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Daniel and Revelation
Revelation 20 –Amillennialism
The interpretations of Revelation chapter 20 generally divides into two major camps of eschatology. Is there a literal thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ here on the earth? Or is the kingdom of heaven strictly a spiritual kingdom that is underway here and now? This question becomes a pivot-point between reading the Bible literally and fulfilled in the future, or more figurative and allegorical. Figurative interpretations are from the preterist (past-fulfillment) hermeneutic.
This chapter will take a look at the allegorical interpretation of Revelation 20. This corresponds with the preterist (past-fulfillment) view of Bible prophecy. Then, the next chapter will look at the dispensational view of Revelation 20. After that, chapter 34 will look at the New Wine System view of Revelation 20. The New Wine System, of course, takes the literal and futurist view of Revelation 20. But the New Wine System is significantly different from the dispensational view.
Revelation 20:1-8 I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. (2) He seized the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole inhabited earth, and bound him for a thousand years, (3) and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were finished. After this, he must be freed for a short time. (4) I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as didn't worship the beast nor his image, and didn't receive the mark on their forehead and on their hand. They lived, and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (5) The rest of the dead didn't live until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. (6) Blessed and holy is he who has 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 one thousand years. (7) And after the thousand years, Satan will be released from his prison, (8) and he will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
The word “amillennial” means “no millennium.” Amillennialism is the belief that the thousand years spoken of in Revelation 20 is not a literal thousand years, but is figurative. It’s an arbitrary amount of time, as in the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). But the amillennial position goes much deeper than simply whether or not the thousand years in Revelation 20 is a literal thousand years. Amillennialism views the thousand years not only as an arbitrary amount of time, but also as a time that is right now currently underway. Amillennialism views the figurative thousand years as the time between the two advents of Christ. Premillennialism views the thousand years as a time of Christ’s earthly reign, after He returns, and before the new heavens and the new earth. These are two fundamentally different ways to interpret Revelation 20.
Many amillennialists will immediately begin debate against the premillennial position by focusing on the fact that no other Scripture mentions a literal thousand years. But even if the premillennialists were to hypothetically allow for the thousand years to be an arbitrary amount of time, the issue of whether or not it’s a present or future time would remain unchanged. The amillennialist must start with the assertion that it’s an arbitrary amount of time, because more than a thousand years have passed since the first advent. The premillennialist, who believes the thousand years to be in the future, does not have this problem. Augustine was the first to write about amillennialism. He believed the thousand years might in fact be literal. Back then a thousand years had not yet passed. So he believed that it could be literal. But he also said it could be figurative. It was not until 1000 AD that the literal thousand years of Augustine was rejected.
The issues of amillennialism go much deeper than the interpretation of Revelation 20. The biggest issue is the interpretation of the term, “kingdom of heaven,” which was used extensively by Jesus. What was meant by this term? The amillennialists hold that Christ was never talking about the earthly rule that the Jews believed about the Messiah when he returns. Amillennialism holds that the “kingdom of heaven” is always a spiritual kingdom. Traditional dispensationalists believe the kingdom of heaven is entirely future. Then there is the historic premillennialism, which is often defined by the writings of the late George E. Ladd. He was well-known for his books on the kingdom of heaven. Ladd believes the kingdom of heaven is here and now in our hearts, and yet literally and naturally in the future when Christ returns. Ladd did not claim to be a dispensationalist. But after Ladd, the newer progressive dispensationalism picked up on Ladd’s views. The New Wine System agrees with Ladd on the kingdom of heaven (or God).
Many amillennialists will try to debate against premillennialism by showing all the spiritual-kingdom uses of the term. But this does not invalidate Ladd’s futuristic view of the kingdom being here and now but not yet. On the other hand, if there is any use of the term “kingdom of heaven”, or “kingdom of God”, that indicates a future earthly reign of Christ, it would invalidate amillennialism.
In other words, will Christ literally reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim. 6:15, Rev. 17:14, 19:16) here on the earth, after he returns? The religious teaching of Christ’s day was that the Messiah would in fact set up such an earthly kingdom. No one disputes the fact that an earthly reign of the Messiah is what the disciples had grown up being taught. And no one disputes the fact that Christ did not at that time set up an earthly kingdom. The real question is whether or not Christ taught that no such kingdom is to ever be set up in the future. Later on, I will discuss the kingdom of heaven in more detail.
Revelation 20 is about the first resurrection, which is followed by a thousand years. At the start of the thousand years, Satan is chained. He is thrown into the Abyss. It is locked and sealed over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years are over. Also at the start of the thousand years, John sees the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus. They come to life and reign with Christ for the thousand years. John sees thrones on which they sit to judge. At the end of the thousand years, Satan is released and he goes out again to deceive the nations. A countless number of people turn against God and march across the breadth of the earth and surround the camp of God’s people, the city that God loves. They are destroyed and then the "rest of the dead … come to life." Then we have the great white throne judgment. The premillennial position is that all this happens after Christ returns.
The amillennial position is to say that the first resurrection is not physical but spiritual. The unbeliever is spiritually dead. When he finds Christ, he is made spiritually alive. This is seen as the first resurrection. The coming to life of the beheaded souls is seen as their conversion experience before they died. Then the second resurrection is the physical resurrection when Christ returns. Satan is chained, thrown into the Abyss, with it locked and sealed over him. But he can still tempt the people of the nations. He just doesn’t have as much power as he had before the crucifixion. And the city that God loves is not Jerusalem, but the worldwide city of believers. They don’t really march across the breath of the earth. And there is no actual city. They just hunt down and persecute Christians all over the world. Most premillennialists find this view of Revelation 20 hard to swallow.
1 Corinthians 15 is about the resurrection of the dead. Paul is preaching as a Pharisee against the teachings of the Sadducees.
1 Corinthians 15:12-13 Now if Christ is preached, that he has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (13) But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised.
But Paul goes on to say that there is a chronological order to those who are resurrected. Christ was resurrected first. But is this an order of only two events? Or does Paul’s order extend to more resurrections?
1 Corinthians 15:22-26 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (23) But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits , then those who are Christ's, at his coming. (24) Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father; when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power. (25) For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (26) The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
Verse 23 shows us that Paul is giving us a chronological order of events, which reflect the order in which people will receive their spiritual bodies. The chronology even makes a distinction between the resurrection of those who belong to him, and the end that will come. When we read these verses in a natural (chronological) reading, we get the following timeline:
1) Christ's resurrection
2) When He comes, the resurrection of those who belong to him.
3) Then the end comes, when he hands the kingdom over to the Father. At this point in time he has destroyed earthly governments. This is stated as all “dominion, authority, and power.” So this can also include the chaining of Satan.
4) Next he must reign until all his enemies are put under his feet.
5) The last enemy is death.
So Christ must reign during the millennium until death is finally destroyed. Again, Paul is outlining a chronological order to those who are resurrected and/or receive their spiritual bodies. It’s “each in his own turn.” It’s not just Christ and then everyone else.
To interpret these verses the amillennial way, the reigning of verse 25 must be going on right now. The “for” in verse 25 is seen by amillennialists as a “recap” that takes verse 25 out of the natural chronological order of events and brings the start of Christ’s reign (in this context) back to Christ’s resurrection. But the Greek word “gar” is a very common word (1041 occurrences) that is simply a tie-word to the previous sentence. In this chapter alone, “gar” is used in verses 2, 9, 16, 21, 22, 25, 27, 32, 24, 41, 52, and 53. These are not recaps or summaries. It’s just a word that connects the sentence to what’s just been said. It doesn’t indicate an end of a chronological listing of events. This word ties the reign of Christ to the previous sentence, which is about Christ destroying all dominion, authority, and power.
The word “gar” is usually translated as “for.” But William D. Mounce (“Basics of Biblical Greek”) indicates that it can also be translated as “then.” Verse 32, for example, quotes the saying, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” The “gar” in this verse could have a sense of one thing happening after another as an effect happening after its cause. Perhaps it could be translated as, “Let us eat and drink, then tomorrow we die.” That’s not to say that “gar” has a strong sense of chronological events. The Greek word “eita” in verse 24 does strongly mean “then.” And the word “gar” in verse 24 doesn’t strongly mean “then.” But by the same token, the word “gar” would not be used to break out of a chronological sequence of events. It would just add a sense of cause and effect from the destruction to the reign.
The reign of Christ is closely connected, by the word “gar”, to the destruction of all dominions, authority, and power. The word “gar” establishes a cause and effect between the two. Christ reigns because he destroys all dominion, authority, and power. And the destruction is strongly connected with the “end.” The Greek word “eita” in verse 24 does strongly indicate that the “end” and the destruction both happen chronologically after the resurrection of those who belong to Christ.
The reign of Christ is strongly connected, by the word “gar”, to the destruction and the “end.” So it follows that the reign of Christ is after the “end.” Also we should note that generally speaking, when a reign is put into the same context as conquering, the conquering generally comes first. A king reigns because he has conquered other dominions, authorities, and powers.
Christ reigns until all enemies are put under him. The last enemy is distinguished as death. If interpreted the amillennial way, the last enemy would be destroyed on the same day as all the dominions, authorities, and powers. So those enemies would also be last. But Paul is saying that death is the last enemy. And death is being finally overcome during this reign. The last enemy is not dominions, authorities, and powers. The reign of Christ is listed as last in the chronology. And Paul gives the purpose of this reign. This purpose of this reign is associated with something that is "last". The fact that the "last enemy" is called "last" shows that Paul was continuing his chronological listing of events. The dominions, authorities, and powers are also enemies, but they are not the “last” enemies.
Many amillennialists will point to verses 54-55 to say that death is conquered at Christ’s second coming, therefore the last enemy is conquered at Christ’s second coming. This verse says, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” And, “Death, is your sting? Hades, where is your sting?” But Paul here is speaking only of those resurrected “who are Christ's, at his coming” (verse 23). In other words, when each of us, in our turn, receives spiritual bodies, then this quote from Hosea 13:14 can be applied to us.
By contrast the verse, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (verse 32), which was quoted from Isaiah 22:13, might be something that anyone with a corruptible body might say. Since Jesus was resurrected, the sting of death is gone for him. When we are resurrected, the sting of death will be gone for us. But verses 50-55 do not say that all people are changed in this way at the same time. No, it’s “each in his own turn” (verse 23).
1 Corinthians 15:54-55 But when this corruptible will have put on incorruption, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (55) "Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?"
Until after the second death of Revelation 20:14, death will not have been forever destroyed. So the last enemy will not have been destroyed. And as long as the last enemy has not been destroyed, death can still happen. Revelation 20 tells us that a whole lot of death will happen when Satan is released after the thousand years are over. And Paul tells us that Christ reigns until death is finally destroyed.
Does Scripture really teach that Satan’s power was limited after the crucifixion? Revelation 20:2-3 says he is thrown into the Abyss. It is locked and sealed over him.
Revelation 20:2-3 He seized the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole inhabited earth, and bound him for a thousand years, (3) and cast him into the abyss, and shut it, and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were finished. After this, he must be freed for a short time.
This is very strong language that does not seem to indicate a partial restriction of Satan’s powers. Compare this with 1 Peter 5:8-9:
1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil, walks around like a roaring lion , seeking whom he may devour. (9) Withstand him steadfast in your faith, knowing that your brothers who are in the world are undergoing the same sufferings.
Revelation 20 says Satan was bound so that Satan can no longer deceive the nations. Compare this to 2 Corinthians 4:4:
2 Corinthians 4:4 in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them.
Ephesians 2:1-2 You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins, (2) in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience;
A present-day binding of Satan is simply not compatible with the rest of New Testament Scripture. Do amillennialists have another verse that they use to argue Satan was bound? Yes, they use Matthew 12:29. But as we will see, this is taking the verse out of context. Here is the verse:
Matthew 12:29 Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and plunder his goods, unless he first bind the strong man? Then he will plunder his house.
This is the only verse, other than Revelation 20:2-3, which amillennialists use to try and support their claim that Satan has been bound. Is there any mention of the crucifixion in the context of this verse? No, the context is about Christ healing a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute. Jesus is simply saying that the demon in the man had to be cast out before the man could be healed. Jesus is not saying that Satan was bound so that he could no longer deceive the nations.
In order to see this, we need to walk through the context of the passage to see that Jesus was talking about healing and casting out demons. The following walk-through of Matthew 12:25-38 makes it clear that Matthew 12:29 is about the need to cast Satan or a demon out of the man before he could be healed. You will also see some of the New Wine System, with regard to the unpardonable sin, within this walk-through.
As we will see, this passage of Scripture is talking about the unpardonable sin. The Holy Spirit is performing miracles that prove God’s presence in Jesus. The Pharisees know this is God’s power, before their very eyes. Yet they deny the work of the Holy Spirit. They deny God’s miracles. The untrained people see that God is doing these miracles. However, the trained Pharisees’ love for their own power is greater than any desire to see God’s work, even when it’s undeniably in front of their eyes.
Matthew 12:25-27 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. (26) If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? (27) If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
With these verses, Jesus begins his arguments against the unpardonable claim of the Pharisees. Satan cannot drive out Satan. Jesus is being sarcastic when he asks, “By whom do your children cast them out?” The Pharisees had not been casting out demons.
Who are the “children” of the Pharisees? Why will these “children” be their judges? When or where will this judging take place? Perhaps out of confusion, the NIV translates “your sons” as “your people.” But most translations stick with the word given in the Greek. Jesus asks, “By whom do your children cast them out?”
The “children” of the Pharisees are their students. In many cases, their literal sons probably carried on in their father’s footsteps, and become the next generation of Pharisees. Their sons would naturally put great faith in their teachings. Yet, the Pharisees denied that Jesus is the Messiah. Some would commit the unpardonable sin. Others might simply sin by remaining silent. At least in silence, they would not be committing the unpardonable sin. In the age to come, when Christ returns, some of their students will be their judges. For example, Paul was a Pharisee. He was one of their students. Those with an [agape] love for Christ cannot remain silent. In the age to come, those who will have matured in Christ, doing the will and works of the Father, will be the priests and kings over those who remained silent.
Matthew 12:28 But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
Take careful note of this verse. Jesus is saying that it’s the Holy Spirit that casts out the demons. Not He Himself. This will be important when we look at the verse on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
Also, if the Holy Spirit is casting out these demons, it’s proof that the presence of Jesus is the presence of the Kingdom of God. This goes back to the claim that Jesus is the Messiah. If the kingdom of God had come upon them, it was because the Messiah had come. So again, the claim that Jesus is the Messiah challenged the authority of the Pharisees.
Matthew 12:29 Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and plunder his goods, unless he first bind the strong man? Then he will plunder his house.
What (or who) is the “strong man’s house?” Who is the “strong man?” How does this parable relate to the healing of the blind man, with the demon? How does this parable argue against the idea that Satan could drive out Satan?
Amillennialists, since Augustine, have used this verse to explain, in Revelation 20, how Satan could currently be chained, so that he could deceive the nations no more. Such an explanation is necessary for them to say that the future and literal reign of Christ will not take place. They say that Christ chained Satan at the cross. However, nothing in the context of this verse is about the cross. This verse is in the context of the healing of the blind and mute man, who had a demon.
The strong man’s house is the body of the blind and mute man. The strong man is Satan, or the demon inside the man. The demon had to be bound before Christ could heal the physical problems of the man’s house. Christ is arguing that Satan would not bind himself.
Matthew 12:30 "He who is not with me is against me, and he who doesn't gather with me, scatters.
This is the bottom line. There are only two groups here. Everyone must make a decision to be either for or against Christ. The miracles Jesus performed produced this division in the ones who saw the miracles. Seeing the miracles forces everyone to decide for themselves. Eventually, everyone must decide to be with Christ or against Christ.
Many will stay in the middle during their entire lifetime. However, eventually God’s miracles will force everyone to be either for or against Christ. If this doesn’t happen now, it will happen in the age to come. In the age to come, when Christ returns, the kingdom will be undeniably everywhere. Everyone will be forced to be on Christ’s side, or against him. Those who decide to be against Christ, in the face of undeniable proof, will be committing the unpardonable sin.
Matthew 12:31-32 ESV Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. (32) And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
Remember our important verse? Verse 28 tells us that it’s the Holy Spirit that does the miracles. It was not Jesus himself. When the Pharisees said it was by the power of Beelzebul, they were attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Beelzebul. Saying a word against the Son of Man can be forgiven. But seeing the miracles, and still denying God’s power is unpardonable.
Notice that Jesus is warning about this sin in the present age, and in the age to come. The age to come is when the Messiah literally rules the world. They knew that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus was saying that even when He literally rules, in the future, that this sin will be unpardonable.
Some may think that the age to come might be the Church Age. However, Mark 10:30 and Luke 18:30 clearly place the age to come as the time of eternal life. The age to come is the millennial reign of Christ.
If actual miracles are not enough, then it’s impossible to bring the person into repentance. These Pharisees were more concerned about their selfish power than to publicly recognize the Messiah, even in the face of this proof. And they knew that healing on the Sabbath proves Jesus to be Lord of the Sabbath.
Matthew 12:33 "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good, or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by its fruit.
Here Jesus continues to argue against what the Pharisees had said. Jesus had been doing good works in healing the people. How can this good fruit come from a bad tree?
Matthew 12:34-37 You offspring of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (35) The good man out of his good treasure brings out good things, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings out evil things. (36) I tell you that every idle word that men speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. (37) For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
Does this mean that Christ will weigh all our good words against all our bad words? Is Jesus saying that if our good words outweigh our bad words, then we are saved? What happened to salvation by grace alone?
Or can we interpret this verse more in line of the context of verse 30? Because of the miracles of God, everyone will eventually decide for themselves to be with Christ, or to be against Christ. If they are against Christ, they will deny the undeniable works of God, and come up with something crazy like the miracles are the works of Satan. Thus, everyone will be judged by their words. Their words reflect what is in their hearts. Their words reflect their decision to be for or against Christ. For those who have not yet heard about Christ, or for those who have not been forced to make that decision, death is not the end of the journey towards salvation. They will still be judged by their words for or against Christ.
Matthew 12:38 Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from you."
Why would the Pharisees say such a thing when they had just seen this miracle, a miracle so undeniable that they had said it was the work of Beelzebul? Could it be they are fearful of being wrong? Could it be they are in denial? Could it be they are afraid? People can always find some way to explain away any kind of proof that God may give. Here, they were trying to convince themselves that Jesus is not the Lord of the Sabbath, because the signs were somehow not great enough. If Jesus had done an even greater sign, they would have still attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Beelzebul.
This concludes this walk-through of Matthew 12:25-38. It should be clear that in this context Matthew 12:19 is only about casting Satan or a demon out of the man before he can be healed. To say this verse is about the binding of Satan after the crucifixion is to completely take this verse out of context. Jesus healed this man before the cross. This verse is talking about casting the demon out of a specific man and not out of the nations. So this verse should not be used to justify the claim that Satan was chained or bound at the cross, that the he could no longer deceive the nations.
Amillennialists always are quick to point out that nowhere else in Scripture does it say that Christ will have an earthly reign for a thousand years. This is true. Revelation 20 is the only place that says the Messianic Age is to be a thousand years. However, Scripture is full of teachings that there will be a Messianic Age. So what do amillennialists do? They say that Satan was bound at the crucifixion. Where is that taught elsewhere in Scripture? Scripture teaches just the opposite. The amillennial system simply is not compatible with the rest of Scripture. Amillennialists should consider the New Wine System as an alternative.
Many amillennialists have rejected dispensational premillennialism because it’s rather clear from Scripture that Israel is the Church. This is fundamental to covenant theology, which goes hand-in-hand with amillennialism. But the Church does not replace Israel as covenant theology argues. We are grafted into Israel. This means our purpose in reigning with Christ is the same as Israel’s purpose of reigning with Christ, over the nations, during his millennial reign.
Amillennialists tend to object to the idea that sin would remain in the world after Christ returns. Amillennialists view Christ’s return as bringing this world of sin to an end with the wrath of God. But what if the Messianic reign of Christ is climactic in God’s redemptive plan? What if people from every nation, tribe, people, and language are just the tip of the iceberg of those who God intends to save by faith in Jesus Christ? What if Israel (which is the Church) is the only the firstfruits of the entire harvest (Rom. 8:23, 2 Thess. 2:13, James 1:18)? This is the New Wine System, as presented in my book, “New Wine for the End Times.”
Literal interpretation is when you restrict the interpretation to the definitions of the words, and the grammar used in the sentences. Natural interpretation is when you allow for idioms, symbolism, figurative speech, and anything else that comes to mind when you hear the words. For example, when we read that someone is at the end of his rope, does it mean that he is literally holding onto the end of a rope? If a foreigner comes from China and hears these words, unless he has really studied American idioms, he will have no idea what is meant. Unfortunately, it’s not important what pops into our own minds when we hear the words. What’s important is what would have popped into the minds of audiences of the time of its writing. Fortunately, we have primarily the Old Testament, and secondarily other texts outside of Scripture to help us understand what would have popped into their heads when they read the words.
When words like "Sodom" are used in Revelation, we don’t have to assume that it’s really the ancient city of Sodom. That’s natural interpretation. Sodom was a city that was clearly destroyed by God's wrath. This thought immediately comes to mind. No text is ever going to be a hundred percent literal. (Especially when the text itself says it's figurative, as it does in the case of the text referencing Sodom and Egypt.) It's like showing cards with pictures and saying the first thing that comes to your mind. It's like saying the first word that comes to your mind when you hear a word. Natural interpretation is not a mathematical-like literal examination of the word definitions and the grammar. (Of course those are important.) Any natural interpretation can include symbolism. "The Lamb of God" is symbolism, but because of all the prior teaching of Scripture, Christ quickly comes to mind when we hear these words.
Ancient Jewish and Christian Chiliasm taught that the history from Adam is unfolding in seven thousand-year days, as in a millennial week. Revelation should be interpreted in this context. We must understand ancient Jewish and Christian Chiliasm in order to understand what thoughts would naturally have come to mind when the words of Revelation were read. Christ is “Lord of the Sabbath” of this millennial week.
Revelation was not intended to be a hard-to-understand text that only highly educated scholars could understand. In Revelation 1:3 we read, “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” In other words, there were some who were blessed by reading the book, and there were others who were also to be blessed by just hearing it read. Probably most of them didn’t even know how to read. John intended Revelation to be understood by the masses. The amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 is very hard to understand. It’s something the masses would have not understood. But the Chiliast interpretation of Revelation 20 is easy to understand. It has a natural interpretation that comes to mind quickly.
Most scholarly amillennialists today know about early Jewish Chiliasm. They use it to attack Christian millennialism, saying that people like Barnabas, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr were unduly influenced by it. But knowing that Jewish Chiliasm existed prior to the writing of Revelation, would the author of Revelation have written such a hard-to-understand description of a spiritual resurrection that would so easily be confused with Jewish Chiliasm? The amillennial position is in direct contradiction to what would have been naturally understood in that time and culture. The author of Revelation would have never picked words that have this natural interpretation, if his true meaning is in direct contradiction to the very natural meaning.
Natural interpretation doesn't include complicated and hard-to-understand interpretations, given the knowledge and cultural background of the reader. Since the word "resurrection" is most often used in Scripture to mean the physical resurrection, and since that word was used right after words like "beheaded" and "souls", the natural interpretation is that of a physical resurrection. It takes a lot of explaining for anyone to see Revelation 20's more complicated amillennial interpretation. So it's not natural. Satan is chained for a thousand years. He is thrown into the Abyss, with it locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years are over. With this much detail about the chaining of Satan, the natural interpretation is not that Satan is simply restrained a little bit more than he was before the crucifixion. When a countless number of people turn against God and march across the breath of the earth and surround the camp of God’s people, the city that God loves, the natural interpretation is not one that doesn’t include an actual city. The masses of less educated people who were to hear the book read would never have understood it in the amillennial way. They would have understood it as a literal reign of Christ after the resurrection on the last day. And Revelation 1:3 makes it clear that Revelation was written for the blessing of the masses.
Now there may be lots of stuff in Revelation that on first impression leaves people scratching their heads. This is where more in-depth symbolism is used that may require some study. But Revelation was not written to mislead the masses. The less-obvious portions of Revelation should not lead us to reject the natural words that have easy-to-understand natural meanings. To John, who really knew the Old Testament Scripture, I would venture to suggest that all of Revelation was very natural to him. Revelation is not so hard to understand once you see how it fits with the Old Testament. We should start with the natural interpretations, and then dig into the Old Testament for the meaning of the more difficult symbols.
The first and most important question that must be asked when interpreting Bible prophecy is, “What are your rules of interpretation?” “What are your hermeneutics?” Is your objective to determine what the author was meaning to say? There is no question that authors of Scripture would sometimes use symbolism. John the Baptist called Christ the “Lamb of God.” John was not saying that Christ is literally an animal. Jesus spoke in parables, and it was clear that he was doing so. But what if the natural reading of an author’s words reads like it could easily be literal? What if, given the culture and time of the author, it would be hard to believe that the author was saying anything other than its “historical and grammatical” interpretation? Do we have the license to say that the author’s words are “figurative,” and do not say what the author himself would have understood?
Consider the words of Zechariah 14. Verse one begins with a statement of victory in battle:
Zechariah 14:1 NIV A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you.
Then we have a description of Jerusalem being attacked by “all nations.” The women are being raped. Jerusalem is falling. Yet, at the last moment, the feet of God stand on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4), and there is victory. Zechariah goes on to describe this victory. In verses 12-15, we read of the panic that the Lord strikes into the invading armies. We read of their eyes rotting in their sockets and their tongues rotting in their mouths. And we read of all the wealth that is collected from all the nations who attacked Jerusalem.
Yet, this passage is often attributed to 70 AD, when Jerusalem was surrounded by Rome, and Jerusalem was destroyed. There was no military victory for Jerusalem. There was only defeat. There was no gathering of plunder from the nations that attacked Jerusalem. So how can anyone reasonably apply Zechariah 14 to 70 AD? It’s done by the use of allegorical interpretation. Did Zechariah himself believe this battle would end in defeat or in victory? There is no question that Zechariah himself was doing his best to describe a victory for Jerusalem. But allegorical interpretation is used to reverse this victory and basically say that Zechariah’s was using “figurative language,” and that the actual fulfillment was the opposite of what he literally was saying.
Using allegorical interpretation, how do they deal with this victory? They would simply say this gathering of plunder is representative of the victories the church would have during the centuries that followed 70 AD. By calling upon allegorical interpretation and “figurative language,” there is always some way to make the words say what you want them to say. But anyone who is truly honest in wanting to know what Zachariah himself would have understood, would never apply this prophecy to 70 AD.
So why do otherwise conservative Bible scholars reverse the meaning of Scripture like this? It’s because they have problems fitting this apparently literal prophecy with the book of Hebrews. The book of Hebrews teaches that Christ was the one sacrifice, and that animal sacrifice is no longer needed nor wanted by God. Everything that the book of Hebrews says, as understood by that author, is true. And the literal interpretation of Zechariah 14 is that all the nations will be forced to worship at the Feast of Tabernacles (verses 16-19) after Christ returns. That Old Testament feast included animal sacrifice. It was a part of the old covenant. But is this reason to effectively reverse the intended meaning of Zechariah, as he understood it? Such apparent contradiction is not a reason to reverse the interpretation of Scripture. Such apparent contradiction is only a sign that we should reexamine our understanding of what all authors of Scripture meant to say. Harmony can be found in Scripture without, in effect, changing the meaning of Scripture.
In other words, we should interpret the New Testament in the context of the Old Testament instead of trying to re-interpret the Old Testament in the light of what we believe the New Testament is saying. One would seriously doubt that the Hebrew audience of that day would have accepted the book of Hebrews as being from God if it effectively forced Zechariah into an interpretation that even Zechariah would have rejected.
It may be helpful to examine some of the history of allegorical interpretation. Until the time of Constantine, Alexandria was second only to Rome in the Roman Empire. Alexandria was named after Alexander the Great, and it was known for its great library, and for all its high learning, philosophy, and Greek culture. The allegorical interpretation of Bible Scripture dates back to Alexandria.
Philo (15 BC – 50 AD) was Jewish (not Christian) and lived in Alexandria, along with many other Jews. Philo learned about allegorical interpretation from the Greeks, who did this in order to make their ancient Greek myths be more relevant to their everyday lives. Philo wanted to prove, through allegorical interpretation, that Jewish culture was not inferior to Greek culture. So Philo interpreted Moses as a philosopher who was the source of all later philosophy. Allegorical interpretation made the ancient Greek myths seem important to their culture. Philo wanted to find this same deep level of interpretation in the writings of Moses. Scripture started to have meaning well beyond the simple historical accounts of Moses.
Around A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) followed Philo's lead. He taught that God gave the Law to the Jews and that God gave philosophy to the Greeks. Both were for the purpose of leading people to Christ. God’s Word (Logos ) was the source of both. This fit right in with the Doctrine of Logos , which was a Greek doctrine. The Logos is that which accounts for the design in the Creation. In this Greek doctrine, the Logos is the source of all knowledge, especially about religion. John was probably influenced with this Greek doctrine when he wrote John 1:1.
Clement taught that the Logos was Jesus before becoming a man, and that the Logos is the Son of God. The Holy Spirit attracts men to Christ when they seek true knowledge. Such knowledge was the true gnosis. This is not to be confused with the false gnosis of the heretics, which claimed secret knowledge, and did not stay with the knowledge given by the Scriptures. The Doctrine of Logos gave Clement a tool to unite Christianity with Greek philosophy. Clement believed that the truth in Scripture is often hidden, and could only be found by the use of allegorical interpretation. But this was the deeper meaning (gnosis). Clement did not deny the literal, historical meaning of what the authors of Scripture had said. But the emphasis was on allegorical interpretation to find "spiritual" knowledge (gnosis ).
When the persecutions of Emperor Septimius Severus came, Clement left Alexandria. A young boy, Origen (185-254), wanted to join his father and be martyred during these persecutions. But his mother hid his clothes so that he would have had to go out naked. Thus he did not join the martyrs. After Clement left Alexandria, his work was given to the young scholar, who for the next thirty years ran the school at Alexandria.
Origen was one of the most influential men of the early church. He developed Philo and Clement’s methods of allegorical interpretation. He believed there are three levels of allegorical interpretation, which corresponded to three aspects of man. These were the literal, moral, and spiritual meanings and corresponded to the body, soul, and spirit of a man. The body was the least important, and the spirit was the most important. If an author of Scripture, such as Moses, was writing about a literal historical event, then the literal event is least important, just as the body is least important. The soul (psyche ) and the spirit (pneuma) are two different things in the Greek. The moral meaning of a Scripture corresponded to the soul (psyche) of a man. The spiritual meaning of a Scripture corresponded to the spirit (pneuma) of man. And these meanings could only be discovered by the use of allegorical interpretation. Even the historical Jesus was less important than as the Logos of Christ available for believers in the church and in the sacraments.
Some Old Testament Scripture is obviously shadows of Jesus. Origen found shadows of Jesus all through the Old Testament, not just in the more obvious Messianic prophecies. New Testament text symbolized the sanctification of the soul, or the church, and showed the progress in our journey to the Kingdom of Heaven. While others devalued the Old Testament as being Jewish, Origen held it to be the inspired world of God. But the valued truth within was not about the Jews and ancient Israel. It was spiritual knowledge. This helped the church in wanting to keep the Old Testament as Scripture, because the followers of Marcion wanted to reject it. So without allegorical interpretation, the early church might have rejected the Old Testament entirely as being God's word. Rather than defending each story, Origen could just say they had not read deeply enough to see the true meaning (knowledge).
The problem, here, is that the early church had doubts about the Old Testament being God’s Word (Logos), without error. They didn’t like what was being said. So instead of changing their views to conform to God’s Word, they used allegorical interpretation to alter the literal meaning that was intended by the authors.
There is nothing wrong with allegorical interpretation in and of itself. Paul used allegorical interpretation in Gal. 4:21-31. But Paul was not trying to change the meaning of the original Old Testament passage. Paul was simply using the passage as a vehicle to illustrate his point about two covenants. Paul was not trying to say or imply that the author of Genesis (Moses) had two covenants in mind when he wrote about the slave woman and the free woman. Nor was Paul trying to say that the Holy Spirit intended to say this between the lines. It was simply an allegory in the New Testament which in no way altered the meaning of the Old Testament.
Matthew uses allegorical interpretation in Matt. 2:14-15 when he quotes, “Out of Egypt I called my son,” from Hosea 11:1. Hosea was clearly talking about the nation of Israel being called out of Egypt, which was an historical event, not a future prophecy. But the Messiah comes from Israel, and you can argue that Christ’s name is Israel. Therefore this is an allegorical interpretation. There is nothing wrong with allegorical interpretation in and of itself as long as it does not change or deny the natural and historical meaning of the original text.
I also think there is truth and value to the idea that Jesus is the Logos . I don’t doubt that John used the Greek Doctrine of Logos in making his point. And I do believe that God’s Word has deeper meaning (gnosis ) that can be discovered with allegorical interpretation. I think Clement may have been right about the three levels of allegorical interpretation. And I have no doubt that Origen was right about the Old Testament being full of shadows of Christ. I think it may be possible to find shadows of Christ in every Old Testament story. The Scripture is the Logos, and Christ is everywhere in the Logos. But when these methods of allegorical interpretation in any way take away from, or deny, the literal meaning that was intended by the original author, then we have crossed the line into error.
Next, we need to take a close look at 2 Peter 3:7-10, which amillennialists consider to be a very strong proof-text for their position.
2 Peter 3:8-9 NIV But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (9) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Lord’s days are like a thousand years. Then we read:
2 Peter 3:10 NIV But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Since the Lord’s days are like a thousand years, then the Day of the Lord (in the very next verse) is also like a thousand years. The term “Day of the Lord” is a common term from the Old Testament. Is this day always a literal 24-hour day? Or can it be just a few days? Or does this Old Testament concept refer to a long period of time? The Old Testament seems to portray the Day of the Lord as being a short time of wrath followed by a long age during which the Lord rules. For example, Isaiah 27 is about a short time of God’s wrath. God will punish Israel’s enemies. Then, in chapter 28, God talks about a time of peace when God will bless Israel. Both are referred to as the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is a long period of time, which begins with God’s wrath on the nations who attack Jerusalem. This can also be seen clearly in Zechariah 14.
Joel 2-3 is about the “dreadful” Day of the Lord (or the Day of Yahweh). The day includes a long period of time when God will dwell in Zion, the holy hill of Jerusalem.
Joel 2:11 Yahweh thunders his voice before his army; for his forces are very great; for he is strong who obeys his command; for the day of Yahweh is great and very awesome, and who can endure it?
Joel 2:30-32 I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood, fire, and pillars of smoke. (31) The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes. (32) It will happen that whoever will call on the name of Yahweh shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as Yahweh has said, and among the remnant, those whom Yahweh calls.
Joel 3:12-18 "Let the nations arouse themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge all the surrounding nations. (13) Put in the sickle; for the harvest is ripe. Come, tread, for the winepress is full, the vats overflow, for their wickedness is great." (14) Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of Yahweh is near, in the valley of decision. (15) The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. (16) Yahweh will roar from Zion, and thunder from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth will shake; but Yahweh will be a refuge to his people, and a stronghold to the children of Israel. (17) "So you will know that I am Yahweh, your God, dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain. Then Jerusalem will be holy, and no strangers will pass through her any more. (18) It will happen in that day, that the mountains will drop down sweet wine, the hills will flow with milk, all the brooks of Judah will flow with waters, and a fountain will come forth from the house of Yahweh, and will water the valley of Shittim .
We can also find similar evidence about the Day of the Lord in the New Testament. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he spoke of the Day of the Lord coming as a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Did Paul and his audience interpret this day to be the 24-hour day during which the rapture happens? After all, he had just spoken about the rapture two verses earlier. When people are saying “peace and safety” (verse 3), sudden destruction will come. No doubt this is the sudden destruction of God’s wrath that we read about in the Old Testament. But is the Day of the Lord limited to a short time of sudden destruction?
In Paul’s second letter to the same church, we find that a problem had developed and Paul needed to correct it. A prophecy, report, or letter had been going around stating that the Day of the Lord had already come (2 Thessalonians 2:2). And this was in specific relation to our being gathered to Him, which would be the rapture (verse 1). If the Day of the Lord only relates strictly to the day of the rapture itself, then the prophecy, report, or letter would have made no sense. Just wait one day and everyone would know the rapture had not happened. Therefore, the Day of the Lord must be much longer than the one day during which the rapture occurs. If not, Paul would have simply laughed at it and said we have not yet been caught up in the rapture.
Instead, Paul had to give a sign which must happen before the Day of the Lord would come (verse 3). The man of lawlessness must be revealed before the Day of the Lord can come. This letter or rumor had made people believe the rapture was imminent. Paul was arguing against the Doctrine of Imminence. Since the Day of the Lord was understood to be the age to come, the false rumor or letter was saying that the age to come had already come. Thus, the rapture would happen at any moment now. Paul corrected this error. And the correction itself proves the Day of the Lord, while beginning with God’s wrath, is really the entire age to come. So let’s look at the verse in 2 Peter 3 again.
2 Peter 3:8-9 NIV But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. (9) The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
(Verse 10 NIV) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
Replace “Day of the Lord” with “The Age to Come.” It would read: “But the ‘age to come’ will come like a thief (with sudden destruction.) [Then] the heavens will be disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire.” Nobody would have assumed that the heavens and earth would be destroyed before the Messianic age that was to come. The heavens and the earth are destroyed after the Day of the Lord, which is the age to come.
Of course at this point most amillennialists are rolling their eyes. The traditional amillennial interpretation of this verse is that God sees time very differently from man, and what can seem like a long time to us can be a short time to God. So God’s promises are not slow in coming from God’s perspective, but they can be slow in coming from our perspective. And of course this interpretation is true. But it could also be true that God uses literal thousand-year days to help us understand his eternal nature.
Peter switched the words around. A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. Does this mean that God’s time is also short as well as long? Does it mean that during a 24-hour day, God does so much that it could seem like a thousand years to him? That’s generally the amillennial interpretation. But that would not fit the context. The context is the scoffers and the issue that God’s promises can seem to take a long time. Saying that God’s time is also short does nothing to help the context.
But if Peter is being literal about God’s days, then he is simply switching the words around for emphasis. He starts out with emphasis saying, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends.” Then he equates a day with a thousand years. And then he switches it around saying the same thing with the order reversed. If A = B, then B = A. In other words, one of God’s days are like a thousand of man’s years, and a thousand of man’s years are like one of God’s days. It’s just reversed for emphasis. This fits the context better. But if it’s reverse for emphasis, then it also comes across as more literal.
Many amillennialists will argue that I’m just using “Jewish fables” in my interpretation of Scripture. Ancient Jews believed in a millennial week that started with Adam. History would last seven thousand years. When amillennialists claim that I’m just using “Jewish fables,” and that I’m not sticking with Scripture, I can reply that I came to this belief purely from studying Scripture. And I had never been introduced to the idea that all God’s days are a thousand years. Years later I was excited to learn that many of the earliest church fathers also believed in the millennial week. The belief system back then was called Chiliasm. (This word is Greek for a thousand, whereas millennium is Latin for a thousand.) The early church (Chiliasm) started the millennial week with Adam. And they would often justify their belief with Peter’s words, “With the Lord a day is as a thousand years.”
It’s amazing how many people we know of who were Chiliasts, who made it through the pages of history, and had close connections to John himself. Irenaeus was definitely a Chiliast who wrote a lot about the subject. He was a student of Polycarp, who was a student of John. We don’t know enough about Polycarp to know whether or not he was a Chiliast. But, according to Irenaeus, Papias was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp. And Papias was a Chiliast. If the students of John were Chiliasts, then this is evidence that John himself interpreted his own words as a Chiliast. If we knew for a fact that John himself was a Chiliast, it would destroy amillennialism.
There was also a heretic named Cerinthius who was a Chiliast. And we know that he was an enemy of John. Some people believe that 1 John 5 was written specifically to oppose the teaching of Cerinthius. Cerinthius taught that Jesus and Christ were not the same. He taught that Jesus was not the Son of Man until he was baptized. And he taught that the Christ left Jesus before the crucifixion. (This is Gnosticism.) But 1 John 5 teaches against this heresy. Verse one says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Then starting with verse six we read, “This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” There is some disagreement here, but the water is probably Christ’s baptism and the blood is the crucifixion. John is arguing against Cerinthius’ position that Jesus was not the Christ before his baptism or at his crucifixion.
The specific teaching of anyone in history, outside the Scripture, is not in and of itself relevant. The issue is that people who had close connections to John himself were Chiliasts. Of course as Chiliasts, they could have picked up some Jewish teachings from sources other than John. But if they were Chiliasts of some kind, then it almost proves that John was a Chiliast of some kind, especially if an enemy of John was also a Chiliast of some kind. Obviously they would have discussed the issues of Revelation 20 with John, in relationship to Chiliasm. But suppose that John’s disciples never asked him about Revelation 20, and that they came up with these beliefs from so-called "Jewish fables." Would John's disciples have adopted a teaching that was taught by John's enemy? If John's enemy was teaching it, then either John himself was also teaching it, or John's disciples would have never adopted it. Since John's enemy Cerinthius was also a Chiliast, it seems highly unlikely that John's friends would have been Chiliasts unless John himself had not also taught it. If their beliefs of Chiliasm were totally off base with regard to Revelation 20, then they would have abandoned the belief entirely. The details of what they believed are not relevant, and making the details relevant would be to go outside Scripture for doctrine. All that is being shown here is evidence that this group of friends, and enemies, all of whom knew John, had a common type of belief system. That common type of belief system is Chiliasm. And Chiliasm (like premillennialism) is so far on the other end of the hermeneutical spectrum from amillennialism, that it would be impossible for John to have been amillennial.
Setting Revelation 20 aside for now, it seems to me that the only way to answer the question is to ask whether or not there was a pre-disposition to associating a literal thousand years with one of God's days. Remember that John and Peter were both Jews. So in the Jewish community of that time, if someone said, "A day of the Lord is like a thousand years," would those rabbis have interpreted the thousand years as being literal or figurative?
Without examining evidence outside of Scripture, the most natural interpretation of Revelation 20 is along the lines of premillennialism. But it can be interpreted as amillennial. Likewise, without examining evidence outside of Scripture, the most natural interpretation of 2 Peter 3 could be argued to be along the lines of amillennialism. But it can be interpreted as premillennial.
These two verses of Scripture are the only two verses that can arguably be speaking of a literal thousand years. Is the thousand years one of God’s days? Since both have been interpreted both ways, we should go outside the Scripture to find evidence of their presupposition. This is not to say that anything outside of Scripture is itself proof of a theological issue. We use Scripture itself to determine our doctrine. But when it’s unclear which way two different verses are to be interpreted, we must examine evidence of culture and other writings from the time of the writing. (And not from centuries later.) Anything that was written after the writing of Revelation should be from people who had very close ties to John himself. We are not interested in the opinions of others. All we want to know is the opinions of John and Peter.
The basic belief of Chiliasm is the millennial week. The writings that we have today of most early Christian Chiliasts didn't get into the details. But Irenaeus did. He equated the seventh day of the millennial week with the thousand years of Revelation 20. Justin Martyr also directly equates the seventh day with the thousand years of Revelation 20. Also Augustine, in his arguments against Chiliasm, understood the teaching as directly equating the seventh day with the thousand years of Revelation 20. We can easily identify Chiliasm because of the similarities to Jewish Chiliasm, where it was believed that, "With the Lord a day is a thousand years." Most Christian Chiliasts quoted this verse in 2 Peter 3 in the context of thousand-year days of Chiliasm. This saying is always associated with the millennial week, in both Christian and Jewish Chiliasm.
Since Christian Chiliasm is similar to Jewish Chiliasm, it's obvious that Jewish Chiliasm influenced Christian Chiliasm. The basic question is whether or not John was speaking about the seventh-day aspect of Jewish Chiliasm when he wrote Revelation 20. Since Jewish Chiliasm did influence Christian Chiliasm, we will start with the Jewish quotes, and then move onto the Christian Chiliasm quotes.
The Christian quotes will include Irenaeus, Barnabas, and Justin Martyr. I will also quote Augustine himself to show the belief system of Chiliasts, and how that belief system directly relates to the thousand years of Revelation 20.
The first Jewish ancient-text evidence for this is in the Book of Jubilees, chapter 4. Adam lived to be 930 years old. His age is being compared with a thousand years as a day. The fact that he did not live to be a thousand is given as the reason why he did not physically die on the day he ate the fruit. For Genesis 2:17 states that on the day Adam would eat of it he would surely die. Most scholars today interpret this as a spiritual death. But the writer of the Book of Jubilees interpreted it as a physical death. He explains this verse by literally equating a day with a thousand years. Later on, we will find this same usage of Genesis 2:17 in Justin Martyr's discussion of the millennial week and the thousand years of Revelation 20. It's obvious that Justin Martyr got this idea from Jubilees.
(Book of Jubilees, 4:29-31a) And at the close of the nineteenth jubilee, in the seventh week in the sixth year [930 A.M.] thereof, Adam died, and all his sons buried him in the land of his creation, and he was the first to be buried in the earth. And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; for one thousand years are as one day in the testimony of the heavens and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: 'On the day that ye eat thereof ye shall die.' For this reason he did not complete the years of this day; for he died during it.
The second Jewish ancient-text evidence for this is the Talmud Sanhedrin, Folio 97a. Here we find the millennial week itself. Here we see that the days of Psalm 90:4 are being interpreted as a literal thousand years. Also the days of Hosea 6:2 are being interpreted as a literal thousand years. Bottom line is that there was a strong association at that time with God's days being a literal thousand years.
It has been taught: R. Nehorai said: in the generation when Messiah comes, young men will insult the old, and old men will stand before the young [to give them honour]; daughters will rise up against their mothers, and daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. The people shall be dog-faced, and a son will not be abashed in his father's presence.
It has been taught, R. Nehemiah said: in the generation of Messiah's coming impudence will increase, esteem be perverted, the vine yield its fruit, yet shall wine be dear, and the Kingdom will be converted to heresy with none to rebuke them. This supports R. Isaac, who said: The son of David will not come until the whole world is converted to the belief of the heretics. Raba said: What verse [proves this]? it is all turned white: he is clean.
Our Rabbis taught: For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself of his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left: the son of David will not come until denunciators are in abundance. Another interpretation [of their power is gone]: until scholars are few. Another interpretation: until the [last] perutah has gone from the purse. Yet another interpretation: until the redemption is despaired of, for it is written, there is none shut up or left, as — were it possible [to say so] — Israel had neither Supporter nor Helper. Even as R. Zera , who, whenever he chanced upon scholars engaged thereon [I.e., in calculating the time of the Messiah's coming], would say to them: I beg of you, do not postpone it, for it has been taught: Three come unawares: Messiah, a found article and a scorpion.
R. Kattina said: Six thousand years shall the world exist, and one [thousand, the seventh], it shall be desolate, as it is written, And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. Abaye said: it will be desolate two [thousand], as it is said, After two days will he revive us: in the third day, he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight .
It has been taught in accordance with R. Kattina : Just as the seventh year is one year of release in seven, so is the world: one thousand years out of seven shall be fallow, as it is written, And the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day,' and it is further said, A Psalm and song for the Sabbath day, meaning the day that is altogether Sabbath — and it is also said, For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past.
The Tanna debe Eliyyahu teaches: The world is to exist six thousand years. In the first two thousand there was desolation; two thousand years the Torah flourished; and the next two thousand years is the Messianic era.
Peter was Jewish. John was Jewish. When Peter wrote that a day of the Lord is as a thousand years, he no doubt thought of these days as being literal thousand-year periods of time. If Peter's verse is interpreted literally, then we must also apply this interpretation to Revelation 20. It becomes the case of Scripture interpreting Scripture. If the thief in the night, and the destruction of the heavens and the earth in 2 Peter 3:10 covers a literal thousand years, then Revelation 20 must be interpreted literally, with the thousand years being the Day of the Lord.
Ok, now for the Christian Chiliast quotes. First, here are some quotes from Irenaeus (disciple of Polycarp, who was the disciple of John):
Here is what Irenaeus said about his teacher Polycarp:
I could describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat and taught; his going out and coming in; the whole tenor of his life; his personal appearance; how he would speak of the conversations he had held with John and with others who had seen the Lord. How did he make mention of their words and of whatever he had heard from them respecting the Lord.
Irenaeus: (AD. 120-202)
These men, therefore, ought to learn [what really is the state of the case], and go back to the true number of the name, that they be not reckoned among false prophets. But, knowing the sure number declared by Scripture, that is, six hundred sixty and six, let them await, in the first place, the division of the kingdom into ten; then, in the next place, when these kings are reigning, and beginning to set their affairs in order, and advance their kingdom, [let them learn] to acknowledge that he who shall come claiming the kingdom for himself, and shall terrify those men of whom we have been speaking, having a name containing the aforesaid number, is truly the abomination of desolation. This, too, the apostle affirms: "When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction shall come upon them." And Jeremiah does not merely point out his sudden coming, but he even indicates the tribe from which he shall come, where he says, "We shall hear the voice of his swift horses from Dan; the whole earth shall be moved by the voice of the neighing of his galloping horses: he shall also come and devour the earth, and the fulness thereof, the city also, and they that dwell therein." This, too, is the reason that this tribe is not reckoned in the Apocalypse along with those which are saved
[And at the conclusion to the chapter:]
But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom , that is, the rest, the hallowed seventh day; and restoring to Abraham the promised inheritance, in which kingdom the Lord declared, that many coming from the east and from the west should sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." [Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, XXX]
All this is a very literal interpretation of Bible prophecy. Notice that Irenaeus did not view the kingdom of God as being present-age. It is to be brought in by Christ. Notice the mention of the "hallowed seventh day." This terminology only comes from the literal idea that a day is a thousand years, and a thousand years is a day. The seventh day is the seventh millennium. Also notice that this was written after the temple was destroyed. So Irenaeus literally believed in a restored temple. He literally believed that the Antichrist would "sit in the temple at Jerusalem." Irenaeus believed in a literal Antichrist who will rule the earth during the Great Tribulation for 3 1/2 years and then Christ would return and set up a kingdom for a thousand years.
For what are the hundred-fold [rewards] in this word, the entertainments given to the poor, and the suppers for which a return is made? These are [to take place] in the times of the kingdom, that is, upon the seventh day, which has been sanctified, in which God rested from all the works which He created, which is the true Sabbath of the righteous, which they shall not be engaged in any earthly occupation; but shall have a table at hand prepared for them by God, supplying them with all sorts of dishes. [Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, XXXII]
This quote from Irenaeus would go against the idea that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now:
For this reason, when about to undergo His sufferings, that He might declare to Abraham and those with him the glad tidings of the inheritance being thrown open, [Christ], after He had given thanks while holding the cup, and had drunk of it, and given it to the disciples, said to them: "Drink ye all of it: this is My blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of this vine, until that day when I will drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." Thus, then, He will Himself renew the inheritance of the earth, and will re-organize the mystery of the glory of [His] sons; as David says, "He who hath renewed the face of the earth." He promised to drink of the fruit of the vine with His disciples, thus indicating both these points: the inheritance of the earth in which the new fruit of the vine is drunk, and the resurrection of His disciples in the flesh . For the new flesh which rises again is the same which also received the new cup. And He cannot by any means be understood as drinking of the fruit of the vine when settled down with his [disciples] above in a super-celestial place; nor, again, are they who drink it devoid of flesh, for to drink of that which flows from the vine pertains to flesh, and not spirit. [Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, XXXIII]
Irenaeus believed that the kingdom is after the coming of the Antichrist. He did not believe in "allegorizing" prophecy:
If, however, any shall endeavour to allegorize [prophecies] of this kind, they shall not be found consistent with themselves in all points, and shall be confuted by the teaching of the very expressions [in question]. For example: "When the cities" of the Gentiles "shall be desolate, so that they be not inhabited, and the houses so that there shall be no men in them and the land shall be left desolate." "For, behold," says Isaiah, "the day of the Lord cometh past remedy, full of fury and wrath, to lay waste the city of the earth, and to root sinners out of it." And again he says, "Let him be taken away, that he behold not the glory of God." And when these things are done, he says, "God will remove men far away, and those that are left shall multiply in the earth." "And they shall build houses, and shall inhabit them themselves: and plant vineyards, and eat of them themselves." For all these and other words were unquestionably spoken in reference to the resurrection of the just, which takes place after the coming of Antichrist, and the destruction of all nations under his rule; in [the times of] which [resurrection] the righteous shall reign in the earth, waxing stronger by the sight of the Lord: and through Him they shall become accustomed to partake in the glory of God the Father, and shall enjoy in the kingdom intercourse and communion with the holy angels, and union with spiritual beings; and [with respect to] those whom the Lord shall find in the flesh, awaiting Him from heaven, and who have suffered tribulation, as well as escaped the hands of the Wicked one. [Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, XXXV]
Irenaeus has earlier established that the kingdom is after the resurrection. And now he will establish that new heavens and the new earth are after the kingdom age. This quote, in the context of the seventh day, directly references Revelation 20.
Now all these things being such as they are, cannot be understood in reference to super-celestial matters; "for God," it is said, "will show to the whole earth that is under heaven thy glory." But in the times of the kingdom, the earth has been called again by Christ [to its pristine condition], and Jerusalem rebuilt after the pattern of the Jerusalem above, of which the prophet Isaiah says, "Behold, I have depicted thy walls upon my hands, and thou art always in my sight," And the apostle, too, writing to the Galatians, says in like manner, "But the Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all." He does not say this with any thought of an erratic Aeon, or of any other power which departed from the Pleroma, or of Prunicus, but of the Jerusalem which has been delineated on [God's] hands. And in the Apocalypse John saw this new [Jerusalem] descending upon the new earth. For after the times of the kingdom, he says, "I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat upon it, from whose face the earth fled away, and the heavens; and there was no more place for them." [Irenaeus: Against Heresies, Book V, XXXV]
Irenaeus, student of Polycarp, student of John himself, was a literalist. He read Revelation 20 in a literal way, and saw the thousand years as a time after the return of Christ. Today, we call this premillennialism.
Irenaeus would quote Barnabas (AD 100). Here is Barnabas on the millennial week.
Chapter XV.-The False and the True Sabbath.
Further, also, it is written concerning the Sabbath in the Decalogue which [the Lord] spoke, face to face, to Moses on Mount Sinai, "And sanctify ye the Sabbath of the Lord with clean hands and a pure heart. "And He says in another place, "If my sons keep the Sabbath, then will I cause my mercy to rest upon them. "The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: "And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it. "Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, "He finished in six days." This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth , saying, "Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years. "Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. "And He rested on the seventh day." This meaneth: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day. Moreover, He says, "Thou shalt sanctify it with pure hands and a pure heart." If, therefore, any one can now sanctify the day which God hath sanctified, except he is pure in heart in all things, we are deceived. Behold, therefore: certainly then one properly resting sanctifies it, when we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing, and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having been first sanctified ourselves. Further, He says to them, "Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure.” Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens.
Next will be Justin Martyr (110-165 AD). Justin directly equates the thousand years with (A) The thousand years from the Book of Jubilees, (B) The thousand years from "With the Lord a Day is as a thousand years", and (C) John's Revelation. Justin also quoted a lot of Isaiah and directly said that Isaiah was talking about a thousand years.
By the way, this was written to a Jew, and in the very next chapter, Justin says that the promises given to the Jews had been transferred to the Christians.
Justin Martyr, The Dialog of Justin:
Chapter LXXX.-The Opinion of Justin with Regard to the Reign of a Thousand Years. Several Catholics Reject It.
And Trypho to this replied, "I remarked to you sir, that you are very anxious to be safe in all respects, since you cling to the Scriptures. But tell me, do you really admit that this place, Jerusalem, shall be rebuilt; and do you expect your people to be gathered together, and made joyful with Christ and the patriarchs, and the prophets, both the men of our nation, and other proselytes who joined them before your Christ came? or have you given way, and admitted this in order to have the appearance of worsting us in the controversies? "
Then I answered, "I am not so miserable a fellow, Trypho , as to say one thing and think another. I admitted to you formerly, that I and many others are of this opinion, and [believe] that such will take place, as you assuredly are aware; but, on the other hand, I signified to you that many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise. Moreover, I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, atheistical, and foolish. But that you may know that I do not say this before you alone, I shall draw up a statement, so far as I can, of all the arguments which have passed between us; in which I shall record myself as admitting the very same things which I admit to you. For I choose to follow not men or men's doctrines, but God and the doctrines [delivered] by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this [truth], and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians, even as one, if he would rightly consider it, would not admit that the Sadducees, or similar sects of Genistae, Meristae, Galilaeans , Hellenists, Pharisees, Baptists, are Jews (do not hear me impatiently when I tell you what I think), but are [only] called Jews and children of Abraham, worshipping God with the lips, as God Himself declared, but the heart was far from Him. But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, [as] the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.
Chapter LXXXI.-He Endeavours to Prove This Opinion from Isaiah and the Apocalypse.
"For Isaiah spake thus concerning this space of a thousand years: `For there shall be the new heaven and the new earth, and the former shall not be remembered, or come into their heart; but they shall find joy and gladness in it, which things I create. For, Behold, I make Jerusalem a rejoicing, and My people a joy; and I shall rejoice over Jerusalem, and be glad over My people. And the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, or the voice of crying. And there shall be no more there a person of immature years, or an old man who shall not fulfil his days. For the young man shall be an hundred years old; but the sinner who dies an hundred years old, he shall be accursed. And they shall build houses, and shall themselves inhabit them; and they shall plant vines, and shall themselves eat the produce of them, and drink the wine. They shall not build, and others inhabit; they shall not plant, and others eat. For according to the days of the tree of life shall be the days of my people; the works of their toil shall abound. Mine elect shall not toil fruitlessly, or beget children to be cursed; for they shall be a seed righteous and blessed by the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call I will hear; while they are still speaking, I shall say, What is it? Then shall the wolves and the lambs feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent [shall eat] earth as bread. They shall not hurt or maltreat each other on the holy mountain, saith the Lord.' Now we have understood that the expression used among these words, `According to the days of the tree [of life] shall be the days of my people; the works of their toil shall abound' obscurely predicts a thousand years. For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression, `The day of the Lord is as a thousand years,' is connected with this subject. And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place. Just as our Lord also said, `They shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but shall be equal to the angels, the children of the God of the resurrection.'
Papias was a Chiliast, and "a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp." We don't have so much on him as we do Barnabas, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr. But here is a quote from a church historian that shows Papias was a Chiliast.
Schoedel writes about Papias (The Anchor Bible Dictionary , v. 5, p. 140):
According to Irenaeus, our earliest witness, Papias was "a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, a man of primitive times," who wrote a volume in "five books" (haer. 5.33.4; quoted by Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.39.1). Eusebius already doubted the reality of a connection between Papias and the apostle John on the grounds that Papias himself in the preface to his book distinguished the apostle John from John the presbyter and seems to have had significant contact only with John the presbyter and a certain Aristion (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-7). Eusebius' skepticism was no doubt prompted by his distaste - perhaps a recently acquired distaste (Grant 1974) - for Papias' chiliasm and his feeling that such a theology qualified Papias for the distinction of being "a man of exceedingly small intelligence" (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.13). Nevertheless Eusebius' analysis of the preface is probably correct; and his further point that Papias' chiliasm put him to the same camp as the Revelation of John is surely relevant. It is notable that Eusebius, in spite of his desire to discredit Papias, still places him as early as the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98-117); and although later dates (e.g., A.D. 130-140) have often been suggested by modern scholars, Bartlet's date for Papias' literary activity of about A.D. 100 has recently gained support (Schoedel 1967: 91-92; Kortner 1983: 89-94, 167-72, 225-26).
Another good person to quote about the Chiliast belief system is Augustine himself. He is writing a bit later, but he is quite familiar with the Chiliast belief system and defines it well in order to argue against it. This quote shows that Augustine understood Chiliasm, and had once believed it himself. This quote shows that Chiliasm directly relates to the thousand years of Revelation 20.
Augustine, The City of God, Book XX:
Chapter 7.-What is Written in the Revelation of John Regarding the Two Resurrections, and the Thousand Years, and What May Reasonably Be Held on These Points.
The evangelist John has spoken of these two resurrections in the book which is called the Apocalypse, but in such a way that some Christians do not understand the first of the two, and so construe the passage into ridiculous fancies. For the Apostle John says in the foresaid book, "And I saw an angel come down from heaven. . . . Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years." Those who, on the strength of this passage, have suspected that the first resurrection is future and bodily, have been moved, among other things, specially by the number of a thousand years, as if it were a fit thing that the saints should thus enjoy a kind of Sabbath-rest during that period, a holy leisure after the labors of the six thousand years since man was created , and was on account of his great sin dismissed from the blessedness of paradise into the woes of this mortal life, so that thus, as it is written, "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," there should follow on the completion of six thousand years, as of six days, a kind of seventh-day Sabbath in the succeeding thousand years; and that it is for this purpose the saints rise, viz., to celebrate this Sabbath. And. this opinion would not be objectionable, if it were believed that the joys of the saints in that Sabbath shall be spiritual, and consequent on the presence of God; for I myself, too, once held this opinion. But, as they assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself, such assertions can be believed only by the carnal. They who do believe them are called by the spiritual Chiliasts, which we may literally reproduce by the name Millenarians. It were a tedious process to refute these opinions point by point: we prefer proceeding to show how that passage of Scripture should be understood.
Bottom line is that there is strong evidence, that in ancient Jewish culture, there was a strong presupposition to associating one of God's days with a literal thousand years. Knowing this was a part of their upbringing, we should interpret Revelation 20 and 2 Peter 3 naturally and not allegorically.
The seven letters to the seven churches each promise a reward, related to salvation, to those who overcome. In other words, all who believe and trust in Christ get these rewards. All true Christians get these rewards. Notice that to receive these rewards one must overcome sin and keep Christ’s works to the end. It’s not just a matter of intellectual belief. It’s a real commitment. It’s a life that leads to a complete overcoming of all sinful habits. This reward reads as follows:
Revelation 2:26-27 He who overcomes, and he who keeps my works to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations. (27) He will rule them with a rod of iron, shattering them like clay pots; as I also have received of my Father:
Those of us who overcome all our sinful habits will rule over the nations. So who are the nations over which we will rule? Some amillennialists have said that this verse is talking about ruling the nations currently – not after Christ returns. But the verse says, “to the end.” In other words, we must “overcome” and do Christ’s will “to the end.” Only then do we receive authority over the nations. Also, all the other rewards in these seven letters are things we get after Christ returns, or after we die. Some may argue that Christians rule from heaven after they die. But this is not supported elsewhere by Scripture. Unless you are Catholic and believe in the Catholic tradition of sainthood, there is no evidence of dead saints ruling from heaven. Who are the nations over which we will rule after Christ returns?
To get around this, many amillennialists will claim that this verse is talking about the destruction of the nations when Christ returns. The KJV uses the word ‘power’ instead of ‘authority’. And it uses the words ‘iron rod’ instead of ‘iron scepter.’ Thus they see Christ as destroying the nations with an iron rod by “dashing them to pieces like pottery.” But will we personally be destroying the nations with an iron rod? Is this really our reward for overcoming sin? If so, I think I would decline that reward. I don’t want to be personally involved in killing sinners. The Judgment of the nations is reserved for Christ. Christ will not be giving us the ‘power’ and task of personally destroying the nations.
Christ will “rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery.” This is a quote of Psalm 2:9. The context here is Psalm 2:6-12. David (or Christ) is being promised that the nations will be his inheritance and possession. It’s talking about rule, not destruction. Another verse, Psalm 31:12, also uses this imagery of broken pottery. It’s talking about breaking one’s spirit of wickedness. It’s not talking about physical destruction.
Psalms 2:6-9 "Yet I have set my King on my holy hill of Zion." (7) I will tell of the decree. Yahweh said to me, "You are my son. Today I have become your father. (8) Ask of me, and I will give the nations for your inheritance, the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. (9) You shall break them with a rod of iron. You shall dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
In the discussion of this verse, some amillennialists make reference to Revelation 19:15, which speaks of Christ ruling with an iron scepter (or rod). This is in context of Armageddon, where they claim that everyone on the earth is killed. True, all those in this battle are killed. But is everyone in the world killed? The context of this battle remains as being just the battle, except for possibly verse 18, which says, “all people, free and slave, small and great.” The Greek words for ‘all’, ‘free’, ‘slave’, ‘small’, and ‘great’ are adjectives. Only adjectives are given in the Greek. In English, it’s like the movie title, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” No noun is given. In these cases, the translator usually adds the word ‘people’ or ‘men’. But in this case, adding the noun tends to shift the context to the entire world. If we leave the word ‘people’ or ‘men’ out, like it’s done in the Greek, then the context tends to remain with the battle. In other words, a better translation of verse 18 would be, “so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of [them] all, free and slave, small and great.” Kings, generals, mighty men, horses, and riders, by context, are all at this battle. The context of the unsupplied noun should also remain in the same context. Revelation 19 does not teach that everyone in all the nations is destroyed.
There is another verse in Revelation that speaks of Christ ruling with an iron scepter. This verse does not indicate the destruction of the nations. The male child is born a King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). As Revelation 12:5 says, He rules from his throne.
Revelation 12:5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. Her child was caught up to God, and to his throne.
It’s also helpful to point out that the word ‘rule’ in these verses is literally ‘Shepherd.’ It’s the same Greek word as in Matthew 2:6, where Matthew is quoting Micah 2:52 about a ruler who will come from Bethlehem and will Shepherd the people of Israel. Does a Shepherd destroy his sheep? Jesus will ‘Shepherd’ the nations with an iron scepter. Does this mean he will destroy his sheep?
So Revelation 2:26-27 is in agreement with the natural chronological view of 1 Corinthians 15:22-26. When Christ returns “those who belong to him” are resurrected and receive spiritual bodies. They are given authority to rule over the nations. But for the nations, there is still the possibility of sin and death. The last enemy is not destroyed until after the reign of Christ. And Christ shares this reign with those who are in him and who completely overcome sin.
It’s not too hard to search through the New Testament and find all the verses that refer to the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. The kingdom of heaven occurs 31 times in Matthew, and does not occur in any other New Testament book. The kingdom of God occurs 4 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark, 31 times in Luke, 2 times in John, 6 times in Acts, and 8 times in Paul’s letters. Paul also refers to the kingdom of Christ once in Ephesians. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in meaning between the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of Christ. All three terms mean the same thing.
The Jews were expecting to see a natural kingdom when the Messiah came. They were expecting Israel to be that natural kingdom. When Scripture uses one of these three terms, is it talking about the type of natural kingdom that everyone was expecting? Or do these verses instead speak of a spiritual kingdom of heaven that is not of this world? Amillennialists make lists of these verses and observe that more of them are teaching about a spiritual kingdom. So they conclude that Christ was teaching against the natural kingdom that everyone had expected. But is it an either-or situation? Could Christ have been teaching about a spiritual kingdom that is in place now, without teaching against the natural kingdom that is still to come? Perhaps the natural kingdom the disciples were expecting is still to take place. Perhaps in teaching about the spiritual kingdom of heaven, Jesus was teaching about how we must be born again before we can enter that future natural kingdom (John 3:3).
Can the kingdom of heaven be both spiritual and natural? Can the natural be a fulfillment of the spiritual?
When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the price so that the spiritual kingdom can come (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). So spiritually, the kingdom has been won and Christ sits on the throne in heaven. Spiritually, it's a done deal. But naturally, Satan is still prince of this world. Sin still rules the world. The kingdom exists literally only in our hearts and in heaven. Something can be spiritually true, but not yet naturally true, when from God’s perspective it’s a done deal. Yet from our natural perspective, it’s still to be fulfilled in the future.
Salvation works in the same way. The kingdom of heaven is very much like salvation. Christ brought a reconciliation between God and man at the cross. Because of this, we were saved (justification) when we first became believers. We are continuing to be saved (sanctification) as we do the works of the Father and overcome all the sinful habits in our lives. We will be saved (glorification) when we receive our spiritual bodies when Christ returns. All three can be found in Scripture. Spiritually, we are saved. It's a done deal. But naturally we are still waiting on immortal bodies. In a literal sense, we are to be saved from death. So in a literal sense, we are not yet saved. But when we have immortal bodies, we will be saved from sin and death. Likewise, the kingdom of heaven is here-and-now spiritually. It became a done deal at the cross. But naturally it's not yet here.
John 3:3 is a good verse to see both aspects of the kingdom of heaven in one verse. "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." Here is that word "see." No one can "see" the kingdom without being born again. Luke 17:20-21 says that no one can observe the kingdom in our hearts. But as we will see, Jesus was not just talking about a spiritual birth. He is primarily talking about being physically born again into a spiritual body.
We must interpret Scripture in the way the audience would have understood. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and would have understood the kingdom to be the Messianic reign. When Nicodemus didn't understand how he could go back into his mother's womb, Jesus said, "You are Israel's teacher, and do you not understand these things?" Jesus was being kind to Nicodemus. He wasn't being sarcastic. Jesus was speaking of Scripture about being born again, of which Nicodemus was not aware. Jesus was talking about the earth giving birth to her dead (Isaiah 26:16-21). In other words, at the resurrection we will literally be "born again."
Later on, this idea of "born again" was applied to salvation in all three stages. We are "new creatures." Spiritually, this is true. But we won't be naturally born again until the resurrection. When Christ returns, we will be "born" into new spiritual bodies. The metaphor from Isaiah of the pregnant woman and her birth pains was continued after this when talking about the resurrection (Matt. 24:8, John 3:3-10, 16:19-24, Rom. 8:22, Gal. 4:19, 1 Thess. 5:3, Rev 12:2).
Verses 5 and 6 say, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." So you have to have a spiritual body in order to enter the natural kingdom of God. And you have to be spiritually born again in order for the kingdom of heaven to be in your hearts. The Holy Spirit is spiritually in us now. This is a promise of that which is to come. The Holy Spirit will give us spiritual bodies when Christ returns. Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Verse 8 says, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." Taken literally, if you have to have a spiritual body you can literally "come and go like the wind, so that no one can tell from where it is you are going." Jesus demonstrated this after His resurrection with his spiritual body when he would appear in the middle of locked rooms. So naturally, this is a description of spiritual bodies. But spiritually, this verse can be interpreted to mean that the Holy Spirit leads us in ways that others don't understand.
Verse 12 says, "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?" The earthly things are about the natural kingdom of heaven that will come, and the natural "born again" event that will take place when the earth gives birth to the dead. The heavenly things are the spiritual aspects of what it takes to walk the path of salvation.
So the kingdom of heaven is both earthly and heavenly in this one verse.
When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus was not going to build up an army against Rome. Amillennialists are quick to point out all the verses that teach the kingdom of heaven is here and now. His ability to drive out demons was proof that the kingdom of heaven had come (Matt. 12:28, Mark 1:15, Luke 10:9-11, 11:20). Christ is currently sitting on his throne in heaven (Matt. 28:18, Acts 2:33, Heb. 12:2).
Currently, the kingdom of heaven is not in the world. It’s in heaven and it’s in our hearts (Luke 17:20-21). But when speaking to Pontius Pilate, did Jesus say that his kingdom would never, in the future, be of this world? While speaking to Pilate, was Jesus addressing the issue of the end-times, as he did in the Olivetti Discourse? He uses a present tense verb when speaking to Pilate. Jesus was simply assuring Pilate that no army would be attacking him. His kingdom was not of this world, at that time. To apply this statement to the end times is taking it out of context, as well as changing the verb tense. At the seventh trumpet of Revelation, the angel clearly states, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). Was not Jesus praying for this very thing when he prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)?
Jesus used many parables to speak about the nature of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was not going to usher in a literal kingdom of heaven at that time (Luke 17:20-21). His purpose was to teach how we must become new creatures before we will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). Jesus was constantly talking about the kingdom of heaven with parables. These parables taught us how our hearts must be changed before we can enter the kingdom of heaven. Do any of these vast numbers of verses deny a literal kingdom of heaven after the resurrection?
In Luke 21:29-31, Jesus told his parable about the second coming. He said when we see all these things happening, we are to know the kingdom of God is near. In other words, Jesus is saying the very thing amillennialists must deny. The kingdom of God is currently not of this world (John 18:36). But after the resurrection, the kingdom of heaven will come. Luke 21:29-31 makes this clear in speaking of a future kingdom that has not yet come. Today we have a spiritual kingdom of heaven in our hearts. So the only kingdom of heaven that will come in the future must be a natural and literal kingdom of heaven. In other words, Jesus never taught the disciples that their belief was incorrect. They were right that the kingdom of heaven would come as a natural and literal kingdom. The only issue that he was trying to correct was the issue of when it would happen, and of the need for our hearts to be ready. At the time, they were not ready to rule the world.
Of course the disciples were always hopeful that Jesus would go ahead and set up a natural kingdom. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples ask Jesus when it would happen (Acts 1:6-7). Jesus replied saying that it was not for them to know the times or dates in which it will happen. Again, Jesus does not deny that it will happen. The disciples were not to know the day or the hour of Christ’s return. But after Christ returns, there will be a natural kingdom of heaven. At the Lord’s Supper, Jesus vowed not to drink wine again until he drinks it with us in the Father’s kingdom. In other words, that will be the victory celebration after the resurrection. It’s the wedding feast spoken of in Matthew 25:1-12 and Revelation 19:7. Today, the kingdom of heaven is not of this world (John 18:36). But at that unknown time, it will be.
Christ’s kingdom will never end (Luke 1:32, Heb. 1:8). Some amillennialists, including Calvin, have criticized millennialism by pointing this out, saying that millennialists limit the kingdom to a thousand years. But no millennialist today would believe it’s limited. After the thousand years, we have the final judgment, and then the new heavens and the new earth. The kingdom just continues right on into eternity.
This promise to Mary in Luke 1:32 not only tells us that Christ’s kingdom is eternal, it also tells us that it’s a fulfillment of God’s covenant with David. Today, Christ sits on his throne in heaven. So today, this is a partial fulfillment of that covenant. But we must interpret Scripture in the way the author and his readers would interpret Scripture. David sat on an earthly throne. And God’s promise to Mary reads very much like an earthly rule. It’s stated as being a rule over the house of Jacob. Would not Mary have interpreted this promise as an earthly rule? Would not David have interpreted this covenant as an earthly rule? After all he was sitting on an earthly throne. And he was promised that his son would continue to sit on his throne forever (2 Samuel 7:11b-16, 2 Chronicles 21:7, Psalms 89:3-4, Jeremiah 33:20-21). We can spiritualize this promise. But it’s not what David and later Mary would have understood. So it’s not a good exegesis of Scripture. When the Lord’s Prayer is answered, for his kingdom of heaven to become the kingdom of earth, then the promise to David and Mary will be kept in the way they would have understood it to be.
Also, Isaiah specifically saw the covenant with David as being an earthly kingdom, because he said the “government will be on his shoulders.” He said the increase of this government would have no end. Isaiah said Christ would reign on David’s throne. Did David have a throne in heaven? Isaiah said Christ would reign over David’s kingdom. Was David’s kingdom in heaven? All this is in a very familiar Christmas verse (Isaiah 9:6-7). Isaiah made this very clear. It’s a natural rule. But amillennialists take great liberty in making Isaiah say something that I’m sure Isaiah did not intend to say. And no New Testament verse denies that there will be a literal earthly kingdom after Christ returns, just as Isaiah describes.
Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (7) Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, on the throne of David, and on his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time on, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of Armies will perform this.
An obvious aspect of a natural earthly kingdom is natural rule and authority. In Matthew 19:23-30, Jesus speaks of the difficulty for rich men to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is talking about how worldly possessions will prevent the change in hearts that are necessary in order to enter the kingdom (John 3:3). The disciples respond saying that they have left everything in order to follow Jesus. He then tells them that “at the renewal of all things,” each of them will sit on a throne and will rule the twelve tribes of Israel. Is this a natural rule? Given the fact that the disciples were expecting a natural kingdom of heaven, would not they interpret this as a natural kingdom? Yet this natural kingdom is not a kingdom that is currently of this world (John 18:36). It’s a natural kingdom that comes into the world “at the renewal of all things.” Interpreting this verse the way the disciples would have surely interpreted it, the disciples will get literal thrones from which to rule a natural kingdom. By combining Matthew’s account of this and Mark’s account of this, it becomes even clearer (Mark 10:23). Mark’s account does not mention the twelve thrones. But Marks’ account makes it clear that the eternal life that’s promised is in “the age to come.” So the twelve thrones are also in “the age to come.” We should always interpret Scripture based on the culture of the time, and in the way the audience would have naturally understood the speaker.
Matthew 17:10-13 His disciples asked him, saying, "Then why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" (11) Jesus answered them, "Elijah indeed comes first, and will restore all things, (12) but I tell you that Elijah has come already, and they didn't recognize him, but did to him whatever they wanted to. Even so the Son of Man will also suffer by them." (13) Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptizer.
Amillennialists might argue that the disciples are currently ruling on twelve thrones from heaven. But this to be “at the renewal of all things.” After seeing Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples asked Jesus about Elijah. Was not Elijah to come first? Jesus explained that John the Baptist was Elijah. Yet Jesus also said, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things” (Matt. 17:11). The phrase, “will restore all things” contains a future-tense verb. Elijah had already come, but had not restored all things. Yet Elijah will come, and will restore all things. There are two comings of Christ, and also two comings of Elijah. When all things are restored, the disciples will sit on thrones and rule Israel. In the very next verse, Jesus goes on to say, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matthew 19:30). The disciples were willing to be last by giving up all they had to follow Christ. So they will be first in the future kingdom of heaven.