A new and immensely important fact is described - the binding of Satan. He is no longer to be allowed to prowl about the world ensnaring and destroying. It is not his final judgment. "And I saw an angel coming down from the heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years and cast him into the abyss, and shut and sealed [it] over him, that he should no more deceive the nations, till the thousand years should be completed: after these things he must be loosed a little time." The unclean spirits when cast out by the Lord deprecated consignment to the abyss before the time. Immense will be the relief for man and the earth when they are thus shut up, as we see their prince here.
Then we come to a disclosure of wondrous blessing. "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to 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 did not homage to the beast, nor his image, and received not his mark upon their forehead, and upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." Not many words are required to show that it is no mere figure of the new birth on the one hand, or of a flourishing state for the gospel or the church. It is the foreshadow of a real resurrection. Here the vision was of thrones with sitters already there, and of others now caused to join them, who had suffered unto death for the truth; of which the inspired explanation is, "This the first resurrection." Let us look at the different groups that have part in the first resurrection.
First, the thrones were already filled. Instead of judgment being executed on them, it was "given to them." They themselves were to judge. Scripture is clear that the saints are destined to be invested with judicial authority of a glorious nature. We shall reign with Christ. These are the same saints whom we have seen set forth by the twenty-four elders in heaven, next, by the bride and the guests at the marriage-supper of the Lamb, and finally by the armies that followed Him out of heaven. They are the heavenly saints generally up to the Lord's coming to receive and set them in the Father's house.
It is no longer a question either of celebrating the preliminary ways of God's government, or of the war with the Beast and kings of the earth. Accordingly we have the power of evil restrained beyond all example; and ruling in righteousness as never seen before. There are thrones filled with persons come from heaven in the train of Christ, who now reign along with Him. The language of symbol is as definite as any other. There is no lack of precision, but the very reverse. Peculiarly compact energy attaches to symbolic language.
But there is, in the details which come next, much of interest and consequence to observe, in that an accession follows of 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 Rev_6:9-11, long before seen under the altar, and poured out like burnt-offerings to God. They had cried to the Sovereign ruler to avenge their blood on their foes, but were told they must wait a little for others, their fellow-bondmen and their brethren, to be killed as they were. Here accordingly we have them all. For there is added another company of faithful men who suffered when the Beast set up his worst and final pretensions. But these would not do homage to the Beast, or his image, nor would they receive the mark. These compose the third class here spoken of. We can understand the special mention of these two sections of the saints who suffered after the rapture to heaven. For they did not live for the power and glory of the kingdom. But if they died for Christ, God takes care they shall not lose, but share the first resurrection. They thereby become saints of the high places.
The first were the saints who came out of heaven after Christ, already in the changed or glorified condition. Consequently it was seen that 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 of those that were beheaded," etc. "Souls" alone often means persons, as is familiarly known. But here it is "the souls of," etc. It is a different phrase, and of different sense. It means the souls of beheaded persons. He first saw their disembodied condition; then another similar class; and next states that "they lived." It is a raising up of both classes from the dead to join others already raised. For there were thrones, and people sat upon them, changed before this into the image of Christ's glory. Then were seen others in the condition of souls who bore testimony after the first, those beheaded for the witness of Jesus and the word of God; lastly, those who refused the Beast in every form, - a testimony more negative than the former, but not less real. The evidence of the third class might have been given a little more distinctly than in our version; not "and which had not," but rather, "and those who did not do homage to the beast, nor his image, and received not his mark upon their forehead, and upon their hand." As these were in the separate state, it is added, "and they lived." Thus only were they enabled to reign with Christ.
What can be simpler or more beautiful than the way in which this verse sums up for the sufferers what the Revelation had promised? After "the things which are" the visions of this book open, not with the rapture of saints to heaven, but with the sight of saints already in heaven. They are often before the seer in his visions, but seen always in a complete condition There is no addition to their number. Accordingly the translation of the church with the Old Testament saints must have already taken place before Rev. 4 begins, all such being caught up at the self-same time to be with the Lord above. We have seen also that these follow the Lord out of heaven (Rev_19:14), and are next seen enthroned (Rev_20:4). When the Lord takes His own throne, they are given theirs by grace. Further, we find that the saints who had suffered for Christ, during the time that the glorified 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 Revelation 6, or in the later persecutions (Rev. 13, 15) up to Babylon's extinction, were now raised from the dead. "They lived," and were put thereby into a condition suitable for reigning with Christ, no less than the already changed Old Testament saints and the church itself. The dead saints were now all raised to reign over the earth.
Nor is this all here. Another sort of resurrection awaits all others, resurrection of judgment. Such is the meaning of the verse, "The rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection," which includes all that reign with Christ during the thousand years.
Let it be here carefully observed that the first resurrection does not mean all rising exactly at the same moment. Undoubtedly the change of all shore caught up takes place in the twinkling of an eye; but this in no way denies that other bodies are to be raised at a different time. For certain there are two acts of resurrection: one when the Old Testament saints and the church are caught up to heaven; the other when Satan is bound, after the Beast and False Prophet are thrown into the lake of fire, as well as Babylon judged. 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 an instant of time.
To see this plainly adds immense clearness in the understanding of the book. "The first resurrection" does not intimate that there is but one act of raising, but that all who share this resurrection, whenever raised, are raised before the millennium begins. When Christ reigns, all such have part in the first resurrection. First Christ Himself was raised at least 1,800 years before the church; then the church, with the Old Testament saints; then these Apocalyptic saints at the least some years after. This gives a full and just view of the various parties that have a share in this resurrection. "This is the first resurrection Blessed and holy [is] he that hath part in the first resurrection: over them 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 is clearly a personal reward to those who had suffered. How mischievous the thought that the church is ever to reign without Christ, though natural to man's heart! The Corinthian saints dropped into it (1Co_4:8) and were rebuked for its unspirituality and worldliness. What more opposed to the portion of the apostles, as of Christ? We are called to suffer now, not to reign. "If we endure, we shall also reign together." We rightly look to be glorified together with Him, but not apart from Him. To a loyal Christian heart, no reign of saints could satisfy or even be tolerated without Christ, the Firstborn among many brethren.
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 this 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 that [are] in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the 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. Even in that day the distant nations, "the number of whom is as the sand of the sea," fall a prey to Satan. If we had not this fact revealed, we should have lost a crowning proof of man's evil and of Satan's wiles and power.
"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 is a larger circle and embraces all of Israel and those Gentiles who, being converted, refuse Satan's deceit. They flocked to that centre. It is an evident contrast with the state supposed in the wheat-and-tare field of Christendom which is found at the end of this age. Wheat and tares grow together till the process of judgment separates. At the end of the millennium the righteous and the wicked form two distinct arrays, though even the surrounding camp of the God-fearing Gentiles forms now a wider circle, distinct from the beloved city Jerusalem on earth, where the Jews were. But the good and bad were not mixed up as now. The unrenewed of the nations compass them both with their countless hosts, as if to eat them up like grasshoppers. "And fire came down out of the heaven [from God], and devoured them. And the devil that deceiveth them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where [are] both the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night unto the ages of the ages."
But another scene follows still more solemn, the most awe-inspiring of all for man to contemplate, yet full of blessing for such as are Christ's to look onward to, putting down every enemy and trace of evil, and vindicating good where the creature altogether failed. Here is seen but one throne. It is the last judgment, the 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_20:4), thrones were seen; for the risen saints reign with Him But now there is but one throne: Christ judges the dead. Not a word implies His then coming, but the risen wicked stand before the throne.
"And 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." 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. By the coming of the Lord all must mean His coining to the habitable earth. But manifestly, if the Lord does not come before this, there is no world to come to; for the earth and heavens were fled. The common notion therefore, that the coming of the Lord is at this point, is an evident fallacy upon the face of the scripture which describes it, not to speak of others that confirm it elsewhere. It is not a syllogism that is wanted or that can satisfy here: we only require, only believe, the word of God. A single verse dispels clouds of arguments.
Afterwards no doubt a new heaven and a new earth are seen; but who contends that this is the sphere to which the Lord comes? He will come as He went (Act_1:11). "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east." To this earth He is coming, not to the new earth in the eternal state. To the same world in which He suffered He will, according to the scriptures, come back, and for seasons of refreshing from His presence. Then will be, not the day of the destruction of the universe, but times for restoring all things, whereof God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets since time began. These glorious times have never yet been accomplished, and therefore must be before eternity. They are reserved for Christ's presence and reign, as He waits for the joint-heirs before He enters on it. But for the eternal judgment heaven and earth fled away; when it is over, 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; after which the risen saints reign with Him over the earth a thousand years. This it is, not on but over the earth. He with the glorified saints will have their home on high; none the less shall they reign over this world for the allotted time. Compare Joh_17:22-23.
Then, as seen, comes the final test of the nations of the earth after that kingdom has run its course, when the devil, let loose for a little, once more deceives flesh and blood after the analogy of all other dispensations. Even the age of visible glory cannot change the heart of man; though in the absence of the enemy and the controlling presence of the great King, they rendered feigned obedience for a long while. The kingdom can govern and bless but not convert man. Even the proclamation of the grace of God is powerless save 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 at once be judged, and good be sustained wondrously for a thousand years. If any wrong should be done, it does not slip through. As far as the display of government goes, it is according to God morally and for His glory, though secret elements of evil may be there, never allowed to appear, 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 must far exceed anything yet seen on the face of the earth. At the beginning and all through the Apocalyptic transition there will have been carnage, and worse and worse, among both the western powers and those of the east. In fact all the nations will be desolated by judgments of one kind or another. For all that, the world abiding 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 and long-living races of mankind. Since sin entered, the state of nature will be unexampled for the fruits of the earth and the enjoyment of all that God has made here below. Consequently an increase in population follows such as never has been approached since the world was made. Yet it afterwards appears that Satan will not fail to turn the masses of the nations into one vast rebellion against the objects of God's special favour on the earth, "the saints" who form then a vast "camp" round "the beloved city" of Israel. There will not be as now tares and wheat growing together; the righteous at once flock around the holy metropolis of the earth at that unwonted sight; and fire out of the heaven settles the insurrection. But now comes the judgment of the wicked for eternity which is in question.
"And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before the throne, and books were opened, and another book was opened, which is of life. And the dead were judged out of the things written in the books according to their works." Before "God" is a spurious reading.
After this is not the destruction of those rebels by divine judgment, but the dissolution of heaven and earth. Jesus sits upon 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. There is no scriptural reason to infer that any saints die 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 babe dying now. Man converted will then not merely reach the natural term of a thousand years (as did neither Adam nor Methuselah), but pass that bound. If alive before the thousand years, he lives after the thousand years; in fact, he shall never taste death. From general principles we may be assured that the saints of the millennial earth will be changed when the heaven and the earth disappear. Assuredly they will be preserved through that crisis in some way suitable to divine wisdom. God has not told us how, nor is it ours to pry. He has reserved the matter, though not without enough to guide our thoughts. It is one of those cases which every now and then appear where God checks and reproves our 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 "new heavens and a 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; he who essays to conceive the detail is striving to draw a bow beyond the power of man.
* None, however, can be exempt from being manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, or from giving an account of all done in the body. But no believer comes into judgment. (Joh_5:24 compared with Rom. 14: and 2 Cor. 5) It is due to the Lord that all should be there manifested; it would be a great loss to the saints if it were not so. But to those who have not Christ, and are therefore found "naked," how awful, utter, and unending is their judgment when it comes!
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 defence on the score of God's grace. Scripture records no name whatever as written there among those judged. There was the sad register of undeniable sins 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, each one, 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.
Neither the sea nor the unseen world could longer hide their prisoners. "And the sea gave up the dead that [were] in it, and death and hades gave up the dead that [were] in them: and they were judged, each one, according to their works."
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, the lake of fire." 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 ill; and thus it must be for ever. Death and Hades, which had so long been executioners in a world where sin reigned, and still did their occasional office when righteousness reigned, themselves disappear where all traces of sin are consigned for ever. God is "all in all."