The "End Times"
A Study on Eschatology and Millennialism

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations of
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

September 1989

Part 3

To: Contents - Previous Section - Missouri Synod Documents - Project Wittenberg


Scripture teaches that whatever of man is in the grave (i.e., his body) rises. The identity of the risen body with the body of one's earthly life is implicit in the term resurrection. Just as the resurrected Jesus was the same person as the crucified Jesus and was so recognized by His disciples, so also the dead who are raised are the same persons who formerly lived on earth. A continuity exists between the natural body and the resurrection body of the one who is raised.

However, there is also a discontinuity between the natural body and the resurrection body of believers. Just as Jesus' resurrected body was a "glorious body," so too the Christian's "lowly body" will be changed to be like Jesus' glorious body (Phil. 3:21). This change of the Christian's body is necessary because "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (1 Cor. 15:50). Because of mankind's fall into sin, the natural body is now subject to the effects of the fall (such as sin, weakness, disease, aging, and death), a situation which will come to an end at the resurrection.

St. Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians 15 is the most complete commentary on the Christian's resurrected body given in the Bible. The apostle presents six contrasts in this chapter:

    1. What is sown corruptible is raised incorruptible. No longer will it be liable to disease or decay.

    2. What is sown in dishonor is raised in glory. No longer will it have the dishonor of being buried, but it will be glorified, radiant and shining like Christ's glorified body (cf. Phil. 3:21).

    3. What is sown in weakness is raised in power. The weaknesses which.cause people to tire and need rest will no longer hinder them.

    4. What is sown a natural body will be raised a spiritual body. No longer will it function according to its natural instincts, but it will live completely under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.[36]

    5. This mortal nature will put on immortality (vv. 53-54). It will no longer be subject to death.

    6. The Christian's body which now bears "the image of the man of dust" will then bear the image of Christ (v. 49; cf. Rom. 8:29; Col. 3:10).

Of course, Scripture does not satisfy all of our curiosity about the resurrection (1 John 3:2). It does tell us, however, that the Christian in both body and soul will be glorious and perfect like Christ, no longer subject to the effects of the fall.

Resurrected Christians will be "like angels" in that they will "neither marry nor be given in marriage" (Matt. 22:30; Luke 20:35- 36). However, the similarity is not to be extended to include incorporeity or loss of identity as male and female. Nor are we to believe that certain natural bodily functions will any longer be necessary in the life to come (cf. 1 Cor. 6:13).

Christ's resurrection is both the cause and the guarantee of the Christian's resurrection. His resurrection is the "first fruits" of the final harvest, guaranteeing that those who are in Him shall also rise from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rom. 8:29). Through baptism the Christian has already been raised to life and is thus assured of the future bodily resurrection (Rom. 6:5, 11, 13; Col. 2:12; 3:1-4). The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who was given at baptism, is the pledge ensuring the Christian's future resurrection (Rom. 8:11, 23; 2 Cor.1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14). Likewise, the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper are a foretaste of future eschatological blessings (Matt. 26:29; 1 Cor. 11:26).

    d. The Rapture

    The English word rapture is derived from the Latin translation of the verb "caught up" in 1 Thess. 4:17 (rapiemur). It refers to the event described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18, namely that all Christians, both dead and living, will be caught up by the Lord to meet Him in the air at His second advent. Paul mentions the "rapture" in response to a specific problem in the church at Thessalonica. The Thessalonians apparently had grieved over the death of some members of the church because they feared that these dead were excluded from the future salvation associated with Christ's second advent (1 Thess. 4:13).

    Paul corrects the Thessalonians' distorted view of the end by informing them that the "dead in Christ will rise" and actually precede the living in being caught up in the air to meet Jesus. As a result, both groups of believers--the dead who will be raised and the living Christians who will be transformed (1 Cor. 15:51-52)--will "always be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17; 5:10). The purpose of the "rapture" which Paul describes in 1 Thess. 4:17 is evident from the language he employs in this verse. The word translated "to meet" is a technical term used in the New Testament period to describe a public welcome given by a city to a visiting dignitary. The leading citizens of the city would ordinarily leave the city "to meet" the distinguished visitor and then accompany him into the city (cf. Acts 28:15). Paul seems to be saying, therefore, that Christians will meet the Lord in the air to accompany Him in honor to the earth for Judgment Day. Christians will be included in His glorious company of angels as He descends to the earth.

    But when will the "rapture" take place? (See the diagram in Appendix I.) All premillennialists believe that it will occur before the "1000 year" rule of Christ on earth. Dispensational premillennialists believe it will occur either at the beginning of the "seven year" tribulation (i.e., "pre-tribulation" rapture) or after the first 3-1/2 years of the tribulation (i.e., "mid-tribulational" rapture). They believe that the "raptured saints" will then go to heaven with Jesus and remain there for 7 or 3-l/2 years, after which they will descend to earth for the millennium. Historic premillennialists believe that it will occur at the end of the tribulation (i.e., "post-tribulational" rapture) but before the millennium.

    In light of the clear passages of Scripture on this subject, it is difficult to see how such a speculative approach can be seriously defended. The "rapture" described by Paul will occur at Christ's second coming after the "tribulation" (i.e., at the end of history), at which time there will be the resurrection and judgment day for all. The last day will come "like a thief in the night," bringing destruction to unbelievers but salvation to believers (1 Thess. 5:1- 10). The "rapture" will occur after the appearance and work of the Antichrist (2 Thess. 2:3). Christ will gather His elect at the end of the time of tribulation (Matt. 24:29-31). At this time He will judge all people (Matt. 25:31-46). When the believers are raised, death is destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26, 51-57). This destruction of death occurs after the so-called "millennium" (Rev. 20:11-15). This indicates that the "rapture" occurs after the symbolical 1000 years of Revelation 20.

    e. The Final Judgment

    The Scriptures teach that there will be one final judgment day which will take place at Christ's second advent at the end of human history it. (Matt. 13:40-43; 25:31-32; 2 Pet. 3:7; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Zephaniah 1; Isaiah 24-27). This last day is referred to as "the day of judgment" (Matt. 11:22), "that day" (Matt. 7:22; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:8; Isaiah 24-27, Zephaniah 1), and the "day of wrath" (Rom. 2:5; Zeph. 1:15). There is nothing in these ill: texts that would support the premillennialist view that there will be two, loci three, or more judgments separated by periods of time, or one long, drawn-out trial.

    The final judgment of the world has been committed by the Father to the Son. He has been appointed the final Judge (Rom. 14:10; John 5:22; Acts 17:31; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1, 8; Acts 10:42; Rom. 2:16; Matt. 25:31-32; Rev. 19:15).[37] That Christ will be the Judge is good news, since He is the one Who died and rose again for the salvation of all. Those who fill are clothed in His righteousness will meet Him as the Savior, whereas those who rely on their own righteousness will meet Him as their condemning Judge.

    f. The New Creation

    When Christ returns, God will create new heavens and a new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). The Scriptures indicate that a continuity and a discontinuity will exist between the present world and the new world, just as there is a continuity and discontinuity between the Christian's present body and the resurrection body.

    The future new creation will in some sense involve the present creation and will be the culmination of Christ's redemptive work.[38] Rom. 8:19-23 speaks of creation as waiting with eager longing and groaning in travail for the time when it will be set free from its bondage to decay. One of the results of Adam's fall is that the ground is cursed and brings forth thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17- 18). Just as human beings who return to dust at death will one day be raised, so creation itself will be set free from its bondage: "But the same continuity that makes the body of the future one with our present body connects the new unsullied world of God with the world we know, the world whose frustrated beauty makes us marvel still, whose futile workings still can testify to Him who once said 'Very good!' and will again say 'Very good!' to all His hands have made."[39] As noted earlier, the promised land of Canaan and the city of Jerusalem prefigured the Promised Land and the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Rom. 4:13; Heb. 3:11-4:11; 11:8-10, 13-16; 13:14; Gal. 4:26).

    The Scriptures describe the new creation in terms similar to these Old Testament realities. Isaiah pictures it as a new world with vineyards and a perfect harmony even in the animal kingdom (65:17- 25; cf. 11:6-9). Joel and Amos picture it as a rich land flowing with wine and milk (Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-14). Ezekiel portrays it as a land made alive with living water (47:1-12). John speaks of it in terms of a new Garden of Eden (Rev. 22:1-4), and as a new Jerusalem made of precious jewels (Rev. 21:10-27; cf. Is. 52:1; Ezekiel 40-48). All of these descriptions, of course, are written in poetic and picturesque language whose details should not be interpreted in a literalistic way. However, Paul's discussion in Romans 8 makes it clear that the new creation will in some sense be similar to the present creation. The Christian should not be embarrassed by Scripture's seemingly "earthy" description, nor should the attempt be made to transcend its description on the basis of human reason or a "spiritualization" which scorns our creatureliness.

    Yet, an element of discontinuity will exist between the world as we know it and the future world. The present heavens and earth will "pass away" (Matt. 5:18; 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; 21:33; Rev. 20:11; 21:1). They will grow old and be rolled up like a garment (Heb. 1:10-12; Ps. 102:26-28), and are now being stored up for fire (2 Pet. 3:7). The heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars) will be dissolved by fire (2 Pet. 3:10). The sky will be rolled up like a scroll (Is. 34:4; Rev. 6:14). The mountains and islands will be removed (Rev. 6:14; 16:20). The earth will be desolated and consumed (Zeph. 1:18). "The earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up" (2 Pet. 3:10).

    The new creation consists in a new order of things. Day will be continuous with no more night, nor sun nor moon, since God and the Lamb will be the light and lamp (Rev. 21:23; 22:5; Zech. 14:6-7; Is. 60:19-20). Created ordinances such as marriage and government will cease (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:34-35; 1 Cor. 6:1-11).

    Finally, heaven and earth will be joined in harmony as the place of His presence. This is the point of Rev. 3:12 and 21:2-3, which picture the heavenly Jerusalem coming down. Now human beings will be in a perfect relationship with God, seeing Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

    g. Eternal Damnation

    In both "body and soul" unbelievers will suffer eternal separation and condemnation in hell (Matt 18:8; 25:46; Mark 9:43; John 3:36; 2 Thess. 1:9; Jude 13; Rev. 14:11).[40] Indescribable torment will be experienced consciously, the degree determined by the nature of the sins to be punished (Matt. 11:20-24; 23:15; Luke 12:47-48).

    Hell is pictured as a place, spatially undesignated, of unquenchable fire where people will weep and gnash their teeth (Matt. 5:22; 13:41-42; 18:8-9; 25:30; Mark 9:43; Luke 16:23-24; Rev. 14:10-11). It is a place of outer darkness (Matt 8:12; 25:30; 2 Pet. 2:17; Jude 13), a lake that burns with fire and sulfur (Rev. 21:8), and a place where men will drink the cup, of God's wrath, a metaphor commonly used in the Old Testament (Obadiah 16; Ps. 11:6; 75:8; Is. 51:17, 22; Rev. 14:10; 16:19).[41] Eternal damnation consists in everlasting exclusion from communion with God. (Matt. 8:12; 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9), a state in which the full force of God's wrath will be experienced (Rom. 2:5, 8). Unbelievers are already in this state of damnation, which will be fully manifested at Christ's second advent (John 3:18, 36; Rom. 1:18). "One thing is sure, hell contains no atheists, because the damned actually experience God as the righteous Judge."[42]

    The cause of eternal damnation is man's refusal to believe in Christ's atoning work (John 3:18, 36). Where forgiveness for Christ's sake is not received, the sinner is condemned (Ezek. 18:20; Gal. 5:19- 21; Eph. 5:6; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). This Scriptural teaching is the strongest form of the Law possible and is intended to lead the sinner to repentance, to warn against unbelief and carnal security so that the person might be saved. Since Christians are still sinners, this threat of the Law should be preached among them also. It should not be weakened by the substitution of other ideas on the basis of human reason, such as the annihilation of the wicked, the possibility of a purgatory after death, universalism, and the possibility of the conversion of those living who are not "raptured."[43]

    h. Eternal Life

    In "body and soul," and in everlasting joy, believers will see God as He is--which is the essence of eternal life (1 John 3:2). To be sure, the believer already "has eternal life" (John 3:36) and thus is in a right relationship with God through faith in Christ. Yet in this life the believer knows God only through His Word, that is, mediately. When Christ returns, then God will be known perfectly and seen face to face (1 Cor. 13:8-12; 1 John 3:2; Rev. 22:4). The hope of eternal life springs from faith in the Gospel of the God of hope (Rom. 15:13).

    Eternal life is pictured in the Scriptures as a state of never-ending "blessedness." This means, on the one hand, that Christians will live forever in perfect freedom from sin, death, and every evil (Is. 25:8; 49:10; 1 Cor. 15:26, 55-57; Rev. 2:7, 11; 20:14; 21:4). At the same time, they will experience the unending joy of being with God in the new heavens and new earth (e.g., Revelation 21-22; Ps. 16:11). Forever eliminated is the possibility of falling away from God. This blessedness will bring with it the joy of being in eternal communion with fellow believers, whom we have reason to believe we shall recognize (cf. Matt. 17:3). And, there will be no limitations or degrees attached to the enjoyment of the happiness to be experienced, though there will be degrees of glory corresponding to differences of work and fidelity here on earth, producing praise to God but no envy (see 2 Cor. 9:6; Matt. 20:23).

    The unmerited grace of God in Christ alone, not the believer's works or even faith itself, is the cause of eternal life (Eph. 2:8-9). Only those who in this life believe in Christ and His saving work become the recipients and possessors of the gift of life. All forms of work righteousness must be declared contrary to the Scriptural Gospel of God's unmerited grace.

    What the Scriptures reveal concerning eternal life is intended to serve as an incentive to people to believe in the Gospel (John 20:31), as well as to persevere in the faith in the midst of trials and persecution (Matt. 5:12; Rom. 8:37-39; 13:11-14; 2 Tim. 1:12; Heb. 13:13-16; 1 Pet. 1:6 9; 2 Pet 3:13-14; Rev. 2:10). The church is also moved to carry out the Great Commission in earnest (Matt. 28:18- 20). The Christian doctrine of eschatology should always be taught and emphasized in the church with this practical concern in mind.

C. Contested Texts: Romans 11:25-27 and Revelation 20

A survey of the literature today which attempts to present the Biblical basis for a millennialist eschatology indicates that certain texts are pivotal for this system of thought. In fact, oftentimes these texts, however difficult for the modern reader, are themselves employed as an interpretive device to read into other texts meanings which were never intended by the Biblical writers. Because they are so central to millennialist doctrine, Rom. 11:25-27 and Revelation 20 are among those which deserve to be singled out for more extended commentary. (See Appendix II for a discussion of other contested passages.)

1. Romans 11:25-27

Among New Testament scholars, differing opinions exist regarding the precise interpretation of these verses, especially the meaning of the phrase "and so all Israel will be saved" (v. 26). Those who hold to a millennialist eschatology find support for some kind of mass conversion of the Jews prior to the day of judgment, while others reject this view on the grounds that it reduces the Pauline concept of "Israel" as a spiritual reality, largely if not entirely, to a political phenomenon. The varying interpretations of this text generally fall into one of the following four categories:

    1. The whole Jewish nation, including every individual Jew, will be converted in the future.[44]

    2. The Jewish nation as a whole, but not necessarily every individual Jew, will be converted in the future or at Christ's second advent.[45]

    3. All the elect from among the Jews will be saved throughout history.[46]

    4. All the elect, both Jews and Gentiles, will be saved throughout history.[47]

The first two views stand in conflict with Paul's basic line of argumentation in Romans 9-11. The apostle begins his discussion with the assertion that not all Jews by race can be called "Israel," but only those who believe the promise--which was fulfilled in Christ (cf. 2:28-29; 9:6- 8, 27; Gal. 3:7). Paul states that Jews, "if they do not persist in their unbelief," will be saved (11:23), and are in fact being saved "now" (11:31).[48] The apostle recognizes that not all Jews will be saved (9:27; 11:14). He would hardly contradict himself in 11:26 by teaching that all Jews or the Jewish nation as such or as a whole will be saved in the future or at Christ's second advent.

The third interpretation merits attention for the following reasons advanced by W. Hendriksen and A. Hoekema. They argue that Paul uses the term Israel throughout Romans 9-11 (including 11:26) to refer to Jews in distinction from the Gentiles. However, they understand all Israel in 11:26 as referring to the totality of the elect among Israel (i.e., true Israelites from among the Jews; 9:26), not to the entire Jewish nation. They maintain that Paul makes no distinction in operation between the gathering of the fullness of the Gentiles and the gathering throughout history of all true Israelites. This interpretation views the salvation of the full number of Gentiles, which is occurring between Christ's first and second coming, as God's operation of grafting non Jews onto the one olive tree (ie., "Israel"). The salvation of all Israel is viewed as God's operation throughout history, between the call of Abraham and Christ's second coming, not as some formal conversion of the Jewish nation at the second coming of Christ. "All Israel, therefore, differs from the elect remnant spoken of in 11:5, but only as the sum total of all the remnants throughout history."[49]

For the reasons given above in the evaluation of the first two interpretations, however, the fourth option seems most probable. The apostle plainly states that "not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel" (9:6). The "children of the promise," not the "children of the flesh" (the national Israel), are God's children (9:8). If Israel refers merely to Jews as a nation, then this distinction is removed. However, if Israel refers to "children of the promise," then the distinction is maintained and Paul's argument in Romans 9-11 continues--namely, that God's elect, both Jews and Gentiles, will be saved according to His plan in history which has been revealed in the Gospel (the "mystery"). The heirs of the promise are those who believe, Jew and Gentile alike (Romans 4). Thus it is that elsewhere the apostle can refer to the church as "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).

A closer look at Paul's discussion in chap. 11 substantiates the fourth explanation above. In Rom. 11:1 Paul addresses the question whether God has rejected all Jews, not whether He will save all Jews. In vv. 1-10 he answers in the negative. There is even in Paul's day a remnant of believing Jews. In the rest of the chapter, the apostle explains the purpose served by the unbelief of the majority of the Jews. Paradoxically, through their rejection of the Gospel, the Gospel went to the Gentiles (11:11-12, 19, 25, 30). In turn, the salvation of the Gentiles serves to make the unbelieving Jews "jealous," i.e., to incite them to hear the Gospel and also be saved (10:19; 11:11, 13-14, 31).

The mystery revealed in 11:25-27 is that "a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved." The word so means "in this manner," that is, in the way just described, not "then," as if it meant after the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. How will all Israel be saved? The answer is given in v. 25 and is explicated throughout the chapter. The hardening upon part of Israel has allowed the Gospel to go to the Gentiles, and the inclusion of the Gentiles serves to incite the unbelieving Jews to believe the Gospel and thus be saved (regrafted into the one tree). This process will continue until the end, "until the full number of the Gentiles comes in. " The quote in vv. 26-27 also summarizes this process. Christ came from Zion (the Jews) to the Gentiles (cf. John 4:22; Acts 1:8), and He will forgive the sins also of the Jews "if they do not persist in their unbelief" (11:23). Verse 26b is not referring to Christ's second advent but to His first advent.

In summary, "all Israel" consists of the groups mentioned in v. 25, the believing part of the Jews and the "full number of the Gentiles." "All Israel" is the whole olive tree consisting of the natural branches (Jews who believed), the wild olive branches (Gentiles who believe), and the regrafted branches (Jews who will believe). These constitute the "all" in verse 32.[50] "All Israel" is made up of "every one who calls upon the name of the Lord" (10:13), the elect of the Jews and Gentiles, the "New Israel" (Rom. 4:11-12, 16; 9:24; Gal. 3:26-29; 6:15-16).

The dispensationalist view that Jews will be converted after the "rapture" of the church posits a second chance for conversion after Christ's second advent, and is therefore contrary to the Scriptural Gospel. Moreover, the view that Jews will be converted instantaneously at Christ's second advent contradicts the order of salvation which Scripture reveals, according to which the Holy Spirit creates faith only through the means of grace in the present. It has also been suggested that Jews will automatically be saved at Christ's second advent without a conversion. All three of these views offer a false hope and are dangerous to the salvation of people. Rejecting such empty and illusory promises, the church ought to make every effort to reach Jews also with the proclamation of Law and Gospel as did the apostle Paul, and to do so without delay (Rom. 11:13-14;1 Cor. 9:19-20).


Christians recognize with appreciation the role of the Jews in saving history. "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22), and the New Testament testifies that this salvation was accomplished through the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ born of David's line. The apostle Paul argues that there is a sense in which Jews even occupy a position of special privilege, for "they are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ" (Rom. 9:4-5). Indeed, Gentile Christians should not boast, but rather ought to thank God that they as "wild olive branch[es]" are grafted into the "cultivated olive tree" by God's grace (Rom. 11:17-24). Therefore, anti-semitism in every form should be rejected by Christians and in its place a loving regard for the Jewish people should characterize the church's attitude.[53] This is to say nothing of the gratitude owed Jews (for their contributions to civilization and society throughout history), as well as understanding and sympathy (for losses and sufferings they have endured).

However difficult it may be for some Jews to understand, Christian love constrains the church to share the Gospel of salvation with them. Martin Luther, in his last sermon, said concerning the attitude if of Christians toward the Jewish people, "We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord."[54] Christians believe that there is still hope for the unbelieving Jews. "For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable," Paul reminds his readers (Rom. 11:29). God still offers them salvation through the Gospel. Therefore, the church should continue to share the Gospel with them (Rom. 1:16),for it is the only means by which they may be saved (Acts 4:12).[55] Believing Jews, together with Gentiles, constitute the New Israel. In Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek" (Gal. 3:28).

In speaking of the place of Jews within saving history, the Scriptures do not ascribe a political fulfillment to Old Testament texts which deal with the future of "Israel." The modern Israeli state is not the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The view of an earthly millennium with the temple rebuilt cannot be substantiated. Quite simply, the Scriptures are silent regarding modern political events in the Middle East and any Jewish right to the land there. Judgments concerning such matters are therefore not theological questions.

2. Revelation 20[56]

The book of Revelation was written by John, who was exiled on the island of Patmos because of persecution (1:9), probably during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian about A.D. 95. The purpose of the book is to strengthen the churches in Asia Minor in their trials, to assure them of their victory in Christ who is Lord over all evil powers now assailing the world, and to increase in them true hope in Christ who will come in glory for them.

The book is written in apocalyptic language and therefore, as noted earlier, must not be interpreted literally. Sometimes John gives the interpretation of the symbolical elements in a vision (e.g., 1:20). At other times he does not. Usually the apostle's symbols are derived from the Old Testament so that one must be aware of their Old Testament background to understand his intention. In general, the principle should be followed that Revelation must be interpreted in the light of other clear, non- figurative parts of Scripture rather than the reverse.

A recognition of the repetitious character of chaps. 6-20 has a significant bearing on how certain key texts are interpreted. John's prophecy concerns the things that will occur from Christ's ascension (chap. 5) to Christ's second advent. His prophecy is structured according to several repeating cycles which are parallel to each other. Each cycle describes the same period of time, from Christ's ascension to His second advent, but with differing emphases. These cycles consist of three earthly views (seven seals, 6:1-8:5; seven trumpets, 8:6-11:19; seven bowls, 15:1-16:21) and two cosmic views (12:1-14:20; 20:1-15). That Revelation has this recapitulating character can be seen from the fact that the end of history is described five times with key features repeated:

    6:12-17, sixth seal: earthquake, every mountain and island is removed; great day of wrath has come

    11:15-19, seventh trumpet: the wrath came; time for the dead to be judged; lightning, voices, thunder, earthquake, hail

    14:14-20, the final harvest: the wrath of God

    16:17-21, seventh bowl: "It is done!"; lightning, noises, thunder, earthquake; God's wrath; every island and mountain fled

    20:11-15, hail, great white throne judgment; earth and sky fled away; dead were judged

The studied arrangement of John's revelation outlined here has important implications for understanding chap. 20. Chapter 20 is parallel to 12:1- 14:20, both of which begin with Satan's defeat and end with judgment day. Chapter 20 summarizes history from Christ's first advent to His second, but it says nothing about the Jewish temple, people, or land. Rather, 20:1- 3 states that Satan is bound for 1000 years in a bottomless pit. If we allow the non-figurative parts of Scripture to help us interpret this passage, we see that this binding took place at Christ's earthly life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Satan was cast out, judged and defeated at Christ's first advent (John 12:31; 16:11; 1 John 3:8; Luke 10:18; Heb. 2:14). The reference to "binding" Satan (deo) occurs only in Matt. 12:24-29 and Mark 3:22-27, where it refers to Christ's first advent (cf. Luke 11:15-22). This "binding" of Satan is parallel to Rev. 12:7-13 where he is cast out of heaven and no longer allowed to accuse the saints as He did in Old Testament times (Zechariah 3; Job 1-2).

The text also says that he is bound in the sense "that he should deceive the nations no more" (20:3). He is no longer able to deceive the nations and prevent them from hearing the Gospel, as was the case in general in Old Testament times (cf. Acts 14:16; Matt. 16:18). He is still "a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8), but he cannot prevent the Gospel from going to the ends of the earth (Matt. 24:14).

As is true generally with apocalyptic literature, numbers are symbolical, representing concepts (e.g., Rev. 5:6). The number 1000 represents completeness (10 [to the 3rd power]). It indicates the complete time period for the church to carry out its worldwide mission, not a literal 1000 year reign of Christ on earth.

In Rev. 20:4-6 John mentions the "first resurrection. " Again, the rest of Scripture helps us to define this phrase. The reference is no doubt to conversion, that is, being raised with Christ in baptism (cf. Rom. 6:2-5,11; Col. 2:12-13; John 5:24; 11:25-26; 1 John 3:14; 5:12; Rev. 3:1; Eph. 2:1-6). Those who share in this "resurrection" are no longer under the power of eternal death (20:6, 14-15). Rather, they are "priests of God and of Christ" (20:6; cf. 1:6; 5:10).[57] All Christians "who had not worshiped the beast or its image" already reign with Christ, a rule which does not end at temporal death nor will it ever end (20:4; cf. 5:10; 22:5; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 2:6).

Revelation 20:7-10 describes in pictorial language the final intensified persecution of the church by the anti-Christian world (cf. Dan. 12:1; Matt. 24:21-22). Satan will be loosed for a "little season" to deceive the nations and lead them in an attack on the "camp of the saints and the beloved city," i.e., the church (20:9; cf. 21:2, 9). This final persecution against the church is also mentioned elsewhere in Revelation, usually pictured as a battle (9:13-19; 16:12-16; 19:19). Armageddon, the "hill of Megiddo" in Hebrew, is the specific term used for this battle and, as noted earlier, an allusion to the place where several famous battles occurred in the Old Testament (16:16). The term, however, does not refer to a nuclear war as some have opined but to an intensified persecution against the church. Nor does the apostle understand "Gog and Magog" to be representatives of modern political states (20:8). Drawing his imagery from Ezekiel 38-39, John is referring to the whole anti-Christian world.

Whether or not the church is already in Satan's "little season" is difficult to answer. Yet, one can certainly see that the anti-Christian world is persecuting the church today and that the church cannot carry out its mission in various parts of the world as freely as it once could. Although there have indeed been periods of severe persecution in the past, an intensification of the stress of the approaching end of history might well be upon us.

Chapter 20 ends with a picture of the final judgment of all as in 11:18 and 14:14-20. Those whose names are not found in the Book of Life are thrown into "the lake of fire" (20:15).

John's message in chapter 20 is a very practical one for the church. He calls the church to endure faithfully in the midst of increasing persecution (cf. 13:10; 14:12), at the same time assuring Christians that they are already more than conquerors and reign with Christ by faith.

This text was converted to ASCII text for Project Wittenberg by Mark A. French and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or suggestions to:

Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

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