Revelation 20:1-6 describes the "thousand years" in which Satan is imprisoned and the martyrs for Christ are resurrected and placed upon thrones to judge and reign with Christ for a thousand years. The passage also makes reference to a "first resurrection" implying that there will be a second. Yet, because of the nature of the Scriptural verses is visionary and imagistic, they have been the source of contentious interpretations over the years. Do the verses refer to a time that is yet to come (premillennial) or a time that we are already in (postmillennial) or to no real time at all but rather to only a figurative sense of the spiritual dimensions of the Christian way to heaven (amillennial)?
Poythress states that Rev 20:1-6 contains several different "levels of communication" -- the linguistic, the visionary, the referential, and the symbolic.
Each of these levels offers a unique way of looking at Revelation and allows for a deeper penetration of the mystery of the Word of God. This paper will examine the verses of Rev 20:1-6 and show how the topic of premillennialism, amillennialism and postmillennialism each offer ways of understanding the verses based on the four levels of communication identified by Poythress as well as the exegetical analyses of other scholars.
Mayhue asserts that a preterist interpretation of Revelation is one in which incidents described therein have already come to pass and that a futurist interpretation, on the other hand, suggests the opposite -- namely, that Revelation is a prophecy of things to come.
The idea of the time basis of Revelation finds expression in the millennialism question: premillennials view Rev 20:1-6 in a literal way, believing that Christ will return to reign over His kingdom for a thousand years, whereas postmillennials believe Christ will return after His gospel has been spread and the way for His coming prepared for a thousand years. Amillennials view the verses as figurative and hold that the question of a thousand years is not meant to be taken literally.
To determine whether the preterist or the futurist interpretation of Revelation is the most accurate, it is essential to examine the Book of Revelation in the context of when and why it was written. Following this examination, the two interpretations may be supported or rejected according to both a literal and a figurative reading of the text. The other books of sacred Scripture also offer some clues as to whether one should view Rev 20:1-6 in terms of pre- post- or amellennialism.
Revelation may be placed in the following context, which Frey provides: "The book was written in Greek by St. John the Evangelist, on the island of Patmos, about the year 96 AD."
It concerns primarily the conveyance of a message of "hope, but also of warning…the crown [of Christ] will not be won without a struggle."
The context of Revelation is one in which is found an arrangement of "scenes in a sevenfold structure," each conveying a different aspect of the message.
Revelation 21, for example, speaks of a New Heaven and a New Earth. Chapter 17 of Revelation describes a "beast" who "was and is not." The ways in which Revelation plays with timeframes and evokes a sense of time and place that seems to exist outside of time and place suggests that one need take a unique approach to this Book and perhaps understand it in spiritual rather than temporarl or materialistic terms. In this sense, the amillennialist approach to Rev 20:1-6 makes the most sense because it views the passages as figurative and concentrates more on the spiritual meaning of the verses rather than attempting to identify or locate them within a specific temporal framework.
That is not to say that pre- and post-millennialist interpretations do not make sense. The idea that Christ will reign for a thousand years is perfectly understandable given the verse Rev 20:6 which states that the priests of God will reign with him for a thousand years. On the referential level, this is the correct way of interpreting these words. But on the visionary level, one might support the post-millennial interpretation, which states that the way must be prepared through the spreading of the Gospel and this condition is sensed in the first part of Rev 20:1-6, in which the verses state that Satan must be bound for a thousand years. One could assert that that clearly has not happened unless one counts the rule of Christendom from Constantine to the end of the Middle Ages as the millennium. But because it is impossible to know for sure, the symbolic level...
Or, if one approaches it from the Protestant perspective it may seem that the Reformation is the beginning of the millennium. Or, if one approaches it from the perspective that peace will reign for a thousand years, then one must look to the future for the millennium. The timing of the coming of Christ with reference to the millennium is further obscured in the verses, which suggests that the amillennialists have the best interpretation. Is Christ to reign during the millennium or after the millennium? Scripture does not definitely say and thus one is not obliged to adopt either view. What one should adopt, however, is the spiritual idea that Christ must reign in the hearts and minds of all and that to do this, Satan must be overthrown in each and every human being. On a linguistic level, this could imply that the words "a thousand years" are simply a way of suggesting that one need constantly overthrow Satan, not just once but again and again for as long as one lives on earth.
As Robert L. Thomas notes, "No consensus exists as to a precise definition of genre, so discussions attempting to classify…Revelation are at best vague."
What can one then say of the millennium? Verse 4 states that there will be appointed new judges who will have authority because they did not worship the beast but rather the true God. Therefore, one can assume that the "thousand years" whether literal or spiritual will be overseen by just men who are of God. However verse 5 states that there will be a second resurrection and this suggests that there will be a tribulation stage for those who are not part of the first "rapture." This suggests too that the thousand years will take place not on earth but in Heaven. What this means for Israel and the millennial kingdom may be divined from the verse 6, which states that the "second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ." Israel must be a spiritual Israel rather than an earthly one, unless all Israelites convert and become Christian.
As Patzia states, "the main focus of apocalyptic literature is eschatology (from Greek, eschatos, meaning 'last, final, end'). Writings of this genre, therefore, stress the cosmic drama that will occur to replace the current evil world order with a new and perfect one."
With this in mind, it is not important to know whether the millennial verses refer to a premillinnial or postmillennial viewpoint. What is important, as the amillennial view suggests, is that one keep in mind one's final end, and with this in mind understand that to live with Christ is to avoid sin and to escape death. It is indeed a "cosmic drama" as Rev 20:1-6 describes -- a drama in which Satan is bound up and the good souls who suffered martyrdom for Christ's sake are returned to life and glory and given authority in the realm of peace. For this reason, I believe that both pre- and post-millennial views lose sight of the ultimate purpose of the Scripture, which is confirmed in the following chapters of Revelation. For instance in the very next Chapter, Rev 21:6-8, is found these words: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To him who thirsts I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely. He who overcomes shall possess these things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son." Taken in whole, Revelation can be seen not so much as a timeframe for things to come but rather as spiritual guideline for attaining the kingdom of God. The problem with both the pre- and the post-millennial views is that they attempt to define for certain in a literal way what is meant by the words of John in Revelation, whereas doing so takes away from the thematic, dramatic, artistic, symbolic and figurative meaning of the verses. What is important is that God is All and that one…
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