Deaths and Resurrections

This post will be a sort of work in progress for me as I think through my position on Revelation 20 in relation to the two deaths and the two resurrections. My position might easily change, but this is what I currently think. I have found, through emailing Dr. Fowler White, that this is the Augustinian position. My understanding of it has definitely been shaped by Dr. White’s own work.

There are two deaths. The first death is the death of the body, and the second death is the death of the soul while both body and soul are in agony in Hell (this needs to be qualified by the fact that the unbeliever’s soul is always dead throughout life, death, and the resurrection of the body). There are two resurrections. The first resurrection is of the soul (this is identical to regeneration, which Paul describes in Ephesians 2 with resurrection language), the second resurrection is of the body, reuniting the body with the soul (though not automatically specifying which eternal destiny results).

The first death (of the body) that Adam and Eve brought upon themselves in the Garden of Eden established a link to the second death, in addition to securing the perpetual death of the unbelievers’ souls. For natural unsaved humanity, the first death leads to the second death. That link is what Christ came to break. Jesus simultaneously established a link between the first and second resurrection while breaking the link between the first and the second death. This new link is a guaranteed link, and it guarantees two things: it guarantees the second resurrection and, even more importantly, freedom from the second death (this is what Revelation 20:6 is talking about, according to Augustine). At the second resurrection, of course, believers are freed from the first death as well. So the first resurrection frees us directly from the second death and, through its guarantee of the second resurrection, frees us indirectly from the first death.

Lastly (and this is most directly influenced by Dr. White’s work), both resurrections have a certain irony to them. The first resurrection has this irony for the believer: it does not free him from experiencing the first death. It promises eventual emancipation, but not immediate freedom. The second resurrection has a mirror image irony: it does not free the unbeliever from the second death.

A Problem With Premillenialism

I have been reading Sam Storms’s outstanding book on Amillenialism. He poses a number of questions which I believe are insuperable problems to the premillenial view. The most significant has to do with death in the millenial age. The premillenial position requires that there be death during the millenial kingdom, since there will be great battles towards the end of it. The premil position also holds that the second coming of Christ comes at the beginning of that millenial reign. The problem is that the annihilation of death is not tied to the end of the millenial period in biblical revelation, but rather to the second coming of Christ. In Revelation 19, the wedding supper of the Lamb is followed by a description of the second coming of Christ, in which the beast and his followers are all cast into the lake of fire. The destruction is total and complete (see in particular verses 19-21). This makes chapter 20 a recapitulation of chapter 19, not a temporally subsequent chapter. The rest of the New Testament bears out this simple fact: it is when Christ comes back that the judgment happens, the annihilation of all the enemies, and the double resurrection (not first one group and then the next) occurs (see Storms’s book for an outstanding treatment not only of the passages involved, but also of the hermeneutical issues). This means that the millenial reign happens before Christ’s second coming, not after. Amillenialism and Post-Millenialism are the only viewpoints on the millenial kingdom that can account for these particular data.

Revelation 1:1 and the Interpretation of Revelation

G.K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation, which is probably the best commentary on Revelation ever written in the entire history of the church, has a very interesting (and convincing) take on Revelation 1:1, and the use of the Greek word “semaino.” Beale notices that in BAGD (Beale’s commentary came out before the third edition of BDAG), the definition is more generally “make known, report, communicate” without specifying the precise nature of that communication (Beale, 50). This is a caution on what follows. Beale’s argument for “semaino” depends on the LXX translation of Daniel 2 as being in the background to Revelation 1:1.

In Daniel 2, “semaino” refers to something more specific: revelation by means of signs and symbols, or pictorial revelation. It is symbolic communication. Daniel 2:45 LXX demonstrates this by connecting “semaino” to the signs seen by the prophet. Beale argues that, although the more general term “make known” is certainly part of the semantic range of the word, “its more concrete and at least equally common sense is ‘show by a sign’” (p. 51). It is very important at this point to note that all three uses of the verb in John’s Gospel have to do with pictorial representation of Jesus’ death and resurrection (12:33, 18:32, 21:19). The cognate noun “semeion” refers to signs and symbols. John picked “semaino” in Revelation 1:1 over the common and more general term “gnorizo” on purpose, according to Beale. He argues that “the allusion to Dan. 2:28-30, 45 indicates that a symbolic vision and its interpretation is going to be part of the warp and woof of the means of communication throughout Revelation” (p. 51).

The implications of this for the interpretation of Revelation are fairly immense: “[A] number of authors of both popular and scholarly commentaries contend that one should interpret literally except where one is forced to interpret symbolically by clear indications of context. But the results of the analysis above of 1:1 indicate that this rule should be turned on its head” (p. 52). He acknowledges that not all parts of Revelation are going to be symbolic or metaphorical. However, “Where there is lack of clarity about whether something is symbolic, the scales of judgment should be tilted in the direction of a nonliteral analysis” (p. 52).

At this point, a lot of people might get really, really nervous. Does this approach mean that I can make the symbols mean anything I want? Absolutely not. Symbols do not communicate anything if they communicate everything. Even words themselves can have a symbolic meaning. If I start off a sentence by saying, “Four score and seven years ago,” a literate person will know exactly what I am referring to. They will not be expecting me to go off on a history lecture about World War II. The fact is that the symbolic imagery of Revelation has its roots in the Old Testament. So, although we should be interpreting Revelation in a way that recognizes its inherent symbolism, we should also recognize that such symbolism has a built-in control called “the rest of the Bible.” John always operates in the symbolic world of the Bible. Furthermore, Revelation ties all the threads of the Bible together, and so we should expect the rest of the Bible to be pointing the way forward to Revelation.

Revelation 20 and Amillennialism

This is not going to be an exhaustive post on Revelation 20, about which several forests have been demolished in trying to explain. I am merely going to argue for the amil position in Revelation 20. The key issue turns on whether Revelation 20:1-10 follows chronologically after 19:11-2, or whether it follows non-chronologically (following a sequence of visions). Here are the two best arguments that 20:1-10 follows a visionary sequence, and not a chronological sequence: 1. The battle in 19:11-21 destroys all the enemies of God. The beast (vs 20), the false prophet (vs 20), and all the rest (vv. 18 and 21) are thrown into the lake of fire. This battle is certainly the final climactic battle, the result of which is that all the enemies of God are destroyed. Well, if they are all destroyed, then who is left for Satan to deceive in 20:3? The terms of 19:11-21 are so final (especially the lake of fire imagery) that nothing is really left after that. Poythress explains how it is that anything follows literarily in the book: 

“In view of the structure of the whole book, it makes more sense to see 20:1-15 as the seventh and last cycle of judgments, each of which leads up to the Second Coming…Thus, 20:1-15 is to be seen as the seventh cycle leading to the Second Coming. It parallels all the other cycles, rather than representing a unique period chronologically later than any of the others” (The Returning King, pg. 179). 

In short, the premil position needs to explain why there are any people left for Satan to deceive in Revelation 20, if that chapter follows chronologically from chapter 19.

Secondly, 20:7-10 is clearly describing the same battle as 19:11-21. The quotations from Ezekiel 38-39 point clearly in the direction of Armaggedon in 20:7-10. But most commentators refer 19:11-21 also to Armageddon, in which case we have recapitulation (for a more extended defense of this position, see Beale’s excellent excursus on the relationship of 20:1-10 with 19:11-21, found on pp. 972-983 of his commentary). For an excellent article exhaustively dealing with the evidence for recapitulation in Revelation 20:1-15, see Fowler White in the Westminster Theological Journal 51.2 (1989), pp. 319-344.

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