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.

John Piper Hosts “An Evening of Eschatology”


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

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

Date: September 27, 2009

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

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

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

Some opinions and comments from the speakers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adam’s Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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