The kingdom has come
“How could there be a God with all of this suffering, I just can’t believe.” 31% of people in the UK were reckoned to be atheists or agnostics in 1983, just 20 years later that figure had risen to 49%. “If only the world was a better place, if only there was no suffering, if only God would reveal himself, then I’d believe” this is what we hear atheists saying.
One day there will be a perfect political rule on earth, one day death will almost be unheard of, one day suffering will be no more, one day the debate about the existence of God will be resolved. How will men and women respond to such circumstances? Revelation 20 tells us.
The king has arrived on earth with the church. The armies of the Satan-inspired human rebellion have been routed; the beast and the false prophet have been dealt with. It’s time to deal with Satan himself and to bring God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
1. The thousand years
We tend to think of the ‘end of the world’ and the coming again of Jesus as a single day event – there will be one almighty bonfire and a day of judgement and then it will all be over as we step into eternity. Just as Jesus’ first coming to earth was comprised of a series of events (spanning more than 30 years) so it should not surprise us that the second coming of Jesus to the earth should likewise form a series of events in time. We have already seen this in our study of Revelation, the church will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, God’s judgements will take place on the earth, Satan’s efforts to form a world government follow and then Jesus returns to earth to set up his kingdom. In chapter 20 of Revelation we learn that the eternal kingdom begins with a specified period of 1000 years. Here’s what John saw: ‘And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having a key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient snake, who is the devil, or Satan and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him in the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over.’ The meaning of what John saw is without doubt, the activities of Satan will not so much be restricted as to be totally inhibited. He will be locked up. People have debated whether there really is a chain and a key and so on, but this is hardly of importance, John describes what he saw and what he saw was Satan being imprisoned in the Abyss with no means of escape. The door was locked and sealed. (Incidentally, Jesus was put in a tomb with a large boulder in front to keep him in, the entrance was sealed and guarded, but it could not keep him in! In contrast the Devil is locked up with no means of escape). Note that John gives no fewer than 4 titles to Satan – dragon, ancient snake, devil and Satan – John wants to be crystal clear as to the identity of this prisoner. The duration of his incarceration is also clear: 1,000 years. Interestingly this period of 1,000 years in mentioned in this chapter a total of 6 times. As a matter of fact, John mentions this in three groups of two: each time telling us what will happen during the 1000 years and then what will happen at the end of the 1,000 years. What was revealed to John could not be made any clearer.
So why was Satan locked up for this period? Verse 3: ‘to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the 1,000 years were ended.’ There is no doubt that Satan is a liar and is in the business of deception. It seems that he has promoted every possible misinterpretation of God to the people of this world. It should not surprise us at all that Satan wants to distort God’s word more than anything else, he does not want people to have a clear perspective of God – and I suspect he particularly does not want people to be aware of God’s plans for him! I think John has used very simple language to help us see in this passage what God’s plans are and how they reveal the character of mankind, the wickedness of Satan and the goodness of God! Let’s not miss the point!
Strangely John is informed that Satan will be released for a short time after his 1000 year prison sentence: more of that below.
So, Satan is out of the way and in chains, unable to deceive any more. What else? John saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. A new government is about to be set up and there will be a need for judges and an executive of the government. During the seven years in which Satan, the beast and the false prophet will have free reign to rule, many believers will lose their lives, they will refuse to take the mark of the beast. Interestingly John describes them as having been beheaded during this terrible period. Never in my lifetime had I heard of anyone being beheaded and now sadly it’s a form of murder that is in the news much more than we would wish. These martyrs are the ones who will rule and judge says John. They are brought to life and reign with Christ. For how long you ask? 1,000 years says John! This group of people will be brought back to life in what John calls the first resurrection. There will be another resurrection after the end of the 1,000 years (more of that later).
Just in case you missed it, John repeats that this group will reign with Christ for 1,000 years. Now we have to ask ourselves what will this be like? What will it be like to live under the conditions of Christ’s reign on earth? We can certainly imagine what it will be like, but we are given much detail in the Old Testament.
There is a wall outside the United Nations building in New York, on the wall are the words: “They will beat their swords into ploughshare and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isaiah” What the UN have missed (and it’s an important omission) is the group of words that come before the quotation: ‘He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many people.’ These wonderful benefits of peace between nations can only be realised when there is a righteous and perfect government by the Messiah. You will doubtless recall the famous verses of Isaiah we read at Christmas time: ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father Prince of Peace, of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will resign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’ That does sound good does it not! We’ve had an appalling week of unspeakable violence in Paris and in the Middle East: governments don’t know what to do to stop the violence. But when Jesus sits on David’s throne there will be peace, and Satan will be locked up!
Not only will there be peace and stable government but there will be other benefits too. Time will allow us only to list these (with acknowledgements to Alva J McClain): 1. The kingdom will bring spiritual benefits: ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people’ (Joel 2:28). 2. The kingdom will be ethical in its effects: ‘In faithfulness he will bring forth justice’ (Isaiah, 42:3). 3. The kingdom will have profound social effects. There will be fairness in society; the bankers will not pay themselves enormous bonuses at the expense of everyone else. ‘They shall not labour in vain’ (Isaiah 65:23). 4. There will be political benefits: ‘The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.’ (Isaiah 2). 5. There will be physical benefits: disease and physical deformity will be unknown. ‘The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk’ (Isaiah 35). We’ve seen glimpses of the benefits of Jesus’ reign when he came to earth and at Pentecost, but when Jesus comes as king these benefits will be fully realised. 6. Finally there will be religious benefits: ‘for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ (Isaiah 56:7).
2. The judgement of Satan
Jesus will rein on earth for 1000 years and as we have seen there will be absolutely no room for doubt about the existence of God. The origin of mankind will not be in dispute (everyone will be creationists!) and there will be peace on earth and suffering will be unknown. The question of God’s goodness will not arise. Now something altogether surprising happens. Satan is released from his prison and he is given freedom to interact with mankind once again. What will be the reaction of many under these circumstances? Surely everyone without exception will worship God and willingly give him his place. Tragically we learn that this will not be the case. During the reign of Christ on earth the will be perfect justice, Jesus will rule with a rod of iron, sin and sinful acts will simply not be tolerated: zero tolerance! But rather than thanking God for these perfect conditions it seems that resentment will arise, men perhaps will wish to sin but will not be permitted. As Satan is released he seems to find willing partners in opposition to God: ‘Satan…will go out to deceive the nations and gather them for battle. There will not be a few recruits; John records that ‘in number they are like the sand on the seashore!’ They march in determined resistance to the Messiah’s perfect rule: verse 9, ‘They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves.’ They say that a mark of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Well here we have Satan repeating the same thing as he raises an army to confront God in Jerusalem. The result? ‘But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.’ This dreadful event tells us that the present rejection of God (insufficient evidence, too much suffering etc.) is largely insincere and lacking in integrity. I watched a debate between an atheist and Prof John Lennox. As the debate progressed it became clear that the atheist was happy with his view of the world and had no real desire to consider or engage with the possibility (or reality) of God. The truth is that even under the perfect conditions of the Messiah’s rule men and women will still reject God and side with Satan. The truth is that we each have a choice, for sure the circumstances we find ourselves in may facilitate belief in God or may inhibit belief in God, but we have a choice and one day there will be a reckoning with perfect justice see below).
Last time the beast and the false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire, this time it’s the turn of Satan. ‘And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (verse 8).’ What a huge sense of relief! No more lies, no more deception. The 1,000 years are over, Satan is defeated and finally dealt with. The eternal righteous rule of the Messiah will continue into eternity, but before that there is to be the judgement of men and women.
3. The judgement of the dead
John saw a great white throne. He also records that ‘the earth and the heavens fled from his presence and there was no place for them.’ This is a remarkable statement! All that we know in this world will suddenly be gone. It will be just mankind before God. The scene is one of judgement. The dead, both great and small will stand before the great white throne and books will be opened. We as believers will already have been resurrected and will be ‘with the Lord’ as his bride. This judgement concerns those who have not aligned themselves with God. There will be no exceptions: ‘The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.’ John saw that the judge referred to books: books that contained records of what each person has done. But there is another book: the book of life. We noted previously in our studies of Revelation that there is good evidence that every person starts with their name in this book. It seems that at the point of death if an individual does not ‘die in the Lord’ then their name is removed. The judge will study the book of life for each person, if their name is not written in the book of life they will be thrown into the lake of fire. We know that this is a place where Satan will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. This is the second death. These are sobering thoughts. They are also motivating thoughts – will your name be found in the book of life on that judgement day? You can ensure that it is, right now: ‘believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.’