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Revelation 20

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Verses 1-3

Rev 20:1-3



Revelation 20:1-15


Revelation 20:1-10 has been made the battle ground for more conflicting theories, perhaps, than any other passage of scripture. This fact suggests caution and modesty in approaching it as commentator. Where so many have fallen must be dangerous ground. A few introductory considerations may aid in reaching satisfactory conclusions.

1. The word "millennium" is not in the. Bible, but by common use has been given a permanent place in religious literature. It is a Latin word, meaning "a thousand years," and is generally substituted for that expression which is used six times in this passage. This is the only place in the Bible where this period is mentioned. If a distinct age in which Christ will reign personally on earth, it is remarkable that neither he nor any of the apostles in their plain teaching said anything about it. Why should so important a matter be mentioned only in a book of symbols and in a highly figurative passage?

2. The popular notion that the millennium is a period of absolute and universal peace, righteousness, and felicity is pure assertion; the word has no such meaning. The assumption is based upon the statement that Satan is to be "bound" during that period, which is supposed to mean literal binding and a complete destruction of his influence. Neither of these conclusions is true. If any wicked people are left on earth in the millennial age, Satan’s personal binding would be of no special benefit; for his servants here could still torment and deceive the righteous. The wicked are his "ministers" now (2 Corinthians 11:15), and will be while here. At Christ’s coming all the wicked are to be destroyed (Revelation 19:19-21) and the righteous living and dead are to receive immortal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.) If he comes to establish the millennium, then there can be no literal kingdom, for there will be none in the flesh either to rule or be ruled. Hence, the literal throne of David idea is false; the passage must be explained figuratively.

3. Many, including some pioneer preachers of the church of Christ, seemed to think the millennium would be introduced and perpetuated by the gospel prevailing over evil; that it would continue to win its way to men’s hearts till all evil would be rooted out by the inherent power of the truth. The rapidity with which the restoration work succeeded probably led to this idea but it evidently was a delusion. The notion overlooked the setting of this millennial passage, as well as man’s ability to reject any and all kinds of moral influences. The history of mankind for nearly sixty centuries is unmistakably against such a view.

4. Whatever the millennium may be, it precedes the final judgment. This is conceded by all. If the judgment occurs at Christ’s coming (a fact taught by the Scriptures), the doctrine that he comes to inaugurate the millennium is of necessity false. Peter makes the "coming of the day of God" the time when the heavens will be dissolved by fire and the elements melt with fervent heat. (2 Peter 3:12.) Paul says Christ will be revealed from heaven "in flaming fire" to render vengeance upon the disobedient and be "glorified in his saints." (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.) The rewarding of both bad and good will be at the judgment. (2 Corinthians 5:10.) Jesus plainly teaches that both classes will be raised at the same time. (John 5:28-29.) These passages show clearly that the coming of Christ, the resurrection of both righteous and wicked, and the judgment will all occur after the millennium, which renders a thousand years reign of Christ on earth an impossibility.

Jesus divides "all that are in their tombs" into two classes those raised to life--eternal salvation--and those raised to judgment--condemnation. The following conclusions are evident: If Jesus comes before the millennium, none can be raised bodily after it; for all are to be raised to be rewarded when he comes. Hence, the theory that only the wicked dead will then be raised is not true. If he comes after the millennium, none can be raised bodily before it, and the view that only the righteous dead will then be raised is also untrue. In either case the premillennial view of this passage is false. This fact will be more fully developed as we examine the language of the text.

6. To know the true setting of this passage is necessary to its correct understanding. The symbols in Revelation 20:1-9 do not reveal events that are to follow chronologically after those of Revelation 19:19-21. These verses describe the casting of the beast and false prophet into the "lake of fire"; Revelation 20:10 tells of Satan being cast into the same place--that is, it completes the story partly told in Revelation 19:19-21 and must refer to the same time. The millennial passage is a recapitulation of things described in preceding chapters with different symbols. Reviewing the same periods with changed scenes is common to this book. The seven seals that closed with the end of the world stop with Revelation 11:18. The vision of the pure woman (true church) in her struggles against the dragon, beast, and false prophet, under the emblems of pouring out bowls of wrath, covers practically the same time, and the same final end is shown in Revelation 16:17-21. Next the destruction of the false church, represented as a drunken harlot and a great city, is symbolically pictured in chapters 17 and 18, followed with a song of triumph by the redeemed. (Revelation 19:1-10.) In Revelation 19:11-18 is told the means by which this overthrow of evil is to be accomplished. Finally Revelation 19:19-21 and Revelation 20:10 describe this overthrow and bring us for the third time to the end of the world, for the "lake of fire" in Revelation 20:14 is defined as the "second death."

The evident purpose of Revelation 20:1-10 is to give a brief review of Satan’s overthrow from the time his power was restrained until banished in the lake of fire forever. This recapitulation is appropriate here because it was Satan who did and will furnish the beast and false prophets with the power by which they operate against the truth. Christ’s personal coming ends the career of these three enemies; this event is after, not before, the "millennium."


Revelation 20:1-3

1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven,--Perhaps it is well to observe again that we are here dealing with a symbolic vision that appeared to John. As noted several times before, the vision and the thing it represents must be kept distinct. As in other visions an angel is the medium of revealing the scenes, which guarantees that true facts are represented.

having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.--"Key" represents the angel’s authority to open and close doors, but here must mean his right to force Satan to remain in his own place and be restrained from the unlimited use of his power which he had been exercising during the long period of papal usurpation. Being bound with a "great chain" signifies this restraint. No reasonable person will contend that the words "key," "abyss," and "chain" are to be understood literally. All that is necessarily implied is that the followers of Christ would have such protection against Satan’s power that they would be free to obey Christ, if they desired. Anything more than this would ignore man’s responsibility for his conduct, and make God a respecter of persons. No doctrine that conflicts with these two principles can be true as long as man dwells in the flesh.

2 And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, --In the vision John saw the binding actually take place, but the thing it represents was far in the future when he wrote. See notes on Revelation 4:1-2. He figuratively describes the dragon as the "old serpent" which is doubtless an allusion to the serpent in Eden. Then he drops the figure and plainly states that the dragon represents Satan. Beginning with deceiving Eve in the garden, it has been his business to deceive mankind ever since. His effort then was and ever afterward has been to discredit or pervert God’s word--make people believe that God does not mean what he says, or means what he does not say.

Satan being a spirit, the only "chain" that can effectively bind him--restrain or defeat him--is God’s word. In what was the world’s greatest battle between right and wrong, Jesus defeated the devil at every turn with "it is written." (Matthew 4.) When God’s word has free course in directing human life, theindividual can safely protect himself against any device of Satan. When mankind has the right to use that protection at will, Satan is "bound" in the only way that is consistent with man’s nature. Satan’s binding does not mean the destruction of all evil; though under restraint, Satan still operates through his angels who pose as ministers of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15.)

The duration of this binding is stated as a thousand years. Is this a symbolic or literal number? As usual expositors are disagreed. To apply the day-year theory would give the enormous amount of 365,000 years. This appears wholly out of proportion with other numbers in this book that seem to fit the theory. If to be taken literally, the exact beginning and ending of the period could not be fixed definitely. With these difficulties to meet, it seems better to consider it a symbolic number. Other numbers such as 3, 7, 10, and 12 appear to carry a spiritual significance. In Ezekiel 39 we have a description of the overthrow of Gog, and verse 9 says the Israelites should make fires of their weapons for "seven years." Certainly this means the complete destruction of their implements of war, not that it would take seven literal years to burn them. Through Moses God threatened Israel with seven times more, or seven times, punishment if they persistently rebelled against him. (Leviticus 26:18; Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:24; Leviticus 26:28.) Evidently this does not mean exactly seven times, for their sins required punishment far more times than seven. It means that they would be fully punished as their sins deserved. So the definite number-1,000 years--is probably used for a long but indefinite period. "Showing lovingkindness unto thousands" (Exodus 20:6) means showing it to all of the class mentioned ; "thousands of thousands" (5:11) means a countless number. So in this text the word "thousand" most likely means an indefinite length of time, but long enough for the symbols to find complete fulfillment.

3 and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him,--In vision John saw the woman driven into the wilderness for 1,260 day-years (Revelation 12:1-6), yet that did not occur till several centuries later, when the apostate church was fully developed. Shutting and sealing the abyss indicates the certainty of the influence of Satan’s power being restrained. The true church apparently disappeared as one does who goes into a wilderness; but, though unseen as an organized body, it still existed in the hearts and lives of individual faithful saints. So Satan during the thousand years has his power restrained, yet he still has through his unseen agents and workers means for deceiving those who are willing. During the 1,260-year period he exercised a practically unlimited power through the papacy and the kingdom it controlled. The millennium--the period of his being bound--must of necessity begin after that power was broken; and, for the same reason, it must have begun when that power was broken.

that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished:--As the purpose of the binding was to prevent Satan’s deceiving the nations, then the binding would consist in changing the situation which made the deception easily effective. During the papal supremacy the Bible, man’s only real protection against the devil’s power, was practically taken away from the people. With the Bible removed, it was no trouble for him to deceive the nations by superstition, false miracles, and pretended infallibility. When the Protestant Reformation broke the Roman religious yoke of bondage by giving the Bible back to the people with liberty to read and obey it without human dictation, Satan Was bound in the fair meaning of the text. Through this right has come the privilege of restoring and maintaining apostolic congregations, which is a most fortunate and happy time for those who really desire to be pleasing to God. For emphasis the main thought is repeated. The millennial period is not a time of absolute and universal righteousness upon earth but a time of such restraint of Satan’s power that all may have the privilege to serve God as the Scriptures teach, if they so desire. It is a period in direct comparison with the previous one of supreme papal authority. With this view we must conclude that we are now in the millennium. When it will end we do not know. This position, at least, has the plausible advantage of harmonizing with plain facts of religious history and leaves man free and responsible for his own conduct--a thing that must be true while men are in the flesh.

That this view may be clearly understood a brief review of the main changes in church history is here repeated. It required about 300 years for the church to pass through the pagan Roman persecutions and receive recognition from the Emperor Constantine. Something over 200 years more were necessary to develop the papacy--Paul’s "man of sin." (2 Thessalonians 2:3.) This came through the slow process of corrupting divine truth with the "precepts of men"; or, viewing it from another standpoint, exalting men to unscriptural positions until the bishop of Rome was declared the Universal Bishop of the church. This was followed by the 1,260 years of papal rule, after which began the millennium. Any true interpretation must harmonize with these well-known historical facts.

after this he must be loosed for a little time.--That is, after the millennium ends, Satan must be loosed, not permanently, but for a "little time." There is no way to determine how long the "little time" may be, but it is the period that divides the millennium from the final judgment. It may be short in comparison with the 1,000 years, or with the whole history of the church up to that time.

Commentary on Revelation 20:1-3 by Foy E.Wallace

1. The angel coming down out of heaven. “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit”—Revelation 20:1-2.

The angel was Christ as a messenger of the gospel. The key to the abyss held by the evil angel in chapter 9:1 had been taken by Christ, signifying his power over death and hades, as stated in Revelation 1:18. The chain represented the very purpose of the gospel to prevent the devil from deceiving men. Bound--not permitted to deceive--signified the triumph of the truth over error. A thousand years--as in all other places where the phrase was mentioned--denoted completeness. Here it had reference to the complete success of the cause over persecutions, and had no reference to a cycle of time. The triumph of Christ over Satan had been fully set forth in Matthew 12:29 and Luke 11:21 in the parable of the strong man’s house; “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth the spoils.” So Jesus did in overcoming Satan and spoiling his goods and bringing to nought his power. So says Paul both in Colossians 2:15 and Hebrews 2:14, as previously shown in this series.

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

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

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

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

Commentary on Revelation 20:1-3 by Walter Scott


Revelation 20:1-3. — And I saw an angel descending from the Heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon,the ancient serpent who is (the) devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the abyss, and shut (it) and sealed (it) over him, that he should not any more deceive the nations until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be loosed for a little time. The vision before us discloses an event, the natural sequence to that related at the close of the previous chapter, and yet sufficiently distinct to form a separate vision. There are three persons consigned to the lake of fire without trial — the Beast, the False Prophet, and the Assyrian (Isaiah 30:1-33) at the commencement of the millennial reign; also the devil at the close of the reign. Having seen the two chief ministers of Satan,the leaders of the hosts on earth opposed to the Lamb and His saints, (The powers referred to in Zechariah 14:2 and Psalms 83:1-18 are gathered against Jerusalem and the Jews, those in Revelation 19:1-21 are gathered against the Lamb and His heavenly saints. The former have their seat in the east; the latter in the west. Thus there will be two vast hostile camps, in policy and aim opposed to each other. The north-eastern powers will be under Gog and his subordinate the king of the north. The western powers and the chiefs of Europe generally will be under the Beast and his subordinate in political authority the False Prophet or Antichrist.) ignominiously cast alive into the lake of fire, followed by the destruction of their armies, we ask, What about the unseen spiritual being who goaded and lured on to destruction his agents and their followers? Does he escape? No! Summary judgment overtakes him as it did them. They are dealt with on earth by Christ; the devil is the subject of God’s judgment from on high. The dragon, the real instigator of the rebellion so effectually crushed, is seized upon by an angel from Heaven and chained up in the abyss or bottomless pit. (Abyss signifies deep (Luke 8:31) or bottomless. The word occurs nine times in the New Testament, seven of these in the Apocalypse, one in Luke as we have seen, and the other in Romans 10:7. Out of it the Beast ascends, and into it Satan is cast (Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:3). The abyss is a place, but the locality is undetermined.) He will be sent to join his followers in the lake of fire a thousand years after. He has yet other work to do on earth, but till then he is shut up and prevented from doing further mischief.

It must be borne in mind that Satan, from the time of his expulsion from the heavens (Revelation 12:9), is on the earth unseen by mortal eye, but actually on the earth, blighting, destroying, and ruining everything which has the semblance of standing for God. Thus the angel, the minister of his punishment, is witnessed by the Seer “descending from the Heaven.” Satan is seized on earth. It is a reality, although no human eye may witness it.

The angel has the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. One need scarcely insist upon the symbolic character of the scene, for that seems evident on the surface. The figures, however, of the key and chain surely denote that God is supreme even over the satanic region of the abyss. Thus instrumentally, by angelic agency, He locks (the key) up Satan and binds him (the chain) secure in the abyss for a thousand years. (The key of the bottomless pit in Revelation 9:2 is to open it; in Revelation 20:1 to close it.) His liberty is curtailed and his sphere of operation narrowed. He is effectually curbed and restrained from doing further mischief on the earth until his prison door is unlocked (v. 7). Until the fall (Genesis 3:1-24) Satan’s place was on high; consequent on the introduction of sin into the world the Heavens and earth were the enlarged sphere of his operations; then on his expulsion from the heavenly places the earth and the abyss are in a manner given over to him; now, as we have just seen, he is shut up in the abyss, confined there during the millennial reign; then for a brief season he is once more permitted to work his will on the earth, and seduce the nations from their nominal allegiance to Christ glorified and reigning; finally he is cast into the lake of fire for ever and ever.

The names of the dragon are mentioned in the order in which they occur in Revelation 12:9. There, however, he is termed “the great dragon.” As the dragon he is the embodiment of cruelty. As the serpent he is the personification of guile. As the devil he is the arch tempter of men. As Satan he is the declared opponent of Christ and His people. (For a fuller elucidation of these names see remarks on Revelation 12:8.) The term “dragon” represents a real historical entity, an actual living person with whom every responsible creature on earth has to do. His power and presence are, of course, controlled and limited, as he is but a creature, but his agents are so numerous and diversified, and increasingly active in their master’s service, that some have gone the length of claiming for Satan the attributes of omnipotence and omniscience. These, however, are divine attributes, and necessarily belong to the Creator alone.

The dragon is seized and cast into the pit, which is then locked up and sealed “over him” (see R.V.). The seal affixed to the stone “upon the mouth of the den of lions” (Daniel 6:17), as also upon the stone rolled to the door ofthe sepulchre (Matthew 27:60; Matthew 27:64; Matthew 27:66), intimates that the judicial and governing authority pledged itself to retain in secure custody its prisoner. The door of the abyssis securely fastened.

Revelation 20:3. — No more deceive the nations (Probably there is special reference to the deception used in gathering the nations as such to Armageddon (Revelation 16:13-14; Revelation 20:8).) until the thousand years were completed.” The career of Satan from his first connection with the human race (Genesis 3:1-24) till his imprisonment in the abyss has been one of cruel, heartless deception. He has falsified the character of God; he has blinded the minds of men to the nature of sin and to its eternal consequences, and has so misrepresented the Gospel that millions are morally ruined by the ready acceptance of that which is “another gospel.” “The whole world lieth in the evil one” is indeed a sweeping declaration (1 John 5:19, R.V.). This solemn statement is in no wise exaggerated. The race in its then living entirety, save the elect, is at the last gathered under the banner of Satan, only to find out when too late that all have been miserably deceived (Revelation 20:7-9).


The term a thousand years occurs in our chapter six times (vv. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Three out of the number are connected with Satan; two of them assert the reign of the saints with Christ; the sixth intimates the period between the resurrection of the saints and that of the wicked. All these six occurrences of the period a thousand years refer to the same time, but, of course, viewed in different connections, and, in our judgment, should be regarded not in any symbolic sense, but as describing an exact and literal denomination of time. The term THE MILLENNIUM as a designation referring to the period of the Lord’s reign — public and personal with His saints — over the earth is gathered from this chapter. According to Jewish reasoning the six millenniums drawing to a close answer to the six days in which the heavens and earth were made, the seventh sabbatic day of rest looking forward to that long and blessed Sabbath of a thousand years. “There remaineth therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9, R.V.).

Revelation 20:3. — After these things he must be loosed for a little time. A group of connected events precede the loosing of Satan. “After these things” refers to more than the imprisonment in the abyss. After the destruction of Babylon, after the marriage of the Lamb, after the war on earth, after the utter rout and destruction of the Beast,the False Prophet, and their armies, and after the binding of the dragon and sealing of the abyss and Satan’s long captivity of a thousand years he is “loosed for a little time.” There are two brief periods in the coming crisis connected with the career of Satan, in both of which he displays unusual activity. First, from his expulsion from Heaven till chained in the abyss; second, from his release out of the abyss till cast into the lake of fire.

Commentary on Revelation 20:1-3 by E.M. Zerr

Revelation 20:1. Bottomless pit is from ABUSSOS which means the place in Hades where angels are cast when they sin and where wicked men go when they die.

Revelation 20:2. In this verse the four words serpent, dragon, Devil and Satan are applied to the same being, so that we need have no doubt as to the one who is meant. Thousand years is a figurative expression that is not bound by the calendar- In symbolic language the Bible does not restrict itself to exact mathematical values of the numbers mentioned. Sometimes the period will be longer and at others it will be shorter. I shall cite one or two examples by way of illustration on the matter of this use of figurative time. In Daniel 9:24 a prediction is made of seventy weeks and we know it actually means 490 years. In chapter 6:11 of our book the phrase little season really was to be until the Reformation which was several centuries in the future. The angel bound Satan with the chain mentioned in the preceding verse, and the chain was the Bible that was to be given back to the people in their own language. That chain bound him from the nations, which means the heads of the nations were able to see their rights by the information of the Book and realized that the devil had been deceiving them. When that occurred they resisted him and that chained him from them.

Revelation 20:3. Cast him into the bottomless pit is symbolical of the restrictions that were placed upon Satan as to his influence over nations, for he has been there personally all the time. The restrictions were caused by the chain of the Bible that had been placed IL, he possession of the national leaders. (See again the note at beginning of this chapter.) These restrictions were to continue as long as the leaders of nations and other heads of the channels of thought continued their active defense of the Book. Knowing that human weakness would assert itself causing a letting down of the activities for the truth, the Lord saw the advantage it would give Satan and that he would again come out in his fight against the Bible. Hence it is stated that after the thousand years were expired--after the restrictions of the Bible had weakened due to the loss of activities of the professed friends of truth--Satan would be loosed a little season. This little season is the same as the "battle" of verse 8 which will be discussed at that place.

Commentary on Revelation 20:1-3 by Burton Coffman

Revelation 20:1

The interpretation of this chapter is largely determined by the view already taken of the preceding chapters. After the introductory letters to the seven churches, the vision of the final judgment has already appeared six times in the preceding chapters:

In the relation of the seals (Revelation 6:12-17).

In the relation of the trumpets, the judgment of the world city (Revelation 11:14-19).

In the harvest of the earth (Revelation 14:14-20).

At the pouring out of the vials of wrath (Revelation 16:12-20).

In the judgment of the harlot (Revelation 18:21-24).

In the judgment of the scarlet beast (Revelation 19:19-21).

From this, it should naturally be expected that the seventh and final presentation of the judgment should describe the overthrow of the devil himself; and that is exactly what is depicted in this chapter (Revelation 20:7-15).

There is only one judgment day visible in the entire Bible; and these seven views of it are all descriptive of one and the same event. Each of the seven sections of this prophecy (classified according to the judgment scenes) is a recapitulation in the chronological sense, all of the prophecies principally relating to the time between the two Advents of Christ.

Beginning back in Revelation 12:1, the three great enemies of Christ were introduced in successive visions: (1) the dragon, identified as Satan himself; (2) the sea-beast with seven heads and ten horns, identified as persecuting government; and (3) the land-beast, later identified as the harlot, and still later as the false prophet, identifiable throughout as false religion, first as paganism, then as apostate Christianity and the derivatives of it.

Significantly, in this prophecy, all three of these great enemies are vanquished in reverse order: the harlot (Revelation 18), the sea-beast (in his final form of the "ten kings," the eighth head) (Revelation 19), and the devil (Revelation 20). All of these enemies perish in the lake of fire simultaneously. And this is a good place to pay some particular attention to the "lake of fire."


Like practically everything else in Revelation, this is not literal, because the same terror is envisioned as a pool, or river of blood two hundred miles long (Revelation 14:20), the total silence and inactivity of being found "no more at all" (Revelation 18:21-24), and the innumerable dead bodies of the kings, captains, mighty men, small and great, etc., with the birds gorging themselves upon their flesh, as well as upon the flesh of animals (horses)! None of these figures is literal; yet, strangely enough, the "lake of fire" seems generally to be construed as a literal reality. Of course, it could be! But, as we have pointed out before in this series, the figures which are used to describe this reality, whatever it is, do not fit neatly into any patent description of it. Christ called it an "outer darkness" (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 15:30), "eternal fire" (Matthew 25:41), "hell, the unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:44), "hell, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). In this latter reference, Jesus seems to have referred to the valley of Hinnom, the New Testament Gehenna, which was the garbage dump of Jerusalem. It is clear enough that no imaginable visualization can include all these figures.

Therefore, we do not think it is profitable to offer any description of this terrible place of eternal punishment. The thought that overwhelms us is, "How utterly unspeakable and absolutely terrible must be a punishment which requires such metaphors to represent it!" Recognizing that this language does indeed seem to be metaphorical affords no relief. The reality is always greater than the symbol of it!

This chapter describes the overthrow of Satan in hell; but the harlot is not first destroyed, then the beast, then the devil; they all continue alive and operative until the last and all go down together. Nevertheless, this chapter relates particularly to Satan’s overthrow and to the nature and extent of his opposition to God throughout the whole Christian period. It is not a description of the church’s fortunes on earth, except as they are related to the overthrow of the devil. The "thousand years" mentioned six times in Revelation 20:1-7 relate to the limitations which God imposed upon Satan throughout the Christian age and have no reference at all to the so-called "millennium" of popular fancy. Due to the widespread false theories regarding this, we have included here a special study of it.


I. The history of the doctrine. The first millennarians were the heretics who troubled the church of Thessalonica with their theory that "the day of the Lord is just at hand" (2 Thessalonians 2:2); and the canonical 2Thessalonians was dispatched by the apostle Paul for the express purpose of refuting them. During the first three centuries of the Christian era, the theory recurred in various forms a number of times. Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and other notables were premillennarians of varying degrees. Some of their speculations would put modern millennialists to shame:

The elders that saw John, the disciple of the Lord, state that they heard him say how the Lord used to teach in regard to those times (the millennium) and say: The days will come when vines shall grow, each having ten thousand branches, and each branch ten thousand twigs, and each twig ten thousand shoots, and each shoot ten thousand clusters, and in every cluster ten thousand grapes; and every grape would yield twenty-five meters of wine![1]

As is so often true, one extreme begets another, and the wild millennial theories of the Ante-Nicene period were destroyed in the "spiritualized" speculations of Augustine and Origen. Origen invented the doctrine of purgatory, and Augustine came up with original sin and total hereditary depravity. Origen was of the third century and Augustine of the fourth; and, after the fourth century, premillennarianism became a dormant heresy, dormant, but not dead.

It sprang to life again in the 19th century, due to: (1) a revival of interest in studying the Scriptures; (2) the marvelous scientific advancements; and (3) the special activity of Satan which always appears with renewed preaching of the truth. This was the period that saw the epochal work of Stone, Kelly, Smith, Campbell, Scott, and many others. By the year 1843, the premillennarian prophet William Miller had over one million followers at a time when the total population of North America was only 16,000,000. He announced the end of the world in 1831, which was followed by an unusual meteorite shower on November 13,1833. That display of "the falling stars" confirmed the faith of many in Miller, as did also a comet in 1844. After several recalculations, he finally set the date of the End for October 23,1844.

Incredible numbers of people disposed of all earthly possessions and streamed out of Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities to the countryside to see the great event. Some wore white ascension robes; and one prominent Philadelphian in a white robe calmly stepped out of a third-story window to fly to heaven. Some tried to make it from high bridges. In Worcester, Massachusetts, a respectable citizen wearing turkey wings tried to make it from the top of an elm tree. Thousands crawled around on their knees with others on their backs in imitation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on an ass!

When the sun rose with the world still intact, Miller’s followers, with their robes damp and dirty, made their sorrowful return to homes and businesses, if fortunate enough to have either left. Old, weary, and tired, Miller checked and rechecked his calculations for several years and then died still wondering. It does seem that such a disaster would have given other "prophets" pause; but Uriah Smith, Charles T. Russell, and "Judge" Rutherford took up where Miller left off. The world would come to an end every few years. Sensational leaflets announcing that "millions now living will never die" were placed in every home in the United States announcing the end of the world in 1914, later "revised" to 1919. Finally, Rutherford decided that "it did end"! in 1914. His followers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, still preach that it did![2]

II. Complexity of the doctrine. Two separate systems of millennarianism are pre-millennarianism and post-millennarianism, as related to the coming of Christ. The "pre’s" believe Christ will come before the millennium, and the "post’s" believe the millennium will occur first. The "pre" type is more common. Here is an incomplete summary of what is taught:

1. At the start of the millennium, Christ will literally return to earth and personally take charge of all things for literally one thousand years.

2. He will reign from Jerusalem on the literal throne of David.

3. The righteous dead shall be raised with immortal bodies to help the Lord reign over people with normal bodies.

4. The Lord will personally convert the whole world, who, though they reject the gospel, will receive him.

5. After 1,000 years, the Lord will suddenly turn the devil loose, and the Great Tribulation will follow.

6. The righteous will be caught up (the Rapture) to escape all this.

7. There will be a series of judgments ranging from two to seven, depending on the form of the theory believed.

8. During the Great Tribulation, Enoch and Elijah, who never died, will return to earth, preach Christ, suffer martyrdom, and then be raised from the dead and go on preaching!

9. The Jews will all be converted and rally around Christ in Jerusalem. Rejecting the gospel, they will nevertheless accept Christ!

10. The church becomes a step-child, or a concubine, in all millennially related speculations. It will be totally swallowed up in the glories of the millennium.

11. Resurrections are as plentiful as judgments, depending on the shade of the heresy advocated.

12. Some even assert that the wicked dead will rise and be given a second chance to accept Christ.

These are only a few of the "stock in trade" speculations of millennarians, and are merely typical. In all probability, this summary does not accurately represent the views of any particular brand of it.

III. Present status of the heresy. Some form of this speculation is today the accepted doctrine of countless thousands. It is not confined to denominational groups, but cuts across all party lines and labels. Whole congregations of many Protestant churches have been swallowed by it. The widespread de-emphasis of the importance of Christ’s church stems, in part, from this heresy.

Many books and study systems, and even some Bibles (notably, Scofield) and countless preachers are busy spreading this false doctrine. Some churches have lost all denominational identity, except that of the millennial label. The error is widespread, active, aggressive, and endemic.

IV. Doctrinal refutation. As Milligan wrote, "Millennialism is liable to sundry very grave objections, some of which seem to me to be wholly unanswerable."[3] "This whole scheme is in my judgment, and not in mine only, but in that of the vast majority of believing Bible students of all the ages, entirely untenable.[4] "All of the creeds of the Christian church, ancient or modern, Catholic or Protestant, are amillennarian (non-millennarian). Chiliasm has not found recognition in any one of them."[5] What are the objections?


1. It is based upon a literalism of Revelation 20:1-7, a passage which should be interpreted symbolically. It is ridiculous to suppose that the devil could be caught and tied with a literal chain and imprisoned in a pit with no bottom in it!

2. The literal return of Christ to earth could not add anything to him who already has "all authority" in heaven and upon earth (Matthew 28:18-20). Christ is already seated on the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1); bringing him back to earth and placing him in a literal throne in Jerusalem would be more than the equivalent of demoting a five-star general to the grade of private.

3. The physical and liberal return of Christ to earth would cancel and nullify all the benefits of his ascension. He said, "It is expedient for you that I go away; for, if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" (John 16:7). The Holy Spirit could not operate if Christ were literally on earth. His return would mean the end of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

4. His physical, literal return would cancel and deny his office as the holy high priest of our sacred religion. "Now, if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all" (Hebrews 8:4).

5. When Christ comes again, he will give the kingdom back to the Father (1 Corinthians 15:22-24). The Second Advent will be the occasion when Christ ends his reign, not when he begins it.

6. Christ is now reigning on David’s throne (Acts 2:30-31). The only possible objection to this is that it places David’s throne in heaven; but that is exactly where the Old Testament says it would be (Psalms 89:35-37 KJV).

7. The whole system belittles the church, a view flatly contradicted by Ephesians 3:21; Acts 20:28, etc.

8. It denies the power of the gospel. The gospel cannot save people, especially the Jews, but Christ can! When Christ comes, it will not be to convert anybody, but to judge the ungodly sinners who rejected his gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

9. Such speculations deny the truth that "no man knoweth the day, nor the hour, of our Lord’s return" (Matthew 24:36). One may only marvel at the gullibility of people who trust some "prophet" who pretends that he knows.

10. The whole complex of multiple resurrections and judgments prevalent in all phases of this heresy is contrary to the plain words of the whole Bible. There is only one literal resurrection of the dead and only one judgment, repeatedly referred to by Christ as "the judgment." Scofield Bible fabricates multiple judgments; but this is a perversion of the sacred Scriptures.

11. The millennial heresies, whether "pre" or "post," deny the many New Testament passages (1 Corinthians 10:11; Acts 2:16-17, etc.) which designate the current era as "the last days."

12. The millennialists read into Revelation 20 an immense amount of material that does not belong there.[6]

13. There is not a word in the entire Bible about any "Millennium," except as it is imported into the first seven verses of this chapter.

14. The many theories constructed on these verses are mutually contradictory and destructive of each other. There is no generally accepted or agreed upon theory of a millennium. Thoughtless and reckless indeed is the man who can devote his time, money, study, talent, and teaching to that which at best is an uncertain and illusive theory, and one that practically the entire company of Christian scholarship of all ages and shades of belief have found it utterly impossible to accept. In a word, the theory is absolutely preposterous and ridiculous.

We not only reject all millennial theories, but also the supportive interpretations which have been concocted in order to bolster them. Such things as the Great Tribulation, the Rapture, the Resurrection of the Martyrs in a separate resurrection, which have no proof at all in the New Testament, are among the concepts rejected.

[1] J. C. Ayer, Jr., Source Book of Ancient Church History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons).

[2] See Reader’s Digest, January 1943, for many of these details.

[3] Robert Milligan, The Scheme of Redemption (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1960), p. 571.

[4] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 295.

[5] Ibid., p. 311.

[6] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 296.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. (Revelation 20:1)

An angel coming down out of heaven ... This angel is not Christ; one nameless angel is all that Christ needed to dispatch Satan finally and irrevocably.

Having the key of the abyss ... "In all the places where abyss is used (Revelation 9:1; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 17:8, including Luke 8:31), the word signifies the present abode of Satan and his angels, not the place of their final punishment."[7] In only one New Testament passage, does it mean anything different (Romans 10:7). The "key" here indicates that, "Power is given to this angel over Satan during the time of the world’s existence."[8]

And a great chain, in his hand ... The Greek text here is literally "upon his hand" (ASV margin), and this corresponds to the word of God being "upon the hand" of the angel in Revelation 10:2. Thus the chain is seen to be the word of God. Who can conceive of any other "chain" that would restrain and control the activity of Satan? One little word of Christ is enough to bind Satan for a thousand years. Hendriksen also identified this passage with 12:7-9, where another scene of Satan’s restraint is given.[9] There also the period of binding is the entire Christian age; and this is the key to understanding the meaning of the 1,000 years in this passage. In that passage, the woman was protected from Satan a thousand, two hundred and three score days, the same period as the binding about to be related here, meaning in both cases the whole Christian age.

[7] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 470.

[8] Ibid.

[9] William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 221.

Revelation 20:2

And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years,

Dragon ... serpent ... devil ... and Satan ... Note the fourfold name of the evil one. This ties in with the 12th chapter where this quadruple designation first occurs (Revelation 12:9), and where are also mentioned the 1,260 days. Neither the 1,000 years here nor the 1,260 days there should be literalized. Both refer to the same period of time, all the time between the two Advents of Christ.

And bound him for a thousand years ... "This means during the entire gospel age."[10] The effective binding of Satan took place in the events of the Incarnation. Satan had already been thrown out of heaven (Revelation 12:7-9); therefore, it is some more restricted phase of Satan’s binding that is revealed here.

The "binding" here is exactly that referred to in Matthew 12:29, where Jesus said, concerning his salvation of people, "How can one enter into the house of the strong man (Satan) and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man?" Every saved person since Christ carne is proof of Satan’s being bound throughout the whole period of anybody’s being saved "in Christ." Not one soul could ever have been saved unless Satan had first been bound.

But people will say, "Well, if Satan is bound now, I would sure hate to see him loosed!" Maybe Christ knows Satan a lot better than people who talk like that. The world itself will probably not stand a month when Satan is finally loosed "a little while."

Just how is Satan bound? He is bound in that he cannot destroy the Bible; he cannot tempt a child of God more than he is able to bear; God makes a way of escape with every temptation, etc. See more on this in my Commentary on Matthew, p. 172. Pieters mentioned this interpretation as being favored by Morris, Lenski, Warfield, Masselink, Milligan, etc., adding that, "There is truth in it."[11] We find any other view untenable. The period of Satan’s binding is coextensive in every particular with the times when people are being saved by obeying the gospel. Again, to paraphrase Christ’s question, "How could Christ save anyone at any time when Satan was not bound?" (Matthew 12:29).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Albertus Pieters, op. cit., p. 299.

Revelation 20:3

and cast him into the abyss and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished: after this he must be loosed for a little time.

Cast him into the abyss ... shut it ... sealed it ... This merely stresses the effectiveness of the binding and restraint of the devil by divine power. The shutting and sealing are only the inert trappings of the metaphor.

Until the thousand years should be finished ... The gospel age will finally close; and when the last person to accept the Son of God shall have done so, that age will end.

That he should deceive the nations no more ... The contrast between the gospel age and the pre-Christian hardening of the Gentiles, as expounded by Paul in Romans 1, is in view here. Satan has never again achieved the complete mastery over the nations which characterized his domination of the pre-Christian Gentile world. This cannot mean that no individual will ever again be deceived by Satan; it merely means that the blessed knowledge of the truth shall always be available for those who truly desire and will receive it. This cannot deny that many shall be deceived because they reject the truth, not through being deceived, but with their eyes wide open, just like Adam sinned. Having rejected it through a moral decision against it, they will then receive the "strong delusion" of 2 Thessalonians 2:11.

After this, he must be loosed for a little time ... Some respected scholars identify the "little time" here with the whole dispensation, the "loosing" being applied to Satan’s operations against the vast majority who reject the truth, and the "binding" being applied to the effectual restraint of Satan as far as the righteous are concerned. The time-periods, a little time, and a thousand years, are therefore qualitative and not relative. However, we believe that the "little time" mentioned here means literally a brief period, beginning at the point after which God shall have finally achieved the full salvation of the total number of the redeemed, and lasting only a relatively very short while. Satan will be "loosed" without any restraint whatever during that brief period. Due to all that is revealed of Satan’s nature in the Bible, it cannot be supposed that the race of man, or the whole world, would continue very long after such an eventuality. See more on this in CMY, pp. 129-134. We must point out that in such an interpretation we might indeed have fallen into the constant danger that assails all commentators on Revelation, that of literalism. That some things in the prophecy are literal is certain; but just which are, and which are not, cannot always be accurately judged. Our interpretation of this requires the construction of "little while" in a literal sense, contrary to the generally figurative nature of the whole prophecy. However, there are a number of other examples of the same necessity throughout Revelation. Summarizing our interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3, we have given the following meanings to the symbols:

The abyss is the present abode of Satan on the earth.

The key is the angel’s authority from God.

The chain is the word of God.

The dragon and serpent is Satan.

The 1,000 years is the gospel age.

Deceiving the nations no more means that the availability of the truth shall not fail from the earth.

The binding of Satan refers to the limitations imposed upon the devil regarding his hurting the righteous (Matthew 12:29).

The binding of Satan took place in the events of the Incarnation of Christ (Matthew 12:29).

The loosing of Satan "a little while" refers to the ravages of Satan when all men at least finally reject the truth.

Before going on, we shall notice some of the pertinent observations by various scholars on this famous passage:

The millennial theories are merely the revamping of the old Jewish dream that the Jews would dominate the whole world.[12] The origin of millennialism is not Christian, but is to be found in certain Jewish beliefs about the Messianic age which were common after 100 B.C.[13] This chapter describes not a millennium of the saints but the overthrow of Satan.[14] The binding of Satan and the casting of him into the abyss mean that during the gospel age Satan is unable to prevent the extension of the church.[15] This passage is parallel to 2 Thessalonians 1:8, indicating that the binding of Satan extends to the Second Advent.[16] How long will this "little while" be? Merely long enough for Satan to gather his host and for the fire out of heaven to destroy them.[17] John never thinks of Satan as having a free hand. Again and again, "is given" was used when he speaks of any authority to do evil.[18] From these verses we must conclude that we are now in the millennium.[19]

Perhaps the greatest single obstacle to seeing the 1,000 years as a figure of our own age is the consecutive or sequential view of the several sections of this prophecy. To be sure, if Revelation is interpreted as giving a consecutive, chronological series of events throughout history, the fact of our just having had a view of the final judgment at the end of Revelation 19, would then have to mean that this binding of Satan, etc., comes after the judgment. In our interpretation, Satan was cast into hell (the lake of fire) in Revelation 19:20; and that forces the understanding that the events of this chapter took place before that event. If not, will someone kindly explain to us how Satan got out of hell? This same problem exists in all the other sections of this prophecy concluded by visions of the final judgment; and, to us, this absolutely requires us to see not consecutive events in the prophecy, but repeated recapitulations in the seven sections.

Another great impediment to the acceptance of our interpretation of the millennium here was thus stated by Wilbur M. Smith:

If this war-ridden age of anarchy and atheistic communism is the Millennium, then the hopes created by the word of God must be abandoned.[20]

No doubt, many others feel the same way; and we have the utmost sympathy for those who are "hung up" on dreams of a Utopia on earth, where all shall be peace and light for an incredibly beautiful Golden Age; but, if the people who are thus deluded, can bear to hear, there are no promises of any such thing in the New Testament. We must through "many tribulations" enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22); we must "suffer with him" (Romans 8:17); all of the godly "shall suffer persecutions" (2 Timothy 3:12); all who follow Christ must "take up their cross daily" (Luke 9:23), etc. We could cite a hundred other such passages in the New Testament. Where did all this nonsense come from, anyway, that envisions that "Glorious Millennium" with the lemonade pools and the big rock candy mountain? People overwhelmed with such "hopes" did not get them out of the word of God, but out of the vain speculations of men. The very idea that for an entire, literal thousand years Christians shall be exempt from the sorrows, temptations, and tribulations of life is utterly foreign to the sacred Scriptures. The popular view of the millennium leaves out the essential quality of suffering in the Christian life. Back of the popular view of the millennium is a false, carnal view of salvation. The heresy eliminates tribulation by putting it in what they call the Great Tribulation and then rescuing the church from it by means of a so-called Rapture. The whole scheme is ingenious but absolutely wrong. There is no Great Tribulation in this prophecy, or anywhere else in the whole New Testament. There will be great tribulations, of course, many of them; and, in a real sense, the entire gospel age might be called "the great tribulation"; but no isolated event or series of events in history may be so designated.

People unconsciously tend to materialize the blessings in Christ. Some scholars even make the elevation of Constantine the Great to the throne of Rome the beginning of the millennium. Instead, it was the beginning of the inundation of the church by the world and one of the major steps toward the great apostasy and the onset of the Dark Ages. Yes, the elevation of Constantine was a great victory for Christians, but it did not mean that they were through with Satan; it heralded merely a change in Satan’s strategy.

[12] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 570.

[13] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 187.

[14] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 471.

[15] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 226.

[16] Michael Wilcock, I Saw Heaven Opened (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), p. 190.

[17] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit. p. 577.

[18] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, Vol. 20, The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 236.

[19] John T. Hinds, A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1962), p. 272.

[20] Wilbur M. Smith, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1095.

Commentary on Revelation 20:1-3 by Manly Luscombe

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. 2 He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years;…After the judgment of the immoral mother of harlots, the persecuting governments and the false religious teachers, Satan has no defense left. He is left alone. This chapter describes his fate. An angel appears with a great key chain. A key on the chain is the key to the door of the bottomless pit. This angel grabs Satan, and binds him for a thousand years. If the thousand years is symbolic of the Christian Age, then, some will ask, in what way is Satan bound? Is Satan bound today? Absolutely!

1. The word “bound” means to restrict. One might put a dog on a leash and tie it to a tree. The dog can move. He can run around. But, his area of activity is limited. This is the intent of the text here.

2. Satan is limited is several ways. He is not able to control God’s people. We have the power to resist Satan and he will flee from us. (James 4:7) Satan is not able to threaten us with death. Christ overcame death, and Satan. (Hebrews 2:14) Before the cross of Christ there was no forgiveness of sins. Death (spiritual death) reigned supreme. Satan ruled the world until the death of Christ. The death of Christ pulled down his hold over man.

3. It has been observed that, during the lifetime of Jesus and the apostles, Satan was allowed to possess people. However, after the age of miracles ended, Satan has been restricted in his power and control

3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. He is “tied to the tree” by being cast into this pit. He is limited. He is on a short leash. He can only harm those that come close to him and allow him to harm them. We are reminded that we have the power to resist Satan. (1 Peter 5:8-9) Satan wants us to come near to him. We have the power to walk away.

Verses 4-6

Rev 20:4-6


Revelation 20:4-6

4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them:--In the vision John saw thrones and persons sitting upon them, and describes in the next statement who they were. The word "judgment" is evidently used in the sense of rule which is the idea implied in the word "thrones." It means that those whom John saw were reigning in some sense. The particular sense will be discovered in the remainder of the paragraph. It is clear from the language that verses 7-10 logically followed verse 3 to complete the story begun with Revelation 19:19. The narrative is interrupted at verse 3 and this paragraph is interposed to describe things that would transpire during the thousand years which had just been mentioned. It is an explanation of how Satan’s binding, the first big event in his overthrow, would affect the church during the millennial period.

Both judge and rule carry the idea of authority to command, approve, or condone. One can reign in a secondary sense when he is authorized to state or enforce the laws of the actual ruler. In this sense the apostles rule under Christ as our king. He conferred upon them the right to express the conditions of pardon which he gave them--thus to remit and retain sin. (John 20:21-23.) In harmony with this is the reply of Jesus to Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27-28. He said: "Ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." "The regeneration" means the Christian dispensation--that is, the time when men can be regenerated or born again. The apostles had followed Jesus; hence, they were given the right to rule by his authority. There can be no mistake about this, for in Luke 22:28-30, a parallel text, Jesus said he appointed them a kingdom "that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom." This refers to the Lord’s Supper and shows that the apostles were in the kingdom while they lived on earth. If so, then they sat upon the thrones and judged while on earth. But Jesus said they would do this while he was sitting upon the throne of his glory. This incidentally shows that Jesus began his reign on Pentecost, as taught in Hebrews 10:12, 1 Corinthians 15:25, and disproves his supposed millennial reign on earth.

There is also a figurative sense in which Christians may rule: either by influencing others to correct living, or to condemn by implication the disobedient through faithfulness to God. Such is the teaching of Matthew 5:16 Hebrews 11:7. Nothing is more certain than that the lives of men, both good and bad, continue to rule in the hearts and lives of others long after death. See Revelation 2:26-27; Revelation 14:13; Hebrews 11:7. It is a solemn thought to know that the final salvation or damnation of men can depend upon how their lives, as examples, have ruled over others

and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand;--This tells who were sitting upon the thrones. The definite statement is that John saw "souls"; no mention whatever of "bodies." Selecting the term "souls" could not have been accidental, and certainly indicates that the resurrection in this passage is not that of bodies. This alone is fatal to the idea that Jesus will come personally at the beginning of the 1,000 years. By a figure of speech soul sometimes stands for the whole man, but in such passage a soul in the body --a living man--is clearly indicated. See Acts 2:41; Acts 27:37. The Greek word for soul (psyche) often means life, as the following texts will show: Matthew 6:25; Matthew 10:25; Matthew 16:26-27. The "souls" John saw symbolically represented the lives of the classes which he immediately mentions. They reign with Christ because their lives are imitated by saints on earth who, like themselves, would die before becoming traitors to the faith, or by accepting false doctrines. Those on the thrones are further described as "souls" of those who had been "beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God," which means they had been killed because of their belief in Christ and refusal to deny him or God’s word. Beheading, which was a common form of dispatching the condemned, probably stands for all kinds of martyrdom. It may be questioned whether the whole description here applies to martyrs only, or includes a second class of such as would not worship the beast and his image and refused to receive his "mark." The grammatical construction will allow either view; hence, neither one can be declared as absolutely certain. It is immaterial, however, which is accepted; for in either case they were saints who distinguished themselves by enduring persecution or death for the church. Only the lives of servants of God who have distinguished themselves would fit the symbol of reigning spiritually for a thousand years.

Another distinguishing feature of these who are here said to reign is the fact that the thing which gave them their position is that they resisted the power and influence of the beast. They must have lived then before Satan was bound--that is, when the apostate church exercised supreme power. Their millennial reign is put in direct contrast with the period in. which they suffered. This is no mean proof that the millennium--time when Satan is bound--began when the papacy lost its supreme power. This is also proof of two important facts --namely, that we are now in the millennium and that Christ did not come at its beginning. On the "mark" of the beast see notes on 13:16, 17.

and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.--"They lived" does not mean that souls were brought to life, for souls do not die in the literal meaning of death. Those who obey Christ can never die (John 5:25), but bodies of saints and sinners will die. Spiritually they continued to live in the sense that their work was vindicated and their names honored through those who perpetuated the same truth for which they suffered or died. Figuratively, that would be as though they had been raised and were reigning in person. This, as a fact, was true of the apostles and other martyrs long before the papal beast came into existence. This passage, however, speaks of a special class of martyrs that fought the corruptions of the apostate church. We know that the apostles, though dead in body, do reign with Christ on earth now. Why not allow that those who were a later set of martyrs do the same?

It is also a fact that living Christians whose lives are sufficiently noted reign, which, of course, is with Christ. So teaches Paul in Romans 5:17; 1 Corinthians 4:8. Such lives cannot be without influence after death. This is the direct promise of Hebrews 11:4.

5 The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished.---"Lived not until the thousand years should be finished" implies that they would live after that time. "Lived not" evidently is in contrast with "they lived" (verse 4), which, in the latter part of verse 5, is called "the first resurrection." An important question here is this: Will the living again of the "rest" (an implied second resurrection) come immediately after the thousand years end or some time later? It must be remembered that a comparatively short period, called a "little time" (verse 3), will intervene between the thousand years and the judgment. In this period Satan will be "loosed," which means that wickedness will again prevail and all his evil forces will be marshaled for the last struggle against the church. The vital point that must be considered is, will the second resurrection occur at the beginning of the "little time" or at its close? This cannot be ignored in any fair interpretation of this millennial passage.

There is probably no text in Revelation about which commentators are more hopelessly disagreed than this verse. Only four views seem to have enough plausibility to merit consideration. They are: (1) That it refers to the bodily resurrection of all the wicked dead at the end of the thousand years, or, maybe, at the end of the "little time." The advocates of this theory do not seem very definite on the exact time. (2) That the word "rest" means the remainder of the same class--that it includes all the righteous dead except the martyrs and others distinguished for service to God. (3) That it refers to the noted persecutors of saints--such as Nero--who will figuratively be raised in the lives of their imitators during the "little time." (4) That it refers to all the dead --both good and bad--who will be raised bodily at the judgment.

The first theory is a premillennial view. The decisive fact that proves it wrong is that Jesus himself places the bodily resurrection of both saint and sinner at the same time. (John 5:28-29.) Until this passage is proved false, that point is settled.

If the second theory means that the inconspicuous righteous dead will be raised ’at the end of the millennium, it is pertinent to ask for a reason. If the passage has noted saints reigning during the millennium when Satan is bound, it would hardly be consistent to represent inconspicuous saints as reigning during the "little time" while Satan is loose. If such saints are to be raised at the judgment, then the theory is true so far as the resurrection of the righteous dead are concerned. But it does not express all the truth on the question, for all the dead--righteous and wicked--will be raised then.

Regarding the third theory, it may be remarked that it would be no violation of either facts or consistency to represent noted church persecutors as being figuratively raised in the lives of those who imitate them in wickedness in the "little time." However, this would forbid the resurrection to be understood as that of the body. It would be the "souls" of the wicked, similar to the "souls" of the martyrs in verse 4, and, therefore, obviate any charge of logical inconsistency.

An apparent objection to the fourth theory is that it violates the law of consistency by making the "first" resurrection figurative and the "second" (which is implied) literal. It is enough to reply that if verse 6, which mentions first resurrection, refers to the body, it also mentions second death which refers to the soul. But there is no unvarying law that prevents words being used in a figurative and literal sense in the same passage. Usually they should be given the same sense, but plain facts may require a different sense. Jesus uses "born" in John 3:6 in both a literal and figurative sense. In John 5:24-25 "life" and "live" unquestionably imply a spiritual resurrection, while the language in John 5:28-29 just as clearly means a literal one. There is, then, really no inconsistency in saying that the "first" resurrection is a moral, spiritual, or figurative one and the "second" (implied) is a literal one. Verses 11-15 of this chapter are a vivid description of a literal resurrection of all classes at the judgment. This is at least strong presumptive proof that the fourth view is correct. It is consistent with words of Jesus and probably the true meaning.

To make the first resurrection a literal one involves the following insuperable difficulties, based upon Jesus’ words in John 5 that all will be raised at the same time: If Jesus comes before the millennium, all the righteous and wicked will be raised then; hence, there can be no wicked left to be raised at the end of the millennium. If he comes after the millenium, then there will be no righteous dead raised at its beginning. If he comes after the "little time"--that is, at the judgment, then there will be none of either class raised either at the beginning or end of the millennium. In either case the premillennial theory is bound to be false. That Christ’s personal coming will be at the judgment is the plain teaching of 2 Thessalonians 1:7. If the first and second resurrections come at the beginning and end of the millennium, and are to be literal resurrections of the body, then there will be three literal resurrections unless there should be none at the judgment. To deny a literal resurrection of the body at the judgment conflicts with verse 13 of this chapter, for there can be no question about what it teaches.

This is the first resurrection.--That is, of those mentioned in verse 4, not the "rest" of verse 5.

6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; --Those who faithfully contended against the beast, false prophet, and all wicked doctrines till death certainly were entitled to the salvation Jesus promised. (Matthew 24:13.) They not only reign during the millennium, but are made sure against being hurt by the second death. The members of the church at Smyrna were urged not to fear what the devil would do to them, and promised that if they were faithful unto death they would "not be hurt of the second death." (Revelation 2:10-11.) The reason for that is that they are in a state where Satan’s power can never reach them. If raised bodily and reigning personally, as the literal kingdom theory demands, he could reach them unless their ability to sin has been removed. If so, then the devil could not deceive them when loosed for a season, as verse 8 says he will do.

but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.--Those here who are guaranteed freedom from the second death not only resisted false teachings "unto death," but were faithful worshipers of God. Hence, figuratively they are represented as reigning and also officiating in the services of God--they are kings and priests. Peter declares that saints are "an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation." (1 Peter 2:9.) A royal--kingly--priest-hood agrees exactly with John’s description in this book. (Revelation 1:6.) The idea is a kingdom of priests. Since Peter and John both teach that Jesus had already made that kingdom, then we know that the reign of "souls" in the millennium is through those on earth who imitate their fidelity. Any interpretation that conflicts with John’s own words about he kingdom must be wrong. John the Baptist is called Elijah. (Matthew 11:12-14.) He came "in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17)--another way of saying that Elijah was raised from the dead in the person of John. Ezekiel represented the restoration of the Jews from Babylon to their own land as a coming "out of your graves." (Ezekiel 37:12-14.) Those who are old may be "born again," and those naturally alive may die, be buried, and raised without changing their physical state. (Colossians 2:12.) Who can deny the metaphysical use of terms, especially in a book filled with symbols?

Commentary on Revelation 20:4-6 by Foy E. Wallace

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Christ--the text says nothing of the reign of Christ, but specifies a reign of the martyred saints withChrist. Reigning with Christ is a state. In 1 Corinthians 4:8, Paul rebuked the Corinthians because they “reigned as kings” in wealth and worldliness; and he wished that they reigned in righteousness with the apostles. In Romans 5:17, Paul referred to the time under the law when death reigned, but under grace the righteous reign in life by Jesus Christ. So these martyred saints reigned with Christ in a state of complete victory over death and in felicity of the beatitude blessed of verse six.

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

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

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

It is a common expression, we hear it on every hand; that the Bible plainly says that Christ will reign on the earth a thousand years. That is something that the Bible nowhere says, plainly or vaguely. Like the battle of Armageddon notion, the millennium imagination is not in the Bible. Armageddon is mentioned in the Bible but the “battle of Armageddon” theory is nowhere found in the scriptures. The Bible has something to say about “a thousand years” but nothing about a thousand years reign on the earth. Christ reigns, but the reign of Revelation 20:1-15 was not the reign of Christ. It was rather a peculiar and special reign of certain souls with Christ. It does not mention or refer to the reign of Christ. The ones mentioned were reigning; it was a special use of the word, applied to a special incident of the Revelation vision. The text says they lived and reigned. Where did they live and reign? They lived and reigned with Christ. John saw souls out of the body, not in the body. It was a vision of the souls of the martyrs living and reigning with Christ in a particular and peculiar sense.

In a conversation with any group of denominational preachers one will invariably be heard to say that the Bible plainly says that we shall reign with Christ on earth a thousand years. When the asserter is asked for the passage that so plainly says it, he will just as invariably and confidently refer his listeners to Revelation 20:1-15, (See verse 4). It is in order, in time and in place now to dissect this misunderstood and misapplied passage of scripture.

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

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

John said, “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” The passage says nothing about “the thousand years reign of Christ.” There is a great difference in the two expressions. Revelation 20:1-15 says, “they lived and reigned with Christ.” They who? Lived--lived where? Reigned --how, with whom and where? “Lived and reigned”--with whom, in what place? It is not the reign of Christ, but the reign of souls “with Christ,” that is mentioned in Revelation 20:1-15. There is a vast difference between living and reigning “with Christ” and a millennial reign “of Christ.”

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

Revelation 20:1-6 does not mention the second coming of Christ. That is not the subject of it. It does not mention a bodily resurrection, and that is not the subject of it. It does not mention a reign on the earth, nor does it mention the “reign of Christ”--and neither is the subject. Is it not possible for souls to live and reign “with Christ” without Christ being on earth? Furthermore, it does not mention the throne of David or any other throne on earth. And it does not mention either Jerusalem or Palestine, nor does it mention Christ on earth.

Jesus said that Jerusalem is not the place where men should worship (John 4:21), but they want to put it there. He said that his kingdom is not of the world (John 18:36), but they want to put it here, and make it of the world. Can millennialists consistently say that though it mentions none of these things, it teaches all of them? It is altogether possible and consistent for all the things mentioned to exist without being on the earth.

(2) The thousand years reign with Christ.

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

It is said in Deuteronomy 7:9 that God keeps his covenant and his mercy unto a thousand generations. God does not count a literal thousand generations, then quits remembering his covenant. It means God’s memory of and faithfulness to his covenant are perfect and complete. The term thousand was a figure of completeness. It does not denote a cycle of time.

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

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

First: They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. It does not mention the second coming of Christ, a bodily resurrection, a reign on the earth, or a literal throne in Jerusalem or elsewhere. It does not mention us, and it does not mention Christ on earth. Revelation 20:1-15 mentions none of those things, and a curse was pronounced on the one who adds to the words of the book.

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

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

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

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

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

So their theory bogs down again.

The rest of the dead here simply referred to the persecutors whose oppressions had been overcome, just as Isaiah 26:13-14 referred to the wicked lords who had dominion over Israel as being dead and should not live, deceased and should not rise.

The statement until the thousand years were finished did not denote that the figuratively deceased persecutors would be revived afterward. The preposition until denotes end or termination, for which there are numerous exemplifications. In Hebrews 9:10 the “carnal ordinances” of the Mosaic order were “imposed on them until the time of reformation”- but this does not mean that after the present gospel dispensation the ordinances of Judaism will be imposed again.

In 1 Samuel 15:35, after Saul’s disobedience in the expedition against the Amalekites, it is said that “Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death.” This could not mean that Samuel continued to visit Saul after his death. The use of until expressed end or termination.

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

In Galatians 3:19, the apostle said the law of Moses "was added because of transgression till (until) the seed should come,” but the statement assuredly has no implication that the Mosaic law will be reconstituted after the dispensation of Christ.

In Luke 21:24, in foretelling the fall of Jerusalem, the Lord said, “And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” On the premises of these passages the Lord’s statement in Luke 21:24, means that the old Jerusalem was trodden down permanently--the end of the apostate harlot Jerusalem.

In the light of these examples it is patent that the statement of Revelation 20:5, “the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished,” did not imply that the figuratively dead persecutors would come to life afterward. The symbolic statement declared the end of the imperial persecutors of the church, just as Isaiah 26:13-14 meant the end of the dominion of the wicked lords over Israel after deliverance from the Babylonian exile. The imagery was parallel, and the language was figurative in both passages.

This is the first resurrection--just as Israel’s deliverance from the bondage of Babylon was referred to in Ezekiel 37:1-28 as a resurrection out of their graves; and the broken dominion of the lords was a resurrection from oppression, of Isaiah 26:1-21; so overcoming these persecutions, triumphing over death and martyrdom, in a victorious cause of Christ, was called a resurrection in Revelation 20:1-15. The visional procedure of taking the souls of the martyrs out from under the altar in chapter 6, and elevating them to thrones in chapter 20, was symbolized as a resurrection; as in Ezekiel 37:11-14 the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity was a symbolic resurrection. In the symbolic picture of Revelation 20:5, the martyrs of the altar in chapter six were raised to the thrones of chapter twenty, and were pictured as living and reigning with Christ. It was the resurrection of the cause for which they died. The fact that they had to be told that it was a resurrection is proof that it was used in an unusual sense of the word; it was a figurative, metaphorical use, not a physical employment of the word.

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

The passage in Revelation 20:1-15 described no period of blessing to be enjoyed at the close of this dispensation. It will not bear the literal construction and the theorists themselves will not accept the conclusions and consequences of it. But as a practical lesson to us, the derived application is this: It is the portion of every true believer in any age who shares the life of the risen Lord through obedience to his commands.

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

There is an axiom which decrees that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. In Revelation 2:11 it is said that overcoming the persecutions exempted them from the second death. But in Revelation 20:6 it is said that part in the first resurrection exempted them from the second death. Things equal to the same things being equal to each other-- part in the first resurrection referred to overcoming the persecutions and entering into the triumph of that victory. Again, it is the same kind of a resurrection prophesied in Isaiah 26:1-21 and Ezekiel 37:1-28.

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

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

The use of thousand years here is further proof that it had no reference or application to a literal cycle of years. They shall be priests of God and Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. This, of course, referred to the souls who lived and reigned; and here shall reign with him referred to the continuity of that reign which had begun in the expression “lived and reigned” of Revelation 20:4. It had reference to the same souls and the same reign and simply denoted its continuation,

Commentary on Revelation 20:4-6 by Walter Scott



This interesting passage, round which controversy has raged for many centuries, is one which powerfully appeals to every thoughtful reader. It concerns every saint on earth. Who are they who reign with Christ in heavenly glory over this earth? Are they saints or angels? Christ’s sovereignty as Man (Psalms 8:1-9) and King (Psalms 2:1-12) is the unquestionable truth of the Scriptures, a royal sovereignty to be displayed for a thousand years. Seers of old beheld it in vision. The bards of Judah sang of it. The rays of the prophetic lamp, as held in the hands of the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi, were directed on to the glories and blessings of the coming millennial kingdom. The earth, so long under the tyranny of Satan and the misrule of man, waits for its promised deliverance.

The moment has arrived for the actual realisation of the scene celebrated in Heaven, “The kingdom of the world (or world kingdom) of our Lord, and of His Christ, is come, and He shall reign to the ages of ages” (Revelation 11:15,R.V.). There it was announced in anticipation; here it isactually come. The verses in Revelation 20:4-6 are unique inthis respect, that in them alone is unfolded a summary of those who share with Christ in the blessed reign of righteousness and glory. There are three classes specified.


Revelation 20:4. — I saw thrones. The two exiled prophets,Daniel (I beheld “till the thrones were cast down” (Daniel 7:9). But the text in the original says exactly the opposite. It reads “till the thrones were placed” (R.V.), that is, set or established. We may also add that the Hebrew prophet does not conduct his readers into the millennium, but simply to its introduction. He breaks off at that point where one like the Son of Man receives from the Ancient of Days the universal and everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14). The prophet Ezekiel takes us much further. The millennium in some of its most important features is described,such as the settlement of the tribes in parallel bands across the face of enlarged Palestine, the temple and its services, the Jewish prince, Christ’s vicegerent, on the throne, the healing of the Dead Sea, etc. (Ezekiel 40:1-49; Ezekiel 41:1-26; Ezekiel 42:1-20; Ezekiel 43:1-27; Ezekiel 44:1-31; Ezekiel 45:1-25; Ezekiel 46:1-24; Ezekiel 47:1-23; Ezekiel 48:1-35).) and John, beheld in vision the same thrones. The former saw them unoccupied. The heavenly sitters thereon constitute a revelation peculiar to the New Testament, and hence John supplements the vision of Daniel by adding, “they sat upon them.” Both scenes refer to the commencement of the millennial reign. Nor must the thrones in our text be confounded with the twenty-four thrones of Revelation 4:4. Those seen in vision by Daniel (Daniel 7:9) and by John (Revelation 20:4)relate to the millennial government of the earth. Those beheld in the earlier vision (Revelation 4:1-11) grouped around the throne of the Eternal are set in Heaven. The twelve thrones on which the apostles are to sit in sessional judgment upon Israel (Matthew 19:28) are no doubt included in the larger and more comprehensive governing idea conveyed by the Seer (Revelation 20:4).



Revelation 20:4. — They sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. To whom do the pronouns they and them refer? for the company mentioned is not otherwise described. Some have suggested “nations” as being the immediate antecedent (Revelation 20:3), others angels. Again, “they sat upon them” has been supposed to signify the twelve thrones of the apostles (Matthew 19:28), and by others to mean thetwenty-four heavenly thrones (Revelation 4:4). Another class of expositors limit the application to martyrs only, supposing the pronouns to be a summary of the two classes of martyrs referred to in the text. But they are evidently a separate and independent company from the martyrs first seen in the separate state; whereas our company are witnessed enthroned — “judgment was given to them.” It is never predicated of spirits that they are crowned and reign. To refer the sitters on the thrones to nations seems a far-fetched idea. Nor can the idea of enthroned angels be entertained, even if supported by the weight of such names as Ewald, P. W. Grant, and others. The reign of angels is nowhere taught in the Scriptures, but rather the contrary, “For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come whereof we speak” (Hebrews 2:5). The government of the earth is to be administered by Christ and His heavenly saints (see 1 Corinthians 6:2-3). We must, too, look for a larger and broader view of the kingly reign in our text, and not narrow it down to apostles or any limited company.

The they evidently refers to a well-known class. We have already seen, more than once, the redeemed in Heaven represented by the twenty-four elders taking part in the scenes unfolded from chapters 4 to 19. They are the sum of Old Testament and New Testament believers raised or changed at the Coming into the air (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). This is a much larger body of saints than themartyrs, and hence you have nowhere to locate them in the reign, save as included in the two plural pronouns they and them. It would be strange indeed to have the reign of martyrs to the exclusion of those very saints in Heaven “made kings and priests unto God.” The Old and New Testament saints in Heaven during the time of the apocalyptic judgments are the sitters on the throne beheld by the Seer.

Revelation 20:4. — “Judgment was given to them.” That is, royal authority to rule is conferred on these saints. It is the fulfilment of that grand and unqualified statement, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2).


Revelation 20:4And (I saw) the souls (We are quite aware that the term soul often stands for or represents a person, as in Acts 27:37; Genesis 12:5, etc., but is it so in the case before us? Twice the Seer beheld the souls of those slain or beheaded, i.e., the souls of persons. They are first beheld under the altar (Revelation 6:9). then on the eve of reunion with their bodies. But in both he sees them out of the body in the separate state. In our chapter John first beholds the souls of the martyrs, then he sees them as raised in life and reigning, no longer in the separate state. The soul never dies, it cannot be killed. It has a life which neither sword nor axe can reach (Matthew 10:28).) of them that had been beheaded on account of the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God (R.V.). What John sees in vision is not persons but souls, the souls of martyrs in the separate state. These form an earlier class of martyrs than those who suffer under the Beast, and are evidently identical with those slain under the fifth Seal (Revelation 6:9-11). This persecution takes effect soon after the removal of the saints to the Father’s house (John 14:1-3). The grounds of this outburst of rage and cruelty are twofold: first, on account of the testimony of Jesus, which is of a prophetic character. The testimony of Jesus in the Gospels is very different from that in the Apocalypse; there it is the unfolding of grace, here it is the disclosure of judgment; there the Father in love, here God setting up the kingdom. This latter is a testimony which the apostate peoples of the earth cannot endure, hence those who receive it must suffer even to death. The second ground of this persecution is on account of the Word of God. Faithful adherence to it characterizes the remnant in these times. Men will then take sides for or against the rights of God. No trimming of sails or temporizing policy will be allowed. A rigid cleaving to the Word will show up the scene in its true light and character — a path so narrow and a sphere so circumscribed that death alone is the end. We gather that no saint in the coming crisis dies a natural death. He either lives through the period or is martyred.


Revelation 20:4. — And (I saw) those who had not worshipped the Beast, nor his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and hand. If the descriptive words “the testimony of Jesus” and “the Word of God” connect the previous company with those noted in Revelation 6:9-11, so here the reference to the Beast, his image, and mark on forehead or hand, unmistakably directs us to Revelation 13:15-17. How good and wise is our God to furnish us with those helps by the way. There are difficulties in every part of the divine volume, but the key to unlock the door is always at hand. The Apocalypse is no exception to the rule. “Was there a key sent with the book, and has this been lost? Was it thrown into the Sea of Patmos or into the Meander?” asks a distinguished theologian.

Death in one of its many forms is the only alternative to active and public support of the Beast. The Beast tramples down all rights and ruthlessly destroys all who stand in his way. The inalienable right and responsibility of the creature as such to worship God the Creator is impiously denied. It is the attempt of man on earth to take the place of God. The Antichrist, or Man of Sin, does so in the temple and amongst the Jews (2 Thessalonians 2:4). The effort under the first of the Gentile monarchies (Daniel 3:1-30), as also under the last (Revelation 13:1-18), to banish God from the heart and conscience of man can have but one issue: death and ultimate triumph on the one hand, judgment and everlasting ruin on the other. For Nebuchadnezzar, however, there was repentance granted and mercy shown. To the Beast and his followers there will be neither.

The mystic mark on the forehead, whatever that may be, publicly proclaims the person as an adherent of the Beast; on the hand intimates active support, a willing worker in the interests of the Beast.


Revelation 20:4And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The martyred saints are raised after the marriage and supper (Revelation 19:7-9), and just on the eve of the assumption of the kingdom, hence they are neither part of the bride nor amongst the guests at the bridal supper. The two martyred companies are specifically referred to. John has just seen their souls in the separate state, now he sees them raised — “they lived,” which, of course, implies their resurrection. Death had overtaken their bodies. Hence to men they were dead, but to God they were alive, for John saw their souls. Physical death is never applied to the soul, nor is the term resurrection. The terms death and resurrection are used of the body only. We do not here refer to any figurative use of them, but to the words as literally understood. (Compare with Matthew 10:28,which shows that the soul has life of itself which man cannot reach; also Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:38, even after physical death, “all live unto Him.”) The duration of the reign of these martyrs, for they have not lost butgained by laying down their lives, is now stated for the first time to be “a thousand years.”

These two associated facts are clearly emphasized: the confinement of Satan and the reign of Christ for the lengthened period of one thousand years. Hallelujah! what an hour of triumph, what an answer to the life laid down under the axe of the executioner, in the dungeons of the inquisition, or under the fiend-like cruelty of a Nero!


Revelation 20:5. — The rest of the dead did not live till the thousand years had been completed. That a literal resurrection and a literal reigning are meant seems unquestionable. Why depart from the simple and obvious meaning of the words, and suppose a resurrection and a reign of principles? It is persons and not principles which are before us in the text. It is surprising that such a far-fetched and unnatural theory should find support in certain quarters generally considered sober and orthodox.

The doctrine of a general resurrection, of good and bad alike, of just and unjust, is disproved in our text. It must be frankly conceded that the Lord’s words in John 5:28-29 seem to teach a general resurrection: “Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation” or judgment. The “hour” referred to embraces a thousand years, at the commencement of which the righteous are raised, and at its close the wicked. We are not giving an arbitrary force to the term hour, as in the very chapter quoted from, the hour of spiritual quickening, that is, of the soul, has already lasted nigh two thousand years (v. 25).

Between the resurrection of those “that have done good and those “that have done evil a thousand years transpire. “The rest of the dead” are the wicked raised to judgment (Revelation 20:13). Not one saint of God will be found in this last closing scene of resurrection and consequent judgment, which is final and eternal. There is a resurrection of the just, effected at different times, commencing with Christ the first-fruit (1 Corinthians 15:23), “afterward they that are Christ’s at His coming” into the air (At the death of Christ “the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared unto many” (Matthew 27:52-53). We have no reason to suppose that those saints died again and were buried. It is appointed unto men to die once (Hebrews 9:27). We question if the Jerusalem martyrs (Revelation 11:11-12) are raised simultaneously with the general body of martyrs. In our judgment the time, occasion, and circumstances are different. The Jewish witnesses perhaps take precedence.) when the living are changed and the dead in Christ of all ages raised (1 Thessalonians 4:16).Then on the eve of the introduction of the millennial kingdom we have the resurrection of the apocalyptic martyrs (Revelation 20:4-6). Thus from the resurrection of Christ till those of Old and New Testament times we have a period of nigh two thousand years; again, between the raising of those latter and that of the martyrs several years, at least seven, transpire. But with the wicked dead it is far different. From Cain onwards all remain in their graves till after the millennial reign, when they are raised — the last act in time — and then judged in eternity (Revelation 20:12-13). All such are raised at one and the same time, and find themselves after judgment in the lake of fire with the devil, the Beast, and his Jewish associate in crime, the False Prophet. Then the curtain closes only to be drawn aside once more (Revelation 21:8) for a passing glance.


Revelation 20:6. — This is the first resurrection. (It may be noted here that, according to the true reading, the living and reigning is certainly resurrection. “The rest of the dead lived not until,” etc.; so that it is clearly used here for resurrection, as the following words confirm: “This is the first resurrection.” — “Synopsis of the Books of the Bible,” vol. 5, p. 636 footnote, Morrish ed.) Blessed and holy he who has part in the first resurrection: over these 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 vision itself occupies Revelation 20:4 (the longest verse in the apocalypse) and the first part of Revelation 20:5. Then the interpretation follows, commencing with the words, “This is the first resurrection,” and continues down to the close of Revelation 20:6. The interpretation we have transcribed in full. The change which will pass over the living saints at the Coming is equivalent to the raising of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). Then every trace of mortality and corruption shall disappear, and all be glorified. The dead are raised in glory (v. 43). The bodies of saints, whether alive or in the grave at the Coming, are changed into the likeness of His body of glory (Philippians 3:21). “The first resurrection” is here regarded as completed. It is a term of special blessedness and import. To have part in it was the eager desire of the apostle (Philippians 3:11). The resurrection of the dead is equally taught in both Testaments, but resurrection from the dead is New Testament revelation alone, and is first taught in Mark 9:9; then in Luke 20:35 its application to believers is assured. The term “second resurrection” is never used of the wicked.

Every one who has part in the first resurrection is pronounced “blessed and holy.” It is a matter of individual blessedness. The first term is descriptive of his happy condition: the second of his character. Happiness and holiness are inseparably associated, and must never be separated. “Over these the second death has no power.” The expressions, “first resurrection” and “second death” are contrasted terms, because all who have no part in the one shall certainly share in the other. The second death is the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). Into it the raised wicked dead are cast. But this awful death, dying yet never dead physically, has no title, no authority over those embraced in the first resurrection, for these “die no more.” Their bodies are immortal. They can no more die than can angels (Luke 20:36). The “second death” has no claim over the “sons of the resurrection.”

The positive blessedness of the risen and glorified saints is next declared, not simply their immunity from the eternal consequences of sin — the “second death”“but they shall be priests of God and of Christ.” Both the holy (1 Peter 2:5) and royal character of priesthood (v. 9) shall then be in fullest exercise, unceasingly and unhinderedly. We shall have continual access into God’s presence as His priests, and in association with Christ exhibit in its blessed fullness the royal virtues of Him Whom our souls delight to honor.


Revelation 20:6And shall reign with Him a thousand years. (We have the authority of the late Dean Alford for the statement that for the first three hundred years the whole Church understood the thousand years’ reign in its plain and literal sense. He also maintained, as we do in our exposition, that Revelation 20:4 reveals three classes of saints.) The greatness of the statement and the grandeur of the subject leave the soul amazed. Once poor wretched sinners, then raised to such a height, only subordinate to Him Who redeemed us by His blood, and exalted us by His grace to such glory! This reign in regal power and splendor, this assumption of kingly dignity as Christ’s fellow-heirs, continues for a thousand years, but the eternal state which succeeds shall disclose fresh glories and added dignities, although the mediatorial kingdom as such outlasts the longest span of life yet recorded. Methuselah lived 969 years, and he died (Genesis 5:27). Saints in the heavens and saints on earth shall live a thousand years, and shall not die.

The reign of Christ and the confinement of Satan are associated facts. The tempter of men must be removed. The glory must not be dimmed nor the blessing marred by the further machinations of Satan. The reign of a thousand years is the grandest event in the history of the race. There are no details given, but simply a statement of the fact. The earthly blessings secured to Israel and the world under the sway of Christ are, in the main, the subjects of the prophets, whilst the heavenly character of the reign is unfolded from Revelation 21:9 to Revelation 22:5.The millennial reign is better described by the scriptural term THE KINGDOM. It consists, however, of two departments, respectively spoken of as the kingdom of the Son and the kingdom of the Father (Matthew 13:41-43).The former relates to the earth, the latter to the heavens. Daniel 7:27 unites the two. “Most High” is in the plural, and signifies “the heavenly places,” as in Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 1:20. “The people (Israel) of the saints.” The people and saints are distinguished. Israel on earth is the former, the changed and risen saints in the heavenlies are the latter. The people are said to belong to the saints; for, after all, the kingdom in its widest extent forms the joint dominion of Christ and His heavenly people, although Israel shall exercise sovereign rule and authority amongst the nations — their head, and not as now the tail.

Commentary on Revelation 20:4-6 by E.M. Zerr

Revelation 20:4. And I saw thrones . . . given unto them. This is the same vision that is described at chapter 17:12 and the reader should see the comments at that passage. The pronoun they means the kings who had occupied their thrones in form only, but who really had not been free to use their own judgment in their ruling. Sat upon them denotes that they were occupying their thrones in fact and not merely in name. Judgment was given unto them signifies they were allowed to render their own judgment in matters pertaining to their kingdoms. Saw the souls . . . a thousand years. Before reading further at this place, let the reader reexamine very carefully the first paragraph of the note referred to previously. That is especially necessary to get the significance of the thousand years of reign with Christ. The souls John saw were of those who were beheaded by Papal Rome because they refused to submit to her false demands. Their death recalls a like experience recorded in Revelation 6:9 of those who had been slain by Pagan Rome. These whom John saw in our present verse resisted the beast (Babylon), his image (those who imitated the beast) and the mark (those who brought upon themselves the guilt of doing the things originally incited by Nero.)

Revelation 20:5. Rest of the dead is symbolical or figurative and refers to people who did not "have enough life" or interest to be active in defense of the truth. Until the thousand years were finished. When that bright period of the Reformation (here called the thousand years) was over and the former defenders of truth began to lag, then the enemies of the Bible "came to life" and became active in opposition to the word of God, acting under the influence of Satan who was now loosed in that the Bible was not binding him as it did. Such a movement stimulated the former "dead" ones to action and then was begun the conflict between the friends of truth and its enemies, a conflict that has continued to our day. This is the first resurrection. The pronoun does not refer directly to what has been said but to what is yet to be said, and it refers to the subject as a whole. John 11:25-26 should be considered in connection with the first resurrection, also read the note to which reference was made.

Revelation 20:6. The first resurrection is that mentioned in the preceding verse of which John said he was going to speak. He is doing so now and telling us of the blessing hat will be for those who have part in this first resurrection. In John 11:25 Jesus says "I am the resurrection and the life." Jesus was the first one to be resurrected never to die again (Acts 13:34). To have part in the first resurrection means to have part in Christ. And to get the spiritual benefits of the resurrection of Christ as the bodily benefits, it is necessary to be faithful after coming into Him. That is what is meant in John 11:26 by "liveth and believeth in me." That person "shall never die" according to Christ’s statement to Martha, which means the same as on suck the second death hath no power in our present verse. This second death is the punishment in the lake of fire and brimstone according to Revelation 21:8 of our present book. Shall reign with him a thousand years. This period is the same that is explained at verse 2. Of course the word reign is not literal because Christ is the sole King on the throne. Thayer’s explanation of the word as it is used here is as follows: "Paul transfers the word to denote the supreme moral dignity, liberty, blessedness, which will be enjoyed by Christ’s redeemed ones." The principle expressed will apply to the faithful in Christ of all ages. However, the present application is made to those who had been faithful to Christ under the persecutions of Babylon. This spirit of devotion in the presence of death was a reenactment of the spirit of the first martyrs (Revelation 6:9-11), and they lived (were in evidence) all through this bright period of the Reformation. It is in that sense only that they were to be resurrected and reign with Christ through the thousand years. There was no prediction of any literal resurrection of some while others were to remain in their graves. There will be but one bodily resurrection (and it is still future), and at that same hour all human beings, both good and bad, will be brought to life (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29). It is plainly taught in other passages that when Jesus comes again it will mark the end of the kingdom and all things on the earth. (1 Corinthians 15:24-25; 2 Peter 3:10). All statements of a resurrection that is to occur before the second coming of Christ are figurative only.

Commnetary on Revelation 20:4-6 by Burton Coffman

Revelation 20:4

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 testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

And I saw thrones, and they that sat upon them ... This is another proleptic vision of the blessed state of the dead in Christ, introduced for the encouragement and support of suffering and persecuted Christians. It was by this device that this prophecy "strengthened the faith of those who were suffering persecutions by giving them a vision of the final triumph of Christ and of the blessedness of his followers."[21] Some millennial theories place these thrones upon earth, but there is no more reason to do this than to suppose that the "twelve thrones" occupied by the apostles during "the times of the regeneration" (Matthew 19:28) are actually upon earth. In fact, those thrones are exactly like these.

And judgment was given unto them ... It is wrong to think that this means only the martyrs received judgment and sat upon thrones. "The thrones are occupied by the living, reigning saints, who have either suffered martyrdom or refused to worship the beast."[22] It is also easy to miss the meaning of "the judgment" that was given unto them. It means that God’s judgment was given in their favor, and not that the prerogative of judging other people was to be exercised by them. The New Testament makes it absolutely clear that that prerogative belongs to the Son of God alone (John 5:27). Another view is advocated by some who appeal to 1 Corinthians 6:2-3 for support; but that passage also is devoid of any thought that judgment will ever be the prerogative of Christians. Judgment belongs to the Son of God alone. For further discussion of Christians "judging," see in my Commentary on 1,2Corinthians, pp. 82-85.

And I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded ... Not these alone, but including these, is the thought. Even those who were beheaded are shown by this vision to have been favorably judged by the Lord and granted the right of glorification at the last day. "This assurance was of importance for the Christians of John’s day ... even if they were called to yield up their lives, their sacrifice would issue in God’s vindication of them."[23]

And such ... "In the Greek, this is literally and those who, a second class of persons who had not necessarily been beheaded."[24] This forbids limiting this passage to the martyrs.

Worshipped the beast ... Glorious indeed as were the martyrs, God also loves those who are faithful throughout life, regardless of the time or manner of their death. One may only deplore the over-emphasis upon "the martyrs" by so many commentators, as if the blessed promise of a passage like this pertained only to martyrs.

And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years ... Again, this is exactly the same promise Christ made to the Twelve (Matthew 19:28), where he defined the period as "the times of the regeneration," a reference to the whole Christian age; and it is absolutely imperative so to understand it here. Neither did any of the apostles, nor any of those in view here, actually live a thousand years; but what is taught is that the reign of Christians with Christ will be a perpetual phenomenon throughout the whole Christian age (the thousand years).

And the souls of them that had been beheaded ... "John sees souls, not bodies."[25] The reigning here is not that of people who have been bodily resurrected from the dead. The thrones also are not upon the earth, but in heaven where this vision is centered.

And how do they reign with Christ? They do this in the spiritual sense of their victory over sin and temptation, doubt, fear, suffering, and persecution.

And they lived ... Ladd read this as meaning "They came to life again";[26] but that is neither what this says nor what it means. It means that the righteous dead do not really die, in the sense of perish; they pass through death but continue to be "with the Lord." "Although they die, yet their souls will live and reign with Christ."[27] "The selection of the term souls in this passage could not have been accidental, and it certainly indicates that the ’resurrection’ in this place is not that of bodies."[28]

And they lived ... is described in Revelation 20:5 as "the first resurrection." "This can only be referred to that first awakening from sin to the glorious life of the gospel."[29] For more on the first resurrection, see under next verse.

[21] James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 651.

[22] Michael Wilcock, op. cit., p. 192.

[23] G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Greenwood, South Carolina: The Attic Press, 1974), p. 293.

[24] Ralph Earle, Beacon Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 610.

[25] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 230.

[26] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 265.

[27] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1089.

[28] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 284.

[29] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 472.

Revelation 20:5

The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection.

The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished ... This is the passage upon which some fasten their interpretation of Revelation 20:4 as a literal resurrection; but there is ample Scriptural authority for words having both a figurative and a literal meaning in the same passage. Christ himself told us exactly what the first resurrection is:

The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live ...

Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in their tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment (John 5:25-29).

An analogy of the above passage inevitably leads to the conclusion that the conversion of sinners by the gospel is the first resurrection. Significantly, this was recorded by John; and it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to believe that he here advanced some other conception of what the first resurrection is. Also, both the spiritual resurrection in conversion, and the literal resurrection at the last day are presented here, side by side, in the teaching of Jesus. Thus, there is no impediment to seeing the "first resurrection" here as spiritual and the second as literal. "There are few that would agree that the resurrection of the witnesses" (Revelation 11:11) was literal - the passages are parallel."[30] "There is no reason for restricting resurrection to a literal meaning."[31]

Therefore, we confidently affirm that the "first resurrection" here is a spiritual resurrection, having reference to the conversion of sinners through the preaching of the gospel. Some dispute this, because, they say, "the second death" has no power over them who had the first resurrection; but this is no better proof of the impossibility of apostasy than John 8:51-52. Impossibility of apostasy is not in either passage.

The rest of the dead ... These are the rest of the "dead" humanity "in sin," the remainder of the total humanity dead in trespasses and sins. That portion of the dead race (in sin) who heard and obeyed the truth "live" (spiritually) in the first resurrection; but the rest of the "dead humanity" enjoyed no such resurrection; for them, following their physical death, "they lived not again until the judgment day," explained here as "till the thousand years were finished."

Many concur in this interpretation:

There is no adequate reason to assume that this first resurrection is physical.[32] The first resurrection verily is first.[33] These were sinners who will not experience a resurrection of any kind until the end of time.[34] We tend to forget that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.[35] The New Testament places the bodily resurrection of both saint and sinner at the same time (John 5:28-29); and until that passage is proved false, that point is settled.[36] The rest of the dead means all those who died in unbelief.[37]

The rest of the dead ... They did not live, that is, they did not inherit eternal life through their obedience of the gospel. Thus the "souls" of verse 4 are the martyrs and others who like the rest of the dead "left their bodies on earth when they died."[38] John tells us here that the wicked dead "did not live" until the thousand years were finished, at which time, all people, good and bad alike, will physically rise from the dead to face the final judgment.

[30] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 174.

[31] W. Boyd Carpenter, Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 624.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Frank L. Cox, Revelation in 26 Lessons (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1956), p. 116.

[34] Ibid.

[35] W. Boyd Carpenter, op. cit., p. 624.

[36] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 287.

[37] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 584.

[38] Ibid.

Revelation 20:6

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection ... This beatitude pertains to all who are "in Christ." Such persons already enjoy eternal life in the sense of possessing the promise of it, having the earnest of it, and participating in some of the joys of it.

They shall be priests of God and of Christ ... Preeminently, throughout the whole New Testament, this status of Christians is established as their status at the present time, and in this dispensation, now! Therefore, the priesthood and the reigning of these saints is exactly the same as that of the Christians of all ages, showing that no special period of any kind whatever is meant by this "thousand years" in this passage. See my comment on 1 Peter 2:5, and also in my Commentary on James, pp. 191-199. "All the evidence we have is against the theory of the first resurrection being understood otherwise than as a spiritual resurrection that takes place when any sinner is converted to Christ."[39]

And shall reign with him a thousand years ... "This living and reigning must not be limited to the time after the death of those mentioned."[40] All Christians are now living and reigning with Christ. Plummer paraphrased the thought here thus:

You Christians sit upon thrones and reign with Christ; yea, even those who suffered shameful death share that perfect safety and exaltation, though, in the eyes of the world, they were afflicted and degraded.[41]

A thousand years ... This is the whole period of the Christian dispensation, the same as the time and times and half a time, the same as the forty-two months, the same as the one thousand two hundred and threescore days. All these time-periods are exactly the same and refer to the entire period between the two Advents of Christ.

[39] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 254.

[40] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 472.

[41] Ibid.

Commentary on Revelation 20:4-6 by Manly Luscombe

4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Here we have a description of those who live and reign with Christ. NOTE: Notice what is NOT in this verse. This is not the reign of Christ. It is the co-reign of Christians. The thousand years is not the length of Christ’s reign. It is the length of the time we reign with Christ. This is not a scene of eternity with resurrected bodies. John saw souls. These were souls of the martyred saints. (See the fifth seal - Revelation 6:9-11) These souls had died because of their faith. They had remained faithful, not receiving the mark of the beast. They had not worshipped his image. These faithful Christians, whose faith had stood the ultimate test, death, were living and reigning with Christ. This reign continued through the Christian Age.

5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. There are two views here. 1) The rest of the dead are all the non-Christians. 2) The rest of the dead are the faithful Christians who were not killed, but died natural deaths. I believe the first view is correct. The rest of the dead are those who are not Christians. The issue is not how a Christian dies - natural vs. persecution. The fact is that the death of faithful believer is distinguished from the death of an unbeliever. Here is the message of this verse. There is a group who, after death, lives and reigns with Christ. This group is faithful Christians. Implied in this statement is: There is a group who does not live and reign with Christ. This group of unbelievers will not live and reign with Christ. They will not be resurrected until the thousand years (Christian Age) is finished. What is the first resurrection? The New Testament is of great help here. Paul explains that baptism is a death, burial and resurrection. (Colossians 2:12-13; Romans 6:3-6) When we confessed our faith in Christ, and repented (died to sin), we were buried in a watery grave and raised to a new life in Christ. Have you participated in that “first resurrection” called baptism? Woodruff comments, “Therefore, the first resurrection is the resurrection of the soul from the grave of sin. It is a spiritual resurrection. (Colossians 1:18)” (1, 370)

6 Blessed and holy is he 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. If you have participated in the first resurrection (baptism into Christ) you are blessed. If you have already shared in the first resurrection, the second death poses no real credible threat. The second death will not harm the faithful baptized believer in Christ. We will be priests of God. (See comments on Revelation 1:6). We will reign with Christ during the Christian Age.

Verses 7-10

Rev 20:7-10


Revelation 20:7-10

7 And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,--The view here advocated is that the binding of Satan means the return to the people the right to read and obey the Bible without human dictation; his loosing, then, would be his regaining in some way the power to prevent or hinder such voluntary obedience.

8 and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.--Though we do not know how or exactly what means he will use, yet it is not improbable that increasing infidelity, superstition, and idolatry will be main contributing factors. Whatever is involved in his loosing, it is safe to say that wickedness will prevail as never before. In this "little time" will occur the events recorded in Revelation 19:17-21 and Revelation 20:7-10; it will be Satan’s last struggle against the church in which not only he but his chief aides--beast and false prophet--will be overcome and banished to the lake of fire. (Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10.) This victory will not be gained by a carnal sword, but by the word that proceeds from the Lord’s mouth. (Revelation 19:15.) These enemies will be slain and the war against the church ended by the brightness of the Lord’s coming and the breath of his mouth (2 Thessalonians 2:8) as suddenly as the 185,000 in the Assyrian army were slain by an angel of the Lord. (2 Kings 19:35.) In the time preceding the thousand years Satan deceived the nations largely through false religious doctrines and practice, virtually suppressing the Bible by demanding the acceptance of papal interpretations. That similar means will be used to deceive after the thousand years is certainly probable. The existence of nations to be deceived after the millennium is proof that the nature of mankind then will be the same as now, and harmonizes with the question, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8.) "In the four corners" means that the nations will be scattered over the whole earth as now. This is further indicated by the fact that the number shall be "as the sand of the sea."

According to the doctrines of the premillennial coming of Christ, nations to be deceived by Satan after being loosed presents insolvable problems. The theory calls for the banishment of the beast and false prophet and the death of all the wicked (Revelation 19:19-21) at Christ’s coming; the wicked dead to remain unraised (Revelation 20:5); the righteous dead to be raised and with the righteous living all to receive spiritual, incorruptible, and immortal bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:44; 1 Corinthians 15:54.) The theory requires all these resurrections to be of the body. The following difficulties are apparent for which no solution can be offered other thanpure guesses: Will children be born during the thousand years? If so, will they inherit incorruptible and immortal bodies from their parents? If so, how can beings with such bodies be deceived by Satan? If they can be deceived with such bodies, how can they be safe during the millennium when many of his devices are recorded in the Bible? Can they receive corruptible and mortal bodies from parents with incorruptible bodies, without a fundamental law--seed bearing after its kind--being violated? Will their birth of parents put them in the kingdom? If not, how will they get in? If by obedience to the gospel, that is no improvement on the church. It is hard to see how Satan when loosed can deceive people with incorruptible and immortal bodies.

The wicked dead for whom the theory provides no resurrection till Satan is loosed at the end of the thousand years are already deceived, having lived and died in his service. So they cannot be the nations he will deceive. It is a significant fact that the advocates of a literal reign of Christ on earth have no solution but guesses for these problems. Nothing is satisfactory but to make the millennial reign figurative, and the coming of Christ and the bodily resurrection of the dead at the judgment.

On Gog and Magog see notes on Revelation 16:14-16. The reference here in verse 8 and in Revelation 19:17-18 are both made in allusion to Ezekiel 39:11-18 and show that this paragraph is parallel with Revelation 19:17-18; hence, it follows that Revelation 19:17-21 and Revelation 20:7-10 contain a complete story of the defeat of the enemies of the church that will occur after the millennium. Read the passages in connection, omitting 20:1-6, and this fact will appear evident.

9 And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city:--The figure here is that of contending armies. Satan’s forces are represented as coming from all directions to besiege the beloved city. The imagery is borrowed from Israel’s encampments, systematically planned for defense and convenience. Divested of all figures, the thought is that wicked powers will make a general attack on the church, under the influence of Satan. To make the final struggle a carnal battle against literal Jerusalem is to miss the symbolic teaching of the passage. Spiritual Jerusalem--the true church--will be scattered over the earth just as are forces of evil, and the conflict will rage everywhere.

and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them.--Fire has been a common instrument when God visited capital punishment on incorrigible sinners. Note the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:24); Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3); Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:35). Christ will come "in flaming fire" and the earth shall be burned tip in the day of the Lord’s wrath. No emblem could more appropriately indicate the sudden and complete overthrow of Satan and his servants than to say fire came down from heaven and devoured them. The defeat of the same enemies referred to in Revelation 19:21 is said to be accomplished by the sword "which came forth out of his mouth." The wicked at the judgment are to depart "into eternal fire." Symbols must be construed in harmony with plain truths literally stated.

10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; --Jesus said the fire was prepared for "the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:41.) In vision John had seen the beast and false prophet cast in this lake; now he sees the devil cast in with them. This is another proof that this paragraph is a completion of the story in Revelation 19:19-21.

and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.--This means endless duration, and agrees with the plain statements of Jesus in Matthew 25:46 and Mark 9:48-49. Whether the "fire" is to be construed literally or figuratively is immaterial; the lesson taught is intense and endless punishment. No more expressive emblem could have been used.

Commentary on Revelation 20:7-10 by Foy E. Wallace

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

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

With Judaism removed from the path of the church, and the cessation of persecution by the imperial rulers, the way was open for the expansion of Christianity, as foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:31, and envisioned by John in Revelation 11:15.

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

That declaration was in opposition to the angel--messengers of the gospel--of Matthew 24:31, gathering his elect “from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

This part of the vision was descriptive of the battle with heathenism, hence the reference to Gog and Magog (a combination of one name), the mythical ruler of heathendom, and which title was so used in similar symbolic reference, by the prophet in Ezekiel 38:1-23, prophesying the threat of heathenism to Israel from Gog and Magog. As the beast was symbolic of the Roman empire, personified in the persecuting emperors, so was the Gog and Magog personification symbolic of the spiritual forces of heathenism launched against the church in the “battle” of Revelation 20:8, in which the heathen forces of Gog and Magog were represented to be in number as the sand of the sea, which symbolized the proportions of the conflict and its challenge to the church; and Revelation 20:9 stated that they compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city. The reference to the “beloved city” here could not mean Jerusalem--the apostate harlot Jerusalem was no longer “beloved,” and was no more. This beloved city was the church, the New Jerusalem, which was compassed about with heathenism, in the midst of its idolatries, surrounded by all of its antagonism to the church.

As the beast was symbolic of the Roman empire, personified in the persecuting emperors, so was the Gog and Magog personification symbolic of the spiritual forces of heathenism launched against the church in the “battle” of Revelation 20:8, in which the heathen forces of Gog and Magog were represented to be in number as the sand of the sea, which symbolized the proportions ofthe conflict and its challenge to the church; and Revelation 20:9 stated that they compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city. The reference to the “beloved city” here could not mean Jerusalem--the apostate harlot Jerusalem was no longer “beloved,” and was no more. This beloved city was the church, the New Jerusalem, which was compassed about with heathenism, in the midst of its idolatries, surrounded by all of its antagonism to the church.

The first chapter of Romans, and the Corinthian, Ephesian, and Colossian epistles confirm this great danger to the church. It was concerning this threat of heathen influence that Paul specifically exhorted the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. The description of verse nine that the legions of the heathen ruler went upon the breath of the earth in the forays of his satanic forces against the church emphasizes the extent of the opposition to Christianity, and of its threat to the church. But as in the finale of the imperial persecutions, the church prevailed against heathenism, and fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.

This was the symbol of the consuming power of the word of God in exposing the error and evil of heathen idolatry. The apostle declared in 2 Corinthians 4:2-4 that the light of the gospel of Christ dispelled the darkness of “the god of this world.” Neither the imperial beast nor the heathen Magog could withstand the power of God. It was in reference to these same things that Paul said in Romans 16:20 : “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.”

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

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

Commentary on Revelation 20:7-10 by Walter Scott


Revelation 20:7-10. — Our chapter is apportioned into four distinct yet closely related sections. In the first we have the dragon bound for a thousand years and cast into the abyss, which is then sealed over him (Revelation 20:1-3). In the second we have the three classes specifically brought before us who reign with Christ during the millennial era, and their blessedness (Revelation 20:4-6). In the third we witness the last and universal gathering of the wicked on earth under the banner of Satan,and the final and everlasting doom of the devil in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10). In the fourth no denomination of time is used as in the previous sections. Here we have got to the end of time, to the close of human history, and the ushering in of the eternal state by the judgment of the dead at the great white throne (Revelation 20:11-15).

The third section is really a continuation of the first, which had been interrupted by the calm and tranquillizing sight of the various classes of heavenly saints who reign with Christ.

Revelation 20:7. — Now the history of Satan is resumed, (A similar interpretation in connection with the dragon is noted in Revelation 12:1-17.We have the war in Heaven (Revelation 12:7-9). Its successful issue results in the expulsion of Satan and his angels, who are cast down to the earth. This is followed by joy and rejoicing in Heaven (Revelation 12:10-12). Then the history of Satan is resumed which had been interrupted by the heavenly rejoicing (Revelation 12:13-17); verse 13 connecting itselfwith verse 9.) connecting itself with verse 3.

Revelation 20:8. — On the completion of the thousand years’ imprisonment Satan, not now spoken of as the dragon, is loosed from his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which (are) on the four corners of the earth,Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war, whose number is as the sand of the sea.” During the reign all Israel is saved (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 11:26), and their seed and seed’s seed forever (Isaiah 59:20-21). But not so the Gentiles. The populations of the earth will be greatly thinned by judgments, large numbers be saved, but many will only render feigned obedience to the authority of the reigning Monarch of the earth. Not the obedience of faith, but a compelled submission under the iron rod (Psalms 2:9), an obedience extorted by fear (see Psalms 18:44;Psalms 66:3; Psalms 81:15; in the margin of each of those texts we reach feigned obedience). Another consideration, which in itself fully accounts for the countless multitudes gathered by Satan from all parts of the earth, is that death even amongst the unsaved will not be the rule, rather the exception (for the principle see Isaiah 65:20); besides, the peoplingof the earth shall go on as ever, but Scripture does not, so far as we know, intimate that those born during the thousand years are converted, except those amongst Israel (Isaiah 59:21). The restraint upon Satan being removed, the nations, not merely individuals, but communities and peoples who had basked under the light and blessing of Messiah’s personal reign, yield themselves up to Satan. Alas! what is man? He has been tried and tested under every possible condition, in every possible way, under goodness, government, law, grace, and now under glory. The former gathering of the powers was under human leaders (Revelation 19:19). This one is on a vaster scale, and under the direct control and guidance of Satan himself.Both end in utter rout and ruin.


. — The gathering of the nations is universal in character from the four corners of the globe, and so numerous are they that the only comparison is to the sand of the seashore. This vast assemblage is metaphorically spoken of as Gog and Magog. (Gog, or Russia (Ezekiel 38:1-23; Ezekiel 39:1-29). Who is Gog? The reference is to the vast and growing power of Russia, the outcome of the warlike Sclavonic tribes of ancient origin, descended from Japheth, eldest son of Noah (Genesis 10:2). The capital cities of European and Asiatic Russia are named in the first verses of the two chapters. “Meshech” (Moscow), formerly the seat of government of European-Russia, now second city of the empire, and “Tubal” (Tobolsk) chief city of Siberia, are not only thus early designated, but Russia itself is distinctly named, and that, too, fourteen and a half centuries before she was known in history as Russia. The words in the beginning of our chapters, “The chief prince of Meshech and Tubal,” should read, “Prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal” (R. V.). Thus Russia — and were it still doubted, the naming of her chief cities surely establishes the fact — is clearly pointed out in the Scriptures of truth, a certain proof of the futurity of this remarkable prophecy. Russia was only known by name in history in the ninth christian century. It is derived from Ruric, a Norman pirate who really founded the empire. Her geographical position is also indicated in the prophecy: “And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts.” Gog is a symbolic term for the head of all the Russias. Magog, also symbolic, is his land. The Prophet of visions tells us of Persia, Ethiopia, and many other nations coming down under the leadership of Gog “like a cloud to cover the land.” The apparently defenseless state of Judea, its numerous and thriving villages, having neither walls, bars, nor gates, seem to offer an easy prey to the nations, while the world’s wealth, centralized in the Jew, will awaken the cupidity of the powers (Ezekiel 38:10-13). To plunder and destroy are the objects of this mighty confederation (see Isaiah 33:1-24, which also refers to Gog’s attack). Alas! little do they dream that Jehovah hath girded Zion with strength, and that the Keeper of Israel neither slumbers not sleeps. The Lord Jesus Christ is there, Israel’s glory and defense, and His and their enemies only reach the Judean mountains to find a grave, and their wealth to swell the treasures already gathered in Immanuel’s land (Ezekiel 39:1-29). The chosen leader of this expedition against restored Israel is Gog, the last Czar of Russia, whose name is withheld.) These terms really refer to the last Czar of Russia and his land (Ezekiel 38:1-23; Ezekiel 39:1-29). Now the last attack upon Judea is after the destruction of the western powers (Revelation 19:1-21) and the eastern enemies of Israel (Zechariah 14:1-21; Psalms 83:1-18). Gog (Russia) comes down upon the land to plunder and destroy, not knowing that the Lord has come and made salvation the sure bulwarks of His ancient earthly people (Isaiah 26:1-2). Hence the last attempt to destroy Israel at the commencement of the millennium is repeated on even a more gigantic scale at the close. The object is the same in both attacks, only the former comes from the north, the geographical location of Gog; whereas the latter is from all parts of the earth. One can thus readily understand why the terms Gog and Magog are used, so as to connect the two attempts to overthrow and destroy Israel, the one pre-millennial the other post-millennial. It will be observed that no kings or great men are named, as in the gathering under the Beast (Revelation 19:1-21), but nations simply as such.

Revelation 20:9. — And they went up on the breadth of the earth,and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. They crowd and cover the earth in its entirety. They come from north, south, east, and west. They gather under one leader, swayed by one deadly impulse of hatred, and to one center. The nations have experienced for one thousand years the beneficent rule of Christ. Satan has been for one thousand years restrained, his liberty curtailed, and yet the mad attempt is entered upon to crush the camp of the saints, and to destroy the beloved city, Jerusalem. The nations converge upon Jerusalem. Christ does not intervene. It is a matter for God to take up. The camp of the saints on earth, and the “beloved city,” a beautiful designation of Jerusalem in the future (Isaiah 60:1-22), are surrounded by the multitudinous hosts of earth. No mention is made of how Christ and His people, heavenly or earthly, regard this last mad attempt of Satan and his deceived followers. All is silent in the camp and city. The apostate nations march into the jaws of death. Their judgment is sudden, swift, overwhelming, and final. God deals with the hosts of evil, Fire came down out of Heaven and devoured them,” the Authorised Version adding “from God.” The words should be deleted on the authority of the critics, yet the sense is the same, for the judgment is from God.


Revelation 20:10. — What of the proud boast of the perfectibility of human nature in light of the closing scene in the drama of history! For the first time in the history of the race (from Genesis 3:1-24 to Revelation 20:1-15) we have an earth without a sinner upon its surface. Satan has now to be dealt with. He is allowed to see the end of all his heartless machinations. He is foiled and defeated. His doom was fixed seven thousand years before its execution (Genesis 3:15). His head is bruised by the woman’s seed. There yet remains the one final act of everlasting judgment. And the devil who deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where (are) both the Beast and the False Prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night for the ages of ages.

The dragon was first cast out of Heaven, then shut up in the abyss, now cast into the lake of fire. As the dragon he is shut up, as Satan he is loosed, and as the devil he is cast into the lake of fire. (For the signification of these titles see remarks on Revelation 12:8.) In this last war the dragon is not named. Satan, signifying adversary, is the open and declared enemy and adversary of God, of Christ, of the saints, of Israel, and in that character he stands out apart from human agents as the leader of the hosts who gather against the camp and city. But as the devil, the deceiver and tempter of men, he is cast into everlasting torment.

It is observable, too, that in the narrative the Seer changes his standpoint. In Revelation 20:7 he looks on to the end of the thousand years, whereas in Revelation 20:9 he adopts the historical tense. In the former he is the prophet; in the latter he is the historian. Need we add that the whole vision is yet future. We refer to the different points of view as John beheld them and narrates them.

Revelation 20:10Cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. A lake supposes solid land on either side. “Fire and brimstone” are figures of inexpressible torment (see Revelation 14:10; Isaiah 30:33).

Revelation 20:10The Beast and the False Prophet are already there. They were consigned to their most awful doom at the commencement of the millennial reign, and they are found in it at its close. What a pertinent and striking illustration of the Lord’s words in Mark 9:49, “Every one shall be salted with fire.” Salt is preservative. Here are two men who have been salted with fire, not consumed, but preserved in torment by torment, and that for a thousand years. We do not contend for actual literal flames, for the devil is a spirit (see also Luke 16:23-24). Fire consumes natural objects. But we do most strongly insist upon that which the figures are meant to teach, “outer darkness,” “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” “a never dying worm and quenchless fire,” “fire and brimstone,” etc. The truth is that in the lake of fire mental agony and corporeal suffering are united and endured in degree proportioned to the guilt of those who have sinned. The punishment is in exact measure to the sin, but all is everlasting or eternal.

Revelation 20:10They shall be tormented day and night for the ages of ages. The plural pronoun they refers to the devil, the Beast, and the False Prophet. “Day and night” shows that the torment is without intermission, unceasing. “For the ages of ages” signifies here and in Revelation 14:11 eternity in its full and proper meaning — never-ending existence.

Commentary on Revelation 20:7-10 by E.M. Zerr

Revelation 20:7. This is a repetition of Revelation 20:3. See Revelation 20:3.

Revelation 20:8. The nations here are the same as in Revelation 20:3 as to the meaning of the word. But the identical groups of men who had been deceived by Satan before the Reformation would not be available to him in the same manner, for they still have the Bible in their own languages, and will always know better than to surrender their rights as nations with their kings again. But having found by experience the great advantage of working through the various headquarters, so as to effect a broad-scale opposition to the truth, he determined to direct his efforts along that line. Of course his objective is the destruction of the Bible or the faith of the people in it. That is why this great and long conflict is called Armageddon in chapter 16:16, for one of the terms in Thayer’s definition of the word is "destruction." Satan’s strategy in this war was to use any means he could command that would destory men’s faith in the Book. Gog and Magog were ancient peoples and countries that were numerous, savage and at enmity with civilization. The words are used symbolically here to indicate the kind of forces and means that Satan would use in his war against the Bible. In the note referred to at the beginning of this chapter, it is shown that a phase of Satan’s public attacks upon the Bible is in the form of evolution, seeing that it is taught in the public schools, also be chartered and endorsed by states and educational headquarters. The same objective is now being attempted in the form of communism. In proportion as a man believes in this doctrine he will not believe in the Bible and Satan knows it. That is why he is pressing its tenets upon the people through every channel possible. It accounts for the number of communists among the school teachers of our free school system. Also for the presence of communists and their sympathizers in the three branches of our government; the legislative, executive and judicial. I am sometimes asked if I believe the present conflict with Russia and her satellites was predicted. My answer is yes as the whole picture is considered. Communism is just the present objective in the war, the conflict being either for or against it. In that sense it was predicted for it is a continuation of the battle (war) of Armageddon, which was begun after Satan was loosed and is destined to continue until Christ comes. As in most other wars, there are spies and sympathizers who pretend to be on the right side, but whose heart is in favor of theenemy. Such traitors either deny being communists or even refuse to say whether they are or not. We know that when a man refuses to answer questions on ’this subject when propounded by a proper person, that person is a communist at heart and should be regarded as one of Satan’s soldiers in the war of Armageddon.

Revelation 20:9. The pronoun they stands for the hostile forces of Satan symbolically mustered from the regions of Gog and Magog. This is the army of Satan that is described in the preceding paragraph. They will fight under his directions with the object of destroying men’s faith in the Bible. The apostate church of Rome taught that the religious conduct of men should be regulated according to the pope and his college of cardinals. The teaching of Christ is that men’s lives should be regulated by the Bible (1 Peter 4:11; 1 John 1:7), that the sole institution for making that Book known is the church (Ephesians 3:10 Ephesians 3:21; 1 Timothy 3:15). Hence the army of Satan was to compass the camp of the saints. This means the church when considered as a group of individuals, and the beloved city means the church if spiritual Jerusalem is used as a symbol. So here is where the issue is joined in this great battle of Armageddon. The church of Christ is on one side, and everything else is on the other in all controversies that involve moral and religious interests, and where belief in or opposition to the Bible is at stake. The first two thirds of this brief verse covers the entire period of the war of Armageddon, beginning when Satan was loosed and extending to the coming of Christ. The last sentence of the verse marks the end of the war. Not that it tells of the date (no passage does), but it names the event that will bring the conflict to a close, namely, the consuming fire out of heaven. We are told in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 that the pope will be destroyed at the coming of Christ. It is very fitting that the war of Armageddon should be destroyed at the same time, since the pope and Satan have been allies arrayed against the forces of Christ for centuries. And with this verse the prophetic symbols of the book of Revelation bring us to the judgment day for the final showing. At various places in our study we have been brought to that event, then taken back to some earlier period and started all over again. But the rest of the chapter will describe the events on the day of judgment and not go back.

Revelation 20:10. Devil that deceived them refers to the vast hordes who comprised the army of Satan. This verse says nothing about the fate of the deceived ones; that will be shown later. This is the lake of fire and brimstone that is mentioned in Revelation 21:8. Tormented day and night is figurative as to the parts of the time for there will be no recurrence of day and night literally. The expression is used to give emphasis to the literal part of the sentence, namely, for ever and ever. In other words there will be no "breathing spell" or even brief intermission for the sake of relief; it will be continuous and endless.

Commentary on Revelation 20:7-10 by Burton Coffman

Revelation 20:7

And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,

Shall be loosed ... We agree with those commentators who believe that the divine goal of redemption will be fully achieved, but that very near the end, faith shall practically vanish from the earth. "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Just as the old Israel fell away from God and officially and finally rejected even the Messiah himself, their apostasy will be fulfilled in the great antitype of the church, the new Israel, which will apparently do exactly the same thing. "When the final judgment is at hand, the powers of evil will again assemble and gather force."[42] The loosing of Satan will occur at the time when more and more people have chosen wickedness and the true faith shall virtually have disappeared. With the relative number of the righteous greatly diminished, Satan’s powers over people will be vastly multiplied; and it appears from this that very near the end of time Satan will find himself with almost a free hand to work his will. If this should be the case, the situation would almost certainly issue in the destruction of humanity. It could be that, in this final outburst of evil, God will permit the human race to find out through terminal experience just what serving the devil really means. See the somewhat lengthy discussion of this in "The Mystery of Redemption," pp. 121-143, "When the final judgment is nigh, the power of evil will gather force again."[43]

[42] Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 116.

[43] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 1089.

Revelation 20:8

and shall come forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.

And shall come forth to deceive the nations ... At the time indicated here, Satan will do exactly what he did in the pre-Christian world, that is, organize all mankind into one vast, sprawling, interlocking network of evil. This shows that Satan’s power to deceive was not altered by his imprisonment and limitation. Wherever and whenever people are willing to work the works of wickedness, Satan will promote and organize their activities. It was the word of God which broke his powerful stranglehold upon the ancient world; and when people turn away from the word of God, their old nemesis will again seize the whole world. Something resembling that terrible eventuality seems to be indicated here.

Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war ... These names and symbols of all the enemies of God’s people, as their usage in Ezekiel surely indicates, do not represent any particular earthly states, but all the forces of wickedness. See Ezekiel 35-40. "Gog and Magog, in Jewish thought, carne to stand for everything that is against God."[44]

Together to the war ... This final "war" against God is exactly the parallel of the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16), another example of the parallelism in this prophecy, both being descriptions of the end, rather, times immediately prior to the final judgment. Earle pointed out that certain millennialists distinguish between these accounts, apply one before, the other after, the millennium; but they are parallel accounts of but one event. As Wilcock noted, "The invitation to the birds (Revelation 19:17) is also thought to be before the millennium; but in Ezekiel 39:17 ff, from whence the imagery is taken, their invitation was to "pick the bones’ of Gog."[45] Again, this indicates parallelism in these recapitulations.

Satan will remain "completely bound," as far as the righteous are concerned, even to the very end;’ but, with the near disappearance of righteousness from the earth as the end approaches, there will nevertheless be, as far as the whole world is concerned, an effective "loosing of Satan." This is indicated in the next verse.

The number of whom is as the sand of the sea ... At the time here indicated, the righteous of earth are an insignificant number; but the hosts of evil will be innumerable. But when Satan is loosed, the same thing will happen that always happens when Satan has a free hand. When the demons were permitted to enter the swine, remember what happened? A similar thing shall happen with humanity when Satan has a free hand. "Then shall come the end" (Matthew 24:14).

After the gospel work among the nations has been done, after the last soul that it can save has been saved, then the final moment has arrived for the settlement with all the monstrous anti-Christian opposition to God.[46]

[44] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 194.

[45] Michael Wilcock, op. cit., p. 191.

[46] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 592.

Revelation 20:9

And they went up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them.

And they went up over the breadth of the earth ... All of the world will be swallowed up by the empire of evil; and their vicious hatred of the truth and of Christ will not rest as long as any souls, no matter how few, are true believers in Christ and his holy religion. Therefore, they will move to destroy utterly even the remnant of believers left. That is the picture when the judgment falls.

And encompassed the camp of the saints about ... This has no reference whatever to some locale where Christians will be encamped, as in an army, and barricaded against evil. No! It just means that the devil will finally take it in hand to destroy, utterly and finally, the last vestiges of truth and righteousness upon the earth. Fire from heaven will be God’s answer to that decision on the part of Satan. Ladd, and many others, envision the literal Jerusalem as the earthly scene of this event;[47] but there is no basis in the bible for such a notion.

And the beloved city ... This symbolizes the true church of God, certainly not literal Jerusalem which crucified Christ and both earned and received the outpouring of the wrath of God upon her as a consequence. This racial thing about literal Jews that gets into millennial calculations is as unchristian and unreasonable as any nonsense ever advocated. Long ago, God thundered the edict from heaven that there is "NO DISTINCTION" between Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:22; Romans 10:12), and the Christian is gullible indeed who allows himself to accept any theory of "distinction" regarding Jews, Gentiles, or any other races of mankind. It is just as Scriptural to suppose that God has separate plans for the Albanians, the Laps, the North American Indians, or the Japanese, as it is to imagine that racial Jews shall enter in any special manner into God’s plans for the future.

And fire came down from heaven and devoured them ... Not much of a "war" was it? God spake, and it was done. God settled the full account with evil in a single fiery blast.


[47] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 270.

Revelation 20:10

And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

And the devil ... was cast into the lake of fire ... This is the hell of which Jesus so often spoke, and concerning which he revealed it is prepared, not for man, but for Satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Alas, men also shall suffer therein, but God never intended that it should be so. Christ spread wide his bleeding hands upon the Cross in order to prevent any man from ever suffering the punishment of the damned; but people who choose to ignore this must assume the full responsibility for the consequence of their failure.

Revelation has already clearly recounted how the beast and the false prophet were destroyed in the same lake of fire, but we are not at liberty to suppose these are three separate events. "The fact that John saw the beast destroyed before he saw Satan bound has nothing to do with the order in which these things actually happen."[48] It is clear enough that the final judgment is the occasion when all of these things will occur. Read Matthew 25:31-46, which is the best possible commentary on what the apostle wrote here.

Shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever ... Here is the doctrine of endless punishment, a teaching visible throughout the New Testament. "Whether the fire is construed literally or figuratively is immaterial: the lesson taught is intense and endless punishment; and no more impressive emblem could have been used."[49] This clause positively identifies this scene as the final judgment, an event already depicted six times previously in this prophecy. See chapter introduction for a list of these.

Beginning back at Revelation 12:1, we witnessed in the vision the appearance of the dragon (Satan), the sea-beast (perverted government), and the land-beast (perverted religion); and then there came successive judgments in which these three were destroyed in reverse order, thus bringing to an end the period of the Christian age. All evil will ultimately fall before the will of God.

All that remains now is, "to show forth the surpassing glory of the saints in their eternal home, and thus to bring the book to a conclusion. This, therefore, is the theme of the remaining two chapters."[50]

[48] Michael Wilcock, op. cit., p. 190.

[49] John T. Hinds, op. cit., p. 293.

[50] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 474.

Commentary on Revelation 20:7-10 by Manly Luscombe

7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison…Admittedly, this is a difficult verse to understand. It will help if we understand that the limitation of Satan is the preaching of the gospel. Satan is limited because the gospel is having an influence on the lives of men. Satan will be released (not bound or restricted) at some point. It would appear that there will come a time when the gospel is no longer reaching man. Perhaps man is hardened. Again, I quote Woodruff. “The only logical meaning to this is that all people who will ever become obedient to the gospel will have done so.” (1, 371). Here is the scary truth: There will come a time when men will not hear the gospel and be inclined to obey it. The gospel will not spread. As fewer and fewer people are willing to study and obey the gospel, more and more will be living lives of rebellion and sin. Think about the words of Jesus, “As it was in the days of Noah …” (Matthew 24:37)

8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. Where the gospel does NOT go, Satan will be given greater room to roam. He will go to the four corners of the earth. The four directions (North, South, East, West) are used to describe the complete and total spread of Satan’s influence. This verse describes a time when Satan will have far reaching power and influence because the gospel has been stopped. The world will become more wicked and rebellious. This will be a world that totally rejects God and His church. Many theories have come out of the woodwork to find two modern nations that represent Gog and Magog. These terms represent those who oppose God. (Ezekiel 38:1-23; Ezekiel 39:1-29). The numbers of people who have rebelled against God and rejected the gospel are like the sand of the sea. They are beyond number.

9 They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. Sin will literally take over the world. The entire world will be plunged into wickedness. The faithful Christians will be surrounded as if under siege. When you think that you are all alone, that no one else is faithful to God - Do not give up. This is no time to surrender. Victory is just around the corner. God will win the battle. Fire from heaven will devour the wicked world.

10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. This is the final defeat. Satan has lost his great harlot, Babylon. He has lost his persecuting governments. He has lost his false religions. He saw the world become so wicked that he was thinking he was winning. Out of the jaws of victory, God gives Satan his final and ultimate defeat. Satan is thrown into the same lake of fire and brimstone as his generals. They are now in torment. The torment is continual, without rest, day and night, forever and ever.

Verses 11-15

Rev 20:11-15


Revelation 20:11-15

11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it,----In this paragraph John describes the great judgment scene, closing with the final disposition to be made of the wicked. The word "throne" means authority to exercise power of some kind. It may indicate either reign or judgment; here the latter is certainly indicated. This is the same throne mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 25:31 in describing the final judgment; it is there called the "throne of his glory." From the language there we know it will be Jesus himself who will sit upon the judgment throne. it is called the judgment seat of God in Romans 14:10, and the judgment seat of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:10. This is not a contradiction, for God and Christ are one in the purpose of saving men. Then the Father bath committed judgment to the Son (John 5:22), and Christ’s judgment is, therefore, the judgment of the Father also.

from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.--The disappearing of the heaven and the earth is what John saw in the picture; and their disappearance was final. Whether this is to be understood symbolically to indicate a complete change of religious systems or the final change in the material world, as described in 2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:10-12, is an immaterial matter; for the judgment will bring a radical change in both. The old system in both will disappear forever--their purposes will have been accomplished.

12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; --Jesus said there would be gathered before him all nations. In the emblem John sees the scenes enacted as predicted. "The great and the small" is a general expression that includes all, both evil and good. This is in perfect agreement with plain statements in nonfigurative language. Jesus said "all nations" would appear before his throne; Paul says we shall "all" stand before the judgment seat; and that "each one" may receive the things done in the body. This makes it universal

and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life:--Both Old and New Testaments use the figure of man’s name and deeds being recorded in a book. The following passages give clear proof of that fact: Exodus 32:32; Malachi 3:16; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 18:8; Revelation 21:27. The thought is that God’s infinite memory will enable him to reward properly both bad and good just as if a written record had been kept. His knowledge of men’s acts is just as accurate as a perfect writing. Some commentators interpret the "books" to mean the record God keeps of men’s conduct, and the "books of life" to be the roll or record of the names of the righteous. But since we are to be judged by the words of Jesus (John 12:48), it seems more probable that one of the books, at least, should represent the Bible which contains the law by which mankind shall be judged. The other two could be the record of man’s deeds and a register of the names of the saved. Whatever distinction we make in the application of the books, it is certain that men are to be judged in harmony with God’s law and according to their deeds. A failure to have our names on God’s record, or to have them rubbed out because of our sins, will be fatal to us. That is the important thing to remember.

and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works.--This is a plain statement of what is already implied in the text. The "dead" is an unlimited term that means all the dead, unless the context or language limits it to some special class of the dead. The language here has no such limitation, but on the other hand the implied contrast between the saved and lost runs through the entire paragraph. Why say "according to their works" if only the wicked dead were in view? In that case it would have been necessary only to say that the dead were raised to be punished.

13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them:--The Bible definitely shows that it is the body that dies, in the common use of the word die; death can be affirmed of the soul or spirit only in a moral or figurative sense. That leaves the soul alive in the natural sense of the term "live." James says "the body apart from the spirit is dead" (James 2:26), but no inspired writer anywhere says the spirit apart from the body is dead. Luke 16:22-25 and Acts 2:27 are final proofs that the souls in the Hadean world are not dead in the sense that the body is dead. Since the judgment is the door through which the final state is entered, of course a resurrection must precede. Hence, Hades must give up all souls, and the tombs be opened for the resurrection of bodies. But as the sea has claimed a large share of dead bodies, it must give up those in it. The resurrection must be complete and final. The language here forces the word "sea" to have its literal meaning; the word "earth" is implied in the resurrection of those buried in tombs.

and they were judged every man according to their works, --Once more the universal nature of the resurrection is indicated by the expression "every man." Doubtless repeated for emphasis.

14 And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire.--The language means that both death and Hades will cease to exist at the judgment. The abolishment of death will render it impossible to have dead bodies for tombs in either earth or sea. If there will be no bodies for the tombs, there will be no disembodied spirits for Hades. No longer needed, naturally they will cease to exist. Personified, as if human beings, their final end is represented as in the lake of fire, called the second death. This is a forceful way of saying they are eternally banished, and the saved will no longer have reason to fear what does not exist.

15 And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.--Returning to the destiny of men, John says anyone not written in God’s book will be cast into the lake of fire. While this is the last act in the career of the wicked, the implication is evident that those whose names are in the book of life will escape the second death. This event, of course, is still future, yet John said "was" cast into the lake of fire. As John was permitted to see the judgment in a pictorial representation, the whole matter appeared done; hence, symbolically it was finished, but in reality was then, and yet is, future. This judgment scene pictures what Jesus revealed would take place when he comes again. (Matthew 25:31-46.)

At this point the curtain drops upon the earthly drama in which mankind has played its several parts. The acts will not be repeated; the stage and all furnishings will give place to that which will be suitable to the eternal nature of man in his final abode. The curtain will never rise again upon the lost; their doom is left to our imagination from the pictures already drawn. Not so with the redeemed; for with the most entrancing visions and the sweetest and most alluring promises John lays before his readers Revelation’s last words concerning the mansions Jesus has gone to prepare for his own

Commentary on Revelation 20:11-15 by Foy E. Wallace

(5) The tribunal of the great white throne.

The progress of the apocalypse from the opening vision of chapter four surrounded Christ, the Rider and Conqueror; and the church, his Bride; in conflict with multiple opposing powers. But in the scene of Revelation 20:11-15 the visions turned to the judgment throne of God, as “the dead both small and great stand before God,”

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

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

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

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

The description of the great white throne adds awe to the vision, as it also symbolized the character of pure and unmingled justice from the magnificent seat of judgment dispensed by the righteous Judge of the small and great. The Psalmist put it to verse in Psalms 89:14 : “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.” From before the face of God the earth and the heaven fled away: and there was found no place for them. This was not flight from one locality to another--the phrase fled away indicated complete disappearance.

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

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

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

These dead were the class of Revelation 20:5, and of Revelation 19:18. They were the “rest of the dead,” the persecutors of the church, small and great--from the lowest to the highest officials of the imperial beast--all of them together stood before the tribunal of retribution. Comparison again with Isaiah’s vision of the demise of the wicked lords who had exercised evil dominion over Israel in Isaiah 26:13-14 will lend force to this application of the judgment throne vision. These dead were held in contrast with the blessed of verse six, and there was no blessing for any of these dead, small and great--they stood before the throne of the great God, as culprits called to account for their crimes.

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

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

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

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

The symbolism continued, the reference was not to the literal sea nor to physical death. Although the principles may be applied generally, the language belongs visionally to this apocalypse, and has direct reference to the judgment of the persecuting rulers and their subjects. The use of the word sea applied to the heathen society, consistent with the employment of the symbol elsewhere in the apocalypse; as mentioned in the classification of symbols in the first chapter. There was no reference to the bodily resurrection of the dead at the general judgment. This surrender by the sea of its dead was as figurative as the first resurrection of Revelation 20:6. The realm of death and hell (hades) in like figure were also said to deliver up the dead which were in them.

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

In the same symbolism that the first resurrection of Revelation 20:6 was described as a resurrection to a state of victory--the resurrection of a cause; the “rest of the dead” were envisioned in a resurrection of retribution--of judgment on the evil rulers and their wicked subjects who had persecuted the cause of the Lamb of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary of Revelation 20:11-15 by Walter Scott



Revelation 20:11. — And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the Heaven fled, and place was not found for them. This verse constitutes a distinct vision of itself. The words “I saw” occur again in Revelation 20:12. There are two separate visions: first, the throne and the Judge; second, the dead and their judgment. The millennium opens and closes each with an act of sessional judgment, and in both the Lord in Person is the Judge. The living are the subjects in the former case; the dead are on their trial in the latter. The throne of glory set up in Matthew 25:31 is totally distinct from the great white throne of our chapter. The times of the respective judgments: the one before, and the other after the millennial reign; the parties judged, the living in the one case, the dead in the other; nations, too, in the former; individuals in the latter; these and other essential differences between the two thrones mark them off as fundamentally distinct. It is impossible to regard them as one and the same.

There are three great thrones: (1) in Heaven (Revelation 4:2),from whence the universe is governed; (2) on earth (Matthew 25:31), for the judgment of the nations in respect to their treatment of the preachers of the Gospel of the kingdom (vv. 40-45); (3) the great white throne, for the judgment of the dead (Revelation 20:11).

Revelation 20:11. — “A great white throne.” (Not the throne of the Sovereign, but that of the Judge, not regal but judicial. Neither is it permanently set up, but temporally, and for a special purpose.) There is but one such. We are about to view the greatest as size ever held. The august dignity of the Judge, the greatness of the occasion, the vastness of the scene, and the eternal consequences involved fitly demand the epithet great. The judgment is not governmental, but is one according to the nature of God Himself, Who is light, and that gives its own true and proper character to the throne. Greatness and purity characterize it.

Revelation 20:11. — Him that sat on it. Here the pronoun alone is used; the name of the Judge is withheld. But we learn from the Lord Himself who it is that judges. “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22); and, further, that the Son executes His own judgment (v. 27). It is the Lord Jesus Christ, the despised Nazarene and crucified Lord, “who shall judge the quick and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1). The quick, or living, Hehas already judged (Matthew 25:31). Now He is about to judge the dead. The Son of Man it is Who sits on the throne. We gather that the name is withheld because the judgment and attendant circumstances are in moral keeping with the divine nature, not so prominently with His manhood as the title Son of Man would suggest.

Revelation 20:11From whose face the earth and the Heaven fled. One could readily imagine that the present scene, so marred and wrecked, would at once disappear before the glory and majesty of such a One, but that is not what is seen here. It is the earth and the Heaven constituted by the Lord Himself as spheres to display His glory and righteousness that cannot abide the glory of His face. The millennial scene, both in its higher and lower departments, is at the best an imperfect condition. “The earth and Heaven fled” — not passed out of existence, not annihilated. The next clause carefully guards against any such unscriptural deduction — “place was not found for them.” It does not intimate the complete disappearance of the millennial earth and Heaven. Consequent upon the removal of these, new heavens and a new earth fitted, furnished, and constituted for eternity take their place — are made, not created (Making supposes pre-existing material. Matter has been created once. Creation is the production of material, or matter, which never before existed. Isaiah 65:17-18 is millennial, and intimates a complete moral change.) (Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13). Between the passing away of the millennial scene and the introduction of the eternal worlds, material in both cases, the great white throne is set up. (The removal of the present material heavens and earth, as beheld by the Seer and foretold by Peter (2 Peter 3:10), is in order that the “new Heaven and new earth” may take their place (Revelation 21:1). But the question has been raised: What about the millennial saints on earth? How will they be preserved during the burning and dissolving of which Peter speaks? On this Scripture is silent. Without doubt God will care for and preserve His own during the great change. The bodies of the saints on earth will be constituted for the new conditions of life, for an earth destined never to pass away. Yet the everlasting distinction will be observed between the heavenly and earthly peoples, however close the connection may be.) This consideration imparts profound solemnity to the scene before us. For the throne is not set on the earth, nor in relation to its dispensations and times. It is a scene outside human history entirely. We have passed out of time into eternity. The judgment therefore of the throne is final, and in its very nature eternal. We are in God’s eternity. There can be no measures of time nor limitations bounded by the globe, for that by which all is measured and limited has passed away. The judgment is of persons in their individual relation to God, and is consequently final and eternal.


Revelation 20:12. — And I saw the dead, the great and the small,standing before the throne (R.V.). A new vision. The term dead here has a twofold signification. First, it refers to those who had actually died, and only such are viewed in the passage. Second, all in this judgment are spiritually dead. John sees them as raised not in a separate state. Verse 13 states facts prior to verse 12, and accounts for the dead standing before the throne. There is a resurrection of the just and of the unjust (Acts 24:15). But the resurrection of the former is special, both as to time and character. There is really no ground for the prevalent notion of a general resurrection and a general judgment. The former is negated by the statement in Revelation 20:5, “The rest of the dead did not live till the thousand years had been completed.” A general judgment is as destitute of divine authority as that of a common resurrection, for here the dead alone are judged, whilst in Matthew 25:1-46 and Revelation 19:1-21 the living only are in view a thousand years before.

Revelation 20:12The great and the small. This Biblical phrase, of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament, is found five times in the Apocalypse (Revelation 11:18; Revelation 13:16;Revelation 19:5; Revelation 19:18; Revelation 20:12). In the first four of these references the order of the words is reversed from that in our text: “small and great.” The exception is due to the greatness and majesty of the occasion. The article before the adjectives would intimate that special classes of the great and the small are there, from all ranks of men in the Church and inthe world. The highest and most responsible, down to the least, are congregated and gathered round the throne.

Revelation 20:12 — “Standing before the throne.” How real and present the vision was to the Seer! On what do they stand? Not on earth, for that has disappeared. The dead are maintained before the throne of omnipotent power. The throne beheld by the grandest of the prophets (Isaiah 6:1-13) had an altar of sacrifice beside it; hence the righteous claim of the throne was met and answered by the altar. The throne in the innermost room of the tabernacle of old had blood — the witness of death — sprinkled upon it. But the throne before us is great and white, and there is neither altar nor blood. Oh, the horror, the despair, the agony of standing in one’s sins, searched by the blaze of divine light! Caves, rocks, caverns, there are none in which the guilty soul may hide, for these have fled, and each sinner is now face to face with God, from Whom there is no escape and no shelter.


Revelation 20:12And books were opened, and another book was opened, which is (that) of life. And the dead were judged out of the things written in the books, according to their works. “Books were opened.” Every responsible soul on earth has his life and history written above. Nothing is forgotten, nothing is too trivial, all are unerringly set down in the records of God. Infants and idiots are alone excepted. The ground of judgment is that of works, of deeds. Men are responsible for what they have done, not for what they are as born into the world. The existence of an evil nature in each one of the human race (Psalms 51:5) is not the ground of judgment, and hence infants and irresponsible persons are not contemplated, and do not come in for judgment at all. We cannot help, nor are we responsible for, the existence of the evil nature in us, but we are responsible for its activity. The root in you you cannot help, but the fruit you can, and for this provision has been made in the sacrifice of Christ. Judgment is according to “because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6).

Literal books, or rolls, are, of course, out of question. Their awful signification is enough to appall the stoutest heart, and make the most hardened conscience quail. The ungodly dead shall be confronted withal they have thought, done, and said, from the moment of responsibility till its close. If judgment proceeds on the ground of works there can be but one result, one issue of the fair and impartial trial: condemnation, final and eternal. Twice it is said that the judgment is “according to their works.” Memory, too, will be stirred in that awful moment, and add its solemn Amen, as the record of each one’s life is read over amidst the profoundest silence and awe inspired by such a scene.

But the book of life is next opened and carefully scanned, with the result that not one name of the ungodly is found in its pages. Their names might have been written in that book, but mercy was despised, grace rejected, and now judgment and its execution must take their course. It is the book of life referred to in Revelation 13:8 and Revelation 17:8, but not that of Revelation 3:5. This latter is the book of Christian profession, true and false; the former is the record of all true believers.


Revelation 20:13. — And the sea gave up the dead which (were)in it, and death and hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, each according to their works. Literally, the sea, “the sepulchre of buried nations,” shall have to yield up its dead. Thevoice of the Son of God, for all the dead shall hear it (John 5:28; John 5:29), will fathom the lowest depths of the deepest sea, and the angry billows and waves shall answer to the voice of their Creator, and yield up their dead, every one. Death, too, which claimed the body, and hades the soul — the Lord has the keys of both — shall give up their dead, every one. The emperor and peasant, the high and low, the rich and poor, have been humbled to one dead level. Now all come forth at that voice of irresistible power and majesty, and each one is judged “according to their works.”


Revelation 20:14. — And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death (even), the lake of fire. All do not enter into death and hades. It is appointed unto “men once to die” (Hebrews 9:27), not unto all men, as the text is generally, but erroneously, read. Enoch and Elijah were caught up, and those alive at the Coming shall be changed, they will not die. When the first resurrection is completed, then death and hades are done with for saints, their work in holding respectively the body and soul is at an end. But they still continue to hold the ungodly dead in their terrible grip. Strong they are, but Christ is their Master (Revelation 1:18). Now that their work is over they are cast into the lake of fire; they were brought into existence, so to speak, by sin, and as the lake of fire is the eternal depository of all contrary to God as light and love they are cast into it.

“This is the second death,” that is, the lake of fire. The bodies of the wicked will be constituted to last through eternal ages; they will never die, but eternally exist in the second death. It is not extinction of existence, not annihilation, but it is torment during the lifetime of the Almighty and Eternal God. Nor will there be apportioned to each the same amount, measure, and degree of punishment. The place is common to all, but “many stripes” and few stripes” (Luke 12:47-48) indicate the infliction of various degreesof punishment.


Revelation 20:15. — And if any one was not found written in the book of life he was cast into the lake of fire. Such then is the eternal doom of the wicked. The dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet, and now all the unbelieving from the days of Cain find themselves in one horror of horrors, in one place where memory will give point and sting to the agony of eternal separation from God, from light and happiness. May God solemnize our spirits as we ponder these realities soon to be the awful lot and portion of many.

Commentary on Revelation 20:11-15 by E.M. Zerr

Revelation 20:11. Great white throne signifiespurity and justice. From whose face . . . fled away . . . no place for them. This agrees with the next chapter that will tell us of the new heaven and earth.

Revelation 20:12. Small and great. In God’s eyes there are no "big I and little you," so the phrase is used only to denote that all human beings will be brought before the judgment. This conclusion also agrees with the literal statements of scripture in other passages (2 Corinthians 5:10). Books occurs twice in this verse and it is stated that the judgment will be rendered according to the works that are written in the books. Hence the books means God’s books of remembrance. (See Psalms 56:8; Malachi 3:16.) God does not literally need the mechanical use of books, but the words are used symbolically to impress us with the truth that none of the things we do will escape His knowledge. The other book is described as the book of life. It is referred to in the last verse as containing the names of the faithful servants of the Lord. This same thought is expressed in chapter 21:27; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3. Upon the basis of this information we may conclude that the books were the records of men’s actions, and the book of life contained a list of those whose conduct had caused their names to be written in this book, and whose continued good deeds had prevented their names from being blotted out (Revelation 3:5).

Revelation 20:13. The preceding verse makes a general statement of the persons to be summoned before the judgment. "Small and great" would virtually include all human beings that ever lived. The present verse gives particulars, doubtless to impress us with the completeness of the resurrection of all persons regardless of where their bodies and spirits had been, even including the sea with its millions of ravenous creatures to feed upon the bodies of the dead. Death refers to the dead bodies and hell (from HADES), is the place where the spirits had been. Both will be reunited and brought before the judgment.

Revelation 20:14. Death (of the body) and hell (HADES), will not be needed any longer, hence they will be consigned to the lake of fire. Not all men, of course, but the ones who will be designated in the next verse.

Revelation 20:15. This explains who is meant in the preceding verse to be cast into the lake of fire. In order to avoid such a doom it behooves us all to get our names written in the book of life, then live so that they will not be blotted out.

Sermon on Revelation 20:1-15

The Milennial Kingdom

Brent Kercheville

Revelation 19 concluded with the judgment of the great prostitute (Revelation 19:2), the beast (Revelation 19:20), and the false prophet (Revelation 19:20). Rome and her empire, along with all the rulers and provinces associated with the empire, have been brought under judgment. Revelation 20 reveals what happens next.

The Dragon and The Abyss (Revelation 20:1-3)

John sees an angel coming down from heaven. In his hand is the key to the abyss (bottomless pit) and a great chain. We read about the abyss in Revelation 9:1 where we saw Abaddon/Apollyon (Satan) open the abyss and release locusts. Those locusts represented Satan unleashing the Roman Empire as the destroyer of the Jewish nation. The angel seizes the dragon and binds him for 1000 years. We are reminded that the dragon is Satan. Satan is thrown into the abyss, shut it, and sealed it for the 1000 years. It is important to read the meaning of this binding. The binding means that Satan “might not deceive the nations any longer.” It is important to consider that the angel does not say that Satan is no longer deceiving people. Satan is the great deceiver and will continue to tempt people to sin until Christ returns (1 Peter 5:8). The angel is pointing to something different when we are told that Satan can no longer deceive the nations. What has Satan been doing in the book of Revelation that he will no longer be able to do for the 1000 years? It seems evident from our study that the dragon has lifted up a world power to make war on those who follow Jesus (Revelation 12:17) and deceive the world to worship it rather than God (Revelation 13:13-15). This is what the dragon has been causing in the second half of the book of Revelation. As Daniel prophesied in Daniel 2:44 the kingdoms of the earth have been brought to an end by the kingdom of God that shall never be destroyed. The deception of the nations by the dragon will be expanded on toward the end of this chapter.

We also need to examine the 1000 year period. As we have noted throughout our study, we are taking these numbers as symbols unless something in the text demands otherwise. There is nothing here to suggest that the 1000 years are a literal 1000 years. Further, the 1000 years seems to be in contrast to what will happen after the 1000 years. Satan will be released “for a little while.” Satan is going to be sealed in the abyss for a significant duration of time while his release will be for a very short amount of time. We will be given more details about the 1000 years in the next few verses.

New Testament scholar, G.K. Beale argues for the 1000 years to be understood figuratively. “The events in Revelation 20:1-3 and Revelation 20:4-6 occur during the same period, which is referred to as ‘1000 years.’ That this is not a literal chronological number is apparent from: (1) the consistently figurative use of numbers elsewhere in the book, (2) the figurative nature of much of the immediate context (‘chain,’ ‘abyss,’ ‘dragon,’ ‘serpent,’ ‘locked,’ ‘sealed,’ ‘beast’), (3) the predominantly figurative tone of the entire book (so Revelation 1:1), (4) the figurative use of ‘1000’ in the O.T. and (5) the use in Jewish and early Christian writings of ‘1000’ years as a figure for the eternal blessing of the redeemed. The overall analysis of Revelation 20:1-6 supports a figurative meaning. 1000 is the third power of ten, and if figurative here, might represent a long era and, at least, would signify an ideal epoch” (Beale, New International Greek New Testament, 995).

Reigning With Christ (Revelation 20:4-6)

John sees thrones and those seated on the thrones who were given authority to judge. We will speak more about this image in a moment. John sees the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and the word of God. These are the ones who had not received the mark of the beast and did not worship the image of the beast. These are also the souls that we saw under the altar in Revelation 6:9. Remember that the souls under the altar were told that more servants of God would be killed before their blood was avenged (Revelation 6:11). We have seen that truth occur as those who did not worship the beast are also killed. Their victory is again depicted as “they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Judicial vindication occurs on behalf of the slain servants of God. They are reigning with Christ.

It does not seem to fit that this is speaking about a bodily resurrection. Rather, a contrast is being drawn. The saints were previously seen as under the altar. They are killed for the cause of Christ either by their testimony of Jesus or for not worshiping the beast. They are now pictured as seated on thrones and reigning with Christ. I think this makes the most sense of who is seated on these thrones. Osborne points out that Revelation 20:4 could be seen as epexegetical, “And I saw thrones and those sitting on them…namely, the souls” (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 704). The description in the rest of Revelation 20:4 is John’s explanation as to who are those seated on thrones. Further, there are places in scriptures where resurrection is not speaking about a bodily resurrection. In Ezekiel 37:12-14 we see resurrection describing the restoration of the nation. In Isaiah 26:19 the prophet says, “Your dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” Isaiah was not prophesying that those killed in the Babylonian invasion would experience a bodily resurrection. Rather, this is an image of victorious resurrection. Life will be given to the true people of God. It is an Old Testament picture of triumph over the world nations. They are the victorious saints who have overcome. Yes, they died, but they are alive and are not lost. They share in the victory and are not permanently dead. Because of this, they will not experience the second death, which is referred to in Revelation 20:14-15, a spiritual death.

This is the picture in Revelation 20:4-6. Notice that this is the fulfillment of what Jesus promised to the seven churches of Asia. “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:10-11). The faithful will not be hurt by the second death. Revelation 20:6 makes that very point. These faithful martyrs are sharing in the victory of life and reigning with Christ for 1000 years. This is a simple image of triumph for the people who have gone through this ordeal. Those who have died for the cause of Christ are not left out or left behind, but are reigning with Christ. Also notice that there are places in the New Testament where within the same context the writer shifts between speaking about spiritual life, death, and resurrection and physical life, death, and resurrection. Paul switched between such language in Romans 6:4-13 and Jesus did similarly in John 5:24-29. Therefore, we should not bothered by Revelation 20:4-6 teaching that those who suffered physical death for the cause of Christ will avoid spiritual death. Those who did not suffer physical death for Christ will suffer spiritual death. The first resurrection refers to those killed for Christ being given victorious life in Christ, reigning with him. The second resurrection will deal with the rest and their outcome will be determined at the white throne scene in Revelation 20:11-15.

The thousand years are the time of the reign of Christ (Revelation 20:4; Revelation 20:6). The scriptures teach that the reign of Christ began when he rose from the dead.

“…according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:19-23 ESV) Paul taught the same point in 1 Corinthians 15:25 concerning Christ reigning after his resurrection. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 ESV)

The 1000 year reign of Christ began when he rose from the dead. He must continue to reign until all the enemies are put under his feet and death is the last enemy. Therefore, the 1000 year period is not 1000 earthly years, but a symbol for the complete time of Christ’s rule. Another way to describe the 1000 year period is the church age (Beale, NIGTC, 992). Beale states, “Satan’s binding was climactically put in motion immediately after Christ’s resurrection, and it lasts throughout most of the age between Christ’s first and second comings” (Beale, NIGTC, 985).

After The 1000 Years (Revelation 20:7-10)

Now we come to some disturbing words in this prophecy. When the thousand years are ended, Satan is going to be released from his prison in the abyss and will come out to deceive the nations again. We noted at the beginning of this lesson that Satan being prevented from deceiving the nations meant that a world empire would not be able to persecute the Christians nor deceive the world into worshiping it rather than God. Revelation 20:8 indicates that Satan will unleash one more effort as he did during the days of the Roman Empire. Satan is going to use a world power to persecute Christians and sway the world away from worshiping the true God.

Futurists have given much attention to Gog and Magog. Many have tried to identify Gog and Magog as the Soviet Union, communist China, and other evil regimes. However, Revelation 20:8 identifies Gog and Magog as “the nations that are at the four corners of the earth.” Gog and Magog appear in Ezekiel 38-39.

In speaking about Gog, God said, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them?” (Ezekiel 38:17 ESV) God said Gog had been prophesied of in former days by God’s servants the prophets. Yet we only read of Gog and Magog right here. So what is Gog and Magog? Gog and Magog represent the heathen enemies against God’s people. These are the nations of the world that fight against God’s people. The devil is going to exert his power over the nations of the world again to gather for battle. The devil will have the power to deceive the nations again just as he deceived those during the days of the Roman Empire, igniting persecution and false worship.

Revelation 20:9 is reminiscent of when the kings of the earth and the beast gathered for battle against Christ (Revelation 19:19; Revelation 16:14-16). Satan is going to try to destroy the people of God yet again. This is the meaning of the symbolism of nations of the earth marching against the camp of the saints and the beloved city. The TNIV and HCSB are right to translate the Greek as explaining the camp of the saints as the beloved city of God. “They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves.” (Revelation 20:9 TNIV) Just as the nations gathered to try to destroy God’s people before but were destroyed by Christ, so it will happen again. Christ will destroy the enemies of God’s people, described as fire coming down from heaven and consuming the enemies.

Satan is finally cast into the lake of fire at the end of the 1000 year reign of Christ, the place where the beast and false prophet were already cast in Revelation chapter 19. There they all are tormented day and night forever and ever. God brings his judgment against Satan and he will endure eternal punishment. Jesus made the same point about the fate of Satan.

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41 ESV) Eternal torment in hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. Satan is now cast into the punishment he deserves.

The Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15)

The final scene of this chapter is of a great white throne. This is the scene of final judgment. Earth and sky are no longer needed. The time for this world is over. This imagery fits New Testament teaching. Revelation 20:11-15 says, And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” (Hebrews 1:10-12 ESV) Also 2 Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:10 ESV)

All the dead are standing before the throne. As the apostle Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV) The books of our deeds are opened in preparation for judgment. “The dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” The sea giving up its dead and Death and Hades giving up its dead further emphasizes the point that this is the final judgment that no one will escape. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This shows that there is no more death at this point and there is no more Hades. Hades is the resting place of the souls who died. There is no more need for Hades because their is no more death and no more earth (Revelation 20:11).

Revelation 20:15 contains the critical message concerning our future. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15 ESV) The book of life represents the roll of citizens who are in God’s kingdom by faithfulness to the Lamb. “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5 ESV) Those not written in the book of life will experience the lake of fire, which is the second death. This reminds us that separation from God is the ultimate eternal punishment. We do not understand how awful it is to live in a world where the hand of God is not involved. We have no grasp of how terrible it would be and that is why the scriptures use images like being tormented day and night forever and ever to communicate this reality to us. There will be great suffering in eternal punishment for those who are not written in the book of life. It is worth noting that there is nothing that suggests our punishment, nor the punishment of Satan, is annihilation. “Torment day and night forever and ever” points us not to annihilation but eternal suffering because our souls will be in full separation from God. We must live our lives striving to remain faithful to the Lord so that our names will be found in the Lamb’s book of life on the day of judgment.

Commentary on Revelation 20:11-15 by Burton Coffman

Revelation 20:11

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

And I saw a great white throne ... Is this God, or Christ? We should probably read it as Christ, to correspond with Matthew 25:31-46, and also with the truth that God has committed judgment unto the Son of man (John 5:22).

From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away ... Note that very similar things were written in Revelation 6:14; Revelation 16:20; Revelation 18:21; Revelation 19:20, making it emphatic that this is the same occasion as the one in view in those passages also.

It is merely an idle quibble to dispute whether God, or Christ, is on the throne. Paul said, "God will judge" (Acts 17:31), and also that, "Christ will judge" (2 Timothy 4:1). "The unity of the Father and the Son is such that there is no difficulty in ascribing the action of one to the other."[51]

The removal of earth and heaven at the final judgment are indicated here, and this harmonizes with the New Testament throughout. See 2 Peter 3:6-13; Matthew 5:17; Hebrews 12:27, etc. The destruction of the earth is an event scheduled for the occasion of the Second Advent of Christ.


[51] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 195.

Revelation 20:12

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works.

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne ... The general resurrection of all people is assumed to have already occurred at this point in the vision. The dead are there before the throne, standing and waiting for their sentence. The hour has struck which Jesus promised in John 5:28-29. There are no absentees; all are present. "This is the only bodily resurrection that the Scriptures know."[52] The entirety of all people will be there, even the living, who will be "changed" for the occasion (1 Corinthians 15:51).

"And the books were opened"? What are these? We may not presume to give any complete answer, but the Scriptures do give some clues.


One of Alexander Campbell’s great sermons was based upon this text, the books he mentioned being:

I. The Book of Nature.

A. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19).

B. "His everlasting power and divinity are perceived through the things that are made" (Romans 1:20).

C. "He left not himself without witness ... he did good, gave rains and fruitful seasons, etc." (Acts 14:17).

D. But there is no such thing as forgiveness in nature. The book of nature does not reveal Christ.

II. The Book of Remembrance.

A. "A book of remembrance was written before him" (Malachi 3:16).

B. "Note it in a book that it may be for the time to come" (Isaiah 30:8-9).

C. "The Lord will bring to light the hidden things" (1 Corinthians 4:5).

D. "Nothing is secret that shall not be made manifest" (Luke 8:17; Romans 2:16).

Note: There are some things that God will not remember (Jeremiah 31:31-35). What the record books contain is determined by what God decides to remember and what he decides to forget.[53]

III. The Old Testament.

The great, continuing witness of all ages is the Bible. The Old Testament continues to be the most impressive witness of the deity and Godhead of Christ in that it establishes his credentials historically for ages prior to the Incarnation.

A. "Search the Scriptures ... for these are they that testify of me" (John 5:34).

B. "All things must needs be fulfilled" (Luke 24:44).

C. "And the Scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

D. "O, ye fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25; Matthew 22:29).

IV. The New Testament

A. "These sayings of mine" (Matthew 7:24; Matthew 7:26).

B. "Whatsoever I commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20).

C. "My word shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48).

D. "The word of the Lord (the gospel) endureth forever" (1 Peter 1:25; Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 2:3; 2 Peter 3:2; John 6:68).

V. The Record of Every Man’s Works.

All of the sacred writers make it clear that people shall be judged according to their works. Modern theology is very uncomfortable in the light of this truth; but the record of every person’s deeds will surely enter into the judgment which he shall receive.

A. Jesus taught this (John 5:29; Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 6:46-49; Matthew 12:27, etc.).

B. Paul taught this (Romans 2:6 ff; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 2:12; 2 Corinthians 6:1, etc.).

C. Peter taught this (Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:12; 1 Peter 3:8-11; 2 Peter 1:10).

D. James taught this (Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20; Revelation 2:24; Revelation 2:26, etc.).

E. The apostle John taught this (1 John 2:4-5; 1 John 3:7-8; 1 John 3:22-24, etc.).

F. This prophecy teaches this (Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:15; Revelation 20:13; Revelation 14:13, etc.).

VI. The Book of Life.

A. Philippians 4:3.

B. Revelation 3:15; Revelation 13:8.

C. Revelation 20:12; Revelation 20:15.

D. Revelation 21:27.

[52] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 604.

[53] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 259.

Revelation 20:13

And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works.

The sea gave up the dead ... Perhaps this is included "to show the universality of the resurrection."[54] Some explain it otherwise, but this appears to be the best view of it. This general resurrection of all mankind is the only literal resurrection mentioned in the word of God; and the thought that both the wicked and the just shall rise simultaneously is too often expressed in Scripture for any student of the Bible to be deceived into believing that there are to be two resurrections separated by a thousand years, or seven resurrections, as in Scofield Bible, or any other "multiple" resurrections.

And death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them ... "Hades" here means "the grave"; and "death and Hades" are therefore synonymous, being personified in this passage, as indicated by Revelation 20:14.


[54] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 474.

Revelation 20:14

And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire.

And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire ... "Death and Hades, though abstractions, are here personified."[55] This still casts no light upon exactly what the lake of fire is; because no literal fire could burn up the grave, personified. The first resurrection is the rising to spiritual life in conversion to Christ, and the second resurrection is the final, physical resurrection of all who ever lived on earth. Ryrie thought that, "Only the wicked are raised here";[56] but such a thought is nullified by the next verse: "Death is the last enemy that shall be destroyed, as in Paul’s theology" (1 Corinthians 15:26; 1 Corinthians 15:54),[57] leaving no further obstacle to the eternal joy of the saints of God.

Cast into the lake of fire ... "This is not annihilation, but separation forever from God and all good."[58] Repugnant as this doctrine is for many, a believer may not deny it. There is nothing illogical about it. Let two prior facts be accepted, that the soul is imperishable, and that God cannot finally accommodate to evil, and the logical necessity of such a place as this is evident. The revelation of it should always be understood in the light of the truth that it was never meant for people (Matthew 25:41), and that Jesus our Lord suffered the agonies of the Cross for the one purpose of saving every man from it. Then, it is clear that the existence of it in no way denies the love and goodness of God.

[55] @@

[56] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), p. 117.

[57] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 260.

[58] Ralph Earle, op. cit., p. 614.

Revelation 20:15

And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.

And if any was not found written in the book of life ... The mention of the righteous in this shows that both the good and the evil participate in the resurrection of the final day, those whose names were written there, and those whose names were not written there. Otherwise, there could have been no reason for using "if" in this verse. Here it is evident that the New Testament contains no promise of any second chance after death.

In this series of commentaries, the book of life has often been mentioned; and here the absolute necessity of every man’s being inscribed in it in order to be saved is dogmatically stated. Therefore, out of regard to all men, we shall declare how one may so be written.

In Matthew 10:32, Jesus promised that all who confess him will themselves be confessed by Jesus in heaven "before God and the angels." In Matthew 16:16, is the record of the first man ever to confess Christ; and significantly, Jesus then and there upon that occasion, confessed that man, Peter, using exactly the same formula Peter had used in his confession of Christ. From this we have concluded that the writing of one’s name in the book of life occurs upon the occasion of his confessing Christ and being baptized into him. Certainly, Christians have their names written there during their sojourn as Christians upon the earth (Philippians 4:3); and it is most logical to believe that it is written at the very beginning of that Christian life. Once inscribed in the book of life, one’s name will remain there eternally, except in the case of his apostasy, in which event it will be "blotted out" (Revelation 3:5).

"This verse is a solemn reiteration of what has been asserted twice before in Revelation 20:12-13."[59]

John, having carried his readers through seven successive periods, each culminating in the final judgment, his purpose must have been clear to all. He was giving in each vision a view of the church’s life between the two Advents, each scene being a recapitulation of one and the same chronological event.

1. In scene I, the church struggled against wars, famine and disease.

2. In scene II, the struggle was against natural disasters and false doctrine.

3. In scene III, there was the struggle against the dragon, the sea-beast and the land-beast.

4. In scene IV, the struggle with the harlot is given.

5. In scene V, the struggle with the harlot is given in greater detail.

6. In scene VI, the struggle with the scarlet beast in the phase of his ten horns, or the eighth head, is seen.

7. And in scene VII, the final victory over the devil himself is depicted

This type of pageantry cannot indicate that consecutive historical events are depicted in order. All of the church’s enemies are in all of the visions. Although the focus changes, being first upon one, then upon another, etc., yet the dragon, the godless city, the sea-beast, the land-beast, the great harlot, the ten kings, the false prophet, etc., all continue to the end of time. No one of them is ever completely out of the total picture. Their operations are coextensive and simultaneous with the entire Christian dispensation; and all are thrown into the "lake of fire" at the same time "alive."

But despite all this, the victory is glorious and complete. John never allows us to forget it even for a moment. Almost every terrible scene is either begun, concluded or interrupted with a marvelous vision of the rejoicing saints in glory, these recurring scenes being injected proleptically to keep up the faith and the patience of the saved. In some ways, this is the most glorious book in the Bible.

All of the struggles having been recounted, John will devote the final two chapters to a discussion of heaven, the eternal home of the redeemed. There is absolutely nothing like these final two chapters in the entire record of human thought. The scholars, some of them, have vainly tried to find Revelation in pagan myth or folklore; but it is not there. Only the word of God could have given us this prophecy.


[59] A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 475.

Commentary Rev 20:11-15 by Manly Luscombe

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. All that remains is the final judgment. John sees a great white throne. The power and majesty of Christ is so strong that all look away. Because of the brilliance, Christians cannot look. Because of their sins, the world does not want to look. They are looking for a place to hide. The world has been destroyed. There are no rocks to hide under. There is no place to run.

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. All the dead appear before God. All the dead will appear before the judgment seat of Christ - small and great, good and bad, rich and poor. Paul adds that the living and the dead will stand before God. (2 Timothy 4:1) Jesus said, “All nations shall appear before him.” (Matthew 25:31). The books were opened. We will be judged according to what is written in these books. There can be little doubt that the books referred to here are the books of the law of God. For the nation of Israel before the cross, the Law of Moses, and for the world after the cross, the New Testament. In a broader sense, the entire Bible represents the books by which we will be judged. Another book (singular) is called the Book of Life. God keeps a record of those who are His. When one becomes a Christian, God writes their name in the Book of Life. (Philippians 4:3) Jesus promises that if we will remain faithful our name will not be blotted out of the book of life. (3:5)

13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Some have devised theories of as many as seven different resurrections. God only discusses one bodily, physical resurrection. We have already discussed the spiritual resurrection by baptism. Jesus taught one general resurrection of saved and lost. (John 5:28-29). All who died, no matter where or how their body decayed, will be raised. Some have died at sea. Others died and were buried in protected vaults and caskets. Still others have been mummified. And still others have died in fire, explosion, war and other situations were there was not body to be found. None of these things matter to God. God created us from dust the first time. He can resurrect us from the dust of the earth.

Judgment will be personal and individual. We will not be judged as a nation, state, city or local congregation. We will be judged “each one” by our own deeds. Some have questioned the reason for judgment. It is argued that if, when we die, we go to torments or paradise, then we know our destiny. Since there is a great gulf between the two, no one can cross from one side to the other. The problem is this: We often think of “judgment” as the time we are adjudged guilty or innocent. Guilt or innocence is determined at death. The judgment of God is not for the purpose of holding hearings on our guilt or innocence. The purpose in judgment is to pronounce sentence. In our legal system, when a person is pronounced guilty of a crime, the judge will say, “On this date, sentence will be pronounced.” Here is a man who knows he is guilty. He is in jail. What he does not fully understand is the full punishment to be inflicted on him. Judgment Day will be the time when God announces the sentence on the wicked and the reward for the righteous.

14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. The ultimate end of all things is here. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26) All have been raised from the dead. Death ends. All have been raised to eternal life or eternal separation from God. Hades (the temporary abode of the departed spirits) has been emptied. Hades ends. God has finished with them and they are thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Death means separation. Spiritual death is separation from God. (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Christians do not have to fear this second death. We have already died twice. We died to sin in baptism. Then we died to this physical body. There is no fear of the second death for faithful Christians.

15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

A. God’s record is accurate. Is your name written there?

B. All not written in the Book of Life are thrown into the lake of fire.

Summary of Revelation 1:1-20; Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22; Revelation 4:1-11; Revelation 5:1-14; Revelation 6:1-17; Revelation 7:1-17; Revelation 8:1-13; Revelation 9:1-21; Revelation 10:1-11; Revelation 11:1-19; Revelation 12:1-17; Revelation 13:1-18; Revelation 14:1-20; Revelation 15:1-8; Revelation 16:1-21; Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24; Revelation 19:1-21; Revelation 20:1-15

We have now seen the end of all things.

1. The material world

2. Death

3. Hades

4. Immorality (Babylon, mother of harlots)

5. Persecuting civil governments

6. False prophets and false religions

7. Pain, suffering, persecution, hardship

All that remains now is to follow the righteous to the glorious abode of our God and the Lamb.



Read Revelation 20

1. Who was seen coming down out of heaven? Ans. Revelation 20:1.

2. What did the angel have in his hand? Ans. Revelation 20:1.

3. Whom did he bind and for how long? Ans. Revelation 20:2.

4. Where was Satan confined and for how long? Ans. Revelation 20:3.

5. What would Satan not be able to do and for how long? Ans. Revelation 20:3.

6. For how long would Satan be loosed after the thousand years were finished? Ans. Revelation 20:3.

7. What was given to those who sat on the thrones? Ans. Revelation 20:4.

8. Whose "souls" did John see? Ans. Revelation 20:4.

9. What did these "souls" do for a thousand years? Ans. Revelation 20:4.

10. What of the rest of the dead? Ans. Revelation 20:5.

11. What is the "first resurrection?" or, what is the antecedent of "this" in the sentence, "This is the first resurrection?" Ans. See the last clause in Revelation 20:4.

12. What blessings and privileges are bestowed on the "souls" that have a part in the first resurrection? Ans. Revelation 20:6.

13. What shall Satan do when the thousand years are finished? Ans. Revelation 20:7-8.

14. Against whom were Satan and his hosts planning to make war? Ans. Revelation 20:9.

15. How was this prevented? Ans. Revelation 20:9.

16. What is Satan’s final destiny? Ans. Revelation 20:9.

17. How long shall the devil, the beast, and the false prophet be tormented in the lake of fire and brimstone? Ans. Revelation 20:10.

18. From whose face did the heaven and the earth flee away? Ans. Revelation 20:11.

19. Who was seen standing before the throne? Ans. Revelation 20:12.

20. Out of what, and according to what, were the dead judged? Ans. Revelation 20:12.

21. Name three things that gave up their dead. Ans. Revelation 20:13.

22. Into what were death and Hades cast? Ans. Revelation 20:14.

23. What is the "second death?" Ans. Revelation 20:14.

24. Who else was cast into the "lake of fire?" Ans. Revelation 20:15.


I. Is there anything in this chapter that teaches that the "souls" who lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years were on earth while reigning?

II. Is there anything that teaches that these "souls" were in resurrected bodies while reigning a thousand years?

III. Discuss the danger of reading into this chapter what is not there.

E.M. Zerr

Questions on Revelation

Revelation Chapter Twenty

1. Who was seen coming down from heaven?

2. What did he have?

3. Upon whom did he lay hold?

4. For what period was he bound?

5. Into what place was he cast?

6. What was set upon him?

7. Whose deception was to be thus cut off?

8. For how long was the cutting off to continue?

9. After that what will be done?

10. What did John Bee next?

11. Were they occupied?

12. What was given unto them?

13. Tell what souls John saw.

14. What had they refused to do?

15. With whom did they live?

16. What else did they do?

17. When did the rest of the dead live?

18. State what resurrection iB considered?

19. Who are said to be blessed?

20. They shall escape what death?

21. Will be in what relation to God and Christ?

22. What about their reign?

23. After this reign what will be done with Satan?

24. Whom will he then deceive?

25. Where are these to be found?

26. For what purpose will they be gathered?

27. Describe their number.

28. To what place did they go up?

29. What camp did they surround?

30. And what city did they encompass?

31. From where did fire come?

32. Tell what it did.

33. What had the devil done?

34. Tell where he was cast.

35. Who else are to be tbere?

36. What will be done to them in this place?

37. What did John see next?

38. Describe the one who sat thereon.

39. What became of the place of heaven and earth?

40. How many of the dead were seen?

41. Where did they stand?

42. What were first opened?

43. Name the "other book".

44. Tell what use was made of these books?

45. According to what was this done?

46. What did the sea do?

47. And what did death and hell do?

48. What was done with theae persons then?

49. Then what happened to death and hell?

50. What does this happening constitute?

51. Who else will be cast into this lake?

Revelation Chapter Twenty

Ralph Starling

An angel appears with the key to the bottomless pit,

And a great chain he held in his fist.

He bound the old serpent, the devil,

And cast him in the bottomless pit for he was evil.

A 1000 yrs. he was sentenced for deceiving the nations.

Shut up, sealed up for God had lost His patience,

But after a 1000 yrs. to be loosed for a season,

To show God’s longsuffering a possibe reason.

Then souls were seen reignin with Christ 1000 yrs.

For refusing to worship the beast though even with fear.

Rest of the dead waited until the 1000 yrs. were finished

While blessed were those who were being replinished.

Those of the first resurrection would have no fear.

For they would reign with Christ a 1000 years.

Then would the devil be released from his prison,

And would return to deceive the nations.

in the war of Gog and Magog, four quarters of the earth

The devil woul lose again but what would be worse?

he would be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone

More permanent than his first prison home.

The lesson and warning is clear, one must agree

In God’s "Book of Life" one’s name must be,

For in that last judgment day

The "Book of Life" will have the last say.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Revelation 20". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/revelation-20.html.
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