Clashing Theologies over Israel and the Church

I had the opportunity recently to participate in a nearly three hour discussion on the distinctions and similarities between Israel and the Church.

Participants were various individuals from the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network, that included Andrew Rappaport and myself defending more of a Dispensational perspective, Paul Kaiser and Joey Jaco from the Conversations from the Porch podcast defending the NCT perspective, and Vincent Lancon representing the CT perspective.

The discussion was informal, rather than a serious debate. I appreciated that because we weren’t required to remain anchored to a rigid format. A number of listeners may find the informality annoying because it allowed us to hop around on a lot of rabbit trails. Additionally, the NCT and CT perspectives were virtually identical, at least this time.

The one observation I would make reflecting back upon the discussion is that our main disagreement hinges on how we interpret the Bible. (Duh).

The Dispensational detractors, especially the NCT guys, insist that the apostles read the Old Tesatment differently than the prophets because the coming of Jesus supposedly changed the rules of hermeneutics. While I would certainly agree that God was progressively revealing His redemptive purposes over time so that certain aspects of His purposes were veiled for a time, to suggest that the basic rules of interpretation shifted dramatically with the coming of Christ so that the OT is entirely reoriented in the light of the NT opens up major fissures in our basic theology.

For example, that view would create what I would consider competing canons of authority with the OT conveying a revelatory message in one way and the NT conveying an entirely different message. Moreover, proponents of that interpretive view would have us believe God intentionally misled with the revelation He gave. In other words, when the patriarchs heard the reiterated covenant promises of a geopolitical kingdom in their land that lasts forever, they took God at His word. If He really meant something entirely different, that being a typological heavenly land, such would be deception on God’s part. The OT is replete with prophetic promises that clearly state how Israel will be planted in their land forever, never to be removed. The land is further understood as the physical territory known as Israel, Isaiah 11, Isaiah 27, Isaiah 59:20-21, Jeremiah 16:14-16, Jeremiah 32:36-40, Hosea 1:10, Hosea 2:21-23, and Zechariah 12-14, just to mention a smattering of important passages.

Abner Chou has actually offered some excellent critiques of what is called the Christocentric hermeneutic. I would direct readers to these resources,

A Evaluation of the Christocentric Hermeneutic (Word doc)

Inerrancy in Light of the NT Writer’s use of the OT (ShepCon Inerrancy Summit message)

The Dual Status of Israel in Romans 11:28 (TMS journal article from Matt Waymeyer)

Anyhow, the discussion is currently available on YouTube, and will be made available eventually as a podcast on BTWN. Check it out.

Israel and the Church | the Clash of Theologies

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Studies in Ezekiel’s Temple Vision

ezekiel

I posted these articles a few years ago when I was doing my study on eschatology.

Since I wrote them, they have become some of my most read posts that draws some of the biggest traffic to my otherwise small, obscure blog. The one thing I failed to do, and should have, because I was short sighted as to how popular they would be, is post them in one article for easy access. Rather than having to find all 6 via the link tags, here they all are in one place for easy availability.

I would encourage folks to read them in order from start to last, because they build upon themselves as I get to the thorny question as to a real, historic and future temple where animal sacrifices will function and how that relates to the work of Christ on the cross.

Resources on Ezekiel’s Temple Vision

Interpreting Ezekiel’s Temple Vision

Literally Reading Ezekiel 40-48

Animal Sacrifices in Ezekiel 40-48

Ezekiel’s Temple Sacrifices and Hebrews

Answering Objections to Ezekiel’s Temple Sacrifice

Recapitulation Revisited

revelationRecently I had a commenter drop some challenges to one of my posts on eschatology. Specifically, my post addressing the concept of whether Revelation 20 is sequential or a recapitulation.

I thought I would bring a few of them to the front page and interact with the arguments for a broader audience.

First, let me remind everyone of the basics of what I was discussing.

Briefly stated, the idea of recapitulation is “to repeat in concise form.” As I noted in my article, amillennialists and postmillennialists generally interpret the book of Revelation as a series of prophetic visions the Apostle John was given that describe the church age. With each new vision, the reader is returned back to the beginning of the church age and is provided new revelation describing it further or filling in more details of a previous vision.

The events in Revelation chapter 20, rather than following in chronological sequence to chapter 19, is a vision that returns John’s audience back to the beginning of the church age. In other words, the events revealed in chapter 20 comes before those revealed in chapter 19. The concept of the millennium described in chapter 20 is merely meant to convey the ideal conditions of Satan being bound and the church triumphantly proclaiming the Gospel throughout the world. Only at the end of that time will Satan be released before Christ returns to consummate this age.

I argued that the book of Revelation is for the most part sequential. Now that is not to say that some of the visions overlap and build upon each other by revealing newer content to previous content. By sequential, I mean that the prophetic events described in major sections generally follow one after the other and that any notion of recapitulation is forced upon the text by one’s eschatological system. That is especially true regarding how chapters 19 and 20 relate to each other.

I presented my case centered around three key arguments: The context of chapters 19 and 20 in the larger whole of the book, John’s repeated use of “and I saw” presents a chronological progression of events, and the purpose clause in 20:3, “any longer,” brings the reader to the conclusion that the events of chapter 20 follow closely after chapter 19.

So with that background in mind, let me interact with a few of the comments from my challenger,

1. The question of whether Revelation as a whole is recapitulative in structure is essentially different than the question of whether chapt 19 and 20 are recapitulative. That is, it is possible that Rev as a whole is recapitulative but 19 and 20 are not; it is also possible that Rev as a whole is not recapitulative but Rev 19 and 20 are. Yet you seem to address these two issues as if they are essentially the same.

I would agree with his premise. I wasn’t, however, directly addressing the concept of recapitulation in other portions of Revelation. In fact, as I noted above, I believe a few overlapping, recapitulatory style visions are in the book of Revelation, but that is irrelevant to my thesis.

The focus of my article explored whether or not the events of chapter 20 are a vision of recapitulation or do they follow in sequential, chronological order to chapter 19. Much of the foundation of non-premillennial theology stands upon a recapitulatory interpretation of chapter 20. I believe the exegesis of chapter 20 will only bring one to the conclusion that the events recorded in the chapter follow immediately upon those of chapter 19.

I am at a loss why my challenger thinks I conflated two issues. Because he mistakenly thinks I am conflating two issues, the possibly of recapitulation existing in the book with the focus of my post, exploring whether Revelation chapter 20 is a recapitulation of events, he proceeds to set up a series of strawman arguments.

2. You say that the context demands that they are chronological, however the evidence you provide in support doesn’t provide a sufficient logical basis for that claim.

It would have been helpful if he provided some key examples as to how my take on Revelation 20 not being a recapitulation is lacking in sufficient evidence.  Instead, he provides an example comparing Revelation 6:13 where it says how the stars of the sky fall to the earth, with Revelation 8:12, where the stars seem to be still in the sky since a third of them are made not to shine. But again, even if 8:12 is a recapitulation of 6:13, it has no relevance to chapter 20 being a recapitulation. There needs to be more refinement with his challenge.

He then moves to suggesting how eschatology discussed in other books in the NT contradict a sequential interpretation of Revelation 20. I am then directed to a couple of passages,

1 Cor 15 has a pretty specific chronology, yet no room is left in it for a literal 1000 year reign between the Second Advent and the New Heaven and Earth.

Sure there is room for a millennium. In fact, Michael Vlach’s little book on Premillennialism devotes an entire chapter to interacting with that basic objection. Additionally, portions of the book, Three Views of The Millennium, are available online and the premillennial response of Craig Blaising to amillenniallist Robert Strimple’s exact same objection as my commenter can be read HERE, and he also shows no difficulty existing for the possibility of a millennium kingdom.

The primary problem is the chronology of the stages of resurrection in 15:23,24.

1. “Christ the first fruits”
2. “after that those who are Christ’s at His coming”
3. “then comes the end.”

eschatologyMy detractor (and most non-Premillennialists) thinks no time exists between those who are resurrected at Christ’s coming and the end. But if there is a space of at least 2,000 years between Christ, the first fruits, and those who are resurrected at His coming, there really is no difficulty understanding that a space for a millennial kingdom can exist between those who are resurrected at His coming and the end. That is especially true if we have additional revelation from the Apostle John telling us a millennial kingdom will happen.

Moreover, the words epeita and eita, which are translated as “after that” and “then” can be understood as relating an interval of time between those resurrected at Christ’s coming and the end. The word eita is specifically used in other NT passages where the contexts shows us that an interval of time exists between two events. See for an example Mark 4:17; 4:28 [2x]; 1 Corinthians 15:5, 7; and 1 Timothy 2:13.

My commenter then moves to a second passage from Matthew 24:29 and states that because the cosmological signs are similar to those found in Revelation 6:12-14, Revelation cannot be chronological. Yet once again, the focus of my post is that the events of chapter 20 is sequential to chapter 19, and hence this example is entirely irrelevant to my thesis.

Finally, he comes to my key arguments.

First he interacts with my argument that says John’s use of “and I saw” (kai eidon) in 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11; 21:1 indicates a series of chronological visions.

At this point you seem to make a claim with no supporting evidence. Yep, the phrase indicates a series of visions, There is nothing about the phrase however which requires that these visions are showing chronological events. …. BOTH sides must already be committed to a particular view before they can make any claims about how this phrase is used.

I would argued that the supporting evidence is much stronger than he lets on with his complaint. I would refer readers to one of the original papers I used when writing my article, Premillennialism and An Exegesis of Revelation 20, in which the author lays out a tight, exegetical case for a sequential chronology of events from chapters 19 through 20.

Furthermore, most non-premillennial commentators disagree with my challenger’s assessment and affirm that John received the visions in chronological order. Where they may differ is that they would deny the progress of history revealed in those vision is in chronlogical order. That conclusion is of course driven by one’s theological and hermeneutical precommitments brought to the text as my detractor rightly notes. Thus, there really isn’t any serious difficulty with understanding the sequence of events between 19 and 20 as being in chronological, historical order unless you are insistent on disproving premillennialism.

He then moves to critiquing my final point that says how the purpose clause “any longer” in Revelation 20:3 indicates an interruption of something already taking place. In chapter 20, it would be the interruption of Satan deceiving the nations “any longer.”

This is a case of begging the question. It requires an interruption of something already taking place *only if one already presumes a chronological reading*!! How do you know it requires an interruption? Because 19 and 20 are chronological. How do you know they are chronological? Because otherwise it would require an interruption.

The clause “any longer” doesn’t stand on its own subjected to the whimsy of one’s theological presuppositions. There are other exegetical factors that draw us to the conclusion “any longer” means an interruption of something going before it. Regarding chapter 20, it is the the binding of Satan and all of the ramifications of what it means for him to be bound. I go into more detail about that binding in a separate article in my overall study on eschatology.

While I appreciate the sharpening effect of my commenter’s challenges, I find them a bit strained and the least bit persuasive. I still think the only way to make sense of the the events found between Revelation 19 and 20 is to see them as chronological in sequence.

Babies During the Millennium

babyOver at Turretin Fan’s blog, a guest blogger attempts to employ some defeaters against premillennialism.

Infants and the Millennium – A Pre-Millennial Quadralemma

The author asks the question, “What happens to babies born during the millennial reign after the Return of Christ?”

He lays out four options and then attempts to explain from Scripture how each one is extremely problematic for premillennialists who teach that when Jesus returns, He will reign over a global, theocratic kingdom for a thousand years.

They are,

  1. Babies are born and some believe in Christ and are saved, others do not and are damned.
  2. Babies are born but none of them believe in Christ and they are not saved.
  3. Babies are born and all of them believe in Christ and are saved.
  4. No babies are born during the millennial reign.

I will address each one of his arguments, but if the Scriptural claims of the first objection can be answered, the remainder are irrelevant to any case being made against premillennialism.

Let me look at the first one in full,

1. Babies are born and some believe in Christ and are saved, others do not and are damned. The problem with this view is that scripture makes it clear that Christ will not return until all of his people have been brought in.

In 2nd Peter 3, Peter makes the argument that Christ has not returned yet, and that God has not yet judged the Earth because not all of God’s people have been saved, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” God waits until the full number of his people have been gathered.

In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus says of his own return that he will gather his elect from the entire Earth, “the four winds” North, East, South, West and from one end of Heaven to the other, both those on Earth and those in Heaven will be gathered together upon Christ’s return. All of God’s people will be gathered upon Christ’s return.

Finally, in Romans 11:25 scripture says that “a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” This hardening will end when Christ is reigning from Jerusalem and the temple has been rebuilt. If the hardening of Israel has ended this must mean that the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and if that’s the case, it would appear that no Gentiles will be saved during the millennial reign.

The objection is that ALL the people for whom Christ died will be brought to saving faith and after that last person receives Christ only then will He return. The idea being that once all the elect are brought to salvation the door is shut, as it were, and no person can be added to the number. That would mean no more human beings can be born after Christ’s return, or if they are born, they cannot be saved.

That deals a blow against premillennialism that understands that people are born during the millennium and their offspring will be the rebellious armies that are destroyed after Satan is released at the end of the millennium.

Three passages are presented that allegedly expose the flaws in the premillennial idea that babies are born and can be saved during the millennial reign of Christ. I’ll consider each one.

2 Peter 3. Second Peter is a letter specifically written to warn Christians about the infiltration of false teachers into the local church. Chapter 2 outlines their characteristics and warns believers to be on guard against such individuals.

In chapter 3, Peter reminds his readers that false teachers had always been around causing problems for God’s people. He further explains that false teachers will always continue to plague the church, but Christians are not to worry; their judgment is rapidly approaching. The reason why God is not slow is because He wants His people to be saved, and delays His judgment until all of those he wishes to save will be saved.

Two significant words should be examined. First, is the “coming” mentioned in 3:4 Christ’s actually second coming? In a sense, yes, but given the context of what it is Peter is addressing regarding the influence of false teacher, it is better to take this “coming” as a reference to His certain judgment that finally deals decisively with rebellious unbelievers. That happens at the end of the millennium.

Secondly is the phrase the “Day of the Lord” spoken about in 3:10. It is mistaken to automatically equate it to Christ’s second coming. Again, given the context of Peter describing how false teachers will be dealt with swiftly by God, I take this as being the final judgment of this age at the end of the millennium as described in Revelation 20:7 onward.

Hence, Peter’s words are not prohibiting the idea of babies being born and some saved during the millennium.

Matthew 24:29-31. Contextually in Matthew 24, the word “elect” is a technical description of the Jewish people who will be saved at the coming of Christ, not the “elect” as in all for whom the Father chose in eternity past and for whom Christ died. Taking that the elect spoken about here are exclusively the Jewish people who will be saved after the tribulation rather than ALL of the elect both Jews and Gentiles combined (a position Covenantalists often embrace by default), there is no problem with people being saved during the millennium.

Romans 11:25. It is assumed that the phrase “until the fulness of the gentiles comes in,” means the complete number of all gentiles who will come to salvation. So in other words, Israel’s partial hardening continues until all those gentiles God has chosen to save believe in faith. Once that happens, Christ returns, the Jewish hardening is lifted, and salvation is completed for all of God’s salvific purposes have been fulfilled.

However, the idea of “fulfilled” does not mean quantity, as in the total number of people, but more like quality, as in through Israel’s partial hardening, the gentiles are blessed. That is, gentiles are the recipients of Gospel blessing including salvation. That is what Romans 11:12 suggests when Paul writes, “Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!”

The word “fulfillment” is the same one used in 11:25 regarding the “fulness of the gentiles.” In 11:12, Paul explains that Israel’s rejection of Christ is riches for the world of the gentiles, in that the Gospel goes forth to all men everywhere in the world. If God is currently blessing the gentiles with the Gospel, how much more will He bless the Jews. Romans 11:25 says that happens once God has finished His purposes with the Gentiles.

The fulness of the gentiles being complete doesn’t mean there are no more people who could be born who will be saved. It means that God’s purpose with hardening the Jewish people during this time before the millennial will be completed.

babyOffering a response to those biblical objections in that first argument helps to dissolve the remaining three. I briefly respond to them,

2. Babies are born but none of them believe in Christ and they are not saved.

Citing from Isaiah 65:23-24, the objection states that this could not be an option for premillennialists. If we are to read Isaiah’s words in 65 literally, as well as Zechariah 14 and Micah 4, there has to be babies born during the millennium.

However, I don’t agree with the objection. I believe babies will be born during the millennium. Isaiah, Zechariah, and Micah are only a problem if the passages previously examined under objection 1 were genuinely a problem for the premillennial model, but they are not.

3. Babies are born and all of them believe in Christ and are saved.

As a premillennialist, I am at a lost as to why it is believed that objection is a dilemma for premillennialism. I know of no premillennialist who believes that. Again, it is only an objection if the points under the first argument cannot be answered.

4. No babies are born during the millennial reign.

Here is another point I disagree with as well and I’m left wondering why it is believed it is an objection. The author does appeal to Revelation 19:17-21 and states, “Revelation 19:17-21 describes the total destruction of all unbelievers upon Christ’s return. There will be none of God’s enemies left after Christ returns.” No, Revelation 19:17-21 does not describe the total destruction of ALL unbelievers upon Christ’s return, but the total destruction of ALL of Antichrist’s armies and those aligned with him against the people of the Lord, i.e., Israel.

Studies in Eschatology [17]

The Duration of the Thousand Years: Literal or Figurative?

I come to my last comments on my study of Revelation 20.

My series of posts on the subject has argued that the exegesis of Revelation 20 cannot sustain the Reformed, Covenantalist hermeneutic utilized by amillennialists and postmillennialists who interpret the vision to be describing the state of the Christian Church being presently experienced.

Much to the contrary, the exegesis makes Revelation 20 a prophecy regarding the future. That after Christ’s coming to vanquish the armies of the beast as described in chapter 19, Satan will be literally bound and his influence removed from the earth, and Christ will establish a physical kingdom that will last 1,000 chronological, calendar years.

The question still needing to be explored is whether the duration of those 1,000 years described in chapter 20 are truly literal calendar years or are they meant to be taken symbolically as an expression of a long period of time?

Those who employ a Reformed Covenantalist hermeneutic when interpreting Revelation 20 believe the 1,000 years should be symbolic. The primary reason being is that they start with the presupposition that because Revelation is filled with much symbolic language, then the overall interpretation of the book should be symbolic.

Revelation is also considered apocalyptic literature and apocalyptic literature must always be interpreted symbolically. In fact, the true, “literal” sense of the book is to interpret the numbers and images symbolically. Moreover, the use of 1,000 years to describe the length of the messianic kingdom is only mentioned here in Revelation 20. That is an important detail, because in both the OT and NT, the kingdom is described as being everlasting, or eternal. A thousand years, though a long time in human history, is still not even close to being “everlasting.”

Hence, the only conclusion an interpreter can make is that the 1,000 years are not real, calendar years, but are meant to describe a long, indefinite period representing a complete and ideal time. In this case, the reign of Christ over the Church in the world.

Amillennialists and postmillennialists both interpret the 1,000 years in a similar fashion. The one difference between the groups, however, is that amillennialists see the time being the entire period between the first and second coming of Christ, whereas most postmillennialists refer to the years as a period of time beginning sometime way after the first coming, but before the second coming [Waymeyer, 99].

Theologians who have spiritualized the years have developed clever ways of trying to understand their meaning. Some suggest the number “1,000” is the cube of ten, which is the sum of 7 plus 3. The number “10” signifies completeness, and 1,000 is ten to the third power [Hoekema, 227]. Others, like David Chilton, believe the 1,000 years are a hyperbolic expression meant to express a long period of time. Similar to the expression, “I’ve told you a million times!” Obviously, a person hasn’t told the person a literal “million times,” but rather means they have told the person many, many times. In like manner, the 1,000 years are meant to convey that there were many, many years between the first and second coming [Chilton, 507].

There is biblical precedence for understanding the years in this fashion. For example, when Psalm 50:10 says of God, He owns the cattle on a 1,000 hills, it is obvious there are more than 1,000 hills in the world, so it cannot be literal. Rather, the idea speaks to God’s absolute dominion over all the world. The 1,000 years as recorded in Revelation 20 is to be understood similarly and not as literal calendar years.

Interestingly, though Augustine popularized the understanding of Revelation 20 as describing the church age, he saw the 1,000 years as being real years and expected Christ to return at the first of the 10th century. That didn’t happen and his interpretation of Revelation was re-worked to understand the years as symbolic.

In spite of the myriad of commentaries written attempting to spiritualize the 1,000 years, none of the conclusions are truly satisfying as representing the best way to read Revelation 20. Instead, I believe the best understanding of the texts is that these years as real calendar years describing a future, messianic age with Christ ruling over the earth. Let me add three reasons to my already long list outlined in my previous posts on this subject:

The use of numbers in the book of Revelation. Steve Sullivan notes that the vast majority of the numbers used in the book of Revelation are conventional. In other words, the numbers are meant to convey true measurements, mathematical operations, and other calculations. That clearly implies the bulk of them are not symbolic, but real.

In the book of Revelation there are 24 elders, 42 months, 7 seals, trumpets, and bowls, 3 1/2 years, 5 months, and fractional uses of counting parts of the earth and populations destroyed in specific judgments [Sullivan, 38]. Nothing in those particular contexts suggests a symbolic use of numerical values. John spoke, for example, to one of the 24 elders, indicating there are 24 individual elders. The same can be said about the 42 months or the 7 churches or the 10 kings. If those numbers are real, actual numerical values, why can’t we say the same about the 1,000 years?

The specificity of “a thousand years.” Revelation 20:3 records how Satan will be bound for 1,000 years, but at the end of the verse John writes, But after these things he must be released for a little while. Some translations read “a short time.” John’s use of a specific time designation, 1,000 years, is a sharp contrast to the indefinite phrase “a little while.” That is an important point to note, because if John had meant to convey the idea of “a long while” when speaking of Satan being bound, he could have very well described Satan’s captivity with such indefinite language.

In fact, Charles Feinberg points out that the Greek language knows well how to express the indefinite period of “a long time” or “a long while.” In Matthew 25:19, for instance, when Jesus taught the parable of the talents, he uses the phrase polun chronon, which means “a long time” [Waymeyer, 50]. Yet John does not contrast two indefinite periods of time, a “long while” with a “short while.” Rather, he states a specific time designation of time, 1,000 years, and contrasts it with an indefinite short period of time. That implies clearly a specified length of real time is in view here.

The characteristics of symbolic language. Contrary to the thinking of most biblical students, symbolic language is meant to clarify divine revelation, not make it mysterious and unknowable. The thousand years in Revelation 20 does not contain two important characteristics of symbolic language: some degree of absurdity when taken literally and some degree of clarity when taken symbolically.

For example of what I mean, consider Isaiah 55:12 where the prophet proclaims how the trees in the fields will clap their hands. Taken literally, there is a degree of absurdity: trees are not like human beings and do not possess arms nor have hands they can clap. We’re not talking about Ents here. Taken symbolically, however, there is clarity of interpretation: The image is meant to express how Israel’s return from captivity will be a time of great rejoicing [Waymeyer, 51].

If the 1,000 years are meant to convey a symbolic period of time, the use of 1,000 doesn’t contain those two characteristics. There is nothing absurd about Christ’s reign over the world being 1,000 calender years in length, nor is there any true clarity if we take the 1,000 years as being symbolic for “a long period of time.” If anything, interpreting John’s millennium symbolically adds interpretative confusion to the text.

 

*******
Sources:

David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of Revelation. (Dominion Press: Forth Worth, TX, 1987)

Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and The Future. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapid, MI, 1979).

Steve Sullivan,
Premillennialism and an Exegesis of Revelation 20. On-line paper.

Matthew Waymeyer, Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate. (Kress Christian Publications: The Woodlands TX, 2004).

Studies in Eschatology [16]

deadarise1A Physical or Spiritual Resurrection?

I have taken up a brief, exegetical study of Revelation 20:1-10. With this post I want to consider the subject of the First Resurrection.

Is the resurrection written about by John a physical resurrection of the saints from the dead, or does the Apostle mean to convey the idea of spiritual resurrection, as in being born again at salvation?

Those who read Revelation 20 according to a Reformed, typological hermeneutic generally interpret the “first resurrection” of 20:4, 5 as meaning a spiritual resurrection. What is also termed in the NT as regeneration or the new birth.

There are a handful of NT passages that liken spiritual new life with resurrection. For example, in Romans 6:4-6, Paul uses the imagery of Christ’s death, burial, and Resurrection to illustrate the spiritual new birth Christians experience at salvation. Paul also uses similar imagery in Colossians 2:12, 13 where he describes the believer’s new life as having been buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him through faith. In Ephesians 2:4-6, Paul speaks of our spiritual birth as having been made alive and raised up to sit in the heavenlies with Christ.

The difficulty with using those passages as proof-texts for interpreting the first resurrection in Revelation 20 as spiritual, however, is that Paul merely contrasts the spiritual birth of a believer with the physical Resurrection of Christ. He does not call the spiritual regenerating experience a “resurrection.”

Certainly there is a picture of new spiritual life as opposed to an old spiritual life dead in sin. On account of Christ’s physical Resurrection, the believer can be certain of the efficacy of spiritual regeneration and fix his hope in a future physical resurrection. However, the actual word “resurrection” is reserved to describe a real, physical event: A dead body brought back to physical life.

Yet, when we come to Revelation 20:4-6, can the concept of the “first resurrection” genuinely mean a spiritual new birth? Would this be the one place where the terminology of “resurrection,” a word meant to describe a physical event, be used to describe a spiritual reality? I don’t believe so, and in point of fact, one strains the exegetical-grammatical boundaries of the text of Scripture in order to turn the first resurrection in Revelation 20:5 into a spiritual one rather than a physical one.

Let me examine three key, exegetical points from John’s discussion of the first resurrection that demonstrates this resurrection is physical and not spiritual.

The exclusive use of the word resurrection. The English word “resurrection” is translated from the Greek word anastasis and it basically has the idea of “raising up.” Anastasis is used 42 times throughout the NT, and it is used almost exclusively to describe a raising up of the physical dead. A person dies, but then at a later point in time is fully brought back to life. Lazarus in John 11 serves as a perfect picture of the use of the word anastasis. If anastasis is meant to convey a spiritual new birth here in Revelation 20, it is the only place in the entire NT where this usage is to be found.

The near exclusive use of anastasis in the NT to describe physical resurrection ruins the view of this “first resurrection” in Revelation 20:5 as being spiritual. It is such a major grammatical point that those who interpret resurrection to mean spiritual new birth in chapter 20 have a difficult time explaining how it fits into their system. Probably the most popular explanation is the one set forth by Meredith Kline which is repeated by Kim Riddlebarger in his book on Amillennialism, [Riddlebarger, 218-223].

It centers on the word protos, which is translated as “first” in the phrase, “the first resurrection.” Kline argues that rather than understanding protos to mean first in a chronological, sequential manner, first, second, etc., protos should be understood as referring to “a different kind,” that being something new replacing something old. In this case, the second resurrection, which is understood as the physical resurrection of the saints is different in kind to the first resurrection that was a spiritual new birth.

Kline (and Riddlebarger following him) appeal to Revelation 21:1 where John states how the new heaven and new earth replace the first heaven and the first earth, which is understood as being obviously different in kind. He also appeals to the use of first-second/old-new in Hebrews 8-10 and 1 Corinthians 15 and then applies them all to interpreting 20:5. However, as Steve Sullivan points out, “the chronological usage of protos is overwhelmingly used in the NT and especially in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:17; 2:4, 5; 2:8; 4:1,7; 8:7; 13:12; 16:2)” [Sullivan, 35]. Additionally Sullivan writes,

“It is also important to stress that the subject is resurrection (20:5) and “came to life” (vv. 4, 5) in combination of with protos. … the concept of first (first fruits) is found with “has been raised” (having the thought of resurrection) in 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23. We find no antithetical aspect to Paul’s order of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:20 and 23. Christ’s first fruits of resurrection is followed by the same concept of resurrection for “those who are Christ’s at His coming” (v. 23). ” [ibid]

So rather than this being a different kind of “resurrection” in that it’s another way of saying spiritual “regeneration,” the clearer meaning of the text, especially when all the exegetical data is considered, tells us that a physical resurrection precedes another physical resurrection that is separated by a period of time, i.e., a geo-political kingdom that lasts 1,000 years.

The use of the word ezesan – “to live.” The word ezesan is translated as “they lived.” In other NT contexts the word can mean coming to life spiritually as in the new birth. But in the context of Revelation 20:4, 5, the subject is physically dead people who are brought back to life.

There is one important detail to consider between these two verses. Ezesan is used to describe those coming to life at the first resurrection, as well as those coming to life at the second resurrection. If the first is meant to be taken as speaking of spiritual resurrection, then why are we to understand the exact same word used in the same context in an entirely different way? That being, to describe those who came to life physically during the second resurrection? If a spiritual resurrection is meant with the first (vs. 4), but a physical resurrection with the second (vs. 5), such suggests an arbitrary change in meaning that is not indicated by the text.

The presence of martyrs. One of the more glaring problems with the spiritual resurrection position is the fact of martyrs being described as those who lived again and partook in the first resurrection. Those are individuals who had been beheaded for their witness of Christ and because they would not worship the beast. As Seiss notes, “Spiritual resurrection is out of the question, for they were spiritually resurrected before they became martyrs, and could not be holy martyrs without it” [Seiss, 460]. In other words, for them to actually be martyrs — to be beheaded for their witness for Christ — they had to have been spiritually resurrected before then. Martyrs are martyred for their faith, a faith that comes at spiritual birth.

*******
Sources:

Kim Riddlebarger, The Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End-times. (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI, 2008).

J.A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1973).

Steve Sullivan, Premillennialism and an Exegesis of Revelation 20. On-line paper.

Matthew Waymeyer, Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate. (Kress Christian Publications: The Woodlands TX, 2004).

The New International Dictionary of NT Theology (Vol. 3), ed. Colin Brown. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 2003).

Studies in Eschatology [15]

stryperThe Binding of Satan: Present or Future?

Continuing with my series on eschatology, I am moving along with my exegetical study of Revelation 20. My contention is that the typological hermeneutics amillennialists and postmillennialists employ when reading Revelation, especially chapter 20, does not handle the exegesis of the text, and thus does not capture accurately what the Apostle John meant to convey with this prophetic book. I am examining 5 major exegetical points I believe demonstrate my claim.

With this post, I come to the second major exegetical point: Is Satan bound now, presently, during the Church age, or does Revelation 20 describe a future binding of Satan?

The classic Augustinian interpretation of Satan’s binding, and the one still defended to this day by the majority of both amillennialists and postmillennialists, is that the binding of Satan is a present reality. He was “bound,” as it were, by the victory of Christ’s death on the cross and His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. Satan’s binding is not believed to be total, but it prevents him from deceiving the nations and thwarting the gospel message from going forth into the world.

Amillennials and Postmillennial interpreters go outside the context of Revelation 20 to build their case for their understanding of Satan’s binding. They will appeal to such passages as Matthew 12:29 and Mark 3:27 where Jesus speaks of the “strongman” being bound and his house plundered. It is believed the “strongman” of whom Jesus is speaking is Satan and his activities to oppose Christ’s work. Additionally, they appeal to Christ’s words in John 12:31-32, where Jesus states how judgment has come to the world and the prince of this world is cast out. Jesus words are understood to mean that Satan can no longer prevent the nations from coming to salvation.

Considering the text of Revelation 20, is this binding of Satan really just a metaphor, or symbolic language, only meant to described Satan’s limited activities as far as the gospel message is concerned? Is that what John is meaning to convey? Allow me to consider 5 exegetical points to show why this binding is yet future and is in no way a present reality.

1) The “chain” imagery. Both amillennialists and postmillennialists will often chide future premillennialists and their view of the “chain” the angel uses to bind Satan. It is argued that a spiritual being like Satan cannot possibly be bound by a “chain,” so some symbolism has to be in play here with John’s words. To suggest he can is reducing your hermeneutics to absurd literalism.

But no one is denying the use of symbolic imagery in Revelation 20:1. When considered in the context of Revelation 20, the image of a “chain” implies a captivity; or better, a complete restriction of activity the devil once enjoyed before being chained. That speaks against the “partial” binding view of the amillennial and postmillennial perspective who see Satan as merely limited with his activity, not totally removed from performing his previous activities.

Revelation 9:14, 15, is a description of bound demonic beings who are released to kill a third of mankind. The language implies clearly that they had no ability whatsoever to perform those duties until they were unbound, thus indicating the totality of their binding.

2) The characteristics of the abyss. Satan is more than just “chained.” He is chained and imprisoned in the abyss. The word “abyss” (abussos in Greek) is sometimes translated “bottomless pit” and has the primary meaning as identifying the place in the underworld for imprisoning disobedient spirits. See for example Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1-2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3. The abyss is the place where demonic spirits do not wish to go (Luke 8:31), the confinement of the demonic creatures which are loosed to plague the earth (Revelation 9:1, 2, 11), and it will be the location where Satan will be imprisoned (Revelation 20:1) [Sullivan, 18].

G.K. Beale has written probably the most comprehensive commentary on Revelation advocating the classic amillennial position regarding the binding of Satan in chapter 20. He asserts that the abyss is synonymous with “death and hades” [Beale, 984]. He further argues the term “abyss” is a metaphor describing the spiritual sphere in which the devil and his minions operate and that sphere represents a spiritual dimension existing along side the earthly realm of humanity [ibid, 987].

However, Beale’s take on the word abyss does not match what we see taught in Scripture. The abyss, rather than being synonymous with “death and hades” is distinct from them. Where as “death and hades” is related mostly with judgment upon humanity (death the human experience, hades the destination), the abyss is identified with the demonic, a place of confinement for them.

What is important to note is those demonic being imprisoned in the abyss have no contact with the human world, so the idea of Beale’s that the abyss represents the demonic sphere existing along side the earthly sphere is mistaken. Revelation 9:1 tells of a star, interpreted to be some angelic being, possibly Satan, who has the key to the abyss. When it is opened, the unclean spirits within are released upon the world. When they were imprisoned in the abyss they had no contact with the world, now that they are released, they do. The implications of that description of the abyss are clear: when Satan is imprisoned within it, he no longer has contact with the human world. Hence, he is more than just limited in his activities; his activities completely terminated on this earth.

3) The use of the purpose clause “no more.” Revelation 20:3 states that when Satan is bound, he “no longer” deceives the nations. The phrase “no longer” or “no more” or “any longer” is the purpose clause hina me eti. The clause within its context speaks of a complete cessation of activity. In regards to Revelation 20, the deception of the nations. The deception of the nations is spoken about in Revelation 12:9, 13:4, 18:23, 19:20, and here in 20:3. However, one will note how the purpose clause speaks of an interruption of something that was already taking place, the deception of the nations. Satan can no longer deceive the nations. His ability to do so has been ended by his imprisonment.

Amillennialists and postmillennialsts argue that the clause speaks to only the deception of nations. In other words, Satan can still involve himself in other activities, which we see played out in history. But again, the entire language of the passage clearly confirms a total cessation of all activity, not just one.

As Powell illustrates, “For example, if a warden says that he is putting a prisoner in solitary confinement, in order that he will no longer kill any more prisoners, this does not mean the prisoner is free to steal and do other such activities. The purpose statement does not determine the degree of the restriction at all; it is determined by the language used for the restriction” [Powell, 1].

The language of the first three verses of Revelation 20 implies just that. Satan is no longer free to do any activity at all.

4) The “seal” and “lock.” Adding to the already clear terminology of cessation of activity is the words “seal” and “lock.” A seal on the abyss where Satan is shut there in, would further strengthen the case for Satan’s inactivity. He cannot go in or out of his prison without a guard knowing it.

Additionally, the word “lock” implies a confined imprisonment out of which Satan cannot be freed until the one with the key to the lock unlocks it. In fact, all the imagery, or symbolism, being bound with a chain, sealed in the abyss, a lock locked with a key, all undoubtedly suggest a complete cessation of Satan’s activity upon the earth. What is being described in these first 3 verses speaks strongly against the traditional amillennial and postmillennial interpretation of Revelation 20.

5) The reality of Satan’s influence. Probably the most damaging piece of evidence against the idea of Satan only partially bound or having his activities merely curbed, is the reality of his influence upon the earth. Beginning even with the Scriptures we see Satan filling the heart of Ananias to lie (Acts 5:3), sending a messenger to hinder Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Thessalonians 2:18), tempting believers (1 Corinthians 7:5), blinding the minds of the unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4), disguising himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), holding unbelievers captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26), holding unbelievers in his power (1 John 5:19), and prowling about like a lion seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Those are things happening after Christ has supposedly bound him at the cross.

The history of the world demonstrates the illogic of the concept of a bound/yet unbound Satan. Wars, man’s inhumanity against man, demonic false religions, philosophies, and false churches, godless governments, cruel dictators, and the general wickedness of men and women all testify to the fact that Satan is unbound and is fully active upon the earth. It is not until after he is bound that these things come to an end.

*******
Sources

G.K. Beale, TNIGTC: The Book of Revelation. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1999).

Charles Powell, Progression Versus Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-6: Some Overlooked Arguments. On-line paper.

Steve Sullivan, Premillennialism and an Exegesis of Revelation 20. On-line paper.

Matthew Waymeyer, Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate. (Kress Christian Publications: The Woodlands TX, 2004).

Studies in Eschatology [14]

revelationRevelation 20: Recapitulation or Sequential?

With this post I come specifically to the text of Revelation 20:1-10, the source of the main disagreement between the various millennial positions. Even more to the point is whether this passage is referring to a future millennium or is it describing the conditions present now during the age of the Church. If we can determine how in which way we are to understand Revelation 20, we can then narrow our focus down to determine which eschatological position best explains the exegetical data.

Just as a brief reminder, both amillennialism and postmillennialism approach Revelation 20 with an Augustinian hermeneutic, though the system may be redefined as historic redemptive or typological. Whatever the case, amillennialists and postmillennialists, though they may draw different conclusions as to how the events of the millennium play out, believe Revelation 20 is basically describing conditions now during the Church age.

Both groups would argue that the book of Revelation is prophetic-apocalyptic literature filled with much symbolism. The exegete should not expect to take anything in the book with a wooden literalism. That is especially true of the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20. Additionally, the concept of the 1,000 years is only found here in this portion of Scripture, indicating even more that Revelation 20 should not be taken literally in the sense of real, calendar years. The exegesis of Revelation 20 is then interpreted to accommodate those presuppositions.

Contrasted with the idea that Revelation 20 is describing conditions now during the Church age is the futurist position of premillennialism. That system understands the chapter as describing a future time during which Christ will return to destroy the enemies of God and His people and establish a millennial kingdom where righteousness dwells over all the earth. The premillennialists draw that conclusion because they interpret the prophecy of Revelation with the historical-grammatical exegesis recovered by the reformers during the age of the Reformation that reads prophetic passages more literally.

Now, with those basic things in mind, as we come to chapter 20 we want to consider the exegesis of the passage. When all things considered, does the passage affirm the hermeneutics employed by amillennialists and postmillennialists when they interpret the chapter, or does the exegesis favor the more literal approach of premillennialism that sees this passage as future?

It’s my position that the hermeneutic utilized by amillennialists and postmillennialists must be abandoned as it is fraught with much philosophical baggage that mishandles the biblical exegesis. Instead of using a typological style method, the biblical student should approach the Revelation with the historical-grammatical approach, recognizing the symbolism of the book, but interpreting it with a normal understanding of language.

Moreover, the book is heavily dependent upon previous prophecy like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, and like Revelation, those books contain symbolic language, but a symbolism providing description of historical realities. Daniel for instance uses symbolic language to describe such historical events as the fall of Babylon, the coming of Alexander the Great, and the rise of the Roman empire. The language of Revelation describes similar historical realities, and should be interpreted as explaining something real, not just being symbolic for the sake of being symbolic and using colorful metaphors.

As we survey chapter 20, there are five important questions I believe divide the amillennial/postmillennial positions from the premillennial position, and these I will consider in turn.

1) Is the chronology of Revelation 19 to 20 recapitulative or sequential?
2) Is the binding of Satan present or future?
3) Is the first Resurrection spiritual or physical?
4) Is the duration of the 1,000 years symbolic or literal?
5) Is the locale of the 1,000 years in heaven or on earth?

It is my contention that when we consider those points in light of the exegetical data of Revelation, they will not sustain an amillennial nor postmillennial perspective.

Let me begin with the first, Is the chapters of Revelation 19 to 20 recapitulative or sequential?

Recapitulative may be a new word for some, so let me define it. Recapitulation is “to repeat in concise form,” so the idea with recapitulation is that the events described in Revelation 20 do not follow in sequence after Revelation 19. In fact, many amillennialists and postmillenialists believe the entire Revelation of John is a series of prophetic visions meant to provide details of the Church age. Most interpreters believe there are 7 visions (sticking with the number “7” symbolism of John) and each vision returns the reader to the beginning of the Church age to either provide new revelation or fill in the details of a previous visions.

In that outline, Revelation 19 describes how the Church age will end with Jesus returning with victory over God’s enemies who had been persecuting His people. Chapter 20, [and this is key], rather than describing events that follow immediately after those described in chapter 19, instead returns the reader back to the beginning of the Church age.

Chapter 20 is believed to be returning back to Christ’s victory over Satan at the cross and Resurrection (the concept of Satan being “bound”), and unfolds how the saints are resurrected spiritually to reign with Christ presently now as the Church triumphantly goes forth across the earth proclaiming the gospel and bringing nations to Christ. Only at the end of the Church age is Satan loosed for a little while to deceive the nations who attempt one final assault against God and His people, what is described with a bit more detail at the end of chapter 19.

Hence chapter 20 precedes chapter 19 in order of events, and chapter 19:11-21 runs concurrently with chapter 20:7-10. They are passages explaining parallel events, not passages describing sequential, chronological events following after each other.

However, when we consider the book of Revelation as a whole, is John meaning to convey the idea of recapitulation? Especially chapters 19 and 20?

There are many vigorous defenders of recapitulation. R. Fowler White and Cornelius Venema, for example, have both written capable defenses of recapitulation between chapters 19 and 20. Yet, in spite of their work, I agree with commentator Robert Thomas that when all things are considered, the concept of recapitulation does not rest upon the exegesis of the book, but rather is concluded because of philosophical pre-commitments utilized when interpreting Revelation [Thomas 404]. This in a way is the Achilles Heel of non-futuristic, non-premillennial systems. If it can be demonstrated clearly that Revelation 20 follows Revelation 19 sequentially, those systems really have no foundation upon which to rest their arguments.

So how is Revelation 20 sequential to Revelation 19? Let me consider three points.

First, we can say the context demands it. Revelation chapters 19 and 20 are part of a larger whole of the book that tracks with a series of important events which follow after one another. Matt Waymeyer explains it this way, “The context and flow of Revelation 12-20 point to a chronological relationship in which the events of chapter 20 follow those of chapter 19” [Waymeyer, 62]. He goes on to outline the chronological relationship as,

  • Satan being cast down to earth and beginning his work to deceive the whole world (Rev. 12:9).
  • Satan enlisting the beast and the false prophet to accomplish his task of deception (Rev. 13:1-18; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).
  • The unholy trinity is successful in their attempts to deceive and are defeated by Christ at His return who conquers them and casts them into the lake of fire in a series of visions. (Rev. 19:11-20:10).
  • By the end of chapter 19, only two of the three of the unholy trinity – the beast and false prophet – has been defeated. Chapter 20 then continues the thought of judgment of those three, by binding the head of the group, Satan, in the abyss [ibid, 62-63].

It is clear that there is no logical, grammatical break between the events ending chapter 19 and those continued into chapter 20. On the contrary, there is unity of thought, especially between the judgment upon the three members of the unholy trinity – Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. It disrupts the flow of thought to suggest the beast and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire, while leaving the doom of Satan unresolved by claiming chapter 20:1-4 is returning the reader back the beginning of the Church’s ministry after the great commission. The fate of the devil is answered, however, when chapters 19-20 are treated as sequential.

John’s use of “and I saw” (kai eidon) in 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11; 21:1 indicates a series of visions happening right after one another; a progression of chronological thought. D.E. Aune argues that the phrase “and I saw” does three things: It introduces a new vision, a major scene within a vision, and focuses on a new or significant figure or action that occurs within a continuing vision narrative [Aune, 338]. Some amillennialists will argue the phrase, while providing a visional chronicle, is not providing an historical chronicle. In other words, they believe the vision is in chronological order, but not necessarily the history of events [Sullivan, 5]. I would point out such an argument assumes a commitment to the Augustine/historical Reformed hermeneutic and is not derived from the exegesis itself.

The purpose clause of Revelation 20:3, “any longer” (eti) strongly brings one to the conclusion that the events of chapter 20 follow closely behind those of chapter 19. “Any longer” indicates an interruption of something already taking place. In this case, the deception of the nations by Satan as outlined in Revelation 12-19. I will go into more detail about this purpose clause in my next post to this series, but the binding of Satan is the very thing providing the use of “any longer.”

And then Revelation 20:10 states how Satan will be cast into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet are also. These two individuals were judged and thrown into the lake of fire at the end of chapter 19. The only way the words of 20:10 can make any exegetical sense is if chapter 20 follows sequentially after chapter 19.

The next post will continue my exegetical examination by considering the “binding of Satan.”

*******
Sources:

D.E. Aune, Revelation 1-5. (Nelson: Nashville TN, 1997).

Craig Blaising, “Premillennialism,” in Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond. ed. Darrel Bock. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1999).

Charles Powell, Progression Versus Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-6: Some Overlooked Arguments. On-line paper.

Steve Sullivan, Premillennialism and an Exegesis of Revelation 20. On-line paper.

Robert Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary. (Moody: Chicago IL, 1995).

Matthew Waymeyer, Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate. (Kress Christian Publications: The Woodlands TX, 2004).

R. Fowler White, “Making Sense of Rev 20:1-10? Harold Hoehner Versus Recapitulation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37 (December 1994).

Studies in Eschatology [13]

endofdaysApocalypticism and the Book of Revelation

One final area I need to discuss before moving into Revelation chapter 20 is the genre of the book of Revelation.The English title of the book, the Revelation, is translated from the Greek word apokalypsis and it simply means “to unveil,” “to disclose,” or “to reveal.”

There is a large group of evangelical interpreters who have poured new meaning into the word apokalypsis and equate the book of Revelation, along with the OT books of Ezekiel, Daniel, and even Zechariah, with a class of non-canonical books that flourished during the inter-testament period [Woods, 1]. Those non-canonical books are called apocalyptic literature and they began to circulate during the 2nd century B.C. as a response to persecution and oppression the Jews were experiencing, [Carson-Moo-Morris, 478], and they include books like Enoch, Jubilees, The Assumption of Moses, The Testament of the 12 Patriarchs, and The Sibylline Oracles.

They are called “apocalyptic” because they share many characteristics of a similar theme concerning the end of the world and the final judgment of all mankind. Such things as: The use of extensive symbolism, angelic guides, the activity of angels and demons, urgent expectations of the end of the earth in the immediate future, cosmic catastrophe, and the final showdown between good and evil, [Ladd, 621; Woods, 1].

Many modern evangelical interpreters claim the book of Revelation, along with Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, shares several of those characteristics with that collection of non-canonical apocalyptic literature. They make that claim particularly for the book of Revelation which was written roughly around the same time frame the apocalyptic books were composed. Because Revelation contains many of the thematic elements as apocalyptic literature, most notably the symbolic aspect, it is argued the book falls into an entirely different genre than most of the other books in the Bible. Hence, it must be interpreted according to a strict typological/symbolic hermeneutic, with a literal approach either being modified to favor typology/symbolism or laid aside almost completely.

The use of this symbolic principle of interpretation is especially true of the evangelical Reformed believers who employ a non-literal, typological hermeneutic to prophecy. In fact, when one surveys their writings addressing eschatology, a repeated mantra is that the Revelation is heavily symbolic and must be interpreted in a non-literal fashion.

Examples of this principle of a non-literal hermeneutic abound. Kim Riddlebarger attempts to make the case for a symbolic/typological interpretation of Revelation all throughout his main book defending amillennialism, as does Keith Mathison who also appeals to symbolism in his book advocating postmillennialism. Gary Demar of American Vision is one of the more strident non-literalists who insists in his various publications and on his radio program that a literal interpretation of Revelation only serves to ruin our understanding of the book. Popular Christian radio personality, Hank Hanegraaf and host of the Bible Answer Man broadcast, outlines in his book The Apocalypse Code* how the Bible, specifically the book of Revelation, is filled with a lot of symbolism and should be interpreted with the proper use of “types” and “allegory.”

Those men represent just a smattering of biblical interpreters who insist the symbolism of Revelation defines its genre and over rides the basic historical-grammatical hermeneutic used to study Scripture.

Two points need to be considered in response to this view of Revelation:

1) Revelation is better understood as prophecy, not apocalyptic literature.

Though it is true the book of Revelation shares many eschatological characteristics as found in apocalyptic literature, the book is prophetic in nature, and does not belong with the non-canonical apocalyptic literature. The most noticeable proof Revelation is prophecy is the fact John calls his book a prophecy (Rev. 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18). Moreover, Dr. Robert Thomas argues that the number of dissimilarities with apocalyptic literature out weighs the similarities, so much so the book cannot right be called “apocalyptic,”[Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, 338].

For instance, apocalyptic literature is pseudonymous, where as Revelation is not. Apocalyptic literature is never epistolary, where as the opening 3 chapters of Revelation are epistolary, addressing seven real churches. Apocalyptic literature tends to be extremely limited with its admonitions to the readers for their moral compliance to God’s commands. Revelation by contrast has repeated admonitions to John’s readers for moral compliance to God’s commands. Then lastly, Revelation is heavily dependent upon Ezekiel and Daniel, and to some extent, Zechariah. Those prophets wrote some 400 years before apocalyptic literature circulated among the Jewish people. There are several other dissimilarities as well [see Woods], which removes Revelation from the classification of “apocalyptic literature.”

2) The symbolism in Revelation does not nullify the use of a literal hermeneutic.

If Revelation is rightfully understood as a prophecy of further revelation from God and is not to be associated with non-canonical apocalyptic literature, then that will change entirely how one is to interpret the book. The symbolic aspects of the book will be understood in the normal way symbolism is used in the rest of the Bible, especially prophetic portions.

The idea of “literalism” when interpreting Revelation, as well as prophecy in general, is regrettably ridiculed by reformed believers. In some ways I can understand their reactive tone. There are bizarre instances of literalism being abused. Hal Lindsey’s understanding of the locust in Revelation 9 as Apache helicopters spraying chemical weapons, or perhaps my favorite: the scene out of one of those dreadful Thief in the Night films in which a gal hears a noise outside her front door, opens it to see what the racket is, and then a big, rubber foam scorpion tail appears and stings her. But examples of absurd symbolism also exist. The interpretation by various preterist commentators that the 100 pound hailstones mentioned in Revelation 16:21 were the stones catapulted by the Romans when they laid siege to Jerusalem in 70 AD, for instance.

Because Revelation is prophecy, it will be interpreted just like other prophetic sections of the Bible. Certainly there is attention to symbolic language, but there is no need to read into those symbols speculative interpretations that exist outside of the prophecy itself which is connected to a class of non-canonical writings. Again, Revelation is dependent upon Ezekiel and Daniel’s prophecies. The best rule of thumb is to consider those canonical books to help provide clarity for understanding Revelation.

Additionally, symbolism in prophecy always points to some real, historic referent. Consider Daniel 7, where Daniel sees four spectacular beasts in a night vision. Though the beasts are amazing symbolism, we learn later from the angel interpreting the vision that they represent real, historic kingdoms: the Babylonian empire, the Medo-Persian empire, the Greek empire, and finally the Roman empire. If the beasts symbolize four real kingdoms, then other symbols in the vision must also refer to real, historical objects and people. The same would also be with numbers. The number of years in Daniel’s 70 week vision in chapter 9 correspond to real, chronological years. In fact, the vision is so accurate we can date the Triumphal Entry of Christ to Jerusalem the very week He was crucified.

If symbolic images and numbers represent real things in OT prophecy, why would it be any different when we come to Revelation? This is not “wooden literalism” or an “overly active imagination,” but interpreting the biblical text in the manner in which it was meant to be understood. Appealing to non-canonical apocalyptic literature as a starting point merely muddies the whole process of Bible study.

* See a review of The Apocalypse Code HERE.

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Sources:

D.A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1992).

Martin Erdmann, The Millennial Controversy in the Early Church. (Wipf & Stock: Eugene OR, 2005).

George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament. (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1974).

Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old. (Kregel: Grand Rapids MI, 2002).

__________, Revelation 1 – 7: An Exegetical Commentary. (Moody Press: Chicago IL, 1992).

Andy Woods, Apocalypticism, on-line paper.

Studies in Eschatology [12]

millennial

The Millennium in Church History

Having briefly surveyed the three main eschatological systems, I want to turn my attention to a study of Revelation 20 where the disagreements between those systems are focused.

However, before I move to addressing Revelation 20 specifically, it is important to lay a little preliminary background.

Let me begin by providing a brief overview of millennalism within Church history.

I think many Christians are unaware of how the millennium has been a source of strife, curiosity, and sensationalism throughout the 2,000 years of the Church. Millennialism, or millennarianism, is the belief that there will be an earthly reign of the messiah before the end of time [Danielou, 377]. The reign of the messiah was understood by the Jews to be the Kingdom of God coming upon the earth in which all the nations opposed to YHWH were brought under the subjection of His messiah and the world witnessed the triumph of God’s chosen people.

The early Jewish Christians developed this messianic concept further by building their millennarianism more precisely around John’s Book of Revelation and other non-canonical apocalyptic literature like 1 Enoch and the Ascension of Isaiah. They refined the details of their perspective with the rise of the Antichrist before the coming of Jesus, and the Kingdom to come would be a thousand years in length.

That primitive form of premillennialism was known as chiliasm, after the Greek word chilia meaning 1,000. The chiliasts held to a more literal understanding of biblical prophecy concerning the apocalypse, and their beliefs persisted among many groups of orthodox and unorthodox Christians for a least the first three centuries of the early Church.

However, it was Origen of Alexandria, along with Clement, who first employed an allegorical method of interpreting the Bible which eventually challenged the chiliasm of early Christians. Origen’s hermeneutic was developed from a mixture of Christianity and the popular neo-Platonism of his day.

His study of Scripture was a form of syncretism, combining elements of biblical Christianity, pagan mysticism, and Greek philosophy [Erdmann, 159]. Origen considered all prophecy to be mysterious and unintelligible, and he was the first to express a real aversion to the literalistic approach to reading prophecy utilized by the chiliasts because he thought an earthly Kingdom of God for a thousand years to be carnal. Origen’s allegorical hermeneutic was a means to condemn chiliastic teaching, spiritualizing instead the passages of Scripture that if read literally would support a millennium [Erdmann, 161].

But, it was the North African church father, Aurelius Augustine, who had a lasting influence against chiliastic interpretations of prophecy. In his magnum opus, De Civitate Dei (The City of God), Augustine took the allegorical hermeneutic of Origen, and others from the Alexandrian school, and laid the foundation for the two eschatologies of amillennialism and postmillennialism. He saw the thousand years of Revelation 20 as symbolic of the church age. The first resurrection, he believed, was the spiritual re-birth of Christians into the Church. The second resurrection he took as literal, however, when all the righteous and wicked will be raised and judged at the Great White Throne.

Augustine thought the thousand years could possible by understood in a couple of ways.

First is the idea of a “1,000” being symbolic of the fullness of time of some perfect era. He reasoned that the number 100 is sometimes used as being equivalent of totality. A thousand is 100 cubed, meaning perfect totality or completeness.

A second way Augustine said we could understand the thousand years was the whole period of time from Christ’s ascension to the end of time. Utilizing the creation week analogy in which the 6 days of creation in Genesis 1 equals 6 thousand years of human history, the church age would be the last day, as it were, of God’s calendar before the 7th day of eternal rest. Though Augustine favored the 6 days of world history view of the millennium, most of his supporters following in the centuries after he wrote who believed his scheme merely see the 1,000 years as symbolic of the indefinite time for the church age. Still, the build up to the turn of the millennium in the late 990s A.D. saw many groups of sensationalists basing their predictions upon Augustine’s work claiming the end of the world after the year 999 A.D.

Millennarianism as a concept has always had its sensational supporters. The Crusaders, for example, originally a reaction against encroaching Moslem armies pushing into Europe, saw their sworn duty to free Jerusalem, the city of Christ and the capitol of the Kingdom of God, from infidels who had overtaken it.

One of the most notorious incidents involving millennial fervor was the Munster rebellion. In Feburary 1534, a group of radical Anabaptist led by a baker named John Matthys, and a tailor named Jan Bockelson of Leiden, successfully took over Munster, Germany, and claimed the city was the “New Jerusalem.”

munsterFor 18 months the Anabaptist radicals held the city. They implemented polygamy among the citizens and enacted a form of communism in which everyone shared each others’ possessions. Matthys was killed during an attack led by the expelled bishop, Franz Waldeck. That left Jan Bockelson in charge and he installed himself as king and declared himself the successor to king David. In June of 1535, the city fell after being besieged and Bockelson and his more prominent followers were tortured and executed. Their bodies hung in cages for several centuries from the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church.

Date setters have also been a prominent feature of millenniarianism. William Miller, a Baptist preacher in the early 1800s of America, was convinced Christ would return on October 22, 1843. He based this conviction upon his reading of Daniel 8:14, but rather than seeing Daniel’s 2,300 days as just normal days of 24-hours, he believed they represented calendar years. Those “days” would be accomplished in the year 1843. Of course the year 1843 came and went with out anything happening, and Miller was exposed as a false teacher. His prophetic views, though, heavily influenced a young Ellen G. White, the founder of Seventh-Day Adventism, whose family had followed Miller and his predictions.

Along with the Millerites, there are the Jehovah’s Witnesses who have made at least three major predictions of Christ’s return, 1914, 1925, and 1975, and even Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, claimed he would live until his 85th birthday before Christ returned. Smith died at age 38 in a shoot out at a jail in Illinois.

The main feature with the good number of these millennial groups is their literal hermeneutic when interpreting Revelation 20. In fact, many who reject a literal understanding of Revelation 20 cite those examples of excessive sensationalism as one of the reasons a literal approach to interpreting the millennium should be rejected. Added to that is the fact many of the millennial groups who have sprung up during various points in Church history are wildly unorthodox and in many cases, heretical and pseudo-Christian in their theology.

But a literal interpretation of Revelation 20 must not be rejected because eccentric cults have utilized a literal hermeneutic to promote their eschatological heresies. What needs to be determined is whether prophecy itself should be understood with a literal hermeneutic and if that hermeneutic best handles the exegesis of Revelation 20 specifically. I say it does and will hope to demonstrate that in my posts to come.

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Sources:

Robert Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. (Christian Focus: Great Britain, 2005).

Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, ed. and trans. by John A. Baker. (Westminster Press, 1977).

Martin Erdmann, The Millennial Controversy in the Early Church. (Wipf & Stock: Eugene, OR, 2005).