When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (20:7-10)
Gog and Magog comprise the fourth apocalyptic element in this section. While there are many thoughts about what these represent (when I first learned this, I was taught they were the Soviet Union) John actually defines them in the text: “the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog”. Remembering our numbers, the nations in the “four” corners of the earth means all of the nations of the earth; Gog and Magog means all of the nations of the earth.
Notice here that there are two images that represent God’s judgment: The first is fire from heaven in verse 9 (cf. Ez. 39:6; 2 Kings 1:9-15) and the second is the lake of fire in verse 10 (cf. Rev. 19:20; 21:8). Thus, what we have in this passage is another vision of God’s final judgment. This passage also has a parallel in Ez. 38-39 that we will discuss in another post (The whole section of Rev. 20-22 is parallel with Ez. 37-48).
To sum up verses 7-10, we have a picture of Satan instigating a move of all of the nations of the earth, using the two beasts from Rev. 13 as his allies, against God’s people, the Church throughout this age, and being judged by God in the final judgment. The judgment description is more vivid in the next paragraph:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (20:11-15)
Here is Almighty God in His judgment seat, an image so awesome and terrifying that the earth and the heavens flee from the sight; of course this is a figurative way to stress the fact that nothing and ho one can escape God’s judgment. God calls for the record books, and the books are opened; you just can’t read this without think about Daniel 7:9-10:
“As I looked,
“thrones were set in place,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
and its wheels were all ablaze.
A river of fire was flowing,
coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
and the books were opened
(cf. ps. 56:8; Jer. 22:30; Exra; 15; Esth. 6:1; Mal. 3:16 and from Jewish apocalyptic writings 4 Ezra 6:20; 1 Enoch 90:20; 2 Apoc. Baruch 24:10.
The “Book of Life” represents a record of the names of those who remained faithful to God through Christ and is also mentioned in Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:17. When the great day of judgment comes, if your name is found in the Book of Life, you are “free to go” for that is all the record there will be about you; your sins are long gone. “Hades” is the Greek “place of the dead” that place beyond the River Styx where dead souls were said to go. Every human being who ever lived is present at the judgment, people who are in the Book of Life are excused, and the records of deeds are opened; do you see how this is working? As a follower of Christ, you have had your sins removed completely; they aren’t even in the records anywhere; they are gone as if they never happened…
In the end, even death itself is thrown into the “lake of fire” symbolizing the fact that death itself will be abolished completely. As the chapter closes, we have Satan, the two beasts, everyone who refused to accept God’s grace, death and the place of the dead all in the lake of fire. This is not necessarily to say that they fry for all eternity in torture and torment in burning sulfur, for the lake of fire is a symbol for God’s judgment. What it does mean is that God’s final judgment is FINAL and will never change or be rescinded. My guess is that’s why it’s called the “final” judgment, by the way.
Traditions, teachings and scholars disagree about all of this of course, but my conclusion about the lake of fire and God’s judgment of “Gog and Magog”, the nations of the earth, is that they will cease, terminated forever, and not that God will torture them forever. The reasons are the figurative nature of the passages in which they are mentioned, and the fact that we have just seen that two things are thrown into the lake that are not living things; death and Hades. How does one torture death? How does one burn and torment the place of death? you don’t; it doesn’t even make sense, for you cannot torment eternally an inanimate or conceptual thing (it isn’t really even a “thing”). Thus, by combining the inanimate with the living beings in the lake, it seems clear to me that John isn’t intending us to believe people are literally cooked alive for all eternity.
Next time, we’ll have a look at the New Jerusalem…