We have been studying the book of Revelation for many, many weeks now. From the very beginning I have told you that there are different schools of thought as to how we should understand Revelation. That should not rattle any of us as long as we realize that this is apocalyptic material. The nature of apocalyptic literature is that it is full of symbols and signs. I remind us of this because at Revelation 20, the chapter we will study this week, we have come to the most difficult chapter in the Word of God. I have read and read this Scripture, related passages, and countless commentaries this past week. Iíve searched the Scriptures and examined all of the different viewpoints concerning the meaning of this chapter and I can tell you that each of the proponents of the major viewpoints make their case with Scripture. These are not wild-eyed David Koresh types or liberal Bible teachers who donít really take the Bible seriously. The Bible commentators that Iíve studied this past week hold Scripture as the sole authority for us as followers of Jesus. Let me give you an example of the differences that we are dealing with in understanding this section of Godís Word. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the greatest Bible teachers ever, once wrote,
If I read the word aright, and it is honest to admit that there is much room for difference of opinion here, the day will come, when the Lord Jesus will descend from heaven with a shout, with the trump of the archangel and the voice of God. Some think that this descent of the Lord will be post-millennial ó that is, after the thousand years of his reign. I cannot think so. I conceive that the advent will be PRE-millennial ó that he will come first; and then will come the millennium as the result of his personal reign upon earth. But whether or no, this much is the fact, that Christ will suddenly come, come to reign, and come to judge the earth in righteousness. (C.H. Spurgeon, Justification & Glory MTP Vol 11, Year 1865, pg. 249, Romans 8:30)
Pastor Spurgeon wrote this in 1865. He says, like I want to say, that there is much room for differences of opinion when we come to Revelation 20. He has his own interpretation and that is that Jesus will come at the beginning of the Millennium Kingdomóhe held a premillennial position. Then he goes on to say that whether this is the timing of Jesusí coming or not, this much we can agree upon, Jesus will suddenly come to reign and to judge the inhabitants of the earth.
Just a few weeks ago you and I had the privilege of hearing one of the greatest Bible teachers of our lifetime, Dr. Bruce Waltke. You heard the passion and reverence that Dr. Waltke has for the Word of God. He holds the Bible in such high esteem that he had you and me stand, in honor of Godís Word, as he read from the Psalms. Dr. Waltke is an ďamillennialist.Ē That doesnít mean anything to most of you at this time, but it will as we study the three different schools of interpretation. For now, suffice it to say that Dr. Waltkeís interpretation is different than that of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a premillennialist. Both godly men, both ardent studentís of Godís Word, but they have come down in different places on their view of the Millennial Kingdom. Letís read our Scripture together and we will get started.
1And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.† 4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. 7When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth– Gog and Magog– to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.† 10And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.† (Revelation 20:1-10 NIV)
What I want to do in the time that we have this morning is to take a look at each of the three schools of thought and then share with you what we can agree upon concerning Revelation 20:1-10. The three different viewpoints that we will briefly take a look at this morning all concern the understanding of the Millennial Kingdom, the thousand year reign of Jesus Christ that is mentioned in our Scripture for today. Letís get started and take a look at each of the views. I have taken the synopsis of each of the views from R. C. Sproulís book, The Last Days According To Jesus. First of all, letís take a look at premillennialism.
Premillennialism teaches that there will be a future, literal, earthly Millennial Kingdom, and that it will begin when Christ returns. The ďpre-ď indicates that Christ will return before the Millennial Kingdom is established. Within the premillennialist viewpoint there are two camps: dispensationalist premillennialism and historic premillennialism. Kenneth Gentry lays out seven key tenets of dispensational premillennialism.
1.††† Christ offered to the Jews the Davidic kingdom in the first century. They rejected it, and it was postponed until the future.
2.††† The current Church age is a ďparenthesisĒ unknown to the Old Testament prophets.
3.††† God has separate programs for the Church and Israel.
4.††† The Church will ultimately lose influence in the world and become corrupted or apostate toward the end of the Church age.
5.††† Christ will return to secretly rapture his saints before the great tribulation.
6.††† After the tribulation Christ will return to earth to administer a Jewish political kingdom based in Jerusalem for one thousand years. Satan will be bound, the temple will be rebuilt, and the sacrificial system reinstituted.
7.††† Christ will call down judgment from heaven and destroy his enemies. The (second) resurrection and the judgment of the wicked will occur, initiating the eternal order. (Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 60-61)
Some of the leading Bible teachers who hold to this viewpoint are Walter C. Kaiser, Donald Grey Barnhouse, John Walvoord, and the most well-known teachers of our day, Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye.
††††††††† The other school of interpretation within premillennialism is historic premillennialism. In my estimation the biggest differences between these two branches within the premillennialist camp is that of the nature of the Church and the rapture. The dispensationalist premillennialist believe that the Church is the fulfillment of Israel and they believe that the rapture takes place before the tribulation. †Kenneth Gentry lays out seven key tenets of historic premillennialism.
1.††††† The New Testament era Church is the initial phase of Christís kingdom, as prophesied by the Old Testament prophets.
2.††††† The New Testament Church may win occasional victories in history, but ultimately she will fail in her mission, lose influence, and become corrupted as worldwide evil increases toward the end of the Church Age.
3.††††† The Church will pass through a future, worldwide, unprecedented time of travail. This era is known as the Great Tribulation, which will punctuate the end of contemporary historyÖ
4.††††† Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation to rapture the Church, resurrect deceased saints, and conduct the judgment of the righteous in the ďtwinkling of an eye.Ē
5.††††† Christ will then descend to the earth with His glorified saints, fight the battle of Armageddon, bind Satan, and establish a worldwide, political kingdom, which will be personally administered by Him for 1,000 years from Jerusalem.
6.††††† At the end of the millennial reign, Satan will be loosed and a massive rebellion against the kingdom and a fierce assault against Christ and His saints will occur.
7.††††† God will intervene with fiery judgment to rescue Christ and the saints. The resurrection and the judgment of the wicked will occur and the eternal order will begin. †(Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, pg. 63)
Some of the leading Bible teachers who are in the school of historical premillennialism are George Eldon Ladd, Justin Martyr, and R.A. Torrey.
††††††††† The next school of thought concerning the end times is Postmillennialism.† There are some outstanding Bible teachers who have held to this interpretation of the Millennial Kingdom. Most outstanding among them are John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and J. Gresham Machen. Kenneth Gentry, himself a postmillennialist, once again gives us seven key components of postmillennialism.
1.††† The Messianic kingdom was founded on earth during the earthly ministry of Christ in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The New Testament Church becomes the transformed Israel, the ĎIsrael of Godí of which Paul speaks in Galatians 6:6.
2.††† The kingdom is essentially redemptive and spiritual rather than political and physical.
3.††† The kingdom will exercise a transformational socio-cultural influence in history. The Gospel will make a difference in society.
4.††† The kingdom of Christ will gradually expand in time and on earth. This will be accomplished not without Christís royal power as King but without his physical presence on earth.
5.††† The Great Commission will succeed. This expectation includes the virtual Christianization of the nations.
6.††† The transformation of society will take place because of the implementation of biblical law.
7.††† An extended period of spiritual prosperity may endure for millennia, after which history will be drawn to a close by the personal, visible, bodily return of Christ. His return will be accompanied by a literal resurrection and a general judgment, ushering in the final and eternal form of the kingdom. †(R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According To Jesus, pp. 200-20163)
There are some great points made by the premillennialist and postmillennialist. Each of them also makes valid points in their criticism of the other school of thought. The last perspective that we will take a look at this morning is amillennialism. It too has much to teach us and at the same time raises some questions in their interpretation of Scripture. †
††††††††† As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Bruce Waltke, is one of the Bible teachers in our day who holds to an amillennialist viewpoint of the Millennial Kingdom. Other Bible teachers who hold this understanding are Anthony Hoekema, Louis Berkof, and William Hendriksen.† Kenneth Gentry lays out five key tenets of amillennialism.
1.††† The Church age is the kingdom era prophesied in the Old Testament, as the New Testament Church becomes the Israel of God.
2.††† Satan was bound during Jesusí earthly ministry, restraining him while the gospel is being preached in the world.
3.††† Insofar as Christ presently rules in the hearts of believers, they will have some influence on culture while living out their faith.
4.††† Toward the end evilís growth will accelerate, culminating in the great tribulation and a personal antichrist.
5.††† ďChrist will return to end history, resurrect and judge all men, and establish the eternal order. The eternal destiny of the redeemed may be either in heaven or in a totally renovated new earth.Ē† (Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, pp. 57-58)
We could spend the next year going through all of the arguments from each of these perspectives to make a case for each interpretation, but Iím sure you are probably already confused so I wonít add pain to injury. †I would encourage you to read the Scriptures, find the best commentators of each of these perspectives and study for yourself to find out where you stand. Here is a word of caution for you as you do that and decide what you believe Godís Word teaches about the Millennial Kingdomódonít hold on too tightly to whatever school of thought you hold. I donít say that because I donít believe that this is an important topic of study, but I say it for two reasons. First of all, there have been godly people who have gone before us who have spent their lives studying this topic and they disagreed on the specifics of the teaching. Iíve already shared with you about Spurgeon and Bruce Waltke and their differences of opinion.
Spurgeon said that there is much room for disagreement about the Millennial Kingdom.† Another great Bible teacher, S. Lewis Johnson, a premillennialist, said,
Now it is true that there have been some excellent students of the Word of God who have held to amillennialism and I respect them. In many of their writings I find a great deal of profit. I feel that in this particular instance they have not hit upon the truth of the Word of God. And after all, all of us who seek to interpret the Word of God, if we are honest with ourselves, even though who appear to be as dogmatic as I, if you get me in the right situation, I will say, and gladly say it, I do not have what I feel, is final knowledge on that point. I could do that on many, many points.† I donít want you to get the wrong impression. There are many things about the Word of God that I do not understand. I want to understand them and I still study. In fact I am an old man still studying the Scriptures trying to come more accurately to an understanding of the Word that God has given to us. †(S. Lewis Johnson, The Millennial Kingdom. Audio)
I love the honesty and humility of Dr. Johnson. He has a strong and convincing argument for premillennialism, but he recognizes that men like Dr. Hoekema also have spent years studying the Word of God and they hold different positions on this matter. The second reason why I would encourage you to hold loosely to your position is because of instruction given by Jesus to His disciples. Read along with me from Matthew 24:36-44.
36“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.† 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.† 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 24:36-44 NIV)
††††††††† We are to be a watchful people!† We should not live like Jesus will never come again, but we must live like His return will take place today. So many folks who like to argue eschatology, matters related to the end of time and what will take place, leave no room that they could be wrong. They lack the humility of Dr. Johnson.
I remember when Connie and I were in Plano, Texas and a blockbuster hit the stands. It was called, 88 Reasons Why Jesus Will Come Again in 1988. †The book was written by a man named, Edgar Whisenant, a former NASA scientist. Because he was a scientist and he had all of these fancy charts and graphs of this prophecy and that prophecy many folks bought his line and his book. He predicted that Jesus would come again on September 11, 12, or 13th of 1988. When September 14th rolled around and we were all still here he began working on his next book, The Rapture Must OccurÖBefore May 14, 1989.† WellÖ Jesus said, ďNo one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.Ē† That settles it for me. God, the Sovereign King of glory, has it all under control. I must live like the Lord is coming any minute and not get caught up in anything else.
With that said let me tell you that there are certain teachings of Scripture that Bible teachers in each of these schools of thought can agree upon. As different as the premillennialist, postmillennialist, and amillennialists are on the particulars of interpreting end time events they both agree that Jesus is coming back.† They donít agree on the time of His arrival or the nature of His arrival, but they all agree that Jesus is coming back. Theyíve come to this agreement, based not upon apocalyptic literature, but on the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of John. Jesus told His disciples in John 14.
1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.† 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-4 NIV)
††††††††† Each of the interpretations of Revelation 20 also agree that there will be a resurrection. This life is not all there is. There will be a resurrection one day when we all will stand before the throne of God to give an account of the life He has given to us. There were those in Paulís day who disputed the reality of the resurrection, but Paul spoke clearly to them. Not in signs and symbols, but in clear language that everyone could understand. In 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 Paul wrote,
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:12-17 NIV)
††††††††† In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 Paul wrote to the people of Thessalonica and told them that the dead in Christ will rise first.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:16 NIV)
††††††††† Regardless of whether we find ourselves in the camp of the premillennialist, postmillennialist, or amillennialistówe believe that Scripture teaches the resurrection of the dead.
††††††††† There is another thing that we all agree on. We believe that all people will stand before the judgment seat of Almighty God. In our Scripture for next week we will take a look at the Great White Throne judgment of God. Throughout Scripture we hear over and over again about the judgment of God. Jesus told the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 to make His point about the judgment of God. Read along with me from Matthew 25:31-33.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.† 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33 NIV)
††††††††† At the end of Jesusí parable He says, 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46 NIV)† There is a final judgment of all who have lived. We can agree on that my friends. These things we hold in common regardless of which camp of interpretation we hold to concerning Revelation 20.
††††††††† Because of the difficulty of Revelation 20, this would be an easy chapter to just skip over and simply refuse to deal with it. I donít ever want to do that. I believe that every word of Godís Word is the Word of God. At the same time I understand just how much I donít understand. I think that is why I love Dr. Johnsonís quote so much. He spent his entire lifetime studying Godís Word, but he knew that he had only scratched the surface of really understanding.
††††††††† I want you to think of something with me as we close our study. Just a few weeks ago in our study, ďAn Untimely Death,Ē we spoke about how much we donít understandónot about Godís Word, but about life. Our lack of understanding about life and Godís Word is because we are finite creatures. Our understanding about all things is so limited. The sooner we come to realize that the better off we will be. I will not be troubled by the things that I donít understand, I will leave them in the hands of the Father. There are some things that He has made known to us and of greatest importance is the understanding that we are in a mess of sin that is destroying us, but God has not left us aloneóHe has sent His Son. Wonít you invite Him into your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 29, 2007