A defeated foe

Revelation 20:1-3

Satan’s defeat is comprehensive. We have seen the outworking of this in the last few chapters of Revelation. His freedom will now be restrained for a period of a thousand years. After this millennium, he will be released for a brief period of time, to deceive any who are still open to his wiles. The Bible tells us that Satan had been an angel - a created being - before he rebelled against God. So, it is fitting that another angel - a loyal servant of God - has been given a great chain and the key to the 'abyss'. It will be this angel’s privilege to escort the devil to his incarceration, bind him in chains, then seal him in the abyss for a thousand years. The abyss is sometimes called the 'bottomless pit'. It is apt that, in this place, Satan will initially experience the same sentence as those whom he has deceived and who stand condemned with him.

At this point, it is good to remember the agony of isolation that Christ suffered when He was crucified for our sin and His eternal relationship with the Father was broken. His heart-felt cry of intense anguish was heard when He uttered the words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ was suddenly alone, forsaken, isolated and cut off from His Father, as He bore the enormous burden of our sins - past, present and future. He experienced the sheer torture of abandonment, so that we would never have to be abandoned by God. But the price of Christ’s suffering and isolation, which are beyond our comprehension, ended in glorious victory with the promise from the Father: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

By contrast, John is now given a picture of Satan: abandoned, isolated and alone, incarcerated for a thousand years! He is left to wallow in the darkness of the abyss, with only his evil thoughts as company and the knowledge that there is no victory for him! Can we imagine what it would be like to wallow in our sins, all alone, without any hope of forgiveness? Yet still people choose to reject the love of Jesus! Often, we believers give Satan more credit for his power than he actually deserves! Through His death on the cross, Jesus defeated Satan and was then raised to life and lifted up to sit at God's right hand on high. God has bestowed on Him all sovereignty and Jesus has chosen to delegate that authority to us. (Matthew 28:18-19)

In the name of Jesus

If we choose to act in our own strength, we have no power - just like the seven sons of Sceva in the early days of the church. These seven young men chose to try and copy what they had seen the apostle, Paul, doing: casting out demons in the name of Jesus. They duly invoked the name of Jesus, but the evil spirit responded: "Jesus I know and Paul I know about, but who are you?" He then gave them a severe beating! The demon in the man recognised Jesus’ authority, but did not see that same power in the young men. (Acts 19:13-16) From this we learn that we can only call upon such power when we truly know Jesus for ourselves and act in His name.

Let’s consider another analogy. If we buy two puppies and one is big and black, whilst the other is small and fluffy, which will be the stronger dog? The answer is: "the one that we feed and care for the most!" How do we behave in our own lives? Do we try to go it alone and tackle problems at home, at work or wherever we are in our strength and resources, only to find that things go wrong and we fall prey to fear or negative thinking? Do we spend all our time with people who have no interest in spiritual things or indulging in selfish pleasures and pursuits? Or do we carve out time every day to spend with Jesus - praying to Him, worshipping Him and reading His word? Do we give some of our time regularly to helping and serving others? If we prioritise our own desires and needs, we shall quickly become disheartened in our walk with Jesus. This is why it is especially important to be accountable to other believers and to allow them to love us enough to gently point out our errors, so that we can ask for forgiveness and have our relationship with Jesus restored - through His Holy Spirit.

Everything we do, whether good or bad, produces fruit. We have to ensure that we feed our spirits properly, so that we are bearing Christ-like fruit. (Galatians 5:16-26) Let's not give any place or time to the devil. (Ephesians 4:27) Providing we operate within Jesus’ parameters, we can also carry out His commands in the world. In the name of Jesus, we have His authority to act. In His name alone, we can resist Satan. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:6-8) It is important to note that as true believers (those who have asked Jesus into their lives), we may still be influenced by demons, but we cannot be possessed by them. Satan will always seek to tempt us into going our own way, but God never tempts us; He only tests us to strengthen our faith. (James 1:3)

Millennium joy!

Revelation 20:4-6

Satan's incarceration in the abyss will take place immediately before Christ’s millennium reign on earth. What a glorious time of celebration and worship that will be! Jerusalem will become the world’s capital and the temple will be rebuilt on Mount Moriah. Jesus shall reign and there will be prosperity everywhere with no need for prisons or hospitals; as shall be at peace. Righteousness will prevail and all people throughout the world shall happily and willingly obey God's rule of law. The rules of His kingdom will follow the principles of the 'Sermon on the Mount' and make the world an amazing place: heaven on earth!

Much was written in the Old Testament about the new millennium from the earthly viewpoint. Let's have a quick look at what the prophet, Joel, prophesied, thousands of years ago, about the millennium kingdom. During this time:

  • The Lord will make Jerusalem holy and pure. There will be no “strangers” there, only those who have been born again, made righteous by the blood of Jesus and adopted into His family. (Joel 3:17)
  • The mountains of Israel will support fields that "drip with wine". (Joel 3:18)
  • The mountains will also nourish cattle that give abundant milk. (Joel 3:18)
  • The land of Judah will always flow with springs of water. (Joel 3:18)
  • A spring will burst forth beneath the temple and flow as a river down to the Dead Sea, which will be resurrected. (Joel 3:18; Ezekiel 47:1-8)
  • Israel, Judah and Jerusalem will be inhabited for ever. (Joel 3:20)
  • The Lord Jesus Christ Himself will dwell in Zion. (Joel 3:21)

Joel offered great hope: that God would, one day, reign as sovereign from this city and make all things new and beautiful by His grace and power. God would have the last say and be in complete control. His perfect creation would be restored, making it once again like the garden of Eden. The picture of a spring flowing from the Lord’s house clearly illustrates that all blessings come to us from God alone.

God never forgets those who have been faithful and true to Him. Throughout the seven years of the 'tribulation', persecution against believers will have been intense and most will have lost their lives - martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. The antichrist and his system will have attempted to force everyone to take the "mark of the beast" in order to buy or sell goods of any kind. Now those believers, who refused to worship the antichrist or take 'the mark of the beast' and suffered for their faith, will be part of the 'first resurrection' and shall reign with Jesus during a thousand years of peace.

Having died once (the 'first death') - like believers who die in the present 'age of the church' - they will not be eternally separated from God (known as the second death'). The second death will have no jurisdiction over them. The apostle, Paul, tells us: “Do you not know that the saints [the believers] will [one day] judge and govern the world? And if the world [itself] is to be judged and ruled by you, are you unworthy and incompetent to try [such petty matters] of the smallest courts of justice? Do you not know also that we [Christians] are to judge the [very] angels and pronounce opinion between right and wrong [for them]? How much more then [as to] matters pertaining to this world and of this life only!” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3 - Amplified version)

The saints of God who experience the first resurrection are described as “blessed and holy”. Happiness and holiness in the word always go together. This is a challenge today because, very often, we do not see much happiness in churches, perhaps because there is little holiness!

Satan's final fling

Revelation 20:7-10

At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released from the 'abyss'. This will be the prelude to the final stage of weeding out the tares from the wheat. (Matthew 13:24-43) After a thousand years in the 'abyss', plotting his revenge, Satan will be released from captivity to stalk the earth once more. At this point, he will go all out in an attempt to deceive those now living in peace and tranquillity under Jesus' rule. It seems that, even after experiencing the millennium rule of peace and prosperity, there will still be people who are open to be persuaded that human independence offers a better way of living and want nothing to do with the King of kings and Lord of lords! Satan's release will bring to light these dark secrets of the human heart.

All those born during the millennium will still be born with sinful natures and many will allow their hearts to be hardened to the glory of God. Plenty will give only false allegiance; obedience from the head and not from the heart. “As soon as they heard of me, they obeyed me; foreigners submitted themselves cringingly and yielded feigned obedience to me.” (Psalm 18:44) “Say to God, how awesome and fearfully glorious are your works! Through the greatness of your power shall your enemies submit themselves to You [with feigned and reluctant obedience].” (Psalm 66:3 - Amplified version)

Many will have obeyed the rules of the millennium kingdom but, as we know, good works never earn us the right to be part of God’s kingdom. This truth will not change during the millennium. Plenty will take no notice of the warnings and will retreat to the far corners of the earth, hiding as far away as possible from the glory of the ruling saints and from the transformed Jerusalem. These rebels will gather together to fight against the Lord, for one final time.

Many commentators believe that this is the battle which is described in Ezekiel, chapters thirty-eight and thirty-nine. (See the earlier notes in studies fifteen and sixteen.) However, this cannot be the case, because the battle described by Ezekiel is confined to very clearly defined nations. For example, Egypt is not mentioned and nor is the Far East. 'Gog' and 'Magog' are mentioned in this chapter but they are used figuratively to represent rulers and nations from all over the earth, who gather together for this final and conclusive battle. Satan will seek out all the dissidents on the earth and will find them more than willing to listen to his lies and co-operate with his plans. They will rejoice at his bold claims and follow him into a new rebellion. Once again, the focus of the battle will be the camp of God’s people: Jerusalem. It is God, whom Satan wants to overcome and the only way he now has of attempting this is to march against His people - those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. (Romans 8:26-30)

The gathered army of rebels will be enormous - "like the sand on the seashore" - and will surround God's people in Jerusalem. But it will never have any chance of succeeding. God will only permit this final act of rebellion to bring to light the true state of the human heart. John does not waste time telling us at great length of the ultimate end for the devil and his forces. Fire comes down from heaven and devours them. The devil follows the antichrist and the false prophet and is thrown into "the lake of burning sulphur" where the satanic counterfeit of the Trinity "will be tormented day and night for ever and ever". Thus ends the presence of evil in the world and we can righteously shout a loud and victorious 'Amen'!

Judgement from the great white throne

Revelation 20:11-15

John now sees the great white throne, which is not on earth but stands in heaven at the entrance to eternity and shows God’s perfect righteousness and purity. God now sits in judgment on humanity. Earth and even heaven flee from His presence and there is nowhere to hide for mankind. The people who are judged here are those who have died throughout the course of human history, but had no part in the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:5-6) Their bodies will be resurrected, regardless of how or where they died. Just as Adam and Eve came out of hiding to stand, naked and ashamed, before their judge, so it will be the same again. People will have to come from every part of the earth, sea or outer space, at the judge’s command. There will be nowhere to hide and they will stand exposed before the great white throne.

Everyone will be assembled before God's throne to be judged while standing beside the perfection of Jesus. “Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above every name, that, at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) The "great and small" will find themselves standing before God. Here will be the world’s 'little people': those who have lived to please themselves and whose lives have been filled with pettiness and selfishness. Here also will be the 'great and the good': those who were born into lives of privilege and entitlement. There will be the truly wicked who contrived great wickedness on a grand scale and died unrepentant. They will all stand together to face the future they have chosen: a bleak and isolated existence, separated from God for ever. All the foolish lies, behind which people hide today, will be gone and this will be the terrible moment of realisation, when they have to face the One whom they have denied, ignored, cursed or disbelieved. Now He is their judge and all will be exposed!

Judgement by works

People will be judged by what they have done. All deeds and decisions, both good and bad, are written and recorded by God and will be given in evidence. This is when everyone shall see “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — His eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:18-23)

Despite similar warnings throughout history, people have continually assessed their lives according to their own standards and not God's. Compared to the perfection shown by Jesus in his life on earth, "all our good works are as filthy rags in His sight". (Isaiah 64:6) The only righteousness that will be acceptable to God will be that of Jesus, "a righteousness that is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." (Romans 3:22) If we choose to stand on our good deeds, nothing will save us! Salvation is by faith alone: “for by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) We shall also be judged for what we have not done - the sins of omission. (Matthew 25:41-46) Without Christ there is only one destination: the lake of fire! No Jesus – no salvation! To receive a free pardon, we must admit our guilt, cast ourselves on the mercy of God and accept His salvation as a free gift through Jesus. He will then adopt us into His family, the body of Christ. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

The book of life

Those who have been born again by the Spirit of God have had their names indelibly entered into a separate book: the 'book of life'. This book is vast and the names in it will never be erased! It contains entries from every nation, race and language; each strata of society and every culture are represented. On its pages are the names of hopeless sinners, who trusted in God’s Son and will be saved from the wrath through Him. There are the names of thousands who were born in countries that followed false religions but, in their search for truth, finally found Jesus. It holds the names of those who made a decision to follow Jesus in the very early stages of their lives and those who chose Him with their dying breath. It records the names of those who have gone from strength to strength in their relationship with the Lord, as well as those who fell from grace, over and over again, but turned back to Jesus each time and never gave up.

The lake of fire

Finally, it is important for us to recognise that the lake of fire is a very real place. It is somewhere that is totally separated from God. How terrible to hear the words: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) It is not an organised place, because any place without God is chaotic. The apostle, Paul, writing to the Colossians, states this: “He Himself is before all things and all things are held together in Him.” (Colossians 1:17) So, with God, there is order and, conversely, if He is ignored, then all is chaos. The only certainty is that hell will be a 'dark place' with not even a flicker of light. This is definitely not a place in which we can gather with friends to eat, drink and be merry! Rather, it is a place of utter isolation and torment, with the added misery of being able to recall all the missed opportunities we had to invite Jesus to be our Lord. God knows how terrible this place is and in His great love, He sacrificed His only Son, who suffered, bled and died, so that we could be saved from this eternal darkness and restored to a loving relationship with Him – for ever!

I'm sure that we will all have heard people say that they just don’t want to have any part of God because "if God allows such terrible things to happen in the world, then I don’t want anything to do with Him". Sadly, many will find that, having given us a choice to make, God actually respects the choice that we make and will not force us to enter His kingdom. Interestingly, in our ever more irreligious age, the number of those who believe in heaven seems to be going up. Apparently, even atheists believe in an afterlife! Whether we admit it or not, surely this is due to the innate 'footprint' of God in us – His DNA - that creates within all of us a deep, inner longing to find love and true purpose in our lives. This purpose can only be found (and fulfilled) through a relationship with the God of love, who created us to love Him back! Only as believers do we have the real hope and certainty of heaven, based on Jesus' promise to us. (John 14:2-3)

The most excellent way

The only way to spend eternity in heaven is to be part of the body of Christ, grafted into Him, living in Him and producing life in all its fullness. Oh yes, we may be laughed at and mocked; we may have to suffer persecution from those who do not want to know; some may even be called to die for their faith, but we can be sure of this: "God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: 'The Lord knows those who are His' and 'Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness'.” (1 Timothy 2:19)

And if He rescued Lot, a righteous man who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) — if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.” (2 Peter 2:7-9)

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