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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Revelation 20

 

 


Other Authors
Verses 1-3

Revelation 20:1-3. And I saw an angel — An especial minister of Providence; come down from heaven — With a commission from God; having the key of the bottomless pit — Invested with power to open or to shut it; see on Revelation 9:1; and a great chain in his hand — Emblematical of his power to perform the work here assigned him. And he laid hold on the dragon — Who, after the destruction of the beast and of the false prophet, (to whom he had delegated his power,) still remained; that old serpent — That ancient enemy of the human race, who, in the form of a subtle serpent, deceived the first parents of mankind, and brought sin and death into the world, with an incalculable train of evils attendant on them; who is the Devil — The malicious and false accuser of God’s saints, as the word διαβολος, so rendered, signifies; and Satan — The grand adversary both of God and man; and bound him a thousand years — That is, at least one thousand literal years; during which the light of the gospel shall be diffused through all the world, and the reign of truth and righteousness be established universally among men. “I think,” says Doddridge, “we must despair of being able to interpret any passage of Scripture upon the plainest principle of reason, if this do not signify that there shall be such a period as this, in which Satan shall be remarkably restrained, and the Christian interest shall prevail. But whether the one thousand years are here to be taken literally, as is most probable; or whether here [as elsewhere in this book] each day is put for a year, and consequently the whole period be three hundred and sixty thousand years, I will not pretend to determine. This thought has been very lately started by an ingenious and worthy person, who, I doubt not, hath intended the service of Christianity; though I am very apprehensive he has failed in some of the mediums by which he has endeavoured to prove this point.” And cast him into the bottomless pit — His infernal prison; afterward he is cast into the lake of fire; and shut him up therein, and set a seal upon him — These are strong figures, to show the certain, strict, and severe restraint which he shall be laid under; that he might deceive the nations no more — During this whole period. One benefit only is here expressed as resulting from the confinement of Satan; but how many and great blessings are implied! For the grand enemy and opposer of truth and righteousness being removed, the kingdom of God holds on its uninterrupted course among the nations; and the great mystery of God, so long foretold, is at length fulfilled — Namely, when the beast and false prophet are destroyed, and Satan bound. This fulfilment approaches nearer and nearer, and contains things of the utmost importance, the knowledge of which becomes every day more distinct and easy. In the mean time, it is highly necessary to guard against the present rage and subtlety of the devil; remembering that the events which are to precede the binding of him, and the commencing of these one thousand years, are awful, and shortly to be expected, one after another, namely, the calamities implied in the vintage, (Revelation 14:18,) the pouring out of the last three vials, the judgment of Babylon, the last raging of the beast and false prophet, and their destruction. How great things are these! and how short the time! What is needful for us? Wisdom, patience, faithfulness, watchfulness. Surely this is not a time for us to settle upon our lees. This, if it be rightly understood, will not be an acceptable message to the wise, the mighty, the honourable of this world. Yet that which is to be done shall be done: there is no counsel against the Lord. After that he must be loosed — So does the mysterious wisdom of God permit; for a little season — For a small time, comparatively: though, upon the whole, it cannot be very short, because the things that are to be transacted therein (see Revelation 20:8-9) must take up a considerable space.


Verses 4-6

Revelation 20:4-6. And I saw thrones — Such as were promised to the apostles, Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:30; and they — Namely, the saints, whom St. John saw at the same time; sat upon them, and judgment was given to them 1 Corinthians 6:2. Error and sin being restrained, the reign of righteousness succeeds, and the administration of justice and judgment is given to the saints of the Most High, Daniel 7:22. And I saw the souls — That is, the persons; of them that were beheaded — Namely, with the axe, as the word πεπελεκισμενων properly signifies: one kind of death, however, which was particularly inflicted at Rome, is mentioned for all kinds thereof: for the witness, or testimony, of Jesus — For testifying that Jesus of Nazareth is the true Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour, Lawgiver, and final Judge of the world, and especially of those who believe in him; and for the word of God — In general, or for some particular and peculiarly important truth of it; or for bearing witness to the great truths of the everlasting gospel; and who had not worshipped the beast — Had not made any acknowledgment of subjection to the antichristian power of the beast, nor yielded to the prevailing corruptions; nor his image — The pope and his corrupt hierarchy; but had persevered in the true Christian faith against all opposition. See on Revelation 13:4-8; Revelation 13:11-17. Neither had received his mark in their foreheads, or on their hands — Had neither made an open profession of his corrupt religion, nor had secretly complied with its idolatries or superstitions. And they lived — Their souls and bodies being reunited; and reigned with Christ — It is not said, on earth. Doubtless the meaning is, that they ascended and reigned with him in heaven; a thousand years — Namely, before the rest of the dead, even the one thousand years during which Satan is bound, and truth and righteousness prevail over all the earth.

Although the martyrs, when thus raised from the dead, shall not continue on earth, it is highly probable that, in proof of their resurrection, they will appear to pious individuals, in the places where they were so cruelly martyred, and where they are raised: as those saints who, at Jerusalem, rose with Christ, went into the city, and appeared to many, Matthew 27:52-53. And if so, it is likely this circumstance will tend greatly to confirm the faith and hope of believers respecting the resurrection of the dead, and will check vice and profaneness, and contribute much to the spread of the gospel. “The martyrs and confessors of Jesus,” says Bishop Newton, “who are here represented as being raised from the dead, at least one thousand years before others, are not only those who were beheaded, or suffered any kind of death, under the heathen Roman emperors, but also those who refused to comply with the idolatrous worship of the beast and his image. All these have this peculiar prerogative above the rest of mankind: they all share in this first resurrection. And all of them the apostle here pronounces, Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection — He is holy in all senses of the word: holy, as separated from the common lot of mankind; holy, as endowed with all virtuous qualifications; and none but such are admitted to partake of this blessed state. On such the second death has no power — The second death is a Jewish phrase for the punishment of the wicked after death. The Chaldee paraphrase of Onkelos, and the other paraphrases of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, and of Jerusalem, on Deuteronomy 33:6, Let Reuben live, and not die, say, Let him not die the second death, by which the wicked die in the world to come.

The sons of the resurrection, therefore, shall not die again, but shall live in eternal bliss, and be priests of God and Christ, and reign with him a thousand years” — Before any others. For the Lord Jesus will not suffer any of his disciples to be, in the end, losers for their fidelity to him and his cause. These loved not their lives unto death, but voluntarily sacrificed them out of love to him; and he thus amply recompenses them. He gives each of them an infinitely better life than that given up for his sake — and this a thousand years before the other pious dead receive theirs. “Nothing is more evident,” says Bishop Newton, “than that this prophecy of the millennium, and of the first resurrection, hath not yet been fulfilled, even though the resurrection be taken in a figurative sense. For reckon the thousand years from the time of Christ, or reckon them from the time of Constantine, yet neither of these periods, nor indeed any other, will answer the description and character of the millennium, the purity and peace, the holiness and happiness of that blessed state. Before Constantine, indeed, the church was in greater purity; but was groaning under the persecutions of the heathen emperors. After Constantine, the church was in greater prosperity, but was soon shaken and disturbed by heresies and schisms, by the incursions and devastations of the northern nations, by the conquering arms and prevailing imposture of the Saracens, and afterward of the Turks; by the corruption, idolatry, and wickedness — the usurpation, tyranny, and cruelty, of the Church of Rome. If Satan was then bound, when can he be said to be loosed? Or how could the saints and the beast, Christ and antichrist, reign at the same period? This prophecy therefore remains to be fulfilled, even though the resurrection be taken only for an allegory, which yet the text cannot admit without the greatest torture and violence. For with what propriety can it be said, that some of the dead, who were beheaded, lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years, but the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished, unless the dying and living again be the same in both places, a proper death and resurrection? Indeed the death and resurrection of the witnesses before mentioned, chap. 11., appears, from the concurrent circumstances of the vision, to be figurative; but the death and resurrection here mentioned must, for the very same reasons, be concluded to be real. If the martyrs rise only in a spiritual sense, then the rest of the dead rise only in a spiritual sense; but if the rest of the dead really rise, the martyrs rise in the same manner. There is no difference between them: and we should be cautious and tender of making the first resurrection an allegory, lest others should reduce the second into an allegory too, like those whom St. Paul mentions 2 Timothy 2:17-18.

In the general, that there shall be such a happy period is the plain and express doctrine of Daniel 7:27; Psalms 2:8; Isaiah 11:9; Romans 11:25-26, and of all the prophets, as well as of St. John; and we daily pray for the accomplishment of it in saying, Thy kingdom come. But, of all the prophets, St. John is the only one who hath declared particularly, and in express terms, that the martyrs shall rise at the commencement of it, though, as has been observed, probably not to remain on earth, but to ascend and be with Christ in heaven; and that this happy state of the church shall continue for one thousand years. And the Jewish Church before him, and the Christian Church after him, have further believed and taught, that these thousand years will be the seventh millenary of the world. A pompous heap of quotations might be produced to this purpose, both from Jewish and Christian writers; but to enumerate only a few of both sorts: among the Jewish writers are, Rabbi Ketina, and the house of Elias; among the Christian writers are, St. Barnabas in the first century, Justin Martyr in the second century, Tertullian in the beginning of the third, and Lactantius in the beginning of the fourth century. In short, the doctrine of the millennium was generally believed in the first three and purest ages of the church: and this belief was one principal cause of the fortitude of the primitive Christians: they even coveted martyrdom, in hopes of being partakers of the privileges and glories of the martyrs in the first resurrection. Afterward, this doctrine grew into disrepute, for various reasons. Some, both Jewish and Christian writers, have debased it with a mixture of fables. It hath suffered by the misrepresentations of its enemies, as well as by the indiscretions of its friends; it hath been abused to the worst purposes: it hath been made an engine of faction. Besides, wherever the influence and authority of the Church of Rome have extended, she hath endeavoured by all means to discredit this doctrine; and, indeed, not without sufficient reason, this kingdom of Christ being founded on the ruins of antichrist. No wonder, therefore, that this doctrine lay depressed for many ages; but it sprang up again at the Reformation, and will flourish together with the study of the Revelation. All the danger is, on the one side, of pruning and lopping it too short; and, on the other, of suffering it to grow too wild and luxuriant. Great caution and judgment are required to keep in the middle way. We should neither, with some, interpret into an allegory; nor, with others, indulge an extravagant fancy, nor explain too curiously the manner and circumstances of this future state.

We must not imagine, as Fleming observes, that the appearance of Christ, to introduce this glorious state of the church, will be a personal one, any more than his appearance to destroy Jerusalem, and punish the Jewish nation by Titus, was such; for the heavens must retain him until the time of the restitution of all things. Nor are we to imagine that, in this prosperous state of the church, it shall be free from all mixture of hypocrisy, error, and sin, seeing that the sudden and general apostacy which will follow that period shows that all were not Israel that feigned themselves to be of it; otherwise it is not likely that God, in his equity and goodness, would suffer the enemies of his people so dreadfully to assault them as they are here represented to do. It is safest and best faithfully to adhere to the words of Scripture, and to rest contented with the general account, till time shall accomplish and eclaircise all the particulars.


Verses 7-10

Revelation 20:7-10. The following verses of this chapter to Revelation 20:11 inform us that the happy days of the church, prophesied of in the foregoing vision, will at length have their period, though they are to continue for a long time, and are not to expire till after one thousand years: yet then there shall be one attempt more against the purity of religion, and against the peace and prosperity of the church. Satan will be released for a little season, but in that little season he shall deceive many, and so far seduce them as to prevail upon them to join with him in his apostacy. This new attempt against truth and righteousness shall end in the utter ruin of the enemies of Christ and his religion; they shall be totally defeated, and their obstinate wickedness punished with everlasting destruction. This state of the church and world, so different from the preceding, deserves to be considered as a new period, which will therefore be the fifth in order. — Lowman. And when the thousand years are expired, &c. — “At the expiration of the thousand years the restraint shall be taken off from wickedness; Satan shall be loosed out of his prison — And make one effort more to re-establish his kingdom. As he deceived our first parents in the paradisiacal state, so he shall have the artifice to deceive the nations in this millennium kingdom, to show that no state or condition on earth is exempted or secured from sinning.

The nations whom he shall deceive are described as living in the remotest parts of the world; in the four quarters εν ταις τεσσαρσι γωνιαις της γης, in the four angles, or corners, of the earth; and they are distinguished by the name of Gog and Magog, and are said to be as numerous as the sands of the sea. Gog and Magog seem to have been formerly the general name of the northern nations of Europe and Asia, as the Scythians have been since, and the Tartars are at present. In Ezekiel there is a famous prophecy concerning Gog and Magog, and this prophecy alludes to that in many particulars. Both that of Ezekiel and this of St. John remain yet to be fulfilled; and therefore we cannot be absolutely certain that they may not both relate to the same event, but it appears more probable that they relate to different events. The one is expected to take place before, but the other will not take place till after, the millennium. Gog and Magog, in Ezekiel, are said expressly (Ezekiel 38:6; Ezekiel 38:15; Ezekiel 39:2) to come from the north quarters and the north parts; but in St. John they came from the four quarters, or corners, of the earth. Gog and Magog, in Ezekiel, bend their forces against the Jews resettled in their own land; but in St. John they march up against the saints and church of God in general. It may therefore be concluded that Gog and Magog, as well as Sodom, and Egypt, and Babylon, are mystic names in this book; and the last enemies of the Christian Church are so denominated, because Gog and Magog appear to be the last enemies of the Jewish nation. Who they shall be, we cannot pretend to say with any degree of certainty: but whoever they shall be, they shall come up from the four corners of the earth, on the breadth of the earth, and shall compass the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city — The new Jerusalem, with the saints encamped around it, as the Israelites encamped around the tabernacle in the wilderness. But they shall not succeed in their attempts; they shall not be able to hurt the church and city of God, but shall be destroyed in an extraordinary manner, by fire from heaven: and the devil himself, the promoter and leader of this new apostacy and rebellion against God and his Christ, shall not only be confined as before, but shall be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where he shall be punished together with the beast and the false prophet, who were cast in before him, and shall be tormented for ever and ever.


Verse 11

Revelation 20:11. The course of these prophecies, after many important visions describing the state of the church and world in this present life, brings us at last to the great and final judgment, when the whole scene and mystery of Providence shall be finished. Then the great doctrine which runs through the whole of these prophecies will be fully verified, namely, that truth and righteousness shall surely prevail in the end, against error and all iniquity; eternal happiness shall be the reward of the faithful, and everlasting destruction the punishment of the wicked. This is represented as a sixth period of Providence, after which there will be in the seventh period an everlasting sabbath; a state of eternal rest and happiness for all the righteous, and of the most perfect worship of God, in the praises and devotions of the heavenly church. — Lowman. And I saw — A representation of the great day of the Lord; a great white throne — How great who can say? White — With the glory of God, and to show the holiness, justice, and equity of him that sits on it, the Lord Jesus. The apostle does not attempt to describe him here; he only adds that circumstance, far above all description; from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away — At least the aerial, if not also the starry heaven; and there was found no place for them — But they were wholly dissolved; the very elements melting with fervent heat. It is not said they were thrown into great commotions, but they fell into dissolution; not they removed to a distant place, but there was found no place for them: at least as to their present state; they ceased to exist, they were no more. See on 2 Peter 3:7-13. And all this, not at the strict command of the Lord Jesus, not at his awful presence, or before his fiery indignation, but at the bare presence of his Majesty, sitting with severe, but adorable dignity, on his throne.


Verse 12

Revelation 20:12. And I saw the dead, small and great — Of every age and condition, rank and degree; as well those who perished at sea, and were buried in the waters, as those who died on land, and were buried in graves: all are raised, and stand before the judgment-seat of God, as also those who are found alive at Christ’s second coming, and undergo a change equivalent to death, 1 Corinthians 15:51. All these stand before their Judge, whether they had been rich or poor, kings or subjects, in one grand assembly, waiting to receive their final doom from him who once stood at the bar of a weak and sinful mortal, by whom he was condemned to suffer the ignominious and painful death of crucifixion, but now, how unlike: —

The babe of Bethlehem!

how unlike the man

That groan’d on Calvary!

Yet he it is;

That Man of sorrows!

O how changed!

And the books were opened — The records of the Divine Omniscience on the one hand, and those of the sinners’ consciences on the other; and the book of the natural law, the rule by which those shall be judged who had not been favoured with the Holy Scriptures, and the book of the revealed law, including the Old Testament and the New: by which they shall be judged who were favoured, and as far as they were favoured, with these divine oracles. Human judges have their books written with pen and ink; but how different is the nature of these books, and how many hidden things will be brought to light when they are opened! And how many will have a quite different appearance, in the sight of men, from what they had before? With the book of God’s omniscience that of conscience will exactly tally. It is not said the books will be read; the light of that day will make them visible to all: then particularly shall every man know himself, and that with the utmost exactness. This will be the first true, full, impartial, universal history that was ever published. And now, if these were the only books that will be opened, no flesh could be saved: for all heathen will be found to have violated the law of nature, or to have fallen short of its demands: all Jews to have transgressed the law of Moses, and to have contracted guilt thereby, though in different degrees; and all Christians, so called, to have deviated, more or less, from the spirituality and strictness of the law of Christ, at one time or another. But another book was opened — Wherein were enrolled all that had turned to God in true repentance and living faith, and had been accepted in the Beloved; had been both justified and sanctified through the mediation and grace of Christ, and had lived and died in the possession of that faith in God and his truth, which worketh by love. Which is the book of life — That is, without a figure, that divine wisdom or remembrance, whereby the Lord knows them that are his, namely, them that, in the days of their flesh, had been truly pardoned and renewed in the spirit of their minds; had been taken into God’s favour, stamped with his image, possessed of communion with him, and had brought forth the genuine fruits of righteousness, by a patient continuance in well-doing. All these shall be acquitted at the bar of Christ, and acknowledged as his genuine followers. Nevertheless even these shall be judged out of those things which were written in the books — That is, in a manner agreeable to the tenor of them; according to their works — That is, according as their spirit and conduct, their intentions and affections, their tempers, words, and actions, had been agreeable or disagreeable to the discoveries which God had made to them of his will. In other words their reward shall be greater or less in proportion to the degrees of holiness which they had attained, the endeavours they had used to glorify God, and do good to mankind in their generation, and to the patience and resignation wherewith they had endured the various sufferings which, in the course of Divine Providence, they had been called to sustain for the trial of their grace, and to render them examples of patience to others. On the other hand, those who are not found written in the book of life, (Revelation 20:15,) who in the days of their flesh did not turn to God in repentance, faith, and new obedience, and therefore were not accepted of him through the mediation of his Son, are cast into the lake of fire, where they are punished in different degrees, according to their evil works; that is, according to the unholiness and unrighteousness of their tempers, words, and actions; their internal enmity against, or unlikeness to God, the dishonour they had done to him, and the evil they had done to their fellow-creatures by their iniquitous conduct, including their abuse of their time and talents, of the privileges afforded them, and the various means used in vain to reclaim and bring them to repentance.


Verses 13-15

Revelation 20:13-15. And — That none might be exempt from being brought to judgment, the resurrection extended even to the waters; the sea — The lakes and rivers; gave up the dead which were in them, and, ο θανατος και ο αδης, death and hades — Or, the state of separate souls, delivered up the dead which were in them — Death gave up all the bodies of men, and hades their souls, to be united to their bodies. And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire — That is, were abolished for ever. For neither the righteous nor the wicked were to die any more; their souls and bodies were to be no more separated. Consequently neither death nor hades could any more have a being. Such is the awful end of the whole human race: they are plunged into that flaming and eternal ruin signified by the lake of fire, or are received into those abodes of glory, which are described in the next two chapters under the figures of a new heaven and a new earth.

Here then we have before us a most affecting view of those important events in which we are all most intimately, yea, infinitely concerned; even the illustrious day of the passing away of the heaven and earth, and the final judgment of all mankind, whether small or great. Therefore let all the living, both small and great, seriously weigh these things; let them often look forward to the awful period when the glorious throne shall be set, the important volumes opened, and our whole lives, all our tempers, words, and works, which are now perfectly known to God, shall be exhibited to the view of men, angels, and devils. Let us, therefore, judge ourselves impartially, that we be not condemned of the Lord; and, conscious how unable we shall be to stand in that judgment if he were to lay justice to the line, let us humbly and penitently apply to the throne of mercy, to the grace of the gospel covenant, through the blood of the Redeemer. So shall we find mercy of the Lord in that day, and reign with him, not a thousand years only, but for everlasting ages. In the mean time, let those who have no reverence for his majesty, nor esteem for his gospel, and who have never taken this awful alarm, have never fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them, tremble at these awakening views. Let them all, of every condition, both small and great, say in their hearts, Who shall dwell with devouring flames, with everlasting burnings? Shall we have our portion in this lake of fire, into which every one who is not found written in the book of life shall be cast? and shall we be those wretched victims of the divine justice, who shall be tormented for ever and ever? Nay, rather let us turn to God in sincerity and truth that our souls may live, and an entrance be administered unto us into his everlasting kingdom!

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 20:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/revelation-20.html. 1857.

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Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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