Christopher Wordsworth
On the Doctrine of a Millennium

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The Creation Concept



Warnings concerning Scripture Interpretation

Interpretation of the Twentieth Chapter of the Apocalypse

The first Resurrection

The Saints reign, and to them judgment is given

What is meant by the word Resurrection

What is meant by a thousand years

Practical application

Notes and References

Christopher Wordsworth. Lectures on the Apocalypse: critical, expository, and practical: delivered before the University of Cambridge. F. & J. Rivington, 1849. pp. 42-77.

LECTURE II. On the Doctrine of a Millennium.



Rev. xx. 1—8.

I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set his 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. 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. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 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. And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations.

In pursuing our argument on the authority of Holy Scripture, we were led in our first Discourse to commence an inquiry into the genuineness and inspiration of the Apocalypse. It was stated, on that occasion, that in the age in which it was written the Book of Revelation was received as an inspired work of the Apostle and Evangelist St. John. The question was then proposed, How came it to pass that in the third and fourth centuries doubts were entertained by some concerning its divine authority? To this a reply was found in the fact, that a portion of this book—the Twentieth Chapter—was misinterpreted, and made to bear a sense repugnant to the general tenour of Holy Scripture; and that this misinterpretation owed its origin to Judaizing prepossessions and to oral tradition, and to an incorrect view of the plan of the Apocalypse: that it consisted in imputing to that chapter the doctrine commonly called the doctrine of a Millennium; that is, of a personal reign of our Saviour Christ, together with His Saints, on earth, for a period of a thousand years before the General Resurrection and the Day of Judgment.

It was observed, that no sooner was this doctrine imputed to the Apocalypse, than the Apocalypse itself declined in repute: and that, unhappily, some persons, instead of refuting the human misinterpretation, rejected the divine Book; but that in course of time the misinterpretation was refuted; the doctrine of a Millennium was exploded; and that no sooner was this the case, than the Apocalypse arose to its former position. You were reminded, also, that for a period of ten centuries, that is, from the middle of the fifth to that of the fifteenth, there was scarcely a Church or person of any note in Christendom who did not receive the Apocalypse, or did not reject the Millennium; and that by our own Church the former is acknowledged to be inspired, and the latter condemned as heretical.

This doctrine, however, it is well known, has been revived in our own time, and is now propagated with industrious zeal, and appears to have laid a strong hold on the public mind: and for this reason also, as well as from its intimate connexion with our present subject, the Apocalypse, we were led to bring the doctrine of the Millennium to the test of Holy Writ; and we found (to adopt the language of our own Church) that it “is repugnant to Scripture.”

Warnings concerning Scripture Interpretation

Now, since, in the words of our twentieth Article, “one place of Scripture” may not be so expounded “that it be repugnant to another,”—and therefore, much more, one passage may not be so interpreted that it contravene the general tenour of Scripture,— we conclude that, whatever may be the true meaning of the twentieth chapter of the Apocalypse, the doctrine of the Millennium cannot be. We may not always be able to discern the real sense of a passage of Scripture, but we are bound to believe, that its true sense, when discerned, would be seen to be in perfect harmony with the whole tenour of Holy Writ. We are often blind, but Scripture is always consistent. It is also our duty to expound the dark places of Scripture by the clear ones, and to interpret the single texts of Scripture by the whole proportion of Faith; and therefore we greatly err, if we take up a single chapter of such a mysterious book as the Apocalypse, interpreted by us according to our own notions, and spread it like a thick cloud over the broad light of Scripture, instead of letting in the bright beams of Scripture to illumine and disperse the cloud. [1]

We would also remind you, my younger hearers, of what is too often forgotten, that a wrong interpretation of Scripture is not Scripture; and that it is only the true meaning of the Bible which can properly be called the Bible; and that they cannot be said to be really zealous for the perfection and sufficiency of Holy Writ, who would impose upon you their own notions of Scripture as Scripture. They do, in fact, substitute human imaginations for the Divine Word; and so they make Scripture to be very insufficient and imperfect; and when they speak of Scripture as sufficient and perfect, they are not contending for the sufficiency and perfectness of Scripture, but for the sufficiency and perfectness of their own wit.

Therefore let me earnestly exhort you to be on your guard. Exercise your reason; use all the aids of learning; but lean not on your own understanding. (Prov. 3:5) Be not carried away by any private notions concerning the sense of an isolated passage of Scripture, but compare spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Cor. 2:13) Remember that Scripture, as a whole, is your Rule of Faith, and receive nothing as the sense of any particular passage which is at variance with this Rule: and since, as we have seen, the doctrine of a Millennium cannot be reconciled with Scripture as a whole, beware how you receive it.

Remember, also, that Almighty God has not only given us Scripture as our Rule, but He has also vouchsafed to us a guide for its application; namely, the Christian Church. In the words of our twentieth Article, “the Church hath authority in controversies of Faith.” Do not then imagine that any private interpretations of Scripture are to be received as Scripture, if they are opposed to what the Church declares in her Creeds to be the true sense of Scripture. And inasmuch as the Doctrine of the Millennium is inconsistent with Scripture, as interpreted by the Church in the Creeds, (as was shown in the last Discourse,) let no private persuasions beguile you to adopt it. By so doing, you would not only embrace a doctrine fraught with pernicious results, but you would be giving up the fundamental principle of Christianity. Scripture, as interpreted by the Universal Church, would cease to be your Rule of Faith; and when this foundation is gone, the whole fabric falls.

Interpretation of the Twentieth Chapter of the Apocalypse

Bearing in mind these necessary cautions, let us now proceed to examine the Twentieth Chapter of the Apocalypse.

I saw an Angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set his 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.

This Angel, it is confessed by all, is no other than Jesus Christ, the Angel of God’s Presence, (Isa. 63:9)—the Angel of the Covenant. (Mal. 3:1) He has the key of the bottomless pit. He Himself says, I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, A men; and I have the keys of Hell and of Death. (Rev. 1:18) Of Him it was prophesied that He, the Seed of the woman, should bruise the Serpents head. (Gen. 3:15) He has a great chain in His hand, and with it He binds Satan. Such Christ appeared to the eye of faith when He came down from heaven. For this purpose (says St. John) the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil. (1 John 3:18) Christ proved His power over Satan at the Temptation. Then He vanquished him who had vanquished Adam and all his race. [2] After the conflict, the Devil departed from Him; and, behold, angels came and ministered unto Him. (Matt. 4:11) He then shed abroad the light of His glorious Gospel on those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death; to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. (Acts 26:18) He went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the Devil; for God was with Him. (Acts 10:38) He cast out Devils with the finger of God. (Luke 11:21) The Devils owned His power: Art thou come to torment us before the time? (Matt. 8:29) On one occasion He suffered not the Devils to speak. (Mark 1:34. Luke 4:41) On another, they besought Him to suffer them to enter into the swine. (Luke 8:32) And not only did He thus exercise dominion over Satan in His own person, but He gave it to others, His Apostles and Disciples. He gave them power and authority over all Devils: He thus put the chain into their hands, and empowered them to bind Satan. (Luke 9:19) The seventy returned with joy, saying, Lord, even the Devils are subject to us through Thy Name. (Luke 10:17) And therefore Christ exclaimed, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. (Luke 10:18) Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the Prince of this world be cast out. (John 12:31)

Further, let us remember that Christ Himself supplies us with this interpretation of the passage before us. He employs the same figure of speech: He speaks of binding Satan. Thus we recognise the chain in His hand. How can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. (Matt. 13:29) Christ came upon Satan, and overcame him, and took from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divided his spoils. (Luke 11:22) He delivered Satan and his angels to chains of darkness. (2 Pet. 2:4) By His death upon the cross Christ destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil. (Heb. 2:14) He spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Col. 2:15) He delivered us who were captives and bondsmen of the prince of the power of the air, and chained our enemy in his dark prisonhouse. (Eph. 2:2) And, when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men; (Eph. 4:8) enabling them also to wrestle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places; (Eph. 6:12) and He bruised Satan under their feet. (Rom. 16:21) Thus Christ bound Satan, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set his seal upon him, in order that he should deceive the nations no more.

Such was Christ’s act and deed. And if Satan still has power in the world, (as doubtless he has,) this, let us remember, is due to man, and not to God. It is because men sleep, when God bids them to watch; therefore the Enemy comes.  (Matt. 13:25, 39) But the Devil is chained to all, who do not loose him, by their own sin. Put on the whole armour of God; and ye will be able to stand against the wiles, and to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (Eph. 6:11, 16) Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7) I give unto you eternal life, and ye shall never perish, neither shall any pluck you out of My hand. (John 10:29) He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. (1 John 5:18) They in whom the word of God abideth, are strong, and have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:13) The Gates of Hell shall never prevail against the Church. Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world. (Matth. 16:18; 28:20)

Let us remember, also, that in other signal ways Christ at His coming chained Satan, who had chained the nations. Bel boweth down, and Nebo stoopeth, (39) before whom myriads had lain prostrate. The Idols whose altars had reeked with human blood were cast to the moles and to the bats. (Isa. 46:1) The Oracles are dumb. Pagan Temples become Christian Churches. Basilicas are now Cathedrals. The Cross, once the scandal of the world, floats on the banners of armies, and is set on the diadems of kings. [3]

It is indeed argued by some, that it is not true that Satan was or is bound during the Papal sway. But this objection arises from a misunderstanding of our text.

It is not said that Christ rendered it impossible for the Devil to deceive; but that He did His part, “in order that he should not deceive.” [4] It is true, Christ does not destroy man’s free will, and force him to be saved; but no one who considers what Christ has done, and never ceases to do, for the World, by His Sufferings, His Example, His Word, His Sacraments, and His Church, will say that He has omitted any thing for the deliverance and protection of men, whose state in this world is one of probation, from the power and wiles of the Devil. (Isa. 2:20) What could have been done more to His vineyard, that He has not done (Isa. 5:4) in it ?

The corruptions of Popish times and countries are no proof that Christ did not bind Satan “in order that he should not deceive men;” but they show that men have despised what Christ has done for them, and have loosed their Enemy, who was bound by Christ, and have revolted from Christ to be the slaves of Satan. And yet, notwithstanding all this, Christ has maintained His Church in the world, and does maintain it, and will maintain it even to the end. Thus He has bound Satan, in order that he should not deceive the World.

On the whole, then, we see this wonderful fact: Christ, Who was prefigured by the Serpent of brass, is lifted up on the cross. He appears to be lifeless: He expires: He is taken down from the cross, buried, a captive, it would seem, of Satan; chained by death; laid in the lowest pit, in a place of darkness and in the deep, (Ps. 88:5) and so fast in prison that, it might be thought, He could not get forth. (Ps. 88:8)  A seal is set upon the stone on the pit’s mouth, (Matt. 27:66) and a guard is stationed to keep Him. In a word, Christ appears to be in the very state in which Satan is described in our text. And what then? He looses the pains of death, because it is not possible that He should be holden of it. (Acts 2:24) He breaks the gates of brass, and smites the bars of iron asunder. (Psa. 107:16) He raises Himself from the dead. And through His death, which the Devil had devised for his own aggrandizement, Christ destroys him who had the power of death, the Devil. (Heb. 2:14) He plucks out its sting, and swallows up death in victory. (Isa. 25:8; 1 Cor. 15:54) Thus He Who was typified by the Serpent of brass, being lifted up on the cross by the malice of Satan, nails Satan himself to the cross; and having been lifted up in the wilderness of this world, He heals the deadly wounds inflicted by the Old Serpent of fire, and restores the wandering nations to life and health and joy.

The first Resurrection

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. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first Resurrection. 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. (Rev. 20:4-6)

Let us now consider these words.

First, let us observe, that they are not spoken of the bodies of the saints, but of their souls. I saw the Souls of them who had been beheaded for the witness of Jesus. This must be carefully borne in mind, because the error of the Millenarians is mainly due to neglect of this distinction. They imagine a bodily [6] resurrection, whereas St. John speaks of a spiritual one. [7]

Secondly. It is not said that these souls lived again, but that they lived, (Rev. 20:5) and reigned with Christ.

It is clear, then, that what is here said, is spoken not of a corporeal, but of a spiritual Resurrection.

Thirdly. It is not said that Christ reigns with His saints, but that they reign with Him. He is in heaven, and will there remain till He comes to judge, when all true believers will be caught up to meet Him in the air. (1 Thess. 4:17) Therefore what is here said is spoken not of an earthly, but heavenly Resurrection.

Fourthly. Let us recollect, that such is the nearness and dearness of all faithful Christians to Christ, that His exaltation is represented in Scripture as theirs. Christ said to Saul, when persecuting the members of His Church, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? (Acts 9:4) And He says to us, Inasmuch as ye do it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye do it unto Me. (Matt. 25:40) And as Christ suffers with His members on earth, so are they glorified with Him in heaven. He is persecuted in them; and they reign with Him.

And what now, my brethren, is the spiritual Resurrection of the Christian? Our natural condition is one of Death. [8] By nature we are spiritually dead: but Christ, Who is the Prince of Life, (Acts 3:15) hath quickened us who were dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1) He giveth Life unto the world. (John 6:51; 1:4; 5:26; 6:39) He that hath the Son, hath life. (1 John 5:12) Therefore our first or spiritual Resurrection is our “death unto sin, and new birth unto righteousness;” it is our engrafting into the true Vine, (John 15:1)—our incorporation into the body of Christ. By one spirit we are all baptized into one body, the body of Christ, which is His Church. (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:24) Buried with Him in baptism, (says St. Paul,) we are raised with Him through the faith of the operation of God, Who hath raised Him from the dead. (Col. 2:12) [9] And again: We are buried with Him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we hare been planted together in the likeness of His Death, we shall be also in the likeness of His Resurrection. If one (Christ) died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him Who died for them and rose again. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. (2 Cor. 5:14-17)  I am the Resurrection and the Life (says our Lord). He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die. (John 11:25) Because I live, ye shall live also. (John 14:10) If a man keep My saying, he shall never taste of death. (John 8:52)

Such then is the first Resurrection. [10]

And why, you may ask, is it called the first Resurrection? [11]

Because it precedes the Resurrection of the Body; and because it is the opposite of the Second Death; which is the casting of soul and body into the Lake of fire. (Rev. 2:11; 20:14; 21:8)

The erroneous application of the present passage of the Apocalypse to a mere bodily resurrection, instead of to the spiritual regeneration which is effected by our incorporation into “the mystical body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people;” and the consequent supposition that the saints of Christ will be raised in person, in order to reign with Christ for a thousand years on earth, and that other men will not be raised till this period has expired,—is a natural result of low and inadequate notions of our baptismal privileges and obligations, and of the sacred duties and inestimable blessings of Church-membership and Church-unity; and wherever unworthy notions are entertained on these momentous points, there the doctrine of a Millennium may be expected to prevail.

Let us now pass on to observe, that our spiritual adoption into the mystical Body of Christ is only the beginning of our Christian life; it is the new birth, that is, it is the entrance into the new life. Baptism is the door, by which we enter into Christ’s Church. But the door is not the house. There must not merely be new birth, but a new life. There must be not only the mark of Christ imprinted on the forehead, but there must be the spirit of Christ moving in the heart, and bringing forth the work of Christ in the hand. This is the first Resurrection. We rose with Christ, to live with Christ: and Christ assists us in this work by manifold gifts and graces. In the Holy Communion of the body and blood of Christ, the Christian soul receives spiritual strength from Him, and is knit more closely to Him. There we dwell in Christ, and Christ with us. We are one with Christ, and Christ with us. Thus the soul, which was born again in Christ, lives with Christ. It is dead to sin, and is ready to suffer for Christ, and knows no other object of worship than Christ. I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and which had not worshipped the Beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark in their foreheads, or in their hands,—that is, who had not broken their oath of allegiance to Christ either in word or deed;—and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

This is the first Resurrection.

The Saints reign, and to them judgment is given

Behold its glorious privileges. How great is the happiness of those who are indeed crucified to the world, and are risen with Christ, and who walk with Him in newness of life! (Rom. 6:4) Such is their intimate union with Christ, that Almighty God deigns to say that they are [12] partakers of His blessedness and exaltation. They are joint-heirs with Him. Wherever the Head is, there is the Body also. Of His fulness they have all received. (John 1:16) As the Apostle says, When we were dead in sins, God hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us up together, and hath made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:5, 6) They, says St. Paul, which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17) To him (says Christ) that overcometh, will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne. (Rev. 3:21) And the true children of the Church on earth are caught up to God and His throne. (Rev. 12:5) Hence to them who die in the Lord there is no death; they have passed from death into life; their life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. 3:3) The Saints who are dead do not cease to be members of Christ. No: Christ (says St. Paul) died, to be Lord both of the dead and living. (Rom. 14:9)  They do not taste of death. Death hath no dominion over them. (Rom. 6:9-11) How blessed a thing it is to reflect that our fathers and brethren, who have fallen asleep in Christ, and have departed in God’s holy faith and fear, are not dead; that they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them (Rev. 14:13) They are with the Saints of old,—with Martyrs, Evangelists, Apostles, Prophets, and Patriarchs; they are with Christ, and they have come unto mount Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of Angels, to the Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. (Heb. 12:23) These all live in Christ; and by virtue of His Judicial and Sacerdotal and Royal power, they too, as members of Christ, and as dwelling in Him and He in them, are—in a certain, ineffable sense, not as yet to be grasped by our weak intellects—a chosen generation, a royal Priesthood; (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) they are made unto God Kings and Priests. (Rev. 5:10) [13]

I saw Thrones, and they sate upon them, and Judgment was given them. Our Blessed Lord expressly says, that the Judgment of Satan was already begun at His own Incarnation. Now is the judgment of this world. (John 12:31) Now is the Prince of this world judged. (John 16:11) And now, even now, (1 Cor. 6:2, 3) the Saints of Christ judge the world; yea, according to St. Paul’s words, they judge Angels, the Angels of Satan. The Saints of God prove, by their faith and holiness and steadfastness, that the fall of Satan and of his Angels was due to their own sin: they show, by their virtues, that God is good, and that His grace is sufficient for all those who pray to Him, trust in Him, and obey Him; and that it is made perfect in their weakness, (2 Cor. 12:9) and that His commandments are not grievous; (1 John 5:3) and having been tortured, tempted, afflicted, (Heb. 11:35, 37; 12:4) tormented, and having resisted even unto blood, and having come forth more than conquerors, (Rom. 8:37) they judge the world. [14] They condemn it of blind infatuation, and of base ingratitude to God. The life and death of the Saints is the judgment of the world.

Again; in another sense, the Church of Christ now judges the world. She has received from Christ the power of the keys; (Matt. 16:19) the power of binding and loosing (Matt. 18:17, 18; John 20:23) and whatever she does on earth, orderly and rightly, in the ministry of remitting or retaining sins, is ratified by Christ in heaven. Thus, even now, the Saints of God sit upon thrones, and to them judgment is given. [15]

Yet more; in another manner the Saints of God are even now seated upon Thrones, and judge the world.

In the precepts of the Law, in the revelations of Prophets, in the melody of Psalms, in the instruction of Proverbs in the Old Testament, the Twenty-four Books of which were believed to be represented by the twenty-four [16] Elders sitting enthroned in heaven; and in the four Gospels typified by the four living Cherubim [17] on which the Throne of God is set; and in the Royal Law (James 2:8) of the Letters of the Apostles, whom God has made Princes in all lands; (Ps. 45:17)—which books, be it remembered, have been placed on Thrones [18] in the great Council-Halls of Christendom, and have been delivered as a Law to anointed Kings at their solemn enthronization; yes, taken from that very altar, and placed in the hands of the most august Monarchs of the world, in this national Temple, at their Coronation; [19] and whose sanctity is proclaimed by solemn adjurations in Courts of Justice; and which are delivered to Bishops and Priests at their Ordination, as the Royal Code of their Teaching, and the Divine Charter of their Ministry; and which sound forth daily from Pulpits and the steps of Altars—as it were, from Christian Thrones and Tribunals—in every part of the world: thus, I say, they whom God has employed to declare His Will to men, are now, even now, seen by the eye of Faith sitting upon Thrones; and to them Judgment is given.

In this manner we see that the souls of the Saints, by virtue of their spiritual incorporation and indwelling in Christ, have risen from the dead with Christ; that in Christ they live; that they ascend with Him, and sit with Him in heavenly places; that they are Priests of God and Christ; that they reign together with Him; and that with Him they judge the world. Therefore,—Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection. [20]

Such, we feel persuaded, is the true interpretation of our text. Thus, and thus alone, it is in perfect harmony with the general teaching of Holy Writ. And such, let me add, is the interpretation which is authorized by the consent of the Church. Ever since the question was examined, as it was in the third and fourth centuries, there was but one prevailing voice for more than a thousand years. [21] Origen, Dionysius, Jerome, Augustine, Philastrius, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius, Cassiodorus, Bede, Haymo, Aquinas, and many others, agree in this exposition; and from the fifth to the fifteenth century scarcely any author of credit can be cited as having countenanced any other.

But it must not be concealed that two objections have been made, by some modem critics, [23] to this interpretation.

What is meant by the word Resurrection

I. First, it is alleged, that we read in our text, the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished: and that this, we allow, is said of the general Resurrection, that is, of a bodily resuscitation: and that therefore, it is added, if we will not be inconsistent, we ought to interpret the first resurrection, also, not of a spiritual, but of a corporeal revivification. If the words life and resurrection have a physical meaning in one place, they must, it is said, have a similar meaning in the other.

In this conclusion we cannot agree. Our Blessed Lord, you will remember, uses on one occasion the words Let the dead bury their dead (Matt. 8:22; Luke 9:60) where, it is acknowledged, the word dead is employed in two senses, a spiritual and a physical one. And, again, He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it; (See Matt. 10:89; Luke 17:33; John 12:25) where the word life is used in a double sense. It seems also that the Author of the Apocalypse has studiously warned his readers that he uses the word lived in a double sense; for he says, I saw The Souls of them that were beheaded; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years, where life and reign is ascribed to the soul, and not the body; whereas when he speaks, as he afterwards does, of a bodily Resurrection, he does not mention the soul, but says, The rest of the dead live not [23] till the thousand years are fiinished.

It deserves special notice, that there is a passage in St. John’s own Gospel which refutes the objection just mentioned, and establishes the true interpretation. Our Blessed Lord says (John 5:24-26) concerning the first, or spiritual, Resurrection: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead (that is, the spiritually dead in trespasses and sins) shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.

This He says concerning the quickening of the soul. [24]

Our Lord then proceeds to speak of the second, or General, Resurrection, that of the Body: The Father hath given to the Son authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. (John 5:27) Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

In the former of these two passages a spiritual Resurrection is spoken of, and in the latter a bodily Resurrection: and they are connected together, as in our text; and so these words from St. John’s Gospel supply an answer to the allegation of inconsistency against the ancient exposition of our text, and furnish the best commentary on the words of the Apocalypse.

What is meant by a thousand years

II. The second objection to our interpretation is this. A thousand years, it is said, is a definite period; and if this period is not future, and if it began at Christ’s Incarnation, then it has expired; and the loosing of Satan has already taken place; and, as this loosing was to be but for a little season, therefore this too is past; and since the rest of the dead are not to live until the thousand years are finished, therefore they are to live when those years are past, and so the Second Advent, and the General Resurrection and Universal Judgment, ought now to have taken place.

To this we would reply—

First; Most of those who interpret the thousand years literally, appear to be inconsistent with themselves. In all other places of the Apocalypse, when a number of days is mentioned, they understand these days to mean years; [25] and they understand a time, (Rev. 12:14) which they say is a year, to signify not three hundred and sixty days, but three hundred and sixty years. And therefore, according to their own theory, St. John should have described the Millennium as a thousand days.

Secondly; The word “until” (c. xx. v. 5) does indeed declare, that the rest of the dead would not rise before the thousand years are past, but it does not assert that they will arise as soon as they are past. [26]

And, Thirdly, we affirm that the thousand years are not to be regarded as indicating a fixed period. Indeed, the whole teaching of Scripture forbids such an interpretation. It is very certain that the future is uncertain. Prophecy is not an almanack. No one can calculate the world’s eclipse. The Great Day will come; but no one can say, when that Coming will be.

To interpret the thousand years so as to make them indicate a fixed [27] period, is, we repeat, repugnant to the whole teaching of Scripture. It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power. (Acts 1:7) The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is. (Mark 13:3) The day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night. (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10) Behold, I come as a thief (says our Lord in the Apocalypse, Rev. 3:3; 16:15). Blessed is he that watcheth. As lightning cometh out of the East, and shineth even unto the West, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matt. 26:27) Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the Angels of heaven, but My Father only. (Matth. 24:36)

Now, if the thousand years in the Apocalypse were a fixed time, these sayings concerning the suddenness of Christ’s Second Coming, to Judge the quick and dead, would not be true. But they are the sayings of Him Who is the truth; and therefore they are true, as God Himself is true.

Hence we infer that the word thousand is here a general one; and by a thousand years, in the text, the Holy Spirit does not limit a specific sum any more than when He says, Man cannot answer God one of a thousand, (Job 9:3) or If there be an interpreter, one of a thousand; (Job 33:23)—that is, one among All men.

Again, it is written, God keepeth His covenant to a thousand generations. (Deut. vii. 9) He commanded His word to a thousand generations; (1 Chron. xvi. 15) that is, to All men.

Similarly, we read in the Apocalypse itself, (Rev. 7:4-8) that twelve times twelve thousand were sealed, severally, from twelve tribes. Here it cannot be imagined, nor has it been supposed by any interpreter, that there are in each tribe twelve thousand elect, neither more nor less (for, according to this mode of interpretation, there would be none saved from two tribes, which are omitted, Dan and Ephraim); but by this perfect number it is meant that God will one day accomplish the number of His elect.

The word thousand is used more than twenty times in the Apocalypse; but not once, as I believe, is it used literally. It is employed as a perfect number.

Therefore, we conclude that He, to whom a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years, (2 Pet. 3:8) meant, as the best ancient expositors have said, by this perfect number, [28] the whole day of the world’s life, till the dim twilight and dark eventide of the last and fiercest persecution. In that sad vesper-time of gloom, Satan will be loosed, though he will be restrained from hurting Christ’s elect. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light; (Matt. 24:29) that is, the light of the pure heaven of the Church will be dimmed with thick mists. The Gospel will be overclouded with the gloom of Impiety; Love will wax cold; Iniquity will abound; Infidelity will exult; Faith will be hard to find. It will be a time of rebuke and blasphemy. (2 Kings 19:3) The foundations of the World will be out of course. The earth will be full of darkness and cruel habitations. [29]

In confirmation of this interpretation, let me remind you that this exposition, which regards the thousand years—not as a fixed period, but as the measure of the whole time, whatever that may be, from the coming of Christ to the loosing of Satan— is not an interpretation propounded first after the expiration of a thousand years from the Incarnation. No; it is the deliberate judgment of the most celebrated early Christian interpreters both of the Eastern and Western Churches. [30] They did not imagine that the time of Satan’s loosing was or could be defined: they taught that the thousand years signified the whole period which would intervene between the first Advent of Christ and the full Revelation of Antichrist. [31]

Practical application

Let me now say a few words in conclusion, especially to you, my younger hearers.

First: let us here adore the might and majesty of Christ.

He has come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in His hand, and has bound Satan. Behold Him then, as a glorious Conqueror, triumphing over our deadly foe. Therefore, let us rejoice. His victory is ours. If you are true to Christ, you are invincible. Though your path in this world will be beset with dangers, though it be like the journey in the wilderness,— that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, (Deut. 8:15)—yet Jesus, the Captain of your Salvation, goes before you. He breaketh the heads of the dragons in the waters, and smiteth the heads of Leviathan in pieces. (Ps. 74:13) He goeth upon the lion and the adder; the young lion and the dragon He treadeth under His feet: (Ps. 91:13) yes, and He giveth you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you, (Luke 10:19) if you be followers of that which is good. (1 Pet. 3:13) Therefore, let nothing affright you. Welcome difficulty, welcome danger, welcome death, if they bring you to Christ! Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou, O Lord, art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me. (Ps. 23:4)

You have all been baptized into the spiritual Body of Christ, which is His Church; you have thus been “made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed therefore, so far, are ye; for you have been admitted to have part in the first Resurrection. [32] But remember, the words are, Blessed and holy is he who hath part in the first Resurrection. You cannot be blessed, [33] unless you are holy. You cannot have a permanent part in the first Resurrection unless you walk in newness of life. If ye are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above. (Col. 3:1) It is vain for you to have been born into Christ, unless you live with Christ, in Christ, and for Christ. Nay, it is worse than vain; for, if having been born again, you fall back into the death of sin,—if having been delivered from the fetters of Satan, you make yourself the slave of him who is Christ’s prisoner, you revolt from Christ, and crucify the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. (Heb. 6:4, 6) Then Christ Himself has said of you, Your last state is worse than the first. (Matt. 12:45) Then your lot will not be in the first Resurrection,—but in the second Death.

Remember, therefore, from what death you have been quickened, and into what life. Reckon ye yourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 6:10) Mortify your members that are upon the earth. (Col. 3:5) Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies, that ye should obey the lusts thereof; but yield yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead. (Rom. 6:13)

Remember that you have been exalted to heavenly places with Christ. While you look upon Christ sitting at the right hand of God, you see yourselves. How should you rejoice, yea, how should you tremble at the thought! Therefore, be risen with Christ; seek those things which are above; purify yourselves, even as He is pure. Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Col. 3:1; 1 John 3:3; Rom. 12:2) Then you will indeed have ascended with Christ; then you will live and reign with Him; and of you it will then be said, Blessed and holy are ye; for ye have part in the first Resurrection.

Once more: let us bear in mind that all this is true of all Christians in every age, and particularly in one of storm and peril like our own. We know, from the Scripture before us, that Satan will be loosed before the Great Day. Compared [34] with what he will be then, he is now said to be chained. Hence we learn, how fierce he will then be. When he is loosed, he will then show how deadly his power is; and then we shall know and feel how much we owe to that Mighty Angel, Jesus Christ, Who once came down from heaven, with the key of the bottomless pit and with a great chain in His hand, and Who bound Satan, and cast him into the bottomless pit. We know that Satan will be loosed; and then it will be proved once more,—it will be proved once for all,—by Christ’s victory over him, how strong Christ is. He who has come down once to bind Satan, will come down again, to cast him finally into the lake of fire, where he will be tormented for ever and ever. (Rev. 20:10; Matt. 25:41) But, in the mean-while, during the time in which Satan is loosed, many alas! we know, will fall from the faith, fall like stars from heaven; many will worship the Beast and his image: they will give themselves to a strong delusion; (2 Thess. 2:11) and will believe the strange doctrines, and admire the lying wonders, of the False Prophet; and will receive his mark on their foreheads and ou their hands. Most miserable destiny! But they who are Christ’s, will stand. For them God will fight. God’s power will be mocked. His Name will be blasphemed. The Nations of the earth will rise against Christ, and will be gathered to battle against Him; (Rev. 16:14; 19:19; 20:8) they will compass the camp and the beloved city; (Rev. 20:9) and many of its faithful citizens will win the crown of martyrdom, and be slain for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God. (Rev. 6:9; 20:4) But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God; and there shall no torment touch them. (Wisdom 3:1) Though dead, they live: they live and reign with Christ. And, finally, fire will come down from heaven, and consume the foes of Christ. His victory will then be achieved, and the glory of His servants will be complete. The Devil will be cast into the lake of fire, where the Beast and False Prophet are; and they shall be tormented day and night, for ever and ever. And then the Judgment will be set; and all the dead, both small and great, will be raised, and stand before God; and every man will be judged according to his works. (Rev. 20:10-13)

Whether these great events are now near at hand, we cannot confidently say. Enough, assuredly, there is in the present state of the world, to warn us of Christ’s coming. We cannot prophesy, but we must all pray. We must all watch. We must all labour.

We must all love. Whether we now see the beginning of these things or no, is uncertain; but we shall certainly see the end. We shall see Christ at His coming. Behold, He cometh in the clouds; and every eye shall see Him; they also which pierced Him. We shall see the Throne set, and the Books opened. We shall all be judged. And may God, of His infinite mercy, grant, that then you may see your names, written in the Book of Life!

Notes and References

1. Tertullian well says, Adv. Prax. c. 20. Tribus capitulis totum Instrumentum utriusque Testamenti volunt cedere: cum oporteat secundum plura intelligi pauciora. Proprium hoc est omnium haereticorum; pauca adversus plura defendunt.

2. “From this day” (says Milton, very truly, speaking of the Incarnation, Ode on the Nativity, xviii., and interpreting Rev. xx.)

“The Old Dragon underground,
In straiter limits bound,
Not half so far casts his usurped sway.”

3. Compare Lightfoot’s Sermons, vol. ii. p. 1056, p. 1171, and p. 1233; three sermons all very strong against modern Millenarian notions.

4. Such is the true rendering of Rev. xx. 3, ***, precisely as in Rev. vi. 2, ***. Surely it will not be alleged here also, that Christ did not conquer in Popish times. See Note to the Harmony of the Apocalypse, chap. xx. 3, p. 108.

5. The note of Aquinas here is worthy of attention. Nonne modo Diabolus seducit? Sic (i. e. yes); eos qui volunt bene uti armis sibi a Christo datis, vel quae darentur, si vellent. Ante passionem autem non habebant homines tanta adjutoria, quia tunc non erat tanta gratia, nec tam efficacia sacramenta, nec exemplum Christi, nec passio sua; modo aperta est Janua, unde modo ligatus est, respectu temporit quod praecesserit Christi adventum et passionem: and it may be added, respectu temporis quod succedet, saeviente Antichristo.

6. Compare ch. v. 9, which is the best comment on this passage; see also Lightfoot, Harmony of New Test. on Rev. xx. “Here is a Resurrection, but not of bodies, but of souls. The souls of those that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus lived and reigned; and this is called the first Resurrection.” He observes that there is some figurative language in Ezekiel xxxvii.; the latter part of which book resembles the latter part of the Apocalypse. There is a spiritual resurrection; Gog and Magog; and a new Jerusalem in both. Many of the Jews erroneously understood Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones literally, as many Christians interpret the first Resurrection in a like sense. It may be added, that “the second death” is a phrase used by the Jews. Onkelos renders Deut. xxxiii. 6, thus: “Let Reuben live, and not die; i.e. the second death.” See Lightfoot in Rev. xx.

7. S. Aug. in C. D. xx. 7. De duabus resurrectionibus Joannes Evangelista in Apocalypsi eo modo locutus est, ut earum prima, a quibusdam nostris non intellecta, insuper etiam in quasdam ridiculas fabulas verteretur.

8. The word *** is specially used by St. John in a spiritual sense. See the remarks of Mr. Grinfield, Schol. Hellenist. Apoc. iii. p. 795.

9. —Cassiodorus in Apoc. p. 239. Primam resurrectionem dicit in fide, qua renascimur ex aqua et Spiritu Sancto, in qua secunda mors non habet locum. Permanet autem generaliterfidelium in Christo sacerdotium, donec constituti temporis quantitas impleatur.—Bede, p.429. Resurrectio prima, utique qua resurgimus per baptismum. Sicut prima mors est per peccata, sic prima resurrectio per remissionem peccatorum.

10. See Scholia ap. Cramer, ***, that is, says the Commentator, “they who have part in the resurrection from the death of dead works, these are blessed; over these the second death, i.e. death eternal, will have no power.” See also Arethas, cap. lxii.

11. S. Aug. de C. D. xx. 6. Resurrectiones duae sunt: una prima, quae et nunc est, et animarum est; alia secunda, quae in seculi fine futura est, nec animarum sed corporum est, quae per ultimum judicium alios mittet in secundam mortem, alios in cam vitam quae non habet mortem.

12. “The very name of Head” (says Bp. Pearson on the Creed, Art. vi. p. 284) “hath the signification not only of Dominion but of Union; and therefore, while we look upon Christ at the right hand of God, we see ourselves in heaven. How should we rejoice, yea how should we tremble, at so great an honour!”

13.  This ascription to Christians, of what is properly only true of Christ, is the basis of one of the seven famous rules of Tychonius for the interpretation of Scripture; of which Bede, in Pref. in Apoc, thus speaks:—Septem quoque regulas Tycbonii, viri inter suos eruditissimi, quibus ad intelligendas Scripturas studiosi plurimum adjuvantur, breviter commemorandas putavi. Harum prima de Domino et ejus corpore (Ecclesia) est; quando a Capite ad corpus, vol a corpore transitur ad Caput, et tamen ab una eademque persona non receditur. This rule is of very frequent application in the Apocalypse.

14. Haymo ad loc. Per sedes generalis Ecclesia exprimitur: per sessores duodecim Apostoli, et omnes qui perfectam illorum vitam imitati sunt. Per animas decollatorum plenitudo intelligitur omnium sanctorum, sive scilicet spiritualiter in anima sunt mortui, sive corporaliter pro Domino jugulati.

15. Bede in loc. Ecclesia jam sedet judicans, quae a suo Rege meruit audire Quaecunque ligaveris tuper terram erunt ligata in caelo. Matth. xvi. 19. xviii. 18.

16. See “Lectures on the Canon,” Appendix, pp. 26, 60; and below, Lecture IV.

17. Rev. iv. 6-11; and “Lectures,” &c. VI. p. 151.

18. See the authorities in ” Lectures on the Canon,” Lect. V. p. 124, and VI. p. 149.

19. This paragraph was added when this Discourse was preached in Westminster Abbey.

20. All true Christians (in the words of St. Augustine, De Civ. D. xx. 10) are said, in a certain ineffable manner, to partake in the royal, priestly, and prophetic unction of Christ. Let me add the following from Bede, ad loc. Regnat Ecclesia cum Christo in vivis et mortuis. And again: Haec de vivis et mortuis debemus accipere, qui, sive adhuc in mortali carne viventes, sive defuncti, regnant cum Christo jam nunc, modo quodam tempori huic congruo, per totum hoc intervallum quod numero mille significatur annorum: prima resurrectio in hac vita est animarum, per remissionem peccatorum: omnes, qui sic resurgunt, sunt sancti Dei et Christi (alia editio habet sacerdotes Dei). Non de solis Episcopis et Presbyteris hoc dictum est, qui proprie vocantur in Ecclesia sacerdotes; sed sicut omnes Chritti dicimur (Ps. cv. 15) propter mystieum Chrisma, sic omnes sacerdotes, quoniam membra sumus Unius Sacerdotis. De quibus Apostolus Petrus, Plebs, inquit, sancta, regale sacerdotium. 1 Pet. ii. 5, 9.

21. See above, Lecture I. p. 19: and compare Andreas in Bibl. Patrum Max. v. p. 626; Primasius Bibl. Pat. Max. x. p. 331; Cassiodorus Complexiones in Apocal. Rot. 1723; Bede, vol. xii. p. 428, ed. Giles; Haymo ad loc; Ambrosius Ansbertus, A.D. 890, Bibl. Pat. Max. xiii. 620; Aquinas ad loc.

22. e. g. Bishop Newton in loc.

23. ***. See the “harmony” and Notes on this passage, p. 89, 108, 109.

24. Lightfoot well observes on Matth. xix. 28, that the ***, or Regeneration, there spoken of, is the life of the Christian soul in this world, i. e. its new birth and renovation by the Word and Sacraments of Christ; or, in other words, the first Resurrection.

25. Rev. 9:5, 10; 11:3; 12:6; 13:5. I include here the places where forty-two months occur, which they interpret 42 x 30 = 1260 years.

26. Hooker, V. xlv. 2. ” Helvidius abused greatly those words of St. Matthew, (i. 25.) ‘ He knew her not until she had brought forth her first-born son,’ thereby gathering, against the honour of the Blessed Virgin, that a thing denied with special circumstance doth import an opposite affirmation, when once that circumstance is expired.”

27. Of our English Divines, it may here suffice to cite Bp. Andrewes, ad Bellarmin. c. 10. Millenarius annorum numerus apud Joannem certus in specie numerus, re incertus tamen.

28. The cube of ten. Perfectus numerus, millenarius, denarii numeri quadratum solidum reddit. See Augustine 1. c.—See S. Gregory Mag. Moral. ix. cap. iii. p. 290. Per Joannem dicitur regnabunt cum Eo mille annis, quia videlicet regnum Sanctae Ecclesiae Universitatis perfectione solidatur. In millenario numero perfecta Universitas exprimitur.—See also ibid. lib. xxxv. cap. xlii. p. 1162, ed. Bened. 1705. Millenarius numerus in sacro eloquio perfectus accipitur.

29. Psalm 82:5. See S. Aug. in Psalm 103:20, 21.

30. Mille annos (says Gaspar a Melo in Apoc. p. 772) omne tempus Evangelicae Legis usque ad Antichristum significare aiunt Patres.— Andreas and Arethas in loc. c. lx. *** Arethas seems to have thought it probable that Antichrist would come before A.D. 1000. See also ibid. c. lxii.—S. Aug. 1. c. xx. capp. 7—11. Mille annos pro annis omnibus hujus saeculi posuit. Bede ad loc. Retulit Spiritus Sanctus, cum haec scriberet, regnaturam Ecclesiam mille annos, id est usque ad finem mundi.

31. Haymo ad loc. Millenarius numerus pro perfectione rei ponitur; in hoc tempore ligatus est Diabolus in abysso, id est in cordibus infidelium, ubi latet et regnat usque ad adventum Antichristi, quando solvetur de suo carcere et procedet ad apirtas blasphemias et persecutiones. Et mille quidem anni, quantum ad electos pertinet, omne tempus istius vitae significant usque ad finem saeculi; quantum autem ad reprobos, usque ad adventum Antichristi.—Aquinas ad Rev. xx. Per mille annos: id est, per universum tempus a passione Christi usque ad tempus Antichruti. Numerus enim millenarius est perfectus: per mille annos signatur totum tempus quo colligitur et successive impletur numerus electorum; post vero animae simul cum corporibus regnabunt.

32. Haymo ad loc. Felix est qui dum adhuc vivit in corpore a morte animae resurgit; ille post in carne feliciter resurget, qui in hac vita a mentis suae morte resurrexit.

33. Bede ad loc. Beatus, qui servaverit, quo renatus est.

34. Haymo ad loc. Tunc diabolus ille quasi exiet seducere, quia comparatione illius seductionis ista quae nunc agitur seductio esse denegatur; solvetur modico tempore, et totis viribus saeviet contra electos.