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: Post-millennial Viewpoint


Revelation 20: Post-millennial Viewpoint

Dave: 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 (completed and pending) posts on the subject of the Millennium and Revelation 20. Neither Dave nor I hold to the post-millennial position, but this material is being presented in order to give coverage to multiple viewpoints. Both Dave and I lean toward the amillennial viewpoint. Following Dave’s information below, I will be adding some additional details from Sam Storms, the founder of Desiring God Ministries. Dave’s information will be in black font, and mine in maroon font.

Adam

Postmillennialism

Some helpful definitions:
“Postmillennialism expects the proclaiming of the Spirit-blessed gospel of Jesus Christ to win the vast majority of human beings to salvation in the present age. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history [which they identify with the “millennium”] prior to Christ’s return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of people and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions the Lord will return visibly, bodily, and in great glory, ending history with the general resurrection and the great judgment of all humankind. Hence, our system is postmillennial in that the Lord’s glorious return occurs after an era of ‘millennial’ conditions” (Kenneth Gentry, “Postmillennialism,” in Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, pp. 13-14).

“The postmillennial conception of victory is of a progressive cultural victory and expansive influence of Christianity in history. . . . The personal status of the believer and the corporate standing of the Church in salvation is . . . one of present victory – in principle. . . . The distinctive postmillennial view of Christianity’s progressive victory, in time and history, into all of human life and culture, is postmillennialism’s application of the doctrine of Christ’s definitively completed salvation” (“Whose Victory in History?” in Gary North, ed., Theonomy: An Informed Response [Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991], p. 215).

Key Points:
• Christ will return after the Millennium
• The return of Christ is followed by the final judgment, the ultimate defeat of Satan, and the introduction of the eternal state
• Might be much longer than a literal 1000 years

Some characteristics of the coming Millennium:
• The effectiveness of the gospel will increase
• the vast majority of humanity will be won to Christ
• The world at large will experience a state of righteousness and peace, as will be reflected in economics, culture, politics, and world affairs
• Christian principles will be the rule in the world, rather than the exception
• Evil will be minimal
• Christ will return to a “Christianized” world

Key concept: The Kingdom of God
• The Kingdom is advancing and arriving on earth in degrees
• The advancement of the Kingdom is accomplished by the spread of the gospel
• After the great progress of the gospel, there will be a short time of Satanic activity and apostasy (Rev. 20:3 and 20:7)
Post-Millennium is distinctive in that it is optimistic about the current age.
Some Post-Millennialists believe that the Millennium began with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; others believe it is on its way.

Key Texts:

[1] Matthew 13:31-33

[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

[2] Matthew 28:18-20

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

[3] John 12:31-32 (Note: “all people” = “all”; see John 11:50-52)

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

[4] John 16:33

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

[5] Acts 2:32-36, 41

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified… So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

[6] 1 Corinthians 15:20-26

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

[7] Revelation 11:15

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,”The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.”

Well-known Post-Millennialists:
• John Calvin
• George Whitefield
• Matthew Henry
• Jonathan Edwards
• John Owen

What aspects of Post-Millennialism are difficult to accept?

What about the Scripture passages above most supports the position of Post-Millennialism?

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The following information comes from Sam Storms, in an article titled “The Postmillennial Viewpoint of the Kingdom of God,” written on November 7, 2006. Sam Storms is an amillennialist who maintains a Historicist viewpoint on most of the book of Revelation, but shares a preterist (past fulfillment) view of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). He presents the postmillennialist viewpoint here fairly and quite thoroughly. At the end, he lists some of the weaknesses of the postmillennialist viewpoint, which I believe are important to note:

1. The Kingdom of God – The Kingdom of God, according to Postmillennialism (hereafter cited as PostM), is primarily the rule or reign of God spiritually in/over the hearts of men. Thus the kingdom is truly present in this age and is visibly represented by the church of Jesus Christ. In other words, the kingdom “arrives” and is “present” wherever and whenever men believe the gospel and commit themselves to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ as Lord. Several important features of the kingdom in PostM thought are:

a. The kingdom is not to be thought of as arriving instantaneously or wholly via some cataclysmic event at the end of the age (an event such as the second coming of Christ). Indeed, the very name POSTmillennialism indicates that Christ will return only after the kingdom has come in its fullness…

b. The means by which the kingdom extends itself is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The continuing spread and influence of the gospel will increasingly, and in direct proportion thereto, introduce the kingdom. This gradual (but constantly growing) success of the gospel will be brought about by the power of the [Holy Spirit] working through the Church. Eventually the greater part, but not necessarily all, of the world’s population will be converted to Christ. As Greg Bahnsen explains, “the essential distinctive of postmillennialism is its scripturally derived, sure expectation of gospel prosperity for the church during the present age,” (“The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, III, Winter 1976-77, p. 66). This point is best seen in the PostM interpretation of Revelation 19, a chapter which Amillennialists and Premillennialists understand to be a description of Christ’s coming at the end of the age. B. B. Warfield, a PostM, writes as follows:

“The section opens with a vision of the victory of the Word of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all His enemies. We see Him come forth from heaven girt for war, followed by the armies of heaven. . . . The thing symbolized is obviously the complete victory of the Son of God over all the hosts of wickedness. . . . The conquest is wrought by the spoken word—in short, by the preaching of the gospel. . . . What we have here, in effect, is a picture of the whole period between the first and second advents, seen from the point of view of heaven. It is the period of advancing victory of the Son of God over the world. . . . A progressively advancing conquest of the earth by Christ’s gospel implies a coming age deserving at least the relative name of ‘golden,’” (B.B. Warfield, “The Millennium and the Apocalypse,” in Biblical Doctrines, pp. 647-648, 662).

c. At what point, then, does the “millennium” begin? Postmillennialists differ: some say the millennium covers the entire inter-advent age (i.e., the whole period of time between Christ’s first and second comings), whereas others conceive of the present age as in some sense blending or merging into the millennium. In other words, some PostMs see the millennial kingdom as present throughout the whole of the current age whereas others reserve the word millennium for the latter day, publicly discernible, prosperity of the Christian Church.

d. This ever-increasing success of the gospel will bring in its wake a reduction (although not a total elimination) of the influence and presence of sin. Righteousness, peace, and prosperity will flourish. Thus, writes Bahnsen, “over thelong range the world will experience a period of extraordinary righteousness and prosperity as the church triumphs in the preaching of the gospel and discipling the nations through the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit,” (Ibid., p. 63).

Davis adds this important point: “It should be understood that the postmillennial perspective provides a forecast for the global and long-term prospects of Christianity, but not for the local, short-term prospects of denominations or churches in the nation. . . . [Thus] the merits of the argument for the postmillennial perspective are not to be tied to the judgments about the present or near-term prospects of the Christian church in America.”

e. The gospel will also sustain a positive influence in every sphere of society: the economic, political, and cultural life of mankind will be vastly improved. Therefore, this triumph or victory of the Church in the present age is not simply the spiritual/invisible victories in the Christian’s heart or the internal blessings privately experienced by the Church. The prosperity is such as will be visibly and publicly acknowledged. Every domain of human activity will be renewed according to Christian principles and thus brought into service for the glory of Jesus Christ. As Boettner expressed it above, “Christ will return to a truly Christianized world.”

f. At the end of the present age, that is, after the kingdom has spread visibly and powerfully throughout the world but just before Christ returns, there will be a brief time of increased Satanic activity and apostasy. This final rebellion will be crushed by the glorious return of Jesus Christ to the earth, at which time there will immediately follow the general resurrection, final judgment, and eternal state.

g. “In short, postmillennialism is set apart from the other two schools of thought [premillennialism and amillennialism] by its essential optimism for the kingdom in the present age,” (Bahnsen, Ibid., p. 66).

(NOTE: it should also be mentioned that many PostMs believe as do most Premillennialists that a mass conversion will occur among ethnic Israelites. Of course, unlike the Dispensational Premillennialists the PostM denies that this salvation of physical Israel has for its purpose a restoration of the nation in a future earthly millennium.)

2. Biblical Texts cited in support of Postmillennialism

(1) In the OT – Num. 14:21; Psalms 2:6-9; 22:27-28; 47; 72:8-11; 110:1-2; 138:4-5 (cf. 102:15); Isa. 2:2-4; 9:6-7; 11:6-10; 45:22-25; 65; 66; Jer. 31:31-34; Daniel 2:31-35; Zech. 9:9f.; 13:1; 14:9.

(2) In the NT – Matt. 13:31-33; 28:18-20; John 12:31-32; 16:33; I John 2:13-14; 3:8; 4:4,14; 5:4-5; Acts 2:32-36,41;Rom. 11:25-32; I Cor. 15:20-26, 57-58; Hebrews 1:8-9,13; 2:5-9; Rev. 2:25-27; 3:7-9; 7:9-10; 11:15; 19:11-21.

Storms, in his “Summary of Postmillennialism,” then includes this partial quote from Greg Bahnsen (underlined emphasis added):

The postmillennialist is in this day marked out by his belief that the commission and resources are with the kingdom of Christ to accomplish the discipling of the nations to Jesus Christ prior to His second advent; whatever historical decline is seen in the missionary enterprise of the church and its task of edifying or sanctifying the nations in the word of truth must be attributed, not to anything inherent in the present course of human history, but to the unfaithfulness of the church,” (Bahnsen, Ibid., p. 68).

Storms continues a bit later by naming advocates of postmillennialism in earlier and modern church history:

C. The Advocates of Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism, according to its modern advocates, was far more widespread in centuries preceding our own. Among those whom they say were postmillennialists include, in no particular order, the following: John Calvin(?), Theodore Beza, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Martin Bucer, John Owen, Thomas Boston, William Perkins, Thomas Manton, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, Samuel Rutherford, William Gouge, Jonathan Edwards(?), Matthew Henry, John Cotton, George Whitefield, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Joseph A. Alexander, A. A. Hodge, C. W. Hodge, Robert L. Dabney, William G. T. Shedd, Augustus H. Strong, Benjamin B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, James Henley Thornwell, Patrick Fairbairn, Robert Baillie, Stephen Charnock, Samuel Hopkins, Robert Haldane, David Brown, E. W. Hengstenberg, John Murray(?), Greg Bahnsen, Rousas John Rushdoony, Gary North, and Kenneth Gentry.

D. Varieties of Postmillennialism

1. Classical Postmillennialism – See John Jefferson Davis,Christ’s Victorious Kingdom: Postmillennialism Reconsidered (Baker, 1986); Lorraine Boettner, The Millennium (P&R, 1957); J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (P&R, 1971); and Jonathan Edwards, Apocalyptic Writings, Vol. 5 (Yale University Press, 1977).

2. Reconstructionist or Theonomic Postmillennialism – See the article (Democracy as Heresy)as well as the books in the Bibliography by Bahnsen, Chilton, Rushdoony, North, and Demar [Adam’s note: I’m not sure what bibliography Storms is referring to, as there is none in this post].

E. Misconceptions of Postmillennialism

Why has PostM received such bad reviews? Why has it, at least in the twentieth-century, been so casually dismissed by most conservative evangelicals? The answer is found in taking note of several misconceptions and misrepresentations of PostM.

1. Postmillennialism has been mistakenly linked and often identified with belief in the inherent goodness of man. This has occurred despite the fact that the vast majority of postmillennialists of today (and perhaps even in the past) are Calvinists [Adam’s note: who believe in the doctrine of total depravity]. The result is that postmillennialism has been perceived as teaching that the kingdom of God would be ushered in by human effort alone, independently of the Holy Spirit. Even a scholar as astute as Kenneth Kantzer has recently fallen prey to this error. In his concluding observations to the debate in the Christianity Today Institute, he writes: “The greatest weakness of postmillennialism is its failure to take seriously the biblical pessimism regarding man’s efforts apart from God.” But not one evangelical postmillennial scholar has ever suggested that the kingdom of God can be advanced by “man’s efforts apart from God.” This sort of misrepresentation must end. What postmillennialists do affirm is what they see as “the biblical optimism regarding man’s efforts through God.”

2. Related to the above is the fact that postmillennialism has been mistakenly identified with the notion of evolutionary optimism and other secular notions of historical progress. This view, writes Boettner, “presents a spurious or pseudo Postmillennialism, and regards the Kingdom of God as the product of natural laws in an evolutionary process, whereas orthodox Postmillennialism regards the Kingdom of God as the product of the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in connection with the preaching of the Gospel.”

3. Postmillennialism has been mistakenly identified with theological liberalism and the so-called “social gospel”. Thus the kingdom it espoused came to be perceived as some sort of secular utopia that replaced the return of Jesus as the true hope of the church… Hope for this earth that is inspired by belief in the power of the Holy Spirit fulfilling the redemptive purposes of God through His church must never be confused with a hope inspired by belief in the power of human legislation, education and moral reform. Not all Christians, though, have been able to distinguish between the two…

4. Postmillennialism has been mistakenly charged with teaching salvific universalism. Whereas postmillennialists do indeed look forward to a day in which vast numbers shall turn to faith in Jesus Christ, at no time do they expect that all will be converted or that sin will be entirely eliminated prior to the eternal state. Evangelical postmillennialists believe no less fervently than premillennialists and amillennialists in the doctrine of hell and the irreversible damnation of those who die without Christ. Let us not forget that Jonathan Edwards, author of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” was himself a postmillennialist of the highest order…

F. Weaknesses of Postmillennialism

1. Postmillennialism minimizes one of the primary experiences that will characterize the church and all Christians throughout this present age: suffering with Christ.

E.g., consider 2 Corinthians 4:7-12. Here Paul “effectively distances himself from the (postmil-like) view that the (eschatological) life of (the risen and ascended) Jesus embodies a power/victory principle that progressively ameliorates and reduces the suffering of the church. . . . Until the resurrection of the body at his return Christ’s resurrection-life finds expression in the church’s sufferings (and . . . nowhere else–so far as the existence and calling of the church are concerned); the locus of Christ’s ascension-power is the suffering church” (Richard Gaffin, “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism,” in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique [Zondervan, 1990], 212).

See also Romans 8:17-18. How long will this experience of suffering with Christ last? How long will the groaning under the weight of weakness last? According to vv. 19,21,23, it will last until the day of our redemption, the return of Christ. Says Gaffin: “Until then, at Christ’s return, the suffering/futility/decay principle in creation remains in force, undiminished (but sure to be overcome); it is an enervating factor that cuts across the church’s existence, including its mission, in its entirety. The notion that this frustration factor will be demonstrable reduced, and the church’s suffering service noticeably alleviated and even compensated, in a future era before Christ’s return is not merely foreign to this passage; it trivializes as well as blurs both the present suffering and future hope/glory in view. Until his return, the church remains one step behind its exalted Lord; his exaltation means its (privileged) humiliation, his return (and not before), its exaltation” (214-15)… “as Paul reminds the church just a few verses after the Romans 8 passage considered above (v. 37), not ‘beyond’ or ‘[only] after’ but ‘in all these things’ (‘trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword,’ v. 35), ‘we are more than conquerors.’ Until Jesus comes again, the church ‘wins’ by ‘losing’” (216).

Gaffin concludes: “Any outlook that tends to remove or obscure the (constitutive) dimension of suffering for the Gospel from the present triumph of the church is an illusion. The misplaced expectation, before Christ’s return, of a ‘golden age’ in which, in contrast to the present, opposition to the church will have been reduced to a minimum and suffering will have receded to the periphery for an (at last) ‘victorious’ Christendom — that misconception can only distort the church’s understanding of its mission in the world. According to Jesus, the church will not have drained the shared cup of his sufffering until he returns. The church cannot afford to evade that point. It does so at the risk of jeopardizing its own identity” (217-18).

Kenneth Gentry responds to Gaffin by insisting that the “suffering” in view in these texts need not be generalized beyond the experience of the apostles and the first century church. He does not argue that suffering connected with indwelling sin and creaturely mortality will be eradicated, but he does insist that, as external opposition to the gospel progressively diminishes, suffering for the faith (i.e., persecution) will be reduced to negligible proportions.

2. Postmillennialism undermines the NT emphasis on the church’s imminent expectation of Christ’s return. That is to say, PostM undermines the element of watchfulness that is essential to the NT church. See 1 Cor. 16:22; Rom. 13:11-12; Phil. 4:5; Js. 5:8; 1 Pt. 4:7; 1 Jn. 2:18; Rev. 1:3; 22:20.

3. The OT identifies the “golden” age of consummate success and triumph with the New Heavens and New Earth which come only after the millennium of Rev. 20 (Rev. 21-22). [Adam’s note: Storms’ objection in this case is a classic Historicist viewpoint. My view on this particular viewpoint is different, which will be seen in our study of Revelation 21 (pending).]

4. The NT seems to anticipate that the number of those saved when Christ returns will not be as great as the PostM suggests, and that conditions will be decidedly bad, not good. See Mt. 7:13-14; Lk. 18:8; 2 Thess. 2:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:1-5,12-13; 4:3-4. In the parable of the Tares in Mt. 13:36-43 “Jesus taught that evil people will continue to exist alongside of God’s redeemed people until the time of harvest. The clear implication of this parable is that Satan’s kingdom, if we may call it that, will continue to exist and grow as long as God’s kingdom grows, until Christ comes again” (Hoekema).

5. PostM’s interpretation of Rev. 19-20 seems forced and artificial. See the later lesson for an exegesis of these texts.

6. Scripture (esp. the NT) nowhere explicitly teaches the progressive and eventual wholesale reconstruction of society (arts, economics, politics, courts, education, etc.) according to Christian principles prior to Christ’s return. Of course, there may be relative success in this regard in isolated instances…

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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.

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 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 11 (Part 2: Historicist View)


REVELATION 11

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 11:1-13

This post was created on December 6th (but backdated to November 2nd so that it’s not out of order) to supplement Dave’s previous post on Revelation 11. This is a summary of Sam Storms’ views on this chapter—at least up through verse 13. Sam Storms, by the way, is a Historicist in his interpretation of the book of Revelation. His study of Rev. 11 takes up two separate posts on his website, so I have taken a summary of both posts and placed them below under the labels of “PART 1” and “PART 2,” respectively. A source link is given at the end of each part. While not a Historicist myself per se, I feel there is plenty of valuable information in Sam’s study, as well as much that I’m able to agree with him on.

Adding this information to the previous post would have made it too long; thus the decision to create a second post. Dave’s earlier post can be seen here.

PART 1

Verses 1-2: Aside from the partial-preterist view of this passage which formed the primary basis for Dave’s post, Sam Storms articulates several other positions. He summarizes the “traditional dispensational, pretribulational (or futurist) interpretation” in this way:

[It] is that the temple is the literal structure to be rebuilt in or just before the tribulation period at the close of history. [For John Walvoord, the] worshipers are faithful, believing Jews of the tribulation period who will have reinstituted the sacrifices and rituals of the Mosaic economy. Their activity, however, will be terminated by the Beast who will bring desolation to the temple service and subject the holy city of Jerusalem to severe affliction for the last (literal) 3 ½ years (or 42 months) of the (literal) 7 year tribulation period.

If this is an accurate representation of this view, how sad that “faithful believers” are seen reverting back to the types and shadows which pointed the way to the cross, and this more than 2000 years after Christ came the first time as Messiah, Savior, and Redeemer. How any true believer could reinstitute these sacrifices and rituals, if given the opportunity to do so, is almost beyond comprehension. It seems more tragic than verbally denying one’s faith when sentenced to die by the blade of a guillotine.

Storms moves to the position of George Ladd, who was a Historic Premillennialist. For Ladd, Revelation 11:1-13 is “descriptive of the preservation and salvation of the Jewish people as portrayed in Romans 11:25-27.” He says, “The most natural meaning of Jerusalem is that it stands for the Jewish people.” Ladd sees “a contrast between a faithful remnant of believing Israelites who, in contrast to the city as a whole will be trodden down by the nations, i.e., they will fall under the divine judgment because they have become spiritually apostate.”

Sam Storms’ own position is this:

[All of Revelation 11:1-13] describes symbolically the mission and fate of the Church during the present inter-advent age, culminating in the final period of opposition and persecution by the Beast. On this view, the temple or sanctuary, together with the altar and the worshipers, stands for the church as God’s people (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). The Greek word translated ‘temple’ is naos which without exception in Revelation refers to the present heavenly temple (7:15; 11:19; 14:15,17; 15:5-6,8; 16:1,17) or to the temple of God’s presence in the age to come (3:12; 7:15; 21:22). Thus the people of God, the members of God’s temple in heaven, are referred to in their existence on earth as ‘the temple of God.’

Regarding verse 2, Storms adds:

The measuring of the temple speaks of spiritual preservation from God’s wrath, but not from physical persecution and martyrdom. The people of God are sustained and protected in their faith while suffering greatly at the hands of the Beast. Thus this ‘measuring’ is equivalent to the ‘sealing’ of chapter seven and the ‘worshipers’ in 11:1 are the same as the ‘144,000’ in 7:4 (see 2 Sam. 8:2b; Isa. 28:16-17; Jer. 31:38-40; Ezek. 40:1-6; 42:20; Zech. 1:16; for OT examples of ‘measuring’ as ‘protection’; for the notion of destruction see 2 Sam. 8:2a; 2 Kings 21:13; Amos 7:7-9; Isa. 34:11; Lam. 2:8)…

Storms then, speaking for himself, says some things regarding verse 2 which I find myself agreeing with more and more:

Some say this is descriptive of the church’s experience viewed from two different perspectives. The church is spiritually protected from God’s wrath (the inner sanctuary) but is physically oppressed by pagan forces (outer court). According to this view the holy city must be yet another symbolic designation of the church. In Revelation “city” (polis) is used four times of the future heavenly city, the New Jerusalem (3:12; 21:2, 10; 22:19). This is similar to what we read in Hebrews 11:10; 12:22; and 13:14. The people of God on earth are members and representatives of the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 4:26). I believe this is also the meaning of the “beloved city” in Rev. 20:9.

But is it plausible to believe that the temple, the altar, the outer court, and the holy city, here in 11:1-2, all refer figuratively or symbolically to the church, i.e., the believing community of God’s people now on earth? Yes! Let us remember that in Rev. 3:12 the church, the believing community of God’s people now on earth, are promised that they will be “a pillar in the temple” of God. They will have written on them the name of God and “the name of the city” of God, “the New Jerusalem”!

Verses 3-13: George Ladd saw the two witnesses as two latter day prophets who would minister during “the final calamitous days of the tribulation period,” and whose “resurrection and ascension (11:11-12) are not literal but symbolic of the spiritual restoration or conversion of the nation Israel, spoken of in Ezek. 37 and again in Rom. 11:25-27.”

John Walvoord and other Futurists are open to the two witnesses being “individuals who are characterized in their persons and ministries by the elements and activities of [Moses and Elijah] as recorded in the OT narratives.”

Sam Storms says, “The two witnesses are not real or historical individuals, but symbolize the Church in its missionary and prophetic role during the present age and particularly at the close of history.”

Source: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/revelation-111-13-part-i/

PART 2

Verses 3-4: Continuing on with his discussion of the two witnesses, Sam Storms lists numerous possibilities which have been suggested for their identity. The following are several of the suggestions which are beyond the usual ones:

[1] Peter and Paul – Some point to the martyrdom of these two apostles and the tradition that Nero prohibited their burial (cf. Rev. 11:19).
[2] The OT and the NT – Or more likely, the Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah).
[3] The Word of God and the testimony of Jesus – See Strand (AUSS 19 [1981], 127-35.

Storms further comments,

[T]hey are called “two olive trees and two lampstands” (11:4), the latter of which clearly reminds us of the lampstands in Rev. 1:12, 20; 2:1 which Jesus says represent the churches. Says Bauckham, “if the seven lampstands [in 1:20] are churches, so must be the two lampstands. But it would be better to say that, if the seven lampstands are representative of the whole church, since seven is the number of completeness, the two lampstands stand for the church in its role of witness, according to the well-known biblical requirement that evidence be accepted only on the testimony of two witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; cf. Matt. 18:16; John 5:31; 8:17; 15:26-27; Acts 5:32; 2 Cor. 13:1; Heb. 10:28; 1 Tim. 5:19). They are not part of the church, but the whole church insofar as it fulfills its role as faithful witness” (274). This probably explains why there are “two” lampstands here instead of one as in Zech. 4.

Storms notes that Leon Morris suggests another plausible explanation for why there are two witnesses spoken of here:

As John has spoken of seven churches only two of which (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are not blameworthy, it is tempting to think of the two witnesses as standing for that part of the church which is faithful. Perhaps he has the martyrs in mind.

Storms then makes the point that the language of verse 7 (“the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them…”) is a clear echo of “Dan. 7:21 where the objects of persecution are collectively the people of God.” This is a good point, and it also echoes Rev. 13:5, which says, “Also it [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” This reference is also to the people of God in a collective sense, so why wouldn’t it be the same in Rev. 11:7?

Storms also references Greg Beale, who says, “[T]he corporate interpretation is pointed to by the statement in vv. 9-13 that the entire world of unbelievers will see the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses. This means that the witnesses are visible throughout the earth.” [If this has a first-century fulfillment, we can think in terms of the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 2:1, Acts 2:5), rather than globally. We might also limit the scope of “the earth” to Israel/Palestine, since that seems to be the usage of this phrase in other passages (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belongs to the land of Israel).]

Regarding the two witnesses being clothed in sackcloth (verse 3), Storms adds this study note:

Sackcloth…was a dark-colored fabric made of goat hair or camel hair and was worn in the OT for any one of several reasons: (1) as a sign of individual mourning or national distress (Gen. 37:34; 2 Sam. 3:31; Lam. 2:10; Esther 4:1; Ps. 30:11; Isa. 15:3; 22:12; Joel 1:13; Amos 8:10); (2) as a sign of submission when supplicating people or offering prayers to God (1 Kings 20:31-32; Jer. 4:8; 6:26; Dan. 9:23); (3) as an expression of repentance and sorrow for sin (1 Kings 22:27-29; 2 Kings 19:1-2; 1 Chron. 21:16; Neh. 9:1; Ps. 35:13; Jonah 3:5-8; or (4) as the clothing of prophets as they anticipated a coming judgment (Isa. 50:3; cf. Rev. 6:12).

Verses 5-6: Regarding the fire which comes out of the mouths of the witnesses, Storms says,

That “fire” should proceed “out of their mouths” points again to the symbolic nature of both the witnesses and the ministry they are described as fulfilling. In Rev. 1:16; 19:15,21, Jesus is portrayed as judging his enemies by means of a “sharp sword proceeding from his mouth” (cf. 2:16). This is clearly a metaphor of the effect and fruit of his spoken word, whether it be of judgment or blessing (cf. John 12:48 (“the word I spoke is what will judge him on the last day”). We read of this same imagery in Jer. 5:14, “Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, ‘Because you have spoken this word, behold I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them’” (cf. also Ps. 18:13).

Storms, without being dogmatic, suggests that the witnesses have the power to shut the sky, turn water into blood, etc. in the sense that God responds with judgment on an unbelieving world which disregarded their witness:

But precisely what is meant, practically speaking, by the imagery of the church, through her ministry, stopping the rain, turning water into blood, and smiting the earth with plagues? Is the idea that God will, in response to the preaching, praying, and prophesying of the church, pour out his judgments on an unbelieving world? Beale suggests that “the church’s prophetic declaration of God’s truth concerning the gospel, including the message of final judgment, unleashes torments toward those who remain ultimately impenitent” (584). See also 11:10 where the two witnesses are described as having “tormented” the earth-dwellers. Is the torment equal to the trumpet judgments? Is the church and its ministry one of the means by which the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments are poured out? Is the torment psychological in nature, as, for example, when Paul preached to Felix and provoked this response: “And as he [Paul] was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25)? The church not only brings comfort, consolation, and joy to the repentant, it also brings discomfort, conviction, and consternation to those who continue to resist the truth of the gospel.

Verses 7-10: At the mention of the phrase “when they have finished their testimony,” Storms now sees the end of history as being in view. Also, quoting Beale, he sees that “the beast’s spirit has stood behind the earthly persecutors throughout history, and at the end he will manifest himself openly to defeat the church finally.” However, the beast is conquered by the faithfulness of the martyrs it puts to death. Storms speculates that the “great city” of verse 8 is Rome, a matter on which I personally don’t agree with him (much more will be said on this point in our study on chapters 17-18).

Verses 11-13: Storms believes that the portrayal of resurrection here “is an echo of Ezek. 37:5 and 10, where we read of God’s restoration of Israel out of the Babylonian exile. The nation in exile is described as corpses of which only dry bones remain: ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones, “Behold I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life”… So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.’”

[That’s an interesting connection! Ezekiel 36:26-28 and 37:15-27 are especially reminiscent of Jeremiah’s picture of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 8:6-13, Ephesians 2:11-22). These passages surround the text being alluded to here. That being the case, and considering how much we’ve seen by way of the Old Covenant being contrasted with the New Covenant, how are we to understand the imagery of believers receiving a breath of life and being called up to heaven in the sight of their enemies? Is this also a picture of the final transition from one covenant to the other, where the kingdom of God has been taken from national Israel and given exclusively to the body of Christ, completely divorced from temple-based Judaism (Matt. 21:33-46, Daniel 7:13-27, Hebrews 8:13)? Without taking away from that question, is this also a portrayal of the Church having overcome a time of great persecution through her faithfulness even in the face of martyrdom?]

Beale, on the other hand, maintains “that this scene is simply a symbolic portrayal of vindication. He writes: ‘The acceptance of the witnesses into the cloud [v. 12] shows the divine approval since the cloud…in the OT was representative of God’s presence either in judgment or in commissioning his prophetic servants.’”

Regarding the seven thousand killed in the earthquake (verse 13), Storms speculates:

If the two witnesses are linked to the ministry of Elijah, the 7,000 who die may be the just equivalent of the 7,000 faithful who “did not bow the knee to Baal” (cf. Rom. 11:4).

This marks the end of Sam Storm’s commentary on Revelation 11. He does not appear to deal with verses 14-19.

Source: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/revelation-111-13-part-ii/

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Our study of Revelation 12 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.

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.

Revelation Chapter 8


REVELATION 8

Adam/Dave/Rod: September 17, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 8

A. Seventh Seal: Prelude to the Seven Trumpets (8:1-6)

Verse 2: The seven angels who were given the seven trumpets are said to “stand before God.” Is it possible that one of these seven angels was Gabriel, as he testified to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) that he “stands in the presence of God”? Steve Gregg, editor of Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), says, “For Israel, the trumpet was an instrument used to rally the troops for war or to warn of an enemy invasion. Likening the upcoming judgments to the sounding of trumpets suggests that God Himself is making war against His enemies in apostate Israel” (p. 146).

Verses 3-5: The “prayers of all the saints” were offered together with “much incense” on the golden altar that was in front of the throne pictured in heaven. It seems clear that the judgments that followed were, in part, a direct result of these prayers. Sam Storms sees a direct link between the cries of the martyrs for vengeance (Rev. 6:10) and God’s response here in these verses. As a result of the censer filled “with fire from the altar” being thrown to the earth, there were “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” One application to take away from this passage, then, is that God hears the prayers of His people and acts in a sovereign way in His own timing and according to His will. The thunder, lightning, and rumblings are again reminiscent of the giving of the Old Covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16), just as in Rev. 4:5.

In her book, “Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary,” J. Massyngberde Ford says that there are four striking reversals in the text for Israel:

1. From the throne and altar, the “mercy seat,” now comes wrath;
2. Incense, the “soothing aroma to the Lord” ( Leviticus 1:13), now becomes an agent of death (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16);
3. The trumpets, which called Israel to worship, now become heralds of her destruction;
4. The heavenly liturgy itself, appointed for Israel’s sanctification, becomes the means of her overthrow and dissolution.

John Piper said in 1994 that this text “portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments… [It] is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, ‘Thy kingdom come…’” Sam Storms, a Historicist, agrees with Piper’s cause/effect premise, but disagrees with him regarding the timing of God’s actions:

It may well be that the trumpets, no less than the sixth and seventh seals, are God’s answer to the prayers of his people in 6:9-11 for vindication against their persecutors. If so, this would strongly militate against the futurist interpretation which relegates the trumpets to the final few years of history just before the second coming. In other words, it seems unlikely that God would act in response to that prayer only at the end of history while passing by and leaving unscathed more than sixty generations of the wicked.

Sam Storms goes on to say that most of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments “describe the commonplaces of history.” The Preterist response, of course, is that the prayers of the first-century martyrs who cried out “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10-11) were vindicated within one generation when God poured out His judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD (cf. Matt. 23:29-38; Luke 13:33-35; Rev. 17:6, 18:20, 24). The Historicist idea that God has continued to act in various ways upon the prayers of His people throughout history certainly applies.

B. First Trumpet: Vegetation Struck (8:7)

Hail and fire, mixed with blood, is thrown to the earth. In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belonged to the land of Israel).

Steve Gregg notes that “[as] the first four seals [Rev. 6:1-8] were set off from the latter three, in that each of the first group revealed a horseman, so the first four trumpets are set off from the last three, in that the latter are referred to as ‘Woes.’ The entire series, however, is concerned with the Jewish War of A.D. 66-70, ‘the Last Days’ of the Jewish commonwealth” (p. 148). Steve quotes from Jay Adams, who notes that during this period “the land suffered terribly. The plagues are reminiscent of those in Egypt, at the birth of the Hebrew nation. Here they mark both the latter’s cessation, and the birth of a new nation, the kingdom of God (I Pet. 2:9, 10).”[1]

We are told that a third of the earth (the land of Israel), the trees, and the green grass were burned up in this judgment. This account from Josephus points to a very plausible fulfillment during the five-month siege upon Jerusalem leading up to its destruction in 70 AD:

And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in [21] days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs [10 miles] round about, as I have already related. And, truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change; for the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste; nor if any one that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding (Wars 6.1.1).

C. Second Trumpet: The Seas Struck (8:8-9)

Verse 8: John was shown “something like a great mountain burning with fire …thrown into the sea.” Steve Gregg asserts that there is both a symbolic and a literal sense in which this trumpet can be applied to the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel in 66-70 AD: [1] It’s symbolic, in that in Biblical prophecy a mountain often refers to a government or a kingdom, even as it did for Israel (e.g. Exodus 15:17). The sea is a frequent prophetic “symbol of the Gentile nations, in contrast to ‘the land,’ signifying Israel. The symbolism could predict the Jewish state collapsing and the resultant dispersion of the Jews throughout the Gentile world.” (97,000 Jews were sold into slavery by Rome in 70 AD.) [2] It’s also literal in that Jerusalem was burned with fire by the Romans in 70 AD (pp. 154, 156).

Later John sees an angel picking up a great millstone and casting it into the sea, which the angel says is symbolic of “Babylon, that great city” being thrown down with violence (Revelation 18:21). The literary structures of these two passages show that they are parallel:

Revelation 8:8

Revelation 18:21a

Revelation 18:21b

“And the second angel sounded, “And a strong angel saying,
and something like a great took up a stone like a great ‘Thus will Babylon that great
mountain burning with fire millstone city
was thrown into the sea…” and threw it into the sea, will be thrown down with violence
and it will not be found any longer.”

See this post for more details on how the prayers of the saints were answered when the mountain of Jerusalem was cast into the sea: https://adammaarschalk.com/2016/07/25/that-mountain-was-cast-into-the-sea-and-these-mountains-can-be-too/.

Verses 8-9: John was also shown a third of the sea becoming blood, with the result being that a third of the living creatures in the sea died and a third of the ships were also destroyed. For those open to the idea of Revelation having been written before 70 AD,[2] this most definitely calls to mind some of the battles during the Jewish-Roman War (66-70 AD). The Roman Emperor Nero officially declared war on Israel in February 67 AD in response to the Jewish rebellion, and by the spring of that year his general Vespasian had marched into the land of Judea with 60,000 men. In the coming months more than 150,000 Jews were killed in Judea and Galilee. The Jewish historian Josephus described Galilee at one point as “filled with fire and blood.” Here is his description of one battle that took place in the Sea of Galilee:

“Sometimes the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them; but when some of them met the vessels, the Romans caught them by the middle, and destroyed at once their ships and themselves who were taken in them. And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands; and indeed they were destroyed after various manners every where, till the rest being put to flight, were forced to get upon the land, while the vessels encompassed them about [on the sea]: but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped” (Wars 3.10.9).

With such carnage, it’s easy to see how many creatures in the Sea of Galilee were poisoned and did not survive, and how a third of its ships could have been destroyed. In another instance, Josephus described what happened to some Jews who had escaped from Joppa:

“Now as those people of Joppa were floating about in this sea, in the morning there fell a violent wind upon them; it is called by those that sail there “the black north wind,” and there dashed their ships one against another, and dashed some of them against the rocks, and carried many of them by force, while they strove against the opposite waves, into the main sea; for the shore was so rocky, and had so many of the enemy upon it, that they were afraid to come to land; nay, the waves rose so very high, that they drowned them; nor was there any place whither they could fly, nor any way to save themselves; while they were thrust out of the sea, by the violence of the wind, if they staid where they were, and out of the city by the violence of the Romans. And much lamentation there was when the ships were dashed against one another, and a terrible noise when they were broken to pieces; and some of the multitude that were in them were covered with waves, and so perished, and a great many were embarrassed with shipwrecks. But some of them thought that to die by their own swords was lighter than by the sea, and so they killed themselves before they were drowned; although the greatest part of them were carried by the waves, and dashed to pieces against the abrupt parts of the rocks, insomuch that the sea was bloody a long way, and the maritime parts were full of dead bodies; for the Romans came upon those that were carried to the shore, and destroyed them; and the number of the bodies that were thus thrown out of the sea was four thousand and two hundred” (Wars 3.9.3).

D. Third Trumpet: The Waters Struck (8:10-11)

This passage speaks of a “great star” falling from heaven, “burning like a torch,” causing many deaths because a third of the rivers and springs of water become wormwood (bitter). Some futurists interpret this trumpet judgment symbolically, as referring either to a future Antichrist (e.g. Arno Gaebelein) or a future Pope (e.g. H.A. Ironside) who causes much corruption (Steve Gregg, pp. 161, 163). Other futurist interpreters (e.g. Henry Morris, Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord) see this as a literal reference to a burning meteorite or “a giant set of meteors” that will enter earth’s atmosphere “with contaminating influence upon the rivers and waters” of the entire planet (p. 165). Steve Gregg’s articulation of the Preterist understanding is helpful:

The turning of fresh water sources bitter and toxic may be in part a literal result of the decaying corpses that lay in the Sea of Galilee and in the river as the result of war. However, this fouling of the waters has symbolic significance, occurring as it does here to the nation of Israel. There is probably an intentional allusion to the promise (and implied threat) God made to Israel when they first came out of Egypt. When they came to the bitter waters of Marah, in response to Moses’ casting a tree into the waters, God made the waters sweet and wholesome… However, God’s promise/warning implies that their disobedience to Him will result in His placing upon them the same plagues that He placed on the Egyptians—the waters can be made bitter again [cf. Exodus 15:25-26, Deuteronomy 28:59-60]… It is noteworthy that throughout the pages of Revelation, the plagues that come upon the apostates are comparable to those with which God afflicted the Egyptians in the days of Moses. The star which was burning like a torch (v. 10) is reminiscent of the tree cast into the waters by Moses, but has the opposite effect (pp. 160, 162).

David Chilton adds,

The name of this fallen star is Wormwood, a term used in the Law and the Prophets to warn Israel of its destruction as a punishment for apostasy (Deut. 29:18; Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7). Again, by combining these Old Testament allusions, St. John makes his point: Israel is apostate, and has become an Egypt; Jerusalem has become a Babylon; and the covenant-breakers will be destroyed, as surely as Egypt and Babylon were destroyed (Gregg, p. 164).[3]

[The following information in blue font was edited into this post on October 26, 2009:]

To further illustrate this point, it’s also instructive to consider the test for adultery under the Law of Moses, as recorded in Numbers 5:11-31. This test was to be administered by a priest in cases where a married woman was suspected of defiling herself in an adulterous manner (Numbers 5:11-14). The priest would mix dust from the floor of the tabernacle into holy water contained in a vessel, to create “the water of bitterness that brings the curse” (vss. 16-18). The woman would then take the following oath:

If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away (vss. 20-22).

The woman would then say, “Amen. Amen,” and the curses would be written into a book and washed off into the bitter water. The woman would then be made to drink the water (vss. 23-26), with the following possible results:

And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children (vss. 27-28).

If this imagery and this procedure is what is mirrored by the third trumpet judgment, then this is one more indication that Israel had been found to be apostate. Many people died from the bitter water because they were indeed guilty of spiritual adultery, and were found to be in a state of defilement.

E. Fourth Trumpet: The Heavens Struck (8:12-13)

Verse 12: Regarding the common contention of Futurists that these judgments must literally take place in the future, i.e. a third of the light of the sun, moon, and stars will cease to shine; a practical question is in order. Since this is not to be the final plague, and other judgments must follow this one, is it possible that any life would continue to survive for even a few days, let alone months, under those conditions? We know that life exists on this planet because the sun basically maintains its present intensity. A significant increase or decrease in its intensity would either cause mankind to burn or freeze. Alternatively, David Chilton writes,

The imagery here was long used in the prophets to depict the fall of nations and national rulers (cf. Isa. 13:9-11, 19; 24:19-23; 34:4-5; Ezek. 32:7-8, 11-12; Joel 2:10, 28-32; Acts 2:16-21. [He quotes F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), who wrote that] “ruler after ruler, chieftain after chieftain of the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation was assassinated and ruined. Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, all died by murder or suicide;[4] Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and most of the Herodian Princes, together with not a few of the leading High Priests of Jerusalem, perished in disgrace, or in exile, or by violent hands. All these were quenched suns and darkened stars” (Gregg, pp. 166, 168).

Verse 13: As terrible as these plagues are, a flying eagle with a loud voice announces that the three remaining trumpet judgments are even more woeful. Their target again is “those who dwell on the earth,” another reference to the land of Israel, as discussed earlier. We will see these woes beginning in chapter 9. Steve Gregg quotes from Adam Clarke (1732-1815), who he says is a historicist but “accurately puts forth the preterist position”:

These woes are supposed by many learned men to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem: the first woe—the seditions among the Jews themselves; the second woe—the besieging of the city by the Romans; the third woe—the taking and the sacking of the city, and burning the Temple. This was the greatest of all the woes, as in it the city and Temple were destroyed, and nearly a million men lost their lives.

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Our study of Revelation 9 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.


[1] For more on the concept that 70 AD marked the birthing of God’s kingdom, in the exclusive sense that it was completely separated from the Judaic system, see [1]  here [2] here, and [3] Matthew 21:33-45, Hebrews 8:13.

[2] In my term paper on the destruction of Jerusalem, I included both external and internal evidence [part 1, part 2, part 3] that Revelation was written prior to Jerusalem’s downfall in 70 AD.

[3] Sam Storms shares some interesting thoughts as well regarding how Revelation parallels the plagues which came upon Egypt:

One of the fascinating things in Revelation is the way it portrays the experience of the people of God in terms very similar to what transpired for Israel in Egypt and the ten plagues of judgment. For example,

1) prominence of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:1-31) // 1) prominence of glassy sea (Rev. 15:2)
2) song of deliverance (Ex. 15:1-18) // 2) song of deliverance (Rev. 15:2-4)
3) God’s enemy: Pharaoh // 3) God’s enemy: the Beast
4) court magicians of Egypt // 4) the False Prophet
5) persecution of Israel // 5) persecution of the Church
6) protected from plagues (Ex. 8:22; 9:4,26; 10:23; 11:7) // 6) protected from wrath (Rev. 7:1-8; 9:4)
7) hardened/unrepentant (Ex. 8:15; 9:12-16) // 7) hardened/unrepentant (Rev. 16:9,11,21)
8] the name of God (Ex. 3:14) // 8] the name of God (Rev. 1:4-6)
9) Israel redeemed from bondage by blood // 9) Church redeemed from sin by blood
10) Israel made a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6) // 10) Church made a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:6)
11) 7th plague (Ex. 9:22-25) // 11) 1st trumpet
12) 6th plague (Ex. 9:8-12) // 12) 1st bowl
13) 1st plague (Ex. 7:20-25) // 13) 2nd/3rd trumpet & 2nd/3rd bowl
14) 9th plague (Ex. 10:21-23) // 14) 4th trumpet & 4th bowl
15) 8th & 9th plagues (Ex. 10:1-20) // 15) 5th trumpet & 5th bowl

[4] See the chart of the Emperors here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/.

Revelation Study Resources


The following is a list of online resources that we used as we studied the book of Revelation in 2009-2010. (At the bottom of this page are two books that we also used.)

[A] Preterist viewpoint:

[1] http://www.ccel.org/contrib/exec_outlines/rev.htm
-“Revelation: A Study Guide” by Mark Copeland
-Includes all 22 chapters of Revelation
-Also available here: http://executableoutlines.com/rev.htm

[2] http://www.preteristarchive.com/StudyArchive/index.html
-Limited Scripture Study Archive
-Only has commentary on the following texts: Revelation 1:7, 6:16-17, 9:11, 11:1, 13:18, 17:10, 20:1-10

[3] http://www.preteristarchive.com/
-Type a Scripture text into the search box, and you may or may not find some valuable commentary on that particular text, both modern and ancient commentary.

[B] Neutral viewpoint:

[4] http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/17/
-John Piper’s sermons on Revelation over the years
-Generally non-eschatological
-Sermons available only for chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 19, 21, 22

[C] Futurist and/or Dispensationalist viewpoint:

[5] http://www.gcfweb.org/institute/general/revelation.pdf
-From the Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership
-In outline form, and covers all 22 chapters of Revelation
-In PDF format, so they can be saved and read offline

[6] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/revelation.pdf
-Notes on Revelation from Dr. Thomas Constable, Department Chairman and Senior Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary
-In outline form, and covers all 22 chapters of Revelation
-In PDF format

[7] http://www.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=re
-Commentary on the book of Revelation from David Guzik, director of Calvary Chapel Bible College in Siegen, Germany.
-In outline form, and covers all 22 chapters of Revelation

[D] Dr. Sam Storms/Historicist viewpoint

[8] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/studies/eschatology/
-Sam Storms is an Amillennialist, and the best I can tell he is also a Historicist. His writings on the various Millennial views came in handy in our study of Revelation 20.
-His commentary at the above site covers Revelation 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 21
-He also writes about the seven seals (chapters 6, 8); the seven trumpets (chapters 8, 9, 11); and the seven bowls (chapter 16).
-His meditations on Revelation 2-3 (letters to the seven churches) are here: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/biblical-studies/ (scroll down the page 1/3 of the way)

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The following are offline sources (books) that we used in our study of Revelation:

[1] Gentry, Kenneth L. Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (An Exegetical and Historical Argument for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition). American Vision: Powder Springs, Georgia, 1988.

[2] Gregg, Steve. Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary). Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, 1997.

Revelation Chapter 3


Revelation Chapter 3

Rod: July 23, 2009

(This post cites material  from Dr. Sam Storms and Dr. John MacArthur:
[NASB MacArthur Study Bible. World Publishing, 2006.])

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 3:1-22

[Notes from Adam were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. Some are based on Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”]

Sardis

Sardis is a city of past glory. It was a capital in the ancient Lydian kingdom (1200 B.C.) and flourished under Croesus in approximately 600 B.C. It was famous for its red dye and woolen goods, and was also known for its excessive immorality. It was twice conquered by the Persians before eventually succumbing to decline. It was struck by a major earthquake in 17 A.D. and, despite being given aid to rebuild by emperor Tiberias, suffered great decline.

Sardis was built on a mountain (about 1500 feet up) to help protect it from enemy attack. Ironically, the city twice was taken by surprise and captured (by Cyrus in 549 BC and by Antiochus the Great in 218 BC). Jesus addresses this church’s lack of faithfulness (verse 2), and tells them to wake up before He comes against them in judgment.

Verse 3: Here Jesus says, “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”

Notice that Jesus says the same in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse, concerning His own first century generation (Matthew 24:34):

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matthew 24:42-44).

We see the following identical elements in these warnings:

1. Jesus would come in judgment.
2. He would come like a thief.
3. They would not know the hour.
4. They were told to wake up or be ready.

1. What is one aspect of the Church in Sardis that we notice is different from the previous four churches?

Jesus has no words of commendation for this church. The previous four churches were greeted and given encouragement and praise. All the churches mentioned so far have mixed membership, but the people in Sardis have a majority of faulty members.

2. Why might both the Jews and Romans have persecuted this church much less with respect to the other churches?

It is likely because they were not faithfully and passionately following Christ. The church in Sardis was buried in mediocrity, entertained heresy and lacked conviction.

3. In verse 3, Jesus gives Sardis three commands in a specific order. What are they?

Remember – recall the blessings of grace and be strengthened
Keep it – hold firmly to the gospel which you have received
Repent – stop sinning, seek forgiveness and walk in righteousness

Philadelphia

Philadelphia is located about thirty miles southeast of Sardis and was founded in 190 B.C. by Attalus II, the king of Pergamos. It was because of this king’s devotion to his brother that the city adopted its name “brotherly love”. The city was located on a major trade route and an important commercial stop. Though never mentioned in the New Testament, it is likely the  church here was the fruit of Paul’s work in Ephesus.

Steve Gregg writes (p. 75) that Philadelphia was a city plagued by earthquakes, and for that reason was not well populated in John’s day. “Historically,” he says, the inhabitants had frequently been forced to move out of the city due to its instability.” Philadelphia was also destroyed by a major earthquake in 17 AD, but was then rebuilt. A significant church existed there until at least the 12th century, and a small congregation is said to be there to this day.

Verse 7: Jesus has the undisputed authority to admit into, or exclude from, the New Jerusalem (the Davidic kingdom–see Isaiah 22:22). Steve Gregg adds, “Jesus identifies himself as the One who is holy and true (v. 7). This is the first of the letters not to take its introductory description from features found in chapter one” (p. 75). He says further (pp. 75-76),

The reference to Jesus having the key of David (v. 7), so that he opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens is an allusion to Isaiah 22:22, in which the same privilege and prerogative is assigned to a man named Eliakim, who was steward over the house of King Hezekiah. This man had the power either to admit persons or to deny entry into the king’s house. Jesus is claiming to have a corresponding right with reference to admitting people into heaven. As a matter of fact, He tells the church that He has chosen to admit them: I have set before you an open door (v. 8). The mention that no one can shut it may imply that the Jews in Philadelphia (mentioned in v. 9) sought to exclude the Gentiles from God (cf. Matt. 23:13; I Thess. 2:15f), but Jesus had made access available to them through himself.

1. Note that Jesus does not have a bad word to say about Philadelphia. Because of their faithful adherence to him and persistent endurance, what three things does Jesus assure them of?

-They have an open door to the eternal kingdom that no one can shut
-They will be vindicated before their fellow “false” Jews and see Jesus’ love for his church
-They will be protected at the hour of trial that is coming to the whole world

Verses 9-10: Take note of the way that Revelation 3:9 looks back to Isaiah 60:14, where those who persecuted the people of Israel would bow to them, and reverses this image:

Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; and they shall call you The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14).

Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:9).

Steve Gregg comments on the false Jews that Jesus spoke of in verse 9 (pp. 75-76):

As was the case in Smyrna (2:9), the present troublers of the church in Philadelphia appear to have been the local Jews (3:9)… Jesus again refers to the persecuting Jews as the synagogue of Satan. They say they are Jews and are not, but lie (v.9)—they are not real Jews in Christ’s sight because “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39), and “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly…but he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:28f). Although, prior to A.D. 70, the principal systematic persecution of Christians came from the Sanhedrin and synagogues of the Jews, both Christians and Jews later became the targets of Roman persecution—a development that would bring an end to biblical Judaism, but which would not be able to extinguish Christianity.

That the persecuting Jews would one day be forced to come and worship before your feet (v. 9) does not mean that the latter will be worshiped as deities, but they will be sitting enthroned with Christ (3:21), before whom, someday, every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10). Though they are presently seeking to exclude the Gentiles from the love and favor of God, the day will come when these Jews will be forced to acknowledge that I have loved you (v. 9). Jesus had previously expressed a concern that “the world might know” that God loves His disciples (John 17:23). That day will come in which His desire will be fulfilled.

2. What is the hour of trial that Jesus is referring to in verse 10?

It may have pertained to the trials or “tribulations” that the Christians of Asia Minor were experiencing during that time or it may refer to one particular season of intense persecution that was imminent to the other believers of Asia Minor. [Note: The preterist position sees the great tribulation as having been fulfilled in the Roman-Jewish War beginning in early 67 AD and leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction 3.5 years later in August 70 AD. This is likely the “hour of trial” that they were to be spared from.]

According to John MacArthur, Jesus is referring to the seven-year period before Christ’s earthly kingdom is consummated, featuring the unleashing of divine wrath in judgments expressed in seals, trumpets and bowls. This is described in great detail in Chapters 6-19. Indeed this is a key Rapture text for Dispensational Futurists, seeming to them to indicate that believers will be taken to heaven so that they will not experience a future period of global tribulation. This is despite the fact that this statement was addressed to a specific church in the 1st century AD, as Sam Storms noted. However, as Steve Gregg points out (pp. 76-77),

…removal of Christians from the earth [need not be] the only possible way in which Jesus could keep His people from the wars and plagues anticipated to occur at that time. For example, Jesus prayed thus for His disciples: ‘I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one’ (John 17:15)… Preterists argue that an empire-wide crisis would satisfy the normal use of the terminology in Revelation 3:10. The whole world is a term used to designate the Roman Empire in Luke 2:1 and elsewhere. That it is to test those who dwell on the earth (or “land,” i.e. Israel) may suggest that there is a crisis that will shake the whole empire and put the Jews, in particular, into special peril. In A.D. 68, the death of Nero, and the civil wars that followed, greatly threatened the stability of the Roman Empire, until Vespasian was made emperor in A.D. 70. During this same period (A.D. 66-70), the Jews were embroiled in a fight for the survival of their nation against the Romans…which they lost. Preterism suggests that this judgment on Jerusalem is what is implied in the promise, I am coming quickly! (v. 11).

[As we continue in our study of Revelation, we will be suggesting that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

3. What is the three-fold promise of Jesus in verses 12 and 13?

-I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God – a metaphor for eternal salvation?
-Never shall he go out of it – promise of permanence within the New Jerusalem
-I will write on him the name of my God, the city of God and my own new name – metaphor of divine ownership, being identified with the city New Jerusalem (see Isaiah 56:5 and Ezekiel 48:35).

Steve Gregg comments on verse 12 (p. 77):

The overcomer will be made a pillar in the temple of My God (v. 12). Assuming a familiarity with the concept of the church being the temple of God (I Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20-22; I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; I Pet. 2:5), faithful confessors will possess positions of stability and support. Such pillars are earthquake-proof, so that, unlike the citizens of Philadelphia, who had frequently been driven out of their city by quakes, the overcomer shall go out no more.

Gregg goes on to suggest that Jesus’ promise to write on those who overcome “the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem” is connected to God’s actions in Revelation 7:3 and 14:1. There God sealed His servants on their foreheads with His name, and this was in contrast to those who had the name and the mark of the beast on their foreheads. Gregg adds, “Such a mark on the believer is not a visible tattoo, but the seal of God’s ownership, a concept Paul equates with the believer’s possession of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). The writing of the New Jerusalem upon the believer suggests citizenship there (cf. Ps. 87:5-6). This Jerusalem is described in symbolic detail in chapter 21.”

Laodicea

Laodicea was a wealthy city, perhaps the wealthiest in all Phrygia. Struck by a horrible earthquake in 60 A.D., the city rebuilt itself without the aid of Rome. It was a banking center, and linen and wool were the main commerce for clothing manufacturing. It also had a medical school and was famous for its eye doctors and ointments.

Paul likely never visited Laodicea. But he mentions the city five times in Colossians: 2:1, 4:13, 15, 16 (2). It was likely that Epaphras, who was a servant of the Lord in Colossae, initiated the church here. It should be noted that there is no praise given to this church from Jesus.

1. What two things does Jesus discern about the people in Laodicea?

-They are lukewarm in their faith – rebuked for the barren nature of their works and their stagnant spiritual condition.
-They are comfortable in their own financial self-sufficiency. As Steve Gregg comments (p. 79), “Wealth has a way of imparting a false sense of self-sufficiency—the very antithesis of the beggarliness of spirit commended in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3).”

Nearby Heirapolis was famous for its hot springs and Colossae for its cold mountain streams. Laodicea had an underground aqueduct to provide for its water supply that was dirty and tepid. Visitors would often spit this water out. The church there was neither hot, filled with spiritual zeal, nor cold, openly rejecting Christ. The members were lukewarm hypocrites professing to know Christ but not truly belonging to Him. Steve Gregg adds, “The city’s water supply originated from hot springs six miles away at Denizli. In the process of traveling through the aqueduct to Laodicea, the water became tepid—neither hot nor cold” (p. 78).

2. In verse 18, Jesus asks the church to come trade with Him. What three things* does Jesus say come and trade for, and what do they mean?

Gold – spiritual wealth, refined by the fires of suffering
White garments – works of righteousness that were lacking in this church
Eye salve – restoration of their spiritual vision

*Note that these are counterparts to the three major industries (banking, clothing and medicine)!

3. In verse 19, Jesus says “to whom I love, I will reprove and discipline.” What does He mean by this?

According to MacArthur: “It can be seen by verses 18 and 20 that Jesus is addressing unbelievers. God certainly loves the unconverted, but disciplining (or chastening) is referring to God’s convicting and punishing of the unregenerate.”

According to Storms: “The appeal of v. 20 is not to unbelievers so that they might be saved. Rather it is an appeal to individuals (“anyone”) within the church to repent and forsake their spiritual half-heartedness. As a result one may experience now the intimate communion and fellowship of which the feast in the messianic kingdom is the consummation. All present fellowship with Jesus is a foretaste of that eternal felicity which will be consummated in the age to come.”

Verse 21: Jesus promises that those who overcome will be able to sit with Him on His throne, as He has already done. Steve Gregg comments (p. 80),

Reigning with Christ also is promised to the overcomers in Thyatira (2:26f), and additional references to the co-regency of the saints are found in 5:10 and 20:4. Opinions concerning the exact time of this fulfillment depend upon one’s eschatological system—it could be in the millennium; or after death, reigning in heaven prior to the Second Advent. It could be a spiritual reign of saints in this life or a literal reign over the new earth. Theories abound. The present and accomplished enthronement of Christ is stated clearly enough: as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

BRIEF PRETERIST SUMMARY OF CHAPTERS 1-3

“The preterists consider the letters to apply to little else than the contemporary situation of the seven churches as they existed in John’s time. As with all biblical epistles, however, application to similar churches of any time is acknowledged” (Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), p. 81).

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Our study of Revelation 4 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.

Revelation Chapter 2 (Pergamum & Thyatira)


REVELATION 2:12-29 (Pergamum & Thyatira)

Dave: July 16, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 2:12-29

[Notes from Adam were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. They are based mostly on Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”]

Pergamum

  • 190,000 people
  • 65 miles north of Smyrna
  • Capital city of the northern province of Asia
  • Known as a religious hub –
    • Worship of Zeus
    • Worship of Athene & Dionysus
    • Worship of Asclepios
    • Worship of Caesar

Steve Gregg notes that Pergamum (Pergamos) was the oldest city in Asia. It had the second largest library in the world (after Alexandria, Egypt), with 200,000 volumes of books (Steve Gregg, p. 68).

–What was the church praised for?
–Who was Antipas?  (See 1:5)
–What was the church rebuked for?  (See Num 31:16 for more on Balaam)

Sam Storms:

We read of Balaam in Numbers 22-24. Balak, King of Moab, had solicited Balaam to curse the children of Israel who were preparing to cross over into the promised land. But God intervened. Every time Balaam spoke, words of blessing came forth. Moved by greed for the reward Balak offered him, Balaam advised Balak that Moabite women should seduce the men of Israel by inviting them to partake in their idolatrous feasts (which invariably led to sexual immorality). Balaam knew that this would provoke the judgment of God against his people (which is precisely what happened).

What Balaam was to the children of Israel in the Old Testament, the Nicolaitans were to the church of Jesus Christ in the New. Balaam is a prototype of those who promote compromise with the world in idolatry and immorality (see also Jude 11 and 2 Peter 2:15). The Nicolaitans had dared to insinuate that freedom in Christ granted them a blank check to sin. The fault of the Pergamemes was not so much that they had followed this pernicious teaching but that they had allowed it be vocalized in the congregation. This matter of indifference to the licentiousness of the Nicolaitans was of grave concern to the risen Lord.

Steve Gregg views the teaching of the Nicolaitans as a forerunner to second-century gnosticism:

Whether those in Pergamos were teaching false doctrine for pay [as Balaam did], or simply teaching false doctrine, we do not know. What is evident is that sexual immorality and compromise with idolatry were being tolerated and even advocated by some in the church. In the second century, these same issues would be principal features of the Gnostic heretics (p. 69).

–Who are the Nicolaitans? (See note on Rev 2:6 – antinomians?)
–Why does Jesus say “I know where you dwell?”  (Encouragement that He understands our difficulties.)
–To whom does Jesus say He will come?  (to the church, but He will wage war against those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.)
–Practically speaking, what should the elders of Pergamum have done about the false teaching?
–What application is there for our churches?  And for us?

The Christians in Pergamum had sacrificed the ethical purity of their congregation on the altar of “love” and for the sake of some nebulous “peace” they feared to lose. Purity often comes at an extremely high price. But we must be prepared to pay it. Confrontation is never pleasant, but it often reaps a bountiful harvest. By all means, pursue love, but not at the expense of truth or in such a way that overt sin is left to fester and spread in the body of Christ (Source: Sam Storms).

Verses 16-17: Jesus tells the church in Pergamos what will take place in they do not repent for allowing the teaching of the Nicolaitans to remain in their midst. Steve Gregg remarks (p. 69),

Though the whole church is called upon to repent, it is only the offenders against whom Jesus threatens to fight…with the sword of My mouth (v. 16). What form this judgment will take is not specified, though it probably does not refer to the Second Coming, since this church no longer exists.

The same language Jesus uses here will be used again in Revelation 19:15. Jesus then gives several promises to those who conquer, including that He will give them a new name which no one else knows. A similar promise is given to the church in Philadelphia (3:12), where a second name is also promised (the name of God’s city, the New Jerusalem). Another promise given by Jesus here is that He will give to those who conquer a white stone. Steve Gregg remarks,

Much speculation has attended the interpretation of a white stone (v. 17). In one view, it is a token of vindication or acquittal, referring to the [first-century] practice of a judge handing an accused criminal either a black stone signifying condemnation or a white stone indicating acquittal. The message then would be that, though the Christians may stand condemned in the Roman courts, they will be justified at the bar of eternal justice. Another view is that the white stone was a token given to contestants in the Greek games as they completed their race, to be traded in later for their actual awards.

–The white stone . . . sometimes given to victors at games for entrance to banquets
–Where does Satan dwell these days?

Thyatira

–Economically strong, but culturally and politically ostracized.
–What is the church commended for?  (opposite of church in Ephesus)
–What is it rebuked for?  (tolerated heresy and immorality)

Steve Gregg (pp. 70-71) reminds us that one prominent believer from the book of Acts hailed from Thyatira:

Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Philippi, was from the city of Thyatira (Acts 16:14). The purple cloth she sold was a major product of that city… It is known that the city had many trade guilds, and it would have been difficult to make a living without participating in one of them. Yet the guilds practiced idolatrous rites at their gatherings, which Christians could not countenance. Therefore, the Christians in Thyatira may have been hard pressed to support themselves and their families without resorting to some measure of compromise with idolatry.

–Who is Jezebel?  (real person, but name was symbolic – like the symbolism of Balaam)

“Thus, what is meant is that this disreputable, so-called “prophetess” was as wicked and dangerous an influence in Thyatira as ‘Jezebel’ had been to Israel in the OT”  (Sam Storms).

–What was Jezebel doing to oppose the Lord and lead others astray?
–Didn’t Paul say it was OK to eat food sacrificed to idols as long as a brother’s conscience is not harmed?  What is the difference here?
–What will become of her and those she has influenced?
–What assurance does Jesus give to believers in Thyatira?  (He “searches the mind and the heart.”)
–Is the prophetess a believer?  And what about those who have followed her?  (Acts 5, 1 Cor 11:30-32)
–What are the deep things of Satan?
–What admonition does the Lord give to the believers?  (hold fast what you have until I come; conquer; keep my works until the end)
–What does “I will give authority over the nations” mean?  What are these nations?  (See Ps 2:7-9)

Steve Gregg addresses this question by presenting the various ways this statement in verse 26 is interpreted (p. 72):

Here the overcomer is described as the one who keeps My works until the end, with whom Christ will share His own power over the nations (v. 26). The fulfillment of this promise has been variously applied: (a) to reigning with Christ over the unsaved nations during a future millennium (20:4), (b) to participating in the reign of the saints with Christ after death in heaven (another way of understanding 20:4), or (c) to reigning over Christians of lower rank in the new earth, assuming there will be varying degrees of authority awarded to various saints (see Matt. 25:21-23; Luke 19:17, 19; I Cor. 15:41f).

The paraphrase of Psalm 2:9…appears, in context and without punctuation, to apply to the overcoming believer. In the psalm itself, it is clearly Christ who wields the rod of iron (as also in Rev. 19:15), which no doubt accounts for the translators in this case using quotation marks. Citation of the psalm points out that the authority of the exalted believer is not his own, but derived from the authority of Christ.

–Who is the Morning Star?  (See Rev 22:16)
–Do your latter works exceed your first?  Which direction are you going?

Thank you, Jesus, for giving us time to repent!

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Our study of Revelation 3 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.