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Bible Commentaries

E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Revelation 20



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Note: Scroll down for the Questions For Chapter20

General remarks. We have come to the climax of the book of Revelation as far as the symbolic predictions are concerned. The last two chapters have figurative language of the same kind that is frequently used all through the Bible, but they pertain to conditions that are to exist after the world comes to its end. The events still in the future (as of the place where this chapter belongs in the great drama of the book) will be predicted symbolically in this chapter, which starts at the time of the great Reformation. Before taking up the chapter verse by verse, I will offer a general note that will deal with the chapter in a more condensed form. Some of the verses will be enlarged upon as occasion suggests, but I urge that my readers make themselves familiar with this note as references may be made to it at certain places.

On Revelation 20: One of the keys to the understanding of this noted chapter is the fact that Satan was to be bound away from the nations and not from any individual. There never was a time when it was predicted that he was to be chained away from any individual: it was from nations. He always has had and still has access to individuals and the only thing that will keep him away from such is his individual faith in the Scriptures. By reason of the union of church and state the nations had been led to think they could not legislate nor decide on religious questions as they might have seen fit, but must take their cue from Rome. But when the Reformation broke and gave the Bible to varlous peoples in their own language so that they could read for themselves they saw, to their surprise, that they had been deceived all these years——that they did not need to depend on Rome. Since this truth became known to various kings, and the people under them, they turned their back against Rome, which resulted in the break-up of the union of church and state, and thus the deception that caused the nations to think they must ask Rome all about it was banished. Thus the devil by the chain of truth in the Reformation, was chained away from the nations, and the Reformation period was allowed to go on. This situation explains the statement in the forepart of the fourth verse that tells us of the "thrones and they sat upon them, their judgment was given unto them," meaning that now they have learned of their own right to do their own judging instead of asking Rome about it. This was made possible by the facts just stated. Now about this time when Rome saw what it was about to amount to, she began to oppress the reformers and made life so bitter for some of them that it required the same fortitude and courage in facing Rome that had been required in the beginning of the Christian religion to face the oppression of Pagan Rome. These martyrs were equal to the occasion. They defied death and everything like it, and so nearly did they reenact the very spirit of the martyrs. As we sometimes say, that a certain individual though dead yet now speaks, meaning that someone has risen reproducing the same spirit and fortitude as the other person. So these reformers and coworkers in their courage and defiance of death, showed the spirit that the martyrs had shown and in this way we could say that the martyrs were living again. Not that any individual who had really been dead had come to life. But they who loved the truth so much were willing to die rather than go back to Rome. In this way they were reenacting the spirit of the first martyrs and so could be said to be "living" again. And since through faith and courage those who are true to the Book have been said by Paul and others to be reigning with Christ, this explains why these people are said to be reigning with Christ. The arbitrary statement of a thousand years is one instance in the Bible where a definite amount is stated when the writer refers to an indefinite one. In this case the thousand years is just an expression referring to the bright period of the Reformation when those who loved the truth had been of Christ and reigned with him during. that time.

This brings us to understand the statement in verses5,6 about the first resurrection as follows: "Now this is the first resurrection." The pronoun "this" instead of having an antecedent is a prospective pronoun and means the same as if the writer had said "I am going to tell you something of the first resurrection." The man that has part in the first resurrection will not be hurt of the second death, which we understand from other scripture is the lake of fire. This is taught especially in the language expressed by Christ in his conversation with Martha ( John 11:25-26). The expression "first resurrection" does not have any numerical significance, but is used to indicate its importance. It is the first resurrection in importance and not in numerical order since there will be but one resurrection numerically. If Christ is the resurrection, that would make it the first; and we note that the passage does not say "blessed and holy is he that" is in the first resurrection, but he that "hath part in" the first resurrection. And since Christ is the first resurrection, it follows that having part in the first resurrection means to have part in Christ, and hence this noted passage means simply the same that John 11:25-26 meant, the same as Christ meant when he said to the sister "I am the resurrection and the life" and also stated that those who continue in that faith in Him would never die. So the expression "shall never die" to Martha is equivalent to the expression "not hurt of the second death" here. And hence this passage has no reference whatever to some visionary theory about reigning on this earth.

The expression in the forepart of verse5 , "rest of the dead" is explained to mean those people who did not have enough confidence in the truth to have died for it, as the martyrs had. Of course during this bright period of the Reformation their characteristics would not be in evidence so that is why it says they will not live again until the thousand years are finished, which means until the best part of the Reformation and its effects have run their course. And since the chaining of the devil meant to undeceive the nations, by the same token turning the devil loose again means he will again operate in a national and public manner. Not necessarily through the same nations of course, but it means that he will not be satisfied with his individual influence over men and women, but will wish to poison the public streams of thought and in so doing will raise a great conflict between the friends of truth and the friends of error. The "little season" referred to in this chapter is elsewhere called the battle of Armageddon. That battle is now going on and has been ever since the Reformation period began to lose its good effects. If one were to doubt what the devil is doing in a public wholesale manner, we. cite the fact that in the state of New York a few years ago, the state chartered an nstitution whose avowed purpose was to advance atheism in all the schools andcolleges in the United States, and thus such a charter authorized by the state is similar to the idea of the devil working through the nations. Almost every state in the Union is supporting and authorizing the teaching of evolution in the name of education which is another means of the devil to operate publicly; and all-other like influences such as the support and endorsement of several nations and states and lawmakers authorizing things that have always heretofore been regarded as not even moral, much less according to the Bible, all go to the conclusion that the devil is n-ow, as he was before the Reformation, working through public wholesale channels by influencing legislatures and kings and lawmakers in the direction of infidelity, thus producing the great battle of Armageddon. Trusting the reader has carefully read the foregoing note and will be able to make proper reference to it when it is suggested, I shall take up this chapter by verses as has been done with others.

Questions For Revelation Chapter Twenty

1.Who was seen coming down from heaven?

2.What did he have?

3.Upon whom did he lay hold?

4.For what period was he bound?

5.Into ";"hat place was he cast?

6.What was set upon him?

7.Whose deception was to be thus cut off?

8.For how long was the cutting off to continue?

9.After that what will be done?

10.What did John Bee next?

11.Were they occupied?

12.What was given unto them?

13.Tell what souls John saw.

14.What had they refused to do?

15.With whom did they live?

16.What else did they do?

17.When did the rest of the dead live?

18.State what resurrection iB considered?

19.Who are said to be blessed?

20.They shall escape what death?

21.Will be in what relation to God and ChriBt?

22.What about their reign?

23.After this reign what will be done with Satan?

24.Whom will he then deceive?

25.Where are these to be found?

26.For what purpose will they be gathered?

27.Describe their number.

28. To what place did they go up?

29. What camp did they surround?

30. And what city did they encompass?

31.From where did fire come?

32.Tell wbat it did.

33.What had the devil done?

34.Tell where he was cast.

35.Who else are to be tbere?

36.What will be done to them in this place?

37.What did John see next?

38.Describe the one who sat thereon.

39.What became of the place of heaven and earth?

40.How many of the dead were seen?

41.Where did they stand?

42.What were first opened?

43.Name the "other book".

44.Tell what use was made of these books?

45.According to what was this done?

46.What did the sea do?

47.And what did death and hell do?

48.What was done with theae persons then?

49. Then what happened to death and hell?

50. What does this happening constitute?

51. Who else will be cast into this lake?

Verse 1

Bottomless pit is from ABUSSOS which means the place in Hades where angels are cast when they sin and where wicked men go when they die.

Verse 2

In this verse the four words serpent, dragon, Devil and Satan are applied to the same being, so that we need have no doubt as to the one who is meant. Thousand years is a figurative expression that is not bound by the calendar. In symbolic language the Bible does not restrict itself to exact mathematical values of the numbers mentioned. Sometimes the period will be longer and at others it will be shorter. I shall cite one or two Exodus - amples by way of illustration on the matter of this use of figurative time. In Daniel 9:24 a prediction is made of seventy weeks and we know it actually means490 years. In Revelation 6:11 the phrase little season really was to be until the Reformation which was several centuries in the future. The angel bound Satan with the chain mentioned in the preceding verse, and the chain was the Bible that was to be given back to the people in their own language. That chain bound him from the nations, which means the heads of the nations were able to see their rights by the information of the Book and realized that the devil had been deceiving them. When that occurred they resisted him and that chained him from them.

Verse 3

Cast him into the bottomless pit is symbolical of the restrictions that were placed upon Satan as to his influence over nations, for he has been there personally all the time. The restrictions were caused by the chain of the Bible that had been placed in the possession of the national leaders. (See again the note at beginning of this chapter.) These restrictions were to continue as long as the leaders of nations and other heads of the channels of thought continued their active defense of the Book. Knowing that human weakness would assert itself causing a letting down of the activities for the truth, the Lord saw the advantage it would give Satan and that he would again come out in his fight against the Bible. Hence it is stated that after the thousand years were expired—-after the restrictions of the Bible had weakened due to the loss of activities of the professed friends of truth——Satan would be loosed a little season. This little season is the same as the "battle" of verse8 which will be discussed at that place.

Verse 4

And I saw thrones . . . given unto them. This is the same vision that is described at Revelation 17:12 and the reader should see the comments at that passage. The pronoun they means the kings who had occupied their thrones in form only, but who really had not been free to use their own judgment in their ruling. Sat upon them denotes that they were occupying their thrones in fact and not merely in name. Judgment was given unto them signifies they were allowed to render their own judgment in matters pertaining to their kingdoms. Saw the souls . . . a thousand years. Before reading further at this place, let the reader reexamine very carefully the first paragraph of the note referred to previously. That is especially necessary to get the significance of the thousand years of reign with Christ. The souls John saw were of those who were beheaded by Papal Rome because they refused to submit to her false demands. Their death recalls a like experience recorded in Revelation 6:9 of those who had been slain by Pagan Rome. These whom John saw in our present verse resisted the beast (Babylon), his image (those who imitated the beast) and the inark (those who brought upon themselves the guilt of doing the things originally incited by Nero.)

Verse 5

Rest of the dead is symbolical or figurative and refers to people who did not "have enough life" or interest to be active in defense of the truth. Until the thousand years were finished. When that bright period of the Reformation (here called the thousand years) was over and the former defenders of truth began to lag, then the enemies of the Bible "came to1ife" and became active in opposition to the Word of God, acting under the influence of Satan who was now loosed in that the Bible was not binding him as it did. Such a movement stimulated the former "dead" ones to action and then was begun the conflict between the friends of truth and its enemies, a conflict that has continued to our day. This is the first resurrection. The pronoun does not refer directly to what has been said but to what is yet to be said, and it refers to the subject as a whole. John 11:25-26 should be considered in connection with the first resurrection, also read the note to which reference was made.

Verse 6

The first resurrection is that mentioned in the preceding verse of which John said he was going to speak. He is doing so now and telling us of the blessing that will be for those who have part in this first resurrection. In John 11:25 Jesus says "I am the resurrection and the life." Jesus was the first one to be resurrected never to die again ( Acts 13:34). To have part in the first resurrection means to have part in Christ. And to get the spiritual benefits of the resurrection of Christ as the bodily benefits, it is necessary to be faithful after coming into Him. That is what is meant in John 11:26 by "liveth and believeth in me." That person "shall never die" according to Christ"s statement to Martha, which means the same as on such the second death hath no power in our present verse. This second death is the punishment in the lake of fire and brimstone according to Revelation 21:8 of our present book. Shall reign with him a thousand years. This period is the same that is explained at verse2. Of course the word reign is not literal because Christ is the sole King on the throne. Thayer's explanation of the word as it is used here is as follows: "Paul transfers the word to denote the supreme moral dignity, liberty, blessedness, which will be enjoyed by Christ"s redeemed ones." The principle expressed will apply to the faithful in Christ of all ages. However, the present application is made to those who had been faithful to Christ under the persecutions of Babylon. This spirit of devotion in the presence of death was a reenactment of the spirit of the first martyrs ( Revelation 6:9-11), and they lived (were in evidence) all through this bright period of the Reformation. It is in that sense only that they were to be resurrected and reign with Christ through the thousand years. There was no prediction of any literal resurrection of some while others were to remain in their graves. There will be but one bodily resurrection (and it is still future), and at that same hour all human beings, both good and bad, will be brought to life ( Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29). It is plainly taught in other passages that when Jesus comes again it will mark the end of the kingdom and all things on the earth. ( 1 Corinthians 15:24-25; 2 Peter 3:10). All statements of a resurrection that is to occur before the second coming of Christ are figurative only.

Verse 7

This is a repetition of verse3.

Verse 8

The nations here are the same as in verse3as to the meaning of the word. But the identical groups of men who had been deceived by Satan before the Reformation would not be available to him in the same manner, for they still have the Bible in their own languages, and will always know better than to surrender their rights as nations with their kings again. But having found by experience the great advantage of working through the various headquarters, so as to effect a broad-scale opposition to the truth, he determined to direct his efforts along that line. Of course his objective is the destruction of the Bible or the faith of the people in it. That is why this great and long conflict is called Armageddon in Revelation 16:16, for one of the terms in Thayer's definition of the word is "destruction." Satan's strategy in this war was to use any means he could command that would destory men's faith in the Book. Gog and Magog were ancient peoples and countries that were numerous, savage and at enmity with civilization. The words are used symbolically here to indicate the kind of forces and means that Satan would use in his war against the Bible. In the note referred to at the beginning of this chapter, it is shown that a phase of Satan's public attacks upon the Bible is in the form of evolution, seeing that it is taught in the public schools, also be chartered and endorsed by states and educational headquarters. The same objective is now being attempted in the form of communism. In proportion as a man believes in this doctrine he will not believe in the Bible and Satan knows it. That is why he is pressing its tenets upon the people through every channel possible. It accounts for the number of communists among the school teachers of our free school system. Also for the presence of communists and their sympathizers in the three branches of our government; the legislative, executive and judicial. Iam sometimes asked if I believe the present conflict with Russia and her satellites was predicted. My answer is yes as the whole picture is considered. Communism is just the present objective in the war, the conflict being either for or against it. In that sense it was predicted for it is a continuation of the battle (war) of Armageddon, which was begun after Satan was loosed and is destined to continue until Christ comes. As in most other wars, there are spies and sympathizers who pretend to be on the right side, but whose heart is in favor of the enemy. Such traitors either deny being communists or even refuse to say whether they are or not. We know that when a man refuses to answer questions on this subject when propounded by a proper person, that person is a communist at heart and should be regarded as one of Satan's soldiers in the war of Armageddon.

Verse 9

The pronoun they stands for the hostile forces of Satan symbolically mustered from the regions of Gog and Magog. This is the army of Satan that is described in the preceding paragraph. They will fight under his directions with the object of destroying men's faith in the Bible. The apostate church of Rome taught that the religious conduct of men should be regulated according to the pope and his college of cardinals. The teaching of Christ is that men's lives should be regulated by the Bible ( 1 Peter 4:11; 1 John 1:7), that the sole institution for making that Book known is the church ( Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 3:21; 1 Timothy 3:15). Hence the army of Satan was to compass the camp of the saints. This means the church when considered as a group of individuals, and the beloved city means the church if spiritual Jerusalem is used as a symbol. So here is where the issue is joined in this great battle of Armageddon. The church of Christ is on one side, and everything else is on the other in all controversies that involve moral and religious interests, and where belief in or opposition to the Bible is at stake. The first two thirds of this brief verse covers the entire period of the war of Armageddon, beginning when Satan was loosed and extending to the coming of Christ. The last sentence of the verse marks the end of the war. Not that it tells of the date (no passage does), but it names the event that will bring the conflict to a close, namely, the consuming fire out of heaven. We are told in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 that the pope will be destroyed at the coming of Christ. It is very fitting that the war of Armageddon should be destroyed at the same time, since the pope and Satan have been allies arrayed against the forces of Christ for centuries. And with this verse the prophetic symbols of the book of Revelation bring us to the judgment day for the final showing. At various places in our study we have been brought to that event, then taken back to some earlier period and started all over again. But the rest of the chapter will describe the events on the day of judgment and not go back.

Verse 10

Devil that deceived them refers to the vast hordes who comprised the army of Satan. This verse says nothing about the fate of the deceived ones; that will be shown later.This is the lake of fire and brimstone that is mentioned in Revelation 21:8.Tormented day and night is figurative as to the parts of the time for there will be no recurrence of day and night literally. The expression is used to give emphasis to the literal part of the sentence, namely, for ever and ever. In other words there will be no "breathing spell" or even brief intermission for the sake of relief; it will be continuous and endless.

Verse 11

Great white throne signifies purity and justice. From whose face . . . fled away . . . no place for them. This agrees with the next chapter that will tell us of the new heaven and earth.

Verse 12

Small and great. In God's eyes there are no "big I and little you," so the phrase is used only to denote that all human beings will be brought before the judgment. This conclusion also agrees with the literal statements of scripture in other passages ( 2 Corinthians 5:10). Books occurs twice in this verse and it is stated that the judgment will be rendered according to the works that are written in the books. Hence the books means God"s books of remembrance. (See Psalm 56:8; Malachi 3:16.) God does not literally need the mechanical use of books, but the words are used symbolically to impress us with the truth that none of the things we do will escape His knowledge. The other book is described as the book of life. It is referred to in the last verse as containing the names of the faithful servants of the Lord. This same thought is expressed in Revelation 21:27; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3. Upon the basis of this information we may conclude that the books were the records of men's actions, and the book of life contained a list of those whose conduct had caused their names to be written in this book, and whose continued good deeds had prevented their names from being blotted out ( Revelation 3:5).

Verse 13

The preceding verse makes a general statement of the persons to be summoned before the judgment. "Small and great" would virtually include all human beings that ever lived. The present verse gives particulars, doubtless to impress us with the completeness of the resurrection of all persons regardless of where their bodies and spirits had been, even including the sea with its millions of ravenous creatures to feed upon the bodies of the dead. Death refers to the dead bodies and hell (from HADES), is the place where the spirits had been. Both will be reunited and brought before the judgment.

Verse 14

Death (of the body) and hell (HADES), will not be needed any longer, hence they will be consigned to the lake of fire. Not all men, of course, but the ones who will be designated in the next verse.

Verse 15

This explains who is meant in the preceding verse to be cast into the lake of fire. In order to avoid such a doom it behooves us all to get our names written in the book of life, then live so that they will not be blotted out.


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

Bibliography Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 20:4". E.M. Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. 1952.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 25th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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