In our previous study we spent our time gaining a “bird’s eye view” of Revelation 20. We concluded the following.
The Binding of Satan
First, we noticed that 20:1-6 records the binding of Satan. In these verses, the devil is restricted in his ability to deceive the nations. As noted in our previous study, there was a sense in which Satan was given, under the old covenant, authority over the nations. At one stage during Christ’s wilderness temptation, Satan claimed this authority, “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it” (Luke 4:6—emphasis added). This was not an empty claim, for Christ nowhere denied that Satan had such authority.
Under the old covenant, a single nation in the world had the knowledge of the one, true God. The rest of the nations were deceived by Satan into polytheistic idolatry. But God had a plan: that the nations would be discipled (seePsalms 2; 45; 110; etc.). Thus, under the new covenant, Satan would be restricted in his deceiving abilities so that the church could fulfil the Great Commission.
This binding would last for “a thousand years” (20:2). This period is referred to by theologians as “the millennium” (from the Latin mille anni). It is one’s view of the relation between Christ’s return and the millennium that makes one a premillennialist, an amillennialist or a postmillennialist. Premillennialists believe that Christ will return before (“pre”) the millennium. Both amillennialists and postmillennialists believe that Christ will return after the millennium; but some distinction is here necessary.
There are four major ideas with regard to the millennium—although there are numerous distinctions within these categories and thus it is often difficult to place oneself firmly within a given “camp.”
One, and probably the most popular view is premillennialism. As noted premillennialists believe that Christ will return before the millennium. According to premillennialism, the second coming of Christ will usher in 1,000 literal years of great peace on earth, during which Christ will physically sit on a physical throne in physical Jerusalem, ruling and reigning with a rod of iron. Dispensational premillennialists interpret millennial passages with a wooden literalism.
Two, there is the understanding that the millennium is an unspecified, though certainly very long, period of time in which departed saints rule in heaven. In this view, the millennium is the intermediate state between death and the reunion of the body with the soul at the second coming of Christ. This view—classic amillennialism—teaches that the second coming of Christ will conclude the millennium, for the departed saints will then receive glorified, physical bodies. For the duration of the millennium, Christ’s rule takes place primarily in heaven; this means that the church on earth should not be too optimistic about the Great Commission, for there will always be tares alongside the wheat.
Three, there is the view that the millennium is an unspecified, though certainly long, period of time in which the church in heaven and on earth rules in Christ. Since believers are seated in heavenly places with Christ, the church—both in heaven and on earth—rules with Christ, who even now is seated at the right hand of the Father. This reign will continue throughout the “church age,” and will conclude when Christ returns to hand the kingdom to His Father. Throughout the “church age” the church can optimistically involve itself in the Great Commission with the outlook that the world will be Christianised before the return of Christ: the gospel will be victorious. We might term this view optimistic amillennialism or even postmillennialism. In essence, this view lies somewhere between the second and the fourth.
Four, there is what we might call classic postmillennialism, which teaches that the millennium is a yet-future “golden age” in which the world will be Christianised. Again, postmillennialists are optimistic about the gospel. The difference between the third and the fourth view is that the fourth sees the “golden age” as beginning at some point in church history and continuing until the end of church history; whereas the third view sees the millennium as spanning church history.
It should also be said that there is a rather new, unorthodox view of the millennium, which teaches that the millennium spanned the years between the ascension of Christ (ca. 30 A.D.) and the destruction of Jerusalem(70 A.D.). This is what we might term pantelism. I say that this is “unorthodox” because pantelists teach that all biblical prophecy—including the second coming, the general resurrection, and the final judgement—was fulfilled by 70 A.D. and that we are now living in the eternal state. But this denies the bodily second coming, the bodily general resurrection and the bodily final judgement: three doctrines which the church has affirmed throughout its history. Furthermore, it is difficult to assume that the language used in Revelation 20—1,000 years—should be compacted into a mere forty years. We should not necessarily assume that the millennium will be literally 1,000 years (as premillennialists teach), but I think it is safe to assume that the millennium is more than 40 years!
In our previous study of this chapter we effectively adopted the third view described above: that the millennium is an unspecified time period (“the church age”) during which the church in heaven and on earth rules. The whole theme of Revelation lines up with this view and we should be careful not to import into the text that which it does not say. We must allow the text to speak for itself and not impose upon it our own preconceived ideas.
The Defeat of Satan
We noted, secondly, the recorded defeat of Satan. At some point yet in our future—at the end of the millennium—Satan will be loosed for a brief period (20:3), during which he will once again be granted the authority to deceive the nations. At this time, opposition to the rule of the church will surface, although in precisely what form (persecution, apostasy, etc.) we cannot be certain. But Satan will not be granted much time, for Christ will then return and Satan will be forever cast into the lake of fire (20:9-10; cf.2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
We should perhaps pause here to make an observation. There are those of the amillennial persuasion who believe that Satan has already been released. As one reads church history one sees times of great reformation and revival. We, on the other hand, live in a day in which apostasy is rife. Some have thus been persuaded that we are currently living in that period in which Satan is roaming loose to deceive the nations.
I tend to doubt that this is the case, for it seems to me that there are far too many Old Testament prophecies concerning the millennium that must yet be fulfilled before Satan will be loosed. We read of worldwide peace, of the Spirit covering the earth as the waters cover the sea; it hardly seems that this has happened yet in church history. I am thus of the persuasion that we are still living in the millennium, that greater things are ahead for the church of Jesus Christ, and that the time of Satan’s release is still in our future.
The Final Judgement
The closing verses of Revelation 20 speak of the general resurrection and the final judgement. This will happen at the end of human history, when all the dead throughout the ages will rise to stand before the judgement seat of Christ.
It is important to note that there is but one bodily resurrection of the dead. Dispensationalists teach that there are anywhere between four and seven resurrections, but this cannot be scripturally supported. There is but one bodily resurrection taught in Scripture, after which the wicked are cast into the lake of fire and the righteous enter the eternal state. This is the end of human history.
The purpose of the chapter, then, is quite simple: it is to highlight a general plotline of the rest of history from 70 A.D. onward. Everything that we specifically need to know about the future is contained in these verses. Christ, through His church, rules; Satan is restrained; the church will be victorious through the gospel; there will be a resurrection and a just reward for all; and Satan will be forever punished, his head eternally crushed. In short, God’s sovereign plan of redemption will prevail.
This all leads us to an important observation: the Book of Revelation does not emphasise the second coming of Jesus Christ. What is emphasised in this prophecy is Christ’s present rule from the right hand of His Father in heaven. This gives us great hope, for we know that what He wills will come to pass. Revelation, then, is a book for today, not for the future.
A recent issue of Time magazine, dedicated to global warming, had these words on the front, “Be worried. Be very worried.” Whilst I understand the world’s concern with global warming I immediately wondered how many well-meaning but misguided evangelicals would pick up that edition of Time and view it as another sign that “the end is nigh.” This is sad, for there is absolutely no indication in Scripture that I must worry about the end of the world. There is nothing in the Bible that clearly teaches that the world will go through a major destruction; again, we must ask what the text says, not what we would like to read into the text. And what does the biblical text tell us? That the gospel will conquer! Therefore, let us be about the business of the Great Commission for the glory of our great God.
Having said all of this, there are some important questions that remain. In the space afforded to us in this study, I want to answer at least five major questions that arise from this chapter. I trust that this will clarify the chapter for us, and give us great confidence in the Lord our God.
The Restraint of Satan
The first question with which we must deal is this: how are we to understand the apparent power and then the limitation of Satan’s power? In Revelation 20:1-6 we read of Satan being bound by an angel coming down from heaven. As noted in our previous study, this is no doubt a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself descending to bind the devil. But if Satan is bound only here then, before this point, he must have been able to roam unrestrained. What was it like before Satan was restrained?
The Bible certainly teaches that, until the coming of Christ, Satan did exercise (illegitimate) authority. As noted above, Satan claimed that the authority over the nations had been given to him, a claim that Christ did not refute (Luke 4:6). Satan is further called in Scripture “the god of this world” who had “blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Again, he is called “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). Jesus Himself called Satan “the prince of this world.”
All of this leads us to conclude that Satan held some sway, by deceptive religion, over the world under the old covenant. This authority was “handed over” to Satan by Adam when he sinned. Adam was originally given authority over God’s creation (Genesis 1:28) but, when he obeyed Satan rather than God, he handed that authority to the devil. From that point on, Satan exercised the authority that he had been granted in deceiving the nations.
But Satan’s authority would not—did not—last forever. His power over the world was shattered by “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). As the perfect Man—the God-Man—Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the law in His life and death, thereby defeating Satan’s power. The first Adam had handed his authority to Satan by sinning; the last Adam reclaimed that authority in His perfect life.
The Bible makes it clear that Satan’s power was broken in the cross. Paul wrote of this in his letter to the Colossians:
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
The author of Hebrews concurs, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). And Jesus Himself claimed to defeat Satan at the cross, “Now is the judgement of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:31-32).
Throughout His earthly ministry, Christ challenged the power of Satan head on. Consider just one instance:
Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then thekingdomofGodis 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.
There is no doubt from the context here that “the strong man” referred to is Satan. Jesus was the “one” who came to “enter into [the] strong man’s house, and spoil his goods.” Even in His earthly ministry, Jesus began to “bind the strong man,” although the full effects of this binding would only become apparent after 70 A.D.
In short, Jesus Christ purchased the new covenant with His own blood: the right, as the God-Man, to rule the nations. The process was started at the outset of His ministry. Immediately after His baptism “Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned fromJordan, and was led [lit. “driven”] by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). It was then that He began to bind the strong man, as He challenged the authority of Satan face-to-face for forty days and forty nights. Throughout His earthly ministry Christ continued to challenge thekingdomofSatan, giving even His disciples authority over that kingdom (cf.Luke 10:17). InGethsemane, Satan sought to deter Christ from God’s plan for His life, but Christ would not submit, “O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42).
At the cross, the mockers call for Him to save Himself. Could He have done so? Of course! He could have called ten thousand angels to rescue Him, but He would not be deterred from God’s plan for Him. The cross was His Father’s plan of redemption for mankind and Jesus would see it to the end. Some of His last words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And it was finished! He had defeated Satan. Satan was bound in Christ’s ministry and in the cross; and this binding was fully enacted in 70 A.D. when the first-century church’s greatest enemy—Judaism—was removed with the destruction of the Jewish temple. And Satan has been restrained ever since! And he will be restrained until the end of the millennium. All of this is summarised in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.
(1 Corinthians 15:20-28)
Satan is currently bound by the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ’s kingdom is now advancing and will continue to do so throughout this “church age.” The end of the “church age” is the end of human history, when Christ will hand over to His Father the kingdom that He has gained for Himself through the conquest of the gospel.
Sitting on the Thrones
The second question that I want to answer in this study is: who are those sitting on the thrones in 20:4-6?
Several clues are afforded us to identify those on the thrones. We are told, for instance, that those on the throne are “them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands” (20:4). Allowing the text to speak for itself, then, we see that those on the thrones are those—many of them martyrs—who had resisted the temptations of the beast. Since we have already identified, in our study of Revelation 13, the beast as the Roman Empire(under the leadership of Nero), we can safely say that these martyrs are first-century martyrs (for no one since the first century has ever had to face the beast).
Some have made “much ado” about the word “souls” in 20:4, arguing that these on the thrones are the disembodied souls of believers. This is the general understanding of classic amillennialism, which teaches that the millennium is the intermediate state, experienced only by departed saints, between death and the general resurrection. But this is an unnecessary conclusion, for the term “souls” in Scripture often speaks of “lives.” It is thus quite possible for “souls” to refer to living beings.
We also see quite clearly that there is a resurrection involved for those on the thrones. The King James Version of the Bible says that “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (20:4). Newer translations tell us that “they came to life” (NASB, ESV). The point is thus clear: John saw these “souls” come to life and reign with Christ for the duration of the millennium. Another question raised here, and answered in a moment, is whether this is a physical or a spiritual resurrection.
But this is not the only resurrection spoken of in this chapter, for “the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (20:5). Some, then, will be resurrected to reign with Christ for 1,000 years; the rest will be dead for the 1,000 years. Yet another question now arises: who are “the rest of the dead”? Are they Old Testament saints? All future saints? New Testament saints?
As we seek to answer these questions we must consider what we do know to be true. First, we know that the church is reigning with Christ even now. Revelation 1:5-6 tells us that, in His death and resurrection, Christ “hath made us [the church] kings and priests unto God and his Father.” This is elucidated in Peter’s first epistle:
Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ… But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
(1 Peter 2:1-5, 9-10)
Second, we know from the writings of John—recording the very words of Jesus—that there are at least two resurrections of which Scripture speaks: a physical resurrection and a spiritual resurrection:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgement also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
The first resurrection—a spiritual resurrection—is spoken of in John 5:24-27. Those who take Christ at His Word have no need to fear condemnation: they are “passed from death unto life.” This resurrection is a present reality: “the hour is coming, and now is…” Man is born dead in his trespasses and sins, but Christ resurrects those spiritually who take Him at His Word (seeEphesians 2:1-10). Thus, if you are a believer, you have experienced spiritual resurrection.
The second resurrection—a bodily resurrection—is spoken of in John 5:28-29. This resurrection is a yet future reality: “the hour is coming…” At that point “all that are in the graves shall hear [Christ’s] voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
The presence of “and now is” in relation to the first resurrection indicates that it is a present reality; the absence of the phrase in relation to the second resurrection indicates that this resurrection is yet future. Thus, within the space of just a few verses, Christ spoke of two separate resurrections: one spiritual and one physical.
Third, we know that “the second death” (20:6) implies a first death. The first death, as noted in our previous study, occurred at the fall of man. When Adam sinned he plunged the entire human race into death. We are born dead in our trespasses and sins; and man’s sure destiny—apart from the grace of God—is the second death.
With these three principles before us, let us consider afresh the souls on the throne. If the souls on the throne are exclusively first-century saints then no one since the first century has experienced a resurrection of any sort. If those on the thrones are exclusively future saints then no one until then will ever experience a resurrection of any sort. But this does not square with what we know from Scripture for, even today, those who take Christ at His Word are raised to spiritual life.
Furthermore, it is only those who have part in the first resurrection on whom the second death has no power (20:6). If the first resurrection was exclusive to first century saints then the second death has power over all who have lived since then. If the first resurrection is exclusive to first-century saints then the second death has power over all believers and unbelievers ever since. But again, we know that the second death has no power over present-day saints; therefore, present-day saints have enjoyed the first resurrection.
What, then, is the first resurrection? It is nothing other than regeneration in the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who are saved throughout the millennium (“the church age”) experience the first resurrection and thus all believers throughout “the church age” reign with Christ. This means, believer, that the church reigns today! As believers, we are seated on thrones in heavenly places, ruling and reigning with Christ.
But what of “the rest of the dead”? The “rest of the dead” are those who are spiritually dead, who will one day—at the end of history—be physically resurrected to face the final judgement. The resurrection at the end of the world will be bodily for all who have lived throughout human history. But the first resurrection is only for those who have taken Christ at His Word.
Gog and Magog
The third question confronting us has to do with the end of the millennium: what is the battle of Gog and Magog? This final battle is described in 20:7-10:
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And 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. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
We have noted throughout our studies in Revelation that this prophecy contains more references to the Old Testament than any other New Testament book. Some have estimated that there are more Old Testament allusions in Revelation than there are verses. This is another one of these allusions.
In many cases, the Old Testament allusion uses a historical event to portray something very similar that would happen or was happening. For instance, Jezebel is mentioned in Revelation 2:20, drawing the initial readers back to ungodly King Ahab’s wicked wife. John did not want his readers to believe that Jezebel of old was still alive; rather, he was indicating that there was an individual in the Thyatiran church who had Jezebel-like character. Egypt, Sodom and Babylon are all allusions in Revelation to the Old Testament indicating just how wicked Jerusalem had become. Armageddon (16:16) is a reference to the Old Testament battle in which Josiah was killed (2 Chronicles 35), showing that the destruction ofJerusalemwould have a similar impact on the Jews that the death of Josiah had had in the Old Testament.
When we read of “Gog and Magog” our attention is immediately drawn back to the prophecy inEzekiel 38-39. This is not to say thatEzekiel 38-39prophesied events that would take place at the end of human history; rather, John is saying that the final battle at the end of the world will be similar in some ways to the events prophesied by Ezekiel. In order to understand this part of Revelation 20, then, we must understand something ofEzekiel 38-39.
You may have heard before that the battle of Gog and Magog will be a Russian invasion of Jerusalem at the end of history. It is important that we understand the faulty premise on which this teaching is based. Ezekiel’s prophecy of Gog and Magog opens with these words, “1And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 2Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him” (Ezekiel 38:1-2). The terms to note here are “the chief prince,” “Meshech” and “Tubal.”
The term “chief prince” is a translation of the Hebrew phrase rosh nasiy. Some have suggested that a better translation than “the chief prince” would be “the prince [nasiy] of Rosh [rosh].” This translation is in fact reflected in several English Bible translations (see NKJV, NASB). Thus, thenasb translation ofEzekiel 38:2 reads, “Son of man, set your face toward Gog of theland ofMagog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him.” As you can see, the prophecy now goes out to “the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.”
It should be noted at this point that, of the 599 times the Hebrew word rosh is used in the Old Testament, it is only once (Genesis 46:21—speaking of an individual) transliterated in the KJV as “Rosh” (it is always translated otherwise as “head,” “chief,” “prince” or something similar). Thus, the overwhelming textual evidence supports the KJV’s “chief prince of Meschech and Tubal” translation (cf. ESV, HCSB, NIV, etc.). Those who interpret the battle of Gog and Magog as involvingRussia must take the lesser favoured translation.
But even if we adopt the lesser favoured translation it is still a stretch to read Russia into the text. Nevertheless, this is precisely what many do. And how do they do it? The theory is that the word “Rosh” sounds like “Russia,” the word “Meshech” sounds like “Moscow,” and the word “Tubal” sounds like “Tobolsk” (a place in Russia). Therefore, based on phonetics, this must be a prophecy ofRussia.
The problem with this, of course, is that the words “Russia,” “Moscow” and “Tobolsk” did not even exist in Ezekiel’s time (or in John’s day). The etymological roots of “Russia” can be traced to 1538, the roots of “Moscow” to 1147, and the roots of “Tobolsk” to 1586. These names could not possibly have been on the minds of the biblical writers when they prophesied the battle of God and Magog.
It should also be noted that Ezekiel’s prophecy was of a battle that would take place not too long after his own time. All the weapons used in that particular battle are wooden weapons. Despite claims that a wooden gun with wooden bullets has been invented inRussia, I find it difficult to image modern-day warfare taking place with wooden weaponry.
But what was the battle of Gog and Magog prophesied by Ezekiel? Many throughout church history have seen the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecy in Antiochus Epiphanes, leader of the Syrian forces that attackedJerusalemand desecrated the temple. Some have seen the fulfilment of this prophecy in the events recorded in the Book of Esther. Although we cannot be absolutely certain of the precise fulfilment of the prophecy, we can be certain that it was fulfilled sometime in our distant past. Ezekiel prophesied the rise of God’s enemies against God’s people and the amazing victory of God’s people despite being vastly outnumbered.
John’s prophecy is simply that an event in some ways similar to that prophesied by Ezekiel will take place at the end of the millennium. That is, the enemies of God will rise up against the people of God but, despite the seeming insurmountable odds, God’s people will triumph. We are not given very many details about this “battle” but we are assured that God’s people will gain the victory.
The scope of the battle described in Revelation 20 makes it impossible to take literally. Are we seriously to suggest that a literal army as numerous as the sand of the sea will literally fit into thelandofPalestinenear the city ofJerusalem? No, it is figurative language used to suggest that a great number of apostates will rise against thechurchofGodonly to be soundly defeated at the return of Christ.
The General Resurrection
The fourth question that must be asked is: how many resurrections are there? As noted, those schooled in dispensationalism believe in at least four resurrections; perhaps even as many as seven. But it appears from the biblical text that there is no more than one bodily resurrection of the dead:
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
As noted, Jesus spoke of two resurrections: one spiritual and one physical. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that there will be more than one bodily resurrection of the dead. This bodily resurrection will take place at the return of Christ:
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
The resurrection of departed saints, the rapture of living saints and the ruin of all sinners will take place at the same time. As Christ returns, dead believers will be resurrected and living believers will be raptured. All believers will meet Christ in the air and we will return with Him to earth. Then the unbelieving dead will be raised and gathered with the living dead before the judgement seat of Christ. All the unbelieving will be judged according to their works and forever cast into the lake of fire; believers will then enter the eternal state with their Father and their Elder Brother. And what a glorious day that will be!
The Second Coming
The final question that must be answered is: where is the emphasis on the second coming in all of this? After all, we have been told that Revelation is a book about our future; a prophecy of the events leading to the bodily return of Christ to this world. But can this be seen in the prophecy?
The simple answer is that the second coming is seen in Revelation, but that it is not emphasised. The only place in which the visible, bodily return of our Lord is seen is 20:9, “and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.” When compared with2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 this verse certainly seems to picture the return of Christ, but it is apparently the only verse in the entire Revelation where that event is dealt with. Revelation is primarily about Christ’s present rule and reign. It encourages us for today, not primarily for tomorrow. We should not live in the future, for great victories are available to the church today!
If you have taken part in the first resurrection (salvation) then you are seated on a throne in heavenly places, ruling and reigning with Christ. The glory of Revelation is not to figure out today’s newspaper; on the contrary, the glory of Revelation is that we not be swayed by today’s newspaper! Yes, we see the opposition to the gospel, but we can look beyond that. We can look to our Saviour, seated at the right hand of the Father, with all authority in heaven and on earth. This will give us the confidence to go forth and conquer the nations with the gospel.
We are living a day of opportunity. By the power of God, exhibited in His gospel, we can expect great victories for the church today. May we ride forth with Christ conquering and to conquer, praying that God would allow us to play a part in discipling the nations for His glory!