PMT 2014-106 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
John’s stating that these nations are in the “four corners of the earth” is a Semitism for the far reaches of the earth, represented by the four cardinal directions (Rev 20:8; 21:13; cp. Ge 28:14; Dt 3:27; Ps 107:3; Isa 11:11-12; Jer 49:36). Here he mentions “nations,” which shows that tes ges here is not “the Land” of Israel (as commonly in Rev), but the broader world.
We should understand that “after the Thousand years the symbols become even simpler and broader. They are in the far future now, and St. John deals only with gigantic general principles” (Carrington, The Meaning of Revelation, 325). “This shows that the very distant future is designed to be merely glanced at by the writer. So it is with the Hebrew prophets. But here, there is a special reason for brevity. The main object of writing the book is already accomplished, for substance. Christians have been consoled by assurances, that all the enemies with whom the church was then conflicting, would surely be overthrown. . . . [So that] mere touches and glances are all which it exhibits, or which were intended to be exhibited” (Stuart, Apocalypse, 2:354).
We may surmise Christianity’s extension throughout the world not only from the eschatological evidence throughout Scripture (e.g., Ps 22:27; 72:8–11; Isa 2:2–4; Mt 13:31–33; Jn 3:17; 12:31–32), but also from John’s local context. Christianity’s first two mortal enemies (beast and false prophet) are defeated by Christ at AD 70 (Rev 19:11–21; cp. 3:9) at which time also their ultimate enemy (Satan) is bound (Rev 20:2–3). Then immediately thereafter we see Christ and the martyrs enthroned in triumph, resulting in the thousand year kingdom (Rev 20:4).
Yet many in the world are only culturally Christianized rather than truly committed. They are the tares among the wheat left until the final harvest (Mt 13:25–30). These become the targets of Satan’s deceptive power so that he might draw them out in seeking to overthrow the dominant Christian influence. So Satan deigns to gather them together for the war (Rev20:8b). This mobilization to war involves apostasy from within the culturally-Christianized world. John’s reference to “the” war [ton polemon] is to the unique, world-ending events preceding the Second Advent of Christ.
John declares that the number of them is like the sand of the seashore (Rev20:8c). This hyperbolic statement is a common ancient image that the Bible uses of large-scale armies in (Jos 11:4; Jdg 7:12; 1Sa 13:5; 2Sa 17:11), various local populations (1Ki 4:20; Isa 10:22; 48:19; Jer 15:8; 33:22; Hos 1:10), the patriarchs’ offspring (Ge 22:17; 32:12), and so forth.
In fact, the 1Sa 13:5 reference specifically mentions only 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen accompanying Philistia’s army. In 2Sa 17:11 the writer is referring to early Israel’s own army, which could hardly approach this enormous number literally. In Jer 15:8 God speaks against Jerusalem warning that “their widows will be more numerous before Me / Than the sand of the seas” (Jer 15:8a).
Now this vast army gathers against Christ’s kingdom (Rev 20:4–6) as they seek to destroy it: they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city (Rev 20:9a). John shifts his tenses from the future (Rev 20:7–8) to the past (aorist), which is not his first unexpected tense shifting. The use of the past tense is a common literary tool that “increases the assertion of certainty” (Stuart, Apocalypse, 2:369).
Here several phrases highlight Satan’s attack upon the end-time Church, which John will soon to cast in his drama as the New Jerusalem. The phrases suggesting Jerusalem are: (1) “came up”; (2) “the earth [Land]”; (3) “camp of the saints”; and (4) “the beloved city.” I will explain the significance of these four phrases in a separate blog. These images are anticipatory at this stage; the grand image of the New Jerusalem will come to full expression in Rev 21–22. At the beginning of the 1000 year reign in the first century, this New Jerusalem supplants the historical Jerusalem of old covenant Israel, which God finally divorces and judges in AD 70. It grows as a mustard seed and penetrates as leaven over the long interim following its appearance. It represents true Jews, contrary to the claims of racial Israel (2:9; 3:9; cp. Ro 2:28–29; Gal 6:16; Php 3:3).