If someone asks you, "What is the book of Revelation about?" Your answer will be, "It is about the struggle between the Roman Empire and the early church in the 1st and 2nd century."
They will ask, "What are all the symbols about?" and you will answer, "The book is written in an apocalyptic style so that the Jews could understand but the Romans could not."
They may ask, "What does the story mean?" And you will say, "The story is a series of visions by John where the plot is the following:
- Jesus speaks to John and the church about the fact that He is about to reveal what will happen in the near future in the struggle between Rome and the church.
- The story is then told in a series of visions that John sees in heaven:
- God pronouncing judgment on Satan and his allies and they are thrown into hell
- Satan attacking the church with his allies
- Satan displaying his power
- God displaying His power
- God and the church rejoice in their victory over Satan and his servants as they take their place in heaven
In the previous chapter we saw God defeating the allies of Satan (the beast, the harlot, the false prophet). In the final two chapters John will describe the end of the demon Satan himself and the final home of the saints: heaven.
Fall of Satan, victory of the saints, final judgment – Chapter 20
Three main events take place in this chapter.
1. The fall of Satan – 20:1-3
I said that the story keeps the ringleader and his defeat for the end and we see it here; short, swift and complete.
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.
- Revelation 20:1
The angel is the angel who sounds the judgment. It is always an angel who throws the sickle, pours the bowls and sounds the trumpet. Now an angel arrives to announce and bring judgment upon Satan.
The abyss is hell, the place of suffering, the underworld.
And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.
- Revelation 20:2
Satan is bound for 1000 years.
Bound in what way? No power, no effect? Bound in that he will no longer deceive the nations. He deceived the nations into emperor worship and in the past into all forms of idolatry and wickedness. With the gospel now revealed, his power to deceive is severely limited, his power is bound by the truth about him and God (like a dog with a chain tied to a stake in the ground. Do not get too close!).
Bound for how long? 1,000 actual years? Again the numbers are symbolic 10 x 10 x 10 equals 1,000 which is a perfect time. Only God knows when His will is complete, not a minute more or less than is necessary.
Satan is limited in his power for a certain predetermined time (which John will later say is also a time when other things are going to happen).
and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.
- Revelation 20:3
Satan is released for a short time.
The predetermined time of his restraint will end and for a short time he will exercise his influence (to deceive, to blaspheme) once again. He will make one last push near the end of time and this coincides with Paul's description of the end times in II Thessalonians 2:3-12 where the Apostle says that near the end there will be a "man of lawlessness" revealed and destroyed by Christ. This person will destroy many and be manipulated by Satan in the same way that he manipulated the beast (Roman Empire in John's day).
John leaves Satan's final demise hanging and goes on to describe the victory of the saints.
2. Victory of the saints – 20:4-10
4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
- Revelation 20:4-6
Further comfort is given to the 1st century church as John describes the martyrs, who have been killed in the persecution, alive in heaven and rejoicing with Christ. He also mentions that the other saints will join them in this rejoicing after the 1,000-year reign is over.
Before, these souls were under the altar crying out (chapter 18), but now with the destruction of Satan, they have been vindicated and are on the thrones with Christ. They reign in heaven. The 1,000 years is the time between the binding of Satan (Pentecost when the gospel is preached until just before the return of Christ when the faithful will resurrect).
John mentions the first resurrection and that is the resurrection of the martyrs to be with Christ in heaven. This precedes the "general" resurrection at the return of Jesus. They reign with Christ for the 1,000 years (period within Pentecost and second coming) and their service consists of their witness through martyrdom to the world and encouragement to the saints.
7 When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, 8and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. 9 And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
- Revelation 20:7-10
This victory is highlighted by Satan's final destruction. The end of the 1,000 year reign is marked by a brief (could be a year or 2 centuries) period where Satan's powers are restored and he uses them to try to once again deceive and destroy. His beasts or allies this time are represented by Old Testament nations and enemies of Israel who were destroyed by God: Gog and Magog.
Another "Armageddon-like" image is given. This time to appear at the end of history (end-time prophecy) but this time not only the allies are destroyed but Satan himself meets his final and eternal end: eternal torment.
Bound in the 1st century, released for a short time near the end, Satan is destroyed totally when Jesus comes.
3. Final judgment – vs. 11-15
This is the historical end of the world spoken of by Jesus. Paul and Peter are also described by John in similar fashion:
A great insurrection of evil cut short by Christ's appearance. The resurrection of the righteous to join the martyrs in heaven; the destruction of the natural universe; the destruction of Satan and the great judgment of the nations. All in the twinkling of an eye.
Here John only describes what happens to those who are not Christ's, the believers' end is described in the next two chapters.
As for non-believers, Jesus is on the judgment throne. Everyone is judged according to their names in the book of life (believers) and their deeds (obedience). Everyone is judged. Death and the underworld (Hades) are destroyed because without Satan and sin there will be no death or Hades. Those whose deeds were evil (actual sin, disobedience to Christ) and/or who are not written in the book of life (book of life refers to those who are saved, Christians), these will go into the lake of fire. Note that this is the same place where Satan, the beast, the false prophet have gone. Do not let anyone tell you that hell, a place of eternal suffering, does not exist!
Now that Satan has been judged and sentenced, and John has prepared his readers for the end time when Satan will reappear for a short time; now that the general judgment of the wicked and unbelievers and their end has also been described; John will complete the book with his final vision of the saints and their place with God in heaven.
Final state of the righteous – 21:1-22:5
Once all the enemies have been destroyed (here John includes the present day enemy of the Roman Empire and its persecution of the church as well as future enemies including future persecution by future beasts, Satan himself and death itself) once all of these are gone, John describes what will be the final condition of the saints. They will have:
1. Perfect fellowship with God – Vs. 1-8
A new heaven and new earth refers to a new order of things. The old physical universe is gone and replaced by a new and perfect dimension which will include:
Vs. 1 – A place where there is no sea (the place of suffering, sea of glass mixed with fire, chapter 5).
Vs. 2 – A place where the church is perfected and pure (like a bride) without sin.
Vs. 3-7 – A place where there will be perfect fellowship with God without interruption from the ravages of sin or death.
This will be in contrast with those who were afraid (one talent servant) or those who have not obeyed the gospel or those who have been sinners. These will burn in hell (vs. 8).
Perfect fellowship for the saints; eternal torment for sinners.
2. Perfect protection by God – Vs. 9-27
An angel provides a closer look and a more detailed description of the bride (the saints, the holy city, the righteous, the church, etc.). The image now is of a holy city.
9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb."
10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.
- Revelation 21:9-11
John is told what he is about to see. The holy city (church) has God's brilliance (transfiguration, Moses' face shining).
12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 The one who spoke with me had a gold measuring rod to measure the city, and its gates and its wall. 16 The city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal.
- Revelation 21:12-16
He describes the city. The wall and the angels at each of the twelve gates refers to safety (impenetrable). Names on the gates of the twelve tribes identifies who lives in the city/church: the people of God as they were referred to in the Old Testament. Twelve foundations with the Apostles' names refers to the people of God as they are known in the New Testament. The city measures 1500 miles on each side, a reference to its size (in human terms, a very big place).
In verses 17 through 27 the city is described in terms of the most beautiful and precious things known to man at that time. It is worth more than anything ever. The light in the city is the Lord Himself, and the Lord is its temple. Note that before, the angel measured a temple and used this as a symbol for God's people. Now that the new heaven and earth are created there is no need for a temple (that was for earthly man). The holy city in the new heaven and earth has no need for a temple where God and man meet, they now dwell together and the Lord is the temple (no more sin to separate them).
People of every walk of life are there and each brings his own unique glory to enhance the city without pride or competition. They remain individuals and not self-centered. Only those who are worthy will live there.
The fact that the city is so big and the walls are so low and the gates are always open shows that it will be a safe place, a free place, a glorious place to be and belong enjoying God's perfect fellowship and perfect protection.
3. God's perfect provision – 22:1-5
All is provided for in the Holy City.
1 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
- Revelation 22:1-2
The river of life, the tree of life with fruit and leaves of healing refer to the sources of eternal life and healing from sin. Sin began with fruit eaten in disobedience, now the same symbol represents healing from sin. Jesus is the living water. Jesus is the vine that produces the branches and the fruit that heals.
3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; 4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.
- Revelation 22:3-5
There is no temptation to serve the beast, only one will be served and only one mark will mark the people there, not the mark of the beast but the mark of His name on their foreheads, the seal by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). This is a reference to Old Testament priests who had the words "Holy to the Lord" on a gold plate fastened to the turbans they wore on their heads (Exodus 39:30).
There is no competition between light and dark. There is only one throne and only one light. The promise that the saints will reign with Christ is fulfilled here (2 Timothy 2:11).
In the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, the saints will dwell in unspeakable beauty, protected and provided for by God Himself who will have a direct relationship with the saints. No priests, no apostles, no preachers or deacons, elders or teachers in heaven. God will provide all, the saints will know and have all.
Conclusion - 22:6-21
John has finished his vision of the victorious church in its exalted state. Now he concludes the book with several witnesses and a challenge to his readers.
1. The witnesses – Vs. 6-9; 16
The fact that this is a true account is witnessed by three people. By law, only two were needed, three is divine.
A. The angel
And he said to me, "These words are faithful and true"; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.
- Revelation 22:6
I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.
- Revelation 22:16
He confesses that the one who sent him was Jesus Himself. All terms refer to Jesus in different biblical ways.
And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.
- Revelation 22:7
An encouragement to all readers to believe.
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. 9 But he said to me, "Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God."
- Revelation 22:8-9
The angel declares John to be a prophet and this is inspired material.
2. The instructions – Vs. 10-15
Daniel was told to seal up his prophecy until the end (Daniel 12:9). No one would know or understand until the end times (time of fourth empire: Rome). John is told the opposite, the end (of Rome) was near so he had to preach and proclaim the things revealed to him. A final warning concerning the destruction (to Rome) to come and the fact that they will not repent and their end is inevitable, just as the reward for those who are the Lord's is inevitable. Rejoice for yourself, do not worry about them.
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.
- Revelation 22:17
Jesus personally invites all those who believe the message of the book to come to Him.
4. Final instructions and blessings
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming quickly." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.
- Revelation 22:18-21
Do not change anything because this is prophecy. The punishment for doing so is severe. Jesus promises to fulfill all these things Himself. The chapters ends with a final blessing from the Lord.
John completes his visions with a direct invitation, warning and blessing from the Lord.
There are many possible sermons and lessons from Revelation, but I want to leave you with these three:
1. Satan is real and has influence
This inspired text is all about the damage Satan causes and God's plan to destroy him, his allies, and all those who follow him by not believing in Jesus. Satan appears in both Genesis and Revelation.
The world's greatest deception is thinking Satan is not real or powerful.
2. Hell is real
Again, Revelation makes very clear that such a place exists and it is terrible. We do well to be afraid, to make an effort to avoid this place. That is why we work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
3. Heaven is real
John describes it in Jewish apocalyptic terms, but over 2,000 years later his point is that heaven is a real place; that it is blissfully beautiful and joyful; that God will dwell there with His people; and that only Christians are there.
This should be an encouragement to those who are Christians to stay faithful and an encouragement to those who are not to become Christians as soon as possible.