Advent 2020: Revelation 20:1-10

During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, 21 December 2020 Revelation 20:1-10


The Text

Revelation 20

1. I saw an angel coming down from heaven. He had the key to the abyss and a great chain in his hand.

2. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent who is the devil and Satan. He bound him a thousand years.

3. He cast him out and shut him in the abyss. He sealed it from above, so that he might not deceive the nations anymore, not until the thousand years were over. Then he will be unleashed for a little while.

4. I saw thrones. Judgment was given to those who sat on them. The souls of the people beheaded for their testimony to Jesus—because of the word of God, everyone who did not worship the beast or his image, and those who did not receive the mark upon his forehead or hand, these people lived and reigned with Messiah a thousand years. 

5. The remaining dead people did not live until the end of the thousand years. This is the first resurrection. 

6. Blessed and holy are those having a part in the first resurrection. The second death has no authority over those people, and they will be priests of God and Messiah. They will reign with him for the thousand years. 

7. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison.

8. He will go out to the four corners of the earth to deceive the nations. He will gather together Gog and Magog into war. Their number will be as the sand of the sea.

9. And they went up upon the whole earth. They surrounded the encampment of the saints and the beloved city. Fire came down from heaven and consumed them.

10. The devil, the one who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and sulphur where also was the beast and the false prophets. They will be tortured day and night forever.


Commentary

One of the greatest proofs, in my mind, that the book of Revelation is true is the jumbled grammar and incoherent train of images. The writer of Revelation is clear in his words, it is not that he is difficult and undisciplined to read as say, Peter is. Instead, what I find is the words are choppy and disturbing. They have the feeling of someone reaching for a word to describe something which is indescribable. In other words, you have the words of someone who has seen something that is shaking him to the very core of his being.

Our Advent readings finish up with visions of the second advent, and John is trying to write down what he is seeing, but it is a mess. Take verse four, for example. Most English translations smooth this out, but I have left it intentionally choppy because that is the way it comes off the page at me. It reads like John is trying to say everything all at once: these people are dead but now alive and their on thrones and oh wait you need to know who these people are they are the ones who were beheaded and didn’t cave into the beast and who kept the testimony and they rejected the mark and they will reign a thousand years that is who these people are and you need to know that.

It carries the sense that immediately when he saw them, he knew exactly who they were.

Let’s take a moment and try to reconstruct a timeline of what the author is communicating to us. He tells us 1) An angel from heaven seized the dragon and cast him into an abyss. 2) Martyrs have been resurrected and they are beginning their rule, but everyone else is still dead. 3) These martyrs are priests and hold a special office in the eschaton. 4) After a thousand years Satan will be released to ply his trade of lies once more. 5) He will make war and surround the beloved city, Jerusalem. 6) Fire will come down from heaven and consume them. 6) At this point, Satan is cast into the lake of fire and tortured for ever.

I understand this timeline, but I do have questions. Chief among them: why let him out after a thousand years? This has troubled me since I was a little fundamentalist child reading my KJV Scofield Study Bible. The traditional answer is that children will born to those who survive the period of pain leading up to this wonderful thousand year reign who have never known temptation of trials. Satan is given opportunity to provide one final test of humanity.

Apparently, some, many indeed, take the bait.

The Bible lists Gog and Magog as the chief place where Satan finds an audience. There is great speculation about this, but conventional wisdom places the geography in Russia, although there is also a connection to India. My perception is that it is a borrowing of terms from Ezekiel that simply mean enemies and thinking of it geographically is futile. I could be wrong. Either way, Gog and Magog are funny names.


Questions For Application

  1. Have you ever had to write something down after you were shaken by events? How does that experience help you understand the biblical text in Revelation?
  2. Think about the angel seizing Satan. It is not really even a battle. Who is more powerful, the angel of the Devil? What does that tell us about the limitations of demonic power?
  3. Why do you think Satan will be released?
  4. Why would people listen to Satan and follow him after living in peace for a thousand years? Why does anyone? What kind of lies might he be telling? What kind of lies did he tell Eve and Adam?