And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. An angel came down from heaven - One of the executors of the Divine justice, who receives criminals, and keeps them in prison, and delivers them up only to be tried and executed.
The key of the prison and the chain show who he is; and as the chain was great, it shows that the culprit was impeached of no ordinary crimes.
And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, The dragon - See the notes on Revelation 12:9.
That old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan - He who is called the old serpent is the Devil - the calumniator, and Satan - the opposer. He who supposes that the term old serpent here plainly proves that the creature that tempted our first parents was actually a snake, must enjoy his opinion; and those who can receive such a saying, why let them receive it. Selah.
A thousand years - In what this binding of Satan consists, who can tell? How many visions have been seen on this subject both in ancient and modern times! This, and what is said Revelation 20:3-5, no doubt refers to a time in which the influence of Satan will be greatly restrained, and the true Church of God enjoy great prosperity, which shall endure for a long time. But it is not likely that the number, a thousand years, is to be taken literally here, and year symbolically and figuratively in all the book beside. The doctrine of the millennium, or of the saints reigning on earth a thousand years, with Christ for their head, has been illustrated and defended by many Christian writers, both among the ancients and moderns. Were I to give a collection of the conceits of the primitive fathers on this subject, my readers would have little reason to applaud my pains. It has long been the idle expectation of many persons that the millennium, in their sense, was at hand; and its commencement has been expected in every century since the Christian era. It has been fixed for several different years, during the short period of my own life! I believed those predictions to be vain, and I have lived to see them such. Yet there is no doubt that the earth is in a state of progressive moral improvement; and that the light of true religion is shining more copiously everywhere, and will shine more and more to the perfect day. But when the religion of Christ will be at its meridian of light and heat, we know not. In each believer this may speedily take place; but probably no such time shall ever appear, in which evil shall be wholly banished from the earth, till after the day of judgment, when the earth having been burnt up, a new heaven and a new earth shall be produced out of the ruins of the old, by the mighty power of God: righteousness alone shall dwell in them. The phraseology of the apostle here seems partly taken from the ancient prophets, and partly rabbinical; and it is from the Jewish use of those terms that we are to look for their interpretation.
And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. He should deceive the nations no more - Be unable to blind men with superstition and idolatry as he had formerly done.
And 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. I saw thrones - Christianity established in the earth, the kings and governors being all Christians.
Reigned with Christ a thousand years - I am satisfied that this period should not be taken literally. It may signify that there shall be a long and undisturbed state of Christianity; and so universally shall the Gospel spirit prevail, that it will appear as if Christ reigned upon earth; which will in effect be the case, because his Spirit shall rule in the hearts of men; and in this time the martyrs are represented as living again; their testimony being revived, and the truth for which they died, and which was confirmed by their blood, being now everywhere prevalent. As to the term thousand years, it is a mystic number among the Jews. Midrash Tillin, in Psalms 90:15, Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, adds, "by Babylon, Greece, and the Romans; and in the days of the Messiah. How many are the days of the Messiah? Rab. Elieser, the son of R. Jose, of Galilee, said, The days of the Messiah are a thousand years."
Sanhedrin, fol. 92, 1, cited by the Aruch, under the word אירק says: "There is a tradition in the house of Elias, that the righteous, whom the holy blessed God shall raise from the dead, shall not return again to the dust; but for the space of a thousand years, in which the holy blessed God shall renew the world, they shall have wings like the wings of eagles, and shall fly above the waters." It appears therefore that this phraseology is purely rabbinical. Both the Greeks and Latins have the same form of speech in speaking on the state of the righteous and wicked after death. There is something like this in the Republic of Plato, book x., p. 322, edit. Bip., where, speaking of Erus, the son of Armenius, who came to life after having been dead twelve days, and who described the states of departed souls, asserting "that some were obliged to make a long peregrination under the earth before they arose to a state of happiness, ειναι δε την πορειαν χιλιετη, for it was a journey of a thousand years," he adds, "that, as the life of man is rated at a hundred years, those who have been wicked suffer in the other world a ten-fold punishment, and therefore their punishment lasts a thousand years."
A similar doctrine prevailed among the Romans; whether they borrowed it from the Greeks, or from the rabbinical Jews, we cannot tell.
Thus Virgil, speaking of the punishment of the wicked in the infernal regions, says: -
Has omnes, ubi Mille rotam volvere per annos,
Lethaeum ad fluvium Deus evocat agmine magno:
Scilicet immemores supera ut convexa revisant,
Rursus et incipiant in corpora velle reverti.
Aen., lib. vi., 748.
"But when a thousand rolling years are past,
So long their dreary punishment shall last,
Whole droves of spirits, by the driving god,
Are led to drink the deep Lethean flood
In large, forgetful draughts, to sleep the cares
Of their past labors and their irksome years;
That, unremembering of its former pain,
The soul may clothe itself with flesh again."
How the apostle applies this general tradition, or in what sense he may use it, who can tell?
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. The rest of the dead lived not again - It is generally supposed from these passages that all who have been martyred for the truth of God shall be raised a thousand years before the other dead, and reign on earth with Christ during that time, after which the dead in general shall be raised; but this also is very doubtful.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. Blessed - Μακαριος· Happy. And holy; he was holy, and therefore he suffered for the testimony of Jesus in the time when nothing but holiness was called to such a trial.
The first resurrection - Supposed to be that of the martyrs, mentioned above.
The second death - Punishment in the eternal world; such is the acceptation of the phrase among the ancient Jews.
Hath no power - Ουκ εχει εξουσιαν· Hath no authority - no dominion over him. This is also a rabbinical mode of speech. In Erubin, fol. 19, 1; Chagiga, fol. 27, 1: "Res Lakish said, The fire of hell hath no power over an Israelite who sins. Rab. Elieser says; The fire of hell hath no power over the disciples of the wise men."
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, Satan shall be loosed - How can this bear any kind of literal interpretation? Satan is bound a thousand years, and the earth is in peace; righteousness flourishes, and Jesus Christ alone reigns. This state of things may continue for ever if the imprisonment of Satan be continued. Satan, however, is loosed at the end of the thousand years, and goes out and deceives the nations, and peace is banished from the face of the earth, and a most dreadful war takes place, etc., etc. These can be only symbolical representations, utterly incapable of the sense generally put upon them.
And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. Gog and Magog - This seems to be almost literally taken from the Jerusalem Targum, and that of Jonathan ben Uzziel, on Numbers 11:26. I shall give the words at length: "And there were two men left in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, the name of the other was Medad, and on them the spirit of prophecy rested. Eldad prophesied and said, 'Behold, Moses the prophet, the scribe of Israel, shall be taken from this world; and Joshua the son of Nun, captain of the host, shall succeed him.' Medad prophesied and said, 'Behold quails shall arise out of the sea, and be a stumbling block to Israel.' Then they both prophesied together, and said, 'In the very end of time Gog and Magog and their army shall come up against Jerusalem, and they shall fall by the hand of the King Messiah; and for seven whole years shall the children of Israel light their fires with the wood of their warlike engines, and they shall not go to the wood nor cut down any tree.'" In the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, on the same place, the same account is given; only the latter part, that is, the conjoint prophecy of Eldad and Medad, is given more circumstantially, thus: "And they both prophesied together, and said, 'Behold, a king shall come up from the land of Magog in the last days, and shall gather the kings together, and leaders clothed with armor, and all people shall obey them; and they shall wage war in the land of Israel against the children of the captivity, but the hour of lamentation has been long prepared for them, for they shall be slain by the flame of fire which shall proceed from under the throne of glory, and their dead carcasses shall fall on the mountains of the land of Israel; and all the wild beasts of the field, and the wild fowl of heaven, shall come and devour their carcasses; and afterwards all the dead of Israel shall rise again to life, and shall enjoy the delights prepared for them from the beginning, and shall receive the reward of their worlds.'"
This account seems most evidently to have been copied by St. John, but how he intended it to be applied is a question too difficult to be solved by the skill of man; yet both the account in the rabbins and in St. John is founded on Ezekiel, Ezekiel 38:1-39. The rabbinical writings are full of accounts concerning Gog and Magog, of which Wetstein has made a pretty large collection in his notes on this place. Under these names the enemies of God's truth are generally intended.
And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. The beloved city - Primarily, Jerusalem, typically, the Christian Church.
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And the devil - was cast onto the lake - Before Satan was bound, that is, his power was curtailed and restrained; now, he is cast into the lake of fire, his power being totally taken away.
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. A great white throne - Refulgent with glorious majesty.
Him that sat on it - The indescribable Jehovah.
From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away - Even the brightness of his countenance dissolved the universe, and annihilated the laws by which it was governed. This is a very majestic figure, and finely expressed.
There was found no place for them - The glorious majesty of God filling all things, and being all in all.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. The dead, small and great - All ranks, degrees, and conditions of men. This description seems to refer to Daniel 7:9, Daniel 7:10.
And the books were opened - See Daniel 12:1. "Rab. Jehuda said: All the actions of men, whether good or bad, are written in a book, and of all they shall give account." - Sohar Gen., fol. 79, col. 298. "How careful should men be to shun vice, and to act uprightly before the holy blessed God, seeing there are so many which go throughout the earth, see the works of men, testify of them, and write them in a book!" - Ibid., fol. 105, col. 417.
"In the first day of the new year the holy blessed God sits that he may judge the world; and all men, without exception, give an account of themselves; and the books of the living and the dead are opened."
Sohar Chadash, fol. 19, 1.
The books mentioned here were the books of the living and the dead, or the book of life and the book of death: that is, the account of the good and evil actions of men; the former leading to life, the latter to death. St. John evidently alludes here to Daniel 7:10, on which the rabbinical account of the books appears to be founded. The expressions are figurative in both.
According to their works - And according to their faith also, for their works would be the proof whether their faith were true or false; but faith exclusively could be no rule in such a procedure.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. The sea gave up the dead - Those who had been drowned in it, and those millions slain in naval contests, who had no other grave.
And death - All who died by any kind of disease. Death is here personified, and represented as a keeper of defunct human beings; probably no more than earth or the grave is meant, as properly belonging to the empire of death.
And hell - Ἁιδης, Hades, the place of separate spirits. The sea and death have the bodies of all human beings; hades has their spirits. That they may be judged, and punished or rewarded according to their works, their bodies and souls must be reunited; hades, therefore, gives up the spirits; and the sea and the earth give up the bodies.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And death and hell were cast into the lake - Death himself is now abolished, and the place for separate spirits no longer needful. All dead bodies and separated souls being rejoined, and no more separation of bodies and souls by death to take place, consequently the existence of these things is no farther necessary.
This is the second death - The first death consisted in the separation of the soul from the body for a season; the second death in the separation of body and soul from God for ever. The first death is that from which there may be a resurrection; the second death is that from which there can be no recovery. By the first the body is destroyed during time; by the second, body and soul are destroyed through eternity.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Written in the book of life - Only those who had continued faithful unto death were taken to heaven. All whose names were not found in the public registers, who either were not citizens, or whose names had been erased from those registers because of crimes against the state, could claim none of those emoluments or privileges which belong to the citizens; so those who either did not belong to the new and spiritual Jerusalem, or who had forfeited their rights and privileges by sin, and had died in that state, were cast into the lake of fire.
This is the way in which God, at the day of judgment, will proceed with sinners and apostates. Reader, see that thy name be written in the sacred register; and, if written in, see that it never be blotted out.
Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke .