1. And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
3. And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
4. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
5. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
7. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
8. And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
9. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
10. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
11. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
12. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
13. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
In determining the fates of unbelievers, and the benefits of being a believer, we first need to take a closer look at the afterlife. There is a popular image where people are judged upon dying, the good going to Heaven to float on clouds and play harps, and the bad going down to a fiery underworld to be tormented by devils – creatures that look like the Greek god Pan. There are a few passages in scripture that fit somewhat with the popular vision, but most passages point to a future that is very different.
Look at the chapter in Revelations above. We have:
- The Devil does not currently live in the underworld. (He is called the “prince of the of the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:1. He is scheduled to locked in a dark pit at the beginning of the Millenium. The fire comes after the Millenium.
- The Devil does not look like Pan (with horns and cloven hooves). He is described as a dragon and a serpent. Interestingly enough, dragons are featured in both oriental and occidental mythology. In the Middle Ages, and in Tolkien’s works, dragons were malevolent beings. These days, dragons get much better treatment in Western fantasy works, and dragon-themed jewelry is quite popular at craft fairs and New Age venues. In the Far East, dragons are traditionally treated quite favorably. Perhaps Devil worship is more popular than most people realize. This does fit with certain scriptures [Matthew 4:8-9, Ephesians 6:12].
- A first resurrection of those who worshipped not the Beast. Those in this first resurrection rule with Christ for a thousand years. They have already passed judgment.
- The rest of humanity is resurrected after the Millenium. Sometime after this resurrection we have Judgment Day. Some of those judged will be cast into the lake of fire.
- The Devil will also go into this lake of fire to be tormented day and night forever. The Devil is not the ruler of a fiery underworld, but a being scheduled to be a prisoner in a lake of fire in the future.
- Whether the human souls who are cast into the lake are tormented forever or are consumed is unclear. There is this clause “this is the second death” here and elsewhere. Jesus spoke frequently of eternal life as a reward. The opposite of eternal life is death, not eternal torture. Perhaps the human souls are burned up in this fire.
Note that all this occurs on earth, not in Heaven. Heaven does figure into this scenario several ways, however. First, we see our vision of the end times from the perspective of Heaven. There are 24 elders assembled [Revelation 4:4]. Whether they are humans is not stated. Second, those in the first resurrection will assemble in the clouds.
1 Thessalonians 4:
13. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
One can read verse 17 to mean that we shall be with the Lord in Heaven forever, or it can be read to mean we will meet the Lord in Heaven and be with him forever – but not necessarily in Heaven. Given that we have already seen that Jesus is to come down to earth to rule for a thousand years, methinks this assembly is that of assembling an army to conquer the earth.
By the way, for those Christians who expect to be raptured away before the tribulation, consider this description of the same assembly:
1 Corinthians 15:
49. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
50. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
The transformation happens at the last trump. Read the entirety of Revelations and note what happens at each trumpet blast. The rapture does not happen until the last. Those who experience the rapture will have gone through much unpleasantness to be so honored. Christianity is not a free ride.
Note also the word “sleep” in both of these passages. Throughout most of the Bible, the first death is referred to as “sleep.” The scenario described is that when our physical bodies die, we sleep until it is time to be resurrected. There are but a very few passages that can be interpreted otherwise, some of which I will list in an appendix. I will leave it to the reader to get an electronic Bible and search for the occurrences of the word “sleep” and “slept”. This essay is long enough already without my quoting all these references.
36. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption:
Finally, we have this reference to the Heavenly City:
1. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
2. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
3. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
6. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
7. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.
8. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
21. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
22. And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
23. And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
24. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.
25. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.
26. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.
27. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.
The Heavenly City comes down to Earth! Read all of the last two chapters of Revelations for a full description.
Is Judgment Binary?
Earlier, I showed many passages showing that ignorant sinners will receive lesser punishment due to their ignorance. However, lesser is not zero. This seems to imply that there are fates other than eternal life or going into the lake of fire. Do we have room for a multiplicity of fates in the scenario above?
For starters, note that there are two resurrections. Those in the first are to become rulers, and there is no punishment listed for them. So it does appear that at least some in the second resurrection will also survive. So, we have rulers and ruled. But what about the “many stripes” and “few stripes” we read about earlier?
Well, we aren’t given a precise picture of how much time passes between the second resurrection and Judgment Day. There might be substantial time for repentance during this time – or not; it is unclear to me. But suppose there is time for repentance, but that repentance comes at a cost, with a requirement of penance? This would fit much of what we have read so far. It would also fit with:
2 Peter 3:
8. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
9. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
If the Lord wants all to come to repentance, and yet calls few, then we have a contradiction – unless most hear that call after the second resurrection. But note that this is conjecture on my part.
But if all this is so, why repent early? And why are few called at first? An answer can be found by looking at the rewards of those who make it into the Kingdom…