ABYSS AND 1,000 YEARS
Notes Relating to Chapter 20
Cecil N. Wright
1. Abyss (vs.1,3):
The Greek word is abussos, from a, an intensive prefix,
and bussos, a depth; hence, a very deep place. It occurs
not only in Revelation (9:11;11:7; 17:8 20:1,3) but also in Luke 8:31
and Romans 10:7, in all of which is translated "abyss" by
the American Standard Version. In the King James Version, however, it
is rendered "deep" in Luke and Romans (not meaning the sea,
as in 2 Corinthians 11:25, where the Greek word is buthos),
and "bottomless pit " in the aforementioned passages in Revelation.
By the ancients it was conceived as a vast subterranean cavern, sometimes
thought of as where all dead went (as in Romans 10:7), but especially
where sinful spirits were generally kept while awaiting future punishment.
In the former sense, it was equivalent to hades (see Acts 2:27,31);
in the later sense, it was equivalent to tartaros (see 2 Peter
2:4). It was not equivalent to geenna (Anglicsed as Gehenna),
the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the place of eternal punishment.
In addition to the
above, the King James Version has the expression "bottomless pit"
in Revelation 9:1,2, where the American Standard Version has "pit
of the Abyss." In these passages the KJV translates abussos
as it were the adjective modifying phrear, a pit, whereas the
ASV translates as it literally is, a noun. The word was used of a well
or cistern, purposely dug; also of a shaft or pit thought of as leading
to the depths of the underworld. Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the
New Testament says the expression, "pit of the abyss," was
employed because the nether world was thought of as increasing in size
the further it extends from the surface of the earth and so to resemble
a cistern, the orifice of which is narrow. In Chapter 9:1, the "key"
is represented as the "key of the pit" or orifice of the abyss,
whereas in 20:1 it is simply called the "key of the abyss."
NOTE: The Revised
Standard Version renders phrear as "shaft"; and in
Revelation it renders abussos uniformly as "bottomless pit,"
but in Luke 8:31 and Romans 10:7 as "abyss." The New American
Standard Bible has the expression "bottomless pit" in Revelation
9:1,2, but explains in the margin that literally it is "shaft of
the abyss." And in all other passages (in Luke Romans, and Revelation)
it renders abussos as "abyss."
2. Chain (v.1): Since
Satan is a wicked spirit and not a corporeal being, in chains with which
he is described as being bound can hardly be literal. The Beast and
the False Prophet had been defeated by him whose name was The Word of
God, and who smote the nations with the sharp sword proceeding from
the mouth, symbolical of the word of God (see Chapter 19:11-21; cf.
Ephesians 6:17). And by the same token it must have been by means of
the word of God, or the gospel, that Satan was chained. The "angel"
coming down from heaven with a great chain in his hand may symbolize
the evangels (or evangelist) on earth with a heavenly message. The binding
and incarceration of Satan by means of the gospel did not render him
powerless, but so diminished his influence as to be unable for a "thousand
years" to deceive the nations into a universal war of extermination
against Christians such as he had attempted prior to the "thousand
years" and would attempt again when they were "finished"
3. Millennium (vs.
1-6): The view taken in these notes is that the "thousand years"
of Revelation 20 began with the overthrow of the principal corporate
agencies (as described in Chapter 18 and 19) by which Satan was persecuting
the Christians of the Roman province of Asia late in the first century
A.D., and would do so more and more empire-wide for some time to come
- said agencies being symbolized as the Beast from the sea (13:1-10);
a second Beast from the earth, or land (13:11-18), also called the False
Prophet (16:13-14); and Babylon, the harlot city and capital of the
Roman empire (14:8; 16:19;17:1-18). (While Rome still stands as a city,
it is not the imperial, persecuting, pagan city of John's day. The Rome
that was did indeed fall!).
The view is likewise
taken in these notes that, while the "thousand years" symbolizes
a long indefinite period of time rather than describing a mathematically
precise one thousand years, it does come to a close prior to the end
of the world. And it will end when forces hostile to Christianity gain
sufficient world wide control to marshal the nations again into universal
persecution of Christians in an effort to destroy Christianity from
the earth. There are now, and have been throughout Christian history,
nations hostile to Christianity. But not since the overthrow described
above has there been a concerted and coordinated world-wide effort for
its extermination. Yet, according to Revelation 20:7-10, that time will
come. And there are factors and forces already operating in that direction.
But how soon or how remote that time itself may be, it is vain to speculate.
A Change of View.
This represents a change in views over the years on the part of the
author of these notes. He once held to the continuous-historical interpretation
of Revelation, and to the postmillennial interpretation of Chapter 20,
though with a degree of tentativeness. In 1949, he wrote in the "Forward"
of The Book of Revelation in Outline and Chart as follows: "The
interpretation suggested is that which seems most likely to the author
of this outline booklet, but is certainly not set forth as infallible,
and in some instances is not quite satisfactory even it the author himself."
"Neither the Preterist, the Futurist, nor the Spiritualist interpretation
seems as probable [to him] as the "Historical." "And,
though he is definitely convinced that a historical preview is given
in Revelation, he recognizes freely the difficulty, and in many instances
the impossibility, of knowing what precise events, trends, or movements
may be indicated by certain symbols and scenes. Historical interpreters
are not themselves by any means agreed on all the details." (And
he could have added that neither are those of the other schools of interpretations.)
In1967, when an "Additional
Forward" was appended to a new printing of the Outline and Chart,
he stated: "Although more than fifteen years have passed since
the above was written, and the author has since acquired and read more
than a score of other works of varying importance and significance on
the subject, he has not felt compelled to alter basically his views.
The chief difference is that though he still inclines to the historical
interpretation, he does so with an even greater degree of tentativeness.
He feels that the 'Caution' sounded above cannot be too much emphasized.
His observation has been that the most confident interpreters lean heavily
at times on inferences they cannot prove, and that some of them can
be definitely disproved. The main message for us in the Book of Revelation,
he feels, is the fact of final triumph of Christ and his saints, and
the need of our continuing faithful amidst all trials - this regardless
of any specific historical applications that may be made, however valid
they might conceivably be. He would urge against trying to impose on
others any specific interpretation - his own or anyone else's. But with
that caution observed, he believes that the study of the Book of Revelation
can be most profitable.
Now, in 1986, after
about twenty-one more years, and much wider reading still about the
book, with yet further intensive and comprehensive study of the text
of Revelation itself, the author continues to be convinced that it was
primarily a symbolic preview of significant historical events that would
affect and be experienced by the church - but with an emphasis, he now
believes, on events that were "shortly to come to pass" (or
begin to do so) in the Roman empire particularly, from the days of the
earliest readers till the overthrow of the empire, with a great deal
of recapitulation from different viewpoints rather than a continuous
chronological account of significant developments in the world in the
centuries to come, though it does finally (in the last three chapters)
sweep centuries forward, giving a preview of the end-of-time events
and a glimpse into eternity itself. And, of course, it provides lessons
profitable for all saints of all time, as is true of all other parts
of the Bible.
Major Concepts and
Schools of Interpreters Compared. Having been held by non-Catholic scholars
from shortly before the Protestant Reformation, the continuous-historical
concept became the most popular on for a long time afterward. With little
consideration given to what must have been the book's intended purpose
for its original readers, obviously a definite weakness, it was seen
primarily as a forecast of the history of western Europe from the time
of John till the second coming of Christ. The greater part of it, beginning
with Chapter 10, came to be applied to the development of Roman Catholicism
through a succession of various popes, the Protestant Reformation in
western Europe begun in the 16th century, the French Revolution
of 1789-99, and (by some) the Restoration Movement begun in America
in the turn of the 19th century, with reference also to individual
leaders along the way such as Charlemagne and (with some) even Mussolini
and others of late vintage.
however, who for the most part are futuristic interpreters, it was believed
that Christ would soon come and set up an earthly kingdom to last one
thousand years and the world governed from Jerusalem. The 19th
century saw spawning a rash of premillennial sects; and dispensational
premillennialism, which applies everything in Revelation from Chapter
4 (and even part of Chapter 3) to the future - the very near future
- is especially rife in our day.
on the other hand, are nearly all continuous-historicist interpreters,
believing Christ's kingdom to be spiritual and to have been established
following his first coming, but that the thousand years of Revelation
20 would be its golden age, ushered in by the Protestant Reformation
begun in the 16th century, or (as some later believed) by
the Restoration Movement begun at the turn of the 19th century
A. D. Their numbers, however, have been declining since the first quarter
of our century.
Earliest leaders of
the Restoration Movement were confident that it would be so successful
as to carry to its logical conclusion the Protestant Reformation and
usher in the millennium. For example, when Alexander Campbell began
his second paper, he called it The Millennial Harbinger, and in its
first paragraph he announced: "This work shall be devoted to the
destruction of sectarianism, infidelity, and antichristian doctrine
and practice. It shall have for its object the development and introduction
of that political and religious order of society called THE MILLENNIUM,
which shall be the consummation of that ultimate amelioration of society
proposed in the Christian Scriptures" ("Prospectus,"
Millennial Harbinger, January 1830, p.1).
That consumation to
be preceded by the downfall of Mohammedanism, the demolition of the
Papacy, the conversion of the Jews, and the abolition of Atheism, brought
about by the triumph of the gospel (Ibid., January 1841, p.7), accompanied
by "the judgments threatened by Daniel, by Paul and by John the
apostle, against Paganism, Mohammedanism, Papalism, and all other apostasies
from pure, original Christianity [which] must be consummated in their
full import and significance, antecedent to the triumphant reign of
the Lord Jesus over the ransomed world" (Ibid., August 1861, p.465).
At the time of his
debate with Owen in 1829, Campbell shared the widely held view that
"some time soon, perhaps in the present century, "the millennium
would begin; that it would end "the seven-thousandth year from
creation"; and "that soon after its completion, the present
state of things will terminate" Alexander Campbell and Robert Owen,
The Evidences of Christianity; a Debate, 1852, pp.108-09). But by 1856
he stated that "the signs of an immediate Millennium, such as the
majority of Protestants contemplate, are not very flattering" (Millennial
Harbinger, May 1856, p. 276). Finally, he was saying "we may on
all our premises anticipate a glorious consummation of the present campaign
[to restore primitive Christianity throughout the world and thus usher
in the Millennium] in some one hundred forty years hence" (Ibid.,
January 1861, p.20) - which would make it about the year 2000 A. D.
Were he living today, he would no doubt revise his figures forward considerably
more or else cease date setting altogether, if not even revise his concepts
of the Millennium itself.
Since World War I
in the first quarter of the present century, the continuous-historicist
and postmillennial viewpoints have been eroding, and dispensational
premillennialism with its futuristic interpretation of the greater part
of Revelation gaining momentum. The principal reasons are that (1) a
corollary of the former was that the world would get better and better
until the millennium eventuated, and the events of the century have
seemed to conspire to refute such a. concept whereas (2) a corollary
of the later has been that the world will wax worse and worse until
Christ comes, and every great catastrophe, calamity, war or every turn
of history, has been sensationalized as a fulfillment of prophecy of
the soon coming of Christ to destroy the present world order and establish
his own kingdom (to last a thousand years).
Both the postmillennial
and the premillennial theories envisioned programs that the scriptures
themselves do not furnish. Revelation 20 is the only passage that mentions
the millennium, with only two aspects described: (1) Satan bound for
a thousand years so as not to be able to deceive and manipulate the
nations into an international and universal persecution of the saints
during that period as he had done previously through the Roman empire
and as he will endeavor to do, and almost accomplish , after being released;
and (2) the living again and reigning with Christ for that thousand
years of those who had been martyred for Christ or who had not worshipped
the beast or his image (that is, had not succumbed to emperor worship)
though escaping martyrdom.
Neither does the amillennial
theory do violence to the scripture as a whole. But it does not seem
to comport with Revelation 20 itself. Some amillennialist believe the
thousand years not to be a segment of Christ reign but to embrace the
entirety of the Christian age. This, however, does not confirm to Revelation
20. According to the latter, the millennium begins after there have
been Christian martyrs and after efforts to impose emperor worship upon
them, and ends at least a little time before the final consummation
of events on earth. Other amillennialist believe no time element is
symbolized by the thousand years, but simply the completeness of the
victory of Christ and his saints over Satan and all his agents. Yet
the completeness of victory over Satan, according to the Revelation
text itself, does not come till after the end of the thousand years.
The concept of These
Note Characterized. How, then, characterize the concept set forth in
these notes? It is somewhat eclectic, accepting some elements of most
all schools of interpretation but not all of any of them. It is historical
in that it accepts Revelation 2 and 3 as representative of historical
conditions in the churches of Asia at the time of writing, and the greater
part of the book, Chapters 6 through 19, as setting forth historical
events that would come to pass "shortly" (between then and
the overthrow of the Roman empire and corporate paganism within the
empire), but not without a great deal of recapitulation with a variety
of emphases and symbolism instead of being continuous chronological
sequence. It is moderately preterist in that it accepts the events set
forth in Chapter 19 as having taken place in time now past, though having
results symbolized as lasting another "thousand years" which
are not yet expired. It is also partially futuristic in that it views
the events recorded after Chapter 20:7 as all being future. It is even
mildly spiritualist in that it recognizes the book as setting forth
great principles of divine government applicable at all times, and that
its symbolism to have been intended to set forth a series of specific
historical events, contrary the radical spiritualistic concepts.
As to the millennium,
the concept of these notes is neither premillennial nor amillennial.
It is postmillennial in that it views the millennium as only a segment
of the Christian era occurring prior to the second personal coming of
Christ, but it does so without concurring with all the expectations
and supposed historical context associated width traditional postmillennialism.
So we might say that it is a modified postmillennial view.
4. Gog and Magog (v.8):
On page 4 After History and Eternity (Notes on Revelation 20 - 22),
"Gog and Magog" are described as Gog and the and of Gog in
keeping with Ezekiel 38:2, which speaks of "Gog, of the land of
Magog." But some think that in Revelation "Gog" has come
to be not a person but a land, and that "Gog and Magog" represent
all the nations of the earth - which from the Revelation text alone
would seem to be true - and which may very well be the case. It is true
from a practical standpoint, whether from a philological point of view