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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Revelation 20

Verses 1-15

The Thousand Years' Reign of Christ

Revelation 20:4

I. First we shall show that the literal interpretation of the passage before us is altogether wrong and untenable. (1) The first proof of this is a very obvious one. We are dealing with a symbolic book. From the glorious description of the Saviour in the first chapter to the last picture of the Holy Jerusalem the book is one great series of panoramic displays of symbolic pictures. It is not intended to narrate literal events, whether belonging to the past, the present, or the future. (2) The next proof of my contention that you cannot possibly take this passage literally is that the literal interpretation of the passage is not only not supported by the other parts of Holy Scripture, but even flatly contradicted by them. (3) Then, again, the moral results expected by some from a visible appearing of Christ are altogether at variance with the statements of the other Scriptures, and with everything we know of the laws of the kingdom of God.

II. Now we proceed to seek the true interpretation of the passage In order to get at the true interpretation we have to observe two rules. One is: We must try to discover from the book itself how it uses its symbols. The other is: We must see to it that our own interpretation agrees with the clear utterances of the New Testament. (1) The one fact of interpretation we have to note is that numbers are always used in this book to represent principles or ideas, and not in their arithmetical character. To give one example: the number seven signifies completeness; the number three symbolises Divinity or Deity. Ten is the symbol for 'kingship'. What then is the meaning of 'a thousand'? A thousand is ten raised to the third power, and therefore signifies, the book being its own interpreter, the kingdom of God. It symbolises the Divine kingdom in its perfect and absolute completeness.

III. Let us in the last place sum up the lessons of this symbolic picture. (1) The first lesson is that the kingdom of God is absolutely guaranteed once and for ever in Jesus Christ. (2) The next lesson we are here taught is, that believers even now in their true and inner life are the real kings and judges of the world. 'I saw thrones and they sat on them and judgment was given unto them.' (3) The last lesson is that our present life in the kingdom is an earnest and guarantee of our complete future glory. 'Blessed are they that have part in the first resurrection; over them the second death hath no power.'

John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. II. p. 231.

References. XX. 4. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. pp. 251, 363; ibid. vol. x. p. 297.

Revelation 20:9

There is nothing real or useful that is not a seat of war.

Emerson.

'On the western slope of the Guadarrama mountains,' writes Froude in his essay on Saint Teresa, 'midway between Medina del Campo and the Escurial, stands the ancient town of Avila. From the windows of the railway carriage can be seen the massive walls and flanking towers, raised in the eleventh century in the first heat of the Spanish crusade. The fortifications themselves tell the story of their origin. The garrison of Avila were soldiers of Christ, and the cathedral was built into the bastions, in the front line of defence, as an emblem of the genius of the age.'

Reference. XX. 9. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 347.

Revelation 20:11

At Hinely Hill, writes Wesley in his Journal for 1749, 'a large congregation met in the evening. I expounded part of the twentieth chapter of the Revelation. But O what a time was this! It was as though we were already standing before the "great white throne". God was no less present with us in prayer; when one just by me cried with a loud and bitter cry, I besought God to give us a token that all things work together for good. He did so; He wrote pardon upon her heart, and we all rejoiced unto Him with reverence.'

Dr. Bonar, in his Life of M'Cheyne, describes the latter's final preaching at Newcastle in 1842. 'He preached in the open air, in a space of ground between the Cloth Market and St. Nicholas Church. Above a thousand souls were present, and the service continued until ten, without one person moving from the ground. The moon shone brightly, and the sky was spangled with stars. His subject was, "The Great White Throne". In concluding his address, he told them that "they would never meet again till they all met at the judgment-seat of Christ; but the glorious heavens over their heads, and the bright moon that shone upon them, and the old venerable church behind them, were his witnesses that he had set before them life and death". Some will have cause to remember that night through eternity.'

References. XX. 11. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 701, and vol. xlii. No. 2473. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 326. XX. 11, 12. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 353.

Revelation 20:12

Stand before God past kneeling, past praying; not to be converted, but sentenced. Now, not then, is the day of salvation: not then except for the already saved.

C. G. Rossetti

'When I see kings lying by those who deposed them,' writes Addison in his reflections upon Westminster Abbey ( Spectator, No. XXXVI.), 'when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that dy'd yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries and make an appearance together.'

Revelation 20:12

Who are we to measure the chances and opportunities, the means of doing, or even judging, right and wrong awarded to men; and to establish the rule for meting out these punishments and rewards? We are as insolent and unthinking in judging of men's morals as of their intellects.... Our measure of rewards and punishments is most partial and incomplete, absurdly inadequate, utterly worldly, and we wish to continue it into the next world. Into that next and awful world we strive to pursue men, and to send after them our impotent party verdicts of condemnation or acquittal. We set up our paltry little rods to measure heaven immeasurable.

Thackeray, in Pendennis (LXI.).

Judgment By the Twofold Record

Revelation 20:12

At the time he received and wrote his visions, the writer of the Apocalypse had steeped himself in the phraseology and similitudes of the Prophet Daniel. This metaphor of the open books which enters into the vision of judgment is to be found in the writings of the captive noble. The metaphor may have been suggested to Daniel by his acquaintance with the work and procedure of the official historiographers in Eastern courts. The metaphor is intended to teach that God has His own secret processes for verifying those facts of life and conduct which will be crucial to His final judgment upon each member of the human race.

I. Saints and sinners alike are forgetful of their own acts, and more or less blind to the character which is the sum of those acts, although for very different reasons. (1) Genuine goodness is at the very antipodes to all self-consciousness. A true saint has not only a very short memory for his own holy acts, he never thinks of them as his own acts at all. (2) The good deeds of a truly virtuous and holy mind will be so normal and spontaneous that they will pass unnoticed and unrecorded. True goodness forgets its own achievements. (3) And then how prone is the bad man to forget his evil deeds! His habits not infrequently blunt and narcotise memory, together with all the other intellectual powers. And the more evil there is in his life, the less likely he is to recall it. (4) And then the Book of Remembrance is necessary to check and counterpoise those distorting freaks of the imagination which are apt to arise whenever we seek to judge ourselves.

II. This reference to the books that were opened seems to carry with it an important doctrinal signification. (1) The Book of Remembrance is kept to vindicate the grace and wisdom and forgiving favour of the Lamb in inserting the names of His chosen ones in the Book of Life (2) The central place given in the judgment to the Book of Life teaches that one of the stern conditions of salvation is that the name shall be written there through the grace and atoning favour of the Lamb. A man cannot be saved by the things recorded in the Book of Remembrance alone. It is because our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life that the holy and acceptable works we may come to do acquire their title to reward. (3) On the other hand, let us not overlook the solemn fact that our destiny will be just as profoundly affected by the plain chronicle of the daily life as by the fact that we were once pardoned through the grace of the Redeemer, and enrolled as subjects of His kingdom.

References. XX. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 391. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 192. H. J. Bevis, Sermons, p. 290. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 31. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, pp. 36, 47. Bishop Alexander, The Great Question, p. 95. XX. 12, 13. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 99. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 234. XX. 14. N. D. Hillis, Christum World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 328. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii p. 424. XXI. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 94; ibid. vol. x. p. 455.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 20". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/revelation-20.html. 1910.