Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
rev 20:1And I saw an angel decending out of heaven - Coming down with a commission from God. Jesus Christ himself overthrew the beast: the proud dragon shall be bound by an angel; even as he and his angels were cast out of heaven by Michael and his angels. Having the key of the bottomless pit - Mentioned before, Rev 9:1. And a great chain in his hand - The angel of the bottomless pit was shut up therein before the beginning of the first woe. But it is now first that Satan, after he had occasioned the third woe, is both chained and shut up.
rev 20:2And he laid hold on the dragon - With whom undoubtedly his angels were now cast into the bottomless pit, as well as finally "into everlasting fire," Mat 25:41. And bound him a thousand years - That these thousand do not precede, or run parallel with, but wholly follow, the times of the beast, may manifestly appear, 1. From the series of the whole book, representing one continued chain of events. 2. From the circumstances which precede. The woman's bringing forth is followed by the casting of the dragon out of heaven to the earth. With this is connected the third woe, whereby the dragon through, and with, the beast, rages horribly. At the conclusion of the third woe the beast is overthrown and cast into "the lake of fire." At the same time the other grand enemy, the dragon, shall be bound and shut up. 3. These thousand years bring a new, full, and lasting immunity from all outward and inward evils, the authors of which are now removed, and an affluence of all blessings. But such time the church has never yet seen. Therefore it is still to come. 4. These thousand years are followed by the last times of the world, the letting loose of Satan, who gathers together Gog and Magog, and is thrown to the beast and false prophet "in the lake of fire." Now Satan's accusing the saints in heaven, his rage on earth, his imprisonment in the abyss, his seducing Gog and Magog, and being cast into the lake of fire, evidently succeed each other. 5. What occurs from Rev. 20:11-22:5, manifestly follows the things related in the nineteenth chapter. The thousand years came between; whereas if they were past, neither the beginning nor the end of them would fall within this period. In a short time those who assert that they are now at hand will appear to have spoken the truth. Meantime let every man consider what kind of happiness he expects therein. The danger does not lie in maintaining that the thousand years are yet to come; but in interpreting them, whether past or to come, in a gross and carnal sense. The doctrine of the Son of God is a mystery. So is his cross; and so is his glory. In all these he is a sign that is spoken against. Happy they who believe and confess him in all!
rev 20:3And set a seal upon him - How far these expressions are to be taken literally, how far figuratively only, who can tell? That he might deceive the nations no more - One benefit only is here expressed, as resulting from the confinement of Satan. But how many and great blessings are implied! For the grand enemy being removed, the kingdom of God holds on its uninterrupted course among the nations; and the great mystery of God, so long foretold, is at length fulfilled; namely, when the beast is destroyed and Satan bound. This fulfilment approaches nearer and nearer; and contains things of the utmost importance, the knowledge of which becomes every day more distinct and easy. In the mean time it is highly necessary to guard against the present rage and subtilty of the devil. Quickly he will be bound: when he is loosed again, the martyrs will live and reign with Christ. Then follow his coming in glory, the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem. The bottomless pit is properly the devil's prison; afterwards he is cast into the lake of fire. He can deceive the nations no more till the "thousand years," mentioned before, Rev 20:2, are fulfilled. Then he must be loosed - So does the mysterious wisdom of God permit. For a small time - Small comparatively: though upon the whole it cannot be very short, because the things to be transacted therein, Rev 20:8-9, must take up a considerable space. We are very shortly to expect, one after another, the calamities occasioned by the second beast, the harvest and the vintage, the pouring out of the phials, the judgment of Babylon, the last raging of the beast and his destruction, the imprisonment of Satan. How great things these! and how short the time! What is needful for us? Wisdom, patience, faithfulness, watchfulness. It is no time to settle upon our lees. This is not, if it be rightly understood, an acceptable message to the wise, the mighty, the honourable, of this world. Yet that which is to be done, shall be done: there is no counsel against the Lord.
rev 20:4And I saw thrones - Such as are promised the apostles, Mat 19:28; Luk 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. Co1 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, Rev 20:2-3, Rev 20:7; the thousand wherein the saints shall reign, 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 Rev 20:2, at the first mention of the former; so in Rev 20:4, at the first mention of the latter, it is only said, a thousand years; in the other places, "the thousand," Rev 20:3, Rev 20:5, Rev 20:7, 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.
rev 20:5The rest of the dead lived not till the thousand years - Mentioned, Rev 20:4. Were ended - The thousand years during which Satan is bound both begin and end much sooner.
The small time, and the second thousand years, begin at the same point, immediately after the first thousand. But neither the beginning of the first nor of the second thousand will be known to the men upon earth, as both the imprisonment of Satan and his loosing are transacted in the invisible world.
By observing these two distinct thousand years, many difficulties are avoided. There is room enough for the fulfilling of all the prophecies, and those which before seemed to clash are reconciled; particularly those which speak, on the one hand, of a most flourishing state of the church as yet to come; and, on the other, of the fatal security of men in the last days of the world.
rev 20:6They shall be priests of God and of Christ - Therefore Christ is God. And shall reign with him - With Christ, a thousand years.
rev 20:7And when the former thousand years are fulfilled, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison - At the same time that the first resurrection begins. There is a great resemblance between this passage and Rev 12:12. At the casting out of the dragon, there was joy in heaven, but there was woe upon earth: so at the loosing of Satan, the saints begin to reign with Christ; but the nations on earth are deceived.
rev 20:8And shall go forth to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - (That is, in all the earth) - the more diligently, as he hath been so long restrained, and knoweth he hath but a small time. Gog and Magog - Magog, the second son of Japhet, is the father of the innumerable northern nations toward the east. The prince of these nations, of which the bulk of that army will consist, is termed Gog by Ezekiel also, Eze 38:2. Both Gog and Magog signify high or lifted up; a name well suiting both the prince and people. When that fierce leader of many nations shall appear, then will his own name be known. To gather them - Both Gog and his armies. Of Gog, little more is said, as being soon mingled with the rest in the common slaughter. The Revelation speaks of this the more briefly, because it had been so particularly described by Ezekiel. Whose number is as the sand of the sea - Immensely numerous: a proverbial expression.
rev 20:9And they went up on the breadth of the earth, or the land - Filling the whole breadth of it. And surrounded the camp of the saints - Perhaps the gentile church, dwelling round about Jerusalem. And the beloved city - So termed, likewise, Ecclesiasticus 24:11.
rev 20:10And they - All these. Shall be tormented day and night - That is, without any intermission. Strictly speaking, there is only night there: no day, no sun, no hope!
rev 20:11And I saw - A representation of that great day of the Lord. A great white throne - How great, who can say? White with the glory of God, of him that sat upon it, - Jesus Christ. The apostle does not attempt to describe him here; only adds that circumstance, far above all description, From whose face the earth and the heaven fled away - Probably both the aerial and the starry heaven; which "shall pass away with a great noise." And there was found no place for them - But they were wholly dissolved, the very "elements melting with fervent heat." It is not said, they were thrown into great commotions, but they fled entirely away; not, they started from their foundations, but they " fell into dissolution;" not, they removed to a distant place, but there was found no place for them; they ceased to exist; they were no more. And all this, not at the strict command of the Lord Jesus; not at his awful presence, or before his fiery indignation; but at the bare presence of his Majesty, sitting with severe but adorable dignity on his throne.
rev 20:12And I saw the dead, great and small - Of every age and condition. This includes, also, those who undergo a change equivalent to death, Co1 15:51. And the books - Human judges have their books written with pen and ink: how different is the nature of these books! Were opened - O how many hidden things will then come to light; and how many will have quite another appearance than they had before in the sight of men! With the book of God's omniscience, that of conscience will then exactly tally. The book of natural law, as well as of revealed, will then also be displayed. It is not said, The books will be read: the light of that day will make them visible to all. Then, particularly, shall every man know himself, and that with the last exactness This will be the first true, full, impartial, universal history. And another book - Wherein are enrolled all that are accepted through the Beloved; all who lived and died in the faith that worketh by love. Which is the book of life, was opened - What manner of expectation will then be, with regard to the issue of the whole! Mal 3:16, &c.
rev 20:13Death and hades gave up the dead that were in them - Death gave up all the bodies of men; and hades, the receptacle of separate souls, gave them up, to be re - united to their bodies.
rev 20:14And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire - That is, were abolished for ever; for neither the righteous nor the wicked were to die any more: their souls and bodies were no more to be separated. Consequently, neither death nor hades could any more have a being.