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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 20 - Verse 6

Verse 6. Blessed. That is, his condition is to be regarded as a happy or a favoured one. This is designed apparently to support and encourage those who in the time of John suffered persecution, or who might suffer persecution afterwards.

And holy. That is, no one will be thus honoured who has not an established character for holiness. Holy principles will then reign, and none will be exalted to that honour who have not a character for eminent sanctity.

That hath part in the first resurrection. That participated in it; that is, who is associated with those who are thus raised up.

On such the second death hath no power. The "second death" is properly the death which the wicked will experience in the world of woe. See Re 20:14. The meaning here is, that all who are here referred to as having part in the first resurrection will be secure against that. It will be one of the blessed privileges of heaven that there will be absolute security against DEATH in any and every form; and when we think of what death is here, and still more when we think of "the bitter pains of the second death," we may well call that state "blessed" in which there will be eternal exemption from either.

But they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him. See Barnes "Re 1:6; Re 5:10 ".

 

(b)—Condition of the world in the period referred to in Re 20:4-6.

I. It is well known that this passage is the principal one which is relied on by those who advocate the doctrine of the literal reign of Christ on the earth for a thousand years, or who hold what are called the doctrines of the "second advent." The points which are maintained by those who advocate these views are substantially,

(a) that at that period Christ will descend from heaven to reign personally upon the earth;

(b) that he will have a central place of power and authority, probably Jerusalem;

(c) that the righteous dead will then be raised, in such bodies as are to be immortal;

(d) that they will be his attendants, and will participate with him in the government of the world;

(e) that this will continue during the period of a thousand years;

(f) that the world will be subdued and converted during this period, not by moral means, but by "a new dispensation"—by the power of the Son of God; and

(g) that at the close of this period all the remaining dead will be raised, the judgment will take place, and the affairs of the earth will be consummated.

The opinion here adverted to was held substantially by Papins, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others among the Christian Fathers, and, it need not be said, is held by many modern expositors of the Bible, and by large numbers of Christian ministers of high standing, and other Christians. See the Literalist, passim. The opinion of the Christian Fathers, with which the modern "literalists," as they are called, substantially coincide, is thus stated by Mr. Elliott: "This resurrection is to be literally that of departed saints and martyrs, then at length resuscitated in the body from death and the grave; its time to synchronize with, or follow instantly after, the destruction of the beast Antichrist, on Christ's personal second advent; the binding of Satan to be an absolute restriction of the power of hell from tempting, deceiving, or injuring mankind, throughout a literal period of a thousand years, thence calculated; the government of the earth during its continuance to be administered by Christ and the risen saints—the latter being now isaggeloi—in nature like angels; and under it, all false religion having been put down, the Jews and saved remnant of the Gentiles been converted to Christ, the earth renovated by the fire of Antichrist's destruction, and Jerusalem made the universal capital, there will be a realization on earth of the blessedness depicted in the Old Testament prophecies, as well as perhaps of that too which is associated with the New Jerusalem in the visions of the Apocalypse—until at length this millennium having ended, and Satan gone forth to deceive the nations, the final consummation will follow; the new-raised enemies of the saints, Gog and Magog, be destroyed by fire from heaven: and then the general resurrection and judgment take place, the devil and his servants be cast into the lake of fire, and the millennial reign of the saints extend itself into one of eternal duration."—Elliott on the Apocalypse, iv. 177, 178.

Mr. Elliott's own opinion, representing, it is supposed, that of the great body of the "literalists," is thus expressed: "It would seem, therefore, that in this state of things and of feeling in professing Christendom [a feeling of carnal security], all suddenly, and unexpectedly, and conspicuous over the world as the lightning that shineth from the east even unto the west, the second advent and appearing of Christ will take place; that at the accompanying voice of the archangel and trump of God, the departed saints of either dispensation will rise from their graves to meet him—alike patriarchs, and prophets, and apostles, and martyrs, and confessors all at once and in the twinkling of an eye; and then instantly the saints living at the time will be also caught up to meet him in the air; these latter being separated out of the ungodly nations, as when a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats, and all, both dead and living saints, changed at the moment from corruption to incorruption, from dishonour to glory, though with very different degrees of glory; and so in a new angelic nature, to take part in the judging and ruling in this world. Meanwhile, with a tremendous earthquake accompanying, of violence unknown since the revolutions of primeval chaos, an earthquake under which the Roman world at least is to rock to and fro like a drunken man, the solid crust of this earth shall be broken, and fountains burst forth from its inner deep, not as once of water, but of liquid fire; and that the flames shall consume the Antichrist and his confederate kings, while the sword also does its work of slaughter; the risen saints being perhaps the attendants of the Lord's glory in this destruction of Antichrist, and assessors in his judgment on a guilty world. And then immediately the renovation of this our earth is to take place, its soil being purified by the very action of the fire, and the Spirit poured out from on high, in a yet better sense, the moral face of nature; the Shekinah, or personal glory of Christ amidst his saints being manifested chiefly in the Holy Land and at Jerusalem, but the whole earth partaking of the blessedness; and thus the regeneration of all things, and the world's redemption from the curse, having their accomplishment, according to the promise, at the manifestation of the sons of God," iv. 224-231. (I have slightly abridged this passage, but have retained the sense.)

To this account of the prevailing opinion of the "literalists" in interpreting the passage before us, there should be added that of Professor Stuart, who, in general, is as far as possible from "they sympathizing with this class of writers. He says in his explanation of expression lived" in Re 20:4, "There would seem to remain, therefore, only one meaning which can be consistently given to ezhsan, [they lived,] viz.: that they (the martyrs who renounced the beast) are now restored to life, viz., such life as implies the vivification of the body. Not to a union of the soul with a gross material body indeed, but with such an one as the saints in general will have at the final resurrection—a spiritual body, 1 Co 15:44. In no other way can this resurrection be ranked as correlate with the second resurrection named in the sequel," ii. 360. So again, Excursus vi., (vol. ii. p. 476,) he says, "I do not see how we can, on the ground of exegesis, fairly avoid the conclusion that John has taught in the passage before us, that there will be a resurrection of the martyr-saints, at the commencement of the period after Satan shall have been shut up in the dungeon of the great abyss." This opinion he defends at length, pp. 476-490. Professor Stuart, indeed, maintains that the martyrs thus raised up will be taken to heaven and reign with Christ there, and opposes the whole doctrine of the literal reign on the earth, ii. 480. The risen saints and martyrs are to be "enthroned with Christ; that is, they are to be where he dwells, and where he will continue to dwell, until he shall make his descent at the final judgment-day."

II. In regard to these views as expressive of the meaning of the passage under consideration, I would make the following remarks:—

(1.) There is strong presumptive evidence against this interpretation, and especially against the main point in the doctrine—that there will be a literal resurrection of the bodies of the saints at the beginning of that millennial period to live and reign with Christ on earth—from the following circumstances:

(a) It is admitted on all hands that this doctrine, if contained in the Scriptures at all, is found in this one passage only. It is not pretended that there is in any other place a direct affirmation that this will literally occur, nor would the advocates for that opinion undertake to show that it is fairly implied in any other part of the Bible. But it is strange, not to say improbable, that the doctrine of the literal resurrection of the righteous a thousand years before the wicked should be announced in one passage only. If it were so announced in plain and unambiguous language, I admit that the believer in the Divine origin of the Scriptures would be bound to receive it; but this is so contrary to the usual method of the Scriptures on all great and important doctrines, that this circumstance should lead us at least to doubt whether the passage is correctly interpreted. The resurrection of the dead is a subject on which the Saviour often dwelt in his instructions; it is a subject which the apostles discussed very frequently and at great length in their preaching, and in their writings; it is presented by them in a great variety of forms, for the consolation of Christians in time of trouble, and with reference to the condition of the world at the winding up of human affairs; and it is strange that in respect to so important a doctrine as this, if it be true, there is not elsewhere in the New Testament a hint, an intimation, an allusion, that would lead us to suppose that the righteous are to be raised in this manner.

(b) If this is a true doctrine, it would be reasonable to expect that a clear and unambiguous statement of it would be made. Certainly, if there is but one statement on the subject, that might be expected to be a perfectly clear one. It would be a statement about which there could be no diversity of opinion, concerning which those who embraced it might be expected to hold the same views. But it cannot be pretended that this is so in regard to this passage. It occurs in the book which of all the books in the Bible is most distinguished for figures and symbols; it cannot be maintained that it is directly and clearly affirmed; and it is not so taught that there is any uniformity of view among those who profess to hold it. In nothing has there been greater diversity among men than in the opinions of those who profess to hold the "literal" views respecting the personal reign of Christ on the earth. But this fact assuredly affords presumptive evidence that the doctrine of the literal resurrection of the saints a thousand years before the rest of the dead is not intended to be taught.

(c) It is presumptive proof against this, that nothing is said of the employment of those who are raised up; of the reason why they are raised; of the new circumstances of their being; and of their condition when the thousand years shall have ended. In so important a matter as this, we can hardly suppose that the whole subject would be left to a single hint in a symbolical representation— depending on the doubtful meaning of a single word, and with nothing to enable us to determine with absolute certainty that this must be the meaning.

(d) If it be meant that this is a description of the resurrection of the righteous as such—embracing all the righteous— then it is wholly unlike all the other descriptions of the resurrection of the righteous that we have in the Bible. Here the account is confined to "those that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus," and to "those who had not worshipped the beast." If the righteous as such are here referred to, why are these particular classes specified Why are not the usual general terms employed? Why is the account of the resurrection confined to these? Elsewhere in the Scriptures the account of the resurrection is given in the most general terms, (compare Mt 25:41; Joh 4:54; 5:28-29; Rom 2:7; 1 Co 15:23; Php 3:20-21) (2 Th 1:10; Heb 9:28; 1 Jo 2:28-29; 3:2; ) and if this had been the designed reference here, it is inconceivable why the statement should be limited to the martyrs, and to those who have evinced great fidelity in the midst of temptations and allurements to apostasy. These circumstances furnish strong presumptive proofs, at least, against the doctrine that there is to be a literal resurrection of all the saints at the beginning of the millennial period. Compare "Christ's Second Coming," by Rev. David Brown, p. 219, seq.

(2.) In reference to many of the views necessarily implied in the doctrine of the "Second Advent," and avowed by those who hold that doctrine, it cannot be pretended that they receive any countenance or support from this passage. In the language of Professor Stuart, (Com. ii. 479,) there is "not a word of Christ's descent to the earth at the beginning of the millennium. Nothing of the literal assembling of the Jews in Palestine; nothing of the Messiah's temporal reign on earth; nothing of the overflowing abundance of worldly peace and plenty." Indeed, in all this passage, there is not the remotest hint of the grandeur and magnificence of the reign of Christ as a literal king upon the earth; nothing of his having a splendid capital at Jerusalem or anywhere else; nothing of a new dispensation of a miraculous kind; nothing of the renovation of the earth to fit it for the abode of the risen saints. All this is the mere work of fancy, and no man can pretend that it is to be found in this passage.

(3.) Nor is there anything here of a literal resurrection of the bodies of the dead, as Professor Stuart himself supposes. It is not a little remarkable that a scholar so accurate as Professor Stuart is, and one too who has so little sympathy with the doctrines connected with a literal reign of Christ on the earth, should have lent the sanction of his name to perhaps the most objectionable of all the dogmas connected with that view—the opinion that the bodies of the saints will be raised up at the beginning of the millennial period. Of this there is not one word, one intimation, one hint, in the passage before us. John says expressly, and as if to guard the point from all possible danger of this construction, that he "saw the SOULS of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus;" he saw them "living" and "reigning" with Christ—raised to exalted honour during that period, as if they had been raised from the dead; but he nowhere mentions or intimates that they were raised up from their graves; that they were clothed with bodies; that they had their residence now literally on the earth; or that they were in any way otherwise than disembodied spirits. There is not even one word of their having "a spiritual body."

(4.) There are positive arguments, which are perfectly decisive, against the interpretation which supposes that the bodies of the saints will be raised up at the beginning of the millennial period to reign with Christ on the earth for a thousand years. Among these are the following :—

(a) If the "first resurrection" means rising from the grave in immortal and glorified bodies, we do not need the assurance (Re 20:6) that "on such the second death hath no power;" that is, that they would not perish for ever. That would be a matter of course, and there was no necessity for such a statement. But if it be supposed that the main idea is that the principles of the martyrs and of the most eminent saints would be revived and would live—as if the dead were raised up—and would be manifested by those who were in mortal bodies—men living on the earth—then there would be a propriety in saying that all such were exempt from the danger of the second death. Once indeed they would die; but the second death could not reach them. Compare Re 2:10-11.

(b) In the whole passage there are but two classes of men referred to. There are those "who have part in the first resurrection;" that is, according to the supposition, all the saints; and there are those over whom "the second death" has power. Into which of these classes are we to put the myriads of men having flesh and blood who are to people the world during the millennium? They have no part in "the first resurrection" if it be a bodily one. Are they then given over to the power of the "second death?" But if the "first resurrection" be regarded as figurative and spiritual, then the statement that those who are actuated by the spirit of the martyrs and of the eminent saints shall not experience the "second death," is seen to have meaning and pertinency.

(c) The mention of the time during which they are to reign, if it be literally understood, is contrary to the whole statement of the Bible in other places. They are to "live and reign with Christ" a thousand years. What then? Are they to live no longer? Are they to reign no longer with him? This supposition is entirely contrary to the current statement in the Scriptures, which is, that they are to live and reign with him for ever: 1 Th 4:17, "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." According to the views of the "literalists," the declaration that they "should live and reign with Christ," considered as the characteristic features of the millennial state, is to terminate with the thousand years—for this is the promise, according to that view, that they should thus live and reign. But it need not be said that this is wholly contrary to the current doctrine of the Bible, that they are to live and reign with him for ever.

(d) A farther objection to this view is, that the wicked part of the world—"the rest of the dead who lived not again until the thousand years were finished"—must of course be expected to "live again" in the same bodily sense when those thousand years were finished. But, so far from this, there is no mention of their living then. When the thousand years are finished, Satan is loosed for a season; then the nations are roused to opposition against God; then there is a conflict, and the hostile forces are overthrown; and then comes the final judgment. During all this time we read of no resurrection at all. The period after this is to be filled up with something besides the resurrection of "the rest of the dead." There is no intimation, as the literal construction as it is claimed would demand, that immediately after the "thousand years are finished" the "rest of the dead"—the wicked dead—would be raised up; nor is there any intimation of such a resurrection until all the dead are raised up for the final trial, Re 20:12. But every consideration demands, if the interpretation of the "literalists" be correct, that the "rest of the dead"—the unconverted dead—should be raised up immediately after the close of the millennial period, and be raised up as a distinct and separate class.

(e) There is no intimation in the passage itself that the righteous will be raised up as such in this period, and the proper interpretation of the passage is contrary to that supposition. There are but two classes mentioned as having part in the first resurrection. They are those who were "beheaded for the witness of Jesus," and those who "had not worshipped the beast;" that is, the martyrs, and those who had been eminent for their fidelity to the Saviour in times of great temptation and trial. There is no mention of the resurrection of the righteous as such—of the resurrection of the great body of the redeemed; and if it could be shown that this refers to a literal resurrection, it would be impossible to apply it, according to any just rules of interpretation, to any more than the two classes that are specified. By what rules of interpretation is it made to teach that all the righteous will be raised up on that occasion, and will live on the earth during that long period? In this view of the matter, the passage does not express the doctrine that the whole church of God will be raised bodily from the grave. And supposing it had been the design of the Spirit of God to teach this, is it credible, when there are so many clear expressions in regard to the resurrection of the dead, that so important a doctrine should have been reserved for one single passage so obscure, and where the great mass of the readers of the Bible in all ages have failed to perceive it? That is not the way in which, in the Scriptures, great and momentous doctrines are communicated to mankind.

(f) The fair statement in Re 20:11-15 is, that all the dead will then be raised up, and be judged. This is implied in the general expressions there used "the dead, small and great;" the "book of life was opened"—as if not opened before; "the dead"—all the dead —"were judged out of those things which were written in the books;" "the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell (hades) delivered up the dead which were in them." This is entirely inconsistent with the supposition that a large part of the race —to wit, all the righteous—had been before raised up; had passed the solemn judgment; had been clothed with their immortal bodies, and had been admitted to a joint reign with the Saviour on his throne. In the last judgment, what place are they to occupy? In what sense are they to be raised up and judged? Would such a representation have been made as is found in Re 20:11-15, if it had been designed to teach that a large part of the race had been already raised up, and had received the approval of their judge?

(g) This representation is wholly inconsistent, not only with Re 20:11-15, but with the uniform language of the Scriptures that all the righteous and the wicked will be judged together, and both at the coming of Christ. On no point are the statements of the Bible more uniform and explicit than on this, and it would seem that the declarations had been of design so made that there should be no possibility of mistake. I refer for full proof on this point to the following passages of the New Testament: Mt 10:32-33, compared with Mt 7:21-23; 13:30,38-43; 16:24-27; 25:10,31-46; Mr 8:38; Joh 5:28-29.

Ac 17:31; Ro 2:5-16; 14:10,12; 1 Co 3:12-15; 4:5; 2 Co 5:9-11; 2 Th 1:6-10

1 Ti 5:24-25; 2 Pe 3:7,10,12; 1 Jo 2:28; 1 Jo 4:17; Re 3:5; Re 20:11-15; Re 22:12-15. It is utterly impossible to explain these passages on any other supposition than that they are intended to teach that the righteous and the wicked will be judged together, and both at the coming of Christ. And, if this is so, it is of course impossible to explain them consistently with the view that all the righteous will have been already raised up at the beginning of the millennium in their immortal and glorified bodies, and that they have been solemnly approved by the Saviour, and admitted to a participation in his glory. Nothing could be more irreconcilable than these two views, and it seems to me, therefore, that the objections to the literal resurrection of the saints at the beginning of the millennial period are insuperable.

III. The following points, then, according to the interpretation proposed, are implied in this statement respecting the "first resurrection," and these will clearly comprise all that is stated on the subject.

(1.) There will be a reviving, and a prevalence of the spirit which actuated the saints in the best days, and a restoration of their principles as the grand principles which will control and govern the church, as if the most eminent saints were raised again from the dead, and lived and acted upon the earth.

(2.) Their memory will then be sacredly cherished, and they will be honoured on the earth with the honour which is due to their names, and which they should have received when in the land of the living. They will be no longer cast out and reproached; no longer held up to obloquy and scorn; no longer despised and forgotten, but there will be a reviving of sacred regard for their principles, as if they lived on the earth, and had the honour which was due to them.

(3.) There will be a state of things upon the earth as if they thus lived and were thus honoured. Religion will no longer be trampled under foot, but will triumph. In all parts of the earth it will have the ascendency, as if the most eminent saints of past ages lived and reigned with the Son of God in his kingdom. A spiritual kingdom will be set up with the Son of God at the head of it, which will be a kingdom of eminent holiness, as if the saints of the best days of the church should come back to the earth and dwell upon it. The ruling influence in the world will be the religion of the Son of God, and the principles which have governed the most holy of his people.

(4.) It may be implied that the saints and martyrs of other times will be employed by the Saviour in embassies of mercy; in visitations of grace to our world to carry forward the great work of salvation on earth. Nothing forbids the idea that the saints in heaven may be thus employed, and in this long period of a thousand years, it may be that they will be occupied in such messages and agencies of mercy to our world as they have never been before—as if they were raised from the dead, and were employed by the Redeemer to carry forward his purposes of mercy to mankind.

(5.) In connexion with these things, and in consequence of these things, they may be, during that period, exalted to higher happiness and honour in heaven. The restoration of their principles to the earth; the Christian remembrance of their virtues; the prevalence of those truths to establish which they laid down their lives, would in itself exalt them, and would increase their joy in heaven. All this would be well represented, in vision, by a resurrection of the dead; and admitting that this was all that was intended, the representation of John here would be in the highest degree appropriate. What could better symbolize it—and we must remember that this is a symbol—than to say that at the commencement of this period there was, as it were, a solemn preparation for a judgment, and that the departed dead seemed to stand there, and that a sentence was pronounced in their favour, and that they became associated with the Son of God in the honours of his kingdom, and that their principles were now to reign and triumph in the earth, and that the kingdom which they laboured to establish would be set up for a thousand years, and that in high purposes of mercy and benevolence during at period they would be employed in maintaining and extending the principles of religion in the world? Admitting that the Holy Spirit intended to represent these things, and these only, no more appropriate symbolical language could have been used; none that would more accord with the general style of the book of Revelation.

{a} "second death" Re 2:11; 21:8 {b} "priests" Re 1:6; Isa 60:6

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