Revelation 20 reveals the steps Christ will take after returning to earth to add members to God’s eternal family. How will the judgment of God take place?
Inhabitants of the earth have long awaited the coming of Jesus Christ to our planet to establish the Kingdom of God and to judge mankind. After all, it is these prophesied events that will finally bring justice and peace to our strife-torn world.
The great joy and excitement people should have for Christ’s return is depicted in Psalm 98: “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. … Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it; let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the LORD, for He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:4, Psalm 98:7-9, emphasis added throughout).
In the context of explaining what will happen to wicked men, Jude wrote: “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him’” (Jude 1:14-15).
As Jude explained, the teaching that all people will face the judgment of God stretches back in time to man’s earliest beginnings. Even prior to Enoch, God had instructed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And God had reasoned with their son, Cain, saying, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
Unfortunately, humans have not successfully ruled over their sinful desires. Scripture explains that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and, since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), all humans deserve death. But God in His mercy has established a plan whereby our sins can be forgiven through repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38).
Many understand that Christ came to earth some 2,000 years ago to give His life to pay the penalty for our sins. As John explained: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The book of Hebrews adds that Jesus “will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Hebrews 9:28).
Judgment is an opportunity
What we can determine from these passages is that the judgment of God we will all experience is not necessarily something to fear because it is also our opportunity to become part of God’s eternal family. Of course, if we do evil, it is indeed “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). On the other hand, if we love God and serve Him, He promises to be merciful and compassionate. “For the LORD will judge His people and have compassion on His servants” (Deuteronomy 32:36).
As for the judgment of God, we should also note that God’s judgment is a process. God watches how we mature and grow in our understanding and service to Him over time. While judgment leads ultimately to a sentencing, this part of the judgment of God does not occur until we have had time to understand His instructions and build righteous character by striving to live as He desires.
Reflecting this broader definition of judgment as a matter of understanding and having the opportunity to spiritually mature, Peter wrote: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house [Church] of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
For members of the Church of God, who understand God’s laws and who have committed to keeping them, the time of judgment is now.
The above-noted scriptures bring us to Revelation 20, which will be the primary focus of the remainder of this article. This chapter explains what Jesus will do to eliminate religious deception and make it possible for everyone to understand His teaching. It also explains how God will complete His plan of salvation—which includes the judgment of God on all humanity—through three resurrections.
Setting for Revelation 20
As we come to Revelation 20—an important chapter of the Bible that extensively uses the phrase “a thousand years” to identify God’s promised Millennium of peace—Babylon the great has fallen (Revelation 18:2). Christ has returned to earth (pictured by the Feast of Trumpets) and begun to reign (Revelation 19:6). Christ has also judged the great harlot (Revelation 19:2) and given His faithful saints immortal, spirit life (1 Corinthians 15:50-52) and married them (Revelation 19:7-9).
In judging humanity, Christ and His army will have defeated “the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies” who assemble to make war against Him (Revelation 19:19). The beast and the false prophet—the two humans responsible for ruling the final revival of the Roman Empire and enforcing false religion—will have been “captured” and “cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Revelation 19:20).
This “lake of fire” will apparently be a localized fire kindled after Christ’s return, which was pictured in type by the fire burning in the Valley of Hinnom (or “Gehenna”) outside Jerusalem in Christ’s day.
Step one: the binding of Satan
Now that human opposition to Christ has been removed, there is one more critical step that Christ will take before turning His attention to God’s plan of salvation for humanity. This step is to restrain Satan the devil, the being who has deceived the majority of mankind throughout the ages (Revelation 12:9; 1 John 5:18-19).
Revelation 20 begins with a description of an angel coming down from heaven to bind Satan for a thousand years and cast him into a “bottomless pit” or “abyss” as some translations, including the American Standard Version, render the Greek word abussos (verses 1-3).
The main concept here is that Satan will be restrained from deceiving mankind. This event is pictured by the Day of Atonement.
Describing the vision he saw, John then wrote: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
“But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4-6).
These faithful saints who will rule with Christ will be resurrected as spirit beings at Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). With Satan bound for 1,000 years, these beings who had previously been called by God as humans and who had resisted Satan’s influence and lived according to God’s laws will now rule as kings and priests with Christ during this period of time called the Millennium (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10).
During the Millennium, humans will have the opportunity to hear the true gospel and receive salvation. With Satan bound, humans will not have to contend with the religious deception that is so prevalent in our world today.
To learn more about the Millennium, see the article “1000 Years Millennium,” as well as the article about “The Feast of Tabernacles,” a festival that pictures this wonderful time of peace and prosperity.
“Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea” (Revelation 20:7-8).
How sad that after the world and its citizens have experienced all the joys and privileges of living under the righteous rule of Jesus Christ, many are going to be deceived by Satan, the archenemy of mankind!
This army that’s inspired by Satan will be destroyed (verse 9), and Satan will be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (verse 10, italics in the original).
Based on the wording of this verse, some have mistakenly assumed that the lake of fire is a place of eternal torment for the humans who will fulfill the roles of the beast and the false prophet, as well as for other humans who have lived in opposition to God.
While the lake of fire most certainly will exist, it is not a place where humans will be tormented forever. Fire kills and destroys humans. Speaking of this lake of fire, God said, “‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘that will leave them neither root nor branch’” (Malachi 4:1). Wicked humans will thus be burned up, rendered into “ashes” (verse 3).
Additionally, we should note that the word “are” in Revelation 20:10 in the New King James Version and the King James Version of the Bible is in italics, meaning this word was added by the translators in order for the passage to make sense as they understood it. Actually, the point of Revelation 20:10 is that Satan is going to be thrown into the same lake of fire into which the beast and false prophet will have previously been thrown 1,000 years earlier (Revelation 19:20).
Reflecting this basic meaning of the Greek, the Good News Translation translates Revelation 20:10: “Then the Devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had already been thrown.”
As for the phrase, “And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10), it seems that John likely had Satan and his demons in mind. Scriptures show that Satan and the fallen angels that follow him work together to deceive people and that Satan and the demons will eventually suffer the same fate (2 Corinthians 11:14-15; Revelation 12:9).
What the Bible teaches is that the lake of fire, also called the everlasting fire, will be “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, also see Jude 1:6-7). As spirit beings, they cannot be harmed by fire, but they will briefly be cast into this lake of fire before their final punishment of being thrust out into “the blackness of darkness forever” as described by Jude. There they will suffer a kind of mental torment forever and ever (Jude 1:13).
Finally, we should note that the phrase “forever and ever” literally means “for the ages of the ages” (George Ricker Berry, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament). This phrase may mean forever or simply age-lasting in the way Sodom and Gomorrah suffered “the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7), which burned for the age or period of time determined by God.
The second resurrection
After Satan has been released for a short while and then thrown into the lake of fire at the end of the Millennium, there will be a second resurrection for humans to rise from the grave and live again during the time of the “great white throne” judgment (Revelation 20:11-12).
This resurrection will be a restoration of physical life for humans who have never had the opportunity to hear and understand God’s expectations of humanity. This period of the judgment of God, including the opportunity to receive salvation, is pictured by the Last Great Day festival.
The third resurrection
After faithful people who are being called during this age have been given eternal life via the first resurrection (John 6:44) and people who were not called by God during this present age have been given an opportunity to receive salvation via the second resurrection, there remains one more category of people. These are ones who knew God’s truth yet refused to accept it and live by it.
Since they were fully able to understand and act upon God’s truth, He judged them during their lives just as He judges the faithful. There is no further period of judging for these people. Their time of judging is complete. However, these individuals died, never having received the ultimate judgment—sentencing—from God.
According to Revelation 20:13-14, these individuals will be brought back to physical life to be judged for their unrighteous conduct and then mercifully destroyed for eternity by means of the lake of fire, which will then engulf the entire earth (2 Peter 3:7). This is “the second death” (Revelation 20:6, Revelation 20:14), a final death from which there is no resurrection or hope for life once again.
In summary, Revelation 20 shows God’s judgment on Satan and explains the judgment of God on humanity, which includes the opportunity for humans to receive salvation. For a more complete explanation of the resurrections, see “Resurrections: What Are They?”