Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 20:4-6

Revelation 20:4-6

Then I saw thrones and seated on them were those who had been given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. These had not worshiped the beast or his image and had refused to receive his mark on their forehead or hand. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.
(NET Bible)

A rough sketch of the Millennium

It only takes a glance at the face of a child, crushed by finishing second, to know that our culture is cruel for insisting that first place is all that matters. At times there is more discussion going on about how to determine the best college football team than there is to figure out how to feed those going hungry. That is a measure with our obsession to be first.

Fortunately for us, the one time it is essential to be first — taking part in the first resurrection — is within the reach of anyone. It requires giving your life to Jesus. Finishing second is for those who prefer an eternity of suffering. Will you be among the first to rise?

Revelation 20:4 is an enigma, and other parts of the Bible must come to the interpreters rescue. In particular, Jesus has promised that the twelve apostles will judge Israel in the kingdom while sitting on thrones (Luke 22:30). That may partly explain who are those who had been given authority to judge (20:4).

Before you get to thinking that you will spend the Millennium at the French Riviera, consider that Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 6:2a that Christians will also be involved in judging the world. Besides, the Riviera probably falls with Babylon. :)

Consider too that the camp of the saints (20:9) should reasonably include all who take part in the first resurrection. Accordingly, Grant Osborne says, All the saints — those persevering during the OT, NT, church age, and tribulation periods — will be present during this final period of history.[1]

The rule of all the saints with Christ during the Millennium requires that the faithful dead must be resurrected. Revelation 20:5 calls this the first resurrection. It adds that the rest of the dead — who by elimination must be the unbelieving dead — will not rise until the end of the Millennium. Osborne[2] explains that for unbelievers who die, the next conscious thought will be when they face Gods judgment at the great white throne (20:11-15). Craig Keener[3] points out that the resurrection to damnation is so horrible that it is given the name second death (20:6; 20:14) rather than second resurrection. That is a somber thought indeed.

When discussing the honor and blessing due those who take part in the first resurrection, John explains three advantages (20:6): (1) the second death cannot touch them; (2) they will represent God and Christ to the people as priests; and (3) they will rule with Christ for a thousand years. I plan to ask for Bariloche (Argentina) and Mount Hood (Oregon), so, hands off! [Both feature mountains and lakes, and God made them beautiful.]


Of course, the world will offer you many alleged ways to be first, and the Scriptures support the idea that sin may be pleasurable for a time (Heb. 11:25). The problem with that path is that it ends with the second death rather than the first resurrection. That is not acceptable!

When Jesus was executed as a capital criminal, it appeared that he was anything but first. But Paul explains:

As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11)

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 705.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 708.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 467.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 19:17-21

Revelation 19:17-21

Then I saw one angel standing in the sun, and he shouted in a loud voice to all the birds flying high in the sky: Come, gather around for the great banquet of God, 18 to eat your fill of the flesh of kings, the flesh of generals, the flesh of powerful people, the flesh of horses and those who ride them, and the flesh of all people, both free and slave, and small and great!
19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. 20 Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. 21 The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh.
(NET Bible)

Shock of battle

These days they call it talking trash to the other team. You see this behavior a lot when NFL teams clash, especially if they hate each other. But trash-talk is not new; the OT records an Israelite king giving some good advice: The one who puts on his battle gear should not boast like one who is taking it off (1 Kings 20:11). It is not time to brag until you win!

If someone goes to war with Jesus, when the battle is done, who do you think will be taking off their battle gear?

During the sixth bowl judgment, Satan, the beast and the false prophet sent demonic spirits to summon the kings of the earth for the final battle at Armageddon (16:13-16). The time has come!

The whole book of Revelation has led up to the Battle of Armageddon, when Jesus returns with his army from heaven and finds the worlds might assembled against him. But all ? except for Jesus ? are in for a shock. First, we are shocked, and Grant Osborne explains why: There is no battle (Rev. 19:20). It seems that when the sword comes from the Lords mouth (19:15), the battle is over instantly.[1]

Second, the powerful, proud rulers of the world and their military forces are shocked to find themselves suddenly dead and awaiting final judgment. They cannot even resist the army of ravenous birds, much less Jesus the All-Powerful!

Revelation 19 contains two great banquets held by the Lamb: the first is his wedding celebration for those committed to him (19:9), and the second is the feast for the vultures who eat the dead flesh of the Lambs enemies after Armageddon (19:21). The righteous eat, and the wicked are eaten.

But the fate of the beast and the false prophet, who had deceived and ruined so many, was not to die. They were first taken and then thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur (19:20). The word alive receives great stress: Alive, the two were thrown into the lake of fire burning with sulfur (my translation of 19:20b). The implication is one of conscious punishment.[2]

The true Jesus

Perhaps you have heard of the Charles Wesley hymn titled Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild. Theological liberalism takes that title as a summary of who Jesus truly is. To them God is love and only love. But Jesus-the-divine-warrior shows he is also holy and just; Jesus is fully willing to judge rebellion decisively. The beast will live in fire as will all those who give him allegiance.

But for those who give their allegiance to him, Jesus has these words: My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. (John 10:27-28).

If you have given your life to Jesus, you need not feel anxious about what he will do!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 689.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 690.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 14:6–10

Revelation 14:6–10
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, and he had an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth– to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He declared in a loud voice: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has arrived, and worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water!”
8 A second angel followed the first, declaring: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city! She made all the nations drink of the wine of her immoral passion.”
9 A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, 10 that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb.”
(NET Bible)

The Tale of Two Cities

Revelation 14 reminds us not to become victims of divided interests. We cannot serve both God and the things offered by this world. Those who try to have it both ways always find in the end that the powerful tug of sexual immorality, power and wealth are too great to resist.

And we all know how that works out, do we not?

If Revelation 13 presented the conquest of the saints, Revelation 14 shows that the beast’s victory will not last. Revelation 14 begins the “Tale of Two Cities,” a contrast between the city of God (Zion, 14:1) and the city of the world (Babylon, 14:8).

This helps explain the otherwise difficult 14:4, which says of the 144,000 that they “have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.” That is a figurative statement, which Craig Keener explains by saying: “These 144,000 have refused to commit immorality with Babylon, the prostitute (cf. 18:3). The symbolism thus makes a strong point: Christians must be pure and faithful to Christ if they wish to be prepared for and engage in the Lamb’s holy war. Unlike the world (13:17), believers cannot indulge in divided interests.”[1]

Revelation 14:6 marks a signal moment in human history: the very last offer of the gospel to lost humanity. Grant Osborne says: “Everywhere that [Greek] euangelion [“gospel”] is found in the NT, it implies the gracious offer of salvation.”[2] When you consider how the people dwelling on the earth have helped the beast kill Christians, and probably Jews as well, this final extension of grace speaks of God’s preference for mercy over judgment (James 2:13).

A second angel follows (14:8) with a momentous announcement: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city!” The angel speaks of a future event (see 16:19 and 18:2–4) as if it had already taken place. God’s promised future actions are so certain that they may be stated in the same manner as completed history!

Concerning the name Babylon, Keener informs us:

There can be no question that this text [14:8] implies especially Rome. Early Jews often used Babylon as a code name for Rome, as did early Christians (1 Peter 5:13). Such allusions made sense; as Israel once experienced exile under the evil empire Babylon, now they are experiencing the captivity of a new evil empire in Rome. Both Babylon and Rome destroyed the temple.[3]

Both Babylon and Rome were known for three things that resonate with the end of history: power, wealth and sexual depravity (Isa. 13:19–22; 14:20–23; Jer. 25:12–14; 50:35–40; 51:24–26.). The added metaphor in 14:8 of drinking someone’s wine means to participate in their lifestyle. Like Babylon and Rome, the beast’s empire will force others to participate in “the wine of her passionate immorality” (BDAG-3, the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek).

A third angel ( 14:9–11) warns the world that those who have a taste for the beast’s wine will “also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath” (14:10). Keener explains: “Ancients normally diluted wine with two parts water to every part wine, except when they wished to get drunk. But God will administer this wine of his anger ‘full strength’ (14:10).”[4] Those who drink with the beast will be made sloshing drunk with the wine of God’s wrath!

The final interpretation-issues for chapter 14 involve 14:14–20. The key issue is to determine the nature of the two harvests (14:16 and 14:19). For brevity, I will give my conclusions. Osborne says, “It is likely that 14:15 describes the harvest of the redeemed and 14:17–20 of the unsaved.”[5] Presumably the redeemed are those who responded to the final offer of grace (14:6–7).

Through an angel, God speaks from the temple to Christ, who reaps the redeemed before the harvest of others for the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). God makes no apology for dealing finally and effectively with the wicked rebels who refuse his mercy (14:17–20).

The output of the great winepress will be blood (14:20) — a very great deal of blood!

Two roads and a winepress

The discerning reader will realize that in the end times there will be no neutral parties. There will be those who are marked as the beast’s own and those who belong to the Lamb, who are mostly killed for their faith. The wide road that leads to destruction will have plenty of worldly reward, while the narrow way that leads to life “requires the steadfast endurance of the saints” (14:12).

Did I mention that the wide road leads to a great winepress?

Craig Keener, whose insights we frequently enjoy, says that many today try to avoid scaring people into the kingdom. Then he reveals that as a young atheist he decided the doctrine of hell made the stakes too high to ignore. He gave his life to Christ and has no regrets. [6]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 371.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 535.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 373.

[4] Keener, Revelation, 374.

[5] Osborne, Revelation, 552.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 382.