Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, October 09, 2009

Studies in Eschatology [13]

Revelation 20: Sequential or Recapitulation?

With this post I come specifically to the text of Revelation 20:1-10, the source of the main disagreement between the various millennial positions. Even more to the point is whether this passage is referring to a future millennium or is it describing the conditions present now during the age of the Church. If we can determine how in which way we are to understand Revelation 20, we can then narrow our focus down to determine which eschatological position best explains the exegetical data.

Just as a brief reminder, both amillennialism and postmillennialism approach Revelation 20 with an Augustinian hermeneutic. That is to say, those systems, though they may draw different conclusions as to how the events of the millennium play out, believe Revelation 20 is basically describing conditions now during the Church age. Both groups would argue that the book of Revelation is prophetic-apocalyptic literature filled with much symbolism. The exegete should not expect to take anything in the book with a wooden literalism. This is especially true of the 1,000 years mentioned in Revelation 20. Additionally, the concept of the 1,000 years is only found here in this portion of Scripture, indicating even more that Revelation 20 should not be taken literally. The exegesis of Revelation 20 is then interpreted to accommodate these presuppositions.

Contrasted to this idea that Revelation 20 is describing conditions now during the Church age is the futurist position of premillennialism. That system understands the chapter as describing a future time during which Christ will return to destroy the enemies of God and His people and establish a millennial kingdom where righteousness dwells over all the earth. The premillennialists draw that conclusion because they interpret the prophecy of Revelation with the historical-grammatical exegesis recovered by the reformers during the age of the Reformation that reads prophetic passages more literally.

Now, with these basic things in mind, as we come to chapter 20 we want to consider the exegesis of the passage. When all things considered, does the passage affirm the classic Augustinian hermeneutics employed by amillennialists and postmillennialists when they interpret the chapter, or does the exegesis favor the more literal approach of premillennialism that sees this passage as future?

It's my position that the Augustinian hermeneutic must be abandoned as it is fraught with much philosophical baggage that mishandles the biblical exegesis. Instead of using Augustine's method, the biblical student should approach the Revelation with the historical-grammatical approach, recognizing the symbolism of the book, but interpreting it with a normal understanding of language. Moreover, the book is heavily dependent upon previous prophecy like Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, and like Revelation, those books contain symbolic language, but language providing description of historical realities. Daniel for instance uses symbolic language to describe such historical events as the fall of Babylon, the coming of Alexander the Great, and the rise of the Roman empire. The language of Revelation describes similar historical realities, and should be interpreted as explaining something real, not just being symbolic for the sake of being symbolic and using colorful metaphors.

As we survey chapter 20, there are five important questions I believe divide the amillennial/postmillennial positions from the premillennial position, and these I will consider in turn.
1) Is the chronology of Revelation 19 to 20 recapitulative or sequential?
2) Is the binding of Satan present or future?
3) Is the first Resurrection spiritual or physical?
4) Is the duration of the 1,000 years symbolic or literal?
5) Is the locale of the 1,000 years in heaven or on earth?

It is my contention that when we consider these points in light of the exegetical data of Revelation, they will not sustain an amillennial nor postmillennial perspective.

Let me begin with the first, Is the chapters of Revelation 19 to 20 recapitulative or sequential?

Recapitulative may be a new word for some, so let me define it. The idea of recapitulation is "to repeat in concise form." The Augustinian hermeneutic understands that the events described in Revelation 20 do not follow in sequence after Revelation 19. In fact, many amillennialists and postmillenialists believe the entire Revelation of John is a series of prophetic visions meant to provide details of the Church age. Most interpreters believe there are 7 visions (sticking with the number "7" symbolism of the author) and each vision returns the reader to the beginning of the Church age to either provide new revelation or fill in the details of a previous visions.

In this outline, Revelation 19 describes how the Church age will end with Jesus returning with victory over God's enemies who had been persecuting His people. Chapter 20, [and this is key], rather than describing events that follow immediately after those described in chapter 19, instead returns the reader back to the beginning of the Church age. Chapter 20 is believed to be returning back to Christ's victory over Satan at the cross and Resurrection (the concept of him being "bound"), and unfolds how the saints are resurrected spiritually to reign with Christ presently now as the Church triumphantly goes forth across the earth proclaiming the gospel and bringing nations to Christ. Only at the end of the Church age is Satan loosed for a little while to deceive the nations who attempt one final assault against God and His people, what is described with a bit more detail at the end of chapter 19. Hence chapter 20 precedes chapter 19 in order of events, and chapter 19:11-21 runs concurrently with chapter 20:7-10. They are passages explaining parallel events, not passages describing sequential, chronological events following after each other.

Yet, when we consider the book of Revelation as a whole, is John meaning to convey the idea of recapitulation? Especially chapters 19 and 20? There are many vigorous defenders of recapitulation. R. Fowler White and Cornelius Venema, for example, have both written capable defenses of recapitulation between chapters 19 and 20. Yet, in spite of their work, I agree with commentator Robert Thomas that when all things are considered, the concept of recapitulation does not rest upon the exegesis of the book, but rather is concluded because of philosophical precommitments utilized when interpreting Revelation [Thomas, 404]. This in a way is the Achilles Heel of non-futuristic, non-premillennial systems. If it can be demonstrated clearly that Revelation 20 follows Revelation 19 sequentially, those systems really have no foundation upon which to rest their arguments.

So how is Revelation 20 sequential to Revelation 19?

First, we can say the context demands it. Revelation chapters 19 and 20 are part of a larger whole of the book that tracks with a series of important events which follow after one another. Matt Waymeyer explains it this way, "The context and flow of Revelation 12-20 point to a chronological relationship in which the events of chapter 20 follow those of chapter 19" [Waymeyer, 62]. He goes on to outline the chronological relationship as,
  • Satan being cast down to earth and beginning his work to deceive the whole world (Rev. 12:9).
  • Satan enlisting the beast and the false prophet to accomplish his task of deception (Rev. 13:1-18; 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).
  • The unholy trinity is successful in their attempts to deceive and are defeated by Christ at His return who conquers them and casts them into the lake of fire in a series of visions. (Rev. 19:11-20:10).
  • By the end of chapter 19, only two of the three of the unholy trinity - the beast and false prophet - has been defeated. Chapter 20 then continues the thought of judgment of those three, by binding the head of the group, Satan, in the abyss [ibid, 62-63].
It is clear that there is no logical, grammatical break between the events ending chapter 19 and those continued into chapter 20. On the contrary, there is unity of thought, especially between the judgment upon the three members of the unholy trinity - Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. It disrupts the flow of thought to suggest the beast and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire, while leaving the doom of Satan unresolved by claiming chapter 20:1-4 is returning the reader back the beginning of the Church's ministry after the great commission. The fate of the devil is answered, however, when chapters 19-20 are treated as sequential.

John's use of "and I saw" (kai eidon) in 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11; 21:1 indicates a series of visions happening right after one another; a progression of chronological thought. D.E. Aune argues that the phrase "and I saw" does three things: It introduces a new vision, a major scence within a vision, and focuses on a new or significant figure or action that occurs within a continuing vision narrative [Aune, 338]. Some amillennialists will argue the phrase, while providing a visional chronicle, is not providing an historical chronicle. In other words, they believe the vision is in chronological order, but not necessarily the history of events [Sullivan, 5]. I would point out such an argument assumes a commitment to the Augustine hermeneutic and is not derived from the exegesis itself.

The purpose clause of Revelation 20:3, "any longer" (eti) strongly brings one to the conclusion that the events of chapter 20 follow closely behind those of chapter 19. "Any longer" indicates an interpruption of something already taking place. In this case, the deception of the nations by Satan as outlined in Revelation 12-19. I will go into more detail about this purpose clause in my next post to this series, but the binding of Satan is the very thing providing the use of "any longer."

And then Revelation 20:10 states how Satan will be cast into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet are also. These two individuals were judged and thrown into the lake of fire at the end of chapter 19. The only way the words of 20:10 can make any exegetical sense is if chapter 20 follows sequentially after chapter 19.

The next post will continue my exegetical examination by considering the "binding of Satan."


D.E. Aune,
Revelation 1-5. (Nelson: Nashville TN, 1997).

Craig Blaising, "Premillennialism," in
Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond. ed. Darrel Bock. (Zondervan: Grand Rapids MI, 1999).

Charles Powell,
Progression Versus Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-6: Some Overlooked Arguments. On-line paper.

Steve Sullivan,
Premillennialism and an Exegesis of Revelation 20. On-line paper.

Robert Thomas,
Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary. (Moody: Chicago IL, 1995).

Matthew Waymeyer,
Revelation 20 and the Millennial Debate. (Kress Christian Publications: The Woodlands TX, 2004).

R. Fowler White, “Making Sense of Rev 20:1-10? Harold Hoehner Versus Recapitulation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37 (December 1994).



Blogger Rick Lannoye said...

I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell," (for anyone interested, you can get a free Ecopy of my book at my website: www.ricklannoye.com), but if I may, please allow me to share one point from it.

The problem with Revelation is that John is just trying to make sense of all the various Final End ideas that had evolved and which were in circulation in the church. Sheol had morphed into Hell. The Persian Lake of Fire had been added. The Jewish Messiah was to raise the dead and form an earthly reign. One has to give him credit for trying so hard to make a patch quilt of all these different cloths, but in the end, it is so confusing, and attempt to explain it results in (to keep on with my analogy) tearing at the seams.

8:52 AM, October 10, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Let me guess Rick, you are involved with Unitarianism (or some other pseudo-Christian group) and you deny the infallibility of scripture?

Am I bouncing around it close?

2:44 PM, October 10, 2009  
Blogger mikey said...

I would think that if chapter 19 was not depicting the return of Christ most of your argument would fall apart. As I see it in clear terms His return will be the same way He left i.e. not on a horse. Also the horse is not shown riding down from heaven but out to conquer which I take to be a picture of the gospel power to win over prisoners for Christ. Paul and the other apostles make it clear that the DAY Jesus comes back in flaming fire is the end of the world this leaves no room for a future millennium after His return. 2 thes 1:7, 2 pet 3:18 Also Paul in 1 cor 15:54 compare toRev 20:14 shows the resurrection to be the final blow to death the final enemy. I would think that Jesus's own words in the parables made this clear when He spoke of separating the wheat and the weeds, or separating the sheep and the goats on the LAST DAY. mat 13:24, (the Harvest is the end of the age)mt 25:31.. I have never read Augustine and do not use anything but other scripture to understand this chapter. The binding of satan took place at our Lords first appearing Jn 12:31, lk 10:17, mt 12:29, lk 11:22, col 2:15, heb 2:14, mt 13:24, so it makes perfect sense for the rest of the chapter to be about the time between both advents.

4:02 PM, October 11, 2009  
Blogger Hayden said...


You may not have ever read Augustine but you interpret the Scripture just like he would.

Do you hold to a grammatical-historical model of interpretation of Scripture? If so, why abandon it for Revelation?

6:56 PM, October 11, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Just like Hayden stated, I would imagine you haven't read Augustine, but you have read modern day proponents of his hermeneutical model. Folks like Gary Demar, Sam Waldron, or some other Reformed, covenantal approach to prophecy.

Am I correct?

My contention is that an honest student isn't going to come to Revelation 20 and believe it precedes Revelation 19 as to the description of the events UNLESS someone else has suggested as such. Even Anthony Hoekema, in his Bible and the Future pg. 226, recognizes this and he goes on to state that one's philosophical commitment to interpreting the book of Revelation brings one to that conclusion.

7:10 PM, October 11, 2009  
Blogger Katy~The Country Blossom said...

I agree with Mikey. That is how I believe as well. I think the *last day* is it. There is nothing after the last day. :)
And while discussion about this topic is a good thing...I also think people can get so wrapped up in it. I think we need to focus on loving like Jesus did more than trying to exactly prove what Revelation says. :)

3:04 AM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger Lynda O said...

Katy: "I think we need to focus on loving like Jesus did more than trying to exactly prove what Revelation says."

Could it be that the reason to study and exegete what Revelation is saying, is because it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ? If we truly love someone, especially our Lord God, we should want to know everything that person has told us. Our understanding of God, in all facets of the depth, height, breadth of our awesome God, will affect how much we love Him and how much we worship and adore Him. To have a shallow understanding of the Bible and say we shouldn't seek after Him and His word, is to limit our capacity for knowing and praising Him. The Bible actually has far more to say about His Second Coming than about His first, so obviously God thinks it is important. Jesus Himself thought it important to tell us several things regarding His Second Coming -- both in the Matthew 24 account, and later to John in Revelation. The apostles also thought it important to tell us these things. So many people miss the main point about Revelation -- it is a revelation, an unveiling and revealing about Christ to us. God wants us to know it, the purpose of Revelation is to reveal Him to us. Yet so many have turned Revelation into the great masking and secrecy, completely opposite of the stated intention both in Revelation 1 and Revelation 22. As Fred's articles point out, Revelation is not that complicated or difficult to understand, for those who truly seek to know God.

7:02 AM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger Katy~The Country Blossom said...

Of course we are to study God's word...including Revelation. My words were not meant to say that Mr. Butler was going too much into it...nor anyone leaving comments about it. I was just saying that in general,some people do focus on Revelation, almost exclusively...and we should never focus on one book of the Bible without reading and studying the rest equally.

I would never mean to say or even imply that we shouldn't study God's word or limit our praises of Him. I love our Creator and He knows my heart. I apologize if I stated my thoughts incorrectly.

I, myself, am still learning daily. But, I do believe that we can love like Jesus' example portrayed through other books in the New Testament..even without fully understanding Revelation.

10:15 AM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I was just saying that in general,some people do focus on Revelation, almost exclusively...and we should never focus on one book of the Bible without reading and studying the rest equally.

I would agree with you. There are entire ministries oriented around discussing end-time issues, and I would find such fixations as being unbalanced.

But, that being stated, if you read the first couple of articles in this series (you can locate them in the archives linked in the sidebar), one of my focuses was to interact with the so-called Reformed hermeneutic that insists we must re-read biblical prophecy differently than other portions of scripture. It is automatically assumed that if one is Calvinistic, he must eventually come around to embracing either amillennialism and postmillennialsm and a normative, non-spiritualized interpretative approach to prophecy must be abandoned for a so-called "Christological hermeneutic" that reads all prophecy and the OT in light of the "Christ event."

The reason I believe we need to address it is not because I don't think other portions of scripture are less important or that I have a fascination with end-time stuff, but because I want to engage my readers as to why I believe this Reformed approach to prophecy and the book of Revelation is problematic.

10:32 AM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger mikey said...

I have not read the men you mentioned and do not really consider myself "reformed". I started studying the book 2 years ago and really just looked up all the cross references I could find and read the other scripture John was pointing to. Not every chapter has come in to focus in order as the 144,000 was the first part that really clicked for me and it is not until ch 7. I do believe I follow a historical grammatical hermeneutic when interpreting scripture and because of that I have a hard time taking the chain, bottom-less pit on earth, the key and the dragon symbolically and then turning around in the same sentence and taking the 1000 years literally. I mean the usage of 1000 else where in historical narratives are not taken literally. We use it in modern speech all the time when my son for example says its a 1000 degrees outside.With that said how am I abandoning a hermeneutic in this book? It makes better sense to see the 1000 years contrasted with a little while, like it is contrasted to a day else where.

12:13 PM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Mikey, you wrote:

It makes better sense to see the 1000 years contrasted with a little while, like it is contrasted to a day else where.

So, how does that effect how you interpret the days of Genesis? Are they to be taken a spiritual? Why or why not?

12:23 PM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger Matt Waymeyer said...

I realize that Fred will get to the 1000 years in due time, but let me interject a brief observation. When Mikey’s son says that it’s a 1,000 degrees outside, he is using a well-known figure of speech called “hyperbole” in which he outrageously exaggerates the actual temperature to make the point of how hot it is. The reason this fails to illustrate the amillennial view of Revelation 20 is that “1,000 years” cannot be considered a hyperbolic way to refer to a period of time that is nearly 2,000 years and counting!

12:34 PM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger mikey said...

I guess I think of a day as a day in Genesis. Although there are many on two sides of that debate I find it not and important matter. Point is He made all things. I do not see how my view on Genesis or my view in Rev 20 is a spiritual interpretation.
that “1,000 years” cannot be considered a hyperbolic way to refer to a period of time that is nearly 2,000 years and counting!

Why not? It would just mean a long time compared to the "little while"

1:06 PM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger Matt Waymeyer said...

Mikey: Regarding your question, I thought it was obvious, but I'll explain. By definition, "hyperbole" involves an exaggeration of some kind (for example, when your son says that it's "1000 degrees" even though it was really only 87 degrees; or when someone says they waited in line at Costco for "1,000 years" even though it was really only 37 minutes). But "1,000 years" is not an exaggerated (i.e., "hyperbolic") way to refer to a period of time that is 2,000 years and counting. Make sense?

1:23 PM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger Lynda O said...

The "thousand years" is covered in other articles here and at Matt's blog, but just my own brief summary of it:
1. Revelation 20 says "1,000" six times, referring to the same specific period of time.
2. In many other places in Revelation, John uses other large and specific numbers ("twice ten thousand times ten thousand" or "144,000" or "42 months" etc.) There are also places in Revelation where John uses the Greek term for a large indefinite number, a myriad. Yet John did not use the Greek word for a large, indefinite number in Revelation 20. He could have done so if he wanted to, as the Greek language was just as capable of specifying such vague numbers as our English -- but he did not.

This does tie in directly with how one interprets Genesis 1, another case where the text gives specific units of measurements, yet liberals want to twist the meaning of the words to say something different, that the "days" were just vague, indefinite large amounts of time. The same exegesis and hermeneutic for Genesis 1 is to be applied in Revelation 20, as we look at each text and what it actually says. Again like Fred has said, a person would only come up with a different meaning if they had a pre-supposition, some other theological or philosophical agenda to impose, and that is called eisegesis, not exegesis.

1:31 PM, October 12, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Rick, your contributions to this discussion are timeless. Who doesn't want to hear how there is actually no hell? I know Jesus spoke of it more than heaven, but you know what Jesus really meant. Thanks. Reallllly deep stuff.

Mikey, when you sayk, "...that I have a hard time taking the chain, bottom-less pit on earth, the key and the dragon symbolically and then turning around in the same sentence and taking the 1000 years literally." I wonder how much thought you put into this. On what basis is the chain, bottomless pit, key, and dragon symbolical?

To say that they are not 'earthly' does not mean that they are symbolic. Will the chain be made of iron? I don't know. Will it be an actual chain? Absolutely. Is satan a real person? Yes. Please explain how God does not actually really bind him. You don't seem to have a problem with Jesus binding satan in Matt 12.

You might not have read those authors Fred mentioned, but are you really saying you came to the exact same conclusions, using the same tired easily explained arguments of modern day amills all by yourself?

1:59 PM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger Fred Butler said...


In one of your comments up above, you wrote:

I mean the usage of 1000 else where in historical narratives are not taken literally and then you concluded your thought by adding, It makes better sense to see the 1000 years contrasted with a little while, like it is contrasted to a day else where.

That is why I asked about the use of the word "day" in Genesis. If "day" and "1,000" is symbolic language even in narrative, that a rather significant comment, seeing that Genesis is historical narrative. But then you state in your follow up comment to me:

I guess I think of a day as a day in Genesis. Although there are many on two sides of that debate I find it not and important matter. Point is He made all things. I do not see how my view on Genesis or my view in Rev 20 is a spiritual interpretation.

I guess my concern is that I see a little inconsistency between these two comments.

Now folks claim that because Revelation is prophecy and apocalyptic literature we need to read everything symbolically. But I ask, "Why?" So what if there is symbolic language used? Why does that mean I treat biblical prophecy with this loosey-goosey way that makes the language say things that it otherwise doesn't mean else where?

3:38 PM, October 12, 2009  
Blogger mikey said...

I guess you are busy blogging or doing dad stuff to get back. Sorry to bother you but when you wrote the part about John's use of "and I saw" it did get my attention and after looking through the beginning of most of the paragraphs there is that phrase or something similar. This does not indicate a chronological thought process only that he continued to see visions. Rev 1:2 says John who testifies to everything he saw- This phrase along with the others like it only give further proof that this is a book of symbols. He saw in his visions symbols that tell a story. Not in historical chronological order or else Chapter 12 and 13 got mixed up as some point. As a final note. I do really enjoy your blog site and am not trying to argue but rather wish to reason with another brother. I look foward to your further insights.

1:42 PM, October 16, 2009  

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