Dr. Roger W. Maslin
THE NATURE OF THE MILLENNIUM
I have just finished typing notes I have gathered over the years.(I did not carefully check spelling, grammar, and typing mistakes). This is not intended to be an impartial or thorough treatment of all the millennial viewpoints contending for acceptance today. It is hardly conceivable that over many years of study my mind would still be in a vacuum with no settled conviction as to the superiority of one millennial system over the others. However, I do believe the pursuit of truth does not have to fear the outcome. The truth will stand if it is indeed truth. So on the basis of the evidence I have in hand I am setting forth my conclusions and the support system as I understand it. I am open to being proved wrong in my conclusions. It would make many of my friends happy. But I believe our conclusions should be based on good exegesis and interpretative principles that honor God’s Word rather than the popular beliefs of others.
I have not attempted to be “original”. Where others have written precisely what I wanted to say in order to throw light on the subject I have quoted them extensively. For many their writings are out of print, but they have demonstrated keen insight into the subject and have expressed it well.
For many years I have felt there should be an exhaustive “Manual on the Millennium” for theology students. I have not seen one that dealt with the great theologians conclusion on the nature of the millennium. I would love to see a concise interpretation of the many Scriptures that relate to the various millennial positions. Especially I would like to see included related discussions on the millennial kingdom, the secret rapture, the great tribulation, the rebuilding of the temple, the judgment seat of Christ and the great white throne judgment, the restoration of Israel, the battle of Armageddon, Daniel’s seventieth week, literal fulfillment of O.T. prophecies and the anti-christ. Maybe some day someone will attempt such a project.
For purposes of definition I will use those by Robert G. Clouse in THE MEANING OF THE MILLENIUM with a recognition that there are many variations of each millennial position and that these definitions may not suit each writer. Generally though they are a good starting place to distinguish the different view points.
Premillennialists generally believe that the return of Christ will be preceded by certain signs such as the preaching of the gospel to all nations, a great apostasy, wars, famines, earthquakes, the appearance of the Antichrist and a great tribulation. His return will be followed by a period of peace and righteousness before the end of the world. Christ will reign as King in person or through a select group of followers. This reign, rather than being established by the conversion of individual souls over a long period of time, will come about suddenly and by overwhelming power. The Jews will be converted and will become very important during this time. Nature will also share in the millennial blessings by being abundantly productive. Even ferocious beasts will be tamed. Evil is held in check during this age by Christ who rules with ‘a rod of iron’. However at the end of the millennium there is a rebellion of wicked men which almost overcomes the saints. Some premillennialists have taught that during this golden age dead believers will be resurrected with their glorified bodies to mingle freely with the rest of the inhabitants of the earth. After the millennium the non-Christian dead are raised and the eternal states of heaven and hell are established. p.7,8
In contrast to the premillennialist, the postmillennialist explains that the kingdom of God is now being extended through Christian teaching and preaching. This activity will cause the world to be Christianized and results in a long period of peace and prosperity called the millennium. The new age will not be essentially different from the present. It emerges as an increasing proportion of the world’s inhabitants are converted to Christianity. Evil is not eliminated but will be reduced to a minimum as the moral and spiritual influence of Christians is heightened. The church will assume greater importance and many social, economic and educational problems will be solved. This period closes with the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. p.8
Amillennialists holds that the Bible does not predict a period of universal peace and righteousness before the end of the world. They believe that there will be continuous growth of good and evil in the world which will culminate in the Second Coming of Christ when the dead shall be raised and the last judgment held. Amillennialists hold that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ is ruling his people by his Word and Spirit, though they also look forward to a future, glorious and perfect kingdom on the new earth in the life to come, Amillennialists interpret the millennium mentioned in Revelation 20 as describing the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven. p.8,9
Dispensationalism. This is being treated separately although it is a form of premillennialism. It is also by far the most popular brand of premillennialism. For this definition I am using Phillip E. Hughes definition from his book INTERPRETING PROPHECY.
Briefly, it is the contention of dispensationalists that the Old Testament did not foresee or foretell the coming of this present age of the Christian church, but that its expectation was focused on the setting up of the messianic kingdom which would be the proper inheritance of the Israelites, or physical descendants of Abraham, as distinct from the Gentiles, though blessings were intended for the latter also; that the teaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom, whether in parables or other forms of discourse, was directed exclusively to the Jews; that the Jews turned away from the kingdom that was then offered to them, with the result that the offer was withdrawn and the establishment of the kingdom postponed to a later occasion; that meanwhile the period of the church was inaugurated as a ‘parenthesis’ in the divinely revealed sequence of events, but a period which, as we have indicated, is outside the scope of biblical prophecy and to which Christ’s kingdom teaching has no application; that at the close of this church age Christ will come for his saints, who will be caught up to meet him in the air; that there will follow an interval of seven years during the first half of which many Israelites will accept Jesus as their Saviour and Messiah and will carry out a massive program of evangelization of the world, while the latter three-and-a-half years will be a time of intense persecution known as ‘the great tribulation’; that at the end of these seven years Christ will come again, this time not for but with his saints(this event generally being described as his second coming proper), in order to reign upon earth for one thousand years; that thus, the church parenthesis now a thing of the past, the prophecies of the messianic kingdom will achieve fulfillment and his own kingdom teaching be observed; that, with a resplendent Jerusalem as his capital, the temple demarcated by Ezekiel will be constructed and the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices reinstituted; and that in this millennium of peace, order, and prosperity his sovereignty over all the earth will be established for all to see. p.103,104
In all fairness it is necessary to distinguish between dispensational premillennialism and historic premillennialism. The book published by Intervarsity Press in 1977 has done this adequately, as well as to present the positions of postmillennialism and amillennialism. The response of each to the other is also very enlightening. I recognize that there is not likely to be unanimous agreement on all points of the presentations by all or any of those who subscribe to any of these various positions. But I believe we can be charitable enough to recognize that these men are all spokesmen for their school of thought. So I will try to identify various teachings by the positions as they have presented them and represented them.
I have to agree that many of the positions taken by dispensationalists are “biblically bankrupt” (a term used by Dale Moody to describe the theory of a pre-tribulation rapture and related doctrines in WORD AND WAY 2-3-77, P.4). Yet they are probably the most popular brand of premillennialism. The Bible College movement in this country has generally adopted this position. It is the view generally aired by Christian radio and TV. Its positions are most often distributed with paper books and pamphlets on speculative prophecy. Yet it is apparent that their conclusions will not stand the scrutiny of biblical scholarship. Careful exegesis has amassed so many contradictions that it is a wonder that these views could be held by any.
OTHER NOTES: “ Most modern premillennialists have been Pretribulationists because they have followed the vision of Margaret McDonald, A.D. 1830, rather than the vision of John A.D. 68-70.”(Dale Moody from WESTERN RECORDER march 24, 1977.p.7 in article entitled “Dispensationalism Revisited.”)
Alan Ladd remarks on the definition and popularity of Dispensationalism:
This is probably the most popular form of premillennialism in America. It holds that the millennium is primarily for the Jews. Israel will be restored to her land, will rebuild the temple, and will reinstitute the Old Testament sacrificial system. At this time all of the Old Testament prophecies about Israel as a nation will be fulfilled literally.,p.111, THE LAST THINGS
Dale Moody acknowledges the contribution and impact that George E. Ladd has had:
The most scholarly writings on historic Premillennialism has come from George E. Ladd of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif…. His challenge to Dispensationalism was solely on the basis of biblical exposition on which Dispensationalism thought it had a monopoly. With a view of biblical inspiration and authority as conservative as any dispensationalist demanded, Ladd shook the very foundations of the Fundamentalism that had swallowed the Scofield Reference Bible whole. p.4 WORD AND WAY, 1-13-77
“From a position of entire ignorance of the Scriptures to the position of oracular religious certainty- especially respecting eschatological matters – for some people requires from three to six months with a Scofield Bible.” .T. T. Shields, Gospel Witness 4-7-1932. The popularity of the Scofield Bible also explains the popularity of the dispensational system by other writers, teachers and readers.
Fletcher’s analysis of dispensationalism is interesting, if less charitable:
With respect to the dispensationalist’s millennium, Christ in His eschatology, is silent about a corporeal reign in a world power kingdom of Jewish supremacy for a thousand years with headquarters in Jerusalem AFTER His Second Advent. Neither the Gospels nor the book of Acts speak of a thousand year kingdom on earth in which there will be mingled both mortals and immortals. The Epistles give no hint of a return to Palestine of fleshly Israel; but, instead, many of them were written to counteract the Judaizing tendencies of Jewish converts. ‘Nowhere in the discourses of Jesus is there a hint of a limited duration of the Messianic kingdom. The apostolic Epistles are equally free from any trace of chiliasm (neither I Corinthians 15:23 nor I Thessalonians 4:16 points in this direction)’ [Enc. Brit.] There is no prediction in the Apocalypse of the return of the Jews to Palestine where Christ, AFTER His Second Advent, will reign with His immortal saints on an earthly throne in Jerusalem over mortal Jews and Gentiles, still on probation, living and dying, and begetting their kind. There is not one text in the whole Bible that speaks of a thousand years corporeal reign of our Lord in a temporal world power kingdom of Jewish supremacy AFTER His Second Advent. But why did not Christ and His apostles clearly predict that the Temple would be rebuilt, the Levitical sacrifices re-established, and Jerusalem made the center of the world’s worship in a thousand-years-world-power-kingdom of mortals and immortals? There is, I think, but one answer,--they did not believe it! True the Apostles before Pentecost imbibed the popular notion of the day. They believed that when the Messiah came He would abide on earth forever (John 12:34; Matt. 16:21,22). They entertained mistaken views of the nature of Christ’s kingdom, and conceived of it as materialistic, political, and Jewish. They fought among themselves for the chief place in it….Subsequent to Pentecost the Apostles were delivered from this erroneous concept. It was this doctrine, which had its origin in Jewish apocalyptic writings, that the apostle Paul called ‘Jewish fables’ (Titus 1:14). p.10,THE MILLENNIUM
LABELING THE LABEL
I have some difficulty with the label Amillennialism since the A prefix is taken by many to mean no millennium. The real question is the nature of the millennium- not whether there is one or not. Some have tried to describe it in different terms such as “realized millennialism” which is a rather clumsy title. Another term used is “biblical millennialist”. Although these terms have validity it will simplify things for this study just to use the familiar term to describe this theological position. It is quite common in some circles to equate a-millennialism with liberalism. This may be an effort to discredit what cannot be refuted or one may not want to examine this carefully in their search for truth. I have to confess that I held to this misconception in some degree following the insinuations and belittling of others who influenced my acceptance of what was true. Often my departure from the regimented theology was considered “modernist”, “liberal”, “cult” or “heresy”.
My own openness to consider other viewpoints came with the recommendation that I read Floyd E. Hamiltons book, THE BASIS OF MILLENNIAL FAITH. I knew that he was not a liberal because we had used his book THE BASIS OF CHRISTIAN FAITH as a textbook in apologetics while a student in a fundamentalist Bible College. The difficulties with pre-millennialism in general and dispensationalism in particular became very apparent and there were no biblical answers to the problems in interpretation which they present.
Dr. Hamilton had observed some of this suspicion and hostility and wrote in the preface of his book that:
…..in recent years there has been an increasing tendency on the part of some premillennial leaders, to regard amillennialism as a heresy, and to refuse cooperation in the churches with believers in amillennialism. Such a situation is indeed unfortunate. The historic position of the Christian Church has been no official pronouncement should be made by the church as a church on the millennial issue, and that members were to be allowed to hold any view they desired. That is the wise course for all Christians to follow in the fight against Modernism and the anti-christian program of this modern civilization. p. Preface, THE BASIS OF MILLENNIAL FAITH
Dr. T. T. Shields, one of Canada’s foremost fundamentalists is also to have reported a similar experience. His experience is quoted by Fletcher:
My fellowship for the greater part of the time had been chiefly with those who held what is usually known as the premillennial view. As I believed them to be sound in the basic principles of evangelical Christianity, I welcomed them to my pulpit. Even when they preached their pre-tribulation rapture theory I did not contradict them, but exercised my right in the course of my own ministry to teach what I believe. As soon as many of these brethren discovered that I did not pronounce their shibboleth, if I was not anathematized, I was certainly ostracized. It has been a matter of observation with me for a long time that truth is never at variance with truth, and those who hold the truth, whose doctrinal position can be clearly substantiated from Scripture, will never be found persecuting others..p.7
Weber also notes the same problem:
Another negative result of premillennialism is its intolerance and divisiveness. Usually, dispensationalists are blamed for these effects, but it is not clear that they alone are to blame. Many premillennialists have a tendency to be contentious, with each other as well as with non-premillennialists. Their spirit of intolerance seems to come from their conviction that there is only one way to interpret biblical prophecy. When premillennialists claim that their system is plainly evident to everyone with an open mind and a willingness to take the Bible at face value, many of them tend to view any disagreement as ignorance, obstinacy, or spiritual blindness. When such statements are made public, they do not make for cordial relations. p.181,182 LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE SECOND COMING
Dr. Hershel Hobbs also acknowledges the tendency of some to equate amillennialism with liberalism. He remarked: “Unfortunately some regard such as liberal in theology, but for me such is a misnomer; I believe what the Bible says.” p. 185
Much of what is involved are the principles of interpretation. L.A. Heerboth in his book THE MILLENNIUM AND THE BIBLE sets out some valid principles to guide us:
God is Truth. He cannot contradict Himself. From this it follows that whatever He affirms in clear, unmistakable passages, He does not overthrow or contradict in other passages…. Whatever God says in symbolical, or figurative, language must be interpreted in agreement with such passages in which He employs plain diction, using every word in its proper literal sense. Why? Because in symbols and figurative speech He does not teach the reverse of what He teaches in ordinary, plain, simple language. p.6
James Boyce gives us some more good advice in interpreting Scripture:
(1).We must be careful how we receive any interpretation which does not accord with the rest of Scripture. Before doing so, we should examine thoroughly both the interpretation we wish to accept, and the views attained from other parts of the Word of God. We know that Scripture cannot contradict itself, when rightly interpreted. All its parts must, therefore, be carefully compared to see in what interpretation they agree..
(2) If after the best efforts to harmonize this with the other portions of God’s Word, it should seem to be irreconcilable with them, the apparent interpretation of this passage should yield to that of the others; not so much because it is one only, as compared with a great number; but because it is found in a book of highly figurative prophecy, in which the literal interpretation is not so justly to be pressed, as in others, which are not of this character, and in which the literal meaning is more apt to be the mind of the Spirit.
James P. Boyce, professor of Systematic Theology at SBTS in ABSTRACT OF SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY c.1887 not only argues for a general judgment and general resurrection- terms that are anathema to dispensationalists- but is clear in his statement:
The thousand years of the binding of Satan is a period of time, of unknown, perhaps of indefinite length, possibly from the time of Christ’s conquest of Satan, in his death, resurrection and ascension, or possibly from some other period, even perhaps of a later epoch in the history of Christianity, during which Satan is restrained from the exercise of the power he might otherwise put forth against man; the thousand years terminating at some time prior to the day of Christ’s second coming; at which time Satan shall be loosed to consummate his evil deeds by such assaults upon the saints as shall bring down the final vengeance of God at the appearing of Christ in glory. p.461
He makes it plain “that the first resurrection is a spiritual resurrection of the soul from the death of sin, of which the Scriptures elsewhere speak so plainly as being a passage from death unto life.” p.460
A.T. Robertson in WORD PICTURES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT vol.6, this famous professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says:
In this book of symbols how long is a thousand years? All sorts of theories are proposed, none of which fully satisfy one. Perhaps Peter has given us the only solution open to us in II Pet.3:8 when he argues that ‘one day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day..’ It will help us all to remember that God’s clock does not run by ours and that times and seasons and programs are with Him. This wonderful book was written to comfort the saints in a time of great trial, not to create strife among them”. p.457-8
Charles Hodge, famous theology professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY vol.3, makes these observations:
It is admitted that the words ‘coming of the Lord’ are often used in Scripture for any signal manifestation of his presence either for judgment or for mercy. p.792 It is a sound rule in the interpretation of Scripture that obscure passages should be so explained as to make them agree with those that are plain. It is unreasonable to make the symbolic and figurative language of prophecy and poetry the rule by which to explain the simple didactic prose language of the Bible. It is no less unreasonable that a multitude of passages should be taken out of their natural sense to make them to accord with a single passage of doubtful import. p.842
William Evans in THE COMING KING describes the character of the millennial age from a dispensational pre-millennial viewpoint:
The thousand year reign is characterized as the long expected days of Messiah, the days of righteousness and peace, when Jerusalem, rebuilt and adorned, will be the throne of Jehovah and the center of universal law and rule, worship and blessing ….Sin will be suppressed; human life lengthened, death a punitive exception… The Jews as a nation, will be converted….and become the great missionaries of the world…Christ will be King. The government of the millennial age will be a theocracy, an absolute monarchy….It shall be a reign of righteousness and peace… Jerusalem will be the capitol city.” p.157,158
Millard J. Erickson, Professor of Theology at Bethel Theological Seminary gives a survey and evaluation of millennial viewpoints in CONTEMPORARY OPTIONS IN ESCHATOLOGY:A STUDY OF THE MILLENIUM.
Dr. A. H. Strong, a Baptist theologian outlines his position on the millennium with a series of statements concerning Rev. 20:
(a)That it constitutes a part, and confessedly an obscure part, of one of the most figurative books of Scripture, and therefore ought to be interpreted by the plain statements of the other Scriptures. p.1011
(b)That the other Scriptures contain nothing with regard to a resurrection of the righteous which is widely separated in time from that of the wicked, but rather declare distinctly that the second coming of Christ is immediately connected with the resurrection of the just and the unjust with the general judgment. p.1011
(c)That the literal interpretation of the passage- holding, as it does, to a resurrection of bodies of flesh and blood, and to a reign of the risen saints in the flesh, and in the world as at present constituted- is inconsistent with other Scriptural declarations with regard to the spiritual nature of the resurrection body and the coming reign of Christ..p.1012
(d)That the literal interpretation is generally and naturally connected with the expectation of a gradual and necessary decline of Christ’s kingdom upon earth, until Christ comes to bind Satan and to introduce the millennium. This view not only contradicts such passages as Dan.2:34,35 and Mat.13:31,32, but it begets a passive and hopeless endurance of evil, whereas the Scriptures enjoin a constant and aggressive warfare against it, upon the very ground that God’s power shall assure to the church a gradual but constant progress in the face of it, even to the time of the end. p.1012
(e)We may therefore best interpret Rev.20:4-10 as teaching in highly figurative language, not a preliminary resurrection of the body, in the case of departed saints, but a period in the later days of the church militant when, under special influence of the Holy Ghost, the spirit of the martyrs shall appear again, true religion be greatly quickened and revived, and the members of Christ’s churches become so conscious of their strength in Christ that they shall, to an extent unknown before, triumph over the powers of evil both within and without. So the spirit of Elijah appeared again in John the Baptist (Mal.4:5;cf Mat.:11,13,14). The fact that only the spirit of sacrifice and faith is to be revived is figuratively indicated in the phrase: ‘The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years should be finished’- the spirit of persecution and unbelief shall be, as it were, laid to sleep. Since resurrection, like the coming of Christ and the judgment, is twofold, first, spiritual (the rising of the soul to spiritual life), and secondly, physical (the raising of the body from the grave, the words in Rev.20:5- ‘this is the first resurrection’- seem intended distinctly to preclude the literal interpretation we are combating. In short, we hold that Rev.20:4-10 does not describe the events commonly called the second advent and resurrection, but rather describes great spiritual changes in the later history of the church, which are typical of, and preliminary to, the second advent and resurrection, and therefore, after the prophetic method, are foretold in language literally applicable only to these final events themselves, (cf.Ez.37:1-14; Luke 15:32)”. P.1013
L. Berkhof, famous professor of Dogmatic Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in his SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY says:
Christ will return at the end of the world for the purpose of introducing the future age, the eternal state of things, and he will do this by inaugurating and completing two mighty events, namely, the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment,… In the usual representations of Scripture, … the end of the world, the day of the Lord, the physical resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment coincide. That great turning point will also bring the destruction of all evil forces that are hostile to the Kingdom of God, II Thess.2:8; Rev.20:14. It may be doubted, whether anyone would have read the relevant passage in any other way, if Rev.20:1-6 had not been set up by some as the standard by which all the rest of the New Testament must be interpreted. p.707
The so-called postponement theory, which is a necessary link in the premillennial scheme, is devoid of all Scriptural basis. p.713 Comments on Rev.20:1-6 The literal interpretation of this passage, as given by the Premillennarians, leads to a view that finds no support elsewhere in Scripture, but is even contradicted by the rest of the New Testament. This is a fatal objection. Sound exegesis requires that the obscure passages of Scripture be read in the light of the clearer ones, and not vice versa. p.715
B.B. Warfield, the champion of verbal inspiration and famous Reformed theologian makes a series of statements that indicate his position:
Nothing, indeed, seems to have been more common in all ages of the Church than to frame an eschatological scheme from this passage, imperfectly understood, and then to impose this scheme on the rest of the Scripture….we are to bear continually in mind that the whole fabric of the book is compact of symbols. The descriptions are descriptions not of the real occurrences themselves, but of symbols of the real occurrences; and are to be read strictly as such….The picture that is brought before us here is, in fine, the picture of the ‘intermediate state’ –of the saints of God gathered in heaven away from the confused noise and garments bathed in blood that characterize the war upon earth, in order that they securely await the end. The thousand years, thus, is the whole of this present dispensation… A ‘thousand years’ is the symbol of heavenly completeness and blessedness…Now it is quite certain that the number 1000 represents in Bible symbolism absolute perfection and completeness.p.643-651, BIBLICAL DOCTRINES
Dr. Edward A. McDowell, Southern Baptist theologian in his book, THE MEANING AND MESSAGE OF THE BOOK OF REVELATION leaves no doubt of his position on the nature of the millennium:
…We may conclude that, in this vision of the millennium in Revelation 20:4-6, the thousand year reign is thought of as the spiritual reign of Jesus Christ and his saints which began with his exaltation to the right hand of God and which will continue until the end of history. With respect to the length of the thousand years, there is no warrant for taking this figure literally.” p.195 For amplification of this position and his reason for these statements, please see the context in his commentary.
Dr. Ray Summers in his book WORTHY IS THE LAMB makes it clear that he does not see the millennium as a literal period of time:
“The thousand-year-period is no more literal than the chain. Numbers in Revelation are symbolized. ‘Ten’ is a complete number, and ‘one thousand’ is a high multiple of ten. The number is to be understood as an idea of completeness”. p.204 He repeats in the next paragraph his position: “The thousand- year-period is not to be taken literally.”
Dr. Herschel Hobbs, a great Southern Baptist preacher- writer- theologian in his excellent commentary on Revelation, THE COSMIC DRAMA makes several statements that clearly define his position:
I regard the thousand years as a symbol. By current method this would class me as an amillennialist. p.184-185 in the context of Revelation, and of the Bible as a whole, it says to me that this is a figure of speech expressing a complete period of time but of .indefinite duration 2Peter 3:8, I can accept this only as a symbolic figure.” P.185 He reiterates the same position in another work: “But in the light of the symbolic nature of the book, I see the thousand years as a symbol of a long and indefinite period of time. I see it as symbolizing the period from the time of the ascension of the Lord until he returns to earth again. I see one second coming, one resurrection, one judgment. p.137 , REVELATION:THREE VIEWPOINTS.
He also states:
At any rate one should exercise caution in interpreting apocalyptic writings. Generally speaking, they had a message for their own time, but set forth principles which apply in similar situations at any time.” P.183 THE COSMIC DRAMA , p.185
Dr. E.Y. Mullins is not dogmatic in a millennial position but many of his “conclusion” statements after evaluating both pre-millennialism and post-millennialism are very enlightening:
First, the passage in Revelation 20::1-10 has been given too great prominence in the doctrine of last things by both sides in the millennial controversy…It is at best hazardous to make a single passage like this determinative for the interpretation of a great mass of Scriptures which are not symbolic or highly figurative in form…..there are comings in historical events, and the one great coming.. There are great delays and great sufferings, and there are glorious and sudden triumphs. There is no sort of question as to at least one resurrection, and one judgment, and one eternal kingdom. There is no clear assurance that there must be a thousand years of perfect piety on earth before Christ returns. There is no clear guaranty that he will reign literally on earth with all the risen saints a thousand years before the final judgment.” p.471
Even though he fails to define the nature of the millennium, from these statements I do not see how a premillenniatist could claim him as support for their position.
Dr. Walter T. Connor, a southwestern theologian is more evasive in his position:
There is today, however, an increasing number of theologians who believe that the whole idea of a millennium is out of place in theology, This is not on the ground that they deny the authority of the New Testament for belief, but on the ground that the whole idea of a millennium is so obscure that it should not be made determinative in relation to theology as a whole. In only one passage is the millennium mentioned. That passage is a highly figurative book in the New Testament. All millennial schemes, so far as they have been tested out in history, have been proved false. They have usually been connected with a method of interpreting prophecy (in particular the Apocalypse) as meant to enable one to forecast in a more or less definite manner the course of history. Here is where all schemes have failed ,so far as tested by the course of events…..There is a growing number of conservative interpreters who prefer to call themselves amillennial; that is, they believe that the whole millennial idea should be left out of theology. The author confesses that he is more and more convinced that this is the correct attitude. He agrees, however, with postmillennialism on the point that the second coming of Christ means the end of history, the consummation of the kingdom of God in relation to time and history, and the ushering in of the eternal kingdom of God.. p.333
I do not quite know what he means by leaving the whole matter “out of theology.” For my part, and my understanding, theology is concerned with God, Christ, the Holy Spirit- who they are, and what they have done and are doing, and will do in the world they have made. Eschatology is definitely a part of theology. If he means it should not be put in the same category of doctrines as the deity, humanity, virgin birth of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, the trinity, and the authority of God’s Word, I would agree. If he means it should not be a test of fellowship among believers, I would agree.
There are many other theologians that could be quoted but these should suffice to make my point. By no stretch of the imagination could these be labeled “liberal”. They are reputable and knowledgeable students of the Word that happen to have a different but reasonable interpretation of a difficult passage and doctrine of last things.
THE MILLENNIUM OF REVELATION TWENTY
Introduction: Importance of this chapter
The first ten verses of this chapter contain the only mention in the Bible of a millennium. The period of time indicated by the meaning of this word, “a thousand years’, is also referred to by Peter in his statement: “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (II Peter 3:8) The word millennium is not used in the Bible, but is a coined word derived from the Latin equivalent of a thousand years of time. The word has obtained the sanction of general usage because it has proved a convenient substitute for the phrase, “a thousand years”.
This is the chapter that suggests for dispensational and premillennial theology as it developes the doctrine of last things. Dr. Hamilton calls it “the very citadel of the pre-millennial system, and the norm to which all prophetic passages must be made to conform”.(THE BASIS OF MILLENNIAL FAITH, p.126) Everything on the subject of eschatology in both the Old and New Testament must fit the framework provided by this chapter. The claim is often made to superior skills in interpretation, and the only possible Christian approach that is loyal to the Bible by treating selected parts of this passage as literal. All others are charged with “spiritualizing” and thus robbing it of its meaning.
In light of these facts it is important for us to properly interpret this passage before building a system of eschatology.
I. Principles of Interpretation
The crux of the problem often centers in the principles of interpretation adopted by the individual interpreter. If we do not begin with valid principles of interpretation, we can end up anywhere with our conclusions.
A favorite principle of many is called “the golden rule of interpretation” which is: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense.” This an oversimplification that is not valid. The Bible has been written in different styles with different methods of presenting its truth and must be interpreted in a way consistent with the method of presentation. There is the frequent use of parable and figure. To interpret these literally is to miss the force of the truth which they vehicle. Other principles which should be observed for proper interpretation of a passage are: The obscure passage should be interpreted in the light of the clear passage, the purpose of the writer, the nature of the literature,and what the message meant to those who first received it cannot be ignored. This is especially true in relationship to Revelation and the passage before us. We accept this as code language. It is an apocalyptic writing. There is a certain amount of obscurity about such literature. One of its prominent features is the use of “vision” as a literary device by which writers introduce their conceptions. This literature was written in dangerous times. The personal safety of both writer and reader was endangered if the persecutors understood the true meaning of the book. Like parables, it was intended both to reveal truth and to conceal truth. The purpose of the writer was not to cover up his message, but to make it increasingly vivid by “unveiling” through signs and symbols. The Christians could understand—the persecutors could not. Symbolism is a system in which qualities, ideas, principles, etc. are represented by things concrete. They are used for the expression of spiritual ideas. The literal truth lies in what is symbolized. The action or truth is what is literal. The symbol means what the action intends it to mean where the writer uses it. He adapts the symbol to suit his message. Our task is to discern what is a symbol and then what that symbol means.
George Fletcher makes a good point when he says: “While we should carefully shun all spiritualization, however ingenious, which robs the Word of God of its true force and beauty, we should shun with equal care a false literalism which extracts error out of figurative statements”. THE MILLENIUM p.14
A close and fair examination of this passage, I believe, will show how absurd and unreasonable the conclusions of the literalist even if their own principles of interpretation are applied. The truth is that “the plain sense” of this Scripture does not “make common sense” when treated as literal rather than symbolic, which we will proceed to illustrate and explain in section III.
The only logical alternative to the dispensational and pre-millennial systems is what is commonly known as a-millennialism. This common label is a misnomer. A-millennialism means “no millennium”. No a-millennialist that I know holds to this position. The question concerns the “nature” of the millennium, not the “fact”. The great question is not “when” but “where”—in what realm do the described events take place? Are they in the realm of the natural, or in that of the spiritual?
The great sin of the amillennialist is supposed to be that of “spiritualizing” the passage rather than taking it literally—that in spite of the fact that the teaching corresponds perfectly with the teachings of Jesus and Paul. As far as I am concerned, the great mistake of all varieties of the pre-millennial system is to arbitrarily assert that “a thousand years” has to be taken literally in a passage and a book which is manifestly symbolic. A close study of the use of symbolism in this passage will bear that out.
II. Statement of content
Before looking closely at the symbolism of this passage a brief statement of content is in order. There are three scenes in the drama of this chapter that concern us. The first one occurs on earth, v.1-3. The second transpires in heaven, v.5-6, and reveals things that are taking place in the spiritual realm. Look at it carefully for the “plain sense”, if you will. The location is in heaven, not on earth. It is concerned with spiritual realities, not physical supervision of a material kingdom. The “literal” action is in the present, not the future. The third scene returns to earth, v. 7-10, and continues the history of Satan, which is the main theme, not the millennium.
There is not a word or hint that this passage describes a literal thousand year period during which Christ would reign in bodily presence on this earth from a Palestinian kingdom with the capital at Jerusalem. Nothing said here indicates that the people of God in their resurrection bodies will share in this reign upon the earth over a political kingdom, Nothing here indicates that the Jews will be restored to their ancient territory and invested with world supremacy. Any injection of these ideas into this passage must come from those who want to make it fit their theological system through the careful connection of “proof-texts”. This is the launching pad for the rockets of speculation. If a literal thousand year reign by Christ is not found here, then a re-examination of other prophetic scriptures is in order. Since there is no other place in the New Testament to develop a doctrine of a Palestinian millennial kingdom, it requires a re-evaluation of the Old Testament prophecies of a golden age and their relationship to the spiritual kingdom and eternal kingdom mentioned so frequently in the New Testament message. That will be difficult for some people, and so the premises I have stated will be rejected. I realize this is an extensive study that requires careful comparison of Scripture with Scripture and cannot concern us at this point in determining the actual message of Revelation 20:1-10.
In summary, let me emphasize that a close examination of this passage nowhere indicates that the reign is to be at a future time upon the earth. The scene is in heaven of the martyred saints reigning with Christ and describes an experience they share with others called “the first resurrection”. The passage is full of symbolism which is consistent with John’s method and purpose in writing. A consistent literalism would limit the participants of this reign to those who “were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his ark upon their foreheads, or in their hands.” V.4. This description literally does not describe all the saints of all ages.
III. Use of Symbolism
To understand the message of this passage close attention must be given to each symbol. Some are easier to identify than others, but the passage is rich in symbolism, and to understand their meaning is a giant step toward receiving the spiritual message of the passage.
1. “an angel”. I believe Phillip Mauro is right when he says:
The evidence warrants the conclusion that the ‘angel’ who bound the Devil is none other than Christ Himself. None of the angelic hosts is great enough to bind Satan (Jude). To the angel who opens the bottomless pit (chapter 9:1,2) the key was given; but this ‘Angel’ has the key thereof; and for the interpretation of this statement we may properly refer to the declaration of the Lord in Chapter 1:18, that He has ‘the keys of hell (hades) and of death.’ OF THINGS WHICH MUST SOON COME TO PASS p.583
If your literalism prevents you from identifying Jesus with the angel, I can only remind you that Jesus is revealed as the “angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament.
2, “Key”. The key obviously represents something spiritual for the abyss could not be opened with a physical key, The fact that we identify this as spiritual does not make it less real than something in the physical. It is more real, c.f. II Cor. 3:18. The key kept in heaven simply suggests that Christ has jurisdiction over Satan, and it is one of the four symbols to portray Satan’s limitations and the guarantee of the security of his limitations. The other symbols are the chain, the pit, and the seal.
3. “The bottomless pit” or the abyss. A vivid literalism visualizes the place of Satan’s abode as some sort of hole in the ground, somewhere on this earth, where an ancient serpent is bound by a real metal chain and a door or lid of some sort secures the entrance. The symbolism of “the dragon, that old serpent” is explained by a brief identification. It is “Satan”, the Hebrew name meaning “opposer or adversary” and “the Devil” a Greek word meaning “false accuser”, “slanderer”.And what is the symbolism of the abyss? It is simply a representation of a state in which the descent and departure from God shall be endless but is not the final destination. The place for binding is not the same as the final doom. This is his present place of abode from which he carries on his activities. A contemporary comparison would be the county jail where accused prisoners are detained prior to their sentencing and the state penitentiary to which they are assigned for the final punishment. The abyss is a temporary abode, the lake of fire is the eternal abode.
4. “a great chain”. Surely no one can conceive of this as a physical object because Satan as a spiritual being cannot be bound with an iron chain. The chain is simply linked with other symbols to demonstrate the sovereign authority of Christ over Satan. Peter tells us that the angels who sinned, which includes Satan, have been delivered “into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgement.” II Peter 2:4. This has already happened and yet Peter says: “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary, the Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” I Peter 5:8. Obviously he is a chained lion and can go only as far as the chain allows. So the chain in Revelation 20 represents a restraint and restriction of movement, privilege, and power laid upon the Devil by one possessed of superior power. The restriction is spelled out here, “that he should deceive the nations no more.” No other effect on human life is mentioned.
5. “Seal”. The “seal” is also better interpreted from New Testament usage than by trying to make it a literal material entity. The Ephesian believers are said to be sealed by the Holy Spirit, which simply means they were appointed to a certain destiny. Eph.4:30,1:13. The sealing was the guarantee of a certain destination. I believe that the sealing of Satan has the same significance in this passage. The doom of Satan was sealed by our Lord’s death on the cross.
6. “Thrones.” The vision continues of countless “thrones” occupied by men from earth in their disembodied state- “souls”. The locality is obviously heaven whereas verses 1-3 are on earth. The picture of the ones occupying the “thrones” does not fit living Jews or Christians each having a throne in Jerusalem or anywhere else on earth. The occupied thrones were simply symbolic of the participation of the saints in Christ’s continual victories.
7, “The first resurrection”. The biggest question of literalism versus symbolism concerns the identity of “the first resurrection.” Does Revelation 20 anywhere indicate that it is a bodily resurrection from the grave? An identifying statement is made: “This is the first resurrection”.v.5 To what do these words refer? What is the antecedent of “this”? What does “this”describe? All that is described in verse 4. Sitting upon “throne” and exercising “judgment”—living and reigning with Christ a thousand years. Obviously “the second death” does not mean bodily death, and a close examination of the passage makes it clear that the “first resurrection” does not mean bodily resurrection. It is a metaphorical use of the word. If this is hard to accept, it should not be. The saying of one thing and the meaning of another is common in Revelation. It is a distinctive characteristic of the Revelation since John chose to write in the language of figures, signs, and symbols. The prophets commonly employed figurative language. It was also used figuratively by Jesus. For example when Christ took bread and said, “this is my body”, only those who understand Him “literally” come up with the heresy of transubstantiation.
It is the rule rather than the exception for John to employ such usage in his book. When he speaks of the “key of David” in 3:7, he means the power of David. And when he speaks of “David” here, it is obviously not “David”, but David’s descendant, Jesus, the Son of God. The robes of the saints are not actual robes, but souls, hearts, lives.
The robes are “made white in the blood of the lamb.” Actual blood does not make garments white. The giving of Christ’s life (“the life of the flesh is in the blood”) is what avails for the cleansing. The Lamb is not an animal, but Jesus.
It is clear that when John speaks of death, he is speaking of it in the spiritual sense. He does not mean that the “lake of fire” is itself “the second death”, but that it signifies the eternal punishment, separation, banishment to which the unbelieving belong. He doesn’t choose to make physical death the first death, but included it in the banishment and punishment that came upon the race as a result of the first sin. It is no new thing for the Bible to speak of death in the spiritual sense. John 5:24. John 87:51, John 11:25-26, Romans 5:14, Romans 6:9, Romans 8:6, Ephesians 2:1. In fact, in the New Testament the unconverted are always regarded as existing in a state of death and servitude to sin. Death is not the extinction of man’s life, but it is a state of being, spiritually speaking.
It is just as clear that John and the New Testament writers do not always mean bodily resurrection when they speak of the resurrection. At conversion man’s natural condition of spiritual death is reversed—and he lives and reigns. The first thing that happens is, he passes from death into life. Instead of being under the authority of sin, he shares the authority of Christ, he reigns with Him. This living and reigning are in the spiritual sphere, not the natural. Our life is not here; it is fixed with Christ in God. Col.3:3. We are not seated on thrones in the physical sense in this life, but just as we live with and in a risen Lord in the heavenlies, so likewise do we reign with Him here and now.
The writer of the Apocalypse shows by what he has written in his Gospel what he learned from his Lord of a “resurrection” which preceded the resurrection of the body. Why should it seem strange then that he would call it “the first resurrection”? In John 5:24 Jesus said that “He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Having eternal life and passing into life is equivalent to “they lived” –passing out of death is equivalent to “over these the second death hath no authority.”
Again in John 11:25-26 Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live; and whomsoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” “Here is a ‘resurrection’ which is wholly apart from that of the body; and one that comes before that of the body”. Philip Mauro, THE HOPE OF ISRAEL: WHAT IS IT? P.251 And His statement that “He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die” is equivalent again to the words “they lived…over these the second death has no authority.”
If this is not enough evidence, note the equally strong confirmations in the writings of Paul, who refers time and again to a resurrection which is the experience of those who have not yet experienced bodily death and resurrection. Eph.2:56. Col.2:12, Col.3:1, Romans 6:13. He describes believers who have not died physically as “risen with Christ” and “alive from the dead”. He also supports John’s description of reigning saints. We are even now sitting together in the heavenlies with Christ. Eph.1:19-22, 2:4-6.
So these common conceptions in the New Testament of Christians sitting on thrones and reigning as Christ does is not something that is yet to be. This has been going on since the death and exaltation of Christ. So says John in the language of mystic symbolism which he employs throughout the Apocalypse. Unsaved people are spiritually dead—the Christian life is a spiritual resurrection.
8. “The binding of Satan”. This action is symbolic and is better interpreted by clear statements in the Gospels than by trying to force an extreme liberalism into the picture. Jesus said, “how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? And then he will spoil his house.” Matthew 12:28-29. Jesus was making it plain in figurative language that Satan does not willingly surrender his subjects. “When he is rendered powerless to retain his prey and made powerless to recapture his escaped captives, the explanation is that he is bound.” George Murray, MILLENNIAL STUDIES. This is a description of a spiritual reality that is consistent with what Jesus did. That is exactly what happened through the work of Christ and became a reality through faith in Christ. Believers have been delivered from the power of darkness. Col.1:13 Also the writer to the Hebrews emphasizes that the Son of God became man in order that “through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil.” Hebrews 2:14,15 and Col.2:14,15 make it clear that by His cross Christ despoiled principalities and powers, openly triumphing over them. This is the binding of the “strong man”. This is the binding of Satan in Rev. 20:2
Furthermore, if anyone finds it difficult to accept this as a “binding” in light of Satan’s activity today, it is still consistent with the imprisonment of Satan and his restricted activity described by Peter as well as the extent and purpose of the binding described by John- inability to deceive the nations.
9. “A thousand Years.” So far it is obvious, I have not taken literally many of the symbols used to communicate this message to the early Christians. The angel, chain, bottomless pit, seal, binding, first resurrection, second death, thrones etc. Neither the actual wording nor enlightenment of New Testament teachings require it or justify it. Then why inject arbitrarily into the passage of treating the 1000 years as a literal period of time?
Why the figure of 1000years? God, who inhabits eternity, is not affected by the passage of time as we are but is independent of all time limitations. That is clear from II Peter 3:8 “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This indefinite period of time is totally consistent with the message of the Gospels that “no man knoweth the time” when Jesus will return. While the events of Rev. 20:5-6 are taking place in heaven, they are not limited by calendar years. The time is only limited by the eternal purpose and sovereign will of God. When this full period of time has run its course in the plan of God, the next event will take place—the loosing of Satan and the final judgment.
The figure 1000 is a perfect vehicle to convey this spiritual truth. The only other place the term is used in the Bible, it denotes an indefinite period of time—that time as men regard time does not apply to God. In terms of ancient numerology used throughout Revelation, “ten” is a number of completeness .Thousand is a heightened multiple of “ten”. So it conveys a strong figure of completeness for an indefinite and possibly a long period of time.
What is the period of time covered by the symbol of a thousand years? It is clearly the time when Satan is unable to “deceive the nations.” I take that to be the period between the death of Christ to a short time before the consummation of the age when Satan is “loosed for a little season”. It is this time that the Gospel is preached and God is gathering a redeemed people.
The assertion that the number 1000 has to be taken literally, it appears to me, is purely arbitrary. I say that in light of the obvious and abundant symbolism of the chapter as already reviewed. I do not think it unreasonable, but only natural in light of the fact that numbers throughout the book of Revelation are symbolical in keeping with the apocalyptic nature of the book. The promise to the church at Smyrna was that they would have tribulation “ten days”. Rev.2:10. I see no reason to take that with mathematical exactness, but as an indefinite measure of time. In Chapter 9:5,10 some were to be “ tormented five months.” Five is the number of incompleteness, an indication that the plague of considerable length, though great and prolonged was not complete and final. The 144,000 is clearly a symbolic number representing the whole company of the saved. Twelve times twelve is the signature of the eternal city, the home of all the redeemed. This multiple of twelve coupled with the multiple of ten is used to express symbolically the complete number of the saints, not a literal count. Every place a number is used in this apocalyptic literature it needs to be carefully examined to discern the spiritual message.
So to understand the purposeful use of 1000, let us go back to the symbolism of numbers. Ten stands for a rounded total and is one of the complete numbers. A thousand is a cube of 10, and so symbolizes vastness of number of time. It is used in other places in this way, and so it should not surprise us in interpreting its symbolism. In Psalm 50:10 we are told “the cattle upon a thousand hills” belong to the Lord. I do not take this a literal 1000 hills, but to indicate that the total amount of all the cattle on all the hills of the world are His. Notice the same sense in Ps. 84:10 “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand”; Ps.90:4 “For a thousand years in they sight are but as yesterday”; Ps.91:7 “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand…”
So the 1000 years represent a complete period of time, indefinite to us, but definite to God He alone knows the actual years. It is the period during which the souls of the departed saints reign with Christ. It is the cycle of time which extends from our Lord’s first advent to His second advent. It includes the binding and loosing of Satan. In general it represents the whole Christian era. I see no need to pinpoint its beginning at the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, or the ascension and ending with the “loosing” or the return. The saints do not cease to reign with the “loosing” of Satan. Heerboth sums it up well in his statement:
Then these ‘thousand years’ together with ‘the little season’ during which Satan is loosed again, constitute the time of the New Testament, beginning with Christ’s redemption, and lasting to Judgment Day. For immediately after Satan’s last assault upon the beloved city, the Christian Church, God’s judgment will follow (vv 9-15).p.34 THE MILLENNIUM AND THE BIBLE
10. “”Gog and Magog.”. These were the last great enemies that Israel faced in the inter-biblical period and so they “serve well as symbols for the barbarous people who rally with the devil about the camp of the saints.”(Ray Summers,WORTHY IS THE LAMB p.207) No theological system with which I am familiar treats these literally although they may prefer to do so. The literal identity of these names in Ezekiel is this: “Gog is a name for Antiochus Epiphanes and Magog a name for the nation over which he was prince”.( Summers, p.206) Many premillennialists who insist Ezekiel and John were writing about the same future event will equate Gog and Magog with the northern European powers, headed up by Russia.(See Scofield Bible Footnote on Ez.38, p383 for an example). But that is not the literal Gog and Magog of Ezekiel or Revelation, and so they have made it symbolism.
It is quite evident from comparing Ezekiel and Revelation that the two prophecies are not literally identical as George Fletcher appropriately points out :
“The Gog of Ezekiel comes down from the ‘North’ parts upon Palestine, while the Gog of Revelation comes up from the ‘four corners of the earth.’ In Ezekiel, he is spoken of as coming ‘against the returned exiles’ from Babylon (38:11,14), whereas in Revelation he comes against ‘the camp of the saints and beloved city’ (a symbolic expression of the New Testament Churches) or people of God. The sixth part of the armies of Ezekiel’s Gog escape destruction (39:2) while in Revelation 20 Gog and his forces are ‘devoured’ by fire sent down from heaven. From this evidence, we conclude that Ezekiel and the apostle John were not writing of the same events.” THE MILLENNIUM, p.31
But the greatest difficulty with pre-millennial assumptions is their position that this great battle takes place at the close of their kind of millennium, but in Ezekiel 39:1ff the destruction of Gog and Magog comes before the bringing back of “the captivity of Jacob” which pre-millennialists say is the beginning of their millennium.
So the question is really, what do the terms Gog and Magog symbolize? Contemporary world powers of a future date or a spiritual enemy over which Christ and the people will triumph? I agree with Fletcher: “Here the expressions symbolize the hosts of infidelity in a revived Paganism arrayed against the truth of God for a ‘little season’ before the Second Advent.”(p.72) Actually the symbol was very appropriate to typify the last great death-struggle between Paganism and Historic Christianity. Fletcher explains why :
The armies of Gog and Magog were very numerous, and therefore, adequately symbolize the world-wide universal opposition to the people of God in the end of the Christian era. The tribulation under Antiochus Epiphanes, though very severe, was nevertheless, of very brief duration; hence, it foreshadows the brief final tribulation which will occur at the close of our present dispensation. The armies of Syria met an unexpected and complete defeat; likewise, its antitype—a godless world arrayed against the church—comes to a sudden end. Just as Antiochus, the Illustrious, tried to stamp out the Mosaic worship, so will Satan in the last great conflict between truth and error, endeavor to stamp out Christian worship. p.33
‘Gog and Magog’ are evidently as in Ezek.38 and 39, symbolical names or terms for all powers ‘in the four quarters of the earth’ they are enemies of the true Church of the living God.p.33, Heerboth,THE MILLENNIUM AND THE BIBLE
I have selected only ten items from this passage to demonstrate the thorough and consistent symbolism of the passage. There are many more. To insist on literalism would require that the “beast” be an animal, not a man or civil power. The book of life is not a colossal ledger but a record kept in the omniscient mind of God. Clearly the events described are in the spiritual realm. The two actors in the first scene are spiritual beings. The “key”, “great chain”, “seal”, and “thrones” are spiritual, not material. The “abyss” is a spiritual locality. The binding and sealing of Satan are spiritual actions. Then why all the fear of “spiritualizing” when the symbols are intended to convey spiritual truth?
Obviously, it makes better sense to interpret the symbols in light of other biblical truths. What we have throughout this book are spiritual realities described in human terminology. The human is always inadequate to fully represent the divine. But if we do not accept the symbolic intent of the human we will never discover even partially the divine message of the symbol.
I would rather be charged with “spiritualizing” where the evidence demands it than be guilty of “carnalizing” when there is no justification for it
Summary of Message
There is not a hint in this passage to warrant the idea that the 1000 years is a literal period of time during which Christ would reign in bodily presence over the world and with Him the people of God in their resurrected bodies. The only contribution of this passage to dispensational and pre-millennial systems is the name “millennium”.
We have demonstrated clearly the symbolic nature of things and actions mentioned in this passage. If we are guilty of “spiritualizing” in applying the same technique to “1000 years,” then so be it. To me the text and the context both demand it. The more I study the passage, the more evident it is to me that the demand to treat the 1000 years as a literal period of time is purely arbitrary but necessary to support a preconceived millennial system.
As with all of the sacred writings, we contend that they must have had meaning to those who first received them. This is true of Revelation and this passage in chapter 20. They have passed the first death and the second death(eternal separation from God) has no jurisdiction over them.
What John Says of the deceased believers is also true of the living saints. The Kingdom of God includes all the redeemed both in heaven and on earth. But it is the heavenly phase of the kingdom which John portrays symbolically. This fits John’s purpose in writing. To those who read him, they get the message, and it gave them courage to die for the name of Jesus. They had the assurances that while their bodies slumbered in the dust their souls would reign with Christ. As with all the Scriptures, there is a message for every age as well. Ray Summers has given a good statement in the following summary:
Revelation is a series of apocalyptic images given for the assurance of the people of God that Christ is going to be victorious over all opposition. For the Christians of John’s day the assurance was given by showing the victory of Christ over the system of emperor worship because that was the greatest enemy of Christ in that day. The same assurance is given to Christians in every age. Find the greatest enemy of Christ (whether corrupt religion, godless government, social anarchy, or any other), put it in the place of emperor worship, and see its eventual failure as the living Christ, the redeeming Lamb, marches to victory over chaotic world conditions—Worthy is the Lamb.” p.208,WORTHY IS THE LAMB
“AND THEY LIVED”
One of the key elements in the arguments of the premillennialists is the phrase: “and they lived” in 20:5 translating it to mean “came to life”. In the NASV this is the translation. In the original ASV it is rendered simply “lived”. The NIV translation uses the same translation as the NASV. Dr. A.T. Robertson, the great Greek scholar identifies this as a “first aorist active indicative” but explains that the meaning is not nearly as clear as some would have us suppose. He explains:
If the ingressive aroist, it means ‘came to life’ or ‘lived again’ as in 2:8 and so as to verse 5. If it is the constantive aorist here and in verse 5, then it could mean increased spiritual life. See John 5:21-29 for the double sense of life and death (now literal, now spiritual) precisely as we have the second death in Rev.2:11;20:6,14”.
He further summarizes quoting Swete: ‘to infer from this statement, as many expositors have done, that the ezesan of v.4 must be understood of bodily resuscitation, is to interpret apocalyptic prophecy by methods of exegesis which are proper to ordinary narrative,’ (Swete). ‘I sympathize wholly with that comment and confess my own ignorance therefore as to the meaning of the symbolism without any predilections for post-millennialism or pre-millennialism.” WORD PICTURES p.459
Alan Ladd makes his strongest argument for historic premillennialism based on his insistence that the Greek word ezesan be rendered “came to life”. His arguments, however, as already noted, do not prove universality of meaning bodily resurrection. But since it is a major point in his contention for the premillennial position, is appropriate to note Hoekema’s response in the same book (THE MEANING OF THE MILLENNIUM)
There are, however, other uses of the verb zao, of which ezesan is one form, in the book of Revelation which do not mean bodily resurrection. In 7:2 and l5:7, for example, the word is used to describe the fact that God lives forever; in these instances it says nothing about bodily resurrection. In 3:1 it is used to describe what we might call spiritual life….Though the resurrection which is described in verses 11-15 is commonly understood by premillennialists as the resurrection of the unbelieving dead only, there is no indication in these verses that the resurrection there depicted is limited to the unbelieving dead. (For further discussion refer to the above book.) p.57-59
This is probably the most technical argument with vague and inconclusive evidence to support a position that is highly questionable. Ladd maintains that “any millennial doctrine must be based upon the most the most natural exegesis of this passage,” (20:1-6 p.32). He also contends that Premillennialism is the doctrine stating that after the second coming of Christ, He will reign for a thousand years over the earth before the final consummation of God’s redemptive purpose in the new heavens and the new earth of the Age to come. “This is the natural reading of Rev 20: 1-6”. p.17 THE MEANING OF THE MILLENNIUM. It may be the natural reading to him but it is the most unnatural reading to me.