Revelation 20: Minority Views on the Millennium (Part 1)
Adam Maarschalk: March 20, 2010
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 20:1-15
The primary purpose of these next two posts is to acknowledge that there are some whose beliefs regarding the Millennium do not fit into the three well-known camps: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. In this post I would like to highlight three minority views on this subject which I am aware of:  the position of J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895) and Duncan McKenzie (and others) that the Millennium began in 70 AD and continues until now  Kenneth Gentry’s newest viewpoint on Revelation 20:4-6; what he calls “The Martyr’s Millennium,” and  the position of full-preterism, which does not see Revelation 20 as either a present (ongoing) or future reality, but as having been completely fulfilled in the past. This post covers the first two views. This post and the next are summed up by the following outline:
A. J. Stuart Russell & Duncan McKenzie: The Millennium Began in 70 AD
B. Kenneth Gentry: “The Martyr’s Millennium” (A Study of Revelation 20:4-6)
C. Full Preterism: One Thousand Years Represents Only 40 Years (30 AD—70 AD)
A. The Millennium Began in 70 AD
We now come to the viewpoint espoused well over a century ago by J. Stuart Russell (and perhaps before that by others) that the Millennium began in 70 AD following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. This is quite similar to amillennialism/postmillennialism which generally proposes that the reign of Christ began with His work on the cross. I haven’t read Russell’s writings on this particular matter, but I would imagine he drew his conclusions from at least the following texts:  Daniel 7:21-22, 27  Matthew 21:33-45.
In Daniel 7, the time comes for the saints to possess the kingdom after “the horn” makes war with the saints and prevails over them for a time (cf. Rev. 13:5-7). Most preterists (partial or full) would agree that this passage was fulfilled in the first century, in Nero’s day and shortly after. In Matthew 21 (The Parable of the Tenants), Jesus tells the Jewish religious leaders of His day that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them “and given to a people producing its fruits” (verse 43; cf. verse 41). This is linked to the stone (verse 44) crushing those who had been responsible for killing God’s servants and Son (verses 35-39; cf. Acts 2:22-23, 36; 5:30; 7:52; I Thess. 2:14-15), which many take to refer to God’s wrath poured out on apostate Israel in 70 AD. So it would seem from these texts that the kingdom was inaugurated (or “secured for God’s people,” as Kenneth Gentry says) at this point, even if the kingdom was present from the time of Christ’s ministry. Thought of this way, then, the “already but not yet” phase of God’s kingdom lasted for only 40 years rather than for about 2000 years (as postulated by many premillennialists).
Interestingly, Duncan McKenzie calls his view “The Postribulational (i.e. post AD 70) Beginning of the Millennium.” This is because he believes (as I do) that the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14) took place from early 67 AD—mid 70 AD. Before quoting from McKenzie on his views regarding the Millennium, it will be helpful if I can clarify where he stands with regard to preterism. He stands with J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895), the writer of the classic book “The Parousia,”  whose position is as follows:
Where Russell’s position is different from full preterism is that it does not hold that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70… The position of James Stuart Russell offers a third preterist option that is different from full preterism and traditional partial preterism. Russell’s position is essentially like the full preterist position (i.e. the one and only Second Coming, the judgment and the resurrection happened at AD 70, the resurrection having an ongoing fulfillment since AD 70. Russell’s position sees us as currently in the new heaven and earth, a symbol of the post AD 70 new covenant order). Where Russell’s position is different from full preterism is that it does not hold that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70… Russell saw the millennium as beginning at AD 70, not ending at that time as full preterism necessitates. I believe that Russell was right and a wrong turn took place with the advent of full preterism. I say this because of my study of Daniel 7; I believe it lends support to Russell’s position. It should be noted that in Russell’s system there will be a future end to evil at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:7-10); it sees Satan as defeated, just not disposed of yet.
Russell’s position is that what is being shown in Revelation 20 is not two separate throne scenes and judgments (one in Rev. 20:4 and one in 20:11-15) separated by the millennium, but one throne scene and judgment (composed of Revelation 20:4 and 11-15) with a digression of what will happen at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20:7-10) in between. Russell’s position is that John begins describing a throne scene judgment at the beginning of the millennium in Revelation 20:4. At 20:7-10 John digresses about what would happen at the end of the millennium, and then at 20:11 he takes up again the subject of the throne scene judgment he started in 20:4. Russell thus saw the description of the throne scene and judgment that is begun in Revelation 20:4 as being continued in Revelation 20:11. The two sections (Rev. 20:4 and 11-15) are thus describing one throne scene judgment (which happens at the beginning of the millennium), not two throne scene judgments (one at the beginning of the millennium and one at its end).
Russell spoke of Rev. 20:5-10 as a parenthesis and “the sole instance in the whole book of an excursion into distant futurity…matters still future and unfulfilled.” Here, McKenzie is even more clear regarding his own overall position on eschatology, i.e. what has and has not yet been fulfilled:
Like full preterists, I see AD 70 as the time of the Second Coming, resurrection and judgment (with the resurrection and judgment having an ongoing fulfillment since that time). Like partial preterists I see certain prophetic events that still await fulfillment (e.g., the destruction of Satan at the end of the millennium described in Revelation 20:7-10). While my position is much closer to full preterism, I strongly disagree with its premise that all biblical prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70.
Our approach is most similar to that of nineteenth-century theologian James Stuart Russell. Like full preterists, Russell saw AD 70 as the time of the Second Coming; unlike full preterists, Russell saw the Second Coming as the beginning of the millennium, not its end. I call this position “premillennial preterism.” It is premillennial in that it holds that Jesus returned right before (pre-) the millennium. Unlike futuristic premillennialism, however, it does not see the millennium as a literal 1000-year period. My position is preteristic because it holds that the one and only Second Coming occurred at the AD 70 end of the old covenant age. R. C. Sproul, in his book The Last Days according to Jesus, wrote favorably concerning Russell’s position and his attempt to answer the hard questions related to the New Testament’s teaching of a very soon (first century) Second Coming.
One may also follow the above link to view McKenzie’s arguments on why the Second Coming occurred (once and for all) in 70 AD, based on “the words of Jesus (as recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke), Peter, Paul, James, John, Jude, and the author of Hebrews.” That discussion falls outside of the scope of our discussion here, but as McKenzie makes brief references (in what is to follow) to a past Second Coming I wanted to point this out for the sake of clarity. Let us now turn to McKenzie’s discussion of why the Millennium should be thought of as having its formal and official beginning in 70 AD. I have to admit that this is very well argued:
[Revelation 20:1-4] is the famous passage of the binding of Satan and the reign of Jesus and His people. On the surface this passage appears relatively simple; on closer inspection, however, it turns out to be one of the most difficult and debated passages in the Bible. One of the first matters to attend to in understanding the millennium is the question of how it fits in sequentially in relation to the rest of Revelation. Is the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1 a continuation of the events of Revelation 19 (the AD 70 fall of Babylon and the Second Coming) or is there a recapitulation (a going back and restating of events that happened earlier)? Some say that there is a recapitulation here, that Revelation 20 is going back to the time of Pentecost (c. AD 30) or even the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (c. AD 26). My position is that Revelation 20 is a continuation of the (AD 70) events of Revelation 19, not a recapitulation to the time around AD 30.
In considering the sequence of Revelation 19-20, it is helpful to broaden one’s focus. Here is Revelation 19:11-20:4 without the chapter separation (chapter separations were not part of the original manuscript). For brevity I have left out Revelation 19:12-18 which is mostly a description of the One on the white horse (the Word of God, Rev. 19:13).
“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True and in righteousness He judges and makes war…And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh. Then I saw an angel coming down form heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
Notice the sequence in Revelation 19-20. The individual beast and false prophet (the one who made people take the mark of the beast, Rev. 13:11-18) are captured at the Second Coming in chapter 19 and put in the lake of fire. Satan is then taken and thrown in the abyss as the kingdom is established in chapter 20. Those who had lost their lives for not taking the mark of the beast (cf. Rev. 19:20; 13:15-16) are then resurrected in Revelation 20:4 at the beginning of the millennium. God was letting His first century audience know that the one who was faithful to Him to the point of death (cf. Rev. 2:10-11) would still get to participate in the soon coming millennial reign (Rev. 2:25-27; 3:21).
Notice the reference to the mark of the beast as a past event in both chapter 19 and 20. Revelation 20 is a continuation of the AD 70 narrative of the Second Coming, not a recapitulation to AD 30.
Rev. 19:20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.
Rev. 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
In Revelation 13:1-10 the seven churches were warned about the soon coming individual beast (cf. Rev. 17:18) that would overcome the saints. In Revelation 13:11-18 they were warned about his mark on the head and hand (cf. Rev. 14:8-11). These events of the tribulation were to happen in the forty-two month period (of AD 67-70) immediately preceding the Second Coming.
And he [the beast] was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months…It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation…[and] as many as would not worship the image of the beast [were] to be killed (Rev. 13:5, 7,15 brackets mine).
In Revelation 19 we are shown the defeat of the beast by the Second Coming. The saints that had been killed for not taking the beast’s mark are shown among those that come to life in chapter 20 as the millennium begins. Revelation 20 is thus a continuation of the AD 70 narrative of chapter 19; it is not a recapitulation back to AD 30. Again, one of the groups that come alive at the beginning of the millennium consists of those who had been killed for not taking the mark of the beast. They had gone through the great tribulation (cf. Rev. 7:9-17) and are being resurrected at AD 70 to participate in the millennium.
The sequence I have proposed above is shown in Daniel 7. 1. The Antichrist (the little eleventh horn, Dan. 7:19-20) overcomes the saints. 2. He is defeated by the coming of God. 3. The court is seated (thrones are put in place as the kingdom reign begins, Dan. 7:8-11) as the saints possess the kingdom.
I was watching; and  the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them,  until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and  the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom. Dan. 7:21-22
Again, the same sequence that is shown in Daniel is shown in Revelation. 1. The Antichrist (the individual beast) overcomes the saints (Rev. 13:5-7). 2. He is defeated by the coming of God (Rev. 19:11-21). 3. The saints then possess the kingdom as the millennium begins (Rev. 20:4). This is a pre-millennial sequence; the Second Coming happens right before God’s people possess the kingdom of God. This was James Stuart Russell’s position; he considered any attempts to fit the millennium in before AD 70 to be “violent and unnatural.” [J.S. Russell, The Parousia (Baker, 1999), 514]. It is at the AD 70 coming of God that the saints inherited the kingdom. This explains why one of the groups that come alive at the beginning of the millennium consists of believers who had been killed for not taking the mark of the beast. The millennium began right after the great tribulation at the AD 70 Second Coming, not at AD 30. Again, it was at the coming of God (what the NT will show as the Second Coming) that God’s people possessed the kingdom of God (Dan. 7:21-22; cf. Rev. 19:11-20:4).
Now a full preterist can not accept what I have written here, at least not if he or she wants to stay a 100% full preterist. Full preterism necessitates that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70. Thus full preterists have to reject an AD 70 beginning to the millennium; if the millennium did begin at AD 70 it means there is still prophecy yet to be fulfilled (e.g. Satan’s loosing from the abyss at the end of the millennium, Rev. 20:7-10). Full preterists are left with a choice of either accepting what I am saying about an AD 70 beginning of the millennium (which is not going to happen) or attempt to separate the millennial kingdom (which they see as being from around AD 26-30 to sometime before AD 70) from the saints possessing the kingdom at the AD 70 Second Coming (Dan. 7:21-22). Most full preterists (wanting to stay card carrying full prets.) will attempt the latter option (differentiating the beginning of the millennium from the saints possessing the kingdom at the AD 70 Second Coming). Again if a full preterist acknowledges the start of the millennium as being the same as the AD 70 coming of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 19:28; Rev. 20:4), then they violate their basic premise of all prophecy fulfilled by AD 70.
Comparing Daniel 7 with Revelation 20, it is impossible to make a legitimate case that the AD 70 establishment of the kingdom of God of Daniel 7 (vv. 19-27) and the millennium of Revelation 20 are speaking of two different reigns. Of the AD 70 establishment of the kingdom, Daniel 7:9-10 (NRSV) reads, [A] “As I watched, thrones were set in place…[B] The court sat in judgment” (brackets mine). Of the millennium, Revelation 20:4 (NRSV) reads, [A] “Then I saw thrones, and [B] those seated on them were given authority to judge.” I don’t see how one can make these to be two separate events, the first starting at AD 70 the second supposedly starting at AD 30. …
…For more on J.S. Russell’s position on the millennium see, http://planetpreterist.com/news-5017.html. For more on the Connection between the little horn of Daniel 7 and the beast of Revelation see, http://planetpreterist.com/news-2622.html.
Duncan McKenzie, in his book “The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination” (Xulon Press: 2009) also sees the Great White Throne Judgment of Rev. 20:11-15 as beginning to be fulfilled in 70 AD (pp. 398-401):
Despite my disagreements with full preterism, I do agree with many of its conclusions. Let me begin with some of these points of agreement: I agree that the Second Advent happened at AD 70 and that this was when the resurrection and judgment began (it is ongoing from that time, cf. Rev. 14:8-13). According to the book of Daniel the resurrection was to begin at the end of the great tribulation; these events were to happen at the AD 70 shattering of the Jewish nation.
At that time [the time of the king of the North’s attack on Jerusalem, Dan. 11:40-45] Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt… Then I saw the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever, that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished (Daniel 12:1-2, 7; cf. 7:25-27).
The partial preterist attempt to separate the time of the great tribulation (which they say happened at AD 70) from the time of the resurrection (which they say will happen in the future) does not hold up to scrutiny. Consistent with Daniel 12:1-7, Revelation 11:15-18 also shows the resurrection beginning at the destruction of those who were destroying the Land [ten gen] of Israel. This happened at the AD 70 full establishment of the kingdom of God.
Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, whosit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:15-18 NASB).
Partial preterists acknowledge that Revelation 11:15-18 is referring to the AD 70 destruction of Israel. Because the creeds do not teach an AD 70 resurrection, however, they maintain that the judgment of the dead in Revelation 11:18 (“and the time came for the dead to be judged…”) is not really the judgment of the dead! They claim this is just showing an AD 70 reward of the martyrs.
Daniel 7 likewise shows the judgment (and thus the resurrection) as beginning right after the tribulation. Consistent with Revelation 11:15-18, chapter 7 shows the judgment beginning at the AD 70 full establishment of God’s kingdom, at the time that the dominion of the little eleventh horn…is taken away:
I was considering the [ten] horns and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words. I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated and the books were opened. I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking: I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame (Daniel 7:8-11; underlined emphasis mine).
Thus he said: the fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time. But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever (Daniel 7:23-26; underlined emphasis mine).
Contrary to what [most] partial preterists teach, the judgment began at the AD 70 defeat of the little eleventh horn (cf. Matt. 16:27-28; 25:31-46). At this point it is usually assumed by full preterists that because the partial preterist position is shown to be wrong on these issues, full preterism is therefore shown to be correct. This is an error in logic, however; just because a given position is wrong on a number of issues, that does not mean an alternative position is necessarily right on all points. Daniel 7 cuts both ways. Not only does it show the resurrection and judgment beginning at AD 70, it also shows the millennium beginning at that time (i.e. thrones being put in place as the court is seated, vv. 9-10, 25-27; cf. Rev. 20:4). That the resurrection and the millennium began at AD 70 explains why it is that the martyrs of the beast are shown being resurrected at the beginning of the millennium: “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witnesses to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image…And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years…” (Rev. 20:4).
This last statement by McKenzie is a very fitting transition into the next section.
B. Kenneth Gentry: “The Martyr’s Millennium”
The following information is taken from Kenneth Gentry’s newest book titled “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues,” published in 2009 by GoodBirth Ministries (Fountain Inn, SC). Gentry discusses Revelation 20:4-6 in chapter 14 (pp. 157-165). This book is a precursor to Gentry’s full-length, verse-by-verse commentary on the book of Revelation which is now nearing completion.
Under discussion in this section are only verses 4-6 of Revelation 20. Gentry says that he maintains “the Augustinian view” on Rev. 20:1-3, i.e. “that the thousand years is a symbolic time frame covering Christian history from the first century down to the end” (p. 157). From what I can see, Gentry maintains his postmillennial viewpoint on chapter 20, except for these three verses [Amillennialism overlaps quite a bit with postmillennialism, which is why I quoted Gentry several times in my posts titled “Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint…”]. Gentry explains how his views on Rev. 20:4-6 have now changed (p. 158), and for the record I’m intrigued by what he has to say because some of it reflects my own musings on this passage (any underlining is mine):
First, I originally held that two groups were in view in Revelation 20:4. I held the common Augustinian view that the martyrs represent deceased Christians in heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the confessors represent the living saints on the earth (the Church Militant). And together these two groups picture all Christians throughout Church history. I no longer accept this interpretation.
Second, I also previously held that the fact that they “came to life and reigned with Christ” (Rev. 20:4c) portrayed the new birth experience, where the Christian arises from spiritual death to sit with Christ in heavenly places. I still believe this doctrinal position, for it is taught in various places in Scripture (see especially Eph. 2). But I do not believe this is a proper exegetical position here in Revelation 20. In other words, I now believe that this view is good theology but bad exegesis—if we draw it from Revelation 20.
Third, I previously held that “the rest of the dead” who “did not come to life until the thousand years were completed” (Rev. 20:5) pointed to the bodily resurrection of all men. As an orthodox Christian I do, of course, believe that John teaches a general resurrection of all men. He even teaches it in Revelation 20. But I now believe he holds off on that until verses 11-15.
Gentry, a little further on, makes a very interesting claim regarding parallels between the books of Ezekiel and Revelation. Having noticed numerous parallels myself between these two books, I’m even more inclined to look into this now that I’ve seen the direct correlations Gentry has proposed (p. 160):
John approaches Israel like Isaiah (see especially Isa. 1), Jeremiah (see especially Jer. 2-3), and Ezekiel (see especially Eze. 2-6, 16). In fact, he organizes his material around Ezekiel’s structure—which explains so many specific parallels to Ezekiel:
Eze. 1 = Rev. 1
Eze. 2 = Rev. 5 (10)
Eze. 9-10 = Rev. 7-8
Eze. 16, 23 = Rev. 17
Eze. 26-28 = Rev. 18
Eze. 38-39 = Rev. 19-20
Eze. 40-48 = Rev. 21-22 (11)
Gentry then examines Rev. 20:4, which reads, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Gentry comments (pp. 160-163),
Previously I held that this presents two separate groups, martyrs and confessors, which themselves represent all Christians in history, dead or living. As such I originally thought these groups portray the whole Christian Church throughout the Christian era. I now believe that John envisions only one group: deceased martyrs who did not worship the beast…
Not only are these enthroned ones deceased, but they are deceased under specific circumstances. They have been judicially killed: “beheaded” is a standard form of capital punishment well-known in the Roman Empire (cf. Matt. 14:10)… Furthermore, this imagery fits all the preceding story of Revelation, where the Jewish aristocracy is drunk on the blood of the saints (Rev. 17:6), as is the Roman beast (Rev. 13:7). This further confirms my redemptive-historical preterism and continues John’s concern for his audience, which is facing the very real prospect of death for their faith.
What is more, I now realize that structurally Revelation 20:4 is really the answer to the prayer of Revelation 6:9-11. In fact, it clearly repeats some of the same thoughts and words. Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of “the souls of those who had been slain.” These did not just fall over and die; they were slaughtered (esphagmenon, Rev. 6:9). They are crying out for God to avenge [ekdikeis] their blood on those who “dwell in the Land [tes ges]” (Rev. 6:10). Revelation 20:4 and 6:9 are doublets, based on replicated wording and strong parallels: Note:
And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God. I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.
…I would argue that these two passages represent promise and fulfillment… The “souls” at the altar in Revelation 6:11 are told to “rest for a little while longer,” until others join them in a martyr’s death, being “killed even as they had been.” Since Christ’s judgment-coming against Israel in Revelation 19:11ff (cp. Rev. 6:12-17) results in the glory of Revelation 20:1-4, John appears to be stating that by A.D. 70 the martyrs will be vindicated within the promised time frame of “a little while” (chronon micron, Rev. 6:11; cp. Luke 18:7-8). Thus, their “coming to life” as fulfillment of the promise given to them (which is given to them while they already are in heaven, Rev. 6:11), appears to be an image of their vindication in the death of their opponents in A.D. 70 rather than at the very moment of their entering heaven. This is unique to John—whose work is unique in many respects.
Some of what Gentry is saying here reflects the misgivings I’ve had for a long time with some of the things I’ve heard about the Millennium. Gentry rightly points out that the text says that those who were to be seated on thrones and to reign during these thousand years were only those who  had been beheaded because of their righteous testimony and  did not worship the beast and his image. I’m not likely to be beheaded in my lifetime, and most believers throughout Church history were never beheaded either. Nor have the vast majority of believers in Church history been faced with the prospect of worshipping the beast and/or his image. Are we not then disqualified from sitting on these thrones? At the same time, though, not all of Jesus’ disciples or John’s faithful first century readers were beheaded either, though many of them were martyred by some means. Peter, for example, never gave his allegiance to Nero (whom I believe was the beast in the singular sense), but he was crucified upside down rather than beheaded. So is “beheading” used in the text to represent all forms of capital punishment at that time, with beheading being perhaps the most common form?
Also, does this have anything to do with the promise Jesus gave to Peter and His other disciples? “Truly, I say to you, in the new world [regeneration], when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). Likewise, in Luke 22:28-30 Jesus said to His disciples, “You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials, and I assign to you, as My Father assigned to Me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” At the same time, though, Paul in I Corinthians 6:2-3 says that “the saints will judge the world” and also “are to judge angels.” Paul’s use of “the saints” here seems to be wider than simply the twelve apostles.
In any case, Gentry’s conclusions on this passage (Rev. 20:4-6) are these (pp. 163-165):
Now all of this means that those who are on the thrones in the millennium are not living Christians. Nor are they simply deceased Christians. Nor are they Christians from all ages. They are deceased Christians in heaven, who are martyred in the first century. This is John’s point: Keep the faith! Withstand your oppressors! You will be greatly rewarded in heaven even if you die! Indeed, that is effectively how he introduces his book: “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9).
Of course, heavenly reward awaits all Christians in all ages. But that is not John’s point here. We learn this extended truth from other Scriptures. Here in Revelation 20 he is speaking from a particular context in completing a long-running call to accept martyrdom rather than succumbing to the beast or the false prophet. Remember how Hebrews warns Jewish converts to Christ not to apostasize—especially since the old covenant is “obsolete and growing old” and “ready to disappear” (Heb. 8:13)? John is doing the same in Revelation, only more dramatically.
So then, my first two changes in my understanding of Revelation 20 are: I now see only one group in the vision; and that one group involves only the first century martyrs. Revelation 20:4-6 does not speak of the reign of the Church in history, nor does it prophesy a still-future political reign on earth. Though again: I do believe the Church reigns in history (I Cor. 3:21-23; Eph. 1:19-23), and that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places (e.g. Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1)… But John’s express teaching regards the first century persecuted Church and her two persecutors, Rome and Israel.
[“The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:5)]
It does not seem that “the rest of the dead” are the unbelievers of all of history who stand before God on Judgment Day. They have not been mentioned yet. I do hold that all unbelievers will stand before God on Judgment Day. And, as I stated above, I believe John teaches that—in Revelation 20:11-15. But he does not teach this here in Revelation 20:5. Who are these “the rest of the dead” then? How are they related to John’s overarching story-line?
“The rest of the dead” are the other dead mentioned in the preceding context [Rev. 19:11-21]. Who did we last hear had died in John’s narrative? Revelation 19:19-21 answers this: “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest [hoi lopoi] were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”
“The rest” of the dead are the ones allied with the first-century beast and his false prophet, the ones responsible for executing the martyrs… John is encouraging his first century audience to withstand their assailants. Those enemies have a hollow victory: they will die and lie in the chains of darkness until the resurrection at the end of history. But the martyrs will not only enter heaven and eternal bliss, but after entering into heaven will be elevated and “come to life” and begin reigning in the presence of God and Christ.
Remember: Christ dies and is resurrected, then ascends into heaven and sits at God’s right hand in victory. And He is publically vindicated against His tormentors in A.D. 70. As Jesus warns the high priest and the Sanhedrin during His trial: “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64; cp. Mark 9:1). Likewise, His faithful martyrs will also die, arise to new life, and experience heavenly vindication. Thus, they actually will live in the glory of triumph and heavenly vindication while their persecutors die in ignominy. This is John’s point. This fits everything he has been saying previously.
This passage [Rev. 20:4-6] is really not useful to the “millennial” debate.
In Part 2 we will look at one more minority view on the Millennium, and that is the full-preterist view.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.
All of our studies on Revelation 20 and the Millennium can be found here.
 Charles Spurgeon is one who highly esteemed Russell’s work, despite some reservations, saying: “Though the author’s theory is carried too far, it has so much of truth in it, and throws so much new light upon obscure portions of the Scriptures, and is accompanied with so much critical research and close reasoning, that it can be injurious to none and may be profitable to all” (Charles Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel, 1878 edition). This book has been reprinted in modern times by Baker House, and has gained the deep respect of R.C. Sproul and others of our day.
 When McKenzie says that “the resurrection [is] having an ongoing fulfillment since AD 70,” I believe what he means by this is that those who die in Christ experience their personal resurrection at that time along with their redeemed bodies. Todd Dennis, the founder of the highly resourceful Preterist Archive, even believes that the “coming” of Jesus to receive His own and take them to be where He is (John 14:1-3) takes place each and every time a follower of Christ passes from this life (Hebrews 9:27-28). The Bema Seat judgment (Romans 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:12-15; II Cor. 5:10) also takes place at this time, on an individual basis. This understanding is related to the words recorded in Rev. 14:13, saying, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
 In other words, for McKenzie (and Todd Dennis—see previous footnote) there is a future “resurrection of the dead” for every person living today. It’s only a past event for those who have already died. It’s future for everyone else, but will be experienced on an individual basis, not as a singular event on a given future Day. The “resurrection of the dead” and “judgment” was, however, a singular event (in 70 AD–in heaven) for those who had died prior to 70 AD.