Monday, February 6, 2017

Final Judgment

1 Then I (John) saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit (Abyss) and a heavy chain in his hand. 2 He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. 3 The angel threw him into the bottomless pit (Abyss), which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while.

4 Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded (martyred or killed) for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their forehead or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ (Messiah) and will reign with Him a thousand years.

7 When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison (confinement). 8 He will go out to deceive (seduce, lead astray) the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth (four corners of the earth). He will gather them together for battle (war)—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. 9 And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people (saints) and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. 10 Then the devil, who had deceived (seduce, lead astray) them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (brimstone), joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

11 And I saw a great white throne and the One sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from His presence, but they found no place to hide. 12 I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged (sentenced) according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave (Hades) gave up their dead. And all were judged (cases tried and determined) according to their deeds (motives and works). 14 Then death and the grave (Hades) were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. 15 And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:1-15 (NLT)

Revelation 20 reveals God’s final destruction of Satan and God’s final judgment of humanity. As mentioned previously beginning at Revelation 17:1 and ending with Revelation 20:15, John describes God and His Son Jesus the Lamb’s final victory over evil – the unholy trinity (Satan the dragon, the beast (antichrist), and the false prophet), their wicked woman, and people who follow the ways of evil (see Revelation 17:15-18; Revelation 19:19-21; Revelation 20:7-10). Having defeated the wicked woman in chapter 17 and the beast (antichrist) and the false prophet in chapter 19, John now turns to the ultimate enemy who has deceived the nations – the dragon. The Holy Scriptures identify our ultimate enemy by four sinister names: the dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil, or Satan (Revelation 20:2; see also Genesis 3:1; Job 1:7; Revelation 12:9).

Revelation 20 consists of three parts. The first verses of Revelation 20 describe the millennium (see Revelation 20:1-6). The second part of Revelation 20 reveals the dragon and his armies final battle against God’s people and God’s utter defeat and judgment of dragon’s and his evil alliance (see Revelation 20:7-10). The third part of Revelation 20 reveals the final judgment of humanity (see Revelation 20:11-15).

Revelation 20 begins with John, the human author of Revelation, seeing an angel coming down from heaven with a heavy chain in his hand and the key to the bottomless pit also called the “Abyss” (Revelation 20:1). The “bottomless pit” is not the same as hell, also called the “lake of fire” (see also Revelation 9:1-2, 11; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 17:8). The lake of fire is the final “prison” for Satan the dragon, the beast (antichrist), the false prophet), and everyone who follow the ways of evil (see Revelation 19:19-21; Revelation 20:10, 15). Rather, the Abyss is part of that hidden underworld under God’s authority for the confinement of evil spirits awaiting the final judgment (Revelation 9:1; see also Luke 8:31; Jude 6).

This heavenly angel seized the dragon—that old serpent who is the devil, Satan—and bound the dragon for a thousand years (Revelation 20:2). Then, the angel threw the dragon into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so that the dragon could not deceive the nations any more until the thousand years were finished (Revelation 20:3). After the thousand years, the dragon will be released again from the bottomless pit for a little while or short time (Revelation 20:3). First, the dragon was cast out of heaven (see Revelation 12:9), and now he is cast out of earth for a thousand years!

During this thousand-year period, John saw thrones in heaven and sitting on these thrones were those who were given the right to judge (Revelation 20:4; see also Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3). Also, John saw the souls of those who had been martyred or killed for their faithful testimony about God’s Son Jesus and for proclaiming the Word of God (Revelation 20:4; see also Revelation 6:9-11). These faithful believers had not worshiped the beast (the antichrist) or his statue and neither did these faithful believers accept the beast’s mark on their foreheads or their hands (Revelation 20:4; see also Revelation 13:16-18). John saw these faithful believers coming back to life again and reigning with Jesus in this millennial blessedness (a thousand years) (Revelation 20:4). This is the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5). The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended (Revelation 20:5). John proclaimed, “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” (Revelation 20:6, ESV).

Interestingly, John identifies these faithful believers as “priests of God and of Christ” (Revelation 20:6; see also Revelation 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5). At Mount Sinai, God promised the Israelites that if they would obey His voice and keep His commandments, they would be to Him a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6; see also 1 Peter 2:5, 9-12). These faithful believers, by remaining true and obedient to Jesus in the final trial with the beast (antichrist), are thus priests of God and Jesus (see also Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10).

When the thousand-year imprisonment end, the dragon is released from his prison and permitted to lead one last revolt with his evil army (Revelation 20:7-9). The when who, and why the dragon is released from his prison is an undisclosed mystery of Revelation. The dragon will resume his evil ways of deception and dishonesty and go out to deceive the nations of the world just like the false prophet (Revelation 20:8; see also Matthew 7:15-20; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 13:14; Revelation 19:20). Even more, the dragon will gather his evil alliance from the four corners of the world—Gog and Magog—for battle with his propaganda (Revelation 20:8).

The two mysterious figures “Gog and Magog” are obedient tools of the dragon participating in the final battle with the dragon (Revelation 20:8). The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel refers to “Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of the Meshech and Tubal,” who will come from the north against God’s people living peacefully in the land (see Ezekiel 38:2). Whereas in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel Magog is the territory of which Gog is the ruler. In the book of Revelation, Gog and Magog are parallel names, used together of the world powers or nations opposed to the true and living God and His faithful people.

Many scholars have tried to identify the Gog and Magog. However, Bible interpreters disagree on Gog and Magog’s identity. More than ordinary enemies, Gog and Magog are a personification of evil – evil that has fought God’s people from the very beginning. Interestingly, Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 reveal God also delivering His people by destroying Gog with fire from heaven (see Ezekiel 38:21-22; Ezekiel 39:6).

The dragon’s evil army will be as numberless as sand along the shore (Revelation 20:8). The dragon and his evil army will go up across the broad plain of the earth and surround God’s faithful people, the city He loves (Revelation 20:9; see also Revelation 21:2). The camp of God’s people is also His beloved city. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. Interestingly, John does not describe the actual battle. Fire from God in heaven will flash down on the dragon and his attacking armies and completely consume them (Revelation 20:9). The Lord God Almighty defeated all the evil forces (Revelation 20:9-10; see also Deuteronomy 28:7; Romans 8:31; Hebrews 13:5-6). If you faithfully follow and obey God, you will experience victory!

Following the dragon’s defeat, the dragon who had deceived the nations will once again be captured and thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where his evil cohorts the beast and the false prophet were (Revelation 20:10; see also Revelation 19:20). The unholy trinity (Satan the dragon, the beast (antichrist), and the false prophet) will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). God has defeated utterly evil!

The phrase “thousand years” occurs six times in Revelation 20:1-7. This period in history is known as “the millennium.” The account of the thousand-year period in chapter 20 is the only place in the Holy Scriptures that mentions the millennium, and these verses are among the most controversial in Revelation. Over centuries, biblical scholars have interpreted the thousand-year reign in a variety of ways. Postmillennialism believes that the church itself will bring about a time of peace and prosperity in preparation for the return of Jesus Christ through its expanding influence. This view was far more popular in the 19th century when people were optimistic about progress and the future. Premillennialism believes that Jesus Christ will return to earth and reign here in person, ushering in a period of great peace. During this period, Satan the dragon will be bound up, but he will lead a final revolt at the end of the thousand years. Amillennialism interprets the thousand-year passage much less literally. Some amillennialism holds that the millennium has already been going on, but the reign of Jesus Christ is taking place in heaven, not on earth. Others believe the church is establishing the kingdom of Christ, now, between Jesus’s first and second coming. Because the Holy Scriptures provides so little information on the millennium, no one can be completely sure the meaning of the “thousand years.” The “thousand years” period itself may be symbolic, standing for a very long period of time. These holding each view read John’s millennial vision in terms of their understanding of other biblical texts and their approach to prophetic literature as a whole. Regardless, all positions agree that ultimately this world will end. Each of these interpretations affirms the central truth: Jesus will return as promised (see John 14:3), and will destroy the forces of evil and establish God’s eternal kingdom.   

Then, John saw a great white throne and One sitting on His great white throne (Revelation 20:11). From One’s presence, earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for the earth and sky (Revelation 20:11). Also, John saw all the dead, great and small, standing before God’s throne and the books were opened, including the book of life (Revelation 20:12). THIS IS THE FINAL JUDGMENT AND EVERYONE WILL BE PRESENT!

There is some question about the identity of the One sitting upon throne (Revelation 20:11). The New Testament generally teaches that judgment has been committed to God’s Son, Jesus Christ (see e.g., Matthew 25:31-33; John 5:22; Acts 10:42; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1). Yet Revelation 20:11 present God the Father as the judge. Elsewhere in Revelation the One seated upon the throne is God the Father (see e.g., Revelation 4:2, 9; Revelation 5:1, 7, 13; Revelation 6:16; Revelation 7:10, 15; Revelation 19:4; Revelation 21:5). The ease with which the New Testament speaks both about the judgment seat of Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:10) and the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:10) implies unity of God the Father and His Son, Jesus (see e.g., Revelation 11:15). In his Gospel, John records that statement of Jesus, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30; see also Deuteronomy 6:4; John 14:9; John 17:11, 22). Jesus is God (see e.g., John 1:1-5, 14; John 14:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Philippians 2:6)

In John’s vision, God judged all the dead small and great according to the things written in the books, each according to the deeds he or she had done while living (Revelation 20:12; see also Daniel 7:9-10; Romans 2:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The seas also gave up the bodies buried in them as well as the earth and the underworld gave up the dead in them (Revelation 20:13). Everyone was judged according to his or her deeds (Revelation 20:13). John makes clear that the One sitting on the throne will judge everyone “according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:13). The opening of the books suggests that our earthly lives are important and meaningful, and are taken into account at the end. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). Death and Hades are personified as the last great evil enemies of humanity (see also 1 Corinthians 15:26). Death entered the world as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin and disobedience in the Garden of Eden (also known as the “Great Fall”) (Genesis 3; see also Romans 5:12). As result of Adam and Eve’s sin, all humanity not only become subject death (see Hebrews 9:27) but also enslaved by the fear of death (see Hebrews 2:15). This is the second death—the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). If anyone’s name was not found recorded in God’s book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of eternal fire (Revelation 20:15; see also Matthew 25:41). The final judgment clears the scene for the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth, from which sin and death are banished forevermore (Revelation 21:1-5; see also Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:10-13). The true and living God will judge and condemn evildoers for their evil and wicked deeds, and they will be cast eternally into the lake of fire.

That books will be consulted in the final judgment is an idea found in many ancient traditions – Biblical and nonbiblical. Besides nonbiblical sources, the conception of a heavenly register is mentioned in various parts of the Old Testament (see e.g., Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 7:10; Malachi 3:16). Divine judgment that takes account of works is spoken of also in Psalm 62:12; Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 2:6; and 1 Peter 1:17. The issue is not salvation by works and deeds, but our good works and deeds are overwhelming evidence of a person’s genuine relationship with God (Ephesians 2:10). In addition to the record of people’s earthly deeds, there is another book to be opened called the “book of life.” John mentions the book of life five times throughout Revelation (see Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12, 15; Revelation 21:27). The Holy Scriptures also speak of the “book of life” containing the names of God's faithful people at Luke 10:20 and Philippians 4:3 (see also e.g., Isaiah 4:3; Daniel 12:1; Hebrews 12:23). The relationship between the record of people’s deeds and the book of life is not clear. In any case, judgment proceeds on the evidence supplied by both the record of deeds and the book of life.

Moreover, many people reject the biblical doctrine of hell or the eternal fire as being “unchristian.” However, Jesus clearly taught of hell’s reality during His public ministry on earth (see e.g., Matthew 18:8; Matthew 23:15, 33; Matthew 25:46; Mark 9:46). However, the true and living God has given everyone an opportunity to avoid the eternal lake of fire by sending His one and only begotten Son to save us from our sins (see e.g., Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:10-11; John 3:16-18; Acts 4:12; Acts 13:28). Everyone who faithfully BELIEVES AND OBEYS Jesus as God’s Son will be saved from the lake of fire and adopted into God’s family (see e.g., John 1:12-13; Luke 19:10; John 3:16-17; John 12:44-50; Galatians 3:26). Thus, the true and living God who is merciful and kind has graciously given everyone an opportunity to avoid and escape the eternal lake of fire by ACCEPTING, BELIEVING, AND OBEYING His Son, Jesus and REPENTING (TURNING) from their sins and wickedness. Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation (see e.g., John 5:24; John 14:9; Acts 4:12). The true and living God takes no pleasure in the death of people (see e.g., Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:3-4). Therefore, let everyone turn from wickedness and evil and wholeheartedly turn to God with love and obedience to God and His ways so you can live (see e.g., Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Ezekiel 33:11-20; Micah 6:6-8; Matthew 3:2, 8; Matthew 4:17). For the wages of sin is death, but God gives the free gift of eternal life through His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23; see also e.g., Proverbs 10:16; Ezekiel 18:4). The true and living God will judge everyone according to his or her ways and deeds (see e.g., Ezekiel 18:30-32; Romans 2:6-10). If anyone turns from his or her sins and turn to God and His Son Jesus, God is gracious to forgive them of their sins. While good deeds will not save us, our salvation must lead to righteous actions (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14-17; see also Ezekiel 18:5-9, 30-32). Our wholehearted love for God and genuine love for others (good and kind deeds) attest to our genuine trust in Jesus (see Matthew 22:34-40; see also e.g., Exodus 20:3–17; John 13:34-35; John 14:15; Romans 13:8-14). The soul who continually sins and fails to repent and turn from wickedness shall die (Ezekiel 18:20-22). However, when anyone turns away from evil and does what is just and right, he shall save his life (see e.g., Isaiah 55:7; Ezekiel 18:27-28, 30-32).

THEREFORE, LET EVERYONE REPENT! Turn away from evil, wickedness, and disobedience and get a new heart and a new spirit by faithfully, wholeheartedly, and genuinely turning to God and obeying His ways (Ezekiel 18:30-31; see also Isaiah 1:16-20). Repent and live (Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; see also Ezekiel 18:32)!

New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
Dr. Loyd Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Metzger, Bruce. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary –New Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

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