Eschatology Outlines: No. 7G Interpreting Rev 20:11–21:8

Posted by R. Fowler White

The visions of Rev 20:11–21:8 are the last set of visions that we’ll examine in the light of the themes of “battle and building.” Starting off, let’s notice why we should treat the vision sequence in 20:11–21:8 as a unit.

1. The unified picture in 20:11–21:8. Following the fiery destruction of the nations and the devil in 20:9-10 and the desolation of the present creation in 20:11b (cf. 6:12-17; 16:17-21; 21:1), we’re told in 20:12-13 (cf. 11:18) that those once dead were standing (20:12), having been released from their burial sites for judgment (20:13-14a). Introduced after the present heavens and earth disappear in 20:11b, the woe of the unrighteous, whose names were not in the book of life, is underlined in both 20:15 and 21:8. Introduced after the new heavens and earth appear in 21:1a, the weal of the righteous, whose names were in the book of life (21:27; 3:12), is highlighted in 21:2-7. Seeing, then, both the resurrection and the judgment of all in 20:11–21:8, the visions form a unified picture of the heavenly court’s final session in which the Divine Judge resurrects and judges all the dead. With that scene in mind, we can summarize how the combat and construction themes help us understand what’s going on in 20:11–21:8.

2. Victory over our last enemy. First, the emptying of all burial sites (natural or supernatural) in 20:13 signals the final overthrow of bodily death. Both the unrighteous and the righteous share in that victory. Yet for the unrighteous, that victory is no victory at all because it’s as empty as their grave: ironically, it issues in a death worse than bodily death. Having no share in the first resurrection (20:5), they emerge from their tombs only to be thrown into the lake of fire where the second death will forever have power over them (20:15; 21:8). By contrast, for the righteous, their victory over bodily death is as full as it is final. Full because, having taken part in the first resurrection, the second death has no power over them; final because they will abide forever in their eternal home with their God in the new creation, never to suffer death again (21:4). Only the righteous, then, will truly have title to proclaim, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? (1 Cor 15:54b-55a).

3. Our final residence with our God is a temple. Second, with the victory theme in clear view, the building theme is expected to shine through in the consequences that follow not only death’s defeat in 20:11-15 but the defeat of the Gog-Magog enemies in 20:7-10. The pattern we saw in 20:1-6 appears again in 20:7–21:8, and the pattern in 20:7–21:8 parallels the pattern in Ezek 38-48. The OT prophet had revealed God’s establishment of the new temple-city in the new paradisal land following His defeat of Gog-Magog. We already know that when the saints shared in the victory of the second death, their first resurrection announced their spiritual re-formation as the kingdom and beloved city (20:4, 6, 9). So, when we reach 21:1ff., we know that the saints have now shared in the victory over bodily death and that the promise Christ made in 3:12 is now to be fulfilled. He had said of the victorious saint that at His coming (cf. 3:11) I shall make him a pillar in the temple of my God … and I shall write upon him … the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven. So, when the saints share in the victory over bodily death, the holy city image reappears in 21:2, 10. In fact, John describes the new city in 21:3 as the dwelling place (i.e., tabernacle) of God. Seeing these images side by side, we recognize that the saints’ presentation as the city-tabernacle in 21:2-3 (cf. 21:9-10) is the building episode that we expected to follow the Divine Warrior’s victory over His last enemy. Presumably, then, the new Jerusalem that appears in chap. 21 after Christ’s return in 20:9-11 is the temple-city that He promised to build using his saints as living stones, indeed, stones resurrected from physical death! Even the eternal heavens and earth should also be understood in the light of the temple building theme since John calls attention to the absence of all that is unclean from that final residence of God and His people (21:27; cf. holy, 21:3). All in all, then, not only do the saints, as living temple stones, make the lasting city holy (21:3), but the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (21:22). Everything about the final residence is temple, a holy house built to the glory of God with man!

4. Conclusion. As we reflect on the contents of the visions in Rev 20:11–21:8, the “battle, then building” themes help us to see that the (second) resurrection constitutes the Divine Judge’s victory over death, while the saints’ resurrection and the creation’s restoration constitute the twofold building project that follows the victory over humanity’s last enemy, death. In all of this, it’s not hard to see that John has framed the Apostles’ teaching about Christ’s redemptive work at His return so that it conforms to the theology of “victory, then house building.” What is more, we see how much of a debt John owed to his OT heritage, a heritage that he embraced no doubt to inspire our confidence in our Lord Christ’s purpose and power both to triumph over His and our enemies and to establish His holy habitation with His holy people.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 8 Final Thoughts

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7F Interpreting Rev 20:7-10

Posted by R. Fowler White

As I understand it, the vision in Rev 20:7-10 depicts the Divine Warrior’s age-ending victory over Satan-led nations who were threatening God’s kingdom-temple with desolation after they had turned His creation into an abomination of desolation. Let’s see if we can shed light in particular on the meaning of John’s depiction of that kingdom-temple as the camp of God’s people, the city he loves (NIV; cf. the encampment of the saints, the beloved city [CSB]) in 20:9.

1. Parallels to Ezek 38–39. Like 20:4-6, the vision in 20:7-10 is shaped by chapters from Ezekiel where we find a group of visions that reflects the OT pattern of “combat, then construction” that we’ve mentioned before. We can be sure that John has adapted Ezekiel’s visions of God’s victory over the chaos-causing nations because in 20:8-9 he explicitly mentions the Gog-Magog passage in Ezek 3839. In fact, in Rev 20 as in Ezek 3839, the Divine Warrior intervenes in the conflict with His customary weapon of theophanic fire to destroy those who attack the city of God (Rev 20:9; Ezek 38:22; 39:6, 9-10; cf. Ps 46:9; 76:3).

2. Camp, city, and saints. After the fiery destruction of the nations and the devil in 20:9-10 and the desolation of the present creation in 20:11 (cf. 6:12-17; 16:17-21; 21:1), we expect, following biblical patterns, to read about an episode of cosmic (re)construction in the visions that follow 20:7-10. And, in fact, that’s what we find. The theme of construction-after-victorious-combat clearly helps us understand what we read in 20:11–21:8 (we’ll explore that point in a subsequent post). Yet, interestingly, while we expect to find a building project in the visions after 20:7-10, we also see a building project within the vision of 20:7-10 itself. John sets before us the camp of the saints, the city God loves in 20:9 (NIV; cf. CSB). When he describes the camp of the saints using the additional terms the beloved city, his description links the saints with the four-square configuration of Israel’s camp in the wilderness (see, e.g., Num 2) and with the city of God that was represented in the tabernacle and the temple (Ps 27:4-6; Isa 4:5-6; Ezek 40:2–42:20). Described as the camp that is the city, the saints are an extraordinary sight to behold: they are God’s holy protectorate that has itself become the tabernacle-temple-city through Christ, the greater Moses and the greater Solomon. We get confirmation of this identification from another parallel to Ezek 3637.

3. A dwelling place for God’s Spirit. John’s presentation of the saints in 20:9 forms a really striking parallel to Ezekiel’s vision of Israel in Ezek 37:26-28. There we learn that, in the day when the Spirit rebuilds Israel’s house (37:11) by spiritual resurrection (37:1-14; cf. 36:27), that house will be the very dwelling place (Heb. mishkan, “tabernacle”) of God. No doubt this will be the case because, as we see in 36:27; 37:9-10, 14, the house will itself have become a sanctuary for God’s Spirit. Furthermore, according to Ezek 38–39 (especially 39:29), it is these very Spirit-indwelt residents of God’s dwelling place who will prove to be indestructible in the day of the nations’ final assault in Rev 20:7-10.

4. Parallels in the NT. In light of the parallels in Ezek 36–39, we can say the visions of 20:4-10 depict the saints as the kingdom-temple-camp-city built by Christ after His capture of the dragon in 20:1-3. The saints are nothing less than the blessed kingdom-temple built by the victorious Lamb in 20:4-6 and the beloved camp-city defended by the Divine Warrior in 20:7-10. What makes John’s visions all the more compelling is that their teaching is not at all isolated from the rest of Revelation or the NT. We’ve already seen the theology at the heart of Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10; 12:10-12; 14:1-4 (with John 2:19-22; 5:24-29). Yet the parallel to Ezek 3637 shows up again in the broader NT when Paul and John both refer to those chapters in other contexts. Paul describes the church as the new covenant temple in 2 Cor 6:16, citing Ezek 37:27. John recounts Jesus’ teaching on the new birth in John 3:5-8, alluding to Ezek 36:25-27; 37:1-14. Then, while reviewing Jesus’ post-resurrection words and deeds and specifically His breathing (of the Spirit) on the Eleven in John 20:22, John touches on Ezek 37:9 (cf. Gen 2:7). With more space and time, we could show in detail how the theology of the camp of God’s people, the city he loves in Rev 20:9 is consistent with Paul’s and Peter’s presentation of the church in 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20; Eph 2:20-22; and 1 Pet 2:4-9 as a spiritual house for God in the Spirit.

5. Conclusion. We’ll close these comments on Rev 20:7-10 by stressing the power of John’s vision there. Like his OT forebears, Ezekiel in particular, John found in the ancient “battle and building” themes a theological prism through which he could make known to us the dynamics at work in our experience as the church militant between the first and second comings of Christ. By knowing and pondering those dynamics, our longing to see the final manifestation of Christ’s power in the devil’s death and the nations’ vanquishment and in the establishment of our eternal residence with God only grows stronger.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7G Interpreting Rev 20:11–21:8

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7E More on Interpreting Rev 20:4-6

Posted by R. Fowler White

As I suggested in a previous post, the vision of Rev 20:4-6 concerns that session of the heavenly council of God in which authorization is issued to avenge the blood of the martyred saints whom Christ, with the living saints, had built into God’s kingdom-house of priests through their participation in the first resurrection. Let’s narrow our focus in this post by looking in some detail at John’s description of the saints’ worship, name-bearing, first resurrection, and reign in 20:4-6.

1. Background. Before we get to 20:4-6, let’s recall that in 1:5-6 and 5:9-10 John implicitly compares the Lamb’s redemptive work for the church to God’s victory over Egypt and His subsequent constitution of Israel (with her tabernacle) as His kingdom-dwelling place. Then, in 5:5 the Lamb’s redemptive victory becomes the victory of a new David, that lion-warrior of Judah who was given rest from his enemies before turning his attention to building the Lord’s temple-house. Finally, in the Divine Warrior victory song of 12:10-12, saints are described as those who have obtained victory over their draconic accuser on account of the blood of the true Lamb (12:11), whose blood, unlike that of the first Passover lamb, secures the release of God’s people from their sins. Thus, when in Rev 1, 5, and 12 John invokes the redemptions of Israel under Moses and David to describe the church’s experience, the point we should not miss is his willingness to employ the battle and building themes of the OT to explain the significance of the church’s redemption through Christ’s work. With this background, we have good reason to expect these same themes will help us clarify the interpretation of 20:4-6, especially since that vision follows a vision of divine victory over the dragon in 20:1-3.

2. Worship and name-bearing. So, what can we say about the saints’ worship and name-bearing in 20:4? We agree with those who see those activities as issues that led to the saints’ martyrdom. Probing more deeply, it’s interesting to notice that John’s description here connects back to these saints’ participation in the new exodus and their re-creation as the Lamb’s kingdom. The connection comes to light in Rev 14:1-4. There, John links worship and name-bearing with redemption by the Lamb (14:3-4) by recalling the lyrics of the Divine Warrior victory song in 5:9. The word redeemed (by the Lamb) also reminds us of the victory lyric in 12:11, compelling us again to connect the saints’ redemption with Israel’s exodus. To speak of the saints’ worship and name-bearing, then, is to speak of their participation in the new, Messianic exodus and of their reconstitution as Messiah’s kingdom.

3. Parallels to Ezek 36-37. Coming to the saints’ participation in the first resurrection and their reign as the kingdom of priests, let’s consider briefly the parallels between 20:4-10 and Ezek 36-39. Like the sequence in Ezek 36-39, the sequence in Rev 20:4-10 has the saints’ resurrection and reconstitution preceding God’s victory over the Gog-Magog rebels (we’ll get to them later, God willing). To get the meaning of the resurrection in 20:4-6, we should consider the meaning of the resurrection in Ezek 36-37. The OT prophet uses the metaphor of physical resurrection to describe the spiritual re-creation of Israel as God’s kingdom of priests. In fact, the metaphor describes Israel’s transformation into a temple for God’s Spirit. In keeping with the parallel in Ezek 36-37, then, we should interpret the saints’ first resurrection and reign in 20:4-6 as their spiritual re-creation as God’s kingdom of priests, as their transformation into a dwelling place of God’s Spirit.

4. The beatitude of 20:6. Confirmation of the interpretation above comes in 20:6 where John describes the blessing of partaking in the first resurrection by way of a contrast. On the one hand, the blessing announces the partakers’ redemption from the power of the second death (20:6b). But, on the other hand, the blessing records their constitution as a kingdom of priests to God and Christ (20:6c). Yet there is more.

Wise as God is in the application of redemption to Christ’s people, He ensures that neither bodily death nor eternal (i.e., the second) death will frustrate the final redemption of His people. As a result, the Spirit of Christ applies His victory to His people in a particular sequence. To be specific, since there must be no threat of eternal death to Christ’s people after they’re delivered from bodily death, the Spirit delivers them from eternal death before He delivers them from bodily death. Likewise, since there can be no deliverance from eternal death after bodily death, the Spirit delivers Christ’s people from eternal death before their bodily death. The beatitude of Rev 20:6 distills the point: the Spirit’s application of redemption delivers Christ’s kingdom-people from the second death before He delivers them from death, lest the second death still threaten them after their deliverance from death (thus the first [spiritual] resurrection in 20:4-6 precedes the general [bodily] resurrection in 20:13-14a; cf. John 5:24-29). Likewise, the Spirit’s application of redemption delivers Christ’s kingdom-people from the second death before their martyrdom occurs, lest their death prevent their deliverance from the second death.

5. Summary. The first resurrection and reign of the saints in Rev 20:4-6 highlight two blessings bestowed on the church: 1) their spiritual resurrection that takes place before both their physical death and their physical resurrection, and 2) their transformation into the kingdom-temple built by Christ (just as we saw in John 2:19-21; 5:24-29). Having been united even now with the Lamb in His resurrection and reign (cf. Eph 2:5-6; Col 3:1), the saints take courage in the authorization of God’s heavenly court to avenge their blood, should martyrdom be their portion. In the truths of the vision and beatitude of Rev 20:4-6, then, the saints will find the comfort and hope they need to persevere in the face of marginalization, persecution, and even death.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7F Interpreting Rev 20:7-10

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7D Interpreting Rev 20:4-6

Posted by R. Fowler White

In an earlier post, I indicated that my aim here is to point the way to an interpretation of Rev 20:1-6 that takes full account of what we know from Scripture about God’s combat with beasts and His building work. While appreciating the work of many others, my approach at this moment is to apply the biblical themes of “victory over the dragon followed by house building” to the interpretation of this controversial passage. Since I’ve applied the combat theme to help in understanding Rev 20:1-3, we’ll turn to Rev 20:4-6 in this post.

I. The overall context of 20:1–21:8—Recall what we said before: the sequence of visions in this passage twice repeats the pattern of “victory followed by house [temple] building.”

A. 20:1-3, capture of the serpent = victory over the serpent

B. 20:4-6, first resurrection = temple building

C. 20:7-10, death of the serpent = victory over the serpent

D. 20:11–21:8, resurrection = temple building

Having applied the victory theme to the interpretation of Rev 20:1-3, we can turn to Rev 20:4-6 and the theme of temple (house) building.

II. Rev 20:4—Here we find a vision of that session of the Divine Council in which the heavenly court is authorized to avenge the blood of the martyred saints who, with the living saints (see Rev 20:9), had been built into God’s kingdom-city-encampment of priests through their participation in the first resurrection.

III. Rev 20:5—In this verse John distinguishes the first resurrection from the (second) resurrection in Rev 20:12-13. He makes the distinction by identifying the non-Christian dead as participants only in the (second) resurrection and the Christian dead as the only participants in the first resurrection. In other words, Rev 20:5 is profoundly important: it instructs us readers not to confuse the first resurrection, in which Christians are the only participants, with the (second) resurrection, in which non-Christians and Christians are both participants.

Some interpreters claim that Christians have no part in the resurrection of the dead in Rev 20:13, but they must then explain what Rev 20:5 contributes to this context where two resurrections are presented. We cannot say that because only Christians take part in the first resurrection, they have no part in the second. Nor can we say that because non-Christians take part only in the (second) resurrection, Christians do not take part in it. For either of these statements to be true, we must establish that both resurrections deliver from physical death—and the evidence for such a claim is lacking.

IV. Rev 20:6—A beatitude for the Christian dead. Here we notice that the blessings that belong to those who take part in the first resurrection are described elsewhere as the benefits of Christ’s redeeming work applied to believers before they die.

A. The first phrase of the beatitude: “the second death has no power over them.” According to Rev 20:12-15; 21:8, 27; and 22:15, the second death has power over the resurrected dead who died in bondage to their sins. To say, then, that “the second death has no power” over those who take part in the first resurrection is simply to say that Christ has freed them from their sins by His blood (1:5). In other words, such freedom is a benefit of redemption indisputably applied to believers before they die. To put this truth in the words of Rev 20:4, we say that God’s heavenly court will avenge those who had come to life in the first resurrection and had thereby been freed from the second death’s power, for Christ had freed them from their sins by His blood.

B. The second and third phrases of the beatitude—“they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years”—also reaffirm benefits of Christ’s work applied elsewhere to believers before they die.

1. The beatitude affirms truths that are the equivalent of “he has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” in Rev 1:6 and of “you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth” in Rev 5:10. The beatitude, together with the new song of 5:10, doesn’t merely view the kingdom as future from the vantage point of the believer’s death. Nor does it view the kingdom’s reign as future from standpoint of the believer’s resurrection from the dead. Rather, the beatitude views the kingdom’s reign as certain from the standpoint of its establishment with Christ’s redemption of many from their sins and from the second death (5:9; 1:5).

2. Because the kingdom is established by Christ’s redemptive work, we may say both that the redeemed will reign in glory on the new earth (Rev 22:5) and that they will reign now on this earth and in heaven, even as Christ Himself has been doing (Heb 2:10, 13a). Still, it is fair to ask, how do the redeemed reign now? They reign now on earth by persevering in faith despite suffering and death. They also reign after death in heaven as they rest in glory from their earthly labors. Again, to put these things in the words of Rev 20:4, we affirm that Heaven’s court will avenge those who had come to life had reigned with Christ for a thousand years, for He had made them a kingdom of priests to His God and Father.

V. Death, resurrection, and temple in the Gospel of John

It is instructive to see the harmony between the Revelation to John and the Gospel of John as it relates the topics of death, resurrection, and temple.

A. John 2:13-22: In this text, John the Evangelist, who is author of the Revelation, portrays Jesus’ death and resurrection as the destruction and construction of the true temple. The death and resurrection of those united with Jesus should be interpreted similarly. That is, the death and resurrection of those in Jesus is the destruction and construction of a temple. In the resurrection of Jesus and the first resurrection (from the second death) and the resurrection (from death) of those in Him, something better than the temple is here.

B. John 5:24-29: Notice here that Jesus speaks of two resurrections, not one. First comes the spiritual resurrection, then the physical resurrection.

1. There is a resurrection in an hour that now is, 5:24-25: it is now ongoing and is seeing the Son’s own raised from spiritual death to spiritual life.

2. There is another resurrection at the last day (6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:54), in an hour that is to come, 5:28-29. That resurrection will, in the future, raise “all who are in the tombs” from physical death: some to everlasting life, others to everlasting death.

3. Relevance of this point to the two resurrections of Rev 20:4–21:8

a. Participation in the first resurrection from the second death (20:4-6) is the building of the church as the spiritual temple.

b. Participation in the resurrection from death (20:12-13) is the building of the church as the physical temple-city (21:2-3, 9-27).

c. Note: Whether we interpret the first resurrection as spiritual or physical, the concept of resurrection as a divine building project in John’s theology should tell us that the first resurrection marks the building of a holy place.

Certainly, much more could be said. Not least we could show how the victory and house building themes appear in Ezekiel 36–48 and are used by John to help us understand the reimagined depiction of Christ’s work between His two comings and at His second coming and beyond in the visions of Rev 20:4–21:8. All this works together to inspire our confidence in our Lord Christ’s purpose and power to triumph over His enemies and ours as He works invincibly to finish His redemptive mission and to establish His righteous rule. For now, we’ll settle for noticing that when it comes time for the Heavenly Court of God to avenge the saints, martyred or living, those saints will have been built into God’s temple-kingdom-city-encampment through their participation in the first resurrection.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7E More on Interpreting Rev 20:4-6

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7C The Dragon’s Imprisonment in Rev 20:1-3

Posted by R. Fowler White

We have said in a previous post that the best approach to Rev 20:1-6 sees it as a series of visions related to Christ’s first coming and the interadvent age, while Rev 20:7–21:8 is a series of visions related to Christ’s second coming, the general resurrection and judgment, and the new world to come. If our approach is correct, then we need to consider this question: if the text says that Satan the serpentine Dragon is cut off from the earth during the confinement envisioned in Rev 20:1-3, how can we harmonize this vision of his imprisonment during the interadvent age with the clear NT evidence that he is active in the same period (e.g., 1 Thess 2:18; 1 Pet 5:8)? Can we still confess our commitment to a consistent method of historical-grammatical-theological interpretation?

The force of this question is well taken. Yet that force is blunted when we consider Jesus’ saying about the binding of the strong man (Matt 12:29), His vision of Satan’s fall (Luke 10:17-18), and His teaching that His death/exaltation means the judgment of the world, the deposing of the ruler of this world, the exaltation of the Son of Man, and the drawing of all peoples to Himself (John 12:31-32). All those passages give us light on the question before us. We get even more light if we recognize John’s tactical use of the themes of God’s victory and house building. So, back to our question: to what extent should we expect the events in the vision of Rev 20:1-3 to translate into events in history?

I. The fates of God’s enemies in the Bible outside Rev 20:1-3—The answer to our question about the dragon’s imprisonment comes when we examine the relationship between historical events and their reimagined depictions as God’s combat and construction in the Bible. When we study those depictions, we find that the fate of dragons is analogous, not identical to the fate of those characters or entities in history to which the images are applied. To put it differently, while the dragon (serpent, sea beast) may be captured or slain in the reimagined depiction, the enemy depicted in the beastly image is neither captured nor slain in history. We can see this fact in the way biblical writers apply the imagery to the events of creation and release from exile.

A. In Job 26:10-13, we’re told that the creation process involved God smiting Rahab the anti-creation monster and running the fleeing serpent through (presumably with a sword). We read a similar reimagining of the creation plot in Ps 89:9-13. And yet, when compared to the creation account of Gen 1, we find that the deep and darkness, to which Rahab and the serpent correspond, were neither smitten nor run through: they were restrained or compartmentalized.

B. Similarly, in Isa 51:9-11, the exiles’ release from Babylon is compared to God dismembering Rahab and (again) running the dragon through. Yet in history Babylon, to whom Rahab and the dragon correspond, was neither dismembered nor run through by God; rather Babylon, in the person of King Cyrus, was stirred to act on the exiles’ behalf according to the Lord’s good pleasure (2 Chron 36:22; Ezra 1:1; Isa 44:28).

C. For any who might think the distinction between historical events and their reimagined depictions is isolated to the texts just cited, I can only invite them to consider the other texts where biblical authors apply the anti-creative/anti-redemptive animal images to a character or entity in history. In each and every case, they will find that the beast’s fate in the depictions and its fate in history are analogous, not identical. This will be so whether they find the evil animal to have been captured or slain. In all such cases, the beast’s fate represents the truth that the effort of God’s enemies to resist His creative and redemptive work is itself invincibly resisted by God, whether the means He uses is temporary or final.

II. The fate of God’s enemy in Rev 20:1-3

A. Against the background above, we go back to Rev 20:1-3 where the Dragon named “the Devil and Satan” is captured and confined in the abyss. How should we interpret this captivity? We should remember the way biblical authors reimagine historical events using the images of God in battle and God building. We should recall that, both in Revelation as a whole and in the immediately preceding and following contexts of Rev 20:1-3, John, following his biblical forebears, has already adapted those images to interpret the historical events linked with Christ’s death and exaltation.

B. In that light, we’re bound to conclude that the Dragon’s fate in Rev 20:1-3 is analogous but not identical to Satan’s fate in history. Stated differently, while the Dragon is captured and confined in John’s vision, Satan is, like Babylon and the darkness and deep, restrained and even compartmentalized in history, specifically, deprived of his role as deceiver of the world’s nations.

C. The Dragon’s capture in 20:1-3, then, means that Christ’s exaltation has postponed Satan’s age-ending deception of the nations, his corruption of the world into an abomination of desolation, and, most importantly, his final attempt to destroy the church being built by Christ. As we’ll see even more fully from our study of the vision in 20:4-6, the vision of the Dragon’s capture signals to us readers that, despite appearances to the contrary, the exalted Christ is taking the necessary steps to defeat His enemies and to build His kingdom (cf. 1 Cor 15:24-25), even now rescuing His chosen kingdom-citizens from all the nations (5:9-10) while He keeps the wannabe-deceiver of those nations incarcerated until His rescue work is done.

Conclusion: If we desire to practice and protect a valid and consistent method of interpretation, then there is no better place to press the point than right here in Rev 20:1-3. We should recognize that in Rev 20:1-3 and its context, John has adapted the theme of God’s victory over the Dragon to reimagine and thus to illuminate the significance of Christ’s exaltation as it relates to Satan. To recognize John’s reimagining is to appreciate how much of a debt he owed to the heritage of the OT authors. To overlook or ignore that heritage is arguably to be inconsistent in our practice of responsible biblical interpretation, particularly when it comes to a difficult text.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7D Interpreting Rev 20:4-6

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7B Interpreting Rev 20:1-3

Posted by R. Fowler White

All Bible interpreters want to be consistent when they interpret the literature in the Bible, whether it’s apocalyptic material or not. The same applies to Rev 20:1-6 in particular. We all must stick as faithfully as we can to the rules of grammar, to the facts of history, and to sound biblical, historical, and systematic theology. Nobody wants to be uninformed, misinformed, incomplete, or inconsistent. So the aim here is to point the way to an interpretation of Rev 20:1-3 (and later 20:4-6) that takes full account of what we know from the canon of Scripture about God’s combat with beasts and about His building work. As a prelude to what follows, I’m more than happy to recommend the studies of others (Hoekema, Poythress, Beale, Venema, Storms) who have used other good approaches. Yet my own approach is to make use of the biblical themes of “victory over the dragon followed by house building” as the fundamental paradigm for interpreting Rev 20:1-6. We’ll begin by summarizing several main points related to how those themes help us to understand Rev 20:1-3.

I. Overall context of 20:1–21:8—The sequence of visions in this passage twice repeats the pattern of “victory followed by house [temple] building.” N.B. Interestingly, this sequence reflects the gospel of Gen 3:15: “rule the beast and fill the earth.”

A. 20:1-3  capture of the serpent = victory over the serpent

B. 20:4-6  first resurrection = house (temple) building

C. 20:7-10  death of the serpent = victory over the serpent

D. 20:11–21:8  resurrection = house (temple) building

II. The “victory and house building” themes in the Bible: an overview

Consider the following survey of the evidence from the OT and the NT.

A. In the OT—OT researchers have discerned the themes of divine victory and/or house building in both poetic and narrative descriptions of the world’s creation (e.g., Job 26:10-13; Psa 89:9-13), the world’s deliverance in Noah’s day (e.g., Psa 29:9-10; 74:12-17; 104:5-9) and in the Day of the Lord (Isa 27:1), and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (the book of Exodus, especially chap. 15), from David’s enemies (2 Sam 7), from Babylon (Isa 51:9-11), and from Gog-Magog (Ezek 36-48).

B. In the NT—While studies of God’s combat and construction in the OT has been extensive, research on the NT use of those themes has yielded still more fruit. These themes show up in descriptions of the church’s redemption at Christ’s first advent (Eph 2:14-22 [cf. 4:8]; Col 2:15; 1 Pet 2:4-10) and at His second advent (1 Cor 15:53-57; 2 Cor 5:1-4).

C. In the book of Revelation—Before turning specifically to Rev 20:1-3, take a look at Rev 1:5-6; 5:5, 9-10; 12:11; and 20:7–21:8. Notice how John describes the church’s redemption as Christ’s “battle and building” work.

1. In Rev 1:5-6 and 5:9-10, John compares the Lamb’s redemptive work for the church to God’s victory over Egypt and His constitution of the nation and the tabernacle as His kingdom-dwelling place. Then, in the Divine Warrior victory song of 12:10-12, saints are described as those who have obtained victory over their accuser, the dragon, on account of the blood of the true Lamb (12:11): it is His blood that secures the release of God’s people from their sins. Finally, in 5:5, the victory of the new Lamb is also the victory of the new David. From the context of 1:5-6, we are justified to infer that, like the old David, He turns His attention to building God’s temple-house after His victory. So, when in chaps. 1, 5, and 12 John invokes God’s redemptions of Israel under Moses and David to describe the church’s experience, the point we should not miss is that John employs the “victory and house building” paradigm to explain the significance of the church’s redemption through Christ’s work.

2. Briefly, regarding Rev 20:7–21:8, the combat and construction themes really help our understanding of Christ’s age-ending defeat of the dragon and the nations in 20:7-10 and also our understanding of the resurrection and judgment of the dead in 20:11–21:8. In their application to 20:7-10, the victory theme enables us to see the events depicted there as the Divine Warrior’s final victory over the serpentine dragon who by deception had made a final, failed attempt to destroy God’s kingdom-city. Turning to the visions of 20:11–21:8, the victory theme helps us see the resurrection in 20:12-15 as the Divine Warrior’s victory over His last enemy, death. The resurrection of the dead and the creation’s subequent renovation exhibit the traits of God’s rebuilding project that follows His final victory. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that the saints are portrayed as the holy city (cf. 3:12), while the new heavens and earth appear as the eternal dwelling place of God and man.

From these several examples in Revelation, it seems clear enough that John expects us to understand the significance of the church’s redemption through Christ’s work as both battle and building.

For polemical as well as pastoral purposes, the OT and NT authors depict God in combat with beasts (and other foes), followed by His construction of a holy dwelling place. The point is that these writers adapt ancient battle and building imagery to help us understand certain historical events. This fact should have our attention as we turn to Rev 20:1ff. This should be the case especially when we realize that 20:1-3 is preceded in 19:11-21 by victory over anti-redemption beasts and is followed in 20:4-6 by the establishment of a kingdom-city of saints. What’s more, 20:1-6 is then followed again in 20:7–21:8 by another sequence of victory (20:7-15) and the establishment of an eternal dwelling place for God and man (21:1–22:5).

In our next post, we plan to examine the Bible’s depiction of God’s combat and construction to see how the actions in those images are related to events in history.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7C The Dragon’s Imprisonment in Rev 20:1-3

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.

Eschatology Outlines: No. 7B Interpreting Rev 20:1-3

Armageddon in Rev 16:16

Posted by R. Fowler White

Many sincere Christians have concluded that the term Armageddon in Rev 16:16 describes the predicted geographic location of the final battle between Israeli and anti-Israeli armies, the decisive war to be fought in the plain of Megiddo, near Mount Carmel approx. 25 miles east of the Sea of Galilee. In common parlance, folks apply the term more broadly to a worldwide, age-ending war. Our purpose below is to provide evidence supporting an interpretation of the term in the light of biblical theology.

I. The Holy Wars of the Lord God in the OT

A. The Lord our God as King waged holy war on behalf of His people to make them secure and pure for fellowship-worship in His dwelling place.

B. God’s presence in holy war was manifested in earthquake, thunder, phenomena in sun, moon, and stars, rain and hail, terror and panic. The following are examples.

1. Holy war victory through Moses against the Egyptians; see Exod 15

2. Holy war victory through Joshua and then the faithful judges against the Canaanites; see, for example, Judges 5

3. Holy war victory through David and his faithful sons against their enemies; see, for example, 2 Sam 22:1-16, 32-40, 47-51; Ps 2

4. Holy war victories for Zion; see Pss 46, 48

5. Holy war victory against even faithless apostate Israel; see Habakkuk

6. The final holy war victory against the last assailants of the Spirit-filled Messianic Israel; see Joel 3:9-21 with Joel 2:28-32

7. Interestingly, holy war is never presented in Scripture outside of Revelation as a secular military struggle between nations.

II. The issue in God’s holy wars was not primarily geography, nationality, or ethnicity; the issue was principally theology, Christology, ecclesiology. The issue in God’s last holy war in Revelation is, Are you the Lamb’s Bride or the Bride’s enemy, the Harlot?

A. Taking our point of departure from Revelation, it’s noteworthy that the entire world population before Christ’s return will be divided into the Bride of Christ the Lamb, on the one hand, and her enemy, the Harlot Babylon, on the other. The Bride of the Lamb, Jerusalem-Zion, is a composite entity made up of the tribes, tongues, nations, and peoples of the earth, Rev 5:9. The Harlot Babylon is also a composite entity made up of the peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues of the earth, Rev 17:15.

B. Question: in the context of holy war, how was the identity of Israel’s enemies characterized? Answer: not merely by their geographical or ethnic origin, but by their hostility to the Lord their God. We read of certain Gentiles like Canaanite Rahab in Joshua’s day, Moabite Ruth in the judges’ days, and the Ninevites in Jonah’s day who were marked by conciliation (expressed in faith and repentance), not hostility toward the Lord God.

III. Conclusion: Armageddon is best understood as the worldwide site—the worldwide battleground—of the war at the end of the age between the Harlot and the Lamb on behalf of His Bride.

A. The word Armageddon probably combines two Hebrew words that mean “Mountain of Assembly, Mount of Meeting.” Three contexts in Revelation—16:13-16, 19:19-21, and 20:8-9—all have the same plot and tell the same story. In those contexts, Armageddon is the Mount of Meeting, the encampment of the saints, the beloved city.

B. As the Mount of Meeting, Armageddon is the place where—better, it is wherever—God is present as Divine Warrior to save and to judge.

1. It is wherever He assembles the spirits of the righteous-made-perfect with myriads of angels: it is “Ecclesia Mountain.”

2. It is wherever He engages in judicial surveillance of the world: it is “Lookout Mountain.”

3. It is wherever He convenes His heavenly court for deliberations: it is “Council Mountain.”

4. It is wherever He marshals His troops for battle: it is “Staging Mountain.”

D. Armageddon is wherever God is present as Divine Warrior in final judgment against the Harlot as He brings about the final salvation of the Lamb’s Bride.

1. God’s presence in the final holy war will be manifested in cosmic collapse: earthquake, thunder, phenomena in sun, moon, and stars, rain and hail, with the terror and panic that accompany these phenomena.

2. The Lamb will wage the final holy war against the Harlot to make His Bride secure and pure for fellowship-worship in His eternal dwelling place on the new earth.

Who are the 144,000 in the Revelation to John?

Posted by R. Fowler White

I. Two proposed answers

A. The Christian remnant of ethnic Jews either at the end of the 1st century, or in the future tribulation, or at the 2nd Coming; the number is usually interpreted as figurative, occasionally as literal.

B. The Christian remnant from all nations, Jews and Gentiles; the number is figurative.

II. My answer: The Christian remnant from all nations, Jews and Gentiles, the Church; the number is figurative.

A. The list in Rev 7 is a military census list, and the vision in Rev 14 describes the army of the Lamb. Both chapters in Rev follow the pattern of the military census lists in the OT: see Num 1; 2 Sam 24.

B. The number “1,000” is technical terminology for a military division, as it was in the OT. – It is comparable to the name Legion, which means “thousands,” a word taken from a Latin term for a large group of soldiers that could vary in number from as few as 3,000 to as many as 6,000 men.

C. The 144,000 are an all-male army, 14:4, as the armies of the OT ordinarily were.

D. The 12 tribes of Rev 7 are the 12 tribes of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21. The New Jerusalem is the Church Triumphant, the True Israel composed of the innumerable remnant from all nations, 21:12, 14, 24; 22:2-5. Gentile Christians receive the name of the New Jerusalem, 3:12. These tribes are the Israel of God from whom the idolatrous tribe of Dan (Judg 18) has been omitted. They are Israel according to the Spirit, not Israel according to the flesh.

E. The number “144” is evidently the number of apostles (12) multiplied by the number of tribes (12) of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21. It represents the complete number and perfection of the Church, the whole of God’s people, 21:9-10.

F. The number “144,000” describes the totality of the army of the redeemed, conscripted, and made ready by Christ the Lamb to fight in His holy war.

G. In Revelation John takes OT labels (names, epithets, titles) for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, which included both believing Jews and believing Gentiles.

1. Rev 2:9; 3:9 – John takes the name “Jew” away from unbelieving Jews and gives it to believing Gentiles, 2:17; 3:12. They are Israel according to the flesh; they are not the True Israel who worships God in Spirit and truth.

2. Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10 – John takes the label of “kingdom of priests” from Israel and applies it to believers from all nations, regardless of ethnic origin.

H. This is consistent with the rest of the NT.

1. Christ Jesus declared that the kingdom would be taken from Israel and given to a new nation and people, the Church, Matt 21:43. Israel forfeited its kingdom identity in the fall of Jerusalem.

2. The Apostle Paul takes OT labels for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, in which Jews and Gentiles together are the one new people of God, Rom 2:28-29; Gal 6:15-16; Phil 3:3; Eph 2:14-21.

3. The Apostle Peter takes OT labels for Israel away from unbelieving Jews and applies them to the Church, 1 Pet 1:1; 2:9.

I. This is consistent with the OT.

1. Unbelieving Israelites, who didn’t share Abraham’s faith, were declared “Not My People” – they lost the labels of Israel. They lost their national identity in the exile.

2. Believing Gentiles, who like Rahab and Ruth shared Abraham’s faith, received the labels of Israel.

III. Summary: The 144,000 is a symbol representing the Lamb’s army of holy warriors from among the Jews and the Gentiles. They are the Church Militant who becomes the Church Triumphant, the “overcomers” of Revelation. They are not Israel according to the flesh, but the True Israel who worships God in Spirit and truth. They are the true Israel sealed by Christ the Lamb to keep them from apostasy. As many as believe in Christ alone for salvation are among the 144,000.

About Those Prophecies of Trump’s Re-election

Posted by R. Fowler White

During the recent election cycle, many continuationists (who believe, among other things, that the NT gift of prophecy continues today) reportedly predicted former President Trump’s re-election, and those prophecies failed to come to pass. These failures have led certain continuationist leaders to issue strongly-worded rebukes to those whose predictions proved false. Other leaders have called for renewed humility, and still others, while also calling for humility, have denied that any penalty is applicable. As an alternative to penalties, the failed but humbled predictors are told that they should admit their inaccuracies, recommit to exercising discernment, and, to prevent future such failures, submit themselves for review by and accountability to church overseers.

I don’t bring up this topic to debate (again) whether the gift of prophecy continues today. I raise it to reflect on how the churches should treat the prophesiers and their overseers. I’m particularly interested in the claim that there’s no need to apply any penalty. That response, it seems to me, presupposes the absence of relevant standards and sanctions in Scripture. And, in fact, some leaders tell us that there is nothing relevant in either the OT or the NT for what the recent prophesiers did. We can’t take up the full sweep of that argument in this format, but I’m not convinced, and I’m sure others aren’t either. In the NT, we do read of prophetic ministries in the churches that failed. Christ’s letter to the church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29) presents just such a case, and it’s not presented as an isolated concern. Pointedly, Christ makes Thyatira an example from which “all the churches” should learn (2:23). Of course, the issue at Thyatira is not necessarily identical to recent failures, but it is analogous to them and relevant in ways that we should consider. So let’s take a look.

To begin, it’s striking to notice Christ’s opening and closing commendations to the Thyatira church. They were a congregation where love was bearing fruit in service, and where faithfulness was bearing fruit in endurance (2:19). They had congregants who held fast to what was true and good and abstained from what was false and evil (2:24-25; cf. 1 Thess 5:21-22). How, then, did an unsound ministry emerge in such a church? The clues are reasonably clear: the church had not corrected one of their own who was calling herself a prophetess and was teaching what was false and evil (2:20). Instead, the church had tolerated her ministry and had done so long enough to see her multiply herself in a troubling number of the congregants (2:20, 22-23). The negligence was such that it had spurred Christ Himself to do what the church had not done. He had warned the self-identified prophetess to repent and had given her time to do so (2:21a). Subsequently, He had uncovered her refusal to repent (2:21b). Finally, He had determined to afflict her and her followers with temporal punishment (2:22a) and even final punishment if they did not repent (2:22b, 23b). From the details of Christ’s letter to the Thyatira church, then, we learn that they had failed to deal properly with a prophetess whose ministry had become a notorious contagion in the church. They had taken no action through the formative-preventive oversight of instruction, nor through the corrective oversight of admonition, suspension from the Lord’s Table, or excommunication. In short, the church’s inaction was blameworthy. Why? Because Christ hates what is false and evil in His visible church, and so He commands all His congregations to carry out the oversight necessary to foster what is true and good. Wherever and whenever we do not give that oversight, we can expect the Lord of the church to do what He deems necessary, because He intends to reclaim guilty Christians, to deter others from sin, to turn away God’s wrath from His own, to purge leaven from our midst, and, above all, to vindicate His honor and the holy profession of His gospel.

In saying all this, I am not contending that those who made false predictions about the election should be prejudged as guilty of a particular sin and therefore liable to a particular penalty. I am contending that there are now, as there were in the NT era, relevant standards and sanctions in Scripture to apply to prophesiers and their overseers. I am contending, for example, that, because the fifth and ninth commandments still apply to us, congregations should at least investigate such issues as whether the recent predictors bore false witness (with or without intent to harm), whether they were in submission to church overseers, and whether church overseers adhered to a proper process of review and accountability before the predictions were made. If violations did occur, then penalties would presumably need to be determined and applied. These concerns would appear to be consistent with the implications of the lesson of the Thyatira letter for “all the churches.”

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