Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #22)
People tend to think of Christ’s Second Coming as the end of something (It is the end of the tribulation period. It is the end of a dispensation. It is the end of human history as we know it.) And, of course, all these things are certainly true. However, I think it is better to think of Christ’s Second Coming as the beginning of something. It is the beginning of Christ’s thousand-year reign upon the earth, the kingdom age. But before the clock can start ticking on those 1,000 years there are some major foundational matters to which Jesus must attend. This post is all about those foundational matters.
#1: Satan and the other fallen angels will be imprisoned in the bottomless pit for the 1,000 years.
In Revelation 20:1-3, immediately following Christ’s victory at the battle of Armageddon, John gives us the record of how a certain angel comes down from heaven. This angel carries two items: a great chain and the key to the bottomless pit. The angel proceeds to lay hold of Satan, bind him with the chain, and cast him into the bottomless pit, where he will remain for the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign upon the earth. You just can’t have a kingdom age if you’ve got a devil still running around loose.
We aren’t given the name of the angel that binds Satan and imprisons him. From everything we know from scripture, the archangel Michael is the only angel that is powerful enough to handle Satan in a one-on-one confrontation (Daniel 10:10-21, Jude verse 9). Perhaps, then, the angel will be Michael. At any rate, whichever angel it is, the angel will have no trouble chaining Satan and imprisoning him.
As we think back over the course of history since Adam and Eve’s sin in Eden, we realize that there has never been even one day – let alone 1,000 years – when Satan was rendered totally inactive. We can’t even imagine living in a world in which he isn’t out there “going to and fro upon the earth” (Job 1:7, Job 2:2) “seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The kingdom age will be such a time.
Someone might ask, “But what about the rest of the fallen angels? Will they be allowed to run amuck in the kingdom age?” No, they won’t. Even though John only mentions Satan being imprisoned in the bottomless pit, the prophet Isaiah fills in the rest of the story. Isaiah chapter 24 deals with end-times events and the day when the Lord will reign in Jerusalem. Verses 21 and 22 of that chapter say:
It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord will punish on high the host of exalted ones, and on the earth the kings of the earth. They will be gathered together as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison; and after many days they will be punished. (N.K.J.V.)
The term “the host of exalted ones” is a reference to angels. Other translations render it “the host of heaven.” It is similar to the term “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” from Ephesians 6:12, which is a definite description of fallen angels.
By the way, Satan and his fellow fallen angels know that this time of their thousand-year imprisonment in the bottomless pit is coming. The proof text on this is a story found in three of the gospels: Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-30. The story tells of a ministry trip that Jesus took to the country of the Gergesenes (Gadarenes). This was a small town located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and the chosen 12 had barely gotten out of their boat and walked ashore when they were met by two exceedingly fierce, demon-possessed men who lived among the tombs of the local cemetery. As the two men attempted to keep Jesus and the apostles from passing by, the demons inside the men spoke directly to Jesus. And what did they say? They asked Him, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have you come to torment us before THE TIME?” Obviously, “the time” they had in mind will be their 1,000 years of imprisonment in the bottomless pit.
As for this pit, it is the same one that is described in Revelation 9:1-12. In a previous post (post #11), I explained that this pit (this “abyss,” this “deep”) is the place the Greek language calls Tartarus. It is a place that God uses exclusively for the imprisonment of fallen angels. No human being – alive or dead, saved or lost – ever has anything to do with this site. Remember that the Antichrist and the False Prophet will be cast alive into the eternal lake of fire following the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:20). That’s a different place altogether from this bottomless pit. It’s Satan and his fellow fallen angels who go into Tartarus, and they will remain in there for the duration of Christ’s thousand-year reign upon the earth. Whereas Satan was given a key in order to unlock the bottomless pit in Revelation 9:1, the unnamed angel of Revelation 20:1 is given a key (perhaps the same one) to lock it.
#2: The bodies of certain groups of believers will be resurrected and glorified.
In Revelation 20:4, John says of the martyred believers from the tribulation period, “Then 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.” Keep in mind now that this is immediately following Christ’s Second Coming, the battle of Armageddon, and the imprisoning of Satan in the bottomless pit. At that moment in the grand scheme of events, John describes these martyrs as “souls,” which indicates that their bodies hadn’t been resurrected and glorified yet.
But then John says of these souls, “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. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4-6). Wow, what just happened? I’ll tell you: Those martyred souls from the tribulation period had their bodies resurrected and glorified to match the type of body that every Christian received at the Rapture.
So, if you are keeping score, this leaves only one group of believers without resurrected, glorified bodies. And who is that group? It’s the believers from the Old Testament, pre-church age. Old Testament believers such as Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Daniel, and Jeremiah are in that group. New Testament, pre-church believers such as John the Baptist are as well. And when will all these believers have their bodies resurrected and glorified to be reunited with the souls that once inhabited them? It will take place at Christ’s Second Coming, probably at the same moment when the tribulation-period martyrs have their bodies resurrected and glorified.
The Revelation doesn’t describe the resurrections of these bodies, but Daniel 12:1-3 does. Those verses speak of a time in Israel’s history when “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.” This is a reference to the tribulation period. The verses also say, “And at that time your (Daniel’s) people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This is a reference to the bodies of the Old Testament believers being resurrected at Christ’s Second Coming. Furthermore, since the bodies of Jesus and Christians experienced glorification upon resurrection, it is logical to conclude that the same will hold true for the bodies of all saved believers from any era. (As for the part about some of the bodies being awakened “to shame and everlasting contempt,” I’ll cover that in a later post.)
#3: The world’s population who lived through the tribulation period will be separated into the camps of “saved” and “lost.”
John doesn’t mention this separating in The Revelation, but Jesus certainly does in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Mark chapter 13, Luke chapter 21). In Matthew 24:20-21, He says, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
Jesus then elaborates on this angelic separating by explaining in Matthew 24:36-44 that some people will be “taken” while others will be “left.” This passage is often mistaken as a reference to the Rapture, but it’s undoubtedly a reference to the angelic dividing just before the beginning of Christ’s thousand-year reign. Let me explain.
Jesus says the time of this separating will be “as the days of Noah” (Matthew 24:36). Okay, let’s think about that for a second. Concerning the flood of Noah, was it better to be left upon the earth or removed from it? It was better to be left upon it. Only eight people (Noah, his wife, their three sons, and the three daughter-in-laws) were left upon the earth (albeit in an ark) so that they could repopulate the human race after the flood. The rest of the world’s inhabitants were removed from the earth by way of dying as a result of the great flood.
In similar fashion, when Christ’s angels go into all the world following the tribulation period, the “elect” (the tribulation-period believers who lived all the way through the seven years) will be allowed to remain upon the earth and be welcomed into the kingdom age. These believers will go into the kingdom age in their normal, earthly bodies (I’ll say more about that in the next post.) On the other hand, the tribulation-period lost unbelievers will be put to death and have their souls banished to hell. In that sense, they will be removed from the earth just as the damned were removed from the earth by way of the great flood.
You say, “Oh, I don’t know about that, Russell. I just don’t believe that Jesus would be cruel enough to actually kill unbelievers to remove them from the earth before the kingdom age begins. The Jesus I know isn’t that ghoulish.” Well, I’m not saying that Jesus will enjoy doing all this killing, but there’s no mistaking the fact that He will do it.
Actually, this shouldn’t surprise us in light of what we learned in the previous post in this series. If you recall, we learned that Christ’s Second Coming will feature a whole lot of killing right from the start. For one thing, He will send out a plague that will gruesomely eat the flesh of the soldiers who are fighting against Jerusalem on that day (Zechariah 14:12-15). For another, He will speak the word (“out of His mouth goes a sharp sword”) and in so doing put to death all the soldiers at the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:11-21).
And these aren’t the only passages that foretell that Jesus will literally kill unbelievers at His Second Coming. Here are five more:
- Isaiah 11:4: “He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.”
- Isaiah 66:15-16: “For behold, the Lord will come with fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the Lord will judge all flesh; and the slain of the Lord shall be many.”
- Isaiah 66:24: “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me…”
- Luke 19:27: “But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.”
- 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9: “…the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
I would also point out that Jesus words in Matthew 24:45-51 plainly teach the slaying of the tribulation period’s lost before the beginning of the thousand-year reign. In those verses, Jesus tells a parable that contrasts a faithful servant with an evil servant. At the end of the parable, the faithful servant is made a ruler, but the evil servant is cut to pieces and sent to a place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” Clearly, this is a reference to the person being put to death and having his/her soul sent to hell.
Furthermore, in Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus gives us the parable of the wheat and the tares. In that parable, the wheat represents the saved who live all the way through the tribulation period, and the tares represent the lost who live all the way through it. In Matthew 13:36-43, Jesus explains the parable. He says, “Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Later on in that same chapter, in Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a dragnet that is cast into the sea and gathers up all kinds of stuff. When the net is full, the fishermen bring it to the shore and begin the process of separating the usable things from the unusable ones. Jesus says, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49-50). Notice that in all of these passages it’s Christ’s angels who separate the tribulation-period survivors into the categories of “saved” and “lost.”.
Now, once we rightly understand the events associated with Christ’s Second Coming, then we can understand that Matthew chapter 25 simply provides us with further description of the events of the last half of chapter 24. For example, in Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus uses the stages of a typical Jewish wedding of the time to illustrate that many Jews will be excluded from the kingdom age. He then follows that illustration with Matthew 25:14-30 and Matthew 25:31-46, two passages that illustrate that many Gentiles will be excluded from the kingdom age.
I’ve always found the Matthew 25:31-46 passage to be especially striking. That passage has Jesus sitting on a throne as all the tribulation-period survivors from all the nations of the world stand before Him. Presumably, this scene will take place after Christ’s angels have completed their work of separation. As a shepherd separates sheep from goats, Jesus will separate the tribulation-period survivors into the categories of “sheep” and “goats.” The sheep will be welcomed into the kingdom age while the goats will “go away into everlasting punishment.” This is the time of judgment that is spoken of in Joel 3:2, where God says, “I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations…” No one knows for sure exactly where this Valley of Jehoshaphat is, but one possibility is that it will be the valley that is created as a result of Jesus touching down upon the Mount of Olives and causing the mountain to split (Zechariah 14:4-5).
Interestingly, according to Christ’s words in the Matthew 25:31-46 passage, the evidence of salvation in the tribulation period will be a believer’s willingness to help others who are in need of food, drink, or clothing. Even though many tribulation-period believers will be beheaded as martyrs (Revelation 20:4), others will escape martyrdom and be forced to live in hiding. These people will refuse to bow down before the image of the Antichrist or take his “mark of the beast” (Revelation 13:11-18). Unfortunately, them not having that mark will disqualify them from being able to buy or sell. This will force them to rely upon each other for the simple necessities of life (food, drink, clothing).
I personally believe the fellowship of believers during those days will revert back to the earliest days of the church when believers “had all things in common” and “divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45). In this way, acts of charity and kindness in the tribulation period will become nothing less than evidences of salvation. After all, the lost people of the tribulation period will be so far gone spiritually that they certainly won’t concern themselves with the welfare of anybody else. So, if any charitable acts get done, it will have to be saved believers who do them. As Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren (tribulation-period believers), you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
And with that I’ll put a period on this particular post. Now that we have covered the foundational matters of Jesus setting up His thousand-year reign, we can move into a description of what life will be like on earth during those years. That description will be the subject of the next post. Hang in there with me. The series is really headed down the home stretch now.