And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
Verse 1. - And I saw an angel come down from heaven; coming down out of heaven. The usual mode of introducing a new vision (cf. Revelation 4:1, etc.). On account of Revelation 1:18, some have considered this angel to be Christ himself; but this is incorrect. As in Revelation 12:7-9, an angel is the immediate agent in this expulsion of Satan (vide infra). Having the key of the bottomless pit; the abyss; as in Revelation 9:1, 2, 11; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 17:8. In all these places the word signifies the present abode of Satan and his angels, whence they direct their operations in hostility to God, not the place of their final punishment (see ver. 10). In Luke 8:31 the word has exactly the same meaning; while in the only remaining place where it is used in the New Testament, viz. Romans 10:7, it stands for the place of abode of the souls of the dead. Having the key of the abyss therefore informs us that power is given to this angel over Satan during the time of this world's existence. And a great chain in his hand; literally, upon his hand, as if lying on it and hanging from it; the chain evidently symbolizing the power of the angel over the inhabitants of the abyss, and the purpose with which he now comes, viz. to restrain the power of Satan.
And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
Verses 2, 3. - And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan. These titles are an exact repetition of Revelation 12:9 (which see). And bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit. The abyss, as we have seen (on ver. 1), is the present abode of Satan; the act of binding, therefore, is now over. This fact opposes the interpretation which makes "the thousand years" yet in the future. When, then, did this binding take place? Only one answer can be given. It was when Christ bruised the serpent's head by his act of redemption. Thus, "Christ was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8); "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out." (John 12:31); "The prince of this world hath been judged" (John 16:11). Satan is the strong man bound (Matthew 12:26, 29). Next, what is meant by "for a thousand years"? The best interpretation seems to be that this phrase expresses a quality, and does not express a period of time. That such a method of employing numbers is usual in the Apocalypse we have frequently seen (see on Revelation 1:4, "seven;" Revelation 13:1, "ten," etc.). Here, therefore, as in Revelation 7:4, "one thousand" signifies "completeness." Satan is bound "for a thousand years;" that is, Satan is completely bound. In Ezekiel (from which the following part of the vision is certainly derived) a similar use is made of the terms "seven years" (Ezekiel 39:9) and "seven months" (Ezekiel 39:12). But, again, in what sense can Satan be said to have been "completely" bound by our Lord's work of redemption? The answer is - In relation to the godly. The purpose of this sentence is that which is one great purpose of the whole book, viz. to encourage the struggling Christian. Thus this sentence assures Christians that, for them, Satan has been completely bound, and they need not despair nor fear his might (cf. "loosed," infra). The chapter thus describes, not a millennium of the saints, but the overthrow of Satan. Before the picture of the war and the overthrow, the saints are invited to behold the complete security of those who have not worshipped the beast nor his image; just as the vision of Christ victorious introduced the seal visions. 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 shut [it] and sealed [it] over him, etc. It is possible that there is here a reference to the death and burial of Christ (Matthew 27:66). Satan "met in reality that fate which he was able, in a shadowy and temporary form, to inflict on Jesus - he was bound and shut up in the abyss, and the abyss was sealed over him" (Milligan. Cf. also the word "abyss," supra). Satan was thus bound "that he might deceive the nations no more," etc.; that is, Satan, in his character of the deceiver (cf. Revelation 12:9) of the world, is thus limited in his power by the binding which has been described. The nations; in the sense of the world, not the ungodly world. And after that he must be loosed a little season. Omit "and." "A little time" (μικρὸν χροόνον) is the exact phrase used in Revelation 6:11, where it certainly means the period of this world's existence. Such also is its meaning here. "He must be loosed" signifies that Satan is, in regard to the ungodly, allowed to work his will during this period. The thousand years' binding, and the loosing for a little time, describe two events which occur contemporaneously. While the godly need have no fear, because even in this world Satan's power as regards them is completely limited by Christ's act of redemption, yet in another sense, as regards the ungodly, Satan is loosed and obtains power over them. The chief difficulty in this interpretation lies in the words, "after this." But it must be remembered that the "thousand years" do not express a period of time, but the quality of completeness. Therefore the loosing of Satan must not be supposed to take place in a period subsequent to the period of the binding. The seer wishes to describe the devil in a twofold character, subordinating the second to the first. He thus says, "By Christ's redeeming work Satan is bound and fettered in regard to you faithful Christians; but there is also a second subordinate fact to remember, that at the same time he is powerful in his natural sphere, among his own adherents." The binding of Satan in one direction being immediately followed by a display of power in another, and the former fact being expressed by the chronological symbolism of being bound for a thousand years, it is part of this chronological symbolism to express the second fact as taking place after the first, though a subordination of the secondary to the primary effect is really what is intended to be conveyed (see Milligan, quoted above).
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 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.
Verse 4. - And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them. This describes the position of Christians in this life. They sit upon thrones; that is, they reign with Christ. Judgment is given unto them; that is, by their conduct in the world the world is judged and condemned. St. John continually thus describes the Christian's position; and such a picture is specially applicable for his purpose here, which is to portray the glory of the Christian calling, and the certainty of the Christian's hope. The redeemed have been made kings, and reign (Revelation 5:10). So also St. Paul says we are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:2). 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. This is a special reference to the martyrs made with the object mentioned above, viz. that of encouraging Christians in their warfare. The class here described forms part of the whole body of Christians alluded to in the first part of the verse (cf. Revelation 6:10; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 19:10; also Revelation 13; Revelation 15:2). In the same way the souls referred to in Revelation 6:9 are those existing during the period of this world, which we have here understood to be denoted indirectly by the "thousand years." And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. "The thousand years" adopted in the Textus Receptus, is found in B and others, but omitted in א, A, and others. "They lived and reigned with Christ" in complete and perfect assurance, as in ver. 2, and for the reason given in ver. 2, viz. that, Satan was bound completely. This living and reigning must not be limited to the period after the death of the martyrs (though it is doubtless true in this sense also), notwithstanding the fact that St. John sees them here after their death. It is as though he would say, "You Christians sit upon thrones and reign with Christ; yea, even those who suffered shameful deaths shared this perfect safety and exaltation, though to the eyes of the world they were so afflicted and degraded." They lived is described in ver. 5 as the "first resurrection." This can only be referred to that first awakening from sin to the glorious life of the gospel, which St. John elsewhere describes in a similar manner. "He that heareth my Word... hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24); "We have passed from death unto life" (1 John 3:14).
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
Verse 5. - But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished; should be finished. Omit "but;" omit "again." It is important to notice the omission of "again;" the rest of the dead lived not until, etc. The best explanation of these words seems to be that the "rest of the dead" refers to those Old Testament saints and others (such as godly heathens) who were in the world before Christ's act of atonement - "the thousand years" (see on ver. 2, above) - had been accomplished. They could not be said to have lived, in the high sense in which St. John uses the word, not having known Christ; for "in him was life" (John 1:4; John 5:40, etc.). But by Christ's redeeming work, these were placed on a level with Christians (cf. Luke 7:28, "John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he;" also Hebrews 11:39, 40, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect"). This is the first resurrection. These words refer both to the reigning of those mentioned in ver. 4, and to the living of those in ver. 5 (vide supra). This "first resurrection" is the spiritual rising with Christ, which is a consequence of his redeeming work. It is to be noticed that St. John nowhere makes use of the phrase, "second resurrection," though he does use the words, "second death." Both the "first resurrection" and the "second death" are spiritual operations.
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.
Verse 6. - 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; over these the second death hath no authority. The first words describe the state of those who have part in the spiritual resurrection with Christ (see on ver. 5). The second clause gives to the oppressed Christian the culminating reason for patience and perseverance. The "second death" is the spiritual death of the lake of fire (ver. 14). Priests of God, etc. (cf. Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10). A thousand years; in complete and everlasting security (see on ver. 2, et seq.). We may in this place briefly indicate some of the other interpretations which have been given to this reign cf. the saints for a thousand years, or, as it is generally styled, the millennium.
(1) The literal interpretation of a future reign on earth of Christ with his saints for a thousand years. According to this view, there is to be a first resurrection of the dead (either of the holy dead or of all the dead), then the period of a thousand years, during which Satan will be bound, and the saints will reign; then finally the ultimate punishment of Satan - the casting into the lake of fire. Some limit the locality of this reign to a particular spot on the earth (e.g. Jerusalem), beyond which live the ungodly. The objections to this theory are:
(a) Amongst its advocates almost every detail is a matter of dispute. Some place the millennium in the future, others in the past. Of these latter some specify the first thousand years of the Christian age, others the thousand years from the time of Constantine. "The length of the period, the number and class of the believers who shall be partakers of its glory, the condition in which they are to live, the work in which they are to be engaged, the relation in which the exalted Redeemer is to stand to them," are all subjects for disagreement.
(b) The carnal nature of such a resurrection is at variance with the general teaching of the Bible, and unlike the spiritual nature which our Lord himself assumed after his resurrection.
(c) If the saints receive a glorified body for that period, it is impossible to conceive of them as living in the world in its present state, and a large part of which is inhabited by the ungodly.
(d) It is impossible satisfactorily to conceive what relations could exist between the saints in such a case and the ungodly. If Satan is bound during this period so that he can deceive the nations no more, whence comes the evil which exists among the ungodly portion of the world?
(e) There is no other example of a literal use of numbers in the whole of the Apocalypse.
(f) The teaching of the Bible elsewhere not only negatively fails to support this view, but is in positive opposition to it, in such points as a continuance of evil after Christ's second coming; the existence of an interval between his coming and the judgment instead of a sudden coming to judgment (comp. John 6:40, "I will raise him up at the last day").
(2) The spiritual interpretation, which makes the thousand years expressive of the whole Christian age. This seems to a certain extent true, since what the thousand years signifies does have its effect during this time in the reign of the saints. But it seems inexact, since it makes the thousand years symbolical of a length of time, instead of a quality attached to an action. What is meant is not that Christ bound Satan during the period of the Christian age (though, as we have seen, there is a sense in which he is so bound as regards believers), for, on the contrary, he goes about like a roaring lion; but that he bound and overthrew him completely for all Christians by his redeeming work.
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
Verse 7. - And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison; are finished; that is, the power of the devil having been in principle completely overthrown by our Lord (see on preceding verses), Satan is still permitted to wage war and exercise sway on the earth. "His prison" is the "abyss" of vers. 1, 3 (cf. also ver. 3).
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.
Verse 8. - And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog; four corners. The signification of "Gog and Magog" (vide infra) shows in what sense "the nations" is used. It is in the limited sense of the ungodly of the world, not in the wider sense in which the expression is used (without any qualifying clause) in ver. 3. Magog in Genesis 10:2 is mentioned among the sons of Japheth who were the ancestors of the northern nations (cf. Ezekiel 38:15 and Ezekiel 39:2). Hence the name Magog is used to denote the northern tribes, whose invasion of Palestine and adjoining parts took place about B.C. 630-600. From Ezekiel 39, it seems that Gog was originally a leader among these tribes; and from Ezekiel 38:17 it seems that Ezekiel took these names to be symbolical of all the foes of the people of God. Jewish tradition makes use of these names to indicate those nations who were expected to war against Jerusalem in the last days, and to be overthrown by the Messiah. Hence the employment of the terms here by St. John as denoting the ungodly people of the world, amongst whom Satan still exercises his power, though that power is limited to these, and he is completely bound as regards true believers. To gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea; to the war; the article points definitely to the war of Revelation 19:19 and Revelation 16:14. It is a prolonged war, not a battle, because lasting throughout life. The vastness of the hosts of Gog and Magog is alluded to in Ezekiel 38:9, 16. This is in conformity with our Lord's teaching: "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14; cf. also Revelation 7:14).
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.
Verse 9. - And they went up on the breadth cf the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city; over the breadth. "They went up" as an army to attack the enemy (cf. Judges 1:1). Either we must render the camp... even the beloved city, or else we must understand the camp as a defensive outpost placed around or near the city. In Acts 21:34 the same word is rendered "castle." "The beloved city" is evidently Jerusalem (of Psalm 78:68), that is, the Church of God, of which it is always a type in the Apocalypse (cf. Revelation 3:12; Revelation 21:2, 10). The description plainly portrays the Church militant here on earth. And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. "From God" is omitted in A, a few cursives, and Primasius, but appears in א, B, P, l, 7, and most cursives and versions; but these authorities vary in the position of the added clause. So in Revelation 11. fire devours the enemies of the two witnesses. This sentence is introduced in connection with the description of Gog and Magog, following the account of Ezekiel, where the same punishment is foretold (see Ezekiel 38:22; Ezekiel 39:6). It is probable, therefore, that nothing more definite is intended than to convey the general idea that God aids and protects his Church even while on earth. He, as it were, gives the enemies of his people a foretaste, while here on earth, of their future punishment of the lake of fire (see also on the seal visions).
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.
Verse 10. - 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 forever and ever; and they shall be tormented. The last clause shows that this is the final judgment and punishment of the devil. Thus at this verse is completed the whole series of visions commencing at Revelation 12, in which arc set forth the origin and progress of the influence of evil, and the final termination of the conflict between God and his Church on the one hand, and the devil and his adherents on the other. It remains now only to shadow forth the surpassing glory of the saints in their everlasting home, and thus to bring the book to a conclusion. This, therefore, is the theme of the remaining chapters. (On "the devil that deceiveth them," see on ver. 3; and on "the lake of fire and brimstone," see on Revelation 19:20.) Shall be tormented (cf. Matthew 8:29, "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?").
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.
Verse 11. - And I saw a great white throne. And I saw; introducing a new phase of the vision (el. ver. 1, etc.). A throne is seen as in Revelation 4.2; it is great, perhaps, by comparison with those mentioned in ver. 4; white, because this is the colour of purity and all heavenly virtues (cf. Revelation 1:14; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:4, etc.). And him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. The true reading, "before the throne," in the following verse makes it clear that God the Judge is here intended. Perhaps from Matthew 25:31 and John 5:22 we must infer that God the Son is meant. The destruction of the world is complete - "no place is found for them;" they are annihilated. Such an event is nearly always portrayed in the description of the last judgment in the Apocalypse and in the New Testament generally (cf. Revelation 16:20).
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.
Verse 12. - And I saw (see on ver. 11) the dead, small and great, stand before God; the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. All the dead, good and bad, as in Matthew 25:31-33. This is the general resurrection; what St. John might have called the second resurrection, with regard to the godly, who have once before risen to a life with Christ (see on ver. 5). Now, those who would not voluntarily share in the first resurrection are compelled to share in the second. And the books were opened. Omit the article (cf. the description in Daniel 7:10). And another book was opened, which is the book of life. This book has been frequently referred to (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8). The idea is not uncommon throughout the Bible (cf. Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20). And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. Both the godly and the ungodly. "The books" show fully why certain names are selected and inscribed in the "book of life." Here is enforced again the lesson with which the Apocalypse opens in the epistles to the seven Churches, viz. that the reward will follow according to the works (cf. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:15, etc.).
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.
Verse 13. - And the sea gave up the dead which were in it. It is difficult to decide upon the exact signification of this clause.
(1) It may be inserted in order to show the universal nature of this resurrection, although it may not, in conjunction with the next part of the verse, constitute a strictly logical classification of the dead.
(2) The sea being a type of the ungodly nations, the sentence may mean those spiritually dead, but living on the earth at the time of the judgment. The next clause seems to support this view. And death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; death and Hades (see Revelation 1:18; Revelation 6:8). As in Revelation 6:8, the two - really one - are mentioned separately, the latter being looked upon as the guard house of those whom the former has seized. This clause, taken in conjunction with the preceding one, may mean - From the ungodly nations, those physically living but spiritually dead were called up for judgment, and also those who were actually dead, having been seized by death and Hades. And they were judged every man according to their works. A solemn repetition of ver. 12 (which see).
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Verse 14. - And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire; death and Hades (see on ver. 13). Lake of fire (see on ver. 10). This is described in accordance with St. Paul's teaching. "The last enemy that shall be abolished is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26, Revised Version). Death and Hades, though in reality abstractions, are here personified. This is the second death. Add [even] the lake of fire. St. John has not used the phrase, "the first death," but he has alluded to the fact. The first death is the actual death of the body, and which is the natural result of that spiritually dead state into which, since the Fall, man is horn, and which is therefore, as it were, his normal state. In a similar manner, the first resurrection is the risen spiritual life of conversion; while the second resurrection is the resurrection of all men, and the bestowal of eternal life upon the just.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Verse 15. - And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was east into the lake of fire; and if any was not, etc. This is practically a reiteration of what has been twice before solemnly asserted (see vers. 12, 13).