Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 3)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 3)

Adam Maarschalk: March 4, 2010

In the previous two posts (Part 1 and Part 2) we discussed Revelation 20 from an amillennial viewpoint, verse-by-verse. In this post we will now turn to two very interesting articles: [1] “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” by Dr. Charles E. Hill, and [2] “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?” by P.J. Miller (excerpted from Kim Riddlebarger’s book “A Case for Amillennialism”). Links to all of our articles on Revelation 20 (RE: the Millennium) can be found in our Revelation 20: Introduction and Outline post.

ARTICLE #1: “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism”

This article was written by Dr. Charles E. Hill in 1999 for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Dr. Hill is an author and the Associate Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. In this article, Dr. Hill discusses three factors that led to a general rejection of premillennialism in the (relatively) early Church and among Reformation leaders. His analysis is enlightening, and certainly brings to mind the possibility that premillennialism’s modern revival has paralleled the growth of Dispensationalism (and Zionism) during the last two centuries:

Chiliasm is the ancient name for what today is known as premillennialism, the belief that when Jesus Christ returns he will not execute the last judgment at once, but will first set up on earth a temporary kingdom, where resurrected saints will rule with him over non-resurrected subjects for a thousand years of peace and righteousness. To say that the Church “rejected chiliasm” may sound bizarre today, when premillennialism is the best known eschatology in Evangelicalism. Having attached itself to funda-mentalism, chiliasm in its dispensationalist form has been vigorously preached in pulpits, taught in Bible colleges and seminaries, and successfully promoted to the masses through study Bibles, books, pamphlets, charts, and a host of radio and television ministries. To many Christians today, premillennialism is the very mark of Christian orthodoxy. But there was a period of well over a “millennium” (over half of the Church’s history), from at least the early fifth century until the sixteenth, when chiliasm was dormant and practically non-existent. Even through the Reformation and much of the post-Refor-mation period, advocates of chiliasm were usually found among fringe groups like the Münsterites. The Augsburg Confession went out of its way to condemn chiliasm (Art. XVII, “Of Christ’s Return to Judgment”), and John Calvin criticized “the chiliasts, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years” (Institutes 3.25.5). It was not until the nineteenth century that chiliasm made a respectable comeback, as a favorite doctrine of Christian teachers who were promoting revival in the face of the deadening effects of encroaching liberalism.

But how are we to view the Church’s earliest period up until the first decisive rejection of chiliasm in the Church? By most accounts this was the heyday of chiliastic belief in the Church. Many modern apologists for premillennialism allege that before the time of Augustine chiliasm was the dominant, if not the “universal” eschatology of the Church, preserving the faith of the apostles. Some form of chiliasm was certainly defended by such notable names as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century and Tertullian of Carthage in the third.[1] How and why then did this view finally fall into disrepute?

Hill notes several suggested causes put forth for the long-term demise of chiliasm (ancient premillennialism), including [1] bad hermeneutics [2] prophetic excesses [3] peace during Constantine’s rule, and [4] the influential arguments of Augustine. He seems to debunk each of these purported causes (let the reader be the judge), and regarding the fourth one he adds:

By the time Constantine proclaimed Christianity the state religion in the fourth century, a non-chiliastic eschatology was surely the norm in most places, and in many it had been so ever since Christianity had arrived there. Many signs thus tell us that even without the aid of Augustine, chiliasm was probably in its death-throes by the time he wrote the last books of The City of God in a.d. 420.

Hill soon gets straight to the point and proposes that the primary reason why the early church ultimately rejected chiliasm is because at its heart it was “a Jewish error.” Lest this claim be understood as anti-Semitic, and also to substantiate his claim, Hill provides the following explanation (any underlining is my own):

This criticism is open to grave misunderstanding today if one views it as part of the Church’s shameful legacy of anti-Semitism. But this is not what lay at the base of such criticism of chiliasm as “Jewish.” Jesus was a Jew, as were all of his apostles. “Salvation is of the Jews,” Jesus said, and all the Church fathers knew and agreed with this. There is no embarrassment at all in something being “Jewish” and the ancient and honorable tradition of the Jews, in monotheism, morals, and the safeguarding of Holy Scripture, is something Christian leaders always prized.

Another modern misunderstanding of this criticism must also be avoided. Certain current forms of premillennialism, particularly dispensationalism, might seem “Jewish” to some because they promise that the kingdom of God will be restored to ethnic Jews as the just fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Abraham and his descendants. But this was not the case with ancient Christian chiliasm. The New Testament’s revelation of the Church as the true Israel and heir of all the promises of God in Christ was too well-established and too deeply ingrained in the early Christian consciousness for such a view to have been viable. Ancient Church chiliasts like Irenaeus did indeed argue that some of God’s promises to Israel had to be fulfilled literally in a kingdom on earth, but they recognized that the humble recipients of this kingdom would be spiritual Israel, all who confessed Jesus as God’s Messiah, regardless of their national or ethnic origin. Ancient chiliasm was not criticized because it “favored” the Jews as having a distinct, blessed future apart from Gentile Christians.

What then did critics mean by calling chiliasm “Jewish”? Their use of the label meant “non-Christian Jewish,” or even, “anti-Christian Jewish.” These early critics believed that chiliasm represented an approach to biblical religion that was sub-Christian, essentially failing to reckon with the full redemptive implications of the coming of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah. They saw it as an under-realized, a not-fully-Christian, eschatology. We can outline at least three aspects of this criticism.

Hill then presents the three aspects of early church criticism regarding the “Jewish error” of chiliasm. I find the second and third aspects to be educational and very intriguing. I will quote Hill’s presentation almost in its entirety here:

1. Its Sources Were Non-Christian Jewish Sources

First, critics of chiliasm point out that Christian chiliasts got their chiliasm not so much from the apostles as from non-Christian Jewish sources. Irenaeus cites a tradition from a book written by Papias of Hierapolis about the millennial kingdom. The tradition purports to reproduce Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom as related through the Apostle John to those who remembered the latter’s teaching. It is the famous report about each grapevine in the kingdom having ten thousand branches, each branch ten thousand twigs, each twig ten thousand shoots, each shoot ten thousand clusters, and each cluster ten thousand grapes, etc., with talking grapes, each one anxious that the saints would bless the Lord through it. As it turns out, this account seems to be a development of a tradition recorded in the Jewish apocalypse 2 Baruch in its account of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom (Ch. 29).

Some scholars note that the chiliasm of Justin, though it derives the number 1,000 from Revelation 20, springs more from a certain approach to Old Testament exegesis (particularly on Is. 65:17-25) than from the eschatology of Revelation. And this approach is in basic agreement with that of Trypho, his Jewish interlocutor. This is in keeping with the role chiliasm plays in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, where it functions as part of an apologetic which sought to claim everything Jewish for Christianity. The issue of the fulfillment of the prophets’ predictions of glory for Israel was very much a part of the atmosphere of the discussion between these representatives of Christianity and Judaism, for their encounter took place not long after the failed attempt by Bar Cochba to take Jerusalem back from the Romans (a.d. 132).

2. Chiliasm Was “Jewish” in its View of the Saints’ Afterlife

Second, we now know that early chiliast and non-chiliast Christian eschatologies had to do with more than an expectation of a temporary, earthly kingdom, or lack thereof. They encompassed other beliefs about eschatology. It may seem curious to us today, but the ancient Christian chiliasts defended a view of the afterlife in which the souls of the righteous did not go immediately to God’s presence in heaven at the time of death, but went instead to a subterranean Hades. Here souls, in refreshment and joyful contemplation, waited for the resurrection and the earthly kingdom before they could enter the presence of God. The only ones exempted from Hades were men like Enoch and Elijah who, it was thought, had not experienced death but had been translated alive to paradise. This view of the afterlife on the part of the chiliasts Papias, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Victorinus, and Lactantius was connected directly to their chiliasm. We know this both from the coexistence of these beliefs in Jewish sources (2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, Ps. Philo’s Biblical Antiquities, and some rabbinic traditions) and from the internal connection between the doctrines drawn by Irenaeus.

Yet most of the Church (and at times even the chiliasts themselves in spite of themselves) knew and treasured the New Testament hope of an immediate enjoyment of the presence of God in heaven with Christ at death (Luke 23:42-43; John 14:2-4; 17:24; Phil. 1:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:6-8; Heb. 12:22-24; 2 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 6:9-11; 14:1-5; 15:2; 18:20; 19:14). But this aspect of the Christian eschatology, this “hope of heaven” made possible only by the completed work of Jesus the Messiah and his own ascension to heaven, shattered the mold of Jewish chiliastic eschatology. Such a vision belonged to a non-chiliast (what we would today call amillennial) understanding of the return of Christ. This vision essentially saw the millennium of Revelation 20 as pertaining to the present age, wherein the righteous dead are alive in Christ and are now participating with their King and High Priest in the priestly kingdom in heaven (Rev. 20:4-6). In the new light of this fully Christian expectation, a return to an earthly existence, where sin and bodily desires still persisted and a final war (as in Rev. 20:8-10) still loomed, could only be a retrogression in redemptive history.

We can observe then two competing patterns of Christian eschatology from the second century on: one chiliastic, which expects an intermediate kingdom on earth before the last judgment and says that the souls of the saints after death await that earthly kingdom in the refreshing underworldly vaults of Hades; the other which teaches instead that departed Christians have a blessed abode with Christ in heaven, in the presence of God, as they await the return of Christ to earth, the resurrection and judgment of all, and the new heaven and new earth…

[C]hiliasm was at odds with aspects of the Church’s hope handed down from the apostles and made so clear in the New Testament writings. As such, the chiliastic eschatology could not survive intact. Tertullian, after embracing chiliasm, tried some minor modifications. Even as a chiliast he remained more open to understanding the “earthly” prophecies of the Old Testament in a more “spiritualized” way. He also argued that some Christians–but only those who literally suffered martyrdom–could be spared a stay in Hades and could inhabit the heavenly paradise before the resurrection. But even Tertullian’s admirer Cyprian could not accept this ameliorated form of chiliasm, and comforted his congregations in the face of a raging plague with the Christian hope of the heavenly kingdom when they died. With Lactantius in the early fourth century we see a determined attempt to revive a more “genuine” form of chiliasm. But by the fourth century these views could not stand long among educated clergy. The Christian hope of union and fellowship with Christ after death was too strong for the chiliastic eschatology to flourish ever again in its original form. The work of Tyconius, Jerome, and Augustine at the end of the fourth century and in the early fifth simply put the exclamation point on the inevitable.

3. Chiliasm’s Old Testament Hermeneutic Led to the Crucifixion

Finally, the chiliastic alternative on the intermediate state of the Christian soul between death and the resurrection was a problem which in itself could have led to chiliasm’s demise. But there was another problem which, when clearly exposed, had the potential of being downright scandalous. It was recognized by Origen and has been seen by non-chiliasts down to the present day. It is the realization that the “literal,” nationalistic interpretation of the prophets was the standard that Jesus, in the eyes of his opponents, did not live up to, and therefore was the basis of their rejection of his messiahship. One of the prophecies that Irenaeus had insisted will be literally fulfilled in the kingdom on earth was Is. 11:6-7, which speaks of the wolf dwelling with the lamb and the leopard with the kid, etc. Origen specifically mentions this passage as among those which the Jews misinterpret[ed]: “and having seen none of these events literally happening during the advent of him whom we believe to be Christ they did not accept our Lord Jesus, but crucified him on the ground that he had wrongly called himself Christ.” This “Jewish” approach to the Old Testament prophecies and its role in the Jewish rejection of Jesus was recognized even by Tertullian and was no doubt one of his motivations for taking a more “spiritualized” approach to those prophecies than Irenaeus had done.

Hill’s final conclusion, and this article in its entirety, can be seen here. Another very good article, titled “The History of Chiliasm” and written by William Masselink in 1930, can be seen here. Masselink demonstrates how modern premillennialism mirrors the erroneous and external Jewish expectation during the time of Christ that the millennial reign would be one of earthly triumph primarily for ethnic Jews. This is a very brief excerpt from that article:

Premillennialism is a descent of ancient Judaism. There is a striking resemblance between the off-spring and the parent. The old Jewish conceptions of an external Messianic kingdom have found their perfect embodiment in the Chiliastic theory of the millennium. Premillennialism is a relic of Judaism. Dr. Hodge says of this, “It is a Jewish doctrine. The principles adopted by its advocates in the interpretation of prophecy are the same as have been adopted by the Jews in the time of Christ; and have led substantially to the same conclusions. The Jews expected that when the Messiah came He would establish a glorious earthly kingdom at Jerusalem; that those who had died in the faith should be raised from the dead to share the Messianic reign; that all nations and peoples on the face of the earth should be subject to them; and that any nation that would not serve them should be destroyed. All the riches and honors of the world were to be at their disposal… This relic of Judaism was still in the subconscious mind of the followers of Jesus before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It touches our hearts with pain to think that this Judaistic expectation which was repeatedly corrected and even severely rebuked by our Master, should again thrive within the present day Christian church.

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ARTICLE #2: “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Amillennial Age?”

This article by blogger P.J. Miller is a reproduction of Kim Riddlebarger’s article titled “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?—A Problem for Dispensationalists.” It deals with what Kim calls “the general flow of redemptive history.” In Scripture, says Kim, the “redemptive-historical pattern clearly moves from type and shadow to fulfillment and reality.” However, he adds,

What is especially problematic about the dispensational [and premillennial] understanding of the millennial age is that the millennium as conceived by dispensationalists amounts to a return to the types and shadows associated with the Old Testament prophets and the typological understanding of the messianic age which has now been realized in Jesus Christ.

Once Christ has come and fulfilled these particular prophetic expectations, how can the dispensationalist justify his belief that the future millennial age is characterized by a redemptive economy of type and shadow, when the reality to which these things pointed, has already come?  This pre-messianic Old Testament millennial expectation, complete with restored temple worship and the reinstitution of animal sacrifices, can only be justified by a redemptive historical U-turn (Click here: Riddleblog – The Latest Post – Jesus, the True Temple).

According to dispensationalists, type and shadow are fulfilled in Jesus Christ who, in the millennial age, supposedly re-institutes these same types and shadows which are inferior and have passed away.  This is highly problematic and does great violence to the overall thrust of biblical history.  This peculiar feature of dispensationalism explains the rise of progressive dispensationalism, which seeks to avoid this highly-problematic aspect of traditional dispensationalism (emphasis added).

I’m grateful for what is known as “progressive dispensationalism,” as it’s at least a step in the right direction, i.e. a complete departure from dispensationalism. This article brings up an important point, though, which is useful to our comparison of amillennialism with premillennialism: the theological danger of proposing a return to the types and shadows which were fulfilled by Christ’s work on the cross. One reason why I linked to PJ Miller’s article[2] is to address a question asked in the comments section, a question I also had when first reading Kim’s article:

I did not read the entire post but this caught my eye:

“According to dispensationalists, type and shadow are fulfilled in Jesus Christ who, in the millennial age, supposedly re-institutes these same types and shadows which are inferior and have passed away.”

Can you quote specific verses?

Thanks!

Tracing the links provided in Kim’s article, especiallythe one in the three-paragraph quote above, it’s apparent that in speaking of a proposed return to “types and shadows” Kim is referring to the premillennial interpretation of such passages as Isaiah 56:4-8, Isaiah 66:20-21, Zechariah 14:16-19, and especially “the Old Testament prophecy of a new and glorious temple, found in Ezekiel 40-48.” The first three passages, all commonly taken by premillennialists to refer to a future (physical) millennium kingdom on the earth, are recorded as follows (references to types and shadows are underlined):

[1] For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I will give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant—these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56:4-8).

[2] And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedarians, to My holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. [“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before Me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, declares the Lord.”] (Isaiah 66:20-21 [22-23]).

[3] Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths… [And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them…] (Zechariah 14:16-19 [20-21]).

For the premillennialist, these prophecies point to a physical kingdom on this earth to be established after Christ’s Second Coming, at which point He will rule from the city of Jerusalem. Riddlebarger articulates the amillennialist interpretation of such passages in this way:

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s prophets foretell of the coming messianic age in terms of that prophet’s own particular time and place in the unfolding drama of redemptive history.  What is especially germane to our present question is the fact that Israel’s prophets speak of the glorious messianic age yet to come in terms of the types and shadows associated with Old Testament messianic anticipation.

But Old Testament types and shadows are subsequently reinterpreted in the New Testament in the greater light of the dawn of the messianic age associated with Christ’s coming.  This is why one of the major aspects of the eschatology of the New Testament era is that what was promised in the Old Testament has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

What are some examples of Old Testament texts addressed to the nation of Israel which are then “reinterpreted in the New Testament in the greater light” of New Covenant reality? This most excellent article[3] lists a number of them:

Promised to / Spoken to Israel

Fulfilled in / Applied to the Church

“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’

-Hosea 1:10

What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved.” “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

-Romans 11:22-26

Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”

-Hosea 2:23

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.

-1 Peter 2:9-10

“On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old;

-Amos 9:11

“Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ “Known to God from eternity are all His works.

-Acts 15:14-18

“And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls.

-Joel 2:28-32

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…”But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.’

-Acts 2:1,16-21

‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

-Exodus 19:6

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;

-1 Peter 2:9

“My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

-Ezekiel 37:27

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.”

-2 Cor 6:16

“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.

-Lev 19:2

But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

-1 Peter 1:15-16

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah

-Jer 31:31

Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.

-Luke 22:20

So, as we have noted, Isaiah 56:4-8, Isaiah 66:20-21, Zechariah 14:16-19 are three examples of passages taken by premillennialists to refer to a future physical kingdom on earth, but taken by amillennialists to refer to the blessings of this present New Covenant age. Premillennialists and amillennialists are also split in the same way in their interpretations of Ezekiel 40-48. Riddlebarger notes:

Ezekiel envisions a future time for God’s people in which the temple will be rebuilt, the priesthood will be re-established, true sacrifices will once again be offered and the river of life will flow forth from the temple.  How we interpret this prophecy will have a significant bearing on the question of whether or not there will be a future millennial age upon the earth.

It should come as no surprise that dispensationalists believe that this prophecy will find a literal fulfillment in the millennial age.  According to J. Dwight Pentecost, “the glorious vision of Ezekiel reveals that it is impossible to locate its fulfillment in any past temple or system which Israel has known, but it must await a future fulfillment after the second advent of Christ when the millennium is instituted.  The sacrificial system is not a reinstituted Judaism, but the establishment of a new order that has its purpose the remembrance of the work of Christ on which all salvation rests.  The literal fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy will be the means of God’s glorification and man’s blessing in the millennium” (J. D. Pentecost, Things to Come, Zondervan, 1978, 531).

In Ezekiel’s vision we see much language which is vividly reminiscent of the laws given through Moses on Mount Sinai, clearly made obsolete because of Christ’s work on the cross (Hebrews 7-10; see especially 7:18; 8:7; 8:13; 10:8-9). In Ezekiel 43:13-27 we even see a prescription for offering burnt offerings and sin offerings, with all the accompanying purification rituals and shedding of the blood of bulls and goats. Many premillennialists would agree with J. Dwight Pentecost that this will literally take place during a future millennium in a literal and physical temple. Indeed, this is a “redemptive historical U-turn.” Riddlebarger goes on to say:

This supposed return to type and shadow during the millennial age is seen in the dispensational interpretation of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  When dispensationalists contend that the land promise of the Abrahamic covenant is not fulfilled until Israel is reborn as a nation and returned to her ancient homeland in Palestine in 1948, they run head-long into Paul’s assertion that the Abrahamic covenant has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, since even Gentiles who embrace the messianic promise through faith are Abraham’s children and members of this covenant (Galatians 3:15-29; Romans 4:1-25).

It is Paul who “spiritualizes” the promise of a land in Palestine which originally extended from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, (Genesis 15:18) to now include the whole world (Romans 4:13).

This same tendency to ignore the way in which the New Testament writers apply Old Testament messianic expectations to Christ can be seen in the dispensational insistence that Christ has not yet fulfilled the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7 since, supposedly, this will not occur until the millennial age, when Jesus rules the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem.  But the writers of the New Testament could not be any clearer when they teach that this prophecy was fulfilled at the time of our Lord’s resurrection and ascension, when God raised Christ from the dead and exalted him on high by seating him at his right hand in heaven.  This event, Peter says, fulfills God’s messianic promise to David that one of his own descendants would sit on his throne (Acts 2: 30-35).  In fact, it is because Jesus fulfilled this promise that Peter urges his fellow Jews in the temple that first Pentecost Sunday to “repent and be baptized.”

…Because of these factors, amillennarians believe that the dispensational understanding of redemptive history in general and of the millennial age in particular is seriously flawed.  The millennial age is not depicted in the Bible as a return to the types and shadows of the Old Testament, complete with temple worship and animal sacrifice, while Jesus rules the earth from David’s throne in Jerusalem.  Instead, the biblical data demonstrates that the millennium is this present age…  The millennial reign of Christ is a present reality (emphasis added).

Amen! By God’s grace, I hope to never again ignore the way in which the New Testament writers have applied Old Testament passages in their writings. This should be a key observation in the shaping of our personal systems of eschatology.

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In the following post, we will examine two more articles: [1] “Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Forever (Part 6)” by Grover Gunn (which I have retitled “Has the New Covenant Arrived Yet?”), and [2]  “Problems with Premillennialism” by Dr. Sam Storms.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] Church historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) wrote that although chiliasm was prominent in the ante-Nicene age (prior to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD), it was “not the doctrine of the church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius; while Caius, Origen, Dionysius the Great, Eusebius (as afterwards Jerome and Augustin) opposed it.” – Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, VIII vols. (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), vol. II, p. 614

[2] Another reason for linking to this article is to acknowledge that it was through this blog post that I first became aware of Kim Riddlebarger’s article.

[3] I especially appreciate the concluding paragraph of this article, which says: “We are stating a historical fact, clearly contained in the sacred records, that in or about the spring of the year 30 A.D., the mass of those who then called themselves Israelites ceased to be such for prophetic and covenant purpose, having forfeited their citizenship in the commonwealth of Israel by refusing to accept the Messiah, and that after this event all the privileges of the Abrahamic Covenant and all the promises of God belonged to the believing remnant, and to them only; which remnant was therefore and thereafter the true Israel and Judah, the Seed of Abraham, the Christian church. Thus the promise was fulfilled strictly and definitely to the designated parties.

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Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 2)


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):[1]

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.[2]

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.[3] 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: [1] “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” by Dr. Charles E. Hill, and [2] “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: [1] “Problems with Premillennialism” by Sam Storms, and [2] “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.


[1] 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.

[2] 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.”

[3] 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.”

Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 1)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 1)

Adam: January 27, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 20:1-15

 

Introduction

On January 27th, our Bible study group met as we usually do on a weekly basis, and studied Revelation 20, the classic text on “the Millennium.” That night three of us took a limited amount of time to present three different views of the Millennium: [1] premillennialism (Rod), [2] postmillennialism (Dave), and amillennialism (myself). This subject of the Millennium requires more coverage than we were able to give it in just one meeting, so we will be turning this into a project of sorts, as I wrote in our Introduction and Outline of Revelation 20. This will serve as the first of at several posts on amillennialism, the viewpoint I’m personally leaning toward more than others at this time. The first two posts will be a verse-by-verse discussion of Revelation 20 from an amillennial viewpoint. We will discuss the first four verses of Revelation 20 in this post, and the remaining 11 verses in the next post. Additional posts will feature excerpts from online articles on amillennialism, etc.

Steve Gregg, on page 457 of his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), summarizes the general Amillennial approach to Revelation 20 as follows:

  • The binding of Satan represents the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness accomplished at the cross.
  • The 1000 years is symbolic of a long, indeterminate period, corresponding to the age of the church (now).
  • Satan will be loosed briefly to wreak havoc and to persecute the church in the end of the present age.
  • The fire coming from heaven and consuming the wicked is symbolic of Christ’s Second Coming.
  • A general resurrection and judgment of the evil and the good will occur at Christ’s coming, followed by the creation of new heavens and a new earth.

Steve Gregg also notes that, among amillennialists, there is no single interpretration for the previous chapters of Revelation (chapters 1-19). In other words, some amillennialists have been Historicists (like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Sam Storms); others preterists (like Jay Adams and Steve Gregg himself, though he doesn’t say so in this book); others have taken the Spiritual approach; and in rare cases some have even been futurists. Steve Gregg goes on to say,

Thus the categories pertaining to the four approaches of the Apocalypse simply do not transfer to the millennial debate. This is because Revelation 20, like many other prophecies in Scripture, deals with the ultimate question of God’s kingdom being established on earth. The interpretation of Revelation 4-19, on the other hand, is concerned only with the timing of the Great Tribulation, whether it be placed early or late in the church age, or whether it is coextensive with the whole of the church age [Historicism]. Thus the timing of the Tribulation and the timing of the kingdom of God are separate and independent concerns (pp. 459-460).

Sam Storms, of Enjoying God Ministries, is an amillennialist and at the same time a Historicist. He has the following to say by way of defining what amillennialism is and is not:

Amillennialism (hereafter cited as AM) has suffered greatly in the past because of its seeming negative character. In other words, definitions of AM have focused more upon what the view denies (namely, a personal, earthly reign of Christ) than on what it affirms. In order best to counter this negativism, the definition of AM presented here will concentrate on its fundamental affirmations concerning eschatological truth. They are as follows:

1. Contrary to what the name (Amillennialism) implies, AMs do believe in a millennium. The millennium, however, is now: the present age of the church between the first and second comings of Christ in its entirety is the millennium. Therefore, while the AM does deny the Premillennial belief in a personal, literal reign of Christ upon the earth for 1,000 years following His second coming, he affirms that there is a millennium and that Christ rules. However, this messianic reign is not necessarily for a literal 1,000 years and it is wholly spiritual (non-earthly, non-visible) in nature. “This millennial reign is not something to be looked for in the future;” writes Hoekema, “it is going on now, and will be until Christ returns. Hence the term realized millennialism is an apt description of the view here defended–if it is remembered that the millennium in question is not an earthly but a heavenly reign,” (The Bible and the Future, p. 235).

A few of Storms’ other affirmations will be presented later in this study (from other articles as well). Jason Robertson says the following by way of showing how prominent Amillennialism has been in Church history (even if this theology has not always been called by this name):

Dr. John Walvoord, a dispensational premillennialist, admitted, “Reformed eschatology has been predominantly amillennial. Most if not all of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation were amillennial in their eschatology, following the teachings of Augustine” (Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan.-March, 1951).

Dr. Louis Berkof said, “The name is indeed new, but the view to which it is applied is as old as Christianity.” Since the second century it has “been the view most widely accepted, is the only view that is either expressed or implied in the great historical Confessions of the Church, and has always been the prevalent view in Reformed circles” (Systematic Theology, p. 708)…

It believes entrance to the on-going millennium is gained solely through the new birth, and that John refers to this as the first resurrection in Revelation 20:6 (supported by Ephesians 2:1, 5, 6 and Colossians 2:13; 3:1). It believes that every person who is born again immediately becomes a child of the King and immediately begins an eternal reign with that King, and that the present phase of that reign is a mere foretaste of what lies beyond the Second Coming…

To read more from Robertson, including a 13-point review of what Amillennialism is not and a 20-point synopsis of what it is, please see here: http://fide-o.blogspot.com/2006/08/quick-look-at-amillennialism.html.

A. Satan Bound for 1000 Years (Rev. 20:1-3)

Verse 1: Who is the angel with the key to the bottomless pit? Steve Gregg says that, even though the text is silent on the identity of the angel with a great chain, he is often seen as either Michael or Christ Himself. It might be good to note the similarity between this verse and Rev. 9:1, where a fallen star is shown at that time to have “the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.”

Verses 2-3: This angel seizes, binds, and seals the devil for “one thousand years.” This has the effect of not allowing him to “deceive the nations any longer.” Does this mean that Satan has no other abilities during these one thousand years, or only that he is restricted in this one area? I appreciate the following explanation by Alan Nairne (1931-2009) in this regard:

Up until that time the Gentile nations and empires – Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome had been in bondage to idolatry. They were completely under the dominion of Satan. But following the ministry of Christ, culminating in his death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, and the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit, the whole Roman Empire was evangelised within a generation. The effect upon society provoked reaction–

  • These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also (Acts 17:6).

Paul could write to the Romans (10:18): “Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.”

One of the indications of a non-literal binding of Satan, says Gregg, is the fact that Satan is a spiritual being and “one would think of spiritual beings as not being susceptible to confinement by physical restraints” (p. 460). Gregg also says (p. 462, 464),

The nature of the binding itself is not absolute, so as to preclude every activity of Satan. It is specifically limited in this passage to the devil’s power to deceive the nations (v. 3) for the duration of this period. That Jesus in some sense bound Satan during His ministry is affirmed by Christ Himself [Gregg then points to Matthew 12:29, where Jesus speaks of the binding of the strong man, and the parallel account in Luke 11:14-23]. Thus, according to Christ’s own teaching, the imagery of “binding Satan” conveys the fact that Satan has been rendered incapable of successfully resisting the forward advance of God’s kingdom. Additional passages in the New Testament use similar images to describe the decisive victory of Christ over His foes. Colossians 2:15 exults in the fact that Christ “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross, and Hebrews 2:14 states that Jesus endured death so that He might thereby “destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” The meaning of this binding of Satan, then, is that Christ, at His first advent, brought about a conclusive victory, leaving Satan impotent to prevent the success of God’s kingdom (underlining added).

We will come back to this idea of Satan’s binding shortly, and explore it in more depth. First, though, is this period of “one thousand years” to be taken literally? Premillennialists say, “Yes, and it will begin in the future, after the Second Coming of Christ.” Both postmillennialists and amillennialists say, “No, and the Church has already been in it for nearly 2000 years.” So, for the amillennialist, the “thousand years” is simply a symbolic reference for the span of time between Christ’s first coming and His Second Coming which we are waiting for.

Kenneth Gentry has written[1] that the large, perfectly rounded numbers found in Revelation are more likely to be understood as symbolic (e.g. 1000; 144,000; 200 million). The smaller numbers and time-frame references are far more likely to be taken literally (e.g. the seven heads and ten horns of the beast; the seven churches which initially received the book of Revelation; 42 months (corresponding with 1260 days; and a time, times, and half a time). Steve Gregg adds:

The number “a thousand” is frequently used in Scripture without the intention of conveying statistical information. It is given as the number of generations to which God keeps His covenants (Deut. 7:9), the number of hills upon which God owns the cattle (Ps. 50:10), the number of enemy troops that one Israelite shall chase (Josh. 23:10), the number of those who shall fall “at your side” as opposed to the ten thousand who will fall at your “right hand” (Ps. 91:7), etc. Furthermore, the expression “a thousand years” is never used elsewhere in Scripture for an actual number of years, but only to suggest the idea of a very long time (cf. Ps. 90:4; Eccl. 6:6; 2 Peter 3:8). So also here, the reign of the martyrs during the time of Satan’s incarceration is simply a very long time, as the figure “a thousand years” generally means (pp. 467-468).

If we are in the Millennium now, premillennialists will likely ask, in what sense is the wolf dwelling with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), the cow and the bear grazing together (verse 7), the nursing child playing over the hole of the cobra (verse 8), and the earth full of the knowledge of the Lord (verse 9)? Good question—let’s ask the apostle Paul. He quoted the next verse as being fulfilled in his own lifetime:  “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of Him shall the nations inquire, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). Romans 15:12, where Paul cites this verse, reads this way: “The root of Jesse will come, even He who arises to rule the Gentiles, in Him will the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:12).

The context of both Isaiah 11 and Romans 15 suggests a bringing together in Christ the remnant of God’s people from among both the Jews and the Gentiles. Isaiah uses apocryphal language; Paul in Romans is more straightforward. Why not? The “mystery of God” spoken of by the prophets had been revealed and was about to be fulfilled in Paul’s day (cp. Eph. 3:6 with Rev. 10:7). “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). There is no Jew or Gentile in Christ Jesus (Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28, 5:6, 6:15-16); “the dividing wall of hostility” has been broken down (Eph. 2:14). The wolf (Gentiles), so to speak, now dwells safely with the lamb (Jews), i.e. among those who truly belong to Christ. The Gentile nations which were deceived and dwelling “far off” (Eph. 2:11-22; Rom. 9:22-26) prior to Christ’s work on the cross are now brought near (so that without distinction “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”; Rom. 10:12-13); in this way, Satan’s deception over the nations is broken (Rev. 20:3).

Paul’s application of a classic “premillennial passage” (Isaiah 11) to his own lifetime (Romans 15) is not an isolated incident in the New Testament. In a future post, I hope to bear this pattern out some more. Paul and other New Testament authors would likely be accused of being “replacement theologians” if they were alive today. Simply put, a lot of Old Testament passages taken by premillennialists to refer to a future, physical kingdom centered around earthly Jerusalem actually have to do with a present, non-physical kingdom centered around the New Jerusalem, the Church (Gal. 4:24-27, Heb. 12:22-24). Kim Riddlebarger articulates an important distinctive between Amillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism, as regards the modern nation of Israel:

Understanding the difference between the amillennial hermeneutic and the dispensational hermeneutic is the key to understanding the essence of this debate. Every major dispensational theologian from Walvoord to Pentecost to Ryrie to MacArthur himself, insists that God has two distinct redemptive programs–one for national Israel and one for the Gentiles. Reformed amillennarians reject this understanding of God’s redemptive purposes. God’s purpose is not to save two distinct peoples (divided by ethnicity), but to save his people (the elect), a multitude which no man can number (Revelation 7:9), and which includes each and every one of those whom God has chosen, whether they be Jew or Gentile.

In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul addresses this very point when discussing God’s redemptive purpose for Gentiles and national Israel. Here, Paul flat-out contradicts the dispensational assertion that God has distinct redemptive purposes for national Israel and for the church. According to Paul, God’s purpose in the New Covenant is to remove the ethnic distinctions between Jew and Gentile (between Israel and the church) which had been dividing them. Paul says that Jesus came to tear down the barrier wall which formerly divided the two, in order to make the two peoples into one so as to form Jew and Gentile together into the one living temple of the Lord–the church. In this spiritual temple, Christ is the chief cornerstone, and the foundation is the prophets and apostles.

Coming back to the binding of Satan for a thousand years (Rev. 20:3), Kenneth Gentry, representing the preterist position in C. Marvin Pate’s book Four Views on the Book of Revelation, sums up the amillennialist position[2] on this matter (pp. 83-84):

Christ bound Satan for a well-defined purpose: “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore” (Rev. 20:3, italics added). In Old Testament times only Israel knew the true God (Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:2; Luke 4:6; Acts 14:16; 17:30). But Christ’s incarnation changed this as the gospel began flowing to all nations (e.g., Isa. 2:2-3; 11:10; Matt. 28:19; Luke 2:32; 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:47). In fact, Christ judged the Jews and opened His kingdom to the Gentiles (Matt. 8:11-12; 21:43; 23:36-38)…

Despite Satan’s “authority” before Christ’s coming (Luke 4:6; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph. 2:1-2), Christ now claims: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18-19). Christ commissioned Paul for this very task: “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:17-18).

Consequently, the New Testament speaks frequently and forcefully of Satan’s demise in this regard (see Matt. 12:28-29; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; 16:11; 17:15; Acts 26:18; Rom. 16:20; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; I John 3:8; 4:3-4; 5:18). Jesus’ own words harmonize well with Revelation 20: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out [Gk. ekballo]” (John 12:31). Revelation 20:3 says that Christ “threw” [Gk. ballo] Satan into the Abyss. Other New Testament writers agree. Paul wrote: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). The author of Hebrews noted: “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). And John expressed it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (I John 3:8).

The binding of Satan, then, began in the first century. Christ initiated it during His ministry (Matt. 12:24-29), secured it in legal fact at His death and resurrection (Luke 10:17; John 12:31-32; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15), and dramatically “proved” it in the collapse of Christianity’s first foe, Judaism (Matt. 23:36-24:3; I Thess. 2:14-16; Rev. 3:9). Jerusalem’s demise [in 70 AD] is significant in that the satanic resistance to Christ’s kingdom first comes from the Jewish persecution of Christ and Christianity.

Sam Storms, agreeing with this position, notes some of Satan’s current activity despite being bound with regard to deceiving the nations: professing believers could be delivered to him “for the destruction of the flesh” (I Cor. 5:5); he blinds the minds of unbelievers “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (II Cor. 4:3-4); he has schemes and flaming darts, and presides over darkness and “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:10-20); he hinders workers of the gospel (I Thess. 2:18); he needs to be resisted and will flee when God’s people do this (James 4:7); he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8-9); he “is in the world” but is not as great as God (I John 4:4); and “the whole world lies” in his power (I John 5:19). Thus, his binding is clearly not absolute, but is specific with regard to the advance of the gospel among the nations of the world.

The binding of Satan also appears to parallel the picture of Satan being thrown down to the earth in Revelation 12:7-12. There, his work as the “deceiver of the whole world” (12:9) and “accuser of our brothers” (12:10) is brought to an end by the coming of “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ,” and God’s people conquer him “by the blood of the Lamb” (verse 11). In short, this is brought about by the work of the cross. As we wrote in our study on Revelation 12, “We can certainly see [Satan] playing [the role of accuser of the brethren] in Old Testament times, and before Jesus went to the cross. We see this in the case of Job (Job 1:6-7), where Satan stands before God accusing Job of being incapable of serving God if he is left unprotected. We see this again in Zechariah 3:1, where Satan is pictured standing before the angel of the Lord to accuse Joshua the high priest. In Luke 22:31 we are told that Satan has put in a specific request to sift Peter as wheat… Steve Gregg also writes,

Because the great dragon was cast out (v. 9) as a consequence of the battle, we can pinpoint the heavenly battle as being at the same time as as the accomplishment of the atonement at the death and resurrection of Christ.”  One of several evidences of this is found in Jesus’ statement (recorded by the same author): “now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out“  (John 12:31). Another evidence appears in the announcement that Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ has come (v. 10). This also coincides with the atonement. In addition, other New Testament authors confirm that a victory of this sort over Satan was accomplished by Christ in His death (cf. Col. 2:15, Heb. 2:14-15).

The death of Christ did not put Satan entirely out of business, but it ended his career as the accuser of our brethren (v. 10), his principle role in pre-Christian times (cf. Job 1-2; Zechariah 3). The blood of Christ has undermined the grounds of every charge that Satan might bring against the brethren [Romans 8:33-34]. Satan is cast to the earth. He cannot accuse the saints before God any longer, as they overcame his accusations by appeal to the atoning blood of the Lamb (vs. 11). They also take territory from the satanic kingdom by the word of their testimony (that is, preaching the gospel), and by their willingness to die rather than be intimidated by persecution (vs. 11).

Interesting in this light is a statement that Jesus made to His disciples in response to a question from Judas: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me…” (John 14:30). Well-known amillennialist Anthony Hoekema adds the following[3] to this discussion:

When the seventy returned from their preaching mission, they said to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk. 10:17-18, NIV). These words, needless to say, must not be interpreted literally. They must rather be understood to mean that Jesus saw in the works his disciples were doing an indication that Satan’s kingdom had just been dealt a crushing blow — that, in fact, a certain binding of Satan, a certain restriction of his power, had just taken place. In this instance Satan’s fall or binding is associated directly with the missionary activity of Jesus’ disciples… Another passage which ties in the restriction of Satan’s activities with Christ’s missionary outreach is John 12:31-32:

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’” (NIV). It is interesting to note that the verb here translated “driven out” (ekballo) is derived from the same root as the word used in Revelation 20:3, “He [the angel] threw [ballo] him [Satan] into the Abyss.” Even more important, however, is the observation that Satan’s being “driven out” or “cast out” (RSV) is here associated with the fact that not only Jews but men of all nationalities shall be drawn to Christ as he hangs on the cross.

We see then that the binding of Satan described in Revelation 20:1-3 means that throughout the gospel age in which we now live the influence of Satan, though certainly not annihilated, is so curtailed that he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel to the nations of the world.

There are some, however, who do more or less hold to the amillennial view, but who believe that the Millennium began (officially, perhaps) in 70 AD following the destruction of Jerusalem. We will take note of this view in our post on Minority Views of the Millennium.

B. The Saints Reign with Christ for 1000 Years (Rev. 20:4-6)

Verse 4: John sees thrones, on which those sat who were given the authority to judge. This imagery brings to mind two promises Jesus gave in His letters to the seven churches: [1] “The one who conquers and who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from My Father” (Rev. 2:26-27). [2] “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

Q: According to this passage, do all believers throughout Church history receive authority to sit on thrones and judge?
A:
Many proponents of amillennialism say or imply that we do; that is, after passing from this life. However, some believe that the text leaves no room for anyone to receive this authority unless they were martyred and directly resisted an opportunity to worship the beast or its image. Kenneth Gentry is now of this latter viewpoint and we will examine his views in the post titled “Revelation 20: Minority Views and a Discussion of Two Ages.”

Steve Gregg notes that the primary view among amillennialists is that this passage “describes the blessedness of the departed saints in heaven after death, but prior to the resurrection” (p. 466); in other words, in the intermediate state. This is Sam Storms’ view, as we know from his talk during the “Evening of Eschatology” hosted by John Piper in September 2009. This is different than the view held by Augustine, who saw the reign spoken of in this passage as “the spiritual reign of believers on earth in the present age, symbolizing the victory through which it is written that “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).”

Sam Storms also notes this difference of opinion among amillennialists, and briefly articulates the main dividing point between amillennialism and postmillennialism:

2. As to the precise character of this spiritual rule of Christ, AMs differ:

(a) Some contend that the millennium is restricted to the blessings of the intermediate state; i.e., the millennium as described in Rev. 20:4-6 refers to the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven. Others would go a step further and restrict the experience of the millennial blessings to the “martyrs” now in heaven with Christ (i.e., those who were slain while on the earth by reason of their testimony for Christ and the gospel).

(b) Other AMs interpret the millennium as encompassing all the inward spiritual triumphs experienced by the church on earth (i.e., Christ ruling in the believer’s heart). By far the more common form of AM is the first alternative under (a).

3. As a direct corollary to ‘2’ above, AM maintains that there will, therefore, be no millennium in the sense of a semi-golden era of earthly prosperity for the kingdom before Christ returns. There will be no visible earthly expression of Christ’s reign over the world as a whole; the church will not make disciples of all (i.e., the vast majority) nations, nor will it gain a dominant or widespread influence throughout the world. Thus it is here, and for all practical purposes only here, that AM differs from Postmillennialism.

Steve Gregg takes note of the fact that John, in his vision saw on thrones “the souls of those who had been beheaded,” and makes what is probably a very key observation on this point (p. 466):

The only place for the disembodied souls of saints since the accomplishment of our redemption has been in heaven, and the only time-frame during which souls can be found there (sans [without] bodies) is from the point of their deaths till the time of their resurrection at the Second Coming of Christ. Thus the time-frame would seem to be the present age of the church, from John’s own century to the time of the resurrection.

This is a good observation. If premillennialism is true, and the 1000-year reign is a yet future kingdom on earth, why would John see souls sitting on thrones rather than glorified bodies? The existence of these believers as “souls” is applicable to the intermediate state, the time between one’s physical death and the physical resurrection of believers which will take place at Christ’s Second Coming. It’s not a fitting description for those who would have already received their glorified bodies at the time of Christ’s Second Coming, i.e. if the Millennium is to follow that event as premillennialists say. Sam Storms says on this matter:

That John is talking about the intermediate state in 20:4-6 seems obvious once the parallel with 6:9-11 is noted. In my research I have not as yet encountered one PM [premillennialist] author who denies that 6:9-11 is a vision of the heavenly bliss of those who have suffered martrydom for Christ. Yet when they encounter virtually the same terminology in Rev. 20 they can only see a post-Parousia millennial kingdom on the earth of embodied believers. A careful examination of these two passages, however, will reveal that they are describing the same experience.

Revelation 6:9

Revelation 20:4

“And . . . I saw” (kai eidon) “And I saw (kai eidon)
“the souls of those who had been slain” (tas psuchas ton esphagmenon) “the souls of those who had been beheaded” (tas psuchas ton pepelekismenon)
“because of the word of God” (dia ton logon tou theou) “because of the word of God” (dia ton logon tou theou)
“and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (dia ten marturian hen eichon) “because of the testimony of Jesus” (dia ten marturian Iesou)

That John is describing the same scene, that of the blessedness of the intermediate state, seems beyond reasonable doubt.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

In the following post, we will continue on in our verse-by-verse study of Revelation 20 (from an amillennialist viewpoint) by examining the remainder of this chapter, verses 5-15.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] I can’t remember where I saw these statements from Gentry (which I’ve paraphrased). I don’t like to attribute things to authors without providing a proper reference, so if anyone knows where Gentry said this, please let me know. Thanks. In C. Marvin Pate’s book Four Views on the Book of Revelation, though, Gentry does say this (p. 56): “Frequently Scripture uses the number 1,000 as a symbolic value, not expressing a literal enumeration (e.g. Ex. 20:6; Deut. 1:11; 7:9; 32:30; Josh. 23:10; Job 9:3; Ps. 50:10; 84:10; 90:4; 105:8; Eccl. 7:28; Isa. 7:23; 30:17; 60:22; 2 Peter 3:8). On p. 83, he comments, “Only one place in all of Scripture limits Christ’s rule to a thousand years: Revelation 20:1-10, a half chapter in the most highly figurative book in the Bible… Scripture frequently employs this number in a non-literal fashion: Does God, for example, own the cattle on only one thousand hills (Ps. 50:10)?”

[2] Kenneth Gentry himself is a postmillennialist, but on this matter of Satan’s binding, the positions of amillennialism and postmillennialism converge. It’s only premillennialism that sees Satan’s binding as yet future, and extending to every facet of human existence.

[3] I only agree with some of Hoekema’s conclusions in this article, but I do agree with the portion I have quoted.

Revelation Chapter 20: Introduction and Outline


Revelation Chapter 20: Introduction and Outline

Adam Maarschalk: February 7, 2010

This post will serve as an introduction to Revelation 20, expressing some thoughts as we prepare to look more deeply into the period designated by John as “a thousand years,” popularly known as the Millennium. This post will also contain a mini outline. Here’s why:

Our Bible study group met last Wednesday (January 27, 2010), as we do on a weekly basis, and we completed our group study of Revelation 20 at that time. We generally take turns leading, so that each person only needs to lead the group study roughly every five weeks. This time, however, three of us each led a portion of the study. Dave presented on Revelation 20 from a postmillennial standpoint, Rod from a premillennial viewpoint, and myself from an amillennial viewpoint. All of us completely reject premillennialism, and find ourselves agreeing with some elements within amillennialism and postmillennialism. I personally, however, can’t help but believe that the truth of what John wrote in Revelation 20 goes beyond any of these three schools of thought.

Due to time constraints, we only presented a fraction of the material that we could have presented. Over time, we’ll be posting more than we prepared for our actual study time. On my part, at least, this will be a work in progress, and this post includes an outline of our posts on this topic. This same information can also be found on our Revelation page.

Here is the working outline for the posts on Revelation 20 (it may be expanded in the future). Following the outline are some preliminary thoughts on the topic of reigning with Christ for a thousand years:

Revelation Chapter 20 Outline

1. Revelation Chapter 20: Introduction and Outline (this post)
2. John Piper Hosts “An Evening of Eschatology” (Subject: “The Millennium”)
3. Revelation Chapter 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 1: Verse-by-Verse Study)
4. Revelation Chapter 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 2: Verse-by-Verse Study)
5. Revelation Chapter 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 3: Two Articles)
6. Revelation Chapter 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 4: Two More Articles)
7.
Revelation Chapter 20: Post-millennial Viewpoint
8.
Revelation Chapter 20: Pre-millennial Viewpoint
9. Revelation Chapter 20: Minority Viewpoints on the Millennium (Part 1)
10. Revelation Chapter 20: Minority Viewpoints on the Millennium (Part 2)
11. Revelation Chapter 20: Four Views on Gog and Magog
12. A Discussion of Two Ages: “This age and the age to come”

Preliminary Thoughts on Revelation 20

Anyone who has read through the previous studies which we have posted on the book of Revelation will have noticed that on the whole we favor what is known as the preterist interpretation. That is, we see a first-century fulfillment for the prophecies contained in the book of Revelation, John’s descriptions of God’s judgment about to be poured out upon unfaithful Israel and old covenant temple-based Judaism in 70 AD just as Jesus predicted (e.g. Luke 19:41-44, 23:28-31; Matthew 23:37-24:34). This is based not only on a wealth of internal evidence in Revelation, but also on John’s numerous statements announcing that the things he saw were soon to take place (e.g. Rev. 1:1, 3; 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20).

Now, I’ve also mentioned that, as a group, we seem to be leaning toward the amillennial interpretation, i.e. that the “1000 year reign of Christ” began in the first century and continues until today (whether this is taking place in heaven, on earth, or both, will be discussed in a couple of posts which are to follow). A combination of these two views—and it’s understood that many readers will not hold to this same combination—means that we (generally speaking) do not see the storyline of Revelation 20 as being parallel in time to the story-line of Revelation 1-19. In other words, Revelation 1-19 was completely fulfilled by 70 AD, though there is continued application for us today, but at least some portion(s) of Revelation 20 suggest an ongoing and even future fulfillment. (Check back with me in a couple of years – I might change by that time.)

Many amillennialists do see Revelation 20 as parallel in time to at least the events of Revelation 6-19, most notably those who are also Historicists. We do not – at this time. I offer up this explanation for the sake of clarity regarding what is to follow. In this regard, I would like to quote a few excerpts from a publication written by Kenneth Gentry titled “Recapitulation v Progress.” This is a primer for a full-length, verse-by-verse commentary on the book of Revelation which Gentry is currently working on. This particular publication is #13 among his Revelation Commentary Updates so far. The following selected excerpts are from pages 2-9 of that publication:

Revelation 20 is probably the best known and most hotly debated chapter in Revelation. This is the chapter (the only chapter in the Bible!) that mentions Christ’s ruling and reigning with His saints for 1000 years… An extremely important issue arises as we move from Revelation 19 into chapter 20. The question arises regarding the relationship between these two passages: Is it one of recapitulation (i.e., repetition of the same events) or sequence (two different episodes with one following as a result of the other)?

The prevailing scholarly (non-premillennial) consensus today holds that the relationship between these two chapters is one of recapitulation. The recapitulationist sees Rev 20:7–10 covering the same ground as and repeating 19:11–21. That is, they argue that the final eschatological battle at the second coming of Christ appears in both 19:11–21 and 20:7–10. This, of course, destroys the premillennial argument that sees the second coming (19:11–21) leading to Christ’s subsequently establishing his millennium (20:1–10). Consequently, premillennialists insist on sequence rather than recapitulation.

Oddly enough, my evangelical preterist view agrees with the premillennialist regarding the relationship between these two passages — though with quite different results. I hold that Christ’s coming from heaven to wage war in Revelation 19:11ff represents His judgment coming on Israel in AD 70. As such it reflects the theme of the book found in 1:7, where he comes against those tribes who pierced him (the Jews). Consequently, 20:1ff presents the consequence of Christ’s judgment of Israel, Christianity’s first major enemy: the binding of Satan, the vindication of the martyrs, and the spiritual rule of believers with Christ in the present age.

By way of illustration, Gentry later makes some statements on the mention of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:

R. Fowler White notes [that Revelation] 19:17–18 is “virtually a verbatim quotation” of Ezekiel 39:17–20 (1989: 326), and [Revelation] 20:7–10 specifically mentions “Gog and Magog” (Ezekiel 38:2; 39:1, 6), showing God destroying them with fire from heaven (cp. Rev 20:7–10; Eze 38:22; 39:6). Clearly then, John bases both “the Armageddon revolt (19:17–21) and the Gog-Magog revolt (20:7–10) on the same prophetic passage” (1989: 327)… both [Revelation] 19:19–21 and [Revelation] 20:7–10 allude to the same OT eschatological battle prophecy (Ezekiel 38–39).

Gentry notes that there are those who draw from these facts the premise that the events of Revelation 19:19-21 and Revelation 20:7-10 must therefore refer to the same historical event. However, he adds:

Though “significant correspondence” of a “highly peculiar” nature exists between Rev. 19 and Ezekiel 39, problems confront this interpretation: First, similarity does not entail identity. Simply because John patterns both the battles of Rev. 19 and Rev. 20 on Eze. 38–39 does not mean they are the same battle. Similar language is used because similar fundamental realities prevail: God is catastrophically judging oppressive enemies of His people.

Many scholars see AD 70 as a microcosm of the final judgment. Consequently, we may expect the same imagery to apply to both AD 70 and the end. For instance, of those first century events, Bloesch states: “The catastrophe that befell the Jewish people in A.D. 70 is a sign of the final judgment.” Morris agrees: “…[We see that there is] a theological unity between the two judgments, and that some of what Jesus says [in the Olivet Discourse] could apply equally well to both.” Second, as Bøe notes, John often makes double use of Ezekiel’s images (Bøe, 275). The imagery from Ezekiel’s scroll vision in Eze. 2:8–33 applies both to Rev 5:1 and 10:8–11; Ezekiel’s measuring imagery in Eze 40–48 appears in quite distinct passages in Rev 11:1–2 and 21:10–27 (Bøe 371).

…If John had wanted us to understand recapitulation rather than sequence in this passage [Revelation 20], John “did us no favor” by: (a) recasting the beast and false prophet (19:20) as Gog and Magog (20:8); (b) inserting a thousand year period between the two battles (20:2–5); (c) representing the period of Christian history from the first century to the end as “a short time” (12:12) and as “a thousand years” (20:2–6)… (d) offering no hint that Satan is bound before Rev 19:11ff while emphasizing his being bound before Rev 20:7ff; and (e) telling us that Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire where the beast and false prophet already are (20:10).

…[The judgment of] AD 70 (in Rev. 19:11–21) anticipates the final eschatological battle (Rev. 20:8–10)… It even seems that the NT emphasizes AD 70 more frequently — probably because it was looming in the near future, directly relevant to first century Christians, and of catastrophic significance in re-orienting their thinking regarding the flow of redemptive history… Indeed, it seems that the NT knows of only two great battles remaining in redemptive history: AD 70 which closes the old covenant era (and inaugurates the new covenant) and the Second Advent which closes the new covenant era (and history). Jesus certainly seems to link AD 70 and the Second Advent in his large Olivet Discourse… In addition, John limits Revelation’s prophecies to the near term (1:1, 3; 22:6, 10), which suggests a strong emphasis on AD 70.

That’s one view, and it reflects the view that most of us in our Bible study group tentatively hold at this time. I’m not sure yet if it’s my own. Revelation 20 is one tough chapter to understand.

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Kim Riddlebarger has compiled a very good, clear, and concise “Comparison Chart” displaying the distinctives of:

[1] Dispensational Premillennialism
[2] Historic Premillennialism
[3] Postmillennialism
[4] Amillennialism.

For each viewpoint, Kim includes a brief overview, a list of distinctive features and emphases, and he also names the leading proponents for each view. This very informative comparison chart can be seen here:

http://www.fivesolas.com/esc_chrt.htm

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All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

John Piper Hosts “An Evening of Eschatology”


Event: An Evening of Eschatology (The Meaning of the Millennium)
Location: Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis)

Speakers: Sam Storms, Jim Hamilton, Doug Wilson (Moderator: John Piper)

Date: September 27, 2009

Video Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/MediaPlayer/4262/Video/

These men gathered at Bethlehem Baptist Church to discuss the thousand-year reign discussed in Revelation 20.  It was at times serious and intense, and at other times very funny.  I enjoyed watching some heavy-hitters defend their beliefs head-to-head.   Here are some of my jottings from the evening:

-Christ died so that we might die.  He lives so that we might live.  He absorbed our sin and God’s wrath and His righteousness was imputed on our behalf.
-Doug Wilson remarked (15:25 point in the video) that the Millennium is 1000 years of peace that Christians like to fight about.  🙂
-One’s view of the millennium pertains to when he believes the 1000 year reign discussed in Rev. 20:1-6 falls in time.
-Relevant texts regarding the Bible’s use of the word “ages”: [1] Matthew 12:32 [2] Mark 10:30 [3] I Corinthians 10:11 [4] Ephesians 1:21

Some opinions and comments from the speakers:

Doug Wilson:  Ages overlap from Pentecost to 70 AD.  Jewish age ended 70; new age began then.

Jim Hamilton, Doug Wilson, Sam Storms: Jesus will reign on this earth.

Doug Wilson: This earth is longing for the resurrection for the created order – Rom 8

Doug Wilson: Intermediate state – we die and are with the Lord the day of our death – in heaven.  We wait for the redemption of our bodies.

Jim Hamilton (Premillennial View): Revelation shows that there will be a resurrection of believers who reign with Jesus on earth for a thousand years.  JW suggests that their offspring may not be regenerated and could die without Christ in that period.  Then Satan is released, and there is a rebellion, to be followed by the  final judgment, and a new heaven and new earth.

Doug Wilson  (Post-millennial View): The  Millennium is now on the earth.  Jesus will come and judge death at the end of this age.  The dead will be raised; we will be ushered into the golden age.  The progress of the gospel  is apparent here on earth; suffering is abating.  Doug concurred with the Partial-Preterist view that the book of Revelation was written before 70 AD and the prophecies were fulfilled in the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

Sam Storms  (Amillennial View): The Millennium is vital, but it is in heaven.  Revelation 20 saints are with Christ now and they are in the millennium.  The Millennium is now and it will end at Christ’s 2nd coming.  One problem with the post-millennial view is that suffering continues here on earth (according to Scripture).  Believers who have died are in the millennium now.

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Adam’s Notes

It wasn’t easy to take notes because of the pace of the discussion and the heavy subject matter being discussed. The video of this event is now available (above and on YouTube), and anyone can review what was said during the two-hour long forum.

Participant Millennium View Eschatological Stance on the Book of Revelation
Jim Hamilton Premillennialist Futurist
Sam Storms Amillennialist Historicist
Doug Wilson Post-Millennialist Partial-Preterist
John Piper Premillennialist Futurist (Post-Tribulationist)

Doug Wilson made the point that the years 30-70 AD were the overlapping of two ages, the Judaic (Old Covenant) age and the Christian (Church) age. He likened this transition to the passing of a baton between two runners, where the first runner keeps running alongside the second runner for some distance, before completely letting go of the baton and giving way to the second runner. One relevant text for this idea is Hebrews 8:13. Doug noted that the Christian age began at Pentecost, but the Judaic age only ended 40 years later with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD (See the video, roughly from the 18:30-22:00 mark).

Sam Storms stated that the “millennium” is currently taking place in heaven, experienced by all who have died in Christ and are dwelling in the intermediate state, awaiting Christ’s Second Coming, the Resurrection, and the redemption of our bodies. Thus they are reigning with Christ now, but from heaven and not from the earth.

Doug Wilson, representing the Post-Millennial viewpoint, insisted that the Great Commission will be successful in human history, Christianity will more or less take over the world, and then Christ will return. Some Post-Millennialists believe that a literal 1000-year Golden Age will close out the Church age. Others, like Doug, believe that Church history will simply end in a climax as Christianity progressively permeates the earth more than ever before.

John Piper posted some follow-up thoughts two days after we attended this forum:

For two hours I moderated, more or less, a discussion among Jim Hamilton (professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky), Sam Storms (pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City), and Doug Wilson (pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho).

The discussion was intended to focus on the relationship between the thousand-year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation 20 and the return of Christ to this earth visibly and physically to reign. This thousand years is usually called “the millennium.” Revelation 20 is the only place in the Bible where the length of this period is mentioned.

A little later in this article, Piper summarizes the three views which were presented that night:

Premillennialism (represented by Jim Hamilton): The return of Christ happens before (pre-) the thousand-year reign of Christ, which is a reign of the risen Christ on the earth.

Amillennialism (represented by Sam Storms): The return of Christ happens after the thousand-year reign, a reign that occurs in heaven, in the intermediate state, and not upon the earth. Those who have died in faith and entered into the presence of Christ share his rule and reign during the current church age in which we now live.

Postmillennialism (represented by Doug Wilson): The return of Christ happens after (post-) the thousand-year reign, which corresponds to the Christian age, and the reign of Christ from heaven leads the church to triumph by and through the gospel to such an extent that the Great Commission will be successfully fulfilled, and the Christian faith will pervade all the cultures of all the nations of men. All Christ’s enemies will be subdued in this way, with the exception of death, which he will destroy by his coming.

Piper acknowledges that his own view is Historic Premillennialism, but adds that he sees Amillennialism as “the next most plausible view.”

*Someone mentioned a few days after this forum that John Piper had prepared 16 more questions which he never got to because time got away from the group.

**Each of the speakers has recommended several resources for further study: See here

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An Introduction and Outline of all our posts on Revelation 20 (concerning the topic of the Millennium) can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.