House Divided Bridging the Gap in Reformed Eschatology A Preterist Response to
When Shall These Things Be?
The Eschatological Madness of Mathison or How Can These Things Be?
Part 12 – The Millennium Revelation 20
Michael J. Sullivan
Copyright 2009 and 2013 – All rights reserved. No part of this
book (or article) may be reproduced in any form without permission
in writing from the publisher or author of this chapter/article (Vision Publishing
or Michael J. Sullivan), except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical
articles or reviews.
Mathison writes: “ . . . [T]he hyper-preterist interpretations of the millennium
fail to take seriously the long-term time text involved. . . . When the
word thousand is used in Scripture, it refers either to a literal thousand or
to an indefinite, but very large, number” (209).
Psalm 50:10 is often cited, usually by postmillennialists, to teach that “a
thousand” symbolizes literally “many thousands or millions.”
For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand
hills. (Ps. 50:10)
Postmillennialists reason that God owns the cattle on every hill;
therefore “a thousand hills” symbolizes or represents “many thousands
or millions of hills.” Thus, they reason, we are led by Scripture to interpret
the “thousand years” in Revelation 20 to mean “many thousands or
millions of years.”
That reasoning sounds solid at first glance. However, the context of
Psalm 50:10 does not lead us to a principle that a symbolic “thousand”
always signifies “many thousands.” It leads us to the principle that a
symbolic “thousand” signifies “fullness.” The “thousand” of Psalm 50:10
is interpreted for us two verses later:
The world is Mine, and the fullness thereof. (Ps. 50:12b)
In Psalm 90:4, a “thousand years” is as “yesterday” and as “a watch
in the night.” In 2 Peter 3:8, a “thousand years” is as one “day.” In those
verses, a “thousand” (and “yesterday” and “a watch” and a “day”) is used
to teach us that to God, a small piece of time is no different than a fullness
of time. (Compare Job 7:7; Ps. 39:5; 90:2; 144:4; Heb. 13:8; Jms.
4:14.) Thus in Psalm 105:8, a “thousand” corresponds with “forever”:
He has remembered His covenant forever, the word that he commanded
to a thousand generations. (Ps. 105:8)
In scriptural usage, a symbolic “thousand” can be likened to “one”
(day / yesterday / a watch in the night), or used in reference to millions
of hills, or to eternity (“forever”). A “thousand” can be likened unto or
used to represent a number lesser or greater than a literal thousand.
Only its context can determine its literal numerical meaning, but the
basic idea that is communicated by the number is “fullness.” As G. K.
Beale wrote, “The primary point of the thousand years is probably not a
figurative reference to a long time . . .”
How one interprets the thousand years in Revelation 20 depends on
one’s eschatological framework. The passage does not interpret itself,
but must be interpreted by the overall eschatology of Scripture. Within
the preterist interpretive framework, the biblical-eschatological context
of Revelation 20 should lead us to interpret the “thousand years” to
signify the time of the Christological filling up of all things (Eph. 1:10;
4:10). That time was from the Cross of Christ to the Parousia of Christ
in AD 70. That was the time during which “the [spiritual] death” which
came through Adam and was magnified through “the law” was in process
of being destroyed. The literal timeframe of the “thousand years”
was roughly forty years.
Mathison admits that he does not know if there were any rabbis
who used the number 1,000 to symbolize forty years (210). Reformed
theologian G. K. Beale tells us that some Jews considered the length of
the intermediate messianic reign to be forty years. He also states that
one Jewish tradition made an anti-type connection between Adam’s
lifespan (almost 1,000 years) and a reign of Messiah for a (possibly
symbolic) thousand years. Many Christians have attempted to make
this connection and have also paralleled the thousand years of 2 Peter
3:8 with John’s thousand years in Revelation 20:2–6.
Adam falling short of the 1,000-year lifespan by 70 years (Gen. 5:5)
may represent his being created a mortal being and perishing in sin
outside of God’s presence. If this is the case, then it is more than reasonable
that the number 1,000 took on the symbolism and representation
of Christ’s and the church’s victory over Death in contrast to Adamic
man’s vain existence apart from God’s salvation (Eccl. 6:6).
Some Evangelicals and Reformed theologians along with some
preterists such as Milton Terry do not understand the long lifespans in
the early chapters of Genesis to be literal. They believe that the lifespans
were symbolic and contained numerological elements. But even
if Adam’s lifespan was a literal 930 years, this does not exclude an antitypical,
symbolic 1,000 years in Revelation 20.
When Messiah came as “the last Adam,” His reign in and through
the church for a symbolic thousand years brought the church not to
the dust of the earth separated from God’s presence, but to the Tree of
Life and into the very presence of God (Rev. 20–22:12). Through faith
in and union with Christ as the Last Adam (the Tree of Life and New
Creation), Christians have achieved what Adam could not. The church
was clothed with “immortality”; it attained unto the “fullness” of life in
AD 70; and it will never die for the aeons of the aeons (2 Cor. 1:20; 1 Cor.
15:45–53; Rev. 21–22; Jn. 11:26–27).
All of the authors of WSTTB understand that the Second Coming
is the event that brings the millennium to its consummation. However,
the only future coming of Jesus discussed in the book of Revelation is the
one that would take place shortly (Rev. 3:11; 22:6–7, 10–12, 20). Both
Mathison and Gentry concede that this imminent coming of Christ took
place in AD 70. But then they err in assuming that the imminent coming
of Jesus in Revelation was not His “actual second coming” (182).
To conclude my section on the millennium of Revelation 20, please
consider the following exegetical, orthodox, and historical points:
1. Kenneth Gentry informs us that the book of Revelation is
about things which were past, present, and “about to be” fulfilled
in John’s day (Rev. 1:19 YLT). There is no exegetical evidence
that Revelation 20 does not fall within these inspired
2. As G.K. Beale has said, the symbol of the thousand years does
not have to be taken as describing a long period of time (i.e.,
thousands of years).
3. It has also been acknowledged by Reformed theologians that
many Rabbis believed that the period of Messiah was to be
a transitionary stage between “this age/world and the age/
world to come.” These Rabbis (such as R. Adiba), understood
this transition period to be forty years, based upon how long
the Israelites were in the wilderness before inheriting the land.
This type/anti-type understanding is developed for us in the
book of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 3-4; 10:25, 37; 11—13:14, YLT).
And as we have noted from Reformed partial preterists such
as Joel McDurmon or Gary DeMar, it is within the realm of
Reformed orthodoxy to believe that Jesus’ and Paul’s “this
age/world” was the old covenant age, and that “the last days”
were the days of transition between the old covenant age and
the new covenant age (AD 30 – 70).
4. Reformed partial preterists such as Keith Mathison, Kenneth
Gentry, and James Jordan teach that the content of Revelation
1-19 and 21-22 was fulfilled by AD 70, at which time there
was a judgment and resurrection of the dead and arrival of
the new creation. And amillennialists such as Simon Kistemaker
teach that Revelation 20:5–15 recapitulates the same
judgment and consummation scenes that are depicted in
chapters 1–19 and 21–22. Full preterists hold to both of these
Reformed and “orthodox” positions in interpreting the book
5. In criticizing the premillennial view, which often seeks to
isolate Revelation 20 from the rest of the NT, amillennialists
and postmillennialists hold that Revelation 20 falls within
the “already and not yet” of the “last days” period in the New
Testament, and that this transition period is depicted in the
parable of the wheat and tares, or in Matthew 24–25. But as
we have seen, it is “orthodox” to believe the “last days” ended
with the old covenant age in AD 70, and that the harvest/
gathering and coming of Christ in Matthew 13 and 24–25
was fulfilled by AD 70.
6. If it is true that a). the invisible coming of Christ in both
Matthew 24 – 25 is referring to the AD 70 judgment as
Mathison and other partial preterists are now proposing and
if it is true that b). “John’s version of Matthew 24-25 is
found in the book of Revelation” and if it is true that
c). Matthew 24:27-31—25:31ff. is descriptive of the one end
of the age Second Coming, judgment and resurrection event
(the classic amillennial or creedal position) then d). the
authors of WSTTB? have some explaining to do in that their
views form the “this generation” forty years millennial
view of full preterism:
Resurrection and judgment Matt. 24:30-31 (cf. Matt. 13:39-43/Dan. 12:2-3) Matt. 25:31-46 (cf. Matt. 16:27)
Resurrection and judgment Rev. 20:5-15
De-creation heaven and earth pass/flee Matt. 24:29, 35 (cf. Matt. 5:17-18)
De-creation heaven and earth pass/flee Rev. 20:11 (cf. Rev. 6:14; 16:20; 21:1)
Christ on throne to judge Matt. 25:31
God on throne to judge Rev. 20:11
Wicked along with Devil eternally punished Matt. 25:41-46
Wicked along with Devil eternally punished Rev. 20:10, 14-15
7. If it is true that a). the judgment (opening of the book)
and “hour of the end” resurrection of the dead in
Daniel 12:1-4, 13 was fulfilled by AD 70 (per Gentry)
and if it is true that b). the judgment (opening of the book)
and “hour of the end” resurrection of the dead in
Daniel 12:1-4, 13 is the same eschatological time of the end
events described for us in Revelation 20:5-15 (classic
amillennial view) and if it is true that c). “John in the book of
Revelation picks up where Daniel leaves off” with “parallels”
between Daniel 12 and Revelation 20 being hermeneutically
valid to make, then d). once again the authors of WSTTB?
have some explaining to do in that their views form the
“this generation” forty years millennial view of Full Preterism:
Only those whose names are written in the book would be delivered/saved from eternal condemnation Dan. 12:1-2
Only those whose names are written in the book would be delivered/saved from the lake of fire Rev. 20:12-15
This is the time for the resurrection and judgment of the dead Dan. 12:1-2
This is the time for the resurrection and judgment of the dead Rev. 20:5-15
Therefore, the reader should be able to discern that the full
preterist view of the millennium is: 1) consistent with the
teaching of Revelation, 2) falls within the “orthodox” views
the Reformed church, 3) is in harmony with the analogy of
Scripture, and 4) has historical support from Rabbis who
saw a forty-year transition period between the two ages. Our
view on the millennium is exegetically sound and orthodox.
It is not as “difficult” as Mathison attempts to portray it.
Partial Preterist Mr. Gary North, has said that if one side of the debate ceases to respond to the others arguments then the one who has responded last (thus silencing the other) in essence has won the debate (my paraphrase). He has also written of dispensational scholars and their inability to keep up with postmillennial works and critiques, “Like a former athlete who dies of a heart attack at age 52 from obesity and lack of exercise, so did dispensational theology depart from this earthly veil of tears. Dispensational theologians got out of shape, and were totally unprepared for the killer marathon of 1988.” (Greg L. Bahnsen, Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., HOUSE DIVIDED THE BREAK-UPOF DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), Publishers Foreword, xx.). In the same book DeMar claims that “Any theological position divided against itself is laid waste” and “shall not stand” and is guilty of “Theological Schizophrenia” (Ibid. 349-350). Apparently Mr. Mathison was not prepared for the killer marathon of 2009 and since that time has been too busy engorging himself from the profits P&R provided him and is simply too scared and out of shape to open our book let alone read and respond to my critique and response to him? And we document the “House Divided” “Theological Schizophrenia” and contradictory approach Reformed eschatology has sought to use against us let alone the contradictions (and yet at the same time progressive views moving towards Full Preterism) that are within Mathison’s writings alone.
Therefore, I have decided to post my chapter response to his online (in small parts) in hopes that both the Futurist and the Full Preterist communities will contact him for an official response. If no response continues to come, then I will allow him to be judged by the same standard that his own postmillennial partial preterist colleagues have set up, and accept that he is unable to respond and has lost our debate.
 G. K. Beale, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 1018.
 Ibid., 1018–1019.
 Carol A. Hill, Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis (http://www.asa3.org/aSA/PSCF/2003/PSCF12–03Hill.pdf).
Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 62.
 Even Poythress understands that if the imminent time texts are to point to AD 70 as Mathison, Gentry and full preterists are proposing, then “everything” in the book would be fulfilled not some or most – “But 1:3 and 22:10 are like bookends enclosing the whole prophecy of Revelation. The fulfillment of everything, not just a part, is near.” Vern S. Poythress, THE RETURNING KING A GUIDE TO THE BOOK OF REVELATION, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing Company, 2000) 34.
 Beale, Revelation Ibid., 1018-1019. See also A. Cohen, Everyman’s TALMUD, (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1949), 356.