And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more…
And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, etc. The first scene in the history of redeemed humanity - namely, the scene of moral struggle - occupied our attention in the last homily. The passage before us is a very glorious, though highly symbolic, view of the scene which will succeed it - the scene of moral triumph. This scene is, probably, many long centuries in the future; for as yet the great enemy of souls is the "prince of this world." But prophecy, the tendency of Christianity, the victories which the gospel has already achieved, and the unequivocal assurances of God's Word in general, all show that, however far off, the bright era will dawn on the world when the "will of God shall be done on earth as it is in heaven." Stripping the words before us of their highly figurative garb, I discover four great features which will distinguish this glorious age.
I. THE ENTIRE OVERTHROW OF MORAL EVIL. Satan, the great adversary, is said to be cast into "the bottomless pit." This figurative language suggests two thoughts.
1. That the great enemy will have lost his stand place in the world. His throne will have lost its foundation; he will not have a resting place for his foot in this period. What had been his stand place in the world? Error, prejudice, selfishness, evil passions, etc.; but these will have gone. He will have no fulcrum for his lever.
2. That the fall of the great enemy will be complete for a time. "Bottomless pit." He will be sinking for ages. The more humanity progresses in intelligence, rectitude, and holiness, the more hopeless his condition becomes. As humanity rises, he must sink.
II. THE UNIVERSAL SOVEREIGNTY OF CHRIST. Christ is here spoken of as reigning for a "thousand years" (ver. 2). There are many who judge this passage "after the flesh," give it a carnal and Judaic interpretation. They infer from it a personal manifestation of Christ, with all the appendages of a temporal dominion. I disclaim this, for two reasons.
1. The only true sovereignty is spiritual. Who have been the greatest sovereigns of the world? The men who have sat on thrones of gold, and ruled with the sceptre of force? No! it is not your Pharaoh, Ceasar, Alexander; but your Aristotle, Bacon, Milton, and Bunyan. Men who direct the thoughts of humanity are the real rulers. Christ is the greatest spiritual Sovereign, and his sovereignty is destined to increase.
2. A religious spiritual sovereignty over man is the great want of the race. He who rules the human mind, directs its faculties, energies, and feelings rightly, is man's greatest benefactor. This Christ does in the highest and most perfect manner. Let every philanthropist, therefore, pray that his kingdom may come - that he may become the moral Monarch of all souls.
III. THE GENERAL ASCENDANCY OF GREAT SOULS. The world, hitherto, has been under the dominion of weak and wicked men. Its kings and heroes have generally been as small as their hearts have been corrupt. In this scene the great soul will be "on thrones," and reign with Christ. The words suggest three things about the men who will then be in power.
1. They will be men who have passed through a spiritual resurrections. They had a part in the "first resurrection" (ver. 6). That a spiritual resurrection is here referred to is obvious, from three considerations.
(1) The idea harmonizes with the symbolical character of the whole book.
(2) The passage specially mentions "souls," and not bodies.
(3) The New Testament represents the awakening of a new spiritual life in man as a resurrection (John 5:24-29; Colossians 3:1, etc.).
Indeed, the resurrection of the body is but a type of the resurrection of the soul; the resurrection of the soul is the true resurrection. That of the body is but figurative. Two ideas are implied in the resurrection:
(1) The resuscitation of an old moral life in man - Divine love.
(2) The resuscitation of an old moral life by God himself. It is God's work alone to raise the dead.
2. They wilt be men of martyr mould. "The souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands" (ver. 4). The idea unquestionably is, not that the "souls" of the old martyrs who have long since departed will be brought back to this earth, but souls like theirs will exist in this age. Souls marked by invincible attachment to truth, by the most generous sentiments; Divine aspirations, and noble daring; feeling truth to be ever more precious than existence itself. This interpretation agrees with the interpretation which one is bound to give such scriptural language as that which speaks of the ministry of John, the ministry of Elijah, and the conversion of the Jews, as a "life from the dead."
3. They will be men possessing exclusive ascendancy. "But the rest of the dead lived not again" (ver. 5). In this glorious age there is no reproduction of those little and corrupt men who, in every age, have played the despot, both in Church and state. Your Herods and Caiaphases, your Henrys and your Lauds, will have no representatives in this glorious age. "The rest of the dead lived not again."
4. They will be men raised forever beyond the reach of all future evil. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power" (ver. 6). Such men are delivered forever from all the influences and all the fears of Hades. What an age is this! Would it had dawned!
IV. THE EXTENSIVE DURATION OF THE WHOLE. "And shall reign with him a thousand years" (ver. 6). If you suppose that this is literal, that ten centuries are meant, it is a long period for the continuation of one moral scene in man's history. How short was the scene of primeval innocence! The scene of wickedness, too, is never long without being broken. Conscience is everlastingly breaking in upon, and disturbing, wickedness here. Ten centuries of unbroken holiness and peace for the world are a long period! But I am disposed to regard the period referred to here as much longer than ten centuries. A little interpretation would not agree either with the general structure of the book or with this passage. Nor would it fully meet the nature of the case. I therefore regard the period either as meaning three hundred and sixty-five thousand years, or some vast indefinite period of time. The Jews and other nations were in the habit of using the expression, "a thousand years," to denote a period of immense duration.
1. This long period of holiness is a glorious set off against all the preceding ages of depravity and sin. When we think of the past ages of corruption, the millions who, from period to period, have passed away without a knowledge of the gospel, we are sometimes confounded. But all this may appear but as a few vibrations of a pendulum, when compared with the long ages of universal purity and peace. The lost, perhaps, will be as units to millions, compared with the saved.
2. This long period of holiness serves wonderfully to heighten our ideas of the grandeur of Christ's work. Although the influence of Christianity as yet is confessedly limited compared with the widespread districts lying on all hands beyond its present reach, still no one who honestly looks at its past history will be disposed to deny that its conquests over the minds, systems, and institutions of humanity are unparalleled in the history of religions, and far out measure the appreciative faculty of the world's greatest intellects. But, in the view of the effulgent ages before us, its past most brilliant achievements pale their fires. Hitherto its rays have only fallen in twilight dimness upon the summit of an isolated mountain here and there; but in the glorious time coming it shall flood the world in warm, cloudless, and life imparting light. Oh! let me learn, then, to estimate the greatness of Christ's work, not by what he has done or is doing, but by those glorious achievements of his which prophecy has foretold. Let me not judge in this respect before the time. Shall I judge the husbandman just as he commences the cultivation of one of the hundred acres committed to his care? or the architect just as the scaffolding is reared and a few stones are brought together? Still less will I dare pronounce upon the work of Christ until in the great eternity I shall behold redemption finished. - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
WEB: and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were finished. After this, he must be freed for a short time.