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Essay on The Millennium of Revelation 20

Since Mike Bull has appealed to Sam Frost “leaving FP behind” as a source of authority in his attempts to isolate Revelation 20 as future but Revelation 1-19 as allegedly having already been fulfilled in AD 70, I thought I would re-post this article.  If there is an error in the article, I would like Mike Bull, Sam, or Jason to identify the error.

Essay on The Millennium of Revelation 20

Friday, 29 February 2008 20:53 Samuel Frost 

Before I begin to get into the thesis of this essay concerning my own conclusions on Revelation 20, some brief remarks are in order. In Patrick Fairbairn’s work, The Interpretation of Prophecy (1865), Charles Walker wrote a biographical introduction (January 1964). In that introduction he states, “The subject (prophecy) is fraught with difficulties and of all the subjects dealt with in the Scriptures, is perhaps the one on which there is the most disagreement amongst evangelicals. It therefore requires, above all subjects, to be approached with an open mind.” To further back this sentiment, one more quote will do from Bernard Ramm’s book, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (1990):


There can be no question that Girdlestone’s judgment that “there is no royal road to the scientific study of prophecy” is correct. Many royal roads have been advocated but none have been so obvious as to compel the total assent of the interested scholars. We have not lacked the advocates of various royal roads and this has lead to the hopeless division of evangelical Christianity in prophetic and eschatological matters (p. 244). 


Also, Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology, notes that Eschatology “is even now [he wrote in 1941] the least developed of all the loci of dogmatics.” Dr. Kenneth Gentry concurs that “only fairly recently” has this subject come into “prominence as an area of systematic inquiry” (He Shall Have Dominion, p.3). Several key “concerns” of interpreting Revelation were not brought to light, or even figured upon, prior to the nineteenth century. Therefore, an understanding of Revelation can, after a greater analysis of combined linguistics, archeology, historical allusions, and sober scholarship of the past hundred years, yield, finally, a true interpretation in contradistinction to what has been believed for centuries.


Naturally, one of these “concerns” is the matter of hermeneutics. The so-called Millennium (1,000 years) of Revelation 20 seems prima facie to be straightforward enough to interpret literally. But, we must keep in mind that we are dealing with “pits,” “chains,” and “keys.” Now, either these are “literal” objects made to bind a spiritual being (satan), or they are apocalyptically real. That is, the materialism of the symbol has a literal meaning in the spiritual (see Marcellus Kik’s An Eschatology of Victory, p.192). Just as Jesus is not a literal door, he is, nonetheless, the literal way into the kingdom. Jesus is not a literal lamb, but he is the literal sacrifice to God. There is no necessity to make the Millennium mean a literal 365,000 days. It is a symbolic period of time, and the actual earth years, whether more or less, are entirely irrelevant. [1]


Firstly, I wish to deal with the exegetical material at hand and establish a sequential pattern of Revelation 20 with other chapters in the book. It will be my contention that the 1000 years reference in chapter 20 is not the only reference in the book as it relates to this time. I have adopted largely what William Hendriksen proposes in his commentary, More Than Conquerors (1944):


(1) The book consists of seven sections. (2) These seven sections run parallel. Each of them spans the entire dispensation from the first to the second coming of Christ. The period is viewed from one aspect; then from another (p.25).  


Basically, the book of Revelation is anticipating a “Great Tribulation” period. This period is marked by the time of “1,260 days,” “3 and a half years,” “times, time and half a time,” a “short while,” and a “little season,” which all refer to the same period of time (Hendriksen, 25). Satan is bound in the abyss for a duration of time, and is “loosed” from his prison for a “little season” (“and after that he must be loosed a little season”). This little season is the time of the gathering together of the nations to make war against the city of God, to bring together Gog and Magog. Loraine Boettner parallels this “little season” with the “little time” of Revelation 6:10,11 (The Millennium, p.398).


Now, it is of interest that Gog and Magog are mentioned in this period of time, which culminates in the fire of God from heaven, burning his enemies (Revelation 20:7-11). Revelation 19, in detail, describes the end of this “little season:”


17:   And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God;

18:   That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.

19:   And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.

20:   And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

21:   And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.


One only needs to read the only other account of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel to find the exact same description we see here. In Ezekiel 3 8:7-9 we find the nations gathering against the mountains of Israel. Birds of the air are invited to feed off the land in 39:17-20. Ezekiel 40-ff takes up the New Temple, exactly as John follows the episode of chapter 20 with a view of the New Temple coming out of heaven. The parallel here, I think, is too obvious to miss. Hendriksen writes, what “we have here in Rev. 20:7-10 is [the] description of the same battle -not “war”- which was described in Rev. 16:12 ff. and in Rev. 19:19” (More Than Conquerors, p.234). Revelation is anticipating “the Battle,” not several “battles.” It is anticipating the coming of Jesus Christ. It is anticipating a period of woes and sorrows, which lead up to this event. Therefore, the saints are pictured as living in this 1000-year period already. The Millennium precedes the Second Coming of Jesus.


Exegetically, when parallelism is used as a method in the book of Revelation, the evidence that it is meant to be interpreted in this fashion is overwhelming. In order to bolster this point, it is necessary to point out an example, which I think confirms that this is the correct way to go. There are several examples, but the clearest to me, and Hendriksen utilizes it as well, is the end conflagration depiction, which occurs after the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls.


After every series of sevens in these three sets (bowls, trumpets, and seals) we have the same phraseology. At the end of the seals we read, “And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” At the end of the trumpets we read, “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.” Finally, at the end of the bowls of wrath we find, “And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” Also, “a great hailstorm” occurs here (16:2 1).


These end descriptions speak of the same thing, and I believe, speak of what occurs at the end of the 1000 years. In keeping with the parallelism and language of these events, Ezekiel 3 8:19 records that in the events of Gog and Magog gathering together against Israel, God will, “in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.” A verse further (3 8:22) we read, “And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.” To me, the language is simply too parallel to ignore. What Ezekiel saw was ultimately fulfilled in John’s vision.


Now, it was mentioned above that what was anticipated was a coming “great tribulation.” This “tribulation” period is found in the words of our Lord in Matthew 24:2 1, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22: And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” Notice that “those day will be shortened.” This is nothing more than the “little season” at the end of the 1000 years when the tribulation occurs. Satan knows “his time is short” (Revelation 12:12). In the fifth seal we find martyrs crying out to God to avenge their blood. God tells them to “wait a little longer until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed” (6:11).


There are two final passages in Revelation that, I feel crowns the argument given above. I have been leading up to this point, slowly building evidence so that when these final texts are evaluated in the above light, it will be seen that the argument is biblically based. After the following material is given, I will sum up the matter.


In Revelation 11 we have a key phrase which lets us know where the events mentioned in this chapter are in relation to the 1000 years. After the two witnesses finish their testimony in the Great City (Jerusalem), “the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them (NIV).” Now, the Greek literally reads, ‘the beast, the coming up from the Abyss one’ (to. avnabai/non evk th/j avbu,ssou) The verb ‘anabainon’ is a present active participle and is in attribution to the noun ‘therion.’ This beast is the ‘coming-out-of-the-Abyss-beast.’ Another way to translate this phrase is, ‘the beast, the one who is coming up out of the Abyss.’


The present active aspect (nominative, neuter, and singular) gives us a perspective of time as well. From the perspective of John, the controlling verb is in the future. He is seeing an event that has not yet occurred, and hence, uses the future (“they will trample the city,” “he will attack them, and he will kill them.”). The present tense is, then, from the standpoint of John’s own relative time. The description and allusion to the Abyss, and “coming up” from it is unmistakably in reference to satan being loosed from his prison (the Abyss) and, then, will gather nations together to attack the City of God for a “little time.” The context of chapter 11 is the City of God (the Great City, Jerusalem) being trampled upon by the nations for “42 months,” or “a little time” (11:2). Gog and Magog picture the nations “gathering against the mountains of Israel.”


Before we sum up the conclusions of this study, there is one final passage in connection with the above “beast from the Abyss” analysis. Revelation 17:8 reads, “The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition.” The language is the same, but we have an extra time element involved, which sharpens the present active participle already mentioned. The Greek reads, ‘To. qhri,on o] ei=dej h=n kai. ouvk e;stin kai. me,llei avnabai,nein evk th/j avbu,ssou’ This gives us a clear time reference from the standpoint of John at the time of his writing. The beast, from John’s time, “was.” Now, it “is.” And it “is about to come up from the Abyss.” If this “coming out of the Abyss” is the same as the event described in relation to satan’s being loosed “from the Abyss,” then John is eagerly expecting and awaiting for this very near event to occur in the lifetime of his readers. The Greek verb ‘mellei’ is present active indicative. The beast “who once was, now is not” is a further description of this same beast. He is, now he is not (because he is in prison), but he is about to come up from the Abyss and bring the nations against God’s City. Tribulation is near.


From the standpoint of John and his readers, the events described at the end of the 1000 years “is about” to take place. The saints addressed in the letter were getting ready to enter into the tribulation. It would be a short time. This places the readers and John in the 1000 years at the time of their reading the letter and revelation sent by John. The “city of God” in Revelation 20:9 is none other than earthly Jerusalem. The same description in Revelation 11 concerns the same city. The Great City is Jerusalem. Ezekiel gives us the same city being attacked by Gog and Magog. This attack, prophesied by our Lord in Matthew 24, occurred in 70 AD.


Now, one may object that “the city that God loves” in 20:9 is destroyed by God himself. How can it be said that he “loves” this city? Quite easily. Jesus “longed to gather” earthly Jerusalem together, but they would not. There was a covenantal love to the earthly city of Jerusalem, which continued up until the final consummation of her covenant standings. The good things of the “age to come” were already breaking into the “present evil age” of the apostles. As long as the consummation of the gospel was not completed, the covenantal status of the Mosaic economy was in full force. Jesus clearly intimates this in Matthew 5:17-20. There, not one jot or tittle from the Mosaic covenant would fail until the eschatological ‘heavens and earth’passed away. It is not until we see Revelation 21, after the 1000 years, the passing of those covenantal heavens and earth of the old covenant with Israel. The old had failed and vanished like a rolled up scroll, and was replaced with the new covenant from everlasting to everlasting.


Also, in Revelation 11:1 we read, “And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. 2: But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.” Notice that this is referring to the temple standing in John’s time, and that it is called “the temple of God,” and “the holy city.” It is still considered in John’s day as such. This is stated in the same visionary context which calls the city “where our Lord was crucified” Sodom and Egypt! How can a “holy city” be “Sodom” at the same time?


There are two other clues as well that point to Israel’s demise in terms of the covenant. Dr. Gentry correctly gives the Parable of the Vineyard the specific historical context of the 70 AD coming in judgment to Jerusalem (Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, p.237). Matthew 21:43 concludes the Parable with Jesus saying, “Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” The Book of Revelation reveals the covenantal change between the Babylonian Whore (Jerusalem, the “holy city” – Revelation 11:2), and the New Jerusalem (the Bride, the “holy city” – Revelation 21:10 “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God”). There are not “two” holy cities. There are not “two Jerusalems.” Rather, the Old has given way to the New. The “kingdom” of the Old has been taken away and given to the “kingdom” of another. This is the anticipated event of Revelation, and the reason why the saints of that time endured patiently, awaiting their inheritance.


The second clue is in Ezekiel. Above, I quoted the passage of the great invitation for the birds of the air to come and feed on the bodies of the enemies of God (39:17-20). This language parallels Revelation 19:17,18. Both passages speak of Gog and Magog attacking Jerusalem (assuming the parallel between Revelation 19:11-ff and 20:7-ff with Hendriksen). Why is this imagery of birds and carrion so significant? O. Palmer Robertson in his book, The Christ of the Covenants, answers. Jeremiah 34:17-20 records, “I will even give them (Israel) into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their (Israel’s) dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.” This entire passage echoes the Abrahamic covenant, where birds of the air were attempting to eat the parts of the split animal (Genesis 15:11). Robertson notes Deuteronomy 28:26 to the same effect, “And thy (Israel) carcass shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away.” He concludes, after citing many other passages, “The ultimate judgment of devastation can be understood only in terms of the original pledge to life and death at Sinai, which in turn reflected the covenantal form employed by God in binding himself to Abraham” (p.137). With covenantal language being brought to bear and utilized in terms of Jerusalem’s destruction means that her covenant was still in force until completely absorbed by judgment. Thus, the City he loves was still, from John’s point of view in time, a relevant, covenantal description.


To continue this thought, Matthew 24:28 reads, “For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” We know that this discourse refers to Jerusalem’s demise, and here we find the “carcass” language. It is in this context that we see the “great tribulation” (Mt. 24:21). John, in Revelation 7:14, wrote, “These are they which came out of great tribulation.” The addressed saints were anticipating this tribulation period. This period is characterized with birds of the air, bloodshed, fire from heaven, Gog and Magog, and tribulation.


Obviously this involves several aspects that I cannot get involved with in this essay. Suffice it to say that the view espoused above places the 1000 years in that terminal, apostolic generation, in anticipation of the parousia of Christ upon his enemies. The 1000 years represents, I believe, the message Peter gave to those being ridiculed for eagerly awaiting Jesus’parousia. At the time of Peter’s letter, some 20 plus years had expired and still no parousia. The temple stood and everything continued as it was. Peter consoles them by saying, ‘a day unto the Lord is a 1000 years.’ I believe that John is picturing the “eagerly awaiting” and “patient endurance” length of years in the terms of Peter’s consolation. The saints, reading the Vision, would have immediately understood the symbolic reference to 1000 years, and would have found great hope in that, in spite of what was coming, God “was not slack in keeping his promise.”


The 1000 years pictures that time of what Jesus mentions in his Parable of the Wise Manager. Here, one of the servants murmurs “my master is taking a long time in coming.” Or, take the Parable of the Ten Virgins. There, during “the midnight hour” the Bridegroom came. He waited until the last hour. Such then reflects the attitude of the generation of the apostolic church. There was what seemed like a 1000 years, but, I firmly believe that they overcame by the blood of Jesus Christ and received to themselves those blessings reserved for them from the foundation of the earth. Not only those beloved saints, but also all those in him who “in ages to come” might know his power, that “power for us who believe (Paul’s time). That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him up from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age (Paul’s day), but in the ages to come (all believers after those times).”


In conclusion, I have taken the position from William Hendriksen that Revelation 19:11-ff occurs at the end of the Millennium, and is parallel with Revelation 20:7-ff concerning Gog and Magog. The episode of Revelation 20:1-7 does not come after the events of Revelation 19:11-ff. Further, I have taken from other commentators (Gentry and David Chilton included) that Revelation 19 was fulfilled in the apocalyptic events of 70 AD. Therefore, the end of Millennial scheme refers to the Great Tribulation period of 66-70 AD. This places the “1000 years” between the advent of Christ’s birth, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, session, and finally, his fullness in the Parousia (that “God is all in all”). Dr. Gentry misses the aspect of parallelism found in Hendriksen. Hendriksen misses the imminence factor and “soon” appearing of the Lord mentioned in Revelation 19, which Gentry correctly sees. Combined, I believe they give us the actual picture of those events. 



1 Dr. Gentry objects to the Premillennial literalism of 1000 earth years, and chides what he calls the “hyper­preterist” shortening of the 1000 years between Pentecost and 70 AD. This “reduces Christ’s reign” to 40 years. The problem here is that Christ’s reign is eternal, and has no length of years. I think he misses the point. Further, we have gone 1000 years over since Pentecost, and Dr. Gentry posits that it might be “10,000 years” (p.348, 559). He is correct if he simply stays with what he wrote, and that is, the Millennium is “a complete and perfect time” (p.348).





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