(7) And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison
The expiration of the thousand years does not allow us to jump ahead into the future, as discussed several times in this chapter, this does not literally convey a length of time, but an idea. The symbol is a length of time, which demands that it stands for somethings other than a length of time, or else it is no longer a symbol but a literal length of time. The talk of how the years have expired is necessary to remain consistent with the pictures in the story. The idea is simply that Satan had totally lost in his attempt in chapters 13-19 to destroy the first century brethren; but will try and try again (also see 20:3).
Here is a point where I see many of my brethren accepting new doctrines that have not been dealt with by the scriptures. The idea that I’ve heard taught is that the Devil is still bound up in the bottomless pit today but will be released sometime in the future and will muster up his army to try to defeat Christ again. It is very dangerous to create new doctrines from symbolism alone; these pictures relate to spiritual truths that are reflected throughout the biblical text. So, creating brand new doctrines by using Revelation alone will surely carry us into error. Further, this idea is foreign to the context in many ways. For one, these things were to “soon take place” (1:1; 22:6) for those who originally received the letter – we’re reading someone else’s mail! So, the idea that Satan’s release for the pit hasn’t happened yet is not in respect to the context. Second, the binding of Satan is not a reflection of today, only the defeat he received in the conflict of chapters 13-19. But some will snap back and say, “he is still bound today, for that only means that his power has been limited.” Really? The sign of a “thousand years” was meant to convey a partial binding instead of total defeat? And the bottomless/limitless pit was supposed to give us the idea that he is only limited in power? No, his loss was without limit! It was bottomless! But just because his loss was total in the conflict of chapter 13-19, does not mean that he won’t try again. This verse, along with 20:3, is warning the first century brethren to not be deceived into thinking that Satan’s great loss in the conflict means that they wouldn’t have to face him again. This accords with the books purpose of being applicable information for the first century brethren (1:3).
(8) 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. (9) 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,
As even these things were to soon take place (22:6), it wasn’t long before Satan began to deceive the nations again; causing them to believe his lie rather than the truth of Christ. The book reveals this to be the pattern of Satan, so we always know what to expect from him. In chapter twelve, he was defeated in his plot to devour the Lord (12:4-5). Then he and his angels were defeated in a heavenly battle with Michael and his angels (12:7-8). But he does not stop there but tries again; this time making war with the church (12:13), but he was losing the war as the church grew and was nourished by God (12:14). So, the Devil tried again, attempting to chase down the growing church and drown it (12:15); however, that plan was devoured by the great number of gentile believers (12:16). Defeated in every way, he tries again, and makes a new plan to deceive the nations into destroying the people of God (12:17). However, chapters 13-19 reveal how he was completely defeated in his efforts. His pattern of behavior is consistent; so it comes as no surprise that he would rise to deceive the nations again.
“Gog and Magog.” Satan’s plan was to try again to devour the church; God’s plan was to fulfill his “Gog and Magog” prophecy. John does not give us much detail here, and he does not need to; he only needs to state the figure “Gog and Magog” for the first century church to know exactly what that means. In those days, they were still awaiting the fulfillment of the last prophecies of Ezekiel; which they knew would occur in their generation, because Jesus said that (Luke 21:22). John’s mention of the figure “Gog and Magog” calls to the forefront the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s great prophecy, which God said would take place “in the latter years” (38:8). It was in the last days of the house of Israel that the prophecy of “Gog and Magog” would be fulfilled.
What’s so great about this prophecy is that “Gog” is historically unknown. No one knows whether someone named “Gog” of the land of “Magog” had ever lived. And as for “Magog,” we know that he was a descendent of Noah’s son, Japheth (Genesis 10:2), and that a land of his descendants claimed his name (Ezekiel 38:2), but historically this is an unknown land. So, we are left with a reference to a completely unknown person who lives in a completely unknown land. Based on that information, it looks like we have our work cut out for us; unless, of course, Gog and Magog are not supposed to be real, but figures, symbols. Yes, symbols! Symbols that are blank slates; symbols that God can work with and give them a specific identity. So specific is the point of these figures, that John only has to say, “Gog and Magog,” and that picture tells a thousand words to the original recipients of the book. In order to see the meaning of the symbolism, we must read Ezekiel 38-39. Go ahead and read it now if you haven’t recently, you won’t regret it. In the prophecy, God says to Gog,
“In the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land whose people were gathered from many peoples upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste. Its people were brought out from the peoples and now dwell securely, all of them.” (38:8)
God speaks of the latter years, being the years which the house of Israel saw its end. In those times, Gog will go against the restored land. In Revelation 19 we saw the beginnings of that restoration which takes place in the bride of the Lamb, after the war against the old harlot bride of Jerusalem. In Ezekiel, the restored people are described as those who “were gathered from many peoples upon the mountains of Israel.” Israel had been a “continual waste” according to God, but after his war against them, he was restored a new Israel, and a new Jerusalem where righteousness dwells. This will be the great subject of Revelation 21-22. Back to Ezekiel, Gog is told,
You will advance, coming on like a storm. You will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your hordes, and many peoples with you.” (38:9).
This is the very scene that John is describing,
“the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city.” John’s mention of the “beloved city” is the new Jerusalem, i.e. the church, whom he also describes as “the camp of the saints.” What is the purpose of God bringing “Gog and Magog” to surround his people? God gives a very specific reason through Ezekiel, which he repeats over and over so there could be no doubt of God’s intention. He said,
You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” (38:16).
God’s purpose for such an event is “that the nations may know me.” As he says again,
“I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.” (38:23).
“And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.” (39:7).
We must consider these scriptures when reading Revelation 20; for the main intent of the Gog and Magog incident is for God to make himself known to all nations, and for the new Israel to “not let my holy name be profaned anymore.”
“Fire came down from heaven.”
In keeping with the figure, we see Gog and his great army devoured by fire from God. This is what Ezekiel prophesied,
“I will send fire on Magog and on those who dwell securely in the coastlands, and they shall know that I am the LORD.” (39:6).
I cannot suggest that this is a literal conflict which took place following the destruction of Jerusalem; the context won’t allow it. So, what can we say about it? According to the details, this is a figurative war, by which Satan is active, but even with such a great army behind him, he is unable to lay a finger on even a single Christian. This is a powerful picture that is given purely for application. Satan is active, this we know, but if we remain faithful to the Lord, Satan cannot snatch us away (John 10:28-29), and we will use that opportunity to promote the holy name of the Lord.
(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.
As I recall, this is at least the seventh time in the book that we see the devil defeated. This time his defeat is pictured as being “cast into the lake of fire and sulfur.” Now, this lake should remind us of how Sodom and Gomorrah had fire and sulfur rained upon then; such fiery rain must have made quite a lake of fire and sulfur! But the imagery goes much further, for this verse is still connected with the “Gog and Magog” symbolism. Notice how God spoke of a torrential downpour of fire and sulfur upon Gog,
“With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur. (23) So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 38:22-23).
Fire and sulfur did not just make a lake out of Sodom and Gomorrah, but figuratively, the fiery sulfur rain also formed a lake over “Gog and Magog.” In this connection, we see the picture completed with the devil, who was behind the whole incident, being cast into this lake.
“Where the beast and the false prophet are.” We are reminded of the same fate of the sea beast and the land beast (19:20). This is also the fate of Gog and Magog, and the Devil. All together we can say that the lake of fire is the figure for the defeated enemies of righteous people.
Is this verse talking about hell? Many commentators and preachers will tell you it is, but the context tells us it is not. We must honor the fact that this book is signified (1:1), so the lake of fire is not real, it only serves as a picture to convey a truth. We also must honor that the book holds firm to the “things that must soon take place” (1:1; 22:6), not within our days, but within their days. So, hell is out of the question for this context, based on the premise of the book. But there are other details too that make hell an impossible interpretation of the lake of fire. One key detail is that this lake is “where the beast and false prophet are,” who were thrown in alive in the previous chapter. Now, this cannot mean that the empire ceased, for we know that it continued long after its seventh king (head); but the beast was thrown into the lake while only the seventh king was reigning (see comments on 19:20). The empire extended its life for hundreds of years after that, and even raised its ugly head from time to time to do some terrible things. Likewise Satan being thrown into the lake of fire is very much like the picture of the bottomless pit, both are pictured as irreversible, but he will continue to attack the faithful throughout history. So, the lake and the pit are not pictures of the end of Satan or the beast, but of their total and helpless defeat in their purposes to devour that faithful generation of the church.
“They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” This completes the picture of their defeat and shows how irreversible it is. They lost their battles against Christ and his church, and they will have to live with that and be held accountable for it. The following scene will focus on the accountability portion of this scene.