Then I saw the thrones, and those seated on them had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image, and had not received its mark on their foreheads or hands. And they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
I. MARTYRS ARE SOMETIMES MURDERED MEN. John saw the souls of those who were "beheaded." All murders are not martyrdoms; all martyrdoms are murders. There has often been martyrdom, and still is, where there is no killing. There are sufferings inflicted on men on account of their conscientious convictions that are often as bad, if not worse, than death itself. There is slander, contumely, the loss of freedom, the destruction of rights. For a man to spend his life amidst social scorn, civil disabilities, and religious intolerance on account of his conscientious beliefs, is a martyrdom; his life is a protracted and painful dying. But thousands have been murdered, and that by every variety of method which Satanic cruelty could invent. Paul summarizes some of the tortures of ancient martyrdom. "Some had trials of cruel mocking," etc.
II. MARTYRS ARE ALWAYS WITNESSING MEN. "Beheaded for the witness." Indeed, the word means a witness. All witnesses are not martyrs, but all martyrs are witnesses. The man who dies on account of conscientious beliefs, whether they are right or wrong, hears witness to several things.
1. To the invincibility of the human will. The ablest metaphysical works cannot give you anything like the impression of the freedom and the force of that power m man which we call will, as one martyrdom. The martyr rises up against the powers of the world, and dares it to do the utmost.
2. To the force of the religious element. When religious convictions get hold of a man's soul, whether the convictions be right or wrong, they invest him with an unconquerable power. The stake, the faggot, the fire, have no power to crush or to subdue him.
3. To the power of the soul over the body. Men who have had their souls filled with religious feeling become physically insensible to all the tortures and fires of martyrdom; they have sung in the flames. I say that a martyr, whether his religious convictions are right or not, is a mighty witness to these things.
III. MARTYRS ARE OFTEN CHRISTLY MEN. Those whom John saw were those who were "witnesses of Jesus, and for the Word of God." I say often Christly men, for false religions as well as the true have had their martyrs. Who but God can tell the number of men that have been put to death on account of their fidelity to Jesus and the Word of God? In the first ages under Nero, Domitian, and Trajan, Christians were slain by thousands, and who but God knows the number of those whose blood in Christian Europe has been shed on account of their attachment to Christianity? These Christian martyrs were witnesses of something more than the invincibility of the human will, the force of the religious element, and the power of the soul over the body.
1. They bore witness to the sustaining grace of Christ. In the midst of their torturing agonies they gloried in their attachment to him. Their grim persecutors, when endeavouring to extort from them recantation of their faith, were answered in the same spirit as that expressed by the ancient martyr, "Sanctus Christianus sum." They all "gloried in tribulation," etc. They endured "joyfully the spoiling of their goods," etc.
2. They bore witness against the lukewarmness of living Christians. The martyrs were earnest men.
IV. MARTYRS WHO ARE CHRISTIANS ENTER HEAVEN. John now saw the souls of "those who were beheaded" raised to immortality, and invested with imperishable dignities. Men whom the world considered unworthy to live, but of whom the world is not worthy, are welcomed into the Paradise of God. This fact should act:
1. As an encouragement to the persecuted Christian.
2. As a warning to persecutors. How much greater was Stephen than all the members of the persecuting Sanhedrin! How angelic his countanance, how calm his spirit, how peacefully he passed away into the serene heavens of love! - D.T.
The souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus.
Homilist.I. Martyrs are SOMETIMES MURDERED MEN. All murders are not martyrdoms; all martyrdoms are murders. For a man to spend his life amidst social scorn, civil disabilities, and religious intolerance, on account of his coscientious beliefs, is a martyrdom, his life is a protracted and painful dying. But thousands have been murdered, and that by every variety of method which satanic cruelty could invent.
II. Martyrs are ALWAYS WITNESSING men.
1. To the invincibility of the human will
2. To the force of the religious sentiment.
3. To the power of the soul over the body.
III. Martyrs are OFTEN CHRISTIAN men. Those whom John saw were those who were "witnesses of Jesus, and for the Word of God"
1. They bare witness to the sustaining grace of Christ.
2. They bear witness against the lukewarmness of living Christians.
IV. Martyrs who are Christians ENTER HEAVEN.
1. As an encouragement to the persecuted Christian.
2. As a warning to persecutors.
Lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years
1. Observe, first, that the spiritual or symbolical interpretation is more in agreement with the modes of style observed in general by the prophets, and in particular in the Apocalypse. This style, from one end of the book to the other, is essentially symbolical and figurative; everywhere moral ideas are concealed under a veil of material images; words are incessantly turned aside from their proper meaning to receive meanings altogether novel. In this style, quite impregnated with the symbolical, a church becomes a candlestick, a minister becomes a star.
2. Not only is that interpretation legitimate, in so far as it is in agreement with the analogy of Scripture, but it is in a manner required by the very expressions of our text. In fact, observe well that St. John speaks only of the "souls" of those who had been put to death for the testimony of Jesus; these are the souls which are to revive again and reign with Christ. Now, souls cannot rise again, in the proper sense of the word.
3. In the third place, the literal interpretation is not in harmony with the other passages of Holy Scripture which relate to the resurrection. Nowhere is the resurrection spoken of as to take place twice or at two different periods. This great event is always represented to us as to take place for all men at once, with this only difference, that the resurrection of the just will immediately precede that of the wicked. The following passages clearly establish this (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17). It evidently follows from these statements that the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the wicked, shall be immediately followed by the judgment and eternal life.
4. In the fourth place, it is impossible to comprehend how a return to the earth could add anything to the happiness of the righteous who died in the faith, and are gathered into the rest which is reserved for the people of God. The error of the Jews consisted precisely in representing the Messiah as a temporal King; it is into a similar error that the millennarians of to-day fall.
5. And then, what becomes, in the system of literal interpretation, of the death of believers who are born during the millennium? In the actual state of things, the death of believers is a deliverance; they die in peace, because they leave a life of trials and an abode of misery to go to the Lord; but it would not be so during the period of the millennium, if the literal interpretation were true.
6. If the literal interpretation were true, there would then be three comings of Christ — one to save the world, another to judge it, and a third and intermediate one to occupy the throne of the millennium. Now Scripture constantly presents to us the last judgment as the Lord's second coming; and nowhere is an intermediate coming admitted.
7. Finally the text is the only passage of Holy Scripture where a resurrection is spoken of to take place before the end of the world; whilst a great number of other prophecies with regard to the millennium announce clearly the progress and general triumph of the gospel. Now, which is more rational: to explain numerous and clear prophecies by one single and enigmatical passage in the Apocalypse, or rather to explain the single and obscure passage by the clear and numerous prophecies? To put such a question is to answer it. It appears then established, as far as we can be positive in such a matter, that the reign of Christ, known under the name of the millennium, is to be understood in a spiritual sense, and that the subject is the authority which He will exercise over souls by the progress of the gospel. The doctrine of the millennium, as we have presented it to you, has important consequences as regards conversion and as regards salvation. Indeed, since that glorious reign of Christ is a spiritual reign, since it will essentially consist in the submission of hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it depends upon each of us as to whether the millennium should commence in our case from the present: in order to that, no more is necessary than that we submit our heart to the gospel and give ourselves to Christ. May God grant that a great number of souls may know in this church of themselves this reign of Christ, at once so powerful and so tender, so sweet and so glorious!
(H. Monod.)Psalm 138:4, 5). Jesus Christ shall then continue to reign in this sense, that His gospel will be seated on the throne in the person of sovereigns converted to the Christian faith. Then the religion of Christ will no longer be a mere political instrument in the hand of governments; it will no longer cover, as with a sacred mantle, the views of a profane ambition; it will be the sincere expression of the moral life of states. Among the blessed results which the gospel will necessarily produce in the world when submissive to its laws, one of those which Scripture puts in the first class, and to which it reverts most readily, is the abolishment of war and the establishment of a universal peace. Just as in consequence of the progress of civilisation and the softening of manners we no longer comprehend legal torture, just as we no longer comprehend slavery, so a time will come when men will no longer comprehend that there could ever have existed a thing so odious, so horrible, so absurd as war. At the same time that enmities will be appeased among nations, they shall also cease among individuals. Hatred, vengeance, personal violence, will come to an end; the most unyielding characters will be softened; concord, charity, sincerity will preside over all the relations existing among men; natures the most opposed to one another will learn to draw near and love one another. At the same time that the gospel having become dominant, it will produce quite naturally another blessed consequence, which at first view does not seem to depend on its influence. I mean a considerable diminution of physical and moral suffering. Without doubt there will still be trials, but every person will then make an effort to alleviate the sufferings of those who surround him. In a word, the temporal happiness of mankind will increase beyond calculation, and will realise the most characteristic descriptions of prophecy (Isaiah 65:18, 19). At the same time that suffering will decrease, and always by a natural consequence of the benefits attached to the gospel, the duration of human life will be increased; it will reach the utmost limit which nature assigns it; neither vice, nor despair, nor violence, will any longer abridge the days of man (Isaiah 65:20-22). The extension of human life in duration will necessarily be accompanied by an extraordinary increase of the population. It is easy to understand how much more rapid that increase would be if wars, vice, intemperance, selfishness, poverty, and the want of confidence in God, did not come and put obstacles in the way. We may conclude that the number of men who will live on the earth during the millennium will go beyond that of the men who will have lived during all the preceding ages; so that the portion of mankind which shall be saved will be infinitely more numerous, taken altogether, than those who shall be lost; and that thus" grace will abound over sin" (Romans 5:20, 21). That extraordinary increase of population is moreover a characteristic feature of the prophecies relating to the millennium (Psalm 72:16; Isaiah 60:22). Another feature of the glorious period when the gospel which has the promise of the life that now is as well as of that which is to come, shall prevail, is an unprecedented scope being given to industry and to the arts and sciences. Commerce will no more have for its spring selfishness, nor for its means fraud: consecrated to the general good of humanity, it will freely exchange the produce of all nations, and enrich them, the one by the other (Isaiah 9:17, 18). However marvellous the prospects which we have unfolded may appear, all these blessings are the natural and necessary consequences of the gospel having become dominant in the earth. Let the time only come when the whole earth shall be covered with the knowledge of the Lord, and all the wonders of the millennium are not only possible, but they are in some sort unavoidable. The whole question then reduces itself to knowing if it is really possible that a time should come when all the nations of the earth will be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Observe, in the first place, that the gospel, from that very consideration that it is the truth, ought of necessity to make progress in the world, and gain little by little upon error. In its struggle against paganism the gospel cannot be overcome: it never has been, it never will be. The conversion of the heathen world can then be only a question of time. Observe, in the second place, that, in the very nature of things, the progress of the gospel in the world proceeds of necessity with a perpetually increasing rapidity. The result of each new year is not the same as that of the preceding one; but it is double, treble, or fourfold. The conversion of the heathen world is therefore sure after a given time, and everything announces that this time need not be very considerable. Let them come then after all, and tell us that the work of missions is useless; that the evangelisation of the world is a chimera; that the sacrifices made for the conversion of the heathen are lost; that all these efforts are but a drop of water which loses itself in an ocean. We know on what to depend. We know that missions are a work, not only appointed by God, but reasonable, productive, and full of prospect; we know that the millennium is not only a brilliant ideal created by prophecy, but that it will be the natural, regular, unfailing consequence of what passes now and henceforth under our eyes. A last question might remain for examination on the subject of the millennium: we do not attach great importance to it, for it is more curious than useful. What conjectures may we form as to the period in the future when the millennium should commence? Let us remark, in the first place, that from the present state of the world, and the progress which the gospel has made since the commencement of our century, it is to be presumed that the millennium ought not to be very far distant. A century and a half ought to suffice, according to all human probabilities, to bring about the conversion of the world. It is thus that the creation of the world was accomplished in six days, or rather in six periods; the seventh day, or seventh period, is a sabbath or rest. The ceremonial purifications ordained by Moses were continued during six days, and were terminated on the seventh. In the sacrifices offered for grievous sins, the sprinkling of blood was made seven times, on the seventh sprinkling the atonement was accomplished. In the visions of the Apocalypse, the Apostle St. John sees a book sealed with seven seals, each of these seals represents a period in the future of the Church. Since then it is a character, which seems essential to the dispensations of God, that they should continue during seven periods, and never beyond the seventh, we may suppose, by analogy, that the present world is to continue during seven periods of a thousand years, the last of which would be the millennium. That supposition acquires especially a high degree of probability when we compare the present dispensation, considered in its successive phases, with the account of creation. According to a very ancient tradition, and one found already among the Jews, the six days of Genesis would be six periods of a thousand years — a supposition which is confirmed by two passages of Scripture, where it is said, in speaking particularly of the creation, "That one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." This moral creation, like the physical creation, is to be accomplished in six days, or in six thousand years. In the physical creation there is a progressive gradation from beings less perfect to beings more perfect; there is the same in the moral creation, where humanity goes on perfecting itself from age to age, and from one thousand years to another. The end of the millennium will be the signal of the events which are to mark the end of the world. "When the thousand years shall be accomplished," the prophet has told us, "Satan will be loosed from his prison, and he will afresh seduce the inhabitants of the earth." But that last seduction will continue but a moment, and will bring with it the final defeat of all the powers of darkness; the dead shall rise to appear in judgment, and the economy of time will give place to that of eternity.
(H. Monod.)I. THE WITNESSES OF JESUS SHALL REIGN IN CONJUNCTION WITH HIMSELF, AS THEIR HEAD. As the Church is the spouse of Christ, she cheerfully acknowledges His supreme authority in everything, and reverently honours Him as her glorious head; yet she shares the felicity of His victories, and, on the full establishment of His kingdom, she will be advanced, to reign together with Him and partake of His dominion.
II. THE WITNESSES OF JESUS SHALL REIGN WITH HIM ON THE EARTH, AND EXERCISE POSITIVE POWER OVER THE NATIONS. The kingdom of Christ is heavenly and spiritual. It is the kingdom of truth and righteousness, liberty and peace, love and joy. But, notwithstanding the peculiar nature of the reign of Jesus, the earth is clearly represented as the scene of His dominion. He was encouraged to ask of the Father, the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. On the earth, He will divide the spoil with the strong; judge among the nations; rebuke many people; break in pieces the oppressor. Can it be a low or carnal thing for Christ to reign on the earth? Does it become them who are spiritual to despise that dominion as mean and carnal which God the Father promised to confer on His beloved Son, as the meet reward of His matchless humiliation and obedience? Can that be unworthy of the esteem of His spouse which is not below the dignity of Christ Himself?
III. THE SAINTS SHALL REIGN PERSONALLY WITH CHRIST ON THE EARTH. The honourable privilege is not promised to His saints during their imperfect and militant state, which is the proper period of that course of humble obedience and discipline, by which they are prepared for their future exaltation. It constitutes an important part of that gracious reward which shall be conferred on the faithful soldiers of Jesus, after they overcome their spiritual adversaries and finish their good warfare. John saw them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus advanced to reign with Him as kings and priests of God. Nor shall this high privilege be exclusively confined to those who were beheaded, or in any other way put to death, for the sake of the gospel. The disciples of Jesus that lived in former ages shall share it generally; and that not merely in a figurative sense, by the revival of the cause of religion, which they promoted during their lives, but by being put in the personal possession of positive power and dominion along with their glorious Redeemer. Those who share the kingdom of Jesus must certainly reign while He reigns. Their dominion, in conjunction with Him, must be enjoyed during the proper period of His mediatorial kingdom, and not after the termination of it.
IV. THE SAINTS SHALL REIGN WITH CHRIST IN AN INCORPOREAL AND INVISIBLE MANNER. It is not said that the bodies of the slain witnesses shall be raised from the grave to sit on thrones with Christ. The resurrection of their bodies could indeed add nothing to their influence and happiness in reigning on the earth amongst imperfect creatures. The visible and bodily reign of Jesus and His immortal saints, among sinful men, would out off all occasion for living by faith, and interfere with the performance of almost every part of gospel duty. We are accordingly informed in our text that, at the first resurrection, the souls of them who were beheaded for the witnesses of Jesus shall live and reign with Him. The souls of the martyrs are represented as living, and experiencing a kind of resurrection, at the commencement of the millennium, as they shall then be exalted from a state of rest and expectation to a state of activity and dominion. Materialists and sceptics may refuse to believe what cannot be perceived by the senses, and scoff at the doctrine of a future state; but, if we confess the self-conscious existence of spirits and angels both good and bad, and allow that the angels are indefatigably employed in doing good or evil, according to their nature, why should we hesitate to admit the future activity of those holy spirits that shall live and reign with Jesus Christ?
V. THE SOULS OF THE SAINTS SHALL REIGN WITH VARIOUS DIFFERENT DEGREES OF AUTHORITY, in proportion to their religious attainments and sufferings while in the body. This may be considered highly probable, on the ground of analogy. All those works of God with which we are acquainted show that He delights in order and subordination. But Jesus has not left this important matter to be determined by human conjecture or remote inference. He has promised to reward His servants according to their works. The parable of the ten servants contains a striking example of this (Luke 19:11-19).
VI. THE SAINTS OF JESUS SHALL ALL REIGN WITH HIM IN A VERY GLORIOUS MANNER, FAR SURPASSING OUR PRESENT COMPREHENSION. The reign of the saints will be glorious, because all their former prayers shall be answered, their ardent desires shall be granted, and their long continued expectation exceeded. They shall obtain their dominion from Christ Himself, as a token of His high approbation, and the gracious reward of their faithful services and patient sufferings while in the body. If the tokens of personal regard with which earthly sovereigns reward their principal servants be honourable, who can sufficiently estimate the glory of that reward which the King of kings will confer when He shall say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," etc. The saints shall reign together in a state of glorious harmony and perfect love. There will be no misunderstanding, contradiction, or bitter passions, among the spirits of the just made perfect. Their love shall be pure without dissimulation: its ardour shall admit of no decrease; and their felicity shall be mutually augmented by beholding the dignity and happiness of each other. They shall enjoy the most intimate and delightful fellowship with Christ Himself. They shall see Him ruling His enemies with a rod of iron, and subduing the hearts of sinners to Himself by the word of His grace; the progressive accomplishment of His promises to the gospel church will fill them with admiration and delight; and, whilst they share His victories and dominion, they shall cordially unite, with adoring angels, in ascribing the highest glory and praise to Himself (Revelation 5:8-12; Revelation 19:1-7). The extent and efficacy of their dominion shall be glorious. None of their adversaries shall be able either to defeat or resist them. The beneficial effects of their reign shall be glorious. Righteousness, goodness, and happiness shall be as general and abundant among mankind as wickedness and misery have hitherto been. All the joyful predictions of Scripture respecting the prosperity and glory of the Church in the last days shall be accomplished. The posterity of Israel shall be converted, with the fulness of the Gentiles.
VII. THE SAINTS SHALL REIGN TOGETHER WITH JESUS DURING A VERY LONG PERIOD. The Lord frequently pours contempt upon the princes of the earth by causing their great power to terminate in sudden defeat and debasement. The dominion of the saints shall not be of this transient kind. Perhaps the round number of years mentioned in the text ought to be understood in an indefinite sense, as denoting a very large space of time in a general way, the precise extent of which is not fixed. Conclusion:
1. The view of the text which is now presented ought to be examined with much candour and deliberation before it be altogether rejected.
2. The text sets before us an object of the most laudable and hopeful ambition. Compared with this dignity, all human distinctions are insignificant and vain; yet it is accessible to all the servants of Jesus, small and great.
3. This shows how reasonable and advantageous it is for men to forsake all that they have for Christ, in order to win Him and be found in Him. In forsaking all for Christ, we renounce only those things that are vain, ensnaring, and perishing, to obtain the righteousness of faith, conformity to His perfect image, and fellowship with Him in the enjoyment of His heavenly kingdom.
4. This subject furnishes a powerful incitement to faithfulness and perseverance in the service of Christ.
5. The hope of reigning with Jesus should induce His disciples to show all meekness and patience while suffering for His sake. The cross is the way to the crown. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who suffer with Jesus shall reign with Him.
6. This subject affords strong consolation to believers in the prospect of putting off their earthly tabernacle. They know that their soul shall not sleep in a state of dark insensibility, while their body is in the dust. Death to them will be gain.
(J. Gibb.)I. THE ENTIRE OVERTHROW OF MORAL EVIL.
1. The great enemy will have lost his stand-place in the world. Error, prejudice, selfishness, evil passions, etc., will have gone. He will have no fulcrum for his lever.
2. The fall of the great enemy will be complete for a time. The more humanity progresses in intelligence, rectitude, and holiness, the more hopeless his condition becomes.
II. THE UNIVERSAL SOVEREIGNTY OF CHRIST.
1. The only true sovereignty is spiritual.
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.
III. THE GENERAL ASCENDANCY OF GREAT SOULS.
1. They will be men who have passed through a spiritual resurrection.
2. They will be men of martyr-mould.
3. They will be men possessing exclusive ascendancy.
4. They will be men raised for ever beyond the reach of all future evil.
IV. THE EXTENSIVE DURATION OF THE WHOLE.
1. This long period of holiness is a glorious set-off against all the preceding ages of depravity and sin.
2. This long period of holiness serves wonderfully to heighten our ideas of the grandeur of Christ's work.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)I. HERE IS A VISION OF MEN FROM EARTH — not of men on it. "The souls." (So in Revelation 6:11.) That the expression refers here to men in what is called the disembodied state, scarcely admits of question. They are clear and distinct words, fitting in with other statements of God's Word, teaching us that the souls of the blessed dead have already passed into a higher life: that there is no lapse in their blessed relationship to Jesus.
II. THE BLESSED SAINTS ARE SEEN IN A MORE ELEVATED SPHERE OF HOLY SERVICE. They are "living and reigning with Christ." They share with Him the government of the world. Here they were "kings and priests" unto God. But in the higher state of being the meaning of these names, and the glorious dignity they include, become far more manifest than when here below.
III. THEIR PASSING UPWARD, IN DEATH, TO THIS HIGHER STATE IS CALLED THE FIRST RESURRECTION. And most intelligibly so. "Surely," says the Rev. F. D. Maurice, "if one takes the words as they stand, they do not describe a descent of Christ to earth, but an ascent of 'the saints' to reign with Him." The thought of a real resurrection without a bodily rising from the grave ought to be no difficulty to those accustomed to scriptural phraseology. If, when a man passes from death to life, the phrase "risen with Christ," is not inappropriate, neither can it be so when he makes the transition from earth to heaven to be "at home" with Jesus.
IV. BLESSED EVEN IN THIS FIRST RESURRECTION, THE SAINTS AWAIT IN HOPE THE CONSUMMATION OF THEIR BLISS. The blessedness indicated here extends over the thousand years. While the Church on earth is enjoying its millennial calm, believers above are reigning in life with Jesus Christ. Knowing the blessedness of their first resurrection, they can look forward with joyful hope to their second.
V. THEIR GLORY WILL BE CONSUMMATED AT THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY. "For this, as the ultimate outlook, the apostle says, believers are waiting (Romans 8:23). The first resurrection is that to a higher state of spiritual being. The second will be to the completed state of glorified life of both body and spirit.
VI. FOR THE WICKED THERE IS NO SUCH FIRST RESURRECTION. "The rest of the dead lived not again (ἀνέξησαν,) till the thousand years were expired." For the wicked, death brings nothing which can be called a resurrection at all. "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness." After death they are not extinct. They exist. They are in Hades. But their life in the invisible realm is no "resurrection." No such reward is theirs. They chose the paths of sin and selfishness, and they can but reap as they have sown. The statement of the text is, however, only negative. "They lived not again till," etc. What their state is, positively, we are not told.
(C. Clemance, D. D.)i.e., the long period which elapses after the setting up of the Church — and surely this interpretation is more in accord with what we get from the Bible than an arbitrary fixture of just one thousand years of 365 days each — these thousand years, up to this hour, have been marked by evidences that Christ has chained the devil, has proved Himself stronger than the devil, not merely when He resisted his temptations, but ever since. The earth has gone on acquiring new life and strength and capacity, just so far as it has recognised the Lamb for its true Lord, and thus purity has been exalted above lust, thus slavery has been abolished, hospitals have been built, the poor have been educated, prisons have been reformed, criminals have been appealed to by nobler motives than self-interest. There is enough to do yet, God knows; but what has been done has all been clone on principles which Christ laid down, and what is still to be achieved will be done on the same basis, namely, that self-sacrifice is the true life of God's earth. And what does it all mean but that Christ has chained the dragon? Then St. John says that he saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God — the early Christian martyrs, in fact — and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. They were killed: the world saw no more of them; but St. John says that he did. To him it was revealed what their subsequent lot was — they lived and reigned with Christ in the thousand years. They live and reign with Him now, therefore. Where? That we cannot tell. We know that they have not yet their perfect consummation and bliss. But see what we do know. Christ is reigning now. But is that reigning merely resting on His throne as a glorious spectacle to look upon? Which of us seriously supposes that reigning with Christ means sitting with a golden crown on, holding a sceptre? The reign of Christ is a more real thing — a very active thing — and the martyrs who died for His sake, because they would not worship the beast, reign even as He does. There is to me wonderful help and consolation in all which this involves. The witnesses of Christ, who cared so much for their fellow men whilst they lived on the earth, who had laboured to do it good, and seemed to have laboured in vain, who had told their fellow men who their true King was; they, after they were no more seen, reigned with Christ, i.e., they exercised a greater influence, had a greater power, than ever they had before, and became from the unseen world efficient servants of Him who had given up His life for the salvation of men. This is their high reward, exactly that reward which their Lord promised in His parable. He whose pound had gained five pounds was to be ruler over five cities. They are not offered idleness or luxurious indulgence, they are to enter into the joy of their Lord, to have the delight of knowing more and more of His purposes, and of working in conformity with them. They die and are seen no more, but any good deed which they have ever done goes forth conquering and to conquer. And, the apostle declares, this is the first resurrection, which they who have lived evil lives and followed the beast have no part in. How often we see good and faithful men, whose career is altogether useful and beneficial, cut off in the midst of their work! We think to ourselves, "How much good this man would have done if he had lived! What a loss to the Church!" So it seems to us, and so it seemed to the first Christians, for we are told "they made great lamentation over him." But God knew better than they. He took His martyr away that he might reign with Christ. Well, was there any evidence of his so reigning? Were any victories of his ever seen any more? Many, no doubt, which we know nothing about.
(W. Benham, B. D.)
This is the first resurrectionI. THREE PRIVILEGES.
1. Priority of resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; Philippians 3:8-11; Luke 20:35; John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). "I will raise him up at the last day." Now, is there any joy or beauty in this, to the people of God in particular, unless there be a speciality in it for them? It is the lot of all to rise, and yet we have here a privilege for the elect! Surely there is a different resurrection. Besides, there is yet a passage in the Hebrews where the apostle, speaking of the trials of the godly, and their noble endurance, speaks of them as, "not accepting deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection." The betterness was not in the after results of resurrection, but in the resurrection itself. How, then, could it be a better resurrection, unless there be some distinction between the resurrection of the saint and the resurrection of the sinner? Pass on to the second privilege here promised to the godly.
2. The second death on them hath no power. This, too, is a literal death; none the less literal because its main terror is spiritual, for a spiritual death is as literal as a camel death. The death which shall come upon the ungodly without exception can never touch the righteous. Oh, this is the best of all. As for the first resurrection, if Christ hath granted that to His people there must be something glorious in it if we cannot perceive it. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know when He shall appear we shall be like Him." I think the glories of the first resurrection belong to the glories which shall be revealed in us rather than the glories that are revealed to us.
3. "They shall reign with Him a thousand years." I believe this reign of the saints with Christ is to be upon earth (Psalm 37:10, 11; Revelation 5:9, 10; Matthew 19:28). You find such passages as these in the Word of God, "The Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously." You find another like this in Zechariah, "My God shall come with the multitude of His saints."
II. To the ungodly THREE THINGS IN SIMPLICITY.
1. Sinner, you have heard us speak of the resurrection of the righteous. To you the word "resurrection" has no music. There is no flash of joy in your spirit when you hear that the dead shall rise again. But oh, I pray thee lend me thine ear while I assure thee in God's name that thou shalt rise. Not only shall your soul live — you have perhaps become so brutish that you forget you have a soul — but your body itself shall live. Go thou thy way, eat, drink, and be merry; but for all these the Lord shall bring thee into judgment.
2. But after the resurrection, according to the text, comes the judgment.
3. After judgment, the damnation.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. It is a resurrection of saints only. They that have part in it are "blessed and holy." It is true that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). But it is immediately added, "every man in his own order." It is not a summary thing, all at once, and the same in all cases. The resurrection of the wicked is in no respect identical with that of the saints, except that it will be a recall to some sort of corporeal life. There is a "resurrection of life," and there is a "resurrection of damnation" (John 5:29); and it is impossible that these should be one and the same. There is a "resurrection of the just" — "a better resurrection" — a resurrection out from among the dead, for which great zeal and devotion are requisite (Luke 14:14; Hebrews 11:35; Philippians 3:10, 11) — which is everywhere emphasised and distinguished from another, more general, and less desirable. As it is "the resurrection of the just," the unjust have no share in it. As it is a resurrection from among the dead ones, it is necessarily eclectic, raising some and leaving others, and so interposing a difference as to time, which distinguishes the resurrection of some as in advance of the resurrection of the rest.
2. It is a resurrection which takes place in different stages, and not all at one and the same time. Paul tells us expressly that there is an "order" in it, which brings up some at one time, and others at other times. It starts with "Christ the first-fruits"; afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming; then (still later) the end, "completion, or last" (1 Corinthians 15:23, 24). Christ's resurrection was also attended with the resurrection of others (Matthew 27:52, 53).
3. It is a resurrection which as a whole is nowhere pictorially described. The reason is, that the subject is not capable of it.
4. The completion of this resurrection introduces a wonderful change in the earth's history. It is the breaking through of an immortal power; — a power which sweeps away, as chaff before the wind, the whole economy of mortal and dragon rule, and thrusts to death and Hades every one found rising up or stiffening himself against it; — a power which gives to the nations new, just, and righteous laws, in the administration of immortal rulers, whose good and holy commands men must obey or die. I think of the coming in of that power — of the havoc it must needs make in the whole order of things — of the confusion it will cause in the depraved cabinets and courts and legislatures of the world — of the revolution it must work in business customs, in corporation managements — of the changes it must bring into churches, into pulpits, into pews, into worship, into schools, into the newspapers, into book-making and book-reading, into thinking and philosophy, and into all the schemes, enterprises, judgments, pursuits, and doings of men. And a good thing it will be for the nations when that day comes. There can be nothing better than God's law. There can be nothing more just, more reasonable, more thoroughly or wisely adapted to all the well-being of man and the highest wholesomeness of human society. All the blessedness in the universe is built upon it. All that is needed for the establishment of a holy and happy order is for men to obey that law, for it to be put in living force, for it to be incarnated in the feelings, actions, and lives of men. And this is what is to be effected when "the children of the resurrection" get their crowns, and go into power, with Christ the All-Ruler at their head.
5. The completion of this resurrection promotes the subjects of it to a transcendent glory.
(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)I. WHEN IS IT TO BE? When the Lord comes the second time. In the preceding chapter He is described as coming with the hosts of heaven for the destruction of His enemies (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). He comes as the resurrection and the life; the abolisher of death, the spoiler of the grave, the raiser of His saints.
II. WHO IT IS TO CONSIST OF. This passage speaks only of the martyrs and the non-worshippers of the beast; but other passages show that all His saints are to be partakers of this reward. They have suffered with Him here, and they shall reign with Him here.
III. WHAT IT DOES FOR THOSE WHO SHARE IT. It brings to them such things as the following: —
1. Blessedness. God only knoweth how much that word implies, as spoken by Him who cannot lie, who exaggerates nothing, and whose simplest words are His greatest.
2. Holiness. They are pre-eminently "the saints of God"; set apart for Him; consecrated and purified, both outwardly and inwardly; dwelt in by Him whose name is the "Holy Ghost"; and called to special service in virtue of their consecration. Priestly-royal service is to be theirs throughout the eternal ages.
3. Preservation from the second death. They rise to an immortality which shall never be recalled. No dying again, in any sense of the word; not a fragment of mortality about them, nothing of this vile body, and nothing of that corruption or darkness or anguish which shall be the portion of those who rise at the close of the thousand years.
4. The possession of a heavenly priesthood. They are made priests unto God and Christ — both to the Father and the Son. Priestly nearness and access; priestly power and honour and service; priestly glory and dignity; — this is their recompense.
5. The possession of the kingdom.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
On such the second death hath no powerI. WHAT THE SECOND DEATH IS. A second supposes a first; and that which universally we have the clearest notion of is, that death which funerals and the mourners who go about the streets convince us of. For —
1. Death, in the natural signification of the word, is a separation of the soul from the body. Plants die, and beasts and birds and fishes and insects die; and so man dies (Hebrews 9:27). And this is the first death, which all men, both good and bad, are subject to; and from which none can plead exemption, except preserved from it by the miraculous power of God; as were Enoch and Elias.
2. The second death no creature is capable of but man, no inferior creature; devils and apostate spirits are, but none below the dignity of man; for this death is the wages of sin, and contempt of mercy and the grace of God. This second death is punishment. It is true the first is so too; but by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus that punishment is softened, or rather turned into a mercy, exchanged for eternal life; but from this second death there is no possibility of any release after it is once inflicted. And that we may rightly understand the nature of it, the Holy Ghost in the chapter before us specifies what it is, for so we read (ver. 14), "And death and hell"; i.e., wicked men who had been dead, and the devil and his angels," were cast into the lake of fire." "This is the second death." And again, Revelation 21:8.
II. WHY IT IS CALLED DEATH, AND THE SECOND DEATH.
1. The common death of mankind is a separation of the soul from the body; and there being in hell a signal separation, either of the soul, or of soul and body after the resurrection, from the love of God's complacency and the society of saints, and from all joy and comfort, the true life of the soul, it is upon that account that this future torment is called death.
2. The unhappy sufferer in the lake of fire is always dying, and yet never dies; the anguish he lies under puts him into such agonies that one would think he is expiring every moment, and yet he lives (Mark 9:44).
3. The sufferer in this lake wishes to die, and yet doth not die. The intolerable torment forces him into vehement desires after something that may put a period to his anguish. Common death frees men from the troubles and diseases of the body, and puts an end to the pain we feel here.
4. It is called the second death, i.e., a death different from the common and natural. In this sense the word "second" is used sometimes (as Daniel 7:5). And, indeed, it is a death of another nature, attended with other circumstances and with other consequences. It is, if I may say so, a death and no death; a death joined with sense, that breaks the man, but doth not destroy him; destroys his well-being, but not his being; his felicity, but not his substance.
III. WHO THE HAPPY PERSONS ARE ON WHOM THIS SECOND DEATH HATH NO POWER, AND WHY THEY FALL NOT UNDER THAT DOMINION.
1. In this very verse, whereof the text is part, the persons to whom this privilege belongs are said to be "priests of God and of Christ," which qualification is in other places ascribed to all the living members of Christ's Church (Revelation 1:6).
2. As by the second death is meant hell and the lake of fire, so (ver. 15) it is said, "And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire," From whence it will naturally follow, that such as are written in the book of life are not subject to that power, and over such the second death hath no power. Now, it is certain that all Christians who are Israelites indeed, they are written in the book of life.
3. We read (Revelation 2:11), "He that overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death." And who knows not that self-conquest and overcoming evil with good is the proper task and employment of all sincere Christians? And how should this death have any power over them? As they live to the Lord so they die to and in the Lord Jesus, and "blessed are the dead," etc. (Revelation 14:13). The Lord that bought them secures them against that formidable power. The Lord that died for them, and hath abolished death, and triumphed over it, hath delivered them from that power. He is a wall of defence to them so that the power of this death cannot reach them. In a word, they are under another Prince, and therefore not subject to that power.Inferences:
1. There being such a death, even the second death, surely it deserves to be feared and dreaded. It is true there is none desires or cares to feel it, and so far all men may be said to fear it. But to fear, is to use the proper means to escape the danger. It is with fearing as it is with believing: he that takes no care to secure himself and his goods doth not believe there is a consuming fire in his house, and he that doth not arm himself against an approaching inundation doth not fear it.
2. It must needs be a very great privilege to be delivered from the power of the second death; a greater mercy than to be delivered from the deluge of Noah, from the conflagration of Sodom, from David's bear and lion, and from the most painful diseases; a mercy to be prized above being set with princes, even with the princes of God's people; a mercy which none can prize but true believers, and the more they believe it, the more they will prize it; a mercy that will be prized another day at a very great rate, even by the sufferers in the burning lake, when it is too late.
(A. Horneck, D. D.)
They shall be priests of God and of Christ
Homilist.I. A CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE DIVINE. The very idea of priesthood implies the practical recognition of God. God was to be everything to the priests of His appointment. He had to do with their clothing, their diet, their means of support. He was at once the Author, Master, and Object of all their ceremonies. They prepared their sacrifices by His directions, and they offered them to Him according to His will. Deep as may have been the impression which the high priest had of God's presence when he stood in the Holy of Holies, in the full light of the shekinah, it was not deeper than every man should have in passing through this life. But why should souls be ever conscious of God's presence? Why?
1. Because it is reasonable. His constant presence is a fact. Shall I recognise, as I am bound to do, all the little facts that come under my daily notice, and ignore the great fact that God is in all, ever present, never absent? Shall men of science give attention to the smallest facts of nature; write treatises on an insect's wing, or on the microscopic dust that floats in the atmosphere, and ignore the fact that God is present? If it is wise to take notice of the facts of nature, and wise it is beyond debate, how egregious and astounding the folly of ignoring the greatest of all facts — the presence of the all-creating, all-sustaining God?
2. Because it is obligatory. Who is He that is present with us? Our Maker, Sustainer, Proprietor, Author of all we have and are, and of all we hope to possess and be. To disregard the presence of such a Being is a heinous crime, a crime which in all worlds conscience condemns.
3. Because it is necessary. It is indispensable to man's well-being. You may as well endeavour to evolve and bring into perfection the seed the husbandman has scattered over his tilled field without the sunbeam, as to talk about educating the soul without the consciousness of God. This alone can quicken and develop the spiritual faculties of man. Nor is there any moral power without it. It is only as we feel that God is with us that power comes to resist the evil and do the good, to brave peril and face death.
II. A FELLOWSHIP WITH THE DIVINE. Concerning the "mercy seat," before which the high priest stood in the Holy of Holies in the presence of God, Jehovah said to Moses, "There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat," etc. It might be asked, how can we hold fellowship with One who is invisible — how does soul hold fellowship with Saul? Human spirits are invisible to each other, yet do they not enjoy fellowship? How? By symbols and sayings, works and words. I hold fellowship with the distant and the dead through the works of their hands, either as they come directly under my eye or are reproduced in my memory. But words are the media of fellowship as well as works. Through words we pour our souls into another's and our minds meet and mingle in fellowship. Can we not thus hold fellowship with God? Around, above, and beneath me, His works are spread. All I see in nature are the embodiment and revelation of His ideas, and these ideas He intends me to study and appropriate. His Word, too, is in my hand; above all I have that wonderful Word of His — the life of Jesus. This is the great organ by which He communicates His ideas to me. But can man receive the communication? Has he a capacity for it? He has. This is the glory of his nature. Of all the creatures on this earth man alone is able to receive the thoughts of God. Beyond all this — beyond what may be called the fellowship arising from interpretable ideas, there is an unspeakable and mystic intercourse. What devout soul in the chamber of devotion, the services of the temple, or in some lonely walk amidst the grand sceneries of nature, has not felt a softening, hallowing influence that has lifted his soul into the conscious presence of his God, caused it to exclaim with Jacob, "Surely God is in this place"?
III. A DEVOTION TO THE DIVINE. The priests under the law were consecrated in the most solemn and impressive manner to the service of God. They were in an especial sense God's servants.
1. To offer sacrifices for themselves. We must offer ourselves, nothing else will do. Whatever we present to God, unless we have first offered ourselves, will be worse than worthless; it will be impious. The priests were set apart —
2. To offer sacrifices for others. True priesthood involves intercession. All souls are united by many a subtle bond; "no one liveth unto himself," and each is bound to seek the good of others. Intercession with God on behalf of others is a social instinct as well as a religious duty and high spiritual privilege. He who first consecrates himself is sure to mediate for the redemption ai ethers: mediate not merely by presenting the needs of men to God, but by presenting the claims of God to man.
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