Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. – Revelation 20:6-10
We are nearing the end of the journey here in Revelation and those who have focused on soul strength get to share in the “first resurrection”. These faithful followers will get to be priests of God and Jesus and rule for a thousand years. This seems like a return to the linear time that is part of our earthly existence. It seemed in previous passages that once we joined God we would be in some sense outside of time. I am a bit confused.
Leaving the temporal turbulence for the moment let’s move on and see if later parts of the passage are less confusing. At the end of this strangely specific thousand years Satan will be given free reign on earth to decieve and stir up trouble with two worldly powers Gog and Magog. This would seem to be describing two well equipped superpowers that will be goaded into attacking one another or someone else. These two adversaries have troops as numerous as “sand on the seashore”.
The two superpowers appear to work together to attack the people of God in the “city He loves”. This sounds like Jerusalem, the city of David. God comes to the rescue by raining fire on these attacking armies. The leader of this attack, Satan, is given special “treatment” and is thrown into “the lake of burning sulfur”. Satan and the others who have been causing mayhem and mishaps on earth will be tormented day and night in this place which sounds a lot like Hollywood depictions of hell.
The choice of a lake of burning sulfur is interesting for several reasons: 1) sulfur is a relatively common element that is found in many volcanic terrains and hot springs, where there is perpetual heat and fire; 2) sulfur has a very distinctive look (yellow) and smell (rotten eggs); 3) sulfur is one of the main ingredients in gun powder, arguably one of the most evil inventions of mankind; and 4) sulfur has a relatively low melting temperature (about 235 F).
Choosing a scene of fire and sulfur that is familiar probably makes this imagery more powerful and relatable, especially to anyone who has visited a place of perpetual fire like Yellowstone Park. The color and smell are definitely distinctive and memorable. The fact that sulfur has been used for great evil in the form of gunpowder, taking countless lives in bombs and bullets, only lends a layer of irony to this tale. The melting temp means one can create a lake of sulfur with relatively low temperatures only makes it easier to create this “swimming hole” for Satan and his buddies.
I am struggling to wring any deeper meaning from this passage. Perhaps there isn’t really any deeper meaning except that the Satan’s ultimate reward will come in a common and familiar form. It will be perpetual and the tormenting will come from the very tools he used to wreak havoc on earth.
Prayer: God help us to be confident in our place with You and the consequences that the deceiver will reap in the end.