on Revelation 20 :4
I saw thrones - Christianity established in the earth, the kings and governors being all Christians.
Reigned with Christ a thousand years - I am satisfied that this period should not be taken literally. It may signify that there shall be a long and undisturbed state of Christianity; and so universally shall the Gospel spirit prevail, that it will appear as if Christ reigned upon earth; which will in effect be the case, because his Spirit shall rule in the hearts of men; and in this time the martyrs are represented as living again; their testimony being revived, and the truth for which they died, and which was confirmed by their blood, being now everywhere prevalent. As to the term thousand years, it is a mystic number among the Jews. Midrash Tillin, in 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
on Revelation 20 :4
And I saw thrones - θρόνους thronous See 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 1 Corinthians 15, and the notes on that chapter); and consequently John must mean to refer in this place to something different from that resurrection, or to "any" proper resurrection of the dead as the expression is commonly understood.
The doctrine which has been held, and is held, by those who maintain that there will be a "literal resurrection" of the saints to reign with Christ during a thousand years, can receive no support from this passage, for there is no ambiguity respecting the word "souls" - ψυχὰς psuchas - as used here. By no possible construction can it mean the "bodies" of the saints. If John had intended to state that the saints, as such, would be raised as they will be at the last day, it is clear that he would not have used this language, but would have employed the common language of the New Testament to denote it. The language here does not express the doctrine of the resurrection of the body; and if no other language but this had been used in the New Testament, the doctrine of the resurrection, as now taught and received, could not be established. These considerations make it clear to my mind that John did not mean to teach that there would be a literal resurrection of the saints, that they might live and reign with Christ personally during the period of a thousand years.
There was undoubtedly something that might be "compared" with the resurrection, and that might, in some proper sense, be "called" a resurrection 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 ezēsan, from 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;
on Revelation 20 :4
20:4 And I saw thrones - Such as are promised the apostles, Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30. And they - Namely, the saints, whom St. John saw at the same time, Dan 7:22, sat upon them; and Judgment was given to them. 1Cor 6:2. Who, and how many, these are, is not said. But they are distinguished from the souls, or persons, mentioned immediately after; and from the saints already raised. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded - With the axe: so the original word signifies. One kind of death, which was particularly inflicted at Rome, is mentioned for all. For the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God - The martyrs were sometimes killed for the word of God in general; sometimes particularly for the testimony of Jesus: the one, while they refused to worship idols; the other, while they confessed the name of Christ. And those who had not worshipped the wild beast, nor his image - These seem to be a company distinct from those who appeared, Rev 15:2. Those overcame, probably, in such contests as these had not. Before the number of the beast was expired, the people were compelled to worship him, by the most dreadful violence. But when the beast was not, they were only seduced into it by the craft of the false prophet. And they lived - Their souls and bodies being re - united. And reigned with Christ - Not on earth, but in heaven. The reigning on earth mentioned, Rev 11:15, is quite different from this. A thousand years - It must be observed, that two distinct thousand years are mentioned throughout this whole passage. Each is mentioned thrice; the thousand wherein Satan is bound, verse s 2, 3, 7; Rev 20:2,3,7, the thousand wherein the saints shall reign, verse s 4 -
6. Rev 20:4 - 6 The former end before the end of the world; the latter reach to the general resurrection. So that the beginning and end of the former thousand is before the beginning and end of the latter. Therefore as in the second verse , Rev 20:2 at the first mention of the former; so in the fourth verse , Rev 20:2 at the first mention of the latter, it is only said, a thousand years; in the other places, the thousand, verse s 3, 5, 7, Rev 20:3,5,7 that is, the thousand mentioned before. During the former, the promises concerning the flourishing state of the church, Rev 10:7, shall be fulfilled; during the latter, while the saints reign with Christ in heaven, men on earth will be careless and secure.