Previously: The rest of the dead – Revelation 20:5-6
Rev. 20:7 – When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea. (HCSB)
Satan will be released
Verses 7-8 read, “When the 1,000 years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle. Their number is like the sand of the sea.”
Satan’s release from the abyss (Greek phulakes or prison) appears related to the well-known prophecy in Ezekiel 38-39. While there are similarities between these passages, there also are differences. The question has been raised as to whether the battle in Rev. 20:7-8 is the same battle prophesied in Ezekiel 38–39, where Gog and Magog also are mentioned (Ezek. 38:2).
These appear to be two different battles, however, for in the war of Ezekiel 38–39 the armies come primarily from the north and involve only a few nations of the earth, while the battle in Revelation 20 involves all nations. These two events are related, however, inasmuch as Israel is the focal point in both conflicts.
Why is Satan imprisoned for a time and then released? Why not cast him into hell before the 1,000 years? Joseph A. Seiss writes, “God uses even the wickedest of beings, and overrules the worst depravity, to his own good and gracious ends. He allows Satan liberty, and denies him liberty, and gives him liberty again, not because the Devil or the Devil’s malice is necessary to him, but to show his power to bring good out of evil, to make even the worst of creatures praise him, and to turn their very wickedness to the furtherance of the purposes they would fain defeat” (The Apocalypse, p. 476).
Perhaps Satan’s release serves as final proof that the heart of man is desperately wicked and can be changed only by God’s grace. Imagine the tragedy of this revolt: People who have been living in a perfect environment, under the perfect government of God’s Son, finally show their true colors and rebel against the King. Their obedience during the 1,000 years is false humility and feigned submission, not true faith in the Messiah. “This rebellion proves that a rule of perfect law cannot change the human heart; sinners would rather follow Satan,” writes Warren Wiersbe (Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament, p. 854).
Many commentators say that Satan is loosed so that those who grow up during the millennium, under the perfect and righteous reign of Christ, have the chance to choose between good and evil, between God and Satan. Satan is loosed and immediately plays the tempter’s role. Though bound in prison for a thousand years, he is as vile and as subtle, as merciless and as ruthless, as diabolical and as evil as he was in the beginning. He has not changed. And, sadly, mankind has not changed either.
The number of Satan’s rebellious followers is staggering. John says their number is “like the sand of the sea.” This phrase originally is used of the seed of Abraham (Gen. 15:5; 22:17; 32:12 and Heb. 11:12). So this may be an example of evil mimicking the terms God uses to describe His people.
But who are these followers of Satan? Premillennialists like J.F. Walvoord and R.B. Zuck say they are survivors of the tribulation. They enter the millennium in their natural bodies, bear children and repopulate the earth (Isa. 65:18–25). Under ideal circumstances in which every person knows about Jesus Christ (cf. Jer. 31:33–34), many will outwardly profess faith in Christ without actually placing faith in Him for salvation. The shallowness of their professions becomes apparent when Satan is released.
The multitudes that follow Satan are evidently those who have never been born again in the millennial kingdom (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 20:7-8). Others argue that Satan’s followers are men and women of the present age who reject the gospel and embrace deception, ultimately following Satan to his – and their – demise. In any case, the multitudes are unbelievers.
Another truth to consider is the unchanging nature of Satan. Whether loose or bound, he stands in opposition to God and His creation. His imprisonment in the abyss, whether for 1,000 years or some other measure of time, does nothing to reform him. The moment he is set free, he goes about taking others into bondage.
In a similar fashion, people who experience 1,000 years of safety from Satan’s violent prowling prove themselves all too eager to be taken captive the moment the evil one is set free. Regardless of one’s view of the millennium, it seems clear that Satan is incorrigible and his followers are determined to make themselves irredeemable.
Gog and Magog
Once loosed, Satan immediately seeks allies to join his rebellion against God and His people. The kings of the earth no longer are available to him, so he assembles Gog and Magog. In the background is Ezekiel 38-39, which discusses the powerful King Gog from the land of Magog, who with his army out of the north advances against Israel to be destroyed there by God. If originally an assault by the wild horsemen of the Scythians is meant, John is thinking of the conscription of a demonic power (see Rev. 16:12). So he follows apocalyptic tradition, for which Gog and Magog have become two mysterious names arranged parallel to each other.
The identity of Gog and Magog has been a subject of much speculation. Ezekiel’s prophecy appears to be built on Jeremiah’s sermons against a foe from the north (Jeremiah 4-6). His reference to Gog could be to Gyges, king of Lydia, who asked the king of Assyria for help in 676 B.C. but then joined an Egyptian-led rebellion against Assyria in 665 B.C. His name became a symbol for the powerful and much-feared king of the north.
The name “Magog” apparently is a Hebrew construction meaning “place of Gog,” according to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 668). Gog is a descendent of the tribe of Reuben (1 Chron. 5:4). Magog is the grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:2) and founder of a kingdom located north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 2035).
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, uses “Gog” to render names such as Agag (Num. 24:7) and Og (Deut. 3:1), possibly showing that while it is a proper name, it came to be used as a general title for an enemy of God’s people. In rabbinical Judaism these two enemies describe all of the enemies of the Messiah and the people of God. Originally, Gog was a man from the land of Magog, but in this chapter the terms have been personified into twin enemies. (R.J. Utley, Hope in Hard Times – The Final Curtain: Revelation, Vol. 12, Study Guide Commentary Series, p. 139).
The HCSB Study Bible carries the following note about Ezekiel’s reference to Gog: “The reference transcends this Gog’s historical circumstances to refer to a leader who will oppose Israel in the far future. A modern parallel would be for us to speak of a prominent but vile leader as a ‘new Hitler.’ … Gog seems to transcend historical categories, serving as a symbol of the forces of antichrist. If so, Gog has become a transnational symbol of evil, much like Edom and Egypt” (p. 1412).
The allusion to the “four corners of the earth” indicates that their reach is worldwide and seems to target those furthest from the presence of God. Satan renders them dissatisfied with the rule of Christ and persuades them to believe they can overthrow Him, just as the kings under the Antichrist are puffed up with the arrogance of self-determinism.
Because Gog’s identity is not clear, writers throughout church history have identified Gog with contemporary people and places. For example, writers have identified Gog with the Goths (fourth century), the Arabs (seventh century), or the Mongols (13th century). From time to time Gog also has been identified with Roman emperors, Popes, or the Turks, according to the Biblical Dictionary of Prophecy and End Times.
In the early 20th century the Scofield Reference Bible connected Gog with Russia, assuming that Meshech and Tubal referred to the Russian cities of Moscow and Tobolsk. However, most Old Testament scholars reject this view, pointing out that “Rosh” has nothing to do with Russia and Meshech and Tubal are not related to modern cities in that country.
Why then does John use the expression, “Gog and Magog?” The scriptures do not explain it. In fact the phrase may be dropped out of the sentence without changing the meaning. In Ezekiel 38 Gog is the ruler and Magog is the people; both are in rebellion against God and are enemies of Israel.
It may be that the terms have taken on a symbolic meaning much as one speaks of a person’s “Waterloo,” which historically refers to the defeat of Napoleon, but has come to represent any great disaster. Certainly the armies here come in the same spirit of antagonism against God that is found in Ezekiel 38 (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 20:7-8).
Next: Fire came down from heaven – Revelation 20:9