  • “a thousand years” – an ideal number, ten cubed. Amills hold this as symbolic, and would interpret it as they are reigning spiritually with Christ. This view seems to have an advantage regarding the return of Jesus. Thus, the binding of Satan, the reign of the martyrs both occur before the second coming, which is immediately followed by the last judgment and final state (glorification). “No intermediate messianic earthly kingdom is explicitly taught here or anywhere else in Scripture. Some Old Testament passages prophesy an earthly kingdom at which Israel and her Messiah will rule over the nations (Isa. 54). Others anticipate a new heaven and a new earth without mentioning Messiah (Isa. 65). Nowhere does the Bible describe a temporary earthly rule of Messiah, followed by a final worldwide battle, followed by an eternal rule of Messiah. The premillennial view is not described in either the Gospels or the Epistles. – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 374.
  • the Premills have an advantage in a literal reading of the text. “nothing in the immediate context suggests a figurative interpretation of the thousand years. Their view is thus necessarily much more complicated. The Second Coming (19:11–21) is followed by an intermediate messianic kingdom of a thousand literal years in which the saints rule earthly nations with Christ (20:1–6). This is followed by one final great war (20:7–11), which, in turn, is followed by the last judgment (20:11–15) and the final state (21:1–7). We must note that some premillennialists do not take the thousand years as literal but see it as a metaphor for a long period of time following Christ’s return. – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 373–374.
  • “Is there a solution? To be sure. Both premillennialists and amillennialists are right—in part—in what they affirm. “They lived” must mean bodily resurrection (as premillennialists teach), and “they reigned with Christ a thousand years” does not mean a literal thousand-year earthly rule (as 11:18 teaches and as amillennialists teach). Therefore, “the thousand years reign” can only be understood as a striking emblem for an unimaginably great reward that the martyrs will receive in connection with the Second Coming—without asserting a chronological sequence of events or an eschatological era to follow the return of Christ. If the main point was Christ’s thousand-year earthly rule, then the text should read “Christ ruled the earth a thousand years, and they ruled with him.” The emphasis here is the martyrs’ reward, not Christ’s rule. Try reading these verses as much as possible without bringing either premillennial or amillennial presuppositions, and you will see that the main point is not the thousand years. The main point is that somehow in connection with the return of Christ the martyrs—and the martyrs alone—will receive a specially wonderful reward befitting their great sacrifice. The inspired means for John to describe this blessing was to call it the martyrs’ thousand-year reign. – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 374–375.

The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.

  • This addresses the question concerning what about those who aren’t martyrs.
  • Premills argue that this is a reference to the dead who aren’t believers.
  • Amills hold that this is a reference to a general resurrection of all.
  • “first resurrection” – used only here. First in what way, chronological time, priority? Or more in the sense of ‘this is the same as the first resurrection that I have already written about in 11.11-12’.

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

  • Amill – A reference to all who have believed and experienced their ‘first resurrection’.
  • Premill – a reference to those who will be resurrected at Christ’s return.
  • “second death” – see v. 14.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison

  • For the premill, Why such a challenge after an intermediate reign?
  • Amill have an advantage in a more literal understanding of 11.15 – “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”

and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.

  • The Devil always deceives.
  • “The reference to Gog and Magog deliberately directs readers to think about Ezekiel’s prophecy of an Israelite battle in which a northern enemy led by “Gog” whose land is “Magog” is utterly defeated. After the battle, the land will be restored, with a new temple (Ezek. 40–48). So far in human history, nothing can be specifically identified as fulfilling this prediction. Many premillennialist interpreters view Ezekiel’s prophecy as fulfilled by the end-time battle of the Antichrist monster (Rev. 16; 19), to be followed by a “millennial temple” of Ezekiel 40–48. However, this view is seriously flawed if there are two great battles in Revelation separated by a thousand years and the second one, not the first, is identified with Ezekiel 38–39. A fundamental theological flaw exists in supposing—granting for a moment a literal earthly rule of Christ on earth—that he will permit blood sacrifices after his own once-for-all sacrifice (Ezek. 43:18–24; contrast Heb. 10:1–18). It must be underscored that some premilllennialists do not expect a literal temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. – Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 377.

And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them,

10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.

  • John describes the greatness of Christ.
  • John prepares for a new heaven and earth.

12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

  • Two criteria are listed in this judgment. The first is the book of works/what was done, the second is the book of life. This is not salvation by works, but theses two books should work together. The book of works should support the one who has a name in the book of life.
  • Rom. 14.23 – “…For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
  • “the book of life” – contains the names of those who have trusted in Christ’s atonement for their salvation from sin and death.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

  • Those whose names were not written in the citizenship register of heaven are condemned to spend eternity in the lake of fire. Their bodies had died once. They had received a temporary body so that they could stand before the great throne. Now that their condemnation is confirmed, both by their failure to do righteous deeds and by their name not found written in the book of life. They must die once again, the second death. This time, their death is not into the grave but into the lake of fire. –  Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 380.Figure 20.1—Summary of Promillennialism
    1. The principal truth about the millennium is that the martyrs’ steadfastness will be highly favored by Jesus with a special first resurrection and an unimaginable reward called symbolically “the thousand years.”
    2. The serpent’s temporary release from the pit means essentially that God is so great and so good that he can allow evil—and Satan himself—to be loose on the earth without any threat whatsoever either to his greatness or his goodness.
    3. Premillennial interpreters are right to insist that “they came to life” in verse 4 refers to a bodily resurrection for redeemed people; however, this “first resurrection” is clearly limited to Christian martyrs.
    4. On the basis of Revelation 11:11–12, the “first resurrection” is best understood as a unique event limited to the martyrs, shortly before the resurrection of the redeemed at the harvest of the earth in 14:14–16.
    5. Amillennialists are right to insist that “the thousand years” should not be interpreted as a long, literal, intermediate earthly rule of Jesus focusing on national Israel’s restoration, for Revelation restricts the “the thousand years” to martyrs.
    6. Amillennialists are wrong to interpret the millennium as either the heavenly rule of saints between the first and second comings of Christ or as victorious Christian living in this life, for neither of these is limited to martyrs.
    7. The programmatic statement of Revelation 11:15–18 must mean that Christ’s visible rule, once begun, continues without interruption, thus countering the claim that nothing in the context of Revelation prohibits a literal interpretation of “the thousand years.”
    8. Further, Revelation 11:15–18 also means that the time for the wrath of God and the judgment of the dead occur in the same season, thus suggesting that “the thousand years” be interpreted metaphorically and nontemporally.
    9. The final battle in Revelation 20:7–10 repeats the account of the battle of chapter 19, using similar language and also understanding Ezekiel’s prophecy about Gog and Magog as the pattern for this battle.
    10. At the final judgment, Christ will cause all human beings who ever lived to appear before him and he will pronounce their final destiny and he will evaluate their deeds and whether their names are in his Book of Life.

     Kendell H. Easley, Revelation, vol. 12, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 382.