All posts by Bill Pratt

Was There Jewish Precedent for an Earthly, Intermediate, Messianic Kingdom?

Premillennialists interpret Revelation 20 to be a literal thousand-year earthly reign of Christ before he defeats Satan in one ultimate battle and inaugurates the new heavens and new earth. Is there any precedent for this view of an intermediate, earthly, messianic kingdom in ancient Jewish texts?

Craig Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, writes:

Many Jewish texts include an intermediate period between the present and future ages; in some, it is an age of messianic peace, but in others it is the final tribulation, which came to be called the ‘messianic travail.’ The length of the final intermediate period varies in those ancient Jewish texts that include it, producing such diverse figures as forty years, three generations, four hundred years and nearly as many other calculations as there are opinions recorded, sometimes counted by ‘weeks’ or jubilees of years. A few early Jewish traditions divided history into seven one-thousand-year periods, of which the final period would be an age of peace. (Plato’s figure of one thousand years between death and reincarnation as the intermediate state of the Greek afterlife might have influenced this Jewish figure [cf. also the phoenix of Greek mythology, discussed by rabbis], but this is unlikely; the apocalyptic penchant for dividing history into ages, plus the natural appeal of a round number like one thousand [cf. one hundred in Is 65:20], and especially the Jewish application of Ps 90:4 to the seven days of Gen 1, are sufficient to explain the length of the period on purely Jewish terms.)

Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, adds:

The OT had little explicit commentary on the ‘millennium,’ but the view of the coming kingdom of God as an earthly reign (e.g., Ps. 72:8–14; Isa. 11:6–9; Zech. 14:5–17) provided the background for the concept of an earthly millennium. The early rabbis drew on this and believed in a preliminary kingdom (see Beasley-Murray 1978: 288, building on Strack-Billerbeck). Combining Deut. 8:3 and Ps. 90:15, Akiba viewed it as a forty-year reign equal to the wilderness wanderings. Another rabbi used Mic. 7:15 and saw a four-hundred-year reign paralleling Israel’s stay in Egypt. Jehuda used Deut. 11:21 and saw it as four thousand years, the same amount of time as from creation to the present.

How Does Premillennialist Norman Geisler Interpret Revelation 20?

Norm Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, asserts that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 must refer to a literal, future period of time that lasts a thousand years.  “A historical-grammatical reading of this passage informs us that there will be a literal Millennium, during which Satan is bound, beginning with the raising of the saved and ending with the raising of the lost.”

Geisler offers several reasons why the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 should be taken as a literal, future period of time.  First, the word thousand is mentioned several times in Revelation 20.  “Facts mentioned only once in the Bible are true; the future messianic kingdom is said to be a thousand years long six times in Revelation 20:1-7.”  Surely, the repetition of this time period undermines the non-literal position.  Second, Geisler admits that the word thousand is sometimes used symbolically in the Bible.  “However, of its hundred-plus occurrences in the biblical text, only a handful are non-literal, and even these are mostly hyperbole (not allegorical).”

Third, Geisler reasons that “other numbers in Revelation are used literally; for example, 1,260 days (12:6) is a literal three and one-half years (Dan. 12:7, 11).”  Given that other numbers are used literally in the book, the argument for symbolism is weakened.  Fourth, even “symbols refer to something literal, as indicated by John’s literal interpretation of symbolic usage (e.g., 1:20).”  One must always be careful in taking symbolism too far, because ultimately every symbol stands for something real and literal.  There is the sign (the symbol) and there is the thing signified (the literal object).  The less clearly the sign points to the thing signified, the greater chance for interpretational error.  In our human experience, most signs relate very directly and obviously to the things they signify.  The term “thousand years” is more likely to refer to a literal thousand-year period of time than to refer to perfection or completeness.  The onus must be on the symbolic interpreter to provide strong evidence for his view.

Fifth, a literal interpretation accords with Paul’s claim in 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 that “Christ’s earthly reign would be a long period of time with an end.”  Sixth and finally, “Literal numbers can have symbolic significance – Israel was tested for forty years in the wilderness (cf. Matt. 4), and while there is a symbolic meaning to this time of wandering, it is also true that they literally wandered for about forty years.  Relatedly, thousand can symbolize a long period and still be literally true.”

John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, in , add that the sequence of events surrounding the “thousand years” also indicate a literal, future time period.  “The fact that it is mentioned six times and is clearly described as a period of time before which and after which events take place lead to the conclusion that it means a literal thousand-year period.”  Specifically they contend that the reference to Satan being bound for a thousand years is an important clue.  According to Walvoord and Zuck, “Throughout the Scriptures Satan is said to exert great power not only against the world but also against Christians (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Tim. 1:20).”  It seems difficult to argue that Satan’s influence today is somehow curtailed or restrained.  The clinching verse which demonstrates that Satan was certainly attacking believers in the first century, after Christ’s death and resurrection, is 1 Peter 5:8.  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  If Satan is indeed not bound, then it seems difficult to understand the “thousand years” as occurring today.

With both amillennialists and premillennialists claiming to use the historical-grammatical hermeneutical method, and with both groups arriving at widely divergent conclusions, there is another group of people that we should consult about Revelation 20.  In general, the closer in time Person A is to Person B, the more accurately will Person A interpret the writings of Person B, all other things being equal.  Augustine wrote about the book of Revelation about three centuries after it was written by the apostle John.  As mentioned before, Augustine’s position on the Apocalypse has dominated the church since he wrote about it in The City of God.  There are church fathers, however, who lived closer to the time of John and who wrote about Revelation.

The earliest known interpretation of the thousand years of Revelation came from a bishop named Papias, who was a contemporary of the apostles in the first century.  Eusebius, the great church historian of the fourth century, wrote about Papias in his seminal work, The Church History.  Eusebius quotes Papias from his Sayings of the Lord Interpreted, which is no longer extant.  Papias claims to have heard directly from those who sat under the teaching of several of the apostles.  “And whenever anyone came who had been a follower of the elders, I asked about their words: what Andrew or Peter had said, or Philip or Thomas or James or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples . . . .  For I did not think that information from books would help me as much as the word of a living, surviving voice.”

Papias’ views on the book of Revelation would indeed be important because of his close proximity to the source of the book, John (who is mentioned above).  According to Eusebius, Papias believed that “after the resurrection of the dead there will be a thousand-year period when the kingdom of Christ will be established on this earth in material form.”  Eusebius also maintained that Papias’ views on the thousand years were highly regarded by some subsequent church fathers because of his proximity to the disciples.  Lest anyone think that Eusebius was biased in favor of Papias’ interpretation, Eusebius had this to say about Papias: “I suppose that he got these notions by misunderstanding the apostolic accounts, not realizing that they had used mystic and symbolic language.  For he was a man of very limited intelligence, as is clear from his books.”  We can be confident that Eusebius’ “respect” for Papias did not color his interpretation of Papias’ writings, for Eusebius was an amillennialist even before Augustine.  With all due respect to Eusebius’ estimation of Papias’ intelligence, Papias is one of the earliest, if not earliest, sources we have interpreting Revelation 20, and he was a premillennialist.

In the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr, one of the most renowned early apologists of the Christian faith, wrote about the book of Revelation.  He is the first to explicitly mention the Revelation in his Dialogue with Trypho.[14]  “And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place.”[15]  Justin Martyr was certainly a premillennialist and believed that the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 was to be taken literally as the future, messianic kingdom on earth.

Later in the second century the church father, Irenaeus, made “frequent and substantive use of the Revelation, especially in book 5 of Against Heresies, where he extensively discourses upon the thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth.”  Speaking of the predicted, messianic, thousand-year kingdom, Irenaeus related the following:

The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead; when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth: as the elders who saw John, the disciple of the Lord, related that they had heard from him how the Lord used to teach in regard to these times.

Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Papias, the earliest commentators on the book of Revelation, all believed that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 should be taken as a literal, thousand-year, earthly kingdom of Christ.  It cannot be argued, based upon this evidence, that the premillennial view is proven, but it does lend significant credibility to the view.  If the earliest hearers and interpreters of the text understood it to be literal, surely the later amillennialists have a more difficult position to argue.  How is it that these, the earliest commentators in the church, were all wrong?

How Does Amillennialist Hank Hanegraaff Interpret Revelation 20?

Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Apocalypse Code, is convinced that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is symbolic and not to be taken literally.  “The figurative use of the whole number one thousand is virtually ubiquitous in Old Testament usage.  For example, God increased the number of the Israelites a thousand times (Deuteronomy 1:11); God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10); the least of Zion will become a thousand and the smallest a mighty nation (Isaiah 60:22).”  Hanegraaff continues by emphasizing “a thousand more examples (figuratively speaking) could easily be added to the list.”  What, then, does the “thousand years” mean?  Hanegraaff rejects the view that the words of Revelation 20 are a “literal prophetic chronology according to which Satan will literally be bound for one thousand years while the resurrected martyrs reign with Christ . . . .”  Alternatively, Hanegraaff argues, “We must be willing to interpret this markedly symbolic passage in light of the rest of Scripture.”  The number one thousand is symbolic of “ultimate completion.”  The “thousand years” of the martyrs’ reign indicates the vindication of the martyrs who were subjected to the terror of the Beast for “ten days.”  The “thousand years” is a qualitative contrast, not a quantitative period of time.

Amillennialist J. Marcellus Kik, in his book An Eschatology of Victory, also does not believe that the “thousand years” conveys a future, messianic, millennial kingdom.  He adds another dimension to Hanegraaff’s view.  “The term thousand years in Revelation twenty is a figurative expression used to describe the period of the messianic Kingdom upon earth.  It is that period from the first Advent of Christ until his Second Coming.”  In other words, we are all in the “millennium” today, for it spans the time between the two appearances of Christ on earth.  Kim Riddlebarger, in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, concurs: “Amillenarians generally agree with this assessment, seeing the thousand years as a symbolic number, spanning the entire ‘church age.’”  He adds that there are good reasons for interpreting the number one thousand symbolically.  He notes, “Numbers are always used symbolically throughout the book [of Revelation].” Riddlebarger agrees with Hanegraaff’s conclusion that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 “symbolizes an ideal period time, a time of completion.”  He also contends that other words in Revelation 20, such as chain, abyss, serpent, and beast are symbolic, so it is reasonable to conclude that the number one thousand is also symbolic.

In the early centuries of the church, the Bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine (354-430), likewise interpreted the “thousand years” symbolically.  Augustine was a premillennialist earlier in his life, but came to regard the “thousand years” allegorically.  In The City of God he writes, “The thousand years may be understood in two ways, . . . either because these things happen in the sixth thousand of years or sixth millennium (the latter part of which is now passing), as if during the sixth day, which is to be followed by a Sabbath which has no evening, . . . or he used the thousand years as an equivalent for the whole duration of this world, employing the number of perfection to mark the fullness of time.”  It is interesting to note the reasoning Augustine employs to demonstrate that the number one thousand is the number of perfection.  “For a thousand is the cube of ten.  For ten times ten makes a hundred, that is, the square on a plane superficies.  But to give this superficies height, and make it a cube, the hundred is again multiplied by ten, which gives a thousand.” Augustine then gives an example in Scripture of the number one hundred indicating perfection or completeness, and thus concludes that if ever “one hundred” is interpreted as totality or completion, then how much more complete and perfect is one thousand.  Regardless of which of his two interpretations one may choose, Augustine came to see the millennium as the present age within which he lived.  The end of the “thousand years” will be the end of the world when Christ returns.  Christ will only return after the perfect amount of time has elapsed.

Hanegraaff, Riddlebarger, and Kik are all heirs of the amillennialism that Augustine propounded.  Augustine’s view of the “thousand years” in Revelation has been the dominant view of the church ever since the early fifth century and continues to be widely held even today.  However, many contemporary evangelicals are premillennialists and can claim their interpretational heritage to a time before Augustine, a claim that is explored in the next blog post.

How Should We Interpret Revelation 20?

The most important biblical passage describing the millennial, messianic kingdom is found in Revelation 20.  In fact, this passage is the only place in the Bible where the messianic kingdom is described as lasting one thousand years.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.  He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.  After that, he must be set free for a short time. I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.  They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ 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 are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:1-6)

The period of one thousand years is mentioned five times in the verses above and once more in verse seven.  Both amillennialists and premillennialists agree that Revelation 20 is a central passage for understanding the eschaton, but they strongly disagree as to how these verses should be interpreted.  Both agree that the verses should be interpreted as the author, the apostle John, intended.  Both agree that symbolism is used in the book of Revelation, but they do not agree whether the thousand years is symbolic or literal.

The most direct and literal way to interpret Revelation 20 is to understand that it refers to a future period of one thousand years where Satan will be bound and those who followed Christ will come to life and reign with him.  This future millennium would begin after the events in the preceding chapters of Revelation took place.

However, there are certainly other ways to interpret the passage.  Perhaps the “thousand years” is merely symbolic of a long period of time.  Perhaps that long period of time is already inaugurated; Satan is already “bound” and Christ and his followers are already “reigning.”  Perhaps the “thousand years” does not refer to a long period of time, but to a perfect or complete period of time.  In that case, the “thousand years” is but a figure of speech.  John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, in , summarize the issue well: “It should be evident that one’s interpretation of Revelation 20 is an important decision that serves as a watershed for various approaches to prophetic Scripture.” All of these views have been taken by Christian theologians, scholars who claim to adhere to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic.

How Does Premillennialist Norman Geisler Interpret the Fulfillment of the OT Covenants?

For premillennialist Norman Geisler, the future, literal fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants must occur in a millennial, messianic kingdom for several reasons.  First, the land promise to Israel has yet to be fulfilled.  The land promise made to Abraham was unconditional, meaning that God placed no conditions on Abraham for this land grant to be made.  Citing Genesis 15:7-18, Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, notes that “Abraham was not even conscious when [the covenant] was made, and God alone passed through the split sacrifice.” This procedure followed “the legal form of a grant covenant,” which was a one-way land grant.  Hebrews 6:13 indicates that God swore by himself, again proving that the land promise was certain to occur.  Abraham’s descendants, the Jews, have never occupied the promised land between the Euphrates and River of Egypt for “any prolonged period of time.”  Even if it could be argued that Solomon ruled over the lands promised to Abraham (cf. 1 Kings 4:21), “He reigned over it for a very short time, not forever, as promised to Abraham.”

Second, the Davidic throne promise has not been fulfilled.  Again, this covenant was unconditional, as evidenced by Psalm 89.  Speaking of David, God said, “Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness – and I will not lie to David – that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun” (Ps. 89:35-36).  God promised that even if David’s descendants violated his decrees, he would not violate David’s covenant.  Clearly, today, no descendant of David is ruling over Jerusalem and Israel, so, according to Geisler, there must be a day when David’s descendant will fulfill a “future, political, earthly messianic reign [as] found in 2 Samuel 7:11-16.”

Third, the Old Testament prophets continued to predict a messianic kingdom all the way up to 400 B.C.  Isaiah wrote about the messianic kingdom in Isaiah 9:7: “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”  In the very last book of the Old Testament, Malachi speaks of the coming kingdom and fulfillment of the covenant in Malachi 3:1.

Fourth, Jesus offered the political, messianic kingdom to the Jews of first century Palestine, which is a clear indication that the messianic kingdom, the kingdom that would fulfill the covenants made with Abraham and David, was yet to be fulfilled.

Fifth, subsequent to the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus promised that in the future the kingdom would still be restored.  Jesus made the following promise to his disciples with regard to the messianic kingdom: “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).  The question the disciples asked Jesus in Acts 1 is illuminating.  After spending forty days with him, discussing the “kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the disciples then asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v. 6).  Instead of Jesus rebuking them for asking a meaningless question about the literal fulfillment of the covenants, he tells them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (v. 7).  According to theologians John Walvoord and Roy Zuck in , “If the followers of the Lord Jesus had an incorrect view, this would have been the time for Him to correct it. The fact is, Christ taught the coming of an earthly, literal kingdom.”  The clear implication is that there will be a literal restored kingdom of Israel some time in the future.

Sixth and finally, Paul affirmed the national restoration of Israel in Romans 11.  Speaking of the promises made to Israel, Paul proclaimed that “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).  Israel clearly has a national role in the future when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).  Walvoord and Zuck explain: “Because God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . ., He loves the nation and will carry through on His promises.”  According to Geisler, “When God’s complete plan of salvation is accomplished, He will restore national Israel and fulfill His unconditional promises to them, including the messianic kingdom.”

In response to Hanegraaff’s use of typology to show the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, Geisler recognizes instances of typology in the Bible, but denies that the covenants are typological.  For example, “Hebrews speaks of the entire Levitical sacrificial system as being fulfilled by our great High Priest.” Geisler affirms that “Christ is the fulfillment of Old Testament types that prefigured Him and that passed away when He fulfilled them.”  However, “Not all Old Testament predictions were types.”  Geisler argues that a covenant is not a type at all and should not be interpreted that way.  Therefore, to understand the literal promises made to Abraham and David as types to be overshadowed by Christ is a category mistake.

Additionally, Hanegraaff and other amillennialists believe that the New Testament should be used to reinterpret the objective meanings of Old Testament passages, the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants included.  In their view, when God promised Abraham the literal land of Canaan forever, he did not really intend that Abraham would receive the land of Canaan forever.  The New Testament reveals the real meaning of the text: Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the promise, not the land.  In the words of theologian Kim Riddlebarger in A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times, “The New Testament should explain the Old.  This is one of the most basic principles of Bible study.  The New Testament must be seen as the final authority and interpreter of the Old Testament.”

Geisler answers this claim in emphatic terms: “The Old Testament should not be interpreted in light of the New, because later writings, inspired or not, do not change the meaning of earlier writings.  Meaning is objective and absolute; a text means what the author meant by it, nothing more and nothing less.  Later authors can add more information on the same topic, but they cannot change the meaning.”  If God promised the land, then Abraham’s descendants will get the land.  If God promised the throne, then David’s descendants will get the throne.  Any attempt to deny these straightforward interpretations of the Old Testament leads down the slippery slope of allegorism.

How Does Amillennialist Hank Hanegraaff Interpret the Fulfillment of the OT Covenants?

Hank Hanegraaff, in his book The Apocalypse Code, argues that the promises to Abraham and David were ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Citing Galatians 3:16, Hanegraaff believes that the Abrahamic covenant is “spiritually grounded in one singular Seed [Christ].” In the words of Keith Mathison, as quoted by Hanegraaff, “The promises made to literal, physical Israelites were fulfilled by a literal, physical Israelite, Jesus the Messiah.  He is the Seed of Abraham.”

This is not to say that the land promises were never fulfilled.  Hanegraaff sees the fulfillment of Abraham’s covenant occurring in multiple phases.  In the first phase, the land promises actually were fulfilled under Joshua and Solomon.  “God’s plan becomes a tangible reality when Joshua leads the children of Israel into Palestine.”  Hanegraaff cites Joshua 23:14 as evidence of the Abrahamic covenant’s fulfillment.  “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”  Under Solomon’s rule, “the land promises reached their zenith” since his rule “encompassed all of the land from the Euphrates River in the north to the River of Egypt in the south (1 Kings 4:20-21; cf. Genesis 15:18).”

The first phase of fulfillment was only temporary.  Hanegraaff continues to explain that “the land promises are fulfilled in the far future through Jesus who provides true Israel with permanent rest from their wanderings in sin.” This is the second phase of fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.  Hanegraaff argues that the land promises were never the primary concern of the covenant.  “The land was never the focus of our Lord; instead, our Lord is forever the locus of the land.” In Acts 1:6, when the disciples asked Jesus about restoring the land to Israel, “Jesus reoriented their thinking from a restored Jewish state to a kingdom that knows no borders or boundaries.” The physical rest, which the land promises were to provide to the Jews, is a type which is fulfilled in the antitype of the spiritual rest in Christ.  “The writer of Hebrews makes clear that the rest the descendants of Abraham experienced when they entered the land is but a type of the rest we experience when we enter an eternal relationship with the Lord.” Likewise, Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, is also a type which is superseded by Christ, the ultimate antitype.  “Jesus is the antitype who fulfills all of the typology vested in Jerusalem.”

The third and final phase, which will occur in the future, takes place when Paradise is restored – when the New Jerusalem, the Holy City spoken of in Revelation 21, replaces the earth.  “The climax of the promise would not be Palestine regained but Paradise restored.” In Hanegraaff’s view, “The promise of the land will be fully and finally consummated when Paradise lost is reconstituted as Paradise restored.  Canaan is thus typological of a renewed cosmos.”

The Davidic covenant is also fulfilled by Christ.  “God’s promises to David that his descendants would sit on the throne forever . . . was fulfilled when Christ, the ‘Son of David’ . . . , ascended to the throne of the heavenly Jerusalem and established his rule and reign over all the earth.”  According to Hanegraaff, Peter makes clear in Acts 2 that “Jesus’s reign has already been inaugurated in his resurrection and ascension to the throne of God.” Jesus, therefore, completely fulfills the promise made to David that his descendants would forever rule on the throne of Jerusalem.  No messianic kingdom in the future is necessary to fulfill the Davidic covenant.  In comparing the fulfillment by Jesus to the original promise made to David, Hanegraaff observes that “the lesser is fulfilled and rendered obsolete by the greater.”

In summary, Hanegraaff believes that the promises made to Abraham and David were fulfilled in Christ.  Instead of just receiving the land of Canaan, Abraham’s spiritual descendants will receive the entire cosmos when God replaces the earth with the New Jerusalem.  Instead of just receiving a physical throne in Jerusalem, David’s descendant, Jesus, inherited the very throne of heaven where he reigns over the entire universe.  For Hanegraaff, “To now require that God must provide a literal throne in Jerusalem upon which Jesus will physically sit to rule over national Israel in a millennial semi-golden age is more than an anticlimactic step backward; it is an insult to the glory and grandeur of God’s throne.”

What Are the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants?

The fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants is pivotal to the question of the millennium.  Both amillennialists and premillennialists agree that God made promises to Abraham throughout the book of Genesis.  “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’” (Gen. 12:1-3 NIV).  With regard to the land, the Lord said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” (Gen. 15:19).  Further, this land was to be given as an “everlasting possession to [Abraham] and [his] descendants” (Gen. 17:8).

The components of the covenant are as follows: (1) God promised to make Abraham and his descendants into a great nation, (2) God promised that Abraham and his descendants would inherit and possess the land between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates, (3) God promised that Abraham and his descendants would bless the peoples of the world, and (4) God promised that these blessings would be perpetual.  What separates amillennialists from premillennialists is the question of fulfillment.  If the covenant has already been fulfilled, then a major pillar of the premillennial argument crumbles.  However, if the covenant has not been fulfilled, then God must still follow through on his promises.

Likewise, the Davidic covenant contained clear promises from God to David and his descendants.  Norman Geisler, in Systematic Theology, vol. 4, Church, Last Things, writes, “As the Abrahamic covenant centers around the land, the Davidic covenant centers around the throne.  The former provides the land and the nation; the latter provides a king to rule over the kingdom.”  The primary passage which explicates the Davidic promises is found in 2 Samuel 7.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. (2 Sam. 7:11-16)

The throne of Israel is promised to David and his offspring and it is promised to them forever.  Again, amillennialists and premillennialists differ as to whether this covenant has been fulfilled.

What Are the Three Different Views on the Millennium in Revelation 20?

The interpretation of the thousand years (Millennium) described in Revelation 20 has caused much debate in the church. Biblical scholar George Elton Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, walks us through the three most popular views on the Millennium.

Postmillennialism means that the return of Christ would not occur until the Kingdom of God had been established by the church in human history. In this view, chapter 19 does not describe the coming of Christ but is a very symbolic way of describing the triumph of Christian principles in human affairs and the triumph of Christ through his church. After this ‘golden age,’ Christ will return to raise the dead, judge the world, and inaugurate the new eternal order.

Amillennialism is the term used to describe the view of those who do not look for a millennial reign of Christ either before or after his second coming. This way of interpreting Rev. 20 involves the principle of recapitulation, viz., that the structure of Revelation does not relate consecutive events but frequently covers the same ground from different perspectives.

Interpreters of this viewpoint often identify the binding of Satan and his incarceration in the abyss with the victory over Satan accomplished by our Lord in his earthly ministry. It is clear that the gospels do represent Jesus as having bound Satan (Matt. 12:29) and toppled him from his place of power (Luke 10:18); and this victory over Satan is reflected in the Revelation (see note on 12:9); it is an open question as to whether the binding of Satan in Rev. 20 is the same as that in Matt. 12 or is an eschatological event.

Amillennialists usually understand the ‘first resurrection’ in one of two different ways. Some see here the resurrection unto eternal life, which is an altogether spiritual reality that occurs for each believer when he becomes a Christian (John 5:25; Eph. 2:5–6). The reign of Christ with his saints is either the reign of Christ manifested in history through his church, or the spiritual reign of believers with Christ ‘in the heavenly places’ (Eph. 2:6). The thousand-year period is no literal piece of history; it is a symbolic number coextensive with the history of the church on earth between the resurrection of Christ and his return.

A different amillennial interpretation understands the resurrection and reign of the saints with Christ to represent the destiny of the martyrs. Though they were slain, the martyrs did not really die. In fact, they lived and reigned with Christ in heaven. The ‘millennium’ is the church age when martyred saints reign with Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection.

Premillennialism is the view that Rev. 20 is altogether eschatological. The coming of Christ will be followed by a binding of Satan and the resurrection of the saints who will join him in a temporal kingdom when he reigns over the earth. This millennial kingdom will end with a final rebellion and the last judgment.

A variant form of premillennialism is Dispensationalism, which sees the millennial kingdom primarily in terms of God’s theocratic promises to Israel. The entire book of Revelation is interpreted in terms of these dispensational presuppositions and is concerned with the fate of restored Israel in the last days and not with the church. In many circles the only form of premillennialism known is Dispensationalism.

Commentary on Revelation 20 (The Millennium)

Now that the beast and the false prophet have been defeated, John sees another vision which starts in chapter 20. John sees an angel bind up Satan with chains and seal him in a pit. For one thousand years (the Millennium), Satan will not be able to deceive humankind any longer. Ominously, though, Satan will be released at the end of the Millennium one last time. Bible scholars differ over whether the one thousand years should be taken literally, but it seems clear that regardless of the actual length of time, the one thousand years describes a fixed amount of time determined by God.

John then describes an earthly kingdom which will be ruled by Christ and his saints. In particular, those saints who were martyred by the beast because of their allegiance to Christ will reign with him during the Millennium. How will Christ’s deceased saints rule with him? They are resurrected! God will give all believers throughout human history resurrected bodies to live, rule, and serve as priests with Christ in the Millennium. Those who are resurrected will never die again; they will live forever with Christ.

Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, notes that verses 4-6 in chapter 20 emphasize the vindication of the saints:

“The second part (20:4–6) stresses another major theme of the book, the vindication of the saints. In Matt. 19:28 Jesus promised the disciples they would sit on ‘twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes.’ In 1 Cor. 6:2 Paul says the saints ‘will judge the world.’ Then in Rev. 2:26 the saints will have ‘authority over the nations,’ and in 3:21 they ‘will sit with [Christ] on his throne.’ This prepares for 6:9–11, where the martyred saints are promised that at the proper time they would be vindicated. That vindication took place in stages, from the storm theophany of 6:12–17 to the outpouring of wrath in 8:3–5 to the destruction of Babylon the Great in chapters 17–19. But it is finalized in 20:4–6, where the saints sit on thrones and judge the nations for the thousand-year period.

Also populating the earth during the Millennium are those who were aligned with the beast before his demise and their descendants. They will live in their natural bodies under the rule of Christ and his resurrected saints during the Millennium. Remember that only the Antichrist’s armies were killed in the battle of Armageddon.

After the Millennium ends, Satan will be released from prison one last time, and he will deceive the people of the earth (not the resurrected saints). A leader called Gog, from a land called Magog, will gather a massive army and march on the city of Jerusalem, the city where Jesus lives and rules. Before they can enter the city, God rains down fire on them, and they are all killed. God then throws Satan into the lake of fire with the beast and false prophet where they “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

George Eldon Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, notes the parallels between Ezekiel 36-39 and argues that Revelation 20 is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy.

Gog and Magog are biblical names for the nations who are rebellious against God and hostile to his people. In Ezek. 38:1, Gog is the prince of the land of Magog and comes from the north in the latter days to do battle with God’s people. In Revelation, both words represent the hostile nations.

While the New Testament has little to say about a temporal messianic kingdom, Ezekiel’s prophecy has the same basic structure as Rev. 20. Chapters 36–37 picture the salvation of Israel, restored to their land and blessed with the messianic salvation (see 36:24–29). The goal of the prophetic expectation, ‘you shall be my people, and I will be your God’ (Ezek. 36:28) is now realized. David, God’s servant, will rule over his people, and God will dwell in their midst (37:25, 28). However, the blessing of the messianic kingdom is not the end. The kingdom is disturbed by an eschatological war led by Gog from Magog (chapters 38–39); and only after the divine victory do we have a picture of the eternal new order, which in Ezekiel is described in terms of a rebuilt temple in the new Jerusalem (chapters 40–48). This structure of a temporal messianic kingdom followed by the eternal kingdom in the new age is the same as that in Revelation.

Why will there be a temporal, earthly kingdom under Christ’s rule? Why allow Satan to deceive the world again? Ladd answers:

In the present instance, even after Christ himself has reigned over men during the millennium, when the deceiver is set free from his prison, he finds the hearts of men still responsive to his seductions. This makes it plain that the ultimate root of sin is not poverty or inadequate social conditions or an unfortunate environment; it is the rebelliousness of the human heart. The millennium and the subsequent rebellion of men will prove that men cannot blame their sinfulness on their environment or unfortunate circumstances; in the final judgment, the decrees of God will be shown to be just and righteous.

Osborne adds:

For a thousand years, those among the nations who worshiped the beast will be under Jesus’ sovereign control and ruled by the saints. They will not experience Satan or be deceived in any way by him. All they will experience is the benign rule of Jesus himself. Yet after fourteen lifetimes of enforced good (according to the text, i.e., the story form), as soon as Satan is released, they allow themselves to be ‘deceived’ all over again and follow him. The purpose is to prove the power of total depravity and demonstrate once and for all the necessity of eternal punishment. The millennium is the judicial evidence that will convict the earth-dwellers and prove that their eternal sin demands eternal punishment. In other words, 20:3c and 20:7–10 are the divine ‘must’ of a just God.

John has told us the fate of the beast, the false prophet, and Satan himself. But what will happen to the people who, throughout human history, rejected God while they were alive, but are now deceased?

John’s vision moves to a great white throne upon which God sits (compare the following verses to Daniel 7: 9, 10, 22). The entire physical universe ceases to exist. All the unrighteous dead are resurrected and join the already resurrected believers. Both the saints and the wicked stand before God where He reviews the books which contain their deeds.

John then mentions another book, the book of life. This book lists all the saved people of God. The only way for a person to be saved is through the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Every person whose name is not found in the book of life is sent to the lake of fire. Death itself is also thrown into the lake of fire, meaning that no saved person will ever die again.

Mark Wilson, in Hebrews to Revelation: Volume Four (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), connects these verses to the book of Daniel:

Daniel prophesied that ‘everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered’ (Dan. 12:1). The deliverance promised to the righteous dead is everlasting life (12:2). The victors in Sardis are promised that their names would not be erased from the book of life (Rev. 3:5). The primary act disqualifying the earth dwellers from inclusion in the book of life is worshiping the beast rather than the Lamb (cf. 13:8; 17:8). The consequence of omission from the book of life is being thrown into the lake of fire. An angel has earlier warned those who worship the beast that eternal torment with burning sulfur would be their fate (14:10–11). That moment has finally arrived. . . .

The dead, who are excluded from the first resurrection, are the multitudes spoken of by Daniel who will awaken to shame and eternal contempt (Dan. 12:2). Upon hearing the voice of the Son of Man, those practicing evil will come out of their graves to be condemned to the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28–29). The second death is the punishment Jesus warned about: ‘Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matt. 10:28). Death and Hades are the last to be thrown into the lake of fire. He who holds the keys of death and Hades has finally turned the lock (cf. Rev. 1:18). This picture accords with Paul’s statement, ‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death’ (1 Cor. 15:26).

Commentary on Revelation 19 (Battle of Armageddon)

The preceding chapters of Revelation describe the great suffering that the children of God would suffer due to the evil actions of Satan, the antichrist (the beast), and the false prophet. The beast represents anti-Christian political power, and the false prophet represents anti-Christian religion. Some writers have referred to these three as the false trinity.

The Old Testament writers promised that God would defeat evil in a final battle (see Isa. 13:4; 31:4; Ezek. 38–39; Joel 3; Zech. 14:3). The New Testament writers understood Jesus Christ to be the one appointed by God to subjugate evil (see Matt. 13:41–42; 25:41; Rom. 2:5; 2 Thess. 1:7; 2:8). When Jesus returns to the earth at his Second Coming, his first act will be to conquer those who oppose God and His people. These events are described in Revelation 19, starting in verse 11.

In verses 11-13, John sees heaven open up and a rider on a white horse coming forth. It is clear from John’s description that the rider is none other than Jesus Christ! His mission is to judge and make war against the enemies of God. George Eldon Ladd, in A Commentary on the Revelation of John, explains the OT background of John’s description of Jesus:

The most vivid prophetic picture is that of an unnamed conqueror who strides forth in crimsoned garments for vindication, who had trodden the wine press of God’s wrath and stained his garments with his enemies’ blood, who trod the hostile peoples in his wrath and established the day of vengeance (Isa. 63:1–6). John sees Christ coming as a conquering warrior in bloodstained garments, destroying all hostile and opposing powers with his mighty sword.

The armies of heaven, dressed in white robes and also riding white horses, follow Jesus (white is the symbol of victory). This army is most likely a combination of angels and deceased believers. Since their robes are not stained with blood, the implication is that they will only watch the battle and not participate.

John sees a sword coming from Jesus’ mouth, symbolizing his judgment and execution of justice. Ladd explains the sword imagery:

The only weapon involved in the warfare is the word of Christ. This language looks back to Isa. 11:4: ‘And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.’ Here is a symbolic representation of victory by the power of a word which is impossible to be literally envisaged. The idea goes back to creation. God created the worlds by his word. He spoke and it was done. This creation was mediated through the living word, Christ (John 1:3; Heb. 1:2). The judgment on the old order will also be mediated through the word of Christ. Just how John visualized this victory is impossible to say. It is, however, certain that he expected actual objective events to occur which would transform the structure of human society, purging out the evil.

Jesus will make the wrath of God known to the persecutors of His children. Even though the beast (antichrist) has set himself up as a world leader and has convinced other political leaders to follow him, the reader understands that there is only one real power in the universe, Jesus Christ, who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Upon Jesus’ return, the whole world will finally understand who is in charge.

Earlier in chapter 19, John wrote about the marriage supper of the Lamb, where the redeemed in Christ will celebrate their victory in Jesus, the Lamb of God. Verses 17-21 describe a second supper, but in this supper, those arrayed against God will be the meal, and the birds of the air will be the ones eating the meal. This image, though grotesque, is a metaphor for God’s total victory over evil, and it is firmly rooted in the OT. Grant Osborne, in Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, provides background:

There will be two great messianic banquets at the eschaton: the feast with the Lamb for the saints and the feast on the sinners for the carrion birds. The saints will partake of the great banquet, and the sinners will be the great banquet! This image is drawn from Ezek. 39:17–20, where the judgment against Gog is punctuated by an invitation to the birds and wild animals to ‘come together’ for ‘the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel,’ where they will ‘eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth.’ The difference is that in Ezekiel the call to the scavengers comes after the defeat and burial of Gog, while here it comes before those events. This gives the scene great rhetorical power.

John sees the armies of the beast and his allies ready to battle the rider on the white horse. These verses are a continuation of the narrative from Revelation 16:13-16, where the false trinity prepares for the battle of Armageddon.

Then I saw three impure spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. They are demonic spirits that perform signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. ‘Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.’ Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

John’s vision, however, only records the aftermath and not the battle itself. First, the beast and his false prophet are captured and thrown into the lake of fire where they suffer eternally. Second, the kings and armies aligned with the beast are all killed by the sword from Jesus’ mouth. Just like that, the battle is over. Osborne traces the possible source of the phrase “lake of fire,” which only occurs here in the NT:

Bertrand (1999) says the origin of the ‘lake of fire’ comes from a combination of two images, with the ‘fire’ stemming from traditions regarding the destruction of Sodom by fire and sulfur (Gen. 19:24 = Luke 17:29–30; 1 Enoch 21.7–10; 67.4–13; 90.25) and the ‘lake’ stemming from Hellenistic mythical portrayals of hell. The basic connection with ‘Gehenna,’ of course, is certain. ‘Sheol’ (OT) or ‘Hades’ (NT) refers to the grave, while ‘Gehenna’ refers to eternal fiery punishment. The name Gehenna derived originally from the Valley of Hinnom on the south slope of Jerusalem, which became notorious during the evil reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh, when their own children were burned as sacrifices to the god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). It was condemned and became a symbol for future punishment (Isa. 66:24; Jer. 7:30–33). Thus, ‘Gehenna’ symbolized the place of final punishment, located in the depths of the earth (Sib. Or. 4.184–86) and associated with eternal torment (Sib. Or. 2.292–310). In Jesus’ day it was the city dump, and the fires never went out due to the burning garbage. In Jesus’ teaching, Gehenna was also the symbol for eternal fiery punishment (Mark 9:43, 45, 47 par.; Matt. 10:28 par.; 18:9; 23:15; cf. 25:46). Thus, the idea of final fiery punishment has a rich history behind it (see Lunde, DJG 310–11).

Many people have pointed out that God’s destruction of the armies of mankind arrayed against Him seem inconsistent with His compassion. Osborne deals with this accusation:

How can a compassionate God do such a thing? Yet such a question forgets that Yahweh is at one and the same time a God of love and a holy God of justice. To ask the question is to ignore the devastating consequences of sin. We must remember the number of times in the book God has offered them forgiveness if they were to repent, yet they again and again refused God’s offer (9:20–21; 14:6–7; 16:8, 10–11) and preferred to worship the very demons who hated them (9:1–21). They preferred the delusion to the truth. It is a holy God who must eradicate sin in order to inaugurate the perfect reality for which he had created humankind in the first place.