The Final Victory of the Lamb over Antichrist
The victory of the One that is mounted on the white horse is first of all announced by the angel that stands in the sun. That he stands in the sun is symbolic of his task. He is to call the fowls of the heaven together to partake of the supper of the great God. The meaning of this passage is plain. It symbolizes the complete victory of Him that sits on the white horse and the shameful defeat of the enemy. As we know from the Old Testament, to give one’s flesh to the birds of heaven for meat is expressive of the most complete defeat and shameful subjection of the enemy conceivable. So here, the Lord is to have the victory, complete and final victory. And the birds of heaven are called together to partake of the flesh of the vanquished hosts of the enemy.
But also in actual fact the victory is assured. And the victory is pictured as belonging only to Him that sits on the white horse. We read, first of all, of the beast and the false prophet that they are cast alive into the lake of fire. There is no question of the fact that they are here represented as very concrete and individual persons. But this does not necessarily indicate that there shall be but one person that is the Antichrist and another individual that is the false prophet. It denotes rather, in the first place, that here we have the end of all the deviltry and rebellion and antichristian power. Without any form of trial they are destroyed forever. From the lake of fire there is no return. But besides, among this host of the Antichrist there are leaders and followers. The great and the powerful and the wise of this world lead, and the great masses follow them and their power and counsel. So also in this case: no doubt there is a difference indicated in our text between those that led and deceived the whole world—the preachers and the great and the wise and the giants of thought and science—and those that followed, the masses of the earth that wondered after the tremendous system of the antichristian power. This difference also becomes plain in their punishment. Even as there shall be degrees of glory, so there shall be various shades of punishment. Not all have sinned in like degree, and not all shall be punished with like measure. The leaders are cast alive into hell; but the rest are killed there and then, to await the final day of judgment, with the sword that proceeds out of the mouth of Him that cometh.
And thus we have arrived once more at the very end of history. It is at this moment that all the powers of iniquity are vanquished. At this moment it is that Antichrist and all his host perish, that the heavens and the earth are set afire in order to make room for the new heavens and the new earth that are to come. It is the end of this dispensation, to be followed by nothing else than the eternal glory in the new creation. Nothing shall take place in history after this. This must be kept in mind, now and in the future. In the second place, let us also not forget that here we have the climax and a clear picture of the climax of the coming of our Lord in glory. Behold, He cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see Him! Here we see no continuing city. Let us be ready for His coming, when the continuing city shall be created in the new heavens and the new earth.
The Binding of Satan With a View to Gog and Mayog
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 fist 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.
Before we enter into the interpretation of these verses from the book of Revelation, we wish to make a few preliminary remarks. First of all, it should be observed that Scripture knows of only one coming of the Lord, and that this coming marks the end of this world, and that too, by way of a universal catastrophe, as well as by the inauguration of the world to come, the new heavens and the new earth.
This observation precludes the view of the premillenarians, who speak of two comings of Christ. The one is called the rapture, the other the revelation. The former will take place some time before the great tribulation, the latter after that tribulation. At the former will take place the resurrection of the just and the change of those believers that are faithful and look for His coming; the latter will witness the resurrection of the tribulation-saints and the inauguration of the millennium. In the rapture the Lord will come for His saints, to take them with Him in the air; in the revelation He will come with His saints, destroy Antichrist, and with His people reign over the nations. But even in both these comings the end of the world is not realized. They will mark the end of this “age,” but they inaugurate another age, that of the millennium. Only after the millennium is the last enemy, death, destroyed and eternity, or “the ages of ages,” ushered in. When therefore the premillenarians speak of the coming of the Lord, they have in mind especially the “rapture” and the “first resurrection.” This may be expected momentarily, may come at any time. The blessedness of that rapture is that those who are deemed worthy of it shall escape the great tribulation under Antichrist and have part in the marriage supper of the Lamb.
We cannot possibly agree with this view or with the interpretation of Scripture generally and with the interpretation of Revelation 20:1-10 specifically.
First of all, it is an essential element in this view that it is based upon an erroneous interpretation of the Old Testament, which leads to a separation of Israel and the church as if they were two separate peoples. The former, Israel, is the kingdom people; the latter, the church, is the body of Christ. A correct interpretation of the Old Testament in the light of the New will lead to the conclusion that Israel and the church are not two peoples, but one.
Then too, the view of the two comings, the rapture and the revelation, is based on a wrong interpretation of several passages of Holy Writ. An outstanding example of this wrong interpretation is that of the passage in I Thessalonians 4:16, 17: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” It is claimed that this passage of Scripture plainly teaches what the premillennialist terms “the first resurrection,” that is, the resurrection of the just in distinction from the resurrection of the wicked, which is supposed to take place after the millennium. Further, it is claimed that the word used in vs. 17, “to meet,” means, according to the original, “a going forth in order to return with.” The meaning accordingly is that we shall be caught up with Christ in the air in order to return with Him later. But all this is quite arbitrary, and certainly is not the correct interpretation of the text in I Thessalonians 4. As to this “first resurrection,” anyone who reads the text without prejudice, without millennially colored glasses, can readily see that it makes no distinction between the dead in Christ that shall be raised first and the dead outside of Christ that shall be raised later. But the distinction is between the dead in Christ, that is, those that have died before His coming, and the livingin Christ, that is, those believers that shall be alive at the parousia. The resurrection of the former shall occur before the change of the latter. That is the meaning of the text. And so they shall meet the Lord together in the air. And the interpretation given of the word “to meet” as if it should imply the idea of a returning with Christ is a pure invention. The Greek term does not even remotely suggest this notion. Nor does the rest of the passage harmonize with the premillennial conception of the rapture. The text quite clearly refers to a public and universally announced coming of the Lord. The Lord shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. If this means anything at all, it certainly means that there will be nothing private or secret about this coming, but it will be loudly proclaimed to all the world. But according to the millennial view, this will be a coming only for the church, only for the faithful believers. The world will not even notice this private coming of the Lord, except that certain persons will suddenly be strangely missed. And while the millennial view emphasizes that there will be a return from this rapture and that it will last only during the years of the great tribulation in the world, the text, on the contrary, emphasizes that it will be forever: “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
Then, too, the idea that believers must look forward to their final redemption through the coming of the Lordbefore the great tribulation is contrary to all the current teaching of Holy Writ, which not only warns us to expect tribulation, but also, rather than exhorting us to rejoice in the idea of escaping it, emphasizes that we shall consider it a great honor and privilege to suffer with Christ. To suffer in behalf of Christ is given us of grace. Phil. 2:29. The millennium hope of escaping the tribulation is not spiritual, but carnal. And it is as dangerous as it is false, because it fills its followers with a false hope that will leave them unprepared in the evil day.
In the fourth place, the Bible throughout clearly connects with the one and only coming of the Lord the end of this world, the final salvation of the whole church, the last judgment, and the creation of the new heavens and the new earth. Consider; for instance,Matthew 24:29-31: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” And thus, in Matthew 25:31, ff., we read: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” And once more, consider the Lord’s own interpretation of the parable of the tares: “The harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Matt. 13:39-43.
Finally, this view is based on an interpretation of the book of Revelation that is neither in accord with the highly apocalyptic contents of the whole book nor with the evidently symbolic presentation of Chapter 20 itself. It is quite impossible to read this 20th chapter of the book of Revelation as if it recorded a simple historical event that will take place some time in the future, an event that will follow in time upon what was revealed in Chapter 19 of the same book. Such an interpretation is quite impossible.
These are the preliminary remarks which I wanted to make before entering into the interpretation of the text itself. And this is certainly evident, that Scripture teaches not all kinds of different comings of the Lord, but only one coming.
And now we will interpret the text itself.
John writes that he “saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon; that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set 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.” It is very evident that in these words the Seer of Patmos describes not what he saw happening historically, 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 Revelation 13:1the 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 name of blasphemy.” It is understood without difficulty that all this was seen by John in a vision. And the same is true of the entire passage of the book of Revelation which we are now discussing. It is not contradicting, but a correct interpretation of 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, and 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 to him 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 and also to this particular passage of 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 shall bind him a thousand years.” Such a paraphrasing of the text completely 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 to the form of the vision only. But they all serve to emphasize the fact that Satan is bound by the divine decree securely and effectively, so that during the period of his confinement he cannot carry out his evil purposes.
We must also understand, for a correct interpretation of this widely discussed part of the book of Revelation, that it is extremely important that we conceive of it in its true light, that is, merely as another apocalyptic picture of some phase of the “day of the Lord.” Any attempt to carry into this prophecy the time element and interpret it as if the events here foretold follow in time upon those referred to in Chapter 19, 11-21, must fail. In 19:17, ff., we have the picture of the destruction of all nations. Yet here we still meet with those very nations that live on the four corners of the earth. This can be understood only if we take the stand that in Revelation 20:1-10 a new aspect of the same “day of the Lord,” other phases of which have been pictured before, is presented here. This particular vision presents to us the aspect of the judgment upon Gag and Magog, together with an explanation of the fact that these nations appear upon the scene last, and of the final judgment of the dragon, the devil. Hence, we may not read as if John had written, “And after this shall the devil be bound a thousand years, etc.,” as all the premillennialists must needs do. But we must leave the text as it stands: “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, etc.” The angel has “the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.” Evidently John beholds the angel in some human, physical form. For “the key of the bottomless pit” confer Chapter 9, verse 1. The bottomless pit is the proper temporary abode of the devil and his angels. Cf. II Peter 2:4. The key and the chain are not to be allegorized. In the picture they are just that, and nothing else. They represent the power of the angel to open and shut the pit and to bind Satan.
Before we go farther, we must ask the question not only, but also very definitely answer it, 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 activity, or as relative and in part, so that the restraint placed upon him limits him in part, only in a certain direction, and dooms him to partial inactivity only. This question is answered in the text. And the text replies to this question 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 should deceive the nations no more.” And in verse 3 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 quarters 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, in the first place, that the binding of Satan is limited to certain nations which are called Gog and Magog; and, secondly, that this confinement prevents him from deceiving those nations; and, in the third place, that the deception which by his imprisonment, or the restraint that is put upon him, he is prevented from realizing is what 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 38:2, ff., and Ezekiel 39:1-16 There Gog is the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, of the land of Magog. They constitute a vast horde that descend upon Israel from the north, even from the limit 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 of Revelation which we are now discussing these same hordes are simply called Gog and Magog, and now they are described as living on the four corners of the earth and as coming on the camp of saints from every direction. Israel here is 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 and Ezekiel 39 speak 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 and 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 quarters 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.
We may note here that the dragon, the devil, upon which the angel lays hold is described in all his evil powers. He represents the prince of this world as the spiritual power behind all the antichristian forces of opposition to Christ and His church. Cf. Chapter 12:3, 4. Moreover, he is described here in all his evil purposes and power of deceit. He is the old serpent, referring, of course, to the temptation in paradise. He is called the devil, that is, the liar and deceiver, mud-slinger, accuser of the brethren. And he is described, or named, as Satan, the opponent, the adversary of Christ and of the cause of God in the world. In the vision the angel overpowers the devil and securely binds him with the chain, casts him into the bottomless pit, locks the pit, and sets a seal upon him, that is, seals the pit against all violation.