The thousand years of Revelation 20

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The Creation Concept


The light of day and the thousand years

John Brown on the Millennium

Hengstenberg on the Millennium

Pareus and the thousand years

William Hendriksen on the thousand year reign

H. A. Ironside's Great Parenthesis theory

Truth and error in J. Marcellus Kik's preterism

David C. Pack and the 3 ½ years

Preterism, Futurism, and Matthew 24

On the meaning of Armageddon

Christopher Wordsworth on Armageddon

Why did Ezekiel describe a temple?

The 1,260 Days and the Time of the Church (PDF)

Hengstenberg on the Millennium

In the following article, from his commentary on Revelation, E. W. Hengstenberg discusses the development of the millennial doctrine and provides his commentary on the verses in Revelation 20 that are invoked to support it.

Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg. The Revelation of St John: expounded for those who search the Scriptures, Volume 2. T. & T. Clark, 1852. pp. 283-306.

THE THOUSAND YEARS' REIGN.

"Blessed is he who reads and they who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep what is written therein"--so speaks St John at the beginning of the Apocalypse. And at its close we read, "But I testify to all, who hear the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of tho book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." If we consider the solemn earnestness there is in these words, we shall find it impossible to remain in a state of indifference toward this book. If we diligently apply ourselves to the consideration and understanding of its contents, even though this endeavour should at first be attended with little fruit, we should still not suffer the longing desire for a proper understanding of it to die in our souls; we should hold ourselves ready to receive benefit by all attempts that may be made to open to us its meaning. Nor shall our spirit also fail to have itself quickened and profitably exercised by what is said of the high importance of the book, if it does not suffer itself to be carried away by senseless objections, even though they should be uttered by pretended apostles and prophets.

The book, however, has a quite peculiar value for the present time. We learn its historical starting point from ch. i. 9, "I John, your brother and companion in the tribulation and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle, that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ." Accordingly, the book was written by one, who himself had to suffer persecution for the sake of Christ, and languished in banishment; and at a time when all, who confessed Christ, were made to partake in the tribulation of Jesus Christ; according to the church tradition under Domitian, the author of the first general persecution of Christians, while that under Nero was confined merely to Rome. When we look farther into the book, we are presented with the spectacle of a conflict of life and death waged by Satan against Christ, that had even then begun to burst forth. To delineate the course of this conflict and its glorious issue, seems to be the great object of the book. How should we, then, not listen eagerly to every word of such a book at a time, when Satan begins to make war on Christ and Christianity, on a scale that has never been attempted before! How should not we strive, through the help of this book, to be companions of the patience of Jesus Christ, and thereby attain also to his kingdom! Especially since from that kingdom (ch. xxi. 8) the fearful are excluded, as well as the unbelieving and abominable and whoremongers, and murderers and sorcerers and idolaters; an express warning to us, who are so ready to regard failure in the patience of Jesus Christ as a light and venial fault--so ready, in our distrust of God, to think little of forgetting the word, Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh. That the Christian may remain stedfast and fearless where he is, even though it should be in the midst of a falling world, this book is fitted to render for such a purpose a most important service. We are not the first who have to make proof of it; it has already manifested its power to many thousands in all times of distress and persecution, who have constantly applied it to their hearts, while in more quiet times it has been less attended to and has even often been shamefully neglected. It has thus proved a blessing even to many, who but very imperfectly understood it. For it is wonderful, how the edifying power that resides in the book, forces its way even through the most imperfect understanding of its contents, if only the soul that applies to it is hungry and thirsty, weary and heavy laden, if it only stands in living faith on the divinity of Scripture and on the glorious consummation of the kingdom of Christ. Bengel's example may render this quite manifest. In nearly all the leading points he has failed in obtaining the right view; and yet what rich nourishment has he derived from this book for his own inner man and for many thousands besides!

One of the first questions in regard to the Revelation, which presses itself on us in an age of important movements like ours, is, where do we now stand? What have we behind, and what before us? The answer is, that we now have the thousand years' reign behind us, and stand at the loosing of Satan out of his prison at the end of the thousand years, and his going forth to deceive the heathen in the four quarters of the earth, and gather them together to battle (ch. xxi. 7--9.) This answer, which was given sometime ago in an article on the beast of the Apocalypse, has, as we foresaw, because opposed to the traditional and current view, found but little response, has estranged many, and given serious offence to some. This imposes on the author, who is convinced of the soundness of the answer, the obligation of going now more fully into the defence and vindication of it.

The surprise occasioned by the view we have set forth would certainly have been much less, if people had remembered, that the now current exposition, which is commonly regarded as the properly ecclesiastical one, and by which the millennium is held to be still future, was first rendered current by Bengel, and was adopted by the Pietists. Schröekh in his biographies of distinguished men of learning, Th. III., p. 98, says, "Since Bengel's time the disinclination toward Chiliasm, which previously was a mark of sound faith in our church, has disappeared with many." Bengel himself admits in a great number of places, that he had the prevailing sentiment in the church against him (Chiliasm, or the doctrine of the thousand years' reign as still future is well known to have been repudiated by the 17th Art. of the Augsburg Confession.) So in his Erklürten Offenbarung, p. 672, he says, "The still future years were held for suspicions (in the Evangelical church), and the greater part fell in with those, who bound themselves to no particular confession. These took the matter up the more zealously, and thereby made themselves the more hateful." [1] The lively conviction, that Satan's authority and power to deceive were broken from the time of Christ's appearance, gave rise to the opinion, which certainly had nothing in the connection to justify it, that the thousand years were to be reckoned from the birth of Christ. Cassiodorus, in support of this view, which through the authority of Augustine was the prevailing one during the whole of the middle ages, appeals to the unanimous consent of the fathers (qui tamen consensu patrum a nativitate domini computantur ne credituras gentes libera potestate confunderet. [2]) On the ground of this exposition, people were, about the year 1000, in the most anxious expectancy regarding the things that were going to happen. "Churches and monasteries were allowed to fall into ruin, many princes and nobles went on pilgrimage to Rome, built hospitals for the poor and for pilgrims, as also abbeys, whither some constantly repaired to wait in daily expectation."

It is not quite accidental, that sects have constantly had a predilection for Chiliasm, while the church has been disinclined to adopt it. In the very nature of the sects there lies a practical denial of the confession, I believe in one holy, Catholic church. They are always disposed to confine within the circle of their own party what is good, what is Christian, what properly marks the operations of the Spirit--as, for example, in the programme of the Irvingite party it is declared without any circumlocution, There is Babylon, here is Zion. Being able to discern the divine only in some particular form, and incapable of discovering it even through the strange garb and disguises, which it often assumes, they must on this account alone be inclined to transfer the thousand years to the future, because they think they apprehend in them an essential advance; a state of the church much more satisfactory in the main than what has ever existed in the past; a state in which the power of Satan shall be broken, and the power of Christ shall be triumphant. Another reason for the circumstance may also be assigned. Chiliasm rests generally, even in its more spiritual forms, on an intermixture of things incompatible--of elements, which belong to time and to eternity. Bengel, for example, saw the untenable character of the common chiliastic views, according to which the corporeally risen saints should be members of the millennial kingdom on earth; since thus the resurrection would be separated from the regeneration of the earth, with which it is most closely connected, and makes the risen and glorified church be attacked by mortal men at the close of the thousand years. Bengel, therefore, conceives, that the risen saints shall be withdrawn to heaven, and from thence shall exercise the government along with Christ. But he still destroys the connection between the resurrection and the regeneration of the earth, and transfers to heaven what, according to Scripture, and the natural view belongs to the earth. Then, Bengel maintains on the one side the continuance of sin in the millennial period--and how, indeed, could he do otherwise, since the great apostacy at the end of it admits of explanation, only if the scarlet thread of sin goes through the entire period? "Among the children of the kingdom," says he, "there shall be to the very end of the world children of the wicked one; the conflict with sin in the flesh shall not be taken away, nor death itself be swallowed up in victory. There will, however, be new, high, and hitherto unknown trials and temptations, agreeing with the rich bestowal of the gifts of grace, in place of Satanic assaults and outward persecutions." But, on the other side, Bengel denies any continuance of the efficacy of Satan during the period in question, and thus involves himself in a quite unscriptural view of Satan's relation to sin: for as sin entered into the world through Satan, so is lie always actively engaged in connection with it; he takes the word from the hearts of those, who hear it, that they may not believe and find salvation (Luke vii. 12); he has his work not merely in the children of unbelief, but believers also are sifted by him (Luke xxii. 31); they must constantly pray, that the Lord may deliver them from the wicked one, who would lead them into temptation; not Judas merely is exposed to his assaults, but Peter also escapes from them no otherwise than through the intercession of the Lord. Now, the unsound state of sectaries accords with such interminglings of heterogenous things, while the sound mind of the church has a decided aversion to them. We must guard ourselves, however, against the appearance of supposing the honoured Bengel to be a party-man. What led him to adopt the chiliastic views, was above all his exegetical conscience. He believed he could not do otherwise, and contented himself with whatever was abnormal in the matter. He held with the church of his day, that the beast was the papacy. Chiliasm is the necessary consequence of this view. For, the thousand years' reign, according to ch. xix. 20, only begins with the destruction of the beast. Since, therefore, the destruction of the papacy has still not taken place, the thousand years must necessarily be transferred to the future. The common theology of the church had rescued itself from this consequence, with true ecclesiastical tact, but only by violently tearing the twentieth chapter from its connection. Bengel was too good an expositor to concur in such a procedure. [3] And the theology of the church was unable to oppose him; this could only have become possible, if any one had had the courage to abandon the false view of the beast, which had in a certain measure obtained the sanction of the church. Against those who stood fast by this interpretation, Bengel's reasoning was irresistible; and hence it came to pass, that after a feeble resistance from the orthodox, chiliasm obtained an almost universal diffusion through the church.

Strange truly is the prejudice against the view we have propounded of the thousand years' reign, as if it took from us somewhat of our consolation! as if it were fitted to overthrow our hope! a prejudice, which has been greatly strengthened by the too great support obtained by Bengel for the opinion advocated by him. On the contrary, it is very consolatory for us to know, that we have the thousand years already behind us; therefore, before us not the mere glimmering, but the clear day--not the preliminary victory, which is again to be succeeded by a heavy reverse, but the final conquest. If the old earth is always to get more corrupt and full of wickedness, it is a great consolation, that we have got so far over the pilgrimage to the new earth, on which righteousness dwells.

We come now to a closer examination of the subject. The positive proof for our view is contained in the connection, in which the thousand years' reign is mentioned. Nor have we any need to go far back in investigating this. It is a fundamental error in the exposition of Bengel, and of many modern expositors, that they regard the Revelation as a progressive whole, proceeding in regular order from beginning to end. The right view is, that it is composed of a number of independent groups, each complete in itself, and each bringing prominently out some particular points, thus supplementing one another. For the establishment of this view it will be enough to point here to the one consideration, that undeniable references to the last end occur even in the beginning and the middle of the book. Thus, at ch. vi. 12--14, we are brought into the territory of Matt. xxiv. 29, " Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken;" consequently into the time immediately before the coming of the Son of man (comp. vers. 30 and 35.) After the episode in ch. vii., which represents the fate of the elect during the judgments disclosed in the preceding portion, as going to alight upon the world, we have that coming itself referred to in ch. viii. 1, "And when the seventh angel sounded, there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour;" for the silence is that of the creature frightened at the presence of its Creator and Lord, when appearing in the awful majesty of the judge. So, also, we stand at the final end, the detailed representation of which is given by the Seer only in the last group, in ch. xi. 15, as is placed beyond doubt by comparing ver. 18, "Thy wrath is come, and the time for judging the dead." The end is also unquestionably referred to in ch. xiv. 14--16; and in ch. xvi. 17--21, comp. with xv. 1.--How few solid objections can be raised against this proof is clear alone from the constrained and violent interpretations, which the advocates of the regular progression have been obliged to adopt at the places referred to. --Now, the independent groups are altogether seven, in accordance with the great importance, which after the example of the Old Testament is everywhere attached in this book to the number seven; as follows:

1. The seven epistles to the churches.

2. The seven seals.

3. The seven trumpets, ch. viii. 2--ch. xi. end.

4. The three enemies of the kingdom of God--Satan, the beast, and the false prophet, and their war upon it, ch. xii.--xiv.

5. The seven vials, ch. xv., xvi.

6. The judgment on the three enemies, beginning with the beast and the false prophet, and rising from them to Satan, ch. xvii.--xx.

7. The New Jerusalem.

If, therefore, we would ascertain from the connection the time to which the thousand years' reign belongs, we need not go farther back than ch. xvii., where we have an entirely new beginning, though forms certainly meet us which are pre-supposed to be known from what has gone before. Now, the result is not difficult to find here; it lies on the very surface. The thousand years' reign follows immediately on the destruction of the beast and the false prophet. If by these we are to understand (as we have already proved) the ungodly heathen power and wisdom, then the thousand years' reign cannot be future. For, in the regions which are everywhere kept mainly in view throughout this book, the lands of the Roman world, heathenism has for many centuries ceased to exist. Farther, as the last phase of the heathenish power of the world, with the overthrow of which the commencement of the thousand years' reign is immediately connected, the ten kings or peoples, who overthrew the Roman empire, appear in the preceding verse. If by these we are to understand the Germanic tribes, whose conversion to Christianity is represented in ch. xix. under the image of their conquest by Christ in a great battle, then the commencement of the millennium must be coincident with the Christianization of the Germanic tribes. Of this E. M. Arndt says, "We (Germans), and those races that are most nearly related to us, and whatever of our ancestors mingled with the wretched remains of the old world, have raised and carried forward in the most vigorous and beautiful manner the new European Christian life." This glory is now certainly gone, though only at the close of the thousand years, and we may well lament with the poet, German people, once in glory so transcendant, your oaks remain, you are yourselves fallen. The beginning of the thousand years' reign is, accordingly, somewhat uncertain, and so also must be its end. In the main, however, it must coincide with the thousand years' continuance of the German ascendancy. How the period was tending to its close in the time of Bengel--how even then significant tokens discovered themselves of the approaching release of Satan from his prison, may be gathered from what he says at p. 588 of Erläuterten Offenbarung, "The filth of the despisers of God is now so incredibly great, that one may well doubt whether the devil himself could carry matters farther. Yet it is not to be imagined that they have brought matters to the highest pitch, or can do so immediately. They are but the beginners, the real masterraillers are still unborn." We may now say, that we have long dwelt, as in Meshech and Kedar, among these "master-raillers;" and any one that previously was not aware of it, must now during these last four weeks have known, that Satan has been completely loosed from his prison, and has gone forth to deceive the heathen in the four quarters of the earth, and gather them together to the battle. If we see in the past a visible proof of the faithfulness of God's word, in the overthrow of Rome, in the conversion of the Germanic world to Christ, and the great falling away at the end of the thousand years, so in regard to the remaining point, to the falling of fire from heaven and consuming them, which we should revolve day and night in our hearts, that we may not be afraid of their threatenings, it will be easy for us to look with confidence for the fulfilment.

Let us now examine the objections which are brought against our view of the thousand years' reign. It is alleged, first of all, that the contents of vers. 1--3 in ch. xx. cannot be proved to have had their fulfilment in the past, and must hence belong to the future. The deceiving of the heathen runs through the whole of the history that is already past, and its cessation, which is here given as the characteristic mark of the thousand years, must be looked for in the coming future. But the subject of discourse here, as the connection shews, is not Satan's deceiving in the general, but his deceiving with the view of stirring them up to an open attack on the kingdom of Christ, for the purpose of destroying it, and so as even to threaten its destruction. (Similarly even August. de civ. dei XX. 7: Nec enim dictum est, ut non seduceret aliquem, sed ut non seduceret, inquit, jam gentes.) This more exact limitation of the meaning arises, on the one side, from the-respect borne to what precedes, where such a conflict is spoken of, so great, public, and decisive, that the very existence of the kingdom of God was brought into question by it (comp. especially ch. xix. 19, 20.) The same result, on the other side, is obtained from what follows, ver. 7--9. Thus the deceiving of the heathen is more definitely explained, more narrowly bounded; and such a bounding, indeed, is demanded alone by the consideration, that at the end of the thousand years such a fearful assault is to be made, as is entirely inexplicable, on the supposition that the agency of Satan, and, what is closely connected therewith, sin, had altogether ceased during the thousand years. [4] But such being the case, there is no reason for denying the cessation of this deceiving of Satan according to the view we advocate. With all its corruptions, and in part also severe conflicts and losses in the case of individuals, it still was on the whole the period of Christ's undisputed sway. That a great change began at the end of it, must now at least, within the few last weeks, have become manifest even to those, who would drive too far the in many respects just, and by Scripture itself approved, dislike (Eccl. vii. 11) of extolling too highly past times. [5] During the period of the thousand years there are to be found no conflicts, which even remotely resemble those that precede, and come after it. Mahommedanism belongs only in part to it, and it left untouched the original ground of Christendom ; it never brought matters to such a point as to raise the question, whether there should be or should not be a kingdom of Christ on the earth. The papacy can only be regarded, after an unhistorical mode of viewing it, against which Luther himself protested, when he was not carried away by the spirit of controversy, as standing on a level with ancient and modern heathenism. It is this very mode of viewing it, unhappily wide-spread and deeply rooted in former times, which has especially led to the abandoning of the historical ground, in determining the position of the thousand years, and flying off to the future. The thought has also had much influence, which is expressed by Bengel at p. 581, "Those make far too little of the matter, who understand the thousand years of something that is past, and consequently something quite insignificant." He who looks thus upon the past in the Christian church, at the same time cuts up, without perceiving it, the root of a living and reasonable hope for the future. If the word, "Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world," has been kept so badly in the past, it will be foolish to expect, that it should, suddenly begin in the future to receive a glorious fulfilment. It is so also with the individual believer; his hope respecting the future is a living hope, exactly in the same degree, that he can discern the blessing of God, which is concealed under the cross, the grace that lies hid behind sin; which he only can do, who can say from the heart, What I know not, teach thou me. That view of the papacy (whose dominion, besides, comprehends only a part of the thousand years, while, again, this period embraces the Reformation, and the whole spring-time of the evangelical churches [6]), is a reproach on our own origin. The Reformation pre-supposes the existence of glorious powers of life, though in a slumbering state. Now that we have about us the Gog and Magog of unbelief, and no longer stand within the thousand years, we should feel our impotence, and call on the Lord to strengthen our weakness.

Another objection against our view of the thousand years' reign is taken from ver. 4--6. According to what is written there the resurrection of the righteous must take place at the beginning of the thousand years, and these must continue on the earth during the whole millennial period. As nothing of this sort is to be perceived in the past, it is, men think, clear as day, that the thousand years still belong to the future.

But it should be quite sufficient to shew the fallacy of such an argument, that it leads to a perfectly monstrous combination of things incapable of union: the church consisting of a mixture of members, partly living in mortal flesh, and partly risen and glorified --the latter abiding on the unrenewed earth, though as such only fit for the dwelling of mortal men; the risen and glorified at the end of the thousand years, entangled anew in the troubles of earth, in war and conflict, which belong only to a present existence, and driven out of that rest from their labours which was promised them.

Let us now first present our view of the verses under consideration, and then advance what favours it and opposes the view we reject.

The whole book is designed to stimulate to patience, to stedfastness, to unmoved fidelity, and hearty joyfulness, those who are endangered by the pressure of the world against the kingdom of Christ. The chief means employed to accomplish this design, is a representation of the victory of Christ on earth, which takes place at every great conflict. This, however, is not altogether sufficient to inspire courage. Those who fall in this warfare, who depart in times of trouble and distress, who do not live to see the periods of triumph and peace, need some further consolation. The holy Seer directs their eye to the heavenly glory, amid which they are kept till the time, that the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. Thus in ch. vii. 1--8 it is represented how God, in the midst of the great tribulations which befall the earth, keeps his own people; then in ver. 9--17 the view opens on the heavenly glory, which causes all the tribulations of earth to be forgotten. So also in ch. xiv. 1--5, after a delineation has been given of the cruel procedure of the beast on earth, and how those are kept in safety who would not worship his image, suddenly the curtain is lifted, and we see the Lamb standing on the heavenly Zion, and with him the whole multitude of the elect, who, with one voice, like that of many waters and of loud thunder, sing the new song of the Lamb, the earth with its temptations to apostacy lying wholly under their feet. This same multitude meets us again in ch. xv. 2--4. They appear there standing on a sea of glass mingled with lire, on the ground of Ps. xxxvi. 7, "Thy judgments are a great flood," the symbol of the divine acts of righteousness and judgment, and sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. The section before us is entirely similar in its structure. It contains nothing which belongs to the earth, and on the fulfilment of which history could give us its report. It rather leads us from the earth, and from the triumph which has been granted on earth to the cause and the servants of Christ to heaven, that we may see there the glory of those who had departed before the beginning of the thousand years, who were slain for the word of God and the testimony which they had, and loved not their lives to the death. The resurrection is ascribed to these persons only in a figurative sense, that, namely, of a transition into a new and glorious existence; as is indicated by the expression, "this is the first resurrection," employed for the purpose of distinguishing it from the second resurrection, which is that more commonly meant by the term. [7]

Now this view is first confirmed by the expression: they lived, or were again living. From this it is clear, that before the first resurrection the persons who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and who had not worshipped the beast, had enjoyed no life worthy of this name. Now, if the bodiless existence of the departed righteous were a mere life of shadows, we might certainly conclude that nothing would be said of it, as is the case in respect to those who have not died in the faith. But the contrary is found to be the case. The Apocalypse points in the most attractive colours to the blessedness which the redeemed enjoy, even before the resurrection; they stand before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands, and praise God and the Lamb, and serve him day and night in his temple (comp. ch. xiv. 1--5, vii. 9--17.) Such a blessed state cannot be ignored, it cannot be put on a footing with non-existence, and so nothing remains but to understand it as meant by the first resurrection.

Further, if we suppose here that a literal resurrection is meant , it must appear very singular that nowhere else in Scripture is any mention made of such a resurrection of the righteous before the general resurrection. For it does not at all follow from the passages, 1 Cor. xv. 22, 23; Luke xiv. 14, 15; 1 Thess. iv. 16 what Ewald would still draw from them, that the righteous shall be raised at the last day before the wicked; they do not speak of a before and an after, but treat simply of the resurrection of the righteous. Such a resurrection, however, as is now supposed, is not merely ignored; it is also expressly denied. Thus in 1 Cor. xv. 22, 23, "For as by one man came death, so also by one man comes the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every one in his own order; Christ the first-fruits, afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming." By this passage the resurrection only takes place at the period of Christ's coming. This, however, is not connected with the thousand years' reign, but with the time of the New Jerusalem, of which it is said in ch. xxi. 3, "Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them;" and in ch. xxi. 22, " And I saw no temple therein; for the Lord, the Almighty God, is its temple, and the Lamb." Such a resurrection is also disproved by 1 Thess. iv. 16, "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first." [8] By this passage, too, the view of Bengel, which holds the resurrection to be corporeal, indeed, but holds heaven, and not the earth, to be the habitation of the risen saints, is excluded. It must then have been Christ's descending from heaven along with the saints, who had risen before and gone to heaven with their glorified bodies, that was spoken of --not Christ's raising them up, but his coming down with them. This is also to be taken into account, that the change on the living is coupled by Paul with the resurrection of the saints that are asleep. But such a change can only take place in connection with the general regeneration (Matth. xix. 28), with the new heavens and the new earth. John v. 28, 29 also, "The hour cometh, in which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth, they that have done good to the resurrection of life, but they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation," hardly admits of the thought of a wide separation between the resurrection of life and that of condemnation.

Finally, after the example of our Lord himself in Luke xviii. 8, "When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?" and in Matth. xxiv., especially ver. 10, sq. 37, sq., Scripture generally testifies, that in the last times apostacy shall be very widely spread, and that even among the faithful the fire of their love and zeal shall be sadly cooled. Such descriptions, however, will not suit a church, which consists to a large extent of the risen saints; nor even a church, which has just passed out of the thousand years, on the hypothesis of Bengel. They require, that we must not attribute more to the Christian church than she has possessed in the past.

If, then, it is to be finally maintained, that ver. 4--6 refer to those who are concealed from our view, that for what was to happen on this earthly stage we have but one mark given, in the continuance of the dominion of Christ during a period of a thousand years,--for the just made perfect reign with Christ during the thousand years--and that the other features of the thousand years' reign are to be derived only from ver. 1--3, then we shall certainly find no other reason why we should seek it in the future instead of in the past; since there would then be the great impropriety, that the church's thousand years of a settled state would be passed over with perfect silence in the Revelation. What is said of the thousand years, is but a brief and simple notice, and is never in the remotest manner to be compared with the glory of the new Jerusalem, to which St John hastens forward with longing desire and with rapid step--a clear proof, that in the thousand years we are to seek no heaven upon earth. [9]

Ch. xx. 7--10. It was intimated at ver. 3, that at the end of the thousand years there should be a great change in the relation of Satan to the earth. To that intimation reference is here made. After the thousand years are finished, Satan is loosed from his confinement, and deceives Gog and Magog, that is, the heathen over the whole earth, to come and fight against Christ and his church. The project succeeds well at first, so that the adversaries lay siege to the camp of the saints and the beloved city. But after a brief triumph they are overtaken by the vengeance of heaven. Fire comes down from heaven and consumes them. Satan is cast into the lake of fire. So that, what was designed to overthrow the begun supremacy of Christ, serves only to complete it. With the final discomfiture of Satan the last of the three enemies of Christ and of his church has forever vanished from the field.

Vitringa says, "The church appears to have reached the end of her conflicts and labours with the execution of judgment on the beast. Christ reigns with his saints, and the kingdoms of the world yield obedience to him and the church. Whence then these new enemies at the close of the thousand years?" To this question we reply: the reason of Satan's being loosed must stand in close connection with the reason of his being bound. The earth watched and prayed during the thousand years; therefore, Satan could accomplish nothing against it. But if the earth should cease to watch and pray, it must necessarily fall into temptation. Where God is no longer present, there Satan is sure to come with his evil spirits. The passage, Matth. xii.43--45, "When the unclean Spirit," etc. deserves here the most attentive consideration. Satan works only in the children of disobedience; and he works wherever the children of disobedience are to be found, (Eph. ii. 2.) If at any time he is to be seen actually among those, who have already belonged to Christ, this implies, according to the whole teaching of Scripture, a backsliding on the part of these; and the more extensive and successful his work of deception is, the greater always must the preceding guilt have been.

Vitringa was in great perplexity to know whence these new heathen were to come. Mede expected them from America. But Bengel, with his profound discernment, perceived even in his day the beginnings of the germinating heathenism. "At present," says he, "there is such security, and along therewith such mockery amongst high and low, appearing in a shameless profligacy and a covert unbelief, that one is apt to think, Satan himself could not conduct matters in a more indecent and scandalous manner; but what has yet been done is no more than child's play. People are still but apprentices in respect to the last dreadful times, when the spirit of carnal security and profane mockery shall rise to the complete mastery." It is said also in the Berleb. Bible, "Enough still secretly remains, which can be productive of mischief. And the lees shall yet be stirred up for a great final effort, as Pharaoh gave the last violent kick when he pursued after the Israelites."

There are two prophecies of the Old Testament which are closely connected with the one before us. In the prophecy of Daniel respecting the monarchies of the world the little horn corresponds which threw down three of the great. The characteristic features there are, the difference between this new worldly power and the earlier ones, [10] the hatred manifested against God and his church, the undertaking to change times and laws (i.e., to abolish all holy and profane, divine and human institutions and laws), its prosperity and success, as appearing in the overthrow of three of the earlier kingdoms, and getting even the church into its power, and, lastly, the coincidence of the end of the world with its overthrow.

The other passage is the prophecy of Ezekiel against Gog the king of M.agog, the chief prince [11] of Mesech and Tubal, in ch. xxxviii., xxxix. The case is different in respect to this prophecy, from what it is with Daniel's regarding the little horn. While the latter goes upon a particular fact in the future history of the world, the prophecy of Ezekiel possesses a thoroughly ideal, composite character. Gog and Magog represent generally all the future enemies of the kingdom of God, and there is here combined into one grand delineation, what was to be realized in a long series of events; so that the interpretations, which would understand it of the Syrian kings, of the Goths and Vandals, or of the Turks, are all at once trim, and at the same time false, on account of their exclusiveness. Ezekiel had been prophecying immediately before of Israel's return from exile, and his redemption from the oppression of the enemy, who then was permitted to bear sway. And the disquieting thought, that it was not enough to have achieved one victory, the fear, which takes such deep hold of the diseased, that some new trouble may come after they have recovered from that, under which they at present labour, this is met by the prophet with the announcement, that whatever the earth might still raise up of evil against the kingdom of God, even if it should bring up all that is terrible from its furthest corners, powers that were hitherto scarcely known, to war against the kingdom, this should still at last gain the victory. For a strong rock is our God. Every one who yields to the native impression this prophecy is fitted to produce, must at once feel, that there is something Utopian about it; that it is essentially different from such prophecies, for example, as refer to the overthrow of the Assyrians or the Chaldeans. Its composite character discovers itself with peculiar clearness in ch. xxxviii. 5, 6, where along with Gog and Magog peoples from the most diverse regions of the world are mentioned as taking part in the expedition, who had no natural connection with them, or with one another. "Ezekiel here names and brings together only such tribes and races as were far distant, some more and others less known." That an exposition, which seeks for a literal fulfilment in some historical event, is against the real meaning of the prophet, is manifest also from the freedom with which he forms a king, Gog, out of the name of the land Magog, which alone is mentioned in Gen. x. 2. So is it, again, from ver. 17, according to which the earlier prophets had prophesied of Gog. These had only spoken in general of the enemies of God's kingdom. But that John did not view the prophecy otherwise than is now represented, is plain from this, that according to ch. xix. 17 he even sees in the subjugation of the ten kings through Christ one fulfilment of it. It is plain also from the consideration, that with the utmost freedom, he changes the king Gog in Ezekiel into a people Gog, together with Magog. Finally, it appears from his entirely removing the local and national limitation, which in Ezekiel still attaches to Gog and Magog, and considering Gog and Magog as simply identical with the heathen in the four corners of the earth.

Ver. 7. And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison. This is properly the only case in the Apocalypse, in which the future as such is announced beforehand, while John elsewhere, and here also again in ver. 9, only describes what he has seen and heard. In ch. xi. 3 the same thing has been thought to be found, though improperly ; for there John does not speak. In ch. ix. 6 the future is brought in through the reference to the fundamental passage of Jeremiah. There also, as in ch. xiii. 8, the future is only so far announced beforehand, as it makes itself perceived from what John saw before his eyes. The exception here arises from the necessity of the case: a simple pre-intimation must first carry us to the farther side of the thousand years.--He, who looses Satan, is no other than the Lord himself, who has the key of the abyss, (ver. 1), and without whose will Satan can never move a step, as is manifest from the history of Job; nor could the demons without his permission so much as enter into the herd of swine. The Lord sends to those, who have lost their love to the truth, through the medium of Satan, strong delusions, that they should believe lies, and so become ripe for judgment, (2 Thess. ii. 11, comp. Rom. i. 24, 26.) It is the punishment of ingratitude and apostacy, that it always goes farther and farther down, much more so than the spirit of infidelity itself originally contemplated.--The evil enemy is here called Satan, in ver. 10 the devil. The dragon is mentioned no more. Corresponding to the dragon is the heathen state, that culminates in the heathen kings. So far, however, matters are not to come again. If the Christian state may be everywhere perforated by the evil, and in part destroyed, as it cannot fail to be, where the mass yields to the seductions of Satan, still Satan never can again succeed so far, as to pluck the Christian state up by the root, and to establish himself as the dragon. It is in accordance with Satan's having no longer the name of the dragon, that the Antichristian world receives the name of Gog and Magog. Even in Ezekiel, Magog bears the character, not of a regularly constituted state, but of a horde of plunderers. The lawlessness of the party is still more strongly marked here, by Gog, who appears in Ezekiel as the head of Magog, being viewed as a distinct people, and acting in concert with Magog.--The prison is, according to ver. 2, the abyss.--The loosing of Satan, we learn in ver. 2, is only to be for a short time. Bengel: "How long this short time is to be, cannot well be conjectured; but we may certainly conclude, that it must be brief as compared with the thousand years."

Ver. 8. And he will go forth to deceive the heathen in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war, [12] the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. In what manner Satan goes forth, and accomplishes the deception, we learn from ch. xvi. 13. He does it by means of the unclean spirit that goes out of him.--According to the current view we are to understand by the heathen in the four corners of the earth the nations, that occupy the most distant regions of the earth. [13] But this interpretation is against the biblical usage. In Judges xx. 2, the expression, "the corners of the whole people," is used for, the whole people from the beginning to the end, "all the tribes of Israel," as is immediately added by way of explanation; or "from Dan to Beersheba" as it is in ver. 1. The explanation: the foremost of the whole people, is there against the connection. In 1 Sam. xiv. 38, Saul says, "Draw ye near hither all corners of the people." That the whole body of the people is meant, is clear from ver. 40. In Isa. xix. 13 it is said, "They have deceived Egypt, the corners of his tribes," for, his tribes even to their furthest corners. (In Gen. xix. 4, ... corresponds.) In these passages the corners possessed whatever lay within them, and was bounded by them: all the corners of the people, is as much as, all the people even to its furthest corners; as in this book also at ch. vii. 1, the corners are brought into consideration as the points, which rule the whole earth. So is it also in respect to the four borders of the earth in Isa. xi. 12; q.d., of the whole earth, as far as it stretches. Comp. Ezek. vii. 2, "The end comes on the four borders of the earth," Job. xxxvii. 3. Accordingly, here also the four corners of the earth are not the points, where the people to be deceived alone or even chiefly dwell, but the corners are regarded as commanding the whole region that lies within them; so that the four corners of the earth, is all one with, on the whole earth even to its four corners. The deceptive influence exercised by Satan is represented as one, that is not to be confined to some one particular land or people, but one that was to possess an entirely oecumenical character; precisely as we see at present to be the case. To the four corners of the earth correspond the breadth of the earth in ver. 9. The territory on which the cause operates here, is the same as that on which the operation appears there. This view is confirmed by the fundamental prophecy in Ezekiel. There along with Gog, who comes from the north, other nations also are mentioned as taking part in the expedition, who dwell in the middle regions.--Gog and Magog form the epexegesis to the nations in the four corners of the earth. Ezekiel represents Gog as the centre of the whole movement (ch. xxxviii. 5, 6.) But here the ground of Gen. x. 2, is entirely abandoned, and Gog and Magog are simply identified with all heathen. Gog, Magog, and Demagog, were first put together by Brentano. It is such a conjunction as that of Napoleon and Apollyon.--In the war, Bengel, "Then all evil will raise itself up against all good, and hazard the last blow, but shall be worsted by the better part."--As the sand of the sea, as were also the host of the Canaanites, Josh. xi. 4, the camels of the Midianites, Jndg. vii. 12, and the Philistines, 1 Sam. xiii. 5.

Ver. 9. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and encompassed the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down out of heaven from God, and consumed them. The going up is used of any warlike expedition, because the object of it appears a height to be ascended and taken. [14] By the breadth of the earth the whole compass of it is denoted. In Hab. i. 6, the Chaldeans march "through the breadth of the earth," that is, they go through it after its whole extent and compass, comp. Isa. viii. 8; Gen. xiii. 17; Job xxxviii. 18. Those deceived by Satan are, according to ver. 8, scattered over the entire breadth of the earth; but others also dwell with them, who do not yield to the seduction. Against these they now go forth; they would possess the whole compass of the earth, and verify the opposite of the statement, "the meek shall inherit the earth." And it appeared as if they were going to succeed, not less than of old when Assyria marched against Jerusalem.--One can suppose that the church is here denoted by two distinct and independent images, that of the camp and that of the city. But we may also suppose that the camp of the saints is placed in the beloved city, as in Acts xxi. 34 the fortified camp of the Romans in the city of Jerusalem is spoken of, comp. ver. 37, xxii. 24, xxiii. 10,16, 32. Any how, the prefixing of the expression: the camp of the saints, indicates the warlike and armed condition, which is an essential characteristic of the saints, whose spiritual armoury is described in Eph. vi. 10, sq., comp. 1 John ii. 14, v. 4. In the times of Moses and Joshua the church even externally presented the form of a military camp, (comp. Heb. xiii. 11), imaging what in substance was to be continued through all times.--The beloved city is Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is in the Apocalypse always used as a symbol of the church (comp. vol. i. p. 425.) Prosperous events, times in which the contest should assume a milder character, are not excluded by their being said to encompass the camp. As little are they excluded by the enemies being represented as pressing into the outworks of the holy city--comp. ch. xi. 2. Our Lord said of the literal Jerusalem, in Luke xix. 43, "Days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side." The same state of things shall here also take place, and indeed for the same reason, as a deserved punishment; for if the church had done her duty, Satan would never have been able by his deceptions to make such way against her. But nothing shall now happen like what is said in ver. 44, "And they shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee, and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another." For, this Jerusalem, with all its failings, still is the beloved city of God; and the word can never hold respecting it, which was spoken of ancient Jerusalem, "My house is an house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves."--By faith the walls of Jericho of old fell when they had been compassed for seven days (Hebr. xi. 30.) By faith also shall the walls of the beloved city be preserved. The fervent prayer of the faithful calls down fire from heaven (comp. at ch. viii. 3--5.)--After Satan has made those ripe for judgment, who through their guilt have been led away by him, the divine judgment falls upon the deceiver and the deceived. First upon the latter. The words, "And fire came down out of heaven from God," refer to Gen. xix. 24, "And the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;" to which also, as the image of all future judgments of God on the wicked, allusion is made in Ezek. xxxviii. 22, xxxix. 6. Here, this allusion, especially after the peculiar combination of the expressions, "out of heaven," and "from God," cannot be doubtful. The "from God" appeared a superfluous addition to some copyists, who did not perceive the reference to the fundamental passage. That it is not, however, to be regarded as a simple repetition from that passage, is plain from the order being the reverse of that there. It is there, from the Lord out of heaven; here, out of heaven from the Lord. The heaven forms here the contrast to the earth, God to Satan. From the allusion to Gen. xix., it is clear, that nothing is here indicated respecting the form of the judgment. What appears to refer to it, belongs to the ancient type. So much, however, may be regarded as certain, that here an unexpected, quick, frightful, overwhelming execution of divine vengeance is represented.

Ver. 10. And the devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also [15] are the beast and the false prophet, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. The everlasting fire, is, according to the word of our Lord in Matt. xxv. 41, prepared first of all for Satan and his angels. The cursed from among men are to be sent there as companions to them.--We have here the third and last station of Satan. In ch. xii. 9, he is cast down from heaven on the earth; in ch. xx. 3, into the abyss, hell; here, at last, into the lake of fire and brimstone, the deeper hell (comp. at ch. xix. 20.) On the words, "they shall be tormented," etc., see at ch. xiv. 11.

Notes and References

1. What is remarked above, however, has respect in its full compass only to the Lutheran church. In the reformed church, the opinion of a thousand years' reign still to arise in the future, bad many adherents before the time of the Pietists. Wolf in his Curae says, Mille annos jam praeteriisse, nostratium theulogorum communis est sententia.--Secundum aententiam (holding the period to be future) ex nostratibus nonnulli, in primia vero illi, qui a fanaticis sententiis parnm sibi caverunt, nominatim, J. G. Petersenius, ex Reformatia vero multi exoruandam snsceperunt.

2. What Cassiodoras aays here of the consent of the fathers certainly needs limitation. During the times, that a Christian theology was only in process of formation, very few references are to be found to the millennium--see Münscher, Die Lehre vom tausendjahrigen Reiche in den drei ersten Jahrh. in Henke's Magazin Bd. VI. The belief was very common, that there should be a resurrection of the righteous before the general resurrection, that there should be an intermingling of these risen ones with those who had not yet died, an external restoration of Jerusalem, with a mixing up together of that which is said in the Apocalypse of the thousand years' reign, and what is said of the New Jerusalem, reversing the order of Scripture, which ascribes the first stage of blessedness to heaven, the second to the earth. Thus Tertullian says, ndv. Marci. L. 3, c. 25, "We confess, that a kingdom is promised us on earth, before we get to heaven, namely the thousand years' reign after the resurrection, in the city of Jerusalem, made by God, which comes down from heaven." Compare what Eusebius says in B. III. c. 28. of Cerinthus, Justin in his Dial. with Trypho, c. 80, Irenaeus B. V., c. 33. But this interpretation of the Apoc. never was unanimously received. Justin says, there were many, even among those, who held the pare doctrine, who did not share in this faith--see on this statement of Justin, Semisch's Justin Martyr, vol. II. p. 469. "It is well known, that there is not a single trace to be found of the Cbiliastic views, neither in the epistles of the Roman Clement, of Ignatius and Polycarp, nor in the apologetical writings of Tatian, Athenagoras, and Theophilus of Antiocb." The vagaries of the Montanists who espoused these views, which already existed in the church, strengthened the disinclination to receive them. As theology grew into a more regular form, their untenableness became more clearly manifest. They were also repressed by the consideration, that the church, even under the ordinary human relations of life, might yet attain to the ascendancy. Lactantius is the last defender of Chiliasm of any name. The reaction against it in the ancient church was a sound one, though from the imperfection of exegetical resources, an ill choice was often made in the weapons employed by its opponents.

3. He says with perfect justice: Cueterum ne possum quidem simul cum temporibus bestiae currant hi mille anni, Deque ex toto ilia hi praecedunt, sed ex toto sequuntur.

4. The following remark of Bengel is certainly not in accordance with the scriptural mode of representation: "The nations shall still be so constituted, that they could be deceived, if the devil were not in prison." We must not take the prison in so grossly external a manner. It is a mere figure, and simply denotes the restraining of his influence, the pre-requisite of which is, that the hearts and peoples sincerely given to Christ continue steadfast in their adherence to him.

5. Vitringa would now certainly no longer ask: Haeccine acta fuerunt et gesta Satan ligato et detruso in abyssum? Quid igitur tandem fiet Satano soluto? And yet Satan has but begun his work.

6. The natural exposition of the Apocalypse runs as directly counter to the extravagancies of Catholic controversialists, as it does to those of the Evangelical party. The prevailing view of the Reformation in the Catholic church cannot be the right one, if the spring-season of the Evangelical church falls within the thousand years. The Satanic lerritory must, therefore, lie in another direction than that, which separates the Evangehcal from the Catholic church.

7. The first resurrection corresponds (o the second death. In respect to both alike the Seer distinguishes the figurative from the proper use of the term by an additional word. Those who boast of holding by the latter, who think that the subject of discourse here must plainly be the resurrection in the literal sense, have in reality the letter against them. In the expression: the first resurrection, there is contained a distinct reference to the diversity. To understand the first merely of priority of time is forbidden by the analogy of the second death, which differs materially from the first.

8. Quite fruitless in the attempt of Flatt, in his adnotationes ad locum 1 Thess. iv. 16, etc. coll. cum Apoc. opusc. 409, etc. to bring these passages into unison with ours, on the ground that the latter treats of the literal resurrection. He thinks that those should be excepted from "the dead in Christ," to whom the first resurrection is accorded in the Revelation. But this first resurrection of the Revelation belongs to all the dead in Christ; not merely to the martyrs, but also to all those, "who had not worshipped the beast, nor his image, and had not received his mark on their forehead and on their hand." The "rest of the dead," who do not live during the course of the thousand years, are the ungodly (for vcr. 11, sq. shew how it went with them after the thousand years, how positive punishment succeeds to the loss of an interest in the previously mentioned good.) The books are only the books of guilt; and the book of life is merely opened to shew, that their names were not there. They are not appointed to the second death.

9. Ewald: Vates breviter tantum et festinanter regnum hoc milliare tangit, ben tor onique pmemia in regnnm denitim mundi novi cocleste sedulo cuniulat omnia, xxi. 1--22, 23; tardarique paratam jam piia salutem summam in regno coelesti ex ch. xix. 7, coll. xxi. 2 concludas.

10. This difference forms the reason why John has separated this last enemy of the church from the earlier ones, while in Daniel there were reasons for rather bringing into view the elements that belonged to this in common with the others. Wherein the difference consisted, we learn more definitely from John than we can do in Daniel.

11. His original kingdom is Magog, but along with this he acquires the mastery over Meshech and Tubal. In vain have some tried, latterly Knobel, to change the chief prince into a prince of Russia. The prince of Rosse (an appellation not known in Scripture) Meshech and Tubal, Gog could not be called without some farther explanation, as Meshech and Tubal are represented in Scripture as independent kingdoms, which were not directly subject to the king of Magog. This person could become a head to them only as a "king of kings."

12. If we read ..., the article must be taken generically, and in substance the other reading, without it, conveys the same meaning. The war stands opposed to other possible objects of the gathering together.

13. So already Vitringa: Designantur gentes, quae non habitarent in media et praestantissima terrarum orbis parte, quippe quae occupata esset ab ecclesia, sed in extremis terrae.

14. Somewhat differently Gesenius in his Thes. on ...: Quoniam urbes castraque expugnanda in loco edito extructa sunt.

15. The also is warning in the text, which Luther followed.


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