This chapter is one of the more interesting ones to explore. First, I want to begin this post by saying these are my personal conclusions as I’ve studied to put all the pieces together into one coherent message. There seems to be a dividing line in this chapter between what we’ve seen so far, fulfillment of the prophecies as relevant to ancient Israel, and a future fulfillment beyond the 1st century. Up until these current passages, no huge jumps have been intimated as to far-future events. So, with much consideration, I proceed to try to unpack this chapter as I understand it so far.
We see one main concept in this chapter that has been a source of much confusion and tends to cast the entire book off of its axis—the 1000 years, aka the millennial rule. As with the rest of this book, my view is to take this as straightforward as possible.
The first major consideration is to compare this chapter with the rest of the book. While we see some shifting of time back and forth within the first century, the time is always specific as to the time period and society specified. There’s no reasonable assumption to be made that because the passage here speaks of 1000 years, that it should be expanded beyond the borders of what it states. In most other passages where there is an unspecified amount of time, the words age (aion) and/or age-during/of (aionios) are used. Though the words correlating with aion have been translated somewhat poorly, when specifying that the 1000 years isn’t precisely that, it would seem more appropriate to use the “aion” terminology.
Likewise, this doesn’t seem to be consistent with an earthly rule. If we categorize it as such, we then take the same stance as the Jewish expectancy of the Messiah—that he would be the ruler of a physical kingdom that would subjugate and destroy all other kingdoms and bring the Jewish kingdom into a golden age of ruling. In essence, we adopt the ancient Jewish standpoint but with a new Christian label superimposed. While there are physical elements played out from Jesus’ rule of the new spiritual Jerusalem, it doesn’t seem to be intended as an earthly kingdom.
In addition, the 1000 years seems to be in reference to the period of time Satan is bound before his release, not the limitations of Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus still rules the new spiritual Jerusalem today and will continue to do so forever.
Gog and Magog
It would seem the identity of Gog and Magog would be crucial to our understanding of these verses. In Ezekiel 38-39, we see references to Gog, king of Magog. It seems the imagery is being reused to refer to future battle(s) to take place approximately 1000 years after the fall of Jerusalem. In addition, Revelation makes mention that these are the lands, not the Jewish people themselves, as the judgment and removal of that infrastructure ended that polity permanently in relation to the their exclusiveness as God’s chosen (as discussed last chapter, Rev 19:3). It seems, if this is referencing a future 1000 years and the original Israel has already been dispersed, then this would be the new (spiritual) Israel.
We see several mentions of the lands associated with Magog in Ezekiel—Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal (38:3). Here is where we enter into deeper waters. Considering the text of Revelation so far though, I would have to consider these locales to be in Asia Minor—what we know today as Turkey. Again, this is to defer to context, Jesus sending a message to the assemblies that were also in…Asia Minor…about something that would be familiar to their society.
It would seem, from the context up to this point, that something was going to happen in and around the lands of Israel and it would involve Asia Minor (Turkey) and others from around the world of that time (~1000 years after Jerusalem fell and Satan was bound). In addition, Ezekiel reveals the why in 38:16 and 39:7. It seems that while Christianity grew immensely during the first 1000 years, there wasn’t perfect peace. Additionally, Jesus never promised that. Christians would become more harassed around this time according to the Ezekiel passages and God would prove again that he is faithful to his people.
So now we look for an event that would correspond to Satan’s release. In 1071, the Seljuk Turks successfully invaded Anatolia, securing a decisive victory over the Byzantine Empire (formerly Rome), and capturing the Emperor (ref). While it isn’t clear if this battle was the beginning of the empire’s decline, the ensuing civil war seems to have only played into securing the Seljuk Empire’s power (ref). One major lose suffered by the Byzantine Empire in this battle, however, was their ability to field troops to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Places. It seems between 1073-1098, Jerusalem was continually contested until the First Crusade arrived, securing Jerusalem for a time. It would seem that these crusaders were the wielders of the “fire from God” of Rev 20:9. Note, though, these passages don’t delineate any of these armies being “good.” Just as with Rome delivering the judgment of the Lamb on Israel, it seems the crusaders were dispatched to deliver God’s wrath on those who were continually making bloodshed over Jerusalem. The results of this battle seem strikingly similar to the results of the Roman invasion of Jerusalem.
Though the above takes quite a bit to unpack, there are a few other concepts I would like to touch on in this chapter.
After the 1000 years, we see Satan cast into the lake of fire where the beast and false prophet also are (v10). As stated in the previous chapter, this was relaying that the power of that kingdom (Rome) was being destroyed (Daniel 7:26). A thousand years later in history, we see its power still being whittled away. It would seem the lake of fire is to burn away anything that isn’t fit to exist.
In addition, in verses 12-15, we see the judgment of those unbelievers who were dead. We see the sea, death, and Hades giving up their dead. We then see death and Hades thrown into the lake of fire. Again, the lake of fire seems to be for destruction of anything not fit to exist. Now that the power of death is destroyed, it is but a doorway instead of a holding cell. But, what’s the point of God destroying Hades (hell) if he is just going to use the lake of fire for the same purpose—torment? Perhaps the lake of fire has a different function, cleansing of the spirit (though immensely painful) and destruction of dominions. As we see in Rev 15:1, God’s wrath comes to an end. I hope to expand a little more on these topics in the last two chapters of Revelation.
So, this is my current take on chapter 20. As stated before, I won’t claim to be 100% right. These conclusions are reached by considerations such as the audience specified, the timing constraints mentioned within the text, and God’s nature and stated plan for all.