Filed Under (book excerpts) by dee dee on 03-06-2012
I recently read From Age to Age by Keith Mathison and as usual, I mined it for quotes I thought might be edifying to share here, and that I am keeping in my research archives. This is the last post of a series. I will be combining them all into an article at PreteristSite, and will post a link when I do so.
Revelation 20:1-10 is another text in the book that has been the source of much disagreement. This text describes a period of a “thousand years,” or a millennium, and is at the center of the ongoing debate between premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists. Because of its significance in contemporary debates, we must examine this text carefully. It is important to keep in mind, however, that verse 1-3 refer to events preceding or at the beginning of the thousand years. Verses 4-6 refer to the millennium itself, and verses 7-10 refer to events occurring at the end of the thousand years.
The first question that we must ask is whether the events described in Revelation 20:1-10 follow the events described in Revelation 19:11-21 chronologically. Some argue that if the events are chronologically successive, then the millennium of Revelation 20 must follow the second coming of Christ described in Revelation 19. Because this entails premillennialism and because many believe premillennialism is ruled out in other parts of Scripture, some conclude that the events described in Revelation 20:1-10 are a recapitulation of events described in Revelation 19. The problem with this view is that there does appear to be chronological succession between the events described in Revelation 19:11-21; 20:1-10; and 20:11-15. The source of the difficulty, however is the assumption that Revelation 19:11-21 is a vision of the second coming of Christ. Once we realize that it is a prophecy concerning the judgment of Rome, which began in the first century, then we see that granting chronological succession does not demand premillennialism. In fact, it precludes it.
In his vision, John first see an event that occurs at some point prior to the beginning of the millennium, namely the binding of Satan (20:1-3). Some argue that this cannot have already occurred. There is, however, evidence in the Gospels that the binding of Satan had begun already during the earthly ministry of Christ (Matt. 112:26-29; Mark 3:26-27; Luke 10:18). Hebrews, in fact, uses language that is stronger than that found in Revelation. The author of Hebrews says that through death, Jesus “destroyed” the devil (Heb. 2:14). If such language is appropriate for what Christ accomplished on the cross in the first century, it is not inappropriate to speak of the binding of Satan as having already occurred. This binding is the penultimate judgment of God’s ancient enemy (Gen. 3).
The angel binds Satan “for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:2). Is this intended by John to be understood as a literal thousand-year period of time? Were the binding of Satan still future, this would be a plausible interpretation. However, since the binding of Satan is associated with the first advent of Christ, the thousand years represents a period of time that began then. And since the events associated with the end of the thousand years (i.e., the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment) have not occurred yet, then it would appear that the thousand years is intended to be understood as a symbolic number representing a long but indefinite period of time.
The next section of John’s vision, 20:4-6, is somewhat more difficult than the first section. Here John sees thrones and those to whom authority to judge was committed (v. 4a). He also sees the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, those who had not worshiped the beast and had not received its mark (v. 4b). John says, “They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (v. 4c). Those “to whom the authority to judge was given” would appear to be representative of all the saints (1 Cor. 6:2). The phrase “those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus” would appear to be referring specifically to those who were martyred by the Romans. They are specifically identified as those who “had not worshipped the beat or its image and had not received its mark.” IN the context of the boo9k, this refers to something specific to the Roman Empire. The theological point of this verse that is most relevant to its first readers is that those martyred by the beast/Rome will triumph and reign with Christ.
John tells us that all of the saint, martyrs included, “came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4c). He then continues, “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” (vv. 5-6). We know from elsewhere in Scripture, and from Revelation itself, that all Christians now reign with Christ (Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:6; Rev. 1:6). But what is the “first resurrection”? The first resurrection is the resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:20-23), and all Christians partake of his resurrection.
Our participation in the first resurrection is spoken of in the past tense in terms of our regeneration or spiritual resurrection (Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:12), and in the future sense in terms of our bodily resurrection (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:23, 52-56; 1 Thess. 4:16). In short, all who participate in the resurrection of Christ have been spiritually resurrected and will be raised bodily as well. Some argue that the first and second resurrections mentioned in Revelation 20:4 and 5 have to refer to the same kind of resurrection, because John wouldn’t speak of two kinds of resurrection in such a brief space. In response, we must make two brief comments. In the first place, John does precisely this in another of his writings. In John 5:28-29, he speaks of spiritual resurrection and physical resurrection in the same brief context. Furthermore, if the two death (Rev. 20:6) can refer to two different kinds of death, there is no reason that the two resurrections cannot also refer to two different kinds of resurrection.
In Revelation 20:7-10, John sees a vision of what is to transpire at the end of the thousand years. Satan will be released and will come out to deceive the nations and gather them together for battle (vv. 7-8). John sees them surround the saints, but before they can do any damage, God destroys them with fire (v. 9). Then Satan himself, God’s ancient enemy, is finally cast into the lake of fire (v. 10). The imagery of this final rebellion borrows heavily from Ezekiel’s vision of God and Magog (Ezek. 38-39). Here John uses this imagery to depict a final satanically inspired rebellion that is to occur just prior to the final judgment.
Following his vision of the vents associated with the thousand years, John sees a vision of the final judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). Here there is a little controversy among Christian interpreters. All agree that this is a vision of the judgment that is to occur at the end of the present age after the second advent of Christ. John sees a great white throne, and he sees all of the dead standing before the throne (vv. 11-12a). The dead are judged according to what they have done (vv. 12b-13). After giving up their dead, Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death (v. 14). Anyone who se name is not found in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire (v. 14). Anyone whose names is not found in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire (v. 15). Verse 15 is likely an elaboration on the meaning of verse 14 since Death and Hades are not literal persons who can be cast into hell.
This section of Revelation concludes with a vision that provides a glimpse of the new heaven and new earth (21:1-8). In 21:9-22:5, John will provide more details about this coming reality. He will describe the new heavens, the new earth, and the new Jerusalem. In short, these final two chapters of Revelation describe the ultimate fulfillment of all of the prophetic themes of the Old and New Testament. In 21:1, John sees a “new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” This is the fulfillment of the prophecies expressed so beautifully in Isaiah 65:17-25 and 66:22. It is the restoration of the original creation (Gen. 1:1).
John sees the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:2). All of the Old Testament hopes for Jerusalem are now fulfilled in the new Jerusalem from above (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Isa. 21:1-5; 18:7; 52:1; 65:18). John then hears a voice saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). Here the fulfillment of all that the tabernacle and temple symbolized comes to fruition, as the heart of the covenant is fulfilled with all men and not just Israel: He will be our God, and we will be his people. The curse and its results will be removed as God wipes away all tears. There will be no more death or mourning or pain, “for the former things have passed away” (v. 4).
In verses 5-8, God speaks directly again for the first time since 1:8. He declares, “Behold, I am making all things new” (v. 5). He then commands John to write down these words:
It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (vv. 6-8)
The fact that this is only the second place in the prophecy where God himself speaks indicates the importance of these words. They help us understand one of the basic purposes of the book for its first readers, and for all subsequent readers. God is exhorting the readers of this bo9ok to conquer the forces of the serpent by remaining faithful unto death. All of God’s people in every age are exhorted to the same kind of enduring faithfulness.