Friday, March 28, 2014

P2 Interpreting Revelation 20:1-10 - The Amillennial approach and a Premillennial response

Revelation 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Yesterday we began looking at some of the interpretive issues the lie with the study of Revelation 20.  We explored the commonly held areas of agreement and discovered that there is far more agreement on the latter part (20:11-15) than there is on the first part (20:1-10).  In narrowing our focus to Revelation 20:1-10, we briefly listed and explain four prevailing interpretive positions on Revelation 20:1-10:
1. Classical Premillennialism
2. Dispensational Premillennialism
3. Amillennialism
4. Postmillennialism

Today we want to feature the Amillennial position and consider a Premillennial response in how Amillennialists typically outline and interpret revelation 20:1-10.

How Amillennialism handles Revelation 20:1-10
First of all let me place a chart depicting the Amillennialist position for the reader's reference:1

The reader will notice no reference to a literal millennium in the chart - hence the name "a" (meaning no) and "millennium" (meaning 1,000 years).  Amillennialists deny a literal, future 1,000 year earthly phase to Christ's kingdom and instead state that His Kingdom is totally spiritual and totally now.  Excellent Bible teachers and pastors, present and past, such as Baptists Dr. Sam Storms and Dr. Hershel Hobbs and Presbyterians like Dr. A.A Hodge and Dr. Sinclair Furgenson are articulate holders of the Amillennial position.  In comments such as their's on Revelation 20:1-10, we can note the following features of the Amillennial position on Revelation 20:1-10:

1. Revelation 20:1-6 refers to the conversion of believers and resurrection of the human spirit in this current age.  Many Amillennialist cite Jesus' statements in John 5:24-28 in His references to describing salvation in terms of a spiritual resurrection or regeneration from spiritual death, followed by what will indeed be a literal resurrection. 

2. Revelation 20:7-10 deals with Christ's spiritual reign in heaven, a reign that began upon His ascension into heaven and which will conclude upon His return to this earth to raise the dead, judge sinners and usher in the eternal state.

3. The number "1,000" is a symbolic number referring to a general period of time, as evidenced in passages such as Psalm 90:4 "a thousand years are as a day unto the Lord". 

4. Amillennialists typically treat Revelation 20:11-15 as referring to the final physical resurrection of both the righteous and unrighteous together, with the first resurrection referring to salvation and the second resurrection referring to physical resurrection. 

5. In Dr. Timothy Paul Jones overview of eschatology or endtime events, he notes the following strength of Amillennialism: "Satan is already bound, and the saints are already reigning! That's how amillennialists see what God accomplished through the work of Jesus on earth. Because Jesus has been "lifted up" on the cross, Satan has already been cast down" (John 12:31). The powers of darkness have been disarmed (Colossians 2:15). The Son of God has gained power over death (1 Corinthians 15:56-57; Revelation 1:18; 9:1; 20:1). 2

The seeming strengths of the Amillennial viewpoint
In light of the above outline of how Amillennialists would typically handle Revelation 20, we can note three seeming strengths that one will find being championed by holders of Amillennialism:

1. Simplicity.  The strengths of this position are first of all its utter simplicity.  Out of all the millennial positions, the Amillennial position is the least complicated, the most widely held viewpoint across all Christian communions (even some Baptists would assert their belief in Amillennialism). 

2. Taking serious the symbolism of the Book of Revelation. A second strength lies in the fact that it tries to take seriously the Book of Revelation being an apocalyptic book that can speak of events in symbolic terms. 

3. Reading Old and New Testaments in light of Jesus' statements on endtime events. Thirdly the Amillennial viewpoint on Revelation 20 attempts to read virtually all of prophetic scripture, Old and New Testament, and Revelation 20, in light of Jesus' statements in the Gospels and the unfolding of the Kingdom theme in the New Testament. 

A premillennial response to the Amillennial viewpoint
As a premillennialist, I first and foremost want to say I deeply respect my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who espouse Amillennialism.  Many of my own favorite authors, preachers and friends hold to this position.  Furthermore, though a very important area, viewpoints on the millennium have never been used throughout church history as constituting the central "dogmas" or "1st order" heaven and hell beliefs necessary for Christianity to be Christianity. Thus there can be allowance for liberty in this area (even though I would say one needs to know where they stand on the issue). With that said, let me comment briefly on the Amillennialist position from a premillennial perspective:

1. To say Revelation 20:1-6 refers to salvation or regeneration in this age is to break the flow and continuity of subject that flows from Revelation 1-19. The key focus of Revelation is Christ's second coming. To suddenly throw Revelation 20 back to Christ's first coming is to introduce, in my estimation, an unecessary disruption.

2. As much as I do see Christ inaugurating some spiritual component of His Kingly reign in heaven over His church, to say that the Kingdom is entirely spiritual is going to far and not considering other passages that seem to refer to an earthly phase to Jesus' reign. (Zechariah 12-14; Matthew 25)

3. Amillennialist typically try to read Old Testament passage in light of new ones.  However, it seems they switch directions and assert the number "1,000" being symbolic because of what is read in Psalm 90. The number "1,000" is repeated no less than six times by John, which tells us that the number cannot be just a symbolic number.  Rather, the emphasis by John would lead to the plain and simple conclusion that this is a literal 1,000 years.

4. To combine the resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous together into one general resurrection is to ignore passages such as Daniel 12 and John 5:24-28 where there appears to be at least two resurrections in view.  If we read Revelation 20 in light of such passages, the only conclusion one can reach is that there is going to be a resurrection of the righteous, with an intervening 1,000 years, ending with the reusrrection of the wicked in Revelation 20:11-15. 

5. As much as this writer would assert our spiritual positions in the heavenly realms with Christ as being an "already" reality, nonetheless there are a lot more things that are "not yet".  For one thing, if Satan is bound, then what do we do with passages such as 1 Peter 5:8 that assert Satan roaming to and fro over the earth?  It would seem that the binding of Satan is yet future and that this would more naturally fit with the future contexts of Revelation 19 and 21-22. 

6. With regards to the seeming strengths, as everyone knows, majority opinion does not consistitute there being a necessarily all-right opinion.  Second, in as much Revelation is an apocalyptic book with symbols, we must not go to far into the ditch of saying that everything is necessarily that way.  Obviously John is using symbolic language, however he is also referring to literal realities.  Obviously the differences between the Amillennial and Premillenial arguments lie in just how much literal and how much symbolism is being communicated in the text.  Thirdly, usings Jesus' statements on endtime events is commendable for interpreting all of the prophetic scriptures.  However let the reader note that Jesus taught from a Jewish background and connection with God's promises to Israel and Abraham.  So many of those texts speak of a literal component to the future kingdom.  This particular observation is why why Premillennialism believes that Jesus' reign will include a future 1,000 year period on earth.  



2. Timothy  Paul Jones. Rose Guide to End Times Prophecy. Page 283

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