Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 38 - Visions 3, 4: The Powers Of Evil (19:19-20:3)

There is something grotesquely familiar about the main events in this next vision. The dragon is brought to naught and buried in the abyss, where he is chained and sealed. Nevertheless, after a time he comes forth again and manifests himself to his disciples who are as the sand of the sea for multitude! But there are, happily, significant differences - it is not his disciples who are seen enthroned and blessed, neither does he ascend up to heaven; instead, he is cast into a Gehenna of fire.

In Revelation 12 the prototype of this dragon is fairly evidently the opposition of pagan Rome to the gospel (the Apocalypse was itself revealed at a time when Rome was persecuting the Truth of Christ). In the Last Days the counterpart to this great antagonist is probably scientific rationalism, which dominates human thought and activity today as much as the power of Rome ever did. It is the pagan religion of the Twentieth Century, making unlimited claims, working all kinds of signs and lying wonders, accepted in blind faith by millions, who now begin to rejoice in its promises of pie in the sky when this world is dead.

This wretched philosophy will receive a set-back at the coming of the Lord, which may at first seem like its final annihilation. The return from heaven of one whose name is called “The Word of God” will be the conclusive answer to the derisive question which the Serpent has put so confidently ever since Eden: “Yea, hath God said?” The fact of the existence of an Almighty God who has been ceaselessly active through all human history will be vindicated by the dramatic events in which His Son is manifest to the world. Satan’s bigoted anti-God activities will be chained, and those who now set their seal to the fact that God is true (John 3:33) will rejoice in the restraint put upon God-dishonouring thought and activity.


The heavenly kingdom, which now takes over the realm of the Serpent, is called in Revelation, The Thousand Years. This phrase has been almost universally read with a dogmatic literalism which is somewhat surprising in a community which has just as dogmatically insisted that the Book of Revelation is given in a multiplicity of signs and symbols requiring to be given a proper Biblical interpretation. Occasionally the question has been heard: “If prophetic periods in the Bible have to be interpreted on the basis of a day representing a year, why is it that the Thousand Years is given such a literal meaning?” But no answer to this inconsistency is ever supplied. Perhaps the idea of a Messianic reign of 360,000 years is deemed to be self-confuting.

More positively, the argument from the symbolism of the Genesis week of Creation is considered adequate support: Six thousand years of the rule of man, to be followed by a thousand years of rule by God’s Messiah. Quite apart from the fact that the most conservative archeologists are convinced that Adam was created more than six thousand years ago, there is something a trifle unsatisfactory about this analogy with Genesis 1. Is not the correspondence between the two ideas somewhat thin?


A more probable and more satisfying development of this idea of a week of Creation emphasizes the Covenants of God rather than a rigid chronological time-table. To the Almighty people are more important than calendars. Certainly it is remarkable that God’s Covenants of Promise mark off human history into six epochs:

1. Adam to Noah.

2. Noah to Abraham.

3. Abraham to Moses.

4. Moses to David.

5. David to Jesus.

6. Jesus to Christ (the Second Coming).

The Kingdom now comes in as the appropriate climax of the sequence.

7. Christ to God (1 Corinthians 15: 28).

The symbolism of a Thousand Years now takes on a special appropriateness. The Revelation is very largely expressed in terms of the symbolism of the sanctuary. All the visions introducing the seven-fold sections and much else besides have this basis. In harmony with this the thousand suggests a link with 10 x 10 x 10 cubits, the dimensions of the Holy of Holies, which are again alluded to in the description of the new Jerusalem: “The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal” (21:16).

Considerations such as these suggest that the “Millenium” of Revelation 20 is an apocalyptic phrase for the Kingdom, rather than a hard-and-fast chronological period[78] of precisely one thousand years. At first it will be a Holy Kingdom in a world not fully consecrated.

Another detail suggesting the same conclusion is the expression: “they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years”. It is understandable that “they lived” should be a Greek aorist, for this phrase indicates the instantaneous gift of immortality. But the verb “reigned” also is in aorist tense where the continuous form of the verb would surely be expected if emphasis on the long duration of the Millenium was intended. Here the meaning appears to be: “they were made immortal, and became kings to reign in the kingdom.”


For the sake of continuity, it is desirable to resume this exposition with a consideration here of the ultimate fate of the Dragon and his allies (20:7-10). The section that follows is reprinted from Chapter 13 of “The Last Days” (by this writer)

At the end of the millenial reign of Christ there will be a mighty rebellion against his authority. Such a conclusion seems to be perfectly clear and obvious from either a casual or a careful reading of Revelation 20. And for that reason in the minds of many it has taken on something of the character of a “First Principle” of the Faith.

Nevertheless there are big difficulties about such a conception. For instance:

The prophecies of lasting peace in the kingdom of Christ are quite explicit: “they shall learn war no more”.

Also, there is to be lasting godliness: “At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart” (Jeremiah 3: 17). “Violence shall no more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders” (Isaiah 60:18). “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).

Rebellion against immortals is so palpably silly. By comparison modern nuclear armament, which every Bible reader can see to be a lunatic policy, has calm reason on its side. For, armed with the big bombs, there is always a thin chance that you will devastate the other half of the world before it does the same to you. But for nations, who have had a thousand years’ experience of divine power and immortality, to calculate that their puny strength can win against God presupposes a mental deterioration to kindergarten level during the millenium.

The practical problem insists on obtruding itself - where will these rebel nations get their weapons from? Swords will have all been turned into ploughshares.

“He must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15: 25). The words imply a steady progress towards complete godliness. The idea of a great boil-up of rebellion at the end is surely most difficult to reconcile with this.

A massive rebellion at the end of a thousand years would stamp the reign of Christ as a failure. To think that the end of all his efforts in teaching, guidance, personal influence and benign rule (to say nothing of the immortal aid of men like Moses and Paul) is to be “We will not have this man to reign over us” - this is just incredible to any who settle down to consider it seriously. Jesus accomplished his work as Prophet, Sacrifice and High Priest perfectly. Can anyone be happy that his work as king is to end in failure? - for can a long, long reign which ends in turbulent rebellion be reckoned as a success?

A rebellion such as is described in Revelation 20 does not arise in five minutes. Even a triviality like the Suez episode in 1957 called for weeks of detailed organization, which could not be kept secret from the rest of the world. Nevertheless one is asked to believe that Christ and his immortals will know nothing at all of this mighty Gog-Magog uprising until it bursts upon the world. The only alternative seems to be that, knowing all that is being secretly concocted, they will pretend to ignore it, so that the rebels may be lured to their own destruction. Would any reader be happy about the morality of such a proceeding?

It is sometimes postulated that if the visible authority of Christ were to be withdrawn for a time, then - human nature being what it is - rebellion would be almost certain to ensue within a short while. But does Scripture speak of any such withdrawal of the Messiah’s authority? This seems to have been invented specially to cope with a big difficulty. On the other hand, Isaiah is explicit that “thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light” (60:20).

The coincidence of the names Gog and Magog in Revelation 20 with that of the leader of the great confederacy of Ezekiel 38 does not seem to have been given its proper weight. With any other Bible problem such a coincidence would shout for the two to be equated with each other. Then may it not be said that any interpretation which does line up these two prophecies as having the same fulfilment has a much stronger claim to acceptance than one which severs all connection between them and instead inserts a gap of a thousand years? or is “Interpret Scripture by Scripture” to stand as a sound principle everywhere except in Revelation 20?

Revelation 15 :I R.V. The Vials are described as “the seven plagues which are the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God.” The logical conclusion from these words is that the judgement of the Gog-Magog rebellion takes place before the outpouring of the Vials is concluded.

Has the difficulty ever been properly faced that this amazing rising against all that is good and beneficent is spoken of in Scripture in one place only? Are Christadelphians to copy Mormons, “Jehovah’s Witnesses” and such, in their disreputable habit of confidently basing major beliefs on one passage of Scripture? Have we, the people of the Book, not yet learned the elementary lesson of mistrust in our own powers of Bible interpretation? We believe what we believe about our “First Principles” not because of one text of Scripture but because of the massive over-all testimony of many passages. Shall we then go back on this thoroughly sound attitude here, and this, concerning verses in the Book of Revelation, of all places, the book about the interpretation of which there is less room for dogmatism than any other in the Bible?


To sum up so far, the position regarding the Gog-Magog rebellion of Revelation 20 is this:

On the one hand, the text is explicit that “when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations ... Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle ... and they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city (Jerusalem).” Apparently nothing could be plainer.

Nevertheless, on the other hand, there are copious Scriptures (already quoted) and various associated problems and difficulties, which seem to rule out the possibility of such a rebellion.

Can it be, then, that Scripture contradicts itself? God forbid!


The only alternative, therefore, is that a re-scrutiny of the evidence will reveal reconciliation between the two. A harmonization must be possible. No Bible student worth his salt should be content to affirm adherence to cither view without being prepared to give fair consideration to the other. Such a synthesis, the present writer believes, is possible by a re-interpretation of certain details in Revelation 20.

Familiarity with the phrases of the beloved King James Version often has the effect of hiding from students of Scripture the fact that quite a number of words in the original text have perfectly valid alternatives. “Exhortation” is also “consolation”; “hell” is “the grave”; “spirit” is “breath”; “tribe” in the Old Testament is also “rod”; “boy” is also “servant” (like the French “garçon”). The list is a long one.

In this Gog-Magog passage no less than three of these ambiguities occur. “Earth” may also be “the Land (of Israel)”; this double meaning is common in both Old and New Testaments. And “saints” may be “angels” or “Israel, the holy people”. Also - and most important of all - the word translated “expired,” “finished,” “fulfilled” (vv. 3, 5, 7) may also carry the sense of “accomplished,” “achieved,” thus giving this key phrase the meaning: “when Christ’s millenial kingdom has become fully established”.


This last point is so important that it is not to be accepted without substantial evidence. Here, then, are examples of the use of the same Greek word elsewhere in the New Testament or in the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament:

Luke 22:37: “This that is written must yet be accomplished in me.”

Galatians 5:16: “Walk ye in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” To read “finish” here is to make nonsense of the passage.

James 2:8: “If ye fulfil the royal law ... Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye shall do well.” Again, the substitution of “finish” makes the meaning ludicrous.

Romans 2:27: “And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil (finish?) the law, judge thee who ... dost transgress the law?”

Ruth 3:18: “the man (Boaz) will not be in rest until he have finished (i.e. accomplished, achieved) the thing this day.”

Isaiah 55:11: “My word ... shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish (but not ‘finish’) that which I please.”

Daniel 4:30: “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built” - here “achieved, fully established” are both appropriate; “finished” also is suitable in the sense of “finished building”, but certainly not in the sense of “ended”.

Coming back to Revelation 20, a possible meaning is now seen to be this: The power of Sin is restrained during the period (seven years? forty years?) of the establishment of the Kingdom. Then comes the great Gog-Magog rebellion. Here Revelation 20 is strictly parallel with Psalm 2: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us (cp. the “great chain” of Revelation 20:1) ... Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion (the beloved city - Revelation 20:9).”


Other Psalms besides Psalm 2 suggest submission to Christ only until forces can be rallied to make effective resistance to this resented King of the Jews. “As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey, the strangers shall yield themselves unto me.” Note the margin: “shall yield feigned obedience” (Psalm 18:44, and so also Psalm 66:3 and 81:15).

A further suggestion may be advanced here in harmony with the foregoing. The only passage in the Bible with any sort of resemblance to the words of Revelation 20 about Satan being shut up in the abyss is to be found in Isaiah 24:22, 23. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days, they shall be visited. Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of Hosts shall reign in mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.”

This comes at the end of a vivid prophecy of divine judgement in the Last Days.

If the two passages do actually describe the same thing, then here is further evidence that the Satanic rebellion of Revelation 20 comes immediately after the beginning of the Millenium and not at its close.

Ezekiel 38 also can now be read as the precise equivalent of Revelation 20. In an earlier chapter (Chapter 37) Biblical reasons were advanced for applying the Gog-Magog invasion to a time after the enthronement of the Messiah. The details of Revelation 20:9 correspond exactly with those in Ezekiel: “And they went up on the breadth of the Land (Ezekiel 38:9) and compassed the camp of the saints about (‘my people of Israel dwelling safely’), and the beloved city; and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them” (precisely as in Ezekiel 38:22).

This easy harmonization with other prophetic Scriptures provides additional confirmation of the validity of the interpretation proposed. Also, the picture now presented is entirely according to what might be expected. When a war-shattered world has licked its wounds and begins to realize that the Land of Israel is the headquarters of a new Power which now proclaims the hated Jews as the head of the nations and not the tail, there will be no great lapse of time before the authority of this King of the Jews is challenged. Ezekiel 38 and Revelation 20 tell of the fate of this last attempt, early in Christ’s reign, to proclaim “Glory to Man in the highest”.

[78] This is not to say that the reign of Christ will not last for precisely one thousand years. There may be a literal fulfilment also, but this should not be insisted on.
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