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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 20

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-15



Revelation 20:1-15.

IN now approaching chap. 20, with its yet unsolved difficulties of interpretation, it is of essential importance to observe, in the first place, the relation of the chapter to what immediately precedes. The Seer is not entering upon an entirely new subject. He distinctly continues, on the contrary, the prosecution of a theme he had before begun. In the previous portion of his book three great enemies of the saints of God had been introduced to us, the dragon or the devil, the beast, and the false prophet. These were the main opponents of the Lamb, in one way or another stirring up all the efforts that had been made against Him by the kings of the earth, their armies, and their followers. For a time they had appeared to succeed. They had persecuted the saints, had compelled them to flee, had overcome them, and killed them. This, however, could not continue; and it was to be shown that the final triumph remains with those who have suffered for the sake of righteousness. In chap. 19, we have the beginning, but not the close, of this triumph. Of the three great enemies only two - the beast and the false prophet - perish in that chapter. The destruction of the third is reserved for chap. 20, and is effected at the tenth verse of the chapter. The verses following then describe the judgment of those who had listened to these enemies, but who, though defeated, or even killed,1 or devoured by fire out of heaven when in their service,2 had not yet been consigned to their doom. Thereafter nothing remains, in order to complete the triumph of Christ and His saints, but that death and Hades shall also be removed from the scene and cast into the lake of fire. (1 Revelation 19:21; 2 Revelation 20:9)

These considerations are of themselves sufficient to show that the overthrow of Satan, and not the reign of a thousand years, is the main theme of the first ten verses of the chapter. So far is the latter from being the culminating point of the whole book, that it is not even introduced at the beginning of any new and important section. It starts no new series of visions. It comes in, in the midst of a section devoted to an entirely different matter: -

"And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 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. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: 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; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead Lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no authority, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. And when the thousand years are finished, Satan than be loosed out of his prison, 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 they went up over the breadth of the earth, and com passed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fare and brimstone, where arc also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:1-10)."

It is impossible within the limits of a commentary such as the present to discuss the different interpretations that have been given to a passage so difficult and so much controverted as the above. Nothing more can be attempted than to state briefly what seems to be the true meaning of the sacred writer, together with the grounds upon which the interpretation to be suggested rests.

The fundamental principle of that interpretation, to be kept clearly and resolutely in view, is this: that the thousand years mentioned in the passage express no period of time. They are not a figure for the whole Christian era, now extending to nearly nineteen hundred years. Nor do they denote a certain space of time, longer or shorter, it may be, than the definite number of years spoken of, at the close of the present dispensation, and to be in the view of some preceded, in the view of others followed, by the second Advent of our Lord, They embody an idea; and that idea, whether applied to the subjugation of Satan or to the triumph of the saints, is the idea of completeness or perfection. Satan is bound for a thousand years; that is, he is completely bound. The saints reign for a thousand years; that is, they are introduced into a state of perfect and glorious victory. Before endeavoring to bring out this thought more fully, several preliminary considerations may be noticed.

1. Years may be understood in this sense. In Ezekiel 39:9 it is said that the inhabitants of the cities of Israel shall .prevail against the enemies described, and "shall go forth, and shall make fires of the weapons and burn them, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the hand-staves, and the spears, and they shall make fires of them seven years." No one can suppose that the "seven years" here spoken of are to be literally understood, or even that the length of time which would be needed to burn the weapons is the thought upon which the prophet dwells. His meaning, in correspondence with the use of the number seven, can only be that these weapons shall be destroyed with a great and complete destruction. Again, in the same chapter, at: Ezekiel 39:12, after the defeat of "Gog and all his multitude," it is said, "And seven months shall the house of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land." A literal interpretation is here not less impossible than in the case of the burning of the weapons; nor can the meaning be exhausted by the thought that a long time would be necessary for the burying. The number "seven" must have its due force assigned to it, and the prophet can only mean that the land should be thoroughly cleansed from heathen impurity. The use of the term "years" in the vision before us seems to be exactly similar; and the probability that it is so rises almost to certainty when we observe that, as proved by the vision of Gog and Magog in the subsequent part of the chapter, the prophecy of Ezekiel is before the Seer’s eye, and that it constitutes the foundation upon which his whole delineation rests.

The only difficulty connected with this view is that in the third verse of the chapter Satan is said to have been shut into the abyss until the thousand years should be finished, and that in the seventh verse we read, And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed. But the difficulty is more specious than real. Let us familiarize ourselves with the thought that the thousand years may simply express completeness, thoroughness, either of defeat or victory; let us remember that the Seer had represented the defeat of Satan by the figure of being bound for a thousand years; finally, let us notice, as we have yet to see more fully, that Satan, although deprived of power over the righteous, is still to be the deceiver and ruler of the wicked: and it immediately follows that this latter thought could find no more appropriate form than in the statement that the deception took place, not "until," or "after," the thousand years should be finished. This is simply the carrying out of the symbolism already employed. To revert for a moment to the symbolism of Ezekiel, let us suppose that, after the prophet had described the burning of the weapons for "seven years," he had wished to mention also some other step by which the burning was to be followed. What more suitable words could he have used than that it took place either "after this," or "after the seven years were finished"? In point of fact, this is exactly what the prophet does. He has occasion to refer to further efforts made to secure the purity of the land; and the words employed by him are, "After the end of seven months shall they search."* The one expression is no more than the natural con sequence of the other. (* Ezekiel 39:14)

2. What is the meaning of the last words of the third verse of the chapter, - He (i.e., Satan) must be loosed for a little time? What is this "little time"? The words take us directly to that conception of the Christian age which is so intimately interwoven with the structure of the Apocalypse, and even of the whole New Testament, - that it is all "a little time." This is particularly apparent in the application of the very same words to the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:11: "And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little time, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, which should be killed even as they were, should be fulfilled." The "little time" there is undeniably that extending from the moment of the vision to the close of the present dispensation. But, if it be so there, we are entitled to suppose that the very same expression, when used in the passage before us, will be used in the same sense; and that, when it is said Satan shall be loosed "for a little time," the meaning is that he shall be loosed for the whole Christian age. Again, in Revelation 12:12 we read, "The devil is gone down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time." The "short time" here referred to begins with the casting down of the devil out of heaven into the earth spoken of in the ninth verse of the same chapter. It must therefore include the whole period of his action in this world; and the manner in which that period is designated corresponds closely with the description of the time during which he is said, in chap. 20, to be loosed. Again, in Revelation 10:6 the angel swears that there shall be "time" no longer, using the same word for time that we meet with in the verse now under consideration; so that it would appear as if to the author of the Apocalypse the word "time" were a kind of technical term by which he was accustomed to denote the period of the Church s probation in this world. Lastly, this conclusion is powerfully confirmed by the many passages of the Apocalypse in which it is clear that the Christian dispensation, from its beginning to its end, is looked upon as a "very little while," as hastening to its final issue, and as about to be closed by One who cometh quickly.* The "little time," therefore, of the present chapter during which Satan is loosed, and which, when more fully dwelt upon, is the time of the war spoken of in Revelation 20:7-9, is the historical period of the Christian dispensation, during which Satan is permitted to deceive the nations and to lead them against the camp of the saints and the beloved city. It is, in short, the time between the first and second coming of our Lord. The period so often sought in the thousand years of Revelation 20:2 is really to be found in the "little time" of Revelation 20:3. (* Revelation 1:3; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 3:20; Revelation 22:20, etc., 1 Corinthians 7:29; Hebrews 10:37)

3. Attention ought to be particularly directed to the condition of the saints during the thousand years spoken of. It is described in general terms as a first resurrection. Certain words of our Lord in the Gospel of St. John throw important light upon the meaning of this expression: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that have heard shall live,"1 and, again, a little later in the same discourse, "Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth."2 Let us compare these two verses with one another, and the presence of the clause "and now is" in the first, taken along with its omission in the second, leaves no doubt as to the principle on which they are to be interpreted. The first refers to a spiritual, the second to a bodily, resurrection. Here then in the words of our Lord Himself we have the source whence the idea of the "first resurrection" of the Apocalypse is derived. It is not an actual resurrection from the grave, although that resurrection is potentially involved in it. It is a spiritual resurrection in an hour "that now is;" and the fact that this is St John’s meaning is brought out still more clearly by the intimation that what he saw was souls, whose resurrection bodies had not yet been given them.3 (1 John 5:25; 2 John 5:28; 3Comp. Revelation 6:9)

The condition of the saints thought of in this vision is described, however, not only generally, but in various particulars, all of which, it will be seen, correspond with the apocalyptic idea of it even in a present world. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them. But we have been already told that "they reign over the earth."1 Judgment was given unto them, words which seem best understood in the sense, so peculiar to St. John, that for believers there is in the ordinary sense of the term no judgment. As they have passed through death, so also they have passed through judgment.2 They lived with Christ. But Christ Himself had said in the Gospel, "Because I live, and ye shall live."3 They reigned with Christ. But that is only another method of saying that they sat on thrones, with the added conception, so often associated with the word in the Apocalypse, that their enemies were bruised beneath their feet. Over these the second death hath no authority. But we have before been told of "him that over-cometh" that he shall not be hurt of the second death."4 Finally, they shall be priests of God and of Christ. But it is needless to dwell upon the fact that from the opening of this book such has always been spoken of as the position of believers. (1 Revelation 5:10; 2Comp. the teaching of our Lord in John 11:25-26; John 5:24; 3 ; John 14:19 {margin of R.V.}; 4 Revelation 2:11)

Nothing, in short, is said of the saints of God in this picture of millennial bliss that does not find a parallel in what the Seer has elsewhere written of their present life. On not a few different occasions their ideal condition in this world is set forth in as glowing terms as is their thousand years glory and joy.

One expression may indeed startle us. What the Seer beheld is said to have been the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God. Is the word "beheaded" to be literally understood? Then a very small number of martyrs can be thought of. The great majority of those who have died for the faith of Jesus have been martyred in other and more dreadful ways. The word is the counterpart of "slaughtered" in the vision of the souls under the altar.* These were the saints of the Old Testament, whose death is described by a term characteristic to the Jewish mind of the mode in which offerings were presented to God. When the Seer passes to the thought of the great Gentile Church, he uses a term more appropriate to the Gentile method of terminating human life. "Beheaded" therefore expresses the same thing as "slaughtered." Both words refer to martyrdom; and both include all faithful ones in the dispensations to which they respectively belong, for in the eyes of St. John all the disciples of a martyred Lord are martyrs. (* Revelation 6:9)

4. The meaning of the doom inflicted upon Satan demands our notice. And the angel laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him. It is hardly possible to read these words, at the same time remembering St. John’s love of contrast or even travesty, and not to see in them a mocking counterpart of the death and burial of Jesus, when the stone was rolled to the door of the sepulchre and sealed. If so, it is not enough to say that by the infliction of this doom the power of Satan was restrained, and his influence lessened. Much more must be implied; and the language can only mean that, in one sense or another, Satan was rendered powerless and harmless, as unable to act his part as though he had been laid in the grave.

5. The use of numbers in the Apocalypse ought to be remembered. These numbers are invariably symbolical; and, if the number a thousand is to be here interpreted literally, it seems in that respect to stand alone. Nor is it a reply to this to say that, though not in the strict sense literal, it may signify a period of indefinite length. Such an interpretation would be not less opposed than the former to the genius and spirit of this book. The numbers of the Apocalypse have always a definite meaning. They express ideas, but the ideas are distinct They may belong to a region of thought different from that with which arithmetical numbers are concerned, but within that region we cannot change their value without at the same time changing the thought. We are not to imagine that numbers, in the allegorical or spiritual use made of them by the Jews, might be tossed about at their pleasure or shuffled like a pack of cards. They were a language; and the bond between them and the ideas that they involved was quite as close as it is between the words of ordinary speech and the speaker’s thoughts. A thousand years cannot mean two, or ten, or twenty, or three hundred and sixty-five thousand years according as we please. If they are a measure of time, the measure must be fixed; and we ought to be able to explain the principle leading us to attach to the number one thousand a value different from that which it naturally possesses.

6. The teaching of Scripture elsewhere upon this subject has to be considered. Upon this point it is unnecessary to say much, for the difference between that teaching and any view commonly taken of the thousand years reign is acknowledged. It ought to be observed, however, that this difference is not merely negative, as if the rest of the New Testament simply failed to fill in certain details of events more largely described in the Apocalypse, but upon the whole substantially the same. The difference is also positive, and in some respects irreconcilable with what we are taught by the other sacred writers. The New Testament, unless this passage be an exception, always brings the Parousia and the general judgment into the closest possible connection. It nowhere interposes a lengthened period between the resurrection of believers and that of unbelievers. It knows only of one, and that a general, resurrection; and the passages, such as 1 Corinthians 15:23-24, and 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, usually quoted to support another conclusion, fail when correctly interpreted to do so. When our Lord comes again, He at once perfects the happiness of His saints and makes all His enemies His footstool.1 One text alone may be quoted upon this point While the "first resurrection" is assigned to a date a thousand or even thousands of years before the end, it is several times repeated in the discourse of Jesus in the sixth chapter of St. John that the resurrection of believers takes place at the "last day."2 (1 Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 2:5; Romans 2:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 ; John 6:39-40; John 6:44)

7. One other consideration may be kept in view. It would appear that about the time of the Advent of our Lord there was a widely extended opinion among the Jews, traces of which are also to be found among the Gentiles, that a golden age of a thousand years duration might be anticipated in the future as a happy close to all the sins and miseries of the world.1 Here, it is sometimes urged, is the source of the apocalyptic figure of this chapter, which thus becomes only one of the wild chiliastic expectations of the time. But, even if it be allowed that St. John drew the particular figure employed by him from a general belief of his age, it by no means follows that he accepted the literal interpretation of that belief as the reality and substance of prophetic hope. In many a passage of his book he has undeniably spiritualized hopes of Israel founded on the language of the Old Testament in its outward form. He might easily do the same with what he recognized as a belief, not less widely spread and not less deeply seated in both the Jewish and Gentile portions of the Church. To use the language of the late Archdeacon Lee, "a world-wide belief such as this naturally supplied St. John with symbols and with language wherein to clothe his revelation of the fortunes of the Church, just as he has employed for the same purpose the details of the theocracy, or the imagery of war, or the phenomena and the convulsions of nature."2 In all such cases the determination of the point at issue really rests upon our view of the general tone of the writing in which the difficulty occurs, and on our perception of what will give the unity and harmony to his words for which every intelligent writer is entitled to expect credit at his reader’s hands. This conclusion is in the present instance strengthened by the fact that St. John did not confine himself to the traditional belief he is said to have adopted. So far from doing so, he occupies himself chiefly with a picture of that overthrow of Satan which seems to have been no part of the belief, and the mould of which is taken from entirely different sources. (1See authorities in Lee (Speaker’s Commentary) on Revelation 20:2, and his excursus on that chapter; 2 Speaker’s Commentary, u.s.)

Putting together the different considerations now adduced, we can have but little difficulty in understanding either the binding of Satan or the reign of the saints for a thousand years. The vision describes no period of blessedness to be enjoyed by the Church at the close of the present dispensation. Alike negatively and positively we have simply an ideal picture of results effected by the Redeemer for His people, when for them He lived, and suffered, and died, and rose again. Thus He bound Satan for them; He cast him into the abyss; He shut him in; He sealed the abyss over him, - so that against them he can effect nothing. He is a bruised and conquered foe. He may war against them, afflict them, persecute them, kill them, but their true life is beyond his reach. Already they live a resurrection and ascended life, for it is a life hid with Christ in God, a life in that "heaven" from which the devil has been finally and forever expelled. They rest upon, they live in, a risen and glorified Redeemer; and, whatever be the age, or country, or circumstances in which their lot is cast, they sit with their Lord in the heavenly places and share His victory. He has been always triumphant, and in His triumph His people even now have part. The glory which the Father gave the Son the Son has given them.1 They cannot sin, because they are begotten of God.2 He that was begotten of God keepeth them, and the evil one toucheth them not.3 This is the reign of a thousand years, and it is the portion of every believer who in any age of the Church shares the life of his risen and exalted Lord. (1 John 17:22; 2 1 John 3:9; 3 ; 1 John 5:18)

Thus also we may comprehend what is meant by the loosing of Satan. There is no point in the future at which he is to be loosed. He has been already loosed. Hardly was he completely conquered for the saints before he was loosed for the world. He was loosed as a great adversary who, however he may persecute the children of God, cannot touch their inner life, and who can only "deceive the nations," - the nations that have despised and rejected Christ He has never been really absent from the earth. He has gone about continually, "knowing that he hath but a short time."* But he is unable to hurt those who are kept in the hollow of the Lord’s hand. No doubt he tries it. That is the meaning of the description extending from the seventh to the ninth verse of this chapter, - the meaning of the war which Satan carries on against the camp of the saints and the beloved city when the thousand years are finished. In other words, no sooner was Satan, as regards the saints, completely bound than, as regards the world, he was loosed; and from that hour, through all the past history of Christianity, he has been stirring up the world against the Church. He has been summoning the nations that are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war. They war, but they do not conquer, until at last fire comes down out of heaven and devours them. The devil that deceived them is 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 forever and ever. (* Revelation 12:12)

The whole picture of the thousand years is in its main features - in the binding of Satan, in the security and blessedness of the righteous, and in the loosing of Satan for the war - a striking parallel to the scenes in chap. 12 of this book. There Michael and his angels contended with the devil and his angels; and the latter "prevailed not,"1 but were cast out of heaven into the earth, so that the inhabitants of heaven are forever safe from them. There the man-child who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, and from the thought of whom it is impossible to separate the thought of those who are one with Him, is caught up unto God and unto His throne. Finally, there also the dragon, though unable really to hurt the saints, "the rest of the woman’s seed," makes war upon them, but without result. Of this scene the picture which we have been considering is at once a repetition and a fuller development; and, when we call to mind the peculiarities marking the structure of the Apocalypse, we seem in this fact alone to have no slight evidence of the correctness of the interpretation now proposed.2 (1Comp. the remarkable parallel in John 1:5 : "and the darkness overcame it not.")

(2It is not to be denied that difficulties attend the interpretation of the thousand years suggested in the text. The writer would advert in a note to the two which appear to him to be the most formidable.

1. In Revelation 20:3 we read that Satan was cast into the abyss, etc., "that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished." Let it be granted that "the nations" here referred to can hardly be understood in any other sense than that common in the Apocalypse: the heathen, the ungodly, nations or the wicked in general. We then seem to read that there must be a time during which Satan does not "deceive the nations," while the explanation given above has been that he was no sooner subjugated for the righteous than he was let loose to deceive the unrighteous. In his Lectures on the Revelation of St. John (p. 224, note) the author was disposed to plead that the words in question may not have beer intended to indicate that action on Satan’s part was for a time to cease, but rather to bring out and express that aspect of Satan by which he is specially distinguished in the Apocalypse. In deference to the criticism of the Rev. H. W. Reynolds (Remarks on Dr. Milligan’s Interpretation of the Apocalypse, pp. 9, 27), he would yield this point. Notwithstanding the irregular constructions of the Apocalypse, it is at least precarious; and it is better to leave a difficulty unsolved, especially in a case where difficulties surround every interpretation yet offered, than to propose solutions of the sufficiency of which even the proposer is doubtful. It may be asked, however, without resorting to the conjecture formerly thrown out, whether the words "that he should deceive," even when taken in what is said to be their only true sense, are irreconcilable with the view of the thousand years advocated in this commentary. - That view is that the subjugation of Satan for a thousand years means his complete subjugation. When, therefore, it is said that he has been so shut up as "to deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished," the meaning may simply be that in the act of being subjected he was deprived alike of authority and opportunity to deceive the nations. It lay within the power of the Conqueror to grant or not to grant him fresh liberty to do so. The "strong man" was then bound, and "his goods were spoiled." He was completely subjected to Christ. When, therefore, we are told of the thousand years during which he was to deceive the nations no more, this language is only the continuation of the figure used in the second verse of the chapter; and what the Seer intends to express is, that during the process of his subjection, and until he should be again loosed by Him who had subjected him, he could do nothing. Satan, in short, must be permitted to come up out of the abyss either in his own person or by his agents before he can disturb the earth (comp. Revelation 9:2); and it is the purpose of God that he shall not have power to disturb it until, having been really "brought to nought" by Christ (comp. Hebrews 2:14), he shall go forth to his evil work among the nations as one who, whatever may be the increase of his wrath (comp. Revelation 12:12), has yet been overcome by another far mightier than himself.

2. The second difficulty demanding notice is presented by the words of Revelation 20:5, "The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished." Who are these called "the rest of the dead," and in what sense did they "live"? The term "the rest," applied to persons, occurs in the following passages of the Apocalypse in addition to that before us: Revelation 2:24; Revelation 9:20; Revelation 11:13; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 29:1. In every one of these cases it refers to the remaining portion of a class mentioned, but not exhausted; and it cannot be extended to any class beyond them. Here, however, no class has been spoken of except the righteous, or rather the "souls" of the righteous, described by various particulars both of their character and their state. "The rest" of the dead must therefore belong to that class, and to it alone. They cannot be the general body of mankind, both good and bad, with the exception of those previously mentioned. Again, what is meant when it is said that the rest of the dead "lived"? The same word had occurred in the immediately preceding verse, and it must now be understood in the same sense. "If," says Dean Alford, who has been quoted with great confidence against the present writer (Reynolds, u.s., p. 23), "in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave, then there is an end of all significance in language; and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything. If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardy enough to maintain" (on Revelation 20:4-6). Now that is exactly what is here maintained. The "lived" of Revelation 20:4 is spiritual; the "lived" of Revelation 20:5 is also spiritual. The "rest of the dead" then are the Old Testament saints of Revelation 6:9, who, by the completion of the Lord’s redeeming work, were brought up to the level of the New Testament Church. The meaning of Revelation 20:5 may thus be said to be that, the New Testament Church having had first bestowed upon it a complete redemption, the same white robes were afterwards given to the Old Testament Church, the succession being again one of thought rather than time. In this way all the members of Christ’s body are marked out as having been "dead" before they lived, thus identifying them with their Lord in Revelation 1:18; the position of the words at the close of Revelation 20:5, "this is the first resurrection," is rendered more natural by their thus following what is wholly a description of the condition of the blessed, instead of having a sentence interposed of an entirely different character; and, finally, to say nothing of the contextual consideration already referred to, the full Johannine force of the word "lived" is preserved.

These answers to the two chief difficulties associated with the interpretation here suggested of the thousand years may not be satisfactory to all; but it is submitted that they go far at least to meet them, and that in themselves they are neither unfair nor strained. Against one thing only must the author of this commentary enter his most decided protest, - the allegation that the interpretation here offered is gained by dispensing with textual criticism (?) and by sacrificing grammar to an idea. If there be one ground more than another upon which it rests, it is upon the strictest principles of historical interpretation. It ought only to be remembered that the idiosyncrasies of an author are as much a part of such interpretation as the literal meaning of his words; and that to that interpretation, if honestly and thoroughly conducted, the most deeply ingrained prejudices will in due time be compelled to submit.

The three great enemies of the Church have not only been overcome, but judged, and forever removed from all possibility of troubling the righteous more. But the great mass of the wicked have not yet been overtaken by a similar fate. The time has now come to show us in vision what awaits them also: -

"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 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 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 every man according to their works. And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15)."

Upon various particulars mentioned in this passage it is unnecessary to say much. The throne beheld by the Seer is great, at once in contrast with the "thrones" of the millennial reign, and as befitting the majesty of Him who sits upon it. It is also white, as emblematic of His purity and holiness. The Judge is God, the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father; and thus the judgment is searching and complete, and is answered by the consciences of those upon whom it is executed. They see that the Judge’s eye penetrates into the most secret recesses of their hearts, and that He is One who has been in the same position, has fought the same battle, and has endured the same trials as themselves. Thus His sentence finds an echo in their hearts, and they are speechless.* Thus also judgment becomes really judgment, and not merely the infliction of punishment by resistless power. (*Comp. Matthew 22:12)

The effect of the Judge s taking His seat upon His throne was that from His face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. Yet we are not to understand that after their flight there was neither an earth nor a heaven to be found. It is only the old earth and the old heaven that are spoken of; and almost immediately afterwards the Seer exclaims, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away."1 The change is part of that "restoration of all things" of which St. Peter spoke to the multitude gathered together in Solomon’s porch,2 of which he then added, "Whereof God spake by the mouth of His holy prophets which have been since the world began," and upon which he dwelt more fully in his second Epistle when he said, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up. But, according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."3 In the Epistle to the Romans, too, "creation" longs, not for destruction, but for something akin to that "liberty of the glory of the children of God" which they shall obtain along with their "adoption, to wit, the redemption of their body."4 In all these passages it is not the translation of God’s saints to an immaterial sphere that lies at the bottom of the thought. It is rather the idea of change, of the trans figuration, of the glorification, of this present scene into a state corresponding with that of its redeemed inhabitants, when they shall "not be unclothed, but clothed upon,"5 and shall dwell in "spiritual bodies."6 To St. John "heaven" is not an abode of bliss in a scene of which we can form no clear conception, but the spiritual atmosphere in which, alike on this side the grave and on the other, the saints live and move. The "dwellers upon earth" are not those who simply tread its firm soil and breathe its atmosphere, but those who are worldly in their spirit and whose views are bounded by the things of time. The kingdom which Christ establishes is the "kingdom of this world" in its cleansed and purified condition rather than one to which we travel by long and unknown paths. As the Seer looks forward to the future there is nothing to show that he thinks of any other residence for man than that which the Son consecrated by His tomb in Joseph’s garden and by the glory of the resurrection morning; and even the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven to be established upon earth. (1 Revelation 21:1 2 Acts 3:21; 3 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:13; 4 Romans 8:21-23; 5 2 Corinthians 5:4; 6Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:44)

Many may doubtless think that such a hope is too earthly, too material, to be suited to the spiritual nature of the Christian dispensation. They fear that it has a tendency to withdraw us from Him who is "spirit," and who must be worshipped, if He is to be worshipped acceptably, "in spirit and truth."1 But any such apprehension is at variance with the fundamental fact of our Christian faith, the incarnation of our Lord, and is little less than the revival of the old Manichean heresy that matter is essentially evil. Two errors have existed, and may exist, in the Church upon this point. We may strip the Gospel of its spiritual element, and may reduce it to a system of outward and material forms, or we may strip it of its material element, and may resolve it into a vague and shadowy mysticism. Both are the errors of extremes, and it would be difficult to say which has wrought most havoc in the Church. If the one was disastrous in the days of the supremacy of Romanism, the other is hardly less disastrous now. To the false and spurious spiritualism which it engenders we owe not a few of the most serious misconceptions of the present time with regard to the person of Christ, the Church, the Sacraments, and the purpose of redemption as a whole.2 (1 John 4:24; 2In connection with the point here spoken of, reference may be made to an interesting and instructive paper by Canon Dale Stewart Rector of Coulsdon, in The Churchman for December, 1887.)

To return to the main question in connection with the passage before us. Does it present us with the picture of a general judgment or of a judgment of the wicked alone? There is much in the passage that leads distinctly to the latter conclusion.

1. The whole vision is obviously an enlargement of what we have already met under the seventh Trumpet, when it was said that "the time of the dead to be judged came."* In both visions the persons spoken of as "the dead" must be the same; and they are clearly distinguished in the earlier vision from those called "Thy servants the prophets," the season of whose "reward" was come. With this corresponds the fact that in the writings of St. John the words "to judge" and "judgment" are always used, not in a neutral sense, but in one tending to condemnation. Without some qualifying term the Apostle could hardly have applied them to the acquittal of the righteous. (* Revelation 11:18)

2. The sources whence the "dead" are gathered confirm this conclusion. These are three in number: the sea, death, and Hades. Looking first at the two last of these, it is plain that "death" cannot in this connection be the neutral grave, for it is "cast into the lake of fire," where the devil, the beast, and the false prophet are. Similar remarks apply to "Hades," which in Revelation 6:8 is the coadjutor of death, and which in the New Testament always appears as a region of gloom, and punishment, and opposition to the truth: " And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades; "And I also say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."* If such be the sense in which we are to understand death and Hades, light is thrown upon the manner in which we are to interpret the first of the three sources, - "the sea." This cannot be the ocean, because the number of those to be given up from its depths at the last day is comparatively small; because, as the literal sea, it is in no way suitably associated with death and Hades; and because, when we read in Revelation 21:1, "And the sea is no more," it is impossible to think that the word is used in any other than a figurative sense. No reason can be imagined why, when the earth is renewed, there should be no more that sea which is one grand instrument of its present greatness and glory. Besides all this, we have hitherto found that in the Apocalypse the "sea" is the emblem of the unruly and troubled nations of the earth, and the source from which the first beast of chap. 13 had his origin. In the same sense therefore we must understand it here. Like "death" and "Hades," "the sea" spoken of can give up none but ungodly dead to the judgment of the great day. (* Matthew 11:23; Matthew 16:18)

3. The "books" mentioned in the passage are clearly books containing the record of evil deeds alone. When it is said that "books" were opened, and that "another book was opened, which is the book of life," the "books" are distinguished from the "book." It harmonizes with this that the book of life is not opened in order to secure deliverance for those whose names are inscribed in it, but only to justify the sentence passed on any who are cast into the lake of fire.

4. The general teaching of St. John ought not to be lost sight of in considering this question. That teaching is that the eternal condition of the righteous is fully secured to them even in this life, and that in their glorified Head they have already passed through all those preparatory stages on their way to everlasting blessedness at the thought of which they might otherwise have trembled. In Him they have lived, and overcome, and died. In Him they have been raised from the dead, and been seated in the heavenly places. All along they have followed the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, and everything that befell Him has in principle befallen them. We cannot say, in the Johannine sense of the word, that Christ has been "judged;" and therefore "judgment" cannot be predicated of the members of His Body. To these last "judgment," we have already seen, "was given" at the time when they entered on their millennial reign; and, with the result of this judgment (for that is the true meaning of the original) in their hands, it is impossible to think of them as judged again.

The judgment of these verses is therefore a judgment of the wicked; and, when it is closed, all Christ’s enemies have not only been vanquished, but have been banished from the scene where He is to reign " before His ancients gloriously."* The first part of the final triumph has been accomplished. (* Isaiah 24:23)

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 20". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/revelation-20.html.
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