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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 20



Other Authors
Verses 1-15

IT IS REMARKABLE that while our Lord will deal personally with men, it is an angel, a spirit being, who will deal with the great spirit being, who is the originator of all the evil. He is described in a fourfold way so as to identify him without a doubt. As Satan he is the adversary. As the devil he is the accuser. He is the old serpent of the opening book of the Bible, and the dragon of the closing book. All through the ages his aim has been to “deceive the nations,” as Revelation 20:3 shows us. How effectively he has done so all history bears witness, and coming days will show even more disastrously.

His activities will reach their climax in provoking this climax of human corruption and violence, but only to fail ignominiously before the might of the Lord. He is to find himself bound and a prisoner in the abyss for a thousand years. The “great chain” necessary to bind him is in the angel’s hand—symbolic language again, for no literal chain could bind a spirit being. The “bottomless pit” is not the lake of fire but the dungeon in which he is confined while the millennial age runs its course. The seal of God is put upon him there by the angel’s hand. It was an angel who broke the seal which men put on the sepulchre of the Lord Jesus.

The author of all the evil being dealt with, John turns to contemplate those who are blessed in association with Christ. Three distinct groups are mentioned. First comes those who are enthroned and to whom judgment is given. Daniel the prophet foresaw this great day, as he records in his seventh chapter. When the Ancient of days did sit, then the thrones were “cast down,” or “set.” But there is no mention of any who sat on them. In our passage the enthroned ones appear and are described by the simple pronoun “they.” To whom does the pronoun apply? Where is the noun? We answer unhesitatingly it applies to “the armies in heaven,” of the previous chapter, which were composed of “much people in heaven,” covering both the wife of the Lamb—the Church—and those called to the marriage supper—the Old Testament saints.

The pronoun “they” covers, then, the saints who were raised and changed at the rapture, as to whom Paul asked the Corinthians, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” But another and much smaller class follows. There were those who, subsequent to the removal of the church, had suffered death for the testimony of Jesus and the word of God. Again, there were those who were martyred under the beast because they would not receive his mark. We have read of these two groups before. The former in Revelation 6:9-11; the latter in Revelation 13:15. Both are now seen as living and reigning with Christ in the day of His glory.

Verse Revelation 20:4 indicates, then, that all the saints who suffer death between the coming of the Lord for His saints and His coming with them will be raised when He does come in His glory. In that risen life they will reign with Him, while those who did receive the mark of the beast and worship him will suffer the dreadful penalties described in Revelation 14:9-11.

There is a sharp line of demarcation between verses Revelation 20:4-5. The one gives us the saints in risen life and power. The other speaks of “the rest of the dead,” who remain in their graves during the thousand years. Then, referring back again to verse Revelation 20:4, comes the remark, “This is the first resurrection.” This is corroboration of the fact that the “they,” at the opening of verse Revelation 20:4, indicated the saints raised, as prophesied in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. It also establishes quite clearly that “the resurrection of life” and “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29), are separated by a thousand years.

Verse Revelation 20:6 also makes it abundantly clear that only those who are blessed and holy have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, though it has over those who are left for the second resurrection. Their blessedness is described in a twofold way. It is not that they enter into things entirely new in their character, for even now Christ has “made us kings and priests unto God and His Father” (Revelation 1:6), and in Revelation 5:1-14 the twenty-four elders were presented in those characters. Here, however, what the saints have been made, and which is known now to our faith, comes into full display in the millennial age.

Still, there is one new feature here. They are “priests... of Christ;” it is really “of the Christ.” Nowhere else does this expression occur, and it reminds us of Aaron and his sons in Exodus 29:1-46, who, when together, typified the saints as a priestly company. The sons of Aaron were priests of God and of Aaron—if we may so say. The risen saints will be manifested as priests of God and of the Christ, as taking their character and place entirely from Him. And they will share in His kingly reign.

Verse Revelation 20:6 gives us in brief summary the power and blessedness of the millennial age on its heavenly side. More instruction is granted us when we come to the latter part of Revelation 21:1-27, but still it is as to the heavenly side of it, just mentioning “the nations of them that are saved,” and “the kings of the earth,” but giving us no details as to the earthly blessings enjoyed in that delightful age. Such details were not needed here as they had been fully given in Old Testament scripture.

We know that the earth will rejoice and prosper under the benificent reign of Christ; that it will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. Let Psalms 72:1-20 be considered for there we see Christ as the priestly King, absolute in His rule-but sustaining the poor and needy. In Revelation we are let into the secret of how He will dispense His power and goodness through His heavenly saints—even such as ourselves.

Do we really believe it? If we do it will take the shine out of the present age through which we pass, and out of all its achievements.

The Millennial age will be characterized by righteous yet beneficent rule. At the end of the ages of sinful misrule by men, with all their attendant miseries, there is to be displayed the excellence and glory of Divine rule, under Christ as Son of Man and King of Israel. Yet sin will not be entirely absent, as Isaiah 65:20 shows.

Moreover, during the thousand years human life on earth will continue as at present and multitudes will be born as the years pass, and the Lord’s words, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” will be as true then as now. If a work of grace does not take place in the hearts of such, all the old fleshly tendencies will be there, repressed only by Divine rule from without; Satan, the instigator of evil, not being there to work upon them. This accounts for the solemn facts of verse Revelation 20:8, which otherwise might seem inexplicable.

At the end of the millennium Satan is to be released from his prison and allowed to work his will. He has learned nothing and received no correction. He is absolutely unchanged. Out he goes at once, again to deceive the nations. Men of Adam’s race, apart from the new birth, are unchanged also, in spite of having lived for centuries under a regime of absolute righteousness. In the Gospel we have learned that, “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7, Romans 8:8). Hence nothing but a new birth will do. This will again be shown in striking fashion at the close of the millennium. Men in the flesh cannot please God, and God and His righteous rule does not please them. So at the first opportunity, when instigated, they rebel.

Out of all nations the rebels come, though “Gog and Magog” are specially designated. Ezekiel 38:1-23 and Ezekiel 39:1-29 predict the destruction of this great northern power as the millennial age begins—the last stroke, it would appear, of the great Armageddon conflict. A thousand years have passed, but again we find the representatives of that power taking a leading part in the anti-God movement. The great Russian territories are pretty clearly indicated in the chapters in Ezekiel, and even in our day the anti-God spirit seems to have come to a head there. Their objective is the camp of the saints and the beloved city, in the centre of which will stand the Temple of God, whence will proceed both the authority and the blessing of the millennial age. It is unadulterated rebellion against God. It merits condign punishment, and it gets it.

Fire from heaven devours them, and this dreadful episode brings to a close the millennial age and all the ages of time, so that we stand on the threshold of the eternal state. Our chapter goes on to relate God’s acts in the judgment of sin, both governmental and eternal. There is no mention of what happens to the material earth (save that “earth and the heaven fled away”), until the first verse of the next chapter is reached, and then we are only told that the first heaven and earth have “passed away.” We have to refer to 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Peter 3:10, for more precise details, and then we discover that fire is to be the agent used for that. So it may very well be that this falling of fire from heaven to devour the rebels is also the act of God which releases the atomic forces which will produce what Peter predicts.

The last six verses of our chapter give us the results of God’s last judgments; not the material side of them but the moral and spiritual. The fountain-head of all evil is first dealt with. In all the wide universe, that the Scriptures reveal to us, Satan was the original rebel. Into this world he introduced sin by way of deceit. His name, devil, means accuser, calumniator, and by his calumnies against God and His word he deceived Eve, as Genesis 3:1-24 bears witness. As a mighty spiritual being, possessing powers of intelligence vastly beyond anything human, he has no difficulty in deceiving fallen men. He is doing it today, and will do it to the end. But the limit determined by Omnipotence is now reached, and he is cast into that “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” of which the Lord spoke in Matthew 25:41. Here the fire is spoken of as a lake, which gives the idea of a place circumscribed and confined. Into it the beast and the false prophet were cast as the millennial age began, and now at the end of that age we read that there they still “are,” and not that they were. The fire had not destroyed them.

We are well acquainted with fire and its effects in material objects; but, as far as we know, it has no effects on spiritual beings. We judge therefore the phrase to be symbolic, as so much else in this book, but it stands as the symbol of the hot displeasure, the scorching judgment of God, which even for the devil will mean that he “shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”

The originator of sin and his two chief lieutenants being disposed of, the great mass of sinful mankind, who have fallen a prey to his deceits, now appear at the final assize. The language is deeply solemn and impressive. John sees the throne of judgment, which he describes as great and white. The second resurrection, that of damnation, has taken place, and the earth has fled away. This earth is but a tiny spot in God’s great universe and all the limitations which it would impose upon this scene are gone. In result, “the dead, small and great, stand before God.” They have been raised and reclothed in bodies, as verse Revelation 20:13 clearly indicates, but they are still the dead in a spiritual sense—dead towards God.

The One who will sit on that throne, from whose face the very earth and heaven will flee, inasmuch as they have been defiled by sin, must be our Lord Jesus Christ, since, “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). His face was once marred more than that of any man. In it now there shines the glory of God. Then it will be characterized by the penetrating understanding of omniscience, and the severity of a judgment which springs from righteousness and holiness, of which the whiteness of the throne is a symbol.

Yet the judgment will not be apart from the divine records, nor apart from their works. It will be based not on what God knew them to be but on what they had manifested themselves to be in their outward actions. Of those actions a record had been kept before God. It is remarkable that the Old Testament as it closes should speak of “a book of remembrance” written before the Lord in favour of the godly: the New Testament at the close speaking of “the things written in the books,” on which the ungodly are condemned. In recent years men have discovered how to record human speech and actions in such a way as to preserve them for future generations. What they are learning to do imperfectly God has done in perfection through the ages. A terrifying thought for the sinful sons of men!

About three-quarters of the earth’s surface is sea. If any of the dead could be overlooked in that hour, it would be some who found their burial in its wide expanse and its immense depths. But the sea will give them up. Death is viewed as having held men’s bodies and “hell” or “hades,” had held their souls. Both yield up their prey that soul and body may be reunited. They had sinned in their bodies, and in their bodies they will be condemned. Again it is emphasized— “every man according to their works.”

At that time death and hades will contain only the unsaved, so that verse Revelation 20:14 records the solemn fact that all that they contain will find their place in the lake of fire, and thus death and hell will disappear. Neither of these two were marked by finality: each was a provisional arrangement, and now they come to an end. Verse Revelation 20:15 states the same terrible fact in another way. If the record of “the books” condemned men in a positive way, the “book of life” did so in a negative way. If their names were not there, it sealed their doom.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 20:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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