John has seen the presentation and condemnation of the whore Babylon, an image of Rome, in Revelation 17:1-19:10. Great joy has accompanied her downfall, yet the dragon, beast, and false prophet, the main antagonists portrayed in Revelation 12:1-16:21, remain. John will now be shown two more scenes of victory, first over the beast and false prophet (Revelation 19:11-21), and then over the dragon (Revelation 20:1-10). Judgment can then take place (Revelation 20:11-15).
The Revelation heads toward its climactic end with three scenes of victory: the first came over Babylon (Revelation 19:1-10), and the second in Revelation 19:11-21 over the beast and the false prophet of Revelation 13:1-18: the image of the power of the Roman Empire enshrined in its Emperor and its religion. Revelation 19:11-21 seems to be an expansion of what was seen in the sixth bowl in Revelation 16:12-16: the gathering of the beast, the false prophet, and the kings of the earth at Har-Magedon for the great day of God the Almighty [the (in)famous Armageddon]. The nature and result of this battle is made explicit in Revelation 19:11-21: Jesus gains the victory over all of these forces arrayed against Him. He is portrayed in the same images as seen in Revelation 1:1-3:21, the true Ruler, with many signs of authority in contrast to the Satanically empowered authority of the beast, and He casts the beast and the false prophet into the lake of fire while slaughtering the rest of His foes with the sword which came forth from His mouth. In contrast to the glorious marriage supper of the Lamb promised in Revelation 19:7-9, fulfilled in Revelation 21:1-22:6, the birds of the air are summoned for the great supper of God, to consume the flesh of all the dead of that battle left in the field, reminiscent of God’s judgment on Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 39:4, 17-20. While the heavenly armies are present with Jesus, they are not said to have done anything: Jesus conquers through the power of His sword, the Word of God and His judgments (John 12:48, Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12). In this way John is shown the ultimate victory of Jesus over the Roman Empire, its power and paganism, and represents a reminder that worldly powers come and go but the word of the LORD remains forever (Isaiah 40:6-8).
Babylon, the beast, and the false prophet have been eliminated, but the dragon who empowered them remains. John is shown the victory over Satan the dragon in Revelation 20:1-10: Satan is bound in the Pit for a thousand years while Christ and His saints reign in the first resurrection; after the thousand years Satan is released to deceive the nations for a short time; he gathers Gog and Magog (in Ezekiel 38:1-39:20, Gog is ruler of Magog; here Gog and Magog now stand for the threatening “heathen” worldly powers) against the camp of the saints and the beloved city; yet Gog and Magog are destroyed by fire and Satan cast into the lake of fire along with the beast and false prophet where they are tormented day and night.
Perhaps no section of the Bible has led to as much speculation and the construction of whole theological systems than Revelation 20:1-10 and its “millennium,” or one thousand year period. For our purposes we do well to see that the thousand years is not the primary force or purpose in the passage: God in Christ is showing John the ultimate end of Satan after the end of the beast and false prophet. We have no reason to abandon our previous endeavors and adhere to a completely different system at this point; we must understand Revelation 20:1-10 in terms of the rest of Revelation and the New Testament, and not the other way around. Throughout Scripture, a “thousand” never means an actual, literal one thousand, but refers to an indeterminate multitude of things or length of time (Deuteronomy 7:9, Joshua 23:10, 1 Chronicles 16:15, Job 9:3, 33:23, Psalms 50:10, 90:4, 105:8, Ecclesiastes 6:6, 7:28, 2 Peter 3:8). Furthermore, this scene of Satan’s binding comes immediately after judgment on the beast and the false prophet, identified contextually as the Roman empire and religion, and after Satan’s condemnation we have the final judgment scene (Revelation 20:11-15). Therefore, the best contextual understanding of the “millennium” is that it represents the time between the defeat of Roman power and particularly pagan religion, ca. 325 CE, until when Satan is again fully loosed, which could be happening now or could happen some time in the future. Such a view of Satan presently bound is consistent with Matthew 12:29, and Luke 8:31, 11:22 and does not mean that Satan is entirely inactive; it just means that he is restrained in ways he was not in the days of the Roman Empire. We are not to look to the future in order to find the millennium; we presently are in the millennium of Christ’s reign, part of His present Kingdom (Colossians 1:13), or we are witnessing those final days when Satan is fully loosed, people are fully led away from the truth of God in Christ, and we are about to see the ultimate fulfillment of all that is seen in Revelation 20:7-22:6.
After Satan is taken out of the way, John is shown the final judgment scene, expanding upon the picture glimpsed with the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15-19 and the harvesting of Revelation 14:14-20: a great white throne with all the dead before God in Christ, the opening of books, judgment on the basis of what they had done, redemption for those whose names were in the book of life, condemnation for those whose names were not found there in the second death, the lake of fire, or hell, and Death and Hades cast into that lake of fire as well (Revelation 20:11-15). The picture John sees is entirely consistent with the expectation of judgment on the final day, the day of resurrection, as envisioned in Daniel 12:1-2, Matthew 16:27, 25:31-46, John 5:28-29, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5-10, 1 Corinthians 15:20-57, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.
The message of Revelation 19:1-20:10 ought to encourage faithful Christians of all generations: God will gain the victory. First century Christians suffering under the persecutions of the Roman power were given reason for confidence that God would overcome that beast and false prophet, and it was a most extraordinary thing when a form of Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, signaling the downfall of paganism in a world it had dominated for thousands of years. For 1700 years paganism has been relegated to the periphery, and most in Western culture have given at least lip service to God and Jesus as the Christ since. We see that changing to an extraordinary degree in our own day, perhaps heralding the loosening of Satan; yet even then we may know that such means his time is even shorter, and the day of judgment will come soon. Let us praise God for His victory in Christ, serve Jesus as Lord, and wait fervently for the day of judgment which comes quickly!