The Serpent’s Destiny: An Eternity Of RegretErwin W. Lutzer | November 26, 1995
Selected highlights from this sermon
Satan’s demise is coming, and it will come in stages. First, he and his angels will be cast out of heaven and confined to the earth. Then at the beginning of the Millennium, he will be bound and cast into the abyss—but he has one last chance to deceive the nations, but he is decisively defeated. Then the final judgment comes where he is thrown into the lake of fire (hell) with the demons and the unbelievers to be tormented forever.
God’s justice will come upon all who have rebelled against Him. All who do not know Jesus are eternally guilty; and we who did overcome by faith in Christ will be ushered into eternity with our Lord.
Well, as you know, Satan, that old serpent, was defeated by Christ on the cross. Several messages ago we emphasized that fact. The serpent has been crushed. His head is indeed pushed into the dirt. But just like lightning and thunder happen simultaneously, and yet we do not hear the thunder until later, in the very same way the cross of Jesus Christ represents that moment in which Satan was defeated. We see the flash of lightning. And today we’re going to talk about the role of thunder. We are going to emphasize the demise of the devil in three stages. And because we have a lot of material to cover, we’re going to plunge right in.
And I want you to take your Bibles and begin by turning to Revelation 12.
Revelation 12 gives us the first stage of Satan’s demise. He is cast out of heaven. The context in Revelation 12 is two great signs in heaven that John sees: “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.” Who is this woman? This woman is the nation Israel. When we hear about the sun and the moon, we are reminded of the dream that Joseph had. And the twelve stars represent the twelve tribes of the nation Israel. It was the nation who, through Mary, gave birth to Christ.
But there’s a second great sign: “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.” This, incidentally, is the text that gives rise to the idea that one-third of the demons who were angels, of course, sided with Satan. One-third of all of the angels decided to stand against God along with the serpent. The book of Revelation oftentimes gives us events like this without a timeframe that can be easily discernible, and it will sweep across centuries and give us flashes of what has happened. And so it might well be that this was in the past when he rebelled against God.
“And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.” The scene is deliberately grotesque. Here is a woman who is about to give birth, and lo and behold the dragon is there waiting to see if he can destroy the baby. And we think immediately of Herod who was waiting, as it were, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem with the intention of killing Him, one among many series of events that took place in an attempt to destroy Christ. But it says in verse 5: “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne (God protected Him; He died on the cross, He was buried and He was ascended into heaven), and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.”
And now John takes us very quickly to the tribulation period (to the middle of the tribulation period) when Israel continues to be preserved as a nation, despite the persecutions of Satan. But now we have a war in heaven, which I take to be at the middle of the tribulation period.
Are you surprised that Satan is in heaven? There are some people who think that this passage happened when Jesus died on the cross, but we know that Satan has access to God in the book of Job, and historically I think it is much better to fit this in the middle of the tribulation period, first of all because after this you have the establishment of the kingdom. And as we shall see in a moment, once Satan is cast out, his fury is great because he knows his time is short, very short—three and one half years to be exact.
But let’s pick up the text in verse 7: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” Their place in heaven was now no longer occupied because they were cast out.
“And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” Fascinating passage! Remember it says in the book of Jude that Michael did not contend with Satan over the body of Moses, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” And the same Michael who would not take Satan on in direct combat over the body of Moses now is willing to wage war with him and cast him out of heaven, and his place becomes vacant. What a victory! And of course, Satan is absolutely furious.
And it says: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” Satan is cast out of heaven and he is now confined to the earth.
Now, if we had time we’d go into Revelation 13, and see that this is Satan’s great attempt to set up a rival kingdom, and God gives him much authority, and much ability to do so. We would find in chapter 13 that he sets up a system that is to mimic God. The dragon becomes like unto God the Father.
And then you have Antichrist. Notice in the last part of verse 2 of chapter 13: “And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.” The dragon represents God the Father. This beast represents Antichrist. And then in Revelation 13 right here in the passage you have another beast, and he plays the role of the Holy Spirit. It becomes his responsibility to get the world to worship the dragon and the beast. Just as the Holy Spirit of God does not have attention directed to Himself but gets people to believe in Christ, in the very same way now Satan has set up his unholy trinity, and there is a beast that does the work of the Holy Spirit. He calls fire down from heaven. He does miracles, and all the world marvels at the beast.
If you want to see Satan’s finest hour, it is in chapter 13, verse 7: “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” Awesome! Mind-boggling!
But Satan’s first row of thunder is when he is cast out of heaven and confined to the earth.
Now there’s a second stage in his demise, and for this we turn to Revelation 20. Now let us keep this straight in our minds. If our understanding of the future is correct, there is going to be a rapture. We are going to be taken to heaven in a moment of time. Just boom! And that rapture could happen at any moment. After that you have a seven-year period of tribulation in which there are people who believe in Jesus Christ, because there is a special Gospel that is preached–the Gospel of God’s Grace. I should say special messengers, the 144,000 that proclaim the Gospel throughout the earth. And there are people during the tribulation period who come to faith in Christ.
And then, of course, you have the Battle of Armageddon during that three and one half years that ends the last three and one half years, and Satan is ruling through the Antichrist. And all of the world seems to be worshipping him. And it is that time that Jesus Christ appears at the Mount of Olives. And his appearance is listed in Revelation 19. For lack of time I will not read it except to say that He comes, as it were, riding on a horse (verse 15), and from his mouth comes a sharp sword so that with it he may smite the nations and he will rule them with a rod of iron, and he treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of God the Almighty, and on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
And it is then that something else happens. Jesus now establishes the kingdom that the Old Testament prophets predicted. Isaiah had talked about a time when the law shall go forth from Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Jeremiah talked about a time when there would be righteousness that would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. And into that kingdom there are born people. Now I need to say that, first of all, all those who enter into that kingdom are believers, but they have children that grow up in rebellion. But I’m ahead of the story.
Satan, during this kingdom that lasts for a thousand years, is cast into the abyss. Notice what it says: “And I saw an angel (Now we’re in chapter 20) coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old (There he is again.) who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him so that he should not deceive the nations any longer until the thousand years were completed. After these things he must be released for a short time.”
In Luke 8:31, when Jesus is dealing with that man, the man who had demons, and the demons are speaking to Christ, do you remember that one of the things they say is, “Do not cast us into the abyss; do not torment us before our time”? And Jesus actually gave them their request. But here I want you to notice that finally Satan and his demons are in the abyss. They are bound with a chain, as it were, and they are there for a thousand years.
Now I need to pause and tell you that there are some people who believe that “this” is the era of the kingdom. Years ago people used to sing songs like, “I love thy kingdom, Lord, the church of Thine abode.” And there is a well-known counselor who says in one of his books that because this is the era of the kingdom, and the church is the kingdom age and Satan is bound, you can be sure that if a person comes to you with a problem, you know in advance it is not demonic because Satan is bound during this era. I think that’s very bad theology. And if it is true that Satan is bound today, he must have a mighty long chain, because I think he can get even to the city of Chicago, as some of you may know.
But this is the kingdom era and Satan is bound, and the reason that God is doing it is He is proving one more time the basic sinfulness of human nature, because even though all those who go into the millennial kingdom are believers, over that thousand-year period they have children who grow up in rebellion, because it says in Revelation 20:7-9:
“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city (and that is Jerusalem), but fire came down from heaven and consumed them.”
The Gog and Magog that is spoken of here is not the same Gog and Magog that is spoken of in Ezekiel 37 and 38. That’s a different time, and that’s a different place. But after a thousand years Satan is loosed, and now he has his final assault on God. It is really only a mini assault—a small one, but he is loosed and he deceives people once again. And people rebel against God for the final time. After this there is no longer any rebellion, and the battle is put down.
Evidently Satan gathers in the city of Jerusalem, the city of the saints, the Bible says here, because what he wants to do is to dethrone Christ. Christ has been reigning for a thousand years. He has been fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies, He is ruling the nations with a rod of iron, and now Satan wants to have one more attempt to try to dethrone Him, and of course, it doesn’t work.
If the first stage of Satan’s demise is to be thrown out of heaven so that his place there becomes vacant and he is confined to earth, then the second stage, most assuredly, is that he is confined to the abyss for a thousand years. And he is sealed there, and he cannot deceive the nations during that third period.
Now we come to the final moment, and this is most important. He is thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:10: “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” And thus ends the career of the serpent!
What I’d like to do as we come to the end of this series of messages (as we have followed the career of the devil, and his wiles against us, and his defeat at the cross, and his original rebellion, and what it is that he wants from you and me) is to look at this text of Scripture to see, with as much clarity as we can as human beings, what it is like to be in the lake of fire. And to do that I would like to give you five characteristics of that lake of fire, or hell (I’m using the terms interchangeably), so that we might know where that old serpent eventually ends up, and all those who have followed him.
First of all, I want you to notice that this place, this lake of fire, is created by God. It is a place created by God. In Matthew 25:41 and following Jesus Christ is talking
about the wicked in the day of judgment, and He says they will be cast into the lake of fire (Now, get this) prepared for the devil and his angels. Who is it that prepares this lake of fire but God? God is the creator, and I am fascinated by the tense of the verb there in Matthew 25, because no one is in the lake of fire yet today. People who die without Jesus Christ are in a place called Hades, which has no relationship to the concept of purgatory. They are there but no one is in the lake of fire. And yet Jesus said that they will be in the place which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.
I want to remind you today that, as we have been stressing in this series, if it is true that the devil is God’s devil (and he is), then it is also true that hell is God’s hell. He is the one who prepared it and created it. And I want you to know that because God is sovereign, there is no such thing as thinking that there is a chamber in the universe over which He has abandoned His sovereignty. God still rules. I shall say it. God still rules even in hell, because in hell, which is a place of justice, as we shall see in a moment, who is it that makes sure that the justice is properly meted out? Into whose hands does that fall but the hands of God? God rules in the heavens above, and if there is any ruler in hell today, it is God. He even rules in the hell below.
Now I know that that’s a difficult concept for us to grasp because you may say, “Well, hell is not God’s will.” It depends on how you understand the word will. It is not His revealed will because it says that He is not willing that any should perish. But as far as God’s eternal plan, the Bible says that He works all things after the counsel of His own will. Even hell must be seen as a part of the total picture over which God still has His providential hand and guidance. Let us remember that it is God who triumphs, and hell, the lake of fire, was created by Him for the devil and his angels.
Secondly, hell is a place of torment. It’s a place of torment. That seems obvious, but I think that we have imbibed much of the mythology of the Middle Ages in our understanding of Satan. There are still some people who teach that in hell Satan is going to be the one who is going to be tormenting people. You know, the old idea that the devil has a pitchfork is kind of a holdover from medieval mythology, and the pitchfork is kind of like a Billy club that he uses to keep all the demons in line, and then the demons come along to torture the people. Well, I want you to know that that is not biblical. The Bible says nothing about that. It tells an entirely different story.
A couple of summers ago I decided to read Dante’s Inferno and I found out that there is much in it that is interesting. Some of it might also be true, but there is some also that is based on speculation.
Here’s what’s happening. Notice what it says: “…where the beast and the false prophet are also, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” It says nothing at all about Satan being the tormentor. He shall be the tormented.
Now remember that since judgment is dependent upon one’s knowledge and opportunity, I believe that Satan’s demise, his torture in hell, is going to be more severe than any other being that will be tortured in hell, and that he will be in no position whatever to torture anyone else, because he himself is going to be the one who is going to be tormented in everlasting shame and contempt and final eternal humiliation. Satan is the one who is going to be tormented, and he will not be the tormentor. Let us bear that in mind.
If Milton was right, that the reason that Satan rebelled was because he thought, “I would rather be a king in hell than to be a servant in heaven,” maybe Milton was right that Satan was thinking that. Satan was very, very wrong. Let me say it with authority. There are no kings in hell. None whatever! Only God rules in the heavens above. No kings in hell! Hell is a place of torment.
Number three, hell has other occupants. Other occupants! You’ll notice it says in verse 10: “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are also.” They were there a thousand years earlier. If we had taken time to read the last part of the 19th chapter we’d discover that it is after Christ returns, after Christ settles the Battle of Armageddon and establishes His kingdom, it is then that the beast and the false prophet are thrown into hell. And Satan is bound a thousand years and then gets thrown into hell later. So the beast and the false prophet are there.
If we read the last part of Revelation 20, beginning at verse 11, we find out that the unbelievers of all the ages arrive there too. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.” And then the Scripture says, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.”
Works have never saved anyone. You can do all the good deeds that you have ever thought about doing, and you will never be saved as a result of your good works. But works will be the basis of judgment. Those who did well with what they knew will be better off than those who acted wickedly on the basis of what they knew, because God’s judgment is going to be very meticulous. These people will receive God’s justice. They will not receive God’s mercy, but God will be just. Those who never heard of Jesus Christ will be judged on the basis of what they did with what they knew in the light of nature and the light of conscience, and their judgment will be just in accordance with that. And so the text of Scripture tells us that there will be a judgment.
But notice it says (verse 14): “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Many occupants! Many occupants in hell!
Number four, it is eternal. I don’t know how John could have said this any more clearly. Tormented day and night forever and ever! Every time I preach about this on the radio I get letters and pamphlets and books from people who tell me that the fire consumes people in hell, and they are annihilated. Oh, you folks out there, bless you. I guess you can write to me. You can send me more material, but my suspicion is that I’ve already received it. And there’s a part of me that wishes that you were right. But what do we do with the text, both here and in the fourteenth chapter of Revelation, that says “tormented day and night forever and ever”? It could not be said any more clearly that we’re talking about eternal conscious punishment. I agree that I wish it were different, but the Bible is clear on this point.
Now, of course, we don’t make up the rules. If it were up to us, we would treat things differently. We’d have run the universe. It’s like somebody said. He said, “God, you know, if I had Your power just for 24 hours, what great changes I would make in the universe.” They he added, “But if I also had your wisdom, I would leave things as they are.” God is the one who knows and runs his universe. Hell is eternal.
Now also, lastly, hell is just. Oh, I know that some people say that the punishment does not fit the crime. I have had people tell me that if the God that you are preaching there at The Moody Church (as if, you know, we make up gods every week—we preach one god one week and another god another week) is your God, I don’t want to have a thing to do with Him. That’s a possibility. That’s one response. The other response is to say, “If this is the kind of God that He is, where can I receive forgiveness? To whom shall I run that I might not end there?” And that’s a much better response, because the Bible says in the book of Hebrews that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hell is just because, you remember first of all, people are judged in accordance of what they did on the basis of what they knew. Jesus said in Luke 12:48: “He who knew his Lord’s will and did it not shall be beaten with many stripes. He who didn’t know his Lord’s will shall be beaten with few.” It’s going to be delicate. It’s going to be commensurate with the evil and with the knowledge. It’s going to be just, and we will sing, “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.”
Another thing that we have to remember is that those who do not know Christ as Savior are eternally guilty. They are eternally guilty. And no matter how long they suffer, they never somehow pay for their sins because there can be no payment through human suffering, or the suffering of a fallen angel.
Sir Francis Newport, who ridiculed Christianity all of his life, nevertheless said on his deathbed, “Oh, that I was to lie a thousand years upon the fire that is never quenched to purchase the favor of God, and to be united with Him again. But it is a fruitless wish. Millions and millions of years would bring me no nearer to the end of my torments than one poor hour. Oh eternity, eternity! Forever and ever! Oh, the insufferable pains of hell!” And with that he slipped into eternity. Eternally guilty!
And then what if it is true, as Jonathan Edwards suggested, that the greatness of the sin is determined by the greatness of the being against whom it is committed? Therefore, every small sin becomes a major infraction because it was done against a major being—God!
And so the curtain closes on God’s devil. He who wished to rule the world now is confined to the parameters of a lake of fire. He who did not want to be a willing servant of God in heaven now finds himself to be an unwilling prisoner in that lake of fire. And he who wished to rule others finally discovers that he cannot rule himself but is himself the victim of the legitimate and just torments of God, and there he is. The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are also, and will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And if he were wise (he’s powerful but he’s not wise) he’d give up on God right now. He would lay down every weapon. He would have no more rebellion because his torments would be just a little bit less. But he is driven by this belief that if he can just take on God one more time or try the impossible, that somehow he’ll derive from it some kind of satisfaction for which he must pay eternally into the ages of the ages, as the Greek text says.
And so the curtain closes, and as that curtain closes, it is a reminder that no creature (no creature) who ever takes on God and stands against Him will win. You can shake your fist into God’s face. You can take your puny will, and you can pit it against the will of God, and I want you to know today that God will win in absolute triumph. Now until that day we do fight the devil and (as said in Revelation 12, the passage we looked at earlier), “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,” because when Jesus Christ died on the cross, His death was a sacrifice for sinners. God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He is now our shelter from the coming storm, and from the coming judgment, and those who believe in Him, and that sacrifice, receive as a free gift the cleansing and the protection of Christ.
Remember during the time of Moses how that when the angel of death came through the land, he made a distinction between those who had blood on the door and those who didn’t. Some of the people who had blood on the door probably were filled with anxiety. They were filled with doubt. Some of them had all kinds of problems in their life. They perhaps had among them those who were handicapped. It mattered not. What mattered was the blood. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” And I want you to notice that the blood of Christ is not only for our objective guilt but also the subjective guilt—those feelings of failure that overwhelm us, those sins that we secretly commit that drag us down. We can be cleansed from unrighteousness because of the blood of the lamb. They overcame him by the blood of the lamb, by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life unto death.
I want to leave you today with a different scene, an entirely different one. It is the scene of those who overcame the beast. John gives this description. He said, “I saw, as it were, a sea of glass, mingled with fire, and them that had gotten the victory of the beast and over his image and over his mark stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the song of the Lamb saying, ‘Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, oh Lord, and glorify thy name, for thou only art holy. And all nations shall worship before thee, for thy judgments are made manifest.’ And I saw a pure river of water of life, pure as crystal proceeding from the throne and from the Lamb. And in the midst of the street of it and on either side of the river was there the tree of life, which bear twelve fruits, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse, for the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it. And his servants shall serve him. And they shall reign with him forever and ever. And they shall sing “Hallelujah, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.”