7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever – Rev. 20:7-10
At the end of the millennium kingdom, Satan is released. Notice once again the language of sovereignty: Satan doesn’t escape – he is released. Isn’t it a great comfort to know that the apparent chaos described in Revelation is completely under God’s control?
The reason Satan is released is to “deceive the nations” with the ultimate purpose of gathering them for battle against the saints ruling in Jerusalem. What is surprising is that he actually pulls it off.
Let’s think of this for a moment: A thousand years of Christ’s rule on earth. Christ Himself, with His redeemed people have been ruling over the entire planet. Civilisations, people groups, global economies, global conflicts and everything else that sells news today has submitted to His rule. Reading from other parts of the Bible, during this period there is peace on earth, prosperity and the citizens are probably able to interact directly with the Lamb of God, the One they’ve been reading about in the Bible and hearing about for so long. The world is affected directly by Christ; not the Church; not Christians. There are no theist/atheist debates. The question of origins has been settled. There is no more discussion as to how the Church can “impact the culture” or “be more relative”. Longstanding theological questions have been answered. No-one’s arguing TULIP anymore. Angry blogs have been silenced. There is no doubt whatsoever of who Christ is, and of the reality of His Word.
With Satan, the prince of the air (Eph. 2:2) removed, his influence is gone. No more snatching of the Word (Mat. 13:19). No more demonic wisdom driving human existence (James 3:15). No more spiritual warfare against “rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). It is, literarily, heaven on earth.
And yet, it’s not enough. When Satan is released, he actually manages to deceive vast multitudes of people. Notice that he doesn’t possess them or force them in any way. He deceives them; it’s what he’s always done and done best. The word John uses here (πλανῆσαι) is the same verb Paul used when writing about the serpent deceiving Eve (2 Cor. 11:3) and the same one used in this chapter’s v.10 (and v.2, in some manuscripts) as a title (aka “adjective”) for Satan.
Deception, by definition, involves a distortion of the truth. Now, we understand that in this day and age when we are called tobelieve and don’t see, it is “easier” for people to be deceived about God, His Person, His Word, His Work and His Son. But after a thousand years of physical, obvious, sovereign rule by Christ Himself, which also fulfils and validates Scripture in every conceivable way? Who could possibly be confused and deceived about how things are? Who could possibly think that life is no more than random chance and mutation? Who could possibly think that religion is a “personal” matter and that all roads lead to heaven? Who could possibly think that they can be justified before God by their own good works?
Well, no one. I honestly don’t think that Satan’s last deception is along the lines of “did God really say?” (Gen. 3:1). This seems to be more of incitement because the purpose and result of Satan’s deception is to gather these multitudes to war against the King. This isn’t heresy; it’s rebellion. It’s not a denial of Christ; it’s an outright assault on Him. These people see themselves as liberators; freedom-fighters against the tyranny of Christ. They expect future history books to hail them as those who ushered in a new era of human independence from the awful dictatorship of God.
I don’t know if there is a clearer example of man’s complete and utter depravity in the whole of Scripture. Despite God’s goodness to them, despite His good gifts to them, there will always be those that will hate Him. It’s that old cry: “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” (Ps. 2:3). And I suppose it’s that old deception that always strikes a chord with the human heart: “…you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Throughout all of human history, people have tried to shake themselves free of God’s hold. In every venue of human ingenuity, God has slowly and progressively been displaced, pushed out, ostracised, ignored and rendered unnecessary to human affairs. It’s so natural to us that we even have a fancy term for it, to take the edge off: Secularisation.
But this account of John tops all the rest. It still begins with deception, probably something along the lines of: “Why shouldn’t you be masters of your own destiny?” to undermine Christ’s prerogative rule over everything and everyone. Then follow the secret meetings, the underground propaganda groups, the pamphlets and the encrypted websites. Then come the conspiracies, the intrigues and before you know it, a vast army has gathered to fight against the saints who ruling from Jerusalem.
I can only think of Psalm 2 again when I read the rest: “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”(Ps. 2:4). Because what happens to the rebellion borders on the humorous: Here is this huge crowd, vast as “the sand of the sea”, ominously marching through the valleys to Jerusalem, then strategically surrounding the city to cut off escape routes, preparing their upcoming tactical siege – and fire comes down from heaven and burns them to crisp. It is almost funny – and frightening in the same time.
And this also marks the end of Satan. Once again he is captured and this time cast into hell forever. It always surprises me that popular culture thinks of hell as Satan’s kingdom. The Bible however makes is very clear that hell is a place of punishment, specifically prepared by God for Satan and those who follow him because they never followed Christ (Mat. 25:41).
Darkness has always hated the Light, but will never overcome it (John 1:5). Human rebellion against God is always there and will show itself even in the presence of God – in fact, it seems that the more hard hearts encounter God, the more viciously they resist Him (cf. John 3:19) to their own eternal destruction. Sadly, that is the natural condition of every person who has ever drawn breath and we cannot escape it unless God opens our hearts (Acts 16:14) to receive His message of salvation through Jesus Christ, the One who will one day rule over all forever.
(to be continued)