The Millennium - Revelation 20:1-15

by Sam Storms

Unfortunately, the discussion of this passage has been muddled by statements such as: “The premillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 is superior because it is literal, whereas the amillennial interpretation spiritualizes, and therefore dishonors, God’s Word.” Suffice it to say, in the words of Arthur Lewis, that

"the essential and concrete aspects of the text may not be 'spiritualized' out of existence. The martyred and enthroned saints are real, the angel who binds Satan is real, Satan himself is very real, and the wicked nations in revolt against the King are real nations and part of history. The question is not, therefore, which view is the more literal, but which correctly understands the place and purpose of the thousand years."

The point is simply that the millennium for which I will argue is just as real and literal as the millennium for which the premillennialist contends.

The first interpretive task before us is the account in vv. 1-3 of Satan’s imprisonment in the abyss for a period of 1,000 years.

Revelation 20:1-3 and the Binding of Satan

PMs believe that this vision constitutes one of the strongest confirmations of their prophetic scenario. They point to two significant features.

·      First, they insist that the relationship between the events of Rev. 19:11-21 and those of 20:1-3 is one of chronological and historical sequence. Consequently, the binding of Satan for a millennium is historically subsequent to (i.e., after) the second coming of Christ.

·      Second, they insist that the New Testament evidence concerning the extent of Satan’s activity in this present age is incompatible with the description of the restrictions imposed upon him by the angel in Rev. 20:1-3. Since Satan is most certainly not bound now, so they tell us, the events of vv. 1-3 must be future.

I will respond to each of these two arguments in turn.

(1)       The PM insists that beginning with Rev. 19:11 and extending through 21:1 we have a series of visions that are historically and chronologically sequential. The PM appeals to two arguments.

First, much is made of the phrase “and I saw” (kai eidon), which occurs in 19:11,17,19; 20:1,4,11; 21:1. This, they argue, indicates that what John saw in chapter 20 follows chronologically and historically upon what he saw in chapter 19. Consequently, the binding of Satan and the millennial kingdom are yet future, subsequent to the second coming of Christ. My response follows:

First of all, the phrase translated “and I saw” appears countless times in Revelation and need only indicate the sequence in which John received the visions. It does not necessarily indicate any historical relation among the many visions themselves. The phrase “and when” (kai hotan) in 20:7, being decidedly temporal in force, simply indicates that the events of 20:7-10 follow historically upon the events of 20:4-6 and 20:1-3, a fact which no one denies.

Second, if we were to take the events of 20:1-3 as historically subsequent to the events of 19:11-21, a serious problem arises in that 20:1-3 would describe an action designed to prevent the satanic deception of the very nations who had already been deceived (16:13-16) and consequently destroyed in 19:19-21. In other words, it makes little sense to speak of protecting the nations from deception by Satan in 20:1-3 after they have just been both deceived by Satan (16:13-16; cf. 19:19-20) and destroyed by Christ at his return (19:11-21; cf. 16:15a, 19).

Third, note also the parallel between Rev. 19:17-21 and 20:7-10. It seems that John is providing parallel accounts of the same conflagration (Armageddon) rather than presenting two entirely different battles separated by 1,000 years of human history. This deserves some attention.

There is evidence from Ezekiel 39:17-20 that the battle of Armageddon in Revelation 19 and the battle of Gog-Magog in Revelation 20 are one and the same. The Ezekiel passage describes an invitation to the birds of heaven to assemble for the purpose of consuming the flesh of those who played a role in the Gog-Magog revolt. But interestingly, this Old Testament passage is cited in Rev. 19:17-18 and applied to “the great supper of God” which consummates Armageddon. It would appear that Armageddon and Gog-Magog are the same event, not two entirely different battles separated by a 1,000 year interregnum. Fowler White correctly concludes that

"if we are expected to interpret the revolts in Revelation 19 and 20 as different episodes in history, we would hardly expect John to describe them in language and imagery derived from the same episode in Ezekiel’s prophecy. On the contrary, John’s recapitulated use of Ezekiel 38-39 in both 19:17-21 and 20:7-10 establishes a prima facie case for us to understand 20:7-10 as a recapitulation of 19:17-21. If 20:7-10 is indeed a recapitulation of 19:17-21, then 20:7-10 narrates the demise of the dragon (Satan) at the second coming, while 19:17-21 narrates the demise of the beast and the false prophet at the second coming. Any other interpretation of how to relate these two judgment scenes, both of which are modeled on Ezekiel 38-39, will have to bear the burden of proof."

In both Rev. 16:14 and 19:19 the campaign against Christ and his people is designated as the war. The definite article in both texts draws our attention to the distinctive identity of this war as the eschatological battle which brings the present age to its end. It seems only reasonable to conclude that the use of the definite article in 20:8 is anaphoric. The war of 20:8 is the war of 19:19 and 16:14. This point is confirmed when one observes the absence of the definite article in 9:7,9; 11:7; 12:7,17; and 13:7.

Fourth, the PM view of historical succession between chapters 19 and 20 also runs counter to the declaration of Heb. 12:26-27. According to PM, there will be two wars, two cosmic dissolutions, one before the millennium (16:17-21; 19:11-21; cf. Matthew 24:29) and one after it (20:9-11). But in Heb. 12 we read: “And his voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ And his expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” Clearly, the author is describing the cosmic consequences of the appearance of the Divine Judge, first at Sinai, and then finally at the end of the age. He could hardly have been more explicit when he said, “Yet once (hapax) more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven” (v. 26). But according to PM he should have said, “Yet twice more . . .,” i.e., once before the millennium and a second time after it. A more viable interpretation is the one which interprets the account of destruction in 20:9-11 as an abbreviated recapitulation of the destruction in 6:12-17, 16:17-21 and 19:11-21.

Second, the PM points to the fact that according to 20:10 Satan is cast into the lake of fire where the Beast and False Prophet already are. Therefore, the latter two characters must have been cast into the lake of fire before the millennium (19:20). Response:

This argument is based on a mistranslation of 20:10. The text literally reads: “and the devil, the one who deceives them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also the beast and false prophet, and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The NASB supplies the verb eisi (“are”), wrongly so in my opinion. The verb to be supplied should probably be eblethesan (“were cast”) from 19:20. Thus the text would read: “and the devil . . . was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also [hopou kai; cf. 11:8 for a similar usage] the beast and false prophet were cast (eblethesan).”

So when were the beast and false prophet cast in? The answer would appear to be, at the conclusion of the war, when the devil himself was cast in. The three jointly instigated the Armageddon/Gog-Magog revolt and are therefore jointly cast into the lake of fire to be jointly tormented forever and ever. The text does not say that the beast and false prophet were “already” in the lake of fire when Satan was cast in. Even if it did, this need only imply that after the war the beast and false prophet were first judged and cast into the lake of fire, a judgment and fate then immediately applied to Satan.

The suggestion that the judgment of the beast and false prophet precedes by 1,000 years that of the devil ignores the parallel between the war of chapter 19 and the war of chapter 20. There are not two wars with two judgments, but one war and judgment described from two distinct but complementary vantage points. First, in chapter 19, John relates the destruction of the beast and false prophet, and second, in chapter 20, that of Satan.

All that we may legitimately conclude is that the vision given to John of the beast and false prophet being cast into the lake of fire precedes the vision given to him of Satan being cast in. In order to prove the historical antecedence of the former to the latter, far more is needed than what the text itself supplies. It is just as likely, if not more so, that what we have here is simply the literary antecedence of one vision to another, not the historical sequence of their respective contents.

(2)       The second of the two arguments from Rev. 20:1-3 employed by PMs pertains to the nature and extent of Satan’s binding. PMs insist that Satan’s imprisonment in 20:1-3 is not compatible with the dimensions of his present activity as portrayed in the New Testament epistles (as, for example, in 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; Eph. 6:10-20; 1 Thess. 2:18; Js. 4:7; 1 Pt. 5:8-9; 1 Jn. 4:4; 5:19).

G. R. Beasley-Murray argues that the angel in 20:1 “reduces Satan to impotence.” The “incarceration of the Devil,” says Beasley-Murray, “is trebly circumscribed. He is bound up, locked in, and sealed over. The writer could hardly have expressed more emphatically the inability of Satan to harm the race of man.” Response:

The question must be asked: “In regard to what is Satan bound? Is the binding of Satan designed to immobilize him from any and all activities?” The PM thinks so. Beasley-Murray tells us that Satan’s binding entails his inability “to harm the race of man.” But is this what John says? Clearly not. The PM interpretation errs in that it has attempted to universalize what John explicitly restricts.

Two statements in Rev. 20 tell us the purpose of Satan’s imprisonment. First, in v. 3, John says that Satan was bound “so that he should not deceive the nations any longer.” Then secondly, in v. 8, John tells us that upon his release from the abyss Satan will come out “to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war.” Note well what John does and does not say. He does not say that Satan was bound so that he should no longer persecute Christians, or so that he should no longer prowl about “like a roaring lion” (1 Pt. 5:8) devouring believing men and women. He does not say that Satan was bound so that he should no longer concoct schemes to disrupt church unity (2 Cor. 2:11), or so that he should no longer disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). He does not say that Satan was bound so that he should no longer hurl his flaming missiles at Christians (Eph. 6:16), or so that he should be kept from thwarting the plans of the apostle Paul (1 Thess. 2:18).

Rather, John says that Satan was bound so that he should no longer deceive the nations (v. 3), the purpose behind which is to mobilize them in an international rebellion against the city of God (v. 8). And the language John employs in 20:1-3 makes it clear that there is no possible way for Satan to do so during the thousand years. The restriction on this particular aspect of his sinister ministry is absolute and invincible. The intent of the devil is to incite a premature eschatological conflict, to provoke Armageddon before its, that is to say, before God’s time. But the exalted Christ, through the agency of an angelic being, has temporarily stripped Satan of his ability to orchestrate the nations of the earth for the final battle (regardless of the form that battle might assume).

The final offensive against the Lamb and his elect shall come only when the restriction placed on this element of Satan’s work is lifted. For the duration of the present Christian era Satan’s hand is stayed. Upon release from his imprisonment he will dispatch his demonic hordes “which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14).

Although Satan may and will do much in this present age (as the epistles clearly indicate), there is one thing of which John assures us: Satan will never be permitted to incite and organize the unbelieving nations of the world in a final, catastrophic assault against the church, until such time as God in his providence so determines. That event, which the Lord will immediately terminate with the fiery breath of his mouth (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 20:9), will come only at the end of this age.


John does not say Satan’s activity is altogether eliminated, but that it has been effectively curtailed in one particular domain. The binding is absolute and, at least for the duration of a “millennium,” unbreakable. That is to say, it is a binding which is intensive, so far as it goes, but is nowhere said to be extensive in relation to all that Satan does. It is designed solely for one purpose, to prohibit and inhibit a satanic plot to deceive the nations into a war which, in view of the prophetic plan and power of God, is both premature and futile.


Other amillennial interpreters would prefer to expand the limitations placed on Satan by the binding of 20:1-3. Both Anthony Hoekema and William Hendriksen, for example, argue that one form of deception that Satan perpetrated prior to Christ’s first advent pertains to the gospel. There is a sense in which prior to Christ’s first coming all “nations,” with the exception of Israel, were “deceived” by Satan and thus prevented from embracing the truth (with certain notable exceptions, of course). The universal embrace of the gosepl (Mt. 28:19) subsequent to Christ’s advent, so they argue, is the direct result of Satan’s incarceration. Hoekema and Hendriksen thus identify the binding of Satan in Rev. 20 with the decisive defeat he suffered at the time of our Lord’s first advent (see Mt. 12:29 where the same word for “binding” [deo] occurs; also cf. Luke 10: 17-18; John 12:31-32; 16:11; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8).

Especially relevant in this regard is Paul’s statement in Acts 26:16-18 concerning the mission given him by the exalted Christ:

“But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (emphasis mine).

The Gentiles or “nations” are portrayed as being in darkness with respect to the gospel, having been blinded (“deceived”) while under the dominion of Satan. However, as a result of Christ’s first coming, such deception no longer obtains. The nations or Gentiles may now receive the forgiveness of sins and the divine inheritance. Hendriksen draws this conclusion:

"In Rev. 20:1-3 the binding of Satan and the fact that he is hurled into the abyss to remain there for a thousand years indicates that throughout this present Gospel Age, which begins with Christ’s first coming and extends nearly to the second coming, the devil’s influence on earth is curtailed so that he is unable to prevent the extension of the church among the nations by means of an active missionary program. During this entire period he is prevented from causing the nations---the world in general---to destroy the church as a mighty, missionary institution. . . . By means of the preaching of the Word as applied by the Holy Spirit, the elect, from all parts of the world, are brought from darkness to light. In that sense the church conquers the nations, and the nations do not conquer the church."

It is entirely possible that these two views may be combined. Perhaps one of the principal means Satan hoped to employ to mobilize the nations for war was the pervasive spiritual darkness and unbelief in which they languished. But with the world-wide spread of the gospel, the necessary power base from which Satan would launch his attack has been dismantled. In other words, it is the influence of the church, as a result of the universal preaching of the gospel, which inhibits the activity of Satan in this particular regard. Though Satan still blinds the minds of the unbelieving (2 Cor. 4:4), he is providentially restricted from hindering the pervasive expansion of the gospel throughout the world. Satan may win an occasional battle, but the war belongs to Christ!


We now come to the focal point of the eschatological hostilities which divide Premillennialists from Amillennialists, namely, the meaning of the “first resurrection”. Although for many years a PM, I am now persuaded that Rev. 20:4-6 is concerned exclusively with the experience of the martyrs in the intermediate state. Notwithstanding their death physically for disobedience to the beast, they live spiritually through faith in the Lamb. Although a number of AMs identify the “coming to life” in 20:4 with regeneration (the new birth), I am inclined to follow the suggestion of others such as Meredith Kline and Anthony Hoekema that John is describing entrance into the intermediate state and the blessings of life it brings. My explanation and defense of this interpretation will come in the next lesson. But first I must respond to the PM view of the passage.

Although there are variations among PMs, especially between dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists, most forms of premillennialism hold in common the following points.

The “coming to life” in 20:4b is a physical, bodily resurrection of believers that occurs at the second coming of Christ before the millennium. The “coming to life” in 20:5a is also a physical, bodily resurrection, but of unbelievers after the millennium. Therefore, the bodily resurrection of all mankind comes in two stages separated by a thousand years. The elect are raised before and the non-elect after this millennial reign of Christ upon the earth.

Following are the principal arguments used by PMs to defend this view of Rev. 20.

(1)       Alford’s Dictum

Henry Alford writes:

"If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain psuchai ezesan at the first, and the rest of the nekroi ezesan only at the end of a specified period after that first, --- if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; --- then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to any thing. If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardy enough to maintain: but if the second is literal, then so is the first."


·      Whereas Alford's dictum is a helpful principle of interpretation, I do not believe it applies in this particular passage. Other texts in which it does not apply include John 2:18-22; 11:25-26; Mt. 8:22; Luke 9:24; John 6:49-50; and possibly 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 9:6; 2 Cor. 5:21.

·      AMs have almost uniformly appealed to John 5:25-29 as a clear exception to Alford’s dictum. Here a “spiritual” and a “physical” resurrection are spoken of in the same context.

(2)       The meaning of “anastasis” (resurrection)

The second argument employed by the PM is an appeal to the Greek term anastasis, translated “resurrection”. This noun appears forty-two times in the New Testament, thirty-nine of which refer to bodily resurrection from the dead (for an exception, see Luke 2:34). The remaining two occurrences are in Revelation 20:5,6, their meaning yet to be determined. The substance of this argument for PM is noted and acknowledged. But is it altogether convincing and compelling? I think not. Here is why.

·      Let us assume, just for the sake of argument, that John might wish to describe life in the intermediate state in Rev. 20:4-6. How else could he have done so, other than the way he has, and still secure the needed emphasis? That is to say, if John’s purpose were to encourage and console believers who were facing martyrdom, and if, in doing so, he wished to throw into sharp relief the contrast between what the beast might do to them physically and what the Lamb will do for them spiritually, what better, more appropriate, or even more biblical way could he have done so than by assuring them that though they may die physically at the hands of the beast they will live spiritually in the presence of the Lamb? I can think of no more vivid way of making this point than that of life after and in spite of death.

·      If John were attempting to describe the blessings of the intermediate state for those facing martyrdom, what terminology could he possibly have used, other than what he does use, and still maintain the desired emphasis? There simply is no other Greek noun besides anastasis that would adequately make the point. The only other Greek nouns in the New Testament which mean “resurrection” are exanastasis, used only in Phil. 3:11, and egersis, used only in Mt. 27:53. Both of these texts refer to physical resurrection also.

·      In sum, if John wished to describe entrance into the intermediate state in terms of a resurrection (and that would certainly be appropriate given the prospects for martyrdom among those to whom he was writing), with what Greek noun other than anastasis could he have done it? There are few who will deny that Scripture uses the terminology and imagery of physical resurrection to describe spiritual life (see Ezekiel 37; Eph. 2:1-6; Col. 2:12-13; 3:1; Rom. 6; etc.). Why, then, should we object to the use of the terminology and imagery of physical resurrection to describe spiritual life in the intermediate state, especially when such “life” is contrasted with “death”? I am sure John knew that anastasis might well evoke the notion of bodily resurrection in the minds of his readers. That is why, I believe, he explicitly identifies those of whom he predicates this resurrection as the “souls of those beheaded.” He knew that such a phrase, even more so in view of the parallel in Rev. 6:9-11, would have alerted his readers (prospective martyrs) that the kind of resurrection in view was spiritual life after physical death. When we add to this the aforementioned fact that only here in all the New Testament is the ordinal “first” appended to the noun “resurrection,” and reflect on its significance, the possibility of the AM position is strengthened.

·      Note well. I said the possibility of this particular AM interpretation. I do not want to be misunderstood at this point. I am not saying that John’s use of anastasis demands the amillennial interpretation. It is entirely possible that anastasis means physical, bodily resurrection in Rev. 20. At no time have I suggested that anastasis is inappropriate as a description of physical, bodily resurrection. All that I have aruged for is that, assuming John wished to describe the intermediate state, and given the historical context in which he was writing as well as the immediate prospects for martyrdom among his readers, and in view of the limitations on terminology at his disposal, anastasis would not be an inappropriate word to make his point. Whether or not this AM interpretation of anastasis is probable must be determined on other grounds. At this point all I wish to establish is that the premillennial argument based on the traditional definition of anastasis is something less than compelling.

(3)       The meaning of “zao” (to live)

The PM also appeals to the usage of the verb zao in the New Testament. This verb is used twice in our passage (vv, 4,5). The point made by the PM is that when zao is used of resurrection, i.e., of “coming to life” after death, it almost always is physical, bodily resurrection (Mt. 9:18; Rom. 14:9; 2 Cor. 13:4; Rev. 2:8). Response:

·      This verb occurs some 130x in the New Testament and has well over a dozen different connotations. It can refer to ordinary physical existence in the here and now, to the living God, to living water, to living eternally, to Christ’s living now in heaven as exalted Lord, to the way we conduct ourselves ethically, and to spiritual regeneration and conversion, just to mention a few. It is even used of living in the intermediate state in Matthew 22:32 (cf. Luke 20:38; John 11:25-26).

·      We should not be surprised that John might choose to describe the experience of the martyrs in the intermediate state as “living”. The intermediate state is a spiritual living after physical death, is it not? Jesus did promise his people in Rev. 2:10-11 that because of their faithfulness unto physical death he would give them the crown of life, did he not? And did he not say that the kind of living granted to those who die for their faith is such that secures them against the second death, even as John tells us in 20:6 that the second death has no power over those who live by virtue of the first resurrection? These parallels between Rev. 2:10-11 and 20:4-6 are unmistakable.

·      On what grounds, then, should anyone object to John’s describing the experience of the intermediate state as “living (spiritually) with Christ,” especially in view of the intended contrast with the physical death they suffer from the beast? I do not know of another text descriptive of the intermediate state in which any verb is used to describe the quality of life experienced there by the saints. Why, then, should anyone object to the suggestion that John uses such a common, well-known term as zao in Revelation 20? I am again led to conclude that zao, like anastasis, is entirely fitting as a description of the nature and blessedness of the intermediate state. Such could not help but encourage and strengthen those who face the possibility of physical death for their faith, be it then or now.

(4)       The meaning of “chilia ete” (thousand years)

Finally, the PM insists that the words chilia ete, “one thousand years,” must mean literal years, i.e., arithmetically and calendrically precise years. As anyone who has studied Revelation knows all too well, deciphering numbers in this book is an incredibly difficult task. One need only observe the dispute down through the centuries over the meaning of 666!

·      In other texts “one thousand” rarely if ever is meant to be taken with arithmetical precision. This is true whether the context is non-temporal (Ps. 50:10; Song of Solomon 4:4; Josh. 23:10; Isa. 60:22; Deut. 1:11; Job 9:3; Eccles. 7:28), in which case the usage is always figurative, indeed hyperbolical, or temporal (Deut. 7:9; 1 Chron. 16:15; Pss. 84:10; 90:4; 105:8; 2 Peter 3:8).

·      What is the significance of the number 1,000 here? According to David Chilton, just “as the number seven connotes a fullness of quality in Biblical imagery, the number ten contains the idea of a fullness of quantity; in other words, it stands for manyness. A thousand multiplies and intensifies this (10 x 10 x 10), in order to express great vastness (cf. 5:11; 7:4-8; 9:16; 11:3,13; 12:6; 14:1,3,20).” For example, we are told in Psalm 50:10 that God owns “the cattle on a thousand hills.” Obviously this “does not mean that the cattle on the 1,001st hill belongs to someone else. God owns all the cattle on all the hills. But He says ‘a thousand’ to indicate that there are many hills, and much cattle.” Benjamin B. Warfield takes much the same approach:

"The sacred number seven in combination with the equally sacred number three forms the number of holy perfection ten, and when this ten is cubed into a thousand the seer has said all he could say to convey to our minds the idea of absolute completeness. . . . [Therefore] when the saints are said to live and reign with Christ a thousand years the idea intended is that of inconceivable exaltation, security and blessedness as beyond expression by ordinary language."


In this lesson I have responded to what I perceive to be the strongest arguments favoring the PM interpretation of Rev. 20:4-6. My conclusion is that whereas each of these arguments is entirely possible, none of them is compelling. In each instance there is a viable AM alternative. This alternative becomes persuasive when the rest of the New Testament witness is brought to bear on Revelation 20. The task now at hand is to provide a cogent AM interpretation which not only does justice to the exegetical and theological data in 20:4-6, but is also compatible with what we have seen to be the testimony of the remainder of the New Testament on the subject of the kingdom of God.


Alternative AM views of the "First Resurrection"

Several AM interpreters have conceded the validity of Alford’s dictum but have remained AM, one of whom is Philip E. Hughes.

Hughes agrees with the PM that the resurrection referred to in both instances of ezesan must be physical or bodily. He remains an AM, however, by arguing that the “first resurrection” is not that of Christians immediately prior to a future millennial reign, but is that of Jesus Christ in whose resurrection Christians share. John says in 20:6 that “he who shares in” the first resurrection is blessed. Since one does not “share” (lit., “one who has a part in,” ho exon meros en) in his own resurrection but in that of another, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is in view, a resurrection with which we are identified and of which we partake by virtue of that relation with Christ through faith described by Paul as being “in Christ” (see Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12ff.; 3:1; Eph. 2:4-5).

Similar to this view is the one espoused by Norman Shepherd. Shepherd contends that the “first resurrection” is that which may be said to occur in Christian baptism (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4). It is essentially synonymous with conversion, and therefore Shepherd, like Hughes, also appeals to Col. 3:1 and Eph. 2:5-6. Although in Rev. 20:6 no explicit reference is made to a “second resurrection,” it is certainly implied. This second resurrection refers to the resurrection of the body (of all the elect) at Christ’s second advent. In the light of other texts (Rom. 8:18-23; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1), Shepherd argues that this second resurrection is more than merely a resurrection of the body, but is cosmic as well. Thus he concludes that “the distance between the first resurrection and the second resurrection is not a thousand years between the ‘literal’ resurrection of the just and the ‘literal’ resurrection of the unjust. It is rather the distance between the resurrection of Jesus Christ in whom and with whom believers are raised by baptism, and the resurrection of all things at the end of the age.”

Whereas Hughes and Shepherd concede Alford’s dictum but find a reference to physical resurrection in both occurrences of ezesan, James Hughes and Anthony Hoekema concede Alford’s dictum but see a reference to spiritual resurrection in both cases (something Alford refused to believe anyone was “hardy” enough to maintain). But how can it be said, someone might ask, that the non-elect are raised spiritually after the millennium? The point James Hughes and Hoekema both make is that this is precisely what the text does not say. Both men deny that the word “until” (achri) demands a change after the point to which it refers is reached. In saying that the non-elect dead do not “come to life” until the thousand years are finished, John is not implying that after the thousand years are finished they will “come to life.” Hoekema explains:

"When he says that the rest of the dead did not live or come to life, he means the exact opposite of what he had just said about the believing dead. The unbelieving dead, he is saying, did not live or reign with Christ during this thousand-year period. Whereas believers after death enjoy a new kind of life in heaven with Christ in which they share in Christ’s reign, unbelievers after death share nothing of either this life or this reign . . . . The Greek word here translated “until,” achri, means that what is said here holds true during the entire length of the thousand-year period. The use of the word until does not imply that these unbelieving dead will live and reign with Christ after this period has ended. If this were the case, we would have expected a clear statement to this effect."

It is true, of course, that in certain cases “until” does not demand a reversal of the circumstances which had prevailed antecedent to the time to which it refers. However, in the three other instances in Rev. in which achri is used with the aorist subjunctive (7:3; 15:8; 20:3) the implication is certainly of a reversal of circumstances once the point of termination is reached. Contextually, as well, the indication is that subsequent to the termination of the thousand years significant changes obtain, specifically, the release of him who, during the thousand years, was bound.

Even more decisive is the content of 20:11-15 in which the non-elect dead, i.e., those who did not live during the thousand years, are said to stand before the Great White Throne for purposes of judgment. In other words, the non-elect dead do live after the thousand years in the sense that they are raised physically in order to be cast into the lake of fire. Of course, Hoekema and James Hughes must reject any identification ot the “resurrection” in 20:11-15 with that in 20:5, for they have accepted Alford’s dictum, to wit, that both occurrences of ezesan necessarily refer to resurrections of identical character.

In response, I must agree with the PM here that the strong implication of both grammar and context is that the rest of the dead do indeed “come to life” (whatever that may mean) after the thousand years are completed. And since I am not convinced by Philip Hughes or Norman Shepherd that the first resurrection is physical or bodily, I am compelled to reject Alford’s dictum. I do in fact believe that the first resurrection is spiritual and that the resurrection of the non-elect after the millennium is physical.


A Response to George Ladd

on John 5:25-29

George Ladd objects to the AM appeal to John 5 as being analogous to Rev. 20. He insists that the two passages are not sufficiently similar, for “in the gospel, the context itself provides the clues for the spiritual interpretation in the one instance and the literal in the other.” But in Revelation 20, says Ladd, there is no such contextual clue that the resurrections are of a different order.

On this, however, I beg to differ. In the first place, why must the immediate context alone be determinative? Just because the immediate context of John 5 provides its own clues and that of Rev. 20, at least according to Ladd, does not, is hardly sufficient reason to reject the AM interpretation of the latter. If John does not supply an extensive elaboration in Rev. 20 as he does in John 5 to the effect that the resurrections are of a different order, it could very well be because the broader context of Scripture has already provided the necessary indications. In the New Testament we read of only one general resurrection, we read of no intermediate or post-Parousia millennial age, and the second advent of Christ is repeatedly and uniformly portrayed as ushering in the perfection of the eternal state. In view of this I hardly think John thought it necessary to expand greatly upon his comment. Besides, his purpose is to record a vision, not to write a theological commentary on its meaning. (Only rarely in Revelation does John interpret his visions for us.)

Furthermore, and contrary to Ladd, I am persuaded that John did in fact provide clues in the immediate context that would signal his readers to a difference in the nature of the resurrections. One such clue is the intervening millennium itself. Another is the ordinal “first,” used with “resurrection,” only here in all the New Testament. The predication of such a resurrection to disembodied “souls” of martyrs is yet another clue that the “coming to life” subsequent to their physical death is something other than bodily. The implied qualitative contrasts between the “first death” and the “second death,” as well as between the “first resurrection” and “second resurrection,” also indicate that John is speaking of two resurrections of contrasting character. Of course, the ultimate rationale for rejecting the application of Alford’s dictum to Rev. 20:4-6 must come from the cogency of the amillennial interpretation of the passage itself.


It is one thing to offer a critique of a cherished and widely held view of the millennium. It is something else to construct in its place a cogent and persuasive alternative. In the minds of many PMs this has been the principal deficiency in the vast majority of amillennial treatments of eschatology. Whether or not this criticism is justified, I offer this lesson as an attempt to supply what PMs insist has been conspicuous by its absence: an amillennial explanation of the first resurrection that deals fairly and fully with the textual data. Obviously, this lesson does not stand alone. It builds on what has preceded in the two previous lessons. Therefore, in the light of what has already been said concerning this controversial passage, I wish to make four crucial points.

(1)       That John is talking about the intermediate state in 20:4-6 seems obvious once the parallel with 6:9-11 is noted. In my research I have not as yet encountered one PM author who denies that 6:9-11 is a vision of the heavenly bliss of those who have suffered martrydom for Christ. Yet when they encounter virtually the same terminology in Rev. 20 they can only see a post-Parousia millennial kingdom on the earth of embodied believers. A careful examination of these two passages, however, will reveal that they are describing the same experience.

            Revelation 6:9                                    Revelation 20:4


“And . . . I saw” (kai eidon)               “And I saw (kai eidon)


“the souls of those who had               “the souls of those who had

been slain” (tas psuchas ton               been beheaded” (tas psuchas ton

esphagmenon)                                     pepelekismenon)


“because of the word of God”                        “because of the word of God”

(dia ton logon tou theou)                     (dia ton logon tou theou)


“and because of the testimony           “because of the testimony of

which they had maintained”               Jesus” (dia ten marturian

(dia ten marturian hen eichon)           ‘Iesou)

That John is describing the same scene, that of the blessedness of the intermediate state, seems beyond reasonable doubt.

(2)       The emphasis in Revelation on the blessedness of Christian death confirms that 20:4-6 is concerned with the bliss of the intermediate state. We read in 14:13, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on! Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” This sabbath blessing, Meredith Kline explains,

"is very much the same as the millennial blessing of Revelation 20:6. For the biblical concept of sabbath rest includes enthronement after the completion of labors by which royal dominion is manifested or secured (cf., e.g., Isa. 66:1). The sabbath rest of the risen Christ is his kingly session at God’s right hand. To live and reign with Christ is to participate in his royal sabbath rest. In Revelation 20:6 this blessedness is promised to those who have part in 'the first resurrection' and in the Revelation 14:13 equivalent it is pronounced on the dead who died in the Lord."

Especially relevant in this regard is the letter to the church at Smyrna in Revelation 2 and its emphasis on the blessedness of Christian death. It also parallels 20:4-6 in several crucial respects.

First, it speaks of martyrdom as the result of steadfast faith (“be faithful unto death”).

Second, the faithful are promised “the crown of life.

And third, the faithful martyrs are exempt from the second death(“he who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death”).

These parallels are certainly more than coincidental. Kline makes this clear:

"The equation of the state of Christian death referred to in this letter with 'the first resurrection' state of Revelation 20 is of course firmly established by the common contextual mention of 'the second death' (not found in any other context), the same assurance of deliverance from this 'second death' being given in both cases. But 'the crown of life' promise in Revelation 2:10 is also a strong confirmation of this equation. The crown, stephanos, though it might be the festive garland might also be the royal crown. If the latter image is intended here, the 'crown of life' promised to the Christian dead is precisely the nominal equivalent of the verbal 'they lived and reigned' in the account of the experience that attends the 'first resurrection' in Revelation 20:4ff."

When taken in conjunction with the promise to the overcomer in Rev. 3:21 that he will be enthroned with Christ(yes, the dead in Christ do reign!), the blessings of the intermediate state are encouragement indeed to those whose physical lives are to be taken by the beast.

Since John (and Jesus) in Revelation 2-3 conceived of the intermediate state as “souls” living beyond death (hence a resurrection), and as an experience characterized by enthronement with Christ (hence reigning with him), we should not be surprised that in Revelation 20 he likewise describes the intermediate state as SOULS LIVING AND REIGNING WITH CHRIST!

(3)       John could hardly have been more explicit concerning the location, and therefore the nature, of the millennial rule of the saints when he said that he saw “thrones” (thronous). Where are these thrones upon which the saints sit, which is also to ask, what is the nature of their millennial rule?

Let's begin with several observations about the use of thronos in the book of Revelation.

·      The word thronos appears 62x in the New Testament, 47 of which are in the book of Revelation.

·      Twice (2:13; 13:2) it refers to Satan’s throne (being synonymous with his authority or power) and once to the throne of the beast (16:10).

·      On four occasions it refers to God’s throne on the new earth in consequence of its having come down from heaven (21:3,5; 22:1,3). In every other instance (40x) thronos refers to a throne in heaven,either that of God the Father, of Christ, of the 24 elders, etc.

·      Why, then, does the PM argue that anastasis (“resurrection”) must mean physical resurrection, although it occurs nowhere in Revelation outside chapter 20, but ignore thronos which never in Revelation refers to anything other than a heavenly throne (and that, in 40 texts!)?

The use of thronos in the rest of the NT.

·      Of the 15 occurrences of thronos outside Revelation, 7 are explicitly heavenly.

·      In Luke 1:52 it refers figuratively to the power and authority of earthly rulers.

·      In Col. 1:16 it refers to angelic (demonic?) beings.

·      In Luke 1:32 the angel Gabriel refers to the “throne” of David on which the coming Messiah will sit in fulfillment of the divine promise, to which Peter makes explicit reference in Acts 2:30. In the verses which follow it is clear that Peter envisioned Christ’s resurrection and exaltation to have resulted in his enthronement at the right hand of the Father in fulfillment of Gabriel’s declaration.

·      There are four additional usages of thronos (Mt. 19:28 [twice]; 25:31; and Luke 22:30), each of which falls in the same category as Rev. 20:4. In other words, whether the “thrones” in these texts are earthly or heavenly is the very point that stands to be proven. Therefore, one cannot appeal to these passages in support of either view. Otherwise one would be guilty of begging the question (petitio principii).

In summary, when we look at all other relevant occurrences of thronos, whether inside or outside the book of Revelation, they are without exception heavenly. There is nothing to suggest that they pertain to a millennial earth, either in location or character.

(4)       The final point I wish to make concerns the significance of the ordinal “first” (protos) in the phrase “first resurrection” (20:5-6), and the theological contrasts that John has established in the text.

Nowhere else in Scripture is the noun “resurrection” (anastasis) qualified as being the “first” (protos). The importance of this for determining the meaning of “resurrection” must therefore be duly noted.

Observe Rev. 21:1ff. There “first” is contrasted with what is “new” (kainos). Note well:

(1) The consummation of history brings 'a new heaven and a new earth' (v. 1) and a 'new Jerusalem' (v. 2). Indeed, God will make 'all things new' (v. 5).

(2) The word first is used for that which is superceded by the new: "the first heaven and the first earth were passed away" (v. 1). Indeed, when God makes all things new, all "the first things" pass away---tears, death, sorrow, crying, pain (v. 4).

(3) Therefore, to be first means to belong to the present state of affairs which is passing away. Meredith Kline explains:

"Protos ("first") does not merely mark the present world as the first in a series of worlds and certainly not as the first in a series of worlds all of the same kind. On the contrary, it characterizes this world as different in kind from the 'new' world [emphasis mine]. It signifies that the present world stands in contrast to the new world order of the consummation which will abide forever."

We also see in Revelation 21 that second (deuteros) is another term for new. Thus, the death that is identified with the lake of fire and is the eternal counterpart to the death that belongs to the order of “first things” (v. 4) is called “the second death” (v. 8). Thus second as well as new serves as the qualitative opposite of first.

In summary, that which is first or old pertains to the presentworld, that is to say, to that which is transient, temporary, and incomplete. Conversely, that which is second or new pertains to the future world, that which is permanent, complete, and is associated with the eternal consummation of all things. The term first is therefore not an ordinal in a process of counting objects that are identical in kind. Rather, whenever first is used in conjunction with second or new the idea is of a qualitative contrast (not a mere numerical sequence). To be first is to be associated with this present, temporary, transient world. Whatever is first does not participate in the quality of finality and permanence which is distinctive of the age to come.

[For similar qualitative contrasts between "first/old" and "second/new", see Heb. 8:7,8,13; 9:1,15,18; 10:9.]

How does all this affect our understanding of the “first resurrection” in Revelation 20? To begin, we should observe that explicit reference to the first resurrection and the seconddeath strongly implies, if it does not demand, a secondresurrection and a first death. Therefore, we have four events, three of which are easily identified.

(1) There is first of all, the first death, which is obviously a reference to physical, bodily death. It is the death to which the martyrs were subjected when the beast beheaded them for refusal to worship his image.

(2) Then we have the second death, that is, a non-physical death which consists of eternal punishment.

(3) Thirdly, the second resurrection, implied by the existence of a first resurrection, is certainly the physical, bodily resurrection of the unjust (cf. 20:11-15).

It seems reasonable, then, that the first resurrection will sustain to the second resurrection the same relationship which the first death sustains to the second death. So what, then, is that relationship?

The first death, as we have seen, is literal and physical, whereas the second death is metaphorical and non-physical. The “first” death, because it is “first”, relates to this present world with its transient and pre-consummative character, whereas the “second” death, because it is “second”, relates to the next world, the consummation, with its permanent and eternal character.

Surely, then, since the second resurrection is literal and physical and pertains to the consummate and eternal order, the first resurrection, because it is “first”, must be metaphorical and non-physical and pertain to the pre-consummative, temporary, and transient order of things.

What all this means is that there are two facts which prevent us from identifying the first resurrection as a literal, bodily resurrection (as the PM insists we must).

(1) There is first of all the ordinal first. That which is “first” belongs to the order of the present passing world. “The first resurrection” must then be something this side of bodily resurrection, some experience that does not bring the subject of it into his consummated condition and final state.

[Note: The PM says that if we have a “first” event, in this case a resurrection, we should expect a “second” one of the same kind (remember Alford’s dictum?). NO! The usage of “first” does not suggest a mere numerical sequence of events of like character, but a qualitative contrast between events of a different character!]

(2) The second factor which excludes the PM view is the contrast that John intended to establish between first and second resurrection as well as between first and second death. These contrasts are represented in the chart at the end of the lesson.

In addition to this, note that when John proceeds to describe the bodily resurrection of the lost in 20:11-15, he avoids using the term “resurrection”. Instead, he refers to it, paradoxically, as the second “death” because of the destiny in which it issues (namely, the lake of fire). That which is bodily resurrection for the lost is in reality their second death.

Similarly, when John proceeds to describe the bodily death of the saved in 20:4-6 he avoids using the term “death”. Instead he refers to it, paradoxically, as the first “resurrection” because of the destiny in which it issues (namely, living and reigning with Christ). That which is bodily death for the saved is in reality their first resurrection. Observe, then, the beautiful irony in John’s language:

·      The believer DIES PHYSICALLY but experiences SPIRITUAL RESURRECTION!

·      The unbeliever is RESURRECTED PHYSICALLY but experiences SPIRITUAL DEATH!

For the Christian, to die is resurrection. For the non-Christian, to be resurrected is to die.

The PM interpretation which says that because the second resurrection is literal and bodily, the first resurrection must also be literal and bodily, fails to consider the significance of the ordinal “first” as well as the ironical and paradoxical language which John employs. In Revelation the apparent defeat of the Christian in physical death is, in point of fact, a spiritual victory that leads to life (see 2:10-11; 6:9,11a; 12:11; 14:13).

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