These things are revealed, not indeed in order that God's people in the world might be able to fore-cast an exact history of the future in every detail, but that they might recognize in the events of history the things foretold, and believe that even in the darkest periods of the history of the world God is realizing His counsel of redemption. It is thus that the Savior motivates His foretelling the disciples the dark period in which He must descend into the deep and awful way of His amazing suffering, in which He must "go away" from them in order that He "might come again" to them: "And now I have told you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye might believe" (John14:29).
Such must needs be the purpose of all prophecy. It does not satisfy an unholy curiosity. It does not enable us to write the history of the world till the final coming of the Lord before its realization. But it is a light shining in a dark place illuminating all the way of the church through suffering to glory sufficiently for the people of God to recognize in all the events of history the realization of God's counsel and, therefore, to walk in hope.
This pamphlet purposes to set forth what light is shed upon the future realization of God's Kingdom in the world by the well-known passage from Revelation20.
Following the text of the passage we must consider:
It is evident that in these words the seer of Patmos describes not what he saw historically happen but what he beheld in a vision. A strictly literal interpretation of the text, therefore, is not in harmony with the nature of the passage, nor is it possible. No one thinks of the possibility of a literal interpretation, when in Rev. 13:1 the prophet tells us that he "stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the names of blasphemy." It is understood, without difficulty, that all this was seen by John in a vision. The same is true of Rev. 20:1-10. It is not contradicting but correctly interpreting Scripture, when we say that John did not actually see an angel come down with a great chain in his hand and the key of the bottomless pit, that he did not actually see that the devil was bound and shut up in the bottomless pit, but that he saw all this as it was represented in a vision.
Neither must a vision be interpreted as if it were a mere and direct foretelling of events as they shall actually happen. It would not be interpreting but doing violence to Scripture if we should paraphrase these verses in the following fashion: "Then shall an angel come down from heaven with the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand and he shall lay hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and he shall bind him a thousand years." Such a paraphrasing of the text entirely disregards the fact that the passage speaks of a vision. The question is rather: What is the central idea of the vision? What fact does John here behold as being realized before his eyes? And the answer to this question is readily given: That the devil is bound by a divine decree, so that he is prevented from accomplishing his purpose. The angel coming down from God to carry out this decree, the key of the bottomless pit, the great chain, the shutting and the sealing, all these may be regarded as belonging in the form of the vision only; but they all serve to emphasize the fact that Satan is bound by a divine decree, securely and effectually, so that during the period of his confinement he cannot carry out his evil purposes.
The question, however, is not only suggested, but also very definitely answered by the text, whether this imprisonment of Satan, this secure confinement of the devil, must be regarded as absolute and complete, so that he is restrained in all his activities, or as relative and in part, so that the restraint placed upon him limits him only in a certain direction and dooms him to partial inactivity only. To this question the text replies, without a doubt, that the restraint is partial and with a view to a certain sphere of action. For, the purpose of the binding of Satan is designated in verse 3 as being "that he may deceive the nations no more." And in verse 8 we are informed still more definitely, that when he shall be loosed for a little season, he "shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them to battle the number of whom is as the sand of the sea."
If we take these two passages in connection with each other, it may be regarded as established: (1) that the binding of Satan is limited to certain nations, which are called Gog and Magog; (2) that his confinement prevents him from deceiving those nations; (3) that the deception, which his imprisonment or the restraint that is put upon him prevents him from realizing, would otherwise cause these nations to gather for battle against "the camp of the saints and the beloved City."
Of Gog and Magog we read in Ezekiel 32:2ffand 39:1-16. There Gog is the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal ofthe land of Magog. They constitute a vast horde that descends upon Israel from the north, even from the limits of the horizon, to make a final onslaught on the people of God. But hailstones, fire, and brimstone from heaven cause their utter destruction. In the passage before us from Revelation 20 these same hordes are called simply Gog and Magog, and now they are described as living on the four corners of the earth and as coming upon the camp of the saints from every direction.
Israel is here to be taken, in harmony with all Scripture, in the New Testament sense of the word: the vision of the restored Israel of which Ezekiel 38, 39 speaks, has been realized in the church of the new dispensation. It is "the camp of the saints" and it is "the beloved city." That is, Christianity in its widest sense, as it exists and develops in the new dispensation, corresponds to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. It is represented in the text as being situated in the center of the earth. Around it, on the four corners of the earth, that is, outside of the pale of history, are nations that remain pagan. Although also from them the elect are gathered into the church, as nations they remain distinctly heathen. Gog and Magog, therefore, are heathen nations in distinction from nominal Christendom.
With respect to these heathen nations as such, then, the passage we are discussing teaches that the devil is bound in such a way that he cannot marshall them to battle against the Christian nations. He may, in the very period of his restraint, do many things, both among the nominally Christian nations and the people that are called Gog and Magog; he may go about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour; but he is prevented from deceiving those nations so as to gather them for battle.
And the period of this restraint is designated as a thousand years. Again, it would be arbitrary to interpret this number in its literal sense. For, in the first place, all Scripture attaches a symbolical significance to numbers, as it does also to colors and dimensions. Numbers such as 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10 and 12, their combinations and products, represent certain realities of the Kingdom of God. The earthly relations are also in their numbers a picture of the heavenly and spiritual realities of God's covenant. That this is true is evident as soon as we call to mind that, for instance, our weekly period of time is a combination of 6 plus 1, labor and rest, time and the eternal sabbath, the completion of the Kingdom of God; that 7 in Scripture, and especially in the book of Revelation, occurs evidently as the combination of three and four, the Triune God and the world, the perfection of God's covenant; that the number12, as the product of 3 and 4, is evidently the number of the elect, which is the reason why there are 12 tribes, 12 apostles, 12 times 12 thousand servants of God that are sealed, 12 plus 12 elders around the throne of God and the Lamb.
These numbers abound in Scripture, and more emphatically in their symbolical significance in the book of Revelation. The whole book is based on the schemes of the number7. There are seven seals to the book that is opened by the Lamb; the seventh seal dissolves itself into seven trumpets; and the seventh trumpet reveals itself as comprehending seven vials. There are seven golden candlesticks, even as the complete picture of the church in the world is represented by the seven churches of Asia. But this is equally true of the number10, and its products, especially in the thousands. The days of the tribulation of the church of Smyrna are 10. The number of the servants of God that are sealed are 10 times 10 times 10 multiplied by 144. The number of those that appear on Mt. Zion with the Lamb, who have His Father's name written on their foreheads, is 1000 times 144 (ch. 14). The antichristian beast appears with 10 horns. The length and breadth and height of the New Jerusalem are 12 times a thousand furlongs. In the light of all these facts, as well as in connection with the apocalyptic character of the book of Revelation in general, we are certainly justified in saying that it would be arbitrary to insist that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 must be understood in the literal sense of the word.
Now, the number itself suggests completeness, a fullness of measure; for 10 is itself a round number but is characterized by the same feature of completeness. And the instances in Scripture where the number 10 occurs suggest the same idea. There are ten plagues upon Egypt, the fullness of the measure of God's wrath; ten commandments, the fullness of His ethical will concerning us; ten times ten times ten "one hundred and forty fours," or the fullness of the number of God's people according to election. So there are ten virgins, ten talents, and ten days of tribulation for Smyrna's church. The number 10, therefore, evidently represents the idea of a complete measure of anything according to the will and counsel of the Most High. If we add to this that this number 10 in the third power, i.e., the number 1000 points to a great measure of the thing indicated; and that "years" rather than "days" suggests a long period, we conclude that the thousand years of Satan's confinement signify a long period, fully determined by the will and counsel of God, which must be fulfilled before the devil can be permitted to deceive the nations that live on the corners of the earth.
That the above interpretation is based on the text itself is fully justified by the character of the book of Revelation, and is in harmony with the line of Scripture in general, there is no doubt in my mind. And this interpretation is also capable of application to actually existing conditions in the world. The period of the thousand years I would apply until shortly before His second coming on the clouds of heaven. That the vision of our passage follows that of the second coming of Christ in chapter 19 cannot be adduced as an objection against this view, for the simple reason that the order of the book of Revelation is not chronological but ideological. Repeatedly the book follows the development of the world to the very end from a certain viewpoint, in order then to resume the drawing of the same picture from a different viewpoint. (Cf. ch. 6:12-16; 11:15-19; 14:17-20; 16:17-21; 18; 19:11-21.)
In our chapter we have the same phenomenon, now from the viewpoint of the history and end of Gog and Magog. The nations of Gog and Magog, that live on the four corners of the earth, I would identify as those nations that in the new dispensation never played a part in the history of the world, but that are waking up in our very day. I refer to the numerically overwhelmingly strong heathen world, to the multitudes of China and Japan, the millions upon millions in India, the followers of Confucius and Buddha, of Islamism and Brahmanism; the hordes of Africa and of the islands of the sea. What it would mean if these nations were permitted to unite and marshall their tremendous forces against the nominally Christian world may easily be surmised. The church would have no place in the world, no room for development. But the devil is bound in this respect. In the old dispensation he might repeatedly deceive the nations to come against Israel. Egypt and Assyria, Babylonia and Persia, Greece and Rome, all had a controlling influence in the history of the world. In the new dispensation, however, this relation is exactly the opposite. The Christian nations are historical powers, and Gog and Magog were hitherto apparently sound asleep. The Prince of this world is restrained from employing these forces against the church, the beloved city, the camp of the saints.
The question, however, is: Who are these royal people? The text does not inform us directly who they are, nor where we must look for their thrones. But in the latter part of verse 4 John plainly describes these same people as he continues: "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." That the thousand years refer to the same period as that in which the devil is bound with respect to Gog and Magog is self-evident.
In that entire period these people reign with Christ. And they are saints in glory before the resurrection of the body, for the expression, "souls of them that were beheaded," permits of no other interpretation.
The Chiliast denies this in order to be able to save his theory of an earthly millennium and of a separate resurrection of the saints, but the denial is without support in Scripture. It is rather strange that he who would always otherwise insist on a literal interpretation of Holy Writ, in this case looks about for a figurative explanation. Yet so he does. It is essential to his theory of the millennium that these "souls of them that were beheaded" should be transformed into resurrected saints in their glorified bodies. If he does not succeed in this, his interpretation of the passage must needs be regarded as false. Hence, he argues that in this expression we have an illustration of the figure called "synecdoche," according to which a part must be taken for the whole. As we speak of so many sails, meaning ships; as we speak of a hundred head, meaning cattle; so Scripture speaks of souls, signifying persons. All the souls that came with Jacob into Egypt were three score and ten. In the ark few, that is eight, souls were saved. On the day of Pentecost about three thousand souls were added to the church. And there were in all two hundred threescore and sixteen souls with Paul in the ship. (Gen. 46:27; I Peter 3:20; Acts 2:41; 27:37.) Hence, the Chiliast argues, we must interpret the expression "the souls of them that were beheaded" in the same figurative way as referring to resurrected persons.
Against this mode of interpretation there are two objections that prove it false beyond a shadow of doubt. The first objection is that whenever the above mentioned figure is employed, whether in our daily language and secular literature or in Holy Writ, uniformly a numeral is used in connection with it. We can speak of a hundred head, and of fifty sails, but we do not merely speak of heads and of sails. And, in all the instances quoted, the Bible follows the same rule. Seventy souls came with Jacob into Egypt; eight souls were in the ark; three thousand souls were added to the church; two hundred and seventy-six souls were in the ship. But in Revelation20:4 we simply read: "and I saw souls." John does not employ the figure in this instance. The second objection is in the addition: "of them that were beheaded." What a strange way of referring to persons in the body, whether corruptible or resurrected, it would be to speak of the "souls of them that were beheaded"! The Chiliast must admit this. He must relinquish the attempt to save his theory of the earthly millennium by thus imposing his interpretation upon the simple and plain words of Scripture.
And surely the statement in verse 5, that "this is the first resurrection," does not change matters at all. The Chiliast, indeed, adduces this clause in support of his contention that verse 5 refers to risen saints, but he is mistaken. The text plainly says: this is the first resurrection. And the pronoun this refers back to the statement in verse 4 concerning the souls that reign with Christ. Therefore, in answer to the question, what is the first resurrection, we cannot introduce our own preconceived notion, but we are bound to the text and, therefore, constrained to say: the reign of the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus is the first resurrection!
Scripture speaks of the resurrection of the dead in more than one sense. It refers to regeneration in John5:25: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." The same resurrection is meant in Ephesians5:14: "Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." In Revelation20:5, however, "the first resurrection" refers to the state of the saints in glory immediately after death. They are delivered from battle and from persecution and suffering inflicted on them by the antichristian forces that are always in the world throughout this dispensation, and they reign with the Lord.
The expression, "the first resurrection," therefore, does not refer to a separate group of saints that are raised first, in distinction from the raising of the wicked a thousand years later as "the second resurrection," but to a state or degree in the resurrection of the saints.
That this is the correct interpretation a comparison with the similar expression "the second death" corroborates. For, "the second death" refers to the ultimate state of death in hell (Rev. 20:14). First and second death are, therefore, different stages of death, not different groups of dead people. But, surely, this establishes beyond any reasonable doubt, that "the first resurrection" also refers to a stage in life and glorification. If we may complete the parallel, we would say that, even as first death is physical death, so the first resurrection is the glory that follows immediately upon physical death; and even as "the second death" is the state of perdition of body and soul in hell, so "the second resurrection" is the final state of glory after the resurrection in glory of the body. Hence, "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 Christ and shall reign with him a thousand years."
Finally, as an objection against this interpretation the Chiliast cannot adduce the first part of verse 5: "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." Certainly, the rest of the dead are the ungodly dead. And it may be frankly admitted that the form of the expression would almost invite us to complete it as follows: "then they also shall live again." But it must be remembered that the text does not say this and that we have no authority to add to Scripture. Besides, even the Chiliast would not venture to finish the expression in that fashion. For, although also the wicked shall have a certain rising from their graves and receive their bodies again, it cannot be said of them that they shall live again. Their resurrection will be to eternal perdition. And Scripture clearly teaches that this going forth out of the graves unto perdition will take place at the same time, as in one hour with the resurrection of the righteous (John5:29). So that the text in Revevelation 20:5 can only mean that, while the souls of the righteous were seen as living in glory and power, the rest of the dead had no place in this picture at all and did not live again. And when they do appear once more, it will be to be sent into perdition, to be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death.
These blessed and glorified saints, then, reign with Christ. On earth they endured suffering for Christ's sake. It was given them of grace to have the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God in their hearts and in their mouth and, therefore, it was given them also in the cause of Christ to suffer with Him (Phil. 1:29). For they had this testimony in the midst of an antichristian world. That the antichristian power is here described as it will manifest itself in its ultimate realization and consummation does not signify that only the saints that shall live and suffer in the last days, shortly before the coming of Christ, are included in these saints that reign with Christ. Essentially the power of antichrist, the beast, and his image are always in the world. Always the believers have the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God. They refuse to worship the beast and his image, and receive not his sign in their right hand or in their forehead. Therefore, the entire church triumphant in heaven is meant by these reigning saints. They reign and judge the world with Christ. It is a reign that commenced in heaven with the exaltation of their Lord at the right hand of God.
That saints who overcome and endure unto the end shall reign with our Lord in glory is a common idea in Scripture. "And he that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father" (Rev. 2:26,27). And again: "To him 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. 3:17).
Concerning this reign with Christ, it is evident that, centrally and essentially, it is the reign of the exalted Lord Himself, to whom is given all power in heaven and on earth, a name that is above all names. But even as the saints, while they are still in this world and must suffer in the cause of Christ, nevertheless have the victory and overcome and judge the world by faith in Christ, so shall they participate in His glorious reign in heaven, when they shall be completely delivered from all the power of the enemy and be with Him forever and ever. They shall be given to know His work with regard to the final realization of the Kingdom of God, even as He knows the Father's counsel and is found worthy to open the book with its seven seals. They shall perfectly know the mind of Christ and He shall have no secrets for them. They shall concur in His judgments of the world and thus shall partake in them. And they shall rejoice in the full realization of His perfect victory.
And, finally, this reign of Christ and His saints with respect to the world is such that almost until the very end the devil shall be bound with respect to Gog and Magog, so that he cannot deceive them and gather them for battle against the camp of the saints.
What is here presented in a separate vision had partly been pictured in a different setting in preceding chapters. We may gather from chapter 16:12-16 that the devil's deception of the nations that live on the four quarters of the earth, to gather them together for battle, will be realized in the period of the sixth vial. This is also in harmony with the statement in Revelation20:3 that "he must be loosed for a little season." Shortly before the end of this world this final deception of the nations shall take place. In chapter 16 we read this: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon" (Rev. 16:12-16). In this passage the reference is, evidently, to the same going forth of the devils to the nations that live on the four quarters of the earth, the kings of the whole world, to deceive them and gather them for battle.
And we learn, besides, that this deception of the nations through the devil shall proceed immediately from the antichristian kingdom. Unclean spirits shall proceed from the center of the antichristian world, and they shall have their influence upon the nations that live on the four quarters of the earth. It matters not, now, what is presented by these unclean spirits. They certainly signify a threefold influence of the antichristian civilization. And the final result of this threefold antichristian influence will be that the nations thus affected will unite their forces for war, the last war that shall ever be fought on earth.
Again, a similar presentation of the same period of history we find in chaper 17:12-17. There mention is made of ten kings, that as yet have received no kingdom, but shall receive power as kings one hour with the beast. The fact that they are kings in distinction from the antichristian power proper, as well as the fact that their dominion shall last but for one hour with the beast, that is, "a little season," suggests that these ten kings are again the same as the power of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20, and as the kings of the whole world, and the kings of the east that are mentioned in Revelation 16. If this is correct, then we learn from the passage in chapter 17 that the first result of the deceptive influence of the devil, through the medium of the threefold antichristian influence, will be that the heathen nations of Gog and Magog shall join into one great world-power with the central antichristian dominion. For one hour, for a little season, the world-power shall realize its greatest ambition, and a strictly universal empire shall be established, of which also the heathen, but civilized, nations form an integral part.
However, this cannot last. For ultimately the ten kings shall hate the whore and shall make her desolate and naked and shall eat her flesh and burn her with fire (17:16). The ultimate result, therefore, of the deception of the devil through the antichristian influences upon the heathen nations will be that they shall be gathered for battle against the very center of the antichristian dominion.
If we combine all these different elements, which have bearing undoubtedly upon the same historic event of the future, we may come to the following conception. In the nominally Christian world shall ultimately be realized the final consummation of the antichristian world-power, the power of the beast and the false prophet. It will be an empire in which shall be represented the highest ambitions of man, and they shall be realized to the utmost. From a purely humanistic viewpoint it will be a glorious kingdom. And thoroughly humanistic it will surely be, religiously, scientifically, socially, industrially, politically. But it will be anti-God, anti-Christ, and anti-church. The saints that refuse to receive the mark of the beast shall have no place in that kingdom.
In the meantime, influences shall issue forth from that central realization of the antichristian kingdom upon the nations that live on the four corners of the earth. These shall be civilized. They shall become conscious of their power. And they shall, for a time, join forces with the beast and the false prophet to form one great world-empire. But under the influence of the "mission-work" of the antichristian unclean spirits, they will be, indeed, awakened out of their prolonged slumber, become conscious of their power, and quickly adopt the antichristian civilization.
But they remain pagan nevertheless. Though they give their power to the beast for one hour, for a little season, this cannot last. The deception of the devil must work out till the bitter end. And they will ultimately gather as separate forces for the last war, which will be a world war in the strictest sense of the word. Looking upon the nominally Christian world (which will in fact be antichristian, though the church will still exist in her midst) as the really Christian nations, as the church of Christ indeed, they shall do as the nations of the old dispensation did with respect to Jerusalem and shall say: "Let us go up to Jerusalem; let Zion be defiled: let our eye look upon Zion!"
This shall be their guilt, for their purpose shall be to fight against the camp of the saints and the beloved city, against God and His Christ. But it will also be their deception. For, as in the old dispensation God used the nations in their hatred against the Holy City to chastise and destroy a Jerusalem that had actually become Sodom, so He will use the hostile spirit of the heathen nations to destroy the antichristian powers and eat the flesh of the great whore. The camp of the saints they will never touch. The people of God shall look for the coming redemption which shall then be nigh. For it will be upon this final scene of confusion and iniquity that the Lord will appear to judgment, destroy His enemies, and deliver His saints to give them the victory forever !
If we thus conceive of the end of Gog and Magog, it is needless to conclude by saying that we are living in significant times. A humanistic modernism claims the right and title to the name of Christianity a religion without the Christ of the Scriptures, without the Incarnation, without the Cross, without the resurrection; a religion of this world, based on human imaginations rather than on Scriptures. In the meantime, the power of man develops with tremendous strides in every sphere of life. And the influence of this modern spirit is felt far outside of the Christian world. For modernism has its missionaries. The nations on the four corners of the world are waking up. The millions upon millions in China and Japan and India are beginning to realize their power and to clamor for their own place in the midst of the nations of the world.
No, we do not mean to speak of the day and the hour. But we do emphasize that God's people must not be deceived. They must know the times, and know what Israel ought to do at all times and seasons. They must above all watch and keep the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God and steadfastly refuse to worship the beast and the image of the beast.
For blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments. And let us be of good cheer! For our King is given us of Israel's God! He has all power in heaven and on earth, a Name above all names! The victory is ours! "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world!"