And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
And I saw an angel come down from heaven - Compare the notes on Revelation 10:1. He does not say whether this angel had appeared to him before, but the impression is rather that it was a different one. The whole character of the composition of the book leads us to suppose that different angels were employed to make these communications to John, and that, in fact, in the progress of things disclosed in the book, he had contact with a considerable number of the heavenly inhabitants. The scene that is recorded here occurred after the destruction of the beast and the false prophet Revelation 19:18-21, and therefore, according to the principles expressed in the explanation of the previous chapters, what is intended to be described here will take place after the final destruction of the papal and Muhammedan powers.
Having the key of the bottomless pit - See the notes on Revelation 1:18; Revelation 9:1. The fact that he has the key of that underworld is designed to denote here, that he can fasten it on Satan so that it shall become his prison.
And a great chain in his hand - With which to bind the dragon, Revelation 20:2. It is called great because of the strength of him that was to be bound. The chain only appears to have been in his hand. Perhaps the key was suspended to his side.
And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
And he laid hold on - Seized him by violence - ἐκράτησεν ekratēsen. The word denotes "the employment of strength" or "force"; and it implies that he had power superior to that of the dragon. Compare Matthew 14:3; Matthew 18:28; Matthew 21:46; Matthew 22:6; Matthew 26:4. We can at once see the propriety of the use of this word in this connection. The great enemy to be bound has himself mighty power, and can be overcome only by a superior. This may teach us that it is only a power from heaven that can destroy the empire of Satan in the world; and perhaps it may teach us that the interposition of angels will be employed in bringing in the glorious state of the millennium. Why should it not be?
The dragon - See the notes on Revelation 12:2. Compare Revelation 12:4, Revelation 12:7, Revelation 12:13, Revelation 12:16-17; Revelation 13:2, Revelation 13:4, Revelation 13:11; Revelation 16:13. There can be no doubt as to the meaning of the word here; for it is expressly said to mean the devil, and Satan. It would seem, however, that it refers to some manifestation of the power of Satan that would exist after the beast and false prophet - that is, the papacy and Mohammedanism - should be destroyed, and probably the main reference is to the still existing power of paganism. Compare the notes on Revelation 16:13-14. It may include, however, all the forms of wickedness which Satan shall have kept upon the earth, and all the modes of evil by which he will endeavor to perpetuate his reign.
That old serpent - This is undoubtedly an allusion to the serpent that deceived our first parents (Genesis 3:1 ff.), and therefore a proof that it was Satan that, under the form of a serpent, deceived them. Compare notes on Revelation 12:3.
Which is the devil - On the meaning of this word, see the notes on Matthew 4:1.
And Satan - On the meaning of this word, see the notes on Job 1:6. In regard to the repetition of the names of that great enemy of God and the church here, Mr. Taylor, in the Fragments to Calmet's Dictionary, No. 152, says that this "almost resembles a modern Old Bailey indictment, in which special care is taken to identify the culprit, by a sufficient number of aliases. An angel from heaven, having the key of the prison of the abyss, and a great chain to secure the prisoner, 'apprehended the dragon, alias the old serpent, alias the devil, alias the Satan, alias the seducer of the world,' who was sentenced to a thousand years' imprisonment." The object here, however, seems to be not so much to identify the culprit by these aliases, as to show that under whatever forms, and by whatever names he had appeared, it was always the same being, and that now the author of the whole evil would be arrested. Thus the one great enemy sometimes has appeared in a form that would be best represented by a fierce and fiery dragon; at another, in a form that would be best represented by a cunning and subtle serpent; now in a form to which the word "devil" ("accuser"), would be most appropriate; and now in a form in which the word "Satan" - an adversary - would be most expressive of what he does. In these various forms, and under these various names, he has ruled the fallen world; and when this one great enemy shall be seized and imprisoned, all these forms of evil will, of course, come to an end.
A thousand years - This is the period usually designated as the millennium - for the word "millennium" means "a thousand years." It is on this passage that the whole doctrine of the millennium as such has been founded. It is true that there are elsewhere in the Scriptures abundant promises that the gospel will ultimately spread over the world; but the notion of a millennium as such is found in this passage alone. It is, however, enough to establish the doctrine, if its meaning be correctly ascertained; for it is a just rule in interpreting the Bible, that the clearly-ascertained sense of a single passage of Scripture is sufficient to establish the truth of a doctrine. The fact, however, that this passage stands alone in this respect, makes it the more important to endeavor accurately to determine its meaning. There are but three ways in which the phrase "a thousand years" can be understood here: either:
(a) literally; or,
(b) in the prophetic use of the term, where a day would stand for a year, thus making a period of three hundred and sixty thousand years; or,
(c) figuratively, supposing that it refers to a long but indefinite period of time.
It may be impossible to determine which of these periods is intended, though the first has been generally supposed to be the true one, and hence the common notion of the millennium. There is nothing, however, in the use of the language here, as there would be nothing contrary to the common use of symbols in this book in regard to time, in the supposition that this was designed to describe the longest period here suggested, or that it is meant that the world shall enjoy a reign of peace and righteousness during the long period of three hundred and sixty thousand years. Indeed, there are somethings in the arrangements of nature which look as if it were contemplated that the earth would continue under a reign of righteousness through a vastly long period in the future.
And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
And cast him into the bottomless pit - See the notes on Revelation 9:1. A state of peace and prosperity would exist as if Satan, the great disturber, were confined in the nether world as a prisoner.
And shut him up - Closed the massive doors of the dark prison-house upon him. Compare the notes on Job 10:21-22.
And set a seal upon him - Or, rather, "upon it" - ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ epanō autou. The seal was placed upon the "door" or "gate" of the prison, not because this would fasten the gate or door of itself, and make it secure, for this was secured by the key, but because it prevented intrusion, or any secret opening of it without its being known. See the Daniel 6:17 note, and Matthew 27:66 note. The idea here is, that every precaution was taken for absolute security.
That he should deceive the nations no more - That is, during the thousand years. Compare the notes on Revelation 12:9.
Till the thousand years should be fulfilled - That is, during that period there will be a state of things upon the earth as if Satan should be withdrawn from the world, and confined in the great prison where he is ultimately to dwell forever.
And after that he must be loosed a little season - See Revelation 20:7-8. That is, a state of things will then exist, for a brief period, as if he were again released from his prison-house, and suffered to go abroad upon the earth. The phrase "a little season" - μικρὸν χρόνον mikron chronon, "little time" - denotes properly that this would be brief as compared with the thousand years. No intimation is given as to the exact time, and it is impossible to conjecture how long it will be. All the circumstances stated, however, here and in Revelation 20:7-10, would lead us to suppose that what is referred to will be like the sudden outbreak of a rebellion in a time of general peace, but which will soon be quelled.
Section a. - Condition of the world in the period referred to in Revelation 20:1-3
It may be proper, in order to a correct understanding of this chapter, to present a brief summary under the different parts (see the Analysis of the chapter) of what, according to the interpretation proposed, may be expected to be the condition of things in the time referred to.
On the portion now before us Revelation 20:1-3, according to the interpretation proposed, the following suggestions may be made:
(1) This will be subsequent to the downfall of the papacy and the termination of the Muhammedan power in the world. Of course, then, this lies in the future - how far in the future it is impossible to determine. The interpretation of the various portions of this book, and the book of Daniel, have, however, led to the conclusion that the termination of those powers cannot now be remote. If so, we are on the eve of important events in the world's history. The affairs of the world look as if things were tending to a fulfillment of the prophecies so understood.
(2) it will be a condition of the world "as if" Satan were bound; that is, where his influences will be suspended, and the principles of virtue and religion will prevail. According to the interpretation of the previous chapters, it will be a state in which all that has existed, and that now exists, in the papacy to corrupt mankind, to maintain error, and to prevent the prevalence of free and liberal principles, will cease; in which all that there now is in the Muhammedan system to fetter and enslave mankind - now controlling more than one hundred and twenty million of the race - shall have come to an end; and in which, in a great measure, all that occurs under the direct influence of Satan in causing or perpetuating slavery, war, intemperance, lust, avarice, disorder, scepticism, atheism, will be checked arid stayed. It is proper to say, however, that this passage does not require us to suppose that there will be a "total cessation" of Satanic influence in the earth during that period. Satan will, indeed, be bound and restrained as to his former influence and power. But there will be no change in the character of man as he comes into the world. There will still be corrupt passions in the human heart. Though greatly restrained, and though there will be a general prevalence of righteousness on the earth, yet we are to remember that the race is fallen, and that even then, if restraint should be taken away, man would act out his fallen nature. This fact, if remembered, will make it appear less strange that, after this period of prevalent righteousness, Satan should be represented as loosed again, and as able once more for a time to deceive the nations.
(3) it will be a period of long duration. On the supposition that it is to be literally a period of one thousand years, this is in itself long, and will give, especially under the circumstances, opportunity for a vast progress in human affairs. To form some idea of the length of the period, we need only place ourselves in imagination "back" for a thousand years - say in the middle of the ninth century - and look at the condition of the world then, and think of the vast changes in human affairs that have occurred during that period. It is to be remembered, also, that if the millennial period were soon to commence, it would find the world in a far different state in reference to future progress from what it was in the ninth century, and that it would "start off," so to speak, with all the advantages in the arts and sciences which have been accumulated in all the past periods of the world.
Even if there were no special divine interposition, it might be presumed that the race, in such circumstances, would make great and surprising advances in the long period of a thousand years. And here a very striking remark of Mr. Hugh Miller may be introduced as illustrating the subject. "It has been remarked by some student of the Apocalypse," says he, "that the course of predicted events at first moves slowly, as one after one, six of seven seals are opened; that, on the opening of the seventh seal, the progress is so considerably quickened that the seventh period proves as fertile in events - represented by the sounding of the seven trumpets - as the foregoing six taken together; and that on the seventh trumpet, so great is the further acceleration, that there is an amount of incident condensed in this seventh part of the seventh period equal, as in the former case, to that of all the previous six parts in one. There are three cycles, it has been said, in the scheme - cycle within cycle - the second comprised within a seventh portion of the first, and the third within a seventh portion of the second. Be this as it may, we may, at least, see something that exceedingly resembles it in that actual economy of change and revolution manifested in English history for the last two centuries. "It would seem as if eyelets, in their downward course, had come under the influence of that law of gravitation through which falling bodies increase in speed, as they descend, according to the squares of the distance" (First Impressions of England and its People, pp. 7, 8.). If to this we add the supposition, which we have seen (see the notes on Revelation 20:2) to be by no means improbable, that it is intended, in the description of the millennium in this chapter, that the world will continue under a reign of peace and righteousness for the long period of three hundred and sixty thousand years, it is impossible to anticipate what progress will be made during that period, or to enumerate the numbers that will be saved. On this subject, see some very interesting remarks in the "Old Red Sandstone," by Hugh Miller, pp. 248-250, 258, 259. Compare Prof. Hitchcock's "Religion and Geology," pp. 370-409.
(4) What, then, will be the state of things during that long period of a thousand years?
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
And I saw thrones - θρόνους thronous See Revelation 1:4; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 4:3-4. John here simply says, that he saw in vision thrones, with persons sitting on them, but without intreating who they were that sat on them. It is not the throne of God that is now revealed, for the word is in the plural number, though the writer does not hint how "many" thrones there were. It is intimated, however, that these thrones were placed with some reference to pronouncing a judgment, or determining the destiny of some portion of mankind, for it is immediately added, "and judgment was given unto them." There is considerable resemblance, in many respects, between this and the statement in Daniel 7:9; "I beheld until the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit"; or, as it should be rendered, "I beheld" - that is, I continued to look - "until the thrones were placed or set," to wit, for the purposes of judgment. See the notes on that passage. So John here sees, as the termination of human affairs approaches, thrones placed with reference to a determination of the destiny of some portion of the race, "as if" they were now to have a trial, and to receive a sentence of acquittal or condemnation. The "persons" on whom this judgment is to pass are specified, in the course of the verse, as those who were "beheaded for the witness of Jesus, who had the Word of God, who had not worshipped the beast," etc. The "time" when this was to occur manifestly was at the Beginning of the thousand years.
And they sat upon them - Who sat on them is not mentioned. The natural construction is, that "judges" sat on them, or that persons sat on them to whom judgment was entrusted. The language is such as would be used on the supposition either that he had mentioned the subject before, so that he would be readily understood, or that, from some other cause, it was so well understood that there was no necessity for mentioning who they were. John seems to have assumed that it would be understood who were meant. And yet to us it is not entirely clear; for John has not before this given us any such intimation that we can determine with certainty what is intended. The probable construction is, that those are referred to to whom it appropriately belonged to occupy such seats of judgment, and who they are is to be determined from other parts of the Scriptures. In Matthew 19:28, the Saviour says to his apostles, "When the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." In 1 Corinthians 6:2, Paul asks the question, "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" The meaning as thus explained is, that Christians will, in some way, be employed in judging the world; that is, that they will be exalted to the right hand of the Judge, and be elevated to a station of honor, as if they were associated with the Son of God in the judgment. Something of that kind is, doubtless, referred to here; and John probably means to say that he saw the thrones placed on which those will sit who will be employed in judging the world. If the apostles are specially referred to, it was natural that John, eminent for modesty, should not particularly mention them, as he was one of them, and as the true allusion would be readily understood.
And judgment was given unto them - The power of pronouncing sentence in the case referred to was conferred on them, and they proceeded to exercise that power. This was not in relation to the whole race of mankind, but to the martyrs, and to those who, amidst many temptations and trials, had kept themselves pure. The sentence which is to be passed would seem to be that in consequence of which they are to be permitted to "live and reign with Christ a thousand years." The "form" of this expressed approval is that of a resurrection and judgment; whether this be the "literal" mode is another inquiry, and will properly be considered when the exposition of the passage shall have been given.
And I saw the souls of them - This is a very important expression in regard to the meaning of the whole passage. John says he saw "the souls" - not "the bodies." If the obvious meaning of this be the correct meaning; if he saw the "souls" of the martyrs, not the "bodies," this would seem to exclude the notion of a "literal" resurrection, and consequently overturn many of the theories of a literal resurrection, and of a literal reign of the saints with Christ during the thousand years of the millennium. The doctrine of the last resurrection, as everywhere stated in the Scripture, is, that the "body" will be raised up, and not merely that the "soul will live" (see 1 Corinthians 15, and the notes on that chapter); and consequently John must mean to refer in this place to something different from that resurrection, or to "any" proper resurrection of the dead as the expression is commonly understood.
The doctrine which has been held, and is held, by those who maintain that there will be a "literal resurrection" of the saints to reign with Christ during a thousand years, can receive no support from this passage, for there is no ambiguity respecting the word "souls" - ψυχὰς psuchas - as used here. By no possible construction can it mean the "bodies" of the saints. If John had intended to state that the saints, as such, would be raised as they will be at the last day, it is clear that he would not have used this language, but would have employed the common language of the New Testament to denote it. The language here does not express the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; and if no other language but this had been used in the New Testament, the doctrine of the resurrection, as now taught and received, could not be established. These considerations make it clear to my mind that John did not mean to teach that there would be a literal resurrection of the saints, that they might live and reign with Christ personally during the period of a thousand years.
There was undoubtedly something that might be "compared" with the resurrection, and that might, in some proper sense, be "called" a resurrection Revelation 20:5-6, but there is not the slightest intheation that it would be a resurrection of the "body," or that it would be identical with the "final" resurrection. John undoubtedly intends to describe some honor conferred on the "spirits or souls" of the saints and martyrs during this long period, as if they were raised from the dead, or which might be represented by a resurrection from the dead. What that honor is to be, is expressed by their "living and reigning with Christ." The meaning of this will be explained in the exposition of these words; but the word used here is fatal to the notion of a literal resurrection and a personal reign with Christ on the earth.
That were beheaded - The word used here - πελεκίζω pelekizō - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, "to axe," that is, to hew or cut with an axe - from πέλεκυς pelekus, "axe." Hence it means to behead with an axe. This was a common mode of execution among the Romans, and doubtless many of the Christian martyrs suffered in this manner; but "it cannot be supposed to have been the intention of the writer to confine the rewards of martyrs to those who suffered in this particular way; for this specific and ignominious method of punishment is designated merely as the symbol of any and every kind of martyrdom" (Prof. Stuart).
And for the Word of God - See the notes on Revelation 1:9. "Which had not worshipped the beast." Who had remained faithful to the principles of the true religion, and had resisted all the attempts made to seduce them from the faith, even the temptations and allurements in the times of the papacy. See this language explained in the notes on Revelation 13:4.
Neither his image - notes on Revelation 13:14-15.
Neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands - See the notes on Revelation 13:16.
And they lived - ἔζησαν ezēsan, from ζάω zaō, "to live." Very much, in the whole passage, depends on this word. The meanings given to the word by Prof. Robinson (Lexicon) are the following:
(a) to live, to have life, spoken of physical life and existence;
(b) to live, that is, to sustain life, to live on or by anything;
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
But the rest of the dead - In contradistinction from the beheaded martyrs, and from those who had kept themselves pure in the times of great temptation. The phrase "rest of the dead" here would most naturally refer to the "same general class" which was before mentioned - the pious dead. The meaning is, that the martyrs would be honored as if they were raised up and the others not - that is, that special respect would be shown to their principles, their memory, and their character. In other words, "special" honor would be shown "to a spirit of eminent piety" during that period above the "common and ordinary" piety which has been manifested in the church. The "rest of the dead" - the pious dead - would indeed be raised up and rewarded, but they would occupy comparatively humble places, as if they did not partake in the exalted triumphs when the world should be subdued to the Saviour. Their places in honor, in rank, and in reward would be "beneath" that of those who in fiery times had maintained unshaken fidelity to the cause of truth.
Lived not - On the word "lived," see the notes on Revelation 20:4. That is, they "lived" not during that period in the special sense in which it is said Revelation 20:4 that the eminent saints and martyrs lived. They did not come into remembrance; their principles were not what then characterized the church; they did not see, as the martyrs did, their principles and mode of life in the ascendency, and consequently they had not the augmented happiness and honor which the more eminent saints and martyrs had.
Until the thousand years were finished - Then all who were truly the children of God, though some might be less eminent than others had been, would come into remembrance, and would have their proper place in the rewards of heaven. The "language" here is not necessarily to be interpreted as meaning that they would be raised up then, or would live then, whatever may be true on that point. It is merely an emphatic mode of affirming that "up to float period they would not live" in the sense in which it is affirmed that the others would. But it is not affirmed that they would even then "live" immediately. A "long" interval might elapse before that would occur in the general resurrection of the dead. See the Analysis of the chapter.
This is the first resurrection - The resurrection of the saints and martyrs, as specified in Revelation 20:4. It is called the "first" resurrection in contradistinction from the second and last - the general resurrection - when all the dead will be "literally" raised up from their graves and assembled for the judgment, Revelation 20:12. It is not necessary to suppose that what is called here the "first resurrection" will resemble the real and literal resurrection in every respect. All that is meant is, that there will be such a resemblance as to make it proper to call it a resurrection - a coming to life again. This will be, as explained in the notes on Revelation 20:4, in the honor done to the martyrs, in the restoration of their principles as the great actuating principles of the church, and perhaps in the increased happiness conferred on them in heaven, and in their being employed in promoting the cause of truth in the world.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Blessed - That is, his condition is to be regarded as a happy or a favored one. This is designed apparently to support and encourage those who, in the time of John, suffered persecution, or who might suffer persecution afterward.
And holy - That is, no one will be thus honored who has not an established character for holiness. Holy principles will then reign, and none will be exalted to that honor who have not a character for eminent sanctity.
That hath part in the first resurrection - That participated in it; that is, who is associated with those who are thus raised up.
On such the second death hath no power - The "second death" is properly the death which the wicked will experience in the world of woe. See Revelation 20:14. The meaning here is, that all who are here referred to as having part in the first resurrection will be secure against that. It will be one of the blessed privileges of heaven that there will be absolute security against death in any and every form; and when we think of what death is here, and still more when we think of "the bitter pains of the second death," we may well call that state "blessed" in which there will be eternal exemption from either.
Section b. - Condition of the world in the period referred to in Revelation 20:4-6.
I. It is well known that this passage is the principal one which is relied on by those who advocate the doctrine of the literal reign of Christ on the earth for a thousand years, or who hold what are called the doctrines of the "second advent." The points which are maintained by those who advocate these views are substantially:
(a) that at that period Christ will descend from heaven to reign personally upon the earth;
(b) that he will have a central place of power and authority, probably Jerusalem;
(c) that the righteous dead will then be raised, in such bodies as are to be immortal;
(d) that they will be his attendants, and will participate with him in the government of the world;
(e) that this will continue during the period of a thousand years;
(f) that the world will be subdued and converted during this period, not by moral means, but by "a new dispensation" - by the power of the Son of God; and,
(g) that at the close of this period all the remaining dead will be raised, the judgment will take place, and the affairs of the earth will be consummated.
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
And when the thousand years are expired - See Revelation 20:2.
Satan shall be loosed out of his prison - See Revelation 20:3. That is, a state of things will then occur as if Satan should be for a time let loose again, and should be permitted to go as formerly over the world. No intimation is given "why or how" he would be thus released from his prison. We are not, however, to infer that it would be a mere arbitrary act on the part of God. All that is necessary to be supposed is, that there would be, in certain parts of the world, a temporary outbreak of wickedness, as if Satan were for a time released from his chains.
And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
And shall go out to deceive the nations - See the notes on Revelation 12:9. The meaning here is, that he would again, for a time, act in his true character, and in some way delude the nations once more. In what way this would be done is not stated. It would be, however, clearly an appeal to the wicked passions of mankind, exciting a hope that they might yet overthrow the kingdom of God on the earth.
Which are in the four quarters of the earth - Literally, corners of the earth, as if the earth were one extended square plain. The earth is usually spoken of as divided into four parts or quarters - the eastern, the western, the northern, and the southern. It is implied here that the deception or apostasy referred to would not be confined to one spot or portion of the world, but would extend afar. The idea seems to be, that during that period, though there would be a "general" prevalence of the gospel, and a "general" diffusion of its blessings, yet that the earth would not be entirely under its influence, and especially that the native character of the human heart would not be changed. Man, under powerful temptations, would be liable to be deluded by the great master spirit that has so often corrupted the race. Once more he would be permitted to make the trial, and then his power would forever come to an end.
Gog and Magog - The name "Gog" occurs as the name of a prince in Ezekiel 38:2-3, Ezekiel 38:16, Ezekiel 38:18; Ezekiel 39:1, Ezekiel 39:11. "He is an invader of the land of Israel, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal," Ezekiel 38:2. "Magog" is also mentioned in Ezekiel 38:2, "the land of Magog"; and in Ezekiel 39:6, "I will send a fire on Magog." As the terms are used in the Old Testament, the representation would seem to be that "Gog" was the king of a people called "Magog." The signification of the names is unknown, and consequently nothing can be determined about the meaning of this passage from that source. Nor is there much known about the "people" who are referred to by Ezekiel. His representation would seem to be, that a great and powerful people, dwelling in the extreme recesses of the north Ezekiel 38:15; Ezekiel 39:2, would invade the Holy Land after the return from the exile, Ezekiel 38:8-12. It is commonly supposed that they were Scythians, residing between the Caspian and Euxine Seas, or in the region of Mount Caucasus. Thus Josephus (Ant Ezekiel 1:6, Ezekiel 1:3) has dropped the Hebrew word Magog, and rendered it by Σκύθαι Skuthai - "Scythians"; and so does Jerome. Suidas renders it Persai - Persians; but this does not materially vary the view, since the word "Scythians," among the ancient writers, is a collective word, to denote all the northeastern, unknown, barbarous tribes.
Among the Hebrews, the name "Magog" also would seem to denote all the unknown barbarous tribes about the Caucasian mountains. The fact that the names Gog and Magog are, in Ezekiel, associated with Meshech and Tubal, seems to determine the locality of these people, for those two countries lie between the Euxine and Caspian Seas, or at the southeast extremity of the Euxine Sea (Rosenmuller, Bib. Geog. vol. 1, p. 240). The people of that region were, it seems, a terror to Middle Asia, in the same manner as the Scythians were to the Greeks and Romans. Intercourse with such distant and savage nations was scarcely possible in ancient times; and hence, from their numbers and strength, they were regarded with great terror, just as the Scythians were regarded by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and as the Tartars were in the middle ages. In this manner they became an appropriate symbol of rude and savage people; of enemies fierce and warlike; of foes to be dreaded; and as such they were referred to by both Ezekiel and John. It has been made a question whether Ezekiel and John do not refer to the same period, but it is not necessary to consider that question here.
All that is needful to be understood is, that John means to say that at the time referred to there would be formidable enemies of the church who might be compared with the dreaded dwellers in the land of Magog; or, that after this long period of millennial tranquility and peace, there would be a state of things which might be properly compared with the invasion of the Holy Land by the dreaded barbarians of Magog or Scythia. It is not necessary to suppose that any particular "country" is referred to, or that there would be any one portion of the earth which the gospel would not reach, and which would be still barbarous, pagan, and savage; all that is necessary to be supposed is, that though religion would generally prevail, human nature would remain essentially corrupt and unchanged; and that, therefore, from causes which are not stated, there might yet be a fearful apostasy, and a somewhat general prevalence of iniquity. This would be nothing more than has occurred after the most favored times in the church, and nothing more than human nature would exhibit at any time, if all restraints were withdrawn, and people were suffered to act out their native feelings. "Why" this will be permitted; what causes will bring it about; what subordinate agencies will be employed, is not said, and conjecture would be vain. The reader who wishes more information in regard to Gog and Magog may consult Prof. Stuart on this book, vol. 2, pp. 364-368, and the authorities there referred to. Compare especially Rosenmuller on Ezekiel 38:2. See also Sale's "Koran," Pre. Dis. section 4, and the "Koran" itself, Sura 18:94 and 21:95.
To gather them together to battle - As if to assemble them for war; that is, a state of things would exist in regard to the kingdom of God and the prevalence of the true religion as if distant and barbarous nations should be aroused to make war on the church of God. The meaning is, that there would be an awakened hostility against the kingdom of Christ in the earth. See the notes on Revelation 16:14.
Section c. - Condition of things in the period referred to in Revelation 20:7-8;
(1) This will occur "at the close" of the millennial period - the period of the thousand years. It is not said, indeed, that it would be "immediately" after that; but the statement is explicit that it will be "after" that, or "when the thousand years are expired." There may be an interval before it shall be accomplished of an indefinite time; the alienation and corruption may be gradual; a considerable period may elapse before the apostasy shall assume an organized form, or, in the language of John, before the hosts shall "be gathered to battle," but it is to be the "next" marked and prominent event in the history of the world, and is to precede the final consummation of all things.
(2) this will be a "brief period." Compared with the long period of prosperity that preceded it, and "perhaps" compared with the long period that shall follow it before the final judgment, it will be short. Thus, in Revelation 20:3, it is said that Satan "must be loosed a little season." See the notes on that verse. There is no way of determining the time with exactness; but we are assured that it will not be long.
(3) what will be the exact state of things then can be only a matter of conjecture. We may say, however, that it will not be:
(a) necessarily "war." The language is figurative and symbolical, and it is not necessary to suppose that an actual and bloody warfare will be literally waged against the church. Nor,
(b) will there be a literal invasion of the land of Palestine as the residence of the saints and the capital of the Redeemer's visible empire, for there is not a hint of this - not a word to justify such an interpretation. Nor,
(c) is it necessary to suppose that there will be literally such nations as will be then called "Gog and Magog," for this language is figurative, and designed to characterize the foes of the church - as being in some respects formidable and terrible as were those ancient nations.
And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
And they went up on the breadth of the earth - They spread over the earth in extended columns. The image is that of an invading army that seems, in its march, to spread all over a land. The reference here is to the hosts assembled from the regions of Gog and Magog; that is, to the formidable enemies of the gospel that would be roused up at the close of the period properly called the "millennial" period - the period of the thousand years. It is not necessary to suppose that there would be "literally" armies of enemies of God summoned from lands that would be called lands of "Gog and Magog"; but all that is necessarily implied is, that there will be a state of hostility to the church of Christ which would be well illustrated by such a comparison with an invading host of barbarians. The expression "the breadth of the land" occurs in Habakkuk 1:6, in a description. of the invasion of the Chaldeans, and means there "the whole extent of it"; that is, they would spread over the whole country.
And compassed the camp of the saints about - Besieged the camp of the saints considered as engaged in war, or as attacked by an enemy. The "camp of the saints" here seems to be supposed to be without the walls of the city; that is, the army was drawn out for defense. The fact that the foes were able to "compass this camp about," and to encircle the city at the same time, shows the greatness of the numbers of the invaders.
And the beloved city - Jerusalem - a city represented as beloved by God and by his people. The whole imagery here is derived from a supposed invasion of the land of Palestine - imagery than which nothing could be more natural to John in describing the hostility that would be aroused against the church in the latter day. But no just principle of interpretation requires us to understand this "literally." Compare Hebrews 12:22. Indeed, it would be absolutely "impossible" to give this chapter throughout a "literal" interpretation. What would be the "literal" interpretation of the very first verses? "I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the "key" of the bottomless pit, and "a great chain" in his hand; and he laid hold on the "dragon and bound" him." Can anyone believe that there is to be a literal "key," and a "chain," and an act of seizing a "serpent," and "binding" him? As little is it demanded that the passage before us should be taken "literally"; for if it is maintained that this should be, we may insist that the same principle of interpretation should be applied to every part of the chapter, and every part of the book.
And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them - Consumed them - fire being represented as devouring or eating. See the notes on Revelation 17:16. The meaning is, that they would be destroyed as if fire should come down from heaven, as on Sodom and Gomorrah. But it is not necessary to understand this literally, anymore than it is the portions of the chapter just referred to. What is obviously meant is, that their destruction would be sudden, certain, and entire, and that thus the last enemy of God and the church would be swept away. Nothing can be determined from this about the "means" by which this destruction will be effected; and that must be left for time to disclose. It is sufficient to know that the destruction of these last foes of God and the church will be certain and entire. This "language," as denoting the final destruction of the enemies of God, is often employed in the Scriptures. See Psalm 11:6; Isaiah 29:6; Ezekiel 38:22; Ezekiel 39:6.
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
And the devil that deceived them - See the notes on Revelation 20:3, Revelation 20:8.
Was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone - In Revelation 19:20, it is said of the beast and the false prophet that they were "cast alive into a lake of fire, burning with brimstone." Satan, on the other hand, instead of being doomed at once to that final ruin, was confined for a season in a dark abyss, Revelation 20:1-3. As the final punishment, however, he is appropriately represented as consigned to the same doom as the beast and the false prophet, that those great enemies of God, that had been associated and combined in deceiving the nations, might share the same appropriate punishment in the end. Compare Revelation 16:13-14.
Where the beast and the false prophet are - See the notes on Revelation 19:20.
And shall be tormented day and night forever - Compare the notes on Revelation 14:11. All the great enemies of the church are destroyed, and henceforward there is to be no array of hostile forces; no combination of malignant powers against the kingdom of God. The gospel triumphs; the way is prepared for the final consummation.
Section d. - Condition of things in the period referred to in Revelation 20:9-10;
(1) There will be, after the release of Satan, and of course at the close of the millennial period properly so called, a state of things which may be well represented by the invasion of a country by hostile, formidable forces. This, as shown in the exposition, need not be supposed to be literal; but it is implied that there will be decided hostility against the true religion. It may be an organization and consolidation, so to speak, of infidel principles, or a decided worldly spirit, or some prevalent form of error, or some new form of depravity that shall be developed by the circumstances of that age. What it will be it is impossible now to determine; but, as shown above (section c, (4)), it is by no means improbable that this will occur even at the close of the millennium.
(2) there will be a decided defeat of these forces thus combined, "as if" fire should come down from heaven to destroy an invading army. The "mode" in which this will be done is not indeed stated, for there is no necessity of understanding the statement in Revelation 20:9 "literally," anymore than the other parts of the chapter. The fair inference, however, is that it will be by a manifest divine agency; that it will be sudden, and that the destruction will be entire. We have no reason, therefore, to suppose that the outbreak will be of long continuance, or that it will very materially disturb the settled order of human affairs on the earth - anymore than a formidable invasion of a country does, when the invading army is suddenly cut off by some terrible judgment from heaven.
(3) this overthrow of the enemies of God and of the church will be "final." Satan will be "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, to be tormented day and night forever." The beast and the false prophet are already there Revelation 19:20; that is, they will have ceased long since, even before the beginning of the millennial period (Revelation 19:20, compared with Revelation 20:1-3), to have opposed the progress of truth in the world, and their power will have been brought to an end. Satan now, the last enemy, will be doomed to the same hopeless woe; and all the enemies that have ever opposed the church - in all forms of paganism, Mohammedanism, Popery, and delusion - will be destroyed forever. The world then will have peace; the church will have rest; the great triumph will have been achieved.
(4) for reasons stated in the analysis of the chapter, 5. (c), it is possible that there will be a long period of continued prosperity and peace between the events stated in Revelation 20:9-10, and the final judgment, as described in Revelation 20:11-15. If so, however, the purpose of the book did not require that that should be described at length, and it must be admitted that the most "obvious" interpretation of the New Testament would not be favorable to such a supposition. Compare Luke 17:26-30; Luke 18:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3-4. The great glory of the world will be the millennial period; when religion shall have the ascendency and the race shall have reached its highest point of progress on earth, and the blessings of liberty, intelligence, peace, and piety, shall have during that period been spread over the globe. In that long duration, who can estimate the numbers that shah be redeemed and saved? That period passed, the great purpose contemplated by the creation of the earth - the glory of God in the redemption of a fallen race, and in setting up a kingdom of righteousness in a world of apostasy - will have been accomplished, and there will be no reason why the final judgment should not then occur. "The work of redemption will now be finished. The end for which the means of grace have been instituted shall be obtained. All the effect which was intended to be accomplished by them shall now be accomplished. All the great wheels of Providence have gone round all things are ripe for Christ's coming to judgment" (President Edwards' History of Redemption).
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
And I saw a great white throne - This verse commences the description of the final judgment, which embraces the remainder of the chapter. The first thing seen in the vision is the burning throne of the Judge. The things that are specified in regard to it are, that it was "great," and that it was "white." The former expression means that it was high or elevated. Compare Isaiah 6:1. The latter expression - white - means that it was "splendid or shining." Compare 1 Kings 10:18-20. The throne here is the same which is referred to in Matthew 25:31, and called there "the throne of his glory."
And him that sat on it - The reference here undoubtedly is to the Lord Jesus Christ, the final Judge of mankind (compare Matthew 25:31), and the scene described is what will occur at his second advent.
From whose face - Or, from whose presence; though the word may be used here to denote more strictly his face - as illuminated, and shining like the sun. See Revelation 1:16, "And his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength."
The earth and the heaven fled away - That is, as the stars, at the rising of the sun, seem to flee to more remote regions, and vanish from human view, so when the Son of God shall descend in his glory to judge the world, the earth and all other worlds shall seem to vanish. Every one must admire the sublimity of this image; no one can contemplate it without being awed by the majesty and glory of the final Judge of mankind. Similar expressions, where the natural creation shrinks back with awe at the presence of God, frequently occur in the Bible. Compare Psalm 18:7-15; Psalm 77:16-19; Psalm 114:3-5; Habakkuk 3:6, Habakkuk 3:10-11.
And there was found no place for them - They seemed to flee "entirely away," as if there was "no" place where they could find a safe retreat, or which would receive and shelter them in their flight. The image expresses, in the most emphatic manner, the idea that they entirely disappeared, and no language could more sublimely represent the majesty of the Judge.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And I saw the dead, small and great - All the dead - for this language would express that - the whole race being composed of the "small and great." Thus, in other language, the same idea might be expressed by saying, the young and old; the rich and poor; the bond and free; the sick and well; the happy and the unhappy; the righteous and the wicked; for all the human family might, in these respects, be considered as thus divided. The fair meaning in this place therefore is, that all the dead would be there, and of course this would preclude the idea of a "previous" resurrection of any part of the dead, as of the saints, at the beginning of the millennium. There is no intimation here that it is the wicked dead that are referred to in this description of the final judgment. It is the judgment of all the dead.
Stand before God - That is, they appear thus to be judged. The word "God" here must naturally refer to the final Judge on the throne, and there can be no doubt (see Matthew 25:31) that this is the Lord Jesus. Compare 2 Corinthians 5:10. None can judge the secrets of the heart; none can pronounce on the moral character of all mankind, of all countries and ages, and determine their everlasting allotment, but he who is divine.
And the books were opened - That is, the books containing the record of human deeds. The representation is, that all that people have done is recorded, and that it will be exhibited on the final trial, and will constitute the basis of the last judgment. The imagery seems to be derived from the accusations made against such as are arraigned before human courts of justice.
And another book was opened, which is the book of life - The book containing the record of the names of all who shall enter into life, or into heaven. See the notes on Revelation 3:5. The meaning here is, that John saw not only the general books opened containing the records of the deeds of people, but that he had a distinct view of the list or roll of those who were the followers of the Lamb. It would seem that in regard to the multitudes of the impenitent and the wicked, the judgment will proceed "on their deeds" in general; in regard to the righteous, it will turn on the fact that their names had been enrolled in the book of life. That will be sufficient to determine the nature of the sentence that is to be passed on them. He will be safe whose name is found in the book of life; no one will be safe who is to have his eternal destiny determined by his own deeds. This passage proves particularly that the righteous dead are referred to here as being present at the final judgment; and is thus an additional argument against the supposition of a resurrection of the righteous, and a judgment on them, at the beginning of the millennium.
And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books - The records which had been made of their deeds. The final judgment will proceed on the record that has been made. It will not be arbitrary, and will not be determined by rank, condition, or profession, but it will be according to the record.
According to their works - See the notes on 2 Corinthians 5:10. The fact that the name of anyone was found in the book of life would seem, as above remarked, to determine the "certainty" of salvation; but the amount of reward would be in proportion to the service rendered to the Redeemer, and the attainments made in piety.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it - All that had been buried in the depths of ocean. This number in the aggregate will be great. If we include all who were swept off by the flood, and all who have perished by shipwreck, and all who have been killed in naval battles and buried in the sea, and all who have been swept away by inundations of the ocean, and all who have peacefully died at sea, as sailors, or in the pursuits of commerce or benevolence, the number in the aggregate will be immense - a number so vast that it was proper to notice them particularly in the account of the general resurrection and the last judgment.
And death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them - That is, all the dead came, from all regions where they were scattered - on the land and in the ocean - in this world and in the invisible world. "Death and hell" are here personified, and are represented as having dominion over the dead, and as now "delivering" up, or "surrendering" those who were held tinder them. On the meaning of the words used here, see the notes on Revelation 1:18; Revelation 6:8. Compare the Matthew 10:23 note; Job 10:21-22 notes; Isaiah 14:9 note. This whole representation is entirely inconsistent with the supposition that a large part of the dead had been already raised up at the beginning of the millennial period, and had been permitted, in their glorified bodies, to reign with Christ.
And they were judged, ... - All these were judged - the righteous and the wicked; those buried at sea, and those buried on the land; the small and the great; the dead, in whatever world they may have been.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire - Death and Hades (hell) are here personified, as they are in the previous verse. The declaration is equivalent to the statement in 1 Corinthians 15:26; "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." See the notes on that passage. The idea is, that death, considered as the separation of soul and body, with all the attendant woes, will exist no more. The righteous will live forever, and the wicked will linger on in a state never to be terminated by death. The reign of Death and Hades, as such, would come to an end, and a new order of things would commence where this would be unknown. There might be what would be properly called death, but it would not be death in this form; the soul would live forever, but it would not be in that condition represented by the word ᾅδης hadēs - "hades." There would be "death" still, but a "second death differs from the first, in the fact that it is not a separation of the soul and body, but a state of "continual agony" like what the first death inflicts - like that in intensity, but not in kind" (Prof. Stuart).
This is the second death - That is, this whole process here described - the condemnation, and the final death and ruin of those whose names are "not found written in the book of life" - properly constitutes the second death. This proves that when it is said that "death and hell were cast into the lake of fire," it cannot be meant that all punishment will cease forever, and that all will be saved, for the writer goes on to describe what he calls "the second death" as still existing. See Revelation 20:15. John describes this as the second death, not because it in all respects resembles the first death, but because it has so many points of resemblance that it may be properly called "death." Death, in any form, is the penalty of law; it is attended with pain; it cuts off from hope, from friends, from enjoyment; it subjects him who dies to a much-dreaded condition, and in all these respects it was proper to call the final condition of the wicked "death" - though it would still be true that the soul would live. There is no evidence that John meant to affirm that the second death would imply an extinction of "existence." Death never does that; the word does not naturally and properly convey that idea.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
And whosoever - All persons, of all ranks, ages, and conditions. No word could be more comprehensive than this. The single condition here stated, as being what would save any from being cast into the lake of fire, is, that they are "found written in the book of life." All besides these, princes, kings, nobles, philosophers, statesmen, conquerors; rich men and poor men; the bond and the free; the young and the aged; the frivolous, the vain, the proud, and the sober; the modest and the humble, will be doomed to the lake of fire. Unlike in all other things, they will be alike in the only thing on which their eternal destiny will depend - that they have not so lived that their names have become recorded in the book of life. As they will also be destitute of true religion, there will be a propriety that they shall share the same doom in the future world.
Written in the book of life - See the notes on Revelation 3:5.
Was cast into the lake of fire - See the notes on Matthew 25:41. That is, they will be doomed to a punishment which will be well represented by their lingering in a sea of fire forever. This is the termination of the judgment - the winding up of the affairs of men. The vision of John here rests for a moment on the doom of the wicked, and then turns to a more full contemplation of the happy lot of the righteous, as detailed in the two closing chapters of the book.
Section e. - Condition of things referred to in Revelation 20:11-15;
(1) There will be a general resurrection of the dead - of the righteous and the wicked. This is implied by the statement that the "dead, small and great," were seen to stand before God; that "the sea gave up the dead which were in it"; that "Death and Hades gave up their dead." All were there whose names were or were not written in the book of life.
(2) there will be a solemn and impartial judgment. How long a time this will occupy is not said, and is not necessary to be known - for time is of no consequence where there is an eternity of devotion - but it is said that they will be all judged "according to their works" - that is, strictly according to their character. They will receive no arbitrary doom; they will have no sentence which will not be just. See Matthew 25:31-46.
(3) this will be the "final" judgment. After this, the affairs of the race will be put on a different footing. This will be the end of the present arrangements; the end of the present dispensations; the end of human probation. The great question to be determined in regard to our world will have been settled; what the plan of redemption was intended to accomplish on the earth will have been accomplished; the agency of the Divine Spirit in converting sinners will have come to an end; and the means of grace, as such, will be employed no more. There is not here or elsewhere an intheation that beyond this period any of these things will exist, or that the work of redemption, as such, will extend into the world beyond the judgment. As there is no intheation that the condition of the righteous will be changed, so there is none that the condition of the wicked will be; as there is no hint that the righteous will ever be exposed to temptation, or to the danger of falling into sin, so there is none that the offers of salvation will ever again be made to the wicked. On the contrary, the whole representation is, that all beyond this will be fixed and unchangeable forever. See the notes on Revelation 22:11.
(4) the wicked will be destroyed, in what may be properly called the "second" death. As remarked in the notes, this does not mean that this death will in all respects resemble the first death, but there will be so many points of resemblance that it will be proper to call it "death." It does not mean that they will be "annihilated," for "death" never implies that. The meaning is, that this will be a cutting off from what is properly called "life," from hope, from happiness, and from peace, and a subjection to pain and agony, which it will be proper to call "death" - death in the most fearful form; death that will continue for ever. No statements in the Bible are more clear than those which are made on this point; no affirmation of the eternal punishment of the wicked "could be" more explicit than those which occur in the sacred Scriptures. See the Matthew 25:46 note, and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 note.
(5) this will be the end of the woes and calamities produced in the kingdom of God by sin. The reign of Satan and of Death, so far as the Redeemer's kingdom is concerned, will be at an end and henceforward the church will be safe from all the arts and efforts of its foes. Religion will be triumphant, and the affairs of the universe be reduced to permanent order.
(6) the preparation is thus made for the final triumph of the righteous - the state to which all things tend. The writer of this book has conducted the prospective history through all the times of persecution which awaited the church, and stated the principal forms of error which would prevail, and foretold the conflicts through which the church would pass, and described its eventful history to the millennial period, and to the final triumph of truth and righteousness; and now nothing remains to complete the plan of the work but to give a rapid sketch of the final condition of the redeemed. This is done in the two following chapters, and with this the work is ended.