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Bible Commentaries

Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Revelation 20

Verse 6


Revelation 20:6. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection.

RESPECTING the events spoken of in my text, and which are generally known under the name of the Millennium, commentators have been greatly divided. What has been spoken on the subject by wild enthusiasts, I shall pass over without notice: but the two leading opinions of pious and judicious men may fitly come under our review. Some have thought that there will really be a resurrection of saints and martyrs, who shall again live upon the earth a thousand years, and that the Lord Jesus Christ also will come down from heaven to reign over them during that period. Others conceive the resurrection to be altogether figurative, and that it imports no more, than that for the space of a thousand years there will arise a succession of holy men, resembling the saints and martyrs of former ages: and that the spiritual kingdom of Christ will for that period be established upon the face of the whole earth. I confess that, in my opinion, this latter sentiment is by far the more just and scriptural; and, feeling that persuasion, I will endeavour to shew you,


What we are to understand by the first resurrection—

The whole of the book of Revelation is confessedly mystical and figurative; and, if we interpret this passage in a literal sense, we make it essentially to differ from every other part. In confirmation of the view which I have of the first resurrection, as being not a literal, but only a mystical and figurative, resurrection, I would observe,


That the words do not by any means of necessity require to be taken in a literal sense—

[It is well known that a spiritual change is often spoken of in the Scriptures as a resurrection from the dead: we are said to be quickened when “dead in trespasses and sins;” and to have “passed thereby from death unto life [Note: Ephesians 2:1. 1 John 3:14.].” In several places, where the terms are quite as strong, or even stronger than those in the text, no one ever thought of putting a literal interpretation. When the Prophet Hosea says, “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up: after two days will he revive us, in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight [Note: Hosea 6:1-2.];” every one understands him as speaking of a spiritual resurrection. The language used by the Prophet Ezekiel is yet more to our purpose. He represents the Jewish nation as not only dead, but as so long dead, that their very bones are scattered on the earth, and almost pulverized. And he speaks of their bones being re-united, each to its kindred bones, and the whole covered with flesh, and every body animated again by a living spirit which has entered into them, and restored them to life [Note: Ezekiel 37:1-10.]. But did ever any one understand him as speaking of a literal resurrection?

It may be said, that, in our text, particular persons are specified, even those who have died as martyrs in the cause of Christ, and that therefore the text must be literally applied to them. I answer, that it is not of them personally that the Apostle speaks, but of persons resembling them in mind and spirit; just as Elijah is said to have come to introduce the Messiah, because John the Baptist “came in the spirit and power of Elias [Note: Compare Malachi 4:5. with Matthew 11:14; Mat 17:12 and Luke 1:17.].” And, if we make their resurrection personal, we must then regard the resurrection of the wicked also as personal, of whom it is said, that, “when the thousand years shall be finished, the rest of the dead will live again [Note: ver. 5.].” But did ever any one suppose that the wicked would rise to live on earth again? Yet, if the pious dead, who have been slain by the sword of martyrdom, are literally to rise and reign on earth a thousand years, the ungodly dead, who have been slain by the avenging sword of the Almighty, must literally, and in their own persons, rise at the expiration of that time [Note: The οἱ λοιποὶ in ver. 5. are the same persons with οἱ λοποὶ in Revelation 19:21; and they, beyond all doubt, are spoken of symbolically, as designating, not individual persons, but persons of their spirit and character. This shews that we must understand ver. 4. also, not in a literal, but in a symbolical sense, as designating persons who resemble the martyrs of old time. The same mode of explication must apply to both; if the one be taken literally, so must the other be. Both must be literal, or both symbolical. And this quite, as it appears to me, determines the point at issue.].

But shall any, whether the risen martyrs, or others resembling them, live, and reign “a thousand years?” No: there is no reason to think that their lives shall be protracted to any such length: but there shall be a succession of saints during that period: and as that succession will be uninterrupted through that whole time, they are said to live through that time; because, though they do not personally live, their piety does live, and is transmitted unimpaired through all the successive generations that shall arise. It is in this sense that the two witnesses who prophesy in sackcloth, are said to “prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore prophetic days, (or years) [Note: Revelation 11:3.].” It relates not to their persons, but to others rising in continued succession in their spirit, to bear the same testimony. Indeed of them also is it said, that “they were overcome by their enemies and killed; and that their death caused exceeding great joy; but that, after three days (years) and an half, to the utter dismay of their enemies, they rose and lived again [Note: Revelation 11:7; Revelation 11:10-11.].” But no one ever imagined, that this was fulfilled literally; every one understands this of a succession of prophets who arose to bear the same testimony as they had borne who had suffered martyrdom for their fidelity: and in the same manner must the resurrection of the saints also, and their reigning for a thousand years, be understood of a continued succession of eminently pious persons reigning with Christ over all the enemies of their salvation; whilst the ungodly shall have no successors till the expiration of that time.

In any other sense than this, it would be extremely difficult to make this passage agree with what is spoken of the resurrection in other parts of Scripture; for the resurrection is always represented as taking place all at once, except that the godly will rise first, before those who shall then be alive upon the earth shall be changed [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.]: but in the sense we have annexed to it, it accords exactly with the language of St. Paul, when he says, “If the casting away of the Jews be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead [Note: Romans 11:15.]?” If it be thought, that this similarity of metaphor will occasion confusion in the sense, let it be remembered, that our blessed Lord used the very same terms to express the conversion of souls to him now, and their rising again to judgment in the last day: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, 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 is coming, in the 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 [Note: John 5:25; John 5:28-29.].” Here our Lord distinguishes the two resurrections, both effected by his almighty power; the one upon the souls of men, and the other on their bodies: the one in order to their reigning with him on earth, (for “they are made kings and priests unto God;”) and the other, in order to their reigning with him in glory.

Thus the very terms themselves are best explained in reference to a spiritual resurrection; whilst, if taken in a literal sense, they would establish a doctrine not found in any other part of Holy Writ. To all of which I may add, that the text speaks only of their souls living, which is never once in all the Scriptures used to designate the resurrection of the body.

In confirmation of the foregoing statement, I proceed to observe,]


That the event which a literal sense of them would establish, is neither probable nor desirable—

[One cannot conceive that the saints in glory should be brought down from heaven, where their happiness is complete and without alloy, and be placed again in a situation where they must be encompassed with infirmities, and be subjected even to death itself; or that the Saviour should leave his bright abodes, to sojourn here again in a tabernacle of clay for the space of a thousand years. If indeed he had plainly declared such an event, we should most readily submit to his all-wise determinations, and should expect assuredly that he would ultimately be glorified by it: but, when there is no other passage of Scripture that sanctions such an idea; and all similar expressions have confessedly a spiritual import; and the spiritual or figurative sense accords with innumerable other declarations of Holy Writ; I cannot hesitate about the true interpretation of the words, or about the expectations which they teach me to form respecting the glory of the latter day.
In this view of the passage I am confirmed by the circumstances which will take place at the close of the Millennium: “Satan will then be loosed out of his prison, and will go forth to deceive the nations, and to gather them together to battle, the number of whom will be as the sand of the sea. And with these he will compass the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire will come down from God out of heaven to devour them [Note: ver. 7–9.].” Now all this I can understand, on the supposition that there be a succession of saints for a thousand years; because I can easily conceive that hypocrites and apostates may at last arise from among them, just as they did from among the immediate converts of the Apostles: but I cannot possibly conceive, either that Satan should so prevail over saints that are brought down from heaven, as to occasion them at last to be cut off by fire from heaven; or that, though preserved faithful to their God, they should ever be subjected to such assaults from men and devils. We are told expressly, that “the sun shall not light on them, nor any heat,” and that “they shall have no more sorrow, or crying, or pain:” and therefore I cannot but conclude, that they shall be with Christ in Paradise, till they shall come forth at the last day to be reunited to their bodies, and to possess both in body and soul the inheritance provided for them from the foundation of the world.]

With such a view of the first resurrection, we are prepared to contemplate,


The blessedness of those that shall have a part in it—

“Blessed and holy” will they all be; and that too in a pre-eminent degree above the saints of other ages:


Their views will be more enlarged—

[Our light far surpasses that of the prophets: insomuch that the least and meanest of the saints under the Christian dispensation excels in that respect even the Baptist himself, who was greater than all the prophets: and amongst ourselves, some have far deeper and richer views of divine truth than others. But in that day, the great mystery of redemption will be exhibited in far brighter colours than it has yet been. Not that any fresh revelation will be vouchsafed to men; for I conceive that the canon of Scripture is closed: but there will be a more abundant measure of the Spirit poured out upon them, revealing to them the Saviour, in all “the brightness of his glory,” and in “the incomprehensible wonders of his love:” “the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound [Note: Isaiah 30:26.].”]


Their graces will be more vigorous—

[They will be “blessed and holy;” and blessed, because holy. This indeed will be a necessary consequence of the foregoing; for the more “any man beholds the Saviour’s glory, the more will he be changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of our God [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” The whole vineyard of the Lord will then be watered more abundantly; and such “showers of blessings” will be poured out upon it, that every plant in it will grow, and “be fruitful in all the fruits of righteousness, to the praise and glory of our God.” We may form some idea of their state from what is recorded of the saints on the day of Pentecost: what exalted piety did they manifest towards both God and man! So will it be also in that day: “for brass they will have gold, and for iron silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron [Note: Isaiah 60:17.]:” and that prayer of the Apostle will in a more ample measure be answered to them; “The God of peace, that brought again from the dead the Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, will make them perfect in every good work, to do his will, working in them that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ [Note: Hebrews 13:20-21.].”]


Their consolations more abundant—

[As their communications from God will be increased, so will their fellowship with him be more intimate and abiding. Their communion with each other also will be most profitable and endearing. Wherever they turn their eyes, they will behold a brother, or a sister, a partaker of the same faith, an heir of the same glory. If even now the communion of the saints be so sweet, that it is almost a foretaste of heaven itself, what will it be in that day, when the loveliness of each, and the disposition of all to exercise the principle of love, will be so greatly augmented? And what will the ordinances be in that day? What, but “the very gate of heaven?” Methinks, the pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit will then be a daily occurrence; and the language of earth be like that of heaven, one continued effusion of praise and thanksgiving. The descriptions given of that period in the Scriptures are precisely similar to those which are given of heaven itself; because the state of the Church then will be an emblem, and an earnest of heaven. So happy will they be in their intercourse with God, that “the sun will be no more their light by day, neither for brightness will the moon give light unto them; but the Lord will be unto them an everlasting light, and their God their glory [Note: Compare Isaiah 60:19. with Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5.].”]


Their progress more easy—

[“Satan will then be bound, and sealed up in the bottomless pit, so that he can have no access to harass and deceive them [Note: ver. 2, 3.].” Now it is well known, that this subtle enemy presents more formidable obstacles in the Christian’s way than all other enemies together; as the Apostle says, “We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places [Note: Ephesians 6:12.].” How rapid then will be the progress of those who have not this tide to stem, and at the same time are carried forward by breezes the most favourable that heaven can bestow, and amply sufficient to fill all their sails! To this subject we may well apply that beautiful description which the Prophet Amos has given of that period; “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop wine, and all the hills shall melt [Note: Amos 9:13.]:” for in a spiritual, as well as temporal view, so fruitful shall be the seasons, that the blessings of heaven shall almost supersede the labours of cultivation. And all who are bending their course heavenward will fly with the celerity of “doves to their windows,” and without interruption, as the clouds of heaven [Note: Isaiah 60:8.].]


Their prospects more glorious—

[Breathing thus, as they will do, the atmosphere of heaven, they will be ever ready to take their flight, and to wing their way to their celestial abodes. From the top of Pisgah they will view their promised inheritance: and when the Lord Jesus says, “Behold, I come quickly,” the united cry of all will be, “Amen: even so, come Lord Jesus [Note: Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:20.].” In a word, their whole spirit and deportment will evince the presence, and the reign, of Christ in all their souls.]


But may not this period be anticipated? May we not at least have the commencement of it amongst ourselves? Yes, surely we may. We may assuredly enjoy the dawn of that light, which they will behold in its meridian splendour. With a view to assist you in the noble enterprise of forestalling and anticipating that blessed day, I would say,


Improve the privileges which you do enjoy—

[These, let me say, are equal to any that have been enjoyed since the apostolic age: for the light of the Gospel shines with a splendour unknown to former ages, and is diffusing its rays to an extent which but a few years ago no human being could have contemplated. Satan indeed exerts his utmost efforts to obstruct the progress of divine truth; but he cannot succeed: he is foiled in almost every attempt; and his kingdom trembles to its centre. I need go no farther than to you, my brethren, in proof of what I have asserted. You see how the Lord Jesus Christ is extending his empire, amongst yourselves, as well as in the world at large: and therefore you have every encouragement to fight under his banners, and to expect a successful issue of your warfare. It is worthy of observation, that the saints of the millennial period have no distinction above you, except that “they shall reign a thousand years;” for over you “the second death shall have no power,” any more than over them: and you, as well as they, are “priests of God and of Christ [Note: Compare ver. 6. with 1 Peter 2:9.].” Improve then, I say, your privileges, and seek to attain the graces that will distinguish them: they are characterized by their freedom from the pollutions of the world, and by the fidelity of their adherence to Christ [Note: ver. 4.]. “Be ye then faithful unto death; and know assuredly that God will give you the crown of life.”]


Look forward to a still better resurrection—

[We are ready to envy the millennial saints: but think how much more glorious a resurrection awaits you, than can possibly be enjoyed by embodied souls on earth! They will of necessity be subject to infirmities, even in their best estate: but in a little time you shall be as free from all infirmity as the angels around the throne of God: your souls shall be altogether perfected after the Divine image, and “your bodies be made like unto Christ’s glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself [Note: Philippians 3:20-21.].” Then “shall you be ever with the Lord,” and possess in all its fulness the complete fruition of your God. Look forward with joy to that blissful period; and in the mean time, “Comfort ye one another with these words [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:17-18.]—.”]

Verses 11-15


Revelation 20:11-15. 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. 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. 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. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

WE are not to imagine that the mysterious parts of Scripture are unworthy of our most attentive perusal: for though we should not succeed in our endeavours to comprehend all that is contained in them, we shall find much that is plain, intelligible, and important. The chapter before us speaks of a resurrection of all the martyred saints to reign with Christ on earth a thousand years: it informs us also that, at the expiration of that period, Satan shall be loosed from his confinement, and prevail against them, deceiving many, and destroying many. It tells us moreover, that God, determining to execute vengeance on that deceiver of the nations, and on such ministers as have been his instruments, and upon all those who have been deceived by them, will then come to judge the world in righteousness.
We apprehend this reign of Christ on earth, though not improbably attended with occasional manifestations of himself as on Mount Tabor, will be chiefly figurative: but, without dwelling on the points that are of difficult interpretation, and which events alone will with certainty explain, let us attend to the instruction here given us respecting that in which we are all so deeply interested, the solemnities of the day of judgment. In these we may notice,


The appearance of the Judge—

[Christ is the person who shall judge the world [Note: Acts 17:31. Joh 5:22.]: and he is here, as elsewhere on the very same occasion [Note: Romans 14:10-12.], declared to be “God,” as well as man, Emmanuel, God with us. His being seated on a “throne” denotes, that from his decisions there will be no appeal, but that, sanctioned as they will be by the authority of the King of kings, they will be final and irreversible. Nor is it without design that the throne is described as “white,” seeing that it will exceed the meridian sun in brightness, nor ever be sullied by the smallest instance of partiality or error.

The idea of “earth and the heavens that surround it, fleeing from before his face, and no place being found for them,” is calculated to impress our minds with the most awful sense of his majesty and glory. This guilty globe was once the place of his residence, till its impious inhabitants rose up against him with one consent, and put him to death. But in that day, as though it was conscious of its own desert, it will flee from his presence; nor will any place be found for this theatre of sin to exist any longer in its present polluted state [Note: 2 Peter 3:10.].]


The persons that shall be summoned to his tribunal—

[Not only at the deluge, when the whole world was drowned, but since that time, millions, who, for mercantile or hostile purposes, have traversed the mighty waters, have found their graves in the bosom of the ocean. But at the last day, “the sea shall give them up;” “death” also shall surrender up the bodies that have long since mouldered into dust, and “hades,” or the invisible world, shall deliver up the souls that have long abode in happiness or misery. All who have ever lived upon the earth, whether “small or great, shall stand before the tribunal of their God.” The God that formed them out of nothing will collect with ease their scattered atoms, and reunite them to their kindred souls. Every one shall appear in his own proper body, nor shall he be able either to withstand the summons, or elude the search. The king and the beggar, the sage philosopher and the child that died ere it saw the light, shall be no otherwise distinguished, than as they are classed with the righteous or the wicked.]


The rule of judgment—

[Various “books shall then be opened” to serve as grounds of the Divine procedure [Note: Daniel 7:9-10.]. The book of God’s law, originally inscribed on the hearts of our First Parents, and still not wholly effaced even from the minds of heathens, will be the rule by which they shall be judged, who never saw the light of revelation [Note: Romans 2:14-15.]. The book of the Gospel, wherein the mysteries of redemption are unfolded to our view, will be the touchstone by which our faith and practice shall be tried. The book of conscience too, which now omits many things, or grossly misrepresents them, will then give a juster testimony to our conduct: for then it will be a perfect transcript of another book that shall be opened, namely, the book of God’s remembrance. In this, every action, word, and thought, was faithfully recorded by the unerring hand of God himself: and every purpose, desire, or motive, shall have an influence on his decision to enhance our happiness or augment our misery [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:5.].

There is yet another book, particularly specified in the text, “the book of life.” This is none other than the book of God’s decrees, wherein were written from the foundation of the world the names of his elect. And as the other books will be opened in order to vindicate the equity of his decisions, so will this, in order to display the sovereignty of his grace. Twice is this book mentioned in the text; but twice also is it declared, that all “shall be judged according to their works:” while therefore we honour God’s electing love, we must carefully dismiss every thought that may disparage his remunerative justice. Though to God’s election the saints will be indebted for their salvation; the wicked will never perish through any influence of reprobation: their happiness men will owe to him; their misery to themselves alone.]


The sentence that shall be executed—

[Nothing is expressly mentioned in the text respecting the sentence of the righteous; though it is evidently implied, that they, having their names written in the book of life, shall have a very different end from that of the ungodly. Yes; to them there is no condemnation; they shall never perish, but shall have eternal life [Note: Romans 8:1. Joh 10:27-28.]. If indeed God should judge them by the strict tenour of his law, they must perish: but he views them as clothed in the Redeemer’s righteousness; and accepts, for his sake, not their persons only, but their services, treasuring up their tears in his vial, and noticing their very desires in order to a future recompence [Note: Malachi 3:16-17.].

As for those whose names are not written in the book of life, their state will be inexpressibly awful. They, together with “death and hell,” the present receptacles of the damned, shall be “cast into the lake of fire;” in order that, except in that place, there may not remain any vestige of sin or misery in the whole creation. This is emphatically called “the second death.” The pangs of dissolution are often great, and the consequent separation of soul and body very distressing: but the anguish attendant upon these is a very faint emblem of the torments that shall be endured in that state of separation from God, in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.
Nor will the ungodly have any just reason to complain that their names were not written in the book of life, since they never desired to be there registered, nor ever regarded the Lamb of God, who alone could inscribe their names therein.]


How needful is it to secure an interest in Christ!

[We all are hastening to his judgment-seat; nor will and thing avail us there but an interest in his blood and righteousness — — — By the law we are all condemned; but by the Gospel we may all have life — — — Let us then not waste all our time in seeking the things that perish with the using; but rather secure an inheritance that shall never fade, and that shall continue when all earthly things shall be dissolved.]


How carefully should the professors of religion take heed to their ways!

[All must be judged according to their works, the quantity of which as well as the quality, will make an essential difference in our state [Note: Galatians 6:8. 2 Corinthians 9:6.]. Every hour, as it passes, wings its way to heaven, and records the manner in which it was spent. We are, in fact, dictating daily our own sentence, and determining the measure of our own happiness or misery. Let us then frequently ask ourselves, what the last hour has recorded respecting us; and whether we shall be glad to see the transactions of it brought forth as evidences at the bar of judgment? God help us to bear this in mind; and so to pass our few remaining hours, as we shall wish we had passed them, when we shall be standing naked before his tribunal!]

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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Revelation 20". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.