Forcing the Millennium upon the rest of Scripture is a high interpretive price to pay on behalf of one figurative passage in the third chapter from the Bible’s end! Maybe our Futurist brethren should count the cost before erecting such a hermeneutically expensive structure that takes glory away from Christ and His church. With these and other interpretive machinations, it is well to note exactly what is NOT in Rev20.
Which Way to the End?
A Primer on Eschatology and the Message of Revelation
By Bill Wepfer
- 2018: Bill Wepfer, Which Way to the End? A Primer on Eschatology and the Message of Revelation (pdf)
- 2017: Bill Wepfer, The Gog & Magog Enigma (pdf)
Where To Start?
At the Great Smokey Mountains, a trailhead offers several alternate paths. Once you’ve chosen a trail, the destination is foreordained, and every twist or turn seems “obvious” as you stroll along the attractively green but sometimes muddy trail. This is much like eschatology, the study of last things or the end times. Once you’ve committed to a certain viewpoint, your path will seem “obvious,” and you may even shout invectives at ones on an alternate route – “Hey, you’re going the wrong way!” Historic Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, Amillennialism, and Dispensationalism alike sound convincing when forcefully forwarded by their respective proponents, but which one is correct, if any? What about outlooks on the book of Revelation itself – what “path” will you choose? The eschatological cafeteria offers stainless steel bins heated by the underlying hot water of its various promoters, though some seem to have been sitting out a bit too long. What would you like, sir? Futurist Fries, Historicist Ham, Idealist Ice Cream, Preterist Pie, or Eclecticist Egg Rolls? What do all of these terms even mean, anyway? Which trail am I supposed to take to arrive at Biblical conclusions? What theological foods will nourish my soul and which will spiritually starve me, generating more heat than light, more animosity and aggravation than intimacy with the Savior?
Before diving into the particulars, we should consider how we make such decisions in the first place. “Oh, that’s easy – I just go with what the Bible says!” Would that it were so simple! 10 horned beasts, Armageddon, locusts that don’t harm the crops, Gog and Magog – it’s quite a prodigious prophetic pile to sort through, so most turn to their theological “betters” for assistance; but how do you know who to read and trust on the subject? Yes, many “experts” sound quite convincing, but what if they have an unspoken agenda? How would you even know if you’re being misled by a blind guide? As Ferguson has said, when studying the Revelation, it’s best to only use one commentary; you may not be right, but at least you won’t be confused. So how do you choose the “right” one, if such an one even exists?
I was raised and weaned on wild end times speculations. “Look at all the signs of the times! The Secret Rapture is coming soon! The clock is at 11:59pm! It’s almost midnight and Jesus will return any second now – are you ready?!” I believed what I was taught by those more experienced in the Lord for about a year after conversion, but then I recall how bewildered I became trying to find these things myself in the Scriptures during my sophomore year of college. It all looked so nice and neat on the charts, but the Biblical facts were decidedly more messy. What?! Just about everything in Isaiah, written 700 years before Jesus’ day, would not be fulfilled until the Millennium to come, at least 2,700 years later?! So I was informed by my brand new Ryrie Study Bible, but this simply convinced me that something was eschatologically askew. As a physics major, I was reminded of the times I couldn’t correctly derive the known solution, so using some mathematical sleight of hand, “a miracle occurred” and I got the answer that was in the back of the book. Some, it seems, revert to Revelation 20:1-6 as the answer in the back of the book and craft all to fit it, often employing a swift hermeneutical sleight of hand when an uncomfortable passage doesn’t quite fit their presuppositions. And what of the Secret Rapture? Read the alleged proof text (1Th4:16) and you’ll see that the Rapture doesn’t sound very secret at all; rather, it looks to be a deafening event, what “with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God.” Others have defended the Secret Rapture with the “white space” (no text section) between Revelation 3 and 4. With this and other mysterious and magical conclusions, something seemed rotten in the Dispensational state of Denmark!
Isn’t it curious that for some people the doctrine of last things is remarkably central to their outlook on the whole Bible? When a couple of seminary students asked the seminary president and noted head pastor which of two commentaries he preferred for a book of the Bible, he responded – without having read either – “… the one that’s premill.” Wow, really?!? One’s approach to a book of Scripture that has little end times content still hinges upon its eschatological perspective? Like a whole cantaloupe, this seemed a bit tough to swallow. Let’s step back from this example and ask if the Scriptures anywhere set up eschatology as the core of doctrinal purity. The answer is in the asking. Eschatology is NOT the locus of Biblical truth. OK, then what is? As Jesus told the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (Jn5:39). Christ did likewise for the two on the road to Emmaus; “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Lk24:27). Later in the chapter, the Messiah tells the 11, “‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk24:44-45). Paul and the Apostles pick up this same theme in their writings. In speaking to Agrippa, Paul says, “So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place” (Acts26:22). Like any good preacher, Paul presses home the point by asking, “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” (Acts26:27). Agrippa understood the import of the query and responded, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” (26:28). The implications of these and a host of additional passages make clear that the center of all the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, is not eschatology, but Jesus and His work of redemption. We can emphatically state that if an end times view does not promote the gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is wrong and leads the flock of God astray. If the aim is something other than magnifying the Son’s work on the cross, then it is to be rejected out of hand. Jesus as the center is the ONLY Scriptural bullseye, for eschatology or any other dogma. An incorrect center cannot Biblically hold and will ultimately be defeated in coming generations. The eschatological donkey must lay down before the unseen but angry Almighty who stands astride its path with drawn sword in opposition to any end times view that does not exalt Jesus. One need only examine a small sampling of church history to see that the Lord has given His church enough Scriptural keel to right the ship from the strong winds of end times error and stay the course towards the gospel goal.
I once tried to find a Bed-n-Breakfast in a small Welsh town. Unfortunately, all I’d been given were relative directions – “take the 2nd right, then the 3rd left, go straight past the brick house” and so forth. What is assumed with such instructions? That I had started in the right spot! If one began at a different crossroads, as happened to me, then one will end up in a muddy field, where I nearly got the rental car stuck. What’s worse, on occasion it seemed that the instructions aligned with my travels, so I thought I was going the right way when all the while I was way off track. It is the same with end times prophecies (eschatology). If your initial assumptions are off then you’ll end up in a twisted, muddy Scriptural mess. It may seem that you’ve made some of the correct turns – some things will appear to line up with the Bible – but in fact you will have gotten nothing right at all. This is akin to John Reisinger’s example of his wife’s sweater. If she’s off on the 1st button, all the rest seem to fit, but how many buttons are in the right holes? None! Stepping back and looking at the incorrectly buttoned sweater, the error is clear. Maybe stepping back and taking a holistic eschatological overview would help point out where we may have erred at the outset; this will enable us figure out how to start at the right spot while driving, or how to put the first button in the proper sweater hole.
But where do we begin? Fortunately, the Bible itself directs us towards the correct starting point so that we don’t have to lurch about randomly in the Welsh darkness. If we heed them, there are enough chronological clues in the Scriptural texts to guarantee that we begin at the right prophetic crossroads, and then the Biblical relative directions – each turn based on the preceding one being correct, each preceding button being in the right hole – will bring us to the proper conclusions about the last things.
This, of course, is the crux of the matter; namely, does God’s Word direct us on how to explore the prophetic texts, or have we already imported extra-Biblical concepts and then attempted to fit the Scriptures to initial, unproven and typically unspoken assumptions (a priori)? Alas, there can be alternate starting points that put you into that doctrinal muddy field. “Well, this is what I’ve always been taught. My dearly departed grandmother, God bless her soul, sat me down and explained the Secret Rapture, the Great Tribulation, the Millennium, and all that. How dare you imply that she’s wrong!” Tradition is comfortable and popular, but that doesn’t make it right. Others take a decidedly more post-modern approach – “Well, this view of the end of the world makes sense to me.” Yes, but what if your upbringing were altered, if you were raised a Presbyterian or were a Christian in South Sudan – would it “just make sense” then? Biblical truth is not constructed from “what it means to me” tissue paper, easily destroyed by the waters of opposition. Another significant segment of Christians seem emotionally driven by eschatology. “Isn’t it exciting to be living in the last days?! Jesus could come any second now! Look at what’s going on in the Middle East!” Such excited hyperventilating has often produced erroneous predictions concerning Jesus’ return, but, undaunted, the false prophets keep right on falsely predicting. An emotional commitment to eschatological fads will burn out its practitioners as they leap from one crisis to the next, trying to shanghai the Bible into explaining current cultural events, but always after the fact (ex post facto). “Scriptural stability” is hardly an apt description of such emotionally charged prophetic novelties. Finally, others may turn to the “great men” argument. “Scofield, Chafer, MacArthur, and a host of my seminary professors all believe this way, so of course I’m going with them. Who are you to call them into question?!” Such men may indeed be influential, but they themselves would admit that they fall far short of infallibility. What if on some things they are in error? Will we uncritically follow theologians and be led like lemmings off the eschatological cliff? Truth is not established by a nose count of theologians, as even they themselves will admit. Luther didn’t launch out against Rome based on then-present theological sentiments, and neither should we democratically evaluate Biblical truth. If a popular vote sets the standard, then should we not all become Bible-denying agnostics like the majority in the world?
Great men, “it just makes sense to me,” traditions, and emotions are logically of a piece, and may not be based very squarely on the Scriptures. To those who hold end times views derived from one of these sources, crossing them often results in a visceral response. Why? Because you defend a truth the way you hold it. If one’s attachment to an eschatological viewpoint is grounded in feelings, then he can offer no rational defense when faced with an alternate viewpoint, and the only possible reaction is to get very, very upset or to feel hurt. Consider the example of the 19th century Scotchman, James Grant:
The millenarians [Dispensationalists] were most zealous in defense of this position [prophetic literalism] – zealous to the point of intolerance and uncharitableness, Grant stated. In conversation with an eminent and gentle Christian lady Grant had challenged the soundness of her literal interpretation of a biblical passage and found himself asked, “What! Do you refuse to believe God Himself when he speaks in his Word?” (Grant 1866 End of All Things, in Sandeen p108).
This is an all too common non-argument. “Either you agree with me or you stand against God and the Bible” is an intolerant, uncharitable non-response to a fellow follower of Jesus. Unwilling or unable to defend one’s eschatological foundations, those gently queried turn like cornered beasts and lash out with extended claws, as if any who contradict their firm but fanciful end times convictions are the embodiment of Satan himself who must be attacked with teeth bared, drooling the saliva of hatred. Similar encounters could be repeated ad nauseam, as the author himself has often experienced. “You’re amill?! So you deny Biblical inerrancy, don’t you?! Do you even take the Bible seriously?! Will you soon baptize infants?!”
Why do many give such primeval reactions to alternate prophetic viewpoints? Something seems amiss if the best argument one can give is, “Either you understand Biblical prophecy the way I do or you’re an idiot!” If the foundation of a house is in poor condition, the best a realtor can do is to show off the beautiful interior or exterior while hoping your inspector doesn’t catch the rotten core. You will note that Darwinism brooks no rivals, allowing no articulation of a contrary opinion. If an eschatological house of cards falls under any stiff breeze, if the central tenants cannot withstand scrutiny, then it’s likely that the foundation is exceedingly weak; the best defense is thus to cut off any discussion of alternatives. “Don’t read those books, they don’t support our position.” “You’re a fool if you don’t agree with my prophetic literalism.” “All the best interpreters think this way.” Such tomfoolery just motivates the inquisitive to find out what exactly is lurking behind that bolted and guarded door – what are you hiding behind the curtain of invectives? Like in the Wizard of Oz, is there a prophetic wizard behind the drawn curtain who’s really no wizard at all? Certainly we can conclude that if you’re view aligns with the Scriptures, then why not allow an open debate of the facts and let the best argument win, rather than just offering emotional or vitriolic responses to opposition?
Have you ever witnessed a Creationism versus Darwinism debate? The fundamental assumptions are totally at odds, so the dialogue is virtually non-existent, the initial assumptions (a priori) of each view being irreconcilable. In the medical sphere, some are convinced of homeopathic and/or chiropractic truth, while others hold to the wisdom of conventional medicine. How will their “discussion” concerning proper human healthcare proceed? When views with differing targets collide, often more heat than light is produced. Once the initial conditions of a view are granted, the conclusions are “obvious,” and each side can only react with dismay (or worse) at the other’s seemingly stone-hearted ignorance. This is the very nature of an a priori – those things which are assumed at the outset without proof, the very foundation stones upon which all is constructed. When the starting postulates are entirely different, it comes as no surprise that the conclusions are radically dissimilar, and thus civil conversation is hardly attainable.
It is important to understand that the eschatological debate is often of a similar genre as Creationism versus Darwinism, or homeopathic/chiropractic versus conventional medicines. Alas, the assumptions and goals of each end times view are often significantly less obvious. However, it really does come down to teleology – the purpose or aim of one’s eschatology. Understanding the intention of each outlook helps us cut through the various schemes, allowing us to comprehend the real objective and therefore to track the path it took to arrive at the conclusions. For example, my five year old may say, “I’m VERY hungry!” I know, however, that she has just eaten a hefty meal, so what she really means is, “I want a snack,” usually consisting of one of the three C’s (candy, cookies, crackers). “I’m VERY hungry” is what is stated, but the real aim is gaining a coveted snack. So it is with eschatology. Each school of thought claims a particular goal, but often there is a deeper and often unspoken agenda. Varying targets of necessity beget highly variable approaches to the prophetic Word. This primer strives to clarify the bullseye for each end times outlook, thereby making the source of the pervasive lack of Christian charity by some in this doctrinal arena more apparent. Of necessity, this requires painting with a rather broad brush, but hopefully the general trends of each school are properly enunciated.
What About The Millennium? Five Views
Postmillennialism, Historic Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and the tongue-in-cheek Pan-millennialism – what are each of these and what are their objectives? First off, “millennium” is Latin for a thousand years, referenced several times in Rev20:1-6, a timeframe explicitly given nowhere else in Scripture. Does the Millennium take place after Jesus’ Second Advent? This is PREmillennialism (abbreviated “premill”), where 1000 years of Jesus’ physical presence and rule follow His return. Historic Premillennialism and Dispensationlism fit under the premill umbrella. Does Jesus reign during the millennium through His church and then return, ushering in the eternal state? This view represents both POSTmillennialism and the poorly named Amillennialism. Postmillennialism (abbreviated “postmill”) is typically optimistic about the gospel prospects this side of eternity; Amillennialism (abbreviated “amill”) says that gospel progress will wax and wane before the 2nd Advent, with a remnant alone being saved. Pan-millennialism is typically a reactionary stance, the “pannies” often seeking refuge from the Dispensational storm. Let us briefly consider each of these in turn, trying to understand the goal each has in view.
(1) Postmillenialism. The most common Postmill flavor, the modern version often attributed to Whitby (1638-1726), posits that the gospel will expand to the nations and become dominant so that culture itself will be transformed around the globe. Some Postmill promoters say that the church age is the time of millennial gospel advance and will be followed by Jesus’ 2nd Advent; others suppose that in the future, the effects of the gospel will be so pervasive that a golden age of 1000 years (or so) will be ushered in, after which Jesus will come again. The “Postie” hope, then, is for gospel progress in this present age, with the church militant triumphantly advancing either now or in the future.
Who would hold to such a view, especially since the prevailing evangelical notion in the 20th and early 21st centuries is that things are getting worse and worse while the church is becoming increasingly apostate, the supposed Laodicean last phase of church history? In fact, numerous theologians of substance are or were Postmill. As shown by Iain Murray, Postmillennialism was THE Puritan outlook. Worldwide societal improvement linked to the advance of the gospel would increasingly become normative. Given the Reformation and subsequent Great Awakenings, what with whole towns being converted to the last man, all bending the knee to the cross, is it not understandable why this view would become so popular? According to Postmillennialism, gospel power would overcome worldly opposition, ushering in a utopian golden era – what’s not to like about this view? “Christendom” would be ever increasing, victorious over the forces of darkness, and then the end would come. Postmill advocates of varying proclivities include such notables as OT Allis, Athanasius, Augustine, Greg Bahnsen, John Calvin, RL Dabney, Jonathan Edwards, Eusebius, AA Hodge, Charles Hodge, J Marcellus Kik, J Gresham Machen, Iain Murray, John Murray, Gary North, John Owen, RJ Rushdoony, WGT Shedd, Augustus Strong, JH Thornwell, and BB Warfield (Sproul p198). With so many weighty advocates, the Postmill view hardly deserves the rapid dismissal it often receives today, though its eschatological optimism does not comport well with our day’s prevailing dour outlook on gospel progress. “Posties” are quick to point out that theirs is an eschatology of optimism about the power of the gospel not shared by any of the other views; their hope is for a wheat field with some tares in it, not for a tare field with a little bit of wheat (cf Mt13:24-30) at Jesus’ return. Upon further investigation, Postmillennialism has more Scriptural support than some suppose, and surely it does not deserve the summary execution it often receives at the theological guillotine of the ill-informed.
[Note: What if one held to this “things are ever improving” outlook but denied the gospel? (Make no mistake, Postmills definitely do NOT teach this!) For example, suppose a brilliant child were raised in an optimistic, things-are-ever-improving Postmill Christian home, yet he remained unconverted to adulthood? How might he implement similar beliefs while excluding the gospel? From such a one we would likely get the social gospel, where the world is getting better and better via man’s efforts. The struggle towards man’s enhancement was clearly the rule of a now bygone era. The 19th century saw the rise of upward progress and revolutionary improvement in the theories of Darwin, Marx, and so forth. These are all in keeping with the Hegelian dialectic – thesis / antithesis / synthesis, with a continual path towards perfection itself. Immanuel Kant struck a similar chord, with perpetual peace being achieved through democracy and international cooperation. The underpinnings of the non-Christian Enlightenment and Modernist views are quite evident – man pulls himself up by his bootstraps and improves the culture. The Gilded Age, where man was always progressing towards higher accomplishments, suddenly had a “sinking” feeling with the 1912 downward plunge of the Titanic; an entire “ever upward” hope sank with that great ship. Hard on the heels of that seminal disaster came the inappropriately named War to End All Wars (a.k.a., The Great War, or World War I), where “Christian” Europe tore itself apart in a bloodbath; the Roaring 20s were sinfully exciting, but thereafter came the despair of the Great Depression in the 1930s; then along came World War II, the destructive epilogue to The Great War; and finally the nuclear fear of the Cold War. Maintaining an “ever improving” stance became increasingly problematic for both humanists and Christians after these events had crushed the progressive spirit. Optimism looks pretty shabby in a pessimistic era.
[Again, please note that Postmills do NOT support the Christ-rejecting, man-centered conclusions that the world is progressing upward by man’s efforts. Postmillennialism is the Christian version of “things are ever improving,” while the Enlightenment, Modernism, and the social gospel are its Christless philosophical equivalents. Postmill advocates may decry this equation, citing this as the genetic fallacy (the origin of a view makes it false) or “guilty by association” (You’re trying to tie Posties to Darwin!). While acknowledging these concerns, let us be clear that the Postmill outlook is very Christ-centered, seeking to exalt the progress of the gospel and its consequent effects upon society. However, Postmillennialism rose to prominence during a bygone age during which the prevalent notion was that progress would usher in some form of Utopia. Indeed, in the chicken-egg argument, I think one can make a convincing argument that godly Postmillennialism – the certainty of gospel progress – preceded all of these worldly philosophies. The Reformation and the Great Awakening, for example, gave many Christians great hope for worldwide gospel expansion, and these came long before Darwin. Unfortunately, the Christian view of an expanding wheat field was later usurped and corrupted by Christ-rejecting forces to become a utopian belief in the advancing prospects of man via his own efforts (humanism), God being set aside while lightly acknowledged, thank you very much. As often happens, the natural man takes a Biblical outlook – a Christian hope for worldwide gospel advancement – and thrashes it like a rented mule to become a man-exalting creed.]
(2) Historic Premillennialism. Historic Premillennialism was coined (by Ladd) to demarcate this theological strand from its Dispensationalist brethren. Historic Premills – alas, there’s no handy abbreviated nickname, like “Dispies” or “Posties” (I prefer “Histie-Ps”) – generally believe that after the church age, Jesus will return to earth and set up His 1000 year reign (the Millennium), after which comes the final conflagration and judgment. This view lacks the Secret Rapture, the Great Tribulation, “imminence,” and other features that characterize Dispensationalism (detailed below). Historical Premillennialism leaves open the question of the Jews and the land in our era or in the future. Overall, it is a fairly barebones system, thus making it logically attractive and easy to explain. For Histie-Ps, the gospel waxes and wanes as it has throughout the centuries, then Jesus comes and sets up His Millennial Kingdom, followed by the final judgment. No up/down/up/down of Jesus or the church, no empty cockpits or missing cab drivers – the simplicity itself makes it quite appealing. Proponents include Erdman, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Papias, Tertullian, and RA Torrey (Sproul). In truth, every single premill advocate prior to the 19th century should be characterized as Historic Premill, since that was the only available premill flavor from the eschatological ice cream stand; what became Dispensationalism was unknown prior to the 1830s, a flavor not yet invented for marketing and distribution at the local doctrinal confectionary franchise. Today, it seems that Histie-Ps are in the ascendency. Histie-Ps can count many current and recent major theologians as club members, including Ladd, Mohler, Piper, Francis Schaeffer, DA Carson, Gordon Clark, and CFH Henry (Wiki). Could it be that many of these have forsaken the intricacies and foibles of Dispensationalism while still seeking to remain in the yet dominant non-Presbyterian premill camp?
[Note: If you want to be “safe” (avoiding being needlessly berated about eschatology) outside of the Reformed tradition, then the Histie-P outlook is your admission ticket. “Are you premill?” asks the prospective church’s search committee, assuming that “premill” entails the sweeping spectrum of Dispensationalism; with honesty the pastoral candidate can answer “Yes!” but this Histie-P man actually means something vastly different by the “premill” term. Being Histie-P is an entirely adequate city of refuge for the M.Div. student who wants a job in the “left behind” church landscape. A Histie-P pastor takes an end times position that he can strongly hold, while simultaneously not taking any particular stand on how the latest war or earthquake speaks of the Lord’s soon return.]
(3) Dispensationalism. Dispensational Premillennialism, or simply Dispensationalism, is heavily favored by many American evangelicals and also crops up where the same have spread their end times beliefs through missions activities. For those familiar with recent paperback and media presentations, Hal Lindsey’s seminal The Late Planet Earth (1970) and Tim LaHaye’s extensive publications and “Left Behind” movie series represent the popular expression of Dispensationalism. One of Dispensationalism’s hallmarks is “imminence” – that is, Christ may return at any moment. The Secret Rapture is where Jesus will come part way down from heaven and whisk away His church, both the living and the just-resurrected dead saints, to heavenly safekeeping just before the soon-coming seven year Great Tribulation. This is Dispensationalism’s first resurrection (Rev20:4), though some hold that the 1st resurrection is after the Great Tribulation (curiously, this would be the second 1st resurrection). The majority report is that this Rapture will take place just before the Great Tribulation (“pretrib”). A minority of Dispies, however, believe that the Rapture will occur in the middle (“midtrib” or “prewrath”) or after (“posttrib”) the Great Tribulation. The timing of the Rapture affords abundant ammunition for extensive, aggressive Dispie internecine warfare. On the following additional points, though, the Dispies appear remarkably united and less combative. Following the Great Tribulation, Jesus will return again (the 2nd Advent, part 2) with His church, though some older school Dispies say that the church will remain in heaven during the Millennium. While the masses assume that the Secret Rapture is the 2nd Coming, in fact Dispensational theologians consistently teach that it is not; rather, it is at the second 2nd Coming, after the seven year Great Tribulation, that Jesus will come all the way to earth (He’d only come part way at the Rapture). Christ will subdue all opposition and rule with a rod of iron from the Davidic throne in Jerusalem for 1,000 years. The character of the Millennium is decidedly Jewish, where God particularly fulfills the land promises to Abraham’s physical descendants. The 3rd (or Ezekiel’s) Temple will be reconstructed, with the reinstitution of bloody sacrifices, this taken from Ezk40-48. After the Millennium’s completion, Jesus will exit (the explanation of this is left fairly murky) and a great uprising will take place (Gog and Magog). This foolhardy mortal opposition to the Son of God by those who’ve lived through the Millennium will be summarily squashed when Jesus reenters the fray (the 2nd Advent part 3?), followed by the resurrection of the wicked (the saints were already raised at the Rapture) and the final judgment. The resurrection of the righteous who lived from the Rapture to the final judgment (Bema) is likewise somewhat opaque, requiring additional resurrections not mentioned in the Scriptures.
In certain quarters, Pretribulational Dispensationalism is the most extensive and popular expression of Dispensationalism, being virtually synonymous with the term. It’s well known advocates include John MacArthur, Scofield, Ryrie, Gleason Archer, Chafer, Barnhouse, Darby, DeHaan, Charles Feinberg, Geisler, Ironside, Kaiser, Hal Lindsey, Pentecost, and Walvoord (Sproul p198). Those who run in these circles are often mystified when finding that there are other Biblical end times options besides Dispensationalism. Gas-plus-a-match explosions can take place when one from the Dispie camp encounters an opposing view, since they’ve been taught from childhood that they are the only ones who take the Bible seriously and that an eschatological error will take one down the slippery slope towards Bible-denying liberalism. This helps illuminate why Pretribulational Dispensationalism is an immovable rock of dogma for some churches, being on a par with affirming the virgin birth as a membership requirement. “Either you agree with us on eschatology or you’re outside the fellowship of the saints.” Such certitude about the debatable is regrettable, and leads to separation over secondary issues (adiaphora). Fortunately, this awkward and often heartless “us versus them” has been on the wane as the 20th century has given way to the 21st, and it is likely that this trend will continue as the Dispie progeny hold their distinctives with an ever lightening grip.
Dispensationalism is of relatively recent origin, being unknown prior to 1830. Some of its advocates have promoted the notion that premillennialism was the universal faith of the early church, but Dispensationalist Boyd laid this Feinberg and Ryrie myth to rest in his 1977 DTS (Dallas Theological Seminary) MS thesis (Crenshaw and Gunn p113). Indeed, several other Dispie writers have pointed with pride to the system’s novelty, boasting that earlier Reformed theologians missed the mark entirely. To wit, Cox informs us (p1-3):
The Brethren boasted, from their very beginning in the nineteenth century, that their teachings represented a wide departure from the doctrines of their predecessors and contemporaries. According to them, all the prominent commentaries, all the church fathers, and even the Reformers, were deluded by “man-made doctrines,” while only the Brethren were subject to and submissive to the Bible as the Word of God. That this superior attitude has not changed in our day is evident from the following quotations from dispensationalists.
In a recent book (When the King Comes Back pp13-14) OJ Smith, in one sweeping statement, attempts to discredit all major commentaries because these commentaries are not in agreement with his views:
I know very few of the old commentaries that are trustworthy when it comes to prophecy. Nearly all of them spiritualize the predictions of the Old Testament prophets and confuse the kingdom with the Church. Hence their interpretations are worthless (italics mine).
None of it was fulfilled at the first advent, and none of it can be spiritualized, for it has no fulfillment in the Church, in spite of what the great commentators say. God did not see fit to enlighten them (italics mine).
The Scofield Bible also cautions its readers that its teachings are the opposite of those of historic Christianity, those historic teachings being untrustworthy. The reader is told that as he studies the Gospels he must free his mind from the beliefs that the church is the true Israel, and that the Old Testament foreview of the kingdom is fulfilled in the church. Scofield admitted that this belief was “a legacy in Protestant thought” (p989).
In speaking of the dispensational teaching that the church was not prophesied in the Old Testament, HA Ironside (Mysteries of God p50) boasts of the fact that this teaching was non-existent until introduced by Darby in the nineteenth century.
In fact, until brought to the fore, through the writings and preaching of a distinguished ex-clergyman, Mr. J. N. Darby, in the early part of the last century, it is scarcely to be found in a single book or sermon throughout a period of 1600 years! If any doubt this statement, let them search, as the writer has in a measure done, the remarks of the so-called Fathers, both pre and post-Nicene, the theological treatises of the scholastic divines, Roman Catholic writers of all shades of thought; the literature of the Reformation; the sermons and expositions of the Puritans; and the general theological works of the day. He will find the “mystery” conspicuous by its absence.
Writing in the introduction of a book by LS Chafer (The Kingdom in History and Prophecy p5), Scofield said:
Protestant theology has very generally taught that all the kingdom promises, and even the great Davidic covenant itself, are to be fulfilled in and through the Church. The confusion thus created has been still further darkened by the failure to distinguish the different phases of the kingdom truth indicated by the expression “kingdom of Heaven,” and “kingdom of God.”
John Walvoord, in an article in Bibliotheca Sacra (Jan/Mar1951 p11) points up the fact that his millennial thinking is a departure from that of the great Reformation theologians.
Reformed eschatology has been predominantly Amillennial. Most if not all the leaders of the Protestant Reformation were Amillennial in their eschatology, following the teachings of Augustine.
These quotations serve to prove at least two things concerning dispensational theologians: (1) their actual contempt for the thinking of historic Christian theologians, and (2) the fact that dispensational doctrines (note especially their teaching that the church is separate from Israel) are of comparatively recent origin.
Gerstner (p14) agrees with this historic assessment of the Reformed outlook, telling us that the Augsburg and Second Helvetic Confessions both explicitly reject the Jewish dream of a Millennium prior to the last judgment. In balance, one cannot say he walks in the Reformed tradition while promoting premillennialism of any stripe, especially the Zionistic outlook of Dispensationalism.
As the self-promoting keepers of the divine eschatological key, the disdain displayed by some towards those outside of Dispensationalism is fiercely flagrant and bellicose. Often on display is an intolerant and uncharitable nature that seems remarkably characteristic of Dispensationalism, one with which I myself have often been accosted. When one disputes their brand of alleged literalism, the response is, “What!? Don’t you take God’s Word seriously?! Are you going to spiritualize away what God literally meant?!” Said differently, “My Biblical outlook is synonymous with the voice of God; disagreeing with me is disagreeing with God’s Word!” “Arrogance” hardly begins to describe such shallow self-assurance. Sandeen calls it “the usual omniscient millenarian [Dispensational] style” (p91). I was once in a class on the end times where the “other views” besides standard Pretribulational Dispensationalism were said to be mid-trib and post-trib, the instructor not even acknowledging the existence of the three additional major eschatological positions (Amill, Postmill, and Historic Premill). To him, the other widely held views on the end of time were simply out of bounds, unworthy of mention, let alone explanation. I have had the same discussion with some Dispensational seminary students, pleading with them that in their M. Div. pursuits they should at least learn about the other end times schools and understand why they disagree with them, rather than just practicing their arm motion for lobbing hand grenades of empty mockery at their brethren who think differently. What happens when they face a full-throated, red-blooded, Scripturally-armed Amill or Postmill? They will wilt; or, more likely, they’ll just ratchet up the ad hominem intensity (“Well, you’re just stupid and don’t believe the Bible!”). Alas, an effective way to keep the sheep in line is to sternly warn them against even looking into anything other than what they have been taught on eschatology in popular paperbacks or in the short and often conflicting notes of their Study Bibles.
Even its advocates admit that Dispensationalism is one of the more complicated systems to explain and defend, with many nooks and intricate crannies causing detailed debates. Indeed, heated discussions have been a mainstay of the Dispies. The Scofield Reference Bible (or SRB), originally published in 1909 and soon thereafter updated (1917), was critical to spreading the message originally systematized by JN Darby (1800-1882) of the Plymouth Brethren. [Interestingly, both Darby and Scofield did NOT hold to the secrecy of the Rapture (Allis p191).] Though most proponents in the USA eschewed the Brethren’s sectarian separationist propensities (Sandeen), yet it seems that the sour future outlook of Dispensationalism struck a chord in North America, resulting in the rapid expansion of its tenets (see Marsden). A strongly pessimistic streak seemed to square nicely with the American Christian experience, since the culture was in the process of rejecting Christianity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Marsden). Acceptance of Darby’s Dispensationalism did ultimately lead to a fair degree of separationism in the USA, giving rise to a movement that was later coined “Fundamentalism” by Curtis Lee Laws (1Jul1920 Watchman-Examiner; Sandeen p246n). “Fundies” became the hardcore Bible thumpers, independent and distinct from the denigrated “mainline” denominations. Indeed, Fundies often split amongst themselves over nearly every disagreement, giving rise to the ditty that a church would split “over the color of the carpet.” In the Dispensational clique, questioning Scofield or Ryrie’s Study Bible was a treasonable offense, like questioning the Bible itself. As Marsden points out, the combative spirit was and is core to the Fundies. Since Fundamentalism arose under the shadow of the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925) and the battle for Biblical Inerrancy (then called Infallibility), their martial spirit is understandable; not, however, when their machine guns are directed down their own trenches and against their fellow Christian troops who hold and Biblically defend an alternate end times view, as often has sadly been the case.
The Punch and Judy show has been performed since the Middle Ages. At certain points, the puppet with the bat beats its fellow puppet while all laugh. I have been through seminary classes where the Dispensational bat puppet beats the mute non-Dispie puppet while the obligatory laugh track was played (after North). “You’re not literal, so you don’t take the Bible seriously!” is all too typical (the “poisoning the well” fallacy), as if Jonathan Edwards or Augustine weren’t serious about the Scriptures. Guilty by association is another logical fallacy that often rears its ugly head in Dispensational discussions – “If you’re not Dispensational, you’ll start baptizing babies or become a Bible-denying liberal!” This is akin to saying, “All of my tennis playing friends shop at Kroger, so if you take up tennis …” Other allegations faced by non-Dispies include, “If you’re not premill, you’re borderline anti-Semitic!” as if only Dispies cared about the ethnic Jews. I note with a smile, though, that the supposedly pro-Israel Dispensational system typically has the Jews receiving future abuse and near extermination at the hands of the Antichrist (sounds rather Anti-Semitic). “Not being Dispensational is tantamount to a denial of Biblical inerrancy!” an assertion proven false by history’s many non-Dispie Biblical stalwarts, the signers of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy (1978) being a good modern example. “If you get your eschatology ‘wrong,’ you’ll be off on how you handle all of the Bible!” I suppose this is true if you’re goal is to prove Dispensationalism, but otherwise it is certainly false, since nowhere do the Scriptures forward one’s view of the end times as central to the body of all divinity. Making eschatology the key to all the Scriptures is like trying to balance the whole, heavy Biblical pyramid on its point, on one passage at the end of Bible. Ah yes, with minimal Scriptural justification for its overweening pride, the Dispie puppet shoulders the eschatological bat against any brother puppet who dares breathe a word against it; but how quickly they cry “Foul!” when any point out the system’s apparent inconsistencies! They rapidly call for charity when they offer little in return. Does not the repeatedly emotional – yea, visceral or primeval – response to the slightest opposition indicate some doctrinal termites are feasting on the Dispensational foundation?
Why can some Dispensationalists be so combative compared to those of other eschatological schools of thought, turning every perceived slight into a theological food fight? Why such spurning of Paul’s admonition in Rom14:1,4, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters … Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” In one sense, Dispensationalism is just a view of the end of time; but in another very real sense it is an all-embracing view of the Scriptures, a whole system for understanding the Bible. For those who view their Dispensationalism simply as an eschatology, they see no cause for dividing over adiaphora (Biblical non-essentials), shaking their heads when they learn of fellow Dispies who exclude from fellowship those who disagree about the end of time. For other Dispensationalists, however, their eschatology is a give no quarter, fight to the last man hill to die on. They recognize that the only way to arrive at Dispensational conclusions is to begin with them – circular reasoning based on an a priori – and one must fully defend every corner of the frail Dispensational house of cards lest the entire structure collapse. This particular strain of Dispensationalists understand that the system must of necessity encompass all of the Scriptures, lest alternate (non-Dispie) conclusions be drawn.
A pastor once told me that one of the elders, a DTS (Dallas Theological Seminary) graduate, was going to teach a class on hermeneutics. I replied, “Y’know, he’ll actually be teaching Dispensationalism.” “Oh, no,” he returned, “it’s just a class on how to interpret the Bible.” “So you may suppose,” I replied, “but given his view of the Bible, he is most assuredly teaching a class on Dispensationalism.” Events were to prove this to be correct, as even the pastor later conceded. Why do Dispies give such prominence to hermeneutics? Of course, it is a noble task to learn Biblical interpretation, but Dispensationalism MUST begin with hermeneutics to arrive at its Israel/Church dichotomy, the centerpiece of Dispie eschatology. One can therefore easily see why hermeneutics is so central to the Dispensational message and becomes the “back door” for its promotion. Once a person begins with the Dispie a priori (that which is assumed beforehand without proof) that the physical Jews and the church have separate identities and destinies, this will color his whole understanding of the Scriptures. Rather than a non-essential (adiaphora), it is easy to see why some Dispies will go to the wrestling mat, scratching and verbally maiming any opponent on the subject of Biblical interpretation (hermeneutics) and excluding from fellowship those who do not begin with their assumptions (a priori). In a very real sense, they’d be cheaply selling the Dispie farm if they did not fight any perceived slight with tooth and claw. Fortunately, such sectarianism is on the wane in a less combative, more tolerant age; but the pendulum may be swinging towards obscurantism, an ignorance-is-bliss approach to all truth, and this surely is not a positive spiritual development.
No less a Dispie luminary than MacArthur (1993 Appendix) understands the Israel/Church distinction as THE defining characteristic of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism as a system is not about seven ages of God’s dealing with men (the so-called seven dispensations), nor about the church, nor even about the cross of Jesus Christ. The cornerstone, according to Dispie dogma, is that the church is ever separate from ethnic Israel, the latter having its own promises yet to be fulfilled in the future Millennium that are decidedly NOT fulfilled in the church. Critics claim that Dispies are merely Christian Zionists and that the Bible does not support their notion of God having a separate plan for the Jews apart from the church. Citing such Scriptures as Eph2:11-3:13 (the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is broken down in the church), Gal3:29 and Rom4 (those of faith are Abraham’s offspring) and 1Pt2:9 (Israel’s promises are used of the church by Peter), their criticism seems justified. Indeed, looking at Rom9-11, Paul seemed to have the perfect forum for explaining future Messianic glories in a coming golden age for Israel, but he does nothing of the sort. Paul, why didn’t you tell of the Millennium in a section (Rom9-11) about the future of the Jews? Did you leave something out? If Paul really believed in a separation between the church and the ethnic Jews, he should have illustrated the situation as TWO olive trees, one active and growing tree for the church and the other now-dormant tree for the unbelieving Israelites. Instead, Paul used only ONE olive that unites those of faith like Abraham’s. Isn’t Jesus a bigamist (two wives) if He has His bride, the church, whom he sets aside during the Millennium to return to his ex-wife, Israel? Additional arguments against the division between the ethnic Jews and the church have been multiplied in many books critical of the Dispensational movement (Crenshaw and Gunn; Bahnsen and Gentry; Allis; etc), but criticism from within the movement itself is typically muted because of the virulent response usually meted out against all traitors who would examine the Dispie underpinnings. The faintest quizzical touch upon its tenets is perceived as a vicious pulling on the Dispie spinal cord, and pity those blessed by the resulting wrath.
(4) Pan-millenialism. Have you ever had a person who was your “friend” until you crossed him, at which point you were thrown under the buddy bus and verbally run over? So it is with some aggressive Dispensationalists. Their arm is around you until you start questioning their system’s intricacies, after which you’ll face their acidic “tender mercies.” This quarrelsome situation explains the rise of the consequent view, “Pan-millennialism” – the tongue-in-cheek name for those who shrug their shoulders on eschatology and say, “It’ll all pan out in the end.” Having faced or witnessed the vitriolic accusations and pejoratives spewed forth by some harsh Dispies against those who disagree with their allegedly (but highly selective) “literal” approach, and not being able to find the Secret Rapture, Millennium or Antichrist under every Scriptural rock or newspaper headline, Panmills simply surrender, ceding all of their eschatological territory to the invading, aggressive Dispensational cohorts. Panmills are typically “ethnic Dispensationalists” – those raised in American Bible or Baptist churches where Dispensationalism was taught. However, they are non-combatants who’ve taken issue with some of the Dispie system but who want to avoid becoming collateral damage, civilians seeking underground shelter from the Dispensational firebombing against any perceived slights. Defectors from the system are viewed by many Dispies as Quislings, traitors who deserve the harshest of sanctions. Indeed, some churches make Pretribulational Dispensationalism a litmus test for membership, a cardinal doctrine right up there with Biblical Inerrancy and Jesus’ resurrection on the 3rd day. Such eschatological certainty (conceit?) is obviously not warranted from the variegated prophetic scenery, yet that does not keep some from declaring their fealty to loving God while holding in contempt any brethren who come to differing end times conclusions. Charity is extended by the Dispies on many other fronts, but not on eschatology; on that subject alone many Dispensational troops dig in and fling verbal grenades filled with nasty pejoratives at their brothers in Christ. Harsh, burning, napalm language is reserved by some Dispies for use only against their fellow Christians who question the Dispie dogmas. Well, do you really want to fight this ridiculous battle over what seems like almost nothing, a few verses nearly at the end of the Bible? Better to raise the white flag and give up all the eschatological terrain that the belligerents demand!
How will those within such churches cope with the combative? “Tolerance” – that wonderfully post-modern code word – tolerance to keep the peace is the Panmill watchword. Find a Panmill foxhole, climb in and play dead. With no dog in the fight, no system to defend, the Panmills effectively ignore the dicey prophetic Scriptures vehemently argued by some of their blustering Dispensational fellows. Unfortunately for Panmills, it’s hard to shake the notion that they are NOT shrinking back “from declaring … the whole counsel of God” (Acts20:27). Does the Lord permit that some areas of His revealed truth can be set aside as irrelevant? Could not similar “keep the peace” logic be used to not bring up the gospel with unbelievers, or the Doctrines of Grace (a.k.a. Calvinism) with freewillers (Arminians / Semi-Pelagians)? Saying an arena of truth is off limits to avoid conflict cannot be consistently applied, and is like telling God, “Thanks for revealing these end times truths to us, but you really shouldn’t have. I’m going to stay away from eschatology altogether – believe me, Lord, I know better than You about how this should be handled to keep the peace.” Of course, no one has the right to shun certain topics of God’s divinely revealed Word, tacitly declaring them unnecessary because it raises the ire of some. Tactless swagger by a minority doesn’t make the Fundies right. “Big mouth don’t make a big man” (J Wayne “The Cowboys” 1972); folly triumphs when good men do nothing (paraphrasing Burke); or, more Biblically, “… the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.” (Pr29:9). Panmills have no Scriptural warrant for retreating and implicitly declaring the loud-mouthed Fundies victorious just to achieve Chamberlain’s empty Munich Pact of “peace in our time.” Aggressive and confrontational argumentation is certainly not Christlike, but tolerance plus pacifism is never a Scriptural solution to antagonism.
Histie-Ps, Posties, Amills, Dispies – I have listed several names attached to each school of thought, attempting to demonstrate that all of these views have prominent conservative theological advocates and thus are all well within the pale of orthodoxy. With nothing to advocate or defend, certainly Panmillennialism must also fall within the pale – there are no actual teachings worthy of a heresy trial and the resultant Panmill expulsion! However, of necessity Panmills have no strong proponents, though their swollen ranks are ever expanding, especially within the Fundie/Dispie camp. Since they publish no works defending their tacit “It really doesn’t matter” stance, no résumés can be sullied by association with the reactionary Panmill label. The Panmill closet door remains firmly shut and dead-bolted, though many are crowded inside who won’t divulge their names. If ever a compare and contrast book is written (a la Gundry and Bock), it will never be entitled, “Five Views on the Millennium,” with someone drawing the short straw to defend Panmillennialism, that which by design is indefensible.
(5) Amillenialism. “Amillennium” is a mixed language moniker of recent origin (coined by Kuyper? Riddlebarger p31) – “millennium” being Latin for 1000 years, while the “a” negation is Greek. The inaptly named Amillennialism implies that there will be NO Millennium, but in truth every single Amill believes that Rev20:1-6 instructs the church about a Millennium. At issue is not whether there will be a Millennium, but rather the character of this Millennium. Amills teach that the church age IS the Millennium, the reign of Jesus on earth through His church. While shocking to the sensibilities of those anticipating the Millennium as a future earthly golden age, either before (Postmill) or after (Premill) the 2nd Advent, Amillennialism has been a widely held end times view down through church history. Such luminaries as RC Sproul, Jay Adams, Berkouwer, Berkhof, Wm Hendricksen, Anthony Hoekema, Abraham Kuyper, Bruce Waltke, Mark Dever, and James White are Amill, men who cannot be accused of Biblical carelessness even by those who disagree with their eschatological system. As even Walvoord, a staunch DTS (Dallas Theological Seminary) Dispensationalist and sharp Amill critic, admits:
Because amillennialism was adopted by the Reformers, it achieved a quality of orthodoxy to which its modern adherents can point with pride. They can rightly claim many worthy scholars in the succession from the Reformation to modern times such as Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, and in modern times, Warfield, Vos, Kuyper, Machen and Berkhof. If one follows traditional Reformed theology in many other aspects, it is natural to accept its amillennialism. The weight of organized Christianity has largely been on the side of amillennialism. (Mill Kingdom 1959 p61; in Riddlebarger p32)
Its [Amillenialism’s] most general character is that of denial of a literal reign of Christ upon the earth. Satan is conceived as bound at the 1st coming of Christ. The present age between the 1st and 2nd comings is the fulfillment of the millennium. … It [Amillenialism] may be summed up in the idea that there will be no more millennium than there is now, and that the eternal state immediately follows the 2nd coming of Christ. (p6; in Cox p1).
As evidenced by an opponent’s definition, Amillennialism has to be the simplest end times outlook to explain. The gospel continues to increase and decrease the world over; when the last of the elect are gathered in, there will be a final rebellious explosion (Gog and Magog), and then Jesus returns and ushers in the eternal state. That’s it! No complicated charts, no postulates about a globe-covering golden age, and no far-fetched futuristic speculations. Amills appeal to Jesus’ own words about only two ages, this age and the age to come, with no intervening utopian middling age (a Millennium) that consists of an admixture of the present and the future. The emphasis is on the gospel being spread to the nations, with the 2nd Coming being the final exclamation point and the end of the redemptive story. Though there may be some disputation over the future of the Jews, many (most?) Amills understand from Rom9-11 that there will be a great ingathering of ethnic Jews prior to the end of all time. Certainly Calvin held this position. Some believe this recognition by the Jews of their Messiah will usher in a era of earthly gospel blessings before the 2nd Advent, but most Amills who write about the Jewish question think that the end of all time will come hard on the heels of the Jewish ingathering (Rom11:12,15). Murray informs us that the dominant Puritan view was that the Jews would be converted close to the end of the world (p52). A pithy Rom11 summary from the pen of premillennialist Moo (p683), entirely in accord with the Amill outlook, is that Israel’s rejection of Jesus as the Messiah is neither total (11:1-10) nor final (11:11-32). Amills point out that this salvific standpoint is actually pro-Semitism (not Anti-Semitism) at its finest. The Jews don’t get some semi-arid piece of nearly valueless real estate, followed by political dominance over the nations with Jerusalem at the center of all things. Rather, according to Amillennialism, in the future the Jews receive Jesus as their Messiah and inherit something far better, an eternal city that will never perish, life eternal and everlasting peace with God. Salvation through Jesus for “all Israel” just before the 2nd Coming is the climax of Amillennialism’s “pro-Semitism.”
“You’ve told me a million times.” In today’s phraseology, this doesn’t mean that if you tell me again, you will have told me a million one times. “A million times” just indicates a large number, probably something just over four or five … so please stop telling me! Amills are often taken to task for their alleged “non-literal” rendition of 1,000 years, verbally thrashed for contending that it’s an indefinite time period constituting the church age. That purveyor of deep theological truth, “The Word Origin Calendar,” provides some assistance. According to the calendar from 26Dec2014, the infinity symbol ∞ was used in Roman times to indicate “mille” (1,000), which in common Roman parlance meant “a whole lot.” John Wallis employed the infinity symbol ∞ mathematically in 1655 in that same indeterminate sense. The point is that 1,000 (or the Latin mille, from whence we get “Millennium”) often meant “a whole lot” during the days of John the Apostle and may well have been used in that indefinite sense in Rev20:1-6. In other words, a thousand during the days when the Revelation was penned could mean that exact number, but often was used in an indeterminate sense. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to conclude that “mille” (or 1,000) in Rev20 points not to an exact number, but to a large, indefinite number, much like saying, “You’ve told me a thousand times!”
Many Scriptural illustrations are available to support the indefinite use of 1,000. For instance, in Ps50:10 God says, “For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on 1,000 hills.” Does this passage teach that the cattle on the 1,001st hill do not belong to the Lord, or that the herds in the valleys and plains belong to somebody else? Obviously not. This is simply poetic language saying that all of the cattle on all of the hills, valleys, and plains belongs to God. Here in Ps50:10, then, is just one instance where 1,000 is Biblically used for “a large, indeterminate number,” and this is how Amills understand the Millennium of Rev20:1-6. Examples can be quickly multiplied, showing that 1,000 is often used figuratively (not literally) in Bible. May the Lord increase you 1,000 times and bless you (Dt1:11); God keeps His covenant to 1,000 generations (Dt7:9; Ps105:8); How can 1 man chase 1,000? (Dt32:30; Jos23:10); He cannot answer Him 1 time out of 1,000 (Job9:3); If there be an angel mediator, one of 1000 to remind a man (Job33:23); 1,000 may fall at your side (Ps91:7); A day in Your courts is better than 1,000 elsewhere (Ps84:10); Though he live 1,000 years twice told (Ecc6:6); Where there were 1,000 vines, valued at 1,000 shekels of silver (Is7:23); 1,000 shall flee at the rebuke of one (Is30:17); A little one shall become 1,000 (Is60:22); The city that went out 1,000 strong has 100 left (Am5:3); A day is as 1,000 years with the Lord, and 1,000 years as a day (2Pt3:8). Need more be said? 1,000 is often employed figuratively in the Bible; why not in Rev20?
Rev20:1-6 itself testifies to the non-literal nature of its fulfillment, since it gives many additional aspects of the passage are not taken literally by ANYONE. Is there really a literal chain to hold Satan, a spiritual being? What of a literal key? And is it a dragon, a serpent, the devil or Satan? Is this entity who is bound four different beings all at once? The angel and Satan are spiritual beings; why couldn’t the 1st resurrection and the 2nd death likewise pertain to spiritual realities? Indeed, the 2nd death is usually understood to be about eternal perdition or spiritual death, so doesn’t it make sense that in like manner the 1st resurrection is figurative of spiritual life? Another literalist conundrum is this – how on earth does the mortal John “see” the souls of those beheaded? Can souls really be observed by the eyes of flesh? Note that this is reminiscent of Rev6:9-11, where John sees the souls under the altar who call for vengeance against those who have shed their innocent blood. Both 20:4-5 and 6:9-11 have the mortal Apostle John seeing souls, so maybe Rev20 is connected with the Lord’s answer to the plaintiff plea of these very souls in 6:9-11.
With all of the symbolic aspects of Rev20, it is really not very surprising that the number 1,000 is similarly used in a symbolic fashion. Indeed, 20:4 specifically says that those raised and seated on thrones to reign with Christ for 1,000 years are only “those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus,” yet many of our “literalist” friends curiously make this out to be every Christian down through church history who have fallen asleep in death, very few of whom were actually beheaded – how can this be? This doesn’t sound very “literal,” does it? The point is that few take the bulk of the details in 20:1-6 literally, yet many still insist that the Millennium must be literally 1,000 years, often vigorously asserting this with surprising belligerence. The inconsistency is palpable, especially applied to a book of word pictures like the Revelation. Is there some unspoken agenda that requires some to take 1,000 literally while figuratively understanding the balance of the details in 20:1-6? How can one defend taking 1,000 literally while simultaneously taking a symbolic stance on mortal John’s seeing souls, saying that all of the church is resurrected when only those beheaded are specified, and holding an obviously non-literal understanding with respect to the chain, key, door, dragon, serpent, and so forth? There must be some trout around here; “fishy” hardly begins to describe the inconsistency. As Stafford puts it:
That there was a Jewish expectation of a Millennium of some kind, and that it has had some influence upon Christian eschatology, is freely admitted. But that this Jewish notion is found in the New Testament is denied. This false idea, like many other false ideas, has come into Christian thought from Judaism, but does not belong there. …
The idea of a civil government on earth for a thousand years is not found in a single utterance of Jesus, Paul or Peter; much less that Christ is going to “set it up” when He returns. …
The king business, like the priest business, belongs to the tutelage of the race. It is a thing of the past, not of the future. And yet many associate the golden age of the world with actual kings [such as we are acquainted with] and thrones and all the accompanying regalia and paraphernalia. … Imagine me, for example, sitting on a literal throne somewhere, say on the Mount of Olives! But every other Christian is sitting on a little throne too. There would not be room enough on the Mount of Olives, or indeed in all Palestine, to plant our thrones. There we all sit, with shining crowns, flourishing our golden sceptres, and not a subject to black our boots. I abdicate my throne right now.
In sum, Amillennialism does not make Rev20:1-6 central to its understanding of the Scriptures, nor is this passage even at the core of Amill eschatology. The balance of the didactic portions of the Bible indicates two ages, this present age and the eternal age to come, with no middling golden era (or “Millennium”). Nothing new is introduced by the Lord in the last book of the Bible; the Millennium of Amillennialists is just this present era, with the gospel going forth to all the earth and the elect being gathered in.
What, then, of Satan’s being bound, the seeming Amill Achilles’ heel of Rev20? Let us note carefully what in fact the passage says, not reading in more than is actually present. The devil is bound “so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed” (20:3). Note what the passage does NOT say, namely that Satan is bound so as to be inactive. Every Amill believes that Satan currently “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pt5:8). No, the Amill view, in accordance with Rev20:3 itself, says that the devil is restrained so as to not deceive the nations as he had done so previously. This begs the obvious question, “To deceive the nations with respect to exactly what?” Since we are dealing with spiritual truths and spiritual beings, we might anticipate that the “un-deceiving” of the nations pertains to their spiritual understanding; however, we must visit other Biblical passages to determine what this alteration in Satan’s deceptive power might be, since Rev20 is not explicit. It would make sense that this lack of deceptive power by Satan was with respect to Jesus Christ, that the gospel would shine forth to all the nations, unhindered by Satan’s cloaking the nations in spiritual darkness. This is precisely what Paul had said at the Areopagus, that the nations had lived in ignorance prior to the coming of the gospel, but that “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts17:30). Note the expansiveness of the gospel’s impact on all nations without exception, a certainty that every missionary takes with him to every foreign nation. Previously the Adversary had covered the nations in spiritual darkness, but now the gospel light was breaking through, as Paul testified to the Athenians. Could not the removal of the devil as a gospel impediment be exactly what is being given to us in the highly wrought symbolic language of the Revelation, that Satan, the serpent, the dragon, the devil is bound “so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed” (20:3)?
An additional interesting feature is brought forth by Adams (p85); namely, that there have been no world dominating empires since Rome. Why might this be? This observation is in keeping with the Colossus of Dan2. The empires from head to toe were Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and finally Rome. The rock cut without hands, the kingdom of Christ, crushed the statue and now fills the earth. Note that Christ’s Kingdom is of an entirely different composition, not being built from, originating in, nor standing upon the preceding empires. Since the time of Rome, there has truly been only one world-encompassing, ever-expanding empire, the church of Jesus Christ. Is this not a solid manifestation of the very fact that Satan is now bound so that he can no longer deceive the nations? The deceptive power of Satan over the nations was crushed at the cross, and thereafter there have been no more worldwide empires. The cross conquers all!
An extended quote from the masterful pen of PE Hughes (p109-115, emphasis in original) is more than sufficient to firmly make the point concerning the binding of Satan.
THE BINDING OF SATAN
… some of the important problems it [Rev20:1-10] poses for the interpreter must now be considered. In the first place, John describes the binding of Satan, who is seized and thrown into the bottomless pit and there secured and sealed for a thousand years (vv. 1f.). The premillennialist takes this to mean that for the period of one thousand years when Christ, following his second coming, reigns on earth Satan will be immobilized and placed under duress, thus ensuring that this will be a time of peace and blessedness unspoiled by his activities. The purpose of Satan’s binding, however, is defined as being in particular “that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended” (v3) ; and this is better understood, within the perspective of the New Testament, as referring to the present “times of the Gentiles” when the Devil is held under restraint as the Gospel is preached to all nations.
The advent of Christ has brought about a change in the relationship between Satan and the nations. “In past generations God allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways,” Paul told the Gentile crowd at Lystra. But now things are different. That is why he and Barnabas had come to the Gentile territory of Lycaonia and were pleading with them to turn from their vain superstitions to the living God who is the Creator of all (Acts14:15f.). Later, when he came to Greece, the apostle announced this same change in the situation of the nations to the intellectual audience that had gathered to hear him in Athens. Hitherto, he tells them, “God has overlooked the times of ignorance,” that is to say, the times of Gentile ignorance, during which, so to speak, the nations were in the wings and only the people of Israel were on stage; “but now,” he adds, “he commands all men everywhere to repent.” Why? Because since the advent of Christ, in whom there is blessing for every nation on earth, for Gentile as well as Jew, all men have been brought fully into the scene and it is by him that God “will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts17:30f.).
Prior to the coming of Christ the nations had been permitted to remain in the darkness and ignorance of that superstition which resulted from Satan’s deception. They had “walked in their own ways.” …
No longer, then, are the nations left in the shadows. No longer is Satan permitted to blind the nations with his deception. For God’s salvation has been “prepared in the presence of all peoples” and Christ is “a light to lighten the nations” as well as the glory of God’s people Israel (Lk2:30-32). Christ’s witnesses are now to proclaim the gospel message to the farthest parts of the earth so that the fullness of the nations may be brought in (Mt24:14; Rom11:25). The power of Satan over the nations has been broken by the power of the Gospel. The darkness of his deception is dispelled by the light of him who declared, “I am the Light of the world” (Jn8:12; 9:5). Thus the presence of Jesus in “Galilee of the nations” means for Matthew the fulfillment of the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned” (Mt4:13-16; Is9:11).
In Rev20:21 the binding of Satan is specifically limited in reference to his deceiving of the nations. The considerations we have given point to the reason for this particular sphere of reference. His binding, therefore, does not preclude the possibility of his continuing activity in the world within the lives of individuals or of society in general. As “the god of this world” his evil work is apparent in his “blinding of the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2Co4:4). He is still “our adversary the devil” who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pt5:8). But his binding in relation to the nations is nonetheless real as the Gospel multiplies its conquests throughout the world.
THE STRONG MAN BOUND
… When the scribes accused Jesus of being “possessed by Beelzebul” and of casting out demons by “the prince of demons,” he responded by pointing out that this amounted to an absurd proposition, namely, that Satan was casting out Satan. The only reasonable conclusion, which they were unwilling to draw, was that it was by the Spirit of God that he was casting out demons, and therefore that the power of God was manifestly at work in their midst. Did they really think that Satan could be fighting against himself? And then he added: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house” (Mk3:22ff.; Mt12:24ff.). Christ’s casting out of demons was an evidence not only that the strong man’s house was being plundered but also that Satan had been bound. Christ is the one who is stronger than Satan, and that is why, when the seventy whom he had sent out returned rejoicing that even the demons were subject to them in his name, he could say to them: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy” (Lk10:17-19; 11:21f.). That is why, as he approached the ordeal and the victory of the cross, he could declare: “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn12:31f.) – for the binding of Satan that he should deceive the nations no more makes possible the casting of the gospel net over all men. That is why, again, the risen Lord can encourage his apostles and commission them with these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Mt28:18f.). With Satan effectively bound, and all authority concentrated in Christ, their evangelical charge is one that leads them to all the nations of the world.
[Note: Hoekema (p229) points out that the same word used in Rev20 for the binding of Satan is used in Mt12:29 for the binding of the strongman (also Satan). Jesus also said, “ Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (Jn12:31) – again, the same “cast out” word as used in Rev20.]
Paul writes to similar effect in the Epistle to the Colossians, when he says that God “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in Christ’s cross” (Col2:15) ; and in the Epistle to the Hebrews there is, if anything, an even more explicit statement where the writer asserts that in the incarnation the Son of God partook of our human nature, “in order that through death he might render ineffective him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb2:14f). There is also a passage in the Revelation which seems to have a bearing on this interpretation of the binding of Satan. It is generally agreed that this passage (ch12:1ff.) refers to the birth, death, and exaltation of Christ and to the overthrow of Satan which these events effected. John sees a woman in the pangs of childbirth and a dragon waiting to devour her child when it is born; she gives birth to a male child “who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” but the dragon fails in his design because “her child was caught up to God and to his throne”; there follows an account of war in heaven in which the dragon and his angels are defeated, “and the great dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, was thrown down to the earth,” and his angels with him; and this calls forth the joyful proclamation: “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come!” His mission to earth completed, the Redeemer of mankind assumes all authority as the ruler of “all the nations,” while Satan, “the deceiver of the whole world,” is overthrown and the peoples of the world are released from his domination. Or, in the words of Rev20:2f., “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan,” has been “seized” and “bound” and “thrown into the pit,” which has been “shut and sealed over him,” “so that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years are ended.” At the end of that period, we are advised, “he must be loosed for a little while.”
Is Satan currently bound? If by this statement you mean that he is entirely inactive, all Christians (including Amills) resoundingly answer, “No!” If, however, we are talking about Satan preventing the nations from coming to Christ, Amillennialism steadfastly affirms a position that all Christians pragmatically assent to, that Satan is now bound with respect to deceiving the nations – all peoples everywhere can and must repent, and they cannot use “the devil made me do it” excuse for their unbelief. In the era after the cross and before the 2nd Advent, the gates of hell will not prevail against gospel conquest. This current age, then, is the time of the Millennium, when Satan and his minions can no longer cloak the nations in so much spiritual darkness that the church cannot penetrate it. With certainty the good news about Jesus Christ will triumph before the 2nd Coming – this is the great Amillennial hope!
Another set of questions arise about the Amill position concerning those resurrected and reigning with Christ for 1,000 years. Can this actually be referencing our present time? If so, how are saints now resurrected and reigning with Jesus in any meaningful sense? Our literalist brethren contend that this is playing fancy with the facts, ignoring the literal meaning of Rev20 and “spiritualizing it away.” The operative passage reads:
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. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Rev20:4-6).
Once again, please notice what the passage does and does not say. It is the souls of the beheaded plus those who don’t worship the beast who are singled out for the 1st resurrection and consequent Millennial reign in Rev20. How some miraculously twist this passage to speak of every Christian who has ever lived being resurrected and seated on millions of little thrones in dusty Jerusalem’s Millennial environs is an astounding hermeneutical hat trick. Aren’t these “literalists” the very people who look for a future world-dominating Antichrist who mandates the mystical mark of the Beast? How then can any Christians from the 1st century until the present time fit the description of avoiding the mark and not worshiping the Beast, since the Beast has had the temerity to not yet reveal himself? If the Beast is yet unknown, then who could possibly have received his mark or worship him? The current tally of Beast-worshiping, mark-bearing men is exactly zero, using the accounting implied by Rev20 literalism. Moreover, only those martyred by beheading are in the other group delineated by John; these are the only other Christians singled out for special Millennial treatment, all other Christians being grouped with “[t]he rest of the dead” who must await the end of the Millennium for their resurrection. It is a simple fact that throughout church history only a very few martyrs for the faith have been beheaded. Employing literalistic logic, it therefore appears that not very many saints will be included in the number of those partaking in the 1st resurrection and subsequent Millennial reign with Jesus. Those beheaded for the faith cannot number more than a few thousand up to the present time, while exactly zero have yet avoided the Beast’s mark and worship, the supposedly future Antichrist having inconveniently not yet shown himself to the world. Literalistically parsing the very verses used to support speculative premillennialism produces just a paltry handful of beheaded saints who will be raised to reign with Jesus in the future Millennium. By no means whatsoever can “the souls of those beheaded” and “those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand” include every Christian who has ever lived post-Pentecost, according to literalist logic applied to Rev20. Well then, the future throne constructors in Jerusalem will have far less work than previously adduced. “Oh, only a few thousand little thrones. Great!” say the throne building workmen. “We were thinking it’d be millions of monarchs. Man! This will save us so much fabrication time!”
I’m so sorry, Sam Suburban of Middle America, USA, you will most definitely be “left behind!” You don’t even know who the Beast is, so you certainly cannot avoid his worship and mark. This knocks you and all other church-going, “salt of the earth” Christians out of category one of the ranks of those partaking of the 1st resurrection and who then reign during the Millennium – rats! Wait! There’s another category – maybe you can make it into that one?! Well no, probably not. In the very unlikely event that you are martyred for the faith, it surely won’t be by beheading. Lethal injection is more likely these days; chopping blocks are an execution style long gone out of style. So, then, we can confidently conclude that the vast majority of those in Christ like you, Sam, will not participate in the 1st resurrection nor be seated upon little, obscure Millennial thrones somewhere in the vicinity of Jerusalem. I apologize that your end times paperbacks have led you astray, Sam! You are merely part of the rabble, the leftovers, the great unwashed Christian masses, a member of “[t]he rest of the dead” who will “not come to life until the thousand years” are over. Bummer! I have an idea, Sam! Maybe you should lobby your congressman to reinstitute the guillotine for the capital punishment of Christians – then you’d have a better chance of making the Millennial reign roster! “Hey, Chris Congressman! I can’t avoid worshiping the Beast or getting his mysterious mark, since he uncharitably hasn’t shown up yet, but I’d still like to make it in on to the Millennial team. How about this? I’d very much like to try plan B, getting my head lopped off for Christ so I can get into the Millennium. Can you introduce a bill to that end? I’m sure our leftwing ‘friends’ in Congress will be all for executing Christians this way, and then I’ll partake of the first resurrection and be given an inconsequential Millennial throne.” Then again, Sam Suburban, if you’re into the King James Version of the Bible (a.k.a. Good News for 17th Century Man), maybe you should take up your lament over your Millennial exclusion with the Bible’s author after the manner of Martha (Jn11:39): “But Lord, this stinketh!”
To the matter at hand, how can saints in any sense be currently resurrected and seated on thrones and thus reigning with Jesus? Doesn’t something seem askew with saying that this is now the state of affairs for Christians, as forwarded by Amillennialism? At issue is what resurrection and reign are being referenced? As it turns out, one passage from the quill of the Apostle Paul provides substantial assistance, a plainly worded didactic section with exactly analogous concepts as in the figurative language of Rev20; see if you can spot the similarities.
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph2:1-6).
In Ephesians, Paul says that the spiritually dead are raised to newness of life with Jesus and “seated … with Him in the heavenly places.” This sure sounds a lot like the same idea forwarded in the Apocalypse, that the spiritually dead are resurrected and now reign with Christ. It may well be that Paul states plainly what John tells us figuratively, that all who are in Christ are raised and seated with Him.
Looking more closely at the “1st resurrection” spoken of in Rev20, we note that this is contrasted with the “2nd death.” At no time does Rev20 explicitly state that there are two physical resurrections separated by 1,000 years; it only states that those who partake of the 1st resurrection are spared from facing the 2nd death, implying strongly that the 2nd death is well worth avoiding. Most understand the 2nd death to be the eternal spiritual death in the lake of fire spoken of in 20:10, 14, and 15 – in other words, the torments of hell. If the 2nd death is spiritual, then by Scriptural symmetry would this not imply that the 1st resurrection is likewise spiritual? This accords well with many passages that speak of regeneration of the soul as a resurrection (souls are in view in Rev20:4-6, after all). Adam was told that he would die if he ate the forbidden fruit (Gen2:17). Well, did he physically die on the spot when he partook? Of course not – Adam physically lasted another 900+ years on earth! The principle of physical death was initiated in Gen3, but, more importantly, Adam’s Fall brought spiritual death to the human race (see Rom5). What do the spiritually dead need? As Eph2 says, those dead in sin need a spiritual resurrection. Besides the Eph2 passage, consider a few of the many verses referencing the new life in Jesus, speaking of it as a spiritual resurrection and contrasting it with the pains of God’s wrath in spiritual death.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. (Jn5:24-25)
… you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions (Col2:12-13)
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Rom6:4-6)
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. (1Jn3:14)
But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Mt8:22)
There really can be no doubt that the New Testament often speaks of man’s deadness in sin and of those in Christ being spiritually resurrected to life eternal; over such eternal perdition – the fires of hell or the 2nd death – has no power. Is it so strange to suppose that this same metaphor is being employed in Rev20 with prophetic pictorial language? These and other passages should settle the question that the 1st resurrection can, indeed, be a spiritual one, in contradistinction to the spiritual 2nd death.
Rev20 is speaking of the spiritual 2nd death and, by symmetry, a spiritual 1st resurrection. This outlook is hermeneutically a lot safer than supposing that the Apostle John introduced entirely new concepts never before given in the Bible. For instance, some would have us believe that Rev20 cuts from whole cloth several brand new ideas seen nowhere else in the Scriptures, such as establishing multiple physical resurrections and a Millennial Jerusalem heavily dotted with insignificant little thrones scattered about the arid landscape. Isn’t it remarkably strange for God to bring to light an entirely new paradigm in the last book of the Bible, appearing for the very first time in the third chapter from the end of His revealed truth? And are these shiny new Millennial ideas to then control one’s outlook on the rest of the prophetic Word?! As some have asserted, making Rev20 the locus of all prophetic insight is like balancing a massive Egyptian pyramid on its point – everything is upside down! With a physical Millennium in view, one must now go back to a host of Scriptures and reinterpret them in light of this new bug caught in your hermeneutical eye, a foreign body better to be removed than accommodated. One must reread about the sheep and the goats in Mt25 and figure out how to insert 1,000 years between the resurrection of the sheep and that of the goats; or reconsider the wheat and tares, sticking 1,000 years in there somewhere between the wheat being gathered in and the tares being bundled and burned; or review Jesus’ statements about “this age” and “the age to come” and calculate how to interleave a middling age that is neither this age nor the age to come, but rather contains some previously unrevealed third age called the Millennium. The Millennium becomes like a wedge driven with force and alacrity between all other passages of Scripture, separating events which God hath joined together.
Some would have us believe that, in accord with Rev20, Christ does not yet reign as king, but He will only do so in the future earthly Millennium. The obvious corollary is that if Christ is not reigning now, then Christians likewise do not yet reign with Him, but will do so in the coming Millennium. If Jesus isn’t a present monarch, then of necessity His co-heirs also have their reign postponed. Some have offered the gloss, “Well, Jesus is a king now, He just doesn’t yet have a kingdom.” A monarch without a realm makes as much sense as saying, “I’m a billionaire now, I’m just waiting for someone to give me a billion dollars.” Of course, one need not travel very far in the Bible to completely unravel the Futurism that puts Jesus’ (and Christians’) reign entirely in the Millennium. 1Co15:25 says of Jesus that “He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” Heb1:3 says that Jesus now sits at the right hand of God. Can either of these passages be made to fit the notion that Christ does not presently reign? As for Christians, the Eph2 passage given above shows that believers now reign with Jesus, with nary a hint that this is postponed to some future state. As Yerby (p8, emphasis added) puts it:
Through a device that can only be described as fraud by fable, believers have been systematically robbed of the truth of the present reign and kingdom of Jesus Christ, and of the companion truth of their present reign with him. They have been tricked into swapping present reality for future fantasy. They have given up legacies for legends. You have been a victim of what may be called the great reign robbery if you have been taught, and have accepted, the recent system of Bible interpretation that says no crown or throne, no kingdom or reign, no power or glory, were given to Christ at his first advent. You have been defrauded by fable if you have been taught that those honors will be bestowed upon the Lord only in a future 1,000-year earthly kingdom during which the governing code will be the ancient laws and ordinances given to Moses at Mount Sinai. You have lost a fortune in spiritual riches if you are unaware that you are now, today, in this life, reigning with the reigning Christ and that you, and not some unbeliever [ethnic Jews], are “the apple of his eye.”
Forcing the Millennium upon the rest of Scripture is a high interpretive price to pay on behalf of one figurative passage in the third chapter from the Bible’s end! Maybe our Futurist brethren should count the cost before erecting such a hermeneutically expensive structure that takes glory away from Christ and His church.
With these and other interpretive machinations, it is well to note exactly what is NOT in Rev20. Nowhere in Rev20 does there appear anything about the ethnic Jews; nowhere is there any evidence of a physical Jerusalem; absent is any discussion of a political rule of Jesus on a physical Davidic throne for 1,000 years – besides, isn’t Christ’s kingly reign forever, not limited to just 1,000 years (Is9:7; Lk1:32-33)? Indeed, physical saints are not even addressed in Rev20, the only reference being to the SOULS of those beheaded. If Rev20:1-6 could cry, that portion of your Bible would be constantly wet from all of the foolishness foisted upon it without Scriptural warrant, a host of fanciful notions burdening this hapless passage by some who claim to be the friends of God but who alter His Word by reading in their own agenda (eisegesis) to suit their own end times speculations.
Amillennialism is attractive because it has only ONE Second Coming, ONE general bodily resurrection, ONE final judgment, and ONE age to come, rather than the multiple ones necessary to fit alternate eschatological systems. With Amillennialism, no rereading of previous Scriptural statements is needed to insert the foreign body of a Millennium, a parasite that draws life from both this age and the age to come to form a middle-of-the-road semi-utopian era.
Returning to Rev20, what can we surmise concerning the souls now reigning with Jesus? Besides the Eph2 reference given above that explicitly says that those raised to new spiritual life are now reigning with Christ, other references teach a very similar idea. Let us begin with one from the selfsame book of Revelation. To the church at Laodicea, Jesus said:
“He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Rev3:21)
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Rev5:9-10)
Like the kingdom coming not with signs to be observed (Lk17:20-1), so the reign of Christians upon the earth is very real, though it doesn’t presently look like much to the world at large – much like Jesus’ ministry itself, by the way. Paul concurs on the reign of believers with Jesus on this side of eternity:
For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Rom5:17)
Clearly Paul agrees with the Revelation (3:21; 5:9-10; 20:4-6) that Christians now reign in life with Jesus, but in a decidedly spiritual sense. While not referenced as frequently, we can conclude that the concept of believers in Jesus now spiritually reigning with Christ is clearly forwarded in the New Testament.
Note also from Rev20:6 that besides being resurrected and reigning with Jesus, those singled out will also “be priests of God and of Christ.” Little verification is required to establish the priesthood of all believers in Jesus. Citing only one passage should suffice. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Pt2:9). Those dead in sin are resurrected to newness of life, seated with Christ in the heavenlies, and made priests – these are the basic Christian dogmas brought forth in the much-abused Millennial passage. With Rev20, outrageous eschatological conjectures should be left at the door like a pair of muddy boots.
Now what of the issue given mocking treatment above, the puzzling Rev20 aspect that it is only “the souls of those who had been beheaded” plus “those who had not worshiped the beast or his image” who are singled out as being resurrected to reign with Jesus? No matter what Millennial school one subscribes to, this interpretive problem must be addressed. We have shown above that being spiritually resurrected and now reigning are principles taught in the didactic portions of the New Testament as applying to all who are in Christ, so why are those beheaded souls and those who don’t worship the beast marked out in Rev20:4, to the explicit exclusion of “[t]he rest of the dead” who “did not come to life until the thousand years were completed” (20:5)? Does this mean that those beheaded and those who spurned the worship and mark of the beast are the only disembodied souls now reigning with Jesus? While difficult, we believe that these particulars are included as time references to the fulfillment of the famous Millennial passage. How?! There can be little doubt from reading Rev2-3 that the seven churches were facing intense persecution. As forwarded by Dan2 and 7, the iron-toothed beast was the Roman Empire contemporary to the days of the Asia Minor churches. Therefore, avoiding the widespread emperor worship (worshiping the Beast) and being figuratively “marked” as belonging to the Roman Empire were things the Asia Minor believers could actively avoid. In addition, beheading was the accepted method for executing a Roman citizen during the early church age; for example, tradition holds the Roman citizen Paul was martyred via decapitation. Both beheading and the beastly worship and mark are grounded in the 1st century ad, and therefore point to a fulfillment during the time of the seven Asia Minor churches. These were the very Christians being called in the Apocalypse to faithfulness during an era of intense persecution by Nero from 64-68ad (more on this below). These chronological references are inserted into the Millennial passage to highlight the timeframe in which the Revelation would come to pass. In other words, beheading and avoidance of the Beast’s worship and mark are included as poignant reminders to the Asia Minor churches – the very churches that received this epistle of the Revelation of Jesus Christ in the 1st century ad – to stand firm to the end and thus be saved (Mt10:22; 24:13), despite the lure of self-preservation. Rev20 does not upend the notion that all Christians are spiritually raised and now presently reign with Jesus (Eph2:1-7); it only highlights the chronology of application, that the 1st century ad Asia Minor churches were to stand firm against the worship and mark of the Roman Empire (the Beast), possibly even suffering martyrdom (beheading if they were Roman citizens) for their steadfastness to the gospel.
The Amill position, then, is that Satan is firmly bound with respect to his ability to deceive the nations concerning the gospel truths. All may not agree on this, but effectively every missionary goes forth with a firm conviction of its truthfulness, that the gospel will call in the elect from the four corners of the earth, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. As Paul put it, he was commissioned by Christ “to open their [Jewish and Gentile] eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith” in Jesus (Acts26:18). Moreover, all Christians know the truth of Col1:13-14, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” The bound strongman’s house is being plundered of inhabitants; Satan is helpless to prevent Christ and His sent ones from abducting men from the dominion of darkness and transferring them to the Son’s kingdom. This is the sum and substance of the amill position on the binding of Satan, in complete accord with the firm statement that the devil is bound “so that he would not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev20:3).
As the late, great RC Sproul said, “Though Reformed theology is by no means monolithic regarding eschatological systems, the majority report among Reformed thinkers tends to be amillennialism” (p195). Having spent an extended portion describing Amillennialism, it is well to give the summary by Hoekema (p174):
Amillennialists … understand the binding of Satan mentioned in the first three verses of this chapter as being in effect during the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ, though ending shortly before Christ’s return. They teach that Christ will return after this heavenly millennial reign.
Amillennialists further hold that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ is ruling his people by his Word and Spirit, though they also look forward to a future, glorious, and perfect kingdom on the new earth in the life to come. Despite the fact that Christ has won a decisive victory over sin and evil, the kingdom of evil will continue to exist alongside of the kingdom of God until the end of the world. Although we are already enjoying many eschatological blessings at the present time (inaugurated eschatology), we look forward to a climactic series of future events associated with the Second Coming of Christ which will usher in the final state (future eschatology). … The amillennialist therefore expects the bringing of the gospel to all nations and the conversion of the fulness of Israel to be completed before Christ’s return. …
The amillennialist understands the Second Coming of Christ to be a single event, not one that involves two phases. At the time of Christ’s return there will be a general resurrection, both of believers and unbelievers. After the resurrection, believers who are then still alive shall be transformed and glorified. These two groups, raised believers and transformed believers, are then caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. After this “rapture” of all believers, Christ will complete his descent to earth, and conduct the final judgment. After the judgment unbelievers will be consigned to eternal punishment, whereas believers will enjoy forever the blessings of the new heaven and the new earth.
Five Millennial Views Review
Let us now briefly encapsulate the five views on the end of time described above:
- Postmillennialists (“Posties”) generally hold that the gospel is advancing and will fill the earth, which is the Millennium; afterwards, Jesus will return (“post” or after the Millennium). It is optimistic about gospel progress, a key selling point on the position. Posties are typically a minority within the Reformed tradition.
- Historic Premillennialists (“Histie-P’s”) say that Jesus will return to earth and establish a 1,000 year reign, after which comes the end. Few particulars are detailed, and Histie-P’s are most noted for what they are NOT – namely, Pretribulational Dispensationalists. Histie-P’s generally hold a minority position within the broader premill camp, but it does seem to be an eschatological school on the rise. Many churches make “being premill” a pastoral litmus test, so a candidate can be a Histie-P and yet qualify in a traditionally Dispensational church. Subscribing to Historic Premillennialism is also currently one of the safest North American eschatological positions. A Histie-P pastor remains within the general premillennial camp while not partaking of the perplexing and often bewildering Dispensational distinctives and consequent combativeness. One who wants to pastor in the premill domain and who actually wants to hold an end times position (contra Pan-mills) but who eschews Dispensationalism is almost certainly a Histie-P.
- Dispensational Premillennialists (“Dispies”) have an intricate system, traceable to JN Darby and unknown before 1830, whose primary (though often unacknowledged) distinction is that the church and Israel are ever disconnected and have separate destinies. “Distinctionalism” would be a more apt moniker for the system (and “Distincties” an appropriate nickname for the proponents). Because of this church/Israel distinction, the church must be evacuated – the Secret Rapture and the 1st resurrection – prior to God’s returning to His earthly dealings (land and king promises) with Israel during the seven year Great Tribulation and subsequent Millennium. The second 2nd Coming takes place at the end of this seven years, and Jesus establishes pure Zionism in Jerusalem, with a returning to the full operation of the Old Covenant Temple, Levitical priesthood and bloody sacrifices. Israelite hegemony ensues; the Gentiles are in subjection to the Jews for 1,000 years on earth, Jesus ruling with an iron rod from Jerusalem. [One can hardly slip a dime between this Dispie hope and that of the Jews during Jesus’ day, by the way.] After this earthly Millennium, it seems that Jesus exits (this is left a bit foggy), Gog and Magog rise up in opposition, and then Jesus quickly reappears, putting down the rebellion and ushering in the eternal state. Dispies often appeal to their allegedly literal hermeneutic, that the above and more are “obvious” from a “plain reading” of the Scriptures. That it took over 1800 years after the close of the canon for any to light upon these supposedly self-evident truths makes one wonder if an alternate agenda is being foisted upon us under the “obvious” rubric. None of the original purveyors of Dispensationalism said anything other than that these truths were unknown until Darby’s day; they even gloried in these things being hidden until their own day (see references by Ironside, Chafer, Scofield, and others to this effect in Cox, chapter 1). Because of its church/Israel separatism, Dispensationalism (or Distinctivism) is actually a bit more than an eschatological view; instead, it is a whole Bible-encompassing system. One must start with the separation of the church and Israel to arrive at the Dispie conclusions (circular logic); and this in part explains the prominence of hermeneutics for Dispies, the back door through which Dispensationalism is propagated. Those who incorrectly see Dispensationalism as merely an eschatological position are typically not very combative over the end times. Those who properly understand the all-embracing character of the Dispie system of necessity use it as a litmus test for fellowship, brook no rivals, allow no discussion of alternate views, and can become verbally violent against those who question Dispie orthodoxy. Dispensationalism is widely spread in what was the Bible Institute movement (mostly begun as one or two year degrees to train missionaries) and many Bible churches. Dispensationalism’s popularity seems singularly limited to North America and those affected by the missionaries sent out by the same.
- Panmillennialists (“Pannies” – not a very attractive moniker, to be sure) have typically been beaten up by some bellicose Dispies, or they fear that such will take place if they voice their concerns about the Dispensational system, so they give a collective shoulder shrug about eschatology – “Who cares?! Let’s just keep the peace.” Such post-modern tolerance does not comport well with any of our Lord’s instructions; this, plus having nothing in particular to defend, places Pannies in a nonviolent but unenviable position. Pannies mostly inhabit traditionally Dispensational haunts. Secretly, they may even be approaching a majority among Dispies, and is certainly extensive among those “ethnic” Dispies who actually sit down with their Bibles and find that they are unable to verify what they have been taught about the end times. However, “I don’t care and you shouldn’t either!” is a tough sell in public, so no one will ever know the breadth of Pannie propagation.
- Amillennialists (“Amills”) believe that the church age is the Millennium, but (unlike Posties) they make no particular assertion concerning the conversion of a great part of the earth. The church of Jesus Christ waxes and wanes the world over as the elect – ever a remnant, never a majority – are gathered in. That this is currently and always has been true for the church age can hardly be debated. Amills are most commonly found in the Reformed camps and are probably the majority report in that tradition. Many “converted” Dispies are Amill as well, including the author.
The Revelation: Six Views
When it comes to the book of Revelation, things get even more mystifying. A dizzying array of terms are attached to interpreting this, one of the most debated books of the Bible. Often the Apocalypse becomes the happy hunting ground of cranks and crackpots who insist that they alone possess the key that unlocks the truths concerning the end times; alas, many listen to their unstable and rapidly varying babblings propagated by film, TV, paperbacks and social media. Futurism, [Continuous] Historicism, Recapitulationism, Idealism, Preterism [Full or Partial], and Eclecticism are all offered as solutions to the Revelation puzzle, each with strongly credentialed advocates. Born again Christians can enjoy the rich blessings of Colossians or Romans without a doctoral degree in theology, but the book of Revelation seems cut from an entirely different cloth, and many set it aside as too bewildering – “I can’t waste my Christian life arguing about bowls, seals and trumpets!” As stated above, Ferguson said you’re better off using just one commentary when studying the Revelation; you may not be right, but at least you won’t be confused. For the Revelation, maybe Panmillennialism isn’t that bad after all … just shrug your shoulders and walk away from the interpretive maze, surrendering to the bloviating, bombastic backers of end times intricacies. Though dissatisfying, giving up is at least peaceful, a bucolic Biblical happy place in the midst of belligerence; but it does leave that unsettling sense that one has set aside a large chunk of the full council of God, and this without divine justification. Assuming that all genuine Christians have been issued a search warrant to investigate all of the Scriptures – we cannot willy-nilly overlook any of what the Bible says – let us consider each of the 6 views offered for interpreting the Apocalypse.
(1) Futurism. The Futuristic position on Revelation has been quite popular over the last few hundred years and is the dominant view in some sectors of the 21st century American Evangelical movement. This opinion holds that except for the introduction (Rev1) and the seven 1st century Asia Minor churches (Rev2-3), the balance of the Revelation (Rev4-22) is future to our day. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Babylon, the Harlot, the two witnesses, massive earthquakes, the sun and moon being darkened, and all else will come to pass in days yet future to us in ways we cannot now explain, though many popular advocates attempt to pierce the veil of uncertainty and give fanciful details with grandiloquent certainty. The Futuristic stance is attractive because of its appeal to the supernatural while leaving the details tantalizingly fuzzy, yet fully fleshed out by the latest self-appointed prophecy “expert.” How can the sun be darkened without killing off everything on earth? How can a star be given a key? How can locusts look like horses and not harm the plants? “Amazing miracles will take place in our near future” is a bit of an opaque answer, but some find the grasping pull of supernaturalism incredibly attractive in a Bible-denying era, especially with the pervasive (a priori) liberal rejection of Biblical supernaturalism. “You reject the supernatural, Mr. Liberal?!” the Futurist incredulously replies; “Well, I’m going to double down and say that as much of the Bible as possible is explained by the supernatural!” This regal posture and straightened backbone against anti-Biblical antagonists is noble indeed. Many sign on with the Futurists for this very reason, a militaristic bearing opposing those traitors who pretend to support Christ when they in fact are undermining the faith. Liberalism is a parasite on true Christianity, and lovingly crushing the liberal bug in the corner of the church is a worthy task for those who follow Jesus. However, at the end of the Futuristic document, in small print it contains the contractual rider that if you ever disagree with them on the “Futurism and supernaturalism explains pretty much every prophecy” presupposition, then you too are a closet liberal and exceedingly close to denying the Bible. If you start to think that some of their beloved futuristic Scriptural passages were, in fact, fulfilled in history, then you have voided the Futurist contract and will be treated with criminal harshness. How dare you question our view of the future?!? To the guillotine with the infidel!
Returning to its attractiveness, with Futurism one can apparently retain the appearance of interpretative literalism while still allowing wide berth for rather radical allegorical divergences. For example, Lindsey’s widely read book contends that the locusts of Rev9 are Cobra attack helicopters, an obviously sub-literal view by a supposed literalist. No justification is given – or, apparently, required by the Futurist true believers – to support such interpretive license. Indeed, one of Futurism’s most appealing features is that it grants significant interpretive flexibility within the supposedly “literal” framework. The four horsemen could be accounted for in any number of figurative ways, quite adaptable to the journalistic headlines of our day. Another alluring aspect of Futurism is that at any given point in time, one cannot call such prognosticators to account. “How can you say this WON’T happen in the future?!” is the retort to opposition. “God will do surprising things in our near future. Do you deny the Bible and the supernatural?! Don’t you take the Bible literally?!” Many Futuristic forecasts cannot be proven false until many decades have passed, and by then the author has made his money from book sales or film royalties, and profitably the prophet moves on. The wise in heart Futurist writer will be sufficiently vague and swerve past the orange barrels and pylons of date setting. Those foolish enough to actually set dates and predict near term fulfillments are quickly swept under the rug once their calculations fail to materialize, though some of them have surprising staying power, even after repeated forecast fiascos. Well, people like a good fantasy, and the Futuristic paperbacks and media provide what a willing audience wants to consume. As Van der Waal says (p13), there is a “boom in doom” – people enjoy a good scare, the specter of future terror – after being removed via the allegedly Secret Rapture and observing the apocalyptic events at an appropriately safe distance, of course. It’s the equivalent of watching an eschatological circus freak show but not being asked to directly participate. I’m sure the suppliers of Futurism’s fantasies are grateful that the Dt18:20-22 death penalty against false prophets is no longer enforced under the New Covenant!
Surely the more level-headed Futurists find uncomfortable their association with conspiracy theorists and wild prophetic opportunists with whom they dwell in such close proximity. Their neighborhood is being destroyed by loud-mouthed, trashy, prophetic ranting renters who decrease the value of the other Futurist properties. The headlines of the 1950s or 1960s were applied to Russia (Wilson) while today those selfsame texts are pinned on Muslim extremists. The application of these speculative techniques will likely be adjusted by Futurists as events unfold in the coming decades, should the Lord tarry. With 20-20 hindsight the prophetic word can be molded to account for just about any recent events, but proving everything actually proves nothing; and alas, the predictive power of this approach has been repeatedly found empty, with few if any of the far-fetched forecasted affairs coming to pass. And where, pray tell, are any useful prophetic predictions, ones that would truly warn the faithful of impending doom? Which of our end times prognosticators predicted the Twin Tower destruction of 9/11 (2001) in New York? Who forewarned the Israelites of the Arab surprise at the Yom Kippur War (1973)? With surprising consistency, Futurism has failed to foresee what actually comes to pass, though ex post facto (after the fact) they often unhelpfully detail how the Scriptures foretold these events. “That’s nice, you guys, but couldn’t you have told us BEFORE it happened so we could be prepared?” Ah, I suppose a gloss like, “But then what was prophesied would not have happened!” could be offered, but that begs the question of why the nations after the Rapture could not do the same and NOT invade Israel during the Great Tribulation (see Yerby quote in Appendix). Won’t all of the literature and media be “left behind” when the church is Secretly Raptured? And couldn’t those who remain read all of the books, watch the films and avoid what has been forecast from the Revelation that is take place during the Great Tribulation?
Even worse than the lack of predictive accuracy, what things these Futurists have positively foretold from the prophets have almost never taken place. Who even remembers the Futurist 19th century applications of the prophetic Scriptures to Napoleon III or the Turks, let alone the more recent, 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In ‘88 (Whisenant)? After experiencing decades of crying wolf by the speculative Futurists, is it any surprise that many have forsaken the fervor of the fantasy farm? For how long can one be told that the end is at hand before apathy finally sets in? “Crying prophetic wolf” surely begets glassy-eyed disillusionment. Yet no clairvoyance is required to know that Futurism’s fables will continue to be a popular approach to the Revelation, what with its boundless flexibility (“wax nose”) grabbing the imagination of many about what might happen at the end of time, with no possibility of being called to account in the near term – “Well, it COULD happen!” Besides, Futurism “goes with everything I wear!” Eschatological voyeurism never goes out of style. Saying that everything will take place in our future contains the twin jewels of no historical facts with which to reckon while according nicely with an innate desire to escape coming troubles (Allis p196), so its popularity will continue unabated for the foreseeable “future.”
(2) Historicism. Surprisingly close to Futurism is the Continuous Historical (or simply Historical) school of thought concerning the Revelation. This view holds that the Apocalypse is a syllabus or blueprint of church history down through the ages, a chronology of what would happen in the (western) world subsequent to the 1st century ad. Before one discounts this as unfamiliar and maybe even a little bit silly, please consider that this was THE Reformation view for applying the Revelation, with the Pope as the spiritual Antichrist (plus the Turks as the physical Antichrist, according to Luther). An example of the Historicist approach from Pieters (p35-36) is a good starting point:
Perhaps the fairest way to give the reader an idea of this system is to transcribe, in outline, the fulfillments traced by Barnes (Notes on Rev pXXXIX), as follows:
First Seal: fulfilled in the state of the Roman Empire from the death of Domitian, 96ad to the accession of Commodus, 180ad. [all subsequent dates ad]
Second Seal: from the death of Commodus, 193, and onward.
Third Seal: the time of Caracalla, 211 and onward.
Fourth Seal: the time of Decius to Gallienus, 243-268.
Fifth Seal: fulfilled in the Roman Empire in the persecutions, particularly in the time of Diocletian, 284-304.
Sixth Seal: the invasions of the barbarians, 365 and onwards.
Seventh Seal: fulfilled in the Trumpets, as follows:
First Trumpet: Invasion by Alaric the Goth, 395-410.
Second Trumpet: Invasion by Genseric the Vandal, 428-468.
Third Trumpet: Invasion by Attila the Hun, 433-453.
Fourth Trumpet: Final conquest of the Western empire by Odoacer, king of the Heruli, 476-490.
Fifth Trumpet: The Mohammedans.
Sixth Trumpet: The Turks.
Chapter 10, the Great Angel — The Reformation. The Little Book open is the Bible, restored to general reading. That the angel cries with a loud voice is symbolical of the Reformation. The seven thunders heard, but not recorded are the anathemas hurled against the Reformation by the Pope.
Chapter 11 — The Measuring of the Temple: the determining of what constituted the true church at the time of the Reformation. The two witnesses represent those who testified against the errors of Rome. The Seventh Trumpet: the final triumph of the church.
This is considered to be the end of the first series of visions. What follows is not a chronological continuation, but a view of the church internally. This second section, in the view of these interpreters, is concerned almost exclusively with the Roman Catholic Church. The woman in chapter 12 is the true church. Her fleeing into the desert represents the condition of the church while the Papacy was in the ascendancy. The wrath of Satan against the “remnant of her seed” represents the attempt of the Papacy to cut off individuals when open and general persecution no longer raged.
The First Beast: The Roman secular or civil power that sustained the Papacy.
The Second Beast: The Papal ecclesiastical power.
The Seven Vials: All interpreted as blows at the power of the Papacy. The first vial, the French Revolution, the second, its scenes of blood and carnage, the third, the French invasions of northern Italy, the fourth, the overturning of the governments that sustained the Papal power, the fifth, the capture of the Pope himself and the seizure of Rome by the French, the sixth, the decline of the Turkish power, the seventh, the complete and final overthrow of the Papal power (still to come). The Great Harlot—the Papacy.
The Destruction of Babylon: the fall of the Papacy.
One intractable dilemma faced by Historicism is also what makes it popular; namely, its nearly limitless elasticity. Any author during any era can generate a scheme using this malleable system for interpreting the Revelation. For instance, Bickersteth in 1845 said that all interpreters agreed that the 6th trumpet of Rev9:13ff applies to the Turks (Allis), while others have plumbed Revelation’s depths, looking for the French revolution, Napoleon, the Reformation, the War of the Roses, and so forth (Terry p443). Mede thinks that the seven seals are a syllabus of Roman history, the seven trumpets are God’s judgments upon Rome after Constantine’s time (barbarians), and so forth, while Vitringa applies the continuous historical method to the seven seals from the Roman empire down to the Reformation and on to the final consummation (after Stuart v2 p149-150). Other examples show the method’s inconsistency. This interpretive variability calls into question the very method itself; again, proving everything proves nothing. Besides, would such a church history syllabus supply any comfort at all to the original 1st century readers?
It is a curious fact that Historicism is employed by some Futurists to the seven churches of Asia Minor, saying that they represent seven stages of the church down to the present time (LaHaye). This application of an entirely alternate method by the Futurists is understandable, since they seek to get chronologically from the Apostle John’s day in Rev1 to our own supposedly immediate future in Rev4. If you can assert (without proof) that the seven churches represent seven stages of church history right up to the present day, then we are in the Laodicean (or lukewarm) church age, just before the Secret Rapture, a seminal event inexplicably unmentioned in the “white space” between Revelation chapters 3 and 4. Unfortunately for this application of the Continuous Historical technique by some Futurists, the inconsistency is palpable. As pointed out by Gentry (footnote in Brown), for many Futurists the Secret Rapture is imminent (can occur at any moment); but the Continuous Historical method applied to Rev2-3 means that seven whole church ages had to transpire before we arrive at imminence in our own era. In other words, the Secret Rapture could NOT have been imminent for 2000 years, until our epoch, since seven church ages had to come to pass beforehand.
Though they declare their fealty to a Futurist scheme, many of today’s “stir up the masses” applications of prophecy actually use the Continuous Historical technique, erratic applications of which are familiar to most American Christians. “The end is near!” “He’s the Antichrist!” “That invasion was foretold in the Scriptures!” These are patchy and sometimes incoherent uses of Historicism by some Futurists. The stated (Dispensational) belief is that Jesus could return at any moment (imminence) without any preceding events to tip us off that the end of time is close at hand. How can there be “signs of the times” when there are NOT supposed to be any such signs prior to the Secret Rapture? The consistent Dispensational theologian asserts that the prophecies of Revelation and elsewhere will take place once the church is whisked away to heavenly safe-keeping, so how can these prophecies meant for our future be applied to our present? This troublesome point is mostly ignored or smoothed over as any available prophetic text is Shanghaied for use by the American church and myopically applied to the political history of the USA. The destruction of the Twin Towers (9/11) by some radical Muslims? That was foretold in the Scriptures (stated ex post facto). Hitler? Mussolini? A looming invasion of Europe by the Russian Bear? Hey! We find that all of these were Biblically foretold, say our latter day, self-anointed and often unlettered prophecy experts. Yes, sometimes these prognosticators have seemed right, but even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut; and their method appears similar to that used with the opaque statements of Nostradamus, where events are ex post facto said to have been clearly “foretold” by that medieval mystic and apothecary hundreds of years beforehand.
We note in passing the transparent Western Christian nearsightedness when employing the Continuous Historical scheme. Only the history of the western (North American and Western European) world is considered when applying this interpretive method. What of Christians and world events in China or India? These nations are consistently omitted from the English prophetic math books calculating the Continuous Historical equation. The Han or Ming Dynasties or the pressures related to the East India Company or invading Mongols surely never appear in English language Continuous Historical products, though these were exceedingly important national events for China, Russia and India. Oh no, the diligent application of the Historical school to “world” events is narrowly focused, rarely containing anything but what affects the writer’s own western culture. This alone makes the Historical interpretive technique entirely suspect. We can only echo Pieters’ assessment (p150):
[The Continuous Historical school] is so thoroughly artificial, so completely out of touch with the circumstances of the age in which the Revelation was written, and so tied up with time calculations which the event has falsified [e.g., “He’s the Antichrist!” which ends up being false], that I think we may quietly allow it to die a natural death – which it seems to be in the process of doing.
Alas, the expectation of a near term demise for the Historical prophetic method for the Revelation, penned by Pieters in 1946, has likewise proved false. The apparently slain beast of Historicism yet lives!
Concerning the ongoing application of the Continuous Historical method, I can confidently predict that it will live on, and this hypothesis has four attending postulates. Postulate 1: Should the Lord tarry, we can safely assume that others will continue to “adjust” their analysis of the Revelation (and other vague or apocalyptic prophetic passages), applying these to the news headlines of their day (ex post facto, of course). Postulate 2: Since they’ve been incorrect with every past historical treatment, the purveyors of the Continuous Historical technique will continue to be erroneous in the future, though from sheer statistics they may occasionally get something close to right (a loudly trumpeted rarity). Postulate 3: The Continuous Historical school begets end times apathy in the church rather than raising anticipation for the 2nd Advent. Crying wolf only arouses the attention of the citizenry the first few times. “Pan-millennialism” is a certain by-product of the erratic and unpredictable use of the malleable, wax nose Continuous Historical method. Postulate 4: The “signs of the times” fervor will be strongest amongst those who know little about its pathetic prophetic track record. Those who advocate socialism prefer to bury or overlook its dismal and bloody history; likewise historical ignorance is the proper pH for the soil that advances the consistently erroneous Historical method. Conspiracy theories and Historicism alike are immune to evidential and logical refutations among a certain segment of Christianity. Besides, the “signs of the times” makes for greatly hyped media presentations on eschatology. What end times movie could there be without the special effects of massive invasions and supernatural interventions appealing to the novitiate?
(3) Recapitulationism. A close cousin to Historicism is the Recapitulationist Historical method. Less familiar than the preceding Futurism or [Continuous] Historicism schools, Recapitulationism is more narrowly focused on the Revelation itself, attempting to explain the replicated sets of sevens. The basic theory is that the seven churches, seals, trumpets and bowls, plus three other less obvious sevens, are the same historical church events viewed from different angles, or recapitulated in each succeeding seven (e.g., Hendriksen p16ff). When one reads a trumpet judgment, for example, he may be reminded of some familiar phraseology in a preceding seal judgment. The parallel features are explained by asserting that these are, in fact, the selfsame chronological events from church history described somewhat differently and possibly with slightly altered sequencing. The two groups of 144,000 are the same; the great earthquakes are the same; and so on. The Recapitulationist technique thus ends up being comparable to the Continuous Historical school. For the Recapitulationist, the Revelation is yet a compendium of church history subsequent to the Apostle John’s day and right up to our very own, but it is NOT continuous; rather, the Revelation presents repeated pictures of the same incidents out of the ecclesiastical syllabus from the 1st to the 2nd Advents. With some deft interpretive skill, in fact, the four obvious sevens (churches, seals, trumpets, bowls) can be augmented by three more for an attractive total of seven groups of 7, all of which deal with the blueprint of church history following the writing of the Revelation. The fact that seven beatitudes, or blessings, also appear in the Revelation (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6; 22:7,14) is not lost on the Recapitulationists, a seemingly subliminal verification of their theory.
Stuart (p464-5) informs us that Mede (1627) was the first synchronistic (or Recapitulationistic) proponent; but Hendriksen has to be the strongest recent advocate. Unfortunately, the Recapitulationist Historical school suffers from the same problems presented above for the Continuous Historical method. The uneven and variable application of the Recapitulationist theory is similar to that seen amongst their Continuous Historical brethren. Subsequent events disprove or alter the delivered prophetic products, and the “certain” relevance to past or current events effortlessly bobs up and down, floating on the sea waves of different proponents, generating anything but certainty. If one wants to use either Historical system, it is best to stick with the input of just one author; reading another will only decrease one’s prophetic confidence.
Intermission: Futurism and Historicism Critiqued
Mohler often uses the illustration that the worst way to learn about water is to ask a fish. The fish cannot even consider there being any other way to live than surrounded by water, so if it could talk, it would be at a loss for words to explain the water in which it swims. It is often likewise for one’s approach to the Revelation. Having assumed but not proven the Futurist or Historicist system, no real proof is offered on behalf of the fundamental assumptions. This is the heart of an a priori, that which is assumed as self-evident and thus requires no proof. Where exactly in the Revelation do we have it stated that the book contains a syllabus of church history from the 1st to the 2nd Advents? No chapter nor verse can be produced to demonstrate that the purpose of the Apocalypse is to provide a blueprint of western ecclesiastical and political history. Yes, one can assert that it “works” with some creative and adaptive exegesis; but firmly held assertions are not proof, and loud declarations are not Scriptural substantiations. The words of Terry (p443-4), penned in 1898, are as apposite now as then:
[The Apostle John] furnishes no “continuous historical” record of the progress of Christianity in the Roman empire. We should no more look in the prophecies of this book for a syllabus of the petty feuds of medieval Europe than for an account of modern missions in India, China, and Japan. Too long have false presumptions led men to search in apocalyptic pictures for predictions of such events as the French Revolution, the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Protestant Reformation, and the Wars of the Roses. One might as well expect to find in Scripture predictions of the discovery of America and the invention of the steam engine and the electric telegraph. The mind that gives itself to discover such things in Biblical prophecy misapprehends the mind of the Spirit. The fallacy of such procedures in exegesis lies in a total misconception of the nature and scope of apocalyptic writing.
As for Futurism, there can be little doubt that the Revelation contains things future to John’s day. The Apostle was explicitly told to “write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things WHICH WILL TAKE PLACE after these things” (1:19). From this verse alone, it is transparent that at least some of the Revelation was future to John. However, where exactly is it said that all of these picturesque prophecies are necessarily future to us in the 21st century? In fact, there are quite a few positive indicatORS from the Revelation itself that the things prophesied were nearer term to John’s day than the Futurist scheme allows. A few instances will suffice to make the point, beginning with the first verse. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place” (1:1). By what measure is “soon” some 2,000 years later? This defies the Greek language itself. Likewise, 1:3 says that “The time is near.” How can a “near” fulfillment be a few millennia later? Other supporting verses come from the didactic sections – the teaching portions of the Revelation (chapters 1-3 and 22) that are not filled with as much of the highly wrought visionary and symbolic language found in the balance of the book:
“And he said to me, ‘These words are faithful and true’; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent His angel to show to His bond-servants the things which must soon take place.’” (22:6)
“And behold, I am coming quickly” (22:7)
“And He said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.’” (22:10)
“Behold, I am coming quickly” (22:12)
“Yes, I am coming quickly” (22:20)
The pattern can hardly be missed, and does not square up very well with the notion of a couple thousand year delay before the prophesied events transpire (see Adams). Some measure of a near term fulfillment must accompany a proper understanding of the Apocalypse, a view that is almost entirely absent from Historicist and Futurist treatments of the wildly interpreted and thus often maligned book of Revelation.
Was John himself in the Tribulation? Was he part of the Kingdom? Contrary to Chiliast (premillennial) claims, the Apostle testifies, “I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom …” (1:9). This verse obviously subverts the notion that the Tribulation and Kingdom are entirely future to our present day, and thus John and the seven churches could in no wise be partakers. This verse even undercuts the empty notion held by some, “God won’t make the church go through the Tribulation because it does no good to have His people suffer.” Have they not read the New Testament, where suffering for the church is guaranteed (e.g., 2Tm3:12)? After being stoned and dragged out of Lystra, Paul told the Christians, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts14:22). Did Paul think that God was going to whisk away he and his fellow believers to heavenly bliss because the church shouldn’t have to suffer? In Rev1:9, John himself says he was part of the Kingdom, and for this he suffered great tribulation in the windswept prison paradise of Patmos. A Futurist outlook that puts both the Kingdom and the Tribulation entirely future to our day does not even align with one of the Apostle John’s opening statements!
Other threads conspire to weaken the Futurist case for the Revelation, especially that it lacks contemporary relevance for the seven churches. Recall that the book is an epistle, dictated by Christ Himself to these suffering Asia Minor churches. With the Futurist view, a decidedly negative light is cast upon Jesus’ messages to the churches. “I know that you are suffering greatly, you Asia Minor churches,” says our Lord, according to the Futurist perspective; “But fear not! Several thousand years from now you will be dead and gone, with your lands having been overrun by a marauding nation [the Turks] and your churches reduced to ruins left to be seen by tourists. Another religion will arise to dominate the land [Islam]. After all of this, I will do some truly amazing things, especially in regions you know not of [America and Europe]. I care for you, my persecuted bride, so take slim comfort in these empty words, since none of what I’m telling you applies to your day and age. Be warm and well fed!” No, the Lord of glory would not so mock His suffering church. The very epistolary nature of the Revelation means there MUST be contemporary relevance in Jesus’ words for the Asia Minor churches. Any application of the Revelation that puts everything in the far distant future from John’s day (Futurism and Historicism) makes it completely irrelevant to its original audience. Indeed, if they were to find solace in Christ’s words, the application of the Revelation must be within the grasp of those seven churches, otherwise what is the point of Jesus’ calling them to obedience? Futuristic fantastical fulfillments that the Asia Minor churches could not have possibly imagined – tanks, helicopters, epic battles amongst modern nations – this cannot align with the Revelation’s application to the 1st century church. The criterion of contemporary relevance subverts the hash often made of the Apocalypse by the unhinged daydreaming of Futurists and Historicists. Murray (p261) says of Spurgeon:
Spurgeon possessed a profound distrust of many pre-millennial dealers in prophecy who, working upon the excitement caused in Victorian evangelicalism by the new ideas of the Plymouth Brethren [JN Darby and company, the founders of Dispensationalism], set themselves up as the expounders of all mysteries and treated the subject of prophecy as though it were the key to Christianity. There are many warnings in Spurgeon against that sort of interest in prophecy. A biblical preacher, he told his congregation, “wants to have souls saved and Christians quickened and therefore he does not forever pour out the vials, and blow the trumpets of prophecy. Some hearers are crazy after the mysteries of the future. Well, there are two or three brethren in London who are always trumpeting and vialing. Go and hear them if you want it, I have something else to do” (v21 p91). Again, addressing the students at his college, he says:
“I am greedy after witnesses for the glorious gospel of the blessed God. O that Christ crucified were the universal burden of men of God. Your guess at the number of the beast, your Napoleonic speculations, your conjectures concerning a personal Antichrist – forgive me, I count them but mere bones for dogs; while men are dying and hell is filling, it seems to me the veriest drivel to be muttering about an Armageddon at Sebastopol, or Sadowa or Sedan, and peeping between the folded leaves of destiny to discover the fate of Germany. Blessed are they who read and hear the words of the prophecy of the Revelation, but the like blessing has evidently not fallen on those who pretend to expound it, for generation after generation of them have been proved to be in error by the mere lapse of time, and the present race will follow to the same inglorious sepulchre” (Lectures to my Students, First Series  p83).
In the same volume he tells his students that, “A prophetical preacher enlarged so much upon ‘the little horn’ of Daniel, that one Sabbath morning he had but seven hearers remaining” (p100). There is much more in Spurgeon in the same vein; he ridiculed the novelties of interpretation which were being hawked about as new insights into Scripture and did not underestimate the spiritual evil which was resulting from the disproportionate attention which a number were giving to prophecy.
More could be forwarded on this critique of Futurism and Historicism with respect to the Apocalypse – indeed, lengthy tomes and diatribes have been penned showing how Biblically empty these schools really are, though their progeny do an excellent job of whooping up the masses; but their consistent predictive failures speak more volumes than their critics could ever amass in many tomes of refutation.
After this brief aside, we return to the six views on the Revelation:
(4) Idealism. Idealism (or Spiritualism) is a less pervasive yet attractive position on interpreting the Revelation. In essence, Idealism contends that the Revelation is not about any historical events in particular – past, present or future – but rather offers timeless truths to the church cloaked in strikingly symbolic, apocalyptic language. Idealism has had such staunch supporters of the Scriptures as Hendricksen and Rushdoony (Gentry p33). It seems that some who have dug deep furrows in the Apocalyptic soil have indeed found the Idealist approach to the Revelation quite appealing.
Sadly, Idealism appears to have much in common with the Liberal treatment of the Bible. “The Bible isn’t a history or science book,” say the Liberals who deny Biblical Inerrancy. Those previously called Modernists tell us, “The Scriptures nourish our faith and provide moral instruction. Those miracles in Exodus or the Gospels didn’t really happen, nor was Jonah ever swallowed by a fish, and the Creation account is just period mythology like the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic.” Please note that Idealists DO NOT deny Inerrancy. However, divorcing the Revelation from any historical framework to untie the Apocalyptic knot is not a Biblically agreeable problem solving method, and the track record of applying this technique is not at all attractive. Putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t it beautiful. While we can all agree that the Revelation does indeed present timeless truths to the church down through the ages, the Idealist position does not comport well with an epistle written to seven 1st century churches. Do the things in the Apocalypse have immediate application to the suffering Asia Minor churches or not? If not, then why include them at the outset of the Revelation? Why didn’t Jesus just start with chapter 4 and end with chapter 21, if all of the book just pictorially presents eternal truths to the church, with no particular historical events in view? Put another way, the epistles to the Corinthians or Thessalonians certainly supply enduring instructions to the body of Christ, yet they are surely grounded in then-current events pertaining to each of those churches. Can we say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter if the church at Colossae really existed, since the epistle to them just gives the church nourishing moral sustenance throughout the ages?” Put another way, if the Revelation was penned with no historical grounding, no near term relevance to the Asia Minor churches, then surely it would be a Scriptural singularity; the Apocalypse would be a stand-alone, the one and only book of the Bible written devoid of any historical context with real people and events. For this reason alone, Idealism is suspect, since it offers no sure foundation, no exegetical grounding in history. Though it is true that the Apocalypse gives the church lasting instructions, this is also true of Romans, Philippians, or any of the other 65 books that comprise the Canon, all solidly established in the annals of history. A real live, flesh and blood history is part of every book in the Old and New Testaments; setting this aside to solve Revelation’s interpretive dilemmas is entirely unwise.
(5) Preterism. Preterism is an entirely alternate approach to the Revelation, sharply contrasting with Historicism, Futurism and Idealism. The term preterism comes from the Latin praeter, which Webster’s lists as a prefix denoting that something is “past” or “beyond.” Preterism holds that much if not all of Revelation has already taken place in the 1st century ad, future to John’s day but history to us. Preterism is the North Pole to Futurism’s South – completely opposite in polarity, but with magnetic repulsion rather than attraction between them. The two positions could not be further apart, with Futurism saying that the bulk of Revelation is yet to come for us, while Preterism holds that the majority of the Apocalypse has already transpired. Indeed, Preterism is astonishing to those hardened in the furnace of Futurism; baked clay Futurists all too commonly hold a strident brand of exclusivism, thinking that they alone hold the key to all prophetic truth. Often the Futurists accost their Preterist brethren in Christ with such vacuous logic as, “What, don’t you take the Bible seriously?” as if only the Futurists are serious about Biblical truth. Such foolishness is clearly ignorant of the historical fact that many well studied and lettered men of God hold to some form of Preterism, including RC Sproul, Jay Adams, Gentry, Schaff, Bahnsen, Stuart, Terry, Chilton, and others (Gentry p35). Even if one disagrees with their eschatological conclusions, one cannot say that this is a group of illiterate Biblical bumpkins and interpretive ignoramuses.
A few key details must be ironed out in support of Preterism, details into which its opponents sink their interlocking bulldog teeth and consider these apparent flaws well nigh fatal to the position. If the events of the Revelation were future to John’s day but mostly history to us, as Preterism contends, then when did they take place? Futurism has the advantage that nothing of consequence has yet transpired from the Apocalypse, so how can anyone say that its predictions are wrong? Historicism is likewise infinitely malleable, bending and flexing according to the interpreter’s whims, altering as time and events have shown its previous predictions to be in error. However, if the Revelation is entirely history to us – and the events of the 1st century aren’t exactly changing these days – then surely it can be disproved by an historical analysis of the 1st century events. Another apparently mortal wound is that most Preterists apply the Apocalypse to the 66-73ad Jewish War, but doesn’t everyone know that the Revelation was penned in the mid-90s ad? The establishment of Preterism is intimately connected with the time when John saw the visions from Christ on Patmos. Proving that the Revelation was written after the fall of the 2nd Jewish Temple (70ad) is equivalent to proving that Preterism is false. It is incumbent on the Preterist proponent to absolutely establish two things. The first is that the Revelation was authored prior to the fall of the Temple (70ad). The second is that the graphic pictorial language of the Apocalypse primarily concerns the events of the Jewish War (66-73ad) and the Roman Empire. Singly these criteria look insurmountable; in tandem they appear absolutely fatal, a mortal wound to the stumbling, staggering and generally unpopular belief known as Preterism. My purpose is not just to heal the Preterist mortal wound with a theological band aid, but to demonstrate that in fact the Partial Preterist Amillennial (PPA) position is compelling, answering all of its vitriolic critics and squaring up with all that we know about the Apocalypse. You may yet remain unconvinced, but at least you can hereafter leave aside the pejoratives, ad hominem and overall opprobrium heaped upon your Preterist brethren.
One of the sharpest arrows against Preterism, piercing its seemingly thin defensive armor, is the notion forwarded by some that ALL of the Revelation is history to us, including the Lord’s return (the 2nd Advent). This is so-called Full Preterism, the “full” meaning that we look for NO future fulfillment of anything from the Apocalypse. Starting with the assumption that all is past to us, Full Preterists look upon chapters 20 to 22 as having transpired. Without delving into too much detail, it is difficult to swallow that the new heavens and earth, along with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, represent past events to us, or even the current state of ecclesiastical affairs. It seems that for some who wield the Preterist hammer, even chapters 20-22 look like Preterist nails. Oh, would that the River and Trees of Life of Rev 22 were indeed present among us! One would have to seriously redefine the armed conflict and glories of Rev20:7-22:9 to insist that these things have happened in our past or represent our present, so we can sidestep the obvious Full Preterist shortcomings and thus dodge a bullet to the Preterist skull. The wound does indeed appear fatal to Full Preterism, but this is not so for its Partial alternative.
Indeed, many Preterists are of the Partial variety, the so-called Partial Preterist Amillennial (PPA) position. This view is “partial” in the sense that the contents of Rev20:7-22:9 have not yet come to pass. In contradistinction to its Full Preterist brethren, PPA holds that Gog and Magog, the 2nd Advent, the final judgment, the eternal state are all are future to us. The basic framework of PPA is as follows:
- John wrote to seven real Asia Minor churches in need of Jesus’ admonition (Rev1-3), with the sufferings they faced being the infamous persecution of the church by Nero from 64-68ad.
[Note that there is absolutely NOTHING within the text of Rev2-3 that suggests the Historicist understanding, often applied by Futurists, that the seven churches represent seven church ages down to our own time, with the present ecclesiastical status being that of the lukewarm Laodicean church. No, these were seven real churches with seven sets of blessings and admonitions from the Savior for their 1st century status. Besides, Jesus’ 2nd Advent could in no way be “imminent” for thousands of years using this method, until the Laodicean age; and this contravenes the Futurist supposition that “imminence” is a key Biblical doctrine for the church.]
- Rev4-5 supplies the glorious heavenly introduction; few would argue this, whatever their eschatological perspective
- Rev6-11 give us apocalyptic images of the Jewish War (66-73ad) viewed from the land of Israel. Those who violently rejected their Messiah receive their comeuppance, according to their own wishes (“His blood shall be on us and on our children!” Mt27:25).
- Rev12 is transitionary, dealing with the fate of the Jerusalem church during the seven year “Great Tribulation” of the Jewish War and the demolition of the Temple by the Romans. Would the Jerusalem church be swept aside in the destruction of God’s Jewish enemies? Eusebius (3.5.3) famously informs us that the church heeded Jesus’ words to flee when Jerusalem was surrounded by armies (Lk21:20) and found sanctuary in the nearby valley location of Pella, which providentially was not sacked by the Romans. In apocalyptic terms, the woman fled and was protected (12:14), while the land of Israel consumed the river of the dragon’s wrath (12:15-16).
- Rev13-18 revisits the Jewish War from a wider angle lens, looking at the larger effects of the conflagration on the Roman Empire (the Beast from the water and the 2nd Beast from the land) and how this interleaves with the demise of the Jewish nation (the Harlot) in general and Jerusalem (Babylon) in particular. The church’s primary opponent prior to the Jewish War was not really the Romans, but was actually the virulent, Jesus-rejecting Jews who attempted to use the power of Rome (the Harlot riding the Beast) to crush the nascent church and its gospel progress. For the Bride of Christ to truly flourish, the enemies of God needed to be removed, as did the last vestiges of the Old Covenant. This came to pass with the obliteration of the Messiah-spurning Jewish adversaries during the Jewish War from 66-73ad.
- Rev19 is about the worldwide gospel victory now that the church’s primary antagonists had been severely curtailed; it is not about the 2nd Advent. Note that the white horse conquest is not necessarily military; it is achieved via that sharp sword from Jesus’ mouth (19:15) – the Word of God did indeed triumph over Jewish and Roman opposition, as the sword of the Spirit still metes out victory to this day! The cross always conquers, no matter the seeming strength of its antagonists!
- Rev20:1-6, the ever-controversial passage on the Millennium, is about Jesus’ current heavenly rule and the nations being subjugated to Him via gospel invasion and occupation up to the present time. In other words, according to Partial Preterist Amillennialism (PPA), the Millennium is NOW, a current and actual rule by Jesus in the hearts of men amidst the earthly kingdoms of men. The 1st resurrection is the new birth in Christ, raising the spiritually dead to newness of life which enables the partakers to avoid eternal perdition, the 2nd death (Eph 2:1-7).
- As expected, Rev20:7-22:9 is chronologically subsequent to the church age and is about the final judgment and the eternal state. The beauty of the New Jerusalem lies in our future, with blessed imagery of eternal bliss presented to us in Old Testament prophetic terms, the enemies of God having all been subjugated and judged.
Intimately tied to the above sequencing is the assumption that the book of Revelation was penned BEFORE the fall of the 2nd Temple (70ad). How can the Apocalypse be prophetic if it was written ex post facto (after the fact)? This appears to be a fatal Partial Preterist Amillennial flaw. “Doesn’t everybody know that the Apocalypse was written around 95ad? How can it possibly be predicting the events of the Jewish War when the book was written a quarter century AFTER these things took place?” However, the “everybody knows” argument may not be as potent a weapon as first supposed. After all, the Biblical books don’t exactly come with time/date stamps, despite what your Study Bible may lead you to believe.
Without yet expanding too broadly on the subject, there are several poignant chronological indicators within the Revelation itself and from external sources, showing that the events prophetically described were close at hand to John’s day. There is the oft-repeated refrain at the beginning and end of the Apocalypse that the time was near or at hand (Rev1:1,3; 22:6,7,10,12,20), and therefore were not to be construed as taking place many hundreds of years later. How can the “soon take place” (Rev1:1) mean centuries later? In addition, there is a nail firmly driven in Rev17: “The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come” (17:9-10). What can this mean? It appears that the book was authored after the reign of five kings (“five have fallen”) and during the sovereignty of the 6th (“one is”). The 6th (and last) Caesar in the Julio-Claudio line was Nero (Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero). Rev17:9-10 squarely puts the penning of the Apocalypse during Nero’s day. In addition, Rev11:1-2 indicates that the Temple was still standing when the book was written, since John was told to go measure it. If the Temple had not yet been demolished and John himself (not someone in the future) was asked to measure it, doesn’t this imply a date of writing prior to the Temple’s destruction in 70ad? The Muratorian Canon (c. 180ad) says that Paul wrote to seven churches as did his PREDECESSOR John. This strongly implies that John wrote to the seven churches of Asia Minor in the Revelation prior to the completion of Paul’s epistles to seven churches (Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica). The Muratorian Canon, then, dates the Revelation prior to Paul’s decapitation, traditionally put around 67ad. Here is strong external testimony to the early date of the Revelation. Indeed, so compelling and extensive is the early date evidence for the Apocalypse that it was the majority report among Bible believing scholars in the 19th century. We examine the internal and external dating testimonies more completely below; here we simply note that there are many chronological pointers corroborating that the visions from Patmos came prior to the Jewish War (66-73ad) but during the Neronian persecution (64-68ad), thus making a date of writing around 65ad very likely. It seems, then, that the “everybody knows” argument concerning the late date (95ad) for the Revelation may not be that powerful after all. Could it be that the late date fire has been fueled by the rise of Historicism and Futurism, with their desire to apply the images of the Apocalypse to the history of the church or to our own immediate future rather than to our distant past? The wish could well be the father to the thought. In other words, if the Revelation was written well after the Jewish War, as forwarded by many today, then of necessity it must be giving either an ecclesiastical syllabus (Historicism) or telling us about our future (Futurism); but what if this dating assumption proves to be false, and the Apocalypse was, in fact, written before the outbreak of the Jewish War? If so, then Partial Preterist Amillennialism (PPA) gives the best explanation of the contents of the Revelation.
In sum, then, we would like to show that PPA (Partial Preterist Amillennialism) is not only a plausible approach to the Revelation, but that it is compelling, and neatly aligns with the facts of the book. It is grounded in history, has immediate impact for the seven Asia Minor churches to which it was written, is well established in the prophetic imagery of the Old Testament, and squares up with the Lord’s meting out retribution upon the heads of THAT generation of Jews, the very ones who had ruthlessly butchered their Messiah [i.e., Jewish bloodguilt does not extend to future generations at all].
(6) Eclecticism. Finally, we arrive at Eclecticism, the last of the six approaches to the Revelation. As the name implies, this is a mix and match position, with a pinch of Preterism, a dash of Futurism, salt to taste with Historicism, and so forth. Eclecticism invariably starts with the late date position for the Revelation (penned in the mid-90s ad). Realizing that putting everything in the distant future (either by Historicism or Futurism) would obviate its 1st century applicability to the Asia Minor churches, Eclecticism attempts to untie the Gordian knot by including some Preterism, allowing for some immediate usefulness for those early Asia Minor churches. Since no events subsequent to the 1st century ad seem to align with the contents of the Revelation, however, the Eclecticist then applies a bit each of Historicism and Futurism to infill the perceived prophetic gaps. Such an amalgamation of variegated building materials often makes for a rather unseemly final edifice. With no unified position to defend, Eclecticism’s flexibility becomes its own undoing. Each proponent seems quite confident that he has finally gotten the right alchemic admixture for a tasty Apocalyptic stew; but his testimony is unraveled by the next who enters the prophetic kitchen and proposes alternate ingredients. “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (Pr18:17). Like a surgery patient who perishes from complications, so Eclecticism dies from its own complexity; that is, until another comes along and resuscitates it, sewing in a new brain and loudly declaring that the Eclectic monster yet lives! Without a unified position to acknowledge or refute, we can quietly allow Eclecticism to wallow and perish in the quagmire of its own making, each promoter undermined by subsequent proponents with alternate Eclectic alchemy. Eclecticism will continue to be advocated by those who accept a late date and yet recognize that there must be some 1st century relevance, but it will ever remain an awkward position to describe and defend.
Six Revelation Views Review
Having considered six holistic views on the Apocalypse, let us take a moment to summarize the assertions made by each one.
- Futurism holds that from Rev4 onward, the events prophetically described in the Apocalypse are future to our time. In our day, a reconstituted Roman Empire, Israel gathered back to the land, the Secret Rapture, and so forth are typically associated with this view. The details of how to apply Futurism typically depend on the epoch of the commentator. The certainty of one writer gives way to the confidence of the next generation’s Futurist authors. Note that while maintaining that most all of the Revelation is Future to us, this does not seem to provide a corresponding brake on applying the images from the Apocalypse to the latest world events, which is more in keeping with Historicism (see below). If you ever hear about “the signs of the times,” this is NOT Futurism, since their bedrock principles posit that there are no signs before the Rapture. Though “literalism” is often associated with today’s Futurism, many of the Futurist interpretations of the Revelation’s prophetic imagery is anything but literal. UFOs?! Attack helicopters?! A Russian or Chinese invasion?! Such applications betray an alternate agenda surprisingly devoid of actual literalism.
- Historicism [more properly, Continuous Historicism] contends that the Revelation is a blueprint of church history from the 1st century ad down to the present time. Depending on the commentator’s era, the ecclesiastical syllabus typically comes to a close in the time period and country of the author (prophetic myopia). Therefore, with cool assurance each successive Historicist author adjusts or replaces the confident assertions of a bygone age. For instance, thumbing through the Reformation or 19th century Historicist literature produces puzzled looks on the faces of 21st century readers. The Historicist blueprint of church history in the Apocalypse proves to be remarkably malleable, and thus it does not support the weight of Christians who hang on to it; rather, it is a cord with weak strands that is easily broken by those who come later.
Curiously, Scofield and LaHaye are examples of those who combine Historicism with their Futurism. Why do these Futurist men employ Historicism, supposing that the seven churches stand for seven ecclesiastical epochs? Needing to get from the Apostle John’s day in Rev1 to the (surprisingly unmentioned) future Secret Rapture after the end of Rev3, Historicism applied by Futurists to the seven churches neatly achieves the desired end. In other words, if the seven Asia Minor churches stand for seven ages in church history, then with punctuated Historicism the Futurist can time warp himself from the distant past (John’s day) in chapter 1 to events future to our day beginning in chapter 4 – what a nifty (though unsubstantiated) Biblical trick! In addition, that means the present church age is that of the lukewarm Laodicean era, the last of the seven churches; and this dovetails nicely with the Darbyite assertion that the church is pathetically going downhill in our current era! [Darby was the leading 19th century promoter of Dispensationalism and the dictatorial head of the Plymouth Brethren until his death in 1882.]
It all fits so well, until one realizes that nowhere in the Revelation is there even a breath that the seven churches were meant to stand for seven ecclesiastical eras. Moreover, isn’t it likewise fascinating that the defining mark of many Futurists, that seminal event known as the Secret Rapture, is nowhere actually mentioned in the Apocalypse? Ah, yes, some contend that in the “Come up here” of Rev4:1, the Apostle John is representative of the church’s Secret Rapture, just prior to the seven year Great Tribulation. However, speculative assertions do not represent Biblical facts, and the firm repetition of falsehoods do not make them true. The Apocalypse itself nowhere forwards the notion that the seven churches represent seven church ages, nor that John is representing all of the church at some point in the future far distant from his own age. Can you believe that such assertions are made by those who claim “literalism” as their hallmark?! All indications from the Revelation are that these were simply seven struggling local Asia Minor churches, no longer extant, each of which needed encouragement and/or upbraiding; and that the Apostle John was, well, the Apostle John, not representing anything other than himself.
Moreover, doesn’t the Historicist approach to the seven churches by Futurists overturn the much-vaunted doctrine of imminence? If seven extensive church epochs had to take place before the Secret Rapture, how then can the Rapture have been imminent for the bulk of ecclesiastical history? Using the seven churches = seven church ages equation, we must conclude that seven lengthy time periods had to transpire before Christ’s partial return at the Rapture became “imminent.” This means that the Secret Rapture was not imminent for 2,000 years, until our very own day during the alleged Laodicean church age. This obviously undercuts imminence as a meaningful church dogma for, oh, about 2,000 years; and all of this to support a Rapture doctrine not actually forwarded in the Revelation. Story telling seems to be superseding and circumventing the Scriptures.
While on the subject, inconsistency does not appear to prevent some Futurist proponents from routinely employing Historicism to whoop up the masses with “signs of the times” fervor. This typically takes the following form: citing some opaque prophetic Scriptures as referring to the latest news headlines, the compliant church masses are told that the Bible foretold some recent major event – always safely after the fact (ex post facto), of course. Indeed, this is Futuristic plagiarism, borrowing without attestation from the Historicist playbook. I thought the Secret Rapture is supposed to come with no precursory signs whatsoever – what gives?! How can one say there are no signs of the “imminent” Rapture while still stoking the flames of church end times hysteria with “signs of the times?” While not acknowledging the divergence from Futurism (“it’s all future to us”), such speakers and authors seem to be casually tossing aside their doctrine of sign-less “imminence” (no signs precede the Rapture, so no “signs of the times”) for notoriety and book sales.
- Recapitulationism [more properly, Recapitulational Historicism] is like unto its Continuous Historical cousin in holding that the last New Testament book prophetically gives a church history curriculum from the Apostles right up to the present time. However, Recapitulationism notes the patterns of seven within the Revelation and contends that each of the sevens are, in fact, the same events viewed from differing angles; each of the sevens give the same information, hence recapitulating the other sevens. To the obvious seven churches, seals, trumpets, and bowls, the Recapitulationist typically adds three additional sevens for an attractive total of seven sevens, each seven rehearsing the same expanse of church history in a slightly altered fashion. Though creative, the variance of the commentators on these three additional sevens points towards its artificiality. Also, the differing percentages given for the seals, trumpets, and bowls (¼, ⅓, all) is difficult to reconcile with things being the same events in the ecclesiastical syllabus. Moreover, the chronology of each seven is jumbled compared to the others; it is therefore difficult to properly time align all of the sevens. In addition, as with [Continuous] Historicism, Recapitulationism suffers from serious generational variations; those who employ Recapitulationism in the 20th century come to very different conclusions than those who used it with equal certitude during the 19th century.
- The assessment may seem harsh, but it appears that the white flag represents Idealism’s regimental colors. The Revelation has no historical grounding whatsoever, whether past, present or future; the last book of the Bible just uses prophetic word pictures to give eternal principles to the church throughout the ages, according to Idealism. While Idealism is attractive in that it makes no historical demands upon the Apocalypse, one cannot escape the fact that this would make the Revelation the ONLY book in the Bible without an historic provenance. How can one assert that a letter to seven churches has NO grounding in history without undercutting the very nature of an epistle? Besides, exactly what the eternal truths taught via the prophetic language of the visions from Patmos is a bit squishy. For Idealism, what are the locusts like battle horses with crowns like gold, faces like men, hair like women, teeth like lions, breastplates like iron, wings sounding like chariots, and tails like scorpions, led by the king of the abyss? The flexibility of interpretation and application offered to us by Idealism is unnerving. Moreover, the application concept of Idealism could be equally applied to any New Testament epistle. Do not the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians offer eternal truths to the churches throughout the ages? Yet these epistles are firmly established in the historical realities of a troubled local church. Cannot the same be said of the Revelation? Separating the Apocalypse from history seems to be separating soul from spirit and joint from marrow, undoing what God has joined together to seemingly untie the interpretive knot.
- Preterism is the north pole to Futurism’s south. While Futurism holds to the Revelation’s being almost entirely future to our day, Preterism says that Rev4-19 was future to the Apostle John but ancient history to us. Full Preterism contends that Jesus has already spiritually returned, that the 2nd Coming has already spiritually taken place. We set this aside as Scripturally untenable and affirm what all historic creeds have put forth, that Christ will physically return all the way to earth (not partway nor secretly), raise all of the dead (not just some of them), hold the great assize of all men (the Bema), and inaugurate the final eternal age, with no intermediate Millennium to confuse the subject – this is Partial Preterist Amillennialism (PPA). According to PPA, the Millennium is John’s way of figuratively forwarding what is taught throughout the New Testament, that Christians are raised to newness of life with Jesus and now spiritually reign with Him (Eph2:1-7). Because the Revelation is an epistle to seven Asia Minor churches, firmly established in genuine history, the persecuted believers of John’s era are singled out as being resurrected and reigning with Jesus; those beheaded (the execution method for Roman citizens) and who don’t worship the Beast (Rome) are highlighted in Rev20:4-6 to ground the message of the Apocalypse in the 1st century ad. The message of the Revelation, then, is for the believers suffering under the lash and flames of the Neronian persecution (64-68ad) to hold firm. Despite the appearance of great power against the church, God Almighty would rescue His own from their evil clutches. The Harlot (unbelieving Jewry) and Babylon (Jerusalem) would be decimated in the coming Jewish War (66-73ad – the seven year Great Tribulation). Meanwhile, the Beast (the Roman Empire) would suffer a near fatal wound during the year of the four emperors (69ad), when the Empire teetered on the brink of collapse, only to be rescued from the clutches of death by the Flavian dynasty (Vespasian). The Harlot rode the Beast – the Jews stoked the flames of Roman hatred of Christianity – seeking the eradication of the nascent church. While it seemed that all of the powerful political forces were arrayed against the seemingly unguarded and hapless church, the Lord Himself would intervene on behalf of Christ’s bride, the church. According to Partial Preterist Amillennialism, this is the metanarrative of the Revelation. Of course, the hamstring of PPA is apparently cut by the dating of the Apocalypse – “everybody knows” it was written in about 95-96ad, long after the events of the Jewish War. As it turns out, the “everybody knows” argument may not be as strong as initially thought (see below). Proving an early date for the Revelation (65ad) makes PPA an exceedingly attractive framework for understanding the last book of the New Testament, while establishing a late date (95ad) demonstrates that Partial Preterist Amillennialism is untenable.
- Eclecticism understands the Revelation to contain an admixture of things past, present and future, while occasionally giving a gentle nod towards Idealism (no particular historical grounding for certain passages). Because of its ad hoc nature, Eclecticism advocates cannot be easily grouped nor readily evaluated, each having a slightly altered alchemy for the Apocalypse. However, we can confidently note with respect to Eclecticism that the Revelation itself offers no particular criteria for how to mix these divergent things together. Asserting that one pericope applies to John’s day while the next is future to us, and then a subsequent is neither past nor future, but an a-historical eternal truth for the church – isn’t this just whimsically chopping up the Revelation to make everything fit, taking scissors to the puzzle pieces to create a indiscernible angular painting? Commentators will surely continue to attempt to navigate the Eclecticist route for the visions from Patmos, but the interpretive variations certainly point to something being askew with the entire methodology. Scrambled modern art may be attractive to some, but nowhere does the Apocalypse advocate the Eclecticist approach.
Six Essentials For Understanding The Revelation
Though we cannot support the use of Eclecticism, it at least brings to the fore an overriding issue; namely, that there are several seemingly conflicting components within the Revelation. The successful methodological applicant, the one hired for the interpretive job, must simultaneously fulfill several criteria with respect to the Apocalypse. The resumé of the holistic grid hired to interpret the Revelation must include the following:
- Contemporary Relevance. This is an epistle by Christ to seven of His local churches, after all, so the Revelation must contain material applicable to them. Given negatively, Jesus didn’t mock His church by saying, “I know you’re suffering, but look at the fantastic events that are to come in the thousands of years of church history (Historicism), or 2,000 years hence (Futurism), long after your churches have been washed away by the tides of Islam and are sulking ruins visited by pilgrims.”
- Near Term. There are many references to the events being close at hand, beginning with two of the first three verses (Rev1:1,3). Any interpretation that puts all of the events of the Revelation far distant to its original readers, such as Historicism or Futurism, must be rejected on this criterion alone.
- Unbelieving Jewish Opponents. Twice the risen Savior opposes “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (2:9, 3:9). That the Jews were a real and present danger to the seven churches must be taken into account by any interpretive technique appropriate for the Apocalypse. Note that “Satan,” which means adversary, is used of the Jews. The 1st century Jews were fierce adversaries, completely devoted to eradicating the early church. We note in passing that the Jewish opposition to the gospel essentially vaporized after the Jewish War and the Temple’s demise (66-73ad). At the very least, Jews troubling the church can be no later than the near extermination of Israel during Bar Kochba (132-135ad).
- Not Chronological From Start To Finish. No doubt some measure of sequencing in the Revelation is indicated by the seals, trumpets and bowls, with one judgment following rapidly on the heels of the preceding. However, Rev12:5 gives Jesus’ birth and Ascension in one short verse, and this obviously predates John’s visions on Patmos by several decades. This verse alone shows that the Apocalypse is not chronological from start to finish. It seems best to suppose that Rev4-11 is the 1st unit, containing primarily the seven seals and seven trumpets; the “intermission” of Rev12 deals with the child (Christ), the dragon and the woman; and Rev13-19 is the 2nd unit, with the introduction of several new characters (the Beast, the False Prophet, the Harlot, etc). The replication of seven judgments in part two (bowls), very similar to the two sets of seven in part one (seals and trumpets), implies that somehow the two units are connected; there indeed appears to be a measure of Recapitulationist truth! Likewise, the 144,000 in Rev7 and the repetition of the same number in Rev14 is another positive pointer that the two primary sections are linked. It may well be that the same material given in part one (Rev4-11) is presented from a different angle in part two (Rev13-19). So then, while there are clearly some sequential indicators within the Revelation, the fact that Rev12:5 is about Jesus’ birth and Ascension makes equally clear that this chronology is not absolute. This limited or partial sequencing, by the way, undercuts some Historicist and Futurist applications of the Apocalypse that assume each chapter chronologically follows the preceding ones.
- Old Testament Prophetic Grounding. This aspect of the Revelation requires little verification. As Swete informs us (pcxxxix), of the 404 verses in Revelation, 278 contained Old Testament references or allusions. Alas, many treat the Apocalypse as a happy hunting ground for double-barreled interpretive license, blasting away at redefining images in terms of modern military equipment. All such applications are far afield from the Old Testament prophetic literature. Allow a few examples to take the knees out from this jejune modern method. The locusts of Rev9 cannot be interpretively separated from the book of Joel. The mark of the beast of Rev13 cannot be divorced from the similar markings of Ezk9. Indeed, the Beast himself is intimately linked to Daniel’s visions of Daniel 2, 7, and 8. Wild-eyed redefinitions of the images that do not comport with the Old Testament prophetic literature are significantly wide of the mark; such ungrounded interpretive speculation can hardly be deemed “literal.” The prophetic pictures of the Revelation are firmly established in the Old Testament; ignoring this discredits those who diverge.
- Date of Writing. More hinges on this point than is realized at first. Really, if Paul died in 95ad and Romans was penned in 94ad, would this make much difference for today’s interpreter? Maybe a little, but one still would not miss the gospel basics in Romans by an incorrect dating of the book. Not so the Revelation. If the visions on Patmos took place after the Jewish War (66-73ad), then we can confidently declare that the Apocalypse was not written to prophesy of that violent episode, the near annihilation of the Jewish nation. If, however, the Revelation was written prior to the Temple’s fall in 70ad, then the last book of the New Testament may well be about those seminal events, when the bloodguilt of Abel to Zechariah fell upon that very generation of Jews who crucified their Messiah (Mt23:34-36), per their own request (Mt27:25).
Late Date (95ad) Problems
Suppose for a moment that the Revelation was actually spoken by Jesus Himself around 65ad and that the contents were primarily about the upcoming Jewish War (66-73ad). Suppose now that later interpreters, not knowing (or not wanting to know) this historical framework, came along and declared that the Revelation was undoubtedly penned much later, somewhere around 95ad. Would this not produce wild interpretive gyrations, since the book itself would be detached from its original historical setting? There would no firm anchor to hold the Biblical student in the right historical spot, no safe harbor from the thrashing high velocity winds of raw speculation. The problem is that there were no near term 95ad events that fit the graphic prophetic images of the Apocalypse. If one holds to a late date for the last book of the New Testament, one is forced to choose an interpretive grid that has some obvious holes … but, well, you do the best you can, and substitute high volume white noise or electronic countermeasures when these defensive gaps are highlighted. Historicism and Futurism leave the seven Asia Minor churches in the dust, since there could be no way for them to know about or spiritually profit from the Revelation’s “revealing” coded information about the medieval pope as the Antichrist or data about a future Russian invasion of Israel. Then again, you might go for Idealism, which says that no historical basis is needed at all; but this again makes any near term applications for the seven churches a moot point. Eclecticism’s mix-n-match seems attractive at first, since at least the churches receiving this epistle are given mild consideration; but how much of each part of Futurism, Preterism, Historicism and Idealism are required? Of course, Preterism itself is right out, since nothing that took place soon after 95ad fits the fantastic pictures given in the Revelation. It quickly becomes evident that once the student of the Scriptures settles upon a 95ad date of writing, interpreting the Apocalypse becomes a pick-your-poison grab bag; whatever route you select, it will be in error at several points, and these need to be quietly minimized or waxed and glossed to maintain an attractive eschatological façade.
Unlike other books of the New Testament, then, the very application of the prophetic word in the Revelation is sewn up in the date of writing. Once the late date assumption is made for criterion six above, then the remaining five criteria must be rudely ignored or even harshly assaulted with verbal broadsides. As already stated, late dating means that there would be no contemporary relevance or near term applications for the bulk of the Revelation’s message, chapters 1-3 being excepted – criteria 1 and 2 above are thrown under the interpretive bus. Moreover, there was no significant Jewish opposition to the church by 95ad, the Jews having long before been suppressed in the Jewish War – contra criterion 3. For the other two criteria given above, only a cursory reading of the available Futurist and Historicist material evidences a general assumption of chronological sequencing of the Apocalypse (Recapitulationism being the exception) and often a minimal use of the Old Testament prophetic images – these stand astride criteria 4 and 5. For Futurism or Historicism to be true, anchored in late dating the Apocalypse, then the other criteria given by Jesus to the Apostle John must of necessity be false, or at least made to appear false. This is a high interpretive price to pay for holding a late visionary date. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder about the genesis of the very dating method itself. Does the date of the Revelation determine one’s Futurism or Historicism, or did these two interpretive schools band together and mercilessly pummel the date of writing, both having a bias (an a priori) in favor of late dating the Revelation? Especially as detailed by Gentry, the facts suggest the latter. The evidence supporting a late date is tenuous at best, while that for a date of writing around 65ad is quite strong, both internally (within the Apocalypse) and externally (historical sources). Some of this evidence has been presented above, and this subject will be greatly expanded below.
As an aside, isn’t late dating the tool often used by liberal theologians, the purview of those who deny the inspired text? I know this is a guilty-by-association argument (the genetic fallacy), but one would hope that conservative theologians would at least be sweating and squirming a little when they support a late dating method for the Apocalypse while they simultaneously oppose similar techniques applied to other Biblical books. Indeed, late dating is about the only cork in the noisy liberal popgun for those who reject Scriptural authority. “Deuteronomy was penned in Josiah’s day.” “Daniel was written long after the events took place.” Biblical late dating gives liberal authors notoriety and wide publicity, until the next Ivy League novelist masquerading as a theologian comes along with a yet more radical approach. One would hope, then, for some pretty strong conservative arguments to employ the sketchy, dishonest and disreputable late dating technique to the Revelation. One cryptic quote by Irenaeus from around 190ad would clearly be insufficient. This is especially true because the Bishop of that Lyons ecclesiastical backwater was the first to advocate the authority of church tradition, saying that apostolic testimony verified that Jesus was around 50 years old when He was crucified. With such a significant error, Irenaeus was certainly not a consistently reliable witness! Alas, the external testimony is indeed that weak for Revelation’s authorship of around 95ad; Irenaeus is about all that is available to support a late date. Other late date arguments (see late-dater Beale) could equally be applied to the Revelation for an early date, prior to Jerusalem’s 70ad fall. If Irenaeus is all you have, then your late date house of cards is quite easily toppled.
Returning to the late date point, is it not clear that WHEN the Revelation was given is a structural load-bearing member for the whole interpretive house, supporting much if not all of the weight? If it can be conclusively shown that the visions of Patmos took place about 95ad, then Historicism (of either stripe) or Futurism are your lot, neither having enough Biblical clout to knock the other out of the ring. Indeed, one can inconsistently combine the 2, like a ventriloquist speaking out of both sides of one’s interpretive mouth. Out of one side of his mouth, the skilled Futurist/Historicist says that all of the Apocalypse is yet Future and allegedly literal, with no precursory signs before the Secret Rapture; simultaneously, out of the other side of the ventriloquist’s mouth, the Futurist/Historicist loudly declares how the Revelation tells us about current events, “the signs of the times,” with an abundance of sign-laced and quite obviously non-literal Historicist applications. If in late dating the more irenic theologian seeks peace and not conquest, then Idealism is well suited to your tastes – there really is no historical grounding for the Revelation at all, past, present, or future! It’s just ephemeral, pictorial prophetic images for the church throughout the ages. If, however, one wants to mix-n-match to get a tenuous late date solution, all the while trying to insert some contemporary relevance for the Asia Minor churches, then Eclecticism is for you – a pinch of Historicism, a dash of Futurism, a teaspoon of Preterism, salted with some Idealism and served up hot off the presses in the latest manuscript offering, awaiting refutation or supersession by the next Eclecticist author.
If, however, the Revelation was seen just prior to the Jewish War, then there can really be only one all conquering interpretive school. PPA (Partial Preterist Amillennialism) wins! The Apocalypse is about the punishment of God’s enemies, the Harlot (Jesus-hating Jews of the 1st century) or Babylon (Jerusalem) by the hands of the Beast (the Romans), while the church is spared (the woman whisked away to safety in the wilderness, Rev12). Setting aside Full Preterism as untenable and contrary to all historic church creeds, PPA becomes the only logical interpretive option remaining for the inquisitive theologian if the Apocalypse was penned around 65ad. No doubt much depends on the date that the Apostle John saw his spectacular visions from the risen Christ while he enjoyed his windswept working vacation, quarrying and doing heavy lifting under the Roman lash on that tropical island paradise, the barren rocky penal colony of Patmos. If we can nail down an early date (65ad) for the book, then we can erect the interpretive edifice with relative ease. If instead the Apocalypse was penned around 95ad, then Pandora’s lid is lifted and all manner of interpretive license can be foisted upon us with little theological braking; the only limiting factor being the creativity of the latest purveyors of end times speculations as they mash the prophetic accelerator to the floor, swerving around each sharp eschatological bend and madly cackling at their resourceful interpretive genius. With a late date, the Revelation becomes detached from any history that would apply to those seven 1st century churches who received this epistle from the risen Christ, and the results are variegated, mostly unconvincing, and oftentimes downright laughable in hindsight.
65ad: The Internal Evidence
My thesis is that if a circa 65ad date for Revelation’s writing can be proved, then this will fulfill all of the criteria given above and will strongly argue in favor of the Partial Preterist Amillennial approach to the Apocalypse. Establishing an early date for John’s visions may seem a bit boring, like the blah-blah-blahhing of your physics teacher on uninteresting electromagnetic topics, learning about things you’ll never, ever use; but remember, this is a whole book of God’s Word. Jesus Himself gave these words. Don’t you think it’s important to understand them?! Think of it like starting down the right trail to reach the proper destination (the opening illustration). If you go down the wrong path, you may face unexpected hazards and will surely end up in the wrong place. What if you used a map of Chicago to get around in Detroit? You may regret your choice and wind up in some dangerous neighborhoods. We must establish or refute the early date of Revelation to properly understand its message. Fortunately, the Lord has left more than a few clues along the right trail, plenty of internal and external evidence for us to examine. Jesus didn’t just leave a trail of interpretive bread crumbs that were later swallowed by marauding, doctrinally aberrant birds; no sir, the pointers are yet there, right along the trail, clear arrows indicating the proper direction to go. What follows is a compendium of the facts that support an early writing for the Apocalypse, beginning with the all important internal evidence (that which is contained within the Bible itself).