Revelation chapter twenty, verses one through six records the following, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” This passage of scripture is one of the clearest and yet cloudiest passages that speak about the millennial reign of Jesus Christ on the earth. From this passage, three major eschatological views have developed and the basis of these views focuses on the timing and existence of this “millennium” that is seen in the beginning of Revelation chapter twenty. Premillennial, Postmillennial, and Amillennial are the three camps in which this passage takes a different interpretation. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the views of each camp concerning the millennial reign of Jesus Christ; which view I have been drawn to hold to on the basis of scripture, and a defense of the view to which I hold. I will attempt to clearly define and summarize the views of each millennial camp by quoting the words of members of each camp, and then to allow scripture to interpret scripture in an exegesis of Revelation 20:1-6.Dr. Ed Hindson in his book “Revelation: Unlocking the Future” gives a brief summarization of the three views of the millennium to which many hold to in interpreting the book of Revelation. Hindson’s brief description of each millennial view is as follows:
“Postmillennial. This school of thought believes that the Millennium (one thousand years of Rev.20:1-3) is to be interpreted symbolically as synonymous with the Church Age. Satan's power is viewed as being "bound" by the power of the gospel. Postmillennialists believe that during this "millennium" (Church Age) the church is called upon to conquer unbelief, convert the masses, and govern society by the mandate of biblical law. Only after Christianity succeeds on earth will Christ return and announce that His kingdom has been realized. Postmillennial advocates have included Catholics, Puritans, charismatics, and dominionists who urge believers to take dominion over the earth and its political governments in order to actualize the kingdom of God over earth.
Amillennial. This approach sees no millennium of any kind on the earth. Rather, amillennialists tend to view so-called millennial prophecies as being fulfilled in eternity. References to the "thousand years" are interpreted symbolically. In this scheme the Church Age ends with the return of Christ to judge the world and usher in eternity. God's promises to Israel are viewed as having been fulfilled in the Church (the new Israel of the new covenant); therefore, amillennialists see no specific future for national Israel. They view the Church Age as the era of conflict between the forces of good and evil, which culminates with the return of Christ.
Premillennial. This view holds that Christ will return at the end of the Church Age in order to set up His kingdom on earth for a literal one thousand years. Most also believe there will be a Great Tribulation period on earth prior to the return of Christ. Among premillennialists are those who believe the Church will go through the Tribulation (postribulationists), those who believe the Church will be raptured prior to the Tribulation (pretribulationists) and even a few who believe the Church will be raptured in the middle of the Tribulation (midtribulationists). Despite these differences in regard to the Rapture of the Church, premillennialists generally believe in the future restoration of the state of Israel and the eventual conversion of the Jews to Christianity.”
The premillennial position will be the position that will be defended in this paper. The views of the postmillennial and amillennial positions will be presented accurately and will be discussed thoroughly and weighed against the premillennial view. The strengths and weaknesses of each view will also be observed.
The postmillennial view of the millennium can be simply summarized in saying that it believes that the millennium, or the one thousand year reign of Jesus Christ is presently occurring and has been taking place all throughout the church age, and that “it will be ushered in after remarkable gospel progress establishes Christ’s reign on earth”. This position believes in a takeover of the gospel in the earth and that the only way that the millennium will arrive is through the preaching and teaching of the gospel. Concerning the actual time period of a “thousand years”, the postmillennial view believes that the term “thousand years” should be interpreted symbolically and that the entire duration of the church age will represent the millennium. The postmillennial view believes that Jesus will return at the end of the “symbolic” millennium to usher in the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. Concerning Satan and the position of Israel during the time of the millennium, postmillennism believes that “During this period Satan will be effectually bound by the triumph of grace. Israel will be converted somewhere near the beginning of the millennium. Postmillennialists do disagree however, about the nature and details of these events.” One of the weaknesses of postmillennialism is its ability (or lack of) to convince that Satan is currently bound. Many scriptures such as 1 Peter 5:8 which states, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”, are challenges for those who hold to the postmillennial position. According to Revelation 20:3, if Satan is currently bound, unable to deceive the nations, then why does he presently roam and prowl with the intent to seek some to devour. Many postmillenniests in defense of their position will say that Satan is currently bound in regards to his inability to stop the spread of the gospel. Jack Van Deventer on his chart on the three millennial views states the view of postmillenniests concerning Satan’s bondage during the millennium, “At Christ’s death and resurrection, Satan was bound, meaning his ability to deceive the nations was restricted thus opening the door for worldwide evangelism. The preaching of the gospel has a deleterious effect on satanic activity. God, not Satan, control world events.” Furthermore, the postmillennial position believes that Israel is not its own entity in contrast with the church. To the postmilleniest, God fulfills all of His promises to the nation of Israel through the church because the church is the “true Israel”. A strength of postmillennialism is its optimism in desiring to see the earth evangelized with the gospel and empowered by the kingdom of God before Christ returns. “Postmillenarian’s generally believe that Jesus returns to a saved earth, he does not return to save the earth.” Postmillenialism’s views on the tribulation are that the tribulation took place in A.D. 70 when Nero persecuted the Christians.
In addition to postmillennialism, amillennialism also believes in a figurative millennium. Rather than believing that the millennium is already taking place on the earth, amillennialism believes that the millennium is currently taking place in the intermediate state. The Portable Seminary states “Amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ rules his church through the Word and the Spirit. They hold that the future, glorious, and perfect kingdom refers to the new earth and life in heaven. Thus Revelation 20 is a description of the souls of dead believers reigning with Christ in heaven.” Amillennialism shares some of the same strengths as postmillennialism in that it believes the millennium is currently taking place. Unlike postmillennialism, amillennialism believes “We are in the millennium now, but the millennium will never become a "golden age". The millennium is the church age. After the millennium will be the second coming followed by the eternal state, the latter being a "golden age". Amillenialists, like postmillennialists, also believe that the millennium is also not a literal one thousand years, but instead a period of time. In reference to Revelation 20:3, Amillennialism believes that Satan is currently bound as well, yet Satan’s binding isn’t limited in deceiving people. Ultimately, Satan cannot prevent the spread of the gospel. Amillenialists believe that the tribulation is presently taking place and will only become worse as time goes on. Some weaknesses of amillenialism are some of the same weaknesses that postmillennialism possesses. The binding of Satan and the symbolism of the thousand years are two of the major questions that hurt the amillenialist position.
Lastly, the premillenialist position believes that the one thousand years that Revelation 20 speaks of are a literal one thousand years. Premillenialism also believes that Satan will be bound for a literal one thousand years in literal chains in a literal pit. Christ will return prior to His millennial reign on earth and He will rule the earth with the saints and those who had been beheaded for His testimony. Premillenialists believe that earth will still have other inhabitants upon it while Christ will reign on it. “Premillennialism holds that Christ’s return will be preceded by signs, including wars, famines, earthquakes, the preaching of the gospel to all nations, a great apostasy, the appearance of Antichrist, and the great tribulation. These events culminate in the second coming, which will result in a period of peace and righteousness when Christ and His saints control the world.” Premillenialists are divided when it comes to the timing of the tribulation. Some hold to a position that the rapture of the church will take place prior to the tribulation and are thus called pre-tribulationists. Other premillenialists believe that the church will have to go through the tribulation and are referred to as postribulationists. A third group of premillennialists that believe that the church will be raptured in the middle of the tribulation are referred to as midtribulationists. Ed Hindson states “Despite these differences in regard to the Rapture of the Church, premillenialists generally believe in the future restoration of the state of Israel and the eventual conversion of the Jews to Christianity.”
The next part of this paper will be to view the passage of Revelation 20:1-6 in light of the three millennial views that have been presented with the aim to prove that premillennialism is the dominant position that scripture holds to.
Revelation 20:1-6 states:
“Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. 4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
The words, “Then I saw” beginning in Revelation 20:1 seem to link to the previous chapter and this vision is progressing from chapter 19. I think that to properly understand Revelation chapter 20, one must understand the context of chapter 19. Some Postmillenialists say that the words “then I saw” indicate a new vision being seen by the apostle John. Chapter 19 of Revelation is used as a text for postmillennialists to say that chapter 19:17-21 and 20:1-6 is one scene that is seen in two different ways. Premillennialists see these passages as sequential and Revelation 20:1-6 follows in sequence after Revelation 19:17-21. Postmillenialists argue that during the battle scene which takes place in Revelation 19:17-21 all mankind is destroyed by Jesus and the hosts of heaven on white horses. Their basis for this is found in Revelation 20:21 which states that “and the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of Him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” The question concerning this verse which will make all the difference in firstly proving the sequence of these chapters is “Who is all the rest?” If “all the rest” means all of the rest of mankind is destroyed after the armies of the beast are destroyed, then Revelation 20:1-6 should not be interpreted to be following after Revelation 19:17-21 because in Revelation 20:8, Satan is released to “deceive the nations” in the four corners of the earth. If all the rest of mankind was destroyed in Revelation 19:21, then there will be no “nations” to deceive in Revelation 20:8. If premillenialists are right, then the interpretation of “all the rest” should mean all the rest of the army after verse 20, which says that the beast and the false prophet were thrown into the lake of fire. Another way to put this would be to say that if only the beast and the armies of the beast are slain, then there will still be people left on earth to be ruled over. When Revelation 20:17-18 says “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” , I think that “all men” is qualified, meaning all kinds of men, who are in the armies of the beast. The armies of the beast are made up of all kinds of men. A third reason why I believe that there are people left on earth after this battle is because of John’s description of Christ on the white horse when he says in verse 15 of chapter 19, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. “Shall” or the word poimanei, in the Greek, is future active indicative which means that something will happen in the future. If all people except for the saints were dead, then there would be no nations to rule over in the future. According to Revelation 5:10 and 20:6, the saints will reign with Christ on the earth and therefore do not make up “the nations”. The observation that unsaved humans will be on the earth during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ can be proved in looking at Zechariah 14:16 “Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17 And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them.” Everyone who survives of all the nations, seems to mean that people will survive the “Great Day of the Lord” previously mentioned in Zechariah 14, and that they will be under the ruler ship of the “King, the Lord of Hosts”, who is Christ. I think that the proving that Revelation 19:17-21 happens prior to Revelation 20:1-6 is key in proving the fact that these two passages depict two separate events in sequential order.
Revelation 20:1 begins with John’s vision of seeing an angel coming down from heaven, with a key to the bottomless pit. The angel John sees also possesses a chain and with it, he seizes the Satan, whom John refers to by four different names: the dragon, serpent, the devil, and Satan. This seizing of Satan by the angel occurs right after the beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. The unholy trinity is eliminated in the reverse order as they are introduced in Revelation 12-13. The dragon is seen first chasing the woman into the desert. Following the dragon, the first beast rises out of the sea, and then the second beast rises out of the earth. Satan’s binding in Revelation 20 is for the purpose that he may not deceive the nations any longer. This binding of Satan is only temporary though, because Satan will be released once a thousand years have ended. This period of a thousand years is the duration of Satan’s time in the pit, and it is to be interpreted literally. Ed Hindson states in “Revelation:Unlocking the Future” that “While the one thousand years may be symbolic of a long time of peace and prosperity, there is nothing in the text itself to indicate that this period should not be taken literally. Otherwise, all other time indicators in the Revelation would be meaningless.” One thousand years should be taken literally because the apostle John uses several other time indicators throughout the book of Revelation that indicate whether a period of time is known or unknown. Beginning with “ten days” in chapter 2 verse 10, John also records several other periods of time which are to be taken literally, from “day”(Rev 2:10), “half an hour”(Rev. 8:1), “hour”,(Rev.17:12) “hour, day, month, year”(Rev.9:15) “a thousand, two hundred and three score days” (Rev 11:3) , “five months”(Rev 9:5), “forty two months”(Rev 13:15) “thousand years” (Rev 20:1). All of these periods of time are known periods of time in Revelation. There is no reason to believe that they are symbolic or unknown because John also uses references to time periods that are unknown. Revelation 12:14 speaks of “time, times, and half time”, and Revelation 7:9, “a multitude that no man can number” and Revelation 20:3 speaks of Satan being released for “a little while”. These are periods of time to which John makes clear are unknown. Postmillennialists and amillennialists argue that Satan’s binding is presently taking place and that the thousand years in which he is bound is figurative. Both camps agree on the timing of Satan’s binding but disagree as to the nature of his binding. Amillenialists would argue that Satan is bound in such a way that he is still able to deceive, but that he is unable to hinder or prevent the gospel from going forth. Postmillenialists would argue that Satan is bound completely in the present time and therefore will not prevent the gospel going forth and will not deceive the nations. The gospel will only progress and the times will only get better as the church approaches the second coming of Christ. There are several scriptures that prove that Satan is presently not bound and is an active force today in deceiving many and wreaking havoc. Satan will never be able to thwart God’s Sovereign plans and purposes and has never been able to from the beginning of time, yet the Bible speaks of Satan as being on a short leash, so to speak, but most certainly not bound. Ephesians 2:2 speaks of Satan as the “prince of the power of the air”; 2 Corinthians 11:14 speaks of Satan as a deceitful “angel of light”. 2 Corinthians 4:4 refers to Satan as the “god of this world”, and 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 speaks of Satan actively working to “blind the minds of unbelievers”. These things will cease to be once Satan is locked up at the beginning of the millennial reign of Christ.
Furthermore, the next scene that John sees in Revelation 20 is seen in verses 4 through 6. Revelation 4-6 says “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” These thrones mentioned in Revelation 20:4 could probably represent the thrones that Jesus promised to his twelve disciples in Matthew 19:28 and in Luke 22:30. The purpose of these thrones mentioned is that those who sit on them might judge. The ESV Study Bible notes concerning these verses that “Premillenialists argue that “coming down from heaven”(v.1) and the reference to “the nations”(v.3) show that these “thrones” are on earth (during Christ’s millennial reign).” Ed Hindson glances pieces together the entire scene in the last two chapters that unfolds in Revelation 20:4-6. “The total picture is much greater. The Bride (Church) has returned from heaven with Christ in chapter 19. Now the “Tribulation saints” (believers) are resurrected to rule with them. This is called the “first resurrection” (20:5) to judgment after the thousand years (20:11-15) Keep in mind that all the while that the saints are reigning and the martyred are being resurrected, there are still unbelievers on the earth that will live and die during this time period and will be ruled by the iron rod of Jesus Christ. Whether the gospel goes forth and converts some of these unbelievers during this time is unclear but what is clear is that some unbelievers will still reject Christ’s rule and will seek to rebel against Him. Christ will physically reign on earth with His saints for one thousand years, and all during this time Satan is being locked away in an abyss, unable to deceive, and evil men are building up hatred in their hearts against Christ who is the ruler of all.
Concerning the last part of this passage from verses 7-10, Revelation clearly talks about the release of Satan from the pit, his quest to deceive the nations once again and the final battle between God and evil men. At the end of Christ one thousand year reign on earth, re-election is not an option. The end of Christ’s thousand year reign only means the ushering in of the new heavens and new earth that Revelation 21 speaks of is near and the nearing of this world is coming to an end. Satan, in verse 7, is released from the abyss at the end of the thousand years. The duration of his time after being released is only referred to as “a little while”, a period of time that we previously stated before is unknown. Satan’s intent upon being released is no different than before he was imprisoned, to deceive. Satan goes to the nations whom Christ rules over (not the saints) and will deceive people in massive numbers; so much so , that when Revelation 20:8 speaks of Satan’s army, the number given is “like the sand of the sea”. This again proves the consistency in premillennialism, by showing that there will be nations of people on the earth during the millennial reign of Christ. In verse 9, Satan’s army approaches the “camp of the saints”, which is believed to be Jerusalem by premillenialists, and before Satan and his rebellious army can attack, they are quenched by fire that comes from God out of heaven. There are many differences in this battle that can show amillennialists that this is a separate battle that is occurring. The birds do not eat the flesh of this army, and the saints are not said to have an army. Likewise, in the first battle in Revelation 19:17-21, Christ slays His enemies with the sword of His mouth, and in this battle in Revelation 20:7-10, fire from Heaven consumes the adversaries instantaneously and all that are left is the saints.
In conclusion, the premillenialist position is the most consistent because it literally interprets the book of Revelation and when interpreted this way, everything falls in line with scripture. This isn’t to say that it does not possess weakness as the other views do, because it does. Each camp possesses questions that are left unanswered because the wisdom in this book is greater than any man can know. There are many symbols that Jesus explains and mentions in the book of Revelation, but one cannot choose what is to be interpreted as a symbol and what does not. I feel that the premillennial view is the strongest view to have, simply because it observes the church age and the present times, and lines them up with the events in scripture and then properly concludes that these things and events that the book of Revelation mentions are things that must come and that they are not things that have already happened, or are presently occurring .
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