Revelation of John 20

CHAPTER XX.

An angel binds Satan a thousand years, and shuts him up in the

bottomless pit, 1-3.

They who were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, who have

part in the first resurrection, and shall reign with Christ

a thousand years, 4-6.

When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out

of his prison, shall go forth and deceive the nations, and

shall gather Gog and Magog from the four corners of the earth,

7, 8.

These shall besiege the holy city; but fire shall come down

from heaven and consume them, and they and the devil be cast

into a lake of fire, 9, 10.

The great white throne, and the dead, small and great, standing

before God, and all judged according to their works, 11, 12.

The sea, death, and hades, give up their dead, and are

destroyed; and all not found in the book of life are cast into

the lake of fire, 13-15.

NOTES ON CHAP. XX.

Verse 1. An angel came down from heaven] One of the executors of

the Divine justice, who receives criminals, and keeps them in

prison, and delivers them up only to be tried and executed.

The key of the prison and the chain show who he is; and as the

chain was great, it shows that the culprit was impeached of no

ordinary crimes.

Verse 2. The dragon] See Clarke on Re 12:9.

That old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan] He who is

called the old serpent is the DEVIL-the calumniator, and SATAN-the

opposer. He who supposes that the term old serpent here plainly

proves that the creature that tempted our first parents was

actually a snake, must enjoy his opinion; and those who can

receive such a saying, why let them receive it. Selah.

A thousand years] In what this binding of Satan consists, who

can tell? How many visions have been seen on this subject both in

ancient and modern times! This, and what is said Re 20:3-5, no

doubt refers to a time in which the influence of Satan will be

greatly restrained, and the true Church of God enjoy great

prosperity, which shall endure for a long time. But it is not

likely that the number, a thousand years, is to be taken literally

here, and year symbolically and figuratively in all the book

beside. The doctrine of the millennium, or of the saints reigning

on earth a thousand years, with Christ for their head, has been

illustrated and defended by many Christian writers, both among the

ancients and moderns. Were I to give a collection of the conceits

of the primitive fathers on this subject, my readers would have

little reason to applaud my pains. It has long been the idle

expectation of many persons that the millennium, in their sense,

was at hand; and its commencement has been expected in every

century since the Christian era. It has been fixed for several

different years, during the short period of my own life! I

believed those predictions to be vain, and I have lived to see

them such. Yet there is no doubt that the earth is in a state of

progressive moral improvement; and that the light of true religion

is shining more copiously everywhere, and will shine more and more

to the perfect day. But when the religion of Christ will be at its

meridian of light and heat, we know not. In each believer this may

speedily take place; but probably no such time shall ever appear,

in which evil shall be wholly banished from the earth, till after

the day of judgment, when the earth having been burnt up, a new

heaven and a new earth shall be produced out of the ruins of the

old, by the mighty power of God: righteousness alone shall dwell

in them. The phraseology of the apostle here seems partly taken

from the ancient prophets, and partly rabbinical; and it is from

the Jewish use of those terms that we are to look for their

interpretation.

Verse 3. He should deceive the nations no more] Be unable to

blind men with superstition and idolatry as he had formerly done.

Verse 4. I saw thrones] Christianity established in the earth,

the kings and governors being all Christians.

Reigned with Christ a thousand years.] I am satisfied that this

period should not be taken literally. It may signify that there

shall be a long and undisturbed state of Christianity; and so

universally shall the Gospel spirit prevail, that it will appear

as if Christ reigned upon earth; which will in effect be the case,

because his Spirit shall rule in the hearts of men; and in this

time the martyrs are represented as living again; their testimony

being revived, and the truth for which they died, and which was

confirmed by their blood, being now everywhere prevalent. As to

the term thousand years, it is a mystic number among the Jews.

Midrash Tillin, in Ps 90:15,

Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted

us, adds, "by Babylon, Greece, and the Romans; and in the days of

the Messiah. How many are the days of the Messiah? Rab. Elieser,

the son of R. Jose, of Galilee, said, The days of the Messiah are

a thousand years."

Sanhedrin, fol. 92, 1, cited by the Aruch, under the word

says: "There is a tradition in the house of Elias, that the

righteous, whom the holy blessed God shall raise from the dead,

shall not return again to the dust; but for the space of a

thousand years, in which the holy blessed God shall renew the

world, they shall have wings like the wings of eagles, and shall

fly above the waters." It appears therefore that this phraseology

is purely rabbinical. Both the Greeks and Latins have the same

form of speech in speaking on the state of the righteous and

wicked after death. There is something like this in the Republic

of Plato, book x., p. 322, edit. Bip., where, speaking of Erus,

the son of Armenius, who came to life after having been dead

twelve days, and who described the states of departed souls,

asserting "that some were obliged to make a long peregrination

under the earth before they arose to a state of happiness, ειναι

δετηνπορειανχιλιετη, for it was a journey of a thousand years,"

he adds, "that, as the life of man is rated at a hundred years,

those who have been wicked suffer in the other world a ten-fold

punishment, and therefore their punishment lasts a thousand

years."

A similar doctrine prevailed among the Romans; whether they

borrowed it from the Greeks, or from the rabbinical Jews, we

cannot tell.

Thus Virgil, speaking of the punishment of the wicked in the

infernal regions, says:-

Has omnes, ubi MILLE rotam volvere per annos,

Lethaeum ad fluvium Deus evocat agmine magno:

Scilicet immemores supera ut convexa revisant,

Rursus et incipiant in corpora velle reverti

AEN., lib. vi., 748.

"But when a thousand rolling years are past,

So long their dreary punishment shall last,

Whole droves of spirits, by the driving god,

Are led to drink the deep Lethean flood

In large, forgetful draughts, to sleep the cares

Of their past labours and their irksome years;

That, unremembering of its former pain,

The soul may clothe itself with flesh again."

How the apostle applies this general tradition, or in what sense

he may use it, who can tell?

Verse 5. The rest of the dead lived not again] It is generally

supposed from these passages that all who have been martyred for

the truth of God shall be raised a thousand years before the other

dead, and reign on earth with Christ during that time, after which

the dead in general shall be raised; but this also is very

doubtful.

Verse 6. Blessed] μακαριος Happy. And holy; he was holy,

and therefore he suffered for the testimony of Jesus in the time

when nothing but holiness was called to such a trial.

The first resurrection] Supposed to be that of the martyrs,

mentioned above.

The second death] Punishment in the eternal world; such is the

acceptation of the phrase among the ancient Jews.

Hath no power] ουκεχειεξουσιαν Hath no authority-no dominion

over him. This is also a rabbinical mode of speech. In Erubin,

fol. 19, 1; Chagiga, fol. 27, 1: "Res Lakish said, The fire of

hell hath no power over an Israelite who sins. Rab. Elieser says;

The fire of hell hath no power over the disciples of the wise

men."

Verse 7. Satan shall be loosed] How can this bear any kind of

literal interpretation? Satan is bound a thousand years, and the

earth is in peace; righteousness flourishes, and Jesus Christ

alone reigns. This state of things may continue for ever if the

imprisonment of Satan be continued. Satan, however, is loosed at

the end of the thousand years, and goes out and deceives the

nations, and peace is banished from the face of the earth, and a

most dreadful war takes place, &c., &c. These can be only

symbolical representations, utterly incapable of the sense

generally put upon them.

Verse 8. Gog and Magog] This seems to be almost literally taken

from the Jerusalem Targum, and that of Jonathan ben Uzziel, on

Nu 11:26. I shall give the words at length: "And there were two

men left in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, the name of

the other was Medad, and on them the spirit of prophecy rested.

Eldad prophesied and said, 'Behold, Moses the prophet, the scribe

of Israel, shall be taken from this world; and Joshua the son of

Nun, captain of the host, shall succeed him.' Medad prophesied and

said, 'Behold quails shall arise out of the sea, and be a

stumbling block to Israel.' Then they both prophesied together,

and said, 'In the very end of time Gog and Magog and their army

shall come up against Jerusalem, and they shall fall by the hand

of the King Messiah; and for seven whole years shall the children

of Israel light their fires with the wood of their warlike

engines, and they shall not go to the wood nor cut down any

tree.'" In the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, on the same place,

the same account is given; only the latter part, that is, the

conjoint prophecy of Eldad and Medad, is given more

circumstantially, thus: "And they both prophesied together, and

said, 'Behold, a king shall come up from the land of Magog in the

last days, and shall gather the kings together, and leaders

clothed with armour, and all people shall obey them; and they

shall wage war in the land of Israel against the children of the

captivity, but the hour of lamentation has been long prepared for

them, or they shall be slain by the flame of fire which shall

proceed from under the throne of glory, and their dead carcasses

shall fall on the mountains of the land of Israel; and all the

wild beasts of the field, and the wild fowl of heaven, shall come

and devour their carcasses; and afterwards all the dead of Israel

shall rise again to life, and shall enjoy the delights prepared

for them from the beginning, and shall receive the reward of their

worlds.'"

This account seems most evidently to have been copied by St.

John, but how he intended it to be applied is a question too

difficult to be solved by the skill of man; yet both the account

in the rabbins and in St. John is founded on Ezekiel,

Eze 38:1-39:29. The rabbinical writings are full of accounts

concerning Gog and Magog, of which Wetstein has made a pretty

large collection in his notes on this place. Under these names the

enemies of God's truth are generally intended.

Verse 9. The beloved city] Primarily, Jerusalem, typically, the

Christian Church.

Verse 10. And the devil-was cast onto the lake] Before Satan was

bound, that is, his power was curtailed and restrained; now, he is

cast into the lake of fire, his power being totally taken away.

Verse 11. A great white throne] Refulgent with glorious majesty.

Him that sat on it] The indescribable Jehovah.

From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away] Even the

brightness of his countenance dissolved the universe, and

annihilated the laws by which it was governed. This is a very

majestic figure, and finely expressed.

There was found no place for them.] The glorious majesty of God

filling all things, and being all in all.

Verse 12. The dead, small and great] All ranks, degrees, and

conditions of men. This description seems to refer to Da 7:9, 10.

And the books were opened] See Da 12:1. "Rab. Jehuda said: All

the actions of men, whether good or bad, are written in a book,

and of all they shall give account."-Sohar Gen., fol. 79, col.

298. "How careful should men be to shun vice, and to act uprightly

before the holy blessed God, seeing there are so many which go

throughout the earth, see the works of men, testify of them, and

write them in a book!"-Ibid., fol. 105, col. 417.

"In the first day of the new year the holy blessed God sits that

he may judge the world; and all men, without exception, give an

account of themselves; and the books of the living and the dead

are opened." Sohar Chadash, fol. 19, 1.

The books mentioned here were the books of the living and the

dead, or the book of life and the book of death: that is, the

account of the good and evil actions of men; the former leading to

life, the latter to death. St. John evidently alludes here to

Da 7:10, on which the rabbinical account of the books appears

to be founded. The expressions are figurative in both.

According to their works.] And according to their faith also,

for their works would be the proof whether their faith were true

or false; but faith exclusively could be no rule in such a

procedure.

Verse 13. The sea gave up the dead] Those who had been drowned

in it, and those millions slain in naval contests, who had no

other grave.

And death] All who died by any kind of disease. Death is here

personified, and represented as a keeper of defunct human

beings; probably no more than earth or the grave is meant, as

properly belonging to the empire of death.

And hell] αιδης, Hades, the place of separate spirits. The

sea and death have the bodies of all human beings; hades has

their spirits. That they may be judged, and punished or rewarded

according to their works, their bodies and souls must be reunited;

hades, therefore, gives up the spirits; and the sea and the

earth give up the bodies.

Verse 14. And death and hell were cast into the lake] Death

himself is now abolished, and the place for separate spirits no

longer needful. All dead bodies and separated souls being

rejoined, and no more separation of bodies and souls by death to

take place, consequently the existence of these things is no

farther necessary.

This is the second death.] The first death consisted in the

separation of the soul from the body for a season; the second

death in the separation of body and soul from God for ever. The

first death is that from which there may be a resurrection; the

second death is that from which there can be no recovery. By the

first the body is destroyed during time; by the second, body

and soul are destroyed through eternity.

Verse 15. Written in the book of life] Only those who had

continued faithful unto death were taken to heaven. All whose

names were not found in the public registers, who either were not

citizens, or whose names had been erased from those registers

because of crimes against the state, could claim none of those

emoluments or privileges which belong to the citizens; so those

who either did not belong to the new and spiritual Jerusalem, or

who had forfeited their rights and privileges by sin, and had died

in that state, were cast into the lake of fire.

THIS is the way in which God, at the day of judgment, will

proceed with sinners and apostates. Reader, see that thy name be

written in the sacred register; and, if written in, see that it

never be blotted out.

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