|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2003|
|In Revelation 20 we learn that Satan will be released for a time. Dr. Thomas paints us a picture of what will happen during that time; what Satan’s army will be like; and what will happen to Satan at the end of that time.|
Events of the Seventh Bowl, #5: Satan’s Last Fling
As noted last month, the fifth scene of the seventh bowl judgment covers Revelation 20:4-10 and is entitled “Satan’s release and final defeat.” Last month, we examined verses 4-6 of this passage. This month we return for a look at verses 7-10, a section that may appropriately be called by the same title as has been given to verses 4-10, “Satan’s release and final defeat,” because verses 4-6 are somewhat parenthetical within verses 1-10 of Revelation 20. The larger section of ten verses tells of God’s dealings with Satan from his imprisonment to his release and assignment to the lake of fire. To avoid confusion with the title of the larger section, however, we have entitled this month’s column “Satan’s Last Fling.”
We can divide a discussion of “Satan’s last fling” into three sections: his release, his army, and his demise.
Satan’s release (20:7)
Earlier we suggested that the imprisonment and binding of Satan for a thousand years together with Christ’s personal rule during the millennium will demonstrate the utter depravity of human nature as the only possible source of evil throughout the period. Beyond that, a purpose of his binding is a mystery known only to God. The same is true in searching for a reason for Satan’s release from his imprisonment. Beyond acknowledging this as part of God’s plan, we can only observe once again that Satan’s ability to muster such massive resistance to the ruling Lamb of God is further testimonial to human depravity. How could people who have enjoyed extended peace and tranquility under an ideal ruler for so long a time turn against Him? Human depravity destroys human rationality.
Whatever God’s purpose may be, Revelation 20:7 says, “And when the thousand years was finished, Satan will be loosed from his prison.” The release comes at the conclusion of the millennium, but how his release is achieved is undisclosed. What is called “the abyss” in 20:1 and 3 is now called a “prison,” recalling the spirits “in prison” of 1 Peter 3:19. The spirits in prison, in turn, recalls the demonic locusts from the abyss in Revelation 9:1-11. None of these gains release from imprisonment except by God’s permission, and freedom after release in every case is only temporary.
Satan’s army (20:8-9)
Immediately after his release, Satan will resume his activity in deceiving the nations (20:8a; see 12:9; 20:3). Though all earth’s inhabitants at the beginning of the thousand years will be redeemed followers of the Lamb and will originally comprise what are called “the nations” (see lesson before last on Rev. 20:1-3), by the end of the period many new generations will have come into being, among whom large numbers will chose not to trust the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The number of those unredeemed will comprise a huge proportion of the “nations” by the time of Satan’s release a thousand years later. The proportion will be so great that the nations will at the millennium’s end carry the names “Gog and Magog” (20:8b; see Ezek. 38:2). Such names are emblems for the enemies of the Messiah during the end times, enemies who will be located “in the four corners of the earth,” in other words, worldwide.
Through his deceptive tactics Satan will succeed in gathering for battle an army whose number will be beyond estimation. “Whose number is as the sand of the sea” (20:8c) is a figure of speech frequently used in Scripture. It describes the number of descendants promised to Abraham (Gen. 22:17), the grain stored by Joseph in preparation for the famine (Gen. 41:49), the Canaanites conquered by Joshua (Josh. 11:4), the Midianites defeated by Gideon (Judg. 7:12), the Philistines assembled to fight against Israel (1 Sam. 13:5), the counsel given to Absalom by Hushai regarding his army (2 Sam. 17:11), and the wisdom given to Solomon (1 Kgs. 4:29). The number of those willing to rebel against the authority of the Lamb will be overwhelmingly large. Those of us in the present day wonder how that can happen in an environment that is so conducive to becoming followers of the Lamb rather than militant resisters against His rule. Two answers surface: Satan’s craftiness outwits normal human reasoning, with human depravity adding a big assist.
Under Satan’s leadership the massive army will ascend the breadth of the land [the backbone of central Israel where Jerusalem is located] and surround the camp of the saints, that is, the beloved city [Jerusalem] (Rev. 20:9). The attackers will fully occupy the land of Palestine and surround the dwelling place of the saints which the text further defines as “the beloved city.” According to Psalms 78:68 and 87:2, “beloved” is appropriate terminology for the earthly Jerusalem, where the Messiah will locate His throne during Israel’s future kingdom on earth (Jer. 3:17). As hinted in the vision of the 144,000 on Mount Zion in Revelation 14:1-5, Jerusalem will be the center of Messianic activity during the Messiah’s thousand-year reign.
As the beloved city is about to come under siege, however, help comes from heaven: “And fire came down from heaven and devoured them [Satan’s army].” Fire from heaven is well-known as an instrument of divine punishment (see Gen. 19:24; Lev. 10:2; Ezek. 38:22; 39:6; 2 Kgs. 1:10, 12; Luke 9:54). That is a fitting climax to the last battle that Satan will ever fight. “Devoured them” sums up succinctly the fate of the rebels. They died and will eventually enter their place of eternal punishment, as will be revealed later in Revelation 20 (see vv. 12-15).
Satan’s demise (20:10)
As for the leader of the army, Satan, he is cast immediately into the lake of fire and brimstone (20:10a) where he joins his two former cohorts, the beast and the false prophet. Those two have already been there for a thousand years (see 19:20). Satan’s most distinguishing label is “the one who deceived them,” a title referring to his seductive methodology in recruiting such a large army. His placing into the lake of fire and brimstone is the ultimate bruising of the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15; see John 12:31). That this is to be the ultimate destiny of Satan is not new; Jesus spoke of it in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 25:41). Though he escapes the doom of his armies, he faces a more awful fate.
Through the words “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10b) we learn of the dreaded and unending misery of the devil, the beast, and the false prophet. Finite humans have difficulty understanding how literal fire can bring eternal pain to a nonphysical being such as Satan, but the reality of unbearable torment to be heaped on the great deceiver is unquestionable. The Bible speaks of eternal punishment in a number of ways—the lake of fire and brimstone (here), outer darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28), and a never-dying worm and unquenchable fire (Mark 9:48). Any one of these pictures mental agony and corporeal suffering combined in proportion to the guilt of those who have sinned (Luke 12:47-48).
The continuing existence of the beast and false prophet after a thousand years already spent in the lake of fire shows that torment does not entail annihilation of the wicked. Their existence is eternal as they experience an ongoing punishment for their wickedness. As for Satan, stages of his downfall include being cast from heaven (Rev. 12:9), being imprisoned for a thousand years (20:2-3), and finally a permanent existence of torment (20:10). Revelation 14:11 pictures in a more vivid way what this doom will entail for his followers: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or upon his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night.”
“Sobering” to describe the impact of “Satan’s last fling” is a massive understatement. A realization of the devil’s consuming and incurable bent toward opposing God sends a terrorizing message to those of us who live while he is still going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). May this reminder serve as a mandate for each one of us to submit to God and resist the devil so that he will flee from us (James 5:7).
Note: For more details on Satan’s last fling, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 422-427. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.