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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 20

D.S. Clark's Commentary on RevelationClark on Revelation

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This chapter may be regarded as the beginning' of a new section. Not that it has no relation to the past, for each section leads up to the next, and the latter grow out of the former. But this chapter leads us into scenes that are futuristic, here we have vistas that reach forward to the final judgment of the whole world.

We saw Christ and his armies conquer the beast and the false prophet and they were cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. But Satan is still at large, and this chapter shows that the battle is carried against Satan himself. The conquering Christ that led his church to triumph over the persecuting powers of earth leads on till he binds the power of Satan and frees the world at least for a time of his deceptive and seductive influence.

Verses 1-3

Vs. 1-3. John saw an angel come down from heaven with the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on Satan and bound him for a thousand years and cast him into the bottomless pit and shut him up. Nothing is said as to the time intervening between the events of the 19th and 20th chapters. How long it is from the capture of the beast and false prophet to the binding of Satan we have no means of knowing, but it does not look as if Satan is bound yet.

We get the word 'millennium' from this word 'thousand' in its Latin form. The word 'millennium' is often on our lips; and popularly it means a period of righteousness and blessedness on earth when Satan's power shall be withdrawn.

Not much is said here about a millennium. It is passed over with but scanty mention. We are rather surprised with the paucity of details. Some have even thought that, from such meager mention, there may be no such thing as a millennium. But it is more than likely that the faith and expectation of the church is right. There are some other passages chiefly in the Old Testament that predict a glorious outcome to God's kingdom on earth, although it is not called a millennium nor any limits of time assigned. Moreover, nearly all John's imagery is based on Old Testament prophecy, and it may well be so in regard to the millennium. Isaiah, in his second chapter, describes the blessing that shall come to the world from Judea and Jerusalem. "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war any more." "In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver and gold to the moles and the bats."

And Micah in his fourth chapter says substantially the same thing in about the same words, beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Isaiah, in his eleventh chapter, describes a world of peace that grows out of that "stem of Jesse." "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain," and now if you please observe the reason, "for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." This expresses the means, as well as the reason of universal peace.

We therefore conclude that there will be a millennium and that it will result from the preaching and teaching of the gospel, when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord" and as it is further said: "and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked."

John says little about conditions on the earth during this millennium, he rather leaves that to be inferred from the fact that Satan is bound, and from the rejoicing of the saints. It is said that Satan is bound and shut up, "that he should deceive the nations no more." When Satan's deceptions are withdrawn the consequent effect upon the world may be inferred. Again the judgment given to the saints, their reigning and rejoicing, though it be a scene in heaven, reflects conditions on the earth. The heavenly picture is indicative of the earthly situation. But here it is well to remember that there is inherent evil in human hearts and there may be some tares among the wheat even in the millennium. Whether the thousand years are to be taken literally and strictly or as expressing an indefinitely long period, need not concern us much. We may remark, however, that since evil has prevailed long in the world, it is quite appropriate that righteousness should be dominant much longer, since this is God's world and the principle of his kingdom is expressed in the words: "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."

Verses 4-6

Vs. 4,5. "And I saw thrones." This is a new vision, indicated by the words, 'and I saw,' which expression indicates the transition from one scene to another.

"Thrones," where were they? In every other place in this book of Revelation where John mentions a throne or thrones, they are in heaven and this is apparently no exception to the rule.

"And they sat on them," who is meant by 'they'? Evidently the martyrs and saints who are mentioned below.

"And judgment was given unto them." In what sense was judgment given to these martyrs and saints? Some have thought that they were made associate judges with Christ to rule and pass judgment on the world and men.

This view cannot be accepted. Judgment transcends the functions of finite creatures; even glorified saints. Judgment is the prerogative of Deity only. "God hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained." If Christ were not God, even he could not judge.

But the meaning of this "judgment" requires us to go back to chapter 6:9-11. There we heard the prayers of these martyrs and saints: "How long, Lord dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"

This verse tells that their prayers were answered. Their persecutors were judged and were hurled from their seats of power into oblivion, even Satan was cast into the bottomless pit, their blood was avenged; the cause for which they gave their lives was vindicated. That is how judgment was given them, their foes were judged, and they were avenged and exalted.

Here we see that we must know the book as a whole in order to interpret a single passage. Sound principles of interpretation regard the unity and consistency of the whole story.

"And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, etc; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." And at the end of the fifth verse it is added: "This is the first resurrection."

Did we ever meet with these souls before? I think they are quite familiar to the student of Revelation. Go back to Rev_6:9-11 and you will recognize them as quite familiar characters. There John saw the souls of saints and martyrs under the altar in heaven. There they are called 'souls.' Here they are called 'souls.' There they were "slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held." Here they are "beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God." There they cry "How long till we are judged and avenged?" Here we have seen that they are "judged and avenged." There they were told "that they should rest yet for a little season, till their fellow-servants and brethren who were about to be killed, even as they, should be completed." Here we see the tale of persecution completed and the persecutors consigned to their judgment.

It is quite clear then that we are here dealing with that same company of martyrs and saints that John saw in the vision of the sixth chapter augmented by those "fellow-servants" which were to fall, and which have now fallen victims of Satan's rage and the persecutor's power.

Where were those martyrs and saints whom John saw? Under the altar, in heaven, where white robes were given them. And this chapter too evidently regards them as in heaven.

The fifth verse of this chapter says: "This is the first resurrection." What is the antecedent of "this"? Evidently this exaltation of saints and martyrs, sitting on thrones in heaven, rejoicing and reigning with Christ.

In chapter 6:9 John said: "I saw souls" under the altar, no bodies. Here again he says: "I saw souls," no bodies. The term 'resurrection' is applied to the souls of these saints and martyrs and not to their bodies. It therefore designates a spiritual exaltation and not a bodily resurrection. That is, the word 'resurrection' is here used in a figurative sense to denote their spiritual exaltation. Is such usage justifiable? Is resurrection ever used in any sense, but that of a bodily resurrection? The figurative usage of 'resurrection' is a very familiar one in the Scriptures. In Eze_37:12 , God says: "I will open your graves and cause you to come out of your graves and bring you into the land of Israel." What is meant? Resurrection of bodies? No, restoration of the captive nation to their land, under the figure of resurrection. Hosea says the same thing in almost the same language, used resurrection as a figure of restoration.

John in his gospel, chapter five, speaks of regeneration as the dead hearing the voice of the Son of God, and coming to life. Then in a few verses after he speaks of a bodily resurrection, thus putting the two ideas in close conjunction, spiritual resurrection and bodily resurrection.

If John in his gospel speaks of a spiritual resurrection first and a bodily resurrection second, is it strange if here in Revelation he should have a first resurrection which is spiritual and in the end of this chapter a second resurrection which is bodily?

Paul also falls in line with John in putting regeneration or spiritual life in the light of a resurrection. Eph_2:5-6 "Even when we were dead in sins hath given us life together with Christ, and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Eph_5:14 "Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light."

Col_3:1 "If ye then be risen with Christ seek those things which are above."

All these passages show that the Scriptures put spiritual life and blessings under the figure of a resurrection, and it may well be so here.

We are further told: Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection on these the second death hath no power. What is it that delivers from the second death, or the lake of fire? Is it bodily resurrection or is it regeneration? And every sensible man must answer: It is regeneration. Therefore, blessed and holy is he that hath part in the resurrection of regeneration, for on such the second death hath no power; regeneration and exaltation being inseparable parts of one whole. We therefore conclude that resurrection is here used in a figurative sense, to indicate a spiritual resurrection, a common usage of the Scriptures. Nothing is said of bodies much less of bodies coming out of their graves. John saw 'souls,' and evidently the same souls that he saw under the altar in heaven in the visions of the sixth chapter. John saw the blessedness of those saints and martyrs in heaven and that is what he calls the first resurrection.

In verse five we find the expression, "But the rest of the dead lived not (again) until the thousand years were finished." This expression is not found in some manuscripts notably the Vatican and Syriac. But assuming that it is a genuine part of our text it will come up for some reference as we proceed. These six verses have been the subject of much debate in the controversies over this book. We will notice a few variant views.

1st . The premillennial view assumes that the nineteenth chapter describes the second coming of Christ and that these six verses teach that all the righteous dead will be resurrected and live on the earth during the thousand years, and the wicked dead will not be resurrected till the thousand years are ended. Then at the end of the postmillennial period they will be resurrected and brought to judgment as described in the end of this chapter which is a judgment of the wicked only according to the premillennialist. The difficulties in this view are these:

(a) It contradicts everything taught elsewhere in the Bible about the resurrection and the judgment. It contradicts Christ's repeated declarations that the resurrection is at the last day, and the judgment of the righteous at the last day. It contradicts Christ's teaching in Joh_5:28 that the just and unjust are raised at the same time, one resurrection for all that are in their graves.

It contradicts the teaching of Christ in Mat_25:31 that when Christ comes then will ensue the general judgment and the assignment of destiny to the righteous and wicked.

It contradicts the closing part of this twentieth chapter where we see all the dead, small and great, coming from their graves and from the bottom of the sea and standing before God in one general judgment.

(b) It makes this obscure passage a key to interpret the plain portions elsewhere, whereas the true rule is that the obscure must be interpreted by the obvious.

(c) This view is supposed to be strengthened by the statement: "The rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished." But even the premillennialist would not be ready to admit that the wicked dead were actually resurrected at the end of the thousand years, and actually "lived" during the post-millennial period, which his literal interpretation would seem to require.

(d) Besides, the premillennial view makes the resurrection precede the "Tribulation," and therefore should show us the resurrection at the beginning of the fourth chapter (and not a line of it is there) instead of at the beginning of the twentieth chapter.

If this is a living of resurrected saints on earth, what becomes of them at the end of the thousand years? Do they die again? or ascend again? To this, premillennialism has no answer.

Besides if the end of the chapter describes only the resurrection and judgment of the wicked, what provision is made for the resurrection of all the righteous who were born and lived in the millennial and post-millennial periods? And for this also premillennialism has no answer.

These difficulties seem fatal to the premillennial view.

2nd . Another view held by Saint Augustine, by Dr. David Brown, a great authority on the subject, and by Dr. A. H. Strong, the great theologian of the Baptist church, is to the effect that the reigning saints are the triumphant church on earth in the millennial period.

The Christian cause or body that was smitten with the sword and burned in the persecutor's fire, will rise to triumph and domination in the millennial days. That is the resurrection, it is the resurrection of the cause, or party or church of Christ. It will rise to power and rule the world while the Satan party or serpent party will be overcome. But when the thousand years are finished that Satan-party will rise again to live and fight and persecute the church in the post-millennial period as this chapter depicts.

This view brings out the antithesis expressed in these verses. The saint-party rose and lived, the serpent-party also rose and lived. No bodily resurrection in either case; that occurs at the end when the dead small and great stand before God.

3rd . The view honored by the names of Prof. C. A. Briggs and Prof. B. B, Warfield is that this vision shows the saints and martyrs in heaven. It was meant to show that the redeemed are in heaven safe from all the persecutions that raged below, and that John wrote this to encourage the church facing the persecution of that and subsequent times. It would nerve them to faithfulness to see the glory of the martyr when the persecutor's sword had done its worst. It was not meant to show the raising of bodies, but the raising of souls to their heavenly home. This is the first resurrection, the entrance upon heavenly joys, and the second resurrection is the bodily resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world.

It should not pass without notice that the heavenly scene reflects the earthly. The reason why the saints rejoiced in heaven was because the church on earth was triumphant. They were judged and avenged by the destruction of the persecutors and the binding of Satan, but that meant that the church on earth was regnant. If the millennium means anything it means the triumph of Christ's cause on earth. Thus Christ's cause and people were dominant during the thousand years, and Satan's allies were subdued till the thousand years were ended, and after that they rose to power again. This may express the antithesis between the saints that lived and reigned and the rest that lived not till the thousand years were finished, and then they did live and rose to their old time power and persecution.

Verses 7-10

Vs. 7-10. These verses give us the post-millennial period. Satan is loosed; and goes out to deceive the nations; Gog and Magog are mentioned; these nations are gathered to battle against the people of God, and God destroys them with fire from heaven. Then the devil that deceived them is cast into the lake of fire where that beast and false prophet were put, as we saw at the end of the nineteenth chapter. This lake of fire is the final abode of the devil and his followers, and is afterward described as the second death. This passage has some resemblance to Eze_38:1-23 ; Eze_39:1-29 where Gog and Magog are mentioned as northern nations that come up against Israel. John usually borrows his imagery from the Old Testament, and this is the imagery of the past applied to a future event.

Verses 11-15

Vs. 11-15. And now the chapter closes with the scene of the final and general judgment. "And I saw a great white throne and him that sat upon it from whose face the earth and heaven fled away." Then follows a description of the judgment.

Here is the place to put the second coming of Jesus Christ; when he sits on his throne and summons the whole human race to judgment. This is just the way, and the place in time, in which Christ himself described his coming. In Mat_25:31 Christ says: "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory and before him shall be gathered all nations and he shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats" his coming at the judgment. "The earth and heaven fled away;" so Peter writes that on that day that cometh as a thief, "the heavens shall depart as a scroll."

Some one may say that this is not much description of the second coming. Well the Bible nowhere gives us much description of it; it may not lend itself to much description, for it is "in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump." But sufficient description is given to connect it with the final judgment.

Here then we have the great judgment throne, and the dead small and great stand before God. The sea gives up the dead which were in it and death and hades give up the dead in them, and they are judged, every man according to their works. These terms are surely universal enough to include the whole human race, the dead small and great, the dead without distinction, the dead in the sea, and the dead in death and hades. Here is a general resurrection and a general judgment, if language means anything.

But the premillennialist tells us that this is the resurrection and judgment of the wicked only. He is driven to that because he has already resurrected the righteous at the beginning of the millennium, and so denies that they are represented here.

But besides the universal terms already mentioned, observe that the 'book of life' is here. The book of life is the list of the redeemed. Verse fifteen tells us: "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." All the world falls into two classes; those who are written in the book of life and those who are not. Here then is evidence of the righteous as well as of the wicked. The destiny of the wicked is shown; they are cast into the lake of fire and we are told, "This is the second death." Into that lake of fire we saw that the beast and false prophet were cast, then we saw Satan consigned to the same place, and here his followers meet the same fate. If it is objected that here we have no mention of the destiny of the righteous and therefore they could not have been in this scene, we reply that the book of Revelation does not end here and that the story is to be continued and we shall see the destiny of the righteous in the portion that is yet to come.

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