SPECIAL TOPIC: THE MILLENNIUM (from my commentary of Revelation 20 online)
A. Chapter 20 must be related theologically to chapters 19 (the Second Coming) and 21-22 (the eternal kingdom). The interpretive question is whether the Second Coming precedes the millennial reign of Christ, if so then some form of pre-millennialism is inevitable (if this is to be interpreted as historical narrative). But what if chapters 20-22 are a new unit that recapitulates chapters 17-19 (cf. W. Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, this is my personal view of Revelation also, see my commentary online)? This change would be similar to the recapitulation between the seals, trumpets, and bowls, if so, then some form of idealism or amillennialism fits best.
B. Chapter 20 introduces several theological concepts not revealed in other parts of the Bible:
1. a two-stage resurrection
2. a limited temporal reign of martyrs
3. a Messianic earthly reign for 1,000 years
4. an ineffectual reign of the Messiah (mankind rebels again at the instigation of Satan after a 1,000 year reign of Christ)
5. another battle with unbelievers after the Great White Throne judgment
C. Difficulties in interpretation exist because of
1. The theological distinctives of chapter 20
2. The ambiguity in several key areas
a. Satan's binding, Rev. 20:2
b. number of groups in Rev. 20:4
c. who is involved in the first resurrection, Rev. 20:5
d. the who, where, and how of this reign with Christ, Rev. 20:6e.where do "the nations" in Rev. 20:8 come from
f. meaning and location of "the beloved city," Rev. 20:9
g. who is involved in the White Throne Judgment of Rev. 20:11-15 and how it relates to Matt. 25:31ff
3. There is a great lack of agreement among godly, believing commentators, even those of the same millennial theory. One's millennial theory should not affect the reality of a physical, literal Second Coming which is referred to often in the NT.
4. Some good quotes by people I trust
a. in his commentary, Revelation, George E. Ladd says "American Evangelicalism has placed an unwarranted emphasis on this doctrine of millennium. . .One thing is clear; he (Jesus) is not concerned to teach a temporal earthly kingdom before the eternal order in the Age to Come."
b. in Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson says, "This wonderful book was written to comfort the saints in a time of great trial, not to create strife among them" (pp. 457-458).
c. in Worthy is the Lamb, Ray Summers says, "This chapter needs to be approached with great humility of spirit, a recognition of its difficulties, an avoidance of dogmatic statements, and respect for the honest interpretation of others. This chapter has been a bitter debating ground for Christians for many centuries" (p. 202).
d. in his commentary on The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary Series, Robert H. Mounce, says, "Judging from the amount of attention given by many writers to the first ten verses of chapter 20, one would judge it to be the single most important segment of the book of Revelation. The tendency of many interpreters at this point is to become apologists for a particular view of the millennium. Without denying the significance of this important passage, it should not be elevated above such basic themes as the return of Christ, the final judgment and removal of all wickedness, and the splendor of the eternal state. A careful reading of the millennial passage (Rev. 20:1-10) will show that it is perhaps limited to the resurrected martyrs alone, and that it contains no specific indication that their reign with Christ takes place on earth or that it necessarily follows the second advent" (p. 351).
D. The millennial reign is not the same as
1. the Messianic Age, or
2. the Kingdom of God (both #1 and #2 are eternal, cf. Dan. 7:14,27; Isa. 9:7; Luke 1:33; 2 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 11:15; 22:5)
E. The concept of a 1,000 years of bliss with Christ may have come from the idea of 6,000 years of history and then a Sabbath rest of prosperity from Genesis 1. It seems this (historical pre-millennialism) was part of some early Christian writings (cf. Epistle of Barnabas 15 and II Enoch 33).
F. This chapter is obviously inspired revelation and has a divine purpose. However, what is that purpose: (1) outlining end-time events or (2) giving spiritual insight into the spiritual struggle of every age?
Interpreters must be careful of pushing their own agenda and not John's. Curiosity, one-upmanship, or loyalty to a theological position or teacher has caused a legion of interpretations and bad attitudes. John's agenda/purpose is conveyed in his choice of genre and his choice of OT, not NT, imagery! Taking apocalyptic literature literally is not a sign of conservatism, but misguided enthusiasm! Why do modern interpreters try to make some of John's symbols literal and others figurative? They are all figurative (this does not mean they are not true)! John's end-time presentation is primarily an OT structure. He seems to purposely ignore Jesus' and Paul's eschatological teachings. The biblical writers, both OT and NT, do not reveal a systematic eschatology. They certainly present truth, but not in a logical, chronological, or systematic way! Let us affirm the central truths of the visions and not be dogmatic about the details.
G. This chapter has been made to bear theological weight out of proportion to its place in the overall structure and message of the book of Revelation, and for that matter, the NT! This is not the major emphasis of the author! The millennium is a precursor to the eternal reign of God. Only Revelation chooses to mention this temporal Messianic reign. It appears in a genre that communicates truth by means of symbolic language. Personally, it is not the millennial reign that surprises me (in light of OT texts), but
1. the two-stage judgment
2. the mixing of resurrected saints and normal humans together in an earthly setting
3. the presence of rebellion after a lengthy Messianic reign
Will Christ's personal reign be ineffectual in bringing mankind unto righteousness even with the absence of Satan? Or is this a symbolic way to clearly show the extent and debauchery of human kind?
H. God help us all in light of Rev. 22:18-19! We are all affected by our sin nature, our age, our experience, and our teachers!
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