There are many parts of the book of Revelation which are figurative. Early in the book its author, the apostle John, stated (Rev. 1:1): "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified [it] by his angel unto his servant John." The idea of signifying is that it is presented as signs, not as the "real thing." However, it was written to be understood and kept: "Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time [is] at hand" (Rev. 1:3).
The first reference to Christ's second coming reiterates what we learned in Acts 1:11 (Rev. 1:7): "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they [also] which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen."
There are a number of incidental references to the second coming, but they do not contain any detail on the events surrounding its occurrence. The next reference which does contain such detail begins with Rev. 19:5. Prior to this point judgements were being meted out, but they were occurring on this earth prior to the final judgment. While they are not all necessarily in perfect chronological order, there is a general sequence of events which are progressing toward the final great day of the Lord. This is described in Revelation 19 and most of the paragraphs that follow. We will discuss these one paragraph at a time. The first is Revelation 19:5-10:
And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed [are] they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See [thou do it] not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
This paragraph essentially establishes that this great prophecy of John is now turning to the end of time and the time of judgment. This is often referenced as the marriage feast of the lamb (Jesus), where the bride is the church (see Ephesians 5:21-33).
Another point which is quite important is that "the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." We mentioned above in our consideration of Acts 2 that Jesus has taken the throne. This is further reinforced in Revelation chapters 4 and 5, which we encourage the reader to review at this time. In addition, we will discuss the meaning of the figurative use of the word kingdom in Section 6.5 below. For now, let us continue with John's vision of the judgment (Rev.19:11-16):
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him [was] called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes [were] as a flame of fire, and on his head [were] many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he [was] clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies [which were] in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on [his] vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
Clearly this is Jesus Christ (figuratively) upon the white horse. (Today he might be pictured riding upon a tank or a bomber; but recall that the primary targets of John's prophesy were Christians in the first century.) Notice, however, that the final judgment is not yet come: "... in righteousness he doth judge and make war." It is important that in the next paragraphs we distinguish between His making war on the evils which exist in this world today, and the final judgment.
With this in mind, let us consider the next paragraph (Rev. 19:17-21):
And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all [men, both] free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which [sword] proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.
Is this the final judgment, or is it a "making war" judgment upon those who are exalting themselves against Him at this time. It is clear that we are dealing with highly figurative language, but the overall impression is quite clear: those who exalt themselves by their high positions upon this earth will pay a very dear price. We believe that this is not the final judgement because nowhere else in the bible is the final judgment portrayed as a battle. However, life on this side of judgment is universally pictured as a constant battle. Note, however, that although the entire forces of evil both in heaven and on earth are unified against God and His church, there is no contest. No battle materializes! Instead both the beast and they that worship his image are "cast alive into a lake of fire ... And the remnant were slain with the sword ... which proceeded out of his mouth ..." The illusion is clearly to the word of God (or the gospel) which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16), and which is also the only offensive weapon of the Christian (Eph. 6:17). [For the identity of the beast, see Revelation chapter 13. While considerable figurative language is used there, it is clear that the beast was a sacred-appearing operator of the devil, since he deceived many into worshiping his image.]
At this point in the text Jesus has brought those who deceived the nations (the beast and the false prophet), and those who worship the image of the beast under His control. However, there is still the problem of the archenemy of mankind -- the devil (Rev 20:1-3):
And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
This is the only verse in the New Testament that the premillinialists have as the basis for the "1000 year reign." What endless variations of concocted fables have resulted! Clearly it does not contain the detail that they attribute to it. For that matter, we have no assurance that it is even talking about the end of time as we know it -- or the time "after the rapture" as is the common denominational teaching. But, what does it mean? Consider the following possibility:
1. John's vision in the previous paragraph (Rev. 19:17-21) is one of reassurance to a people who were being systematically killed for their belief that Jesus is the Son of God.
2. It would seem reasonable that this paragraph is a natural extension of that reassurance, indicating that the devil himself is going to be figuratively "chained."
3. Insight can be obtained by comparing this paragraph with Luke 10:17-20, which recounts Jesus' statements after the seventy teachers that He sent out returned to Him: "And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." Is this not the same reassurance that John was giving to the Christians to whom he was writing?
4. The purpose of this chaining is that "he should deceive the nations no more." This chaining is accomplished the same way that the seventy controlled the devils -- by the preaching of the truth. It is not a literal forcing of the enemy to submit via a worldly military victory.
5. The duration is a figurative 1000 years. To make this literal places premillinialists in a position where they would know exactly the end of the period at which the final judgment will occur, putting them in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus (Mt. 24:36).
6. Figures are intended to reveal, not obscure. But, figurative of what? A 1000-year period is figurative of a substantial but indefinite time to man, but a short interval with God (2 Pet. 3:8). This is the duration that we should expect the Devil to be chained. We can also expect that "after that he must be loosed a little season" -- some of the same type of deception which occurred in the first century (and its accompanying persecutions) will occur before the final judgment.
7. This verse says nothing about Jesus coming to this earth and establishing a worldly kingdom at Jerusalem -- those that so teach are duty-bound to prove their doctrines with scripture, not just their imaginations.
In fact, there is nothing in these verses that in any way conflicts with the scenario which we gave in Section 6.2.
At this point assurance has been given to Christians that all of their enemies are under control. Now attention is turned to the final judgment (Rev. 20:4-6):
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received [his] mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This [is] the first resurrection. Blessed and holy [is] he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
Remember that John is having a vision of future events both in heaven and on earth. See what he saw. He sees the faithful (in various shapes and forms) "and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." This is where the term 1000 year reign came from. Its proper use would be limited to exactly what John was describing at this point. But, is this significantly different from the Apostle Paul's assurance to the Christians at Rome? Consider these clear statements (Romans 8:31-39):
What shall we then say to these things? If God [be] for us, who [can be] against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? [It is] God that justifieth. Who [is] he that condemneth? [It is] Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Premillinialists believe that they will be worldly conquerors with Christ when He comes to reign on this earth for 1000 years; but Paul says that "we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" now! And this is the essence of what the apostle John is communicating. There is no reason to differentiate between these reigns. There is no reason to believe (other than dissatisfaction with God's plan for us) that there is anything sweeter on this earth than what we enjoy now. Indeed, the premillinialists make the same mistake that the Jews who crucified Christ made -- they were not satisfied with a spiritual kingdom; they had to have a literal, worldly rule.
We apologize for getting off on a tangent. Let us not, discard the teaching in Revelation 20:4-6 as just being redundant with Romans 8:31-39. Indeed, it is much more than this, and there are some complex figures which we must address. Let us go through Revelation 20:4-6 once again, this time, one verse at a time:
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received [his] mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
This is clearly not speaking of anything on this earth. Remember that John's vision was of heaven (Rev. 4:1), although the things which he saw there were reflective of what would "shortly come to pass" on earth (Rev. 1:1). From the characteristics described we can see that John, at this point, was seeing the fate of the righteous dead prior to the final judgment.
We know that this vision was limited to the dead, because the next sentence talks about the "rest of the dead," which must be the lost:
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.
It would seem reasonable that the lost did not live and reign with Christ, but instead remained in a state of deadness -- separated from God. (This is consistent with the story of Lazarus and the rich man which Jesus told as recorded in Luke 16:19-31.)
The next statement:
This [is] the first resurrection.
clearly applies to those dead in Christ who lived and reigned with Christ for the figurative 1000-year period in waiting for the final judgment and the general resurrection of the just and the unjust. This is further confirmed in the next sentence:
Blessed and holy [is] he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
The second death is explained further below. It is the ultimate death that those who are lost will experience at the final judgment, the first death being physical death. While Christians who die physically experience this first death, the second death will have no power over them.
Again, the language here does not necessitate a physical death. Peter stated: "But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past [were] not a people, but [are] now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy" (1 Peter 2:9-10). The transition from physical life to physical death is a nominal one for the Christian. While the main thrust of Revelation 20:6 is that the righteous dead are reigning with Christ, there is no reason to believe that those of us on this earth do not share in this reign now. One of the major losses of the premillinialists is that, in their quest for a worldly kingdom in the future, they fail to recognize the blessings of Christ reigning in our lives now.
At this point we turn our attention to the next paragraph which elaborates upon the events which will occur after the 1000 years have expired (Rev. 20:7-10):
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom [is] as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Recall that the purpose of the binding of Satan was that "he should deceive the nations no more" (Rev. 20:3). The loosing of Satan will enable him to once again exercise the type of deceptive control that was apparent during the dark ages. The nature of deception indicates that this will not be very apparent to any but those who can see the degradation of mankind in general.
Evidence that the nations are being deceived in a wholesale way abounds. In the United States, which was long thought to be a bastion of the Lord's church, we see (1) close to 30% of pregnancies terminated in abortion -- well over a million a year, and over 30 million since our supreme court was deceived into thinking that this was a good thing, (2) pornography flowing totally unrestrained into virtually every household under the guise of free speech, (3) a growing dependence of government upon taxes collected from gambling, tobacco and alcohol, all of which give power-hungry politicians every incentive to promote and grow these vices as being beneficial to society, (4) a total breakdown of the family, with governmental incentives to people to have illegitimate children and not live together as man and wife, (5) a divorce rate near 50%, (6) homosexuality being promoted within our public school (i.e., by our government) systems as an "alternative life style," (7) the giving up of our governmental officials on attempts to instill the values of chastity, and the promotion of fornication by the distribution of condoms. We could go on and on. But we leave you with this challenge: if Satan has not been loosed to deceive the nations now, what more can we expect when he is? If Satan has not been loosed, then we are certainly in an era of preparation for that very event. Christians are being assaulted on every hand by the subtle influences of the devil. Clearly the battle has begun.
But there is hope: "and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." Soon the judgement will take place, and this is the scene of the next paragraph (Rev. 20:11-15):
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
There can be no doubt that this is the judgment scene, and it is described in total consistency with all of the very clear and literal descriptions given in the gospels and the epistles. Notice that the second death is defined here -- it applies only to those who are outside of Christ.
At this point the final judgment is over. John now looks forward to those events to follow judgment for the saved (Rev. 21:1-4):
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, [and be] their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Those who would apply any of this to the 1000-year reign would either be deceptive or misguided, since it clearly applies to the time after the final judgment. Further, those who teach that heaven will be on this earth fail to recognize the clear distinction that John makes between the current heaven and earth and the new heaven and new earth. The new heaven and earth will have little resemblance to the current earth, and to teach that they are the same defies the distinction that John clearly intends to communicate here.
At this point John leaves the scene of the second coming of Christ, which puts it out of the scope of our discussion. For completeness, the following gives a summary of the remainder of the book of Revelation by paragraph:
21:5-8 The promise from the one that "sat upon the throne" that "I make all things new," the reassurance to believers and the threat that "the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."
21:9-14 The demonstration to John of "the bride, the Lamb's wife," which included a view of the "great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God," and the figurative description of the eternal habitation of the saved.
21:15-21 A continuation of the description in terms of priceless jewels and metals.
21:22-27 The perfection of heaven; the fact that "the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple and the lights of it, that "there shall be no night there," and "there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither [whatsoever] worketh abomination, or [maketh] a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."
22:1-5 The vision of "a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb," the tree of life, and further glories of heaven.
22:6-7 The assurance that "These sayings [are] faithful and true," and the promise: "Behold, I come quickly: blessed [is] he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book."
22:8-9 John's attempt to "worship before the feet of the angel" which showed him these things, and the rebuke and admonition: "worship God."
22:10-11 The further admonition to "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still."
22:12-13 Jesus promise to "come quickly" and to reward "every man according as his work shall be," followed by the assertion: "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last."
22:14-15 Further blessedness of the saved and the terrible fate of the lost.
22:16 A note from the originator of the book: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, [and] the bright and morning star."
22:17 The plea: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
22:18-19 The threat to those who would add to or take away from these words: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book."
22:20-21 The closing: "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. Amen."
This summary is not an attempt to add to or to take away from God's word in any way. Hopefully we have organized some of these thoughts for comparison with other scriptures. But the ultimate authority is the word of God itself, there is absolutely no substitute for the direct study of God's word, and we have stated from the outset that our intent is not to add to God's word in any way, but to stimulate study of it so that we may all arrive at a more accurate perception of the truth.
In this regard we wish to add that the author does not claim any type of the inspiration which John, Paul, Peter and the writers of the New Testament possessed which enabled them to write in perfect harmony with the revelation of the Holy Spirit. This being the case, we wish to emphasize especially for this section, that we are subject to the same human error that any and every person in this world can make when discussing possible meanings and applications of God's word.
We say that this is especially true for the book of Revelation because of its highly figurative nature. It seems quite clear to us that God wants to challenge us to study all of His word, and that some of it is quite difficult and hard to understand for this reason (recall 2 Peter 3:16). We make no apology when we echo the words of the great Apostle Paul when he said (Romans 11:33-36): "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom [be] glory for ever. Amen."
Thus, we challenge the reader, and emphatically state that it is your responsibility, to determine the validity of our explanation (or anyone else's). Knowing that, if nothing else, it is flawed by our own powers of expression, we further challenge you to improve it. However, as you embark upon this endeavor we plead with you not to concoct strange fables which go beyond (2 John 9) that which the Book of Revelation asserts, and then twist and wrest the other very clear and obviously literal scriptures to fit these strange theories (see 2 Peter 3:16 once again).
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