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Revelation 20:4

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

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 Psalm 90:15, Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, adds, "by Babylon, Greece, and the Romans; and in the days of the Messiah. How many are the days of the Messiah? Rab. Elieser, the son of R. Jose, of Galilee, said, The days of the Messiah are a thousand years."

Sanhedrin, fol. 92, 1, cited by the Aruch, under the word אירק says: "There is a tradition in the house of Elias, that the righteous, whom the holy blessed God shall raise from the dead, shall not return again to the dust; but for the space of a thousand years, in which the holy blessed God shall renew the world, they shall have wings like the wings of eagles, and shall fly above the waters." It appears therefore that this phraseology is purely rabbinical. Both the Greeks and Latins have the same form of speech in speaking on the state of the righteous and wicked after death. There is something like this in the Republic of Plato, book x., p. 322, edit. Bip., where, speaking of Erus, the son of Armenius, who came to life after having been dead twelve days, and who described the states of departed souls, asserting "that some were obliged to make a long peregrination under the earth before they arose to a state of happiness, ειναι δε την πορειαν χιλιετη, for it was a journey of a thousand years," he adds, "that, as the life of man is rated at a hundred years, those who have been wicked suffer in the other world a ten-fold punishment, and therefore their punishment lasts a thousand years."

A similar doctrine prevailed among the Romans; whether they borrowed it from the Greeks, or from the rabbinical Jews, we cannot tell.

Thus Virgil, speaking of the punishment of the wicked in the infernal regions, says: -

Has omnes, ubi Mille rotam volvere per annos,

Lethaeum ad fluvium Deus evocat agmine magno:

Scilicet immemores supera ut convexa revisant,

Rursus et incipiant in corpora velle reverti.

Aen., lib. vi., 748.

"But when a thousand rolling years are past,

So long their dreary punishment shall last,

Whole droves of spirits, by the driving god,

Are led to drink the deep Lethean flood

In large, forgetful draughts, to sleep the cares

Of their past labors and their irksome years;

That, unremembering of its former pain,

The soul may clothe itself with flesh again."

How the apostle applies this general tradition, or in what sense he may use it, who can tell?

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

And I saw thrones - θρόνους thronousSee Revelation 1:4; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 4:3-4. John here simply says, that he saw in vision thrones, with persons sitting on them, but without intreating who they were that sat on them. It is not the throne of God that is now revealed, for the word is in the plural number, though the writer does not hint how “many” thrones there were. It is intimated, however, that these thrones were placed with some reference to pronouncing a judgment, or determining the destiny of some portion of mankind, for it is immediately added, “and judgment was given unto them.” There is considerable resemblance, in many respects, between this and the statement in Daniel 7:9; “I beheld until the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit”; or, as it should be rendered, “I beheld” - that is, I continued to look - “until the thrones were placed or set,” to wit, for the purposes of judgment. See the notes on that passage. So John here sees, as the termination of human affairs approaches, thrones placed with reference to a determination of the destiny of some portion of the race, “as if” they were now to have a trial, and to receive a sentence of acquittal or condemnation. The “persons” on whom this judgment is to pass are specified, in the course of the verse, as those who were “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, who had the Word of God, who had not worshipped the beast,” etc. The “time” when this was to occur manifestly was at the Beginning of the thousand years.

And they sat upon them - Who sat on them is not mentioned. The natural construction is, that “judges” sat on them, or that persons sat on them to whom judgment was entrusted. The language is such as would be used on the supposition either that he had mentioned the subject before, so that he would be readily understood, or that, from some other cause, it was so well understood that there was no necessity for mentioning who they were. John seems to have assumed that it would be understood who were meant. And yet to us it is not entirely clear; for John has not before this given us any such intimation that we can determine with certainty what is intended. The probable construction is, that those are referred to to whom it appropriately belonged to occupy such seats of judgment, and who they are is to be determined from other parts of the Scriptures. In Matthew 19:28, the Saviour says to his apostles, “When the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” In 1 Corinthians 6:2, Paul asks the question, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” The meaning as thus explained is, that Christians will, in some way, be employed in judging the world; that is, that they will be exalted to the right hand of the Judge, and be elevated to a station of honor, as if they were associated with the Son of God in the judgment. Something of that kind is, doubtless, referred to here; and John probably means to say that he saw the thrones placed on which those will sit who will be employed in judging the world. If the apostles are specially referred to, it was natural that John, eminent for modesty, should not particularly mention them, as he was one of them, and as the true allusion would be readily understood.

And judgment was given unto them - The power of pronouncing sentence in the case referred to was conferred on them, and they proceeded to exercise that power. This was not in relation to the whole race of mankind, but to the martyrs, and to those who, amidst many temptations and trials, had kept themselves pure. The sentence which is to be passed would seem to be that in consequence of which they are to be permitted to “live and reign with Christ a thousand years.” The “form” of this expressed approval is that of a resurrection and judgment; whether this be the “literal” mode is another inquiry, and will properly be considered when the exposition of the passage shall have been given.

And I saw the souls of them - This is a very important expression in regard to the meaning of the whole passage. John says he saw “the souls” - not “the bodies.” If the obvious meaning of this be the correct meaning; if he saw the “souls” of the martyrs, not the “bodies,” this would seem to exclude the notion of a “literal” resurrection, and consequently overturn many of the theories of a literal resurrection, and of a literal reign of the saints with Christ during the thousand years of the millennium. The doctrine of the last resurrection, as everywhere stated in the Scripture, is, that the “body” will be raised up, and not merely that the “soul will live” (see Revelation 20:5-6, but there is not the slightest intheation that it would be a resurrection of the “body,” or that it would be identical with the “final” resurrection. John undoubtedly intends to describe some honor conferred on the “spirits or souls” of the saints and martyrs during this long period, as if they were raised from the dead, or which might be represented by a resurrection from the dead. What that honor is to be, is expressed by their “living and reigning with Christ.” The meaning of this will be explained in the exposition of these words; but the word used here is fatal to the notion of a literal resurrection and a personal reign with Christ on the earth.

That were beheaded - The word used here - πελεκίζω pelekizō- occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, “to axe,” that is, to hew or cut with an axe - from πέλεκυς pelekus“axe.” Hence it means to behead with an axe. This was a common mode of execution among the Romans, and doubtless many of the Christian martyrs suffered in this manner; but “it cannot be supposed to have been the intention of the writer to confine the rewards of martyrs to those who suffered in this particular way; for this specific and ignominious method of punishment is designated merely as the symbol of any and every kind of martyrdom” (Prof. Stuart).

For the witness of Jesus - As witnesses of Jesus; or bearing in this way their testimony to the truth of his religion. See the notes on Revelation 1:9; compare Revelation 6:9.

And for the Word of God - See the notes on Revelation 1:9. “Which had not worshipped the beast.” Who had remained faithful to the principles of the true religion, and had resisted all the attempts made to seduce them from the faith, even the temptations and allurements in the times of the papacy. See this language explained in the notes on Revelation 13:4.

Neither his image - notes on Revelation 13:14-15.

Neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands - See the notes on Revelation 13:16.

And they lived - ἔζησαν ezēsanfrom ζάω zaō“to live.” Very much, in the whole passage, depends on this word. The meanings given to the word by Prof. Robinson (Lexicon ) are the following:

(a)to live, to have life, spoken of physical life and existence;

(b)to live, that is, to sustain life, to live on or by anything;

(c)to live in any way, to pass one‘s life in any manner;

(d)to live and prosper; to be blessed.

It may be applied to those who were before dead Matthew 9:18; Mark 16:11; Luke 24:23; John 5:25; Acts 1:3; Acts 9:41, but it does not necessarily imply this, nor does the mere use of the word “suggest” it. It is the proper notion of living, or having life “now,” whatever was the former state - whether nonexistence, death, sickness, or health. The mind, in the use of this word, is fixed on the “present as a state of living.” It is not necessarily in contrast with a former state “as dead,” but it is on the fact that they are now alive. As, however, there is reference, in the passage before us, to the fact that a portion of those mentioned had been “beheaded for the witness of Jesus,” it is to be admitted that the word here refers, in some sense, to that fact. They were put to death in the body, but their “souls” were now seen to be alive. They had not ceased to be, but they lived and reigned with Christ as if they had been raised up from the dead. And when this is said of the “souls” of those who were beheaded, and who were seen to reign with Christ, it cannot mean:

(a)that their “souls” came to life again, for there is no intimation that they had for a moment ceased to exist; nor,

(b)that they then became “immortal,” for that was always true of them; nor,

(c)that there was any literal “resurrection of the body,” as Prof. Stuart (2:360,475,476) supposes, and as is supposed by those who hold to a literal reign of Christ on the earth, for there is no intimation of the resurrection of the “body.”

The meaning, then, so far as the language is concerned, must be, that there would exist, at the time of the thousand years, a state of things as if the martyrs were raised up from the dead - an honoring of the martyrs as if they should live and reign with Christ. Their names would be vindicated; their principles would be revived; they would be exalted in public estimation above other men; they would be raised from the low rank in which they were held by the world in times of persecution to a state which might well be represented by their sitting with Christ on the throne of government, and by their being made visible attendants on his glorious kingdom.

This would not occur in respect to the rest of the dead - even the pious dead Revelation 20:5 - for “their” honors and rewards would be reserved for the great day when all the dead should be judged according to their deeds. In this view of the meaning of this passage there is nothing that forbids us to suppose that the martyrs will be “conscious” of the honor thus done to their names, their memory, and their principles on earth, or that this consciousness will increase their joy even in heaven. This sense of the passage is thus expressed, substantially, by Dr. Whately (Essays on the Future State): “It may signify not the literal raising of dead men, but the raising up of an increased Christian zeal and holiness; the revival in the Christian church, or in some considerable portion of it, of the “spirit and energy” of the noble martyrs of old (even as John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elias), so that Christian principles shall be displayed in action throughout the world in an infinitely greater degree than ever before.”

This view of the signification of the word “lived” is sustained by its use elsewhere in the Scriptures and by its common use among people. Thus in this very book, Revelation 11:11; “And after three days and a half, the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet.” So in Ezekiel, in speaking of the restoration of the Jews: “Thus saith the Lord God, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves,” and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live,” Ezekiel 37:12-14. So in Hosea 6:2; “After two days he will “revive” us (cause us to live again); in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall “live” in his sight.” So in the parable of the prodigal son: “This thy brother was dead, and is alive again,” Luke 15:32.

So in Isaiah 26:19; “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.” The following extract, from D‘Aubigne‘s “History of the Reformation,” will show how natural it is to use the very language employed here when the idea is intended to be conveyed of reviving former principles as if the people who held them should be raised to life again. It is the language of the martyr John Huss, who, in speaking of himself in view of a remarkable dream that he had, said, “I am no dreamer, but I maintain this for certain, that the image of Christ will never be effaced. They (his enemies) have wished to destroy it, but it shall be painted afresh in all hearts by much better preachers than myself. The nation that loves Christ will rejoice at this. And I, awaking from among the dead, and rising, so to speak, from my grave, shall leap with great joy.” So a Brief addressed by Pope Adrian to the Diet at Nuremberg contains these words: “The heretics Huss and Jerome are now alive again in the person of Martin Luther.” For a further illustration of the passage see the remarks which follow (section b) on the state of things which may be expected to exist in the time referred to in Revelation 20:4-6.

And reigned with Christ - Were exalted in their principles, and in their personal happiness in heaven, as if they occupied the throne with him, and personally shared his honors and his triumphs. Who can tell, also, whether they may not be employed in special services of mercy, in administering the affairs of his government during that bright and happy period?

A thousand years - During the period when Satan will be bound, and when the true religion will have the ascendency in the earth. See the notes on Revelation 20:2.

Uriah Smith
Daniel and the Revelation, 692

Verse 4

The Exaltation of the Saints. — From the Devil in his gloomy confinement, John now directs our attention to the saints in victory and glory, — the saints reigning with Christ — their employment being to assign to the wicked dead the punishment due their evil deeds. From that general assembly John then selects two classes as worthy of especial attention: first, the martyrs, those who had been beheaded for the witness of Jesus; and secondly, those who had not worshiped the beast and his image. This class, the ones who refuse the mark of the beast and his image, are of course the ones who hear and obey the third message of Revelation 14; but these are not the ones who are beheaded for the witness of Jesus, as some who claim that the last generation of saints are all to he slain, would have us believe. The word rendered which, in the expression, “and which had not worshiped the beast,” etc., shows that there is another class introduced. The word is the compound relative, ????? (hostis), not merely the simple relative ??, and is defined by Liddell and Scott, “Whosoever; whichsoever; any one who; anything which;” and by Robinson, “One who; some one who; whosoever; whatsoever.” As one class, John saw the martyrs, and as another, he saw those who had not worshiped the beast and his image.DAR 692.2

It is true that ????? is sometimes used as a simple relative, as in 2 Corinthians 3:14; Ephesians 1:23, but never in such constructions as this, preceded by the conjunction ???.DAR 693.1

Lest any one should say that if we render the passage “and whosoever had not worshiped the beast,” we thereby include millions of heathen and sinners who have not worshiped the beast, and promise them a reign with Christ of a thousand years, we would call attention to the fact that the preceding chapter states that the wicked had all been slain, and the seal of death has been set upon them for a thousand years; and John is viewing only the righteous company who have part in the first resurrection.DAR 693.2

To avoid the doctrine of two resurrections, some claim that the passage, “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished,” is an interpolation, not found in the original, and hence not genuine. Even if this were so, it would not disprove the main proposition that the righteous dead are raised by themselves, in a “first resurrection,” and that there is a second resurrection a thousand years later, in which all the wicked are brought from their graves. But the criticism is not true. All scholarship is against it. The Revised Version retains the passage.DAR 693.3

Two Resurrections. — “The rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished.” Whatever may be said to the contrary, no language could more plainly prove two resurrections; the first, a resurrection of the righteous at the commencement of the thousand years; and the second, that of the wicked at the end of that period. On such as have part in the first resurrection, the second death will have no power. They can pass unharmed through the elements which destroy the wicked like chaff. They will be able to dwell with devouring fire and everlasting burnings (Isaiah 33:14, 15); they will be able to go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men who have transgressed against the Lord, as the quenchless fire and undying worm are preying upon them. Isaiah 66:24. The difference between the righteous and the wicked in this respect is seen again in the fact that while God is to the latter a consuming fire, he is to his people both a sun and a shield.DAR 693.4

The Wicked Raised to Life. — The wicked who are raised at the end of the thousand years as really live again as they have once lived on the earth. To deny this is to do violence to this scripture. In what physical condition they will be raised, we are not informed. It is usual to say on this point that what we have lost unconditionally in Adam, is restored unconditionally in Christ. With respect to physical condition, this should not perhaps be taken in an unlimited sense; for we have lost greatly in stature and vital force, which need not be restored to the wicked. If they are brought back to the average mental and physical condition which they enjoyed during life, or the period of their probation, that would certainly be sufficient to enable them to receive at last understandingly the reward due them for all their deeds.DAR 694.1

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Here is an account of the reign of the saints, for the same space of time as Satan is bound. Those who suffer with Christ, shall reign with him in his spiritual and heavenly kingdom, in conformity to him in his wisdom, righteousness, and holiness: this is called the first resurrection, with which none but those who serve Christ, and suffer for him, shall be favoured. The happiness of these servants of God is declared. None can be blessed but those that are holy; and all that are holy shall be blessed. We know something thing of what the first death is, and it is very awful; but we know not what this second death is. It must be much more dreadful; it is the death of the soul, eternal separation from God. May we never know what it is: those who have been made partakers of a spiritual resurrection, are saved from the power of the second death. We may expect that a thousand years will follow the destruction of the antichristian, idolatrous, persecuting powers, during which pure Christianity, in doctrine, worship, and holiness, will be made known over all the earth. By the all-powerful working of the Holy Spirit, fallen man will be new-created; and faith and holiness will as certainly prevail, as unbelief and unholiness now do. We may easily perceive what a variety of dreadful pains, diseases, and other calamities would cease, if all men were true and consistent Christians. All the evils of public and private contests would be ended, and happiness of every kind largely increased. Every man would try to lighten suffering, instead of adding to the sorrows around him. It is our duty to pray for the promised glorious days, and to do every thing in our public and private stations which can prepare for them.
Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 661

Satan also and evil angels are judged by Christ and His people. Says Paul: “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” Verse 3. And Jude declares that “the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” Jude 6. GC 661.1

At the close of the thousand years the second resurrection will take place. Then the wicked will be raised from the dead and appear before God for the execution of “the judgment written.” Thus the revelator, after describing the resurrection of the righteous, says: “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” Revelation 20:5. And Isaiah declares, concerning the wicked: “They shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited.” Isaiah 24:22. GC 661.2

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Ellen G. White
Early Writings, 52-3

*****

At the general conference of believers in the present truth, held at Sutton, Vermont, September, 1850, I was shown that the seven last plagues will be poured out after Jesus leaves the sanctuary. Said the angel, “It is the wrath of God and the Lamb that causes the destruction or death of the wicked. At the voice of God the saints will be mighty and terrible as an army with banners, but they will not then execute the judgment written. The execution of the judgment will be at the close of the one thousand years.” EW 52.1

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 485-6

Thus will be realized the complete fulfillment of the new-covenant promise: “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found.” Jeremiah 31:34; 50:20. “In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel. And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even everyone that is written among the living in Jerusalem.” Isaiah 4:2, 3. GC 485.1

The work of the investigative judgment and the blotting out of sins is to be accomplished before the second advent of the Lord. Since the dead are to be judged out of the things written in the books, it is impossible that the sins of men should be blotted out until after the judgment at which their cases are to be investigated. But the apostle Peter distinctly states that the sins of believers will be blotted out “when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ.” Acts 3:19, 20. When the investigative judgment closes, Christ will come, and His reward will be with Him to give to every man as his work shall be. GC 485.2

In the typical service the high priest, having made the atonement for Israel, came forth and blessed the congregation. So Christ, at the close of His work as mediator, will appear, “without sin unto salvation” (Hebrews 9:28), to bless His waiting people with eternal life. As the priest, in removing the sins from the sanctuary, confessed them upon the head of the scapegoat, so Christ will place all these sins upon Satan, the originator and instigator of sin. The scapegoat, bearing the sins of Israel, was sent away “unto a land not inhabited” (Leviticus 16:22); so Satan, bearing the guilt of all the sins which he has caused God's people to commit, will be for a thousand years confined to the earth, which will then be desolate, without inhabitant, and he will at last suffer the full penalty of sin in the fires that shall destroy all the wicked. Thus the great plan of redemption will reach its accomplishment in the final eradication of sin and the deliverance of all who have been willing to renounce evil. GC 485.3

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