The Defeat of Satan and the General Judgment (Rev. 20:7-15)
Why do you think God has given the church the book of Revelation? Why should we read it and study it? Is it because God wants us to know the details of the end times, down to the minutest point? No, I don’t think so. I think the NT Scholar G. E. Ladd was correct when he commented, “Scripture is not primarily interested in what concerns many students of the Bible, viz., in a scheme or chronology of prophetic events.” Rather, the book of Revelation was given to us so that we would have hope and that our hope would be in the promise that the faithful follower of Jesus Christ will participate in the victory of the Lord at the end of history as we know it. What we’ve seen is that again and again, the book of Revelation brings us to the end of all things and the victory of Jesus over all his and our enemies, and this is where the book ends. This is where we are at in the 20th chapter of the book of Revelation.
We must not miss how massively important this is. This book is meant to function to give you hope. And the hope it is meant to give you is not the hope that if you have enough faith and get really busy in the kingdom of God, then God will reward you by giving you a better job or give you better health or success in whatever it is you are currently aiming at (though that’s not to say God can’t do that!). The hope the Bible gives us is that the saint will be raised from the dead and will share in the glory of the Son of God forever in a new heavens and a new earth.
Of course this is supposed to make a difference now. Yes, this is about the future, and for most if not all of us this will mean the future on the other side of the grave, but the knowledge that the Bible gives us of God’s plan for the future is supposed to change your life in the here and now. How so? It does so, not by promising to take away our trials, but by putting them in perspective. Hope in our participation in Christ’s future and eternal victory over all evil ought to make us persevering saints in the present. I think the apostle Paul shows us how this operates in something he said to the Roman believers. He tells them (and us) that we ought to be “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). The question is this: how do you remain patient in tribulation? Especially when the trial, whatever it is, gets harder and harder? When the pain seems unrelenting? When there seems to be no end in sight to the thorn in the flesh? How do you remain faithful when God doesn’t answer our earnest pleas and cries for relief with the relief we are asking for? When all we get seems to be silence, how can our faith remain strong?
Well, brothers and sisters, God is not silent. He has spoken in his word, and he instructs us there. And what he tells us is that he hears our prayers and that he will give us grace for our trials. But what he also tells us is that his love for us is not to be measured only or even primarily in terms of temporal blessing but in terms of eternal glory. This is why just before the apostle tells us to be “patient in tribulation,” he first says that we are to be “rejoicing in hope.” Hope in what? Hope that the cerebral palsy will suddenly be healed? Now don’t get me wrong: I do believe God can and does do things like that. I’ve prayed that God would do that for my daughter. But I also know that God does not have to do things like that, and that it very well might be his will that the cerebral palsy doesn’t go away this side of heaven. Rather, my hope ultimately is that through Jesus one day my daughter will receive a resurrection body that is free of all the ravages of cerebral palsy. And whatever your tribulation is, if you are rejoicing in the hope of future glory, it will enable you – or it ought to – to persevere in a long march through difficulty and suffering. We can do this because, as Paul had put it earlier to the Romans, “For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
That doesn’t mean, of course, that we’re on our own till we get to heaven. That’s why on the other side of “be patient in tribulation” you have “continuing instant in prayer.” Prayer may not get rid of the cancer or the pain or whatever the difficulty may be. But it does bring down God’s grace upon us. God is in fact a very present help in time of trouble (Ps. 46:1).
If the Bible is true, and we believe with all our hearts and minds that it is, then this reality of future glory ought to enable us to live totally differently from the people around us who have no such hope. Do we? Are we different in this way, or do we live in such a way that people around you can’t distinguish you from the pagan who lives next door? Do we react to the trials of life the same way people who have no Revelation-informed hope do? My friends, let’s not just read this book and hear sermons on it. Let’s live in light of its realities. Believe what it has to say about your future in Christ, and it will enable you to be an overcomer who will reign with the Lord in glory forever.
But I think the book of Revelation does something else. It not only gives us hope but it also opens our eyes to the reality of future judgment. We are so ready on the one hand to forget the glory of the righteous and give in to despair and on the other to become bloated with heart-numbing worldliness and forget the end of the wicked. We need both. We need the comfort of the promise of eternal life and we need the clarity of the warning of eternal judgment. Revelation gives us both the comfort and the clarity.
Now in the text before us we have two massive hope and clarity giving realities that are presented to us: that of the defeat of Satan (7-10) and the final judgment (11-15). My prayer is that as we consider these two realities together we would come out more hopeful with respect to God’s promise and endued with greater Biblical clarity with respect to God’s judgment.
The Defeat of Satan
Last time, in looking at verses 1-6, we learned that when our Lord returns, Satan will be shut away, unable to deceive the nations (2). During this time, the Millennium, the martyrs and those who did not receive the mark of the beast will be resurrected and reign with Christ on the earth. But this is not the end of Satan. After the thousand years, he is allowed, we are told in verses 7-8, out of his prison. Once out, the devil does what the devil does and he begins again to deceive the nations, gathering them for a final, suicidal battle with Christ and his people. However, they are decisively defeated (9), and the devil “is 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” (10).
You will notice the mention of Gog and Magog in verse 8, which is meant to describe the nations of the earth led into deception by Satan. What this tells us is that the vision John is seeing unfold here is roughly the same thing the prophet Ezekiel saw in his prophesy. The last part of the book of Ezekiel goes from chapter 36 to the end of the book in chapter 48 and is more or less parallel with Revelation 20-22. The structure of his vision is basically this: in chapters 36-37 we see God’s people restored to the land, which I believe parallels the Millennial kingdom of our Lord described in Rev. 20:1-6. Then in chapters 38-39 of Ezekiel’s prophesy, we have a climactic battle between Israel and Gog and Magog, culminating in the defeat of Israel’s enemies. This corresponds to what we are seeing here in Revelation 20:7-15. Then the final chapters of Ezekiel (40-48) portray for us the new heavens and new earth in terms of new temple. This corresponds to the final chapters of Revelation (21-22).
People have tried to identify Gog and Magog and have come up with some far-fetched theories, including the supposition that Gog and Magog refer to Russia! However, this is highly unlikely, and I think we should not try to read too much into this. John is simply using the language of the OT, as he often does, to identify the enemies of God’s people in terms of Ezekiel’s vision. It doesn’t really matter where they come from; when the time comes it will be obvious who belongs to Christ and who is following Satan.
Now the lesson we need to learn from this is the beautiful truth that evil has an end. Evil is not eternal like God. Rebellion against God had a beginning, and it will have an end. The Bible begins by telling us that God made everything in the universe, the heavens and the earth, and that he made it all very good. But then Genesis goes on to tell us that in this universe a sinister being existed. This being, who became Satan, was created by God. He too was created good, but eventually he fell from his righteous state into evil. Again, we don’t know when exactly he was created with reference to the rest of the universe, or when he fell. But we do know that it was before the fall of Adam and Eve for he is the one who tempted them to sin. This is the point of the identification of verse 3: “that old serpent,” referring us back to the Garden of Eden when Eve was led astray by Satan under the guise of a serpent. Adam and Eve, made in God’s image, holy and upright, were tempted into sin and rebellion against God by Satan. The result is what theologians call the Fall of man into sin. With this fall has come all the evil that has ever entered into the human experience. Death, guilt, and condemnation came into the world because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12-19).
But though God could have right then and there destroyed everything and started over, instead God set about undoing what Satan had done. And so God made a promise to Adam and Eve. Here is the way he put it, speaking to the serpent: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). God made a promise that a son of Eve would be born who would crush Satan and undo the evil that he had brought into the world. Jesus is that son of Eve. He came into the world and defeated sin and death on the cross, and now because of his victory over sin he is able to crush the head of the serpent and undo death itself and make new all things. This is what the apostle Paul was referring to when he told the Roman believers, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20). What Paul said was going to take place shortly is taking place here in Revelation 20. Here is where we see the promise at the dawn of human history fulfilled. When Satan is cast into the lake of fire, his head is being crushed forever.
My friends, though he is not the author of sin, God is sovereign even over evil. Sin does not exist independently of God. That is to say, God allows evil for good purposes. Sin didn’t enter into the world by taking God by surprise or by God having his hands tied so that he couldn’t prevent it. He allowed the devil to fall, and he allowed the devil to tempt Adam and Eve into sin. He didn’t make them fall of course; but he did allow them to fall. All the terrible effects of that sin, all the seemingly senseless tragedy that has followed, has a good purpose in the eternal plan of God. That does not mean that sin is good in itself. That doesn’t mean that evil is good in itself. Evil in itself is loathsome. Sin in itself is awful. But God is able to bring good out of the most awful evil. He will do it. And one of the reasons we know this is that Satan, that original perpetrator of wickedness, the father of lies, will be finally and decisively defeated when and how God chooses. There is coming a day when Satan will forever be bound in eternal judgment in the lake of fire.
Think about that: there is coming a day when there will no longer be the possibility of sin and rebellion against God in the new heaven and new earth. Evil will be finally and completely destroyed. Satan and all who follow him will be judged. Let that reality fill you with hope, especially in a day when it seems like wicked men and women are becoming more and more brazen in their sin and more and more hostile in the opposition to and persecution of the cause of God and truth.
The White Throne Judgment
Once Satan is cast into the lake of fire, we go on to read about the judgment before the throne of God: “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” (11-12). Now some say this is just a judgment of the wicked. But surely there were people who were born during the Millennium and then saved, but who, because they were not resurrected yet went on to die. These children of God will certainly participate in this judgment. In fact, I think all humanity, even those who participated in the Millennium will stand in the judgment, just as we see in Matthew 25 and other places, to receive judgment and reward and entrance either to eternal destruction or to eternal reward in the new heavens and new earth.
How will the judgment go? What we see here is that there are “books” and then there is the “book of life” (12). Let’s take the “books” first. This language almost certainly comes from the book of Daniel, chapter 7: “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened” (9-10). It’s clear that the books in Daniel’s vision are connected to God’s judgment. This is what we see here.
In particular, the books contain the record of our works, what we have done with our lives, and this record becomes the standard of God’s judgment. Judgment will be passed according to one’s works. And since God is the one doing the judging, we know that he will reward the righteous and punish the wicked.
Now sometimes people have a hard time with this because they know the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace, and not by works (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 4:5; 11:6). However, there is no contradiction between being saved by God’s grace and being judged by our works. It is no contradiction because the Bible teaches that those who are saved go on to produce good works (Eph. 2:10). In other words, the fact that God judges according to one’s works doesn’t mean that our good deeds are what get us into heaven, but that our good works are the evidence of our being saved by grace. God takes rotten people who only by nature produce bad fruit and remakes them so that they love God and Christ and seek to serve him. They produce good fruit in their lives now, but the fact that they do so is owing entirely to God’s grace in the first place. Works are not the root but the fruit of our salvation. They are the evidence that we are saved. It is in this sense that even God’s people are judged according to their works.
Of course the Bible teaches this everywhere. Let me give you a couple of examples. First of all, consider Paul’s words in Romans 2. There the apostle says that God “will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom. 2:6-11). Note that God does not just judge the wicked, but also the righteous, and he renders to every man (not just some) according to their deeds. The idea that a person can live in utter rebellion against God from beginning to end and yet go to heaven is utterly repugnant to the testimony of Scripture.
Occasionally you will hear some object to this with the example of the thief on the cross. And it is true that he did apparently live almost his entire life in sin. But the fact of the matter is that he did have a conversion experience when he was dying; he did come to see his sin and to embrace the Lordship of Christ. He appealed to him for salvation – “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” – which is evidence of faith. In other words, we have all the elements here of someone who was genuinely converted. And we thank God for that. We thank God that judgment according to works is not a matter of having more good works than bad ones. We are saved on the basis of Christ’s perfect righteousness, not our own. Nevertheless, God’s word makes it clear that those are saved who have been changed by grace. This happened to the thief on the cross, even though it was at the end of his life. We have to be careful that we don’t draw the wrong conclusions from this. That you can live and die in sin and still go to heaven would be a wrong conclusion. And the words of J. C. Ryle are appropriate here: “There is one thief on the cross that none may despair. Yet there is but one thief on the cross that none may presume.”
Our Lord himself taught this, didn’t he? “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Mt. 16:27). When the Son of man comes he will reward every man according to his works. Our choices matter. What you do with your life matters. Grace is not an excuse for sin. Those who live in sin and die in sin will perish in their sin. Those who are not willing to bow the knees to King Jesus will not receive forgiveness. As Matthew Henry put it, those who will not come to Christ to be saved must depart from him to be damned.
But there is another book: “another book was opened, which is the book of life . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:12, 15). What is this “book of life”? There are seven instances where this book is mentioned in Revelation (3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; 22:19). This is clearly the record of the saved. Now some make a big deal out of 3:5 and being blotted out of the book of life and make this to say that this is not a fixed record. They argue that people’s names go in and out of this book. However, all Rev. 3:5 says is that those who overcome will not have their names blotted out of the book of life. That is not the same thing as saying that you can be saved and then lose it. Rather it is simply a promise that those who are saved will not lose their salvation.
In other words, I take this to be God’s eternal register of the elect. This is the book that records the purpose of God in election before the foundation of the world. God chose, out of the mass of sinful humanity, a people to save through Jesus Christ. These names are recorded in the book of life. It is what our Lord was referring to when he told his disciples, “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). This book determines who will be saved. Those whose names are not in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire, into eternal destruction.
Now we know that God’s election is all of grace. So which is it? Are we judged according to our works or according to the grace of God in election? The answer is both. Again, the connection is this: those who are saved by grace are changed by grace. The books which record our works as the result of God’s gracious change of us and the book of life which records our names as the result of God’s gracious choice of us agree with one another. And they agree because God’s grace changes people, moves us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son, opens our eyes, turns us from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God (cf. Col. 1:13; Acts 26:18).
Friends, there are so many things that are not inevitable, that are uncertain. You young people, with your life all ahead of you, this is one of the things that makes it exciting, right? You just don’t know what will happen. But one thing is certain: all of you, all of us, will stand before the judgment seat of God. There is no avoiding that. This is the point, I think, of verse 13: “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.” It doesn’t matter where you died or how you died or where you ended up, whether in the sea or on land, you will be raised to stand before God. All who inhabit “death and hell,” that is, the realm of the dead, will come out of their graves to stand before the judge of all the earth and have judgment rendered over them. Nothing can hide you from this God, for he is the one “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them” (11). You simply cannot run from God. All of history is like a river running in a single direction, and it ends at the white throne judgment seat of the God of heaven and earth. You, young man and you, young woman, will stand before it. You, the middle aged and the elderly, you will stand before it. Men and women, boys and girls will stand before it. Just as sure as you are sitting before me, you will stand before God.
Now ask yourself: what will you have to say for yourself at that moment? What will you do? You won’t be able to hide, and you won’t be able to deceive God. You won’t be able to talk your way out of it, for “every mouth will be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). He knows your heart and your life, the hidden and secret things. Paul talks about “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Rom. 2:16). Will you be able to stand?
This is of eternal moment – we are not talking about 20 or 30 years that are at stake, but eternity. And the consequences are infinitely more serious than anything you could possibly compare it to: “the lake of fire,” the “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). John goes on to call it “the second death” (Rev. 20:14). It is a death after death involving not only the ruin of the body but of the soul forever (Mt. 10:28).
My friends, the Bible doesn’t just reveal this awful reality to us so we can rejoice in the destruction of our enemies. It is revealed to us because apart from grace we are all the enemies of God, and we need to understand just how serious sin is. This is how serious sin is: unrepentant, unbelieving sinners will be cast into this lake of fire and justly so, forever.
What this ought to do is to make us hate our sin and to turn from it. Or, to use Biblical language, to flee from the wrath to come (Mt. 3:8). And it ought to make us run, not to our own efforts of self-improvement, but to Jesus Christ who alone can cleanse us from our sin and give us new hearts and make us new people. My friend, renounce your sins and put your trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Here is the promise to those who do so: “But what saith it? [that is, what does the gospel say?]. The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:8-13).
What is the hope that is placed before us in Rev. 20:7-15? It is the hope that sin and death will be finally destroyed and that all will be put right in the end. But of course this hope only makes sense if your name is in the book of life. And the only way that happens is if you belong to Jesus, because the book of life is “the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8). Apart from him we have no lasting hope, but in him we have everlasting hope through grace.
And that means that the trials or problems or discouragements we are currently facing cannot define our future and our destiny. Sometimes they do seem to consume our lives. But they will end if we belong to God through Christ. Our trials are temporary. Our suffering is momentary. But not the glory to come. This glory which is not just a lessening of trials and sufferings, but a life without any pain, any suffering, any discouragement, any cloud in the sky, forever and ever.
Do you believe that? Then let it do for you what it did for Paul: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Do you feel like fainting? Do you feel weary and worn? Let your inward man be renewed by the hope that God is working even in your affliction a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.