Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The 1000 Years of Revelation 20
by Rev. Angus Stewart
Revelation 20 is a battleground. It is a battleground for two different reasons. First, it describes the largest and the most important battle in the history of the world. You could call it the battle of all battles or the war to end all wars, for with its conclusion the world, with all its fighting, ends. Second, Revelation 20 is a battleground between the various views of the last days. All the different schools of thought on eschatology have their own distinctive interpretations of Revelation 20. In fact, the four main views derive their names from Revelation 20: amillennialism, premillennialism, postmillennialism, and premillennial dispensationalism. For Revelation 20 is the only passage in the Bible that speaks of a "thousand years," and it is from the Latin word for a thousand (mille) that we derive our English word "millennium," a key component in the names of the four main eschatological schools.
I am not going to explain the positions of these four systems of eschatology, for that would take us too far afield. Nor am I going to critique the various schools of thought; that would be too much for this article. Instead, I will here set out what I believe to be the right view, the view of the mainline, historic Christian and Reformed faith, also called amillennialism. I will simply explain the passage, going through it bit by bit, and, here and there, I will make the occasional criticism of the other millennial schools.
So what does Revelation 20 mean? In the first three verses we will look at the binding of Satan. In verses 4-6, we will consider the reign of the saints. Verses 7-10 deal with Satan's little season, Gog and Magog and the final battle. Then there is the judgment of Christ's great white throne (11-15), but this last section is beyond the scope of this article.
I. The Binding of Satan (1-3)
The very first words of Revelation 20 are vital to its right interpretation. This chapter does not begin with the word "Then," as if we are dealing with a temporal sequence. It does not start with "After that" either. It does not even begin with "It shall come to pass." It simply begins, "And I saw." "And I saw" tells us that here we are dealing with a vision. A vision is not history; a vision is not even prophecy, as such; it is a special type of prophecy.
Visions are characterised by symbols. By symbols, I am referring to such things as symbolic numbers, symbolic colours, symbolic names, symbolic metals, symbolic jewels, etc. Let us consider some visions or dreams, for in the Bible visions and dreams are very similar. Both visions and dreams contain what the seer "saw." In Daniel 2, we have a giant statue of gold, silver, bronze, iron and then iron and clay, which symbolise four great world empires. Daniel 7 presents the same reality, this time under the imagery of four beasts. Daniel sees a lion and a bear and a leopard and then the fourth beast, dreadful and exceedingly terrible. These creatures represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. Revelation 13 begins, "And I saw," and then comes the beast with seven heads and ten horns and ten crowns, part lion, part bear, part leopard. "And I saw," tells us that we are dealing with a vision. The book of Revelation, in general, consists of a sequence of visions.
The main figure in Revelation 20:1-3 is Satan. Satan is here described by four different names. Two of the names come from animals and two are proper names. He is called, first, "the dragon" (2). Earlier, he was called a "great red dragon" (12:3). In Revelation 12, he has a mighty tail, seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns. Does the devil really have these numbers of heads and crowns and so on? No, it is a vision. The point is that the devil is a powerful, ferocious and terrifying being. Not only is he called "the dragon," but he is also called "that old serpent" (20:2). In that the serpent is called "old," it refers to the serpent's tempting Eve in the beginning of the world in Genesis 3. Satan is, therefore, the enemy of God and His people from ancient times. He is powerful like a dragon and he is subtle like a serpent. Third, he is called "the Devil" (2). As the devil, he slanders and falsely accuses. The fourth title is "Satan" (2), that is, the opposer of God and His kingdom. Putting those four names together, the devil is a powerful, subtle, slanderous opponent. He is all these things as a fallen angel, an evil spirit, who uses all his might and all his craft against Jesus Christ and His church. The saints hear God's evaluation of Satan and believe His assessment of him. We must watch against Satan's attacks and look for all our protection in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth (Ps. 121)!
Revelation 20 also proclaims that Satan is bound:
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan [the four names that we have just considered], and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season (1-3).
Is this binding of Satan absolute and complete or is it relative and in part? To express it a little differently, Can the devil, once he is bound, do absolutely nothing because of his binding or is he only bound with respect to a particular activity? Again, Is Satan's binding absolute and complete so that he is bound with respect to absolutely everything or is it a partial binding with respect to something specified in the Word of God?
What does Revelation 20 say? It tells us that Satan is bound "that he should deceive the nations no more" (3). Verse 8 informs us, more fully, that when he is loosed (which is obviously the opposite of being bound), the devil "shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gag and Magog, to gather them together to battle." Their battle is against Christ's church, as we shall see more fully later. Thus the binding of Satan is God's restraint of him that stops him from uniting all the nations together to destroy the church. This is what the passage says. The binding of Satan, as explained in Revelation 20, is not absolute and complete; it is relative and in part. Verses 3 and 8 specify that his binding concerns one particular thing, for Satan's binding means that he can not unite all the world in a full-scale attack against God's people. When, after his binding, he is loosed, he "shall go out to deceive the nations which are on the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle" (8). This is the thing he can not do while he was bound. But when he is loosed, he unites all the nations against the people of God.
The question is now: When does this binding of Satan take place? Here we need to understand what things were like in the days of the Old Testament. Hear Psalm 147:19-20:
He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel [i.e., the Jews received the revelation of God through the prophets in the Word]. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them.
Acts 14:16 makes the same point: God "in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways." In other words, in Old Testament days all the nations were in the thick darkness of paganism and idolatry (cf. Eph. 2:12). The light of salvation shone only in that little tract of land in Palestine. That is the way things were in Old Testament times.
Then, in Jesus Christ, God came into the world in human flesh, and He atoned for the sins of the elect not only in Israel but also in all nations. The church became catholic or universal, as opposed to being only in Palestine with a few people (like Naaman) converted in kingdoms round about. The gospel spread throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa and is now being disseminated throughout the whole world. But, of course, Satan sought to crush the New Testament church. How would he do that? By deceiving all the nations to unite together against Christ's bride to destroy her. This is where the binding of Satan comes in. Jesus Christ bound Satan by His cross and resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (which is the application of the cross). Here, you understand, I am taking Christ's atoning death, burial, resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as one complex of events.
Now we need to look at a few passages. First, in Matthew 12:28-29, Jesus says to the Pharisees,
But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.
This passage declares (1) that Satan is "cast out" by Christ—the same Greek word is used in Revelation 20:3 where Satan is cast into the bottomless pit—and (2) that the kingdom of God is come in Christ and this is proven by Jesus' exorcising demons.
Second, in John 12:31, Christ declares, "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out." Note: (1) this word "cast out" is virtually the same word as that used in Revelation 20:3 where Satan is cast out and (2) Satan is cast out "now." The next verse goes on to speak of Christ being lifted up on the cross and ascending into heaven. That is when Satan is cast out.
Third, Colossians 2:15 states that Jesus Christ "spoiled principalities and powers [including, centrally, Satan]," at the cross.
Fourth, Hebrews 2:14 teaches us that Jesus came in flesh and blood to die on the cross in order that "through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil."
Fifth, I John 3:8 proclaims this good news: "The Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."
These five New Testament texts unitedly declare that Satan was cast out and spoiled by Christ at His first coming by His death, burial and resurrection. Of course! For if the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, the "power of God" (I Cor. 1:24), does not bind Satan or cast him out, then nothing in the universe could!
Someone might say, though, "This puts the binding of Satan in the past," for the cross and the events that I have described are in the past. The answer to that is "Yes, that is exactly where I am putting the binding of Satan: in the past." You say, "What's that doing in the book of Revelation? Doesn't Revelation 20 speak about things future to us?" Undoubtedly, there are things in Revelation 20 that are future to us, but some of the chapter refers to events which have already occurred.
This is not unusual in the book of Revelation. Revelation 5, for instance, speaks about Christ's ascension and reign. This is the chapter in which the Lamb takes the book. This vision begins, "And I saw in the right hand ..." (1). Christ's taking the book and beginning to rule over all things actually occurred in the past—for John too, because John penned Revelation in the AD 90s, according to most New Testament scholars. Christ took the book and began to exercise God's rule over the whole universe in the AD 30s upon His ascension into heaven.
Revelation 12, is similar. It tells us what John saw: "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven ..." (1). Here we see a woman and a dragon and all sorts of wonderful signs. In this chapter we also behold Christ's birth, His ascension, and His reign (2, 4-5). These things happened in the past from our perspective and they were in the past from John's perspective when he wrote this book.
The obvious objection to this is: How can Satan be bound now when there is so much evil in the world? What about all the iniquity that surrounds us? Satan tempts us; he goes around as a roaring lion seeking those he may devour (I Peter 5:8); he blinds the minds of those who believe not (II Cor. 4:4). He appears as an angel of light (11:14), who uses false teachers and false doctrine to lead the church into apostasy. He is called the "God of this world" (4:4). He stirs up ungodly rulers to persecute the church. You can even see this in the book of Acts. So how can the devil be bound?
Here I remind you of what I said at the start of this article about the binding of Satan: the binding of Satan means that he cannot unite all the nations together at one time to persecute the church and wipe her out until the thousand years are ended (Rev. 20:3, 8). The binding of Satan does not mean that he does not tempt or stir up persecution against the church. The binding of Satan means that he does not unite all the nations from the four quarters of the earth to destroy the church at one time. So far this all-out assault upon the people of God has not happened. Why not? Because Satan is bound, for Christ bound him at his death and resurrection.
Revelation 20 was written, in part, lest anyone would have doubts, that maybe all the nations will unite to wipe out the church at some point prior to the Antichrist. What does the vision say? Satan is bound; he is bound by a great chain; he is bound by a great chain by an angel from heaven and cast into the bottomless pit. What a wonderful thing!
You understand, of course, that these things are figurative. You can not bind Satan with a chain; he is a spirit. The trap door, locked with a key, is likewise part of the vision. The point is that Satan can not get out; he can not unite all the nations against the church to wipe her out, until God wills to loose him in the days of Antichrist.
This teaches us something very important about the millennium, the thousand years of Revelation 20. It teaches us when the millennium begins. It begins at the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, which results in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
This is the power that binds Satan. The binding of Satan, then, occurs at the beginning of the millennium or thousand years spoken of frequently in Revelation 20, the beginning of the New Testament age.
This also tells us something about the length of the millennium. One thousand nine hundred and seventy years have now passed since Calvary and Pentecost. The millennium, therefore, the thousand years of Revelation 20, is not and can not be literal because 1,970 years (which is more than 1,000 years) have passed. Psalm 50:10 says that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Who owns the cattle on the thousand and first hill? God's owning the cattle on a thousand hills means that He owns all the cattle; that is the point.
The book of Revelation is filled with symbolic numbers, which is exactly what you would expect, because it consists of visions. Six hundred and sixty six, the number of the beast, does not mean that you will be able to identify the Antichrist because he will have 666 tattooed on his forehead. The number, 666, the Bible says, is the number of man (Rev. 13:18). Antichrist is the epitome of man sinning and coming short (666) of the covenant perfection of God (777). Seven is also symbolic in Revelation: seven spirits of God, seven eyes, seven horns, seven speaking thunders, seven heads of the beast, etc. In Revelation 14, we see the one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, which is twelve times twelve (the number of the church) times a thousand.
In Revelation 20, what, then, is the symbolism of the thousand years? The answer is very simple: the number one thousand is ten cubed, ten times ten times ten. Ten in the Bible is the number of completeness. There were ten plagues—the fullness of God's wrath upon Egypt. We have ten commandments—the fullness of God's law, of all God's judgments. So ten times ten times ten, which is a thousand, is the complete and full New Testament age of the whole catholic church of Jesus Christ.
When does the millennium end? Revelation 20 says that it ends when Satan is loosed. Then you have Satan's little season (3) followed by the end of the world. Thus the millennium finishes at the end of the world minus Satan's little season, a tiny little sliver, immediately before the very end. Then comes the final judgment in which Jesus Christ will judge the world on His great white throne (11-15). Acts 24:15 teaches that there will be one resurrection, both of the just and the unjust, who are raised from the dead for the purpose of the final judgement.
Let us put all this together. The millennium begins with Christ's first coming, Calvary and Pentecost. It ends with His second coming, and then we have the final judgment. Thus the millennium is the New Testament age, the period from the first to the second advent of Christ (here, for simplification, I am setting aside the tiny little sliver at the very end before Christ returns when Satan is loosed). This period, between the first and second comings of Christ, is pictured as a thousand years in the vision of Revelation 20 for a specific purpose. It emphasises the completeness and fullness of the New Testament age.
This is how the New Testament age is complete and full: all the elect are saved from all nations. These are the days predicted by the prophets as the fulfilment of their hopes until finally the eternal state is ushered in. This is the era in which Jesus Christ personally rules from His throne in heaven over all things. This is the age in which the Spirit of Jesus Christ works in all the world and in which the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of Christ is gathered. So the millennium covers the same period as the "last days" (another biblical phrase), the period from the first coming to the second coming of Christ. These days are called the "last days" because nothing comes after them but the eternal state. There is no intermediate period or halfway house between the millennium or last days and the eternal state.
Now we can see why Satan is bound at the very beginning of the millennium and why he is not loosed until the very end of the thousand years. For, to speak hypothetically, if all the nations were allowed to unite against the church, say, some fifty years prior to Christ's return, then all the elect could not be gathered. Then all the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church could not be saved. What then about the predictions of the prophets? What about the rule of Jesus Christ from His throne?
Thus the message of the millennium is a message of comfort. It is comfort, first of all, because it proclaims that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He is Lord even of Satan—not in the sense that the old serpent worships Him as his Saviour, but that He rules over the devil. He binds Satan and He looses Satan. "Satan," Christ says, in effect, "I am going to see to it that you do not unite and destroy My church. I am going to bind you. And when I please, and when you fulfil My purpose, then I'll loose you." Satan just does what he is allowed to do, to serve the sovereign purpose of Jesus Christ. Second, this is also our comfort: Satan is defeated. Satan is bound now so he can not unite all the nations against the church, and then Satan will be loosed for a little while for one all-out assault on the church. Then, Revelation 20 says, he will be cast into the lake of fire forever and ever (10). All this means, therefore, that all the church will be saved.
Since the millennium teaches us that, no matter how fierce the persecution, the whole church will not be attacked by all the nations together until Satan's little season, the millennium is the period of missions for the church in which the gospel is sent out to all the world. The millennium, therefore, means victory for the church. This victory is not the victory of earthly peace or power or prosperity, as if the church were just another kingdom of this world. The millennium is a period of victory as a period of spiritual peace, power and prosperity. Christ's word that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) does not mean that His kingdom is somehow inferior to all the other kingdoms of this world. No, when He says that His kingdom is not of this world, He means it is a far better kingdom, a far richer kingdom—rich with the blessings of peace and fellowship with the true and living God. Unlike every other kingdom, this one is everlasting and indestructible. All its meek citizens will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5).
II. The Reign of the Saints (4-6)
The saints who reign in Revelation 20:4-6 are described, first, as disembodied souls, that is, they are believers who are physically dead, but who are alive in their souls. Verse 4 begins, "And I saw" (just to remind us that this is still a vision) "thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus." The passage says "souls," but someone could object that sometimes this means simply "people." True. The Bible tells us, for instance, that seventy souls came to Egypt (Gen. 46:26-27), and this does not mean seventy disembodied spirits; it means seventy people (in body and soul). But here we are told in Revelation 20:4 that these are souls who have been beheaded, and so they have died physically. They are disembodied souls.
The second point is that these saints are in heaven and not on earth. Where else would those saints be who have died physically and live in their souls? If you look at Revelation 6:9-11, you will see the souls of the saints presented as being under the altar in heaven. We are told in Revelation 20:4 that these souls, who have been beheaded, sit on thrones, and thrones are always heavenly in the book of Revelation. Take a concordance and check it out. Moreover, we read of these souls that they are reigning with Christ, and He (in His body) is in heaven.
Third, these disembodied souls in heaven are not only those who have been literally beheaded; they are all the believers in heaven. In the book of Revelation, all the saints are presented as martyrs. We are martyrs since we are hated by the world because we belong to Jesus Christ. The world hates Him and therefore it hates us. We are martyrs, too, because all saints are persecuted by this world. By definition, you cannot be a saint in this fallen world without being persecuted. Persecution comes in different forms and in varying degrees, but all saints are hated and are persecuted. Romans 8:36 declares, "As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Paul does not mean just himself; he means all Christians, all those who are elect and called. "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" is a quotation from Psalm 44:22. It is always this way (both in Old and New Testament days) with God's beloved people. All Christians fit the characteristics of Revelation 20:4. All persevere in holiness in a godless world. Though the degree of our persecution varies, in principle, all Christians are slain because hatred, as the Bible teaches (cf. Matt. 5:22; I John 3:15), is principally murder and the world hates God's children.
As describing the disembodied souls of saints in heaven, Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of the intermediate state of the righteous. "Intermediate" means the period in the middle. It is the period in between what we currently experience on earth and the eternal state. When we die, we enter the intermediate state in our souls with Christ in heaven. After that is the eternal state that begins with the bodily resurrection. Thus Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of the intermediate state (between our present life and the eternal state).
It teaches us where we are going to be when we die and what it is going to be like. The life of the people of God after death is a life of reigning as kings. We read of "thrones" (4), which means we are kings, and as kings on thrones we exercise dominion and rule over heaven and earth in union with Jesus Christ, the Lord of all. That life is also one in which we offer sacrifices of praise to God as priests, for verse 6 calls us "priests of God and of Christ." This is a most exalted priesthood enjoyed by the saints, a greater priesthood even than that exercised by Aaron or Jehoiada in the Old Testament. It will also be a life of adjudicating as judges. In the future, we, who are judged unworthy by the world, will judge the world. This rich life as kings and priests and judges is a life with Jesus Christ and in His presence. Thus verse 6 says, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection." This is the state of all the dead who die in Christ, including many people whom we have known. This is where they are today, and this is the life that we personally shall enjoy with Jesus Christ at our death, unless He returns first.
Revelation 20:5 states, "This is the first resurrection." This first resurrection is not the bodily resurrection because John tells us that he saw the souls of them that were beheaded. It is not regeneration either, for although regeneration is spoken of in the Bible as a resurrection, these souls are in heaven and not on earth. The first resurrection is the intermediate state of those who die in Jesus Christ, it is their being raised to heavenly glory. Thus verse 4 describes the state of the righteous dead in heaven, and the first part of verse 5 excludes unbelievers from this blessedness: "the rest of the dead lived not" (there is no Greek equivalent for the word "again" in the AV) "until the thousand years were finished"—they do not have a part in that glorious life in heaven. Then it says, "This is the first resurrection." Verse 6 continues, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection."
If the first resurrection is the resurrection of the soul of the believer into heaven at death, what is the second resurrection? The second resurrection is the resurrection of the body of the believer at the return of Jesus Christ. Thus the first resurrection concerns the soul of the believer; the second resurrection concerns his body. The first resurrection occurs at death; the second resurrection occurs at the return of Jesus Christ. So what is resurrected at the first resurrection? The soul. What is resurrected at the second resurrection? The body. When does it take place? The first resurrection occurs at death; the second resurrection at the second coming of Christ. Our first resurrection at death and our second resurrection at Christ's return together effect the perfect transformation of the believer, both soul and body when we shall perfectly bear the image of Jesus Christ.
After looking at the first and, by implication, the second resurrection with respect to believers, we need to consider "the second death" (6, 14) and, by implication, the first death. What does Revelation 20 teach about this second death? Verse 6 says that the second death is not for the believer: "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power." So believers do not experience the second death. Verse 14 states concerning the second death, "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." The second death, then, is eternal punishment in the flames of the lake of fire. So while the first and second resurrections in Revelation 20 are for the believer, the (first and) second deaths are for the unbeliever. And if the second death of the unbeliever is the lake of fire, which is torment in body and soul, the first death is their intermediate state, hell, which is torment in soul.
I am going to run through it again in order to parallel the two. What happens to the believer? At death, he experiences the first resurrection: he lives with Christ in heaven in his soul. At Christ's return, he receives the second resurrection: he lives with Christ in the new heavens and new earth in body and soul. This view of the resurrection, the first resurrection being that of the soul at death and the second resurrection being that of the body at Christ's return, accords with the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. & A. 57). What happens to the unbeliever? What is his first death? That is when he dies in his body and he, in his soul, enters the intermediate state for the wicked. Like the rich man in Luke 16, he lifts up his eyes in hell being in torments. The second death occurs when, at Christ's return (and the general resurrection and the final judgment), his body and soul are cast into the lake of fire to endure eternal punishment.
Thus Revelation 20:4-6 tells us about what is happening with the church both in heaven and, by implication, on earth during the thousand years. On earth, between the first and second comings of Christ, Christians are tempted to commit idolatry: to worship the beast and his image, and to receive his mark (4). The Christian church is always tempted by the world and the false church to commit idolatry, and so I John 5:21 commands, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." This temptation to idolatry will intensify with the deeper apostasy as our Lord's return draws nearer (cf. II Thess. 2:3-4, 7, 9-12). This means, second, that faithful Christians are persecuted when they refuse to commit idolatry and worship the beast in whatever form he is manifested through the New Testament age. Then at death, Christians live and reign and judge with Christ in heaven in their souls (the first resurrection), where the blessed dead currently are, awaiting the second resurrection, which is the resurrection of the body at the personal return of Jesus Christ on the clouds of heaven.
What can we say about the unbelievers during the New Testament or millennial age? They live in sin and the hatred of God and they tempt and persecute the church (Rev. 20:4). Each of the ungodly at his first (physical) death is cast into hell in his soul; then at the second death he is cast into the lake of fire where he is tormented in both body and soul.
III. Satan's Little Season, Gog and Magog and the Final Battle (7-10)
At the end of the millennium or New Testament era, "Satan shall be loosed out of his prison" (7), that is, as verse 8 specifies, he "shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea." This period is called "a little season" (3). From this we get the phrase "Satan's little season." And why "little season?" Because it is a brief period. It is a brief period, especially when compared to the thousand years. Satan is bound for a thousand years. Then he is allowed a little season, in which he carries out his dastardly plan (for a while), and so fulfils God's eternal purpose. What does Satan do in this little season? He gathers Gog and Magog to battle (8).
The first and only reference to Gog and Magog in the Old Testament is in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Gog is presented as a chief prince and Magog is a people or country. The idea of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is that Gog and Magog constitute a particularly evil, fierce and numerous enemy. They are a vast army that swarms and destroys. They come up to attack the people of God, and then the Almighty comes and destroys them suddenly.
Revelation 20 picks up this reference to Gog and Magog in Ezekiel, and presents Gog and Magog as the final, great enemy that attacks God's church. Gog and Magog are not Russia or China. In fact, they are not any particular individual nation at all. They are described in verse 8 under three names. First, they are called "the nations:" "Satan shall go out to deceive the nations." Second, more specifically, the nations "which are in the four quarters of the earth." Third, they are called "Gog and Magog," a fearsome enemy mentioned in Ezekiel 38-39. If you put these details together, Gog and Magog, that terrible enemy described in the Old Testament, are the nations in the four quarters of the earth, all the ungodly of the world.
More particularly, God and Magog are the wicked world, as it is united under Satan who, being released and loosed, gathers all the ungodly together to persecute and destroy the saints (Rev. 20:9). Satan has his man over them; he is called "the man of sin" in II Thessalonians 2 or "antichrist" in I John 2:18 or "the beast" in the book of Revelation. Revelation also explains the role of the false prophet as one who seduces the nations with his lying propaganda so that they enlist in the service of the beast. Through Antichrist, aided by the false prophet, Satan gathers Gog and Magog to the final battle.
Revelation 20:9 says that Gog and Magog, the ungodly nations of the four quarters of the earth, "went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city." We need to specify who this "camp," this "beloved city" (Jerusalem), is. This camp and this beloved city are not national Israel and the earthly Jerusalem. This camp of the saints, this beloved city, is the New Testament church of Jesus Christ. I say this because the New Testament teaches explicitly and repeatedly that we are the true Jews. We, Gentile and Jewish believers in Christ, are "the circumcision" (Phil. 3:3). He is not a Jew who is one outwardly whose circumcision is in the flesh; he is Jew who is one inwardly, who is circumcised in the heart and by the Spirit (Rom. 2:28-29). What does the word "Jew" mean? It means "praise" (29). Who are the people who praise God? First, the Messiah and, second, all those who are in Him. They are the only humans who truly praise God. Galatians 4:26 states that "Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." That is the Jerusalem in which we are supremely interested, the one that is above and not the one that is in the Middle East. Hebrews 12:22 speaks to this same subject as well. It says to New Testament believers (over against the earthly, unbelieving nation of the Jews), "ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem."
Identifying the "beloved city" in Revelation 20:9 as the church, practically defines the nature of the battle. It is a vision: there is a massive army, coming from all the quarters of the earth, surrounding this city. The reality portrayed by the vision is that all the ungodly will systematically and unitedly persecute the true church wherever she is found throughout the world. This persecution takes various forms, as the book of Revelation describes. Believers will be unable to buy or sell (13:16-17). This has happened in various places at certain times, and it will intensify as the end approaches. Then there is the mark of the beast: you will have to identify openly with the antichristian system and Antichrist himself, and you will have to worship the beast and his image, or you will die (20:4). All the world wonders after the beast with all its false miracles and power and popularity, apart from the faithful saints (13:1-18). Then, just when everything looks bleakest for the church of Christ on earth, fire comes down from God in heaven and devours Antichrist and all his forces (20:9).
This is the second coming of Jesus Christ for judgment, described in much the same way as it is presented in II Thessalonians 2:8, when Antichrist shall be destroyed with the brightness of Christ's coming. The Lord shall consume the man of sin with the spirit of His mouth and shall destroy him with the brightness of His coming. In Revelation 19:19, this same battle is spoken of: "I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war" (literally "the war" or "the battle") "against him that sat upon the horse, and against his army." Revelation 16:14 speaks of this same battle: "They are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty." It is called the battle of "Armageddon" in verse 16: "And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." Then all the ungodly are destroyed, and the beast and the false prophet and Satan are captured and cast into the lake of fire (19:20; 20:10).
So to what sort of a world does Christ return? He does not come back to a converted or Christianised world. He returns, to take up the imagery of Revelation 20, for a remnant church, for the nations on the four quarters of the earth are gathered together against one, besieged city. This is a picture of a minority, certainly not of a majority. Christ returns to punish an ungodly world dominated by Antichrist, who reigns over the whole earth, and to deliver His beloved people.
This does not destroy my hope because my hope is not that all the nations of the earth will one day be Christianised. My hope is that "blessed hope," namely, "the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13), when all the elect have been saved. Then all the wickedness of Satan, man and the fallen angels will be judged; every wrong will be righted; all the elect church will be gathered, perfected and vindicated; and we shall be prepared with new, glorified, resurrection bodies for the bliss of the new heavens and the new earth wherein dwells righteousness for ever. Sorrow, tears, pain and death will be no more; God's name will be worshipped in all the world; Christ's name shall be in our foreheads and we shall see His face! "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection" ... and in the second resurrection![End]
Rev. Angust Stewart graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grandville, MI in June of 2001. He was installed as first pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church (CPRC) of Ballymena, Northern Ireland later that same year, and currently preaches there.
 The speech from which this article is derived can be listened to on-line.
 "Q. What comfort doth the ‘resurrection of the body’ afford thee?
A. That not only my soul after this life shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head [i.e., the first resurrection]; but also, that this my body, being raised by the power of Christ, shall be reunited with my soul, and made like unto the glorious body of Christ [i.e., the second resurrection]."
 Two sermons on "The Last Battle" (Rev. 19:11-21) are available on-line: The Last Battle (I) and The Last Battle (II).