Revelation Chapters 20 through 22, Part 2
by Karl Kemp
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Here in Part 2 of this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 20-22 we will continue the discussion under the heading, "Some Concluding, Summarizing Remarks" as part of the lengthy discussion under Rev. 20:6.
I cannot dogmatically say why God didn't fully and clearly incorporate these teachings into the teachings/writings of the apostles and their co-workers in the New Testament before the book of Revelation, but it seems that God had a good and sufficient reason, which we'll discuss. It seems clear to me that we shouldn't blame this omission on the apostles; they faithfully passed on what had been given to them by God. For one thing, in the plan of God, revelation is progressive (the old testament prophets didn't understand, for example, that the Messiah would be deity, or that He would come twice, with two very different comings); and even after the book of Revelation was given, that book wasn't fully understood, and apparently this fit God's plans too. In our day there still are major differences in the interpretation of the book of Revelation, but it seems that God will open up the details of the book more and more in these last days; we're the ones who need to understand these details.
What the Bible teaches (or at least what I believe it teaches, without being dogmatic) regarding God's ultimate salvation of the elect of the nations is significant, interesting, and easy to accept; it makes God's plan of salvation more generous. (God makes it a priority to save every person He can save [cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-7]. He can't save rebels who won't repent. A good God can't allow rebels into heaven, and they wouldn't want to be in heaven on God's terms, not that they will want the alternative.) There is, however, a downside to sharing this Biblical teaching and this is significant; it can lend itself to great abuse.
The apostles (and the Christian church) were sent to call mankind to repentance and faith. If they included the message about people being saved after the Lord Jesus has returned and judged the world who had not become Christians before He returned or about the (possible) salvation of some people who die without having become Christians, some/many people would undoubtedly wrongly use that information to minimize the need to repent and submit to Christ now. When God deals with a person through the gospel, they are obligated to respond with repentance and faith. There's also the potential problem that some (perhaps many) Christians would allow this information to minimize our obligation to take the gospel to the world. It is significant that the apostle Paul, even at the fairly early time that he wrote Romans (about AD 55), assumed that the gospel had pretty well covered the world (Rom. 10:18; Col. 1:6, 23).
It seems clear to me that it must have been part of God's plan to subordinate making known His ultimate plans for the salvation of the elect of the nations throughout this present age. These plans certainly don't contradict His gospel plans for this age, but they do constitute an addition to the gospel message that is presented in most of the New Testament. Living at the end of this age, as we apparently are, it seems that God is allowing us more insight into His end-time plans.]] (7) And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison [cf. Rev. 20:3], (8) and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth [that is, worldwide; cf. Rev. 7:1], Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war [I believe this is the war prophesied about in Ezekiel chapters 38, 39. This is, at least, the primary and ultimate war prophesied about there. For one thing, these chapters in Ezekiel speak of "GOG of the land of MAGOG" [my capitalization for emphasis]. Ezekiel chapters 38, 39 are discussed on pages 144-146 of my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture."]; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore [cf. Ezek. 38:9, 15, 16]. [[It's hard to understand how so many people could be so sinful (the sin problem runs very deep), but it's clear that such people don't really love God and His ways, and they aren't people who would really want to be part of God's eternal kingdom, not that they will want the alternative. God knows what is in the heart of all people, and it is obvious why He would release the devil for a short time to put such people to the test.
There will be great longevity in the millennial kingdom; it is possible that people won't die if they don't get into sin (Isa. 65:20, 21). The multitudes who rebel at the end of the millennial kingdom could be limited to some of the offspring of those who enter the millennial kingdom.]] (9) And they came up on the broad plain of the earth [[The NIV has, "They marched across the breadth of the earth." It seems that "the broad plain of the earth" - it would probably be better to translate "the broad plain of the land" - refers to the broad plain around Jerusalem, but there is no broad plain around Jerusalem, at least not at the present time. Apparently this verse anticipates the transformation of Jerusalem and the land around Jerusalem that will take place about the time the millennial kingdom begins (see Zech. 14:10). That verse prophesies of a rather large amount of land around Jerusalem being changed into a "plain" and of Jerusalem being raised up (cf. Isa. 2:2; Mic. 4:1; and Ezek. 40:2).]] and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city [Jerusalem], and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. [On the fire, cf. Ezek. 38:22; 39:6.] (10) And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. [Cf. Matt. 25:41; Rev. 19:20; 20:14, 15; 21:8; and 14:9-11.] (11) And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. [[God the Father is seated on the throne (cf. Rev. 4:2, 3; 5:1, 5-7, 13; 6:16; 7:10, 15; and Dan. 7:9, 10, 13, 14), but it is quite possible that we should think of God the Son being on the throne with the Father here too (cf., e.g., Rev. 22:1, 3). (God the Father has the preeminent role in the Trinity. See my papers titled, "Who Do We Worship?"; Who Do We Pray To?"; "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son"; and "More on the Trinity." They are available on this Christian article site.) It is clear that the Son is active in the end-time judgments (cf., e.g., Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:21-29; 2 Cor. 5:10; and Rev. 22:12). Earth and heaven fled away because, for one thing, it is now time for God's new heaven and new earth (cf. Rev. 21:1).]] (12) And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne [[I agree with the many commentators who equate "the dead" here with "the rest of the dead" of Rev. 20:5. We see the resurrection of "the dead" in 20:13.
This double bracket continues for more than ten pages before we continue with the rest of Rev. 20:12.
((We could also think of the final judgment of those who have died during the millennium, even though they apparently aren't specifically mentioned in these verses. This would include those associated with the rebellion of Rev. 20:7-10, but this multitude hardly needs a final judgment (it's possible that they will go directly to the lake of fire with Satan [Rev. 20:9, 10]); it seems they have adequately demonstrated what's in their hearts and determined their final destinies by this end-of-the-millennium rebellion. Because of the longevity during the millennium, most of those who die during the millennium (if not all of them) may be rebels (cf. Isa. 65:20).
Also there at the great-white-throne judgment, but not specifically mentioned in these verses, will be those people from the nations who will be converted and stay faithful to God throughout their lives in the millennium. It may safely be assumed that they are part of God's elect and will have a place in the new earth, apparently as part of the nations (the nations being distinct from true Israel).
Many Christians who agree that there will be a distinct group called the nations in Revelation chapters 21, 22 understand the nations to be limited to those from the nations who are converted and stay faithful throughout their lives in the millennium. This is certainly possible, but I believe (without being dogmatic) that the names of many of the people resurrected to stand before God at the great-white-throne judgment will be found in the book of life of Rev. 20:12, 15. See under Rev. 20:12-21:8; 21:24-22:5 in this paper. See under Matt. 25:31-46 in my paper on Matthew chapters 24, 25 (that paper is on my internet site and it will be on this Christian article site within a few weeks). See Isaiah chapters 24-27 (especially see Isa. 25:6-8 and 26:18, 19) in my paper titled "Verse-by-Verse Studies of Selected Eschatological Prophecies from the Book of Isaiah"; that lengthy paper is included on my internet site, and within a few weeks an excerpt from that paper that covers Isaiah chapters 24-27, which is sometimes called Isaiah's Little Apocalypse, will be included on this Christian article site. See my paper "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" on my internet site. I'll include two excerpts from that 35 page paper (excerpts dealing with Ezek. 16:44-63 and Psalm 87) as we continue in this section. I recommend that you read that entire paper. Most of the content of that paper is directly relevant to the question whether any of the names of the people who live and die from Adam to the time the millennial kingdom begins who would not be classified as believers will be found in the book of life. Large numbers of those people were not confronted, or at least not confronted in a significant way, with the gospel (or with God's clear call to salvation in the days before the gospel was proclaimed). Some other verses to consider on this topic are: Jer. 48:47; 49:6, 38, 39 (These verses are discussed on pages 45, 46 of my paper on Jeremiah, and they are discussed in Part 6 of the "Excerpts from My Paper on Jeremiah" on this Christian article site.).
If you are interested in this topic at all, you will want to read section 5 of my paper titled, "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" on my internet site (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching). Section 5 is titled, "Various Views Regarding the Possibility of Salvation of (Some from) the Nations (dealing mostly with the unevangelized)." I'll list the three sections of section 5:
A. John Sanders, "No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized" [Eerdmans, 1992].
B. Gabriel Fackre, Ronald H. Nash, and John Sanders, "What About Those Who Have Never Heard?: Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized," edited by John Sanders [Inter-Varsity Press, 1995].
C. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., "Salvation Outside the Church?: Tracing the History of the Catholic Response" [Paulist Press, 1992].
The extensive excerpts included in the original paper were substantially reduced in the internet version of this paper because I had received permission to quote extensively for the original paper, but not for the internet version. I'll send you a copy of the original version of this section of the paper, which has more than twice the content, if you are interested. (Karl Kemp; P. O. Box 1816; St. Charles, MO, 63302)
As I mentioned, I believe that some of those from the nations called "the dead" here in Rev. 20:12 will prove to be among God's elect, that some of their names will be found in the "book of life," which is mentioned in Rev. 20:12 and 15 (cf. Rev. 21:27; 13:8; 17:8). This viewpoint is controversial. I have been teaching this viewpoint for twenty-five or thirty years, but never in a dogmatic way. I am more convinced than ever that this viewpoint will be proven true, but I still am not being dogmatic. For one thing, since we are considering things that won't come to pass until the end of the millennium, there is no big need for Christians to agree on this topic. Why even mention this idea? We need to do the best we can do in interpreting God's Word. Furthermore, if this view is true, it has a lot to say about God. We must make the truth a top priority - I'm not afraid of the truth, even if it is unpopular in some circles.
The book of life here (Rev. 20:11-15) seems to play a much larger role than just confirming the damnation of all of "the dead." As I pointed out, these verses (20:11-15) seem to be limited to a discussion of the final judgment of "the dead"; they apparently don't specifically mention the judgment of the nations who live during the millennium (whether elect or non-elect, whether still alive or dead). From my point of view, it would be somewhat surprising to spend so much time on these details of the judgment of "the dead" if the outcome was to be entirely negative, with none of these people's names being found in the book of life, and all of them being cast into the lake of fire. For one thing, this doesn't fit well with the strong emphasis in Rev. 21:1-22:3 on God's ultimate salvation of the nations. For another thing, it seems significant that Rev. 20:15 says, "And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." That wording doesn't make it sound like none of the names of those people will be found written in the book of life. Verse 15 didn't say, for example, "Since none of their names were found written in the book of life, they were all thrown into the lake of fire."
Most commentators on the book of Revelation that I've looked at (and I've looked at many of them) take the viewpoint that all "the dead" of Rev. 20:12 are destined for hell. F. F. Bruce is one exception ("New Layman's Bible Commenary," [Zondervan, 1979]. He was born in 1910; he died recently.) There is a problem, however, in that Bruce goes too far and seems to picture just about everyone eventually being saved, if not everyone. Under 21:8 he says, "[John's] universalism is eschatological, but not retrospectively effective." The Webster's "New World Dictionary" defines universalism as "the theological doctrine that all souls will eventually find salvation in the grace of God." By saying that "[John's] universalism is eschatological," Bruce means that the universalism won't be manifested until late. By the words "but not retrospectively effective," he apparently just means that looking back to (contemplating) the lives/state of many of those ultimately saved, you wouldn't see much evidence (if any) of their ultimate salvation.
F. F. Bruce is a well-respected, evangelical scholar from England; I have profited from several of his books/writings, including this article on the book of Revelation. However, if I understand him, he goes way too far here. Universalism is rather widely accepted in our day in Christianity, but it isn't widely accepted among evangelicals, and rightly so. I don't believe we can begin to square the doctrine of universalism with the teaching of the Bible, very much including the teaching of the book of Revelation.
Evangelicals going to extreme viewpoints like universalism, and the fact that many Christians who hold "wider hope" viewpoints for the ultimate salvation of some of those who have died without becoming believers (old covenant or new covenant believers) are not solid on the Scriptural basics of the gospel make me all the more reserved and cautious in teaching (but not dogmatically) that some of "the dead" of Rev. 20:12, 13 are elect of God and will ultimately obtain salvation through Christ Jesus as part of the nations. (Some of these Christian scholars deny basic Christian, Biblical doctrines like the virgin birth, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, like the existence of God's angels, the devil, and demon spirits, and like the reality of miracles, even the miracles spoken of in the Bible. I'm not the judge of these people, but I can't consider this acceptable, Biblical Christianity.) I don't believe, however, that I can refrain from presenting what I believe the Scriptures teach because some have gone to extremes, even heretical extremes. I'm doing everything I can do, however, to warn the readers to make sure they don't just accept everything being taught under the name Christian. There's a slippery slope we must be aware of; false doctrine can lead to destruction. We must make learning the truth top priority, and living in accordance with the truth.
Assuming it's true, that some of the names of people judged at the great-white-throne judgment are found in the book of life, why will their names be found there? The basic answer to that question is that God (who knows what He is doing and doesn't make mistakes) put their names in the book of life, the Lamb's book of life (e.g., Rev. 13:8; 21:27). As Rev. 20:12, 13 show, their works are a factor, but the dominant factor is God's choosing, and again, He knows what He is doing and doesn't make mistakes. I'll guarantee you that no rebels (people who are still rebellious) will enter heaven. Furthermore, I would like to think that there won't be any people in hell who would want to be in heaven on God's terms, people who would really love God and be totally and humbly submitted to Him, His Son, and His truth, righteousness, and holiness forever.
And, assuming it's true, as I have suggested, that all the members of true Israel will have been judged, glorified, and will have begun to reign by the time the millennial kingdom begins, there won't be any members of true Israel judged at the great-white-throne judgment.
Excerpt from Section 2 of my paper "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" that deals with Ezek. 16:44-63, especially verses 53-63:
[This chapter of Ezekiel seems to teach that we are to expect the ultimate salvation of some of the people from ancient Sodom. Assuming this interpretation is correct, we tend to expect some from most other nations/cities to have a place in God's new earth.] " 'Behold, everyone who quotes proverbs will quote this proverb concerning you, saying, "Like mother, like daughter." (45) You [God is speaking to Jerusalem, the capital city of the nation of Judah (cf. Ezek. 16:2, 3).] are the daughter of your mother, who loathed her husband and children. You are also the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children. Your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite. [[The "husband" (also "their husbands") is God (cf., e.g., 16:8, 15, 32). The statement regarding loathing her children is apparently explained by 16:20, 21. The "sisters" are explained as we continue. On the last sentence of verse 45, see 16:2, 3. Apparently these satirical words were intended to insult sinful Judah and make the important point that Judah (in her sinfulness) is the offspring of Caananite paganism.]] (46) Now your older sister is Samaria, who lives [The NIV has, "who lived."] north of you with her daughters [Samaria was the capital city of the northern kingdom (with Judah being the southern kingdom). Many point out that the idea was greater, or larger, not "older." "Her daughters" are the other cities of the northern kingdom.]; and your younger [lesser/smaller] sister, who lives [lived] south of you, is Sodom with her daughters. (47) Yet you have not merely walked in their ways or done according to their abominations; but, as if that were too little, you acted more corruptly in all your conduct than they [cf. Lam. 4:6]. (48) As I live,' declares the Lord GOD, 'Sodom, your sister, and her daughters, have not done as you and your daughters have done. [For one thing, Judah had received much more light and blessings from God than Sodom, and she was, therefore, much more responsible for her sin.] (49) Behold, this was the guilt [part of the guilt] of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. (50) Thus [I prefer "And," with the KJV.] they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it. [God's judgment of Sodom had taken place over a thousand years before the days of Ezekiel. See Gen. 19:1-29.] (51) Furthermore, Samaria did not commit half of your sins, for you have multiplied your abominations more than they. Thus you have made your sisters appear righteous [righteous by comparison with Jerusalem/Judah; cf. Jer. 3:11] by all your abominations which you have committed. [Samaria and the northern kingdom had already been judged by God through the Assyrians. Samaria had fallen in 722/721 BC, over a hundred years before the ministry of Ezekiel.] (52) Also bear your disgrace in that you have made judgment favorable for your sisters. Because of your sins in which you acted more abominably than they, they are more in the right than you. Yes, be also ashamed and bear your disgrace, in that you made your sisters appear righteous [by comparison with Judah]. (53) Nevertheless, I will restore their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, and along with them your own captivity [[I prefer the NIV's, "However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them." On "restore the fortunes of," cf. Job 42:10 (restore the fortunes of Job); Jer. 3:23 (the fortunes of Judah; there are many other such verses regarding restoring the fortunes of Judah/Israel); Jer. 48:47 (restoring the fortunes of Moab); 49:6 (of the sons of Ammon); and Jer. 49:39 (of Elam). See under Jer. 48:47; 49:4-6, 11, 19, 38, and 39 in section 1 of my paper titled "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations" and in my eschatological paper on Jeremiah.]], (54) in order that you may bear your humiliation, and feel ashamed for all that you have done when you become a consolation to them. (55) And your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to their former state, and you with your daughters will also return to your former state.' [Before God is done, He will take them far beyond their former state.] ... (60) 'Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. [Cf., e.g., Isa. 61:8; Jer. 31:31-34; 32:36-44; and Ezek. 37:24-28.] (61) Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both your older and your younger [On older and younger, see under 16:46]; and I will give them to you as daughters, but not because of your covenant. [The nations never will become part of God's true Israel, but they will be saved by the God of true Israel and through the blood of His Son (Rev. 21:27).] (62) Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD [Yahweh], (63) in order that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,' the Lord GOD declares." [For one thing, Godís plans are designed to humble His people (including the elect of the nations) and make them know that we are all totally dependent on God's grace in Christ Jesus and that we must be obedient to Him. There is zero room for pride and rebellion against God and His Son. Cf., e.g., Rom. 11:32-36.]
I'll quote part of what C. F. Keil said under Ezek. 16:53-63 ("Commentary on the Old Testament," Vol. 9, by Keil and Delitzsch [Eerdmans, 1978 reprint, translated from the German]; this conservative, ten-volume set, which was written over a hundred years ago, is generally well respected). "The turning of the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, i.e. the forgiveness of the inhabitants of Sodom and the other cities of the plain, points beyond the present aeon, and the realization can only take place on the great day of the resurrection of the dead in the persons of the former inhabitants of Sodom and the neighboring cities. And in the same way the restoration of Samaria and Jerusalem will not be completely fulfilled till after the perfecting of the kingdom of Christ in glory at the last day.
... The words of our Lord in Matt. 10:15 [cf. Luke 10:12] and 11:24, to the effect that it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom than for Capernaum and every other city that shall have rejected the preaching of the gospel, teach most indisputably that the way of mercy stands open still even for Sodom itself, and that the judgment which has fallen upon it does not carry with it the final decision with regard to its inhabitants. For Sodom did not put away the perfect revelation of mercy and salvation [the gospel]. If the mighty works which were done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom, it would have stood to the present day (Matt. 11:23). And from this it clearly follows that all the judgments which fell before the time of Christ, instead of carrying with them the final decision, and involving eternal damnation, leave the possibility of eventual pardon open still. The last judgment, which is decisive for eternity, does not take place till after the full revelation of grace and truth in Christ. ...."
Keil goes on to give his viewpoint how this will work: He says that all who have died without hearing the gospel will have an opportunity to accept, or to reject, the gospel, and he mentions 1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6 to back up this viewpoint. I don't believe the viewpoint that all will have an opportunity to accept the gospel after death, if they didn't hear it in this life, is satisfactory, and I don't believe these verses from 1 Peter teach this viewpoint. (See section 5 of my paper, "More Regarding God's Salvation Plans for the Nations," where the different viewpoints regarding the possibility of salvation for (some of) those from the nations who died not having a covenant relationship with God are discussed. Also 1 Peter 3:18-4:6 are discussed in some detail at the end of that paper. Those verses are also important for the topic of holiness and victory over sin.) Keil makes it clear that he doesn't want his view "to be confounded with the heretical doctrine of the restoration, i.e. the ultimate salvation of all the ungodly, and even of the devil himself."
We will continue this lengthy discussion in the middle of Rev. 20:12 in Part 3 of this paper.
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