In this incredibly rich chapter, John records the sequence of events that conclude history, as we know it. The capture and ultimate abolishment of Satan, the one thousand year kingdom of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of the just and the unjust, and the final great white throne judgment of man, hades, and death.
v.1-3 Then I saw an angel coming 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 cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.
In preparation for the millennial reign of Jesus Christ following Armageddon, John sees an angel lay hold of Satan and cast him into the bottomless pit (see also—Isa.14:15). And there he will remain sealed, shut up, and bound for a thousand years—up to the very end of the millennial reign of Christ on earth.
The purpose for Satan’s abolishment is explained: “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.” In other words, during the full term of Christ’s one thousand year reign on earth, Satan will be in confinement in the bottomless pit without power. And as a result, all the nations of the earth will enter a time of peace and prosperity not known since before the fall of man. “But after these things he must be released for a little while.” That is, after Christ has completed His earthly reign Satan will again be released with an ability to do evil for a short while.
Satan’s four awful names adequately define him.
- The “dragon”. He’s the persecutor of Christ and His people (Rev.12:17)
- That “serpent of old”. The one in the Garden of Eden who tempted Eve (Gen.3:13)
- The “Devil” (“slanderer”). He’s the false accuser of the brethren and the author of lies (Rev.12:10)
- “Satan” (“adversary”). He’s the enemy of God, the murderer of God’s people, and the destroyer of God’s creation
v.4-5 And I saw thrones, and they that sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
These kingly judges seated upon thrones are the saints of Christ. All those who had been redeemed by His blood, resurrected from the grave, and raptured into His presence. These (the saints) will reign as kings and priests with Christ (see—Rev.1:5-6; 5:9-10).
The remainder of the souls John sees is the Tribulation martyrs. Seemingly, in view of the unique circumstances they will suffer and yet maintain a faithful witness for the Lord under the most severe difficulties, they are given special recognition and then deliberately reassured that they, too, will live and reign with Christ throughout the Millennium.
The “rest of the dead” speaks of the unsaved souls imprisoned in Hades who did not take part in the “first resurrection” with the redeemed. These are the men and women who live and die without accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour.
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan.12:2)
The “first resurrection” refers to the resurrection of the redeemed (more below).