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Of the Dragon Bound and Loosed, of Gog and Magog, and of the Last Judgment.
Satan's binding for one thousand years:
v. 1. And I saw an angel come down from heaven having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
v. 2. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
v. 3. and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after that he must be loosed a little season.
The Book of Revelation is not a history of events given in chronological order, but a series of visions dealing with the chief dangers and the principal blessings which would come upon the Church of Christ. The visions thus supplement one another and dovetail into one another in a composite picture. Only by keeping this fact in mind are we able to understand the present vision. The seer writes: And I saw an angel descending out of heaven having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. The angel here spoken of was either one of God's spirits specially delegated for this work, or it was the great Angel of Jehovah, the Son of God Himself; for it is He that has the keys of death and of hell, chap. 1:18; it is He that has the power to bind all enemies, whether material or spiritual. It was the exalted power and majesty of Christ that here appeared with the implements necessary to put an enemy under restraint.
This the angel proceeds to do: And he overpowered the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him thousand years, and threw him into the abyss, and shut and sealed it above him, lest he seduce the heathen yet also, until thousand years should be fulfilled. After these he is bound to be loosed for a short time. So the devil, who is fitly called a dragon, a ferocious monster, the old serpent, who has been deceiving men since the time of Adam and Eve, was deprived of his power for a definite space of time; not that he and his hordes would be absent from the world entirely, but that they would not be able, during this time, to seduce also the heathen and make them their allies. It would thus be a season of comparative quiet for the Church of Christ; for Satan would be rendered harmless to the extent of being bound in the pit, which was sealed over him. While the heathen were in his power, were his servants, the spell of Satan's authority would no longer hold them with the chains of absolute tyranny. With the message of Satan's defeat, which went out in the Gospel of the resurrection of Jesus, the devil's hold was broken. The length of time for which this condition should obtain was definitely determined with God, though probably not in terms of time as we use it. And when the last hour of these thousand years are at an end, then Satan will be loosed for a short while, then the Gospel's phenomenal and victorious march through the nations will be at an end. It is not that the Day of Judgment will then come, for God has determined that the time of the New Testament should include the thousand years of the Gospel's victorious spreading through the nations, plus the little season of Satan's being loose. "Satan shall be loosed, not for his own sake, neither for the sake of those who during the period of his binding have disregarded the sweet Gospel-call; Satan is loosed for the sake of the dear children of God. This loosing of Satan is for a fiery trial of God's children; and that it is at the same time a judgment upon the unbelievers is their own fault. In this fiery trial God intends to purify the faith of His children from all dross and make it strong... Thus vv. 1 -3 tell us that John saw Jesus, the mighty Conqueror, bind Satan, so that, through the greater part of the New Testament time, he should not prevent the preaching of the Gospel and the winning of the nations for Christ, and that for a little season immediately preceding, and ushering in, the day of final Judgment Satan should be loosed."
Result of Gospel-preaching in the New Testament era:
v. 4. And I saw thrones, and they that 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 worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
v. 5. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
v. 6. 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.
Here the fate of a part of the Church of God during the thousand years is described: And I saw thrones and those that sat upon them, and judgment was given to them; and the souls of those that had been put to death because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God, and as many as did not worship the beast nor his image, and did not receive his mark on their forehead nor upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The people whose happiness is here described were the martyrs that were put to death even while the Gospel was victoriously marching forward on earth. They suffered martyrdom on account of their confession of Jesus and of the Gospel. Among these was not a single one of those that worshiped the beast, the kingdom of Anti-Christ, or his image, the hierarchical structure of the Roman Church. The fact that one actually accepts the doctrines of popery in all their idolatrous scope, thus bearing the mark of the beast on the forehead or in the hand, excludes one from the bliss of heaven. Only those that sealed their faith with their blood and life are included in the perfected salvation in heaven. For this living and reigning is not, as the Chiliasts would have it, a visible reign here on earth before the last day. It is a life of the departed children of God in heaven, according to the soul. Though the Christians die here on earth, yet they are alive, according to the soul, with Christ in heaven, experiencing the joy and appreciating the blessedness of their life in heaven. That they are now delivered from all suffering and are sharing in the eternal joys of heaven, that is their reigning with Christ; in this sense they are the assessors of Christ, sitting on thrones in His presence. This took place during the time determined by God for the binding of Satan, to take away his absolute power over the nations.
The prophet adds: But the rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years had come to an end; this is the first resurrection. Those that died in Christ, in the confession of their Lord, were blessed from the moment when they closed their eyes to this world; their souls were taken into the presence of God and Christ, to become partakers at once of the bliss of eternity. The rest of the dead, however, those to whom physical death comes while they are in the state of spiritual death, will not share in this happiness, but are doomed to everlasting death. The slaves of idolatry, the servants of Anti-Christ, have no part in the first resurrection, by which the faithful are immediately taken into the realms of bliss, according to their souls. Of this the prophet writes: Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection; upon these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with Him thousand years. That, surely, is joy and bliss in richest measure, to have the soul released from its earthly habitation and to be taken up into the home of everlasting happiness. Upon those that have died thus, experiencing only the physical death, the second death, eternal damnation, has no power. Clothed in the white garments of an eternal priesthood, they will serve God and Christ, world without end, for the thousand years are but the preliminary stage of the time when soul and body will be reunited in the second resurrection.
Chiliasm, or Millennialism, is that peculiar doctrine which expects an era of temporal bliss on earth, with an earthly kingdom for all believers, Christ being the King, while Satan and all forces of evil are removed from the earth for the time being. All this is supposed to take place before the Day of Judgment and to last for one thousand years according to human reckoning, Hence the name Millennialism, or Chiliasm, from the thousand years spoken of in this chapter.
The doctrines of Chiliasm have been held by certain enthusiasts almost since the founding of the Church, and there are almost as many different forms of Chiliasm as there are exponents of the theories. For our purposes, however, it will suffice to divide the Chiliasts into two divisions. To the first group belong those Chiliasts that hold the extreme views. They do not believe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, but hold that the coming of Anti-Christ is yet to be expected. At the end of the time which is allotted to Anti-Christ, these enthusiasts believe that Christ will come visibly and in glory with all the heavenly hosts, judge Anti-Christ and his false prophet, and condemn them to the torments of hell. At the same time, so they say, Satan will be taken and bound for a thousand years, to be kept absolutely under lock and key until his release. Thrones will also be placed on earth for the resurrected apostles, who will then pronounce judgment and decide which of the believers may arise in the first physical resurrection; and those that are found worthy will be raised from the dead and receive spiritual bodies, while the other dead will be obliged to remain in their graves. The believers will then, as priests of God, reign in the world and cause all the people of the earth to acknowledge Christ as Lord. Sin will have lost its power. And the center of this wonderful kingdom will be the land of Canaan with the rebuilt city of Jerusalem, where Christ will reign as visible King. But after a thousand years, so the Chiliasts dream, Satan will be loosed from his prison to summon all the heathen that are still unconverted to fight against Jerusalem. And then, when the danger is at its greatest height, Christ, who meanwhile had returned to heaven, will come hack for the final Judgment. That is the dream of the Chiliasts.
Other Millennialists hold modified views along the same lines, not insisting quite so strongly on the material side of the kingdom nor on the physical presence of Christ. They merely dream of a time when the Christian Church and the Christian religion will dominate the world, when the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments will be the laws of the world, when all men will bow under the Cross of Christ, when courts of arbitration will render wars obsolete, and when everything will be peace and harmony. These dreams have been rather rudely jarred in the last few years, and they are destined to be jarred very much more, since such views are altogether at variance with Scriptures.
Chiliasm in every form is wrong and therefore, incidentally, very dangerous. In the first place, as we have seen above, there is nothing in the text to justify or substantiate the dreams and claims of the Millennialists. In the second place, the Bible in numerous passages, in passages, moreover, which are not in figurative and prophetic language, tells us that there will be but one return of Christ, namely, to judge the quick and the dead, all of whom will have to appear before Him at the same time. Furthermore, the Bible throughout plainly and unmistakably tells us that the Church of Christ here on earth will be a Church Militant until the end, until the great Day of Judgment, and that persecution and distress and enmity will be its lot until the final day of salvation, Acts 14:22; Luke 9:23; 2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 24:1-51. And, finally, the Bible teaches the suddenness and the unexpectedness of Christ's return to Judgment, not preceded by a thousand glorious years of a visible reign here on earth, Mark 13:35-37; Matthew 24:44-51.
We shall, therefore, continue to believe and confess what we have stated in the Augsburg Confession: "Also they teach that, at the consummation of the world, Christ shall appear for Judgment, and shall raise up all the dead. He shall give to the godly and elect eternal life and everlasting joys, but ungodly men and the devils He shall condemn to be tormented without end.
"They condemn the Anabaptists, who think that there will be an end to the punishments of condemned men and devils. They condemn also others, who are now spreading certain Jewish opinions, that before the resurrection of the dead the godly shall take possession of the kingdom of the world, the ungodly being everywhere suppressed."
The release of Satan and the coming of Gog and Magog:
v. 7. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
v. 8. and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
v. 9. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.
v. 10. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.
According to this description, the final period of the earth's history and of that of the Church on earth will be one in which the faithfulness of the saints will be sorely tried: And when the thousand years will have come to an end, Satan will be released from his prison, and will go forth to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to muster them for the battle, whose number was like the sand of the sea. That is the last act in the world's drama: Satan loosed from his confinement of a thousand years and going forth with rage and bloodthirstiness to wage war against the army of the Lord, against the Christian Church. To this end he musters Gog and Magog, the innumerable host of all the enemies of the people of God, no matter under what name they may appear in the world. Satan marshals all the anti-Christian forces and their number is beyond calculation for a last terrible onslaught.
This combat and its outcome are next pictured: And they went up on the broad places of the earth, and they surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And there fell down fire from God out of heaven and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where also the beast and the false prophet are; and they were tormented day and night forever and ever. From all sides the enemies of the Lord and of His believers come, equipped with every form of weapon to take the beloved city of God, to overcome the Church of Jesus Christ. But even this last supreme effort is futile against the power of the Lord, who sends down fire from heaven to destroy them, since He Himself is a devouring fire, Psalms 18:8; Ezekiel 15:7; Hebrews 12:29. God; in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early, Psalms 46:5. It was the end also for Satan, for he was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, to join those whom he had inspired before, the beast and the false prophet, Anti-Christ and his representative, the Pope. In this place of torment they shall forever remain. There will be no more loosing and delivering. Satan will be bound forever at the return of Christ on the last day.
The last judgment:
v. 11. And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
v. 12. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
v. 13. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works.
v. 14. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
v. 15. And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
In a few bold strokes the prophet sketches the picture of the last Judgment: And I saw a great white throne and Him that sat upon it, from whose presence there fled the earth and the heaven, and a place was not found for them. This is the throne of Christ, to whom the Father committed the Judgment. It is a white and pure throne of everlasting innocence, holiness, and justice. He is, however, no longer the poor Son of Man in His state of humiliation, but the exalted King and almighty Judge, before the aspect of whose face the very earth and heaven itself turned away and fled, because they could not endure those flaming eyes with their awful portent of judgment. he heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, 2 Peter 3:12.
The Judge being present, the last great trial may open; all men must appear before His judgment-seat: And I saw the dead, the great as well as the small, standing before the throne; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which was that of life. And the dead were judged according to what was written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up the dead that were in them; and they were judged, every one according to their works. No matter where men may have found death, whether on sea or on land; no matter where their souls may be on that day, whether in hell or in heaven, they must be reunited with their bodies to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. And then the record-books will be brought out and opened, the books of guilt and damnation, where the names of those are recorded that remained in unbelief and enmity until the end, as well as the Book of Life with the lists of those that were faithful unto death. Not one name will be omitted; every man's name will be found in either the one or the other group. As their faith or their unbelief manifested itself in their works, so will the Lord render His sentence. And from that sentence there will be no appeal, that will decide the eternal fate of every person that ever lived in this world. It is the inevitable doom.
The bliss of the believers having been indicated above and a description following in the next chapter, the doom of the enemies of God is very briefly indicated: And death and hell were thrown into the lake of fire. These two great enemies of mankind, that have dogged its footsteps ever since the first sin, will be disposed of forever in a punishment which fits their crime: This is the second death, the lake of fire. From this death all children of God are free, since they are partakers of the first resurrection, since the second death, eternal damnation, has no power over them. But as for the unbelievers: And if anyone was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. In the Book of Life are recorded the names of all those that are in Christ Jesus. These not even death can separate from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. The absence of any one's name from this book, however, means that he is condemned forever to the place where their worm will not die, neither will their fire be quenched, and they will be an abhorrence to all flesh.
The seer describes the era of comparative quiet, during which the Church of Christ will be propagated, followed by the loosing of Satan, his subsequent attempt, with the aid of all antichristian forces, to overthrow the Church, and his condemnation to everlasting torment; the chapter closes with a brief description of the lest Judgment.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Revelation 20". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13