Attention!
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries

Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Revelation 20

Introduction

XIII

THE BINDING OF SATAN AND THE REIGN OF THE SAINTS WITH CHRIST

(Chapter 20)

The last three chapters of Revelation were sequel to the visions of conflict in the preceding nineteen chapters, and presented in contrast a pageant of victory. Beginning with the twentieth chapter a new picture was presented, an imagery of changed conditions. With the close of the nineteenth chapter, Jerusalem had fallen, and the great symbolic enemies of the Cause of Christ--the beast and the false prophet--had been consigned to visional banishment. The dragon who instigated both the activities of the imperial beast and the deceptions of the false prophet (the landbeast) was about to be cast into the abyss, the bottomless pit, and thus be returned to his diabolical region in complete defeat. The twentieth chapter opened with the scenes of the culmination and climax of the great conflict.

This chapter has been full of confusion and the source of insurmountable difficulties, all of which have been due to the anachronism of wresting its contents from the period of the imperial persecutors and projecting its visions into centuries yet future for fulfillment. This has been the great mistake of attempting to make the book of Revelation a compendium of history--a thing that it is not. In the structural unity and orderly development of the Revelation, chapter twenty was the beginning of the scenes that made the victory of the church over hostile nations final and complete. Although the picture had changed, the continuity of the apocalyptic imagery in chapter twenty remained unbroken.

The apostate harlot Jerusalem had fallen; the great red dragon deceiver had been cast down from the position of assumed exaltation to his place in the abyss; the souls of the martyrs were no longer under the altar o f a persecuted cause, but in the figurative first resurrection they have been elevated to thrones, reigning with Christ in the state of complete victory symbolized by thousand years; the surcease of persecution had come, symbolized by the binding of Satan, and his imprisonment to estop the source of deceiving the nations of the empire into the idolatry of emperor- worship; the persecutors represented as dead, lived not again; and the wicked nations stood in judgment before the great white throne of an avenging God. But the spiritual conflict between heathenism and Christianity was not abated by the cessation of the activities of the persecuting powers; and through this idolatry of paganism the influence of Satan was represented as loosed out of his prison to destroy the church, not by the weapon of persecution but by concentrating all the heathen forces of Gog and Magog, the symbolic head of heathendom, into spiritual battle against the beloved city- -the New Jerusalem which symbolized the church. Again, in the final scene, the cause of the Christ triumphed over all the influences of the heathen world, and all the enemies of the church were made to stand before God to be judged according to their works.

(1) The twentieth chapter of Revelation.

It is a common expression, we hear it on every hand; that the Bible plainly says that Christ will reign on the earth a thousand years. That is something that the Bible nowhere says, plainly or vaguely. Like the battle of Armageddon notion, the millennium imagination is not in the Bible. Armageddon is mentioned in the Bible but the “battle of Armageddon” theory is nowhere found in the scriptures. The Bible has something to say about “a thousand years” but nothing about a thousand years reign on the earth. Christ reigns, but the reign of Rev_20:1-15 was not the reign of Christ. It was rather a peculiar and special reign of certain souls with Christ. It does not mention or refer to the reign of Christ. The ones mentioned were reigning; it was a special use of the word, applied to a special incident of the Revelation vision. The text says they lived and reigned. Where did they live and reign? They lived and reigned with Christ. John saw souls out of the body, not in the body. It was a vision of the souls of t h e martyrs living and reigning with Christ in a particular and peculiar sense.

In a conversation with any group of denominational preachers one will invariably be heard to say that the Bible plainly says that we shall reign with Christ on earth a thousand years. When the asserter is asked for the passage that so plainly says it, he will just as invariably and confidently refer his listeners to Rev_20:1-15 , verse 4. It is in order, in time and in place now to dissect this misunderstood and misapplied passage of scripture.

This is the way its reads: And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

The passage is almost universally believed to actually say that we shall reign with Christ on earth a thousand years. The text says, they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The pronoun we is a personal pronoun of first person, but they is a personal pronoun of the third person; the verbs lived and reigned are verbs of past tense; but shall live and reign are verbs of future tense. No man can claim the right to change the sentence of this text from the third personal pronoun they to the first personal pronoun we, nor to change the verbs lived and reigned of the past tense to shall live and reign of future tense. That is too much change for any man to make who has an ounce of respect for the word of God.

John said, “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” The passage says nothing about “the thousand years reign of Christ.” There is a great difference in the two expressions. Rev_20:1-15 says, “they lived and reigned with Christ.” They who? Lived--lived where? Reigned --how, with whom and where? “Lived and reigned”--with whom, in what place? It is not the reign of Christ, but the reign of souls “with Christ,” that is mentioned in Rev_20:1-15 . There is a vast difference between living and reigning “with Christ” and a millennial reign “of Christ.”

So let us be true to the facts in the case. It does not mention the reign of Christ, but the reign of souls “with” him. They not only “reigned” with him, they “lived” with him. They “lived and reigned” with Christ a thousand years. The two verbs “lived” and “reigned” are both limited by the thousand years. If the expression denotes time, then when the reign is over, and they ceased to reign; the living would be over and they would cease to live.

Rev_20:1-15 : l-6 does not mention the second coming of Christ. That is not the subject of it. It does not mention a bodily resurrection, and that is not the subject of it. It does not mention a reign on the earth, nor does it mention the “reign of Christ”--and neither is the subject. Is it not possible for souls to live and reign “with Christ” without Christ being on earth? Furthermore, it does not mention the throne of David or any other throne on earth. And it does not mention either Jerusalem or Palestine, nor does it mention Christ on earth.

Jesus said that Jerusalem is not the place where men should worship ( Joh_4:21 ), but they want to put it there. He said that his kingdom is not of the world ( Joh_18:36 ), but they want to put it here, and make it of the world. Can millennialists consistently say that though it mentions none of these things, it teaches all of them? It is altogether possible and consistent for all the things mentioned to exist without being on the earth.

(2) The thousand years reign with Christ.

There are twenty figures of speech in the nineteenth and twentieth chapters alone. In a series of symbols such as these, it is not reasonable to make a literal application of the thousand years and a figurative application of all the rest of the symbols, without a contexual or historical reason for doing so. The thousand years, like the other parts of the vision, is a figure of speech--a symbol of something else.

It is said in Deu_7:9 that God keeps his covenant and his mercy unto a thousand generations. God does not count a literal thousand generations, then quits remembering his covenant. It means God’s memory of and faithfulness to his covenant are perfect and complete. The term thousand was a figure of completeness. It does not denote a cycle of time.

Then what about the millennium? Nothing was said of a millennium. The thousand years did not mean a millennium. There is no millennium. There never was a millennium. There never will be a millennium. The twentieth of Revelation did not refer to a millennium. The thousand years was not literal, therefore was not a millennium and has no reference to a millennium. There is no connotation for the notion. The magic word millennium is not in the text.

In this vision John “saw thrones” and the ones that “sat on them.” And those whom he saw were the souls of the beheaded. They had not “worshipped” the beast. They had not “received” his mark, and they “lived” and “reigned” with Christ.

First: They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. It does not mention the second coming of Christ, a bodily resurrection, a reign on the earth, or a literal throne in Jerusalem or elsewhere. It does not mention us, and it does not mention Christ on earth. Rev_20:1-15 mentions none of those things, and a curse was pronounced on the one who adds to the words of the book.

Second: They lived and reigned with Christ. It says “they”--the souls of the martyrs, those who were beheaded. The beheaded souls lived and reigned with Christ. Only those who were beheaded entered into that thousand years.

If that thousand years is literal, then the beheading is literal, and only those literally beheaded get into the millennium. If the beheading is figurative, the thousand years is figurative, and that cuts us out; for there could be no literal millennium. If it is a literal thousand years, it is a literal beheading. If it is a figurative beheading, it is a figurative thousand years, and either way there is no millennium for us.

Third: They lived and reigned. If the term “reigned” is limited by a thousand years, the verb “lived” is also limited by a thousand years. If the reigning ends with the thousand years, the living ends with a thousand years, and the millennium will end with everybody in it ceasing to live. That would be quite a hopeless millennium.

(3) The meaning of the first resurrection,

The expression this is the first resurrection is itself the proof that reference was made to a figurative resurrection. The word was being used in an unusual sense, so unusual that it was necessary for John to explain its use by saying, “this” is the first resurrection--that is why John explained that this is what was meant by the symbol.

The resurrection of the twentieth chapter of Revelation was a figurative or spiritual resurrection, and of the same character described by Ezekiel concerning Israel in captivity. The prophet Ezekiel was in Babylon with exiled Israel, and prophesied their return from Babylon in the vision of Eze_37:1-14 :

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass by them round about: and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, 0 Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, 0 ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord, thus saith the Lord God unto these bones, behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and I will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to bone, and when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, 0 breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as I was commanded, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold they say, Our bones are dried and our hope is lost; we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; behold, 0 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, 0 my people, and brought you up out of your graves. And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it. said the Lord.”

Here was the description of a resurrection extraordinary, indeed. Taking Israel out of the land of their captivity and bringing them back to their own land was called a resurrection. They were in the grave of captivity in Babylon, yet they were a living people. God said that he opened their graves and brought them out and caused them to live --in their return to Judea and restoration to their land and their religion.

Now hear Isaiah, who prophesied the Babylonian exile one hundred years in advance: “0 Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us: but by thee only will we make mention of thy name. They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, they shall not rise; therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish”-- Isa_26:13-19 . The reference here was to the wicked lords of the Old Testament. They were exercising dominion over God’s oppressed people.

They were “lords” over God’s people. Isaiah said, other lords once had “dominion” over them, but they were “dead,” and should not “live”; they were “deceased,” and should “not rise.” This could not mean that the wicked will not be raised from the dead. It could not mean that the wicked dead will not live again. If that is what it means, there will be no resurrection of the wicked, and a fundamental truth is thereby denied. But that is not the meaning.

Here is the meaning: The dominion of the wicked lords over God’s people would be put down. While these lords had dominion over God’s people they were said to “live’‘--live in their dominion. When their dominion should be destroyed and the oppression of God’s people brought to an end, these lords would be “dead’‘--they were dead as lords. They shall not live --that is, their dominion would not exist again.

But speaking of the persecuted people of God, the prophet said: “thy dead men shall live.” When Israel was in the bondage of the captivity of these lords, they were said to be dead--they were dead as a people in captivity; and the wicked lords were said to live--that is, in power and dominion. But when the dominion of the lords ended, they were demised, their power was deceased--they were dead; they should not “live” in wicked dominion; they should not “rise” as lords. In the opposite imagery of the prophecy Israel in captivity was in a state called “dead,” though living. Isaiah said “They shall live” and “they shall rise.” Thus coming out of the grave of their captivity represented a resurrection, but not a literal resurrection-- it was a figurative resurrection. Now that was exactly the kind of resurrection pictured in Rev_20:1-15 . One was the description of the persecuted Israel in the Old Testament; the other was the description of the persecuted church in the New Testament. The principle is the same.

Another example is in Paul’s reference to the spiritual resurrection of Israel: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?“-- Rom_11:15 . When the Jews were converted to Christ under the gospel, it was the receiving of them “as life from the dead.” That is another figurative resurrection--a spiritual resurrection.

When John saw the souls of the martyrs, slain for the testimony of Jesus and the word of God “under the altar” (chapter 6); then saw the same souls “on thrones” (chapter 20); it was a vision of victory. Taking the souls from beneath the altar and elevating them to the thrones was called a resurrection in exactly the same sense that bringing the people of Israel out of bondage in Babylon was opening their graves and causing them to “live’‘--a figurative death and a figurative resurrection.

A comparison here of two passages in the apocalypse will further reveal the nature of the resurrection of the twentieth chapter of Revelation.

First: “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death"--2:11.

Second: “He that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power"--20:6.

Picturing in advance the persecutions of the early Christians, John declared in Rev_2:11 that he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. But in Rev_20:6 , the same apostle speaking to the same persons, said, he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power.” Thus to have part in the first resurrection equaled exemption from the second death. But to overcome these persecutions equaled exemption from the second death.

1. Overcoming the persecutions equaled exemption from the second death.

2. Part in the first resurrection equaled exemption from the second death.

3. Things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.

4. Overcoming the persecutions and part in the first resurrection were equal to the same thing, therefore they were equal to each other.

To support the theory of a future millennial reign of Christ, efforts are made to connect Rev_2:25-28 ; Rev_3:21-22 with Rev_20:1-6 , as referring to the second coming of Christ, when he shall then give the saints “power over the nations,” and he shall then “rule them with a rod of iron”--in the millennium. Such an interpretation charges that Jesus deceived the church at Thyatira into believing that he would come during their lifetime. It should be observed again, as previously detailed in Section Two, that the “coming” of Christ is mentioned in several senses, elsewhere in the New Testament, and in Revelation. To Ephesus, Pergamos, Sardis and Laodicea, Christ said he would “come.” He would come in the events named, in things promised or threatened. To Thyatira he said: 1. To hold fast. 2. To overcome. 3. To keep his works. All of that “till I come,” which obviously did not refer to his second coming. Furthermore, the expressions in verses 26-28 were indicative of things that would occur in the life period of Thyatira: 1. Power over the nations--the influence of the gospel in breaking the power of pagan persecutions and the heathen nations. 2. Rod of iron--the irresistible influence of Christ in the preaching and lives of early Christians, exemplified even in martyrdom. 3. The morning star--the exalted place of those who overcome, next to Christ, in his glorious empire, the church.

On the same erroneous premises it is held that Rev_3:21-22 makes a distinction between the Father’s throne, upon which Christ is asserted to occupy now, and Christ’s own throne which it is claimed he will occupy when he returns. But the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Christ are one kingdom ( Eph_5:5 ); and the church of God and the church of Christ are one church ( 1Th_1:1 ; 1Th_2:14 ); and the throne of God and the throne of Christ are one throne ( Heb_1:8 ). Christians share Christ’s kingdom now ( Luk_22:29 ); and they share his throne now ( Rev_3:21-22 ).

For further textual comparisons, in Mat_19:28 it is stated that “in the regeneration” Jesus would sit on the throne of his glory, and in Mat_19:28 it is stated that the twelve apostles would occupy the thrones of authority in the same dispensation of regeneration. In Tit_3:4-5 Paul identified this gospel dispensation as “the regeneration.”

So in this dispensation Christ is occupying “the throne of his glory.” A comparison of Mat_20:21 and Mar_10:37 will prove that his kingdom and his glory are identical. A further comparison of Luk_24:26 and Heb_1:8 will show that entering into his kingdom and glory was connected with his ascension.

In Mat_19:28 , Jesus said that the disciples who had followed him would sit on thrones. But in Luk_22:28 he declared that the disciples who had continued would be appointed the kingdom. Therefore to occupy thrones in this gospel dispensation was the same thing as to be appointed the kingdom--and both relations between Christ and Christians exist now.

In this gospel dispensation Christ is on the throne of his glory ( Mat_19:28 ); and he is on the throne of his kingdom. ( Heb_1:8 )

This occupancy of his kingdom--glory throne extends from his ascension ( Luk_24:26 ) to his coming ( 1Co_15:23-24 ). Christians who overcome “sit with him in his throne” now. They share his throne in the same sense, degree and extent that they share his glory and his kingdom, shown by the comparisons of these passages.

These considerations destroy the millennial interpretation of the Father’s throne and the Son’s throne, as respects a distinction and a difference between them, and refute their interpretations of all the Revelation passages forced to serve their theory.

The closing scene of Revelation was pictured in chapters 20,21 and 22 in a general summary of the elegant truths of the vision in relation to the obligations of the triumphant church, emerging from persecution and oppression into glorious victory.

As a sequel to the vision of victory, the last chapters of Revelation present the church garbed in the robes of victory “as a bride adorned for her husband.” The figure does not indicate that the church is not now the bride of Christ, as some have assumed. Rather, the apostle declares in Rom_7:4 that the church has been married to Christ and has brought forth fruit unto God in that relationship. The expression “as a bride adorned” was a comparison only--a graphic description of the grandeur of the triumphant church adorned in the glorious habiliments of victory, “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Having thus triumphed over all hostility and opposition and oppression and persecution the glorious church renewed her mission to all men in the second great invitation of chapter 22:17: “The spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come.

(4) A textual analysis of chapter twenty.

It has been shown that Rev_20:4 is altogether too inadequate as a text to sustain the millennial theory--and it is the only text that makes mention of the thousand years. Hence, they have no text. No apostle in any epistle has ever mentioned such a period of time, nor such a dispensation, nor such a millennial age or hope. It must not therefore belong to apostolic doctrine, or to the Christian’s hope and duty. Rev_20:1-15 was but the climax of an imagery that began with the scene of defeat in chapter 6:9 and ends in a scene of victory in chapter 20:4. The comparison of chapters six and twenty reveals the application of the symbols intervening. A running analysis of the final chapters will display the success of the cause of the martyrs and the glory of the victorious church.

Verses 1-2

1. The angel coming down out of heaven. “And 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, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit”--20: l-2.

The angel was Christ as a messenger of the gospel. The key to the abyss held by the evil angel in chapter 9:1 had been taken by Christ, signifying his power over death and hades, as stated in chapter 1:18. The chain represented the very purpose of the gospel to prevent the devil from deceiving men. Bound-- not permitted to deceive--signified the triumph of the truth over error. A thousand years --as in all other places where the phrase was mentioned--denoted completeness. Here it had reference to the complete success of the cause over persecutions, and had no reference to a cycle of time. The triumph of Christ over Satan had been fully set forth in Mat_12:29 and Luk_11:21 in the parable of the strong man’s house; “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth the spoils.” So Jesus did in overcoming Satan and spoiling his goods and bringing to nought his power. So says Paul both in Col_2:15 and Heb_2:14 , as previously shown in this series.

Verse 3

2. Satan cast into the abyss. “And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season."--20:3.

In the vision Satan returned from his prowling to his diabolical abode in ignominious and complete defeat. His abysmal abode was shut by the angel with the key to the bottomless pit that he held; which angel also set a seal upon him, as an authoritative act; such as the seal of state stamped on the documents signed by officials of government.

The purpose of this satanic imprisonment was that he should deceive the nations no more --that is, in the idolatry of Caesar-worship, a repetition of the previous symbols of the mark and image of the beast in the heathen emperorworship.

The next clause till the thousand years be fulfilled referred to the complete victory over the imperial persecutors, after which Satan was represented as being unleashed to exert influence, not in the form of persecution, but in the spiritual conflict between heathenism and Christianity--a symbolic representation of the upsurge of heathenism.

Verse 4

3. The souls on the thrones. “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the words of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years”--20:4.

These souls were not bodies and were not embodied. They were souls. And a resurrection was not necessary for souls to live. These souls lived --they did not begin to live. They lived. These souls were under the altar in chapter six; they were on thrones in chapter twenty. In the first scene a cause had suffered in defeat; in the second, a cause has been crowned with victory. They lived and reigned-- taking the souls out from under the altar and elevating them to thrones is referred to as a resurrection; the resurrection of a cause. They lived in the cause for which they died. They reigned in the persons of their successors, and like characters of like spirit. As John came in the spirit and power of Elijah; as the spirit of Huss lived after his martyrdom; a cause survives the death of its advocates and they live in the spirit of its torchbearers.

Judgment was given unto them --that is, the avenging for which the souls under the altar had pleaded was now received. In chapter 6:10 John heard the martyrs crying for judgment: “How long, 0 Lord, holy and true dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Meaning their persecutors. In chapter 20:4 John saw them receiving the judgment for which they had called.

Lived and reigned --if “reigned” is limited by a literal thousand years, “lived” is also thus limited. So if the reigning ends with the thousand years, the living ends with a thousand years, which ending would upset all the glory of a millennium.

Thrones -- not literal and earthly, but the exalted state of those who had overcome their persecutions.

Beheaded --John saw the “souls” of the beheaded; they did not live in an earthly state. If literal, only those who are literally beheaded could enter the millennium. If figurative, there is no millennium, which is the fact of the matter.

With Christ --the text says nothing of the reign of Christ, but specifies a reign of the martyred saints with Christ. Reigning with Christ is a state. In 1Co_4:8 , Paul rebuked the Corinthians because they “reigned as kings” in wealth and worldliness; and he wished that they reigned in righteousness with the apostles. In Rom_5:17 , Paul referred to the time under the law when death reigned, but under grace the righteous reign in life by Jesus Christ. So these martyred saints reigned with Christ in a state of complete victory over death and in felicity of the beatitude blessed of verse six.

Thousand years --the vision of victory, complete victory. It stood for infinity; it was not a cycle of time nor a period of time, and had no reference to time. God remembers his covenant to a thousand generations, and one day with the Lord is as a thousand years--that is, God’s memory of his covenant is infinite; and in God’s infinite world days and years are not reckoned. The term denoted completeness, perfection, infinity. Their victory was complete, their triumph full, and their reign infinite.

The fundamental principle of exegesis forbids that the thousand years be interpreted literally here, and the word year symbolically in all the book elsewhere. So, if it is literal, the reign of Christ was for one thousand years only, not one day more or less. And, if literal, since both verbs “lived” and “reigned” are modified by the thousand years, when they shall cease to reign, they shall cease to live also. Furthermore, if literal, only the beheaded lived and reigned. And, finally, the third personal pronoun, they cannot be changed to the first personal we; and the verbs of past tense lived and reigned cannot be changed to verbs of future tense shall live and reign. The conclusion is that there are too many difficulties in the way of the literal application.

[NOTE: the following is taken from the writer’s comments overviewing the chapter, and can also be found in the “chapter” section of this module]

It is a common expression, we hear it on every hand; that the Bible plainly says that Christ will reign on the earth a thousand years. That is something that the Bible nowhere says, plainly or vaguely. Like the battle of Armageddon notion, the millennium imagination is not in the Bible. Armageddon is mentioned in the Bible but the “battle of Armageddon” theory is nowhere found in the scriptures. The Bible has something to say about “a thousand years” but nothing about a thousand years reign on the earth. Christ reigns, but the reign of Rev_20:1-15 was not the reign of Christ. It was rather a peculiar and special reign of certain souls with Christ. It does not mention or refer to the reign of Christ. The ones mentioned were reigning; it was a special use of the word, applied to a special incident of the Revelation vision. The text says they lived and reigned. Where did they live and reign? They lived and reigned with Christ. John saw souls out of the body, not in the body. It was a vision of the souls of t h e martyrs living and reigning with Christ in a particular and peculiar sense.

In a conversation with any group of denominational preachers one will invariably be heard to say that the Bible plainly says that we shall reign with Christ on earth a thousand years. When the asserter is asked for the passage that so plainly says it, he will just as invariably and confidently refer his listeners to Rev_20:1-15 , verse 4. It is in order, in time and in place now to dissect this misunderstood and misapplied passage of scripture.

This is the way its reads: And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

The passage is almost universally believed to actually say that we shall reign with Christ on earth a thousand years. The text says, they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The pronoun we is a personal pronoun of first person, but they is a personal pronoun of the third person; the verbs lived and reigned are verbs of past tense; but shall live and reign are verbs of future tense. No man can claim the right to change the sentence of this text from the third personal pronoun they to the first personal pronoun we, nor to change the verbs lived and reigned of the past tense to shall live and reign of future tense. That is too much change for any man to make who has an ounce of respect for the word of God.

John said, “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” The passage says nothing about “the thousand years reign of Christ.” There is a great difference in the two expressions. Rev_20:1-15 says, “they lived and reigned with Christ.” They who? Lived--lived where? Reigned --how, with whom and where? “Lived and reigned”--with whom, in what place? It is not the reign of Christ, but the reign of souls “with Christ,” that is mentioned in Rev_20:1-15 . There is a vast difference between living and reigning “with Christ” and a millennial reign “of Christ.”

So let us be true to the facts in the case. It does not mention the reign of Christ, but the reign of souls “with” him. They not only “reigned” with him, they “lived” with him. They “lived and reigned” with Christ a thousand years. The two verbs “lived” and “reigned” are both limited by the thousand years. If the expression denotes time, then when the reign is over, and they ceased to reign; the living would be over and they would cease to live.

Rev_20:1-15 : l-6 does not mention the second coming of Christ. That is not the subject of it. It does not mention a bodily resurrection, and that is not the subject of it. It does not mention a reign on the earth, nor does it mention the “reign of Christ”--and neither is the subject. Is it not possible for souls to live and reign “with Christ” without Christ being on earth? Furthermore, it does not mention the throne of David or any other throne on earth. And it does not mention either Jerusalem or Palestine, nor does it mention Christ on earth.

Jesus said that Jerusalem is not the place where men should worship ( Joh_4:21 ), but they want to put it there. He said that his kingdom is not of the world ( Joh_18:36 ), but they want to put it here, and make it of the world. Can millennialists consistently say that though it mentions none of these things, it teaches all of them? It is altogether possible and consistent for all the things mentioned to exist without being on the earth.

(2) The thousand years reign with Christ.

There are twenty figures of speech in the nineteenth and twentieth chapters alone. In a series of symbols such as these, it is not reasonable to make a literal application of the thousand years and a figurative application of all the rest of the symbols, without a contexual or historical reason for doing so. The thousand years, like the other parts of the vision, is a figure of speech--a symbol of something else.

It is said in Deu_7:9 that God keeps his covenant and his mercy unto a thousand generations. God does not count a literal thousand generations, then quits remembering his covenant. It means God’s memory of and faithfulness to his covenant are perfect and complete. The term thousand was a figure of completeness. It does not denote a cycle of time.

Then what about the millennium? Nothing was said of a millennium. The thousand years did not mean a millennium. There is no millennium. There never was a millennium. There never will be a millennium. The twentieth of Revelation did not refer to a millennium. The thousand years was not literal, therefore was not a millennium and has no reference to a millennium. There is no connotation for the notion. The magic word millennium is not in the text.

In this vision John “saw thrones” and the ones that “sat on them.” And those whom he saw were the souls of the beheaded. They had not “worshipped” the beast. They had not “received” his mark, and they “lived” and “reigned” with Christ.

First: They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. It does not mention the second coming of Christ, a bodily resurrection, a reign on the earth, or a literal throne in Jerusalem or elsewhere. It does not mention us, and it does not mention Christ on earth. Rev_20:1-15 mentions none of those things, and a curse was pronounced on the one who adds to the words of the book.

Second: They lived and reigned with Christ. It says “they”--the souls of the martyrs, those who were beheaded. The beheaded souls lived and reigned with Christ. Only those who were beheaded entered into that thousand years.

If that thousand years is literal, then the beheading is literal, and only those literally beheaded get into the millennium. If the beheading is figurative, the thousand years is figurative, and that cuts us out; for there could be no literal millennium. If it is a literal thousand years, it is a literal beheading. If it is a figurative beheading, it is a figurative thousand years, and either way there is no millennium for us.

Third: They lived and reigned. If the term “reigned” is limited by a thousand years, the verb “lived” is also limited by a thousand years. If the reigning ends with the thousand years, the living ends with a thousand years, and the millennium will end with everybody in it ceasing to live. That would be quite a hopeless millennium.

Verse 5

4. The rest of the dead. “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection”--20:5.

The rest of the dead lived not --since the only ones who are said to have lived were the souls of the slain martyrs, and the rest of the dead lived not, but judgment was given to them--whom did they judge, and how? And if “lived” means that they were given literal bodies, then when the rest of the dead “lived not” until the thousand years was finished, it meant that the rest of the dead would be given literal bodies at the end of the thousand years. That consequence forces the resurrection of the wicked too early; before the little season; and before the time for the resurrection and the judgment in the millennial order of things.

So their theory bogs down again.

The rest of the dead here simply referred to the persecutors whose oppressions had been overcome, just as Isa_26:13-14 referred to the wicked lords who had dominion over Israel as being dead and should not live, deceased and should not rise.

The statement until the thousand years were finished did not denote that the figuratively deceased persecutors would be revived afterward. The preposition until denotes end or termination, for which there are numerous exemplifications. In Heb_9:10 the “carnal ordinances” of the Mosaic order were “imposed on them until the time of reformation”- but this does not mean that after the present gospel dispensation the ordinances of Judaism will be imposed again.

In 1Sa_15:35 , after Saul’s disobedience in the expedition against the Amalekites, it is said that “Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.” This could not mean that Samuel continued to visit Saul after his death. The use of until expressed end or termination.

In Luk_16:16 , Jesus said, “the law and the prophets were until John”- -that is, until John’s order ended, but the Lord did not imply that “the law and the prophets” would be re-inaugurated afterward.

In Gal_3:19 , the apostle said the law of Moses "was added because of transgression till (until) the seed should come,” but the statement assuredly has no implication that the Mosaic law will be reconstituted after the dispensation of Christ.

In Luk_21:24 , in foretelling the fall of Jerusalem, the Lord said, “And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” On the premises of these passages the Lord’s statement in Luk_21:24 , means that the old Jerusalem was trodden down permanently--the end of the apostate harlot Jerusalem.

In the light of these examples it is patent that the statement of verse five, “the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished,” did not imply that the figuratively dead persecutors would come to life afterward. The symbolic statement declared the end of the imperial persecutors of the church, just as Isa_26:13-14 meant the end of the dominion of the wicked lords over Israel after deliverance from the Babylonian exile. The imagery was parallel, and the language was figurative in both passages.

This is the first resurrection --just as Israel’s deliverance from the bondage of Babylon was referred to in Eze_37:1-28 as a resurrection out of their graves; and the broken dominion of the lords was a resurrection from oppression, of Isa_26:1-21 ; so overcoming these persecutions, triumphing over death and martyrdom, in a victorious cause of Christ, was called a resurrection in Rev_20:1-15 . The visional procedure of taking the souls of the martyrs out from under the altar in chapter 6, and elevating them to thrones in chapter 20, was symbolized as a resurrection; as in Eze_37:11-14 the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity was a symbolic resurrection. In the symbolic picture of Rev_20:5 , the martyrs of the altar in chapter six were raised to the thrones of chapter twenty, and were pictured as living and reigning with Christ. It was the resurrection of the cause for which they died. The fact that they had to be told that it was a resurrection is proof that it was used in an unusual sense of the word; it was a figurative, metaphorical use, not a physical employment of the word.

The “first resurrection” was therefore spiritual--the resurrection of the cause for they had passed through tribulation and for which the martyrs died.

The passage in Rev_20:1-15 described no period of blessing to be enjoyed at the close of this dispensation. It will not bear the literal construction and the theorists themselves will not accept the conclusions and consequences of it. But as a practical lesson to us, the derived application is this: It is the portion of every true believer in any age who shares the life of the risen Lord through obedience to his commands.

Verse 6

5. Part in the first resurrection. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with him a thousand years”--20: 6.

There is an axiom which decrees that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. In Rev_2:11 it is said that overcoming the persecutions exempted them from the second death. But in Rev_20:6 it is said that part in the first resurrection exempted them from the second death. Things equal to the same things being equal to each other-- part in the first resurrection referred to overcoming the persecutions and entering into the triumph of that victory. Again, it is the same kind of a resurrection prophesied in Isa_26:1-21 and Eze_37:1-28 .

On such the second death hath no power -- the implication of the context is that the first death was the martyrdom of the saints as represented by the souls of them that were slain under the altar in chapter 6:9. Receiving the guerdon of martyrdom for their overcoming faith, promised by their Lord in chapter 2:10-11, these martyred saints had exemption from the judgment of them that had received the mark of the beast in submission to the imperial edict commanding the worship of the Caesar-image. They were in a state of special dispensation, not amenable to judgment. This in contrast with those who had "worshipped the beast” and “his image” and who had received “his mark,” and in consequence shared the same retribution--the oblivion of eternal banishment.

Priests of God and of Christ- -the expressions of “priests of God and Christ” and “reign with” in this imagery were used synonymously, as in chapter 1:6 and 5: 10; and compares with the phrase “kingdom of Christ and God” in Eph_5:5 , in which all Christians reign with Christ. It symbolized the perpetual performance of heavenly functions in the presence of God and Christ in “the kingdom of Christ and God.” In this heavenly state they shall reign with him a thousand years --that is, in complete victory and infinite reward, removed from transitory time and terrestrial place.

The use of thousand years here is further proof that it had no reference or application to a literal cycle of years. They shall be priests of God and Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. This, of course, referred to the souls who lived and reigned; and here shall reign with him referred to the continuity of that reign which had begun in the expression “lived and reigned” of verse four. It had reference to the same souls and the same reign and simply denoted its continuation,

Verses 7-8

6. The loosing of Satan. “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison"--20:7.

After the catastrophic fall of Judaism, and the victory of the saints over the imperial persecutors, there was a renewed struggle of the church with heathenism, a spiritual conflict symbolized by Satan being loosed out of his prison.

With Judaism removed from the path of the church, and the cessation of persecution by the imperial rulers, the way was open for the expansion of Christianity, as foretold by Jesus in Mat_24:31 , and envisioned by John in Rev_11:15 .

But it was not without opposition--the remaining enemy was heathenism. Satan’s theatre of activity in this struggle was not persecution, but spiritual and doctrinal: And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth--20:8.

That declaration was in opposition to the angel--messengers of the gospel--of Mat_24:31 , gathering his elect “from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

This part of the vision was descriptive of the battle with heathenism, hence the reference to Gog and Magog (a combination of one name), the mythical ruler of heathendom, and which title was so used in similar symbolic reference, by the prophet in chapter 38: l-23, prophesying the threat of heathenism to Israel from Gog and Magog. As the beast was symbolic of the Roman empire, personified in the persecuting emperors, so was the Gog and Magog personification symbolic of the spiritual forces of heathenism launched against the church in the “battle” of verse eight, in which the heathen forces of Gog and Magog were represented to be in number as the sand of the sea, which symbolized the proportions of the conflict and its challenge to the church; and verse nine stated that they compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city. The reference to the “beloved city” here could not mean Jerusalem--the apostate harlot Jerusalem was no longer “beloved,” and was no more. This beloved city was the church, the New Jerusalem, which was compassed about with heathenism, in the midst of its idolatries, surrounded by all of its antagonism to the church.

Verse 9

As the beast was symbolic of the Roman empire, personified in the persecuting emperors, so was the Gog and Magog personification symbolic of the spiritual forces of heathenism launched against the church in the “battle” of verse eight, in which the heathen forces of Gog and Magog were represented to be in number as the sand of the sea, which symbolized the proportions of the conflict and its challenge to the church; and verse nine stated that they compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city. The reference to the “beloved city” here could not mean Jerusalem--the apostate harlot Jerusalem was no longer “beloved,” and was no more. This beloved city was the church, the New Jerusalem, which was compassed about with heathenism, in the midst of its idolatries, surrounded by all of its antagonism to the church.

The first chapter of Romans, and the Corinthian, Ephesian, and Colossian epistles confirm this great danger to the church. It was concerning this threat of heathen influence that Paul specifically exhorted the Corinthian church in 2Co_6:14-18 . The description of verse nine that the legions of the heathen ruler went upon the breath of the earth in the forays of his satanic forces against the church emphasizes the extent of the opposition to Christianity, and of its threat to the church. But as in the finale of the imperial persecutions, the church prevailed against heathenism, and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.

This was the symbol of the consuming power of the word of God in exposing the error and evil of heathen idolatry. The apostle declared in 2Co_4:2-4 that the light of the gospel of Christ dispelled the darkness of “the god of this world.” Neither the imperial beast nor the heathen Magog could withstand the power of God. It was in reference to these same things that Paul said in Rom_16:20 : “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”

Verse 10

The defeat of the emperor-worship was described in verse ten with metaphors of torment and endless punishment. The three great enemies of the church had been vanquished. The devil who had employed the forces of heathenism to deceive the people and destroy the church, together with the beast and false prophet of chapter 19:20, was cast into the region of oblivion and eternal torment. The meaning of the vision, simply stated, is that the combined effort of the imperial persecutors and of the heathen powers to stop the advance of the church resulted in colossal failure.

There is no rule of exegesis or of interpretation that could warrant a literal application of the wide sweep of this symbolic language. It was the figurative description of the end and doom of the rulers who oppressed the church of Christ; and it signified that they should nevermore exist to humiliate the Lord’s church, the Lamb’s Bride.

Verse 11

(5) The tribunal of the great white throne.

The progress of the apocalypse from the opening vision of chapter four surrounded Christ, the Rider and Conqueror; and the church, his Bride; in conflict with multiple opposing powers. But in the scene of verses eleven to fifteen the visions turned to the judgment throne of God, as “the dead both small and great stand before God,”

The picture in these verses was but the continuation of the contrast between the causes of righteousness and wickedness, truth and error, Christianity and heathenism; and their standing respectively before the great throne of divine judgment. The issues had been joined in the fierce conflict between the church on one hand, and all the forces of Judaism, Romanism and paganism on the other. Now the participants stood before the bar of divine decision, where the issues were settled. The cause of righteousness was acquitted, and the cause of wickedness was convicted, and forever condemned.

A continuation of the textual analysis will add “precept upon precept” that the apocalypse was limited to the period of the struggle and triumph of the church with opposing powers in the first century of its existence.

1. The great white throne. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them”--20:11.

This visional tribunal was the bar of divine justice to be meted to the criminals of war against Christ and the church.

The description of the great white throne adds awe to the vision, as it also symbolized the character of pure and unmingled justice from the magnificent seat of judgment dispensed by the righteous Judge of the small and great. The Psalmist put it to verse in Psalms 84:14 : “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” From before the face of God the earth and the heaven fled away: and there w a s found no place for them. This was not flight from one locality to another--the phrase fled away indicated complete disappearance.

The earth, as in other visions, referred to the inhabitants of the land of Palestine; and the heaven signified the authorities and governments.

After complete defeat there was no place for their activities of persecution and opposition, and they disappeared from their visional positions before the face of the great God of judgment.

Verse 12

2. The dead small and great. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works"-- 20: 12.

These dead were the class of verse five, and of chapter 19:18. They were the “rest of the dead,” the persecutors of the church, small and great --from the lowest to the highest officials of the imperial beast--all of them together stood before the tribunal of retribution. Comparison again with Isaiah’s vision of the demise of the wicked lords who had exercised evil dominion over Israel in Isa_26:13-14 will lend force to this application of the judgment throne vision. These dead were held in contrast with the blessed of verse six, and there was no blessing for any of these dead, small and great--they stood before the throne of the great God, as culprits called to account for their crimes.

When the books were opened that contained the record of their works they were judged accordingly. In the same symbolism, the beasts of Daniel’s vision, chapter 7:10, were judged by the books which were opened. These books symbolized the record of evil deeds, a book of remembrance.

But the reference to another book . . . which is the book of life symbolized the registry of the approved, which are written in heaven. The names of these dead included in the rest of the dead were not in it. The distinction was made between the books, and the book of life. The names of the dead, small and great, referred to the judgment of the evil persecutors and opposers of the church; they were judged out of those things which were written in the books --not the book. These things were the record of their own evil works.

The whole vision, of course, was figurative, and must be applied in the sense of the visions which represented the deadly struggle of the church with the persecuting powers.

Verse 13

3. The sea gave up the dead which were in it. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works"--20:13.

The symbolism continued, the reference was not to the literal sea nor to physical death. Although the principles may be applied generally, the language belongs visionally to this apocalypse, and has direct reference to the judgment of the persecuting rulers and their subjects. The use of the word sea applied to the heathen society, consistent with the employment of the symbol elsewhere in the apocalypse; as mentioned in the classification of symbols in the first chapter. There was no reference to the bodily resurrection of the dead at the general judgment. This surrender by the sea of its dead was as figurative as the first resurrection of verse six. The realm of death and hell (hades) in like figure were also said to deliver up the dead which were in them.

The words death and hades were used as a synecdoche--a figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole; the genus for the species, the name of the substance for the thing. So death and hades were used here for the subjects of the diabolical and infernal powers.

In the same symbolism that the first resurrection of verse six was described as a resurrection to a state of victory--the resurrection of a cause; the “rest of the dead” were envisioned in a resurrection of retribution--of judgment on the evil rulers and their wicked subjects who had persecuted the cause of the Lamb of God.

Verse 14

4. Death and hades cast into the lake of fire. “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death:--20: 14.

These were the figurative representatives of the realms of opposition to the cause of the saints, and they were consigned to the same figurative oblivion with the beast. The symbolism meant that the period of martyrdom had ended, and there was surcease from persecution.

This judgment on the evil instigators of the persecutions and martyrdom of the saints of God and Christ was specifically named the second death, which again was as visional and metaphorical as “the first resurrection.” It denoted in symbolic language the destruction of the evil forces which had moved against the church to destroy i t

Verse 15

5. The names not written in the book of life. “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire”--20: 15.

The book of life was the registry of the approved of God. The names not found in it were not a part of God’s called and chosen people--they belonged to the society opposed to the church.

The same reference in chapter 13:8 mentioned the names not written in the book of life “from the foundation of the earth,” which affirms the great truth that in all nations and ages the only people who belong to God in the true sense of the people of God were and are the people who have lived and now live in obedience to His divine will.

Let it be impressed on the minds of the readers of Revelation, that these visions of resurrection; of second death and judgment; were all extraordinary and of special character. They were not intended for future and general application. They belonged to the apocalypse, and the apocalypse belonged to that period. The depiction of the first resurrection and the second death were not meant for expositions of the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead and the future eternal punishment of the wicked, abundantly taught elsewhere in numerous scriptures. Though the imagery has basis in these fundamental doctrinal truths, the visions of Revelation were limited in application to the pageantry of apocalyptic description of the fortunes of the early church and the divine judgments on its enemies.

Copyright Statement
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.
Bibliographical Information
Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 20". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/foy/revelation-20.html. 1966.