Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reading Rev 20v1-6 in the light of the rest of the NT

Problems with pre-millenialism and a case for reading Rev 20 in the light of how these terms appear elsewhere in the New Testament.
By David Anthony, March 2010

The key passage in question is Rev 20v1-6. Wayne Grudem rightly states in his Systematic Theology that “it is unwise to base such a major doctrine on one passage of uncertain and widely disputed interpretation.”
It is much healthier to try to build a picture of the end times from the non-Apocalyptic / non-symbolic books of the NT and then read the symbolism of Revelation in light of that.
Some key questions to ask Pre-Mills:-
1) Who says Jesus is “reigning on Earth”? The passage doesn’t.
2) Why do you take the Millenium as literally a thousand years when you don’t take the 144,000 literally?
3) Why do you not take literally the fact that it says only those who “have been beheaded for the testimony of Christ” will reign with him? Why does this first subtly get changed to “all Christian martyrs” and then this again subtly slips into “all believers”? The passage clearly says “those beheaded”. There are absolutely no rules to your hermeneutics at this point. Some things are literal, some are not, all to back up your case.
4) Why does “meeting him in the air” when he returns from (1 Thess 4v17) get lifted out of the context of the rest of 1 Thess that makes clear Jesus returns once to bring final judgement and usher in the new creation?
The real danger is that if you are expecting Christ to reign on Earth for a thousand years, you are encouraging Christians to trust and worship someone on Earth claiming to be the Christ. In 2 Thess 2 Paul warns of the deception of people claiming to be the Christ (following Jesus’ warning in Mark 13v21-22). The AntiChrist himself in 2 Thess 2 will claim to be the Christ and rule from the new temple. Who is most likely to worship him? Is it not Christians who believe in Pre-millenialism – they are expecting a Christ to rule on the Earth prior to the final judgement!
Postmills and Amills expect Jesus’ return to be in utter glory and to wrap up this fallen world. No one will mistake him as he returns in glory and brings wrath on all unbelievers there and then (1 Thess 1v10). Postmills and Amills can avoid falling for the deception of the AntiChrist by obeying the simple rule – “anyone on earth claiming to be the Christ isn’t”!!!
So how are we to understand Rev 20?
The millenium
Well the first issue is “what does the millennium refer to?” The first millennium in the Bible was the length of time King Solomon’s temple lasted.
It was completed in around 970BC. Malachi 3v1-3 predicted that the Lord himself would turn up to examine his temple – but who will be able to stand that day? It predicted a messenger who will prepare the way. Malachi 4v5 says this forerunner will be Elijah.
Mark 1 begins with John the Baptist turning up and wearing the same clothes as Elijah – see 2 Kings 1v8. He does indeed prepare the way for Jesus.
Jesus is the Lord and by Mark 11 we see him approaching the temple. Malachi has given us the expectation that he will examine it. What is his verdict? The Jews have turned it into a den of robbers. This incident is sandwiched between the cursing of the fig tree incident. Just as Jesus looked for fruit on that and found nothing so he cursed it and it withered – Jesus looks for spiritual fruit in the temple and finds none – so we expect him to curse it and it to wither. Following even more opposition to him from the Jews in Ch12, Jesus does curse the temple as we expect in Ch13v2. The discussion in 13v1 is all about the temple stones and Jesus warns that not one stone will be left upon another. This is a reference back to Levit 14v39-40. There the priest was to inspect a house with mildew on the walls. If the mildew is still there after 7 days the stones of the house are to be torn down and cast outside the city. Jesus is the great high priest who examines the house of the temple and has found it with spiritual mildew. He is now promising that it’s stones will be cast down. What date was Jesus saying this? Circa 30AD. = 1000 years after it was completed. When will the stones be torn down? In Mark 13v30 (remember the context of the discussion is about the temple) he says this will happen within “a generation”. Biblically a “generation” as with the generation who died out in the wilderness was 40 years.
So we see the temple lasts approx 1000 years. Which suggests the Millenium is to do with the temple. What 1000 year millennium could Revelation 20 be referring to? The NT temple = the church.
What repeating storyline do we expect?
With the first temple Malachi told us the Lord himself would come to visit. This he did in Jesus’ first coming, 1000 years after it was built and he found the temple wanting – hence it was destroyed.
God builds a new temple – the spiritual temple of the church – this time Jesus will return but instead of finding it wanting Rev 21 tells us he will find it as his spotless redeemed bride who he marries / a city fit for him to dwell in. Again we would expect this to be after a millenium, but numbers in Revelation are symbolic - here for "a long time".
So the millennium in Rev 20 is the period of the NT church temple being built. That began at Pentecost and will carry on until all the elect are gathered. (Mark 13v27)
So the devil being bound for this thousand years is referring to the church age where the church grows throughout the world, less hindered by the devil.
So where do the beheaded martyrs coming to life and reigning fit in then along with first resurrections and second deaths?
Well this is a perfect example of not reading Rev 20 in isolation from the rest of the NT. What else do we find about “heads” and “reigning” and “resurrections”? John didn’t just pluck this out of the air and create a brand new theology. No this dovetails perfectly with everything Paul teaches in his letters.
1st Resurrection
In Colossians 2v12 Paul tells us that all Christians have been “buried with (Christ) in baptism, in which you were also raised with him”. There it is crystal clear – all Christians have already gone through a death and resurrection- we have “come to life” (Rev 20v4) i.e. the blessed first resurrection of Rev 20v6. Death in the Bible is primarily spiritual – not being in right relationship with God. So coming to life = being in relationship with God. i.e. All Christians have been spiritually resurrected from the dead.
Non-Christians have not gone through this spiritual death and resurrection in Christ – so they will have to suffer death as a punishment for their own sins rather than be united to Christ’s death and so be forgiven.
Look on to Colossians 2v19 where Paul warns the false teachers “are not holding fast to the Head”. All the way through Paul’s letters e.g. 1 Cor, Ephesians, he refers to Christ as the Head and the church as the Body.
Was Christ always our head? No. Adam was our first head. But now as Christians we are united by faith to our new head – Christ. What do you call someone who loses their first head? “Beheaded”.
Hence John is not creating some Elite Business class section of heaven where there is a special privilege for martyred Christians or beheaded Christians. No he is using symbology (as he does all the way through Revelation!!!!) to talk of simple spiritual truths. All Christians have been beheaded from Adam. John is talking about all Christians being beheaded (when they got converted). We now have a new head and reign with Christ in the church age – the millennium.
So where does reigning come in? (Nowhere in Rev 20 does John say Christ is reigning on Earth, yet this gets slipped in neatly by Premills.) Rather John’s emphasis is on us reigning with Christ. Where does Christ reign from? Heaven. John is not saying anything new here. Paul in Col 3v3 says we are hidden with Christ in God. In Ephesians 2v6 we are “seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. And in Romans 5v17 it says all Christians “reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ”. This last one is critical. It is not saying Christ reigns. The wonder of the gospel is that we reign through him too. When is this? Now according to Romans 5. Paul’s whole argument is that we are no longer slaves to sin, but reigning in life now, free to live to please God.
So again when John talks about reigning in Rev 20 he is not talking about the future. He is talking of the church age, where all Christians reign with Christ in the spiritual realms (hence why we have authority in prayer etc.).
Rest of the dead
So Rev 20v5 where it says “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” is simply talking about non-Christians. They are dead from God’s perspective. Again this is nothing new. Eph 2v1 says “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…” These non-Christians whether they are the walking dead or the dead dead, will be raised to new life at Jesus’ return in judgement – in order to serve their eternal prison sentence in hell in their new bodies.
Rev 20v 6 ”Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
John is just declaring the gospel here in v6. You are blessed and HOLY if you have shared in the first resurrection – i.e. been united to Jesus in his death and resurrection by faith – that is how you become holy. The simple gospel.
Second death
Over such the second death has no power. This is the wrath to come. Death has lost its sting for Christians – for us physical death just ushers us into being with Christ forever!
“They will be priests of God” = exactly how Peter describes all Christians in 1 Peter 2v9. Again John is not talking of some elite class of Christian.
Do you see how time and again John is not saying anything new but just repeating the same gospel preached by Jesus and all the other apostles in the NT?
Do you see how we safeguard ourselves from all kinds of strange confusion by reading the non-symbolic NT letters and getting our systematics and doctrine clear from them, before we try to delve into how John talks of the same things using symbolism?

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