THERE is first of all the question of the text, and especially with reference to verse 5;  because a good deal of perverseness appears in connection therewith.

It will be seen in a glance at The Interlinear Bible, in which the texts of the av (1611) and the rv (1881) are printed together in such a way that comparison is made easy and instantaneous, that  there is little difference between the two. The paragraphing of The Interlinear is good. There are  breaks at the recurring phrase, “And I saw …” (see  verses 1,4,7,11,12). This concentrates attention on  the various visions as John describes them, and  divides one scene from the other. It is for lack of  due attention to this, that so much misunderstanding of this chapter is current.

As to verse 5, here are the two versions:  av – “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the  first resurrection.”

rv – “The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand  years should be finished. This is the first resurrection.”  The chief difference, it will be observed, lies in the omission of the word “again” from the rv, the bearing of which upon the interpretation will appear later.

The “perverseness” alluded to above is illustrated  in the handling of the passage by Russellism. Thus  in Studies in the Scriptures, vol i, pp288–289, where  there is some very erroneous doctrine concerning  the alleged “Two Phases of the Kingdom of God,”  we have the following footnote on Revelation  20:5: “In this verse the words ‘But the rest of the  dead lived not again until the thousand vears were  finished’ are spurious. They are not found in the  oldest and most reliable Greek MSS, the Sinaitic,  Vatican Nos. 1209 and 1160, nor the Syriac MS.  We must remember that many passages found in the  modern copies are additions which do not properly  belong to the Bible. Since commanded not to add  to the Word of God, it is our duty to repudiate  such additions as soon as their spurious character  is established. The words indicated probably crept  into the text by accident, in the fifth century; for no MS of earlier date (either Greek or Syriac)  contains this clause. It was probably at first merely  a marginal comment made by a reader, expressive  of his thought upon the text, and copied into the  body of the text by some subsequent transcriber  who failed to distinguish between the text and the comment. “However, the repudiation of this clause  is not essential to the ‘Plan’ as herein set forth; for  the rest of the dead – the world at large – will not  live again in the full sense, in the perfect sense that  Adam lived before he sinned and came under the  sentence ‘dying thou shalt die’. Perfect life without  weakness or dying is the only sense in which God recognizes the word life. From his standpoint all the world has already lost life, is dying, and might now be more properly described as dead than as alive”  (2 Cor 5:14; Matt 8:22).

Now this is quite wrong; the words are not  “spurious”. The av and the rv both retain them on  the documentary evidence, and even Dr Moffatt in  his “New Translation” renders verse 5 as follows:  “As for the rest of the dead, they did not come to life  until the thousand years were completed.” And Mr  Russell himself knew, or ought to have known, that  Tischendorf himself, the discoverer of the Sinaitic  MS, said in a footnote concerning this omission, that  it was “a mere error”. The documentary evidence,  as may be seen from the above, and from Tregelles’  Greek NT, is much greater for the retention of the  words than for their omission. And moreover, the  explanatory note of verse 5 is correlated to verse 12  and the description of the post-millennial righteous  dead coming to “life”.

Difficulties of interpretation

A well beloved brother, long since deceased, once  said to the writer sadly: “I don’t think anyone  understands who ‘the rest of the dead’ are”! I said,  “That is rather a reflection on the Lord, is it not?  Did he not give the Revelation ‘to shew unto his  servants things which must shortly come to pass’?  Surely he did not give them something that could  not be understood”! He was a brother of a very  reverential turn of mind, and at once smilingly  admitted the cogency of the argument. “But,” said  he, “I have studied Dr Thomas, and I have studied  Brother Roberts, and I cannot understand it.”

“So have I”, I replied, “and I have studied the  Bible in relation thereto most diligently. And I think  I understand the passage, and that I can make you  understand it in a few minutes.” And I placed before  him the considerations that appear in the following  notes. He was much interested, and though the  doubts and hesitancies of years were not removable  in a minute or two, he candidly admitted that the  construction and interpretation submitted was the  most reasonable and scriptural he had ever met.

The binding of the dragon

What then of the interpretation of Revelation 20,  as to the main outlines of which Christadelphians  are of course perfectly well agreed?

“And I saw …” The first scene is the binding of  the Dragon, the old Serpent who is the Devil and  Satan. This is obviously a vision of “the war of the  great day of God Almighty” (16:14), by which “the  kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of  our Lord and of his Christ” (11:15). The agency  by which this is accomplished is Christ and the  Saints, as it is written: “Let the saints be joyful in  glory … to bind their kings with chains, and their  nobles with fetters of iron; to execute upon them the  judgments written: this honour have all his saints”  (Psa 149:5–9). So then “all his saints” are with the  Lord Jesus at this crisis, according to his promise  in this prophecy: “He shall rule them with a rod of  iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to  shivers, even as I received of my Father” (Rev 2:27;  Psa 2:9). This, of course, means that the resurrection  of the dead, “both of the just and the unjust”, and  the judgment seat of Christ is then a thing of the  past – that the “blessed” have been invited by “the  King” to “inherit the kingdom prepared for them”;  and that the “cursed” have been sentenced to “depart  into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his  angels” (Matt 25:31–46).

The millennial thrones

“And I saw thrones.” In perfectly natural sequence,  a vision of the Kingdom of God follows the vision  of the breaking up of the kingdom of men. “The  Peace of Jerusalem” follows “the war of the great  day of God Almighty.” “For there are set thrones  of judgment, the thrones of the house of David …  For my brethren and companions’ sakes I will now  say, Peace be within thee” (Psa 122:5–8). Then is  fulfilled the promise of Christ to the twelve: “In the  regeneration … ye shall sit upon twelve thrones,  judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28).  This vision then is a vision of “the regeneration” and not of “the judgment seat of Christ”, before  which all these enthroned ones have previously  stood, before their divine exaltation.

Many had been “beheaded for the witness of  Jesus” – a reference to the sanguinary persecutions  of the early Christian centuries, and the allusions  thereto of this prophecy (2:10; 6:9–11). They “had  not worshipped the beast” (compare ch 13:8). They  knew in their day and generation that this meant that  their names should be “written in the book of life of  the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”  And so they maintained the separations divinely enjoined upon them.

“And they lived and reigned with Christ a  thousand years.” “Lived” here obviously means eternal life. When we read concerning “the King”,  “And he shall live”, we do not interpret it of the brief  spell of his mortal life, but rather, as in verse 17,  that “His name shall endure for ever” (Psa 72:15,17;  compare also Ezek 18:9, etc). And the “living” here  is initially related to “a thousand years”.

It is necessary to insist upon this; for this  meaning of “lived” in verse 4 governs the meaning  of “lived” in verse 5: “But the rest of the dead lived  not (omit “again” with the rv, etc) until the thousand  years were finished. This is the first resurrection.”  Can we falter over the interpretation here? What  “dead” are in question? What manner of life is in  question? What “resurrection” is in question?

The righteous “dead” of course – “the rest”  of the class seen in vision. No others “live and  reign with Christ.” “The rest” are, in fact, the post  millennial harvest of which Christ and his brethren  are the first-fruits (1 Cor 15:23–28; Rev 14:1–5).  These are said to be “without fault before the throne  of God.” The “life” in question is eternal life – that  “life” of which Jesus spoke when he said, “I am  the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). “They  shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the  resurrection of life” (John 5:29). The “resurrection”  in questions is that of which Jesus spoke to the  Sadducees when he said to them, “They which  shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world  and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry  nor are given in marriage. Neither can they die  any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and  are the children of God, being the children of the  resurrection” (Luke 20:35–36).

“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” (Rev 20:6).

The post-millennial revolt of nations

And what then, after the thousand years? “The  kingdoms of this world” that have become Christ’s  are kingdoms of mortals, though ruled over by  immortal kings and priests. Like Daniel we say, “O  my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?”  Again in perfectly natural sequence the Lord tells  us of “the end” to which his “chosen vessel” Paul briefly alluded when instructing the Corinthians  concerning the resurrection of the dead and the world to come (1 Cor 15:24–28). How “the last  enemy (death) shall be destroyed”, is here revealed  in somewhat greater detail.

The responsibility of those times of blessedness  will be great. “Thine eyes shall see the king in  his beauty” (Isa 33:17). “Thine eyes shall see thy  teachers: and thine ears shall hear a word behind  thee saying, This is the way, walk ye in it” (Isa  30:20, 21). “And when the thousand years are  expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison”  (verse 7). There are always men who would rather  “reign in hell than serve in heaven”, and this state  of things obtains even in the millennial Kingdom  of God. The Bible “holds up the mirror to nature”.  But the self-deceiver “is like unto a man beholding  his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself,  and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what  manner of man he was” (Jas 1:22–24). So do the  Apocalyptic post-millennial “Gog and Magog”,  who must not be confounded with the pre-millennial  “Gog and Magog” of Ezekiel’s prophecy (See Elpis  Israel on “Gog and Magog”). The Ezekiel crisis is  pre-millennial, and is the occasion of the Lord’s  making himself known to many nations. This crisis  is after the nations have known him a thousand  years. But the crises are similar, and another “great  day of God Almighty” ends the reign of sin and  death upon earth.

The final resurrection and judgment

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat  on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled  away; and there was found no place for them” (verse  11). This is “the throne of God and of the Lamb”  in the new Jerusalem (21:1–2; 22:1–3) when there  is “no more curse”.

“And I saw the dead, small and great stand  before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life:  and the dead were judged out of those things which  were written in the books, according to their works”  (verse 12). “The dead” of this passage are “the just  and unjust” who have lived and died during the  Millennium, and are therefore related to that more  blessed dispensation. Only “the just” among these  are written in “the book of life,” and these are “the  rest of the dead” of verse 5, who “live” when the  thousand years are expired.

The simple principle which has been lost sight  of, and which we recognised many years ago, after  the most diligent study of Dr Thomas’ and Brother  Roberts’ writings on this subject in connection with  the Bible itself, is this:

You must not introduce into a vision an element  or elements that God did not cause the prophet to  see at that time or place.

John, in Revelation 20:4–6, was simply not  looking at the pre-millennial “judgment seat of  Christ”, but at the Mill ennial Thrones established  after, and as a result of, that judgment.

And in Revelation 20:11–15 he was simply  not looking at the “thrones” of the Millennial  “priests of God”, but at “a Great White Throne” of  Judgment, before which stood the resurrected dead  of the Millennial Age, and “were judged every man  according to their works.”