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" (20:7-20).

            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.

            By Premillennialist, 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.

            Postmillennialist, 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 or not.