Revelation 20: Premillennial Viewpoint


Revelation 20: An Introduction to the Premillennial View 

Rod: January 27, 2010

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

Introduction (by Adam)

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 have turned this into a project of sorts, as I wrote in our Introduction and Outline of Revelation 20. That outline provides links to all of our posts on the subject of the Millennium and Revelation 20. Neither Rod (the author of this post) nor I hold to the premillennial position, but this material is being presented in order to give coverage to multiple viewpoints. Both Rod and I lean toward the amillennial viewpoint.

Adam

Primary sources for this post:

[1] Steve Gregg, “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” pp. 457-483.
[2] Sam Storms, the founder of “Enjoying God Ministries”:

[a] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-kingdom-of-god-already-but-not-yet-part-i/
[b] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-kingdom-of-god-already-but-not-yet-part-ii/

Premillenialism, which is usually associated with a futurist viewpoint on the book of Revelation, teaches that Christ will return bodily in power and glory before the “thousand years” (millennium) to defeat and destroy the beast and the false prophet in the battle on the “great day of God the Almighty” at Armageddon (16: 14-16; 19:11-21). This battle will result in the binding (but not destruction) of Satan, which will keep him from deceiving the nations for one thousand years (Gregg, pp. 458-459). This period is interpreted by most premillennialists to be a literal one thousand years.

During that time Christ’s saints, having received their immortal bodies either by being resurrected from the dead (or, if they were still alive, being instantly transformed–1 Thess 4:13-18), will reign with Christ on the present earth, still surrounded to some degree by sin and sorrow but relieved to a significant degree of sin’s societal and physical consequences. According to this viewpoint, sin, sorrow, and death will not be eliminated until the new heaven and earth displace the first heaven and earth (Rev 21:1-4). The descendants of those who survive the battle of Armageddon will remain on the earth, ruled by resurrected saints and living to extraordinary ages (Isaiah 65:20-25).

The following is a brief summary of variations within the premillennialist camp:

Dispensational premillenialists believe that Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s restoration to political and material blessedness will happen during this millennial kingdom reign. At the end of the one thousand years, a second rebellion against Jesus’ reign will provoke another war, at which time the dragon (Satan) will be defeated and finally destroyed. The wicked at this time will be raised bodily to face God’s last judgment and eternal wrath. They will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the “second death” (20:6, 11-14). The old heaven and earth will be replaced by a new heaven and earth where curses, sin, sorrow, suffering and death will no longer exist for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21, 22).  Dispensational premillenialism expects that the millennium will witness a virtual restoration of the OT economy: temple, worship, priesthood, sacrificial system, etc.

Classic Premillenialism expects a future one thousand year reign of Christ on earth with believers and non-believers, prior to the final judgment. Therefore, it expects Christ will return before the one thousand years, but after a great tribulation before Christ returns (this is the post-trib rapture view). Classical premillenialists differ over whether the renewed earth will begin the millennium or the eternal state.

Pretribulational Premillenialism also expects a future one thousand year reign of Christ on earth, but it expects that Christ will first come secretly to take believers from the earth before a “great tribulation” of seven years. After this tribulation period, it expects that Christ will come back publicly to reign on the earth and that He will bring back believers at that time. There is often much overlap between pretribulation premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism.

A quick overview (Gregg, pp. 460-482):

1. Premillenialists (PMs) see chapter 20 as happening directly after the events of chapter 19, which is interpreted to be a description of the second coming of Christ.
2. The unnamed angel in Revelation 20 is most likely Michael (as in Rev. 12 and Jude 9).
3. The bottomless pit is thought to be a location on earth, and the star mentioned in chapter 9 was given the key to this pit.
4. The dragon is bound for one thousand years, and this disabling is very thorough. Satan is thrust into the pit and sealed away for one thousand years (although it is said that sin will still exist during this time). Because of Satan’s continued influence in the world today, this vision is yet future for premillennialists.
5. Satan will be released after the one thousand years of Christ’s peaceful reign for one final rebellion before the new eternal creation will come.
6. The identity of those who sit on the throne is unknown–perhaps God, Christ and the angels, 24 elders, the martyrs who did not worship the beast, or saints from the Old Testament and New Testament.
7. Verses 4-6 point to the resurrection of the saints who will reign on earth with Christ during the one thousand years. The PM would see this resurrection as a physical one, not a spiritual resurrection as  the postmillennialist or amillennialist sees it [This is a key difference, because only the premillennialist sees two general resurrections, separated by 1000 years, the first one for the righteous and the second one for the wicked. The premillennialist also only sees this 1000-year separation taught here in Revelation 20, and nowhere else in Scripture where the doctrine of the resurrection is taught].
8. One is particularly blessed who takes part in the first resurrection, as they will live in the millennium and escape the second death to live in the New Jerusalem in the new creation, becoming priests of God.
9. Satan will rise up in rebellion, and raise up the nations not under Christ’s rule (designated as Gog and Magog) to go to war (see also Ezekiel 38-39, and our post on the subject of Gog and Magog). This attack is said by premillennialists to target the literal city of Jerusalem.
10. God rescues the city with a great hail of fire and brimstone. The final judgment occurs and Satan is then tossed into the lake of fire.
11. The throne is thought to be the same throne as in Rev. 4:2. The one seated could be God or Christ, but the speaker is Christ.
12. The old heavens and earth “flee away” to make way for the new heavens and the new earth.
13. The dead are seen as those who did not experience the first resurrection.
14. There are two books: one containing the judgments for the dead and the other the book of life. It is interesting to note that there are books (plural) with judgments for the dead.
15. No one escapes the final judgment as in accordance with the prophecy in Isaiah 26:21.
16. Death and Hades were found riding a pale horse and slaying a fourth of mankind in Rev 6:8. Here they are personified as having held the dead captive, but now releasing their prey, as predicted by Paul in I Corinthians 15:26.

According to Steve Gregg, who summarized the premillenialist viewpoint:

“In the view of premillennialists, the golden age of peace and righteousness will not and cannot be realized until Jesus personally returns. He will then bind Satan for 1,000 years and reign over the earth with a rod of iron. The saints who rule with Him will be the righteous who have experienced resurrection earlier at his coming. Satan will be given one last chance at the end of this time and will deceive many people, but his rebellion will be supernaturally crushed and he will be eternally judged” (Gregg, p. 483).

According to non-dispensational premillenialists:

One purpose of the millennial kingdom would be to serve as the time and place (at least initially) wherein the OT promises of God’s earthly rule over His people will be fulfilled, and another purpose of the millennium would be that Christ’s kingdom will be disclosed in history.

To note some key differences between premillennialism and amillenialism (the viewpoint which held sway through most of Church history), compare this post with some of the following resources:

[A] Our posts on amillennialism:

Part 1 (a verse-by-verse study),
Part 2 (a verse-by-verse study continued),
Part 3 (two articles: [1] “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” [2] “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?”,
Part 4 (two articles: [1] “Has the New Covenant Arrived Yet?” [2] “Problems with Premillennialism” by Sam Storms

[B] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-amillennial-view-of-the-kingdom-of-god/ (Sam Storms; some of the material in this article is also referenced in our posts on amillennialism)

Sam Storms is an amillennialist (as well as a Historicist), and has the following to say in his summary of some of the tenets of premillennialism:

1. PMs insist that the relationship between the events of Rev. 19:11-21 and the events of 20:1-3 is one of chronological and historical sequence – which means the binding of Satan for a thousand years comes directly after the second coming of Christ.
2. PMs insist that the NT evidence concerning the activity of Satan in this present age does not line up with the description of the restrictions placed on Satan’s power by the angel in 20:1-3. Since Satan is not bound, then the events of verses 1-3 must be future, they say.

**Sam Storms lays out an argument against these claims, saying that the phrase “I saw” does not necessarily indicate the order in which the visions were to play out in history, but is only an indication of the order in which he received them. A second objection follows with Sam pointing out that in 16:13-16 the nations were deceived, and then were destroyed in 19:19-21.

PMs believe there will be two age-transitioning wars: one before the millennium (Armageddon: Rev. 16:17-21; Matt 24:29) and one after the millennium (Gog-Magog, Rev. 20:9-11). However, a reading of Hebrews 12:26-27 would seem to indicate that there was to be only one such war.

Sam Storms believes that there is evidence from Ezekiel 39:17-20 that the battle of Armageddon (Rev 19) and the battle of Gog-Magog (Rev 20) are one and the same…and NOT two battles separated by one thousand years. PMs point to the fact that according to Rev 20:10 Satan is cast into the lake of fire where the Beast and False Prophet already are. So these two entities must have been cast into the lake of fire before the millennium started (19:20). [Again, for a thorough discussion regarding Gog and Magog, and the relationship between Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 19 & 20, please see our own post on this subject.]

**Sam Storms argues that a better understanding of the verbs used would tell of the devil being cast into the lake of fire along with the Beast and False Prophet…which would be at the conclusion of the war (Armageddon/Gog Magog). So historically these events happen at the same time, but John received two different visions subsequently offering two different vantage points.

PMs insist that the binding of Satan as stated in Rev 20:1-3 is not compatible with the dimensions of Satan’s present activity as portrayed throughout the NT. PMs insist that Satan must be bound from being able to carry out ANY activity.

However, verse 3 states that Satan was bound so that he could no longer deceive the nations. Then in verse 8 he is released so that he can deceive the nations which are the four corners of the earth. John does not say that Satan cannot persecute Christians or prowl about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, disrupt church unity, disguise himself as an angel of the light, etc. He was bound only to the extent that he could not rally the nations to war in unity against the city of God (the Church, the New Jerusalem–e.g. Hebrews 12:22, Gal. 4:24-26) until the millennium comes to an end. See our first post on amillennialism for a more thorough treatment of this subject.

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In the following post, we will examine several minority viewpoints on the millennium, views which fall outside of the traditional “big 3” (a-, post-, and pre-millennialism).

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

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Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 4)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 4)

Adam Maarschalk: March 11, 2010

In the first two posts in this series on amillennialism (Part 1 and Part 2) we discussed Revelation 20 from an amillennial viewpoint, verse-by-verse. In the previous post we examined two articles: [1] “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” by 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”).

In this post, we will examine two more articles: [1] “Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Forever (Part 6)” by Grover Gunn, and [2] “Problems with Premillennialism” by Sam Storms. In the first article, Grover Dunn demonstrates that Dispensational Premillennialism essentially attempts to place the New Covenant age in our future, even though a fundamental truth of the Christian faith is that Christ inaugurated the New Covenant by His work on the cross. In the second article, Sam Storms meticulously details his journey from premillennialism to amillennialism, examining various Scripture passages which have led him to believe that the latter view is more Biblical than the former.

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: “Has the New Covenant Arrived Yet?”

This article was originally written by Grover Gunn (the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Tennessee) and posted at PJ Miller’s site under the title “Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Forever (Part 6).” It was reposted at another site (Job’s “Heal the Land”) under the lengthy, but very fitting title, “Premillennial Dispensationalism Effectively Claims that the New Covenant Has Not Yet Arrived, Which Means We Are Still Under the Old.”

The subject of the New Covenant is important with regard to our discussion of the Millennium. The New Testament, of course, very clearly speaks of the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ’s atoning work on the cross (e.g. Matt. 26:28; Romans 11:27; I Cor. 11:25; II Cor. 3:6; Gal. 4:21-31; Heb. 7:22, 8:6-13, 9:15; 10:29; 12:22-24; 13:20). In each of these passages, the New Covenant is spoken of as a present reality for the body of Christ. God’s people, ever since Jesus went to the cross, have had the privilege of walking in the glorious promises of the New Covenant.

Within this New Covenant is the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28; Rom. 11:27), characterized by the Holy Spirit who gives life (II Cor. 3:6) and freedom rather than slavery (Gal. 4:21-31). The author of Hebrews says this is “a better covenant” than the Old Covenant (Heb. 7:22); “much more excellent” with “better promises” (8:6); one that brings redemption from transgressions (9:15); and one that is eternal (13:20).

How strange then would it be to learn that the most popular form of millennial eschatology today (at least in the US) is not only fuzzy regarding its meaning and significance, but assigns its fulfillment (either primarily or entirely) to an age which is to occur after Christ’s Second Coming? This same eschatological system often maintains that “if” the New Covenant is now in force, it was not foreseen for this present age by any Old Testament text! The system I’m referring to is Dispensational Premillennialism, and these and other oddities are discussed in this article by Grover Gunn which I will now quote from (underlining added):

Before discussing the new covenant, I would like to review the basic distinction between dispensationalism and Reformed theology. This basic distinction revolves around the concepts of unity in reference to God’s people and continuity in reference to God’s program. First, according to Reformed theology, the people of God in all ages are in union with Christ and are therefore together united in the universal church, which is the Body and Bride of Christ. According to dispensationalism, only those who are saved between the Pentecost of Acts 2 and the end time rapture are in the universal church. In other words, Mary, the mother of Jesus, will be in the Bride of Christ, but Joseph her husband who died before Pentecost will only be a guest at the wedding of the Lamb. Also, John the Apostle will be in the Body of Christ in eternity, but not John the Baptist. According to dispensationalism, the Old Testament saints who died before Acts 2 are not to be made perfect together with the New Testament saints (compare Hebrews 11:39-40), but are instead to remain spiritually inferior throughout eternity, never being in the Body and Bride of Christ [Adam’s note: If anyone knows this to be an inaccurate statement regarding dispensationalism, please let me know].

Second, according to Reformed theology, the New Testament church is a continuation of the Old Testament program and is directly rooted in the Old Testament covenants. According to dispensationalism, the New Testament church is a parenthesis in the program begun in the Old Testament, not a continuation of the program. They continue the Old Testament program in a future Jewish millennium that is a glorified extension of the Davidic national kingdom and the Mosaic ceremonial laws.

Let us now go on with our examination of the dispensational theory by looking at the dispensational teaching on the new covenant. Since those twenty-seven books of Scripture that were written after the life of Jesus are named the New Testament or covenant, one would expect that all Christians would uncompromisingly acknowledge the Christian nature of the new covenant. Such an acknowledgment, however, is not easy or simple for the consistent dispensationalist. As it turns out, when the dispensationalist tries to bend Scripture to fit his system, the Biblical data on the new covenant is among the most stubbornly unyielding and uncooperative. Dr. Charles C. Ryrie says the following about dispensational interpretation of the new covenant:

“Although the new covenant is one of the major covenants of Scripture, a clear statement of its meaning and of its relationship to the [dispensational] premillennial system is needed. Even among [dispensational] premillennialists there seems to be a lack of knowledge concerning this covenant.”1

[Dispensational] premillennialists are divided into three groups as far as their interpretation of the new covenant is concerned. This does not evince weakness, for not one of the views contradicts the system.2

The classic passage on the new covenant is Jeremiah 31. Please take note: Jeremiah is an Old Testament prophecy, and dispensationalists teach that no Old Testament prophecy can refer directly to the New Testament church. Dispensationalists interpret Jeremiah 30 and 31 as referring to their futuristic tribulation period which is to occur after the rapture of the church and to their Judaistic millennium.3 The “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) is identified with the seven-year tribulation period, and the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is viewed as a millennial blessing upon Israel. According to Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost:

“This covenant must follow the return of Christ at the second advent.”4

“This covenant will be realized in the millennial age.”5

Regardless of the relationship of the church to the new covenant as explained in these three views, there is one general point of agreement: the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 must and can be fulfilled only by the nation Israel and not by the Church.6

According to Dr. John F. Walvoord,

the [dispensational] premillennial position is that the new covenant is with Israel and the fulfillment in the millennial kingdom after the second coming of Christ.7

The [dispensational] premillennial view, though varying in detail, insists that the new covenant as revealed in the Old Testament concerns Israel and requires fulfillment in the millennial kingdom.8

According to Dr. Charles C. Ryrie,

it can be shown that the period of the new covenant is millennial.9

I very much agree with this last statement by Dr. Ryrie, but will qualify my agreement by identifying the millennium as a present reality just as the New Covenant is (In other words, I affirm the amillennial view). It seems to me that this [dispensationalist premillennial] insistence on identifying the New Covenant as a future reality for Israel in a future earthly reign goes hand in hand with the failure to see the Church as true Israel today (e.g. Romans 2:28-29; 4:11-14; 9:6-8; Gal. 3:7, 28-29; 6:15-16; Phil. 3:3; Rev. 2:9; 3:9). It also goes hand in hand with a failure to see that the Old Testament prophets spoke in much detail regarding this present Church age. Many of those passages are taken instead to refer to a future millennium period on earth, as we discussed here. Gunn continues:

Also, Jeremiah’s new covenant prophecy is to be made “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31), and dispensationalists teach their strong dichotomy between Israel and the church. In other words, what has a prophecy for Israel to do with the New Testament church in a direct and primary sense? Nothing, says the consistent dispensationalist. So, for the consistent dispensationalist, the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 must be for the Jewish millennium and not for the church age. For the new covenant to be fulfilled in and by the church would be to abrogate the new covenant with Israel and to alter its most essential meaning and intention.10 The significance of this point can be seen in the following quotation by Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost:

“If the church fulfills this covenant, she may also fulfill the other covenants made with Israel and there is no need for an earthly millennium.”11

According to Dr. Ryrie:

“If the church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned.”12

We have seen that dispensationalists interpret the Old Testament data on the new covenant as referring solely to the nation Israel in a future millennium. When one comes to the New Testament data on the new covenant, this dispensational theory encounters some critical complications. For example, in Hebrews 8:6-13, the inspired writer called Christ “the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” and then quoted extensively from the Jeremiah new covenant prophecy. In Hebrews 10:14-18, the inspired writer quoted from the Jeremiah new covenant prophecy in an argument for the discontinuation of animal sacrifices in the church age. This indeed is ironic, for the dispensationalist refers this Jeremiah new covenant prophecy instead to a Jewish millennium in which animal sacrifices are renewed! In Hebrews 12:22-24, several Old Testament concepts, like Mount Zion, Jerusalem, the blood of Abel, and the new covenant, are applied directly to the Christian. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul called himself and Timothy “ministers of the new testament.” As if to remove any doubt about which new covenant he was referring to, Paul in verse 3 mentions the Jeremiah new covenant concept of writing on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). When Christ inaugurated the Lord’s Supper, He said, “This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). What did the Jewish disciples associate with this statement? Undoubtedly they related it to Jeremiah 31. What other new testament (i.e. covenant) were they aware of?

Surely you can now see that the consistent dispensationalist has a problem with the new covenant. According to a consistent application of basic dispensational assumptions and the dispensational hermeneutic, the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is for Israel in a Jewish millennium, not for the New Testament church in the church age. Dispensationalists are divided among three suggested solutions to this serious problem in their system.

Gunn then goes on to examine these three suggested solutions. To see his examination in full (since I will only be quoting small portions of it), one may follow [A] this link (or any of the links at the beginning of this section), as well as [B] this link (or the original source here). The first solution is a two-covenant proposal, i.e. that God has created one New Covenant for the Church and one for the nation of Israel. Gunn rightly calls this solution “artificial” and an “amazingly strained exegesis.” One implication of this proposal is that there are actually three major covenants in Scripture, rather than just the Old Covenant (prior to the cross) and the New Covenant (from the cross onwards). It would also mean that Jeremiah (e.g. 31:31-37) did not foresee this present age (from the time of the cross until now), but that “the church age is an unforeseen parenthesis in the prophetic program between the sixty-ninth and seventieth of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9.”

This false dichotomy of the New Covenant (i.e. two separate installments) has implications on the doctrines and practices of the Church. For example, Gunn adds that “E.W. Bullinger, the father of ultra-dispensationalism, taught that the Lord’s Supper is a Jewish ordinance that has no place in the Christian church.” For Bullinger, this ordinance was to await an earthly kingdom centered in Jerusalem which would only be inaugurated by Christ’s Second Coming. This does not explain, of course, why the apostle Paul spoke of the Lord’s Supper as a legitimate ordinance in his own day (I Cor. 11:17-33). John F. McGahey’s rebuttal of this “solution” is excellent:

Consequently, it has been established that there is no warrant in Scripture for maintaining that there are two new covenants… [T]he theory of the two new covenants was born of controversy rather than strong exegesis. For it appears that it was manufactured to avoid the assumed conclusion that to relate the church to Israel’s new covenant necessitated that church fulfilling the promises given to Israel under that covenant.25

Yet the promises articulated to Israel in the Old Testament do indeed belong to the Church today (e.g. Romans 4:13-14; Gal. 3:16-29).

A second “solution” to the dispensationalist quandary regarding what the New Testament has to say about the New Covenant is equally absurd. This solution was articulated by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), the father of dispensationalism, and maintained by others (e.g. Harry Ironside) in this way:

The Christian is directly related to “the annexed circumstances of the covenant,” to “the essential privileges of the new covenant,” to the “benefit” of the covenant, and to “the Mediator of the covenant,” but not to the covenant itself. Darby expressed his theory as follows: “This covenant of the letter is made with Israel, not with us; but we get the benefit of it… The new covenant will be established formally with Israel in the millennium.”

Ironside even stated explicitly that “The Church, then, is not under the new covenant…it is Israel which is God’s covenant-people.” That’s why I so appreciate Job’s fitting title for his article, “Premillennial Dispensationalism Effectively Claims that the New Covenant Has Not Yet Arrived, Which Means We Are Still Under the Old.” That is the necessary conclusion of the teaching of Ironside and others who have embraced his error. It’s no small error either. Gunn thinks through some other implications of Darby’s false teachings:

Let us think through the work of Christ in terms of Darby’s theory on the new covenant. Jesus Christ at His first coming came to be the mediator of an earthly, nationalistic and Jewish new covenant that is totally unrelated to church age Christianity. He offered to Israel a theocratic political kingdom based on this Jewish new covenant, and He shed His blood to establish this Jewish new covenant. When the Jewish nation rejected the Christ, the offer was withdrawn and the theocratic kingdom was postponed. In this parenthetical age of postponement, God began an entirely new and unprophesied work in the calling of a heavenly people, the Christian church. Although the blood of Christ was shed for the establishment of the earthly people’s national new covenant, there was enough efficacy in the Messianic sacrifice for it also to be the basis for individual salvation and heavenly blessings in the church age. Christ had assumed the office of mediator to mediate the Jewish covenant, but in this parenthetical age, His mediatorial office is available for the spiritual benefit of Christians even though they are totally unrelated to the covenant of which He is mediator. Darby’s theory makes God’s entire program for the church seem incidental and secondary to God’s program for Israel… This theory teaches that Christian salvation in the church age is an unprophesied benefit of the atoning work of Christ.

Author John Walvoord articulates a third proposed dispensationalist solution “popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible” which “regards the new covenant as having a twofold application, first to Israel fulfilled in the millennium, and, second, to the church in the present age.” According to Walvoord, Scofield saw the New Covenant as “concerned primarily with Israel,” but “having an oblique [not straightforward] reference to the believers of this age.” Dr. Charles Ryrie (for one) has even lamented that this less-than-straightforward relation of the body of Christ to the New Covenant is too much, for it weakens dispensational premillennialism! Here is what he says:

If the Church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere else in Scripture, then [dispensational] premillennialism is weakened…we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is “a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the Church.”

On this matter, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost said, “The church, however, can not be placed under Israel’s covenant [i.e. the New Covenant].” In other words, in order to avoid the charge of adhering to so-called “replacement theology,” these proponents of dispensationalism say that the body of Christ should have no relation to the New Covenant! This is amazingly false doctrine that strikes at the heart of what Christ accomplished on the cross for all believers. It also elevates one ethnic group (the Jews) far above any other group, even though the Bible is clear that there is no Jew or Gentile in Christ Jesus (e.g. Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:11-22).

Gunn’s final conclusion is very apt:

The New Testament data on the new covenant fits well with Reformed theology. No bending is necessary; no artificial exegesis is required; no hair splitting distinctions are needed. Since the New Testament church is the continuation of the Old Testament kingdom program and is spiritual Israel in this age and is the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, there is no problem in directly relating the Jeremiah 31 new covenant to the church in this age as is done by the New Testament writers. The new covenant relates directly to physical Israel only insofar as Jews accept Christ and are regrafted back into the olive tree of spiritual Israel, which is the church (Romans 11:26-27).

ARTICLE #2: “Problems with Premillennialism”

This article was written by Sam Storms, the founder of Enjoying God Ministries. He sums up his journey away from premillennialism and toward amillennialism by this statement: “In my own case, further study of what the NT said would happen in conjunction with the second coming/advent of Christ led me to conclude that a post-Parousia millennial reign upon an earth still under the influence of sin, corruption, and death was impossible.”

In other words, premillennialism says that after Christ returns He will set up a physical kingdom in which sin and death will still continue to take place. The question is, though, “Does Scripture allow for sin, corruption, and (especially) death to continue beyond the Second Coming of Christ?” Sam Storms takes on this question by examining seven different New Testament texts which address this matter:

1. I Corinthians 15:22-28
2. I Corinthians 15:50-57
3. Romans 8:18-23
4. II Peter 3:8-13
5. Matthew 25:31-46
6. II Thessalonians 1:5-10
7. John 5:28-29

We will now turn to this study presented by Sam Storms [Brief note: Sam uses “PM” to denote premillennialism, and “AM” to denote amillennialism]. I will quote Sam’s study in its entirety (underlining added):

1. 1 Corinthians 15:22-28

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when he has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For ‘He has put all things in subjection under His feet.’ But when He says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.”

The PM interpretation is as follows: In v. 23 Paul says that the resurrection of believers follows the resurrection of Christ. But 2,000 years have already elapsed between these two events. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised if there is a similar historical gap between the resurrection of believers at the second coming (v. 23b) and “the end” (v. 24). This gap, says the PM, is the 1,000 year millennial kingdom which follows Christ’s return and precedes eternity.

At the end of the millennium, i.e., when “the end” comes, Jesus will deliver up the kingdom to the Father (v. 24a), after having abolished all rule and authority and power. The last of these so-called “enemies” is death. Therefore, according to the PM, death will not be destroyed or defeated or abolished until the close of the millennium, that is to say, at “the end”.

The point of dispute is the meaning of “the end” (v. 24). The “end” is when death, “the last enemy” (v. 26), is abolished. The PM insists that “the end” is the close or end of the millennial kingdom, 1,000 years after Christ has returned to earth. The AM insists that “the end” is the close or end of this present age, the age in which we now live.

If one could demonstrate conclusively what “the end” is or when “the end” comes, the millennial debate would itself come to a decisive end! This is not difficult to do. Both PM’s and AM’s agree that Christ’s reign (v. 25) consummates with the destruction of death. They also agree that the destruction of death signals “the end”. Therefore, all one need do is determine the time when “death” dies. Does Paul tell us when “death” dies or when death, the final enemy, will be abolished? Yes.

Several factors enable us to identify the “death of death”.

  • According to 1 Cor. 15:50-58 (esp. vv. 54-56), death is abolished or is “swallowed up in victory” (v. 54)at the second coming of Christ. Therefore, the reign of Christ described in v. 25, during which he progressively abolishes all rule and authority and power, is presently occurring. Paul is describing what Christ is doing now, as he sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father. When he returns at the conclusion of this present age, he will destroy death, the last remaining enemy. That, says Paul, is “the end.”
  • Another Pauline text which asserts that Christ is currently reigning in this capacity is Eph. 1:20-23 (note esp. Paul’s use of the same terminology found in 1 Cor. 15:24 – “rule, authority, power”).
  • But the PM does not believe Christ will abolish death at his second coming. He insists that death will continue into the millennium (cf. Rev. 20:7-10). But how can this be true when Paul places the destruction of death at Christ’s second advent? The destruction of death at Christ’s second advent/coming does not leave room for a millennial age in which death persists in its power.
  • The point is this: the second advent/coming of Christ marks the end of death and corruption, the end of sin and rebellion, and the inauguration of the consummated and perfected eternal state.

2. 1 Corinthians 15:50-57

“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The key phrase is Paul’s declaration that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 50). Simply put, a corruptible and perishable nature can neither possess nor participate in an incorruptible and imperishable kingdom. Neither the living (“flesh and blood”) nor the dead (“the perishable”) can inherit the kingdom in their present state. Several factors contribute to make this a strong argument for AM and against PM.

  • Here Paul insists on the resurrection and glorification of all believers (whether already physically dead or still alive at the second advent; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Only those who have been gloriously transformed in body and spirit shall inherit the kingdom of God (cf. v. 53).
  • The “kingdom” in view, according to the PM, is the millennial kingdom [on earth]. But how can that be? The PM argues that many believers will enter and inherit and enjoy the blessings of the millennial kingdom in their natural, unglorified, untransformed, “flesh and blood” bodies. But that is precisely what Paul denies could ever happen.
  • Paul’s declaration that unglorified, “flesh and blood” bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God precludes a millennium following the second coming of Christ. The kingdom of God into which all believers are granted entrance at the time of their glorification (i.e., at the second coming of Christ), is the eternal phase of God’s kingdom rule. This eternal phase, at the beginning of which Jesus “delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father” (v. 24) follows immediately upon the second coming of the Lord Jesus. It is then that “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (vv. 51-52).
  • Finally, according to vv. 54-55, the end of death at the second coming of Christ is the fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8. There we read that God “will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth.” Both the end of death and the wiping away of all tears are associated in Rev. 21:4 not with the coming of a millennial age but with the eternal state, i.e., the new heavens and new earth.

3. Romans 8:18-23

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”

Observe the following.

  • Paul describes the deliverance or redemption of the natural creation as connected with that of the children of God. It is when the sons of God are revealed (v. 19) that the creation itself shall experience its redemption. That is why the creation is personified as “waiting eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” The creation anxiously awaits the return of Christ and our glorification, for it is then that it too shall be set free from “its slavery to corruption” into that very “freedom of the children of God” (v. 21).
  • The creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God (v. 19) because it is into that very freedom that the creation too will be delivered (v. 21). In other words, the creation and the children of God are intimately intertwined both in present suffering and in future glory. As there was solidarity in the fall, so also there will be solidarity in the restoration.
  • If the creation should somehow fall short of complete deliverance from its present corruption, the finality and fullness of our redemption is seriously undermined. Inasmuch as the natural realm will enter into “the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” any deficiency that it might experience must obtain in the case of Christians as well. To the extent that the created order is not wholly and perfectly redeemed, we are not wholly and perfectly redeemed. The redemption and glory of creation are co-extensive and contemporaneous with ours.
  • The problem this poses for PM is clear: the consummate redemption of creation that occurs when Christ returns to redeem/glorify his people would appear to preclude any suffering or corruption of creation subsequent to that return. And yet the millennial age for which the PM argues is one that includes the corrupting presence of both sin and death. The question, then, is this:

How can the creation be delivered from the crippling effects of sin and death when we are, namely, at Christ’s second coming, if during the millennium it must yet suffer the presence and perversity of its enemies?

  • It seems more reasonable to me that Paul’s description of the day of redemption for both Christians and the created order (i.e., the second coming of Jesus) is identical with the advent of the new heavens and new earth portrayed in such texts as 2 Pt. 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1ff[1].; Mt. 19:28. If so, there is no place for a “millennium” subsequent to the return of Christ.

4. 2 Peter 3:8-13

Following his reference to “mockers” who question whether Christ will ever return (vv. 3-7), Peter writes this:

“But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

Here Peter echoes the words of Paul in 1 Thess. 5:2-3, both of whom refer to “the day of the Lord”, i.e., the second coming/advent of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-18; 2 Pt. 3:4, 8-9).[2]

  • Peter tells us that it is on account of the coming of this “day of the Lord/God” (vv. 10, 12), i.e., the second coming/advent of Christ, that the heavens will be destroyed. The end of this present heavens and earth is the effect of the coming of Christ. The “present heavens and earth,” literally, the “now heavens and earth” (v. 7), are being reserved for this “day” of judgment.
  • Note also that the “present (now) heavens and earth” are contrasted with the former heavens and earth, literally, “the then world” (v. 6). Thus Peter looks at biblical history as consisting of three great periods: 1) the heavens and earth before Noah, which were destroyed by God’s judgment, out of which he formed anew 2) the heavens and earth that now are, which are being reserved for destruction, and out of which he will create anew 3) the heavens and earth that shall be, which are the object of our hope. “Since you look for these things,” says Peter, that is, for the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (v. 13), be diligent to be righteous.
  • Where is there room in Peter’s scenario for an earthly millennium intervening between Christ’s second coming and the new heavens and new earth? On the contrary, the present heavens and earth will be judged at Christ’s return, at which time thenew heavens and new earth(not a millennium) shall emerge as an eternal dwelling for God’s people.
  • Note Peter’s use of the word translated “look for” in vv. 12, 13, 14. We are to “look for” the day of God (the Lord), i.e., the return of Christ (v. 12). In v. 13 we are to “look for” the new heavens and new earth. In v. 14 we “look for” these things, i.e., the coming of Christ which brings judgment against the present world and righteousness for his people. It seems clear that the object of our expectation, that for which we are to “look,” is [the] return of Christ when the present heavens and earth give way to the new heavens and earth. If the new heavens and new earth come at the time of Christ’s second advent, there can be no earthly millennial reign intervening between the two. Remember: the PM places the creation of the new heavens and new earth after the millennium (Rev. 21-22). However, if the new heavens and new earth come with Christ (as Peter indicates they will), the millennium must in some sense be identified with this present age and not some future period subsequent to Christ’s return.
  • Finally, the PM argues that during the millennial age it will be possible for people to come to saving faith in Christ. But Peter’s argument is that the very reason why Christ has not yet returned is in order that He might patiently extend the opportunity for men to repent. This is meaningful only if it is impossible to repent subsequent to Christ’s return. If souls may be saved after Christ returns, the patience He now displays is unnecessary. The urgency of the moment can be explained only on the supposition that “now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

5. Matthew 25:31-46

We read in Mt. 25:31-32 that the Son of Man will return in glory in the company of the angelic host. It is then that he will gather all the nations (cf. Mt. 13:30, 39-41,49-50), separate them (cf. Mt. 13:49), and pass judgment (vv. 34-36).

  • The judgment that occurs at the second coming/advent of Christ is said to issue in eternal fire (v. 41) and eternal punishment (v. 46) for the “goats” (the unsaved) and eternal life (v. 46) for the “sheep” (the saved).
  • In Rev. 20:11-15, this same judgment is described. The unsaved are thrown into the lake of fire. This is commonly known as the Great White Throne Judgment.
  • The important point is this: the Great White Throne Judgment of Rev. 20:11-15 occursafterthe millennial reign described in 20:1-10. But in Mt. 25 the judgment occurs at the time of Christ’s second coming/advent. Conclusion:the millennium of Rev. 20:1-10 is simultaneous with the present age; the millennium is now, preceding the second coming of Christ.

My conclusion is that at the second coming/advent of Christ the lost are judged and cast into the lake of fire, to be punished eternally, whereas the saved are granted entry into eternal life, that phase of God’s kingdom which consists of the new heavens and new earth. The description in Mt. 25 of what happens when Christ returns simply doesn’t leave place or room for a 1,000 [year] earthly reign in between the parousia and the eternal state.

6. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

“This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed — for our testimony to you was believed.”

The conclusions drawn from Mt. 25 are re-affirmed in 2 Thess. 1. This passage also indicates that it is at the time of Christ’s second coming/advent, not 1,000 years later, that the eternal punishment of the lost occurs.

When does the eternal destruction of the unsaved occur? When shall they pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord? Paul’s answer is: “when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day” (v. 10). The climactic and final punishment of the lost is not reserved for a judgment 1,000 years after Christ’s return, but is simultaneous with it. And since this judgment is elsewhere said to follow the millennium (Rev. 20:11-15), the millennium itself must be coterminous with the present age.

7. John 5:28-29

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

An hour is coming when (lit., “in which”) all who are in the tombs, i.e., the physically dead, whether believer or unbeliever, shall hear his voice and come forth in the resurrection.

The PM, however, is unable to accept this straightforward declaration. He insists that a 1,000 year earthly reign of Christ must intervene between the resurrection of believers and the resurrection of unbelievers. He points to v. 25 where the word “hour” encompasses the whole of this present age. Why, then, can’t the “hour” in v. 28 also span the 1,000 years of a millennial age? Anthony Hoekema answers this question:

“First, in order to be parallel to what is said in verse 25, the resurrection of believers and unbelievers should then be taking place throughout this thousand-year period, as is the case with the regeneration of people during the ‘hour’ mentioned in verse 25. But, according to the theory under discussion (Premillennialism), this is not the case; rather this theory teaches that there will be one resurrection at the beginning of the thousand years and another at the end. Of this, however, there is not a hint in this passage. Further, note the words “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.” The reference would seem to be to a general resurrection of all who are in their graves; it is straining the meaning of these words to make them describe two groups (or four groups) of people who will be raised at separate times. Moreover, this passage states specifically that all these dead will hear the voice of the Son of man. The clear implication seems to be that this voice will be sounded once, not two times or four times. If the word ‘hour’ is interpreted as standing for a period of a thousand years plus, this would imply that the voice of Jesus keeps sounding for a thousand years. Does this seem likely?” (32)

No, it doesn’t.

Conclusion:

My conclusion is that when we examine what the NT says will occur at the time of the second coming/advent of Jesus Christ, there is no place for a 1,000 year earthly reign to follow. At the time of the second coming there will occur the final resurrection, the final judgment, the end of sin, the end of death, and the creation of the new heavens and new earth. As Peter has said, “since you look for these things (beloved), be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pt. 3:14).

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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.


[1] My personal understanding of “the new heavens and the new earth” in Revelation 21:1-2 is a bit different than Sam’s, but this is a minor point of difference in the large scope of Sam’s well-reasoned arguments here. Our study on Revelation 21 will be posted shortly, Lord willing.

[2] Note: Some believe that the Day of the Lord (and “the new heavens and the new earth”) spoken of here in this text (as in Revelation 21) is not a reference to the future Second Coming of Christ and the subsequent eternal state, but to God’s judgment upon Jerusalem and Old Covenant Judaism in 70 AD followed by the universalizing of the New Covenant unencumbered by Old Covenant Judaism. For example, Charles Spurgeon said in a sermon he preached in 1865: “Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under the new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).  This will be addressed in our study of Revelation 21.

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.

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.

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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.