Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 4 – The Conquest of Evil
by Gerald R. Thompson
The Last Hurrah
Rev. 20:7-10 – “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 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. 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, 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.”
We see here in Rev. 20 the final chapter in the narrative of the battle between good and evil, in which God defeats Satan and his followers at every encounter, and now for the last time. Satan, and presumably his demon host, will be let out of the abyss to reap in the final harvest of unbelievers, as it were. They will muster the wicked and surround Jerusalem, a large multitude, but be destroyed by fire sent from heaven. Then Satan will be sent directly to the lake of fire forever.
There are some similarities between this battle and Armageddon, but there are also some key differences and the two battles are not the same. First, there is clearly stated to be a 1,000 year period intervening between them. Second, when mentioning the nations around the world in this final battle, there is no mention of a beast or a beast kingdom. Satan has been out of commission for a thousand years, so there has been no false religion empire exercising authority over the earth in his absence. And he is not going to recreate that kingdom at this time.
Satan will need to go out and deceive the nations personally because prior to his arrival there will be some persistent unbelief, but it will be unorganized. Satan will become the greatest community organizer ever seen, stirring up trouble where there had been none, just to foment a revolution and attempt to overturn the present system (i.e., the kingdom of Christ).
Gog and Magog will be involved again, but as we have seen, Gog is probably Satan, and Magog is probably his followers. There is no necessity that Gog and Magog can appear only once in history, and that the two battles should be collapsed into one, as the amillennialists and postmillennialists believe. Just because God uses fire to destroy the enemy both times doesn’t mean the two battles are the same. Fire is part of God’s nature – it signifies His holiness – what else is He supposed to use to defeat the enemy? Swords?
So Satan is going to rally forces to battle God twice, and lose both times. The first time, Satan will attack Jerusalem because it represents God’s favor, control of the Holy Land, and dominance over the Jews. The second time, he will attack Jerusalem because Jesus will have been visibly reigning there for 1,000 years. Satan will want to unseat Him and take over the worldwide throne Jesus established. In other words, this is Satan’s final grab for power – he has nothing else left.
A common question is why people will willingly revolt after a thousand years of having it so good.
We have already discussed how all believers alive when Jesus returns will be caught up in the air to meet Him and receive immortal bodies. That event essentially inaugurates the Millennium (excepting only that Jesus will first defeat the Antichrist and his armies). Logically then, only unbelieving people will remain to enter the millennial period in their mortal bodies. All future children for 1,000 years will be born to these people. I will examine in more detail who will enter the Millennial kingdom under the heading of The Nature of Kingdom Government, below.
We know that the glory of the Lord and the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth during the Millennium, so undoubtedly a great number of people will turn to Christ at that time. It will also be a time of unparalleled peace, prosperity, and a rest from wickedness. It may, in fact, be the only time in history when a majority of people on the face of the earth are believers – although that is not a given, since in the final battle the number of people siding with Satan will be “like the sand of the sea.” Rev. 20:8. Even in the Millennium, true believers may only be a small minority of the world’s population, a remnant. We just don’t know.
But that is exactly why I believe God wants to use the Millennium to show us that even in that condition, man’s sin nature is sufficient to corrupt huge numbers of people. Even when all the Satanic and demonic forces of this world are held in abeyance, men will still tend towards sin. No one will need to claim, “the devil made me do it.” Men will do evil all by themselves, and then God will show us that we were always that way from the beginning. But for the grace of God, we never had a chance.
We need to keep two key facts in mind regarding the Millennium: 1) For all the peace and prosperity which will abound, the curse of the ground will still remain. The key consequence of which is, all men will still have a sin nature and be born separated from God; and 2) Notwithstanding that Christ will likely impose a worldwide theocracy during the Millennium, God never has, and never will, force people to believe and accept Him. “Free will” will remain unaffected, the key consequence of which is, some – perhaps many – will not accept him.
When you take into account that birth rates and longevity are both likely to go up during that time, there will be a population explosion and even a minority of unbelievers will still number in the many of millions. After all, when the Millennium ends and Satan rallies his forces to battle God in the final war, who will those people be, except unbelievers living in the time of the Millennium?
The people living at the end of the Millennium will have heard, and learned, about Armageddon – but they won’t have lived it, or remember it, personally. To them, it will be what the Crusades are to us – long ago and far away. Somebody else’s war. Although there will probably be plenty of people around to warn them, they will simply not see that they are playing out the same scenario a second time, with the same result.
And why will they rally against God at the end? Because they will have been living under the rule of Christ with a rod of iron, and they’re going to be darn sick and tired of it. Today we complain that evil never relents. You beat back an evil trend (gay marriage, abortion, religious persecution, abridgement of rights, etc.) and you think you’ve done something good when it just comes back again. And in coming back, it is harder, nastier, more militant, pushing the envelope farther out, gaining traction, becoming legitimized, pounding relentlessly.
Imagine, if you will, a world in which that is reversed. Sounds great, right? But one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. For those who do not believe, the overwhelming weight of the rule of iron by Christ will be oppressive. Imagine trying to open a simple little brothel and instead of following all past experience, you get shut down permanently. The prosecution of the wicked will increase, more firmly resisting evil, rooting out its causes, pushing compliance farther and farther, punishing wickedness harder, pounding relentlessly.
For the wicked, there will be no escape from the kingdom of Christ, “the oppressor.” They will see only one way out – and they will make good on it as soon as their leader arrives. And what’s really funny is that since the knowledge of God’s word will cover the earth, everybody will know what is coming. Even the wicked will be familiar with Rev. 20:7-10 which will simply operate to enhance their anticipation of Satan’s release from prison and his “second coming.” They won’t be caught by surprise when it happens – they’ll be counting down the days until he arrives.
Consequently, there is not going to be a shortage of people who Satan will be able to whip into a frenzy to seek revenge against the “tyrant God,” as Satan will spin it, following the Millennium. They will live under the manifold blessings of God in this life for a thousand years, and resent it. Isn’t human nature wonderful?
Great White Throne and The Second Resurrection
Dan. 12:1-4 – “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. … And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Mt 25:31-46 – “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’. … Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ … And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Rev 20:11-15 – “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
After the final battle between Christ and Satan, and all the enemies of God are defeated, there must be a final reckoning going into eternity. But before that can happen, everyone who has ever lived in the history of the world must be raised from the dead in order to stand for judgment, and then sent to either heaven or hell (the lake of fire). This is the second resurrection. How many resurrections are there? There are two. Rev. 20:5-6. No, the Rapture is not a third. We have already covered this.
The second resurrection occurs after the Millennium, and your chances then are – actually, it’s not a matter of chance at all. Your judgment will depend solely on whether you have accepted God’s offer while alive, or rejected it. Thus, everyone – absolutely everyone, without exception, who has died ever, and who did not participate in the First Resurrection, will participate in the second resurrection. Those who died not in Christ from the beginning of the world will be raised to suffer the judgment of the second death, i.e., the lake of fire. Those who died in Christ after the First Resurrection (during the Millennium) will be raised to life eternal, i.e., heaven. Simple.
This final judgment will take place before the Great White Throne. God is seated on the throne, and we are told that earth and sky flee from His presence. This indicates that the throne is in heaven rather than on earth, and/or at the time of judgment the present earth and heavens have already been destroyed in preparation for the new heavens and new earth. Once we reach the white throne judgment, there is no further need of the old earth.
Judgment is rendered according to what is written in books, which I take to mean books of account, for they contain the record of every deed committed by every person. There is no indication how many books are involved, but apparently there is only one book of life. The book of life, in contrast to the others, is not a record book, or book of account, of deeds. All it has in it is a list of names. If your name is on the list, you get a pass and your deeds are not taken into account. I take it to be implicit that the book of life is much smaller than the other books.
And so we have an end times account of the ultimate redemption of the saints purchased by the blood of Jesus.
Notice two things. First, it is a hard thing to understand, but God punishes only for wickedness, not for mere unbelief. Mat. 13:41, 49. God will not answer prayers because of unbelief (Mat. 17:20), and Jesus did not perform miracles because of unbelief (Mat. 13:58). He also chided people for their unbelief (Mk. 16:14), and people will not enter God’s rest because of unbelief (Heb. 3:19). But God does not condemn or punish for unbelief. God condemns and punishes because people are ungodly (i.e., sinners, law-breakers) and unrighteous. Rom. 1:18, 5:6; 2 Pet. 3:7; Jude 15. There’s a difference.
Let me dwell on this point for just a moment, because popular Christian teaching often holds that the “greatest sin” is unbelief, and people will not enter heaven because of unbelief. Not what the scripture says.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. … Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Rom. 5:12-14, 18-19.
Get the point? It was Adam’s sin (so-called original sin, i.e., the Fall) that brought to all mankind death and condemnation. In other words, if I may interpret, a person is not condemned because of anything they did not believe. All people are initially subject to condemnation because they are born separated from God. This separation and the resulting condemnation occur before any person ever makes a conscious or unconscious decision what to believe or not believe. True, you can escape this situation through belief in the Gospel – but unbelief, as such, didn’t put you in that situation to begin with.
Thus, the scripture does not say that the books are a record of who has not believed. The books record who has sinned, and we know from scripture that all have sinned. There are no innocent people in the eyes of God. Everyone is guilty. Even the deeds of the righteous will be written in the books of account – their deeds will merely be ignored.
Second, the book of life does not record the good things anyone has done. This is not a balancing test. God is not going to weigh the good against the bad. Nothing we can do, from God’s perspective, can overcome the sin in our life. I know some believe that from God’s perspective we can do nothing good in the flesh, but that’s not what is going on here. We can do good things, but they can never overcome, erase, cover up, or atone for the sins we have done. So they simply don’t count. The only thing that counts is whether the blood of Jesus covers your sins or not.
The other thing that we learn from the Revelation text is that following the Great White Throne judgment, death and Hades itself are forever abolished. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” (1Co. 15:26) and “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1Co 15:54). As Jesus said in Rev. 1:18, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Rev. 20:14. I will elaborate on this further later.
The Judgment Seat of Christ (“Bema Seat”)
Mat. 12:36-37 – “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Mat. 16:27 – “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
Rom. 14:10, 12 – “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. … So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
2 Cor. 5:10 – “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
1 Pet. 4:5 – “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”
Rev. 11:18 – “The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
The idea of the judgment seat of Christ, a/k/a the Bema Seat, comes from the use of the Greek word Bema in Rom. 14:10 and 2 Cor. 5:10, which is translated as judgment seat. Apparently, the word Bema has two historical contexts. First, it was used to describe the seat of athletic judges at the Isthmian games in Grecian times. Second, it was used to describe the raised platform where a Roman magistrate sat to make pass judgment.
But the concept of the Bema has been transmogrified by some commentators into a so-called doctrine of rewards. Essentially, this doctrine holds that believers in Christ will not appear at the Great White Throne judgment (“GWT”), as it is reserved exclusively for the wicked. However, believers will appear before Christ at a separate judgment (the Bema seat) for the purpose of receiving rewards. These rewards are largely undefined, but they will include crowns, which the recipients will cast at Jesus’ feet upon receiving them. See, Rev. 4:10.
Those who hold to this doctrine emphasize that no punishments will be meted out at the Bema seat, only rewards. These rewards will be based on the righteous deeds (only) of the saints in this life, whereas the judgment of the wicked will be based on their rejection of Christ. The Bema seat will occur either immediately after the Rapture (majority position) or the Second Coming (minority position), but in either event before the Millennium. So essentially, the doctrine of the Bema seat holds there will be two judgments of the dead, not just one.
There are so many obvious holes in this supposed doctrine, I hardly know where to begin. First, let’s start with the most obvious: the Great White Throne judgment is not limited to the wicked only. We have already seen that the Book of Life (in which the names of all believers will be recorded) will be present (and used) at the GWT. There is no reason to have it there, if only the wicked will be there – it is a mere useless surplusage. But consider this: if the Bema seat occurs before the Millennium, when will the people who believe in Christ during the Millennium be judged? Huh? Answer: at the GWT. There is no other option. Yes, believers will be part of the GWT.
Second, scripture never says the wicked will be judged for rejecting Christ, that is, the sin of unbelief. I wish we could get rid of that heretical teaching forever! I have already explained how Satan judges people for unbelief, but God does not. God judges people for sins they have committed – and everyone has. Plus, everyone without exception is born into unbelief – it’s not a choice! And it’s not as if the scripture is ambiguous on this point.
“The dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” Rev. 20:12. “For the Son of Man … will repay each person according to what he has done.” Mat. 16:27. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done …” 2 Cor. 5:10. “For you will render to a man according to his work.” Ps. 62:12. “Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” 1 Cor. 3:13. Are you getting the picture? Judgment will be based on deeds, not belief.
Third, just because different words are used to describe the judgment of the living and the dead by God (Jesus), does not mean they are separate events. What have I consistently said throughout this entire book? There are many names for God and Jesus, but there is only one God, and one Messiah. There are many names for Satan and his chief henchman, but there is only one devil, and one Antichrist. So what if the words Bema seat and Great White Throne are different? That does not mean they are separate events.
Fourth, I think people have an entirely wrong view of crowns as rewards for believers. The scripture speaks of the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8), the crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:4), and the crown of life (Jam. 1:12; Rev. 2:10). I don’t believe any of these are actually physical crowns. A spiritual crown describes an attribute of the person wearing the crown. In other words, in eternity, believers will epitomize righteousness, glory and life. These attributes will “crown” people in the sense of describing what they are like, that is, how God sees them. They are not physical objects.
Granted, Rev. 4:10 describes how the twenty-four elders in heaven will fall down before God and cast their crowns before His throne. But this in no way describes all believers. I take it the twenty-four elders – who I assume are the patriarchs of Israel and the twelve apostles – will have special crowns signifying that they are, in fact, special (i.e., among the twenty-four elders). How this gets interpreted to be a general principle of crown casting is just, well, sloppy interpretation.
In sum, I see no reason why there needs to be two judgments of the living and the dead, instead of one. God is certainly capable of judging everyone at the same time. He won’t get confused, or judge someone the wrong way. All the fundamental assumptions of the doctrine of rewards (as commonly taught) are simply erroneous.
The lake of fire is the final destination for all people who, in the entire history of the world, did not have righteousness imputed to them after the manner of Abraham (prior to the First Advent) or through the ministry of Jesus Christ (after the First Advent). The lake of fire is a place of judgment and torment, and eternal separation from God.
The lake of fire was designed originally for Satan and his demons (Mat. 25:41; Rev. 20:10). The lake of fire will also punish all those whose sins have not been covered by the blood of Christ (Mat. 13:41,50; Rev. 20:11-15; 21:8). The lake of fire is conscious torment, viz., Mat. 13:50 “furnace of fire weeping and gnashing of teeth;” Mark 9:48 “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched; ” and Rev. 14:10 “he will be tormented with fire and brimstone.”
The lake of fire is eternal and irreversible. Rev. 14:11 “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night;” Rev. 20:14 “This is the second death, the lake of fire;” and Rev. 20:15 “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
The lake of fire, like several major prophetic characters and events already mentioned, goes by several names in the Bible. The key names are hell, the lake of fire, the lake of fire and sulphur, and in some translations, Gehenna. Because the word hell tends to be ambiguous – it can be defined as either the grave, or as the eventual lake of fire – I will generally avoid using that term here. For clarity, I will use lake of fire to refer to eternal judgment and punishment – what many people commonly refer to as hell.
Whenever I use the terms Sheol (Hebrew), Hades (Greek), or Death, I am referring to the grave only – the place where the wicked dead await the final judgment. Paradise, on the other hand, is where the righteous dead await the final judgment. The secular (non-biblical) connotation is that the grave is where souls go to await final disposition to either heaven or hell. However, this does not mean that Death and the grave are neutral places in the Bible.
The biblical concept appears to be that when a person dies, their fate is not only immediately determined, but they also enter a place of either rest or torment. Thus, in Lk. 16:23 a man in Hades is said to be in torment. In Lk. 23:43, Jesus tells one of the men crucified along with Him that he will be together in Paradise that same day. Paradise (a/k/a Abraham’s Bosom) is a place of comfort and rest. Lk. 16:22-23.
It tells you something about Greek mythology when you realize the Greeks only had one word for the grave, Hades. To them, Hades was where all the dead went – there was no alternative. Talk about having no hope – to the Greeks, everyone is destined for torment. Only in Christianity do we have an alternative grave, Paradise. Thank God we won’t ever have to visit Hades.
Some people take 2 Cor. 5:6-10 to mean that when a Christian dies (is “absent from the body”) that he immediately goes to heaven (“present with the Lord”). The text does not actually say this, however. It only says that, “while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” The text also says that all men must receive a reward, good or evil, for what was done while alive (“in the body”). But this refers to the judgment seat of Christ which occurs at the end of history, not when every person dies, as we have already seen.
What is absolutely sure is this – when people die, their souls are not in some sort of spiritual limbo, where their eternal destinies are yet to be determined, as though it were an open question at death. In other words, the Bible does not support the concept of Purgatory. I suspect Purgatory was invented by the Roman church as a way to extract money from parishioners to try to bribe an unbelieving relative’s way into heaven. Of course, any such attempt is pointless. A person’s eternal destination is irrevocably fixed at the moment of death.
Properly speaking, Paradise is not the same as heaven. What we call heaven is really just the New Jerusalem which is yet to come down from the sky and sit on the new earth, neither of which has been created yet. Rev. 21:1-3.
Similarly, Sheol and Hades are not the same as the lake of fire. Rev. 20:14 tells us that Death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire – so they cannot be the same thing. I am not sure the lake of fire even exists yet, as the first mention that anyone is actually thrown into the lake of fire is Rev. 19:20, speaking solely of the Antichrist and False Prophet after Armageddon.
Luke 16:26 informs us that there is a great gulf, or chasm, fixed between Paradise and Hades. I suspect this must also be true of heaven and the lake of fire – they won’t be able to see each other or communicate with each other. I used to conceive of this great gulf as mystical, or spiritual, but it is possible that it just means a very great distance. A very great distance measured in astronomical units such as a light year or parsec.
In other words, the lake of fire could be a distant planet – or not – but in any event it will be a real physical place. Every indication in scripture supports this idea. Do you think that the lake of fire is merely a metaphorical concept? Or that God would not really subject people to unrelenting everlasting torment? Then why does the Bible use such specific, vivid language describing the lake of fire? Outer darkness. Everlasting torment. Burning sulphur. Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. If you don’t take these words at face value, I could almost conclude you aren’t taking God seriously.
Heaven, as we call it, will simply be a new earth – a planet. Why not the same for the lake of fire? A planet like Venus, perhaps. A planet located close to a star, full of sulphur, burning with heat, shrouded in clouds resulting in darkness. I don’t know, of course, but it is possible. Heaven is not going to be a place with no floors or ceilings where we just hang suspended in empty space. We are not going to be cruising from galaxy to galaxy. We are going to live on the new earth.
Similarly, the lake of fire is a physical place – just one that can never be left. No one will be able to escape. The inmates of the lake of fire will not be able to break out and travel elsewhere. It is a place of eternal confinement, off by itself away from God and the new earth. Rev. 21:23 says the new creation will not have either sun or moon, but it says nothing about stars or planets. It’s just a thought.
I conceive of the lake of fire as a relatively small, dark, crowded place, where a substantial amount of the torment will come not just from the environment per se, but from the fact that every one will be tormenting his neighbor, and be tormented by them. Imagine a place where it is so crowded people will be tripping over each other everywhere they go.
It will be a place the Bible calls “outer darkness” (Mat. 22:13; 25:30). They can’t even escape each other, must less the place. Always having people in the way, never getting any time or space to oneself, never having a moment alone. As the scripture says, the wicked shall not have any rest (Heb. 3:11, 18; Rev. 14:11).
Constantly hearing people weeping, wailing, gnashing teeth, moaning, groaning and screaming. I can imagine people yelling out, “for cryin’ out loud, just please everybody shut up for a second!” But no, the howling just continues unabated. Not just in the distance, but right next door. It’ll be enough to drive everybody crazy.
And since heaven will be a place of eternal light where there are no sun or moon, there will be no days as such. No nighttime or daytime markers of the passing of time. Well, wouldn’t the lake of fire be the same way (except for the eternal light part)? Dark all the time, no nighttime or daytime markers of the passage of time. No time of rest and no sleep – because sleep would give the ability to escape the din for a while. But there won’t be any escape, not even unconsciousness. Just a constant awareness, a continual immersion, an everlasting baptism in pain and agony with no relief in any sense of the word. Youch! That sounds like hell.
* Ver. 8.0. Copyright © 2013-2020 Gerald R. Thompson. All rights reserved. Used by permission. All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version.