Revelation 20: Four Views of Gog and Magog


Revelation 20: Four Views of Gog and Magog

Adam Maarschalk: April 5, 2010

Scripture texts for this study: Ezekiel 38-39; Revelation 20:7-10

Gog and Magog are referenced together twice in Scripture by name, first in Ezekial 38-39 and very briefly in Revelation 20. A third related passage is Revelation 19:17-18, where Gog and Magog are not mentioned by name but the language there appears to be borrowed from Ezekiel’s prophecy. How are Gog and Magog to be identified? The battle prophesied in Ezekiel, in particular, has merited much speculation among prophecy pundits. I would like to discuss four different interpretations for the references to Gog and Magog by both Ezekiel and John (Rev. 20). The following are some questions/factors to consider as we do so:

  1. Does John (in Rev. 19 or Rev. 20) refer to the same historical event as Ezekiel does, or is the battle described by Ezekiel merely a precedent for the battles John is describing?
  2. Is the book of Ezekiel written in a chronological manner, so that the chapters which come before this battle description (e.g. chapters 36-37) and those which follow it (chapters 40-48) suggest the timing of this battle’s occurrence?
  3. The battle described in Rev. 20:7-10 takes place “when the thousand years are ended,” i.e. at the end of the Millennium. One’s eschatological system, therefore, is a large factor in determining when this battle takes place. For Futurists and premillennialists, it will take place 1000 years after the future Second Coming of Christ. For amillennialists and for postmillennialists, it will take place sometime in the future, but before the Second Coming of Christ, since we are in the Millennium now. For full-preterists (those who believe in the past fulfillment of all Bible prophecy), it took place in or just before 70 AD.

The four interpretations we will consider[1] are these:

[A] The position of partial-preterists David Lowman and Gary DeMar that Ezekiel’s prophecy was fulfilled in Esther’s day. For this position, the battles of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 are not one and the same.

[B] Partial-preterist Kenneth Gentry’s position that Ezekiel 38-39 was likely fulfilled in the second century BC, and its imagery is used by John to foreshadow the events of Revelation 19:11-21 and Revelation 20:8-10. For this position, the battles of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 are not one and the same (nor are the battles of Rev. 19 and Rev. 20).

[C] The popular Futurist/premillennial position, which says that Ezekiel prophesied of a Russian-led attack on national Israel which is very soon to take place, and that John prophesied of an attack on the literal city of Jerusalem at the end of a future 1000-year Millennium. For this position, the battles of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 are not one and the same.

[D] Full-preterist Kurt Simmon’s position that Ezekiel 38-39 was a prophecy concerning Rome’s invasion of Jerusalem in 70 AD, as was John’s prophecy in Revelation 20. Clearly, then, for this position, the battles of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20 ARE indeed one and the same.

After each position is presented, I will offer some pros and cons as I see them (i.e. as I see them at this time; these are not easy texts to interpret, and my views on this subject are not necessarily set in stone). For clarity, my pros and cons will be listed in red and green font, respectively. Feedback is welcome in the comments section.

[A] David Lowman and Gary DeMar: Ezekiel 38-39 Was Fulfilled in Esther’s Day

1. David Lowman’s View

David Lowman is a Presbyterian pastor, and a partial-preterist (one who sees a past fulfillment in many, but not all, Bible prophecies). In the first post in a brief 4-part series on this subject, David Lowman notes that many “prophecy experts…have over the years…promoted the idea that the names used for [Gog, Magog, and their allies] are related to current nations that will supposedly lead a multi-national conglomerate of nations preparing to attack Israel. Those names are Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.” In this thinking, Rosh is supposed to be Russia, Meshech to be Moscow, and Tubal to be Tobolsk. Lowman says that only the NASB (New American Standard Bible) uses the translation “Rosh” in the first place (having been translated by dispensationalists), but even futurists like Charles Ryrie disagree with this translation. He adds,

The term “Rosh” in Hebrew means “chief” or “leader” [and] is a Hebrew word. “Russia” comes from the 11th century Scandanavian word “Rus” and has no relation in root and etemology to the word “rosh.” It’s beyond a stretch of all credulity [to link the two]… “Meshach” and “Tubal” were actual city/nations before the time of Christ and were part of the larger Persian Empire. These words come from the Asiatic words “Mushka” and “Tabal” and they are both literal locations located in modern day Turkey and, again, have NO relation to the nation of Russia in any way. This is such poor exegesis and now many modern Dispensationalist have abandoned these claims, though the more popular prophecy experts still promote it.

In David Lowman’s second post, he makes the point that Ezekiel described a style of warfare that is very much ancient, and that the weapons he mentioned were made out of wood and thus able to be burned (Ezek. 38:4-5; 39:9). Many believe that Russia’s identity is confirmed because these armies were to come from the north (Ezek. 38:6, 15; 39:2), but Lowman notes that other significant invasions of Israel in the Old Testament were also from the north: [1] Babylon (Jeremiah 1:14, 4:6, 6:10, 10:22), Persia (Isaiah 41:25, Jer. 50:41), and Assyria (Zephaniah 2:13). Lowman then adds:

The truth of the matter is that nearly all attacks against Israel came from the north directionally speaking. The easiest way to travel to attack Israel would be from the North. As noted all the great enemies of Israel were from the East or West but their attacks all came from the North. This is also true in several instances in Ezekiel. There are several mentions of nation from the North attaching even though the nation of origin came from the East or West… The closest nation from a northern proximity to ever attack Israel would have been Rome, from across the Mediterranean Sea.

In Lowman’s third post, he agrees with Kenneth Gentry (as we will see) that the battle of Revelation 20, with its reference to Gog and Magog (verse 8), is only an allusion to the battle described in Ezekiel 38-39, but is not a reference to the same historical event.

In Lowman’s fourth post, he notes that many believe that “this event was fulfilled during the time of the Macabbean Revolt [during the second century BC]. This view argues that the enemy in question is Antiochus Epiphanies which would fit the Persian expectation and the worldwide expanse of the Persian empire at that time.” This doesn’t really fit, though, he says, because the Macabbean Revolt involved throwing off the rule of an occupying force after several years, while the attack in Ezekiel describes divine intervention at the time of an invasion.

Instead, Lowman submits that the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 “is found during the time of Esther and involves the Israelite victory over Haman’s “schemes” and complete victory of the outmatched Israel forces.” In the second part of this section, Gary DeMar will expand on the idea that Ezekiel 38-39 was fulfilled in Esther’s day.

2. Gary DeMar’s View—Similar to That of David Lowman’s:

At the outset of Gary DeMar’s article, I would like to include a small disclaimer that I personally appreciate some of DeMar’s works more than others. I have read/skimmed excerpts from his books “Last Days Madness” and “Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future,” and appreciated what I read. In short, I have appreciated his articulation of the preterist viewpoint which I also share. However, I’m not on the same page when it comes to the Postmillennial position of his ministry, American Vision, as well as some of the political rants of AV which seem to follow in the vein of World Net Daily, a publication which I respect just about as much as I respect The National Enquirer. Having said that, DeMar’s article on Gog and Magog is quite thought-provoking:

…If the battle described in Ezekiel 38–39 does not refer to modern-day nations that will attack Israel, then when and where in biblical history did this conflict take place? Instead of looking to the distant future or finding fulfillment in a historical setting outside the Bible where we are dependent on unreliable secular sources, James B. Jordan believes that “it is in [the book of] Esther that we see a conspiracy to plunder the Jews, which backfires with the result that the Jews plundered their enemies. This event is then ceremonially sealed with the institution of the annual Feast of Purim.” Jordan continues by establishing the context for Ezekiel 38 and 39:

Ezekiel describes the attack of Gog, Prince of Magog, and his confederates. Ezekiel states that people from all over the world attack God’s people, who are pictured dwelling at peace in the land. God’s people will completely defeat them, however, and the spoils will be immense. The result is that all nations will see the victory, and “the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God from that day onward” (Ezek. 39:21–23). . . . Chronologically this all fits very nicely. The events of Esther took place during the reign of Darius, after the initial rebuilding of the Temple under Joshua [the High Priest] and Zerubbabel and shortly before rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah. . . . Thus, the interpretive hypothesis I am suggesting (until someone shoots it down) is this: Ezekiel 34–37 describes the first return of the exiles under Zerubbabel, and implies the initial rebuilding of the physical Temple. Ezekiel 38–39 describes the attack of Gog (Haman) and his confederates against the Jews. Finally, Ezekiel 40–48 describes in figurative language the situation as a result of the work of Nehemiah.

Ezekiel 38:5–6 tells us that Israel’s enemies come from “Persia, Cush, and . . . from the remote parts of the north,” all within the boundaries of the Persian Empire of Esther’s day. From Esther we learn that the Persian Empire “extended from India to Cush, 127 provinces” in all (Esther 8:9). Ethiopia (Cush) and Persia are listed in Esther 1:1 and 3 and are also found in Ezekiel 38:5. The other nations were in the geographical boundaries “from India to Ethiopia” in the “127 provinces” over which Ahasueras ruled (Esther 1:1). “In other words, the explicit idea that the Jews were attacked by people from all the provinces of Persia is in both passages,” and the nations listed by Ezekiel were part of the Persian empire of the prophet’s day. The parallels are unmistakable. Even Ezekiel’s statement that the fulfillment of the prophecy takes place in a time when there are “unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11) is not an indication of a distant future fulfillment as Grant Jeffrey attempts to argue:

It is interesting to note that during the lifetime of Ezekiel and up until 1900, virtually all of the villages and cities in the Middle East had walls for defense. Ezekiel had never seen a village or city without defensive walls. Yet, in our day, Israel is a “land of unwalled villages” for the simple reason that modern techniques of warfare (bombs and missiles) make city walls irrelevant for defense. This is one more indication that his prophecy refers to our modern generation.

* * * * *

Ezekiel’s reference to “dwell safely” and “without walls . . . neither bars nor gates” refers precisely to Israel’s current military situation, where she is dwelling safely because of her strong armed defense and where her cities and villages have no walls or defensive bars. The prophet had never seen a city without walls, so he was astonished when he saw, in a vision, Israel dwelling in the future without walls. Ezekiel lived in a time when every city in the world used huge walls for military defense.

In Esther we learn that there were Jews who were living peacefully in “unwalled towns” (KJV) (9:19) when Haman conspired against them. Israel’s antagonists in Ezekiel are said to “go up against the land of unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11). The Hebrew word perazah is used in Esther 9:19 and Ezekiel 38:11. This fits the conditions of Esther’s day. Jeffrey is mistaken in his assertion that “Ezekiel had never seen a village or city without defensive walls.” They seemed to be quite common outside the main cities. Moreover, his contention that Israel is currently “dwelling safely because of her strong armed defense” is patently untrue. Since 2006, the Israeli government has built more than 435 miles of walls in Israel.

The chief antagonist of the Jews in Esther is Haman, “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” (Esther 3:1, 10; 8:3, 5; 9:24). An Agagite is a descendant of Amalek, one of the persistent enemies of the people of God. In Numbers 24:20 we read, “Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.” The phrase “first of the nations” takes us back to the early chapters of Genesis where we find “Gomer,” “Magog,” “Tubal,” and “Meshech,” and their father Japheth (Gen. 10:2), the main antagonist nations that figure prominently in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Amalek was probably a descendant of Japheth (Gen. 10:2). Haman and his ten sons are the last Amalekites who appear in the Bible. In Numbers 24:7, the Septuagint (LXX) translates “Agag” as “Gog.” “One late manuscript to Esther 3:1 and 9:24 refers to Haman as a ‘Gogite.’” Agag and Gog are very similar in their Hebrew spelling and meaning. Agagite means “I will overtop,” while Gog means “mountain.” In his technical commentary on Esther, Lewis Bayles Paton writes:

The only Agag  mentioned in the OT is the king of Amalek [Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:9]. . . . [A]ll Jewish, and many Christian comm[entators] think that Haman is meant to be a descendant of this Agag. This view is probably correct, because Mordecai, his rival, is a descendant of Saul ben Kish, who overthrew Agag [1 Sam. 17:8–16], and is specially cursed in the law [Deut. 25:17]. It is, therefore, probably the author’s intention to represent Haman as descended from this race that was characterized by an ancient and unquenchable hatred of Israel (cf. 3:10, “the enemy of the Jews”).

A cursive Hebrew manuscript identifies Haman as “a Gogite.” Paul Haupt sees a relationship between Haman’s descriptions as an Agagite and “the Gogite.”

There is another link between Haman the Agagite in Esther and Gog in Ezekiel 38–39. “According to Ezekiel 39:11 and 15, the place where the army of Gog is buried will be known as the Valley of Hamon-Gog, and according to verse 16, the nearby city will become known as Hamonah.”[12] The word hamon in Ezekiel “is spelled in Hebrew almost exactly like the name Haman. . . . In Hebrew, both words have the same ‘triliteral root’ (hmn). Only the vowels are different.”

Haman is the “prince-in-chief” of a multi-national force that he gathers from the 127 provinces with the initial permission of king Ahasuerus to wipe out his mortal enemy—the Jews (Ex. 17:8–16; Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:8; 1 Chron. 4:42–43; Deut. 25:17–19). Consider these words: “King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him” (Esther 3:1). Having “authority over all the princes who were with him” makes him the “chief prince.” In Esther 3:12 we read how Haman is described as the leader of the satraps, governors, and princes… (More here).

A few of the parallels between the accounts in Esther and Ezekiel 38-39, which Gary DeMar didn’t mention but David Lowman does, are as follows:

  • Ezra and Nehemiah both mention the large amounts of silver and gold that the Jews brought back from exile. These are the same items we are told the approaching armies were attacking to plunder.
  • The battle with Haman’s armies takes place after Israel is returned to the land—during Darius’ reign. Ezekiel prophesied until just a few short decades before this time.
  • Esther and Ezekiel’s enemies from the north both contain Persia and Ethiopia.
  • In a very short battle [in Esther] the Israelites destroy Haman’s army killing nearly 100,000 despite being greatly out-manned.
  • In fact, both passages state that the Jews were attacked by all of Persia’s provinces.

PROS: [1] Lowman makes a good point that Ezekiel went to great lengths to describe ancient warfare (“horses and horsemen…full armor…buckler and shield, wielding swords…shields and helmet…bow and arrows, clubs and spears” [Ezek. 38:4-5; 39:9]). Unless context clearly dictates otherwise, it would be a huge stretch to make this a description of modern warfare.

[2] I appreciated DeMar’s effort in noting the context of the chapters surrounding Ezekiel 38-39 (i.e. the first return of the exiles from Babylon under Zerubbabel), thus legitimizing his statement that it’s plausible for this text to be applied to Esther’s day if the other data fits.

[3] DeMar argues well for parallel boundaries between the Persian Empire in Esther’s day and Gog/Magog and her allies in Ezekiel’s vision.

[4] In Ezekiel’s vision, the Jews were living in unwalled towns. DeMar notes that this was also the case in Esther’s day, which makes sense since they were part of the Persian Empire at that time, an empire known for its benevolence and for taking good care of its subjects.

[5] The Agag-Gog connection is very intriguing, where Haman (the enemy of Esther) is shown to be an “Agagite” and even a “Gogite” in some manuscripts. That the invaders in Ezekiel’s vision would be buried in the Valley of Hamon-Gog only adds to the intrigue.

[6] The five parallels between the accounts in Esther and Ezekiel are all credible, making this interpretation a very legitimate possibility.

CONS: [1] There is no Biblical record explicitly stating that what took place in Esther’s day was first prophesied by Ezekiel. The connections, though fascinating, are implicit rather than explicit.

[2] There are details recorded in Ezekiel’s vision that are not recorded in Esther’s account, which can be seen primarily in Esther 9.

[B] Kenneth Gentry: Ezekiel 38-39 is Historically Distinct from Rev. 19 and 20

Kenneth Gentry is an ordained Presbyterian minister and author who, like Gary DeMar and David Lowman, is a partial-preterist. On page 160 of his newest book titled “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues, Gentry notes several parallels between the structure of Ezekiel and how John organizes the book of Revelation. Among these structural parallels, he says, is the correlation between Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 19-20.[2] Gentry’s main contribution here, though, will be his explanation that Revelation 19 and 20 simply draw on Ezekiel 38-39, but are not the same event. In other words, John, in both Revelation 19 and 20, only alludes to the prophecy given by Ezekiel (future to Ezekiel, but past to John) as a harbinger of what is to come in his own future.

Aside from this explanation, I haven’t been able to find Gentry’s precise position on the interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39. At “The Forerunner” website where many of his products are sold I did find an article written in 1990 by his ministry associate, Jay Rogers, titled “Is the Soviet Union Gog and Magog?” In this article, Jay Rogers proposes that Ezekiel’s prophecy concerned the Scythian invaders of the 2nd century BC:

Others have understood this vision as a prophecy which was fulfilled in the 2nd century B.C. at the defeat of the Assyrian invaders of Palestine by Judas Maccabeus… Ezekiel 38-39 should be understood in the context of its apocalyptic literary style; this is a highly visionary passage depicting an earthly struggle of Ezekiel’s time which is only a smaller reflection of a spiritual conflict between the forces of heaven and hell. Historically, the nations mentioned in this passage, Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer and Beth-togarmah, were a barbarous people known as the Scythians. These were a nomadic people who had moved from central Asia to southern Russia. Just about the same time that Ezekiel was born, the Scythians terrorized southwest Asia and the Middle East.

Whether this is Kenneth Gentry’s personal position at this time, I don’t know. The closest admission I could find from Gentry on his own view of Ezekiel’s prophecy is this statement:

[Greg] Beale (980) allows the possibility that Eze. 38–39 could point to second century BC events (Antiochus Epiphanes) that serve as “typological patterns” for what will “happen at the end of history” (cf. Bøe 373). Riddlebarger recognizes that “Divine judgments in history are, so to speak, rehearsals of the last judgment.” That is precisely my understanding of John’s use of Ezekiel to refer to AD 70: for AD 70 is a distant adumbration of the end of history which will come at the Second Advent.

These thoughts from Gentry, as well as what follows, can be found in a publication written by Kenneth Gentry titled “Recapitulation v Progress.” This is a primer for a full-length, verse-by-verse commentary on the book of Revelation which Gentry is currently working on. This particular publication is #13 among his Revelation Commentary Updates so far, and these excerpts are from pages 2-9 of that publication.

What follows is a summary of Gentry’s view that Ezekiel’s prophecy is merely drawn upon by John to signify the events of Revelation 19-20. In our introduction to Revelation 20 we noted that Gentry’s partial-preterist views cause him to agree with the premillennial position that Revelation 20:7-10 does not cover the same historical ground as Revelation 19:11-21 either. The reason that this is important to note is because both of these passages in Revelation allude to Ezekiel 38-39. His (rare) agreement with premillennialists on this point comes, though, “with quite different results,” as he explains:

I hold that Christ’s coming from heaven to wage war in Revelation 19:11ff represents His judgment coming on Israel in AD 70. As such it reflects the theme of the book found in 1:7, where he comes against those tribes who pierced him (the Jews). Consequently, 20:1ff presents the consequence of Christ’s judgment of Israel, Christianity’s first major enemy: the binding of Satan, the vindication of the martyrs, and the spiritual rule of believers with Christ in the present age.

Here Gentry makes the following statements regarding the non-explicit references to Gog and Magog in Revelation 19 and the explicit mention of Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:

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

Gentry notes that there are those who draw from these facts the premise that the events of Revelation 19:19-21 and Revelation 20:7-10 must therefore refer to the same historical event. This is most common among amillennialists who also hold to the Historicist (rather than futurist or preterist) position. However, he adds:

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

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

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

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

Having made his case that Revelation 19:11-21 and Revelation 20:8-10 are separate and distinct events, Gentry then makes his case for why Ezekiel 38-39 is also not one and the same with Revelation 20:

Ezekiel 38–39 does not fit either the imagery of Rev 20:7–10 or its consummational setting… We see this in that:

(1) In Ezekiel God is on the offensive and gathers Gog (38:1–4; 39:1–2), whereas in Revelation Satan takes the offensive and gathers “Gog” (20:7–10).

(2) In Ezekiel Gog is motivated by plunder (Eze 38:12–13), whereas in Rev. 20:8 he is moved by Satan’s deception without regard to plunder.

(3) Ezekiel speaks of an actual battle wherein God causes men to fight one another with swords (38:21), which is a common motif description for confused historical battle (Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 14:20; Haggai 2:2; Zech. 14:13). This is a common way of showing God providentially and indirectly (rather than miraculously and directly) punishing men in history (e.g., Isaiah 10:5; 13:17). But Rev. 20:7–10 seems to present a purely final-eschatological judgment, involving direct divine destruction by fire (20:9b), with no mention of human implements of war involved.

(4) Ezekiel speaks of Israel becoming faithful at that time because of that battle (39:22–24), whereas Rev. 20 has God’s people already ruling and reigning (20:4) and living in obedience in the “beloved city” (20:9b) at the time of this final judgment…

(6) Ezekiel emphasizes certain events occurring after the battle, including burning the weapons for seven years (39:9), burying the dead (39:12–16), and other nations witnessing God’s triumph and Israel’s faithfulness “from that day onward” (39:21–24). These clearly show history continuing after the battle. But Revelation presents the climactic end-time wrath of God (20:9c), which is followed by the final judgment and the end of history (20:11–15).

PROS: [1] While Gentry says very little about how Ezekiel 38-39 may have been fulfilled, he provides plenty of well-thought-out reasons for why this passage is to be seen as historically distinct from Revelation 19 and Revelation 20. To add to his reasons already given, I offer these as well: [a] Those being attacked in Ezekiel 38-39 dwell in the cities of Israel (Ezek. 39:9) with livestock, goods (38:13), and are dependent on wood from the forests (39:10). Those who are attacked in Revelation 20:7-10 are identified as “the camp of the saints and the beloved city,” a clear parallel to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22-23; i.e. the Church). [b] In Ezekiel, Israel’s attackers come from “the uttermost parts of the north” (Ezek. 38:6), while in Revelation Gog and Magog comes from “the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 20:8).

[2] The first-century historian Josephus, as will be noted in the futurist section below, affirmed that the Scythian peoples of his day could trace their descent from Magog.

CONS: Kenneth Gentry, at least here in this material, doesn’t offer much of an explanation for how Ezekiel 38-39 may have been fulfilled by events in the second century BC. This does nothing, however, to take away from his well-argued premise that this prophecy is historically distinct from the prophecies of Revelation 19 and 20.

[C] The Futurist Position: Ezekiel 38-39 is Not Yet Fulfilled (and neither is Revelation 19 or 20)

In this section, we will only deal with the futurist position on Ezekiel 38-39, and not on Revelation 19 and 20 (it’s a given that the majority of futurists see Revelation 19 as taking place in the future prior to Christ’s Second Coming, and Revelation 20 taking place 1000 years later at the end of the Millennium. When it comes to discussions on Gog and Magog, futurist authors have had a great deal to say regarding Ezekiel 38-39. The highly resourceful Preterist Archive has preserved several quotes from well-known futurist authors on this subject. For example, Hal Lindsey had this to say:

“When the Russians invade the Middle East with amphibious and mechanized land forces, they will make a ‘blitzkreig’ type of offensive through the area… The current build-up of Russian ships in the Mediterranean serves as another significant sign of the possible nearness of Armageddon” (The Late Great Planet Earth, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970,  p. 145-146)

“Dr. Cummings, writing in 1864, said, “This king of the North I conceive to be the autocrat of Russia.. that Russia occupies a place, and a very momentous place, in the prophetic word has been admitted by almost all expositors.” (ibid., p. 52)

(Hal Lindsey changing tune after [the] fall of Russia) “But world domination — as Ezekiel makes clear — was never in the script for Russia!” (italics in original, Cited in Pate and Haines, p. 138)

Patti and Paul Lalonde made this sweeping statement in 1992:

“Bible scholars agree that ‘Gog’ also described as ‘prince of Rosh,’ is the leader of what is modern day Russia.” (In the Edge of Time: The Final Countdown Has Begun)

And Tim Lahaye made these remarks, also in 1992:

“Etymology is the study of linguistic changes and the history of words.  We will investigate the etymology of the names of nations.  As we will see, “Magog” is an ancient name for the nation now known as Russia.  “Gog” merely means “the chief prince of Magog,” or more literally, the chief prince of Meschech and Tubal (38:2-3; 39:1).

The name “Moscow” derives from the tribal name “Meshech,” and “Tobolsk, the name of the principal state, from “Tubal.” The noun “Gog” is from the original tribal name “Magog,” which gradually became “Rosh,” then “Russ,” and today is known as “Russia.” (“Will God Destroy Russia, in Storming Towards Armageddon: Essays in Apocalypse, ed. Wm. James (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press, 1992), p. 260-261)

“Russia is unquestionably the nation identified in the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39.” (“Will God Destroy Russia, in Storming Towards Armageddon: Essays in Apocalypse, ed. Wm. James (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press, 1992), p. 259)

Dispensationalist futurist Thomas Ice notes that “Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their best-selling novel Left Behind, place this invasion of Israel right before the rapture of the church.” Ice adds: “The strength of this position is that it accounts for the burning of the weapons of war for seven years as mentioned in Ezekiel 39:9. However, Tim LaHaye has told me personally that even though they represented a pre-rapture position on Ezekiel 38 and 39 in their novel, he tends to place it after the rapture but before the tribulation.” Ice then accounts for several other variations within the futurist (mostly dispensationalist) camp regarding the placement of Ezekiel’s vision:

The next view, which is the one I hold at this time, is that it will happen after the rapture but before the tribulation. It will be during the interval of days, weeks, months or years between the rapture and the start of the seven-year tribulation. This view also accounts for the seven years of Ezekiel 39:9. I have always thought that one of the strengths of this view is the way in which it could set the stage for the Biblical scenario of the tribulation. If the tribulation is closely preceded by a failed regional invasion of Israel, in other words Russia and her Muslim allies, then this would remove much of the Russian and Muslim influence currently in the world today and allow a Euro-centric orientation to arise. So the tribulation is preceded by a failed regional attack on Israel and this is why the tribulation ends with all the peoples of the world attacking Israel at Armageddon. It could also set the stage for the rebuilding of the Temple as a result of Islamic humiliation.

Perhaps the most widely held view put forth within dispensational literature is that this invasion will take place around the middle of the seven-year tribulation. This view often identifies Ezekiel 38 and 39 with an invasion of the king of the north in Daniel 11:40. Another major argument is based upon the statement that Israel will be “living securely, all of them” (Ezek. 38:8), which is the result of the false peace brought by the anti-Christ in the first half of the tribulation. This view has a lot in its favor.

A significant number of Bible teachers believe that the Gog and Magog event is synonymous with what the Book of Revelation calls the Campaign of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16). Since Armageddon is a huge invasion of Israel around the time of the second coming and the invasion of Israel described in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is said to be in “the latter years” (Ezek. 38:8) and “in the last days” (Ezek. 38:16), then they must be the same event. A similar, but slightly different view is that the invasion occurs after the second coming of Christ, during the interlude between the tribulation and the start of the millennium. The main argument for this view is that Israel would be dwelling in peace (Ezek. 38:8).

The last major view is that the battle of Ezekiel 38 and 39 will occur at the end of the millennium. The basis for this view is significant since Revelation 20:7–9 speaks of a conflict at the end of the millennium when Satan is released. Verse 8 says, “(Satan) will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corner of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war . . .” The strength of this view is obvious, Gog and Magog are specifically mentioned in the text.

In Part 2 of this same study, Thomas Ice speculates on the identity of Gog and Magog:

“The name Gog means ‘high, supreme, a height, or a high mountain.’”  The only references to the Gog of Ezekiel’s prophecy appear in the passage itself and there is virtually no information about Gog outside the Bible in history. However, when Gog leads his invasion of Israel he is said to come “from the remote parts of the north” (Ezek. 38:6). Louis Bauman tells us that “L. Sale-Harrison says in his booklet, The Coming Great Northern Confederacy: ‘It is interesting to note that the very word ‘Caucasus’ means ‘Gog’s Fort.’ ‘Gog’ and ‘Chasan’ (Fort) are two Oriental words from which it is derived.’”  So there does appear to be a faint reference to Gog in the general area of Russia that Gog is likely to be from.

Who then is Gog? Bauman says, “Without doubt, Russia will furnish the man—not the Antichrist—who will head up that which is known to most Bible students as ‘the great northeastern confederacy’ of nations and lead it to its doom upon the hills of Israel’s land.” …Hal Lindsey tells us, “Gog is the symbolic name of the nation’s leader and Magog is his land. He is also the prince of the ancient people who were called Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.”  Arnold Fruchtenbaum informs us: “Who Gog will be can only be determined at the time of the invasion, for ‘Gog’ is not a proper name but a title for the rule of Magog, just as the terms ‘pharaoh,’ ‘kaiser,’ and ‘czar’ were titles for rulers and not proper names.”

…The fact that Magog is used in the table of nations (Genesis 10)  provides a basis for tracing the movement of one of the earliest post-flood descendants of Noah. It appears that Ezekiel is using the names of peoples, primarily from the table of nations, and where they lived at the time of the giving of this prophecy in the sixth century B.C. Therefore, if we are able to find out where these people and places were in the sixth century B.C. then we will be able to trace figure out who would be their modern antecedents today. I believe we will be able to accomplish this task and be able to know who will be involved in this battle if it were to come to pass in our own day.

It is probably fair to say that most scholars and experts would trace Magog’s descendants to the ancient people that we know as the Scythians. Chuck Missler notes that a wide collection of ancient historians “identified Magog with the Scythians and southern Russia in the 7th century B.C.”15 These ancients include: Hesiod, Josephus, Philo, and Herodotus. Josephus lived in the first century A.D. and said, “Magog founded the Magogians, thus named after him but who by the Greeks are called Scythians.”

Who are the Scythians? Edwin Yamauchi tells us that the Scythians were divided into two groups, a narrow and broad grouping. “In the narrow sense, the Scythians were the tribes who lived in the area which Herodotus designated as Scythia (i.e., the territory north of the Black Sea),” notes Yamauchi. “In the broad sense the word Scythian can designate some of the many other tribes in the vast steppes of Russia, stretching from the Ukraine in the west to the region of Siberia in the east.”

I haven’t read further in Ice’s narrative, not in any real detail anyway, but the reader can get the idea where he is going from here, in painstakingly attempting to trace through more than 2000 years of history who are the modern descendants of the Scythians. To continue reading, though, by all means see Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10 (which only brings the reader up to Ezekiel 38:6!), and all the other parts that I lost the energy to link to.

PROS: Aside from identifying these speculations as bad exegesis (critical interpretation), it’s difficult to prove them wrong because they are always said to be just ahead in God’s prophetic calendar [I suppose this is part pro / part con]. Thus, it might be said, who can say that these things won’t play out in the way that futurists say that they will?

CONS: [1] This interpretation, ironically, highly allegorizes the references to ancient warfare (“horses and horsemen…full armor…buckler and shield, wielding swords…shields and helmet…bow and arrows, clubs and spears” [Ezek. 38:4-5; 39:9]). This is ironic because futurists and dispensationalists tend to pride themselves on holding to a literal interpretation of Scripture far more often than those who hold alternative viewpoints.

[2] This interpretation virtually ignores the fact that Ezekiel’s prophecies were, in the primary sense, contemporary to his day and concerned the period in which the Israelites were to return from exile in Babylon under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

[3] This interpretation makes the modern, political nation of Israel the recipients of God’s special blessing, promises, and protection in this present age. However, the promises were made to Abraham and his singular offspring, Christ (Galatians 3:16), and Abraham’s true offspring (the heirs according to promise) are only those who belong to Christ (Gal. 3:29).

[4] This prophecy must take place when the nation of Israel, according to this view, is dwelling securely (Ezek. 38:8) in “the land of unwalled villages” (verse 11). This is not even close to the situation in Israel today. Many dispensationalists, though (e.g. Lahaye), say this must be the situation prior to a future 7-year Tribulation period, because the weapons of Israel’s attackers will be burned for seven years (Ezek. 39:9), AFTER seven months of burying their attackers (Ezek. 39:12). Yet, dispensationalists say that peace will be secured for national Israel when “the Antichrist” makes a covenant with that nation at the very beginning of the Tribulation (an idea which I believe to be a severe misapplication of Daniel 9:27), only to break it 3.5 years later.

In this scenario, the 7-month burial period would mean that Israel will be dwelling in security more than half a year prior to the alleged future covenant established by “the Antichrist.” Why would such security exist for months before “the Antichrist” comes along to establish it?

[5] There is much more which could be addressed concerning the various futurist viewpoints noted by Thomas Ice above, but I’d rather not take up  more space in doing so. Perhaps I will do so later in the comments section. For the record, though, I personally happen to believe that the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:14) was fulfilled during the Roman-Jewish War leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, a subject which has been addressed at length elsewhere on this blog.

[D] Kurt Simmons: Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 19, and Revelation 20 Were All Fulfilled in 70 AD

Kurt M. Simmons is a full-preterist who believes that “Gog and Magog [as mentioned in Revelation 20:8] was a symbol employed for the persecution under Nero and the Jews.” In other words, for Simmons, the battle described in this passage brought an end to the Millennium just before 70 AD, thus making the Millennium last for only 40 years (beginning around 30 AD and ending around 70 AD). This idea was discussed more fully in Part 2 of our Minority Views on the Millennium. Simmons’ viewpoint is the only one discussed so far which sees Revelation 20:7-10 as not merely alluding to Ezekiel 38-39, but being one and the same event described in both texts.

By way of background information on Ezekiel 38-39, Simmons says,

The three major themes of the OT prophets were 1) the coming judgment upon Israel and Judah in which they would be carried into captivity; 2) the restoration of the nation to the land; and 3) the kingdom of the Messiah. Although separated by several hundred years, prophecies about the return of the captivity and the nation’s political restoration were often woven together with prophecies about the kingdom of the Messiah and the spiritual restoration of man in Christ. In fact, the gathering together and return of the captivity under Zerubbabel became a type of the Messiah, who would gather together [true] Israel and lead them unto spiritual Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem.

Simmons then cites Hosea 1:11, 3:4-5 and Amos 9:8-14 as two examples of prophecy having a more immediate sense as well as ultimately a fuller sense. Moving on to the book of Ezekiel, Simmons remarks:

The imagery of Gog and Magog in Revelation is adapted from Ezekiel. Like other prophets, Ezekiel wrote about the coming captivity, the restoration to the land, and the coming kingdom of the Messiah. The first half of Ezekiel addresses the coming captivity and is laden with prophecies of wrath and lamentation; the latter half is devoted to the themes of national restoration and the coming of Christ. Ezekiel’s most graphic portrayal of the return of the captivity is set out in his prophecy of the “valley of dry bones” (Ezek. 37:1-17): The nation was in captivity; the ten northern tribes carried away by the Assyrians; Judah carried away to Babylon. The temple was burned, the city lay in ruins. Ezekiel likened the nation unto a defeated army, whose bleached bones lay scattered across a vast plain. The question for the Jews of the captivity was did the nation have a future? The answer was, Yes!

…The prophecy of the dry bones [Ezekiel 37:11-12] would be fulfilled in the restoration of Israel to its land. Cyrus would allow the city to be rebuilt and the captives to return home. This happened in the great migrations under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. But Ezekiel’s prophecy didn’t stop with the return of the captivity; like other OT prophets it looked beyond the return of the captivity unto the spiritual restoration of man in Christ.

Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side…and David my servant shall be king over them. Ezek. 37:21, 24; emphasis added.

Like Hosea’s prophecy of “David their king,” David here is a symbol for Christ and speaks to the restoration of the Davidic throne that had been usurped by Nebuchadnezzar and the Gentile powers. However, Christ would not sit upon the throne of David on earth or the terrestrial Jerusalem, but in the heavenly Jerusalem above. Peter made this abundantly clear in the very first gospel sermon after Christ’s resurrection [Acts 2:29-34]… Premillennial hopes of Christ seated upon David throne upon earth are empty and vain; they embody the very hope that led the Jews to crucify Christ; for they looked for a national liberator, not a Savior who would deliver from the bondage of sin and death. When, therefore, Ezekiel and the prophets speak of David ruling over his people, we understand that they spoke of Christ and the church. The church is the restored Israel and kingdom of Messianic prophecy.

Ezekiel’s prophecies of the valley of dry bones and “David my servant” occur in Ezekiel thirty-seven; the prophecy of Gog and Magog occurs in chapters thirty-eight and thirty-nine. Thus, restored Israel (the church) under “David” is the historical and chronological context of the prophecy about Gog and Magog.

The Eschatological Battle of Gog & Magog

Ezekiel describes the great battle of the end time in terms of a pagan hoard that invades the land of Israel; a host so numerous that they ascend like a storm and a cloud to cover the land [Ezekiel 38:1-8]. Several points need to be made at this juncture. First, Gog has set himself as the enemy of God and his people and there is an historical account that the Lord wants to settle. When he says that “after many days thou shalt be visited,” the prophet indicates that God has abstained from vengeance for many years, but that Gog’s day would come. Gog’s war against restored Israel was divinely permitted or ordained, and would provide occasion for judgment and vengeance against the people symbolized by Gog. Second, the invasion of Gog would occur in the latter times. This phrase speaks to the closing years of the world economy marked by the reign of sin and death. This places Gog’s attack upon restored Israel in the period immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, for the end of the mosaic age coincided with the end of the world order that obtained from the time of mankind’s fall. Third, the description of Gog’s territory mirrors that of the Roman empire. Ethiopia and Libya were Rome’s south-western boundary, Persia beyond the Euphrates unto the Caspian sea was its eastern-most boundary, and the “north quarters” coasting long the Black sea and the Danube unto theBritish isles were its northern-most holdings. Evidence that Ezekiel’s description of Gog’s territory answers to that of Rome is provided by Agrippa II’s famous speech attempting to dissuade the Jews from war with Rome, recorded by Josephus:

For all Euphrates is not a sufficient boundary for them on the east side, nor the Danube on the north, and for their southern limit, Libya has been searched over by them, as far as countries uninhabited, as is Cadiz their limit on the west.” Josephus, Wars, II, xvi, 4, Whiston ed.

Having established the time of Gog’s attack and the extent of his territory, it remains only to show whom he attacked. Ezekiel describes the objects of Gog’s invasion as those “brought forth out of the nations;” viz., restored Israel under “David,” which is to say, the church. But if Gog’s territory answers to the Roman empire, and the time of his attack upon the church preceded the destruction of Jerusalem, then what historical event must the prophet have in mind? That’s right, the great spiritual battle that overtook the church in the first century. The battle of Gog and Magog is a symbol of the eschatological persecution of the saints by Nero and the Jews. This conclusion is corroborated by John’s Revelation.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll skip much of what Simmons says regarding Revelation 11-12, the on and off persecution of the Church between Christ’s ascension and Nero’s reign, his speculation regarding Claudius Caesar being the angel of Revelation 20:1, etc. It can be seen by following the link to this article, but quite honestly I find some of the details in this section to be noteworthy, and others to be rather odd. Simmons then moves in on his conclusion by saying this:

“Satan” is a generic term signifying an adversary. The character which here in verse seven is called “satan” in verse two is called the “dragon.” In other words, the adversary in this case was world civil power embodied in Rome, Nero, and the Jews. In Rome, the beast was identified with Nero, who was its driving power (Rev. 13:1-10); in Asia and other parts of the empire, the Jews, at the behest of their leaders in Jerusalem, were the driving force. John portrays this by a harlot, riding the beast in a surfeit of blood and gore. (Rev. 17:3-6) In Palestine, the persecution was driven by the “false prophet,” the religious leaders of the Jews who bade them to make an inquisition against the church like unto the beast’s. (Rev. 13:11-18) The dragon and beast make war against the church by surrounding the “camp of the saints” (the church). But fire comes down from God out of heaven and consumes Gog and his host, and the dragon, beast, and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire. (Rev. 19:20, 21; 20:9, 10) The harlot is also consumed. (Rev. 18) An angel calls to the birds of heaven to come and devour the carcasses of the slain. (Rev. 19:17, 18; cf. Ezek. 39:17) Following the world-wide devastations of the last days, God renews the earth, in which the church reigns supreme with Christ. (Rev. 21, 22)

Conclusion

The battle of Gog and Magog was a symbol for the eschatological battle of the last days; the persecution under Nero and the Jews.

PROS: [1] I appreciated Simmons’ development of the chapters surrounding Ezekiel 38-39, as he rightfully (I believe) pointed out that Ezekiel 37 was a prophecy (at least in the primary sense) of Israel’s return to its land and subsequent restoration under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. I was also intrigued by his discussion of the double fulfillment of certain prophetic passages, i.e. having both an immediate sense and an ultimate sense.

[2] Simmons points out that Ezek. 38:8 speaks of this attack taking place in “the latter years,” which he defines as the end of the Mosaic age marked by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Being that Ezekiel and Daniel were near contemporaries, it’s interesting that Daniel was told that his visions would see fulfillment at “the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4, 9; cf. Dan. 8:17, 26). The phrase(s) used in Daniel are a bit stronger, but it’s possible that “the latter years” could be a synonym for the “the time of the end.” Some of what Daniel prophesies is thought to have taken place, though, during the 2nd century BC and earlier (e.g. the events of Daniel 8:20-22, Dan. 11:1-19), and not as late as the period leading up to 70 AD.

CONS: [1] Simmons pointed out that Ezekiel 37 (the prophecy of the dry bones) is the immediate context of the battle of Ezekiel 38. Since, in the ultimate sense, the end of Ezekiel 37 foreshadowed “restored Israel (the church) under ‘David,’” he then concludes that Ezekiel 38 must speak of an attack on the Church. Why, though, can’t the immediate sense of Ezekiel 37 (the return of the Israelites to the land of Israel in the 5th century BC) also be the context by which we see the battle of Ezekiel 38? If this is allowed, then Ezekiel 38-39 could very well speak of events in Esther’s day as Gary DeMar and David Lowman have proposed (or, one might say, events in the second century BC as Gentry seems to propose).

[2] The armies in Ezekiel 38 are described in great detail as being arrayed in ancient armor and bearing ancient weapons. It seems to be a very large stretch to equate this type of battle imagery with persecution of the saints. Elsewhere in Scripture, and even in a book like Revelation filled with apocalyptic language, the idea of persecution appears to be presented in a much more straightforward manner. This imagery of armor and weapons is also completely absent from Revelation 20:7-10, although, granted, it could be said that space doesn’t allow for it there.

[3] One goal of the invaders in Ezekiel 38 is to sieze silver, gold, livestock, and goods (Ezek. 38:13). This doesn’t seem to be a goal at all in the attack recorded in Revelation 20.

[4] If Ezekiel 38-39 speaks of the events of 70 AD, in what sense did the church burn the wooden weapons of their persecutors at that time for seven years (Ezek. 39:9-10)?

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Having now presented and analyzed each of these four positions, I will now list in descending order how I see these positions in terms of Biblical accuracy and plausibility. At the top of my list is the position I agree with the most, and at the bottom is the position I agree with the least:

#1: David Lowman and Gary DeMar’s position that Ezekiel 38-39 was fulfilled in Esther’s day, Revelation 19 in 70 AD, and Revelation 20:7-10 remains unfulfilled.

#2: Kenneth Gentry’s position that Ezekiel 38-39 was likely fulfilled in the second century BC through the Scythian peoples, Revelation 19 in 70 AD, and Revelation 20:7-10 remains unfulfilled.

#3: Kurt Simmon’s position that Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 19, and Revelation 20 were all fulfilled in 70 AD.

#4: The futurist position (or one of them anyway) which sees Ezekiel 38-39 as yet to be fulfilled with a Russian/Iranian led invasion upon modern Israel, Revelation 19 awaiting fulfillment at Christ’s future Second Coming, and Revelation 20 as awaiting fulfillment at the end of a future 1000-year Millennium period.

What would your list look like, and why? Do you have an alternative view on these matters which hasn’t been given attention here?

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In the next post, we will examine a discussion of the two ages spoken of frequently in the New Testament. This post will serve as a transition into our study of Revelation 21.

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

All of our studies on Revelation 20 and the Millennium can be found here.


[1] Another viewpoint which could have been considered is the viewpoint of amillennialist and Historicist Kim Riddlebarger. I have greatly appreciated and learned from quite a few of his writings, but chose not to include his viewpoint in the main body of this article as I am quite limited in my understanding of Historicism. I also noted that he declared Ezekiel’s vision of Gog and Magog to be a prophecy of “the Assyrian invasion of Israel from the north.” I’m puzzled by this idea, as the Syrian invasion took place in 722 BC and Ezekiel ministered in the time period before and after Babylon’s invasion of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 BC. Riddlebarger sees Ezekiel’s vision as “typological of the end-times war upon the entire people of God as witnessed by John in his vision.”

Another amillennialist article also postulates that Ezekiel predicted the Syrian invasion. Though I’m not in agreement with a number of things in this article, the author (Nollie) does provide an interesting comparison chart for the three passages where Gog and Magog is either mentioned directly or clearly alluded to:

Revelation 19:11-21 Ezekiel 38-39 Revelation 20:7-10
Gog & Magog (38:2; 39:1, 6) Gog & Magog (8)
“to gather them for the battle” (ton polemon) in v. 19 (cf. 16:14, 15a) “to gather them for the battle” (ton polemon) in v. 8
birds feast on defeated humans (“kings” “captains” “mighty men” “horses and their riders”) (17-18) animals and birds feast on defeated humans (“mighty men” “princes” “horses” “charioteers” “warriors”) (39:4, 17-20)
fiery judgment on nations, beast, and false prophet (20) fiery judgment on Gog & Magog (38:22; 39:6) fiery judgment on Gog and Magog and Satan (9-10)
total cosmic destruction by earthquake, hail, rain, and fire (38:19-22) total cosmic destruction (11)
total destruction of wicked (19-21) total destruction of the wicked (9-10)

[2] Duncan McKenzie provides an even more comprehensive analysis of the parallels between Ezekiel and Revelation, here and here.

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Revelation 20: Minority Views on the Millennium (Part 2)


Revelation 20: Minority Views on the Millennium (Part 2)

Adam Maarschalk: March 20, 2010

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

This is now the second post on minority views on what is known as the Millennium. The primary purpose of this post and the previous one is to acknowledge that there are some whose beliefs regarding the Millennium do not fit into the three well-known camps: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. In the previous post we highlighted two such views: [A] the position of J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895) and Duncan McKenzie (and others) that the Millennium began in 70 AD and continues until now [B] Kenneth Gentry’s newest viewpoint on Revelation 20:4-6; what he calls “The Martyr’s Millennium.”

In this post we will examine the position of full-preterism, which does not see Revelation 20 as either a present (ongoing) or future reality, but as having been completely fulfilled in the past. If the reader has not already noted the position of J. Stuart Russell and Duncan McKenzie (see previous post: Part 1), it would be good to do so by way of comparison with what is to follow:

C. Full Preterism: One Thousand Years Represents Only 40 Years

I’ll admit—I approached this post with very little prior knowledge of the full-preterist position on the Millennium and the content of Revelation 20. Still, I will do my best to articulate some of the distinctives of this position. A few sources have been referenced below, but if anyone knows of some other good online resources which give a clear and concise synopsis of this position, please let me know. For now, though, here goes:

[1] According to full-preterism, the period of time designated as “the thousand years” of Revelation 20 (verses 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) is representative of the period between Christ’s resurrection around 30 AD until Jerusalem’s judgment and destruction in 70 AD. In this way, the thousand years is not a literal 1000 years in the future (premillennialism), nor is it the nearly 2000 years and counting of this present Church age (amillennialism/post-millennialism), but it covers the scope of one generation (about 40 years in length). It parallels the one generation that God gave to the Jewish people to repent before judgment came upon their nation.

For the Church in its infancy, it was a generation in which growth and expansion took place (e.g. Romans 10:18; Colossians 1:6, 23; cf. Matt. 24:14) before the Old Covenant system was judged and the New Covenant age continued on unencumbered by the hindrance known as Judaism (cf. I Thess. 2:14-16). This time period parallels the 40 years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness before coming into the Promised Land (I’m not sure what the significance of such a parallel would be, but I remember seeing this parallel made somewhere by a proponent of full preterism).

Kenneth Gentry’s points in the section above would appear to make him a proponent of full preterism as regards Rev. 20:4-6, except that he doesn’t seem to view the reigning of the first-century believers (in the intermediate state) as beginning and ending between 30 AD and 70 AD. For Gentry, those who take their place on thrones do so in the first century, but there is nothing to say that they also left those thrones in the first century.

[2] The release of Satan at the end of “the thousand years,” in which he surrounds the camp of the saints (Rev. 20:7-10; cf. verse 3), mirrors the intense persecution which came against the saints as recorded elsewhere in Revelation (Rev. 13:5-7; cf. Rev. 11:2-12, esp. verses 2 and 7; Rev. 12:13-17; Rev. 1:9; Rev. 6:9-11). We have seen that a good case can be made that Nero was the beast (in the singular sense) who persecuted the saints for 42 months (Nov. 64 AD—June 68 AD; Rev. 13:5-7). So, for me personally, this is the greatest possible evidence within the full preterist position that “the thousand years” came to an end in 70 AD.

Still, I remain unconvinced. Persecution is a normal expectation for believers (e.g. II Timothy 3:12), so it’s entirely possible that just as an intense period of persecution marked Church history between 60 AD—70 AD the same would be true (as it has been during many periods since then) in our future. It’s also true at present for many believers in various places around the world.

Full-preterism says that the Second Coming took place in 70 AD, pictured here in Rev. 20:9 as “fire coming down from heaven” (a parallel to II Thess. 1:6-10, esp. verse 8). While the Jewish enemies of the Church were consumed in 70 AD, the same is not true of the vast majority of the Church’s non-Jewish persecutors, namely Rome. Here’s why I say this. I do agree that “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” (Rev. 20:9) which is targeted by Satan’s armies is a reference to the Church, for reasons already given:

Every indication in Revelation thus far is that “the beloved city” in verse 9 must be the New Jerusalem (i.e. the Church—Heb. 12:22-24; Gal. 4:24-27), and not earthly Jerusalem. After all, Jerusalem in John’s day was designated by the names “Sodom” and “Egypt” (Rev. 11:8), and a strong case has been made that it also bore names like “the great prostitute” (Rev. 17:1) and “Babylon the great” (Rev. 14:8, 16:19, and 18:2). Nothing in Revelation since chapter 11 has occurred to suggest that natural Jerusalem is now (in chapter 20) deserving of the title “beloved city”; in fact, the opposite is true.

During the 40 years leading up to 70 AD, the Jews were the major persecutors of the Church, but Rome under Nero was especially vicious toward the saints from 64-68 AD, as we have written elsewhere. The Church’s Jewish persecutors were judged in 70 AD, but not its Roman persecutors, as one could reasonably expect if Rev. 20:9 was fulfilled at that time. (I’m just thinking “out loud” here; feedback is welcome. Also, the full-preterist position on Gog and Magog will be given an audience in the following post.)[1]

[3] Full-preterism sees the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15) as having taken place by 70 AD. In the first section we already noted that “progressive” partial-preterist Duncan McKenzie believes that this passage began to be fulfilled in 70 AD (and that this fulfillment is ongoing for every individual upon death). He also sees the judgment of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46) as somewhat parallel to Rev. 20:11-15, and thus a 70 AD event, as did J. Stuart Russell in his 1868 classic “The Parousia.” Before examining this possibility further, I’d like to note what Wikipedia (rightly or wrongly) says is the full-preterist view of the Second Coming and the Resurrection of the Dead:

Full Preterism holds that Jesus’ Second Coming is to be viewed not as a future bodily return, but rather a “return” in glory manifested by the physical destruction of Jerusalem and her Temple in A.D. 70 by foreign armies in a manner similar to various Old Testament descriptions of God coming to destroy other nations in righteous judgment. Full Preterism also holds that the Resurrection of the Dead did not entail the raising of the physical body, but rather the resurrection of the soul from the “place of the dead”, known as Sheol (Hebrew) or Hades (Greek) and that both the living and the dead were raised, changed, caught away and glorified together into one/corporate matured New Covenant Body of Christ. Some versions of Full Preterism teach that the righteous dead obtained an individual spiritual and substantial body for use in the heavenly realm, and the unrighteous dead were cast into the Lake of Fire. Some Full Preterists believe that this judgment is ongoing and that it takes effect upon the death of each individual (Heb. 9:27).

Other Full Preterists believe that because the Book of Revelation was signified (or “symbolized”, according to its first verse, Revelation 1:1), the Lake of Fire was only A.D. 70’s Gehenna (Jerusalem’s garbage dump, not Hell) as it burned. Moreover, this burning was just aionios (pertaining to an age), not eternal. The hermeneutic of audience relevance confines this judgment and punishment to the 1st century AD.

If this position held that only the faithful dead were raised and brought out of Hades at this point, this would be one thing. But the living too?  Were they physically caught away? If so, the planet would have been left with only unbelievers in 70 AD. Or am I missing something, such as an interpretation of the rapture which deems it as only a spiritual occurrence? Has Wikipedia misrepresented the full-preterist position on this matter? Feedback is welcome. This next quote is interesting, though, also from the same Wikipedia source:

Critics of Full Preterism point to the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of the doctrine of Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), which they regard as analogous to Full Preterism. Adherents of Full Preterism, however, dispute this assertion by pointing out that Paul’s condemnation was written during a time in which the Resurrection was still in the future (i.e., pre-A.D. 70). Their critics assert that if the Resurrection has not yet happened, then the condemnation would still apply.

Regarding the position of full-preterists that the Millennium was 40 years in length (roughly 30 AD—70 AD), I did find this rather clear explanation which is to follow. It was left as a comment by “Reformer” (on 7/6/2006 at 11:29) here:

I suggest that the millennium was 40 years in length and transpired (past tense) thusly.

It commenced with Jesus’ baptism and anointing in the Jordan River in A.D. 26; was heralded by his resurrection and the “first resurrection” of many, but not all, Old Testament saints in A.D. 30; progressed as his 1st-century followers “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6 KJV); and ended in A.D. 66. Satan’s loosening to “deceive the nations” (Jews, Romans, and others) into the Roman-Jewish War began in A.D. 62 or 64 and ended six to eight years later at Daniel’s “time of the end” in the fall of Jerusalem in the Fall of A.D. 70 (Dan. 12:4). When the “last days” were finally over and the “power of the holy people has been [was] finally broken” (Dan. 12:7), the rest of the dead were raised on the “last day” (singular) of those “last days” (plural) and Satan was cast into the lake of fire, sometime between A.D. 70 and 73.

The viability of this 40-year time span being the millennial reign of Christ can also be drawn from and enhanced by Jesus’ end-time parable of the talents. He spoke of “a man [Jesus] going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them [his 1st-century disciples] . . . . After a long time [but within their lifetime – i.e. 40 years] the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them [judgment]” (Matt. 25:14, 19).

Full preterist [Max] King, summarizes his perspective on this short length of time for Christ’s millennial reign this way:
“The impressive thing about Christ’s consummating reign is that He did not have to reign over a long period of time in order to achieve all that a thousand-year reign symbolized . . . . The point of Christ’s reign is missed when the thousand years symbol is made to mean a long, indefinite period of time.” (The Cross and the Parousia of Christ, p-214-215).

Lastly, I propose that the fulfillment of a 40-year, millennial reign from A.D. 26 to 66, a 6 to 8-year loosing of Satan from A.D. 62 or 64 to 70, and “the end of all things” (1 Pet. 4:7) and the judgment (1 Pet. 4:17) in A.D. 70 – 73, which were all termed as “at hand” in that same 1st-century time context (Rev. 1:3; 22:11; 1 Pet. 4:7), is the most Christ-honoring, scripture-authenticating, and faith-validating of all the millennial and eschatological views I have seen so far. This is the strength to be kept. It coincides exactly with the present-age and right-hand reign that Paul described in Ephesians 1:20-22: “. . . which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age” [i.e., his millennial reign] but also in the one to come [i.e., post A.D. 66-70].

Those who would object to a past-fulfillment interpretation for Revelation’s millennial period, or for any aspect of its prophecy, must overlook or otherwise non-literally interpret Revelation’s self-imposed, prologue, and epilogue time statements. Again, the fulfillment context for the whole of this prophecy was time restricted by the book itself. That is the discipline that must be honored and the strength that must be kept.

And, yet, Revelation’s prophecy contains an exegetical basis for an ongoing, idealistic relevance as well.

At this point, I’d like to expand on some of the distinctives of the full-preterist position on the Millennium as noted above. Helpful in this regard will be the website of David Green (Preterist Cosmos). David Green is one of four authors of what is reported to be a ground-breaking book, “House Divided: Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology (A Preterist Response to When Shall These Things Be?).” Green has so far fielded and answered a total of 112 questions regarding full preterism, and I will draw on several of these answers to help paint a picture of the full-preterist position on the Millennium.

Green provides his own explanation for why “the thousand years” of Revelation 20 can be seen as only a period of about 40 years. This question is asked here (“How do you interpret the ‘thousand years’ of Rev. 20? Assuming you believe the Millennium was fulfilled in A.D. 70 (as most other preterists today seem to believe), how do you exegetically justify spiritualizing away a “thousand years” to mean merely a literal 40 years?”):

ANSWER: I interpret the “thousand years” of Rev. 20 to symbolize the eschatological “fulness of the times,” when all things were fulfilled and filled up in Christ. (Gal. 4:4; Eph. 1:10, 23; 4:10)

Ps. 50:10 is often cited, usually by postmillennialists, to teach that “a thousand” symbolizes literally “many thousands or millions“: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” (Ps. 50:10)

The postmillennialists reason that God owns the cattle on every hill, therefore “a thousand hills” symbolizes or represents “many thousands or millions of hills.” Thus, they reason, we are led by Scripture to interpret the “thousand years” in Rev. 20 to mean “many thousands or millions of years.”

That reasoning sounds solid at first glance. However, the context of Ps. 50:10 does not lead us to a principle that a symbolic “thousand” always signifies “many thousands.” Rather, it leads us to the principle that a symbolic “thousand” signifies “all” (of something), or more specifically, the “fulness” (of something). Ps. 50:10 is in fact reiterated and its “thousand” is interpreted for us two verses later: “…The world is Mine, and the fulness thereof.” (Ps. 50:12b)

In Ps. 90:4 a “thousand years” is as “yesterday” and as “a watch in the night.” In II Peter 3:8 a “thousand years” is as one “day.” In those verses, a “thousand” (and “yesterday” and “a watch” and a “day“) is used to denote how that God fills up time itself, whether the time of yesterday or of a day or of a night or of an aeon. (Compare Job 7:7; Ps. 39:5; 90:2; 144:4; Heb. 13:8; Jms. 4:14.)

In Ps. 105:8, a “thousand” corresponds with “forever,” i.e., eternity: “He has remembered His covenant forever, the word that he commanded to a thousand generations.” (Ps. 105:8)

In Scriptural usage, a symbolic “thousand” can correspond to “1” (day / yesterday / a watch in the night), or to “13,169,103” (hills), or to “eternity” (“forever“). A “thousand” can be likened unto, or used to represent, a number lesser or greater than a literal thousand. Only its context can determine its literal numerical meaning. The basic idea that is communicated by the symbol is “fulness.”

As I understand it within a preterist framework, the biblical and eschatological context of Revelation 20 should lead us to interpret the “thousand years” to signify the fulness of the times of the Christological fulfillment and filling up of all things.

The exact, literal, historical dates for the beginning and the end of “the millennium” are sometimes a subject of debate among preterists. Generally though, the beginning of the millennium is placed somewhere between Christ’s first Appearance and the beginning of Paul’s ministry to the gentiles. And the end of the millennium is generally placed in the years A.D. 66-70 (the years of the Jewish War that ended in the fiery destruction of the persecuting, old-covenant world).

One of the tenets of full-preterism which we have already seen is that the Great White Throne Judgment took place in 70 AD. Green takes on this question here (“How would you explain the Great White Throne Judgment and the Judgment Seat of Christ from the preterist perspective? When do these judgments take place?”):

ANSWER: The terms “Great White Throne” (Rev. 20:11) and “Judgment Seat of Christ” (II Cor. 5:10) refer to God’s Judgment of all men, which took place in 70.

Here are Scriptures that show that the Apostolic church was living in the final days of crisis before the Resurrection of the dead and the Judgment:

“…’There is about to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.’ …And as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment which is about to come….” (Acts. 24:15, 25; Jn. 5:28-29)

“…He has fixed a Day in which He is about to judge the world…” (Acts 17:31)

“…Christ Jesus, Who is about to judge the living and the dead.” (II Tim. 4:1)

“…The Judge is standing right at the door.” (Jms. 5:9)

“…They shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (I Peter 4:5)

“…but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which is about to consume the enemies. (Lk. 19:27)

Revelation 11:1-18 reveals that God judged the living and the dead, the just and the unjust, at the fall of Jerusalem. After Jerusalem was trodden under foot for 3 1/2 years, (Rev. 11:2) a tenth of the City fell in an earthquake (Rev. 11:13) and seven thousand men were killed. (Rev. 11:13) Then “quickly” afterward, (Rev. 11:14) “the kingdom of this world” became the eternal Kingdom of the Father and the Son. (Rev. 11:15)

The kingdom of this world” was the kingdom of the Pharisees and chief priests. (Amos 9:8; Matt. 8:12; Heb. 9:1) The Church became the eternal Kingdom of the Father and the Son (Compare Jn. 14:23; Rev. 22:3) when the unredeemed sons of the kingdom were cast out in 70 AD (Matt. 8:12):

Therefore I say to you [chief priests, Pharisees and elders], the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.” (Matt. 21:43)

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.” (Lk. 12:32)

But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.” (Dan. 7:18)

“…until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom. (Dan. 7:22)

Revelation 11:18 reveals what happened when the Kingdom was taken from the Pharisees and given to the Church:

And the nations were wrathful, and Your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and to give the reward to Your bond-servants the prophets and to the saints and to those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

The Pharisees, chief priests and the elders saw their Judge seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of Heaven, in God’s calling out and empowering of His Church throughout the Last Days. (Matt. 26:64; I Cor. 14:21-22) By 70 AD, all the tribes of the Land understood as well, (Matt. 24:30; Rev. 1:7) when they fell by the sword and were led captive into all the nations, (Lk. 21:24) and when the Temple and the Holy City were reduced to rubble. (Lk. 19:44; 21:5,6)

In that Great Day, the dead were raised, both the just and the unjust, and were judged according to their works. (Dan. 12:1-2) The sons of the flesh were cast out, but the Church was perfected, confirmed, and established, and was given eternal dominion over the earth as God’s Kingdom of priests. (Dan. 12:3; I Peter 5:10-11; Rev. 5:10; 22:5)

Then the sovereignty, the dominion, and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His Kingdom will be an everlasting Kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.” (Dan. 7:27)

Green also proposes that Hades serves as both a representation of judgment on earth and as eternal torment after death. He believes that one pitfall of some full-preterists has been to take the annihilationist position that where Scripture speaks of Hades, Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire that it is only speaking of earthly judgment. That discussion can be seen here.

Related to this question, Green also took on the question of how this judgment (as also recorded in Matthew 25) was fulfilled. This question is asked here (“Assuming that the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats was fulfilled in A.D. 70, my question is how was it fulfilled? Was it fulfilled symbolically on Earth, or was it fulfilled in Heaven?”):

ANSWER: The prophecy of Matt. 25:31-46 was fulfilled in Heaven. It was a prophecy (not a “parable”) of the Judgment of the dead of Christ’s generation.

Sequence of events:

1. First the Coming of the Son of Man in A.D. 70 (Matt. 25:31)
2. Then the gathering of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:32)
3. Then the separation of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:32)
4. Then the casting out of the wicked into the eternal fire (Matt. 25:41,46)

The same order of events is given in the parable of the Wedding Banquet:

…But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire. THEN he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” (Matt. 22:7-13)

1. First the destruction of the City in A.D. 70 (the Coming of the Son of Man) (Matt. 22:7)
2. THEN the gathering together of the righteous and the wicked (the sheep and the goats) (Matt. 22:8-10)
3. Then the separation of the righteous and the wicked (the sheep and the goats) (Matt. 22:11-13)
4. Then the casting out of the wicked (the goats) into outer darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 22:13)

The prophecy of the Sheep and the Goats is a reiteration of the prophetic teaching of the parable of the Wedding Banquet. In both passages, the gathering and judgment of the righteous and the wicked (the sheep and the goats) take place after the destruction of Jerusalem. Both passages were fulfilled after God’s eschatological judgment on Earth was finished in A.D. 70, (Lk. 12:59) which means that both passages were fulfilled in Heaven, which means that the post-Parousia Judgment was the Judgment of the dead. As Rev. 11:18 says: “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged…'”

In the parable of the Wedding Banquet, the gathering of the good and the evil (the sheep and the goats) after the destruction of the city represented the gathering of the dead of Christ’s generation to His heavenly Tribunal after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The man in the parable who was cast out of the banquet (Matt. 22:13) represented the murderers (“the goats” / the Pharisees, etc.) who were destroyed when Jerusalem was burned, (Matt. 22:7) and who were then raised to “a resurrection of condemnation.” (Jn. 5:29)

Rev. 20:11-15 is another parallel Scripture to the prophecy of “the Sheep and Goats,” and it confirms again not only the post-Parousia time of the Judgment of the sheep and the goats, but also, more strikingly, the heavenly location of that Judgment:

And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.  And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:11-15)

In Rev. 20:11-15; Matt. 22:7-13; 25:31-46, we see the following:

1. The passing away of Heaven and Earth (the end of the old-covenant world / the Coming of the Son of Man / the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70)
2. THEN the gathering together of all men (the righteous and the wicked / the sheep and the goats) for Judgment
3. Then the judgment of all men (the righteous and the wicked / the sheep and the goats) according to their deeds
4. Then the casting of the wicked (the goats) into the fire; outer darkness, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Rev. 20:11-15 reveals not only that the Judgment took place after the consummation of God’s eschatological purging of His Kingdom on Earth, but also that those who were judged were “the dead” –those who had been gathered from out of “the sea” and from out of “death and Hades.”

Lastly, Matt. 8:11-12; 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:42; Lk. 10:12, 14; 11:31; 13:25-28 also lead us to interpret the prophecy of the Sheep and the Goats as having been fulfilled in Heaven, as those verses tell us that at the Judgment, “the goats” saw the peoples of past generations:

There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you [the Jews to whom Jesus was preaching as He made His way to Jerusalem] shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out.” (Lk. 13:28)

Summary interpretation of the prophecy:

Though the post-Parousia Judgment was a judgment of all generations from Adam to Christ, the prophecy of the Sheep and the Goats is concerned only with the judgment of the dead of Christ’s generation. God’s “scapegoat” was that reprobate generation that despised and rejected the Body of the coming King. (Matt. 23:45)

The “goats” were those of that generation who had no compassion for the King’s suffering brothers (as the Rich Man had no compassion for Lazarus). The “goats” were chiefly the Jews of Judea, in union with their brothers who were scattered among “all the nations” of the Roman world. (Matt. 25:32; Jn. 11:48-52)

They had excluded believers from the synagogues and from the commonwealth of Israel. They had not only persecuted them, but they stood idly by, justifying themselves, while their brothers suffered deprivation and imprisonment through the hatred that the whole world had held against Christians. (Matt. 7:22; Jms. 2:14-17; I Jn. 3:17; Rev. 11:10)

The “sheep” were those who had loved and cared for the King’s suffering brothers (as the Good Samaritan had compassion and cared for the man on the road from Jerusalem). They were believers; those whom the Father predestined to eternal life from the foundation of the world; those who love their brothers. (Matt. 10:40-42; I Jn. 4:16-17)

By about September of A.D. 70 (the fall of Jerusalem), immense multitudes of Christians had been murdered, and even greater legions of Jews and Pagans had been slaughtered in wars. When Christ’s eschatological judgment on the earth was finally finished in A.D. 70, He gathered the vast myriads of the dead of that generation to His Judgment-Seat.

He gave His brothers (who had been “last” in the world) the Kingdom in which we dwell today through faith; the Inheritance of eternal life that fills Heaven and Earth. But He sent the “goats” (who had been “first” in the world) into the punishment of the eternal fire. (Matt. 22:13; 25:41; Rev. 20:10)

Since that Day, the Judgment-Throne of our King remains, and His rule will never end:

But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.'” (Heb. 1:8)

Therefore,

Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.” (Ps. 2:11-12)

David B. Curtis, pastor of Bible Berean Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, is also a full-preterist. In a sermon preached on April 5, 1998, he also presented the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats as a 70 AD-event. His message is lengthier than the material presented above by David Green, and can be seen here. Like Green, David Curtis sees Matthew 25:31-46 as being concerned only with the judgment of the dead of Christ’s generation. In one portion of his message, he says:

We see here that the destiny of the righteous and the wicked is determined by their treatment of those Christ calls, “my brethren.” There is nothing said here about faith, the judgement is based on acts of love toward the distressed brethren of Christ. It is not surprising that this text causes much perplexity both to theologians and general readers.

William Barclay writes, “This is one of the most vivid parables Jesus ever spoke, and the lesson is crystal clear–that God will judge us in accordance with our reaction to human need.”

Is this the doctrine of Paul? Is this the ground of justification before God set forth in the New Testament? Are we to conclude that the everlasting destiny of the whole human race, from Adam to the last man, will finally turn on their love and sympathy towards the persecuted and suffering brethren of Christ? Not according to the teaching of the New Testament…

The clear teaching of the New Testament is that salvation is by grace through faith alone [e.g. Romans 3:28, 4:5, 11:6]. Yet this text in Matthew 25 seems to be saying that judgement is based upon works. The difficulty is easily and completely solved if we regard this judicial transaction as the judgment of Israel at the close of the Jewish age. It is the rejected King of Israel who is the judge: it is the hostile and unbelieving generation of Jews, the last and worst of the nation, that is arraigned before His tribunal [cf. Matthew 23:35-36]…

As those first century Jews responded to Christ’s disciples or “brothers” and aligned themselves with their distress and afflictions, they aligned themselves with the Messiah whom they preached. The acceptance or rejection of the disciples was based upon their acceptance or rejection of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. Saul persecuted Christians because he did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. In attacking them, he was attacking Christ [cf. Acts 9:5]…

Because the Jews hated Christ, they mistreated His followers. Those who believed in Christ were kind in their treatment of His disciples. Thus, judgement is based upon faith or rejection of Jesus as the Messiah…

We have here, not the final judgment of the whole human race, but that of the guilty nation or nations of Palestine, who rejected their King, despitefully treated and slew His messengers, and whose day of doom was now near at hand. This being so, the entire prophecy on the Mount of Olives is seen to be one homogeneous and connected whole. It is a clear, consecutive, and historically truthful representation of the judgment of the Theocratic nation at the close of the age, or Jewish period.

A universal judgement in our future is entirely unnecessary, those who have died since AD 70 already know where they will spend eternity. When a person dies, his spirit immediately enters heaven or hell. So, what purpose would there be of a final judgement? [cf. John 3:36, 5:54]…

Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will not see life, they are under the wrath of God. Believers have already passed from death to life and will not come into judgement. Believers will stand before Christ to give an account of what they have done in the body and to receive rewards [cf. II Cor. 5:10].

It’s clear from the last underlined portion above where this viewpoint parts ways from the typical viewpoint of partial-preterists. At some point in the future, I hope to research, create, and post a series titled “A Comparison of Partial-Preterism and Full-Preterism.” This series would take note of how both systems view:

[1] The Second Coming of Christ
[2] The Resurrection of the Dead
[3] The Final Judgment
[4] The Millennium (Revelation 20)
[5] The New Heavens and the New Earth
[6] Their Place in Church History
[7] Each Other (i.e. how partial-preterism views full-preterism and vice versa)

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Another good article on a 40-year Millennium in the 1st century can be seen here:

http://www.eschatology.org/index.php/articles-mainmenu-61/40-revelation/877-a-forty-year-millennium-is-that-possible.html

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In the next post, we will discuss a variety of views on Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20).

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

All of our studies on Revelation 20 and the Millennium can be found here.


[1] While I was poking around online looking for a good full-preterist resource that might address the idea of Rev. 20:9 showing the Second Coming taking place in 70 AD, I came across a forum where a couple of former full-preterists (now partial-preterists) were entertaining a different idea. I found their suggestion to be rather interesting, for they agreed with J. Stuart Russell and Duncan McKenzie (see Part B of this post) that the Millennium began (not ended) in 70 AD. Their suggestion was that, since Satan had “deceived the nations” under the Old Covenant system in terms of keeping those nations outside of God’s kingdom at the time (which was centered in Israel), Satan’s renewed deception at the end of the Millennium (New Covenant era) might have something to do again with the nation of Israel. That is, his tool might be what is known today as Zionism and even “Christian Zionism.” This popular school of thought (especially among Dispensationalists) proclaims that the Jews (redeemed or not) are God’s chosen and favored people, that hellfire is reserved for those who don’t support the nation of Israel, and other unscriptural errors. Whether or not Revelation 20:7-8 foresees the modern deception of Zionism I don’t know, but it is a deception for sure.

Revelation 20: Minority Views on the Millennium (Part 1)


Revelation 20: Minority Views on the Millennium (Part 1)

Adam Maarschalk: March 20, 2010

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

The primary purpose of these next two posts is to acknowledge that there are some whose beliefs regarding the Millennium do not fit into the three well-known camps: premillennialism, amillennialism, and postmillennialism. In this post I would like to highlight three minority views on this subject which I am aware of: [1] the position of J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895) and Duncan McKenzie (and others) that the Millennium began in 70 AD and continues until now [2] Kenneth Gentry’s newest viewpoint on Revelation 20:4-6; what he calls “The Martyr’s Millennium,” and [3] the position of full-preterism, which does not see Revelation 20 as either a present (ongoing) or future reality, but as having been completely fulfilled in the past. This post covers the first two views. This post and the next are summed up by the following outline:

OUTLINE

A. J. Stuart Russell & Duncan McKenzie: The Millennium Began in 70 AD
B. Kenneth Gentry: “The Martyr’s Millennium” (A Study of Revelation 20:4-6)
C. Full Preterism: One Thousand Years Represents Only 40 Years (30 AD—70 AD)

A. The Millennium Began in 70 AD

We now come to the viewpoint espoused well over a century ago by J. Stuart Russell (and perhaps before that by others) that the Millennium began in 70 AD following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. This is quite similar to amillennialism/postmillennialism which generally proposes that the reign of Christ began with His work on the cross. I haven’t read Russell’s writings on this particular matter, but I would imagine he drew his conclusions from at least the following texts: [1] Daniel 7:21-22, 27 [2] Matthew 21:33-45.

In Daniel 7, the time comes for the saints to possess the kingdom after “the horn” makes war with the saints and prevails over them for a time (cf. Rev. 13:5-7). Most preterists (partial or full) would agree that this passage was fulfilled in the first century, in Nero’s day and shortly after. In Matthew 21 (The Parable of the Tenants), Jesus tells the Jewish religious leaders of His day that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them “and given to a people producing its fruits” (verse 43; cf. verse 41). This is linked to the stone (verse 44) crushing those who had been responsible for killing God’s servants and Son (verses 35-39; cf. Acts 2:22-23, 36; 5:30; 7:52; I Thess. 2:14-15), which many take to refer to God’s wrath poured out on apostate Israel in 70 AD. So it would seem from these texts that the kingdom was inaugurated (or “secured for God’s people,” as Kenneth Gentry says) at this point, even if the kingdom was present from the time of Christ’s ministry. Thought of this way, then, the “already but not yet” phase of God’s kingdom lasted for only 40 years rather than for about 2000 years (as postulated by many premillennialists).

Interestingly, Duncan McKenzie calls his view “The Postribulational (i.e. post AD 70) Beginning of the Millennium.” This is because he believes (as I do) that the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21; Rev. 7:14) took place from early 67 AD—mid 70 AD. Before quoting from McKenzie on his views regarding the Millennium, it will be helpful if I can clarify where he stands with regard to preterism. He stands with J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895), the writer of the classic book “The Parousia,” [1] whose position is as follows:

Where Russell’s position is different from full preterism is that it does not hold that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70… The position of James Stuart Russell offers a third preterist option that is different from full preterism and traditional partial preterism. Russell’s position is essentially like the full preterist position (i.e. the one and only Second Coming, the judgment and the resurrection happened at AD 70, the resurrection having an ongoing fulfillment since AD 70.[2] Russell’s position sees us as currently in the new heaven and earth, a symbol of the post AD 70 new covenant order). Where Russell’s position is different from full preterism is that it does not hold that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70… Russell saw the millennium as beginning at AD 70, not ending at that time as full preterism necessitates. I believe that Russell was right and a wrong turn took place with the advent of full preterism. I say this because of my study of Daniel 7; I believe it lends support to Russell’s position. It should be noted that in Russell’s system there will be a future end to evil at the end of the millennium (Rev. 20:7-10); it sees Satan as defeated, just not disposed of yet.

Russell’s position is that what is being shown in Revelation 20 is not two separate throne scenes and judgments (one in Rev. 20:4 and one in 20:11-15) separated by the millennium, but one throne scene and judgment (composed of Revelation 20:4 and 11-15) with a digression of what will happen at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20:7-10) in between. Russell’s position is that John begins describing a throne scene judgment at the beginning of the millennium in Revelation 20:4. At 20:7-10 John digresses about what would happen at the end of the millennium, and then at 20:11 he takes up again the subject of the throne scene judgment he started in 20:4. Russell thus saw the description of the throne scene and judgment that is begun in Revelation 20:4 as being continued in Revelation 20:11. The two sections (Rev. 20:4 and 11-15) are thus describing one throne scene judgment (which happens at the beginning of the millennium), not two throne scene judgments (one at the beginning of the millennium and one at its end).

Russell spoke of Rev. 20:5-10 as a parenthesis and “the sole instance in the whole book of an excursion into distant futurity…matters still future and unfulfilled.” Here, McKenzie is even more clear regarding his own overall position on eschatology, i.e. what has and has not yet been fulfilled:

Like full preterists, I see AD 70 as the time of the Second Coming, resurrection and judgment (with the resurrection and judgment having an ongoing fulfillment since that time).  Like partial preterists I see certain prophetic events that still await fulfillment (e.g., the destruction of Satan at the end of the millennium described in Revelation 20:7-10).  While my position is much closer to full preterism, I strongly disagree with its premise that all biblical prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70.

Our approach is most similar to that of nineteenth-century theologian James Stuart Russell.  Like full preterists, Russell saw AD 70 as the time of the Second Coming; unlike full preterists, Russell saw the Second Coming as the beginning of the millennium, not its end. I call this position “premillennial preterism.”  It is premillennial in that it holds that Jesus returned right before (pre-) the millennium.  Unlike futuristic premillennialism, however, it does not see the millennium as a literal 1000-year period.  My position is preteristic because it holds that the one and only Second Coming occurred at the AD 70 end of the old covenant age.  R. C. Sproul, in his book The Last Days according to Jesus, wrote favorably concerning Russell’s position and his attempt to answer the hard questions related to the New Testament’s teaching of a very soon (first century) Second Coming.

One may also follow the above link to view McKenzie’s arguments on why the Second Coming occurred (once and for all) in 70 AD, based on “the words of Jesus (as recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke), Peter, Paul, James, John, Jude, and the author of Hebrews.” That discussion falls outside of the scope of our discussion here, but as McKenzie makes brief references (in what is to follow) to a past Second Coming I wanted to point this out for the sake of clarity.  Let us now turn to McKenzie’s discussion of why the Millennium should be thought of as having its formal and official beginning in 70 AD. I have to admit that this is very well argued:

[Revelation 20:1-4] is the famous passage of the binding of Satan and the reign of Jesus and His people. On the surface this passage appears relatively simple; on closer inspection, however, it turns out to be one of the most difficult and debated passages in the Bible. One of the first matters to attend to in understanding the millennium is the question of how it fits in sequentially in relation to the rest of Revelation. Is the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1 a continuation of the events of Revelation 19 (the AD 70 fall of Babylon and the Second Coming) or is there a recapitulation (a going back and restating of events that happened earlier)? Some say that there is a recapitulation here, that Revelation 20 is going back to the time of Pentecost (c. AD 30) or even the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (c. AD 26). My position is that Revelation 20 is a continuation of the (AD 70) events of Revelation 19, not a recapitulation to the time around AD 30.

In considering the sequence of Revelation 19-20, it is helpful to broaden one’s focus. Here is Revelation 19:11-20:4 without the chapter separation (chapter separations were not part of the original manuscript). For brevity I have left out Revelation 19:12-18 which is mostly a description of the One on the white horse (the Word of God, Rev. 19:13).

“Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True and in righteousness He judges and makes war…And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was capturedand with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh. Then I saw an angel coming down form heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while. And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

Notice the sequence in Revelation 19-20. The individual beast and false prophet (the one who made people take the mark of the beast, Rev. 13:11-18) are captured at the Second Coming in chapter 19 and put in the lake of fire. Satan is then taken and thrown in the abyss as the kingdom is established in chapter 20. Those who had lost their lives for not taking the mark of the beast (cf. Rev. 19:20; 13:15-16) are then resurrected in Revelation 20:4 at the beginning of the millennium. God was letting His first century audience know that the one who was faithful to Him to the point of death (cf. Rev. 2:10-11) would still get to participate in the soon coming millennial reign (Rev. 2:25-27; 3:21).

Notice the reference to the mark of the beast as a past event in both chapter 19 and 20. Revelation 20 is a continuation of the AD 70 narrative of the Second Coming, not a recapitulation to AD 30.

Rev. 19:20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.

Rev. 20:4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

In Revelation 13:1-10 the seven churches were warned about the soon coming individual beast (cf. Rev. 17:18) that would overcome the saints. In Revelation 13:11-18 they were warned about his mark on the head and hand (cf. Rev. 14:8-11). These events of the tribulation were to happen in the forty-two month period (of AD 67-70) immediately preceding the Second Coming.

And he [the beast] was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months…It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation…[and] as many as would not worship the image of the beast [were] to be killed (Rev. 13:5, 7,15 brackets mine).

In Revelation 19 we are shown the defeat of the beast by the Second Coming. The saints that had been killed for not taking the beast’s mark are shown among those that come to life in chapter 20 as the millennium begins. Revelation 20 is thus a continuation of the AD 70 narrative of chapter 19; it is not a recapitulation back to AD 30. Again, one of the groups that come alive at the beginning of the millennium consists of those who had been killed for not taking the mark of the beast. They had gone through the great tribulation (cf. Rev. 7:9-17) and are being resurrected at AD 70 to participate in the millennium.

The sequence I have proposed above is shown in Daniel 7. 1. The Antichrist (the little eleventh horn, Dan. 7:19-20) overcomes the saints. 2. He is defeated by the coming of God. 3. The court is seated (thrones are put in place as the kingdom reign begins, Dan. 7:8-11) as the saints possess the kingdom.

I was watching; and [1] the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, [2] until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and [3] the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom. Dan. 7:21-22

Again, the same sequence that is shown in Daniel is shown in Revelation. 1. The Antichrist (the individual beast) overcomes the saints (Rev. 13:5-7). 2. He is defeated by the coming of God (Rev. 19:11-21). 3. The saints then possess the kingdom as the millennium begins (Rev. 20:4). This is a pre-millennial sequence; the Second Coming happens right before God’s people possess the kingdom of God. This was James Stuart Russell’s position; he considered any attempts to fit the millennium in before AD 70 to be “violent and unnatural.” [J.S. Russell, The Parousia (Baker, 1999), 514]. It is at the AD 70 coming of God that the saints inherited the kingdom. This explains why one of the groups that come alive at the beginning of the millennium consists of believers who had been killed for not taking the mark of the beast. The millennium began right after the great tribulation at the AD 70 Second Coming, not at AD 30. Again, it was at the coming of God (what the NT will show as the Second Coming) that God’s people possessed the kingdom of God (Dan. 7:21-22; cf. Rev. 19:11-20:4).

Now a full preterist can not accept what I have written here, at least not if he or she wants to stay a 100% full preterist. Full preterism necessitates that all Bible prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70. Thus full preterists have to reject an AD 70 beginning to the millennium; if the millennium did begin at AD 70 it means there is still prophecy yet to be fulfilled (e.g. Satan’s loosing from the abyss at the end of the millennium, Rev. 20:7-10). Full preterists are left with a choice of either accepting what I am saying about an AD 70 beginning of the millennium (which is not going to happen) or attempt to separate the millennial kingdom (which they see as being from around AD 26-30 to sometime before AD 70) from the saints possessing the kingdom at the AD 70 Second Coming (Dan. 7:21-22). Most full preterists (wanting to stay card carrying full prets.) will attempt the latter option (differentiating the beginning of the millennium from the saints possessing the kingdom at the AD 70 Second Coming). Again if a full preterist acknowledges the start of the millennium as being the same as the AD 70 coming of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 19:28; Rev. 20:4), then they violate their basic premise of all prophecy fulfilled by AD 70.

Comparing Daniel 7 with Revelation 20, it is impossible to make a legitimate case that the AD 70 establishment of the kingdom of God of Daniel 7 (vv. 19-27) and the millennium of Revelation 20 are speaking of two different reigns. Of the AD 70 establishment of the kingdom, Daniel 7:9-10 (NRSV) reads, [A] “As I watched, thrones were set in place…[B] The court sat in judgment” (brackets mine). Of the millennium, Revelation 20:4 (NRSV) reads, [A] “Then I saw thrones, and [B] those seated on them were given authority to judge.” I don’t see how one can make these to be two separate events, the first starting at AD 70 the second supposedly starting at AD 30.

…For more on J.S. Russell’s position on the millennium see, http://planetpreterist.com/news-5017.html. For more on the Connection between the little horn of Daniel 7 and the beast of Revelation see, http://planetpreterist.com/news-2622.html.

Duncan McKenzie, in his book “The Antichrist and the Second Coming: A Preterist Examination” (Xulon Press: 2009) also sees the Great White Throne Judgment of Rev. 20:11-15 as beginning to be fulfilled in 70 AD (pp. 398-401):

Despite my disagreements with full preterism, I do agree with many of its conclusions. Let me begin with some of these points of agreement: I agree that the Second Advent happened at AD 70 and that this was when the resurrection and judgment began (it is ongoing from that time, cf. Rev. 14:8-13).[3] According to the book of Daniel the resurrection was to begin at the end of the great tribulation; these events were to happen at the AD 70 shattering of the Jewish nation.

At that time [the time of the king of the North’s attack on Jerusalem, Dan. 11:40-45] Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt… Then I saw the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever, that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished (Daniel 12:1-2, 7; cf. 7:25-27).

The partial preterist attempt to separate the time of the great tribulation (which they say happened at AD 70) from the time of the resurrection (which they say will happen in the future) does not hold up to scrutiny. Consistent with Daniel 12:1-7, Revelation 11:15-18 also shows the resurrection beginning at the destruction of those who were destroying the Land [ten gen] of Israel. This happened at the AD 70 full establishment of the kingdom of God.

Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, whosit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:15-18 NASB).

Partial preterists acknowledge that Revelation 11:15-18 is referring to the AD 70 destruction of Israel. Because the creeds do not teach an AD 70 resurrection, however, they maintain that the judgment of the dead in Revelation 11:18 (“and the time came for the dead to be judged…”) is not really the judgment of the dead! They claim this is just showing an AD 70 reward of the martyrs.

Daniel 7 likewise shows the judgment (and thus the resurrection) as beginning right after the tribulation. Consistent with Revelation 11:15-18, chapter 7 shows the judgment beginning at the AD 70 full establishment of God’s kingdom, at the time that the dominion of the little eleventh horn…is taken away:

I was considering the [ten] horns and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words. I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The court was seated and the books were opened. I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking: I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame (Daniel 7:8-11; underlined emphasis mine).

Thus he said: the fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time. But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever (Daniel 7:23-26; underlined emphasis mine).

Contrary to what [most] partial preterists teach, the judgment began at the AD 70 defeat of the little eleventh horn (cf. Matt. 16:27-28; 25:31-46). At this point it is usually assumed by full preterists that because the partial preterist position is shown to be wrong on these issues, full preterism is therefore shown to be correct. This is an error in logic, however; just because a given position is wrong on a number of issues, that does not mean an alternative position is necessarily right on all points. Daniel 7 cuts both ways. Not only does it show the resurrection and judgment beginning at AD 70, it also shows the millennium beginning at that time (i.e. thrones being put in place as the court is seated, vv. 9-10, 25-27; cf. Rev. 20:4). That the resurrection and the millennium began at AD 70 explains why it is that the martyrs of the beast are shown being resurrected at the beginning of the millennium: “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witnesses to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image…And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years…” (Rev. 20:4).

This last statement by McKenzie is a very fitting transition into the next section.

B. Kenneth Gentry: “The Martyr’s Millennium”

The following information is taken from Kenneth Gentry’s newest book titled “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues,” published in 2009 by GoodBirth Ministries (Fountain Inn, SC). Gentry discusses Revelation 20:4-6 in chapter 14 (pp. 157-165). This book is a precursor to Gentry’s full-length, verse-by-verse commentary on the book of Revelation which is now nearing completion.

Under discussion in this section are only verses 4-6 of Revelation 20. Gentry says that he maintains “the Augustinian view” on Rev. 20:1-3, i.e. “that the thousand years is a symbolic time frame covering Christian history from the first century down to the end” (p. 157). From what I can see, Gentry maintains his postmillennial viewpoint on chapter 20, except for these three verses [Amillennialism overlaps quite a bit with postmillennialism, which is why I quoted Gentry several times in my posts titled “Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint…”]. Gentry explains how his views on Rev. 20:4-6 have now changed (p. 158), and for the record I’m intrigued by what he has to say because some of it reflects my own musings on this passage (any underlining is mine):

First, I originally held that two groups were in view in Revelation 20:4. I held the common Augustinian view that the martyrs represent deceased Christians in heaven (the Church Triumphant) and the confessors represent the living saints on the earth (the Church Militant). And together these two groups picture all Christians throughout Church history. I no longer accept this interpretation.

Second, I also previously held that the fact that they “came to life and reigned with Christ” (Rev. 20:4c) portrayed the new birth experience, where the Christian arises from spiritual death to sit with Christ in heavenly places. I still believe this doctrinal position, for it is taught in various places in Scripture (see especially Eph. 2). But I do not believe this is a proper exegetical position here in Revelation 20. In other words, I now believe that this view is good theology but bad exegesis—if we draw it from Revelation 20.

Third, I previously held that “the rest of the dead” who “did not come to life until the thousand years were completed” (Rev. 20:5) pointed to the bodily resurrection of all men. As an orthodox Christian I do, of course, believe that John teaches a general resurrection of all men. He even teaches it in Revelation 20. But I now believe he holds off on that until verses 11-15.

Gentry, a little further on, makes a very interesting claim regarding parallels between the books of Ezekiel and Revelation. Having noticed numerous parallels myself between these two books, I’m even more inclined to look into this now that I’ve seen the direct correlations Gentry has proposed (p. 160):

John approaches Israel like Isaiah (see especially Isa. 1), Jeremiah (see especially Jer. 2-3), and Ezekiel (see especially Eze. 2-6, 16). In fact, he organizes his material around Ezekiel’s structure—which explains so many specific parallels to Ezekiel:

Eze. 1 = Rev. 1
Eze. 2 = Rev. 5 (10)
Eze. 9-10 = Rev. 7-8
Eze. 16, 23 = Rev. 17
Eze. 26-28 = Rev. 18
Eze. 38-39 = Rev. 19-20
Eze. 40-48 = Rev. 21-22 (11)

Gentry then examines Rev. 20:4, which reads, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the Word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Gentry comments (pp. 160-163),

Previously I held that this presents two separate groups, martyrs and confessors, which themselves represent all Christians in history, dead or living. As such I originally thought these groups portray the whole Christian Church throughout the Christian era. I now believe that John envisions only one group: deceased martyrs who did not worship the beast…

Not only are these enthroned ones deceased, but they are deceased under specific circumstances. They have been judicially killed: “beheaded” is a standard form of capital punishment well-known in the Roman Empire (cf. Matt. 14:10)… Furthermore, this imagery fits all the preceding story of Revelation, where the Jewish aristocracy is drunk on the blood of the saints (Rev. 17:6), as is the Roman beast (Rev. 13:7). This further confirms my redemptive-historical preterism and continues John’s concern for his audience, which is facing the very real prospect of death for their faith.

What is more, I now realize that structurally Revelation 20:4 is really the answer to the prayer of Revelation 6:9-11. In fact, it clearly repeats some of the same thoughts and words. Revelation 6:9-11 speaks of “the souls of those who had been slain.” These did not just fall over and die; they were slaughtered (esphagmenon, Rev. 6:9). They are crying out for God to avenge [ekdikeis] their blood on those who “dwell in the Land [tes ges]” (Rev. 6:10). Revelation 20:4 and 6:9 are doublets, based on replicated wording and strong parallels: Note:

Revelation 20:4

Revelation 6:9

And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God. I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained.

…I would argue that these two passages represent promise and fulfillment… The “souls” at the altar in Revelation 6:11 are told to “rest for a little while longer,” until others join them in a martyr’s death, being “killed even as they had been.” Since Christ’s judgment-coming against Israel in Revelation 19:11ff (cp. Rev. 6:12-17) results in the glory of Revelation 20:1-4, John appears to be stating that by A.D. 70 the martyrs will be vindicated within the promised time frame of “a little while” (chronon micron, Rev. 6:11; cp. Luke 18:7-8). Thus, their “coming to life” as fulfillment of the promise given to them (which is given to them while they already are in heaven, Rev. 6:11), appears to be an image of their vindication in the death of their opponents in A.D. 70 rather than at the very moment of their entering heaven. This is unique to John—whose work is unique in many respects.

Some of what Gentry is saying here reflects the misgivings I’ve had for a long time with some of the things I’ve heard about the Millennium. Gentry rightly points out that the text says that those who were to be seated on thrones and to reign during these thousand years were only those who [1] had been beheaded because of their righteous testimony and [2] did not worship the beast and his image. I’m not likely to be beheaded in my lifetime, and most believers throughout Church history were never beheaded either. Nor have the vast majority of believers in Church history been faced with the prospect of worshipping the beast and/or his image. Are we not then disqualified from sitting on these thrones? At the same time, though, not all of Jesus’ disciples or John’s faithful first century readers were beheaded either, though many of them were martyred by some means. Peter, for example, never gave his allegiance to Nero (whom I believe was the beast in the singular sense), but he was crucified upside down rather than beheaded. So is “beheading” used in the text to represent all forms of capital punishment at that time, with beheading being perhaps the most common form?

Also, does this have anything to do with the promise Jesus gave to Peter and His other disciples? “Truly, I say to you, in the new world [regeneration], when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28). Likewise, in Luke 22:28-30 Jesus said to His disciples, “You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials, and I assign to you, as My Father assigned to Me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” At the same time, though, Paul in I Corinthians 6:2-3 says that “the saints will judge the world” and also “are to judge angels.” Paul’s use of “the saints” here seems to be wider than simply the twelve apostles.

In any case, Gentry’s conclusions on this passage (Rev. 20:4-6) are these (pp. 163-165):

Now all of this means that those who are on the thrones in the millennium are not living Christians. Nor are they simply deceased Christians. Nor are they Christians from all ages. They are deceased Christians in heaven, who are martyred in the first century. This is John’s point: Keep the faith! Withstand your oppressors! You will be greatly rewarded in heaven even if you die! Indeed, that is effectively how he introduces his book: “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9).

Of course, heavenly reward awaits all Christians in all ages. But that is not John’s point here. We learn this extended truth from other Scriptures. Here in Revelation 20 he is speaking from a particular context in completing a long-running call to accept martyrdom rather than succumbing to the beast or the false prophet. Remember how Hebrews warns Jewish converts to Christ not to apostasize—especially since the old covenant is “obsolete and growing old” and “ready to disappear” (Heb. 8:13)? John is doing the same in Revelation, only more dramatically.

So then, my first two changes in my understanding of Revelation 20 are: I now see only one group in the vision; and that one group involves only the first century martyrs. Revelation 20:4-6 does not speak of the reign of the Church in history, nor does it prophesy a still-future political reign on earth. Though again: I do believe the Church reigns in history (I Cor. 3:21-23; Eph. 1:19-23), and that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places (e.g. Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1)… But John’s express teaching regards the first century persecuted Church and her two persecutors, Rome and Israel.

[“The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.” (Rev. 20:5)]

It does not seem that “the rest of the dead” are the unbelievers of all of history who stand before God on Judgment Day. They have not been mentioned yet. I do hold that all unbelievers will stand before God on Judgment Day. And, as I stated above, I believe John teaches that—in Revelation 20:11-15. But he does not teach this here in Revelation 20:5. Who are these “the rest of the dead” then? How are they related to John’s overarching story-line?

“The rest of the dead” are the other dead mentioned in the preceding context [Rev. 19:11-21]. Who did we last hear had died in John’s narrative? Revelation 19:19-21 answers this: “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest [hoi lopoi] were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.”

“The rest” of the dead are the ones allied with the first-century beast and his false prophet, the ones responsible for executing the martyrs… John is encouraging his first century audience to withstand their assailants. Those enemies have a hollow victory: they will die and lie in the chains of darkness until the resurrection at the end of history. But the martyrs will not only enter heaven and eternal bliss, but after entering into heaven will be elevated and “come to life” and begin reigning in the presence of God and Christ.

Remember: Christ dies and is resurrected, then ascends into heaven and sits at God’s right hand in victory. And He is publically vindicated against His tormentors in A.D. 70. As Jesus warns the high priest and the Sanhedrin during His trial: “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:64; cp. Mark 9:1). Likewise, His faithful martyrs will also die, arise to new life, and experience heavenly vindication. Thus, they actually will live in the glory of triumph and heavenly vindication while their persecutors die in ignominy. This is John’s point. This fits everything he has been saying previously.

This passage [Rev. 20:4-6] is really not useful to the “millennial” debate.

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In Part 2 we will look at one more minority view on the Millennium, and that is the full-preterist view.

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

All of our studies on Revelation 20 and the Millennium can be found here.


[1] Charles Spurgeon is one who highly esteemed Russell’s work, despite some reservations, saying: “Though the author’s theory is carried too far, it has so much of truth in it, and throws so much new light upon obscure portions of the Scriptures, and is accompanied with so much critical research and close reasoning, that it can be injurious to none and may be profitable to all” (Charles Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel, 1878 edition). This book has been reprinted in modern times by Baker House, and has gained the deep respect of R.C. Sproul and others of our day.

[2] When McKenzie says that “the resurrection [is] having an ongoing fulfillment since AD 70,” I believe what he means by this is that those who die in Christ experience their personal resurrection at that time along with their redeemed bodies. Todd Dennis, the founder of the highly resourceful Preterist Archive, even believes that the “coming” of Jesus to receive His own and take them to be where He is (John 14:1-3) takes place each and every time a follower of Christ passes from this life (Hebrews 9:27-28). The Bema Seat judgment (Romans 14:10-12; I Cor. 3:12-15; II Cor. 5:10) also takes place at this time, on an individual basis. This understanding is related to the words recorded in Rev. 14:13, saying, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!

[3] In other words, for McKenzie (and Todd Dennis—see previous footnote) there is a future “resurrection of the dead” for every person living today. It’s only a past event for those who have already died. It’s future for everyone else, but will be experienced on an individual basis, not as a singular event on a given future Day. The “resurrection of the dead” and “judgment” was, however, a singular event (in 70 AD–in heaven) for those who had died prior to 70 AD.

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.

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 3)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 3)

Adam Maarschalk: March 4, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Its Sources Were Non-Christian Jewish Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you quote specific verses?

Thanks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promised to / Spoken to Israel

Fulfilled in / Applied to the Church

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

-Hosea 1:10

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

-Romans 11:22-26

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

-Hosea 2:23

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

-1 Peter 2:9-10

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

-Amos 9:11

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

-Acts 15:14-18

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

-Joel 2:28-32

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

-Acts 2:1,16-21

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

-Exodus 19:6

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

-1 Peter 2:9

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

-Ezekiel 37:27

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

-2 Cor 6:16

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

-Lev 19:2

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

-1 Peter 1:15-16

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

-Jer 31:31

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

-Luke 22:20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

————————————————————————————————————————————–

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

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


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

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

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

Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 2)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 2)

 

Adam: January 27, 2010

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

In the previous post, following an introduction, we examined the first four verses of Revelation 20 from an amillennialist viewpoint. In doing so, we noted that the majority of amillennialists see “the millennium” as taking place right now (between Christ’s ascension and His Second Coming), but primarily in heaven for those who are in the intermediate state. In the previous post, we dealt extensively with the question of how–and to what extent–Satan is presently bound. In this post we will examine the remaining 11 verses of Revelation 20:

Verse 5: Having read of those who come to life and reign with Christ for a thousand years, we now read: “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection.” Here, Sam Storms briefly describes the most common premillennial view of the resurrections mentioned in this passage:

The “coming to life” in 20:4b is a physical, bodily resurrection of believers that occurs at the second coming of Christ before the millennium. The “coming to life” in 20:5a is also a physical, bodily resurrection, but of unbelievers after the millennium. Therefore, the bodily resurrection of all mankind comes in two stages separated by a thousand years.

Jason Robertson notes that “the first resurrection” has historically been defined by amillennialists in various ways:

  • Believed by Amillennialists to either be referring to the renewal of life that occurs at conversion or to the transfer of the believer’s soul from earth to heaven at death.
  • Amillennialists like Augustine and Calvin interpreted this to be referring to regeneration, and that the regenerated are now living and reigning with Christ in His spiritual kingdom which He inaugurated at His first advent.
  • Other Amillennialists like Hendriksen, [Greg] Beale, [B.B.] Warfield, and [Meredith] Kline believed that “first resurrection” refers to the believers’ death and translation to heaven, who are now reigning with Christ.
  • On either of these views then, the “first resurrection” phrase refers to a spiritual resurrection not a physical one, and it occurs before—not after—the second advent. The kingdom is now, is spiritual, and is the progressive fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Acts 24:15 says that “there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.” Does this text leave room for two separate resurrections of the righteous and the unrighteous, separated by 1000 years (or any amount of time), as premillennialism sees in Revelation 20? Steve Gregg (p. 470) answers this question by concluding that Revelation 20 is not, in fact, speaking of two physical resurrections:

The Scriptures elsewhere teach that there will be only one physical resurrection at the end of time, which will include the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. John 5:28-29; Acts 24:14-15; compare “the last day” in John 6:39, 40, 44, 54, and 12:48). We find this resurrection of bodies from their graves at the end of the Millennium (v. 13). It follows that there can be no other physical resurrection than that mentioned at the end of the chapter and that the “first resurrection” mentioned in verses 5 and 6 must therefore be a spiritual one. Such a Christian’s experience of regeneration is frequently spoken of in terms of a spiritual rising from death to life (cf. John 5:24; 11:34-35; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:13; 3:1; Rom. 6:4-5, 13). It is further justified by the fact of its juxtaposition with the second death (v. 6). There are two deaths: one physical, and one nonphysical (v. 14). That one resurrection should be spiritual and the other physical conforms to the dichotomy of the passage with reference to the two deaths.

Kenneth Gentry agrees with this assessment, and makes this comparison with John’s discussion of the resurrection in his gospel account (pp. 85-86):[1]

This first resurrection is—salvation. Note how John, the author of Revelation, earlier recorded Christ’s instruction in which he parallels spiritual resurrection unto present salvation and physical resurrection unto eternal destiny: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears My Word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live [first resurrection]. …Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned [second resurrection] (John 5:24-29, italics added). In fact, because of Christ’s physical resurrection, we are spiritually resurrected (Rom. 6:4-14; Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 3:1).

 

Verse 6: In this verse, we read these words, “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power…” This same promise was given to the first-century believers living in Smyrna: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life… The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:10-11). James Robertson again draws a comparison with what Jesus said in John 5:

The “second death,” which is everlasting punishment, is said to “have no power over them.” Obviously not, if they are saved and/or in Heaven. John quotes Jesus as saying in John 11:25-26, “25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

In short, the first resurrection is salvation for the believer, which the unbeliever does not experience. The second resurrection is physical, the one and only physical resurrection spoken of in Scripture. Whoever experiences the first (spiritual) resurrection has nothing to fear with regard to the second (physical) resurrection, at which time judgment will occur. Prior to that time, they will reign for “a thousand years.” As Martin Luther famously wrote in the margin of his Bible, “Born once – die twice; born twice – die once.” Well-known amillennialist Meredith Kline speaks on these matters at length, and in a very academic manner, here.

[At this point, it might be good to point out that premillennialism seems to exclude a certain group of people from experiencing any physical resurrection at all. This system teaches that there will be unconverted people who will enter into a physical kingdom (the Millennium) without glorified bodies, and that some of these will experience a conversion during that time. Premillennialism proposes that there will be two physical resurrections, separated by a period of 1000 years, for two different groups of people: the saved (first) and the lost (later). When do the newly converted “millennium saints” then experience a physical resurrection?]

Kenneth Gentry has this to say on the believer’s present status in God’s kingdom (pp. 84-85):

[God’s] kingdom does not await some future, visible coming (Luke 17:20-21; Col. 1:13). Consequently, Christ claimed to be king while on earth (John 12:12-15; 18:36-37), and God enthroned Him as King following His resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:30-36). Since His resurrection Christ has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18), for He is at the right hand of God, ruling over His kingdom (Mark 16:19; Luke 22:69; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; 14:11; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:18; 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). As a result, first-century Christians proclaimed Him King (Matt. 2:2; Acts 17:7; Rev. 1:5), and new converts entered His kingdom (John 3:3; Col. 1:12-13; I Thess. 2:12).

The other reality involves our present rule with Him in His kingdom. John tells the seven churches of the first century that Christ “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve His God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). This present priestly kingship is exactly what Revelation 20 relates of the millennial kingdom: “They will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (20:6).

Paul mentions our present rule as well: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6; cf. 1:3; Col. 3:1-4). Whatever surprised responses might arise against this viewpoint, the fact remains: The Bible teaches we are presently “seated with Him.”

 

C. Satanic Rebellion Crushed (Rev. 20:7-10)

Verses 7-10: When we were told in verse 3 that Satan was bound and sealed for a thousand years, we were also told that he would be released after that “for a little while.” Now we are given these details: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Numerous questions come to my mind when examining this passage. In what sense does Satan “deceive the nations” at this time? Is it in the same way as he did prior to being bound? Does “earth” here refer only to Israel/Palestine, as it has so many times in Revelation? Or does it refer this time to the entire globe, especially because of the phrase “the four corners of the earth”? Does the mention of Gog and Magog here mean that this vision and Ezekiel’s vision are one and the same, or does it only indicate similarities between this battle and that one (i.e. Ezekiel’s, having taken place in the past)? Does this army literally march across land, converging on one location, or is this symbolic of a movement against one specific people (i.e. followers of Christ; thus, speaking of persecution)?

Every indication in Revelation thus far is that “the beloved city” in verse 9 must be the New Jerusalem (i.e. the Church—Heb. 12:22-24; Gal. 4:24-27), and not earthly Jerusalem. After all, Jerusalem in John’s day was designated by the names “Sodom” and “Egypt” (Rev. 11:8), and a strong case has been made that it also bore names like “the great prostitute” (Rev. 17:1) and “Babylon the great” (Rev. 14:8, 16:19, and 18:2). Nothing in Revelation since chapter 11 has occurred to suggest that natural Jerusalem is now (in chapter 20) deserving of the title “beloved city”; in fact, the opposite is true.

We will designate a separate post for a more thorough discussion of Ezekiel’s vision of Gog and Magog, as well as implications for the fact that John mentions these two entities here in this text. That post will be titled “Revelation 20: Two Views of Gog and Magog” (it can be located in the Revelation 20 Introduction and Outline post once it’s up). Suffice it to say, though, that many amillennialists see verse 9 as speaking of Christ’s Second Coming, articulated in terms of “fire [coming] down from heaven and [consuming] them.” For most partial-preterists, this is the only mention of Christ’s Second Coming, as Rev. 1:7 and Rev. 19:11-16 speak of Christ’s judgment upon Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Kenneth Gentry says of this passage, “In Revelation 20:7-15 we witness the Second Coming and final judgment. But since this is so distant from John’s day, he only quickly mentions them” (Four Views, p. 86). Mark Copeland likewise comments,

If any section of Revelation pertains to the time just prior to the Lord’s final coming, I believe it is this one.  The description is brief, for the book was written for the benefit of Christians in Asia Minor about things to shortly come to pass (cf. 1:1-4; 22:6, 10).  These Christians would not experience this last attempt of Satan.  But to assure them (and us!) that Satan would ultimately be defeated, we have the description found in these few verses (7-10).

David Chilton makes a similar statement:

(The Book of Revelation) is about the destruction of Israel and Christ’s victory over His enemies in the establishment of the New Covenant Temple.  In fact, as we shall see, the word coming as used in the Book of Revelation never refers to the Second Coming.  Revelation prophesies the judgment of God on apostate Israel; and while it does briefly point to events beyond its immediate concerns, that is done merely as a “wrap-up,” to show that the ungodly will never prevail against Christ’s Kingdom. But the main focus of Revelation is upon events which were soon to take place.”  (David Chilton, Days of Vengeance, p. 43)

Steve Gregg goes into more detail on these four verses (pp. 472, 474, 476):

We had been forewarned in verse 3 that when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison [v. 7]. In that place we were assured that his freedom would be short-lived, though here we learn that his brief liberty is occupied in the same kind of mischief—but on a more intensive scale—as that in which he was engaged prior to being bound. This speaks of a brief period of indeterminate duration at the end of the Christian era, during which Satan will be permitted to resist the church on a global scale…

The truth having never since the time of Christ been successfully resisted, Satan’s release to deceive the nations [v. 8] would seem to constitute the ultimate setback for the church, as the majority of the world devolves to a paganistic state comparable to that which prevailed before the First Coming of Christ.

The mention of Gog and Magog [v. 8] seems a direct identification with the battle prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39, thus placing the time of this battle at the end of the Millennium (the church age), rather than before the Millennium, where most premillenarians locate Ezekiel’s battle.[2]

The whole world having turned hostile to Christ and the church, all nations will endeavor to battle against the camp of the saints (v. 9). This may be warfare of a spiritual sort, but since such battle against the church meant persecution in Revelation 11:7 and 13:7, it is likely that persecution of the church on a grand scale is what is in view here as well. The beloved city (v. 9) is the New Jerusalem described more fully in chapter 21, which is an image of the church (cf. 21:9-10; Heb. 12:22ff.).

The career of this rebel force and their diabolical leader comes to a final end with the Second Coming of Christ, here depicted with the words fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them (v. 9). The Second Coming of Christ will be “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel” (2 Thess. 1:8). It is the “day of the Lord…in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). This coming of the Lord with its attendant burning up of the earth clearly could not have occurred at the beginning of the Millennium since, in such a case, there would be no venue for the playing out of the earthly drama in this chapter.

At the coming of Christ in fiery judgment, the devil (v. 10) is not going to be temporarily chained but, rather, he is to be cast into the lake of fire… The lake of fire, you will recall, is where the beast and the false prophet are (v. 10; cf. 19:20). This statement presents a slight problem for amillennialism in that it presupposes an earlier judgment upon the Beast and the False Prophet, whereas this view considers both Revelation 19:20 (the judgment of the beast) and Revelation 20:10 (the judgment of the devil) both to be describing the same event, namely, the Second Coming of Christ.

In an attempt to remove the difficulty, R. Fowler White proposes that “20:10 need only imply that at the Second Coming the devil is cast into the lake of fire shortly after the beast and the false prophet are cast there.”

As already mentioned, preterism removes the difficulty in another way, by not seeing Revelation 19 as speaking at all of Christ’s Second Coming, but rather His non-physical coming in judgment upon Jerusalem/Israel in 70 AD, which we have already proposed. When Historicism is coupled together with amillennialism, this difficulty exists.[3] However, when preterism is coupled together with amillennialism, there is no such quandary. I also wrote about this in the “Revelation 20: Introduction and Outline” post, under the section “Preliminary Thoughts on Revelation 20.”

On another note, both II Thess. 1:8 and II Peter 3:10-13 are taken by some partial-preterists (and full preterists, of course) to refer to the events which took place in 70 AD, rather than to a future Second Coming. This is especially plausible if “the earth and the works that are done on it” (II Pet. 3:10) is a reference to Israel/Palestine just as it very often is in the book of Revelation. (We will come to the expression “new heavens and a new earth” (I Pet. 3:13) in our study of Revelation 21 and will discuss this in length at that time. A key question to keep in mind for now is this: Does this expression denote [A] the New Covenant body of Christ [B] a literal new heaven and new earth in the eternal state, or [C] both in a now-but-not-yet sense?)

Sam Storms’ take on this passage is this (keep in mind that he is a historicist, and not a preterist):

At the end of the age there will emerge an intensified form of tribulation and apostasy as well as a personal antichrist (the AM, however, does not identify this period of tribulation with Daniel’s 70th Week, as does the Dispensational Premillennialist, nor does he define its purpose as having anything to do with the restoration of national theocratic Israel. It should be noted, however, that some AMs do believe in a mass salvation of ethnic Israel at the end of the age). Christ’s return at the close of this period will synchronize with the general resurrection and general judgment of all men, believers and unbelievers alike, to be followed immediately by the eternal state (i.e., the new heavens and the new earth). In other words, here is the major point of difference between the AM and Premillennialist: the former denies whereas the latter affirms an earthly, visible rule of Christ for 1,000 years between His second coming and the final resurrection, judgment, and introduction of the eternal state.

To the subject of this judgment we now turn.

D. The Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15)

Verses 11-12: Steve Gregg, in his commentary on these verses (p. 478, 480), takes note of a couple of reasons why amillennialists believe the Second Coming must occur at this time, at the end of the thousand years rather than at the beginning (as premillennialism supposes):

The judgment of the great white throne (v. 11) is not a special judgment to be distinguished from other judgments of the close of the age (e.g. a separate bema judgment of the believers only, some thousand years earlier), but simply a description of the only ultimate judgment at the coming of Christ, involving believers and unbelievers (cf. Matt. 25:31; Rom. 2:5-10; Rev. 11:18). The “great white throne” is thus not a technical label to distinguish this event from others like it, but merely a statement of the color of the throne (white), suggesting purity, upon which God, or Christ, is seen seated at the last day (John 12:48).

The glory of the Lord at this point is such that the earth and the heaven fled away (v. 11) from before His face. This in itself indicates that the Second Coming did not occur a thousand years earlier. Why would not the glory of the returning Christ have brought about this flight of the natural world into nonexistence at that earlier time? It can hardly be thought that His glory at His coming will be less intense than it would be a thousand years later. Since the coming of the Lord is in fact the end of the natural universe (2 Pet. 3:10-13), we read that there was found no place for them (v. 11), making way for a new heaven and a new earth to occupy the place left vacant by their dismissal (21:1).

The fact that John saw the dead (v. 12) arise and come before God to be judged proves that it is at this point, and not a thousand years earlier, that the Second Coming is seen. The judgment is everywhere associated with Christ’s Second Coming in Scripture (cf. Matt. 25:19, 31; II Thess. 1:8ff; II Tim. 4:1). [See also I Cor. 15:23.]

Q: In verse 12 we read that “books” were opened, as well as “the book of life.” Does this seem to indicate that only the wicked are judged at this judgment, or also the righteous? In his commentary on verse 12, Steve Gregg says,

The presence of the Book of Life seems to imply the presence of the righteous, whose names are to be found there, while we are also told explicitly that John also saw there those who were not found written in the Book of Life (vs. 15). This judgment, then, wherein the dead were judged according to their works (v. 12), includes believers as well as unbelievers, despite the clear teaching of Scripture that salvation is not attained through works (cf. Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). It is all equally clear teaching of Scripture that a Christian is known by his works as surely as is an unsaved man (Jas. 2:15-18; Tit. 1:16; 2:14). Therefore Christians who are saved by grace through faith will be proven to be so as the result of an examination of their works (Matt. 16:27, 25:31ff; I Pet. 1:17).

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

This concludes our verse-by-verse study of Revelation 20 from an amillennial viewpoint. In the next post (Part 3) we will take a look at two very interesting articles: [1] “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” by Dr. Charles E. Hill, and [2] “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?” by Kim Riddlebarger.

In Part 4 (of our “Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint” series) we will look at two more articles: [1] “Problems with Premillennialism” by Sam Storms, and [2] “Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Forever” by Grover Gunn (posted by PJ Miller and also by Job of “Heal the Land” (under the lengthy but fitting title “Premillennial Dispensationalism Effectively Claims that the New Covenant Has Not Yet Arrived, Which Means We Are Still Under the Old”).

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


[1] As noted before, Kenneth Gentry’s viewpoint on this passage has changed. His new viewpoint is articulated in a two-part series titled “Revelation 20: Minority Views on the Millennium.” This and all posts on Revelation 20 can be located in our Revelation 20 Introduction and Outline.

[2] It’s also perhaps reasonable to consider that Ezekiel’s battle of Gog and Magog may have already taken place in history prior to this Satan-led battle, and that the former battle is simply referenced because of similarities in this latter case. Perhaps not, though. An entire post has now been devoted to the subject of Gog and Magog, titled “Revelation 20: Four Views on Gog and Magog.”

[3] According to Sam Storms, most Amillennialists view the book of Revelation as spanning the entire time period from Christ’s first coming until His Second Coming in the future, but consisting of seven sections running parallel to each other: (1) chapters 1-3; (2) chapters 4-7; (3) chapters 8-11; (4) chapters 12-14; (5) chapters 15-16; (6) chapters 17-19; (7) chapters 20-22. This is the Historicist view, and of course preterists do not see the book of Revelation quite this way. While the first six parallels may be true, partial-preterists see the bulk of Revelation as having been fulfilled in the 70 AD judgment of God upon faithless Israel. The Millennium does more or less chronologically follow chapters 1-19 for partial-preterists, except that the Millennium does not begin in 70 AD but at the cross. There is an overlapping of the ages for one generation, as the Old Covenant age was only brought to a complete end until the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 AD, even though the New Covenant age was established when Christ went to the cross some 40 years earlier. This brief overlapping of the ages will be discussed at length in a two-part series titled “A Discussion of Two Ages.”

Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 1)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 1)

Adam: January 27, 2010

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

 

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelation 6:9

Revelation 20:4

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Revelation Chapter 20: Introduction and Outline


Revelation Chapter 20: Introduction and Outline

Adam Maarschalk: February 7, 2010

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

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

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

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

Revelation Chapter 20 Outline

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

Preliminary Thoughts on Revelation 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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