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THE SIXTH GROUP
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE THREE ENEMIES OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD (Ch. 17-20)
As the fourth group Revelation 12-14) represents the conflict of the three enemies against the Lamb and those who follow him with preliminary indications of their overthrow, so this sixth group, to which the fifth formed a sort of prelude, represents the judgment on the three enemies. In doing this, it does not stand merely at what is altogether general, but goes as far into detail as it could properly do without transgressing the limits which separate prophecy from history. In many respects we have here the most important part of the book before us. The striking clearness and accuracy with which we have here unfolded to us the most important evolutions in the history of the church, during the times which we can now long back upon, strengthens our faith in looking forward with confidence to the one event announced here, which still belongs to the future, ch. Revelation 20:10.
Whoever has attained to a right apprehension of the meaning of this group, he will find it a tabernacle into which he can retreat in tempestuous times. It is capable of affording an inexpressible rest and confidence to the soul.
The arrangement is as follows. In the representation of the conflict waged by the three enemies against Christ and his church, a descent is made from Satan down to the two beasts; but here, inversely in the representation of Christ’s victory, a rise takes place from the two beasts to Satan. In the first beast, again, it rises from the destruction of the two last heads, which, in St John’s time, were still present and future, the two last phases of the ungodly power of the world, in its heathen state, to the destruction of the beast itself. In the time of the Seer, the beast oppressed the church through the medium of the sixth head, the Roman monarchy; and through the medium of the possessor of this monarchy, the great whore, the Babylon of the then present time
Rome. The judgment of the great whore, the destruction of Rome in its property as the heathen mistress of the world, is unfolded in ch. 17. And now the ungodly power of the world must be conducted under the directing hand of God through its seventh and last phase, which, as had already been imaged in ch. 13, by the ten horns on the seventh head, was to possess, not a united, but a divided character, consisting of ten kings or kingdoms. These, as is said in Rev 17:14, by way of anticipation, were to war with the Lamb, and the Lamb was to overcome them. The overthrow of heathen Rome, which is simply and in some sharp features announced in ch. 17, is vividly portrayed in ch. 18. The prophecy as to its matter makes no advance here. The aim is only to imprint deeply in men’s minds what had already been represented in ch. 17. In ch. Revelation 19:1-4, the whole of this first part, so important and consolatory for those who, in the time of John, were sighing under the persecutions of Rome, and struggling with her seductions, concluded by the Te Deum laudamus of the just made perfect, celebrating God’s righteous judgment upon Rome.
This first song of praise of the heavenly church, which magnifies the grace of God contemplated as already past, is immediately followed up in ch. Revelation 19:5-10 by a second, which anticipatively gives thanks for what was still to be done, even to the setting up of the kingdom of Almighty God, and the celebration of the marriage feast of the Lamb; so that it forms the introduction to all that follows. The following portion represents how these anticipations are gradually realized. By means of the two songs of praise the whole of the group is divided into two great halves—the first containing the victory over the enemy, that at the time of the Seer pressed so hard upon the church; the second, the victory over all the other enemies.
First, in ch. Revelation 19:12-21, in further enlargement of what was indicated in ch. 17, we have the victory of Christ over the ten kings, the instruments of his judgment on Rome. Along with these, as the last phase of the heathen worldly power, the ten horns on the seventh head of the beast out of the sea, the beast himself also, the heathen state, goes down, and his tool likewise, the beast out of the earth, the false prophet, the God-opposing wisdom of the world.
Of the three enemies of the kingdom of God in ch. 13, two now lie prostrate on the ground. Ch. Revelation 20:1-6 represents how the third, Satan, is rendered for a time harmless. He is shut up for a thousand years in hell, and allows to the church, during that thousand years, a secure and unimperilled existence.
At the end of the thousand years opportunity is given to Satan anew for seduction; the earth again rises up against heaven; the church on all sides is heavily oppressed; but fire comes down from heaven and consumes her oppressors (“he who reads, let him understand.”) Satan is for ever disarmed of his power, and the final judgment overtakes all, who during the course of time have acted in a hostile manner toward the Lord and his church, ch. Revelation 20:7-15.
Now, since all the enemies of the kingdom of God have been brought to desolation, the opening song of praise has found its realization, the Almighty God has taken to himself the kingdom, the joyful time of the marriage of the Lamb has come, and the only thing that remains as an object for the seventh and last group is, the solemnization of this marriage.
Ch. 17. This chapter, according to the just remark of Bengel himself, divides itself into three parts, marked by the angel thrice commencing his discourse with the word, he spake, etc.
In the first part the judgment of the great whore, that sits upon the beast with the seven heads and ten horns, is shewn. The two others give the signification of the symbol. The first treats, as preparatory to the second, after the introduction in Revelation 17:7, of the beast in Revelation 17:8, of his seven heads in Revelation 17:9-11, of the horns in Revelation 17:12-14. The second treats of the whore and the judgment that is held upon her, Revelation 17:15-18.
Revelation 20:1. And I saw an angel come down from heaven, who had the key of the abyss, and a great chain on his hand. Revelation 20:2. And he seized the dragon, the old serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. Revelation 20:3. And cast him into the abyss, and shut and sealed over him, that he might no more deceive the heathen till that the thousand years were completed; afterwards he must be loosed for a short time.
What is here undertaken against Satan stands in the closest connection with what had been said immediately before respecting the ten kings and the beast; it takes this for granted, and follows necessarily from it. The dominion of the God-opposing principle was broken in the ten kings, partly through severe judgments of God (ch. Revelation 19:11-21), partly through the peaceful mission of the church (ch. Revelation 17:14). They have renounced their enmity against God and Christ and the church; and by reason of their having taken on them the yoke of Christ, the beast, too, has retired from the stage, whose last instruments they were. From the whole doctrine of Scripture touching the relation of Satan to human affairs, it was thus only that Satan could find room for his seductive agency, and in the same way it must again be taken from him after it was given. The existence of the beast and its heads, according to the preceding portion, forms the basis of Satan’s dominion over the earth (comp. ch. Revelation 12:3, Revelation 13:2). The sphere of Satan upon earth extends precisely as far, as the sphere of the inclination to meet him on it. Believers have the privilege of praying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil” (the evil enemy); and this prayer, like all the petitions in the Paternoster, has for its foundation a testimony and a promise, that God does not lead his people into temptation, but rather delivers them from the tempter. The faithful God does not suffer him to come upon them with his temptations, for which even they should not be equal, with the great power and cunning, which he possesses. He allows them to be exposed to no more than human temptations. Satan is only the prince of the world. Such alone are deceived by him, as will suffer themselves to be deceived by it. For these it is a deserved punishment, if they are given up to Satan, and they are gradually led farther than they were disposed to go. “Every one,” says St James, “is tempted, when he is led away and enticed by his own evil lust” ( James 1:14). “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” ( James 4:7), etc. If the earth were to watch and pray for a thousand years, Satan should have nothing on it. What is said here of the operations of Christ, even now repeats itself anew in the case of every individual, who stands in faith, watches and prays. If we separate what Christ here does against Satan, from the preparation and basis laid for it in what precedes, the question then arises, why should Christ not have bound Satan earlier? and also, why should he not have thrown him at once into the lake of fire, but allowed him to get free again after a thousand years?
That the angel here, as at ch. Revelation 7:2, Revelation 10:1, Revelation 14:17, Revelation 18:1, is Christ, is evident from this, that he has the key of the abyss, which is declared in ch. Revelation 1:18, to which allusion is here made, to belong to Christ. The key of the abyss was not in the first instance given to him, as to the star in ch. Revelation 9:1, but he has it, has it here, because he has it always. Further, he who in Revelation 20:1 comes down from heaven, lays hold of Satan in Revelation 20:2, binds him and throws him into the abyss. It is Christ, according to ch. Revelation 12:9, who overcomes “the great dragon, the old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world,” and casts him down from heaven upon the earth. Allusion has already been distinctly made to this passage in the appellations given to Satan in Revelation 20:3. He who here throws Satan into hell can be no other than he who there threw him on the earth; the more especially, as this latter victory is grounded on the earlier one. In Matthew 12:29 it is represented as the peculiar work of Christ to bind Satan—comp. Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8; Colossians 2:15. But the vague designation is chosen on purpose, as the Seer would only describe what he saw, and would present to his readers a sacred riddle (comp. at ch. Revelation 10:1). Besides, this designation has respect to the circumstance, that what Christ here does he accomplished in the power and omnipotence of the Father.
The abyss is hell—comp. at ch. Revelation 9:1, Revelation 11:7, Revelation 17:8. Hell is Satan’s “own place,” from whence he makes excursions upon the earth. He will be shut up to that place of his own.
The angel of God has the key in his hand, hence the chain is on his hand. A great chain—in the words of Bossuet—“that it might make many coils around him.” The actual import of the chain is described by the same author as meaning “the inviolable orders of God, and the impress of his eternal will.”
In Revelation 20:2 the same names of the wicked enemy are found, and in the same order as at ch. Revelation 12:9; which is certainly intentional, and imports, that what Christ here executes against Satan, had its root in that fundamental victory over him. The number four is used also here, because Satan is brought under consideration as the prince of this world. For the same reason, the name of the great dragon stands here first in order. [Note: The two readings ὁ? ὀ?́?φις ὁ? ἀ?ρχαῖ?ος , for τὸ?ν ὀ?́?φιν τὸ?ν ἀ?ρχαῖ?ον , and ὁ? σατανᾶ?ς for σατανᾶ?ς without the article, bear very strongly the suspicion of being derived from ch. 12:9; the more so, as not a few MSS. have also taken from that passage ἁ? πλανῶ?ν τὴ?ν οἰ?κουμέ?νην .]
Not the dragon, but Satan and the devil is loosed at the end of the thousand years, Revelation 20:7; Revelation 20:9. In his property as the dragon, Satan is for ever removed, as certainly as the beast, the ungodly heathen state, has already, in ch. Revelation 19:20, been for ever cast into the lake of fire. The new phase of enmity toward Christ and his church, as it breaks forth at the end of the thousand years, bears an essentially different character from the earlier ones.
The thousand years are mentioned not less than six times. This intentional emphatic repetition shows, that a real importance is attached to the number, although, since the beginning and end of the space indicated by it bear from the nature of things a floating character, we are not to imagine, that we can historically point out with precision the thousand years, and we must satisfy ourselves with being able to fix on a period that somewhat nearly corresponds to it. If a definite era were fixed on for the commencement, scarcely any other would be so suitable as the first Christmas-eve of the year 800, the day of the inauguration of the Western Christian empire, when the Pope placed the crown on the head of Charlemagne, and the joyful proclamation sounded forth, “To Charles Augustus, crowned by God, the great and peaceful Roman emperor, life and victory” (see Rüh’s Gesch. des Mittelalters, p. 447).
In Revelation 20:3 the “over him” belongs not less to he shut,” than to “he sealed.” The shutting over [Note: Comp. the סגר with על in Job 12:14. The appending of αὺ τό?ν (Luther: he shut Aim) has only arisen from the circumstance, that it was thought the ἐ?πά?νω αὐ?τοῦ? must refer merely to the ἐ?σφπά?γισεν .] is used the more appropriately here, as the prison-house is a subterranean one.
The symbol of sealing should not be broken up; but we should hold simply to the point, that it indicates the security of the custody; on the ground, that in circumstances which in other respects were not analogous to ours, people were wont to seal what they would have kept with care. Thus, according to Matthew 27:66, the stone at the grave of Jesus was sealed, as Darius had also sealed on Daniel the stone at the mouth of the lions’ den, “so that nothing should be done to Daniel against the king’s will.” Perhaps a special allusion is made to these two transactions, in which the devil had had his hand in the play.” To-day to me, to-morrow to thee, “this holds in respect to every thing that Satan would accomplish against Christ and his people.
The Berleb. Bible on the words, “he cast him into the abyss,” &c., remarks, “Reference is made to the abyss in Luke 8:31. The evil spirits marked in the first coming of Christ what they had to expect. It was then, however, still before the time. They themselves understood there was a time, Matthew 8:29. And what was then foreboded by the evil spirits, that is now brought about in its proper time.”
Satan is shut up into the abyss, so that he may no more deceive the heathen till the end of the thousand years. The word ἐ?́?θνη in the language of the Apocalypse does not denote the nations generally, but always the heathen nations, either in their natural or their Christianized state (comp. in the latter respect ch. Revelation 21:24; Revelation 21:22, with Romans 11:13). Here, according to the natural import of the words, it is not the deceiving of individuals that is spoken of, but the deceiving of the peoples as such, [Note: Mark: ut gentes omnes et totas ex veteri more constrictas non teneat.] the destruction of the Christian state that was settled among them at and through their subjugation by Christ (comp. ch. Revelation 17:14). Further, the discourse here is not of the seducing to sin generally, but of seducing to absolute heathenism, to open unbelief and opposition toward Christ and his church. For it was an open and unconditional contrast of this kind that was delineated in what precedes, to which reference is here expressly made (“that he may no more deceive”); such a contrast had existed in the times of the beast (comp. Revelation 13:14), during the continuance of the sixth head, Rome, and the seventh head, the ten kings; and such an one is also to return at the end of the thousand years (comp. Revelation 20:7) The not-deceiving of the heathen during the thousand years forms the contrast to the deceiving of them before and after, and from this, therefore, it receives its more precise and definite meaning. The deceiving also in ch. Revelation 12:9 is used of provocation to open battle against the kingdom of God, the devil being there represented as he who deceives the whole world. This consideration, too, is to be taken into account for determining aright the meaning, that Satan is first mentioned here as the dragon; that, therefore, he comes here into view above all as the animating principle of the ungodly power of the world (comp. at ch. Revelation 12:9), and only such deceiving can be ascribed to him as is proper to him in that character. And, farther, that the two last names also indicate his violent hostility toward the church.
If the words, “that he may no more deceive the heathen,” have been rightly explained, it is manifest that nothing is to be found here which might not have happened to the Christian church during her thousand years’ dominion as actually existing in history; in respect to which the word holds, that was spoken by our Lord of Elias in Matthew 17:12, “He has come already, but they did not know him.” If we drop the more in the clause “he may no more deceive the heathen,” we get ourselves entangled in great difficulty. Death reigns still during the thousand years, according to Revelation 20:13. But death is inseparably connected with all besides that renders our earth a valley of trouble and distress; in particular with sin, through which it came into the world, and whose wages it is. But sin is inseparably connected with the working of Satan; it was through that at first, and through that also in all later times, that his working proceeds.
What Bengel says of the thousand years’ reign suits as exactly as possible to the period of history, which we regard as comprised by it; as exactly, that is, as could be expected in the earth, while the fundamental relations introduced by sin still continue unchanged. “The war of the dragon, which he has carried on with the others against the seed of the woman (ch. Revelation 12:17), ceases; the woman herself is no longer shut up in the wilderness; but she has the field of the world laid open before her; her man- son rules all the nations, and these are no more deceived by Satan, but acknowledged by their divine Shepherd, are subject to him, and are freed from persecutions.”
The heathenish state of mind forms the necessary condition to Satan’s work of deceiving. This condition was for the time destroyed by the victory of Christ over the ten kings. And the deceiving can only return by a return being first made to heathenism. Then Satan makes himself known as the organizing principle of opposition to the kingdom of God.
The Thousand Year’s Reign (Ch. Revelation 20:1-6 )
Of the three enemies of God’s kingdom, Satan alone now remains. The ground, however, has been taken from under him by the overthrow of the beast and the false prophet. He is bound for a thousand years by the power of Christ, so that he can no farther deceive the nations, Revelation 20:1-3. Thus, therefore, the church of Christ celebrates on earth a glorious triumph; and even the faithful witnesses and confessors, who do not live to see the beginning of the thousand years, so that they cannot reign with Christ upon the earth, do not altogether vanish during the thousand years; they exist in heavenly bliss, and reign in heaven with Christ over the earth, Revelation 20:4-6. With such prospects for the church of Christ in earth and heaven, who would then be afraid any more of the great dragon and his associates? They can neither arrest the victorious career of Christ on earth, nor intercept the enjoyment of the heavenly bliss.
Revelation 20:4. And I saw thrones and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them; and the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, and had not received his mark on their forehead and on their hand. And they lived and reigned with Christ the [Note: It is of little moment whether the article before χί?λια is genuine or not, and in respect to the genuineness we can hardly decide on external grounds. The identity of this period of a thousand years with that of Revelation 20:2-3, which was unaccountably denied by Bengel, if it might otherwise be a matter of doubt, and were not determinately fixed by the whole context, at all events it is established by Revelation 20:7, where the thousand years cannot be conceived different from those in Revelation 20:8, and as little from those in the immediately preceding verses, in Revelation 20:4-6.] thousand years. Revelation 20:5. The rest of the dead, however, did not again live till the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
That Revelation 20:4-6 contain an interlude is clear from this alone, that Revelation 20:7 manifestly joins to Revelation 20:3. In ch. Revelation 6:11 there was given to the martyrs at a determinate period for John and the church, what they must have substantially possessed the moment they passed out of this present life. It is much the same also here. In what precedes the church, sighing under the persecution of her oppressors, was pointed onwards to the approaching period of her thousand years’ ascendancy, which she was to enjoy after the overthrow of her enemies. But still this consolation did not suffice for those, who were constantly involved in distress and threatened with death, for whom St John, according to ch. Revelation 1:9, more immediately wrote. The sorrowful question pressed itself on the Seer, But what shall become of us, during that period of a thousand years, who shall not see the blessed time? The answer to this question is received by John, and communicated in a vision, in which at the threshold of the thousand years those, who had departed earlier, whether by martyrdom, or by a common death, if only they died in the Lord, are represented as solemnly inaugurated in their possession of the heavenly inheritance. That this inauguration is placed here at the commencement of the millennial kingdom, arises simply and exclusively from the question that occurred to St John, in respect to the condition of the departed during these very thousand years. That substantially the heavenly glory had been communicated to these departed saints at an earlier period, at their departure, indeed, out of this life, is the uniform doctrine of the Apocalypse (comp. on ch. Revelation 14:13).— It is not expressly said, who they were, that sat upon the thrones. But the more particular description may be learnt from ch. Revelation 4:4, “And round about the throne four and twenty thrones, and sitting upon the thrones four and twenty elders, clothed with white robes and golden crowns on their heads.” There, the representatives of the church, the four and twenty elders, the twelve patriarchs and the twelve apostles, sit with God in judgment. It appears also from Matthew 19:28, where the twelve apostles are spoken of as sitting on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. In the twelve tribes of Israel John recognizes the whole Christian church (comp. on ch. Revelation 7:4). Finally, it appears from the last fundamental passage, Daniel 7:9-10. There, around the throne of the Ancient of Days, are placed thrones; the judgment, composed of the representatives of the covenant people (comp. at ch. Revelation 4:4) takes possession of them, and the books are opened. From these passages it admits of no doubt, that those, who sit upon the thrones, are the twelve apostles, probably in fellowship with the twelve patriarchs. It is in unison with John’s covert style in his gospel, when speaking thereof himself (comp. John 19:26, John 19:35, John 20:2, ss., John 13:23, etc)., that he should here have failed to mention expressly those, to whose number he himself belonged. He could yield to the inclination to let his own person remain in the background, the more readily here, as also in the fundamental passage of Daniel, those sitting on the thrones are not more exactly defined. It is merely said there, “The judgment.”
The judgment being given to those, who sit on the thrones, denotes that they received full judicial power. The object of the judging is here, not the ungodly world, as in Daniel 7:9-10; Revelation 4:4; 1 Corinthians 6:2, but as in Matthew 19:28, the church. The claims of the faithful witnesses of Jesus to the heavenly recompense must be investigated. The judges and the persons to be judged are by the construction united in the closest manner with each other: “And I saw thrones,” etc., “and (I saw) the souls,” etc. The sentence is this, that the faithful witnesses must live and reign with Christ.
John sees the souls of the slain. The souls are here, as at ch. Revelation 6:9, the murdered souls—not the souls in the intermediate state, disembodied spirits, which are never so designated. In place of the souls, the blood, or the corpses might also have been put. For, that they are here contemplated as they were in the moment of death, and that they present themselves before the judgment when the thread of their corporeal life was cut, is to shew that their living again follows directly in consequence of the judicial sentence. John sees the souls, because on this holy offering, which the beheaded had presented to God and Christ (comp. on ch. Revelation 6:9, Revelation 16:7), rested their claim to the heavenly recompense.
Instead of: the beheaded, it is properly, the killed with the hatchet. The expression has respect to the peculiar form of the Roman executions (Polybius, I. 17, 12, μαστιγώ?σαντες ἁ?́?παντας κατὰ? τὸ? παρʼ? αὐ?τοῖ?ς ἐ?́?θος ἐ?πελέ?κισαν ), and shews that here we are primarily to think of the martyrs, who sacrificed their lives in the Roman persecutions.
In regard to the words, “for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God,” comp. on ch. Revelation 5:9, Revelation 1:9. Because Jesus is the personal Word of God, there can be no testimony of Jesus, which is not also the word of God, and no word of God, which is not the testimony of Jesus (see on ch. Revelation 19:13).
The description, “who had not worshipped the beast,” &c., adds to the martyrs all those, who in the conflict that then raged so fiercely between Christ and the beast, had remained stedfast on the side of the former; as also in ch. Revelation 14:13, blessedness is ascribed to all those who die in the Lord. We must only explain: those, who—not of those; for it is merely in respect to the slain, that the souls can be made the subject of discourse.
The expression, “and they lived,” is as much as, and I saw how they lived, or they attained to life before ray eyes. John sees them not merely in the state of the living; but he also sees how they came to this state (comp. Ezekiel 37:7). It is not merely the souls, that we are to take for the subject in the expression” they lived,” but the beheaded and those who had not worshipped. Life is here not bare life, but blessed life— the life, which is analogous to that of the risen Christ, in which with the resurrection there is also coupled glorification (ch. Revelation 2:8)—the life, to which the promise in ch. Revelation 2:10 refers, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life,” from which in Revelation 20:12 of this chapter the book of life derives its name, and of which Jesus says in John’s gospel, John 14:19, “I live and ye shall live also” (comp. John 5:25-26, and in regard to the notion of life in John, at John 7:17). To the life here corresponds in ch. Revelation 6:11, the white garment. Life in the passage before us cannot be understood of bare life, for this also ceases at death, which cannot be annihilation for man, who is made in the image of God. If the life denoted not an earlier nor an extinct stage of being, if it had referred to the simple restoration of life, the word would doubtless have been of living anew; and so indeed several manuscripts would have it (ἀ?νέ?ζησαν ). De Wette explains thus: “they returned again to full life, received a body again.”But with what propriety could the mere word, “they lived,” be used of those who already enjoyed blessedness, into which, as the Revelation uniformly teaches, believers pass immediately after their departure out of this life!
In regard to the reigning or ruling with Christ, see at ch. Revelation 1:6; Revelation 1:9, Revelation 2:21; Revelation 2:26-28, Revelation 5:10. Christ reigns from the beginning of the thousand years to their end. For, his enemies who contended with him for the dominion, the beast, the false prophet, and the dragon, have now become his footstool. His members take part in this dominion. They can look down with holy pride upon the earth, whereon the church, to which they devoted their services and their lives in times of danger and tribulation, has now become the reigning power; so that matters proceed upon earth only in accordance with their will, resting on the will of Christ. The rest of the dead in Revelation 20:5 are the godless dead. For the word in Revelation 20:4, “they lived,” holds not merely in respect to the martyrs, but to all the true members of Christ. And in Revelation 20:12-13, the judgment is held only on the ungodly. Such being the case, we are not to conclude from the words, “they lived not till the thousand years were finished,” that they lived at the end of the thousand years. The godless are here rather declared to be destitute of the glorious privilege which is enjoyed by believers during the thousand years’ reign. How it is to fare with the ungodly at the end of the thousand years is written in Revelation 20:12-13. Believers lived during the thousand years; at the end they go into perfect bliss. The ungodly, on the other hand, did not live during the thousand years; but they were in hades and in torment; and at the end of the thousand years they pass out of their provisional state of misery into the final one, and shall be cast into the lake of fire.
This is the first resurrection. The Apocalypse invariably points to a double stage of blessedness—the one awaiting believers immediately after their departure out of this life; the other, what they are to receive when they enter the new Jerusalem—comp. ch. Revelation 6:11, where the two are placed beside each other. The most precise expression for the former we have in ch. Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth;” and for the second in ch. Revelation 19:9, “Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Ch. Revelation 7:9-17 joins closely to ch. Revelation 14:13, as do also ch. Revelation 14:1-5, Revelation 15:2-4; and ch. Revelation 19:9 is expanded in ch. Revelation 21:22 (comp. Revelation 3:12). Very often the two stages are combined together on account of the oneness of life or blessedness belonging to them—for example, ch. Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 2:17, Revelation 3:5. In the doctrine of a double stage of blessedness the Saviour himself took the lead. He refers to the first in what he says to the penitent thief, “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise;” also in John 14:2-3, John 13:36, John 17:24. The latter is referred to in Matthew 19:28, John 5:25, John 5:28-29, John 6:39-40. There can be no doubt, that by the first resurrection we are here primarily to understand that first stage of blessedness. In so understanding it, we abide in unison with the Apocalypse and the whole of the other books of the New Testament. On the other hand, if we understand by the first resurrection a resurrection in the literal sense—if, accordingly, we suppose that the first resurrection has respect to one part of men, the second to another—we then arrive at a doctrine which in no other part of Scripture finds a ground of support, which, on the contrary, is everywhere explicitly opposed. Now, the only thing which can raise any doubt regarding the most natural and obvious view, is that the resurrection is here spoken of. This expression appears only to suit the heavenly state of blessedness. But when John denotes the two stages by the same name in order to make them known as the component parts of the same salvation, and only distinguishes them, the one as the first, the other as the second resurrection, there must of necessity in the one case attach to the term a certain want of literality. This want is all but expressly indicated by the phrase “ first resurrection.” Two resurrections, in the proper sense, are not conceivable—if we would not abandon the ground of Scripture, which nowhere knows of anything but a general resurrection. That the design simply of drawing a parallel between the two stages has given rise to the expression is plain from this consideration, that in what precedes, where this design has still not entered, it is not the resurrection, but the life that is mentioned. We cannot think of the life as existing first, and then the resurrection, but inversely. With the resurrection in the proper sense the chief point is not the local rising out of the grave, but the transition to a new and glorious state. This general element is what alone is taken into account here, in order that the two degrees of bliss might be denoted by the same word. And such a view is the less liable to objection, as the figurative use of the resurrection is also of frequent occurrence in Scripture; as by it changes from misery to bliss, from a depressed to an elevated condition are denoted, which are by no means so nearly connected with the literal resurrection. [Note: Mark: Noc dubium est, quin cum hanc vitam altera totius hominis novissimo die sequatur, qua per corporis restitutionem homo totus ex perditione eripietur, prima merito dicatur haec resurrectio, priaeludium et pignus certum secundae illius.] The resurrection of the dead forms in Ezekiel, Ezekiel 37, the point of transition to the Lord’s people from the state of deep humiliation to one of exaltation. In Hebrews 11:35, the resuscitation of those who were brought to life again by Elijah and Elisha is described as a resurrection. What is meant cannot be a resurrection in the proper sense. Even in the purely spiritual territory the ideas of revivication and resurrection are employed; comp. Ephesians 2:6, Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 3:1.
Revelation 20:6. Blessed is he and holy, who has part in the first resurrection: over such the second death has no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. The holy denotes here not the moral quality, but the glory of the state (comp. at Psalms 16:2, and Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 14:10, where the holy angels are mentioned). Believers are holy even in this life; they are found in the glorious state of the children of God; they are separated from a profane world, behind the show and glitter of which there lie concealed the deepest humiliation and the greatest misery. But the complete manifestation of holiness belongs to the future world. The glory is more distinctly unfolded in the words that follow, “they shall be priests,” etc. “In a similar manner are glory and blessedness united together,” says Bengel, “in 2 Timothy 2:10; he is blessed, with whom it is quite well; holy indicates something still higher.”
On the second death, see at ch. Revelation 2:11. Parallel to the expression, “Over such the second death has no power,” is John 11:26, “he that believeth upon me shall never die.” In regard to the expression, “they shall be priests,” comp. at ch. Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10. Bengel: “Saints are also priests of Christ, therefore is Christ true God, see Acts 14:13.” The whole verse possesses a hortatory character. It calls upon us to regard the troubles and sufferings of this present life as nothing, if we may but attain to the glorious good of the first resurrection.
It seems proper, to introduce here the article that appeared some time ago in the Evang. K. Zeitung on the thousand years’ reign, which tonches-on many points, that have been passed over in the exposition. In doing so, we shall make both some omissions and some additions, yet so as not to destroy the colour it assumed from the period of its origin (March 1848), nor to be greatly solicitous about saying nothing the second time, which may have been substantially said already.
“Blessed is he who reads and they who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep what is written therein”—so speaks St John at the beginning of the Apocalypse. And at its close we read, “But I testify to all, who hear the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” If we consider the solemn earnestness there is in these words, we shall find it impossible to remain in a state of indifference toward this book. If we diligently apply ourselves to the consideration and understanding of its contents, even though this endeavour should at first be attended with little fruit, we should still not suffer the longing desire for a proper understanding of it to die in our souls; we should hold ourselves ready to receive benefit by all attempts that may be made to open to us its meaning. Nor shall our spirit also fail to have itself quickened and profitably exercised by what is said of the high importance of the book, if it does not suffer itself to be carried away by senseless objections, even though they should be uttered by pretended apostles and prophets.
The book, however, has a quite peculiar value for the present time. We learn its historical starting-point from ch. Revelation 1:9, “I John, your brother and companion in the tribulation and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle, that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Accordingly, the book was written by one, who himself had to suffer persecution for the sake of Christ, and languished in banishment: and at a time when all, who confessed Christ, were made to partake in the tribulation of Jesus Christ; according to the church tradition under Domitian, the author of the first general persecution of Christians, while that under Nero was confined merely to Rome.
When we look farther into the book, we are presented with the spectacle of a conflict of life and death waged by Satan against Christ, that had even then begun to burst forth. To delineate the course of this conflict and its glorious issue, seems to be the great object of the book. How should we, then, not listen eagerly to every word of such a book at a time, when Satan begins to make war on Christ and Christianity, on a scale that has never been attempted before! How should not we strive, through the help of this book, to be companions of the patience of Jesus Christ, and thereby attain also to his kingdom! Especially since from that kingdom (ch. Revelation 21:8) the fearful are excluded, as well as the unbelieving and abominable and whoremongers, and murderers and sorcerers and idolaters; an express warning to us, who are so ready to regard failure in the patience of Jesus Christ as a light and venial fault—so ready, in our distrust of God, to think little of forgetting the word, Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh. That the Christian may remain stedfast and fearless where he is, even though it should be in the midst of a falling world, this book is fitted to render for such a purpose a most important service. We are not the first who have to make proof of it; it has already manifested its power to many thousands in all times of distress and persecution, who have constantly applied it to their hearts, while in more quiet times it has been less attended to and has even often been shamefully neglected. It has thus proved a blessing even to many, who but very imperfectly understood it. For it is wonderful, how the edifying power that resides in the book, forces its way even through the most imperfect understanding of its contents, if only the soul that applies to it is hungry and thirsty, weary and heavy laden, if it only stands in living faith on the divinity of Scripture and on the glorious consummation of the kingdom of Christ.
Bengel’s example may render this quite manifest. In nearly all the leading points he has failed in obtaining the right view; and yet what rich nourishment has he derived from this book for his own inner man and for many thousands besides! One of the first questions in regard to the Revelation, which presses itself on us in an age of important movements like ours, is, where do we now stand? What have we behind, and what before us? The answer is, that we now have the thousand years’ reign behind us, and stand at the loosing of Satan out of his prison at the end of the thousand years, and his going forth to deceive the heathen in the four quarters of the earth, and gather them together to battle (ch. Revelation 21:7-9). This answer, which was given sometime ago in an article on the beast of the Apocalypse, has, as we foresaw, because opposed to the traditional and current view, found but little response, has estranged many, and given serious offence to some. This imposes on the author, who is convinced of the soundness of the answer, the obligation of going now more fully into the defence and vindication of it.
The surprise occasioned by the view we have set forth would certainly have been much less, if people had remembered, that the now current exposition, which is commonly regarded as the properly ecclesiastical one, and by which the millennium is held to be still future, was first rendered current by Bengel, and was adopted by the Pietists. Schröekh in his biographies of distinguished men of learning, Th. III., p. 98, says, “Since Bengel’s time the disinclination toward Chiliasm, which previously was a mark of sound faith in our church, has disappeared with many.” Bengel himself admits in a great number of places, that he had the prevailing sentiment in the church against him (Chiliasm, or the doctrine of the thousand years’ reign as still future is well known to have been repudiated by the 17th Art. of the Augsburg Confession). So in his Erklärten Offenbarung. p. 672, he says,” The still future years were held for suspicious (in the Evangelical church), and the greater part fell in with those, who bound themselves to no particular confession. These took the matter up the more zealously, and thereby made themselves the more hateful.” [Note: What is remarked above, however, has respect in its full compass only to the Lutheran church. In the reformed church, the opinion of a thousand years’ reign still to arise in the future, had many adherents before the time of the Pietists. Wolf in his Curae says, Mille annoa jam praeteriisae, nostratium theologorum communis est sententia.
Secundam sententiam (holding the period to the future) ex nostratibus nonuulli, in primis vero illi, qui a fanaticis sententiis parum sibi caverunt, nominatim, J. G. Petersenius, ex Reformatis vero multi exornandam susceperunt.] The lively conviction, that Satan’s authority and power to deceive were broken from the time of Christ’s appearance, gave rise to the opinion, which certainly had nothing in the connection to justify it, that the thousand years were to be reckoned from the birth of Christ. Cassiodorus, in support of this view, which through the authority of Augustine was the prevailing one during the whole of the middle ages, appeals to the unanimous consent of the fathers (qui tamen consensu patrum a nativitate domini computantur ne credituras gentes libera potestate confunderet. [Note: What Cassiodoras says here of the consent of the fathers certainly needs limitation. During the times, that a Christian theology was only in process of formation, very few references are to bo found to the millennium—see Münscher, Die Lebre vom tansendjährigen Reiche in den drei eraten Jahrh. in Henke’s Magazin Bd. VI. The belief was very common, that there should be a resurrection of the righteous before the general resurrection, that there should be an intermingling of these risen ones with those who had not yet died, an external restoration of Jerusalem, with a mixing up together of that which is said in the Apocalypse of the thousand years’ reign, and what is said of the New Jerusalem, reversing the order of Scripture, which ascribes the first stage of blessedness to heaven, the second to the earth. Thus Tertullian says, adv. Marci. L. 3, c. 25, “We confess, that a kingdom is promised us on earth, before we get to heaven, namely the thousand years’ reign after the resurrection, in the city of Jerusalem, made by God, which comes down from heaven.” Compare what Eusebius says in B. III. c. 28, of Cerinthus,. Justin in his Dial, with Trypho. c. 80, Irenaens B. V., c. 33. But this interpretation of the Apoc. never was unanimously received. Justin says, there were many, even among those, who held the pure doctrine, who did not share in this faith—see on this statement of Justin, Semisch’s Justin Martyr, vol. II. p. 469. “It is well known, that there is not a single trace to be found of the Chihastic views, neither in the epistles of the Roman Clement, of Ignatius and Polycarp, nor in the apologetical writings of Tatian, Athenagoros, and Theophilus of Antioch.” The vagaries of the Montanists who espoused these views, which already existed in the church, strengthened the disinclination to receive them. As theology grew into a more regular form, their untenableness became more clearly manifest. They were also repressed by the consideration, that the church, even under the ordinary human relations of life, might yet attain to the ascendancy. Lactantius is the last defender of Chiliasm of any name. The reaction against it in the ancient church was a sound one, though from the imperfection of exegetical resources, an ill choice was often made in the weapons employed by its opponents.] ) On the ground of this exposition, people were, about the year 1000, in the most anxious expectancy regarding the things that were going to happen. "Churches and monasteries were allowed to fall into ruin, many princes and nobles went on pilgrimage to Rome, built hospitals for the poor and for pilgrims, as also abbeys, whither some constantly repaired to wait in daily expectation.”
It is not quite accidental, that sects have constantly had a predilection for Chiliasm, while the church has been disinclined to adopt it. In the very nature of the sects there lies a practical denial of the confession, I believe in one holy, Catholic church. They are always disposed to confine within the circle of their own party what is good, what is Christian, what properly marks the operations of the Spirit—as, for example, in the programme of the Irvingite party it is declared without any circumlocution, There is Babylon, here is Zion. Being able to discern the divine only in some particular form, and incapable of discovering it even through the strange garb and disguises, which it often assumes, they must on this account alone be inclined to transfer the thousand years to the future, because they think they apprehend in them an essential advance; a state of the church much more satisfactory in the main than what has ever existed in the past; a state in which the power of Satan shall be broken, and the power of Christ shall be triumphant. Another reason for the circumstance may also be assigned. Chiliasm rests generally, even in its more spiritual forms, on an intermixture of things incompatible—of elements, which belong to time and to eternity. Bengel, for example, saw the untenable character of the common chiliastic views, according to which the corporeally risen saints should be members of the millennial kingdom on earth; since thus the resurrection would be separated from the regeneration of the earth, with which it is most closely connected, and makes the risen and glorified church be attacked by mortal men at the close of the thousand years. Bengel, therefore, conceives, that the risen saints shall be withdrawn to heaven, and from thence shall exercise the government along with Christ. But he still destroys the connection between the resurrection and the regeneration of the earth, and transfers to heaven what, according to Scripture, and the natural view belongs to the earth. Then, Bengel maintains on the one side the continuance of sin in the millennial period—and how, indeed, could he do otherwise, since the great apostacy at the end of it admits of explanation, only if the scarlet thread of sin goes through the entire period? “Among the children of the kingdom, says he, “there shall be to the very end of the world children of the wicked one; the conflict with sin in the flesh shall not be taken away, nor death itself be swallowed up in victory. There will, however, be new, high, and hitherto unknown trials and temptations, agreeing with the rich bestowal of the gifts of grace, in place of Satanic assaults and outward persecutions.” But, on the other side, Bengel denies any continuance of the efficacy of Satan during the period in question, and thus involves himself in a quite unscriptural view of Satan’s relation to sin: for as sin entered into the world through Satan; so is he always actively engaged in connection with it; he takes the word from the hearts of those, who hear it, that they may not believe and find salvation ( Luke 7:12); he has his work not merely in the children of unbelief, but believers also are sifted by him ( Luke 22:31); they must constantly pray, that the Lord may deliver them from the wicked one, who would lead them into temptation; not Judas merely is exposed to his assaults, but Peter also escapes from them no otherwise than through the intercession of the Lord. Now, the unsound state of sectaries accords with such interminglings of heterogeneous things, while the sound mind of the church has a decided aversion to them. We must guard ourselves, however, against the appearance of supposing the honoured Bengel to be a party-man. What led him to adopt the chiliastic views, was above all his exegetical conscience. He believed he could not do otherwise, and contented himself with whatever was abnormal in the matter. He held with the church of his day, that the beast was the papacy. Chiliasm is the necessary consequence of this view. For, the thousand years’ reign, according to ch. Revelation 19:20, only begins with the destruction of the beast. Since, therefore, the destruction of the papacy has still not taken place, the thousand years must necessarily be transferred to the future. The common theology of the church had rescued itself from this consequence, with true ecclesiastical tact, but only by violently tearing the twentieth chapter from its connection. Bengel was too good an expositor to concur in such a procedure. [Note: He says with perfect justice, “Caeterum ne passum quidem simul cum temporibus bestiae currunt hi mille anni, neque ex toto illa hi praecedunt, sed ex toto sequntur.] And the theology of the church was unable to oppose him; this could only have become possible, if any one had had the courage to abandon the false view of the beast, which had in a certain measure obtained the sanction of the church. Against those who stood fast by this interpretation, Bengel’s reasoning was irresistible; and hence it came to pass, that after a feeble resistance from the orthodox, chiliasm obtained an almost universal diffusion through the church.
Strange truly is the prejudice against the view we have propounded of the thousand years’ reign, as if it took from us somewhat of our consolation! as if it were fitted to overthrow our hope! a prejudice, which has been greatly strengthened by the too great support obtained by Bengel for the opinion advocated by him. On the contrary, it is very consolatory for us to know, that we have the thousand years already behind us; therefore, before us not the mere glimmering, but the clear day—not the preliminary victory, which is again to be succeeded by a heavy reverse, but the final conquest. If the old earth is always to get more corrupt and full of wickedness, it is a great consolation, that we have got so far over the pilgrimage to the new earth, on which righteousness dwells.
We come now to a closer examination of the subject. The positive proof for our view is contained in the connection, in which the thousand years’ reign is mentioned. Nor have we any need to go far back in investigating this. It is a fundamental error in the exposition of Bengel, and of many modern expositors, that they regard the Revelation as a progressive whole, proceeding in regular order from beginning to end. The right view is, that it is composed of a number of independent groups, each complete in itself, and each bringing prominently out some particular points, thus supplementing one another. For the establishment of this view it will be enough to point here to the one consideration, that undeniable references to the last end occur even in the beginning and the middle of the book. Thus, at ch. Revelation 6:12-14, we are brought into the territory of Matthew 24:29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken;” consequently into the time immediately before the coming of the Son of man (comp. Matthew 24:30). After the episode in ch. 7, which represents the fate of the elect during the judgments disclosed in the preceding portion, as going to alight upon the world, we have that coming itself referred to in ch. Revelation 8:1, “And when the seventh angel sounded, there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour;” for the silence is that of the creature frightened at the presence of its Creator and Lord, when appearing in the awful majesty of the judge. So, also, we stand at the final end, the detailed representation of which is given by the Seer only in the last group, in ch. Revelation 11:15, as is placed beyond doubt by comparing Revelation 11:18, “Thy wrath is come, and the time for judging the dead.” The end is also unquestionably referred to in ch. Revelation 14:14-16; and in ch. Revelation 16:17-21, comp. with Revelation 15:1.
How few solid objections can be raised against this proof is clear alone from the constrained and violent interpretations, which the advocates of the regular progression have been obliged to adopt at the places referred to.
Now, the independent groups are altogether seven, in accordance with the great importance, which after the example of the Old Testament is everywhere attached in this book to the number seven; as follows: 1. The seven epistles to the churches. 2. The seven seals. 3. The seven trumpets, Revelation 8:2 to Revelation 11:19. 4. The three enemies of the kingdom of God
Satan, the beast, and the false prophet, and their war upon it, Revelation 12-14. 5. The seven vials, Revelation 15, 16. 6. The judgment on the three enemies, beginning with the beast and the false prophet, and rising from them to Satan, Revelation 17-20. 7. The New Jerusalem.
If, therefore, we would ascertain from the connection the time to which the thousand years’ reign belongs, we need not go farther back than ch. 17, where we have an entirely new beginning, though forms certainly meet us which are pre-supposed to be known from what has gone before. Now, the result is not difficult to find here; it lies on the very surface. The thousand years’ reign follows immediately on the destruction of the beast and the false prophet. If by these we are to understand (as we have already proved) the ungodly heathen power and wisdom, then the thousand years’ reign cannot be future. For, in the regions which are everywhere kept mainly in view throughout this book, the lands of the Roman world, heathenism has for many centuries ceased to exist. Farther, as the last phase of the heathenish power of the world, with the overthrow of which the commencement of the thousand years’ reign is immediately connected, the ten kings or peoples, who overthrew the Roman empire, appear in the preceding verse. If by these we are to understand the Germanic tribes, whose conversion to Christianity is represented in ch. 19 under the image of their conquest by Christ in a great battle, then the commencement of the millennium must be coincident with the Christianization of the Germanic tribes. Of this E. M. Arndt says, “We (Germans), and those races that are most nearly related to us, and whatever of our ancestors mingled with the wretched remains of the old world, have raised and carried forward in the most vigorous and beautiful manner the new European Christian life.” This glory is now certainly gone, though only at the close of the thousand years, and we may well lament with the poet, German people, once in glory so transcendant, your oaks remain, you are yourselves fallen. The beginning of the thousand years’ reign is, accordingly, somewhat uncertain, and so also must be its end. In the main, however, it must coincide with the thousand years’ continuance of the German ascendancy. How the period was tending to its close in the time of Bengel—how even then significant tokens discovered themselves of the approaching release of Satan from his prison, may be gathered from what he says at p. 588 of Erläuterten Offenbarung, “The filth of the despisers of God is now so incredibly great, that one may well doubt whether the devil himself could carry matters farther. Yet it is not to be imagined that they have brought matters to the highest pitch, or can do so immediately. They are but the beginners, the real master-raillers are still unborn.” We may now say, that we have long dwelt, as in Meshech and Kedar, among these “master-raillers;” and any one that previously was not aware of it, must now during these last four weeks have known, that Satan has been completely loosed from his prison, and has gone forth to deceive the heathen in the four quarters of the earth, and gather them together to the battle. If we see in the past a visible proof of the faithfulness of God’s word, in the overthrow of Rome, in the conversion of the Germanic world to Christ, and the great falling away at the end of the thousand years, so in regard to the remaining point, to the falling of fire from heaven and consuming them, which we should revolve day and night in our hearts, that we may not be afraid of their threatenings, it will be easy for us to look with confidence for the fulfilment.
Let us now examine the objections which are brought against our view of the thousand years’ reign. It is alleged, first of all, that the contents of Revelation 20:1-3 in ch. 20 cannot be proved to have had their fulfilment in the past, and must hence belong to the future. The deceiving of the heathen runs through the whole of the history that is already past, and its cessation, which is here given as the characteristic mark of the thousand years, must be looked for in the coming future. But the subject of discourse here, as the connection shews, is not Satan’s deceiving in the general, but his deceiving with the view of stirring them up to an open attack on the kingdom of Christ, for the purpose of destroying it, and so as even to threaten its destruction. (Similarly even August, de 104: dei XX. 7: Nec enim dictum est, ut non seduceret aliquem, sed ut non seduceret, inquit, jam gentes). This more exact limitation of the meaning arises, on the one side, from the respect borne to what precedes, where such a conflict is spoken of, so great, public, and decisive, that the very existence of the kingdom of God was brought into question by it (comp. especially ch. Revelation 19:19-20). The same result, on the other side, is obtained from what follows, Revelation 20:7-9. Thus the deceiving of the heathen is more definitely explained, more narrowly bounded; and such a bounding, indeed, is demanded alone by the consideration, that at the end of the thousand years such a fearful assault is to be made, as is entirely inexplicable, on the supposition that the agency of Satan, and, what is closely connected therewith, sin, had altogether ceased during the thousand years. [Note: The following remark of Bengel is certainly not in accordance with the scriptural mode of representation: “The notions shall still be so constituted, that they could be deceived, if the devil were not in prison.” We must not take the prison in so grossly external a manner. It is a mere figure, and simply denotes the restraining of his influence, the pre-requisite of which is, that the hearts and peoples sincerely given to Christ continue steadfast in their adherence to him.] But such being the case, there is no reason for denying the cessation of this deceiving of Satan according to the view we advocate. With all its corruptions, and in part also severe conflicts and losses in the case of individuals, it still was on the whole the period of Christ’s undisputed sway. That a great change began at the end of it, must now at least, within the few last weeks, have become manifest even to those, who would drive too far the in many respects just, and by Scripture itself approved, dislike ( Ecclesiastes 7:11) of extolling too highly past times. [Note: Vitringa would now certainly no longer ask: Haeocine acta fuerunt et gesta Satana legato et detruso in abyssum? Quid igitur tandem fiet Satano solute? And yet Satan has but begun his work.] During the period of the thousand years there are to be found no conflicts, which even remotely resemble those that precede, and come after it. Mahommedanism belongs only in part to it, and it left untouched the original ground of Christendom; it never brought matters to such a point as to raise the question, whether there should be or should not be a kingdom of Christ on the earth. The papacy can only be regarded, after an unhistorical mode of viewing it, against which Luther himself protested, when he was not carried away by the spirit of controversy, as standing on a level with ancient and modern heathenism. It is this very mode of viewing it, unhappily wide-spread and deeply rooted in former times, which has especially led to the abandoning of the historical ground. in determining the position of the thousand years, and flying off to the future. The thought has also had much influence, which is expressed by Bengel at p. 581, “Those make far too little of the matter, who understand the thousand years of something that is past, and consequently something quite insignificant.” He who looks thus upon the past in the Christian church, at the same time cuts up, without perceiving it, the root of a living and reasonable hope for the future. If the word, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world,” has been kept so badly in the past, it will be foolish to expect, that it should suddenly begin in the future to receive a glorious fulfilment. It is so also with the individual believer; his hope respecting the future is a living hope, exactly in the same degree, that he can discern the blessing of God, which is concealed under the cross, the grace that lies hid behind sin; which he only can do, who can say from the heart, What I know not, teach thou me. That view of the papacy (whose dominion, besides, comprehends only a part of the thousand years, while, again, this period embraces the Reformation, and the whole spring-time of the evangelical churches [Note: The natural exposition of the Apocalypse runs as directly counter to the extravagancies of Catholic controversialists, as it does to those of the Evangelical party. The prevailing view of the Reformation in the Catholic church cannot be the right one, if the spring-season of the Evangelical church falls within the thousand years. The Satanic territory must, therefore, lie in another direction than that, which separates the Evangelical from the Catholic church.] ), is a reproach on our own origin. The Reformation pre-supposes the existence of glorious powers of life, though in a slumbering state. Now that we have about us the Gog and Magog of unbelief, and no longer stand within the thousand years, we should feel our impotence, and call on the Lord to strengthen our weakness.
Another objection against our view of the thousand years’ reign is taken from Revelation 20:4-6. According to what is written there the resurrection of the righteous must take place at the beginning of the thousand years, and these must continue on the earth during the whole millennial period. As nothing of this sort is to be perceived in the past, it is, men think, clear as day, that the thousand years still belong to the future. But it should be quite sufficient to shew the fallacy of such an argument, that it leads to a perfectly monstrous combination of things incapable of union: the church consisting of a mixture of members, partly living in mortal flesh, and partly risen and glorified—the latter abiding on the unrenewed earth, though as such only fit for the dwelling of mortal men; the risen and glorified at the end of the thousand years, entangled anew in the- troubles of earth, in war and conflict, which belong only to a present existence, and driven out of that rest from their labours which was promised them.
Let us now first present our view of the verses under consideration, and then advance what favours it and opposes the view we reject.
The whole book is designed to stimulate to patience, to stedfastness, to unmoved fidelity, and hearty joyfulness, those who are endangered by the pressure of the world against the kingdom of Christ. The chief means employed to accomplish this design, is a representation of the victory of Christ on earth, which takes place at every great conflict. This, however, is not altogether sufficient to inspire courage. Those who fall in this warfare, who depart in times of trouble and distress, who do not live to see the periods of triumph and peace, need some further consolation. The holy Seer directs their eye to the heavenly glory, amid which they are kept till the time, that the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. Thus in ch. Revelation 7:1-8 it is represented how God, in the midst of the great tribulations which befal the earth, keeps his own people; then in Revelation 20:9-15 the view opens on the heavenly glory, which causes all the tribulations of earth to be forgotten. So also in ch. Revelation 14:1-5, after a delineation has been given of the cruel procedure of the beast on earth, and how those are kept in safety who would not worship his image, suddenly the curtain is lilted, and we see the Lamb standing on the heavenly Zion, and with him the whole multitude of the elect, who, with one voice, like that of many waters and of loud thunder, sing the new song of the Lamb, the earth with its temptations to apostacy lying wholly under their feet. This same multitude meets us again in ch. Revelation 15:2-4. They appear there standing on a sea of glass mingled with fire, on the ground of Psalms 36:7, “Thy judgments are a great flood,” the symbol of the divine acts of righteousness and judgment, and sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. The section before us is entirely similar in its structure. It contains nothing which belongs to the earth, and on the fulfilment of which history could give us its report. It rather leads us from the earth, and from the triumph which has been granted on earth to the cause and the servants of Christ to heaven, that we may see there the glory of those who had departed before the beginning of the thousand years, who were slain for the word of God and the testimony which they had, and loved not their lives to the death. The resurrection is ascribed to these persons only in a figurative sense, that, namely, of a transition into a new and glorious existence; as is indicated by the expression, “this is the first resurrection,” employed for the purpose of distinguishing it from the second resurrection, which is that more commonly meant by the term. [Note: The first resurrection corresponds to the second death. In respect to both alike the Seer distinguishes the figurative from the proper use of the term by an additional word. Those who boast of holding by the latter, who think that the subject of discourse here must plainly be the resurrection in the literal sense, have in reality the letter against them. In the expression: the first resurrection, there is contained a distinct reference to the diversity. To understand the first merely of priority of time is forbidden by the analogy of the second death, which differs materially from the first.]
Now this view is first confirmed by the expression: they lived, or were again living. From this it is clear, that before the first resurrection the persons who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and who had not worshipped the beast, had enjoyed no life worthy of this name. Now, if the bodiless existence of the departed righteous were a mere life of shadows, we might certainly conclude that nothing would be said of it, as is the case in respect to those who have not died in the faith. But the contrary is found to be the case. The Apocalypse points in the most attractive colours to the blessedness which the redeemed enjoy, even before the resurrection; they stand before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands, and praise God and the Lamb, and serve him day and night in his temple (comp. ch. Revelation 14:1-5, Revelation 7:9-17). Such a blessed state cannot be ignored, it cannot be put on a footing with non-existence, and so nothing remains but to understand it as meant by the first resurrection.
Further, if we suppose here that a literal resurrection is meant, it must appear very singular that nowhere else in Scripture is any mention made of such a resurrection of the righteous before the general resurrection. For it does not at all follow from the passages, 1 Corinthians 15:22-23; Luke 14:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 what Ewald would still draw from them, that the righteous shall be raised at the last day before the wicked; they do not speak of a before and an after, but treat simply of the resurrection of the righteous. Such a resurrection, however, as is now supposed, is not merely ignored; it is also expressly denied. Thus in 1 Corinthians 15:22-23, “For as by one man came death, so also by one man comes the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every one in his own order; Christ the first-fruits, afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming.” By this passage the resurrection only takes place at the period of Christ’s coming. This, however, is not connected with the thousand years’ reign, but with the time of the New Jerusalem, of which it is said in ch. Revelation 21:3, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell-with them;” and in ch. Revelation 21:22, “And I saw no temple therein; for the Lord, the Almighty God, is its temple, and the Lamb.” Such a resurrection is also disproved by 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” [Note: Quite fruitless is the attempt of Flatt, in his adnotationes ad locum 1 Thessalonians 4:16, etc. coll. cum Apoc. opusc. 409, etc. to bring these passages into unison with ours, on the ground that the latter treats of the literal resurrection. He thinks that those should be excepted from “the dead in Christ,” to whom the first resurrection is accorded in the Revelation. But this first resurrection of the Revelation belongs to all the dead in Christ; not merely to the martyrs, but also to all those, “who bad not worshipped the beast, nor his image, and bad not received his mark on their forehead and on their baud.” The “rest of the dead,” who do not live during the course of the thousand years, are the ungodly (for Revelation 20:11, sq. shew how it went with them after the thousand years, bow positive punishment succeeds to the loss of an interest in the previously mentioned good). The books are only the books of guilt; and the book of life is merely opened to shew, that their names were not there. They are all appointed to the second death.] By this passage, too, the view of Bengel, which holds the resurrection to be corporeal, indeed, but holds heaven, and not the earth, to be the habitation of the risen saints, is excluded. It must then have been Christ’s descending from heaven along with the saints, who had risen before and gone to heaven with their glorified bodies, that was spoken of—not Christ’s raising them up, but his coming down with them. This is also to be taken into account, that the change on the living is coupled by Paul with the resurrection of the saints that are asleep. But such a change can only take place in connection with the general regeneration ( Matthew 19:28), with the new heavens and the new earth. John 5:28-29 also, “The hour cometh, in which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth, they that have done good to the resurrection of life, but they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation,” hardly admits of the thought of a wide separation between the resurrection of life and that of condemnation.
Finally, after the example of our Lord himself in Luke 18:8, “When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?” and in Matthew 24, especially Matthew 24:10, sq. Matthew 24:37, sq., Scripture generally testifies, that in the last times apostacy shall be very widely spread, and that even among the faithful the fire of their love and zeal shall be sadly cooled. Such descriptions, however, will not suit a church, which consists to a large extent of the risen saints; nor even a church, which has just passed out of the thousand years, on the hypothesis of Bengel. They require, that we must not attribute more to the Christian church than she has possessed in the past.
If, then, it is to be finally maintained, that Revelation 20:4-6 refer to those who are concealed from our view, that for what was to happen on this earthly stage we have but one mark given, in the continuance of the dominion of Christ during a period of a thousand years,—for the just made perfect reign with Christ during the thousand years—and that the other features of the thousand years’ reign are to be derived only from Revelation 20:1-3, then we shall certainly find no other reason why we should seek it in the future instead of in the past; since there would then be the great impropriety, that the church’s thousand years of a settled state would be passed over with perfect silence in the Revelation. What is said of the thousand years, is but a brief and simple notice, and is never in the remotest manner to be compared with the glory of the new Jerusalem, to which St John hastens forward with longing desire and with rapid step—a clear proof, that in the thousand years we are to seek no heaven upon earth. [Note: Ewald: Vates breviter tantum et festinanter regnum hoc milliare tangit, beantorumque praemia in regnum mundi novi coeleste sedulo cumulate omnia, 20:1-22. 25; tardarique paratam jam piis salutem sumnam in regno coelesti ex ch. 19:7, coll. 21:2 concludas.]
Revelation 20:7. And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison. This is properly the only case in the Apocalypse, in which the future as such is announced beforehand, while John elsewhere, and here also again in Revelation 20:9, only describes what he has seen and heard. In ch. Revelation 11:3 the same thing has been thought to be found, though improperly; for there John does not speak. In ch. Revelation 9:6 the future is brought in through the reference to the fundamental passage of Jeremiah. There also, as in ch. Revelation 13:8, the future is only so far announced beforehand, as it makes itself perceived from what John saw before his eyes. The exception here arises from the necessity of the case: a simple pre-intimation must first carry us to the farther side of the thousand years.
He, who looses Satan, is no other than the Lord himself, who has the key of the abyss, ( Revelation 20:1), and without whose will Satan can never move a step, as is manifest from the history of Job; nor could the demons without his permission so much as enter into the herd of swine. The Lord sends to those, who have lost their love to the truth, through the medium of Satan, strong delusions, that they should believe lies, and so become ripe for judgment, ( 2 Thessalonians 2:11, comp. Romans 1:24, Romans 1:26). It is the punishment of ingratitude and apostacy, that it always goes farther and farther down, much more so than the spirit of infidelity itself originally contemplated.
The evil enemy is here called Satan, in Revelation 20:10 the devil. The dragon is mentioned no more. Corresponding to the dragon is the heathen state, that culminates in the heathen kings. So far, however, matters are not to come again. If the Christian state may be everywhere perforated by the evil, and in part destroyed, as it cannot fail to be, where the mass yields to the seductions of Satan, still Satan never can again succeed so far, as to pluck the Christian state up by the root, and to establish himself as the dragon. It is in accordance with Satan’s having no longer the name of the dragon, that the Antichristian world receives the name of Gog and Magog. Even in Ezekiel, Magog bears the character, not of a regularly constituted state, but of a horde of plunderers. The lawlessness of the party is still more strongly marked here, by Gog, who appears in Ezekiel as the head of Magog, being viewed as a distinct people, and acting in concert with Magog.
The prison is, according to Revelation 20:2, the abyss.
The loosing of Satan, we learn in Revelation 20:2, is only to be for a short time. Bengel: “How long this short time is to be, cannot well be conjectured; but we may certainly conclude, that it must be brief as compared with the thousand years.”
Gog and Magog
Ch. Revelation 20:7-10. It was intimated at Revelation 20:3, that at the end of the thousand years there should be a great change in the relation of Satan to the earth. To that intimation reference is here made.
After the thousand years are finished, Satan is loosed from his confinement, and deceives Gog and Magog, that is, the heathen over the whole earth, to come and fight against Christ and his church. The project succeeds well at first, so that the adversaries lay siege to the camp of the saints and the beloved city. But after a brief triumph they are overtaken by the vengeance of heaven. Fire comes down from heaven and consumes them. Satan is cast into the lake of fire. So that, what was designed to overthrow the begun supremacy of Christ, serves only to complete it. With the final discomfiture of Satan the last of the three enemies of Christ and of his church has forever vanished from the field.
Vitringa says, “The church appears to have reached the end of her conflicts and labours with the execution of judgment on the beast. Christ reigns with his saints, and the kingdoms of the world yield obedience to him and the church. Whence then these new enemies at the close of the thousand years?” To this question we reply: the reason of Satan’s being loosed must stand in close connection with the reason of his being bound. The earth watched and prayed during the thousand years; therefore, Satan could accomplish nothing against it. But if the earth should cease to watch and pray, it must necessarily fall into temptation.
Where God is no longer present, there Satan is sure to come with his evil spirits. The passage, Matthew 12:43-45, “When the unclean Spirit,” etc. deserves here the most attentive consideration.
Satan works only in the children of disobedience; and he works wherever the children of disobedience are to be found, ( Ephesians 2:2). If at any time he is to be seen actually among those, who have already belonged to Christ, this implies, according to the whole teaching of Scripture, a backsliding on the part of these; and the more extensive and successful his work of deception is, the greater always must the preceding guilt have been. Vitringa was in great perplexity to know whence these new heathen were to come. Mede expected them from America. But Bengel, with his profound discernment, perceived even in his day the beginnings of the germinating heathenism. “At present,” says he, “there is such security, and along therewith such mockery amongst high and low, appearing in a shameless profligacy and a covert unbelief, that one is apt to think, Satan himself could not conduct matters in a more indecent and scandalous manner; but what has yet been done is no more than child’s play. People are still but apprentices in respect to the last dreadful times, when the spirit of carnal security and profane mockery shall rise to the complete mastery.” It is said also in the Berleb. Bible, “Enough still secretly remains, which can be productive of mischief. And the lees shall yet be stirred up for a great final effort, as Pharaoh gave the last violent kick when he pursued after the Israelites.”
There are two prophecies of the Old Testament which are closely connected with the one before us. In the prophecy of Daniel respecting the monarchies of the world the little horn corresponds which threw down three of the great. The characteristic features there are, the difference between this new worldly power and the earlier ones, [Note: This difference forms the reason why John has separated this last enemy of the church from the earlier ones, while in Daniel there were reasons for rather bringing into view the elements that belonged to this in common with the others. Wherein the difference consisted, we learn more definitely from John than we can do in Daniel.] the hatred, manifested against God and his church, the undertaking to change times and laws ( i.e., to abolish all holy and profane, divine and human institutions and laws), its prosperity and success, as appearing in the overthrow of three of the earlier kingdoms, and getting even the church into its power, and, lastly, the coincidence of the end of the world with its overthrow. The other passage is the prophecy of Ezekiel against Gog the king of Magog, the chief prince [Note: His original kingdom is Magog, but along with this he acquires the mastery over Meshech and Tubal. In vain have some tried, latterly Knobel, to change the chief prince into a prince of Russia. The prince of Rosse (an appellation not known in Scripture) Meshech and Tubal, Gog could not be called without some farther explanation, as Meshech and Tubal are represented in Scripture as independent kingdoms, which were not directly subject to the king of Magog. This person could become a head to them only us a “king of kings.”] of Mesech and Tubal, in Ezekiel 38-39. The case is different in respect to this prophecy, from what it is with Daniel’s regarding the little horn. While the latter goes upon a particular fact in the future history of the world, the prophecy of Ezekiel possesses a thoroughly ideal, composite character. Gog and Magog represent generally all the future enemies of the kingdom of God, and there is here combined into one grand delineation, what was to be realized in a long series of events; so that the interpretations, which would understand it of the Syrian kings, of the Goths and Vandals, or of the Turks, are all at once true, and at the same time false, on account of their exclusiveness. Ezekiel had been prophecying immediately before of Israel’s return from exile, and his redemption from the oppression of the enemy, who then was permitted to bear sway. And the disquieting thought, that it was not enough to have achieved one victory, the fear, which takes such deep hold of the diseased, that some new trouble may come after they have recovered from that, under which they at present labour, this is met by the prophet with the announcement, that whatever the earth might still raise up of evil against the kingdom of God, even if it should bring up all that is terrible from its furthest corners, powers that were hitherto scarcely known, to war against the kingdom, this should still at last gain the victory. For a strong rock is our God. Every one who yields to the native impression this prophecy is fitted to produce, must at once feel, that there is something utopian about it; that it is essentially different from such prophecies, for example, as refer to the overthrow of the Assyrians or the Chaldeans. Its composite character discovers itself with peculiar clearness in Ezekiel 38:5-6, where along with Gog and Magog peoples from the most diverse regions of the world are mentioned as taking part in the expedition, who had no natural connection with them, or with one another. “Ezekiel here names and brings together only such tribes and races as were far distant, some more and others less known.” That an exposition, which seeks for a literal fulfilment in some historical event, is against the real meaning of the prophet, is manifest also from the freedom with which he forms a king, Gog, out of the name of the land Magog, which alone is mentioned in Genesis 10:2. So is it, again, from Genesis 10:17, according to which the earlier prophets had prophesied of Gog. These had only spoken in general of the enemies of God’s kingdom. But that John did not view the prophecy otherwise than is now represented, is plain from this, that according to ch. Revelation 19:17 he even sees in the subjugation of the ten kings through Christ one fulfilment of it. It is plain also from the consideration, that with the utmost freedom, he changes the king Gog in Ezekiel into a people Gog, together with Magog. Finally, it appears from his entirely removing the local and national limitation, which in Ezekiel still attaches to Gog and Magog, and considering Gog and Magog as simply identical with the heathen in the four corners of the earth.
Revelation 20:8. And he will go forth to deceive the heathen in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war, [Note: If we read εἰ?ς τὸ?ν πό?λεμον , the article must be taken generically, and in substance the other reading, without it, conveys the same meaning. The war stands opposed to other possible objects of the gathering together.] the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. In what manner Satan goes forth, and accomplishes the deception, we learn from ch. Revelation 16:13. He does it by means of the unclean spirit that goes out of him.
According to the current view we are to understand by the heathen in the four corners of the earth the nations, that occupy the most distant regions of the earth. [Note: So already Vitringa: Designatur gentes, quae non habiarent in media et praestantissima terrarium orbis parte, quipped quae occupata esset ab ecclesia, sed in extremis terrae.] But this interpretation is against the biblical usage. In Judges 20:2, the expression, “the corners of the whole people,” is used for, the whole people from the beginning to the end, “all the tribes of Israel,” as is immediately added by way of explanation; or “from Dan to Beersheba” as it is in Revelation 20:1. The explanation: the foremost of the whole people, is there against the connection. In 1 Samuel 14:38, Saul says, “Draw ye near hither all corners of the people.” That the whole body of the people is meant, is clear from 1 Samuel 14:40, In Isaiah 19:13 it is said, “They have deceived Egypt, the corners of his tribes,”for, his tribes even to their furthest corners. (In Genesis 19:4, כל העם מקצה corresponds). In these passages the corners possessed whatever lay within them, and was bounded by them: all the corners of the people, is as much as, all the people even to its furthest corners; as in this book also at ch. Revelation 7:1, the corners are brought into consideration as the points, which rule the whole earth. So is it also in respect to the four borders of the earth in Isaiah 11:12; q.d., of the whole earth, as far as it stretches. Comp. Ezekiel 7:2, “The end comes on the four borders of the earth,” Job 37:3. Accordingly, here also the four corners of the earth are not the points, where the people to be deceived alone or even chiefly dwell, but the corners are regarded as commanding the whole region that lies within them; so that the four corners of the earth, is all one with, on the whole earth even to its four corners. The deceptive influence exercised by Satan is represented as one, that is not to be confined to some one particular land or people, but one that was to possess an entirely oecumenical character; precisely as we see at present to be the case. To the four corners of the earth correspond the breadth of the earth in Revelation 20:9. The territory on which the cause operates here, is the same as that on which the operation appears there. This view is confirmed by the fundamental prophecy in Ezekiel. There along with Gog, who comes from the north, other nations also are mentioned as taking part in the expedition, who dwell in the middle regions.
Gog and Magog form the epexegesis to the nations in the four corners of the earth. Ezekiel represents Gog as the centre of the whole movement ( Ezekiel 38:5-6). But here the ground of Genesis 10:2, is entirely abandoned, and Gog and Magog are simply identified with all heathen. Gog, Magog, and Demagog, were first put together by Brentano. It is such a conjunction as that of Napoleon and Apollyon.
In the war, Bengel, “Then all evil will raise itself up against all good, and hazard the last blow, but shall be worsted by the better part.”
As the sand of the sea, as were also the host of the Canaanites, Joshua 11:4, the camels of the Midianites, Judges 7:12, and the Philistines, 1 Samuel 13:5.
Revelation 20:9. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and encompassed the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down out of heaven from God, and consumed them. The going up is used of any warlike expedition, because the object of it appears a height to be ascended and taken. [Note: Somewhat differently Gesenius in his Thes. on עלה : Quoniam urbes castraque expugnanda in loco edito extructa sunt.] By the breadth of the earth the whole compass of it is denoted. In Habakkuk 1:6, the Chaldeans march “through the breadth of the earth,” that is, they go through it after its whole extent and compass, comp. Isaiah 8:8; Genesis 13:17; Job 38:18. Those deceived by Satan are, according to Revelation 20:8, scattered over the entire breadth of the earth; but others also dwell with them, who do not yield to the seduction. Against these they now go forth; they would possess the whole compass of the earth, and verify the opposite of the statement, “the meek shall inherit the earth.” And it appeared as if they were going to succeed, not less than of old when Assyria marched against Jerusalem.
One can suppose that the church is here denoted by two distinct and independent images, that of the camp and that of the city. But we may also suppose that the camp of the saints is placed in the beloved city, as in Acts 21:34 the fortified camp of the Romans in the city of Jerusalem is spoken of, comp. Acts 21:37, Acts 22:24, Acts 23:10, Acts 23:16, Acts 23:32. Any how, the prefixing of the expression: the camp of the saints, indicates the warlike and armed condition, which is an essential characteristic of the saints, whose spiritual armoury is described in Ephesians 6:10, sq., comp. 1 John 2:14, 1 John 5:4. In the times of Moses and Joshua the church even externally presented the form of a military camp, (comp. Hebrews 13:11), imaging what in substance was to be continued through all times.
The beloved city is Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is in the Apocalypse always used as a symbol of the church (comp. vol. i., p. 425). Prosperous events, times in which the contest should assume a milder character, are not excluded by their being said to encompass the camp. As little are they excluded by the enemies being represented as pressing into the outworks of the holy city—comp. ch. Revelation 11:2. Our Lord said of the literal Jerusalem, in Luke 19:43, “Days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side.” The same state of things shall here also take place, and indeed for the same reason, as a deserved punishment; for if the church had done her duty, Satan would never have been able by his deceptions to make such way against her. But nothing shall now happen like what is said in Luke 19:44, “And they shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another.” For, this Jerusalem, with all its failings, still is the beloved city of God; and the word can never hold respecting it, which was spoken of ancient Jerusalem, “My house is an house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
By faith the walls of Jericho of old fell when they had been compassed for seven days ( Hebrews 11:30). By faith also shall the walls of the beloved city be preserved. The fervent prayer of the faithful calls down fire from heaven (comp. at ch. Revelation 8:3-5).— After Satan has made those ripe for judgment, who through their guilt have been led away by him, the divine judgment falls upon the deceiver and the deceived. First upon the latter. The words, “And fire came down out of heaven from God,” refer to Genesis 19:24, “And the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;” to which also, as the image of all future judgments of God on the wicked, allusion is made in Ezekiel 38:22, Ezekiel 39:6. Here, this allusion, especially after the peculiar combination of the expressions, “out of heaven,” and “from God,” cannot be doubtful. The “from God” appeared a superfluous addition to some copyists, who did not perceive the reference to the fundamental passage. That it is not, however, to be regarded as a simple repetition from that passage, is plain from the order being the reverse of that there. It is there, from the Lord out of heaven; here, out of heaven from the Lord. The heaven forms here the contrast to the earth, God to Satan. From the allusion to Genesis 19, it is clear, that nothing is here indicated respecting the form of the judgment. What appears to refer to it, belongs to the ancient type. So much, however, may be regarded as certain, that here an unexpected, quick, frightful, overwhelming execution of divine vengeance is represented.
Revelation 20:10. And the devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also [Note: The also is wanting in the text, which Luther followed.] are the beast and the false prophet, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. The everlasting fire, is, according to the word of our Lord in Matthew 25:41, prepared first of all for Satan and his angels. The cursed from among men are to be sent there as companions to them.
We have here the third and last station of Satan. In ch. Revelation 12:9, he is cast down from heaven on the earth; in ch. Revelation 20:3, into the abyss, hell; here, at last, into the lake of fire and brimstone, the deeper hell (comp. at ch. Revelation 19:20). On the words, “they shall be tormented,” etc., see at ch. Revelation 14:11.
Revelation 20:11. And I saw a white great throne, and him who sat thereon, before whose presence the earth and the heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. The white throne here corresponds to the white cloud in ch. Revelation 14:14. The white is here also the symbolical image of glory. In ch. Revelation 4:3, the crystal clear jasper corresponds. A great throne, in contrast to the thrones in Revelation 20:4, on account of the greatness and glory of him who sits on it. Short and good, Bengel: “The throne is white as an emblem of the glory of the judge, and great as befits his great and infinite majesty.”
He who sits on the throne is God in the undivided unity of his being, without respect to the diversity of persons (see at ch. Revelation 1:8); not the Father in fellowship with Christ, according to ch. Revelation 3:21, where Christ sits with the Father on his throne, Revelation 7:17, where the Lamb is spoken of as being in the midst of the throne, Revelation 22:1, where, again, we read of the throne of God and the Lamb. For, here only one is represented as sitting. Nor are we to regard this one as the Father in contradistinction to Christ. It is against this view, that especial mention is not made here of Christ, as at ch. 4 (comp. Revelation 4:2); but Christ, to whom all judgment has been committed by the Father, ( John 5:22; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 14:14; Revelation 19:11) cannot, according to the fundamental passages, (especially Matthew 19:28, Matthew 25:31, comp. Acts 17:31; Romans 14:10), fail to be present particularly at the last judgment. Nor yet can it be Christ in contradistinction to the Father. For, there is nothing that specially pointed to him; ch. Revelation 21:6 is against the supposition; and in the first work, that proceeds from him who sits upon the throne, the removal of the traces of sin out of creation, a reference could not fail to the Almighty Creator, who appears here restoring his original work.
That we have not in the words, “before whose presence the earth and the heaven fled away,” a merely poetical description of the frightfulness of the Judge, at whose presence all creation trembles, is plain from the appended clause, “and no place was found for them,” which was also employed to denote a disappearing, a complete removal at ch. Revelation 12:8. Accordingly, it is justly remarked on the fleeing away by Bengel, “not from one place to another, but so that no place whatever should be found;” comp. the fleeing in the sense of vanishing away in ch. Revelation 16:20. The same thing may also be inferred from Psalms 114:3-4, “The sea saw and fled, Jordan and turned back. The mountains skipt like rams, the hills like lambs.” There, too, it is a real flight, an actual concussion that is spoken of (see my Comm.). What was done there on the small scale, is done here on the great one. Finally, all doubt is excluded by ch. Revelation 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.” Hence, the representation here can only be, how the first heaven and the first earth vanished away, in order that the new creation might take their place.
It is taught even in the Old Testament, that the present earth and heavens shall pass away (see my Comm. on Psalms 102:26-27). In the New Testament this doctrine is indicated in Matthew 24:35; it is implied in what the Saviour says of the regeneration in Matthew 19:28; but the properly classical passage is 2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:10-12, where, as here, the destruction of the present heavens and the present earth is put in connection with the day of judgment and the destruction of ungodly men. St John gives expression to this truth in 1 John 2:17, “The world passeth away with the lust thereof, but he who doeth the will of God, abideth for ever.” It lies also at the bottom of what he says in his Gospel respecting the last day, John 6:39; John 12:48. For, the last day can only be the day for the ceasing of the whole existing order of things.
The earth and the heaven could not be brought into consideration here according as they proceeded from the creative hand of God, but only as they have become altered by the fall—partly as the dwelling-place of human and satanic wickedness (Genesis 6), partly as changed by the avenging hand of God ( Genesis 3:17-19, Genesis 5:29), so that the word, “behold it was all very good,” could no longer be taken absolutely, but must be understood as applying to the creation only when this is viewed in connection with the fall. Because sin has manifested itself especially on the earth, this is here placed foremost. The common and natural order is never inverted but for some special reason (comp. Zechariah 5:9; Genesis 2:4). But the heavens, too, have not been free from the operation of sin. They are indeed often red and troubled ( Matthew 16:3); they are often clothed in darkness and veiled in sackcloth of hair ( Isaiah 50:3); to break the pride and stubbornness of men the heavens are often made as iron, and the earth as brass, so that the land does not yield its increase, and all labour and work is lost, ( Leviticus 26:19-20, comp. Deuteronomy 11:17, Deuteronomy 28:23). But there are not wanting indications of Scripture, that even the high regions of heaven have been invaded and defiled by sin, through the angels, who did not keep their first estate, but forfeited their proper dwelling (Jude Jude 1:6); that disturbances are to be found even there, remaining as memorials of the fall of the angels, till they shall be purged away by the final judgment, which is also to be exercised upon the angels and Satan ( 2 Peter 2:4). Indications of these things occur in Job 15:15, “Behold he does not trust in his saints, and the heavens are not clean in his sight;” Job 25:5, “Behold, even in the moon he dwells not, and the stars are not pure in his eyes.”
In this section the order follows not the time, but the circumstances; first heaven and earth, then the wicked. How the destruction of the present heavens and earth stands related in point of time to the judgment of the wicked, nothing is here said.
The End of the World (Ch. Revelation 20:11-15 )
The three enemies of God’s kingdom have disappeared. There must now still follow the final and ultimate decision respecting the fate of those, who submitted to their influence; and all, top, of the irrational creation, which had been pressed by them into the service of sin, must be put out of the way. The latter in Revelation 20:11, the first in Revelation 20:12-15. This being done, all is then prepared for the new earth, on which righteousness dwells, for the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God; and, therefore, for the beginning of the seventh and last vision.
Revelation 20:12. And I saw the dead, the small and the great, stand before the throne, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is(the book) of life. And the dead were judged according to that which was written in the books, according to their works. [Note: Luther omits the article before small and great in this verse, and also follows the reading which has “before God,” after the throne.] The dead can only be the ungodly dead. It must alone appear singular, that here the dead are still spoken of, although they must have been raised up, before they could stand before the throne. If only the ungodly dead are meant, then there is nothing strange in the matter. For their life after the resurrection is but a life in semblance, as it was also before in Hades. Even in their bodily life they were still dead, as is intimated in the word of Christ, “Let the dead bury their dead.” But it is still of much greater moment in this respect, that John had seen in Revelation 20:4, how those that slept in Jesus before the beginning of the thousand years then lived and reigned with Christ. It was impossible that he should have seen these, and such as stood with them in like circumstances, such as died in the Lord during the thousand years and in the war of Gog and Magog, as mixed up with the dead here, and should have included them all under that name. An unseasonable comparison of Matthew 25:31, sq., where we find the righteous and the wicked united in one scene of judgment, and where the due distinction was not made between the substance and the dramatic form, has here been productive of much confusion, and has led to the dead being generally viewed, [Note: Cocceius, however, took the right view: intelligi homines mortuos iu lapsibus et in praeputio carnis, qui hactenus non revixerant, coll. 5:5.] as all the dead without exception. Here also, where only the ungodly dead are the object of judgment, where the internally different are regarded as also externally distinct, we must distinguish between form and substance. The scene of judgment is of no farther importance than as forming part of the representation. In substance they have been judged already; they have been already cast into Hades ( Revelation 20:13), and this pours out its whole contents into the lake of fire. Besides, to confine death only to the wicked is in perfect accordance with the style of John; comp. John 5:24, “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life;” John 8:51, “Verily, verily I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death;” 1 John 3:14. It is quite characteristic of John, that he delights to take death and life in their profoundest meaning. In ch. Revelation 11:18 also of this book, the dead are the lost dead. Because the judgment here has respect only to the ungodly dead, God in Christ appears alone as judge, and not, as in the judgment that respects the righteous, surrounded by the heavenly council of the church, (comp. Revelation 20:4; Matthew 19:28).
In regard to the small and the great, comp. on ch. Revelation 11:18, Revelation 13:16. How does the splendour of the great (who are here to be pronounced with emphasis) now become pale! How completely does all the fear they awakened vanish away!— The words, “and the books were opened,” is from Daniel 7:10, although there another judgment is spoken of. From the contrast with the other book, which is the book of life, the books can only be those of guilt, of condemnation, of death, as they are also in the fundamental passage. But that this should be presupposed, as a thing to be understood of itself, arises simply from the contents of the books having their character more exactly determined by the condition of the persons to whom they relate. Bengel remarks: “This will be a complete, true, impartial, universal history.”
Why the book of life (comp. at ch. Revelation 3:5, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 17:8), should be opened, may be learned from Revelation 20:15; it was to shew, that they had not been written there. The positive use of this book is given in Revelation 20:4. A name cannot be both written in the books and in the book of the Lamb. For, he whose name is in the book of life, is one whose guilt has been purged away by the blood of the Lamb (comp. 1 John 1:9, here at ch. Revelation 13:8); but the books contain the record only of unforgiven sins. Bengel: “Every one is either righteous or unrighteous; he cannot be half righteous, half unrighteous. The unrighteous often do things that have a good name; but these are not on that account fruits of righteousness. The righteous, on the other hand, have their sins; but they have also their sufferings for these, and obtain through supplication the pardon of their guilt.”—“The single book of life opened is opposed to the many books of works, that are also opened.” The difference as to the many and the one is either to be explained on the consideration, that but few are saved, or because the book of life contains simply the names, while the books of the dead contain the long array of their evil deeds. The judgment is here, as in ch. Revelation 11:18, and the parallel passages quoted there from the Gospel of John, which declare believers to be free from the judgment (for ex. John 3:18, John 5:24) a condemnatory one.
Revelation 20:13. And the sea gave the dead, that were therein, and death and hell gave the dead, that were therein; and they were judged every one according to their works. This verse does not advance, but supplies and completes. The words, agreeing with the close of Revelation 20:12, “and they were judged according to their works,” which sounds so alarmingly for the dead, whose works can only be bad, shews that we are here again at the point, to which we had already come there. The expression of the resurrection, used also in the Gospel in regard to the ungodly, (comp. John 5:29) is here studiously shunned. After the heavenly blessedness of believers had been described in Revelation 20:6 as the first resurrection, the representation of salvation was closely connected with the resurrection. The elevation, too, of the prophetical stand-point, of itself admits of nothing, which has the character of semblance merely, or is but half. And according to the style of the Revelation the righteous partake of a double resurrection, but the wicked of none at all. This emphatic use of the resurrection, by which it is represented as the privilege of believers, is found also in the Gospel (comp. John 6:39-40, John 6:44, John 6:54), and occurs even in Luke, ch. Luke 14:14, Luke 20:35. The sea is here, as commonly in the Apocalypse, the sea of the peoples, the wicked restless world. The dead, whom the sea conceals, are those who were slain in the bloody conflict of selfishnesss against selfishness, in which they killed one another in the Cainite spirit of brotherly hatred—not Cain against Abel, but Cain against Cain, (ch. Revelation 6:4). The dead in the sea are related to those of death and hell, as in Revelation 20:4, those, who were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, to those who had not worshipped the beast. They also belong to death and hell, but in these there are great numbers besides, who in the way of nature have died without salvation. The sea in the literal sense does not suit here. For, the number of dead persons concealed by this, is extremely small, as compared with the rest, and the mention of it would possess a sentimental aspect entirely foreign to the character of the Apocalypse. From the juxtaposition with death and hell the sea can here be referred to only as the receptacle of the lost dead. But the natural sea engulphs alike the righteous and the wicked. That the sea stands here in the figurative sense, appears also from ch. Revelation 21:1, according to which the sea cannot belong to the original constitution of things in nature, but must be a product of sin. That the symbol of the sea comes out with such unusual prominence in the Apocalypse, admits of explanation from the circumstance, that being in the island of Patmos, John was constantly within sight of the sea. Death is here not natural death merely, but what alone deserves the name, an unblessed death, the legitimate continuation, and, at the same time, the punishment of spiritual death. This is shewn by the connection of death with hell, which is found also in ch. Revelation 1:18, and Revelation 6:8; and by Revelation 20:14, which is inexplicable, if we understand by death what is commonly understood and expressed by that in the world.
Hell, Hades, is everywhere in the New Testament the place of torment for the ungodly (comp. on ch. Revelation 1:18, Revelation 6:8).
Revelation 20:14. And death and hell were east into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. [Note: The like of fire is wanting in the text followed by Luther.] Death can only mean here the death of perdition. For such only can be cast into the lake of fire. The idea is this, that in place of provisional, there now enters final, perdition. For believers, according to the mode of representation in John, there is no death. What is commonly called such, is in his view but the transition to a state of heavenly bliss, which begins the moment one passes out of this life, and which is one day to be succeeded by a participation in the marriage feast of the Lamb. Here all is but a life of vanity [Note: How one must be tormented and tossed about, if death is here understood in the common acceptation, may be seen from the words of Vitringa: Sensus est, mortem temporalem, quae hactenus imperium in hominess exeruerat, plane esse abolendam et reproborum respect convertendam in mortem aeternam. So also the remark of Wolf: Quae non amplius locum sit habitura in homines, quandoquidem alli eorum, nempe quorum nomina in libro vitae consignata fuerint, vitae aeternae, alli vero morti secundae sive aeternae sint vinicandi.] But so long as this death reigns over unbelievers, and has not given way to the second death, believers must also be subject to death in its common acceptation. To the second death for the wicked corresponds for the righteous the second (blessed) resurrection.
In regard to the second death, comp. on ch. Revelation 2:11, Revelation 20:6. Berleb. Bible, “The first death is nothing else but the miserable and painful state of man, lying under the dominion of sin and so under the wrath of God as to body and soul; and that state as preliminary to the other death. This first death has, as it were, two lands, over which its dominion stretches: 1. One in time, before the separation of soul and body, Luke 15:32; 1 John 3:14. For, those who allow sin to reign over them in this life, are also even here subject to the power of death. 2. When such persons depart out of this life, they must still remain in death; they go into the common receptacle of departed, impure souls. But the other death is that state which follows the first, altogether wretched and undone, into which they fall, who have not been softened by the judgment of the first death; since they are cut off through a frightfully long and dark eternity from all the grace and mercy of God, and remain like impure dogs excluded from the land and light of the living.”
In regard to the lake of fire, see on ch. Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:10. The oven of fire, in Matthew 13:42, Matthew 13:50, corresponds.
Revelation 20:15. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire. Bengel remarks that “with great emphasis the discourse in Revelation 20:14-15 is thrice closed with the words, the lake of fire.” In Revelation 20:14 the final hell is, as it were, erected, here it receives its wretched inhabitants. There is a parallel in John 15:6, “He that abides not in me, is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” “O Jesus, help now, for the sake of thy wounds, that I may be found written in the book of life!”
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 20". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
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