Revelation 20

Revelation 20  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Then another and immensely important act is described—the binding of Satan. He is no longer to be allowed to prowl about the world ensnaring and destroying. “And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.” It is not therefore his final judgment. The angel “cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal over him, that he should no more deceive the nations, until the thousand years should be completed: after these things he must be loosed a little time.”
And then we come to a most cheering disclosure: “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of those beheaded on account of the witness of Jesus, and on account of the word of God: and those who had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, and had not received his mark upon their forehead, and on their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” I do not suppose that many words are required by the present audience to show that we are not to understand the scene as a mere figure of Christianity. There are probably but few, if any, here who do not understand it as the fore—shadow of a real resurrection. In short, it is not tropical language, as when it is said of the prodigal son—“This my son was dead, and is alive again”; or of the restoration of Israel, which is compared to a resurrection from the dead for the rest of the world. Here the vision was of thrones with sitters, and others caused to join them; and the inspired explanation is that it is the first resurrection—the rising of the just from the dead. Let us look at the different groups that are seen to have part in the first resurrection.
First, “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them.” The thrones were already filled. Instead of judgment being executed on them, it was given to them. They themselves were to judge. Who were they? Who are the persons thus invested with judicial authority of so glorious a nature and to reign, as we see later, with Christ? Clearly the same saints whom we have seen first set forth by the elders in heaven, subsequently by the elders and the living creatures, next, by the bride and the living creatures at the marriage-supper, and finally by the armies that followed the Lord out of heaven.
It is no longer a question either of celebrating the ways and counsels of God, or of the war with the beast and king. Accordingly it is another figure. It is reigning. There are thrones filled with certain persons, who reign along with Him. Thus the language of symbol is as definite as any other. There is no lack of precision, but the very reverse. Peculiar energy indeed attaches to symbolic language. But what is also of consequence to observe is, that John saw souls—the souls of those beheaded on account of the witness of Jesus, and on account of the word of God. These are the martyrs of Revelation 6, those long since seen under the altar, poured out like burnt-offerings to God. It will be remembered that it was said to them that they must wait. They had cried to the Sovereign ruler to avenge their blood on their foes, but they were told they must wait a little for some others, their fellow-servants and their brethren, to die as they had. Here accordingly we have them all. For there follows another company of martyrs who suffered when the beast set up his worst and final pretensions. When the second beast appeared, he even strove to put to death those who would not worship the beast, nor pay homage to his image, nor receive his mark. These compose the third class here spoken of.
The first were such as came out of heaven after Christ, being already raised from the dead and glorified. Consequently they sat upon the thrones at once; while the two latter classes, described in the rest of the verse, were still in the separate state—“and the souls.” Take this quite simply and literally. It does not mean persons merely, but the souls of beheaded persons. He saw their condition: it was part of the vision.
Here were thrones, and people sat upon them, changed before this into the image of Christ’s glory. Then come others in the condition of separate spirits or souls, whom the prophet saw—two different classes of them—those beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the word of God, and those who refused the beast in every form. The proof of the third class should have been given a little more distinctly than in our version. It should not be “and which had not,” but rather, “and those who had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, neither had received his mark upon their forehead, and on their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Thus such as were in the separate state were reunited to their bodies, and lived and reigned like those who were already on the thrones. They “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
Thus nothing can be simpler or more beautiful than the way in which this verse sums up the Revelation as a whole. The visions of this prophetic book open, not with the rapture of saints to heaven, but the sight of saints already raptured, often before the seer in the visions, but seen always in a complete condition without addition to their number. Accordingly the rapture of the church with the Old Testament saints must have already taken place, all (as I have no doubt) being caught up at the self-same time to be with the Lord above.
We have seen that these follow the Lord out of heaven, and are next seen enthroned. When the Lord takes His own throne, they take theirs by grace. But, further, we find that the saints who had suffered for Christ, during the time that the others were in heaven, are now reunited to their bodies and live, the Lord waiting for the last martyr that He might not leave out one of those who had died for His name. All the sufferers, either in the early persecutions of chapter 6, or in the later persecutions (see chap. 15.) up to Babylon’s extinction, were now raised from the dead. They lived, and were put therefore into a place and condition suitable for reigning with Christ, no less than the Old Testament saints and the church itself. Such is the meaning of the verse—“The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.”
Let it be carefully observed here that the first resurrection does not mean all rising exactly at the same moment. This is a mistake. We know that the change of all those caught up takes place in the twinkling of an eye; but it does not follow that various bodies are not raised at different times. For certain there are two great acts of resurrection—one when the Old Testament saints and the church are caught up to heaven, the other when Satan was bound after the beast and false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire, as well as Babylon judged. Thus (without speaking of the resurrection of the wicked at the close) there were certainly more acts than one, not to speak of the two witnesses put to death and caused to rise after three days and a half, when the spirit of life entered them, and they not only arose, but went up to heaven, as we know. I speak not of anything that might be deemed exceptional or peculiar, but of two acts of raising saints. From the manner in which resurrection is referred to in scripture, does not God leave room for this? “I will raise him up at the last day.” “At the last day” does not mean merely an instant of time. Whether it were the Old Testament saints and the church, or the Apocalyptic saints, if I may so distinguish them, it was in an instant that each were raised, but there was some space between them. What is there to hinder it? There is no expression in the word of God which binds all to rise at the same instant. Those that do rise at the same time rise, no doubt, in a moment; but that there are to be various acts of resurrection is not only not contrary to scripture, but required by its own descriptions. This verse declares it, and there is no other interpretation that can stand even a moment’s fair discussion.
This being so, it adds immense clearness in the understanding of the book. And what shall we say of the wonderful wisdom of the Lord? It is called “the first resurrection.” This does not intimate we have seen that there is only one act of raising, but that all who share that resurrection, whenever raised, are raised before the millennium begins; so that when the reign of Christ takes place, all such have part in the first resurrection, including Christ Himself, raised at least 1800 years before the church; then the church, with the Old Testament saints; then these Apocalyptic saints at any rate some years after. All this gives us a true and just view of the various parties that have a share in the resurrection. “This is the first resurrection. 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.”
It has been remarked by another, and justly, that the expression “they shall be priests of God and of Christ” summarily puts out of court the interpretation that supposes a figurative resurrection. For it is clear that, though principles might reign, to be priests is quite inconsistent with a mere figure. It is also clearly a personal reward to those who had suffered.
When the thousand years expire, Satan reappears on the scene to the sorrow and ruin of the Gentiles who were not born of God. But it is for the last time, not of the age only but of the various dispensations of God. “And when the thousand years are completed, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 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 war.” This is clearly of moral importance. The glory of the kingdom does not preserve when men in their natural state are exposed to the adversary. The millennial nations, “the number of whom is as the sand of the sea,” fall a prey to Satan.
“And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and encompassed the camp of the saints, and the beloved city.” The beloved city is Jerusalem; the camp of the saints, I presume, is a larger circle and embraces all of Israel and the Gentiles who, being converted, refuse Satan’s deceit. It is an evident contrast with the state supposed in the wheat-and-tare field of Christendom which is found at the end of the age. Wheat and tares grow together until the process of judgment separates. At the end of the millennium the righteous and the wicked form two distinct arrays, though even then there would appear to be a line drawn between the surrounding camp, and the beloved city Jerusalem on earth, where the Jews were. The unrenewed of the nations are now compassing them with their countless hosts, as if to eat them up like grasshoppers. “And fire came down out of heaven from God, and devoured them. And the devil that deceiveth them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where both the beast and the false prophet [are], and they shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of the ages.”
Then follows another scene still more solemn—the most awe-inspiring of all we can contemplate, at the same time full of blessing for the Christian to look onward to as that which will forever put aside every trace of evil, and vindicate good where man must altogether fail. Here accordingly is seen but one throne. It is the divine judgment of man—eternal judgment.
Even when God was judging providentially in the beginning of the Apocalyptic visions (Rev. 4), associated thrones were seen. When Christ came personally to judge and govern the quick (Rev. 20:44And 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. (Revelation 20:4)), there were thrones; for the risen saints reign with Him. But now there is but one throne: Christ judges the dead. “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away.” This is of immense moment doctrinally, because it decisively proves that it is altogether unfounded to assume, as is popularly done, that the Lord only returns at this juncture. In the coming of the Lord all include His coming to the habitable earth. Now manifestly, if the Lord does not come before this, there is no world to come to; for the earth and heavens are fled. The common notion, therefore, that the coming of the Lord is at this point is an evident fallacy upon the face of this scripture that describes it, not to speak of others elsewhere. It is not a syllogism that is wanted or that can satisfy here: only require, only believe, the word of God. A single verse dispels clouds of arguments. “I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled; and place was not found for them.” I admit that afterward no doubt the new heaven and the new earth are seen; but who contends that this is the sphere to which the Lord comes? To this earth He is coining, and not merely to the new earth in the eternal state. To the same world in which He suffered, according to the scriptures, He will come back. But for the eternal judgment heaven and earth are fled away; and then we see the new and eternal universe. Hence He must have come back previously to both. With this agrees His coming out of heaven in judgment of the earth, described in Revelation 19. He came to the world, and avenged His people on the beast and the false prophet with the kings and their armies; and after that the risen saints reign with Him over it a thousand years. I say not on but over the earth. He with the glorified saints will have their home on high, but none the less shall they reign over this very world for the allotted time.
Then, as we have seen, comes the final test of the nations of the earth after that kingdom has run its course, and the devil let loose once more deceives flesh and blood after the analogy of all other dispensations. That age of visible glory is inefficacious to change the heart of man, though in the absence of the enemy and the controlling presence of the great King, they render feigned obedience for a long while. It can govern and bless but not convert man. Even the proclamation of the grace of God is powerless except it be brought home by the quickening energy of His own Spirit. In short, no testimony can avail, no work, power, or glory without the word of God applied by the Spirit of God. But in this is shown—what it is of importance to see—the true nature of the kingdom or millennial reign. “That day” does not mean a time when everybody will be converted, but when the Lord Jesus will govern righteously—when overt evil will be judged, and good be sustained perfectly for a thousand years. When any wrong is done, it will be dealt with. As far as the display of government goes, it is according to God morally, and for His glory, though I deny not for a moment that there are elements of evil which are never allowed, but kept under if not expelled. But that the heart of man even so is not renewed becomes manifest, when Satan at the close deceives all that are not converted; and these, as we are told, are countless “as the sand of the sea.”
Do not wonder at the vast numbers, or at their defection. The thousand years of peace and plenty will have given occasion for an ever-growing population, spite of a world thinned by divine judgments which open that era. It is to be supposed that it will far exceed anything yet seen on the face of the earth. At the beginning there will have been carnage, as we know, among both the western powers and the eastern powers. In fact, we may say, all nations will be desolated by judgments of one kind or another; but for all this the world proceeding for a thousand years with every outward blessing, and the most admirable government administered by the blessed Lord Himself, will issue in the teeming and prosperous races of mankind. It will be a state of nature unexampled for the fruits of the earth and the enjoyment of all that God has made here below. Consequently there will be an increase in population such as never has been approached since the world was made, yet it afterward appears, that Satan will not fail to turn the masses of the nations into one vast rebellion against the objects of God’s special favor on the earth—the saints—wherever they may be, and the beloved city of Israel, as we have seen.
Then comes not the destruction only of these rebels by divine judgment, but the dissolution of heaven and earth. And Jesus sits on the great white throne. It is the judgment of the dead as such, who now rise and give account of their deeds. All the dead are there who had not part in the first resurrection. The nature of the case exempts of course the saints of the millennium; and this very simply, because they are never said to die at all. There is no scriptural reason to infer that any saint dies during the thousand years, but rather the contrary. Scripture is positive in Isaiah 65 that death during the millennium only comes as a specific judgment because of open rebellion. When a person dies, it will be a positive curse from God; if he die even a hundred years old, it will be like a baby dying now. Man converted will then not merely reach the natural term—if I may so say—of a thousand years, but pass that bound. If alive before the thousand years, he will live after the thousand years; in fact, literally he will never die, though I do not doubt, on general principles, that the saints of the millennial earth will be changed at the very time when the heavens and earth disappear. Of course they will be preserved through that crisis in some sort of way suitable to divine wisdom. God has not told us how, nor is it our business. He has reserved the matter, though not without enough to guide our thoughts, as we have seen. It is one of those cases which every now and then appear where God checks and reproves our foolish curiosity, as He alone knows how to do perfectly. “Flesh and blood,” we know, “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” According to the general scope of scripture, then, we may be quite sure that these saints, kept during this universal dissolution of the atmospheric heaven and the earth, will be translated to “the new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness,” in a condition new and meet for the eternal state into which they are ushered. Let others speculate, if they will: I am persuaded that he who essays to conceive the details is merely striving to draw a bow beyond the power of man. For I am not aware that any scripture treats of the subject, beyond laying down principles such as we have sought to apply to the case.
“And the dead were judged,” but not out of the book of life, which has nothing to do with judgment. “The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Why then is the book of life mentioned? Not because any of their names were written therein, but in proof that they were not. The book of life will confirm what is gathered from the books. If the books proclaim the evil works of the dead that stand before the throne, the book of life offers no defense on the score of God’s grace. Scripture records no name whatever among those judged written there. There was the sad register of undeniable sin on the one side; there was no writing of the name on the other side. Thus, whether the books or the book be examined, all conspire to declare the justice, the solemn but most affecting righteousness, of God’s final irrevocable sentence. They were judged every man according to their works. “And if any one was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.” Thus the only use that seems made of the book is negative and exclusive. Not that any of those judged (and the scene described is solely a resurrection of judgment) are said to be written there: we are shown rather that they were not found in that book.
Again, death and hades are said to come to their end, personified as enemies. “And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Thus was concluded all dealing on the Lord’s part with both soul and body, and all that pertains to either. The race was now in the resurrection state either for good or for evil; and thus it must be forever. Death and hades, which had so long been executioners in a world where sin reigned, and were still doing their occasional office where righteousness is to reign, themselves disappear where all traces of sin are consigned forever.