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.