Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
OUTLINE OF REVELATION 20:7-10
I. Satan loosed
A. When he is loosed: after 1000 years
B. His activity when he is loosed
1. Deceive the nations
2. Gather them for battle
II. The battle
A. The position taken by the nations
1. On the plain of the earth
2. Around the camp of the saints and the beloved city
B. The action taken against them
1. Fire falls from heaven
2. It consumes them
III. The fate of Satan
A. Thrown into the Lake of Fire (where Beast and False Prophet are)
B. The torment of those in the Lake: tormented day and night forever and ever
1. THE TRANSITIONAL INDICATOR: Verse 20:7 marks a transition from a narrative of the triumphant saints to a return to the narrative concerning Satan that broke off in verse 20:3. In that verse we learn that Satan will be imprisoned in the Abyss for a thousand years so that he cannot deceive the nations during that time. However, verses 20:7 and following are prepared for by the notation in verse 20:3 that it is necessary for him to be released for a little while. That release and its consequences are described in 20:7-10. The transition to that description is marked by the clause: “And when the thousand years are ended…”
2. THE NECESSITY OF SATAN’S RELEASE: Verse 20:3 contains much information, which is summarized below.
· The angel throws Satan into the Abyss (“bottomless pit”).
· He seals the entrance to the Abyss.
· The purpose of this imprisonment is to keep Satan from deceiving the nations.
· The length of the imprisonment is 1000 years.
· At the end of that time he “must” be released for “a little while.”
In verse 20:7-8, that prediction of release is fulfilled. The consequence is that Satan goes to work deceiving the nations. The wording in verse 20:8 is: “and [he] will come out to deceive the nations…”
Looking ahead, we know that the ultimate destiny of Satan is to be thrown into the Lake of Fire. The Beast and False Prophet had experienced that punishment at the close of the Battle of Armageddon (19:20). But Satan’s punishment is delayed until two time periods and their activities are completed. These periods are the 1000 years and the “little while.” In the former, the saints rule and reign with the Lord and Satan is sidelined in “the county jail.” In the latter, Satan is out for a little while during which he is deceiving the nations and gathering them for battle, much as his minions accomplished in the run-up to Armageddon (16:13-16).
The challenge of interpretation is this: why is it necessary for Satan to be released for a little while? The consequence of his release is deception. In that deception are revealed two things:
1. The nature of Satan
2. The vulnerability of the nations
The nature of Satan is to deceive. In the Garden of Eden, Satan deceived Eve. (Genesis 3:13, I Timothy 2:14) Satan is characterized as “the deceiver of the whole world.” (Revelation 12:9) Upon his release from his imprisonment in the Abyss, he immediately goes to work at his main occupation, deception.
The nations are vulnerable to deception. The following is from the introduction to an article in Wikipedia on “The Confidence Trick”: “A confidence trick is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust. Confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, and greed.” Notice that we would judge three out the six traits that are listed (vanity, irresponsibility, greed) to be sinful or leading to sin. The other three traits we do not consider necessarily evil, yet they make people vulnerable to be victims of deception. Thus, we may be deceived because of our own evil tendencies. We also may be victimized by deception. Thus, we see two major components of our sinful condition: we are both perpetrators and victims. We see this in the cycle of abuse that continues over generations within families. We see this in the people who pulled under the spell of certain politicians who appeal to both the good and evil natures of people.
The manifestation that results from Satan’s release: The outcome of Satan’s release for “a little while” is manifestation. Satan’s nature and the vulnerability of the nations are manifested. It is a necessity for these to be made manifest—that they “play themselves out.” Once they are manifest, then God’s judgment is justified. Although God owes no one an apology nor explanation, yet we find that God, throughout the history of creation, is careful to justify his actions, both to the angelic hierarchy and humankind.
For example, in the lengthy passage on justification in Romans 3, Paul comments on God’s actions in providing “propitiation by his [Christ’s] blood, to be received by faith.” Paul explains “This [provision by God] was to show God’s righteousness…It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25b-26) Note that Paul states that God’s great act of justification was “to show” God’s righteousness—what God is truly like. For God is righteous (“just”) and the one who makes people righteous (“justifier”). All of this was to “show” God’s nature. The word that ESV translates “to show” is a noun that can mean “evidence.” God’s act of justification is evidence of his nature. Or, we could say, his justification is the MANIFESTATION of his nature. “The truth will out.” So, the truth of Satan and of the nations will come out. Release Satan from his prison and he will immediately manifest his deceitful nature and the nations will fall for it. As my Dad said: “The devil immediately gets a following.”
3. THE RESULT OF SATAN’S DECEPTION: Satan is quite successful in his goal of gathering the nations together (I shall explore the specifics of these “nations” later) for battle against the “camp of the saints and the beloved city…” (verse 20:9) However, the outcome is not a success for the “nations.” The nations are destroyed by fire from heaven. Notice what this episode reveals about the nature of Satan and his deception. Satan is good at getting people together for a battle. He is not necessarily good at winning the battle. He may give people short-term victories, but, ultimately, the outcome is disastrous.
I knew a man who took a trip out to San Francisco in 1968. It was one year after the “Summer of Love.” He described the scene as chaotic and dangerous. “Speed freaks” (methamphetamine addicts) and heroin addicts dominated. People were carrying guns, and paranoia was rife. What started as utopia had disintegrated into dystopia.
In a sense, Satan’s goal in this case, as with most of his projects, is not for the nations to win the battle. His goal is to gather the nations FOR BATTLE. He did not care if they won. He may lead people into grand causes, crusades, huge business enterprises, powerful empires, or small-time schemes. They all have a way of eventually falling apart. The history of the ancient middle east is the story of empire after empire dominating the scene for a short time and then collapsing and giving way to another empire. Satan’s deception is that these great projects will last forever and provide humanity with all that is needed for happiness and fulfillment. But they are inspired by deception—that a particular god or man or nation is all-powerful and all-wise. They are built on a lie and cannot last.
As I am writing this, the United States is in the early stage of reacting to the storming of the Capitol building, where the two houses of the national legislature (Senate and House of Representatives) meet. People who, I believe, were fed false information resorted to mob violence in order to disrupt the process of the certification by the Senate and House of the presidential election results. They have been inspired by rumors and conspiracy theories. Now their brief display of raw physical power is over and the nation is trying to pick up the pieces they left behind. The sad thing is that there were some legitimate issues that they and their leaders had been bringing before the nation. However, the lies that they were being fed poisoned their cause. Satan is the father of lies. Sooner or later, he shows his hand, and degeneration ensues.
4. THE FINAL END OF SATAN
After the “nations” who have attacked the “camp of the saints and the beloved city” are destroyed by fire, Satan himself meets his final defeat. Throughout the book of Revelation—indeed, throughout the Bible—Satan’s plans are frustrated and he is limited in his activity, despite his considerable power. Revelation 12 reflects this pattern. The dragon cannot devour the child of the woman. (12:4-5) The woman is given protection from the dragon in the wilderness. (12:6) Michael and his angels defeat the dragon and his angels. (12:7) This defeat is also ascribed to the faithfulness of the saints. (12:11) On earth, the dragon cannot capture the woman because of divine help. (12:13-16) This is not the end of Satan’s pursuit of the righteous, but all of his efforts ultimately fail. So, finally, the last battle ends in the defeat of the followers of Satan, and Satan himself meets his end.
He is thrown into the Lake of Fire. There are four “places” of judgment mentioned in the New Testament.
1) HADES, which has the following uses:
a) A place or position of humiliation and weakness: Matthew 11:23, Luke 10:15,
b) Power or source of evil: Matthew 16:18
c) A place where people go after they die, including a place of torment: Luke 16:23
d) A place where people go after die, not necessarily resulting in torment: Acts 2:27
2) GEHENNA, which has the following uses:
a) Place of judgmental torment: Matthew 5:22 (angry and insulting), 5:29 (better to go without a body part than destroyed in Gehenna) (along with Matthew 5:30, Mark 9:43, 9:45, 9:47), Matthew 10:28 (place where God destroys soul and body) (along with Luke 12:5)
a) Parent of the sinful: Matthew 23:15
b) Source or origin of evil: James 3:6
2) ABYSS, which has the following uses:
a) A place where demons fear to go: Luke 8:31
b) A place where the dead go: Romans 10:7
c) A source of smoke that can bring darkness: Revelation 9:1 & 2
d) Also the source of tormenting locusts who are led by the destroying angel of the abyss: Revelation 9:11
e) The abyss is the source of the Beast: Revelation 11:7 & 17:8
3) LAKE OF FIRE, which is mentioned in the following:
a) Revelation 19.20: “and the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet…These two were thrown into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.”
b) Revelation 20.10, 14, 15 lake of fire
c) Revelation 21.8 “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
The Lake of Fire is defined in the following ways:
1. It burns with sulfur (a minimum of 392 degrees Fahrenheit).
2. It is where the Beast and the False Prophet will be.
3. To be thrown into it is to suffer the second death.
4. It is the “portion” (destiny) of all sorts of sinners.
Thus, the Lake of Fire is a terrible destination. It is the place where Satan winds up. All of his schemes and deceptions and ambitions finally bring him to this terrible end. He is never mentioned again in Scripture. The final note is that “they” (the Beast, False Prophet, and the devil) will be “tormented day and night forever and ever.”
5. WHAT OR WHO ARE THE “NATIONS” AND GOG AND MAGOG?
Verses 20:7-8 describe Satan’s deception of the “nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle…” This is an echo of Ezekiel 38-39, which also includes references to Gog and Magog. That latter passage is similar to Revelation 20:7ff, but with some differences. In the Ezekiel passage, Ezekiel is told to prophesy “Gog, of the land of Magog” and other mysterious persons and nations. Ezekiel says to them that God is going to draw them, along with countries such as Persia and Egypt, to Israel, which is described as “the land that is restored from war.” Although they will come prepared for war, God, “in [his] jealousy,” will rain down “hailstones, fire and sulfur…” and give this huge army to the birds and beasts to be devoured. In a lengthy cleansing process, Israel will collect the weapons for firewood and bury the dead for seven months. Then, Israel will “know that I am the Lord God” and the nations will understand that God “hid” his face from Israel temporarily to deal with their transgressions. Notice that Ezekiel 38-39 is echoed in both our present passage of Revelation 20:7-10 as well as in Revelation 19:11-21.
Dwight Pentecost, a Dispensationalist, rejects the idea that Revelation 20:7-10 and Ezekiel 38-39 are describing the same event. He includes the following reasons (Pentecost, 349-350) (and my responses):
· Ezekiel says a “northern coalition” attacks, but Revelation says all nations are involved. However, many nations are indicated in Ezekiel.
· Ezekiel does not mention Satan, but Satan is always implied to be the instigator of such behavior.
· He considers that the chapters following Ezekiel 38-39 are descriptions of the Millennium. Since chapters 38-39 are placed before, he concludes that the events are before the Millennium. However, strict chronology would not necessarily be found in a book of prophecy. Moreover, Ladd (see below) believes the chapters following are of the eternal state, not the Millennium. Also, note that Ezekiel 37 could be descriptive of the Millennium, and this would mean chapters 38-39 describe events after the Millennium.
· He believes that Revelation 20:7-10 describe the armies as being devoured by fire, whereas the Ezekiel describes the disposing of bodies. However, Ezekiel 38:22b speaks of “fire and sulfur.” Moreover, the word for “consumed” is used figuratively in several places in the New Testament. (See, for example, Mark 12:40, Luke 15:30, John 2:17, II Corinthians 11:20). Moreover, fire can destroy without total consuming an article.
· Revelation 20 is followed by the new heaven and new earth; Pentecost cannot conceive that the prolonged cleansing of 7 months would not corrupt the new heaven and earth; but the time line of Rev. 20-21 is not detailed enough to allow this objection.
G. E. Ladd (269-270) understands the latter part of Ezekiel to have “the same basic structure” as Revelation 20-22:
· Ezekiel 36-37: “[describes the] salvation of Israel…restored to their land and blessed with the messianic salvation (36:24-29)
· “The kingdom is disturbed by an eschatological war, led by Gog from Magog (chapters 38-39)...
· After the “divine victory” there is an “eternal new order” (described by Ezekiel “in terms of a rebuilt temple…”) (this corresponds with Revelation 21-22)
Swete (264-265) does not try to fit Revelation 20:7-10 to Ezekiel 38-39. He, as with many, ignores any possibility of supernatural prophecy and seeks a rational explanation: “But whatever Gog and Magog may have meant to Ezekiel, St John’s phrase [Gog and Magog] has no definite geographical associations; it comes in all probability not directly from Ezekiel, but from Jewish apocalyptic sources in which it had assumed a new connotation. In Rabbinical writings Gog and Magog appear as the enemies of the Messiah…” …Christian interpreters of the fourth and following centuries…” [had various views of Gog and Magog, such as: Roman Empire, the Goths, the Huns]. Augustine believed they represent all the far-distant nations. “This great uprising of the nations will, [Augustine] adds, be the final protest of the world against the church.”
Rist (521-522): “This episode of Gog and Magog is based upon a popular saga that makes its earliest known appearance in a strange prophecy in Ezek. 38-39. According to it, God will entice Gog of the land of Magog to attack and plunder the seemingly defenseless Israelites…But God in his wrath against these heathen people will destroy them with hailstones, fire, and brimstone…This prediction, frequently with Gog of Magog changed to Gog and Magog…was soon adapted to messianic and apocalyptic expectations [in other writings]…” “Evidently this account of Gog and Magog [in Revelation 20:7-10] is a retelling of the story of the earlier battle [in Revelation 19:11-21], which also showed some dependence upon the prophecy in Ezekiel.”
Morris (238-239) “…Gog and Magog seems to signify all people…Magog appears to be the land from which Gog came…In later Judaism Gog and Magog were thought of as two leaders…they often symbolize the forces of evil. For John the combination is another way of referring to the hosts of the wicked. He has in mind the last great attack of evil on the things of God.”
Conclusion: Probably, the observations of the scholars—that “Gog and Magog” in Revelation 20:8 is used as a generalized designation for evil “nations”—is accurate. Keep in mind that the term “nations” in the Old Testament generally refers to all other people groups than Israel and that they were considered outside the covenant relationship with God and, generally, evil. The expression “Gog and Magog” in later Judaism probably carried this same kind of connotation of evil. At the same time, it probably also is used in Revelation to refer to Ezekiel 38-39, to that confederation of enemy nations that Ezekiel predicted would make an attack on the people of God at the end of the Millennium.
I mentioned earlier, in discussing the necessity of Satan’s release (as stated in 20:3), that Satan’s release would necessitate his deceptive and evil activity, which is displayed in his instigation of the attack by the nations of the world. Moreover, this attack also reveals the inherent evil in the hearts of people. Even though the Millennium will entail a thousand years of peace, prosperity, and righteousness, there will be people in the world who are vulnerable to the deception of Satan. This reveals that they have not been regenerated by salvation. This fact opens a new question that needs to be considered in another post: What is the nature and meaning of the Millennium?
Crossway. The Holy Bible. English Standard Version. Wheaton, Il: Crossway by Good News Publishers, 2001.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 12. Gen. ed. R. V. G. Tasker. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come A Study in Biblical Eschatology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ. House, 1958.
Rist, Martin. “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” in The Interpreter’s Bible. vol. 12. Nolan B. Harmon, Ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Apocalypse of St John. London: MacMillan and Co., 1906.