Click to donate today!
Analysis Of The Chapter
This chapter Revelation 20:1-15, like Revelation 16:12-21, Rev. 17–19, pertains to the future, and discloses things which are yet to occur. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, for the reason stated in the notes on Revelation 16:16, that much obscurity should hang over it, nor that it is difficult to explain it so as to remove all obscurity. The statement in this chapter, however, is distinct and clear in its general characteristics, and time will make all its particular statements free from ambiguity.
In the previous chapter, an account is given of the final destruction of two of the most formidable enemies of the church, and consequently the removal of two of the hindrances to the universal spread of the gospel - the beast and the false prophet - the papal and the Muhammedan powers. But one obstacle remains to be removed - the power of Satan as concentrated and manifested in the form of pagan power. These three powers it was said Revelation 16:13-14 would concentrate their forces as the time of the final triumph of Christianity drew on; and with these the last great battle was to be fought. Two of these have been subdued; the conquest over the other remains, and Satan is to be arrested and bound for a thousand years. He is then to be released for a time, and afterward finally destroyed, and at that period the end will come.
The chapter comprises the following parts:
I. The binding of Satan, Revelation 20:1-3. An angel comes down from heaven with the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand, and seizes upon the dragon, and casts him into the pit, that for a thousand years he should deceive the nations no more. The great enemy of God and his cause is thus made a prisoner, and is restrained from making war in any form against the church. The way is thus prepared for the peace and triumph which follow.
II. The millennium, Revelation 20:4-6. John sees thrones, and persons sitting on them; he sees the souls of those who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God - those who had not worshipped the beast nor his image - living and reigning with Christ during the thousand years: the spirits of the martyrs revived, and becoming again the reigning spirit on earth. This he calls the first resurrection; and on all such he says the second death has no power. Temporal death they might experience - for such the martyrs had experienced - but over them the second death has no dominion, for they live and reign with the Saviour. This is properly the millennium - the long period when the principles of true religion will have the ascendency on the earth, as if the martyrs and confessors - the most devoted and eminent Christians of other times - should appear again upon the earth, and as if their spirit should become the reigning and pervading spirit of all who professed the Christian name.
III. The release of Satan, Revelation 20:7-8. After the thousand years of peace and triumph shall have expired, Satan will be released from his prison, and will be permitted to go out and deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, and gather them together to battle; that is, a state of things will exist as if Satan were then released. There will be again an outbreak of sin on the earth, and a conflict with the principles of religion, as if an innumerable multitude of opposers should be marshalled for the conflict by the great author of all evil.
IV. The final subjugation of Satan, and destruction of his power on the earth, Revelation 20:9-10. After the temporary and partial outbreak of evil Revelation 20:7-8, Satan and his hosts will be entirely destroyed. The destruction will be as if fire should come down from heaven to devour the assembled hosts Revelation 20:9, and as if Satan, the great leader of evil, should be cast into the same lake where the beast and false prophet are to be tormented forever. Then the church will be delivered from all its enemies, and religion henceforward will be triumphant. How long the interval will be between this state and that next disclosed Revelation 20:11-15 - the final judgment - is not stated. The eye of the seer glances from one to the other, but there is nothing to forbid the supposition, that, according to the laws of prophetic vision, there may be a long interval in which righteousness shall reign upon the earth. Compare the introduction to Isaiah, section 7, III. (3)- (5).
V. The final judgment, Revelation 20:11-15. This closes the “earthly” scene. Henceforward Rev. 21–22 the scene is transferred to heaven - the abode of the redeemed. The last judgment is the winding up of the earthly affairs. The enemies of the church are all long since destroyed; the world has experienced, perhaps for a long series of ages, the full influence of the gospel; countless million have been, we may suppose, brought under its power; and then at last, in the winding up of human affairs, comes the judgment of the great day, when the dead, small and great, shall stand before God; when the sea shall give up its dead; when death and hell shall give up the dead that are in them; when the records of human actions shall be opened, and all shall be judged according to their works; and when all who are not found written in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire. This is the earthly consummation; henceforward the saints shall reign in glory - the New Jerusalem above, Rev. 21–22.
In order to prepare the way for a proper understanding of this chapter, the following additional remarks may be here made:
(a) The design of this book did not demand a minute detail of the events which would occur in the consummation of human affairs. The main purpose was to trace the history of the church to the scene of the final triumph when all its enemies would be overthrown, and when religion would be permanently established upon the earth. Hence, though in the previous chapters we have a detailed account of the persecutions that would be endured; of the enemies that would rise up against the church, and of their complete ultimate overthrow - leaving religion triumphant on the earth - yet we have no minute statement of what will occur in the millennium. A rapid view is taken of the closing scenes of the earth’s history, and the general results only are stated. It would not be strange, therefore, if there should be much in this that would seem to be enigmatical and obscure, especially as it is now all in the future.
(b) There may be long intervening periods between the events thus thrown together into the final grouping. We are not to suppose necessarily that these events will succeed each other immediately, or that they will be of short duration. Between these events thus hastily sketched, there may be long intervals that are not described, and whose general character is scarcely even glanced at. This results from the very nature of the prophetic vision, as described in the introduction to Isaiah, section 7, III. (3)-(5). This may be illustrated by the view which we have in looking at a landscape. When one is placed in a favorable situation, he can mark distinctly the order of the objects in it - the succession - the grouping. He can tell what objects appear to him to lie near to each other, and are apparently in juxtaposition. But there are objects which, in such a vision, the eye cannot take in, and which would not be exhibited by any description which might be given of the view taken. Hills in the distant view may seem to lie near each other; one may seem to rise just back of another, and to the eye they may seem to constitute parts of the same mountain, and yet between them there may be deep and fertile vales, smiling villages, running streams, beautiful gardens and waterfalls, which the eye cannot take in, and the extent of which it may be wholly impossible to conjecture; and a description of the whole scene, as it appears to the observer, would convey no idea of the actual extent of the intervals. So it is in the prophecies. Between the events which are to occur hereafter, as seen in vision, there may be long intervals, but the length of these intervals the prophet may have left us no means of determining. See these thoughts more fully illustrated in the Introduction to Isaiah, as above referred to.
What is here stated may have occurred in the vision which John had of the future, as described in this chapter. Time is marked in the prophetic description until the fall of the great enemy of the church; beyond that it does not seem to have been regarded as necessary to determine the actual duration of the events referred to. Compare Prof. Stuart, Com. ii. 353, 354.
(c) These views are sustained by the most cursory glance of the chapter before us. There is none of the detail which we have found in the previous portions of the book - for such detail was not necessary to the accomplishment of the design of the book. The grand purpose was to show that Christianity would finally triumph, and hence the detailed description is carried on until that occurs, and beyond that we have only the most general statements. Thus, in this chapter, the great events that are to occur are merely hinted at. The events of a thousand years; the invasion by Gog and Magog; the ultimate confinement and punishment of Satan; the general judgment - are all crowded into the space of twelve verses. This shows that the distant future is only glanced at by the writer; and we should not wonder, therefore, if it should be found to be obscure, nor should we regard it as strange that much is left to be made clear by the events themselves when they shall occur.
(d) The “end” is triumphant and glorious. We are assured that every enemy of the church will be slain, and that there will be a long period of happiness, prosperity, and peace. “The eye of hope,” says Prof. Stuart, beautifully, “is directed forward, and sees the thousand years of uninterrupted prosperity; then the sudden destruction of a new and fatal enemy; and all the rest is left to joyful anticipation. When all clouds are swept from the face of the sky, why should not the sun shine forth in all his glory? I cannot, therefore, doubt that the setting sun of the church on earth is to be as a heaven of unclouded splendor. Peaceful and triumphant will be her latest age. The number of the redeemed will be augmented beyond all computation; and the promise made from the beginning, that ‘the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head,’ will be fulfilled in all its extent, and with a divine plenitude of meaning. The understanding and pious reader closes the book with admiration, with wonder, with delight, with lofty anticipations of the future, and with undaunted resolution to follow on in the steps of those who, through faith and patience, have inherited the promises, and entered into everlasting rest,” vol. 2, pp. 354, 355.
And I saw an angel come down from heaven - Compare the notes on Revelation 10:1. He does not say whether this angel had appeared to him before, but the impression is rather that it was a different one. The whole character of the composition of the book leads us to suppose that different angels were employed to make these communications to John, and that, in fact, in the progress of things disclosed in the book, he had contact with a considerable number of the heavenly inhabitants. The scene that is recorded here occurred after the destruction of the beast and the false prophet Revelation 19:18-21, and therefore, according to the principles expressed in the explanation of the previous chapters, what is intended to be described here will take place after the final destruction of the papal and Muhammedan powers.
Having the key of the bottomless pit - See the notes on Revelation 1:18; Revelation 9:1. The fact that he has the key of that underworld is designed to denote here, that he can fasten it on Satan so that it shall become his prison.
And a great chain in his hand - With which to bind the dragon, Revelation 20:2. It is called great because of the strength of him that was to be bound. The chain only appears to have been in his hand. Perhaps the key was suspended to his side.
And he laid hold on - Seized him by violence - ἐκράτησεν ekratēsen. The word denotes “the employment of strength” or “force”; and it implies that he had power superior to that of the dragon. Compare Matthew 14:3; Matthew 18:28; Matthew 21:46; Matthew 22:6; Matthew 26:4. We can at once see the propriety of the use of this word in this connection. The great enemy to be bound has himself mighty power, and can be overcome only by a superior. This may teach us that it is only a power from heaven that can destroy the empire of Satan in the world; and perhaps it may teach us that the interposition of angels will be employed in bringing in the glorious state of the millennium. Why should it not be?
The dragon - See the notes on Revelation 12:2. Compare Revelation 12:4, Revelation 12:7, Revelation 12:13, Revelation 12:16-17; Revelation 13:2, Revelation 13:4, Revelation 13:11; Revelation 16:13. There can be no doubt as to the meaning of the word here; for it is expressly said to mean the devil, and Satan. It would seem, however, that it refers to some manifestation of the power of Satan that would exist after the beast and false prophet - that is, the papacy and Mohammedanism - should be destroyed, and probably the main reference is to the still existing power of paganism. Compare the notes on Revelation 16:13-14. It may include, however, all the forms of wickedness which Satan shall have kept upon the earth, and all the modes of evil by which he will endeavor to perpetuate his reign.
That old serpent - This is undoubtedly an allusion to the serpent that deceived our first parents (Genesis 3:1 ff.), and therefore a proof that it was Satan that, under the form of a serpent, deceived them. Compare notes on Revelation 12:3.
Which is the devil - On the meaning of this word, see the notes on Matthew 4:1.
And Satan - On the meaning of this word, see the notes on Job 1:6. In regard to the repetition of the names of that great enemy of God and the church here, Mr. Taylor, in the Fragments to Calmet’s Dictionary, No. 152, says that this “almost resembles a modern Old Bailey indictment, in which special care is taken to identify the culprit, by a sufficient number of aliases. An angel from heaven, having the key of the prison of the abyss, and a great chain to secure the prisoner, ‘apprehended the dragon, alias the old serpent, alias the devil, alias the Satan, alias the seducer of the world,’ who was sentenced to a thousand years’ imprisonment.” The object here, however, seems to be not so much to identify the culprit by these aliases, as to show that under whatever forms, and by whatever names he had appeared, it was always the same being, and that now the author of the whole evil would be arrested. Thus the one great enemy sometimes has appeared in a form that would be best represented by a fierce and fiery dragon; at another, in a form that would be best represented by a cunning and subtle serpent; now in a form to which the word “devil” (“accuser”), would be most appropriate; and now in a form in which the word “Satan” - an adversary - would be most expressive of what he does. In these various forms, and under these various names, he has ruled the fallen world; and when this one great enemy shall be seized and imprisoned, all these forms of evil will, of course, come to an end.
A thousand years - This is the period usually designated as the millennium - for the word “millennium” means “a thousand years.” It is on this passage that the whole doctrine of the millennium as such has been founded. It is true that there are elsewhere in the Scriptures abundant promises that the gospel will ultimately spread over the world; but the notion of a millennium as such is found in this passage alone. It is, however, enough to establish the doctrine, if its meaning be correctly ascertained; for it is a just rule in interpreting the Bible, that the clearly-ascertained sense of a single passage of Scripture is sufficient to establish the truth of a doctrine. The fact, however, that this passage stands alone in this respect, makes it the more important to endeavor accurately to determine its meaning. There are but three ways in which the phrase “a thousand years” can be understood here: either:
(b)In the prophetic use of the term, where a day would stand for a year, thus making a period of three hundred and sixty thousand years; or,
(c)Figuratively, supposing that it refers to a long but indefinite period of time.
It may be impossible to determine which of these periods is intended, though the first has been generally supposed to be the true one, and hence the common notion of the millennium. There is nothing, however, in the use of the language here, as there would be nothing contrary to the common use of symbols in this book in regard to time, in the supposition that this was designed to describe the longest period here suggested, or that it is meant that the world shall enjoy a reign of peace and righteousness during the long period of three hundred and sixty thousand years. Indeed, there are somethings in the arrangements of nature which look as if it were contemplated that the earth would continue under a reign of righteousness through a vastly long period in the future.
It may be proper, in order to a correct understanding of this chapter, to present a brief summary under the different parts (see the Analysis of the chapter) of what, according to the interpretation proposed, may be expected to be the condition of things in the time referred to.
On the portion now before us Revelation 20:1-3, according to the interpretation proposed, the following suggestions may be made:
(1) This will be subsequent to the downfall of the papacy and the termination of the Muhammedan power in the world. Of course, then, this lies in the future - how far in the future it is impossible to determine. The interpretation of the various portions of this book, and the book of Daniel, have, however, led to the conclusion that the termination of those powers cannot now be remote. If so, we are on the eve of important events in the world’s history. The affairs of the world look as if things were tending to a fulfillment of the prophecies so understood.
(2) It will be a condition of the world “as if” Satan were bound; that is, where his influences will be suspended, and the principles of virtue and religion will prevail. According to the interpretation of the previous chapters, it will be a state in which all that has existed, and that now exists, in the papacy to corrupt mankind, to maintain error, and to prevent the prevalence of free and liberal principles, will cease; in which all that there now is in the Muhammedan system to fetter and enslave mankind - now controlling more than one hundred and twenty million of the race - shall have come to an end; and in which, in a great measure, all that occurs under the direct influence of Satan in causing or perpetuating slavery, war, intemperance, lust, avarice, disorder, scepticism, atheism, will be checked arid stayed. It is proper to say, however, that this passage does not require us to suppose that there will be a “total cessation” of Satanic influence in the earth during that period. Satan will, indeed, be bound and restrained as to his former influence and power. But there will be no change in the character of man as he comes into the world. There will still be corrupt passions in the human heart. Though greatly restrained, and though there will be a general prevalence of righteousness on the earth, yet we are to remember that the race is fallen, and that even then, if restraint should be taken away, man would act out his fallen nature. This fact, if remembered, will make it appear less strange that, after this period of prevalent righteousness, Satan should be represented as loosed again, and as able once more for a time to deceive the nations.
(3) It will be a period of long duration. On the supposition that it is to be literally a period of one thousand years, this is in itself long, and will give, especially under the circumstances, opportunity for a vast progress in human affairs. To form some idea of the length of the period, we need only place ourselves in imagination “back” for a thousand years - say in the middle of the ninth century - and look at the condition of the world then, and think of the vast changes in human affairs that have occurred during that period. It is to be remembered, also, that if the millennial period were soon to commence, it would find the world in a far different state in reference to future progress from what it was in the ninth century, and that it would “start off,” so to speak, with all the advantages in the arts and sciences which have been accumulated in all the past periods of the world.
Even if there were no special divine interposition, it might be presumed that the race, in such circumstances, would make great and surprising advances in the long period of a thousand years. And here a very striking remark of Mr. Hugh Miller may be introduced as illustrating the subject. “It has been remarked by some student of the Apocalypse,” says he, “that the course of predicted events at first moves slowly, as one after one, six of seven seals are opened; that, on the opening of the seventh seal, the progress is so considerably quickened that the seventh period proves as fertile in events - represented by the sounding of the seven trumpets - as the foregoing six taken together; and that on the seventh trumpet, so great is the further acceleration, that there is an amount of incident condensed in this seventh part of the seventh period equal, as in the former case, to that of all the previous six parts in one. There are three cycles, it has been said, in the scheme - cycle within cycle - the second comprised within a seventh portion of the first, and the third within a seventh portion of the second. Be this as it may, we may, at least, see something that exceedingly resembles it in that actual economy of change and revolution manifested in English history for the last two centuries. “It would seem as if eyelets, in their downward course, had come under the influence of that law of gravitation through which falling bodies increase in speed, as they descend, according to the squares of the distance” (First Impressions of England and its People, pp. 7, 8.). If to this we add the supposition, which we have seen (see the notes on Revelation 20:2) to be by no means improbable, that it is intended, in the description of the millennium in this chapter, that the world will continue under a reign of peace and righteousness for the long period of three hundred and sixty thousand years, it is impossible to anticipate what progress will be made during that period, or to enumerate the numbers that will be saved. On this subject, see some very interesting remarks in the “Old Red Sandstone,” by Hugh Miller, pp. 248-250, 258, 259. Compare Prof. Hitchcock’s “Religion and Geology,” pp. 370-409.
(4) What, then, will be the state of things during that long period of a thousand years?
(a) There will be a great increase in the population of the globe. Let wars cease, and intemperance cease, and slavery cease, and the numberless passions that now shorten life be stayed, and it is easy to see that there must be a vast augmentation in the number of the human species.
(b) There will be a general diffusion of intelligence upon the earth. Every circumstance would be favorable to it, and the world would be in a condition to make rapid advances in knowledge, Daniel 12:4.
(c) That period will be characterized by the universal diffusion of revealed truth, Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 25:7.
(d) It will be marked by unlimited subjection to the scepter of Christ, Psalms 2:7; Psalms 22:27-29; Isaiah 2:2-3; Isaiah 66:23; Zechariah 9:10; Zechariah 14:9; Matthew 13:31-32; Revelation 11:15.
(e) There will be great progress in all that tends to promote the welfare of man. We are not to suppose that the resources of nature are exhausted. Nature gives no signs of exhaustion or decay. In the future there is no reason to doubt that there will yet be discoveries and inventions mere surprising and wonderful than the art of printing, or the use of steam, or the magnetic telegraph. There are profounder secrets of nature that may be delivered up than any of these, and the world is tending to their development.
(f) It will be a period of the universal reign of peace. The attention of mankind will be turned to the things which tend to promote the welfare of the race, and advance the best interests of society. The single fact that wars will cease will make an inconceivable difference in the aspect of the world; for if universal peace shall prevail through the long period of the millennium, and the wealth, the talent, and the science now employed in human butchery shall be devoted to the interests of agriculture, the mechanical arts, learning, and religion, it is impossible now to estimate the progress which the race will make, and the changes which will be produced on the earth. For Scripture “proofs” that it will be a time of universal peace, see Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Micah 4:3.
(g) There will be a “general” prevalence of evangelical religion. This is apparent in the entire description in this passage, for the two most formidable opposing powers that religion has ever known - the beast and the false prophet - will be destroyed, and Satan will be bound. In this long period, therefore, we are to suppose that the gospel will exert its fair influence on governments, on families, on individuals; in the contact of neighbors, and in the contact of nations. God will be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and not in the mere “forms” of devotion; and temperance, truth, liberty, social order, honesty, and love, will prevail over the world.
(h) It will be a time when the Hebrew people - the Jews - will be brought to the knowledge of the truth, and will embrace the Messiah whom their fathers crucified, Zechariah 12:10; Zechariah 13:1; Romans 11:26-29.
(i) Yet we are not necessarily to suppose that “all” the world will be absolutely and entirely brought under the power of the gospel. There will be still on the earth the remains of wickedness in the corrupted human heart, and there will be so much “tendency” to sin in the human soul, that Satan, when released for a time Revelation 20:7-8, will be able once more to deceive mankind, and to array a formidable force, represented by Gog and Magog, against the cause of truth and righteousness. We are not to suppose that the nature of mankind, as fallen, will be essentially changed, or that there may not be sin enough in the human heart to make it capable of the same opposition to the gospel of God which has thus far been evinced in all ages. From causes which are not fully stated Revelation 20:8-9, Satan will be enabled once more to rouse up their enmity, and to make one more desperate effort to destroy the kingdom of the Redeemer by rallying his forces for a conflict. See these views illustrated in the work entitled “Christ’s Second Coming,” by Rev. David Brown, of James’ Free Church, Glasgow, pp. 398-442; New York, 1851.
And I saw thrones - θρόνους thronous See Revelation 1:4; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 4:3-4. John here simply says, that he saw in vision thrones, with persons sitting on them, but without intreating who they were that sat on them. It is not the throne of God that is now revealed, for the word is in the plural number, though the writer does not hint how “many” thrones there were. It is intimated, however, that these thrones were placed with some reference to pronouncing a judgment, or determining the destiny of some portion of mankind, for it is immediately added, “and judgment was given unto them.” There is considerable resemblance, in many respects, between this and the statement in Daniel 7:9; “I beheld until the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit”; or, as it should be rendered, “I beheld” - that is, I continued to look - “until the thrones were placed or set,” to wit, for the purposes of judgment. See the notes on that passage. So John here sees, as the termination of human affairs approaches, thrones placed with reference to a determination of the destiny of some portion of the race, “as if” they were now to have a trial, and to receive a sentence of acquittal or condemnation. The “persons” on whom this judgment is to pass are specified, in the course of the verse, as those who were “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, who had the Word of God, who had not worshipped the beast,” etc. The “time” when this was to occur manifestly was at the Beginning of the thousand years.
And they sat upon them - Who sat on them is not mentioned. The natural construction is, that “judges” sat on them, or that persons sat on them to whom judgment was entrusted. The language is such as would be used on the supposition either that he had mentioned the subject before, so that he would be readily understood, or that, from some other cause, it was so well understood that there was no necessity for mentioning who they were. John seems to have assumed that it would be understood who were meant. And yet to us it is not entirely clear; for John has not before this given us any such intimation that we can determine with certainty what is intended. The probable construction is, that those are referred to to whom it appropriately belonged to occupy such seats of judgment, and who they are is to be determined from other parts of the Scriptures. In Matthew 19:28, the Saviour says to his apostles, “When the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In 1 Corinthians 6:2, Paul asks the question, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” The meaning as thus explained is, that Christians will, in some way, be employed in judging the world; that is, that they will be exalted to the right hand of the Judge, and be elevated to a station of honor, as if they were associated with the Son of God in the judgment. Something of that kind is, doubtless, referred to here; and John probably means to say that he saw the thrones placed on which those will sit who will be employed in judging the world. If the apostles are specially referred to, it was natural that John, eminent for modesty, should not particularly mention them, as he was one of them, and as the true allusion would be readily understood.
And judgment was given unto them - The power of pronouncing sentence in the case referred to was conferred on them, and they proceeded to exercise that power. This was not in relation to the whole race of mankind, but to the martyrs, and to those who, amidst many temptations and trials, had kept themselves pure. The sentence which is to be passed would seem to be that in consequence of which they are to be permitted to “live and reign with Christ a thousand years.” The “form” of this expressed approval is that of a resurrection and judgment; whether this be the “literal” mode is another inquiry, and will properly be considered when the exposition of the passage shall have been given.
And I saw the souls of them - This is a very important expression in regard to the meaning of the whole passage. John says he saw “the souls” - not “the bodies.” If the obvious meaning of this be the correct meaning; if he saw the “souls” of the martyrs, not the “bodies,” this would seem to exclude the notion of a “literal” resurrection, and consequently overturn many of the theories of a literal resurrection, and of a literal reign of the saints with Christ during the thousand years of the millennium. The doctrine of the last resurrection, as everywhere stated in the Scripture, is, that the “body” will be raised up, and not merely that the “soul will live” (see 1 Corinthians 15:0, and the notes on that chapter); and consequently John must mean to refer in this place to something different from that resurrection, or to “any” proper resurrection of the dead as the expression is commonly understood.
The doctrine which has been held, and is held, by those who maintain that there will be a “literal resurrection” of the saints to reign with Christ during a thousand years, can receive no support from this passage, for there is no ambiguity respecting the word “souls” - ψυχὰς psuchas - as used here. By no possible construction can it mean the “bodies” of the saints. If John had intended to state that the saints, as such, would be raised as they will be at the last day, it is clear that he would not have used this language, but would have employed the common language of the New Testament to denote it. The language here does not express the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; and if no other language but this had been used in the New Testament, the doctrine of the resurrection, as now taught and received, could not be established. These considerations make it clear to my mind that John did not mean to teach that there would be a literal resurrection of the saints, that they might live and reign with Christ personally during the period of a thousand years.
There was undoubtedly something that might be “compared” with the resurrection, and that might, in some proper sense, be “called” a resurrection Revelation 20:5-6, but there is not the slightest intheation that it would be a resurrection of the “body,” or that it would be identical with the “final” resurrection. John undoubtedly intends to describe some honor conferred on the “spirits or souls” of the saints and martyrs during this long period, as if they were raised from the dead, or which might be represented by a resurrection from the dead. What that honor is to be, is expressed by their “living and reigning with Christ.” The meaning of this will be explained in the exposition of these words; but the word used here is fatal to the notion of a literal resurrection and a personal reign with Christ on the earth.
That were beheaded - The word used here - πελεκίζω pelekizō - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, “to axe,” that is, to hew or cut with an axe - from πέλεκυς pelekus, “axe.” Hence it means to behead with an axe. This was a common mode of execution among the Romans, and doubtless many of the Christian martyrs suffered in this manner; but “it cannot be supposed to have been the intention of the writer to confine the rewards of martyrs to those who suffered in this particular way; for this specific and ignominious method of punishment is designated merely as the symbol of any and every kind of martyrdom” (Prof. Stuart).
For the witness of Jesus - As witnesses of Jesus; or bearing in this way their testimony to the truth of his religion. See the notes on Revelation 1:9; compare Revelation 6:9.
And for the Word of God - See the notes on Revelation 1:9. “Which had not worshipped the beast.” Who had remained faithful to the principles of the true religion, and had resisted all the attempts made to seduce them from the faith, even the temptations and allurements in the times of the papacy. See this language explained in the notes on Revelation 13:4.
Neither his image - notes on Revelation 13:14-15.
Neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands - See the notes on Revelation 13:16.
And they lived - ἔζησαν ezēsan, from ζάω zaō, “to live.” Very much, in the whole passage, depends on this word. The meanings given to the word by Prof. Robinson (Lexicon) are the following:
(a)To live, to have life, spoken of physical life and existence;
(b)To live, that is, to sustain life, to live on or by anything;
(c)To live in any way, to pass one’s life in any manner;
(d)To live and prosper; to be blessed.
It may be applied to those who were before dead Matthew 9:18; Mark 16:11; Luke 24:23; John 5:25; Acts 1:3; Acts 9:41, but it does not necessarily imply this, nor does the mere use of the word “suggest” it. It is the proper notion of living, or having life “now,” whatever was the former state - whether nonexistence, death, sickness, or health. The mind, in the use of this word, is fixed on the “present as a state of living.” It is not necessarily in contrast with a former state “as dead,” but it is on the fact that they are now alive. As, however, there is reference, in the passage before us, to the fact that a portion of those mentioned had been “beheaded for the witness of Jesus,” it is to be admitted that the word here refers, in some sense, to that fact. They were put to death in the body, but their “souls” were now seen to be alive. They had not ceased to be, but they lived and reigned with Christ as if they had been raised up from the dead. And when this is said of the “souls” of those who were beheaded, and who were seen to reign with Christ, it cannot mean:
(a)That their “souls” came to life again, for there is no intimation that they had for a moment ceased to exist; nor,
(b)That they then became “immortal,” for that was always true of them; nor,
(c)That there was any literal “resurrection of the body,” as Prof. Stuart (2:360, 475, 476) supposes, and as is supposed by those who hold to a literal reign of Christ on the earth, for there is no intimation of the resurrection of the “body.”
The meaning, then, so far as the language is concerned, must be, that there would exist, at the time of the thousand years, a state of things as if the martyrs were raised up from the dead - an honoring of the martyrs as if they should live and reign with Christ. Their names would be vindicated; their principles would be revived; they would be exalted in public estimation above other men; they would be raised from the low rank in which they were held by the world in times of persecution to a state which might well be represented by their sitting with Christ on the throne of government, and by their being made visible attendants on his glorious kingdom.
This would not occur in respect to the rest of the dead - even the pious dead Revelation 20:5 - for “their” honors and rewards would be reserved for the great day when all the dead should be judged according to their deeds. In this view of the meaning of this passage there is nothing that forbids us to suppose that the martyrs will be “conscious” of the honor thus done to their names, their memory, and their principles on earth, or that this consciousness will increase their joy even in heaven. This sense of the passage is thus expressed, substantially, by Dr. Whately (Essays on the Future State): “It may signify not the literal raising of dead men, but the raising up of an increased Christian zeal and holiness; the revival in the Christian church, or in some considerable portion of it, of the “spirit and energy” of the noble martyrs of old (even as John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elias), so that Christian principles shall be displayed in action throughout the world in an infinitely greater degree than ever before.”
This view of the signification of the word “lived” is sustained by its use elsewhere in the Scriptures and by its common use among people. Thus in this very book, Revelation 11:11; “And after three days and a half, the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet.” So in Ezekiel, in speaking of the restoration of the Jews: “Thus saith the Lord God, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves,” and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live,” Ezekiel 37:12-14. So in Hosea 6:2; “After two days he will “revive” us (cause us to live again); in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall “live” in his sight.” So in the parable of the prodigal son: “This thy brother was dead, and is alive again,” Luke 15:32.
So in Isaiah 26:19; “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.” The following extract, from D’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation,” will show how natural it is to use the very language employed here when the idea is intended to be conveyed of reviving former principles as if the people who held them should be raised to life again. It is the language of the martyr John Huss, who, in speaking of himself in view of a remarkable dream that he had, said, “I am no dreamer, but I maintain this for certain, that the image of Christ will never be effaced. They (his enemies) have wished to destroy it, but it shall be painted afresh in all hearts by much better preachers than myself. The nation that loves Christ will rejoice at this. And I, awaking from among the dead, and rising, so to speak, from my grave, shall leap with great joy.” So a Brief addressed by Pope Adrian to the Diet at Nuremberg contains these words: “The heretics Huss and Jerome are now alive again in the person of Martin Luther.” For a further illustration of the passage see the remarks which follow (section b) on the state of things which may be expected to exist in the time referred to in Revelation 20:4-6.
And reigned with Christ - Were exalted in their principles, and in their personal happiness in heaven, as if they occupied the throne with him, and personally shared his honors and his triumphs. Who can tell, also, whether they may not be employed in special services of mercy, in administering the affairs of his government during that bright and happy period?
A thousand years - During the period when Satan will be bound, and when the true religion will have the ascendency in the earth. See the notes on Revelation 20:2.
But the rest of the dead - In contradistinction from the beheaded martyrs, and from those who had kept themselves pure in the times of great temptation. The phrase “rest of the dead” here would most naturally refer to the “same general class” which was before mentioned - the pious dead. The meaning is, that the martyrs would be honored as if they were raised up and the others not - that is, that special respect would be shown to their principles, their memory, and their character. In other words, “special” honor would be shown “to a spirit of eminent piety” during that period above the “common and ordinary” piety which has been manifested in the church. The “rest of the dead” - the pious dead - would indeed be raised up and rewarded, but they would occupy comparatively humble places, as if they did not partake in the exalted triumphs when the world should be subdued to the Saviour. Their places in honor, in rank, and in reward would be “beneath” that of those who in fiery times had maintained unshaken fidelity to the cause of truth.
Lived not - On the word “lived,” see the notes on Revelation 20:4. That is, they “lived” not during that period in the special sense in which it is said Revelation 20:4 that the eminent saints and martyrs lived. They did not come into remembrance; their principles were not what then characterized the church; they did not see, as the martyrs did, their principles and mode of life in the ascendency, and consequently they had not the augmented happiness and honor which the more eminent saints and martyrs had.
Until the thousand years were finished - Then all who were truly the children of God, though some might be less eminent than others had been, would come into remembrance, and would have their proper place in the rewards of heaven. The “language” here is not necessarily to be interpreted as meaning that they would be raised up then, or would live then, whatever may be true on that point. It is merely an emphatic mode of affirming that “up to float period they would not live” in the sense in which it is affirmed that the others would. But it is not affirmed that they would even then “live” immediately. A “long” interval might elapse before that would occur in the general resurrection of the dead. See the Analysis of the chapter.
This is the first resurrection - The resurrection of the saints and martyrs, as specified in Revelation 20:4. It is called the “first” resurrection in contradistinction from the second and last - the general resurrection - when all the dead will be “literally” raised up from their graves and assembled for the judgment, Revelation 20:12. It is not necessary to suppose that what is called here the “first resurrection” will resemble the real and literal resurrection in every respect. All that is meant is, that there will be such a resemblance as to make it proper to call it a resurrection - a coming to life again. This will be, as explained in the notes on Revelation 20:4, in the honor done to the martyrs, in the restoration of their principles as the great actuating principles of the church, and perhaps in the increased happiness conferred on them in heaven, and in their being employed in promoting the cause of truth in the world.
Blessed - That is, his condition is to be regarded as a happy or a favored one. This is designed apparently to support and encourage those who, in the time of John, suffered persecution, or who might suffer persecution afterward.
And holy - That is, no one will be thus honored who has not an established character for holiness. Holy principles will then reign, and none will be exalted to that honor who have not a character for eminent sanctity.
That hath part in the first resurrection - That participated in it; that is, who is associated with those who are thus raised up.
On such the second death hath no power - The “second death” is properly the death which the wicked will experience in the world of woe. See Revelation 20:14. The meaning here is, that all who are here referred to as having part in the first resurrection will be secure against that. It will be one of the blessed privileges of heaven that there will be absolute security against death in any and every form; and when we think of what death is here, and still more when we think of “the bitter pains of the second death,” we may well call that state “blessed” in which there will be eternal exemption from either.
But they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him - notes at Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10.
Section b. - Condition of the world in the period referred to in Revelation 20:4-6.
I. It is well known that this passage is the principal one which is relied on by those who advocate the doctrine of the literal reign of Christ on the earth for a thousand years, or who hold what are called the doctrines of the “second advent.” The points which are maintained by those who advocate these views are substantially:
(a)That at that period Christ will descend from heaven to reign personally upon the earth;
(b)That he will have a central place of power and authority, probably Jerusalem;
(c)That the righteous dead will then be raised, in such bodies as are to be immortal;
(d)That they will be his attendants, and will participate with him in the government of the world;
(e)That this will continue during the period of a thousand years;
(f)That the world will be subdued and converted during this period, not by moral means, but by “a new dispensation” - by the power of the Son of God; and,
(g)That at the close of this period all the remaining dead will be raised, the judgment will take place, and the affairs of the earth will be consummated.
The opinion here adverted to was held substantially by Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others among the Christian fathers, and, it need not be said, is held by many modern expositors of the Bible, and by large numbers of Christian ministers of high standing, and other Christians. See the “Literalist, passim.” The opinion of the Christian fathers, with which the modern “literalists,” as they are called, substantially coincide, is thus stated by Mr. Elliott: “This resurrection is to be literally that of departed saints and martyrs, then at length resuscitated in the body from death and the grave; its time to synchronize with, or follow instantly after, the destruction of the beast antichrist, on Christ’s personal second advent; the “binding” of Satan to be an absolute restriction of the power of hell from tempting, deceiving, or injuring mankind, throughout a literal period of a thousand years, thence calculated; the “government of the earth” during its continuance to be administered by Christ and the risen saints - the latter being now ἰσάγγελοι isangeloi - in nature like angels; and under it, all false religion having been put down, the Jews and saved remnant of the Gentiles been converted to Christ, the earth renovated by the fire of antichrist’s destruction, and Jerusalem made the universal capital, there will be a realization on earth of the blessedness depicted in the Old Testament prophecies, as well as perhaps of that too which is associated with the New Jerusalem in the visions of the Apocalypse - until at length this millennium having ended, and Satan gone forth to deceive the nations, the final consummation will follow; the new-raised enemies of the saints, Gog and Magog, be destroyed by fire from heaven: and then the general resurrection and judgment take place, the devil and his servants be cast into the lake of fire, and the millennial reign of the saints extend itself into one of eternal duration” (Elliott on the Apocalypse, iv. 177, 178).
Mr. Elliott’s own opinion, representing, it is supposed, that of the great body of the “literalists,” is thus expressed: “It would seem, therefore, that in this state of things and of feeling in professing Christendom (a feeling of carnal security), all suddenly, and unexpectedly, and conspicuous over the world as the lightning that shineth from the east even unto the west, the second advent and appearing of Christ will take place; that at the accompanying voice of the archangel and trump of God, the departed saints of either dispensation will rise from their graves to meet him - alike patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles, and martyrs, and confessors - all at once and in the twinkling of an eye; and then instantly the saints living at the time will be also caught up to meet him in the air; these latter being separated out of the ungodly nations, as when a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats, and all, both dead and living saints, changed at the moment from corruption to incorruption, from dishonor to glory, though with very different degrees of glory; and so in a new angelic nature, to take part in the judging and ruling in this world.
Meanwhile, with a tremendous earthquake accompanying, of violence unknown since the revolutions of primeval chaos, an earthquake under which the Roman world at least is to rock to and fro like a drunken man, the solid crust of this earth shall be broken, and fountains burst forth from its inner deep, not as once of water, but of liquid fire; and that the flames shall consume the antichrist and his confederate kings, while the sword also does its work of slaughter; the risen saints being perhaps the attendants of the Lord’s glory in this destruction of antichrist, and assessors in his judgment on a guilty world. And then immediately the renovation of this our earth is to take place, its soil being purified by the very action of the fire, and the Spirit poured out from on high, to renew, in a yet better sense, the moral face of nature; the Shekinah, or personal glory of Christ amidst his saints, being manifested chiefly in the Holy Land and at Jerusalem, but the whole earth partaking of the blessedness; and thus the regeneration of all things, and the world’s redemption from the curse, having their accomplishment, according to the promise, at the manifestation of the sons of God,” 4:224-231.
To this account of the prevailing opinion of the “literalists” in interpreting the passage before us, there should be added that of Prof. Stuart, who, in general, is as far as possible from sympathizing with this class of writers. He says, in his explanation of the expression “they lived,” in Revelation 20:4, “There would seem to remain, therefore, only one meaning which can be consistently given to ἔζησαν ezēsan (they lived); namely, that they (the martyrs who renounced the beast) are now “restored to life,” namely, such life as implies the vivification of the body. Not to a union of the soul with a gross material body indeed, but with such an one as the saints in general will have at the final resurrection - a spiritual body, 1 Corinthians 15:44. In no other way can this resurrection be ranked as “correlate” with the second resurrection named in the sequel,” vol. ii. p. 360. So again, Excursus vi. (vol. ii. p. 476), he says, “I do not see how we can, on the ground of exegesis, fairly avoid the conclusion that John has taught in the passage before us, that there will be a resurrection of the martyr-saints, at the commencement of the period after Satan shall have been shut up in the dungeon of the great abyss.” This opinion he defends at length, pp. 476-490. Prof. Stuart, indeed, maintains that the martyrs thus raised up will be taken to heaven and reign with Christ “there,” and opposes the whole doctrine of the literal reign on the earth, vol. ii. p. 480. The risen saints and martyrs are to be “enthroned with Christ; that is, they are to be where he dwells, and where he will continue to dwell, until he shall make his descent at the final judgment day.”
II. In regard to these views, as expressive of the meaning of the passage under consideration, I would make the following remarks:
(1) There is strong “presumptive” evidence against this interpretation, and especially against the main point in the doctrine, that there will be a literal “resurrection” of the bodies of the saints at the beginning of that millennial period, to live and reign with Christ on earth, from the following circumstances:
(a) It is admitted, on all hands, that this doctrine, if contained in the Scriptures at all, is found in this one passage only. It is not pretended that there is, in any other place, a direct affirmation that this will literally occur, nor would the advocates for that opinion undertake to show that it is fairly implied in any other part of the Bible. But it is strange, not to say improbable, that the doctrine of the literal resurrection of the righteous, a thousand years before the wicked, should be announced in one passage only. If it were so announced in plain and unambiguous language, I admit that the believer in the divine origin of the Scriptures would be bound to receive it; but this is so contrary to the usual method of the Scriptures on all great and important doctrines, that this circumstance should lead us at least to doubt whether the passage is correctly interpreted. The resurrection of the dead is a subject on which the Saviour often dwelt in his instructions; it is a subject which the apostles discussed very frequently and at great length in their preaching, and in their writings; it is presented by them in a great variety of forms, for the consolation of Christians in time of trouble, and with reference to the condition of the world at the winding up of human affairs; and it is strange that, in respect to so important a doctrine as this, if it be true, there is not elsewhere, in the New Testament, a hint, an intheation, an allusion, that would lead us to suppose that the righteous are to be raised in this manner.
(b) If this is a true doctrine, it would be reasonable to expect that a clear and unambiguous statement of it would be made. Certainly, if there is but one statement on the subject, that might be expected to be a perfectly clear one, it would be a statement about which there could be no diversity of opinion, concerning which those who embraced it might be expected to hold the same views. But it cannot be pretended that this is so in regard to this passage. It occurs in the book which, of all the books in the Bible, is most distinguished for figures and symbols; it cannot be maintained that it is “directly and clearly” affirmed; and it is not so taught that there is any uniformity of view among those who profess to hold it. In nothing has there been greater diversity among people than in the opinions of those who profess to hold the “literal” views respecting the personal reign of Christ on the earth. But this fact assuredly affords “presumptive” evidence that the doctrine of the literal resurrection of the saints a thousand years before the rest of the dead, is not intended to be taught.
(c) It is presumptive proof against this, that nothing is said of the employment of those who are raised up; of the reason why they are raised; of the new circumstances of their being; and of their condition when the thousand years shall have ended. In so important a matter as this, we can hardly suppose that the whole subject would be left to a single hint in a symbolical representation, depending on the doubtful meaning of a single word, and with nothing to enable us to determine, with absolute certainty, that this must be the meaning.
(d) If it be meant that this is a description of the resurrection of the “righteous” as such - embracing all the righteous - then it is wholly unlike all the other descriptions of the resurrection of the righteous that we have in the Bible. Here the account is confined to “those that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus,” and to “those who had not worshipped the beast.” If the righteous, as such, are here referred to, why are these particular classes specified? Why are not the usual general terms employed? Why is the account of the resurrection confined to these? Elsewhere in the Scriptures, the account of the resurrection is given in the most “general” terms (compare Matthew 25:41; John 4:54; John 5:28-29; Revelation 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:23; Philippians 3:20-21; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Heb 9:28; 1 John 2:28-29; 1 John 3:2); and if this had been the designed reference here, it is inconceivable why the statement should be limited to the martyrs, and to those who have evinced great fidelity in the midst of temptations and allurements to apostasy. These circumstances furnish strong “presumptive” proofs, at least, against the doctrine that there is to be a literal resurrection of all the saints at the beginning of the millennial period. Compare “Christ’s Second Coming,” by David Brown, p. 219ff.
(2) In reference to many of the views necessarily implied in the doctrine of the “second advent,” and avowed by those who hold that doctrine, it cannot be pretended that they receive any countenance or support from this passage. In the language of Prof. Stuart (Com. vol. ii. p. 479), there is “not a word of Christ’s descent to the earth at the beginning of the millennium. Nothing of the literal assembling of the Jews in Palestine; nothing of the Messiah’s temporal reign on earth; nothing of the overflowing abundance of worldly peace and plenty.” Indeed, in all this passage, there is not the remotest hint of the grandeur and magnificence of the reign of Christ as a literal king upon the earth; nothing of his having a splendid capital at Jerusalem, or anywhere else; nothing of a new dispensation of a miraculous kind; nothing of the renovation of the earth to fit it for the abode of the risen saints. All this is the mere work of fancy, and no man can pretend that it is to be found in this passage.
(3) Nor is there anything here of a literal resurrection of the “bodies” of the dead, as Prof. Stuart himself supposes. It is not a little remarkable that a scholar so accurate as Prof. Stuart is, and one, too, who has so little sympathy with the doctrines connected with a literal reign of Christ on the earth, should have lent the sanction of his name to perhaps the most objectionable of all the dogmas connected with that view - the opinion that the “bodies” of the saints will be raised up at the beginning of the millennial period. Of this there is not one word, one intimation, one hint, in the passage before us. John says expressly, “and as if to guard the point from all possible danger of this construction,” that he “saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus”; he saw them “living” and “reigning” with Christ - raised to the exalted honor during that period, as if they had been raised from the dead; but he nowhere mentions or intimates that they were raised up from their graves; that they were clothed with bodies; that they had their residence now literally on the earth; or that they were, in any way, otherwise than disembodied spirits. There is not even one word of their having “a spiritual body.”
(4) There are “positive” arguments, which are perfectly decisive, against the interpretation which supposes that the bodies of the saints will be raised up at the beginning of the millennial period, to reign with Christ on the earth for a thousand years. Among these are the following:
(a) If the “first resurrection” means rising from the grave in immortal and glorified bodies, we do not need the assurance Revelation 20:6, that on such the second death hath no power”; that is, that they would not perish forever. That would be a matter of course, and there was no necessity for such a statement. But if it be supposed that the main idea is that the “principles” of the martyrs and of the most eminent saints would be revived and would live, as if the dead were raised up, and would be manifested by those who were in “mortal” bodies - people living on the earth - then there would be a propriety in saying that all such were exempt from the danger of the “second” death. “Once,” indeed, they would die; but the “second” death could not reach them. Compare Revelation 2:10-11.
(b) In the whole passage there are but two classes of people referred to. There are those “who have part in the first resurrection”; that is, according to the supposition, all the saints; and there are those over whom “the second death” has power. Into which of these classes are we to put the myriads of people having flesh and blood who are to people the world during the millennium? They have no part in “the first resurrection,” if it be a bodily one. Are they then given over to the power of the “second death?” But if the “first resurrection” be regarded as figurative and spiritual, then the statement that those who are actuated by the spirit of the martyrs and of the eminent saints, shall not experience the “second death,” is seen to have meaning and pertinency.
(c) The mention of the “time” during which they are to reign, if it be literally understood, is contrary to the whole statement of the Bible in other places. They are to “live and reign with Christ” “a thousand years.” What, then? Are they to live no longer? Are they to reign no longer with him? This supposition is entirely contrary to the current statement in the Scriptures, which is, that they are to live and reign with him forever: 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” According to the views of the “literalists,” the declaration that they “should live and reign with Christ,” considered as the characteristic features of the millennial state, is to terminate with the thousand years - for this is the promise, according to that view, that they should thus live and reign. But it need not be said that this is wholly contrary to the current doctrine of the Bible, that they are to live and reign with him forever.
(d) A further objection to this view is, that the wicked part of the world - “the rest of the dead who lived not again until the thousand years were finished” - must of course be expected to “live again” in the same bodily sense wheat those thousand years were finished. But, so far from this, there is no mention of their living then. When the thousand years are finished, Satan is loosed for a season; then the nations are roused to opposition against God; then there is a conflict, and the hostile forces are overthrown; and then comes the final judgment. During all this time we read of no resurrection at all. The period after this is to be filled up with something besides the resurrection of the “rest of the dead.” There is no intheation, as the “literal” construction, as it is claimed, would demand, that immediately after the “thousand years arc finished” the “rest of the dead” - the wicked dead - would be raised up; nor is there any intimation of such a resurrection until all the dead are raised up for the final trial, Revelation 20:12. But every consideration demands, if the interpretation of the “literalists” be correct, that the “rest of the dead” - the unconverted dead - should be raised up immediately after the close of the millennial period, and be raised up as a distinct and separate class.
(e) There is no intimation in the passage itself that the “righteous” will be raised up “as such” in this period, and the proper interpretation of the passage is contrary to that supposition. There are but two classes mentioned as having part in the first resurrection. They are those who were “beheaded for the witness of Jesus,” and those who “had not worshipped the beast” - that is, the martyrs, and those who had been eminent for their fidelity to the Saviour in times of great temptation and trial. There is no mention of the resurrection of the righteous as “such” - of the resurrection of the great body of the redeemed; and if it could be shown that this refers to a “literal” resurrection, it would be impossible to apply it, according to any just rules of interpretation, to anymore than the two classes that are specified. By what rules of interpretation is it made to to teach that “all” the righteous will be raised up on that occasion, and will live on the earth during that long period? In this view of the matter, the passage “does not” express the doctrine that the whole church ofi God will be raised bodily from the grave. And supposing it had been the design of the Spirit of God to teach this, is it credible, when there are so many clear expressions in regard to the resurrection of the dead, that so important a doctrine should have been reserved for one single passage so obscure, and where the great mass of the readers of the Bible in all ages have failed to perceive it? That is not the way in which, in the Scriptures, great and momentous doctrines are communicated to mankind.
(f) The fair statement in Revelation 20:11-15 is, that all the dead will then be raised up and be judged. This is implied in the general expressions there used - “the dead, small and great”; the “book of life was opened” - as if not opened before; “the dead” - all the dead - “were judged out of those things which were written in the books”; “the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell (hades) delivered up the dead which were in them.” This is entirely inconsistent with the supposition that a large part of the race to wit, all the righteous - had been before raised up; had passed the solemn judgment; had been clothed with their immortal bodies, and had been admitted to a joint reign with the Saviour on his throne. In the last judgment what place are they to occupy? In what sense are they to be raised up and judged? Would such a representation have been made as is found in Revelation 20:11-15, if it had been designed to teach that a large part of the race had been already raised up, and had received the approval of their judge?
(g) This representation is wholly inconsistent, not only with Revelation 20:11-15, but with the uniform language of the Scriptures, “that all the righteous and the wicked will be judged together, and both at the coming of Christ.” On no point are the statements of the Bible more uniform and explicit than on this, and it would seem that the declarations had been of design so made that there should be no possibility of mistake. I refer for full proof on this point to the following passages of the New Testament: Matthew 10:32-33, compared with Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:38-43; Matthew 16:24-27; Matthew 25:10,Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 8:38; John 5:28-29; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:5-16; Romans 14:10, Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 1Co 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; 1 Timothy 5:24-25; 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Peter 3:10, 2Pe 3:12; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 4:17; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 20:11-15; Revelation 22:12-15. It is utterly “impossible” to explain these passages on any other supposition than that they are intended to teach that the righteous and the wicked will be judged together, and both at the coming of Christ. And if this is so, it is of course impossible to explain them consistently with the view that all the righteous will have been already raised up at the beginning of the millennium in their immortal and glorified bodies, and that they have been solemnly approved by the Saviour, and admitted to a participation in his glory. Nothing could be more irreconcilable than these two views; and it seems to me, therefore, that the objections to the literal resurrection of the saints at the beginning of the millennial period are insuperable.
III. The following points, then, according to the interpretation proposed, are implied in this statement respecting the “first resurrection,” and these will clearly comprise all that is stated on the subject:
(1) There will be a reviving, and a prevalence of the spirit which actuated the saints in the best days, and a restoration of their principles as the grand principles which will control and govern the church, as if the most eminent saints were raised again from the dead, and lived and acted upon the earth.
(2) Their memory will then be sacredly cherished, and they will be honored on the earth with the honor which is due to theft names, and which they should have received when in the land of the living. They will be no longer cast out and reproached; no longer held up to obloquy and scorn; no longer despised and forgotten; but there will be a reviving of sacred regard for their principles, as if they lived on the earth, and had the honor which was due to them.
(3) There will be a state of things upon the earth as if they thus lived and were thus honored. Religion will no longer be trampled under foot, but will triumph. In all parts of the earth it will have the ascendency, as if the most eminent saints of past ages lived and reigned with the Son of God in his kingdom. A spiritual kingdom will be set up with the Son of God at the head of it, which will be a kingdom of eminent holiness, as if the saints of the best days of the church should come back to the earth and dwell upon it. The ruling influence in the world will be the religion of the Son of God, and the principles which have governed the most holy of his people.
(4) It may be implied that the saints and martyrs of other times will be employed by the Saviour in embassies of mercy; in visitations of grace to our world to carry forward the great work of salvation on earth. Nothing forbids the idea that the saints in heaven may be thus employed, and in this long period of a thousand years, it may be that they will be occupied in such messages and agencies of mercy to our world as they have never been before - as if they were raised from the dead, and were employed by the Redeemer to carry forward his purposes of mercy to mankind.
(5) In connection with these things, and in consequence of these things, they may be, during that period, exalted to higher happiness and honor in heaven. The restoration of their principles to the earth; the Christian remembrance of their virtues; the prevalence of those truths to establish which they laid down their lives, would in itself exalt them, and would increase their joy in heaven. All this would be well represented, in vision, by a resurrection of the dead; and admitting that this was all that was intended, the representation of John here would be in the highest degree appropriate. What could better symbolize it - and we must remember that this is a symbol - than to say that at the commencement of this period there was, as it were, a solemn preparation for a judgment, and that the departed dead seemed to stand there, and that a sentence was pronounced in their favor, and that they became associated with the Son of God in the honors of his kingdom, and that their principles were now to reign and triumph in the earth, and that the kingdom which they labored to establish would be set up for a thousand years, and that, in high purposes of mercy and benevolence during that period, they would be employed in maintaining and extending the principles of religion in the world? Admitting that the Holy Spirit intended to represent these things, and these only, no more appropriate symbolical language could have been used; none that would more accord with the general style of the Book of Revelation.
And when the thousand years are expired - See Revelation 20:2.
Satan shall be loosed out of his prison - See Revelation 20:3. That is, a state of things will then occur as if Satan should be for a time let loose again, and should be permitted to go as formerly over the world. No intimation is given “why or how” he would be thus released from his prison. We are not, however, to infer that it would be a mere arbitrary act on the part of God. All that is necessary to be supposed is, that there would be, in certain parts of the world, a temporary outbreak of wickedness, as if Satan were for a time released from his chains.
And shall go out to deceive the nations - See the notes on Revelation 12:9. The meaning here is, that he would again, for a time, act in his true character, and in some way delude the nations once more. In what way this would be done is not stated. It would be, however, clearly an appeal to the wicked passions of mankind, exciting a hope that they might yet overthrow the kingdom of God on the earth.
Which are in the four quarters of the earth - Literally, corners of the earth, as if the earth were one extended square plain. The earth is usually spoken of as divided into four parts or quarters - the eastern, the western, the northern, and the southern. It is implied here that the deception or apostasy referred to would not be confined to one spot or portion of the world, but would extend afar. The idea seems to be, that during that period, though there would be a “general” prevalence of the gospel, and a “general” diffusion of its blessings, yet that the earth would not be entirely under its influence, and especially that the native character of the human heart would not be changed. Man, under powerful temptations, would be liable to be deluded by the great master spirit that has so often corrupted the race. Once more he would be permitted to make the trial, and then his power would forever come to an end.
Gog and Magog - The name “Gog” occurs as the name of a prince in Ezekiel 38:2-3, Ezekiel 38:16, Ezekiel 38:18; Ezekiel 39:1, Ezekiel 39:11. “He is an invader of the land of Israel, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal,” Ezekiel 38:2. “Magog” is also mentioned in Ezekiel 38:2, “the land of Magog”; and in Ezekiel 39:6, “I will send a fire on Magog.” As the terms are used in the Old Testament, the representation would seem to be that “Gog” was the king of a people called “Magog.” The signification of the names is unknown, and consequently nothing can be determined about the meaning of this passage from that source. Nor is there much known about the “people” who are referred to by Ezekiel. His representation would seem to be, that a great and powerful people, dwelling in the extreme recesses of the north Ezekiel 38:15; Ezekiel 39:2, would invade the Holy Land after the return from the exile, Ezekiel 38:8-12. It is commonly supposed that they were Scythians, residing between the Caspian and Euxine Seas, or in the region of Mount Caucasus. Thus Josephus (Ant Ezekiel 1:6, Ezekiel 1:3) has dropped the Hebrew word Magog, and rendered it by Σκύθαι Skuthai - “Scythians”; and so does Jerome. Suidas renders it Persai - Persians; but this does not materially vary the view, since the word “Scythians,” among the ancient writers, is a collective word, to denote all the northeastern, unknown, barbarous tribes.
Among the Hebrews, the name “Magog” also would seem to denote all the unknown barbarous tribes about the Caucasian mountains. The fact that the names Gog and Magog are, in Ezekiel, associated with Meshech and Tubal, seems to determine the locality of these people, for those two countries lie between the Euxine and Caspian Seas, or at the southeast extremity of the Euxine Sea (Rosenmuller, Bib. Geog. vol. 1, p. 240). The people of that region were, it seems, a terror to Middle Asia, in the same manner as the Scythians were to the Greeks and Romans. Intercourse with such distant and savage nations was scarcely possible in ancient times; and hence, from their numbers and strength, they were regarded with great terror, just as the Scythians were regarded by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and as the Tartars were in the middle ages. In this manner they became an appropriate symbol of rude and savage people; of enemies fierce and warlike; of foes to be dreaded; and as such they were referred to by both Ezekiel and John. It has been made a question whether Ezekiel and John do not refer to the same period, but it is not necessary to consider that question here.
All that is needful to be understood is, that John means to say that at the time referred to there would be formidable enemies of the church who might be compared with the dreaded dwellers in the land of Magog; or, that after this long period of millennial tranquility and peace, there would be a state of things which might be properly compared with the invasion of the Holy Land by the dreaded barbarians of Magog or Scythia. It is not necessary to suppose that any particular “country” is referred to, or that there would be any one portion of the earth which the gospel would not reach, and which would be still barbarous, pagan, and savage; all that is necessary to be supposed is, that though religion would generally prevail, human nature would remain essentially corrupt and unchanged; and that, therefore, from causes which are not stated, there might yet be a fearful apostasy, and a somewhat general prevalence of iniquity. This would be nothing more than has occurred after the most favored times in the church, and nothing more than human nature would exhibit at any time, if all restraints were withdrawn, and people were suffered to act out their native feelings. “Why” this will be permitted; what causes will bring it about; what subordinate agencies will be employed, is not said, and conjecture would be vain. The reader who wishes more information in regard to Gog and Magog may consult Prof. Stuart on this book, vol. 2, pp. 364-368, and the authorities there referred to. Compare especially Rosenmuller on Ezekiel 38:2. See also Sale’s “Koran,” Pre. Dis. section 4, and the “Koran” itself, Sura 18:94 and 21:95.
To gather them together to battle - As if to assemble them for war; that is, a state of things would exist in regard to the kingdom of God and the prevalence of the true religion as if distant and barbarous nations should be aroused to make war on the church of God. The meaning is, that there would be an awakened hostility against the kingdom of Christ in the earth. See the notes on Revelation 16:14.
The number of whom is as the sand of the sea - A common comparison in the Scriptures to denote a great multitude, Genesis 22:17; Genesis 32:12; Genesis 41:49; 1 Samuel 13:5; 1 Kings 4:20, et al.
Section c. - Condition of things in the period referred to in Revelation 20:7-8;
(1) This will occur “at the close” of the millennial period - the period of the thousand years. It is not said, indeed, that it would be “immediately” after that; but the statement is explicit that it will be “after” that, or “when the thousand years are expired.” There may be an interval before it shall be accomplished of an indefinite time; the alienation and corruption may be gradual; a considerable period may elapse before the apostasy shall assume an organized form, or, in the language of John, before the hosts shall “be gathered to battle,” but it is to be the “next” marked and prominent event in the history of the world, and is to precede the final consummation of all things.
(2) This will be a “brief period.” Compared with the long period of prosperity that preceded it, and “perhaps” compared with the long period that shall follow it before the final judgment, it will be short. Thus, in Revelation 20:3, it is said that Satan “must be loosed a little season.” See the notes on that verse. There is no way of determining the time with exactness; but we are assured that it will not be long.
(3) What will be the exact state of things then can be only a matter of conjecture. We may say, however, that it will not be:
(a)Necessarily “war.” The language is figurative and symbolical, and it is not necessary to suppose that an actual and bloody warfare will be literally waged against the church. Nor,
(b)Will there be a literal invasion of the land of Palestine as the residence of the saints and the capital of the Redeemer’s visible empire, for there is not a hint of this - not a word to justify such an interpretation. Nor,
(c)Is it necessary to suppose that there will be literally such nations as will be then called “Gog and Magog,” for this language is figurative, and designed to characterize the foes of the church - as being in some respects formidable and terrible as were those ancient nations.
We may thus suppose that at that time, from causes which are unexplained, there will be:
(a)A revived opposition to the truths of religion;
(b)The prevalence, to a greater or less extent, of infidelity;
(c)A great spiritual declension;
(d)A combination of interests opposed to the gospel;
(e)Possibly some new form of error and delusion that shall extensively prevail.
Satan may set up some new form of religion, or he may breathe into those that may already exist: a spirit of worldliness and vanity - some new manifestation of the religion of forms - that shall for a limited period produce a general decline and apostasy. As there is, however, no distinct specification of what will characterize the world at that time it is impossible to determine what is referred to anymore than in this general manner.
(4) A few remarks may, however, be made on the “probability” of what is here affirmed, for it seems contrary to what we should suppose would be the characteristics of the closing period of the world. The following remarks, then, may show that this anticipated state of things is not improbable:
(a) We are to remember that human nature will then be essentially the same as now. There is no intimation that man, as born into the world, will be then different from what he is now, or that any of the natural corrupt tendencies of the human heart will be changed. People will be “liable” to the same outbreaks of passion, to be influenced by the same forms of temptation, to fall into the same degeneracy and corruption, to feel the same unhappy influences of success and prosperity as now, for all this pertains to a fallen “nature,” except as it is checked and controlled by grace. We often mistake much in regard to the millennial state by supposing that all the evils of the apostasy will be arrested and that the nature of man will be as wholly changed as it will be in the heavenly world.
(b) The whole history of the church has shown that there is a liability to “declension” even in the best state and in the condition of the highest spiritual prosperity. To see this we have only to remember the example of the Hebrews, and how readily they apostatized after the most striking manifestation of the divine mercies; the early Christian church, and how soon it declined; the seven churches of Asia Minor, and how soon their spirituality departed; the various revivals of religion that have occurred from time to time, and how soon they have been succeeded by coldness, worldliness, and error; the fact that great religious denominations, which have begun their career with zeal and love, have so soon degenerated in spirit, and fallen into the same formality and worldliness which they have evinced who have gone before them; and the case of the individual Christian, who from the most exalted state of love and joy so soon often declines into a state of conformity to the world.
These are sad views of human nature, even under the influence of true religion; but the past history of man has given but too much occasion for such reflections, and too much reason to apprehend that the same things may occur, for a time, even under the best forms in which religion may manifest itself in a fallen world. Man’s nature will be better in heaven, and religion there, in its purest and best form, will be permanent; here we are not to be surprised at any outbreak of sin or any form of declension in religion. What has often occurred in the world on a small scale we may suppose may then occur on a larger scale. “Just as on a small scale, in some little community like that of Northampton, as described by President Edwards, after the remarkable sense of God’s presence over the whole town had begun to wax feeble, the still unconverted persons of it, though subdued and seemingly won over to Christ, would by little and little recover themselves, and at length venture forth in their true character; so it will be, in all probability, on a vast scale, at the close of the latter day. The unconverted portion of the world - long constrained by the religious influences everywhere surrounding them to fall in with the spirit of the day, catching apparently its holy impulses, but never coming savingly under its power - this portion of mankind, which we have reason to fear will not be small, will now be freed from these irksome restraints, no longer obliged to breathe an atmosphere uncongenial to their nature” (Brown on the Seceded Coming of Christ, p. 442). “No oppression is so grievous to an unsanctified heart as that which arises from the purity of Christianity. A desire to shake off this yoke is the true cause of the opposition which Christianity has met with in the world in every period, and will, it is most likely, be the chief motive to influence the followers of Gog in his time” (Frazer’s Key, p. 455).
(c) The representations of the New Testament elsewhere confirm this view in regard to the latter state of the world - the state when the Lord Jesus shall come to judgment. “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8. “There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming?” 2 Peter 3:3-4. “The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape,” 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3. See especially Luke 17:26-30; “As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day wheat the Son of man is revealed.”
And they went up on the breadth of the earth - They spread over the earth in extended columns. The image is that of an invading army that seems, in its march, to spread all over a land. The reference here is to the hosts assembled from the regions of Gog and Magog; that is, to the formidable enemies of the gospel that would be roused up at the close of the period properly called the “millennial” period - the period of the thousand years. It is not necessary to suppose that there would be “literally” armies of enemies of God summoned from lands that would be called lands of “Gog and Magog”; but all that is necessarily implied is, that there will be a state of hostility to the church of Christ which would be well illustrated by such a comparison with an invading host of barbarians. The expression “the breadth of the land” occurs in Habakkuk 1:6, in a description. of the invasion of the Chaldeans, and means there “the whole extent of it”; that is, they would spread over the whole country.
And compassed the camp of the saints about - Besieged the camp of the saints considered as engaged in war, or as attacked by an enemy. The “camp of the saints” here seems to be supposed to be without the walls of the city; that is, the army was drawn out for defense. The fact that the foes were able to “compass this camp about,” and to encircle the city at the same time, shows the greatness of the numbers of the invaders.
And the beloved city - Jerusalem - a city represented as beloved by God and by his people. The whole imagery here is derived from a supposed invasion of the land of Palestine - imagery than which nothing could be more natural to John in describing the hostility that would be aroused against the church in the latter day. But no just principle of interpretation requires us to understand this “literally.” Compare Hebrews 12:22. Indeed, it would be absolutely “impossible” to give this chapter throughout a “literal” interpretation. What would be the “literal” interpretation of the very first verses? “I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the “key” of the bottomless pit, and “a great chain” in his hand; and he laid hold on the “dragon and bound” him.” Can anyone believe that there is to be a literal “key,” and a “chain,” and an act of seizing a “serpent,” and “binding” him? As little is it demanded that the passage before us should be taken “literally”; for if it is maintained that this should be, we may insist that the same principle of interpretation should be applied to every part of the chapter, and every part of the book.
And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them - Consumed them - fire being represented as devouring or eating. See the notes on Revelation 17:16. The meaning is, that they would be destroyed as if fire should come down from heaven, as on Sodom and Gomorrah. But it is not necessary to understand this literally, anymore than it is the portions of the chapter just referred to. What is obviously meant is, that their destruction would be sudden, certain, and entire, and that thus the last enemy of God and the church would be swept away. Nothing can be determined from this about the “means” by which this destruction will be effected; and that must be left for time to disclose. It is sufficient to know that the destruction of these last foes of God and the church will be certain and entire. This “language,” as denoting the final destruction of the enemies of God, is often employed in the Scriptures. See Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 29:6; Ezekiel 38:22; Ezekiel 39:6.
And the devil that deceived them - See the notes on Revelation 20:3, Revelation 20:8.
Was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone - In Revelation 19:20, it is said of the beast and the false prophet that they were “cast alive into a lake of fire, burning with brimstone.” Satan, on the other hand, instead of being doomed at once to that final ruin, was confined for a season in a dark abyss, Revelation 20:1-3. As the final punishment, however, he is appropriately represented as consigned to the same doom as the beast and the false prophet, that those great enemies of God, that had been associated and combined in deceiving the nations, might share the same appropriate punishment in the end. Compare Revelation 16:13-14.
Where the beast and the false prophet are - See the notes on Revelation 19:20.
And shall be tormented day and night forever - Compare the notes on Revelation 14:11. All the great enemies of the church are destroyed, and henceforward there is to be no array of hostile forces; no combination of malignant powers against the kingdom of God. The gospel triumphs; the way is prepared for the final consummation.
Section d. - Condition of things in the period referred to in Revelation 20:9-10;
(1) There will be, after the release of Satan, and of course at the close of the millennial period properly so called, a state of things which may be well represented by the invasion of a country by hostile, formidable forces. This, as shown in the exposition, need not be supposed to be literal; but it is implied that there will be decided hostility against the true religion. It may be an organization and consolidation, so to speak, of infidel principles, or a decided worldly spirit, or some prevalent form of error, or some new form of depravity that shall be developed by the circumstances of that age. What it will be it is impossible now to determine; but, as shown above (section c, (4)), it is by no means improbable that this will occur even at the close of the millennium.
(2) There will be a decided defeat of these forces thus combined, “as if” fire should come down from heaven to destroy an invading army. The “mode” in which this will be done is not indeed stated, for there is no necessity of understanding the statement in Revelation 20:9 “literally,” anymore than the other parts of the chapter. The fair inference, however, is that it will be by a manifest divine agency; that it will be sudden, and that the destruction will be entire. We have no reason, therefore, to suppose that the outbreak will be of long continuance, or that it will very materially disturb the settled order of human affairs on the earth - anymore than a formidable invasion of a country does, when the invading army is suddenly cut off by some terrible judgment from heaven.
(3) This overthrow of the enemies of God and of the church will be “final.” Satan will be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, to be tormented day and night forever.” The beast and the false prophet are already there Revelation 19:20; that is, they will have ceased long since, even before the beginning of the millennial period (Revelation 19:20, compared with Revelation 20:1-3), to have opposed the progress of truth in the world, and their power will have been brought to an end. Satan now, the last enemy, will be doomed to the same hopeless woe; and all the enemies that have ever opposed the church - in all forms of paganism, Mohammedanism, Popery, and delusion - will be destroyed forever. The world then will have peace; the church will have rest; the great triumph will have been achieved.
(4) For reasons stated in the analysis of the chapter, 5. (c), it is possible that there will be a long period of continued prosperity and peace between the events stated in Revelation 20:9-10, and the final judgment, as described in Revelation 20:11-15. If so, however, the purpose of the book did not require that that should be described at length, and it must be admitted that the most “obvious” interpretation of the New Testament would not be favorable to such a supposition. Compare Luke 17:26-30; Luke 18:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3-4. The great glory of the world will be the millennial period; when religion shall have the ascendency and the race shall have reached its highest point of progress on earth, and the blessings of liberty, intelligence, peace, and piety, shall have during that period been spread over the globe. In that long duration, who can estimate the numbers that shah be redeemed and saved? That period passed, the great purpose contemplated by the creation of the earth - the glory of God in the redemption of a fallen race, and in setting up a kingdom of righteousness in a world of apostasy - will have been accomplished, and there will be no reason why the final judgment should not then occur. “The work of redemption will now be finished. The end for which the means of grace have been instituted shall be obtained. All the effect which was intended to be accomplished by them shall now be accomplished. All the great wheels of Providence have gone round all things are ripe for Christ’s coming to judgment” (President Edwards’ History of Redemption).
And I saw a great white throne - This verse commences the description of the final judgment, which embraces the remainder of the chapter. The first thing seen in the vision is the burning throne of the Judge. The things that are specified in regard to it are, that it was “great,” and that it was “white.” The former expression means that it was high or elevated. Compare Isaiah 6:1. The latter expression - white - means that it was “splendid or shining.” Compare 1 Kings 10:18-20. The throne here is the same which is referred to in Matthew 25:31, and called there “the throne of his glory.”
And him that sat on it - The reference here undoubtedly is to the Lord Jesus Christ, the final Judge of mankind (compare Matthew 25:31), and the scene described is what will occur at his second advent.
From whose face - Or, from whose presence; though the word may be used here to denote more strictly his face - as illuminated, and shining like the sun. See Revelation 1:16, “And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”
The earth and the heaven fled away - That is, as the stars, at the rising of the sun, seem to flee to more remote regions, and vanish from human view, so when the Son of God shall descend in his glory to judge the world, the earth and all other worlds shall seem to vanish. Every one must admire the sublimity of this image; no one can contemplate it without being awed by the majesty and glory of the final Judge of mankind. Similar expressions, where the natural creation shrinks back with awe at the presence of God, frequently occur in the Bible. Compare Psalms 18:7-15; Psalms 77:16-19; Psalms 114:3-5; Habakkuk 3:6, Habakkuk 3:10-11.
And there was found no place for them - They seemed to flee “entirely away,” as if there was “no” place where they could find a safe retreat, or which would receive and shelter them in their flight. The image expresses, in the most emphatic manner, the idea that they entirely disappeared, and no language could more sublimely represent the majesty of the Judge.
And I saw the dead, small and great - All the dead - for this language would express that - the whole race being composed of the “small and great.” Thus, in other language, the same idea might be expressed by saying, the young and old; the rich and poor; the bond and free; the sick and well; the happy and the unhappy; the righteous and the wicked; for all the human family might, in these respects, be considered as thus divided. The fair meaning in this place therefore is, that all the dead would be there, and of course this would preclude the idea of a “previous” resurrection of any part of the dead, as of the saints, at the beginning of the millennium. There is no intimation here that it is the wicked dead that are referred to in this description of the final judgment. It is the judgment of all the dead.
Stand before God - That is, they appear thus to be judged. The word “God” here must naturally refer to the final Judge on the throne, and there can be no doubt (see Matthew 25:31) that this is the Lord Jesus. Compare 2 Corinthians 5:10. None can judge the secrets of the heart; none can pronounce on the moral character of all mankind, of all countries and ages, and determine their everlasting allotment, but he who is divine.
And the books were opened - That is, the books containing the record of human deeds. The representation is, that all that people have done is recorded, and that it will be exhibited on the final trial, and will constitute the basis of the last judgment. The imagery seems to be derived from the accusations made against such as are arraigned before human courts of justice.
And another book was opened, which is the book of life - The book containing the record of the names of all who shall enter into life, or into heaven. See the notes on Revelation 3:5. The meaning here is, that John saw not only the general books opened containing the records of the deeds of people, but that he had a distinct view of the list or roll of those who were the followers of the Lamb. It would seem that in regard to the multitudes of the impenitent and the wicked, the judgment will proceed “on their deeds” in general; in regard to the righteous, it will turn on the fact that their names had been enrolled in the book of life. That will be sufficient to determine the nature of the sentence that is to be passed on them. He will be safe whose name is found in the book of life; no one will be safe who is to have his eternal destiny determined by his own deeds. This passage proves particularly that the righteous dead are referred to here as being present at the final judgment; and is thus an additional argument against the supposition of a resurrection of the righteous, and a judgment on them, at the beginning of the millennium.
And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books - The records which had been made of their deeds. The final judgment will proceed on the record that has been made. It will not be arbitrary, and will not be determined by rank, condition, or profession, but it will be according to the record.
According to their works - See the notes on 2 Corinthians 5:10. The fact that the name of anyone was found in the book of life would seem, as above remarked, to determine the “certainty” of salvation; but the amount of reward would be in proportion to the service rendered to the Redeemer, and the attainments made in piety.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it - All that had been buried in the depths of ocean. This number in the aggregate will be great. If we include all who were swept off by the flood, and all who have perished by shipwreck, and all who have been killed in naval battles and buried in the sea, and all who have been swept away by inundations of the ocean, and all who have peacefully died at sea, as sailors, or in the pursuits of commerce or benevolence, the number in the aggregate will be immense - a number so vast that it was proper to notice them particularly in the account of the general resurrection and the last judgment.
And death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them - That is, all the dead came, from all regions where they were scattered - on the land and in the ocean - in this world and in the invisible world. “Death and hell” are here personified, and are represented as having dominion over the dead, and as now “delivering” up, or “surrendering” those who were held tinder them. On the meaning of the words used here, see the notes on Revelation 1:18; Revelation 6:8. Compare the Matthew 10:23 note; Job 10:21-22 notes; Isaiah 14:9 note. This whole representation is entirely inconsistent with the supposition that a large part of the dead had been already raised up at the beginning of the millennial period, and had been permitted, in their glorified bodies, to reign with Christ.
And they were judged, ... - All these were judged - the righteous and the wicked; those buried at sea, and those buried on the land; the small and the great; the dead, in whatever world they may have been.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire - Death and Hades (hell) are here personified, as they are in the previous verse. The declaration is equivalent to the statement in 1 Corinthians 15:26; “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” See the notes on that passage. The idea is, that death, considered as the separation of soul and body, with all the attendant woes, will exist no more. The righteous will live forever, and the wicked will linger on in a state never to be terminated by death. The reign of Death and Hades, as such, would come to an end, and a new order of things would commence where this would be unknown. There might be what would be properly called death, but it would not be death in this form; the soul would live forever, but it would not be in that condition represented by the word ᾅδης hadēs - “hades.” There would be “death” still, but a “second death differs from the first, in the fact that it is not a separation of the soul and body, but a state of “continual agony” like what the first death inflicts - like that in intensity, but not in kind” (Prof. Stuart).
This is the second death - That is, this whole process here described - the condemnation, and the final death and ruin of those whose names are “not found written in the book of life” - properly constitutes the second death. This proves that when it is said that “death and hell were cast into the lake of fire,” it cannot be meant that all punishment will cease forever, and that all will be saved, for the writer goes on to describe what he calls “the second death” as still existing. See Revelation 20:15. John describes this as the second death, not because it in all respects resembles the first death, but because it has so many points of resemblance that it may be properly called “death.” Death, in any form, is the penalty of law; it is attended with pain; it cuts off from hope, from friends, from enjoyment; it subjects him who dies to a much-dreaded condition, and in all these respects it was proper to call the final condition of the wicked “death” - though it would still be true that the soul would live. There is no evidence that John meant to affirm that the second death would imply an extinction of “existence.” Death never does that; the word does not naturally and properly convey that idea.
And whosoever - All persons, of all ranks, ages, and conditions. No word could be more comprehensive than this. The single condition here stated, as being what would save any from being cast into the lake of fire, is, that they are “found written in the book of life.” All besides these, princes, kings, nobles, philosophers, statesmen, conquerors; rich men and poor men; the bond and the free; the young and the aged; the frivolous, the vain, the proud, and the sober; the modest and the humble, will be doomed to the lake of fire. Unlike in all other things, they will be alike in the only thing on which their eternal destiny will depend - that they have not so lived that their names have become recorded in the book of life. As they will also be destitute of true religion, there will be a propriety that they shall share the same doom in the future world.
Written in the book of life - See the notes on Revelation 3:5.
Was cast into the lake of fire - See the notes on Matthew 25:41. That is, they will be doomed to a punishment which will be well represented by their lingering in a sea of fire forever. This is the termination of the judgment - the winding up of the affairs of men. The vision of John here rests for a moment on the doom of the wicked, and then turns to a more full contemplation of the happy lot of the righteous, as detailed in the two closing chapters of the book.
Section e. - Condition of things referred to in Revelation 20:11-15;
(1) There will be a general resurrection of the dead - of the righteous and the wicked. This is implied by the statement that the “dead, small and great,” were seen to stand before God; that “the sea gave up the dead which were in it”; that “Death and Hades gave up their dead.” All were there whose names were or were not written in the book of life.
(2) There will be a solemn and impartial judgment. How long a time this will occupy is not said, and is not necessary to be known - for time is of no consequence where there is an eternity of devotion - but it is said that they will be all judged “according to their works” - that is, strictly according to their character. They will receive no arbitrary doom; they will have no sentence which will not be just. See Matthew 25:31-46.
(3) This will be the “final” judgment. After this, the affairs of the race will be put on a different footing. This will be the end of the present arrangements; the end of the present dispensations; the end of human probation. The great question to be determined in regard to our world will have been settled; what the plan of redemption was intended to accomplish on the earth will have been accomplished; the agency of the Divine Spirit in converting sinners will have come to an end; and the means of grace, as such, will be employed no more. There is not here or elsewhere an intheation that beyond this period any of these things will exist, or that the work of redemption, as such, will extend into the world beyond the judgment. As there is no intheation that the condition of the righteous will be changed, so there is none that the condition of the wicked will be; as there is no hint that the righteous will ever be exposed to temptation, or to the danger of falling into sin, so there is none that the offers of salvation will ever again be made to the wicked. On the contrary, the whole representation is, that all beyond this will be fixed and unchangeable forever. See the notes on Revelation 22:11.
(4) The wicked will be destroyed, in what may be properly called the “second” death. As remarked in the notes, this does not mean that this death will in all respects resemble the first death, but there will be so many points of resemblance that it will be proper to call it “death.” It does not mean that they will be “annihilated,” for “death” never implies that. The meaning is, that this will be a cutting off from what is properly called “life,” from hope, from happiness, and from peace, and a subjection to pain and agony, which it will be proper to call “death” - death in the most fearful form; death that will continue for ever. No statements in the Bible are more clear than those which are made on this point; no affirmation of the eternal punishment of the wicked “could be” more explicit than those which occur in the sacred Scriptures. See the Matthew 25:46 note, and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 note.
(5) This will be the end of the woes and calamities produced in the kingdom of God by sin. The reign of Satan and of Death, so far as the Redeemer’s kingdom is concerned, will be at an end and henceforward the church will be safe from all the arts and efforts of its foes. Religion will be triumphant, and the affairs of the universe be reduced to permanent order.
(6) The preparation is thus made for the final triumph of the righteous - the state to which all things tend. The writer of this book has conducted the prospective history through all the times of persecution which awaited the church, and stated the principal forms of error which would prevail, and foretold the conflicts through which the church would pass, and described its eventful history to the millennial period, and to the final triumph of truth and righteousness; and now nothing remains to complete the plan of the work but to give a rapid sketch of the final condition of the redeemed. This is done in the two following chapters, and with this the work is ended.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 20". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany