Yesterday, I promised to talk about guidelines for the proper interpretation of Revelation 20.1–10. Well, I lied. Or rather—to be a bit more charitable to myself—I bit off more than I could chew. Way more. If premillennial, postmillennial, and amillennial scholars cannot agree amongst themselves after writing thousands of pages on the topic, who am I to think I can settle the debate in a 500-odd-word email?
Of course, on first glance, the proper interpretation seems obvious, right? Premillennialism is the most literal interpretation of the passage, the one that reads it with the most common sense and fewest theological add-ons. That, indeed, is the strength of the premillennial position. Its great weakness, however, is that it is hard to square with the rest of what the New Testament teaches about Christ’s Second Coming. In his recent book, The Promise of the Future, Cornelis P. Venema writes that “the usual presentation of the return of the Christ in the Scriptures, and in a number of different passages, is that it is a consummating event at the close of the age.” He offers several lines of supporting evidence:
· “Christ’s coming will be a visible public event that will bring about the salvation of the people of God and the realization of the kingdom of God in fullness” (Matt. 24.27, 33; Luke 17. 24; 21.27–28, 31).
· “When Christ is revealed from heaven, he will bring rest immediately and simultaneously for his beleaguered church and eternal punishment upon the unbelieving and impenitent” (2 Thes. 1.6–10).
· “In the New Testament, descriptions of the believer’s expectation for the future, the common thread is a focus upon the return of Christ as the event that brings the fullness of salvation, beyond which there is nor further event that will surpass it in redemptive significance” (1 Cor. 1.7; Phil. 1.6, 10; 1 John 2.28; 1 Tim. 4.8; 2 Tim. 4.1).
· “Christ’s return will introduce the final state of new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3.13; Rom 8.17–25).
· “When Christ returns, a rapture of the living and the dead leads to the resurrection transformation of all believers and their uninterrupted and undisturbed communion with the Lord from that day forward” (1 Thes. 4.13–18).
· “Finally, the resurrections of the just and the unjust will coincide” (Dan. 12.2; John 5.28–29; Acts 24.14–15; Rev. 20.11–15).
In other words, when Christ returns, everything changes. That is the general teaching of the New Testament. It is hard to square Revelation 20.1–10 with this general teaching. So, we might say, postmillennialism and amillennialism make better sense of the whole teaching of Scripture than does premillennialism.
So that is where, for me, the debate lies. Premillennialism makes better sense of Revelation 20.1–10 considered all by itself, but postmillennialism and amillennialism make better sense of the passage when considered in light of the rest of the New Testament.
But it seems to me that we can further than merely pointing out the parameters of the millennial debate and explaining why it is so intractable. The purpose of Scripture is to transform, not merely inform. Or rather, its purpose is to inform us of what we need in order to experience a transformed life. How, then, does Revelation 20.1–10 help us do that? How does it help us become better Christians?
By infusing us with hope. In Revelation 19.11–21 and 20.1–10, first the Antichrist and False Prophet, then the Devil himself, gins up an army to fight against Jesus Christ. In both cases, there is a battle that results in the utter destruction of the enemy forces with nary a nick or scratch on the body of even the tiniest saint. John uses martial language and battlefield imagery to communicate a single point: It is impossible to fight with God. Through Jesus Christ, God will accomplish his purposes in the world. There may be questions about the timing of that accomplishment but not its factuality, about the when but not about the whether. Writing to the beleaguered first-century Christians of Asia Minor, John offered an incomparable word of hope: The battle is already over, God has already won, so persevere to taste the fruit of victory.
That message is one we all need to hear. For sometimes, in our post 9/11 world, we are tempted to think that evil is getting the upper hand. It only seems that way, however. Even in the midst of our terror-ridden times, God is in control, taking his church where it needs to go on its march toward heaven.
As for the devil? I like to keep in mind Martin Luther’s poetic words: “The Prince of darkness grim / we tremble not for him. / His rage we can endure / for, Lo!, his doom is sure. / One little word shall fell him.”
Indeed, and amen!