A Real Straightforward Reading of Revelation 20

In revisiting Revelation 20 recently I’m reminded of the hermeneutical cherry picking that Futurists and specifically Premillennarians take. I can’t believe how frequently I hear that my “problem” and the reason why I arrive at an Amillennarian conclusion of Revelation 20’s thousand years is that of “my” hermeneutic.

Basically meaning that I have abandoned the supposed “authoritative” hermeneutic that the Premillennarian holds to, which of course means, that hermeneutics and not Scripture become the ultimate, final, infallible authority instead of Scripture.

Really what this ends up meaning is that if you held to a “straightforward” reading of Revelation 20, taking the natural sense of the text, then you cannot arrive at a conclusion of a figurative, qualitative thousand years. Of course, the cherry-picking happens with the fact that Premillennarians would never take a “straightforward” reading or literal interpretation of Daniel’s 70 weeks. Nor would they do that with the “day of the Lord”. Nor would they do that with “when you see these things take place” or with “this generation”. All of the places that would refute their Futuristic, Premillennarian position.

But the other problem, as the specific point of this post is the fact that they can’t take the straightforward, literal reading of Revelation 20 — nor do they. If they did, they have a serious problem trying to interpret the “first resurrection”. Reason being is because a straightforward, literal, natural sense reading of Revelation means that the only people who share in the first resurrection are Great Tribulation saints.

Problems with Typical Literalism

Revelation 20:4 indicates that John saw thrones, and people sitting on them, but he also saw souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Christ and for the word of God and who had “not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (My emphasis)

The rest of the dead stay dead until after the thousand years are completed. So the only ones who can come to life and reign with Christ, if we allowed this text to be interpreted literally are those who come out of the Great Tribulation through martyrdom. The great and blessed hope of the Futuristic Premillennarian in a literal, earthly thousand year period, is dashed to pieces unless he or she partakes of the Great Tribulation. Furthermore, this also eliminates the Pretributionalist’s understanding, because you have to be present on the earth and martyred under the Antichrist in order to partake of the first resurrection and reign with Christ for a thousand years.

So much for all believers partaking of the first resurrection and only waiting to after the thousand years for the unbelievers to be resurrected — of course with those non-glorified people who get saved during the millennium who die also being resurrected. Which also flies in the face of that blessed hope that Paul gives where all believers of all time, including the alive ones, all come to life at the same time in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15.

There’s a more viable option that doesn’t dismantle the text of Revelation 20. The fact is, that Nero is the Beast, these Christians were martyred under his terrible reign. They came to life with Christ in heaven and reigned with him there. These believers are with Christ in heaven as Revelation 7 certainly indicates,

“I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.”

— (Revelation 7:14–15 ESV)

There’s another specific indication as to what John is seeing. There are those who are sharers in the first resurrection, who currently are protected from the second death — as promised to a 1st-century church for conquering (Revelation 2:11) — which is Hell (Revelation 20:14, 21:8). Every believer alive or dead is already safe from Hell.

Furthermore, as Revelation 20:6 indicates for those who are blessed and holy, stating in the future tense another present reality, that all believers already experience, “they will be priests of God and of Christ.”

“And made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

— (Revelation 1:6, ESV)

“And you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

— (Revelation 5:10 ESV)

Believers already are a kingdom of priests to our God. This is also explicitly mentioned by Peter,

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

— (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

“Royal” is a word synonymous with “kingdom”. Furthermore, for those in Evangelical eschatology who hold to one form or another of Christian Zionism, banking on a literal fulfillment of promises concerning Israel and a future, corporate, national restoration, believers are the fulfillment of those promises. Considering,

“and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.””

— (Exodus 19:6 ESV)

1st Peter establishes who Peter was talking to, the elect of God. And clearly then applies the Old Testament promise of Israel as God’s chosen race and royal priesthood and a holy nation to the New Testament true Israel, the elect of God, believers.

Thousand Years in Context

But what about Revelation 20:6 stating that we will reign with Christ for a thousand years? Again, unless we recognize that the kingdom started already with the 1st-century fulfillment of the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation period, then none of us will participate in the reign of Christ. Furthermore, if it isn’t salvific — the believer’s present experience of the realities of being safe from Hell, being priests of God and of Christ — both on earth and in heaven, then again, we all are without the hope of the millennium if we aren’t alive at the Great Tribulation.

It has to be the present reality of believer’s security from Hell, priesthood, and reign with Christ both on earth and in heaven. Revelation 1:6, 5:10, 7:14, 15 confirm that statement.

In addition to that, what about the fact that the rest of the dead don’t come to life till after the millennium?

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

— (Revelation 14:12–13 ESV)

What on earth — or in Heaven — is a voice doing saying, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on?”

Unless the dead, are those who are symbolized in death on earth who can die a physical death still who then after the millennium may be physically resurrected. But in their death from now on, i.e. during the Millennium, they may rest from their labors. The difference is those who rest in heaven in the Millennium and those who labor on earth.

This is why the “rest of the dead” in Revelation 20:6 “don’t come to life till after the Millennium”. It’s because they are symbolically compared to the souls who are alive in Heaven with Christ as those who are not alive in Heaven with Christ i.e. those of us who are conquering the world with our faith here on earth. But after the Millennium all will be resurrected because the New Heavens and the New Earth will be created.

Jesus predicted these concepts Himself, Personally.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

— (John 5:25 ESV)

This is the first resurrection. Which Christ also describes in John 11,

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?””

— (John 11:25–26 ESV)

How can someone die, yet live? It’s because they live with Christ in Heaven. And how can someone never die though they die physically? It’s because the second death is impossible for them now.

Furthermore,

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

— (John 5:28–29 ESV)

There’s the second resurrection that Jesus taught, where the dead actually come out of the tombs.

Therefore, a straightforward reading of Revelation doesn’t fit the Futurist Premillennarian scheme. But an honest, contextual reading of the text fits the Biblical context of both the canon of Scripture and the immediate and remote contexts of Revelation itself.

Hope that clears some things up.

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8 Comments

  1. Dear Sir, I appreciate your comments. They are clear and concise. I am wondering if you would agree with me in a rather simplistic approach to the malaise of Premillennism: The problem of the Preterist is that they begin with the premise that God intends to set up a physical kingdom on this earth. This is exactly the premise that the Jews were using when Jesus came the first time. We might note that they missed Jesus as the Messiah because of their false premise. Our modern day Preterist makes the exact same error. I think that many if not most are fine scholars. My example of the error is this: If you truly believe that you can fly it makes perfect sense to jump off of a 10 story building. The sudden stop will destroy you logic just as the answer that Jesus gave to Pilate stops the logic of the Preterist “My Kingdom is not of this world!”

    1. Hello Kerry,

      I assume you meant “Premillennialist” instead of “Preterist.”

      I would say that you are correct in identifying the fact that Premils make the same error as first-century Jews, Jesus was very clear that his kingdom is not from this world and the fact that because He casts out demons then the kingdom has been inaugurated. He also mentioned that the kingdom does not come in observable ways but instead is already in the midst of those who were living in the 1st century.

  2. I am not disagreeing and also hold an amillennial view however I take issue with this statement:
    “that hermeneutics and not Scripture become the ultimate, final, infallible authority instead of Scripture.”
    I think everybody has a hermeneutic position since it is impossible to read and comprehend what you read unless you so. Your’s is just different from the dispensationist (root of modern premillenialism). The question is just who is holding the correct hermeneutical position.

    1. Hello, Thank you for your comment.

      You are more than welcome to take issue with what I’ve said, however, you missed the point of what I was communicating. I actually didn’t say that no one has a hermeneutical position nor did I say that we shouldn’t. I also was not critiquing anyone for having a hermeneutical position. That’s not the point at all.

      If you reread what I was saying immediately before the quote you provided out of context you’ll notice that I was critiquing the Premillennialist’s view of the role of their hermeneutic. I stated, “Basically meaning that I have abandoned the supposed ‘authoritative’ hermeneutic that the Premillennarian holds to.” At no point has any Premillennialist demonstrated that they have the authoritative hermeneutic let alone why I need to abandon mine in favor of theirs. The issue that I’m addressing is, again, not that we shouldn’t have a hermeneutic but that Premils assume that their hermeneutic is the authoritative one and that any interpretation that an Amillennialist provides is ipso facto false because we don’t use the right hermeneutic rather than demonstrating the errors from the actual substance and content of the Amil argument. In that respect, they have made hermeneutics the final authority instead of what the Scriptures actually say. There are Premillennialists who do engage in the content of Amillennialists, however, they do inevitably resort to this type of argument. And my personal experience (which is what I’m addressing in the post) is that they resort to this argument too quickly.

      You are right that it is a question as to who is holding the correct hermeneutical position, however, the way you understand that is by assessing one’s hermeneutic on what the Scriptures say, thereby, recognizing Scripture and not the hermeneutical position as the final authority, which is the issue that I was raising. The critique, again, that I’m giving to the Premillennialists is the fact that they often ignore the content of my arguments and then insist that I’m wrong solely because I don’t have their hermeneutic. They are the ones making the hermeneutic the final authority, whereas, Scripture is the final authority regardless of one’s hermeneutic. The correct hermeneutic is simply the one that faithfully exegetes the Scriptures and presents what the Scriptures are actually saying in its context. The issue for the Reformers and many others regarding Sola Scripture was not just that the Bible is the sole infallible rule but also that the Bible is its own best interpreter. Scripture interprets Scripture.

      I hope that clarifies for you what I was intending to say.

  3. Thanks for your response, I certainly didn’t mean to take you out of context and did agreed with most of what you were saying.
    However I do not agree with what you say when you say ” The correct hermeneutic is simply the one that faithfully exegetes the Scriptures and presents what the Scriptures are actually saying in its context.”
    The Merriam-Webster definition of exegesis is : “an explanation or critical interpretation of a text”
    Now their definition of hermeneutic is : “a method or principle of interpretation”.
    So in order to faithfully exegete (critically interpret) the text you first need a method of exegeting the text or a hermeneutic not the other way around.
    To say the Bible interprets the Bible sounds all fine but there is a problem, firstly the Bible never claims that it interprets itself, it mentions sermons, teachers etc. and when Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch he said to Philip “How can I (understand), unless some one guides me?”.
    The second problem is that the prelim people also say “let the Bible interpret the Bible” and I know many of them are very sincerely holding to this principle.
    The third problem is that right out of the blocks the reformers had quite large differences in interpretation although they all claimed to simply “exegete the text” . I can give countless examples of where Zwingli, Luther and Calvin had differences in interpretation on very important issues and they all held firmly to “Scripture is self interpreting”.
    So my point is everybody comes to the Bible with a hermeneutic or method of interpretation and you cannot even begin to exegete without it. It’s best to be upfront and honest about it. You may believe yours is the right hermeneutic but you cannot say you ended up with the right hermeneutic by simply exegeting the text, that is putting the horse in front of the cart.

    1. “So my point is everybody comes to the Bible with a hermeneutic or method of interpretation and you cannot even begin to exegete without it.”
      I’ve understood your point. You are clearly missing mine. You continue to argue the importance of hermeneutics and having the correct hermeneutics and you show what happens when people, even like the Reformers, inconsistently apply hermeneutics and arrive at diverging interpretations. On that point, however, I know you are fully aware that Zwingli and Luther arrived at considerable agreement except on the Lord’s supper, and all of the Magisterial Reformers exercised considerable agreement. Calvin “grew up” reading Luther and Zwingli and Luther arrived at the same conclusions on many subjects, by exegeting the Scriptures. And there are good reasons to believe that they didn’t influence each other, but arrived at the same conclusions through careful exegesis of Scripture. But I digress. The problem, however, is not necessarily even with hermeneutical methods nor is the problem even with the fact that the Scriptures have an intended meaning that we are responsible to draw out. The problem is with the interpreter. Your point only proves that there is no infallible interpreter nor is there an infallible hermeneutic. It fails to prove whether the cart comes before the horse or not.

      Again, I understand that we need hermeneutics and I understand the importance of having the right hermeneutic. The problem that I’m raising is that Premillennialists do not have the authoritative hermeneutic as they claim, nor do they consistently apply their hermeneutic to eschatological contexts, nor is their argument that I have the wrong hermeneutic convincing or valid as it misses the substances of my argument and the contents of Scripture. I understand that Premillennialists say we need to interpret Scripture with Scripture also, so? There are plenty who actually reject that understanding as they believe we are trying to harmonize Scripture, however.

      Also, you appear to be conflating Biblicism with Hermeneutics and you commit the word-concept fallacy. You know full well that the Bible does not need to explicitly say something in order for something to be true about the Scriptures or taught in the Scriptures. The fact that the New Testament authors cite and interpret Scripture or even the fact that Peter appeals to Paul’s writings as Scripture or the fact that the Bible has similar and even parallel concepts prove this point beyond all shadow of a doubt. Anyone who rejects the concept that the Bible is its own best interpreter is failing to understand Scripture and even the Reformers.

      Another part of the problem with some of your assertions is the fact that the Bible was written with specific meanings and intentions. In other words, there has to be something there in order to interpret, right? Therefore, the task of interpretation is to exegete what is actually there. Plus the irony is the fact that you asserted that the Bible doesn’t say that it is its own best interpreter, it also doesn’t say which hermeneutic is the best, right? There are hermeneutical methods that seek to draw out the intended meaning of the Scripture. There are hermeneutic methods that do not. And there are interpreters who fail to use their hermeneutical method consistently or fail to see what’s actually there in the text and thus arrive at wrong conclusions. The ones that are the best methods of hermeneutics are the ones that can be checked against what the Scriptures say to see if they are faithfully representing the context. This is how the Reformers knew that claims made by the Catholic church about Scripture were unscriptural.

      “You may believe yours is the right hermeneutic but you cannot say you ended up with the right hermeneutic by simply exegeting the text, that is putting the horse in front of the cart.”

      This isn’t what I was saying, however, I actually can. I can determine what the right hermeneutic is by carefully examining what the text actually says. I can scrutinize any hermeneutic by looking at and drawing out the meaning of the text in its context.

      The problem with your approach is that you seem to be drifting towards the presupposition of the premillennialists that I’ve encountered, which makes the hermeneutical method the final authority and thereby rejects Sola Scriptura. The hermeneutical methods that we employ must be ministerial rather than magisterial, otherwise, when you reorder the cart you put the interpreter before the Scriptures. Which is more authoritative, what the text actually says or what the text says based on the interpreter? When is it the Word of God? Is the Word of God as it exists or is it the Word of God when it’s interpreted?

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