Revelation 20: The Triumph of the Church and the Humiliation of the Old Serpent; A Brief Exposition, Part 1

The significance of Revelation 20 cannot be underestimated. Scholars have pondered the exegesis of this passage for centuries. Consequently, three positions have emerged. The first position is Premillennialism. The word “millennialism”[1] means a “thousand years” mentioned six times in Revelation 20. “Pre” refers to the time before the “thousand years.”[2] Therefore, Premillennialists[3] argue that Christ will return before the initiation of the aforementioned thousand years. Historically, Premillennialists have been divided over when Christ will return, though they agree it will precede the millennium of Revelation 20. Dispensational Premillennialists[4] contend that Christ will return in two separate stages: first, to rapture His church and second, to end this present world and bring about the prophetic promises[5] of a land of peace and righteousness for a literal thousand years.[6]

Conversely, Historical Premillennialists believe the rapture of First Thessalonians 4 is the same as the “glorious appearing” of Titus 2:13. Therefore, the Rapture and the Second Coming refer to the same event. This position bears much similarity to the Amillenialist viewpoint.

Amillenialism has a long tradition in Reformation history.[7] The “A” negates “millenialist.” Thus, those who defend this position believe that there is no literal millennium. Some consider the term “Inaugurated Eschatology” a more accurate description of this position, since with the First Advent of the blessed Lord; Christ’s millennial reign began in the hearts of believers.[8] Summarily, Amillennialists[9] prefer to see the millennium as a spiritual manifestation of the kingdom of God.[10] During the period from the First to the Second Advent, the Church can expect to see simultaneous growth of justice and injustice, good and evil, Christianity and paganism.[11]

A third position is Postmillennialism.[12] “Post” indicates that Christ will return after the completion of the Millennial Age. This period endures from Christ’s First Coming in the Incarnation to His Second Coming in the Consummation.[13] Unlike Amillenialists and Premillennialists, Postmillennialists believe that the Church can expect to see a great manifestation of the gospel throughout the nations.[14] Nations will be converted to God in abundance, societies will be transformed, and peace and righteousness will reign[15] for a thousand years.[16] Nevertheless, Postmillenarians do not believe in a utopian society where all sin will be banished.[17] Since Postmillennialists are largely Calvinists, they recognize the post-lapsarian results of sin.

[1] Also known in the early church as “chiliasm.”[2] As I shall explain later, one’s assumptions about the genre of Revelation will determine how one ought to understand the nature of the thousand years.

3] Proponents of Historical Prmillennial eschatology include the honorable Baptist minister and Professor George Eldon Ladd (1911-1982), and Presbyterian ministers John Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) and cultural apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984).

[4] Proponents of Dispensationalism include Charles Ryrie, Charles Walvoord, John McArthur, Tim Lahaye, and many others. Dallas Theological Seminary played a crucial role in training many pastors in the early part of the 20th century from a Dispensational perspective. Further, it is safe to say that even to this day, Dispensationalism is the explicit or implicit eschatology of the majority of American evangelicals. Distinct to this position is the strong belief that God has two plans for two peoples: Israel and the church. Christ will first rapture His church on earth, and then return to work with ethnic Israel.

[5] Isaiah 65.

[6] Unlike Dispensationalists–who view the thousand years as literal–George Eldon Ladd writes: “A thousand equals the third power of ten-an ideal time. While we need not take it literally, the thousand years does appear to represent a real period of time, however long or short it may be.” Ladd E. George, A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972.) 262.

[7] The Lutheran tradition is most solely responsible for the adoption of this position during the years since the Reformation in the 16th century. Luther’s two-kingdom model influenced many Reformed theologians to place a greater stress in the ministry of the church and de-politicize earthly dominion strategies for the sake of the age to come, which Amillenialists believe to be after the Second Coming. A modern seminary to uphold this Lutheran emphasis include: Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Professor Michael Horton has been a strong critic of Christian activism in politics. Much of his critique is valid when criticizing the contemporary church, who has all but forgotten the role of the Word and Sacrament in the Holy Church. Nevertheless, Horton fails to understand the universal significance of the Lordship of Christ beyond the church to the all spheres of government including: ecclesiastical, civil, familial, and individual.

[8] “Amillennialists further hold that the kingdom of God is now present in the world as the victorious Christ is ruling his people by his Word and Spirit…” -Anthony Hoekema. Quoted in R.C. Sproul’s: The Last Days According to Jesus, published by Baker Books, 1998. pg. 195

[9] Proponents of Amillennialism include Jay Adams, Charles Hill, Simon Kistemaker, Greg Beale, Kim Riddlebarger, only to name a small list of honorable men in the Reformed tradition. This is undoubtedly the prevailing position in the Reformed Church today.

[10] Or as some prefer: A heavenly reign.

[11] At this point it is important to note the diversity within this camp. There are Amillennialists who are pessimist concerning the triumph of the gospel over the nations (these would be the more classical Amillennialists) and then there are those who choose to remain skeptical about the future triumph of the gospel in converting the nations. These may be called “optimistic Amillenialists.” Former professor at RTS/Orlando told me in a personal conversation that this is where he stands. Richard remains skeptical because he believes that if the church fulfills her duty, she can expect blessings, if she fails, she can expect curses.

[12] Proponents of Postmillenarianism include many giants of the Christian faith. David Chilton calls Athanasius the “patron saint of Post-Millennialism” due to Athanasius’ belief in the victory of the gospel. See David Chilton: Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion. Other defenders include John Calvin, (though claimed also by Amillennialists; see Gary North’s book: The Abandonment of Van Til’s Legacy, where he argues for a Calvinian Postmillennialism) the majority of Puritan writers, Princetonian scholars like B.B. Warfield, Charles and A.A. Hodge, and contemporary voices like R.C. Sproul and Kenneth Gentry.

[13] At this juncture there is tremendous similarity between Amils and Post-Mils. The Puritans like Jonathan Edwards, though strongly Postmillenarians argued for a literal thousand years. Few Postmillenarians today argue this point. Kenneth Gentry differentiates two forms of Postmillennialists: Pietistic Post-Mils and Theonomic Post-Mils. The pietistic post-mils would been the Puritan tradition and the theonomic post-mils would include R.J. Rushdoony and Gentry himself

[14] For an excellent defense of the victory of the gospel proclamation see, Kenneth Gentry: He Shall Have Dominion, published by Wipf and Stock.

[15] Isaiah 2, 11, 65, Psalm 2, 10,110.

[16] Like Amillennialists, Postmillenarians also believe that the thousand years are a determined long period of time. Thus, 1,000 serves as a representative number.

[17] Calvinistic Postmillennialism has nothing in common with liberation theology.


About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Calvin/Calvinism, Eschatology, Reformed Theology, Revelation, Theonomy/Eschatology. Bookmark the permalink.

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