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.
“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.