Revelation 20: The Triumph of the Church and the Humiliation of the Old Serpent; A Brief Exposition, Part 2

Editor’s Note: The entire paper is available in word format, including bibliography.

Paper: revelation-20.doc

A Defense of Postmillennial Eschatology in Revelation 20

There is a general consensus within the Reformed tradition concerning the beginning of Christ’s kingdom. Amillenialists and Postmillennialists concur that Christ bound the evil one, Satan, in the first century.[1] Further, they both agree that the binding[2] of Satan had a very specific purpose– in order that he should not deceive the nations any longer (Revelation 20:3).[3] The devil roams around seeking to devour as many as possible,[4] but his ability to restrain the gospel from becoming a world-wide enterprise will continually fail.[5] Before proceeding to make a positive case for a Postmillennial eschatology, one must note that in a substantial manner both Amils and Postmils share much in common with one another concerning Revelation 20.[6] As Chilton remarks:

From the Day of Pentecost onward, orthodox Christians have recognized that Christ’s reign began at His resurrection/Ascension and continues until all things have been thoroughly subdued under His feet, as St Peter clearly declared (Acts 2:30-36).[7]

Chilton’s claim testifies to the overall unity of thought from the early church to the present day–defended by Post and Amillenarians alike–that the kingdom of God has come upon confessors of the true Messiah.[8] Further, believers do not wait Christ’s reign in the future, but believe He has reigned from the first century until now, and His kingdom shall reign forever and ever. Arguing for eschatological distinctions, Keith Mathison observes:

…it should be noted that postmillennialism (and Amillenialism), in contrast to premillennialism, does not teach that this single passage, in this highly symbolic book, should be the cornerstone of one’s system of eschatology.[9]

Reformed thought is comprehensive and covenantal in nature. It builds from Old Covenant prophecies and reaches a crescendo in Christ, rather than one particular pericope. Hence, to depend solely on one passage to build a positive case for one’s millennial position–as Premillennialism does–makes Revelation 20 the apex of eschatological discourse and debate. Even George E. Ladd[10] admits that if Revelation 20 were not the vision of the Second Coming, then we would be left with no clear reference to the events of the end.[11]

In contrast, Postmillennialism[12] argues that Revelation 20 gives greater conviction to the Church of Christ that His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Further, Postmillennialism builds its case from the entirety of sacred revelation: from the promise of the coming seed[13] to the triumph of the Lamb over the Evil One.[14] Unlike other approaches, Postmillennarians believe in a present reign on earth, which will be consummated in the Second Coming of the Lord when He will be all in all (I Corinthians 15:26).

In considering Revelation 20, there are at least two distinct exegetical observations that distinguish the eschatology of hope of Postmillennialism from Amillennialism and Premillennialism.[15] They are:

a) The nature of Satan’s defeat.[16]

b) The nature of the reign of the saints.[17]

The Nature of Satan’s Defeat

Revelation 20:1 reads: “And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key of the abyss and a great chain on his hand.”[18] The question of whether chapter 20 follows chronologically is one of great dispute. Amillennialists generally assert that chapter 20 is a recapitulation of the inter-advental period, that is, from the first to the second coming of Christ.[19] For instance, Amillennial theologian Simon Kistemaker argues:

A linear interpretation of chapters 19 and 20 encounters a difficulty with respect to the anti-Christian forces that were completely destroyed in 19:18, 21 and reappear in 20:8. Chapter 19 offers no indication that, at the conclusion of the final battle, survivors were able to regroup for another confrontation. Instead it conveys the concept of finality, for Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords is victorious.[20]

Kistemaker reasons in his exposition of chapter 20 that verse one could not be referring to Christ, since “in subsequent verses nothing is said about the victorious Christ.”[21] He argues that the angel that bound the dragon (v.2) could not be Jesus. However, this position seems to neglect the authorial intent of John. The Revelation is about Jesus the Christ; hence, He must be the victor.[22] Though there are clear elements of recapitulation, John’s thoughts merely transitions to deliver the fate of the evil one–the old serpent, the Devil. Chilton confirms that the angel coming down from heaven (v.1) is the same angel from chapter 10:1: The Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the angel of the Covenant.[23] As Chilton brilliantly notes:

His absolute control and authority over the Abyss are symbolized by the key and the great chain. The author sets up a striking contrast: Satan, the evil star that fell from heaven, was briefly given the key to the Abyss (9:1); but Christ descended from heaven, having as His lawful possession ‘the keys of death and of Hades’ (1:18).[24]

Since Satan is the greatest enemy of the Lord Jesus, then it is Christ who must win the battle.[25] Philip Mauro makes clear: “The end of all earthly enemies of Christ was shown in the visions of the preceding chapter. There remains, therefore, only the archenemy, the great spiritual adversary; and now he too is dealt with.”[26] Satan cannot be defeated like the other enemies of God on earth, thus, Satan is defeated in two stages. In stage one, Satan is bound so the nations can no longer be deceived and, as a result the gospel spreads throughout all the earth bringing unprecedented conversions and victory to the Church of Christ. In stage two, there is the final triumph of the lamb and the great humiliation of the old serpent, when the evil one (vs.3) is loosed for a little season only to suffer cosmic humiliation by the triumphant Church of Christ on earth, and finally to be crushed once and for all[27] (vs.7-10) by the Almighty king of creation–Jesus Christ. The nature of Satan’s defeat is the reason the Postmillennialist has great hope in the missiological call to the nations to baptize and disciple all under heaven.[28]

The Nature of the Reign of the Saints

Revelation 20:4-6[29] describes the nature of the reign of the saints. Amillennialist writers Charles Hill[30] and Simon Kistemaker[31] contend vociferously that the reigning of the saints for a thousand years (vs. 4) is in heaven. Charles Hill argues that the “heavenly” position is the Amillennial position and that it can also be defended from writings of the early church.[32] Proponents of Amillennialism and Postmillennialism differ in answering this question: Where do the Saints reign? How they answer this question determines the eschatological conclusion scholars reach.

Due to the apocalyptic genre of Revelation, the interpretation requires careful exegesis.[33] There is a certain heavenly picture being drawn when St. John speaks of saints seated upon thrones, judging, living and reigning with Christ a thousand years. Nevertheless, Scripture must prevail over pre-conceived notions of what the text should render. It is clear that the “they” of verse four refers to the twenty-four elders (4:4; 11:16). They are the ones enthroned and reigning with Christ. The twenty-four elders represent the entire assembly of Christ’s Church on earth. The Revelation already indicates this reality. As Chilton observes:

Throughout the prophecy God’s people are seen reigning as priests with Christ (1:6; 5:10), wearing crowns (2:10; 3:11), possessing kingly authority over the nations (2:26-27), seated with Christ on His Throne (3:21). These things are all symbolized in the picture of the heavenly presbytery (4:4)…[34]

Marcellus Kik addressed who the saints are that are seated on the thrones:

Every saint in the new dispensation is seated upon the throne…otherwise the thrones are limited to only a small portion of the saints of Christ. All are not martyred, nor do all live during the period of the beast.[35]

This is a present earthly reign of the saints.[36] The first resurrection[37] depicts the newness of life in Christ. It is regeneration through Christ[38] that the saints are made prepared to judge and to rule in this glorious millennial reign of a thousand years.[39]

The Post-Millennial eschatology[40] is the only position that provides full justice to the greatness of the Great Commission, the Dominion Mandate, and the triumph of Christ over His enemies and the old serpent, the Devil. His dominion is an everlasting dominion and His kingdom shall reign forever and ever. Amen.


[1] Matthew 12:29; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; Hebrews 2:14; I John 3:8.[2] The Greek word e;dhsen is an aorist, which points to a completed action. Cleon Rogers Jr. & Cleon Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1998. pg.647.[3] Satan was at great liberty to deceive the nations in the Older Testament. With the coming of Christ, the gospel went beyond Israel to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 2).[4] I Peter 5:8. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” English Standard Version.

[5] For tangible evidence of the powerful world-wide influence of the gospel see: Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Oxford University Press / 2003.

[6] One may wish to consider B.B. Warfield, a leading Postmillennialist in the early part of the 20th century who took a classical Amillennial position of Revelation 2, in the sense that Revelation 20 was a recapitulation of Christ’s victory over Satan in Christ’s first coming. See, Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Millennium and the Apocalypse,” Biblical Doctrines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1929), pp. 643-64. Used as a source in David Chilton’s commentary on Revelation. David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987) p.493.

[7] Interestingly, Chilton argues that Premillennialism was originated by the Ebionite arch-heretic Cerinthus; the false apostle who opposed St. Paul and St. John and claimed that he revealed his doctrine of chiliasm from angels.

[8] Luke 17:21. “…nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” English Standard Version.

[9] Keith Mathison, Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1999) 155.

[10] Ladd is one of the leading proponents of Premillennial thought in the 20th century.

[11] George Eldon Ladd, ‘Historic Premillennialism’, in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse, pg. 34. See also, Cornelis Venema’s excellent piece entitled: What about Revelation 20? This is taken from a series of articles entitled: Evaluating Pre-Millennialism.

[12] I will also assume that Amillenialists would stand firm in critiquing Pre-millennialism.

[13] Genesis 3:15.

[14] Hebrews 2:14.

[15] Postmillennialists generally categorize their position as optimistic, hopeful, victorious, triumphant, etc. Of course, no position wants to claim that it is pessimistic and defeatist. Nevertheless, the issue is the future of this present world; in other words, Will the gospel convert the nations? The question is not our future in the New Heavens and New Earth. In the latter sense, no position denies the glories of a consummated world. Hyper-Preterism will not accept the New Heavens and New Earth as a future event. However, this form of thinking is both heretical and perverse.

[16] Revelation 20:1-3.

[17] Revelation 20:4-6.

[18] Unless otherwise mentioned, all quotations from Revelation 20 come from the author’s own translation.

[19] Some Post-Millenialists also hold to this position. See B.B. Warfield.

[20] Simon Kistemaker, Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001) 532.

[21] Ibid. 533.

[22] Since this is a recapitulation of Satan’s initial defeat (Matthew 12:29) when Christ bound the strong man (Satan), then this passage must be a reference to Jesus’ binding of Satan, and not Michael, nor any other angel. The great scholar Philip Mauro also concurs that this angel is Jesus himself in his classic commentary: Mauro, Philip. Of the Things Which Soon Shall Come to Pass. Colonial Press Ink: Clinton, Mass. 1933, pg. 516.

[23] Malachi 2:7; 3:1. “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” English Standard Version.

[24] Chilton, David. The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987) p.499. Italics and Bold words are the original emphases from David Chilton and not my own.

[25] Quoting Martin Luther’s great Reformational anthem: A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

[26] Mauro, Philip. Of the Things Which Soon Shall Come to Pass. Colonial Press Ink: Clinton, Mass. 1933, pg. 515.

[27] Verses 7-10 expose the final outcome of Satan and his minions. According to David Chilton: “St. John’s image for the gathered people of God combines Moses’ camp of the saints with David and Solomon’s beloved City. This city is the New Jerusalem, described in detail in 21:9-22:5. The significance of this should not be missed: The City exists during the Millennium (i.e. the period between the First and Second Advents of Christ), which means that the “new heaven and new earth” (21:1) are a present as well as future reality. The New Creation will exist in consummate form after the Final Judgment, but it exist, definitely and progressively, in the present age (2 Cor. 5:17).”

[28] Matthew 28:18-20

[29] And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them, and the souls of the ones having been beheaded for the witness (testimony) of Jesus and because of the word of God, and who did not worship the beast nor the image of the beast and did not receive his mark on their forehead nor on their hand; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

The rest of the dead did not live again until the thousands years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one having part of the first resurrection; over these the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with him a thousand years. ESV

[30] Class notes from Hebrews to Revelation. Lectures delivered by Charles E. Hill. See pages 44-49 for exegesis of Revelation 20. These notes have not been made available to the public.

[31] Simon Kistemaker, Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001) 537. Quoting Leon Morris, “John is taking the reader behind the scenes and reveals what has happened to the martyrs who have died a physical death.”

[32] Charles Hill, lecture notes, pg. 44. Hill’s book Regnum Caelorum delivers a blow to Pre-Millennialism, who argue that the early church was largely, if not, dominantly chiliastic. According to Hill, though there was a strong chiliastic presence, a spiritual or heavenly reign of the saints during the millennial period was also prevalent.

[33] In other words, we interpret Scriptures with Scriptures. We never interpret the Bible in light of our sociological dilemmas or as Greg Bahnsen once wrote “newspaper exegesis.”

[34] Chilton, David. The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987) p.509. Chilton further observes the nature of this heavenly presbytery when he writes: “As kings, the elders sit on thrones; as priests, they are twenty-four in number (cf. I Chron. 24), and they wear crowns (cf. Ex. 28:36-41).

[35] Kik, Marcellus. An Eschatology of Victory. P&R: Phillipsburg, New Jersey.1971. pg.45.

[36] Due to my limitation of 1,800 words, I will leave the reader with the exegesis of Marcellus Kik in: An Eschatology of Victory, pgs.44-49, Philip Mauro’s commentary on Revelation, pgs. 515-520, and David Chilton’s legendary commentary on Revelation, pgs. 508-519. I strongly recommend purchasing Chilton’s commentary. An on-line version of it exists at http://www.freebooks.com.

[37] Revelation 20:4-5.

[38] As James Jordan has argued, this resurrection is a cleansing ritual. It seems logical therefore, that this may be speaking of water baptism. If this is true, water baptism and regeneration have much in common as Paul testifies in Romans 6.

[39] Once again, the thousand years is a symbolic figure for a long, but definitive period of time. We may just be in the pre-Christian era. We have not yet seen anything even close to the grandeur of the manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth.

[40] Professor Chuck Hill writes: “But this also is a problem for Postmillennialists. The release of Satan and his continued, brief, activities in engineering the last attack on the church does not fit the picture of a Christianized planet at the time of Christ’s return. The attack parallels the description of ch. 11 in terms of the Beast, where he will finally execute the 2 witnesses, who will, however, rise triumphant. Here is a problem for over-optimistic, over-realized eschatology. This should keep us on our guard against triumphalism and the false hope of societal “entire sanctification” before the return of Christ. (The parallel with personal sanctification is always to be kept in mind.)”

Hill appears to miss the point of Postmillennial eschatology when he argues that we are overly-optimistic. If we are overly-optimistic it is because we believe by faith that the gospel will triumph. The issue is one of hermeneutics. Amillenialists see prophetic texts of triumph and they cannot fathom this taking place in the same world, which God declared “good.” James Jordan cautions us with the subtle Gnosticism that creeps into our theology. The church has already lost too much time focusing on what will happen when we die, when we should spend our time and efforts and occupy until Christ comes (Luke 19:11-13).

The release of Satan is for a little season. Even this little season is under the providence of God. My position, as I have argued, is that the release of Satan takes place so that he must encounter the second stage of his cosmic humiliation. In other words, he is released, so that he may be humiliated. An animal that has been bound for a thousand years gives much room for the church to organize itself. If you imprison a dangerous animal for many years, his captors will have come up with a way to destroy it when it is released. The church has overcome the evil one, hence, it is a simple reality to envision Christ empowering His church to give a final blow to that dangerous enemy of God-Satan.

Hill’s final observation is also somewhat troubling. He argues: “The parallel with personal sanctification is always to be kept in mind.” This is the same parallel that has been used by post-millennial writers for a very long time. In fact, Kenneth Gentry used this very argumentation in his famous debate with A-Millennial theologian Richard Gaffin. Indeed, the Christianization or the sanctification of the world is like unto our own sanctification. We do not see immediate results, however, we may trust in God’s power to persevere His people (Philippians 1:6). Who we are as Christians 10 years ago is different than who we are now. We mature in our faith, not digress from it.

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About Uri Brito

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

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