From: Reinterpreting Revelation Twenty Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2014
Satan’s Final and Ultimate Defeat
20:7 (KJV) And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.
NASB: And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison.
20:8: 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.
NASB: And will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.
20:9: 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.
[Page 227] NASB: And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
20:10: 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.
NASB: And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
1. The chronological placement of Satan’s release.
Although we touched upon this question previously, further comments would be appropriate as we move into the section that directly discusses Satan’s bonds being removed. The release and Satanically-inspired insurrection unquestionably are narrated after the second millennium. Is this the historical order or only the narrational order? They are not always the same!
For example, in Genesis 1:1-2:3 we find an overview of creation; then beginning in Genesis 2:4 the writer returns to the creation of man which he had [Page 228] narrated very concisely (1:26-31) and covers that earlier theme in far greater detail. The narrational order would require that from 2:4 on we read of a second creation of humans if narrational order required that it duplicate historical order. Here Moses returns to an earlier point and develops it to a degree not done at that earlier point.
What is the case in Revelation 2:7-10? In verse 2 we read that Satan was to be bound “for a thousand years” yet the narration only mentions him being loosed after the second thousand years. This could be introduced as evidence that the text “really” only discusses a monomillennium. Two facts should be remembered when such an approach is suggested.
Let’s begin with the fact that rather that proving the existence of a single millennium, they could be introduced as evidence that neither of the numbers is to be taken literally. They could be construed as John’s way of warning his readers against the literalism that so many have fallen into: “If John says Satan is to be released in a thousand years and we find that Satan is only released after two thousand years, what better indication could he have given that his numbers are symbolic rather than literal. On the literal level they would contradict, but not on the symbolic.”
Also against a monmillennial reading of the passage is that the double millennium is rooted firmly in the text: we have demonstrated that there are at least four differences in the portrayal of the two periods. Hence Bimillennialism remains valid; the problem arises not with it but with how the freed period for Satan fits chronologically.
[Page 229] There are only two places the Satanic interrum could be placed: after the second one or after the first one. (Perhaps more properly—at the tail end of the Martyr Millennium, describing the final events of that period.) The internal wording of the text forces one toward concluding that the second period almost has to represent eternity: It begins with the explicit mention of “resurrection.” Furthermore, the participants are described as those over which “the second death has no power,” an expression far more fitting those entering the eternal bliss of heaven that those facing the uncertainties and ambiguities of any period preceding that.
For that matter, the internal logic of the text points in the same direction. One can understand the logic of having two grand millenniums covering the time when redemption is finally complete and available: one covering all of earth time since Jesus and one covering eternity. They are two logical dividing points, composing the earthly and the heavenly, the temporal and the eternal, the temporary and the permanent.
For reasons such as these, we believe that John must have intended the historical rather than the narrational order to be:
First Millennium: Reign of the Martyrs
Loosing of Satan / Insurrection against God
Second Millennium: Believers’ eternal reign in Heavne
Why doesn’t John follow this order then? For that matter, why doesn’t Genesis, in the creation account we cited earlier? John may not place the loosing of Satan in its historical order because he first wishes to complete his thought of the reward for steadfast believers—or if you wish, survey the entire reward process--before he turns to Satan’s final effort against the redeemed.
[Page 230] The brevity of the account must always be kept in mind. Chronological order might be most appropriate when one has a few thousand words to play with; when one only has a handful, conciseness becomes the dominant and controlling factor.
2. The duration of Satan’s freedom.
The brevity of Satan’s freedom is emphasized both by the term used to describe it and by the period of time it is contrasted with. As to the former, it is called “a short time” (verse 3); “a little while,” in the RSV; “a little time” in the ASV. As to the latter the implied contrast is with the Christians’ reign of two millenniums.
A specific time frame of days, weeks, months, or even years is neither given nor implied. John simply wants to assure the reader that however long it might be, it will still be comparatively brief when contrasted with the blessings promised to believers.
It may be frightful while it happens, but it won’t have to be endured for any prolonged period of time. Like the Ardennes offensive in World War Two, it is powerful and dangerous. After all, this is his final chance. And with prior limits removed as well. All the resources he has are poured into it.
Like the German offensive, it is the last opportunity for his victory—the do or die effort. And it also crumbles apart, far from victory.
3. Why is Satan released at all?
Satan conspicuously does not escape: “Satan will be released from his prison” (verse 7). Verse 3 is even more emphatic, “After these things he must be released for a short time.” But why does God feel the need to order him freed at all? Having imprisoned his arch-enemy, why release him to stir up mischief one final time? The text doesn’t tell us and there is nothing in any other passage that provides a clear clue with which to approach these verses as to God’s rationale.
(For that matter, even the idea itself of a period of special Satanic release would be hard to locate in any other text except by conjectural implantation. Perhaps the closest precedent we could find would be Job: Satan was permitted to tempt Job in ways apparently previously denied him and his earthly disasters ensued; now a similar releasing would allow Satan to act in ways against the entire Christian community that were previously prohibited?)
Some have speculated that Satan is released in order to prove that Satan is incorrigible—he has never changed and never will. The opportunity to act freely and to show that he has learned the path of restraint from his confinement is provided him. This final offer of good will is yet again rejected.
[Page 232] Although this approach makes sense, one wonders why such an additional period would be needed or even appropriate. (How many times must a criminal felon commit horrible acts before an exasperated justice system sentences him to life imprisonment?) On the other hand, inherent in the idea of this world system coming to an end is the need of some event(s) being the final one(s) and what more appropriate to be included than the definitive defeat of Satan’s last futile efforts prior to the bodily resurrection of believers?
Decidedly less useful is the view of those who believe that the release of Satan is to prove that the faithful can’t be led into apostasy. A rather strange interpretation in light of the repeated warnings in the first three chapters against the danger of exactly that happening! Would the text warn against an impossibility?
4. Satan’s purpose and success.
a. He “will come out to deceive the nations.”
As in the Forty Days of Temptation, Satan is not totally adverse to using the scriptures. Neither in our days nor is there any reason to suppose in these as well. But he puts his own special twist on them so that they lead the human race into types of behavior contrary to God’s will and our own best good. In other cases he utilizes outright, blatant lies. He is the ultimate utilitarian: Anything and everything is right so long as it advances his purpose.
And that purpose is deception or, as this text says, “to deceive the nations.” The Greek word is planao and is used in the following passages. It is used as a description of the kind of misbehavior that believers were led into prior to their conversion:
For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. (Titus 3:3)
Although Satan targets “the whole world” (Revelation 12:9) for his deception and in Revelation 20:3 “the nations,” foolhardly is the Christian who thinks for a moment that s/he is now exempt from the danger due to their conversion. The same deceptions, desires, and promptings that make the human species in general vulnerable, also make the believer vulnerable as well.
The difference is that the people of God are supposed to be alert to the danger, therefore forewarned and prepared. Yet the New Testament makes repeated warnings that Christians can fall into a dangerous complacency that makes them dangerously vulnerable:
* And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads (planao) you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead (planao) many. . . . Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead (planao), if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:4-5, 23-24)
* These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive (planao) you. (1 John 2:26)
* Little children, let no one deceive (planao) you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:7-8)
Different temptations work with different people. The same ones that commonly work among unbelievers can be surprisingly effective among Christians—who may even believe the right doctrines and church practices, but whose heart may not be attuned to God’s will. This encourages one to cultivate proud delusions of our inherent goodness and superiority to others, passionately propagandizing for the “virtue” of winning position and influence at any and all cost to others. Indeed we may even target for acquisition that which is legitimate in itself, but which we somehow twist into an excuse to use dishonorable means to obtain.
[Page 235] Worse, we may rationalize our envolvement in outright evil, bending the Scriptures in ways they were never intended to justify them. Or outright ignoring them though, perhaps, still being sure that we keep the “doctrine” right! Our society encourages such behavior by removing the use of all language that overtly or implicitly applies moral labels that indicate disapproval or discouragement of sinful lifestyles and actions. Think the chants of: “Antiquated,” “bigoted,” “prejudiced.”
Virtually any behavior can be rationalized and embraced except the condemnation of moral rot. What is easy to forget is that first century Christians lived in just such a society as well. Its nothing new.
We are simply returning there again. The persistent gutting of moral prohibitions by courts in the last decades of the twentieth century—often laying aside centuries of legislative, judicial, and popular consensus (however violated in practice)—went hand in hand with multiple generations being commonly taught that what makes us “feel good” (rather than “be good”) should be our guide to behavior.
Hence we go full cycle back to first century amorality and the inability to comprehend why Christians could not only “believe different” but try to “be different.” This can create outright hostility for our daring to dissent—as it did for those first century believers. I like the colorful way the traditional KJV renders it, “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:4). “Riot” is intended to cover uncontrolled behavior of all types: “the same flood of wild living” (Holman); “the same excesses of wild living” (ISV), “reckless, wild living” (NIV).
[Page 236] In light of this, it is not surprising that the New Testament should stress the danger of allowing the world’s propaganda for an unrestricted and uncontrolled lifestyle to gain control of the heart of the believer. And it uses the concept of deception to describe the attitudes and arguments that legitimize such behavior:
* Do not be deceived (planao), God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)
* Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived (planao); neither fornicators nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
* “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray (planao), so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20)
[Page 237] In spite of the danger of deception, the Scriptures make plain that there is no necessity of the believer falling for the effort. Satan may tempt, but Satan can make no one yield; his banishments can be overcome:
* Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. You adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking, someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith. . . . (1 Peter 5:8-9)
* Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
Note that Satan’s target is the generic “someone”—i.e., anyone—who he can take advantage of. Though he is after the maximum number of believers, he is after any that he can pluck out of the flock; the more the better, but he’ll settle for whatever he can steal.
In the current text we find that during the end-time of world history that Christians are targeted not so much to be tempted as to be victims to be destroyed (though actually both ideas are closely related since after enough successful temptations the person easily becomes spiritually dead, whether or not still stumbling along in a body of flesh).
Those whom he cannot turn to the evil, he will attempt to eliminate through those in “the nations” that he wins to his side: if subversion of Christian faith is not successful he will attempt direct assault and these verses describe that climactic final confrontation.
[Page 238] Not that the supporters of Satan will often be such consciously—rarely in the pages of history do we find men and women intentionally setting out to do evil to others as an end in itself. It is nearly always the result of dearly held destructive principles (or the maintenance of personal power) that permits them to blind their consciences to the harm they inflict upon others.
Since “nations” consist of a multitude of specific persons and Satan deceives individuals in the nations, this could be what is being driven at: a massive subversion of Christian consciousness. However, it is quite possible that something far more ominous may be under consideration: the “nations” as entities rather than individuals are his primary target at this stage. Satan doesn’t need anywhere near so broad a mass support to oppress Christians if he can pervert the power-structure of the nations into an anti-Christian apparatus. He wants everyone but he can intimidate far more than he can convince if he can successfully manipulate the levers of power.
We saw time and again in the twentieth century how a tightly knit, well organized dictatorship can rape an entire nation’s economy, exterminate (either directly or through starvation) a good part of its population, wage unrestricted war against those who refuse to repudiate their Biblical-oriented faith, and launch naked wars of aggression when they think they can get away with it. They do so not because every one endorses the policy and sometimes not even because they have a strongly majority of “public opinion” on their side. But because they control the ideological, political, and power structures and a cheering “religious” movement has embraced their poisonous ideology as the supreme expression of “true” spirituality.
[Page 239] Hence it is quite possible that since it is the “nations” that Satan sets out to deceive, that John is alluding to such a Satanic effort to pervert the power structures that rule them to his own uses.
b. Satan’s success.
The degree of Satan’s success is indicated by three phrases that John uses to describe the anti-Christian order mobilized by Satan.
First, it consists of people from “the four corners of the world.” If not all the unredeemed are counted as part of the anti-Christian mobilization, at least unsaved in huge number from every part of the world are so included.
It should be remembered that a person does not have to be personally anti-Christian to shrug his shoulders and count it none of his business. Because they are uncommitted, Satan can accomplish his task without the distraction of their opposition. Just as in Germany during World War Two, the exterminators were relatively few in number yet were able to slaughter millions of Jews and Gentiles—Poles, Russians, Germans, and others. This was made possible not just because anti-semitism was pervasive but even more so because of the lack of any active opposition from their countrymen.
[Page 240] In a similar situation, the American situation in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century is one dominated by an anti-Biblical / Christian intellectual “elite” and hostile special interest groups who view their conscious rejection of Biblical norms as the definitive and required standard of belief and behavior for everyone else. And those who had in past decades spoken up strongly against such often seem all too cowered lest they, too, be called insults. In short a social-political situation that makes possible a re-emergence of such repression with Bible believers as the explicit target to be silenced, stigmatized, and—given the right situation—even worse.
Likewise in the Apocalypse, at this point in the text a de facto if not de jure war is being waged. Some may oppose it, others be unconcerned . . . but none are going to step out to stop it. Without impediment of serious opposition, the exterminators set out to destroy the faith of Christ.
John’s terminology deserves a moment’s more consideration. Since one comes in contact with those who mock the Scriptures, we should remember that “the four corners of the world” simply means the entire world, as can, perhaps, be seen more clearly in Revelation 7:1 and Isaiah 11:12. There is no more need to see a literal cosmology in this than there is to find such naïveté in twenty-first century Americans who still refer to the “four corners of the earth” though they know full well that is not its actual shape.
(The mockers should also remember that their references to the earth being “round” is itself open to challenge and mockery; cynics have noted that the true shape is closer to that of an egg than a golf ball. If we can accommodatively refer to the earth as “round,” there should be no aspersions can on referring to the “four corners” as well. We all know the meaning of the expression being used.)
[Page 241] A second textual indication of the vast success of Satan is that “the number of them [the anti-Christian horde] is like the sand of the seashore” (verse 8). This phrase should sound familiar to the Biblically-versed reader as equivalent to “a number so vast that there is (no practical) way to number it at all.” It is used in such a sense of the patriarch Abraham:
“Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.” (Genesis 22:17)
“For Thou didst say, ‘I will surely prosper you, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’ ” (Genesis 32:12)
The anti-Christian multitude is the antithesis of the blessing to Abraham: God’s people as descended—physically or spiritually—from Abraham were to be as numerous as “the sand of the sea[shore];” the host aligned against God’s people are now pictured by the same imagery. Again, literalness is not intended. Genesis 32:12 brings this out quite clearly by using the phrase and then pointing out the concept behind the imagery, “as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”
The prototype for this element of the anti-Christian assault is likely found in the Battle of the Waters of Merom, narrated in Joshua, chapter eleven:
[Page 242] Then it came about, when Jabin, king of Hazor heard of it, that he sent to Jobab king of Madon and to the king of Shimron and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were of the north in the hill country, and in the Arabah—south of Chinneroth and in the lowland and on the heights of Dor on the west—to the Canqaanite on the east and on the west, and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Jebusite in the hill country, and the Hivite at the foot of Hermon in the land of Mizpeh.
And they came out, and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore, with many horses and chariots. So all of these kings having agreed to meet, came and encamped together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel.
Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.”
So Joshua and all the people came upon them suddenly by the waters of Merom, and attacked them. And the Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel, so that they defeated them, and pursued them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim and the valley of Misrephoth-maim and the valley of Mizpeh to the east; and they struck them until no survivor was left to them. And Joshua did to them as the Lord had told him; he hamstrung their horses, and turned their chariots with fire. (Joshua 11:1-9)
[Page 243] Note some parallels between this battle and the one described in Revelation twenty:
Revelation 20: “The number of them is like the sand of the seashore” (verse 8).
Joshua 11: ‘As many people as the sand that is on the seashore” (verse 4).
Revelation 20: “The four corners of the earth” contributed to the hostile horde. (verse 8).
Joshua 11: “The kings who were of the north in the hill country, and in the Arahab—south of the Chinneroth and in the lowland and on the heights of Dor on the west—to the Canaanite on the east and on the west. . . .” (verses 2-3; hence all four “corners” of the earth envolved: north, south, east, and west).
Revelation 20: “To gather them together for the war” (verse 8).
Joshua 11: Also brought together as part of a joint war effort: “having agreed to meet, came and encamped together at the waters of Merom, to fight against Israel” (verse 5).
Revelation 20: Completely defeated—“fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (i.e. all of them, verse 9).
Joshua 11: Completely defeated: “they struck them until no survivor was left to them” (verse 8).
Revelation 20: Fire played the decisive role: “Fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (verse 9),
Joshua 11: Fire played the decisive role to assure it couldn’t happened again: “burned their chariots with fire” (verse 9).
The parallels are so substantial that it would be incredible if the Battle of the Waters of Merom was not on the author’s mind in crafting his description. Yet these parallels also illustrate differences as well:
· In Joshua, the evil comes from the four corners of one geographic region, while the other comes from the four corners of the globe.
· The first is fighting physical Israel while the second is fighting spiritual Israel.
· At the Waters of Merom, fire is used only to destroy the most dangerous of the enemy’s weaponry (their chariots) while in Revelation it is used to destroy the army itself.
In addition, the Lord’s earthly army (under Joshua) launched the surprise attack that defeated the enemy (Joshua 11:7) while in the other case the Lord Himself acts to ensure the defeat by pouring “fire . . . down from heaven” (Revelation 20:9). Hence we can see that while John used this battle as a prototype, he also adapted it so far as the nuances go and by blending it together with his references to the later danger to Israel by Gog and Magog.
[Page 245] In the speculations of some, these verses of John are presented as literally envisioning a gigantic army besieging a literal camp composed of all of God’s people. Although just about anything is imaginable in this crazy mixed up world—including God’s people eventually becoming so disgusted that they take up arms to defend themselves against tyranny—making that kind of point is emphatically not John’s aim.
What we have seen in the course of our study warns us to be wary of such literalistic excesses and our suspicions are well built on the ruins of countless such prior misinterpretations of the text. First of all, the text no more has to be literal at this point than in its other prophetic references to the then future: The conflict may well be “personified” (if you will) as taking place in one location but it can just as properly represent what is simultaneously happening to God’s people in all places scattered throughout the world.
Secondly, our Joshua text shows the futility of taking hyperbole and twisting it into literal fact: Of the armies that were assembled against Israel in those ancient days of Joshua it is said, “And they came out, they and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses. And chariots” (Joshua 11:4). Obviously you did not have an army composed of millions—yea, tens of millions or even hundreds of million on the prowl for Joshua. Nor is there any reason to read into the terminology such vast multitudes when they are found in the book of Revelation.
[Page 246] A third evidence of the success of Satan’s deception in Revelation 20 can be found if you prefer the King James Version. In its rendering of verse 9 we have, “And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints. . . .” Read one way this would mean that they took up the entire earth, which would point to a world-wide conflict rather than a strictly localized one.
However universal the actual battle, the “personification” seems geographically limited and the NASB reading far more appropriate, “And then came up on the broad plain of the earth. . . .” That still argues against any multi-million man being under consideration since they would obviously not fit in any one such “broad plain” in the usually assumed location of Israel. A huge army would be required to occupy such a region, but not that huge.
There is ambiguity in the world translated “earth” in Revelation 20:9, permitting it to have both a local connotation or a universal one. As Ralph Earle points out, “The same Greek word (ge) means ‘earth’ and ‘land.’ ” Whether we take it in either a narrower sense (geographic Israel) or in its broadest possibility (the entire earth), it does not justify the millennial literalism often found in the treatment of the text.
5. Satan’s earthly tools: “God and Magog” (20:8).
a. They were ruler and nation—not nations.
Although the Battle of the Waters of Merom represented a fundamental influence in the shaping of these verses’ imagery, superimposed upon that Battle is the picture of a classical enemy of Israel. The enemy was one whose hostility and dangerousness was so pronounced that it became the prototype for Israel’s most lethal adversaries in much non-Biblical writing: We refer to Gog and Magog. The Biblical references to the historical enemy are found in Ezekiel 38 and 39 and it is to these two chapters that we must go in handling Revelation 20:7-10.
Most readers of the Apocalypse text think in terms of Gog and Magog as both being nations. Actually Gog is the ruler over Magog. Three of the major cities within Magog are mentioned in the Old Testament narrative (alternatively, they might be regions within Magog or associated mini-states under Magog’s control and direction):
And the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince [“chief prince,” ESV, God’s Word, Holman, NIV; “leader,” ISV) of Rosh, Mehech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, And say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.’ ” (Ezekiel 38:1-3)
[Page 248] How Gog and Magog—of all of Israel’s many enemies through the centuries—came to be the personification of Israel’s severest opponent is unknown. The fact that such occurred strongly argues the massive impact the original conflict made upon Israel’s collective psyche. If the new nation of Israel should itself last a thousand years, will its embodiment of evil ever cease to be the Third Reich? The trauma Nero imposed upon early Christian consciousness is a parallel to the psychic blow Gog and Magog inflicted upon the minds of ancient Israel.
Perhaps the choice of Gog and Magog in later literature was used, in part, because it was safer to superimpose the terminology of this earlier foe onto the real, current adversary rather than to run the dangers inherent in an overt admission of who is really under discussion. It also allowed the amplification of the known / current evil to the level of horrendousness that was felt on the psychological level.
(Fact and reaction are not always equivalent. One oppressor may not be substantially worse than another, but may land up appalling the victimized far worse. For example: After Nero there were far worse Roman persecutors of the church upon occasion, but Nero was the first and particularly vicious on top of that. Gog and Magog functioned in a similar fashion for Jews.)
Of those writers genuinely thinking of a future (rather than contemporary) foe, it conjured up the worst imaginable imagery for that yet unknown enemy. For the World War II generation and mine, the one coming to age immediately afterwards, Hitler and Nazi Germany (the Third Reich) serves that function. It was the embodiment of so many horrible evils that the mind recoils--yet it still lost decisively and completely. Hence they became a safe personification of the ultimate tyrant even in lands where similar harsh tyrannies were found; better yet, they even represented the defeat of a seemingly undefeatable evil.
[Page 249] Does John maintain Gog and Magog as ruler and ruled? The question arises of whether John refers to Gog and Magog in their historical sense of ruler and ruled or in the sense of nations. Revelation 20:8 tells us that Satan “will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for war. . . .” One could read “Gog and Magog” here as equivalent to “the nations which are in the four corners of the earth,” but that would require that there were only two nations in existence and it is hard to read the text as intending such a thought.
Hence the more constructive approaches seem to be: (1) take Gog as the embodiment of all the earthy leaders and Magog as the embodiment of all earthly nations—all united in attempting to crush Christianity. Or (2) take Gog and his nation of Magog as leaders of a united movement to destroy Christianity.
b. What Ezekiel prophesied concerning Gog and Magog was fulfilled long before the events prophesied by John.
Ezekiel 38 and 39 are the basis of John’s “Gog and Magog” but Ezekiel is NOT prophesying the same event as John. John is referring to events at the end of [Page 250] the world. A careful examination of the Ezekiel chapters reveals that the historic (rather than symbolic) Gog and Magog were to be defeated at a much earlier point in time.
The end of the earth can hardly occur after Ezekiel’s battle for after that conflict it takes seven months to bury all the dead . . . and in the context of earth’s end, there would be no sense in even trying to bury the dead anyway—not to mention no one to do the burying:
“And it will come about on that day that I shall give Gog a burial ground there in Israel, the valley of those who pass by east of the sea, and it will block off the passers-by. So they will bury Gog there with all his multitude, and they will call it the valley of Hamon-gog. For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them in order to cleanse the land.
“Even all the people of the land will bury them; and it will be to their renown on the day that I glorify Myself,” declares the Lord God. “And they will set apart men who will constantly pass through the land, burying those who were passing through, even those left on the surface of the ground, in order to cleanse it. An the end of seven months they will make a search. And as those who pass through the land pass through and anyone sees a man’s bone, then he will set up a marker by it until the buriers have buried it in the valley of Hamon-gog. And even the name of the city will be Hamonah. So they will cleanse the land.” (Ezekiel 39:11-16)
[Page 251] The naming of a city in tribute to the victory implies that the city will be around for an indefinite time into the future to honor that triumph. The passing of seven months seems odd if this is preliminary to the end of the world; the naming of a city (with its implied long term tribute to the victory) is outright incongruous in such a setting.
If we go back a few verses we discover that seven years after the dramatic defeat the normal course of human affairs is still continuing:
“Then those who inhabit the cities of Israel will go out, and make fires with the weapons and burn them, both shields and bucklers, bows and arrows, war clubs and spears, and for seven years they will make fires of them. And they will not take wood from the field or gather firewood from the forests, for they will make fires with the weapons; and they will take the spoil of those who despoiled them, and seize the plunder of those who plundered them,” declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 39:9-10)
If the world continuing seven years (plus!) after this dramatic defeat makes no sense in connection with the end of the temporal cosmos, neither does the plundering of the enemy’s spoil. The popular adage “you can’t take it with you” applies to the end of the world just as much as to preceding generations!
In light of these basic textual facts, we conclude that though John utilizes imagery connected with Gog and Magog, the two prophecies refer to different events that occur at different points in history.
c. The appropriateness of the Gog and Magog imagery.
That this imagery would be appropriate to first century Jewish readers is implied by the very fact that it is used. However since the early Jewish Christians were far better versed in the details of the Old Testament than most believers today, it is appropriate that we point to various conceptual and verbal parallels between the texts to become better aware of them. In order to make the comparison more comprehensive, we also include the Battle of the Waters of Merom from Joshua 11.
* Revelation 20: “The number of them is like the sand of the seashore” (verse 8).
Ezekiel 38/39: Not directly stated, but a vast army implied by listing of various allied powers (38:5-6). Explicit statements also indicate a huge army: “A great assembly and a mighty army” (38:15); “His multitude” (39:11).
Joshua 11: It uses hyperbole indicating a vast number: “As many people as the sand that is on the seashore” (verse 4).
[Page 253] * Revelation 20: “The four corners of the earth” contribute forces to the hostile horde (verse 8).
Ezekiel 38/39: Terminology not used but at least three of the “corners” are implied: Persia (to the west); Ethiopia (to the south); “Beth-togarmah from the remote parts of the north” (38:5-6).
Joshua 11: Though the expression “four corners of the earth” is not used, it is mentioned that the aggressors came from all four directions of the earth: “north . . . south . . . east . . . west” (verses 2-3).
* Revelation 20: Part of a joint effort: “to gather them together for the war” (verse 8).
Ezekiel 38/39: “Many peoples with you” (38:6). “Have been gathered from many nations” (38:8). “Many peoples with you” (38:15).
Joshua 11: Likewise here: “having agreed to meet, came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel” (verse 5).
* Revelation 20: Completely defeated (implied by): “Fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (verse 9).
Ezekiel 38/39: “You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all you troops” (39:4).
Joshua 11: “They struck them until no survivor was left to them” (verse 8).
[Page 254] * Revelation 20: “Fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (verse 9).
Ezekiel 38/39: Fire was one of the Divine weapons used to destroy the enemy forces, “On the many peoples who are with him, a torrential rain, with hailstones, fire, and brimstone” (38:22).
Joshua 11: Fire played the key role in the destruction not of the enemy forces but of their weaponry (thereby reducing or eliminating the danger of any new war at least in the near term): “Burned their chariots with fire” (38:9)
By doing a three-way comparison such as this one, we can see John’s reliance on both the Joshua and Ezekiel narratives. From this double reliance we deduce that the truth he wished to convey involved elements found in both places.
Perhaps this is to be expected since John is narrating the final conflict between good and evil while neither Old Testament text does such. (Conceptually, perhaps Joshua is closer: For John the battle is the prelude to the heavenly Canaan / Paradise / Eternal Kingdom; for Joshua the Battle of the Waters of Merom is the prelude to the successful establishment of the earthly Canaan / Kingdom under God’s direct guidance.)
We hasten to add an important caution: In a conservative scheme of interpretation, to identify John’s sources does not require a human origin of the prophecy. Rather, in presenting a vision of the future to John, God uses the imagery that would make the most sense and have the most meaning to the prophet . . . that drawn from the pages of the Old Testament text.
d. Symbolism of “Gog and Magog” in Revelation 20.
Having discussed the origin of the symbolism at length, we need to consider the purpose to which John puts it. Gog and his nation Magog are encouragers of the anti-Christian forces throughout the world, encouraging and rallying them to initiate an oppression of the faithful. Because the uncommitted and the openly antagonistic have always represented the majority of the world’s population, “the number of them is like the sand of the seashore.” From the standpoint of human affairs, the situation is hopeless; the righteous are fantastically outnumbered and have no chance of survival.
The knowing and unknowing minions of Satan surround God’s people, the church—pictured as “the camp” and the “beloved city”—not in any one sole geographic location but throughout the world, the battle being localized to make it that much more vivid and the odds against successful resistance that much more obvious. (Anything less than a “universal” repression would do Satan no good for it would leave unknown numbers of the faithful in other places to lead a recouping of the losses that have been suffered in other regions.)
By localizing the oppression, the “inescapability” of the disaster is made pointedly obvious. Yet at that very instant that it is inescapable, Divine “fire” wrecks the opponents of the gospel and Divine revenge begins in eternity itself (verses 11-15).
Time and again throughout history, God’s people have escaped disaster and even extinction against all odds. And in the last day pictured, it happens one final—definitive . . . last time. After this such rescues will not be needed. For those who try to inflict such catastrophes will then no longer exist where they are capable of repeating their vileness.
e. The non-Biblical and modern mythology of Gog and Magog.
In non-inspired hands, apocalyptic loses all restraint; not content with what the prophets said and reasonably imply, it “develops” and “expands” the narrative and concepts and these take on a life of their own. More than a century before Christ was born, the fact that Gog was ruler of Magog had been replaced with a considerably different scenario: Now they were the nations of Gog and Magog—a misunderstanding perpetuated in the ancient rabbinical writings that survives even today.
Recent centuries have continued to play fast and loose with the Biblical presentation. In an earlier century, Britain (among other powers) was viewed as the prophesied Magog. In the middle twentieth century, the most common identification was with the Communist Soviet Union.
We know that Gog was “the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal” (Ezekiel 38:2). “Rosh” is creatively transformed into Russia; Meshech is boldly presented as the original form of Moscow and Tubal as the original form of Tobolsk. These were “always” part of Russia, it was claimed. Lenski’s Commentary on Revelation points out that it wasn’t until the middle of the twelfth century that there was even a town called “Moskva” and that Tobolsk in Siberia was not even conquered until 1639.
[Page 257] These claims are widespread and still enthusiastically received—even though the fall of the Soviet Union would seem to have proved it decsively wrong. On the other hand, Russia is still around and one can easily predict a revival of it and its imperialistic intentions. Hence the “absolutely reliable identification” will surely rise again to plague later generations.
Of course any identification with a modern country assumes that the ancient texts had such a reference in mind. It also assumes that the Gog and Magog are identical in Ezekiel and in Revelation rather than John utilizing the imagery simply because it fit his intentions so well rather than because he had the same specific nation(s) in mind.
Resolving the original text’s reference is not required in this volume, but there may well be those interested in what has been suggested as to Ezekiel’s actual target. Hence we pass on this short analysis by Wayne Jackson that I came across a year ago:
The identification of this evil entity has long been a point of controversy among Bible scholars. Clearly, though, Ezekiel’s “Gog” represented a sinister power that came against ancient Israel, but was defeated.
Expositors are divided as to exactly what this force was. Vos (p. 514) identified “Gog” with “Gyges,” a Lydian king (c. 680-645 B.C.), but Harrison (p. 890) argued that other possibilities are equally valid, e.g., “Gaga,” mentioned in the Amarna tablets, or “Gago, king of the city-state of Sabi.’ ”
[Page 258] Professor William White thought that “perhaps the most attractive application is to the Seleucids of the days of Antiochus Epiphanes.” He noted that it was not uncommon to employ an earlier name for a later power, as a means of avoiding political danger, should the actual name have been mentioned. He further observed that the territory of the Seleucids was centered in Northern Syria, and included also “Meshech and Tubal in Asia Minor” (pp. 42-43).
We will know for certain the actual identities of Revelation’s “Gog and Magog” only when the world comes to an end. Then and only then will we be able to reliably know who was responsible for the final testing of Christianity.
However . . . Could John be describing the process of repeated conflict between belief and infidelity that has gone on since his age? In other words, could the war between Gog’s Magog and Christians be going on the entire length of the First Millennium? Just as John has localized the battle in one place has he “historicalized”—for lack of a better term--the timing into one single battle as well?
This is certainly not impossible. Perhaps the biggest objection is that this period of Satan’s maximum havoc is described as “for a short time” (Revelation 20:3); conceptually that seems thoroughly alien to the lengthy period needed to fit the description of “a thousand years” reign. Of course it could mean that whenever Satan has been permitted his maximum power it has always been “for a short time.” In other words, it has never been permitted to become permanent or to last. And each time he has done so, he and his goals have ultimately “crashed and burned.”
The one final, definitive battle still seems the most likely intent of the text.
6. The word-picture of God’s people on earth during Magog’s war (20:9).
a. “The camp of the saints.”
This and the following description (“the beloved city”) could be read as indicating that the Christian community has been isolated into one limited geographic area. Yet this does not seem to be the writer’s intent: He has just finished speaking of the millennium in which the martyrs reign and he seems to imply that the period is one of Christian success—at least comparatively speaking. There is death, but there is also victory.
The martyrs reign in the next world but no spiritual success happens on earth during the same time? That would create such an immense and fundamental inconsistency that it requires considerable success “earth side” as well.
Either way the “localizing” of the battle makes sense if we view it as adopted for the purpose of making more concrete and vivid what is happening to believers throughout the world-wide church. In other words, what is happening is not limited to the narrow confines of one nation or one area, but is being duplicated everywhere else in the world as well.
[Page 260] Note that it is the camp of the “saints.” Due to the impact of medieval theology, most make “saints” a group distinguished from Christians in general. “Saints” become the spiritual elite, which few believers can ever aspire to be part of.
Biblically speaking, however, saints are simply those “sanctified,” “set apart” for God’s use. In other words, scripturally speaking, “saints” are all faithful Christians. Hence we find Paul writing to the Corinthians that “you” (i.e., all of you) “were washed . . . sanctified . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
The second verse of the first chapter of that same epistle make even clearer the equating of Christians and saints: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling. . . .” The “church” was composed of those “sanctified,” of those who were “saints.”
But that was true not just in that one community, but in other places as well: “Sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”
The idea of a “camp” can suggest the idea of a group of travelers, wayfarers, moving through a land not their own, with no permanent dwelling place. This is true of believers in general: The earth is not their real or permanent home. It represents a mere way station on the way to eternity. Peter says that it is because we recognize this fact that we do not yield to the sensual temptations that surround us, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
[Page 261] The writer of Hebrews stresses that when believers look upon their relationship to the world in this way, that they have a heavenly reward prepared for them:
All these died in faith, without receiving
the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance,
and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the
earth. For those who say such things
make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that
country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to
return. But as it is, they desire a
better country, that is a heavenly one.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared
a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Although “camp” could carry with it this idea of a traveler’s camp, the war setting of the text would suggest that a military camp is the dominant idea. Just as the church is composed of individual pilgrims and sojourners, likewise the church is composed of individual soldiers and warriors—of both genders. Paul uses the imagery of Christians as being on active duty and in spiritual combat: “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).
[Page 262] In urging—demanding—this combative approach of active belligerence to sin, Paul was requiring of others nothing more than what he demanded of himself. Looking back on many years of service to the Lord he recalled, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will aware to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
If we are in a fight—a battle—a war—it follows that we can be pictured as combat soldiers in that conflict. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses this image while simultaneously stressing that the conflict is a spiritual one rather than temporal one:
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual force of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything to stand firm.
Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17)
[Page 263] The militant camp of the faithful—the church—is surrounded by the Satanically inspired horde in Revelation 20. The Cause appears hopeless, but because God is on the side of His people, the outcome is far different than that gleefully anticipated by the unfaithful aggressors.
6. “The beloved city.”
Some have suggested that “the camp of the saints” circles the “beloved city,” as if for its protection. But if “the camp” represents the militant church what would be left for “the city” to represent? Unfaithful Christians? Christians who are actually spiritually unconcerned with the approaching danger? But if those, how could it be the “beloved city”?
Hence it seems better to take both “the camp” and the “beloved city” as synonymous with the same spiritual reality, i.e., the church of God as it exists on earth. If so, perhaps if we translate our image of a city into a walled city, a fortress city--we then have an image that blends the two ideas together. It is “the camp of the saints” not because all the saints are in it, but because there are so many they all won’t fit into the city. (The analogy of Jerusalem at Passover might work well here, when a large percentage of pilgrims had to seek accommodations outside because of their large numbers.)
[Page 264] The city is not identified as literal Jerusalem and there is no real reason outside millennial speculation to do so. It is no more a literal city than it is a literal war camp. If one wishes to call it spiritual Jerusalem that is fine so long as one makes it equivalent to all of God’s people, wherever they are found. The analogy is certainly a natural one even if the current writer is strangely hesitant to fully embrace it as belonging in the current text. (A psychological backlash to too many decades of hearing premillennial illusions?)
Indeed, in Hebrews 12 the writer seems to speak of the true earthly city of God as equivalent not to physical Jerusalem, but to God’s faithful and as synonymous with the heavenly Jerusalem:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect. (Hebrews 12:22-23)
Cities were designed as places of refuge and protection in the ancient world. Likewise the church is a place of spiritual protection, where our souls can be nourished with the word of God and strength provided for the daily hand-to-hand combat with temptation. All the saved are automatically added to that body (Acts 2:47). Its “walls” are the boundary lines between salvation and damnation, redemption and condemnation. Hence within lies protection and outside despair and loss.
[Page 265] The church is truly the “beloved city.” God Almighty had the creation of it in His mind from eternity; it was no jerry-rigged last minute solution to the rejection of Jesus by the Jewish leadership!
In order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10-11)
The church is the “beloved city” because of the Divine love manifested toward it:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,
just as Christ also does the church. (Ephesians 5:29)
A “city” truly beloved of God and His Son—a unique place among all of humankind. “Heavenly”—even in this life—because it is their ultimate destination. “Heavenly”—in fact—when the Eternal Millennium begins.
7. The defeat of the church’s earthly enemies: “Fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (20:9).
The use of “fire” as an instrument of Divine wrath is found in Ezekiel’s account of Gog and Magog. In the Battle of the Waters of Merom a more limited use of fire destroyed the most dangerous tools of external aggression, the chariots. An exact parallel is found in neither case: even in Ezekiel the fire is but one of several tools used against the aggressor. John converts it to the exclusive tool in Revelation 20:9.
Fire in its literal significance destroys the life—though just the flesh and not the inner soul. A death by fire carries with it an element of horror as well as the implication of pain and anguish. Metaphorically we justly read into the imagery a similar connotation, except there it is applied to the spirit of man that never ceases to exist. In such a case the natural implication would be that the anguish is eternal rather than passing.
In Revelation 20 the Divine fire brings to an end the final effort to destroy Christianity. And is a foretaste of the “fire”-punishment the aggressors face in the next life. Paul uses a somewhat similar imagery of the end of the world: but the fire that comes down in his description is tied in with the appearance of the angels who execute Divine punishment (a complementary not contradictory idea):
[Page 267] For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
Fire—retribution—destruction: Inherent elements envolved in “fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (Revelation 20:9). What John pictures in terms of the earth receiving, Paul describes from the standpoint of God sending.
8. The punishment of the Devil and his chief allies (20:10).
a. The individuals punished: “the devil . . . the beast and the false prophet.”
The beast and the false prophet had already been thrown into the fiery lake at the close of the preceding chapter:
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. (Revelation 19:20)
Satan now joins their number. Satan had used a perversion of true religion—the worship of the image and the effectiveness of the false prophet—to lead mortals astray. Satan knows that human beings are inherently religious and that they will inevitably worship something. Through pseudo-religious worship and the worship of substitutes for God (such as supranationalist political ideologies) he provides for this inner need to be met in a way that avoids coming to terms with the true God.
In Revelation 19, these tools have been removed from Satan’s arsenal; hence in the following chapter we find Satan described as if personally deceiving the nations. No longer is he able to utilize the “respectable” false fronts of the Beast and the False Prophet to hide behind. Now his own central role is there for all to see—yet multitudes still follow him to their doom and his—not grasping his true intents, purposes, or nature.
[Page 269] John’s mentions that Satan joins them in the burning lake, the point stressed being that both they and their leader, Satan, land up with the same punishment. Though beginning at a different point in time. He may well have new “front men.” After all, the forms and actions of the original Beast and False Prophet would have minimal impact today because the culture and attitudes are so different. They would have to be different in profile and actions in order to impress and awe a very different audience. But that would not change what hides behind their carefully cultivated false veneer.
But whatever tools he is utilizing they pale into such insignificance that only Satan himself is considered worth mentioning as joining the original Beast and False Prophet in their fiery distress (verse 9). Thereby Satan is forced to join his two front men in facing the painful consequences of rebellion against the Divine will. During the First Millennium Satan was merely “bound”—which carries no necessity of pain or anguish, merely confinement and restriction; now as the Second Millennium is about to begin he faces the full wrath of God’s wrath and “torment.”
The multitude of his earthly supporters are not described as yet being similarly punished; at this stage it is confined to him, the False Prophet, and the Beast. But the delay is only momentary. The judgment of mankind, however, is about to begin (verses 11-12) and that will put the judicial seal of approval on the punishment they will receive, dooming them, in fact, to the same place of punishment as their spiritual father, Satan himself (verse 15).
b. The nature of the punishment: “tormented” (20:10).
Being described as a “lake of fire and brimstone,” one would expect this to be a place of pain and anguish. The validity of this deduction is confirmed by the word “tormented” being used to describe what Satan undergoes there. According to the context (Vine, under “toil”) it “denotes to torture, torment, distress.” Pain, discomfort, anguish—such is the fate of the one who inflicted it upon so many others!
c. The duration of the punishment: “forever and ever
Another way of saying eternally. Satan had persevered throughout humanity’s history as the archenemy of both mankind and right-ness in all its forms. Now Divine retribution comes down not merely upon his minions, but upon him personally. He had never ceased his opposition to Jehovah in recorded history. Now he will be punished without ceasing throughout all future eternal history.
 Ralph Earle. Beacon Bible Commentary; volume ten, Hebrews Through Revelation. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967. Page 612.