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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 20

 

 


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Introduction

Revelation 20. This chapter contains three scenes: (a) the binding of Satan and the millennial reign of Christ (Revelation 20:1-6); (b) the release of Satan and the final conflict (Revelation 20:7-10); (c) the general resurrection and the last judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). [J. H. Moulton, Early Zoroastrianism, p. 326, compares from the Bundahish "the final unchaining of Aþi Dahâka, the Old Serpent, which prepares for his final destruction, and the detail that he swallows the third part of men and beasts: cf. Revelation 20:2, Revelation 20:7-10; Revelation 8:7-12; Revelation 9:15."—A. S. P.]

The first scene raises the problem as to the meaning of the millennium. Christ is described as reigning with the martyrs for a thousand years. The interpretation of this statement has caused endless controversy. We must approach the question by discussing the relation of the statements in the Apocalypse to current Jewish thought. The view, which was originally held, and which is strongly advocated in Daniel, maintained that the Kingdom of God which was to be established on earth would be everlasting (cf. Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:27). Gradually, however, this gave way to the belief that the Messianic kingdom would be of limited duration. Various periods are allotted to the kingdom by different writers. The first reference to 1000 years is found in the Slavonic Book of Enoch, which dates from A.D. 1-50. The idea of a millennium arose from a combination of Genesis 2:3 and Psalms 90:4. Six millennia of toil were to be succeeded by a millennium of rest. In other writers, however, we find other estimates of the length of the Messianic reign. 4 Ezra, for instance, puts it at 400 years. It is obvious, therefore, that Rev. simply incorporates an idea which was current at the time, and belonged to the ordinary panorama of apocalyptic belief. The reign of Christ and the martyrs is simply an attempt to Christianise the eschatological tradition in vogue at the time. Since the age of Augustine, however, an effort has been made to allegorise the statements of Rev. and apply them to the history of the Church. The binding of Satan refers to the binding of the strong man by the stronger foretold by Christ. The thousand years is not to be construed literally, but represents the whole history of the Church from the Incarnation to the final conflict. The reign of the saints is a prophecy of the domination of the world by the Church. The first resurrection is metaphorical, and simply refers to the spiritual resurrection of the believer in Christ. But exegesis of this kind is dishonest trifling. It ignores the fact that the reign described in this chapter is not a reign of the saints, but a reign of the martyrs, all others being definitely excluded, and even the martyrs are so clearly described as to leave no doubt whatever that the reference is to the martyrs of the writer's own day. Besides, to put such an interpretation on the phrase "first resurrection" is simply playing with terms. If we explain away the obvious meaning of the words, then, as Alford says, "There is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything." The only course open to the honest student of the book to-day is to regard the idea of a millennium as an alien conception which was foisted upon Christianity by the Jewish Apocalyptic of the first century. There is no support to be found for it in the teaching of Jesus, or in the rest of NT.


Verses 1-6

Revelation 20:1-6. The Establishment of the Millennium.

Revelation 20:1. key of the abyss: Revelation 9:1*.—chain: i.e. manacle or handcuff.

Revelation 20:2. dragon: Revelation 12:3*.

Revelation 20:4. thrones: the imagery is suggested by Daniel 7:9.—they sat: the subject of the sentence is omitted, and we do not know who are here denominated as judges; probably, however, the saints and martyrs referred to in the subsequent verses (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:2).—the beast: i.e. the Emperor.—mark: Revelation 13:16*.—they lived and reigned: there is no definite statement in the passage as to whether "the reign" was in heaven or on earth.

Revelation 20:5. The rest of the dead: only the martyrs were raised from the dead; other Christians were apparently still in the sleep of death. This conception contradicts the teaching of Paul, who definitely states that "to be absent from the body" is to be "at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).—first resurrection: these words must be taken literally and not spiritualised. According to Rev. the first resurrection was confined to the martyrs.—second death: cf. Revelation 20:14.


Verses 7-10

Revelation 20:7-10. The Release of Satan and the Final Conflict.

Revelation 20:8. Gog and Magog: the names are taken from Ezekiel 38 f., where Gog is the name of a prince and Magog the name of his country. The reference is to an attack by hostile nations, but we have no means of further identification.

Revelation 20:9. the beloved city: Jerusalem.

Revelation 20:10. the final overthrow of Satan is here described.—beast and false prophet: Revelation 13:11*, Revelation 16:13*.


Verses 11-15

Revelation 20:11-15. The General Resurrection.

Revelation 20:11. great white throne: in contrast to the thrones of Revelation 20:4. "In the final judgment there is but one throne, since there is but one judge" (Swete); "white" symbolises the purity of the judgment.—fled away: cf. Revelation 16:20.

Revelation 20:12. the dead: i.e. the rest of the dead who did not share in the first resurrection.—books . . . book: the books contained the record of the acts and deeds of men, the book of life contained the names of the redeemed.

Revelation 20:13. Hades: the abode of the dead, not the place of their punishment.

Revelation 20:14. death and Hades are here personified and regarded as two demonic powers.—the second death: the wicked after the resurrection are condemned to a second, an eternal death, in the lake of fire (cf. Revelation 21:8).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Revelation 20:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/revelation-20.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 19th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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