Tag Archives: Roy Zuck

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 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.

Commentary on Job 38-42 (Job Meets God)

Through Job 37, Job has listened to three “friends” and Elihu speak to him about why he is suffering so badly. Job, in turn, has responded to each of them, declaring his innocence and demanding that God give him answers. Finally, in Job 38, Job gets his wish.

Out of a violent storm God speaks to Job, but his message will not at all be what Job was hoping for. Instead of answering Job’s questions about whether God is just in his treatment of Job, God challenges Job. Eugene Peterson’s translation of verses 1-3, in The Message, captures the force of God’s challenge:

Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.

Over the next few chapters, God asks Job more than 70 questions having to do with the creation and control of the natural world, none of which Job can possibly answer. In verses 4-7, God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” In verses 8-11, God asks Job who it was that placed boundaries around the seas and controls where they are allowed to go.

If Job wants to question God’s dealings with human beings, then Job needs to prove that he has the knowledge and wisdom that God has. If he can’t even understand how the inanimate objects of the natural world were made or how they are controlled by God, then what chance does Job have of understanding God’s treatment of mankind?

Roy Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, explains:

What was the purpose of God’s rebuking response? By displaying His power and wisdom, God showed Job his ignorance and impatience. How could Job comprehend or control God’s ways with man, when he could not comprehend or control God’s government in nature? Since Job could not answer God on these matters how could he hope to debate with God? Since God has His own ways and designs in the sky and with animals, does He not also have His own purposes in His dealings with people? Though people cannot understand God’s doings, they can trust Him. Worship should stem from an appreciation of God Himself, not a comprehension of all God’s ways. Though puzzled, people should still praise.

In chapter 42, Job, after having been questioned by God, responds. Instead of demanding more answers from God, instead of questioning God further, Job answers the only way a man can who has seen the living God face to face, with awe and repentance.

Again, Eugene Peterson captures Job’s thoughts well in Job 42:1-6:

I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head.  You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.

So how did God answer Job’s questions about the justice of his suffering? God showed Job Himself. There is no greater answer to any question a man could have than coming face to face with God. Once we understand who God is, our questions vanish into thin air because we realize that our doubts about God’s justice, knowledge, wisdom, and goodness are preposterous. As the Creator of everything, the sovereign ruler of the universe, can we really stand in judgment over God? No, and that is what Job finally realized.

Commentary on Job 21

In the previous 20 chapters of the book of Job, Job’s three friends have argued that Job is being punished for sins he has committed. Their theology is simple: God always and immediately punishes the wicked and always and immediately blesses the righteous.

In chapter 20, Zophar summarizes this theology: “Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since mankind was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.”

In chapter 21, Job answers Zophar. He starts in verses 1-3 by begging his “friends” to listen to him. Job requests that they stop mocking him for a moment and pay attention to what he has to say.

In verses 4-16, Job reminds his friends, first, of the horrible condition he is in. Then he begins to dismantle their faulty theology.  Job points out several facts about the wicked.  The wicked live to a ripe old age with their children. Their houses are secure, seemingly with no judgment from God.  The livestock of the wicked prosper, the wicked enjoy music, and the wicked even die in comfort. To top it off, they tell God to leave them alone! Contrary to Zophar’s theology, justice is not always and immediately meted out. Often the godless prosper and the godly perish.

On to verses 17-21. To Bildad’s claim that “the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out” (18:5) in death and that calamity and disaster are ready to overtake him (18:12), Job asks how often (three times in 21:17–18) do these things really happen? Theologian Roy Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, notes, “This so-called fate allotted by God’s anger to the wicked hardly fits the facts. Sinners are seldom blown away suddenly and easily like straw or chaff.”

In verses 22-26, Job reminds us that one man dies having lived a full and vigorous life, while another man dies having lived a life of bitterness and deprivation. Yet both men end up in the same place after they die. Zuck reminds us,

Wealth or health are not ways by which to judge a person’s character. One may be wicked, and die either young or old; or he may be godly, and die either young or old. These facts obviously conform more to reality than did the rigid view of Job’s three prattling prosecutors.

In verses 27-34, Job wonders how it is that his friends are unaware of these facts. Do they not speak to travelers who can tell them numerous stories about how the wicked never face justice for their crimes? No, the wicked are often carried to their grave by a massive funeral procession, and given great honor, because no one dare challenge them while they are alive. Job’s friends are fools and their theology is bogus.