Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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APOCALYPSE - Chapter 20

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Apocalypse 20

Supplemental Commentary:

VII.  THE CONSUMMATION  19, 11 -- 22, 5 (continued)

20, 1-3:  Satan Chained.  In 12, 9 John has already envisioned the destruction of the dragon; now his chaining takes place.  The ancient serpent: cf. Gen. 3.  A thousand years: a long but indefinite period.  The imprisonment of Satan prevents him from seducing the nations and extending his kingdom; it does not deprive him of his army which he holds in readiness for another assault.

20, 4-6:  Reign of the Saints.  This vision is obviously in contrast to the last.  Men sat: probably the martyrs and all who have not received the mark of the beast.  The rest of the dead: those who have not died in Christ will not live or reign, spiritually or corporally.  The first resurrection: the life after death which assures man escape from the "second death."  The second death: eternal damnation.  The first resurrection prepares for the second resurrection, i.e., the resurrection of the body at the general judgment.  Those who die in sin can participate in neither.

20, 7-10:  Satan Loosed.  The nations . . . God and Magog: these names are derived from Ezech. 38 and 39; they are also found in many Apocrypha and rabbinical writings.  In Jewish literature they are used to designate the nations who would rise against the Messias.  They are to be taken figuratively for the great army and its leaders who are to rise in battle against the people of God.  The members of this army are innumerable: they are as the sand of the sea.  They are ready for battle when their time comes: hence during the thousand years the rule of Christ is not universally and sincerely accepted.  The camp of the saints: the Church.  But Satan is defeated (cf. 2 Thess. 2, 8).  Forever and ever: this concludes the struggle between the powers of evil and those of good.  All the enemies of Christ are overthrown, their judgment pronounced for eternity.

The thousand years.  The question of the Millennium of 20 is one of the most discussed subjects in the Apocalypse.  The outline is clear: an angels descends from heaven, binds the dragon and imprisons him in the bottomless pit for a thousand years, after this he is loosed for a short time.  During this period the faithful live and reign with Christ.  At the end of the period the dragon is loosed, the nations are led astray, and the camp of the saints is once more besieged.  But then the dragon and his army are destroyed forever.  The question is: what are we to understand as the duration of the thousand years?  and what manner of kingdom is the reign of Christ and His elect?

The most common opinion is that the thousand years refer to a period of considerable length, much longer than the periods mentioned in 11, 2-4; 12, 2-6.  But the term is not to be taken literally as some take it.  The "chiliasts" maintain that Christ will reign on earth visibly and personally for the space of a thousand years, and they place this reign between the first and the second resurrections.  This interpretation falls before 7-10.  The number is rather symbolical, as are the other numbers in the book.  The thousand years cannot begin with the Second Coming of Christ for that ushers in the end of time.  They must, therefore, precede His coming.  But does this Millennium follow chronologically the other prophecies in the Apocalypse, or does it coexist with them?  It seems that it coexists with them, and is but another side of the future history of the Church.  It is, therefore, the symbol of the spiritual domination of the Church Militant joined to the Church Triumphant for the glorification of Christ to the end of the world.

The character of this reign is purely spiritual.  The martyrs, who are dead, and the confessors, some of whom are dead and some living, form part of the kingdom.  Christ reigns over all these souls.  Christian teaching is propagated in the world, Christian influence is exercised on human society, and thus is restrained the world power.  In this sense Christians reign with Christ.

20, 11-15:  The Last Judgment.  A great white throne: the symbol of mercy that surpasses justice.  The one who sat upon the throne is God the Father, though the Son shares the throne.  Earth and heaven fled away: not that they were annihilated; the language is poetry: they fled before the majesty of God.  Hell: probably to be taken as sheol, merely the residence of the dead, and not the place of the damned.  Scrolls were opened: in these were recorded the works of men.  Book of Life: that holding the names of the predestined.  The second death: eternal death, condemnation to hell forever.


Confraternity Bible:

Satan Chained  1 And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand.  2* And he laid hold on the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  3 And he cast him into the abyss, and closed and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years should be finished.  And after that he must be let loose for a little while.

Reign of the Saints  4 And I saw thrones, and men sat upon them and judgment was given to them.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the witness to Jesus and because of the word of God, and who did not worship the beast or his image, and did not accept his mark upon their foreheads or upon their hands.  And they came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.  5* The rest of the dead did not come to life till the thousand years were finished.  This is the first resurrection.  6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection!  Over these the second death has no power; but they will be priests of God and Christ, and will reign with him a thousand years.

Satan Loosed  7* And when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison, and will go forth and deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and will gather them together for the battle; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.  8 and they went up over the breadth of the earth and encompassed the camp of the saints, and the beloved city.  9 And fire from God came down out of heaven and devoured them.  And the devil who deceived them was cast into the pool of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast 10 and the false prophet; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

The Last Judgment  11 And I saw a great white throne and the one who sat upon it; from his face the earth and heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them.  12* And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened.  And another scroll was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the scrolls, according to their works.  13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hell gave up the dead that were in them; and they were judged each one, according to their works.

14 And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire.  This is the second death, the pool of fire.  15 And if anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the pool of fire.
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2: A thousand years: not to be taken literally.  It refers to a considerable length of time and signifies that, after the destruction of hostile kings and the chaining of the dragon, the Church will enjoy a long era of peace.  During this era Christ will reign over the souls of men, and Christians, through their influence over the world, will reign with Christ.

5: The rest of the dead: sinners who will not enjoy any kind of resurrection until the end of time.  The first resurrection: the spiritual reign of the faithful with Christ during the long period of a thousand years.  The general resurrection, on the last day, is referred to in vv. 12 and 13.

7: Gog and Magog: after a thousand years the nations will attack the Church.  These nations are designated as Gog and Magog.  The names are taken from Ezechiel.  In rabbinical books the names were used to signify the nations that would rise against the Messias.  The names are to be understood figuratively and signify the earthly powers that will make the last onslaught against the Church.

12: Out of those things that were written in the scrolls: i.e., according to their works, a frequent idea in the New Testament.