PMT 2014-108 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In Revelation 20:7-9 is often employed against the historical optimism of postmillennialism. However, postmillennialists are very much aware of Revelation 20, and they do not see it as contradicting the postmillennial hope. This is the fourth in a brief series on this passage showing that it does not contravene our historical optimism.
The passage reads:
“When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war; the number of them is like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.”
The surrounding (parembolen) of the “beloved city” (Rev 20:9) by nations drawn from the “four corners of the earth” (20:8) probably mirrors the surrounding of Jerusalem in AD 70.“For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank [parembalousin: paremballo < paremballo] before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side” (Lk 19:43; cp. Lk 21:20).
John is setting the end-time revolt against Christ’s kingdom over against the AD 70 destruction of literal Jerusalem so that he can show a different result: Contrary to first-century Jerusalem’s experience, God defends this “beloved city” containing the “saints,” who are followers of the Lamb. “The spiritual Jerusalem will be surrounded by a greater host, but no eremosis awaits her” (H. B. Swete, Apocalypse 269) as in Lk 21:20: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation [eremosis] is at hand” (cp., Mt 23:38; 24:15//).
Despite all this massive movement against Christ’s kingdom, it ends suddenly: “and fire came down from heaven and devoured them” (Rev 20:9c). The passage reflects Eze 38–39, where Gog and Magog are destroyed by fire (39:6). After the long time (“thousand years”) of Christianity’s dominance and towards the end of history, a great number of people will turn against the worldwide rule of Christ: “At the end of a long age there will be a reaction against the ascendancy of Christianity; it will be assailed by many enemies; but the issue is in the hands of God. The Beloved City, the true Israel, will be saved, and Evil will perish in its own flames” (Carrington, The Meaning of the Millennium, 327).
Though “Ezekiel’s vision is never far below the surface” (Boxall, Revelation, 286), John’s precise fire wording here does not arise from it. The exact phraseology appears in 2Ki 1:10, where Elijah’s fire destroyed the Samaritan soldiers: kai katebe pur ek tou ouranou . . . kai katephagen. But similar wording appears in a more closely related passage: “And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven [pur katabēnai apo tou ouranou] and consume them?’” (Lk 9:54). There our John desires to call down fire from heaven upon disrespectful Samaritans as Christ “resolutely set His face to go up to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51–53). Earlier in Rev 13:13 we see a parody by the Jewish false prophet himself, who called down fire from heaven.
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This fire from heaven appears to represent Christ’s second advent at the end of history, for it is followed by the final judgment (Rev 20:11ff). John rarely mentions Christ’s final coming in Rev because his focus is on near term events. But here this seems to be a quick reference to what Paul speaks about in 2 Th 1:7–9, where “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God” paying them “the penalty of eternal destruction” (cp. 2Pe 3:7; cp. Mt 13:40; 25:41; 2Pe 3:7). As with distantly future events, John does not provide many details (cf. Moses Stuart, Apocalypse, 2:354; Carrington, Meaning, 325). A dramatic image results: “Thus these saints have only to stand still and see the miraculous judgment of God upon their enemies” (Milton Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, 455).