THE MILLENNIUM.—Some few introductory words on this most difficult chapter are needful. The outline of incidents described is very simple. An angel descends, lays hold upon the dragon, binds him, and imprisons him in the abyss, where he remains for a thousand years, after which he is loosed for a short time. During this thousand years the martyrs, and those who had not received the mark of the beast, live and reign with Christ. At the close of this period the dragon is loosed; the nations are once more deceived; the camp of the saints is threatened by the dragon, and those whom he has reduced to his service; but the fire from heaven destroys the adversaries, and the dragon is cast into the lake of fire. The general judgment follows. Simple as the vision appears, every interpretation is beset with difficulties. These difficulties are too numerous to be treated of here. Our space will only allow us to indicate the view adopted, though with the greatest hesitation, in this Commentary. (1) The millennium vision is, like so many of the apostolic visions, an ideal picture; it exhibits a state of things which is possible to mankind at any time; for, to use the language of Hengstenberg, “If the earth were to watch and pray for a thousand years, Satan would have nothing on it.” Like the vision of the first seal, it shows us that the victory of Christ was a real victory, and has put into man’s hand the promise of security against the wicked one’s devices. The defeat of Satan (inflicted by redemption) is described as “a fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18), as “a casting out” (John 12:31), as “a judgment past,” “the Prince of this world has been judged” (John 16:11). The ideal picture corresponds. “Satan is chained in the abyss, as the angels said by St. Peter to have been delivered into chains of darkness” (2 Peter 2:4). (2) But the rejection of Christ’s power and victory postpones the realisation of this picture; the sullen refusing of the King’s Son, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” interposes a barrier against an immediate fulfilment of the vision. But the fulfilment is not utterly lost; the vision is for an appointed time; it will have its realisation, though man’s waywardness and unbelief occasion its delay. (3) The vision has its approximate fulfilment as the Church of Christ, in the faith of the reality of her Lord’s victory, carries on her warfare against the prince of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places. That this approximate fulfilment is not unreal may be seen in the fact that Christendom has replaced heathendom, Christ has taken the throne of the world, the prince of this world has been judged, the ascendency of Christian thought and Christian principles has marvellously humanised and purified the world. To an Irenæus, a Polycarp, a Justin Martyr, a Tertullian, the picture of the world during the Christian centuries would have the aspect of a millennium, when contrasted with the age of Pagan domination and Pagan persecution. In their eyes, accustomed to the darkness of heathenism, the world as influenced by a widely diffused Christianity would seem to be a world in which Christ ruled. They would see in the acknowledgment of apostles and martyrs and confessors the wondrous resurrection power of God’s truth; they would see how those who fell for Christ had stepped from their forgotten graves to sit down with Christ in His throne. The apostles, the martyrs, the faithful do reign with Christ. The sovereignty of the world belongs far more to St. Paul and St. John than to Nero and Galba. But though thus the saints rise and reign with Christ over Christendom, we can see that this is only an approximate realisation, and falls short of the ideal picture. Christendom established and heathendom overthrown would be a millennium in the eyes of an Ignatius; but the Church of to-day looks for a further and higher fulfilment. Is she justified in this expectation? If the principles laid down elsewhere (see Note on Revelation 6) be correct, the Church is justified in looking for the full realisation of the vision in a future age. She can accept the first-fruits of God’s promises, but she will not mistake them for the harvest; she can rejoice in the growth of her Lord’s kingdom, but she looks for the day when the powers of evil will be more effectually curbed, and the gospel will have freer course. Then the fulness of Christ’s victory will be more clearly seen.
Revelation 20:1And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.THE BINDING OF SATAN.
(1) And I saw an angel come down . . .—Rather, And I saw an angel descending out of the heaven, having the key of the abyss, and a great chain on (not merely in his hand, but hanging from it as it would do when on) his hand. It is needless to settle who is represented by this angel. It is enough that in the vision he manifests by the key and the chain which he carries that there is power in Him, who has the keys of death and of Hades (Revelation 1:18), to bind, as He has death-wounded, him that had the power of death. The bottomless pit is the abyss, as we have had elsewhere (Revelation 9:1; Revelation 11:7; and Revelation 17:8. Comp. Luke 8:31); it is figuratively the abode of the devil and his associate angels (Matthew 25:41).
Revelation 20:4And 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.THE MILLENNIAL REIGN.
(4) And I saw thrones, and they sat . . . There is a prominence given to the thrones, because the thought of the reign of the saints is uppermost in the mind of the seer. The thrones are seen, and those who sat on them. It has been asked, “By whom are the thrones occupied?” The answer is supplied in the latter part of the verse. Those who are in the latter part said to reign with Christ are clearly those who sit upon the thrones which first caught the prophet’s eye; these are all the real servants of God. They appear before the seer in two great classes:—First, the martyrs who have been faithful unto death; for he speaks first of seeing the souls of those who have been beheaded (strictly, “slain with the axe,” but clearly the special class of beheaded martyrs is to be taken as representing all), because of the testimony of Jesus, and because of the word of God. The number of the martyrs is now complete (comp. Revelation 6:11); these form the first class mentioned. Secondly, those who have been faithful in life occupy these thrones. The prophet sees these, even whosoever did not worship (during life) the wild beast, nor yet his image, and did not receive the mark (comp. Revelation 13:10) on their forehead and upon their hand. The triumph and sovereignty, whatever they be, are shared by all the faithful. These things are stated as constituting their privileges. They lived, whereas the rest of the dead lived not; they reigned, and judgment was given them. This last has been felt to be a difficulty. What sort of judgment is intended? The passage in Daniel (Daniel 7:22) is clearly suggestive of the present one. The phrase (judgment was given) is not there to be understood as meaning that right was done them (see Note in Speaker’s Commentary on Daniel), neither must it be so understood here. Judicial powers are given to the saints as to those who occupy thrones; “the chief power in governing” (Gebhardt) is given them (comp. Matthew 19:28, and 1 Corinthians 6:2-3); they reign, they judge, they live; the true and full powers of life are seen to be theirs. And is not this the case always? Who, next to Him who knows the secrets of our hearts, exercises judicial powers over men? Do not those whose lives, as we read them, rebuke our own? Truly, those who lived for God, and refused the mark of earthliness, reign and judge us in our worldliness and weakness. This is their sovereign honour here, besides the glad reign in the unseen world.
Revelation 20:7And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,THE LOOSING OF SATAN AND HIS FINAL OVERTHROW.
(7) And when the thousand years are expired.—Rather, And when the thousand years have been finished. The binding of Satan implied restraint put upon his power and freedom of action; the loosing means the removing of these restraints. The reign of Christ with His saints has been a witness to the power of our Master over the wicked one. This witness has been an opportunity also to the world. It was the earthly approximation to the ideal picture. It testified how completely “all power in heaven and in earth was given to Christ,” and how there lay, therefore, within the reach of men the power of Him who would tread down their true enemies, and turn His hand against their adversaries (Psalm 81:13-14). But the time of opportunity must end. “O that Israel would have hearkened,” is a cry that might have its counterpart over the history of earth’s lost opportunities. Christendom is planted in the world to be a framework of regenerating power to mankind, just as the Law and its adjuncts were designed to be in Israel. But, as there the old idolatrous influences broke in upon the rule of God’s covenant, so here do we find the vision picturing to us how Christendom will be invaded by the influences of the evil one, when mankind has let slip this splendid opportunity of a really golden age.
THE JUDGMENT OF THE WORLD.—The three enemies have been overthrown and driven forth from the earth which they have sought to destroy (Revelation 11:18). The judgment of human beings must follow.
Revelation 20:15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.