Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 11 of 11

Third, Zech. 14:16-19: According to the premillennial view, after the decisive end-time victory of God narrated in vv. 1-3 and supposedly recapitulated in vv. 12-15, the nations will go up from year to year to worship God at Jerusalem during the millennium, but those nations who do not go up will be punished with a plague of judgment (described in vv. 16-19), much like the majority of the nations who were defeated by God directly before the beginning of the millennium.

Yet there are problems with such a proposal. For instance, Zech 14:11 says that after the decisive triumph of God which introduces the purported millennial period, “there will be no more curse.” This statement is directly alluded to in Rev. 22:3. Both Zech. 14:11 and Rev. 22:3 clearly allude to the fact that the curse of Gen. 3:14-19 will be forever done away with, and Rev. 22:3 places this statement clearly during the time of the new eternal creation. This means that Zech. 14:11 refers to the eternal consummated kingdom and not to a preceding purported millennial kingdom, as premillennialists contend. Yet according to the premillennial view, more nations will be cursed during this same period, since (on this view) Zech. 14:12-15 recapitulates the battle of Zech. 14:1-3, and Zech. 14:16-19 portrays the nations being “cursed” and “punished” for their millennial disobedience.

This is a seemingly unsolvable problem for the premillennialist. How can there be a “curse” during this millennial period when Zech.14:11 says that this curse will be done away with during the same period? The premillennialist could try to say that Zech 14:11 is about the eternal new creation after the millennium, but v.11 is a continuation of a narrative of the period directly following God’s defeat of the unbelieving nations in vv. 1-3, which then introduces the purported millennial period (vv. 4-10), of which v.11 is clearly a further description. Thus, it is difficult to see how a premillennialist could place v.11 as part of the eternal new creation when vv. 4-10 are about the purported millennial period.

A viable amillennial proposal understands Zech. 14:1-3 to refer to the decisive victory of Christ described in Rev. 16:17-21; 19:19-21; and 20:7-8 following the millennium, which we have argued is the church age (see further on those verses for justification of this position). After the millennium or church age comes the final defeat of the enemy, followed by the eternal new creation, in which there is no longer any curse (Zech. 14:4-11).

In this case, Zech. 14:12-15, which apparently introduces a new thought or visionary segment, would not be a recapitulation of vv.1-3, but would rather focus on the defeat of the nations at Christ’s first coming. As was the case with John, Zechariah’s visions are not necessarily to be understood in strict chronological order. The punishment of the unbelieving nations described in Zech. 14:16-19 occurs during the church age, directly following Christ’s inaugurated defeat of the nations, and is thus recognizably synchronous to Rev. 11:4-6, where the two witnesses execute “plagues” on unbelievers.

The basis of such an interpretation would initially derive from a number of OT texts cited in the NT that describe Christ’s defeat of the nations as occurring at His first coming and culminating at His return. For example, see Gen. 49:8-12 and Isa. 11:1, 10 and its inaugurated fulfillment in Rev. 5:5, as well as Rom. 1:5 and 16:26, where the positive “obedience of the nations” is stated, but Christ’s victory over even the unbelieving nations is implied in the light of the Genesis 49 prophecy, which is alluded to in the Romans passage. Also note that the prophecy of the victory of the nations in Num. 24:14-19 begins to see fulfillment in Christ’s first coming (see Rev. 2:28: 22:16, where the prophecy of Isa. 11:1 is inaugurated).

In addition, the prophecy of the nations gathering to defeat “the Lord and…His Messiah” from Ps. 2:1-2 begins to be fulfilled at the cross (Acts 4:25-26), and the Messiah’s victory over the nations in Ps. 2:8-9 commences in Christ’s first coming (especially His resurrection) in Rev 2:26-27 and then is consummated at His return in Rev. 19:15. Thus understood, Zech 14:16-19 could well be referring to unbelievers feigning to profess faith in Christ during the church age but who do not worship in the true Holy Spirit or in the truth during that age (cf. John 4:21-24), and who will consequently be judged. Those among the nations who profess to trust in Christ yet do not worship him in truth and sincerity will fall under His condemnation. Other OT texts referenced in the NT could easily be adduced to support this view to one degree or another.

Some premillennialists might well fault this view in that they would doubt that there was a significant victory over the nations at Christ’s first coming, yet in so doing they would fail to notice the ironic nature of His victory through the cross, which is then replicated in the obedient church. In fact, one of the repeated NT affirmations is that the great victory over Satan, who rules over the sons of disobedience among the nations (see, e.g., Eph. 2:1-3), began at the cross (like “D-Day”) and will be consummated at Christ’s final coming (like “V-Day”).

Premillennialists might also attempt to fault this view because the battle of Zech. 14:1-3 and the battle of vv.12-15 appear to be the same. We do not radically disagree that the two battles are very similar and indeed are organically related. But this does not mean they are completely identical in their timing. In fact, note again from above that the prophecy of Ps. 2:8-9, which seems there to be a final consummative battle, commences in Christ’s first coming (and especially His resurrection) in Rev. 2:26-27 and then is consummated at His return in Rev.19:15 (the same thing happens with the Isa. 49:2 description of the messianic Servant’s mouth being like a sword, which is inaugurated at Christ’s first coming [Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16] and consummated at His last coming [Rev. 19:15]).

The very same wording about the eschatological defeat of the nations from the Psalm describes the initial defeat and the consummation of the defeat. We believe that something like this is going on in the relation of the similar batttle descriptions of Zech. 14:1-3 and Zech. 14:12-15, the former portraying the consummative battle, which was commenced in the church age in the latter.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 448-451.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 10 of 11

Second, Isa. 65:20:

“No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; for the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed.”

The premillennial view takes this verse literally and describes death as a reality during the millennium, but not the arrival of the eternal new heavens and earth, though some might want to argue that the millennium is a second inaugurated fulfillment of new creation (the first being when one is regenerated as Christian, e.g., 2 Cor. 5:17), which is then consummated in the eternal new creation, after the so-called millennium.

However, there is no other evidence in the NT for a second stage of inauguration of the new creation. In contrast to the premillennial perspective, the amillennial view can affirm two interpretations of this passage:

Isa. 65:20 is a figurative way of referring to along, indeed, eternal life, since all of 65:17-25 is clearly about the eternal new heavens and earth, as 66:22 also bears out. If this is true, then the broader context of eternal new creation surrounding 65:20 makes it likely that this verse is to be taken figuratively. It is extremely difficult to say that 65:17-25 is about the millennium and that 66:21-24 is about the eternal new creation. If a premillennialist were to affirm that both 65:17-25 and 66:21-24 are about the millennium, it would contradict Rev.21:1, which applies Isa. 65:17 and 66:22 to the destruction of the old cosmos and the replacement of it with an eternal new creation (likewise Isa.65:17 is applied to the passing away of the old earth in Rev. 21:4).

In the same way, 2 Pet. 3:13 applies Isa. 65:17 and 66:22 not to a millennium, but to the eternal “new heavens and new earth.” Furthermore, Isa. 66:24 appears to refer to the beginning of eternal punishment, which would correspond antithetically with an eternal new creation in vv. 22-23 (where references to eternal blessings are started). Also, the second part of Isa 65:17 says, “the former things [of the old creation] shall not be remembered or come to mind.”

But if this refers merely to a millennium on an old (but renewed) earth, then the fact that death will occur during the millennium (according to the premillennial view of 65:20) and again when Christ’s human enemies are defeated at the end of the millennium appears to contradict the promise in 65:17b that “the former things” of the old creation “shall not be remembered or come to mind” Indeed, the worst feature of the old creation—death—will “come to mind” during the millennium.

Or, as an alternative possibility that is also consistent with an amillennial view, Isa. 65:20 is about the inaugurated stage of the new creation (the fulfillment of which is noted in 2 Cor. 5:17) and refers to the idea that physical life is not eternal in the inaugurated phase of the new creation.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 447-448.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 9 of 11

9. Problematic OT passages that are considered by some to support premillennialism.

Some premillennialists have proposed that at least three OT passages offer significant support for a premillennial view of Rev. 20:1-6. Because of lack of space, the following interpretative perspectives can only be presented in the form of very brief sketches that require further elaboration, especially with respect to the amillennial views proposed.

First, Isa. 24:21-22:

21a So it will happen in that day,
21b that the LORD will punish the host of heaven on high, and the kings of the earth on earth.
22a They will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon,
22b and will be confined in prison;
22c and after many days they will be punished.
23 Then the moon will be abashed and the sun ashamed, for the LORD of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and His glory will be before His elders.

Many premillennialists regard this passage as predicting an absolute binding of Satan (in v.22a-b), which is also described in Rev. 20:1-3. However, the amillennial view can affirm any of the following three interpretations of the passage, none of which demand an absolute binding of the devil in Rev. 20:1-3.

First, the “confinement” predicted by Isa. 24:21-22 is qualified in Rev. 20:1-8 as a binding with respect to only Satan’s ability to deceive all the nations to gather against the church universal and to try to extinguish it.

Or, second, v.22c (“and after many days they will be punished”) is a recapitulation of v.21a (“So it will happen in that day”) and thus also of vv. 21b-22b. This would reflect a typical use of recapitulation with such time designations among the prophets (e.g., Jer. 31:31,”days are coming,” and 31:33, “after those days,” which refer to the same time). These verses are then about the final judgment at the very end of earth history. Thus v.23 is about the eternal new heavens and earth.

Or, third, v.21 was inaugurated at Christ’s first coming and then v.22a-b occurs during the church age and v.22c at the consummation, as does v.23.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 446.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 8 of 11

8. The figurative meaning of the number “one thousand.”

There is good biblical reason to believe that the number “one thousand” as used here is figurative rather than literal. [Earlier in this book we have] seen that the numbers in Revelation are symbolic in nature. The use of “signify” (NASB mg.; Greek sēmainō) in 1:1 with reference to the whole book encourages the reader to expect a predominance of symbolic over literal language, including references to numbers (see on 1:1).

The Bible also uses this particular number figuratively: “He has remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations” (Ps. 105:8; see 1 Chron. 16:15). Ps.90:4 should probably be taken figuratively (as a reference to a long period of time),”For a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by.” The same is true in 2 Pet. 3:8, “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (for further references see on v.4 above). It may be used as a contrast with the brief period of conflict immediately before the Lord’s return, which is “three and a half days in 11:11 and one hour in
17:12.

“One thousand” also signifies the idea of completeness in Revelation, as in the measurements of the eternal city in 21:16, where “twelve thousand stadia” represents the number of God’s people (twelve) multiplied by one thousand, in order to express the completeness of that people. “One thousand years” would thus signify the complee duration of the church age. Multiples of one thousand have previously been used figuratively in Revelation (see on 7:4-9; 9:16; 14:1; cf.5:11) to express either a large number, a complete number, or both. It does not necessarily signify a very long period of time (however we might construe that), but points more to the idea of a fullness of time allowed by God’s sovereignty at the end of which will surely come the ultimate victory of Christians who have suffered.

We have already suggested that if the suffering saints persevere through their short trials of “ten days” (2:10), they will be given the reward of a millennial reign. The intensifying of ten to a thousand (one thousand being ten to the third power), together with the lengthening of days to years, might suggest that momentary affliction in the present results in a far greater glory even in the intermediate state prior to eternal glory.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 446.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 7 of 11

7. The problem of a “mixed population” during a literal earthly millennium.

A theological problem with the premillennial view is that it means that resurrected believers with glorified, newly created bodies would be living in the old creation with people with corruptible bodies, many of whom will become unbelievers at the end of the millennium. The response that the incorruptible Christ dwelled with people having corruptible bodies for forty days after His resurrection is interesting but not fully satisfying.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 445.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 6 of 11

6. The affirmation of the Bible concerning one physical resurrection.

The Bible states consistently that there is only one physical resurrection at the end of history (Isa. 26:19-21; Dan. 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; 2 Thess. 1:7-10). This final resurrection is mentioned again in Rev. 20:12-15, which includes the physical resurrection of the saints along with that of the unrighteous. [Rev. 20:5a] mentions only the physical resurrection of the wicked in order to stress that they do not share in the first spiritual resurrection. If, as on a premillennial understanding, we take [Rev. 20:4] to refer to a first physical resurrection at the beginning of a millennial period, followed by a further resurrection at its end, the reference would stand in serious tension with the consistent and universal teaching of the rest of the Scriptures that there is only one final resurrection.

Some say there is precedent for several resurrections, since Christ was raised first, and then those who believe in him will be raised later, thus suggesting two resurrections. Even if it is true, however, that the final resurrection was inaugurated in Christ’s resurrection thousands of years before the final resurrection of the saints, this does not count as a separate resurrection followed by a completely different resurrection, since Christ’s resurrection is viewed as part of the later resurrection of His people and not separate from it (1 Cor. 15:20-23). It would be possible but very strange to apply this corporate solidarity in Christ’s resurrection to many subsequent resurrections, so the burden of proof rests on such a position.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 445.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 5 of 11

5. The premillennial problem of a judgment after the final definitive judgment.

In 15:1, John states that with the seven plagues or bowl judgments the wrath of God is finished. In 16:12-16, the sixth bowl judgment concludes with the nations gathered at Armageddon, following which the seventh bowl judgment represents the end of history. It is clear that 18:17-21 picks up the narrative where 16:16 leaves off and concludes it. This means that 19:17-21 covers the same timeframe as the sixth and seventh bowl judgments, thus bringing to a definitive end the wrath of God against unbelievers. How then could there be a further, much later judgment related in 20:7-10? Thus, 20:7-10 is likely referring to the same final judgment narrated in the last bowl (16:17-21) and in 19:17-21. If this is so, then 20:1-6 precedes the final judgment at Christ’s final second coming.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 444-445.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 4 of 11

4. The basis of the fourfold ending of Revelation in the fourfold ending of Ezekiel 37-48.

As noted earlier, the parallels are striking: the resurrection of the saints (Rev. 20:4a; Ezek. 37:1-14), the messianic kingdom (Rev. 20:4b-6; Ezek. 37:15-28), the final battle against Gog and Magog (Rev. 20:7-10; Ezekiel 38-39), and the new temple and new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-22:5; Ezekiel 40-48). The same Greek verb and verb form, translated “they came to life” is used in Rev. 20:4 and Ezek. 37:10 LXX (likewise 37:6, 14, where zaō occurs) in the prophecy of the dry bones (God’s people) being raised to life. That “they came to life” in Rev. 20:4 alludes to Ezek. 37:10 is apparent from the fact that the third person plural aorist active indicative of zaō occurs in the Greek OT elsewhere only in Num. 14:38, which is a mundane reference and has no reerence to any concept of resurrection. This makes Ezek. 37:10 uniquely parallel in all of the OT to the same verb form in Rev. 20:4. The resurrection in Ezekiel is symbolic or spiritual in nature, and focuses on the spiritual renewal of Israel when it is restored from captivity, a point on which both premillennial (at least most) and amillennial OT interpreters of Ezekiel agree. Ezek. 37:10 is now universalized in Revelation and applied to the church.

The meaning of coming to life “in terms of spiritual (as opposed to physical) resurrection in Ezek. 37:10, 14 is clarified by 36:26-28, since it develops the latter text: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you….I will put My Spirit within you…and you will live in the land.” Rev. 20:4 likely follows the same symbolic or spiritual view of “coming to life,” since it alludes to Ezek. 37:10, 14. Indeed, as is clearly the case in Ezekiel 37, it is possible that the vision of Rev. 20:4-6 is a picture of deceased saints being bodily resurrected, but that this picture is to be interpreted symbolically as a spiritual resurrection. This approach would be a partial answer to the literalist objection that a bodily resurrection must be envisioned.

This understanding of 20:4 is supported by the fact that the language of “priests,” “kingdom,” and “reigning” in vv. 4-6 is taken from descriptions of Israel in Exod 19:6 and Dan.7:27 and applied here and in Rev. 1:6, 9 (“kingdom”) and 5:9-10 to the church. In addition, Ezek. 37:10 has already been applied in 11:11 (the breath of life coming back into the witnesses) to connote figuratively and spiritually the church’s continued existence, vindication, and release from the world’s captivity into the immediate presence of God (see on 11:11-12). Rev.20:4 takes Paul’s concept of spiritual resurrection at conversion (Rom. 6:4-11; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1) and uses the terminology of Ezekiel to apply it to the intensified form of spiritual resurrection which occurs upon the believer’s death.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 443-444.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 3 of 11

3. Biblical evidence for the intermediate state.

On our understanding, the “first resurrection” describes an intermediate, beginning eternal state between physical death and physical resurrection. Some contend that there is no example in the Bible of the eternal state being a state of resurrection existence, but that is not the case. In Rev. 2:10-11, believers are promised that if they remain faithful until physical death, they will receive the crown of life,” which in turn will prevent them from being harmed by the second, spiritual death.

It could reasonably be assumed that the “life” referred to here is the heavenly existence of the saints between physical death and physical resurrection and is consummated in physical resurrection. The same truth is presented in 6:9-11, where deceased saints appear as living souls without bodies, waiting for the physical resurrection. Jesus taught the same when He said to the Sadducees that God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to Him” (Luke 20:38). Therefore, said Jesus, God is still the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are “sons of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36) and thus presently alive to Him, even before their final physical resurrection. The Sadducees denied not only the physical resurrection but also that there was any conscious existence after death, and in this passage Jesus rejects both false beliefs. The metaphorical picture is that of a soul leaving an earthly body and ascending to heaven, where a more intense condition of blessedness is experienced.

This is similar to Phil. 1:21, 23: “to die is gain…to depart and be with Christ is very much better” (cf. also 2 Cor. 5:8: “we…prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord”). Paul states in Rom. 6:4-5 that our life in Christ can be referred to as a spiritual resurrection, and that life in Christ continues on into the intermediate state, after physical death. 1 Pet. 4:6 refers to people who, “though they are judged in the flesh as men” [= physical death], “may live [zaō = living in the intermediate state] in the Spirit according to the will of God.”

In the light of this and other Scriptures, it is reasonable to interpret the ascent of the soul at the time of death into the Lord’s presence as a form of spiritual resurrection, in anticipation of the physical resurrection and consummation of eternal life, which will occur at the Lord’s return. That such a translation can be termed a “resurrection” is appropriate, because the souls of the saints are entering a higher state of blessedness and resurrection existence than they had before on account of their regeneration (for a similar thought in early Christian literature, see Ignatius, Romans 2.2; 4.3; 1 Clement 5.4, 7; Acts of Paul), and because they experience the immediate presence of God and Christ (Rev. 6:9-11; 7:14-17). Consequently their role as kings and priests becomes intensifed. Their labor of perseverance on earth is successfully accomplished so that they can rest (6:11; 14:13). They have greater assurance of vindication (see on 6:11; cf. 19:8) and of protection from the second death, because of their intermediate existence of escalated spiritual life.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 442-443.

Beale: A Response to the Premillennial Interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6 – Part 2 of 11

2. The significance of first-second and old-new antitheses elsewhere in Revelation and the Bible.

This contrast between physical or corruptible realities and incorruptible, eternal realities runs through chs. 20 and 21. The qualitative distinction between the two resurrections is also suggested by the qualitative antithesis between the “first” (old) creation and second (“new”) creation in 21:1, where the former was pre-consummate or temporary, while the latter is consummate and eternal. Strikingly, in 21:4-8 there is a formal antithesis between “[the first physical] death” and “the second [spiritual] death.” In 21:4, physical “death” is the focus of the clause “the first things have passed away,” which is contrasted with “the second [spiritual] death” (21:8), which is part of the “new” things of the eternal new creation (21:5). 21:1, 4 are a clear allusion to Isa. 65:16-17, where the same qualitative contrasts occur between the first or “former” earth or “troubles,” and the” new heavens and a new earth.”

In Isa. 43:18-19 and 65:16-17, the first or “former” things, referring to the present, old creation, stand in contrast to the “new,” everlasting creation (cf. Isa. 65:19-22 and 66:22) which will replace it. Isa. 66:22 affirms that one of the qualitative differences is that the new heaven and new earth will remain forever, in contrast to the former, which passed away. Thus, the distinction between “first” and “second” and “old” and “new” throughout Revelation focuses not so much on temporal succession (as argued by premillennialists with respect to the two resurrections) as on the qualitative difference between that which is transient and that which is eternally enduring.

This understanding is consistent with similar “first-second” and “old-new” contrasts elsewhere, such as with the “first Adam” and “last Adam” in 1 Cor. 15:22, 42-49 and the “old (first) covenant” and “new (second) covenant” in Heb. 8:6-10:9. The first Adam had a perishable, inglorious body, and he brought death, whereas the last Adam had an imperishable and glorious body, and He brought eternal life. The first covenant was temporary and led to death (e.g., Heb. 8:13), while the second was eternal and led to life. Neither in Revelation, 1 Corinthians, or Hebrews does “first” function as an ordinal in a process of counting things which are identical in kind; rather, it functions to identify things which are opposite to and different in quality from one another.

Consequently, here in vv. 4-6 there are two different kinds of death — one corruptibly physical and one incorruptibly spiritual, and, correspondingly, there are two different resurrections — one eternally spiritual and one physical. Some clarification is still needed. Could the idea that the “second death” is not literally physical but spiritual restrict the nature of that death too much? Does it not also include the physical existence of the reprobates who have been resurrected? The answer is yes, but remember that unbelievers suffer not temporarily in hell, but suffer eternally both spiritually and physically, though this physical suffering does not include physical destruction.

The key is that it is an eternal spiritual suffering in the midst of some kind of ongoing eternal physical suffering. Likewise, believers who experience the first resurrection will later experience a fully consummated spiritual and physical resurrection in the new creation. So the first resurrection, though incomplete, launches an eternal spiritual resurrection, which will be consummated later in an eternally greater spiritual yet fully physical form. The first-second antithesis carries over in that the second resurrection represents the eternal consummation of the first.

-G. K. Beale with David Campbell, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, 441-442.