Revelation 20 Commentary

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“Interpreters of this chapter are divided into three broad schools of thought: premillennialists, who believe Jesus will return to establish a specific thousand-year kingdom; amillennialists, who generally believe that the thousand-year kingdom is symbolic for the present age; and postmillennialists, who believe that Christians help establish the thousand-year kingdom on earth prior to Jesus’ return. Most evangelicals today are premillennialists or amillenialists.”[1]

“Premillennialists hold that at Christ’s return the Christian dead will be raised, and believers still living on earth will be caught up to meet him in the air (1 Thes. 4:17).They will reign on earth with Christ for 1,000 years (the millennium). After this Satan will be released for a time. This short period will be followed by the raising of the rest of the dead […] Postmillennialists differ in seeing the return of Christ as taking place after the millennium. Sometimes they see the millennium as standing for the triumph of the gospel in this present age, sometimes as a literal 1,000 years at the end of time. Amillennialists hold that there is no literal millennium; the 1,000 year is symbolic. It stands for the whole time between the life of Jesus on earth and his second coming. They usually see the first resurrection as the new birth of the believer, his rising from the death of sin.”[2]

“The idea of a messianic reign was congenial to Jewish thought. Some Jews held that the world’s history would correspond to the days of creation. History would last for 6,000 years (one ‘day’ of history being 1,000 years; cf Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). After this there would be a Sabbath of 1,000 years before the final state of blessedness. But there is no mention of the Messiah in these speculations. John is thus not simply repeating accepted Jewish ideas. The revelation he records is new. We must understand it on its own terms, and not press it into the mould of Jewish speculation […] In this chapter, he does not speak of a reign of all the saints, but rather of a reign of the martyrs. He does not say it takes place on the earth, and in fact, it may well be located in heaven (v.4). And, most importantly, he does not relate this reign to the second advent. It appears that John is simply taking us behind the scenes as he has done so often before. Despite the persecution of believers Christ is not defeated, nor are those who have died for his sake. Our peep behind the scenes shows us martyrs reigning and Satan bound. The martyrs only appear to have died. They are alive (the first resurrection). Later in the chapter, John speaks of the release of Satan as the way in which the nations are gathered for the final battle […] he is surely concerned with present realities – the apparent defeat of the martyrs and their real triumph.”[3]

vv.1-3 “The abyss was a vast subterranean cavern beneath the earth […] it is the chasm which the angel locks in order to keep the Devil in the abyss. It is to be noted that it was precisely the abyss which the devils feared most of all. In the story of the Gerasene demoniac the request of the devils is that Jesus would not command them to leave the man and to go out into the deep, that is, the abyss (Luke 8:31). The seal is set on the chasm to ensure the safe-keeping of the prisoner, just as the seal is set on the tomb of Jesus to make sure that He would not escape (Matthew 27:66) […] .At the end of the period the Devil is to be let loose for a little time […] In a period of peace and righteousness, in a time when the opposition, so to speak, did  not exist, it might easily happen that people came to take their faith unthinkingly and to accept it merely conventionally and as a matter of course. The loosing of the Devil meant a testing-time for Christians, and there are times when a testing-time is essential, if the reality of the faith is to be preserved.”[4]

vv.4-5 “In the first resurrection only those who have died and suffered for the faith are to be raised from the dead, according to this picture. The general resurrection is not to take place until after the thousand year reign of Christ upon earth. There is a special privilege for those who have shown a special loyalty to Christ. Those who enjoy this privilege belong to two classes. First, there are those who have been actually martyred for their loyalty to Christ. The word used for the way in which they were killed means to behead with an axe, and denotes the crudest, the most cruel and the most violent death. These, indeed, are those who have been faithful until death. Second, there are those who have not worshipped the beast and those who have not received his mark on their hand or on their forehead […] although they were not actually martyred, (they) willingly bore suffering, reproach, boycotting, imprisonment, loss of their goods, the disruption of their homes and their personal relationships for the sake of Jesus Christ […] Both he who dies for Christ and he who lives for Christ will receive his reward.”[5]

“Those who have been loyal to Christ are to receive the privilege of judgment. This is an idea which occurs more than once in the New Testament. Jesus is represented as saying that, when He returns to sit on the throne of His glory, His twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28) […] The idea symbolized in this picture is that the world to come will redress the balance of this world. In this world the Christian may be a man under persecution and under the judgment of men; in the world to come the parts will be reversed, and those who thought they were the judges will be the judged.” [6]

v.6 “Verse 6 describes the privileges of the Christians who have been true to Christ, even when loyalty was a costly thing. These privileges are three. (1) For them death has been utterly vanquished. The second death has no power over them […] Physical death for them is not a thing to be feared, for it is the gateway to life everlasting. (2) They are to be the priests of God and of Christ […] The priest is the builder of a bridge between God and man […] Further, the priest, as the Jews saw it, is the one man with the right of direct access into the presence of God. The great privilege of those who have been loyal to Jesus Christ is two-fold. They have for themselves the everlasting right of free entry into the presence of God; and they have for others the greatest of all privileges, the privilege of bringing and introducing others to Jesus Christ. (3) They are to reign with Christ. They are given the royalty of Jesus Christ upon their own lives […] The gift of life everlasting, the gift of access to God, the privilege of bringing others to Jesus Christ, the gift of royalty, these are the gifts which Jesus Christ gives to his own.” [7]

vv.7-10 “After the thousand years, Satan will be loosed to rouse Gog and Magog against the camp of the saints (20:8-9); in accordance with his nature (cf. John 8:44), he ‘gathers’ the nations for war again (16:16, 19:19). This army is numerically ‘like the sand on the seashore’ (20:8), a common figure in the Hebrew Bible for saying a group of people are innumerable […] This is larger than even the earlier armies of the East (two hundred million, 9:16), certainly overwhelmingly again the (figurative) number of God’s servants (7:4,7:9).  John draws this image from Ezekiel, but whereas in Ezekiel Gog is ruler of Magog, here Gog and Magog together merely symbolize all the nations […] ‘in the four corners of the earth’”.[8]

“A final attack on Jerusalem by the hostile nations is one of the standard pictures of the last times in Jewish thought […] in Jewish thought Gog and Magog came to stand, as it were symbolically, for everything that is against God. The rabbis taught that Gog and Magog would assemble themselves and their forces against Jerusalem, and would fall by the hand of the Messiah […] The hostile armies under the Devil’s leadership come up against the camp of God’s people and against the beloved city, that is, the city of Jerusalem; the hosts themselves are consumed with fire from heaven, and the Devil is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone to share the fate of the beast and of the false prophets, and the triumph of God is complete.”[9]

vv.11-15 “As John tells the story, the judgment begins with the passing away of this present world. Earth and the sky fled from His presence. Here John is thinking in pictures which are very familiar in the Old Testament. God laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of His hands […] There must be a re-created world for a re-created humanity; the new man in Christ must have a new world in Christ.”[10]

“There is none so great as to escape the judgment of God, and there is none so unimportant as to fail to win the vindication of God. The judgment seat of God will be the great leveler. Two kinds of books are mentioned. The first is the book which contains the records of the deeds of men. This is a common idea in Scripture. ‘The judgment was set,’ says Daniel, ‘and the books were opened.’ (Daniel 7:10) […] The idea here is very simple; the idea is that a record of all men’s deeds is kept by God. The symbolism is that all through life we are writing our own destiny; we are compiling a story of success or failure in the sight of God; we are acquiring a record which will bring us either honor or shame in the presence of God […] It is not so much God who judges as a man as it is that a man writes his own judgment. The second book is the Book of Life. The Book of Life occurs often in Scripture. Moses is willing to be blotted out of the Book of Life if it will save the people (Exodus 32:32). It is the prayer of the Psalmist that the wicked will be blotted out of the Book of the Living and not written with the righteous (Psalm 69:28) […] Paul speaks of his fellow-laborers whose names are in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3) […] Those whose names are in the Book of Life are those who are living, active citizens of the kingdom of God.”[11]

“At the time of judgment it is said that the sea will give up its dead. The point about this is twofold. First, in the ancient world burial was all important; the most terrible thing that could happen to a man in death was not to obtain burial. If he did not obtain burial, his spirit would wander orphaned, homeless and exiled neither in earth or in heaven […] John means that even such as these will appear before the judgment seat of God […] No matter how a man died, he will not escape his punishment, and he will not lose his reward, for the whole universe land and sea is in the hand of God. Finally, Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire […] In the judgment those who are not in the Book of Life, as John sees is, are condemned to the lake of fire with the Devil, their master, but for those whose names are in the Book of Life death is for ever vanquished, and exists no more.”[12]


[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000) 463.

[2] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1988)227.

[3] Leon Morris, Revelation, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing House, 1988)228.

[4] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, The Daily Study Bible Vol.2 (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960) 245-246.

[5] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, The Daily Study Bible Vol.2 (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960) 246-247.

[6] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, The Daily Study Bible Vol.2 (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960) 247.

[7] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, The Daily Study Bible Vol.2 (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960) 247-248.

[8] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000) 467-468.

[9] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, The Daily Study Bible Vol.2 (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960) 248-249.

[10] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, The Daily Study Bible Vol.2 (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960) 250.

12 William Barclay, The Revelation of John, The Daily Study Bible Vol.2 (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960) 251-252.

[12] William Barclay, The Revelation of John, The Daily Study Bible Vol.2 (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960) 252.

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