W e should all take the trouble to try to correctly understand this great book of the Bible. It is a sad fact that this book has been abused by countless "prophecy experts" who have succeeded in confusing and deluding thousands of sincere people. This has happened throughout the many cults and sects as well as in some areas of the Baptist movement - think of William Miller - and, I would respectfully suggest, is still occurring within much of dispensationalism, even among some utterly sincere people, although one is informed that the harder-line dispensationalism is disappearing.
We might laugh at the folly of those who set dates but we should remember that thousands of sincere but naive people always fall for such forecasters. A better understanding of Daniel and Revelation, and perhaps especially Revelation chapter twenty, helps to restrict their influence.
I myself - from my teenage years - once read the several tracts and booklets of Herbert W. Armstrong on Revelation and found his understanding of this great book to be a confused mish-mash. Oh, I was certainly convinced for a while but, at length, I came to firmly believe that he, and the men within his ministry, were totally incorrect in their handling of this book. This eventually led to me refusing to look at this book at all for several years until my understanding and comprehension had deepened and increased. After all, there are many other sections of the Bible to read and study! So I prayed about this tricky book, then left the matter with the Lord. Eventually, after a few years, I found my understanding increasing but not until I had firmly put all influences of Armstrongism well and truly behind me. A few years later, after much deep Bible study, I also put the notion of premillennialism behind me. Why? I found it simply doesn't stack up. It only fits with a moderate, selective and patchy Bible knowledge. A much deeper knowledge - taking all Scriptures into account - reveals it to be a naive view, contradicting other parts of the Bible.
One of the big problems I had with the Adventist view of this book (Armstrong was pretty much Adventist-influenced all-round), was the notion that the book may be read literally, just like reading an ordinary novel; of course, it cannot, it is a book filled with numerous figures, caricatures and symbols. Armstrongists would read the parts which could be considered almost as a narrative (such as the messages to the churches), then come to some imagination-defying symbol and say, "of course, this bit is symbolic, but we believe it means that..." so this was inconsistent; the book cannot be understood on a literal basis. Then again I soon noticed that there were obvious jumps in time sequence, obvious little insertions, or theological cameos. I also noted that the Second Coming of our Lord appeared to occur several times in this book. Eventually I could see that many within the group which I associated with back then were misunderstanding the book somewhere along the line. One day I counted the 'Second Coming' events in Revelation, I counted seven! How could that be? This was about the time that I decided to put this book aside until my comprehension increased. In the fuller understanding of this book I have since developed, it is clear that the book does not always proceed in what might be called a logical progression. The events recorded by John are not set out in any consistent time order; for instance, we have the birth of Jesus mentioned in Revelation 12:5, but one of the seven referrals to the Second Coming already occurring as early as Revelation 6:16-17!! Despite this, I was recently amazed to hear an experienced lecturer in a Bible college (on 'YouTube') state that the happenings in Revelation 20 must follow chapter 19 because of time order. Was he really being serious? Revelation rarely works like that as he should have well known.
Around 1998, I finally and joyfully stumbled upon the writer William Hendriksen (1900-1982), this was around the time I was taking my theology degree. If memory serves correct, none other than my fellow Welshman Martyn Lloyd-Jones recommended his approach to the Book of Revelation in one of his books or articles. His (Hendriksen's) book on Revelation is called 'More Than Conquerors,' it was written somewhere around 1937-1940. The book remained in print continuously, at least up to its 25th impression (1998), I am not sure if it is still in print. The scales certainly fell from my eyes when reading Hendriksen's masterly little 200 page book. Here - at last - was a complete explanation as to why Jesus Christ appears to return to earth seven times in this wonderful book of the Bible. It is because the book is written in seven parallel sections, all covering events from the first to the second comings of our Lord, the final section continuing on just a little longer, to give us a tantalizing glimpse of the Eternal State (chapters 21-22).
I am only giving a concise exposition of Revelation 20 here. For all who would like to go further in wiping away all the errors which have been taught on this great book of the Bible I recommend obtaining Hendriksen's 'More Than Conquerors.' It is an amazingly helpful book and does not seek to replace bad ideas and theories with another set of the same. That is important. The book encourages the reader to use their own brain, and to think theologically, taking in view the whole Bible. One soon learns that the 19th/20th century adventuristic, or futurist, view of the book is very much lacking.
What you read here is hardly my - or anybody else's - "flavour of the month," rather, it is the culmination of 55 years of research into the Bible which I have conducted and The Book of Revelation, and chapter 20 especially, has been an important part of this study and research. In general, I would suggest that it is time to put the fantastic, adventuristic and futurist view of this book to bed at last with all of it's gross inconsistencies and often nonsensical shortcomings.
I did think of putting the actual Greek letters and wording for each of these verses but decided against it because that would have made all of this even longer.
Robin A. Brace, May, 2016.
The Bible text will appear outside of the boxes, comments on the Bible text will appear in the boxes as we proceed.
[I here follow the New International Version (NIV) text on the understanding that, as long as its quoting does not exceed 20% of the entire article - it doesn't - their copyright is not being broken].
NOTES on Verse One.
Abyss, or bottomless pit: Gk: 'abussos' suggesting a pit of endless depth.
Adam Clarke wrote:
I follow Hendriksen in seeing a marked parallel between Revelation 20:1-3 and Revelation 12:5-12, but parallels abound in this book; much more on this as we proceed.
NOTES on Verses Two and Three.
We are going to have to spend a fair bit if time in considering the first three verses of chapter 20 because how these verses are handled sets up the rest of this exposition. When, was - or will be - Satan bound? It is essential that we are clear about this because so many have got it wrong because of refusing to properly consult Scriptures of corroboration. As we are about to see, the Bible itself tells us, but will we let it? No need to adopt strange theories which go against the run of Scripture.
Perhaps the first thing we should deal with here is the "thousand years" (mentioned in both verses two and three). As is well-known, '1,000' is only ever used in Scripture symbolically. To verify this one can look at Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 1:11; Psalm 50:10; Psalm 84:10. So this accompanies the other symbolic numbers which are continually used in this highly symbolic book. Yet Revelation 20 is the only passage in the Bible that speaks of a "thousand years" (rather than simply 'thousand'), and it is from the Latin word for a thousand ('mille') that we derive our English word "millennium." But - it might be asked - why the symbolism of the "thousand years" anyway? Well, the number one thousand is ten cubed, ten times ten times ten. Ten in the Bible appears to be the number of completeness. There were ten plagues, the fullness of God's wrath upon Egypt. We have ten commandments, the fullness of God's law, of all God's judgements. So ten times ten times ten, which is a thousand, might be said to represent the complete and full New Testament age of the entire Church of Jesus Christ.
But now, leaving the subject of 'a thousand' aside, this is where things start to get really interesting! The dragon, of course, is Satan which verse one itself identifies; See also Genesis 3:1-5; Revelation 12:3,16.
I have mentioned a strong link between Revelation 20:12-3 and Revelation 12:5-12, this strong linkage starts to make clear when these events occur. So now we need to look at that:
5. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who "will rule all the nations with an iron scepter." And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. 7. Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9. The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. 10. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 11. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. 12. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." (Revelation 12:5-12).
So this gives us the time setting for these events, as do other Scriptures which we will look at later. The male child here (12:5), is of course Jesus. The devil sought to attack and persecute Him, but as soon as His earthly mission was complete, He returned to Heaven (12:5). "The woman" (12:6) is now no longer Israel but the Church, she is taken care of for "1,260 days" (12:6), this is a symbolic length of time for the period of time that the Church of God operates on earth. Yes, the Church may be persecuted, some Christians even be murdered but - as a body - the Church is currently divinely-protected. During our present age, the gates of the grave can never prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). At this point there is "war in Heaven" (12:7), resulting in Satan being hurled down to earth, no longer to operate as 'the accuser of the brethren.' (12:8-10). When did this all occur? Now it becomes clear: This all occurred when Jesus was victorious upon the cross of Calvary (12:6,10-12). Notice also that when these events occur Satan's time of deception is coming towards its end - "he knows that his time is short" (12:12).
We should understand that the cross of Calvary, and the subsequent resurrection of our Lord, was a time of major victory for the redemptive plan of God. At the time, the 'god of this world' was cast out of Heaven and he now roams this earth with his demons. He is in the spiritual abyss, but still has power to confuse and deceive yet his binding means that he cannot prevent those whom God has called to salvation from being successful. This has been likened to a dangerous dog being on a leash. That dog is still dangerous but only if one gets too close. Just stop and ponder that, prior to this time, all the worldly systems and empires were controlled by Satan under some form or other of paganism, except that God reserved the right to ensure that some sort of law and order existed. Yet even the fourth century Roman Empire - formerly steeped in paganism - became officially 'Christian' within 500 years of Satan's defeat, Constantine even enacting a law allowing Christians to observe a 'Lord's Day.' That is surely highly significant. In addition to that in 380 AD, in the Edict of Thessalonica, Emperor Theodosius made Nicene Christianity the State Church and only officially recognized religion of the Roman Empire. Our point is not, of course, that the Roman Empire was thereafter perfect and Godly, but that such new laws could never have happened until Satan became chained and restricted!
Satan is compared to a 'strong man being bound,' during this Gospel age elsewhere too. Let us consider other confirming Scriptures:
28. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29. "Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. (Matthew 12:28-29).
Carefully note that Jesus made these comments in the context of a new potentiality of demons being driven out - such a power and possibility was a new thing! As has been pointed out many times the same Greek word 'deo' (G1210 in Strong's concordance system) is used in both Revelation 20:2 and here in Matthew 12:29. Jesus was plain that this could now only happen because "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matthew 12:28). The kingdom of God had arrived!
In Luke's account the strong man is represented as armed and guarding his palace or residence. But once disarmed by a stronger opponent, he is deprived of his spoils (Luke 11: 21-22). Christ's claim, then, is crystal clear. He has 'bound' Satan and can plunder his house at will...Satan cannot successfully resist Christ. The tyrant has been defeated. He may and does counter-attack, but he has already lost the war. He knows that his time is short (Revelation 12: 12). So do his minions as they ask Christ, 'Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?' (Matthew 8: 29). They know that torment awaits them in hell, a place 'prepared for the devil and his angels' (Matthew 25: 41).
Now something very important: Notice how it is pointed out that the restriction of the demons occurred and commenced when the Gospel first went abroad:
17. The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." 18. He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:17-20).
Notice here that Jesus was actually able to observe Satan "fall like lightning from heaven" (verse 18), but the most vital thing for us to pick up here is that this gives us the timing: it happened when the Gospel first went abroad - in the first century AD.
Anthony Hoekema has explained the necessity of the 'binding' like this:
Just before his ascension, however, Christ gave his disciples his Great Commission: "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19, NIV). At this point one can well imagine the disciples raising a disturbing question: How can we possibly do this if Satan continues to deceive the nations the way he has in the past? In Revelation 20:1-3 John gives a reassuring answer to this question. Paraphrased, his answer goes something like this: "During the gospel era which has now been ushered in, Satan will not be able to continue deceiving the nations the way he did in the past, for he has been bound. During this entire period, therefore, you, Christ's disciples, will be able to preach the gospel and make disciples of all nations." (source: http://www.the-highway.com/amila_Hoekema.html).
31. "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (John 12:31-32).
So here again further corroboration of the timing of these events. So notice ..."the prince of this world is driven out," then, when Jesus is "...lifted up from the earth" (the resurrection), He will 'draw all people to Himself.' Notice also what Colossians 2 says of these things:
13. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14. having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15).
Notice that it was a vital part of Christ's work upon the cross that He "disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." So this required a major defeat for Satan who now operates on greatly reduced power. Christ has already established His kingdom, it happened at His first coming.
Also consider the clear words of Hebrews 2:
14. Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - 15. and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Christ's victory on the cross caused Satan to be bound and this is how Jesus 'broke the power of him who had held the power of death,' that is, Satan. Again, on the cross, Jesus 'disarmed the powers and authorities' who had held the power of death. Now, upon their physical deaths, Christians enter into Heaven. This is all so clear that one does wonder how some could have so seriously misunderstood it.
I John 3:8 also teaches the good news which we proclaim here: "The Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."
18. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20. and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20).
So we see that the restriction placed on Satan's activities is precisely what caused "All authority in heaven and on earth" to be granted to Jesus and we clearly see that this is when the Gospel was able to go forth in full power.
20. Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21. nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst." (Luke 17:20-21).
The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, premillenialists want to make it a physical kingdom.
Major Bible commentator Albert Barnes wrote that the expression, "the kingdom of God is in your midst" can only be understood as either:
a. The reign of God is in the heart. or, b. The new dispensation is "even now among you." The Messiah has come.
In short, it is a spiritual kingdom. It is not some future-coming earthly/national/political kingdom based at Jerusalem. Christ has already defeated Satan and set up His kingdom, it happened in the first century AD. Could Scripture be much clearer? This is why people can come to Christ, have their sins blotted out and live the remainder of their lives as Christian believers. This is what the binding of Satan has facilitated - it could not have happened before. Nobody has ever suggested (as far as I know), that this 'binding' means that world peace can commence immediately, no, we have to wait for that day of His Second Coming when His will will be fully carried out on earth, as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10). Nevertheless, this binding has allowed many thousands to become Christians in numerous countries for well over 1,000 years and this is what the binding is all about.
Adventists and dispensationalists have struggled to know what to do with Scriptures such as the following:
1. In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2. and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." 3. This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'" (Matthew 3:1-3)
Their struggle is because this teaches that the kingdom arrived right back there in the first century AD - this causes problems for the concept that the full force of the kingdom was still thousands of years away! In short, it is precisely because the kingdom of God has now come that the gospel can now be preached to all the nations (consult Matthew 13:24-30, 47-50).
Never forget that Jesus stated this:
"My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36), yet some persist with the belief that the kingdom never fully comes until it is set upon earth in some 'millennial super-kingdom.' 'Thy will be done upon earth as it is in Heaven' refers to the 'New Heavens and New Earth' of the Eternal State which follows the Second Coming.
NOTES on Verse Four.
Now here we are given a wonderful picture of Heaven right now! The souls of the people of God are there right now awaiting the full resurrection of body and soul. Certain of these souls are given authority to judge, yes, it seems that they are allowed to judge certain situations even now whilst in Heaven!
As Anthony Hoekema has pointed out:
"Let us now take a closer look at verse 4: 'I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.' The first question we must face here is, Where are these thrones? Leon Morris points out that in the book of Revelation the word "throne" is used forty-seven times and that all but three of these thrones (2:13; 13:2; 16:10) appear to be in heaven." (source: http://graceonlinelibrary.org/eschatology/amillennialism-part-i-introduction-by-anthony-hoekema/).
The scene of this 1,000 years, let us note, is in Heaven - it concerns Heaven. It obviously has some effect on the situation upon earth, of course, but much of the setting here is in Heaven.
As Rev. Angus Stewart has written,
The saints who reign in Revelation 20:4-6 are described, first, as disembodied souls, that is, they are believers who are physically dead, but who are alive in their souls. Verse 4 begins, "And I saw" (just to remind us that this is still a vision) "thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgement was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus." The passage says "souls," but someone could object that sometimes this means simply "people." True. The Bible tells us, for instance, that seventy souls came to Egypt (Gen. 46:26-27), and this does not mean seventy disembodied spirits; it means seventy people (in body and soul). But here we are told in Revelation 20:4 that these are souls who have been beheaded, and so they have died physically. They are disembodied souls.
Those saved "...had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands." What is the meaning here? This is undoubtedly difficult and some frankly extremely daft things have been suggested. The best meaning one can arrive at is that this is simply another way of describing those who had been faithful to Christ through think and thin. Has one's final allegiance been to Christ, or to beastly worldly political power? Remember this is an apocalyptic book, it is the writer's prerogative to use colourful, figurative and symbolic language! It is very possible that first century believers would have known exactly what John was referring to in a way we now cannot in our day. Yet the message is clear enough.
"They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years" (verse 4), is obviously a reference to those who are in Heaven in the vision John is explaining. Certainly the Greek word rendered "came to life" ('zao' - word G2198 in Strongs), can refer to a physical resurrection (as it does, for example, in Matthew 9:18; Romans 14:9; Revelation 2:8), but the word means 'to live' either figuratively or literally so presents no problem for us here. This then can only be a reference to the soul of the Christian believer rising to Heaven at their death since this best fits the rest of this verse. So the "first resurrection" is not some future special resurrection just for believers - the Bible is consistent that all - both good and evil - rise in one resurrection (John 5:21-29; Revelation 20:11-13). The "thousand years" is figurative, of course, this is the age of the Church's mission upon earth. '1,000' is only ever used poetically /figuratively in Scripture. (in Psalm 50:10, for example).
NOTES on Verse Five.
In parentheses we have this: 'the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.' We have seen that the most logical and textual meaning here is that 'the first resurrection' refers to the true believer entering Heaven at death, since so much here is looking at Heaven and the existence of "souls" therein who await the full resurrection of soul and body to come at Christ's return. So one must favour this understanding. The fact that only true Christian believers can expect to enter Heaven at death, is unquestionably the strongest way to understand the statement, "the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended." In other words: "the rest of the dead" corresponds to non-believers who are not - as far as we understand - accepted into Heaven. Now, in His great and abundant mercy, God could make it possible for others to enter Heaven at death - that is entirely within His jurisdiction and power, of course, but this then is not a matter of promise. Many of us, for example, believe that little children who die before reaching an age of maturity are saved. Some - having the correct basic understanding I am outlining here - read this slightly differently. It is suggested by some that the 'first resurrection' and the 'born again' experience of Christians are one and the same thing, this is certainly a possibility yet the context seems to suggest that this is a reference to the soul entering Heaven at death, since the picture which John presents to us is clearly in Heaven and souls are clearly pictured there (as, in fact, they are in Revelation 6:9-11). A few others believe that the "first resurrection" is Christ's resurrection and that "this is the first resurrection" simply means that we share in it, but, again, context here seems to rule against that view, although that view is not entirely without merit.
The premillennialist has great fun here, of course, insisting on a literal time sequence and a believer's resurrection followed 1,000 years later by an unbeliever's resurrection. There is no question that the text could be read that way but other Scriptures seem to make it clear that there will not be two resurrections separated by 1,000 years at all, just one period of resurrection. Matthew 25:31-46; John 5:28-29. Yet the premillennialist will not be able to draw support from any other part of the Bible for this view, or for the view of a literal 'millennium.' They do discover certain verses, in Isaiah especially, which they can then use to support their preferred scenario but many Bible commentators would say that they then impose their views on those verses, not taking them simply as they stand. In contrast, the supporter of 'realized millennialism' (the 1,000 years is a purely symbolic period for the Church age), will find many verses elsewhere in the New Testament (as we have already seen), which fit really neatly with this teaching.
NOTES on Verse Six.
The meaning here now becomes clear. The souls of true believers which enter Heaven at their physical demise are eternally saved, that is clear and obvious. They are not subject to "the second death" - to be permanently cut off from God. Nobody can snatch the true believer out of the Father's hands (John 10:27-29). However, those who believe that the "first resurrection" refers to our being born again as Christians during our earthly existences also find support here for their view that these people are now certainly saved and need not fear "the second death." This is an acceptable alternative view.
I hope that many of you who were raised on some other millennial view (just as I was), are now shouting for sheer joy at the clarity of all of this. I know that I took great joy when discovering the plain Bible teaching within Revelation 20, especially how this fits in so perfectly with other, more spiritually didactic, New Testament passages, especially where these touch upon judgement. In contrast, supporters of a literal thousand year kingdom on earth now find themselves 'out on a limb,' receiving no support from elsewhere in the New Testament.
The text speaks of true believers 'living and reigning with Christ for a thousand years' - we can now see that this refers to the age of the Church. There is a sense in which we live and reign right now as "priests of God and of Christ," we are, after all, Christian believers who have been granted the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, following our departure from these physical lives, our fully conscious souls live in Heaven in the company of God and an innumerable cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), with the resurrection of body and soul still to look forward to!
Premillennialists make a big fuss about us being 'priests of God and of Christ and reigning with him for a thousand years,' as stated here, but they neglect to mention that, according to Revelation 1, we are already 'priests of God and of Christ.' Let us look at that:
4. John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5. and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6. and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father - to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:4-6).
Note there that the Greek past tense is used. We have already attained that status, it naturally follows from His victory over our sins at the cross (Revelation 1:5).
NOTES on Verse Seven.
The end of the thousand years is the end of the age of the Church upon earth and Satan will be released for a short while. He will move to attack the Church and God's people. So this now neatly ties in with those Scriptures which speak of a great upheaval just before the Second Coming in power and glory. The events of AD70 were a type of forerunner of these things but the 'real meat' is yet to come! it is unfortunate that some, seeing that the 'end' did indeed come in AD70 in many senses are not able to perceive that whilst that was a real 'end,' especially for the people of physical Israel, it was only a forerunner - horrible and hideous though those events were - for events yet to come. A few of such people have even concluded that the Second Coming and the Great Resurrection have already occurred (2 Timothy 2:18).
NOTES on Verse Eight.
Now, in his language of 'Gog and Magog' here, John borrows heavily from Ezekiel 38-39 referring to a prophecy which has almost certainly been fulfilled in the past, either at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, or during the Persian Empire (in the days of Esther), but a greater fulfillment yet awaits us in the future. The anger was upon Israel as a nation back then but now the anger will be fully upon the Church of Jesus Christ - spiritual Israel.
As Hendriksen has wisely pointed out,
The entire world is going to persecute the Church. The opposition will be world-wide. There is not the least ground, therefore, for regarding our passage as referring to a final attack by certain 'peripheral' nations...upon the nations of western Europe and America. The New Testament simply does not contain any predictions which apply to certain specific present-day nations or states...it describes the struggle between the Church and the world. ('More Than Conquerors,' Hendriksen, chapter 14).
I might further add to those comments that this final battle has nothing to do with a future 'United States of Europe' attacking Britain or the United States!
'The number of whom is as the sand of the sea' is a common biblical expression for innumerable hosts, for example, Genesis 22:17;32:12;41:49; 1 Samuel 13:5.
The battle which ensues is, of course, also described elsewhere in Revelation because of this book's parallelism. These are not several battles, just as this book does not say that Christ will return seven times. We now lead up to events which have become widely known as the battle of Armageddon, in which Satan stirs up the entire world to declare war on Christianity.
Sam Storms has written,
"The amillennial reading of Revelation alone makes sense of the obvious parallel between the war of Revelation 16, 19, and 20. This parallel is reinforced when we note that the imagery in Ezekiel 39 related to Gog and Magog is used to describe both the battle in Revelation 19:17-21 and the battle in Revelation 20:7-10. Clearly, these are one and the same battle, known as Armageddon, that consummates the defeat of God's enemies at the time of Christ's Second Coming. They are just as clearly not two different battles separated by 1,000 years of millennial history. This is all confirmed by reference to "the war" (19:19; already noted in 16:14, 16; cf. 20:8). The same Greek phrase "the war" ('ton polemon') is used in all three texts (Rev. 16:14; 19:19; 20:8). In fact, in 16:14 and 20:8 the same extended phrase "to gather them unto the war" (sunagagein autous eis ton polemon) is used." (source: http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/i-am-an-amillennialist--because-of--revelation-20).
NOTES on Verse Nine.
There is no question that the events of AD70 were at least a typical forerunner of what, I believe, will still be more fully fulfilled in the future. Let us just remind ourselves that we can now be pretty certain that John wrote in the AD60s, just before the horrendous events which would unfold in AD70. The older idea that John wrote well into the AD90s is now pretty much demolished everywhere. Yet the 'fire coming down from Heaven' did not happen then, although we must always bear in mind that the style here is apocalyptic - not literalistic. So my belief is that the marching "across the breadth of the earth" (though that could certainly be argued as having being fulfilled in the Roman Empire's first century attack on Jerusalem, since that was a world empire representing all nations upon earth), has not yet been totally exhausted as a prophecy. This implies an internationally agreed attack on Christianity. Might this even be an United Nations approved and sanctioned attack? In the past I have mentioned that the UN is opposed to Christianity. Many of its initiatives are leftist, liberal and atheism assuming. In the past, at least one or two figures associated with the UN have spoken about the need for 'one world religion,' the idea being to have one religion which is liberal and UN-controlled; however, this has never really got off the ground and - if it ever happens - it still seems to be years away as this is being written (in 2016). This reminds one of the attack on the 'Two Witnesses' in Revelation 11 - yet another parallel here. The Two Witnesses symbolize the mission of the Church throughout the Christian Age. So yet another of Revelation's parallels here. In common with the verse we are considering here, Revelation 11 suggests that Christianity's 'last stand' will be at Jerusalem; whether this is simply symbolic or not remains to be seen. But both 20:9 here and Revelation 11 show that the final all-out attack, though savage, will be brief. Let us look at Revelation 11:
3. "And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth." 4. They are "the two olive trees" and the two lampstands, and "they stand before the Lord of the earth." 5. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. 6. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. 7. Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8. Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city - which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt - where also their Lord was crucified. 9. For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. 11. But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. 13. At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (Revelation 11:3-13).
NOTES on Verse Ten.
Perhaps little needs to be added here. Probably the tormenting "day and night for ever and ever" refers to the ongoing and eternal results of their fall, but some commentators, including Hendriksen, appear to prefer the view of actual ongoing torture. We must remember that it was part of John's mission to use colourful, vivid, apocalyptic language.
NOTES on Verse Eleven.
Now we come to the Great White Throne Judgement, a full evaluation and conclusion of every human individual who has ever lived upon this planet - nobody escapes this! Upon this throne Christ is seated - see Matthew 25:31; Revelation 14:14. "The earth and the heavens fled from his presence"- a full spiritual renovation and reorganisation of the elements is certainly the indication, the old system will no longer continue, God will use great heat to change and remodel things 2 Peter 3:10, it will be a full release from the bondage of corruption - Romans 8:21.
NOTES on Verse Twelve.
Now we come to the judgement time which Matthew and Luke mentioned (Matthew 10:26; Luke 8:17;12:2), when no more secrets will be allowed, all lies will be uncovered, all 'shady' deals exposed, all shameful bad habits and practices laid bare, every evil, shameful 'under the table' deal brought into the open for all to see. Daniel wrote of this in the following manner:
9. As I looked, "thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. 10. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened." (Daniel 7:9-10).
The inference here is surely very strongly that every single person who has ever lived will attend this court. Saved Christians are being judged in this present life and they will surely be pronounced as saved, covered by the blood of Christ, yet all of us will undoubtedly be in attendance and none will probably escape a full perusal of their lives. The "books" (plural) is the reference to all of our works. Fortunately the Book of Life is also opened, every single saved person will found to be recorded in that book! Revelation 3:5; 13:8. The dead are judged in accordance with their works. Matthew 25:31;Romans 14:10;2 Corinthians 5:10. None escape this final court of the human race. This understanding is encouraged by the use of "great and small" (verse 12), in this present world the wealthy and influential can often escape justice by their high-level links and bribes - that will no longer be the case!
NOTES on Verse Thirteen.
Again the teaching that this is an all-encompassing judgement - with none escaping - is encouraged by the language which is deployed. Many have died at sea, so we are told that even the sea "gave up the dead that were in it," as will "death and Hades." Nobody at any place, any time, escapes divine judgement.
NOTES on Verses Fourteen and Fifteen.
As Hendriksen has well pointed out,
"Death, the separation of soul and body, and Hades, the state of separation, now cease. Neither in the new heaven nor upon the new earth, nor even in hell, will there ever be a separation between soul and body [again] after Christ's second coming for judgement. Therefore, symbolically speaking, Death and Hades - now personified - are hurled into the lake of fire." (p 196, More Than Conquerors, 1998 paperback edition).
This verse also confirms for us that 'the second death' is 'the lake of fire' - we had noted (verse 6) that 'the second death has no power over those in the first resurrection.' Indeed not, since that resurrection describes the ascent of the believer's soul into Heaven when they expire upon earth. Those entering Heaven upon their death are promised protection from the lake of fire. Now this does not necessarily mean that they never stand in judgement, but they are saved, and in Christ's bosom.
Finally, verse 15 confirms that only those whose names are written in The Book of Life are saved and can avoid the lake of fire.
* The teaching given here is certainly not my own interpretation by any stretch of the imagination. Augustine of Hippo, often thought of as the first major theologian of the Church, outlined the same essential approach to Revelation 20 in his 'City of God,' in the 5th century AD (source: http://www.affinity.org.uk/foundations-issues/issue-65-article-4-augustine-on-revelation-20-a-root-of-amillennialism). It became the preferred approach of the early Catholic Church (by which I mean established, creed-supporting and universal, nothing to do with the later Roman Catholicism, although Roman Catholicism too has always generally supported this view). But, in fact, the great and substantial majority of Christianity has accepted this view, this includes Luther, Calvin and the entire Protestant reformed movement. Only with the rise of Adventism and the many cults and sects in 19th century America (as well as influences deriving from Edward Irving and John Nelson Darby in Britain), has any real following developed for premillennialism.
* The parallel sections of Revelation have been touched upon only here, but for a much fuller outline of them go here.
* On the current binding of Satan, it is an effective binding, but with a specific purpose only and - in many ways - this binding can make Satan more dangerous. Pastor Carl A . P. Durham has written some interesting views:
He is more furious than ever "because his time is short." (Rev. 12:12). He now resists as a wounded animal whose viciousness is more dangerous precisely because he knows he is dying! Such thoughts should temper any triumphalism in our hearts, make us diligent to be "aware of Satan's devices" (2 Cor. 2:11) and realistic about the effort needed to claim this world for Christ. The mopping up activity with which we are now charged as the victorious church is to be carried out in just the same costly way as the victory by Christ was won: through suffering, through the blood of the martyrs, through the church demonstrating her likeness to Christ by carrying her cross - these are the ways victory is accomplished. As Jesus Himself said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. Remember the word that I have spoken to you. No servant is greater than His master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also" (John 16:18, 20). (source: http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/eschatology/amill2.html)
* Charismatic amilleniallist Sam Storms makes an interesting point here:
"Amillennialism alone can account for why Satan must be bound in the first place. According to premillennialism, Satan is allegedly prevented from deceiving the very nations who at the close of Revelation 19 have already been defeated and destroyed at Christ's return. In other words, it makes no sense to speak of protecting the nations from deception by Satan in 20:1-3 after they have just been both deceived by Satan (16:13-16; cf. 19:19-20) and destroyed by Christ at his return (19:11-21; cf. 16:15a, 19)." (source: http://www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/i-am-an-amillennialist--because-of--revelation-20)
Sam has also stated the following very true comment:
"...the hermeneutical principle known as the Analogy of Faith is best honored within an amillennial system. When asked for an explicit and unmistakable biblical affirmation of a post-parousia millennial kingdom, premillennialists typically point to Revelation 20, and only Revelation 20. But as we have seen, Revelation 20 is neither explicit nor unmistakable in teaching an earthly millennial kingdom. Furthermore, no single passage in an admittedly symbolic and comparatively difficult context should be allowed to overturn (or trump) the witness of a multiplicity of passages in admittedly didactic and comparatively straightforward contexts. To put this same point in the form of a question: Do the statements in other New Testament books concerning end-time chronology necessarily and logically preclude the notion of a post-parousia millennial age in Revelation 20? I am convinced that this must be answered affirmatively." (source: as above).
* The Brewton-Parker College website says this of amillenialism:
"The millennial reign of Christ is therefore now, both in heaven and on earth. Jesus Himself declared before Pontius Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). He reigns presently in the hearts of His new covenant people while they are on the earth - "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:33). He also reigns in heaven over the host of the redeemed already present there and over the angels as well, most definitely a "not of this world" type of reign." (source: http://www.bpc.edu/religion/Amillennialism.htm)
* Premilleniallists and postmillenialists remain my brothers and sisters in Christ (as long as heresy is rejected), but they need to be reminded that the former view in particular has been supported by numerous founders of cults and sects because it leaves too much open for private interpretation. Amillennialism (I much prefer the term 'realized millennialism'), closes off a dangerous area of Bible speculation since it tells us exactly where we are in biblical time sequence, of course it obviously does not tell us when Christ will return - nobody is given that knowledge - but it confirms the salvation of the faithful and their clear entrance into Heaven when their lives are complete upon this earth. It also cuts off the unbiblical idea of a rapture in which thousands continually strive to attain to that "rapture" - all based on a word and scenario which are unbiblical, even if often accepted by very sincere people. So, without a doubt, the acceptance of the view which I teach here does give a lot of protection against false and silly ideas and schemes of the adventist-type cults and sects. As it has been stated before, 'premillennialism opens a pandora's box!'
* It is only fair to note that there has been such a thing as "Historical Premillennialism." This belief is separate from the dispensationalist version on several accounts, including no rapture teaching being included, this version is not necessarily less inaccurate, in fact this was the version which Herbert W. Armstrong upheld (he laughed at the rapture teaching). Some early Christians seem to have held to this version for a while, although this seems to have been greatly over-stated but there are suggestions that it may be found - in some shape or other - in Papias, Irenaeus, and a few others. However, Premillennialism (belief in a literal, physical reign of Christ on earth for 1,000 years) was apparently declared a "superstition" at the Council of Ephesus (431), although I have not uncovered proof that it was also declared a "heresy" at that same time and place (although some insist that such is the case). Back then the belief was usually termed "chiliasm" (based on the Greek word for 'thousand').
* Specifically on 'The Rapture Theory':
It may come as a surprise to some but the doctrine of the Rapture is not mentioned in any Christian writings, of which we have knowledge, until around the middle of the 19th century.
It matters not whether the early writers were writing in Greek or Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Dutch, English or German, the teaching was unmentioned before about 1830/1840. This immediately - before we even look any further - must raise serious question marks over this doctrine. After all, resurrection (clearly a biblical doctrine) gets mentioned a lot, as do many other aspects of Christian teaching such as faith, grace, repentance and so on. Just to take the so-called 'early church fathers,' they lived very, very close to the time of the Apostles and were au fait with apostolic teaching; they wrote about the crucifixion, redemption, faith, perseverance and other aspects of Christian doctrine but never considered anything similar to what later became known as the 'rapture teaching.'
Without doubt, this does show that thousands of eminent biblical scholars, over something like sixteen centuries, did not see any point in considering or postulating upon any such thing as a 'rapture' teaching (whatever they might have called it in their own languages).
The teaching can only be traced back to one Edward Irving, an English minister living in London in the 1830s. Irving believed that there had to be a restoration of the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 just before Christ's Second Coming. To Irving, the time had come for those spiritual manifestations to occur. Among the expected gifts was the renewal of speaking in tongues and of prophetic utterances motivated by the Spirit. He began to preach this new teaching and was dismissed from his Presbyterian denomination in 1832 for his pains. Irving has been called "the father of modern Pentecostalism."
One of Irving's followers was Margaret Macdonald. This lady apparently started to receive "visions" during a serious illness. The "message" she received during one of these visions convinced her that Christ was going to appear in two stages at His Second Coming, and not a single occasion, as just about the entirety of the Christian world believed.
Christ (according to Miss MacDonald) would first return secretly for the church alone; true Christians would be quietly snatched away, then He would return again when every eye in the world would see Him. This visionary experience of Miss Macdonald is the source of the modern Rapture doctrine.
Many people have thought that John Darby, the founder of the Plymouth Brethren, was the originator of the Rapture doctrine. But this is not now generally believed to be the case, although Darby, and Cyrus Scofield, certainly popularized the teaching. In the McDonald meetings, some people were apparently "speaking in tongues" and this is now thought to be the true origin of modern "Pentecostalism."
John Nelson Darby certainly rejected this form of "tongues speaking" and the extreme emotional excesses of Irvine/McDonald, nevertheless, after visiting the latter in Scotland, he did begin to teach that Christ's Advent would occur in two phases and this became part of his emerging 'dispensationalist' system.
According to the 'rapture doctrine,' when Christ returns, all of the elect who have died will be raised and transformed into a glorious state, along with the living elect, and then be caught up to be with Christ. The key text referring to the rapture (in their view) is 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which states, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord." Terrible events are then believed by many (though not all) rapturists to affect the entire world in the absence of these saints. Further support for a 'rapture' is sometimes drawn from about two or three verses in Luke 17: 'I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left,' but this is just to take Luke 17:31-37 out of context. If one considers the entire context, from verse 28, it is plain that Jesus was discussing the suddeness of His return and the need to be ready; He was also using a picture of the fact that God alone chooses His people.
However, those who believe in a rapture are divided into no less than three groups: a. Pre-tribulation rapturists, b. Mid-tribulation rapturists, and c. Post-tribulation rapturists. Arguments between these three groups have been regular and sometimes quite vitriolic. Odd indeed for Christians to have arguments over a 'doctrine' which it is very hard to establish from Scripture.
The huge body of Christianity simply sees 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 as a reference to the resurrection of the dead - nobody dreamed up this 'rapture' idea until MacDonald's "visions," this later being picked up by Darby and Scofield. The doctrine has affected not only most of Pentecostalism but a large section of the American Baptist movement. Most Baptists - and virtually all other Protestants - outside of north America, however, reject this 'extra-return' theory and focus on one Second Coming, in power and glory ('every eye shall see Him'), and the resurrection of the dead as the great Christian hopes. Indeed, the majority of theologians, including evangelical theologians, have seen no reason to give serious consideration to the dispensationalist concept of 'rapture' because supporting Scriptures are seen to be very seriously lacking.
(the final section quoted on the rapture theory comes from my 2011 article, 'Does the Rapture Mean the Same Thing as Resurrection?').
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