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Chapter Twenty The Millennium And The Great White Throne
It is often said by those who object to the doctrine of an earthly millennium, that the term itself is not found in the Bible. They insist that neither in the Old nor in the New Testaments do we ever read of a millennium. They argue from this that the teaching is manmade, not derived from the Word of God. We might reply that the mere fact that a certain term is not used in Scripture does not necessarily prove that the doctrine for which the term stands is not taught there. The word trinity is not found in the Bible, but all sound Christians admit the doctrine of three persons in one God. The word substitution is not there either; but it is written, “He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5), and that is substitution. Where will you find the terms, eternal sonship, deity, fall of man, depravity, incarnation, impeccability (as applied to Christ), and many more of similar character? Certainly not on the pages of our English Bibles. But all these terms mentioned stand for great truths unmistakably taught in the Book and are a vital part of the teaching of Christianity. So the mere omission of a title or name of a doctrine does not prove the absence of the doctrine itself, nor does it prove that it is manmade. However, we are not shut up to reasoning of this kind in regard to the millennium. The word in question is the Latin equivalent of an expression that is found six times in the chapter that now demands our attention. It simply means a “thousand years”; just as a century means “one hundred years,” or a jubilee indicates the expiration of fifty years.
A millennium then is a time-period. It does not necessarily carry with it any thought of perfection or happiness, nor of an era of displayed divine government. Almost six millenniums have elapsed since God put man on this globe. There is another millennium and a fraction yet to run before the course of time is finished. That last thousand years is the period that we are now to consider. I trust to show that it is the predicted kingdom age of the prophets and the “dispensation of the fulness of times” of the New Testament (Ephesians 1:10). It is not only in what some have called an obscure passage in the Revelation that we read of this “good time coming.” It is taught everywhere in Scripture.
The Binding of Satan (Revelation 20:1-3)
The binding of the arch-foe of God and man, is the first notable event of this reign of righteousness (1-3). Without attempting to explain all the symbols here used, it is enough to say that the passage very definitely indicates that there is a coming time when men will no longer be deceived and led astray by the great tempter. Ever since his victory over our first parents in Eden, this tempter has been the persistent and malignant foe of mankind. By his wiles untold millions have been defrauded of their birthright privileges. If men sin during the millennium it will not be on account of having been deceived. It will be simply because of self-will and the yielding to the lusts of their own hearts. For we need to remember that the kingdom age is not to be a dispensation of sinlessness. There will be some, even in that blessed time, who will dare to act in defiance of the will of God but they will quickly be dealt with in deserved judgment. Such cases, I take it, will be very exceptional, but Scripture makes it plain that there will be offenses even when God’s King reigns over the earth.
The First Resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6)
In the present dispensation of grace, those who will live godly in Christ Jesus suffer persecution; righteousness suffers. But in the millennium righteousness will reign. “A king shall reign in righteousness” (Isaiah 32:1). In the eternal state, which follows the millennium, righteousness will dwell. It will be at home, and every adverse thing will be forever banished from the new heavens and the new earth.
Daniel prophesied of the time coming when “the saints … shall possess the kingdom” (7:18). The words of Revelation 20:4 agree with this: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast … and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” We have here, if I understand the passage correctly, the last cohort of the first resurrection. Our Lord Himself, the saints raised at the rapture of the church, and the witnessing remnant that were slain and raised up in the seventieth week of Daniel all share in the “administration of the fullness of the seasons.” This is how the late William Kelly translated the expression rendered in our Bibles “the dispensation of the fullness of times” (Ephesians 1:10). These saints appear in glory with the Lord. But we are not to understand that either He or they are to return to earth to live. Their relationship to the earth will be, I presume, very much like that of the angels in the patriarchal dispensation. They will be able to appear and disappear at will and exercise a benevolent oversight on behalf of those who live in this world. “Unto the angels hath he not put into subjection the world to come, whereof we speak” (Hebrews 2:5). That world will be subjected to the Son of man, and all who have shared with Him in His rejection will be associated with Him. These are the throne-sitters first mentioned. With them will be the rest of the tribulation saints, who will suffer death rather than deny their God in the awful days of antichrist’s ascendancy. Their rapture will be when the Lord appears for the establishment of the kingdom.
“But the rest of the dead, lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5). This does not militate against the teaching already advanced. The first cohort of the first resurrection will be summoned from their graves prior to the tribulation period and the second in the midst of that time of trouble. We have here a summary. All of these classes together make up the first resurrection-the resurrection of life, which is thus distinguished from the resurrection of judgment. Between these two will elapse the entire millennial age. The unsaved will remain in their graves until the heavens and the earth pass away. Their souls in Hades (erroneously rendered “hell” in some versions, but really the state between death and resurrection) and their bodies in the grave, they await the day of judgment at the end of time.
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (6, italics added). This is the kingdom described in such glowing terms by Isaiah. Throughout his entire prophecy he saw, through faith’s telescope, the glorious time when Israel and Judah will be one people in their own land. They will be restored in soul to God and dwell in peace every man under his own vine and fig tree. The glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. He wrote how even nature itself would respond to Messiah’s rule. The wilderness and the solitary place will be glad for it, and the desert will rejoice and blossom as the rose. The animal creation too will be delivered from the curse. They will not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain. The lion will eat straw like the ox. The lamb will lie down with the lion, and “a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). All nations will then ask the way to Zion, and Jerusalem will become the metropolis, not only of a rejuvenated Palestine, but of the whole earth.
Jeremiah takes up the same happy strain. He foresaw the God of Israel sending “fishers” out into the sea of the nations, fishing out His people no matter where they may be hidden and bringing them back to the land of their fathers. He saw the city built again and inhabited by a peaceful, happy nation under the reign of the righteous Branch whom God has promised to raise up unto David. “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, the Lord our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). Then they will no longer need to “teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know [Him], from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11).
Ezekiel added to the wondrous story and told of the Spirit being poured out from on high. He described the service of the regenerated Israel, a priestly nation through whom the law of God goes out to all the lands of the nations. He depicted the millennial temple and even told us how the land is to be divided among the tribes. Ezekiel does not close his remarkable book until he can say, “The name of the city from that day shall be, [Jehovah-Shammah] The Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35).
All the visions of Daniel’s companion apocalypse conclude with the bringing in of the fifth universal kingdom. This he told us is the kingdom of the Son of man, which is to displace every other and is to stand forever. This is the Stone cut out without hands that falls on the feet of the Gentile image and grinds it to powder. Then it becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth. This is the kingdom conferred on the Son of man by the Ancient of days. Then the bodies of the beasts (symbolizing the four great empires that have borne rule over all the civilized earth) will be cast into the burning flame.
Hosea showed how Messiah would come in lowly grace, but rejected by Israel, He would go and return to His place until they acknowledged their sin. When they seek His face He will return to restore their souls and to ransom them from the power of the grave. He will bring in everlasting righteousness and make them a blessing to all nations.
Joel saw the great tribulation in all its intensity, and the glory that will follow. He predicted the outpouring of the Spirit, not on Israel only, but on all flesh.
Amos prophesied of the gathering again of the outcasts of Israel and their resettlement in their land under Jehovah’s perfect rule.
Obadiah, who wrote the shortest of all the prophecies, though he wrote chiefly of judgment on Edom, declared triumphantly, “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (1:21).
Only Jonah seems to have no reference to that day of Jehovah’s power. Yet we may learn through him how wonderfully God will confirm the testimony of Hebrew missionaries in the beginning of the kingdom age, as they go forth to spread the gospel among those who have not heard His fame, nor seen His glory.
But Micah joined with Isaiah in describing the time when “the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and…people shall flow unto it,” when “the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” Then the nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks:…neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:1-3).
Nahum predicted the judgments that will befall the enemies of Jehovah in the day of His preparation. Habakkuk, standing on his watchtower, saw the coming King bringing in the glory.
Zephaniah and Haggai pointed onwards to the restoration of Israel, and through Israel the blessing of the whole world. The Lord their God will be enthroned in the midst of them, and they will serve Him with one consent.
Zechariah, the prophet of glory, gave minute details not touched on by any other. He even told of the provision to be made for children’s playgrounds in the restored capital of Palestine, for he wrote, “The broad places of the city shall be full of boys and girls, playing in the broad places thereof (Zechariah 8:5, literal rendering). He saw every spot in Jerusalem holy to the Lord, and all nations wending their way there from year to year to keep the feast of tabernacles.
Malachi completed the series and announced the soon-coming of the King, heralded by the prophet Elijah. He will tread down the wicked and sit as a refiner of silver, to purify the sons of Levi (Malachi 3:1-3). He will make His name great from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same.
Thus “to him give all the prophets witness” (Acts 10:43), that through His name remission of sins is now to be proclaimed among all nations. They also testify that He is to reign in righteousness over all the world when He comes the second time to claim the inheritance which is His by divine decree as Son and heir of all things. Then all the earth will rejoice for the eyes of the blind will be opened, the tongue of the dumb will sing, and the lame man will leap as the deer. Sorrow and sighing will flee away, and the Lord alone will be exalted for a thousand glorious years!
Satan’s Final Attack (Revelation 20:7-10)
These verses record the amazing anticlimax to the story of human life on this earth. Who but God could have foreseen such an ending? It shows us the incorrigible evil of the heart of man if left to himself. While Satan is shut up in the abyss, there will be many born into the world whose obedience to the King will only be feigned. Their hearts will not be in it. When the devil is loosed for a little season at the end of the millennium, he finds a host of these ready to do his bidding and to join him in the last great rebellion against Omnipotence.
It is the old story of Satanic hatred to God and man’s frailty told out again, but this time under the most favorable circumstances for man. Therefore his sin is absolutely inexcusable. Tested in the garden of delight man broke through the only prohibition laid on him. Tested under conscience, corruption and violence filled the earth, and the world had to be cleared by the deluge. Tested under the restraining influence of divinely appointed government, man went into idolatry, thus turning his back on his Creator. Tested under law, he cast off all restraint and crucified the Lord of glory. Tested under grace, in this present dispensation of the Holy Spirit, man has shown himself utterly unable to appreciate such mercy, has rejected the gospel, and has gone ever deeper into sin. Tested under the personal reign of the Lord Jesus Christ for a thousand years, some will be ready to listen to the voice of the tempter. For he will ascend from the pit of the abyss bent on one last defiant effort to thwart the purpose of God. It is a melancholy history indeed and emphasizes the truth that the heart of man is incurably evil. “The carnal mind… is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7); therefore the need, in all ages, of a second birth through the Word and the Spirit of God.
The apostle Peter wrote, “The heavens and the earth which are now, are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment” (2 Peter 3:7). This pent-up fire breaking forth from the heavens will destroy the hosts of Satan’s dupes, and will purify the very globe itself, as once before it was cleansed by water. This closes the course of time and introduces the unending ages of eternity, during which the devil will be confined in the great prison-house of the lost who have resisted God’s mercy and spurned His grace. What an end for him who was once “the anointed cherub” that covered the throne of God, but whose heart was lifted up because of his beauty. Thus falling through pride, he became the most accursed creature in all the universe of God! Our Lord told us that the devil “abode not in the truth” (John 8:44). He is the prince of all apostates. Apostasy has ever been the great sin into which he has malignantly sought to lead the human race.
The Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15)
The judgment of the great white throne is the final scene before the new heavens and the new earth are introduced. It is, as a careful study makes exceedingly clear, not “the general judgment” at the end of the world, as many have supposed. It is the judgment of the wicked who, during Christ’s reign of a thousand years, have been left in the realms of the dead. The righteous who share in heavenly glory are to be revealed, as we have seen, at the judgment seat of Christ. There they will be rewarded according to their service while in this world. The living nations will be summoned to appear before the Son of man when He comes in His glory at the beginning of the millennium (Matthew 25:0). The wicked dead are to be raised at the end of that reign of righteousness and dealt with according to their works. The condemnation now is that men reject the Lord Jesus Christ who has made full atonement for sin in order that all may be freed from wrath through Him. But if He is rejected finally, of very necessity men must face the penalty of sin themselves.
Solemn indeed is the description of that last great assize. The august throne-occupant, we know from other Scriptures, will be none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:22-23). He who once hung on Calvary’s cross is to be the judge of living and dead. We have already been largely occupied with the first aspect of the judgment. Now it is the doom of the wicked dead that is engaging our attention.
When the throne is set, the heavens and the earth, as we now know them, shrink away, as though the material universe were awed by the face of Him who summons the dead to their accounting. What a sea of faces will appear before Him in that solemn hour of tremendous import! All the lost of all the ages; all who preferred their sins to His salvation; all who procrastinated until for them the door of mercy was closed; all who spurned His grace and in self-will chose the way “that seemeth right unto a man” but was in truth “the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12)-all such are to be summoned to stand before that inexorably righteous throne. No condoning of sin then; no palliating or excusing in that day. The judgment of God will be according to truth, and every circumstance will be taken into account. Nothing will be overlooked. Therefore some will be beaten with many stripes and some with few, according to the measure of light given and rejected. “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) And there will be no appeal from His decisions, for His is the supreme court of the universe. “What a magnificent conception,” exclaims Thomas Carlyle, “is that of a last judgment! A righting of all the wrongs of the ages.” And, I may add, the tracing back of every evil act to its source, and the placing of responsibility for every offense against the moral law, where it belongs.
None will be great enough to escape that court session, none too insignificant to be overlooked. The dead, small and great, will be there. Even though their bodies had been buried for centuries, even millenniums in the depths of the sea, they will come forth at His bidding, who when He speaks will not be denied. Death, the grave which has claimed what was mortal of man, his body, will give up its prey. Hades, the world unseen, will surrender the undying spirits and souls of the lost. Man-body, soul, and spirit reunited-will stand trembling before that judgment bar. The books of record will be opened. Memory will respond to every charge. The Word of God too will be opened there, for Jesus declared that Moses’ words and His words should judge men in the last day. And the book of life too will be unfolded there. Many in that vast throng had taken it for granted their names were in that book because perhaps they had been listed on the roll of some church or religious society. Let them search and look. It will bear witness against them. The Lamb has not inscribed their name in that book. “And whosoever was not found written in the book [will be] cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
Will any be saved who stand before the great white throne? Not one, if we read the account correctly, for death and hades are to be “emptied into the lake of fire.” All the lost, whose spirits and bodies they have held in confinement so long, will be emptied out into the pit of woe. And, says God’s Word, “This is the second death” (Revelation 20:14). Death is the separation of body and spirit, we are told in James 2:26. The second death is the final separation of the lost from the God who created man. Like living planets which, possessed of will, have swung out of their orbits, they dash off into the outer darkness never to find their way back to that great central sun.
The lake of fire is the symbol of immeasurable sorrow, of eternal torment. It is a divine picture intended to make the soul of the sinner shrink with dread as he contemplates the end of those who obey not the gospel. It is human character made permanent, abiding in eternal sin and therefore under the wrath of God forever. Not until Judas Iscariot and John the beloved who wrote this book clasp hands in heavenly glory, will the woes of the wicked come to an end. As to Judas, the Master he betrayed has declared, “good were it for that man if he had never been born” (Mark 14:21). Were there salvation ahead at last, even after ages of suffering, as another has strikingly pointed out, even Judas might well thank God that he had ever been permitted to live. But over the portals of the lost is inscribed, “Abandon hope, ye who enter here.”
Now is the acceptable time. Now a gracious Savior waits to catch the first breathing of repentance and answers the feeblest cry of faith. Trifle not with His mercy, hope not for some vague second chance, but close with Christ now. Know for a certainty that you will have no part in the doom pronounced at the great white throne. For the Lord Himself has said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into [judgment]; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 20". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29