by Benjamin L. Merkle
Interpreting the book of Revelation from an amillennial perspective has a long history in the Church and, in fact, has been the predominant eschatological position of Christianity since the time of Augustine (though it was not called “amillennialism” until more recent times).
It is also a position many Baptists have embraced, including Hershey Davis, W. T. Conner, Herschel Hobbs, Edward McDowell, H. E. Dana, Ray Summers and James Leo Garrett. Indeed, some have claimed it was the dominant view of Southwestern Seminary from the 1930s–1990s. Even John Walvoord (a dispensational premillennialist) admits, “The weight of organized Christianity has largely been on the side of amillennialism” (Millennial Kingdom, 61).
The amillennial view of Revelation affirms that the 1,000-year binding of Satan refers to the period between the two advents of Christ. Two items should be noted about this interpretation. First, it recognizes that Revelation contains figurative or symbolic imagery typical of prophetic or apocalyptic literature. This means that the images are not to be taken literally, although they point to literal events and realities (e.g., the dragon John sees is not to be taken literally, but the dragon represents Satan who is real).
So, although the angel coming down from Heaven in Revelation 20 is pictured as having a literal chain to bind Satan and a literal key to lock him up, these symbols relate to us God’s intention to limit Satan’s influence on the world. This binding is said to last 1,000 years. If the chain, key and prison are symbolic pictures, then it is likely that the 1,000 years is also symbolic and represents a certain period of time. Second, John tells us that Satan is bound “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev. 20:3). Thus, Satan’s influence is not completely removed, but is specifically tied to his ability to deceive the nations. In contrast to the Old Testament era, when nations were living in darkness oblivious to God’s special revelation, now the Gospel is being taken to all the nations. This will result in people from every tribe, language, people and nation being represented before the throne of God (Rev. 5:9).
One of the strengths of the amillennial approach is that it is Gospel-centered. That is, it views the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as the center of redemptive history. Because of His work on the cross and subsequent resurrection, Jesus has conquered death, defeated Satan and now reigns in Heaven waiting until all His enemies will be put under His feet. Thus, at His first coming Jesus defeated Satan by binding “the strong man” in order to “plunder his house” (Matt. 12:29).
During His ministry, Jesus said He “saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven,” which was symbolic of his fall from power (Luke 10:18). The author of Hebrews informs us that the incarnation of the Son was necessary so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). Similarly, the apostle John states, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus was able to commission His disciples by stating that “all authority in heaven and on Earth” had been given to Him (Matt. 28:18). Thus, the decisive battle took place at the cross and resurrection where Satan’s ultimate defeat was sealed. Indeed, he is still a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), but he is a lion on a leash (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).
The book of Revelation offers the believer in Christ amazing confidence and hope. It is not simply a book about the future, but about how knowing the future affects us today. The apostle John was given this incredible vision to give comfort and hope to persecuted Christians in Asia Minor by letting them know the outcome of history—that Satan’s final doom is certain, and that God will vindicate His people. The message of Revelation is that Christ is the reigning and returning King who rules over all creation—including Satan and his forces. Difficult times are sure to come, but in the end, Christ and His people are given the victory.
A missionary once asked some persecuted believers in a third world country which book of the Bible was their favorite. They responded, “Revelation!” Somewhat surprised by their response, the missionary asked them why they cherished this book above the others. They quickly added, “Because God wins in the end.” The book of Revelation offers encouragement for the believer, especially in times of hardship and trial. Even though life may be difficult now, the result is assured—God wins in the end. Christ is the One Who will come triumphantly to once and for all defeat His enemies and reign with His people. The victory belongs to the Lord!
1) Summers, Ray. Worthy Is the Lamb: Interpreting the Book of Revelation in Its Historical Context. Nashville: B&H, 1951 (reprint 1999).
2) Johnson,Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001.
3) Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.
4) Riddlebarger, Kim. A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003.
Benjamin L. Merkle is associate professor of New Testament & Greek at Southeastern Seminary.
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