Revelation 20
Matthew Poole's Commentary
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
Revelation 20:1-3 Satan bound for a thousand years.

Revelation 20:4-6 The first resurrection.

Revelation 20:7-9 Satan again let loose gathereth Gog and Magog to

battle, who are devoured with fire.

Revelation 20:10 The devil cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.

Revelation 20:11-15 The general resurrection, and last judgment.

Chapter Introduction

We are now come to the darkest part of the whole revelation. What is meant by the thousand years, and the first and second resurrection, and by Gog and Magog, Revelation 20:1-15, or the new heavens and new earth, and the Jerusalem coming down from heaven, discoursed on, Revelation 21:1-22:21, is very hard to say, and possibly much more cannot with any probability be conjectured as to them than hath been already said. I shall only tell my reader that, leaving him to judge what is most probable, and leaving it to he Divine Providence to give us a certain and infallible exposition of what is contained in these last three chapters.

The description of this angel can agree to none but Christ, or one that exerciseth a power by delegation from him: for, Revelation 1:18, it is he who hath the power of hell and death; and it is he who alone is stronger than the devil, which must be supposed to him that binds him, or we must think the devil much tamer than he is.

And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
There can be no question who is meant by the dragon here, and the

old serpent, for the Holy Ghost interpreteth it,

the devil, the enemy of mankind.

And bound him: by binding also is meant the restraint of the devil in the exercise of his natural power, or the power God had before allowed him to exercise for the trial of his saints’ faith and patience. The devil is restrained in the restraint of his instruments. It is expounded, Revelation 20:3, that he should deceive the nations no more.

A thousand years: whether these thousand years signify that certain space of time, or a long time, I cannot say; only it is probable, that if it signifies an uncertain, indefinite time, it is much longer time than any other period of time spoken of, (which have all hitherto been expressed by days, or months, or a lesser number of years), by far. But what the complexion of the world shall be during this long time, or when the epocha or beginning of these thousand years shall be, are both of them very hard questions. It was the opinion of the old Chiliasts or Millenaries, that six thousand years of the world should pass, then antichrist with all wicked men should be destroyed; that in the next thousand years Christ should appear, and be upon the earth, ruling it with his saints; after which there would be another time of sharp persecution, according to what is said, Revelation 20:7, to which Christ should put a period by coming to the last judgment. It is plain that (if most men be not mistaken, that have counted the years from the beginning of the world) these men were mistaken; for more than six thousand years are passed, yet there is no such thing come to pass. Divers very good and learned men (leaving out the age of the world when these thousand years should begin) have judged, that after the great battle in Armageddon, (which, as was said before, shall be after the ruin both of Turk and pope), the church of Christ shall for a thousand years enjoy great quiet under the conduct of Christ, (as some think), who in these thousand years shall personally be upon the earth; or of such a godly magistracy in all places of the church, as shall do and execute what Christ would have done and executed. After which the enemies of the church (mentioned here, Revelation 20:8, under the notions of Gog and Magog) shall rally again, but be destroyed by Christ appearing to the last judgment. This opinion hath had, and hath, many learned and grave patrons. I shall only say this, that I do not understand what these thousand years mean, if they do not denote a serene and calm time for the church of God, of long continuance, before the day of judgment. Whether Christ shall be here personally, or none but saints shall be in places of power, or the power of Christ only shall be seen in so ruling and governing all magistrates, that they shall not, as before, impose superstition and idolatry, and kill or ruin men for not complying with them; but the servants of God, that worship him in spirit and truth, shall under magistrates live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty; I cannot determine; but do in my own thoughts most incline to the last, that the thousand years only denote a large space of time, (as yet at a great distance), when the church of God shall freely enjoy their liberty, without such temptations to idolatry, superstition, or other wickedness, as they have yet all along had, either from Jews, pagans, or antichrist’s party.

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; that is, into hell, his proper place: he shall no longer, or at least not till these thousand years be expired, exercise his power, as prince of the power of the air, Ephesians 2:2, or compassing the earth, and walking up and down in it, as Job 1:7.

And shut him up, and set a seal upon him; he shall be restrained as much as one shut up in prison, whose doors are sealed up.

That he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled; that till this time of God’s counsel for the quiet of his church be run out, he shall not deceive people by his old arts.

And after that he must be loosed a little season; and after that he shall have a liberty again {as Revelation 20:7} for a little time.

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.
This is a very difficult text. Thrones are places of dignity and judicature; they seem here to signify only places of dignity.

And they sat upon them; those mentioned afterward in this text sat upon them.

And judgment was given unto them; that is, a power of judgment, 1 Corinthians 6:2,3, to be executed afterward. The persons sitting upon these thrones are described to be:

1. Such as had kept themselves from idolatry, or any compliance with antichrist, either in the form of the beast, or of the image of the beast.

2. And for that non-compliance had suffered death, and for witnessing to the truths of Christ contained in his word.

These are described as living with Christ in honour and dignity, all that space of the church’s rest and tranquillity before expressed. Our learned Dr. More interprets the thrones and judgment, concerning those thrones or places of judicature, upon which the dragon’s officers sat to condemn the saints of God, from whence issued the putting to death of many of the saints of God, and thinks that in this vision there is a recourse to the second thunder. Now these saints are said to

live and reign with Christ a thousand years; that is, say some, in heaven, in a blessed state of glory, while the militant church upon the earth enjoyed great rest and quiet on earth. Others have thought that these should be raised from the dead, and live with Christ on earth these thousand years. Which notion (if true) will solve a great phenomenon, and render it not improbable, that the number of the saints on earth will, during these thousand years, be enough to rule the world, and overbalance the number of all the wicked of the earth. Those who think thus, judge there will be two resurrections; the first, of martyrs, which shall antedate the general resurrection a thousand years: but the Scripture no where else mentions more than one resurrection. For my own part, I shall freely confess that I do not understand this and the two next verses, nor shall I be positive as to any sense of them: for the spiritual resurrection, as to the martyrs, it was long since past, or else they had died in their sins. But of this see more in the next verse. {Revelation 20:5}

But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
By the rest of the dead, some understand all except martyrs; only that party who adhered to antichrist. Those who by the rest understand all the dead, both good and bad, (the martyrs alone excepted), judge that there will be two resurrections: the first more particular, of those that have suffered death for Christ; the second general, of all the rest of the dead. I must confess I find a difficulty to allow this; it is too great a point to found upon a single text, in a portion of holy writ so clouded with metaphors as this, and I know no suffragan text. Those who understand by the rest of the dead, only the wicked, understand by this living again, a politic life, that is, recovered not their former power, continued as dead men, able to do no mischief, till the thousand years of the church’s peace and tranquillity were expired. May this sense of living, and living again, be allowed, it will deliver us from almost all our difficulties about the sense of these verses; for then, by living, in the foregoing verse, is signified a political living, not a resurrection from a natural death. But then ariseth a question: If these beheaded saints did not rise from their natural death, how could they be restored to places of dignity with Christ in the church? To which they auswer: That those formerly suffering for the name of Christ, and all the saints upon the earth, are to be considered as one church; and so those formerly beheaded, lived and reigned with Christ in their successors in the same faith; that is, those alive at that time, being restored to their peace, and liberty, and reputation in the world, the martyrs, who were members of the same body, are also said to live. This appears to me the most probable sense: for that the glorified saints should leave heaven (as to their souls) to be again clothed with flesh, and in it to live a thousand years, and be concerned in the following troubles the church should meet with after these thousand years, seems to me to be utterly improbable, and to lay a foundation for so many difficult questions, as will pose the wisest man to answer to reasonable satisfaction. But yet there remains a difficulty, how this restoring God’s holy ones to a better state can be called

the first resurrection. That it may be called a resurrection is plain, as the conversion of the Jews, and restoring them to their former state as the church of God is called life from the dead, Romans 11:15; and the restoration of the witnesses, Revelation 11:11, is called so; though neither the one nor the other were naturally dead. Nor is it unusual in Scriptural and prophetical writings, to speak of people recovered to their former and better state, as being risen from the dead. It may be called the first, with reference to that far more excellent state which they shall be put in after the last judgment, when they shall live and reign with Christ in a more happy and glorious manner. If this may not be allowed as the sense of these two verses, I must confess this such a dusnohton, or difficulty of Scripture, as I do not understand. I shall proceed with the following verses upon this hypothesis, that this is the sense, though I dare not be positive in it.

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.
That is, they only are holy ones that shall be thus restored to share in the church’s happiness, and such as shall not perish eternally; but they shall be as priests to God and Christ, glorifying him with the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise, and shall enjoy a quiet and honourable station with Christ upon the earth for a long time.

And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
When the long time expressed under the notion of a thousand years shall be expired, God shall take off his restraint from the devil, so as he shall influence the wicked of the earth once more to make opposition to his church.

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 which are in the four quarters of the earth; that is, the devil, being got from under the restraint of Divine Providence, shall fall upon his old work, going about to deceive men over all the world, either tempting them to idolatry, or heresy, or lewdness of life, or (which seemeth most probable) stirring them up to one attempt more to ruin the church. These people are called

Gog and Magog, about the meaning of which there are various opinions. We read of Magog, Genesis 10:2; he was one of the sons of Japheth; see also 1 Chronicles 1:5; he inhabited that country called Syria, and from thence, his posterity being multiplied, (as some think), transplanted some colonies into America. We read of Gog no where in Scripture but in Ezekiel, Ezekiel 38:1-39:29, where both Gog and Magog are mentioned as the great enemies of God’s ancient Israel. Gog there, Ezekiel 38:2, is named as the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. There are disputes who are meant by Gog and Magog in those two chapters. The Jewish rabbies apply the terms to some nations whom the Messiah (expected by them) shall encounter and overcome; but if we consider that prophecy as made in Babylon, and to comfort the people in that captivity, we can hardly think the enemies there intended were to appear at such a distance of time as more than two thousand years, for so many, and more, are elapsed already since Ezekiel’s prophecy. The best interpreters therefore rather think, that Antiochus, and the race of Seleucus, (a king of Syria, who in those quarters of the world succeeded Alexander, of whom we read in the book of Maccabees), is there intended, whose ruin is there foretold, as being a great enemy to the Jews after their return from Babylon; yet some think, that in both these chapters Ezekiel prophesied of the same Gog and Magog here intended, which should be the last enemies of the church. The papists, who (according to their interest) contend for antichrist as yet to come, make Gog and Magog here to signify some king or kings that shall join with antichrist when he appeareth. Others think that Gog and Magog, in this place, signifies more generally, a colluvies, or mixed company of all wicked men, a very great multitude, who shall come from all parts, only typified by the Gog and Magog in Ezekiel, as being like them,

1. For number;

2. In their design to ruin the church, upon its restoration to a more quiet, peaceable state;

3. And who shall be ruined like them, by the more than ordinary providence of God; for the Gog and Magog mentioned in Ezekiel, are described in three texts of that prophecy as coming from the north, but these are described as coming from the four quarters of the world: this seemeth a much more probable opinion than theirs, who will have them some particular nations, whether Americans, Turks, or Indians.

The number of whom is as the sand of the sea: these enemies shall make a vast number, therefore compared to the sand of the sea; and in this they hold a proportion also with the Gog and Magog mentioned in Ezekiel, who were a great company, Ezekiel 38:4, many people, Ezekiel 38:6, covering the land, Ezekiel 38:9.

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; that is, in all parts of it where the church of Christ was.

And compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city; the church of God (typified by old Jerusalem, which was God’s beloved city) they encompassed in a military order and manner, designing to destroy it, or make it subject to their lusts.

And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them: thus Ezekiel prophesied of the issue of the Gog and Magog by him mentioned, Ezekiel 38:18-22: Ezekiel 38:22, And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. The meaning is, that God would destroy them with a quick and terrible destruction, such as is that destruction of persons and places which is by fire.

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.
After this shall be the end of the world, when the devil shall be restrained to hell, the place of torments, where he shall have all heathens, and all the rabble of antichrist, who shall be there tormented constantly and for ever and ever.

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.
God now giveth his prophet a vision of the last day, the day of judgment. He seeth

a throne, a place of judicature; said to be great, to denote its gloriousness;

white, to signify Christ’s purity and holiness in his judging the world. And he saw Christ sitting upon it, and all old things passing away. Peter thus describes this flying away of the earth and heavens; The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up, 2 Peter 3:10. All these things shall be dissolved, 2 Peter 3:11.

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.
The former verses gave us an account of Christ, the great Judge of the quick and the dead in the last day; the Lord Jesus Christ sat upon a throne of glory, about to execute his last holy and righteous judgment. Now he describes the persons to be judged, viz. all, both

small and great.

And the books were opened: to show the justice and righteousness according to which this Judge would proceed, books are said to be opened. What books? The book of God’s law; the book of God’s omniscience; the book of men’s consciences. In the former is contained what all men should have done; the two latter will discover what they have thought, spake, or done in the flesh.

And another other book was opened, which is the book of life; the book of life, mentioned Revelation 3:5, by which is to be understood the book of God’s election, wherein are the names of all those who, being from eternity chosen to life, were redeemed with the blood of Christ, and afterwards effectually called, justified, and sanctified.

And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; according to these books shall the last judgment be, Romans 2:16, with respect had unto every one’s work.

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.
By hell is meant all places where the dead are; whosoever shall be at that day in the state of the dead; the bodies of men, whether buried in the earth or sea; and the souls of men, whether they be in the place of torments or happiness, shall all be re-united to their bodies, that they may both in soul and body receive their final doom of eternal happiness, or eternal misery, accordingly as they have lived in the world; and those who shall be alive at that day, who shall be changed, ( as the apostle speaks, 1 Corinthians 15:51), are to be counted dead in the sense of this text, their change being instead of death to them. It is not said they shall be judged for their works, (though that as to the wicked is true), but

according to their works; which is true as to the elect, who though their names be written in the book of life, yet must work righteousness; and they shall have judgment of absolution, not according to the perfection, but the sincerity, of their works, done in obedience to the will of God.

And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And death and hell were cast into lake of fire; there shall be no more natural death, nor any more separate state of souls, (so adhv signifies), they shall all be swallowed up in the issue of the last judgment, where some shall go into life, some into eternal condemnation. Dr. More expoundeth it of the whole region of mortality being set on fire at the last thunder.

This, as to the wicked of the earth, is the second death, mentioned Revelation 2:11.

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
The book of life: See Poole on "Revelation 20:12".

Matthew Poole's Commentary

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