Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 2)
Adam: January 27, 2010
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 20:1-15
In the previous post, following an introduction, we examined the first four verses of Revelation 20 from an amillennialist viewpoint. In doing so, we noted that the majority of amillennialists see “the millennium” as taking place right now (between Christ’s ascension and His Second Coming), but primarily in heaven for those who are in the intermediate state. In the previous post, we dealt extensively with the question of how–and to what extent–Satan is presently bound. In this post we will examine the remaining 11 verses of Revelation 20:
Verse 5: Having read of those who come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years, we now read: “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.” Here, Sam Storms briefly describes the most common premillennial view of the resurrections mentioned in this passage:
The “coming to life” in 20:4b is a physical, bodily resurrection of believers that occurs at the second coming of Christ before the millennium. The “coming to life” in 20:5a is also a physical, bodily resurrection, but of unbelievers after the millennium. Therefore, the bodily resurrection of all mankind comes in two stages separated by a thousand years.
Jason Robertson notes that “the first resurrection” has historically been defined by amillennialists in various ways:
- Believed by Amillennialists to either be referring to the renewal of life that occurs at conversion or to the transfer of the believer’s soul from earth to heaven at death.
- Amillennialists like Augustine and Calvin interpreted this to be referring to regeneration, and that the regenerated are now living and reigning with Christ in His spiritual kingdom which He inaugurated at His first advent.
- Other Amillennialists like Hendriksen, [Greg] Beale, [B.B.] Warfield, and [Meredith] Kline believed that “first resurrection” refers to the believers’ death and translation to heaven, who are now reigning with Christ.
- On either of these views then, the “first resurrection” phrase refers to a spiritual resurrection not a physical one, and it occurs before—not after—the second advent. The kingdom is now, is spiritual, and is the progressive fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Acts 24:15 says that “there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” Does this text leave room for two separate resurrections of the righteous and the unrighteous, separated by 1000 years (or any amount of time), as premillennialism sees in Revelation 20? Steve Gregg (p. 470) answers this question by concluding that Revelation 20 is not, in fact, speaking of two physical resurrections:
The Scriptures elsewhere teach that there will be only one physical resurrection at the end of time, which will include the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. John 5:28-29; Acts 24:14-15; compare “the last day” in John 6:39, 40, 44, 54, and 12:48). We find this resurrection of bodies from their graves at the end of the Millennium (v. 13). It follows that there can be no other physical resurrection than that mentioned at the end of the chapter and that the “first resurrection” mentioned in verses 5 and 6 must therefore be a spiritual one. Such a Christian’s experience of regeneration is frequently spoken of in terms of a spiritual rising from death to life (cf. John 5:24; 11:34-35; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:13; 3:1; Rom. 6:4-5, 13). It is further justified by the fact of its juxtaposition with the second death (v. 6). There are two deaths: one physical, and one nonphysical (v. 14). That one resurrection should be spiritual and the other physical conforms to the dichotomy of the passage with reference to the two deaths.
Kenneth Gentry agrees with this assessment, and makes this comparison with John’s discussion of the resurrection in his gospel account (pp. 85-86):
This first resurrection is—salvation. Note how John, the author of Revelation, earlier recorded Christ’s instruction in which he parallels spiritual resurrection unto present salvation and physical resurrection unto eternal destiny: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live [first resurrection]. …Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned [second resurrection] (John 5:24-29, italics added). In fact, because of Christ’s physical resurrection, we are spiritually resurrected (Rom. 6:4-14; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 3:1).
Verse 6: In this verse, we read these words, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power…” This same promise was given to the first-century believers living in Smyrna: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life… The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:10-11). James Robertson again draws a comparison with what Jesus said in John 5:
The “second death,” which is everlasting punishment, is said to “have no power over them.” Obviously not, if they are saved and/or in Heaven. John quotes Jesus as saying in John 11:25-26, “25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
In short, the first resurrection is salvation for the believer, which the unbeliever does not experience. The second resurrection is physical, the one and only physical resurrection spoken of in Scripture. Whoever experiences the first (spiritual) resurrection has nothing to fear with regard to the second (physical) resurrection, at which time judgment will occur. Prior to that time, they will reign for “a thousand years.” As Martin Luther famously wrote in the margin of his Bible, “Born once – die twice; born twice – die once.” Well-known amillennialist Meredith Kline speaks on these matters at length, and in a very academic manner, here.
[At this point, it might be good to point out that premillennialism seems to exclude a certain group of people from experiencing any physical resurrection at all. This system teaches that there will be unconverted people who will enter into a physical kingdom (the Millennium) without glorified bodies, and that some of these will experience a conversion during that time. Premillennialism proposes that there will be two physical resurrections, separated by a period of 1000 years, for two different groups of people: the saved (first) and the lost (later). When do the newly converted “millennium saints” then experience a physical resurrection?]
Kenneth Gentry has this to say on the believer’s present status in God’s kingdom (pp. 84-85):
[God’s] kingdom does not await some future, visible coming (Luke 17:20-21; Col. 1:13). Consequently, Christ claimed to be king while on earth (John 12:12-15; 18:36-37), and God enthroned Him as King following His resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:30-36). Since His resurrection Christ has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18), for He is at the right hand of God, ruling over His kingdom (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; 14:11; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18; 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). As a result, first-century Christians proclaimed Him King (Matt. 2:2; Acts 17:7; Rev. 1:5), and new converts entered His kingdom (John 3:3; Col. 1:12-13; I Thess. 2:12).
The other reality involves our present rule with Him in His kingdom. John tells the seven churches of the first century that Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). This present priestly kingship is exactly what Revelation 20 relates of the millennial kingdom: “They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (20:6).
Paul mentions our present rule as well: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6; cf. 1:3; Col. 3:1-4). Whatever surprised responses might arise against this viewpoint, the fact remains: The Bible teaches we are presently “seated with Him.”
C. Satanic Rebellion Crushed (Rev. 20:7-10)
Verses 7-10: When we were told in verse 3 that Satan was bound and sealed for a thousand years, we were also told that he would be released after that “for a little while.” Now we are given these details: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Numerous questions come to my mind when examining this passage. In what sense does Satan “deceive the nations” at this time? Is it in the same way as he did prior to being bound? Does “earth” here refer only to Israel/Palestine, as it has so many times in Revelation? Or does it refer this time to the entire globe, especially because of the phrase “the four corners of the earth”? Does the mention of Gog and Magog here mean that this vision and Ezekiel’s vision are one and the same, or does it only indicate similarities between this battle and that one (i.e. Ezekiel’s, having taken place in the past)? Does this army literally march across land, converging on one location, or is this symbolic of a movement against one specific people (i.e. followers of Christ; thus, speaking of persecution)?
Every indication in Revelation thus far is that “the beloved city” in verse 9 must be the New Jerusalem (i.e. the Church—Heb. 12:22-24; Gal. 4:24-27), and not earthly Jerusalem. After all, Jerusalem in John’s day was designated by the names “Sodom” and “Egypt” (Rev. 11:8), and a strong case has been made that it also bore names like “the great prostitute” (Rev. 17:1) and “Babylon the great” (Rev. 14:8, 16:19, and 18:2). Nothing in Revelation since chapter 11 has occurred to suggest that natural Jerusalem is now (in chapter 20) deserving of the title “beloved city”; in fact, the opposite is true.
We will designate a separate post for a more thorough discussion of Ezekiel’s vision of Gog and Magog, as well as implications for the fact that John mentions these two entities here in this text. That post will be titled “Revelation 20: Two Views of Gog and Magog” (it can be located in the Revelation 20 Introduction and Outline post once it’s up). Suffice it to say, though, that many amillennialists see verse 9 as speaking of Christ’s Second Coming, articulated in terms of “fire [coming] down from heaven and [consuming] them.” For most partial-preterists, this is the only mention of Christ’s Second Coming, as Rev. 1:7 and Rev. 19:11-16 speak of Christ’s judgment upon Jerusalem in 70 AD.
Kenneth Gentry says of this passage, “In Revelation 20:7-15 we witness the Second Coming and final judgment. But since this is so distant from John’s day, he only quickly mentions them” (Four Views, p. 86). Mark Copeland likewise comments,
If any section of Revelation pertains to the time just prior to the Lord’s final coming, I believe it is this one. The description is brief, for the book was written for the benefit of Christians in Asia Minor about things to shortly come to pass (cf. 1:1-4; 22:6, 10). These Christians would not experience this last attempt of Satan. But to assure them (and us!) that Satan would ultimately be defeated, we have the description found in these few verses (7-10).
David Chilton makes a similar statement:
(The Book of Revelation) is about the destruction of Israel and Christ’s victory over His enemies in the establishment of the New Covenant Temple. In fact, as we shall see, the word coming as used in the Book of Revelation never refers to the Second Coming. Revelation prophesies the judgment of God on apostate Israel; and while it does briefly point to events beyond its immediate concerns, that is done merely as a “wrap-up,” to show that the ungodly will never prevail against Christ’s Kingdom. But the main focus of Revelation is upon events which were soon to take place.” (David Chilton, Days of Vengeance, p. 43)
Steve Gregg goes into more detail on these four verses (pp. 472, 474, 476):
We had been forewarned in verse 3 that when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison [v. 7]. In that place we were assured that his freedom would be short-lived, though here we learn that his brief liberty is occupied in the same kind of mischief—but on a more intensive scale—as that in which he was engaged prior to being bound. This speaks of a brief period of indeterminate duration at the end of the Christian era, during which Satan will be permitted to resist the church on a global scale…
The truth having never since the time of Christ been successfully resisted, Satan’s release to deceive the nations [v. 8] would seem to constitute the ultimate setback for the church, as the majority of the world devolves to a paganistic state comparable to that which prevailed before the First Coming of Christ.
The mention of Gog and Magog [v. 8] seems a direct identification with the battle prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39, thus placing the time of this battle at the end of the Millennium (the church age), rather than before the Millennium, where most premillenarians locate Ezekiel’s battle.
The whole world having turned hostile to Christ and the church, all nations will endeavor to battle against the camp of the saints (v. 9). This may be warfare of a spiritual sort, but since such battle against the church meant persecution in Revelation 11:7 and 13:7, it is likely that persecution of the church on a grand scale is what is in view here as well. The beloved city (v. 9) is the New Jerusalem described more fully in chapter 21, which is an image of the church (cf. 21:9-10; Heb. 12:22ff.).
The career of this rebel force and their diabolical leader comes to a final end with the Second Coming of Christ, here depicted with the words fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them (v. 9). The Second Coming of Christ will be “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8). It is the “day of the Lord…in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). This coming of the Lord with its attendant burning up of the earth clearly could not have occurred at the beginning of the Millennium since, in such a case, there would be no venue for the playing out of the earthly drama in this chapter.
At the coming of Christ in fiery judgment, the devil (v. 10) is not going to be temporarily chained but, rather, he is to be cast into the lake of fire… The lake of fire, you will recall, is where the beast and the false prophet are (v. 10; cf. 19:20). This statement presents a slight problem for amillennialism in that it presupposes an earlier judgment upon the Beast and the False Prophet, whereas this view considers both Revelation 19:20 (the judgment of the beast) and Revelation 20:10 (the judgment of the devil) both to be describing the same event, namely, the Second Coming of Christ.
In an attempt to remove the difficulty, R. Fowler White proposes that “20:10 need only imply that at the Second Coming the devil is cast into the lake of fire shortly after the beast and the false prophet are cast there.”
As already mentioned, preterism removes the difficulty in another way, by not seeing Revelation 19 as speaking at all of Christ’s Second Coming, but rather His non-physical coming in judgment upon Jerusalem/Israel in 70 AD, which we have already proposed. When Historicism is coupled together with amillennialism, this difficulty exists. However, when preterism is coupled together with amillennialism, there is no such quandary. I also wrote about this in the “Revelation 20: Introduction and Outline” post, under the section “Preliminary Thoughts on Revelation 20.”
On another note, both II Thess. 1:8 and II Peter 3:10-13 are taken by some partial-preterists (and full preterists, of course) to refer to the events which took place in 70 AD, rather than to a future Second Coming. This is especially plausible if “the earth and the works that are done on it” (II Pet. 3:10) is a reference to Israel/Palestine just as it very often is in the book of Revelation. (We will come to the expression “new heavens and a new earth” (I Pet. 3:13) in our study of Revelation 21 and will discuss this in length at that time. A key question to keep in mind for now is this: Does this expression denote [A] the New Covenant body of Christ [B] a literal new heaven and new earth in the eternal state, or [C] both in a now-but-not-yet sense?)
Sam Storms’ take on this passage is this (keep in mind that he is a historicist, and not a preterist):
At the end of the age there will emerge an intensified form of tribulation and apostasy as well as a personal antichrist (the AM, however, does not identify this period of tribulation with Daniel’s 70th Week, as does the Dispensational Premillennialist, nor does he define its purpose as having anything to do with the restoration of national theocratic Israel. It should be noted, however, that some AMs do believe in a mass salvation of ethnic Israel at the end of the age). Christ’s return at the close of this period will synchronize with the general resurrection and general judgment of all men, believers and unbelievers alike, to be followed immediately by the eternal state (i.e., the new heavens and the new earth). In other words, here is the major point of difference between the AM and Premillennialist: the former denies whereas the latter affirms an earthly, visible rule of Christ for 1,000 years between His second coming and the final resurrection, judgment, and introduction of the eternal state.
To the subject of this judgment we now turn.
D. The Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15)
Verses 11-12: Steve Gregg, in his commentary on these verses (p. 478, 480), takes note of a couple of reasons why amillennialists believe the Second Coming must occur at this time, at the end of the thousand years rather than at the beginning (as premillennialism supposes):
The judgment of the great white throne (v. 11) is not a special judgment to be distinguished from other judgments of the close of the age (e.g. a separate bema judgment of the believers only, some thousand years earlier), but simply a description of the only ultimate judgment at the coming of Christ, involving believers and unbelievers (cf. Matt. 25:31; Rom. 2:5-10; Rev. 11:18). The “great white throne” is thus not a technical label to distinguish this event from others like it, but merely a statement of the color of the throne (white), suggesting purity, upon which God, or Christ, is seen seated at the last day (John 12:48).
The glory of the Lord at this point is such that the earth and the heaven fled away (v. 11) from before His face. This in itself indicates that the Second Coming did not occur a thousand years earlier. Why would not the glory of the returning Christ have brought about this flight of the natural world into nonexistence at that earlier time? It can hardly be thought that His glory at His coming will be less intense than it would be a thousand years later. Since the coming of the Lord is in fact the end of the natural universe (2 Pet. 3:10-13), we read that there was found no place for them (v. 11), making way for a new heaven and a new earth to occupy the place left vacant by their dismissal (21:1).
The fact that John saw the dead (v. 12) arise and come before God to be judged proves that it is at this point, and not a thousand years earlier, that the Second Coming is seen. The judgment is everywhere associated with Christ’s Second Coming in Scripture (cf. Matt. 25:19, 31; II Thess. 1:8ff; II Tim. 4:1). [See also I Cor. 15:23.]
Q: In verse 12 we read that “books” were opened, as well as “the book of life.” Does this seem to indicate that only the wicked are judged at this judgment, or also the righteous? In his commentary on verse 12, Steve Gregg says,
The presence of the Book of Life seems to imply the presence of the righteous, whose names are to be found there, while we are also told explicitly that John also saw there those who were not found written in the Book of Life (vs. 15). This judgment, then, wherein the dead were judged according to their works (v. 12), includes believers as well as unbelievers, despite the clear teaching of Scripture that salvation is not attained through works (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). It is all equally clear teaching of Scripture that a Christian is known by his works as surely as is an unsaved man (Jas. 2:15-18; Tit. 1:16; 2:14). Therefore Christians who are saved by grace through faith will be proven to be so as the result of an examination of their works (Matt. 16:27, 25:31ff; I Pet. 1:17).
This concludes our verse-by-verse study of Revelation 20 from an amillennial viewpoint. In the next post (Part 3) we will take a look at two very interesting articles:  “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” by Dr. Charles E. Hill, and  “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?” by Kim Riddlebarger.
In Part 4 (of our “Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint” series) we will look at two more articles:  “Problems with Premillennialism” by Sam Storms, and  “Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Forever” by Grover Gunn (posted by PJ Miller and also by Job of “Heal the Land” (under the lengthy but fitting title “Premillennial Dispensationalism Effectively Claims that the New Covenant Has Not Yet Arrived, Which Means We Are Still Under the Old”).
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.
 As noted before, Kenneth Gentry’s viewpoint on this passage has changed. His new viewpoint is articulated in a two-part series titled “Revelation 20: Minority Views on the Millennium.” This and all posts on Revelation 20 can be located in our Revelation 20 Introduction and Outline.
 It’s also perhaps reasonable to consider that Ezekiel’s battle of Gog and Magog may have already taken place in history prior to this Satan-led battle, and that the former battle is simply referenced because of similarities in this latter case. Perhaps not, though. An entire post has now been devoted to the subject of Gog and Magog, titled “Revelation 20: Four Views on Gog and Magog.”
 According to Sam Storms, most Amillennialists view the book of Revelation as spanning the entire time period from Christ’s first coming until His Second Coming in the future, but consisting of seven sections running parallel to each other: (1) chapters 1-3; (2) chapters 4-7; (3) chapters 8-11; (4) chapters 12-14; (5) chapters 15-16; (6) chapters 17-19; (7) chapters 20-22. This is the Historicist view, and of course preterists do not see the book of Revelation quite this way. While the first six parallels may be true, partial-preterists see the bulk of Revelation as having been fulfilled in the 70 AD judgment of God upon faithless Israel. The Millennium does more or less chronologically follow chapters 1-19 for partial-preterists, except that the Millennium does not begin in 70 AD but at the cross. There is an overlapping of the ages for one generation, as the Old Covenant age was only brought to a complete end until the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 AD, even though the New Covenant age was established when Christ went to the cross some 40 years earlier. This brief overlapping of the ages will be discussed at length in a two-part series titled “A Discussion of Two Ages.”