Friday, February 17, 2017

The Binding of Satan

“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 (Rev. 20:1-3).”

We discussed previously that in the interpretation of John’s Apocalypse, the exegete must not ignore the visionary and symbolic meaning of the apostle’s writings. The apocalyptic genre of Revelation demands that, in order to understand John’s vision in Revelation 20:1-6 properly, the exegete must interpret the highly symbolical meaning of the apostle’s visions with the light given in the rest of Scripture, as well as by comparing the usage of similar symbols in other visions within the Book of Revelation.

Dispensational Premillennialists, such as Reverend Charles Seet of Life Bible Presbyterian Church in Singapore, often charge Amillennialists with not adhering to a literalistic hermeneutics in their interpretation of Revelation. Criticizing the non-premillennial understanding of Revelation 20:1-3, Seet writes:

“The angel mentioned in 20:1 is Christ Himself [according to the non-premillennial understanding]. His coming down from heaven is interpreted as His incarnation into this world. His act of binding Satan and casting him into the bottomless pit mentioned in 20:2-3, is interpreted as His death on the cross which removed Satan’s power over believers. . . . As you can see, those who do not interpret this passage literally, take quite a lot of liberties with the text, making it mean things that are not natural to the plain sense of the text. The plain meaning of the text is therefore ignored in favour of a hidden, cryptic message, which only those who are qualified can understand.”[1]

Seet’s paper “Premillennialism,” especially his aforementioned comments, fails to do justice to the principles behind Reformed hermeneutics, and the amillennial understand of Revelation 20:1-3. Most contemporary amillennial interpreters do not understand the angel in 20:1 as depicting Christ. They neither perceive the binding of Satan as a restriction of his powers over believers, nor do they prefer a “hidden, cryptic message” which only the cognoscenti can decode.

Non-premillennial interpreters recognize the symbolic usage of many terms in Revelation, the meaning of which goes beyond the linguistic and referential levels of communication. In Revelation 20:1-3, “John sees an angel coming down out of heaven. He has a key with which he is going to lock the abyss (cf. 9:1, 11). This abyss is a deep hole provided with a shaft (9:1), and with a lid. This lid can be unlocked (9:2), locked (20:3), and even sealed (20:3). Bear in mind, however, that all this is symbolism.”[2]

The absurdity of consistent literalism in the understanding of such a passage is apparent. John is not conveying the notion that an angel with a literal key, which fits into a keyhole, will open a literal “bottomless pit” on Earth. There can be no doubt that the apostle is not referring to an abyss with a literal lid, which can be locked and unlocked.

The angel, the dragon, the chain, the key and the abyss all have symbolical meanings, and such terms should not be understood literally. The identity of the serpent is given for us in the text of Revelation 20:2, which describes “the dragon, that old serpent” as “the Devil, and Satan.” It is unmistakable that the term “dragon” does not refer to a literal dragon or dinosaur, and that the word “serpent” does not represent a literal viper or cobra. This serves to emphasize the fact that terms used in John’s visions contain symbolical connotations, and such words must be carefully interpreted against the backdrop of previous visions where similar symbols were used. Crass literalism will only mutilate the intended meaning of the text.

The Angel

Although some postmillennial interpreters have attempted to understand the descending angel (Revelation 20:1) as representing Christ,[3] amillennial exegetes such as Beale have, in view of the usage of “angel” in other visions recorded in the Book of Revelation, interpreted the meaning of “angel” differently. Beale writes:

“In striking similarity to 20:1, both 6:8 and 9:1-2 portray good angels (the fourth living creature and the fifth trumpet angel) as Christ’s intermediaries executing his authority over demonic beings in the realm of the dead.”[4]

On account of the visions in Revelation 6:8 and 9:1-2 which describe angels exercising Christ’s authority over death, Hades and even demonic powers, Beale identifies the angel in 20:1 as Christ’s intermediary. Beale explains that “Christ’s sovereignty over the sphere of the dead is . . . amplified in [Revelation] ch. 6, where his opening of the fourth seal is a depiction of his ultimate authority during the age between his first and second comings over the subordinate Satanic powers of “death and Hades” (6:8). Likewise, “the key of the shaft of the abyss” in ch. 9 represents God’s ultimate authority over demonic powers dwelling in the realm of death (9: 1-2), whose deceiving powers are limited by God so that they cannot affect those who “have the seal of God” (9:4).”[5]

The angel in 20:1 has “the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.” The key to the abyss or bottomless pit is likely to be similar to the “keys of hell and of death” mentioned in Revelation 1:18. By virtue of His resurrection, Christ now exercises sovereignty over death itself, including the realm of the dead and Hades. Considering the symbolic connotation of this “key of the bottomless pit,” the context of the vision suggests that the descending “angel” is an angelic intermediary of Christ executing His authority over the demonic realm, the sphere of the dead and Hades.

The Abyss

The devil was bound with a great chain and cast into the abyss - a bottomless pit - according to Revelation 20:1-3. It is apparent that the word “abyss” does not refer to a specific geographical location on earth, and the great chain is not a titanium shackle used to bind gargantuan creatures. As a correct understanding of these symbols is necessary for the interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3, it behooves us to examine carefully the meaning of these terms within the context of John’s vision. Charles Alexander reminds us that “Satan is bound by no material ‘chain’ nor is he sealed in any celestial prison. There is no geography in the eternal world, no pits, no bottomless abysses, nothing like this in a sphere where all is spiritual. Prisons and pits are earthly terms used to denote restriction, restraint, limitation of powers, the frustration and confinement of evil.”[6]

It is clear that the devil was not cast out of a physical place in some distant land, and subsequently thrown into an actual bottomless ditch on earth. In conjunction with the usage of the word “abyss” in Revelation 9, the abyss is likely to be symbolic of death and Hades. “It is wrong to picture the devil being “cast out of the earth” in some spatial sense, so that he is no longer present on earth. This would be to take “abyss” in an overly literalistic manner. Rather, like “heaven” throughout the Apocalypse, it represents a spiritual dimension existing alongside and in the midst of the earthly, not above it or below.”[7]

The aforementioned understanding is particularly important when we realize that premillennial interpreters insist upon a more literal reading of the word “abyss.” Some even argue that Satan cannot be prowling around like a lion (1 Pet. 5:8) if he is indeed bound with chains in the abyss. Nevertheless, we ought to recognize that the abyss refers to a spiritual reality rather than a spatial location, and in so doing, avoid literalistic misinterpretations.

According to Beale, “the abyss is one of the various metaphors representing the spiritual sphere in which the devil and his accomplices operate. [Revelation] 9:1-11 portrays an angelic being (probably the devil) using “the key of the shaft of the abyss,” opening the abyss, and releasing demonic creatures so that they torment unbelievers on earth.”[8] If we were to understand the abyss as the sphere wherein the devil and his minions operate, the binding of Satan within the abyss does not necessitate the removal of the devil from amongst the earthly dimensions, or the total cessation of satanic activities within the realm of humans.

The One Thousand Years

There are good reasons for understanding the one “thousand years” of Revelation 20:1-6 figuratively. Primarily, numbers are often used symbolically in the Book of Revelation; inter alia, the physical dimensions of the New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21:9-27 serve as an example.[9]

Amillennialist Anthony Hoekema observes that “since the number ten signifies completeness, and since a thousand is ten to the third power, we may think of the expression “a thousand years” as standing for a complete period, a very long period of indeterminate length.”[10] Reformed exegetes, including amillennialists and postmillennialists, generally accept the non-literal understanding of the thousand years in Revelation 20:1-6.

It is notable that the premillennial interpreter, George Eldon Ladd, makes a similar remark:

“It is difficult to understand the thousand years for which he was bound with strict literalness in view of the obvious symbolic use of numbers in the Revelation. A thousand equals the third power of ten – an ideal time. While we need not take it literally, the thousand years does appear to represent a real period of time, however long or short it may be.”[11]

We remember that Revelation chapters 20 to 22 constitute the last of the seven sections of John’s apocalypse.[12] Considering the evidence for recapitulation discussed in the previous chapter, we understand that Revelation 20:1 does not follow Revelation 19:21 chronologically. The twentieth chapter of Revelation brings us back to the beginning of the New Testament epoch, which follows the First Advent of Christ. With the incarnation of Christ begins the defeat, or the binding, of Satan. The one thousand years indicates an indeterminate period of time between Christ’s First and Second Advent. We shall discuss the meaning of “the binding of Satan” later in this chapter, which will further elucidate the meaning of the thousand years.

There is also clear contextual evidence to support a non-literal understanding of the one thousand years. John’s figurative usage of many words such as serpent, chain and abyss in the immediate context points toward a symbolical interpretation of the one thousand years in Revelation 20:1-6.

In Revelation 2:10, we read of certain saints having to suffer tribulation for ten days.  There is a suggestion that the temporal suffering of the saints for a duration of ten days, which is obviously a figurative number signifying a complete or ideal period of time, will bring with it the reward of millennial glory in the intermediate state and the afterlife. Here we have another example of the usage of the number ten and its multiples in the symbolical representation of completeness. Meredith Kline explains its theological significance:

“There is also the intriguing possibility of a relationship between the numerical symbols of the ten days of tribulation (2:10) and the thousand years of reigning (20:4, 6). The intensifying of ten to a thousand together with the lengthening of days to years might then suggest that the present momentary tribulation works a far greater glory to be experienced even in the intermediate state as the immediate issue of martyrdom.”[13]

The concept of reward with the enduring of temporal, and a comparatively short duration of, suffering is found in Peter’s exhortation,

“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. . . . Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 1:6-7, 4:12-13).”

Indeed, the tribulation period of ten days (Rev. 2:10) is dwarfed by the duration of the millennial reign. We must conclude that both the number ten and its multiple, one thousand, are symbolic representations of periods of time, and that the exact duration of these periods cannot be confined to the numerical values themselves.

The Binding of Satan

While it is now apparent that the thousand years begin with the binding of Satan, we must begin to unravel the meaning inherent in John’s vision as a whole. David Aune points out that “the use of chains to bind Satan and his host is an apocalyptic motif.”[14] While this motif signifies a certain restriction of demonic activity, there is much debate as to the extent of such a restriction. Furthermore, the understanding of what the chain connotes has to be studied against the entire motif, that is, the meaning of the binding of Satan.

Amillennialists understand that the millennium is the present gospel age, and not a future reality. It is neither an earthly Messianic kingdom ushered in by the Parousia of Christ as taught by premillennialists, nor a golden age established with the preaching of the gospel according to Postmillennialism. The millennium, properly understood, is a spiritual reality enjoyed by saints in the present age.[15]

The debate regarding the meaning of the binding of Satan concerns the presence of evil in the present gospel age. If, indeed, the millennium is what Amillennialists perceive it to be - a present reality - how do we explain the presence of satanic activity in the world today? Does the binding of Satan mean a complete cessation of satanic or evil activity on earth? Grant Osborne rightly observes that “the primary debate here is the extent to which this binding of Satan with respect to the nations is intended. Is this a total or a partial cessation of demonic activity? This is at the heart of the premillennial-amillennial debate.”[16]

Premillennialists often criticize Amillennialists for interpreting the binding of Satan as a present reality, but such criticisms are usually unjustified. Harold Hoehner, the professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, writes:

“However, to say that Satan is bound in the present age contradicts several NT passages. In the time of Christ, even after Luke 10:18, Satan entered Judas in connection with his betrayal of Jesus (Luke 22:3; John 13:27), and he tried to control Peter (Luke 22:31). Christians are warned to be on the alert, for the devil is prowling like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). This activity is seen when Ananias’s heart was filled with Satan (Acts 5:3). Satan is the one who blinds unbelievers to the gospel (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; Eph. 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:26). Satan also hindered Paul from going to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:18). Furthermore, Christians are alerted to Satan’s temptations (1 Cor. 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14). It seems that Satan has not been bound since Christ’s first advent.”[17]

Before proceeding to a detailed study of the meaning of the binding of Satan, it suffices now to look at a general amillennial understanding of this motif. There is New Testament evidence that Satan was in some sense bound with the First Advent of Christ.[18]

With the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, Satan no longer possesses the same power and authority he once had. According to Revelation 20:3, Satan is bound so “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.” The obvious purpose of this binding is that, he should no longer deceive the heathen nations by preventing the spread of the gospel until the millennium has transpired. There is no indication within the text of 20:1-6 that the devil is bound such that he cannot perform any of his mischief. Hendricksen, using an interesting analogy of a dog tied with a chain, elucidates further:

“A dog securely bound with a long and heavy chain can do great damage within the circle of his imprisonment. Outside that circle, however, the animal can do no damage and can hurt no-one. Thus also Revelation 20:1-3 teaches us that Satan’s power is curbed and his influence curtailed with respect to one definite sphere of activity: ‘that he should deceive the nations no more’. The devil can do much, indeed, during this present period of one thousand years.  But there is one thing which, during this period, he cannot do. With respect to this one thing he is definitely and securely bound. He cannot destroy the Church as a mighty missionary organization heralding the gospel to all the nations. He cannot do that until the thousand years are finished.”[19]

Literalists allege that Satan cannot be bound in this present gospel age on account of the demonic activity and evil so prevalent in the world today. But the question is this, “Should we interpret the vision of John in Revelation 20:1-3 in a strictly literal sense, or should we acknowledge the symbolical elements inherent in John’s visions, and attempt to understand the visions using the analogy of faith?” Revelation 20:1-3, understood with a literalistic hermeneutic, would convey to us the message that an angel descends from heaven with a literal key, which he subsequently uses to open a bottomless hole in the ground. He then binds the devil with a literal chain, and casts him into the abyss. Having been bound, the devil struggles in vain within the confinement of the thick, strong chain. Complete with horns and fangs, the devil sneers at the angel as he knows that he must be released after the literal one thousand years are over. But for now, he cannot communicate directly with the nations of the world so as to deceive them with his lies. According to literalists, the devil is so tightly bound that he cannot wriggle himself free from those huge chains, and harm the nations with his horns and fangs. But Amillennialists contend that this vision cannot be understood literally.

The binding of Satan is an apocalyptic motif which conveys to the readers a spiritual reality rather than a physical, reality. Taking 20:1-3 literally, Satan is indeed bound with huge strong chains which may completely restrict his physical movements and prevent him from prowling around like a lion (1 Pet. 5:8). John, however, is not trying to inform his readers that the devil is merely a brobdingnagian creature restricted with titanium chains for a thousand years. The vision is a symbolic picture of a present spiritual reality, and it means much more than having the devil trapped in a hole on planet earth, totally incapable of any wickedness. Milton Terry explains:

“This symbolic picture of the binding of Satan has been greatly misapprehended by supposing it to imply the cessation of all evil among men. It is too readily assumed that if Satan be shut up and sealed in the abyss the angels of Satan and wicked men can have no more place in the world - a most unauthorized assumption. The passage presents only one phase of the triumph of Christ over all his enemies. The final defeat of the devil is described in verse 10, and the Messiah’s triumph over the last enemy, Death and Hades, is told in verses 13 and 14. Hence it is of the first importance to a correct interpretation of these closely related visions to note that they constitute a series of victories which run through the entire period called symbolically a thousand years.”[20]

Indeed, with the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, His victory over the devil is already sealed, and is an ongoing spiritual reality via the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom.

As discussed previously, the abyss should not be understood as a literal bottomless hole in the ground. It is the spiritual sphere wherein the devil and his minions function, and it exists alongside and amidst the realm of human activity. Alexander elaborates that “the bottomless pit is a term describing the condition of restraint laid upon Satan as a consequence of his overthrow at Calvary. Satan can at one and the same time be in prison and at large; bound with a great chain, yet fearsomely active.”[21]

The abyss, or the sphere of the demonic, is no longer under the jurisdiction of the devil. Christ declares, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death (Rev. 1:18).” With His death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus now reigns over the sphere of demons. The devil is thus bound, and this “restraint of Satan is a direct result of Christ’s resurrection. If so, the binding, expulsion, and fall of Satan can be seen in other NT passages that affirm with the same terms (“bind,” “cast,” etc.) that the decisive defeat of the devil occurred at Christ’s death and resurrection (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 10:17-19; John 12:31-33; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). More precisely, the binding was probably inaugurated during Christ’s ministry, which is more the focus of texts such as Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; and Luke 10:17-19.”[22]

Satan Bound with the First Advent of Christ

Is there New Testament evidence to suggest that the devil is bound with the First Advent of Christ? We recall reading in the Gospel of Matthew that the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons with the power of Satan. Our Lord answered them, “Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house (Matt. 12:29).”

The Greek word used by John in Revelation 20:2 translated as “bound,” is the same word used here by Matthew (δέω) for “bind.” In Matthew 12:29, Jesus was explaining to the Pharisees that since the kingdom of God had arrived, demons were being cast out, and the gospel was being preached to all the nations. Satan’s grip over the pagan nations was broken with the coming of God’s kingdom. The devil can no longer prevent these nations from learning about the truth of God’s Word. Blomberg writes:

“One cannot attack a well-protected home without first rendering the guard powerless. So, too, Jesus must first bind Satan before he can plunder (carry off or rob, from the same verb stem as “lay hold of” in 11:12) his house, i.e., cast out his demons. The exorcisms demonstrate that God in Christ is decisively defeating the devil. . . . Satan is in his death throes. His last flurry of activity, to change the metaphor, is like that of a chicken (or perhaps better a snake!) with its head cut off.”[23]

In Luke 10:17-18, when the seventy disciples returned from their mission trip, Jesus exclaimed to them that he “beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” This, of course, does not mean that Jesus saw the literal fall of Satan from heaven onto the ground of planet Earth. Jesus was saying that, with the missionary activities and preaching of the disciples, Satan’s kingdom was being dealt a severe blow. A restriction of the devil’s power or a binding of Satan’s influence over the pagan nations had taken place. Robert Stein notes that “in the exorcisms of the seventy(-two), Jesus saw Satan’s defeat resulting from his coming.”[24]

Satan’s fall or binding, in this case, is associated with the preaching of the seventy disciples. Charles Alexander adds that those words of Jesus were “spoken prophetically in anticipation of the worldwide spread of the gospel after Christ’s ascension to the right hand of power. Before the preaching of the Word, Satan would be cast down from his long heathen reign over the gentile world. Heaven is often used as a symbol of power, and Satan is always falling from heaven wherever the irresistible Word of God is proclaimed.”[25]

In John 12:31-32, Jesus proclaims, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Here, we observe that the verb “cast out” (ἐκβάλλω) is derived from the root word translated “cast” (βάλλω) in Revelation 20:3, “And cast him into the bottomless pit.” With the casting out of Satan, and the lifting up of Christ as He hangs on the cross, all nations indiscriminately will be drawn to the saving grace of God. The gospel is now no longer limited to the Jewish nation, but also preached to all the nations in the world.

As Kistemaker writes in his commentary:

“Since Jesus’ ascension, Satan has been unable to stop the advance of the gospel of salvation. He has been bound and is without authority, while the nations of the world around the globe have received the glad gospel tidings. The Son of God has taken possession of these nations (Ps. 2:7-8) and has deprived Satan of leading them astray during this gospel age. Christ is drawing to himself people from all these nations, and out of them God’s elect will be saved and drawn into his kingdom. These nations receive the light of the world (John 8:12) and are no longer living in darkness and deceit. Satan is unable to check the mission outreach of the church, for he cannot prevent the nations from knowing the Lord.”[26]

The binding of Satan in the Gospels (Matt. 12:26-29; Mark 3:26-27), as well as Christ’s teaching on the fall of Satan as lightning from heaven (Luke 10:18), is consistent with the interpretation that Revelation 20:1-3 signifies the restraint and progressive defeat of the devil in the gospel age. Although Satan is bound, he is still able to harm humans, including members of the Church. However, he can never prevent the spread of the gospel light to the pagan nations of the world.

The Meaning of the Binding of Satan

In the Old Testament times, the nation of Israel was to be the light to its pagan neighbors. But Israel failed miserably when it succumbed to the religions of the heathen nations. Instead of witnessing to the world, Israel became like the world. The pagan nations did not know the truth of God’s revelation, except for the occasional person, family or city. These gentile nations were, generally speaking, under the deception of Satan prior to the First Advent of Christ. However, with the ministry of our Lord Jesus, the kingdom of God is being ushered in. Finally, with the cross and empty tomb, death and resurrection, Christ strikes a decisive victory over Satan. Nothing can prevent the Church from spreading the gospel to the pagan nations, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).”

Paul writes, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Col. 2:14-15).” Christ’s resurrection sealed the defeat of Satan, and the empty tomb guarantees the ultimate end of the devil. This binding of Satan is a progressive activity whereby the preaching of the gospel extends the kingdom of God on earth (Matt. 28:19). Revelation 20:1-3 depicts the restraint of the devil, and how he is prevented from obstructing the progress of the gospel.

Furthermore, when Rev. 20:3 is understood in the context of events described in 20:7-9, there is also a sense whereby Satan is bound so that he cannot deceive the heathen nations to war against the saints in the battle of Armageddon. Hoeksema argues that, “If we take these two passages [Rev. 20:3 and 20:8] in connection with each other, it may be regarded as established, in the first place, that the binding of Satan is limited to certain nations which are called Gog and Magog; and, secondly, that his confinement prevents him from deceiving those nations; and, in the third place, that the deception which by his imprisonment, or the restraint that is put upon him, he is prevented from realizing is (sic) what would otherwise cause these nations to gather for battle against the camp of the saints and the beloved city.”[27]

We have studied earlier in chapter 11 that the battle of Armageddon, which marks the end of the millennium, is described not only in John’s apocalypse (Rev. 19:11-21; 20:7-10), but also in Ezekiel 38-39.[28] According to Aune, “the names Gog and Magog, derived from Ezek 38-39, are generic names for nations hostile to Israel who will unsuccessfully attempt to annihilate the people of God. Yet they will be decisively defeated by rain, hail, fire, and brimstone from heaven (Ezek 38:22).”[29] In the context of Ezekiel 38-39, “Israel here is to be taken, in harmony with all Scripture, in the New Testament sense of the word. The vision of the restored Israel of which Ezekiel 38 and 39 speak has been realized in the church of the new dispensation.”[30] Therefore, we are to understand “Israel” as referring to true, spiritual Israel (the Church) in Ezekiel’s apocalyptic visions. Furthermore, both Hoeksema and Beale identify the hordes in Rev. 20:8 as “antagonistic peoples throughout the earth,” the heathen nations that rebel against God.[31] Beale further reasons that, “the “camp of the saints” is equated with “the beloved city,” which further identifies the oppressed community of 20:9 as the church.”[32] This reflects the understanding that the “oppressed community” in Rev. 20:9 refers to nominal Christendom in its widest sense.

We read in Rev. 20:7-9 that Satan, marshalling the armies of the heathen nations, makes a final attempt at defeating the people of God. But “fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them (Rev. 20:9).” All these events will happen in the eschatological future. In the meantime, Satan is bound by a divine decree, so that he is prevented from accomplishing his diabolical aims. While he is bound, Satan can no longer deceive God’s people en masse, and hinder them from witnessing to the nations. This does not mean that Satan cannot harm the Church, or that the Church is no longer persecuted by the world. Likewise, during the entire period whereby Satan is bound, the devil is unable to deceive the heathen nations to attack “the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city (Rev. 20:9),” or to prevent them from hearing the gospel of grace. This period begins with the First Advent of Christ, and “according to [Revelation] 20:7-9, the end point of the binding occurs immediately before Christ’s final coming.”[33]

In view of this amillennial interpretation of the binding of Satan, the chain (Rev. 20:1) can be understood as “the holy decrees of God.”[34] Alexander considers that “the chain, like the binding, is a figure denoting the restrictive decree of God as in the case of the divine control over the rolling sea: ‘Hitherto shalt thou come and no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.’ Job 38:11.”[35]

As Calvinists, Reformed interpreters ultimately believe that God has decreed the victory of the Church, the salvation of the elect, and the eventual destruction of Satan. Therefore, the chain in Revelation 20:1 can signify the binding of Satan according to God’s decrees. This harmonizes well with the understanding of the binding of Satan as an apocalyptic motif, which symbolizes the restraining of the devil.


The binding of Satan occurs between the First and Second Advent of Christ, during the gospel age. This is harmonious with the understanding that the millennium of Revelation 20:1-6 does not follow Revelation 19 chronologically. We have discussed the evidence for recapitulation previously, and have seen that chapters 20 to 22 form the last of the seven sections of the book of Revelation. Therefore, Revelation 20 brings us back to the beginning of the gospel age.

The amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20:1-3 is also consistent with 2 Thessalonians 2:6-12, “where Satan is said to be “already at work” in a mysterious way, but nevertheless restrained. Immediately before Christ’s final coming the restraint will be removed so that Satan will unleash “false wonders and . . . all deception,” and then he will be judged along with his followers.”[36]

We read in Revelation 20:3 that Satan must be loosed “a little season” at the end of the thousand years. This is when he will “go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle (Rev. 20:8)” against the “camp of the saints.”

Prior to the Parousia of Christ, there will be a time of great deception according to Revelation 20:3, 7-8. Beale writes,

“But at the end of the age, directly preceding Christ’s return, Satan will again be allowed, for “a little time,” to stop the preaching of the gospel and to draw the curtain of delusion over the nations, especially with the goal of mounting a devastating attack against the people of God, as he did before in Eden, against Israel, and at the cross against Jesus, the true Israel (cf. the use of Ps. 2:1-2 in Acts 4:25-28 and Ps. 2:9 in Rev. 12:5). A lethal attack must be launched against the corporate body of Christ, as earlier against the individual Christ (see further on 11:3-12, esp. 11:1-2, 9).”[37]

In summary, the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 refers to the curtailment of the devil’s power so that he can neither prevent the preaching of the gospel to the heathen nations, nor deceive these nations into attacking the church of Christ on earth. Meanwhile, the elect of God are progressively received into the fold of the Church.

The binding of Satan is, without a doubt, an encouraging certainty for all believers. It ensures that the preaching of the gospel by the Church will be unhindered. Alexander reminds us that “there is a formidable difference between Satan’s activity before and after Calvary. No more is Satan permitted ‘to deceive the nations’ as once he did. He no longer has power to hold the nations fast in the darkness of paganism and ignorance. Instead of the Word of God being confined to one nation on earth, the small nation of Israel, the boundaries of divine grace have been pushed back so that the whole wide world has come under the power and the preaching of the gospel.”[38] Thus, this understanding of the binding of Satan should spur the Church on to labor for the gospel.

The kingdom of God is presently extended via the triumphant Church. Christians ought to derive confidence from the fact that Satan is bound, and that the gospel will ultimately bring salvation to all the elect. The powers of darkness can never prevail, for the devil is already defeated at the cross of Calvary. The final destruction of the devil is decreed (Rev. 20:10), and the Parousia of Christ will bring the sufferings of the saints to an end.

Note concerning abbreviated references: Please refer to previous posts for more details of repeated references

[1] Seet, “Premillennialism,” 99.
[2] Hendricksen, More Than Conquerors, 185.
[3] For example, see David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 499; J. Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971), 194.
[4] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 984.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Charles D. Alexander, Revelation Spiritually Understood (Trelawnyd, Wales: K & M Books, 2001), 494.
[7] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 987.
[8] Ibid., 987-988.
[9] See Beale, The Book of Revelation, 58-64. Also see pp. 1017-1021, where Beale makes a detailed argument for the figurative interpretation of the one thousand years.
[10] Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 227.
[11] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1972), 262.
[12] See Hendricksen, More Than Conquerors, 16-50.
[13] Meredith Kline, “The First Resurrection,” Westminster Theological Journal 37, no. 3 (1975): 373-374.
[14] David E. Aune, Revelation 17-22: Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 1081.
[15] The millennial reign will be discussed further in later posts.
[16] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co, 2002), 702.
[17] Harold W. Hoehner, “Evidence from Revelation 20,” in The Coming Millennial Kingdom: A Case for Premillennial Interpretation, eds. Donald K. Campbell and Jeffrey L. Townsend (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1997), 250. Also see Quek, DAY FIVE: Revelation 19-22, 147-148.
[18] We shall discuss this further in the later portions of this blog post.
[19] Hendricksen, More Than Conquerors, 190.
[20] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Apocalyptics: A Study of the Most Notable Revelations of God and of Christ in the Canonical Scriptures (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1898; reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 449.
[21] Alexander, Revelation Spiritually Understood, 497.
[22] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 985.
[23] Craig Blomberg, The New American Commentary Volume 22: Matthew (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1992), 203.
[24] Robert H. Stein, The New American Commentary Volume 24: Luke (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1992), 310.
[25] Alexander, Revelation Spiritually Understood, 498.
[26] Kistemaker, Exposition of the Book of Revelation, 535-536.
[27] Herman Hoeksema, Behold, He Cometh! An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, 2d ed., ed. Homer C. Hoeksema (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2000), 642.
[28] See the previous blog post on recapitulation.
[29] Aune, Revelation 17-22, 1104.
[30] Hoeksema, Behold, He Cometh, 642.
[31] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 1024. Also see Hoeksema, Behold, He Cometh, 642-643. Hoeksema perceptively identifies Gog and Magog with the heathen nations of the world. He writes, “Around it [i.e. the camp of the saints], on the four quarters of the earth, that is, outside of the pale of history, are nations which remain pagan. Although also from them the elect are gathered into the church, as nations they remain distinctly heathen. Gog and Magog, therefore, are heathen nations in distinction from nominal Christendom.” Hoeksema, Behold, He Cometh, 643.
[32] Ibid., 1027.
[33] Ibid., 985.
[34] Alexander, Revelation Spiritually Understood, 495.
[35] Ibid., 497.
[36] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 989.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Alexander, Revelation Spiritually Understood, 499.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Evidence for Recapitulation in Revelation 20

The Chronological Fallacy

The Book of Revelation is not a historical narrative whereby the reader is able to deduce the chronological sequence of events merely by reading the apocalypse from beginning to end. When we study John’s apocalypse, we discover that the order of the various visions is not according to actual, historical chronology. We recall that William Hendricksen divides the Book of Revelation into seven parallel sections, each of which depicts the current age from different perspectives. The series of visions in Revelation can be likened to different camera angles, each angle providing us with a different view of the same event. This element of repetition is also known as recapitulation.

Denis Johnson concurs that this recapitulation or “repetition in visions sometimes provides a second or third camera angle on the same person, historical event, or institution.”[1] Using the camera angle analogy, Johnson writes, “God rewinds the videotape, in effect, and calls John to view the same drama from a different perspective.”[2] Thus, the various visions unveil in a progressive manner details regarding a certain person, institution or event in actual history.

Although we adopt Hendricksen’s approach of progressive parallelism, we are reminded that “sometimes, however, the repetition that links one vision with another does not mean that the visions refer to the same time period.”[3] In these cases, the same events are referred to, but the time frame may be dissimilar.

Recapitulation is an important factor to consider when understanding Revelation 20:1-6. Premillennialists and Bible Presbyterians understand the events in Revelation 19:11-20:10 as occurring in a chronological sequence. According to Fowler White, Premillennialists “have viewed the visions as an account of events associated with the second coming (19:11–20:3), a subsequent interregnum (20:4–6), and a judgment of Satan and the nations following that interregnum (20:7–10).”[4]

Premillennialists and Bible Presbyterians find the Second Coming of Christ described in Revelation 19:11-16. The millennium described in Revelation 20:4-6, according to Bible Presbyterians, occurs chronologically after the Parousia (Rev. 19:11-21). If this alleged temporal sequence between Revelation 19:11-21 and 20:1-6 is untrue, the entire system of premillennial eschatology collapses.

There is, however, substantial evidence to suggest that Revelation 20:1-6 begins another series of visions, and is not continuous with Revelation 19:11-21. This evidence for a nonsequential temporal relationship between 20:1-6 and 19:11-21 is often ignored by premillennial interpreters.

The Deception of the Nations in Revelation 20:3

In Revelations 20:7-8, we read, “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.” Here, Satan is described as deceiving the nations, so as to gather them to battle against Christ and the saints.

In Revelation 19:19, we read of a similar gathering of the nations against the army of the Most High God, “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.” Clearly, those people who are gathered to fight against Christ are the unbelievers who “had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image (Rev. 19:20).” These unbelievers form the “nations,” which are mentioned as being deceived by the Devil in Revelation 20:8.

The recurring motif of deception of the nations is reiterated in Revelation 16:13-14, “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.” The “great day of God Almighty” is an obvious reference to the Day of the Lord, also known as the Parousia of Christ, when Jesus shall return to judge the wicked (2 Thess. 1:6-10). The language of Revelation 16:12-16, 19:11-21, and 20:7-10 suggests that John was depicting the same event, which is commonly known as the battle of Armageddon. G. K. Beale explains:

“Rev. 16:12-16; 19:19-20; and 20:8 have in common not only the same language for the gathering together of forces for the war (noted above), but also the idea that the gathered forces have been deceived into participating. This enforces the impression that Satan’s deception of the nations in 20:8 “to gather them together for the war” is the same event as the deception of the nations in 16:12-16 and 19:19, where, respectively, demons “gather them together for the war” of Armageddon and “the kings of the earth and their armies” are “gathered together to make war” (the latter in connection with mention of the false prophet’s deceptive activities, though that is not directly stated). And, just as the war of Armageddon in ch. 16 is followed by a description of the destruction of the cosmos (16:17-21), so likewise a vision of the dissolution of the world follows the final battle in 20:7-10, which suggests further the synchronous parallelism of the two segments.”[5]

Another line of evidence suggesting recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-6 is, in fact, the problems encountered when attempting to interpret Revelation 19:15-21 and Revelation 20:1-3 in a chronological fashion. The nations were judged and destroyed by Christ at His Second Advent in Revelation 19:15-21. Symbolically, a sharp sword was used to “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 (Rev. 19:15).” The fowls of the air were called to feed upon the flesh of kings, captains and mighty men (Rev. 19:17-18). Finally, the beast and the false prophet “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 (Rev. 19:20-21).” Revelation 19:11-21, therefore, describes the utter destruction of the unbelieving nations. Here, even “the remnant” or “the rest” of the nations were killed with the sword of Christ (Rev. 19:21).

If the nations are to be completely annihilated with the Parousia of Christ, which is consistent with the events described in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10, what nations is Revelation 20:3 referring to when it says that the devil “should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled?” Upon Christ’s Second Coming, the saints are glorified, while the wicked are completely destroyed. One wonders what “nations” the Bible Presbyterians would propose if they insist on interpreting Revelation 19:11-21 and 20:1-6 as being chronologically sequential.

Fowler White reasons:

“The contention that there is a discrepancy in a chronological approach to 19:11–20:3 is based on the observation that reading the events of 19:11–21 and 20:1–3 in historical sequence does not yield a logically coherent picture. The incongruence of 19:11–21 and 20:13 surfaces when we consider that 20:1–3 describes actions taken to prevent Satan’s deception of the very nations who had just been destroyed in 19:19–21 as a result of their deception by Satan (16:13–16). In other words, the discrepancy consists in this: it makes no 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 in 19:11–21 (cf. 16:15a, 19).”[6]

Furthermore, if the nations are annihilated, and the wicked are judged at Christ’s Parousia, how do we account for a second rebellion against Christ at the end of the earthly millennium (Rev. 20:8) as proposed by premillennialists? In fact, the number of rebels “is as the sand of the sea.” In order to explain the number of unbelievers at the end of the millennium, the premillennialists have to propose that there are wicked survivors after the battle of Armageddon. At Christ’s Second Coming, all the saints will be glorified. The problem becomes apparent when we recall that glorified saints do not procreate.

Fowler White comments that,

“The claim that there will be survivors of Armageddon becomes important as a way for [the premillennialist] to explain the presence of the rebel nations in 20:8 after all rebels were (at least ostensibly) removed in 19:11–21. Specifically, the rebel nations are present in 20:8 because they are the descendants of the surviving nations in 20:3. In the premillennialist’s speculation, then, the postulate of survivors at the second coming explains the presence of the nations in both 20:3 and 20:8.”[7]

But in his epistles, the Apostle Paul associates the Parousia of Christ with the sudden destruction of the wicked (1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:6-10). Applying the Analogy of Faith, and by comparing Scripture with Scripture, this is consistent with the interpretation that the wicked are completely destroyed at Christ’s Parousia in Revelation 19:11-21. The only survivors are the saints. Given the fact that all the saints are glorified, who, then, is left in his mortal body to procreate during the earthly millennium? Premillennialists must at the very least bear the burden of proof for the alleged sequential chronology of Revelation 19:15-21 and Revelation 20:1-3.

Fowler White notes that “in 19:18–21, John’s narration emphasizes the completeness and finality of Christ’s victory by describing his enemies in all-inclusive terms: all the nations will have taken up arms against the Divine Warrior and all will fall by his sword in the final confrontation. . . . If any are to survive the day of Christ’s coming (cf. 6:17), they will be able to do so precisely and only because they have been redeemed from among the nations and placed within the Divine Warrior’s kingdom-protectorate (5:9–10; cf. 3:10; 20:9).”[8]

The Premillennialist’s argument that the nations of Revelation 20:3 are the remnant or survivors of the nations who opposed Christ in Revelation 19:11-21 is gratuitous at best.[9] The entire thrust of this hypothesis depends, at least partially, upon the argument that the visions found in Revelation 19:11-20:3 are arranged in a historically chronological sequence. This is tantamount to circular reasoning, for the Premillennialist’s insistence that there must be survivors of Armageddon is based upon the presumed sequential, temporal relationship between Revelation 20:1-6 and 19:11-21. But the alleged historical chronology in Revelation 19:11-20:3 is, in fact, the problem under investigation. The Premillennialist should argue for the presence of Armageddon survivors using the content of John’s visions, rather than assuming an a priori temporal relationship between Revelation 20:1-6 and 19:11-21.

Fowler White perceptively comments,

“It must be kept in mind that the order of the visions in Revelation need not reflect the historical relationship of the events in those visions; it need only reflect the sequence in which John has presented the visions he received. Any historical relationship among the visions must be demonstrated from the content of the visions, not simply presumed from the order in which John presents them. The discrepancy discussed above is one indication that the order in which John presents the visions of 19:11–20:3 cannot be, as premillennialists would have it, reflective of the sequence in which the events depicted there will occur in history.”[10]

Given that the content of John’s visions in Revelation 19:11-20:3 does not convincingly support a historical chronology of events, the onus is upon the Premillennialist to prove the viability of such a postulate: that the nations of Revelation 20:3 are the remnant of the nations that battled at Armageddon in Revelation 19:11-21.

Thematic Allusions to Ezekiel 38-39 in Revelation 19:11-21 and 20:7-10

Revelation 20:7-10 makes repeated allusions to the imagery of Ezekiel’s prophecy in Ezekiel 38 and 39. If this is true, then Revelation 20:7-10 is a recapitulation of the battle mentioned in Revelation 19:11-21, which likewise refers to the imagery of Ezekiel 38-39. There are marked similarities between Revelation 20:7-10, 19:11-21, and Ezekiel 38-39. When we peruse these apocalyptic passages, it becomes apparent that John’s visions reiterate certain motifs used in Ezekiel’s prophecy of the defeat of Gog and Magog.

With regard to the battle described in Revelation 20:8-10 and 19:17-21, Beale observes that “both also use variants of the expression “gather them together for the war” (so 20:8, “gathered to make war,” in 19:19; cf. 19:17).”[11] He further notes that “[Revelation] 16:12-16 recounts the same battle and is highlighted in [verse] 14 by the same expression (identical to the form in 20:8). If 20:1-6 precedes the time of 20:7-10 and 19:17-21 is temporally parallel to the battle in 20:7-10, then 20:1-6 is temporally prior to the battle in 19:17-21.”[12]

If, indeed, Revelation 20:1-6 is temporally prior to the battle in 19:17-21, it then points to the fact that the millennium described in 20:1-6 is temporally prior to the Parousia of Christ mentioned in 19:11-21. This sequence destroys the chronology in premillennial eschatology.

Prophesying the defeat of Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, the prophet Ezekiel writes, “And, thou son of man, thus saith the Lord GOD; Speak unto every feathered fowl, and to every beast of the field, Assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh, and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you. Thus ye shall be filled at my table with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war, saith the Lord GOD (Ezek. 39:17-20).” Here, the prophet foretells the day when birds and beasts will feast upon the flesh of God’s enemies.

This ghastly imagery is reiterated by John in his apocalypse when he describes a scene in the Battle of Armageddon, “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 (Rev. 19:17-18).” The similarities between Ezekiel’s and John’s visions are remarkable. Kline observes that “most striking is the distinctive motif of God’s summoning the birds and beasts to feed on the carcasses of the defeated armies Gog had gathered, the banquet theme elaborated in Ezek 39:4, 17–20 and incorporated into the account of Christ’s victory over the beast and his assembled armies in Rev 19:17–18.”[13]

In Revelation 19:21, John’s vision describes the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy, “and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.” It is clear that Revelation 19:11-21 fulfills the prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39, and this event shall become historical reality at our Lord’s Second Coming.

Allusions to Ezekiel 38-39 are similarly found in Revelation 20:7-10, particularly when we read that the enemies of God are referred to as “Gog and Magog.” Meredith Kline summarizes the allusions made by John in 20:7-10, “The relationship of Rev 20:7-10 to Ezekiel 38-39, obvious enough from the adoption of the Gog-Magog terminology in Revelation 20, is also evidenced by a set of basic similarities: the marshaling of hordes from the four quarters of the earth (Ezek 38:2-7, 15; 39:4; Rev 20:8); the march of the gathered armies to encompass the saints in the city of God, center of the world (Ezek 38:7-9, 12, 16; Rev 20:9); the orchestration of the event by God (Ezek 38:4, 16; 39:2, 19; Rev 20:3, 7); the timing of the event after a lengthy period in which God’s people were kept secure from such a universal assault (Ezek 38:8, 11; Rev 20:3); the eschatological finality of the crisis (Ezek 39:22, 26, 29; Rev 20:10ff.); and the fiery destruction of the evil forces (Ezek 38:22; 39:6; Rev 20:9-10).”[14]

In Revelation 20:7-10, the judgment of the nations and the dragon (Satan) are described. This vision provides an alternative camera view of the same judgment event described in 19:11-21, when the beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire. John is not saying that God will only destroy the devil one thousand years after the judgment of the beast and the false prophet. Rather, Revelation 20:7-10 is a recapitulation of the battle in 19:11-21. The judgment and destruction of the beast, the false prophet and the devil will occur contemporaneously at Christ’s Second Advent. White argues,

“If John expected us to interpret the revolts in Revelation 19 and 20 as different episodes in history, we would hardly expect him 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.”[15]

From the evidence for recapitulation discussed so far, it is apparent that Revelation 20:7-10 describes the same battle of Revelation 19:11-21. We have seen that the New Testament teaches the complete destruction of God’s enemies at Christ’s Parousia (e.g. 2 Thess. 1:4-10, Rev. 19:11-21). This is consistent with the victory of the saints at the battle of Armageddon, and the final defeat of the devil, the antichrist, and the false prophet at Christ’s Second Coming. With an understanding of the recurring Har Magedon motifs in both Ezekiel 38-39 and John’s apocalypse, viz. Revelation 19:11-21 and 20:7-10, it is clear that John did not intend Revelation 19:11-20:10 to be chronologically sequential.

Kline concludes his observations:

“The conclusion is amply warranted that Ezekiel 38-39 is the common source of Rev 20:7-10 and the passages earlier in Revelation that deal with the eschatological battle. This confirms the standard amillennial contention that the Gog-Magog episode of Rev 20:7-10 is a recapitulation of the accounts of the Har Magedon crisis in these other passages. . . . Revelation 20:7-10 is not, as premillennialists would have it, an isolated, novel episode, not mentioned elsewhere in the book of Revelation. Rather, it belongs to a series of passages, including Rev 19:11-21, which premillennialists rightly regard as referring to the antichrist-Har Magedon crisis and the parousia of Christ. It therefore follows that the thousand years that precede the Gog-Magog crisis of Rev 20:7-10 precede the Har Magedon-parousia event related in the other passages. Har Magedon is not a prelude to the millennium, but a postlude. Har Magedon marks the end of the millennium. And that conclusion spells the end of premillennialism.”[16]

The Seven Bowls of Revelation 15 and the Completion of God’s Wrath

“Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous: seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in them the wrath of God is complete. . . . Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God who lives forever and ever. The temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power, and no one was able to enter the temple till the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed (Revelation 15:1, 7-8, NKJV).”

Further evidence for recapitulation in Revelation 20:7-10 can be obtained by studying the seven bowls of God’s wrath envisioned by John in Revelation 15. In Revelation 15:1, John explains that the “seven last plagues” will “complete” or “fulfill” (ετελεσθη) God’s wrath against the nations. With the sixth plague, the dragon, the beast and the false prophet gather “the kings of the earth and of the whole world,” so as to battle the saints on “that great day of God Almighty (Rev. 16:14).” This scene is reiterated in 19:19, “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.”

In Revelation 16:17-21, with the completion of the seventh bowl, “there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done (Rev. 16:17).” This angelic declaration affirms that God’s wrath is fulfilled or completed. This means that, according to Revelation 15:1, the seven plagues will bring an end to God’s wrath upon the wicked nations of the world in secular history. The reader should observe that “since in 15:1 the bowl plagues are said to bring an end to God’s (temporal) wrath against the nations, God’s wrath against the nations in chap. 20 must coincide with Christ’s Second Coming wrath against the nations in chaps. 16 and 19.”[17]

Fowler White elucidates further:

“To appreciate the bearing of 15:1 on the interpretation of 19:11-20:10, we need to remember that Christ’s wrath against the Armageddon rebels in 19:19-21 concludes the plot line that was dropped in 16:16 and thus must (more or less) coincide with the last plague of God’s wrath in 16:17-21. This coincidence of 19:19-21 with 16:17-21 means that Christ’s wrath in 19:11-21 falls within the time frame which 15:1 established for the completion of God’s wrath.”[18]

Since the seventh plague (Rev. 16:17-21) coincides with the battle scene of 19:19-21, the destruction of the nations in the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11-21) concludes God’s wrath against the wicked nations in human history. This wrath is, of course, referring only to God’s temporal wrath and judgment against the nations, and expressly excludes God’s eternal judgment against unbelievers. With the fulfillment of God’s wrath in the seven bowl judgment, one realizes the difficulty in explaining a further temporal judgment and wrath against the nations in Revelation 20:7-10. The amillennialist understands Revelation 20:7-10 as a recapitulation of 19:11-21. Therefore, there is no contradiction between Christ’s wrath in the battle of 20:7-10, and the completion of God’s wrath in 15:1. 

White explains,

“If we read the visions of 19:11-20:10 as premillennialists do, we are, of course, bound to place God’s wrath against the Gog-Magog rebels in 20:7-10 after Christ’s return in 19:19-21 and 16:17-21. But, by doing this, we contradict the clear intent of 15:1. For we cannot place the outpouring of God’s wrath on Gog-Magog and Satan after Christ’s return without exceeding the deadline set for the completion of God’s wrath in 15:1.”[19]

However, if we understand Revelation 20:7-10 as a recapitulation of 19:11-21, God’s wrath against the Gog-Magog dissenters would fall comfortably within the time frame established by 15:1 for the fulfillment of God’s fury.

Note concerning abbreviated references: Please refer to previous posts for more details of repeated references

[1] Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 44.
[2] Ibid., 45.
[3] Ibid. Johnson also reminds us that “in interpreting repetition of wording and imagery, we need to give attention not only to the similarities but also to the differences between visions and vision cycles.” See Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, 47.
[4] R. Fowler White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-10,” Westminster Theological Journal 51, no. 2 (1989): 319. White also recommends, “For the premillennial approach to 19:11–20:10, see, e.g., J. F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1966) 289–90, and G. E. Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951) 259–63.” See White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-10,” 319 n. 1.
[5] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 980.
[6] White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-10,” 321.
[7] Ibid., 323 n. 10.
[8] Ibid., 324
[9] For example, see Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation: New International Commentary on the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1998), 363.
[10] White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-10,” 324.
[11] Beale, The Book of Revelation, 976.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Meredith G. Kline, “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39, no. 2 (1996): 220.
[14] Meredith G. Kline, God, Heaven and Har Magedon: A Covenantal Tale of Cosmos and Telos (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2006), 184-185. See especially Kline, “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium,” 214-220 for a detailed defense of the view that Revelation 20:7-10 describes the eschatological battle prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39.
[15] White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-10,” 327.
[16] Kline, “Har Magedon: The End of the Millennium,” 220. With the understanding that Har Magedon refers to “the mountain of God,” Meredith Kline effectively explores the Har Magedon motifs both in the Old and New Testaments. In his paper, Kline conclusively defends his view that Revelation 16:14-16, 19:11-21, and 20:7-10 are closely intertwined with Gog and Magog of Ezekiel 38-39. In so doing, he argues that Revelation 16:14-16, 19:11-21, and 20:7-10 refer to the same battle. For an excellent discussion of various arguments against recapitulation in Revelation 19:11-21 and 20:7-10, see Beale, The Book of Revelation, 976-980. Beale successfully rebuts all such arguments, and ably defends recapitulation in John’s apocalypse.
[17] R. Fowler White, “Making Sense of Revelation 20:1-10? Harold Hoehner Versus Recapitulation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37, no. 4 (1994): 547.
[18] White, “Reexamining the Evidence for Recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-10,” 331.
[19] Ibid.