Chapter 20: The Millennium and the Judgment

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

What is the position of the historic, orthodox Church on the question of the Millennium? Can the doctrine of the Church be accurately described as either postmillennialist or amillennialist? In general, the difference between those traditionally called “amillennialists” and those traditionally called “postmillennialists” has been set in terms of their interpretations of the “thousand years” (in Latin, the millennium) of Revelation 20. ”Amillennialists” have usually seen this text as a reference to the condition of the saints reigning in heaven, while “postmillennialists” have understood it as a description of the saints’ dominion on earth. As we shall see, however, this way of framing the question can actually obscure some very important facts about the Christian view of “the Millennium.” If we wish to gain an understanding of the orthodox position, we must understand that the answer to this precise question cannot be determined primarily by the exegesis of particular texts. For example, “amillennialists” often disagree with each other about the precise nature of the resurrection(s) in Revelation 20 (to cite only one of several major points in dispute). And Benjamin Warfield, perhaps the leading “postmillennialist” scholar of the early part of this century, proposed an exegesis of Revelation 20 which most theologians would consider to be classically “amillennialist”![1]

Our framing of the question, therefore, should be broad enough to account for the diversity of approach among the various amillennialist and postmillennialist camps. In essence, the question of the Millennium centers on the mediatorial Kingdom of Christ: When did (or will) Christ’s Kingdom begin? And once we pose the question this way, something amazing happens – something almost unheard of in Christian circles: Unity! From the Day of Pentecost onward, orthodox Christians have recognized that Christ’s reign began at His Resurrection/Ascension and continues until all things have been thoroughly subdued under His feet, as St. Peter clearly declared (Acts 2:30-36). “The Millennium,” in these terms, is simply the Kingdom of Christ. It was inaugurated at Christ’s First Advent, has been in existence for almost two thousand years, and will go on until Christ’s Second Advent at the Last Day. In “millennial” terminology, this means that the return of Christ and the resurrection of all men will take place after “the Millennium.” In this objective sense, therefore, orthodox Christianity has always been postmillennialist. That is to say, regardless of how “the Millennium” has been conceived (whether in a heavenly or an earthly sense) – i.e., regardless of the technical exegesis of certain points in Revelation 20 – orthodox Christians have always confessed that Jesus Christ will return after (”post”) the period designated as “the thousand years” has ended. In this sense, all “amillennialists” are also “postmillennialists.” At the same time, orthodox Christianity has always been amillennialist (i.e., non-millenarian). The historic Church has always rejected the heresy of Millenarianism (in past centuries, this was called chiliasm, meaning thousand-year-ism). The notion that the reign of Christ is something wholly future, to be brought in by some great social cataclysm, is not a Christian doctrine. It is an unorthodox teaching, generally espoused by heretical sects on the fringes of the Christian Church.[2] Now, Millenarianism can take two general forms. It can be either Pre-millenarianism (with the Second Coming as the cataclysm that ushers in the Millennium), or Postmillennarianism (with the Social Revolution as the cataclysm). Examples of the first branch of Chiliasm would be, of course, the Ebionite movement of the Early Church period, and the modern Dispensationalism of the Scofield-Ryrie school.[3] Examples of the Postmillennarian heresy would be easy to name as well: the Münster Revolt of 1534, Nazism, and Marxism (whether “Christian” or otherwise).[4] Orthodox Christianity rejects both forms of the Millenarian heresy. Christianity opposes the notion of any new redemptive cataclysm occurring before the Last Judgment. Christianity is anti-revolutionary. Thus, while Christians have always looked forward to the salvation of the world, believing that Christ died and rose again for that purpose, they have also seen the Kingdom’s work as a leavening influence, gradually transforming the world into the image of God. The definitive cataclysm has already taken place, in the finished work of Christ. Depending on the specific question being asked, therefore, orthodox Christianity can be considered either amillennial or postmillennial – because, in reality, it is both.

One further point should be understood: In addition to being both “amillennialist” and “postmillennialist,” the orthodox Christian Church has been generally optimistic in her view of the power of the Gospel to convert the nations. In my book Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), I opened each chapter with a quotation from the great St. Athanasius on the subject of the victory of the Gospel throughout the world and the inevitable conversion of all nations to Christianity. The point was not to single out St. Athanasius as such; numerous statements expressing the Hope of the Church for the worldwide triumph of the Gospel can be found throughout the writings of the great Fathers and teachers, in every age of Christianity.[5] Even more significantly, the universal belief in the coming victory can be seen in the action of the Church in history. Christians never supposed that their high calling was to work for some sort of detente with the Enemy. “Pluralism” was never regarded by the orthodox as a worthy goal. The Church has always recognized that God sent His only begotten Son in order to redeem the world, and that He will be satisfied with nothing less than what He paid for. When the early missionaries from the East first ventured into the demonized lands of our pagan forefathers, they had not the slightest intention of developing peaceful coexistence with warlocks and their terrorizing deities. When St. Boniface came up against Thor’s sacred oak tree in his mission to the heathen Germans, he simply chopped it down and built a chapel out of the wood. Thousands of Thor-worshipers, seeing that their god had failed to strike St. Boniface with lightning, converted to Christianity on the spot. As for St. Boniface, he was unruffled by the incident. He knew that there was only one true God of thunder – the Triune Jehovah.

There is nothing strange about this. The attitude of Hope, the expectation of victory, is an absolutely fundamental characteristic of Christianity.[6] The advance of the Church through the ages is inexplicable apart from it – just as it is also inexplicable apart from the fact that the Hope is true, the fact that Jesus Christ has defeated the powers and shall reign “from the River to the ends of the earth.” W. G. T. Shedd wrote: ”Apart from the power and promise of God, the preaching of such a religion as Christianity, to such a population as that of paganism, is the sheerest Quixotism. It crosses all the inclinations, and condemns all the pleasures of guilty man. The preaching of the Gospel finds its justification, its wisdom, and its triumph, only in the attitude and relation which the infinite and almighty God sustains to it. It is His religion, and therefore it must ultimately become a universal religion.”[7]

With the rise of divergent eschatologies over the last two centuries, the traditional evangelical optimism of the Church was tagged with the term “postmillennialism,” whether the so-called “postmillennialists” liked it or not. This has had positive and negative results. On the plus side, it is (as we have seen) a technically accurate description of orthodoxy; and it carries the connotation of optimism. On the minus side, it can too often be confused with heretical millenarianism. And, while “amillennialism” rightly expresses the orthodox abhorrence of apocalyptic revolution, it carries (both by name and by historic association) a strong connotation of defeatism.[8] The present writer therefore calls himself a “postmillennialist,” but also seeks to be sensitive to the inadequacies of current theological terminology.[9]

This “generic” postmillennialism holds that Jesus Christ established His mediatorial Kingdom by His death, resurrection, and ascension to the heavenly Throne, and as the Second Adam rules over all creation until the end of the world, when He shall come again to judge the living and the dead; that He is conquering all nations by the Gospel, extending the fruits of His victory throughout the world, thereby fulfilling the dominion mandate originally given by God to Adam; that eventually, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9); and that the Biblical promises of abundant blessing, in every area of life, will be poured out by God upon the whole world, in covenantal response to the faithfulness of His people. [10]

The Binding of Satan (20:1·3)

  1. And I saw an Angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the Abyss and a great chain in His hand.
  2. And He laid hold of the Dragon, the Serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world, and bound him for a thousand years,
  3. and threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

1          The importance of the imagery in this passage is heightened by its centrality as the fourth of seven visions introduced by the expression And I saw (kai eidon; cf. 19:11, 17, 19; 20:4, 11; 21:1). St. John sees an Angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the Abyss and a great chain in His hand. Again, as in 10:1 and 18:1 (cf. 12:7), this is the Lord Jesus Christ, who as Mediator is the Angel (Messenger) of the Covenant (Mal. 2:7; 3:1). His absolute control and authority over the Abyss are symbolized by the key and the great chain. The author sets up a striking contrast: Satan, the evil star that fell from heaven, was briefly given the key to the Abyss (9:1); but Christ descended from heaven, having as His lawful possession “the keys of death and of Hades” (1:18).

2-3      St. John brings together the various descriptions of the evil one that he has used throughout the prophecy: the Dragon 02:3-4,7, 9, 13, 16-17; 13:2, 4, 11; 16:13), the Serpent of old (9:19; 12:9, 14-15), the devil (2:10; 12:9, 12), Satan (2:9, 13, 24; 3:9; 12:9), the deceiver of the whole world (2:20; 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20). But the terrifying power of this enemy only serves to display the surpassing greatness of his Conqueror, who has so easily rendered him impotent: Jesus Christ, in His mission as the ”Angel from heaven,” laid hold of the Dragon… and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the Abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him. As St. John declared in his first epistle, Christ “appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). In terms of this purpose, the Lord began “binding the strong man” during His earthly ministry; having successfully completed His mission, He is now plundering Satan’s house and carrying off his property:

If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. (Matt. 12:28-29; cf. Luke 11:20-22)

Herman Ridderbos comments on the significance of this statement, and goes on to provide an excellent summary of the Gospel accounts of Christ’s victory over the devil: “This passage [Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20] is not an isolated one. The whole struggle of Jesus against the devils is determined by the antithesis between the kingdom of heaven and the rule of Satan, and time and again Jesus’ superior power over Satan and Satan’s dominion proves the break-through on the part of the kingdom of God. This is already proved at the start by the temptation in the wilderness. There can be no doubt that in it the issue is Jesus’ messianic kingship. Three times in succession it is Satan’s point of departure, referring back to the divine words about Jesus at his baptism (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; Matt. 4:3, 6; Luke 4:3, 9). Especially the temptation with respect to ‘all the kingdoms of the world’ (Matt. 4:8ff.; Luke 4:5ff.) shows what is at issue in the struggle between Jesus and Satan. Here Satan appears as ‘the prince of the world’ (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), who opposes God’s kingdom, and who knows that Jesus will dispute that power with him in the name of God. Here, then, together with the Messiahship, the kingdom of God is at issue. At the same time it appears that the victory over Satan to be gained by the kingdom of God is not only a matter of power, but first and foremost one of obedience on the part of the Messiah. The Messiah must not make an arbitrary use of the authority entrusted to him. He will have to acquire the power that Satan offers him only in the way ordained by God. That is why Jesus’ rejection of the temptation is already the beginning of his victory and of the coming of the kingdom, although this victory will have to be renewed again and again during his life on earth (cf. Luke 4:13; Matt. 16:23, and parallels; 26:38, and parallels; 27:40-43, and parallels). From the beginning of his public activity Jesus’ power over Satan had already asserted itself. This is not only proved by the casting out of devils in itself, but also by the manner in which those possessed by the devil behave in his presence (cf. Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34; Mark 5:7; Matt. 8:29; Luke 8:28, 31). When Jesus approaches they raise a cry, obviously in fear. They show that they have a supernatural knowledge of his person and of the significance of his coming (cf. Mark 1:34; 3:11). They call him ‘the Holy One of God,’ ‘the Son of God,’ ‘Son of the most high God.’ By this they recognize his messianic dignity (cf. Luke 4:41). They consider his coming as their own destruction (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34); their torment (Matt. 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 8:28). They feel powerless and try only to lengthen their existence on earth (Matt. 8:29; Mark 5:10), and implore him not to send them into ‘the deep,’ that is to say, the place of their eternal woe (Luke 8:31, cf. Rev. 20:3ff.). All this shows that in Jesus’ person and coming the kingdom has become a present reality. For the exercise of God’s power over the devil and his rule has the coming of the kingdom for its foundation.

”And finally we must refer in this context to Luke 10:18-19. Jesus has sent out the seventy (or seventy-two) who come back to him and joyfully tell him of the success of their mission. And then Jesus says: ‘I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.’ Thus he accepts the joy of those he had sent out and shows them the background of their power over the devils. The general meaning of this is clear: Satan himself has fallen with great force from his position of power. This is what Jesus had seen with his own eyes. Satan’s supporters cannot maintain themselves…. The thing that counts in this connection is that what is said here is essentially the same thing as in Matthew 12:28 and Luke 11:20, i.e., the great moment of the breaking down of

Satan’s rule has come and at the same time that of the coming of the kingdom of heaven. The redemption is no longer future but has become present. In this struggle it is Jesus himself who has broken Satan’s power and who continues to do so. Such appears from what follows when he discusses the power of the disciples which they have received from him to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, so that, in the future also, nothing will be impossible to them. By this enemy Satan is again meant. Serpents and scorpions are mentioned here as his instruments (Ps. 91:13) by which he treacherously tries to ruin man. But any power Satan has at his disposal to bring death and destruction (cf., e.g., Heb. 2:14) has been subjected to the disciples. All this implies and confirms that the great moment of salvation, the fulfillment of the promise, the kingdom of heaven, has come.”[11]

The whole message of the New Testament (cf. Eph. 4:8; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14) stresses that Satan was definitively defeated in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. It is absolutely crucial to remember that in speaking of Christ’s “Ascension” – His Coming to the Throne of the Ancient of Days (Dan. 7:13-14)-we are speaking not only of His single act of ascending into the Cloud, but also of the direct and immediate consequences of that act: the outpouring of the Spirit on the Church in A.D. 30 (Luke 24:49-51; John 16:7; Acts 2:17-18, 33), and the outpouring of wrath upon Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70 (Dan. 9:24-27; Acts 2:19-20). Pentecost and Holocaust were the Ascension applied. The final act in the drama of the definitive (as distinguished from the progressive and consummative)[12] binding of Satan was played out in the destruction of the Old Covenant system. This is why St. Paul, writing a few years before the event, could assure the Church that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).

For all these reasons, it is generally suggested by both postmillennial and amillennial authors that the binding of Satan, so that he should not deceive the nations any longer, refers to his inability to prevent the message of the Gospel from achieving success. And, as far as it goes, this interpretation certainly has Biblical warrant: Before the coming of Christ, Satan controlled the nations;[13] but now his death-grip has been shattered by the Gospel, as the good news of the Kingdom has spread throughout the world. The Lord Jesus sent the Apostle Paul to the Gentile nations “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). Christ came “to rule over the Gentiles” (Rom. 15:12). That Satan has been bound does not mean that all his activity has ceased. The New Testament tells us specifically that the demons have been disarmed and bound (Col. 2:15; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) – yet they are still active. It is just that their activity is restricted. And, as the Gospel progresses throughout the world, their activity will become even more limited. Satan is unable to prevent the victory of Christ’s Kingdom. We will overcome (l John 4:4). “Let it be known to you therefore, that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen” (Acts 28:28).

The great fathers and teachers of the Church have always recognized that Christ definitively defeated Satan in His First Coming. As St. Irenaeus said, “The Word of God, the Maker of all things, conquering him by means of human nature, and showing him to be an apostate, has put him under the power of man. For He says, ‘Behold, I confer upon you the power of treading upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy’ [Luke 10:19], in order that, as he obtained power over man by apostasy, so again his apostasy might be deprived of power by means of man turning back again to God.”[14] St. Augustine agreed: “The devil was conquered by his own trophy of victory. The devil jumped for joy, when he seduced the first man and cast him down to death. By seducing the first man, he slew him; by slaying the last man, he lost the first from his snare. The victory of our Lord Jesus Christ came when he rose, and ascended into heaven; then was fulfilled what you have heard when the Apocalypse was being read, ‘The Lion of the tribe of Judah has won the day’ [Rev. 5:5]…. The devil jumped for joy when Christ died; and by the very death of Christ the devil was overcome: he took, as it were, the bait in the mousetrap. He rejoiced at the death, thinking himself death’s commander. But that which caused his joy dangled the bait before him. The Lord’s cross was the devil’s mousetrap: the bait which caught him was the death of the Lord.”[15]

But the precise thrust of Revelation 20 seems to be dealing with something much more specific than a general binding and defeat of Satan. St. John tells us that the Dragon is bound with reference to his ability to deceive the nations – in particular, as we learn from verse 8, the Dragon’s power “to deceive the nations… to gather them together for the war.” The stated goal of the Dragon’s deception is to entice the nations to join forces against Christ for the final, all-out war at the end of history. Satan’s desire from the beginning has often been to provoke a premature eschatological cataclysm, to bring on the end of the world and the Final Judgment now. He wants to rush God into judgment in order to destroy Him, or at least to short-circuit His program and destroy the wheat with the chaff (cf. Matt. 13:24-30). In a sense, he can be considered as his own agent provocateur, leading his troops headlong into an end-time rebellion that will call down God’s judgment and prevent the full maturation of God’s Kingdom.

Writing of Jesus’ parable of the leaven – “The Kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33) – Gary North observes: “The kingdom of God is like leaven. Christianity is the yeast, and it has a leavening effect on pagan, satanic cultures around it. It permeates the whole of culture, causing it to rise. The bread which is produced by this leaven is the preferred bread. In ancient times – indeed, right up until the advent of late-nineteenth century industrialism and modern agricultural methods – leavened bread was considered the staff of life, the symbol of God’s sustaining hand. ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ Christians have prayed for centuries, and they have eaten leavened bread at their tables. So did the ancient Hebrews. The kingdom of God is the force that produces the fine quality bread which all men seek. The symbolism should be obvious: Christianity makes life a joy for godly men. It provides men with the very best.


“Leaven takes time to produce its product. It takes time for the leaven-laden dough to rise. Leaven is a symbol of historical continuity, just as unleavened bread was Israel’s symbol of historical discontinuity. Men can wait for the yeast to do its work. God gives man time for the working of His spiritual leaven. Men may not understand exactly how the leaven works – how the spiritual power of God’s kingdom spreads throughout their culture and makes it rise – but they can see and taste its effects. If we really push the analogy (pound it, even), we can point to the fact that dough is pounded down several times by the baker before the final baking, almost as God, through the agents of Satan in the world, pounds His kingdom in history. Nevertheless, the yeast does its marvelous work, just so long as the fires of the oven are not lit prematurely. If the full heat of the oven is applied to the dough before the yeast has done its work, both the yeast and the dough perish in the flames. God waits to apply the final heat (2 Pet. 3:9-10). First, His yeast – His church – must do its work, in time and on earth. The kingdom of God (which includes the institutional church, but is broader than the institutional church) must rise, having ‘incorrupted’ the satanic dough of the kingdom of Satan with the gospel of life, including the life-giving reconstruction of all the institutions of culture.

“What a marvelous description of God’s kingdom! Christians work inside the cultural material available in any given culture, seeking to refine it, permeate it, and make it into something fine. They know they will be successful, just as yeast is eventually successful in the dough, if it is given sufficient time to do its work. This is what God implicitly promises us in the analogy of the leaven: enough time to accomplish our individual and collective assignments. He tells us that His kingdom will produce the desirable bread of life. It will take time. It may take several poundings, as God, through the hostility of the world, kneads the yeast-filled dough of men’s cultures. But the end result is guaranteed. God does not intend to burn His bread to a useless crisp by prematurely placing it in the oven. He is a better baker than that.”[16]

As Tertullian stated in his masterful defense of the Christian faith: “We are a body united by a common religious profession, by a godly discipline, by a bond of hope. We meet together as an assembly and congregation that as an organized force we may assail God with our prayers. Such violence is acceptable to God. We pray also for emperors, for their ministers and those in authority, for man’s temporal welfare, for the peace of the world, for the delay of the end of all things.”[17]

The specific point of the binding of the Dragon, therefore, is to prevent him from inciting the eschatological “war to end all wars,” the final battle – until God is ready. When God’s Kingdom-City is fully matured, then He will once more release Satan and allow him to deceive the nations for the final conflagration. But the fire will fall according to God’s schedule, not the Dragon’s. At every point, God is controlling events for His own glory.

Satan is to remain bound, St. John tells us, for a thousand years – a large, rounded-off number. We have seen that, as the number seven connotes a fullness of quality in Biblical imagery, the number ten contains the idea of a fullness of quantity; in other words, it stands for manyness. A thousand multiplies and intensifies this (10 x 10 x 10), in order to express great vastness (cf. 5:11; 7:4-8; 9:16; 11:3, 13; 12:6; 14:1,3,20).[18] Thus, God claims to own ”the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). This of course does not mean that the cattle on the 1,001st hill belongs to someone else. God owns all the cattle on all the hills. But He says “a thousand” to indicate that there are many hills, and much cattle (cf. Deut. 1:11; 7:9; Ps. 68:17; 84:10; 90:4). Similarly, the thousand years of Revelation 20 represent a vast, undefined period of time (although its limited, provisional nature as a pre-consummation era is underlined by the fact that the phrase is mentioned only six times in this chapter). It has already lasted almost 2,000 years, and will probably go on for many more. Milton Terry observes: “The thousand years is to be understood as a symbolical number, denoting a long period. It is a round number, but stands for an indefinite period, an eon whose duration it would be a folly to attempt to compute. Its beginning dates from the great catastrophe of this book, the fall of the mystic Babylon. It is the eon which opens with the going forth of the great Conqueror of 19:11-16, and continues until he shall have put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25). It is the same period as that required for the stone of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan. 2:35) to fill the earth, and the mustard seed of Jesus’ prophecy to consummate its world-wide growth (Matt. 13:31-32). How long the King of kings will continue His battle against evil and defer the last decisive blow, when Satan shall be ‘loosed for a little time,’ no man can even approximately judge. It may require a million years.”[19]

The binding of the Dragon prevents him from deceiving the nations any longer, until the thousand years are completed; after these things he must be released for a short time, in which he again goes forth to deceive the nations. The story of the Dragon will be picked up again in verse 7, and so here we need notice only St. John’s use of the word must (literally, it is necessary; cf. 1:1; 4:1; 10:11; 11:5; 13:10; 17:10; 22:6). At every point, Satan’s activity takes place under the strict government of the Providence of God. As Swete observes, “it is in vain to speculate on the grounds of this necessity” (upon which he immediately goes on to speculate!);[20] it is enough that God has decreed its necessity. The Dragon is not his own master. He has been seized and bound and shut up in the Abyss, and someday he will be released for a brief time – but all this takes place according to God’s good and holy purposes. All the Dragon’s hatred and rage against Christ’s Kingdom are utterly impotent and ineffectual; he is powerless to do anything until he is deliberately released by the One who holds the key to the Abyss.

The First Resurrection (20:4-6)

  1. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God, and those who had not worshiped the Beast or his Image, and had not received his mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
  2. (The rest of the dead did not live until the thousand years were completed.) This is the First Resurrection.
  3. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the First Resurrection; over these the Second Death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Christ for a thousand years.

4          The new vision is of the thousand-year Kingdom: and I saw thrones, and they sat on them. We are not explicitly told who “they” are, but there should be no doubt about their identity, for they are enthroned. St. John uses the word thrones (plural) only with reference to the twenty-four elders:

And around the Throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. (4:4)

And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God. (11:16)

As we have seen, St. John’s twenty-four elders are the representative assembly of the Church, the Royal Priesthood. Throughout the prophecy God’s people are seen reigning as priests with Christ (1:6; 5:10), wearing crowns (2:10; 3:11), possessing kingly authority over the nations (2:26-27), seated with Christ on His Throne (3:21). These things are all symbolized in the picture of the heavenly presbytery (4:4): As kings, the elders sit on thrones; as priests, they are twenty-four in number (cf. 1 Chron. 24), and they wear crowns (cf. Ex. 28:36-41).

The relationship between the priesthood of the elders and that of the Church at large has been well summarized by T. F. Torrance in his excellent study of the Royal Priesthood: “In the Old Testament Church there was a twofold priesthood, the priesthood of the whole body through initiation by circumcision into the royal priesthood, although that priesthood actually functioned through the first-born. Within that royal priesthood there was given to Israel an institutional priesthood in the tribe of Levi, and within that tribe, the house of Aaron. The purpose of the institutional priesthood was to serve the royal priesthood, and the purpose of the royal priesthood, that is of Israel as a kingdom of priests, was to serve God’s saving purpose for all nations. So with the Christian Church. The real priesthood is that of the whole Body, but within that Body there takes place a membering of the corporate priesthood, for the edification of the whole Body, to serve the whole Body, in order that the whole Body as Christ’s own Body may fulfill His ministry of reconciliation by proclaiming the Gospel among the nations. Within the corporate priesthood of the whole Body, then, there is a particular priesthood set apart to minister to the edification of the Body until the Body reaches the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13)…. This ministry is as essential to the Church as Bible and sacramental ordinances, but like them, this order of the ministry will pass away at the parousia, when the real priesthood of the one Body, as distinct from the institutional priesthood, will be fully revealed.”[21]

We therefore are not forced to choose whether those who are enthroned in the Millennium are elders or the Church, because both are true. In St. John’s vision, he sees the elders on thrones – but they represent the whole Church.[22] Related to this is the promise Jesus made to His disciples: “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the Regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious Throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28; cf. Luke 22:30, where the term kingdom is used instead of regeneration). By His death, resurrection, and ascension to His glorious Throne (Eph. 1:20-22), Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom Age (Col. 1:13) – the Regeneration – in which all nations are being brought to feast at His Table with the patriarchs and apostles (Isa. 52:15; Luke 13:28-29; 22:29-30). In this age, the apostles reign over the New Israel; they are the very foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20), which itself is a nation of kingly priests (1 Pet. 2:9).

Jesus gave His disciples two promises regarding the Messianic era: that they would sit on thrones, and that they would judge. This is precisely what St. John shows us in this text. He tells of those who sit on the thrones of the Kingdom, and adds that judgment was given to them, paralleling his statement in 11:18 that the saints are “judged” or “vindicated”; further, however, there is the sense here that the privilege of judging (ruling) is given into the hands of the saints. Before Christ’s victory over Satan, the Church was judged and ruled over by the heathen nations, because Adam had abdicated his position of judgment and surrendered it to the Dragon. But now the Son of Man, the Second Adam, has ascended to the Throne as ruler of the kings of the earth, and His people have ascended to rule with Him (Eph. 2:6). Definitively-and increasingly as the age progresses – judgment is given to God’s people.[23] The Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:26-28 (cf. Ps. 8; Heb. 2) will be fulfilled through the triumph of the Gospel; as the Gospel progresses, so does the dominion of the saints. The two go together. In His Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), Jesus commanded us to teach and disciple the nations, and as the earth is gradually discipled to the commands of God’s Word, the boundaries of the Kingdom will expand. Eventually, through evangelism, the reign of Christians will become so extensive that “the earth will be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). Edenic blessings will abound across the world as God’s law is increasingly obeyed by the converted nations (Lev. 26:3-13; Deut. 28:1-14).[24]

It must be stressed, however, that the road to Christian dominion does not lie primarily through political action. While the political sphere, like every other aspect of life, is a valid and necessary area for Christian activity and eventual dominance, we must shun the perennial temptation to grasp for political power. Dominion in civil government cannot be obtained before we have attained maturity in wisdom – the result of generations of Christian self-government. As we learn to apply God’s Word to practical situations in our personal lives, our homes, our schools, and our businesses; as Christian churches exercise Biblical judgment over their own officers and members, respecting and enforcing the discipline of other churches; then Christians will be able to be trusted with greater responsibilities. Those who are faithful in a few things will be put in charge of many things (Matt. 25:21, 23), but “from everyone who has been given much shall much be required” (Luke 12:48; cf. Luke 16:10-12; 19:17). One of the distinguishing marks of heretical movements throughout Church history has been the attempt to grab the robe of political power before it has been bestowed.

This whole issue has been thoughtfully explored in an excellent essay by James Jordan, and the best service I can provide the interested reader at this point is simply to refer him to it.[25] Jordan concludes his study with these words: “When we are ready, God will give the robe to us. That He has not done so proves that we are not ready. Asserting our readiness will not fool Him. Let us pray that He does not crush us by giving us such authority before we are ready for it. Let us plan for our great-grandchildren to be ready for it. Let us go about our business, acquiring wisdom in family, church, state, and business, and avoiding confrontations with the powers that be…. For as sure as Christ is risen from the grave and is ascended to regal glory on high, so sure it is that His saints will inherit the kingdom and rule in His name, when the time is right.”[26] When the time is right.

St. John tells us that, in addition to the enthroned elders, he saw those whom the elders represent: First, the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the Testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God. This expression is almost identical to his description of the martyrs underneath the altar:

I saw… the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God, and because of the Testimony they had maintained. (6:9)

There is a significant difference, however: the use of the word beheaded. While most commentators are surely correct in seeing this as a general reference to all the martyrs for the Faith (by whatever means they were slain), we should attempt to do justice to St. John’s choice of this particular term. The Greek verb (pelekizō) is not used anywhere else in the Bible, but the act of beheading is mentioned, under a synonym (apokephalizō), in Matthew 14:10, Mark 6:16, 27, and Luke 9:9. The subject of the beheading, of course, was John the Baptizer, the last of the Old Covenant prophets and the Forerunner of Jesus Christ. As the latter-day Elijah (Mal. 4:5; Matt. 11:14; 17:10-13; Luke 1:17), he summed up the message of all the preceding witnesses: “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John” (Matt. 11:13). It seems likely, therefore, that St. John is here drawing our attention to the fact that the Old Covenant witnesses, symbolized by John the Forerunner, are to be counted among the faithful martyrs who “live and reign with Christ.”

A question immediately arises: Did the Old Covenant faithful really bear the Testimony of Jesus? It is striking that St. John uncharacteristically emphasizes the name of Jesus, as if to highlight the specifically Christian standing of these “beheaded” witnesses. And the New Testament rings clear that, like John, all the Old Covenant witnesses were Forerunners of Jesus Christ, testifying of Him:

And He said to them, “0 foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and from all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. (John 5:45-46)

Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. (Acts 10:43)

Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called as an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures concerning His Son…. (Rom. 1:1-3)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe. (Rom. 3:21-22)

The ranks of those who reign with Christ are also filled by the New Covenant faithful, the overcomers of St. John’s day who also bore the Testimony of Jesus: those who had not worshiped the Beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand (cf. 1:2, 9; 2:13; 12:9-11, 17; 15:2; 19:10). All these lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. Man’s life has always fallen short of a thousand years: Adam lived 930 years (Gen. 5:5), and Methuselah, whose life was the longest recorded in the Bible, lived only 969 years before he died in the Great Flood (Gen. 5:27).[27] If his heirs had been faithful, David’s kingdom should have endured “forever” – meaning that it should have lasted a thousand years, until the Coming of Christ (2 Sam. 7:8-29; 1 Chron. 17:7-27; 2 Chron. 13:5; 21:7; Ps. 89:19-37; Isa. 9:7; 16:5; Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23-24; Hos. 3:5; Luke 1:32-33); but, again, man fell short. No one was able to bring in “the Millennium” – the Thousand-Year Kingdom – until the Son of God appeared as the Son of Man (the Second Adam) and Son of David. He obtained the Kingdom for all His people.

Does this reign of the saints take place in heaven or on earth? The answer should be obvious: both! The saints’ thrones are in heaven, with Christ (Eph. 2:6); yet, with their Lord, they exercise rule and dominion on earth (cf. 2:26-27; 5:10; 11:15). Those who reign with Christ in His Kingdom are all those whom He has redeemed, the whole Communion of Saints, whether they are now living or dead (including Old Covenant believers). In His Ascension, Jesus Christ brought us all to the Throne. As the Te Deum exults:

When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.

The reign of the saints is thus analogous to their worship: The whole Church, in heaven and on earth, worships together before the Throne of God, “tabernacling” in heaven (7:15; 12:12; 13:6). To ask whether or not the saints’ worship is heavenly or earthly is to propose a false dilemma, for the Church is both heavenly and earthly. Similarly, the Church’s sphere of rule includes the earth, but it is exercised from the Throne in heaven. Jesus said to Pilate, “My Kingdom is not from this world. If My Kingdom were from this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My Kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). The text does not say, as some foolishly teach, that Christ’s Kingdom is irrelevant to the world; rather, it affirms that the Kingdom is not derived from earth: “He was speaking of the source of His authority, not the place of His legitimate reign. His kingdom is not of this world but it is in this world and over it.”[28]

5-6      The first part of verse 5 is a parenthetical statement about those who are excluded from the privilege of living and reigning with Christ. Now, if “those who had been beheaded” (v. 4) are the Old Covenant faithful, the rest of the dead are the (primarily) Old Covenant unfaithful, the non-saints who were dead at the time St. John was writing. The figure can be logically extended to include all the unredeemed, of every age, but that is not the specific point St. John is making. Rather, he is stressing the fact that the dead believers of the Old Covenant have been included in Christ’s Ascension and glorious reign from the heavenly Throne; they live, while the wicked are dead.

Ultimately, St. John tells us, there are two classes of people: 1) The elders and those whom they represent (the faithful of the Old and New Covenants), who live and reign with Christ “for a thousand years” in His Kingdom; and 2) the rest of the dead, the unbelievers. These did not live until the thousand years were completed. While some interpreters have leaped to the conclusion that “the rest of the dead” will live after the Millennium has ended, there is no such implication here. St. John is concerned simply to tell us about the Millennium itself, and his phrase means nothing more than that the rest of the dead are excluded from life and dominion for the whole period. We all know, from such passages as John 5:28-29 and Acts 24:15, that there will be a general resurrection of both the just and the unjust; but we must remember that St. John is not writing a comprehensive Systematic Theology of the end of the world. He is writing a Prophecy to the Church, dealing with certain aspects of the blessings of the righteous and the curses of the wicked.

The narrative thus continues with St. John’s definition of the saints’ millennial living and reigning with Christ: This is the First Resurrection – first in both temporal order and importance. The imagery of two resurrections is solidly rooted in Scripture. In the Levitical system it was typologically set forth in the law prescribing purification after the defilement of death:

The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days. That one shall purify himself from uncleanness with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and then he shall be clean; but if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he shall not be clean. (Num. 19:11-12)

As James Jordan has shown, this cleansing ritual was a symbolic resurrection: The man who was defiled by contact with the dead was ceremonially dead, and had to be resurrected from death.[29] The resurrection was accomplished by the sprinkling of water (see Num. 19:13)[30] on both the Third and Seventh days-in other words, a first and second resurrection. This “double resurrection” pattern is repeated in different ways throughout the Bible. St. John’s Gospel records Jesus’ words on the subject:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My Word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.

Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:24-25, 28-29)

Jesus here claims to be inaugurating the Age of the Resurrection, in which those who believe in Him are now to be participants; later, another “hour” will come in which all men, the just and the unjust, will rise out of the graves (cf. John 11:24-25). St. Paul drew the same distinction between two resurrections:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming. (1 Cor. 15:20-23)

There is thus to be a resurrection at the end of history, at the Second Coming of Christ on the Last Day (John 6:38-40, 44, 54; Acts 24:15; 1 Thess. 4:14-17). But before that final resurrection there is another, a First Resurrection: the resurrection of “Christ the first fruits.” He rose from the dead, and resurrected all believers with Him. Note: St. John does not say that the believer himself as such is resurrected, but that he has a part in the First Resurrection. He is sharing in the Resurrection of Another – the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.[31] St. Paul told the Colossian Christians how they had been made partakers in Christ’s resurrection:

Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who also raised Him from the dead. (Col. 2:12)

Christ’s resurrection is the definitive resurrection, the First Resurrection, which took place on the Third Day. We participate in His resurrection through covenantal baptism, so that now we “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). When we were dead in our transgressions, God “made us alive together with Christ… and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:5-6; cf. Col. 3:1). It is this definitive resurrection on the Third Day, in the middle of history, that both guarantees and is consummated by the “Seventh Day” resurrection at the end of history. Those who are baptized in Christ and thus united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection (Rom. 6:4-14) will be joined with Him in that final resurrection as well (Rom. 8:11).

Yet, as Norman Shepherd has observed, St. John in Revelation 20 “does not even describe the bodily resurrection of the just expressly as the second resurrection. This may well be indicative of the fact that contrary to much popular thought on the subject, baptism is even more properly resurrection than is the resurrection of the body. The just who are alive at the return of the Lord will not be resurrected in the body but will be transformed. The righteous dead who do rise bodily at the last day do not again assume mortality but immortality. Not resuscitation but transformation is the leading feature of resurrection, and the foundational transformation and transition takes place at baptism, the first resurrection.”[32]

The First Resurrection is thus Spiritual and ethical, our regeneration in Christ and union with God, our re-creation in His image, our participation in His Resurrection. This interpretation is confirmed by St. John’s description of those in the First Resurrection – it completely corresponds with everything he tells us elsewhere about the elect: They are blessed (1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 22:7, 14) and holy, i.e. saints (5:8; 8:3-4; 11:18; 13:7, 10; 14:12; 16:6; 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:8; 20:9; 21:2, 10); as Christ promised all the faithful, the Second Death (v. 14) has no power over them (2:11); and they are priests (1:6; 5:10) who reign with Christ (2:26-27; 3:21; 4:4; 11:15-16; 12:10). Indeed, St. John began his prophecy by telling his readers that all Christians are royal priests (1:6); and the consistent message of the New Testament, as we have seen repeatedly, is that God’s people are now seated with Christ, reigning in His Kingdom (Eph. 1:20-22; 2:6; Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9). The greatest error in dealing with the Millennium of Revelation 20 is the failure to recognize that it speaks of present realities of the Christian life. The Bible is clear: Through baptism, we have been resurrected to eternal life and rule with Christ now, in this age. The First Resurrection is taking place now. Jesus Christ is reigning now (Acts 2:29-36; Rev. 1:5). And this means, of necessity, that the Millennium is taking place now as well.

The Last Battle (20:7-10)

  1. And when the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison,
  2. and will come out to deceive the nations which are in the four comers of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the War; the number of them is like the sand of the sea.
  3. And they came up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved City, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
  1. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the Lake of fire and brimstone, where the Beast and the False Prophet are; there they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

7-8      At last the thousand years are completed, and God’s timetable is ready for the final defeat of the Dragon. According to God’s sovereign purpose, the devil is released from his prison in order to deceive the nations. Biblical postmillennialism is not an absolute universalism; nor does it teach that at some future point in history absolutely everyone living will be converted. Ezekiel’s prophecy of the River of Life suggests that some outlying areas of the world – the “swamps” and “marshes” – will not be healed, but will be “given over to salt,” remaining unrenewed by the living waters (Ezek. 47:11). To change the image: Although the Christian “wheat” will be dominant in world culture, both the wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest at the end of the world (Matt. 13:37-43). At that point, as the potential of both groups comes to maturity, as each side becomes fully self-conscious in its determination to obey or rebel, there will be a final conflict. The Dragon will be released for a short time, to deceive the nations in his last-ditch attempt to overthrow the Kingdom.

We noted at verse 3 that the specific purpose of Satan’s deception of the nations is to gather them together for the War. This had been at least one of Satan’s goals from the beginning: to provoke the final war between God and His rebellious creatures, in order to “spike” God’s work and prevent it from attaining fruition and maturity. That is why there was a sudden outbreak of demonic activity when Christ began His earthly ministry; that was Satan’s motivation for tempting Him, for entering into Judas to betray Him, and for inspiring the Jewish and Roman authorities to slay Him. His plan backfired, of course (1 Cor. 2:6-8), and the Cross became his own destruction. Throughout the Book of Revelation St. John has shown the devil frantically working to bring about the final battle, and invariably being frustrated in his designs. Only after God’s Kingdom has realized its earthly potential, when the full thousand years have been completed, will Satan be released to foment the last rebellion – thus engendering his own final defeat and eternal destruction.

In describing the eschatalogical war, St. John uses the vivid “apocalyptic” imagery of Ezekiel 38-39, which prophetically depicts the Maccabees’ defeat of the Syrians in the second century B.C.: The ungodly forces are called Gog and Magog. According to some popular premillennial writers, this expression refers to Russia, and foretells a war between the Soviets and Israel during a future “Tribulation.” Even apart from the fact that this interpretation is based on a radically inaccurate reading of Matthew 24 and the other “Great Tribulation” passages,[33] it is beset with numerous internal inconsistencies. First, premillennialists tend to speak of this coming war with the Soviet Union as synonymous with the “Battle of Armageddon” (16:16). Yet, on premillennialist assumptions, the Battle of Armageddon takes place before the Millennium begins – more than 1,000 years before St. John’s “Gog and Magog” finally appear! Thus, premillennial prophecy buffs are treated to prolonged discussions of present Soviet military might and their supposed preparations for assuming the role of “Gog and Magog.”[34] At the same time, there is virtually a complete neglect of what the Book of Revelation actually says about the war with Gog and Magog; apparently, the specific facts of Biblical revelation occasionally get in the way of “prophetic truth.”[35]

Second, those who interpret the war of “Gog and Magog” as an end-time war involving the Soviet Union usually pride themselves on being “literalists.” Yet we should take note of what a strictly literal interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 requires:

  1. Gog’s reason for invading Israel is to plunder her silver and gold, and to take away her cattle (38:11-13); contrary to much premillennialist exposition, nothing is said about expropriating Israel’s oil or extracting minerals from the Dead Sea.
  2. All of Gog’s soldiers are on horseback (38:15); there are no soldiers in trucks, jeeps, tanks, helicopters, or jets.
  3. All of Gog’s soldiers are carrying swords, wooden shields, and helmets (38:4-5); their other weapons are wooden bows and arrows, clubs, and spears (39:3, 9).
  4. Instead of using firewood (apparently no one even considers using gas, electricity, or solar power), the victorious Israelites will burn Gog’s wooden weapons for fuel for seven years (39:9-10).

Third, the expression Gog and Magog does not, and never did, refer to Russia. That has been entirely made up from whole cloth, and simply repeated so many times that many have assumed it to be true. Ostensible reasons for this interpretation are based on a peculiar reading of Ezekiel 38:3, which speaks of “Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” The word chief is, in the Hebrew, rosh; some have therefore translated the text as “Gog, the prince of Rosh.” Rosh sounds something like Russia; therefore Gog is the prince (or premier) of Russia. Unfortunately for this ingenious interpretation, rosh simply means head, and is used over 600 times in the Old Testament – never meaning “Russia.”[36]

Those who hold that “Gog” (a name supposedly derived from Soviet Georgia, since they both start with a “G”!) is the Soviet Premier generally make the further claim that “Meshech” is really Moscow, “Tubal” is Tobolsk, and “Gomer” (of Ezek. 38:6) is Germany. In his very helpful examination of this issue,[37] Ralph Woodrow comments: “This is doubtful. ‘Moscow’ comes from the Moscovites and is a Finnish name. Moscow was first mentioned in ancient documents in 1147 A. D., when it was a small village. Some think Tubal means Tobolsk, but this is only a similarity in sound. Tobolsk was founded in 1587 A.D. Some think Gomer [Ezek. 38:6] means Germany. It is true the words ‘Gomer’ and ‘Germany’ both begin with a ‘G,’ So does guesswork,”[38]

Woodrow goes on to give reasons why the war of “Gog and Magog” spoken of in Revelation cannot be identical to that prophesied in Ezekiel:

  1. In Ezekiel, Gog is a prince. In Revelation, Gog is a nation. [But see Farrer’s alternative explanation, below.]
  2. In Ezekiel, Gog is spoken of as coming against Israel with people from various countries around Israel; in Revelation, Gog and Magog are pictured as nations in the four quarters of the earth, in number as the sands of the sea.
  3. In Ezekiel, Gog and his troops come against Israel, a people who have returned from captivity and are dwelling without walls; in Revelation, Gog and Magog go up on the breadth of the earth and compass the city of the saints.
  4. In Ezekiel the enemy is Gog of the land of Magog; in Revelation Gog and Magog.
  5. In Ezekiel, Gog’s troops are defeated in Israel and the people burn the remaining weapons for seven years; in Revelation, Gog and Magog are destroyed by fire from God out of heaven…. Wooden weapons would be destroyed then and there.

It is not uncommon for the imagery of Revelation to be based on Old Testament subjects or places. The “Jezebel” of Revelation is not the same woman as in Kings. The “Sodom” in Revelation is not the same Sodom as in Genesis. The “Babylon” in Revelation is not the Babylon of Daniel. The “New Jerusalem” in Revelation cannot mean the old Jerusalem. But, in each instance, the former serves as a type. The woman Jezebel had already died, the cities of Sodom and Babylon had already been overthrown, and (in our opinion) the battle of Ezekiel 38 and 39 (if a literal battle) had already met its fulfillment within an Old Testament setting.[39]

As Caird points out, in Jewish writings “Gog and Magog” was a frequent, standard expression for the rebellious nations of Psalm 2, which gather together “against the LORD and against His Anointed.”[40] Austin Farrer comments: “St. John takes the story from Ezekiel and leaves the symbol undecoded. St. John says that the nations, or ‘gentiles’ beguiled by Satan are ‘in the four corners of the earth’ and perhaps he means this, i.e. that the unreconciled are tucked away in lands remote from the centre. The simple pairing of ‘Gog and Magog’ must not be taken as fixing on St. John the error of understanding both names either as tribes or as princes. In Ezekiel it is perfectly clear that Gog is the prince, Magog the people. St. John is innocent of the mistake; he says simply ‘the nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog,’ i.e. the power so described by Ezekiel – as an English orator might have said ‘the forces of frustrated nationalism, Hitler and Germany.’ It is certainly curious that St. John equates without explanation the tribes in the four corners with a tribe in one corner; only he does exactly the same thing in the Armageddon vision. Euphrates is dried to let the kings of the East pass; the three demons beguile all the kings of the earth to come to Armageddon. The old biblical picture of invasion from the North East is in both cases given an ecumenical interpretation.”[41]

This is reinforced by S1. John’s observation that the number of them is like the sand of the sea – the same hyperbolic image used for the Canaanite nations conquered by Joshua (Josh. 11:4) and the Midianites overthrown by Gideon (Jud. 7:12) – two of the greatest triumphs in the history of the Covenant people. Rather than being a reason for panic and flight, the surrounding of the saints by a rebellious horde “like the sand of the sea” is a signal that God’s people are about to be victorious, completely and magnificently. God’s reason for bringing a vast multitude to fight against the Church is not in order to destroy the Church, but in order to bring the Church a speedier victory. Instead of God’s people having to seek out her enemies and engage them in combat one by one, God allows Satan to incite them into concerted opposition, so that they may be finished off quickly, in one fell swoop.

9-10    And they came up on the breadth of the earth: This is reminiscent of Isaiah’s prophecy of a coming Assyrian invasion, which “will fill the breadth of your land” (Isa. 8:8); yet, as Isaiah goes on to say, the land belongs to Immanuel. If the people trust in Him, all the power of the enemy will be shattered. Faithful Israel can taunt her attackers:

Be broken, O peoples, and be shattered;
And give ear, all remote places of the earth.
Gird yourselves, yet be shattered;
Gird yourselves, yet be shattered.
Devise a plan, but it will be thwarted;
State a proposal, but it will not stand,
For God is with us! (Isa. 8:9-10)

Yet St. John’s allusion to Isaiah’s prophecy is also a reminder that old Israel is now apostate. For her there is no longer an Immanuel. She has definitively rejected her Maker and Husband, and He has abandoned her. Instead, God is now with the Church, and it is the Church’s opponents who will be shattered, though they be as many in number as the sands of the sea (Gen. 32:12)! Jesus Christ is the Seed of Abraham, and He will possess the gate of His enemies, for the sake of His Church (Gal. 3:16, 29; Gen. 22:17).

St. John’s image for the gathered people of God combines Moses’ camp of the saints with David and Solomon’s beloved City. This City is the New Jerusalem, described in detail in 21:9-22:5. The significance of this should not be missed: The City exists during the Millennium (i.e. the period between the First and Second Advents of Christ), which means that the “new heaven and new earth” (21:1) are a present as well as future reality. The New Creation will exist in consummate form after the Final Judgment, but it exists, definitively and progressively, in the present age (2 Cor. 5:17).

The apostates rebel, and Satan’s forces briefly surround the Church; but there is not a moment of doubt about the outcome of the conflict. In fact, there is no real conflict at all, for the rebellion is immediately crushed: Fire came down from heaven and devoured them, as it had the wicked citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25), and the soldiers of Ahaziah who came against Elijah (2 Kings 1:10, 12). Is this to be a literal fire at the end of the world? That seems probable, although we must remember that St. John is now showing us “a world of symbols too shadowy and distant even to be disputed.”[42] Acknowledging that this firefall may refer to “that blow wherewith Christ in His coming is to strike those persecutors of the Church whom He shall then find alive upon earth,” St. Augustine proposed another explanation: “In this place ‘fire out of heaven’ is well understood of the firmness of the saints [cf. 11:5], wherewith they refuse to yield obedience to those who rage against them. For the firmament is ‘heaven,’ by whose firmness these assailants shall be pained with blazing zeal, for they shall be impotent to draw away the saints to the party of Antichrist. This is the fire which shall devour them, and this is ‘from God’; for it is by God’s grace the saints become unconquerable, and so torment their enemies.”[43]

In any case, the basic point of the text is that, in contrast to the armies of the Beast who were “killed” (i.e., converted) by the sword from the mouth of the Word of God 09:15, 21), these self-conscious rebels of the end are utterly destroyed. All opposition to the Kingdom of God is completely eliminated. The Dragon never really had a chance – his release from the Abyss had been a trap from the very beginning, intended merely to draw his forces out into the open, to make them visible in order to destroy them. Terry comments: “It is a great symbolic picture, and its one great teaching is clear beyond the possibility of doubt or misunderstanding, namely, that Satan and his forces must all ultimately perish. This is written for the comfort and confidence of the saints. But that final victory is in the far future, at the close of the Messianic age, and it is here simply outlined in apocalyptic symbols. Any presumption, therefore, of determining specific events of the future from this grand symbolism must be regarded as in the nature of the case a species of worthless and misleading speculation.”[44]

Without descending into “misleading speculation,” it is valid to ask: Why will the nations rebel after living in a Christianized world-order? In his thought-provoking study of “Common Grace, Eschatology, and Biblical Law,” Gary North explains that both the regenerate culture and the unregenerate culture, as “wheat” and “tares,” develop historically toward greater consistency to their presuppositions-in Cornelius Van Til’s phrase, “epistemological self-consciousness.” Over time, as Christians conform themselves more fully to God’s commands and thereby receive His blessings, they become more powerful and attain increasing dominion. But what will happen to the unbelievers, as they become more self-conscious? North writes: “In the last days of this final era in human history [i.e., at the end of the Millennium], the satanists will still have the trappings of Christian order about them. Satan has to sit on God’s lap, so to speak, in order to slap His face – or try to. Satan cannot be consistent to his own philosophy of autonomous order and still be a threat to God. An autonomous order leads to chaos and impotence. He knows that there is no neutral ground in philosophy. He knew Adam and Eve would die spiritually on the day that they ate the fruit. He is a good enough theologian to know that there is one God, and he and his host tremble at the thought (James 2:19). When demonic men take seriously his lies about the nature of reality, they become impotent, sliding off (or nearly off) God’s lap. It is when satanists realize that Satan’s official philosophy of chaos and antinomian lawlessness is a lie that they become dangerous…. They learn more of the truth, but they pervert it and try to use it against God’s people.

“Thus, the biblical meaning of epistemological self-consciousness is not that the satanist becomes consistent with Satan’s official philosophy (chaos), but rather that Satan’s host becomes consistent with what Satan really believes: that order, law, power are the product of God’s hated order. They learn to use law and order to build an army of conquest. In short, they use common grace – knowledge of the truth – to pervert the truth and to attack God’s people. They turn from a false knowledge offered to them by Satan, and they adopt a perverted form of truth to use in their rebellious plans. They mature, in other words. Or, as C. S. Lewis has put into the mouth of his fictitious character, the senior devil Screwtape, when materialists finally believe in Satan but not in God, then the war is over. Not quite; when they believe in God, know He is going to win, and nevertheless strike out in fury – not blind fury, but fully self-conscious fury – at the works of God, then the war is over.”[45]

North concludes: “Does the postmillennialist believe that there will be faith in general on the earth when Christ appears? Not if he understands the implications of the doctrine of common grace. Does he expect the whole earth to be destroyed by the unbelieving rebels before Christ strikes them dead – doubly dead? No. The judgment comes before they can do their work. Common grace is extended to allow unbelievers to fill up their cup of wrath. They are vessels of wrath. Therefore, the fulfilling of the terms of the dominion covenant through common grace is the final step in the process of filling up these vessels of wrath. The vessels of grace, believers, will also be filled. Everything is full. Will God destroy His preliminary down payment on the New Heavens and the New Earth? Will God erase the sign that His word has been obeyed, that the dominion covenant has been fulfilled? Will Satan, that great destroyer, have the joy of seeing God’s word thwarted, His handiwork torn down by Satan’s very hordes? The amillennialist answers yes. The postmillennialist must deny it with all his strength.

“There is continuity in life, despite discontinuities. The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just. Satan would like to burn up God’s field, but he knows he cannot. The tares and wheat grow to maturity, and then the reapers go out to harvest the wheat, cutting away the chaff and tossing chaff into the fire…. When [Satan] uses his gifts to become finally, totally destructive, he is cut down from above. This final culmination of common grace is Satan’s crack of doom.

”And the meek-meek before God, active toward His creation – shall at last inherit the earth. A renewed earth and renewed heaven is the final payment by God the Father to His Son and to those He has given to His Son. This is the postmillennial hope.”[46]

So the devil who deceived them was thrown into the Lake of fire and brimstone, where the Beast and the False Prophet are; there they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Satan’s cause will be finally and thoroughly overthrown. To picture this St. John again uses imagery based on the holocaust of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25, 28) and the destruction of the rebels in the wilderness of Kadesh (Num. 16:31-33), based on Isaiah’s similar usage to describe the utter ruin of Edom (Isa. 34:9-10). He has already represented the eternal destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet and their followers by such imagery (see 14:10-11; 19:20); now he shows that the prime instigator of the cosmic conspiracy is inevitably doomed to suffer the same fate. 

The Judgment of the Dead (20:11-15)

  1. And I saw a great white Throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose face earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.
  2. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the Throne. And books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their works.
  3. And the Sea gave up the dead which were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, each one according to his works.
  1. And Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the Second Death, the lake of fire.
  2. And if anyone was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

11       The sixth vision begins with the familiar formula: And I saw (kai eidon). History has ended; the crack of doom has fallen; and now the apostle’s vision is filled with a great white Throne, and Him who sat upon it. Usually, it is implied in Revelation that the One seated on the Throne in heaven is the Father (cf. 4:2-3; 5:1, 7); but in this case St. John may have in mind the Son, since He is seated on a white Throne, and He has been seen previously seated on a white cloud (14:14) and a white horse (6:2; 19:11). The Lord Jesus Christ is the great “Shepherd and Bishop” (1 Pet. 2:25); Farrer points out that “the idea of a ‘white throne’ may perhaps have been familiar to St. John’s hearers as the distinguishing character of the local bishop’s chair in the church. The practice of spreading a white cover over it was certainly early; whether so early as St. John’s date, we cannot prove.”[47]

Prof. Berkhof summarizes the New Testament evidence regarding the Judge at the Last Day: “Naturally, the final judgment, like all God’s opera ad extra, is a work of the triune God, but Scripture ascribes it particularly to Christ. Christ in His mediatorial capacity will be the future Judge, Matt. 25:31-32; John 5:27; Acts 10:42; 17:31; Phil. 2:10; 2 Tim. 4:1. Such passages as Matt. 28:18; John 5:27; Phil. 2:9-10 make it abundantly evident that the honor of judging the living and the dead was conferred on Christ as Mediator in reward for His atoning work and as part of His exaltation. This may be regarded as one of the crowning honors of His kingship. In His capacity as Judge, too, Christ is saving His people to the uttermost: He completes their redemption, justifies them publicly, and removes the last consequences of sin.”[48]

With this agree the great ecumenical creeds:

The Apostles’ Creed:

[Jesus Christ] ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

The Nicene Creed:

He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead;
Whose Kingdom shall have no end.

The Te Deum Laudamus:

Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in glory everlasting.
O Lord, save Thy people, and bless Thine heritage.
Govern them, and lift them up forever.

The Athanasian Creed:

He ascended into heaven; He sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty; from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give an account of their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved.

I have emphasized this point because it has become popular in some otherwise apparently orthodox circles to adopt a heretical form of “preterism” that denies any future bodily Resurrection or Judgment, asserting that all these are fulfilled in the Resurrection of Christ, the regeneration of the Church, the coming of the New Covenant, and the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.[49] Whatever else may be said about those who hold such notions, it is clear that they are not in conformity with any recognizable form of orthodox Christianity. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church has always and everywhere insisted on the doctrine of the Last Judgment at the end of time. Its inclusion into all the historic definitions of the Faith is a universal testimony to its importance as an article of belief.

St. John heightens our sense of awe at the terrible majesty of the Judge: From whose face earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. The allusion is to Psalm 114, which shows us that it is in light of the Final Judgment that we can see the significance of its precursors in preliminary historic judgments:

When Israel went forth from Egypt,
The house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became His sanctuary,
Israel, His dominion.
The sea looked and fled;
The Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
The hills, like lambs.
What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, O earth, before the LORD,
Before the God of Jacob,
Who turned the rock into a pool of water,
The flint into a fountain of water. (Ps. 114)

Earth and heaven flee from before His face, terrified at His approach; yet the people of the covenant need have no fear. For them, God’s judgment is redemptive, not destructive. If the earth trembles, it is for our sake, so that God may give us the water of salvation. In fact, as we shall see, the judgment portrayed in these verses is concerned with the wicked dead, those who come under the judgment of the Second Death. The elect, who reign with Christ, are not in view here. Rejoicing in the fruit of Christ’s final victory, they do not come into judgment, but have passed out of death into life (John 5:24).

12       Although we are still in the sixth vision, verse 12 contains the seventh kai eidon, And I saw – allowing the seventh vision to begin with the eighth kai eidon (see on 21:1). We must remember that St. John is not writing of the general judgment of all men, but of the fate of the wicked, called here the dead (cf. v. 5). Hengstenberg comments: “The dead can only be the ungodly dead. It must alone appear singular, that here the dead are still spoken of, although they must have been raised up, before they could stand before the throne. If only the ungodly dead are meant, then there is nothing strange in the matter. For their life after the resurrection is but a life in semblance, as it was also before in Hades.”[50]

St. John tells us he saw men of all classes and conditions, both the great and the small, standing before the Throne. And books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life, the membership roll of the covenant, in which the names of the elect are inscribed (cf. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8). The function of the Book of Life in this context is simply to reveal that the names of “the dead” do not appear therein.

And the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their works. This can seem strange to modern evangelical ears; we are not used to reading such statements in Scripture, yet they actually exist in abundance (cf. Ps. 62:12; Prov. 24:12; Matt. 16:27; John 5:28-29; Rom. 2:6-13; 14:12; 1Cor. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; Eph. 6:8; Col. 3:25; Rev. 2:23; 22:12). The point of the text is not, of course, “salvation by works.” The point is, instead, damnation by works.

It is true that we are not saved by works (Eph. 2:8-9), but it is also true that we are not saved without works (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12-13). The Christian is “justified by faith alone” – but genuine justifying faith is never alone, as the Westminster Confession of Faith declares: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love” (xi.2). In a similar vein, John Murray wrote: “Faith alone justifies but a justified person with faith alone would be a monstrosity which never exists in the kingdom of grace. Faith works itself out through love (cf. Gal. 5:6). And faith without works is dead (cf. James 2:17-20). It is living faith that justifies and living faith unites to Christ both in the virtue of his death and in the power of his resurrection.”[51]

13       For this judgment the Sea gave up the dead which were in it – those who perished in the judgments of the Flood and the Red Sea symbolizing all the wicked, drowned in the “torrents of Belial” (Ps. 18:4); and Death and Hades, the “cords of Sheol” (Ps. 18:5) gave up the dead which were in them, God suddenly emptying “all supposable places where the dead could be found.”[52] And they were judged, each one according to his works: Again St. John emphasizes that men’s actions will come into judgment at the Last Day.

14-15 St. Paul proclaimed that when Christ returns at the end of His mediatorial Kingdom, “the last enemy that will be abolished is Death” (1 Cor. 15:26). Thus, St. John saw Death and Hades, which were paired in 1:18 and 6:8, thrown into the lake of fire. As Terry says, “the entire picture of judgment and perdition is wrapped in mystic symbolism, and the one certain revelation is the final overthrow in remediless ruin of all who live and die as subjects of sin and death.”[53] Further, as Morris observes, “death and Hades are ultimately as powerless as the other forces of evil. Finally there is no power but that of God. All else is completely impotent.”[54]

This is the Second Death, the lake of fire. And if anyone was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Universalists have tried for centuries to evade the plain fact that Scripture slams the furnace lid shut over those who are finally impenitent, whose names are not inscribed (from the foundation of the world, 13:8; 17:8) in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Using a metaphor similar to St. John’s, Jesus said: ” If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). “The rest of the dead” will never live, for there is no life outside of Jesus Christ.

[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Millennium and the Apocalypse,” Biblical Doctrines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1929), pp. 643-64.

[2] Premillennialism seems to have been originated by the Ebionite archheretic Cerinthus, a “false apostle” who was an opponent of both St. Paul and St. John. Cerinthus claimed that his doctrine of the Millennium had been revealed to him by angels; and it is interesting that St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians – which is greatly concerned to refute the legalistic heresies of Cerinthus – begins with these words: “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8)! St. Irenaeus records that St. John ran out of a public bathhouse upon encountering Cerinthus, and cried: “Let us flee, lest even the bath-house fall, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within!” For an account of Cerinthus and his heresies, see St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, i.xxvi.1-2; iii.iii.4; cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, iii.xxviii.1-6; iv.xiv.6; vii.xxv.2-3. As Louis Bouyer points out in The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers (Minneapolis: The Seabury Press, 1963, p. 173), some early Church Fathers (e.g. Justin Martyr) adopted premillennial literalism because of their heathen background, to which the Biblical literary genres and imagery were unfamiliar. The orthodox, “Augustinian” view represents a more mature understanding of Scriptural symbolism and a more consistent Christian worldview.

[3] Perhaps the most basic argument against premillennialism is simply that the Bible never speaks of a thousand-year reign of the saints – outside of Revelation 20, a highly symbolic and complex passage in the most highly symbolic and complex book of the Bible! Graeme Goldsworthy observes in The Lamb and the Lion: The Gospel in Revelation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984): “It is highly unlikely, to say the least, that something so dramatically significant as a thousand year reign of a reappeared Christ on earth before this age ends should nowhere else be mentioned in the New Testament” (p. 127). Some works that refute premillennialism, from various perspectives, are: Jay Adams, The Time Is at Hand (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., [1966] 1970); Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1945, 1947); Loraine Boettner, The Millennium (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., revised ed., 1984); David Brown, Christ’s Second Coming: Will It Be Premillennial? (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1876] 1983); W. J. Grier, The Momentous Event: A Discussion of Scripture Teaching on the Second Advent (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1945] 1970); Arthur H. Lewis, The Dark Side of the Millennium: The Problem of Evil in Rev. 20:1-10 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980); Rousas John Rushdoony, God’s Plan for Victory: The Meaning of Postmillennialism (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, 1977); Ralph Woodrow, His Truth is Marching On: Advanced Studies on Prophecy in the Light of History (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1977).

[4] For accounts of heretical (post)millenarian movements, see Igor Shafarevich, The Socialist Phenomenon, William Tjalsma, trans. (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1980); Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957; revised, 1970); Otto Friedrich, The End of the World: A History (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1982), pp. 143-77; David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, third ed., 1985), pp. 321-42.

[5] See St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XX. On St. Augustine and the influence of his postmillennial philosophy of history, see Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967); Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine (London: Oxford University Press, [1940, 19441, 1957); Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books, 1980), pp. 47-76. On the extensive Reformed heritage of postmillennialism, from John Calvin to the late nineteenth century, see Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. III, No.2 (Winter, 1976-77), pp. 48-105, esp. pp. 68-105; James B. Jordan, “A Survey of Southern Presbyterian Millennial Views Before 1930,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. III, No.2 (Winter, 1976-77), pp. 106-21; J. A. de Jong, As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millennial Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1970); J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 3-29; lain Murray, The Puritan Hope: A Study in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971).

[6] Consider the fact that the compilers of The Book of Common Prayer provided “Tables for Finding Holy Days” all the way to A.D. 8400! Clearly, they were digging in for the “long haul,” and did not expect an imminent “rapture” of the Church.

[7] W. G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, (1884) 1972), p. 421.

[8] Some have sought to remedy this by styling themselves “optimistic amillennialists,” a term that has nothing wrong with it except a mouthful of syllables (the term “non-chiliastic postmillennialist” suffers from the same problem).

[9] The foregoing is not intended to minimize certain other areas of dispute among the various eschatological schools of thought. The vexed issue of “common grace” – which James Jordan has more accurately termed “crumbs from the children’s table” (Mark 7:27-28) – is particularly crucial to the debate, and so I have included Gary North’s essay on “Common Grace, Eschatology, and Biblical Law” as an appendix to this volume.

[10] This is perhaps as good a place as any to comment on what is currently the most intellectually disrespectable “objection” to postmillennialism: the notion that the earth cannot experience a future period of great physical blessing because the world is “running out” of natural resources, becoming overpopulated, and/or dying of pollution (etc.) – popularized by heavily slanted and even deliberately deceptive “studies” such as Global 2000 and Limits to Growth. In the first place, this objection completely disregards the fact that, according to the Bible, both abundance and famine, productivity and pollution, come from the hand of Almighty God; that He can and does reward obedience with blessing, and disobedience with the curse (Deut. 8:1-20; 28:1-68; Isa. 24:1-6). Secondly, the “running-out-of-resources” and “overpopulation” (etc., etc,) arguments are completely baseless in both hard data and sound economic theory. See Warren T. Brookes, The Economy in Mind (New York: Universe Books, 1982); Edith Efron, The Apocalyptics: Cancer and the Big Lie (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984); Herbert I. London, Why Are They Lying to Our Children? (New York: Stein and Day, 1984); Charles Maurice and Charles W. Smithson, The Doomsday Myth: 10,000 Years of Economic

[11] Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom (St. Catherines, Ontario: Paideia Press, [1962] 1978), pp. 62ff.

[12] Satan is bound progressively as Christ’s Kingdom grows throughout history, extending its influence to transform every aspect of life (Matt. 5:13-16; 13:31-33), and in the daily experience of Christians as we successfully resist the devil (James 4:7) and proclaim the Word of God (Rev. 12:11). Satan will be bound consummatively at the Last Day, when death itself is destroyed in the Resurrection (John 6:39-40; 1 Cor. 15:22-26, 51-54). On the definitive-progressive-final pattern in general, see David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 24f., 42, 73, 136, 146ff., 206, 209, 223.

[13] A good account of the pervasiveness of demonic activity and control throughout the ancient heathen world is contained in the first ten books of St. Augustine’s City of God, but the fact is obvious even in the writings of the pagans themselves. Virtually every page of Herodotus’ History or Virgil’s Aeneid bears eloquent and explicit testimony of the tyranny the “gods” exercised over every aspect of pagan life and thought. Yet it all came to a halt with the Resurrection of Christ: The gods suddenly stopped talking, as the pagan writer Plutarch observed in his work On Why Oracles Came to Fail, and as St. Athanasius constantly remarks in his classic treatise On the Incarnation of the Word of God. Cf. the wide-ranging discussion of the demise of the archaic worldview in Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time (Ipswich: Gambit, 1969), pp. 56-75, 275-87, 340-43.

[14] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, v.xxiv.4.

[15] St. Augustine, Sermons, 261; trans. by Henry Bettenson, ed., The Later Christian Fathers: A Selection From the Writings of the Fathers from St. Cyril of Jerusalem to St. Leo the Great (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970, 1977), p. 222.

[16] Gary North, Moses and Pharaoh: Dominion Religion versus Power Religion (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), pp. 169f.

[17] Tertullian, Apology, 39; trans. by Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers: A Selection from the Writings of the Fathers from St. Clement of Rome to St. Athanasius (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956, 1969), p. 141. Italics added.

[18] An analogy of this Scriptural usage is the way we, with a more inflationary mentality, use the term million: “I’ve told you a million times!” (I suspect that even “literalists” talk that way on occasion.)

[19] Milton Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ in the Canonical Scriptures (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1898), p. 451.

[20] Henry Barclay Swete, Commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, [1911] 1977), p. 261.

[21] T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd Ltd., 1955), p. 81.

[22] It might be asked: Why didn’t St. John simply say that those whom he saw on thrones were the twenty-four elders? There are at least two reasons – first, the various clues in the text (the mention of thrones, judgment, and a priesthood reigning with Christ) make an explicit identification unnecessary: second, in keeping with the symbolism of the Church as the New Israel, St. John uses the term elder twelve times (4:4,10; 5:5, 6, 7, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4). At this point in the Book of Revelation, he has already used up his “quota”!

[23] See two essays by Gary North: “Witnesses and Judges,” Biblical Economics Today, Vol. VI, No.5 (Aug./Sept. 1983); “Christ’s Mind and Economic Reconstruction,” Biblical Economics Today, Vol. VII, No. 1 (Dec./Jan. 1984). These are available for a donation to the Institute for Christian Economics, P.O. Box 8000, Tyler, TX 75711.

[24] lain Murray has shown in The Puritan Hope: Studies in Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971) how this view of worldwide conversion has provided a basic inspiration for missionary activity throughout the history of the Church, particularly since the Protestant Reformation.

[25] James B. Jordan, “Rebellion, Tyranny, and Dominion in the Book of Genesis,” in Gary North, ed., Tactics of Christian Resistance, Christianity and Civilization No. 3 (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1983), pp. 38-80.

[26] Ibid., p. 74. In this connection, Jordan’s remarks on the so-called “patriotic” tax-resistance movement are also worth repeating: “We must keep in mind that the pagan is primarily interested in power. This means that the maintenance of force (the draft) and the seizure of money (excessive taxation) are of absolute primary interest to him. If we think these are the most important things, then we will make them the point of resistance (becoming ‘tax patriots’ or some such thing). To think this way is to think like pagans. For the Christian, the primary things are righteousness (priestly guarding) and diligent work (kingly dominion). Generally speaking, the pagans don’t care how righteous we are, or how hard we work, so long as they get their tax money. This is why the Bible everywhere teaches to go along with oppressive taxation, and nowhere hints at the propriety of tax resistance” (p. 79).

[27] Based on a strict chronology, this seems to be a reasonable conclusion, since Methuselah died in the Flood year (Methuselah was 187 when his son Lamech was born, 369 when his grandson Noah was born, and hence 969 when the Flood came; see Gen. 5:25, 28; 7:6). More than a century before the Flood, God declared the entire human race (except for Noah) to be worthy of destruction (Gen. 6:1-8; 7:1); there is no apparent reason to exclude Methuselah from this sweeping condemnation.

[28] Gary North, Backward, Christian Soldiers? An Action Manual for Christian Reconstruction (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1984), p. 4.

[29] James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), pp. 56ff.

[30] On the significance of this passage for the mode of baptism, see Duane Edward Spencer, Holy Baptism: Word Keys Which Unlock the Covenant (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1984), pp. 14ff.

[31] See Philip Edgcurnbe Hughes, “The First Resurrection: Another Interpretation,” The Westminster Theological Journal, XXXIX (Spring 1977) 2, pp. 315-18.

[32] Norman Shepherd, “The Resurrections of Revelation 20,” The Westminster Theological Journal, XXXVII (Fall, 1974) 1, pp. 37f. St. Gregory of Nyssa said: “It is necessary for us to undergo, by means of water, this preparatory rehearsal of the grace of the resurrection, so that we may realize that it is as easy for us to rise again from death as to be baptized with water.” The Great Catechism, xxv.

[33] This should be obvious by now; cf. Chilton, Paradise Restored, pp. 77-102.

[34] It is certainly true that the Soviet Union’s aggressive imperialism and its worldwide sponsorship of terrorism pose a grave danger to the Western nations; see Jean-François Revel, How Democracies Perish (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1984). This, however, has nothing to do with fulfiled prophecy, and everything to do with the fact that the West has simultaneously engaged in an increasing renunciation of Christian ethics and a progressive military and technological outfitting of her enemies; on the latter, see Antony Sutton, Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development, 1917-67, three vols. (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1968-73); idem, National Suicide (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1973); cf. Richard Pipes, Survival Is Not Enough: Soviet Realities and America’s Future (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984). Those who are shocked that the possible future conquest of the United States by the Soviets might not be included in Bible prophecy would do well to consider the large number of important conflicts throughout the last thousand years of Western history that have also been omitted – such as the Norman Conquest, the Wars of the Roses, the Thirty Years’ War, the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic War, the Seminole War, the Revolutions of 1848, the Crimean War, the War between the States, the Sioux Indian War, the Boer War, the Spanish-American War, the Mexican Revolution, the First World War, the Spanish Civil War, the Halo-Ethiopian War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, to name a few; many of which were viewed by contemporary apocalyptists as notable fulfilments of Biblical prophecy.

[35] The obvious example, of course, is Hal Lindsey, whose Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970) spends about thirty pages (pp. 59-71, 154-68) detailing how the Soviet Union will soon fulfil the prophecy of “Gog and Magog” in the Battle of Armageddon, and takes only two or three sentences to deal with Rev. 20:8 – not once even mentioning that the only reference to Gog and Magog in the entire Book of Revelation is in that verse. Cf. idem, There’s a New World Coming: A Prophetic Odyssey (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1973), pp. 222-25, 278. Another example is the usually more circumspect Henry M. Morris, whose Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983) discusses Gog and Magog under Rev. 6:1 (pp. 108-110) and 16:12 (p. 310), but strives mightily to dismiss the significance of the reference in 20:8 (pp. 422f).

[36] Here is a complete list of its uses in Ezekiel alone: 1:22,25,26; 5:1; 6:13; 7:18; 8:3; 9:10; 10:1, II; 11:21; 13:18; 16:12, 25, 31, 43; 17:4, 19, 22; 21:19, 21; 22:31; 23:15, 42; 24:23; 27:22, 30; 29:18; 32:27; 33:4; 38:2-3, 39:1; 40:1; 42:12; 43:12; 44:18, 20.

[37] Ralph Woodrow, His Truth Is Marching On: Advanced Studies on Prophecy in the Light of History (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1977), pp. 32-46.

[38] Ibid., p. 41.

[39] Ibid., p. 42; cf. T. Boersma, Is the Bible a Jigsaw Puzzle? An Evaluation of Hal Lindsey’s Writings (St. Catherines, Ont.: Paideia Press, 1978), pp. 106-25; see also Cornelis Vanderwaal’s discussion of “Goggology” in Hal Lindsey and Biblical Prophecy (St. Catherines, Ont.: Paideia Press, 1978), pp. 78-80.

[40] G. B. Caird. A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1966), p. 256. Caird cites the following references in the Talmud: Ber. 7b, 10a, 13a; Shabo 118a; Pes. 118a; Meg. 11a; San. 17a, 94a, 97b; ‘Abodah Z. 3b; ‘Ed. II 10.

[41] Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964), pp. 207f.

[42] Farrer, p. 208.

[43] St. Augustine, The City of God, xx.12.

[44] Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, p. 455.

[45] Gary North, “Common Grace, Eschatology, and Biblical Law,” Appendix C, below, pp. 657f.

[46] Ibid., pp. 663f.

[47] Farrer, p. 208.

[48] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939, 1941), pp. 731f.

[49] The most influential figure in this movement is Max R. King, a Church of Christ minister who has authored The Spirit of Prophecy (Warren, OH: Max R. King, 1971), a work that is both insightful and frustrating. King’s hermeneutic is hampered by neoplatonic presuppositions (God wouldn’t bother to resurrect a physical body because He is interested only in “spiritual,” Le. incorporeal, things) and by a “code” approach to Biblical symbolism. Cf. Jim McGuiggan and Max R. King, The McGuiggan-King Debate (Warren, OH: Parkman Road Church of Christ, n.d.). See also the similar views espoused by J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia: A Study of the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1887] 1983). James B. Jordan has responded to King and Russell in two taped lectures, available from Geneva Ministries, P.O. Box 131300, Tyler, TX 75713.

[50] E. W. Hengstenberg, The Revelation of St. John, two vols. (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing Co., n.d.), Vol. 2, p. 310.

[51] John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955), p. 161.

[52] Milton Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, p. 457.

[53] Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics, p. 458.

[54] Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1969), pp. 241f.