The vision of Revelation 20:7-10 reflects the New Testament teaching of a great rebellion that will mark the end of the church age. Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 24:21: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” Paul wrote that Christ “will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thess. 2:3).
Revelation variously has depicted this intense attack against the church. In chapter 11, the church is represented by twin witnesses resembling Moses and Elijah. When their witness is concluded, “the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them,” until Christ raises them three and a half days later (Rev. 11:7-11). Revelation 20:1-3 shows Satan as bound during the church age, “until…he must be released for a little while” (20:3); John picks up this thought in verses 7-8.
We should notice that Satan is “released” from his bonds, emphasizing the sovereign rule of God over him. This detail reminds us that however mighty the devil may be, he remains a finite creature of limited strength, unable to match the infinite might of God. We remember from our study of verses 1-3 that the binding of Satan has to do with God’s forbidding him to “deceive the nations any longer” (v. 3), so that the gospel may spread throughout the world. The binding of Satan doesn’t mean that his evil activities are totally curtailed but that he no longer has authority to bind the nations in the darkness of unbelief. It is noteworthy, then, that as soon as Satan is released, this is precisely what he does: he “will come out to deceive the nations” (v. 8).
This combination shows us that Satan’s chief instrument in this world is not violent persecution but deceptions that promote unbelief. This is why the Christian church is sent into the world with the truth. Whatever else the church does, it must boldly proclaim the truth if God’s Word, refusing to compromise with the prevailing dogmas of secularist unbelief. We are constantly told today that Christians must be less doctrinally fixated and that we must be more tolerant of worldly ideas and practices. This approach should alarm us, given Satan’s chief strategy of binding unbelievers with deception. Moreover, we see that the sinful tendencies of the human heart do not evolve upward over time. As soon as God lifts His restraint of Satan, “the nations” are deceived once more.
The purpose of Satan’s deceptions has always been to lead darkened mankind into warfare against God, and so will be the great tribulation that ends the age (v. 8). The book of Revelation makes clear that this battle is the same final conflict that earlier received the name “Armageddon” (16:16). The great battle of chapter 19 draws the imagery of feeding carrion birds from Ezekiel 39, and the battle of chapter 20 draws the names “Gog and Magog” from Ezekiel 38, where the prophet foretold a great assault on God’s people after the age of their blessing. Regarding the final battle, Ezekiel wrote: “Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him” (38:2). By using this same designation, Revelation is saying that its final battle is the same final battle anticipated by Ezekiel.
John’s language confirms the New Testament teaching of a final worldwide persecution of the Christian church (see Matt. 24:21; 2 Thess. 2:3-4). First, the nations are gathered from “the four corners of the earth…for battle” (Rev. 20:8). This shows that the final battle is launched not merely by a far-eastern nation such as Russia or China, as popular prophecy teaching often states. It is the entire world that gathers for a stand against the authority of God. Second, “their number is like the sand of the sea” (v. 8), referring to the vastness of these enemies. The battle will not pit evenly matched forces, so that Christians may hope to succeed by their own strength. Rather, only the power of God is able to save them.
This vast worldwide army “marched up over the broad plain of the earth” (v. 9). The idea is of a great army marching over a vast tract of ground. Their objective is the church: “and surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” This recaps the biblical model for the salvation of God’s people. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was placed at the mercy of wicked powers, yet was delivered by God’s sudden intervention. It was the situation of John’s readers, surrounded by pagan rulers who wielded the Roman sword. How often believers have experienced this plight, from David’s exile in the caves of Judea, to the Chinese house churches that meet secretly to avoid arrest, to the Christian churches in Muslim lands that meet under the threat of violence and attack. So in the end the entire church will be besieged, so that a refusal to worship idols and a bold witness to Christ will result in suffering.
Notice the language with which John describes the church: “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” (v. 9). The first description alludes to the camp of Israel in the exodus journey: the church is likewise the pilgrim body of believers passing through life toward a promised land beyond. It is with this in mind that Peter urged Christians to avoid the pollutions of sin (1 Pet. 2:11). At the same time, though we are despised as aliens by the world, the church is God’s “beloved city.” Babylon stands for the prostitute world, just as Jerusalem represents the church as the bride of Christ. Whereas God will judge and condemn faithless Babylon, the faithful church bears His love and receives His promise of an eternal salvation.
We can tell that the people of God are God’s beloved city because of His fiery defense of her from Satan’s attack: “but fire came down from heaven and consumed them” (v. 9). Here, as elsewhere in Revelation and the New Testament, Christ’s second coming results in the immediate defeat of all the foes who afflicted His church. Ezekiel specified that fire would fall on Magog both to defend God’s people and to glorify His name (Ezek. 39:6). This point emphasizes that the church does not fight to defend herself. Revelation 12:11 described her warfare as trusting in Christ’s blood, bearing testimony to God’s Word, and offering our lives to seal our witness.
The main emphasis in this vision is the defeat and destruction of Satan himself (v. 10). Notice that the devil is primarily judged for deceiving the nations, reminding us again that the church’s ministry of truth through God’s Word is always the world’s greatest need. The greatest victory of history is Jesus’ conquest of sin by His blood, and that victory is joined with His defeat of Satan, the great tyrant and deceiver of the world. Knowing this, Christians face the future with great hope, since God has ordained the judgment and condemnation of Satan. This judgment was anticipated in Matthew’s Gospel when demons whom Jesus had cast out admitted knowing of their coming judgment (Matt. 8:29). Jesus said that this time had not yet come, but Revelation shows that history ends with the greatest agents of evil receiving a terrible and just punishment from God.
The final words of this vision are poignant and decisive: “forever and ever” (v. 10). This constitutes the gravest warning for those who enter into rebellion with Satan, reveling in sin and rebelling against God’s rule. Their punishment is as eternal as God Himself is. Sin, being an offense to God’s justice and holy nature, is eternal, and so are its consequences. This same “forever and ever” provides the Christian with a ground for a most joyful hope. Our own sin will be not only forgiven but actually removed. There will be no adversary to accuse us but only God’s justice to demand our justification through faith in Christ.
What is the meaning of this “forever and ever” to believers now? It means that we have an antidote to the crippling fear of persecution that might otherwise undermine our faith. Why would we forsake Jesus Christ amid the afflictions of this world when we know how the story ends? Jesus wins! Why would we abandon His victorious cause, even though it may entail suffering for a little while in tribulation, and even if discipleship to Him requires us to renounce the sinful pleasures of the condemned world? Because we know this end, and the “forever and ever” beyond it without fear, sin, or death, let our worship, our service, and our lives now reflect the joy that belongs to the people of the beloved city that God has made His own.
Revelation 20:7-10 Study Questions:
What is the significance of Satan being released after the thousand years are ended (v. 7)?
The troops go straight for the camp of the saints, but no battle takes place. What happens instead (vv. 9-10)?
How does this picture of the ultimate overthrow of the devil give us hope to face trouble today (v. 10)?