Home > Book of Revelation, The 1,000 years, The Gospel > Christopher Wordsworth’s comments on Rev. 20

Christopher Wordsworth’s comments on Rev. 20

August 2, 2013

This post presents Christopher Wordsworth’s comments on Revelation 20, from his Lectures on the Apocalypse critical, expository, and practical, delivered before the University of Cambridge. 1852. 3rd ed.

pp. 404-417.

Here we arrive at the close of the Nineteenth Chapter.

I6. What now is done by St. John in the Twentieth?

In the Seals, in the earlier part of the Apocalypse, [1] he had given a rapid sketch of the History of the Church, from his own age to the day of Armageddon; in a word, he had given a “prophecy to the end of the World.” [2] And now, having displayed all that intervenes between his own age and the close of that great conflict, he ascends, in the Twentieth Chapter, once more to his own time, and there presents a view of the History of the Church, from the Incarnation of Christ to the final overthrow of the Evil One.

We have seen already, on a former occasion, [3] how an erroneous view of the structure of the Apocalypse has led to a misinterpretation of the Seals, and to the derivation of the doctrine of a Millennium from the Twentieth Chapter of the Apocalypse.

The true view of the Twentieth Chapter is this:  [4] — St. John, having displayed the sufferings of the Church in the Seals, and God’s judgments in the Trumpets, and in the History of the Two Witnesses, and of the Woman in the Wilderness, and of the mystical Babylon, and, finally, of the great conflict of Armageddon; and having thus displayed the melancholy workings of human corruption, under various forms of Paganism, Heresy, Superstition, and Infidelity, — reascends to the first age of Christianity, and shows how Christ, Who had been represented in the first Seal as a Royal Warrior on a White Horse, the Horse of Victory, conquering and to conquer — had come down from Heaven with the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in His hand; how He had bound Satan and triumphed over him even from His Incarnation, and had delivered men from his grasp, and enabled them to be free; and how, by the Apostolic commission. Go and baptize all nations, — He had, in His divine will and desire, made all men members of His own mystical Body — the Church; how He had thus raised them from the death of Sin by a spiritual resurrection; how He had made them Kings and Priests to God in Himself, and had delivered them from the second death; and how He would never cease to exercise His divine office of protection and salvation during the whole period of the World’s history, represented by the complete number of a thousand years; and liow they who suffer for Him could never taste of death; and, how fierce soever might be the rage of the Dragon, whether working by the sword of Paganism, the wormwood of Heresy, or the plague and famine of Unbelief, or by the sorceries of a corrupt Christianity, yet that Christ never had left — and never would leave — Himself without a witness, and that they who are true to Him are more than Conquerors, and may be of good cheer, for He has overcome the World.

Having shown all this, St. John proceeds at once to the end. Satan (he says) will be loosed, and will go forth to deceive the Nations, in the four corners of the earth Gog and Magog, to gather them to battle; [5] and they will beleaguer the beloved city; and fire will come down from Heaven to devour them, and Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, where the Beast and False Prophet are. [6]

17. He then reveals the awful transactions of the Universal Judgment; [7] and describes the glory and blessedness of the Heavenly City; [8] and pronounces his Apostolic benediction on all who do Christ’s commandments, and keep the sayings of this Book. [9] And he concludes his divine Apocalypse, as he had begun, with declaring its heavenly origin and universal application — I, Jesus, have sent Mine Angel to testify unto you these things in the Churches. [10]

II. Let us now conclude with some practical reflections.

1. It would be presumptuous to affirm confidently that the prophecies of the Sixth and Seventh Vials, which we have been considering, are actually at this present time in course of fulfilment.

On the other hand, it would be sinful to neglect the evidence of such an accomplishment. Blessed are they that hear the words of this prophecy; [11] and our Lord asks. Can ye not discern the signs of the times? [12] Besides, in this Vision of the Vials a special admonition is inserted by Christ, showing the suddenness of the judgment, and the need of watchfulness — Behold, I come as a thief; blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, [13] lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. [14]

This is the warning from Christ — I counsel thee to buy of Me white raiment — the pure robe of Christian faith and holiness — that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear. [15]

First, then, as to the former part of these prophecies — the drying up of the Euphrates, in order that the way of the Kings of the East might be prepared.

They, doubtless, who look for a literal drying up of some natural river, in order that some Oriental Monarchs may march over its bed, will deny that this prediction is now in course of fulfilment. But such an anticipation is groundless. No such Eastern Sovereigns will ever appear. The Euphrates flows, and will flow on; and we might wait for ever on its banks expecting

dum defluat amnis; at ille
Labitur, et labetur in omne volubilis aevum. [16]

We have said already, that by the great river Euphrates we must understand the mighty flood of the mystical Babylon — the supremacy of Rome.

And now let us ask. Is there not a strange movement on its waters? Do they not seem to be troubled? Are they not parting asunder like the waves of Jordan smitten before Joshua, when he marched from the Eastern bank and pitched on the East of Jericho? Do we not, even now, behold, in the opening of the whirlpool, some traces of “a Way for the Kings of the East” over them? May we not say, that a High Road is appearing, in which the Army of the true Joshua, — the Everlasting King, the Sun of Righteousness, — will proclaim the glad tidings of salvation, and prepare the Way of the Lord?

2. What, then, is the lesson for us?

Christ is the Light of the World. He is the Dayspring from on High. We, therefore, must be children of light. We must be “Kings of the East.”

And how may this be?

By love, holiness, and truth. The weakening of the papal Power, and its alliance with new elements, will prove an occasion for the wider spread of the Gospel, and also, in other cases, for the greater growth of Infidelity. Some who are freed from the thraldom of Rome will embrace the Truth. But many, on the other hand, will be in great danger of falling from Superstition into Unbelief.

Here, then, is an appeal for your Christian faith and charity. Let us despair of none. Let us pray for all. Let us implore the great Shepherd, Who left His Father’s house to seek the lost sheep, that it may please Him to “bring into the way of truth all such as have erred and are deceived.” Let us endeavour to restore them in the spirit of meekness. [17] Let us take up the words of the Prophet, Go ye out of the midst of Babylon and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the Lord. [18] Thus we may make them to be “Kings of the East.”

This is, indeed, a work which specially concerns the “Ministers and Stewards of God’s Mysteries.” You, my brethren and fathers in Christ, are solemnly charged to prepare the Way of the Lord by sound learning, pure doctrine, and holiness of life. You are eminently privileged to be Kings of the East. [19]

And, Heaven be praised! here is an office for all. Let all the faithful sons and daughters of the Church of England endeavour to show, by their example, that the Truth, as taught by Christ to His Apostles, still exists in the world. Let us commend it to others by zeal, faithfulness, and union, in Evangelical Faith, Apostolic discipline, and Catholic love.

Thus we may be Kings of the East. Thus the bed of Euphrates will become a Highway for Christ.

3. Let us pass to the second part of this prophecy.

A solemn caution is necessary here.

It is imagined by some, that the power of the Papacy is now spent, and about to expire.

This appears to be an erroneous supposition.

It is, indeed, true that the Papal power cannot be exercised in the same manner as formerly: it has received some wounds ominous of its doom; but, at the same time, it has found, and is now finding, new occasions, new instruments, and new allies: and so it may make itself felt again to a degree, which will strike the world with amazement.

The subversion of Thrones, and dissolution of Dynasties, the abrogation of laws which, till now, had kept the Papacy in check, the proclamation of universal Liberty of speaking, writing, and printing, and of public and secret association — the abandonment of Religion by some Governments, disqualifying themselves thereby to deal with matters of Religion, the outbreaks of Revolution, scaring some Sovereigns and States into stricter subjection to Rome as their only shelter against Rebellion, instead of binding them more closely to Christ, have already given fresh life and new impulse to the Papacy. Its adherents have thus been enabled to rally and organize themselves with a strong and mysterious energy; and are preparing the way for its development with renewed confidence and force.

All this is clear, and we ought to be prepared for its results.

Nearly eighteen centuries ago St. John prophesied that the Beast would ascend from the Sea. [20] And so it did. The Papacy arose to power amid the waves and storms which broke forth on the dissolution of the Roman Empire. It grew to grandeur by the weakness of Governments. And now, after a lapse of more than a thousand years, there is a similar crisis. There is again a tumultuous Sea — and Rome is rising from the waves.

4. The Apocalypse warns us that the Beast and False Prophet will survive, when Babylon — the seat of empire — is overthrown. It reveals to us, that there will be an alliance between the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet; and that their emissaries will go forth, and work miracles, and gather an army against Christ.

Let us, therefore, not be staggered by strange combinations. We may expect to hear — indeed we do hear — licentious theories propounded in the name of Liberty, and infidel doctrines preached in the name of Religion. God Himself is invoked to sanctify breaches of His own Law. Some who profess to believe in Him, and some who boast that they do not believe in Him, are leaguing together against Him. Here are the unclean spirits which issue forth from the mouth of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.

And what is their office?

To gather together the Kings of the Earth; [21]  that is, to muster the powers of this World against the Kings of the East; to levy the enemies of Christ in a godless conscription, and to marshal them for the battle of Armageddon.

They who look for an Armageddon in some earthly conflict, will be slow to believe that this prophecy is now in course of fulfilment. But the true Armageddon is spiritual. It is a general defiance of Heaven.

And what shall we say? Is it not probable that the preparations for this warfare are begun?

What shall we think, when we see that some Nations of Christendom no longer promote the Religion of Christ? Christ Himself has declared, All Kings shall bow down before Me, all Nations shall do Me service; [22] but many now venture to proclaim Religious Indifference as one of their principles of national Law. The political Equality of all Religions — this is their Shibboleth. All Creeds are to be treated as equally true — and therefore all Creeds may be regarded as equally false. They denounce all opposition to this impious principle as bigotry and intolerance! They vaunt and glory in this principle as if it were a noble privilege! And so they appear to be ready, and almost eager, to erase the cross of Christ from the forehead of Christendom, and to make it into a Pantheon!

What, again, are the words of men, blending the holiest names with unholiest acts, making Christianity a watchword of Socialism and Communism, and using the Gospel itself as a lever to shake the World, and even, if it were possible, to subvert the throne of God?

Are there not here some sounds of a gathering together of armies, some blasts of the trumpets of war, some unfurlings of hostile banners, some noise of chariots and trampling of horses rushing to the battle?

In a word, is not the World at this hour on the eve of an Armageddon?

5. Observe now what follows.

The plague of the Frogs was the last effort of the magicians of Egypt. The going forth of the unclean spirits, like frogs, from the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet, to gather their forces together against Christ, will, it is probable, be the final struggle of their united powers. Their confederacy will be routed in the mystical conflict of Armageddon.

Then, says St. John, The Beast will be taken, and his False Prophet, that brought miracles before him; . . . and these both will be cast alive into the lake of fire. [23] But then the Dragon, or Satan, will remain; and he will no longer use any specious arts; he will return to the form he wore in the first Seal, and will wage an open war with Heaven.

His doom is also revealed. The Devil will be cast into the lake of fire, where the Beast and False Prophet are. [24]

Christ’s victory will then be complete. The Kingdom of this World will become the Kingdom of the Lord and of His Christ. [25]

6. Finally, why were these awful truths revealed?

Not to indulge a vain and prying curiosity. Not to gratify any craving appetite for feverish excitement. Not to raise in us any proud conceits of Pharisaic self-righteousness. Not to provoke in us a spirit of wrath or hatred against those whose errors we ought to deplore with tears, and whose union in Christian truth and holiness, we ought to desire with prayers of devout affection.

No. But to teach us our own duty. To make us more thankful for our blessings, and more zealous to preserve them, and more careful to use them, and more desirous to communicate them. To make us mourn with shame and sorrow for our neglect and abuse of them. To make us fear, lest we lose them. To instruct us all, from the highest to the lowest, that our only safety, both public and private, consists in following Christ. Be wise, therefore, ye Kings ; be learned, ye that are Judges of the Earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice unto Him with reverence. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and so ye perish from the right way, if His wrath be kindled, yea, but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him. [26]

These things were also revealed to warn us that a time of peril awaits us. We must expect severe trials. We must be prepared for fierce conflicts. We must, therefore, arm ourselves with the whole armour of God. [27]

You, my younger hearers, are entering the career of life at a time when Christian faith and Christian fortitude will be severely tried. Take this divine Book with you. Go with St. John. Go with the beloved Disciple. He will teach you not to be seduced by the alluring arts, or led cajitive by the corrupt doctrines, or deceived by the lying wonders of false Christs and false prophets. [28] He will teach you not to associate yourselves with others in any ungodly confederacy or unholy enterprise, on any specious pretence of Liberty, Expediency, or Religion. He will teach you not to follow a multitude to do evil, [29] but to promote God’s glory at any sacrifice, by reverence of His Name, by belief in His Word, and by obedience to His Will. He will teach you, if need be, to stand alone and in exile (as it were) in a sea-girt island — in the desolate Patmos of deserted principles, of Christian faith and Christian patience, and to comfort and cheer your soul, in your seclusion, with glorious revelations from God. So you will be Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants. So you will be beloved Disciples. So you will be like St. John.

Then, let the World be arrayed against you in the fury of a wild Armageddon, you will be more than conquerors. [30] Christ will protect you. The King of kings and Lord of lords will fight for you. He will lead you on with His victorious army to the glorious mansions of the heavenly Jerusalem, and will give you a crown of glory which fadeth not away.

Author’s Notes and References

1. Chaps. vi, vii. “Harmony,” pp. b. 8. 12. 17.

2. Such is the exposition of the Church of England in the heading of the Sixth Chapter, containing the Seals, in the Authorized Version.

3. See “Harmony,” p. 15.

4. See above, Lecture IV. p. 94.

5. ‘Lightfoot, Rev. xx. He calls the enemies of the Church Gog and
Magog, the title of the Syro-Grecian monarchy of Antiochus Epiphanes.
See also Ezekiel xxxviii. xxxix.

6. Rev. xx. 7–10.

7. Chap. xx. 12–15.

8. Rev. xxi. 10–27.

9. Chap. xxii. 14. 7.

10. Rev. xxii. 16. cp. Rev. i. 1.

11. Rev. i.3.

12. Matth xvi. 3.

13. The allusion is thus explained by Lightfoot. (Harm. N. T. ad loc.) “Behold, I come as a thief; blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments. The Priest that walketh round the Temple guards by night, had torches borne before him: and if he found any one asleep upon the guard, he burnt his clothes with the torches.” (Middoth, cap. i. hal. 2.)

14. Rev. xvi. 15.

15. Rev. iv. 18.

16. Hor. 1 Ep. 1. ii. 43.

17. Gal. vi. 1.

18. Jerem. li. 45.

19. Aquinas ad loc. Haec via? Ah Ortu Solis, id est, ex eo quod Christus orietur magis ac magis in cordibus ipsoruin per gratiani, qui est Sol irradians super scquentes Se. Ego sum Lux Mundi. Convertentur enim quidam Christiani tandem qui prius Antichristo adhaerant, et ad hoc juvabit praedicatio.

20. Rev. xiii. 1.

21. Aquinas ad cap. xix. Reges Terrae, id est, pseudo-Apostolos qui videbuntur reges aliorum per doctrinam ct etiam per potentiam: et dicit terrae, quia non quaerent nisi terram homines terreni, ad faciendum pioelium per blasphemias, per doctrinas eironeas, per miiacula et alia multa, quibus studebunt Christi fidem extinguere.

22. Psalm Ixxii. 11.

23. Rev. xix. 20.

24. Rev.  xx. 10.

25. Rev. xi. 15.

26. Psalm ii. 10–12.

27. Eph. vi. 11-13.

28. Matth. xxiv. 24.

29. Exod. xxiii. 2.

30. Rom. viii. 37.

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