THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM
By ROBERT GOVETT, M. A.
In the passage now to be considered, the reader will find many confirmations of conclusions formerly arrived at. May the Holy Spirit deign to give his blessing to the writer and reader!
Matthew 16: 13. "Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, saying, ‘Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?’ 14. But they said, ‘Some John the Baptist, others Elijah, others again Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ "
very spot in which this scene is laid is significant. It was Caesarea Philippi,
a considerable time Jesus had offered the proofs of his being the Messiah by
his wisdom and his works. But
The opinions entertained of our Lord were various, and some of them strange. But it is not necessary to canvass them. They saw in Jesus no more than one of the prophets.
15. "He said unto them, ‘But whom say YE that I am?’ 16. But Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 17. And Jesus said unto him, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jona, for flesh and blood revealeth it not to thee, but my Father which is in the heavens,’"
"Ye" is emphatic. "Disciples"
are to be distinguished from "men," by
their loftier thoughts of Jesus, and by their confession of them. Be it observed, as of essential moment to the
true view of the subject, that from the beginning to the close of the passage
to be considered, it is JESUS ADDRESSING DISCIPLES. And the answers given come from the apostles
not as apostles, but simply as disciples. Hence, in their full force they bear on us. On this occasion, as on others, Peter was the
spokesman of the twelve. He acknowledges
two titles of our Lord. "Thou art the Christ." This was the confession which
he owns him further as "the Son of the
living God." By this
he attributed Godhead to Jesus. He was
no figurative Son of God, but Son as partaking of the Father’s essence. And our Lord, by what follows, confirms the
assertion. Those two titles embrace the
whole span of the passage. Jesus is Messiah,
born of the stock of Abraham, and of the seed of David, acknowledging
These two designations both belong to the same person. Herein the passage is a bulwark against the views of the Gnostics. They divided the person of Jesus Christ, making Jesus the man merely, and the Christ a divine Spirit, that descended on the man Jesus at his baptism. Against this error John’s gospel was particularly levelled. "These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name:" John 20: 31.
Peter, then, owns the Son of Man as also the Son of God. Our Lord declares that this confession was a knowledge higher than mere man by his powers could attain to. Man is "flesh and blood." And the thoughts of flesh and blood about Jesus had been drawn forth previously. They saw nothing in Christ’s appearance that assured them of the Divinity. How, indeed, could any sight or sound proceeding from one in human form, of itself work this belief in any? It was a revelation from the Father. None knows the Son but the Father. If he be pleased to reveal him to any, it is of grace. This is a revelation made to every disciple. Blessed is he who receives the revelation! But where then, save under the curse, can Unitarians stand?
is first presented as the stone of stumbling to both houses of
18. "And I say to thee, That thou art a stone, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."
‘Thou hast told me who I am, I in return tell thee what thou art.’ Jesus first takes up Peter’s old name, bestowed upon him as flesh and blood, and then gives him a new one, related to that new work which he was about to commence.* The Lord was about to "build." Simon, son of Jonah, is designated as the first stone of the building "the church," He obtains this title, as the first to confess its fundamental belief. Such a blessing as rested on Peter should rest on those who like him with the lip confess "the Christ, the Son of the living God." It was not written for his sake alone. This is the very position which Paul by the Spirit sets forth as blessed now. "The word of faith which we preach, That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved:" Rom. 10: 9. Peter’s confession contained within it implicitly the Saviour’s rising from the dead, though he saw it not. But when reproved for his unbelief he is silent, and at length, more fully instructed by the Spirit of the Father, he not only believes the fact of the resurrection, but is the first to testify it to others: Acts 2.
[* Simon Bar Jonah means ‘Son of the Dove.’ Is this a reference to Peter’s renewal by the Holy Ghost?]
As Jesus takes a new title himself, so does he give a new name to his follower. So the Lord of old gave new names Abraham, Sarah, Jacob. Simon Bar Jona, as the enlightened Jew, recognises Jesus as the Messiah. Peter as the first member of the church recognises him as the Son of the living God. This is the name, then, which he afterwards takes up as apostle of Christ.
who or what is "the Rock?" Three opinions are entertained on this point.
(1) One makes it Peter himself. But this agrees not with what follows, nor
with Peter’s failures. How should he be
the rock of the church, who is called "Satan" presently after? And who at
(2) Another view makes it Peter’s confession.*
[* Here a word may be dropped on the Roman Catholic views of the passage. The true interpretation leaves them no foot of ground on which to stand. But even in any case in which a Protestant may find a passage of Scripture turned against him, he may always shut his opponent’s mouth. For says the second article of the creed of Pope Pius iv, "I also admit holy Scripture according to that sense which holy mother church has held and does hold, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures; neither will I ever receive and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the fathers." Let, then, the Protestant inquire of the Roman alleging holy writ, if he has read all the fathers? Perhaps not two persons in the world have done so. If he affirm that he has, ask him, If the interpretation he gives of the passage is "according to the unanimous consent of the fathers?" If he says it is, he lies. Unanimity is not to be found among the fathers on any one text, and not on this, above all, though it be the corner-stone of their proof. The mode of interpretation according to the fathers’ unanimous consent resembles the mode of catching birds taught in the nursery. It has never been practised in a single instance.]
This is nearer the truth. But the confessions were nothing, except it rested on the person of Christ as its foundation.
(3) The third view, then, is, I am persuaded, the true; that our Lord meant HIS OWN PERSON. Peter and Christ differ, as the stone differs from the rock on which it is built. "I am the Resurrection and Life." "Other foundation can none lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus:" 1 Cor. 3: 11. Our Lord was continually presenting himself under the images of natural objects. But one especial case will, I think, satisfy the reader of the truth of the present conclusion. ‘What sign,’ said the Jews, ‘showest thou, as the proof of thy right to cleanse the temple?’ "Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy THIS TEMPLE, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, forty-and-six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he was speaking of the temple of his body:" John 2: 18, 21. As "this temple" in that instance referred to Christ, so does "this rock" intend our Lord also.
Jesus is the rock as "the Resurrection and Life." He could not be holden of death, because he was [is] the Lord of life. His impenetrability as the foundation of our hope was manifested in the resurrection. "He is the rock, his work is perfect:" Deut. 32: 4. So to the Pharisees previously our Lord had offered himself in the same character as "the Resurrection and Life," under the type of Jonah the prophet swallowed up and coming forth to life again: 16: 4. This sign was sufficient to condemn them of unbelief, by the better example of the Ninevites: Matt. 12: 41.
"I will build," said the Saviour. It was not yet the time, for the resurrection
had not yet taken place. The last
outrage which drove the Lord away from
"I will build my church." The term church means "a calling out." It is no longer "all
This is the first mention of the word church in the New Testament: and it is characteristic. It was to begin, and to take its stand, upon faith on Jesus as the resurrection. The stones built on the rock belong to the rock. I will build "my church."
"And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." How much depends upon the right translation of a single word! Our translators in rendering Hades by "hell," have thrown darkness over this and other passages.
It is commonly supposed, in consequence, that "hell" in this passage means the place of the lost. To this is added a second error, that Satan and his angels are confined there. Thirdly, it is conceived that "the gates of hell" means the city of evil spirits: then, evil spirits as a community. And as the issue of the whole, our Lord is supposed to promise that the designs and attacks of Satan and his wicked spirits shall never prevail to pollute or destroy the church. While this is believed, the Romanists have a refuge for their errors, of which they fail not, on every case of emergency, to make good use. ‘How can you so boldly talk of the corruptions of the universal church till Luther arose? How prate you of its being sunk in idolatry, superstition, ignorance, and vice? Be pleased to explain to us, then, how you reconcile such a state of things, with the Saviour’s promise to the contrary. According to you, our Lord’s words has failed. But no! we will believe him against you. It is you that are in error, and not the church universal: for the Lord’s word cannot be broken.’
How then shall we get rid of their argument? By a return to the true interpretation. Let us first examine the current opinion. Barnes will present us with the usual ideas on the subject, save that he admits "hell" in this place to be Hades, the abode of the departed.
"Ancient cities were surrounded by walls. In the gates by which they were entered, were the principal places for holding courts, transacting business, and deliberating on public matters. See note: Matt. 7: 13. The word gates, therefore, is used for counsels, designs, machinations, evil purposes. Hell means here the place of departed spirits, particularly evil spirits. And the meaning of the passage is, that all the plots, stratagems, and machinations of the enemies of the church should not be able to overcome it, - a promise that has been remarkably fulfilled."
But this interpretation is full of errors. The principle erroneous positions are these:-
1. ‘The word ‘gates’ is used to signify machinations.’ It never is so. Gate or gates are figuratively used to express a city, or cities. "Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies:" Gen. 22: 17; 24: 60. "All the gate (marg.) of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman:" Ruth 3: 11; 1 Kings 8: 37. But never could "gates" express "purposes" either good or evil; though ‘the gate’ might by a figure express the persons in authority that sat in the gate.
‘Hell here means the place of departed spirits.’
This is true. "Especially of evil spirits."
Never. There are no evil spirits who are at liberty
in Hades, or able to come forth and trouble men. The spirits of whom Peter and Jude speak are
in chains: 2 Peter 2: 4; Jude 6. It is
"But what say you of the expression in Matt. 23: 12, - ‘Ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves?’ Does not hell mean the place of wicked spirits?" It is another word: not Hades, but Gehenna. It means, ‘You make him deserving of eternal damnation.’² Evil spirits are not necessarily implied in the phrase.
3. ‘The plots of the enemies of the church shall not prevail against it.’ How does such a meaning flow from "the gates of Hades?" Here living men are introduced into the phrase, while Hades was just before declared to mean the place of departed spirits! It has been shown that evil spirits are not meant. Then, according to this view, the meaning ought to be ‘the plots of departed spirits shall not prevail against the church.’ But the sense will not be contended for.
Having shown, then, the falseness of the usual interpretation, I proceed to state the true. The ordinary view regards "gates" as taken in a figurative and active sense. They are really used in the passive and literal sense.
Hades, or the abode of the departed spirit [soul], is a place of custody or confinement. Thus we read of "the spirits in prison," who had been cast down to "Tartarus:" 2 Peter 2: 4. Tartarus is the classic name for a part of Hades. To this place of confinement or prison, gates are needed to admit those who are to enter, and to confine those who would break forth.³
we read of the apostles, that they were arrested, and put in "the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the
prison doors and brought them forth." The council the next day "sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, and found them not
in the prison, they returned, and told, saying, the prison truly
found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before
the doors, but when we opened we found no man within:" Acts 5: 19-23. To similar uses were the gates of cities put. Thus when the two spies had entered
2. That "the gates of Hades" means the gates of the place of the dead is easily proved. It is observed by the excellent scholar, Dr. Bloomfield, in his Recensio Synoptica, that the expression in question occurs both in the Greek and Hebrew writers, in classical and Hellenistic literature, in the same sense. Of which take some examples, drawn from Wetstein.
1. From the classics.
Lucian in his ‘Necromancy’ says,
"I thought of going to
2. Theognis, 707. "And he shall pass the dark gates, which confine the souls of the departed, bloodless though they be."
3. Achilles Tatius v., 297. "But they drew me back from the ‘very gates of death.’"
4. Aristides S. Sacr. lll., p. 310. "But he delivered many from death, who had entered at the very inflexible gates of Hades."
5. Theocritus Idyl. ll., 159. The Scholiast or Commentator upon the expression, "He shall knock at the gates of Hades, says, ‘that is, he shall die.’"
2. So in the Apocrypha.
Speaking of God’s sparing the lives of
2. The Jews in Egypt expecting to be put to death, "cried out with a very loud voice, beseeching the Lord of all power to interpose with compassion on behalf of those already set at the gates of Hades." 3 Maccab.
3. But example from the Scriptures will be most convincing.
1. "The Lord killeth and maketh alive, he bringeth down to Hades, and bringeth up:" 1 Sam. 2: 6.
2. Hezekiah threatened with death by the Lord, on his recovery writes as follows: "I said, in the cutting off of my days, I shall go down to the gates of Hades:" Isa. 39: 10-18.
3. In Job 17: 16, "bars" are ascribed to Hades. In Psa. 49: 15, "power" is attributed to it. So that deliverance from it must be owing to the exercise of superior might.
4. Peter, at Pentecost, commenting on those words of the Psalmist, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption," says David, "He seeing this before spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that his soul was not left in Hades, neither did his flesh see corruption:" Acts 2: 31. And as Hades and Death are places in which souls are confined, so to Jesus are ascribed the keys of those places: Rev. 1.
5. A similar expression, "the gates of death" is used in the following passages: Job 38, 17; Psa. 9: 13, 107: 18.
Throughout the Scripture, "gates" never figure an active assaulting power, they are always taken passively. And if Hades means the place of departed spirits, [souls] as has been proved, then the retentive or detaining power of the gates was in the Saviour’s mind. Thus both parts of the interpretation support each other.
"The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." A new question arises. Against what shall not Hades prevail? Two answers may be given.
1. Against the church. 2. Against the rock. The first is the view most commonly adopted: for the church is the immediate antecedent.
1. Yet it will appear, I think, on consideration, that the second interpretation is far superior; especially if it be granted that by the rock is meant, not Peter, but Christ. Both, indeed, yield an excellent sense; but the victory of the church is only the consequence of the victory of the rock. It was fitting, then, that that which is really the pre-eminent fact should take the precedence. And it is this which forms the prominent topic in Peter’s first sermon. All is employed in showing that Jesus is the Messiah and Holy One, because he could not be holden of death. Thus the apostle understood our Lord’s word here, and gave his inspired commentary on the text, as soon as the Lord’s triumph over Hades was manifest. Thus Paul also at Antioch, in Pisidia. It forms, indeed, the stable of apostolic testimony.
If we understand it to be spoken of the church, it will be found to apply less
accurately. For while most of the church
will have fallen asleep ere Christ comes, yet
all will not; and thus it cannot be said so strictly and universally of it,
that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. Samson, again, as a type of Christ in the
carrying off the gates of
19. "And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in the heavens; and whatever thou shalt loose upon the earth, shall be loosed in the heavens."
"I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Not a few understand by "the kingdom of heaven," eternal life. And by Peter’s loosing on earth they understand his preaching the gospel. This he was the first to do - to the Jews, at Pentecost; to the Gentiles, in the prison of Cornelius and his friends.
But such is not the meaning. For the kingdom of heaven is the [millennial] kingdom of the Son of Man; and that is of a limited duration, and not eternal life: 1 Cor. 15: 24, 28; Rev. 20: 4.
This power does not mean what some would make it, the power to declare what was lawful, and what was unlawful. Then, as one has observed, our Lord would rather have said, "What is bound in heaven thou shalt bind on earth; and what is loosed in heaven thou shalt loose on earth."
Nor was his use of the keys merely the preaching of the gospel. (1) For to him, as possessor of the keys, it was granted to shut, or "bind," as well as "to loose," or open. Might Peter shut up the gospel, after having begun to preach it? Might he cease himself to preach, or prohibit others preaching to the Gentiles, after he had commenced it? No! Because of something like that he was rebuked, as before noticed, by Paul. (2) And why does our Lord put the shutting first, as if that were the main thing? "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven."
Peter is appointed keeper of the gate which opens into the millennial kingdom. After exit from Hades, there comes entrance into the kingdom. Not that this power was given to him alone: for the other apostles enjoyed the same power. But to him it was first promised. To the other apostles the same power was granted by our Lord in John 20: 23. Here the word is future; "Thou shalt bind." There it is present. "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained." It was not yet enjoyed, any more than the building of the church was then commenced. "I will build." "I will give thee the keys." Neither Peter nor any of the apostles had power to fix the eternal lot of any. But their authority did extend to offences against the kingdom, and they had power to exclude from the millennial blessedness. This was the sanction of their apostolic power: this the scourge wherewith they could threaten [regenerate] offenders. So commanders-in-chief, so captains of ships, are entrusted with the power to inflict certain punishments on offenders under their orders.
We have an instance of the exercise of this power under both its forms, in the Epistles to the Corinthians. The apostle requires the church to assemble, and "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" to deliver the incestuous brother to Satan for the "destruction of the flesh." But those who are justly excluded from the church, are excluded from the kingdom also. But the person thus excommunicated repented, and Paul unlocked the gate which had been shut in his face.
He bade them restore the penitent offender. He forgave the offence, "in the person of Christ." Thus he recognizes the Saviour’s word in this place, that the act of his apostle on earth, whether in the way of exclusion or of forgiveness, was as certain of effect as if done by himself personally. What apostles did in this matter, was as if Christ in person had done it.
Why our Lord used the words "bind" and "loose," instead of "open" and "shut," is by no means clear. But those in John, "remit" and "retain," are less figurative. The power extended over the disciples who would be "on earth" till the Saviour come. Peter’s power reached not to those who were dead previously, nor to those who should die after him.
we see the reason why binding comes first, as the principle thing; and loosing
follows it. The presumption is, that those admitted into the church will be admitted
into the kingdom. Hence the apostle,
having originally admitted into the church at
Let us now connect the present with the former verse. The opening of the gates of Hades, which will be effected by Jesus, not by apostles or churches, brings the risen [dead] to the confines of the millennial kingdom. But there is yet a question - Are they to be ‘accounted worthy’ to obtain the kingdom?
appears that some members of the
Observe then, the difference between the church and "the kingdom of heaven." The idea so commonly entertained, that "the kingdom of heaven" intends the church of the Saviour, had wonderfully obscured our Lord’s words. But No! "The church" is a body of persons believing in Jesus as the risen Son of God. "The kingdom of heaven" is that state and time of blessedness, which had long been heralded to the Jews by John the Baptist and by Jesus. As Son of David, Jesus’ kingdom is on the earth; but as Son of Man, rejected both by Israel and the Gentiles, his kingdom is not "from this world" (ex) but to come from the heaven. It is to be set up by angelic, not human might. And as possessed of this far loftier character, it is to smite in pieces in a moment all the Gentile empires of earth. Then, follows the reign of glory. That day of happiness was now thrown open by the Saviour to the new body corporate which he was about to call forth.
20. "Then commanded he his disciples, that they should say to none, that he* is the Christ."
[*"Jesus" is omitted by the critical editions.]
denies not that he is the Christ. He had
confirmed it in the clearest manner when declared by Peter. But this title was to sink into abeyance for
the present, because of
It is interesting to observe, that Daniel in the lion’s den, and his three
fellows in the furnace, are all witnesses to the Gentile powers of the God of resurrection.
And after they come forth they are
promoted, and never troubled by them afterwards. So were they types of the saints and the
The mystery of Israel’s blindness having come forth into the light, the answering mystery of "the church" - that body which was to take Israel’s place of witness for God till the Son of Man should come - is announced.
21. "From that time Jesus began to show unto his disciples, that he must go away to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders, and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. 22. And Peter took him aside, and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.’ But he turned, and said unto Peter, ‘Go behind me, Satan: thou art my stumbling-block: for thou thinkest not the things of God, but the things of men.’"
the mystery of
"He must be slain" - as the proof of Jewish enmity; for that is especially the point in question now. But this wickedness should but develop the great truth which the Saviour had confirmed from Peter’s lips. He was “the Son of the living God." But how should this possession of life in himself, as life eternal, be shown? By his first submitting to death. Resurrection was God’s secret from the first. His Son was to be the first to rise from the dead. ‘But how is this true? Were there not some raised under the Old Economy? And did not Jesus himself raise three?’ Yes: but these were mere shadows of the true resurrection which was in God’s mind. (1) They were not the entrance on a new and eternal life. There were mere respites of death, mere prolongations of the present life. Jesus was the first to rise in "the power of an endless life." (2) Again, in all the previous examples of resurrection, the effect was traceable to some man, who uttered the words of prayer, or pronounced the word of command, upon which the spirit re-animated the body. But in our Lord’s case, there was no such thing. No prophet came to call him forth. It was the act of God alone, declaring him to be the Son, and sending his angel to wait on him as he left the tomb. Thus, in resurrection, would Jesus disclose his superiority to John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and the prophets.
this prediction ran counter to the Jewish views of the disciples. Their eyes were fixed on Messiah’s glory. They
saw not the consequences of
Our Lord’s reply is severe. Peter had taken him aside, but our Lord turned himself about, that his face might be towards the other apostles, and that his words might be, not a private rebuke, but a public exposure of the offending disciple. He beheld in Peter Satan’s art, employing a disciple for his own purposes. Let us not wonder at the mixture which there is in holy men. Peter is at once "blessed" as enlightened of the Father, and yet "Satan," as used of the Evil One! Can anything show more clearly the parti-coloured character of saintship now? May we not speak of ‘worldly Christians,’ and ‘proud Christians,’ and ‘covetous Christians,’ when Jesus calls this first stone of his church and porter of his kingdom, - “Satan?"
Satan’s strong point was to deter our Saviour from the glory and redemption, by the prospect of the suffering. Peter in this took part with the enemy. Instead of seeking to urge on his Master to the glorious goal, he was a stone lying in his path. "Thou art my stumbling-block." Thou art not merely wrong thyself, but labouring to make me so also. God’s plan is, that I should suffer. His thoughts are contrary to the promises offered to the obedient of the law, and the natural thoughts of "men." The glory of the law was life prolonged. The desire of man is to spare life, as our chief possession. But sacrifice of life for God is now the will of God.
Peter, though enlightened to see Jesus as the Christ and Son of God, so as to be blessed therein, had yet the flesh abiding with him in power. Had he lived according to his counsel, he had been living after the flesh. Against this the apostle Paul warns us, as we have seen, as tending really to the loss of the kingdom: Rom. 8. Thus we have an example of a saint really acting as there it is theoretically supposed. And thus our Lord and his apostle are seen to be in harmony.
Out of enmity on the part of sinners, and consequent suffering on the part of saints, is to rise our glory. We may escape this by worldly prudence, but it tends to evil. "If when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us:" 1 Peter 2: 20, 21.
We may learn also from these words of the Saviour, our responsibility for the advice we give. We should strengthen the weak on the path of duty, even though our advice may seem harsh, and we may be called unfeeling. If we turn any aside from duty by the suggestions of mere worldly prudence, we are employed by Satan.
1. "If any confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, he was to be put out of the synagogue."
Such is the apostate state of Christ’s Church today, that it would not be an exaggeration if one were to say to those who know what the word "Messiah" implies: ‘If any confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, he/she are to be put out of the Church!’ More and more Christians are becoming A-Millennialists.
2. "It is another word: not Hades, but Gehenna. It means, ‘You make him deserving of eternal damnation."
No! Gehenna never, in this or in any other place in Scripture where the word is to be found, should be interpreted to mean eternal damnation. See Matt. 5: 22, 29, 30; 18: 9; cf. Mark 9: 47; James 3: 6 - all addressed to the regenerate.
3. "Tartarus [2 Pet. 2: 4] is the classic name for a part of Hades. To this place of confinement or prison, gates are needed to admit those [angels] who are to enter, and to confine those who would break forth."
Relative to the clause above, G. H. Lang has a very instructive commentary in his book, ‘The Revelation of Jesus Christ.’ pp. 270-275, concerning Antichrist, and the Restrainer (2 Thess. 2: 6). He writes:-
" He [the Beast] is about to come up out of the abyss"
The A.V. "bottomless pit," if it gives any idea that can be distinctly apprehended, is erroneous. It led the acute mind of the boy Spurgeon to puzzle his ministerial grandfather with the question, If the pit has no bottom, were do the people go when they fall out at the other end? That the abyss is not a "pit" at all is seen from the feature that, in the imagery of the Revelation (as in the classic poets), it is reached by means of a pit, that is, a shaft (Rev. 11: 1). In two places the AV renders by "deep," which is as indefinite as the other is misleading.
idea of the word is a vast, profound, unexplored region, and so in the Septuagint the common reference is
to the then unexplored ocean depths. In
the New Testament this region is
located within the earth, and is the sphere of the dead: "Who shall descend into the abyss, that is, to bring
Christ up from the dead" (
of the classics will know that these features of that hidden world were the
ideas commonly held in John’s day. They
would cause no wonderment or question to his readers, who would take the
statements in their natural sense, as describing ideas generally accepted.
passage is an amplifying of the earlier statement in c.
11: 7, that the Beast who will kill the Two Witnesses at
All the places where the word occurs have been mentioned, and from them it is clear that the abyss is a locality, the region inter alia of the dead, and it is within the earth. This forbids the common suggestion that the "beast," is about to ascend from the abyss, means an empire, the Roman, and it is to be "revived." No empire is in the abyss or can emerge from thence. The individual men that ever formed that empire are there, but as individuals. One of these can be brought thence, if God shall permit; but when it is said that the empire shall be revived to fulfil this passage, it must be asked which of the many myriads of persons that belonged to it, though many generations in the long centuries past, are thus to form it in its resurrected existence? And when it will be replied that this is not asserted, but only that the Roman empire will be re-formed at the end, composed of men then living, the answer is that this is not what the text states, that it merely avoids the plain sense of the term "coming up out of the abyss," and sets aside the fact that the abyss is a place, a place quite well known to Scripture and to the general thought of mankind by this name, and located in the heart of the earth.
It is here suggested that the angel ruler of this region is he who restrains the Lawless One of 2 Thes. 2, the "Beast" of the present passage, hindering him issuing thence before the time permitted by God. This may explain why Paul took for granted that converts from Greek heathendom would know of this Restrainer (2 Thess. 2: 6).
That a person should return from the place of the dead to act again in the affairs of the living, was no new idea in John’s day, but one known to Scripture and men in general. It is latent in the very conception of necromancy, the consulting of the dead; and while most of what professes to be this is doubtless demonic fraud, yet the Old Testament had the instance of the coming up of the veritable Samuel to denounce the judgment of God to Saul (1 Sam. 28: 15). It is our Lord that shows that Dives took for granted that Lazarus could be sent up to warn living men, an idea the divine Teacher could scarcely have spread un-contradicted had He known it to be erroneous (Luke 16). And both Old and New Testaments unite to say that Messiah is a Man raised from the dead to rule the earth.
The common views of mankind had always agreed with this. This by itself would not establish the truth of the notion; but when Scripture adopts without question an idea prevalent among men, that idea must be regarded as true, for the Word of God cannot endorse error.
From the most ancient times the Egyptians had conceived of the "victorious" dead being granted by the gods liberty to come and go in their former earth spheres. Thus in c. 11 of The Book of the Dead it is said of the dead Ani: "Orisis Ani shall come forth by day to do whatsoever he pleaseth upon the earth among the living ones." This notion of the departed having unrestricted liberty to return and act among the living we consider devoid of warrant of Scripture, for the case of Samuel was an exception: but our only concern is to establish that the idea in the words "come up out of the abyss" would be easily accepted in John’s day. Egyptian conceptions were then widely spread, including in the Greek-speaking lands, and were in harmony with similar conceptions in the whole ancient world.
In keeping with this was the expectation, then held by many, that Nero was to return to the earth and rule again. This was adopted by many Christians as to be the fulfilment of our passage, which shows that they took the passage in its natural sense of the return of a dead man. That this idea gained rapid and wide credence, among pagans and Christians, is to be explained by the fact that it was but the application to a particular person (Nero) of a possibility owned generally.
... It is to be remarked that the New Testament does not specify positively the form in which the eighth head will appear, whether in a properly human nature, with a mortal body, or otherwise. These factors may be considered.
(1) He receives a sword wound which ordinarily would have proved fatal, but which is healed (13: 3, 14). If the stroke killed him, this would imply an ordinary mortal body. But it would then not be an ordinary expression to say that the stroke was "healed," meaning thereby resurrection from the dead. To be healed is to be preserved alive by the wound not proving fatal.
(2) When seized alive by the Lamb (19: 19-21) he and the false prophet are not killed* (in which particular they are expressly contrasted with their fellows: "the rest were killed"), but they are "cast alive into the lake of fire," where they still are a thousand years later. Now no mortal body could thus endure that fire, which suggests a non-mortal bodily nature.
[* The R V at 2 Thess 2: 8 says that the Lord Jesus shall "slay" the Lawless One. The verb (analisko), and in N T is found in this place and Luke 9: 54 and Gal. 5: 15 only. In the two latter places the RV renders by "consume." The variation throws the passage into conflict with Rev. 19: 20. The word does not mean to kill, but to consume, and so in Greek was commonly employed of using up one’s money. The Beast will be consumed, destroyed, without being killed physically.]
(3) When Samuel came up he had a form and garment which Saul, from the description given by the witch, readily recognized as being that of Samuel. This suggests that the soul retains in the death state a physical covering closely resembling the material body lost at death. May Antichrist appear in such a form, like to his former mortal body? Also the normal resurrection body of our Lord bore visibly the marks of His wounds, and was recognizable by those who had known Him in the flesh. In resurrection the wicked dead may be similarly clothed, with one or other of these coverings.
In view of these considerations, whatever may be the fact as to Antichrist, it is not required that we believe him to be properly re-incarnated, no plain suggestion being made of a body of flesh or being necessary to the case.
In such a physical form it would be easy for the Satan-deceived earth-dwellers to regard the Beast as having become a demi-god, such as the heathen commonly regarded deified heroes, and thus he would be readily accepted when he “sits in the temple of God at Jerusalem setting himself forth as God (2 Thess. 2: 4)."
† "So that, while exclusion from the church seems, to the eye of sense, a poor and trifling punishment; to the eye of faith, as involving the loss of the millennial kingdom, it is of intense importance."
This is a wake-up-call for the regenerate. Our failure to react and distinguish between a ‘gift’ and the ‘prize’; between ‘eternal’ or age-lasting life; between literal or spiritual; unconditional or conditional; winning (the crown) or losing (the crown); overcoming or being overcome; ‘first’ or ‘last’; ‘church’ or ‘bride’; ‘good and ‘faithful’, or ‘wicked’ and ‘lazy’; ‘accounted worthy’ or not - will be made manifest: and that divine separation of all the redeemed will be the outcome of Christ’s judgment ON OUR WORKS.