June 12, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy LX: A Thousand Years

The Millennial Kingdom Inaugurated – Revelation 20

The millennium is inaugurated during which god limits Satan’s deceptive powers and as deceased Christians are vindicated by reigning in heaven. The millennium is concluded by a resurgence of Satan’s deceptive assault against the church (community of faith) and the final judgment (20:1-15)

There are three predominant views of the millennium, though within each perspective there are wide variations of interpretation.

 Some believe that the millennium will occur after the second coming of Christ. This view is traditionally known as Premillennialism.

 Postmillennialism has held that the millennium occurs toward the end of the church age and that Christ’s climactic coming will occur at the close of the millennium.

 Amillennialists believe that the millennium started at Christ’s Resurrection and will be concluded at his final coming. This view has been called Amillennialism, though it is better to call it, more simply, “inaugurated millennialism” since “Amillennial” is vague. Postmillennialism and Amillennialism have approached the passage more consistently according to a symbolic interpretation, whereas Premillenialism approaches the text in a literal fashion. I will reserve comment on what I believe for this series as I do not believe this is a salvational issue.

This vision is stunning in its use of words demonstrating an obvious symbolic nature, such as, “chain,” “abyss,” “dragon,” “serpent,” “locked,” “sealed,” and “beast.” Some Premillennialists see Revelation 21:9–22:5, 14–15 as a further description of the millennium, which is already described in 20:4–6, with 21:1–5 a description of the new creation after the millennium. To the other schools of interpretative thought, they posit that they see no evidence that the portrayal of the new Jerusalem.

In these passages respectively, demons “gather them together for the war” of Armageddon and “the kings of the earth and their armies” are “gathered together to make war” (the latter in connection with mention of the false prophet’s deceptive activities, though that is not directly stated). Just as the war of Armageddon in ch16 is followed by a description of the destruction of the cosmos (16:17–21), so likewise a vision of the dissolution of the world follows the final battle in 20:7–10, which suggests further the parallelism of the two segments. Some identify the defeated forces of 19:17–21 as demonic and the forces of 20:7–10 as their human counterparts, defeated after the intervening millennium but there is not enough evidence to make such a distinction.

The main question that arises from Revelation 20 is this: How could there be any survivors among the rebellious nations of 19:11–21 after Christ’s absolute victory over them (19:21: “the rest were killed”)? The answer is that the description in 19:15–21leaves no room for any such survivors.  But another possible answer is that “the nations” mentioned in 20:3 are a remnant of the rebellious forces who never entered the final battle and are now able to believe as a result of the removal of the deceptive powers.  At the close of the millennium, the descendants of these Christians will be deceived into fighting against Christ again.

So what are we looking at here? To be honest, I have no other explanation than this. None is righteous, no, not one. Left to their own accord, man will always drift away from God.

The Keys to the Abyss

The key of the shaft of the abyss” in chapter 9 represents God’s ultimate authority over demonic powers dwelling in the realm of death (9:1–2), whose deceiving powers are limited by God so that they cannot affect those who “have the seal of God” (9:4).  In striking similarity to Revelation 20:1, both 6:8 and 9:1–2 portray good angels (the fourth living creature and the fifth trumpet angel) as Christ’s intermediaries executing his authority over demonic beings in the realm of the dead. The “key of the abyss” in Revelation 20:1 appear to be similar to the keys in chs1, 3, 6, and 9, especially chs6 and 9, which all pertain to realities during the church age. The “abyss” in 9:1–2 and 20:1 is probably a synonym for “death and Hades”. The angel “binds” the devil with the chain for “a thousand years.” Much debate has focused on the definition of the binding and of the thousand-year period – is it to be taken literally or symbolically? Those who take it more symbolically would see that the identification in Revelation 20:1 with the preceding “key” passages then the binding and the millennium are best understood as Christ’s authority restraining the devil in some manner during the church age. This would mean that the restraint of Satan is a direct result of Christ’s resurrection.

“Sealing” may connote an absolute incarceration, but could just as well connote the general idea of “authority over,” which is its primary meaning also in Daniel 6:17. Just like God’s “seal” on Christians does not protect them in every sense but only in a spiritual, salvation manner, since they appear they will suffer from persecution in various physical ways (Revelation 7:3; 9:4). So God’s seal on Satan may only prevent him from harming the salvation security of the true church but may allow physical harm. Broad sweeping assumptions should never be made in apocalyptic prophecies.

In verse 7–10 the devil is released “to deceive the nations in order to gather them together” to exterminate the community of God’s people on earth.  This will occur at the end of history immediately before Christ’s final coming, when he will destroy the nations with fire. But at the end of the age, persecution by deceived multitudes will break out against the church, such that it would vanish were it not for God’s intervention on its behalf. At the end of the age, directly preceding Christ’s return, Satan will again be allowed, for “a little time,” to stop the preaching of the gospel and to draw the curtain of delusion over the nations, especially with the goal of mounting a devastating attack against the people of God, as he did before in Eden, against Israel, and at the cross against Jesus, the true Israel. A lethal attack must be launched against the corporate body of Christ, as earlier against the individual Christ.

Immediately before Christ’s final coming the restraint will be removed so that Satan will unleash “false wonders and…deceptions,” and then he will be judged along with his followers. The Millennium is inaugurated for deceased saints during the church age by the resurrection of their souls, placing them in the heavenly condition of having authority with Christ as priests and kings over spiritual death (20:4-6). Those whom the beast put to death are those who will truly live and those who contested his right to rule and suffered for it are those who will in the end rule as universally as he — and for much longer.

The imprisonment of the serpent is an event enabling the saints to reign with Christ, and it is a judgment executed against Satan on their behalf. Just as the devil’s captivity is limited to a thousand years, so the saints’ intermediate reign is limited, but it is followed by the consummate reign in eternity. As noted in the comments on v1, the “thousand years” of Satan’s imprisonment and the saints’ reign with Christ is often understood to commence with Christ’s final coming, so that the dead raised to life in v4 begin to reign at the time of that coming and the “rest of the dead” of v5 “come to life” at the completion of the millennial period. This view sometimes understands the period as a literal thousand years, though many view it as a figurative period during which people will reign on earth and not in heaven.  Furthermore, this premillennial view interprets both the “coming to life” of the righteous in v4 and that of the  ungodly in v5 as literal physical resurrections, whereas historic Amillennialism has understood the first Resurrection as spiritual and the second as physical. One of the most substantial arguments in favor of the premillennial interpretation is based on the fact that the coming to life of “the rest of the dead” mentioned in v5 is clearly a physical resurrection. It seems clear to me that “the second death” in v6 is the spiritual death of the unrighteous, involving conscious, eternal suffering (Revelation 20:10, 14–15). On the other hand, the death of the righteous in verse 4 (“the souls of those beheaded”) is literal, physical death. Therefore, there is a first death of believers that is physical and different in nature from the second death of unbelievers, which is spiritual. If there are thus two different kinds of deaths, it is plausible that the corresponding resurrections would also differ. The resurrection of believers is spiritual, whereas the resurrection of unbelievers is physical. Ironically, the first physical death of saints translates them into the first spiritual resurrection in heaven, whereas the second physical resurrection translates the ungodly into the second spiritual death.

The underlying issue here is there a difference between spiritual and physical resurrection. Does the death of a Christian translate them immediately into a condition of spiritual resurrection? It appears that a believers’ physical death translates them directly into a state of spiritual resurrection which is indicated by Revelation 6:9–11, where saints are portrayed as “souls” without physical bodies under the heavenly altar and are told to “rest” a while until the full number of their fellow believers on earth also die. As for the “souls” of 20:4 to be spoken of as “coming to life” or being “resurrected” after physical death could appear contradictory, since the soul does not die with the body, but lives on. Since souls do not die, to speak of the souls here as being resurrected is merely to refer to a continuance of the soul’s existence, which might be construed as not doing justice to the word range of the resurrection language being used. Though the Christian’s body appears defeated by the curse of death, at that moment the soul is blessed by rising into God’s immediate presence.

A theological problem posited with the premillennial view is that it means that resurrected believers with glorified, newly created bodies would be living in the old creation with people with corruptible bodies, many of whom will become unbelievers at the end of the millennium. The response that the incorruptible Christ dwelled with people who had corruptible bodies for forty days after his resurrection is interesting but not fully satisfying for those holding variant views.

Is the “1000 Years” literal or figurative? Some understand all of verses 4–6 as forecasting a literal fulfillment of OT prophecies of a literal, earthly messianic reign (e.g., Psalm 2; Isaiah 2:1–4; 4:1–6; 11:1–16; Jeremiah 23:5–8; Ezekiel 37:24–28; Ezekiel 40–48; Daniel 2 and 7; Zechariah 14). This also means a literal hermeneutical approach also demands taking the millennial period literally. Some contend that the number is used only literally, whether in quantitative or temporal designations.

Regardless there is no way we can be sure.

What we do know for sure is, after Satan is incarcerated He will be released to deceive the nations so that he can mount one more vain pointless attempt to annihilate the Church (20:7–10). The “abyss” of vv1–3 is now called a “prison” to highlight the fact that the sphere in which the devil resides during the thousand years means that he is restrained in some significant manner. The particular manner in which the devil has been restrained is repeated from verse 3. He has been restrained from “deceiving the nations,” but now is permitted to resume his deceiving activities. This includes not merely blinding people to the truth but also causing them to assemble together to annihilate God’s people on earth, as verse 9 makes clear. The people deceived are from throughout the earth. “The four corners of the earth” does not refer to remote parts of the world, where the underworld supposedly manifests itself or where the exits of the underworld are located. It is, rather, a Semitic way of referring to the entire earth. The assembly of these forces against God’s people is seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel 38–39 of “Gog and Magog” and the nations “gathering for war” against Israel. All these Old Testament texts foretell that God will gather the nations together in Israel for the final war of history (Revelation 16:14 and 19:19).

“Gog and Magog” are figuratively equated with all “the nations.” Moreover, “Gog and Magog” and their allies come “out of the remote parts of the north” in Ezekiel (38:6, 15), whereas now they come from throughout the whole earth, “the four corners of the earth.” That the “number” of the nations assembled are “as the sand of the sea” underscores their innumerability and the overwhelming odds in their favor against the saints. The attacking nations will be destroyed by God before they can annihilate the saints: “fire descended from heaven and consumed them.” This follows the pattern of Ezekiel’s prophecy, where Israel’s enemy is destroyed by fire (Ezekiel 39). The devil is again highlighted as the one who deceived the nations to attack the saints. His deceiving activities are mentioned again to show that he will undergo judgment because of such deception.  He will be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also the beast and false prophet reside for eternity. The Satanic trinity “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” This wording is best taken to mean that they will not be annihilated but will suffer torment that will endure endlessly for eternity.

The “torment” here is conscious suffering, especially spiritual and psychological suffering.  This is a real, ongoing suffering for those represented by the images of “beast and false prophet” is apparent, since the same expression of eternal punishment applies to the individual devil in this verse and since virtually the same expression is applied to the individual followers of the beast in Revelation 14:10–11. This judgment would also include unbelievers (Revelation 14:10–11), the latter of which happens after the millennium has ended. They all begin to suffer “the second death” together.

Final Judgment

All people will be resurrected and judged according to their works, and the guilty will be consigned to eternal punishment (Revelation 20:11–15). The vision of “a great white throne and one sitting on it” goes  back to Revelation 4:2 and 5:7, where God was pictured “sitting on a throne” in allusion primarily to Daniel 7:9 and Ezekiel 1:26–28. Both there and here Daniel 7 is the focus, since the “opening of books” from Daniel 7:10, as well as other allusions to Daniel, directly follow in the two contexts. The scene is repeated here to signify the consummate judgment, to which all previous judgments pointed and which is the climax of them all.

This is the final judgment. It either begins with or is simultaneous with the definitive judgment in v 10. All who ally themselves ultimately with the dragon, the beast, and false prophet will suffer the same fate, “the second death.” The climactic nature of the punishment is also expressed by the following cosmic imagery: “from whose face heaven and earth fled, and a place was not found for them.” What we see by the repeated allusions is that the non-repentant have been given every possible chance to turn back to God and they have failed. Those that end up in eternal punishment…earned it. They literally decided to be there of their own accord. Its not like God didn’t give them warnings and chances.

“The books were opened and another book was opened, which is The Lambs Book of Life”. John’s vision gives assurance that the prophecy of final judgment and redemption will occur. In actuality it will be a culmination of judgment already set in motion by Christ’s death and resurrection. The mention of a “sea” and “death and Hades” are merely three of a number of names for the region of the dead. The image of resurrection is that the place of the dead “will give back their dead.”. How can the sea still exist if the heaven and earth have already been destroyed (v 11)? If the language of v 11 is not literal, then there is no problem. If it is literal, then the sequence within the narrative is not chronological but recapitulating, which is
likely the case here.

All are resurrected and stand before God’s throne before God actually judges the cosmos and its inhabitants. The unbelieving dead appear to be the focus here. All fall short of the divine standard, but the resurrected saints find refuge from judgment in the “Lambs Book of Life” as they are God’s chosen.

The “lake of fire” has already been defined as unending, conscious punishment for all who are consigned to it as a place of eternal condemnation. Now it is also termed “the second death.” This is not a second physical death. The unbelievers undergoing judgment have already died physically and been resurrected. I believe Revelation 20:10 shows that the torment of the “lake of fire” involves not physical death but suffering that is primarily spiritual in nature, since Satan and his angels are only spiritual beings and will be there also.

The note of final judgment is rung once more for emphasis in verse 15. As if to drive home a point like a nail in a coffin, all who were “not found written in the book of life were cast into the lake of fire.” This implies that all who are listed in the “Lambs Book of Life” are spared from the judgment and eternal wrath of God. The “life” granted the saints in association with the book comes from their identification with the Lamb’s righteous deeds, and especially his death, which means likewise that they are identified with his resurrection life.

They will not suffer judgment for their evil deeds because He [Jesus] has already suffered it for them: he was slain on their behalf. [The “Lamb's Book of Life” is metaphorical for God’s unfailing memory, and at the end God recognizes those who have taken refuge in the Lamb and have been recorded in the book for an inheritance of eternal life (Isaiah 4:3 and Malachi 3:16)].

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