1. And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand.
2. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.
3. 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.
Vs. 1-3.—“And I saw an angel.” This angel is the Lord Christ, (Ch. x. 1.) The key is the symbol of authority. (Is. xxii. 22; Chs. i. 18; iii. 7.) The dragon had been previously cast down from heaven, (Ch. xii. 9;) by the Reformation, and during the “short time” of his liberty, he persecuted the woman and the remnant of her seed, on the earth. Now, however, his career is arrested, “Seizing, binding, casting into the abyss, shutting up, and setting a seal upon that old serpent,” (Ch. xii. 9,) are strong figurative expressions, by which his secure confinement is signified. Thus is the devil to be restrained from deceiving the nations for a “thousand years.” That this period is to be taken in a proper, and not in a mystical sense, appears thus. If we multiply one thousand by three hundred and sixty, as some fancifully do, the resulting number of years, three hundred and sixty thousand, would be out of all proportion to the past duration of the world, as well as the well—defined period of 1260 years. Add to this, that when by Daniel and John definite duration is symbolically mentioned, it is by “months, days; time, times and a half a time,” or “the dividing of time,”—never by “years.”
At the expiration of the thousand years, Satan will be loosed a “little season,”—little, as compared with the thousand years; so little, as not to be deemed worth estimating.
4. 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.
V. 4.—“And I saw thrones.” Here there is no mention of heaven being opened. Nothing henceforth obstructs John’s vision. “The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.”—“At evening time it shall be light.” (Zech. xiv. 7.)—“And they sat on them.” Who?—There is here what may be termed a remarkable chasm in the language of the text. There is no visible or proximate antecedent. Who are they who “sit on thrones?” Did Millenarians only put this question, and patiently search for the solution in the context, agreeably to the allegorical texture of this whole book, all their hallucinations might be easily and happily obviated. The inspired writer assumes, of course, that the reader will readily identify these persons, who are thus promoted to honour, now that Antichrist is no more, and society is to be reorganized.—Daniel furnishes a satisfactory answer to our question. “I beheld till the thrones were cast down.” (Dan. vii. 9.) The Roman imperial thrones of civil despotism were subverted. Again,—“But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.” (v. 26.) The Roman imperial throne of ecclesiastical domination shall be destroyed. Then when Messiah “shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power,” of both sorts of tyranny, “the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the. whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions, (rulers) shall serve and obey him,” (v. 27.) The “saints of the Most High,” according to Daniel are to be exalted to civil rule, and these are the same whom John saw “sitting on thrones.” Now, the effect of the seventh trumpet becomes a fact in history.—“The kingdoms of this world,” which had been controlled by the beast, and bewitched by the sorceries of the lewd woman, “are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ?—For in the millennial state of the world, there will be a plurality of kingdoms.—Hence a very common petition of pious but ignorant people,—“That the kingdoms of this world may soon become the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” neither will, nor ever can be answered.—Under the righteous and benign administration of the saints, “kings shall be nursing-fathers, and their queens nursing-mothers to the church:” for “the nations and kingdoms that would not serve her, have perished; yea, those nations have been utterly wasted.” (Is. xlix. 23; lx. 12.)—The souls which the apostle saw under the altar, whose cry for vengeance he heard, and who were directed to rest for a little season, till the roll of their martyred brethren should be completed, are here presented in quite a new position, “sitting on thrones,” (Ch. vi. 9.) Although they are not the same identical persons physically, they are the same morally; for the life of the two witnesses is commensurate with the reign of Antichrist,—twelve hundred and sixty years. These “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years; that is, in their successive generations: for otherwise they would over-live the age of Methuselah!—Souls are here evidently persons, and not souls as distinct from bodies, as some needlessly argue against Millenarians: for “foreheads” and “hands” are attributed to them: but foreheads cannot be literally ascribed to those who had been “beheaded.” Their living is to be understood of their succeeding to the same scriptural position occupied by their predecessors, as well as succeeding them in the order of natural generation. The Holy Spirit says, “Levi, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham.” (Heb. vii. 9, 10.) Elijah reappeared in the person of John the Baptist. (Matt. xi. 14.) Jezebel and Balaam were recognised in their wicked successors, (Ch. ii. 14, 20.) But this is the very structure of the Apocalypse, being composed of hieroglyphics, that the free agency of the wicked might be left untrammelled, and the diligence of God’s people might be tested in “searching the Scriptures.”
5. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
V. 5.—“The rest of the dead” supposes two classes of the dead. These are the witnesses, who died a violent and cruel death, and the wicked, who died a natural death,—there “were no bands in their death.” As there are two kinds of death, so are there two kinds of resurrection,—a first and second of each. Those who had been “beheaded for the witness of Jesus,” etc., lived in their successors, sat on thrones, reigned with Christ a thousand years. Of course those who were slain by Christ and his army at the battle of Armageddon, and whose flesh was given to the fowls of heaven, “lived not again” in their successors, “until the thousand years were finished.” Consequently, “this is the first resurrection,” with which the true disciples of Christ shall be honoured. They must, however, die as all others, and await the second resurrection: but “on them the second death shall have no power.”
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.
V. 6.—“Blessed and holy,”—and blessed, because holy; for sin is the procuring cause of misery. This is a summary description of the millennial period. The dragon being bound by the almighty power of Christ, and not permitted to deceive the nations, wars shall cease unto the ends of all the earth: the population of the globe must be rapidly and greatly multiplied beyond all precedent. (Ps. xlvi. 9; lxxii, 16,) the life of man will be prolonged; (Isa. lxv. 20-25,) holiness, righteousness and praise shall spring forth before all the nations, (lxi. 11.)
That condition of our globe, which divines call the millennium,—a state of holiness and happiness, second only to the enjoyment of heavenly felicity, is as clearly and frequently promised to God’s people, as the promise of the Messiah was under the former economy. But as many were “in expectation that the kingdom of God should immediately appear,” who then entertained unwarrantable and carnal conceptions of the Messiah’s person and reign, just such groundless and gross expectations and aspirations are cherished now. A literal resurrection of all the righteous, who shall have died before the millennium is supposed to take place at the personal appearance of Christ; and this, too, before the general judgment. By personal, they mean corporeal: for the Lord Christ promised his gracious personal presence with his people all days, when he was about to disappear from their bodily vision. (Matt. xxviii. 20.) “To them that look for him shall he appear the second time, (not a third,) without sin unto salvation.” (Heb. ix. 28; Rev. i. 7.) Besides, is it for a moment supposable that saints who have passed into glory, are to be brought upon earth to conflict once more with enemies, when Gog and Magog shall surround the “camp of the saints?” Such is a specimen of questions suggested by the Millenarian system, which have failed of either scriptural or rational solution by all the learning and ingenuity of its fanciful advocates.
The whole series of the Apocalypse proves that the two witnesses live and prophesy throughout the 1260 years of Antichrist’s reign. Their lives and their testimony ends together, (Ch. xi. 7.) But the beast that slays them is himself with his ally, the false prophet, at the close of the contest, cast alive into the lake of fire, (Ch. xix. 20.)
After three and a half prophetical days, the witnesses are raised, and ascend up to heaven, (Ch. xi. 12;) and this is the identical fact which is more fully presented here in the 20th chapter. The resurrection of the witnesses in the 11th chapter is a spiritual and mystical resurrection in the persons of their successors; the heaven to which they were exalted is a mystical heaven: and just so of those beheaded and advanced, after their resurrection, to positions of civil and ecclesiastic power as in this 20th chapter. Thus exalted, and ruling in the fear of God, they become a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them that do well. (Rom. xiii. 3.) Then shall be realized the glorious predictions of Isaiah and the Sweet Psalmist of Israel (Isa. xi. 1-9; Ps. lxxii 1.)
7. And when the thousands years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.
8. 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.
9. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and com—passed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
Vs. 7-9.—“Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.”—The Lord Christ will remove the restraint which had repressed the chief enemy during the thousand years, that the Faithful and True Witness may give a final testimony to the moral universe, that neither the philosopher of proud man, nor the law of Moses,—no, nor the ordinances of the gospel, will ever change the nature of a sinner: That neither judgments nor mercies have any efficacy to subdue the stubborn will, or renew the desperately wicked heart of man; and that it is a righteous thing with God to render tribulation to them that trouble his saints and insult his Majesty.
Thus released “for a little season,” the prime enemy goes out as before to “deceive the nations.” He is successful. “The rest of the dead,” who lived not again during the 1000 years, at once re—appear in the persons of their genuine successors. They are the children of them that killed the witnesses; the seed of the serpent aiming a last fatal stroke at the seed of the woman.—They are called “Gog and Magog;” and because of the identity of names, many have supposed them to be the same as those enemies of the people of God described by Ezekiel, (Chs. xxxviii., xxxix.) This view is, however, without sanction in the Scriptures. The characters are mystical according to the uniform structure of the Apocalypse. Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog come from the “north quarters;” those of John from the “four quarters or corners of the earth.” It is also probable, if not absolutely certain, that the enemies predicted by Ezekiel are to appear before, while those of John are to arise after the millennium. The overthrow of Gog and Magog, foretold by Ezekiel, is evidently connected with the conversion of the Jews, (Ch. xxxix. 22, 29;) but that event must precede the millennial period. (Rom. xi. 26.)—Magog is reckoned with Meshech and Tubal among the sons of Japheth, (Gen. x. 2;) and those nations called in history Scythians and Tartars, in the “north quarters” of Europe and Asia, as well as the “isles of the Gentiles,” are supposed to be their descendants. By the “three unclean spirits,” (Ch. xvi: 13,) a confederacy was effected under the sixth vial to the battle of Armageddon; and the same is again presented in Ch. xix. 20, as the final attempt against the saints previously to the millennium, when two of the prime instigators, the beast and the false prophet, are cast into the lake of fire. Thus we may suppose eastern and western Antichrist finally destroyed.
Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog being slain in the battle of Armageddon, how or where shall we find those of John? They are to be found precisely on the same principle on which we find the witnesses of Christ in this chapter. Satan is loosed “a little season,”—little as compared with the thousand years of Messiah’s reign, or rather, as compared with the 1260 years of the dragon’s successful enterprises against the saints through the beast and false prophet as agents. These being now cast into the lake of fire, Satan is for ever deprived of their agency. During the millennial period people will be born in sin as at other times; and at the close of that happy period, Almighty God will display his sovereignty by with holding his grace, that a last demonstration may be given to all the world of the necessity and efficacy of that grace in changing the heart of a sinner. Without the intervention of the beast or the false prophet, Satan will prevail by more direct temptations to gather together to battle a multitude of the same spirit as Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog displayed against the saints before the millennium. These are the “rest of the dead that lived not again till the one thousand years were finished.” As the “deadly wound” of the civil beast “was healed,” and he received a new life, to the astonishment of spectators, (Ch. xiii. 3,) as the witnesses received “the Spirit of life from God,” to the dismay of their enemies; (Chs. xi. 11; xx. 4,) so Gog and Magog re—appear in the persons and bloody cruelties of their genuine successors. And in language similar to that in the context we may warrantably say,—this is the second resurrection; for when it is declared that the “rest of the dead lived not again,” it is manifest that two classes of dead are intended. All are said to be dead; the witnesses, slain by the beast; their enemies, slain by the Lord. The witnesses rise, and “this is the first resurrection.” A first implies a second of the same kind. Well, “the rest lived not again till the thousand years were finished.” What then? Why, simply this,—that the other remaining class of the dead lived again; and this appears to be the obvious scope and meaning of these terms, so vexing to many critics.
By deception Satan prevails to assemble the nations in vast multitudes, “as the sand of the sea,”—a proverbial form of expression applied to Abraham’s seed. (Gen. xxii: 17.) “They went up on the breadth of the earth.” Coming from the “four quarters of the earth, they compassed the camp of the saints.”
The allusion here is twofold: to Israel in the wilderness, in the time of Moses; and to the holy city Jerusalem, in the days of David; (Ps. cxviii. 10-12,) for often did the enemy with “joint heart” attempt to “cut off the name of Israel.” (Ps. lxxxiii. 4-8.) Never was Pharaoh or Sennacherib more confident of a sure and easy victory over the saints. (Exod. xv, 9; Isa. xxxvi. 20.) As in the days of Noah, most of the generation of the righteous had been taken home to glory before the ungodly were destroyed by the deluge, so we may suppose the “camp of the saints” to be but a “little flock,” when assailed for the last time, while they are in a militant state. The issue in this case, however, will be more decisive and glorious than any other battle with the powers of darkness. We may adopt and apply the words of the prophet to God’s people in the time of Jehoshaphat:—“Thus saith the Lord,—Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle.” (2 Chron. xx. 15, 17.)—“Fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured” this great multitude. This most dreadful of all elements in the material universe, is that which is commonly employed to represent the wrath of God. By it Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Corah and his rebellious company, the captains and their fifties, fire proceeded out of the mouth of the two witnesses and devoured their enemies, Gog and Magog are consumed by this element; the heavens and the earth which are now, are reserved unto fire; the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven .... in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel,—most probably these very enemies; and all such are to be consigned to “the fire that never shall be quenched.”
Awful thought! Tremendous destiny! Who would not fear thee, O Lord; who art a consuming fire to all thy impenitent enemies?
10. And the devil that deceived them was east 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.
V. 10.—The first rebel against the righteous authority of the Lord and his Anointed, and the ceaseless instigator of all rebellions of individual and social man, is the last to be consigned to adequate punishment. When the Lord first called sinners to account, the same order is noticeable: First, Adam, then Eve, and last the serpent. The beast and the false prophet are already in the lake of fire; (Ch. xix. 20;) and now, Satan, who is here called the devil, is dismissed after them, that they may all be tormented “for ever and ever,”—words, as already noticed, which are the strongest in the Greek language to convey to the human mind the idea of endless duration.
11. 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.
12. 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 but of those things which were written in the books according to their works.
13. 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.
14. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the, second death.
15. And, whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Vs. 11-15.—Nothing now remains to bring to a close the moral administration of Messiah, but the raising of the dead and pronouncing final sentence on all the subjects of his government. There is no intimation that any events shall intervene between the casting of the devil into the burning lake, and the appearing of the Judge.
The “great white throne” is suitable to the majesty and holiness of the Judge. He is not at first called by any name, for “every eye shall see,” and seeing, recognise his divine dignity. In the next verse he is styled God, not to identify him, but as a matter of course in the narrative.—No sooner did the Judge take his seat, than “the earth and the heaven fled away.” The simplicity and sublimity of this language are inimitable by human genius; and rarely if at all equalled, even by those who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. The first inspired writer uses language very similar. (Gen. i. 3.) We are frequently and sufficiently taught that the Lord Christ in person is to be the judge of quick and dead. (Acts xvii. 31.) “All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” (2 Cor. v. 10.) No person is competent to this work of judgment but one who is omniscient and omnipotent, not to speak of other divine perfections. The “Judge of all the earth” is a divine person, possessed of all the attributes of deity; and as there .is not: now among: apostate .angels, so there will not then be a child of Adam, to deny the supreme deity of Jesus Christ, (Matt. viii. 29.) Of this he gave intimation at the beginning of the Apocalypse:—“Every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him,” (Ch. i. 7;) yes, they pierced him for blasphemy, “because that he, being a man, made himself God.” (John x. 33.) Here the Judge on the throne demonstrates to an assembled universe, the scriptural warrant for the language of the Reformers when they say he is “very God, and very man.” “God is judge himself,” (Ps. i. 6,) in the person of the Father; but “he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained.” (Acts xvii. 31.)
Before the righteous Judge “shall be gathered all nations,” (Matt. xxv. 32,) all that have ever lived upon the earth, from the creation till the end of time, all, ranks and degrees, however diversified by sex, age, or social position; righteous and wicked, Jews and Gentiles, Herod and Pontius Pilate, Cain and Abel, Judas, etc.
In order to this general assize, “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God,” (John v. 25, 28, 29;) “and many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt,” (Dan, xii, 2.) The “sea, death and hell,” or the grave, (or rather, the place of souls as separated by death from their bodies,) which are thus awfully, but beautifully personified, shall surrender their respective tenants, that they may stand before the Son of man in judgment.—Only such as have died are mentioned here: but some will not die, but “remain alive unto the coming of the Lord,” the judge; and these, it is probable, will be the “camp of the saints” which have been miraculously delivered from the rage of Gog and Magog, (vs. 8, 9.) There is a beautiful order “The dead in Christ shall in the final resurrection rise first.” (l Thess. iv. 16; 1 Cor. xv. 23) Next will be raised the wicked; for “like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them, and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.” (Ps. xlix. 14.) The dead, being all raised, those, who shall be alive will undergo a change equivalent to death,—“in a moment, in the—twinkling of an eye;” for these “shall not prevent (anticipate) them which were asleep;” that is, they will not be changed until their companions are called from the grave, etc. All being now “before the judgment seat of Christ,” the “books are opened!” Oh, what emotions will swell and heave the bosoms of the righteous!—“joy unspeakable and full of glory:” for before the sentence of acquittal is publicly pronounced, their position on the Judge’s right hand indicates the sentence. And next what terror insupportable will now seize the wicked! What “fearful looking—for of judgment and fiery indignation,” when in breathless suspense, they await the just sentence,—“Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!” (Matt. xxv. 41; Heb. x. 27.) The righteousness of this sentence will be attested by the “opened books,” of the divine omniscience, the human conscience, and in the case of gospel—rejecters, the Bible. (2 Thess. i. 7, 8.) And the like condemnation would pass upon the righteous, but that “another book is opened,” in which are inscribed the names of all the objects of God’s electing love: and this will be the key—note in their songs of praise to all eternity. (Jer. xxxi. 3; Rev. i. 5.) All are “judged according to their works,” as, these are witnessed by the books,—for “their works do follow them,” (Ch. xiv,13.)
“Death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.” Death, or the grave; hell, or the separate state, will never again be needed, as prisons to keep their inmates for trial. “The lake of fire” is the place of ceaseless and endless torment for all who are not “found written in the book of life;” and this place seems to be distinct from the “bottomless pit,” Satan’s “prison,” out of which he had been loosed, (v. 7.)—Of the beast it was said, he “ascendeth out of the bottomless pit,” but not that he was remanded thither again: he is said to “go into perdition,” which must be “the lake of fire.” (Compare Ch. xvii.8, with xix. 20; and xx. 1-3 with v. 10.)—The plain and obvious meaning of these closing verses of the 20th chapter, as delineated in its general import by appropriate and familiar symbols and intelligible words, for ever excludes, and emphatically condemns the conscience—stupifying heresies and blasphemies of Unitarians and Universalists. The God—man Mediator, seated upon the “throne of his glory,” before whose face the “earth and the heaven fled away,” is thus evidenced to be the Son of God, Jehovah’s Fellow. And we may here adopt the assertion and caution of the “beloved disciple,”—“This is the true God and eternal life.—Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John v. 20, 21.) Moreover, these verses reveal a place or state, more to be dreaded than the “killing of the body,”—“the lake of fire, which is the second death,” “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Matt. x. 28; 2 Thess. i. 8-10; Heb. x. 26-31.)
With the 20th chapter of the Apocalypse terminate the events of time, in which the divine Author demonstrates, that “known unto him are all his works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts xv. 18.) Many, indeed, of the learned and pious have supposed the remaining chapters of the Apocalypse, to be a description of the church on earth during the millennial period. But besides the series, coherence and dependence of the several parts of the book, precluding such retrogression, this interpretation overthrows the scriptural distinction between the militant and triumphant state of the church. And it is not to be thought out of place, that the inspired prophet should describe, by suitable emblems, the outline of the heavenly state; for this he has done briefly already in a number of instances. (See Chs. ii. and iii., also Ch. vii. 15, 17.)—Those who consider the last two chapters as a delineation of the church on earth, have first formed in their minds ideas of a corporeal or bodily presence of Christ, and of a literal and visible reign on the earth. Such views we have already shown to be without scripture warrant, yea against plain declarations of the Holy Spirit, (as Acts iii. 21; Matt. xvii. 11, 12; Heb. ix. 28.) Hence we shall contemplate the symbols of the following chapters, except as incidents or allusions may render this incompatible,—as shadowing forth the glories of the church’s heavenly state.