“…and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”
Through the last two posts, we went through the long… and brutal… process by which God tried to get the attention of those who still didn’t want to turn back toward Him. There was trauma after trauma as the people of the earth hardened their hearts against Him, even when they knew it was God displaying His judgment. Ultimately, it all culminated in one massive battle involving perhaps every nation left on Earth.
At the end of the so-called “battle”, (Chapter 20) an angel comes “down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.” (I’m guessing the humans alive on Earth at this point can’t see this happening in the angelic realm, but I’d have to image that seeing the carnage of this battle has to touch one’s soul for sure.)
This is the same “bottomless pit” as mentioned in Chapter 8. This place, that we refer to as “hell,” was prepared for the devil and his angels who rebelled against God. But, for those who reject God’s offer of salvation through His son Jesus – those who ignore the only life preserver He’s thrown – they, too, are choosing to live in rebellion of God, and their ultimate destination will be the same as where every other created being is headed when they’ve chosen to be apart from God. (There’s a neat hole in the Earth’s crust under Panama, but I doubt it has anything to do with this. My guess is that this is happening in the spiritual realm that we can’t see, similar to when Daniel learned that his prayers were delayed because angels had to first fight against demons before they could answer his prayers, or Elisha asking God to open the eyes of his servant and see the army of angels surrounding the enemy soldiers.
So now, after the battle, Satan is bound up for 1,000 years. And John, in heaven sees all the people who “had not worshipped the beast or his image” and had been beheaded for not doing so, “and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years…” This period of time is known as “The Millennial Reign”, and it will be the greatest period in human history since the Garden of Eden.
What does a world free from Satan look like?
A lot like God initially intended in Eden.
Revelation doesn’t say much about it, but the prophets do… Isaiah 2 and Micah 4: Jesus sets up His worldly kingdom in Jerusalem, “and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘come, and let us go up to the mountain of God… He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths’… [nations] shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
So people will repurpose their military equipment (and spend) to produce food – that’s fine and good – but also, nature itself will transform… Isaiah 65: “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days; for the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed.” (Basically, if you die at 100, it’ll be considered a tragedy… “gone too soon”.) Isaiah continues:
“It shall come to pass that before they call, I [God] will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My [God’s] holy mountain,”
And my favorite… Isaiah 11: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
And so for those who have survived ALL the terrible judgements poured out by God on the Earth, and refused to obey the anti-Christ (and yet somehow survived his persecution), the wars, the famine, the disease… this is the Earth they inherit. Jesus reigns with perfect government. All countries are spending perfectly on things they need, which no longer includes warfare. Everyone lives a long, long life. Even the meat-eating animals no longer thirst for blood. It’s just… peaceful. And so it goes for a thousand years.
Quite a different picture than what Hollywood portrays as a “post-Apocalyptic world”, right? As I think about it, what Hollywood calls “post-Apocalyptic” is really more “post-Rapture”. (Reminder: you have a choice whether or not you’re part of the Rapture. That one’s totally up to you.)
But back to Revelation, verse 7:
“Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.”
So, wait a minute… after 1,000 years of perfect government, in a near-perfect world where not even the lions kill, there are still SOOOO many people – as many “as the sand of the sea” – who still want to go out and wage a war against God? It’s a head-scratcher for sure, but I guess it’s not a total surprise, right? I think the Bible really understands human nature more than we give it credit.
If you’re wondering why God even gives them the opportunity, it goes back to the Garden of Eden. You see, even though everyone born during this time (the Millennial Reign) will have been able to see and talk to Jesus, none of them have been tempted and made a conscious choice to follow Jesus and open their hearts to Him. How could they? There was never another option. Adam and Eve were the first ones to have that option, and I suppose it’s fair to say that every one of us has that option now daily.
Now remember, these people that choose to follow Satan are people who never “learned war”. So what’s their great battle plan? Basically, “trust in Satan.” (Gee, what could go wrong?) Verse 9 “They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city (Jerusalem).”
And how did it end?
(Also verse 9) “And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” (Verse 10) “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
There are two chapters in the Bible that speak of Satan’s history, physical description (quite beautiful, actually), and eventual fall: Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14. They both speak to what’s happening at this point in Revelation. One note as you read it: they’re addressed to a specific ruler at the times of Ezekiel and Isaiah, but the message is actually pointed to the demonic power behind them as kings. People today will disagree over which politicians are likely Satanically influenced, but I’m willing to bet that most who believe that Satan is real also believe that he influences politicians – “kings” – today.
So with Satan (and the anti-Christ, and the false prophet) dealt with by being cast into what we know as “hell” – to be tortured constantly, forever – what comes next is known as “The Great White Throne Judgment.”
This is the final judgment of the world, were God sorts the good from the bad. The Bible speaks of this judgment throughout:
- John 5:24: Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
- 1 Peter 4:17: “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘if the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’”
- Matthew 25:31-32: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.“ (The sheep go into heaven, and the goats are sent into hell.)
Now, the Judgement.
Verse 11 – John sees God on His throne, “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.” Daniel 12 also records this: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
First, “Death and Hades.”
This “Hades” is a Greek word. The Hebrew word is “Sheol”. In modern English, we sometimes translate “Hades” as “Hell”, but it’s not the same thing. Hades / Sheol is more of a “holding cell” for souls before this final judgement. Jesus described it when He told about The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. If you read it, you’ll notice that Jesus didn’t say that it was a parable. He didn’t preface it the way He prefaced His parables (the Kingdom of Heaven is like or as…) This is Jesus telling history. And we learn here that there are two “areas” of Hades / Sheol, one of patient comfort for those who died looking forward to Christ, and one of torment for those died in their sins.
As of right now (2022), no one we know of is in the Lake of Fire… why? Because according to Revelation 19:20, the first three in it are the anti-Christ, the False Prophet, and Satan. Psalm 16:10 also speaks of “Sheol”. Same with 1 Samuel 28: (Here, the prophet Samuel dies, and King Saul goes to a medium / fortune teller and asks her to contact the prophet Samuel from beyond the grave. She agrees, and when Samuel “appears”, the first thing he says is to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” He then prophesies how/when Saul will die, which happens exactly as described.)
Second, the “books.”
It seems that these “books” are records of everyone’s deeds. And if you think anything is hidden from God, Luke 12:6-8 “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Lovingly, the verse continues…) “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
As for “The Book of Life”… if your name was ever written in any book, you want it to be written here. Jesus says so Himself. After He sent out His disciples, they came back amazed at the miracles they had the power to perform. Luke 10:19-20: “Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Even in Revelation (3:5): “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” And chapter 13, verse 8, speaking of those who took the mark of the beast: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
Third, “The Judgment.”
From other Books of the Bible, it seems that punishment is metered out based on how much exposure to God’s message of salvation they’ve received. Luke 10: During Jesus’s ministry, He rebukes three cities who have rejected Him in-person: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. (“For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”) Seven-hundred years later, a single earthquake leveled all three of those cities.
But wait a minute, wait a minute… I thought God would always protect His faithful from His wrath and from His judgment. What happens to the Christians?
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10: “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”
Remember Chapter 5? Christians are already in Heaven with Jesus. 2 Corinthians 5:8: “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”
What about those who have never heard of Jesus? (That seems to be a major sticking point with a lot of non-Christians and even some kind-hearted Christians, too.) What if someone living on a remote island never had the opportunity to believe in Jesus, because they simply never heard of Him? It doesn’t seem fair that the person would be condemned out of ignorance, right? Romans 2:14-16: “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”
Translation: for those who have never heard the Good News that Jesus died for their sins so they don’t have to pay the price themselves, God will judge them on how well they adhered to their consciences. (Think about that for a minute: having your conscience testify in court… either on your behalf, or against you. How would it go? Mine would be pretty mixed – sometimes good, sometimes not. Personally, I can’t say that “I always did what I thought was right.” Sometimes, far from it.)
Okay, but what about the “good” people who died before Jesus was born? Hebrews 11:13: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” In other words, they rested in Sheol until Jesus came to Earth, died, and made a way for them to be joined with God in Heaven.
For what my opinion is worth, that all seems pretty fair to me. No, more than fair – generous, really. Gracious.
Then, with every soul judged, verses 14-15 “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
This “Death” that gets thrown into the lake of fire is referred to by singular, masculine pronouns: “him”. And it seems to be the same “Death” that went forth on a pale horse from Revelation 6 as the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse.
This “lake of fire” in the Bible is what we consider “Hell”. Why was it created? Simple, Matthew 25:41 says it was “…prepared for the devil and his angels.” We know that the devil and all the angels had access to God’s presence; they could see just how good He is. And when they made the decision to turn away from that much goodness / light / love, God prepared a place for them to go where the punishment fit the crime. And for those of us, who also choose to reject God’s loving path to salvation, we share in the “reward” that the devil and his angels received for making the same decision.
As for “the second death”. There’s a Church saying, “born twice, die once. Born once, die twice.” We were all born once – naturally, by way of our mothers. For those who were “born again,” spiritually, through faith in Jesus Christ, we only need to die physically. After that, we live forever. But, for those who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – those who were only “born” once – they die physically, and then they’re shut out of Heaven and the promise of eternal life.
Chapters 21 and 22, the last books of the Bible.
John sees what comes next:
“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Sounds beautiful, right? As I learned more about it, it seemed even better…
First, the Greek word used here for “new” refers to “something made from nothing.” It’s the same word used in Genesis to describe Creation. It’s different from the word used to describe “fashioning something,” as in “to fashion something out of clay.” The part about “no more sea” kind of implies “no more oxygen.” And why not? Remember in Genesis 2:7 when God “…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being”? Now, man is living with God, and without need of any other life “source”. And with no more sea, people are no longer divided from each other.
John also receives the dimensions of the New Jerusalem – a cube, 1,400 miles on each side. For reference, here’s what it would look like with the current Jerusalem at the center:
or if you don’t know the Middle East very well.
FYI, the moon is about 2,100 miles in diameter, so about 2/3 that size.
Second, the Tabernacle. Exodus 26 lays out God’s instructions for how to build the Tabernacle that Moses and the Israelites would carry through the desert and eventually into Jerusalem. Two notes: First, the base was made of silver – the biblical metal of redemption. Thirty pieces of silver was the price to buy a slave’s freedom back then, and it was also the price paid to start the process by which Jesus bought our freedom. Second, the tent was to be covered in “ram skins dyed red”. Remember when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac?
When Isaac asked about what would be sacrificed, Abraham said, “God will provide himself a lamb…” And after Abraham had raised the knife – and was stopped by the angel – Abraham saw a ram caught by his horns in a thicket, and he sacrificed the ram in place of his son. Seven-hundred years later, once again, ram skin is used to mark the place of God providing “himself a lamb for sacrifice”. And dyed red, too, the color of blood. So the Tabernacle, where the glory of God dwelt, was covered in “skin”… just like Jesus when He walked on Earth.
In other words, in God’s design of the Tabernacle, shared with Moses in 1300 BC, God affirms His message from Abraham through Revelation, of bringing people back to Himself, built on redemption, and brought about by God “putting on” human-ness.
Again, for a book written over 1,400 years, by 40 different people, across 3 continents… it is one consistent voice and story.
Finally, “He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people…”
Again, look back to Genesis. Chapter 3, verse 8: Adam and Eve “…heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” and just as it was in the beginning, people and God will be able to walk together.
You know, I think about what this would have been like, and what it will be like someday for us. The closest thing I can imagine is how my children used to sleep on me when they were babies. After feeding them, I’d hold them against my chest, drape a blanket over their shoulders, and sing to them, rocking them gently asleep. And usually, whatever stage of infant-rage they were in beforehand, gradually, all of it melted away. Whether consciously or not, they became aware that they were protected. They were satisfied. They were comfortable. And all the stress that they had been fighting against… it was all, just, gone. Replaced by being lovingly held.
With all our daily struggles and the complexity of our adult lives, a simple hug just doesn’t have the same effect on us now, but, in some way, when we get to Heaven, I imagine the feeling being similar to how my kids would feel snuggled up on one of the few people who could just somehow make everything okay.
My favorite verse in Revelation, though, and one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible is Revelation 21:6: “And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.’”
It is done.
After thousands of years of war, violence, sickness, loss, death, mourning, hurt… the world now looks the way God originally intended – just He and us, walking through a garden together, and enjoying the cool of the day. Just being together.
You kinda have to wonder… “why go through all that trouble? Why do it this way?”
Adam and Eve had an “innocent” love of God – they didn’t know sin. But now, after humanity fell – and was redeemed by God – we have a much deeper appreciation for how much He actually loves us.
Before God said, “Let there be light”, before He ever blew that first breath into Adam, He knew exactly what it would take to get “people” back into fellowship with Him. And somehow, in His infinite wisdom, He knew that it’d be worth it.
And as for the “water of life freely” given?
Remember Jesus and the woman at the well? John 4:13-14: “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’”
Or Jesus in the Temple? John 7:37 “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
It’s the same life-giving water, freely given for all to drink, and flowing from God.
And so finally, John sees the new Jerusalem, “descending out of heaven from God”. And John, doing his best to articulate what he sees, describes it as a city made of light, clear as crystal and illuminated by God’s glory. The walls of the city, John says, were like precious stones. You can read his description here.
I read his description to mean that, paradoxically, you can see through the city, but you can also see the city itself. I imagine it will be like being inside a rainbow or the northern lights, or one of the beautiful dust clouds captured by the Hubble telescope. Except more brilliant, and filled with a warm radiance you can feel.
And because the sun, earth, and moon have burned away, God’s glory is the only light source needed. Isaiah 60:19-20 “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.”
So with the sun, earth, and moon gone, time itself will stop. Again, look back at Genesis, 1:14 “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years…’”
God created the solar system to mark time. Why? Because “prophecy” is God’s signature on the Bible. God knows the future better than we know the past, and “time” is what distinguishes “God’s prophetic word” from “someone’s random guess”. It’s how we can know that God is speaking to us through the Bible, and how we know His word is actually His word. With “everyone” joined with God in Heaven, there’s no more need of prophecy, and no more need of time.
John sees the New Jerusalem with 12 gates, each one named after a tribe of Israel. Why?
John 4:22: When Jesus is speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, He says, “…salvation is of the Jews.” It was through the Jews that God redeemed the world, and it’s through the gates named after the tribes of Israel that souls enter Heaven.
Verse 14: “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (I wonder what John thought, seeing his own name on a foundation stone of Heaven… how do you tell your friends that?)
So, the city was made of what we deem valuable: precious metals and jewels. But to God, those things are asphalt and sheetrock. Building materials. So then, question: what is valuable – to God – in a place made of valuables? Answer: you.
Matthew 13:45-46: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Jesus was talking about the souls in the world – your soul, my soul, everyone’s soul – and He was willing to trade everything to be closer to us.
There was “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
Everyone retains their national identity, and all “wounds” or offenses that occurred between them are healed. Notice that the streets don’t have names. Seems like if a man were writing this by his own accord, he’d have named the streets. (By the way, I don’t know what/why/how they’re still counting “months” with no sun or moon. It’s a good question to ask in Heaven.)
The “Tree of Life”
Again, back to Genesis. 3:22: Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, become corrupted, and God had already metered out punishment. “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ – therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.”
If God had left Adam and Even in the Garden, and they had eaten from the Tree of Life, they would never had died, and they would have lived in their sin forever, eternally separated from God. If you notice that “dash” in the verse above… God doesn’t even want to finish the thought. That’s how much He loves you – He doesn’t even want to think about being separated from you forever. But now, after Jesus’s redeeming work, that’s not an issue; we can stay near to the Father forever.
Then, the angel showing all this to John said to him Verse 10, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.” Translation: tell everyone about this.
The angel went on, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” This is not a free pass – this means that, after reading this book, if someone’s heart isn’t moved, nothing will move them. But if they’re good, and their heart is open, this should be encouragement to continue.
Then, the second blessing in this book:
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.” The word “dogs” here is an epithet from the Hebrew word qadesh, “one practicing sodomy and prostitution in religious rituals”.
So the Bible’s clear that there are people who don’t get into Heaven… but the Bible’s also clear that’s not what God wants. Verse 17: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
So for anyone who loves and practices a lie, and idolaters, any murderers, any sexually immoral, or sorcerers, or harlots, or perverted sons, God wants you to want Him in your life, so he can make you perfect in His eyes, and spend eternity enjoying Life with you.
Second-to-Last message, Verse 18-19: “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” So don’t take my word for it – go read the Bible for yourself.
Last message, Verse 20-21: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
John just witnessed the absolute worst things to ever land on humanity. He watched how God unfolded all of it, and what lies waiting at the end. His response? “Come quickly, Lord. Let’s get this started – so we can get through it – and be with You.”
A big part of me feels the same way, but I know there are a lot of things left for us to do on this Earth. While we’re all working through them, in the back of my mind, I’ll be dreaming about walking through the garden in the cool of the day, just talking with God. I hope to see you there.