Eschatology Outlines: No. 7A How Rev 19:11-21 Relates to Rev 20:1ff.

Posted by R. Fowler White

Bible-believing theologians have long recognized that before they can agree on the theological significance of Rev 20:1–21:8, they will have to agree on an answer to the question, Is the relationship between Rev 19:11-21 and Rev 20:1ff. one of historical sequence or historical repetition? In other words, should we read 19:11–21:8 as if the order of the visions represents the actual progress of events in history? Or does 20:7-10 retell the events of 19:11-21, while 20:1-6 tells of events that preceded 19:11-21 and 20:7–21:8?

In another place, I have argued in great detail that Rev 20:1-10 records a series of visions whose contents are related to Christ’s first advent and the interadvent age in 20:1-6 and to His second advent in 20:7-10. I’ll summarize here the three lines of argument that I believe establish this interpretation as the one that is best overall.

1. If the order of the events presented in Rev 19:11-21 and Rev 20:1-3 is interpreted as the actual progress of historical events, it makes no sense to speak of protecting the nations from deception by Satan in 20:1–3 after they have just been destroyed by Christ at His return in 19:11-21 (cf. 16:15a, 19).

2. To encourage the church militant, Rev 20:7-10 retells the story of Christ’s second coming already told in Rev 19:11-21. We know this for four reasons. First, John underlines the historical repetition in 19:17–21 and 20:7–10 by describing both the Armageddon revolt (19:17-21; 16:17-21) and the Gog-Magog revolt (20:7-10) in terms from the same prophetic passage, Ezekiel 38–39. Second, the repeated references to the battle in 19:11-21 and 20:7-10 (not to mention 16:12-16) direct us to understand 19:11–21 and 20:7–10 as parallel accounts of Christ’s second coming. Third, God’s wrath against the Gog-Magog rebels in 20:7–10 and His wrath against Babylon and the Armageddon rebels in 19:11-21 (and 16:17-21) must both fall within the timeframe that Rev 15:1 establishes for the end of His wrath against the unbelieving world in history. Fourth, according to Heb 12:26-27, there is only one remaining instance of future cosmic destruction. Consequently, the scenes of cosmic destruction narrated in Rev 20:9-11; 19:11–21; 16:17–21; and 6:12-17 must all refer to that one event at Christ’s return. All of this tells us John recounts the story of Christ’s second coming in Rev 19:11-21 and 20:7-10.

3. Consistent with the function of angels ascending and descending in Rev 7:2; 10:1; and 18:1, the angel’s descent in 20:1 initiates a sequence of visions that has its ending (20:7–10) in the same setting as Christ’s return in 19:11–21 and its beginning (20:1–6) in a setting before that event.

While these arguments point to the correctness of associating both the Gog-Magog revolt in 20:7-10 and the Armageddon revolt in 19:11-21 with Christ’s second coming, they also perform another service: they constitute substantial evidence that 20:1–6 is a vision sequence, not chronicling events after the second coming, but recapitulating events before it. For more on Rev 20:1-6, stay tuned.