The Seventh Cycle tells us about the perfect, complete and final judgment! We have had glimpses of it with each cycle ending with it and the sixth cycle dwelling on it, but now Revelation 20:11-21:8 gives us the climax. Each cycle included a promise for the saints, sometimes only a verse or a portion of a verse but now it is several verses (Revelation 20:1-10). So we have good news to hear that will bless us. Good news about the present time and good news about the return of Jesus Christ. Praise be to God!
The promise to the church begins by noting that the angel holds the key to the abyss and he holds a great chain. And He seized the dragon (the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan) and bound him for a thousand years. It is immensely important that we remember two things about interpreting each of these cycles. The first thing to remember is the issue of chronology (time). The cycle retells — recaps — the whole of the latter days (especially from the death and resurrection of Jesus until He returns). The second thing to remember is the symbolism of numbers — one thousand is ten times ten times ten. We have seen this number before with the 144,000 — ten times ten times ten is to represent fullness. Whenever the question was asked before: How long? The answer was always 3.5 and not 4. This answer was from the human perspective — it will not be a full period of time in that we will not be fully destroyed. But now from the heavenly perspective the same period of time is named one thousand years (a millennium) because it is a full period from God’s perspective.
The key to the shaft of the abyss has been mentioned before. Revelation 9:1-2 says, “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star [often symbolic of angels] fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit [Greek — the abyss]. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft.” And even earlier, Revelation 1:18 says, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Hades and the abyss are two names for the same place. The point for our purposes now is to show that Jesus is in control of the keys to the abyss. Jesus gets the key to the abyss as a result of his resurrection from the dead. So chronologically speaking the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the millennium.
I understand that you may not be yet convinced, but stay with me for a few more paragraphs yet. Satan is bound for a thousand years (long time) and then he will “be released for a little while” (Revelation 20:3). This follows the same pattern of the 3.5 years followed by 3.5 days that represents the same period of time.
Revelation 12:9, alongside a number of other Biblical books, shows that Satan was a part of God’s heavenly court until after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ when he was defeated and cast out of heaven. This was binding Satan, though the image is advanced by not just binding him out of heaven to the earth but now to the abyss. The purpose of binding Satan during this time is “so that he might not deceive the nations [the Gentiles] any longer, until the thousand years were ended” (Rev 20:3). Indeed, the good news is to be preached to all nations during this “thousand years.” As Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14). And, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (John 12:31, speaking about his death, cf Col 2:15). In other words, Satan was bound with the death and resurrection of Christ and the gospel going to the nations and the wealth of the nations going to Jesus is plundering his house. Thus Jesus had said about His work against Satan, “Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his good, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house” (Matt 12:29).
So the first part of the promise for the church is that during this time Satan can no longer deceive the nations. This is important for us to remember as we give testimony concerning Jesus to the nations.
A second part of the promise begins with the formula (“And I saw,” Rev 20:4, as the previous paragraph did as well). This time we see thrones and those who had been beheaded for Christ’s sake came to life and were reigning with Christ for the thousand years. This is a promise to encourage those who testify to Jesus and stand on the word of God in the face of persecution even unto their own deaths.
At the end of the thousand years, John tells us that Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations. He mentions Gog and Magog. This brings into view the Har Magedon battle we have previously discussed. The imagery coming from Ezekiel 38-39. They surround “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” (Rev 20:9) Jerusalem. So the surround the mount of gathering (Har Magedon) for the final battle but then fire come down from heaven and consumed them and the devil was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur to join the beast and the false prophet. So the promise is that even though these nations gathered for battled, numbered like the sand of the sea, they will be no match for God at the end.
And then John sees the final judgment ensue before the great white throne. “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). This is further explicated as: “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).
The literary structure of this final judgment narrative consists of two paragraphs marked by the vision formula “And I saw…” (Rev 20:11 and 21:1). That each paragraph ends with the words quoted above show that these two are to be read together (not to mention that they both are part of the third vision in Revelation and the fourth vision marker does not take place until Rev 21:9-10. Rev 20:7-10, though literarily not connected and not a separate paragraph from the promise that preceded it, does end (vv. 9-10) saying something similar to the ends of these paragraphs. Do not get hung up on the chronological when reading the vision. John sees the same image from different angles in Rev 20:7-10 where the nations surrounding Jerusalem are consumed by fire coming down from heaven, Rev 21:11-15 where the unbelievers standing before the great white throne are thrown into the lake of fire, and Rev 21:1-8 when the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God and the unbelievers undergo the second death in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. But each paragraph does indicate progression, it is not as if each one simply recounts the same thing exactly, and the emphasis shifts from the unbelievers in Rev 20:7-10 to all people in Rev 20:11-15 to believers in Rev 21:1-8. It is also worth noting that this Har Magedon battle/court scene takes place after the millennium.There are two more things I want to address in this section of my commentary. First is the first death/first resurrection, second death/second resurrection issue. Kline has noted that “first” is in contrast with new. Thus, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…” (Rev 21:1). Moreover, the second death is not literally death (Rev 21:8). The first resurrection is mentioned in Rev 20:5. It refers to the death of the believer when the soul of the believer goes to reign with Christ. It is not literally a resurrection. The second resurrection is implied. The second resurrection would be the literal final bodily resurrection for the believer. The first death is literally the death of the unbeliever. The second death is their punishment of the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. Thus the first resurrection and second death are not literal and the first death and second resurrection are. And the believer can take assurance that the first resurrection (death) will lead to the second resurrection (literal bodily resurrection) and not the second death (cf Rev 20:6). In other words, for the believer death is no longer even worth calling death — it is the first resurrection. For “the rest of the dead” in Hades (Rev 20:5) they will be resurrected for a second “death” in the lake of fire (Rev 20:14).
The final issue worth some exploration is the fact that Rev 21:1 continues, “And the sea was no more.” The sea was pictured earlier in this cycle as giving up the dead who were in it (Rev 20:13), followed immediately with Death and Hades giving up the dead who were in them. So already even in the immediate context the sea has some negative associations. And earlier in Revelation we have seen the fall of Babylon lamented by the shipmasters, seafaring men, sailors, and all whose trade is on the sea (cf Rev 18:17). And the Leviathan serpent-dragon came from the sea (Rev 13:1). Yet the strongest of these things is the association of the sea with Death and Hades in the immediate context. After all, Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14) so it would seem that the sea being no more (Rev 21:1) would complement that. Perhaps the best thing, here near the end of Scripture, is to go back to the beginning. When we do we find that Day Two is the only one that at the end of the day was not pronounced good. This was the day for creating the sea. The sea represents chaos. The sea represents a force that can reverse creation — it is a threat to the land. But in the new heavens and earth there is no such force for chaos and no threats to the well being of its inhabitants. Thus there is no sea. But again, it is a vision. The new heavens and earth does not literally have to have no sea to fulfill the text. It does have to have no forces for chaos and no threats to reverse its creation and to bring it back to the immediate context — the new heavens and earth will have nothing like Death, Hades, or the sea to take people away. Praise be to God!