We are nearly through with our verse-by-verse study of the Book of Revelation, focusing on four major views of the so-called Apocalypse of John.
You may read the commentary to date either by clicking on End Times or Revelation in the drop-down menu (Topics) to the right.
Whether you’re a preterist, who sees the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the Christian era; a historicist, who views the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history; a futurist, who sees most of Revelation as yet unfulfilled; or an idealist, who sees Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil, there are important truths the Lord reveals to all of us in this book.
We would do well to approach Revelation with caution — and with great anticipation, knowing God will fulfill all His promises to us. We also should be comforted by the fact that Revelation is the only book in Scripture specifically promising a blessing to those who hear its prophecies and keep them.
Rev. 20:12 – I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne … (HCSB)
I also saw the dead
Evidently these are unbelievers of all time summoned to final judgment. They are “dead” in three ways. First, they are spiritually dead, separated from God by their unbelief. Second, they are physically dead, having died and now having been physically resurrected to stand in judgment. Third, they are everlastingly and irreversibly dead; once their judgment is complete, they are cast into the lake of fire where they experience unending separation from their Creator and are shackled with the reality that God has given them what they desire: the freedom to live independently of Him for eternity.
John describes them as “the great and the small.” They are the famous and the obscure; the mighty and the frail; the elderly and the young; the educated and the unschooled; the peerless and the impoverished; the gifted and the ordinary; the blunt and the arcane; the religious and the atheistic; the moral and the decadent; the violent and the gentle; the arrogant and the fearful.
God is no respecter of persons. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5:45). Christ’s offer of salvation is open to Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. The kingdom of heaven is populated with people every tongue, people, kindred, and nation, and there is equal representation before the great white throne.
Rev. 20:11b – Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them. (HCSB)
Earth and heaven fled
John remarks, “Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them” (v. 11b). The idea of earth and heaven – the created order for mankind’s habitation – fleeing from their Creator seems to personify the passing away of “the first heaven and the first earth,” to be replaced with “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).
The earth’s wicked stand in final judgment before God. They are about to be cast into hell for their sins. The redeemed already have been glorified. Therefore, God is putting an end to sin – and with it, an end to the consequences of sin in the created order. This has been His plan since eternity past and He has communicated it to us throughout human history.
The Fall results not only in death for Adam and Eve and their descendants; it results in a curse upon the earth (Gen. 3:17-19). Even so, before that curse is pronounced, the Lord promises a Redeemer – a virgin-born Savior who crushes the head of Satan and ultimately reverses the effects of the Fall (Gen. 3:15).
Throughout the Old Testament, we see several hundred prophecies of this promised Messiah and learn that He is to be born of a virgin in Bethlehem Eprathah (Isa. 7:14; Micah 5:2); that He is divine and will establish an everlasting kingdom (Isa. 9:6-7); that He is to suffer an excruciating death but conquer the grave (Ps. 16:9-11; 22:12-18); that in His suffering and death He is to bear the penalty for our sins (Isa. 53:3-6); that He is to heal the broken-hearted (Isa. 61:1-2); and that He is to judge people and restore the earth to its sinless perfection (Isa. 66). We see the prophecies of the Suffering Servant fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.
Few passages of scripture cause more controversy among evangelical Christians than Rev. 20:1-10, in which John mentions a 1,000-year period six times. The main point of debate is whether the “millennium” should be understood literally or figuratively.
Generally, those who believe the 1,000 years are literal and in the future are called premillennialists. They look for Christ to return and establish a “millennial kingdom,” or a reign of 1,000 years, after which He puts down Satan’s final revolt, resurrects and judges unbelievers (Christians are judged before the millennium), and creates new heavens and a new earth.
Those who believe Christ is returning after the millennium are called postmillennialists. The 1,000 years are not necessarily a literal time frame, but they represent a period during which much of the world turns to faith in Jesus.
Those who see all references to the 1,000 years as figurative and without merit as a reference point concerning the timing of the Lord’s return are called amilllennialists.
There is diversity within each of these camps as to the order of events surrounding the second coming.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to follow a biblical principle for exploring tough passages: Start with the simple and straightforward teachings of scripture, and seek to understand the difficult passages in the light of the simpler ones.
With that in mind, let’s rally around 10 simple truths regarding the return of Jesus.