In 2015, many people were terrified watching an online video posted by the Islamic States, showing footage of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded at a beach in Libya, wearing orange jumpsuits and kneeling down, you see the 21 martyrs were praying and singing hymns, while the terrorists behead them from the back one by one.
The world was in an uproar when they watch the live footage in front of their TVs, monitors and mobile phones. The Egyptian government remembered the bravery of these Christian men, and early this year, the government has inaugurated a memorial for these godly men.
At that time, I was only a student minister studying at theological college and working at an Anglican Church in the Eastern Suburbs. But the nearby Coptic church had invited my senior pastor of the Anglican church and me to join their memorial service of these martyrs. I was terrified when I saw the uncut footage on the church screen, and we prayed together for the 21 victims. In that memorial service, the Coptic church’s Archbishop in Sydney had read a passage from Revelation 20, concerning the future glory of the 21 Coptic Martyrs with our Lord Jesus Christ. And today, we will look at the very passage that I have learnt on that day.
So let us bow our heads and pray to the Lord, that may the Holy Spirit open our hearts and give us insight into today’s passage.
1) The Martyrs’ Great Reward
In Revelation chapter 20 verse 1, John saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the Bottomless Pit, that is, the prison of demons who against God. It is the same bottomless pit back in Revelation chapter 9. This angel is also carrying a great chain. Like a police officer would do to a caught criminal, the angel from heaven seized the devil and bound him for a thousand years and throw him down in the Bottomless Pit for his imprisonment. This is the same thousand years of Christ’s rule as we heard last week. And we learnt that in all the imagery in the book of Revelation, all four titles of the dragon, the devil, Satan, or the serpent are all referring to the devil our enemy. It is being thrown down into the Bottomless Pit, locked and sealed to keep him from deceiving the nations., but “After that, he must be set free for a short time” (Revelation 20:3b).
Why does God allow the evil to be loosed from its imprisonment after the thousand years, we are not sure. It is a mystery. But we trust that everything God does must have his reasons, and we know from the passage that the devil’s release from Bottomless Pit is only temporary. A relatively short time.
But in verse 4, Apostle John switched the scene to look at the thrones seating those who have given authority from God to judge. He wrote, “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.” (Revelation 20:4b-5)
This is the Bible quote that I heard from the Egyptian Coptic Archbishop said in the memorial service of the 21 Coptic Martyrs killed by ISIS in 2015. If you speak your testimony about Jesus and be killed because of the Gospel, you will come back to life and reign with Jesus for a thousand years in the first resurrection. This is a promise from God. As Jesus spoke in the Gospel of Mark 8:35, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it”. Jesus was talking about those who died for the sake of Christ, and his Gospel will receive a bodily resurrection. It is a special reward reserved for the martyrs alone. Just like their master, Jesus our Lord was raised from the dead on the third day after he died on the Cross, the martyrs will also be raised to life again. And they will rule with Christ for a thousand years. The thousand years is a symbolic number, just like all the other numbers of 7, or 144,000. It means there will be a long period when Christ rules the earth and the devil is bound in Bottomless Pit. Verse 5 says it is the first resurrection because the rest of the Christians are not resurrected yet. It is their reward for faithful witness and dying for Christ, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:6) It is a privilege to serve God directly in his presence in heaven. It is an honour and blessing to the Martyrs, separated as holy for God is holy. As John wrote earlier in Revelation 1:6, “and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are made priests to serve Him. Every time you serve God in anything, in worship, playing music, leading youth group, cleaning the church hall. Everything that we do is the priestly role in the service of God. What the Bible says in verse 6 is simply extends the priestly role that all believers already have in this life. And we will continue to serve God as long as we live. That means, our afterlife is not just a long holiday for fun. We live to serve God, just like what some of you are doing now. It is a blessing to serve our One and Holy God. But what happens after the 1000 years of Christ’s reign?
2) The Devil’s Final Doom
John continues in verse 7, “When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. 10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
This is the end of the devil. But before the devil is finally destroyed, he must be released from Bottomless Pit after the thousand years rule of the martyrs. The devil will deceive the nations all over the world all over again, to gather them for war with an innumerable amount of people. This final battle is worldwide and incorporates a huge hostile global force against God’s people.
But what are Gog and Magog in verse 8? In the Book of Ezekiel, Gog is the ruler of Magog, a Gentile nation from the north. But in the passage here, Gog and Magog together symbolise all the nations from the ends of the earth, as all nations will gather together against God’s people. However, God will be glorified through his destruction of his enemies, and the Lord Himself will defend his people. Fire will come out from heaven and devour his enemies. As Ezekiel envisioned, “I will send fire on Magog and on those who dwell securely in the coastlands, and they shall know that I am the LORD.” (Ezekiel 39:6)
And the devil who is behind it will be finally thrown into the lake of fire. At last and forever, the devil’s deceptions in the world will come to an end.
Also, when we look at the devil’s doom, we will notice an order in Revelation:
Look at Revelation 12:1-14:20, the appearance of certain characters was introduced in the following order:
First, we have the sun-clothed woman, which symbolised God’s people.
Then, the dragon appears, which symbolises the devil.
Thirdly, the water monster, which symbolises the antichrist,
And fourthly, the earth monster, which symbolises the false prophet.
And then, these characters’ destiny is protrayed in reverse order. First, the two monsters end in the eternal damnation of fiery lake (Revelation 19:20). In Revelation 20:10 of today’s passage, we learn that the devil is also thrown into the lake of fire where it will be tormented forever with the two monsters, as Jesus had said in Matthew 25:41, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Just like Christ’s eternal kingdom will last forever and ever, the devil will be tormented in the lake of fire eternally. It will be the end of the source of evil and sin in this world.
3) The Judge at the White Throne
Then in verse 11, John switches the scene to heaven, where Jesus is sitting on his throne and judges all humanity. This is the Final Judgment Day in the Bible. When Jesus was in his ministry on earth 2000 years ago, Jesus taught his disciples about his Second Coming; he connected his kingship closely with judging. One of the roles of the Messiah is to be the Judge of the World. Jesus said in Matthew 25:31, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”. In verse 11 here, we see the conquering King of kings, that is, Jesus is sitting on a white throne in heaven, as the Judge of all humanity. As Jesus said in the Gospel of John 5:22, “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.” And Apostle Paul also wrote the same thing in 2 Timothy 4:1, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom.” This great white throne – the judgment seat which originally belongs to God the Father, is now taken by his Son Jesus Christ. “…The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.” (Revelation 20:11b) This verse marks the disappearing of the old universe as we know it, and to make way for the new heaven and new earth. Like Apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” This is the Judgement Day. Everyone who died, great and small will stand before the throne of God and his Christ. And Jesus will judge each and all of us by the books that are opened. And another book called the Book of Life is also opened. John wrote in verse 12, “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.” (Revelation 20:12b-13)
It means that everyone on earth who had ever lived, the dead, no matter they are great and small. None will be forgotten. Everything that we had done in life was recorded. It is like Big Brother. God has recorded everything in our life, and we must face our judgment. No once can escape this. A righteous character is always revealed in righteous deeds. The Bible tells us that each person will receive judgment from Christ based on everything we do. However, this does not mean that salvation is based on good works; rather, good works are the evidence of our salvation in Christ. As Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Our good works are the result of our faith in Jesus, and Jesus will judge everyone who what they have do in life.
Then, in the judgment place, there is also a book called the Book of Life. This book records the names that are belonging to the Lamb of God, Jesus. It is like our heavenly citizenship registry database. The only names that are written in this book are those who were saved by faith in Christ. The people who believed in God alone for salvation through Jesus produced righteous deeds. But those who did not believe in God alone for salvation failed to produce righteous deeds. So our faith and our good deeds come together hands-in-hands. And the Bible tells us, at the end in the Judgement Day, all human beings will face the final judgement. Even death and Hades will give up the dead that was in them so that everyone will not be missed. Death and Hades themselves will be thrown into the lake of fire where the devil is. It is called the second death because once you died the second time in the lake of fire, you will be in torment forever. There will be no return. Anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ as their saviour, their sins are not paid by the blood of Christ, so they have to pay their debt of sin, and the consequence of sin is death. The second death where they will be thrown into is the same place where the devil and its followers will be in eternal torment in the lake of fire.
This is why it is so essential for us to bring the Gospel to our family and friends, and to our neighbours, those who we meet every day, those who do not know Jesus in this world. Our mission is great because Jesus is coming soon. He is not joking or lying about what will happen in this world. The first time Jesus came to earth is to save us from our sins. But the second time he comes to bring us all into judgment. Blessed are those who keep their faith in Christ and their sins forgiven!
Now, let us recall what we have learnt today:
- The devil is first and foremost being bent on deceiving human beings about God. Mankind sinned against God because the devil deceived us.
- God is greater than the devil, who will one day be sent into eternal damnation.
- All human beings will one day be judged according to the deeds they have done.
- Everyone will be judged according to whether their names are in the Book of Life.
- And the eternal destiny for all of those whom Christ condemns is fiery torment forever. There is no return.
So what can we do about it?
- Stay on the alert for the devil’s distortions and deceptions about God’s truth.
- Pray for Christians who are facing martyrdom.
- Prepare spiritually for facing hostility and even martyrdom because of your testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.
- Live our life on earth, knowing that we will be judged according to what we have done.
- And finally, we need to ask ourselves seriously this question, “Am I sure my name is written in the Book of Life?”
Let us pray and give thanks to God for his salvation and justice on earth. Give thanks to his saving grace to us through His Only Son Jesus Christ our Lord.