Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Dragon Released (20.7–10)


And when the thousand years are complete the satan will be released from his prison. And he will go to deceive the nations in the earth’s four corners, Gog and Magog, to gather them for war. Their number was like the sand of the sea. And they rose over the earth’s surface and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city.

And fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the slanderer, the one who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the wild animal and the false prophet also are. And they will be tortured day and night for ever and ever.


During the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE, the prophet Ezekiel predicted, with a sort of proto-apocalyptic anticipation, that when the Judeans would finally return to their homeland, that the Israelites would be threatened one last time. When the next king in the Davidic dynasty rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple, an army from a distant land would attack, but God himself would intervene, destroying the army with heavenly fire and sending scavenger birds to devour their remains. The author takes up this unfulfilled prophecy and splits it in half, situating some of it in chapter 19 and some later in chapter 20. When the messianic kingdom concludes after one thousand years, the holy community will be attacked by a final army of gentiles serving directly under the satan, but God will assist in destroying his enemies with fire from heaven. The author combines this with his reimagining of the visions from Daniel. In that book, God killed the fourth monster and destroyed its body in a river of fire, then rewarded ‘one like a son of man’ with an eternal kingdom. The vision symbolized the complete dissolution of the Greek hegemony, which would be succeeded by a restored, everlasting Israelite monarchy. In this book, the monster still represents a gentile empire, but now also signifies the arch-evil ruler of that empire, Nero Redux. The wild animal is thrown into the lake of fire still alive, showing that the author not only expects the Roman Empire to fall to the Anointed One, but that Nero would personally suffer eternally. After being released from his thousand-year imprisonment, the satan will receive his final sentence: torture in the lake of fire alongside Nero Redux and all those who allied with him. The language here echoes chapter 14, which featured an unambiguous, emphatic declaration that God’s enemies would be tortured for all eternity. Many apocalyptic texts suggested that sinners would ultimately be annihilated, wiped out of existence in the final judgment, but a few biblical and parabiblical texts did instead promote the idea of eternal torture.



74.14 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the dragon in the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan


27.1 On that day Yhwh with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea.

51.9 Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon?


38.2, 14–16, 22 The word of Yhwh came to me: son of man, set your face towards Gog, of the land of Magog […] Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say to Gog: Thus says the Lord Yhwh: On that day when my people Israel are living securely, you will rouse yourself and come from your place out of the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army; you will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the earth. […] I will pour down torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulphur, upon him and his troops and the many peoples that are with him.

39.6 I will send fire on Magog and on those who live securely in the coastlands; and they shall know that I am the Lord.


14.2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle

14.12 This shall be the plague with which Yhwh will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh shall rot while they are still on their feet; their eyes shall rot in their sockets, and their tongues shall rot in their mouths.

1 Enoch

10.6, 13 And on the day of the great judgment, he will be led away to the burning conflagration. […] Then they will be led away to the fiery abyss, and to the torture, and to the prison where they will be confined for ever

Testament of Judah

25.3 ‘There shall no more be Beliar’s spirit of error, because he will be thrown into eternal fire.’

Dead Sea Scrolls

1QM 1 This shall be a time of salvation for the people of God, an age of dominion for all the members of his company, and of everlasting destruction for all the company of Belial.

Sibylline Oracles

3.71–74 But whenever the threats of the great God draws nigh and a burning power comes through the sea to land it will also burn Beliar and all overbearing men, as many as put faith in him.

3.319–320 Woe to you, land of Gog and Magog, situated in the midst of Ethiopian rivers.

5.107–109 he will also come, wishing to destroy the city of the blessed ones, and then a certain king sent from God against him will destroy all the great kings and noble men.


11.40–45 ‘At the time of the end the king of the south shall attack him. But the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships. He shall advance against countries and pass through like a flood. He shall come into the beautiful land, and tens of thousands shall fall victim, but Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites shall escape from his power. He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the riches of Egypt; and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall follow in his train. But reports from the east and the north shall alarm him, and he shall go out with great fury to bring ruin and complete destruction to many. He shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with no one to help him.’

4 Ezra

13.5, 11 After this I looked and saw that an innumerable multitude of people were gathered together from the four winds of heaven to make war against the man who came up out of the sea. […] All these were mingled together, the stream of fire and the flaming breath and the great storm, and fell on the onrushing multitude that was prepared to fight, and burned up all of them, so that suddenly nothing was seen of the innumerable multitude but only the dust of ashes and the smell of smoke. When I saw it, I was amazed.

3 Enoch

45.5 And I saw: all the battles and wars which Gog and Magog will fight with Israel in the days of the Anointed One, and all that the Holy One, blessed be he, will do to them in the time to come.

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