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Adam Clarke Commentary

Revelation 20

Introduction

An angel binds Satan a thousand years, and shuts him up in the bottomless pit, Revelation 20:1 -3. They who were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, who have part in the first resurrection, and shall reign with Christ a thousand years, Revelation 20:4 -6. When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, shall go forth and deceive the nations, and shall gather Gog and Magog from the four corners of the earth, Revelation 20:7 , Revelation 20:8 . These shall besiege the holy city; but fire shall come down from heaven and consume them, and they and the devil be cast into a lake of fire, Revelation 20:9 , Revelation 20:10 . The great white throne, and the dead, small and great, standing before God, and all judged according to their works, Revelation 20:11 , Revelation 20:12 . The sea, death, and hades, give up their dead, and are destroyed; and all not found in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire, Revelation 20:13 -15.

Verse 1

An angel came down from heaven - One of the executors of the Divine justice, who receives criminals, and keeps them in prison, and delivers them up only to be tried and executed.The key of the prison and the chain show who he is; and as the chain was great, it shows that the culprit was impeached of no ordinary crimes.

Verse 2

The dragon - See the notes on Revelation 12:9 .That old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan - He who is called the old serpent is the Devil - the calumniator, and Satan - the opposer. He who supposes that the term old serpent here plainly proves that the creature that tempted our first parents was actually a snake, must enjoy his opinion; and those who can receive such a saying, why let them receive it. Selah.A thousand years - In what this binding of Satan consists, who can tell? How many visions have been seen on this subject both in ancient and modern times! This, and what is said Revelation 20:3 -5, no doubt refers to a time in which the influence of Satan will be greatly restrained, and the true Church of God enjoy great prosperity, which shall endure for a long time. But it is not likely that the number, a thousand years, is to be taken literally here, and year symbolically and figuratively in all the book beside. The doctrine of the millennium, or of the saints reigning on earth a thousand years, with Christ for their head, has been illustrated and defended by many Christian writers, both among the ancients and moderns. Were I to give a collection of the conceits of the primitive fathers on this subject, my readers would have little reason to applaud my pains. It has long been the idle expectation of many persons that the millennium, in their sense, was at hand; and its commencement has been expected in every century since the Christian era. It has been fixed for several different years, during the short period of my own life! I believed those predictions to be vain, and I have lived to see them such. Yet there is no doubt that the earth is in a state of progressive moral improvement; and that the light of true religion is shining more copiously everywhere, and will shine more and more to the perfect day. But when the religion of Christ will be at its meridian of light and heat, we know not. In each believer this may speedily take place; but probably no such time shall ever appear, in which evil shall be wholly banished from the earth, till after the day of judgment, when the earth having been burnt up, a new heaven and a new earth shall be produced out of the ruins of the old, by the mighty power of God: righteousness alone shall dwell in them. The phraseology of the apostle here seems partly taken from the ancient prophets, and partly rabbinical; and it is from the Jewish use of those terms that we are to look for their interpretation.

Verse 3

He should deceive the nations no more - Be unable to blind men with superstition and idolatry as he had formerly done.

Verse 4

I saw thrones - Christianity established in the earth, the kings and governors being all Christians.Reigned with Christ a thousand years - I am satisfied that this period should not be taken literally. It may signify that there shall be a long and undisturbed state of Christianity; and so universally shall the Gospel spirit prevail, that it will appear as if Christ reigned upon earth; which will in effect be the case, because his Spirit shall rule in the hearts of men; and in this time the martyrs are represented as living again; their testimony being revived, and the truth for which they died, and which was confirmed by their blood, being now everywhere prevalent. As to the term thousand years, it is a mystic number among the Jews. Midrash Tillin, in Psalms 90:15 , Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, adds, "by Babylon, Greece, and the Romans; and in the days of the Messiah. How many are the days of the Messiah? Rab. Elieser, the son of R. Jose, of Galilee, said, The days of the Messiah are a thousand years."Sanhedrin, fol. 92, 1, cited by the Aruch, under the word אירק says: "There is a tradition in the house of Elias, that the righteous, whom the holy blessed God shall raise from the dead, shall not return again to the dust; but for the space of a thousand years, in which the holy blessed God shall renew the world, they shall have wings like the wings of eagles, and shall fly above the waters." It appears therefore that this phraseology is purely rabbinical. Both the Greeks and Latins have the same form of speech in speaking on the state of the righteous and wicked after death. There is something like this in the Republic of Plato, book x., p. 322, edit. Bip., where, speaking of Erus, the son of Armenius, who came to life after having been dead twelve days, and who described the states of departed souls, asserting "that some were obliged to make a long peregrination under the earth before they arose to a state of happiness, ειναι δε την πορειαν χιλιετη, for it was a journey of a thousand years," he adds, "that, as the life of man is rated at a hundred years, those who have been wicked suffer in the other world a ten-fold punishment, and therefore their punishment lasts a thousand years."A similar doctrine prevailed among the Romans; whether they borrowed it from the Greeks, or from the rabbinical Jews, we cannot tell.Thus Virgil, speaking of the punishment of the wicked in the infernal regions, says: - Has omnes, ubi Mille rotam volvere per annos,Lethaeum ad fluvium Deus evocat agmine magno:Scilicet immemores supera ut convexa revisant,Rursus et incipiant in corpora velle reverti.Aen., lib. vi., 748.So long their dreary punishment shall last,Whole droves of spirits, by the driving god,Are led to drink the deep Lethean floodIn large, forgetful draughts, to sleep the caresOf their past labors and their irksome years;That, unremembering of its former pain,The soul may clothe itself with flesh again."How the apostle applies this general tradition, or in what sense he may use it, who can tell?

Verse 5

The rest of the dead lived not again - It is generally supposed from these passages that all who have been martyred for the truth of God shall be raised a thousand years before the other dead, and reign on earth with Christ during that time, after which the dead in general shall be raised; but this also is very doubtful.

Verse 6

Blessed - Μακαριος· Happy. And holy; he was holy, and therefore he suffered for the testimony of Jesus in the time when nothing but holiness was called to such a trial.The first resurrection - Supposed to be that of the martyrs, mentioned above.The second death - Punishment in the eternal world; such is the acceptation of the phrase among the ancient Jews.Hath no power - Ουκ εχει εξουσιαν· Hath no authority - no dominion over him. This is also a rabbinical mode of speech. In Erubin, fol. 19, 1; Chagiga, fol. 27, 1: "Res Lakish said, The fire of hell hath no power over an Israelite who sins. Rab. Elieser says; The fire of hell hath no power over the disciples of the wise men."

Verse 7

Satan shall be loosed - How can this bear any kind of literal interpretation? Satan is bound a thousand years, and the earth is in peace; righteousness flourishes, and Jesus Christ alone reigns. This state of things may continue for ever if the imprisonment of Satan be continued. Satan, however, is loosed at the end of the thousand years, and goes out and deceives the nations, and peace is banished from the face of the earth, and a most dreadful war takes place, etc., etc. These can be only symbolical representations, utterly incapable of the sense generally put upon them.

Verse 8

Gog and Magog - This seems to be almost literally taken from the Jerusalem Targum, and that of Jonathan ben Uzziel, on Numbers 11:26 . I shall give the words at length: "And there were two men left in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, the name of the other was Medad, and on them the spirit of prophecy rested. Eldad prophesied and said, 'Behold, Moses the prophet, the scribe of Israel, shall be taken from this world; and Joshua the son of Nun, captain of the host, shall succeed him.' Medad prophesied and said, 'Behold quails shall arise out of the sea, and be a stumbling block to Israel.' Then they both prophesied together, and said, 'In the very end of time Gog and Magog and their army shall come up against Jerusalem, and they shall fall by the hand of the King Messiah; and for seven whole years shall the children of Israel light their fires with the wood of their warlike engines, and they shall not go to the wood nor cut down any tree.'" In the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, on the same place, the same account is given; only the latter part, that is, the conjoint prophecy of Eldad and Medad, is given more circumstantially, thus: "And they both prophesied together, and said, 'Behold, a king shall come up from the land of Magog in the last days, and shall gather the kings together, and leaders clothed with armor, and all people shall obey them; and they shall wage war in the land of Israel against the children of the captivity, but the hour of lamentation has been long prepared for them, for they shall be slain by the flame of fire which shall proceed from under the throne of glory, and their dead carcasses shall fall on the mountains of the land of Israel; and all the wild beasts of the field, and the wild fowl of heaven, shall come and devour their carcasses; and afterwards all the dead of Israel shall rise again to life, and shall enjoy the delights prepared for them from the beginning, and shall receive the reward of their worlds.'"This account seems most evidently to have been copied by St. John, but how he intended it to be applied is a question too difficult to be solved by the skill of man; yet both the account in the rabbins and in St. John is founded on Ezekiel, Ezekiel 38:1-39:29. The rabbinical writings are full of accounts concerning Gog and Magog, of which Wetstein has made a pretty large collection in his notes on this place. Under these names the enemies of God's truth are generally intended.

Verse 9

The beloved city - Primarily, Jerusalem, typically, the Christian Church.

Verse 10

And the devil - was cast onto the lake - Before Satan was bound, that is, his power was curtailed and restrained; now, he is cast into the lake of fire, his power being totally taken away.

Verse 11

A great white throne - Refulgent with glorious majesty.Him that sat on it - The indescribable Jehovah.From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away - Even the brightness of his countenance dissolved the universe, and annihilated the laws by which it was governed. This is a very majestic figure, and finely expressed.There was found no place for them - The glorious majesty of God filling all things, and being all in all.

Verse 11

Act the third, Revelation 20:11-22:5. The New Jerusalem descends from heaven; or the happiness of the life to come, and which is to endure for ever, is particularly described, Revelation 22:6 -11. Taken in this sense, Eichhorn supposes the work to be most exquisitely finished, and its author to have had a truly poetic mind, polished by the highest cultivation; to have been accurately acquainted with the history of all times and nations, and to have enriched himself with their choicest spoils.My readers will naturally expect that I should either give a decided preference to some one of the opinions stated above, or produce one of my own; I can do neither, nor can I pretend to explain the book: I do not understand it; and in the things which concern so sublime and awful a subject, I dare not, as my predecessors, indulge in conjectures. I have read elaborate works on the subject, and each seemed right till another was examined. I am satisfied that no certain mode of interpreting the prophecies of this book has yet been found out, and I will not add another monument to the littleness or folly of the human mind by endeavoring to strike out a new course. I repeat it, I do not understand the book; and I am satisfied that not one who has written on the subject knows any thing more of it than myself. I should, perhaps, except J. E. Clarke, who has written on the number of the beast. His interpretation amounts nearly to demonstration; but that is but a small part of the difficulties of the Apocalypse: that interpretation, as the most probable ever yet offered to the public, shall be inserted in its proper place; as also his illustration of the xiith, xiiith, and xviith chapters. As to other matters, I must leave them to God, or to those events which shall point out the prophecy; and then, and probably not till then, will the sense of these visions be explained.A conjecture concerning the design of the book may be safely indulged; thus then it has struck me, that the book of the Apocalypse may be considered as a Prophet continued in the Church of God, uttering predictions relative to all times, which have their successive fulfillment as ages roll on; and thus it stands in the Christian Church in the place of the Succession of Prophets in the Jewish Church; and by this especial economy Prophecy is Still Continued, is Always Speaking; and yet a succession of prophets rendered unnecessary. If this be so, we cannot too much admire the wisdom of the contrivance which still continues the voice and testimony of prophecy, by means of a very short book, without the assistance of any extraordinary messenger, or any succession of such messengers, whose testimony would at all times be liable to suspicion, and be the subject of infidel and malevolent criticism, howsoever unexceptionable to ingenuous minds the credentials of such might appear.On this ground it is reasonable to suppose that several prophecies contained in this book have been already fulfilled, and that therefore it is the business of the commentator to point such out. It may be so; but as it is impossible for me to prove that my conjecture is right, I dare not enter into proceedings upon it, and must refer to Bishop Newton, and such writers as have made this their particular study.After having lived in one of the most eventful eras of the world; after having seen a number of able pens employed in the illustration of this and other prophecies; after having carefully attended to those facts which were supposed to be the incontestable proofs of the fulfillment of such and such visions, seals, trumpets, thunders, and vials of the Apocalypse; after seeing the issue of that most terrible struggle which the French nation, the French republic, the French consulate, and the French empire, have made to regain and preserve their liberties, which, like arguing in a circle, have terminated where they began, without one political or religious advantage to them or to mankind; and after viewing how the prophecies of this book were supposed to apply almost exclusively to these events, the writers and explainers of these prophecies keeping pace in their publications with the rapid succession of military operations, and confidently promising the most glorious issue, in the final destruction of superstition, despotism, arbitrary power, and tyranny of all kinds, nothing of which has been realized; I say, viewing all these things, I feel myself at perfect liberty to state that, to my apprehension, all these prophecies have been misapplied and misapprehended; and that the Key to them is not yet intrusted to the sons of men. My readers will therefore excuse me from any exposure of my ignorance or folly by attempting to do what many, with much more wisdom and learning, have attempted, and what every man to the present day has failed in, who has preceded me in expositions of this book. I have no other mountain to heap on those already piled up; and if I had, I have not strength to lift it: those who have courage may again make the trial; already we have had a sufficiency of vain efforts.Ter sunt conati imponere Pelio OssamScilicet, atque Ossae frondosum involvere Olympum:Ter Pater extructos disjecit fulmine montes.Virg., G. i. 281.With mountains piled on mountains thrice they stroveTo scale the steepy battlements of Jove;And thrice his lightning and red thunder play'd,And their demolish'd works in ruin laid.DrydenI had resolved, for a considerable time, not to meddle with this book, because I foresaw that I could produce nothing satisfactory on it: but when I reflected that the literal sense and phraseology might be made much plainer by the addition of philological and critical notes; and that, as the diction appeared in many places to be purely rabbinical, (a circumstance to which few of its expositors have attended), it might be rendered plainer by examples from the ancient Jewish writers; and that several parts of it spoke directly of the work of God in the soul of man, and of the conflicts and consolations of the followers of Christ, particularly in the beginning of the book, I changed my resolution, and have added short notes, principally philological, where I thought I understood the meaning.I had once thought of giving a catalogue of the writers and commentators on this book, and had begun a collection of this kind; but the question of Cui bono? What good end is this likely to serve? not meeting with a satisfactory answer in my own mind, caused me to throw this collection aside. I shall notice two only.1. The curious and learned work entitled, "A plaine Discovery of the whole Revelation of St. John," written by Sir John Napier, inventor of the logarithms, I have particularly described in the general preface to the Holy Scriptures, prefixed to the Book of Genesis, to which the reader is requested to refer.2. Another work, not less singular, and very rare, entitled, "The Image of both Churches, after the most wonderful and heavenly Revelation of Sainct John the Evangelist, containing a very fruitfull exposition or paraphrase upon the same: wherein it is conferred with the other scriptures, and most auctorised histories Compyled by John Bale, an exyle also in thys lyfe for the faithful testimony of Jesu." Printed at London by Thomas East, 18mo., without date.The author was at first a Carmelite, but was afterwards converted to the Protestant religion. He has turned the whole of the Apocalypse against the Romish Church; and it is truly astonishing to see with what address he directs every image, metaphor, and description, contained in this book, against the corruptions of this Church. He was made bishop of Ossory, in Ireland; but was so persecuted by the papists that he narrowly escaped with his life, five of his domestics being murdered by them. On the accession of Mary he was obliged to take refuge in the Low Countries, where it appears he compiled this work. As he was bred up a papist, and was also a priest, he possessed many advantages in attacking the strongest holds of his adversaries. He knew all their secrets, and he uncovered the whole; he was acquainted with all their rites, ceremonies, and superstitions, and finds all distinctly marked in the Apocalypse, which he believes was written to point out the abominations, and to foretell the final destruction of this corrupt and intolerant Church. I shall make a few references to his work in the course of the following notes. In Revelation 17:1 , the author shows his opinion, and speaks something of himself: Come hither, I will show thee the judgment of the great whore, etc. "Come hither, friende John, I will show thee in secretnesse the tirrible judgement of the great whore, or counterfaite Church of hypocrites. Needs must this whore be Rome, for that she is the great citie which reigneth over the kings of the earth. Evident it is both by Scriptures and Cronicles that in John's dayes Rome had dominion over all the whole world: and being infected with the abominations of all landes, rightly is shee called Babylon. or Citie of Confusion. And like as in the Scriptures ofte tymes under the name of Jerusalem is ment the whole kingdom of Juda, so under the name of Rome here may be understanded the unyversall worlde, with all their abominations and divilleshnesses, their idolatryes, witchcraftes, sectes, superstitions, papacyes, priesthoodes, relygions, shavings, anointings, blessings, sensings, processions, and the divil of all such beggeryes. For all the people since Christes assencion, hath this Rome infected with hir pestilent poisons gathered from all idolatrous nations, such time as she held over them the monarchial suppremit. At the wryting of this prophecy felt John of their cruiltie, being exiled into Pathmos for the faithfull testimony of Jesu. And so did I, poore creature, with my poore wife and children, at the gatheringe of this present commentary, flying into Germanye for the same," etc.Shall I have the reader's pardon if I say that it is my firm opinion that the expositions of this book have done great disservice to religion: almost every commentator has become a prophet; for as soon as he began to explain he began also to prophesy. And what has been the issue? Disappointment laughed at hope's career, and superficial thinkers have been led to despise and reject prophecy itself. I shall sum up all that I wish to say farther in the words of Graserus: Mihi tota Apocalypsis valde obscura videtur; et talis, cujus explicatio citra periculum vix queat tentari. Fateor me hactenus in nullius Scripti Biblici lectione minus vroficere, quam in hoc obscurissimo Vaticinio.

Verse 12

The dead, small and great - All ranks, degrees, and conditions of men. This description seems to refer to Daniel 7:9 , Daniel 7:10 .And the books were opened - See Daniel 12:1 . "Rab. Jehuda said: All the actions of men, whether good or bad, are written in a book, and of all they shall give account." - Sohar Gen., fol. 79, col. 298. "How careful should men be to shun vice, and to act uprightly before the holy blessed God, seeing there are so many which go throughout the earth, see the works of men, testify of them, and write them in a book!" - Ibid., fol. 105, col. 417.Sohar Chadash, fol. 19, 1.The books mentioned here were the books of the living and the dead, or the book of life and the book of death: that is, the account of the good and evil actions of men; the former leading to life, the latter to death. St. John evidently alludes here to Daniel 7:10 , on which the rabbinical account of the books appears to be founded. The expressions are figurative in both.According to their works - And according to their faith also, for their works would be the proof whether their faith were true or false; but faith exclusively could be no rule in such a procedure.

Verse 13

The sea gave up the dead - Those who had been drowned in it, and those millions slain in naval contests, who had no other grave.And death - All who died by any kind of disease. Death is here personified, and represented as a keeper of defunct human beings; probably no more than earth or the grave is meant, as properly belonging to the empire of death.And hell - Ἁιδης, Hades, the place of separate spirits. The sea and death have the bodies of all human beings; hades has their spirits. That they may be judged, and punished or rewarded according to their works, their bodies and souls must be reunited; hades, therefore, gives up the spirits; and the sea and the earth give up the bodies.

Verse 14

And death and hell were cast into the lake - Death himself is now abolished, and the place for separate spirits no longer needful. All dead bodies and separated souls being rejoined, and no more separation of bodies and souls by death to take place, consequently the existence of these things is no farther necessary.This is the second death - The first death consisted in the separation of the soul from the body for a season; the second death in the separation of body and soul from God for ever. The first death is that from which there may be a resurrection; the second death is that from which there can be no recovery. By the first the body is destroyed during time; by the second, body and soul are destroyed through eternity.

Verse 15

Written in the book of life - Only those who had continued faithful unto death were taken to heaven. All whose names were not found in the public registers, who either were not citizens, or whose names had been erased from those registers because of crimes against the state, could claim none of those emoluments or privileges which belong to the citizens; so those who either did not belong to the new and spiritual Jerusalem, or who had forfeited their rights and privileges by sin, and had died in that state, were cast into the lake of fire.This is the way in which God, at the day of judgment, will proceed with sinners and apostates. Reader, see that thy name be written in the sacred register; and, if written in, see that it never be blotted out.

Revelation 20


  1 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
  2 And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
  3 And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
  4 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.
  5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
  6 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.
  7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
  8 And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
  9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
  10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
  11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
  12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
  13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
  14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
  15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

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