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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 20 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER XX

 

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER

THIS chapter, like chapters 16:12-21, 17, 18, 19, pertains to the future, and discloses things which are yet to occur. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, for the reason stated in the Notes on chap. See Barnes "Re 16:16, that much obscurity should hang over it, nor that it is difficult to explain it so as to remove all obscurity. The statement in this chapter, however, is distinct and clear in its general characteristics, and time will make all its particular statements free from ambiguity.

In the previous chapter, an account is given of the final destruction of two of the most formidable enemies of the church, and consequently the removal of two of the hindrances to the universal spread of the gospel—the beast and the false prophet—the Papal and the Mohammedan powers. But one obstacle remains to be removed—the power of Satan as concentrated and manifested in the form of Pagan power. These three powers it was said Re 16:13,14 would concentrate their forces as the time of the final triumph of Christianity drew on; and with these the last great battle was to be fought. Two of these have been subdued; the conquest over the other remains, and Satan is to be arrested and bound for a thousand years. He is then to be released for a time, and afterwards finally destroyed, and at that period the end will come.

The chapter comprises the following parts:—

I. The binding of Satan, Re 20:1-3. An angel comes down from heaven, with the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand, and seizes upon the dragon, and casts him into the pit, that for a thousand years he should deceive the nations no more. The great enemy of God and his cause is thus made a prisoner, and is restrained from making war in any form against the church. The way is thus prepared for the peace and triumph which follow.

II. The millennium, Re 20:4-6. John sees thrones, and persons sitting on them; he sees the souls of those who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God—those who had not worshipped the beast nor his image—living and reigning with Christ during the thousand years: the spirits of the martyrs revived, and becoming again the reigning spirit on earth. This he calls the first resurrection; and on all such he says the second death has no power. Temporal death they might experience—for such the martyrs had experienced—but over them the second death has no dominion, for they live and reign with the Saviour. This is properly the millennium —the long period when the principles of true religion will have the ascendency on the earth, as if the martyrs and confessors—the most devoted and eminent Christians of other times—should appear again upon the earth, and as if their spirit should become the reigning and pervading spirit of all who professed the Christian name.

III. The release of Satan, Re 20:7,8. After the thousand years of peace and triumph shall have expired, Satan will be released from his prison, and will be permitted to go out and deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, and gather them together to battle; that is, a state of things will exist as if Satan were then released. There will be again an outbreak of sin on the earth, and a conflict with the principles of religion, as if an innumerable multitude of opposers should be marshalled for the conflict by the great author of all evil.

IV. The final subjugation of Satan, and destruction of his power on the earth, Re 20:9,10. After the temporary and partial outbreak of evil (Re 20:7,8,) Satan and his hosts will be entirely destroyed. The destruction will be as if fire should come down from heaven to devour the assembled hosts, (Re 20:9,) and as if Satan, the great leader of evil, should be cast into the same lake where the beast and false prophet are, to be tormented for ever. Then the church will be delivered from all its enemies, and religion henceforward will be triumphant. How long the interval will be between this state and that next disclosed, (Re 20:11-15)—the final judgment—is not stated. The eye of the seer glances from one to the other, but there is nothing to forbid the supposition, that, according to the laws of prophetic vision, there may be a long interval in which righteousness shall reign upon the earth. Comp. Intro. to Isaiah, &§ 7, III. (3.)—(5.)

V. The final judgment, Re 20:11-15. This closes the earthly scene. Henceforward (chap. xxi., xxii.) the scene is transferred to heaven— the abode of the redeemed. The last judgment is the winding up of the earthly affairs. The enemies of the church are all long since destroyed; the world has experienced, perhaps for a long series of ages, the full influence of the gospel; countless millions have been, we may suppose, brought under its power; and then at last, in the winding up of human affairs, comes the judgment of the great day, when the dead, small and great, shall stand before God; when the sea shall give up its dead; when death and hell shall give up the dead that are in them; when the records of human actions shall be opened, and all shall be judged according to their works, and when all who are not found written in the book of life shall be cast into the lake of fire. This is the earthly consummation; henceforward the saints shall reign in glory—the New Jerusalem above, chap. xxi., xxii.

In order to prepare the way for a proper understanding of this chapter, the following additional remarks may be here made:—

(a) The design of this book did not demand a minute detail of the events which would occur in the consummation of human affairs. The main purpose was to trace the history of the church to the scene of the final triumph when all its enemies would be overthrown, and when religion would be permanently established upon the earth. Hence, though in the previous chapters we have a detailed account of the persecutions that would be endured; of the enemies that would rise up against the church, and of their complete ultimate overthrow— leaving religion triumphant on the earth—yet we have no minute statement of what will occur in the millennium. A rapid view is taken of the closing scenes of the earth's history, and the general results only are stated. It would not be strange, therefore, if there should be much in this that would seem to be enigmatical and obscure—especially as it is now all in the future.

(b) There may be long intervening periods between the events thus thrown together into the final grouping. We are not to suppose necessarily that these events will succeed each other immediately, or that they will be of short duration. Between these events thus hastily sketched there may be long intervals that are not described, and whose general character is scarcely even glanced at. This results from the very nature of the prophetic vision, as described in the Intro. to Isaiah, 7, III. (3.)—(5.) This may be illustrated by the view which we have in looking at a landscape. When one is placed in a favourable situation, he can mark distinctly the order of the objects in it—the succession-the grouping. He can tell what objects appear to him to lie near to each other, and are apparently in juxtaposition. But there are objects which, in such a vision, the eye cannot take in, and which would not be exhibited by any description which might be given of the view taken. Hills in the distant view may seem to lie near each other; one may seem to rise just back of another, and to the eye they may seem to constitute parts of the same mountain, and yet between them there may be deep and fertile vales, smiling villages, running streams, beautiful gardens and waterfalls, which the eye cannot take in, and the extent of which it may be wholly impossible to conjecture; and a description of the whole scene, as it appears to the observer, would convey no idea of the actual extent of the intervals. So it is in the prophecies. Between the events which are to occur hereafter, as seen in vision, there may be long intervals, but the length of these intervals the prophet may have left us no means of determining. See these thoughts more fully illustrated in the Introduction to Isaiah as above referred to.

What is here stated may have occurred in the vision which John had of the future as described in this chapter. Time is marked in the prophetic description, until the fall of the great enemy of the church; beyond that it does not seem to have been regarded as necessary to determine the actual duration of the events referred to. Comp. Prof. Stuart, Com. ii. 353, 354.

(e) These views are sustained by the most cursory glance of the chapter before us. There is none of the detail which we have found in the previous portions of the book—for such detail was not necessary to the accomplishment of the design of the book. The grand purpose was to show that Christianity would finally triumph, and hence the detailed description is carried on until that occurs, and beyond that we have only the most general statements. Thus, in this chapter, the great events that are to occur are merely hinted at. The events of a thousand years; the invasion by Gog and Magog; the ultimate confinement and punishment of Satan; the general judgment,—are all crowded into the space of twelve verses. This shows that the distant future is only glanced at by the writer; and we should not wonder, therefore, if it should be found to be obscure, nor should we regard it as strange that much is left to be made clear by the events themselves when they shall occur.

(d) The end is triumphant and glorious. We are assured that every enemy of the church will be slain, and that there will be a long period of happiness, prosperity, and peace. "The eye of hope," says Prof. Stuart beautifully, "is directed forward, and sees the thousand years of uninterrupted prosperity; then the sudden destruction of a new and fatal enemy; and all the rest is left to joyful anticipation. When all clouds are swept from the face of the sky, why should not the sun shine forth in all his glory? I cannot, therefore, doubt that the setting sun of the church on earth is to be as a heaven of unclouded splendour. Peaceful and triumphant will be her latest age. The number of the redeemed will be augmented beyond all computation; and the promise made from the beginning, that "the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head," will be fulfilled in all its extent, and with a Divine plenitude of meaning. The understanding and pious reader closes the book with admiration, with wonder, with delight, with lofty anticipation of the future, and with undaunted resolution to follow on in the steps of those who through faith and patience have inherited the promises and entered into everlasting rest."—Vol, ii. pp. 354, 355.

Verse 1. And I saw an angel come down from heaven. Compare Barnes on "Re 10:1".

He does not say whether this angel had appeared to him before, but the impression is rather that it was a different one. The whole character of the composition of the book leads us to suppose that different angels were employed to make these communications to John, and that in fact, in the progress of things disclosed in the book, he had intercourse with a considerable number of the heavenly inhabitants. The scene that is recorded here occurred after the destruction of the beast and the false prophet, (Re 19:18-21,) and therefore, according to the principles expressed in the explanation of the previous chapters, what is intended to be described here will take place after the final destruction of the Papal and Mohammedan powers.

Having the key of the bottomless pit. See Barnes on "Re 1:18"; See Barnes "Re 9:1".

The fact that he has the key of that under-world is designed to denote here that he can fasten it on Satan so that it shall become his prison.

And a great chain in his hand. With which to bind the dragon, Re 20:2. It is called great because of the strength of him that was to be bound. The chain only appears to have been in his hand. Perhaps the key was suspended to his side.

{a} "key" Re 1:18; 9:1

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