As a vision, therefore, the passage must be interpreted.
This means that a certain apocalyptic truth is here presented by means of different symbols. In the introductory verses of Revelation 20, the symbolism of the vision includes the angel that comes down from heaven, the key and the great chain he has in his hand, the bottomless pit, and the shutting up of Satan and the sealing of the pit over his head. Nor can there be any doubt that all this is to be understood symbolically, and, therefore, dare not be interpreted as signifying that the devil shall be literally confined in a pit. For Satan who is a spirit is not, and cannot be bound with a steel chain, locked up by means of a key, and sealed with any physical seal. Nor is it difficult to understand the symbolism of this apocalyptic vision, and to determine what is the idea expressed by it. It means that the devil is bound by the decree of Him that sitteth on the throne, so that he is restrained from accomplishing his purpose.
The question, however, arises: does the passage teach that Satan is completely bound, so that he is doomed to absolute inactivity, or is this idea of the restraint put upon him presented as limited to a certain aspect of his evil purposes? Also this question is plainly answered in the text. And the answer is, without a doubt, that this binding of the devil has respect to a certain field of his activity: it is not complete, but partial. This is plain from the third verse in connection with the eighth. In vs. 3, the purpose of the binding of Satan is designated as being “that he may deceive the nations no more.” And in vs. 8, we are more definitely informed 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.” The general idea of the restraint put upon Satan is, therefore, clearly limited by the text itself in a threefold way. It has respect to his influence, not upon individual men, but upon nations, and that, too, not upon all nations, but upon certain nations that are called Gog and Magog, and that are described as living on the four corners of the earth, and as being very numerous. In the second place, this restraint upon Satan prevents him from deceiving those nations, as before his being bound he was able to do. And, thirdly, the particular deception from which he is restrained with respect to these nations consists in gathering them for battle against ‘The camp of the saints and the beloved city.’
By these nations, we understand the millions upon millions of peoples that live outside of the pale of nominal Christendom. We read of Gog and Magog inff and . In that prophecy, Gog is the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, in the land of Magog, and they are presented as a vast horde that sweep down upon Israel from the north, to make a final onslaught upon the people of God. Hailstones, fire, and brimstone from heaven, however, frustrate their evil purpose, and cause their utter destruction. In the passage from Rev. 20, they are simply called Gog and Magog, and are described as living on the four corners of the earth, and as coming for the attack against the camp of the saints from every direction. The restored Israel to whom is the reference in the prophecy of Ezekiel is the same as “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” of Revelation 20. But this is to be understood in the New Testament sense of the word: Israel is restored, and the tabernacle of David is rebuilt, in the gathering of the Church from Jews and Gentiles in the new dispensation. Hence, to the nation of Israel of the old dispensation corresponds the Church visible of the new dispensation, that is, Christendom in its widest sense, in distinction from Paganism. It is represented in the text as situated in the center of the earth, while around it, outside of the pale of history, are Gog and Magog, the nations that remain pagan as nations, even though also from them some individual elect are gathered into the Church. The distinction made in the text, therefore, is between nominal Christendom and the heathen nations.
With respect to these nations, then, the text teaches that the devil is bound in such a way that he cannot gather them for an attack against the Christian nations, baptized Christendom. In the old dispensation, the nation of Israel was surrounded by the heathen. And the gentile nations, Moab, Ammon, the Philistines, Egypt and Syria, Assyria and Babylon, were constantly pouring out their furious hatred against the people of God, harassing them and threatening them with destruction. Satan gathered them for battle against them. In the new dispensation he can do this no more. He is bound. God’s decree restrains him from marshalling the hordes of paganism against historic Christendom. He may, in this period of his restraint, do many other things, both among the nominally Christian nations and among the heathen; he may still go about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour: he is prevented from deceiving the heathen nations so as to gather them for battle against “the camp of the saints and the beloved city.”
2. It would be quite contrary to the current teaching of Scripture, and particularly, to the significance of the numbers in the book of Revelation, to interpret the ‘Thousand years’ during which the devil shall thus be restrained as having reference to a literal millennium. Scripture everywhere attaches symbolical significance to certain numbers, such as 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12, and their different combinations. They represent realities in the kingdom of God. Earthly relations, also in their numbers, are a picture of heavenly relations, of the spiritual realities of God s covenant. To verify this, we but have to remember that our weekly period is a combination of six and one, labor and rest, the toil of the present and the eternal sabbath; that the number seven, in Scripture and, particularly, also in the book of Revelation, occurs frequently as a combination of three and four, the triune God and the world, the perfection of God’s covenant of friendship; that the number twelve, as the product of three and four, represents the number of the elect: there are twelve tribes, twelve apostles, twice twelve elders, twelve times twelve thousand servants of God that are sealed, and in the measurement of the New Jerusalem, the number twelve predominates. The number seven, too, abounds in the book of Revelation. On the scheme of this number the whole book is based: there are seven seals to the book that is opened by the Lamb, the seventh seal is revealed in the form of seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet is dissolved into seven vials of the wrath of God. Christ is presented as walking, in the midst of seven golden candlesticks, and the complete picture of the Church in the world is drawn in the sevenfold message, addressed to the seven churches in Asia. The same applies to the number ten and its products. The days of the tribulation of the Church in Smyrna are said to be ten days. The number of the servants of God that are sealed are one hundred and forty four multiplied by ten times ten times ten. The same number appear on Mt. Zion with the Lamb, having the Father’s name in their foreheads. The antichristian beast has ten horns. Twelve times one thousand furlongs are the length and breadth and height of the New Jerusalem. And for one thousand years the devil is bound.
From all this it should be evident that the number ten and its products, in the book of Revelation, have a symbolical meaning, and that no one has the right to make an exception of the thousand years in the twentieth chapter to give it a literal interpretation. It is a round number, and signifies completeness. In Scripture it denotes the fullness of the measure of anything, whether of time, of space, or of anything else, according to the will and decree of God. That, in the decalogue, there are ten commandments expresses that in them the will of God is completely expressed. The ten plagues upon Egypt denote the fullness of God’s wrath and judgment. When this number occurs in the third power, as the number one thousand, the idea is expressed that the measure thus denoted is great. The number of the elect saints is complete, but it is also great; hence, they are denoted by the symbol 144000. That Satan is bound one thousand years, therefore, does not denote a literal millennium, but signifies that he will be restrained from deceiving the nations for a complete period of time, determined by the will and decree of the Most High.
To apply all this to the present dispensation, and find the period of one thousand years in the time between the exaltation of Christ and His return on the clouds, is quite in harmony with this interpretation, and would seem to fit the facts of history. The hordes of heathen nations, in the present dispensation, play no part in history, and cannot be gathered for battle against the nominally Christian nations. But shortly before the return of the Lord, they will wake up. The devil will be loosed, and gather those nations for a final battle against what they conceive to be Christendom. And this will be the deception that, while Gog and Magog actually intend at that time to set themselves against Christ and His Church to destroy them, Christendom will actually have been corrupted into anti-Christendom. As in the old dispensation the nations often gathered themselves against Jerusalem to destroy the city of God, not knowing that it was of the Lord, and that He used them to punish the city that had corrupted itself into Sodom and Egypt, so, in the end of the present dispensation, it will also be of the Lord to loose the devil, that he may deceive the nations to attack what they conceive to be Christendom, but which is actually become the kingdom of Antichrist.
3. The reign of the saints with Christ, of which the twentieth chapter of Revelation speaks, vs. 4, does not refer to a reign on earth of saints in their resurrection bodies, from earthly Jerusalem as its capital, but to the reign of the saints in heaven before the resurrection, a reign which is reflected in the fact that the devil is bound, the nations cannot rise against the Church, and Christendom is in power on the earth. For this we have the following grounds:
a. Those that are represented in the text as sitting on thrones, and as exercising judgment, are definitely described as “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.” The thousand years here, evidently, coincide with the period during which the devil is bound, that is, this entire dispensation. That they are here described as those that have suffered from the power of Antichrist, and have been faithful unto death, does not limit them to a certain group of believers of the latter days, for, although the “man of sin” must be revealed in the end of this dispensation, in all his power and corruption, Antichrist is always in the world, and, believers always refuse to receive the mark. But we must note especially the description of these glorified saints in the words: “the souls of them that were beheaded.” This cannot refer to saints after the bodily resurrection, but must denote the departed saints, in glory with Christ in heaven, before the resurrection.
b. The interpretation of the Chiliast, according to which we have here the figure known as “synech-doche”, meaning that a part denotes the whole, and, in this case, that “souls” denote the whole man, body and soul, cannot stand. They explain that “souls” often occurs in the Bible in this sense. As we speak of a hundred “sails” meaning so many ships, or a thousand “head” meaning cattle, so the Bible speaks of “souls” denoting men. The “souls” that came with Jacob into Egypt were threescore and ten. Few, that is, eight “souls” were saved in the ark. On the day of Pentecost, about three thousand “souls” were added to the church. And two hundred three score and sixteen “souls” were with Paul in the ship.; ; . Thus in the expression “the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus” must be interpreted as referring to saints in their resurrection body. However, against this interpretation there are two objections that prove it false beyond a doubt. The first is that, ‘whenever the above mentioned figure is employed, whether in our daily language or in the Bible, uniformly a definite number is connected with it. In fact, without a numeral it cannot be used. We can speak of a hundred head, and of fifty sails, but never do we speak simply of head and of sails. In all the passages referred to above, from Holy Scripture, the same rule is followed. Seventy souls came with Jacob into Egypt; eight souls were saved in the ark; three thousand souls were added to the church; two hundred and seventy six souls were with Paul in the ship. In Rev. 20:4, however, no number defines the glorified saints; we simply read: “and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded.” The second objection is in the last words of this description: “of them that were beheaded.” Now, when we speak of the soul of a person, we do not mean the whole person. And when we speak of the souls of the dead, we refer to those souls after death, in their bodiless state, before the resurrection. The same is true of the expression in Rev. 20:4. What a strange way of referring to persons in their resurrection body it would be to describe them as “the souls of them that were beheaded”! How much more simple and correct it would have been, in that case, to say: I saw those that had been beheaded.” When the fifth seal is opened John beholds “under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God.” No one thinks of applying this expression to saints after the resurrection: the context is definitely opposed to this. . The very same expression occurs in Rev. 20:4. And no one should stretch his imagination to the extent that he conceives of the “souls” mentioned in this passage as referring to the saints that are raised shortly before the millennium, to reign with Christ on the earth.
c. The interpretation that these souls that reign with Christ during the thousand years are the departed saints in glory; before the resurrection, is not contradicted by the statement in the fifth verse: “This is the first resurrection.” The pronoun “this” refers back to the statement in vs. 4: “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus. . . . and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Hence, in this latter statement we have the answer to the question: what is the first resurrection according to Rev. 20:4, 5? The answer is: The first resurrection is the state of glory of the faithful believers immediately after death, and before the final resurrection. The Bible speaks of the resurrection in more than one sense. Thus, regeneration in its broader sense is referred to as resurrection from the dead, as it actually is, in the words of Jesus: “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 shall live.”. The same resurrection is meant in : “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” In , however, the “first resurrection” refers to the first entrance into the state of sinless glory immediately after death. A resurrection this is, indeed, for the saints in Christ. In that state they are delivered from sin and death, from the world and its persecution, and they reign victoriously with Christ in heaven. The expression “first resurrection”, therefore, does not refer to the resurrection of the saints as a group, that will be raised first, i.e. in distinction from the resurrection of the wicked that will be raised about a thousand years afterward, as the Chiliast has it; but to a stage or degree of resurrection: the resurrection into the sinless glory of heaven immediately after death will be followed by the resurrection of the body, which is the “second resurrection”.
This is in harmony with the meaning of the expression “the second death” that occurs in verses 6 and 14 of this same chapter of Revelation. It is clear from these verses that by “second death” is meant a stage of death, that stage, namely, that implies the desolation of the wicked when they shall be cast into hell, after the bodily resurrection. Their first death, therefore, is their state of desolation immediately after death, their second death is a further and final stage of death. So “the first resurrection” is the first stage in the resurrection of the saints: their entrance into the house of God immediately after death; “the second resurrection” is their final state of glory, when their bodies shall be raised from the dust of the earth. 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 of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
d. Nor is this explanation of “the first resurrection” gainsaid by an appeal to the first part of vs. 5: “But the rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished.” To be sure, by “the rest of the dead” the wicked are meant. The statement, however, that they lived not “until the thousand years were finished” dare not be completed by the addition: “and then they, too, shall live.” For, first of all, such an addition is by no means implied or understood in the text, no more than in I Cor. 15: “for he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet,” the idea is implied that, after that, Christ shall reign no more. And, secondly, it cannot be said that “the rest of the dead” shall ever live. They shall be called out of their graves, to be sure, and that, too, in the same hour in which the righteous shall be raised, but only unto the resurrection of damnation, not unto the resurrection of life.. The text, therefore, simply declares emphatically that the rest of the dead, that is the wicked, have no share in the glory of the first resurrection: already they are in the state of death.